Two Yoginis

A journey of yoga, friendship, and transformation


3 Comments

We Are the Common Denominators

Lately, I’ve been contemplating the idea of closure and how to get it (without opening up a whole ‘nother can of worms).

If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably already had a life experience, situation, or relationship that did not end neatly tied up in a bow. Let’s be real: “adult” life has the potential to be messy and unpredictable. We don’t always abide by the golden rule, even though we know we should. And by now, we’ve likely experienced both sides of the equation – as either the maker of a mess or as the one who tried (unsuccessfully) to clean it up. When you’re on cleanup duty (I been there, sister), I know it’s easy to get stuck in a victim (why me?) or blame (what an asshole!) mentality.

I believe it was during an episode of Oprah that I first became acquainted with the idea that we are the common denominators of everything that happens in our lives. Thereby, we are complicit (perhaps unconsciously), in allowing negative situations or patterns to manifest. On some level, we have said “yes” to pain or drama or heartache (read: we wanted it). This concept resonated with me, deeply, and I became determined to break my own negative relationship patterns by changing myself. It was also at this time that I found myself returning more and more frequently to the mat.

One of the (many) tools that yoga cultivates is the ability to expand our consciousness by containing the conscious mind to a very limited space (the body). Although it might seem counterintuitive, it is actually this containment that allows us to attain greater focus and awareness of ourselves. Since we are the common denominators in our lives, we must first understand our inner landscape before we can begin to see meaningful changes in our external realities.

20130227-220138.jpg

In our day-to-day lives we are inundated with stimuli; but when we step on to the mat, we are asked to tune all of that out, focusing one hundred percent on our practice or sadhana. By focusing wholeheartedly on the poses, we are able to direct our undivided attention to very specific parts of our bodies. In each pose, we must be consciously aware of the minute details of what every body part is doing, from the ground up. We must make small corrections when our toes are pointing the wrong direction, or our navels aren’t pulled in, or our arms aren’t extending straight up by our ears.

When we step off the mat and back into the world, our expanded consciousness goes with us. Now we are aware of our behavior toward others, what kinds of things we consume, and how we carry ourselves in the world. We can hear the inner dialogue around our decisions. We can no longer claim to be the victim or blame anyone else for our problems, because we are fully conscious of even our questionable choices. We have shined a light on the shadowy parts of ourselves that had previously slinked by unnoticed. If we have an addiction to pain, it’s no longer allowed to hide in the dark spaces of the unconscious.

Luckily, it is when we begin to shine a light on these shadowy places that we are able to transform. It is at this point we start to understand what we are doing to allow negative situations to manifest in our lives, and, thus, begin the process of creating what it is we really want (and stop creating what we don’t want).

Finally, and most importantly, when we recognize that we are just as much the mess-makers as we are the cleaner-uppers, we can forgive ourselves and others for our shared unfinished business. Cause, if you really think about it, most of us are doing the best we can with the tools we have at any given time. The good news is, with better tools (e.g. yoga) we can all get better results.


Leave a comment

Stick Out Your Butt

As part of our 200 hour teacher training, we have had two illuminating anatomy sessions with Jonathan FitzGordon, an expert on alignment of the human body. Jonathan’s specific focus is to understand optimal muscular and structural alignment during basic, fundamental activities, like standing and walking.

During our first session, Jonathan announced that nearly all humans (ourselves included) stand with our skeletal structure completely out of whack. Most of us have our pelvis tucked, our hips jutting forward, and our shoulders pulling back, all which leads to a tight butt (in a bad way). This misaligned posture forces our muscles to do all kinds of jobs they weren’t designed to do.

Your tucked pelvis - Image Credit: blog.corewalking.com

Correct alignment (left), your tucked pelvis (right) – image credit: blog.corewalking.com

After breaking this news to us, Jonathan asked us to stand up in “Tadasana” or “Mountain Pose,” after which he walked around the room giving us corrections to move our shoulders, hips, and ankles into one vertical line, creating the ideal standing alignment:

[Dryly and with a New York accent] “Stick your butt out. Release your butt. Give your butt a room of its own. Relax your shoulders. Lean forward a little. Deepen your hip creases. Let your rib cage slouch forward. Bend your knees a little. Turn off your butt.”

As I attempted to release my butt (it sounds easier than it really is), I felt myself sway slightly from side to side and front and back, to balance out my newly aligned body. Different muscles in my lower body kicked on and off, on and off, on and off, until, finally, I felt a couple of them turn off completely. It was tremendously strange to shut down such strong lower body muscles, while, simultaneously, feeling a new sense of groundedness in my bones. For maybe the first time ever, my muscles and bones were doing the jobs they were meant to do.

