The Woman Before Me

6 Oct

The Woman Before Me

The woman before me knew
What I could only grasp
Years spent reaching
Stretching my heart wide open

But she knew inherently
And showed me in action
Inspired me through energy
And the rest was up to me

I learned the dance
Was no dance at all
Authenticity was breathed
Sincerity poured

From my pores and my heart
Who I was leapt forward
I didn’t need to try
She was already within me

Her blood in my veins
Her wisdom in my soul
Bereft of needs
I could now soar

Love deepened my roots
So my branches would grow
Guts and compassion spilled on the table
My being could thrive

No need to measure
Competition a dead end
Who she is was more than enough
And so my life could truly begin

The woman before me
Knew what I could only hope
I am whole
I am her, more than enough

Grammy, Me & Bodhi

Today is special. It marks the birth of my beloved nonna, my maternal grandmother Paola. She is truly one of the greatest gifts in my life, the woman before me I hope to carry into my present and future as a mother, wife, sister, daughter, and friend. I cannot thank her enough or properly put into words what her love meant to me. For 30 years I witnessed her authentic being shine, generously giving unconditional love to us all, without expectation or need for return. She is love and therefore she effortlessly lives it and shares it with all who cross her path. She is funny, fierce, vibrant, forgiving, encouraging, and one of the most authentic souls I’ve ever seen roam this Earth. I’m happy to know her, better for being her granddaughter, and exceedingly proud to have her blood coursing through my veins. And she is the best damn cook this planet has ever seen.

I love you, Nonna. Can’t wait for my own son to feel your love and I hope he one day sees the same light from your eyes shining through mine.

Don’t Make Assumptions: Lessons from Robin Williams’ (and other’s) Beautiful Lives and Tragic Deaths

20 Aug

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Don Miguel Ruiz’s brilliant little book, The Four Agreements, has weighed heavily on me for a few years now. It has inspired more contemplation and reflection than most, and even inspired my own piece on the 2nd agreement, Don’t Take Anything Personally. The recent news of Robin Williams’ tragic death has many bewildered over such a bright, vibrant and funny personality succumbing to such darkness. And it is the onslaught of opinions and reactions that has me reflecting on the 3rd agreement, Don’t Make Assumptions.

Years of memes and quote sharing has helped us all see, even for a brief moment, that we never know the struggle of another, that we’re all winding our own weird path, often filled with deep pain and sadness, and there’s no way to know another’s plight unless we walk in their shoes. And we simply can’t. It’s impossible. And even within our closest loved ones, it is difficult to empathize and even understand their pain.

I do not personally struggle with addiction. That is not how my darkness manifests. It would be arrogant for me to assume to know the depth of pain, solitude, and endless confusion one might be enduring every single day to just survive. It would be just as arrogant for me to assume the whys and hows of one struggling with depression and anxiety, something I do have personal experiences with, both within my own psyche and as an outsider attempting to help loved ones.

We make assumptions about others, the reasons for their behaviors, the backstory to their pain in an attempt to square away some cognitive dissonance in ourselves. We don’t want to believe that sadness can cut so deep that fame, fortune and adoration cannot elevate it. We can’t fathom a loneliness so potent that a person surrounded by love isn’t somehow at the same time filled with that love within.

All the beauty in the world and all the examples and demonstrations of love simply aren’t enough. It is one thing to see, it is quite another to feel, understand and live in the truth of it. And often our forays into both lightness and dark are attempts to understand and receive glimpses of just that: Love.

Out of respect for our fellow humans we should make no assumptions about their lives. As innate as it feels to analyze thoughts and actions, it serves no one to draw conclusions based on nothing but our own mental machinations. And out of concern for our own sanity we should also make no assumptions about why someone is behaving in a certain way, whether it directly affects us or not. Easier said than done but the wiser choice.

Similar to not taking anything personally, often when we assume the truth of another it is merely a projection and reflection of how we feel about ourselves. Most human beings fall into the trap of making something about ourselves, allowing ourselves to feel offended, hurt, misunderstood or forgotten simply from assumptions created by our own minds.

Here are a few examples you may have heard yourself or another say:

“Why would she look at me like that? She must…”

“Why won’t he text/call/message me back? It’s because…”

“I haven’t heard back so I probably didn’t get in/win/make it/etc.”

“They’re just being a jerk because they’re jealous.”

“They had a leg up because their more attractive/rich/popular than I am.”

“They’ve been gone a while. They must have diarrhea.”

