Saturday, May 4, 2013

Investment in Humanity

I believe in what Yoga can do for a person.  That is no secret.  It's my life mission to help improve lives through the ancient practice of Yoga.  Near and dear to my heart are survivors of violence.  That also is no secret.  I do not hide my history, but I do not hide behind it either.  I use my experience, and my unique perspective to help break the chain of violence in the lives of survivors.  Since opening Bliss, I have worked very hard to form a partnership with the local Domestic Violence Shelter.  It took a long time to get my feet in the door, but I am very grateful that I did.  Bliss Yoga spends 1 afternoon a week bringing Yoga to residents, volunteers, staff, and those in the outreach program.  It is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done.  I know that giving an hour of my time to these people shows them that I believe in them.  This is an investment that means more than money to everyone there.  

The staff and volunteers work crazy hours, listening to some of the world's most horrific stories of batter and abuse.  The constant awareness and bombardment of this brutal side of humanity can be very emotionally, mentally and physically draining.  Yoga helps to counter those effects, and my willingness to donate my services to them is an expression of gratitude for all that they do for others.  That in itself is enough to make them feel recharged once a week.  One act of kindness goes a long way in cleaning away the effects of life's ugliness.

The residents and outreach are plagued with symptoms of PTSD.  Those symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, despair, inability to hold a thought, to sleep, to eat, or be productive in any way.  The list goes on, and the effects are unique to each individual.  No one can erase the horror these women have seen.  All any of us can do is show compassion and love.  We must remind these women that the world is not evil and that they are not the ugly, incompetent, insufficient, unlovable human beings that their partners worked so hard to make them believe themselves to be.  It doesn't take much effort to do this.  A simple compliment, a little time, a small investment, and the payoff is huge.  My investment of time with these women is my way of telling them that they are worthy, important and that I believe in them.  I believe in their ability to heal and grow strong.  I believe in their ability to shine.  Yoga helps them reconnect to their spirit, a source of infinite strength and love.  When this connection is nurtured, the PTSD goes away as well as the cycle of violence in their lives.  Yoga not only helps heal the wounds, but it stops the cycle.  I know this from my own personal experience.

I have been touched by how much of a difference the donated Yoga Mats have made to the few who have received them.  A small, inexpensive token that each woman got to take back to her room or home.  Something to look at and touch and know that her spirit is only a breath away, and that there is an entire community who want to see her succeed and heal.  

The request for mat donations was originally to outfit the Domestic Violence Shelter with enough mats to hold a weekly class.  God's intention was shown to me in the  eyes of the first group of women who came and asked if they could keep the mats.  I could see how much this meant to them, and it is now my mission to make sure that each woman who comes to me for Yoga at the shelter is able to leave with her own Yoga mat.  I hope you all will join me in this mission and help by providing your gently used mats for this important cause.  Please bring your old mats to the studio so that we can adopt them out to women who will love and appreciate them and you for your investment in them.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Brahmacharya - Celibacy

The past few weeks in class we have been discussing the ethical practices of Yoga Philosophy.  We started with non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing  and now we are at Celibacy.  This one is usually a bit of a shocker. Right now many of you might be thinking, "Celibacy? Really? Is my Yoga Teacher really asking me to abstain from Sex?!  Has she lost her mind?!"

Brahmacharya was originally defined and practiced as the control of sexual energy.  Does that apply to those of us in committed relationships who do not live in caves on top of mountains? No.  Brahmacharya has evolved in western culture to be an observation of energy conservation.  It is being mindful about how one is expending their energy, and whether their choices are prudent.  The old Kenny Roger's song "The Gambler" always comes to my mind when I think about Brahmacharya.  "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run...."  It's about knowing what is worth your time, your energy, and your mental and emotional investment.

For survivors of trauma,  it is often difficult to manage our own energy at times.  We let ourselves get caught up in another's energy just so we don't have to deal with our own demons.  That's where Brahmacharya crosses over and applies to Asteya (non-stealing).  We dive so deep into the life of another that their experience becomes our own, or we bury ourselves in work.

It also comes back to Ahimsa (non-harming).  By doing these things to avoid our own pain, our own anguish, we are hurting ourselves.  We are preventing ourselves from feeling, experiencing authentically, and healing.  We become masters at avoiding our own lives and squandering our own energy.

Another more material example of this idea comes from hoarding.  Spending in excess on thing that we don't need or want.  Accumulating stuff that is useless and just takes up space, for what reason?  To fill an emotional void of some sort?  Why not practice asking yourself before buying something, 'do I really need this?  Would this money be better spent or served someplace else in my life'?   It can also be in how and what we consume.  Brahmacharya is the practice of mindfulness and control over our desire for indulgence.

