The Blog

Thanks 2015, It’s Been Real

Dear 2015,

Thank you thank you thank you.

Thank you for showing me higher highs and lower lows along this rollercoaster of life, and challenging me to take in the immense perspective gained from the valleys just as much as the peaks. Thank you for allowing the bumpy patches to crack my heart open, and for the capacity to stay present to feel the resulting rawness and vulnerability. Thank you for tears—of both side-splitting laughter and heart-breaking sorrow; and for the good fortune to have more of the former than the latter. 

Cari vinyasa (5)Thank you for demonstrating time and time again that true contentment comes from being willing to lean into—rather than resist or run from—the twists and turns along the way. Thank you for the lesson that coming undone does not lead to the end of me.

Thank you for the moments when my mental muscle memory engaged to brace for impact, to clench or control, and I chose instead to surrender and feel the reverberations. Thank you for moments when the ground shifted beneath my feet and I was able to ride the aftershocks.

Thank you for every opportunity I seized to lean in to sensation and emotion when it may have felt better to back away or tune out, and each time I chose to soften when my impulse was to harden.

Thank you for daring me to become less perfect and more potent in sharing, serving and speaking from the heart. Thank you for teaching me what my own voice sounds like, what my own boundaries feel like and how to clearly and compassionately communicate with both.

Thank you for life in a new home where I can connect each day to the beauty of nature and to work that inspires and challenges me to grow. Thank you for supportive friends who seem like family, and truly amazing family I would choose as friends.

Thank you for holding me in an abundance of loving relationships. Some nourish my deepest core, others push my boundaries and all help me know my truest center. I am grateful for each and every one of them.

Thank you for the burdens that at times seemed to weigh me down but eventually pulled me toward a new lightness. Thank you for pushing my edges and blurring the lines around me in ways that forced me to more clearly examine and define my boundaries. Thank you for all of the moments and teachers who have held a mirror up to my experience, and allowed me to see more clearly on the other side.

Thank you for the revelation that when I stop striving for the “right” answer, I make space for what’s really true and most essential to emerge naturally.

Thank you for guiding me back closer to my self.

Thank you for being such a pivotal part of my journey, 2015. I’m wiser for your presence.

In gratitude and onward to 2016,
Cari

January 1, 2016 0 Comments

Self-Care is Not Self-Indulgent

After running nonstop the past few weeks in preparation for an upcoming move, I stepped away from the boxes and packing tape today for a leisurely morning to myself.

Choosing to disregard the voices in my head about how “self-indulgent” I was being and all the time I was “wasting,” I started by walking our dog around a scenic pond near home and continued on to a morning yoga class followed by an hour-long massage that my husband had given me for my birthday last year. (Yes, last year.)

Seated Forward Fold 2

Coming from a background colored by codependency, it’s often challenging for me to devote time to care for myself without the shame and guilt demons popping up to remind me of how extravagant and selfish I’m being. These critical voices appear during time I spend alone, whether it’s on practicing yoga, taking a bath, getting a massage or going to therapy. (The fact that I postponed redeeming the massage gift certificate for a year-and-a-half in the first place is an issue I’m sure my therapist and I could discuss at much greater length.)

Particularly for someone who has experienced some degree of trauma, it can feel extremely vulnerable and risky to permit ourselves to be cared for, to drop our guards and allow our bodies to soften and our minds to be at ease. Ironically, in many ways, it begins to feel safer and more comfortable for us to continue operating in the fast-paced, high-tension and high-stakes crisis mode to which we have grown accustomed.

Just as we decide what and how we practice physically with our bodies, we can choose which thought patterns, mental habits and actions we reinforce throughout the rest of our lives. Especially for those of us who have spent much of life functioning in fight-or-flight mode, it’s absolutely vital that we make time to practice the opposite way of being and state of mind by nurturing ourselves.

