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The Power of Yoga

By Perspective

I am excited to share this episode from my dear friend and student’s podcast, Chime In with AWJ.  Amanda came into my life last fall for private instruction and we became fast friends beyond the mat.  We connected instantly on spirituality, yoga, meditation, perspective, and of course humor.  She is a bright light, an old soul, and I am ecstatic to see how she shares her light through her new venture.

In this episode, we talk about dharma and finding purpose, spirituality and how to incorporate that into a yoga practice, the importance of understanding yogic philosophy and so much more.

I’m so proud of the conversation that we had because it it real, no holding back, and is a nod to the resiliency of the human spirit.  Give it a listen and let me know what you think!

Intimacy and the Self

By Perspective, Uncategorized

What does true intimacy mean?

In June, I moved in with my boyfriend. Not just moved in; we bought a house together. He is, without a doubt, the man of my dreams. Not because he checks a list of boxes I not-so-subconsciously had in my head, but because he brings out the best in me through my own volition. I want to be the best version of myself because I want to be the best partner I can be.

The further along we get into living and planning a life together, especially in quarantine, the more it becomes clear that in order for true intimacy to exist there must be constant Self work.

For instance, I am a yoga teacher. I applied to nursing school this spring and did not get in. It stung, but I believe in things working out for the best. For the past two years, I have mentally prepared myself to take a step back from teaching and take my knowledge quest in a different direction. I studied without Vyvanse for the first time since 9th grade, made all A’s and was so proud of all the healing that has taken place in order for me to move past my college experience. However, in all my best efforts, my GPA is still not high enough to be competitive. It took a while to get over shaming myself or being hard on college Ainsley but I put in the work to move past it and move forward, or so I thought. A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I had a conversation concerning careers and goal-setting and I found myself projecting all my deep-seeded fears onto him. I knew after our conversation what I was trying to say had nothing to do with him and everything to do with me. Essentially, my fear was to be seen as “damaged goods”– because I was not Nurse Ainsley, I wasn’t the Ainsley he signed up for.

I wonder if I would have allowed myself to dig deep and ask the question, “If I did my best and it did not work out, am I a failure?” had it not been for our conversation. Would I have held onto that guilt, lurking in the back of my mind forever because I was too scared to ask the question, “am I still worthy of love?”

It should come as no surprise that B loves me because of who I am and not because of a list of accomplishments. However, do I love myself because of who I am and not because of my accomplishments? It was incredibly cathartic to ask, albeit not in the most clear way, “am I still enough?”, and by asking him that I asked myself the same question.

In the back of my mind, I believed that if I was able to rewrite my traumatic college experiences with the effort I put in this time, success would be granted through external validation. My past would no longer haunt me because someone else said it didn’t have to. What I was missing; however, is that I already succeeded through my effort to turn over a new leaf and start fresh. Going back to school changed the narrative I told myself about my intelligence and brought me a deeper understanding of the science of Yoga. It also brought me back to Memphis to be there for my family and friends. It brought me to Battle.

So here we are. Living together and in love. Working through our sh*t. We all have trauma, narratives, and even ancestral pain to work through. So what does it mean when we so completely attach our energy with that of another? Atoms bombard against one another constantly, so it makes sense that our electromagnetic field, when interacting with another wavelength and other particles for an extended period of time, is affected.

An intimate relationship with another requires an intimate relationship with yourself. In order to allow yourself to be truly seen and free to be the tapestry that you are, you must first truly see yourself and explore each thread of that divine tapestry. We cannot expect to reach a deeper understanding in our relationship if we are not willing to reach the same depth within ourselves as an individual.

I grew up hearing that a relationship takes work, but what I am coming to understand is it takes a whole lot of self work. I find myself being more cognizant of the Self work that is ahead of me than I would alone and for that I am grateful.

I asked you all on my Instagram what intimacy with another means and got some really beautiful answers I’ll share below. I would love to hear what it means to you in the comments below, and how the journey with your self has evolved as you welcome in others to your world.

Continuing the conversation:

“I think of marriage as being this really sacred friendship- like all the parts of you that you never thought anyone would witness, now has someone who agreed wholeheartedly to witness them… and I think that always draws in greater awareness of the self, too.”