The practice of Brahmacharya means to be present and true to yourself.  To choose where, how and with whom to invest your energy.  To do so in a way that promotes your personal well-being.  To be prudent in your interactions, and to avoid spending your energy on things that will not produce a positive outcome for you.  It means setting boundaries and enforcing them when need be.   It means honoring yourself and your own life journey.  It means revering yourself as worthy and holy, and not as unworthy and lacking.

You are a unique and beautiful expression of divine art.  Like all art, you need to be admired, protected and cared for.  It is your divine right.  You have the power and responsibility to choose how and where to invest your energy.  Brahmacharya is the practice of choosing wisely.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

March Newsletter

Blessings All,

As we come into March, Bliss is very thankful and excited about all that is happening at the Studio.  We are growing, and we have you to thank for it.  So in gratitude for your continued support, we are going to extend February's pricing schedule through March.  The only exception is that First Class FREE promotion has ended.  

From now on First Class will be $5.

This month there may be a little dust in the studio as we tear down a wall to expand the space. Jen is doing everything she can to make the renovation as clean and dust-free as possible.  Thank you for your patience as Bliss grows.

In February, we were blessed to have Master Reiki Healer, Liz Wood come out and do a demonstration of how Reiki works.  We are thrilled to report that many who came to the workshop reported they had the best sleep that night than they had experienced in a long time.  That's fantastic news, and we are hopeful that Liz will make Bliss a regular part of her Reiki practice.  Thank You Liz!!

We have a new teacher joining us.  Annie Osterhout begins Monday, March 4.  She will be teaching Iyengar style yoga on Monday evenings.  Annie is a highly experienced teacher who just landed here in central FL from Syracuse, NY.  She is not only a fantastic Yoga teacher, but she is also a Naturopath.  So drop in and meet her one Monday evening.  

There have been a few adjustments to our schedule, so make sure you take a look.  We are doing everything we can to accommodate all of your Yoga Practice needs.  Thank You Ocala!!

Upcoming Workshops:

April 6 & 7 - Pre-natal Yoga Teacher Training workshop with Carmella Cattuti, LPN.  Workshop is 10 hours toward Yoga Alliance CEU's, Prenatal certification, and nursing CEUs.  Cost of workshop is $200

April 20 - Kripalu founder Christopher Baxter will be leading a 4 hour workshop "Inner Yoga and the Art of Happiness"  Workshop counts for 4 Yoga Alliance CEUs.  Cost is $45 if you register by 4/18, $50 after 4/18.

Jen, Owner

“May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow, and may trouble avoid you wherever you go.” ~Irish Blessing.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

February News for BLISS YOGA

February is here, the month of love.  To express our love to our clients, Bliss is offering discounts on many class prices.  Check out our new pricing schedule for February

$10         Single Class (reduced $2)
$26.50    3-Class (reduced  $4.50) 
$80         10-Class (reduced $4)
$108       20-Class (reduced $12)
$85         Monthly Unlimited price reduction carried over from January!

Bliss is also very excited to announce CHAIR YOGA has been added to the schedule.  We have special pricing in place for those who wish to attend the Chair Yoga Only classes at $35 for 4 Classes, or our discounted drop-in price of $10.  Chair Class is on Wednesday mornings from 10:30-11:30

Join us on Wednesday Feb 20 from 6:30-8:30pm for an Introduction to Reiki. The cost of this workshop is $0!!! Liz Wood, Reiki Master is coming to Bliss to introduce us to Reiki.  She will give us an overview of what Reiki is and how it works.  She will then give each participant an opportunity to experience Reiki first-hand.  While this is a Free workshop, Love Offerings are always gratefully accepted.  Space is limited so pre-registration is appreciated so that we can make sure there is room and time for all.

SPRING CLEANING?  Bliss is collecting Yoga Mats for our local Domestic Violence Shelter.  If you have a mat collecting dust, please bring it by the studio.  It will go to good use in our effort to empower survivors through Yoga.  Please support this worthy cause and help Bliss carry out it's Karmic Mission.  DV affects 1 in 3 women, and Yoga can help those women become strong mentally, physically, and spiritually so they can break the cycle and heal.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Self-Observation WITHOUT judgement

Staying on the subject of Ahimsa (non-violence) toward self.  One aspect of practice of Ahimsa is the practice of self-observation without judgment.  If you think about it, that's a pretty tall order.  Judgment is a form of violence.  It is limiting and belittling regardless of whether we are judging ourselves or others.  Remember kids, when we judge others, we are really judging ourselves as well.  So this practice has a huge impact not only on how we see ourselves, but how we see others also.

