On Discomfort

"Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being yourself." 

~ one translation of a line from the Bhagavad Gita

At this moment, I could not agree more. It's that, and then it's also more, and more. I'm here at the Kripalu Yoga, Meditation and Addiction Recovery Conference. Each year this community converges for a week of brave, compassionate fellowship and personal work. I'm honored not only to assist, but most definitely even more so to participate. 

I'm not a flowery writer. My style probably echoes how my mind works- in fits and starts, with sometimes just not the right word. And usually, there's a bit of a bite in there. It's just how I roll. So, I appreciate the starkness of the above quote- however uncomfortable it made me feel a few years ago when I first saw it. 

I've been thinking about the practice of turning inward and toward suffering a lot as I've been writing more, whether on a blog, or in a writing group, or in a journal- and feeling into my voice, learning to write about these things. It's been a great inquiry. When I was a kid, very sensitive, quite emotional, a young budding addict, my mother used to say, "You need to get a thicker skin." What I eventually learned that this really meant was that she was uncomfortable meeting me where I was and teaching me how to be resilient. How does a child gain emotional intelligence? But that was where she was, and so I've needed in adulthood to recover my sensitivity and develop compassion- not only for her, but for myself. And I think that sensitivity and compassion are skills that help me consider deeply what I write about- and how. But they came in time, through steady effort and a willingness to let go a little into creative flow. 

Pretty much across the board, when I listen at 12-step meetings, I hear people in recovery reporting feelings very early on of being "not quite right" inside or feeling "different." Though the specific circumstances vary, I can say that yes, that was my experience. I felt and saw and knew that the adults in my life were not well regulated. We had lots of joy in our household- I'd hate to make anyone think our family life was all bad- not at all. But somehow, even those moments of joy were punctuated by a sense that This is not real. This will end very soon. The other shoe will drop. 

Around the ages of 7-9, a series of personal and family traumas set our home dynamic on its end. My mother began her slow decline into her addiction and from about 1982 to 1999 her disease worsened and eventually took her life. My parents bounced off each other- unable to find the comfort with one another each desperately needed- until 1989 when my mother finally jumped ship. The years in between and even after the split were hard- for a lot of reasons that are too complicated for this post (that's a story for another day, or maybe my sponsor). 

It's not a very comfortable way to live- not for long, anyway. Just like wearing those itchy sweaters my 11-year-old niece hates, staying in an uncomfortable place- without tools- can make you feel that your skin is on fire. Welts break out, panic sets in, and you'd do anything- just about anything at all- to get out of that situation. 

I found alcohol pretty early- at the age of 13, I figured out how to sneak wine coolers to school in a thermos and skim liquor off the top of the bottles in my parents' cabinet. My mom never noticed the incremental amounts of wine that disappeared from the large grocery-store jug of white zinfandel (horrors!)- and so I got away with it. I'd sneak out, or go to a party under the auspices that the parents would be there only to return vomiting uncontrollably. My mother would later cover for me since she knew the rage that would follow once my dad found out- so then she had the dirt on me, and round and round we'd go. That was the psychological backdrop for my habit- but moreover, alcohol made me feel warm and relaxed in a way nothing else did. 

But this is not meant to be a drunk-a-log. We know what happens when people are substance abusers: relationships suffer, often-preventable accidents happen, health, employment status, and finances are ruined, and legal consequences ensue. I didn't have all of those yet, but enough had happened over my 25 year career of binge drinking (and later daily maintenance drinking) to finally give in. I surrendered on September 1, 2012 under a starry sky, calling out to the universe to please take this away from me. I can't say I've really looked back, ever- but I've had to look deeper and deeper to stay on this path. That's the way it works- once you commit to recovery it has to be complete (read: not perfect). Otherwise, as my teacher and mentor Nikki says, in the way only she can, "you may be dry, but you're still a miserable asshole." 

