Fight or Flight

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Something funny happened to me yesterday.

I was down in the yard where we keep our chickens and rabbits doing some chores and straightening up. Cleaning coops and scooping poop are not jobs I particularly enjoy, but they go along with the territory of keeping animals. I often listen to audiobooks or podcasts while I do animal chores which somehow makes it easier.

Yesterday, I was listening to an audiobook that I just purchased and cannot recommend highly enough. It is called The Body Keeps the Score and is written by Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist and research scientist who has devoted his life’s work to the area of post-traumatic stress. I’m only in the first third of the book, but so far it has been pretty freaking mind-blowing. I highly recommend.

Anyway, there I was listening to my audiobook, wrapping up some chores with the rabbits when I inadvertently disturbed a mouse nest. Ironically, the nest was tucked into the folds of an old yoga mat that I had repurposed into a wind break for the side of one of the rabbit cages. The mat had worked well for a time to keep the wind off our beloved Angora rabbit, Dolly, but it had gotten so weather worn that it needed to go.

As I pulled the mat off the side of the cage, I saw what looked like a ball of fluff in one of its folds. As I grabbed it with my gloved hand to pull it out, about 4 mice scurried out and scattered. I of course let out a scream that was so loud, I’m sure my entire street heard it. I hurdled the electric fence and ran out of the animal yard so fast that I shocked myself at my own speed (but thankfully the fence did not).

Of course, this whole time the audiobook was still streaming calmly through my headphones, describing the intricacies of how different minds and bodies respond to stress. What I had just experienced with the mice was your run of the mill (slightly comical) fight or flight response. And I had most definitely opted for flight. Because, you know, one-inch long mice are scary!

There was no conscious decision making involved. My mind registered the perceived “threat” of baby mice, and my body ran. After a few moments of course, my heart rate slowed, and that illogical (but visceral) feeling of terror wore off. The “threat” of the mice had gone, and I laughed heartily at myself.

It was a funny little scenario, but certainly the fight or flight response is not always so amusing. What the audiobook was explaining (and what I have experienced myself at different times during my life) is that sometimes that fight or flight response just won’t shut down even when there is no real threat anywhere in sight. For the person experiencing this, the threat is real and the danger imminent, even if the “threat” is something that exists only in memory or imagination.

Post-traumatic stress is a huge, debilitating example of this, and I am in NO way undermining what PTSD sufferers go through. It is absolute torture. But I do think that untold numbers of people also suffer from an overactive fight or flight response, albeit to a much lesser degree. We walk around perceiving threats that just aren’t there.

The threat of another person’s disapproval for instance. Or the threat of an opinion, belief, or worldview that is different from your own. The threat of being wrong. The threat of being exposed as a fraud. The threat of failure. The threat that if the world really knew who you were deep down, you would be condemned, damned, abandoned. The threat of a tiny, sort of cute little rodent that is smaller than your thumb.

The fact of the matter is that all of these threats aren’t actual threats at all. But that doesn’t necessarily stop them from feeling threatening. And when we feel threatened, we adopt a fight or flight response. When we feel constantly threatened, we constantly adopt a fight or flight response. And that is an excruciating, exhausting, and depressing way to live day in and day out.

Probably the best part of yoga in my mind is the calming effect it can have on an out-of-control fight or flight response. Please do not misunderstand me for a moment; I do not believe that yoga alone (or any modality ALONE) is some sort of cure for whatever ails you mentally or physically. And as I have already discussed in this previous blog post, yoga should ABSOLUTELY NOT replace whatever medical treatment and intervention may be called for (please do yourself a favor and RUN from any yoga teacher who starts dispensing advice like that).

But what yoga does well is provide a space for you to bring your whole self to the table, even that part of yourself that feels constantly threatened, the part that feels it must always remain on high alert. And then yoga gives you concrete, basic ways that you can reduce (maybe even re-wire?) your knee-jerk stress response. In so doing, yoga gives you some relief from the stress that stalks you. And a little relief can go a very long way.

The thing that initially drew me to yoga and the thing that draws me still is that relief. Maybe that doesn’t sound very deep or enlightened, but it’s the truth. Yoga gives me relief. It makes me feel better.

