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Honour The Heart

Happy Heart Day to you!

TEDx offered a beautiful valentine’s honoring this morning and I give it to you humbly and so joyfully.


TEDx Gratitude

The day I was born, my grandfather went home from work to shower, shave and put on a suit.  My grandparents, who happened to meet not too far from White Chapel in London, always knew how to dress (and dress well they did).


So when the big day came for me to speak to the world alongside some incredible visionaries at last week’s TEDxWhiteChapel, I meditated, chanted and donned the most beautiful and perfectly tailored dress I’ve ever touched.

I’m sure my Poppa Gene would’ve said something to the effect of “Knock ‘em dead, kid and look sharp.”


Thanks to Pamela Barish and Katharine Deeb’s styling brilliance, I most certainly did.


Styled by Katharine Deeb, dress by Pamela Barish


Thank you to everyone, every single person whom I’ve encountered in this beautiful life, without you I wouldn’t have felt inspired to speak from my heart and share a simple message: to ask questions, even when it gets uncomfortable.

We often won’t find our way to the right answer by thinking our way into it but by feeling it.

As soon as the footage from the day becomes available I’ll be posting here for you all to enjoy…


A special thank you to Gemini and Guy Holmes for being dear friends and graciously taking care of me across the pond, to Ariana Hall for her unmatched ability to hold presence and coach me into feeling more clear in my communication, to my family, friends and the women in my circles who all lit candles to help me shine brighter and to Stefana Bosse for inviting me to share my voice on a world stage.


I invite you along with me to give yourself this permission slip today.

Don’t forget to look in the mirror and choose to be on your side, be on your team, approve of yourself (cuz that’s what will allow everyone and everything else to back you).

nuff said :-)

P.S. Thank you Yogi Tea for always adding poetry and a smile to my morning tea cup.

TED Talking

I’m not one for keeping quiet and staying mum on incredible things but I was so beyond humbled to speak at a TED conference that I didn’t even post about it (until now).

Ridiculous?  Maybe.

Have you ever had a dream that came true, so fast that you thought maybe it was an accident or you ducked your head in the sand or peed your pants?  I thought I’d have published ten books and then maybe, MAYBE, attend a TED conference let alone SPEAK at one so when my birthday came around this year and I asked to live my life with joy on purpose I didn’t expect the gift that came two days after blowing out my 30 candles.

Yup, me, your Ella, will be offering her perspective on “Visions for Transition: Challenging existing paradigms and redefining values (for a more beautiful world)” and will be boarding a plane to do so in a week’s time.

You never know you who you’re going to inspire and you never know what doors will open from you being you, doing what you love.

Thank you ALL for being a part of this journey.

A gift my mother imparted on me this year was the choice between two images of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama to sit on my altar.  One was of him quietly smiling with peace, the other with him laughing while speaking into a microphone and clasping his hands in joyful prayer.  My first instinct was the quiet, non-mic check photo.  I’ve been feeling more and more quiet these days, especially since my journey to Mother India (yes, I know, I’ve not shared about it with hardly anyone but you’re on my list, promise!).

However I chose and choose the image that reflected my birthday wish for this year.  I choose to embrace the gift I asked for- to speak, to share, to express myself and be in service to healing of hearts worldwide.

I feel like he’s winking at me through his glasses even now.  “The World will be saved by a Western Woman”, so His Holiness said at a peace summit three years ago when I began my journey as a doula to you.  Perhaps I’m not THE Wonder Woman to save the world but I’m happy to be a pink, sparkly brick in the foundation of its healing.


In humble and joyful service,


P.S.  As I stand on the precipice of realizing a dream, I ask for your well-wishings, love and support as I take the stage January 12th in London. TEDxWhiteChapel is on Facebook if you want up-to-the-minute news (for instance, I just learned that tickets ARE SOLD OUT, woweeee, gulp). So click like and follow and blow kisses my way if you feel so inclined.

