Just Do Your Best

This is all I ask of students who venture into my Yoga classes. Do your best today; not yesterday’s best and not tomorrow’s best. Do your best today with whatever you have. A sentiment that is out of the norm in a society of full calendars, adrenaline fueled must-keep-going ideology, and do a minimum of 110% all day, err day and if you can’t do that you’ve failed.

Something I notice with students is there’s an expectation for the practice be easy, that they – the student – should be able to do everything from the get-go, that they should be progressing quicker, and every class should always result in a feeling of being extremely relaxed. When those things aren’t happening the student feels distraught. The bar is set so high that students do not allow themselves to be human, and the essence of the practice – being mindful and present – is lost.

Downward-Facing Dog is a great example of students becoming frustrated. The very first Down Dog is uncomfortable – a physical and mental struggle. It can be a big upper cut to the ego. However, overtime the more the posture is practiced there is potential for more ease, which feels like a reward every time it happens. This doesn’t happen every time, though. Some days if feels like you’re back in the first Downward-Facing Dog.

This happens with breath work, single-point concentration, meditation, Yamas, Niyamas…basically, every aspect of Yoga. Yet, no one gives themselves credit for continuing on, even when the path isn’t clear and there’s no pot at the end of the rainbow. There’s no “but at least I tried, at least I showed up.”

Yoga is not about showing up in the way you want or the way you think you ought to. Rather Yoga is about coming to the practice as you are in the moment and using whatever tools you have available, wholeheartedly.

Today I shared this quote with my beginner class. Maybe it will resonate with you.

Divers search in the ocean for pearls; they don’t find them every time. They may have to dive twenty or thirty times in the deep sea to get them – and even then they don’t always succeed. Sometimes they may not find certain pearls for years, although the pearls are there. The diver is doing his duty, but he is not getting a reward. Each of us must likewise make repeated efforts in our own life. Always make an effort. But there should be sincerity in it.
– Swami Rama

Feurerstein, Georg. Yoga Gems: A Treasury of Practical and Spiritual Wisdom from Ancient and Modern Masters.

How do you approach your Yoga practice or any activity/task? Do you expect a “pearl” each time? If you don’t find a pearl, how do you feel and what do you do? Can you accept that you did your best and take pleasure in that knowledge?


Let’s Talk Hot Yoga & Body Detox

If you’ve seen anything about hot yoga online or talked with certain yoga teachers, studios, or students you’ve probably seen/heard claims that these heated classes remove toxins from the body through sweat. Here’s the thing…that’s bullshit.

Let’s start with an short anatomy lesson to understand how the body actually detoxes itself.

The Liver

This is a large, meaty organ located on the right side of your body under your rib cage. The liver filters all the blood coming from the stomach and intestines, breaks, balances, and creates nutrients for the body to use. It also metabolizes drugs, making them easier for the body to use. Some of the others things the liver does – production of bile to help carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine during digestion, produce certain proteins for plasma, store & release glucose, conversion of ammonia into urea which is major organic component of urine, clears the blood of drugs and other harmful substances. When the liver breaks down harmful substances they are released into blood or bile. Bile by-products enter the intestines and exit the body as poop. Blood by-products are filtered out by the kidneys and exit the body as pee.

The Kidneys

Your kidneys are two bean shaped organs about the size of your fist located below your rib cage on either side of your spine. These organs filter your blood of by-products from the liver, waste from food you eat and normal breakdown of active muscle, and extra water. These are then exit the body as urine.

Basically, if your liver and kidneys are functioning properly and you are pooping and peeing then your body is removing toxins all on its own. It doesn’t need your help.

Right now you might be thinking, “But wait. What about sweat? Sweat isn’t mentioned in either of those descriptions. My yoga teacher says that sweating helps the body detox.” Let’s talk about perspiration.


Perspiration, aka sweating, in your body’s way of cooling itself. Clear liquid is excreted from sweat glands either due to increased body temperature (i.e. fever or being in a hot room) and/or the activation of your sympathetic nervous system (when you are anxious) resulting in the release of adrenaline.