Over time I've learned to sit with more and more discomfort and with greater and greater ease. If it weren't for the principles of the 12 steps: rigorous honesty, open mindedness, willingness (or at least, the willingness to be willing), humility, surrender, trust, dedication, introspection, devotion, consistency and service; along with the practices of yoga (sitting in meditation, with a mind that is open and a heart that knows the way, embodying steadiness and ease, breathing in the present moment, self-study and compassion) there's a decent chance I wouldn't still be sober and those other "not yets" would begin to materialize.

To "tolerate the consequences" of being myself, I had to first be willing to look. I thank the god of my understanding every day for the teachers who came before me- and before my sobriety date- as well as those teachers who still guide me today, for showing me through their lives and through their wisdom how to hold myself in compassion so that I could take that first look, and then a second, and a third... 

(Part 2 coming... stay tuned.) 


On Goals

The point of a goal is the person you become on the way to achieving it.”
~ Hot coal-walking, self-help guru Tony Robbins

Out of all the yamas and niyamas, the fundamental ethical principles of the yogic path, tapas (discipline, dedication, intensity, fire) has always been a weak spot for me- or rather, tapas directed toward inner awareness and development, that is. I'm always astonished at the dedication that addicts show to their disease. Daily life becomes a set of strategies to feed the habit and addicts will often let nothing stand in the way of their drug of choice. I was like that- no matter what kind of time I was having- good, bad, or indifferent- my drug of choice was there. And despite all my inner convictions to the contrary, all my best efforts- even days strung together without using- I always fell back to the thing that I now accept I'm hard wired to abuse to my own destruction. 

In my case, historically it was alcohol- my mother and grandmother, long deceased, and several living family members share this.

And it's important for me to say that no amount of green smoothies, yoga asana, meditation, or anything else offsets the negative consequences of untreated, active addiction. 

As we learn in the Yoga of 12 Step Recovery (Y12SR), the area my work is most focused on these days, many addictions have their roots in unhealed trauma- "the issues live in our tissues," as we say. We also apply a broad definition of addiction to mean that anything we do to avoid, deny, hide, or camouflage pain can become an addiction.

So, in that broad sense, 



power and control

sex and love


substances (both legal and illegal)







can all become addictive given the right conditions- especially the toxic combination of unhealed trauma and co-dependency- and a family history compounds the likelihood even more. (Check, check, check.) 

How do you know you're addicted? We say that if you engage in the behavior when you really do not want to- or when you know it's wrong or harmful- it's possible you are addicted to that substance, habit or process. My friend Tommy Rosen says that addiction is "any behavior you continue to engage in despite the fact that it brings negative consequences to your life." So, if your relationships suffer- or your health is affected- or your legal or parental or work or financial status suffers- it's worth looking at. But the thing is, sometimes, even with consequences we can't always see how we (or others affected by our addiction) are suffering- and even if we can see it, the characteristics of addiction itself often render us unable to admit it. This is the nature of the disease of addiction- the disease itself tells us we do not have a disease.

Addiction affects the master controller of the nervous system- the structures of the brain itself- and the entire nervous, digestive, and endocrine systems become wired around the addiction. But there is hope and the promise of recovery for those who "have the capacity to be honest." I cannot properly convey the gratitude that I have for my teachers who showed me the way to this recovery path that I am on. Their honesty saved my life. 

After some time on this path (and surrendering, surrendering, surrendering- recovery is a process of subtraction) I've been able to identify my motivation- that's a critical piece for me. In Y12SR we work with the koshas- the multi-dimensional layers of being, which concern our physical bodies, our energy, our thoughts and psychology, our character, and our heart- our deepest layer, which touches the divine. These layers are inter-dependent and all-pervasive- meaning everything we do and experience manifests in the koshas OR our koshas are constantly shifting- what you do to one affects the other. 

