Blog / Poetry/Writing

The Alchemy of Yoga

 

What I love about yoga is each practice is a microcosm for life. Each time I show up on my mat, it is a journey.

 

So often, I feel like I am bare on my yoga mat—the ideas I came in with and my ideas about my body often break down in the midst of practice. I find myself vulnerable, present, climbing mountains as I move my body, a body which rides my breath. 

 

You cannot hide from yourself in yoga: between the breaths is a space of pure emptiness—of a deep and soulful pause that draws us into communion with the universe. Because there is nothing else in that space but universal energy—cosmic star dust. 

 

We cannot control what will arise in us in yoga class; that is what is most scary and, yet, most exhilarating. Because yoga carries us—inspires us—into the present moment, we stand on our mats in rare form, unguarded. As we get deeper into our practice and begin to allow more—to sink into our practice—all else within us drops away into silence, and histories once held tightly in our bodies break loose, rising to the surface of our conscious minds. 

 

When we are that open, we cannot shove these rising histories back down—we must see them, greet them, look them in the eye. To look away is to deny the experience of yoga, of svadhyaya, self-study. 

 

In these moments when histories emerge, it feels not like we are on our yoga mats, but that we are thrust into an arena, the main stage of our journeys. And, sometimes, it can feel like an epic battleground. “Do I have the fortitude to take this on?” I think, as something uncomfortable rises in me. Sometimes, I feel like it takes all my attention—sweating, twisting, moving, fiercely holding my ground and rooting down into the floor beneath my feet—just to battle through, to dig deep and find the courage and strength to withstand the emotional and physical calisthenics. I ebb and flow through my practice, rising to mountaintops and crawling through valleys.

 

Finding ease amidst uncomfortability and using your breath to expand into it instead of tightening up is the essence of yoga, and it is not easy. But it is thrilling.

 

What else can you do in an hour and 15 minutes that allows you to practice setting sail, going out on the undulating sea—one moment, quiet. The next—a rock, a heave, a soar. How else can you so safely come so close to yourself, so in tune, that you can journey and, physically and spiritually, hold the space for yourself to transform?

 

Because that’s what’s so magnetic about it: to practice yoga is to open yourself to metamorphosis, to literally use your own body and breath and being as fuel to transform. Yoga is existential alchemy. 

 

I go back to my mat over and over again because, each time, the journey is unexpected. Because I delight in the surprise, especially the surprises that ask everything of me, the ones that carry themselves in me for days and weeks and years afterwards. 
* * *
Someone asked me recently what my favorite word was. “Revelation,” I said, before adding, “and metamorphosis.”

 

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The Gifts of Darkness

 
I’ve been feeling this lately: I want to talk more about resilience. About reclaiming joy and peace—or, maybe, uncovering them; expanding into them. And, I think, I want to talk about challenge. 

 

About mourning, about change.

 

About what it feels like to lose. 

 

About what it feels like to walk through pain.

 

And I want to show another side. 

 

The other side is not one where we rise by moving on. Where we lose the past, forget, leave it behind us. As we move through challenge or loss or pain, we simply become deeper versions of ourselves—we emerge more. We emerge more aware. We emerge with more sense of meaning. We emerge more ourselves.

 

But this doesn’t mean that the old parts of ourselves simply disappear, that they are no longer part of us, that they no longer tell our stories. No, it’s simply that, now, we’ve unveiled new sides of ourselves we hadn’t uncovered before. 

 

We are expanding.

 

We must help each other realize that walking through pain or challenge is completely normal and completely ok. We do not have to fear the darkness or think we’ve done something wrong when we’re in it. No, we must learn that darkness is a journey we all travel at some point—many points—and it is the essence of us, it is what brings interest and obstacles and triumph and life into our existences. 

 

Because darkness is not depression; darkness is uncertainty. Darkness is leaving the shore to set out for something unclear but intuitively felt. Darkness is following signs from the universe when the way is otherwise unmarked. Darkness is a calling. Darkness inspires trust.

