Cat From The Mat

Belonging: An Inside Job

“The need to belong is who we are in our DNA.”

- Brené Brown 

The concept of belonging is a universal human experience. We are neurologically wired to belong, since it means survival. I remember feeling the peer pressure to “fit in” at school. Those moments fluctuated though, because it was dependent on what others thought of me, rather than on what I thought of myself. The school climate can be challenging, but what if you don’t feel like you belong at home?

Researcher and author Brené Brown explores this topic. She has interviewed kids about how tough it is to feel alienated among classmates. However, they all agreed that not being accepted by your family is a far more painful reality.

As babies, you are dependent on others to help meet your many needs, one of which is belonging. You want others around you to not only mirror who you are but to appreciate your contributing presence. It helps build a sense of self, which is why children must be self-centered as they develop. However, if this self-knowledge does not get established, it can lead to a pattern of people-pleasing or constant insecurity, both of which require external circumstances to dictate whether or not you are “acceptable.”

Brené makes the point that you cannot negotiate belonging outside of yourself. If you look externally for validation, then you become dependent on others to determine your self-worth. Belonging is truly an inside job.  

So how does one measure belonging within?  Is it the quality of self-trust?  Is it the ability to be authentic, regardless of circumstances?  Or is it a practice of knowing your essence with cultivated compassion to delve deeper into the unknown parts of self?

The world at the moment is full of people who are shouting, hoping to be heard. We seem to be splintered into factions unable to agree on what is a shared reality, which can breed metastasized fear. However, common enemy intimacy is not true belonging. It’s a false sense of connection. Sharing an ideological bunker is a superficial attempt to bond.

It takes courage to be vulnerable with someone with whom you disagree. Authenticity is the need to stand alone in your beliefs even if it means jeopardizing your connection with others. When you belong, you feel at ease, safe, and supported. This helps the nervous system stay in a healthy stress range. Feeling at home in your own skin, no matter where you go, is a self-generated process.

As we celebrate independence this month, I invite you to notice if and how you your community, your family, and most importantly to yourself. If you believe in yourself, then you can begin to identify with your relatives, friends, coworkers, and even angry strangers.  Perhaps freedom is that ability to be you, regardless of extrinsic pressures. Liberate your reliance on others first so that you can stay self-anchored, from which you might become more curious about understanding the outer world.

Happy Self-Belonging!


Cat From the Mat

July blog 2018

Mourning Has Broken

And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive.  And you may not even be sure, whether the storm is really over.  But one thing is certain.  When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm is all about.

- Haruki Murakami

My past nine months have been tumultuous.  As the shock of the stormy year begins to wear off, I am left with humble gratitude along with the stirrings of acceptance.  I share this personal information out of my appreciation for my yoga and empathy skills.  When the rubber needs to meet the road, my long-standing  on/off the mat practice has proven to be effective in finding ease.  

In August of 2017, my mother Tish was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer. It came out of left field, as she was an unlikely candidate.  However, it did explain why she was feeling exhausted for most of the year, not to mention the ten pounds of liquid stored in right her lung, making breathing quite arduous.  After hospital visits, specialist research, and a couple of hurricanes, she had surgery in September to remove the lining of her lung.  

Soon after in October, I was then diagnosed with breast cancer.  While still in disbelief, I had a rapid learning curve to understand my options for treatment.  In receiving guidance from all sorts of women who had already been down this path, I was inducted into a not-so-secret society of strong cancer-surviving women. I had a double mastectomy in November, which was to be followed by months of convalescence.  However, two weeks after my first operation, my mother found out that her cancer had spread and unfortunately went into hospice.  I flew down to my hometown New Orleans (NOLA) to spend time with Tish as we all were trying to wrap our minds around the unbelievable concept of her dying.

The holidays with home hospice were bittersweet.  Normally, we celebrate a clustering of birthdays, my folk’s anniversary, and Christmas, days in a row.  And this year, these normally joyous events were overshadowed by a grim reality.  We luckily had time to discuss funeral plans as well as the chance to truly say goodbye.  After a quick fight with cancer, Tish slipped away on Dec 28, 2017 with her hand in mine.  What a gift to bear witness to such vulnerability.  I had the intimate honor to be present with my mum’s last breath, as she was there for my first at birth. 

Somehow I had the calm capacity to take this emotional rollercoaster ride, amidst the physical limitations of my many new normals. I found a strength and presence to support my mother while processing these unfolding events surprisingly well.  By taking time off from work and rescheduling teachings gigs, I was able to slow down and find that desired balance between self-care and care for others.

