Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Healing After Loss: How Yoga, Meditation and Community Helped Me Grow Through Grief

by Heidi Haskell, CSOY alum, Boulder 2016

I’ve never felt more supported by community in my life than during a yoga teacher training. To go through such an intensive experience, with everyone taking time out of their lives to become more educated teachers and human beings, just builds incredible connections.

I was especially grateful for those connections during my third month of training, when I received a gut-wrenching phone call that my dad had passed away. I found out the night before a long weekend of teacher training. I knew it was going to be a rough weekend for me, so I wrote a Facebook message to the training group, letting them know in advance.  

Showing up to training that weekend, while grieving, taught me a lot about myself, the power of community, and really emphasized how yoga and meditation can provide comfort during such a painful time.

Closing Off Is Not the Only Option

I showed up to training, bright and early the next morning, swollen eyes, red nose and all. Everyone stopped what they were doing when I walked in, greeted me, and let me know I had their full support.

This was a new experience for me. I’m so used to shutting down and closing off my heart when something painful happens. I can very easily go into Stepford wife mode in order to function. I also do this to prevent myself from appearing vulnerable to others. It’s not easy for me to let people know I’m hurting.

Thankfully, with the support of this group, that didn’t have to happen. I felt safe to keep my heart open and fully experience and express how I was dealing with this sudden news. There’s also nothing like getting 20+ hugs and authentic “How Are You’s” every day, when you need it the most.

The Power Of “How Are You?”

Most of us say “How Are you?”, so casually, without thinking, and without actually caring what the answer is. I feel that the power of an authentic “How are you?” is often undervalued, and this training experience really drove that point home for me. Because they knew what I was going through, I experienced 20+ people asking me “How are you?”, at various times, and they actually cared what my answer was.

When they asked, it reminded me of the fact that I had been momentarily pushing some emotion down that needed to move and be processed.  It encouraged me to check in with myself, and answer honestly, with the support to fully feel what I was feeling. That’s incredibly empowering and healing. It’s really fascinating to me that even though I was in a great deal of pain, I still had never felt my heart so open before. I can completely attribute that to the love and support of the group since I was not expected to hide my emotions from them.

In addition to the support of this community, I also found refuge in tools that helped me to process things on my own as well.


Yoga has helped me through many tough times in my life. Physically moving and strengthening my body helps me to feel more empowered, release emotion, as well as strengthen my ability to stay present with challenging asanas/situations. As you can expect, being immersed in yoga teacher training at the time of my father’s death was incredibly convenient.

When something painful happens, it’s very common to want to curl up in a ball, under 20 pounds of blankets, and not move for days. I know that’s how I felt when my dad passed. It’s counterintuitive and incredibly scary to ask yourself to open up when you’re feeling like that. One of the best ways to help your brain understand that you are in your power and that it’s okay to stay open during that time is to move your body.

There’s a great Ted Talk from Amy Cuddy that talks about the power your body has over your mental/emotional state. She explains how having an open body expression for just a few minutes can actually increase your sense of empowerment and wellbeing. Can you imagine what a full hour or more of yoga can do for you?

The toughest part about doing yoga while grieving, for me, is getting myself to just show up. When I don’t feel enough inner momentum to leave the house and go to class, I just keep reminding myself of how I will feel after and that usually gets me there.

Once I start moving in class, I immediately notice changes in how I feel. It’s not that yoga takes away the heaviness of what I’m feeling, but instead, it helps me see things I’m struggling with from a different perspective - all from just moving and intentionally breathing.


Meditation was another powerful tool for me while I was grieving. The teacher training had helped strengthen my home meditation practice, which thankfully became a routine for me by the time of my dad’s passing.

When fear, anger, and sadness became its strongest, or when I felt like I wanted to close off my heart the most, I found ease in meditation. Sitting still and being present with the full spectrum of my emotions helped me to not resist them. It also helped decrease the strength those negative emotions had over me. Instead, they were able to move through me as I acknowledged them.  

I really like Gina Caputo’s metaphor about meditation, that it’s like sitting in a poopy diaper - because that’s exactly what it feels like. Being present and fully feeling icky, terrible things is not something that’s easy to do, but it’s really one of the best ways you can prevent yourself from getting stuck in whatever you are feeling. Meditation increases your capacity to sit with what is uncomfortable, not react to it, and move on from it.

Moving Through Grief Is Work - But It’s Worth It!

