Peace Prayer Day

As I write this I'm in a room surrounded by yogis chanting for peace. They've been chanting since 7am and will continue until 7pm. Today, at my yoga retreat, it's Peace Prayer Day. It's a change of pace here as no classes are taught after the morning classes and the rest of the day's activities are devoted solely to cultivating peace. It's free and open to the public, exemplifying the theme of inclusion.

Being emotional up here isn't out of the norm, as we're meditating, doing yoga, and connecting to ourselves and others all day. I never know what to expect or what will come up for me as I dive deep into self-reflection. I often discover new pieces of myself or old hurts that need some attention. To my surprise this day of peace has been my most intense so far. Lots of tears were shed as I was moved by the day's event and began to discover a wide-range of feelings. Today, I was mostly overwhelmed by the feeling of togetherness as we worked together to create peace and love between friends and strangers.

I think it's hard in our society for us to be vulnerable. We walk around with guards up and masks on feeling alone, misunderstood, and unseen. This retreat, more than anything, gives me permission to take of the mask and let my guard down and just be. I feel, I process, I heal, and, most importantly, I do this with many other people. It's such an amazing feeling to be fully accepted at your most vulnerable state.

Part of Peace Prayer Day is inviting speakers who exemplify the theme. This year it was the Interfaith Amigos, which consisted of three leaders of different faiths: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. I found myself unable to stop crying as these men shared the importance of interfaith communication, learning from one another, and building bridges to stop violence, fear, misunderstandings, and prejudice. They each brought their religious texts and read the most moving and profound scriptures as well as the ones that have been used to fuel hatred, violence, and judgement. They were acknowledging the imperfections in their sacred texts and offering different interpretations that instead spoke of compassion, love, inclusion, and acceptance. Exposing themselves to other religions didn't make them less faithful, instead it deepened their understanding of their own faith as they learn other sacred lessons.


Their message was simple, clear, and so profound. It effected me so deeply that I realized how little peace I had been feeling in our world, in our country, and in myself. They gave me hope. So today, on Peace Prayer Day, to the best of my ability I'm sharing this message of peace with you. Let down your guards, take off your masks, and see, hear, and love each other. Learn about something you don't understand. Let curiosity replace judgment. Open your mind up to the idea that the fundamentals of humanity makes us friends and not strangers and we're more alike than you think. Happy Peace Prayer Day, friends. We're working hard over here to send out peaceful vibes to you and the rest of the world. Help us out, hey? Peace!


Meditation Series: Breathing Techniques

This week began my six week meditation series I'm offering. My goal in this series is to showcase that meditation can be for anyone and that there are endless techniques to choose from. Too often people think that they can't meditate because they envision just sitting still. Meditation can be that, but it can be so much more. It's a practice designed to give us space. Space to unwind, relax, and open ourselves up to our own inner wisdom. It creates a connection to ourselves and something bigger. When I first began I was just dappling in it, but now it's such a huge part of my life I couldn't imagine living without it. It's something to turn to when I'm stressed, happy, anxious, depressed, looking for guidance, or when I've run out of answers. It's a passion of mine that I've been wanting to share and I'm so excited about this chance to do so.

Our first class was on breath work and I thought I'd share what we went over. Our breath is a powerful tool we can tap into to help shift us into a different space. Each technique listed below is aimed at a different result. Try them out and see if any feels good to you.

Connecting to a Full Breath

Most of us don’t use our full lung capacity and so we become shallow breathers. By learning how to deepen our breath we are able to provide more oxygen to our cells, calm our minds and de-stress, and have more energy. This technique helps us learn how to tap into a full capacious breath. Practice this either lying down or sitting in a chair with your back supported.

