At first glance, you may look at the above picture and believe that I am lost in a powerful moment of prayer, breathwork, or meditation, but I am here to assure you that this is not at all the case. In fact, when this picture was snapped unbeknownst to me, I was in the middle of the ocean on a beautiful, sunny day, skin kissed by a warm breeze, in the throes of the most terrifying and life-altering panic attack I have ever experienced in my entire existence. In fact, the story I am about to share with you was quite honestly one of the most vulnerable and powerful moments of my entire life.
My weekend adventure immersing myself in the warm, calming flow, and bold, brilliant colors of the middle of the Atlantic ocean started out amazingly well. As my best friend and I jumped into the water with our masks and snorkels, I was instantly engulfed in the beauty and mystery of the coral reef below me. I spent forty-five fascinating minutes exploring before we decided to head back to the boat, take off our gear, and go for an unencumbered swim. I removed my flippers and mask, ran to the back of the boat, and jumped right into the crystal clear water. I remember a fleeting thought entering my consciousness…”The world is SO big and I feel so small right now.” and all of a sudden I was gripped by panic. My body became instantly cold and numb as waves of fear washed from my head all the way down through my toes. I felt as though I couldn’t breathe, my heart racing a million miles per minute. I couldn’t get out fast enough and when I did, it took every effort to suck in enough air to prevent me from passing out. With forty other people milling about, I’m sure you can imagine that it wasn’t exactly helping the onset of panic. As I sat on the front of the boat trying desperately to calm myself down, a realization hit me that I was completely vulnerable out here. If I was indeed dying in this moment (as my mind kept assuring me that I was), there was legitimately nothing I could do about it.
I made my way cautiously back to my seat and something of a miracle happened then. As I lifted my gaze to focus on the horizon, my eyes caught those of a woman across from me who was probably in her late 50’s, early 60’s. She mouthed, “Are you okay?” to me, and my usually stoic composure crumbled as I mouthed back, “No.” Without hesitation, this woman crossed the deck, sat down next to me, and swept me up in her arms. She softly reminded me to breathe and to close my eyes as she rocked me back and forth and wrapped me up in her towel. Another woman brought me water, and yet another encouraged me to eat a small snack. At first, my typical self-preservation kicked in and I resisted the temptation to curl into the unknown comfort of this mystery woman, but gradually, I felt myself allow her to draw me in and I rested my head on her shoulder as she continued to squeeze me close. This amazingly beautiful woman held me like this for a full 45-minute boat ride, never even knowing my name or anything about me…and I allowed myself in that moment to let go of all of my defenses and be taken care of.
As we neared shore and I began to feel more at ease, I sat up a little straighter and looked around me. One by one, every woman on the boat locked her gaze with me and nodded, almost as though they, too, were breathing easier for me. I was later informed by my best friend that the moment my body curled into this woman who had been holding me, each woman on the boat sat up straighter and closed their eyes, taking deep, methodical breaths. She said it was the most incredible thing she had ever seen. I thanked my amazing Angel Mama (who I found out was named Anne), and although she humbly accepted the gratitude, I don’t truly know if she understands what she did for me. I don’t know that any of those women do. I am notoriously a person who takes care of herself and others. Rarely do I allow myself the opportunity to be truly nurtured, particularly by strangers, but these beautiful women from all over the world who spoke probably six languages between them, came together in a stoic show of support to provide a safe container for me to experience the very real terror and weakness that I was feeling. I don’t want to exclude the men here either, all of whom tapped into their own Goddess energy and supported me by offering a smile, a squeeze as I walked off the boat, or as far as Anne’s husband goes, his wife.
When we got back to my car, I let myself cry harder than I’ve cried in a long time. We often move through life forgetting that we need others to support us in our moments of weakness, maybe even sometimes feeling like we don’t deserve to be supported. When we can cross over those self-imposed blocks, we open to possibility and allow Universal love to flow to us and even through us. The truth is, it is always there, even when we don’t see it, and the scary thing is that if we let our fear of looking weak or vulnerable become greater than our need for love and connection, we may stand to miss out on the incredible freedom and power it can bring into our lives.
