Surviving Abuse and Staying Grounded with Mantra, Movement, and Meditation January 12, 2019 10:15
2018 was a year of reflection for me. 2019 will be about speaking up, reclaiming my own power, and healing. I taught yoga at a local studio in Greenwood for a few years. I came to the studio while I was taking a sabbatical from a high school teaching career. I enjoyed yoga and figured this would be a great time to take a 200-hour YTT training. It’s hard to spot toxicity and deception when you’re practicing something that’s supposed to be good for you and that makes you feel good. However, there were definitely some red flags at this studio. It took me a while to see them, and even longer to act on them, but having a solid network of support and a grounded personal practice that included mantra, movement, and meditation was crucial for me to heal and move forward.
Things started out normal enough. I had taken a variety of classes and enjoyed them before eventually paying $3K for the YTT program. As the trainings and classes progressed, though, I started to notice some disturbing patterns. Sometimes, and for no discernible reason, there would be a heavy, thick tension in the studio space. The studio owner would be aloof and moody on occasion, and then more frequently, and for longer stretches of time. She angered easily, she was easily triggered, and she often threw her then business partner under the bus at the slightest sign of drama or conflict. I assumed these were flukes—simply occasional private issues on the business end that were leaking into the public studio space. No worries, right???
However, as time passed, secrets, half-truths, miscommunications, and, at times, a total lack of communication became more prevalent and pervasive. I was slated to complete my training in early fall 2013, but the business owner ran off to Vegas for several weeks. All modules and YTT trainings ceased, and her business partner was left to run the studio alone. Students and clients had lots of questions, and understandably so—they wanted to know where she went—and when she was to return—and why she left so suddenly. These were all reasonable concerns (I was concerned she was gambling away our YTT cash!). Her business partner's response? She went to Vegas to have dental work done—and he wasn’t sure when she was coming back. Uh-oh—serious doubts were beginning to germinate!
The good news is, I did eventually graduate from their YTT program, albeit several months after when I had anticipated. Apparently, Vegas has very meticulous dentists! She and her partner are very knowledgeable about yoga; that's what made their program so appealing--but knowledge alone doesn't make an effective teacher. Ethics matters--how you treat people matters.
I was asked to teach a Yin class at the studio later that spring. I enjoyed practicing Yin, and I had also taken additional training with Bernie Clark in Vancouver, which I enjoyed immensely. I enjoyed teaching Yin as well. I loved working with my students. I enjoyed creating sequences and providing modifications or alternative poses for them to explore in order to discover what was right for their own bodies. I also went to Kripalu for specialized training in Prenatal Yoga, and I taught a prenatal class at the studio as well. I also picked up an all-levels class during the day. I spent a lot of time at the studio—either taking or teaching classes.
While I focused my attention on my students and on improving my own practice, the red flags were still present, and they were multiplying.
Now that I was on the studio’s payroll, I felt like I was walking on egg shells. I never knew what mood the business owner would be in, and I never knew what would set her off. She could be very domineering and manipulative in and outside of her classes. She would befriend a select few of her students—she'd laugh, talk, and even socialize outside of class with these favorites. She'd compliment them, brag about them in class, let them in on secret jokes, but then she’d ignore others, and she would be quite cruel and emotionally abusive to those she deemed weak or fragile. She could be unnecessarily harsh at times, a cruel and manipulative bully. I was never one of her favorites, but she didn't unload her wrath on me, either. She was occasionally snappy,rude, and judgmental with me--I was just a collateral nuisance.
In September of 2016, I stopped attending her classes. I reached the point where I couldn’t listen to her voice without feeling angry. It was disrupting my own practice. I continued to teach at the studio, however. I had hoped that avoiding her classes would create enough of a distance. I would focus on my own students and my own practice. This worked for a while…sort of.
She was never a transparent communicator to begin with—very mysterious and aloof. Because I didn’t see her in the studio as regularly, the communications I did receive were either urgent, demanding emails (about things that weren't urgent at all) or passive-aggressive Post-it notes left on the desk, stereo, thermostat, or bathroom door. Her lack of professionalism was staggering.