Intention happens somewhere at the intersection of the character and the heart. It's said that any intention if it comes from the heart is already a part of you- your character is a reflection of your deepest desires, and your value system. Of course it's possible to act without intention- people do it all the time! I've thought (and written) a lot about ethics lately- and suggested that our actions must be grounded in ethics to be sustainable and effective. It's true for me- and in order to know my own heart's desires I've got to be willing to sit for some time each day and touch that divine place. This helps me know when an action is coming from external motivation or inner guidance. (It's not necessarily a bad thing, by the way, to act from external motivation- but I assert that even taking an action that comes from the outside-in, paying your taxes for example- comes with it an inherent connection to something from the inside-out: in this case, not wanting to pay fees and go to court and suffer those financial, legal, and ethical consequences and everything that might flow from that. Or, paying taxes might come from a desire to give to your community and support services that help people in need, and provide schools, libraries, first responders, roads, clean rivers, and things like that.) 

Back in December I made the commitment to practice daily silent meditation. The time I practice varies- but often I start with a little pranayama, especially alternate nostril breathing, then an additional length of time sitting and breathing in, breathing out. Often the meditation follows asana practice, but not always- I've done it in airport terminals or on airplanes, in my car in the driveway of a student's house before a session, riding in a car on a trip... you name it. I've even done it while hiking trails. What I experience during my meditation is very personal, and very powerful in ways I can't articulate right now, and so I think I'll stop short of explaining what it's like. 

It's been 145 days now since I set that goal, and for the first time in my life I am beginning to see and feel and trust daily the path I'm being called to follow. There is a grounded quality to my days- a thru line- so that whether I'm running, or practicing asana, or sitting, or teaching, or eating, or going to the bank, or writing an email- I can feel the presence of my heart's intention. It burns bright in me now- and that's what I think is meant by tapas. If I want to feel stronger, more steady, more present- I've got to feel it at every level- every kosha must experience that strength and steadiness. So I must engage in physical, energetic, mental, ethical, and spiritual ways that move me in that direction, the direction of my own heart.

In my last entry on activism I wrote that I try to act with kindness, generosity, non-violence, and honesty. I may unpack these a little in a future entry. These ethics, as I was taught, become a compass by which I can set my bearing each day. I will certainly fall short- progress, not perfection- but I can always check in with my intention and see who I am "becoming" on the way toward my goals.

The steps we must take each day are unique to the lives we live- where we build our worlds. This is the "what" we do. More important to me these days, is the "how" we do it. 

How are you taking each step? 

p.s. If you're interested in exploring Y12SR or taking a training, visit


On Mondays

I'll admit it- I'm not usually a Monday person. I love what I do- and anyway, there is no real significance to Mondays in the life of a self-employed yoga teacher- so it's a completely irrational dis-like. 

On any day or with any occasion though, it really only takes a few things to make a "bad" time more pleasant. Often it's a shift in attitude, or meditation, or some nutrition to boost mood, or exercise, or journaling or something like that. 

Today was sort of an "all of the above" morning. It was a day for

  • lemon water
  • meditation (just 10 minutes today)
  • coffee 
  • a long run with a dear friend
  • good tunes on the way home
  • a delicious protein and nutrition-packed smoothie, so pretty I had to take a fancy photo of it (recipe below) 
  • some time writing

Often any one of these is enough to shift me from energy-draining inaction and negative thinking to increased focus, purpose and whole-heartedness. Today I was lucky enough to start the week on a light note and able to do them all. It sure ain't always that way! 

The aforementioned smoothie: 

1/2 frozen banana 

3/4 cup filtered water

1/4 cup raw almonds

3 large organic strawberries

big scoop Vega protein powder, chocolate

2 tbsp chia seeds (I've written before about my love for them

Blend all of the above til a smooth puree, pour into a pretty glass and top with raw cacao nibs and coconut flakes. Vegan, protein packed and super delicious. 


On Wholeness

"Yoga is a system of practices and attitudes that ground us in our inherent wholeness."


At age 21-22 and reeling from my own unhealed childhood trauma, not to mention living under the oppressive regime of addiction, I could not have fully understood the power that yoga would eventually have in my life. But I eventually learned. 

