My Summer of Self-Help

In truth, we don’t know which of our acts in the present will shape the future. But we have to behave as if everything we do matters. Because it might.” Gloria Steinem


My Summer of Self-Help began on February 1. That was the day I booked my flight to Switzerland for a 10 day Kriya Yoga Retreat with Glenn Black.

The DECISION to go was difficult because it would mean missing my daughter Mollie’s 15th birthday. Every year I lovingly wrap tons of little presents for her, put them on the stairs leading to her room and make a very special cake. It is a ritual that we both treasure. Naturally, my family, and even a good friend, thought I should pick another retreat on a different date.

More Presents

Barbie Cake May 2007
Barbie Cake May 2007

I didn’t want to go on another retreat. Glenn Black’s teaching has been a profound element in my development as a yogi and a teacher. While home and family are where my heart is, an immersion into the deep practices of Kriya Yoga felt like an essential next step in my personal growth.

So, I reached out for counsel to three of the wisest women that I know; Cyndi Lee, Judith Lasater and Kelly Lindsey.

Cyndi Lee, a long-time friend and colleague, is an author, and a very well-known yoga and meditation teacher. We share a profound commitment to our work. During one long car ride together she helped me to uncover the powerful passion I felt for going on this retreat. She listened and supported me, offering many insights. We considered pros, cons as well as other possibilities. I was still undecided.

Judith Lasater, who I reconnected with at Kripalu, is also an author and respected yoga teacher, as well as a physical therapist and a practitioner of Nonviolent Communication. She gave me explicit steps to follow toward making a decision. First, I was to get in touch with my emotions about the situation. I was able to feel the deep desire and need for inspiration that was urging me to go, but also the natural disappointment of not being with Mollie to celebrate her birthday. Once I connected with these different aspects of myself, I felt ready to talk with Mollie from a centered place. Initially, when I brought the subject up over breakfast one morning, Mollie gave me her blessing. Weeks later however, she had a change of heart and rescinded her permission. I knew that Mollie had been trying to be generous but to expect her to shoulder responsibility for my decision was too much to ask. So, I was back at Square One; very torn, twisted and confused.

Finally I spoke to Kelly Lindsey. Kelly is a yoga therapist and meditation teacher. She’s a dear friend and spiritual mentor. She knows Mollie and me very well. She was at Mollie’s 8th birthday party 7 years ago at Bounce U, a brand-new-at-the-time indoor playground with huge inflatable structures. I was going to miss Mollie’s 8th birthday that year in order to go on retreat with Glenn Black at Omega in Rhinebeck, NY! Hoping to make up for not being there on the big day, we threw an enormous, expensive party a few days early. It didn’t work. Mollie was still devastated that I wasn’t there on her actual birthday and stayed angry and hurt for a very long time.

Kelly helped me to recognize how much Mollie had matured since that time. Kelly thought that Mollie would respond differently now and be more able to understand the retreat’s importance in my life. She also helped me see that because I had lost my own mother when I was quite young I was trying to protect Mollie from ever feeling that pain of my not being there. That is a very big burden to carry. I’m so grateful to Kelly for opening my eyes to how I’d become enmeshed in my own story.

I know that I am a very present mother and take care of so many details in the life of our family. Maybe there was actually something I could teach Mollie by asking her to understand the importance of this aspect of my life. I explained my decision to Mollie as best I could and made sure that with lots of care several fun adventures were organized for that week. When I finally put a deposit down for the retreat and booked the flight to go, I suddenly felt like a feminist. With loving awareness I had chosen inspiration and my personal work, despite the wishes of my beloved family.


The RETREAT was indeed an amazing homecoming of unspeakable beauty. The Kriya practices that we explored are meditations on the chakras from the Bihar School of Yoga – the big orange book. These practices form a system through which attention is progressively moved through the chakras to quiet the mind in its own natural way rather than trying to dominate the mind into a single-pointed submission.

Studying with Glenn is always challenging. We practiced a lot; four classes a day – each class, two hours long. No asana. Glenn doesn’t believe in it. We did Standing Forward Bend in only one class! We explored a lot of hip opening and other movements to prepare our joints for sitting. There were magical nature walks to a beautiful and cleansing waterfall. The deep focus of the retreat gave me a glimpse into my subconscious; important messages rose up from those depths and I had a profound experience of my own being-ness.

Waterfall Portrait

Candid Glenn & me
Candid Glenn & me

After guiding us through this tremendous practice, Glenn passed the torch saying that the practices were now within us.

When I returned home and to my teaching, I indeed felt a new potential to let my students experience the gifts of their own practice. I have a new confidence to let go of the desire to make everyone happy, especially when teaching yoga. It’s a relief to let go of what I can’t control.

I also began to see ways I’ve held myself back – in my teaching, my business, my finances and my relationships. I feel inspired to see what’s in my heart, say what’s on my mind and to stop the habit of putting my needs aside for others. Those first sparks of feminist independence seemed ready to shine more steadily.

So this SUMMER I dove deep into some amazing stories about women who have overcome incredible odds and carved their own paths. These books inspired me, not just for myself, but the hopes I have for my daughter to feel fulfilled in HER life.

Mollie even recommended a book to me from her high school class on Feminism. Roxane Gay’s, Bad Feminist was both political and personal. Gay reveals herself as fierce and vulnerable. She stands strong and writes powerfully about her experiences and beliefs, rooting for women all the way.

Other books that inspired me (in the order that I read them) include:

Overcoming Underearning
Barbara Stanny
This book had been on my radar for a while. I finally started it and set about doing every single one of the journal exercises. I’m learning to get control of my finances by looking deeply at the roots of my beliefs and decisions about money from way back. This powerful and challenging workbook is a big, but important project.

