Feeling

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March 21, Jekyll Island, GA. Spring equinox at my favorite ocean.

How feeling deeply, truthfully, fully what life wants us to feel is the pathway to healing.

“Feel what there is to feel.” That’s one of the things I keep saying when I teach a yoga class. Because whatever we experience in life --and especially when the experience is on the painful side--, allowing ourselves to feel fully our own humanness, our own soul is the only way to overcome a situation.

Sometimes, life feels like too much. That’s how I’ve felt the past three weeks. The spring equinox has brought me into an emotional swing. It all started with my Naturalization Oath Ceremony on March 10. Yep, I’m a Franco-American now. I felt like I was losing my roots. While getting ready for the ceremony at home the morning of the event, I stumbled at every step I made, dropped objects from tables and chairs, and realized that my 2-year old Aloe Vera plant was uprooted. I came out of the ceremony anxious and puzzled with a major question--what does my soul want, right now? Continue living in the U.S. or move to France? I’m still waiting for the answer to show up in my heart. I know it will soon.

After my naturalization, I left Atlanta to spend a few days in a small humble shrimp fisherman’s town of 2,000 souls on the Georgia coast. I needed a break after the weeks spent designing my yoga-based Thriving After Illness workshop. I ended up in a B&B run by JoAnn, a Northeasterner who gave up her corporate job ten years ago to move to the South, and open her own small hospitality business. I started coming down with a nasty cold on the very first day of my vacation and so I was in a blur the whole time I was there--but even amidst my haze, something beautifully unexpected happened. I immediately clicked with JoAnn and her friends. It made me reconnect with something I had long forgotten—being surrounded, daily, by friends who drop in and come and share a talk, share their feelings, both their happy times and their struggles. This is a lifestyle I had all of my life in Paris until I moved to Atlanta, ten years ago.

I drove back to Atlanta feeling JoAnn and her friend’s compassion, kindness and joy, as well as the isolation I’ve often felt in Atlanta. My reflection was not one of trying to change anything, but just being and feeling.

For the past three weeks, I’ve avoided the yoga mat. I’ve just started returning to it, this morning, breathing and moving as slow as I could, feeling deeply my own reality, as well as the muscular knots that go with it.

March 28th, my birthday, was a new moon. In numerology, 2017 is the year #1 (2 + 0 + 1 + 7 = 1 + 0 = 1). This new moon in the year #1 apparently means a big shift (I overheard it, the other day, at a talk on energy healing). If you’re also in the midst of a shift, here’s my advice. Stop doing. Instead, allow yourself to feel and dive into the depth of that feeling. I guarantee you, feeling is healing. Let’s meet on the other side.

Pump Up the Energy with Yoga (and Dance)

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A daily fast-flow yoga personal practice and dance classes have pumped up my energy level, this past two months, and helped me design --from scratch-- my Thriving After Illness yoga-based workshop. Mission accomplished!

Wow! The beginning of the year has been invigorating. I just finished designing what is nothing less than one of my life’s accomplishments—a body-mind, yoga-based 3-day workshop designed for people who have been struck by physical or emotional illness ––and for anyone who’s interested in deepening their healing journey. The workshop, titled Thriving After Illness, invites participants to experience practices that they can do in conjunction with, or after medical treatment, to improve their general health and wellbeing, and re-ignite their life fire. Nutrition, self-awareness and yoga are the workshop’s pillars. Every idea, concept, practice mentioned in this workshop is there for one single reason—I’ve personally used them on my own healing journey, they’ve worked for me and, in some instances, they probably saved my life.

Now, picture this--I wrote the workshop’s script from my home office in Atlanta. Being a small business owner, it’s just me in the office. There’s no one to talk to over coffee or turn to for a motivation boost or a laugh. At the beginning of this process a month ago, I knew I needed to crank up my energy level. Yes, bringing together years of mind-body healing practice into a 3-day workshop script requires high energy—even if you used to be a marketing writer for years, like me!

So you know what I did? I adopted a high-energy morning daily yoga routine in my home studio in Atlanta. From one day to the next, I went from a gentle, slow-paced yoga practice composed almost exclusively of postures on the floor, to practicing breathing techniques that raised my energy level--dozens of sun salutations and standing poses that tested my strength, balance and endurance.

