New retreat at Kripalu in Massachusetts: Writing & Yoga for Anxiety

The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health is an incredibly special place to me. It's where I did my 200-hour yoga certification, where I made some life-long friends, and where I found a new little piece of myself as a teacher.

And now I'm beyond honored to be teaching a workshop there! It's called Embrace Your Weird: Yoga, meditation, and writing to manage anxiety. Join me in Lennox, Massachusetts, March 30 - April 1st for a weekend of creativity, connection, and fun. We'll play with writing exercises and we'll practice some yoga. We'll talk about tangible ways to understand your inner critic, increase compassion for yourself and others, and access the joy within that often feels smothered by stress.

Never done any yoga? Never written anything other than email? No problem. This weekend is totally beginner-friendly.

Click on this link to get more information on the workshop and to sign up. Please contact me if you have any questions. And if you want to come, but you're feeling totally anxious about going to a workshop about anxiety, I'm happy to talk you through that. :)

I'd love to see you at Kripalu!

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What do you say?

"You have great hair." I was putting down my yoga mat at the studio. I turned to the woman who had spoken to me, she was sitting on the floor, stretching. I had never met her before.

"Pardon me?" I asked.

"You have great hair."

My hair had been up in a ponytail all morning because I had been writing - fighting, really - a troublesome section of my new book and so now that my hair was out long, it had that weird kink in the middle where I had secured the elastic too tight. As I was writing, I had thought maybe the words would come more easily if I could feel some air on the back of my neck. It hadn't really worked.

My last haircut was seven months ago. I've recently started using this special shampoo in an attempt to combat my eternally oily scalp and it leaves the ends of my hair feeling dry. But I hadn't even washed my hair in two days.

I considered telling her all that. I wanted to explain why she was wrong and list all the ways in which my hair was not at all "great." I thought I'd tell her how I always wanted to have straight, blonde, angel-hair thin strands that hung passively to my shoulders, not the wild curls that make their own decisions about where they are going. I was about to tell her that my dark hair is increasingly streaked with grey and, while I don't take issue with the color, I do not understand why those hairs are a different texture and they stand straight up in the air - as if they are waving in the landing of middle age, directly upon my head.

But then I looked at her, staring up at me, offering me a smile and this kindness.

What do you say?  We ask little kids when they are given a gift.

Thank you. They recite.

When did we forget what to say? When did we get so full of self-doubt and self-hatred and whatever else this is that masquerades as humility? It's not humility when we reject someone else's gift of kindness. It's not modesty when we shut down someone's attempt at connection because we are unable to get over ourselves and our insecurities. It's just rude.

Maybe it was something about being in a yoga studio that reminded me to be grateful. Yoga has a funny way of doing that. So instead of taking her compliment and bashing it into the ground with all these bullshit issues about beauty and femininity, I said:

"Thank you. You made my day."

As I was walking out of class, I said to the woman in front of me:

"I love your leggings."

She shook her head, "Oh, no, they're cheap. I just got them from that consignment place downtown."

"I really don't care - you look super cute."

She grinned at me and laughed.

"Well, thank you."

Maybe someday, we'll all remember what to say.

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Embrace Your Weird event tonight in Virginia

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 8.02.31 AM Hi all,

I'm thrilled to be giving a talk tonight in Charlottesville, Virginia. The event is called Embrace Your Weird: from Anxiety to Authenticity and it's based on the new book that I am writing. There is even a whole fancy Power Point thingy.

Many of us are afraid to talk about anxiety, depression and panic attacks – it’s about time we change that. This talk is a deeply personal exploration of mental health, told with compassion and humor. It’s a hopeful, entertaining and enlightening look at the root causes of anxiety, the results of the latest research and ideas for how to manage stress in your own life.

The event is free and open to the public, as part of Retreat Week at Ix Art Park. For more information and to RSVP, please click here. 

