How Yoga, Meditation and Sea Lions Nourished My Soul in Mexico

Todos Santos Ocean Retreat FORM yoga Soul Nourish

Life can be an incredibly difficult and enlightening journey. I learned this at an early age. I’ve suffered through losses—my father, brother and my first baby have all died. My mother and I do not speak. At all. I’ve survived gang rape and molestation at the hands of many men and boys. For far too long, I have chosen to suffer mostly alone, not knowing how to share with others without burdening loved ones with my pain. I’ve found the ability to do transformative work in yoga sessions but it’s only 60 to 90 minutes. Then it’s gone. The benefits leak out slowly. As hard as I work to retain them, it’s like capturing air with a fishing net. I wanted more and I needed guidance to do it.

How yoga meditation and sea lions nourished my soul in mexico

So when my yoga teacher Mandy Roberts told me that there were still spaces open on her and her business partner’s Soul Nourish retreat, which was heading to Todos Santos, Mexico, I gave it real consideration. I’d seen the posters for previous Soul Nourish Retreats when I’d gone to practice yoga in her studio in Decatur, Georgia. But when she personally reached out to say, “Hey, Kirsten, I really think you might enjoy this,” it gave me pause. It wasn’t just yoga, after all. Mandy Roberts, owner of Form Yoga, has teamed up with Shari L. Fox, owner of Soul Nourish Institute, who is an enneagram instructor as well as a certified yoga instructor. The six-day trip promised to be full of adventure, plus loads of mindful meditation, inner work—a soulful journey. A gift to oneself. And I said yes.

I said yes to magic. To transformation. To nurturing myself and to nurture others. I said yes to feeling the quiet strength of 15 women in a room sitting silently, setting intentions for themselves and then going about the day mindfully intent on carrying out their intentions. I said yes to swimming in the Sea of Cortez, blue water deep, sea lion pups whirling around us, saying yes to the fun too. I said yes to learning to surf with Jan Federico William Bird, a Mexican-born holistic health mentor and regenerative ecological designer, consultant, and educator. I said yes to going on a Seva trip, which was an opportunity for the retreat attendees to serve selflessly by planting an organic vegetable garden and fruit-bearing trees at a local elementary school where families are often hungry during slow tourism months. I said yes to rising with the sun and meeting my new friends for guided meditation on the rooftop of our eco-luxury resort looking over the desert toward the Pacific Ocean.

It is incredibly hard to suffer, but it is brutal and unnecessary to suffer alone.

I said yes to practicing yoga in a room with women who all had different body shapes than me, some who had been doing yoga for far more time than me and some who’d only taken a class or two. I said yes to laughing during yoga and even a little dancing too. I said yes to holding a new friend’s hand. I said yes to a vision quest of which I was doubtful of at first but ultimately felt tremendous healing from while watching energy of spirits pass through me. I said yes to learning about enneagram, a typology that maps out your personality type, and I said yes to being open to what my type says about me, my vices and my virtues, and how I can better navigate the world knowing both my type and my instincts. I said yes in letting a room full of women come together and offer their love and healing blessings to me and to each other. I said yes to sharing my losses and listening to others share theirs. I said yes to feeling less alone. I said yes to making magic, to being magic. I said yes to myself and I said yes to others. I said yes to the lessons that came to me there: We are all emanating lights of energy with or without the vessel of a body. It is incredibly hard to suffer, but it is brutal and unnecessary to suffer alone.

How yoga meditation and sea lions nourished my soul in Mexico

About Kirsten Palladino

Kirsten Palladino is the author of Equally Wed: The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your LGBTQ+ Wedding (May 2017, Seal Press), and the cofounder and editorial director of equallywed.com. She’s currently working on a memoir about healing herself after trauma, a topic she infrequently blogs about on foragedwellness.com. She lives with her spouse and their twin boys in Atlanta, Georgia.

