Two Yoginis

A journey of yoga, friendship, and transformation


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Welcome to the New Age

Last week, Beth asked me if I would be her “student” so she could practice teaching for her upcoming community class at Yogamaya. I happily obliged, making space in my studio apartment, clearing the energy with a little sage, and setting down my mat, along with a strap, a bolster, a blanket, and two blocks (per the teacher’s request).

Beth, teacher in the Making - Photo by Ali

Beth, Yoga Teacher in the Making – Photo by Ali

At the beginning of a Yogamaya class (and most other Vinyasa classes that I have attended), the teacher gives what Bryn and Stacey call a dharma talk – a short introduction that sets the tone for the class and gives students a topic or concept to consider during their practice. To kick off my private class, Beth spoke eloquently about the idea of identity; expressing that, early in life, we can get boxed into a notion of who we are, whether it is by our parents, siblings, friends, teachers, or even ourselves.

Once a set conception of who we are has been established, it can be difficult to allow ourselves to change, even though we (inevitably) do change throughout the course of our lives. It can be especially challenging for other people to accept new aspects of our identities, when they are accustomed to putting us into certain categories or boxes (with which come certain expectations). As I was asked to close my eyes and connect with my breath, Beth read me the following poem:

Allow” by Danna Faulds
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt, containing a tornado.
Dam a stream and it will create a new channel.
Resist, and the tide will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry you to higher ground.
The only safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and weak –
fear, fantasies, failures, and success.
When loss rips off the doors of the heart
or sadness veils your vision with despair,
practice becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your known way of being,
the whole world is revealed to your new eyes.

Beth’s dharma talk (and poem) resonated with me in that the (personal and collective) experiences of the last few years have changed me; I am no longer the same person as I was one, let alone, two or three years ago. For example, it has only been over the last couple of years that I have become (very) interested in astrology. During this time, my passion for and study of astrology has become a significant aspect of my identity, whereas before it was not. As such, there are people in my life who respect and are curious about this newfound interest (or just want a reading), and others who are skeptical and dismissive of it. Nevertheless, it has become a part of who I am (now).

Kaleidoscope eyes - photo by Ali

Kaleidoscope Eyes – Photo by Ali

While re-reading a piece about the New Moon in Leo on August 6th, entitled Transition in Identity, I realized that this lunar cycle (synchronously, as astrology always is) is all about who we are.

Leo (the lion – and my rising sign – hence, the obsession with my mane) is a sign about the unique qualities of the self. Leo’s opposite, Aquarius, is a sign about how our unique qualities, talents, and abilities, contribute to the larger group/society. With the Full Moon in Aquarius approaching on August 20th, we will be working with the energy of this Leo/Aquarius opposition, asking ourselves: who am I and what the heck am I here for? Adding emphasis to the moment, this lunation will be the rare second of two full moons along the Leo/Aquarius axis in the last 30 days (the first one was on July 22nd), and a blue moon to boot.

During this time, I have observed that many of my friends and acquaintances are experiencing change in one way or another – from relocating, to starting a new job, to going from engaged to married or from coupled to single, or, simply, to initiating a new phase of life. As we make the transition to these new beginnings (or as we are in the gestation period between the end of one situation and the beginning of another) it is normal to question our identities; to contemplate who we are as individuals, what we are really here to do, and to wonder about how others will perceive us as we allow previously dormant aspects of ourselves to manifest in our new realities. With regard to Beth, it was exciting to witness a new expression of her unique soul in action: from yoga student to yoga teacher.

Yoga teacher Beth (and bolster assistant Ali) - Photo by Missy

Yoga teacher Beth (and bolster assistant Ali) – Photo by Missy

As the Aquarius Moon waxes full tomorrow evening, we each have a unique opportunity to begin to see ourselves (and each other) with new eyes. And, if we can stand back and allow things to unfold with grace and without expectation, we might find that with our new eyes we can both envision AND create a brave new world.


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I Can See Clearly Now

Last weekend, I had my bag packed to head down the shore for some fun in the sun when I woke up with a gnarly sore throat. I was stopped in my tracks, forced to stay indoors and nurse myself back to health most of the weekend (and part of the week). As characterized by one of my Teacher Training classmates, Stefanie, this was a total “summer bummer.”

