The Perils of Perfection

For the first time in months, I woke up at 5am, started the teapot, brushed my teeth, put on my tights, and hurried out the door with tea in hand. As I drove to the Shala, I lowered the windows and remembered how much I love this time of day- the smell of the air and the stillness. It’s the time just before the sun begins to climb into the sky; when the day is filled with so much potential. Then, why had I avoided this all these months?

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This week I attempted an experiment prompted by my EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) Coach saying “Do you really not have the energy to do more or do you just think you won’t have the energy?” I wasn’t really sure. I tried to think back to a time where I had collapsed from exhaustion and it had only happened once. The one time it happened, the (clinically diagnosed) exhaustion wasn’t because of physical exertion. It was mostly due to emotional stress. At the time, I was a single mom with a baby. I was nursing round the clock, while working a demanding fifty to sixty hour corporate job. At this point in my life, I didn’t really know  how much physical energy I had, and it’s important for me to know because it translates to how many yoga classes I can teach and how many hours I can practice a week.

The experiment was simple. I created a training schedule double what I was used to and I had to stick to it no matter what. Loosely, that translated to four (before dawn) Ashtanga practices, two Crossfit WODs, and ten lessons taught in a week. I’m leaving out paperwork and virtual consultations because they aren’t necessarily physical. Almost immediately after I set the schedule, I started to feel sick-  fever, sore throat, headache, stuffy nose, the whole shebang! If there is anything I’ve learned in the over three decades on this planet, is that I’m exceptional at manifesting illnesses. I have never been able to ‘fake’ being sick to get out school or work and not actually gotten sick. So, I held myself accountable and stuck to the schedule anyway. Maybe I’m stubborn or completely insane, but I did it. And you know what happened? I didn’t die. More importantly, I discovered some incredible truths about myself.

The last day of the experiment was my Ashtanga practice at the Shala. I realized almost as soon as I took the first steps into the practice room, I hadn’t been avoiding my practice, I’d been avoiding going to the Shala. I’d rationalized that driving there and back was adding unnecessary mileage to my days, which were already spent driving back and forth between clients, schools, and studios. What I realized, as I rolled out my ravaged teal mat onto the warm wooden floor, was that I was uncomfortable. I tell my students all the time that the hardest part is showing up on your mat, but until then I hadn’t actually felt it. I pushed on. I mean, I was there. What else was I going to do? Slip out the back?

About midway through the standing postures, a phrase echoed in my mind, “these are the perils of perfection.” That’s why I’d avoided the Shala! I was afraid, not that I wouldn’t have the energy, but that I wouldn’t have the energy to be perfect. It was a revelation that made me feel inspired and gross at the same time. I was afraid that I’d be judged now that I’d really put myself out there- with school programs, classes, a Facebook page, an Instagram, and a blog for God’s sake! Now that I’ve said, ‘I am a yoga teacher and therefore claim some kind of authority on the subject’. I was scared that by being in some way imperfect someone would call me out as a fraud. What if I didn’t have an opportunity to defend myself and say something like, “I can’t do a textbook navasana because I have a tailbone that sticks out like a tail!”

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I am blessed with a child and therefore have a mirror of my own shortcomings. As a fellow perfectionist, she will build an entire lego castle and then kick the whole thing to the ground if she can’t place that final piece in the perfect place. I used to, but no longer, buy Ikea furniture and would attempt to build it myself. Inevitably, I’d come to a place in the process where a screw wouldn’t sit exactly flush against the wood and I would destroy everything I’d built and throw it in the trash.

Voltaire once said “Perfection is the enemy of progress.” Although logically, I know this to be true, sometimes I get so caught up in the process that I don’t see the ‘forrest for the trees’. For instance, I sat down to blog last Friday. I wanted to write a piece about the origins of yoga and the taboo nature of cross training (I will write this piece. Just hang tight). So, I sit down to write, and around sentence two, I get all hung up on Krishnamacharya, his life story, and how he developed his practice. In the two hours I’d reserved for writing a post, I’d written two sentences, read ten articles, and ordered a book (The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace). This type of perfectionism can be seen as procrastination, but it’s different in it’s intention. I can absolutely drown in research trying to get any one thing ‘right’.

Perfection

The solution, I guess, is to recognize the perfectionism as soon as possible and then act differently. Easier said than done, right? I’ve also been meditating a bunch, trying to practice with joy, accepting my shortcomings as best I can, and enrolling in activities that are completely out of my comfort zone and expertise.

