It’s wild to me how persistently my trauma shows up as a need to receive validation from others. I began to name it a while ago when my friend Kim and I were discussing the 5 Love Languages. It's a thing and it's pretty great. Mine? Words of affirmation. 100 percent. What started off as a quiz on romantic reflection quickly became an “oh, shit. here is my entire life” thing.
The avoiding commitment by seeking out fleeting approval thing.
The hiding away in a childhood friend’s closet at a birthday party in hopes of being found and receiving some attention thing.
The years of activism work that distracted me from the quieter, less flashy reminders of “hey, you deserve as much care as you give” thing.
And a few days ago, the racing heartbeat as I spoke up about social justice in a group setting—not because I doubted the compassion in my words, but because a part of me still wanted and wants to keep the bigger waters calm (even if that means I drown in my own deep end…thing).
A key part of my path is reminding myself to take care of my own container—my soma, emotional dances, assumptions and efforts. This involves showing up to the work of healing and, despite and regardless of external validation, journeying onward and inward. To unpack the armor of my ever-so-smart fawn response. Another interaction without reciprocity? Sad, but oddly comfortable. I’m a good listener anyway.
Let’s shake up the narrative of equating approval with value.
My lifetime goal/hope/heart wish?
Trauma Informed Yoga becomes a required component in all yoga teacher trainings.
Nothing relaxes the space between my eyebrows quite like that wish.
As my eyes soften, I can see vulnerable hearts having brave conversations. I can feel nervous systems buzzing with the possibility of being seen and understood. I can see those systems settling as eyes greet eyes with a willingness, time expanding briefly in intentional presence. I hear words that brighten my inner body; consent, choice, community. I can exhale as I hear experiences and stories from faces that don’t look like mine—faces that have been truth-telling on inequality long before I was unpacking or holding myself accountable to my whiteness and social location. Together, we lean in. We can breathe into wider windows of tolerance. Our bodies can feel the wisdom that was for too long covered in dust.
It’s messy. This healing. But I believe in it.
If you’re curious about trauma informed yoga/practices/resources/tools to feel more equipped in your teaching, I’m here to explore with you.
Oh, and my 2020 goal? One pull-up. Just the one will do. (FYI, it was also the 2019 goal). 💪
Okay—*takes a deep breath*
As some of my Abu Dhabi community already knows, Josh and I are taking some time away from the Middle East. We’re heading to Toronto, Canada to—in all honesty—prioritize the parts of ourselves that feel depleted here. We need green spaces (soon to be snowy spaces) & realistic sustainability. Proximity to family. For me, I need to prioritize my social justice work & spiritual activism in ways that aren’t conditional or limited by powers so much bigger than me.
But even so, my heart hurts thinking about stepping away from teaching yoga here. I (selfishly) feel like I’ve already peaked in my short time teaching and I’ll never find a community like this again!
Every day I am excited to teach & learn from you. Every night I am grateful & feel so loved.
Final September classes:
10.30am Gentle Flow at Yoga One
6.30pm Vinyasa at The Room
7.30pm Vinyasa at The Room
9.15am Gentle Flow at Yoga One
5.30pm Gentle Flow & Meditation at The Room
🔅18th September (Wednesday)/
FINAL class (with a little something special that evening) at The Room
5pm / Farewell class at Yoga One
Many more feelings & ramblings about all of this to come. I can’t even begin to praise & love on my amazing bosses enough (Mina, Peter, Mim). ❤️
I respect & admire each of you so much.
But in the meantime, please come practice with me.
Yours in love & compassionate action,
Kilimanjaro. The roof of Africa. The tallest free-standing mountain in the world. Over a week of “pole, pole” & “hakuna matata” culminated in one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. At the summit, my head was foggy & and my legs were unsteady. I hugged Josh & our tears embraced the frigid air of sunrise. The full moon was still soft in the distance.
But (despite the thin air at 19,340 feet) my breath never wavered. In eight days & across five distinct climate zones, that anchor of awareness never retreated or tightened. My breath (my practice) held me in deep trust. It was yoga. I’ve never rested in such trust before; it means something & that’s all I know now.
As an Accessible Yoga Ambassador, I’m humbled to bring a practice like this to my community here in Abu Dhabi, UAE. At the same time, I acknowledge that in doing so I am centering myself (a body very much in alignment with our conditioned notion of what a yoga practitioner “looks like”).
If you come on Friday I will do my best to meet you where you are in the worthy body that you have.
I promise we will move and breathe in new and adaptive ways.
I promise to speak from my heart while naming where I still need to grow (and where I hope we can grow together).
I also promise to uplift/share/celebrate the voices that have been carrying this torch long before I chose to gather behind them.
I listen to awaken because I want to be a good ancestor.
I do the work of unpacking my whiteness because I want to be a good ancestor.
I partner empathy with action because I want to be a good ancestor.
As my heart gets educated on the reality of what has always been I hold space for my white tears but I don’t let that fragility take up more space because I want to be a good ancestor.
My yoga practice intersects with social justice & accessibility & trauma because it is violent to google yoga, attend a retreat/training, or scroll through social media only seeing (or seeking out) bodies that look & move like mine (& I acknowledge the hypocrisy in the picture I’ve chosen—also my knee will definitely fall off being this far past my ankle).
I practice yoga to soften the ego of the intellectual & it’s default towards white exceptionalism.
I practice yoga to unlearn my conditioning & compassionately mess up & do it again because I want to be a good ancestor.
As a teacher I promise to wake up every day and hold up a mirror.
I am saying “I” a lot.
If this doesn’t align or resonate (& I’ve learned lately that it doesn’t with everyone)—then tell me what does?
