I grew up oscillating between a girly girl and a tom boy- one year I would paint my room pink and wear a skirt everyday and the next I'd chop off all my hair, and have a room full of sports team posters. Looking back, I think I was constantly exploring my feminine and masculine polarities- those that lie within all of us.
I remember wanting to be stronger, tougher, and fitter than all the boys when I was younger, fueled by my competitive fire and my parents' encouragement to be my very best. One year my parents and I were in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and I decided to sign up for a short 1 mile race. I was around 4 at the time and it was probably the farthest I had ever ran at that point in my life. I will never forget this one boy who at the beginning of the race told me that I had no chance of making it and that I would be so slow because I was a girl. Oh man did that make my inner fire burn that day...I made sure to remind that boy in the middle of the race when I passed him that boys do indeed RULE, he remained behind me for the rest of the race and I gleamed with pride making sure my dad was well aware and extremely proud of me for beating that taunting boy, who I saw crying at the end of the race. But I realize now that a part of me, back then, thought that I had to be more boy-ish in order to be strong, that I had to be less feminine/girly to be treated as equal. And it contributed to my inner battle to embrace my woman-ness...I embraced my Coach Jimmy and my dad's motto of "no crying in baseball" and began to push away feelings and emotions.
Over my life, I've heard extremely inspiring stories of young girls and women all over the world fighting for for equality and breaking the glass ceiling: Margo Hayes sending the first women's 5.15 rated climb, Malala Yousafzai standing up for female education in Pakistan and globally, Meghan Markle writing letters to Proctor & Gamble to have them change their soap commercial from "women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans" to "people all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans", and all of my friends that participated in the #metoo movement. Malala once said, "I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls." Today I am going to share my own journey of self healing that allowed me to embrace the feminine warrior and divine feminine within myself. Fair warning... I WILL be talking about periods.
When I was in the seventh and eight grade, I'd wonder when the day would finally come that I would start my period, I now refer to it as my lunar cycle. By the eight grade there were only a few of us left in my friend group that hadn't started. I remember our group huddles and morning chats when each of those friends finally blossomed into womanhood. By the end of the eight grade, I had moved across the country from CO to CA to start a new life... I made new friends and even in CA I was the only one in the group that had not started. At least my boobs have budded, I thought.
As I moved into high school, I would sometimes panic and run to the bathroom to check to see if I too had finally joined the club. It was always a false alarm. By my sophomore year, I had heard too many of my girlfriends complain about their periods...my best friend had a double period (meaning 1/2 of the month she was on it) and I started to think, "Wow, maybe I don't really want to start my period." Instead of the praying and hoping that I too would bleed and become an official woman that I had been doing in junior high, I began to wish that my period would never come and that I wouldn't have to deal with PMS, spotting, moodiness and whatever else came along with being a naturally hormonally regulated woman. This thought process continued on. By the time I was 17, I had still never had any signs of getting my period, my mom began to worry. We scheduled a few visits with the doctor...my ultrasound revealed that anatomically everything was okay- I had a normal healthy well positioned uterus, two normal ovaries, and yet no period. They even did an MRI of my brain to see if I had a brain tumor that was potentially blocking signals from my brain to begin my cycle. Everything came back normal. It was also right around this time that my uncle had a blood clot in his leg and we found out that many of our family members, myself included, have a rare blood clotting disorder and should therefore avoid high amounts of Vitamin K (a blood coagulent) as well as estrogen. Fortunately we found this out before the doctors tried to prescribe me something to try to kick start my period with estrogen. With that restriction, we moved on to trying progesterone based boosters and birth control. When I was 18, I had my first period- albeit it was hormonally induced. I thought it was awful, I couldn't believe that every woman I knew had to deal with that every month! It was such an inconvenience, I had to go to the bathroom all the time, I was in pain and couldn't do all my usual sport activities as strong as I wanted to those days, and I was super emotional.
Throughout college, I moved on and off from progesterone based birth controls and rarely had my period. Yes I was lucky I didn't have to deal with one, but there was also a lot of unknowns...was I fertile? Could I get pregnant now or ever? Is my lack of period from being too active or my diet? What is the underlying factor or imbalance causing me to not have a period? Could it be serious? At the time, it wasn't too big of a deal, I didn't think I'd ever want kids and I had other things going on, so I wasn't too worried about it.