It’s probably just a coincidence that an old, dilapidated yoga mat infested with tiny rodents was the impetus for this post. But it’s a nice little metaphor anyway. Just like that mat, your yoga doesn’t need to be new or pretty. It can have folds and creases that hold all sorts of little beasts that scare and surprise you, that make you want to scream or laugh or cry.

Yoga can hold all of it. Yoga isn’t threatened by any of it. And because it isn’t threatened, yoga holds more options than just fight or flight.

Yoga gives you, the practitioner, the option to be where you are without feeling like you have to fight for your life or run from it.

And that, my friends, is a pretty huge deal.

That is liberating and life-changing.

That, in my mind at least, is yoga at its very best.

New Year

Photo by zero take on Unsplash

Happy New Year, everybody!

We are nearly a week into 2022 as of this writing, and when I sat down to write today, I started feeling stuck.

There is always so much pressure with anything related to starting a brand new year. New beginnings and new opportunities. Optimism trying to win over pessimism (at least for the first month or so). Turning over the proverbial new leaf and making all sorts of improbable resolutions.

When I was teaching yoga full time in New York City many years ago, New Year’s Day was always my most packed class of the year. It was full of students who had resolved to do more yoga in the New Year, and there was a palpable feeling of hopefulness and positivity in the air.

By the end of January, class numbers would always stabilize and return to a more typical number: a physical representation of many a New Year’s resolution falling by the wayside.

But January 1 was always my favorite day to teach, even though I knew that there were many students in the class I would likely never see again. In that moment, they were there, doing something good for themselves that they might not have done otherwise. That alone is so wonderful.

Nowadays, I no longer teach on New Year’s Day. I make merry with my family, and it is still one of my favorite days of the year.

But there is something about teaching those January 1 classes that I miss, especially on days like today when I am feeling a little stuck.

Those classes felt the opposite of stuck.

They felt joyful and hopeful. They felt like movement in the right direction.

As I approach 2022, I am going to try to tap in more to those feelings of joy, hope, and moving forward. And I’m not only going to tap into those feelings, I am going to actively seek them out.

Even when I’m feeling stuck. Even as I’m worn out by COVID and all the crap that comes with it. Even as I’m going about the mundane quotidian tasks of everyday life.

I am also going to pay more attention to this when I am practicing and teaching yoga.

I am going to imagine my whole body smiling softly from the inside out. I will picture myself becoming spacious. Supple enough to withstand shifting terrain, strong enough to move forward with courage and conviction.

And I wish these same things for you, as well.

Happy 2022, everybody. Let’s do this.

First and Last

In April of 2020, about a month after COVID shut everything down in the US, I turned forty.

It was a strange birthday for sure: in lockdown with my husband and kids, the world spinning totally off-kilter, death and uncertainty all around.

Ever true to the cliche, I was really not looking forward to the big 4-0 at all.

It wasn’t so much because of the significant number or the start of my downward slide on the other side of “the hill.”

It wasn’t because of wrinkles, gray hairs, or saggy flesh (those started for me long before my fortieth birthday anyway).

I was dreading 40 because it seemed like all of the big “firsts” of my life were over.

First kiss. First love. First job. First home. First child. First, first, first…

After forty, it seemed like I would be entering the land of lasts.

Last time seeing loved ones before they died.

Last time I would drop my child off at school before they went there on their own.

Last time my youngest would crawl in bed with me because she couldn’t sleep.

Last, Last, Last.

Of course there is a whole universe of experiences between firsts and lasts. But as I approached forty, it didn’t feel that way.

It was either/or. First or last. Alive or dead.

I had had a preview of this stark way of seeing things after the birth of my second child.

With my first daughter, everything was a first. First smile, first laugh. First word, first step. The world was happening for the very first time, and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen with her next.

But with my second daughter, it was different.

I knew that it was unlikely that I would have more kids after her, so everything felt like a last.

The last time I would nurse. The last time I would hold her in the baby carrier. The last time I would suck in that newborn smell.

I didn’t care so much about what would come next with her because I just wanted it all to slow down. I didn’t feel capable of facing so many lasts.

This kind of dualistic thinking, that things are black or white, first or last, good or bad, is pretty much the opposite of yoga.

Yoga tends to dwell in the land of gray. It is more neither/nor than either/or. It is a land of “yes, and…” It is a land of ambiguity and shifting terrain. In short, it is a land based more on the complexities of real life than overly simplified (but convenient) categories of first or last, right or wrong, good or bad.