Her business partner had departed by this point, and she continued to host YTT immersions on her own. I was fortunate to have been in a training that spanned up to two years to complete. At this point, however, she was hosting more frequent intensives that ran only three-months long, which is not nearly enough time to integrate the material necessary to be an effective yoga teacher. I wasn’t on the receiving end of the emotional abuse and unnecessary dramas that she was inflicting on these YTT students, but many of them were, and they were coming to me to vent and share their concerns.
At this time, I was taking a meditation teacher training program at another yoga studio in the area. I was thoroughly enjoying the daily meditation practices. When I took occasional trainings and workshops at other studios, the studio owners and students were so genuine, warm, caring, and professional. The contrast was alarming when I compared it to where I was teaching. At this time, I had also discovered Reggie Ray’s The Awakening Body and was practicing somatic meditations daily as well. This, along with my japa practice and home yoga practice were keeping me rooted, grounded, and sane.
I stayed at this studio because I enjoyed the practice.
I stayed at this studio because I enjoyed teaching yoga.
I stayed at this studio because I enjoyed working with my students.
I stayed too long…
Even though I had stopped taking her classes, I did not feel right about teaching in such a toxic studio environment, and I didn’t feel right working for someone who I did not respect. I continued to hear from her students about her outbursts of rudeness and cruelty, and I didn't know what to do about it. I don't think others did, either--they just left and didn't return--and a lot of people left. She blamed it on "the space." Said it determined who stayed and who didn't. Looking back, that's just nuts!
Hindsight can be quite painful, and in hindsight, I knew that by continuing to teach in her studio, I was guilty, too, guilty of willful blindness and complicity to this abuse, even though I was an occasional victim myself. Even though I didn’t participate in the abuse itself, I was a bystander, and I didn't speak up, and that was not acceptable.
Ironically, though, I don't think a lot of the students who took weekly classes there were even aware that this was going on. It was so subtle--or behind the scenes. Maybe they caught a glimpse--a snatch of her moodiness--a sliver of tension. It wasn't blatant enough or direct enough to catch their collective attention, however. If it did, they ignored it, too.
Late in the fall of 2017, when I found out about a somatic meditation retreat program in Crestone, CO, I decided to leave the yoga studio.
I had been mired in and teaching in a dark, toxic environment, and I had found something nourishing and positive to lead me away. But, I didn’t leave without help. I found Diane Bruni’s Facebook group to be extremely helpful. It was here that I was introduced to alternative movement modalities to supplement the gaps that yoga doesn’t fill for me. I also discovered Matthew Remski’s research and writings about cult dynamics. His research proved to be a life raft for me. He has a book coming out in March of this year that I can’t wait to read (Practice and All Is Coming: Abuse, Cult Dynamics, and Healing in Yoga and Beyond). I also found Rachel Bernstein’s work to be extremely helpful as well. She’s a licensed therapist who has twenty years of experience working with cult survivors. Her podcast, IndoctriNation, is an excellent resource. I’ve recently started to work with a holistic chiropractor in Franklin. Dr. Amanda Meyers is excellent, and she is helping me to address and heal the physical symptoms that have manifested in my own body as a result of this traumatic experience.
Since leaving the studio, I no longer teach yoga publicly. Instead, I have spent the year focusing on my business and my own mantra, movement, and meditation practices at home. These practices have been healing for me, and they have restored my own sense of integrity and authenticity. I’ve also found a source of comfort and support at TMBCC, a Buddhist center in Bloomington, and I continue to surround myself with kind-hearted, positive, genuine people.
What have I learned from all of this?
- Be very, very careful about choosing a teacher (yoga, meditation, dharma, etc.). While it’s important that he/she is knowledgeable, knowledge alone is not enough—being professional, having integrity, compassion, empathy, and ethics are essential, too.
- Listen to your intuition and your body (if I had listened to the soft whispers of intuitive wisdom and the nagging aches and pains sooner, I would have moved on sooner, or responded differently!)