It was after college that I finally started to take my health and healing into my own hands. When I started graduate school in Boston, I became interested in Reiki in addition to yoga, which I had studied while traveling through Asia the year prior. Reiki is a healing modality that I like to describe as an "energy massage". I've been studying reiki now for over 3 years and I still don't know how to describe it's mystic qualities, thats probably why they call it the mystery teachings. What I do know, is that after receiving reiki..I had a massive emotional release and breakthrough. I, for the first time in my life, began to process a sexual abuse experience I had been victim too when I was younger. I began to understand and heal the trauma that I had incurred both on a physical, emotional and energetic level and I began to embrace my emotions and feelings. I was able to for the first time in my life admit what had happened to me to myself openly and realize its impacts on me. It took a lot of crying and even a few therapy sessions, but I was finally able to admit that it happened and love myself nonetheless, and was able to share my experience more openly with others. It was extremely painful and hard, I learned so much about myself and the capacity of the human brain and body to block traumatic experiences. It also made me wonder, was my period absence related somehow to the trauma I had induced when I was younger? Was my sacral chakra blocked?
My sixth grade longing to blossom into womanhood returned, I decided that I might one day want kids or at least have the option to have them, and that having a period was actually a pretty important indicator of good health for a woman. I wanted to know more about WHY I wasn't getting my period, WHY I had to hormonally induce it, WHY it sometimes responded, HOW often I needed to induce it, COULD I ever get pregnant, and COULD my trauma be healed? My nurse practitioner recommended I go see an endocrinologist...I finally did while visiting home from graduate school, I was still on my mom's health insurance plan (thanks Obama). Blood work was ordered and results came back in- although their lack of pre-approval from my insurance led to a financial battle over the $2,500 bill throughout the rest of the year. It turns out insurance agencies don't really think that women need to understand if and why they might be hormonally imbalanced and lacking menses. It's apparently no big deal to the medical industry. I suddenly found myself being one of the biggest advocates for having a normal period- something I had previously evaded! I began to ask myself...Why is it that periods are so poorly viewed not only by men but also women? A menstrual cycle represents the fertility of all creation and woman as the source of that creation! Why is it that women in India and places all over the world are not allowed in holy places when they are bleeding even though it's really one of the most beautiful, mystical, and sacred elements of a woman?
I began to want my period even more..
While the endocrinologist had fancy blood test results but little treatment options, my results indicated elevated free testosterone levels and high DHEA levels. He noted that I had two of the three indicators for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)...If you've never heard of PCOS it has been known to cause women to be "over-hairy", have irregular menses, fertility problems, upper body obesity, and, oh yeah, your ovaries may begin to grow a ton of small cysts! After he potentially and partially diagnosed this with no treatment options other than eat healthy and be active (two things I had already dedicated a ton of my time to doing anyway), I was left with little to turn to and NO answers to my original questions. I started researching treatments for PCOS and amenorrhea (lack of menses) and came across acupuncture as a form of treatment. Back in Boston I found an acupuncturist that did treatments at the yoga studio where I worked. Acupuncture, I learned, attempts to balance four basic properties: Qi (energy), Blood, Yin, and Yang. Conceptually yin is rest, slowness, the feminine, quiet, heavy while yang is moving, active, buoyant, rising, masculine, forceful, and light. Materially yin is the fluids of the body ( menstrual fluid being one of those!!) I had already begun to incorporate a yin yoga practice to counter my "yang" lifestyle of running, climbing, and biking.
My acupuncturist started me on regular sessions and even started to prescribe herbal formulas. What I found more important though were the books she recommended that I read: Feed Your Fertility by Emily Bartlett and Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford. These two books completely transformed the way I thought about my body, especially my hormones, as well as my diet. See, for the past few years I had always been one of those non-fat vegan types. I had trained for my marathon completely vegan, avoided butter and anything "fatty". After reading these books I began to realize that my diet was also void of yin nourishing foods like full fat dairy, nuts, avocado, and even meats, especially bone broth. It was the first time in 6 years that I questioned being vegetarian.
