Oh, 2013.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is by Zora Neal Huston, who writes in Their Eyes Were Watching God"There are years that ask questions and years that answer." For me, 2013 was a year of asking questions to discern what I "should" do from what felt right. Should I stay in Des Moines? Could I make friends and find community here? Would my relationships continue to grow and deepen? Who should I hang onto, and who did I need to let go of? How much did I miss Chicago? Was I pursuing the right career? What sorts of challenges should I take on? And so on.

I'm a Gemini (yes, I believe in astrology), so I continually bounced back and forth. I thought I knew something, and then I didn't. I made a decision, and then I changed my mind. As Shauna Niequist puts it, "I felt like I woke up a different person every day, and was constantly confused about which one, if any, was the real me." It was like I saw countless versions of my life playing out in my head, and my heart couldn't figure out which way to turn. I found myself super future-oriented on a daily basis, full of fear and worry about which choice would lead me down which road. It was painful and exhausting.

Then . . . I stopped trying so hard to "figure it all out." I said to myself one day, you can't predict what's to come, so start enjoying what's here now and who you are today. I shut out all the woulda, coulda, shoulda's in my life, and ignored the voices from others or inside myself that said my life had to look a certain way and that I had to be a certain kind of person. I still had to make decisions -- I couldn't always float along in the present moments of la-la land -- and sometimes it hurt. Sometimes I messed up and ignored my integrity. Sometimes I fell down and wanted to hide in a corner. But I still got back up, either literally or figuratively, and gave myself a fresh blank slate to try again.

As a result, I found new, unexpectedly dear friendships with incredible neighbors (who were always up for a drink or an outing or a pool day),  fellow yogis (who showed me lightness and joy and determination), and passionate individuals (who taught me about art and changing the world or shared my love for fashion and wine and sushi).

I discovered an appreciation for the question, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" (Seriously, that is simultaneously the worst question ever, and the most enlightening to answer for yourself.)

I learned to take on new challenges in a career while staying true to myself, my personality and my interests.

I wrote my first freelance article.

I invested in this community by getting involved as much as possible. I became part of a team that strives to bring more young professionals to the Art Center (because it's awesome). I babysat little kids while their new mamas learned how to be even better mamas amid the struggles and responsibilities of young parenthood. I read to elementary school children, and let them read to me in their beautiful, hesitant new-reader ways.

I completed yoga teacher training, and found a lot of internal peace as well as an overall commitment to health in the process.

I traveled often to nourish my friendships. I spent a week in Charleston visiting my very best friend on the planet. I enjoyed a rainy week in Florida with my family on our annual trip. I went to Chicago often, to see beloved friends and important confidantes. I visited my sisters, to see one's new apartment and watch another cheer at a high school Homecoming game.

I committed to love.

I read at least 16 books (since August, anyway).

I accepted that some of my relationships had changed. I moved on from the connections that no longer served me or ones that I could no longer give 100% to, and I tried to make peace with those realities.

I started this blog, wrote 45 posts and had 1,700 views in five months.

2013 was one hell of a year. As you toast to 2014 later tonight, take a moment to be grateful for all that 2013 brought you, for better or for worse. I know I'll be clanking a glass of red wine with my sister, celebrating the fact that I am alive with family and friends to love, good health and a faithful heart that's open to possibility.

Cheers!

Yoga Training: Week 1

After kicking off yoga teacher training, I realized I was pretty spot-on regarding my three observations! Five classes, one load of laundry and many deep breaths later, I have a much better sense of what to expect--or at least I think I do :) I woke up Saturday morning wishing I hadn't had that last beer at Oktoberfest; even though I took it pretty easy hanging out with friends Friday night, I'm definitely used to sleeping in on the weekends. Too rushed for coffee, I slammed a piece of peanut butter toast and a large glass of water just in case we were practicing first . . . and we were. Our weekend leader, Justin, made it quite clear that we would be pushed physically, emotionally and mentally, and we spent the majority of the morning sweating profusely. It was ROUGH. Every time I thought he might, might, give us a tiny break, he only asked for more: another crow pose, sink a few more inches deeper, hold it longer. More than a couple of us dropped to our knees for child's pose many, many times, but Justin is also the kind of inspiring yoga instructor that makes you want to push past your edges.

That afternoon, we explored the following topics, on our own in journals, in small groups and together as a whole: What's possible for me, after this practice? What does presence mean, and what steals my presence? Am I living a life with integrity, or am I compromising my integrity through the lies I tell myself? Uh, you get to know a group of people REAL fast after five hours of that. Our leaders weren't kidding that these people were going to become mini-family members. It's true. Once the walls started to break down and people began to share their opinions, perspectives, struggles and successes, it became clear that we had more in common with one another than we may have thought. We were also asked to physically face one another during conversations, and I realized how little I actually do this in real life, how many of my interactions with loved ones are to the side or distracted in general. It was really powerful to sit face-to-face with these new friends, to look them in the eye and really listen to what they chose to share. We were also asked to pay attention to how many times we use the words "right," "wrong," "good," "bad," "should," and "shouldn't." Answer: it's a lot--these habits and speech patterns are deeply ingrained, and it's kind of incredible how often I found myself reaching for those words to judge and categorize myself, others and the world. Finally, we wrote down our answers to this sentence: My old way of being is . . . And then shared it with every single person in the room. Talk about feeling vulnerable!