- Cultivate and maintain a personal practice that suits you in order to nourish yourself. I hope that while I was teaching at this studio, I was able to make a positive impact on the students I served. They mattered to me, and I stayed as long as I did because of them.
- Speak up! Bullies, narcissists, and leaders of high need groups require passive bystanders in order to get away with spewing their hateful cruelty and crazy talk. I wish I'd had the courage to speak up in the studio--to look her right in the eye and say, "Enough! That's inappropriate! Stop it!"
I'm speaking up now--better late than never.
The Benefits of Keeping a Spiritual Journal June 3, 2017 15:17
Over the years, I’ve kept various types of journals and logs. For the past three years, I’ve been keeping track of my japa practice in small, portable notebooks.
Though I’ve been pretty diligent about writing in these logs, I am horrible about taking the time to read over the entries (they’re more like lists, really) to reflect on what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown as a practitioner. Being in the present moment and recording the present moment is one thing—but taking the time to look over a year of present moments to note tendencies and patterns is a really daunting task. Honestly, I thought I might be bored out of my mind—many of my daily observations are really mundane and repetitious, but I did manage to find a few nuggets of wisdom among the pages.
*THE REPETITIOUS AND MUNDANE ARE EVIDENCE OF DEDICATION
8.12.16 “Chanted with the Olympics on mute.”
12.26.16 “Practiced yoga for over an hour to tango music in the living room.”
1.4.17 “Chanted before Yin—then watched Portlandia after class.”
Countless entries made reference to the practice—the yoga practice—the chanting practice—the meditation practice. Regardless of the day, the time, the location, or the circumstances, the practice was the hub, and the driving force of these entries. Practice requires commitment and dedication, and these entries, while repetitive, were solid proof of this resolve. Taking the time to reread them has bolstered my desire to continue all of these practices, including the writing practice.
*CELEBRATE JOYFUL MOMENTS (BIG AND SMALL)
10.1.16 “Jim and I attended a wedding (apprentice from the shop). The groomsmen had superhero action figures in their shirt pockets.”
10.15.16 “Took a photo of the full Hunter’s Moon as Hugo kept me company out in the yard.”
11.21.16 “Prajnaparamita arrived today. She’s beautiful.”
1.20.17 “Received a handmade card from a nun I’m sponsoring in India. Venerable Tsundue Palmo. She’s 12.”
There were several unexpected surprises hidden among the ordinary entries. Some of these nuggets of joy I had forgotten about; others, I remembered vividly. Reading these entries was a lot like looking over photos in an old album. The brief notations and descriptions were like faded photographs, but they were clear enough to trigger these pleasant memories so that I could enjoy them again.
* DISAPPOINTMENTS AND TRAGEDIES ARE OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH
1.23.17 “This lifetime is like a flash of lightning. Be hard on your delusions, not on yourself.”
2.10.17 “Went to Mike’s funeral. Jim did such a fabulous job. He spoke at the service—honest, sincere, tearful, funny. So proud of him. What a sendoff!”
4.3.17 “Hugo was really struggling this morning. Jim and I took him to the vet in the back of my car. Elise met us there. We said goodbye as a family.”
Just as there were many moments of joy—this year also brought challenging moments as well. Sadness, anger, despair, grief, and doubt were opportunities to implement the practice in order to heal and grow. This is where all of those mundane moments really paid off. I needed the help of all of the practices in order to allow and be, to sit patiently with these intense emotions until the storm surges settled. Taking time to remember and acknowledge these moments gave me an opportunity to appreciate what I have endured, and to value each fleeting present moment even more.
*TRUST… RIGHT PEOPLE, RIGHT PLACES, RIGHT TIMES
6.25.16 “Love and compassion are the keys to happiness, not money, power, and things.” HH Dalai Lama Lecture at State Fairgrounds
8.27.16 “Attended Teaching—Had lunch with sangha—watermelon slices with Geshe Kunga and Ten Pa. Stayed for afternoon prayers—Rinpoche blessed Josie’s mala—Green Tara—Heart Sutra—Lovely.”
