There’s a place I go when I’m feeling scared and alone.
Nobody knows; it’s between God and I.
I look up to the sky.
Tears fill my eyes; overcome by love for the divine.
There’s a place I go when I’m feeling scared and alone.
Nobody knows; it’s between God and I.
I look up to the sky.
Tears fill my eyes; overcome by love for the divine.
I remember when I received the call from Greg.
I was in my sophomore year of high school. It was February and I was playing in an indoor lacrosse tournament in Chestertown, Maryland that weekend.
In between games I ran over to my stick bag to grab my mouthguard when my phone rang.
"Hey, what's up?" I asked when I picked up the phone knowing it was Greg on the other line.
"My Dad is dead."
"He shot himself."
My Dad who was there with me at the tournament drove me to Greg's house. I walked in to see his aunts and uncles, grandparents, and neighbors with tears in their eyes and grave faces.
Mike, Greg's best friend, came over and hugged me. I was in shock; lost for words.
I saw Greg standing with his grandfather with his head hung low. I walked over and embraced him. I could feel him just melt into my arms, but he did not shed a tear. When I looked him in the eyes his eyes were full of hurt, sadness, and confusion, but his jaw was clenched tightly as if there was so much he wanted to say, but it was not the time or place to let it out.
Greg came and stayed the night at my house that evening. I remember how he just let himself fall backwards onto my bed with a thud and stared up at the ceiling. I stood about 6 feet away by the dresser not knowing what to say so I stuck with silence.
Tears started to stream down his face. It was the only time I saw Greg cry besides the time we broke up briefly.
"He is dead. My Dad is dead..." he kept saying in a low tone.
Greg's father had suffered from bipolar disorder. Doctors had put him on various medications. One med in particular made this brilliant accountant foggy and lifeless. I watched as would sit on the couch with a blank stare.
Then there was the time I saw him explode in a fit of rage. He threw Greg against the basement door choking him. Both of their faces were bright red. He then turned towards Greg's mother, cornered her and pulled her hair as he shouted at her. It was as if he was no longer human, but a beast was coming out of him. Greg called his Grandfather to come get his Dad to settle down as he was the only one who could restrain him in these moments and coax him out of his rage.
I wonder how it could have been different. I wonder if there was anyway to help Greg's father without medication that made him feel lifeless to quell his rage within. I wonder how it could have been different if he had someone to talk to who didn't dish him out pills, but listened and guided him towards inner work.
If you're in need of help please know you are not alone.
What I have discovered on my journey thus far is that someone who simply listens and hears you is deeply healing. I have started working with Ootify as a provider. You can get matched up with a mentor, licensed therapist, or counselor based on your needs. Taking the first step to receive help can be the toughest part, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. We're not meant to embark on this quest called life alone, reach out and someone will be there to take your hand.
I want to say congratulations early on your dreams coming true.
I know it was a struggle, but you climbed that mountain. I hope you enjoyed the view.
You're blossoming so beautifully. I remember when you were just a tiny bud.
Sorry about the bumps in the road and negative thugs.
But it was necessary. It woke you up.
Promise me this...never again believe you're not enough.
I first met Shasta in 2016. I was on one of my solo adventures which unbeknown to me at the time was what I now call a #Soultriproadtrip; an opportunity to ride the wings of Spirit and flow like water through the crevices of my own mind, body, and soul.
A friend had told me that Mount Shasta was a Vortex, a strong energy center. I have been attracted to vortexes like Bali, Indonesia, Sedona (even though I have yet to go), and Encinitas. Mount Shasta is not just any vortex though, it's considered to be the root chakra of our planet.
Chakras are energy centers in our subtle body. We have many chakras, but in the west we mostly focus on seven that run along the spine from the base to the crown. The root chakra is at the base of the spine and has to do with security, grounding, physicality, finances, foundations, and basic needs of survival. Over this past few years this chakra for me has been getting a makeover or an upgrade you might say. While I am always a student I am transitioning into more of a teaching role. Through experience (particularly experiences gained on solo adventures and quests) I have accumulated a wealth of information to share with the world.
What I am learning is that it takes a lot of courage to bridge the gap between our deep desires that exist submerged like an iceberg in our subtle bodies and the intellect. Once you begin to face all parts of yourself it takes even more courage to walk the bridge of the heart and let the truth from your deepest Self be voiced. You must quiet the mind and let go of all the things you "think you should be saying" and just say what what wells up to the surface from a spring that exists deep in your soul.
The message is like a flowing river. It takes turns, gets diverted, sometimes gets lodged and goes stagnant, it hits rocks and bumps along the way, but eventually it flows back to it's Source. It's nature is circulation and movement and it seems to always find its way back home.
For some reason the message seems to become more clear at high altitudes. Clarity comes step by step upwards. It's as if I am trekking upwards physically to retrieve a message in the sky and bring it back down to level ground.
While trekking up Mount Shasta last month I could feel my enthusiasm, vigor, and tenacity build like a powerful wave with each and every step. I would tell my friend Kevin, "wow, the peak is right there! We are not that far!"
We laughed as we made motivational videos on Instagram yelling into the phone, "We are limitless! No limits, baby!" It was good team morale, because we were the ones who needed the motivation more than anyone else as the trek began getting steeper.
There were times I was climbing on all fours and rocks were sliding out from beneath me. I laughed and thought how it was a much more fun workout than the versa climber! Gravel and dust filled my shoes making it feel as though I had weights on my feet, but I wasn't going to stop until I reached the top. We jumped between snow patches and rocks as we gained altitude and finally made it to a camp for a short rest break.
We were less than a mile from the peak when the trail disappeared. I began to feel fear creep in even though I didn't want to admit it, not even to myself. I feared not doing what I had come there to do.
Ultimately, I feared failure.
Without a clear path to move forward to the summit we started climbing the section that seemed the most reasonable. It felt more like rock climbing at that point than trekking. I was on all 4's trying to reach for rock to grasped and pull myself up, but the problem was all the rocks were moving underneath of me. I kept my core tight and tried to be as light as possible to move gracefully over shifting earth, but rocks from above were beginning to slide. At that time of year with not much snow the danger is rock slides and just as I thought about this, a big rock the size of my torso came tumbling down from above about 200 feet to our left. I looked at my friend Kevin and said, "I'm calling it. This isn't safe."
When we got back down to the base camp I dropped to a low squat and bursted into tears. I realized that my thought process was that if I could summit this mountain I could find stability within myself. I could find a sense of permanence and control; safety and security with all aspects of myself.
"The mountains I want to summit are not outside of me, they are within me! I said in between sniffles.
It was clear to me that sometimes I feel the need to do big amazing and sometimes even dangerous feats to prove to myself that I have the courage, the capacity, drive, and ability to achieve greater heights, but really those feats are not always outside of me. The greatest feat would be to master my own mind. Sometimes I live for the rush, but on the other end of spectrum am I okay when things are calm and steady, or more so can I handle uncertainty? Can I handle it when I don't know if I'm going to reach the top and be okay with just being on a journey and accept whatever happens? Can I shift my perspective and not see not reaching the summit in a day as a failure, but rather a great achievement to even try and get as far as we did. Can I learn from the experience and be more prepared to try again?
Or do I just cry on the mountain because I didn't get what I wanted and what I came to do?
Well, it took a few miles downhill, but by the time we got back to the trailhead where I took off my shoes and drank from a mountain spring my emotional peak and crash had subsided. The upturned sand had returned to the bottom of the ocean floor and I was able to see clearly once again.
