Tonight I am full of the sweetness of a day spent taking care of myself and holding space for others to do the same during our first Digital Day Retreat. While nothing can replace being together in person, it's incredible to experience that we can share a palpable sense of togetherness that transcends the screen. In my bubble of family life and on-line classes, I have been touched by all of the sincere and genuine connections that are arising.
While driving home, I saw dear Katja. Anyone who comes to Mytree will know Katja because she is such a dear and dedicated part of our community. I pulled the car over and jumped out, so excited to give her and her friend Alice a hug....and then I remembered. No hugs. Of all the adjustments we are making in our lives, this one is the hardest for me.
There will be many more moments in the next days like this, when we will respond automatically to an ordinary situation, only to remember things are different now. Some of these will be easier than others and what is hardest for one person will be no big deal for another. Likewise, for some this quarantine period feels like a gift, and for others, a nightmare.
Either way, through this experience, we are all gaining insights and examining our lives. Questioning life before and envisioning life after. And learning, over and over, what it means to live in the present moment. Thank you to those of you who have shared in various ways your notes to your post-quarantine selves. In the coming weeks I will be curating and sharing them in some form; if you'd like to contribute yours, whether with your name or anonymously, please send it directly to me.
One of the the gems that has come through these last weeks for me is the creative potential that flows freely when I release my grip on expectations of how things should be and open my mind to notice how things are. I forget this as often as I forget the no-hugs rule. But when I remember to receive instead of to resist, each moment, even the difficult ones are "opportunities to merge with what is." This line is from a poem called "Even in the Struggle" by Tara Sophia Mohr that we read in our retreat today. She continues:
"Most of us don't step through the doorframe.
We stay on the known side.
We fight the door, we fight the frame, we scream and hang on."
Whether you are stepping through willingly or clenching onto the frame of familiarity, we are at a threshold. We may not have hugs, but we can still express kindness and care in the way that we greet each other on the side of the road, in line at the supermarket, and on the other side of the screen. May we treat ourselves and each other with compassion as we pass through the doorframe, arms open, receptive to the possibility that:
"You are being loved not in spite of hardship, but through it.
The thing you see as wrenching, intolerable,
life's attack on you,
is an expression of love."
Sending you a big, virtual hug
Tomorrow marks 40 days since we began our quarantine at Mytree. This is an auspicious number in many traditions: in numerous cultures, it is the amount of time that a woman rests and recovers after giving birth; in Islam, mourners grieve the deceased for 40 days, Christianity and Judaism share multiple significant references to 40 days (and years), and it is also the length of time that ships "suspected of carrying a disease" were kept offshore in 17th century Venice. This practice of quarantine derives its name from "quaranta giorni" which means "40 days" in Italian.
In all of these examples, 40 days represents a complete cycle, the time required to recover in order to return to the world. And though our quarantine continues here in Ticino, there is a palpable shift with more cars and bikes on the roads, more people on the trails, and the government's recent announcement of a plan to gradually reopen businesses and schools. A few weeks ago, the thought of being at home indefinitely provoked a mix of feelings including a fair dose anxiety and desperation. Now, with the possibility of recommencing regular life routines in a couple of weeks, I'm feeling anxious about letting go of life in the slow lane and returning to busy-ness as usual.
I've been listening to Glennon Doyle's newest book, Untamed, and that in it, she talks about having an "Up Self," or who she is when she's feeling happy, connected, and content, and a "Down Self," who she is when she's feeling anxious, depressed, and disconnected. Glennon shared that she writes notes from her Up Self to her Down Self so that, when in the throes of depression, she can remember what is important to her, that she loves her life and her family, that she is more than the depression she is experiencing now. Then, she writes from her Down Self to her Up Self telling how she feels so she can get the help that she needs.
