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Category Archives: spirituality

how yoga and meditation have helped me deal with anger

When I think about why I teach yoga, it’s not to teach people to perfect their handstands. It’s not to learn how to lengthen the spine in trikonasana. I find in the “real” world – whatever that means – nobody cares how good your vashistasana…or any pose, for that matter…is. It’s not to say that I don’t teach alignment…I do – perhaps more than most…because I want my students to be safe. But I recognize the pose as secondary.

Because I believe what matters is how we show up in the world. What happens on my mat is preparation for the events that play out with less certainty on my life mat.

Last week I was returning to the studio after a couple in-home private sessions. The Kundalini mantras were playing. When I put down the sugar, I turned up the Kundalini mantras. Even in the chanting, the hamster wheels were turning because I’m awaiting my taxes and in the midst of a couple changes – I’m just not sure what they are quite yet. And, let me just be the first to admit that I’ll never win an award for driver of the year. I had three car accidents last year. Only one was my fault. But, still, I’ve had some collisions.

Suddenly, a man in a Subaru came up next to me and rolled down his window to curse me out. He had a “Feel the Bern” bumpersticker. I’d just had a conversation with Arthur, my accountant and most dedicated yoga student, about politics – over restorative yoga…which I don’t recommend.

I don’t know what I did, if anything, to provoke this man. I didn’t roll my window down to reason with him. I did, however, feel triggered with adrenaline – what I logically know as fight or flight…or (the lesser known) freeze. He swerved in front of me and hit the brakes hard. I went around him and turned the corner early to return to the studio on a back road. He followed and when we met again, he wielded his fist wildly. And, finally, he turned the corner in haste.

Had this same experience happened several years ago instead of last week, here’s how the story would have likely ended: I’d have pulled my car over and told him what a piece of shit he was … (Fight) … All gender and size differences aside, I would have come out of my car swinging and might not have stopped until he was humiliated or I was bloodied – whichever came first. And I would’ve gotten shitfaced afterward with my drug of choice in a futile attempt expel the experience… (Flight)…Then I’d have called everyone I know and built a story around how fucked up humanity was and is and always will be… (Freeze) … And I’d have carried the energy and resentment acquired from that experience around for years to come.

Instead, I sat in the studio parking lot to eat my late lunch. Snatam Kaur kept singing. I said a prayer for the man and for myself. I put my feet on the earth and discharged the energy of the experience from my cell tissue. The moment passed as quickly as it came. Life went on.

Why would I pray for him? I can hear my reluctant-to-soften-quick-to-anger students ask me. Because I don’t ever know what someone else is battling. And because I know what it’s like to harbor the sort of hatred and anger he exhibited toward me, how much pain and fear he lives in. And because I believe the light I find in others is a reflection of the light that’s found within. And so, for better or worse, the converse is true too. In others’ shadow behaviors, I see my own. It famous Kundalini teacher, Yoga Bhajan, who said, “Recognize that the other person is you.”

There is much in this world over which I’m powerless to change. Our political candidates for starters. However, I’m committed not to add to the aggression on the planet. This is what a regular meditation practice has done for me. This is the yoga, which is far more important than any asana.

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straight outta meditation

My morning meditation is the time when I get real with my Self. I once thought meditation was all about returning to the breath. “When a thought arises, return to the breath.” This is a great strategy for mindfulness. However, after working with Gabrielle Douglas in meditation over the past month I’ve realized that I am ready to go deeper. “Allow yourself to think the nagging thought,” she’s encouraged. and in doing so, I’ve realized how many of my thoughts are (still) rooted in fear. fear blocks us from our True nature, which I believe to be Love. and the only way to overcome fear, I feel, is to go in and touch it – with breath, with compassion, and with confidence that it’s likely not real. this morning, I realized it was February 22nd, that we’re in the 8th week of the new year, that I’m not gaining much traction in my writing and that I’ve lost the balance in a few realms. And, I’ve got legitimate and noble reasons, of course.

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According to the Handel Group, there are 3 voices of self-sabotage: the weather reporter, the inner brat, and the chicken. The weather reporter objectively reports a sad state of affairs as a meteorologist does the weather. “You are spending 42 hours each week teaching yoga or holding a camera, just slightly below average this time of year. A change is not forecasted. If you’re looking to find time for writing in this season of your life, don’t expect to find it in the morning. You are not a morning person. Never have been, never will be.” The inner brat says, “I’m too tired to write…I can’t get up any earlier than 6 am…I’m working so hard…and I deserve my sleep.” The chicken says, “I’m afraid. I’m afraid to write. I’m afraid to publish anything longer than a Facebook status.”

