2019. It has been a fantastic year. I thank my lucky stars for every wonder, every sweet blessing, every ounce of health and wellness, every speaking gig and client and business engagement, every trip and discovery, and every single yoga pose, and there were thousands of them in my yoga practice in 2019. It’s funny how you think you can predict something, and you’re not even close.
Here are 8 ways yoga made me grow in 2019. A word of warning, I got a bit carried away. Grab a cup of Oolong tea and let’s do this!
1. Take Back Charge: If You Opened the Door and Let Poison In, You Are 100% Responsible.
In 2018, I suffered a severe shoulder injury brought on by a practice called Ashtanga with the dangerous assists of a yoga teacher at the time who, incidentally, turned out to be the absolute worst person I have ever met in my life (and believe me, I’ve come across some terribly dark souls). It shocks me to this day that I allowed that horrific poisonous relationship to continue for the sake of what, a few expensive private sessions where I hoped desperately that she would pass on her “wisdom” to help me reach my yoga goals.
But I did. I am 100% responsible for allowing her poison and clever manipulations in my life, as are you if you are perpetuating a toxic and poisonous relationship and covering it up with lies and deception.
Thankfully, at long last divine intervention facilitated my eventual release. I did not have the courage myself to make this happen, but greater serendipity was at work. At the time, it felt like such a low point. I was injured so my yoga practice was compromised, I had lost who I thought was my “teacher” and my guide on this journey. The anger I felt was overwhelming but who was I to blame? We come across horrible people in this life – yes, there are such people, it’s the yin and yang of the world – but we are the ones that open the door, invite them in and let them walk all over our clean home with their muddy shoes and stain everything.
#1 Lesson Learned: Close those doors, release those people, reclaim your energy and peace and power, and remember that they can never take that away from you.
2. Be Kind But Not Stupid: I Forgive My Kind Gracious Heart for Thinking the Best of the Worst Person.
I have tried to decipher what this relationship revealed about me and it comes to this: too much kindness, too much of a giving heart. My motivation? I had hoped to be liked, to have a teacher who really cared about me and believed in me, and even as I complained to my husband about the signs of a very wrong person and very manipulative self-driven behavior, I kept giving and accommodating. The desire to be liked and to be guided into the nebulous Ashtanga journey was too strong for me to see sense.
It is dangerous to be in a relationship where you lose your common sense and begin to make excuses for the wrong behavior of the other person.
Too much kindness can make a fool of you. A big giant fool. It did of me. So I’ve learned to be kind but with vigilance and thus, avoid being a complete idiot when it comes to relationships. This caution takes nothing away from kindness; it helps you redirect it to where it needs to go.
#2 Lesson Learned: Be kind but with vigilance and stop your kindness if you are directing it toward unsavory people around.
3. Beware of Falling Into a Dogma: Quitting the Ashtanga Method and Designing My Own Yoga
When I first stumbled upon the Ashtanga Method, I was so in love. Here was a perfect system of yoga, as it claimed to be, but only if you stuck to all the 78 rules (I exaggerate …. or maybe under-estimate. Nobody has come up with a full list of all the Ashtanga rules, I don’t think.), then you progress through the series, and advance in your yoga. But no questions asked. Just follow the rules.
“Practice and all is coming” is what the guru of Ashtanga says and everyone drinks the cool-aid over time. I certainly did. And I loved it. And I loved that I loved it. It made me feel like I belonged to something, to a community, to a system, to a path that was defined already so I didn’t have to do all the work. After leaving my corporate job and building my business, it was nice to come into a system that promised to work if followed. Plus it was challenging and very different from all the other yoga I had done. I liked both aspects.
But five years into the Ashtanga practice, I had serious doubts, and yet I kept making excuses for Ashtanga as I did for the crazy teacher who gave me the injury. Now I see that the massive resistance I felt to practicing the same thing every day was a message that it was not serving my body and not an opportunity to show my perseverance in the face of it.
Plus, Ashtanga didn’t fulfill me anymore. It was making my body very unbalanced with the severely limited postures, favoring the right side of the body always, and the endless countless repetitions of sun salutations. Oh and my god, the rules. In Ashtanga, you can’t just do any pose even if you’re dying to expand your horizons or balance your body, you can’t progress to the next yoga pose in the chart unless a qualified person “gives it” to you, and God help you if you want to work on a handstand which is “the most ridiculous idea popularized by Instagram” as per more than one Ashtanga teacher. And these are but a few rules from the thick handbook.
