How Sara Avant Stover Lives All of Her: The Value of Connecting With Our Darkness

sara avant pic

This is part of the Live All of You Interview Series! For more on what this is all about, head over to the intro post and make sure to sign up to find out who I’ll be interviewing next.

October is Boulder, Colorado month! The Live All of You interviews featured during this month are all with people who call Boulder home.

Boulder is a wondrous place. I came to live here through a serendipitous car accident in June 2007, in which my ex and I flipped over three times going 90 mph. We were both fine, and I don’t regret it one bit.

Boulder is my soul home—I can be all of myself here, every wacky, gratuitous, painful, electrified cell of me. There is a quote I love by Stephen Elliott: “There is no new leaf; turn yourself over.” That is what Boulder did for me; it turned me over, literally, and in the most important ways a human can be.

This week, I’m proud to bring you my interview with fellow Boulderite, Sara Avant Stover.

Sara is a yoga and meditation instructor, author and founder of The Way of the Happy Woman. She teaches wellness and spirituality for women; after a cervical cancer scare in her early twenties, Sara moved to Thailand, where she lived for ten years and embarked on a decade-long healing and spiritual odyssey throughout Asia. She has since gone on to uplift tens of thousands of women worldwide.

I was attracted to Sara’s first book without even knowing she lived in Boulder. I felt enamored with her work, her insight and her way of expressing in it. It was more than an appreciation—I felt like when I read her, it was filling my soul with something it had been aching for.

Now, she’s out with a new book, The Book of SHE, and I have been deep-diving into it daily, completely enthralled.

Sara has this way of elucidating things that is spacious but also contained—a juxtaposition that allows the receiver to feel safe and expansive at the same time. She holds your hand gently, while letting you explore your own way.

Let’s hear from her now!

Amy Segreti: Sara, you’re such a dedicated practitioner of your work. Why do you do what you do in the world?

Sara Avant Stover: It’s what I have to do. It’s choiceless. It’s what I live and breathe. I feel like it’s my calling; I can’t imagine doing anything else.

How does the work you’re doing help you?

It helps me to be real with myself and to see more and more dimensions of myself. And through that connection, to be able to connect in deeper more skillful ways over time with the people around me and with life around me.

It has helped to heal me on a physical level and psychologically, and to fulfill a deep spiritual hunger of what is sacred and the remembrance of the truth of who we all are.

Sara, what do you do when you feel out of alignment?

Sleep and journaling are super helpful. When I feel inner stress, it means that some part of me—my inner family—is in distress, so I journal and I get into my body, whether it’s a yoga practice or a hike, or a dance class. I also get support, I reach out to my mentors and girlfriends to see if they can help me see something I’m not seeing.

You write a lot about exploring the Dark Goddess in your new book, The Book of SHE. Can you tell me a little about what that means?

Our dark side is a conglomeration of undigested experiences from childhood and the parts of ourselves—before the age of 8—that we were taught were unacceptable by our parents, caretakers and teachers. We then pushed those things into the recesses of our consciousness.

As we grow older, they gather more energy and can threaten to sabotage us—to damage a relationship, for example, or in the form of an addiction, a debilitating pattern, overworking or overexercising, etc. We can learn to work with these patterns consciously with support, and when we do we can unlock a tremendous amount of creative energy, inspiration and vitality that’s locked inside of us, and move in the direction we want to move in.

It’s important for us to have relationships that can help reflect back to us our shadow. We can only see our shadow in relationship to another person—we can’t see it by ourselves. It’s a lifelong process—we never get rid of our shadows. There will always be new dimensions of ourselves that are asking to be healed. But through our exploration, we can reframe the shadow as a really valuable ally.

What personal experience did you have that helped you learn how to work with shadow sides?

When I was writing my first book, The Way of the Happy Woman, I encountered a bunch of life-changing events: My boyfriend broke up with me, I moved out of our house, and I also got a book deal to write that book—so there was both positive stress and negative stress going on at the same time.

I didn’t have a home or nest to write the book. I couldn’t find a place to live in Boulder, and a girlfriend finally offered me a place to stay in Ashland, Oregon. As I got settled in, inwardly all of the strong emotions of this intense life transition were coming up—a lot of fear, doubt, grief, heartbeak and loneliness.

An eating disorder started to resurface, and it really scared me and confused me, and it made me feel like I was a fraud. I was able to finish writing the book, and then I had such a valuable reframe from my teacher—all this stuff was coming up because my body, psyche and spirit were strong enough to hold its reemergence so I could heal it at the root level in a way that I hadn’t done in the past. So it was actually a sign of my growth, rather than my regression.

That’s a beautiful perspective of how we can see painful events in our lives.

This is how the spiritual path works. As we are growing, these pockets of old drama finally feel safe enough to emerge because we are resourced enough to hold them in our awareness, and we need to remember that’s not a bad thing, we’re not moving in the wrong direction—we need to keep going.

These cycles will continue to happen throughout our entire lives. Some of our shadow is ours, some cultural, and some of it is ancestral—ancient grief or rage that we’ve inherited and are carrying. For example, in my lineage, there have been eating disorders all the way back. So, it’s not just about healing myself. It’s about healing my whole ancestral line.

sara quote

If you were coaching yourself, what would you say to you of 10 years ago?