Student Showcase

student showcase FORM yoga

Some years ago, a lot of years ago, my son – via my husband – gave me a blue yoga mat for Christmas at a moment when yoga was particularly invaluable in my life. The mat was very nice and was a great investment; however, the time has come now for me to replace that mat, but I have been reluctantly leaning on nostalgia and the comfort of the known.

(Reader: stop here and look up “Aparigraha”: learn early and do not be like me.)

Perhaps you too think you need a new mat but are unsure. Let me share with you how I have come to know that it is, indeed, time for a new yoga mat.

  1. At a time now forgotten and for reasons I probably never knew, I spilled coffee on my mat. That stain is now indiscernible among all the other (sort of gross) stains on my mat.
  2. Last week after a lovely up-dog, I brought my feet forward to find the blue fibers of my mat stuck to the top of my feet. And they weren’t even sweaty yet.
  3. The stick of my sticky-mat is wearing down in a random pattern across my mat. Not infrequently, I am afraid that an unfortunate hand or foot placement will result in disaster (the most) or distraction (at the least.)
  4. The black backing of mat gives folks like Mandy one extra thing to sweep up after a particularly vigorous flow class.
  5. If I ask my son what he got me for Christmas in 2008, he would neither know nor care.

And, folks, it’s a yoga mat, a tool for my practice. It is not a tool to self-enlightenment; it will not secure my place in heaven; and it will do little to make me understand who I am and what makes me … well… me. What it will do is aid me in my asana practice and help me feel strong and solid on the studio floor. I put good gas in my car, I buy organic food for my family, and I enjoy a quality glass of wine when it is offered to me. Why wouldn’t I invest in a yoga mat that will help me grow in my practice and help ensure that I will land on my feet (or hands) when I need to?

Teena Scott

FORM yoga Student

Do you have a story to tell or a few wise or witty words about your practices on and off the mat? Shoot us an email, we would love to feature you in our newsletter and on our blog!

Resolve to Love

I remember December 31, 2007 like it was yesterday, and at the same time it feels like 100 years ago.

My little girl, Alexis, was born on December 2nd of that year, and I was already madly in love with her.

On New Year’s Eve, I was doing what I always did – making resolutions galore, but also holding my beautiful baby girl in my arms. As I looked at her, I realized that I did not want her to grow up with a mom who hated herself & didn’t even want to look in the mirror.

The scale was 235 pounds when she was born, which was the largest I had been in my life.

Being overweight for most of my life up to that point – I made the same resolutions that year that I always made – “lose weight” – “work out” – ad nauseam.

But this time I decided I would try to do things a little differently & actually ask for help from others.

I joined weight watchers, hired a personal trainer & started taking yoga classes at the gym.

Being part of a like-minded community, and having others helped me take off 90 pounds that year, but I still hated myself when I looked in the mirror.

I continued taking those yoga classes at the gym, because during those classes – were the only times the harsh voices in my head that told me I was “not enough” of whatever – were actually quiet.

 

Even though I had lost 90 pounds – I still had no self-confidence, and truly felt like the rest of the world had some “secret to happiness” that I was never going to learn.

I finally got up the confidence to join an actual yoga studio – which was terrifying. I had lived most of my life in a larger body, and definitely not flexible or athletic. I was certain that everyone would see me for the fraud I was.

Thankfully, reality was much different than the thoughts in my head (per usual), and the teachers & students at the yoga studio eventually became like family to me.

However – they had mirrors in the studio, and I still couldn’t look at myself despite the countless cues to “look at your own eyes in the mirror”. I still did not love that person staring back at me.

Eventually – the hard shell of self-hatred & self-doubt that surrounded my heart began to crack – as I found the courage to start looking at my own eyes in the mirror. In those early days, I would often find myself in tears by the end of class, or even after certain poses. I started shedding the layers of myself (and I’m not talking about the scale), and I began on a journey of connection with self.

It is 9 years later, and I live a very different life than I thought I would. I am still very much on the journey to self-love, but I also get to encourage others to do the same as a yoga teacher.

My little girl has severe autism, (more about that in my other blog posts) and she is constantly challenging me to live in alignment with my highest self.

