Smooth Havoc

I have been so excited to share this week’s quote during each of my yoga classes (you can watch those replays here!)

This bit of poetry totally resonates with me – I wonder if you feel the same way! Let me know in the comments below.😊

Each time I have shared this quote recently I have entered into a daydream about immediately throwing a bunch of beach gear into the car and hurrying to the shore. Summer is in full swing and I haven’t made it to the beach yet! I am craving the feeling of sun on my skin, sand between my toes and – of course – some rejuvenating beach yoga! Here’s to hoping I make it there soon.

The poem has prompted lots of deeper contemplation for me, though. The speaker addresses the reader directly and I can’t help but feel… well… seen. 🙈

Mary Oliver’s poem offers the juxtaposition of a benevolent being with that of a wicked and devastating force. These two parts form a single whole – embodied together in the entirety of the ocean.

The invitation is to examine this juxtaposition within ourselves and then to integrate that sense of wholeness. (Even if it feels tricky or uncomfortable.)

No one escapes the observation of the narrator; the sea behaves and misbehaves “As I can too, and so, no doubt, can you, and you.” That last part leaves no escape for anyone in the reading audience: if you skirted by the first direct address, then surely you can’t avoid the second. By owning the full spectrum of destruction and healing that lives inside of themselves, the narrator makes it okay for us to recognize and own it inside of ourselves, too. We’re all in it together. We make up an ocean of humanity that ebbs, storms, gently undulates and thrashes for the sake of thrashing, sometimes. We’re just as beautiful and severe as the sea.

The ocean can be cruel and fierce, but that doesn’t make you any less excited for a trip to the beach, does it? The ocean is also soothing, cleansing and lots of fun, too! As with anything in life, we have to take the good with the bad.

Learn to love yourself – all of yourself – as you love the ocean. With admiration, delight and awe. Embrace all of your strength and power, while tenderly nourishing the shorelines of your life. 🌊

This equanimity is a part of the process of yoga. It’s the work of threading a peaceful connection between all aspects of mind, body and spirit – with yourself and with everyone else.

I encourage you to practice yoga with me. I can help you along this path of integration and connection – we will ride the waves together!

PS – I started a YouTube channel! 🥳 Subscribe here and hit the notification bell while you’re there so you don’t miss new posts! 🔔

PPS – Join the Compass Yoga Community Facebook Group here and sign up for my FREE beginner-friendly guided meditation for sleep and relaxation here.

What now?

The story of how I found and fell in love with yoga – Part Three

So I quit my desk job… and then I felt kinda sorta guilty about my unemployment! I told myself that I needed a job and some hobbies to fill up my days so that no one could say I was loafing around aimlessly. So I applied to and was hired at a local bakery.

Cupcakes at the bakery!

Working at a bakery can be just about as awesome as it sounds. For starters, your customers are primarily joyous. People are out of their minds with delight and anticipation from the moment they walk in the door and there you are: the hero, handing down cakes, cookies and muffins from a bright, spotless and magnificent pastry altar. That’s not to say that the random odd entitled person with a bad attitude doesn’t occasionally walk through the door, but for the most part you are surrounded by intoxicating smells and fantastical sugarcraft all day as you connect with people on their way to celebrate birthdays and holidays. (You also get to take home day-old pastries.) This was not a bad part-time gig for me to land as I navigated the liminal space between unemployment and my next career. It also left some time for reflection.

After years of telling myself that I was frail and that I shouldn’t push myself, I hit a wall in this lame, self-limiting story – a wall about as tall as the mountain I had climbed. My body, apparently, is capable of great hiking feats! My story had to change. This opened up a world of possibility for me – I felt truly liberated, knowing that I could likely trek anywhere I wanted to if I just had the presence of mind to show up and get it done. My part-time job at the bakery afforded me a good amount of downtime, so I began hiking more and more.

Black River County Park, Chester NJ

The bakery also afforded me a lot of sugary calories, though, and I worried about when these would catch up with me. Hiking was great exercise, but there were rainy days and busy days mixed in there when hitting the trail wasn’t an option. I needed something to fill in the gaps. Something that wasn’t too exercise-y, because I still held some baggage about my physical prowess.

Indoor gyms held little appeal for me, and eventually the thought of yoga bubbled up into my consciousness. I had experimented with yoga in college and really enjoyed the serene environment of the yoga studio; it offered a vibe of peace and calm that I was totally unaccustomed to (especially as a college student!) I was pretty broke and I couldn’t afford a yoga studio membership, so I developed a home yoga practice by following along with yoga teachers on YouTube. I considered myself to be “trying yoga on for size” – I didn’t foresee that it would develop into a passion of mine.