Yoga constantly challenges us to come back to the present moment, to each inhale and each exhale. And if you really go deeply into that, you start to recognize that each moment is (and always will be) a first and a last at the very same time.

This is the first time I am taking in this very breath. And it is also the last.

This is the first time I am experiencing this particular moment in time and space. And it is also the last.

This is the first time that I am 41 years, 186 days, and 12 hours old. And it is also the last. And I almost certainly did the math wrong there, but who cares. You get the point.

Life is more than a grocery list of firsts and lasts.

It is all points in between.

And it is also points floating in space that fall nowhere on whatever measuring stick we happen to be using.

Life is full beyond measure in every direction infinitely.

We don’t need to cling to firsts or live in fear of lasts.

All of it is happening all of the time.

If we can just open our eyes, breathe into all of it, and not run away.



Want to practice yoga with me from anywhere in the world? Join me in my online Yoga-based anxiety management course, the 21-Day Calm Your Mind Challenge!

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Sign up for the 21-Day Calm Your Mind Challenge! Get a short basic yoga sequence emailed to your inbox daily with links to video instruction with yours truly. It is guaranteed to help you feel calmer in mind and body. And if it does not, I will happily offer a full refund, no questions asked. Sign up here.

Hear what one recent student of the challenge had to say:

“What I discovered was a really comprehensive plan, chock full of tools to help get there. There was a daily yoga sequence that was so gentle anyone could do it, which I truly learned to appreciate. As a teacher, Lauren’s cues throughout were on point for me. She has an overarching peacefulness about her that just feels very honest and genuine. The program is aptly called a “challenge” because there is (at least for me) a real challenge in showing up for yourself consistently for 21 days, even for 20 minutes a day. Today I’m not only calmer, but also feeling stronger and more in-tune with myself. Great experience, totally worth it.”–Phuong S.

Questions about the Challenge?

Shoot me an email at: Lauren@21DayCalmYourMindChallenge.com

The Newness of Things

Photo by Ardi Evans on Unsplash

Hello, dear reader!

It has been several weeks since my last post.

And good ole time, in all its gloriously elasticity, is playing one of its tricks on me again!

Somehow those several weeks feel more like months; like I inadvertently slipped into an entirely different calendar year without even noticing it.

But perhaps that is because in many ways it actually is an entirely different year from what it was last month!

Sure, it may still be 2021, but even just over the past fortnight, so much newness has occurred. 

My own family happens to be Greek Orthodox, and September 1st marks the Ecclesiastical New Year in the Greek church.

The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana, happened right after that at the beginning of this week.

And just yesterday morning, the academic new year began for both my daughters, who are entering 3rd and 6th grades.

I am also resuming my in-person group classes next week after breaking for summer, so in short, lots of stuff is starting up again.

Newness abounds!

And I have to admit: I am really ready for some newness.

Who in the world knows what it will bring, but it feels exciting and full of potential, at least in my world.

The fact of the matter of course is that newness (or at least the possibility of it) is always present, always available. Sometimes we just feel it more acutely for whatever reasons. 

Those reasons might come from an externally prescribed calendar date, seasonal or lunar cycles, or simply a phone call sharing some unexpected news.

Sometimes new beginnings are slow and deliberate, and sometimes they catch us completely off guard. 

Sometimes they are sparked by events happening in our external surroundings, and sometimes they come from within.

But whenever and however they happen, new beginnings are one of life’s most beautiful mysteries, at least in my book. Scary, yes. But beautiful.

At its best, yoga constantly offers up opportunities for new beginnings.

With its focused attention on the breath, it can allow you to experience each inhale as an opportunity to show up, be present, and embrace that singular moment that has never happened before since the beginning of time.

And each exhale lets you sink into that present moment, to fill it up and really live there even if just for a second.

Yoga can also give you the space to come to terms with whatever past events have brought you to the present moment, so that you can move forward into the future with greater clarity and awareness, releasing the weight of baggage you no longer need.

At its best, yoga itself is an opportunity.

The very first of the yoga sutras (the primary tenets of yoga recorded by the sage Patanjali in the 2nd century BC), “Atha yoga-anushasanam” says simply, “Now begins the study of yoga.”

And that isn’t just Patanjali trying to be a smartass by stating the completely obvious.

