My Dharma path

Kimberly Hoenie ERYT-500, YACEP

March 25, 2022

What is the Secret to Life? That is a question I asked myself many, many years ago. I read countless books, watched numerous videos and listened to hours of “advice” from family and friends but to no avail. What is the purpose of my life? I still had no idea so rather than find understanding I placed my effort into living life.

As a (very) young wife and mother of two, I remember feeling completely happy and satisfied. I enjoyed the day-to-day activities of cooking, cleaning, running a household and raising my two young children. There was never a shortage of tasks and I felt fulfilled. The only area of life that experienced struggle was finances. So when my spouse insisted that I get a job, I did.

It didn’t take long for me to feel unhappy and resentful. I justified my feelings by knowing I was doing the best thing I could for my family by providing them with a “better” life. Little did I know that “better” became “even better” which became “better still”, completely trapping me in a cycle of making more and more money.

During this cycle I was moving through several jobs. I would start a new one with anticipation and excitement but once I learned the skills necessary to succeed and thrive, I became bored, resentful and unhappy. I didn’t understand why. I always excelled when given a new task, skill or direction. I can remember being told many times that “I would fail” or “You can’t do that” which only fueled my resolve to accomplish the goal. “I will show them”, I thought. And I did. That is what drove me to succeed. It wasn’t the job or the skills required to perform the job but rather the dare…the impression that I wasn’t good enough or strong enough. That is what fueled my passion, my ambition and my desire. Of course, that bit of information would have been lovely to know back then.

Unfortunately, I did not know what I did not know. Instead, I practiced some self-study and realized that the jobs that made me happiest were the ones when I was training or teaching others and/or included some form of creativity. So in my late 30’s, I went back to school to obtain my Interior Design degree with a minor in Architecture. I thrived in the educational environment. And even secured a job in the design field very early in my education because of my previous sales experience. I was happy…at least for a short time. The job became entirely focused on how much money I could make. There were sales contests which of course, I had to win. There were trips, bonuses and high end furniture to earn. All of which were driven by sales. I was caught in the cyclone of money once more. Never having enough; never making enough and always striving for more. Fortunately, I was good at it.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t happy or fulfilled.

Now in my 40’s, I reflected and asked myself again, “What is my purpose?” I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life cycling through jobs and the feelings of unrest. Still trying to provide for my family, I did not have the luxury to quit working completely but I did understand that working in the current environment was not serving me well. I had been doing some design work on the side and decided to devote myself full-time to my own business. This would allow me more free time for family and fun which I believed would bring balance into my life an ultimately I would be happier.

This mid-life reflection also led me to take a yoga class…finally. It had been years of prompting, advising and mere suggestions that finally convinced me to give it a try. Maybe it would help me to be happy? To say it was love at first class is an understatement. I adored the stress relief I experienced during and after every class. It was this relief that kept me coming back. I listened intensely to my teachers who spoke a very foreign language. I really didn’t care. All I knew is that I felt better. I felt happier than I had in years.

Adding this balance to my life allowed me to flourish in business. I loved working with clients. Each design job challenged me and I was able to educate my clients along the way. I was also approached by the college I had attended and offered an adjunct teaching position in the Architecture & Interior Design departments. I jumped at the opportunity remembering my earlier self-study. It wouldn’t pay much but I would teach in the evening so I could continue running my business. I thought I had found the secret of life…working at something I loved without regard for or the temptation of money.

I spent many years with this combination of work. I once again felt fulfilled and happy. That was until I was presented with the dissolution of my marriage. The security I enjoyed through my spouse’s employment would be gone. No regular income, no medical insurance. You see, being self-employed particularly in the design field, means pay is sporadic. I would take a percentage deposit on a job which would typically be used to secure vendors and contractors to do the work. My profit would only be realized once the job was 100% complete. It could be take years in some situations. While my business was doing extremely well, I always knew there was another income available to take care of personal bills. To make matters worse, at that time, reasonable self-employment health care did not exist. I was scared.