It just so happens that this summer bummer came about during Mercury Retrograde, a three-times-per-year phenomenon when Mercury appears to go backwards through the zodiac from our perspective on Earth. Mercury (the messenger) represents how we think and communicate.

In 2013, each Mercury Retrograde is happening in a water sign: first Pisces (back in February), now Cancer, and, in the fall, Scorpio. Water energy represents emotion. Water is powerful, and it is known to flow around any obstacle. Put your thoughts and words (Mercury) under water, send ’em backwards, and voila! Confusion and emotional meltdowns abound.

As many of us now understand, Mercury Retrograde actually has a purpose other than to frustrate and annoy us; it signals that it’s time to slow down and course correct. For me, this manifested, literally, in getting sick and being forced to stop what I was doing and get healthy (not to mention other technological manifestations like my icemaker going on the fritz and our office A/C breaking down in the midst of an intense NYC heatwave).

While quarantined in my apartment, I was reminded of our previous Mercury Retrograde, in Pisces, which came to life in a powerful show of nature – a nor’easter that the Weather Channel called “Nemo.” Having run out of interesting things to watch on television during my extended home confinement, I decided to pop in the Finding Nemo DVD and reread some of my own advice:

“For those of us who find the watery depths a bit unnerving, remember: just as Marlin and Nemo keep hope alive and (spoiler alert!) are eventually reunited, redemption is often right around the next coral reef (or nor’easter).

This message came up again when I was getting ready for work yesterday, and heard about the sad passing of Talia Castellano, a beautiful little girl who made a strong mark despite a short life plagued by cancer. I welled up as they ran a clip of Talia telling Ellen Degeneres “A little fishy told me to just keep swimming” (warning: tearjerker ahead):

The thing about the water is that, as necessary as it is to life, it can also be murky: the depths (Pisces) can be dark and scary (where they only way to see is to run into that creepy fish with the weird headlamp). The shoreline (Cancer) is fun for a swim, but you must be alert for a strong wave or undertoe. And the swamp (Scorpio), well, you never know what is lurking in fixed water, an ecosystem that both supports life and takes it away. Our senses are not as sharp in the water, and if we’re not careful it can knock us off our feet or pull us under.

#neverwantedthis

#neverwantedthis

One of my favorite astrologers, Tom Lescher, characterizes this time as being in the dark, watery womb of Cancer, the mother. I could not help but think of the royal baby, whose arrival the world is eagerly awaiting. Will the baby be a boy or a girl? What will they name him or her? Will this herald a new beginning for the royal family? (Personally, I am pulling for a girl named Alexandra.)

If you’re as weary as I am of treading water, I have good news: Mercury stations direct on Saturday, the sun will be born into its fiery home of Leo on Monday, and we will have a full moon in airy Aquarius on Tuesday. What is being born in your world? What new beginning? What fresh start?

Don’t know yet? That’s OK, too. Sometimes it takes a few minutes to dry off, get the sunscreen out of your eyes, throw on some shades, and see clearly again.

Until then – and, now that I’m healthy again, I’m thinking – dance party?


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Know When To Fold ‘Em

Since graduating from our 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training a little over three weeks ago, several people have asked me:

So, are you going to start teaching now? What is your plan?

Teacher Training asked me to go outside my comfort zone in a multitude of ways, not least of which was giving up more or less all of my personal time. When it was over, I felt excited and proud, but also drained, and in need of a serious break.

One of the secrets to thriving in New York City is knowing when to fold ‘em – that is, to lock the door, draw the shades, order Seamless, and indulge in a DVR marathon with the iPhone set to “do not disturb.” In a city where survival demands a great deal of your energy, it is crucial to have ample down time to recharge your batteries. This was simply not available (enough) during the course of this experience.

To introduce our final project, (my partners) Bella, Mat, and I had our classmates set up in a zodiac formation, symbolizing that for everything there is a time and a season. For me, the last six months were about Teacher Training – a serious, all-consuming, academic, physical, and spiritual pursuit. The next six months, well, remain to be seen.

In the meantime, I am thrilled to be back out and about, catching up with friends, making the rounds to June birthday parties, weddings, showers, and weekend getaways. And, as I turn the corner on my birthday, next week, I am also getting ready to start a new year of life, taking time alone to reboot, and prepare myself for a fresh, unwritten chapter. My current plan is to drop the seriousness and just have fun (and it feels fantastic).

