Empower.

Empowerment isn’t a suggestion, it’s a natural quality we all possess which is necessary to achieve a sense of fulfillment. It’s reaching into ever further corners of yourself to pull off what you never thought you could do. To grow, expand, and open yourself to new possibilities is to live more authentically, to be more fulfilled and find new meaning as to your role in this place. It all starts with getting to know yourself, truly – even and especially your deepest, darkest corners – so then you can fill yourself up, live fully and eradicate fear and self-doubt. This is empowerment, as I’ve come to understand it.

“No one else empowers you. You empower yourself.
And as the inner empowerment unfolds,
you step into your agency
and can begin to take compassionate action on your own behalf.”
– Anna Guest-Jelley


If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past two years, it’s that you have to be your own advocate. Empowerment isn’t a suggestion, it’s a natural quality we all possess which is necessary to achieve a sense of fulfillment. It involves reaching into ever further corners of yourself to pull off what you never thought you could do. To grow, expand, and open yourself to new possibilities, to live more authentically, to be more fulfilled and find new meaning as to your personal role in this world. It all starts with getting to know yourself, truly – even and especially your deepest, darkest corners – so then you can fill yourself up, live fully and eradicate fear and self-doubt. This is empowerment, as I’ve come to understand it.

Thankfully, I’m not alone in striving for that type of fullness. People – particularly women – are increasingly stepping up to share their own imperfections, insecurities and the pervasive plague of self-doubt, as they succeed and struggle in pursuit of their dreams. Through the understanding that we’re all essentially the same (outside our circumstance), that no one is special and everyone is special, that human beings do not own Nature and that we too are a fragile species to be preserved by reexamining our daily habits and preferences (this takes humility);[1] by beginning to understand ourselves and our place in the world, we no longer find the need to feel fearful or insecure. We understand that we’re only human (truly kin to everyone else), that we’re creative social beings (categorized as “animals” by Earth Scientists), and that although confronting knowledge (i.e. climate change)[2] and non-attachment (i.e. to materiality) are difficult concepts to tackle, it helps to remember that there was life before us and will be after – so we’d better learn to really enjoy the life we’re given. This essentially is living in yoga, being mindful, and striving to attain knowledge of oneself and our place within a much larger environment.

Unfortunately (as you all know), in this time and place, it has become our responsibility to ensure that there is an Earth of beauty and bounty for our children and their’s, because it’s changing quickly – and we are unknowingly not only contributing to, but also funding the majority of damage to the Earth with our own hard earned dollars. It’s not just emissions from cars, airplanes and cruise ships that are causing a problem; it was recently cited that industrial agriculture is the primary contributor (with >51% impact) to global issues of water usage and contamination, soil degradation and fossil fuel emissions.[3] Additionally, consumer purchases, such as shipping items made in China, India and Bangladesh (for much cheaper, with generally poor and sometimes lethal working conditions) is a close second. These topics deserve much more attention than whether we buy diesel fuel or drive electric.[4] Or, whether we use brown bags or bring our own. [5]

Our generation is tasked with quite a lot. And knowledge, as it continues to be gradually disclosed, is key to understanding and proposing solutions through innovation and collaboration. (See: Netflix new feature “Conspiracy: The Sustainability Secret,” which brings a new perspective to our personal impact on climate change. It really did change my perspective and influence my habits moving forward; well worth the watch)

(Note: I’ve thus far tried to avoid the obvious call to action we all face in the face of climate change. But, my studies and my personal experience have become inextricably intertwined with knowledge about the Earth, our actions as a group/species, and the Earth’s dire condition as it stands, and continues to worsen. I feel an obligation to share a piece of what I’ve learned. Please sit with it – then as always, feel free to take it or leave it.)

This call to environmental attention is also an actuation of empowerment as I feel more compelled to speak up as I delve deeper in [to my meditation]. Through this practice I have inadvertently become much more aware of the world around me, and the people outside myself. With nothing left to battle inside (or at least having conquered a few demons), there other an air of new freedom, to explore, laugh and enjoy all the word has to offer, to really play; as well as a new responsibility to protect Big Mama Earth.

