Tag Archives: inspire

From vulnerability to authenticity through wholehearted living

I’ve run into a person who has changed my outlook on life, but I’ve never met her personally. Her book has deeply influenced how I view life.

Brené Brown is a psychologist/researcher who wrote the book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (Hazelden: 2010) and also has an sprawling website and her blog Ordinary Courage. She first came to my attention when I saw her TEDxHouston talk, which was recently picked by Huffington Post as one of the top 18 TED videos of 2011:

Her 20 minute talk hit some deep personal scars and led me to her site and then the book. While reading the book, I was undergoing all the problems with my peripheral neuropathy, and there was an amazing interplay between my myofascial release therapy and the central concepts of Brown’s book. On the masseuse’s table, I had to strip down to my boxers and bare myself to the therapist, communicate my pain and numbness, convey how one type of stroke was making me feel, and trust that he would be able address some of the constrictions of my tissues. I had to expose my physical vulnerability to be able to start healing.

Shame and numbness

On another level, I discovered from my reading of Brown’s book that I felt deep currents of shame and, indeed, shame may actually have been one of the strongest motivating forces in my life. Shame is a “fear of disconnection” that people might find out what I am really like. Shame is such a blunt instrument that I couldn’t use it all the time, but once it’s out, it’s hard to lock it away. One way of dealing with this sense of shame is to block it out by numbing it. Brown says you cannot numb just one emotion (in my case, shame), you end up blocking the whole emotional spectrum.

Although doctors might argue otherwise, my numbness was both emotional and physical, and the deaths of my parents and the disruption that those events brought to my life this year had worsened my peripheral neuropathy to the point that it was threatening my well-being. I was grasping so hard to to my personal facade that I was choking off parts of my body and soul. Taking pain medication was just another way of blocking out parts of my body, when I needed to get back in touch with them.

Brown’s book, which has the subtitle of “Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are,” does a great job of breaking down her approach to dealing with life and accepting the vulnerability of being imperfect, and then lays out 10 guideposts that can help anyone follow her map.

Brown has a manifesto that I keep posted near my desk and stashed in my shoulder bag, and it’s available as a colorful postcard. I am going to cite it in full because it conveys her message better than I can:

Authenticity is a daily practice.

Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be emotionally honest, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle and connected to each other through a loving and resilient human spirit; nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we let go of what we are supposed to be and embrace who we are.

Authenticity demands wholehearted living and loving — even when it’s hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the job is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it.

Mindfully practicing authenticity during our most soul-searchng struggles is how we invite grace, joy and gratitude into our lives.

Milestone — being yoga

The workshop this past weekend was a milestone in my practice. I’ve been noticing a shift in my focus on yoga for several weeks now. I notice how incomplete I feel when I’m not able to get to class aBrnd how energized and alive I feel when I have done a good practice. When I was traveling, I made it a point to reserve an hour or two in the evenings to roll out my mat and do some work. What a glow this solitary practice gives to your body and mind as you move through the vinyasa moved only by the rhythm of your own breath! No instructor, no audio cues.

I came to yoga four years ago because I wanted to reap from its benefits — yoga for depression, anxiety, and heart aches; yoga to deal with back pain and aging; yoga for losing weight and gaining flexibility. The US market is full of this message. I still want those pluses, but I noticed that I am motivated less by the benefits and more by the practice itself. The most succinct explanation I’ve heard for this attitude is Shiva Rea saying that she was not interested in “doing yoga,” but rather in “being yoga.” That shift in focus makes a big difference. I not only get the same benefits as before, but they seem to be compounded because they are unencumbered by the resistance and tension that build up when I am specifically seeking an outcome; I become aware of other aspects of my practice that I failed to sense because I was targeting my efforts too narrowly.

In a sense, my purchase of a new mat and other paraphernalia and my participation in the workshop is a long-term investment in my yoga practice. It’s not just a hobby, a pastime or a fitness exercise, but an integral part of my self-image and a tool in my personal development. I am taking a stake in the future.

And this past weekend, I celebrated my four-year anniversary by tapping into a shared energy and flow with other yogis who also realize the prospects of the discipline and rejoice in the varied stages of practices that others might bring to the mat. In other words, no novice, no expert, just yogis sharing the reward of the practice. Beryl told us that in India yoga was originally meant to be practiced in a group setting, in the neighborhood shala with other practitioners. She was so right. I was fortunate to celebrate this milestone in the studio that has been my shala for the past three years.