 

We must greet darkness as the gift that it is and, to do so, we must be filled with and share our parables of darkness as a teacher, a sacred journey, a guide, a lesson. And we must be filled with parables of darkness receding, and what happens when we rise from it, it underpinning and rooting our ascent.

 

But, let us be clear, darkness doesn’t recede once in our lives and then it is done. It flows through us like a wave, ebbing and flowing. We must see that it is part of our story, our creation and re-creation stories throughout life. 

 

Do not push it away for you will be rejecting a part of yourself. 

 

Welcome it in.
 
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It’s Time for a Collective Uplift

As we grow, we must give ourselves away. This must be our ritual.

 

You see, we are placing a tremendous burden on the earth—our population growth is unchecked and, as we produce more and more people, we add more concrete, more roads, and more houses that cover the earth which needs to breathe. We have created environmental havoc, economic instability, and spiritual problems of epic proportions. We need to lighten the load.

 

And this begins by giving ourselves away. Despite the challenges we face individually and as a collective, each of us have been given some knowledge of how to live life differently—better. Our mission in life is to discover that knowledge within us and use it. We are here to share what only we can bring

 

Give of your possessions, your words, your thoughts, your kindness. Give away your knowledge to students, young and old. Share whatever it is you’ve got. Even the slightest actions make a difference.

 

The purpose of life isn’t to leave a physical footprint on the earth, but a lasting impact in hearts, minds, and spirits. When you give yourself away joyfully, gently, and freely, you do just that. And we can begin doing this at any age; the gift of who we are is enough.

 

When we do this, not only will we lighten the burden the earth is carrying and become more mindful of our presence on it, we’ll begin raising the vibration. When you give of yourself freely and joyfully, you spread love, peace, and joy to everything you touch. It’s those small acts of giving that spread the most joy. Our world, our earth, our neighbors, and our companion creatures need compassion. Let’s begin now.

 

It’s time to spread our light. Pass it on.

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Imagine a World Without "Anti-Aging"

*article originally published on The Essential Life

DEAR SISTERS,

I believe that we deserve to know our own beauty & worth.

I believe that we are always in process & that showing up as we are is one of the most courageous things we can do.

I believe it is time for us to reclaim our stories & reclaim our bodies—to bare them with truth & love & compassion. When we let our beauty exist, naturally, we offer ourselves as teachers: I am not afraid of this body that I have, we say. I will not hide it or shun it or tell it it’s not enough. I embrace my beauty. By embracing our beauty, we free others to do the same.

I also firmly believe that we need to lose the language of “anti-wrinkle” & “anti-aging.” Imagine if those words suddenly went missing. Overnight, our skincare products would transform, leaving empty spaces where “anti-wrinkle” & “anti-aging” were once boldly displayed on boxes & plastic bottles.

IMAGINE:

Not a single person would utter the words in a face cream commercial & all of those fountain-of-youth advising books would suddenly find gaps in the middle of their sentences. 

Poof. The words, everywhere, would disappear.

But it’s not just the words. Imagine what that would mean, a world where we could never speak the language of “anti-aging” again. 

It would mean we would finally allow our bodies the chance to be seen as they shape-shift & change—as they enter the flow of time and grow marks & scars & lines; we would not hide the truth of ourselves. By bringing our bodies into the open as they are, we would celebrate them for showing the richness of our lives; they carry our stories.

The more adamantly we try to reverse time, the more we fight our own strength and beauty: as we expand with age, we rise up, rooted in our intuition & our wisdom. To chase the fountain of youth is to forget what a blessing being an elder & a seer is. We do not sacrifice beauty by aging; no—we sacrifice only when we resist age’s flow, hushing our innate powers.

DO NOT PLAY IT SMALL, MY SISTERS. DO NOT HIDE YOUR BEAUTY. 

Knowing your worth & your beauty is not a privilege, it is why you are here: to express your fullness—to express your passions, your purpose, your love. 

Sisters, root yourself in the Grandmother Spirit. Set your intuition aflame and swell with your own wisdom.