In those early days- my first class was sometime in 1994, when I was in my sophomore or junior year at VCU- I remember sensing something very potent but very foreign to me. I looked around- as newcomers often do- and saw a lot of people who seemed to know just what to do. I, on the other hand, did not. In fact, I left my first vinyasa class crying because I felt something very wrong inside me, very out of step with something everyone else seemed to know. That experience stuck with me. But I'm so grateful I went back.

A while later I sat in my Zen Buddhism class and we studied the concept of touching the earth. This would come up over a decade later in my study with Rolf Gates who frequently tells the "touch the earth" story as a message of awakening now, here, in the moment- the only moment we have. It's always the perfect time and place to awaken. (The above link sends you to a free podcast during which Rolf discusses this subject.) 

For many of us drawn to study self-improvement (though I prefer the term self-acceptance), the body, life, the circumstances we find ourselves in have been something to be endured. Life is something to be tolerated rather than enjoyed and the journey of self-improvement or self-acceptance is despite all of that. This was the case for me. "Resting in the felt experience of the now" is not always easy or even possible when you're nine years old and drinks are getting hurled across the room and doors are getting slammed. 

But I digress. 

Self-acceptance for me has been a journey of subtraction- rather than add what I think I need to be right with the world I usually need to subtract anything that stands in the way of trusting that I'm already there. The practice of meditation has helped me find the frequency where that subtraction can happen. When I'm not practicing presence, I'm prone to seek all sorts of approval or fulfillment from something that I probably don't need- and by the way, probably already have, without the thing I'm seeking. 

So this "practicing presence"- what does it look like? 

1. Notice you're not present. This takes practice. In fact it all takes practice. 

2. Notice what it felt like to be not present. 

3. Get a sense of your feet on the ground/seat on the cushion/back on the chair. (Touch the earth.)

4. Listen externally for sounds, look around at the room and the place you're in, to just get a sense of what's here in the moment. 

5. With eyes either open or closed, get a sense of your center. What feels like your center right now? It might be your belly, it might be your heart, or your forehead... connect to that center and feel for a moment what it's like to breathe into your center and breathe out of your center. Breath going in, breath going out. Breath going in, breath going out. 

6. Wait a while until the "not present" feeling passes. Feel what you feel now. Feel the temperature of the air, the dryness or dampness of your palms, the texture of the clothing you're wearing, the feeling of your body breathing, a sense of heaviness or buoyancy. This is YOU in the present moment. Just you. 

7. Repeat these practices often enough that you are able to do them with as little effort as possible (meaning, they come naturally, as you are talking to someone, or preparing a meal, or writing a speech). And practice them especially when things are good, when it's easy, so you have the skills to use when things are not so easy. I do it daily as part of my meditation practice.

Wholeness is a practice. It's not pushing away experiences or striving for them. It's being there, with the body and the breath, seeking only present moment awareness. 

Try it! 

For me, most of the time, when I practice presence I find myself needing to do, be, or accomplish less in order to feel successful and fulfilled. The simpler answer comes. Usually it's characterized by kindness, non-violence, generosity, and honesty. That feels good- and it tends to grow. Most good things in my life, in fact, come from practicing presence. This feels something like wholeness. And it's already there, waiting for you. 


On Writing

I wrote my first legitimate piece back in my senior year of high school. It was about the loss of my dog, Pancake (Cocoa Bean in the story). Pancake was a terrier mutt we adopted when I was about 5. She was the coolest dog ever-- super playful, loved to go on runs with my dad when he was running, obsessive (as many terriers are) about small critters-- she would spend the better part of an afternoon tormenting a chipmunk trapped in some spare PVC pipe we had under our deck. Of course, she'd stay there, running from end to end long after the quick little bugger escaped without her knowing. Not the smartest dog. 

Pancake was a pretty old dog when my dad had her put down. I was 16, my parents had split, and Pancake had a few health problems, not to mention my dad had plans to move in with his new girlfriend. I came home (from school? from staying with my mom? can't remember) and he broke the news to me. I was crushed. She had been part of her family almost since I could remember. Everything was falling apart, and when I had the opportunity to write I wrote about her. It was a way of telling a story that was extremely painful. 