Glennon's notes inspired me to offer the idea to our Women's Circle of writing notes to our Post-Quarantine selves. In our last gathering via Zoom, we took a few minutes to jot down and then share some notes about the lessons, insights, experiences, habits, inspirations, and relationships we want to remember and carry with us into life after quarantine. I want to extend the invitation to you to join in writing a note to your post-quarantine self. You are welcome to proceed as you please, but in case you need some ideas, you can start here with one or more of these inquiries:
How have you felt during this time? What have you learned about yourself? How have you been surprised, challenged, inspired, changed? What are the gems of wisdom, inspiration, and insight you want to carry with you? What ways of being, doing, and thinking do you want to leave behind and what do you want to bring with you?
I've continued to work on my note and it's becoming my way of processing this experience; of preparing myself for the return. One thing that has come through is my own desire to transition with intention and integrity. To that end, I'm dedicating next Sunday, April 26 to offering us all a Digital Retreat Day. Whether you are in the middle of your quaranta giorni or about to transition back into the “real” world; whether this time at home has felt like being on holiday or being in hell, setting aside some time to nourish yourself and connect with others through will enable us to emerge from our cocoons resilient, radiant, and ready to apply the lessons of our individual recoveries to our collective healing and transformation.
Of all the gifts of a dedicated Yoga/Life practice, perhaps the most profound and precious is the sense of being at home in your Self.The misconception (avidya) of separation which is the root of suffering, according to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, is also the path back towards unity. Yoga is both the yoking of two entities and the union itself. It is the decision "between a body and mind....to be whole" and the body/mind which was always one.
In Yoga for Real Life Donna Farhi explains that "the word Yoga describes both a state of purified perception and the practices associated with attaining this clear way of seeing. The two meanings of the word give us some insight into the intimate link between the effort required to attain understanding and the imminence of realizing that which is already present within us."
We seek outside of ourselves for home, wholeness, love, peace, contentment, serenity and so on simply because of a fundamental misunderstanding that what we are seeking can be found somewhere else, with someone else, sometime in the past or future. The path and practice of Yoga offers tools and technologies to guide us towards a complete recognition that what we are seeking is right here, right now. Yoga invites us to turn attention inwards to align awareness with presence and reconnect to the roots within, a network which intimately and infinitely connects us to Spirit Source God Universal Consciousness the Divine.
A beautiful mantra which expresses this truth is this portion of the Gayatri Mantra, also translated by Donna Farhi:
"Everything on the earth, in between, and above is arising from one effulgent source. If my thoughts, words and deeds reflected this complete understanding of unity, I would be the peace I am seeking in this moment."
om bhur bhuvah svah
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah pracchodayat
Chanting this mantra is one simple way to come back to the home which is already and always within.
Detox is Not a Dirty Word
What do you think of when you hear the word “Detox?”
Weird green juice?
Missing out on fun?
Unfortunately, the imbalanced approach to detox popularized by a culture that prioritizes external appearances over inner peace has taken what is a totally natural process and an essential component for health and made it into an extreme deprivation-based regimen that, instead of promoting well-being actually inhibits it. In simpler terms, the way we do Detox in our culture is all wrong.
The first mistake we make is WHEN we detox.
The Spring and Autumn Equinox are the ideal times to detox—not the dead of Winter when we require more sustenance to balance more extreme temperatures. All you need to do is see what is happening in nature as the season shifts from winter into spring to understand that for something new to arise, something old must be shed. Seeds sprout only after laying dormant, butterflies emerge by shedding their cocoons. The same is true with us: our evolution requires that we release what no longer serves us.
In fact, Detox, or the release of waste, is an integral part of the natural cycle of life. Detoxification is happening constantly, but most of us are ingesting more toxins through the food we eat, the products we use, the clothes we wear, and the air we breathe than our body is able to eliminate naturally. A seasonal detox aligned with the energy of movement, however, helps to balance and accelerate this natural, ongoing process.
The next issue is WHY we detox.
Like so many things, detox is often marketed to prey upon our fears and insecurities. So like so many health initiatives cloaked in the disguise of self-improvement, detox becomes about a quick fix. Something we can do once and then go back to the way we were living instead of being a great way to introduce healthier habits. Maybe you have heard the gimmick Detox to Retox? Instead of creating lasting changes, this approach does more damage than good. But one of the best results of an intelligent detox is the potential to make significant shifts to your routine.