The mountain (technically an inactive volcano) taught me many lessons
In Sanskrit the word Shasta means "teacher." Every time I visit her I realize she lives up to her name more and more as she offers me many lessons- some endearing and others tough to swallow.
1. Even though something may look firm, stable, unshakeable (like a mountain) even that mountain is made of of millions of moving pieces of earth that come together and fall apart. All the little pieces of earth can pull together to support you or crumble beneath you. You are not always in control of what happens. Conditions must be right to have the proper footing.
2. You fail, you learn, you adjust, and try again.
3. Preparation is key. We didn't talk to rangers, we didn't have the appropriate gear. I thought having my food and a mobile strong body would be enough. That's a strong foundation and the first step, but certain journeys and excursions require certain tools and techniques that must be learned and practiced. It's not always a run and just go for it sort of thing.
4. The way up is usually more fun than the way down. The whole way up you're thinking how great it's going to be to reach the top. You have a single goal, a single destination. The journey is enlivening. The way down can sometimes feel like wa-waaaa. Okay, well that's over, what's next. I am working to embrace ups and downs and be fully present for them both for this doesn't just relate to trekking, but to life and the ups and downs of my emotions.
5. Respect mother nature. There are certain doors she keeps closed for good reason. You may not be ready to enter. It may be best you don't. When the timing is right the doors will swing open before you, but until then respect her boundaries. You may feel limitless in your mind, but in this tangible world there are limits and laws of nature. The journey is to learn to work with nature not to conquer it.
I have always wanted to live in California. When I was an ocean lifeguard on the east coast I dreamt about the California climate and the ability to watch the sun rise and set over the ocean versus bayside.
I wasn't sure how I was going to make it out there. I was running an in home fitness training business in Maryland and it was really taking off and writing my fitness column in the local paper, the Annapolis Capitol. At that time I was also in training for my first national physique competition as a bodybuilder in the bikini division, and finishing up my Masters degree. I had a lot going on, but I couldn't stop thinking about what life would be like in California.
I would look at the prices of apartments and cost of living and be left depressed and feeling like it was out my league and hopeless. I wrote out a budget of how much money I would need to make each month to even live a decent life in California.
I was invited out to work at the Arnold Classic, a huge bodybuilding competition in Columbus, Ohio. I was working as a supplement girl and got to see some of the competitors I idolized and even caught glances of the most notorious bodybuilder, the original Mr. Olympia, Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself.
On the flight home I ended up sitting next to the current Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler's training partner. We got to talking and he said they were working on a fitness website and needed a female writer to develop content.
The next thing you know I get a call from the investors and development team and I am boarding a plane for a business meeting in Las Vegas. My wardrobe consisted mostly of workout clothes so I had to go out and shop for business casual attire. The meetings went better than I expected and the next thing you know I am signing a contract to develop content and be compensated with the exact amount per month I had come up with when I was crunching numbers trying to seek a way to make it happen on my own.
I could work for anywhere and receive my checks in the mail. It was the perfect opportunity to make a move. By the Fall I was living my dream in Hermosa Beach, California. I would walk down to the beach every evening and my eyes would well up with tears as I would watch the sun set over the ocean, just as I had wished to experience when I was sitting on the lifeguard stand back in Fenwick Island, Delaware for all those summers.
This experience always reminds me that we can try to come up with so many plans and "make it happen," but sometimes the intention is strong enough and things fall into place in the most surprising and wonderful ways.
Summer after freshman year of college my high school friends and I decided to rent a house at the ocean for the summer. We needed to find jobs. Many of my friends found work in restaurants. I was a bit reluctant to this. I knew I did not like working in the restaurant industry. I didn't like late night shifts or being tired in the morning. I wanted to be in bed by 10PM and wake up and workout.
One day one of my guy friends brought by their friend from college who worked as an ocean lifeguard during the summer months.
"You're athletic, you can do it." he said.
I told him I wasn't a great swimmer. I have never really swam any distance in the ocean, just played in the waves.
We jumped in the pool and I showed him a few strokes.
"Yeah, that's fine!" he said.
I showed up at the try-out not knowing what to expect. The first test was a one mile beach run. Coming out of lacrosse season I blazed through that. The next test was a 200m soft sand sprint. I did even better on that test. But, the third test was an ocean distance swim.
The whole time I was just praying to God they wouldn't have to come out and save me. I wasn't sure if I was swimming or just floating my way to the finish. Needless to say, I was the last one in.
Surprisingly, we all got hired, even me who nearly drowned.
They told me I had one month to work on my swimming, and I better do it.
I would sneak into hotels all around the Delaware beaches and Ocean City, Maryland to swim in pools and practice since the ocean was still rather cold and I just wasn't ready for ocean swimming yet even though that was going to be a big part of my job.
When we finally started official training on the beach my Captain or the lieutenants would drive down my stand on the four wheeler and pull me off the stand for extra practice. We would practice sprinting out to the water with the buoy and getting through the surf as quickly as possible. I was small and the buoy kept pulling me backwards with every wave that came along. My captain taught me how to dive down deep and dig my hands into the sand, push up and continue to dolphin dive through the surf.
Every morning we had beach workouts and I dreaded the swimming portion- the in and outs, swimming towers, and anything that had to do with putting my head underwater, but eventually I did learn to swim and I became a pretty good lifeguard, too. I rescued numerous kids and adults over the years, but I'll never forget one rescue my rookie year.
I was sitting solo. It was a cloudy morning, there weren't many people on the beach. I only had a few people in the water. All of a sudden I hear a woman scream at the top of her lungs. Without even thinking I stripped off my sweats, grabbed my buoy, and jumped off the stand to get out to the victim. Her husband had been body surfing. Apparently he hit his head on the shelf.
He was unconscious when I grabbed him. I put him in the Hawaiian sling, a standard procedure if you suspect head injury where you wrap your arms under their armpits and place your hands over their ears to stabilize their head. As I swimming him into shore he became conscious and shouted, "I can't feel my legs! I can't feel my legs!"
It felt like I froze, even though I kept swimming in. Back up came and supported his legs. His torso laid against my whole body as we carried him in and called for an ambulance.
Two weeks later while hanging out in the lifeguard shack before work my captain read us a letter from his family thanking us for saving his life. The man ended up breaking his neck, but gratefully he did not suffer from a spinal cord injury and was not paralyzed.
When I go back to visit, people on that street who were there that morning still talk about that event. It makes me so grateful I didn't give up when I thought I couldn't swim.
When I was 18 I was no longer just a student of the gym and physiology. I became a certified trainer.
Patrick, the training manager sat me down one day to teach me the art of sales and selling sessions and packages.
He drew a spiral on a blank piece of paper. You see, these outside layers are the bullshit reasons people will give you about why they want to get in shape. He tapped the pen in the center of the spiral.
"You have to get to here." he said. Sometimes they may breakdown and cry and tell you their life story, sometimes they will be stone face, but if you can get to here you have a client.
Over the years I have learned that the epicenter is emotion. Emotion is what will drive you to make a decision. It runs deep. Sometimes it's deeply lodged in you and it's like peeling away the layers of an onion to get to it.
You cannot just want to do things, because you feel as though you should. It cannot be a fleeting desire, a random thought. It must be something you yearn for. It must be linked to something that means the world to you, whether that's your kids and family, calling in a comeback to feel your strength after a tough time, or for a cause you consider to be your life purpose.
Emotion will drive you. If it's coming from your heart and good intentions; if it's helping you be a better human, let it.