  • Begin by placing your right hand over your left side / rib area. Inhale and exhale pushing into that hand, focusing on bringing the breath to the left side. Notice how you can control where the breath goes.
  • Next place your left hand over your right side / rib area. Inhale and exhale focusing on bringing the breath to your right side.
  • Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Focus on bringing your breath to the front of the body. Let the breath move your hands up and down.
  • Then let your hands relax at your sides. Focus on breathing into the back of your body. Notice how breathing with this focus will create pressure against the chair, if sitting, or against the floor, if lying down.
  • Lastly, breathe into the back, front, and sides, taking a full capacious breath. Inhale and exhale like this for a minute or so.

Breath of Fire / Bellows Breath

A yogic breathing technique known to raise energy and increase alertness. It calms the mind while stimulating the body, increasing oxygen and decreasing carbon dioxide.

  • Inhale and exhale rapidly through the nose focusing on the exhale, the inhale should be a natural reaction. Mouth is closed, but relaxed.
  • The exhale comes from quickly pulling in the navel to move the diaphragm. The breath should be audible. Eyes are closed and focused at the third eye point.
  • This technique is challenging so in the beginning only do this for 30 seconds to a minute and 30 seconds.

Minute Breath

This exercise is good for the brain. It’s believed to balance both brain hemispheres and calm the mind. It’s also said to help improve our intuition.

  • Breathe in an equal pattern of inhales, holding the breath, and exhales up to 20 seconds each.
  • Begin by practicing breathing in for 5 seconds, holding for 5 seconds, and exhaling for 5 seconds. Keep increasing the seconds until the breath equals a full minute.
  • Continue with that pattern for 11 minutes.

Square Breathing

This breathing technique is a powerful tool to de-stress and get rid of anxiety. Use this as your first line of defense to combat anxiety.

  • Breathe in to a count of four.
  • Hold in to a count of four.
  • Breathe out to a count of four.
  • Hold out to a count of four.
  • Repeat for 5-10 minutes.

4-7-8 Breath

This technique is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system and is best for relaxation or sleep.

  • Bring the tip of your tongue to the tissue just behind the upper teeth and keep it there for the entire exercise.
  • Begin by exhaling out the mouth around the tongue with a whoosh sound. Inhale quietly for a count of four through the nose, hold the breath for a count of seven, and then exhale out the mouth making a whoosh sound for a count of 8.
  • Repeat 3 times for a total of 4 breaths.


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Are You Alone?

Alone. It's a complicated word that has both negative and positive connotations. It can invoke feelings of sadness, fear, pity, and shame, but it can also create joy, empowerment, inspiration, and pride. One word that harbors both lightness and darkness. It's been a powerful theme in my life the last six months. After my break-up I found myself on the dark side of being alone, filled with fear at the prospect. Alone. It filled me with so much emptiness and I couldn't seem to grasp any optimistic outlook. It wasn't where I wanted to be and it was hard to cope with that reality. With the darkness enveloping me, I quickly became extremely single sensitive.

I had once enjoyed being the 3rd, 5th, 7th wheel as it was a fun, no pressure way to spend time with some of my favorite couples, but this was no longer the case. I couldn't seem to separate my misery from their joy. Every time I witnessed a whispered sweet nothing, a display of affection, an inside joke, and even joy, it felt like pouring salt in my wound. And I began to feel like the only single person surrounded by marital and relationship bliss highlighting further my loneliness and heart ache. Where were all the single ladies?! Where were other gloomy, miserable people?! I just wanted a few minutes, ok months, to sulk without some Disney romance thrown in my face. Yikes, I had officially taken up residence in Bitterville, home of the whiny and the heartbroken.

At one point, witnessing happy couples use to inspire me and give me hope, but that was easier when I was content with my own life, which obviously I wasn't. Being alone felt like a prison sentence and I found myself dreading my future. Dramatic, I know, but I'm nothing if not full of a constant array of intense feelings. It's the blessing and the curse of a sensitive soul whose life is both beautiful and filled with pain. Another 'gift' of being sensitive is acute self-awareness, so it was not lost on me that my bitterness and pain was creating a problem.