His most important emphasis is on the word NOW.

Right NOW is new.

Right NOW is an opportunity.

Right NOW is a chance for a new beginning even if it may not feel that way.

It doesn’t have to be New Year’s to be a new year.

We are gifted that opportunity every single day of our lives.

But it is up to each one of us to rise to the occasion.

To show up.

To begin.

Over and over and over again.

It is never too early or too late.

And thank God for that.



Want to practice yoga with me from anywhere in the world?

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Sign up for the 21-Day Calm Your Mind Challenge! Get a short basic yoga sequence emailed to your inbox daily with links to video instruction with yours truly. It is guaranteed to help you feel calmer in mind and body. And if it does not, I will happily offer a full refund, no questions asked. Sign up here.

Hear what one recent student of the challenge had to say:

“What I discovered was a really comprehensive plan, chock full of tools to help get there. There was a daily yoga sequence that was so gentle anyone could do it, which I truly learned to appreciate. As a teacher, Lauren’s cues throughout were on point for me. She has an overarching peacefulness about her that just feels very honest and genuine. The program is aptly called a “challenge” because there is (at least for me) a real challenge in showing up for yourself consistently for 21 days, even for 20 minutes a day. Today I’m not only calmer, but also feeling stronger and more in-tune with myself. Great experience, totally worth it.”–Phuong S.

Questions about the Challenge?

Shoot me an email at: Lauren@21DayCalmYourMindChallenge.com

Hope Is A Discipline

The Ashokan Reservoir
photo credit:  Livin’ Life With Lori 

Earlier in the week, my family and I took an impromptu day trip to the Catskill Mountains about an hour and a half north of where we live.

It was one of those beautiful end-of-summer days where it was still warm and sunny, but a hint of fall was most definitely in the air.

It was less humid than it had been in weeks, and there was just the faintest whisper of coolness beneath the warmth.

We took a walk by the Ashokan reservoir which supplies almost half of New York City’s drinking water, followed by an outdoor lunch in the sleepy Catskill town of Phoenicia.

All of it was lovely.

On our drive home, we took a winding, scenic route before getting on the New York Throughway. We passed houses of all sorts tucked in the hills, many of which bore various signs sprinkled throughout their yards.

Most of them had political messages with leanings in all directions: conservative, progressive, Democrat, Republican. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Truthfully, all of that has become white noise for me at this point.

But one sign in particular made me stop and catch my breath.

It was homemade, simply painted, no frills. All it read was:

Hope is a discipline.

I have thought about it over and over this past week, especially because of the constant barrage of world events that feel so…well…hopeless.

I guess I have always thought of hope as something that just happens. 

Sometimes you feel it, and sometimes you don’t. 

In this sense, experiencing hope is a pretty passive act.

It feels great when it’s around. But when it’s not? There really isn’t much you can do about it.

But what if feeling hope was in fact not passive?

What if we considered hope as something very active, a “discipline” as the sign suggests?

What if hope was something that we actually practiced instead of just passively waiting for it to either descend or not?

In yoga, the word “tapas” comes up a lot.

No, it does not refer to those delicious Spanish appetizers (although often I wish that it did).

In Sanskrit, the word “tapas” literally means “fire.” And in yoga, that fire is generally thought of as discipline. It is that burning inner conviction that motivates you to hit the mat and do your thing. Day after day after day.

I’ll be honest: I have a very short supply of tapas.

I lack discipline, especially when it comes to my own personal practice.

Too often I wait for the moment to descend where I really want to do my yoga before I actually get to it.

I am too passive about it, and therefore I miss out on many of its full benefits.

The same goes for hope as well.

Too often, I don’t actively practice hope. 

I wait for it to come to me rather than the other way around.

But what if I shifted my mindset to what the sign suggests? What if I practiced hope as a daily discipline? What if we all did?

What if we thought of hope not as some sort of naive, passive, childlike fantasy, but as a strong, fiery, empowering reality?

Something tells me we would be a lot better off, both individually and collectively.

So here is what I am going to do. 

I am going to actively practice hope throughout my day.

I’m not sure exactly what that will look like, but certainly bringing it into my yoga practice is a good place to start.

Hope means showing up.

Hope means not running away.

Hope means being dedicated to the present moment.

And without question, all of that is yoga.

Thank you to the person who put that sign in their yard.