You have to follow a method which I found to be, to my shock, far from intelligent in hindsight. I am always wary of blind worship – growing up in Iran, I saw what blind worship can do to a nation! not pretty – and that is how it is regarding the founders of Ashtanga so you can’t very well question the method without offending everyone. There’s no open & honest discussion to be had.
I know now that the series of poses in the Ashtanga method is completely random, a roll of the dice – they could just have easily been randomized another way to come up with another series. This is neither good nor bad but there is no magic there as it is so widely believed. There is little to no progress with the accumulation of all that work into the next phase but because you believe the dogma, you keep going, hoping against hope, and never exploring the real reason for lack of progress.
For instance, I found there to be no sum benefit or actual built-up toward the promised advanced poses down the road from doing 10 sun salutations before every practice. How do I know this? Because after dropping the sun salutes and quitting Ashtanga, in a year, I have made the leaps and bounds of progress that I never imagined in my yoga, all by doing the right drills and preps for the desired poses, all by understanding what it takes to go into an advanced pose, not hoping that the unassociated preparatory poses of say Primary Series would magically let my body do something that it is neither primed for nor familiar with.
In other words, I’m not taking anyone’s word for it; I’m letting my BODY speak for itself. What louder proof do I need?
There are smart and intelligent methods of yoga that can help you achieve your goals and desires of advancement into asana. For me, Ashtanga failed miserably on its many empty promises. Maybe people leave Ashtanga to go do an easier more gentle type of yoga. I left to go do a more advanced version to suit my needs. The point is to LEAVE when something stops serving you. For goodness sake, my latest book is on this topic and still need my own reminder!
#3 Lesson Learned: Be willing to quit by listening to your own insights, intuition, and common sense always.
4. Name and Seek Your Desire: If You Want Your Yoga to be About the Pose, then Let It!
“It’s not about the pose.” is a popular saying by an old yoga teacher.
Excuse me but what if you love the poses? What if you’re not here to discuss ancient yogic philosophy or do a million sun salutations but rather, you’d like very much to learn and someday, aim to master the ‘fancy’ yoga poses? What if you want to express your body with the beautiful asanas? What if you crave the challenge, and can’t stand the breakdown of yet another Triangle or Warrior 2 or Cobra pose.
Sure, they are fundamental to building up to more, but they are not the end and can we discuss the more once in a while? There is a universe of poses out there, and traditional poses – whatever that means! – make up a fraction of that, and new evolving poses make up the rest. Who is the yoga police here that determines what is a yoga pose and what is disqualified?
Listen, if your desire is to master the poses, and to challenge your body to reach new levels of flexibility and strength that can only be expressed in a particular posture or series of postures, then go for it. I certainly am.
Yoga means different things to different people. For me, it is very VERY very much about the poses, hundreds of poses, fun challenging exciting poses. Go ahead, ridicule me. Toss me out of your “spiritual” community. Label me whatever. I am following my heart’s calling and I’ve never been happier or had less resistance to doing a daily practice.
Because mastering a challenging pose teaches me that I can master challenges in my life. It fulfills me. And doing the same boring sequences no longer lights up my soul. I want my yoga to light up my soul.
#4 Lesson Learned: Let your inner wisdom be the guide on how to do your yoga.
5. Get Stronger: Building Consistent Strength is the Single Most Important Element of Recovery from Injury.
The rest of 2018 was a concentration on healing my shoulder injury and I will sum it up for you: STRENGTH BUILDING.
I started a PureBarre regimen which helped me build remarkable strength back in my shoulder. I did regular deep tissue two-hour session massages with a fantastic therapist. I attended physical therapy accompanied by dry needling and I did my therapy exercises every day. I still do them every day. The magic of therapy is in doing the exercises not when you’re at their office but every day when you live your life and use your body.
I wish doctors and physical therapists would shout this from the rooftops: Get stronger. Build strength back in the muscle. Stretching is great but strength will heal you. Strength, Strength and more Strength built SLOWLY, consistently, with rest periods. My shoulder is now so much better, and so much stronger. It took a conscious effort to take a break from the old habits of fitness and to build strength back up with the right regimen.
#5 Lesson Learned: Strength is your best friend. Heal by building strength back into your muscles with consistent work.
6. Let It Go: Releasing Requires Immense Courage And Gives Back Ten Fold
After the toxic relationship with the yoga teacher ended, I was pleasantly surprised by how I was able to let it go after processing my anger. Normally, a less mature me would have ‘stalked’ this person and wondered and felt small and insignificant in the process from the force of rejection. I am happy that it left my system. There was zero curiosity left in me to revisit the past or to “check out” what she was up to and that for me was huge. Huge.