This all comes from empowerment, from living authentically and getting to know yourself better than you know anything else. Although the process isn’t always comfortable (just bumps along the road!), shouldn’t it be from that place that we move ourselves forward into the world, to thrive and find happiness?

A beautiful calendar was recently released by the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and Sarit Photography, which artfully encapsulates a life of yoga through asana, diversity and momentary realism. (Please support!) I look forward to displaying the first month, January 2016, which includes a photo and caption from local Los Angeles yogi, Anna Guest-Jelley, founder of Curvy Yoga.

It reads:

“No one else empowers you. You empower yourself.
And as the inner empowerment unfolds,
you step into your agency
and can begin to take compassionate action on your own behalf.”

Perhaps serendipitously, my best friend also recently sent me a wooden plaque in the mail which melted my heart.

“Be strong. You never know who you are inspiring.”

It’s a bumpy road (when you start out) living life as it resonates with you, instead of according to the expectations of others. But, if you could inspire one person to be a little braver or a little more honest, and meanwhile feel rich and fulfilled – What else is there to want for? It’s easy to pass on the Prada purse with knowledge like that. That is empowerment. And we all have it in us, it just takes a willingness to stop and see.

Autumn is my favorite time for practicing mindfulness: to see, hear, taste, smell and be present. (Yes, we even get a chill in California!) With this in mind as you journey into your own practice this week, I hope you it is beautiful, spacious and full of light! I would love to see pictures of your own adventures or special moments outdoors – Please post to @A Year in Yoga’s Facebook, if you’d like to share a moment of bliss. I’ve learned that joy is contagious…

Much love and wishes for a beautiful week,
xx Amy


Photo Cred: Google Images – “Mandala Body Image”//

[1] I was recently re-inspired to do the same, after watching “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” on Netflix. I recommend it when you’re ready for a shift! Read the skinny with citations, here.

[2] True sustainability is only attainable by limiting our purchases to only locally made/harvested products – particularly meat and dairy – to ensure that our dollars are not funding global deforestation and water contamination; Re: Cowspiracy.

[3] Worldwatch Institute Report

[4] See: “The True Cost” at link or on Netflix

[5] Note: Please do avoid using plastic bags and bottles at all costs! It and many, many others will still be around in +300 years…our kids (and their’s and their’s…) don’t need that.

It’s Your Year

Last week, I discussed yoga as a process of becoming.

This past weekend, I was exposed to exactly the sort of setting where you would expect the winds of change to come sweeping through: Off the Mat, Into the World’s 4-Day Advanced Leadership Training in Ojai, CA – of all places, my favorite place.

It was there that I felt very aware of a newness to myself, my being. Who is this girl, so lucky to be attending this workshop in this beautiful place? Who has such a strong, intuitive (asana) practice? Who speaks so confidently of her experiences in politics and global affairs, which have prepared her for this discussion in social justice yoga? Sometimes our process of becoming isn’t so pretty – and more likely than not, you won’t even know it’s happening. It’s darkness; it’s bitterness, fear, angst, and frustration. But in the inevitable moments of light that follow, you can look back on yourself and how far you’ve come, and realize gratefully that that whole time, you were just becoming.

Today I changed the name of my blog (and Facebook page) to “A Year in Yoga.” I did this because it’s never really been about “my year,” as I created it of and for all of you. I created this blog as part of a greater vision – for peace (inside and out), for justice (in the form of our own tolerance, acceptance and harmony), for empowerment (in understanding our own unique capabilities, our gifts, and finding the strength to live in that light). I have been so moved and inspired by the many women – and few men – who have reached out in response to my posts over the past three months, and shared a bit of their process with me.

It is important that the name reflects the fullness of this collective effort; to cultivate greater virtue in our lives is “A Year in Yoga.”