(See more about how to nourish your Yin from Acupuncturist Courtney Hill here).
I slowly began to incorporate lifestyle suggestions from these readings, I gradually changed my diet- concerned as I always had been as an American female pressured by advertisements and media that constantly make you question your body image. However my general lifestyle was the opposite of Yin at the time- I was under stress in graduate school, I was constantly looking at screens, my days were full of to-do-lists, I rushed EVERYWHERE, I was living in the middle of one of the most densely populated areas in the Country, I was running and climbing during any of my free moments, and in between biking through major traffic. Yes I did yoga to "relax", but also to push myself. I had little to no meditation practice.... and while I preached a slow lifestyle, it took something big to slow me down.
One beautiful New England Fall day while rock climbing, I took a fall while leading a route I shouldn't have been leading. I slammed my ankle into the wall and majorly injured it. While the immediate injury slowed me down and required that I drop some of the yoga classes I was teaching and focus on sitting and working on my thesis- I kept trying to push back into my yang lifestyle. It was not until 7 months later after completing my thesis research in India and turning in that thesis, that I finally got an MRI. Turns out, I tore a tendon and needed surgery. I was not invincible, prior to my previous misconception, and I was not going to mend on my own. I still had not had a period without hormonally inducing one. While in India I had seen an ayurvedic doctor and had done a week long ayurvedic cleanse to try to treat the issue..she too prescribed herbs. When I returned home, I had decided to finally try out eating fish, hoping to further nourish my yin. The week before I moved home to have surgery on my ankle, I went to acupuncture, ate fish, and took ayurvedic herbs, and went to a kundalini yoga class. By some miracle...I had my first non hormonally induced period. Despite the cramps, despite the emotions, I was overjoyed...it was like my seventh grade dreams finally came true! It certainly wasn't an overnight fix and I can't concretely say exactly what it was that finally got it moving. I combined so many healing remedies and lifestyle changes to get to that point (meditation, yoga, diet, reiki, ayurveda, acupunture, western medicine, and traditional chinese medicine). Maintaining a regular cycle continues to be something that I monitor and work on. But I do know, that I am extremely grateful when I do have my period now, I am grateful for the emotional build up and release it brings, I am grateful every time I cry - to me having my period represents a complete healing from sexual abuse, it represents my connection to nature (to the waxing and waning of the moon), it represents my vulnerable strength and compassion, and it represents the inner creative potential within me.
For me, these practices that I have undertook to embrace my feminine nature, to transform my perspective of my period from one of nuisance and fear to health and connection, my commitment to living with radiance and compassion, and to embracing the yin (the lunar, the waxing and the waning) have been the most empowering and transformative experiences of my life. I wish for all people to support women in embracing and respecting their inner radiance and divine feminine qualities. We can be strong and tough without losing our woman-ness. We can cry when we watch a movie and still be bad ass strong. Now, when our administration supports us women the least, it is more important than ever that we do the work to support each other.
“Not only are you powerful, you are prestigious. Not only are you prestigious, you are beautiful. Not only are you beautiful, you are consciousness. Not only are you consciousness, you are the spirit. Not only are you the spirit, you are the security of the future, the most bountiful beauty ever created. Men call it ‘woman'."
Last month I had the honor of teaching a chakra workshop with fellow Amador Yoga teacher, Jillian Ewalt. Jillian and I developed the following guide to explore the chakras from various view points to help our students understand and sense the chakras by feeling, visualizing, moving, or meditating on each one. Below is the guide we developed with information on each chakra as well as meditations and exercises to do to help get in touch with each one.
Enjoy, message if you have any questions.
7 Steps to Happiness & 5 Sutras for Aquarian Age in relation to Chakras:
The 7 steps to happiness are listed in bold.
The 5 sutras are below in “quotations”.
Muladhara/Root: Foundations, survival, security, habit, self-acceptance
YOGA POSE: Malasana
MEDITATION: Bring awareness to the root (perineum/coccyx).
