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.

Getting Intimate

Over the weekend, I was surprised to find myself completely immersed in a five-hour training on yoga, sex and intimacy. My confusion was justified – The title of the workshop was “Yoga is Peace.” Where did I go wrong (or, wonderfully right)?

Mark Whitwell is a famous yoga teacher (I use this phrase reluctantly, but if anyone deserves the title, he does) and writer who studied for twenty years under Sri T. Krishnamacharya, the guru (or teacher) graciously credited with introducing yoga to Europe, Asia, and the Americas within the past century. (Should your interest in yoga meaning and philosophy grow, his work is a great place to start…)

Mark began by introducing himself to the class and proclaiming emphatically:

“YOGA IS… [wait for it]…DIRECT intimacy…with reality.”

He followed: “Forget any other definition you’ve ever heard. This is Truth.”

Mark’s “no bullshit” approach to teaching struck a chord. Perhaps too tight of chord, as he later added in the words of his teacher, Sri Krishnamacharya: “Yoga is not information gathering.” (Tell this to the girl working 24/7 in yoga studies.) What he means by this, of course, is simply: It’s already in you. So, focus your attention there.

Regarding sex, intimacy and yoga, we can go back to Mark’s definition of yoga generally as “direct intimacy with reality.” But, what does this really mean? He elaborated throughout his lecture that, from this view, our purpose on this planet is to have intimacy with life; that means with yourself, your partner, your community, and more abstractly, with your reality. In other words: Are you engaged, are you open? Are you a good friend, a loving partner, a “yes” person? Do you serve others in your community, do you love the work that you do? We all prioritize our own reality differently, and where and when we choose to get intimate. But, as Mark suggests, shouldn’t it be that when the day is done we can stand back and see ourselves reflected back to us (ideally with love and admiration) in all aspects of our life? If we desire to hold a purpose, as individuals and humans, shouldn’t it be to live life this way? (In this light?)

Yoga is direct intimacy with reality, with life. In this way, we can practice yoga everyday, in every aspect of our lives, by allowing ourselves to get intimate in our interactions with others and with ourselves.

As for sex: Mark shared his own observation that, as the churches continue to empty throughout America and Europe (Germany, in particular), the explicitness and vulgarity of sex in the media and social discourse continues to worsen. He digressed: “Everybody’s talking about it, and nobody’s having it.”

In my own classes, reluctant attention has recently focused on the realities of the over-sexualization of youth, and women and girls generally, in society. How prevalent are images of young girls (teens & twenties) in their underwear – or without – throughout the media? (Are you as tired of the viral Kim Kardashian as I am?) But giving this issue our sincere attention requires an uncomfortable shift of reality, and so many – including myself – do their best to stay quiet and turn the other way. There’s no need to revisit the profound implications that over-sexualization have on women and girls throughout the country, and the world. Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, body image obsession, insecurities, anxiety, inadequacies, sex trafficking and even hate crimes targeted at nonconforming homosexual individuals – all catalyzed by an extreme prevalence of “sex” in society, distorting the reality that sex [and sexuality] is intimacy – not an ego trip. Having the capacity to love and be intimate with another person is a gift, and an expression of equal exchange. It’s personal, it’s impactful, and it’s the basis of humanity. It’s easy, with the Victoria’s Secret fashion show fast approaching, to forget that this is reality. 

Mark’s parallel to the international vacancy of churches is meant to emphasize the necessity of individual spiritual life for the proliferation of humanity. He even goes so far as to say that the world depends on it. I take spirituality in my own heart to mean the active cultivation of a greater consciousness, founded in love and compassion towards oneself, one another, and our shared global community (the Earth and humanity). My church is my yoga mat. But no matter your definition or your vehicle, Mark attests that exploring your own sense of self and your own true nature is to experience intimacy, and promote creativity and creation. And, to experience direct intimacy with reality [in this way] is yoga – with, or without asana. (Although he and I highly encourage a daily home practice as a guaranteed vehicle toward exactly that. If you’re looking to create a home practice but aren’t sure where to start, contact me for help creating your own personal practice.)

In the midst of a non-stop graduate school schedule, the holiday season, and occasionally being all too aware of worldwide struggle and despair (sometimes all-to-close to home), I’ve found it helpful to go back to the notion that our purpose is intimacy. We can forget the rest. Because, if you can be intimate with life by being authentic, kind and present in every moment of your day, you’re contributing to the world in the best possible way. And, inevitably the goodness of the world will come back to you, more easily and with greater pleasure than you ever imagined. I guess, you could say in this way: Yoga is Peace.

Exploring your own comfortable definition of spirituality and creating a routine to express yourself through this light (be it yoga, attending church, simply sitting in quiet or your own personal practice) is the key to experiencing direct intimacy with life. And while it’s true – you get what you give – ultimately, getting intimate is what really makes life worth living.

Sending love and well wishes to your corner now & always,

Amy

Personal Photo: Playa Vista, CA