Two Yoginis

A journey of yoga, friendship, and transformation

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The Beginning – 1.25.13

In a yoga class, there are many ways to get started. At our studio, the teacher usually relays some thoughts that give the students a theme or purpose to come back to throughout class. While I am only one weekend into the 200-hour teacher training, I thought it was appropriate to give my own thoughts about this beginning.

It started on Friday with Orientation. With the nerves and excitement clearly bubbling in the air, we were told to flip open our new binders to find our yoga travel companion and…it was ALI. It was ALI? IT WAS ALI! With confirmation that Ali and I were officially on this journey together, and once we had joined with our group and mentor (Jen Grims, who is awesome!), we were off and running.

As the weekend progressed, I felt humbled and reminded why I challenge myself and why I do not shirk away from a difficult situation. So far, we are being challenged by and immersed in massive amounts of information and physical poses. We are being asked to feel the poses, to remember the words, to rise above the fear, to sing loudly and even to speak the directions to the class. We are being asked to focus and listen and then do it again. It has been exhilarating, scary, bountiful in beauty, and it has only just begun.

The part about the beginning of class that makes me open my ears and listen more closely, is that I like to look for an idea to hold onto and ponder throughout my practice. I like to be aware of whether the meaning of the beginning words change throughout the class, or remain the same for me. One thing is for sure: I always feel different, mentally and physically, after laying in savasana (corpse pose), closing the practice with the sound of Om, and speaking the word, “Namaste.”

On Sunday, we began our session by learning the Gayatri Mantra. I had heard this mantra before, and felt a comfort wash over my body as we sang the Sanskrit words together. The Gayatri Mantra has many meanings, but the one we discussed and that has stuck with me was related to the sun rising. We were reminded that the sun will rise each morning; that is a given. This mantra was a reminder that the beginning will keep coming. The night may fall and the sun may set, but the sun will rise again tomorrow, allowing the start of a new beginning.

Gayatri Mantra

At this point, I can only imagine what the end of this illuminated journey will fee like; I can only imagine that perhaps it will feel less like an ending, but another beginning.

Sun Rising at Grand Canyon - April 2012

Sun Rising at Grand Canyon – April 2012

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Illuminated Journey Begins

Just in time for the Full Moon in Leo, a lunar placement that celebrates doing that which makes your heart sing, Beth and I kicked off our first weekend of teacher training at Friday night’s orientation.

We have always agreed that the asana practice (the physical part of yoga) not only makes us feel great in our bodies, but that it also cultivates a sense of peace and wellbeing that goes deep into our souls. So, not knowing exactly where this road might lead, we decided to take on the challenge of teacher training wholeheartedly – coinciding perfectly with the celebratory, heart-centered energy of this particular full moon.

Photo credit:

Before orientation began, we were asked to take a few moments to meet the person next to us, learn about that person, and then introduce that person to the class. As luck would have it, I was sitting next to a fellow student named Courtney, who I had already gotten to know a little bit, since we often attend the same classes. I learned that we have a lot more in common than I realized (both originally from the great state of New Jersey and both work in Digital Marketing, even sharing some of the same clients). I enjoyed the exercise of introducing someone else, and taking the care to make sure I was relaying the information about that person correctly. It was sweet to go around the circle and hear what each person had learned about their neighbor in just a few short minutes. It became abundantly clear that “a lot in common” was a common thread.

After introductions, Stacey and Bryn (our teachers) went over all the “rules” (rule number one: never, EVER be late for teacher training) and curriculum, after which we met our “buddies” (our assigned partner to collaborate with on assignments, homework, etc.), our teams (small groups), and our mentors (one mentor for each group).

For some reason, Beth and I were convinced that we would not be put together as partners – that in the spirit of getting to know someone new, and thereby making the course more challenging, we would be assigned a random partner. So, when I opened my teacher training binder, and saw a little heart next to Beth’s name, I was genuinely shocked. For a moment, I thought maybe someone had literally given me the wrong binder. It took a beat to soak in that Beth and I would have the privilege of guiding, assisting, and inspiring each other through this experience.