Never Broken
I’ve always been stunned by Jewel’s voice. This memoir is an incredible example of a woman overcoming her life’s challenges using yogic tools, such as mantra, visualization, meditation and creativity. There are so many important lessons in this book. I gave my copy away, but I wish I had it to refer to. Those lessons need to be learned again and again.

The Life-changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck
Sarah Knight
Having magically tidied our home, it was time to for me to move on. This book is silly and poignant. It was so fun to laugh out loud in parts.

Year of Yes
Shonda Rimes
This amazingly intelligent and creative woman is hugely successful and yet realizes that she is still unhappy. The book is about the process of her opening up, saying yes and untangling her life. What a wit!

No Gurus Came Knocking
Molly Lannon Kenny
Molly Lannon Kenny has a special gift for using the yoga sutras to guide her unfolding life. She has many unforgettable and powerful stories to share. I always adore her teachings and have hosted her in my studio several times.

My Life on The Road

Gloria Steinem
In this book Gloria Steinem writes about growing up in an itinerant family and how this experience guided her in her later travels throughout the country and world. She explores the roots of her activism and the development of the tactics she would eventually use in her life’s work. She’s such an intelligent, encouraging and powerful woman.

The Fear Cure
Lissa Rankin
I wondered if I was worrying too much. The top most common phobias are: fear of spiders, snakes, heights, situations in which escape is difficult (agoraphobia), dogs, thunder and lightning, injections, social situations, flying and germs or dirt. I have four of these! The author lays out Four Fearful Assumptions and then offers Four Courage-Cultivating Truths. I’m trying to understand what my fears can teach me. There are so many good stories in this book and I ended up with my own Prescription for Courage.

One: How Many People Does it Take To Make a Difference?

Dan Zadra & Kobi Yamada
This gift book is pure inspiration to become involved in charitable work. It’s full of quotes and stories about doing good and giving love. Reading this influenced Mollie and me to see the recent virtual reality film of a charity:water, a charity I support. In this film, The Source, we’re taken to Ethiopia to meet a 13 year old girl who is responsible for carrying the water for her family’s daily life. Then their village gets clean water through the work of charity:water!

Barbra Streisand
Neal Gabler
I didn’t really know much about Barbra Streisand but I’ve always loved her voice. As a total outsider in her family and in society, she had to figure out how to follow her dreams when no one else would support her. Her path to becoming an entertainment legend was not smooth. She would not be dissuaded by her own intense insecurities or prejudice from every side. She showed determination and grit in working to realize her dreams.

Most important about all these books is that I chose them. I tuned into sources of strength that felt right for my life now. Is it a coincidence that they were almost all written by women?

With summer ending, here are some of the things I plan to do for me this FALL:

Work with a coach.
Take an improv class. My graduation show is Sat, Oct 29 @ 6 pm
Register for a self-defense class.
Read the new Mama Gena book.

I am not trying to improve. I’m just giving myself permission to explore some habits that may be holding me back. I’m so grateful to be paying attention to what’s unfolding within me and to have a loving family, friends, teachers and students to share the journey. I am especially grateful to Mollie.

Mollie & me
Mollie & me

I hope that my path helps you in some way to explore your own. I’d love to see you or hear from you soon.

35 Comments on “My Summer of Self-Help

  1. Thank you for sharing this glimpse of your inner journey. We never stop growing ourselves, seeking the nurturing and inspiration that supports us. The feminist must learn to surrender to her own truth. In this way we become our own champions. Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya. (Surrender To That Which Supports You) LOVE LOVE LOVE and gratitude.

  2. So glad I’m now on this list,,, loved reading about your summer and your journey to choosing what you needed and wanted despite the pull to stay.
    And the books all sound amazing, thanks!!!!

  3. Jennifer! I loved reading this. I remember speaking to you when you were pregnant with Mollie!! I’m inspired by your thoughtful and conscious decision process. Thanks for sharing!

  4. well thank you for all of that wisdom and jenniferness.

    i am sending you the Jewel book back for reference!

    or better yet, i will try to find a way to hand deliver it.

    LOVE YOU! (and cool that i read this about your retreat sitting in the Zurich airport.)

  5. Dear Jeffi,
    A beautifully written thoughtful experience.We never stop learning about ourselves.What I thought I knew in my 20’s has nothing to do with the life I have lived.I meditate most every day and know how wonderful it is for my spiritual growth.I so wish we lived closer you were so much part of the O’Donnell’s lives.
    I am sending too so much love and wishing you only the very best.Your Mollie is beautiful,Maura

    • Maura,
      I’m beyond delighted to hear from you, the only person now who calls me Jeffi! Life’s lessons go on and on, as you know only too well. It’s so cool to hear that you meditate daily. I’m so grateful to connect with you though it’s from afar. Your family will always be a part of me. Sending so much love back right to you, Jeffi

  6. Jennnifah,

    Wow, I never read or respond to anything on Facebook or anywhere– but I was drawn to your lead in.

    I don’t have much to say— but I know from my heart you have had an incredibly beautiful journey and Mollie must be an incredible daughter and person.

    Most importantly, I know that your old friend, Nancy is smiling– not saying anything, just being pensive(which was hard for her); she is just being quiet and introspective and feeling, ” You are the greatest and this is so profound and beautiful…and Brill I am so proud of you”

  7. Wow. Jennifer. This is SO beyond beautiful. Thank you for sharing this open-hearted journey of life. Our friendship is one of the best things about my whole life…and my life is AMAZING. So are you. You are courageous, open, insightful, and inspiring. Thank you for letting others bear witness to your beautiful unfolding. xoxo

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