In our culture, we place a bit too much emphasis on doing and perhaps not enough emphasis on being. As I unfurl from this experience, I’m less concerned about what’s next, as I am about what’s now. And what’s now, you ask?

Now is summer Fridays, Jersey beaches, Yankee games, barbecues, live music, warm nights, cold beers, and (ample) time to relax and spend time with the people I love.

I think most yogi(ni)s would agree: sometimes the best plan is not having one.

To the nearest beach, please. Photo by Ali.

To the nearest beach, please. Photo by Ali.


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Happy Cooking

Part of my Dream Future Kitchen

Pinned to: Future Dream Kitchen

As I plan my staycation in the city this weekend, I have been looking at my Pinterest food board to get inspired.

Along my Yoga journey, I have found my relationship to the food I put into my body to be more deliberate and conscious (similar to my asana practice). I really enjoy cooking for myself and others, and I find that the entire process from planning, shopping, prepping and cooking the dish to be incredibly relaxing and meditative. I have also realized that I, personally, feel better when I feed myself healthy, fresh, and mostly vegetarian food. To ensure I always have an option that will make me feel good when I go to a BBQ or party, I prepare a dish I not only hope others will enjoy, but something I know I will enjoy. I have always said: one key to throwing a great party is loving the food and drinks you are serving your guests. At least, then, you know you will be enjoying yourself, and the rest has a way of working itself out.

I have been wanting to try a grilled avocado dish for some time. Enjoy the below inspiration photo and my general tips for how to prepare this. I am going to give this recipe a try over the holiday weekend.

Suggested Recipe:
• Drizzle avocado with EVOO, salt & pepper
• Cut the avocado in half, seed, peel and slice
• Gently place the avocado on the grill for 2 minutes on each side (use a grill pan if you don’t have access to a grill)
• Add fresh lemon or lime juice to the finished slices
• Prepare cous cous and use any vegetables you may have available as add ins
• Serve grilled avocado and cous cous over bed of fresh arugula
• Enjoy!

Happy Cooking and Happy Memorial Day!

Grilled Avocado

Grilled Avocado


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Break On Through

On May 19, 2013, Beth and I (along with our twelve awesome classmates) completed what began when we handed in our applications in December 2012: our 200-hour Illuminated Journey Yoga Teacher Training at Yogamaya New York. Graduating was a culmination of the last six months of our lives, during which we committed to a highly intensive and strenuous program, in the midst of our already busy lives and demanding careers.

The Graduates

Beth and Ali – The Graduates

Much like the last several months, the final weekend of this journey was a whirlwind, featuring our exam (and lengthy grading session), group projects, and graduation ceremony. By the end of the three days, my eyes had glazed over and I was experiencing a mix of emotions – one moment proud, elated, and relieved, the next moment bewildered, dazed, and confused. What in the world just happened??

When I got home Sunday night, I tuned into the latest episode of AMC’s period drama, Mad Men, an always strikingly-relevant depiction of life in advertising during the tumultuous late 1960’s. This week’s episode (read: spoilers ahead) takes place in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy’s shocking assassinations.

Parallel to the tragedies unfolding on the national stage, many of the characters are experiencing or remembering losses in their personal lives – from a relationship ending to abandoning a child to Vietnam War or illness-related deaths. Our main focus, however, is to follow Don Draper (the show’s central, tortured anti-hero) through a drug-induced, trippy, dreamlike romp through his past, present, and sought-after future, following the breakup of an emotionally-charged extramarital affair.

After the funeral of one of the agency’s creative stakeholders, we meet an unfamiliar face: a hippied-out, free love-peddling flower child who distracts the ad men (and women) from their work on Chevy by doing I-Ching readings (an ancient Chinese divination system).

The Gang Gathers Round the I-Ching Hippie

The Gang Gathers Round the I-Ching Hippie

When she unexpectedly turns up in Don’s office, offering to “get it on,” and guesses that his unspoken I-Ching question was “does someone love me?” (that’s everyone’s question), she approaches him with a stethoscope she grabbed from another floor and says, in a breathy whisper:

Hippie: (with stethoscope to Don’s heart) “I think it’s broken.”