This year I have had to re-examine a lot of things about myself, and sit with a lot of uncomfortable feelings. The difference today is that I am willing to do the work of being honest, vulnerable & even sometimes very lonely. I’m willing to look at my feet, and change directions if I know I am walking towards something that will harm me or others.

So this year, I haven’t sat down and made of list of things I hate about myself. I’ve made a list of my strengths, the things that make my heart happy & make me feel like I’m living in alignment with my highest self. I’ve resolved to use my strengths to continue to be the best version of me, and make more time for those things that make my heart sing.

I wish you the happiest 2017, and my wish for you is that you will find a way to your own heart this year.

Sarah Kleiner

About Sarah Kleiner

Sarah causally practiced yoga during college and through the years following – but her passion for yoga truly developed after the birth of her daughter in 2007. Yoga gave her the solace and strength she needed to adjust to her new role of “mom”.

After her daughter was diagnosed with autism in 2009 – yoga gave Sarah so much peace and compassion for others – that she started to feel a calling to teach yoga to others.

Sarah’s dream became reality when she completed her 200 hour through Pranakriya Yoga – under the direction of Michael Yoganand Carroll in 2012. She is also a certified prenatal teacher, and continues to work on her 500 hour certification through the Pranakriya School of Yoga Healing Arts.

Sarah’s inspiration for her classes often comes from observing life and finding the humor and softness in each situation. Always keeping a sense of lightness and play in her personal practice – Sarah works to create an environment that is fun and supportive for her students.

When not doing or teaching yoga – Sarah loves playing with her adorable pup, Petal, her precious daughter – and spending time with her husband in Decatur. She also enjoys a good laugh with friends and family.

10 Ways to Live Life Fully

Mandy Roberts 10 Ways to Live Life Fully

1. Face your fears.
2. Always open your heart.
3. Don’t be afraid of falling.
4. Play.
5. Listen deeply.
6. Give whatever you do 100%.
7. Breathe.
8. Look people in the eye.
9. Be ok with not being perfect.
10. Don’t be afraid to get dirty

Photo by Ross Oscar Knight

todos santos dreamcatcher mandy roberts

About Mandy Roberts

The inspiration and driving force behind Atlanta’s FORM {yoga} Mandy is always learning, adapting and growing. As a studio owner Mandy has built a beautiful, inclusive community that focuses on empowerment, trust and connection. As a single mom Mandy leads by example teaching her two kids to (playfully) grab life by the horns and to live life to the fullest. And as a yoga teacher and retreat leader Mandy encourages her students to face their fears while exploring humility, playfulness and laughter.

Read more at mandyrobertsyoga.com

AHO

women weekend retreat Elohee Retreat Center

This spring I co-lead a Women’s Weekend Retreat in the north Georgia mountains with my dear friend and sweet soul sister Shari L. Fox. Months of dreaming and planning led all 26 of us to journey northward and meet at the Dahlonega Spa Resort just 90 minutes outside of Atlanta.

Women's Weekend Retreat

A menagerie of women from all walks of life came together: mothers with their daughters, two groups of sisters, longtime friends, new friends, solo travelers, students of mine from FORM {yoga}, guests of Shari’s past retreats through Soul Nourish Retreats, and a few women who had never met Shari or myself.

As each woman arrived you could see so much beauty in their bravery. Each of them showing up with some hint of uncertainty about what the weekend will hold.

Women's Weekend Retreat

In our first circle we each selected one person we didn’t know and we sat and took turns truly listening to the other as we each told our story. Nervous laughter lifted the room when Shari announced that next that each person would introduce their new friend to the group and say a little something about them. We each took turns holding the talking stone to introduce our friend over laughter and a captive audience. This exercise in deep listening set the tone for the weekend, the ice was broken. We commenced to dive deeper into our sister souls with each passing hour.

Women's Weekend Retreat

Over the course of this weekend we connected with deeply rooted layers of trust and vulnerability. We learned together, created art together, sang together, meditated together, yoga’ed together (both on and off the mat), and had a couple of impromptu dance parties.