We need you, exactly as you are.

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Rise, Sister, Rise: "My Becoming is a Collective Effort"

Recently, a client & kindred spirit shared her journey with me and, in doing so,  reminded me that we never journey alone. In her note, she spoke of feeling drawn by the pull of many passions, and not knowing where to land first: how do we begin to heal ourselves and the world when so much is in need of healing? How do we know where to begin? 

And she spoke honestly about the arduous journey forward: how do we rise from our pasts and launch into our purposes, all the while finding personal and financial stability? 
But my favorite part of her letter was when she spoke of rising out of a collective consciousness: “I realized my becoming is a collective effort; it’s not just self-reflection that has helped me to realize my passions and desires, but the stories of other people that I’ve met along my journey, people like you."
And, I think, that's where we begin. We rise together, through and from each other, lifting each other up as we try to rise ourselves. It is messy and uncertain—and splendid. Here is my response to her, sent with love. I share this not because I have the answer, but because it is the conversing, the communing, that leads us there.
M.,

I must begin with a thank you. Thank you, first, for hearing me—for listening so deeply that you felt called to respond. That is a blessing and a gift to me, one I was longing for. Thank you, also, for sharing yourself with me, letting me see you as you are. You are bold in your authenticity, and also gentle, introspective, kind. 

I think one of the things I’ve been most longing for is the passion that comes from uniting with people on a deep, soul level. Connecting, communing, conversing. I want my soul, my spirit, my words to intertwine with someone else’s, many someone else’s. And, in doing so, I want us each to feel heard, seen, loved, accepted and, as you wrote, never alone. I think it begins with conversations like this, notes passed back and forth without expectation, but only love and sisterhood and seeking

I guess what I want to know is how do we co-create this together, this rising into passion, this call to live our purpose and leave not a physical footprint on the earth, but a lasting impact in its and our fellow beings’ hearts and souls? And, instead of seeing our multitude of passions as drawing us in too many directions, I want to see us as dynamic, as women who weave the threads together, or unite, as if by magic, the disparate parts to illuminate—everything, I guess. Yes, everything. 

Some of my favorite reminders of what to do in the face of a world that, too often, seems disconnected from the truth of our oneness come from women just like you, some whom I’ve met only through email. My friend Mikayla texted me shortly after the election: “I had some clarity this morning, as I often do on rainy days. I wanted to just remind you that although our world is in chaos and such divisions, I value you and our friendship. The next few years will be difficult, but without each other to consistently support one another - it will be much more difficult.” Amen.

And then there’s Melissa, one of the women I’ve only met through energy, who wrote to me, struggling to grasp the chain forward, to find the path to a better coexistence with all beings: “Individually, I can’t change the outcome of an election,” she realized. “But I can help people help each other. And, eventually, that will change the world.”

Like you, my becoming is a collective effort; it is the stories of all who have come before me and some who have arrived after. It is Alice Walker and Maya Angelou and the wise women who have risen centuries before me but whose presence is known, somehow. It is my grandmother, in spirit now, and my mother, and everyone I’ve ever made an oil for, and the men who have held me—and the ones who have not. It is my teachers, my spirit helpers, and the ones who post a few words on Instagram at just the right time for me to see them clearly—the messengers. It is you, of course, too. 

What I hear when I read your words, and when I read the energy between your words, is your strength. My gosh, how bright you burn—full of light and compassion and your own unique blend of brilliance and purpose. Already, you have transcended so much, you have lifted your entire family up with you, generations of ancestors rise as you rise. Your blossoming rebalances a past that wasn’t so balanced, it leaves peace where the energy was once unresolved. What I wish for your younger self is role models who told you your worth and taught you how to live it. You’ve had a harder path to pave, but now you get to be that role model you longed for. So nourish yourself, fill yourself, take care of you. Because you are leading the way now. 

Thank you for the blessings of your friendship and your note. You’ve touched me more than you know. Please continue to email me whenever you feel called. I am always here to listen, commune, and share. 

