Level 2 tutorial for navasana. Enjoy! Questions are welcome, Renee
For Intuition, Do Yoga From Your Belly: Kapalabhati; belly; hips and thighs. Slow steady, accessible practice. Levels 1-2 appropriate with some exceptions; not appropriate for most pregnant women; for some people with lumbar or low back pain (it depends, the best way to find out is to do the practice gently, and pay very close attention).
Also, I continue to offer 15-20 minute customizeable yoga videos for $90. If you have something very specific you’d like to work on, this is a great way to go. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions; or are wondering if I could work with your concern.
Thank you for practicing!
This original post went out Tuesday, August 25th, 2015.
I mentioned my swollen shoulder in another newsletter that I sent by email.
What I didn’t detail:
My complicated relationship with, ahem, yoga.
I used to practice yoga for three hours straight and then drink two bottles of wine in a row. I was a practicing alcoholic and a serious yogi at the same exact time. The years that I was a practicing alcoholic I taught way more yoga classes than when I quit; it took many years for me to realize it would take many, many, many more years to allow myself to accept that life doesn’t always make sense.
I did a lot of Pinca Mayurasana; too many vinyasas; and yet here I was allowing my body to convert alcohol to acetaldehyde which was dislodging the PLP coenzyme over and over to contribute to poor serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine circuit function and thus, aggravating my depression.
At this point, I really did have a beautiful yoga practice; balanced my green juice with In N’ Out Burgers; and was authentically, slowly on my path. Meaning, Good God yes, that sloppy ugly stage in my life was part of my path that eventually led me to another sober path with less yoga and no alcohol.
Whether it was perfectionism or bad genes or my sensitive soul shrinking in response to homophobia (a complicated thing made manifest even now, humph), I was very good at drinking for a very long time.
I also looked pretty good according to artificially imposed standards on Southern California yoga teachers (someone needs to come up with a fridge magnet called “Artificially Imposed Standards on California Yoga Teachers Kill Grey Matter While All of the World’s Problems Swallow Us”).
Yoga and meditation saved my life because they loved me. They made me develop entirely new circuits in my brain. The hippocampus, which often shrinks with depression, had to grow to acquire new information. Yoga was like a sister to meditation and meditation introduced me to self-love and compassion.
Yoga taught me that I was a bad-ass, that there had to be something deeper and stronger in me beyond the drinking. Meditation taught me that I was an alcoholic; I sat with myself a lot. Meditation teaches you where you are stuck by sort of giving you access to a video recording of your life that you can slow down at any moment to review; it not only does that, but it allows you to organize patterns from that video so you really can see where you are stuck.
I knew I was an alcoholic.
I knew it for years before I was strong enough to walk away.
So the day and a year after Amy Winehouse was found dead, I quit alcohol. (Okay, this is silly to mention, but so is astrology.)
Two years later, I quit nicotine.
And now I’ve been sober for 3 years and nicotine free for one.
Yoga can be a potent tool to find freedom; or it can be a poison. The perfectionism perhaps lies in the Western desire to achieve some sort of perfect body; and getting distracted by this poison can be quite easy when there is no cut and dry way to initially distinguish a yoga class that provides tools for freedom vs. a poisonous one. Personally, I think of a good yoga practice as a sensible button mushroom; and a poisonous practice as a death cap mushroom. In their infancy, they are easily confused for one another by novices; but as they grow all you need to do is look a little closer and pause and it’s pretty clear which one will kill you.
To provide light entertainment, here is a clip of Will Ferrell from the movie Elf. You can get more of this good stuff once a week by subscribing to my newsletter. Thanks!
In 2005, I wore a dress with big pink flowers to a friend’s wedding; I danced on my toes and I smiled big and my hair went everywhere and the rhythm was not there and I probably looked like a virginal 15 year old even though I was 23.
My friend pointed and laughed at the way I moved in front of a lot of people. We were similar flavors of angry, me a virgin (and not happy about it), and she in love with characters from Lord of the Rings and self conscious about it. I stopped moving and I yelled at her.