Don: (pausing in disbelief) “You can hear that?”

Hippie: “No, I can’t hear anything. I think it’s broken (referring to stethoscope).”

A look of profound confusion and realization crawls across Don’s face. For perhaps the first time ever, he realizes not only that he has a heart (he’s had one all along, but we’ll save The Wizard of Oz reference for another time), but that it’s aching.

While the pain of his heartbreak is being felt in the present, Don is remembering a painful experience from his childhood. We (the audience) are implicitly asked to consider the idea that the pain Don is feeling in the present is intricately connected to something he bottled up in the past. From this perspective, his current heartbreak represents an outlet for a painful experience he did not allow himself to feel at that time. As (I am told) they might say in Alcoholics Anonymous, his floodgates are opening, and there’s no going back.

Don Draper - Coming Down

Don Draper Coming Down – Image Credit: amc.com

Before I decided to do Teacher Training, I went through a series of personal experiences that triggered my floodgates to open, unleashing a wave of unprocessed emotion. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly where it came from; I did not have a particularly painful childhood and I considered myself a healthy, well-adjusted, successful adult. For some unknown reason, though, whatever stuff I had not looked at previously was coming up for review in a new form.

While purging all of that stuck emotion was often confusing and uncomfortable, I have since realized that it was tremendously heart-opening. Whereas, before, I was unconsciously negotiating around, intellectualizing, or denying many of my emotions, now, I feel everything.

I was reminded of this when I turned on the news this evening and welled up with tears listening to the tragic stories of the Oklahoma tornado victims. Not unlike Don Draper’s heyday in the late sixties, we are living through time of great upheaval and change, if manifesting in wildly different ways than we could have imagined back then. Even if I was not up to my eyeballs in a post-Teacher Training haze, I’d probably still be thinking (as many of you may be) what the fuck is going on in the world right now and what are we supposed to do about it?

As the second-to-last final project, two of my classmates, Stefanie and Bridget, had us do a meditation inspired by the Kundalini Yoga tradition. The mediation involved saying the words: “I am you” while holding the hands or forearms (or hand to heart if you really wanted to go for it) of the person opposite you and looking into his or her eyes for thirty seconds. Before we began, Stefanie (an Aquarius and fellow astrology buff) reminded us that we are in the Age of Aquarius, a time when, through practices like yoga, a quiet peace movement is spreading like wildfire.

Not unlike the experience of the sixties (as portrayed fictionally by Mad Men), a lot of us are waking up (literally and figuratively) to the distinct feeling that we are in the midst of a trippy, dreamlike state because of all the unbelievably fucked up things happening in the world. And similar to the hippie counterculture of the sixties, many of us feel like peace and love are still the answers. However, it is 2013, and the peace movement cannot and should not look like it did then. What does it look like now?

To me, it looks like breaking our hearts open and break[ing] on through (a phrase made even more poignant with this week’s passing of legendary 1960’s rock band The Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek). It looks like allowing ourselves to feel so much that feeling becomes normal and we wonder what it was ever like before. To me it looks less like the Civil Rights Movement and Woodstock (monumental as they were) and more like using technology in creative ways to make our voices heard, and forming small, quiet but powerful peace movements like the one we created in Teacher Training and will now spiral outwards.

What we have now that we didn’t have in 1968 is the reality that I can feel your pain whether you are in Thailand or Oklahoma or Boston or North Korea or Syria. I can turn on my television or my computer or my smartphone and I can see you writhing in pain the instant tragedy strikes. When you suffer, I suffer. I am you.

It may not be the sixties and I’m no Don Draper (more like a Peggy Olson with Ken Cosgrove’s job). It is 2013, I have a heart (and a laptop), and I’m not afraid to use it.

What do you think? Share your ideas with us in the comments while you jam out to this rockin’ 1966 Doors tune. And if so inspired, spread the word.


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Take A Look At Me Now

Two weeks ago, I made a brief hometown visit to attend opening night of the (second annual) Montclair Film Festival with my dad. A diverse, trendy suburban New Jersey community (where many NYC expats go to nest), Montclair has become a destination in its own right – complete with the state’s second largest university, an art museum, theaters, eclectic shops and restaurants, local celebrities, a minor league baseball team, and a music venue that attracts mainstream acts on par with Manhattan’s East Village.