Night Time is The Right Time

“Oh you know the night time, is the right time

to be with the one you love.” – Ray Charles

As I’m boiling lemons, recovering from a cold, my voice comes back all at once to sing the first few lines to Ray Charles’ Night Time Is. The sun just went down, it’s 5:56 but feels like midnight and I haven’t thought about writing (much less about love) in quite awhile.

When the sun sets, there’s this anticipation that is always awakened in me and even more so when I’m single.

How often I would get sad and reminisce, perhaps watch a romantic movie I knew the ending to (either in film or an old memory from my past). Well, what if the desire to snuggle with someone isn’t such a horrible thing?  Longing for what isn’t won’t do any good but being excited and feeling what you’re desiring is the ticket I want to buy and nibble on popcorn over.

My friend gave me the best idea I’ve heard in ages last night and I’ll share it with you now.  Love letters.  Love letters to your beloved, write them now even before you’ve met or they’re sharing your bed because if you’re in that state of mind and heart, it’s easier to magnetize that energy.  Loving yourself is the best thing you could possibly do, be with the one you love (you’re already there).

I’ll admit there are moments I get upset that I am not in love and all cuddled up at night but that’s no reason to invite an old story in to haunt me.

Wanting to be with someone, to share your day and night with is human.  Don’t go cray-cray on yourself for wanting social interaction and body heat.  It’s cold, it’s autumny winter – I get it.

Sharing your bed can be easier than your heart but you’re worth the whole pumpkin pie.  I’d guess that most of us have tried dabbling in the past with old flames, maybe having a few drinks at a bar with a stranger, going on a few harmless dates just to get back out there.  I’d rather hold court, honoring myself and let them come to me while I take excellent care of my own affairs.  Marinating in yourself is bound to make one helluva love potion (you’ll know who’s attractive and who’s not the more in yourself you are).

I’m giving myself permission to wait for something that feels right and good just as much as it’s perfectly fine to want it.

Your permission slip giving friend,


**What permission slip are you gonna give yourself?

For starters, listen to the song I can’t get out of my head:


How to Surrender?

Trying to get out beyond the breakers today, past the white water and fast coming waves was “gnarly”.  I was spun and brought to my knees, my mop of hair slathering my face and doing somersaults at least 30 times just trying to get onto my surf board and paddling out beyond the initial surf.  Learning how to surrender and keep going was indeed, a humbling experience.  At times I had to just hang back and wait to catch my breath.  What surprised me most is how much I laughed and kind of enjoyed how hard the process was and credit this for being the reason I didn’t get hurt.  This got me thinking- How often do we seek challenge?  How do we approach it?  What does surrender look like?

Here’s my initial brainstorm of images and thoughts:

Releasing tension.

Corpse pose.

Breathing into pain and challenge.

Trusting something greater than yourself, a divine intelligence.

Offering your neck.

Waving the white flag.

Opening your heart.


Being submissive.

Letting go.

Becoming a slave to a master.

Diving into the unknown.

Letting the waves take you and not fighting.

Dropping your battle axe.

What comes up for you?  Where do you resist the invitation to surrender?  Do you hate pooping next to other people in public bathrooms?  Do you have a hard time letting someone else drive or lead?  Do you enjoy letting go?  When?

Why all this talk about surrender?  I think it’s interesting to consider how we define and relate to something, surrender being a complex topic. Let’s dust off this understanding and dive in, shall we?

Here is a really amazing read my gal pal sent me this week by OSHO on surrender and love.  It helped me have a deeper, more clear experience with loving surrender, especially after getting my ass handed to me today surfing in biting waves. Read it when you feel like, just seeing this in my inbox, made me cringe.  I waited a week to read this piece, I won’t judge ya for doing the same but I do invite to think about and feel into what surrender means to you…

Osho – There are a few things, you have to do them if you want to know them. There is no way to tell anything about them. And surrender is one of those things. It is a dimension of love, let-go. If you ask me what is surrender and what is the meaning of surrender, yes, something can be told to you, but that won’t carry any meaning. You have to taste it. It is a taste. If you taste it you know it. If you don’t taste it, I can talk about it, but you will not know it. Without your own experience, whatsoever I say will be a tautology.