All the ticklish, fun feelings were gone; the good memories with her, dancing on the bar at a very, very big club on Sunset Boulevard and dancing in our apartment and fighting over the one Thai iced tea that was delivered to our apartment door.
It took me a really, really long time to realize I could start over in my body.
That sweating and moving and continuing to beat to my own drum would help set me free; well that has not been an over night lesson; that has been a mythical one involving lots of “no, no, no not that way Renee, not Renee don’t fall out of handstand that way” and “no, no do not have knots in your throat, but do not sing off key either.” First of all, these obstacles in the path were both external and internal. There, it seems, will always be people who have unsolicited opinions about how you should be on this earth.
And also that this thing called horizontal violence is happening constantly in little minor ways everywhere and it’s not just in my head.
I was the nerd or brainer or girl who was going to find a cure for AIDs, except for at 23, I didn’t really feel like I was that girl at all. I don’t think I had the words for it yet, but I wanted to be able to feel all the feelings and hold other people’s hands or eyes, if they preferred, while they felt all the feelings too. I wanted to feel beautiful; and have someone who actually wanted to be my girlfriend say my tits looked fake. I wanted all of my internalized homophobia to go away.
Okay, so how does depression come in? And how does this relate to the Physical Body You Inhabit?
Yoga gave me permission to start feeling all of my feelings. For about a year, I cried in almost every single yoga class I took. It felt good.
Depression relies heavily on negative thought patterns being drilled into the skull. Yoga practice relies on one paying attention to the present moment; and restorative yoga and yin yoga rely on the freedom to feel all the feelings. Feeling everything meant it was able to move and change and not dig its teeth into my being in the same way.
Being able to find some child-like joy and wonder or peace within the body is a really great thing.
Here’s my Self-Help Exercise for Getting To Know The Physical Body You Inhabit:
- Wear comfortable clothes; empty your bowels; and set up a space where there is room for you to move around, bigger is better.
- Play music that you like or you may like
- Lay on your back and listen to your breath. Say out loud three times, “Inhale, exhale.”
- Can you keep your eyes and fingers and toes soft? And then roll along the floor in one direction (think tootsie roll)? And then roll in the other direction? Can you do this for five minutes?
- Now stand-up. Put on your favorite song to dance to. Blind fold yourself & dance.
For those of you who like more rules or guidelines, make up your own rules and guidelines. I personally set a timer because as much as I crave being more of a free-spirit, I also feel free with a timer. 10 minutes is good. If you are a total dork like me, you can imagine you are dancing with a bunch of animals in the wilderness. Pretend you are like 5; you don’t have to know what animals actually inhabit a temperate forest or the desert; you just make it up.
Right now, I actually am pretty happy with my physical body and how I move, but honestly it’s not because I have the perfect girlfriend who tells me how beautiful I look naked all the time. It’s because I’ve done the work to love myself. It’s because when I’m home, I turn off all the lights and light the candles and put on a leotard (which is a actually a very practical garment), and I dance. And I do the shit I want to do that many, many people have pointed and laughed at me about and continue to do (I’m still not a great singer, but I’ve gotten past the point of needing your permission or my voice teacher’s permission or any humans because I do this singing thing because it makes me feel alive, and that matters). Because somewhere between 10 and 100….many people are told it’s better to give up on feeling alive, and so they do so, and they walk around passing that thought curse to me, you and whoever will listen. And I can say from experience that if that curse has been drilled in your head, it takes time to get out.
I think the aphorism, “The first step is always the hardest” is a load of crap. I’m not trying to take the hope out of your balloon, but what I would say instead is “It’s hard, but do it anyway.” And find people who inspire you to keep going; and be patient with finding those people.
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Tonight, I, the puffball, was walking down the street past two matching Calicos. One Calico was staring at me next to a wheelbarrow, and the other was revealing only its eyes and ears, hiding behind a big white plastic bin. These cats were staring me down from their perfectly green house with the very loud Mickey and Minnie Mouse window covering. Walking further down the street, I thought I passed an unusually fungi that looked a little like amorphous clouds, but at further investigation was only popcorn sprawled on the lawn.
Puffballs are mushrooms by the way.