Tada! That’s it.

Now, some people are going to argue that studies have found heavy metals in sweat. While this might happen, when you actually look at the levels of heavy metals they are so minuscule that there’s no benefit. And there’s really no proof that these heavy metals were “sweated” out, but could be found on the surface of the skin because we are constantly being exposed to heavy metals in many ways. However, for the fun of it let’s pretend for a second that the level of heavy metals found in sweat would actually be of benefit to the body. If you are someone who doesn’t rinse off or change clothes after getting sweaty, this means your body would be reabsorbing everything in your sweat and you would be undoing everything.

I have taught a lot of hot yoga classes over the last three years. Some students genuinely enjoy the heat, and I’ve had some students with arthritis tell me the heat makes their joints feel better. Those are valid reasons to be in a hot yoga class. However, a lot of students come to the practice because of the misinformation that is floating around. Hot yoga will not help you “sweat out” a cold or hangover.

Your body is actually quite an intelligent machine. Let it do its job. If you start to notice concerning changes, please contact a medical professional.

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

Hey! What’s up? How’s it going?

I’d like to start off with this. When I started my website I never intended to have a blog. I’m not much for journaling, jotting down thoughts, etc. I think I’ve been limiting myself by only posting things when I feel like I have some grand idea to share. I mean, who’d want to read someone’s random thoughts or half-baked ideas? Combine those two things and you’ve got a not so awesome blog. So I’d like to give this is blog thing another go. I can’t promise weekly posts, at least not yet, but I want to hold myself accountable to post more often. If there’s a topic you have questions about and would like me to explore, please share your ideas with me. And with that…

My name is Shel. I live in the Midwest with my boyfriend and two dogs (a beagle and beagle dachshund mix). Yoga is my thing. Like all of Yoga. I love teaching classes, I love talking philosophy, I love continuing to learn about Yoga, I love sharing Yoga with others. While I am a certified yoga teacher with some Yoga Alliance credentials, I still believe I am a student.

I like to describe myself as a people-positive, trauma informed Yoga teacher. My belief is that Yoga is for all people. All colors, shapes, sizes, gender identities, sexual orientations, education levels, financial status, degrees of trauma, mobility, etc. Empowerment is the focus of my classes. Each and every one of my students, each and every person has power, but life situations and societal practices would have us believe that isn’t true. When you are in my classes you are in control of your journey. My job is to facilitate and cultivate a space in which you can explore, respond, grow, and reconnect to your power.

I think that’s about it for now. Thanks for hanging around if you’ve been here for bit. Hello to anyone new.

Let’s buckle up and see where this road takes us!

Now is the Practice of Yoga

A couple weeks ago, I felt pulled to my copy of Sri Swami Satchidananda’s commentary of The Yoga Sutras. Specifically, the first Sutra (1.1) of the entire collection, “Atha Yoganusasanam.” I had been introduced to this Sutra during my 200 hour yoga teacher training, and reintroduced when I attended a workshop series discussing the Sutras, but it didn’t really mean all that much to me.

Maybe it was because in my yoga teacher training we, the trainees, we’re given the translation, “Now is the practice of Yoga.” My thought was, “Well, yeah. We were practicing yoga because we were at yoga teacher training. Duh.” Not much discussion was offered on this, instead we went to the next topic without obtaining much depth.

Or maybe it is because Sri Swami Satchidananda’s translation of “Atha Yoganusasanam,” is, “Now the exposition of Yoga is being made.” Satchidananda explains this as, “Anusasanam means exposition or instruction because it is not mere philosophy that Patanjali is about to expound, but rather direct instruction on how to practice Yoga. Mere philosophy will not satisfy us. We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone. Without practice, nothing can be achieved.” (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, page 3) Each time I read this I was like, “Neat,” and simply went on.  The thing is, though, the first Sutra of each book is the most important, and the first Sutra of the entire collection is the most important of them all. If I am a Yoga teacher, and I’m not connecting to this first Sutra, then how can I share any kind of depth with my students?