You ask what is surrender. I say surrender is a let-go. But what am I saying? You will ask what is a let-go. It is a tautology; I have not answered you. I say a let-go is falling in love. It is a tautology again; I am not saying anything. You will say,’What is falling in love
then?” The question remains the same, and all answers will go round and round and round.

I have heard about a prudish, tight-lipped old maid who would not even allow her pet cat out of the house after dark. Headed for New York on one of her infrequent outings, she paused to remind the maid about locking up that cat each evening. This time in New York, however, the old maid encountered a handsome old rogue who swept her off
her feet. After four nights of blissful romancing she wired her maid, ”Having the time of my life. Let the cat out too!”

Let the cat out. When you know what love is, only then you know. There is no other way to know it. I am here creating a situation for you to surrender. Don’t ask for the meaning. Do it. Be courageous. Let it be an experience. Accept my invitation. My doors are open; enter and be my guest. Surrender.

By ”surrender,” in the West, a very wrong idea arises – as if you will be dominated by somebody – because surrender has a very wrong association. It has become almost a political word in the West. The Nazis surrendered; that’s how it has become associated with politics. A surrendered one is the one who is defeated. In the East we have a totally different meaning for the term. It has nothing to do with war and nothing to do with defeat. Have you not heard the proverb that in love defeat is the only victory? If you are defeated in love you have become victorious. Yes, that’s how it is in surrender.

It has nothing to do with defeat. It is not that you are being dominated by somebody. It is not that now somebody else is going to oppress you, exploit you, that you are becoming a slave. No, it is nothing of the sort. The surrender in the East is used as a technique. And the surrender has to be made only to a person who is no more, so he cannot dominate you. So this has to be remembered: don’t surrender to a person who is still there; otherwise he will dominate you and he will give you a discipline and he will start forcing you to do this and not to do that and he will create a prison around you.

That’s why I don’t give you any discipline. Even if you ask, I don’t give. You ask continuously because you want to depend, because you want to be a slave, because you don’t want to take your own responsibility. You want to throw the responsibility on somebody else. You are in search of a father figure; you want somebody to lead you. But I am not going to give you any discipline and I am not going to give you any clear-cut direction to do this and don’t do that. All that I am going to do is to share my awareness with you so you can become a little more aware, to share my love with you so you can become a little more loving. It has nothing to do with any discipline.

Coming closer to me, you will be able to imbibe my spirit. That is the meaning of surrender: that you are ready to come close to me, that you are not afraid, that you will not protect yourself against me, that you will not be defensive, that simply you are ready to come closer to me, that you are attracted, that you have heard my call, that something has clicked in your heart and you will try to know who this man really is, what manner of man. You would like to enter into my emptiness and be surrounded by my emptiness.

Sannyas is the visible effort of surrender. Many people come to me and they say, ”We don’t take sannyas. Can’t you help us?” I say, ”I will try my best, but it won’t be of much help because you will continuously protect yourself. You will be defensive.” Sannyas is just a gesture that ”Now drop my defenses and I am ready to go with you.”

Of course, it is risky. You don’t know me yet. How can you know? If you surrender you will know; you cannot know beforehand. So it is only for very courageous people. The daredevils – it is only for them. And I exist for daredevils, those who are ready to risk their life and to go into the unknown and to see if something happens. If you are ready to go, it is going to happen; and then you will know the meaning. Then too you will not be able to tell somebody else what the meaning is! The meaning is in the taste, in the experience.

And you ask, ”How is surrender?” Apparently, sannyas is the ”how,” obviously. The deeper ”how” will open its doors when you have entered the porch. Sannyas is the porch; once you enter the porch – you have accepted me and I have accepted you – then there is a deep agreement, that you trust me. Now I can invite you to deeper realms of my being. You become an initiate. The second thing happens someday. Sometimes it happens with the sannyas itself. If you are totally surrendered, then in the first moment of contact with me it happens – you become an initiate.