I grew up on 18 acres, nearly 20 miles from my school and friend's houses. My parents both worked full time and by the time I was about 11 or 12 years old I was often left home alone. Besides taking care of the animals there just wasn't much to do. We didn't have cable television. My options were either to watch Wayne's World or Pretty Woman over and over again or workout to my Mom's Buns of Steel videos.
When I would do the workout videos I realized my mood changed. I felt happier and not as bored and lonely. Eventually, I didn't want to eat the frozen Mama Celeste pizzas you had to microwave on top of the box, or the hot pockets, or even the lean cuisine meals for lunch. I started asking my Mom to get healthier food and I began making my own meals.
When I was 14 my parents joined the local gym. Since I wasn't 16 yet I couldn't get a membership, but the membership counselor, a guy in 60's named Pete who looked like he could be Fonzie's Dad would let me walk on the treadmill or ride the bike while my parents worked out. There was one instructor who let me take her class every Tuesday and Thursday evening. We would do aerobics, lift dumbbells, do push-ups, and jump rope. I looked forward to that class every week.
By the time I was 16 and could drive and get a job I applied to work front desk at a premier gym in Annapolis. Honestly, I just wanted a free membership so I could workout. During slow hours I would absorb the health and fitness magazines and books. I was able to try all the different classes on the schedule. I would workout with weights reading the instructions and studying the anatomy photos. I wanted to know everything I could and the only way to do that was to practice. I would ask the trainers a gazillion questions.
One day I said to the fitness manager, "I have used all the machines in here, what should I do now?"
"You should probably go home," he said.
"Okay, but I'll be back tomorrow!"
I grew up as an avid equestrian, but I was more into the care taking of the horses than horse shows and ribbons. Everyday after school I would come home from school toss on a pair of brown coveralls, and walk along a path through the woods to the farm that backed up to our property. In order to board my horse there I would muck stalls and feed the horses every evening. I got strong from tossing hay bales, lifting 50 pound bags of grain, pushing the heavy wheelbarrow, and carrying water buckets.
One day in gym class when I was in 4th grade my teacher created a push-up wall where you could post a construction paper star of your push-up personal record. When I gave it a shot I did over 40 full push-ups.
The boys made fun of me for being able to do that many push-ups as a girl or maybe it was just because I beat their score.
My gym teacher pulled me aside, stooped down so we were eye to eye, took her hands to my shoulders and said, "Don't ever feel ashamed for being strong."
In that moment I discovered strength within my strength.
When I was a kid I had a speech impediment. By the time I was three words were coming out at a rapid pace with slurs, stutters, and untameable excitement. My parents enrolled me in a special ed school for speech lessons.
Everyday my parents would put me in a fabulous frilly dress, comb my long dark hair, and drop me off at my grandparents house before they went off to work. My Grandmother would walk me down her driveway and we would wait for the bus together. Other full size yellow buses would roll by with kids laughing and peering out through the windows. I waited for the short bus
Even at a very young age I remember feeling frozen at times on that bus. I didn’t understand why Michael and Jenny were in wheelchairs, why their bodies were frozen or why they couldn’t get up and sit next to me to talk to me. I had so much to say!
I would quietly watch as the teachers spoon fed the kids in wheelchairs as I ate my dry fruit loops out of a plastic bag. I remember feeling like my body was frozen and numb like theirs too as the wheels in my head were trying to figure out what was going on and why they couldn’t run around outside with me, why they couldn’t move.
I would go home and tell my parents how Michael had these shoes that were so bright white and clean. "They are never dirty!" I would exclaim.
Even though those days are now so distant in the past they instilled a deep sense of gratitude for the ability to move. I am very grateful my shoes get mud on them and wear out.
(Listening time 9 minutes, 40 seconds)
I vividly remember the moment the endocrinologist wrote me a prescription for thyroid medication in summer 2011.
Will it make me leaner I asked? At the time my eyes were set on qualifying for the ultimate physique competition, the Olympia and I was going to do whatever it took to make it happen.
I told my coach what the doctor diagnosed me with, "Hashimotos"
"That happens sometimes," he said.
I added a little orange pill of synthetic thyroid hormone to my morning handful of supplements and kept going towards my goal.
I ended up reaching my goal and made it to the Olympia that year. The day I qualified I remember a deep stillness coming over me as I waited to walk out on stage. I felt a confidence I had not experienced in prior contests. When I got on stage that day it was like I blacked out. I don't remember striking poses. I don't remember thinking, smiling at the judges. I only remember feeling the intensity of a single light, whether it was a stage light overhead or a light that was within I do not now. It is one of the handful times I felt sincere flow. What I felt others could see and feel, too.
"You were literally glowing," they said.
I held my gigantic check up and smiled. The following week I was packing my bags for Vegas. I had made to the 2011 Olympia.
On Saturday evening, I walked out on stage and stood beneath the lights in front of a packed auditorium. Smiling and squeezing my abs and glute/hamstring tie in tightly I remember it feeling like a smile was slapped on my face, but through my teeth I was saying, “really, this is it. This is the moment?“
Three months later I was in my tiny studio. I walked about 4 steps from my "office" over to the kitchenette preparing to take the tiny orange pill. I held the bottle in my hand and looked at the block lettering on the bottle. My name was on a prescription drug. I was going to have to take this pill everyday of my life.
In that moment, I got angry and I decided not to take the pill. I put the bottle in the drawer and never took one of those orange pills again. I marched four steps out of the kitchen back over to my corner desk and started to take matters into my own hands.
I knew that medication like that would work in the beginning, but then my system would down regulate. Eventually it could be greater doses. It was not in alignment with my core values and beliefs or vision.
So, I was going to have a change.
To accompany the newfound thyroid condition, I had a bigger issue to deal with- I had not had a menstrual cycle in several years. Going from D1 lacrosse in college to marathons to beach sprinting, to the IFBB ….it was go go go, then on top of my own training I would teach dozens of fast paced classes per week and I lived in constant fear and financial struggle living paycheck to paycheck. All of this created a lack of safety within. It was like my body didn't trust me and I didn't trust it either.
My nervous system was getting fried and my hormones were on strike.
To heal from the inside out I was going to have to do the hardest thing in life…let go.
I was going to have to let go of control, let go of my pride, and egoic goals.
Let go of strict dieting and my 8% body fat to get my hormones happy and healthy. I began by focusing on eating real food, not counting every single calorie and carb I ate and having more balance in my diet...and in my life.
I let go of hours of steady state cardio and focused more on lifting for strength and interval training and eating to fuel my workouts.
I let go of hiding behind titles, accolades, and my training programs and schedules to compensate for my insecurities and constant feeling of not being good enough.
The process was not easy to say the least, but that’s not even the tip of the iceberg.
In winter of 2014 after the bomb dropping that the fitness show I signed a contract to create and host was not going to happen I went through a cycle of severe depletion. I felt zapped of energy and relied on Healer’s Tea a blend of Chinese Herbs from Ron Teeguarden’s Dragon Herbs to get me through the day. Then one day in the midst of my depletion as I was lying in bed. I got a sudden throbbing sensation in my head. I had never had migraines so I wasn't sure if that was what was happening, but ( get ready...I know this may sound a bit woo woo but it was my true experience) I heard a voice.
“What are you going to do? Continue to lay here forever and feel sorry for yourself? Go outside.”
The calling was so strong I got up, tossed on my hiking shoes, called for my Dog and headed out to a nearby hiking trail in Pacific Palisades. It was late afternoon in February and the sun would be setting soon.
I didn’t care.
I hiked up to a rock where I had to climb through a tiny hole to sit on the ledge and look out over the ocean. It felt like I was above the noise, out of the chaos, away from the hurt and the shame. I could finally see that what I thought was the biggest failure and pain of my life was really just a slip dip in the path not a massive dark hole.
