Doing Your Shadow Work

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What parts of you are you MOST ASHAMED of?

Hard question to answer honestly, I know. But this is the very beginning of doing SHADOW WORK. Shadow work is meeting the parts of you that are the scariest to confront. The goal of shadow work is integrate all parts of you — to create a holistic acceptance of who you are. The REAL challenge of this work shows up when we realize that this involves accepting the parts that we LEAST want to own…

Our repressed anger.

Our boiling resentment.

Our cutting judgement of others.

Our dark wishes to hurt or harm.

Our deeply embedded shame.

Our hidden sexuality.

These are our shadow selves. What we define as our dark, dirty, inferior, and disowned parts — parts we’ve stuffed so back into our subconscious that it’s easy to live life as if they aren’t there.

But they are.

And as long as they go ignored, they are playing an unconscious part in your life, who you are, and how you show up in relationships. Whatever you deny in yourself, you’ll deny in others — meaning big-time PROJECTION that might deeply harm your ability to connect with others, and finding yourself always blaming others and the world for your suffering. Projection is when we unconsciously transfer our own desires or emotions or self-hatred to another person. So, when the shadow self is working unconsciously, it is infiltrating our relationships, making us have negative emotional reactions to people who either have a similar shadow side, or who have learned to work with it. It’s almost like we’re recognizing our own inability to manage our shadow and we feel frustrated by another person’s progress with it. This is all a subconscious process, and usually just shows up looking like an exaggerated emotional reaction that doesn’t fit the circumstances (e.g. angry outbursts, isolation, pushing people away, etc.)

Learning to meet these parts — through tough, but liberating emotional work — is essential if we want to FULLY embrace all that we are, heal our relationships, and move forward without our subconscious, shadowy baggage bleeding into our behavior. We must acknowledge and ultimately welcome in all of it — the good, the bad, the angel, and the demon.

Below, I’ve listed some questions from the book “The Dark Side of Light Chasers” which will help start your own personal shadow work:

  1. What am I most afraid of?

  2. What aspects of my life need transforming?

  3. What am I most afraid of that someone else will find out about me?

  4. What am I most afraid of in finding out about myself?

  5. What’s the biggest lie I’ve ever told myself?

  6. What’s the biggest lie I’ve ever told someone else?

  7. What could stop me from doing the work necessary to transform my life?

Try a short, grounding breathing exercise (like ten deep belly breaths, exhaling through your nose) first, and then carefully read each question, giving yourself a minute to ponder your response and taking your time. Then, you can journal your answers, and start to build self-awareness around who your shadow parts are, and what they are connected to. I also highly recommend picking up the entire book to continue the work, either on your own, or in tandem with a therapist.

By bringing your shadow to the light, we learn to embrace ourselves fully, to let go of shame, embarrassment, or doubt, and to completely accept ALL our parts, so that they may work as an empowered collective, rather than shattered pieces.

Happy shadow hunting, friends.

What is Ancestral Healing?

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From what I’ve learned, ancestral healing can be done in different modalities and have different approaches. Ranging from gathering knowledge around who your ancestors were and your family constellations, to working with mediums to help communicate with those in your family who have passed. I’ve done both.

And in the short time I’ve been doing this work, the amount of life-altering information that came through was astonishing.

I learned why certain behavior patterns are ingrained in me, how certain trauma from my female ancestors still reflects itself in me, and how to heal some of these inter-generational issues. It connected dots for me that never made sense, or that had gone completely unnoticed. I started seeing the patterns, the connections between me and all the women who came before me.

And now, I am getting the information I need to heal…

To be the one who finally BREAKS THE CHAIN.

Almost always, my clients are women who are ready to break free from the patterns of THEIR families — to stop repeating the same cycles and heal themselves — before they have their own children.

They show up ready to start the work — after hundreds of years of inherited female trauma — of beginning a brand new chapter. They’re sick of old patterns coursing through the bloodlines of the women in their family, and they’ve seen how destructive they can be.

They show up fully awake and aware of these patterns. They show up ready to dig deep and make a change. It’s made me believe strongly that this generation of women is here to heal the wounds our mothers, grandmothers, and all those beyond couldn’t. Not because they didn’t want to. But because, for the first time ever, women have the resources to do this work at their fingertips. We have access to therapy, spiritual healing, and education that not even our mothers had. We are the generation that can stop the trauma from going down into one more generation.