There’s no question in my mind that I’m at my best when I am caring for myself and (equally challenging) allowing people to care for me just as much as I care for others. But since that doesn’t come naturally to me yet, it requires practice and mindfulness.

Beyond my yoga asana practice, this morning’s broader self-care regimen was for me a practice in worthiness. Today, my practice is one of knowing I am worthy of relaxing, feeling good, having fun, taking care of myself and even having others take care of me.

That practice made for a lovely morning.

October 8, 2014 0 Comments

9 Obstacles That Interrupt Our Practice and Block Our Progress

We’ve all been there. There you are, plugging along and making progress on the job, at home or in love, and bam. Sometimes out of nowhere, you hit a roadblock that stops you dead in your tracks.

ScorpionCrop.jpgOccasionally these hurdles are external in nature, but more often than not, the obstacles in our lives are (at least partially) of our own making.

As they say, awareness is half the battle, and in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali throws all of us truth-seekers a bone in astutely outlining nine antarayas, or common impediments to watch for during our personal practice and inner journey. The term “practice” can be applied in a broader context here, as I’ve seen these same obstacles manifest both on the mat in my body and mind, and off the mat in my relationships and work.

  1. Vyadhi: This first obstacle is often defined as illness or disease. Although vyadhi may show up most obviously in the form of a physical pain or sickness that is beyond our control, a more subtle source can derive from a consistent negativity or other unproductive mental imbalance. A lack of self-care, whether mental, emotional or physical, can lead to or perpetuate this dis-ease.

  2. Styana: When we find ourselves face to face with an apathetic approach or feeling of mental stagnation, styana is often on hand. This “so what, who cares” attitude can prevent us from taking the right and necessary action for growth, thwarting our progress and delivering a hit to productivity. Taking action despite feelings of ambivalence is key to continuing the momentum in our practice.

  3. Samshaya: This is a big one for many of us who spend entirely too much mental energy doubting ourselves and questioning our self-worth. Samshaya shows up as self-doubt or a lack of confidence in our own power and potential. Reaffirming faith in ourselves is essential to counteract this block.

  4. Pramada: This carelessness, negligence or lack of foresight inadvertently detours us from our our desired destination. Whatever the cause for unclear thinking—whether drunkenness, distraction or other diversion—a lack of mindfulness leads to pramada, taking us off track from where we intend to go.

  5. Alasya: Translated disparately as both fatigue and laziness, alasya often shows up in my life as burnout. When we burn the candle at both ends and fail to take appropriate care of ourselves, it can be difficult to even get out of bed in the morning, let alone tackle the day with the gusto needed to make magic happen. Even one simple measure of self-care, whether that be taking a few minutes to meditate, indulge in a bath or go to bed a half hour earlier, can be enough to recharge our batteries.

  6. Avirati: This obstacle presents itself when we’re overindulging or non-abstaining, often as a result of being driven by cravings or otherwise overpowered by senses and feelings. I find some of the most intense cravings in my life appear as an impulse to self-medicate, numb out or avoid an undesirable thought or feeling I’m having. At the end of the day, it helps to remember, we are not defined by our thoughts, experiences or feelings. In seeing them as passing phases and distinctly separate from our true selves, we take away their power to overwhelm us and drive our actions to excess.

  7. Bhrantidarshana: This often shows up for me as the stories I tell myself in my head. There are plenty of stories or perceptions we all have in our head about the way things are, who people are, and what we are or are not capable of. Bhrantidarshana refers to these erroneous views. Imagine traveling with an outdated GPS. By letting this misinformation and illusion guide our path, we won’t be taking the most efficient route along our path and may very likely be led significantly off course.

  8. Alabdhabhumikatva: In working toward our goals, we inevitably face situations where we feel like we’re failing, not progressing fast enough or inclined to give up altogether. Alabdhabhumikatva can rear its ugly head in these moments by showing up as a lack of perseverance or grounding. The things we want aren’t always easily obtainable, and without fortitude in the face of challenge, it can be tempting to lose our resolve and change directions as soon as the going gets tough.