I really needed to read it.

You are totally right.

Hope is a discipline.




Want to practice yoga with me from anywhere in the world?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is yoga-20086.jpg

Sign up for the 21-Day Calm Your Mind Challenge! Get a short basic yoga sequence emailed to your inbox daily with links to video instruction with yours truly. It is guaranteed to help you feel calmer in mind and body. And if it does not, I will happily offer a full refund, no questions asked. Sign up here.

Hear what one recent student of the challenge had to say:

“What I discovered was a really comprehensive plan, chock full of tools to help get there. There was a daily yoga sequence that was so gentle anyone could do it, which I truly learned to appreciate. As a teacher, Lauren’s cues throughout were on point for me. She has an overarching peacefulness about her that just feels very honest and genuine. The program is aptly called a “challenge” because there is (at least for me) a real challenge in showing up for yourself consistently for 21 days, even for 20 minutes a day. Today I’m not only calmer, but also feeling stronger and more in-tune with myself. Great experience, totally worth it.”–Phuong S.

Questions about the Challenge?

Shoot me an email at: Lauren@21DayCalmYourMindChallenge.com

Union

This weekend I did something wonderful; I attended the wedding of a longtime friend.

It was the first wedding I had been to in a decade.

Weddings, like so many other things in life, seem to happen in seasons.

In my twenties and early thirties, I was at weddings all the time.

But then that stopped, and baptisms and baby showers were more the thing. 

Lately, none of that has been happening, and I almost forgot how wonderful and how important the ritual celebrations surrounding these life events can be.

Watching my friend and her beautiful bride publicly commit not only to their love but to their union this weekend brought me to tears, as it did practically everyone in attendance.

Some of you may already know that the word “yoga” literally means “union.”

And it comes from the same root as the word “yoke,” as in to bind together as one.

Yoga is a bringing together of all the different parts of ourselves: our minds, our bodies, our spirits, our hearts.

And just like any strong marriage, it makes room for all parts of ourselves, even the ones we may not care for too much.

These parts will change and grow and evolve over time. And just like with marriage or any other relationship, they will have their ups and downs.

But the great news is, there is room for all of it.

Every single bit.

This weekend reminded me that we always have the opportunity to commit to ourselves.

And yoga is just one of the many containers through which we can do this.

We can commit to loving ourselves unconditionally; to remaining steadfast with ourselves in both sickness and health and everything in between.

We can commit to laughing and crying, dancing and celebrating.

We can commit to bearing witness to life’s huge events, as well as the small ones that happen every day.

Most of all, we can commit to love in all its forms. And the union that love brings not just into our own lives, but to the lives of everyone around us.

Thank you for reminding me of this, Aimee and Emma.

Thank you for letting me dance and cry and celebrate and bear witness.

Here’s to your union, now and always.



Want to practice yoga with me from anywhere in the world?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is yoga-20086.jpg

Sign up for the 21-Day Calm Your Mind Challenge! Get a short basic yoga sequence emailed to your inbox daily with links to video instruction with yours truly. It is guaranteed to help you feel calmer in mind and body. And if it does not, I will happily offer a full refund, no questions asked. Sign up here.

Hear what one recent student of the challenge had to say:

“What I discovered was a really comprehensive plan, chock full of tools to help get there. There was a daily yoga sequence that was so gentle anyone could do it, which I truly learned to appreciate. As a teacher, Lauren’s cues throughout were on point for me. She has an overarching peacefulness about her that just feels very honest and genuine. The program is aptly called a “challenge” because there is (at least for me) a real challenge in showing up for yourself consistently for 21 days, even for 20 minutes a day. Today I’m not only calmer, but also feeling stronger and more in-tune with myself. Great experience, totally worth it.”–Phuong S.

Questions about the Challenge?

Shoot me an email at: Lauren@21DayCalmYourMindChallenge.com

Being Born

This past Monday was June 21st. That day happens to be the summer solstice (aka the longest day of the year), and my youngest daughter’s birthday.

Eight years ago in 2013, she came into the world unexpectedly early and with a certain degree of complications.

Thankfully she is completely fine and got that way relatively quickly after her birth.

But this time of year certainly puts me in a state of mind that is hard to describe when I reflect on what all went down eight years ago.

