Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Not Your Train

"If the train doesn't stop at your station, it's not your train" --Marianne Williamson

Monday, December 12, 2011

Our Deepest Fear

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.' We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." --Marianne Williamson

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Unity In Diversity

"In essence we are one, but in nonsense we are many. We need essence and nonsense... That is why we are looking for peace. We have had enough of fights and problems. If you realize this, you can begin right in your own home. Love your family, your pets, your plants. Do not treat them as something different from yourself. They all have the same essence, the same spirit. If we want to show the unity in diversity, that is where we can begin. At home, with out pots and pans. You may be angry with your husband or wife, but do not put the pot d own with a bang. Be gentle. See the same spirit in everything. That is unity in diversity. There is nothing without life in this world. Be gentle, be nice, be loving. See your own Self in all and treat everything properly. That is how to show the unity in diversity visibly and powerfully. A real spiritual experience means to see the unity in diversity."

Compassion & Equanimity

I had the lovely opportunity to study with Beryl Bender Birch today at Northport Yoga Center.

Interestingly, during philosophy discussion, she touched upon just the topic I blogged about yesterday (it's funny how that sort of thing always seems to happen, huh? No coincidences!). She warned, be careful about convincing yourself you are spiritually superior. Just because we recycle, this does not make us "better." Everybody is on their own path, and those paths may not run parallel to ours. This does not make them wrong. Not all beings are operating with the same amount of awareness. And "more awareness" is not synonymous with "more advanced." For example, Beryl says, when you are pulled over waiting for somebody to pull out of a parking space and you think it's very clear that is what you are doing, but somebody else comes up and slides right into that parking space before you, try not to get so frustrated questioning loudly "why is this person not as evolved as I am?!?" These experiences are meant to evoke compassion, Beryl teaches. Compassion is spawned by gratitude. Think of how lucky you are to be as aware of yourself, your influence, your surroundings, whereas other people may not be. think of how lucky you are to be you.

So while I might experience anger when I see somebody dumping their fast food garbage out the car window, I don't mean to be judgmental. Because that is not yogic either... spiritual superiority or arrogance doesn't suit anybody well. The paramount purpose of blogs such as the one I wrote yesterday is to make people think, not to insult. But maybe as a result of what I posted, somebody, somewhere, will re-consider a more wholesome approach; by which I mean, a perspective which takes into account an entire community or an entire system, such as the future generations and our planet. In the meantime, all we can do, is cultivate as much compassion as possible for our environment and for its inhabitants, irrespective of their "evolutionary level."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Honoring Your Home, Your Life Source, Your Energy Supply

It is getting to be that time of year again, when people start shoving leaves into oversized plastic bags and placing them at their curbs.


I have long since been confused by this practice. Not because I don't understand why this society has pushed keeping our properties so neatly manicured that we cannot bear to look at leaves or twigs or weeds amongst beautiful pesticide-green grass; but rather, because I cannot understand why we have bought what they are selling.

By which I mean, who in our right minds, honestly believes that leaves -- Nature's own dead skin -- belong in plastic bags, stuck at the curb, to be picked up and hauled into a landfill somewhere? How backwards is it to stick something organic in something that is not biodegradable?

Firstly, can it be agreed upon that Mother Nature is just that -- our Mother...? She cares for us, providing us a home, food, and life. Yes?

Secondly, I do not agree that your lawn, or anybody else's, should be cleaned up so obsessively that it is unclear what season we are in. Being Autumn. We act as though we are in denial that we are in fact subject to the cycles and changes and beautiful processes of Nature. If I find this insulting, how do you think Mother Nature feels about it? Besides, being so attached to appearance leads to superficiality and materialism.

And lastly, if we must clear our spaces of NATURAL debris, can we at least see to it that it is placed in something that is also of NATURAL construction, such as, a paper bag, not plastic...?

You may want to know, what has this got to do with yoga? Yoga is about awareness, simply put, for our selves, our community, our environment. And furthermore, yoga is about union, yes? Yoga comes from the root word "yuj," meaning "to yoke, to unite, to join." To join what? To join the individual Self with the universal Self. Well, if you don't agree that Mother Nature is a part of the universal Self, then I don't know what business you have reading this blog post.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Letting Go of Urgency"

"One thing at a time. That's all we have to do. Not two things at once, but one thing done in peace. One task at a time. One feeling at a time. One day at a time. One problem at a time. One step at a time. One pleasure at a time. Relax. Let go of urgency. Begin calmly now. Take one thing at a time. See how everything works out?" -Melody Beattie

It becomes difficult to take it one thing at a time when you live in a society that emphasizes productivity. Getting things done. We tend to equate self-value with our accomplishments. So many of us fall into the habit of multi-tasking and dividing our attention so that we can "accomplish" more in shorter periods of time, pulling us further and further away from the present moment, further and further away from meditation, further and further away from the experience of yoga. We are always plugged in, always turned on, there are so many distractions. We must slow down though. By slowing down and giving ourselves to pause, reflect, and re-connect, we can come back to the tasks that need to be completed and be more efficient and more effective because we will have calmer, clearer minds.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What is our yoga practice supposed to do for us?

This post was inspired by a lovely conversation I had with two students after class tonight, Katherine and Mark (thank you).

In yoga, we want to take the body and the mind into the opposite place of where we normally take it on a day-to-day unconscious, unmindful basis. We want to break habits and patterns to free up space for potential, for change, for growth. All of life is growth. Don't kid yourself, that is the point.

So, during our practice, we want to try to move slower if we normally move too fast. We want to be more patient if we are normally impatient. We want to be compassionate where we are lacking; we want to soften where we are hard and stiff; we want to strengthen where we are weak and unstable. We want to find a healthy balance where we are working and we are challenged but we are not torturing or overexerting ourselves.

To understand this best, it is useful to understand the yogic idea of the three gunas, or modes of life: rajas, tamas, and sattva. Rajas represents activity and work; tamas is rest and lethargy; and sattva is purity, joy, bliss meditation. We ought to be balancing these modes throughout life, but most of us are dominant in one or the other at certain points. Many of us give little or no time to sattva, to quiet, blissful meditative time spent celebrating life; we move straight from rajas to tamas, often staying geared up in rajas when we are meant to be letting loose in tamas or letting tamas drag its heaviness into our appropriate rajas time. Meaning, we wake up in the morning and instead of taking time in sattva to be grateful for another day and to sit and pray or meditate or sing or do something we genuinely enjoy, we go straight to work, rushing from here to there, getting this and getting that done. Many of us will stay in that mindset even after leaving work, and then we cannot wind down in tamas time and sleep well. Others of us will at times wake up and never actually "wake up," staying in tamas and letting depression, laziness, and lethargy dwell in our bodies all day.

This is relevant because in order to practice yoga in a way that is healthy and beneficial and enjoyable for us, we have to realize what mode we are most dominant in. Physically, most bodies come to yoga for the first time in a tamasic state; few of us will be in a rajasic place. We want to arrive in sattva. However, we must first move to rajas in order to come back to sattva. We have to first wake the body up if it's been tired and unmotivated all this time in tamas; we cannot stay in the hyper, overactive place of rajas though because it is exhausting and can lead to restlessness and injury. So your yoga will feel very difficult at first and you will have to challenge yourself a lot and work what may feel like "too hard" for some time before you can find the peace, quiet, and stillness in your yoga practice.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why do we practice yoga barefoot?

Every once in a while, when I have a new student practicing with their socks on, I like to let them know that as long as they are comfortable with it, we generally practice yoga completely barefoot.

Why? As a lifelong student myself, I always like to explain why to the best of my ability.

So here it goes...

Firstly, on the grossest level, being barefoot means you can see your feet better. Having socks on, you can see the general shape of the foot, yes, and it is much more intimate than having footwear of some kind on, but you cannot actually see your foot. The feet are very important in yoga, believe it or not. This is the foundation for many of your poses. So, you want to see and feel and understand the foundation in order to build onto that foundation, just like if your were trying to construct a building. What good would it be for you to try to put walls and a roof on something when you have little knowledge of the floor of the building?

Next, on top of seeing your feet, you can feel your feet much better if you are barefoot. When your feet can make contact with the surface beneath you, it will allow you to feel more grounded. You will find, in time, that you can actually begin to connect to the different areas of your feet than you ever imagined. This is going to be tremendously beneficial for everybody, but especially for those with any sort of foot issue, such as flat feet or high arches (more on this another time). 

And lastly, there are more subtle reasons why you would like to be barefoot. Allowing the flesh on the soles of your feet to make contact with the same surface you are practicing on will keep you more connected. There is an energy that flows through your feet, undoubtedly. You have so many nerve endings in the feet and the hands (which is how you can explain reflexology) and allowing those nerve endings to be stimulated by letting them touch and feel and make contact with surfaces is enormously beneficial. Being barefoot means just one less material or surface between you and the earth beneath us. And yoga is about unity; unity with body, mind, soul, spirit, and the universe.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What would you say if you knew you would not offend or be misunderstood?

What would you say, and to whom, if you knew what you had to say would not be misinterpreted, offensive, or hurtful?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What would you do if you were bolder?

