FIVE YOGIC LESSONS IN TIME FOR THE PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION
In the aftermath of, what has been for many of us, a challenging several months, it’s hard to know where to begin.
As the President-Elect takes office, I’ve connected with my peers and my community and one thing is clear: everyone is in a different place in their process of coming to terms with the presidential election.
WHY I GAVE UP YOGA AFTER HAVING A BABY
I was never a woman who couldn’t wait to become a mother—babies just weren’t really my thing.
Before my own child came along, I’d changed a diaper precisely twice in my whole life. Back then, nothing came before my yoga practice. Getting on my mat every day was a must.
I’d spend hours intricately sequencing my yoga classes for the week, and would spend evenings hunched over anatomy and philosophy textbooks. I wouldn’t allow anything to disrupt the system I’d so carefully orchestrated. I could not fathom turning my back on the years of hard work I’d devoted to my personal practice and my career as a yoga and philosophy instructor. Abandoning my yoga for a baby was inconceivable to me.
THE YOGA OF LISTENING
We are surrounded by noise. Nowhere is this more evident to me than in my triweekly commute through Times Square Station. The sound of screeching and speeding trains layer over conversations— transactions at the magazine kiosk, the occasional tourist talking loudly into his cell phone, unaware that we have lost reception underground. People weave almost seamlessly through the constant stream of human traffic, shoes hitting the hard floors, tap-tap-tapping hurriedly down the stairs and onto the ramp. On the platform, a street performer pounds the tops of empty buckets with a pair of drumsticks; he taps a wooden board with his foot and creates a continual rhythm: this is the beat of the city.
YOGA, RELATIONSHIPS & THE ART OF ALLOWING
Most of us have a little control freak within us. We’ve all experienced the desire to control turn on like a light switch, often during the darkness of instability. The truth is that the sensation of not knowing— of life and people feeling random and chaotic—can be extremely uncomfortable.
We want life to go our way and people to behave the way we want them to. When these expectations aren’t met, when people or situations are unclear or not what we anticipated, our reactive tendency is to grasp, cling, or push away, to reel in the reigns and take the issue into our own hands. Yet, it is this very clasping, particularly in our relationships, that can be a source of suffering.
HANDSTANDS & THE PRACTICE OF HAPPINESS
I’m not entirely convinced that, as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. As I grow in my practice of yoga and my practice of life as yoga, I have become convinced that practice makes happiness. Allow me to explain.
I’ll begin with an analogy. Take our yoga asana practice: Whether it’s your third or your thousandth time stepping onto the yoga mat, you soon realize that there are poses that come with ease; they make you feel graceful, light, and strong—and you will most likely love them. Then there are those that feel like an ancient arch nemesis. Here, you face struggle on many levels.
MEDITATION & THE ART OF GRIEVING
Grief is a shape-shifter, manifesting in forms as multifaceted as light through a prism. And like a prism, when held up to the light and turned, grief changes its colors, too—its frequency. To be human is to grieve—that is, to be human is to lose: To lose a loved one, to lose a relationship, to mourn the passing of an era, or the decaying of a precious belonging. Life as we know it is entangled with gathering, keeping, and leaving behind
YOGA & GRATEFULNESS FOR FAMILY NUTTINESS
Family is the master teacher for relating with openness and compassion. For this, we must be grateful.
I love my family. I love Thanksgiving. But the two together aren’t exactly the world’s best combination. In fact, it’s the recipe for nuttiness. There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs when my family gathers where we seem to exaggerate each other’s idiosyncrasies. This experience can range from hilarity in times of lightheartedness, to painful altercations—even (maybe especially?!) on holidays. A friend of mine said to me recently, “The person that aggravates you most in life is most likely sitting next to you at the dinner table at Thanksgiving.”
FEELING THE BURN: THE YOGA OF GOING THROUGH HELL
Sometimes life gets tough. By tough, I don’t mean just the daily challenges of keeping up with obligations to our work, families, and partners while simultaneously trying to navigate our own journey. What I’m referring to are the times when the muck of life stares us straight in the eyes and we are caught. It burns. It brings up our stuff—childhood traumas, repressed and long forgotten memories, fears of things like abandonment, never being understood, never living up to our (or someone else’s) expectations, never finding home or love. Our fears and deeply rooted anxieties that we have blocked out suddenly manifest out of nowhere, and we are, for lack of a better term, going through hell.
