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Guest Posts, motherhood, Yoga

The Impulse To Breathe

April 2, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Wendy Fontaine.

As soon as one contraction ended, another began. The pain erupted from beneath my hip bones and a twisting, angry heat spread in all directions: up into my hardened belly, down to my bare legs, and out through my arms to my fingers, which were clenched into fists at my chin.

I asked the midwife, Renata, when I could have something, anything, for the pain. I had always expected that, when the time came, there would be some kind of medication. But labor rarely goes as planned, and in the moment – that wretched, unbearable moment – there was nothing safe for me to take. My baby girl was lying on her umbilical cord, and every time I had a contraction, her body and my body squeezed against the cord in a deadly embrace that pinched her only connection to oxygen. Drugs might have slowed, or even stopped, her natural impulse to breathe on her own once she was born.

Renata held my hand and rubbed my back. She pressed a cool cloth to my forehead, while I wondered if my child would survive. With each spasm, I filled my lungs and exhaled, over and over, like a surfer riding wave after wave.

I had learned how to breathe five years earlier, in a yoga class I signed up for after the World Trade Center towers burned and crumbled before our collective eyes. I had been a newspaper reporter then, writing stories about the people who died and the spouses and children they left behind. Quickly, the stories of loss had all become too much to bear. The images of people jumping from burning skyscrapers had taken my breath away. I wanted to go inward, to shut my eyes for a while. So I found a yoga studio, where the walls were the color of Nantucket hydrangeas and the candles smelled like lavender.

The teacher, Karen, was a petite woman with a soft voice and a graceful manner. She moved deliberately, with more awareness than I had ever seen in one person. Near the front of the studio classroom, I unrolled my mat alongside the other students and sat cross-legged, waiting for something I couldn’t name. Inner peace. Serenity. I didn’t know what.

The first thing Karen showed us was how to slow our breath by matching the lengths of our inhalations and our exhalations. Pranayama, she called it. Controlling the life force. It felt unnatural at first, but after a few moments, breathing seemed more like undulating – smooth and rhythmic, circular and endless. I could feel it and hear it. I could trust it.

I went back every Saturday, settled onto my mat and found that familiar pattern. We moved through the asanas, or poses. Some were challenging; others seemed nearly impossible. Just breathe, Karen reminded us. The trick was to keep a steady breath even when things got tough – when the room was hot, when our muscles were tired, when our minds were telling us to quit. Breathe in and out. Be full, then empty. Take it in and let it go. Continue Reading…

Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts

Dear Life: I Have No Idea What I’m Doing With My Life.

February 11, 2015


Hello from London! Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by author Sukey Forbes.

Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. ps, I will see you in Atlanta in a couple weeks followed by NYC! 

Dear Life,

I’m writing to you, whoever you may be, in hopes that you are in possession of a road map for life that I could borrow. A step-by-step list of directions for how to achieve a happy life: get this degree, live in this place, get this job, marry this person, have x number of kids, die happily on this day. Or maybe none of those things, I don’t know. I’m not saying that I have an unhappy life- that is not the case. In truth I have nothing to complain about. And I shouldn’t complain anyway because as Teddy Roosevelt said, “complaining about something without offering a solution is called whining”, or something like that. I live in Barcelona, an amazing city, I teach private English classes, which is a pretty painless job, and I spend much of my time with good people, drinking wine and enjoying the Spanish life. Doesn’t sound bad right?

My problem is that I left my life, job, friends and family in America behind six months ago to come to Europe and “find myself” and now that my time here is almost half done, I find that I spend most of it in a constant state of anxiety that I haven’t really found myself at all, or that I haven’t found the right version of myself, or that I’ve actually just wasted a year of my life and all my money living illegally in a foreign country and achieving absolutely nothing. And that is my biggest fear. That my time here won’t mean anything, won’t have been the life-changing experience I thought it would be, and that when I go home, nothing will have changed.

All my friends and family say how proud they are of me for taking this risk and that they are so jealous of my life living in an amazing city in Europe and that this will be the best time of my life. But I’m scared that this isn’t the best time of my life, or that I’m trying to force it to be that. I feel like if I don’t come home having made some epiphany about my dream career, or with a new boyfriend, or some life-changing revelation about myself, that it will seem like I have failed in some way. And I don’t really feel that I can talk to my friends and family about what I’m going through because it will be like admitting that I can’t do it alone or that maybe this whole thing was a mistake.

I know in my heart that this is all wrong- that my time here is a life experience like everything else and that I should stop worrying about what it all means and just spend what little time I have here enjoying myself. But my head is hell-bent on worrying and obsessing and planning and all-in-all making my life full of anxiety and dread for the future.