A teacher of mine, Gabriel Halpern, once asked this question in a workshop:

What would you do if you were bolder?

Without the daunting task of disclosing any mortifying answers to this question, I think that unanimously the answer is that we would do more. Simply put. In the wake of being "bolder," we abandon fear. Without fear strapping us down, we are free to take flight and do all of the things we truly want to do. To live our dreams -- whether it be singing in public, skydiving, selling all of your possessions, saying "I love you" more often to more people, serving your community -- it's irrelevant what, it is the how to go about accomplishing these things. What do you need to let go of, what do you need to open up to to be (just a little) bolder?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Resisting Negativity

"Some people are carriers of negativity. They are storehouses of pent-up anger and volatile emotions. Some remain trapped in the victim role and act in ways that further their victimization. And others are still caught in the cycle of addictive or compulsive patterns. Negative energy can have a powerful pull on us, especially if we're struggling to maintain positive energy and balance. It may seem that others who exude negative energy would like to pull us into the darkness with them. We do not have to go. Without judgment, we can decide it's okay to walk away, okay to protect ourselves. We cannot change other people. It does not help others for us to get off balance. We do not lead others into the Light by stepping into the darkness with them." --Melody Beattie

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Yoga Attire

OK, I have been asked about clothing appropriate and ideal for yoga many times. Where can I get high-performance yoga clothing that doesn't cost an arm and a leg?

The easy answer to this is to go to Marshall's or Target or something -- functional yoga attire that should sustain many practices and washes and come at a reasonable price. And I have been guilty of this in times past.

However, as you increase your awareness and extend this mindfulness off of the yoga mat and into the world, this is bound to be challenged. My opinion on this matter is now highly influenced by being educated on this country's unethical outsourcing, slave labor, and sweatshop practices, which include but are not limited to unsafe and unjust working conditions and unfair and inadequate wages and compensation. This is contradictory of yoga! It violates the very first yama (the first of eight limbs of yoga), ahimsa, non-violence or non-harming. Yet for some reason, it goes unnoticed or unthought-of by many "yogis."

It is very difficult to buy fair trade/sweatshop-free in this country. Any big business or store that might be "convenient" is likely a primary offender; but choosing what may not be convenient is the yoga of shopping. It's the work. This work should not be isolated to yoga apparel, of course, it should influence all of our shopping habits and tendencies when possible. We all know what goes on with Nike by now, yet so many people seem unfazed, with the ubiquitous love for Nike Jordans. Adidas and Puma are similar offenders.
Athleta is one with Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic, businesses who have admitted to "unknowingly" use child labor.

And Lululemon Athletica, which is specifically a self-defined "yoga-inspired athletic apparel company" seems to have missed the mark on a large part of what yoga is all about. Unfortunately, here in the west, we seem to be under the impression that yoga is isolated only the movements of the body, the poses, the asanas (which is really just one of eight limbs that make up the practice and science of yoga). Lululemon sells pants for $148.00, which is interesting because while it was once U.S. and Canadian-manufactured, they now do at least 70% of manufacturing in locations such as China, South Korea, South America, Indonesia, Israel, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Thailand, and something tells me the workers in these countries are not compensated nearly a fraction of what Lululemon's appalling price tags read. Something about it screams "suspicious" to me and challenges my trust that Lululemon is abiding by the third yamasatya, or truthfulness. Ask Chip Wilson why he calls his company "Lululemon" and he "jokingly" says something about how funny it is to hear the Asian slave labors try to pronounce it. Not only is this a direct assault on the practice of ahimsa, non-harming, but seems to challenge the second of the yamasasteya, non-stealing. Perhaps Lululemon wouldn't rub me the wrong way so much if they weren't claiming "strong ties to local communities" and penned a manifesto with ridiculously hypocritical sayings such as, "A daily hit of athletic-induced endorphines gives you the power to make better decisions, helps you be at peace with yourself, and offset stress" -- as though Lululemon should represent the index on "better decisions"; meaningless and transparent phrases such as, "That which matters the most should never give way to that which matters the least"; and of course confusing and disturbing quotes such as "Children as the orgasm of life."

But... there are other more mindful options though. Some U.S.-manufactured and fair-trade clothing retails I support include, but are not limited to, MishogawearHardtail ForeverShakti ActivewearLucy ActivewearprAnaRawganiqueMahadevi Design; and American Apparel. The empire of American Apparel was built off of the claim of being sweat-shop and slave labor free; however, I have recently heard some disappointing stories. Dov Charney, founder and CEO of American Apparel, has been accused of many sexual harassment lawsuits and has admitted to selecting descriptive words such as "slut" in relation to employees. This kind of behavior is also undesirable to yogis and other conscientious consumers; however, unlike Lululemon, at least Charney doesn't posit to be a spiritual example of some kind.

At the end of it all, though, I think what is important is your intention, the energy behind your decisions, to do good and to affect and influence the world in a positive way, as a consumer, a yoga practitioner, and a person.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Accepting Change

"The winds of change blow through our life, sometimes gently, sometimes like a tropical storm. Yes, we have resting places--tie to adjust to another level of living, time to get our balance, time to enjoy the rewards. We have time to catch our breath. But change is inevitable, and desirable. Sometimes, when the winds of change begin to rustle, we're not certain the change is for the better. We may call it stress or a temporary condition, certain we'll be restored to normal. Sometimes, we resist. We tuck our head down and buck the wind, hoping that things will quickly calm down, get back to the way things were. Is it possible we're being prepared for a new "normal"? Change will sweep through our life, as needed, to take us where we're going. We can trust that our Higher Power has a plan in mind, even when we don't know where the changes are leading. We can trust that the change taking place is good. The winds will take us where we need to go." --Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul, Highest State of Being

"The highest state you have ever experienced is simply the result of how open you were. If you don't close, it can be like this all of the time. Don't sell yourself short. This can go on all the time--unending inspiration, unending love, and unending openness. That is the natural state of a healthy heart. To achieve this state, simply allow the experiences of life to come in and pass through your being. If old energies come back up because you were unable to process them before, let go of them now. It's that easy... Just open, relax your heart, forgive, laugh, or do anything you want. Just don't push it back down. Of course it hurts when it comes up. It was stored with space; it's going to release with pain. You have to decide if you want to continue to walk around with stored pain blocking your heart and limiting your life. The alternative is to be willing to let it go when it gets stimulated. It only hurts for a minute and then it's over." --Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul: Processing Pain & Letting Go

I've been very influenced by Michael Singer's The Untethered Soul as of late. And to be perfectly honest, I haven't even completed the book. It's one of those books that you can only read so much of. It is very dense; it is a lot to process. In any event, Singer talks a lot about the process of being hit with something uncomfortable -- pain, grief, anger, jealousy, rage, guilt, shame, etc. -- and acknowledging that it is there, seeing it, studying it, watching it from a distance, and then simply allowing it to pass. I know, I know. Easier said than done, but it is possible. If it is possible for me, it is certainly possible for you. To be the observer of your mind, your own feelings and your own thoughts can happen. As my teacher Mokshapriya pointed out to me, you have two minds. If you didn't, how could you watch your thoughts? One mind (the observer, the detached one) can watch the other mind (the impulsive, emotional, ego mind that reacts to stimuli that trigger us). You've had moments like this, yes? To prove this, Singer reminds us... you are able to think and talk about how you feel, what your were thinking, when you are looking back on a situation in retrospect. For example, Singer says "When you tell a friend, 'Every time I talk to Tom, it gets me so upset,' how do you know it gets you upset?" (17) This is one mind watching the other mind (Singer calls it your "roommate.") You can watch, you can notice, you can monitor, control, and separate yourself from the thoughts, the emotions, the impulses and the reactions that drive us to suffer. We have these little episodes of inner dialogue, complaining, resisting, rejecting, suffering... "'My mind is driving me crazy. Ever since he said those things to me, I can't even sleep. My mind just won't shut up'"(27)... and yet, we are able to see it all while it's happening as though we are outside of it, we are not our emotions or our thoughts. We are conscious beings. And as a conscious being, you have the ability and the power to step aside and be aware of your pain and your suffering but not have to feel it, be consumed by it, and be thrown out of balance by it. This is what it is to practice yoga.

I have moments like these, and it is simply incredible. It liberates us. But of course we cannot stay there (for long); you will come in and out of this. You've experienced ephemeral and beautiful moments like these too, I'm sure. Moments where even your suffering can almost become humorous, when you can truly recognize the triviality and drama of the every day B.S. we are gripped with.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Make A Decision, Trust Your Gut

"It's impossible to make a wrong decision. Even if you make a wrong decision, you will very soon know it is wrong and you will learn a good lesson. It is worse not to make any decision at all. If you don't make any decision, you will not grow. If you want to do the right thing and you don't know what to do, there are many people who can help you. Ask some people in whom you have confidence, and follow their advice. Because ultimately, it's all for good. Even if you make a mistake, it's for good, because it teaches you that it's a mistake. You don't really lose anything." -Sri Swami Satchidananda

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 33: Generating Compassion for the Negative

How many times do you end up feeling negative feelings when somebody throws or hands you something negative? If somebody gets angry at you, if somebody cuts you off, if somebody is not super friendly, if somebody does not thank you or express appreciation for you, if somebody does not react in a way that you expect them to, or if somebody is simply upset and having a bad day when it may have nothing to do with you at all, how often do we respond to these situations with thoughts, feelings, and actions that are negatively-rooted.