So I started to wade into the muddy water. As I kept coming to this Sutra and looking at Sri Swami Satchidananda’s words, the notes from the Sutras workshop, and other interpretations of this Sutra I started to feel like the water might be come clear at some point, but I still had some wading to do before I would be able see to the bottom of this pond.

One day as I was driving to teach a class I had a thought about the word, “Atha,” which translates to, “Now.” Now is defined as the present time or moment. I feel most people, including myself sometimes, think of Now as a finite concept, like an appointment. However, Yoga is repeatedly said to be a continuous practice because it is done, both, on and off the mat. If Yoga is to be practiced constantly, then it must be practiced throughout every moment. What if “Now” was replaced with “every moment?” That would make it, “Every moment is the practice of Yoga.”

When I made that small, yet profound, switch of verbiage in my interpretation I felt a bit more clarity, but still needed more to really understand. This was the catalyst that caused me to return to my notes from the Yoga Sutras workshop I had taken. The instructor, who had been a student of Satchidananda’s, had broken down a couple more Sanskrit elements.

“Yoga” means to “union,” “to yoke,” or ,”join.” (If you’ve taken any number of Yoga classes you’ve probably heard a teacher use that translation before, but usually referring to the union of breath and movement or breath, body, and mind. I’ve heard it countless times. I’ve even used it in some of my first classes as a teacher.) The next phrase she described was “Anu.” “Anu” is “little moments where you see the most vastness.” These little moments occur when we feel connected to our higher Self, when everything feels aligned and right. That everything is as it should be.

When these new elements are added to the Sutra, the result is, “Every moment is the practice of joining with your higher Self.”

In each moment of our lives, we are trying to attain this state of bliss or enlightenment. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. However, Yoga is a continuous practice. Yoga isn’t something that just happens on your mat. It happens at work, the grocery store, the park, in the middle of standstill traffic. Every waking moment the practice of Yoga is happening. And with each new moment comes a new chance for this union with your higher Self to occur.

Atha Yoganusasanam.

Now is the practice of Yoga.

Please, don’t.

*Around 2 a.m. one night I was struggling to sleep. The following is what came from my mind at that time.*

Please, don’t say you need to work on your beach body.

Please, don’t say, “I need to lose another 5 pounds.”

Please, don’t tear yourself down because you “failed” at or skipped your regular workout.

Please, don’t be mad at yourself for eating a cupcake or two and promise you’ll do better.

Please, don’t dismiss the messages your body is sending you.

Please, don’t disregard your emotions.

Please, don’t fall prey to beauty industry lies.

Please, don’t believe you are unworthy or broken.

Please, don’t stop wishing on stars.

Please, don’t forget you are made of stardust and contain all the magic you will ever need inside you.

Please. Don’t.

Good Vibes Only: A Practice of Spiritual Bypassing

It’s easy for me to get Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” stuck in my head come across the phrase, “Good vibes only.” However, I’m pretty sure the good vibes they sang about are different than the good vibes being expressed in this phrase.

What I get from this trendy expression is that good equals positive, and positive energy is the only thing acceptable to put out and to surround oneself with. Negativity should be avoided because negative vibes are bad. I find this to a very flawed way of thinking and experiencing life.

The pursuit of “good vibes only” is a form of spiritual bypassing. It is an avoidance tactic by using spiritual ideas to justify why someone is not facing issues. The Universe and life doesn’t always offer up what most people would consider positive. We’re not always given things that make us happy or content or joyful in every moment. Sometimes the Universe provides us with some really uncomfortable situations of negativity. Allowing yourself the opportunities to feel, observe, and analyze negative feelings and to visit your darkness or shadowside can bring about positive change through transmutation. You’re taking the energy in the negative situation or experience and changing it to something positive. Within this process of change growth and positive energy or vibrations are created.