During that first session, Jonathan also introduced us to a muscle I had never heard of before: a hip flexor called the psoas (pronounced SO-AS). Apparently, the psoas is the only muscle that connects the legs to the spine (read: very important). Because the psoas has a natural contraction response during a trauma (like, let’s say, a car accident), the psoas is understood to hold that trauma in the physical body.

The psoas - image credit: blog.corewalking.com

The psoas – image credit: blog.corewalking.com

When I got home, I became aware that a profound shift had taken place in my body. Something (or maybe a few things) had let go that had been gripping for a long, long time (maybe forever). The release was both euphoric and intense. I woke up the next day to a different body than the one I had the day before. I may never be totally sure what was hiding in my psoas, but, the truth is, it doesn’t really matter.

Our physical bodies are the vehicle in which we travel through life. When we experience trauma (literal or emotional), one of our primary response is physical. As a result, we may trap the experience in the body in the form of tense muscles, joints, tissue or ligaments. Over time, tension leads to imbalance, which may later lead to pain. Thus, improperly maintained, our bodies become the sum of our difficult experiences.

When we practice yoga, we facilitate opening in and alignment of the physical body that frees trapped energy and emotions from these experiences. This process is not necessarily pleasant while you’re in the middle of it, but ultimately makes you feel profoundly better than you did before. You may find that when you let go physically, you let go emotionally, as well. When you cycle this stagnant energy out of your body, a new sense of wellbeing arises in its place.

A lot of people practice yoga to look better, but do not realize the profound healing power of yoga to feel better. If you are willing to give it a chance, you might find that having a dramatically better experience of life is as simple as sticking out your butt.

To learn more about Jonathan FitzGordon’s CoreWalking method, visit: http://corewalking.com/


Leave a comment

It Takes a Lifetime

“Yoga is a lifetime practice,” proclaimed Frank, one of the teachers at Yogamaya. I let his words soak into my thoughts. Something in these words resonated more than any of the words my teachers had expressed before on this topic. He continued: “It’s a lifetime practice, be soft in the poses, be aware, be present, and be grateful for wherever you are today.”

These may sound like simple enough tasks, but they are easier said than done. As a society, many of us feel pressured – perhaps by the media, by entertainment, by our parents or friends – to push ourselves and our bodies. To be perfect. To check one more pose off the yoga list.

I, too, have struggled with these pressures and with learning to SLOW down and find balance. Ask anyone that knows me well, and they will tell you that I like to push the limits, test boundaries, and challenge my body. At times in my life this has manifested in a struggle with my weight, pushing myself to both extremes of the spectrum. At both ends, I have had to learn the hard way back, until, finally, the balance became my reality. At some point along my journey, I made a decision to stop listening to all the external influences and pressures and start taking care of me. This was also the same time I found yoga.

Yoga became not only a physical practice that made me feel strong and powerful, but also a mental practice of loving myself and learning what it meant to listen to my body. I learned to back off when something didn’t feel good instead of “pushing through.” I learned to use yoga props (blocks, blankets, straps) to ease my body into a more difficult pose. I stopped wondering what anyone else was thinking about my practice or my body and started practicing for me.

In yoga, there is an appreciation of beauty in all shapes and sizes of the body. The body is celebrated, loved and respected. Beyond accepting the body, there are poses for which it’s literally NOT ideal to have washboard abs. This is not to say that yoga discourages students from engaging and working their abdominals; in fact, yoga requires tons of core strength. However, the energy in the yoga studio is not geared toward who has the “best” body, a unique characteristic in a cosmopolitan city where much of our value is determined by how we look.

Urdhva Dhanurasana- pose having a six pack is NOT ideal for

Urdhva Dhanurasana – pose for which having a six pack is NOT ideal

I would love to end my story by saying I never have days that I feel uncomfortable in my body, but that would not be true. I am a woman. I feel insecure some days, and even look around the room and compare myself to other people. We all have our moments.

However, more days than not, I feel awesome because I am cultivating inner strength and power through my practice. It doesn’t matter how many yoga poses I have mastered, because it takes a lifetime of practicing to actually master anything. This allows me to come to my mat, each day, without judgment. When I practice without judgment, I am actually more free to celebrate my body and my strength.

Ask anyone that knows me well NOW, and they will say I walk taller, carry myself with an open heart and treat my body in a way that brings me closer to balance. On this path, there is no need to aim for perfection, settle, or get discouraged, today; I have my lifetime to practice and explore.


Leave a comment

Why I’m Loving Mercury Retrograde

As we resume teacher training this weekend, Mercury will be making his first annual about-face to travel retrograde for three weeks in the sign of Pisces. You may be (vaguely) aware that Mercury Retrograde strikes fear in the hearts of the astrologically inclined. As I discussed in a recent post, when Mercury, messenger of thought and communication, appears to turn around and go backwards, things can get a little wonky. Travel delays, communication breakdowns, and technology failures are notoriously plentiful.