At the same time, I started dancing classes. These were meant to be pure fun. Every Thursday evening, Gordon Neil, Atlanta’s best salsa dance teacher (so I’ve been told), has led us in new Afro-Latin contemporary choreography. The class, which started last month, is small. I’m the only person who’s showed up every single week. The choreography part is hard as hell and I quickly learned that I have coordination and memorization issues. I almost dropped out after the first class, and if it wasn’t for my workshop’s script, I would have. But I realized that the dancing classes, too, kept my energy up. So, I kept on going. Last week, I told Gordon I’m quitting and going to a beginner class. “You’ll have the memorization issue everywhere you go, you need to train that part of your brain,” he commented. Yep, he’s tough. I said, “I’ll think about it” while leaving class, and still haven’t made my mind up yet. It may be time for more softness.

The Power of Joy

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Moving to Northern England with my parents when I was ten was a time of joy in my earlier years. I moved away from a small Paris apartment -where sunbathing on the concrete rooftop of the next door indoor pool was the only connection to the outdoors-, and an abusive school teacher, to a house with a backyard, a public school 's headmaster who opened his arms, and friends (see picture). This positive environment brought me closer to who I was, and therefore to joy.

How a book on joy –deep joy that has its roots in ourselves rather than outside- has become my bible. Here are the author’s commandments—and mine too now.

When I was back home in Paris at my mom’s, last month, I picked up a book that I had first read a year and a half ago. I had bought it in the neighborhood bookstore that I sometimes visit when I’m in the area.

This time back in September 2015, I picked up the book La puissance de la joie, literally The Power of Joy (the book has been published in the U.S. under the title Happiness, A Philosopher’s Guide). Just by reading the title, I knew it was the right pick for me. I had just lost my dad, and I was recovering from breast cancer and the treatment, while navigating through my divorce. The book turned out to be a revelation.

The author, Frederic Lenoir, is a French philosopher, sociologist, and speaker who specializes in religions and spirituality. He’s been drawn by the subject for a long time. When he was a young adult, he almost became a priest before realizing that it wasn’t the right path for him.

The book is a journey that examines how history’s greatest thinkers and religious figures have defined joy and ways to experience this feeling—sustainably. So much in this book resonated deeply with me. I’ll share a few of my favorite elements.

First, Lenoir distinguishes joy from pleasure and happiness. Pleasure is always connected to an outside element and short-lived. Last weekend, I enjoyed a great dinner with friends. We ate delicious home-made food, danced, and talked and laughed. That’s it. It was pleasurable in the moment. Now it’s gone. The author explains that happiness is a state of being, not an emotion. We build our happiness by finding balance. It’s kind of a work in progress, “an intellectual construction,” says Lenoir. Joy is different. It’s a deep and intense emotion that touches our heart, body and mind. Joy surpasses us. It can be stimulated by the outside and, most importantly, also by ourselves. According to Lenoir, we can experience joy at all times even during the grieving and suffering we encounter in our lives.

Being present is one of the doorways to joy. Being attentive to what we experience, whether it’s a walk in nature, playing with kids, listening to a friend. Early the other morning, I was facing the window of my yoga room while doing a series of sun salutations when I became aware of the sunset -amazingly red, pink and yellow, before my eyes. Suddenly, I became fully present to the flow of my sun salutations and was filled with a heightened vitality as I made that conscious connection between myself and the beauty of nature.

I reconnected with my Italian heritage, last June, in a trip to Northern Italy. When I was there, I deposited something that belonged to my family and that I needed to let go of. Months later, I found it was the suffering my mom and her siblings had endured as kids growing up in Cassino, in Southern Italy.

The book also introduces us to the 17th century Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, who was the champion of joy and gave the emotion the most thought. This thinker came to the conclusion that each time you grow in the direction of your true self is when you experience joy. Additionally, each time you move away from what stops you of being your true self--leave a job that’s not fit for you, a toxic relationship, conflict, etc.--you move closer to joy.

The “joie de vivre” also comes from connecting with others. Once you do the introspection work to know your deeper self and your true needs, Lenoir says, the right people will come to you and you can then experience and enjoy the connection with others, in a way that’s good for you.

Finally, Lenoir tells us to let go and go with the flow. Has a difficulty come up in your personal life or social environment that you can’t change? Let go and say yes to life by accepting the situation for what it is, and organically move into what life drives you to do. Marching in the Women’s March on January 21st, in Atlanta, in unity with hundreds of cities around the world was the prime recent example of cultivating joy in the midst of adversity for me.

