My Reading Partner

It’s late. I should have gone to bed hours ago, but the new Nora Roberts book released today and I couldn’t help myself, I had to at least start it. As an avid Nora fan, I knew what I was getting into when I opened the book on my Kindle tonight. There was no way I could only read one measly chapter…my goal was to avoid reading it in one sitting, and I’ve accomplished that for the moment.

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The newest Nora Roberts – released July 9, 2019

Nora Roberts’ books will always have a special place in my heart. They were the books Nan and I looked forward to reading and sharing the most. One of my most cherished possessions is the copy of the Irish Born trilogy that was Nan’s. It’s a paperback copy, bereft of its cover and adorned with various tea stains. She had probably read that tome twenty times at least. I’ve read it several times myself and it always makes me feel close to Nan. That’s how I always feel when I read Nora. Tonight, lying in bed, soft light from the lamp on my bedside table giving just enough illumination to keep my eyes from straining, but not enough to keep Scott awake, I smiled as I read the newest book, thinking of how Nan would have done similar in that very room. When I read a Nora book at home, in Nan’s house, I can feel Nan reading right along beside me, smiling and just as captivated with the story as I am.

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My treasured copy.

Nan will always be my reading partner. When she first passed and I would read a book I knew she would have loved, I used to feel a great sadness that I couldn’t share it with her. But now, I know better. I know she’s with me reading every word. I’m sure shes still picking out the murderer well before the reveal, still approving of a hot leading man, and still rooting for the plucky heroine. When she and I finish this one, I imagine we will both be eager for the next; it’s already pre-ordered for automatic delivery.

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The woman herself, holding my nephew ten years ago. I miss her every day, but I know she’s reading along with me.

Accepting it all

I had to write an assignment for school recently that ended up being about my journey to yoga. The assignment was to write about some aspect of your identity and before I knew it, I had words on the page. Enjoy.

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Me and my kindred, short-armed spirit animal.

I am not a traditional yogi. I’m not lithe and graceful. I’m not a beautiful blond in a handstand, flat stomach and perfect hair, glowing with peace and happiness for my one million Instagram followers. I don’t go running on the weekends and only wear Lululemon. I’m short and stumpy and cannot get my foot behind my head. I came to yoga in my late 20s and early 30s when anxiety was taking over my life and my therapist recommended a local class to help manage it. I came to yoga because I needed it to breathe. I eventually decided to teach yoga because I realized that there needed to be more plump, inflexible yogis out there to show people that the whole point of yoga is NOT to look like some uber-flexible 22 year old, but the point is to gain mobility, a sense of self, a break from the everyday rush of things, and maybe some spiritual grounding in a practice that reminds you that life is exactly that – a practice.

I always thought of myself as a confident person, but debilitating anxiety and terrible, unsupportive (borderline malicious) bosses throughout my 20s chipped away at my self-esteem. By the time my grandmother died, a moment unlike any I had ever experienced before, I was a complete mess. I was drowning in failure and to numb out the frenetic stress and anxiety I was drinking wine every night like it was water. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t focus. I was at one of the lowest points of my life. Then one day, after I revealed my inner monologue of anxiety and sense of failure to my family, I finally dragged myself to therapy. I loved my fruit-loop of a therapist. She had these two adorable dogs she brought to her office every day, a wolfhound and a whippet. They somehow understood their job and were forces of kindness at every session, snuggling with me while I struggled to understand how anyone could breathe without feeling anxious about it. Dogs somehow make everything simpler. My therapist was this wild yet calming, untamed creature who somehow understood me and my need to relearn how to breathe and function. She taught me about Buddhism and meditation and was the person who suggested I go to yoga. It would change my life.