And while the weather reporter and the inner brat have some merit, it’s the chicken who keeps clucking me over. Every. Single. Time.

But the thing is, there’s another voice within each of us. It’s the voice of love. And s/he might not be as loud as the chicken, as ostentatious as the bratty kid, or as matter-of-fact as the weather man. But s/he’s Real. Velveteen Rabbit real. And the only way I get to Real is through meditation. Because routine meditation is the only practice I’ve found that quiets the other three down. If you’re looking to begin a meditation practice or to take your established sitting practice to the next level, join us for SoulSit, a series in meditation Tuesday’s at noon in March at SoulSpace Yoga Community. 

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Gabrielle Douglas | Fort Worth Yoga Teacher + The Cush

In my industries, I’m fortunate to share space with people who keep me inspired. Each Thursday, I’ve been meeting up with Gabrielle Douglas of Slow Flow yoga and The Cush band fame. We are collaborating in an online meditation series that will be available soon. I look forward to this time each week, as does my dog, Cash Diehl. She’s got a great husky lab named ZZ, and he and Cash have really hit it off. Some projects evolve like that where you wonder – is this “work” or is this “fun?” Both.

And we’re also offering the series at SoulSpace Yoga Community every Tuesday at noon in March. It’ll be an amazing offering: 30 minutes of meditation plus the option for a to-go lunch from My Sweet Roots. On Friday, I took a few updated photos for her and then I went to take her yoga class, which transported me to another planet. I’m learning, through my work with her, that the goal of life is not to live on another planet. Not every meditation will feel transcendent and cosmic…many won’t. Certainly, we can enjoy the ones that do, but the point is to live in the body – grounded in the present moment.

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how I’m recovering from an addiction to sugar

My ego leads me to believe that I’m all alone in my struggles. I’ve been amazed by the messages and questions I’ve received about cutting sugar from my diet. I’m not an expert. I’m not eliminating it perfectly nor entirely, I’m sure. And I don’t really care if other people eat sugar – even around me. Live and let live…do what works for you. It wasn’t working for me. To those of you who can eat half a piece of cake, I salute you. I can’t. I want the whole cake. And then another. A half a piece of cake is too much for me and every cake in the world is never enough. But, I’ve been leery of telling people about this change I’ve made in my life – because I’m afraid I’ll fail / look stupid / be ridiculed. This is what ego does…out of concern for herself, she rehearses all that could go wrong to keep me from stepping out and showing up authentically in the world. I love my life – all of it…I certainly know this is not the case for everyone. And I’ve had my share of years and probably lifetimes where I didn’t. But now I do. So when I don’t wake excited about the day, I know the problem is within me.

And sugar was a problem for me. It had become one more way not to feel anything. Bored? Frustrated? Celebrating? Tired? Anxious? Sad? Empty? The answer was always sugar. Through this process I’ve been reminded of something Judith Lasater said to me a few years ago, “We mistake agitation for energy.”

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To sober up from sugar wasn’t a decision I made with vanity in mind. In an effort to fit back into my jeans this summer, I abandoned meals in favor of sugar. It was reminiscent of the way I used to starve myself and drink my calories in the evening. So basically, for a while now, I’ve eaten one meal a day (dinner) plus a steady stream of coffee and sugary snacks throughout the day. With this decision, I’ve not wished to lose weight. A former (not sure always if former is true) anorexic, I don’t get on the scale. Now on the other side of the withdrawals and mood swings, I feel amazing. I can sleep. I wake before the alarm. And my skin – it’s cleared up. My eyes are bright. Maybe because I’m sleeping each night which is amazing – a miracle, really. I emerged from the womb colicky, and not that much has changed – until the past 22 days. I can sit in meditation again without wanting to climb out of my skin. I can see auras and energy.

People keep asking me how long I’m going to do this, and I haven’t thought about it really…the future…because the only real success I’ve ever had has come one day at a time. So, I woke this morning and committed that I am not going to eat sugar today. For the first few days, I actually included this humble request and affirmation in my prayers:

Ahem, “God, humbly and gratefully, I thank you. For all that I have and all that I am, I owe to you. Please help me to act as you would have me act today. Deliver me from the prideful bondage of ego and help me to be of service to others, to you and Your will. Where I am judgmental, open me to compassion. And as I inevitably falter today, please help remind me of this prayer. I ask that you make me willing to eliminate sugar because the dependency, I know, is making my connection to You hazy. Should my car magically arrive at Starbucks at 3 pm or Melt at 9, I ask that you keep me away from the first cake ball / scone / cupcake / waffle cone. You’ve got your work cut out for you today, you hear? Amen.”