I felt so much shame and guilt for all my self-pity and the negativity spewing out of me. It made my skin crawl and added fuel to my self-hatred fire. What kind of person finds pain in other people's joy?! It disgusted me, but I couldn't escape it. However, I knew I needed to find a way out because I couldn't stand it much longer. That is why no one was invited to join me on my trip to Thailand. I took this trip alone because that's the last thing I wanted to do and I knew I needed to get over it. I had some making up to do with myself and I needed to make peace with being alone. Plus, it'd be nice to feel content enough to enjoy the happiness surrounding me.

Preparing for this trip was different from anything I'd ever experienced. This was not a weekend trip to Vegas, a backpacking trip with friends, or a getaway on the beach. This was a task. It was a calculated challenge forcing me into the world exactly the way I dreaded: alone. It felt weird planning it as, along with moments of excitement, there was this constant pit of anxiety gnawing at me for I feared if I failed this step I would be completely lost. I specifically chose a location that would scare me, away from the familiarity of the Western world and flew my ass across the globe.

The pride and empowerment didn't set in right away. Instead, after a long dissent into the dark world of depression and anxiety, the beginning of my trip was more rejuvenating than anything. There was a lot of down time in the beginning and I allowed myself to slowly unwind. It took about a week for me to stop waking up in a panic attack, residual anxiety unsure of this new, calm space. Then I started to feel my attitude shift towards being alone.

Fellow travelers expressed shock and admiration of my traveling alone as a woman and I started to realize that being alone could symbolize bravery, something to be proud of. My days were packed and full of activity and so I looked forward to my time to decompress with a book, with a journal, with a meal. It was then that I remembered the joy and contentment that can accompany time alone. As I met other solo female travelers an instant connection sparked between us as we shared something special. We all had a story and most of us came through struggle to find answers, to find ourselves. We connected in that struggle and the knowing of what it took to get there, what it took to stay there. Without words, we saw and understood each other. And so I learned that being alone could create a deep sense of unity and support.

One night I sat at a restaurant and a woman asked me, "are you alone?" I smiled, proud, "yes, I am" and so she joined me. We learned that we were both Americans, both had bachelor degrees in Anthropology, both recently turned 30, and both had hearts on the mend. There have many times throughout my trip where I felt among my people, but this was uncanny. We parted ways with a strong embrace feeling connected and relieved for the moments of companionship.

By the last few days of my trip, I felt so comfortable in my skin even in the large city of Bangkok. I navigated public transport (buses, boats, trains, and taxis) with intense language barriers, bartered down to good prices, listened to damn good music as I made my way through busy streets, and propped up at crowded outdoor restaurants with a journal and a good book. I should add that I was virtually free of anxiety for the first time in a very long time. Out of the darkness of being alone I discovered once again the possibility, freedom, contentment, joy, and empowerment that being alone can offer. Also, I got much better at taking selfies.

As I return home, I'm nervous about my ability to stay in this new, empowered place of contentment and freedom. My biggest challenge will be to fight the darkness from rearing its ugly head and to hang on to my new truth of what it means to be alone. I've allowed shame and discomfort to block me from dining, catching movies, going to live music, and having a drink alone, but this will be the first thing I change. I will hold Thailand in my heart, determined to stay comfortable in my skin. Being alone is no longer a prison sentence, but an adventurous look at a life still to be explored. I know there will be challenges ahead, but I also know that I fought for happiness and found it. I looked for answers and found them, I found myself. No matter what happens, I know I can and will do it again if I need to. That alone is empowering. And whether or not I stay single for another week, month, year, or forever, I am happy that I took the time to nurture the most important relationship in my life, the one to myself. To many more years of navigating the seas of life! Xo

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40 Days of Love

I've been wanting to write about this for awhile, but I've been a little distracted with Thailand. Before I came on my trip I participated in a 40-Day Sadhana on Creating Self-Love, which means every day for 40 days I did the same meditation with the intention to create self-love.