This is not about getting your body bikini-ready—though glowing skin, toned muscles, and a feeling of lightness are part of the natural process of releasing toxins—it’s about feeling vibrant, awake, and aligned with the natural rhythms of life. Detox gives us an opportunity to press the “reset” button.
Having a clear intention for why you want to Detox helps to keep you focused throughout the process, and having a group of people to support you and hold you accountable has a huge impact on your ability to stick with it and enjoy positive results for a long time.
Finally, HOW we detox is, of course, the most crucial factor.
As a naturally-occurring process, it makes sense that when we detox, we would want to support what our bodies are already accustomed to doing. But many detox approaches go completely against our natural rhythms, giving the body a complete shock that may give initially impressive results but fail to create any significant, lasting changes.
And while detox usually focuses on the physical body, as we know, an holistic approach that takes into account all aspects of our wellbeing will have the most impact for our total health.
Having the support of guides who understand the natural process of detoxification and can provide specific support for everything from meal plans and shopping lists to encouragement and moral support is invaluable. So is having the connection to others who are going through the experience with you. And whether it’s your first time or your 50th, each time you go through the process, you will learn something new and have a unique experience.
Ultimately, like everything really, your experience of a Detox depends on how you approach it. You can set yourself up for a great Detox experience by timing it right with the seasonal shift around the Equinox, by having a clear and positive intention, and by aligning yourself with experienced guides and a supportive group.
Most nights, I find myself lying in bed in a darkened room, talking about death. This evening ritual begins mundanely enough, with putting on pajamas and brushing teeth and then, somewhere between the story and the prayer, Maverick inevitably asks a question like: "How does your Soul get into your body?" or makes a statement like: "When you die, can you ask your new family to bring you back to our house so we can be together again?" After a few minutes of wondering together about the magnificent mystery of it all, the focus turns to Pokemon or Paw Patrol, or sometimes even, to the soft snore of two exhausted humans. A few years before my curious second child was born, I was confronted with a simple question that helped to change the trajectory of my life:
"Are you having the conversations you want to be having?"
At the time, I was doing a job that felt like exactly that while struggling to balance life with a toddler. I felt a keen sense of living out of alignment and a yearning to reconnect to myself and my path. So I started to pay attention to which conversations lit me up and which ones drained my energy. I observed how I felt during and after talking to someone, and noted those people with whom I felt a spark and others who put out the fire. And I suffered when I realized that much of my daily interactions drained and dampened me. While some of it was the content, more often it was the quality of feeling between myself and the other person. Ultimately, it meant letting go of a lot, which eventually gave more space to seek out inspiring, challenging and nourishing conversations with people with whom I feel alive, connected, and heard.
Sure, I still engage with people I love (and some I don't) in plenty of ordinary, even boring, discussions (most of them related to the weather and household duties, let's be honest). And while they may not ignite my passion, these strategy sessions ensure that kids are fed, bills are paid, and, when necessary, rainboots are worn.
The point is not to ensure that every time you open your mouth some extraordinary insight lands, but rather, to become aware of the quality of your conversations, both with others and with how you speak to yourself, and to choose the ones you want to be having and who you want to have them with.
So while it's true that conversations about death are not the typical bedtime topic, and not at all what our 9-year-old daughter wants to discuss (or most people, for that matter) it is my joy to explore big questions with our 5-year-old who embodies Rilke's recommendation to "Live the questions now." For it is in this space of wonder, of "being comfortable with uncertainty," as Pema Chödrön calls the challenge of daily living, that we come to understand and connect, to evolve and align.
The arrival of the New Year during the winter, when the natural world lies dormant for at least another two months, has always seemed strange. My Vata/Pitta constitution in particular suffers from the cold and dry season, but the urge to hibernate indoors and alone gives me more time to reflect and recalibrate, which I've been doing this week, while nursing a post-vacation cold.
Who gets a cold after a relaxing and fun week of sunshine and surf? People whose bodies are resisting going back to burning the candle at both ends. And if you've been reading these posts for years or paying attention to what we've been up to for the last five months, you'll not be surprised by my admitting that I'm yet again skirting the edge of burnout.