Together we shared wine, tears, laughter, laughter through tears (this is for Pam and all my Steel Magnolia loving friends).

Women's Weekend Retreat

We shared stories and truths in the circle, in the hot tub, and as we lay dozing off to sleep at night.

More than anything, together we showed up with pure presence, perfectly imperfect and in doing so we wove a powerful and moving experience for each woman there. We created memories, friendships and deep bonds that will last us a lifetime. And this my friends, is what life is all about.
Ahhhh-fucking-ho

Women's Weekend Retreat

Interested in your own magical women’s weekend? Join Shari and Mandy July 22-24, 2016 for our Summer Women’s Weekend Retreat. Check out the Soul Nourish Retreats website for more information or to register.

Big thanks to Linden Tree Photography for the beautiful images above.

todos santos dreamcatcher mandy roberts

About Mandy Roberts

The inspiration and driving force behind Atlanta’s FORM {yoga} Mandy is always learning, adapting and growing. As a studio owner Mandy has built a beautiful, inclusive community that focuses on empowerment, trust and connection. As a single mom Mandy leads by example teaching her two kids to (playfully) grab life by the horns and to live life to the fullest. And as a yoga teacher and retreat leader Mandy encourages her students to face their fears while exploring humility, playfulness and laughter.

Read more at mandyrobertsyoga.com

One Simple Rule

one simple rule yoga life

One Simple Rule

  1. Bury the idea of perfection. It doesn’t exist.
  2. Be kind, especially to yourself (see rule number 1).
  3. Don’t get caught up in what others think of you
  4. (see rule number 1).
    Eat that second (or third) slice of pizza, and enjoy it.
  5. (see rule number 1).
  6. When you mess up always say you are sorry, and mean it
    (see rule number 1).
  7. Laugh at yourself, a lot (see rule number 1).
todos santos dreamcatcher mandy roberts

About Mandy Roberts

The inspiration and driving force behind Atlanta’s FORM {yoga} Mandy is always learning, adapting and growing. As a studio owner Mandy has built a beautiful, inclusive community that focuses on empowerment, trust and connection. As a single mom Mandy leads by example teaching her two kids to (playfully) grab life by the horns and to live life to the fullest. And as a yoga teacher and retreat leader Mandy encourages her students to face their fears while exploring humility, playfulness and laughter.

Read more at mandyrobertsyoga.com

Yoga and the F-word

yoga and the f word

Yoga and the F-wordDisclaimer; I know what all you yogis are thinking out there, that with a post titled Yoga and the F-Word this has to be a blog post about Bryan Kest. Wrong. Though I adore Bryan and his extensive use of the f-word, for that topic you must read my dear friend Isabelle Casey’s blog post Judgement & F-Bombs. Read on.

Three years ago my life was over…or so I thought.

 The world I had known and built and loved was pulled out from underneath my feet leaving me stumbling, shrieking, clawing. I was standing at the edge of darkness and staring in the face of fear. I was experiencing the terrible reality of divorce.

Screen shot 2013-02-22 at 5.21.11 PM

At this time I was 32 years old and I had never been alone. Yes, you read that right, I had never been alone. I was with my husband from the tender age of 15, and we were married three years later after learning that we were going to be parents. My husband and I both came from impoverished homes with our parents always struggling to make ends meet and to get food on the table. We were determined to have a future for ourselves and for our children. We both worked diligently from the beginning of our relationship and made many sacrifices to overcome the struggles we both knew growing up. Over the years we succeeded. We built a booming business together through hard work and dedication. For the last 8 years of our marriage our business had grown successful enough that I had the privilege of staying at home with our children. I spent my days running our household, working behind the scenes in our business, and volunteering in our children’s school and in our neighborhood. Being a strong-willed woman who liked to be in control (to put it nicely, but that is a whole other blog post), I found certainty in my marriage. We were going to grow old together and find ourselves at age 70 on a front porch swing sipping on a glass of sweet tea in the pre-dusk warmth of sticky southern summer days while our grandchildren played in the yard. My husband was my best friend, confidant and the only person in the world that I could depend on and trust.

