Yoga: What is it?

night yoga


Yoga.  What is it?   Many have set out to answer this question and it is the subject of much academic and philosophical study.  The answers are as diverse as the millions of people practicing some version of it.  My attempt here is not to provide a definitive answer nor to explore the different types of yoga but to give you a brief overview and to offer guidance on why you may want to begin your journey into this ancient yet evolving wellness practice.

When we think of yoga many of us call up images of young women dressed in Lululemon outfits moving their bodies in timed choreography in a heated room.  Merriam-Webster defines yoga as “a system of physical postures, breathing techniques, and sometimes meditation derived from yoga but often practiced independently….”  That’s nice but is that all there is to it?  Stretchy outfits?  A workout?  Breathing? A little meditation?  No.  There is SO much more to it.

Yoga has been around for thousands of years. The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means “to attach, join, harness, yoke”. It is believed that the chief aim of yoga is to unite the human spirit with the Divine.   Yoga as a system of wellness practice originated in India and is believed to stem from two main source texts, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and The Bhagavad Gita.   

According to T.K.V. Desikachar, the author of the Heart of Yoga,  yoga is sourced from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras which described an eight-limbed path of yoga.    He tells us that “…the essence of Yoga, was formulated by the great Indian sage, Patanjali, more than two thousand years ago when he described yoga as ‘the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions’.”  -Yoga Sutra 1.2 Citta Vritti Nirodhah.   The other source text, The Bhagavad Gita, which translates to “Song of God”, is a conversation between Arjuna and Krishna, and is believed to represent the battle within ourselves to realize our true natures as we teeter between choosing our lower verses higher qualities.  It contains the guidelines for understanding how to seek and find your truth.   Both texts outline a variety of ways to reach higher awareness and fulfillment.    Interestingly, these texts say very little about “asana” or the physical poses that make up the yoga we know and practice on our mats today.  In fact there are only a few lines in the Yoga Sutras that address yoga as a physical practice.  Asana, or the physical poses, were only meant to be one part of the overall discipline of yoga.  Today however,  the majority of Western practitioners focus solely on the asana and may never explore all the benefits of a comprehensive yoga practice.

Yoga as derived from these texts is meant to be a comprehensive system for wellbeing on all levels:  physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  Yoga is meant to be guidance for living a life of awareness and fulfillment, not just a workout.   That is why traditionally, yoga has emphasized the student-teacher relationship.  The teacher helps the student develop a practice that is personal to the student using the various aspects of yoga that bring about the experience and reflection necessary for each student to deepen his or his understanding of their true self.   For some students this may mean cultivating a physical practice for improved fitness.  For others, it could mean adopting a breath and meditation practice for mental clarity and stress relief.   For those seeking spiritual growth and transformation, it may mean exploring all aspects of yoga including studying yoga philosophy.  Regardless of the method of practice, all aspects of yoga are interconnected and aim to promote comprehensive wellness.  

Yoga as a practice continues to evolve.  It has branched out in many directions, some of which are quite different from it’s traditional roots.   Whether you’re stepping onto your mat for a heated power flow, taking a gentle restorative class, sitting in meditation or practicing mindful breathing, the benefits of yoga is improved wellbeing: body, mind and spirit.  While the journey into yoga may begin on the mat, doing physical poses, it isn’t long before you will begin to notice how using your breath to direct your body leads to improved focus and staying present.  Staying present on the mat allows you to connect with the sensations in your body.  This builds intuition.   As your yoga practice deepens, you will find that you feel more intuitive and begin to develop greater self-awareness, thus making better, more self-loving decisions off the mat.     The deeper the practice, the more you experience the comprehensiveness of yoga.

If you’re reading this, then I suspect that you may be feeling a quiet yet persistent internal nudge to dip your toe into water.   Regardless of how you choose to begin (a beginner class, a guided meditation, simple breathing exercises to calm your anxiety or perhaps reading the Yoga Sutras) you can be assured that you are embarking on a time-tested path to wellness.  The benefits of yoga continue to make headlines and I encourage anyone wishing to start a yoga practice, take the time to find the styles and teachers that feel right to them.  Best wishes on your journey.  Namaste.