Yoga is not a religion. It has its roots in many spiritual disciplines, a dash of Hinduism here, some Buddhism there, but it is not in itself a religion. Sure, there can be chanting and the poses all have names in Sanskrit (an ancient language of India), but this doesn’t make it a religion. When I first came to yoga I just thought I wanted to work out the anxiety, to figure out a way to breathe so I didn’t feel like my head would explode at any moment from the sheer stress of living. I would go to class and move through the motions at first, feeling so uncoordinated and out of breath. How the hell does this woman bend her body in that way? Are you kidding me with that arm balance stuff? Again and again the teacher would say, “your pose might not look like my pose,” and in my head I was thinking back, “well, screw you then.” My first class I wanted miracles. I wanted to be fixed, to not be broken any longer. But things don’t happen like that. When you’ve spent years building walls, they don’t come down in just one day. I came to yoga a failing perfectionist and it was a solid year before my ego slowly chipped away, as yoga will do, and the meaning of the teacher’s words finally sunk in.

I bought an unlimited class pass and was going to yoga a minimum of two times a week, but more often then not was there three of four times a week as the magic of the practice started to work its way through my body and my mind. I was slowly starting to sleep better and my body was regaining strength I had lost to disuse and stress. You hear the phrase sometimes, “I was beginning to feel more like myself,” but that wasn’t really the case for me. I wasn’t beginning to feel more like myself. I was beginning to feel like a new version of myself. One with more confidence and an understanding of how my failures were not really failures at all. They were human moments because humans aren’t perfect. Humans are this beautiful, messy, wonderful, infuriating ball of existence and it is ok to falter. I understood that my pose was not going to look like my teacher’s. That my body was my body, with all of its amazing qualities and limitations. No, my t-rex arms will never be long enough to grab each hand behind my back in cow-face pose, but that’s ok. That’s what yoga props are for- to help you where you need help, as long as you’re willing to accept it.

As the words and movement of the practice started to truly take hold of my mindset, I realized that I wanted to share this with the world. The magic that was happening inside me needed to be shared and brought to others. I needed to give to others what this practice had given me. I signed up for a 200-hour teacher training program that would meet for nine weekends over the course of nine months at a beautiful studio in North Haverhill, NH. The studio was on a working farm and one wall was all windows, looking out over the fields where the Highland cows were grazing or the geese were walking around. I knew after the first class I went to there to meet the teacher that it was exactly where I needed to be.

Teacher training is not just about learning the poses to instruct others safely. Teacher training is as much a road to self-discovery as it is a program to help people teach yoga. Your success in a program is dependent on two main variables: your willingness to go deep within yourself and discover who you are and what truly matters to you, and having a teacher who is the right fit to help you journey down that path. Without the right teacher, you may pass the course but you will not be truly prepared to teach the practice. Teaching yoga is about giving, every class taught requires you to give a part of yourself away to your students, so you need to understand who you are so you know what you have to give.

When I met Carolyn, I knew she was the teacher I needed in my life. Carolyn is my polar opposite: tall, slim, beautiful in an interesting way, flexible to the point of inspiring envy. Yet despite these oppositions, we clicked. She is uncompromising, but not in a way that discourages. She holds the line when it is vital, but also provides space when you need it. Her confidence is contagious as is her kindness. I knew from the first meeting that I would learn from her. In yoga there is a sense that the universe has your back and will move things in front of you, both obstacles and advantages, when the time is right. The universe had my back in this case.

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As seems to be the theme in my life, shit tends to hit the fan all at once and from all sides. Part of this is related to my Go Big or Go Home nature –  I never do things halfway and most often go overboard, expecting too much of myself and then struggling to get through (a common aspect of perfectionism). When I signed up for teacher training, I was in the midst of grad school. I figured I was only doing online classes at the time, so I should be able to balance grad school, working full-time, and teacher training. The problem with this sort of thinking is that it leaves no room for anything else to get complicated. My very first weekend of training, my beloved cat died on Saturday night. His death wasn’t a surprise, he had been in decline, but it was devastating and the grief was instant and debilitating. The month of my first week of training, work became intolerable. My office mate went on maternity leave and I ended up having to do all of her work, my own, and most of my boss’s work. I was buried. Add in travel and house guests, and well, it was not an auspicious start, but through it all I knew that I would not regret teacher training and needed to stick with it.