OUT OF THE DARKNESS & INTO THE LIGHT
On a cold February night and the eve of my twenty-second birthday, I had a powerful awakening. Lying in bed in my little room in Bushwick, a small light flickering not two feet from my bedside, I realized that I was terrified to be alone. I realized also that I was afraid of the dark; that I was afraid of spiders, that I was afraid of failure, of disappointment, of confrontation, of “not making it”, of never finding love. I was afraid of death, and I was also very afraid of ghosts and heights and dogs. It was no coincidence that at the time I was neck deep in Heideggerian philosophy on fear, the foundation of my master’s thesis. But it was perhaps this, this delving into the muck of the human experience through my academic pursuits, that brought light to the situation at hand and provided me with one of the greatest awakenings of my life thus far: I lived in fear.
BEING YOGA WEEKEND IMMERSION INTO THE MEANING OF YOGA
The air was humid and warm, but as raindrops began to gently sprinkle down and cover us in their dew, a mild chill set in. There are certain types of experiences that, as you approach them, you know that they will change you. As 200 strangers stood in line at the Omega Institute registration kiosk, it was as though we collectively sensed that this would be one of those transformative life experiences. Some of us were students, many of us teachers, but all of us on a journey into the heart of the path of yoga.
SURRENDERING TO THE SIMPLE FEELING OF BEING
Sometimes I catch a slightly confused grimace on my students’ faces the moment they lay down for savasana (final relaxation) when they hear me say, “savasana is one of the toughest poses in all of yoga.” After an hour or so of stretching, strengthening, sweating and striving, the idea that lying on one’s back doing nothing is difficult, seems almost ridiculous. But as the heart-rate begins to slow and as the breath begins to deepen, the true layers of the pose slowly reveal themselves: savasana is ultimately about surrender and letting go — one of life’s ultimate challenges.
CLEARING OUR POND: A REFLECTION ON YOGA AND THE OTHER
As I was sitting in my office one morning enjoying a cup of chai, Dr. R walked into my office. Dr. R, a student and teacher in the Jewish tradition, is not familiar with yogic and Eastern perspectives, so from time to time we like to pick each other’s brains about a variety of philosophical topics and share the teachings from our respective lineages. Dr. R has an inquisitive look on his face when he says to me, “From an outsider’s perspective, the focus of yoga seems to be fairly self-centered. Not in a negative sense, necessarily, but my question is this: where is the room for the other?”
DANCING ON THE EXPRESS TRAIN
Argh! I’m going to be so late! I was on the 5 train at Union Square, south bound to Wall Street on my way to a session with a client. It was post-work rush hour: not a pretty picture. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing delays due to train traffic ahead. Please be patient. We will be moving shortly.” I looked at my watch and bumped the person next to me in the turning of my arm. We were body to body and the train was damp and heavy with frustration. I looked around and met other disgruntled faces, rolling eyes, and tapping feet. “Please be patient. We will be moving shortly.” The computerized voice repeated overhead, as though it could feel the crawling skin of its passengers.
EATING HUMBLE PIE & THE NEWNESS OF BEING
"Release through right there ” my teacher said, as she pressed her finger firmly into the center of my upper back, tapping into the space between my shoulder blades “ More, more—keep going!” Adomuka-Svanasana, or Downward-Facing-Dog had never been so hard. I dropped down to my knees, feeling defeated. Not only had I done the pose thousands of times in my own practice, but had taught it hundreds of times as well. How was it that now it felt so… difficult, so strange? How could I, a yoga teacher, be struggling in one of the most frequented poses in all of Vinyasa yoga?
THE FIRST LESSON
In order to let go the first lesson is to examine your consciousness.” The words seemed to penetrate me more than any had so far. They’d been repeated several times, but it wasn’t until the fifth hour in that I started to get it, really get it.
I had come to this special meditation workshop after a storm took over my life. I had moved apartments three times in the previous five months, and I was on my fourth move. Each move was unanticipated and hectic. It was starting to feel as though I was being thrown about by the winds of chance, becoming a victim of circumstance rather than a clear agent of choice in the decisions of my life. I didn’t like it one bit. The moves were “bringing things up in me,” painful memories from childhood, feeling homeless, lost and displaced. As a result my life felt disorganized and I was a mess, grumpy, tired and felt an odd uneasiness within me—like my thoughts were louder and more chaotic than usual.
JUST SIT THERE
We want to move. It’s what we do—it’s the nature of how we operate. Try sitting still for just a minute. One minute, without fidgeting. It’s tough, right? We live our lives in constant movement: we jump out of bed, make the coffee, get dressed, get to work, go out, scrounge down our dinner, meet people, hang out, enjoy some drinks, collapse on the bed, wake up, start over. Its all a movement, maybe even a cycle, and one that tends to get messy and sometimes chaotic. We’re one of the most stressed out nations on the planet and New York, well, it’s on a league of its own. After all, it’s The City That Never Sleeps.