One of my Beloved teachers shared a story many years ago when I recognized that I was stuck once again in a destructive loop: One day, you are walking down the road and you fall into a hole. You shout and rage and curse and it takes you ages to get out. Some time later, you are walking down the road and again, you step into the same hole. This time, you skip the drama and get yourself out. Another time, you are walking down the road and you remember the hole; you walk around it. Eventually, you take another road.
We are all of us going to fall into holes. In Yogic terms, this is how we work with samskaras or the impressions of our past actions. Sometimes described as grooves in the mind, samskaras are the accumulated result of our habits and altering them requires intentional effort (tapas) and begins with awareness (purusha).
With this particular pattern of mine, spending more energy than I save and paying the price, I seem to be somewhere between remembering the hole and stepping in. It’s not perfection, but it is progress and being aware of the effects of my actions, even after the fact, helps to prevent a spectacular crash and burn. Instead of wasting precious energy beating myself up for falling into the trap of over-doing, I'm having a good laugh at myself and putting into practice all the tools that I've accumulated over the years. Most of them Ayurvedic, all of them simple and practical, none of them requiring much thought beyond remembering that, oh yeah, I know how to take the best care of myself, I just have to do it.
It's no accident that maitrī is the heart of my teaching and our community. We not only teach what we need to learn, but when our teaching is sourced from the trials and triumphs of our own lives, it possesses a particular resonance and relatability. That we can be our own best caregiver is where the practice of lovingkindness (maitrī) and Ayurveda intersect, and this month, I'll be launching a new course that integrates my years of learning and living these principles and practices.
“Ayurveda for Every Body: Study Sessions and Simple Meals” is an opportunity to learn an approach to living well that respects your body, works with instead of against your natural tendencies, and empowers you with practical solutions for self-care. Known as the "sister science" to Yoga, Ayurveda emphasizes balance and harmony; once you understand the basic principles you will be able to apply them to key areas of your life to understand what is truly best for YOU. There is no one-size-fits all recipe for health and in our interactive sessions, you will learn how, by understanding the interplay between your individual constitution and the cycles of nature, you can optimize your diet, sleep, schedule, and overall energy while minimizing stress, mood swings, depletion and burn out. Plus, we will will share a delicious, Ayurvedic meal that you will be able to easily make again at home. You’re welcome to get the full benefit and take the whole series, or drop in for your favorite sessions. Either way, I’m thrilled to explore together new roads that can support us all to live well and love our lives.
Last week, we made Vision Boards at our monthly Women's Circle. I was delighted to find a cutout that said "A Glorious Failure" and I glued it on to my board, in between a colorful picture of Tibetan singing bowls and a stretch of coast with ripples of waves. I don't know what exactly this phrase refers to, but I do know that failure is part of the game. The problem is not falling into the holes along the road, it’s how we respond to them. So much of what we are up to at Mytree is about refining our responses and discovering new routes to guide us through the universal territory of being human. This new year, I hope you will join me in not only paying attention to the bumps (and holes) along the road, but in welcoming, with kindness for ourselves and each other, the glorious failures.
You know that bumper-sticker cliché about life being about the journey and not the destination?
Let's substitute "Yoga" for "Life."
With the Instagramification of pretty much everything, especially Yoga, it's easy to think that the finished, filtered version is the point. But prioritizing the pose over the process results in a one-dimensional perspective that applauds the moment of achievement and turns the practitioner into a performer.
What if, instead of prioritizing postures, an equal amount of attention and airtime was devoted to the process of entering into and coming out of an asana? Rather than your yoga practice being a sequence of poses that build to a peak and end with a nap, what if you considered each pose as a complete practice that moves through the natural cycle of birth, growth, death, and regeneration? How would imagining Yoga as a continuous spiral towards center, essence, Source shift your practice, your life?
From this perspective, each asana, like Whitman's famous grain of sand in which we can "see infinity" is a whole practice unto itself. From this perspective, each asana becomes less about achieving and more about receiving. Balancing on the backs of your arms becomes less about "look what I can do!" and more about "what can I do?" Nothing to do with perfection and everything to do with presence.
