A dear friend of mine, who is really adorable and awesome but tends to pack her schedule and constantly be doing minimum 3 things at once, really needed yoga. Well, she didn’t know she needed it but I knew it. I had been practicing yoga for a couple of years, not regularly but enough to know this was an awesome thing to be doing. And I knew this friend would love it, as would her tightly wound body and racing brain. The problem was, the message she was getting from many in her Christian faith was (and still is), that yoga is “bad” for Christians because of its roots in Eastern religions and philosophies. She told me this and I was really surprised, so I googled it and sure enough, yoga is considered a threat to Christian beliefs.
A part of me thought this was ridiculous! But a part of me understood the resistance. I have been in yoga classes where the room was decorated with Hindu relics, incense was burning, the instructor wreaked of patchouli oil (I can’t stand the smell), the cues were mostly in Sanskrit (part of me would be proud when I knew what the heck it meant, part of me would roll her eyes at the elitism I perceived- just say chair pose, OK?) I understood where my friend’s resistance came from, as in her milieu, it was just assumed that yoga was not a healthy endeavor for their faith, and anyway, there were practitioners who taught a Christian-based practice.
But I really wanted my friend, and her fellow resisters, to experience a practice that would challenge them physically and give them some of the other mental benefits that I had come to enjoy. So even though I was not certified to teach at the time, I asked her to invite some of her fellow yoga-curious-but-resistant friends, and I would teach them in her living room. This eventually led to someone’s basement as we needed more space, then my becoming certified, then teaching in karate studios, gyms, a spa, a yoga studio, a university (Yale Men’s Basketball team), a high school lacrosse team, two addiction treatment centers, and a corporate wellness center. Recently, someone asked me where I prefer teaching, and I answered, “wherever people are who think they are too stiff/hyper/impatient/fat/old/unhealthy/Christian etc. for yoga.”
There is something fascinating about being in the middle. It feels natural to be curious about different perspectives. If I am completely attached to an ideology or a perspective, I am more easily threatened by another one. I used to be envious of people who were staunchly attached to a belief or perspective. I thought, gosh, how much simpler life must be if you don’t have to consider different viewpoints, you don’t have to take context into account, and wonder if you may be wrong? Black-and-white thinking seemed really appealing. But it also felt, and still feels, like a cop-out. It would be so simple to declare, for example, that everybody who even today is smoking cigarettes is a totally irresponsible idiot who doesn’t care about their health or that of their loved ones, doesn’t care how their health issues affect our insurance premiums, and all of the other ways their nicotine addiction affects our society. The same could be said for people who regularly drink soda and eat processed food, avoid vegetables, are sedentary, etc. It is so easy to be judgmental and make assumptions. I would even argue it is normal, and human. Our brains are designed to look for and be drawn to what feels familiar, and what aligns with our existing belief system, and to mistrust the unfamiliar and what does not confirm what we believe.
Today, though, we are facing a huge task. We are so tired of all of the information that is bombarding us, and our willingness to do the work to sift through the noise, the misinformation, the agenda-driven media, is often depleted. We do not have the bandwidth to do so, or we simply do not prioritize it. So we do what is simplest - we consume what is sent our way by our friends and the media sources we trust. The problem with this is we are often like fish in the ocean, who do not know they are in the ocean, because they have never left it. We are smart, we listen, watch, read, discuss - but we don’t often pause to consider what is normalized in our safe spaces.
We have all heard the alarming statistics of how much mental health has declined among our young people, the academic slide, and how much they are struggling to focus and behave in school. If you’ve read my blog in the past, you know that I believe our kids are like the canaries in the coal mine, and I am always curious about how they are behaving and thinking, as they give us important clues as to levels of harmony and health in their systems (internal and external). When our kids are acting in ways that are not healthy, I think it’s a good indicator that something that has been normalized in their environment may need to be addressed.
And this starts with us (the adults). What is normalized for us? Are we being discerning? Particularly in these areas:
I truly hope that this blogpost was helpful. As I write this, I am cognizant of the tension and exhaustion around me, with people accusing each other of being white supremacists, of not caring about teachers, of being irresponsible individualists, of being bigots and transphobes, of using identity politics for ulterior motives, of wanting to control others. There is certainly plenty of information out there to confirm all of the above. Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed, as I do some deep-dives into controversial subjects and curiously listen to and read some of the media that make the “other side” recoil. There really is a lot of absurd (to put it nicely) stuff going on in the world right now, and I often feel like grown adults are being a bunch of kindergartners. Sigh. But this is why it’s especially important to dip our toe outside our safe bubble and be curious about what the “other side” is thinking. If an issue, and the people on the other side of the issue from me, seem simple and bad, I make myself remember, they are human, with the human need and desire to be safe and feel loved. I don’t want to be like the people who are missing out on the amazing benefits of yoga, because I had adopted a belief without being curious about what I could learn from it, and how I may become a better human.
May you be safe.
May you be healthy.
May you be happy.
May you live with ease.