With my packed teacher training and work schedule, it wasn’t until the day of the event that I discovered the film we would be seeing: Twenty Feet From Stardom, a documentary about the trials and tribulations of backup singers, many of whom had performed with some of the world’s most famous acts (including Jersey natives like Springsteen and Bon Jovi). As a (sometimes) singer, with singing regrettably and perpetually on the back burner, I figured the film had a message for me.

I can’t remember when or how I figured out I could sing, but I can remember some of my earliest performances – winning the lead role in a camp production of Annie, getting a coveted spot in Hillside School’s Traveling Troupe, singing “Castle on a Cloud” in a Les Miserables review at our local theater, recording commercial demos with a composer who lived in our neighborhood (one of which eventually ran on television). These were (and still are) some of my proudest accomplishments.

When I got to Cornell, a friend encouraged me to audition for an all female a cappella group called “Nothing But Treble” (aka NBT). At the time, I knew very little about a cappella, but I wanted to sing. I hiked up and slid down a snow-covered Libe Slope (Cornell’s infamously steep hill between West Campus and the Arts Quad) three times in one night for each subsequent call back. I had returned to my dorm room and was recapping the experience for my friends (and was deciding what to order for a late night snack), when I heard a combination of footsteps trudging down the hallway and voices echoing their way closer and closer to my door.

(singing)
BA BADA BA BADA BA BADA BA BADA
Imagine me and you, I do
I think about you day and night
It’s only right
To think about the girl you love
And hold her tight
So happy togetherrrrrrrrrrrrrr

One by one, thirteen (or so) smiling, laughing, singing, bundled, snow covered “niblets” filed in, serenading me with an a cappella version of “So Happy Together,” NBT’s ritual of welcoming newbies to the group. To this day, it was pretty much the best surprise ever.

Getting into – and being a member of – NBT made my college experience that much more special and memorable. Not only did I get to sing my heart out for four years, but I had the opportunity to be surrounded by some of the most talented, beautiful, and intelligent women I have ever met. With our voices and our friendships, we created a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

One of my favorite performances: Nothing But Treble – Against All Odds (Live), Spring Concert 2003

Since then, I have taken singing opportunities that have fallen into my lap (e.g. recording a tune here or there, singing back-up vocals for a friend, or performing at friend and family weddings and events). However, in my “adult” life (up until now), singing has not taken center stage.

Watching Twenty Feet From Stardom reminded me of how exquisite it sounds when different voices are brought together in harmony. One of the women interviewed in the film spoke of singing as a truly intimate expression of music. She (more eloquently than I can relay in words) expressed that it is one thing to stand behind and play an instrument; it is another to put yourself out there with just your voice. Singing is about sharing the voice as an instrument, an instrument that reflects truth and authenticity as deep as its “player.”

She also expressed that when you are given a talent or other such gift, it is meant to be shared. It doesn’t have to be about ego, becoming a star, or being the center of attention; it can simply be about loving what you do and having a desire to share that love with others. Her words resonated deeply within me, a bittersweet awareness of my own talent, too often left dormant.

It’s easy to see the word “talent” and think it’s referring to someone else (especially when your talent is not associated with your career or livelihood). The truth is, we each have unique talents, gifts, and abilities (often, many of them). For one person it might be to sing, for another to paint, play an instrument or a sport, dance, write, speak, organize, clean, interpret, teach, learn, make Excel spreadsheets or Power Point presentations, write code, design, blog, engineer, nurture, garden, heal, light, conduct experiments, cook, create, pin{terest}, tweet, decorate, or [insert verb here]. When we are able to identify our special talent or that which lights us up from the inside, it’s important that it be nurtured, that it be practiced, that it be given an outlet, and that it be shared. And if the experience of teacher training has taught me one thing, it’s that if you want to get good at something, learn as much about it as you possibly can.

Opening night closed with a stunning live performance by Darlene Love, one of the film’s main subjects. As I teared up watching her sing “Lean On Me,” on this special night in my hometown, I was reminded of where I come from – a place where diversity, artistic expression, and uniqueness are celebrated, and where individuals are encouraged to be authentically themselves and to pursue their dreams. A message, indeed.