That last example was just for levity, but you get my drift. I’ve fallen into these patterns of assumption so many times, too many times to even count. We’ve all most likely, at some point in our lives, been on the giving and receiving ends of assumptions. And at neither time does it feel good, does it satisfy whatever discomfort we’re trying to dissolve. It simply keeps our minds stirring, distracted from real life, pulled away yet again from the present moment.

The questions and statements above are very generic and broad, obviously we can get much more specific, detailed and often mean in our assumptions. And with the case of Robin Williams’ death and the tragic happenings of many other people we feel (assume) we know, the unkind and presumptive thoughts that suicide is selfish or cowardly, there must have been some lack of gratitude or perspective, or that there were any real choices in the matter are more reflective of those judging than those whose lives we’re carving hypotheses about.

Often the line between darkness and light is quite thin. And those providing the most light and levity frequently deal with deep, private darkness. As one who considers herself a bit of a comedy nerd, I’ve learned how many of those most talented are engulfed in crippling depression, anxiety and dread.

And I think many of you are aware of similar occurrences within Yoga.

It is my own experiences with darkness that led me to Yoga, a practice and career that I feel balances me, helps me share mere moments, lessons and aspects of light I wish I felt more. And sharing those experiences does just that; helps me feel. More.

My parents divorced when I was young. As sadly common as it was and still is, being the only child of my biological parents made the experience feel endlessly confusing, sad and lonesome. This caused many sleepless nights drowning in the depths of assumption. Throughout my adolescence and early adulthood I doubted real love existed, certainly didn’t expect to feel it myself. And it is precisely through art, films like Mrs. Doubtfire, practices like Yoga and Meditation, and raw, honest comedy that I was first able to glimpse real light and real love.

I hope Robin Williams can truly rest now knowing he provided so much joy and light to an often dark world. Don’t be afraid to reach out, friends. Hug someone. Tight. Let assumptions lie. And as Robin brilliantly said, “You’re only given a little spark of madness, you mustn’t lose it.”

Stop and Smell the Roses

21 May

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I am a born traveler, a mover, a shaker. I have an insatiable thirst for what’s next, too much focus on what’s around the corner. I am rarely satisfied with myself and adventures provide distraction for me to discover more. Sometimes the lessons we learn hit us abruptly and unexpectedly. And other times, they come to use in quietude.

In the span of three months since I returned from Haiti, I got pregnant, got hired, got fired, received two unfortunate traffic tickets and countless headaches. I’m recognizing now what the Universe is trying to tell me. Slow Down. Take it in. Take care. The future will always arrive on its own time and growth only happens Now.

It is no wonder it feels so natural to teach Restorative Yoga, even more so than Vinyasa, Power Yoga, or anything fast paced. It’s what I need. I need to restore. I need to slow down. I need to stop and smell the roses, truly the whole point of Yoga and many other spiritual teachings: Life is short, dummy, what are you racing for?

Beyond the question of who I want to be and how I want to feel is the energy and space I want to create for my child, for my tribe, inside and out. And that is an energy of love, first and foremost, but also of calm acceptance, of joyful peace, of trust that we can ride out whatever storms blow our way, and of treating life like the gift it is, no matter what we do, where we live, or what we have. What we all are is enough.

It is in this vein that I choose to take a major break from social media, on the professional front. As a teacher and writer, a self employed woman, I’m encouraged by society to use the tools of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the numerous others to market myself better, to sell whatever “brand” I’ve deemed myself to be. I think many do this brilliantly, with humor, dignity and respect. But it’s just not in my instinct to do this well. I’ve enjoyed my connection with readers and students, but my greatest joy comes from in person exchanges, email correspondence and deep telephone conversations. Not from digital connection but real connection.

The expense of energy trying to play a game of social media chess is just too much at this time in my life. I want to focus on being a great teacher for my students, an honest writer for those of you readers I’m so grateful to have, and most importantly, a present and reliable loved one for my family, friends and animals I’m fortunate to love.

I will keep my website and blog alive so those interested can know when and where I’m teaching and have access to my pieces of writing. I’m grateful and hope you’ll stay connected. Social media will always be there, I’m sure I’ll return at some point, hell, maybe sooner rather than later, but for now, I need the clarity of simplicity. I need to stop and smell the roses. I need to Be.

Today I will shut up and listen, sit still and Be, and remember that there is always an adventure lying inside of me. And I hope to help you remember the same.