  9. Anavasthitatva: For all of the in-roads we’ve made with any practice, project or person in our life, all of that can be cut short when we’re incapable of maintaining these gains. We can fall prey to anavasthitatva when instability results in regression and backward movement. Meditation can help us create space and stability and practice the single-pointed focus needed to maintain solid footing.

When I hit a hurdle in life—whether it’s battling writer’s block at my computer, dragging my feet to get on my yoga mat or meditation cushion, or stagnating in my relationships with my self or others—I can often trace the source of said stumble back to one or more of the antarayas outlined by Patanjali in sutras 1.30 to 1.32.

By better understanding the problems that plague us, we can cultivate awareness to anticipate their onset in advance and greater dexterity in circumventing them before they sidetrack us. In identifying these obstacles more clearly, we can remain resolute and persevere in the direction we’re heading in spite of distractions.

A version of this article also appeared in Wanderlust Festival’s Journal on July 10, 2014.

July 10, 2014 0 Comments

Bramacharya and Being Present for the Journey Back to Self

After six weeks of training and working with students with limited mobility due to a variety of injuries or illnesses, last night marked the end of my amazing therapeutics apprenticeship with Gabriel Halpern.

During last week’s class, in discussing bramacharya and the importance of not addicting oneself or numbing out to your experience, Gabriel said, “All of yoga is to sensitize yourself to feel more deeply.”

Though that may seem obvious and on some level it’s a large part of the reason I’ve been drawn to yoga for all of these years, I had never articulated it to myself in those terms. Gabriel’s words hit the nail on the head for me and nicely sum up the sometimes-rocky-but-always-rewarding journey I’ve been on in recent years.

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

Yoga is a process of coming back to our true selves, and the power of my practice has been profound in guiding me along that path back home in recent years.

Whether in a challenging pose that stretches your body or a difficult personal situation that squeezes your soul, there are so many times in life when it would be much easier to numb out. However, rather than give in to any number of the distractions available to divert our attention away from the present moment, it’s much more powerful to remain where you are with awareness and feel what you’re feeling.

It seems so simple and basic, but when you begin to watch for it, it’s amazing how often we feel compelled to distract our minds with drinks, drugs, food, TV, smart phones and countless other preoccupations. Rather than stay to notice and sit with our discomfort, pain or boredom, we run away and distract ourselves.

It’s not always easy to feel what we’re feeling. If we’ve been masking feelings and distracting ourselves with external filler for too long, it can be extremely difficult to even identify your mental or emotional state from moment to moment. And for those of us lucky enough to still be in touch with and aware of our feelings, experiencing them can still be really uncomfortable at times. Things often come up that we don’t want to feel, and it’s not a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination.

The practice lies in resisting the urge to brush our feelings under the rug, put on a happy face or otherwise addict ourselves to avoidance.

Rather than constantly trying to fill all the gaps, my practice has taught me to relish space, even (and especially) when it’s unpleasant. By giving myself that room to feel, breathe and be present unconditionally, the mental fog of diversions and distractions has started to lift.

The process of returning to myself and the experience of making choices informed by that connection hasn’t always been easy, comfortable or fun, but it has been real. And at the end of the day, an authentic life lived with with presence and experienced with awareness is the best any of us can hope for anyway.

May 16, 2014 0 Comments

Workshop Aims at Overcoming Obstacles and Unblocking Flow

Mark your calendars for a new workshop coming in June—”From The Inside Out: Flowing Through Obstacles With Empowerment and Ease”—geared toward transcending the obstacles that show up in our practice and life as impediments to progress and growth.

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

Held from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 7 at Blissed Out Yoga in Elmhurst by myself and Omega Institute Resident Life Coach Chrystal Kubis, this workshop will teach students how to apply the insights and philosophy of yoga to overcome the inner and outer obstacles in life with less stress and more simplicity.

