Gratitude from the Perspective of a Vegetarian American Expat Yogini

I first must begin today’s post by wishing all of my fellow Americans, expat or otherwise, a VERY Happy Thanksgiving! Every year at this time, a flood of memories come spilling into my mind of the lifetime of American Thanksgivings had before my husband and I jet-set to NZ 10 years ago. Thanksgiving Day at the Quail House (I was Quail before I became Allen!) always began with the smell of cinnamon rolls in the oven in the wee hours of the morning…they had to go in early in order to make space in the oven for the epic meal that would follow! My family and I would flop in front of the TV, cinnamon rolls in hand, to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, except for the year that I was dancing IN the parade, at which time we froze our buns off on the streets of New York City! My Mom and I would banter on about which Broadway Show performances were particularly stellar in between hopping up to begin the preparation for the big feast! It is hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t sat down to an American Thanksgiving, but it is less of a meal per say, and more of an EXPERIENCE…one that generally requires a few days of fasting in the lead-up and a reasonable detox on the end…whew! Of course, by American standards, Thanksgiving also marks the kick-off of the Holiday Season, a tradition that I have carried forth amongst my wee little family : )

For a few reasons I suppose, I haven’t really managed to uphold the modern traditions of Thanksgiving with my husband and children, in part due to the fact that we don’t have the entire week off to plan, cook and digest the huge meal! Perhaps another reason would be that I haven’t yet managed to find a replacement meal to the ‘star of the dish’, the Turkey, and the idea of molding a lump of tofu into the shape of a Thanksgiving Turkey doesn’t tickle my fancy. And Lastly, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade doesn’t air in New Zealand, so my favorite of all of the traditions was lost amongst the airwaves.

However, as has happened with SO many holidays and traditions, the meaning behind Thanksgiving has been partially swallowed up by supermarket mayhem, American football madness, and the absolute chaos that is Black Friday! The true meaning of Thanksgiving lies within the principles of family, community, and GRATITUDE.

For me Thanksgiving is an apt time to reflect on the big and small joys in my life. It is a time to gain perspective on just how fortunate we are, even when sometimes we are easily clouded by the haze of first world problems. Sadly, today, it is also one of those times in the year that I am painfully reminded of the thousands of miles that separate me from the Quail Family.

This year has been really hard, on the Quails and the Allen’s, monumental actually. My Mom’s battle with Cancer has brought us all to our knees, but her strength has shone an incredibly powerful light within the darkness. Watching a dear friend suffer greatly the loss of the love of her life has reminded me that life is so damn short, and SO damn precious. The emotional ups and downs this year have left me feeling like I am on a perpetual theme park ride, I do hope that 2019 brings a steadier energy, and it seems that many people have had similar experiences this year…big life moments that have asked us to tune in to the small things that remind us that even though darkness has an insatiable hunger, the call to lightness is audible if we find stillness and open our ears.

So, as I sit reflecting on the true meaning of Thanksgiving, despite the mountains that 2018 has built for myself and those closest to me, what AM I GRATEFUL for today? My Mom, who is about to ring the bell and begin the new phase of her cancer-free journey! My Dad, who has been her rock, her mountain through it all. My husband, for never giving up on me, even though I have handed him a doozy of a year. My children, for seeing the light, ALWAYS, and filling the house with so much Aroha. My TRIBE, the YAY Brigade, for standing strong with me, or at the very least, not leaving me on the roller coaster by myself! My extended family and friends, whom have all made a presence in my life in special ways this year. My amazing Yoga community, for trusting me to lead them along this phase of their journey. My gorgeous wee pug, for being an unconditionally loyal and faithful friend. And lastly, I am grateful for the tiny moments…the walks on the beach, the warm cups of tea, the beauty of this land, every moment of light that has shone brightly in my heart this year, as a reminder of how sweet life can be.

My beautiful wee family, The Allens, we will sit together tomorrow for a meal, it may be Dahl and rice rather than turkey and stuffing, but regardless, we will talk about Gratitude. I will ask my children what they are grateful for, and remind them that we have food in our tummy’s and love in our hearts, which is all that we really need. So whether you are American or not, or Thanksgiving is a ritual in your world or not, perhaps this is a time of reflection for you. What are YOU Grateful for? Many Blessings to you and yours, and Peace to all beings.