Sometimes it takes time. The outward sannyas happens first; then you wait, then you watch, then you see things, then slowly, slowly you relax, inch by inch you drop your ego, and more and more I penetrate in you. Then one day, without any warning, suddenly it has happened – you suddenly become aware it has happened: now my light exists in you and my heart beats in you. Sometimes it takes years, sometimes days, sometimes minutes, sometimes not a single minute. It depends on you, how much courage you have.

And of course, Westerners are gaining much more from me than the Easterners, because the East has become very cowardly. So by and by you will see more and more Western people around here. The East is very cowardly. They have become almost corpses. They don’t have the spirit – the spirit that Kabir calls the spirit for the quest of truth – they don’t have it. Either they believe they already know what truth is or they think there is enough time and there is no hurry – if not in this life, then in the next life.

And for them, to be religious has become more a way of being respectable, and of course my sannyas will not appeal to them because if they are respectable, by becoming my sannyasin they will lose all respect. They will not become respectable through my sannyas. Through my sannyas they will become rebellious; they will start falling out of the society. People will start avoiding them. People will start feeling they are dangerous and infectious, and people will think that they have gone mad or something.

But in the West something new is happening – a new courage, a new spirit of inquiry. It always comes whenever a country becomes materially rich. It always happens. When a country becomes materially poor, it loses spirit. Not only outwardly poor, it becomes inwardly poor. It loses confidence, it loses courage, it loses potentiality. It starts dragging. In the West people have become materially rich; they are well-fed, science has come to a certain point from where religion can be contacted, and people have seen material affluence. Now they would like to see something beyond it. It is not enough. So if you are ready, don’t ask ”how is surrender?” Surrender.

Once it happened, Jesus was staying with his friends in a house, and the friends said, ”Tell us how to pray.”

Jesus said, ”But how to say how to pray? I will pray, and if you are ready you can participate.” And Jesus started praying. Now the others were standing there and they couldn’t see what to do. He started moving into some unknown realm. They watched and he prayed; and when he came back from the world of his prayer, they said again, ”But tell us how to pray.” He said, ”I SHOWED you how to pray, and you ask how to pray.”

Remember, maybe the question arises out of your cowardliness. Maybe you want to be certain about everything, what it is, whether it is worth it or not. I am here surrendered. I am here in prayer. I am here in God. Come closer to me. And I have made it easier than it has ever been, because I am not putting any conditions on you. I accept you as you are. It has never been done before. I accept you as you are. I have no condemnation, no evaluation, no judgment. If you are a drunkard, good. If you are a gambler, good, exactly right. Because this is a sort of gamble and this is a way of becoming drunk. Whatsoever you are, you are accepted. Come closer.

Sannyas will be a visible thing for you to do, and the next thing, leave it to me. I will do it. You do one thing; I will do the other. There is a saying in Arabian countries, ”If you walk one foot towards God, he walks one thousand one feet towards you.” You walk towards me one foot; I will walk one thousand and one feet towards you. You do the first; the second I will do.

But you come and ask, ”But sannyas… just by changing the clothes…. It is too outward. Tell us something inward.”You are not even ready to do the outward and you ask for the inward. And you are an outwardly-oriented man. That’s why I am talking about the outward sannyas – that’s where you are. That’s from where the journey has to start. You arc yet outside yourself; from there the journey has to start. The inward can happen only later on, not right now.

-Source – Osho Book “Ecstasy – The Forgotten Language”

Taking in these words, imagining them being expressed my your deepest, most loving heart – your true self, is an exquisite experience.  Create your highest self  as your guardian angel.

My heart is my guru.  The heart invites us to be initiated into loving every day.  Surrender doesn’t mean that you give up or drop all tools and ways of being to survive but perhaps in your quiet moments, you become the servant to that inner wisdom that’s there silently, waiting for you, always and you return to it as much as you can especially when the waves are steep.

Rolling in it,


You Can Blush But You Can’t Hide…

Tomorrow (February 6th) I’ll be speaking at Bini Birth in North Hollywood a group of amazing women, new mommies and those in world of mommies.

