Category Archives: Yoga

Migraines: A New Chapter

migraineday 2Today I awoke with a piercing pain on the right side of my forehead, just above and slightly behind my right eye. I awoke to that, plus nausea. I immediately thought to myself “CRAP.” I had the sinking feeling I might be in for a migraine attack. Fear rose and I deliberated between muscling through the day or making the calls to cancel appointments and clients.

 

As soon as I stood up to go to the bathroom and drink some water I knew it: this one was for real. Sometimes I wake up with a mini-migraine that subsides after going through morning rituals of drinking water and moving around. The quality of pain is different than that of the full on migraine attack. The migraine attack includes the piercing pain traveling down the back of my skull to the top of my neck, that metallic taste in my mouth, and the nausea. These things signal it’s time to slow down and take care.

 

And what I’m learning, is that these migraines require time and patience. I’ve gotten to know them, to understand the ebbs and flows, the build up to peak pain and nausea, and then the slow descent back to feeling like myself again. Where I notice things like how blue the sky is, how wonderful it feels to move around, and how delicious food tastes.

 

To provide some background, for the last year I was on a clinical trial drug where I received a monthly injection to prevent migraines. Doubtful as I was, the trial worked and I was nearly migraine free for an entire year. When I say it changed my life, I really mean it. Long gone were the days of regularly canceling work and social events. And the PediaLite that sat in the back of my fridge for nearly a year finally got tossed out as I no longer needed it.

 

To wake up with this piercing migraine today triggered fear that “the migraines are returning.” I really don’t want to return to the way I was living my life where I would be out of commission for 2-3 days at a time 3-4 times per month. The only places I visited were the couch, the bathroom, and my bed while waiting for the migraine to pass. Needless to say it was a big lesson in impermanence: I constantly reminded myself “this too shall pass.”

 

As I venture into this new chapter of my experience with migraines, I am vowing to be gentler with myself. I wonder: What can I learn? How can I move more slowly? How can I take better care of myself? This process is sweet, soothing, and softening. Even just by taking this new perspective, I feel more at ease.

 

I spent an hour this afternoon lying on my floor supported by two bolsters and covered by a cozy white blanket with gongs playing in the background. I was transported out of the pain state. Even though the migraine didn’t totally disappear, the pain lessened and I felt more relaxed.
I felt grateful to surrender to the process of migraine and at the same time to take accountability for my own self healing. After giving myself this mini gong bath, my faith that “everything would be ok” was fully restored.

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Leave room to be surprised

I love being surprised by what fills me up inside, by what makes me feel lifted.

On Tuesday I felt drained by 11:30am after a full morning of teaching that started at 6am. I felt off and short of breath for all of my classes and had many moments of “what the f*ck am I doing?” and dreams of days off, massages, and other things I could do to fix this feeling. 

I had a new client Tuesday afternoon: a couple in need of yoga as part of their physical rehabilitation program. I had a description of the clients’ cases and understood it would be a challenge. This case turned out to be one of the biggest challenges of my yoga teaching career. I had to really stay close to my center. Stabilize. Breathe. Be strong AND soft. And trust myself. Big time. 

I walked away from the session feeling a deep desire to help the couple get stronger and heal. And when I did my own practice Tuesday night I felt a fullness that wasn’t there before. I felt a renewed sense of trust and belief in myself.

So it wasn’t a massage, or a day off that I needed to fill me up. Instead it was an opportunity that asked me to fully rise to the occasion. 

It’s true what they say: we rise by lifting others.

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Trusting My Body Bouldering

I went bouldering last night at Rock Climb Fairfield – putting my Bowspring form to the test. I tackled the first climb thinking oh man I’ve so got this, I’m gonna fly right up that wall. Only to make it past maybe the 3rd hold before falling onto the crash pad.

We spent well over an hour at the gym and each time I approached the wall I realized it wasn’t about tackling the wall head on, full throttle – it was about slowing down, calming down, and – dare I say – NOT trying so hard.