What does TRUE CONTENTMENT look like?

This question came to me this morning as I quietly pondered what to share with my beautiful community today in terms of insight. The answer is an absolute mystery to me if I was to be really honest!

Santosha, or true inner contentment is a thousands-year old concept, and according to the yogic tradition, an integral part of our path to freedom.

What I seem to notice in myself, my partner, my children, and seemingly…ALL of humanity, is that we are bound by a lifetime of searching, as we seek the answer to the question, Will I ever truly be happy?

We are always being told that happiness is not achieved by acquiring material possessions, but somehow we do still crave the feelings of joy that are born out of acquisition, whether its new tights or a new house! In addition, we are somehow clouded by the belief that these material possessions will perhaps lead to the attraction towards the perfect job, the perfect friends, the perfect partner, the perfect life.

So why is it that no matter how seemingly ‘perfect’ our life may be, we are always seeking more? I suppose it is in part due to the pressure brought upon us by society to meet the status quo, to keep up with the Kardashians so to speak! And I also believe that perception can be very deceiving, in terms of seeing what others have and assuming that surely because they have those things, or that job, or that partner, or that ‘street cred,’ that they must be way happier than I.

I had an experience earlier today in the shopping mall (yikes!) which is ALL ABLAZE with Christmas decor, and chocka full of holiday ‘must haves.’ Boy, the advertising agencies have most certainly capitalized on the market of ‘this will buy you happiness.’ This year at Christmas, we have decided in our house to relish in the simplicities of life, and attempt to remind our children that the true meaning of the holiday season doesn’t lie within the overmarketed, overpriced sparkly attractions at the shopping center!

As this year winds down, and 2019 lies in the wake, I am left, pondering, the answer to finding the sense of true happiness within me. 2018 has been a bear of a year, I will be thrilled to bid it a fond good riddance! But as I look ahead, I realize that contentment can’t always be something that we search for, but rather, something that we sit with in the present moment.

So perhaps take some time today, or tomorrow, or on the weekend to sit, in gratitude, with the simple joys in your life…maybe they DO equate to true contentment…maybe the answer to the question is right under our nose.

Shedding Light on Expectation

I have come to realize that most of us, myself included, tend to carry expectation around us like a backpack. I often ponder whether expectation has grown as an epidemic over time alongside the rapid pace of modern society. Did we as human beings always succumb to the constant state of ‘SHOULD-ING’ that we force upon ourselves nowadays? Or perhaps is is just that, in general, the more that we DO, the more we or others expect that we CAN DO…like Energizer Bunnies! (Going….and Going…and GOING!)

I have come to notice in myself lately my sensitivity to expectation, sometimes put upon me by others, but mostly, with myself. A prime example of this: as I was laying out the happenings of my day in my head today, I ran through my list of To-Do’s…teach Yoga at 9:30, attend Pilates at midday, fit in a walk on the beach (for body and soul), daily administrative tasks, and sitting down to write my blog. Now, most people would say that is far too much to fit in before the 3pm school pickup, but I was sure that I could do it, despite the woes of exhaustion and lackluster from being the first day of my moon cycle. At that moment…my head said YES but my heart said ‘stroll on the beach, chai latte and a vegan cupcake, and how about a pedicure?’ Well, sans the pedicure my heart won in the end, but not before all out battle in my mind in the parking lot of the Pilates studio! Interesting how guilt and expectation travel around like best buddies, playing ping pong with your ego at so many moments in the day. In that moment I realized that no one else was going to judge me for letting go of the parts of my day that weren’t going to serve me, it was only me staring failure in the face for not being able to maintain the ‘super-human’ like standard I was putting on myself. (As an ambitious person by nature, this is an attribute that I really have to watch out for in myself.)

After many years of succumbing to expectation on my Yoga mat, I finally let that go completely a few years ago, and I have to admit, it was one of the most liberating moments along my Yoga journey to date. I can honestly admit that I am able to come to my mat, my safe and sacred space, and truly allow myself to do WHATEVER comes to me in the moment. I love to instill this permission in my students as well, even in a class setting, feeling into whatever is serving you in the moment, despite what is being offered into the shared space…your body, your yoga. The Yoga mat is a great place to explore this dissipation of expectation, as our mats are the mirror into the lives that we lead out in our world.