I may never aspire to stardom (or even 20 feet from it). However, I may treat myself to (my very first) singing lessons in the fall.


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Not Everyone Gets It

Yoga tends to divide people into two (main) polarities: devotees who swear by it and naysayers who have tried it once or twice and decided it’s not for them (or refuse to try it at all). Nevertheless, yoga’s popularity has grown exponentially in recent times, from an activity that was more or less marginalized twenty-five (or so) years ago, to a six billion dollar a year industry. Yoga has something that everyone seems to want, but (in the words of the Millionaire Matchmaker), “not everyone gets it.” Why is that?

From talking to people about yoga (a lot), I’ve observed a handful of common yoga misconceptions and pitfalls that prevent most people from progressing beyond that initial try. Perhaps the most common of these misconceptions is the idea that you can get an accurate impression of yoga (that is, to determine whether you like it or not) on the first try, which leads me to my first and potentially most important point:

Yoga is a cumulative practice.

Many people have this first experience of yoga through a workout DVD or in a fitness club environment, where it is presented as a straightforward series of body positions connected by movement. Often, people show up at a class and find that they’re not flexible or coordinated enough to achieve many of the shapes (certainly not with the same ease as let’s say, riding a bike or pedalling an elliptical). They quickly decide, “I’m not good at yoga,” or “I don’t like yoga” and move on to the next activity.

As I’ve written about previously, our bodies are, essentially, a storage facility for stress, manifesting in stiff muscles, ligaments, and joints. If you’re unable to, for example, reach down and touch your toes, we know that you have tightness in your hamstrings, which correlates with tightness in your lower back, upper back, shoulders, and neck.

Over time, yoga softens this tightness, releases stress, and decreases tension in the body. It has taken a lifetime to accumulate this tension; it takes commitment to wear it down. And if my experience is any indication, it’s worth the effort; which brings me to my next point:

Yoga calms and strengthens the mind.

A common pitfall to acquiring a taste for yoga (ironically) is that it is practiced in a calming, peaceful environment. When you step onto a yoga mat, there is an implicit agreement that you will focus on your body, your movement, and your breath. There are no smartphones, emails, taxis, children, pets, or spouses. There are no obligations, chores, or annoyances (OK, sometimes the person next to you forgot to put on deodorant).

That many people would avoid or feel uncomfortable in a relaxing, distraction-free environment makes total sense. We have become so engrained in our constant busy-ness, that it’s hard to slow down. When we attempt to slow down via a yoga class, we become aware of how frenetic our minds have become when the distractions have been removed.

The secret? Over time, yoga helps to manage the mind’s natural tendency to fret constantly about the future or fixate endlessly on the past. When the mind is no longer running amuck, it’s easier to be present and actually enjoy the moment.

How does yoga do this? By cultivating undivided, real-time attention to the body, moving it through complex, challenging, physically demanding sequences. Which ties in perfectly with my next point:

Yoga is hard.

The New York City, type A, Soul Cycle, Barry’s Bootcamp, PureBarre, Marathon-running set (I love you guys – and – you know who you are) tend to classify yoga as “too slow” or not “a good sweat” and, therefore, not an appropriate substitute for a “workout.”

In reality, yoga requires a ton of physical strength and most new practitioners find they are incredibly sore afterwards. Yoga asks the body not only to work with its own resistance, but also to engage muscles that might otherwise be left dormant. Even if you don’t feel inclined to make yoga your exclusive form of physical exercise, it can make the body stronger, leaner, and more flexible. And, trust me, you will sweat and it does count as a workout, which segues perfectly to my final point:

Yoga is so much more than a workout. 

And once you get it, you get it.

Can you feel it?

Can you feel it?


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A Perfect Storm

On our second-to-last night in Arizona, Beth and I decided to watch a movie in our cozy hotel room at The Saguaro after an amazing (Thai) dinner in Scottsdale. As we browsed through the in-room entertainment guide, we happened upon The Impossible, a 2012 release depicting one family’s experience of the 2004 (Thailand) tsunami.