Illuminated Journey - The Binder

Illuminated Journey – The Binder

As we walked home, through the cold, January air, in the bright light of the Leo Full Moon, it finally started to become real; that over the next four months, we were really doing this, walking the walk, deepening our practice, and developing a totally new capability that we would eventually be able to share. And not only would we have each other’s support, but also the support of our interesting, diverse classmates, our experienced mentors, and our knowledgeable teachers.

I still wasn’t sure exactly where I was going, but I did know that I would have plenty of capable guides to light my way.

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Simply Be

Last Saturday night, I attended my very first Kirtan at Yogamaya. If you are not familiar with a Kirtan, here is a brief explanation from Yogamaya’s website:

“In a Kirtan, a group of people comes together to sing, dance, and make music. A leader sings the names of Divine Beings to a melody, and then the group of people responds. The chanting goes back and forth, an intimate exchange between the leader and the group, where you can listen and then sing, listen and then sing. The repetition of the names creates the most sublime meditation and inner sweetness.”

After a late afternoon practice and a quick bite at Terri (a favorite veggie spot), Beth and I returned to Yogamaya to participate in the Kirtan, led by Acyuta Gopi. We greeted our teachers and fellow students, along with a host of other people who had gathered especially for this event. There was a palpable excitement and energy of joy in the air for what was about to transpire.

Inside the studio, the walls were lined with a row of chairs, while the middle of the floor was set up with folded blankets. Yoga is known as a “grounding” practice, so it was no surprise that we would sit on the floor for the Kirtan, allowing us to feel a connection to our bodies and to the Earth.

Pretty Yoga Friends

Beth and Giana ready to Kirtan it out!

By the time we entered the space, the attendees had crowded around the “stage” area (the front of the studio), where the performers had set up their instruments – a variety of hand drums and a harmonium, front and center. After a short introduction in which the diverse group of participants were encouraged to sing from the heart, and after being showered with rose petals, Acyuta began Kirtan began with a slow, sweet mantra. As the Kirtan went on, people swayed, danced, clapped, and closed their eyes to take it all in.

Acyuta Gopi

Acyuta Gopi & Ananta Cuffee @ Yogamaya New York, photo credit: Glenn Riis

Perhaps it was the sense of being part of a community, the foreignness of the Sanskrit words, the sweet hum of the harmonium, or the vibration of the drums, but something about the experience awakened a sense of connectedness, a feeling of being less alone. As I lay in bed that night, I felt a heightened sense of emotion that had been awakened as the mantras reverberated through my body.

Sometimes it seems like we need armor to face the challenges of our lives; that we have to show a hardened, tough shell to appear as though we have everything under control. But in this sacred space, where people came together to sing, chant, and lend their energy to a peaceful, beautiful practice, there was a sense that you could smile, let your walls down, and simply be.

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A Message of Peace

In New York City, the city that never sleeps, the concrete jungle we call home, there are moments every day when we wonder, where is the peace? Rushing around from place to place, wearing a million layers, bumping into people, carrying what seems like a ton of things to get through just one day, peace can easily elude us. Thus, it was especially poignant that last night’s MLK Day yoga class was dedicated to peace, both within and without.

We encounter situations in our day to day lives that can cause us to abandon this notion of peace. Our teacher used a metaphor of the subway as a catalyst of stress. Throughout class she proclaimed, “is this your F Train?” She was referring to the idea that, sometimes, in life, (and, literally, on the subway) things go awry. The train might all of a sudden change to an express without any real notice, and you might find yourself 20 minutes off your original plan. These are the moments when peace comes in handy. As the tension grips, and the blood boils, and the plans become further away, the notion of peace becomes a necessary means of survival.

Also, we often make decisions that are not in alignment with peace and love for ourselves. Self-sabotage and putting oneself down are a daily practice for most. If you’ve spent any time in women’s locker room or fitting room, you know what I’m talking about.

In this particular class, we were asked to treat ourselves with as much peace as we needed, to give ourselves a hearty helping of peace. We were advised to add some extra padding, to use a block to help reach the ground, and to actually listen to what our bodies needed. It was a beautiful class filled with a message of world peace and inner peace on a day when we remember an individual who gave his life speaking a message of peace.