How does perfectionism manifest in your life? What are you scared to try because you fear not being able to do it perfectly? What joy are you missing out on because of this fear? I’d love to know.

 

 

 

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Eat Your Way To Happytown

We have all been Bridget Jones at one time or another. Something seemingly tragic happens and through no will of our own we are huddled under the covers, watching British romcoms, drinking wine, and shoveling chips into the gapping whole in the middle of our face. Okay, that description may be very specific to me, but I’m sure you’ve experienced some version of it.

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Unlike Bridget, I have a very low tolerance for feeling sad (and generally unhealthy). In my version of the film, I would skip all of those days of moaning around drinking and venting to friends, and go right to eating properly. It may seam vein, but let me explain…

We have this incredible and powerful ally at the base of our brain stem, The Vagus Nerve. Without getting too scientific, one of the jobs of the Vagus Nerve is to regulate hormones. Did you hear me ladies? H-O-R-M-O-N-E-S. What we tend to blame once a moon cycle for our ‘moods’. Even irrational moon cycle behavior can be made nonexistent by keeping the Vagus Nerve happy.

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How? you ask. By eating properly. Notice I didn’t say ‘diet’. Personally, I believe diets are ridiculous, unfounded, and generally a waste of time. (Plus, I love food and I get very hangry if I don’t eat, so for the sake of humanity, I don’t diet). What I do, do is a seven day nutritional cleanse. I eliminate all inflammatory foods and begin to eat for optimal health. I didn’t say just ‘good’ health. I said ‘optimal’. I eat like an athlete preparing for the biggest game of my life. And in a way I am– fighting sadness, depression, or martyrdom is a fight. Make no bones about it.

I am a vegetarian and lactose intolerant, so admittedly, I don’t have a lot of foods to remove (mainly Cuban coffee, bread, nightshade vegetables, and the occasional two or three glasses of wine). Generally, I tell my students to remove the following little by little over the course of a week: dairy, coffee, black tea, gluten, nightshade vegetables, processed foods, and alcohol. I’m also careful to mention that if at any moment she falls of the wagon, to simply get back on as soon as possible without any self-judgement.

I didn’t come up with this list all on my own. I stand on the shoulders of the following giants: Dr. Perlmutter, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and Dr. Junger. After a week of elimination, I begin the official cleanse. I follow Dr. Junger’s book “Clean” very carefully for seven days. Although, Dr. Junger recommends 21 days, he is careful to mention that a person should start with a number of weeks that feels good to them and then increase the number of weeks from there.

Clean Program

Currently, I am on day 7 of my cleanse and I’m feeling incredibly happy and healthy. I’m relaxed, clear headed, and not quick to react. I do a cleanse about twice a year (Spring & Fall), so I’m positive it’s not a fluke. This time I ordered Dr. Junger’s 7 Day Program  because I knew I was headed into a busy month and would need the extra support and accountability from his team. And I may continue for another month or at least until my birthday on April 6th. I have to allow myself a glass of wine, but I may not even want it.

Now, I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any questions about starting a nutritional cleanse? Have you tried a cleanse in the past? If so, which kind? And how did you feel?

(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor am I endorsed by The Clean Program. My claims are based on self-experimentation, extensive research, and my studies under Dr. T Colin Campbell and his faculty at eCornell. Please check with your doctor before beginning any new nutritional program.)

Plant Based Certificate

A Rebirth

Crawling out my backdoor, I throw myself onto my back. I can’t breath. I can’t cry. I can’t move. All I can I can do is whisper, and all I can whisper is “tell me what to do”. I think I’m speaking to the bluejay, which is all I can focus on, but my heart knows that this is a prayer to God, to the universe, to that ‘other’.

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I gained enough of my senses to lift myself up, covered in dirt, just as the sun was coming down. My grandmother, who was cooking inside, didn’t seam to notice, or if she did, she must have chalked it up to one of my ‘eccentricities’. I bathed and picked my daughter up from school, and the night ended just the same as each night before, but something had changed forever.

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The next morning, I returned to my corporate television job. I’d been out sick with a full blown respiratory infection for days, which was just as well, because my manager had been itching to fire me for weeks over my ‘attitude’. I really wasn’t doing anything different, but I was no longer able to pretend that this was a job worth having or that this kind of life was worth living.