Money came back into play as a primary driving force. I had to have a job that paid a regular paycheck so I could to pay rent. It was also impossible to rent an apartment with self-employment income (see above). So I was hitting the streets looking for my next job. I was hired at an upstart design company in downtown Detroit, the city undergoing a major revitalization. It was commercial design work in an upbeat environment. I initially continued working with my personal clients but took a leave of absence from teaching for a term.

Settling in, I loved the vibe. It was high energy, I walked all over the city every day working on the various buildings that were being renovated. It was exciting being part of something from the ground up. I worked long hours every day. I left in the dark morning sand returned in the dark evenings. But I was happy and free. I had a beautiful new apartment, great friends and an exciting new career. But that didn’t last very long.

The company I was working for was a small upstart within a huge conglomerate business dominating the city of Detroit. The work ethic in the larger portion of the business was beginning to invade our small portion. Longer work hours were required. 24 Hour availability was the norm with phone calls and emails expected to be retuned at all hours of the day or night. I was making great money and I rationalized it would all be ok.

Yoga was no longer an option as I couldn’t make it to class and I was so distracted at home that I couldn’t practice there either. My guaranteed stress relief was far from a daily or even weekly practice. I had to give up my personal clients and was unable to return to teaching at the college. There weren’t enough hours in the day. Life became more focused on making money to live. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any time left in my day or week to actually use the money. Friends and family were concerned as I became more withdrawn. All I did was work and I was beginning to resent it. I missed holidays, my kids and my free time. Something was out of alignment but I didn’t have the time to think about it or to change it.

Then, I crashed. I couldn’t spend one more sleepless night on work. I had to make a change.

Now in my 50’s, I wondered again, “What is my purpose? What am I supposed to do in my life to make a difference? I returned to my yoga practice. I wanted to know more. The teachers I had knew more than what they were sharing with me in class. What did they know? They all seemed so peaceful and stress-free. Maybe I need to know what they know. So I started my search.

It eventually led me to Heartwood for 200 hour teacher training. I was blown away by what I heard but more importantly, I felt home. This, I suspected was my purpose…finally. I knew deep within my being that I was supposed to be on this path…to teach yoga. I knew my purpose!

Once I knew I was able to reflect back and notice those periods in my life when I felt happy and saw the pattern of teaching or educating. This I surmised was who I was meant to be. Happily, I continued my yogic journey, delving deeper through continuing education. I am an Educator I would vehemently say. This is where I am happiest; this is who I am at my core. But is that the secret to my life? Not quite, I was soon to uncover.

You see, it wasn’t until I explored the concept of dharma and delved fully into dharmic studies that I fully understood what the secret was. That secret that I have searched decades for.

What is dharma you ask? Dharma in the universal sense is divine law; individually, it is conformity to one’s duty and nature. Dharma is the right path; the true path for one’s life. Living one’s dharma means one finds themselves  in harmony with their rightful purpose. When one is not living their dharma, they find themselves irritable, unhappy, stressed, misdirected and miserable. This is when I knew the secret. The secret of life is to understand and live one’s dharma.

What a revelation! I had been looking in all the wrong places. My search was always outward…people, books, experiences, jobs, skills, experiences. Where I needed to look was inward. I needed to understand myself at my deepest level. The part of me that drives me. The part that fires my passion. My advanced yogic studies led me to the concept of dharma. The concept of dharma finally led me to the deepest recesses of my being where I discovered that I am a warrior, a leader who has evolved to take on educator qualities. My truest path is to learn all I can and then lead others on a cleared path, guiding them past the pitfalls, detours and misadventures that I experienced. My path is one of continuing education, finding other paths that are cluttered with rubble and fighting my way through to provide a clearer path for others.