First, let me explain how it came about. I've been pretty open about my depression I've been lost in the last few months, but I've glossed over a major part of that depression, which was my broken heart. I'm not good at breakups. Of course, it's no walk in the park for anyone, but I have an especially hard time letting go. Every relationship I've been in has this long, painful, drawn out ending that leaves me pretty destroyed. And afterwords I beat myself up for failing to make it work and for the qualities I possess that make love challenging. Failure and self-hatred swallow me up and then the fear sets in. Fear that I will only know heartache and struggle. Fear that a family is not in the cards for me. Fear that I will forever continue on this life adventure alone.

I know, I'm young and all that, but I've already missed the opportunity for my grandmas to meet my kids and they'll never know that I found love. They left this world before I had a chance to show them who I would build a life with. It's thoughts like that that break my heart even more. The knowing that the longer I wait the less time my kids will have with my parents. Yes, these are morbid thoughts and I absolutely agree that I worry too much, but that's my plight.

Losing both my grandmas the same year my relationship fell apart was just a little too much reality and pain for me. And you guys know the rest: numbing blanket of depression, crippling anxiety, consuming self-hatred, isolation, blah, blah, blah. So that brings us to almost two months ago. I was slowly coming back to life and the depression fog was lifting ever so slightly and with that came awareness and self-reflection. It's at this time when I realized just how low my confidence was.

I had social anxiety like never before and I felt so awkward interacting with people even my closest people. I felt so unsure and ashamed of myself. Not good feelings, not at all, especially as someone who once considered themselves an extrovert. I stopped enjoying going out and doing things with people.

When New Years came along you couldn't pay me enough to get me to do some big social outing so I planned a solo retreat at camp to try to shift me out of this space with saunas, good food, exercise, meditation, some r&r, and, of course, a dip in Lake Superior. A spiritual, physical, and emotional cleansing to jump kick the new year. On New Year's Day I took my deck of color therapy cards and shuffled them asking what I needed to focus on for the next year. I flipped over magenta, the color that represents self-love. Yeah, no shit.

On Thursday, January 5th I was talking to my friend, Emily, about all the things I had been doing (i.e. therapy, eating healthy, exercising, booking a trip to Thailand, meditating, yoga, etc.) and how I still hadn't notice a shift in my confidence. I was frustrated and feeling defeated. That's when Emily said, "you need to do a 40-Day Sadhana." Emily and I both practice Kundalini yoga where 40-day Sadhanas are a tradition, however I had never done one.

Instantly I felt resistant. Committing to 40 days of anything felt daunting and I was so scared that I'd set myself up for failure and disappointment and I couldn't handle anymore of that. Then I thought of my trip and thought it could be my excuse. "I don't want to commit to meditating while I'm traveling," I said. Then Emily, in true Emily fashion, whips out her calendar and starts counting. Turns out if I started the next day, January 6th, that would mean that my 40th day would fall on the very day I left for Thailand. Okay, I could take a hint.

We chose the meditation on Creating Self-Love as it seemed exactly what I needed. It was only later that night that I remembered my color therapy card suggesting I do the same thing. For the first time in a very long time I felt like everything was lining up. After feeling so disconnected from my path, this was such a relief. I swallowed my fear of commitment and started the very next day.

Kundalini yoga feels like magic to me. Each series of exercises has a specific focus. Lots of times I don't understand what we're doing or why we're doing it, but I often see results. Whether it's the focused intent that creates a shift or the movements actually do tap into some spiritual power, I'm not sure, but time and again I find myself amazed. That being said this is what I did for 40 days:

I began with 11 minutes in this position:


Then I spent 3 minutes like this (my least favorite):


And ended with 3 minutes like this:


The first week was AMAZING! It felt way easier than I expected and I had this huge surge of motivation. Every meditation I would have some sort of realization of something that needed to get done and right after the meditation I'd get to work. These were all organizational things that would make my life easier. In the first week I went through all my clothes and sent four garbage bags off to Goodwill, I rearranged my room, deep cleaned my whole apartment, organized my cupboards, created a meditation and yoga space, and organized my clothes, even folding all my underwear. Everything looked and felt good, which was a relief after the messy laziness of depression.