If you are only seeking “good vibes” or positivity in your life experience, you are most likely masking negativity and pretending it is something it is not, or most likely, figuratively, burying “bad” feelings or thoughts. When these things are not dealt with they cause people to experience dis-ease, which may transform into disease because your body and mind are imprinted with your experiences. You also are vulnerable to having all of what you are avoiding bubble over and overwhelm you, and if you have not being practicing stepping into the darkness and gathering the tools to help you in those situations it can be quite scary when that overwhelming and sudden take over happens.

While I believe everyone wants to be happy and live a life filled with content, it is important to remember there is always some dark in the light and light in the dark. You can’t have just “positivity” in your life. There is always going to be some “negativity,” but you have the ability to morph what you might see as negative into something positive. This alteration is not always easy. It might mean that you have to give up something you’ve been holding on to for far too long out of fear, but the growth gained from that experience is what makes that experience so valuable in the end.

Self-Care Series, Episode 4: The Time I was Asked About Diets

Thursdays I teach a small group class at a local St. Louis corporation. Some weeks I share with them interesting things I’ve read about or have been studying. Other weeks I ask if they have questions or want to share something.

Today one of the students said he had been getting into learning about nutrition and asked if there were any diets I follow or recommend.

Such an interesting question.

I understand why he would ask that because yoga is becoming such a part of the fitness industry it is easy to assume yoga teachers would eat certain ways, similar to the idea personal trainers eat certain ways. There’s also the understanding that society is hyper-focused on achieving a particular “body” and the assumption that it can be “done” through diet and exercise. Because of these understandings and assumptions, I wanted to give him an honest answer — an answer that was authentic and truthful for me. However, I didn’t want to come off condescending or righteous because that can happen when topics of food and dieting comes up. I wanted to create a space of sharing and discussion, not confrontation.

Here’s my answer.

I don’t diet. I don’t follow certain food protocols, restrictions, whatever you want to call it. At least not in the traditional sense. When I did do those things, they led to disordered eating. (He was sort of taken aback, which tends to happen when I say I’ve struggled with food.) Now, I try to practice more intuitive eating. I try to listen to the messages and cues my body is sending me as best I can and honor them. I focus more on how the things I consume make me feel, physically, mentally, and emotionally, without restricting and placing rules on myself. The only foods I avoid are the ones in which I have a sensitivity, i.e. soy, avocado, bananas. I try to not judge or punish myself for choices or amounts. Instead of restricting, I am practicing unrestricting. At one time I had a list of foods, while not considered “unhealthy” by most people, that were on a list of foods I couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t eat because of their nutritional value, or lack thereof. Now I have an incredible list of foods that make me feel functional, whole, satisfied, vibrant because that’s more valuable to me. I am not going to judge anyone who practices a particular restrictive diet, like Paleo, Keto, Veganism, etc., but I also won’t promote those practices.

(This might not be the popular answer, but it’s mine.)

Why did I make this part of the Self-Care Series?

I truly believe if we were not meant to enjoy food and drink then our senses wouldn’t attract us to it. Why do smells make our mouths water? Why do the bright colors of produce draw us in? Why are we able to notice the different textures and flavors? Why entice us if we aren’t supposed to experience pleasure and satisfaction? I also believe food can be medicine for physical, mental, and emotional bodies. I believe making empowered choices regarding what each one of us consumes is a big middle finger to an industry that wants us to be complacent. I believe the way we think about what we consume is an indication of how we treat and care for ourselves.

The diet industry is a big business. It makes approximately $60 billion dollars a year, and the focus is not on helping people. The industry’s focus is on shaming people into to believing their bodies make them unworthy and they’ll find happiness if they change their appearance. The diet industry is focused on making people feel guilty when a diet fails, and plays hero by swooping in with another diet for the person to try so the cycle can continue. The diet industry is about sales.