Through a combination of asana, meditation and discussion, students will learn essential practical applications of yogic principles and other strategic navigational tools for thriving in spite of difficulties.

We’ll explore these blockages to freedom and flow in our lives in a variety of ways, including through a discussion of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras which characterized these hurdles as the nine antarayas.

Students will leave with a greater sense of empowerment, freedom and a toolbox of peaceful-yet-powerful techniques for shifting their perspective, applying the practice of yoga off the mat, and rising above the challenges of day-to-day life.

The workshop cost is $40 in advance, or $45 at the door. Click here and select the site’s workshops tab to register and pay in advance. 

I’m thrilled to be co-hosting this workshop with Chrystal Kubis. A native of the western suburbs of Chicago and now based in Sarasota, FL, Chrystal has led trainings on personal transformation and empowerment across the country. She’s been honored to serve the last four years as faculty and resident life coach for Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY.

Along with benefiting from the many lessons of life, Chrystal has a degree in Holistic Wellness from the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts, and holds certifications as a Life Coach, Massage Therapist, Yoga Instructor, Qi Gong Healer, and Reiki Master. She is passionate about working with people who are hungry for shifts and ready to transform both challenges and emotions into strength, flow, wild yes’s and inner freedom.

May 14, 2014 0 Comments

6 Steps To Stimulate Creativity and New Growth in Your Life

I was a creative child. Whether at dinner with family or a social gathering with friends, I was rarely without a notepad on hand to scribble down my latest poem or short story whenever inspiration struck.

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

And it did. Often.

But it suddenly occurred to me last year that something had shifted. At some point in my adulthood, I had lost touch with my creative streak, and unfortunately it seemed to have become buried pretty deep.

The realization struck me shortly after leaving my full-time job in journalism last summer. I had vowed to myself that once I left my journalism career to pursue teaching yoga full-time, I would also return to my roots of writing for personal fulfillment and self-expression rather than just a paycheck.

As it turns out, that was easier said than done. After seven years in a career that often demanded work 12 hours a day and seven days a week, and coming off of a challenging year in my personal life to boot, my creative juices were sapped and I was drained.

Many of us are accustomed to filling every moment of our days with work, family and other obligations. We’re left with no energy to put into new growth and creative pursuits, so our personal exploration and self-fulfillment get put on the back burner. Desires and things we’d like to do regularly take second priority to obligations and things we feel we must do.

Over the past six months – since recognizing the rift between me and my imagination – I have watched the slow but sure return of my desire to write and create with the support of some simple practices. It is my hope that they may also help you connect to more inspired work, fulfilled relationships or anything else you desire.

  1. Make space for new growth: First things first, remove the weeds to create space for growth on new fertile ground. If you fill up your schedule 100 percent, you allow no room for expansion into something new. When we are constantly exhausting ourselves rushing from one thing to another, it’s hard to be mindful enough to even recognize as new opportunities appear. In both your personal or professional life, remove the filler and relish the emptiness of having space for new creation. Yes, at times it can feel better in the short-term to have your schedule full just so you don’t notice its emptiness, but you have to be willing to sustain short-term discomfort to free yourself up and make room for organic growth and expansion in the future.
  2. Live with intention: The areas where you direct attention and energy play a big role in charting the course of your life. The process of restoring creativity involves intention and awareness to consciously spend time on things that contribute to your long-term growth and happiness. Once you identify goals, discern which time commitments support growth in that direction and which ones set you back. Shift your time to prioritize quality and creativity, not only quantity and productivity. As much as possible, commit your time judiciously to prioritize the things that move you forward.
  3. Invest in yourself: Make time for the things that light you up. Sometimes you have to say no to obligations and others, so you can say yes to yourself. Whether it’s via yoga, meditation, reading or sleeping in, invest time and energy to care for yourself so you have more fullness and presence to share with others. Be generous with yourself first and let abundance then spill over onto others.
  4. Cut the cord: Cut the cord between yourself and your smartphone. If you’re constantly inundating yourself with external stimulation, how can you expect to receive internal inspiration? If you rely on something outside yourself for entertainment every time you get bored, you leave no room for your inner monologue and imagination. If you need to fan the creative fire, turn to the natural, not artificial, sources of inspiration all around you. Devote some part of your day to be completely device-free.
  5. Practice the power of the pause: It’s amazing what ideas and inspiration reveal themselves with stillness and silence as you give your mind the clearing necessary for things to reveal themselves to you. Don’t feel the need to fill the pauses in every conversation with others, and be OK in the silent meditative moments with yourself too. These pauses in interactions, between actions and reactions, help foster the perspective and awareness to springboard us into greater authenticity and creativity.
  6. Find a balance of effort and ease: The Yoga Sutras suggest balancing sthira and sukha—effort and ease—in our physical practice, but the concept carries into our lives off the mat too. Of course we don’t want to be passive passengers in our lives, but we can’t expect to control everything either. Many spiritual practices, including yoga and meditation, empower us to walk the line between being proactive enough to set change in motion while ultimately releasing control to allow things to unfold.

