QUEER HERO: HOW TO CAST A NAME SPELL

In the first official installment of his monthly column, Queer Hero, Danny Brave shares his journey to discover the name that reflected his true identity. PLUS how you can cast your own name spell …

Photo: Tommy Venus. Jewelry: Gilded Lily.

Over the course of my journey as not only a transgender man, but also as a shamanic healer, I’ve discovered the power of our own names (both given and chosen).

I lived most of my life being called Katie Greene, moving through several different iterations and identity crises, only to discover, or rather re-member, that I am Danny Brave. Now when I say “re-member,” what I actually mean is the opposite of dis-member: to put myself back together, to become more whole.

Read on to discover my name changing story, and discover how you can cast a name spell on your own life …

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Releasing my ancestral line
In the Fall of 2015, “Katie,” first started to feel like it was not really me any more. After remembering the sexual assault I experienced as a child (read more about my sexual reclamation after incest HERE), the name was feeling more and more like a fake smile—something that I did often when I was living that identity. If you say “Katie” out loud, you’ll notice your mouth even takes the shape of a smile at the “ie” part.

After remembering what had actually happened to me as a kid, there was, not surprisingly, no more fake smiles left in me, and my full birth name “Kaitlin” began to feel more appropriate. This name felt darker, more serious, and more powerful—a reflection of my energy at the time. This was the name I was called when the abuse happened to me, and it facilitated me in re-membering and reclaiming some of the darkest moments of my life.

With “Kaitlin” in place, I started to search for a replacement for “Greene,” a name that belonged to my father and his father—a name that to me denoted false Irish family pride, toxic Catholicism, and all of the lies and abuse that had been passed down my ancestral line. This line would decidedly end with me, and it would end via the ritual of literally releasing this last name and claiming a new one for myself. This change-of-name spell happened gradually over a long period of time …

Photo: Tommy Venus. Jewelry: Gilded Lily.

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Was I “Brave” enough?
“Brave,” first came to me in December 2015 at the Barnes and Noble in the town where I grew up, where one fateful night I noticed a little green book with the gold shiny words titled “Brave Enough” by Cheryl Strayed winking at me from the shelves.

Strayed’s memoir “Wild” had come to me a few months prior, shortly after the volcanic repressed memory eruption and was like a little twinkling ray of hope from God, a love letter to my soul. It was a story that had a lot of trauma, death, and addiction—that was totally true, and often brutally honest. In her memoir, Cheryl literally gives herself the last name “Strayed” and changes it legally to reflect more honestly whom she knew she really was. Someone who had, in more ways than one, strayed.

I opened “Brave Enough” and read: “Hello, fear. Thank you for being here. You’re my indication that I’m doing what I need to do.” I wasn’t leaving without the store without it.

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Dancing in my own words …
“Brave Enough” came with me in my bag to India a month later, where I was attending a women’s dance-healing retreat, and a self-imposed writer’s retreat.

Every morning I would dance for 2-3 hours with a beautiful group of women, and every afternoon I would write alone, mostly poetry, and sometimes for hours and hours. It seemed like the energy of “Brave” had already started working on me, giving me the courage to re-claim my authentic voice, and I wrote and wrote about everything as honestly as I could handle at that time. I transmuted abuse memories that spontaneously arrived in the morning dance class, channeling those feelings and vibrations into words, vomiting the poison out of my system.

During my time in India, without thinking much about it, I switched my email address to reflect the last name “Brave.” My old last name just kind of slipped off—like the wind blowing a piece of fabric off of a rock. It was just so ridiculously obvious that “Brave” was my name, and that it now belonged to me.

As I prepared for the journey back to the States, I realized I could never go back to my parents’ home. No longer sharing a last name with any family member, “Brave” carried me onward, forcing me to individuate myself from my family and preparing me to stand on my own two feet.

Photo: Tommy Venus. Jewelry: Gilded Lily.

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Becoming Danny Brave
When I started to realize that I was a guy (which is really a whole other story), I was initially so uncomfortable with myself and scared that I wanted to die. At the same time, there was an immediate ease with which my first name arrived—it was Danny. I just kind of knew, it was a lightning bolt that zapped the crown of my head in meditation.

But the name and my body and life at that time felt too at odds, and I was living too far away from where I knew I could  feel supported enough to transition. Desperate for some sort of change, but not yet able to feel safe enough to fully step into Danny, I switched my first name again, this time to “Kate.”

I took a part-time gig as an assistant to a jewelry designer. “Ooo, I love your last name … I think that ‘brave’ means a female warrior” the woman I worked for told me. I Googled it and discovered that it in fact meant MALE warrior. “Oh dear god,” I thought with terror. I was being called out, pushed out of the closet, by my own last name! As I started to prepare myself to face the fact that I was not, and never have been, a woman, I knew that “Kate,” a female name and the one my dad would use whenever he yelled at me, would have to go.