That said, I have decided that when we obsess about the negative aspects of Mercury Retrograde, we fail to recognize what Mercury Retrograde is really about: an opportunity to retrace our steps. Mercury Retrograde represents the idea that it’s necessary to review our past actions and become aware of some information we missed, before we can truly proceed.

Attention: Fog Ahead - Boat Ride to Capri, Italy

Attention: Fog Ahead – Boat Ride to Capri, Italy

If your last few months has been anything like mine, it has been impossible to get everything on the list done, let alone go back over the details. Plus, I’ve been filling my head with so much new information (e.g. teacher training), that I definitely haven’t been able to absorb it all. This is where I believe Mercury Retrograde has come to rescue us, encouraging all things “re”: re-viewing, re-tracing, re-flecting, re-considering, and re-connecting with ourselves or others we may have left behind in the shuffle. Mercury Retrograde says: slow down and get your shit together.

That this particular Mercury Retrograde is happening in the last sign of the zodiac (Pisces), where we’re currently awash in deep, oceanic energies, indicates that we are rinsing away the remnants of an old cycle to allow for new growth. And if we’re able to go with the flow, lots of magical things will start to bloom in the spring.

For many of us, the notion of going with the flow is quite foreign. We’re too busy. We have too much to do. There’s not enough time. However, it is our insistence on charging full speed ahead (in spite of the awareness that it’s time to slow down) that results in the kinds of Mercury Retrograde mishaps we all dread.

In a class earlier this week, Keely reminded me that when our minds are occupied by either the past or the future, we’re unable to appreciate the present. In reality, Mercury Retrograde asks nothing more of us than to be completely in the moment, re-acting only to that which is in directly in front of us. If that is something you have yet to explore, the next few weeks will be a perfect time to give it a shot.


Leave a comment

I Lost My Sparkle Pager

During teacher training last weekend, Stacey proclaimed: “Yogamaya is a teaching school” – in that, instructors are expected to walk around the room and make individual verbal and hands-on physical adjustments to ensure that students are in the proper alignment of each shape.

This comment reminded us of one of the (many) things that originally solidified our friendship: a shared, unapologetic obsession with Grey’s Anatomy. If you haven’t seen the show (or refuse to partake in prime-time television drama), it centers on the trials and tribulations of a group of surgical interns at a teaching hospital called Seattle Grace.

Magical Seattle - Photo Credit: Alsarama

Magical Seattle – Photo Credit: Alsarama

The two main characters, Doctors Meredith Grey and Christina Yang, are up-and-coming surgeons and each other’s “people” (aka best friends). Despite all of the drama that ensues, both personal and professional, Meredith and Christina’s friendship remains constant and unwavering, a pillar of support in a highly unstable and challenging environment.

As part of their ascension to surgical greatness, the interns must vie against each other for assignments, and may be rewarded or reprimanded according to the results. In one particular episode, the characters compete over a “sparkle pager” that would allow the pager recipient to take incoming surgeries. Meredith wins the sparkle pager, but ultimately surrenders it to Christina to help brighten up a dark time in Christina’s life. The sparkle pager becomes a symbol of friendship and sacrifice.

Meredith Grey and Christina Yang - Grey's Anatomy

Meredith Grey and Christina Yang – Grey’s Anatomy

While walking along the Hudson River, last summer, Ali declared: “I have lost my sparkle pager.” This has become one of our many playful (albeit legitimate) ways to send out an SOS. When one of us is is feeling “dark and twisty,” and in need of the sparkle pager, the other is called on to share whatever sparkle she has to give. The sparkle pager allows us to lean on each other when times get rough.

On this path of learning and expansion, there are bound to be pitfalls along the way (e.g. falling on your face in a handstand). Sometimes, it helps to look at a difficult challenge as a teaching environment, where there is an inherent opportunity to learn. And whether you learn by practicing, through the wisdom of a mentor, or through our inevitable mistakes, it’s always good to know you’ve got a friend with a sparkle pager on call.

alibethphotobooth


2 Comments

Healing on the Mat

As my mind quiets, and emotion begins to pulse through my body, I can feel the tears well. I am sitting cross-legged on my yoga mat, and I can hear the sounds of the harmonium filling the room. The voice of one my favorite teachers cracks open my heart and yet in this space I feel a boundless shield of protection. I am both vulnerable and safe, as I allow myself to grieve.

On My Mat at Yogamaya

On My Mat at Yogamaya

While studying at The University of Vermont, I had the opportunity to learn from experts in death and dying. We learned about the five stages of grief, as hypothesized by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. The five stages (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance) explain how individuals deal with significant loss.