When I was in the process of decorating Bliss before I officially opened its doors, I was faced with a choice.  Do I put mirrors up, or not.  There is advantage to mirrors in that they offer the ability for practitioners to observe physical alignment.  There is also a disadvantage.  There are those who focus on their own perception of their reflection instead of alignment.  They get caught up in the things they see that have nothing to do with how well they are in a posture.  They get caught up in that self-judgment.  So I chose not to put mirrors up.  I would much rather my clients imagine what they look like in a posture, and let me decide if any adjustment needs to be made to alignment.  I would rather they have the opportunity to create an imagined image of themselves performing a posture with all the grace and beauty their spirit holds.  There was something I failed to consider though.  Shadows.

It happened that at a particular class, one of my clients caught a glimpse of her shadow on the wall.  She saw something she did not like one bit.  Something that had nothing to do with her yoga, and everything to do with her perception of herself.  What she saw upset her so much that she left the studio mortified, unbeknownst to me.  She then proceeded to immerse herself in behaviors that she thought would 'fix' what she saw.  Unfortunately, it only led to a serious injury instead.  I was very saddened to hear her story.  I was sad because the amount of self judgment she had for herself led to an act of violence against her body.  So in spite of the fact that I had no mirrors on the walls, a client was still able to see something that had nothing to do with her yoga.  The reason, because her self-criticizer was that determined to find something negative to show her.

So here I am talking about self-observation without judgment.  How do we do that?  After all we are conditioned for the opposite.  We are goal driven, so how do we improve without seeing our flaws?  It's ok to see flaws, it's not ok to punish yourself for them.  So how do we do that? It's a challenging practice, I will admit.  But, once we begin to practice it, it can lead to a new liberation.  It can lead to the release of limited thought.  So then, how do we do that?

The answer is simple and complicated all at the same time.  I know you all hear me say that often.  The first and most important step is to observe yourself making judgments about yourself.  Here is the complicated part.  Observe means to simply notice.  There is no judgement behind the observation, it is a simple, 'OH' moment.  There is no need to criticize yourself for catching yourself judging, or to attempt to alter or prevent it from happening.  It is as simple as just noticing.  This one simple, yet complicated, practice is a form of meditation.  It is self-observation without judgment.  It is the first step in letting go of self-judgment. When practiced for a few days, one may notice at first how frequent and quick those self-judgments come, but the very act of observing them does something.  Practice it for a week, and see what happens to the frequency of those moments.  Practice it for a month and see what happens.  You may be surprised at first, and liberated very quickly with no correction practice needed.  The simple act of noticing will decrease the frequency of the occurrences.  Don't take my word for it though, try it.  Learning is experiential.

See what happens, and tell me about it.  I am always curious to hear about your experiences with practice....

Friday, January 25, 2013


In the past few weeks, the subject of Domestic Violence has made its way to the forefront of the media headlines once again.  The Orlando area is baffled by the statistical increase in DV cases in the last year.  The Orlando area news is what we get here in Ocala even though we are pretty far away from Orlando.  The awareness is no less important though because whether statistically there has been an increase in Ocala's area or not, DV affects us all.

In a previously published blog, I spoke openly about my experience with DV and how Yoga saved my life.  That blog has been taken down.  Not because of anything I said, or by my choice, but because Yoga Journal Magazine has decided not to continue offering blog space on its website.  Unfortunately, I did not save personal copies of my entries to be transferred in the event something like this were to happen.  So instead, I will touch on a few things here and there at this blog that offer awareness to what Yoga did for me in my journey toward wellness.

I am often asked about the tattoo on my back.  It says "Ahimsa" and most people have no idea what that means, so when it shows, I am often asked.  Ahimsa (pronounced a Him sa) means non-violence. It goes a little deeper than just non-violence though.  It means non-violence toward YOURSELF, and others in word, thought, and deed.  My moment of awakening from my experience came when the part about yourself sunk in.  I realized that allowing myself to be mistreated by my partner was an act of violence toward myself and therefore a violation of Yoga's number 1 Rule.

Ahimsa is the first of the first, in terms of rules.  Yoga has 8 limbs of practice, the first and second are lifestyle suggestions, rules to live a healthy happy existence.  Non-Violence is at the Very top of that list, and my teacher once told me that if I were to practice Ahimsa alone the rest of the practice would fall into place.  She was right.  Its definition is as important as the method of its practice.  If Ahimsa means non-violence than it also means peace and love.  Because peace and love are the opposite of violence.  In my journey, the part about non-violence toward myself eventually hit home for me.  Letting another hurt me over and over again was an act of violence against myself.  Letting another hold me back and determine my commitment to my spiritual practice was an act of violence against myself.  Letting another dictate my reality was an act of violence against myself.  So that was when the climax, the turning point, of my journey began.  The foundation was laid throughout my years of practice and study; and when the time was right, the chips fell into place and I had that awakening.  Once that happened, I could no longer continue to live in a fashion that did not serve my wellbeing.  So Jen exited stage left.