I was moved – or rather, moved myself – into the yoga community, in search of conversations surrounding the difficult questions: How do we stop the fighting? The destruction? The war, the hurt, the suffering? If it is innate in us to care for one another, at least when residing in close proximity, how can we work towards extending this sense of responsibility and compassion to the global community? To come from a place of love and to admit you are a work in progress is to live in yoga. No asana required. (Despite our Western spin, yoga is not the same as asana, or physical yoga postures. Simply living life truthfully, with compassion, patience and mindfulness, is living in yoga.)

We are all always in a perpetual state of change, growth and evolution, although we rarely realize. Approaching life with this awareness has its perks. Nonjudgment of yourself and others (ahimsa) is a practice which requires conscious cultivation, but ultimately takes the pressure off; allowing us to be more patient and easy on ourselves, and to have greater empathy toward others in acknowledgement of whatever war they’re fighting (or challenges they’re facing) themselves. This means acknowledging that you and I are both enduring similar, however very distinct, journeys toward becoming whomever or whatever we are intended or going to be. Here, we can relax in knowing that we can’t have all the answers.

Imagine what it would mean for families, for communities, for countries, for the environment, for your children (present or future), if everyone in the world approached life with nonjudgment and compassion toward themselves and others. You and I can’t change the world, but (a much larger, global) we can. We starts in communities, with individuals. All over the world, people are increasing their awareness and acknowledgement of the necessity for sustainability, for the preservation of our Earth, for future generations. Every yoga practitioner, protest attendee, business owner, community leader and politician who supports this cause, is a single “I.” I urge you to consider how you’re contributing to the inevitable change, growth and evolution that is becoming all around us, and in you. It doesn’t have to be here or there, right wing or left wing, working or upper class – you are individual, and your process is different from theirs or mine. But bringing a greater consciousness, or mindfulness to your daily life – to be present in acknowledging the impact of our daily choices and accepting responsibility for the effects of our actions and thoughts – is what the world desperately needs. The world needs you and me, because if not us, then who?

You’ve inspired me with your stories of success and struggle, because however personal and distinct from my own, I too feel the heaviness life sometimes brings and don’t want anyone to ever have to stand in it alone. This is empathy. This is peace, however small. And (despite the cliché), it starts with you. It really does.

I dedicate this venture forward, to you. It’s your year (in yoga, or however you choose to live it). And it’s time to start asking, “Who am I becoming?”

Be present, and you’ll know. I look forward to seeing all that flourishes.

Unconditionally here,

Amy

It's Your Year

Last week, I discussed yoga as a process of becoming.

This past weekend, I was exposed to exactly the sort of setting where you would expect the winds of change to come sweeping through: Off the Mat, Into the World’s 4-Day Advanced Leadership Training in Ojai, CA – of all places, my favorite place.

It was there that I felt very aware of a newness to myself, my being. Who is this girl, so lucky to be attending this workshop in this beautiful place? Who has such a strong, intuitive (asana) practice? Who speaks so confidently of her experiences in politics and global affairs, which have prepared her for this discussion in social justice yoga? Sometimes our process of becoming isn’t so pretty – and more likely than not, you won’t even know it’s happening. It’s darkness; it’s bitterness, fear, angst, and frustration. But in the inevitable moments of light that follow, you can look back on yourself and how far you’ve come, and realize gratefully that that whole time, you were just becoming.

Today I changed the name of my blog (and Facebook page) to “A Year in Yoga.” I did this because it’s never really been about “my year,” as I created it of and for all of you. I created this blog as part of a greater vision – for peace (inside and out), for justice (in the form of our own tolerance, acceptance and harmony), for empowerment (in understanding our own unique capabilities, our gifts, and finding the strength to live in that light). I have been so moved and inspired by the many women – and few men – who have reached out in response to my posts over the past three months, and shared a bit of their process with me.

It is important that the name reflects the fullness of this collective effort; to cultivate greater virtue in our lives is “A Year in Yoga.”