Let's be clear: this is not a call to abandon asana altogether; it is form that gives shape to feeling and function. Orientation whether towards a pose or a point B, gives a sense of purpose and, when coupled with clear intention, propels us onward, especially when challenges arise.
Without a clear vision to guide us, we risk forever saluting the sun without ever experiencing our inner light. Asana is one of many tools that, when engaged with clear intention and skillful implementation, can reveal the radiance within. Like any tool, the value is not in the thing itself but in how you use it and why.
Instead, this month’s love letter is an appeal to explore an approach to Yoga (also Life) that celebrates equally the journey and the destination. It's an inquiry into the ways that we hold tight to a fixed, idealized image when letting go opens us to following a fluid vision. It's a recognition that we are all in process and a reminder to see beyond the pose and remember that Yoga is a practice.
And finally, it's an invitation to join us this month as we celebrate our first birthday in our space. In addition to remembering all the steps we've taken together to build this beautiful community, we'll be sharing glimpses of the next phase of our evolution as we grow into the vision that has guided Mytree from the beginning. Because, as much as Mytree Yoga is a space, it's also a process that we as individuals and a community practice what it means to live yoga and love life.
It's such a delight to be writing to you from an adorable coffeeshop in Park City, Utah, where the we are visiting family for a few weeks. Though I was born and raised in Los Angeles, this mountain town feels more like a hometown for me. More than the fact that my parents live here, and despite the fact that my best high school friends left long ago, it's the landscape, spacious and slow, and the sky, bright and big, that every time, reminds me of my roots.
And yet, since arriving, and if I'm honest for much of the summer, a restlessness has ruled my heart. Without the predictable patterns of my "regular" routine to shape each day, my morning practice has been an anchor and an entryway to center. For more than a few years, I've been cultivating this discipline. Though each day is a little bit different, this routine of rising with the sun to sit, breathe, and move restores my body's natural energy, refreshes my over-active mind, and roots me into the core of my life.
All of us have habits that keep us healthy (and others that don’t) and routines that maintain a sense of order and give structure to our days and our lives. However, the role of ritual in our daily lives has become relegated primarily to holidays and special ceremonies. In his book, One Simple Thing: A New Look at the Science of Yoga and How It Can Transform Your Life, Eddie Stern explains that the difference between habit and ritual is the awareness that we bring to our actions. Habit, he contends, is done mechanically. Ritual is done with conscious awareness. Yoga, Stern says, "is a ritual that we perform to help us remain established in awareness. The daily practice and mental approach that we take to doing it is a certain type of ritual that eventually becomes part of the rhythm of our lives."
For me, the habit of waking up early becomes ritual the moment I sit on my mat and actually tune in to breath, body, and mind. And there are some days that I never enter that state of conscious awareness and instead go through the motions, preoccupied with thought, seeking bodily sensation over sacred communion. Remember, yoga is as much a process as it is a practice. But over time, doing this "One Simple Thing," dedicating a part of my day to bringing attention to myself and the moment, means that no matter the shifting outer and inner landscapes, there is a pathway back home to myself and to a sense of connection beyond myself.
The most common definitions of yoga are "union" or "to yoke." Most of us are familiar with the concept it in terms of uniting movement with breath, awareness with action. However, if we are to extend the horizon of our perspective beyond our own navels, we must also expand our understanding of yoga to include our relationships with each other, our communities and our world.
As we prepare to enter our second year in the Mytreespace, which for many of you has become a home base, what's coming through is the call to mine the rich fields of my own practice and study to offer support and hold space for us as a community to traverse this path of unity together. Because while a personal practice is absolutely fundamental to yoga, none of us exists in isolation. We are householders, not hermits.
It has been beautiful to witness the Mytree Tribe gather and grow, to see you accept the invitation to take good care of yourselves and each other. And it is my intention that as we continue to develop our individual practices and our community offerings, we will elevate our collective commitment to practice a yoga that expands us beyond the boundaries of our own bodies and the details of our daily lives, nurturing a compassionate and engaged community.