Everything can be about mushrooms.
Or it can be about depression.
Or it can be about texture or shape.
I call myself the puffball because I left the house wearing two pairs of long underwear, wool socks, a leotard and fleece, and then this puffy jacket that is only warm in places like Los Angeles where there is no weather.
I am living in Portland.
I am currently obsessed with mushrooms.
I am also a survivor of and someone who currently experiences waves of Clinical Depression. This month is devoted to my take on my own depression, mixed with a bit of science, and mixed with a bit of very personal self-help. I believe always if you are reading this not just because you enjoy my writing but because you also suffer, please make sure you get professional help.
So back, to mushrooms, and their relationship to self-help for depression. In my life right now, mushrooms are hugely symbolic of so many things. Firstly, I think it’s interesting to note that one mushroom may be psychedelic to one and poisonous to another or nutritious. With the exception of the deadly four, most mushrooms are poisonous on a fairly unpredictable scale. Moreover, so much of the hard work a mushroom does is done underground. Meaning, the self-help, the really tough work, that move a person from a really tough place to a better one is often invisible to the very visible, quick-moving, impatient world we live in. I think of this often when someone is doing a handstand press; and quite a few people seem to think she came out of the womb that way.
I know with my writing, for example, I’ve worked my damn mother-f****** ass off to write a couple of decent essays over many years. The essay I just got published at The Manifest Station, for example, took at least four re-writes with breaks in between that spanned a couple years.
The self-help work one does happens pretty much underground; or to put it a different way, the beautiful flowers and essays and results and marriages and tangible-object-like-things our culture likes to celebrate only come to fruition after there’s been a lot of underground work.
There are some extraordinary things that start to happen when you decide you are going to be a bad-ass and heal yourself. But in my estimate, I could tell you it takes a lot of fierce decision making, a lot of love, a bucket of forgiveness, and this thing called hope. (And then there are vitamins, exercise, therapy, and psychiatry.)
So two points come to mind:
- Improving mental health takes a lot of work that may be invisible to the naked eye.
- Be a bad ass and heal thyself.
Point three is messy and is something like this:
- You must know thyself to heal thyself.
Stuff that other people may think is weird that I think is absolutely necessary to my mental health: Screaming (on a regular basis); rolling on the floor only with the intention of rolling on the floor; telling my cat stories about girls; telling girls the truth; dancing big in an open space; meditating; restorative yoga; spending less money; sex; putting time and energy into my creative work; not putting time and energy into organizations that are greedy and people that drain me; writing in a journal really simple sentences like this, “This _________ bothers me because of ____________________.”
I have been told by more than one smart person that when something bothers me, I should write it down. This is a brilliant idea; but sometimes a jaded depressive with a stick up her ass (aka me) will look at you like you are stupid because it feels like, “Well I already know what’s bothering me so why do I need to write it down?” The answer is something like “Writing it down activates different circuitry in your brain making your problem clearer. When your problem is clearer, it is easier to fix.”
Writing stuff down that bothers you is useful for life in general, not only Depression.
As I learn to know myself, I can see more clearly what throws me over the edge.
Am I the only one here that wishes she was fit to go live in a cave and be celibate for the rest of her life?
Two or so years ago when I was pretty raw from sobriety, I met a girl I call the Little Electron. On the first date, she was weird. On the second, more weird. She ordered four orders of salmon sashimi and proceeded to eat it really, really fast. On the third, I tried to cuddle her; and she basically squirmed away from me like an angry worm. For the record, I love weird; a weird girl with good posture and a quick mind is my kind of woman.
Things fell apart pretty quickly after I tried to cuddle her; and I later figured out from her blog it made her ‘feel like she was being impaled.’ We got into a couple of arguments during our brief relationship (or was it after?); and then we tried to be friends; and then I friend broke up with her.
Six months later, weaving the brilliant lyrics of Billy Joel’s And So It Goes with my own words, I professed my love again to her by email. She was quite the wordsmith herself , and she enjoyed time to sit on anything that involved emotion, and so it seemed like the perfect approach.