“Intimacy is humility. When you intimately know yourself, you see and accept the reality that there’s no need to try to be more or less than who you are, nor are you better or worse than anyone.”

“I thought for 30 years it was about sexual touch…but now I see it as mutual vulnerability.. I can have intimacy with a close friend. A coworker might not need to go into that realm. This new definition also has me exploring myself in a lighter view… delicate and introspective with my thoughts and movement, versus a more punishing rigor that doesn’t invite that mutual vulnerability (even form myself to myself).”

Resist vs. Allow

By Perspective

Yoga is so simple. And yet, it’s not. Just like any other healthy relationship, our relationship with the postures must have a healthy dose of resistance: holding the form/framework to allow for more to happen in time. If we said yes to everything someone asked of us, chances are we would feel depleted and resentful fairly quickly. Similarly, if we flopped everywhere and into every posture, our body would start to give us some not so positive feedback. If we stopped any time we were challenged mentally or physically in a posture or in seated meditation we would never get anywhere. Can we resist the fluctuations and temptations of the mind and body and be in that space between stimulus and response? Can we hold something long enough to notice we’re even in it? Can we say no to something or someone to leave space for a “yes” that better suits us?

Yoga has evolved so much from it’s original Indian roots. What I notice now is, for the most part, the practice mimics the inconsistent, capricious nature of humankind. It is an interesting time to be in the yoga community. We live in a world where “doing what feels best” has given us permission to be lazy in our practice. As teachers, we are so fearful of offending or pushing someone to their limit for fear they might not like it. We zip from one posture to the next in less than a breath. Because that is “safer”. That feels better. WHERE IS YOUR STAYING POWER? WHERE IS YOUR DISCIPLINE, YOUR RESISTANCE? If everyone did exactly what they wanted at the exact moment they wanted our world would be in a lot of trouble.

Believe me, there is a time and place for listening to your instinct and “following your heart”— I mostly live by that. I would actually argue that gut instinct and reaction are two very different things. The first voice you hear could be either one; however, the origin of these internal voices come from two very different places: instinct from wisdom and reaction from fear. (That’s probably a separate blog post topic altogether.)  Anyways, if we’re going to live in the realm of free flow and make it so extreme we have to match it with extreme discipline, grounding; resistance. Can we allow our heart to open in posture and still keep a strong mula bandha and uddiyana bandha? Can we sit on our ass and be silent even when it is SO HARD, and stick with it?  We’ve all heard Patanjali’s sutra, “Yogas citta vriti nirodah”, which essentially means when the mind stops, consciousness will stand on it’s own. In many ways, resistance allows for consciousness to exist.

What allows us that staying power; that resistance? Well, tapas. My man Patanjali hooked it up again in his sutras, outlining the niyamas, or set of moral contracts which guide us towards positive behavior. The third niyama, tapas, is defined as austerity or discipline; an internal fire that burns away impurities. There has to be tapas in our yoga practice. Without it, we’re still the same mess as when we started. Tapas is staying power. Tapas is willpower. Tapas is determination. Tapas is anything that takes away in order to bring benefit somewhere else. Shit is gonna happen. Hard postures will be there. Hard situations will come up. Do we have the staying power to remain unaffected? Can we resist any little change in our thought and mood and allow ourselves to be present, open and clear no matter what? Spoiler alert, with consistent practice, the answer is a resounding yes.

Yes, it is hard! I’m right there with ya. However, that very resistance is the stuff that makes your practice and your life enjoyable. To know sweet, we must taste bitter. To know release, we must know tension. To know freedom, we must know constraint.

How has resistance held the space for something greater in your life or practice?  I would love to hear from you!

If you’re wondering, mood music is a thing.  Take a listen!

Mood music: “Resist the Temptation” by 2Pac

xoxo, ains

Who am I?

By Perspective

Hi. I’m Ainsley. I was going to write my bio in 3rd person to make it sound more professional, but my intention is to connect, and that felt really stiff to me. When building this website, I started building my content with the “about me” page. So assignment number one was going deep. Who even am I?! That answer has somewhat changed as I have lived and I am grateful for the chance to evolve. So here is a little bit about me, my past, and who I am at the moment.