In other words, if we are to ensure that our practice is less self-centered and more service-oriented, that it is indeed Yoga that we are doing and not just a glorified stretching routine choreographed to cool music, we need to branch out of asana and explore not only the other limbs but also the roots of Yoga as well. Luckily, the tradition provides the means and the mechanisms through practice and study.
The most amazing thing is happening as I sit on the couch, digging deep to find the inspiration to write something meaningful to you. My kids are also sitting on the couch, books in hand, quietly reading. Each of us in pajamas, still sleepy from last night's farewell dinner for dear friends, quietly absorbed in peaceful reflection, seeking nothing and simply enjoying a Saturday morning.
Let me be super clear: this is not normal behavior in our home. But this rare moment is a very welcome respite from the usual busyness of our quotidian lives, full of activity and noise and movement and messes and conflict and go-go-go. And my practice is simply to notice that it's happening, appreciate it, and then, and this is hardest part for me, let it pass and welcome the next inevitable moment when the kids realize they are starving.
What happens next tends to go one of two ways and depends entirely on my mindset: if I'm holding onto those silent, serene seconds on the couch, I'll ignore the grumbling tummies until I've got two ravenous beasts raging at me and each other and I'm left feeling resentful, enraged, and exhausted before I've even entered the kitchen.
I'll set aside this task and turn my attention to what needs it most right now: slicing strawberries and sipping tea.
This is not a major issue, obviously, and yet, it's these little interactions that make the day. How we attend to our basic needs and obligations to ourselves and each other determines the quality of our relationships and ultimately, our lives.
Every moment offers a choice, and so the minutes and the days and the months pass in this continuous dance of awareness and acceptance, ignorance and resistance. As a perpetual beginner experiencing a stage in life that feels particularly full of responsibility, this focus on being response-able lightens the load of duties that come with being a householder and puts into perspective the incredible fortune and freedom that I do enjoy in my blessed life.
This month, let's practice presencing peaceful moments, appreciating them for what they are, and releasing them with grace. Let's trade responsibility for responsiveness, attending to ourselves and each other with love and kindness. And when we find ourselves holding on to the past or projecting into the future, let's pause and begin again.
Nine Mays ago, I became a mother. Isla Luce was born on the first day the sun peeked through three solid weeks of rain. True to her arrival and her name, she became the light of our lives. The mother love I felt--nurtured through the longest days of postpartum and sweetest moments of connection--opened me to a whole new way of being in the world in which my heart beat to two distinct rhythms.
While pregnant with our second child three years later, I wondered, worried even, how I would manage not only to care for another being, but to love another child as much. And of course, when Maverick launched into the world, he earned his own special rhythm and territory in my heart. It comes with protective gear and quick reflexes.
As much as it sounds like it, this is not some sappy love story about how much I love my kids. I do. And they also drive me insane no less than seven times a day. Hence the daily yoga practice and LOTS of deep exhales.
What this is about is how I learned that our capacity to love is much greater than we may think it is. Becoming a mother not once, but twice, has given me a zillion gray hairs and the faith that my heart will expand to embrace all kinds of loves.
When we were first falling in love, my husband and I would say to each other, "One." As in, one love. Two decades and two kids later (let's not forget the dog), it's pretty clear that there are many loves. And that there are many ways to love. And part of our journey is discovering and evolving how we love.
Amidst all this living and loving, really at the center of it, is the most epic love story of all: our own. Which, of course, is the blueprint for ALL of our other love stories. Loving ourselves well teaches us to love others. And I would contend that loving others is good practice for loving ourselves. Until I became a mother, I'd never considered self-love as anything more than a concept. And then, it became a survival skill.
Now, it's emerging as a mission for myself and as my work in the world to support others in living and loving well. This month, you'll notice we're expanding our offerings, especially "off the mat." Like our hearts, Mytree embraces new ways of practicing the principles of maitri. Because treating ourselves with unconditional friendliness and lovingkindness supports us to do the same with others, thus increasing our capacity for love.
In this way, like a pebble dropped in a lake, may the ripple effect of your explorations of the many ways to live yoga and love life bring blessings and benefits to your Beloveds and well beyond.