At Atlanta's March on Jan. 21. One of things I love about the U.S. is the incredible diversity I've found here. My friends are American, Bosnian, Columbia, Croatian, Danish, French, Peruvian, Serbian, South African, Swiss, Uruguayan, and more.

How about you? How are you creating your own personal joy?

 

Breathe Move Believe

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Whatever we believe in, Yoga brings us closer to our mind, body and spirit, as well as to something bigger than us. All for the sake of healing and thriving. Here's how.

I've been recently thinking about how faith helps us heal. Some of us believe in God, a prophet or an unnamed force, others are attached to love or their own willpower, and so on. Whatever our belief system, it helps us surpass difficult circumstances and ourselves.

Faith was never part of my consciousness as a child. My mom is a non-practicing Catholic and my dad was an atheist. When I was ten, they both did their best to explain God to me, and imparted that I could always choose my religion –if any- once I was a grown up. A few years later, I asked my parents to sign me up to a Catholic teen summer camp in the beautiful mountainous region of Auvergne. At school, I had made friends with practicing Catholics, and was hoping to connect with their religious traditions. I had fun camping in a beautiful nature with my friends, while nothing much happened for me on a religious level.

It took almost 30 years for things to change. Being diagnosed with my first cancer and discovering yoga blew the lid open on my blockages to belief. The shock of the illness opened the door to my vulnerability, while yoga helped me undo stress, unknot tensions, and unite my body and mind.

At times, I also started experiencing -just like any person who practices yoga-, what Garrett Sarley, a senior teacher at Kripalu, the U.S. largest yoga center, calls “integrated functioning”. That’s when what you think, what you feel, what you say, and what you do are all the same and aligned.

This alignment, which is a powerful realm, started giving me access to insights on what I felt at the deepest level, on how to move forward, and on my connection to something bigger than me.

Today, I believe in the universe and its natural flow, in the power of joy and the acceptance of life -all of life- including its sorrows, which are opportunities to become more of who we are.

With my dad, entering the protestant church, in the Paris neighboring countryside, where I got married in 2007. By then, I was a regular yoga practitioner and had come closer to my spirituality.

My «faith» has even guided me in making life changing medical decisions. In 2014 when I was faced with my second breast cancer, a medical panel made up of twelve experts -doctors, radiologists, and more- all met to determine the best treatment option for me. After much discussion, they collectively agreed that a mastectomy was the way to go. For me, that option felt physically, emotionally and spiritually inadequate. I knew in my gut and in my soul that it wasn't what I needed. Against all odds, I refused it and decided for a lumpectomy instead. My choice came from within and from that something bigger than me. Something that I listened to and trusted. Today even my oncologist, who was part of the original panel and against my choice back then, is happy about my decision and results.

May 2017 bring you integrated functioning, and that deeper connection to yourself and, why not, to that something bigger than you.

The book La Puissance de la Joie ("The Power of Joy") is my bible. Written by Frederic Lenoir, a French philosopher and spiritual teacher, it offers a personal development path based on the vital power and wisdom of joy that also embraces life's griefs.

4 Steps To Finding Resilience And The New You

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"We will stop the pipeline, and we will do it peacefully," said Catcher Cuts the Rope, an army veteran protesting on the North Dakota plains, this past September (Photo: Alyssa Schukar for the New York Times).

In today’s turbulent times, resilience is a much needed tool.  It helps us recover and show up in a new form, for ourselves and in the world, just like building a new house. Yoga can be a huge help in the process. 

Many of us in the U.S. are experiencing intense feelings of distress, right now. Many are having a hard time coming to terms with the presidential election results; racial injustice and endemic poverty are becoming more visible to those who were previously oblivious; as well as environmental and cultural crises, such as DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline), the proposed construction of a major crude-oil pipeline that would have passed through the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s ancestral lands, in North Dakota, threatening the drinking water supply for a large part of the Midwest, in addition to the destruction of culturally sacred, protected land.

Right after the presidential election, as I contemplated the next steps for a divided country, one word came to me —Resilience. In material science, resilience is the ability of a material to deform elastically. One of my mentors, Laurent Malterre, a Parisian licensed psychologist, describes resilience as, “the capacity to find a new form, a ‘new house’, in a life that has been wounded.”

Each one of us has to find the “tools” that will help us build our own resilience, our own new house and new “self”. Here are the materials that work for me. I hope they’ll inspire you to find yours.