Things didn’t get easier in my life throughout the training, but each weekend at the studio improved my life in a multitude of ways. I started to become more confident as a teacher and a person, my voice unwavering in the front of the room, my pulse steady as I moved students from pose to pose and not concerned about always filling the silence. I began to understand myself and what was important to me, truly beginning to understand my purpose – I was meant to be a teacher, it is where I felt at home when I could let go of the anxiety and desire to be perfect. I became more aware of how important it is to be accepting of ourselves and where we are at any given point in our lives, that we are exactly where we need to be, no matter what is going on around us – my heels will never reach the floor in downward facing dog, it’s ok, that doesn’t make me a bad teacher or a failure, that’s just where I am in the here and now and I can give my students the freedom to accept where they are too. I became a better teacher and student, and understanding how those are ultimately one and the same.

The biggest breakthrough came the last weekend of the training. As part of the ‘final exam’ you teach an entire yoga class to the rest of the trainees and the teacher observes. I had been having a really terrible time at work, feeling like I was failing in every way, and this caused my anxiety to spike to levels only seen before yoga entered my life. I had an event the night before as well, over-extending myself and burning the candle at both ends. I was so nervous about the practicum, despite my teacher’s assurance that she wasn’t worried about my passing, that I couldn’t sleep the night before. I walked into the studio to teach my class and I could feel myself coming apart at the seams. Then it happened, my tired brain jumbled my planned class and I KNEW I had failed. I taught the rest of the class with my head screaming at me the entire time, “YOU FAILED.” By the time I closed the class with a final, “Namaste,” I was in tears and bolted from the room.

See, perfectionism is a nasty habit. It’s pernicious. It invades your psyche and makes you think that you can’t be doing well if you’re not perfect. It’s especially harmful when you must operate in a culture of perfectionism, such as where I worked. When I’m feeling good, anxiety in check, sleeping well, breathing fully, I can keep the perfectionism at bay, it is ok to do ‘enough.’ If things are not in order, it creeps in like a plague, taking hold and rendering me sick and helpless. When the tears had stopped and I returned from my walk around the farm, my teacher said nothing to me other than, “We need to talk in a bit, your class was great and I need to know what’s going on in that head of yours.”

This is a perfect example of why you need to have great teachers in your life. She got me. This is also why I needed a practice such as yoga in my life, because just the fact that it is called a practice is a clue to its power. It can remind you that not every day is going to go well. There will be great days where you feel like you get everything right, and there will be days where nothing goes as planned. Life is a practice where every day is a chance to do over, try something new, expand who you are and be a better version of yourself. There will be days when things will be completely out of your control and you just have to accept the circumstances and do the best with what you can control. Carolyn understood and she understood the words I needed to hear. I had taught a lovely class that hit all the right points. I had passed with flying colors. I was elated, but she didn’t let me off the hook at that, we talked through what happened and I left that day with a better understanding of myself and what I still needed to work on. I needed to work on changing my default mode of perfectionism, because it would only hinder me if I let it continue, even on the days when my threshold has been reached and I’m just trying to survive, if anything, those are the days where I needed it most. I needed to believe in myself no matter what, and to remember that the students looking at me for guidance do not know what my class plan was and if I can just keep going rather than faltering at the first sign of mistake, they will still have a great class and I can walk away with my head held high.