My knowledge of the film was limited to the tidbits I had picked up during a Today Show interview with Ewan McGregor (and other assorted publicity hits). I was left with a few impressions: that the special effects were incredible, that the acting was top notch (Naomi Watts in a powerhouse performance), and that the film had received criticism for telling the (true) story of a European family rather than native Thai people. I consulted Rotten Tomatoes, and with 81% Fresh, I thought it would be worth a watch.

Within the first few minutes, Beth and I were both on edge; the opening scenes carefully setting up a picturesque family vacation, complete with nuanced moments of bliss and tension. Two of the three sons getting into an argument on the plane. Releasing balloons into the starry night sky during a beachfront Christmas Eve celebration. Poolside discussion: would the dad lose his job and the mom go back to practicing medicine? Was the son allowed to have a can of Coke? (No). We (the audience) knew these questions would soon be rendered inconsequential by forces of nature beyond human comprehension.

And then it began to unfold. A night of insomnia and the feeling that something just wasn’t quite right. The perfect, sunny pool day suddenly becoming windy, with papers flying our of the mom’s hands. Arm hairs standing up on end. Pausing and bracing for something unforeseeable. And then, the tidal wave, brutally ripping our family apart and causing mass destruction and devastation. The fear of coming to a watery end, of being alone, of being separated from one’s family. The unbearable pain of losing a child or a parent or a partner. And in this family’s case, against all odds, (spoiler alert) being miraculously reunited.

The film’s (implicit) message continued to reverberate in my mind in the days and weeks that followed:

a tsunami can hit, and, in an instant, change everything

In the wake of a tsunami, little day-to-day things that once mattered, don’t matter at all. Situations that were once stressful and difficult become totally insignificant. From this perspective, the tsunami represents a wake-up call, a loud alarm signaling it’s time to open your eyes and realize what’s truly important – things like family, friendship, love, compassion, peace, and kindness.

When I heard about the bombing in Boston, I could not help but think that this was another kind of “tsunami.” When one (or many) is able to pull off a tragic shooting, or bombing, or other despicable act of terrorism, a flurry of perfect storm-like conditions must occur for all the pieces to fall into place. It’s only after the crime that we’re able to gain hindsight into what could have been done to prevent it. In many cases, we discover that there were a multitude of factors that seamlessly came together and subtle clues that were missed along the way. Though it may be more difficult for us to comprehend, the natural tsunami is not so unlike the man-made tsunami in that it could not have been prevented (at least not with the awareness we had at the time).

Whether we are forced to endure a tsunami by way of human or nature, it can bring up intense sorrow, grief, fear, and a wide spectrum of difficult emotions. Watching other people suffer immensely, almost beyond belief, stokes our own sense of empathy and awareness. We have a visceral reaction that can make us realize that the pain of others can be felt as palpably as our own. We realize that it can happen anywhere at any time to anyone. Tsunamis know not race or age, nationality or religion.

From this place of awareness, we are compelled to honor who and what truly matters to us, making our life experiences profoundly more meaningful. We are asked to focus less on the differences between us and more on what we have in common. We can transform into little fountains of love and awareness that spiral outward in infinite ripples, a different kind of perfect storm.

I can’t tell you I’ve made sense of these tragedies, that I understand why they keep happening in our country, or that I’ve figured out what we can do to stop them. That is simply more than I can handle just being me. However, I do not need to experience a tsunami firsthand, man-made or otherwise, to realize what I can do: I can love my family and friends a little more, I can do my best, each day, to be helpful and compassionate and kind. I can be hopeful and grateful and optimistic. I can focus on all the goodness that we are capable of, even in our darkest hour. I can recognize incredible acts of heroism and bravery and truth. I can be the change I want to see in the world.

In honor of Earth Day (you know, that small blue marble we all share), maybe we can all do that a little more.

Blue Marble - Photo Credit: Nasa.gov

Blue Marble – Photo Credit: Nasa.gov


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The Yoga of Happiness

On Saturday, Ali and I were buzzing as we walked arm-in-arm down 7th Avenue. We were reflecting on the last three hours of teacher training with our guest lecturer, Harshada, on meditation and the yoga of happiness. His energy was peaceful with a mixture of vigor and humor. He laughed at himself and helped us laugh at ourselves as we probed the topic and explored our inner bodies and emotions.