BINI Birth's Ana Paula Markel and Ella Lauser

Go Ask Ella is honored to be a safe space for questions about the “things we don’t talk about but should.” Ella will empower us to get in our bodies and check in our personal wisdom in our role of new mommyhood. We will look at the stories we tell as women and mothers. Come learn how to re-define who we are based on who we want to be and share tips for getting our groove back! Ella will be working on simple breath and relaxation techniques to bring us back into our own inner peace. Ella provides the perfect sacred and safe space for women to become empowered emotionally to live a happier, more connected, joyful life. Come be part of this amazing circle of support!

The group meets from 1 to 2:30 on Monday at Bini Birth 5355 Cartwright Avenue in North Hollywood. A six class pass is available for $120, or you can drop in for a single class for $25. Email rachel@binibirth.com for more details or of course, Go Ask Ella!

Get Down To The Heart of the Matter


Photo by Amber Buck


Disease of the mind, the heart or the body is dis-ease of the spirit.

I find that it’s a cycle of mine to re-evaluate things right around the end of each year. After the hustle bustle of travel, feasts and fodder, when it gets quiet you can hear the whispers of your body saying “please no more toxic crap”. Is it food? Is it family? Is it your environment? Perhaps it’s your relationship to your work, your lover, your finances, yourself?

A series of questions that sometimes leave us feeling overwhelmed by injustices but in truth, who resides over our court?

This past year I’ve reconsidered who I can be in the world a thousand times over, in fact I’ve done this for as long as I can remember. When I was three years old I wanted to be Sleeping Beauty. From four to six year old I wanted to make my grandma feel good and not be sick any more. At nine I wanted to be the best speller in my school and win the math trophy too. From eleven until fourteen I wanted to be Juliet also I desperately wanted to be Mexican, have breasts and one day win an Oscar. At 18, I wanted to be an actress, singer, psychologist, fiancé and graduate from NYU Magna Cum Laude. At 19, I wanted to move to Los Angeles and work as a music supervisor for film.

Finally around 24, I got really ill while working in the Hollywood machine and started seeking teachers, healers, alternative paths and how I could serve the world, offering my heart’s gifts. Then I wavered on whether or not I had the courage to do go a road less traveled and moved to Seoul, South Korea for a year to teach English (how that seemed more “responsible” and reasonable I’ll never know).

At 28, with over 30 resumes on my hard drive, I once again sought the path of becoming a speaker, healer, teacher and doula. The meaning of doula is “woman of service” and I knew that this was my life long journey but didn’t quite understand that everyone has a different definition of service.

Full service, self-service, server, “the help”, free, pro-bono, of no value, charitable acts, hocus pocus, love, light, servant.

We are all in service to some degree. What are we serving though?

-an expectation from our parents, a purpose, ourselves?

Go Ask Ella was my first attempt at world-wide service and after nearly two years, I’ve had a few clients that have opened my eyes to what work can be and I’m so grateful. I’ve also learned that without clarity on the definition of service, you can easily be mistaken as a doormat, an afterthought, a fixer, unpaid and undervalued.

Where we fall out of alignment is where we haven’t asked a question. So I asked myself today – where am I out of alignment? Struggling to make ends meet causes so much undue stress that it affects all of my relationships, my clarity, peace and this little light of mine doesn’t shine.

Witnessing and supporting two lives come into this world this year made me also see that there is so much fear around not knowing. We often start in a hospital setting where we hand over our well-being from the get go to someone else. “Who should I be?” “What should I do?” “What’s wrong with me?” “I’m uncomfortable. Make it better.” No one holds authority over you though, absolutely no one knows better than you moment to moment.

If we don’t feel, if we don’t have the space to ask, then that’s the root of dis-ease.

A wise woman once looked me square in the eye and said- “You’re your teacher.” Some of the best postpartum and birth doulas I know are celebrated because they never tell the family what to do but they ask questions that lead them back to empowering choices. We can always make new choices and change our minds but knowing that we were the ones to do so makes all the difference.