When I reminded myself not to try so hard, my body started working more efficiently. Miracles didn’t happen, I did not skyrocket to the top, I was humbled each time I attempted the easiest climbs as I maybe only made it to the top twice. I noticed though that I was able to use my body to my advantage as I shifted my feet and my hips from side to side, tapping into the power in my legs rather than gripping for dear life.

You don’t have to try so hard, I kept reminding myself. Each time I gave myself permission to do that, I made small gains and started to get more of an understanding of how this bouldering stuff works.

I have gone climbing (indoors and ONCE outdoor!) a handful of times and confronted my fears of heights, falling, and failing. It was not until yesterday that I started to see how I could work WITH my body rather than against it. I could work WITH the wall rather than fight it.

I wasn’t just reaching with my arms but with the power in my legs and the desire in my heart to not get down on myself for falling but instead to just keep going. Even when I fell, I did not get discouraged: instead I rested, recovered, and hopped back up to try the next climb. And when I tried again I moved slowly, calmly, efficiently, and trusted my body.

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Rolls, Thigh Gaps, and Spare Tires

6097785133_02db3aeb1bWhen did we learn that having “rolls” (on our stomach) is a bad thing? Furthermore, when did we learn that having these rolls makes us inherently bad?

I asked this of a dear friend and mentor of mine after reading her very moving piece pertaining to her own body image struggles and her reply was:

Society’s image: stick thin is so ingrained on our psyches that we can’t see ampleness as beauty. In Rueben’s day I’d be on the cover of Vogue.

I couldn’t agree more.

But then as I was driving to meet a client later in the day I thought to myself: wait a minute, what about the girls who ARE stick thin and are STILL unhappy with their bodies and themselves? I can think of a few friends off the top of my head who I look at and think wow they must not have any body image issues, but then they open up to me and all the self-hatred leaks out so effortlessly.

What I think this comes down to is a scarcity issue in our society. It’s a much bigger issue than I can sometimes wrap my head around. I know that people often look at me, or even read my blogs about struggling with my own body image, and think to themselves “what does she have to worry about?”

But from a young age I can remember comparing myself to the other girls who were smaller, thinner, prettier, smarter, more talented, getting into better colleges, and so forth. The comparing and subsequent self-loathing seemed endless.

I allowed myself to believe that, despite my parents best efforts in trying to reassure I was doing enough – that I was gorgeous, smart, and talented – I still firmly believed that I just wasn’t cutting it. Something had to be wrong the very makeup of me. And nevermind my little belly that I discovered at a very early age and have had a love/hate relationship with every since (mostly hate until recent years).

The conversation isn’t over. An answer has not yet been found as to how we are going to cure this illness we have in our society. I aim to continue thinking about it, writing about it, discussing it, and sharing it. And in my own small community I hope to show women and men how they can use yoga as a modality toward self-acceptance. It certainly does not happen overnight but through regular practice.

I don’t care if you can do a handstand, touch your toes, or twist into a pretzel …. what I care about is how do you take the yoga with you? How does it infiltrate your self-worth? Therein lies the true practice. When you can be standing in line at the grocery store, and look down at your legs – regardless of their shape or size – and think how grateful you are that they are holding you. Rather than ripping into how lumpy they may look, or wondering why you were one of the unlucky ones born without a thigh gap.

Or it happens when you are getting dressed in the morning. And you stop and see yourself in the mirror, and while your first inclination might be to drown in the squishiness of your belly and just plain hate yourself, instead you start to see your roundness and fullness as a representation or how full and grand your heart is.

Why can’t it all be beauty? Ampleness, thin, slim, round, full, slender, skinny minny… as long as our bodies and our souls are healthy – isn’t that true beauty?

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Letting My Belly Be

image1I have a confession. I have spent most of my life trying desperately to conceal or minimize my belly.