As the reality of our divorce set in the many faces of grief and loss were swirling within my body and bubbling to the surface. Anger. Fear. Denial. Desperation. I was utterly TERRIFIED. I struggled to get out of bed. I struggled to eat. I struggled to sleep. When I was out of sight of my children I spent most of my day crying, locked inside my house. When I did go out in public I put on my warrior suit and held my head high, but inside I was screaming. I lost faith that I would ever be okay again. I was not even striving for happy, I was merely just wanting to be okay. Needless to say, it was bad.

There it is, the f word...FAITH.

Researcher and storyteller Brené Brown defines faith as “a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.” Faith.  Much scarier than the other f-word right?

IMG_6306

Over the past couple of years I have found faith again (that journey will come in another blog, another time). In fact faith and I are very dear friends now. And just like with any other relationship, at times we struggle. Sometimes I push faith away because she is just too damn hard to have in my life. She constantly requires me to be present. She demands that I be vulnerable and open. She insists that I lead from my heart and not to make decisions based on fear. Sounds exhausting, right?

As a yoga teacher I strive to teach my students the concept of faith as I understand it. Through a yoga practice faith can be found when we let go of our limiting beliefs. For many of us this is not easy. As we breathe and move through postures on the mat we find ourselves challenged physically and emotionally. Just like in life, it is easy to give up when we are faced with discomfort. But when we are struggling( on the mat or out in the world) we have an amazing opportunity to explore ourselves, our patterns, our reactions. It is EASY to pull out of that utkatasana 10 breaths in when the mind yells”Abort mission!”. The hard part is learning to sit within the storm and to have faith that the discomfort shall pass.

Resolving to accept uncertainty and to choose faith not an easy place to live from, in fact it is very challenging at times. But I know now that no matter how hard it is to live within faith, it is much harder to live without it.

Within the depths of my sorrows and in the gloom of my divorce my yoga teacher Mitchel Bleier passed along this poem to me. Over time these words have carried me toward the shores of uncertainty while holding the hands of my long forgotten friends; courage and fearlessness.

THE TRUE LOVE
by David Whyte

There is a faith in loving fiercely
the one who is rightfully yours,
especially if you have
waited years and especially
if part of you never believed
you could deserve this
loved and beckoning hand
held out to you this way.

I am thinking of faith now
and the testaments of loneliness
and what we feel we are
worthy of in this world.

Years ago in the Hebrides
I remember an old man
who walked every morning
on the grey stones
to the shore of the baying seals,

who would press his hat
to his chest in the blustering
salt wind and say his prayer
to the turbulent Jesus
hidden in the water,

and I think of the story
of the storm and everyone
waking and seeing
the distant
yet familiar figure
far across the water
calling to them,

and how we are all
preparing for that
abrupt waking,
and that calling,
and that moment
we have to say yes,
except it will
not come so grandly,
so Biblically,
but more subtly
and intimately in the face
of the one you know
you have to love,

so that when we finally step out of the boat
toward them, we find
everything holds
us, and confirms
our courage, and if you wanted
to drown you could,
but you don’t

because finally
after all the struggle
and all the years,
you don’t want to any more,
you’ve simply had enough
of drowning
and you want to live and you
want to love and you will
walk across any territory
and any darkness,
however fluid and however
dangerous, to take the
one hand you know
belongs in yours.

todos santos dreamcatcher mandy roberts

About Mandy Roberts

The inspiration and driving force behind Atlanta’s FORM {yoga} Mandy is always learning, adapting and growing. As a studio owner Mandy has built a beautiful, inclusive community that focuses on empowerment, trust and connection. As a single mom Mandy leads by example teaching her two kids to (playfully) grab life by the horns and to live life to the fullest. And as a yoga teacher and retreat leader Mandy encourages her students to face their fears while exploring humility, playfulness and laughter.

Read more at mandyrobertsyoga.com