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I left teacher training a better version of myself, and I continue to bring that version to my yoga classes. This better version works hard to not hold herself up to the standards of others, or even her own impossible standards. I make a point every class to share my own limitations with my students, “If you can believe it, the ‘perfect version’ of this pose says that your head will touch your knee. For me, that’s never going to happen because my body is just not constructed that way, and it’s ok if that’s the same for you. Any amount of the pose is the pose.” Any amount of the pose is the pose, it’s something that Carolyn said over and over again during class. It stuck in my head and it became part of my own vocabulary because it is so true, both in yoga as in life. I want my students to understand that it is not about being able to force your body into the ‘perfect pose’ because if you have to force your body that means it is not the perfect pose for YOU. Your perfect pose is making sure to have the pose meet you where you are in that moment and accepting that as where you should be that day. You don’t need to be slim and young to do yoga or anything you really want to do in your life. Accepting who you are at any given moment is far more important than hitting some standard set by others. Yoga taught me, and continues to teach me, about acceptance. It is an ongoing practice that has improved every day of my life.

Sometimes you have to break down to break through.

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It has been a very hard last year or so. Probably longer, if I’m being honest. Grief, stress, constant change, constant obligation, exhaustion. It all adds up until one day, you hit the bottom really hard and the only choices you have are to stay at the bottom and wallow or use the event to inspire good change.

Last weekend, I hit rock bottom. I hit it so hard I bounced. Let me set the stage:

It was my last weekend of yoga teacher training. One of my closest friends was getting married on the Saturday, so I would miss half of my classmates’ practicum classes. I was teaching my class second on Sunday, right after lunch. We got home from the wedding on Saturday not too late, but it didn’t matter because I couldn’t sleep a wink. The anxiety I had had in control for the last month thanks to acupuncture, yoga, and meditation, was back full force and there was no way I would find sleep. I still rolled out of bed and drove to teacher training Sunday morning, doing two hours of asana  practice before finally getting to my class. I felt prepared, I had practiced the shit out of my class, even teaching it to two co-workers all the way through. I knew this class in-and-out. It all started out fine, but I could feel the pressure of expectations, my own and my teacher’s. I made a mistake, not that the class knew, but I KNEW. Then it started to unravel like a ball of yarn in a hurricane. I unraveled. I managed to teach the entire class without any of the students (and even my teacher) from catching on to my disintegration, but I broke down hard at the end. Bursting into tears, I quickly picked up my mat and books and ran from the studio.

When the time came for the last practicum class, I pulled myself together and took the class, managing to stop crying for the entire hour. Then Judgment Time had arrived- final assessments. At this point, I was so certain I had failed and I was already trying to figure out what to say to my family and friends about my failure. I walked in and sat down with my teacher and the first thing she said was, “You taught an AWESOME class, so what the hell is going on in your head right now?!” She and I speak the same language, I appreciate her directness and it allows me to respond in-kind. “When you’ve internalized that a single mistake equals absolute failure for five years, it can be hard to get out of your own way, especially when you’re exhausted.”

When my teacher hit me with that direct question, it charged my brain and the reason hit me like a brick. I have always had high expectations for myself. These were never imposed by my parents or teachers because they could always see that I didn’t need outside pressure to perform well, I had enough intrinsic motivation to do well. This only becomes a problem when you start working for a company (or start a relationship with a person) that recognizes your intrinsic motivation and exploits it to demand perfection at all costs. In my case, it’s my job where my perfectionism is exploited. At work, anything less than perfect is failure. There is no positive feedback, no recognition of effort or that you’re even a human being who will make mistakes. It’s merely, you made a mistake- you failed. Five years of that can be incredibly damaging to the psyche.

Dr. Brené Brown talks about perfectionism and its relationship to shame in many of her books, and I highly recommend you read them (links below) because they are making a huge difference in my understanding of myself. I broke down at teacher training because I felt deep shame for making that mistake. I wasn’t good enough. I failed. All of that hard work, for naught. Five years of that attitude forced on me at work, and I had internalized it as if it were truth. We live in a culture of perfectionism and shame. I think about all of the young moms I know who are in constant fear of being perceived as a bad parent. The level of judgment and expectation has gotten out of control and it’s part of what is contributing to rampant stress and mental illness (IMHO). Talking about what’s going on in our head is still somewhat stigmatized. Breaking down is seen as weakness in a world that has no room for weak moments.