I guess I kind of think of this year as my last hurrah as a “kid” before I go back to the real world, buckle down, get a big-girl job and start looking for someone to marry. But maybe that’s not what I want. Maybe I want to keep travelling, live in another country, work at a bar, date lots of people I have no intention of marrying, etc. Maybe I want to be Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love and eat lots of spaghetti and then ride off into the sunset (literally) in Bali with a handsome Brazilian man. But is that realistic? I think maybe not.

I also can’t help but think how much farther I am falling behind my friends in the game of life. Every month I’m here “finding myself” they are getting promotions and raises, saving money, buying houses, becoming fiancées and wives and mothers. How do I stop comparing myself to everyone else and what other people have? I want to be content with my life and where I am and what I am doing, but I don’t know how to do it.

I’m sure I am not the only twenty-something in the history of the world to not know what they are doing with their life and I hope this letter reaches someone who may have had a similar experience and has some insight to offer. Or at the very least, a kind word of encouragement.

Thank you!



Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it!

Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Books, Guest Posts, Meditation

How I Meditated My Way From Panic to Peace.

September 23, 2014


 By Priscilla Warner.

When I was fifteen years old, I suffered my first terrifying panic attack, while I was a “townie” working as a waitress at the Brown University cafeteria in Providence, Rhode Island.

I thought I was having a heart attack. One minute I was dishing out peas to hordes of bored young students, and then, suddenly, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My heart raced and flopped around in my chest, my lungs convulsed, I turned hot and cold, shaking head to toe, and my throat began to close.

Was I dying? I wasn’t sure.

Was I going crazy? That was possible.

Mental illness ran through my family like wildfire. My father had been diagnosed as manic depressive, his brother was in and out of mental hospitals all his life, and my namesake, a favorite cousin, grew up to become a homeless schizophrenic woman.

I thought mental illness was contagious.

I rushed home from work and a family doctor was called to our house. He diagnosed me as being “a little bit nervous,” and prescribed Librium, the tranquilizer taken mostly by American housewives twice my age in the 1960s.

I thought I was a freak. The word “panic attack” wasn’t even used back in those days. It certainly wasn’t a term that girls my age had ever heard of. Neither was anxiety.

  Continue Reading…

Beating Fear with a Stick, Inspiration

Listen: This Is Your LIfe.

February 24, 2013

I am about to drown. There’s a tidal wave. I am in someone’s house or apartment and the ocean is rushing through windows and walls. There’s water rising. The fear is imminent. I am about to die.

I wake up. Sometimes I am soaked from sweating in my sleep and sometimes I am upright in my bed as if I’d never even laid down to begin with a few hours prior, as if I simply sat in bed with closed eyes and let the water come charging at me. As if I said I don’t need to lie down to drown.

Sometimes I wake shivering. When you sweat in your sleep you wake up freezing. A wet dog.

Maybe the water wasn’t actually my sweat. Maybe my dreams are so powerful that they sneak through whatever dream-barrier exits and enter my body like a thief. I taste it to double check. It’s salty. Sea water? Sweat? Who’s to say?

I wake up before I die each time. I remember those old myths I would hear as a kid. You can’t die in your dreams. I don’t know. Who’s to say? I am mostly drowning in them.

The cliché gets to me. How can I have such an uninteresting clichéd recurring nightmare? I am ashamed of my mind’s lack of creativity when it comes to this.

I’ve had this dream, or a version of this dream for as long as I can remember. I’m drowning.

I don’t understand where all this water is coming from or how I can stop it from swallowing me. I don’t understand the sky or the sea or which is which in these dreams. I look up and down but there are no clues as to which is the sky and which is not. It doesn’t matter. It’s after me.

Last night, as my husband kissed me, I started to have a panic attack. Babe! I snapped, are you trying to suffocate me? My heart started beating and I felt the water rising. I was dying and he wouldn’t stop until I pushed him away. I felt horrible immediately but the drowning was real I am not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t pushed him away.

His best friend and cousin died last week, the same day as Ronan. Ronan was 2 and a half and Amir was in his fifties. Ronan had been suffering and his parents had been watching him die for 2 years. Amir was driving a tow truck and had had a heart attack. He died before he crashed it into a parked car, his wife, in St. Louis, sat waiting for him to text him back.

I wasn’t there for my husband (or for Ronan’s mother Emily Rapp) as I was leading my retreat in Maui but I know it was incredibly hard for him. The wife flew out and wailed in his arms as he drove them around the city and to the coroner’s office and to eat Persian sandwiches in Westwood.

So last night, when he was kissing me, I got that he was expressing his relief that I was still a person in the world. That I had not gone and he would prove it by smothering me. I felt bad for saying that to him and he said Well, I was smothering you a bit.

He was.

The thing is, I always have a problem with kissing. I used to think it was an intimacy thing but it’s not. I don’t know what I believe in when it comes to past lives but I feel like I can’t breathe when someone’s mouth is on mine. I am dying. Water is rushing at me and I am falling into a pillow or there is a pillow on my face and finally Oh My God! I can’t breathe!