When something painful happens, it’s like someone picked you up and dropped you off in some wilderness, on the other side of the earth, and you’ve got to find your way back home. There are many ways to get there, and you’ve got to find what works best for you. No matter which way you choose, whether it be meditation, yoga, or something else - it takes consistent dedication to showing up and walking through the mud in order to make it to the other side. It’s an unpleasant yet powerful opportunity to explore all sides of yourself with curiosity.  Eventually you’ll make it through, and you’ll be much wiser for it.

I could have chosen to take the weekend of my father’s passing off from teacher training, and make it up another time. I showed up because this training and being with this group of people fed my soul to do so. I’m forever grateful to this group, to our teachers, as well as my own family for skillfully holding space for me when I needed it the most, making me feel incredibly welcome to show my vulnerability, and supporting me fully during that time. , family, community, yoga and meditation all gave me the support and tools I needed to make it through with an open heart.

As an RYT-500, Heidi has a deep passion for bringing people together. She sees yoga as a tool to help break down barriers to connection, both with yourself and with others, facilitating playfulness, creativity, and strengthening your sense of calm.

With studies in voice, theatre, and psychology, you’ll find an influence of each in Heidi’s classes, as well as an anatomical approach to sequencing.

Heidi has studied with and is greatly influenced by teachers Gina Caputo, Caitlin Rose Kenney, Amy Baker, Keri Bergeron, Cheryl Deer, Kate Mulheron, Pam Sammartino, Christine Raffa, and Debbie Valois.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Meet Andrea Bilderback! Andrea will be leading a Colorado School of Yoga affiliate 200-hour Teacher Training in Fort Collins, CO beginning February 2017. Continue reading to learn more about Andrea's teaching journey!

What is your first memory of yoga being something significant and more than a stretch class?         

I took a restorative class at the YMCA in a small town in southern Missouri when I was in college and at one point I remember noticing how much my mind was jumping around in the held postures. When the teacher asked us to take a deep breath, I noticed a shift, a brief quieting of the chatter.  This was a moment of realization that the practice had something deeper to offer than just muscular benefits.  

What catalyzed you into pursuing becoming a yoga teacher?

I pursued becoming a yoga teacher because as a wellness director with the YMCA, I wanted to be able to teach a wide range of classes.  Of all the fitness classes offered, Yoga resonated with me most.  It was aligned with the holistic health practitioner path I wanted to continue pursuing.  

How has your teaching changed over time?

My goal as a teacher began as helping a person find greater physical flexibility and injury prevention and have since expanded to that of encouraging the student to have a greater quality of life through including the broader teachings of Yoga into their time on and off the mat.  

If you could tell new yoga teachers one thing what would it be?

Practice:  Don't fall into the trap of taking on teaching so many classes that your own personal time on the mat suffers.  Seek: Stay curious and continue to make space for opportunities for education and expansion.  Play: Pursue recreation and adventure, as this is the surest way to continually inspire your teachings.

Is there an old classic posture or a new variation that you’re especially loving right now? Why?

Handstand.  No quicker way to shift your perspective than flipping everything upside down and feel the earth with your hands and the air with your feet.  

Where will we find you when you’re not teaching?

One of two places:  Milling around the coffee shops and bookstores of Old Town Fort Collins or taking in the fresh mountain air via hiking, climbing or biking.  

What are you focusing on in your personal practice these days?

Meditation.  I've put it on the proverbial back burner for too long thinking that intentional movement in my asana practice was a worthy substitute.  While it is definitely important, nothing can replace the powerful tool of stillness.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

MEET CSOY TEACHER JULIA CLARKE of Mountain Soul Yoga in Edwards, CO!

What is your first memory of yoga being something significant and more than a stretch class?

My first yoga class. It was around 1991 in the gymnasium of a local primary school with a Dru Yoga teacher named Tilly. I was only about 10 years old but I knew instantly that yoga was powerful and I remember thinking "I want to be a yoga teacher when I grow up."

What catalyzed you into pursuing becoming a yoga teacher?

It was a desire of mine since taking my very first class as a child. When I moved to New York City in 2007 to work in music promotion it was the first time I had lived in a place where there were studios and teacher trainings everywhere. Prior to that I'd spent many years practicing yoga at home and in gyms and teaching seemed like a lofty, far off endeavor as a "tight white girl". I dove in headfirst and quickly found a teacher, Marty New, who guided me towards the 200 hour training at Integral Yoga Institute after I begged her to take me on as an apprentice.