Breaking down at yoga teacher training is probably one of the best things you can do. Why? Because where are you going to find a more spiritually enlightened, safe, open place to breakdown? Where are you going to find more kind, compassionate, understanding people? Yogis are an exceptional group of people on a good day, but they really shine on a bad day when you’ve ripped yourself apart from the inside out. To my fellow classmates: I have so much gratitude for your kindness that day and every day.

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The good news: this absolute breakdown helped me have a breakthrough. Five years of repressed emotion burst through the walls I had built to keep them at bay so I could function. I didn’t just cry on the way home from yoga teacher training that night, I sobbed myself dry. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, tears I should have shed so many times and just couldn’t because that too would be a sign of failure. I sobbed away the weight of perfectionism that had me stressed and anxious every day of my life after starting at my company. I came out the other side of those tears a different person. A person who was going to do her best not to let other people define me. A person unwilling to except the unrealistic expectations of others. A person who could make mistakes without feeling like a failure. It was the beginning of something.

It’s been a week since all of this. The Hubs told me last night that he can’t believe how different I am. He told me I’m so much more relaxed and lighter, that he can tell I’m not sitting next to him on the couch and thinking about all of the things I should be doing. I’m more present. My new goal is to maintain this to the best of my ability. I do not want to go back to that world of repressed emotions and feelings of constant failure. Life is far too short and beautiful to waste it letting other people define you.

Books I’ve read by Brené Brown:

Rising Strong

I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t)

Waltzing Together

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Lord Huron’s new track 🙂

A new song came out from one of my favorite bands, Lord Huron, and as soon as I heard the first few measures, I knew I would be in love with it for one simple reason: it was a waltz. For some reason, I am sonically attracted to waltzes. I can’t resist them. Most of my all-time favorite songs are set to a 3/4 waltz time. Music has always been not just an important part of my life, but a crucial and vital element of my every day. It’s core to who I am. When I can’t focus, music helps me. When I can’t sleep, music helps me. When I’m feeling lonely, music helps me. The deep love of music is something The Hubs and I share. Some nights, we’ll sit on the couch and surf Spotify together, listening to new music or playing Name that Tune or simply enjoying an album we both love.

Along with being sonically attracted to waltzes, I think that music at it’s most base existence, vibration, is what also attracts us to the people in our lives. Think about it- sometimes you just don’t like someone and can’t explain why. I think that the reason for that is dissonance on a vibrational level. I think the same goes for the idea of ‘love at first sight,’ it’s not really sight that does it, it’s our energetic vibrations.

When people meet The Hubs after knowing just me for a while, they’re often completely confused as to how our relationship works. We’re very different people and we don’t make sense on the outside. Where we do make sense is vibrationally. We all emit energy, and I’m not talking about auras or anything like that. Humans, as do other living (and many non-living) things, emit energy, and those waves of energy (vibrations) match up to other human beings in my beliefs. It explains the weird friendships we have, the ability to start a conversation with someone in the supermarket line as if you’ve known them for your whole life, and why some people become your ride-or-die and others will always be warm acquaintances.

It explains why when you’re having a bad day, that hug from your significant other or best friend or parent or your dog is the only thing that can make you feel better. Their positive ‘vibes’ help change the negative frequency of your vibes. Your vibrational energy affects the people around you. I can always feel when The Hubs is not feeling 100%, his energy changes and there’s dissonance. He doesn’t have to say anything or make a face or anything, I can just feel it. Some of us are more sensitive than others, but we all can feel that kind of energy, whether we want to admit to it or not. It plays into our interpersonal intuition.