When I showed up to my first trans-masculine support group, late and shaking, I simply said “I’m Brave.” As I would to the random barista, just to practice having a different name with no clear gender. Just to have to say it out loud to remember I was courageous, to cling to the one true part of me over which I had ownership.

The affirmation of my last name would eventually lead me to admitting to the real first one, Danny, a month or so later in my support group.

The vibration of Danny has lead me home to my ultimate truth: that of a flamboyant little gay boy who loved to play dress up, loved watching figure skating, loved to paint, draw, and dance. The real me, only now a man. Sometimes the most loveable parts of ourselves are the most hard-won.

I was recently joking with a new friend, saying to her that I gave myself the last name of “Brave” so that I would constantly have to strive to live up to it. “I don’t think that’s true,” she said. “Names are spells. You don’t even have to try, it’s just you now, and it’s how your life will unfold.” Looking back on this story, I can see that she was right.

Photo: Tommy Venus. Jewelry: Gilded Lily.

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How to cast your own name spell
Your name(s) (past and present) carry a meaning and vibration that is worth exploring! Being curious about what is underneath your name may lead you to a deeper understanding of your family dynamic, about what remains to be healed within you, and about your life path and purpose.

The following exercises are for you to explore your true feelings about your name(s) so that you can either reclaim it with your own meaning, intention, or vibration, or maybe even choose a new one for yourself!

1// Call your own name
Start with either your first or last name—whichever one you want to explore and play with first. Then, if you wish, you can follow up with your second name:

Close your eyes. Put your hand on your heart. Take a few deep breaths. Say your first name three times. What do you feel? Does this name feel like you? What do you feel in your body when you say it? What comes up for you? Honor whatever it is and trust your feelings. Know that if your name doesn’t feel like a match for the real you, there is one that is.

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2// Free associate  
You can do this with your current name, or play with a different one that you have in mind.

Take out a piece of paper and a pen. At the top, make two columns if you don’t have a middle name, and three if you do. Under each column, without thinking, write stream-of-consciousness based off of each of your names (if you are trans-identified, I recommend you do this with both your birth name and your chosen one).  Then, take a moment to read your associations. Our names carry so much energy, don’t they?!

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3// Take an inner child name inventory
You may want to use a pen and piece of paper for this one as well:

Consider or write down answers to the following: Was there a name that you really loved as a kid? Is there a name that you really love now? What did you name your pets, your dogs, your dolls when you were little? Is there a celebrity or friend whose name you admire? Is there a name you have always loved and wish that you had? What would happen if you tried it on for a minute, like trying on a new dress or shirt?

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4// Play with your gender identity
Don’t take this one too seriously or freak yourself out—try to have fun and maintain an attitude of light playfulness! Now, let’s do some name-drag:

If you identify as a woman, imagine for a moment that you are a man. What would your name be? If you are a man, imagine for a moment that you are a woman. What would your name be? What does it feel like to call yourself by this pretend name? What spell would this name cast on your life?

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5// Know that you are worthy of your real name 
In the USA (in the larger cities in particular), we are so privileged to live at a time where we can exercise our free will to become more of the person that we really are. Know that if you are unhappy with your current name, or if you don’t feel like it is truly yours, you can, in fact, change it. The same goes for your life!  If you don’t like it, you do, in fact, have the power to change it.

Beyond gender identity, I hope that you feel you are worthy of the real you. You deserve to love your name, which is to say, you deserve to love yourself. I know that if you follow your heart and trust your gut, you will find (or re-member) your real name.

**If you are a transgender individual living in the U.S., please visit my list of resources for trans individuals HERE

Danny Brave is a shamanic healer, writer, public speaker, and artist. In his private practice, he specializes in helping women and individuals assigned female at birth overcome the affects of sexual trauma. He conducts monthly LGBTQIA Shamanic Healing Circles at Brooklyn’s Maha Rose (sign up for the next one HERE) with the intention of creating safe, sober spaces for queer people to heal, and to amplify marginalized voices. He loves to paint, dance, and spend time in nature.

HOW IT FEELS FOR A TRANS SOUL TO COME HOME

As the 2018 Leo Lunar Eclipse asks us to stand up in our fire and be truly seen, childhood abuse survivor and joyous healer, Danny Brave, shares his journey and reveals how it feels for a trans soul to come home …

Danny Brave. Photo by Tommy Venus.