Please enjoy a two minute video on my favorite restorative pose. If you have a bolster, you may use that instead of the two blocks. Give yourself permission to be still and bliss out, open your body without having to burn calories or sculpt it. Rest and play are just as important as action and productivity. Give yourself the gift. Stop and smell the roses in your life.

Email me anytime at danieatslife@gmail.com

Yoga Insights for Body Image and Self Love

14 May

Please feel invited to watch the short video below and/or read the corresponding piece of advice written in response to a great question posed by a wonderful student. I’ve received many similar questions and felt it an important subject to discuss. The written piece has more organized and outlined advice on dealing with negative self-image. The video is a heartfelt, off the cuff response involving my own experiences with this and the helpful insights I’ve learned in overcoming it.

We’re all works in progress. Be kind to yourself. I hope either resonate, and if they do, please feel welcome to share and continue the conversation. Apologies for the video being sideways, I find it apropos given the subject matter. Perfectionism is bullshit, embrace all the quirks.

Hi Dani,

I find myself struggling with body image in such a way that it affects all areas of my confidence and negatively affects my sex life. In truth, this has been with me my whole life. It feels like it’s simply who I am and that feels like an impossible mountain to climb. Is there hope and what can I do?

Thanks for your time,
Rena

Hey there Rena,

It probably doesn’t provide much solace to know that you are not alone, but trust me, you are not alone. In fact, you are in some great company, the company of most western women and a surprising number of men.

Something we practice often in Yoga is making conscious choices to let go of what no longer serves our health and happiness. Our psyches become so accustomed to patterns that we’re then uncomfortable and unsure of how to break them. We have no idea what it feels like to be confident and that unease makes self esteem seem fake or out of reach.

Know this is a process. No one snapped their fingers and decided to let go of insecurities. They grew from knowledge and experience, and more importantly, they grew tired of being the unkind voice in their heads. However comfortable they felt in their patterns, the smarter, more accepting voice within finally spoke louder. And they decided to put in the work to move on.

Some actions you can take to grow your confidence:

By focusing your energy predominantly on your physical, outward attributes, you neglect and dismiss the vast beauty you carry within. This is beyond the cliches of beauty being more than skin deep, it’s about you working to change your vision. You know there is good there, innumerable strengths, but your focus is on external flaws so there is no attention given to boost the positives. Practice this: for every negative thought you have about yourself, body or mind, replace it with 2 positives. And repeat them until you believe them. Practice is essential.
Acknowledge what you do to contribute to your health and happiness, what physical activities you do or don’t do, how you feed your body, and more importantly, how you feed your mind.
The body is a machine and it needs to move to stay vital. This has nothing to do with losing inches, burning calories, fitting into clothes. It has to do with feeling your body work from the inside out. Regardless how your body changes, you’ll feel better when you move it. Find something you like to do, be it walking, dancing, gardening, biking, hiking, playing with your pets or children, Yoga, Pilates, anything to get your blood pumping and pores sweating. And give yourself this gift everyday.
As challenging as it is to change your nutrition, it’s helpful to remember the strong ties our diet has not only with our physical health, but with our moods and energy levels as well. I am a self-confessed foodie. I love it all, healthy, unhealthy, and everything in between. I don’t believe in deprivation or resistance, but rather balance. Take in more of the good (whole foods like fresh veggies, fruits, whole grains and lean meats if you eat them) and leave a small percentage for indulgences (chocolate, fried foods, saturated fats, etc.). The better you eat the better you’ll feel, no matter what the scale reads.
Pay close attention to what consumes your mind. Are the books, articles, TV shows, films and other influences positive? Helpful? Inspiring? Uplifting? Art is most certainly an escape and a means of expressing a truth otherwise uncovered, but if the majority of the material you’re absorbing leaves you feeling less than energized, enthused or informed, then I’d replace it with something that does.
Who’s in your circle? Do your friends and loved ones support you? Are they confident themselves or stuck in similar cycles of discontent? If someone drains you, makes you feel inferior in any way, or contributes more negativity to your life than positive, it may behoove you to take a step back from those relationships. It could be as simple as changing the dialogue within the relationship, expressing your desire to be more positive and open to growth. And at times, it may require stronger moves in a direction of your choosing, either closer to ones you find encouraging, or further away from those less positive.
Be honest with yourself and be honest with others. In order to truly change, you must take a big step outside of these conditioned patterns and acknowledge out loud what you want to feel and how you’re going to make it happen. Trust you are capable and believe you are worthy.
No one is perfect. The western world has set an unfair paradigm for human beings to live up to. It’s unhealthy and unrealistic. Try remembering what a gift it is to be a live, be in awe of the machine you get to live in, and don’t forget it is far more important how you feel than how you look. Sex is meant to be enjoyed without any thought at all, without reverence to measurements and cup sizes. It is unadulterated bliss and can only be fully lived by saying “Fuck it, I’m alive! Someone gets to have sex with me and I get to enjoy all the pleasure my body is capable of feeling. So I’m going to feel it, dammit!”