So here is me living my dharma. Learn from my story and recognize when you have fallen from your path. Each time, I let money be my focus and purpose in life, I was contradicting my dharma. Money is in direct contrast to the warrior dharma…it is our downfall. This is why I was so unhappy and unfulfilled. I was on a convoluted path far from my true nature. I was living a dharma that someone else wanted for me or I thought I needed to survive. When in reality, if I had been aware of my rightful path I would have thrived. I would have taken the path meant for me and provided by the universe. But now, at long last, I am here…living my dharma.

Maybe today is the day for you to begin looking inward. Perhaps today you will learn what fires your passion at your deepest level. But mostly today, I invite you to find your truest path and begin living your dharma. It is the Secret to Life.

Namaste.

A New Podcast. Heartwood is Taking to the Air!

About a year ago, after a series of morning philosophy lectures, a student turned to me and said, “I wish you had a podcast. I could listen to these conversations forever.” As someone with more on my plate than I have time for already I kind of chuckled and said , “Someday maybe . . .”

Of course, all it takes is an idea or intention for set off the spark of creation, or so that is yoga’s theory about how all things come into being. This led to many conversations with the staff that ended with “and one of these days we really should get around to . . .”

During Covid we were inundated with the task of developing online programs and the thought of adding one more project to our aspirations was quickly filed in the “future” basket. But recently, we found we had not only caught up to our to-do list but had time and space to begin considering what would be the most helpful and supportive way to move forward and support our students while also expanding our relationship with teaching. And the podcast idea came up again.

Now, in theory I was all for our starting a podcast. In reality, the concept was quite intimidating. I am not technology savvy, and while I had no difficulty making extensive lists of subject matter I’l love to cover in a Podcast, the actual steps I’d have to take to learn how to record, edit, publish, get listed on various platforms etc. was overwhelming. Podcasting is a new generation thing, and I am a baby-boomer who still has trouble figuring out my I-phone.

But I am, if nothing else, a good student who loves learning new things. So I took a course on how to Podcast. For a month or so, I worked with my online mentor, fascinated and excited at embarking on a new form of communication to do the thing I love most – teach.

So here it is, the New Heartwood Podcast, Yoga Perspectives. Denver and I, as directors of Heartwood, are the primary hosts, but many people will be invited to join us – people who have information, insight, and inspiration to share. We are lucky to have such a vibrant community of authentic yogis visiting Heartwood often for trainings or yoga experiences, and much of the content of our podcast is inspired by heartfelt questions, shared insight, and the recognition of a lack of understanding when our industry shifts. The podcast is valuable to anyone who wants to learn the deeper dimensions of yoga; however, our slant will be towards material for yoga teachers since our work circles around supporting and educating instructors and mentors.

In the first month of podcasting, I enjoyed a few remarkable interviews with students we have trained, but who I knew had their own wisdom and experience to share as yoga teachers. For example, Jim Dant is a Baptist Minister and after a fascinating conversation we shared where he explained the remarkable similarities between the yoga sutras he was studying with us and his Christian teachings I asked him if he’d like to be featured in our podcast. His insight and references are powerful and clear up many assumptions that often interfere with Westerners fully embracing yoga’s teachings. Cody Mcneeley, another graduate of Heartwood, is developing a program for LGBTQ youth, a subject that explores not just the meaning of yoga for LGBTQ, but the challenges this community faces and why they are attracted to yoga as a path to healing, and he joined me to explain why it is important for a yoga teacher to develop awareness and how and why to create safe spaces for this community.

Our podcasts are exploring issues such as how a Yoga teacher can and should set boundaries, Whether or not joining Yoga Alliance is important to one’s career and involvement in the industry, The perils of Spiritual Materialism (or immaturity) and how a yoga teacher can remain true to the teachings while also establishing a sustainable business (Yoga teaching and money). With a list 5 pages long of subjects we can’t wait to discuss, I see our podcast covering a great deal of ground in a way that sparks thought, action and brings clarity to yoga teachers who long to grow and deepen their authenticity as well as their practice.