So, how can you start the work?

Begin simply, by making a family tree that includes everyone up until your grandparents (or great-grandparents if you have access to that information). Then, next to each person, write down any and all traumas they endured. This includes everything from being in a war, to being killed or dying young, to losing a child, having an abortion, experiencing any type of abuse or addiction, being in a accident or seriously ill. Anything that may have rocked their world, write it down.

They just observe it all with a wide lens.

Is there patterns there? Does something keep repeating itself? Do you feel oddly linked to a female in the past, and have never been sure why? This simple exercise might give you the answer.

Intergenerational trauma is when we experience the symptoms of someone else’s trauma — a family member who came before us. It can be unexplained panic attacks or phobias or irrational fears. And until we do some digging, we can’t ever explain why we feel this way.

As you work on creating your family tree, see if anyone in your family might have experienced something similar to what you’re feeling. Maybe you have an unexplainable, deathly fear of water, but have never experienced anything traumatic relating to it. Check and see if anyone in your family has every drowned, or lost someone to drowning. Did someone have an accident in the water?

This work can apply to any symptom you feel doesn’t REALLY begin with you.

Then work with a therapist, healer, or medium to help clear these irrational fears. To begin sending messages to your subconscious that this isn’t your fear to hold anymore. That it doesn’t do you any good to keep holding it. Begin to reprogram through visualization, meditations, thought-shifting, and even taking actual physical practices to break the fear cycle.

A perfect place to start is by reading the book “It Didn’t Start with You” by Mark Wolynn. It gives you the science-backed explanation on how intergenerational trauma can affect us, and how to begin working on it on your own, through specific exercises and journal work.

Remember, you are never locked into your family patterns. It will require steady, consistent work and facing hard truths, but you have the capacity to clear the old — and thus begin a new, healthier, more aligned way of living.

The beautiful woman in the photo above is my grandmother, Aurora, from my mother’s side. We lovingly called her Abuelita Bola. She is my guardian and my guide — and a reminder of the long lineage of powerful women that I come from. I never knew her as a child, since she passed right before I was born. But discovering she was my guide, through the help of some spiritual healers, I began asking more questions about her and her life. And it led me to make a beautiful connection with a woman who, although I never met on the physical plane, I now deeply feel as a part of my life and healing.

This picture sits on my altar to remind me every day that I am being guided and protected.

If you’re interested in doing this work, send me a message. We can speak about potentially working together, or I’d be happy to send some wonderful recommendations.

To doing the work,

Ferny




A Silent Exchange

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I think a lot about the day this picture was taken. It was on a cliff at the edge of the sea in Esalen, Big Sur, while doing my 300-hour yoga teacher training this past summer. And the story behind it is one of my favorites.

My friend, photographer, and fellow trainee, Nina, and I were scheduled to do a photo shoot while at Esalen, and Janet (our teacher) surprised us — as she often does — by announcing the day before that the next day would be our 24 hours of silence. I remember Nina and I just looking at each other from across the practice room with wide eyes. How the heck are we going to have a silent photoshoot?? We chatted afterwards, and I have Nina to thank for calming my nerves, saying we’d figure it out, but also making a hard commitment to the silence (since we could’ve cheated a little and talked since no one would’ve been around for the shoot). So I trusted that it would all unfold as it should. I kinda had to.

And with that, the next morning, our day of silence began. We were given a whole free day to do whatever we wanted, which was a huge luxury considering we spent almost every day in training, without much free time to play. The rules were we had to were our “In Silence” lanyard around our necks so other Esalen guests would know not to engage in conversation, and we obviously couldn’t talk at all, to anyone. We were also encouraged to not read or listen to music, and instead take the time to be reflective. So, the next morning I woke up late, relishing in not having to be up at 5:15am. I went down to the dining hall for my usual breakfast of oatmeal, prunes, granola, and a hard boiled egg. A couple of my friends from the group were there, but most had already been up and around. Those who I did see there, we just ate quietly, while shooting little smiles at each other.