Even as a child, I had this little “pooch” that stuck out. I always took ballet and the leotards and tights dug their way into that pooch that wouldn’t budge. I wished on eyelashes that I would wake up with a perfectly flat, no, perfectly concave stomach. I would stare at myself in the mirror, sticking it out, sucking it in, pulling it in, flattening and spreading it with my hands as best I could – then I’d pinch all the belly I could muster. Oh, how I hated that thing.

As a teen I learned about sit-ups and crunches and ab-work and pilates and when I would put on my leotards I would hope in vain that the 25 sit-ups I had done the night before might have made a difference. More and more I started taking things into my own hands to rid myself of this abomination. I was taught, over and over again, that this belly just needs to go away. I so strongly felt that I needed to make it disappear, and then everything would be alright.

I went through periods in my twenties where I felt skinny and the belly was a little less of a problem. On those days I felt happier, more confident. But then I would wake up the next morning with it protruding over my pajama bottoms. What pants could I possibly wear that were both cute AND would hide my body? What could I wear that would make me appear different? What would make me appear better?

Now in my early thirties my relationship with my body has changed, mostly for the good. I have bad days and I have good days – the good days mostly outweigh the bad. But still I sometimes see my reflection in the mirror in an exercise class and all I notice is that darn belly trying to peek out of my lululemon pants that were supposed to be so slimming, they were supposed to make it disappear, at least for a brief moment. The deep-set belief of belly being bad as a child still rears its ugly head as an adult.

Five months ago I kind of fell into a new yoga studio with brand new teachers and a brand new practice. I fell into this studio during a period where a lot of change was happening in my life – everything felt like it was uprooted and of course this made me go back to old patterns of disliking my body. I almost didn’t go to my first class there because I thought to myself “No Maggie, you’re dealing with enough change right now, why add more fuel to the fire?”

Fast forward to class last week when our teacher Mitchel instructed for the umpteenth time for everyone to let our bellies be long, to let them hang out. When we are on all fours or in crouching cat (think downward dog with very bent knees) he often instructs us to imagine our bellies swaying side to side like a cat. And whenever he does this I can’t help but smile and think of my cat Milo who flaunts his belly like it’s his job. If he’s flaunting his belly, why shouldn’t I?

But the point is that for these five months I have been instructed to just let my belly be. To let it freaking hang out. To forget about the sucking in, the flattening, the diminishing, the shortening, the crunching. I can let my belly be itself – that little pucker toward the bottom of my torso that has held on to so much guilt, shame, and pain for most of my life. And the more I allow myself to let my belly be, the more confident I feel and the more solid I feel within the structure of my own body.

I am discovering a part of my body, my belly, for the very first time. With fresh eyes and a loving and wholly accepting heart. I know that my belly journey will have its ups and downs but what a great sense of relief to put my hand on my belly and say to myself, for the first time ever, “Hell yeah!”

 

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Give the Gift of Coaching & Yoga

This holiday season, give the gift of coaching or yoga.

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Three sessions of health coaching or private yoga for $300 (valued at $450).

Valid for purchase through December 24.


Read what are people saying:

I not only benefit from the flexibility, body strengthening and calming effect of Yoga, but Maggie is helping me with a variety of ailments that I have. Whether it be my back pain, migraines, balance or osteoarthritis issues, she always knows the correct poses to do, and how to adapt them to my needs.

Maggie is kind, sensitive to my pain, and is very conscientious. She corrects the tiniest movements in my body that make the difference between doing a pose correctly or incorrectly.

As long as my body can tolerate it, she also makes me work! I love that! After a session with Maggie, I feel calmer and my body feels better. I am lucky and grateful to be working with such a special woman and an excellent teacher.


Contact me directly at maggie.converse@gmail.com for your PDF gift certificate to a loved one – or to purchase a package for yourself!

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Upcoming Event: Bundle Up Hike/Run/Walk!

Bundle Up Trail Journey

I love finding new places to run and hike, so when I was introduced to the Norwalk River Valley Trail (thanks Erica!) I was beyond excited.

Now, I get to share this wonderful space with YOU. I will be teaming up with lululemon athletica Westport on December 13 for a serene (and free!) journey through the Norwalk River Valley Trail.

