Friday, July 27, 2018

A Cancun Resort Pool: A Complicated Poem

A Cancun Resort Pool: A Complicated Poem

Quiet softens her eyes to the pool floor as the anxious riser enters the water.
Anxiety welcomes him for a swim.
Each stroke a worry or a regret.

Striving has been awake for a while.
A girl and her father.
He sits, an unkind coach.
She pushes and pulls her way through through the pool- training.

Self-care stretches and gets ready for her swim.
A woman, two men work their way through laps.
Hearts pounding.
Quiet lifts her eyes to welcome them.

The Sun moves from the pool's edge to warm the waters more directly.

Routine’s alarm goes off.
Couples, with teens in bed,
or work-worries tucked tightly in their laptops,
bring coffee and stand in the pool.
Feet grounded.
Soft voices.

Fun begins to waken in the pool waves.
His soft morning giggles move through the water.
The Sun begins her dance on the pool water's peaks.

The children come.
Floaties because their feet don’t touch.
Fun looks up and smiles, laughs, climbs the stairs, and jumps into the water.
Teens check their cell phones.
The bartenders arrive.

Addiction and Party take a  turn in their sleep.
Their wake up call is next.
Quiet looks for her book and her towel.
Fun pretends Addiction won’t come to the pool today.

It’s Complicated- invites everyone for a Margarita.
Everyone but Safe and Sober join.
Quiet pretends to drink and watches.

The pool-side bar fills.
Addiction is telling Fun a joke.
He doesn’t get it right.
No one notices that Quiet and Safety went to swim with dolphins.

Love watches Drunk yell at her kids as they dive-

— you are not supposed to dive.

Love sends Drunk a prayer.
Avoidance moves her seat.
Judgement stays to watch.

The group tours return.
Centered invites them for a nice swim.
The afternoon sun lights the other side of the pool's waves.

Fun is getting tired.
Addiction gets him a cup of coffee and a shot of tequila.

Safety returns with Nourishment.
They say it’s time for dinner.
Before drinking his shot, Fun decides to go to dinner.
Connection and Joy join for dinner.
Leaving the pool, they eat and share and laugh.

The pool-side bar closes.

Addiction and Tension go bar hopping.
So does Celebration.
We just got married.
We just got engaged.
25 years for us.

The pool empties.

Quiet comes to swim as the shade makes her way across the pool.

Solitude joins.

The water stills and cools.
The moon.
The stars.

 And Quiet lifts her eyes to welcome them.

Catherine Cook-Cottone

Saturday, May 19, 2018

It’s not Hurt People who hurt people, it’s Hurting People

It’s not Hurt People who hurt people, it’s Hurting People

For some years, the phrase “Hurt people, hurt people” has helped me to understand the WHY of some of the experiences in my life and in this world. But, lately, somehow it seems too simple. 

Like this. I have met some amazing people who have been horribly hurt and they do not engage in consistent hurting of others. In fact, some of them live their lives teaching yoga in prisons, to victims of the sex trade, or to those suffering in other ways. They are thought-full, heart-full, safe and wonder-full to share time with. So, we know, for sure I know, that not all hurt people, hurt people. 

I think it is more nuanced. 

Hurt- is an adjective. It describes a state of a person- a hurt person. 

Hurting- can also be an adjective- but it’s verb-like. It is an active process- a hurting person. 

I think hurting people are more at risk for hurting others- it is an active process. Hurting happens when the hurt has trouble being-a-thing-that-has-happened and keeps being a-thing-that-is-happening.

Perhaps our most dangerous hurts are those we don’t even know are still hurting us. Those hurts create blind spots- the not-seeing-of-things that we erect grand defensive sculptures around. These defensive sculptures are built of rationalizations, righteousness, and reasons for why it is, or was, okay to behave the way we do. When we struggle like this- the hurt longs to speak- it wants to be heard and felt and processed. It’s a force. 

With an inherent drive to be expressed and no other options, the hurt lives in our behaviors. With no satisfying resolution or true validation, the hurts act themselves out over and over. And because we have erected great defensive walls around our hurts, we believe our behaviors are justified. 

And- that mess- is a self-perpetuating strategy for hurting over and over and over. 

The message -

(1) Feelings and hurts demand to be heard.
(2) The feelings and hurts that are not heard- demand voice in our actions.
(3) You will screw-up over and over and over until you listen.

To get beyond the hurting, we need to feel fully and openly. We need to sit with our feelings until we get to know them really well, intimately. We want to make friends with our feelings, seeing them as allies and messengers. We want be good listeners and holders of our own pain- so our feelings don’t demand voice in our actions.