This energy is equally crucial when teaching or participating in a yoga class. If I teach the class and my energy is low and negative, everyone will feel it and it will take the class down with it. There will be a strong dissonance and none of the students in the room will feel as positive after class as they should. If I teach from a place of positive energy, emitting positive vibrations, the whole class will feel it and will leave class feeling better. These vibrations are the same as emitting confidence or not. What are you putting out into the world?

A waltz is a great analogy for teaching a yoga class or interacting with your friends or presenting something at work: are you in time with each step? Is your energy matching or bringing up the energy in the room? Are you creating dissonance or harmony?

I plan to do some work on my waltzing.

~Namaste,
Katie

 

The Pose You Hate is Probably the One You Need

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Tools for class

The pose you hate is probably the one you need. This is also true for entire classes. I had to make up a third chakra-focused class because I had to miss that day in my yoga teacher training program last month. I was…well, let’s just say I wasn’t looking forward to it, because third chakra means abs. Lots and lots of ab work. The third chakra, located roughly around the belly button/solar plexus is where the energy of will and decision comes from, so in order to help balance that area it’s best to do ab exercises that target that area of the body. This means a lot of plank, a lot of side plank, and many many bridges.

So yeah…I wasn’t looking forward to it, but it had to be done, so I fired up YogaGlo on my phone, mirrored it to my tv, spread out my mat and got down to business. I’ll start by saying the things I didn’t like and get them out of the way. The class was taught by Jo Tastula, who did not make me a fan by the end of class. Tastula’s cuing left something to be desired- she often did not cleanly move people from pose to pose, rarely offered modifications, and the pace was highly irregular in such a way that it was disorienting. I know that I’m probably pickier because I’m in the midst of my teacher training program, but it was a tough class to follow and I plan to use it as an example of what *not* to do.

Now to be fair, this was a Level 2 class, so I understand that the cuing might be a little brief because you only get to Level 2 if you’ve been doing yoga for quite some time and already know the poses. I still think you should still provide modifications, but that’s just me. Tastula was very strong in her conveying the focus of the class, connecting the poses to the third chakra, and providing ample time at the start and end of class in savasana for centering and some breath work. I found it interesting that she included kapalabhati breathing during some poses, as well as lion’s breath, and it was a novel tactic for me.

I find side plank extremely difficult. Plank is also not my friend, as my shoulders, elbows, and wrists are weak (though improving!). This class was hard for me, and I know that at least part of my ire above is because of being baldly faced with my own weaknesses and faults. This is ultimately when the yoga really starts. This class forced me to look at my weaknesses and see them as they are- parts of me that I need to accept and recognize that they are parts of me TODAY. I can get stronger and I am working toward that, but today it is all about working to the edge and being comfortable with that. As much as I would love to avoid plank and side plank, I’ll never get better if I just continue to avoid it, no matter how much I hate plank.

And ultimately, I really don’t hate the poses, I hate how the poses makes me feel weak and incapable. By the time I was done with the class today and lying in savasana, I had finally gotten around to all of this. It’s ok to not be perfect, but it’s not ok to avoid what’s hard because it’s hard. The hard place is where the best work happens. The hard place is where you need to be. It’s where the best parts of you are formed.
~Namaste

Welcome

Hi! I’m Katie. I live with my husband and three cats (Lyle, Bentley, and Jensen) in the great state of New Hampshire. I’m a proud catmom/crazy cat lady who is also a practicing yogini. I’m in the midst of a 200-hour yoga teacher training program in Vinyasa yoga.

I came to a consistent yoga practice, after only dabbling in yoga during college, on the recommendation of my Cognitive-Behavioral therapist and ended up not only learning how to better manage my anxiety (something I’ll probably write about often on this blog), but also how to begin on the path to finding myself and eventually becoming the best possible version of ME.

My hope for this blog is to capture what life is like on this journey of self-discovery through yoga, struggles with anxiety and depression, the fun adventures life holds, and also- most importantly- cats.

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Me and my dearly beloved, recently passed, Oscar.