We tend to react to negativity with more negativity, right? Why? This is the natural tendency, but it doesn't really make much sense. It is just fuel to the fire. We are feeding it then. When somebody gets angry or upset with us, we generally are offended, become defensive, or even feel guilty and ashamed. None of this is helpful. The Ego likes to do this, because the Ego likes to make everything about us. Yes, it is all about us. Don't these reactions generally compound and worsen things though?

You have a choice what you want to take on and what you want to put out there in return. We forget that, and you do not need to accept the negativity that is being dealt to you, so long as you can train yourself to not feed this negativity with more negativity.

The next time you find yourself in a situation such as this, try just responding with compassion. Not guilt or shame or fear or anger or resentment or frustration or sadness, just compassion. Because you are then taking the Ego out of it. While feelings of guilt and shame imply that you are sorry for any wrongdoing, they are still sentiments that are about us, they are self-serving, and therefore somewhat selfish. Compassion or love is selfless.

Patanjali recommends this very same thing in Sutra 33. He says to have compassion for the unhappy; to have friendliness for the happy; to feel happiness in the virtuous or the good; and to feel equanimity for the wicked or the evil.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Yoga Mat Wash (and natural home cleaner)

I make a Mat Wash composed of water, distilled white vinegar (for its anti-bacterial properties), tea tree oil (also for its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, has a bit of a more pleasant smell than vinegar), lemon, and lavender oil. For the first wash on the Manduka mats or any mat you want to break up the chemical finish on, you can mix with baking soda or sea salt to make more of an exfoliating scrub that will penetrate the mat deeper. You can scrub with a brush on these thicker, more durable mats; if the mat is thinner and/or of softer construction than a Manduka, you can stick with a wash cloth or sponge. Rinse well in tub or with hose and hang to dry fully in sun before you roll it up.

Because of the disinfectant capabilities of vinegar and tea tree, I use this solution on almost everything. In the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the car, in the bedroom, wherever. It is gentle but thorough. I trust it much more than store-bought household cleaners, I wouldn't want to put those chemicals where I put my food...

Monday, October 3, 2011


It is through the yoga practice that we learn to expand. We work first on the physical level, stretching and strengthening the body to become more open. This can this extend into the mental and emotional bodies. As we expand more, we become lighter, freer, and more tolerant; overall, better managers of our selves and our lives.

I heard a metaphor once. If salt is added to a cup of water, you notice immediately. The water has been tainted, you can taste it, feel it, maybe see it. However, if that same amount of salt is added to a lake, you do not notice. Because the lake is vast. Smaller quantities of negativity or any sentiments will affect you less and less, they will taint you or spoil you or change you. You will be stronger as a result of becoming more spacious. Be vast like the lake.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Forgiveness is not for the person whom you are forgiving, it is for you. You do not need to carry around that negative energy. It will only weigh you down. And forgiveness is not just about saying "it's okay" to the person who we think wronged us. It is much more than that. It is about not thinking of yourself as a victim, and accepting and acknowledging that there is a good chance that whomever it is that you think hurt you did not mean to direct anything towards you at all.  We mistakenly believe that when somebody does something to us that is offensive or hurtful or negative that it is totally all about us. It often is not. This is the ego. Don't make it about YOUR ego. He did not do this to you, she did not do that to you. It may not be about you at all, it is about that person and his/her own "stuff." You do not have to take it on and make it yours. That's your choice. If somebody is giving you something negative like that, and you do not accept it, then who is stuck with it? They are.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Yoga Mats & Towels

I've told a number of people I would post something about my thoughts, opinions, and experiences with yoga mats, yoga bags, yoga clothes, mat washes, etc. Here is the first of these posts... on the endless search for the perfect yoga mat.

It's either too slippery or too sticky, too firm or too mushy, too heavy or too flimsy, too smelly or too detrimental to the environment and the quest for the dream yoga mat is about finding a space that is completely your own, somewhere you can work and rest, and find your balance.

Here is a list of mats that I have tried:

Your average sticky mat: bought at Marshall's or Target or somewhere like that for $15-20; could also easily be found on eBay or Amazon. This mat will come in an array of colors and patterns and is generally made of PVC (which is not eco-friendly, it is not biodegradable and will sit in a landfill for years to come). It is common for this mat to initially be somewhat slippery (though not all are) if you are practicing a vigorous sweaty type of yoga; however, after cleaning the mat with a small amount of dish-soap, it should break down the chemical coating that results from the manufacturing process. The cushioning and support is somewhat limited, so if you have sensitive joints you'll want something thicker. They are very light and easy to transport. These mats might be sufficient if you are just getting started or not practicing yoga very often. However, the sticky mat is sure to break down and you will begin to find little pieces of the mat flake off.

Jade Yoga Mat: Found at the Jade Yoga website, or eBay or Amazon, and possibly some yoga studios such as Peconic River Yoga. Jade makes a number of different types of mats, but there are two different thicknesses that I can speak about ("Harmony"= 3/16" for about $70.00 and "Travel"=1/8" for about $45.00). I know a number of people who swear by the Harmony (thicker) mat for its incredible non-slip surface and cushioning. I tried the thinner "travel mat" because it is lighter and I move locations a lot and don't require a lot of cushioning. Like with the heavier mat, there were no problems slipping at all on this one either. They are made of natural rubber so they are eco-friendly. They are also of an "open-cell" construction, which means it is generally more porous than a "closed-cell" mat (take a good look at this mat compared to the average sticky mat, you'll see what I mean). This I think is what makes the traction so great. However, open-cell means is is going to hold onto a lot more. It will absorb moisture and bacteria more easily so it will be important to keep very clean and what ultimately put me off about this mat is that I found that it also attracted dust and lint and would cling onto any minor debris and sand that it was laid down on.

The Original Eco Yoga Mat: I ordered this off of the Barefoot Yoga Company website for about $78.00. This is a thick and dense mat at 4 mm in thickness and 4.5-6 pounds in weight. The mat is constructed of natural rubber and jute fiber (a grass, like hemp). It is eco-friendly and biodegradable. The jute gives it awesome slip-free traction, and although I've heard some people say the fiber can be a bit abrasive on bare skin, I never had problems with this. The natural rubber has a very strong rubber smell, which might bother some people, but didn't bother me much, it's quite "earthy." I liked this mat a lot. The only trouble I had with this mat is that it shed a lot. Little pieces of natural rubber continuously flaked off and ended up on my clothing.

Manduka Yoga Mats: Found at the Manduka website, eBay, Amazon, or some yoga studios such as Mindful Turtle. As with the Jade Yoga mats, Manduka makes a number of different model mats. I will focus on the Black Mat Pro (about $85.00-94.00), the Pro Lite (about $65.00-72.00) and the eKo SuperLite (about $36.00-39.00). Black Mat Pro and Pro Lite: a truly sophisticated mat model that has a lifetime guarantee stamped on it. So where it lacks in biodegradability, it makes up for in sustainability. This mat is incredibly durable. Its thickness does not interfere with balancing, though, not one of those thick mushy mats that will suck your foot in like quicksand and make it more difficult to balance. If anything, this mat helps balancing with its density. Both the Black Mat Pro and the Pro Lite will be slippery when you first get them. You have to wash with dish soap or some other household cleaner, you can even scrub with a sea-salt or baking soda scrub (I will post my mat cleaner recipe) to rough it up a bit. After you break the mat in, it will not be slippery anymore. I also used the Manduka eQua towel over the mat when it was in its slippery period, which allowed me to use the mat and break it in without slipping around (more on this later). The differences between the Black Mat Pro and the Pro Lite are the colors options; weight; thickness; and width. The Black Mat generally comes in black (as you would expect), but occasionally Manduka will release a special edition (cranberry or sapphire or something like that). It is 7.0 pounds, an enormous 1/4" thick, and the standard 71" long, but 26" wide. The Pro Lite -- which comes in every color of the rainbow -- is 4.0 pounds, 3/16" thick, 71" long and the standard 24" wide.
eKo Mats (SuperLite): I have not tried the eKo Mat or the eKo Lite, but I have tried the eKo SuperLite (travel mat). This series of mats do not come with the same lifetime guarantee. While these are eco-friendly in that they are biodegradable, I have heard that the eKo Lite is not very durable and really isn't appropriate for every-day use. I'd say don't waste your money on this; if you want an every-day mat go with the Pro Lite. If you just must have something that is biodegradable, better off with Jade Travel. However, people seem to be pretty satisfied with the Manduka eKo Mat, which is comparable to the Jade Harmony in thickness and performance. I haven't tested this one out. I bought the eKo SuperLite for travel. I like to travel light and unless I am going somewhere specifically for a yoga retreat, I bring the SuperLite. It is flimsy and there is no support, but it gets the job done. It would not be appropriate for every-day use, but it is good if you want something to throw over a studio mat for sanitary purposes or something to lay down in a hotel room. It folds up to fit in your suitcase quite nicely.