I now have the choice of renewing Go Ask Ella’s hosting domain in the next week. Being a safe, real space to discuss ideas, current issues and concerns with wellness and relationship. Not sure if the site should stand. $75+ to maintain each year it’s been up and less than that has been donated to keep it running.

“By 2012 I intend to empower 5000 people to fall in love with themselves. in other news… food, sex, travel wisdom at your service.”

Did I reach my goal?

With over 20,000 visits to just the site alone not including my twitter feed, YouTube channel, Elephant Journal articles, workshops, women circles, over 200 complimentary support sessions via phone, skype or email.

I receive 1200+ word emails from askers who want a quick answer for their problems and I’ll tell you all now, there is no email reply I could ever give you that could act as a magic wand and poof! –all better.

Doing the work, inquiring and committing to taking care of yourself is a life-long journey that begins and ends wit you. There are thousands of people out there who will hold it down for you while you peel off your masks, it’s up to you to decide who you do that with. Who do you trust? Who do you feel you can be totally vulnerable and completely yourself with? Whether they’re friends, family, a therapist, a coach – what’s important is that you value the relationship, the exchange, the time, the richness of what unfolds because it will be a direct reflection of how much you value your self and that person or people.

I’m choosing to do what excites me and be paid well for my time, energy and heart (as we all should be).

Perhaps the Go Ask Ella chapter is coming to an end or perhaps it’s just the definition of what Go Ask Ella has been.

Posing questions, posting on Facebook, and sending email blasts haven’t really ruffled feathers or got much response. Even asking you questions as a new approach didn’t really take. And that may very well be because I’ve not really been throwing it down, slicing it up and serving up hot freshness.

Maybe by just laying it down today and being vulnerable will dust off the drawing board for me, for you, for “everyone”. ;-)

I leave you with this…

The world is a blank canvas, what do you want to paint?
Everything you see is a creation from someone’s doodling in their notebook or from a conversation they had with a friend or a spark of thought that emerged in a dream.
If life doesn’t look or feel good to you right now, what’s the first order of business to change that?

Be real, lay it down, get down to the heart of the matter and open up to what’s possible…

Just Get Tested

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The pricing of each test varies and includes your lab fees (which often aren’t covered by your doc’s office or insurance provider). Check it out: http://www.justgettested.com/

As a gift from me to you (and also the crew at Just Get Tested), here’s a discount code for 5% off of ANY test: EL05



P.S. I’ll be featured on their site twice a month offering tips on sexual health and communication. So feel free to send questions and ideas in that you would like to see addressed by yours truly.

Eat, Pray, Breathe…

Photo Courtesy of Amber Buck

Ashram exploration has become a hot topic since Elizabeth Gilbert‘s “Eat Pray Love” and more curious kittens are rolling up, yoga mat in hand then ever before.

There’s something romantic about the idea of turning to prayer, turning within and finding a deeper truth in the face of chaos.

In fact, for sometime, I envisioned a three month adventure to India with my best girlfriends but every year seemed to pass without so much as a peep of an om to get our tickets.

So when my mom called to share with me that she’d like to treat me to a stay at an ashram, I was fairly surprised.

“Where is it?”

“Grass Valley, just outside of Sacramento. I was thinking you could go for your birthday with your friends, it’s not exactly a vacation but it’d be something really incredible to share- don’t you think?”

Hmmm, well the gal pals and I were already headed to Mexico for my birthday but I just so happened to have a plane ticket to San Francisco the week of the next yoga retreat at the ashram.  With a groupon codein hand (I know, a groupon for an ashram?!?!?), I was en route to go get my prayer and yoga on.

The week leading up to my stay, I visited with family and friends, some of whom I’d not seen in anywhere from a year to three.  It was a strange time, I was saddened by the loss of our family pet, Max, who’d died unexpectedly shortly before my arrival.

R.I.P. little buddy

I had this homesick feeling, a deep sadness like something was about to change dramatically.  To make matters more heavy, strange and sad- there were three deaths of neighbors or friends of family while I was “home”.  I was followed by a hearse for the better part of an hour on the freeway and I had this sense of urgency, this keen awareness to really soak up the time I had with my loved ones.