Acceptance

First, I’ve found that whatever difficult situation I’m faced with, I need to actually accept the situation. The key is time. Acceptance takes time and that’s perfectly okay. When I was diagnosed with my second breast cancer in June 2014, I first felt an un-describable sadness—Why me? How could life hit me that hard once again? It is only when I accepted the diagnosis (which took weeks) that I started to reach out to my inner healer and outside help.

Faith

Hope and faith are other components of resilience. Back 2.5 years ago, a powerfully intuitive friend of mine and a reflexologist, Rodrigue Vilmen, guided me through my medical treatments, sharing his insights. He started showing me how the universe was supporting me, in the smallest ways. I started paying attention to those small signs, and seeing them as positive energy and guidance for the next step.

The situation turned tricky, though. Complications following my surgery brought on an infection and an incision that simply wouldn’t heal. I felt so discouraged. Finally, one day, my surgeon said, “For the scar to heal, I need you to have faith.” From then on, I KNEW that I was going to heal, and accepted the process with patience. And sure enough, I did—months later, once I truly let go, and had faith.

Hope? Of course there's hope, just look at the adorable Jazmine! One year-old Jazmine is American of French and Guinean descent and my friends Helene and Alhassane's baby girl.

Voice and purpose

Finding my own voice has been one of the most powerful ingredients to resilience that I’m still currently in the process of uncovering. Who am I? What does my soul long for? What are my dreams? What is the purpose of my soul, and of my life? Taking tangible steps to live more aligned between what I feel, say and do has been the most beautiful gift I have offered to myself. The most recent step was to let go of my career of 25+ years as a business writer to dedicate more time to teaching and educating on yoga therapy.

Yoga

And lastly, there is yoga. I would not be who I am without yoga. Yoga helps me get back to my soul--to pause and feel where I am--to rest and to check in on the new house that I’m building. It helps me to find meaning in resilience—which, really, is all about finding the new me.

What about you, are you ready for the new “you”?

Symbols of two of my passions, right now--yoga and biking in downtown Atlanta.

How Yoga Therapy Found Me

Paris. 2005. With my girlfriends Antonella van Rumund (to the left), and Carole Pean Mathurin and Laurence Brunet (to the right). A month or so into chemo after being diagnosed with my first breast cancer, and shortly after I first started practicing yoga.

Paris. 2005. With my girlfriends Antonella van Rumund (to the left), and Carole Pean Mathurin and Laurence Brunet (to the right). A month or so into chemo after being diagnosed with my first breast cancer, and shortly after I first started practicing yoga. 

A life-threatening disease was the catalyst that first brought me to yoga. And once I discovered Yoga Therapy—I knew I had found my ”home.”

In a way, I came across Yoga Therapy the very first time I did yoga. It was end of 2004 in Paris, France. I had gone through surgery for breast cancer (#1) a month earlier, and felt hopeless and exhausted.

A friend dragged me to a yoga class at Aline Frati’s home studio. We were the only two students. And in that hour and a half, I went through a complete transformation. For the first time in my life, I actually connected with my body and felt its deep-rooted aches as well as its message of hope.

Aline has an incredible intuition about her. She has the ability to sense the students in her class like no other teacher I’ve ever met. And she’s able to deliver exactly what each person needs, at exactly the right moment. “The yoga I teach helps a person become aware of repetitive patterns –anxiety, fear- that come from early childhood, and free that energy up so it’s reintegrated in the body’s global energy,” she once explained to me.

After my treatments, I knew that it was my calling to teach yoga--to share with others the type of healing and transformation that I had experienced.

Aline Frati, my yoga teacher. Parisian, Aline has taught yoga for over 30 years. Her spiritual teacher, Jean Klein, is also the spiritual teacher of a member of the I.A.Y.T. Advisory Council, Richard Miller.

Love made me do the big leap from Paris to Atlanta, GA, in 2006, and three years later I started a 200-hour yoga teacher training in the city’s largest yoga training center, Peachtree Yoga Center. It was the first time I had ever stepped foot into an actual yoga studio. But soon after I began the training process I realized that something was amiss. This yoga felt drastically different from what Aline had introduced me to during that vulnerable period of my life.

An incredible Phoenix Rising Yoga instructor, Betsy Blount, taught there. Still, many of the classes were for “fit” students. I felt far from the powerful healing connectivity I felt back in France. Sure there were other types of yoga that were more gentle and restorative but still didn’t quite unite my spirit with my body and mind in the manner that I was seeking.