11.2.16 “The Cubs haven’t won a World Series in 108 years. There are 108 laces on a baseball. Just strung the 108th bead on a Kumbaba Jasper mala—sending much love and light out to the Cubs.”
Every cell in my body resonates to the frequency of the belief that the right people and events will come into your life when they’re supposed to, and they’ll leave when they’re supposed to. I’m all about right place, right time, and this year was no exception. Whether it was listening to The Dalai Lama deliver a live lecture in Indianapolis, chatting with dear friends, working with students, discovering the right book, documentary, YouTube tutorial, or movie at just the right time, the best lessons and teachers have arrived at the perfect time and in the best way. I know that as long as I continue to practice—to sit, to chant, to breathe, to write, to step onto the mat, to be present…I will continue to learn, grow, and blossom, and, with a little luck, benefit others along the way.
One Breath, One Bead at a Time. July 4, 2016 16:04
The Zombie Apocalypse is real. For 25 years, I taught high school English. For many of those years, I felt trapped in a perpetual cycle of planning lessons, creating tests and essay assignments, grading papers, and attempting to manage and meet the academic needs of students crammed in over-crowded classrooms. I often felt confined by the clock and by the ever-present and perpetually-increasing demands that a data-driven system thrives on—the almighty standardized test scores.
I felt stressed—all the time—and I spent very little time in the present moment. This constant striving, doing, rushing, pushing, and grasping for the future or ruminating and worrying about the past kept me from meeting the needs of my students and taking care of myself. It also kept me out of the present moment, and it prevented me from enjoying my life. My students never really knew who I was—and neither did I.
For a quarter of a century, I was caught up in a trance, and yoga and meditation gradually helped me break the spell and encouraged me to find balance and purpose in my life.
My first experience with yoga and meditation occurred when I was a freshman at Butler. A guest speaker came to our Physical Education/Health class. My fellow classmates and I were crammed into a small classroom/storage room, and many of us giggled our way through the guided meditation followed by a brief asana practice in the gym. This was not an ideal environment to explore the benefits of meditation and yoga, and it certainly didn’t leave a lasting or accurate impression on me.
I revisited meditation when I was pregnant with my daughter in 1994, and in 2000, started regularly attending a yoga class at a local gym. Progress was glacially slow—but gradually, very gradually, I started to find a respite from the 10,000 distractions and thoughts that blocked my path, and I started to connect and reconnect with myself.
Stilling the constant mental chatter in meditation was a big challenge in the beginning—and still can be at times, even now. But with consistent practice, and, ideally, after an hour of asana practice, it’s much easier to climb inside the present moment. Memories, thoughts, and feelings still rise to the surface, but it’s easier now to briefly acknowledge them, allow them to drift away in order to make room for the spaces between thoughts.
Yoga, too, has helped. It has helped me focus on my breathing—and to bring my awareness out of the mind and into the body—even for just a little while. Yoga also allows me to sit more comfortably when I’m meditating—and to sit for longer periods of time.
In recent years, I have added a mantra practice with malas to enhance my meditation and yoga practice. Using a mala gives me a tactile anchor that keeps me rooted and grounded in the here and now. Each bead becomes a fresh focal point, a new beginning, ushering in a new moment. Each inhalation, each exhalation, each repetition of the mantra welcomes now, and now, and now.
Ultimately, my yoga and meditation practice has saved my life—it has helped me find balance and perspective, and it has prevented me from falling off the precipice of perpetual busyness and disappearing into the abyss of the living dead.
I’ve since retired from teaching full-time. I still tutor part-time, and working with students one-on-one allows me to give them my undivided attention—to be fully present. I also teach and practice yoga, and along with running a small business, I still remain very busy, but I am no longer a slave to busyness. I am living my life on my own terms, and I am living my life one moment at a time—one bead at a time.
Grandmother Spider May 17, 2015 17:44
This morning I watched a beautiful corn spider sitting in the middle of her web in our front garden. She waited patiently among her carefully arranged silken cords, her intricate yellow and black coloring contrasting sharply with Hosta leaves and white rhododendrons.