What I experienced this weekend was the power of love, the power of a group of women working toward a common goal, the power of the Warrior Goddess energy that exists within each of us regardless of our sex, and the power of treating others as though they are not separate. At the base of it all, we are all humans, needing, seeking, and desiring love, acceptance, and the right to be ourselves at any given moment. These women and men gave me a gift that I will work hard to pass on to others in any way that I can. We often have no idea how great of an impact our small acts of kindness might have on another person. As far as Anne and the other passengers on that boat go, they have unknowingly helped to heal some long-existing wounds that have prevented me from fully allowing myself to become close to others, females in particular. They have helped to birth a better version of myself and have encouraged me to pass that feeling along. Hopefully, this story inspires you to do the same. Let your Warrior Goddess light shine bright…the world needs it so badly right now and always.
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I have spent the majority of my life feeling like it was my job to help everybody and fix their problems, even if at my own expense. This characteristic has not only gained me many interesting, if not sarcastic, nicknames over the years, but also several wounded wild birds, a beakless parakeet named Shaq, a one-eyed cat, a hedgehog, a cross-eyed kitten, an abandoned iguana and the somewhat adorable need to peel acorns for the squirrels as a small child.
As I grew up, these tendencies followed me into most of my friendships and relationships. I refused to see peoples negativity, and instead always chose to focus on the good things hidden deep underneath of the surface. I felt, in many ways, that it was a gift that I had been given, and wore my compassion proudly, like a badge of honor. Although there is certainly nothing wrong with compassion, what I failed to realize in my youth, is that without my own boundaries in place, I was much more likely to end up hurt and confused without a clear understanding why.
Brene Brown said that “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” Over the past few years, I have done a lot of deep digging, not only to extricate the source of this need to save everybody but also to start to find healthier ways that I could use this gift of compassion to benefit others without beating myself up in the process. As I have looked back through the scenarios mentioned in the first paragraphs, I began to notice that in many of these instances, my compassion backfired. The birds would inevitably fly out of their shoebox nests in the middle of the night and scare the crap out of me, causing a whole-house effort to catch them and re-release them into the wild. The parakeet constantly bit at me with it’s half-beak as I tried to convince it to climb on my hand, the one-eyed cat hated me, the hedgehog was terrified of me, the iguana tore my screened-in patio without remorse (and with no intention of paying for it when my lease ended) and the squirrels were probably bored as all Hell all throughout the winter due to my odd compulsion. I began to realize that:
- The need to save everybody/thing (without them asking) began from a place of selfishness. By saving others, I was able to make myself feel better.
- 99% of the time, I was putting in my two cents where it wasn’t necessarily solicited.
- By being irrevocably there for others, no matter how many times or in what ways they hurt me, I was actually hurting us both by supporting their negative behavior and therefore, discouraging their growth.
- That there are other, more positive ways to be present for people (and animals) through their times of struggles.
- By giving my energy away to those who would rather do without it, I wasn’t saving any of that love and compassion for those around me who really did want it.
I set off to find balance, and I am just now at a place where I feel like it’s starting to settle in. Of course, I want to remain open and compassionate to others who need it, but I have also begun to put boundaries into place that are unshakeable. I’m realizing that to be supportive does not mean dealing with other people’s abuse or negativity. It means living from a place of good intention and teaching others to shine out the brightness that they have within them…IF they want to be taught.
I have made a few very hard decisions in the past months, some of which, unfortunately, have caused me to close the door on relationships that have proven to be toxic to me in this moment, with the promise that if/when they choose to get healthy in their own boundaries, I will gladly reconvene. I feel freer, lighter and more alive, not being weighed down by the energy of trying to save somebody who doesn’t want to save him/herself. I think there is a misguided, yet well-intentioned belief in Spirituality (of all faiths) that in order to be “good” you must be a doormat, but that is not true. You do good by teaching the weak to be strong, by teaching the sad to find their happiness, by teaching the poor to focus on all the things they have to feel rich about and yes, by searching for the good in everybody, even when they can’t see it for themselves. The best way you can do that is to be a living example of strength, happiness, richness, and kindness and by putting up boundaries that teach other people how to treat you, with the unspoken understanding that they can teach others how to treat them as well. It doesn’t mean that we have to turn our backs on people the first time they hurt us, but it does mean having open and honest conversations about how we are feeling when we have been hurt to avoid the same thing happening throughout the course of our relationships.