We began class by answering the question as to what brought us to yoga. My answer was simple. I found the yoga mat during a dark period of my life, when I was searching to feel better. I recognized that regular practice created a positive feeling and, therefore, I returned regularly. My classmates also shared their reasons, and, as our attention returned to our teacher, he recapped what everyone was pointing at. What was it that everyone was searching for? We all described this idea differently, but inherent to each answer was a very simple point: we were all searching for a greater sense of happiness and well-being.

We were searching for ways to be deeply happy and the day would be dedicated to giving each of us the tools to manifest this happiness.

As I mentioned in my last post, our society focuses so much on a need to be busy. Beyond the constant need to remain busy, we put ourselves down regularly as to what we should do, didn’t do, or should not have done . Whether expressed verbally or as part of our internal dialogue, we look at ourselves critically every day. “I don’t make enough time to workout,” “I always lose focus,” “I eat too much.”

Where is the wiggle room in such absolute statements? Our teacher suggested that, instead of phrasing our critical thoughts in this way, we should preface each statement with the words “up until now.” These simple words create the wiggle room to allow the self to define itself how it truly wants. We stop identifying with the harsher, more critical self and, instead, leave some room to change.

The day continued with guided meditation sessions that led me on a path I never imagined. I felt as though I tapped into something deeper than ever before. I was watching my breath with my eyes closed and actually feeling emotion that was stuck inside my heart. I was starting to become ultra sensitive to what was blocking me from feeling truly happy. I was searching for my true north, a step toward finding deep, lasting happiness.

What Ali and I were ultimately buzzing about, as we walked outside (besides the fact we were both totally engaged with the lecture) was that this teacher training was affecting us on a much deeper level than just providing us with tools to teach yoga. This training was shifting and changing the way we see the world and ourselves. When we shift internally, we can start to see things show up differently around us.

Up until now, I did not know what my true north was. However, just showing up and doing the work is bringing me one step closer to knowing and refining my inner compass. My true north will likely change many times, but even going in the wrong direction is a clue to finding the right one.

Look out for happy road.

happy road


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Red Rock Restorative

With our hiking boots, yoga teacher training books and an intention to relax, Ali and I made a plan to escape the busy city and return to the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, a place that holds a very special place in our hearts. Sedona is known as a highly energetic location due to natural rock formations called vortexes. The vortexes have concentrated energy and are known for their healing qualities.

As we drove into Boynton Canyon, I felt my shoulders move further away from my ears. I was excited to re-visit some of the vortexes that brought an immense amount of healing energy to me just one year prior. So much had changed for both of us since our last visit to the red rocks. Most notably, the fact we were now deeply immersed in yoga teacher training.

Yoga at The Bell Rock Vortex

Yoga at The Bell Rock Vortex

During our three days in Sedona, we soaked in the vortex energy, sunshine and vitamin D, rested our bodies and allowed ourselves to enter a state of true relaxation. To me, it felt almost foreign at first, not to be planning and allocating every minute of my time to specific activities each day. However, these moments of solace and rejuvenation became the vehicle for me to realize the necessity of relaxing and taking breaks.

We have become programmed to think we always need to be “on” or busy. I know from experience that being busy can even become a way to mask what else is really going on. However, it was in the relaxed, stress-free moments that my mind became truly clear.

busy

Right before we left for Sedona, we had a teacher training session that was focused on restorative yoga. This day was one of the most meaningful days of teacher training for me. It illuminated to me that practicing restorative yoga and meditation is vital to survival and happiness. Tuning into the body, mind, and breath, and allowing the body to truly rest, creates space to succeed.

While in Sedona, Ali and I meditated on the vortex and tossed some local rocks in a fountain as a ritual to leave behind some intentions. While I will keep a few of my intentions for the secrecy of the vortex, I will share one:

I will allow myself to slow down and truly shut off when I feel myself hitting my edge.
I will be patient and courageous as necessary to rest, restore, and heal.

“Nobody has the TIME to take the slow route of healing or the patience (and sometimes courage) to rest and restore the body and mind after obtaining some sort of injury of the physical or emotion kind. We treat our bodies as if we are built like trucks, expecting them to work for endless stretches of time without needing to be refreshes, restored or rejuvenated.” – Yogamaya Teacher Training

If you are feeling the need to slow down and restore, check out the next restorative workshop at YOGAMAYA this coming friday with the amazing Keely!