And in case you were wondering, yes, I'm feeling very anxious about giving an anxiety talk. But I'm gonna to do it anyway.

with love,

~Lisa

 

Looking back: lessons of 2015

I tend to be a pensive person anyway, but the fact that Christmas, my birthday and New Years all cram into one week - I go into major reflective mode. It was a complicated year in many ways. But isn't that how it always goes? Ups and downs, success and challenges, joy and suffering. But I learned some important things this year:

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable can have some serious rewards

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This one shocks me. Public speaking seems like a terrible idea for an introvert with social anxiety. But I get to talk at conferences, schools, libraries and organizations about the topics I love - authenticity, passion, living your true path even if it's different from what people expected. It's never easy, but every time I do it, I realize that it doesn't kill me. It's actually good fun and I've met some incredible people. I'm looking forward to the events I have scheduled for 2016.

 

Need something? Start something.

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Here's the thing about being a writer - you spend a whole lot of time alone, starring at a screen. I love talking to other writers at conferences, but realized I was missing that at home. I wanted that kinship but I didn't really know where to find it. So, I created it. I invited a few writers to have tea with me on the first Wednesday of the month and talk about our work. And books and words and pens.

This little group now brings me such joy. We get together to talk about things that spark or challenge us and we commit to accomplish certain things by our next meeting. It's all very responsible and keeps us accountable. But more than that, we have a deep sense of community and connection. We send  little messages of encouragement and vent to each other when Salon.com doesn't return our email. (Ahem.)

It's so important to have a support system - but these things aren't automatic. I had to reach out and create the community that I was missing. I didn't know the people in my writing group very well when I invited them to tea, but now they are my sisters in words. It takes some courage and effort, but it feels amazing to mindfully create the things you need.

 

Being a teacher doesn't mean you have all the answers

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I started teaching an online memoir writing class this year through Writing Pad. I was scared out of my mind to do it. Like, two hours before the first class started I was pacing my house and crying. What if my students grilled me about non-defining relative clauses? What right do I have to tell anyone anything? I don't have any fancy degrees. Hell, I was tossed out of high school.

And at the end, my class and I were all swapping information and saying how much we loved each other.

I found that my job was to encourage others to be their most brave selves so they could share their stories. My job was also to be myself and put my own spin on things, like talking about the Hero's Journey as it pertains to Dr. Seuss. I'm thrilled to be able to teach another class in January.

I'll be a student forever

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Yoga isn't just exercise for me - it's a way of life. I wanted to learn more about the practice, so I took a yoga intensive teacher training this year.

Yoga for me has been such a powerful tool for getting my anxiety under control. It's a full body/mind/spirit cleansing. Whenever I get overwhelmed and need to get my head right - I hit my mat. I love being able to share that with other people. And it's fun to do yoga-pretzel poses at parties.

 

Marking death is celebrating life

g and me

My Gramma passed away this year and that loss is still sharp for me. But I get my love for words from her, so I feel like I get to continue in her footsteps. She was my first yoga student and one of my first blog readers. I will continue to work on my terrible spelling in her honor.

 

Everyone defines success for themselves

I got to open a big box and it was full of my words. And while it's fantastic that my memoir You Look Like That Girl was published, I've been staying away from the reviews, sales stats and the Amazon rankings. I don't want to get caught up in those traditional markers of status. That stuff doesn't matter to me nearly as much as getting a note from someone who said they enjoyed it and felt that it resonated with them somehow. Besides, I figure if I made it to some best seller list or won a Pulitzer - someone would let me know.

I write because I think words are an incredible way to connect. That's why I love personalizing books for people. There is something really cool about the idea that the book goes directly from my hands to yours. And recording the audiobook was crazy good fun - I like that I get to keep people company on their commute.

 

Book tours and interviews are cool...but...

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I did a book tour for You Look Like That Girl and read in bookstores all over the place. Sometimes lots of people showed up, sometimes not so much. I did live interviews on morning television and I called in to twelve radio shows in two hours. Sometimes I was eloquent and witty, sometimes I got tongue-tied and spilled something on my shirt. Some interviewers were great and others made me respond "I'm not going to answer that" - repeatedly. It was fun and I'm grateful to have had the experience because it allowed me to connect with even more people. But it was also nerve-wracking and I had to wear nice shoes and they put lots of makeup on me. Life is this continual balance, and I'm just learning how to surf those waves without falling on my face.