Start to notice and analyze your relationship with food. Do you feel empowered by your consumption choices? Do you find pleasure and satisfaction with food? Are you able to interpret your body’s messages? Can you read them loud and clear? Or do you ignore your body? Do you feel shamed, guilty, beat down? Do you spend more time thinking about food and planning meals that it takes away from the other things in your life? Is your list of “no-no” foods a hell of a lot longer than your list of “yes, please” foods? If you are feeling more negative toward yourself and food, maybe it’s time to practice something different. Maybe it’s time to say, “Fuck you,” to the diets. Maybe it’s time to become friends with your body because contrary to what the diet industry tells us the body is quite intelligent and knows what it is doing.

The Void: April’s New Moon

*I’m going to preface this post with the acknowledgement that I am in no way an expert in the Lunar Cycle or Astrology. Last August’s Total Solar Eclipse was an incredible event, which reignited my connection to the Moon and the night sky. The knowledge I share in regards to the Moon and her cycle is basic stuff I’ve learned so far.*

The Lunar Cycle is comprised of multiple phases. Some of the more widely known phases are New Moons and Full Moons. Today is the New Moon for April coming off of the Full Moon on March 31st.

The New Moon is both the end and the beginning of a Lunar Cycle. It is a time when the Moon in invisible to the eye creating a moonless night sky. Because of this we’re in a moment that can be viewed as nothingness, darkness, silence, a blank slate, a void. This moment is like the pause at the end of the exhale before the lungs begin to draw breath in again. (Take a moment to observe your breath. Can you feel the space between exhale and inhale?) However, this space doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Within this void there is release and creation, surrender and control, rest and action.

This is a time when some people feel called to draw inward to visit their shadowside or darkness to examine and evaluate what is found there, release that which no longer has purpose or serves, and create new intentions or beginnings. While some can embrace this experience freely, there are many people who avoid such things.

Think about how voids show up in your life. Are you ever excited to pause? Do you embrace the stillness? Or does stillness make your cringe? Do you try to find something to fill the empty time slot because you feel lazy or guilty about not being “productive” all the time? Why is stillness considered unproductive? If a room becomes quiet, do you feel compelled to speak? Why is that? What would happen if you let the stillness or the silence envelop you? What would happen if you turned inward, cleared a plot, tilled some soil, and planted some internal seeds?

The Stories We Tell Ourselves and the Tapestries We Weave

(This is a piece I wrote and submitted to Elephant Journal. The piece is on their site, and I would appreciate if you could head over to their site and heart and/or share the piece. The more views it receives the more likely I will be able to continue sharing ideas with EJ. Thank you! ~Shel)

Why we should practice self-reflection, self-study, and share our truth.

Have you ever had difficulty with internal dialogue or self-talk? You know, listening to the voice that is sometimes a complete ass hat?

Sometimes I struggle with an ever-present inner monologue, creating stories in my head—stories of unworthiness, negativity, fear, and anger. The stories can sound something like, “Someone covered class for me last week. What if students stop coming to my yoga classes because they realize I’m not good as a yoga teacher, and I’m not actually worthy of being their teacher,” “My body is a waste. It’s not worthy of taking up space,” and “How can I help people see that their bodies want love and compassion if I struggle with mine?”

From an early age, I have had a remarkable ability to weave threads together and create a tapestry of untruth. For years, I was not able to see that I was telling stories. I truly believed all the things I was telling myself about me and others. By all means, these tapestries were not only created with threads I spun and dyed myself, but also from threads given to me by others, like comments from strangers, biases that were taught, beauty standards, social media, and many other sources.

Recently, I landed in a place where I was creating a lot of negative stories. I was struggling with my body image, fighting the urge to reinstate my gym membership, change to controlling my food intake and choices, and telling myself I wasn’t good enough in most aspects of my life.

One day, I decided to post about it on Instagram to share this idea of storytelling and untruth with my classes. For me, sharing my thoughts when I have felt stuck, no matter what the thoughts were about, has helped me find answers. After sharing these concepts online and with my students, I was thrown back to my college days.

During college, I studied Architecture and Interior Design. In my design studio and art classes, I was taught and required to justify all the decisions made during the design process. I had to constructively criticize and critically think about my projects. When asked, “But why did you…,” the answer, ”Because it’s neat,” or, “Because it’s pretty,” or, “Because it has pop,” or any other surface-level answer was not acceptable because they were subjective and based on opinion. If those answers weren’t acceptable in those hypothetical situations, then why was it acceptable to give my self-surface level, superficial, subjective answers to the stories being woven into my head?