I found out: she was taken (romantically); she was moving to San Francisco for a new mad scientist job; and wasn’t sure we could be friends.
If I didn’t have a very sensual and a very serious relationship with my own damn body, this may have shut me down. Many, many, many people thought or told me I was crazy or it was unnecessary or basically looked negatively upon said letter. My letter was incredibly romantic and incredibly sweet and there was nothing like, “And if you don’t come to the clock at Cal Tech at 2 a.m. with a candle and a plate of Salmon sashimi, the possibility of me continuing to breathe air will be impossible.” There was nothing like that.
No mean lines where I broke her apart.
I didn’t need that damn useless sentence people throw at you, “There’s someone better.” “She’s a jerk.” None of that is true. I needed the Big Sadness to come and to move all the way from my toes to my fingertips.
Sometimes the Big Sadness will come and it’ll be about a relationship and you’ll take it to the dance floor and dance through it. That night, the Little Electron who opened me up to playing big and seeing the microscopic, accompanied me through my own farewell dance. I offered up every single dance that night to her, and to our relationship. I wore red because she wore red. I danced fast and I danced hard. And I sure as fuck didn’t give a shit about all the people wanting to contain my sexual energy and my angry energy and my confusion and put it into a little potion and then Define it. At one point, I thought the floor might collapse leaving me and these dancing peoples in this room, this temple, in Los Angeles, crashing into the floor.
I did yoga for many years because it heals me.
What heals me right now is a lot more rambunctious and a lot more round.
This goes back to the point I made before: You must know thyself to heal thyself.
I bought a guitar in 2001 because of a girl.
It took me almost 13 years to realize that I actually bought the guitar because I kinda really dug music too.
Again, you must know thyself to heal thyself, and be patient if you are confused. It’ll come.
Also, I love this song; and I think it can be sung a healing mantra, just saying. So consider it.
This 18 minute practice involves: A. Suggested written work to reflect on 2015, B. Sound practices to move energy, and C. Some great restorative poses to surrender/let go of stuck energy. Enjoy. If you are interested in my thoughts on the New Year, please subscribe to the newsletter. Happy 2016, Renee
If you are in Portland, I will be doing workshops to alleviate depression in January called Eliminate the Bullshit. Hope to see you there. This post was originally sent via my newsletter on November 10th; to get similar content every Tuesday, please subscribe.
So my food choices this morning: I’ve had yogurt with rasberries, one cup of coffee, a mocha, then two quesadillas, then sushi, then another mocha.
I have a bit of a headache now, but my energy isn’t particularly low.
Food, I’m sure affects my Clinical Depression; but I don’t believe it’s the root cause. I think when the soul stuff gets lost or completely disappears from your life, there’s an evolutionary mechanism that’s going to send an unbearable warning signal. I believe we need to feed our souls as much as our bodies which means to me that my yoga must not only make me physically stronger but allow me to roll around and feel all the feelings. So I guess what I’m saying is the root cause of the flavor of Clinical Depression that I suffer from is: 1. Disconnection from Soul Stuff, 2. Homophobia, and 3. A Deep Desire for Human Connection that is not Happening in the Way I Anticipated It.
I almost did not mention number three, but I actually feel ready to do so. Because my pills are working and I think it’s becoming actually a big old problem in a society that values individuality like it’s diamonds.
I guess I don’t know how I feel about nutrition. I know our soil itself has fewer minerals than it used to; that I’d like to grow my own food slowly, over time. I guess I tell you that nutrition isn’t the answer for me because if we lived in a black or white society (sometimes it really feels like we do) and someone had a gun to my head, and said, 1. Either go in the van with the musicians who only eat fritos and vodka (I would hope first, they would also say, “You do not have to be good…. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves”) Or 2. Go to the vegan-silent-farm-ashram; well, I’d definitely chose the van with the musicians.
We all have our own form of healing, is what I’m attempting to articulate.
I know myself well enough that being at a vegan-silent-farm-ashram if it was my last year to live would be wrong right now.