Silencing Your Inner Mean Girl



There is an epidemic sweeping across the nation, probably the entire world.  It’s called not-good-enough-ness syndrome and it’s B.S.  It may not be clinical but it is real, folks!  Recently, I began working with a life coach group.  There are approximately 70 of us from all across the country and we “meet” so to speak in a closed Facebook group.  Our fearless leader is an amazing life coach named Andrea and on the first day she invited us to introduce ourselves and describe one disempowering core belief we had about ourselves.  After all the introductions were made, one common theme I noticed was that almost all of the women in the group, including myself, described that they did not feel “good enough.”

This not good-enough-ness ranged from career to relationships to parenting and everything in-between.  I read several “I’m not smart enough” posts.  Then there were the “I’m not successful enough” posts.  Please!  These women are all amazing! Next were the “I’m not interesting enough” posts.  These were actually really funny, as most of the ladies who didn’t think they were interesting enough had the most interesting stories.  Finally, there were the random “I’m not funny/kind/grateful/charitable enough” people.  Yada, yada, yada.  You get the idea.  It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that we were all suffering from not-good-enough-ness syndrome.  And, I’m sure that my little group of 70 are not the only ones out there beating up on ourselves.  You may even be saying to yourself, “Yes, that’s me!  I feel that way too.  How do I stop the madness?”

We are learning in our group that this not-good-enough-ness syndrome stems from the voice in our heads known as our inner critic.  And she, my friends, is a saucy little bitch and you must try to tame her.  When she is allowed to rule our minds, the result is anxiety, fear, unhappiness and the inability to move forward in life.  Who needs that crap?  Not me! Not you!

One of the first steps to managing our inner critics is to take notice of it when it pops up. Since starting my work in the group, I’ve noticed that my inner critic goes on the attack during my yoga practice.  Practicing yoga forces you to find stillness both physically and mentally and in that stillness you are forced to be with yourself.  Your teacher may spin one helluva theme and you may try like mad to leave your internal stuff at the door but somewhere between Warrior II and Triangle, Half Pigeon and Supine Twist, your stuff is going to come slap you in the face and when it does it’s gonna sting.  Really, really sting!

While we like to call our mats a 2×6 judgement free zone, the reality is that sometimes we do allow our inner mean girl to bubble up to the surface and invade our yoga practice.  For me, it typically starts with something surface level like telling me that my thighs look really fat in those pink stripey pants or that I look like a dork with my hair pulled back in this headband.  Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I notice it, shake it off and still my mind.  I reconnect with my breath and make my way out of the snark-pit.  By the time I’m headed into Savasana, I’m feeling blissful and at peace.

Some days however I’m not so lucky.  Some days my inner mean girl just won’t shut up! She goes on and on about how stupid or foolish I am or how I’m a bad friend/daughter/mother or how I’m NOT GOOD ENOUGH at (insert practically anything here).  And, no matter how hard I try to stay connected with my breath I can’t get her to shut the *bleep* up.  Does this happen to you?  I suspect I’m not alone here.  What do we do?  How do we stop our inner critic from sending us into a downward spiral of negativity?  How do we tame her?

Here are three tools we’ve been learning to use in the group.  I have found them to be helpful and believe that you will too:

1) Give yourself a permission slip.  Basically you exercise a little self-compassion and give yourself permission to be or do whatever it is you are beating yourself up for.  For example, give yourself permission to mess up now and then as a friend/spouse/parent. Be okay with skipping a workout.  Allow yourself to eat dessert for dinner.  If you’re in the middle of a yoga class and you’re not feeling it, take a child’s pose.  One of my favorite teachers often begins her cues for headstand by saying, “If a headstand is calling your name, go for it.”  Guess what?  I never, ever hear headstand calling out “Amy.”  Guess who be making her way into child’s pose?  Yep, me, and I don’t beat myself up for it. (Headstand without a wall is hard y’all.)  Repeat after me, it’s okay to not be perfect all the time.  When your inner critic tries to take over, show her your permission slip, and tell her she’ll have to wage war another day.