Don’t read into it too much. I wasn’t sexually abused or anything like that. I have to be kissed in just the right most perfect way so that I don’t feel like I am drowning.

Hugging makes me feel safe and kissing makes me feel like dying most of the time.

I woke up feeling so guilty this morning. Apologizing over coffee. Hugging my husband. Kissing his face. My husband understands me and hopefully didn’t take it personally but it was a pure unadulterated panic attack last night. The sea water was in my throat. My lungs collapsed. I was gone.

Why do we take on so much all the time? So many things that don’t belong to us. So many oceans.

That ocean rushing at me business, that’s my life. I think it’s going to eat me sometimes. Or sometimes I think I am trying to swallow it all at once and you absolutely cannot do that. It’s too much. You have to pause and breathe.

And breathe.

And breathe.

So maybe there is no past life drowning and no claustrophobia. Maybe there is just I am not breathing because if I breathe this will all go away or if I breathe this will all come so fast and I won’t be able to control it.

You cannot control the ocean.

I save myself in my tidal waves dream but oftentimes I can’t save my sister or my mom. My dad is never in them. I don’t know if it means I have forgotten him or that he doesn’t need saving. Regardless, he is absent. I save myself but I cannot save my family from the ocean.

You cannot control the ocean or the life or the family.

You cannot save anyone.

I shoot up in my bed and feel my arms and they are there and my husband’s body and he is awake because I am awake. I’ve had a nightmare. Everyone is drowning. I can’t save anyone.

The magic words: I love you. You are not drowning. You are safe. Do not worry about anything. You are safe he says.

Yesterday I sent out a newsletter which wasn’t really a newsletter but rather my essay I had written on the plane Friday night called What Will Never Go Up In Smoke. It went viral on Facebook and I thought I would share with my mailing list. I got some heartfelt and beautiful responses. One woman said that my writing always made her want to do better. (Wow!) Then, I got an email from someone in the spiritual community that simply said one word. Unsubscribe. (Wow!)

And there it is. I am about to drown. There’s a tidal wave. I am in someone’s house or apartment and the ocean is rushing through windows and walls. There’s water rising. The fear is imminent. I am about to die. I can’t wake up because I am awake.

I am awake.

I breathe. I breathe and after a while the fear is gone. The hurt is there but the fear is gone. It didn’t kill me, that one little word. It felt mean and hurtful but I didn’t die. I sat staring at my phone feeling embarrassed but I didn’t die. I pinched myself a little and it was as it always was: I was human. I was still there on my bed, my messy blankets and pillows and books and I was still human. I hadn’t been turned to stone by that word nor had it suffocated me.

The fear must have gotten trapped in my body as it was looking for a way out. Last night when my husband was kissing me and I felt like I was drowning, it was because the fear had nowhere to go.

My body was afraid it would always know that fear.

But then he is saying You are safe.

And I was. I was in my bed, safe. And the word unsubscribe was just a word and the ocean was 9 blocks away and anyone I love has to save themselves and fear is a goddamned bastard.

The imminent fear. Of drowning. Of people not surviving. Of what others think. Of breathing. Of living. Of dying. It’s everywhere, really. If you look.

It’s as big as the ocean and beyond and it will get you if you stop paying attention.

Listen: that is your breath. Listen: that is my breath. Listen: that is the wind.

Listen. This is your life.


Guest Posts, How To, Inspiration

Breathe Free! Journey to Becoming Smoke-Free

June 4, 2012
Click photo of rachel to read MindBodyGreen post

My sister Rachel, who I am so very proud of, just got published on the fab MindBodyGreen. Couldn’t be happier! Her article is about her journey to being smoke-free. She hasn’t lit up in 3 whole months after years and years of being a smoker. I am so happy! Please take a moment and read the post and comment to support her.

My Journey to Breathing Freely

By Rachel Pastiloff

I don’t know if it was the wrinkles in my face. Or maybe it was the smell on my clothes. Or maybe, just maybe, it was that I am 34 years old now, only 4 years younger than my dad when he died. He smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day. No I didn’t smoke that many. But smoking any cigarettes is hurtful to your body.

I am in the midst of yoga teacher training right now and we are studying the yoga sutras. There is one that stuck with me like bubble gum that I couldn’t get out of my hair. {AHIMSA; NON-VIOLENCE} How can you practice non-violence towards yourself when you smoke? Every time you have a cigarette you are quietly assaulting your body…..

Click here to finish reading and to comment to support her.

Click photo of rachel to read MindBodyGreen post

PS, she is a yoga teacher now in Atlanta and will be assisting my October 19-21 Manifestation Yoga® Retreat to Ojai. Sign up here.