My mind went silent. I observed that there was no thought. I even tried to think and I couldn’t. I tried to tell myself the old stories of failure and hurt; the ones that had become so ingrained, but I couldn’t. There was nothing.
I loved that- silence.
For the first time in a long time at that point I felt myself opening and expanding.
I wanted to stay on that mountain. I wanted to live on that rock.
I started fantasizing about how I could carry a tent up that trail and sleep there every night. I began to think about how I could just shower at the gym, pack my cooler with healthy food, and live the simple life. I became so enthralled with the idea it began to take form to the point it was no longer a fantasy.
I walked down the trail in the dark with Quincy, my pup, in tow and a new life plan.
Within the next month I sold all of my furniture, put some essentials in storage, and turned in the key to my Venice Beach apartment. Quincy and I set out on an adventure where we traveled to different cities and national parks for 4 days out of the week camping and living out of my car and I worked in Los Angeles for 3 days mid-week.
Every week was an adventure. I felt like a kid again. I felt like I was coming back to life after burn out. For the first time it felt like my life was expanding again after it was road block after road block and stumbles and face plants.
Our nomadic lifestyle lasted for about a month before I was ready to gain more stability, but I still wasn’t ready to put down roots yet so instead we floated.
An idea came to me, "Wow, wouldn’t it be awesome to live on a sailboat?!"
I looked on Craigslist and the very first post I read was to rent a docked sailboat in Marina Del Rey. It was a sign. I called the owner and that day Quincy and I found ourselves a new home.
On that tiny sailboat I would sleep with the top open so I could listen to the water and gaze at the moon. In the mornings I would do mobility, bodyweight workouts on the dock, and jump rope careful not to wake up my neighbors.
It was truly a playful time. I took acrobatic and flexibility lessons from one of my boatyard neighbors, an ex Russian gymnastics coach who kept referring to me as a Dominque Moceanu as he pressed my chest to the ground in middle splits and I would flatten like a pancake with a terrified look upon my face.
During the days I would try so hard to be productive, but that boat would rock me to sleep. My body and mind needed the rest.
I lived on that little yellow sailboat for 3 months. On my 30th birthday I moved out and back into an apartment. I felt more stable inside and outside and was ready for my external environment to reflect that back at me.
Later that summer when I went to go see the same endocrinologist I visited back in 2011. He took extensive blood work. Everything was optimal. Thyroid and all.
“I want to know what you did so I can be happy like you,” he said.
"I didn’t do anything. That’s the secret," I said with a smile.
I knew that divine intelligence and nature had taken care of it for me. I was just following instructions.
After a summer of surfing and learning the art of work and play from scratch my cycles returned naturally after a 10 year absence, no complications, no pain or cramps, just ease. My hormones were turning back on and I felt like I was coming back to life.
It was like I reached a turning point in my health and fitness journey, but there more lessons to be learned around the bend.
Listening time: Approximately 8 minutes
Last month I spent 4.5 weeks in a small town in Mysore, India called Gokulum practicing ashtanga yoga, pranayama (breath control), and Ayurveda and ayurvedic cooking.
I was ready to move on from the quiet serene atmosphere and lifestyle of the ashram on the farm, or so I thought. I had no idea what I was getting myself into living in a city in India for a month.
On the first day I felt like a newborn baby entering a chaotic world. Motor bikes zig zagged throughout the streets, horns were honking incessantly, cows and goats were roaming the roads, exhaust smoke was making my eyes water, and there was litter on the streets which made me feel enraged.
It was an assault on the senses to say the least.
The first few days I was exhausted. My body and nervous system was not ready for the attack. While the last phase was coined purification I nicknamed this phase of the journey strong determination, because I immediately wanted to run for the hills and I knew it was going to take strong determination to not only handle my new environment, but also to show up and put effort into study and practice everyday.
Stillness within Movement
I was there to practice and study ashtanga yoga. Over the last 3 years this practice has been a big part of my life. It has been impactful in restoring lost ranges of motion, balancing hormones, increasing proprioception, magnifying awareness, building tendon and core strength, improving breathing capacity and circulation, and teaching me the very difficult art of letting go.
It's a highly physical practice and requires a lot of self-discipline as you truly have to put in the time and effort on your mat 5-6 days per week to progress as each pose is a prerequisite for the next.
While the practice can feel like one heck of a workout, the first day at the shala I was reminded, "yoga is an internal practice."
Ashtanga means eight limbs and the physical postures are just one limb. Other limbs include the yamas and niyamas (ethical standards and self discipline), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense withdrawal; ability to withdraw senses from external environment to be the observer), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and the final stage, samadhi (bliss/an interconnectedness with all beings and living things.)
Everyday I would wake up at 4AM for morning rituals and my personal meditation practice and then walk to the shala for practice from 6:30-8:30AM. Students jammed into the tiny shala and practiced mat to mat. Most days we practiced mysore style- you do your own individual practice linking one movement to the next with deep and steady breathing despite the fact that your muscles are trembling and you are sweating profusely. The teacher and assistants are there to help with adjustments; in yoga asana you put the body in unlikely positions. You get into every nook and cranny. You twist, bend, fold, lift, and stretch the body in every direction and although there may be initial discomfort the intention is to find the ease of being and breath in every pose. It's a lot like life, you get put in unlikely and sometimes uncomfortable positions and the true test is whether or not you can keep your cool and steadiness of breath remaining equanimous; your happiness and contentment un-phased by external circumstances.
Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause.
Every afternoon I would take a tuk tuk (a little cab on the back of a motor bike) through the chaos of the city to practice Pranayama (breath control). By the time I would arrive at the shala I felt anxious from the journey as we just dodged multiple head on collisions.
My teacher in India for Pranayama, B.N.S. Iyengar is an excellent example of how yoga practices promote health and longevity. He is 92 years old and going strong. He is one of the oldest yogis carrying on the teachings of Krishnamacharya (considered to be the father of modern day yoga).
He teaches multiple classes per day and teaches with an old school method that has apparently been working for decades.
He would lecture briefly, sometimes write on a chalk board and say, "you take" (aka write it down) and most of all he would say, "now you do, you practice, come on now."
One day one I found myself at the chalkboard reciting "inhale and exhale with retention is pranayama" over and over again and then he would instruct me to recite it with my eyes closed.
Over the course of a few weeks we learned a variety of breath practices. I would leave practice feeling calm, cool, and collected; un-phased by the darting motor bikes and honking horns. There was chaos going on around me but internally I learned to find stillness by creating a pause between the inhale and exhale of my breath.
Finding the Pauses Throughout the Day
Often times, a wave of fatigue would strike in the late afternoon. The practices taxed my willpower. The mid-day sun was intense and it was hot and sticky. While I love to learn new things sometimes it felt like overload since the stimulus from the environment was a lot to process alone. In the afternoons I made a strong effort to incorporate down time to relax. I must admit, I am not great at relaxing. I always feel like there is something more to do and I should be using my time more proficiently, but I routinely remind myself that if I do not pause to process then nothing gets done well, and at the end of the day that's what matters.
Pausing for Prayer
In all of it's chaos India will spiritually ground you. One of the biggest take aways was learning how to pray and making it a regular practice. Just a few minutes of prayer or even the thought of a higher power gives me so much energy. When I pray I feel like all of my cells are lighting up; no matter how tired I am cannot help but feel myself coming more and more alive as I am infiltrated with energy of a force I cannot put into words.
Stronger Mentally, Physically, and Spiritually by Week 3
Our brains and bodies are designed to adapt and grow.