The piece won an honorable mention in a high school writing competition-- my English teacher submitted it on my behalf. I wrote some poetry too-- noodly, self-indulgent stuff-- but the seed was planted then that writing could be therapy. 

I left writing behind for a number of years as adulthood set in and real world problems took me over-- the illness and death of my mother, the resulting need to find stability in anyone and anything-- and I almost completely forgot about writing. 

During that period I got more into reading about spirituality and Eastern thought and this was the beginning of my journey into Yoga. I sometimes say I got into Yoga as a physical practice, but that's not entirely accurate. My first understanding of embodied spirituality (which is what Yoga really is, it can be said simply) came in a Zen Buddhism class. I understood the story of the Buddha to mean that if one took a seat in a comfortable way with the intention of awakening, one might uncover the nature of suffering, attain compassion toward it, and see the path to move through it, neutralizing its power. This was a tantalizing prospect for me, because by that point I had been suffering for nearly 20 years from unhealed childhood trauma. It's taken me a long time to accept that's what it was, and to call it by its real name. 

There's such a healing aspect to naming a thing. Writing, as I realized while writing about writing recently, is a way of making amends for having been out of step with the flow of the universe. If that sounds too fluffy-new-agey, I'll try to say it another way. Carrying a story in my head (and thus, in my body, if it's a traumatic story) is a painful burden. Telling it on the page (or verbally) is a way of letting the reins loose and taking on a softer, gentler attitude. When that happens, I'm often more ready to hear what I need to hear, to look with less attachment at a situation, have a more open, allowing orientation about my experience. 

A wonderful by-product of having told my story (or parts of it, time permitting) repeatedly in community over the course of the past few years is that I no longer carry shame about it. It simply holds no power over me. Of course there are times I go back to old ways, retreat, and clam up, forgetting this, but I've gotten pretty good at reading the messages of my own body and how held tension and stress are a signpost that I need to let go a little. And when I do, the results are pretty much immediate. 

The best formula for me seems to be: Yoga & meditation + writing + community + running & exercise + nutrition = health, balance, and wholeness. (More about wholeness in a future post.) 

What's your formula? 


On Meditation

I have a tendency to make things way more complicated than they need to be. For years I wanted a daily meditation practice. As with most things that are good for me, I kept that inner dialogue going that I didn't have time for it. (This was not true, by the way.) Sitting in actual, intentional meditation became something I only practiced here and there, and so it was difficult. 

Last Spring I roomed with my friend Dr. Melody Moore at the Yoga, Meditation and Recovery Conference at Kripalu, where I was both a participant and an assistant. Melody introduced me to Insight Timer, an app that connects meditators worldwide. There is a social networking aspect to it that I don't use-- the real value to me is the daily accountability it offers. I've been able to maintain much longer stretches of time with a daily seated practice than ever before (right now I'm on Day 55!) and it is just so easy. I set the timer for whatever length of time I have that day, usually between 10 and 30 minutes (okay... most often, 10 if I'm being honest) and I just get still, breathe, and eventually the mind does quiet. The longer I sit, the easier it is to quiet the mind-- seems counterintuitive, but for me, it takes time for all that "mindstuff" to fade away. Then the timer goes off, I'm informed by the brilliant minds at Insight Timer how many people were also meditating at the same time (usually between 1600-5500 people globally! what a community) and I start my day. 

The results are usually immediate. Following a sit, for the first minute or so, I'm a little spacy. But then things come into clear focus. I feel more present, embodied (meaning, less in my head and more in my body), aware, and available for whatever the day might bring. And this state seems to last throughout the day, if I let it. It gives me choices: to speak or not speak, to act or not act-- it even gives me the choice to notice thoughts before their power has a chance to derail my day. Once tapped into, that frequency is easier to access. And all I had to do was sit?!? 

I think there's a misconception that meditation and yoga are all about bliss. I think it's the opposite. I think these practices are most useful when we use them as tools for presence, empowerment and awareness. I didn't make that up-- it's in the literature both ancient and modern. More about that in a future post: checking in vs. checking out