Just like everything else, our boundaries or lack thereof are a byproduct of the beliefs we have picked up along the way and what we have come to “know” about ourselves and our roles. This doesn’t mean you are destined to be the doormat forever. It means that right now, in this very moment, you are being given an opportunity to create healthier and happier boundaries within your existing relationships. Start teaching others how to treat you now, and you may be surprised to find that you begin to attract much more positivity, love, joy, and honesty into your life. Cheers to that!
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In Yoga Teacher Training, we are taught that opening up to grace is an integral part of our practice. It’s that moment in a yoga class where your teacher is instructing you to settle into the space around you, let go of thoughts, worries and to-do lists that might be sabotaging your relaxation, and let yourself become present and aware so that you can receive your yoga practice. In a dimly lit studio, sprawled out on your mat, with no disturbances other than the gentle sound of you and your neighbors breathing, soft music playing in the background of your thoughts, this can be a relatively easy and safe space to do just that…to completely let go. After all, that’s why you are there in the first place, right? What happens, though, when you’re not on your mat? Opening to grace feels a lot more difficult to do when you are in the throes of your day to day activities, children arguing in the background, a pile of bills arriving in the mail, stacks of paperwork to get through at the office, a lawn to mow, and the mountain of laundry spilling out of your clothes hamper staring at you every time you enter your room. However, these are the times when opening to grace is absolutely the most important.
Grace is defined by dictionary.com as “simple elegance or refinement of movement”, but to me, it is so much more than that. It is a willingness to surrender to the truth that we are each going through exactly the things that will help us to become the best versions of ourselves, even (especially) in the moments where it feels completely the opposite. It is the ability to find strength in our struggles and to participate fully and completely in all aspects of our lives, good, bad, scary, exciting, or otherwise. It is the knowledge that our perception of what is happening in our lives is so much more important than the situations themselves, because the situations are impermanent. It is the power to stand strong through the storms, holding firm to the knowledge that calmer waters are ahead of us and that there is an important lesson for our soul within each and every moment. How amazing would it feel to bring the same peace, calm and quiet that you find on your mat, or out in nature, or in your bath (or whatever it is that you do to connect to this space) into the daily situations that are a natural part of life? Well, you can, which is pretty good news.
Take a minute to inventory what’s going on in your life that’s stressing you out or causing worry or fear. Write it all down. Read it back to yourself without any judgement. Instead, maybe you can find a little curiosity. What is your soul trying to help you to learn by these difficult situations? For most of us, our difficulties often become repeating patterns, causing us to feel like something is wrong with us or that we are just destined to always have this particular issue in our lives, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. These moments that challenge us are opportunities for us to get know ourselves better. For example, if you are somebody who is constantly struggling financially and worried about how to pay the bills, this might be your soul telling you that your job is not in alignment with what you really want. It may also be an indication that you have some limiting beliefs around money that need to be acknowledged and explored so that prosperous energy feels welcome to flow into your life. If you find yourself struggling with relationship after relationship, perhaps it is your soul trying to urge you to look in a different place, or to learn to love yourself first so that you can openly receive true love back. Maybe it is an indication that you subconsciously don’t feel worthy of love and so you are inadvertently pushing it away.
Remember, we attract the energy that we put out…like attracts like. Therefore, it’s not what we WISH we believed or what we WANT to believe, but the actual beliefs stored deep, down within us, that are shaping our realities. It can be scary to dig down and unearth them, but consider for a moment, a diamond. My dear friend and colleague, Amy Lombardo, put this in such great perspective for me. Diamonds are formed way down in the Earth’s mantle (about 100 miles deep), and start as chunks of coal. It takes a tremendous amount of heat and pressure to create this sparkly gem, but once the work has occurred, the diamond is pushed to the surface naturally for all to enjoy. Your thoughts are like these diamonds. YOU have that same sparkly gem deep within in you, just waiting to be exposed to the heat so that it can emerge and shine brightly out to the world. When you can accept that knowledge and open to grace, knowing that you have a deep well of untapped potential within you and the power to change your reality, the world opens back to you. Your sparkly gems are naturally pushed to the surface and the Universe responds by shining back.
Where in this very moment can you open yourself to grace? Where can you replace fear with curiosity, and hopefully learn something about yourself through the process? Start right now. The more that you practice this the easier it becomes. Opening to grace is not something that needs to be confined to your yoga mat. It is accessible in each and every moment to help you come back to center, find your calm and elevate yourself towards all of the possibility just waiting to be discovered within you!