Taking inventory

I’ve been debating with myself why I stick with yoga. It’s been two years since I started. Why don’t I switch to Pilates or tai chi or spinning or jogging. How and why do I find the commitment to set aside two-hour sessions three/four days a week, plus my daily practice? Why am I willing to submit myself to the ordeal of pushing myself as far as I can and failing frequently to get poses right, even falling over on my face.

Someone asked me if it’s because I am afraid of growing old, that yoga is a way of turning back the clock. There’s an element of personal vanity. Although there may be some truth to that statement, it does not satisfy me as a complete answer. In a sense, I am returning to a pivotal point in my life.

I think this commitment to yoga has to do with my upbringing and psychological makeup. My father was a pastor, and family life was centered around the church and its calendar. I was raised to fit the mold of a PK (preacher’s kid) — a kind of compliant “goody two-shoes.” I was not competitive or demanding because I had been taught that if I sat still in the pew and did not make a ruckus, I would eventually be rewarded. So I had to hold off gratification until “my turn” came.

This approach hit a speed bump in life when I had to transition from the shelter of the parsonage to the rough-and-tumble real world (in school, in romance, in the workplace), from the holy shelter of sanctuary to the external world that seemed to run under a completely different premise. For the most part, I was scared out of my wits. I was constantly searching for the equivalent of the 10 Commandments of getting ahead and the safe haven of church-like institution in the secular world. Most businesses or institutions don’t work that way. I wanted to understand how the real world worked. Much of my frustration was trying to duplicate the formula of my childhood in the workplace — looking for a father figure who would reward me for being a good boy. I had a hard time finding a viable formula. When I did rebel against what I perceived as a paternal relations, it was for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way. I frequently just left a job, just as I “ran away” from home when I was 23.

The seeds of depression are lodged deep within my physical body, a kind of motor memory that takes place when an event or emotional reaction triggers one of these depressive nerves, it startles me. It’s the residue left in my body of all the psychological struggles in my search for adulthood and the self-inflicted stress that I created. Instinctively, I felt threatened. This stress is lodged in rigid shoulders, hips and spine and suspended breathing. I fight to reverse the stoop to my shoulders and the stiffness in my hips because I sense that something more runs deeper — my own disassociation from my body, my internalization of stress within the structure of bone and fiber. By working at yoga, I am trying to break through these barriers — barricades of my depressive past and my unresolved relationship with the world.

Here is where the yoga comes in:

  • Yoga is like going back to the basics, starting over at the foundation.
  • Yoga is a reconciliation with my own body. As a child, I felt disconnected from my body. I was never a good athlete because I feared competing with others. My body was tense — I learned to swim because I could not float.
  • Yoga is a search for the sacred inside me, rather than referenced to my parents, my family, my vocation, my workplace or church.
  • With yoga, I do not have to strive — the fruits come at their own speed. The rewards come unexpectedly. It’s like when I was an obedient, submissive child, but this time around the yoga allows for my self-liberation.
  • Elsewhere, I said that I wish I had known of yoga as an adolescent because it would have been a great “user’s manual” for a teenager or young adult trying to get through the bewildering tangle of hormones and neurotransmitters.
  • I sense that my depression is deeply lodged in my muscles, fascia and bones. While I may not be in a depressive funk, it still lingers as a risk. Certain kinds of stimuli will provoke an almost automatic depressive response. Yoga is my physical therapy.
  • It’s non-competitive, even though there is always the temptation to spy on others in the class, but I find that once in the flow my focus is inwards.
  • I have to discover the real “rules of the game” by exploring internally and externally.
  • On one level, yoga’s foundation is nonverbal.

Inspiring story

Paraplegic becomes an unlikely expert on yoga [Article no longer on-line]: “Talk to students such as 43-year-old Chuck Ankeny of Deephaven, and it’s clear that he’s a revered teacher. ‘You know how you have teachers once in a lifetime who really make a difference?’ Ankeny said. ‘He’s [Matt Sanford] one of those.'” I am sure that a lot of yoga people are going to be pointing to this story. Matt Sanford has been active in yoga for the past 13 years, starting his own Minnesota nonprofit to spread the word and practices of yoga’s benefits. This article as picked up by Associated Press. If you want to see Sanford’s company, check out Mind-Body Solutions. if you check out the Press Box, you’ll see that Matt’s had several articles written about him.