When we do this, we get to know our hurts and our feelings. We learn the parts of feelings that are artifacts of our past, the parts that are right now and relevant to the current moment, the parts that are made of up our fears, and the parts that are concerns about the future. We listen. We learn. We see more clearly. Hurts and feelings that can be the messengers and allies they were meant to be, settle. With their job done, they rest.

The next time you hurt someone else or yourself, first, know you are lucky enough to be aware of what you are doing. Next, consider dropping the defenses and turn inward rather than blaming. Third, consider that the world does not need to be a certain way for you to not be hurting or hurtful—but maybe— just maybe-- you could be different in how you listen to and process your hurts and feelings, you can hold them, and you can effectively let them go. 

Maybe then you can stop being a hurting person and start being be one of those heart-full, hurt people who help people. And that is a badass way of being. 

Catherine Cook-Cottone, PhD, RYT-500
The Yoga Bag

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Importance of Setting Boundaries

The Importance of Setting Boundaries

I remember when I first took graduate work in the the field of mental health. I transitioned from memorizing psychology terms, classifications, and theories to learning the processes involved in mental illness, mental health, wellbeing, and healing.

A term I learned way back in the 1990s was boundaries. I had not considered such a thing-- that each person, entity, even agency has boundaries and the way that we co-exist without hurting each other or getting lost in each other is by knowing and keeping our boundaries.

The field of recovery in trauma and sexual abuse digs deep into boundaries. It is critical in re-setting or re-membering who you are after trauma and abuse. These boundaries are the edges of self. For some these edges have been betrayed, violated, or lost. For some, they never had a chance to establish themselves. In therapy, we work to re-discover and re-build them in the safety of a healthy relationship. It is really beautiful work.

Having and keeping healthy and functional boundaries is an ongoing process. It is required at home within the relationships we have with those we love and care for. It is required at work to make sure we work effectively and safely as a team. In each domain or your life, boundaries are an essential piece of living effectively in community—they are an essential aspect of connection.

As you work to set boundaries, it can become clear when a person or entity is not honoring boundaries. You can feel them push at your edges.

I always proceed with the assumption that the other does not, perhaps, know about boundaries as a concept (as I had not known years ago). Boundary conversations are not easy and often feel personal-- as in essence- we are talking about where each of us begins and ends. Still, it is good work to do and, like gardening, a constant work that is needed for us to flourish. Its also formative work- that is- as we work together to understand each others’ boundaries things might shift and move. When we work with each other and with love- those shifts and moves, like a lovely dance, can be creative beauty.

You can say, “Hey, I need to talk about x, y, and z and where my work (or self, or love) begins and ends and your work (or self, or love) begins and ends so we can work (or be and or engage) in harmony, safely, and effectively. Here are the places I feel our edges are unclear (add your edges stuff here).  When can you talk?”

Most people will honor this request. They will sit with you, connect and work to honor who you are-- and you will honor who they are-- and you will work together to honor the boundaries required for healthy wellbeing for both-- for all.

There will also be those who do not want to talk about boundaries for lots of reasons. Sometimes there will be those who do not hear you or want to hear you. There will be those who misunderstand you or misperceive your request. Some do not yet know. Some have no interest in boundaries. Some do not want to be bothered by boundaries or have the resources for keeping them. Some are too defensive, as they do not yet know who they are.

It is a process and we are all working on our own growth timeline. And so, we honor their path as we hold ours. No matter the response, remember-- it is always okay for you to do your boundary work. Always.

To you I say, hold good. Take time to figure out YOU. Find your edges- the healthy edges and work with those, the messy edges and clean up those, the not-yet-existing edges and build those—and your creative edges- those are the best and most beautiful—live those.  And know, in the process- your edges will bump up against others’ edges and with big loving-kindness-

… your boundary work.


Catherine Cook-Cottone

The Yoga Bag

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Risks of Contact

I have the flu. It’s spread by contact.

I caught something else. Inner conflict. It’s a bit like the flu- stuff comes in from the outside- through contact- and the fight, the somewhat invisible fight- goes on inside- the energies and ideas deemed as good waging war on the energies and ideas deemed as bad- like some kind of virus battling it all out.

I spent a week in contact.

Talking to people from around the world. Getting, owning, and sometimes abhorring my own privileges while at the same time angry at all I have had to work through for access. Embodying both the cause and effect of the problem.  

I made contact.

I spoke when it was hard and my voice was shaking. I exposed my self to the stuff that leads to inner conflict. I said things of which I was sure and unsure of in equal measure. I held hands and hearts and worked hard not to drop either or my own.