I went up to our space to practice my Morning Nine sun salutations, and then went up to the baths to soak in silence, with my sweet friend Ashlee soaking silently next to me. Remember you saw that pelican flock? The beauty of Esalen is that there not only isn’t very much Wifi (only after mealtimes, and we weren’t allowed to be on our phones that day anyway) but there’s also NO signal. Phones become obsolete, useless, and a blockage between you and the beauty of this land and the people it holds. So the options on what to do with yourself are incredibly and wonderfully limited — you do some yoga, you eat, you soak in a tub, you sit on the lawn, you watch the sunset, you talk with your new friends, you read, you go to bed. This truly was probably the biggest gift this place gave me — space to truly connect by peeling away everything that wasn’t part of my present-moment experience.

So then I went to my favorite little spot — the little “dock” on the big lawn, which was just a couple of planks of wood in the middle of the grass. And so I laid in the Big Sur sun, and drew and journaled and thought about life and thought about nothing. It was amazing.

Evening came, and it was time for our shoot. Nina signed to me to follow her and we walked down the winding paths, across the bridge, all the way to a little DO NOT PASS sign (we passed) that led to the rocks by the ocean. We promptly hopped over the fence and made our way down the cliff. As we got onto the rocks and began the shoot, she signed to me to relax, to smile, to breath, to just close my eyes and soften — all the cues I needed to shake off all of the awkwardness I felt taking photos, with the added weirdness of absolutely no talking happening. She wrote down for me to think of my favorite mudra and what it invokes in my heart, and that’s when it all just began to unfold.

We got into the flow. With Nina’s amazing (silent) direction, we got some of my most favorite yoga shots I’ve ever taken. And as we wrapped up, both of us a little damp and salty, we started our quiet trek back to the grounds. I remember feeling so happy on that walk back, knowing those photos would hold something especially magical. That shared silent interaction showed me the huge power of sharing an experience without filler — just raw, pure, clear moments with an incredible soul surrounded by the sounds of the sea. I feel like our friendship grew after that experience, and it’s really funny to think that that happened without one word being exchanged.

The entire day taught me about the power of truly just being with yourself, and how deeply this can calm the heart and open up insights to ourselves we would’ve never accessed amidst the chaos, noise, and one thousand distractions of our everyday lives. Our internal landscape is a beautiful, messy place, and the practice of observing this part of ourselves through silence is powerful, to say the least.

Thank you, Nina, for sharing this experience with me (and the incredible photos). Thank you, Janet, for creating this container of silence, and always encouraging us past our comfort zones. And thank you, Esalen, for making every single day on your grounds a magical one.

I guess a photo is worth a thousand words, even one taken in silence.

Old Habits Die Hard

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Samskara is a Sanskrit word for our old, well-known grooves, loops, cycles or mental patterns that reinforce different behaviors in our lives, both positive and negative.

They can be responsible for holding us hostage to a way of being that is harmful to our mental and physical health. Our samskaras feel familiar, like old friends, and because of this we resist letting them go — even if we see with undeniably clarity that what we are doing isn’t serving us (and even potentially harming those around us).

As a therapist, I see that these samskaras are what clients feel like they are constantly battling against; the old and well-worn way of being vs. the new, uncomfortable, and very foreign change lying in front of them. What can we arm ourselves with as we begin such an uphill battle? One of my favorite authors, and fellow combination yoga teacher + psychologist, Bo Forbes, writes on a seven-step process we can commit to if we are wanting to reevaluate and release ourselves from old, detrimental cycles:

Intention: be clear on what you want

  • create daily or weekly intentions. Remain clear on how you want to live your life, even for just today. Enter each new situation feeling clear about what you value, so that your actions and decisions can reflect that.

Tapas: dedication and commitment to the daily work

  • stick to it, even when (and ESPECIALLY) when it gets difficult. Trust that you are resilient, strong, and that fearful thoughts are a whole lot of bark without much bite. Show up every single day, in big or little ways. And remember that even a small step is still better than none.

Shani: slowing down, pausing, and creating a chance to look inward

  • take time to check in with yourself, be it through meditation, journaling, or a simple 5 minute walk outside alone. Without this, we can't expect ourselves to know how to approach our emotions. We need to know what we're dealing with first in order to know how to make it better. How can you create space for you to look inward in a regular basis?