It is a state where seemingly incompatible feelings bump shoulders and co-mingle: fear, joy, relief, uncertainty, desperation, and determination.

I find it a beautiful coincidence that her birthday fell on the longest day of the year, the day with the most amount of light. And in 2013, it also coincided with a supermoon, when the full moon was so close to earth that it looked impossibly huge.

June 21 marks the halfway point of the year in terms of light. After that, the earth slowly contracts towards a shorter day until December 21, when the cycle starts all over again.

I sometimes think of this yearly cycle in terms of the breath (you know, since I’m a yoga teacher and all…we think of EVERYTHING in terms of breath! Could I be more predictable?) 

It’s like from December 21-June 21st the world is taking a deep inhale, filling up with more and more light each day. Then on June 21st it peaks, like that moment of pause at the top of an inhale. From there it starts that passive contraction of the breath out until it empties completely and pauses at the bottom of the exhale on December 21st.

And of course that pause begets another inhale, and on and on we cycle through the end of time.

Since everything we do in yoga is so connected to the breath, yoga offers a great opportunity to align ourselves with the natural and inevitable flow of time.

And really, you don’t need to be doing yoga to align yourself with this. It’s just that yoga harps on the breath so much that it makes it easier to remember to do it!

On the breath in, we too are expanding, filling up, and letting in. And on the breath out, we too are contracting, emptying, letting go.

And when you boil things down to their most essential, this pretty much sums up everything we do (and will do) for our entire lives.

If you buy into this breath/year metaphor, then right now (June 26th as of this writing), we are somewhere near the pause between inhale and exhale. 

And so much can happen during moments of pause.

We can see things a little more clearly.

We can be a little less reactive.

We can be still.

I am going to do my best to really experience this pause. To let myself dwell in it and explore. 

And I heartily encourage you to do the same.

Who knows? 

We might even experience a miracle there.

Like giving birth.

Like being born.


Want to practice yoga with me from anywhere in the world?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is yoga-20086.jpg

Sign up for the 21-Day Calm Your Mind Challenge! Get a short basic yoga sequence emailed to your inbox daily with links to video instruction with yours truly. It is guaranteed to help you feel calmer in mind and body. And if it does not, I will happily offer a full refund, no questions asked. Sign up here.

Hear what one recent student of the challenge had to say:

“What I discovered was a really comprehensive plan, chock full of tools to help get there. There was a daily yoga sequence that was so gentle anyone could do it, which I truly learned to appreciate. As a teacher, Lauren’s cues throughout were on point for me. She has an overarching peacefulness about her that just feels very honest and genuine. The program is aptly called a “challenge” because there is (at least for me) a real challenge in showing up for yourself consistently for 21 days, even for 20 minutes a day. Today I’m not only calmer, but also feeling stronger and more in-tune with myself. Great experience, totally worth it.”–Phuong S.



Azaleas

Flame Azaleas in my front yard

When is the last time that you changed your mind about something?

I don’t mean something trivial like changing your order at a restaurant or changing an outfit to better reflect your mood.

I mean changing your mind about something you believe to be true, something that goes deeper than the surface.

For me, my most recent change of mind had to do with azaleas. I realize that may sound weird or insignificant, but hear me out.

For as long as I can remember, I have never liked azaleas. As a child growing up in Tennessee, we had a few azalea bushes outside my home. They were the standard pink variety you see all over the place, and for some reason I disliked them intensely. 

Even when healthy and watered, the azaleas always looked dry and thirsty to me. And they seemed to be perpetually faded, even in full bloom. 

What made it worse was that those azaleas seemed to me like they had the capacity to be beautiful, but they always fell short. They just could never seem to meet their full flower potential. It would not be an exaggeration to say those azaleas made me sad, and at times even angry.

So I developed a personal “truth” that I held onto deeply: I hate azaleas.

Now if I was going to psychoanalyze why a flower elicited such strong feelings in me as a kid, I might venture to say that I saw myself in these azaleas. Never quite hitting the mark, quenching my thirst, or achieving a bright enough bloom.

But maybe that isn’t the case at all. Maybe I just really did not like them.

Recently, however, I completely changed my mind about azaleas.

When my family and I left New York City two years ago, we moved into a home previously owned by an avid gardener who had planted a large azalea bush right in the middle of the front yard.

When we moved into our new home, it was winter, and nothing was in bloom. I couldn’t even tell that the bush was an azalea until months later into spring.

