Perhaps you’ve heard of “Pavlov’s Dogs”, which was named after the Russian scientist, Ivan Pavlov, who won the Nobel Prize for his theory of “Classical Conditioning”. Twenty years after winning his Nobel Prize he stumbled across another discovery that didn’t get as much publicity, but I find equally fascinating called “Inescapable Shock*”. Inescapable shock is “a physical condition in which the organism cannot do anything to affect the inevitable.” Meaning, the body desires to react in a certain way, but the circumstances prevent that from happening.
Pavlov kept all of his test dogs in a kennel in his laboratory that was located right next to a river. After a bad storm one night, the river overflowed causing a huge flood in the laboratory threatening the lives of the dogs who were locked in their kennels. (Luckily, none were killed.) The next morning when Pavlov and his associates checked on the dogs, they noticed a distinct difference in the dog’s behaviors. The once friendly and playful dogs were now either aggressive or despondent. His discovery was: when the water came rushing in, the dog’s fight or flight response kicked in (the fight or flight hormones send signals to the muscles commanding them into action); however, since the dogs were in cages and had nowhere to go, their systems went into overload. Pavlov wrote*, “a collision between two contrary processes: one of excitation (action) and the other of inhibition (caged), which were difficult to accommodate simultaneously…causing a breakdown of equilibrium.”
Taking it a step further, in a study done with rats, they found that those who previously experienced inescapable shock are less likely to react (or are rendered powerless) when faced with a repeat of trauma-stimulation.
It’s as if their fight or flight button broke. Read more
In 2016, I was blindsided by the results of our presidential election, but my black friends weren’t. As I watched the SNL skit where Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle were making fun of their white friends for being shocked by the results of the election, I felt a little defensive and ashamed knowing it was me they were mocking. Having studied the Inner Shadow for the last 11 years I know that when defensiveness and shame appear, it’s an indicator that a Shadow is lurking close by. So, I decided to do some digging.
I sat down with a couple of my black friends and talked to them about their experiences. I heard stories that made me furious. They were very generous with their time and insight, but I quickly realized how tired they were of having to explain their experience one more time, to one more white person. So, I turned to authors like James Baldwin and Audre Lorde. I watched civil rights documentaries and listened to the civil discourse on TV and talk shows hosted by black people. I read, consumed and listened as actively as I could. I stopped sharing my opinion and opened my ears to their voices. I was humbled by my ignorance.
Want to learn a little something about yourself? Try this exercise.
1. Grab a pen and paper and make two columns on the paper.
2. Bring your best friend to mind. In the first column make a list of all the traits you love about this person.
3. Now, think of someone who gets on your nerves. In the second column write a list of all of the traits that drive you crazy about this person.
4. Hand the paper to a trusted partner and have them slowly read each trait to you starting with the words, “You are (trait)”. To let it sink in, make sure they pause after each one. Close your eyes and listen to their words. Pay attention to how it feels to hear them call you that trait. Notice which ones you reject or resist and which ones you accept or are neutral about.
The week California’s shelter-in-place order went into effect I watched a business I spent the last four years of my life building evaporate right before my eyes (I have since recovered it, thank you!). One week I was contemplating expansion and the next I had no business to speak of. Stories of scarcity ran rampant in my mind. I went to the farthest place of ruin in my imagination, “If we have to, Luna and I can live out of my car at the beach until I can figure out my next move.” Picturing Luna and I crammed into my car with my massive collection of books and her over-sized, over-priced dog-pillow made me laugh out loud. Never did it cross my mind that there were other options between where I am now and becoming a vagabond on the street. My story has always been: I go-it-alone.
Ooooowwweee I have been such a cranky pants today!! Today marks week 5 of lock down for me. (At least now I know what my capacity is!)
I taught a class this morning and several times during it I had to fight the urge to sit up and say, “You know what, guys? I can’t do this. Someone else has to take the reigns today. I’m gonna crawl back in bed and wait for tomorrow to come.” Instead, I powered through it. That is usually what I do: I power through. In my line of work I have a responsibility to NOT bring “my stuff” to the table. Read more
“Study thy self to discover thy Self.” ~Yoga Sutras
In ancient yogic text when the word “self” is written with a lowercase “s” it is referring to what the Buddhists call our “small mind”, most commonly known as our ego level. The small mind makes up false stories and is the place where judgment and criticism reside.
When the word “Self” is written with a capital “S” it implies our true nature, or divine self—what the Buddhists call the “Big Mind”. Our mental stories of self (small mind) get in the way of connection to Self (Big Mind).
In order to unblock our connection to the Big Mind we must first realize the stories the small mind is telling. In doing so, we expand our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.
Essentially, we get out of our own way. Read more
I absolutely love this photo. A few months ago I posted it in the entranceway to one of the yoga studios where I teach. It sits at eye level directly across from the bench where people sit down to take off their shoes. I love the chuckle of familiarity that flashes across people’s face when they see it. There is a certain point in our lives when we realize that the only thing getting in our way is us. Even though we understand that theoretically, it can still be hard to see exactly how we are blocking ourselves from the things we desire.
We all have stories we tell about ourselves. Often times, these stories represent a limited view of who we really are. They get in the way of us having true intimacy, our dream job, the ability to speak our heart’s truth, or to know what step to take next in our life’s journey.
I have been road-blocked by “the story of me” many times. My story never gave me credit for how truly powerful I am. It held me back from entering relationships with people that really wanted to show up for me, but I wasn’t able to show up for them because my story told me I wasn’t worthy. That same story kept me in relationships with people who didn’t deserve a morsel of my time. Read more
Have you ever worked with a yoga teacher one-on-one? I was about fifteen years into my yoga practice the first time I did. I loved my group classes, but felt ready to take my practice to the next level. I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant for me, but I wanted to know more than what the teacher could offer me with 30 other people in the room.
I have one leg that is significantly shorter than the other. What that means for me in poses like bridge is that the foot of my shorter leg stands closer to my body than the one of my longer leg. If I bring my feet together–as exampled in this link–the hip of my shorter leg droops down, because I have to reach to get my short leg to align with the foot of my long one. It was during a private session with my teacher that we discovered this imbalance. Read more
When I tell people what I do for a living, these are the two phrases I hear most:
1. “I can’t do yoga because I am not flexible enough.”
2. “I can’t meditate, because I can’t shut my mind off.”
It always makes me laugh. I usually respond with, “Well, that’s why we call it ‘a practice’: so we can learn those things.” But that isn’t the whole truth—there is something much deeper going on.
Yes, yoga will absolutely improve your strength and flexibility, but I actually consider those byproducts of yoga. As one of my teachers, Judith Lasater, put it, “The goal of yoga is to manipulate the nervous system. When you relax the body, you relax the mind. Yoga is about becoming present and adaptable.”