2) Allow yourself to feel.  Too often we try to remove ourselves from our feelings.  We think.  We do.  But when it comes to having to explore our feelings, sit with them and actually feel them, we run away.  We numb out.  Ask yourself what you are really afraid of.  What’s the worse that could happen if you feel the sadness/anger/grief?  Feel your feelings already.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I have been the girl that cries during yoga class.  Perhaps I let my inner mean girl get the better of me or, more often than not, the tears just appear without warning.  In the past I’ve tried to hide what was happening but more recently I’m learning to just let it happen.  In fact, a few weeks ago, toward the end of a class, as we were making our way onto our backs for Savasana, out of nowhere I began to feel tears welling up.  I wasn’t sobbing or anything but the tears were visibly falling down my face.  The teacher noticed it and came to me offering a Savasana assist. Before she moved to the next student, she gently wiped my tears with her thumbs and squeezed my shoulders.  Neither one of us have ever mentioned it.  She held space for me that day and I allowed myself to fully experience the feelings I was feeling without shame or guilt.  You do this enough and your inner mean girl will soon realize that you’re not afraid of what she has to offer.

3) Find a mantra to counter your critic.  This one is my favorite.  It’s really simple and who doesn’t love a good aptly timed mantra?  Basically you want to acknowledge your inner critic and diffuse whatever she has to say with something better.  Some examples you might try when your inner critic gets chatty is to say to yourself, “Cancel. Cancel. Thanks for sharing.”  Or, “Stop. I don’t want you to suffer anymore.”  When my inner critic tries to give me an ear full, I stop and ask, “How is this helpful to me?”  Usually, whatever it is my inner mean girl is saying, isn’t at all helpful.  Asking myself this question stops the chatter in my head and causes me to focus on things that might actually be helpful at moving me along on my journey.

Like me, do you find yourself suffering from not-good-enough-ness syndrome?  Does your inner mean girl whisper sweet trash talk in your ear?  If so, then I encourage you to try one of the tools above and tell your inner critic to hush.   Remember, you are a work- in-progress and showing yourself a little kindness and a little compassion will get you where you want to be quicker than letting your inner critic rule the roost.  Namaste!



One of the benefits of keeping a consistent yoga practice is that it opens up my creative pathways.  More often than not, I feel inspired and creatively charged after an hour on the mat.  Many times I have found this creative energy to be a useful tool for processing my “stuff.”  By “stuff”, I’m referring to the big, beautiful, shit-storms of life we all face. You know what I’m talking about…the health scares, the aging parents, the crumbling relationships, etc.  I’ve been facing a number of struggles in my life this year and while yoga is always a favorite tool for processing my stuff, this year my processing process has returned to a former love, the “pen” or more realistically the keyboard (pen just sounds sexier than keyboard, don’t you think?) to reflect on and process the tough stuff through writing.

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a week at the beach.  One lazy afternoon as I sat staring out at the ocean, I started trying to make sense of some of the struggles I’ve been facing this year.  As I sat there my kids were wading out into the ocean with boogie boards.  The water was a little rough that day and they were getting knocked around by the waves and couldn’t get on their boards.  Not being that familiar with the ocean and currents, etc. they were clearly intimidated and a bit fearful of being tossed about.  They were about to call it quits and come out of the water when I encouraged them to not let their fear of the waves ruin their experience.  I told them that once they made it past the wave break, they would be able to get on the boards without getting knocked off and then riding the waves would be fun.  I encouraged them to be fearless.

The word “fearless” has been my word/theme for the year.  I’m kind of a word-nerd, by the way.  When I was a kid, I would actually sit and read the dictionary.  There must have been a book shortage at the local library or perhaps I was just a really, REALLY, weird kid.  Seriously though, instead of setting new year’s resolutions at the start of a year, I typically adopt a word or phrase that I use as a theme for the year.  2017 is supposed to be my year of being fearless.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  FEARLESS!  When I chose fearless as my word this year I had no idea how much I would be challenged to put that word into play.  More than once this year, I’ve questioned whether I shouldn’t have chosen “margaritas on the beach” as my word/theme for the year.  What was I thinking picking fearless as my word?  Silly little girl.

As I sat on the beach thinking about this word “fearless” and processing through my junk, I started kicking around some thoughts and came up with the following poem.  You should know that I am not a poet.  I repeat…I am NOT a poet.  However I go where the creative energy takes me and this time it took me into the ocean and the world of poetry. And, since April is National Poetry Month, I wanted to share it with you.

While I’m still processing through my stuff, I’m challenging myself to see these struggles more as life-gifts and less shit-storm.  I’m trying to see that these challenges are really for my benefit and that they are teaching me and helping me to become the person I need to be to reach my goals in the next season of life.  I wake up each day and encourage myself to be fearless in the face of these challenges.   I tell myself that if I stay fearless, once I make it past the wave break, it’ll be fun.