Sense the connection between the ground and the space where the body touches down to the floor or whatever you are sitting on. Imagine the energy there as a warm colored square (it can be large, as if you are sitting in it, or it can be small). Inhale fill up repeat silently to yourself the mantra “roots.” Exhale and repeat silently the mantra “ground.” Perhaps even feel your connection to the earth becoming stronger as you repeat “roots” on the inhale, and “ground” on the exhales. Notice the sensations of grounding at the root chakra, and perhaps even into the legs and feet. What habits/activities/relationships in my life help me to feel grounded and secure?
Swadhisthana/Sacral: To feel, to desire, to create.
Sacral clock: Exploring 3 planes of movement in the pelvis
Lay on mat, knees bent, hip width apart
Think of the sacral area as a clock, navel at 12:00, pubic bone 6:00
MEDITATION: Bring awareness to the pelvic area, reproductive organs, sacrum.
Center in on this watery, oceanic space. Imagine the energy there in the shape of a moon. Inhale fill up, and repeat silently to yourself the mantra “flow.” Exhale and repeat silently the mantra “healing.” Perhaps even feel sensation of rejuvenation and any qualities that are sweet, fluid, and watery. What ways can I access pleasure in my daily life?
Manipura/Solar Plexus: The will of the spiritual warrior.
YOGA POSE: blanket sphinx/seal
MEDITATION: Bring awareness to the navel center, and area around the navel up to the solar plexus.
This is the fire center, the place where the fire of transformation lives, the seat of enlightened action. In yoga/ayurveda it’s called agni--heat/burning up things we don’t need (food/emotions), while creating the energy for us move into our higher consciousness.
Imagine the energy there in the shape orangish-yellow circle. Inhale fill up repeat silently to yourself the mantra “power.” Exhale and repeat silently the mantra “action.” Feel the mantra seat at the navel center. Feel that with the breath, these words become purified of any ego-ic connotations. Let the word power in this meditation be defined as this feeling of strength and potential - the strenght and potential for enlightened action and transformation.
Since the natural flow of power and action is upward, sense the mantra beginning to have an upward motion. How might I use this internal fire (agni) for transformation in my own life
Anahata/Heart: Love and awakening, from “me” to “we”.
YOGA POSE: Camel Pose
Anahata means the sound that is made without any two things striking.
How much do you feel connected to others? (Do partner exercise)
Do you respond to others through the mind/intellect rather than the heart? Tune into the heart..it has the answers.
Are you compassionate or do you judge others? Everyone’s reality is different. Know that no one can hurt you- it’s how you react to it that is the cause of your pain.
MEDITATION (Affirmations): Anjali Mudra
Caress your heart and send it unlimitless Universal Love knowing that the more it receives the more love will be available to others.
I send love to everyone I know, all hearts are open to receive my love.
I accept that pain is an essential part of my growth and development.
I love myself for who I am and the potential within me.
All past hurt I release into the hands of love.
I am grateful for all the love that is in my life.
Other people deserve my compassion.
The love I feel for myself and others is unconditional.
Love will set me free..Others love the best they can. If someone doesn’t love me “enough”, they may be limited in their expression of love and deserve my compassion
Visuddha/Throat: Hearing and speaking the truth, the teacher.
YOGA POSE: Neck Rolls
MEDITATION: Chant Sat nam, sat naam, sat naam, wahay guroo OR Hum hi hum brahm hum for 3-11 min.
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Ajna (“to command”)/Third Eye: The union of opposites.
The two eyes give you dimension in the world, the 3rd eye gives you depth, dimension, and scope of the subtle worlds.
YOGA POSE: Forehead resting on floor/Childs pose
MEDITATION: Chant “ONG” nasally to stimulate Pituitary and then meditate on third eye.
YOGA POSE: Sat Kriya
MEDITATION: Concentrate at tip of nose.
Padaka-Pancaka/The Aura: Radiance
YOGA POSE: All Arm exercises, Ego eradicator/Triangle
MEDITATION: 7 Wave SAT NAM: Chant SAAAAAT Naam. Visualize spiraling energy that vibrates at each chakra location as it travels up on the long SAAT. On Naam imagine energy leaving the 10th gate/crown and out into the infinite.