We hope everyone will give Yoga Perspectives a listen. Subscribe so you never miss a post. Like us and send us your thoughts or suggestions for future broadcasts. The more people who join the conversation the broader awareness develops not just for the listener, but for everyone he or she teaches as well.

You can find Yoga Perspectives on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Podcast Addict and several other forums. We hope you will join us!

009 – Empowered Language for Yoga Teachers Yoga Perspectives

This episode features Stephanie Engebretson, IAYT Yoga Therapist and RYT-500, speaking about empowered language for yoga teachers. The discussion explores the relationship of sound, vibration and language and how affirmations and saucha (purity of language) is important to anyone hoping to evolve their teaching to make it more inclusive and impactful. With 8 suggestions for teaching with mindful awareness of language, this podcast invites teachers to consider new ways of communicating with their students in the class and elsewhere. 
  1. 009 – Empowered Language for Yoga Teachers
  2. 008: Yoga Therapy- What it is and where it is going
  3. 007: Yoga Alliance: to be or not to be
  4. 006 – Teaching Yoga and Money
  5. 005 – Yoga and Christianity with Jim Dant

Yoga is Not Diet Culture

Here we are again.

It’s January. The time when news feeds, commercials and billboards are all flooded with ways to improve ourselves. “New Year, New You” messages inundate the airwaves of our subconscious and most of these messages allude to the fact that the best way to improve our miserable lives is to make drastic changes to our bodies. Couple this with a 2-year COVID landscape and the messages of undoing our depression and isolation induced weight gain are even louder and more difficult to ignore.

It saddens me that even as a member of the yoga community, surrounded by individuals and corporations who are jumping on the body positivity bandwagon (and profiting from it) I’m still seeing messages about how to “eat Ayurvedically to lose weight” or how to “tone your arms and tighten your core with inversions.”

At Heartwood Yoga institute where I teach, we often refer to the philosophical concepts of yoga as “Big Yoga.” What we mean by this is that there is so much more to yoga than just postures. Luckily here in the west we seem to finally be catching up to this idea (albeit rather slowly). What does this mean exactly though? What exactly is the deeper meaning of yoga? And how to we utilize postures in a way that isn’t detrimental to our mental and physical health when all we can see on Instagram are thin, white, female bendy bodies upside down in crop tops?

I have found so many students arriving at yoga Teacher Training with a mistaken idea of yoga, not even aware that the physical practice is only 1/8th of what we consider Hatha yoga. Even less often do we start this journey with an understanding of the magnitude of impact that our subtle body energies have on our physical body. “The issues are in the tissues,” as they say. What I love about the health and wellness community is that more and more often I am hearing these ideas come directly from the mouths of doctors and therapists (mine included), giving Yoga Therapists like myself more credibility than we have ever had before.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to explore where yoga might fit in the western world of body-obsessed individuals and what yoga teachers could be “Selling” instead of new year’s body goals.

Promise – “Yoga promotes physical change or improvement”

Reality – Yoga promotes Self-awareness which brings about a decision to be our best self

Yoga Asana (or the physical practice) is one of 8 limbs of the practice of Hatha yoga. Many lineages believe that the only reason yoga practitioners ever practiced postures is to prepare the body to sit for extended periods of time in meditation. That Meditation itself is the actual, ultimate goal of yoga. If this is the case, then it doesn’t matter if we can balance in Tree pose and stick our toe up our nose. If we cannot be still and go inward in reflection, then we aren’t practicing “yoga” at all. We are simply exercising. We may as well go find a spin class instead. There is a time and a place for asana to be of importance and for many students, this is a way to begin channeling our energy to discipline and growth, but the answer to weather or not we are actually doing this is in our intention. If we can be completely honest with ourselves and notice when our ego is guiding our practice, we should never have a problem knowing if our asana practice is legitimate or not. How do we start to recognize our ego? Meditation! To truly be an advanced yoga practitioner, it is said we must be able to be still and listen inward. Openly, honestly, without fear. If our goals are driven by ego, by the desire to be better, look better or win against ourselves or others then we are missing the whole point of yoga.