How has your teaching changed over time?

In many ways, completely. I'd describe my teaching as having evolved from humble to discerning. I was lucky enough to have many great teachers early on and as a good student I certainly took everything they said as gospel, as they might have taken it from their teachers. Yet over the years I've been fortunate to be able to invest a lot of time in my study and practice and the question "why?" started to become the main influence of my inquiry. I bow down to all my teachers and yet when I ask "why?" I often find that I come up with different answers from the ones I received early on. When I started teaching from this place rather than ancient texts or trickle-down interpretations I found my classes becoming more alive, more vibrant, more me. And of course moving to a very active community has really aided me in valuing the therapeutic aspect of Lunar yoga!

If you could tell new yoga teachers one thing what would it be?

No one is showing up to class to see you fail.

Is there an old classic posture or a new variation that you’re especially loving right now? Why?

With so much time spent on the hiking trails and on my road bike, I feel like when I hit my mat all roads ultimately lead to Urdvha Danurasana so I can open the front of my body up.

Where will we find you when you are not teaching?

Depending on the season, i'm on any one of the Vail Valley's beautiful hiking trails, lounging in a hammock by an alpine lake, mellow back country ski touring, or travelling the world!

What are you focusing on in your personal practice these days?

I'm opening a yoga studio, so my current practice is simply about giving my mind a rest and staying connected to the pulse of what has driven me to go down this crazy road! My practice always follows a long hike or bike ride so generally i'm drawn to backbends which reopen the front of my body, then deep long hip openers and forward bends. But as a mountain girl i can never resist throwing in a few handstands and forearm stands for strength and focus!

Come see Julia in Boulder on 9/3 for her Advancing Your Asana workshop on Demystifying Handstand and Forearmstand! Details here: https://goo.gl/FjnlM2

More on Julia at her website www.juliaclarkeyoga.com

Monday, August 1, 2016

7 Ways to Live More Fully From a Breast Cancer Survivor

June 2nd, 2006

by Ashley Cleveland, CSOY Alumni and VP of the College of Chiropractic at Parker University

Ten years ago today, we dressed in our bright colors and put on our make­-up to go to my final session of chemotherapy. I was bald, with no eyebrows or eyelashes, but I put on a flowing dress of pink and green, did my best to add some pop to my skin that the drugs had stripped of color. There was a cake that said “we kicked cancer’s ass,” and I wore a crown. I was surrounded by my faithful tribe of she ­warriors who had been with me from the moment I found a tiny, almond­ shaped nugget in my breast through each treatment. 

Though I was young and felt good, believed in my own health, in the goodness of my body, learning that I had cancer was scary. I couldn’t extricate myself from the cultural weight of this disease – I only had to look at the faces of those I told, hear the change in their tone of voice. Having cancer made me face the possibility that life could be much shorter than I had imagined – and perhaps more painful. The odds suggest that many of us who’ve had cancer will experience recurrence, metastasis. It’s like being told, “Cancer is going to kill you – maybe not today, this week, month or year, but eventually.” You have learned, at age 36, how you are going to die. 

For a short time after I finished cancer treatment, I was apprehensive about each new ache or pain. Every moment waiting to be released following a mammogram was torture, each passing second a confirmation of my deepest fears. 

How could I possibly live in the face of this? 

The length of my life, I’ve discovered, doesn’t matter. What matters is what I do with whatever amount of time I have. What matters is whether I allow my living – the joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, births and deaths, sunshine and dark – to teach me to be more human. 

As a reminder on this special day when scientific medicine would call me cured – which is a far cry from healed – here is a list of things I started to really learn when I got cancer. 

1. Never treat the body as a battleground or war zone; rather, enter it as a temple, a sacred space housing the wisdom of the entire universe. Even, and perhaps most especially, when I experienced my body as some sort of traitor, I needed to embrace it as me. The false sense I’d had that it was separate from me, a territory to be conquered, a slave to be driven by the desires of my mind – I want to compete in that race, look like that model, stay up late and drink, get up early and work out – had contributed to my sickness. I didn’t feel my body from the inside, live in it like a well-­tended home. Despite my so-­called yoga practice, I was still coming at it all from the outside…do the postures, do the breathing, perform your way through life, play the role. My poor body was the flash­ point of all my attempts at control. And through the experience of cancer, it became the doorway to my healing. 