By bringing greater awareness to our actions and reactions, and mindfulness to how we commit and structure our time, we can make subtle shifts to carve out space for creativity and possibility to blossom.

A version of this article also appeared in Wanderlust Festival’s Journal on May 1, 2014.

May 5, 2014 0 Comments

Weekend Yoga Retreat Set for May 30 to June 1 at Stonehouse Farm

My dear friend and fellow teacher, Cynthia Woods, and I will be hosting a weekend workshop—”Your Mat As A Mirror: Cultivating Self-Awareness and Self-Study Through Yoga”—from Friday, May 30 to Sunday, June 1 at Stonehouse Farm west of Chicago in DeKalb County.

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

Many students begin yoga for purely physical purposes, but it doesn’t take long to realize that there’s so much more to the practice than its myriad health benefits.

You’ve probably begun to notice the effects of yoga carrying off of your mat and spilling over into other sectors of your life. These changes may initially show up as increased patience or presence throughout your day, while in interactions at work or during time spent with loved ones. So, why is this happening and where do you go from here in the process?

Using nature as our backdrop, we’ll introduce some of the basic and foundational philosophies behind the ancient tradition of yoga (such as segments of the Sutras including the yamas and niyamas) as a way to explore how yoga transcends the physical and can be seen in all aspects of life beyond the mat as well.

Through vinyasa and restorative asana, we’ll use physical practice to observe habits in our bodies and minds that show up elsewhere in our lives. We’ll dig deeper into these patterns through a variety of meditation practices, both seated in stillness as well as incorporating walks in the woods and star-gazing at night.

By cultivating this greater self-awareness, we can begin making conscious shifts to become more authentic and aligned in our reactions and interactions in everyday life.

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | Flickr.com/pbarcas

Whether you’re a beginning student or advanced practitioner, this workshop will bring more mindfulness to your practice and awareness to ways you can apply the same principles and insights of yoga off of your mat in your day-to-day life.

The workshop starts at $200 for the full weekend with Cynthia and me at Stonehouse Farm, including camping and food (with plentiful vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free options). Other accommodations, including small and large yurts, are available for a slightly higher rate.

Opened last year about 70 miles west of Chicago, Stonehouse Farm is a new 40-acre yoga retreat center complete with large pond for swimming, wooded paths for walking, and open space with camping and yurts for sleeping.

For more information about the weekend workshop or to register, click here to visit the event page on Stonehouse Farm’s website.

April 6, 2014 0 Comments

Restorative Workshop Set for May 3 at Divine Power Yoga

I’m happy to announce that my next public workshop is just one short month away—a restorative workshop scheduled from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 3 at Divine Power Yoga in Naperville.

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas | flickr.com/pbarcas

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas | flickr.com/pbarcas

The perfect complement to a vigorous vinyasa practice, the workshop will offer a slow and soothing class focused on stretching and rinsing out the body, as well as discussion of the benefits unlocked through longer holds of these poses.