Within a few weeks I felt stronger on all levels. I was no longer fatigued by my new environment and schedule. I had more energy to add in additional activities and it was in that moment I knew my nervous system had upgraded itself and I had become more resilient. The process was a bit rough in the beginning, but with persistence, recovery and patience, growth is guaranteed.
HOW TO PAUSE: THE BODY AND BRAIN NEED TO RECOVER TO GROW
One of the fastest ways to recover and let your brain and body chill out is simply to lie down on your back and breathe deeply and pause after inhale and exhalation. This helps stimulate the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body that runs from your cervical spine all through the thorax into the gut. It's the messenger between your two brains- the one in your skull and your gut brain or enteric nervous system.
"When your ever-vigilant sympathetic nervous system revs up the fight or flight responses—pouring the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline into your body—the vagus nerve tells your body to chill out by releasing acetylcholine. Its tendrils extend to many organs, acting like fiberoptic cables that send instructions to release enzymes and proteins like prolactin, vasopressin, and oxytocin, which calm you down. People with a stronger vagus response may be more likely to recover more quickly after stress, injury, or illness." Source
BOTTOM LINE: The world and technology is evolving fast. Our environment and to-do lists can be a lot to process and handle. You are capable of meeting the challenges, but remember that growth is not a linear process. You must make time for recovery and create purposeful pauses along the way to reach new heights.
I don’t like to exercise. I never have.
Even when I was a young athlete and exercised everyday on my own I never liked exercise. Even when I started teaching others how to exercise and get started with a program when I became a certified personal trainer at 18 I still didn’t like exercise.
I think exercise is boring- to just go to a class and move around from station to station or hop on a treadmill and set it at steady speed and zone out and watch the news is boring in my opinion.
I have never liked exercise, but I have always LOVED practice and training.
I fell in love with practice at a young age. I remember sitting at my desk in middle school counting down the hours and minutes until I could get up from the desk and head to the lacrosse field for practice. I never minded running laps or even the dreadful ground ball drill. I savored the moments of practice. It was a time to explore my potential, to be with friends, and observe myself improving and progressing; closing the gap between who I was and who I wanted to be and what I wanted to accomplish.
Practice has always had my heart.
To be honest I don’t even know how to exercise. Exercise feels mechanical. It feels like writing a passage over and over again until you zone out and don’t even know what was written. It feels like algebra when I prefer poetry.
I only know how to train, practice, and work towards a goal. It keeps me hungry. It lights me up inside, and illuminates this worldly experience. There is something primal yet simultaneously soulful about having a goal and watching all the trillion of cells within your body wrap themselves around an idea until it seems to happen almost effortlessly.
There is great satisfaction to have something that calls you out of bed in the morning to put forth energy, sweat, and perseverance even though you’re not getting paid for it and no one will ever hand you a door prize for showing up. It’s holding yourself accountable, because that goal is meaningful to you and no one else.
It’s amazing to watch yourself transform day by day, practice after practice. It’s a thrill, a natural high to be able to do something you thought was not possible; meant for others but not you. When you finally accomplish it or just even a glitter of hope peaks through the cloud of despair you experience a joy that seems to rise up from deep within and gratitude flows forth. You become more like the ones you’ve admired for so long as the needle on the dial of your skillset begins to waver and move. But, you don’t just become more like them, you become more you.
Your body and mind literally molds itself to the practice. It’s like all the stars in the cosmos shift and align themselves to light and guide your path. The tumultuous waters of the oceans become still as a lake as the mind quiets down and learns to concentrate and focus on the task at hand. But, the fire within your heart keeps burning with a steady flame as your daily practice tosses logs on the fire to keep you burning and yearning for something far greater.
You will learn more about yourself in a movement practice than you will from reading hundreds of books, because knowledge alone will never be able to compete with personal experience. Personal experience creates belief in what you are doing, the theory, and most importantly yourself.
Practices come into your life when you need them. There have been times that I needed to know how to be agile, how to run far, how to run fast, how to be strong, how to look fit, how to be flexible, how to be mobile, how to be resilient, how to be graceful, and how to remember God in every breath.
I believe practice carries you through life. It’s there for you when things are going great and when life throws obstacles on your path. When so many things in life are out of control it’s reassuring to know we can control whether or not we practice and give ourselves time to remember that control is just an aspect of the ego anyway. To surrender, flow, love, and discern what is meant for you and what is not requires more acuity and agility than simply holding on to what we have been conditioned to believe we are and should do with tightly clenched fists and brute strength.
I have never liked exercised and I hope I never learn how to do it, because movement without heart and wisdom is like being a machine. I am not a machine. I am human and therefore I practice.
Today let me tell you about something that has been weighing on my mind and heart since the moment I stepped on the plane for India on December 31, 2017.
Before deciding to travel I had two choices:
1. Give 30 days notice to leave my Hermosa Beach, California apartment and try to sell all my furniture etc. or put things in storage before setting off for travel.
2. Sublease my apartment for a few months.
I decided to put up an ad to sublease and see what would transpire. If I didn't find someone in time I would make arrangements to move out, but if I could rent my place furnished and make a bit of money to help fund travel why not?
It seemed like a great plan.
The first couple weeks NO ONE responded except scammers. I was getting distraught about having to let go of my apartment. I didn't want to return from travel and have to find a place to live, but it was getting down to the wire. I was so discouraged I thought about giving up on the whole idea of traveling altogether, but my body gave me signals that was NOT going to happen.
I started having terrible cramps in my abdomen and muscle pain around my right hip. I thought it was just PMS, but then it progressed to insomnia and anxiety. I have had these intense body sensations come up a few times the past few years since I have become more aware and in tune with my energetic body. It feels like my energy has dispersed itself into millions of little bumper cars and they are all running into one another. It's chaos.
At 3AM I decided to post an ad on Craigslist to sublease my apartment one more time. The next afternoon I got a message. A couple wanted to come take a look at the apartment. They currently lived up the street, but said their apartment building was being torn down and rebuilt and they were looking for a place in the neighborhood.
All went really well. They loved the place. They liked the idea of it being furnished and I liked that I wouldn't have to load up a storage unit. They signed the contract for a 6 month sublease and paid part of the deposit the next day. All was going to plan. They paid rent and moved in on December 1, 2017 and I was on a plane to Maryland to take my beloved dog Quincy to stay with my parents for a few months.
December was a relaxing month. Getting ready for travel was easy since I took care of the tough work and logistics in November. I was all set to board my plane when I received a message that they would send January rent (due on the first of the month) in a couple days since they had to go up north to visit her father in the hospital.
"My prayers are with you during this difficult time." I wrote in a text message. Prayer emoji and all. I boarded my plane and expected the money to be coming in after the holiday.
I arrived in India at the ashram on January 2. I didn't hear from Joseph and Saira until the 5th. I got a very disturbing email saying the IRS placed a hold on their bank accounts for unpaid property taxes.
They said they would get it cleared up and make the payment by January 10. Initially, I froze in fear. I had just taken a 24 hour flight and was on the other side of the world and feared that I would be turning right back around. All my planning, all my hopes, all the preparation, down the drain.
I emailed my landlord and asked for an extension to pay rent on the 15th. He is super kind and was willing to work with me. "Sure, just pay the $50 late fee."
Then, I had to try to stay calm, enjoy yogic living at the ashram, continue to create the Habits in Practice Course and not let all the thoughts of "what ifs" enter my mind.
January 10 rolled around....no money.