I added this sweet footnote for the first several days to my typical morning prayer because I cannot do hard things, alone. It doesn’t matter that I was raised to be independent, that I’m a self-employed Taurus with willpower for days. I am an addict. And I need help. And yes, I felt a little ridiculous. I’m talking about sugar not intravenous drugs. But Gabrielle Bernstein encouraged me to pray, and she’s been sugar sober for over 2 years. 2 years without sugar sounded absolutely impossible to me.

But I felt that way about alcohol too. I remember when I couldn’t string together 2 sober days. When someone had 2 years, I thought they were crazy.

They probably kinda were. As I am. We all are a little crazy. A crazy sliding scale. And sugar was making me insane. It had escalated to the point that I needed it. A few hours without it and I had a headache. And the shame. Oh the shame. The tired tape about how I’m a yoga teacher and should be healthier. It’s been around for me since the substance was cigarettes.

I recall a year or so ago, the woman at Central Market saying of the cupcakes in my cart “It’s not like you’re riding around in a chair or anything…you’re not even overweight.” These comments were enough to make me think I was managing it. But I was out of control even then. I didn’t know it yet.

Sugar was the first drug I ever abused. I remember being 4 the first time. I wanted to change the lonely abandoned feeling I felt. And what do you know a whole package of cookies worked?!

I abandoned sugar for years in favor of alcohol and prescription pills. And when I cleaned up those behaviors, my sweet tooth returned. Alcohol metabolizes as sugar. In the olden days, they actually fed alcoholics cake to get them through withdrawals.

And for a couple years I embraced sugar like a long lost friend. Because between alcohol and sugar – sugar was the lesser of the two evils. My sobriety depended on it, I feel. My life, really. Because when I drink, I want to die. Even though I have so many reasons to live.

But, there came a day a little over 3 weeks ago when I was done. I was done just as I had been done with drinking…and smoking. I didn’t blow it out for one last bender with all my favorite desserts. I just woke up one morning and said, “I’m done” followed by the prayer. Because though I felt done, I didn’t know what to do differently instead.

So in addition to the prayer, here’s what I’ve done. It’s helped me. It’s my experience. May it give you hope. Five people told me yesterday that I’ve inspired them. And I think it’s because they know I was really badly addicted and if I can do it, there’s hope for you, too.

  1. Water. Water moves the sugar out. It keeps you full. Start with warm lemon water in the morning. If lemon is too hard on your teeth or stomach, maybe mint. Drink water all day.
  1. Prep meals. Set yourself up so you have food to eat. I leave the house in the morning for a 10 hour day with:  homemade granola + yogurt or almond milk, a smoothie with greens and low glycemic fruit, cashew butter + rice cakes, eggs + sweet potatoes + avocado, and a salad. If you don’t cook, check out my friend Claudia’s made-to-order food service company, My Sweet Roots. She delivers.  
  1. Do something different. Especially at peak craving times. At 3 pm, instead of eating a cupcake and a latte during my break, I took the dog for a walk, practiced legs up the wall, read a few inspiring pages from a book, called a friend, drank hot tea, wrote handwritten thank you notes.
  1. Find a decadent substitute. For me it’s cashew butter and rice cakes. I don’t know how this dish is not sugary. My brain thinks it is. I love it.
  1. Prepare an evening ritual. I began drinking golden milk and returned to taking epsom salt baths. I had aches and pains from the withdrawals. I thought I was getting sick. I took essential oils for that. Around day 5, right as I was about to throw the white flag, I turned a corner. Sometimes the miracle comes on the heels of total surrender. Depending on how strict you are, reduce or remove the honey.
  1. Close the day in gratitude. I began writing in my gratitude journal again. I mean, just the fact that I’m writing a blog post about sugar should tell you how much I have to be grateful for. This is a “problem” some would dream of. This practice, especially putting the pen to paper, helped me to get over the obsession.

This is how I feel. Revived. Excited about life. And this is how I want to feel always, one day at a time.