With all of this being said, when it comes to slipping, shedding, breaking in, and cleanliness purposes, the yoga towels really are a nice addition. If you practice a more vigorous style of yoga or "hot yoga," a regular towel might do, but the yoga towels like the eQua towel made by Manduka, Thirsty yoga towel made by Gaiam, Skidless Yogi Toes towel, or the prAna yoga towel are moisture-wicking and/or extra absorbent, making them more effective as you sweat on them. They come in a full-length mat size and also in a hand-towel size as well. I have used Manduka's, and it helped enormously during the break-in period of my mat when it was still slippery. Now I lend it to people when I see them slipping, and everybody raves about how helpful it is.

There are dozens of other mats out there that I don't know enough about to speak for, but hopefully this can give you some things to think about, to look out for, and feel more prepared as you make an investment in a yoga mat. The mats made by prAna look interesting and promising, (E.C.O. Yoga Mat, Revolution Sticky Mat, Natural Yoga Mat, Nomad Travel Mat) as do many of the Hugger Mugger mats. Gaiam makes a ton of mats that come with whimsical and beautiful designs which seem to please enough people because I see them around a lot, but I am not ultimately sure about the functionality, permanence, or durability of these.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Magnitude of the Mind

Your brain and your mind are not the same thing, right? Your brain is the sensory organ, that which perceives precepts, by use of the senses, and it resides in your head. Your mind is that which puts its own spin on what you perceive, it is the concept. Where is the mind? You do not only have one mind; because it is possible to watch the thoughts. If you only had one mind, how could you watch the thoughts that inhabit that mind? Who is doing the watching? You have two minds. And they are constantly talking to one another. The mind does not take permanent residence in the physical body. It is all around you. And all of your thoughts have energy, yes? Some are denser (negative thoughts are heavier), so they will hang closer to the earth (they weigh more, which is why we describe them as "heavy" and "low"); and some are light and high (positive thoughts), making it more difficult to catch those and keep them. If your thoughts are energy and they are all around you, they have the power to affect you, your surroundings, and other people. This is why we teach "positive thoughts."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

One Thing At A Time

The reading for class this morning was on "one thing at a time."

"Multi-tasking is the antithesis of yoga."

Yoga is about focusing the mind on one thing for an extended period of time, not about putting the mind here and then dragging it over there, while tossing it up over there, and shoving it down there. And this is what we often do.

We live in a society that emphasizes productivity, as though your self-worth is contingent on what or how much you can get done. We are convinced that we need to cram our agendas full of meaningless and trivial acts to prove our value and that we need to "keep up with the times." Smart phones are the epitome of this - the commercials boast about how we can surf the web, be on a phone-call, send a text message, and drive to the date we are running late for all at once. This is something that society has convinced us we want...? This to me, implies that we cannot handle or run our own lives without these ridiculous little devices showing us the way.

So we eat fast, we drive fast, we shop a lot, we spend a lot, we fanatically explore all the ways that we can be in more than one place at once, we can keep up with everybody at once, and we can get more done faster. A conclusion similar to the one I came up with in another recent post: sometimes less is more, pulling back is the only way to move ahead. "One thing at a time, and when in doubt, first things come first."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Your Teacher

I took a class this morning and before the class, I alerted the teacher that I have had lower back pain lately and if she could offer any guidance, it would be much appreciated. It's definitely muscular, and I suspect I have been aggravating the quadratus lumborum by clenching the glutes and pushing my front ribs out too much during my Upward-Facing Dog. I told her I have been told to stop squeezing the buttocks, and to engage the inner thighs more but it has been a difficult habit to break. So I have been obsessively trying to figure out specifically what I've been doing wrong to lead to this discomfort; I am convinced something is misaligned for me to have developed such pain. When I practice Upward-Facing Dog squeezing a block between my inner thighs and not arching back as deeply, it is more comfortable. She said she personally did not see the importance of engaging the inner thighs and to continue practicing in a more conservative way, as I have been. After class and seeing my practice, she said to me that I should consider doing less. What a new and unusual idea for me. I know about Patanjali's defining asana as sthiram sukham -- about the steadiness and the ease, and attempting to find the balance between the two can be a harrowing task. I have a very strong practice, she said, maybe I just need to do a little bit less. Because while yes, maybe I am doing something slightly wrong in my backbends that is causing me this discomfort, but she said if I continue to practice with so much strength and vigor and hardness, then it is likely that tension will build somewhere else if not in my lower back. More softness, she said. It is interesting because I hadn't thought about this.
It can sometimes be frustrating when different people tell you different things, sometimes all together contradicting one another. As you practice more, you will find that different teachers will steer you in different directions, and realistically, the only way you can know what is right is to practice it, to experiment with it, and see what works for you. You cannot take anything as universal truth, because everybody is different and you are going to be different every day. I am convinced that each teacher appears before us at specific moments because the universe conspires to guide us towards what is going to be right for us. There is legitimacy to what every teacher shares with you, because he/she must really believe it, otherwise they wouldn't be teaching it. You find the teacher when you are ready. All you can do is practice, practice, practice.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that you cannot sincerely try to help another without helping yourself."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Loosening Grip

Noticing where mental or emotional tension is registered in my body today... easy to become obsessed and engrossed in negativity, fears, doubts, regret, troublesome memories. My mind wrapped around these things coiled like a snake, trying to loosen my grip. Softening there, and the physical body immediately follows. The act of surrendering doesn't make me lose control, it provides me with more control.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Everything Is Already There For You

"The bad news: there is no key to the universe. Good news: It was never locked." -Swami Beyondananda

Thursday, August 18, 2011

To Be Present is To Express Gratitude

To be present is to express gratitude and fully enjoy those things which you love most. Simple things. Such as green leaves, blooming flowers, soft sand, sunshine on your skin, the bountiful and lively feeling that is in the air during the summer. These are the things we crave when we are stuck in the thick of winter (at least here in Northeast U.S.), right? So all throughout March, we're moaning and groaning, I can't wait until summer, I can't wait until summer... so not only are we are not present, enjoying the gifts that the end of winter may have to offer, but once the summer comes, do we appreciate it? Maybe in June. Once we are well into August, are we even here anymore? Enjoy the August sunshine, before autumn brings its rainbow-colored leaves, crisp air, farm-stands with pumpkins and roasted corn...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Yoga Etiquette... what maybe you hadn't thought about?

I have decided to take the time out to post a few things on Yoga Etiquette, which may seem silly, but for some reason many of these things do not seem widely known.

The idea of yoga etiquette is somewhat humorous because when you begin to practice yoga seriously, it is not that you never make mistakes or slip up, but you are indeed more introspective and aware of yourself and your surroundings. So you may need fewer reminders and if you do happen to do something that could be considered somewhat offensive, you've probably already given it a great deal of thought. However, many of us are still just learning, so here are some reminders. (Teachers feel free to share with your students as well!)

Arrive to class on time. We all know what it is like to drive in Long Island traffic, and what it is like to be overbooked. The kids have to be there, and I have to be here, and the laundry, and dinner, and the house, and I need to clean and the gardening, and the guests we're having over this weekend... and yes, we all understand how it seems like there isn't enough time in the day. However, practicing yoga requires a bit of a commitment. And that does mean, maybe give yourself the extra five minutes to get to yoga class? You know you're always cutting it close, and wouldn't it be a nicer trip if you weren't rushing? It is very distracting when someone comes in late, and often times, he or she may not enter quietly. It is true that every other yoga practitioner in the room is working on pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) and is therefore conditioning to not be as distracted by someone fumbling around on the other side of the room, but, everybody also deserves to have as peaceful of an experience as possible.

If you do happen to be running late, as this can happen to everybody every so often (it's a matter of not making a habit of it), try opening the door to the yoga room quietly. Peek in. If your teacher is in the middle of a centering period that often occurs in the first 5-10 minutes of class, meaning everybody is seated or lying down or in a resting posture with their eyes closed, getting connected to their breath, and the teacher could be leading a meditation or philosophy discussion... then, wait by the door. Don't come stumbling in to step over mats and throw your mat down loudly in the middle of the room. Sit by the door, quietly, without unloading your things just yet, and listen to the discussion and take YOUR time to make the transition into the yoga room and out of wherever you just came from. Once the class has moved out of that centering period, opened their eyes, and moved into the first posture of the class, they are less likely to be disturbed by your late arrival, so then set your mat down and join the class.