Joseph said he pulled money from another account since they were in deeper than they thought, but the deposit hadn't arrived yet and I would have to wait. Well that wasn't going to fly. On the 18th I get an email from my landlord. I told him the situation. He has been managing spaces for many years and he knew something was up with these people even though I couldn't see it. He could smell a big fat rat.
With no rent paid he puts an eviction notice on the door. I'm in an email chain between him and his lawyer. He's calling Joseph. Joseph isn't answering. It gets ugly. To keep the peace and avoid losing my apartment and having to turn around and fly home I paid the rent.
Money down the drain. People freeloading living in my apartment and sleeping in my beds and not paying. I contacted a lawyer and discuss going to small claims court. Problem is, I'm in India and going to court right away would mean giving up the trip not to mention be a huge headache at this time.
Joseph said they would pay by February 5 and be out the first week. I started to feel better. Maybe it could work out after all. I did my best to give them the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to believe them...
I posted some ads to find a new subtenant and have a much better response than the first go around, even though now I wish I had never rented to these people in the first place.
February 5 rolls around- once again, no follow through on their word. No payment was made. At this point I realized that their "word" is absolute bullshit. Why do they keep making promises they have no intention of keeping?
I became furious. They made no attempt to pay anything- not even a portion of the rent. During my yoga practice I fumed for 90 minutes over the situation every morning.
Finally, I just couldn't take it anymore. I had to expose the true source of my anger and suffering- my own fear.
You see, it was easier for me to be angry and lash out at them, but I had to put my weapons down and say, "I'm scared. I feel taken advantage of; violated. I'm hurt, and I don't have the funds for this to go on. I need you all out so I can rent the place and make my bill payments."
I wanted to retaliate and blame them. I wanted to call them the scum of the earth for doing this to another human being especially when that human is traveling solo on the other side of the world. I wanted to tell him his willpower, integrity, and follow through sucks. I wanted to say I pity them for the way they live their lives and treat people. (Okay, so I did actually say that...)
But, I couldn't go on with nasty messages. I couldn't make myself into the victim. That would be inflicting violence upon myself and at this point in my life I have learned to love myself too much to hold anger in my body.
Anger is toxic. For me anger swells up in my lower abdomen like a fluid pouch. When I finally release it through meditation, core work, yoga asana, breath, love, and acceptance it's like emptying a camel pack. My abdomen de-bloats, healthy hearty digestion is restored, and I feel like I just stopped walking around with a 200 lb. barbell over my shoulders and a watermelon in my low abdomen.
Anger feels hot and pungent. It feels like a high school locker room smells. Rotten.
I have chosen to rise above anger.
One day while sitting in meditation just fuming I began to soften little by little as the minutes rolled by. It became very clear when I realized this...
For me this issue was about money and a violation of my space. For them it's their character.
Actions speak louder than words.
Money is like a current; it flows...comes and goes. Character is much harder to change. Their workload is far greater than the workload I will undergo to make back the money they promised to pay but failed to do so.
Life sometimes schools us. Hits us with a ruler or shoves us into a sticker bush, but eventually we wake up and see how the circumstances and events in life aren't just happening outside of us; it's happening within us.
Due to this situation I have a newfound respect for money. I've really had to budget on this trip. I sometimes eat oatmeal for breakfast and dinner and only eat lunch out a cafe even though it only costs 200 rs which is about $3 USD. Learning is my favorite and I have had to pick and choose my courses and learning experiences rather than doing all the events I originally wanted to sign up for. I have learned to live very simple on almost nothing.
Whenever I go to spend money I look at the Indian Rupee with Mahatma Gandhi on the bills.
I think of how Gandhi sacrificed- went without food, but most importantly I feel his peace. I tell myself over and over again throughout the day... "do not retaliate. It only hurts yourself. Where is there room for more love in this situation?"
Everyday, multiple times per day in the yoga shala, chanting class, and in my own personal meditation practices I am reminded to keep the peace...Om shanti shanti shanti....peace...peace...peace. Let there be peace within me so there can be peace around me. Let me radiate peace so I inspire peace in another. Let there be peace in the heart of all humankind.
I know that this situation will pass. In a few months I will probably look back on it and may even still think, "those jerks!" but even so I hope it is a flighty thought, one that does not get lodged in my tissues or digestive tract or even worse in the cave of my heart.
Listening time: 6 minutes 8 seconds.
Ever since I can remember I've had big...BIG goals. I have always felt like there was something I was supposed to do or achieve. As a kid I would get so excited by the amount of energy that was trying to flow through and out of me I would talk so fast with a terrible speech impediment. No one could understand me so I would trudge off and go try to figure out how to work with the energy on my own. I discovered movement as an amazing outlet for my energy and of course using my mind and body to chase after my BIG goals.
For a long time many of my goals felt like an intense burning desire. I would strive and push until I made it, but time and time again I would reach the finish line and have the same thoughts.
"Is this it?" This is the BIG thing I was supposed to do? No, of course not, there has to be something more. What's next?"
I experienced this deflation when I finally got into my dream college and played on the top ranked Division 1 lacrosse team like I dreamt of while shooting on the goal and chasing balls against my athletic Labrador Retriever in grade school. I felt it when I crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon with a time of 3 hours and 30 minutes, but immediately felt disappointed and worthless because I aimed to run a 3:15. I felt it deeply to the core of my being when I stood on stage under the bright lights in front of a packed auditorium at the 2011 Ms. Bikini Olympia, the top bodybuilding competition in the world.
I felt it after career successes too, like when I finally got the job title I wanted of Fitness Expert Consultant in Los Angeles California or when I finally made the amount of money I aimed to. It was an interesting to observe. As my list of achievements grew I felt like I was shrinking becoming smaller inside and weighed down by all the things I thought I was or ought to be doing.
I suppose I used to look at achievements and accolades as if they were me- my identity. Over the past few years I have removed the things that I thought I was one by one. I see them in a different light now. They were wonderful highs and great memories, wonderful journeys and learning experiences, but they are not my self-worth or identity.
It was pretty life shattering when this realization hit. I mean, sure you always read those little inspiration messages like BE YOUtiful. But, you never really understand quotes or sayings until you experience it for yourself.
My ego shattering moment was in 2014 when I signed a contract for my own travel fitness & wellness television show that would air on DirectTV.
Needless to say it never happened.
I got led on for months by the executive producer, "we're just waiting for the budgets to come through." He would say week after week.
Meanwhile, I excitedly put all my energy- physical, mental, financial, and even spiritual into the creation of this project. I was certain this was the BIG THING, the BIG GOAL I have been waiting for and lusting after, finally taking form.
When I finally realized it wasn't going to happen I was broken...shattered in a million pieces on the floor of my tiny studio apartment. I was sad, full of self-pity, and then angry. I was angry with myself, and extremely angry with God.
"How could you let this happen?! I have worked my whole life for this!" I exclaimed.
When I finally got over my rage and pulled myself up from a sobbing face planted position I felt hollow and hopeless. A thought crossed my mind. It was loud and clear unlike the stammers and heated disputes I witnessed just seconds before.
"Put as much effort and enthusiasm into your spiritual practices as you do into your physical practices."
I propped myself up against the closed murphy bed in my studio in a cross legged position. My body ached- it wasn't muscle soreness. It was the pain of the picture I painted for my life being ripped apart. I closed my eyes and tried to meditate. I thought of that nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty.
"All the kings horses and all the kings men couldn't put Humpty back together again."
I think that nursery tale never got finished. Perhaps Humpty put himself back together again. I knew that was what I was going to have to do in that moment.