“It’s too cold,” is what I hear EVERY day, when people sheepishly tell me they haven’t worked out in a while. “I know I should be exercising, but I just can’t make myself do it,” is another frequent one. As I write this, we are two weeks into the new year, and in the Washington, DC area the snow has mostly melted from one big storm and in two days we are getting another one. We are about two years into the pandemic, and I don’t need to list all of the ways this has disrupted even the most committed health warrior’s routine and motivation. So when I hear these statements from clients and friends, I totally get it. Yes, it’s cold out. Yes, it sucks working out with a mask, so I wouldn’t go to the gym either. Yes, it feels like this whole pandemic BLAH-ness is never-ending, especially with all of the fear-based messaging we are bombarded with by mainstream media. Of course our energy levels and inner drive are being affected by the collective doom-and-gloom! I totally get it!
I was thinking about all of this while running with Bruno (my chocolate lab) this morning. He LOVES our almost-daily 3 mile runs. He knows exactly when there is a possibility of his going for a run, based on little things in my routine (a sip of my energy/immunity drink, my appearance in running tights, my taking one step toward the location of my Hoka running shoes…). Any of these actions send him into an expectant tizzy, where he runs at full speed to the top of the steps that lead to the garage. On the days that there is, sadly, no run in our future, I feel like the worst Dog Mom alive, as I have to tell him, sorry, but stay, and I’ll be back soon.
Three days ago, after a two week hiatus from running, I finally took him out. He hadn’t been running for those two weeks, because he had a skin infection and I couldn’t put his collar on him, so I decided to become reacquainted with my Peloton bike. After all - it was cold, potentially icy, so I may as well just workout indoors, was my justification. During those two weeks poor Bruno was whiny, and followed me like a shadow. It was really cute but also annoying. I work from home, and there were a few times when I had to apologize to clients and explain that if they heard some whining, it was my dog, not my stomach. I thought maybe he was still adjusting after our having been away for two weeks and leaving him with his dog sitter. Did this increase his separation anxiety, I wondered?
Three days ago I felt this CRAVING for a run outside, in the fresh air. I do like my Peloton, and am deeply grateful to have this option of a convenient, effective, rewarding workout. But it’s just not the same as being outdoors, in the elements, feeling the cold air (or warm sun in other seasons), engaging with nature. I recognized I was becoming wimpy - using the cold as an excuse not to go outside - and I did not want to get used to having this justification. So I took my absolutely THRILLED dog for a three mile run. And afterwards, I noticed how good I felt. It was a different post-workout feeling than when I do indoor workouts. Mostly mentally - I felt more invigorated, energized, alive. My coaching sessions afterwards felt more effective and focused than on days I hadn’t been outside.
This morning, as Bruno and I went up and down the local hills for half an hour, I reflected on how I haven’t heard him whine a single time since we restarted our routine three days ago. And he has no longer been clingy. Yesterday, when I finished coaching around 6pm, I went downstairs and realized I hadn’t seen him all day, as he had been contentedly chilling in the kitchen.
We are all like Bruno. We NEED fresh air, exercise, and the regular poops that come along with this. Our brain and other organs and systems are not designed to be indoors and sedentary all day. Bruno whines and clings. Maybe your version of this malaise is to be cranky, depressed, glued to the news and social media, unable to sleep or sleeping too much, feeling like everything is hopeless, eating although you’re not physically hungry, needing weed or wine to unwind, trying to control the people around you or on social media.
In my hundreds of conversations with coaching clients over the years, I have often heard of people finally deciding to change because they are “sick and tired of feeling sick and tired,” or they were given the “gift of desperation.” Getting out of our comfort zone is hard. As humans, we are innately motivated to seek pleasure and avoid discomfort. So choosing to leave the plushy comfort of our heated (or air-conditioned) homes, to engage with whatever uncomfortable conditions lie outside our door, can take a massive amount of willpower. Like I said, I get it. When we lived in CT for 16 years, I recognized that cold winters were an annual occurrence, so I had a choice: bitch about it and be miserable, or embrace it. I chose the latter, and got my kids into ice skating and skiing. I got gear that would lessen the discomfort of being outdoors for a 10 degree Fahrenheit run. I have Reynaud’s Syndrome, so being outside in winter means I will experience a high level of discomfort, even when I’m done, in my toes and my fingers. It is what it is.
Bruno would probably tell you, and I fully agree - there is no such day as a bad day to go outside for a run or a walk, as long as you get the gear (layers, hat, gloves, etc.). You probably have friends and family who “cosign your bullshit” (help you justify staying in your comfort zone), so hopefully now you have read this post, and seen Bruno’s photo, you can replace their voices (remember, they want you to stay in your comfort zone, so you don’t challenge them to change too) with a nudge to move, preferably outside. Just do five minutes - but do it every day. I guarantee you that after 30 days (or less) of small, consistent effort, you will feel noticeably better. And here's a bonus tip - check out this Mel Robbins hack on how to quit your whining and just do the thing you keep procrastinating:
Wellness coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.