I would say: It’s safe to trust yourself. And when you’re sensing something isn’t right or when it’s time to change or move on, you can believe that. You have the courage to make the changes that you have to make in order to live the life you long to live, and you deserve that.

Paint me a picture of your inner child. What’s she wearing, what’s she doing?

I have a picture of her right in front of me on my computer. She’s a ballerina, and she’s wearing a ripe blue leotard, a pink tutu and a silver-sequined crown and pointe shoes. She’s smiling and she’s loving being in the spotlight and sharing her magic with the world.

What technology do you use that facilitates your lifestyle and makes it easier to get your soul work done?

I use a lot of different applications and things to run the backend, like InfusionSoft, and I’m grateful that I’ve gotten adept at using those, and to keeping my virtual team connected. I also use social media—everyone has to be on it to share and interact with the global community, so I particularly like Instagram and Facebook.

What does a nourishing, productive morning look like for you?

Before I get out of bed, I recite the phrase, “precious impermanence” to remind me that life is fleeting, that this could be my last day and to not take it for granted. I set the intention to have undistracted attention to keep my mind with my body in the present moment and to not to stay in the monkey mind.

Then I come to my practice space, which is also my work space and I sit for meditation for 30 mins. I recite some intentions and prayers and I do a yoga practice that’s usually a mixture of yin and flow yoga. If I have time, if I’m wrestling with emotional material, I write in my journal, have breakfast and walk the dog.

Do you keep a consistent schedule?

It depends on the day. If I’m teaching, or doing a book launch or creating, I spend a lot of time alone, in order to create. Or I do a combination of the two.

Fridays are for more self-care; I don’t schedule meetings, and I ask myself how I want to spend the day, whether that’s getting a massage or working in a café. I use that day to focus more on my natural rhythms and desires.

I want to touch on something you wrote about female entrepreneurs in the digital age. I wonder if you could elaborate on the struggle of finding authentic ways to share our work in the crowded online-business world.

I think it’s a personal journey for each of us. It’s important to investigate: What is the right way to share myself and my work with the world? And not to feel pressured or seduced into doing work in any particular way.

Throughout my online career, I’ve felt a constant struggle with being so engaged online. I’m always having the inquiry of how can I share my work without advocating narcissism and without advocating lifestyle envy.

Day by day, I’m investigating the motives behind what I’m doing, and how can I share this work in a way that’s going to be accessible to women, and meet them where they are without losing my integrity.

It’s an ongoing exploration, especially since every day the technology is changing and advancing. I’m committed to keeping up with technology and the times, just as I am committed to being true to myself to what we need most as women in times that are rapidly changing—which is often quiet connection.

What does it mean to you for you to Live All of You?

It means to be honest about where I am, and not to try to hide if I’m having a hard time or I’m angry, or hurt, or incredibly joyful and excited.

At the same time, it also means to be as kind as I can be. And to be as clear in my communication as I can be. I’ve found the latter two to be especially important now that there’s so much interaction online, and so many emails on any given day. I’m needing my communication to be really clear; if something is off, I’m trying to address it right away and be as loving and kind in the process as possible even if it’s an uncomfortable conversation.

What’s the hardest thing you’re working on right now?

The process of writing, publishing and marketing a book is wonderful and amazing, and also very strenuous. It’s like a marathon. And so I feel right now my edge is staying with this book as its steward into the world, even though we’ve had a long arduous journey together. But, I’ve been moving against my nature—I need to step back and rejuvenate and retreat. I want to be more available and generous with myself than I have been before, and it is challenging.

You speak about being a steward of your book. I was watching Marie Forleo’s interview with Elizabeth Gilbert on her new book, Big Magic. Elizabeth says emphatically that the book is not her baby, and that’s important for learning how to detach from the seriousness of creative work. What is your perspective on this?

I feel that this book is my baby, it came through me as a child comes through a mother. I was impregnated by this book and I was asked to be the one who brings her into the world. But just as a child also shapes the mother and reforms her, the same thing is happening with my book, and happened with my first book. I am changed, and I am changing as a result of having this being in my life. So, we’re both birthing each other.

What have been some of the most influential books you’ve read that have impacted the way you operate in the world?

There are so many, and I go through different ones that I’m obsessed with at different times. One book that I come back to again and again in my yoga practice is Insight Yoga by Sarah Powers, which has great sequences and pranayama practices. It’s a really great manual; I often share it with the women that I work with.

I also love the Tao Te Ching, opening it up and reading Lao-tzu’s timeless wisdom helps reconnect me with the values that I live my life by and that I base my business on. These values are not really present today: valuing a slower pace, more humility, spaciousness and simplicity, and I see these as real source of power and strength.

How can a woman benefit from diving into The Book of SHE?

If you are in the midst of a big transition, relationship, outer or inner, or in your sense of who you are, and you’re not sure how to move forward, this is a guide that will take you through that in a way that will lead you into your innate wholeness and freedom.

Thank you, Sara!

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