“I remember the moment
when I came home to
my body

what a lovely reception 
that was
(though emotional) 
. . . ”

While working with a sexual empowerment coach in 2015, this was the beginning of a poem I wrote entitled “coming home.” In the exercise that inspired it, I visualized that pieces of my soul were perched over my head.

My coach then instructed me to reach up with my hands and pull these pieces of my soul back into my body with my hands. After a few minutes, the coach then instructed me to call my soul back into my body by placing my hands on my heart and saying my name out loud, three times: Katie. Katie. Katie.

And I burst into tears, because I felt in that moment a tiny piece of me came home, along with a deep knowing that I had never actually, up until this moment felt at home within my body. Not once in 28 years.

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:: MEETING DANNY BRAVE :: 
This session took place just a month after recalling memories of my father sexually assaulting me as a child, an event which completely altered the course of my life. The memory shattered the fabricated reality of the cheerful, healthy relationships I thought I had shared with my immediate family members up until this point.  

As a result, my journey home into my body has also felt, and still sometimes feels, extremely challenging. In fact, at times, this would be an extreme understatement.

Between July of 2015 and now I have, almost relentlessly, uncovered countless repressed memories of being sexually assaulted and abused in a multitude of ways. Not only by my father, but also my mother and grandfather, along with some deeply questionable evidence that I was not in fact a woman.

I remember being in the thick of my repressed memory recall and looking in the mirror and talking to myself, and hearing a voice in my head say to myself, “I want to be a boy.” I thought I must be insane, and shut that voice down for an entire year before I would allow it to re-emerge and accept it as truth.  

Fast forward to today. I now know that my true name is Danny Brave, and I am a gay trans man. I discovered the trans part in June of 2016, but was too terrified to come out until that November. And the gay part I wasn’t even too sure about until about a week ago.

Photo: Tommy Venus

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:: I WANT TO BE A BOY; I AM A BOY :: 
The reality of my gender identity came crashing down that June, when I decided to, once again, look my inner child in the mirror and have a conversation with them and really listen this time. This is a practice I had adopted from the amazing work of Louise Hay as I found it to be deeply healing (and for those who are brave, I cannot recommend it enough!)

I asked my inner child what was wrong, as I had been feeling deeply depressed, and I had long hair at the time that felt droopy and heavy. I asked what I could do to help them feel better. In response, I heard the voice of my inner child scream: “I want to be a BOY!! I AM A BOY!!  I want to cut off all of my hair!” 

It was that same voice I had heard a year ago, a voice that I could no longer ignore or discredit as crazy: this was the real me, the one who as a kid tried to pee standing up, who felt confused about why he did not have a penis, the one who loved dancing, singing, and fabulous shoes, and had dreams of being a visual artist.

This moment in the mirror was the moment I finally decided to listen to myself. Two days later, I cut off all of my hair and immediately felt so much better, so much more like me. I began to realize that I could not visualize myself in the future as a woman without wanting to die.  

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:: FROM TERROR TO TRANSITION :: 
At this time, I had dug myself into a hole by moving to a small town an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles, where I was making little to no money, had no car, and no health insurance, let alone access to trans health care or support groups.

I was terrified, and had created this situation out of that same terror. I knew I had to get back to a city to gain access to support for figuring out my transition. I thought my choice would be Los Angeles as that would be the most convenient, but shortly after moving to LA and not being able to land a job with decent pay, I took the little money I had left and moved back to NYC in August of 2016.

It was in NYC that I was able to take my old job back, and gain access to the support I needed to come to terms with myself and transition: trans masculine support groups and free therapy via the Center on 13th Street (for which I am forever grateful). I came out in October 2016, and lost a majority of the “close” friends I had at the time.

In the winter of 2016, I met up with a friend from one of my support groups and told them I was having suicidal thoughts and that I couldn’t get out of bed. They gently pointed out to me over a cup of coffee that not being on testosterone was “not working for me,” (to put it mildly) and I started hormone therapy shortly thereafter, in January of 2017.

Every week since then (with the exception of one month during which I completely panicked) I have been injecting myself with a needle filled with testosterone (also simply referred to as “t” within the trans community).

This simple act is slowly but surely transforming me externally into the person I have always been internally, which feels a bit like becoming sane and going crazy at the same time. I am going through a literal and a figurative process of transformation in order to become the person who I have also always been. Quite a trip!

Photo: Tommy Venus

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:: WHOLE, LOVING, JUICY :: 
Last week I had a more triumphant and joyful moment of homecoming, when I attended a dance class with my loving partner (who is also a trans man) shortly after having anal sex for the first time (for hours on end, I might add).

Something so essential about who I was clicked into place while with him: I felt like my soul actually landed it my body. It felt really good, and really whole and loving.