Follow the instructions that the teacher gives you. Just be respectful. Sometimes, when we are accustomed to practicing in a certain way and we've developed habits, we just want to do things the way we are used to doing them. However, if the teacher is asking you to try to enter a pose in a different way, to transition from one pose to another in a way that you are not used to, try it out. There is a reason the teacher is instructing the way he or she is, so have respect and patience and give it a try. If it feels grossly wrong for your body or you are simply incapable of doing it, that is when you flag your teacher down and ask for assistance or a modification. That is why you came to a class to have a teacher in front of you, yes? There is an enormous difference between making the practice your own versus doing your own practice. We, as teachers, encourage students to make the practice their own, to find their inner voice, to find their breath, and to pay very close attention to their bodies throughout their yoga practice. That is how we develop as yoga practitioners and also how we prevent injury. But, if you are just doing whatever you want without listening to the instructions or thinking that your way of doing things is better and you don't want to give what your teacher is saying a chance, then why come to a class? You are always welcome to practice modifications or variations of a pose, but to simply do a different pose without instruction to do so is somewhat disrespectful to your teacher. I have also had students who continue to move through their own practice at the end of class, even once I have led the class into Savasana (Corpse Pose), or the final relaxation, a crucial part to your practice. Take your rest. Do not continue to practice throughout relaxation. You are bringing an active energy to a class that is now trying to calm and cool down, and people will sense that. You are also not being fair to yourself because you need rest.

Tell your teacher about your injuries or limitations. Many teachers, including myself, ask about this at the beginning of every class. The information you give me about your body on that particular day may influence what I teach and how I teach it and also if and/or how I adjust your body. If I know your shoulder is hurting you today because you were shoveling snow all day, I am not going to give you an adjustment that involves putting pressure on your shoulder. If I know almost half of the class has lower back pain (because so many of us do), I may specifically design a class to accommodate those pesky lower backs. Your teacher may or may not be able to help you with whatever is ailing you, but it certainly does not hurt to inform your teacher. Your teacher will also understand better why you may be practicing at the level you are practicing at, or why your practice may look different than it normally does. It does not have to be a chronic injury to count. It can be something as simple as sleeping wrong and ending up with weird neck pain. It is relevant.

Silence or ditch your cellphones. I understand many of us have children or other people we need to care for, and so we want to be reached just in case. If there is a possibility you may receive an important call, then have your cellphone close by on vibrate, but don't keep looking at it. I've seen this in class before; people keep peeking at their phones like the text message or email they are about to receive is more important than Ujjayi breath. Give yourself an hour, seriously. Just an hour of your day taking a yoga class, you can afford to give yourself a break from the cellphone. What did people in the 1970s before cellphones? They lived. If you can, just leave your phone outside the yoga room, in your car, or even at home. It's actually quite liberating.

Come open-minded! This is somewhat related to trying out the things that your teacher is instructing. But, try to leave judgments and the events of the day at the door. Come to yoga class ready to learn something new, ready to be inspired. If not, why come?...

A Critique of "9 Habits That Can Do More Harm Than Good": A Workout Routine That Does Not Include Stretching

As promised, the second suggestion that this article makes that I find sub-par is:

#5: Doing Only Cardio When You Work Out (I will paste here.)

"It’s easy to assume that the best way to lose weight is to stick to the same cardio workout, but “if you only do cardio, your body will become so accustomed to the routine that you’ll start to burn less fat over time,” says Joseph Ciccone, DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist at ColumbiaDoctors Eastside Sports Therapy in New York. Plus, going through repeated motions on the treadmill or elliptical machine can create tight muscles and lead to injury. Trade in a few of your cardio workouts for circuit training, which involves doing a number of different strength training exercises with little rest between moves in order to keep your heart rate up while also working out your entire body, ensuring that you’ll burn the most calories—without burning out. Integrating resistance training into your routine will create muscle mass, which will help you burn more calories throughout the day, even when you’re at rest, says Jennifer Fleischer, exercise and nutrition coach and owner of Holistic Fitness in San Francisco. She also recommends revamping your cardio routine by mixing in interval training once a week. Try doing 30 seconds of high intensity motion, whether you’re on the treadmill, elliptical machine or in the swimming pool, followed by 90 seconds of recovery at a moderate pace, working your way up to 10 repetitions. The bursts of intensity followed by recovery will effectively and efficiently blast calories and fat."

OK, I agree that doing only cardio when you work out is a major set-back; however, this article is missing something crucial. Circuit training (strengthening exercises with little rest to keep the heart rate up) and interval training (several repetitions of 30 seconds of high intensity motions followed by 90 seconds of moderate pace to recover) are suggested in place of cardio. This is all that is suggested.

The ironic part about this is that the physical therapist or the author (it is unclear who) claims that "...going through repeated motions on the treadmill or elliptical machine can create tight muscles and lead to injury." Yet, neither of these suggestions that are made really fix the "tight muscle" phenomenon because neither involves stretching. It sounds like both of the suggestions that were made are also strength-building activities, which do tend to lead to tight, stiff muscles.

So I recognize that simple stretching may not seem like much of a "workout routine," because most people don't think of it as very vigorous or challenging, and don't expect that it will "effectively and efficiently blast calories and fat," as this is stressed in the article.

I suggest to the author or the physical therapist who neglected to mention yoga to try attending an Ashtanga or Vinyasa class and tell me that it's not vigorous, or challenging, and does not have the capacity to not only stretch out those tight muscles that strength-training builds, but also "blast" that fat...

A Critique of "9 Habits That Can Do More Harm Than Good": The Activity Of The Feet

I was checking my mail on Yahoo this morning and this article appeared: "9 Habits That Can Do More Harm Than Good."

While I agree with most of these, there are two that I had a really hard time with.

#3: Wearing Flip-Flops. (I will copy and paste here.)
"Forgoing sky-high heels and toe-pinching boots for the freedom of flip-flops is giving your feet a much-need break, right? Not exactly. Turns out, your summer shoes aren’t doing you any favors. According to Jordana Szpiro, DPM, a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Boston, “Flip-flops and other unsupportive sandals, which have no arch support and give no structural support to the foot, can lead to stress fractures since your uncushioned feet become strained when they try to support too much weight,” she explains. “Extensor or flexor tendinitis is also a common problem that happens as a result of trying to keep your flip-flips on—the muscles on top or underneath your feet overexert themselves while trying to grip your shoes.” She also advises against walking around shoeless, even if you’re by the pool or in your gym’s locker room. “Aside from not giving your feet any support, going barefoot can also be challenging for those prone to infectious skin diseases such as plantar warts and athlete’s foot, which are easily spread poolside, in pedicure salons and in gyms.” But that doesn't mean you need to spend your summer in closed toe shoes. Dr. Szpiro recommends comfortable sandals that also provide plenty of support, like styles from Fit FlopsOrthoHeel and Mephisto."

There is much talk about orthopedics and supportive shoes. I understand the merit of that to a certain extent, because your feet are your foundation and absolutely no doubt about it what is going on with your feet affects your ankles which affects your knees which affects your hips which effects your pelvis which affects your spine from your lower back all the way up through your neck. And if you have flat feet and tend to over-pronate (collapse to the inner arches) or your have high arches and tend to excessively supinate (roll to the outer edges), this is going to lead to weakness and instability and tension in the foot, and eventually, other parts of the body as well.

However, here is this podiatrist suggesting that we do not walk around in shoes with no arch support nor walk around barefoot. Does this seem natural to anybody? To commit your feet to a life in stiff, thick-soled "supportive" shoes. This is healthy? I wonder, what exactly do you suppose happened before shoes?

There was a time, believe it or not, where humans roamed the earth barefoot and there still are many tribal communities and villages and select eccentric people in every-day society who choose to remain barefoot as often as they can. Our feet were designed in such a divine way to to be able to accommodate quite a variety of terrain and surfaces, including uneven dirt paths and rocky roads. Binding your feet in shoes limits the flexibility and movement of the foot and from what I've observed, can lead to tension in the feet and surrounding areas as much as, if not more than, being barefoot.

As a yoga instructor and practitioner, I do not spend much time in shoes. Nor do I have any desire to. Whenever someone suggests orthopedics to me for my flat feet, I tell them there's no point. I am so seldom in shoes that why exactly would I want my feet to grow accustomed to the support to only then be in worse shape when I am not wearing shoes with support or orthopedics? I tell them, I do not want cushioning on the beds of my shoes to do the work that my feet, legs, and pelvis should be doing muscularly themselves. Instead of wearing orthopedics, I prefer to work my feet by first, lifting the toes (dorsi-flexing the foot very strong) to find the arch in my foot that seems to be missing and connect to the ball of the foot; then set the toes back down, spread wide without gripping the floor, keeping the arches lifted; then grounding very strong into the outer edges of the feet (because I tend to roll to the inner edges), as though someone were holding my feet in place but I am trying to pull them apart. So, in short, to find the balance between grounding into the ball and the heel of the foot equally, and to pronate and supinate equally. Try it. You will feel all over the muscles in your legs and even up into your pelvis come alive. This is the work that our bodies ought to be doing, not collapsing into a pair of soft enabling to only be weakened by.

If you are not sure whether you have high or low arches and whether you tend to roll to the inner edges (pronation) or outer edges (supination) of your feet, take a look at the soles of your shoes. You will likely find that there is more wear on either the inner or outer edges. You want to focus on doing the opposite from whatever your tendency is. If you are doing it correctly, you will feel the muscles of your legs work in a different kind of way than you may be used to. I am under the impression that this kind of work can relieve stress and tension than you may have in all areas of your body, from your toes all the way up to to your head, because it is all connected.