If we had any hope of making change in the jungle surrounding us, we had to begin with ourselves. Here’s a little something to get you inspired:

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Stepping Stones

As two women, two yoginis, we have been navigating a life that is filled to the brim with challenges. Are we successful enough? Are we fulfilling whatever role it is others expect us to fill? Are we living up to our full potential?

What if in 2013, and all years to come, we started living our lives for ourselves? What if we used the tools and the space we gained on the mat to help ourselves and to help others?

Ali and I went back to the fundamentals of yoga, by going back to level 1 and re-learning and re-visiting the basic poses, even though we have both been practicing for years. We enrolled in a self-inflicted yoga school on weekends. We committed to learning and experiencing the poses more deeply than we had ever experienced them before.

In 2012, we were each challenged to leave behind situations that were no longer serving us, and came together as best friends to support and encourage the other to move forward and heal. Stuck in the trenches it seemed impossible to begin to dig ourselves out.  How were we going to create the future we  had always dreamed about when there was still so much pain to let go of? Through yoga we started to find some of these answers.

Deep in the pose

Deep in the pose

People dream about having these so called “AH HA” moments, where things just make sense. As a result of our practice, we have become so aware and fearlessly awake, that every day the possibility of having one of these moments is within reach. We are remembering what it means to be totally in the moment, without worrying about the past, the future, the unknown. To be in the present is to harness the notion that truth and happiness are one.

With our new, awakened presence we begin our next journey. This time, it is a journey to become certified yoga teachers and to continue to spread the positivity that we have always cultivated, as friends.

There will always be mountains to climb, cruxes to reach, and loose rocks that cause you to lose your footing. There will always be really cloudy days that feel endless and moments that feel impossible: but the light at the top of the mountain is so bright it carries you along, and the tangible accomplishments along the way, like finally balancing in a headstand in the middle of the room, make the loose rocks appear as mere stepping stones.

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Welcome to the Tuniverse

Beth and I met as Account Managers, at a small digital agency called Special Ops Media. Special “Oops”, as we fondly called it, was chock full of young, creative, and goofy characters. A couple of times a week, we’d get pulled into the conference room for a brainstorming session. One person would describe the project they were pitching and then we would all spend the next thirty minutes, or so, tossing out fun ways to promote that project online.

One of the projects that we brainstormed was called the “Tuniverse,” some kind of digital music platform, where a user could access his or her music collection from any device – probably an early version of the cloud. I don’t remember what ideas came out of that brainstorm, but for whatever reason the word “Tuniverse” stuck with Beth and I, and we began using it as a funny way of talking about our lives and the fabric that connected them. From that moment on, the Tuniverse, or Tuni, for short, took on a life of its own.

At that point, neither of us was deeply connected to our spirituality, but we did begin to align ourselves with the idea that the Tuni had a mind of its own, and that it would help everything fall into place the way it was supposed to. That was our version of spirituality and faith – playfully believing that everything happens for a reason, and that every little moment, every event, every twist and turn – good or bad – was a means of getting us on to the right path; the path to our destiny.

Marking the path on a hike through the red rocks of Sedona.

Marking the path on a hike through the red rocks of Sedona.

2012 was a difficult year for both Beth and I in a hundred ways. From dealing with issues around illness and death, to heartbreak, to profound existential doubt, it was a year that at times we did not think we would survive. Yet, in these moments of darkness, of loss, of heartache, of pain, and sometimes lack of faith that the Tuni actually had our backs, we were also being propelled forward. This propulsion forward forced us to leave parts of ourselves behind, and was often characterized by mourning, tears, and seemingly unbearable emotion.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the Tuni actually has a plan. Sometimes I call Beth and I tell her that I demand to speak to a supervisor; that someone MUST have made a mistake. But as we stand on the threshold of this Illuminated Journey, of healing, learning, and expansion, I know that everything that came before it was absolutely necessary.

I still well up when I think about everything that happened in 2012, and I still have moments when I wish I could have done things differently or had the power to Eternal Sunshine certain events; nonetheless, I have arrived at a moment where I am ready to be grateful for the past – it brought me here.