That continued for a week and a half until the stomach flu put a hitch in my stride. That was the first time I felt like I wasn't going to make it, but I'm proud to say I kept with it. For the next couple weeks, it just became part of my day. All the bells and whistles that were there in the beginning faded into something more routine and I started to worry that nothing was happening. I settled into being busy getting ready for my trip, working, and covering Pilates classes, and just kept meditating. Some days I'd feel like no time had passed and I was already done, other days I sat there eyes wide-open staring at my timer fidgeting and bouncing around, wiggling my arms and making frustrated noises, but still I stuck with it. I stuck with it on twelve hour work days. I stuck with it even when it meant skipping a meal to find the time. I stuck with it through a head cold, through exhaustion, through impatience, and through boredom. Some days I felt nothing, other days I'd cry or laugh or feel inspired or angry. It became the most important part of my day.

The whole experience was a rollercoaster as I continued to heal and figure things out, but all at once things began to shift. It started with little things, like buying and wearing make-up and dusting off my hula hoops and led to bigger things like chopping my hair off. Even though it was a dramatic change for me, that still paled in comparison to the biggest shifts that were yet to come.

A few months ago, during my darkest of days, I was desperate for change. I needed something new and different than the life I was currently living so I began looking at houses and apartments, calling realtors and banks, emailing retreat centers in Costa Rica and Vermont, shopping for puppies, looking at tattoo ideas and trip ideas, and looking for a new space for my business so I could grow. Anything to feel different. However, each pursuit felt like running into a wall. It was dead end after dead end and, after a couple months, I gave up hope and felt defeated and pessimistic.

Then, a little more than halfway through my Sadhana, the walls came busting down. I got the green light to move into a new work studio and begin remodeling and, at the same time, my friend offered to rent me her house when she moved, which would give me a much better kitchen, a dishwasher, a washer/dryer, and the option of having a pup. All of a sudden things were changing and they were all lining up in this chaotic, but beautiful way. It's all working out so that I will move my business and my home the week I get back from Thailand. So, literally I will return to a whole new life. Holy shit, it's all happening.

In the last week of my Sadhana I felt all the feelings: excited, scared, sad, overwhelmed, and oh so anxious. After months of feeling alone and praying for guidance, I finally felt a strong driving force pushing me along. Part of me felt so relieved and part of me wondered why I had prayed for that. I feel like I went from months and months of stagnation to hyper speed shifts. There is no doubt in my mind that the Sadhana acted as a catalyst for all this change. Focus, commitment, intent, and openness to change are powerful tools separately and when combined are an unstoppable force and that's what my meditation gave me.

Meditation creates space. That's all it is, it's so simple, but in a world of distractions, stress, and the go-go-go mentality, it's the one thing we're sorely missing. Space allows us to settle and think and practice calm, so that our brain can catch up. I was doing everything right, except allowing myself this space. I never wanted to be alone with my thoughts, so Netflix was a constant, and I mean constant, distraction when I was home, even when I took a bath. And, even though I had begun to meditate and do more yoga, it still was not a consistent enough practice to allow myself to sort through the year or so of tough emotions. Finally, after enough consistent quiet, they began to bubble out and now are flooding out, which makes me feel alive. I imagine I will continue to sort and reflect and learn, but I couldn't be more grateful for what my 40-day Sadhana has taught me.

Do I love myself more? Yes, absolutely. Is there still work to be done? Yes, absolutely. However, now I know that I am capable of committing to myself and will use meditation as a tool to sort out and focus my energy to create the shifts that I need. I encourage everyone to make more space and see what happens. If you need a place to start try the app Insight Timer, it's a great tool and has a lot of guided meditations to begin with. :) Go find your peace!