Eventually I left the bakery to become a seasonal Park Ranger for the local county park system – all the hiking I had been doing led me to course-correct towards a job that emphasized the outdoors. The job consisted of lots of hard, physical labor in the hot sun and I loved it! I was blown away by all that my body could do, and I was becoming strong. (I could really go on all day about this job, but for now I will leave it there!)

My wheels at the park system.

Even though I was no longer working at the bakery and consuming an impressive amount of muffins, and even though I was getting all of the exercise I needed (and more!) in my role as a Park Ranger, I still stuck with the yoga. I spent time on my mat each and every day. Maybe, I pondered, yoga wasn’t just about the exercise after all

Looking back on it now, my initial pursuit of yoga was rooted in vanity and misunderstanding. Yoga was going to be my ticket to a toned body ahead of bathing suit season – that’s how yoga is primarily represented. (This is problematic – it represents a pernicious, whitewashed/Western and culturally appropriated version of yoga as just a physical exercise.) As I kept returning to the mat for more yoga, though, my reasons for showing up evolved. My cheap and “low impact” avenue for exercise transformed into…well…a transformative experience.

What started as a fitness pursuit soon turned into a mind-bending soul explosion. Through practicing yoga I gained a sense of purpose and pride and I tapped into my rich inner world for the first time. Yoga encouraged quietude and stillness, contemplation and self-compassion. I was able to bring the peace and calm of the studio into my home and increasingly into many aspects of my daily life. I was taking care of my body from a place of reverence and compassion instead of from a place of expectation and pressure.

Previously prone to staying up late, binge-watching Netflix and scrolling past my own reality in favor of the fantasy offered to me by social media, I noticed myself going to bed earlier. Through experience I learned that if I didn’t do yoga first thing after waking up, then the rest of my day would get in the way and I wouldn’t make it to the mat at all. So, I had to rise a little earlier to make sure I could accommodate yoga into my schedule. I also noticed myself drinking less often – if my head was foggy in the morning, it was likely that I would sleep in and skip yoga. Skipping didn’t sit well with me. Slowly, incrementally, prioritizing yoga in my life helped me to actually prioritize my whole life. I started taking care of my body and respecting it, deeply. I made commitments to myself and then honored them. This helped me build confidence, and lots of dumb stories I had been telling myself since my time on the grade school soccer field began to fall away. It all happened gently, with lots of compassion for myself, and it happened subtly, without me being totally aware of all the changes.

A butterfly, the classic symbol of transformation. Photo by Zaw Win Tun on Pexels.com

During all this change, I never heard a voice say, “Wait, wait! You’re veering a little too far away from your exercise goals and getting carried away.” Instead, I heard and felt deep appreciation for giving my body and soul exactly what I needed – careful reflection, gentle movement, a safe space to process my life, kind guides to help me along and a way to ground myself whenever I felt life having its way with me. These were all the gifts of yoga at work in my life. Eventually I felt called to share these gifts with others, and I completed my yoga teacher training. If you’re reading this then I hope I can share yoga with you, too.

So much of my worldview has changed thanks to the spiritual practice of yoga. Yoga is not an exercise program – the physical poses that are so often emphasized actually only represent one small part of a rich and complex philosophy. Yoga encompasses the ability to harness lifeforce energy and the recognition of the inherent value of all beings everywhere. Yoga guides you to lead a life in integrity with your highest self. I still have so much to learn about yoga and yet ultimately the goal is to know thyself. There is no finish line – just a call to embark on a mindful, steady path towards meeting your highest self. I’m certainly no expert, and so I hope to remain first and foremost a student, even when serving as a guide through my capacity as a yoga teacher.

Find the love you seek, by first finding the love within yourself. Learn to rest in that place within you that is your true home.

Ravi Shankar

It feels important to share the story of how I came to find and love yoga with you – I’m new on the scene and I want to lay it all on the table for you! Maybe a piece of my journey may resonate with you, or maybe it may inspire you to share your own story with your own audience. Either way: thank you for following along. 🙏

I would love to hear about your own journey, whether through yoga or a different transformative experience/practice – please leave your comments below!