As it slowly started to bud, I noticed that it seemed different from the azaleas of my youth. It was robust in a way that the ones I grew up with were not.

And when it blossomed? I was completely and utterly blown away by its beauty.

It blossomed with the brightest orange flowers I have ever seen. Before that, I didn’t even know that azaleas came in orange. That bush was the opposite of anything I had ever perceived as “azalea.”

I now know that it is a variety called a “flame azalea,” which is the perfect description. It is like fire hovering over a bed of bright green.

But why does any of this matter? It’s just a plant after all. And people’s tastes always change over time.

But this was different. 

Something I had always thought of as ugly was suddenly beautiful.

Something I had grown up despising was now something that I loved.

I had changed my mind about azaleas.

Changing your mind about long held beliefs is never an easy task nor is it a quick one.

I would venture a guess that many of us live out our entire adult lives without actually changing our minds about anything substantial. 

Many of us live in a fixed state of mind in terms of our strongly held beliefs. And sometimes that’s not entirely a bad thing. It can keep us from being pulled off-center or losing our integrity. It gives us something concrete to hold onto. 

But if it is not kept in check, it also holds us back from our own growth and self-development. Changing your mind about significant things feels too scary, like becoming untethered to something that was always there before. Like being wrong or admitting defeat. Like leaving the safety of the old for the precariousness of something new.

Of course we need to be strong in our beliefs, but we also need to be flexible.

Having the courage to change your mind about something is a skill that requires both these qualities: strength and flexibility.

In yoga, we are perpetually trying to balance strength and flexibility. In each pose, we try to stay both strong and soft simultaneously. We ground down into the floor as much as we reach for the sky. We try to keep a strong and focused mind as well as a soft and open one. We try to balance making the practice happen with letting it happen. 

And the more we practice doing this, it seeps into our daily lives. We can see what is around us with eyes that are present, not just stuck in mental patterns we developed in our past.

We can see beauty where we always thought it was lacking. 

We can be open to new ideas that propel us into becoming more and more ourselves each day.

Perhaps most importantly, we can allow ourselves the capacity to change, unafraid of losing ourselves along the way.

Changing your mind is powerful, and it is humbling.

It definitely is not an easy thing to do.

But it might lead you to incredible things.

You just might discovera type of beauty that you had no inkling of before.

You might even find that something you once hated, you now fiercely love.

What could possibly be better than that?

Second Snow

These days the only in-person group yoga classes I am teaching happen outside.

And I absolutely love it.

One of the things I love is how it has made me so much more aware of seasonal changes, weather shifts, and how each day truly is unique from any other.

Generally, when we think about the year, we do so in terms of 4 seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. But something I am keenly aware of right now is the huge number of little micro-seasons between all of them.

I love thinking of things in terms of micro-seasons because somehow it seems truer, less reductive, and more dynamic than fitting all those shifts into four neat time frames. So much happens in the transitions between seasons, and if we don’t pay attention, we miss them all together.

Often, even within a single hour-long class, there are starkly obvious micro-shifts between how brightly the sun is shining, how cool or warm it is, and how breezy or still the air may be. Sometimes those shifts are not so obvious, but we can still feel them if we pay close enough attention.

One of my personal favorite micro-seasons happens in my backyard every year about halfway through spring. I like to call it “second snow”

Second snow is when the cherry blossoms have peaked and slowly start to wilt and eventually fall from the trees all together. The wind generally speeds this up, and when the blossoms start to swirl and fall in earnest, it is like soft pink snow flurries falling from the sky.

It is absolutely beautiful.

For a brief period, the petals cover the ground so that you can’t even see the grass below. They are soft underfoot, and it feels like you are walking on rose petals.

But it is such a fleeting, transitional period that you can miss it entirely if you don’t pay attention. 

And paying attention does not always happen easily.

One of the things I love most about yoga is that it asks you to pay attention to all of it. It asks you to look at your practice (and your life) not just in terms of discrete parts, but how all those parts relate, shift, and change over time. 

In physical terms, this means that a yoga sequence is not just about the poses themselves but about the transitions between them (which themselves are made up of even smaller micro-transitions).

And the point is to experience all of it; to see the big picture as well as the details.