Patience and practice are pivotal. The more emphasis you place on accepting yourself, as you are, the more your true beauty will be revealed, to both yourself and to others. Happiness and a zest for life are magnetic and human beings are attractive because of the energy they radiate, not because of they’re symmetry or six pack abs. You are already beautiful, you are already enough. Start everyday remembering that simple fact and you will see tremendous growth in your health and happiness sooner than you can imagine.

Please keep me posted!
Dani

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Please feel welcome to engage via social media and follow me at Dani Eats Life on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, or email me at danieatslife@gmail.com.

The Mother I Hope to Be

11 May

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Today is Mother’s Day. Probably a bit cliche to write on this day, but I’m so full of emotion and overflowing with sensitivity I truly cannot help but share all that I’m feeling with any who will resonate.

This happens to me my first momma’s day spent while pregnant. I’m expecting my first child, a reality that blooms ripe with intense concerns and endless what if’s. I’m scared shitless, to be frank. On one hand, I’m glad I waited until 30 to have my first. I did a lot of learning in my twenties, had a lot of fun, experienced a lot of travel, toyed with a couple career options, lived overseas and in big cities.

I think I’m far enough removed from my own childhood to be on own momma, to parent in my own unique way, to be the organic baby food making, cloth diaper using, natural birth having, breast feeding momma I want to be.

But that’s just what I think. What do I feel? Frightened! Confused! So unsure, plagued with doubt, worry and disbelief this is all happening. I wanted this child so much, and still do, but now the surreality of being a mother has me questioning everything. Am I strong enough? Will I know what to do? Am I confident enough to be a genuine role model? Am I enough?

And it was this morning when I woke up that I realized all these questions and concerns were nonsense. I’m sure every first time mother feels their own version of this. These questions can never be answered, certainly not with my mind, not with the endless array of books and advice out there. Nowhere.

I simply must trust that my ability and desire to love and care for this little being will supersede all the mistakes I am sure to make. Each day when I talk to my mom, all I feel is loved, supported, encouraged and uplifted. And that’s all I felt throughout childhood. Even through those formidable moments when you discover your mom is in fact human, I still only felt loved. And that’s what has carried me through my toughest days, my biggest doubts, my lowest lows.

My momma’s love and dedication to being our mom gave us permission to be human, it gave us that invisible net to fall into, so we were unafraid to reach and jump, to be the weird little humans she raised us to be. What better gift can I give my child than that? Than genuine unconditional love? Real love, unwavering love, joyous love.

The mother I hope to be is the momma I had. She never seemed tired of us, bored with us, irritated by us, regretful of her role as our mother. She seemed right at home in our home. She set wise boundaries while letting us test our limits. She instilled a strong sense of compassion for other living beings, a belief in our abilities to work hard and achieve the life we wanted, and most importantly, the ability to love and be loved.

Thank you, Momma. I know I can do this. And when I can’t, at least I have you. I love all you incredible mothers out there. Go hug a mom.

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Anxiety is a Bitch: The Video Blog (Vlog thing)

7 May

Watch the video here: Anxiety is a Bitch and/or read the short piece below!

Recently I shared a piece co-written with a friend, yoga teacher, and recovering sufferer of anxiety on how to overcome these very human challenges and issues. I’ve realized the more people I connect with and teach that we all learn differently. And just because reading and writing is my preferred mechanism to learn, it’s not necessarily yours or someone else’s.

So, once a week I’ll be sharing a short video for those who resonate with visuals, with listening, over reading a lengthy piece. I’ll introduce the topic and share a short blog piece for those who still enjoy reading (and I thank you for it!) but this focus will be specific for those who’d prefer to watch a video over reading an article.

Anxiety is a bitch. Human beings experience a wide variety of symptoms that fall along a spectrum. The advice I’ll share and reiterate from our lengthier piece will speak to those of us who fall along the mild to strong experiences of anxiety, stress, and depression. For those who experience consistent extremes, symptoms of which these tools unfortunately have no positive influence in helping, I advise you to connect with a physician, therapist or professional highly trained in this field.