With lots of love and gratitude,

Ashley

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You are already carrying everything you need . . .

Tonight, I received a custom oil request from a strong, spiritual, and intuitive woman. My goal, when I create these custom oils, is to create something that serves the skin and the soul, and so I ask each custom oil recipient to share the story of both her skin and her spirit.

Tonight’s recipient spoke of her heart: “I am having a hard time balancing opening up/being vulnerable with fears and anxieties about not being good enough, not accepting where I am at.” As I continued with her words, I found myself pulled in by a story of survival and endurance—she has survived and endured sexual assault and loss, with her story spiraling—“rippling” was the word she used—into tales of heartache and grief. 

So many of us have been there. Trauma of all kinds. Heartbreak. Fear. Doubt. So, when I read her words, I literally cried. 

I cried not because there’s sadness around what she speaks of, but because I felt her. Because she spoke so clearly and honestly and authentically, and because she trusted me with her heart and her story. And that last thing—the trust she placed in me by asking me to carry her spirit, even for just a moment as I consider her soul and her skin—was a tremendous gift to me.

Yes, sisters, I cried because I feel so blessed to be entrusted with the opportunity to hold her story in all its preciousness. I cried because now I get to learn what it’s like to hold out my hand and carry her spirit. Because now I get to know the responsibility of caring for someone else’s essence with love and gentleness and with the respect and safety it deserves. I feel there is no higher blessing for me, no greater calling. If this alone, the act of carrying with love, is all I do and all I learn, it is enough. 

And, so, what I want to say to her, whose name I will keep close to my heart, is thank you. Thank you not only for your trust in me but, through telling your story, for reminding me what a strong woman sounds like. A strong woman is not without obstacles or valleys; she is a woman who, when faced with challenges, opens up more. Who shares her story fearlessly, and who speaks in the language of love. You are so worthy, dear sister, of the inner ecstasy of finding joy in one’s own company, of feeling safe and strong in your body, and of your own self-care. 

May you be nourished. May you be free. May you blossom.

Photo Credit: Repeal Hyde Art Project

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The Time for Radical Hope is Now

 

The past eight years of my life have been painful. Dark, sometimes. Lonely often. Some days have felt endless. It has never been apocalyptic, but moments have felt unbearable. I am grateful for the hope, the radical hope, that has risen in me in these moments and reminded me: still I rise, I rise, I rise. 

I write this on one of those nights. My hope is too strong tonight for darkness, but loneliness hangs around and time passes slowly. And it occurs to me: why haven’t I told you sooner?

I am strong. I am resilient. I am funny, even. And I firmly believe in our power as co-creators. I feel my mission, in part, is to remind all of us of the magic glowing within: we are, without doubt, the ones we have been waiting for. 

But, somehow, I believed that my pain ran counter to that message. I believed that if I shared what, at times, feels broken, my message would somehow be less. 

The truth is, I think it makes me more dynamic. More gutsy. More bold. I don’t think it lessens my passion but fuels it. 

The story of the world is this: we have always fought for what we believe in. And rarely has our way forward been uncontested, even when our way is true and good and loving. The question is not, if we face the ebbs, but rather, when we face them, what will we do?

Persist. 

Persist together. Persist with kindness. Persist peacefully.

And persist, paving our future with every block that has guarded our way.

I write this because I wanted you to know that, for many nights now, my journey has not felt easy. That my pain has affected my physical body and my spiritual body.

I write this, also, because I know I am not the only one who has sung a song of pain. I join a choir of beings stretching from here to the dawn of time. And of all these people, ancestors descending from ancestors, I am certainly not the only one who is strong and resilient and funny, even. 

I came to the conclusion tonight that the only way forward for me is to share. So, with only honesty to bare, I ask you to hear my song. Maybe you recognize it, maybe yours has its own beauty. 

I go to sleep stronger tonight knowing I’ve released my song not from the throes of anger or resentment or darkness, but from the clarity of hope and love and togetherness.

We will find our way.

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Dear Hillary

BY ASHLEY ASTI

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