We will start with a short meditation followed by a 2 mile walk or run through the trail.

Bring the kids, the dogs, and yourself!

There will be coffee and hot cocoa waiting for you at the end – provided by Coffee Barn of Wilton.

Saturday December 13 – 9:30 to 10:30am
(Please plan to arrive early)
Parking: Please park in the commuter lot next to Orem’s Diner.
We ask that you kindly RSVP to maggie.converse@gmail.com.

We want to raise awareness of the trail and we also have a goal to raise $1,000. We are already halfway there!

There is a suggested donation of $25. So that we know it is for the Bundle Up event please enter “BUNDLE UP” in the comments section when you make your donation of any amount. We will announce the total amount raised on the 13th.

Donations can be made by clicking here. Don’t forget to use the code BUNDLE UP!

We will see you on the 13th!
Bundle up run (1)

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What is a Retreat?

The word Retreat derives from Anglo-French retreat, from the past participle of retreaire which means to withdraw.

A retreat is a very personal experience and the motivating factors for one person to sign up for a retreat will be very different from the next person’s.

For me the reason for signing up for the Radiant Retreat in 2008 was crystal clear: I was 25 and I felt totally STUCK. I was in a very fine job that paid well and paved the way for a career in the art world. But, to put it simply, something was missing – call it a “joie de vivre,” call it my mojo – I wasn’t feeling fully alive.

I received an email from Jennifer asking if I would join her on that retreat many years ago and it became very simple: in order for me to get “un-stuck” I needed to remove myself, or withdraw, not only internally but also from my external environment. I needed an extra boost and an opportunity to have the physical and mental space to determine how I was going to follow my true path.

The retreat helped me determine that it was absolutely acceptable for me to want to be a yoga teacher… and more! I will never forget one conversation Jennifer and I had during a visit in Philadelphia when I gave her a vague description of what I wanted my career to be – her response was “You should be an ease-maker.”

The retreat provided a foundation for me to slowly start to become that ease-maker. In work, in friendship, and in love.

It was that wonderful tipping point that allowed me to access truth and my very own authenticity.

There are many ways we can describe a retreat and the benefits it yields. But the most profound for me has been accessing authenticity.

A retreat allows us to peel back the layers and move the junk out of the way for us to realize what it is we want and then we slowly start to do the work to get there.

The heaping mounds of guacamole, superb yoga classes, and stellar company are just the cherry on top!

Join us March 21-28, 2015 in Tulum.

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What is gratitude, anyway?

Gratitude

I took some time to sit down and think about what exactly Gratitude means to me and what it feels like. Here is what I came up with…

Gratitude envelopes your entire body and soul. I feel it, physically. My body starts to gently quiver, as if I have the chills. My stomach is a flutter, I can take a deep breath and let tiny tears of joy fill my eyes for a moment.

What does Gratitude leave you feeling?

I feel an abundance of love, an abundance of so much of a good thing, that exists in life. And you begin to recognize how gratitude heals and how gratitude carries you through those trying times in life that we all endure. This feeling of gratitude wakes us up in the morning and helps us to sleep soundly.

Gratitude allows us to experience pain and also to laugh heartily. It is with this mindset of gratitude that we are able to know ourselves better, not for the things we do or the tasks that we check off our list each day, but for our ability to feel and be present.

In Tal Ben-Shahar’s book “Happier” he shares the concept of a gratitude letter. A gratitude letter, he explains, “is not just a thank-you note. It is a thoughtful examination of the meaning and pleasure that you derive from the relationship; it describes particular experiences and shared dreams, and whatever else in the relationship is a source of joy.”

A Gratitude Letter helps us take this feeling of gratitude one step further. Because know that gratitude is not simply saying “I’m so grateful,” it is not simply a mindset, but it is a way in which we interact with those who surround us.

Who can you write a Gratitude Letter to this week? Explore how gratitude is so much more than a feeling, but also how we communicate that feeling.