In January, we arranged Tish’s memorial service in NOLA, which was a celebration of her love of music, British humor, and her gift of gab.  My second surgery followed in February, after which I finally had some down time to focus on my own recovery.  It’s odd to physically lack sensation in my chest while my aching heart is anything but numb.  

At end of March, we flew to London to memorialize Tish’s life with our UK relatives.  In April, I slowly returned back to work.  In between European gigs and domestic trainings, I found the emotional time and space to clear out my mother’s closet and art studio.  With teary fortitude, I found some peace in the catharsis.  

I share this experience as a fellow human, yoga educator, empathy coach, because my twenty-five years of awareness training prepared me for this particular storm as well as ongoing inclement weather. To hold the space for my dying mother as she struggled to surrender was devastating, profound, and beautiful.  There isn’t a day that goes by when I do not think of Tish or when I do not appreciate my own health.  Asana integrates a strong body, open heart, and flexible mind.  Embodiment might begin to break down, but one’s spirit is the fuel that keeps going.

I am starting to pick up the pieces of my disintegrated foundation and am transforming daily into the latest version of myself.  As I continue to go through the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), I am reminded of the need to mourn.  What if mourning is the ability to appreciate what you value in its absence? If so, then the people and pets that we love may go away, but the loving relationship remains. 

Yoga is a practice of relationship and adaptability to change, from which you may learn and grow.  Whether a loss of a loved one, a marriage, a body part, or closing a chapter in your life, death is not easy.   However, endings mark beginnings.   How you choose to participate with loss might determine how you embark upon your next journey.  I am not the same person I was nine months ago, and yet my essence is more powerful and clearer than ever before, with a new Catitude.  As you weather your own storms, I encourage you to not only survive but to thrive. 

Happy Mother's Day month!


Cat From The Mat

May 2018

Mind the Body Gap

“Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.”  This saying implies a choice.  It also speaks to the mind/body relationship and the possible disconnect between the heart and the head.  When I am emotionally in one place and telling myself that I should be in another, I can feel pain, which is real. But what if the suffering is just my own resistance to reality? 

We live in a culture of chronic pain management, an industry that has grown since the 1970’s.  Having surgery, popping a pill, or numbing ourselves with alcohol can be short-term strategies to help alleviate acute symptoms.  However, the pain may come back in another form, since the origin of the discomfort may not be fully addressed.  Our bodies will speak to us until we listen.

The documentary film “All the Rage” ( explores this topic via the unconventional work John Sarno, MD.  Recently deceased, Dr. Sarno originally focused on how back pain could be an expression of repressed rage as well as other unresolved feelings.  Emotional memories stored in the body manifest as physical symptoms when oxygen is cut off from muscular tissue.  Over time, this O2 deprivation might create dis-ease, turning a local problem into a systemic issue.  

Muscle memory lives in the correspondence between muscles and the Central Nervous System.  Sensory nerves send messages from the muscle spindles to the brain giving feedback.  Then the motor nerves respond from the brain back to the muscles to complete the ongoing communication loop.  This happens so quickly, like a mere reflex.  There is though a moment before and after the nerves enter and exit the brain, known as the synaptic gap.  This is where choice occurs.  If this happens on a micro level, why would we not practice this on a macro scale?

When I get frustrated, I notice that certain muscles contract.  It’s as if I react without thinking.  This contraction creates a holding pattern.  And overtime, when under stress, this tensing has lead to back discomfort. Rather than a nuisance, this physical limitation indicates that my cells are not getting the nourishment that they need.  In that moment, I can recognize this tightening and choose to feel the emotional message before I can address it.  

Slowing down to pause offers agency in how to respond. Trying to control my external environment, as well as other people’s behavior, leads me down a path of increased frustration and mental contraction.  Pain comes from the incongruence between what I want to have happen and what actually is occurring.  I feel relief in knowing that I have the awareness to manage my inner terrain, so that I may find ease.

Yoga is defined as skill in action.  It’s a practice of minding the gap: between the origin and destination of nerves, between inhales and exhales, or pausing before a knee-jerk reaction.  Beneath anger often resides sadness and fear.  Until those emotions are embraced, the root of the issue might never go away.

The next time you get enraged, I encourage you to not try to fix anything; rather, feel the surge of energy in your body and breath into it.  The holding pattern might just pass quicker without leaving any emotional receipts that your muscles have to file away.  This might also alleviate the urge to blame others as well as yourself.  Suffering might be optional, while self-regulation is all the rage!


Cat From the Mat

September 2017