I worked hard to make contact.

I worked so hard to connect at one point someone had to hold me so I could reach and I did and I held on tight- my reach only possible through the support of others.

I got the flu. It is one of the risks of contact. 

I also got so much more I learned that if I put my hand out there someone will reach just as hard and we can connect. 

The flu was headed my way anyway. Probably got it on the plane or handing my passport over and taking it back. And I easily fall back into my privileged calling my doctor, using my insurance, and having access to my resources to get well.

But the other stuff- the other thing I caught- insight- the stuff of inner turmoil and growth. I don’t have doctors and insurance for that- this one is on me and I am letting it sink in and move me- move me to a better wiser place as a woman, mother, sister, and a sister in the sisterhood, and researcher. Eyes-wide, heart churning. The flu-I will recover. This other- bigger stuff- stay, please stay and make me better for it.

I made contact.

The Yoga Bag

Friday, December 29, 2017

Steps to Creating A Soul Nourishing New Years Resolution for a Great 2018!

Steps to Creating A Soul Nourishing New Years Resolution for a Great 2018!

Creating a soul nourishing and sustaining New Year’s Resolution is an ancient art. In fact, New Year’s Resolutions have been around in some form or another since the Babylonians.  As an art form, the New Year’s Resolution has had many years to evolve to a place of accessibility for all.

The art form is ready for you and your success. Below is a list of guiding Dos and Don'ts.

First, clear a space (see Then, the definition.

A New Year’s Resolution is a promise to yourself to engage in some form of self-improvement during the New Year.

Breaking that down:

      (a)  Promise: promise (according to Mariam-Webster): a statement telling someone that you will definitely do something or that something will definitely happen in the future, an indication of future success or improvement, a reason to expect that something will happen in the future;

      (b) Engage: to pledge oneself, promise, to make a guarantee;

      (c)  Self-improvement: improvement of one’s condition through one’s owns efforts;

      (d)  Condition: the circumstances affecting the way in which people live or work, esp. with regard to their well-being (

To craft your Soul Nourishing New Years Resolution you must-- make (engage in) a promise to yourself in order to improve your own well-being. How do you do this?

There is A LOT of research on how to improve your own well-being. According to research it is very likely that as you improve your well-being, you will be doing a lot of good for others. If you dig into the research articles you will see that well-being has a ton to do with gratitude, giving, generosity, health, and love. So here we go!

1. Do: Build a larger framework for your resolution.

Everything from a yoga asana (pose) to a home is strongest when built within a solid framework, a solid foundation. For resolutions, it can be very helpful to begin by seeing yourself 5 years down the road. Take your age right now and add 5 years (your age + 5 = X). See yourself at X. What are you doing? Who are you with? What is the weather? What is around you? How do you feel? Set this vision. Get out a journal or a piece of paper and put your vision on paper. Write a paragraph describing your 5 years from now self (X). Create a collage of X.

Remember, you will be 5 years older in 5 years anyway. So don’t let fear of aging stop you. It is happening. So what kind of 5 years older form of you (X) do you want to be? Doing nothing, holding on to your same patterns is also a plan. Know that. If that is what you want, perfect. If not, make a plan. From this plan, build your goals and then your New Year’s Resolution.

2. Don’t: Work from an anti-dream, anti-goal, or anti-vision.

Work from what you want to create not what you want to avoid. If you want prosperity, say that. If you want sobriety, say that. If you want contentment, say that. Work from what will be manifested and not what you want to avoid.

It is always good to have a sense of what you want to avoid (e.g., debt, addiction, alcoholism, etc..). However, to be effective you want to work from a place of creation. For example, as you work toward presence and sobriety, as result you are not drunk and dissociated. On the other hand, if you say, “I will not be anything like my Father,” you are still beholden to the mold. It’s mirror image, still the mold. Create your own vision, something new (I know there are some who say to do this [e.g., work from an anti-vision]. You can if you if you’d like. It won’t be as powerful, creative, or positive).

You might need to clear a space for your New Year's Resolution- see this post

3. Do: Envision yourself as healthy and strong.

Healthy is beautiful. Healthy is beautiful. Healthy is beautiful. Healthy is beautiful.

We are completely inundated with media messages telling us that we need to be smaller, thinner, leaner, and-all-that. New Year’s Resolutions and visions based on being smaller or closer to an idealized media image-- backfire. Don’t do it.

Consider the Health At Any Size Movement. Here is an excerpt from their web-page.