Vidya: awareness of both mind and body

  • Yoga is a create channel for this. Create practices that build awareness. Get in touch with your emotions through therapy, journaling, meditation, or vulnerable conversations with people you trust. Start to notice your patterns, write them down, and get familiar with the way you work. Also, move your body in a way that connects you with it. Drop out of your thinking mind often through physicality. 

Abhaya: fearlessness, diving into the unknown by letting go of the familiar

  • TAKE. THE LEAP. Stop debating. Your heart knows already what is good for you, what you need. So stop doubting your capabilities to persevere through it. The best day to start anything is TODAY.

Darshana: vision; visualization of the new pattern we want to create

  • Do regular visualizations of the life you want to create. See yourself in that place. What are you wearing? Who is around you? Where are you doing it? Get clear with every little detail, and do this often. 

Abhyasa: practice, practice, practice — so as to strengthen our new way of being

  • Stick with the practices. The more you commit, the quicker you will feel a shift. This one is the easiest concept to grasp, but the hardest to follow through with. Be gentle with yourself on the days you fail, but remind yourself sweetly to step BACK on the path tomorrow.

Pretty simple stuff, right? I’m kidding. But the path is there. Oftentimes, when faced with the reality that we can no longer continue living life in a particular way, we say, “But I don’t KNOW how to be any other way.” It’s not that you don’t know how, it’s that you’re choosing to not explore the unknown. You’ve let fear chain you down by the ankles, not realizing that you actually have the key that sets you free in your hands. With the chains loose, where will you go? Yes, this can be a scary question. But it can also be incredibly liberating. The path is yours to forge, and that first step will always be the most difficult. But committing to action (even the tiniest one) can get the machine moving in a direction we had never even dreamed of being available for us. One that is freeing, authentic, and totally aligned with who we actually WANT to be.

The choice to change is ALWAYS yours. No, it’s definitely not easy. Yes, it can be incredibly challenging and terrifying at times. But will it be worth it once you emerge on the other side?

Well, you already know the answer to that.

{ Read more on the seven steps for transforming samskaras by Bo Forbes in the article linked here. }

Insecurities & Finding Freedom

Photograph by nina konjini

Photograph by nina konjini

When I think about the times I feel like I’m embodying my most authentic self, I immediately think of when I've led a large yoga class. Even though I usually still feel nervous beforehand, once the class begins, this big burst of joy washes over me and I step right into confidence. It may be seeing so many people participating in a practice that has changed my life. It might be that I feel like I’m living my dharma of spreading healing to the masses. It may be the thought that at least a few people will come out feeling better than when they first walked in (and I want to think that it’s more than a few!) It’s likely a combination of all of that, but for me, it holds a deeper significance...

~

When I was in middle school I was the most insecure little girl you’d ever met. I was really small, thin as a rail, had giant teeth, with a spacer that gave me a lisp and a huge gap tooth for months. I had really nasty experiences with girls who constantly excluded me, either through not inviting me to things or saying secrets I couldn't hear right in front of my face. I got teased for being flat-chested — by boys, which just reconfirmed my belief that I was completely unattractive to the opposite sex. I even had one boy tell me the only reason he dated me was because of a bet with his friends (ouch). I went from being an energetic, outspoken little girl, who at one point had been told she was TOO talkative in school, to one who’d hide in her room reading or drawing to try and drown out the deep insecurity she was feeling. At family gatherings, I’d never want to talk to people, much less dance or sing (and with a giant Mexican family, you can guess how that went over with everyone). I receded into myself, and was silenced by my peers and a culture that kept telling me that who I was was not even close to worthy. I was lucky enough to have a family who always encouraged me to be me, but it wasn't enough to break through the other messages I kept receiving every time I walked into the classroom or the party or the girl's bathroom.

I found my voice again in high school, thanks to an incredible group of female friends. We were each other’s biggest supporters, always by each other’s sides. We laughed hard, knew how to have the MOST fun, yet also held each other during our times of pain, heartache, boy troubles, and even really intense loss. I was made to feel like I was valued again for who I actually was, and I re-found my voice. These girls encouraged me to be myself (they still do!) and so I slid back to that original Me -- the big, loud version of myself. 

Only this time she was fueled by a lot of bottled-up anger.