To the Hopi, Grandmother Spider is an earth goddess. To the Cherokee, she is a bringer of light. Ancient Egyptians believed that the spider was a spinner and weaver of destiny. Grandmother Spider is Thinking Woman. What she thinks about, manifests, and we are all connected to this universal source of creativity.
Our lives aren't simply an assortment of random happenings. For each of us, there is an underlying pattern and design, and, to some extent, we have a little control over our lives. With our thoughts, with our actions and reactions, and with our words, we determine, to some degree, our future and our possibilities.
The word "bead" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words "bidden" (to pray) and "bede" (prayer). We all have access to the creative silk that resides within us. Where will it lead us? We are constantly assessing and reassessing our lives, taking stock, making changes, making mistakes, making discoveries, correcting, and second-guessing, but in the end, it all leads us exactly where we were meant to go.
One bead at a time, one prayer at a time, one breath at a time, each moment is a small flash in time that eventually leads us to the larger picture.
This beautiful garden spider reminded me that everything is linked; everything is connected, whether you are stringing beads, stringing prayers, stringing thoughts, words, or numbers, we are the architects and designers of our own lives. As long as we are authentic, as long as we honor our own creative endeavors, as long as we work to build a life full of meaning, our lives will, in fact, be beautiful, interconnected, and meaningful. It takes trust, it takes courage, it takes forgiveness, it takes commitment, and it takes patience, but in the end, the larger picture is well worth the journey.
Under My Thumb....or...What Is a Mala, Anyway? April 11, 2015 18:55
The Rolling Stones are slated to appear in Indianapolis on July 4 later this year. WTTS, a local, independent radio station, just played “Under My Thumb” as a tribute and a reminder to listeners to “buy your tickets now.” The iconic Stones have been around forever, and they are still rockin’ and rollin’ for their fans today.
Malas have also been rockin’ and rollin’ since the dawn of mankind. Every culture and religion on the planet has incorporated rosaries, prayer beads, japa malas, or subha as a way to deepen their spiritual practice. The materials, designs, and even number of beads may vary, but the common denominator is the same—to be still, to climb inside, and to connect with Universal Source, God, Allah, Shakti, Shiva, Spirit, Energy, Light….whatever name we choose to call that creative force that’s bigger than ourselves.
So, what is a mala?
* Mala means “garland” in Sanskrit. It is a strand of beads used for mantra meditations, recitations, or chanting.
* A mala is a meditation tool that contains 108 beads (although some contain 27 or 54 beads). Some malas include additional marker beads or counter beads, which are not counted as part of the meditation cycle. Instead, these marker beads function as reflection points or pauses, giving the meditator the opportunity to reconnect with his/her intention or focus.
* The large guru bead (teacher bead/guiding bead) or pendant acts as the starting and ending point. However, the guru is not counted, and it is never crossed if the meditator chooses to chant/recite more than one circuit.
* Malas (like prayer beads and rosaries) have been used for centuries as a meditation aid in virtually every spiritual or religious practice. You don’t have to belong to a particular religion or denomination to use a mala.
* Some meditators prefer to wear their mala as it reminds them of their intentions or affirmations throughout the day.
* Malas can also be used to decorate a sacred space. They add color and texture to an altar space or shrine.
* Some yoga practitioners wear their malas during practice or keep them on their mats to absorb the energy of their practice. A mala is a tangible reminder of the spiritual and mental benefits of their practice.
* Use a mala to recite or chant a mantra, prayer, or affirmation for each bead in the circuit. Recitations can be silent, whispered, spoken aloud, or sung.
Middle Moon Malas are hand-knotted between each gemstone bead, seed, or bead unit. This allows the meditator to see and feel more of the bead between the finger and thumb while meditating. Traditionally, full malas contain 108 beads. Why? While open to interpretation, there are more than 108 reasons why this number is so significant. Here are just a few:
* 108 is a “harshad” number, which is Sanskrit for “great joy.” A harshad number is an integer that is divisible by the sum of its digits. 1+0+8 = 9. 108 divided by 9 = 12.