This ignited my inquiry of “but why.”

But why was I struggling with my body image? But why I was struggling with self-worth?

The first couple of answers were the surface level answers—those easier to believe and digest because one doesn’t really want to get to the actual reason since one would then have to feel and learn something. With each “but why” I was able to look at each thread I had used. Inspecting the threads qualities, characteristics, and if it actually added anything of interest to the overall tapestry. As I looked at the threads already in the tapestry, I was able to observe and analyze what was really there, and decide if this was worth saving, or it if would be best to remove it from the loom and start fresh.

The practice of questioning our stories and asking “but why” is the practice of Satya (truthfulness)—one of the Yamas (ethical guidelines for living; one of the eight limbs of yoga).

This self-reflection and study allow us to decide if the story is actually fact or fiction. It allows us to go deeper within ourselves, see our truths, and then share those true stories. Sometimes, this inspection of our self is uncomfortable. Sometimes, it requires that we ask harder questions and receive unsavory answers. It’s not just the stories about ourselves that we can begin to question, but also the stories we tell other people.

What are the stories you tell yourself? What are the biases you’ve been taught to believe? What are the threads used in the tapestries you weave?

Can you start to ask, “But why?” Can you start to look at the qualities of the threads in your story’s tapestry? Self-study and reflection will allow you to speak, live, and share your authentic self with others, even those who’ve lived a different life than you. It will guide you as you continue to weave and display the pieces of art that represent who you truly are.

Self-Care Series, Episode 3: Mindful Movement

Welcome, everyone! It’s Self-Care Sunday, again, and we’re talking Mindful Movement!

(I apologize for not posting an episode last Sunday, but I needed a self-care day with zero obligations. Now on to the show!)

Something I realized when I was an interior designer, and I see it even now as a yoga teacher, is people are all about instant gratification and results. Whether we want that new custom sofa or the lengthiest hamstrings there ever were, we want it yesterday. What happens, and this is seen a lot with New Year’s Resolutions, we dive all in – gym time for 2 hours 5 days a week, running 5 miles a day, etc. – get burned out, shame ourselves, and do it all over again.

The world we live in is based on results quickly and in large amounts. Deadlines are ridiculously short, sometimes unattainably short, but we’re still expected to meet them. Work loads are overwhelming and sometimes more than even two people can handle. Stress hormones are in a constant state of flux, which causes people to believe it’s normal to be on a constant adrenaline rush, and if we aren’t on this constant adrenaline rush, then there must be a problem…right? Our world is very much focused on quantity and instant results to that point that if our movement isn’t giving us gratification immediately then it’s broken.

What if I told you that the type of movement and how much you move isn’t as important as how you engage with movement? Or that moving your body mindfully is a way to honor and celebrate your body, rather than punish it? That movement can be for pleasure?

How does someone practice mindful movement?

Mindful movement requires the development and practice of dual awareness – proprioception (a sense of the position and movement of one’s body parts) and exteroception (a sense of external stimuli) and/or interoception (a sense of internal stimuli, i.e. hunger, pain, etc.). In yoga, students practice proprioception and interoception by becoming aware of how and where their body is moving and landing on their mat, but also noticing how their body is responding to postures and transitions.

Rather than thinking about movement in a quantitative way, what would happen if movement was thought about with a qualitative approach? In other words, instead of focusing on steps taken, calories burned, pounds lost, think about how the movement makes you feel, are you actually engaging, and do you even like how you are moving.

If you are someone who “punishes” yourself through movement, ask yourself why? If you are someone who focuses on the results, ask yourself why? Then ask yourself, what would it be like to move for the pleasure of moving? How would it feel to move because you enjoy it and because you have a body capable of moving? What do you notice when you focus on the quality of movement, what your body is doing, and how it’s responding?