I write from the perspective of one who’s had numerous and consistent experiences with anxiety, with discontent, with worry and dread, as one who delved deep into the study of Psychology before I began my career as a Yoga teacher and freelance writer. I write as a fellow human floating along the river of struggle, hoping to help anyone I can. If it resonates, great, take it and use what you will. If it doesn’t, simply throw it away. I share from love.

In a nutshell, Leeann Hepler and my advice surrounded the following life tools:

Breath- hugely important. Watch your breath when your mood, attitude and energy levels turns to shit. When someone or something thrusts a negative experience into your day, notice how your breath can help you endure and move through so the soiled emotions don’t ruin the rest of your day. Taking life one breath at a time feels much more manageable and keeps the body in harmony and the mind in perspective. Slow down your breath.

Connect with real people and animals- By real people I am referring to a social life beyond social media. Facebook is great but we’ve all seen the multiple studies detailing how social media actual makes people feel less connected, less social, more depressed, more isolated. I don’t need a lot of people. I’m truly happy with 1 or 2 true friends, those who know the good, bad and ugly truth of me and accept me all the same. Those who will hug me for a long time, trust me enough to cry with me and are trustworthy enough that I can cry with them. If they’re no available, my animals fill that void nicely. Unconditional love, coupled with hugs, are excellent medicine. Good, positive, elevating beings are key. Less negative Nellys.

Take care of you- I don’t care about counting or burning calories. The body is a machine, it’s designed to move and work, so we have to work it. Move your body in a way you love. Don’t force yourself into a gym if you hate it, you’ll never keep it up. Walk, hike, dance, do Yoga, jump rope, swim, whatever your little heart desires. Drink water, lots of it! Eat vegetables and more whole foods than processed foods. It’s astounding how what we eat affects how we feel, not just physically but mentally as well. Listen to what makes you feel energized, optimistic and healthy and try to take in more of it. And give yourself time to do something silly, something you really love, that makes you feel creative and authentic and pulls you out of “doing” and takes you deeper into “being.”

Create a mantra or motto or life phrase- A good Yoga teacher (hello!) can work with you and find a great one that’s unique to you. I also happen to believe we’re all our best teachers and after spending some time getting to know yourself better, what makes you feel more balanced and at peace and just plain sane. Sometimes we want to feel sad, some great clarity and creativity can emerge from feeling melancholy. But we need not swim in those self destructive emotions for too long. They won’t serve us in the long term so just enjoy them in the short term, give yourself a day. When you’re angry, sad, frustrated, overwhelmed, worried, etc., come up with a mantra that, along with your breath, brings you back to your own version of square 1. Yogis love So Ham, I Am, and so do I. If you tend to spin a web of crazy hypothetical scenarios that your mind constructs on its own evil devices, use a mantra like I Am Fine, I Am Alive, I Am Enough. It doesn’t have carry the words I Am, those are just good examples to go from.

Hope the words and/or video resonates and maybe helps you. Simple, everyday stuff we can all do. If you have questions, insights of your own, please feel invited to engage in a dialogue. Message me via social media (Dani Eats Life on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) or email danieatslife@gmail.com

Birds Sing & Humans Dream

6 May

Birds sing wildly in the trees while we sleep
Animals surrounding our love nest
And only we understand why we weep
Because beings other than humans just know they belong
But how can we somehow sing the same song
Croon the sounds of joy and burst with radiant being
Knowing, believing
I succumb to my nature with my love by my side
His smell, his skin, welcoming me home
I am not alone
With thoughts, with fears, or anything human
In intimacy, all definitions clear
We are but one being sharing breath
Safe to build our tribe and love out loud together
Forever
While sleeping to the soundtrack of a birdsong we belong
So we must never forget
This is always there
No matter where
Or when
It exists within
That harmonious feeling you see
Is merely a reflection of you back to me
We shine life into each other’s eyes
Reverberate love to the infinite skies
The birds watch from above
The earth encourages from below
Let’s go
And keep going
Building
Thriving
Sing, dance, express
Live like we’re dying
Worry not, sweet human
This is not a test
It’s life
Your life
You are life
So quit the strife
And decide
To be
Free
Live and love wildly
Satisfy yourself
And be kind
Keep flowin
There is no rewind
So find
Your meaning
Your purpose to be
You deserve love, and life
No more
No less
Than me

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