We were a few weeks into my Yoga Teacher Training, the whole lot of us shimmying around periodically on mats and blankets and bolsters in an effort to bring feeling back into our asses. It felt like the 10-hour long Saturdays, most of them spent sitting on the studio floor, were starting to wear my sit bones down to bloody stumps, but there was literally NOWHERE I would have rather been. I loved reading, listening and writing about this amazing, potentially 10,000 year old tradition. I loved deciphering the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutras. I loved bending my body into shapes I didn’t know existed and challenging it in ways I never would have thought to do so. Most of all, I loved experimenting with all of the exercises that forced me to experience the mind, body, breath connection ingrained within us all. Learning about the ways that our bodies hold our past experiences and how this energy gets trapped within us…I was hooked. It was this night, sitting in this cozy studio among my fellow seekers, fully engrossed in listening to my teacher, Scott Feinberg, that he said the three words that I have revisited time and time again since, that truly changed my life. “Own Your Bigness!”
I had spent the past 15 years or so struggling to find my place, dealing with divorced parents, a tragic accident at a young age, a move to Florida, several abusive relationships, a bumpy ride with recreational drugs, and then the transitions into adulthood as I got married, bought a home and had two children. I struggled with motherhood, constantly questioning my right to these two amazing souls who had come to me. I found myself quieter, more withdrawn and really fighting to maintain my self esteem. I battled with depression on and off, and only began to remedy it when I found yoga. For whatever reason, as I sat here this Saturday, these three words struck a nerve in me like nothing else ever had. My bigness? Shit, did I have any of that left? I know I used to have bigness. I used to own the crap out of it! Where did it go and was it really, as he was suggesting, possible to get it back just by owning it? How does one go about owning their bigness and if there’s a course on it…where the hell do I sign up?
I began to use these words as my mantra, repeating them to myself over and over and over again every single time I was faced with a challenge. “Own it, Jillian. Own your bigness. Nobody else is going to own it for you.” At first it felt a little fake and forced, but the more I said it, the more it grew inside of me. It continued to blossom through the rest of my training until it was REALLY put to the test the day I taught my first real yoga class. I must have said that phrase in my head 400 million times as I stood outside the studio door trying to catch my breath and not faint in front of my students. I thought for certain I would throw up or lose my words or die of embarrassment as I crossed the threshold and took my place at the front of the class. Go figure, I actually survived that day and have gone on to enjoy teaching. Can you believe it? I couldn’t even fathom it at the time.
So, why am I telling you all of this? Well, these three words started a new pattern in my head…a new way of thinking, which has led to a whole new way of life for me. These three words have allowed me to continue on my path and have moved me in the direction I’m pointed now, life coaching with others to teach them how to break down their own thought patterns and create something new and fresh and beautiful, beyond their past experiences. These three words have taught me that being our own biggest cheerleader is the most important and heartfelt gift we can give, not only to ourselves, but to those around us. When we can learn to allow ourselves to own our own bigness…no, not just allow…INSIST that we do it, we are offering our best self to those around us as well. Suddenly our limitations start to fall away as we connect to this powerhouse of energy, love, possibility and bravery within us. The coolest part is that we ALL have it. It’s not limited to the super rich or mega popular or the extremely good looking. It’s only limited to us if we allow it to be.
The best part about all of this for me? Well, I’ve gotten to pair up my love of inspiring this excitement and truth in others with my love for the mind, body, breath connection. Working with the Chakra system (the main energy centers in the body where we store emotions and experiences), I have been able to use a 12-week program written by my teacher, Amy Lombardo, to help my clients navigate the areas in their own lives where they may not be owning their bigness. I have watched transformation after beautiful transformation. I have witnessed intense releases of past hurts and that moment where something becomes fully clear within you. I have seen my clients grow beyond their own limitations and far exceed their own assumptions of what they were capable of. It has been beautiful, liberating, humbling and eye opening for me, and keeps me a student even as I progress on my path as a teacher. It seems that just at that moment where I’m starting to doubt my own bigness again, I watch something amazing happen and I am reminded of all that is possible when we believe in ourselves. If you had asked me once what I thought I would be doing for a living, I never could have foreseen this, and I couldn’t ask for more.
So teach the class, stand up and tell that idea you think is too stupid to share, apply for the job you want, take a leap of faith, ask him/her out on a date…and BELIEVE in yourself. Own your bigness, because nobody else can do it for you.
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