Running late for the class, I looked into his big, beautiful eyes on the train on the way to class and felt he was really seeing me for the first time, and I him. Beneath the boobs, we were, and are, two gay men, despite all of the “ma’ams” and “misses” and the lifetime of being perceived differently by everyone, including ourselves. Our truth felt so simple in that moment, and I felt truly beautiful in his eyes. Really real, and really me.

Looking in the mirror in the dance class, I could see how recently my arms, wrists, and fingers had gotten so much more masculine looking, and how flat my chest looked with my binder and the grey t-shirt I was wearing. This made me smile, as did acknowledging how much I love to dance—always have, always will.

I glanced over at my partner in the mirror, and saw a beautiful person who was somewhat scared to be themselves out in the world, but who was doing it anyway, just like me. I saw someone who was willing to go outside of their comfort zone to try something new, something they always wanted to do, like take a dance class, or write this article, and the simultaneous nervousness and courage behind his eyes made my heart swell.

Then I looked at his juicy butt doing the warm up and felt my genitals wake up once again in my stretchy pants. This also made me smile. I realized and accepted in this moment that I was gay—that I REALLY was a man who liked men (cis and trans). Always have been, always will be. And that despite all of the incest, I always have been and always will be a deeply sexual person (after all, my Venus is in Scorpio).

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:: IT TAKES COURAGE TO ENJOY IT :: 
It has taken years, a village of trans allies, sensitive artist friends, therapists, Reiki attunements, shamanic healers, dance/movement therapy teachers, sexual alchemy teachers, yoga trainings, sexual empowerment coaches, random acts of kindness from strangers like the lady in the Starbucks who told me that who I was was really beautiful and that the world would love the real me, and thousands of dollars worth of credit card debt to get here. But damn, I did it. I’ve done it. I’m here.

And I love sex. Yes, I love sex! says the man who had his first orgasm from masturbation when he was 27 years old, because he thought sexual energy meant being hit, yelled at, and penetrated without consent. Says the man with a female body who didn’t want to look down or touch himself there because it would mean realizing that my mind and body did not match. Says the man who was, as a child, anally raped by his father and grandfather and molested in a bath by his mother, and taught by the Catholic religion that sex was a sin and that my body was something to be ashamed of. Says the man who was not allowed to share a bed with his boyfriend when he visited his parents’ house at the age of 26, being not-so-subtly shamed that they lived together before marriage.

Yes, I love sex. And I have reclaimed sex to the extent that it now makes me feel alive, loved, present, powerful, and best of all, real. What once made me feel terrified now allows me to feel safe. It takes me from that idea of myself in my head perched above my body to actually being an embodiment of self. It is teaching me to trust life again.

In the words of Bjork in her song “Big Time Sensuality”: It takes courage to enjoy it. I hope that everyone who has been through what I have gets to experience this particular kind of courage.

I hope that everyone gets to experience the pleasure of coming home into their own sexuality, their own body. 

Tommy & Danny. Photo by Lyndsey Kamide.

Danny Brave is a Writer/Public Speaker/Educator on the subjects of Gender/Transgender, Overcoming Trauma, and Ascension/Spiritual Living. He is a Master Shamanic Reiki Practitioner/Psychic Healer specializing in helping people of all genders, ages, body types, and races overcome the effects of child abuse/sexual assault via various healing modalities which he has come to term “Brave Healing Arts.” He conducts monthly LGBTQIA & Allies Community Healing Circles at Maha Rose in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (1st or 2nd Wednesday of each month). He is 100% sober, vegan, and loves to paint, take photos, dance, and pet dogs. 

HOLY F*CK: HOW TO FIND YOUR EDGE

Only in the places of discomfort can we experience true healing, says Alexandra Roxo. PLUS 5 ways to find your edge…

Goddess power earrings by Marcia Vidal. Non toxic lipstick by Ilia Beauty.

“There must be something deeply disturbed about a person who wants to be flogged or spit on.” As my friend said this I nearly spit out my kombucha. It was a sunny day and we were sitting on a blanket in the Bay area, having some girl talk, munching on goji berries, having just completed two nights of plant medicine ceremony together.

I started to feel sweaty and hot which means my deep soul was having a freakout. I put my cup down, took a deep breath summoning massive courage and said: “I disagree. It can also be about a person wanting to push their edges. It can be a game, power play, fun, and a vehicle for catharsis. Something beyond the human polarities of ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ Just as enlightening as any other medicine that pushes you to your edge and into a place of expansion.”

Let’s be real, in a lot of spiritual circles we tend towards the light and white, the higher chakras, high vibes…And well, usually as far away as possible from the dark, scary underbelly of things. Be it talking about BDSM or deep wounds, many of us shy away. After all, IG posts that are dark/revealing and heavy, usually get a lot less likes than the ones that are bright and all “I’m floating up here with my Spirit team!”