It is obvious to me that my journey with expectation is still very much a work in progress. In order to free ourselves from the reigns of expectation and guilt, we must be willing to drown out the constant chatter from our ego about conforming to what society expects of us, giving in to the fear of missing out, and make informed choices about what we do with our time. Because the power of CHOICE is always there for us, we just have to be willing to live our truth, even if our truth travels in a different direction to someone else, or everyone else! So the next time you find yourself at the cross-roads of choice, see what happens if you tell expectation to take a hike, and take his friend guilt along too, dissipate the words ‘I SHOULD’ and trust the unfolding into the truth of the moment…let go, and see what happens. I promise, the universe, and your heart, won’t steer you wrong.

Self-Care Is Not An Indulgence But Rather A Necessity

Somehow, modern society, particularly in the Western World, has taught us that Self-Care is defined as an indulgence. We are scrutinized and judged by our busy, over stressed peers for taking time to step away from the rigorous routine of daily life to fill up our energy bucket. I still remember the look of horror on one of my student’s faces when I shared with her that I, even her yoga teacher, guiltlessly ‘indulge’ in the odd piece of chocolate! For me, this is not a guilty pleasure…but rather a small joy that reminds me that sometimes the window to the soul resides in the tummy!

Whatever it may be…that wee little morsel of chocolate, a warm bath, a cup of tea, 10 minutes of chillax time with your favorite song blaring in your earbuds, or a walk on the beach, these sneaky little moments of our day are the yin to our yang. Let’s face it, if we allow ourselves to continually wallow in a deep sea of stress, emails, and work and family obligations, our sense of ‘me’ can get very easily lost.

For me, Yoga has always been a means of self-care, and when I truly began to see the clarity of this concept, all of the layers of expectation of what I should be ‘doing’ on my mat dissolved away. Mind you, because Yoga is also my livelihood, I sometimes have to seek other forms of self-care to escape the gravity of the working mind. Some of my fave rituals include walking Takapuna Beach with my Pug, George, vegging out in front of Netflix with my feet in my foot spa (Grand Designs is my current binge!), cooking really yummy food (providing I don’t have to tend to the mess that I make in the kitchen!), and LONG lie-ins in bed with numerous cups of tea.

Whatever your ‘poison,’ remember…it is not poisonous. My hope through the work that we do on our yoga mats is that we can shed any layers of guilt around self-care, because we deserve it. So take the time, today, tomorrow, and every day from there, to stop, check in, ask yourself when last you stepped out of ‘life,’ even for just a few moments…no excuses! None of us HAVE time, so you have to MAKE time…even 10 minutes to savour the sweetness of the simple joys in life…it counts.

Your Yoga Teacher Is Just Like You...a few words on Authenticity.

Authenticity is a ‘HOT’ topic in the Yoga Community right now, and as a Yoga Teacher and Teacher Trainer it is one of the core values of my work, and one that I instill into my blossoming new teachers. Yoga in the modern day has become quite a fickle industry, and can seem confusing and even perhaps hypocritical at the best of times! Are the tights you are wearing made of sustainable materials? Are you a yogi who consumes dares sneak a cheeky sip of wine, are you REALLY in a constant state of Zen? When was the last time you juice-fasted? Is your guru an Indian Sage or an American Yoga Celebrity…YIKES! Not to worry, the constant push-pull to be the holiest of yogis whilst owning a business and parenting kids in the urban jungle of the city drives me mental as well. Thank You to all of the well-meaning yogis who say to me…’Your a Yoga Teacher, you must be Zen ALL of the time, I would love to be as ‘GOOD‘ at Yoga as you!’