Let’s face facts. We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier. The war on obesity has taken its toll. Extensive “collateral damage” has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination, poor health... Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat. Health at Every Size is the new peace movement. Very simply, it acknowledges that good health can best be realized independent from considerations of size. It supports people—of all sizes—in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors.” An excerpt from Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon, PhD.

4. Don’t: Base your New Year’s Resolutions on deprivation, restriction, and withholding from yourself. It backfires too.

A good example is dieting. Dieting won’t get you where you want to be. Here is one of the many reviews: Long-term Effects of Dieting: Is Weight Loss Related to Health? A. Janet Tomiyama, Britt Ahlstrom, & Traci Mann (2013)- reference below.

Worse yet, in the restriction and deprivation you will feel like you are restricted and deprived. Humans hate this. We fight against it. We rebel. And guess what happens by January 15th? Yes, you will have completely ditched all restriction-based resolutions and will be knee deep in your anti-vision.

5.  Do: Set your sights on a practice that enhances well-being. 

Here are many, many ideas. Choose one or more and set intentions to practice any one or more of these things often.

      a.     Embodied practices: yoga, running, Tae Kwon Do, etc.
      b.     Meditation (go here for a great app- I love this one)
      c.      Travel
      d.     Communing with nature (e.g., hiking, bird watching)
      e.     Commitment to a cause (e.g., the Africa Yoga Project)
      f.      Religious practice
     g.     Artwork (e.g., draw, take photographs, make mala beads)
     h.     Music- listen, practice, create
     i.      Writing- poetry, blogging, journaling, etc..
     j.       Family and friend time
     k.  Set an amazing world changing goal with specifics
     l.     Be in Service- support others, lift the world up in some way (maybe help Yogis in Service, Inc. 

6. Don’t: Choose something because you feel like you should.

Don’t choose the thing you think people will like, approve of, or admire. Pick the thing that makes you excited, the thing you want for you, the thing that makes you feel a feeling all around your heart when you think of it (see [k] above). You were brought to this world for a reason. We need you to manifest the reason for your soul. It will set you on fire. Do that thing.

"If you are what you are meant to be, you will set the whole world on fire."
St. Catherine of Siena

Note: There may be a few small goals you should address first. It's okay, and maybe even good, to start small-- engage in small accomplishable steps (e.g., eating vegetables twice a day, hydrating each day). These smaller goals are the foundational work for larger dreams. Create the foundation first.

7.   Do: Find a Partner

I joined Snyder Running Club a few years ago. We post our runs and get each there to get out there and run in the hot and the cold. It is the community that keeps us going when the love-of-the-run is elusive. We have gained so much more than running form this club- life long friendships and many, many fun times. 

8. Don’t: Set standards so high and so pure that a human being can’t be successful.

Weave in struggle. Make promises you CAN keep. In 2009, my sister and me made a commitment to daily exercise. In order to help us be successful, in the making of our commitment contract we wove in human error. There is room for missteps and life that allows us to pursue this goal and be successful. Here they are.

      (a)  Each week you get a skip day
      (b)  Every six months you can burn two skip days a week
      (c)  You need only do something physical for 30 minutes and that counts

Another example- I set a goal in 2015 to meditate 108 days before the new year. I set guidelines giving room for error (i.e., room for success).  Important to my success, I had a make-up rule- that is- I could meditate for twice the amount the next day and not consider missing a set-back.

My husband has a great way of looking at it- he says, "I just need to see someone is trying. That is all that matters." Yep- I had most certainly been trying for 108 days!

9.   Do: Write it down or get an app

Make it yours, own it, and write it down. There are lots of ways to do this. You can use an old-fashioned pen and paper. You can keep a log on your computer, or a blog on the Internet. I put mine in the front cover of my daily planner and on my iPhone- there are apps…. (see below).

“Goal setting involves establishing a plan and creating steps to help you achieve what once was just a dream. Two vital parts of achieving your goals are motivation and habit building. Thankfully there are some apps that will help you create some healthy new habits that will move your life in the right direction to help you achieve your goals. We compare the best ones in this AppGuide.”

10.  Don’t: Automatically Keep your New Year’s Resolution a secret or tell everybody

As an impulse or mindless action, neither of those is a good idea. Your New Year’s Resolution is yours. It is yours to share or keep for as long as you’d like. Choose thoughtfully, mindfully. If you share, choose to share with those who will empower you. Sometimes it helps to hold it close to your heart. I like to do this. I set goals and sometimes-- I don’t tell anyone. It is between me and me (and me and God). After I have accomplished my goal, sometimes I tell my husband or a friend. Sometimes I don’t tell anyone.  This is one of those things that varies person to person. As much as I like to keep things to myself, other people do better when they share their goals. Share goals only with people who will let it be yours. No matter which you choose, make sure it stays your goal and your commitment.