* Any mathematician will tell you there’s power in numbers. One to the first power (1x1), times two to the second power (2x2=4), times three to the third power (3x3x3= 27), equals 108.
* 108 energy lines or nadis converge to create the heart chakra—and one of them, the Sushumna, is believed to be the path to realization.
* There are 108 qualities of praiseworthy souls and 108 stages along the journey of the human soul.
* The number 108 connect to the relationship between the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth. The diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the earth. The metal silver is associated with the moon. The atomic weight of silver is 108 (well, it’s actually 107.8682, but we’ll round up).
* In Sanskrit, the language of yoga, there are 54 letters in the alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine form, Shiva and Shakti. Consequently, 54 times 2 = 108.
You can sing, chant, whisper, or think the mantra that you choose to use with your mala. Your mantra can be a traditional prayer (“Our Father”) or a traditional Sanskrit mantra (“Om gum ganapatyai namaha). It can be a personal affirmation, a phrase, or a single word that helps you connect with your intention, purpose, or source.
You can use different mantras for the same mala, or, each mala can have its own mantra. I am a collector of malas, and I tend to favor the latter approach. One of my favorite mantras comes from Aibileen Clark, a character from Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
Mantras can be as personal and specific or as universal and general as you’d like. They can inspire, uplift, instruct, or honor a concept, belief, philosophy, deity, guide, or ethical code of your choosing. Each bead on your mala resonates with the mantra that you choose, and the repetition creates a soothing flow, allowing you to absorb and connect with the message more deeply. Just like the lyric goes, and in meditation, too, “It’s down to me…the change has come…under my thumb.”
I Just Wanted an Orange Mala February 24, 2015 19:39
I’ve been practicing yoga for fifteen years and meditating (off and on) for just past twenty. I’ve found that simply sitting in a quiet space trying clear my mind only made the mind chatter louder. However, when I use a mala, it is so much easier to dive into my meditation practice. Guiding smooth stones or seeds across my thumb and finger with a mantra, phrase, single word, or even just a breath, allows my practice to take root, germinate, and cultivate serenity.
I’m drawn to malas not only as meditation tools, but also as works of art. I started to collect them for their different colors, stones, and designs. Each mala carried its own unique energy, and I assigned a unique mantra or affirmation for each one. I had collected over a dozen and draped them across the altar space in my home office. Bodhi seeds, lotus seeds, green adventurine, lapis, amethyst, rose quartz, malachite, rosewood, jasper, labradorite, citrine…and then it occurred to meI wanted an orange mala. I had colors that corresponded to all of the other major chakras, all but orange. I decided that I could use a boost of creative energy, so I set out to find one in my usual places—online stores, local shops—but no luck. The only one that even came close was an overpriced plastic mala, and it wasn’t even knotted.
I prefer knotted malas. I can see and feel more of the beads, they don’t catch in my hair if I choose to wear them, and if the cord breaks, all of the beads don’t scatter across the floor.
When my search proved unsuccessful, the thought occurred to me…maybe I can make my own orange mala? So I changed my approach and found beautiful orange aqua terra jasper beads in an Etsy shop and a lovely amber-colored sea glass bead for the guru.
I treated the whole project like a science experiment—no pressure—no expectations—just playing with pretty beads and cord. After a couple of months of practice and trial-and-error with different types of cord and needles—and many attempts at stringing and restringing beads, I finally had my orange mala. The process, itself, had become a sort of meditation, and ultimately, after a year of continuing to practice and explore the art of mala making with various sizes, shapes, colors, and types of beads, became the impetus for Middle Moon Malas.
My search for an increase in creative energy has led me to design beautiful malas for others. My intention is to create hand-crafted and heart-made malas for those seeking to find their own way into a meditation practice, for those who want to wear and absorb the energy of the stones, or for those who would like to adorn their sacred spaces.
I hope you find a beautiful mala that will enhance your personal practice and inspire you to find what you are seeking on your path.