Well I say…Fuck. That. In the past few years I’ve found the scary bits—the “nevers,” the edges, the parts that make my heart beat fast—to be possibly my biggest teachers. Lately I’ve been wanting to talk about them more and more among circles of women whose faces might go white as an angel’s wing if I said something about squirting being transcendental. But ladies, the time has come! (And yes squirting, and even fisting, can be transcendental. But more on that another time. Or just DM me, lol.)

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You know those friends who push you to your edge? Usher you out of your cozy wozy comfort zone full of sheepskin rugs and Palo Santo, into a scary dark place you cannot control and force you to pull down your “Everything’s okay!” mask? I LOVE those friends. In the moment, I hate them for “making” me hitchhike with a creepy Mexican man on a beach in Oaxaca into the jungle.

Or for saying: “I saved you a spot on the three-day plant medicine retreat where we’ll be fasting and sleeping under the stars. Bring a poop bucket!” Or for calling me out on my shit. HATE THAT. But I really LOVE it. Thank Goddess for the friends that help you to your edge.

I recently signed up for an online course called a “Relationship Detox” with Perri Gorman. On Perri’s intake form you get to say to what level you want to be pushed. I checked off “HOT ORANGE” or something. Basically as hot as possible. (#overachiever!) So in class the other day, when I had to say what conclusions I had come to after making a relationship chronology, and I started rambling, “Well, we were dating and he said some really mean things but you see I’ve been meditating and doing a lot of WORK on this for months. Many healers. I really feel great about it now!” She stopped me mid-sentence.

“No you don’t. Pull off your mask, get in your pussy and tell me the story again!” I was taken aback but I knew immediately what she meant. I breathed through my mask, told the story again, deeply rooted into my truth, shared all the embarrassing parts, tears running down my cheeks, feeling such a huge catharsis: the feeling of being grounded deeply into my body. And then Perri told me: “Ultimate kindness is to risk saying something the ego may detest but that the soul is craving.” Which a wonderful teacher like that can make happen.

So forget smiling pleasantly with a namaste! Let’s get messy together. Hold space for each other to WAIL. Ask real questions to women who have birthed many babies. Talk about fucking. Sob until snot is running into our mouths. Have multiple orgasms that make us scream uncontrollably and then weep in a puddle of our own fluid. Not be afraid to pull down our masks.

“Thank Goddess for friends who call you out on your shit!”

Be it a paddling to the ass, or a projectile purge into a bucket in a room full of people or simply allowing yourself to feel anger, it’s only at the edge that we’ll find the collective catharsis we are looking for—a massive reconnection into the present of our bodies. And especially into our pussies. Into the force which creates life. Pushing us past our edges into a new land, the land of growth.

I try to push an edge every day. Last week I drove for an hour while still on mushrooms. A few days ago I admitted to a room full of people choking through sobs my deepest darkest shadows in love and relationships. I kissed a snake on the lips a few weeks ago. Just finished 40 days of chanting to Kali. Who knows what tomorrow will bring!

:: 5 WAYS TO FIND YOUR EDGE ::

1. Make a list of all the things that make you uncomfortable, or that you said you would never do or say or be or admit. This could be getting naked in front of someone. Crying in front of someone. Admitting to yourself your heart is closed off and you need help. Going on a vision quest. Camping alone. Now get to know that list. Put it on your altar. Start to allow it into your consciousness.

2. Break it into steps. Maybe it’s opening a Tinder account and asking someone out. Or spending time alone. Maybe it’s working out in a sports bra instead of a t-shirt. Signing up for a primal screaming course. A tantric sexual healer. Not exercising for a few days. Everyone’s edge is different! Start small and BREATHE through it. If it’s not making your heart beat fast, then it’s not an edge.

3. Ask for help. I could not have done this alone. Find a friend who helps you find your edge. Or a coach. A teacher. A witness. Someone to keep you accountable and help you and hold you when you cry.

4. When it starts getting tough do not abandon ship! There is a point in the work where we wanna say “Okay cool! I think I’ve got this and I’m gonna take a break.” Don’t do it! Push yourself just a little more. When you make it over that hump it is going to be glorious I tell you!!!

5. When in doubt go back to your pussy and breathe into your roots. Dance alone naked. Shake it off. Keep going. Cry through it. Do not give up. Umm, yeah, Earth hasn’t given up on us though we’ve pillaged her. Our bodies keep going after disease and childbirth and self-hatred and eating disorders. We owe it to ourselves and to the grandma’s that came before us to not give up and get too comfortable.