Accessible to all levels of students, a gentle flow will move through restful poses intended to induce a state of deep relaxation.

Many poses will involve the use of props including blocks, straps and blankets to cultivate greater stability and support, allowing the body to completely release any muscular tension and open into the stretch.

The class will devote ample time for a sweet and savory savasana at the end to allow both mind and body to absorb the full benefits of this reinvigorating practice.

There is more to life than increasing its speed.
—Gandhi

The workshop is $30. Click here and select the site’s workshops tab to register and pay in advance. Hope to see you there!

April 3, 2014 0 Comments

The First Day of Spring and the Fetal Position

At the end of each yoga practice, we move from corpse pose (savasana) into the fetal position. It struck me while teaching this morning how especially significant and symbolic that transition is today on the vernal equinox.

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | www.flickr.com/pbarcas

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | www.flickr.com/pbarcas

Like our transition off of our mats back into our lives, the first day of spring represents fresh starts, clean slates and new beginnings.

Spring is all about renewal and rebirth. After a particularly long and brutal winter, this spring feels even more fertile and ripe with opportunity than usual.

In nature, seeds go through a dormant period, when they are in survival mode to sustain through adverse conditions unfavorable for growth. We humans are no different.

In our practice and in our lives, there are times of great creation and change, followed by periods of stasis with hardly any detectable progress or movement.

In some ways, it’s human nature to resent and resist these plateaus. We sometimes characterize these periods as stagnation, with a negative connotation, but even periods of imperceptible growth serve as a necessary preparation.

In people as in plants, both external and internal conditions must be right for growth to resume after dormancy. An article published by North Carolina State University’s Department of Horticultural Science frames it this way:

Internal conditions of the seed must be favorable for germination, that is, any physical, chemical, or physiological barriers to germination must have disappeared or must have been removed by the propagator.

What barriers may have disappeared for you in recent months or what blocks are you now ready to remove in order to pave the way for renewal this season? What new fruit will you bear this year?

It’s time to emerge from our Chiberia-induced hibernation and reap what we’ve sown. Under the right conditions, some seeds, even those that you may have planted long ago, could start to come to fruition in the approaching days, weeks or months.

Each year on the spring equinox, we reach an equilibrium as day and night are matched in length after a period of imbalance. The coming days will continue to increase the power of the sun, extending our exposure to light and reducing the time we spend in the dark.

This spring, give yourself the light and the space you need to reflect on what you’re cultivating in your life and explore the areas in which you can challenge yourself to open up to new growth.

March 20, 2014 0 Comments

Wayne Dyer on Wrong Roads and What Ifs

A week ago today, I got into a very minor fender bender.

No one was hurt and there was virtually no damage whatsoever, but for days afterward, I couldn’t stop replaying it over and over again in my head.

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | http://www.flickr.com/pbarcas

Photo courtesy of Petras Barcas Photography | flickr.com/pbarcas

“What if I had just left a few minutes later? What if I had missed that light or taken a different route?”

I tortured myself mercilessly by running through an aimless and endless list of “what ifs,” all geared toward regaining control, changing the outcome and preventing my perceived misstep.

Blame it on my Type-A, control-freak, perfectionist tendencies.

The only way I could find relief was by reframing the accident as a good lesson for the future and the means to a greater end.

It was in that state of mind that I stumbled across this quote from the wise and wonderful Dr. Wayne Dyer:

There are no wrong roads taken to anywhere; there are no accidents. As we go along there are course corrections that we can make, and every experience that we have in our life is there to teach us something.

In terms of fitting quotes and perfect timing, that ranks pretty high up there on the list for me. I’m filing that one alongside another similar message I love from the late American zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck:

Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.

When wrestling with regret, or a need to control or change situations or people, this perspective offers peace of mind and applies quite nicely.

March 6, 2014 0 Comments