I have not been open or verbal about this, but I'm pretty sure people can see that I've been going through a big transformation over the past few years. I mean, I've sold all my belongings lived out of a Honda Fit for weeks at a time to be able to travel to national parks and just get away from LA and all the memories of what I thought would happen there for me. I have lived on a sailboat for months learning how to rest and find new sources of creativity, I've gone deep into yoga, meditation, silence, and retreats. In this process I have restored my health on all levels, found more contentment and harmony in my life and feel called to do work that goes beyond just working with the physical body and fitness alone.
I am currently abroad in India putting the final touches of gold and restoration on this heart of mine so I can truly follow my heart's calling and finally write a book proposal and access the courage to put my heart...I mean my "art" out there to the world.
I have learned that the energy that flows through us is not just to be used to reach BIG goals, attain certain titles, accolades, or achievements. That energy is so BIG and grand, because it connects each one of us with everything in the cosmos. We are innately powerful, healthy, happy, and successful. The work lies in aligning what we do, say, and think to allow it to shine through.
Last month I went into the dentist for a cleaning. Not just any cleaning- a scaling. They numb your gums and scrape under the gum line to remove bacteria. Even being numb, it was still painful at points throughout the procedure, but the greatest pain was not physical- it was emotional and deeply rooted.
As the hygienist scaled under the gum line and touched the roots of my teeth a flood of memories rushed in. All the negative things I have said to myself in my mind or under my breath over the years came knocking on the door of my subconscious. Tears filled my eyes.
"Are you doing okay?" the hygienist asked.
With teary red eyes and my mouth wide open I nodded head yes, because even though the memories of berating myself for not being good enough, pretty enough, strong enough, successful enough, rich enough, or happy enough walked across the stage of my mind one by one I knew I was going through the process of transformation and soon enough I would walk into the light on the other side of the pain.
Life is meant to be enjoyed not scrutinized.
I realized that I spent so many years disliking parts of myself and being so hard on myself that it left no space for me to see the great things about myself or acknowledge my own hard work and successes. So badly, the girl I cried for, the girl who was verbally abused by her own mind wanted to go back and actually enjoy those experiences, but the moment was gone like a bubble that burst. I realized that I would never get those moments back, but I knew I could start LIVING and ENJOYING my life NOW.
Awareness is the first step.
You can't change unless you are aware that there needs to be a change. Sometimes it takes a fine metal blade prodding against your gums to become aware, but you get the message. What needs to come through will always come through, whether you receive it graciously and use it to heal and move forward is another matter.
Your Participation is Necessary.
Once you know better you must do better. To be aware but not do anything about it is ignorance. Ignorance will keep you stuck in the same self-defeating patterns that you are trying to escape from. You must take radical action.
In the dentist chair I made a commitment to be hyper aware of my self talk and toss out any language that has gone sour. Going deeper into the matter I realized that all of my troubles were the result of not feeling good enough. I could not move forward in fitness, business, or relationships until I started to love myself more fully and that required me to speak nicely to myself.
It takes PRACTICE
I find that the enthusiasm for positive change comes and goes. I will sometimes look in the mirror and get down on myself, but when I notice myself slipping I have to hold onto what is good. I imagine it like falling down a steep hill, but there are strong roots in the hillside saying "look! I'm here to help. Just hold on and climb back up!"
I immediately replace the negative thought with a positive one and then act on the positive. I have learned that any action that comes from fear, hate, or inadequacy will eventually lead to unhappiness. So I am constantly looking for the good and vow to move forward from there.
How do you speak to yourself? Is your mental voice a cheerleader or a drill sergeant? How can you speak to yourself in a way that will help move you in the direction of your most heart felt goals? If you only spoke with the utmost authenticity what would you really say to yourself, someone else, or the world?
Set a timer for 10 minutes and keep pen to paper- no thinking, just let it flow.
I awoke at 1:08AM this morning.
I have my first newsletter, my first newsletter in a really long time scheduled to enter people's email boxes at 7AM. It's 3:30AM as I write this. I edited the email campaign a dozen times. I want to say no, it's not good enough- wait to send it out, but that would be giving into the fear and the paralysis.
Expression is not always easy for me. As a kid I had a terrible speech impediment. No one could understand me because I would get so excited and have so much to share I would talk incredibly fast. I would get frustrated when I wasn't understood so I would go off and work with the energy that was flowing through me on my own and figure out some way to release it.
A book that helped me move towards more authentic expression and unleashing my creativity was "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield. It made me realize that the anxiety I felt around creating something new whether it's putting out a newsletter, writing an article, or even gifting myself the time to journal is not uncommon, and more so...it may even be a great thing.
The key to winning the creative battle is simply to keep practicing. Pressfield discusses his process of invoking the muse before beginning each day. This is a ritual I have adopted as I often pray before writing and ask that my message ring true for whomever needs it. I also pray to show myself compassion and not be such a relentless critic or doubter.
I believe we are all conduits of energy. Creative ideas flow through us. I am careful not to attach myself to them; knowing they are all fleeting, and nothing- no idea, no thing, no ability is ME for I AM the I AM I pray to. The creative force of the universe resides in me- within all of us and everything.
I have always considered myself to be a writer. I began writing at an early age mainly because I love to learn and writing helps me bring my thoughts together. It's like playing with ideas on paper. I would simply write about what I love and what was fascinating to me.
I started sharing my wellness writings in college. When I was torn between continuing being pre-med at Johns Hopkins University and following my heart in health promotion (I wanted to prevent people from getting sick rather than trying to help them once it happened) my advisor encouraged me to start a health and fitness column in the school paper.
My peers would approach me on campus and tell me that because of my writing they were now drinking less on weekends and making better choices in the dining hall. My heart grew so full of joy to know that what I loved learning and sharing was actually of benefit to others.
I continued to write for newspapers after graduating. Geez, I was so bold! I would call up or walk into the office and pitch my fitness column without any hesitation. It was so in the flow. I would have my parents take the exercise photos of me for the articles. I didn't care about things being so perfect. I didn't fear competition. I only knew and trusted the creative impulse that was flowing through me.
I guess I lost some of that when I went on my own and moved to Los Angeles. I didn't have the support of my family and community and I have never been one to take rejection well. I have faced a lot of rejection out here. Rejection burns. Those burns can keep you from moving forward. But, we must keep moving. There is an infinite amount of support available to you at all times. You just step into the field. The universe really does have your back. But, you have to believe in the power and want to work with the power as much as the power wants to work with you.
On a recent quest (my long solo road trips seeking guidance from the universe) I listened to BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert on Audible. This really stuck out to me.
I have decided to call my new email newsletter The Heart of Practice as I am practicing living from my heart and sharing it with others. I am learning that creativity and I do not have to go to war. I don't have to light projects on fire in the construction phase and run away to escape the smoke. We can work together. Free flow of energy- I'm open to you.
I value all of the seasons, but Summer holds a special place in my heart. Perhaps it is the memory of the years I spent as an ocean lifeguard in Fenwick Island, Delaware where my days consisted of morning workouts on the beach with my friends, being completely present for hours guarding the water, and happy hour get togethers with my squad after work. Summer is warm, welcoming, vibrant, and full of social interaction.
This past Summer I spent the majority of my time in Encinitas, California, a quintessential surf town in northern San Diego county. For years Encinitas has been my happy place. I discovered it when I was driving home from visiting an online client who lived in La Jolla. We met once per month in person since it wasn't a far drive. Instead of sitting in traffic on my way back to LA I pulled over and decided to go for a beach run. I felt charged with so much joy seeing the bluffs, the fiery sun, and rising moon.