And P.S. Remember your edge is your own. Do not compare to the friend who did ayahuasca 366 times in Peru. Do not worry about your friend who saw Jesus when she was cumming. Your journey is about YOU. And in your dark personal corners, you could find something so magnificent…you really have NO idea!

If you wanna go deep and investigate your patterns with love, sex and relationships, join us for The Numinous: Re-write your Love Story Retreat July 15-17th in upstate New York! We’re offering an early bird special while Venus is in Gemini of $50 off EACH if you bring a friend (#healinghangdate time!)

3 ALCOHOL-FREE WAYS FOR COPING WITH SOCIAL ANXIETY

How Victoria Cox switched from Dutch Courage to Divine Courage, and learned to say “cheers” to social anxiety… Artwork: Nahu Marín Luriaud

It’s 7pm on a Saturday night in NYC and I’m getting ready to hit the town for a charity event a friend is hosting. Keeping me company as I slather on the make-up is my obligatory glass of chilled white wine.

“Just to take the edge off,” I tell myself. Give me a quick buzz so that I arrive relaxed and confident. I don’t know many people at the party and this fact alone is revving up my anxiety levels. I’ll just be completely honest and admit that on occasion I struggle with social anxiety, especially when I’m with large groups of strangers. Likely a leftover from my childhood, when I used to be crippled with an extreme case of the shy’s.

Thankfully, I left that mortifyingly awkward stage behind me as I grew into adulthood, but on occasion, my inner shy girl pops up from the deepest recesses of my subconscious to say hello. She usually makes an appearance at large social gatherings and she’s guaranteed to show up as my plus-one at networking events. Those are her favorite.

She especially enjoys it when I walk into a party, look around and realize I’m engulfed in a sea of strangers. “Look,” she whispers conspiratorially in my ear. “You don’t know anyone here, why don’t you just leave?” When I do eventually strike up a conversation with someone she’ll pipe up incessantly; “This person is bored by you. You have nothing interesting to say. This is so awkward. Just go home.”

Sometimes she gets her way and sometimes she doesn’t. But over the years, I’ve grown sick of the bitches sneaky antics, and so I figured out a way to make sure she stays her ass home. Alcohol. That intoxicating social lubricant. She hates it – one glass and I’m already dancing out the door. Two glasses and I can approach a group of strangers. Three glasses and I’m on the dance floor with said strangers, a.k.a my new best friends. Four glasses and… let’s not go there.

I’ve been feeling pretty smug about my secret weapon for many years and it’s got me through some skin-crawlingly awkward networking events that I’ve gladly suffered the hangover for.

But in recent years, as I’ve begun to focus on getting to know myself on a deeper level, I’ve begun to question my secret weapon. Is it really a weapon – or simply a crutch? Could I cope at one of these events if I didn’t drink beforehand? What was it saying about me that I could only be my “best self” when I numbed my senses with alcohol? Why did I feel I couldn’t just be me, weird social ticks and all?

These questions reverberated around my head for many months yet I had no answers. All I knew was that I had two options. Choose to keep on applying the social lubricant or get to the bottom of the matter once and for all.

I chose the latter.

And so, I began an experiment. I decided to switch from “Dutch Courage” to “Divine Courage,” and see what I could learn about myself in the process. Here’s what’s in my tool-box…

:: BREATHWORK ::
Being a long-time yoga devotee I was already familiar with the breathwork known as “pranayama.” And, one form of this is called Alternative Nostril Breathing – where you do just that. Breathe out of one nostril for a set period of time, then switch. Sounds odd but what this actually does is soothe the nervous system and equalize the hemispheres of the brain. Fancy talk for saying, “It chills you the F out.”

This practice had always worked a charm at calming down my over-excitable brain so I added it to my toolbox. But I needed more. Breath-work alone wasn’t likely to be enough to stop me running back into the arms of a perfectly chilled Pinot Grigio.

:: VISUALIZATION ::
This is where visualization meditation came in. It’s no secret that visualization can be incredibly powerful – even professional athletes are known for using it to get “in the zone” before a game. Basically, the aim is to try to see your desired outcome before it happens. So, before heading out to a social engagement these days, I sit quietly and visualize myself at the party, acting confidently, laughing, having fun, meeting new people and generally enjoying myself.

More often than not, what I visualize, or a version thereof usually comes to pass. Even on those occasions where things didn’t quite go as planned, I found I was in a much more centered space which helped me to relax and connect with people a little easier.

:: MANTRA ::
My toolbox was coming together but I needed to add one more thing. A mantra. Whilst mantras are typically used during meditation they can also be used throughout the day as a method to turn a negative thought pattern into a positive one.