Several months ago while in India, I sent a message to two of my best friends that I had spent traveling through India with two years before asking them a favor. I wanted to purchase a new motorbike for my dear friend, Hari, who was basically like a father to me when in India. Hari had a motorbike that he had bought used about 8-10 years prior and dreamed of one day getting a new one. While Hari did not need a new motorbike for his livelihood..he works as the farm attendant at the Green Gardens Farm and the go to man for the TGG Foundation, the non-profit I was working for in Wayanad, Kerala...I wanted to make his dream come true.
Hari is one of the hardest working men I have ever known, he works all day at the farm- building, caring for the cows, chickens, and goats, and so much more. Not only that but he is extremely active in his community. He often spends many weeknights (after working a full day) to help set up water connections to local community members. He has built all but two of the houses in his "neighborhood", and is well respected and known in the community.
Successfully, with support from my friend Anna, Gayatri, and another WWOOFer at the foundation, we were able to buy Hari a new motorbike and set aside a small portion of retirement funds for he and his wife, Sushama (my Indian mother)
A few days ago, I received a similar message from my friend Gayatri, that I wanted to share. I think it falls completely in alignment with the ideals of the TGG Foundation's Responsible Indian Mission and goes to show how far a few dollars, that we in the Western world often take for granted by splurging on coffee, restaurants, or drinks in a given week, can go in another country.
Here is Gayatri's message:
Our farm in Hyderabad has various families that live and work on the land. Most of these families come from relatively impoverished villages scattered throughout Telengana and Bihar. They come from communities where education levels falter after 5th grade and wives are married/bearing children by age 19. One family in particular, the Mishra family, has stayed on this land and cared for my grandfather and his father before him for over 30 years! The father Bipin Mishra, now 65, is one of the wisest humans I know and pretty much runs the show around here even in my grandfather's absence. He himself never went to school, nor his wife Janke, but he dedicated his whole life and savings to properly educating his two sons, Anil & Ashok, so they could have a better future. A future which doesn't involve backbreaking work in India's heat and a salary higher than the standard $4/day unskilled laborers typically make. The two boys finished all the way through university and graduated TOP of their class in 2010. I don't know Ashok well, but Anil has become something of an older brother to me and his wife, Anjani (now 22), a best friend. They have two sweet children, Sachi and Sujit (6 and 1, respectively), and the parents place an equal emphasis on their educations as Bipin did for Anil. Attached is a pic of Bipin, Janke and young Sachi!
Now comes the unfortunate twist - Anil has been living separately from his wife and children for four years working as a bilingual translator in Vishakapatnam. He had been earning enough salary to send back home for his daughter's school fees and new born Sujit's needs. Last year, a devastating cyclone hit his town wiping out businesses and homes alike. He lost his job, but managed to find another one as a cabinet salesman. As of a few months ago, his new boss decided to stop paying Anil (apparently that can just happen here...) leaving Anil with no choice but to leave. Since then, Anil has tried to seek employment in several places, even going back to old employers but has had zero luck. With Hyderabad's (and Bangalore's) exponential rise in computer/IT jobs, the market for desirable skills has been rapidly changing. Despite knowing fluent English and having plenty of prior work experience, most of the feedback Anil has received is that he needs to learn how to use a computer and manage excel spreadsheets, something he's never been exposed to.
At the moment, the entire family of 6 is living off of Bipins $150/month salary and searching for a solution for Anil. If Anil can learn the basics of a computer and navigate through Microsoft Suite, his background and work experience will immediately be picked up by employers throughout the state. I've seen him in action - he's an incredibly fast learner and works as hard as his father. Not to mention, he has a genuinely kind heart.
I did some research and the total cost for a new laptop comes to IDR 25,000 (approx. $375). This may not sound steep to us, but its more than 2 months of Bipin's salary. My thoughts, and partly why I wanted to reach out to you, is to sponsor this effort for him. I'm going to cover the first 7,000 rupees and reach out to loved ones back home to see how much more I can raise. Of course, please do not feel obligated to pitch in, writing and sharing this story with you both is meaningful enough already :) That said, if you wanted to support, I certainly don't want to hold you back from doing so! Also, if you have any other friends that may be interested in supporting this cause, feel free to forward!