I’ll bet that you, too, are facing challenges in 2017.  What are your challenges teaching you?  Are they helping you become a better version of yourself?  How can your struggles help you reach your goals?  What would happen if you chose to be fearless?



The Fearless Mermaid

When I close my eyes as I sit by the sea, a fearless mermaid is the me that I see.

When the sun shines bright I lay on the rocks, soaking up the heat. I am not afraid to be seen.

When my shoulders turn pink from the warm sun, I dive into the water and swim with the sharks. I am not afraid of the sharks.

When the sea turns choppy and the clouds roll in, I ride the waves of the storm. I am not afraid of the storm.

When the ships come near and the sailors shout, I smile and wave. They’re curious about me and me about them. I am not afraid of the sailors.

When the moon rises high and casts its soft glow, I survey my heart and that’s when I know that the fearless mermaid is the me I must show.

Chasing Away the Storm Clouds


What brought you to yoga?  It’s a common question amongst yogis and the answers vary widely.  While some come to the mat seeking physical transformation, others come seeking mindfulness and peace.  For me, being on the mat chases away the storm clouds.

My journey to the mat began many years before I ever stepped foot inside a yoga studio. When I was sixteen I suffered a sexual trauma that set me on a path of shame, self-hatred and a number of bad choices from toxic relationships to eating disorders.  I continued trekking down this path of self-destruction through college and then law school.

In college and into law school, I blew through relationships at a steady pace.  Sometimes I was mistreated, other times, I was the one doing damage.  I didn’t seem to care who I hurt or why.  In an effort to deal with my emotions and leave the self-destructive behavior behind, I began running.  However it didn’t take long before that too became an un-healthy form of escape as I would often lace up my running shoes, after a night of studying, around 10:00 pm and run until well past midnight.  In those days I would allow myself to eat no more than 800 calories a day.  If I got careless and consumed more, then I either ran longer or made myself throw it up.  It wasn’t pretty.  By the time I had finished law school and passed the Bar exam in 1999, I had lost 30 pounds and was exhausted.

After law school, things seemed to get better.  I began to focus on my career and had less time to dwell on my past.  I sort of swept it all under the proverbial rug and considered myself cured and happy.  Then came marriage.  You see, I was never the girl that sat around dreaming of her wedding day.  I didn’t fantasize about the dress, walking down the aisle or how many bridesmaids I would have.  I wanted to be an attorney and I certainly didn’t want to “belong” to anyone.  Of course I always thought I would eventually find a partner that I wanted to spend time with, but at that particular time I wasn’t really pursuing it.  Then all of my friends began to get married and I turned 29. The big “3-0” was looming and I somehow convinced myself that getting married was the next logical step.  So I found myself a nice guy and married him.  Little did I know at the time, how I would struggle with married life.

Let’s face it, marriage is tough.  I know some of you find great joy in your marriage and that is really great.  For me, marriage often feels suffocating.  I am a bit free-spirited and not very good at following rules.  I don’t like being told when to come home and who is appropriate for me to spend time with.  If I want to jump in my car and disappear for a few days, I don’t want to have to explain it to anyone.  I hate the lack of privacy and I’m a neat freak so I struggle with sharing space with other people.  Despite all these things, the marriage seemed to work until it didn’t.

About three years in, I could feel the deep, dark clouds of depression begin to descend upon me.  By the way, this is the best way I have found to describe the feeling of how my depression just sort of sinks down on me, no notice, no warning.  Starting at the age of sixteen it has come and gone most of my adult life, always the same, sinks down like a storm cloud, leaves a path of destruction in it’s wake, then magically lifts.  I suppose when its not sitting on my shoulders causing damage, it hangs out somewhere in the clouds above my head always ready to sink down if I make the slightest wrong turn.

So depression came, along with a sense of dissatisfaction with both my job and my marriage.  It got so bad that one night I drove home from work, opened a bottle of wine and crawled under the dining table where my dog, Watson, was hanging out.  I sat there drinking wine, talking to Watson and crying for hours.  I felt lost, sad, and uncertain.  I told myself that I wasn’t coming out until I made a plan to change my life.  I truly felt that I had hit bottom.  Unfortunately I didn’t make any changes to my life that night.  Instead, accustomed to just pulling myself up out of the muck and persevering, I finished the bottle of wine, kissed the dog on the nose, crawled out from under the table and went to bed.  I woke up the next morning and went to the office as if nothing had happened the night before.  I continued this pattern, on auto-pilot, for several months.