***

What is 2016 going to be about for me? More writing. More connecting. I'm working on my next book - it is about anxiety, panic attacks and depression. It's my story, as well as the stories of others, told with love, humor and a whole bunch of legit sciencey research. This topic is incredibly important to me, and a big thank you to those of you who have contacted me to say that you are looking forward to reading it. That keeps my fingers on the keyboard, even when there is a Downton Abbey marathon calling to me.

As always, I am entirely grateful for all the support I've received from readers. I could not be doing any of this without you and so thank you thank you thank you. The community that we have created around this blog and social media has given me faith in the humanity that can be found in the world. There is a lot of crummy stuff out there - and there is also so much kindness. Y'all rock.

Okay, now you go. What were the coolest things you got to do in 2015?

Happy new year, everyone!

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Managing anxiety: off the yoga mat and onto the stage

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I went to Providence, Rhode Island last weekend to speak at Johnson & Wales University and The Lady Project Summit. I did a reading from my book, spoke on a writer's panel and gave a talk about the rewards and challenges living an authentic life and embracing who you really are.

It was a phenomenal weekend for many reasons. I  had lots of teary-eyed hugs with people who are on their own journeys towards living a life they truly believe in. I also met wonderful people like Maureen Petrosky who took me to Gracie's, which is a restaurant that not only has unbelievable food, but also shares a name with my dog.

I was also scared out of my mind a lot of the time.

I have structured a pretty quiet little life for myself. I struggle with anxiety and get overwhelmed easily, so I try to keep life as simple as possible. I spend time with my husband, dog, and close friends. I do yoga. I stay home a lot, watching Netflix and reading books and cooking dinner. It's lovely.

But I've started doing these events which thrill and terrify me in equal measure. Sometimes, when I am in a new place, standing at the front of the room with a bunch of people looking at me, I panic and go into fight or flight mode.

This is a pretty typical evolutionary response to fear. When our ancestors had to face down a woolly mammoth, we had a couple of choices. We could try to kill it or we could run away from it.

The thing is, these days, we don't see many woolly mammoths.

We see public speaking. Or an uncomfortable conversation. Or a group of strangers. Or an opportunity that is unnerving. Or a situation we can't control. Or an outcome that is unknown.

But our minds go back to woolly mammoth territory and we want to either fight it or run from it.

What if there was a third way?

This is the most monumental thing that doing yoga has taught me.

I do hot yoga. That's the one that is 90 minutes in a room that is heated to 100 degrees.

It's hard. But it's not nearly as hard as life.

So, the yoga studio is my place to practice dealing with the actual hard things in life. Because when I get to a yoga posture that is challenging me - and my instinct is to either run out of the room or walk up and kick the instructor in the shins for making me do this - I hear my teacher's voice in my head:

Meet resistance with breath.

Maybe I can get beyond my caveman mentality and just stop for a minute. I can realize that I'm stronger than I think I am and I can be still for a moment and stop the spinning of my mind. I can take a breath - then decide how I want to respond.

So, as I stood in a glorious theater in Providence, RI, with a group of strong and interesting women all sitting there, ready to listen to me speak - the spinning started:

What am I doing here? Who the hell am I? What makes me think I have the right to stand here and say anything about anything to anyone? They are going to throw things at me. I need to run out of the room right now.

And then I took a breath. I met that resistance from my inner critic, with my breath. Then I remembered that they actually invited me to come speak. They wanted me to do this. These people had voluntarily signed up for this workshop of mine and no one was tied to their chairs.

So, I said:

"Hi. My name is Lisa Jakub. Thanks for being here today. I'm a kind of nervous, but really want to talk to you about something that is important to me. I want to talk about how we can all live a life that feels authentic even if it's different from what other people expect of us. And the reason that I feel like I can talk to you with some authority about this topic is because I screwed it up so majorly, for such a long time."

And then they laughed and then I loved them.