Promise – “Yoga promotes weight loss or management”

Reality – Yoga regulates our nervous system and this keeps our bodies in their optimal state

In addition to the self-awareness that yoga gives us, the stress relief of yoga is what mostly leads to a healthier body. When we feel a sense of inner balance and peace in savasana or meditation, our bodies move out of the sympathetic nervous system stress response and into a parasympathetic nervous response where we lower blood sugar, stress hormones and improve digestion and organ functions. Heart health is improved and our bodies return to a natural homeostasis. This does often lead us back to whatever shape our bodies were naturally intended for and hopefully along the way we find acceptance of what that shape is as well. Surprisingly enough however, physical movements can have very little to do with this change.

In the modern world where our nervous system is inundated with noise and stimulation and stress  – the most healthy activity we can do for our bodies, hearts and immunity is to simply relax. In addition, the concept of non-attachment or Aparigraha teaches us to accept that life will not always be perfect and our job is to stay grounded and present even when things totally suck. This allows us to regulate our own nervous systems even when there is chaos, because we have practiced it time and time again on the mat in a controlled environment. Weather you’re working toward 108 sun salutations or laying on a bolster for 30 minutes, whatever activates that parasympathetic response in your body is helping you win at health and longevity. How do you know you got there? One benefit is improved circulation to your digestive system = stomach growling during savasana is a great thing!

Promise – “Cleanses are part of yoga”

Reality – Your body cleans itself every day. Yoga DOES help you get rid of the mental gunk.

Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga. One element of this practice is eating in accordance with your given constitution. This means that some of us are built to eat meat, others are not. Some crave spicy foods and others crave sweets, etc. When we add like to like, it throws our bodies and energy out of balance. Firey people + firey food = inflammation and anger, for example. By practicing self-awareness and knowing what our natural tendencies are it is said that we will be able to stay in balance in part through the foods we eat. When we find ourselves out of balance, Ayurveda recommends a “cleanse” that involves natural elements such as oiling the body inside and out or eating a simple mono-diet of rice and mung beans etc. These types of cleanses are recommended based on the individual’s constitution and spoiler alert: NONE of them involve living off of lemon water, tea or mushroom milk for a month. The purpose is to reset the digestive system in a way that is soft and kind to the body under the care of a licensed or certified ayurvedic counselor with thousands of hours of schooling. Watch out for diet culture creeping into yoga spaces. Real Ayurveda will never come in the form of a one size fits all advertisement. It is always curated for the individual after careful one on one counsel.

IN ADDITION – The concept of “removal of toxins” is NOT a reality. Your body has specific mechanisms in place to remove wastes (digestive, lymphatic, sweating and more) and yoga postures do not “squeeze” wastes out of you. Movement can improve the function of your organs but speaking about the body as if it were “toxic” creates an unhealthy relationship with it for many of us living with body image issues. (More on language in yoga classes in another blogpost) The best cleanse that yoga can provide is the one where we release our expectations, our judgements, triggers and our self-deprecating thoughts.

Promise & Reality – Yoga is life.

So the next time you or someone you know mistakenly touts yoga as a way to “get rid” of the undesirable parts of themselves (physical or otherwise) perhaps you can gently remind them of all the wonderful things true yoga can add to our lives instead, such as:

– self-awareness
– acceptance
– compassion
– love
– inquiry into the subconscious
– empowerment
– stress relief
– mindfulness
– energetic awareness
– Ayurvedic education

– freedom from our thoughts and emotions

– union

After all, yoga isn’t about changing.

It’s about connecting to our innermost, untouchable, radiant self.

And we are perfect as we are.