It's a beautiful story with a relatively beautiful ending. I'm drawn to this family, and to many families like them who are finding it difficult to keep up with the fast pace India and the world all over is progressing. I hope with so many advancements in technology, the schools will recognize the importance of teaching computer skills at an early age so future generations don't face a similar issue. But who knows...by the time today's generation graduates, we may be required to learn how to manage flying cars and artificially intelligent robots let alone how to operate a simple computer!
No (wo)man left behind. Now let's work towards that! ;)
I just heard that she was able to pool enough funds to get Anil his computer and they are now working on bargaining the price for him to take some computer classes locally! I am so thankful that I have friends that leverage the resources they have to provide valuable livelihood opportunities for others in communities abroad that they know and cherish.
Should I do my training abroad or at the studio down the street?
I've finally started my first official blog (not to discredit my interrupted and ultimately unsuccessful attempts at writing one while traveling and living abroad). In these blog posts I will be discussing current events and interesting topics related to sustainable living, health and wellness, food systems, social and environmental justice, eastern philosophy, and of course, yoga. Feel free to take this blog as seriously or un-seriously as you wish, and I hope you gain something from it!
In honor of launching my own website, which I have termed my "dharma-online" (essentially my life's work on a web page). I'd like to dedicate this first blog post to the topic of work and life purpose. Some of you I know are already thinking to yourself, what the heck is this word"dharma"?
In honor of launching my own website, which I have termed my "dharma-online" (essentially my life's work on a web page). I'd like to dedicate this first blog post to the topic of work and life purpose. Some of you I know are already thinking to yourself, what the heck is this word"dharma"?
Duty, Responsibility, Righteousness, Ethics, Virtue, Goodness, and Truth.
Dharma, has been given many definitions, originally derived from the sanksrit word dhri (to sustain, carry, hold), but many describe Dharma as your purpose in life. It's that which you are searching for when you ask those really existential questions like who am I, what am I doing here, what is my purpose? I know, pretty intense word, right? I think something that we all think about is whether or not the decisions or the actions that we make on a daily base are what we are supposed to be doing. Essentially we want to know whether or not we are in the right place at the right time. Are we pursuing our dharma (our spiritual path)? Dharma is related to work and participating in society, and very much related to karma yoga (discipline of selfless action, or rather doing without selfishly being attached to the outcome.)
My acupuncturist mentioned to me a really great analogy using two animals, the Hawk and the Mouse, which related to the cycles in life, or various ways in which we carry out our dharma. She described that sometimes in life we take the role of a hawk; during this time, we are focused on the bigger picture of life, we are seeing everything from above, and making decisions with the oversight of a longer term vision for ourselves and how our decisions fit into the larger picture of our lives and society. Other times in life we are the mouse, living and focusing on the smaller detail oriented tasks of daily life. We often oscillate in life between these two roles, sometimes straddling between the two. I personally feel like I am about to transition from the hawk that I've been in the summer months in which I've had more free time to reflect and make some decisions regarding my steps for the upcoming year into a mouse again as I begin fall classes, stepping back into the busy life of a graduate student.
I often try to reflect on this notion of Dharma: Am I doing the right things to fulfill my purpose in life? Am I listening to my instincts or am I falling into the path that others may want me to take? I can't say I'm always the best at making decisions or knowing if I'm doing exactly the right thing. But I try to center myself, reflect, and use my thoughts and intuition to make the decisions that will make me feel the best. So my best advice for all of us in order to be true to our Dharma, is to follow our intuition, listen to our hearts and our guts! A dedicate yogi strives for a clear mind, open heart, and intelligent gut. To follow intuition is not necessarily passive, it does require action, intention, CORE strength, and centering. If we keep trying to do the same things and expect different results, we should try to change what we are doing or the way we react to it. To help get in touch with our core and intuition, I'm going to challenge everyone to do a little exercise.
First, sit down in a comfortable position, you can lay a blanket or two under your hips to elevate the sit bones so the knees are lower than the hips. Bring your hands to your heart center. Take an inhale, and squeeze all the muscles into your midline, hugging the muscles around your spine in. Hold this for 5 seconds. Exhale. Repeat 3 more times and then sit for 1 minute thinking about centering yourself and keeping your core strong.
If you are interested in learning more about Dharma, I recently read this great Yoga Journal article on it.