I’ve heard a lot of, “Well, have you tried these natural supplements.” “Well, I went gluten free, and then…” The same feedback that seems twisted around the body of a snake that may or may not be poisonous because it depends on his intention. The worst part for me is many different people have given their unsolicited opinion about my anti-depressants. And it’s annoying because I have a disease; and it’s not like I’m taking drugs that make me happy; it’s like the metal-head-rush of negative-scary-thoughts has slowed down to a pace where I can fight back.
And the reason this has sucked is because I feel an immediate need to puff out my chest and defend myself that I don’t think would be required of me if I had a seizure disorder. Or diabetes. And also I guess it’s annoying too because I’ve tried exercise; I speak my mind; I volunteer; I talk to homeless people; I have quite brilliant ideas about how to fight the Mind of Depression that I will be sharing with you. I could get on board with the regular chard vegan wraps if they came with the specific Human Connection That I Need, and that only I can define (as you must also do, define).
And I guess amidst all the laughter and the doubts that I get from people, I know that when a beautiful scientist broke my heart in a way where I thought I wouldn’t get up, I went and danced and it felt like poetry dripping from my arm pits, and I felt alive (and being just alive with poetry dripping from your arm pits is a really, really good feeling), and then after, a very sweet, gentle woman placed her hands on my shoulders and just held them down and let me cry. And all this happened in a safe space with people I had been building trust with for years.
A mushroom vegan burger topped with kale will never replace that. Or hold a similar place in my health pyramid.
I guess what I would say if you have a lover or a friend who gives you the cuddles you need or you have that human connection and your soul stuff is on tract, sprinkle some carrots on top please. Add some parsley. Blend in with lemon, but if you want to tell me that for one hot minute, my cure is to spend more money on supplements I can’t afford, I’m going to say, bring ‘em to my house, hand ‘em to me for free, and I’ll take them when I see fit, thank you very much.
As for your prescription if you also suffer from Depression, I recommend following your gut. Maybe you need anti-depressants or maybe really good nutrition is your thing, but I am going to argue that there is a soul element. The soul must be fed, so please go feed it! And be kind if you don’t know how your soul wants to be fed yet.
Namaste y’all, until next Tuesday,
Maybe watch my video and promote it on social media (especially if you’re a Portland resident), these workshops start really soon so your help is appreciated.
Welcome to Black Sheep Yoga. If you are new to the blog, I’m focusing on depression right now. My intention is to tell my own story (this week’s focus) in order to draw light on the significance of many things, today, it is homophobia. Also to provide light entertainment here is a clip of Jody from the L Word fighting in sign language, and another L Word clip of Shane, Alice and Dana discussing Gaydar.
Playing my guitar tonight I realize there’s 8 beats to call out but my foot is sometimes at 7 and sometimes at 6 1/2.
My foot is always more concerned with the side story.
It observes its own latent beat. Perhaps this is too crass or too poorly said, but aren’t the latent beats in fact the songs? And without them everything would be really bad pop music?
If you were to set your body in motion at 4/4 time all day you’d probably turn into a manic determined militaristic jumping bean; we are meant to dance 6 ½ in the 8 sometimes. In fact, we find the beat only to break it apart? To find the stories buried beneath it?
Anyways, I’ve been thinking a lot about Internalized Homophobia and Depression. One thing I’ve noticed is that I had to quit nursing school; and publish a pretty public coming out post to let the flood gates draw back and release All the Flavors of Pain. I can tell the Flavors of Pain are rather complex because I can only handle them slowly in small doses with plenty of gentleness and compassion. And they are like latent beats; they are absolutely there but you have to slow down and pay attention to see them.
It’s like Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave where a bunch of men are chained facing a wall and can only see the shadows on the wall. What’s significant is the men are staring at shadows, but because they have been staring at those shadows their entire lives they think that the shadows are in fact reality. But reality involves more than the reflections that the sun casts on objects. And in some ways, we are all chained and facing a wall; and unable to see the truth. Or to put it another way, however brilliant we are in one area of our thinking, we are probably lacking in another, and that is part of being human.