So I did.  It was bittersweet and when I drove east towards the ashram I felt moved to make one last stop.  A sage in my life, someone who mentored me in my youth, a surrogate mother if you will, had recently been diagnosed with cancer.  She was beginning chemotherapy the week I began my stay at the ashram and she was on the way.  As I sat with her, my pictures framed alongside other family members I saw the girl I’d once been and how large of a gap there was between her and the woman I am now.  How could I even begin to express in an hour where I was, who I was, what I was doing in my life.  My words, my sentences seemed to be echoing from someone else’s mouth.

Finally, I just asked to sit with her on the couch.  She smelled the same, she looked the same, she laughed the same.  Was I so different?  Feisty as ever, I knew she knew she was going to be okay- it wasn’t her time to go yet but I felt regret.  I didn’t know when I’d see her again and I hid my tears.

With the day slipping away, I departed with kisses and hugs.  I had a few hours until sunset and dinner at the Yoga Farm.

Hot, dusty, moo-cow landscaped gravel roads wound around and around until I arrived at a gateway entering the ashram.

I was half-expecting everyone there to be robed, wearing japa (prayer beads) or at the very least one with the universe, i.e. mega blissful.


Upon arrival the staff was agitated, stressed and discombobulated.  Many of the yogis on site have remained to work through any number of issues to do work-study and having people skills isn’t a requirement.  In fact, their karma yoga is often to do the very thing they least enjoy and with a smile on their face.  Well, the “receptionist” was not digging his new role and shared he had just started the position this week.  And so it went, a bit of a free-for-all, “I’m not sure why but that’s how it is” mantra repeated over and over again.

I drove my things up to my humble little cabin for four, found that a bottom bunk remained and placed my things on it before heading back down for dinner.

The food was incredible, organic, ayurvedic, garden fresh and made with love.  WIth only two serving times a day, it was a challenge to refrain from piling heaps of the delicious yum on my plate.

Karma yoga, sacred service.  I was assigned kitchen duty under a young man  observing silence (I didn’t know, I just thought he was quiet).  No one else  was showing up to help but the plates, pans, pots and silverware  were. Cleaning up a meal made for forty is no joke.  90 minutes every day in the  hot sun baked kitchen wasn’t my first choice but it gave me peace of mind to  just focus on a task, and once I was given gloves- I was over the moon.

I had no time to think, I had no time to reflect on the meaning of life, there  was none.

We got up every morning to the sound of bells and the voice of a chosen staff  member (who wasn’t a morning person but did his best) calling out “Om Namah Shivaya 5:30″.  A quick run to the bathroom, shared by 12 to brush teeth and wash our faces and then down the hill I plunked towards the meditation hall.  Thirty minutes of silent, still meditation where I found my mind racing, my legs going numb and mosquitoes having a field day with my restful, warm limbs.  At least 30 minutes of kirtan (prayer chanting in sanskirt to the gods/archetypes of the soul), followed by 30 minutes (but often an hour) of satsanga, wisdom keeping company- where the swami would lecture on yoga philosophy.

My favorite pieces of this yoga pie were certainly kirtan and satsanga.  The concept was to raise our awareness, raise our vibration, elevate our consciousness with inspiring and enlightening thoughts as well as sounds.  Then yoga instruction would begin after a five minute break, two hours of only 12 asanas plus a whole lot of breathing.  In my yoga teacher’s training, we were pushed to the limit of what we thought possible with intensive drills for time.  Here, the teaching was relax yourself as much as possible to create trust and peace in your approach.  Night and day.  We would lie in savasana (corpse pose) for 5-10 minutes between each pose and have a final 20-30 minutes savasana to close the practice.

For many, yoga is about sweating and being in shape but here we embodied yoga- in everything we did, which was the whole point of Swami Sivananda’s teaching.  We cannot live peacefully without knowing peace within little by little in all that we do.

“Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realize.” – Swami Sivananda

And so it went…

Wake up, brush teeth, pee, meditate, kirtan, satsang, yoga class, brunch, karma yoga time, an hour free time (often shower time), open yoga for a two hour class outside on the deck, dinner, meditation, kirtan, satsang, brush your teeth and lights out.

The restfulness I had in having routine was profound.  It’s like knowing where your keys are, that they have a place and when you need them, you know where to find them.   Turning off my phone, having no computer- wow, that was a whole other form of vacation.  My eyes began to focus and enjoy the grounds, the heat was intense during the day but I found it penetrating my muscles and helping immensely during yoga.

I made a great number of friends in my beginner yoga group and it was really wonderful to be in the role of student again.

A Day At The River... Photo by Evan Oliver

On the last day, we were taught head stand- the one asana I’ve been attempting for seven years (and to no avail).  I was nervous, my heart starting pumping as we brought our bodies into v-shapes and walked our feet in towards our hands.  My back straightened directly in line with my head and my feet popped up, beginning to rise.  I was in half-hand stand and growing.  My mind all of a sudden realized what had happened without its consent and I shrieked, jumping out of it.

I’d made an agreement that it was impossible and here I was having done it.  My whole body shook.  I realized that all this time it hadn’t been a control issue as much as it had been a trust issue with myself.  I didn’t trust my body to know what to do, that it would know.

Our teacher was a bit type-A, a kindergarten teacher/Catholic missionary gone yogi-super-star.  She reminded me of me in some ways and that was painful.  A recovering perfectionist, it was hard to have a conversation with her without her getting defensive and re-routing the conversation back to “thanks be to God.” I didn’t want to ask for more help at that time so I just laid down in savasana to relax myself and come out of the mini-hyperventilation that had started.

For the rest of the class, my body jumped from fight to flight mode- it didn’t know what to do with itself.  I couldn’t hold any of the poses, it was bizarre.  When I finally listened and just stayed down, my heart began to pinch.  This immense grief that had been locked up started to pulse and tears streamed out of my eyes, dripping into my ears and I just stayed with it, breathing until it had passed.

Gently approaching yoga was something I hadn’t experienced in some time, the lineage I had followed before was fierce, warrior training (not unlike the military).  I felt myself soften and be reminded that tenderness, sweetness, softness is not to be mistaken as weakness.

During meditation, we were instructed to repeat a pure thought- Om – and pick one of two places to focus that attention in our bodies while silent.  We were instructed to choose either the point between the brows (the third eye) or the heart center.  Day one, I felt more resonance with my heart but I wanted to focus on what I considered to be more powerful- the brow, the mind, the intuition/intellect. Gee, I wonder why my mind was so active.  Ha!

So finally, on the last day I decided to own where my center was – my heart and it resounded with a breaking, a cracking, a trusting.

I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to stay for a month and just rest in these newfound awarenesses.  The permission slip to be present, lack distraction and communication with the outside world was a mighty temptation.  In the end, I knew it was time for me to go for now and that I would take my practices with me.

On my drive back into “civilization” I got lost and nearly wound up back at the ashram.  And then I got stuck in grid-lock traffic just outside of my mentor’s town.  I pulled off the highway and found a Whole Foods (and went a bit crazy with all the food).  I picked the most perfect, little yellow happy flowers in a pot that looked like they could withstand the 100+ degree heat and brought them to my mentor’s door.

I sat writing her everything I’d wanted to say but didn’t trust I knew how.  I wrote one of the kirtan chants that had meant so much to me and seemed utterly appropriate for her healing.  As I turned away from her doorstep, I smiled.  She already knew everything I’d wanted to say, she knew everything that she would soon read.  I was grateful for her presence in my life, for her wisdom and love.  I felt peace.

I’ve meditated every day since, maybe not for as long or as restfully but little by little.

My time at the ashram wasn’t so much eat, pray, love as it was breathe, trust and squish…  ;-)

Ella and Squish after Puja

by popular demand… this story is now published on Elephant Journal, too!

Check it out:  http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/08/eat-pray-breathe/ and like it, share it, re-post it if you enjoy it!