Mantras can be incredibly powerful to soothe anxiety or just to give the mind something positive to focus on, thus avoiding a leap down the rabbit hole of fear and worry. My personal mantra differed for each occasion, but phrases such as “I am relaxed and confident” or “I am enjoying meeting new people” were especially helpful when I just wanted to run away and hide in the bathroom.

***

Its been a few months since I began my experiment and already I’ve been noticing some improvements. While I will probably always experience an involuntary shudder at the word “networking” I no longer feel that I simply must have a drink beforehand to get through it.

Whilst my pre-party drink routine enabled me to come across as lively and fun, in actual fact I was only showing people what I thought they wanted to see, lending an air of superficiality to my encounters. The real me might not be the life of the party but it is authentic – and more often than not I’ve noticed people can sense the difference leading to a more genuine connection.

Although I’ll probably never eradicate my inner shy girl completely, she no longer accompanies me to every social event. At the end of the day I’m only human and she’ll probably make an appearance now and again but I no longer feel the need to chase her away with gulps of wine. As a result, she doesn’t hold the same power over me.

I’ll also admit that wine and I will likely never end our love affair completely, but I no longer need it in the same way I used to. Alcohol has transitioned into something I enjoy on occasion rather than a can’t-cope-without.

My experiment has gifted me the knowledge that my social anxiety toolkit is available at any time; which in turn has emboldened me with a burgeoning self-confidence. I feel that I’m now able to face an intense social situation without desperately seeking an exit route, and surely that’s something worth raising a glass to.

SALUTE TO THE SUN: A YOGA SEQUENCE FOR LEO

Enter Leo, and passionate, sunshine times are here. Ash Baker shares a simple yoga sequence and 2nd chakra meditation to honor your inner Lion, boost your creativity and cultivate the courage to truly love yourself and others. Image: Karolina Daria Flora

 

LEO
July 23 to August 22nd

Ruler: The Sun
Element: Fire
Modality: Fixed
Anatomy: The heart, spine & hair ( your Lion’s mane )
5th sign of the Zodiac

Queens & Kings rise to their cosmic throne this month! We are now entering the summery sign of Leo who worships the Sun, all things luxurious and leaps boldly into creative, fierce endeavors. This is a month of action rather than reaction, and for taking moments to connect with your inner child. Finding that magical place in your heart that defies logic and lives for the moment. Let these poses infuse your more solar side and add some sparkle to your courageous stride.

Surya Namaskar // Sun Salute // 3-5 rounds

A flowing salute to Leo’s ruler, the Sun. This simple series is great for beginners as well as the seasoned yogi. It will also help to alleviate some of the loveable but stubborn fixed nature that the Lion is known for.

Come to stand at the front of your mat. Feel your feet grounding downward by pressing your big toe mound, little toe mound and heel firmly against the floor. Scoop your tailbone slightly, giving the abdominals a slight inward moving squeeze. Draw your shoulders back allowing your collarbones to widen. Lengthen your neck by raising the crown of your head up towards the sky. Arms are softly at your sides with slightly open palms. Now you are in Tadasana or Standing Mountain Pose.

Take a deep inhale inflating the entire belly while simultaneously reaching the arms out and up, bringing the palms to kiss. Exhale and begin to fold forward with your arms following out to your sides like wings. Remember to create a hinge at your hips when you fold and keep a slight bend in your knees. Keep your back nice and flat until you reach your edge in the stretch. Then you can gently round the spine as you surrender to the fold. Inhaling, come up halfway, placing the fingertips on the floor or the palms to the shins. Exhale fold down again.

Inhale, place your hands on the floor and step or jump back into plank pose. Keep the tailbone tucked and engage your abdominal muscles. Exhaling, either bring the knees to the floor or keep legs lifted while slowing lowering down through Chaturanga push up position. Come all the way to the floor. Inhaling, with hands next to your shoulders, press up into Cobra or Upward Facing Dog.

Exhaling, bend the knees and press back and up into Downward Facing Dog. Root down through all ten fingers especially the thumbs. Press your hips up towards the sky and ground your feet into the floor, at least do so energetically if the heels don’t reach.

While in Downward Dog we are going to add in Lions Breath! A little pause to honor our inner fierceness. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale with an open mouth while simultaneously sticking your tongue out. Let the exhale be forceful, making a “ha” sound. Do three to five rounds of this breath each time you come into Down Dog. Take this opportunity to let go of anything negative in your inner landscape that may be hindering your growth or creativity. With each exhale imagine yourself releasing that negative attachment. The “ha” sound is you laughing at your fears. Just as any lion would do.