👉 PS – Do you ever have trouble falling asleep at night? Are you looking for a simple way to relax? I can help! Subscribe here – when you sign up for the Compass Yoga email list you will receive my FREE Yoga Nidra Guided Meditation Practice.

👉 PPS – Stay tuned for an announcement very soon about a regular live yoga schedule in my Compass Yoga Community Facebook Group! (Go join!) I’m really looking forward to growing the community and offering more yoga practices that hopefully encompass all that yoga is, beyond just the poses.

I sucked in gym class.

The story of how I found and fell in love with yoga – Part One

I stared at the grass, gently knocking the fluff off of dandelions and watching my shoe lace slip out of its knot and come undone. I stooped to fix it, lingering longer than I needed to so that I could appear busy. This was how I preferred to spend soccer days during 7th grade gym class. While my peers hustled around, trying to drive the ball up and down the field, I preferred to get lost in thought, distraction and diversion: tying my shoes, watching planes, thinking about lunch… anything other than soccer. Whenever I kicked the ball it never reached its target, and I truly ended up doing more to aid the opposing team than my own. Honestly, it was better this way: me, spaced out and playing with the grass, staying out of the way of the action, while the team zipped around and scored goals or whatever. Just spare me the humiliation and let me do weird-kid-stuff on my own.

On this particular soccer day in 7th grade gym class, I quit fussing with my laces and I unwittingly rose back up right into the middle of the action. Somehow I was now central to the play. Kids were barreling up the field towards me, specifically the largest guy in my class – I’ll call him Tim. At 12 or 13-years-old Tim was already nearly 6 feet tall and broad. And heavy. I was directly in his path, and he had too much momentum. I was a goner. Before I could think or move, Tim had stumbled on top of me and flattened me, just like a pancake, onto the grass. All of the wind was knocked out of me, I couldn’t breathe, and, oddly enough, I completely blamed myself in that moment. What’s wrong with me? Why am I always in the way?

Whether those were reasonable thoughts or not, that was my takeaway from the experience.

Fast forward to a different gym class. Sophomore year. On soccer day. All these years later and the scene was very much the same: I was still spacing out, not engaged in the game, and just waiting for it to be over. Mr. Tag, the gym teacher, called out to me, “Falzon, get in the game!” I looked up at him, smirking, and gave him sass, “Oh yeah??” And then I wound my leg back – very dramatically – and tried to kick the ball away from my opponent, who was dribbling towards me. The opponent? Tim. The very same Tim! I kicked hard. I had something to prove: not only was I paying attention, but I was playing aggressively. This bluff did not serve me well.

I didn’t connect with the soccer ball at all. Instead, my toes CRUNCHED as they impacted against the inner arch of Tim’s giant foot. I knew immediately that I had messed up: the pain was sharp. Tim apologized to me, as if this was somehow his fault, and then carried on with the game. I don’t think he felt my kick on nearly the same scale that I had. I tried to look smooth, look cool, but something was definitely wrong with my foot. I toughed it out for a little while longer, but then I couldn’t ignore the fact that my toes and foot were swelling. I limped over to Mr. Tag and confessed that I had goofed, big time, and that I needed to see the nurse. I ended up having to get x-rays and then living in an orthopedic boot for 5-6 months to heal all of the toe ligaments I had torn. It was cool to have an elevator pass at school but ultimately not worth it. I do not recommend.

We won’t get into it now, but yes – there was also a time that I received a concussion from a basketball during gym class. Unreal!

Thinking back, I was sick and injured a lot. (Bizarre fact: most injuries and illnesses have been on the right side of my body. What’s up with that? A sketchy birth mark was removed from my right thigh. A large cyst formed and then ruptured on my right ovary. Pneumonia developed in my right lung. I fractured my right wrist. I passed out and shattered a glass, which then lodged itself in my right elbow as I collapsed on top of it. I passed out on a few other occasions, too. A different cyst was removed from my right shoulder. Oh, and the kick that wrecked my foot in high school? Yes. It was my right foot.)

I blamed my body through every injury and illness. I just thought I was frail, clumsy and weak. On top of this I was a girl (and am now a woman) in a society whose main emphasis is on female perfectionism and unrealistic beauty standards. With no other good information to go on, I believed that I was stuck in a seemingly useless, dysfunctional vessel and so I treated it like one. I had no real appreciation for my body, I didn’t trust it. I didn’t respect it. I was very skeptical and I kept asking myself, What’s wrong with me? Why am I always in the way?

That is, until I started hiking and practicing yoga.

To be continued…

-Kristen