There is a second suggestion in this article that I have a complaint about. I will write on that one later.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The "Yogic Diet"

On two recent occasions now, I have been asked about my diet by a student. "What do you eat?" "Do you eat meat?" And the answer is, I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables; and yes, I eat some meat.

What I want to stress here is that I don't believe in forcing your body into a diet that doesn't work for it or doesn't make you feel right. A lot of people seem to think that all yogis are vegetarians; so when we embark upon this yogic path, we say, OK... so I have to stop eating meat, right? Yes and no. Stop eating meat if that's what your body is asking for, or if you feel strongly enough about the effect your diet and your habits have on the environment, the planet, and every living being as a whole.

I do not think it will necessarily work out if you force yourself to stop eating meat when your body is still really craving meat. Some discipline is good, and getting a little tough on yourself may be appropriate sometimes, so I'm not saying Never do that. What I am saying is that for me, the natural progression of slowly and gently eliminating things from my diet is what works. Because I do not crave any of these things that I have eliminated, so there was really no struggle involved. It is just very natural.

I suffered with some rather severe digestive issues a number of years ago, before my yoga practice became what I consider it to be now, and before I managed the stress in my life in a more effective way. I had, at different points, cut out many things from my diet including, fats like meat, dairy, oils, even nuts; gluten and all simple carbohydrates and refined sugars; and insoluble fibers, even some fruits and vegetables. If you do feel as badly as I did, trial-and-error is the only way to determine what it is that your body is having an adverse reaction to... until you can train yourself to become very attune to your body's messages and you will soon know exactly what is agreeable and what is disagreeable without much effort. However, this may come more easily to some than to others.

I eventually did channel and listen to my inner voice or intuition and it became very obvious what was aggravating my digestive system and sometimes even provoking headaches and other reactions.

At one point in my life (even during my time practicing yoga), I did feel I needed meat in my diet. I was anemic earlier on and felt that I needed the iron and protein that meat provided, so I ate meat. Gradually and without expectation, over the course of a year or two, I felt unpleasantly full and heavy and dragged down every time I consumed red meat. It was this coupled with an experience I had in December 2010 that prompted me to eliminate red meat (cow and pork) from my diet. I still have poultry and seafood, but not often.

In December, I visited a friend in Mexico and witnessed the slaughtering of a bull. It was as humane is I think it could be -- nothing like what we practice regularly here in the U.S. It, however, still disturbed me and I could see such life and consciousness in this bull's eyes (like a cat or dog might have... if you have pets, you know what I mean). It is a different kind of consciousness than I've observed in a chicken or in a fish. Not to say these creatures are not conscious beings, but the energy there is profoundly different from what I can see.

In addition to the fact that the consumption of heavy foods like meat products does not seem compatible with a consistent yoga practice, the other reasons vegetarianism is associated with yoga are because of the effort of mindfulness that comes with the yoga practice and observation of the gunas, or the modes of life, and the aim to live a more sattvic life.

When you set on a path to be more aware of your actions and decisions and how they affect the world and others, you will begin to consider not only what you do, say, think, feel, but also what you eat, what you buy, what you wear, what you make time for, etc. (more on all of this in another post though). Most relevantly to this subject matter is that it is quite natural to begin to feel for other creatures, including cows, pigs, and even the chicken, turkeys, and sea creatures. So, you may not want to eat them anymore. The other part about this that I think is relevant is that I believe in the transfer of energy. Meaning, if an animal was continually abused the way many of the animals that we consume are, there is a lot of negative, unhappy energy registered in that animal's body, in some way, whether you want to believe in that or not. That energy is what you are consuming. An unhappy, overworked, underappreciated being.

The other thing is that traditionally, there are certain foods that are considered sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic, as per the three gunas (which I wrote about before, and you can see it here). Meat products are considered rajasic, meaning they are stimulating, and can produce arousal and restlessness of mind, disturbing the equilibrium of the body; tamasic foods are static and are therefore harmful to the mind or the body producing laziness, fatigue, and depression; sattvic foods, however, are characterized by purity and goodness, yielding mental clarity and tranquility.

Most of my diet can fall under the sattvic diet these days; however, I want to emphasize again this wasn't necessarily something I consciously chose. I believe that when you are practicing the other aspects of yoga (asanas (poses), pranayama (breathing techniques), yamas and niyamas (codes of conduct), etc.), this will happen quite naturally. When the body becomes more pure, it will tolerate and impurity less and less. So, I stopped consuming most food products from the other categories (rajasic and tamasic) because they made me feel unhealthy. If you listen to that feeling, that higher knowledge that we are all equipped with, you will discover what foods and drinks are right for your body because the body knows... and THAT is the "yogic diet," the one that produces feelings of calm, peace, health, and harmony in your body, mind, and soul.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

How To Relax

I took a class last week with Bianca and she had us consider what our personal reasons are for not relaxing. We all complain we don't have the time to relax, but at the end of the day, you are going to make the time for what you want and what you need. What do you do to avoid relaxing?

Maybe it's just a mental activity, like worrying, doubting, procrastinating, criticizing, complaining; or maybe it is a physical activity like watching TV, being on the Internet. Anything that agitates your mind or stimulates in a negative way. Instead, consider what you could do that will either calm the mind all together or stimulate it in a positive, productive, creative way. You do not have to lay down to relax. Though, if that's what you enjoy doing, you should. You can take a bath, read a book, write, paint, draw, make music, pamper yourself, garden, even cook or clean, if those activities are enjoyable to you.

So today, I am in this very rare position where I have nothing I need to do. No more classes to teach today, no workshops I am planning to attend, nothing... it feels rather unnatural to relax.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Greater Harmony

"And so that our yoga practices are whatever choice we have to make,we ask ourselves, first, would this choice lead to greater harmony in my life?"

What Do You Need...

What do you need today?

Ask yourself this every day. You cannot meet someone else's needs, take care of someone or something else, until you have taken care of yourself and your own needs. Our needs are moving, changing, shifting, and fluctuating daily. If you are fulfilled, you can then aid in fulfilling others, with love, devotion, and sincerity. If you are not fulfilled, you can try to help fulfilling others, but it will not be from a genuine place and it will not be the same. We can only have sincere compassion if we have taken care of ourselves, which means sometimes saying "no," setting boundaries, and acknowledging limitations. We do the work ourselves first; we cannot do the work for others though, only guide them and offer our hand. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that we can make others happy or that we are responsible for others; when in reality, only we can bring ourselves from darkness to light, from death to immortality, from suffering to liberation.

Through yoga, we garner the physical flexibility to make it mental: to be mentally flexible is to be tolerant, accepting, and accommodating of others and of yourself. We build the physical strength to translate it emotionally; to be strong enough to set boundaries and walk away confident, secure, and empowered.

What Do You Need To Say No To?

What do you need to say "no" to?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hunger, Struggle, Acceptance

In a workshop I took with Gabriel Halpern this past weekend -- who gives inspirational and insightful dharma/philosophy discussions and whose anatomical knowledge and technical instruction is phenomenal -- he posed three questions for us:

What are you hungry for?
What are you struggling with?
What do you need to give yourself permission to do?

Interpret as you wish.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

To Be Present is To Be Spontaneous

To be present. This means to be accommodating, to be adaptive, to adjust to the surprises that are thrown at us and change in order to fit the situations that we are placed in. Even if you had another plan, other desires or needs, to be present means to see and hear and feel for other people -- no matter how well you know them, how close they are to you, or how "significant" you believe them to be -- and to recognize their needs may be greater than yours. And sometimes, that means tossing your plans to the side to be there for another person. No matter how great or small the act or the request is, this is what it is to be spontaneous and present, living in the moment.

Monday, August 8, 2011

To Really Be Present, Really, Interacting With the World

Today I can honestly state that I was present for more of the day than usual, I was present more often than not.

Be honest with yourself: were you present today? What does it mean for you to be present? What kinds of attributes or traits may you need to adopt and what kinds of habits or tendencies may you need to strip?

I am present when I am teaching and when I am learning and practicing. This to me, is natural (after years of practicing yoga). The work lies in being present off of the mat, while I'm driving, while I'm cooking, while I'm cleaning, while I'm shopping for groceries. Trivial and mundane tasks where it is easy to be on auto-pilot and just go. Because we know these actions well, we have done them before, and we do not need to be present to get them done again and again. We can close our eyes while strolling down the aisles, close our ears while we cook and clean, and keep one hand on the wheel while the other plans the To-Do list for the rest of the week. Because we are a future-oriented breed. Planning, anticipating, expecting, worrying.

But can you break down those habits, and interact with your world, your environment, and the people in it in a completely new way that means accommodating, adjusting, and acknowledging? That means indulging in each moment as though it were your last, that means embracing each encounter because your whole life has brought you to this moment, to this person that is standing in front of you, whether it is your lover, your boss, your neighbor, or the gas station attendant. Can you be present with this person? Be honest, be real, interact with them, listen to them, speak to them, share with them your knowledge, your experience, your insights, your life.