Once my awareness hit me, the leaving part was easy.  The fallout however was a challenge that I will never forget.  I was faced with drama, ridicule, finger-pointing, and yes I faltered.  I did not return to the original abusive relationship, I let myself fall into another knowing what it was, and knowing that in the end I would be hurt again.  That experience solidified my conviction to Ahimsa, and to helping others.  When the dust settled, there remained a strong, vibrant Yoga practitioner who was on her own journey to freedom.   I suffered the effects of PTSD and struggled with fear often, but my practice kept me strong.  My friends and family were the best support system anyone could have asked for.  They stuck by my side, encouraged my growth and healing, helped financially and were my shoulders to cry on when I needed to let it out.  They stayed up with me on sleepless nights and kept me from getting jaded about men and relationships.  They were my Godsends through my process.  I also got help from the local DV outreach, and made connections with other strong amazing women who were going through the same transition I was.  We encouraged each other, and learned skills to recognize and avoid falling into the same pattern again.  It was the most difficult time of my life so far, and yet I look back on it with the most love and gratitude for the angels who were there.

When we take up the ancient practice of Yoga, often we have no idea where it will lead us.  Ahimsa is always the first step, and it leads to liberation on all levels.  So meditate, contemplate the idea of non-violence toward yourself and others in word, thought and deed.  See where that one idea leads you on your path.

The Karmic mission of Bliss Yoga Center is based on my journey and experience.  I personally believe that Yoga was the one part of the equation that led to my liberation.  Yoga builds confidence, inner and outer strength, courage, and strengthens spiritual connection.  Yoga is key to healing from the effects of PTSD and to prevention.  Therefore, it is the mission of Bliss Yoga to provide yoga and wellness services to survivors of DV regardless of their ability to financially support themselves.  Sometimes we need Yoga the most when we can least afford the financial cost.  So Bliss makes special arrangements with survivors to make sure that they can practice, learn and grow.  We encourage all who practice at the studio to contribute to our cause however possible.  We have a donation jar to help sustain the studio as it practices it's karmic mission and we happily accept old yoga mats for donation to the local DV shelter.  As time goes on, and Bliss grows, we will be offering more and more service to the DV survivors in our community.  It is our hopes that you will help us see that mission into fruition.

Thank You and Unlimited Blessings to All....


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Has fear clipped your wings?

When I was a girl, I was given a parakeet.  My neighbor couldn't care for her because she was an escape artist and she feared the family cat would eat her.  So I became the proud owner of Misty.  Misty was a feisty and funny bird.  She was determined not to be confined.  She came to me in a cage with 3 twist ties around the door.  Two had been chewed through.  The third, she was working on.  Several times, I tied the tie around the door.  Several times, she chewed it off.  Once off, she would open her cage and perch at the door.  It was as if she were saying.  "Yes, I know this is where I need to be, but don't force me.  Let me be here by choice."

I was young, but I got part of the message.  I'd only had one other bird since Misty.  When my son asked for a bird, I asked him this very important question... "If god gave you wings, would you want to be in a cage?"  

It took me a little while longer to realize that the cage isn't always tangible, or seen.  Sometimes the cage is much better disguised as mental, or imagined.  In my yoga and meditation practice I soon realized I too had been caged, by myself and by others.  Others had build the imaginary cage around me, and I, unlike Misty accepted the bars. I did not see the door or the ties until my Yoga practice showed them to me.  Then it was only a matter of chewing through, opening the door and setting myself free.

I am now much better at seeing the cage.  I can recognize when I am putting myself in a cage, and I no longer allow anyone to place me in one.  It is not my nature to be confined by fear.  Fear is only useful in life and death situations, and most situations where fear arises have nothing to do with real mortal danger.  Learning to recognize the things that trigger fear and curiously explore what and why the fear is there is part of my Yoga practice.  It is a simple formula really, but the execution takes much practice.  It is the formula of  Kripalu Yoga. The formula works in many more situations than just fear.  It is an amazing tool in self-exploration.  As such, it leads to liberation every single time.

We have many cages in our existence.  They appear in the form of Fear.  Fear binds us.  It holds us back.  It keeps us from reaching for and attaining the things we most desire in this life.  Fear can be a powerful and sneaky enemy.  When we are faced with fear, we must ask what it is we are truly afraid of.  Is it failure, rejection, or is it success and happiness?  Are you afraid to be happy and successful?  We deserve all of the happiness and abundance here in this life.  It is our God given right, and No One has the right to keep you or me from it, not even the self.  Life is to be lived.  We are supposed to take chances, and make mistakes.  When we die, what most of us regret most is the chances we didn't take.  So chew through your ties, open the door to your path, spread your wings and fly. The view is amazing from up here.