11. Do: Mix great effort with great rest.

Make sure you have built restoration and recovery time into your plans. I say this over and over in my yoga classes, “With great effort, take great rest!” You can Google, study, and research any great man or woman and you will see that sustained effort was paired with support and periods of restoration. I have taught the History of Psychology for many years at the University at Buffalo. What I have noticed is that longevity and impact, without tragedy, was paired with a restorative life. The moral of the story, if you want to do great things and have a great life, match great effort with great rest.

12. Don’t: Make your goals someone else’s job.

It is so easy to tell a bunch of people, your partner, a best friend what you want to do and then make it their problem to monitor you, remind you, and inspire you. You are giving your success away and people find this annoying (unless they are co-dependent and even then they should not be doing it). It’s your resolution, your job, and your success when you get there. And trust me, it feels amazing to set, work for, and accomplish a goal.

13. Do: Make it concrete

Make your New Year’s Resolution concrete. Do not create broad open-ended New Year’s Resolutions like, “I will love others more” or “I will contribute to world peace.” These are good ideas AND they can also be concrete. For example, “I will love others more” might translate to, “I will call my dad and mom every Tuesday and Thursday to check in and tell them that I love them.” Also, “I will contribute to world peace” might translate to, “I will volunteer to teach yoga at the youth detention center one hour a week.” Those things are real, concrete.

Like my sister and I did with our exercise plan, we said exactly when it started (that day), how often (6 or more days a week), what (30 minutes or more of physical exercise including walking), and a monitoring system (text each other the workout each day).

These examples are so specific there is no question of whether happens or not. For my sister and I, sometimes we check on this or that asking if the other thinks that a particular thing counted. Usually we agree that it counts because it meets our basic criteria- 30 minutes of exercise. Please note, we excluded house-cleaning. That does not count- see how clear we are? That is how clear and concrete you need to be.

As I write, I have written 6 books. I did this all, one word, one paragraph at a time. I make a commitment to write for a certain amount of time, a certain amount of days per week, depending on the time of year and my commitments. I don't try to "write a book" that is too big and abstract. I would toward tangible hours writing and sometimes- I set a goal to get an idea across on paper. Something like, "Today I will write until I have laid out what it means to be secular when delivering yoga in schools." In these ways, my plans are concrete and accessible

14.  Don’t: Base your goals or resolutions on resentment or showing someone something.

I did this for a while. I fueled my achievement with anger. Anger is not a half-bad fuel. But it burns dirty. You are left with your achievements in your hands and black smoke everywhere. Goals built on “I will show you” lack the shine, the inner glow, and the love that you see in victories that come from the heart. Work on your anger, process it, and let it go. Then, build your dreams on something more beautiful than anger.

And this- You might need to clear a space for your New Year's Resolution- see this post

15. Do: It for love

Ah, this is the stuff. LOVE. Build your resolutions and goals on (a) what you love, (b) for love, and, (c) on love of life. Not only will this be more pure and light and beautiful. It will be full of joy and fun. Goals and resolutions built on passion and love…….well that is the stuff of dreams.

This is what I want for you. I want you to accomplish your dreams- one goal, one resolution at a time- from a place of love. So, DREAM ON!

Have fun with these. We get this one shot at life. Make it great. I am.
Your soul will love you for it.

"If you are what you are meant to be, you will set the whole world on fire."
St. Catherine of Siena



The Yoga Bag


Long-term Effects of Dieting: Is Weight Loss Related to Health? A. Janet Tomiyama1, Britt Ahlstrom1, Traci Mann2,*;jsessionid=CC1FAF44A3FDD1965B4C69A1EE00684A.f02t04?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false


“Success” in dieting interventions has traditionally been defined as weight loss. It is implicit in this definition that losing weight will lead to improved health, and yet, health outcomes are not routinely included in studies of diets. In this article, we evaluate whether weight loss improves health by reviewing health outcomes of long-term randomized controlled diet studies. We examine whether weight-loss diets lead to improved cholesterol, triglycerides, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and fasting blood glucose and test whether the amount of weight lost is predictive of these health outcomes. Across all studies, there were minimal improvements in these health outcomes, and none of these correlated with weight change. A few positive effects emerged, however, for hypertension and diabetes medication use and diabetes and stroke incidence. We conclude by discussing factors that potentially confound the relationship between weight loss and health outcomes, such as increased exercise, healthier eating, and engagement with the health care system, and we provide suggestions for future research