My friends like to joke that my university degree was in rainbows and kaleidoscopes.
From the perspective of folks with a degree in business or finance, my friends are probably not too far off (my degree was Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Human Rights & Social Justice….so yeah, rainbows).
By the time I was graduating college, I didn’t have a clear direction of what to do next. My motto had always been to “do the best you can in the space you’re in, and the rest will fall into place.” So, I began applying to a bunch of volunteer positions with AmeriCorps (a program that aims at supporting communities in need). By the time of my graduation in 2010, I had been accepted into a yearlong program with an organization in New York City.
The job? A full-time volunteer position as the Program Coordinator for an after-school program for 6th and 7th graders in the Bronx (leading, recruiting, and organizing it all).
Had I ever worked in education? Not really. A couple of tutoring and short-term volunteer jobs.
Had I ever lived in/visited the Bronx? Was I familiar with the community/schools there? No. I had never stepped foot in New York City.
Was working with youth my #1 choice on my application? No. I preferred and had more experience with adults, specifically women.
Was I open to learning and compassionate about social justice? Absolutely, even though I was extremely under-qualified for the job.
During my volunteer year I met Group Leaders and Program Aides who had grown up next door to the young people we were educating/supporting. They had already spent years working in the school while I was still getting lost on my way to the gymnasium. They knew Alyssa’s younger siblings while I was trying to remember Alyssa’s name. They looked like the kids. They didn’t look like an anxious, but hopeful blonde white woman from Michigan. And I was in the higher position.
I made beautiful connections with my students and the staff that year, but I want to be clear: I was another under-qualified white volunteer with good intentions passing through for a year to do the best that I could.
It took me many years to recognize how problematic my time in the Bronx was. I did stay in NYC and continued working in education with the same non-profit organization, but rarely did I or the other white educators in those spaces push each other to have harder discussions around race and why so many in power were (and are) white when the communities were (and are) not. I’m not minimizing my compassionate heart or the relationships I cherish to no end—but I am saying that I didn’t deserve it. Acknowledging that doesn’t mean my work wasn’t meaningful; it shaped who I am today.
“Do the best you can in the space that you’re in, and the rest will fall into place”—that motto of mine was rooted in white supremacy. That trust in the unknown existed because, beyond the rainbows and the work done, the hopeful intentions of my white skin were always prioritized over the potential of those already doing the work.
#satya #truthtelling #yoga
This past week has been just terrible. Moments of overwhelm & sadness. Murky memories rupturing into my present experience when they should be gathering dust. I stopped & sobbed & watched another woman choose bravery. And as I finally found my feet grounding me & remembered my breath breathing me alive, I thought about how to start again. I suppose I start where I always return: the practice.
If we’re not taught consent on the playground when he pulls your hair because he “likes you” then I have to be explicit in my yoga teaching that I DO NOT have a right to your body or your space without your consent. Consent has to be taught & it has to be ongoing.
Because honoring personal boundaries is a matter of basic respect.
Because it’s violent to assume that trauma dissipates when we step into a yoga space.
Because ahimsa (non-harming) begins with honoring choice & reinforcing wholeness.
Because I’ve been that student who felt weird about saying “no” (when the teacher’s hands were already on me) & was injured from her assumption that I could be “more flexible” in that forward fold. It was a similar feeling to letting that guy’s hand stay on my inner thigh—it didn’t feel good, but it’s wasn’t worth making a scene.
Because I’d rather be overly cautious than add one more drop of self-doubt or shame. The world doubts & shames us enough. Enough.
And because I know that touch—intentional & consensual touch—can be profoundly powerful & healing.
Consent cards aren’t perfect. But they are a start.
The yoga practice asks us to bring awareness to the different dances within and around us: Am I ruminating or predicting? Am I prioritizing form over feeling? Does the heat of comparison overtake the warmth of connection?
And every time I look to involve myself on social media, am I writing from satya (truth-telling) or am I centering whiteness? Am I taking action or am I just taking up space? Do my intentions align with my impact?
Is it ego or is it justice?
I am beautifully tangled up in these questions. And with each passing day of spiritual practice I choose to stay bound up in the reality of human suffering and the possibility of collective liberation because I am not separate. White supremacy aims to (no, it absolutely does) prioritize my comfort and cushion my spiritual path. So I have to actively stay uncomfortable because, as Michelle Johnson wrote in @skillinaction , discomfort is the key to transformation.
The work is listening. The work is love & spirit in action. The work is a mirror and the mirror probably has a sh*t ton of filth all over it.
And if the work becomes dharma?
Then the work is never done.
I forget sometimes that my very presence can be a trigger for someone because of the dynamics of power and privilege.
I forget sometimes because my intentions to share the yoga practice are from a kind place. I assume I am always welcome. I assume my smile will soften the edges of what my white ancestors have done.
Maybe more often than I realize I get in the way by asserting myself in spaces where folks are marginalized—that is, under-resourced and not seen by systems of oppression—or where I wasn’t explicitly invited.
Lately I’ve been unpacking the reality that I’m not needed in every yoga space. As white yoga teachers, this is a hard fact to face. I know my passion can cloud prioritizing the already capable & powerful lived experience of others.
Stepping back does not equate to inaction (there are plenty of white spaces where I need to speak up). If I’m not inserting myself into every space I will still be working to heighten the redistribution of resources/knowledge of this yoga practice—so folks are empowered from their own experience and not an external (albeit benevolent) intention of “serving” or “helping”.
A principle of the yoga practice is satya—being truthful in thoughts, words, and actions.
Sometimes (more than you think) getting out of the way and listening truth.
Less helping (implying power over) and more being in relationship.
Relationship over outcome and ego.
A student & seeker on the path of breath and the collective.