That's what can happen when we don't operate on automatic pilot and when we are open to options beyond the binary way we are tempted to see the world. It's not always yes/no, black/white, good/bad, kill/run - the world is nuanced and so are we. When we can still the story line in our minds, a whole beautiful world of middle options become clear.

Sometimes we get a chance to make friends with the woolly mammoth, and we're rewarded with a fantastic weekend, spectacular people and some really good macarons.

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Panic attacks, social anxiety and other perks of being me

At the age of 13, about to have a panic attack before a press conference for the film "Matinee." 

At the age of 13, about to have a panic attack before a press conference for the film "Matinee." 


Recently, I did an interview and we discussed anxiety disorders. I realized that although I've written about that topic in other places, I've not addressed it much on this blog. (ETA: since I posted this, I wrote an entire book on the topic of mental health - Not Just Me: Anxiety, depression, and learning to embrace your weird.)

It can be challenging to talk about panic attacks and social anxiety. We've been taught that it's either nerdy (think someone with high-waisted pants, sucking on an inhaler at a party) or it's just regular stress that we should be able to handle.

It's neither of those.

I've had anxiety and panic attacks since I was a kid. I've always been described as "sensitive" and "thoughtful" and "a worrier." When I was about 11, my mother would push her thumb into the middle of my palm, calling it my Breathe Button. She'd remind me to take a deep breath as I gasped like a fish and anxiety drained the color from my face.

At a certain point, my inherent shyness and introversion turned into hyperventilating, blacking out, and not being able to leave the house. At its worst, I was having a couple of panic attacks a day. If you don't know what a panic attack feels like, consider this:  it's common for people to end up in the emergency room during their first one because it feels so much like a heart attack.

It feels like you are dying.

And I was doing that twice a day.

That anxiety was complicated in my early 20s by the fact that I was not happy in my life. I felt trapped and scared and not sure what could ever comfort me. I've been carried out of restaurants mid-panic attack, I've made bad choices in a fog of anxiety-ridden self-sabotage. The world had become a very dark place and there were many times that I was not sure how I could ever get out of it.

I've written before about what has helped me. Personally, it's all about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, meditation and yoga. I wanted to avoid the drug route - I don't think there is anything wrong with taking drugs that you need - I just wanted to try a different way. Although I have had prescription bottles at the ready, I've always found other ways to manage it.

Even though it's greatly improved, my anxiety has not disappeared completely. Last weekend, I felt some significant panic just thinking about having to leave the house to go to the grocery store. My heartbeat was irregular. My hands went numb. Flickers of light clouded my vision and made me cling to the counter with vertigo. Those are all signals that I'm not breathing well.

The difference now is that have a whole arsenal of tools that I can use to stop that panic before the sobbing-on-the-floor point. I have breathing exercises. I remind myself that this feeling is temporary and will pass. My husband knows what he needs to do, and not do. My friends understand that sometimes I can't come to large social gatherings (large means more than 2 people) and if I do, I always drive myself so I can leave if I start to feel panicy. There are preventive things I do every day to reduce my anxiety so that it no longer runs my life - like yoga and a daily meditation practice.

Whenever I talk about anxiety publicly, I get messages from people who deal with similar things and who are glad that we can talk about it. That sense of connection is the reason that I write words and put them out into the world. Because I hope that someone will find them, read them, and say, hey, I totally get that.

I wish there was one common answer we could all share -- sadly, there is no simple one-size-fits-all solution. But if you are dealing with this stuff, know that you are not alone. There is no need to feel ashamed. There are people and books and techniques that can help you. Anxiety tends to drive people into isolation, but suffering alone is never the answer. You can take control of your life and your own wellbeing. You can ask for help.

I used to think my panic attacks could be alleviated by some external image of "success." Maybe if I got cast in bigger movies or dated a different boy, I would suddenly be fixed. When I finally realized that I was capable creating some peace for myself, right where I was  - that's when it all started to get better.

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I created a bookshelf of some of my favorite books that helped me with my panic attacks. You can see it on Goodreads. (And while you are there - friend me so we can share books!)

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