It takes a big mind and a more open one to see that Internalized Homophobia happens because Straight Well-Intentioned People Everywhere Enforce Homophobic Standards Without Even Realizing It. An example in point, “How come you don’t like men? Do you like men? What do you think of men?” We live in a society that privileges heterosexuality and masculinity, and it is inherent in the questions we ask and the questions we don’t ask.
I don’t bring up Straight Well-Intentioned People to scare anyone into politically correct silence. In fact, there’s another complex piece I’d like to write that examines the realities of racism, sexism, and all other–isms with the room to understand that all human beings everywhere suffer and all deserve compassion. Meaning, being politically correct is not going to rid a well-intentioned person from working with his or her own suffering. It’s just that as we become stronger, we really should be taking more Diversity into the picture. And this requires being humble; and that I would argue is a feminine virtue (oh, and an underpaid one too).
I am not the thought police; and I don’t think anyone should be arrested for their thoughts. I think we should be encouraged to look at where we are missing information; and where we are being lazy; and where we are simply accepting mainstream values because they are presented in simple packages.
As someone who came out at 18 and has been out for 15 years, I still am processing internalized homophobia. I’m not immune to being told I should adopt (people don’t say or assume straight women would prefer to adopt, but they do assume lesbians would Prefer to Adopt); or to being informed by a straight women about how women are in bed (how gentle we are like schoolgirls, excuse me!); or to other stuff that involves heteroflexible and sometimes bisexual horny women that privilege the man but use the lesbian when they see fit (this happens to black men and other marginalized groups as well).
I recently came to the conclusion that my big wonderful healing will happen at its own pace thank you very much; and it will continue to make straight people uncomfortable because they’d like me to be done with all this nonsense. Because having a pretty bold, intelligent queer woman still carrying so much homophobia in 2015 must mean that we still have work to do.
The work is present in our masculine statistics.
The statistics remind me that Straight Well-Intentioned People Everywhere Enforce Homophobic Standards Without Even Realizing It.
And so you should know a couple of really important things. From the age of 10-24, LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to and questioning youth are 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than straight people. In addition and this is worth really focusing on here, 38-65% of transgender individuals experience suicide ideation. About 20-30% of LGBTQ people abuse substances compared to 9% of the general population. One of my biggest complaints about the yoga community is that there has been a huge drive to promote veganism without looking at actual human suffering. Most of the yoga teachers I know who are queer or who behave queerly have chosen not to emphasize their queerness; this, interestingly enough, happens to be amongst very economically successful teachers.
I have been out of the closet for 15 years (I came out at 18, and then again almost every single week after that and sometimes five times a day because coming out of the closet doesn’t happen once); and yet the Internalized Homophobia still Pops Out In My Own Damn Insensitive Words and In My Own Head All The Times. The Flavors Are Complex; being portrayed over and over as fat and kind of slow and stupid and poorly dressed on tv really sucks. Having straight people explain how lesbians have sex to me is annoying (and more revealing of how limiting linear sex may be when you just think that sex is everything up to penetration-climax-now-its-over). People praising Ellen DeGeneres to me is annoying because it assumes that we have things in common; and is a reminder that there’s simply no one else that comes to mind.
For a long ass time, I thought this Internalized Homophobia was my exclusive doing. Which made it worse. But then I looked around at my life; my yoga teacher is straight; my dance teacher is straight; the scientists I admire who taught me biology and microbiology are straight; the big yoga teachers I know who are queer females do not talk about it (and I consider that problematic); and there has yet to be a song written by a woman about a woman that makes me fall to my knees like a Johnny Cash song.
We are small; we are in the crevices; we write for Small Presses; and get to make less money; and get to be told to get over our Internalized Homophobia. We, queer women, have a lot to say; and we are able to, say, think out of the box because in order to love ourselves and survive we’ve had to step up to the plate and Be Brave.
So I’m here hoping that you are going to keep reading; and not run away because what I’m talking about is somewhat uncomfortable. I’m hoping as I grow more honest and work harder my audience grows rather than shrinks. I’m looking for the brave ones. They are my people so hopefully you are amongst them.
And if you haven’t read it yet, you really should read Beauty and Bitterfruit; which is a nonfiction piece I wrote, and am very proud of.