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Michael Rippy | Fort Worth Yoga Teacher

Teaching – teaching anything – is terrifying. Still, more often than I care to admit, I fight the demons that tell me I don’t know what I’m doing, that I don’t have anything to share. This guy is just beginning his career as a yoga teacher. And he’s got a special way of making people feel really welcomed. He’s strong and silly in the “watch this crow to handstand transition I’ve been practicing all day” and fierce in “let me tell you this story” street smart kind of way. But, there’s a soft vulnerability there – the kind you don’t find every day – that I wanted to see if my lens could capture. To look so closely in someone else’s eyes is a beautifully humbling thing. An hour with him flew by in a blink. So often with my camera I just feel as if I’m having a conversation. Mostly listening and affirming and hopefully – in the end – showing the subject a side of himself he’s not yet seen. Introducing Michael Rippy. You can find him on the schedule at SoulSpace Yoga Community.

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soft is the new strong.

I had a window in my schedule today and decided to go to Title Boxing for their 30 minute class. The practice of learning to live in my body through the years has softened me some. Recently, pretty significantly softened me – to the point where I wonder sometimes if I’ve lost my edge. I barely even curse any more. Who is this person with this bright bleeding heart?

But, when I arrived to a yoga mat 13 years ago, I was pretty feisty. Scrappy was the term you’d use to describe me in a bar fight. I snubbed out my cigarette as I pulled my mat from the trunk. And I lit up another as soon as class ended. A cigarette is an apt beginning and ending for so many things. It wasn’t unusual for me to drink all night and take multiple classes all day. I practiced that way for years because I didn’t quit smoking until 6 years ago and drinking until September 30, 2013. With both habits, nothing crazy happened…I mean tons of crazy shit (oops) happened leading up to it but nothing uncanny on the day I awakened and said “I’m through.”

This month, however, I’ve been practicing the life changing magical art of tidying, and after some deliberation I eliminated a coffee mug that I believe my mother gave me which read,

“Gardening, bubble baths, yoga, and I still wanna smack someone.”

I honored the gift and the way the mug had served me through the years – holding my hot toddies and coffee alike – and then wished the mug well and sent it on its way to Catholic Charities.

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I like to remind myself from time to time where I came from. Especially at the beginning of the year when I inevitably have many beginners in my yoga classes. If I had walked into my own class – the one I taught today – 10 years ago, I would’ve run the other way. I couldn’t be in my body for one breath much less 75 minutes. And, that’s ok. I needed to flow and move and fast and hard and I was irritated when teachers interrupted the regularly scheduled vinyasa to teach something – and God forbid they pause to share something spiritual. And I didn’t care to see a demonstration I wanted to do it my way. I wasn’t teachable.

Don’t you know I meet 22 year old Amber on the mat these days?! The Universe is funny like that. I try to make her back off a little if for no other reason than I worry about her joints. But she’s mean and doesn’t want you to see her much less talk to her or touch her. So mostly I leave her alone. And if I’m feeling brave, I share the many ways in which yoga has helped me to learn to inhabit my body – this vessel for my unique soul.

And still, the only reason I’ve remembered this history, this week, is because today is my 7th day without sugar. Granted,

I had some ketchup with my french fries and and the occasional piece of fruit. But not once have I been to Starbucks, Stir Crazy, Melt, or the pantry for chocolate, honey, maple syrup, raw sugar, refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup or any of sugar’s other secret allies. And it’s been rough y’all. Let me take this moment to apologize to the beings who live under this roof with me. Shout out to my homies @diehldana and #cashdiehl.

And the process has made me rethink giving that coffee mug away. Like maybe I still need it. I kinda have wanted to smack myself around. And I have, at least on the inside. On the inside I still struggle to be kind, mostly to myself. Louise Hay says if we wait until we are perfect to love ourselves, we waste our lives away. Time’s awasting. And this week, I’ve drawn a line in the sand.

And so, as I was saying, I went to Title Boxing today. For some reason the sign in sheet needed our birthday and an emergency contact in case we were to combust. I scanned the list of birthdays to find that my fellow classmates were born in the ’90s. As in 1990’s. As late as ’94. And I started to gear myself up like I do before my morning meditation like, “Ok, you can do this…you can do hard things.” But then I just paused at the hilarity and reminded myself that I was not born in the 90’s and I have to work – in a very physical way – for a living and my self worth is not contingent upon the volume of my left hook. I stayed on my mat mostly without concern for what everyone else was doing. And I felt amazing – at least when the class was over.

And tonight, I can feel my Self, softer. Softer with my maniac dog, softer with my wife, softer with myself. This is the gift of spiritual practice. It doesn’t matter if it’s boxing or asana…anything done with breath and presence is a spiritual practice. For me, softer leads the way to stronger.

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