Here is the reality yogis…Just because we are passionate and devoted to sharing in the practices of Yoga as a teacher doesn’t mean that we didn’t come to Yoga BECAUSE the practices called out to us in our times of darkness. I really love this lyric from a fave Indigo Girls Tune: ‘Darkness has a hunger that’s Insatiable, and Lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.’ I found yoga for so many reasons, but one very distinct reason was because of my long-term relationship with Anxiety. The stresses of a performing career, a move across the world, becoming a new mother, and launching a business have definitely taken their toll on me over the years, but like my most loyal and devoted friend Yoga has always been there to catch me, to support me, to heal me, and to shine the mirror of truth on me…which is sometimes hard to see! The words that I speak on my teaching mat, they are born of the experiences of transformation that I have witnessed on my own mat, when the dark call of stress and sadness loom over. The other half of my life outside of the yoga studio involves the stimulation of city life, my gorgeously noisy children, the upkeep of a marriage and a house, finances, activities, social obligations, etc, etc, etc. I come to my mat as SOLICE from the busy-ness and stimulation of daily life, and as a teacher, I come to my mat to fill up my own bucket with wisdom and understanding, so that I can share it with you.

We can stress ourselves silly trying to be the best YOGI that we can be, and within the industry of Yoga these pressures are real. But really yogis, if you are arriving on your mat, despite whatever state of being you are in, and you are willingly dropping in to your practice from a place of self-love and devotion, you ARE the best yogi, living your authenticity, the good, the bad, and the ugly. And in that moment, you are seated, present, in your own perfection.

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 30

What ‘Talent or Skill’ Do I Have That I am Grateful For Today?

 

I have always been grateful for special skill that I have had for as long as I can remember (which is quite far back!) I have a photographic memory, which means I can remember things that happened many year ago, I can remember random things like phone numbers and license plates, and I can retain things that I learn very quickly. This was particularly useful in the theater, as I could remember lines, lyrics and choreography really easily! I have discovered that my daughter is exactly the same as me because when I quiz her on her weekly spelling words she can tell me by memory if I am giving her words out of order! Cheeky Monkey xxx - Jennifer Allen

 

What ‘Talent or Skill’ Do YOU Have That YOU are Grateful For Today?

 

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 29

What ‘Friend/Family Member’ am I Grateful For Today?

 

I am so grateful for having the most amazing tribe of friends a girl could possibly ask for! After a lot of years of fluctuating friendships through the ages and stages of young adult life, I feel lucky to have finally landed on a group of women that understand, support and inspire me. I love you Leanne, Amy and Tania, and I am so lucky to have you in my life.- Jennifer Allen

 

What ‘Friend/Family Member’ are YOU Grateful For Today?

 

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 28

What ‘Small Thing That Happened Today’ am I Grateful For?

 

Every Mother dreams of the day when her child will come out with the unprompted ‘I LOVE YOU.’ My 4-year old son Theo has just started doing this quite regularly, and every time it absolutely melts my heart! He is such a beautiful wee soul with a huge golden heart.- Jennifer Allen

 

 

What ‘Small Thing That Happened Today’ are YOU Grateful For?

 

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 27

What ‘Small Thing That I Use Daily’ am I Grateful For?

 

Ironically, I am grateful for my gratitude journal! Using gratitude and affirmation to surround myself with positive energy has been an incredible tool to manage my anxiety, and aid with the daily ups and downs that come with the stress of being a busy, working Mum. I have also inspired my 7 year old daughter to start a gratitude journal, so it is something that we share every evening together.- Jennifer Allen

 

What ‘Small Thing That I Use Daily’ are YOU Grateful For?

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 26

What ‘Form of Expression’ am I Grateful for Today?

 

I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to express myself through movement, something that I have known all of my life and started at a very young age. I may have traded in my ballet shoes for my yoga mat, but I find that my practice is my sacred space of expression, where I can have any experience that comes to me in that moment.- Jennifer Allen

 

What ‘Form of Expression’ are YOU Grateful for Today?

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 25

What ‘Moment This Week’ am I Grateful for Today?

 

I get tears in my eyes every time I see my daughter perform with her Kapa Haka group, they performed this week at the Onepoto Festival. I can see the pride in her eyes knowing that she is honoring the Maori culture, and that it is in her blood, and that she is part of this amazing land. I could not be more proud of my little kiwi.- Jennifer Allen

 

What ‘Moment This Week’ are YOU Grateful for Today?

 

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 24

What ‘Challenge’ am I Grateful for Today?