Then in May of 2005, my husband and I took a vacation to southern Spain. It was beautiful, warm and magical.   I fell head over heels in love with Spain.  I could have stayed there forever.  I could totally see me living there.  I would buy a boat and keep it in Marbella.  For work, I’d paint and write.  For fun, I’d drink Sangria and learn to make awesome paella.  My husband, on the other hand, had other ideas.  He wanted a baby and thought that we should start trying.  My gut told me that I wasn’t ready.  My husband however managed to convince me that we should try before we really felt ready because “these things generally take some time.”  Well…not that much time.  Reluctantly, I consented and the very next month I was pregnant with my first son.

I was apprehensive in the beginning but pregnancy grew on me.  Yes, literally and figuratively.  By the end of nine months I was feeling really happy.  So happy in fact that the idea of leaving the baby in daycare and returning to work was inconceivable.  My marriage was working again and I told my husband that he needed to find a new job that doubled his salary so I could quit my job and stay at home with the baby.  Always happy to please, he did just that.  His new job however required us to move to Colorado.  So in the course of about three months, I had a baby, quit my job, and moved away from all my friends and family.

It was a major adjustment for me but I embraced life as a stay-at-home mom.  It was time consuming and exhausting and I absolutely loved it.  Once again I was so busy that I didn’t have time to dwell on anything from my past.  I threw myself into building a new life in a new state.  My husband’s job was going well and he had received a promotion. There was no financial need for me to return to work so we decided to have another baby.  Our son was only 18 months old when we made the decision.  Again, thinking it might take some time, we started the process. Well, guess what? Pregnant on the second try this time!

If you’ve ever been pregnant at 35 while chasing a toddler around then you know how exhausting it can be.  Add in that I was two states away from my family, most of my friends and lacked a support system and you’ve got the recipe for a big ol’ dose of postpartum depression.  I could feel the storm clouds descending yet again and felt helpless.  I was hormonal, exhausted, and lonely.  I was once again feeling disconnected from my marriage and with two small children and endless days of feedings, diapers and baths, I sunk into myself and pulled away from almost everyone I knew.  Although I had started running again to lose the baby weight and had joined a very supportive playgroup, I suffered in silence for nearly two years after the birth of our second son.

Then one evening in 2009, when my husband was traveling for work and after I had put the kids to bed, I found myself once again, opening a bottle of wine and joining Watson under the table.  This time I was too tired to sit so I lay there on the floor, crying and wishing I could just run away.  Run away to Spain.  Live on a boat.  Paint, write and make paella.  Fortunately, this time I knew that I couldn’t crawl out from under the table until I had a plan.  My children needed me.  They needed me to pull myself up out of the muck. This time, I made a plan.  I decided that night that I would find a counselor and find a way, once and for all, to deal with my past and the person I had become.  I had to effectively “deal” with the feelings of shame, failure and low self-esteem that had followed me since I was sixteen.

As luck would have it, I began working with a counselor who I connected with right way. She suggested I try yoga as a supplement to our therapy.  Curious to try anything to feel better, I started going to a class with some friends.  Between the behavioral counseling and the yoga, it wasn’t long before I was working through the shame and guilt of my past and beginning to accept myself.  I began to find things about myself I actually admired and even loved.  Gasp!  Yes, I was healing.  My imagination blossomed and I began writing again.  It felt so good.  I finally felt good.

Even after I felt “healed” and stopped going to therapy, I continued practicing yoga on and off for several years just to keep the storm clouds from descending.  Then last May, I planned an end of the school year, pre-summer, self-care get-away just for myself up in the mountains.  I attended a 2-day yoga workshop taught by Julia Clarke and was blown away.  By the end of the workshop I felt really, truly, fiercely alive and inspired beyond my wildest dreams.  I came home with a feeling in my gut that I needed to be on the mat. I needed to be practicing consistently.  I started going to classes three times a week and before the summer ended I knew that I wanted to become a yoga teacher.  I wanted to share my journey and share the healing and inspiration I had found through yoga.

So the next time you roll your mat out to practice, I challenge you to pause and ask yourself why.  Why do you practice?  For the workout, or are you looking to chase away your storm clouds?  We all face storms from time to time.  Chances are, yoga can help you chase the clouds away.