We will work on exploring Gratitude Letters and what exactly Gratitude means to YOU on Radiant Retreat 2015. Registration is OPEN! To learn more and to register click here.

 

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Radiant Moments on Retreat

“Ah-ha” Moments from the Radiant Retreat 2008…

When asked about my biggest “a-ha moment” on the Radiant Retreat, I wrote this story:

In 3rd grade, we were prompted to write on a 3×5 card “Who is your hero and why?”

I knew my answer immediately: my cousin Jennifer.

As an eight-year-old the answer to “why” was: because she is an amateur actor. In actuality Jen was a professional actor, I just thought she was too young to be a professional. But what I really meant was: I looked up to her – in the highest way possible.

Jennifer inspired me because she was out there on her own in the world doing what moved her and sparked her soul. It was abundantly clear to my little 3rd grade brain that Jennifer was following her heroic path. Maybe it was the way she talked to me, the smile that beamed from her face, or the way she laughed with my parents about what it’s like to be an actor – but you could just tell.

Twenty years later and I seized the opportunity to practice yoga with Jen and attend the Radiant Retreat. I was sure my yoga asana practice would totally blossom and morph into an outer worldly experience. I was ready to take on all the handstands, inversions, backbends, and arm balances. I was going to work my butt off to “master” them all. But what happened on the Radiant Retreat was so much more rocking than a blossoming asana practice.

Conquering fancy poses became less of a priority. Jen’s yoga classes served to put my body and mind at ease. I opened up in an entirely new way and for the first time, I wrote things true to my soul and SHARED them. The first time I read out loud to the group my voice quivered but I began to soak in all that I was expressing; my vulnerability and exceptional truth.

I read out loud and proud. I laughed and cried and shared the 3rd-grade hero story with the group. And at the center of it all, I shared that I was committing to a strong desire to get to know my extended family a little better. And wasn’t it superb that they, my aunt and cousins, could be there?

The retreat gave me one week to feel safe in a beautiful space, and the truth and writing poured right out. And hasn’t stopped since.

And here is Jennifer’s response:

In 2008, my cousin, Maggie Converse, came on the Radiant Retreat and impossible things started becoming possible.

One blue sky Tulum morning after sunrise and meditation, all 30 of us stood in a Gratitude circle on the beach (an optional opportunity to share inspiration or gratitude), and Maggie spoke,

“I’m grateful for Jennifer. During a meditation, she came to mind as one of my hero’s…”

I missed most of what she said, too busy thinking, Really? Am I your hero? You came all the way to Tulum, age 24, and took a leap of faith. That’s inspiring.

Being “the oldest sister” in my family, I’m used to being the shepherdess, babysitter, take-charge chic and caretaker and I’d never thought of myself as a hero.

Maggie continued, finding the right words,

“I wanted to be closer to people in my family and that’s part of why I came on the retreat. So, it’s great to get closer to Jennifer, Kate (my cousin) and Kitsie (my Aunt) and to know my family…better.”

Maggie was right: our extended family wasn’t close. Divorced, remarried or spread across the map. Over the years, we saw one another at weddings and funerals and a few Thanksgivings. It was no one’s fault. My grandmother had been the hub and once she past the spokes had no center.

“Thank you,” I said, swallowing and digging my feet deeper into the sand. Absorbing the waves and sun: Hero, retreat leader, and family.

It felt magnificent to hear Maggie articulate what I’d wanted, thought and written in my journal years before and yet never knew how to change.

We stood together under the sun and knowing that impossible things can happen before breakfast.

And someone added, “I’m super excited for breakfast and a bowl of granola. This place is paradise. It sure beats Philly in March!”

When the circle broke up, I hugged Maggie and said, “Thank you for being my hero. And saying what I’ve been feeling for years. I love you.”

Jennifer & Maggie at Sandy Neck, Summer 2014

Jennifer & Maggie at Sandy Neck, Summer 2014

Radiant Retreat, Tulum, Mexico, March 21-28, 2015  – Register Now

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