Walk or hop the feet up to meet the hands coming into a forward fold with a slight bend in the knees. Take your hands to your shins or take your fingertips to touch the ground and come up half way with a flat spine. Reaching forward with the crown of your head, take an inhale. Exhale and fold forward once more. Inhale while rolling your whole body up to stand from the ground up. Keep your knees slightly bent, allow your spine to unfurl and reach the arms to the sky. Bring the fingertips to touch, collect yourself, your intentions and place them before your heart with prayer hands.

Heart to Heart time.

Now that your body is warmed up we can move onto some more static yet deeply powerful postures. This next pose is a great way to open your heart and lungs. Leo rules the heart, and not in the way you may think. They can be great romantics but they are not the kind to wear their heart on their sleeve. It takes genuine courage to truly open your heart to another person, which is why harnessing Leo like courage within our bodies and towards ourselves is so powerful. The more we open to vulnerability with strength and grace, the more we can offer the ones we love.

Camel // Ustrasana

Come to hands and knees. Go through a few rounds of cat/cow just to get a nice spinal flow forwards and backwards. Then come up on your knees. If you have crabby knees like I do, take a blanket or towel underneath them. Take your hands to your lower back with the fingertips pointed towards the floor and begin to press your hands downward. You should feel your lower back lengthening and your collarbones widening. Just stay with this for 3 rounds of breath.

Then take one arm behind you grabbing your heel or ankle. Stay there breathing for a moment and then take your other arm behind you clasping your heel or ankle.. Draw your shoulders open, tuck the tailbone down while also drawing the top of your hip points up and inward. This will naturally engage your abdominals. Stay in this pose for up to 1 minute if there is no pain in your low back or knees.

Once released take your hips to your heels, reach the arms out in front of you and rest your forehead on the floor. Allow yourself to surrender to your heart’s requests. Breathe deeply for a minute.

Locust Pose // Salabhasana

Now that the front of your body is open and ready to receive, we will strengthen the back of the heart. Leos also rule the back which is key in developing self courage. Many of us are courageous in the name of others but not so much for ourselves. We always have a choice and it requires deep work to not always be a people pleaser! The Lion speaks his truth with fearless ease.

Plus this pose always makes me feel like Superwoman!

Come onto your belly. Keep your arms along your sides, point the fingers and let your forehead rest on the floor. Inhaling begin to unfurl your head, shoulders and chest upwards. Allow the arms to follow the upwards motion like you are in flight! Keep pressing the pubic bone and belly towards the floor to keep your low back supported. Now begin to zip up the legs by squeezing them together and engaging your glutes. With pointed toes begin to lift the legs up. Now all limbs should be flying. Breathe and feel how strong you are. Hold this for five rounds of breath. Come back down, releasing for a few seconds. If you feel energized by this pose go into it once more.

Make your way into Childs Pose.

If you need a little help softening or just want a sweet pose this month try a Yin heart opener – Yin being the soft, receptive and cooling side of the circle. Use this to say to the Universe that you are open for business, fearless and ready for what’s next.

You will need two blocks, a bolster or blanket and a pillow.

If you don’t have a bolster just roll up a blanket. Place your bolster or blanket horizontally across your mat. Come down onto your back with the blanket just under the tips of your shoulder blades. This will create a nice opening in the chest. Draw your feet to touch creating a diamond shape with the legs. Place a block under each knee allowing the legs to gently relax into the stretch. Your arms should be outstretched to the sides comfortably. Lastly, take your pillow and place it under your head. You should feel fully supported and safe. Stay here for as long as you need.

Sun meditation // 2nd chakra

This would be a great meditation to do while in the supported Yin pose, but if you prefer you can sit cross legged on a pillow with the hands gently resting on your legs. The 2nd chakra, Svadhisthana, is the seat of our creativity and passion. Leos are pleasure hunters, and it’s our energetic pleasure hub and. When one has a clear connection to this chakra they are in tune with their feelings, desires and can communicate that easily to others. This is the birth place of artistic divinity and when flowing freely we experience pleasures in every moment.

Close your eyes. Take one hand to your heart and one to your belly. Really feel both areas of your body and picture them being harmonious in their communications to each other. What seeds do you want to plant within yourself? Where do you want to be more open? More creative? How could you cultivate more pleasure in your life? The answers to these questions are your seeds.

Now imagine a garden within yourself filled with all your favorite plants, flowers and creatures (unicorns are welcome!) Take all of those seeds (desires) and start to plant them in the dirt, knowing in your heart what they will look like in full bloom. Look up and see a big, radiantly beaming Sun pouring down upon your garden, nourishing all you have sown. Feel the warmth and know that you are actively pursuing the things in life you want or need. Again you are courageous and always have a choice. Just stay here breathing, opening and surrendering to your own strength.

Monthly Mantra: I am the ruler of my heart, my strength and all things contained within my inner kingdom.