Yes, I was bubbly and opinionated again. I was super-social and unafraid to speak my truth (I was voted Most Spirited in high school, and wasn't even a cheerleader, if that's any indicator to my energy levels at the time lol).  I was the first one to plan the parties, make the playlists, and mix up the vodka Gatorades. But I also had no idea how to moderate it. My temper would explode out of nowhere, usually with those I loved the most, like my father or my boyfriends at the time. And when it wasn't anger, it was hysterical sadness. Giant fits of crying that would make my mom think her daughter was losing it, and that would sometimes end in fruitless attempts at self-harm (thankfully). Every emotion was BIG. And I had no clue how to reel it in.

So, as one does, I kept growing up. I naturally matured out of some of this, but for the most part, still had an incredibly difficult time managing my anger and my insecurity. I would still believe that I wasn't pretty, smart, or cool enough, and then that would make me angry. It was a volatile cycle that reared up any time I'd feel less than great or my capabilities were questioned -- which in your twenties, you can imagine that's quite often.

Enter yoga. This won't be my "How Yoga Changed My Life" story, that's another blog post, but needless to say, the practice (and I mean much more than just the asana) began to give me new perspective and insight on how to find self-acceptance. Coupled with the education I was receiving in my counseling program, I began to find tools to help find the REAL me:

Self-inquiry and exploration of my patterns.

Questioning my belief system (especially the negative ones).

Writing my feelings so I could transmute them into something healing.

Treating my body in a way that reconnected me to its power and beauty.

Practicing self-love every single time I looked in the mirror. Practicing it more when I least believed it.

Spending time with people who loved me, valued me, and who taught me how to better myself.

Cutting away those who didn't.

Reading books that reconnected me to my dharma.

Praying. Meditating. Singing. Dancing. Chanting mantra.

Silence.

Being of service to others.

Trusting that I am capable.

And countering the self-critic with self-compassion as often as humanly possible.

So, I slowly began to find the Real Me. Not the quiet, shutdown me. Not the giant-ball-of-fire me. But the one that lived somewhere in-between, that didn't allow insecurities to sway her like a tiny boat in the ocean. Yoga and therapy (my own work, and my work with others) helped me figure out what my most authentic Self is. It also has taught me how to work on peeling away the old layers that no longer served in my journey to connect with her. This version of me did have something to say, but oftentimes the middle school part still felt terrified to share it. Or the angry part of me wanted to blow people away with it.

Now knowing this, I learn every day that stepping into this work of finding the sweet spot between the two is the only way I am going to set myself free from these old stories, and from identifying myself to one or the other. 

I know my work is to stay in this place of letting myself be seen for ALL THAT I AM: energetic, opinionated, outspoken, and yes, sometimes loud. But also, kind, knowledgable, peaceful, and definitely fallible.

Because living the opposite of that would be living at my very lowest vibration. One full of fear and insecurity and self-deprecation and squeezing myself into a box that wasn’t designed for me. And who the hell wants that? 

~

So how does this tie into teaching a big yoga class? Because I want my middle school Me to see current Me doing what I do now, and to be proud. To see how I am putting myself in a position where I am FULLY seen and heard by hundreds at a time, and that I’m not scared anymore. I want her to see how far we’ve come. That she doesn’t need to be afraid anymore. That our worth doesn’t come from external validation or how other people see us. That she can breathe easy knowing that I will keep being strong for the both of us. That the only way to tear apart those old stories is to step into the fire of discomfort with courage and trust in myself.

I want to tell her, "Look! I'm doing it!"

I still get really, really insecure. That little girl is still there, worried we’re going to be judged or excluded. But doing more of the things that push me to be courageous, to be seen and heard, to trust my own knowledge and talents, and to know it’ll always be okay no matter what, is how I've learned to move through that fear.

It’s daily work. It’s hard work. Its overwhelming and messy and sometimes makes me want to go hide in my room and cry, just like when I was eleven. And sometimes I do. But with every time I choose to meet this insecurity with understanding rather than criticism, I have a little win. 

So my goal isn’t to be a person free from insecurity — I’m human after all. My goal is to have as many little wins a day as possible. To step into my authentic self, even when I’m terrified. To meet that fear with compassion, then step into courage. 

And to make sure that little girl knows every day how incredibly valued and deeply, deeply loved she is.