I was moved – or rather, moved myself – into the yoga community, in search of conversations surrounding the difficult questions: How do we stop the fighting? The destruction? The war, the hurt, the suffering? If it is innate in us to care for one another, at least when residing in close proximity, how can we work towards extending this sense of responsibility and compassion to the global community? To come from a place of love and to admit you are a work in progress is to live in yoga. No asana required. (Despite our Western spin, yoga is not the same as asana, or physical yoga postures. Simply living life truthfully, with compassion, patience and mindfulness, is living in yoga.)

We are all always in a perpetual state of change, growth and evolution, although we rarely realize. Approaching life with this awareness has its perks. Nonjudgment of yourself and others (ahimsa) is a practice which requires conscious cultivation, but ultimately takes the pressure off; allowing us to be more patient and easy on ourselves, and to have greater empathy toward others in acknowledgement of whatever war they’re fighting (or challenges they’re facing) themselves. This means acknowledging that you and I are both enduring similar, however very distinct, journeys toward becoming whomever or whatever we are intended or going to be. Here, we can relax in knowing that we can’t have all the answers.

Imagine what it would mean for families, for communities, for countries, for the environment, for your children (present or future), if everyone in the world approached life with nonjudgment and compassion toward themselves and others. You and I can’t change the world, but (a much larger, global) we can. We starts in communities, with individuals. All over the world, people are increasing their awareness and acknowledgement of the necessity for sustainability, for the preservation of our Earth, for future generations. Every yoga practitioner, protest attendee, business owner, community leader and politician who supports this cause, is a single “I.” I urge you to consider how you’re contributing to the inevitable change, growth and evolution that is becoming all around us, and in you. It doesn’t have to be here or there, right wing or left wing, working or upper class – you are individual, and your process is different from theirs or mine. But bringing a greater consciousness, or mindfulness to your daily life – to be present in acknowledging the impact of our daily choices and accepting responsibility for the effects of our actions and thoughts – is what the world desperately needs. The world needs you and me, because if not us, then who?

You’ve inspired me with your stories of success and struggle, because however personal and distinct from my own, I too feel the heaviness life sometimes brings and don’t want anyone to ever have to stand in it alone. This is empathy. This is peace, however small. And (despite the cliché), it starts with you. It really does.

I dedicate this venture forward, to you. It’s your year (in yoga, or however you choose to live it). And it’s time to start asking, “Who am I becoming?”

Be present, and you’ll know. I look forward to seeing all that flourishes.

Unconditionally here,

Amy

The Missing Link: Yoga & Neuroscience

This weekend, I found the “missing link.” As part of LMU’s Masters in Yoga Studies curriculum, there is a pre/co-requisite to enroll in one of several certificate programs. I was excited to enroll in the pilot year of “Yoga, Mindfulness and Social Change,” which features renowned speakers from all over the country with varying expertise within the field. This weekend’s topic was “Yoga & Neuroscience,” and although I’ve always been intrigued (perhaps hereditarily) by psychology and sociology, I was taken aback and truly blown away by the evidence modern neuroscience provides of the true benefits of yoga.

As you might remember, my hope and mission in this program is to discern the socioeconomic benefits of yoga, within a global context. This interest came about through years of courses and hands-on experience in sociology, communications, media relations, cultural studies and international affairs, through which I developed a deep-seated interest in what makes people think the way they do – both as individuals, and as a collective society. Academically speaking, my pursuit is an exploration of individual ideological formation (aka consciousness), as well as of institutionalized methodologies of ideological pervasion. While in college, I was blessed with unique opportunities: to study the pervasion of local culture through public and mainstream media in Australia; to explore (and publish a manuscript on) gender disparity in Latin America as it relates to pervading machismo attitudes and state-controlled transmission of democratic ideals (see “About Me”); and, after college, to work for several years in politics and government affairs for non-profit and private, small and large organizations – to better understand what makes us and others, especially those in “power,” think the way they do. And, (surprisingly to me as well) this journey has led me to yoga studies. Mounting evidence supports my personal belief that yoga, over all other modalities, has the greatest potential to positively reform individual and collective ideology – thereby helping us live happily and helping communities live peacefully, everywhere. Imagine that.