When the cashier at Trader Joe's asked me how I was, I gave the answer that we all give when we are not present: "good, thanks, how are you." I was hardly asking him, and hardly answering him. I gave him a standard answer because I was already out the door. I was already driving home, I wanted to be home, because I wanted to eat, I wanted to continue the projects I had started this weekend, I wanted to get a lot done before I had to teach my evening classes, so I was not there. It was not an honest answer. Even if you are "good," can you give it more thought? Can you answer the question with more sincerity? Can you slow your answer down, give it careful consideration, offer a different word, a different perspective, and really listen to the other person when they are speaking back to you? That is presence.

It didn't hit me until after. My initial inclination to feel badly about that, to beat myself up for a short time, telling myself Oh you're no good, you're not present, you're not mindful, what kind of yogi are you, how do you teach peace and presence to other people when you can't find it yourself." But not today. No, today, I said, OK. But now I know. I am aware of it. This is a GOOD thing. This is how we change. You catch yourself more and more often, and you grow and expand and move and develop from that. Not to mention, it is a practice. That means IT is moving, breathing, living, and therefore fluctuating. Just because I can't find the presence in each moment, does not mean I am not practicing finding the presence.

One glimpse of that, and you will want to stay there. Everybody that has felt what it feels like to be present, to be immersed in a moment, will work to stay there, because it is worth it.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Comfortable with Uncomfortable

Most of today, I was uncomfortably damp. I took an Ashtanga-Inspired Vinyasa class this morning (a real treat, because normally I teach Sunday mornings), and I sweat so much, it was noticeable in touch and in sight (hopefully not smell), through my skin, my hair, and my clothes.

I pretty much had to go straight to a workshop I registered for from there, so no time for a shower. It was also pouring rain this morning. So, between the sweat and the rain, I was unusually wet most of the morning into the afternoon. This reminded me of getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.

This is what we do in yoga. We put ourselves in often uncomfortable positions so that we can train ourselves to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. We must take ourselves out of our comfort zone. If we are comfortable, we do not change. We get lazy. No shift occurs if we are comfortable because we will keep doing whatever it is we are doing and that is how we form habits and develop patterns and these are the very things we are trying to bring light to, to change, to shift, to become aware of, through the practice of yoga.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Driving in Meditation

As far as I am concerned, driving on Long Island is one of the more stressful activities you can be forced to endure throughout the day. If you can meditate while driving, you'll find other endeavors far easier.

When I say "meditate," I do not mean close your eyes, or daze off, get all dreamy, and end up traveling from Point A to Point B without knowing how you got there. That's not meditating. That's called not being present, and is in fact, the exact opposite of meditating.

When I say meditating, I mean you must be fully present, fully focused, and completely immersed in the moment in the act of driving -- while remaining balanced, content, and peaceful. That means, you're not harshly accelerating because you're in a rush (as everybody seems to be on Long Island). That is rajas, over-activity and aggression. That means you're not blocking intersections, even if it's just the 711, because you had the where-with-all and the foresight to see that someone would need to turn out of that parking lot or make a left-hand turn into that parking lot while you're still braking at a traffic light. That means you're not swearing the person tailgating you, even if he/she flashes his/her lights at you or honks his/her horn. That means you're not missing your turn or missing street signs or signals or sirens because your mind went somewhere else. That means you don't have to slam on your brakes because you looked down to change the song and when you looked up traffic was stopped or a pedestrian was walking in front of you. You are not la-la-ing around, admiring scenery, gazing at the stars, marveling at flowers in bloom... this is laziness, tamas, not what we are looking for while driving. You are arriving at sattva, present, alert, focused, you hear what's going on around you too, because you're not on a call wrapped up in someone else or something else that is not on the road in front of you. This is meditation. Being focused on the road, on your environment, on the affect you are having on the environment and other people on the road and the affect that they are having on you.

The next time you catch yourself curse the person who cut you off, stop. See if you can take a deep breath. You'll notice that when you are in that kind of rush or panic, the stress registers in your body and your breath will get shallow or inconsistent in some way. Witness the effects that driving has on your body physically, mentally, and emotionally. How does it affect your musculoskeletal structure, your posture, your breathing, your mood, your attitude, your thoughts, and your feelings?

See if you can transport yourself from one place to another, without rushing but without being in another world, but being fully in this world, anticipating other people's moves, using judgment and awareness when it comes to your moves, and trusting that you are going to get to where you need to go when you get there, so abandon the controlling, the rushing, the worrying, the aggravation with other people, and allow yourself to just be.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What Inspires You?

I've discovered a way for keeping myself on track. I decided that if I can constantly remind myself and remain aware of what inspires me, what motivates me, what my intention is for how I'd like to interact with the world, the environment, the people, and the situations that surround me, I will be able to keep myself in a balanced place.

When I catch myself driving aggressively, I have to stop myself and say: what if my teacher saw this? What would she say? I could hear Mokshapriya saying to me: "you're not present." And what if my students saw this? Is this not what I teach and talk about in class? (And as a side-note to students: our work is all the same. Your teachers are not infallible or perfect. For everyone, the work is about being present, being focused, being mindful.)

So what is it for you? Is there someone or something that inspires you to be better? A parent, a child, a sibling, friend, a lover, a teacher, a student...? If not someone, is there a goal, a higher purpose, a challenge, a path, that motivates you and inspires you to be who you are/who you want to be?

Figure out what that this is, and use it. In your darkest, ugliest, most humiliating, mortifying, unproud moments,   remember that person, that thing, that idea, that image, and let it drive you to rise to the occasion. Let it be the thing that allows you to show up, to pull through, and rise above being someone you don't want to be. Because every single one of us is that person on occasion. Every single person does or says or just thinks something that he would rather not, something that is in stark discrepancy with what she really wants out of life or out of herself.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Today I had the privilege to teach three classes and to take two classes. Over six hours of yoga, and I cannot think of anything else I'd rather be doing.

It is the commuting from one place to another that can get grueling, but while I am mid-Long Island traffic and swearing every traffic light, I have to stop myself and recognize how lucky I am. I get to spend all day doing what I love to do. How many people can say that?

This forces me to stay present.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Craving and Rejecting

The next time you find yourself stressed out, or challenged mentally or emotionally or physically, or whatever, see if you can just witness it. Without judgment, without expectation, just simple observation. See if you can observe the process of craving and rejecting. This simple cycle of craving something and rejecting another thing which can be applied to so many instances. It can be as basic as you have an itch on your face, you crave to be more comfortable and not feel that itch, so you reject the itch and the feeling of discomfort. This is the process of precept (of perceiving). The outcome is the action; you scratch the itch. This is a simple example. Now think of it on a much greater scale.

Your friend, or family member, or significant other, or coworker, or neighbor communicates that something you did or said was hurtful or offensive or uncomfortable in some way. You reject his or her feelings because they are not agreeable and you crave for things to just be fine and easy instead of questionable or difficult. So you deny or argue against his or her feelings instead of just accept that somebody in your life may feel a way that differs from how you feel. This forcefulness and pressure only makes things worse, and now you are hurt, offended, or uncomfortable too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Revealing Nature of Distractions

A few weeks ago I taught a class and found myself completely inspired by the group of students in front of me, and spoke to that... to that energy that I sensed in the room, and I could tell what I said resonated with more than one person in that class.

When I suggested that the class set an intention at the beginning of practice, I attempted to better explain what I meant by this, what I thought a strong and meaningful intention might be and how to figure out what you might want to set as an intention. I remember the effort to set an intention in my first classes, and wasn't sure what was meant by that. What is my intention? Where do I begin? It's a funny question to explore when you are not used to thinking in that way.

I told my students to look to their distractions to set an intention. Notice: what is it that is pulling you away from this moment, right now, right here? Where does the mind want to go? There is always going to be something to pull you away from the moment, there is always going to be a distraction, there is always going to be a reason why you are not 100%. When you can begin to notice patterns and habits, you can begin to work with them.

I watched my students. I presented examples: are you constantly on the move, are you always making to-do lists and busying yourself, living in the next moment, anticipating the future, worrying about something that hasn't even happened yet and very well may never happen? Your work is going to be about presence, about patience, and faith and trust in the present moment, because that is going to fuel your present action which is going to affect your future. Or, does your mind go to a critical place? Do you wander to a place of self-criticism and self-judgment? Beating yourself up, asking yourself why you're not better, telling yourself you are not good enough. Your intention needs to be about self-love, acceptance, and compassion. Judging yourself is one of the most detrimental things you can do. It disempowers you.