It absolutely showed, because it wasn’t long before I was called into human resources. “I hear you’ve been having trouble with your job,” said the HR director in the most serious tone she could muster. “Not particularly,” I said. I wasn’t trying to be smart, but I honestly wasn’t having trouble with my job, per se. I could do it with my eyes closed. “You’re manager says you’ve been making mistakes,” she continued. “Sure,” I responded, “everyone makes mistakes, but we both know she’s been trying to fire me for weeks, hence why she’s been chronicling my every move, right down to the bathroom breaks”. The HR director continued as if reading from a script, “we are prepared for your resignation or you can enroll in a work-performance program.” I must have had the biggest smile on my face when I replied, “So if I resign, I can leave right now?” “I’m not sure,” she answered, “it’s never happened.” “It would be really great if you could ask someone,” I said. The HR Director and some other HR lady, that I hadn’t even noticed sit behind me, slowly got up, and walked out of the room.

Fifteen impossible minutes later they returned. “You can go if you don’t have any other work to take care of,” she said. I choked as I held back a laugh, “Nope, no work left to do.” I gave her my laptop and badge, and merrily exited the building.

Im out

I had no idea what I was going to do for work, but I knew that I never had to step foot in another office again. I picked up my daughter and spent the rest of the day at the beach, reveling in my newfound freedom.

I’d spent the last five years working in corporate television, a career I’d fallen into after looking for work in the theaters of New York didn’t quite pan out. I’d stayed partly to make my parents proud, and partly because it was more money than I’d ever made in my life.

After a couple weeks of complete relaxation, I asked myself this seemingly innocent question, “What do people always come to me for?” It seemed so simple that I almost brushed it off as impossible. ‘Most people call to ask about yoga and other natural health advice,’ I thought. This was hardly a breakthrough, but it was a step and that’s all I needed.

The next day I met with the director of Aum Home Shala, a yoga teacher training school. The school’s director explained the program, but she really could have been quoting the Gettysburg Address because I was barely listening. I just knew that this was where I was supposed to be at this exact moment in my life. God, the universe, the ‘other’ had spoken to me, although not in words, but by awakening my heart just when I needed it the most.

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A picture I took after my first week of training two years ago

So, what do people always come to you for? (I take no responsibility if you quit your job tomorrow, though I may take you out for a drink)

Steps To Living An Extraordinary Life

Seven years ago, I was working in the marketing department of a big-time theater. It was a job I’d been chasing up and down the eastern seaboard. I was sitting at a desk calling A-List theatergoers and I was absolutely miserable. Was this not the top of my mountain? Apparently not.

It was during this time, my brother sent me an excerpt from Karen Salmansohn’s blog, where she described a kind of ‘happiness ceiling’. In other words, it is the amount of happiness we are each comfortable with accepting in our lives. This was a radical idea for me then. I always thought of myself as a pretty happy person, but I guess that’s it- I was always only pretty happy.

Karen Salmansohn

The idea of a happiness ceiling was in the back of my mind since then, gathering dust, because I had no idea how one goes about breaking the ceiling. I mean, awareness is the first step, but without an action plan, you’re kind of just sitting in the water.

Then, in comes Gay Hendricks, PhD and his life-changing book The Big Leap. He calls IT the “Upper Limit Problem”, essentially a belief, reinforced in childhood, that we are not worthy of an extreme level of abundance, love, or success. My chest contracted as I read the first couple of pages. First, being as egocentric as the rest of you, I thought of all the people that had let me down because they didn’t believe they could be happy. How they’d sabotaged our relationships because they were too scared to be extremely happy. Kettle…Black.

The Big Leap

I got about halfway through the book before I was able to take full ownership of my own “Upper Limit Problem”. For the most part, I picked these people- boyfriends that always had one foot out the door, and friends that were easily impressed and didn’t think very highly of me in the first place. These were choices I made based on my beliefs- how worthy I was of love, success, and admiration. Revelation!

What’s really great about The Big Leap is that Hendricks doesn’t just tell you, you have a problem and leave you out in the woods. He asks you to investigate in a step-by-step, very detailed way, peeling away each layer of your self-sabotaging onion.

So.. what do you do with all this newfound information? Well, if you’re me, you go big and start doing everything you consider out of your comfort zone. In the last couple months, that’s included having lunch in country clubs, jogging in high-end neighborhoods, eating in fancy restaurants and private clubs, working out in expensive gyms, and taking yoga classes from the best teachers I could find. This list looks expensive, but to be honest, I barely spent a dime. I simply acted like I deserved to be at these places, and the universe rewarded me as such. For instance, I called the gym and told the manager that I had to use their facilities for a week because ‘how was I ever going know if it was the right gym for me if I didn’t get to test drive it’. I used basically the same strategy for every place I went.