This weekend, I attended two five-hour lectures on “Yoga & Neuroscience” by leading neuroscientists in consciousness formation (see “Lecture Credit” below), and soon found that scientific evidence already supports that yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices stimulate and even grow the part of the brain responsible for processing feelings of compassion, empathy, altruism, interconnectedness and happiness – otherwise known as the “neocortex.” Specifically, I learned that practices such as yoga and meditation, as well as Tai Chi and nature activities, help stimulate the brain’s neuroplasticity, or its capability to grow and reshape itself through the movement and connection of neurons. (More simply, neuroplasticity states that the brain is not a fixed form, but is in fact adaptable.) As a result, these practices in particular have been proven to expand and increase activation of the neocortex and overall brain capacity, as well as physically enlarge areas that promote feelings of empathy, compassion and altruism – collectively called our “emphatic response.”

However nice this all sounds, it may feel a bit displaced, as our society currently embodies a paradigm – or pervading ideology – which disproportionately emphasizes the “reptilian” brain, or the part of the brain responsible for primal instincts, basic survival needs, ego and competition, rather than cooperation. Many practitioners and professionals (and scientists) who have been imparted with this knowledge also believe that we [the human race] are in the midst of an evolutionary shift towards global cooperation. More candidly, they articulate a resounding belief that mankind must either learn to cooperate and live harmoniously with one another and with Nature, or fall victim to the harsh realities of disconnectivity and competition (i.e. global warming) for generations to come. As such, we notice widespread discontentment and rebellion in the form of protests, political stalemate and corruption, and civil war around the world and in the States, at levels unprecedented since the last major paradigm shift occurred in the 17th century (following the Industrial Revolution). It’s worthy to note my own belief on this issue is still evolving as I gather more information, and I encourage you also to ask the hard questions and think critically about this and all information you hear about the future of our planet. But, I do believe strongly in the agency and power of individuals to incite change in themselves, and in the world around them; be it on Capitol Hill, in the classroom, or on their yoga mat. And I hope to continue to explore the empirical evidence available now, and that yet to be discovered, which enables us to better understand how yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices benefit you and me, and (why not…) the rest of the world.

On that note, I’d like to dedicate a thought (or several) in recognition and gratitude of Mother Nature and the vast resources and opportunities she provides us: as humans, as Westerners, as yogis, as wilderness explorers, or from whatever perspective most resonates with you. It can be something as simple as a sunset, or as vast as the algorithms of consciousness and science we seek to understand. In solidarity, give thanks!

Peace – Shalom – Om Shanti,

Amy

Videos to Watch:

The Empathic Civilisation (10 minutes: 30 seconds)

How Meditation Works: For Beginners (2 minutes: 50 seconds)

Lecture Credit:

Dr. Jay Kumar (9/27/14)

Dr. Louis Cozolino (9/28/14)

Photo Credit:

Sunrise in the Outback, Alice Springs, Australia (Personal Photo, July 2009)

The Missing Link: Yoga & Neuroscience

This weekend, I found the “missing link.” As part of LMU’s Masters in Yoga Studies curriculum, there is a pre/co-requisite to enroll in one of several certificate programs. I was excited to enroll in the pilot year of “Yoga, Mindfulness and Social Change,” which features renowned speakers from all over the country with varying expertise within the field. This weekend’s topic was “Yoga & Neuroscience,” and although I’ve always been intrigued (perhaps hereditarily) by psychology and sociology, I was taken aback and truly blown away by the evidence modern neuroscience provides of the true benefits of yoga.