I watched as one student nodded her head. Another began to cry a little. It was so profoundly touching, to witness my words affect another person in that way, to know I had influenced someone, I had spoke to someone's experience, and very simply because I listened to an inner voice and I spoke from my heart. Though my students may not have considered it, I understood full well in that moment, the reason I can speak to these things, the reason I can understand and share my knowledge on this subject, is because I, too, have felt it. And during those darker moments, never did I think that they would somehow make me a better person by facilitating me to help another person see light.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Balance Between The 3 Gunas: Rajas, Tamas, Sattva

I like the way my teacher, Mokshapriya, explains the 3 Gunas, or modes of life: look at nature, she says. Look at the birds. When the birds wake up, what do they do? They sing. This is their sattvic time. They rejoice; they don't think about work yet, they don't worry about when and how and where they are going to get their food, they just sing. When it comes time for forage for food, they go about their business, moving into rajas. At the end of the day, no matter what they did or did not get done, they put the beaks in the wings, and they sleep, because it is time for tamas. Very simple. Learn from the birds.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sankalpa (Intention) and Your Intuition (Higher Knowing)

Tuesday night I taught a class and had one of those divine moments that I was completely in tune with the people in front of me and what they needed. It was one of those brilliant moments where you catch that spark of intuition and you run with it... my philosophy or dharma talk before class made a student cry. I felt for her, because the only way I can talk about things that are difficult and painful is having experienced them myself.

The discussion stemmed from the nature of our distractions -- and how they are there to guide us, in a sense. Your distractions on the yoga mat as well as off of the yoga mat are there to reveal something to you about yourself, so that you can then work on it and begin your intention -- your sankalpa -- there. For example, I shared with my students, if you are consistently bombarded by obsessive thoughts, but perfecting and controlling things, then your work is going to be first, to let go. However, obsession is really fear and doubt in disguise. We obsess and we control out of the fear and doubt that we are not going to be taken care of or that things are not going to work out the way they should. Therefore, after you have done your best work and given what you can to a situation, it then  becomes about the opposites of fear and doubt: courage and faith. Another example I shared with my students, is, if distracting thoughts are commonly about self-criticism and self-analyzing, you must learn to love yourself. Criticizing yourself disempowers you, and paralyzes you. You cannot move forward if you are constantly judging yourself. I've learned this the hard way; and if you have that tendency, no, it's not easy to abolish. It takes hard, tireless, conscientious work to turn it around. But it is absolutely work it. So love, acceptance, faith, courage, and confidence... endlessly. These are the topics for meditation and for your intention.

I was so moved that I reached someone in that class. I truly believe that certain students attend certain classes to hear, to see, and to experience whatever it is I have to offer at that time... they come when they are ready to learn what I am teaching. No accident, no coincidence. I hope that this knowledge can enrich the lives of my students as much as it has enriched mine. The wonderful is that we all have that Higher Knowing, that intuition, that guided me to say the things I said in that class on Tuesday night. We just must trust that we do.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Revisiting Yoga Journal Conference NYC 2011: Sadie Nardini

I haven't discussed some of the other workshops I took at the Yoga Journal Conference NYC 2011.  Another workshop I enjoyed thoroughly was with Sadie Nardini. Sadie is very personable, very authentic, very comfortable. One thing I love about her is that she explains why she is instructing you to do what you are doing; she gives you reason and I think reason makes people feel safe and feel confident in the teacher. Her sequencing is very intelligent.

Sadie also gave us really strong, sensible instruction in Side Crow (Parsva Bakasana) and Eka Pada Koundinyasana I. To get into Side Crow, she had us begin from Paravritta Utkatasana (Revolved Chair) position, as most instructors would. However, after bending the elbows and before placing the knee on the upper arm, Sadie had us walk over slightly towards the arm we would be balancing on. This, she explained, gave us the twist you need in Side Crow. When I first began practicing Side Crow, I had used both elbows to support me. Sadie believes this is not so great for the shoulders, because they cannot stay aligned when you push both elbows under your body. Therefore, when she had us walk over to the one side, we would only support our Side Crow with the one arm on the side we were twisting to. The other elbow is free and this way you can maintain the Chaturanga shape of the arms (with a ninety degree angle). The same principles apply to Eka Pada Koundinyasana I, of course, as it is very similar to Side Crow. I had never been taught Side Crow in that manner before.

I always imagined that eventually one would work towards practicing Side Crow with just the one arm supporting you. I have moved to that place in my own practice, but haven't encouraged it in my instruction enough. I thought of the second arm as like a training wheel, something that was there for support, but eventually you could take off when you learned the technique. I hadn't imagined it really hurting you much though, because the elbows could still stack over the wrists practicing that way. However, using both elbows to support you seems to distort the flatness of the upper back, the chest, and the shoulder.

(Side Crow with both elbows for support)
Incorrect, according to Sadie's instruction:

(Side Crow with only one elbow for support)
 Correct, according to Sadie's instruction:

After giving this subject more thought, however, I can think of an arm balance in which one deliberately wedges the elbows underneath the body. Peacock (Mayurasana). If nestling the elbows under the body were that detrimental, why is the alignment of Peacock instructed the way it is, even as per Yoga Journal? I imagine the placement of the hands (orienting the fingers backwards in Peacock as opposed to straight forward in Side Crow) affects the structure of the shoulders. Thoughts...?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Before Yoga, After Yoga

I generally think of my life and my Self in two eras or phases: Before Yoga and After Yoga. They starkly contrast one another. For this, I am grateful.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Yoga Journal Conference 2011: Seane Corn - Each Moment Conspires to Reveal The Higher Self

On Sunday, I took a workshop with Seane Corn "Everyday Miracles" at the Yoga Journal Conference NYC. I thoroughly enjoyed her discussion on how symbolic each moment, each encounter, each event, and each relationship is to our spiritual growth. Everything in your life, Seane said, you've chosen. I have heard this before from my teacher Mokshapriya, and have come to believe in it. We choose -- most of the time unconsciously -- the conditions and circumstances of our lives in order to gain insight, to learn about ourselves, and ultimately, to improve ourselves. The instances that are you most challenged by, in fact, are the greatest occasions for learning. This is especially applicable to the people in your family... because they are best at pushing your buttons and you cannot easily get away from them. They are there to do just that, to irritate you, to challenge you, to make you change. They will not stop testing you and behaving in the way that they do until you come to realize this and learn from it. Once you do learn from it, you can feel liberated knowing that they probably will stop pressing you or the conflict you were once stressed by will magically disappear.
To put it simply, each and every moment conspires to reveal the higher self to you. This is why when you are in a rush, you are frantic, impatient, unmindful, and in a panic because you are running late and just need to get to where you are going, you will almost always end up stuck behind the slowest-moving vehicle on the road, you are unfailingly detoured and delayed further, because that is the way the universe works. The universe will smack you down when you are living from a place of ego and attachment and will test you to try and set you straight, teach you patience, love, compassion, acceptance, and nonattachment. 
So the next time you find yourself in a dilemma, profoundly irritated by someone right in front of you, ask yourself what it is they are mirroring to you about yourself. What is it that they are trying to reveal to you for you to work upon? Open yourself up to this, be willing to explore these questions, and in fact, embrace these questions because we are so lucky to be in the position to ask them.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Yoga Journal Conference New York 2011

I have so much to say about this. First of all, I am still in the thick of it. I have another day to witness.

Perhaps the most beautiful is the way it has unfolded in front of me thus far. Centuries and centuries of knowledge and wisdom and love and light sparkles all around the hotel like neon glitter. You can hear, feel, and see this energy all around, through walls, through ceilings, and through floors. It feels like there are little outbursts and uproars of Oms all along 6th Avenue, but realistically it is only confined to the walls of the Hilton: the walls we have chosen, the walls we push up against, the walls we kick up against, the walls we rest against, the walls that separate us, or the walls that unite us...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

With Passion & Compassion

The other day I unexpectedly had a friend show up to one of my classes. Because I've known this friend for a long time and personally know of specific physical and emotional troubles, it strongly influenced how I led the class and what I was inspired to share with the class on an emotional or spiritual level. I became even more passionate about my teaching about was instilled with a deeper kind of compassion that we generally reserve only for those we know well.

It made me think, why don't I teach with that kind of passion and compassion each and every class I lead? Why don't we all do our jobs and our duties -- whether professional, familial, or personal -- with the same kind of fervor and kindness that can manifest seemingly in only special circumstances? We can do that, and it motivated me to make the conscious effort to treat every person, every student, every stranger with the same kind of care and love and inspiration that seems to arise naturally with someone we have stronger bonds with.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

When Everything Feels Out of Place... trust that it's not

When sh*t is feeling out of place, when things are not working out as you expected them to, when you're having "one of those days"... these are the times, you must surrender. Surrender to trust. Surrender to faith. Surrender to knowing, that there is a divine order, a universal law, a grander scheme, a bigger picture.

You ARE on the right path, even if the terrain is rocky and the coast is not that clear. Even when things are unfamiliar, sometimes foggy, sometimes slippery dark, sometimes lonely... Ever notice how when you are not on the right path the Universe tends to smack you down? It's just what happens. If this moment, this perfect beautiful moment, weren't totally right for you, it just wouldn't be. It's that simple. The circumstances of your current situation are correct, otherwise this situation, these circumstances, these conditions, would not have presented themselves to you.

So the next time you're not really sure, you're feeling a little doubtful (or a lot doubtful), see that, acknowledge that, maybe even embrace that. Bow down to it. Be humbled and be serene, and then just let it go. Because you must trust, you must have faith, you must believe wholeheartedly in the good and the underlying order and reasoning and logic behind the smallest of things. When you believe, when you have faith and you have conviction, things change for you... in the most perfect of ways.