 

Haha! Actually…I am grateful for the CHALLENGE that has been keeping up with posting #30daysofgratitude every day for 30 days!!! This has been a 30 day challenge in itself for me, but it has also prompted me to draw awareness each day into the simple things that make life oh so sweet, I hope you have enjoyed this practice as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you.- Jennifer Allen

 

What ‘Challenge’ are YOU Grateful for Today?

 

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 23

What ‘Tradition’ am I Grateful For Today?

 

Now that I have my own little family to set traditions with, I am grateful that ‘tradition’ in general was a big part of my upbringing. My parents helped our family to establish strong traditions around our holidays. A favorite of mine, which we carry on in our family today, is the day that we get our Christmas tree. We always decorate the tree while we bake cookies and listen to Christmas songs, and then kick off the season with a Christmas film. My favorite has to be ‘Elf’ or ‘National Lampoons Christmas Vacation!’- Jennifer Allen

 

What ‘Tradition’ are YOU Grateful for Today?

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 22

What ‘Story’ am I Grateful For Today?

 

‘The Story of Us.’ I am grateful for the story of my life’s journey so far…my performing career, my yoga journey, my journey with love, marriage, travel, and children. There are so many memories deeply imprinted that I wish that I could have it captured in my own epic novel!- Jennifer Allen

 

What ‘Story’ are YOU Grateful For?

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 21

What ‘Song’ am I Grateful for Today?

 

I am so grateful for the mantra that I use every day in my meditation…’RA MA DA SA SA SAY SO HUNG.’ I use Snatnam Kaur’s version of this mantra, which facilitates healing on all levels of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies. – Jennifer Allen

 

What ‘Song’ are YOU Grateful For Today?

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 20

Who ‘In My Life’ am I Grateful For Today?

 

I am so grateful for my partner, Cam. He is by best mate, the love of my life, and the father of our gorgeous children. He is so supportive of my dreams, and is incredibly dedicated to our family. He is creative and thrifty around the house, and always knows how to make me laugh when I am taking myself too seriously. I am the luckiest lady in the world to have him by my side.- Jennifer Allen

 

Who ‘In Your Life’ are YOU Grateful for Today?

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 19

What ‘Touch’ am I Grateful for Today?

 I am grateful for the warm, soft cuddles that I have every evening with my wee little pug, George. He has the softest, silkiest fur, and LOVES to nuzzle into my lap at the end of the day. The unconditional love that comes from the fur babies in our life is absolute BLISS.- Jennifer Allen

What ‘Touch’ are YOU Grateful for Today?

 

 

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 18

What ‘Piece of Art’ am I Grateful for Today?

 

I am grateful for every piece of art that my beautiful children have made for me! My daughter in particular loves to draw, and loves to make cards. I have several of her ‘masterpieces’ hanging up beside my bed, on the refrigerator, and in my office. Each is so expressive and so beautiful in its own way.- Jennifer Allen

 

What ‘Piece of Art’ are YOU Grateful For Today?

 

 

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 17

What ‘Knowledge’ am I Grateful For Today?

 

This year in May I will turn 37 years young! As a yogi, I am considered quite young to be in the role that I am in. Because my journey took me into the subtle nuances of the body early on in my teaching career, I feel grateful that I have the tools and the knowledge to look after mine and my students’ bodies in a way that is safe and functional. Yoga is a global phenomenon at the moment, but as a new yogi coming to  the mat it must feel so overwhelming to try to find the right class, teacher and experience to suit your needs.- Jennifer Allen

 

What ‘Knowledge’ are YOU Grateful For Today?

 

 

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 16

What ‘About Your Body’ am I Grateful for Today?

 

EVERYTHING! Wow, my body has never let me down. A successful career in professional dance followed by the ability to create 2 beautiful children, and now the ability to move and breathe through my practice…what a gift. I thank the universe every single day for this body of mine, and all of its ‘perfect’ imperfections’…a few loose ligaments in my hips from dance, a bit of lower back disc degeneration from my years of ballet, and a handful of stretch marks and battle wounds from making babies…ah well! All a testament to moments having truly LIVED.- Jennifer Allen

 

 What ‘About Your Body’ are YOU Grateful for Today?