2. Plan your journey, and wisely choose your traveling companions. Medically, there was a map for this journey. There was a sentinel node biopsy and axillary dissection, an implantation of a chemotherapy port, a series of chemotherapy treatments on a bi­-weekly schedule, with shots and blood work in between. There was radiation and then years of monitoring by my oncologist. I added a number of important travel stops to that map, though. There were two chiropractors providing me with massage, adjustments and nutritional support. There was yoga class – sometimes not very energetic, but I was on the mat learning to accept limitations. There were cleanses. There was a lot of Food Network while I lay on the couch not wanting to eat. There were walks that exhausted me. There was raucous laughter from my crew during every chemotherapy treatment. There were trips to the lake to rest surrounded by trees and water and sunsets. This journey wasn’t always fun, but we did it together, with honesty and heart and grit. Is there any other way to travel through life? 

3. Everything doesn’t have a rational explanation. The ironies of being a chiropractor, marathon­ runner, health freak with cancer in her mid­ thirties were not lost on me. At some point, there is nothing to do but shrug, laugh, pull up your big­ girl pants and get on with it. Believe me, I’ve tried anger as a means of getting through life, proudly cultivating my tough­girl image as a teenager and throughout college…but, I’ve come to realize that hardening the exterior just makes it more difficult for me to get out and anyone else to get in. Living life is different from explaining life, and when I get to the end of it all, I will want to have felt it, not crafted really exquisite arguments about it that I play on repeat in my mind. 

4. Feel your feelings, and let them out – laugh big belly laughs and cry big heaving sobs. This doesn’t mean I’ve become a fan of vomiting all my neuroses on everyone around me. But, I’ve come to understand how destructive it is to let the energy of anger, hatred, unexpressed grief, our loud inner no, build up in our cells and tissues, in our joints, in our heart and lungs and sunken chest. Life’s only half ­lived if we only dance the fast dances and never snuggle up close when the slow song plays. Likewise, life’s only half ­lived, and we aren’t fully human or fully alive, if we only allow ourselves to express certain types of emotions... 

5. Kick your inner critic to the curb. My inner critic talks non-­stop – well, sometimes during meditation or yoga practice or a sublime moment when I’m looking lovingly at my dog, she shuts up. The voice in my head says I’m not good enough, pretty enough, welcomed, wanted, understood, appreciated, talented, fit…whatever is good and true and right in the world or in womanhood, I am NOT. But what does she know? She says similar stuff about other people, too. Why? Because she is afraid, and she doesn’t know what else to do with her time. She’s afraid if she isn’t whipping me into a frenzied state of feeling like I’m not enough, I might not need her anymore, she might – poof! – disappear. So, more time in meditation, breathing, yoga, snuggling with my dog…in the heart space of forgiveness and gratitude. She’s melting like the wicked witch she is… 

6. There is always room for more forgiveness. I used to be really invested in my victimhood. I’ve been wounded thousands of times. And my sense of injustice and self­-righteousness fueled me. My wounds don’t make me unique, however. Everybody has been wounded. When my wounds meet other people’s wounds, we just keeping wounding each other. The only way not to transmit my wounds is to transform them. And that requires forgiving those who’ve wounded me – by recognizing that they are humans who act out of their wounds, too. How can I extend compassion to them? In truth, my wounds have been my teachers. I have had very good teachers, including cancer. 

7. There is always room for more gratitude. Even on the worst day of cancer treatment, the sun might come through the French doors of my little condominium in the most dazzling display. Thank you. Food might suddenly taste good again after weeks of nausea. Thank you. A back bend might be possible today for the first time after surgery to remove lymph nodes. Thank you. My friends are smiling at me and loving me though I feel sick and ugly from chemotherapy. Thank you. Though we are afraid, we are together. Thank you, thank you, thank you. My healing started when I got cancer. It took me deeply into my body where decades of emotion had been buried in my cells and tissues, kept safely away from consciousness. Ten years on, I am still unwinding the tension, uncovering the secrets, unlearning the patterns. I don’t wish cancer on anyone. But I do recognize that it woke me up in a way that nothing else in my life had…From the deepest, most spacious place in my heart, the place where you and I are one, I bow to you in gratitude for being a traveling companion on this journey back to life...

Dr. Ashley Cleveland is a chiropractor, educator, Vice President of the College of Chiropractic at Parker University and student of Gina Caputo who completed the first ever yoga teacher training program at Kansas Siddhi Yoga and taught with Gina Caputo at her studio in Kansas City, MO.