Stated differently, yoga asks us to hone our vision at the same time it asks us to widen it, which is something we need to do in practically every area of our lives. Yoga just gives us a nice little container in which to practice building that skill.

So the next time you practice yoga, I challenge you to pay attention to all the in-between parts, the micro-shifts, the parts we often skip over or barely see at all.

Because all of it is important. All of it is you. All of it is yoga.


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Sign up for the 21-Day Calm Your Mind Challenge! Get a short basic yoga sequence emailed to your inbox daily with links to video instruction with yours truly. It is guaranteed to help you feel calmer in mind and body. And if it does not, I will happily offer a full refund, no questions asked. Sign up here.

Hear what one recent student of the challenge had to say:

“What I discovered was a really comprehensive plan, chock full of tools to help get there. There was a daily yoga sequence that was so gentle anyone could do it, which I truly learned to appreciate. As a teacher, Lauren’s cues throughout were on point for me. She has an overarching peacefulness about her that just feels very honest and genuine. The program is aptly called a “challenge” because there is (at least for me) a real challenge in showing up for yourself consistently for 21 days, even for 20 minutes a day. Today I’m not only calmer, but also feeling stronger and more in-tune with myself. Great experience, totally worth it.”–Phuong S.

Change

8 day old quail starting to feather out

I have a really hard time with change.

And I’m not talking about the kind that jingles in your pocket. I’m talking about the real deal, life-can-change-on-a-dime type of change.

Some days, it feels like that is all this last year has been. One constant adjustment after another in a seemingly endless stream of “new normals.” Some days, it feels impossible to hang on to anything.

When I’m feeling this way, I often look to my animals for some reprieve. Lately, it has been the quail we hatched in our incubator that are now all of ten days old.

Not only are they unbelievably cute, they change practically right before your eyes. The picture at the beginning of this post was taken when they were only 8 days old, and already you can see that they are losing their baby chick fuzz and are starting to feather out into the mature birds they will become. It’s like they have hit some funny version of quail puberty. It’s awkward and adorable.

We have already had to change their brooder (their little indoor home before they are old enough to live in a coop outside) because they started jumping high enough to jump completely out.

Did you know that quail jump? I didn’t. Apparently, they have a very sensitive startle reflex, and whenever they are surprised (which is often), they shoot straight up into the air. It provides great comic relief when things get too heavy around here.

But the thing I am focused on now is how quickly they change and how utterly ok with it they are.

Change is their nature. And they don’t waste one ounce of energy trying to resist it. Change is their evolutionary instinct, and it is really beautiful to behold.

It reminds me that change is really the nature of everything, including ourselves. Resisting change as it unfolds is as futile as trying to house-train a quail to be so calm that it won’t ever jump out of its brooder. You just can’t do it no matter how hard you try.

One of the things I’m trying to do in my yoga right now is to let myself soften into change. And I mean that in a very literal sense. I literally try to soften and relax my body into my yoga sequence as it changes from pose to pose. I try to soften my jaw and my face as my breath changes from inhale to exhale. I try to soften into the ground beneath me, even when it feels like the ground is falling out from under me. And then in the final resting pose of savasana, I try to imagine softening and dropping down so completely that I become totally non-resistant.

That’s not to say that it always works. But at least I’m trying. And it does help. Just like watching my quail feather out and outgrow their cozy home.

I hope that you are weathering the change of the past year in a way that works for you.

I hope that you are able to soften wherever you can, and most especially, I hope you are able stay soft towards yourself. The world needs that right now. And each on of us deserves that softness.


Want to practice with me? Sign up for the 21-Day Calm Your Mind Challenge! Get a short basic yoga sequence emailed to your inbox daily with links to video instruction with yours truly. It is guaranteed to help you feel calmer in mind and body. And if it does not, I will happily offer a full refund, no questions asked. Sign up here.

“What I discovered was a really comprehensive plan, chock full of tools to help get there. There was a daily yoga sequence that was so gentle anyone could do it, which I truly learned to appreciate. As a teacher, Lauren’s cues throughout were on point for me. She has an overarching peacefulness about her that just feels very honest and genuine. The program is aptly called a “challenge” because there is (at least for me) a real challenge in showing up for yourself consistently for 21 days, even for 20 minutes a day. Today I’m not only calmer, but also feeling stronger and more in-tune with myself. Great experience, totally worth it.”–Phuong S.