After a couple months, I think I’ve made a few cracks in that ceiling. I can more clearly see a life filled with abundance, love, and success.

What self-limiting thoughts are holding you back? If you need help answering that question, I highly recommend The Big Leap. Do it for that part of you that’s just screaming to be awesome.

Anger Is A Gremlin That Lives Behind My Belly Button

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Parked in front of my favorite dive bar, yet scheduled for a kickboxing class down the block, I start to think, Wait. Why am I here?! “Because you’ve tried every tool in your yogi tool box and you still feel like an a-hole,” says some smart little voice in the back of my brain.

This journey started about two months ago after a particularly emotionally brutal incident. Now, the ‘incident’ itself doesn’t matter because we all have those out of the blue train wrecks we wished had never happened, but hey, here we are. Luckily, I’ve had ample training on how not to feel like an ass.

I started with meditation, and I’m talking some serious meditation; not a five minute app and off to the gym. No. I wanted to be myself, like, right NOW. I sat with a buddhist nun for three hours and I was able to access mostly sadness. If you’ve meditated before then you know that this is just the most pronounced feeling. There are often many other underlying feelings. After three whole hours, I found just one. No big breakthroughs, but I left with the pride of actually sitting with that feeling and not diving head first into a bottle of vodka. I meditated for thirty minutes, every day, for three days after that, before deciding I was ready to get back on my mat.

It was a beautiful 6am practice filled with my yoga family and two of my favorite teachers. I even felt moved to post on Instagram.

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The post was partly true, I was lucky, but in actuality I hadn’t separated myself from my feelings at all.  I was a giant ‘bag of mess’ and I was about to step on my mat and go through an hour and a half of moving meditation. About halfway through the Ashtanga Primary Series, I heard a ‘pop’ in what I thought was my clavicle. (For you yogis, I was attempting Supta Kurmasana and being adjusted.) Here’s were things get strange- I didn’t care and I finished the practice. It wasn’t until I got in the shower after practice that I cried, first from the excruciating pain (I had pulled my shoulder), then from the realization that I wanted to hurt. I wanted to feel real physical pain. Not good. I dragged my crippled butt back to the mediation cushion. I meditated for another two weeks, 30 minutes, every day. Partly because I couldn’t practice yoga until I was healed, but also because I know full well that depression is a very slippery slope.

My first meditations involved just recognizing my feelings. There’s so many ways to do this, but I always start with the most accessible one, so in my case- sadness. I let myself feel it and then notice all the stories that swirl around in my head and reinforce that feeling. After a couple of minutes, I let go of all the thoughts and just feel the feeling in my body. For me, sadness lives in my heart. It feels like my heart is ten times bigger and heavier than it should be. The next feeling that came up was shame. Of course. That’s why I nearly destroyed my body. As I sat with shame, I realized it was the shame of not being able to protect myself from being hurt (so… unrealistic, at best). The moment I was able to really see and feel shame, it started to dissipate and along with it, some sadness.

After two weeks, I changed my meditations. I practiced Loving-Kindness, which made me happier throughout the day and restored some of my faith in humanity, but didn’t make me feel any more ‘myself’. I then tried Mantra Meditation, repeating “I forgive you. I love you. I release you.” 108 times around my mama beads. This prompted me to actually call and text people who’d really hurt me and forgive them. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried this, but in my experience, people either don’t respond or think you have some kind of ulterior motive. It’s entertaining if you find the humor in it.

I forgive youI love youI release you

After two months, I had accessed sadness and shame, forgave, and felt somewhat more myself, but I knew there was still a nasty little gremlin lurking just behind my belly button. Well, at least that’s where I imagine anger lives. Now, I’m not great with anger. I am a serious anger-avoider. I hate how it feels and I hate being ‘mean’. I am also fully aware that the only way to overcome anything is to face it head-on. This is why I ‘m now sitting in the gym with my gloves on. I want to see anger. I want to feel it. I want to beat the crap out of it.

With each swing connecting with the bag harder, and harder, I start to feel something bubble up to the surface. Anger, though smaller, and not as intrusive and all encompassing as I had imagined it, is here. I can now see this feeling as something other than myself, and every jab and roundhouse is FUN.

By the end of class, I’m lighter, soaring even. Maybe it’s part endorphin-rush, but it’s also the shear joy of staring down my fear and dancing with it.

I would love to end this post by saying that I am awesome, and I’m so much stronger now, and I believe in unicorns… but we all know that life is a process. And, no, I’m not completely myself. I may never be that person again, but that’s okay. I’m this person now. Whatever that means, I’m excited to find out.