Sunday brought more of the same, but this time, we were a little more prepared as a group. Or at least we thought we were! We faced another tough morning practice, and particularly focused on making general adjustments to our partners. Great yoga instructors (well, probably teachers and instructors of any kind) make it look so easy, but it's not. It's challenging to figure out how to describe poses without acting them out, for example, and it's initially awkward to reach out and touch someone's body parts in a way that respects their space and limitations. I used to think that part of being a good yoga teacher meant being good at yoga, but teaching and guiding someone through their poses and practices involves so much more. The afternoon mimicked Saturday in a lot of ways as well; again, we discussed the following:  What's the difference between possibility and potential? How often do I try to be right--and what is "being right" costing me? Who are the most important people in my life, and are they people I need or people who need me? What are my most extreme opportunities for growth right now? What do I commit to right now? And like yesterday, we wrote down our answers to another sentence: My new way of being is . . . And shared it in similar fashion with our fellow yogis. To conclude the weekend, we  filled out these sentences: I will extend the boundaries of . . . I will establish new pathways in . . . I will welcome adventure and surprise in . . . I will be one of life's players in . . . I will disrupt business as usual in . . .

Listen, some of these exercises felt cheesy as hell at first. You could tell that several people in our group were not into this sort of self-reflection by any means, and probably wanted to just do more actual yoga. But what we all realized, and will continue to realize, is that being a good yoga instructor does require a commitment to and respect for a certain mindset. My sister asked, jokingly, "So are you going to get all weird and spiritual now?" I had to laugh, because I wondered the same thing of myself! But here's the thing--everyone maintains certain opinions about yoga in general based on their own experience or lack thereof, and there are millions of different ways to practice yoga in the first place. If others think that my passion for yoga is strange or confusing, well . . . that's not really my problem or concern, you know? I don't view getting "zen" as a negative thing; I mean, I do actually go to yoga to find balance, peace and strength. That's important to me, so other people's perceptions of my choice to pursue teacher training simply don't matter. (I mean that in the nicest way possible.)

This training journey will be hard. I know that--I basically spent the rest of my weekend time eating and sleeping and being totally exhausted! But it already feels worth it, and I'm so excited to continue on.

(Note: I wanted to find some funny yoga GIFs to break up the text in this post, but I was too lazy. Next time!)

Goal #8: Yoga Teacher Training

This week, I start my yoga teacher training journey! (Below is my first day of school excited face.)

First Day of Yoga Training

I started practicing yoga about five years ago, when I first moved to Chicago and needed a bit of an exercise change. My roommate and I attended the yoga classes at XSport Fitness, right down the road from our apartment in Lakeview, and sometimes when I felt fancy and had the money, I would attend a class at CorePower Yoga downtown after work amongst all the yuppie stay at home moms. (Yes, I was judge-y about that.) Yoga felt like a great workout, particularly hot yoga, but over the next several years it became a bit of a lifesaver as I dealt with the stress, anxiety and depression associated with significant personal conflict, major life changes and a toxic relationship.

Yoga class is often where I take my first big, real deep breath of the day, which always amazes me--I mean, my body makes sure I breathe all day long, thankfully, but yoga reminds me that I don't actually breathe. Yoga class is where I discover my edges and limitations, where I don't have to be perfect, where the rest of the world slips away for an hour, where the only thing I can control is my focus, where I can shut off my yapping mind, where I realize that I am stronger than I think, both mentally and physically. I've never left a yoga class feeling worse than when I showed up, even if my hips are tight, I lose my balance or I'm just not feeling the 'om. You would not believe how many days I think, I don't have time for yoga or Ugh, I'm too stressed for yoga. That's when I tell myself, Just get there. You don't have to be great. You just have to show up.

Life motto, right? Just show up. You don't have to be great.

But when the possibility of yoga teacher training came up here in Des Moines, my mind raced to uncover all the Reasons It Was Not a Good Idea: it's too expensive, I'm not good enough yet, I won't know anybody, it'll take up too much time, I already have a job, etc. Even though it's been on my bucket list for years. Seriously, it's kind of amazing how quickly our fear of the unknown shuts us down even before we begin! Luckily, one of the training leaders asked me pretty much every week when I was going to sign up. So I took the plunge.

Last night marked the beginning of my 200-hour yoga certification and training program. Imagine 30 or so students of all ages crammed into a small studio looking at each other like, Here we go . . . None of us really knew what to expect, but here's what I quickly realized:

1. Wow. I'm going to be practicing a LOT. No shit, I immediately thought, it's YOGA TRAINING, what did you expect? But these next several weeks will totally change my perspective on what "a lot" of yoga means. I'm used to hitting up a class twice a week and feeling proud of myself. Aside from 11-12 hours of group class time, we still need to fit in 5 classes. Per week.

2. There's going to be a lot of touchy-feeling personal sharing. Even though I love that sort of thing with close friends and family members, it's harder for me to open up with large groups and I generally feel overwhelmed when people share a lot of deep stuff right from the get go. (Like Brene Brown says, relationships need to be able to sustain the weight of vulnerability.) But I guess it'll be an opportunity for growth and I'll probably make some great friends.

3. I need more yoga attire. Because I don't want to do laundry every day. Hello, Tar-Jay instead of Lululemon.

Along the way, I hope to share weekly recaps of training--what I'm learning about various poses, teaching skills and whatever else comes up!

Namaste, all.