I started doubting--questioning if I had made a mistake. Should I teach a more “physical” yoga or restorative yoga to conform to what seemed to be the American way? Neither of these routes spoke to me. With the encouragement of mentors, I decided to stay true to myself, and start teaching my own style of yoga--the type that worked for me—“my yoga”.

I continued my training even in areas that seemed outside of the field of traditional yoga. In 2010 I trained in the art of Gestalt Therapy—an awareness practice that helps a person focus on the present moment and express their inner truth— at the Gestalt Institute of Atlanta. This was a natural move since I had personally benefited greatly from psychotherapy.

It was a year later, in 2011, that all of the dots finally connected for me. I landed in an anatomy workshop lead by physical therapist and yoga teacher, Marlysa Sullivan, who was then director of the Therapeutic Yoga Teacher training certification of the Pranakriya School of Yoga Healing Arts, in Atlanta. The workshop was part of the training’s curriculum, and for two hours, she led us in a therapeutic yoga class. Those two hours felt familiar. I finally experienced a type of yoga that was close to what I wanted to teach—geared entirely to help a person heal whether physically, emotionally or spiritually. Also, Pranakriya was based on the teachings that were the inspiration behind the Kripalu Center in Massachussetts, the largest yoga center in the U.S. which meant recognition and credibility.

Atlanta, 2013. At the end of the Pranakriya Therapeutic Yoga Teacher training.Standing, from L. to R.: Beth Zeigler, Allison Mitch, Anika Francis, Michelle Cox and I, all of us students. Kneeling: Marlysa Sullivan, program director (left), and Tra Kirkpatrick, internship director.

Today, I am part of a new and small community of Yoga Therapists. The field of Yoga Therapy is still in its infancy, and is currently establishing its standards. A pioneer at heart, I feel I’m here to break grounds, and share with the world –maybe you one day– the benefits of Yoga Therapy.

 

Ten Years of Body and Soul Connection in the U.S.A.

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End of 2006, freshly arrived in Atlanta, in my first "American" car.

I first came across a therapeutic form of yoga 12 years ago, and made the big move from Paris, France to Atlanta, GA, two years later. Here's how both aspects of my life have intertwined.

Tomorrow, it will be ten years since I moved from Paris to Atlanta. Love was the inspiration for that decision. The change was both enchanting and brutal. I was in a new world where I had to re-learn everything, while exploring my new existence with my American fiancé.

I had two beautiful things going on-- I spoke English and I had learned a form of therapeutic yoga in France, from going through a bout with breast cancer in 2004. Early every single morning I rolled out my yoga mat in our living room. My practice helped me navigate through the misunderstandings in my relationship, and the inevitable hazards of being a new immigrant.

Still, I felt I didn’t fit.

Six months later, I pushed through the door of a therapist’s office.  He listened and said, “Be who you are”. I felt an instant relief in my chest, and kept going.

I was finding my footing in my relationship, while working as a full time freelance business writer for a global company, and, at the same time, training to be a certified yoga therapy teacher.

In 2013, John and I bought a house, uprooting our secure suburban existence for life in “the hood”. The move left me feeling both shocked and relieved. For the first time in seven years I was finally experiencing something American that I could actually relate to. Our new hood on the South side had a similar feel (only a rougher version) to my old diverse, blue-collar, Parisian neighborhood.

The move unexpectedly helped reveal to me who I truly was--a person with a longing for deep connection. I began to realize that there was a major disconnect between who I was and what I was living – personally and professionally.

That’s when the “nuclear explosion” happened.

In 2014, I separated from John and flew to France. Upon arrival I was presented with a second breast cancer diagnosis. And that same week, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. We both locked in our fear, sadness and helplessness, and kept going.

To start healing, I had no other choice than turn inwards and look at my soul --who am I? What makes me unique? What do I want and need? Healers and loved ones held my hand along the way. I, once again, rolled out my yoga mat--my rehab center and sanctuary. Slowly, the breath brought the answers.

I returned to Atlanta in 2015. Three months later, my dad passed away, silently and softly--it was as if he did everything he could to avoid disturbing my healing. Since then, my grief and sadness have slowly emerged. These days I find myself rolling out my mat to find the space and peace on the yoga mat that will allow the new me to emerge.

With this blog, I want to explore and talk with you about yoga therapy, and how it can help us connect with our body and soul, and therefore our needs. Let’s start this beautiful journey together.