Few of us admit to this, but letting go is hard.
In this case, this person left my system completely, and that I attribute to the inner work I have done consistently with the unconditional love of my husband Andy (assisting me here!), my amazing life coach, Bernadette Logue, as well tons of reading and meditations – my favorite is Isha Kriya by Sadghuru -and as a result of taking back my yoga practice, my time and energy, my life and its direction. You can do the same. It starts with letting go of what’s not working in your life.
Where might you be wasting your time and energy? Where might you be taken advantage of and refuse to see it? Where might you need to make a change right now, forget 2020 but RIGHT NOW?
Do it. You’ve earned the freedom that comes with letting go and the space that you create for truly wonderful things in your life.
#6 Lesson Learned: When you let go of what’s not serving you, you feel untethered, light, and powerful beyond words.
7. Own It: If You Want the Dream, You Have to Do the Right Work and with the Right Support & Systems
“Work hard and you will succeed” is oversimplified advice for the complex decisions that we need to make as we navigate this wonderful life. There are many layers, many angles to consider. There is information overload to contend with, even as you do your due diligence and research the answers. There are too many self-professed experts who may give conflicting advice. There is just a lot of ways that you could go about your dream.
Well, I don’t know what you’re supposed to do. That is for you to figure out. I had to figure out my own path here, and my yoga was front and center. With the complete freedom I had created, the next step was to design a way to achieve my dreams. I won’t be going into the details of how I’ve done that – this blog post has already run over by a lot – but suffice it to say, it follows these rules:
1. Build a consistent daily home practice.
2. Learn how to do the asanas safely.
3. Choose wonderful teachers with big hearts, learn from them, take their classes, work with them privately.
4. Join group communities and do challenges on Instagram.
5. Trust yourself and listen to your body.
6. Be inspired by fellow advanced yogis, not threatened or jealous.
7. There is a way for you to have what you want so drop all your excuses.
8. Be willing to receive all the miracles that can come to you.
9. Never feel like you have to explain your yoga journey to anyone.
10. If you’re going to take a break from the practice, do it with joy and excitement.
#7 Lesson Learned: You are allowed and highly encouraged to design your own practice of yoga and life by extension. It is the way to true fulfillment.
8. Choose to Be Inspired: Instagram, the Evolution of Yoga, and the Undeniable Envy
Instagram has given birth and home to a massive growing universe of yogis. It’s fascinating. It’s mind-boggling. It’s addictive. It’s fun. It’s overwhelming. And it comes with undeniable waves of envy and jealousy if you are crazy about yoga and serious about your goals. I will admit, I have battled with the jealousy and let it get the best of me. It is hard to think you’re doing everything and not getting anywhere and watch others own the beautiful poses that you dream of doing.
So here’s what I’ve learned there: Every yogi out there works hard in their own way. Every yogi struggles with something, no exceptions. Every yogi has earned the pose they are doing, maybe it came easy to them but there is a balance, and others may come harder, but even if all the poses came easy to them, which is rare, then so what. Maybe you have to work hardest for something that came easy to many others and that journey is going to reveal so much to you, and in the end, you may be the real master at that pose. There are a million colors here, and you can choose the color of your perspective.
I have chosen the color of stars: bright, shining, gold white! It says to my fellow Instagram yogis: I am INSPIRED by you, I am GRATEFUL that this platform exists for me to follow you if I want and to stop doing so if I change my mind. I am THANKFUL that you are choosing to share your journey, and I am OPEN to learning from those that I admire. If I want to achieve what you are doing, I am going to look into learning about it and not assume I have the answers with my current practice. And this starry view has been extremely good for my yoga and my soul.
And by the same token, I am turned off by some Instagrammers. If I find someone’s style to be untrue or fake or unsavory, I wish them well and carry on. That is the beauty of freedom. We can choose and select whom we surround ourselves with, in real life and online.
#8 Lesson Learned: Leverage the Power of Community and the Evolution of Yoga and Choose to be Inspired by the Right Role Models for YOU.
Heading into 2020 Strong and Flexible in Mind & Body
Well, here are we. With 10 days to go to 2020, I’m heading into the new decade with big goals and bigger dreams, and I’m leaving behind all that did not and will not serve me behind. I wish you the very best with your 2020. Unburden yourself by letting go of the toxic relationships, the wrong energy pulling at you in life, the systems and rules that may be limiting you from your real desires, and listen to your heart. It knows how to guide you. It knows best. You know best. Have deep faith and confidence, and make it a fantastic decade.