For me, Encinitas feels like eternal summer. The weather is always pleasant, the people are very nice, there's always surf, and most importantly, I feel the most free there. Free to create and free to be myself. It's like I remember who I am when I'm there.
I don't want to hate on LA, but it's been nearly 7 years here and it's been tough. I mean really tough. So tough that I've spent who knows how many thousands of dollars on herbal remedies, doctor bills, self-help workshops and counseling. Looking back I don't know if there was ever anything really wrong besides feeling not good enough, watching hopeful projects come and go and feeling like a failure, and feeling lonely- so terribly lonely.
It's amazing how a city with 4 million people living in it can feel so isolated. An acquaintance once referred to Los Angeles as the city of Lost Angels. It's like we all came here searching for something. That something is disguised as fame, success, riches, a partner, but that something is really just our true Self.
There are many places to seek out spirituality in Los Angeles, but in my opinion it all feels commercialized. I have met great clients here. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have received for work. It supports my soul searching and helps me try to dig myself out a hole of loneliness by learning.
At 25 I came out here so bright eyed and optimistic. My first job was being a fitness expert for a virtual training website. I was an IFBB Bikini Pro, and knew my shit. I wrote the content, built the programs, and supplied the mathematical formulas to the tech team for the online calculators. I walked the talk as they say.
I took great pride in that job. I thought I knew myself by seeing myself through the lens of a fitness expert and pro physique competitor; perhaps that's why it was stripped away.
Like a hermit crab looks for a new shell I found a new identity as a fitness writer. I took on a job as a fitness editor, but within less than 6 months the company lost funding and that was the end of that. On to the next one...
I received a call from a major fitness production company within 2 weeks of being laid off. I got the job after the first meeting when I was able to put some scientific rationale to a heart training program and come up with a creative name for a burpee variation. I signed a contract as a independent contractor for a good amount of money. It was thrilling at the time; mostly because I had a title again.
I spit myself out of that job though. My body started breaking down and giving me signals to get out. My back hurt from driving in LA traffic, childhood trauma was triggered from the stress I felt and the perfectionism I chased. A deep feeling of inadequacy haunted me daily.
Instead of being honest and quitting, I told the director I was going to Bali and needed to travel. The problem was I didn't have the funds to do it. I knew I needed to make my own program, run my own business without counting on other jobs to always support me, because I was too scared to put the work in myself and make it happen. Too afraid of failing.
Just as I was starting to put together my escape plan I was approached by an executive producer to create my own travel fitness show. This was my dream come true. My own show! My own creation!
I put my heart into creating 12 episodes. I signed a BIG contract for a lot of money. I felt ALIVE again. I felt resurrected.
But, then it didn't happen. Just as quickly as I had become inflated and high on life I deflated, spun downwards, and hit the ground hard. So hard, I shattered into a million pieces.
I cried on my bedroom floor for weeks. I was financially broken and most definitely spiritually broken. I felt betrayed by God, the Universe, and myself.
It's taken years to try to put myself back together again.
Nature has been my greatest healer. She has helped me remember my childlike wonder, how to play, and time and time again she has showed me my strength and grace.
It has taken me a long time be able to stand on my own two feet and offer something from my heart. That's exactly what this program I am building out- Elemental Conditioning is. It's the story of self reliance. It's my revival. It's the way I discovered to love myself more deeply no matter how badly my ego wants to berate me. It is all the things I have learned from the moment I shattered and how I am still, everyday, putting myself back together again.
It's an honor and a privilege to share it with the world even if it's not perfect, even if some may not like it, even if I struggle with the creative process I choose not to run away.
I have tried to stay in LA to prove to myself I am not running away, but the real stability is not about my physical location- why keep walking around a bloody battleground just to be able to prove I can carry myself upright?
The stability I seek is within- it's not running from the pain. It's taking the pain and being an alchemist; turning lead to gold.
For the past month I have walked many miles to be able to see this clearly. I have walked to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite just to FEEL a stable surface beneath my feet, and when I reached the top I flipped my perspective to be able to see it was never about the physical in the first place.
I can run from place to place. I can create stability in my spine, routines, and practices, but if I never face myself and the past hurt I will never have a strong and stable foundation within.
My wish is that I had all the answers.
My wish is that I could magically do any feat I dreamt of with ease.
My wish is I felt steady, grounded, stable, yet creative, free, and spontaneous all at the same time.
My wish is that I knew where this path is leading me.
But, if these wishes came true I wonder what I would work towards?
I wonder how I would spend my time?
I wonder if I would miss the curiosity and the surprises?
I wonder if I would miss the journey because the journey is all I know.
For the past two months I have been standing in front of my peers with a slideshow behind me, clicker in hand, and a mouthful to say about mobility & movement and healthy eating.
Last week we changed gears and started a 4-week journey into mindfulness and mind training. Leading up to the first seminar I was panged with anxiety.
How could I most authentically convey the importance of meditation and mindfulness?
Reflecting back on my own journey, I remembered that I didn't start meditating one day because I thought, "oh yes, this is a good for me, let me do this everyday."
No, it was more like, "I don't have a choice but to do this."
Doubt filled my mind.
"Who am I to talk about meditation? I'm no renowned spiritual teacher."
"Who am I to layout steps towards happiness and contentment?"
"Am I even happy?"
I've walked for miles up and down mountains, driven for hours solo along the coast, camped in nature for days to reconnect with the force of Source, traveled to India to learn meditation, spent countless hours in the yoga studio and gym, spent thousands of dollars on coaching and workshops, have a well-established library of self-help books, have filled journals cover to cover, sat in silence at a meditation retreat for hours on end for 10 days just watching my crazy monkey mind, all in the quest for happiness.
And after all of that, I've learned that happiness does not come easily.
Happiness is a practice; it takes work.
To tell others, "just watch your thoughts and let them go," would be a gigantic disservice. Mind training may be simple in theory, "be present, equanimous, release attachment to thoughts" but let's face it, actually practicing that stuff is tough.
Sometimes it's really hard to let go and we get stuck. You can be stuck for minutes, days, or years. You can't plan on when it's coming and you can't run from it when it comes; it consumes you.
But, without those dark moments life would be terribly boring.
It's very important to know that there's nothing wrong with you when you feel low. I'm pretty sure everybody does sometimes; it's just that no one talks about it. It's as if we put on a mask to the outside world and get really good at replying, "I'm great" when others ask how you are. So you suffer alone.
But this is not true....suffering is part of the human condition. There will be love and loss, there will be disappointments, pain, and failures for everyone.
Look at the bright side- there will be love, there will be miracles, joy, and there will be authentic success!
When I feel stuck I discover my greatest strengths. I learn ways to get out of the dark hole:
a) courage to face the darkness
b) faith that the moment will pass and faith in Source and universal intelligence
c) self-discovery, healing, and life lessons that I am then able to share with others.
Standing in front a room full of people with all eyes on me sharing one of my darkest moments was terrifying. I let go of being the expert. I let go of self-consciousness, and I let go of the barrier that stood between my peers and myself.
It was terrifying, but simultaneously immensely liberating. It was as if it came through me without my control, thought, or effort.
In that moment, I learned what it truly means to be vulnerable. I felt seen, heard, and most importantly loved.
Sometimes we think we are only loved or liked if we achieve more, acquire more accolades, more money and success; live the life we think we ought to rather than face who we are. I'm learning that loving all of myself no matter what the circumstance is the greatest achievement.
When I teach meditation and mindfulness, I am sharing my journey. I teach because I am a student of myself and this life experience. We are all in this together and the best thing we can do is support each other through the good and bad until we see it all as one in the same.