I was born in San Diego, California but raised in Memphis, Tennessee. I am the youngest daughter of two very loving and supporting parents. My older sister is my best friend. I had a near picture perfect upbringing: well liked, happy family life, excelled at sports (and school when I felt like it), class president, team captain, homecoming queen, etc. Are you bored or cringing yet?  Read on.

I was introduced to yoga about the time I started to transition into the hardest years of my life. I took my first yoga class at the suggestion of my lacrosse coach and loved it. It was both mentally and physically challenging, I sweat buckets, and it was lyrical enough to remind me of dancing. Fast forward to a few months later and I joined a competitive lacrosse team in Baltimore, Maryland (southern lacrosse was not what it is now). I went from being team captain and MVP to EASILY the worst player on that team. The head coach repeatedly told me that I was not good enough, that I didn’t look the part, that I was too skinny; that I wasn’t training hard enough because I didn’t want it enough. Say those things enough to anyone and they’ll start to question their worth. It didn’t take long for the things he was saying to me to become the things I was saying to myself. I started obsessing over my diet, waking up at 5 to work out before school and cheerleading practice and ran lacrosse drills after practice. Long story short, I started telling myself I wasn’t good enough. Not just in lacrosse. That I could, and should, be more perfect. A year prior to this, I started taking Vyvanse to manage my ADHD, so obsessive behavior became second nature.

As a result, my mental and physical health really took a toll. I went to therapy but was too ashamed to admit to my therapist that I was feeling lost and defeated. The happy, positive Ainsley was there somewhere, I just couldn’t access it. Happiness was always one more accomplishment away. I had streaks of ulcers lining my stomach my senior year from self induced stress.

Fast forward to college, I still didn’t know who I was because the person I felt to be was told repeatedly by herself and others that she was not good enough. Picture perfect resume but so very broken inside. I tried my best to not let anyone in on my little secret. I tried my best to act like my true self; although I doubt I fooled anyone. My sophomore year, one of my high school friends passed away in a car accident and I did not know how to handle it. I became severely depressed and was too ashamed to share my grief with anyone, especially my high school friends. I felt because I wasn’t his closest friend that I had no right to be as affected as I was. I locked myself in my room, sometimes for a few days. I would stay in bed with the lights off. I took antidepressants, stimulants (Vyvanse), and tried my best to maintain the illusion of normalcy. I was in a state school and a sorority that I chose because it felt like that’s what you do, but it was not at all conducive to my wellbeing. I felt like I was living someone else’s life and wasn’t sure I had the strength to turn it around.

My mom (I love you, mom!) came to visit me and took me to a yoga class. I felt a shift but was too depressed and ashamed to go to a public class, so I bought a DVD from Target. If I did it first thing in the morning, 
I had the confidence to attend my university classes. Little by little, I started coming back to me and became a regular at the Glowing Body in Knoxville, TN. I went to yoga class almost every day. With the guidance of teachers, I was taking the advanced class on Wednesday nights instead of partying and yoga classes on Saturdays instead of tailgating. Not that any of those are wrong or bad! Just not really my bag. Yoga gave me the confidence to say, “Good for you! Not for me.” Which was HUGE. I stopped taking my antidepressants cold turkey (in hindsight not the best method) and felt BETTER. It was a miracle! It was yoga. I knew that if I helped someone help themselves, much like the teachers who taught me, I would have fulfilled my purpose.

So here I am. Yoga has brought me lasting friendships, travel opportunities and most importantly, yoga has brought me back to myself. The more I practice, the more limitless and joyful I feel. I am able to see that in others because I feel secure enough in myself again to appreciate the masterpiece that is humankind. Not that there has to be the official end goal of yoga practice (not that it even needs one), but for me it works. I truly love my life and love myself; and I love you for reading this much! Kidding. But I do love you; if you don’t know me personally that may sound trite but I really mean it. Love changes everything, and when we are able to love ourselves, we can really begin to love others. And with that, magic happens.

Mood music: “Right Hand” by Drake