As you might remember, my hope and mission in this program is to discern the socioeconomic benefits of yoga, within a global context. This interest came about through years of courses and hands-on experience in sociology, communications, media relations, cultural studies and international affairs, through which I developed a deep-seated interest in what makes people think the way they do – both as individuals, and as a collective society. Academically speaking, my pursuit is an exploration of individual ideological formation (aka consciousness), as well as of institutionalized methodologies of ideological pervasion. While in college, I was blessed with unique opportunities: to study the pervasion of local culture through public and mainstream media in Australia; to explore (and publish a manuscript on) gender disparity in Latin America as it relates to pervading machismo attitudes and state-controlled transmission of democratic ideals (see “About Me”); and, after college, to work for several years in politics and government affairs for non-profit and private, small and large organizations – to better understand what makes us and others, especially those in “power,” think the way they do. And, (surprisingly to me as well) this journey has led me to yoga studies. Mounting evidence supports my personal belief that yoga, over all other modalities, has the greatest potential to positively reform individual and collective ideology – thereby helping us live happily and helping communities live peacefully, everywhere. Imagine that.

This weekend, I attended two five-hour lectures on “Yoga & Neuroscience” by leading neuroscientists in consciousness formation (see “Lecture Credit” below), and soon found that scientific evidence already supports that yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices stimulate and even grow the part of the brain responsible for processing feelings of compassion, empathy, altruism, interconnectedness and happiness – otherwise known as the “neocortex.” Specifically, I learned that practices such as yoga and meditation, as well as Tai Chi and nature activities, help stimulate the brain’s neuroplasticity, or its capability to grow and reshape itself through the movement and connection of neurons. (More simply, neuroplasticity states that the brain is not a fixed form, but is in fact adaptable.) As a result, these practices in particular have been proven to expand and increase activation of the neocortex and overall brain capacity, as well as physically enlarge areas that promote feelings of empathy, compassion and altruism – collectively called our “emphatic response.”

However nice this all sounds, it may feel a bit displaced, as our society currently embodies a paradigm – or pervading ideology – which disproportionately emphasizes the “reptilian” brain, or the part of the brain responsible for primal instincts, basic survival needs, ego and competition, rather than cooperation. Many practitioners and professionals (and scientists) who have been imparted with this knowledge also believe that we [the human race] are in the midst of an evolutionary shift towards global cooperation. More candidly, they articulate a resounding belief that mankind must either learn to cooperate and live harmoniously with one another and with Nature, or fall victim to the harsh realities of disconnectivity and competition (i.e. global warming) for generations to come. As such, we notice widespread discontentment and rebellion in the form of protests, political stalemate and corruption, and civil war around the world and in the States, at levels unprecedented since the last major paradigm shift occurred in the 17th century (following the Industrial Revolution). It’s worthy to note my own belief on this issue is still evolving as I gather more information, and I encourage you also to ask the hard questions and think critically about this and all information you hear about the future of our planet. But, I do believe strongly in the agency and power of individuals to incite change in themselves, and in the world around them; be it on Capitol Hill, in the classroom, or on their yoga mat. And I hope to continue to explore the empirical evidence available now, and that yet to be discovered, which enables us to better understand how yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices benefit you and me, and (why not…) the rest of the world.

On that note, I’d like to dedicate a thought (or several) in recognition and gratitude of Mother Nature and the vast resources and opportunities she provides us: as humans, as Westerners, as yogis, as wilderness explorers, or from whatever perspective most resonates with you. It can be something as simple as a sunset, or as vast as the algorithms of consciousness and science we seek to understand. In solidarity, give thanks!

Peace – Shalom – Om Shanti,

Amy

Videos to Watch:

The Empathic Civilisation (10 minutes: 30 seconds)

How Meditation Works: For Beginners (2 minutes: 50 seconds)

Lecture Credit:

Dr. Jay Kumar (9/27/14)

Dr. Louis Cozolino (9/28/14)

Photo Credit:

Sunrise in the Outback, Alice Springs, Australia (Personal Photo, July 2009)