In the past year, I experienced multiple losses. While mourning the loss of my grandfather, our family also had to say goodbye to our nine year-old family dog, George. I found myself returning to the mat again and again to manage and process my overwhelming grief. Yogamaya became my place to release these difficult emotions and work through the five stages. I became aware of the duality inherent in grieving – some stages being incredibly painful, while others beautifully awake and invigorating.

I experienced these emotions, consciously, within the confines of my practice, which created space in my physical body that allowed emotions to flow. Sometimes it would happen standing folded over my legs, while other days as I relaxed into Savasana (final resting pose). The energy of sadness would arise and tears would stream quietly onto my mat.

This week, my family unveiled a bench near the dog run in Madison Square Park, with a plaque reading: “In Memory of Our Beloved Dog George.” A few days later we brought home our new 8-week-old puppy, Lucy.

The Bench at Madison Square Park

The Bench at Madison Square Park

Even as we welcome our new puppy, I know I am still in the acceptance stage with regard to George. There are days it seems impossible that he is no longer waiting for me when I walk into my parent’s apartment. Other days, I feel a sense of peace, because I know he’s still with us (helping Lucy learn the ropes of being a Belkin).

Lucy Belkin

Lucy Belkin

Whether on your yoga mat or someplace else, it’s important to honor the complex emotional process of grieving. Be open, find an outlet, and allow yourself the space and time to heal.

Do you have a story you would like to share? Email us or leave a comment.

Lucy loves to hear a story

Lucy loves to hear a story


1 Comment

Get Connected

As of this week, Beth and I have completed three consecutive weekends of teacher training, two week’s worth of written homework, partner assignments, and reading, not to mention keeping up with our (very) demanding jobs, personal lives and responsibilities (and a blog). Needless to say, it has been a puzzle to make it all work. Even though this was our first full week/end without teacher training, I quickly discovered that I had plenty on the calendar to keep me busy.

Following the weekend’s illuminating lessons on lower body anatomy, pranayama, arm balances, and Ayurveda, we got together with our group members, Courtney and Bronwen, and our mentor, Jen, on Monday night. This small gathering provided an opportunity to express questions and concerns, as well as to practice teaching. We took turns guiding one another through a sequence of poses and then received feedback from our mentor. Although we are all seasoned yoga practitioners, we are still learning what it means to actively teach rather than participate.

On Tuesday evening, I met up with my high school bestie, Caroline, her sister, Sue, and her future sister-in-law, Marcela to try on bridesmaid dresses. After strutting around the showroom in all different shades of chiffon, we each made our final selections and the bride approved!

20130215-000805.jpg

Say Yes to the Dress – The Bridesmaid Edition

Succumbing to exhaustion after five days of non-stop action, I reluctantly decided to take Wednesday night “off.” I practiced Pranayama, caught up on some reading and a little television, cooked myself dinner, and put myself to bed early.

With the week finally rounding to a close, I made my monthly trip up to The Bronx Charter School for Children, where I recently became a member of the board of trustees. On the way home from our meeting, I was chit-chatting with another board member about it being Valentine’s Day. A salon owner and stylist, she mentioned that V-Day can be an emotional day for women, especially those who do not have a partner.

The conversation made me think of a V-Day piece I read the previous night (during me time), reminding readers that romantic love, while wonderful, is not enough to sustain us as individuals. Furthermore, when we project expectations that an intimate relationship, partner, or marriage will be enough to complete us or make us happy, we are bound to find disappointment.

That is to say – Valentine’s Day isn’t exclusively about romantic love, it’s also about being connected. And connectedness can take shape in a multitude of ways, whether it’s through family, friendship, being of service to your community, joining with like-minded individuals for an academic, philosophical, or physical pursuit, taking part in a celebration, or simply taking a night to care for your glorious self.

And if you didn’t get it done this Valentine’s Day, fear not! Tomorrow is just as good a day as any to get connected – and I guarantee the restaurants will be less crowded.

P.S. – Connect with us! Click “follow” at the top of the page to receive receive notifications of our new posts by email!


Leave a comment

Riding The Wave of Breath

During our third weekend of teacher training, our knowledgeable teacher, Stacey, introduced us to Pranayama, the fourth limb of yoga. Stacey is very passionate about Pranayama, and was excited to share her knowledge with the class.

Many people do not realize that Yoga is composed of eight “limbs,” each a practice unto itself. Asana (the physical poses) is the third limb. Pranayama, the formal art of controlling the breath, is known as the fourth limb, and that which connects the physical body with the more unseen and mystical realms. Therefore, Pranayama may also be known as the breath of life. If practiced correctly, Pranayama is an art to control the mind by learning to control the breath, and to control the breath by controlling the mind.

Eight Limbs of Yoga

Eight Limbs of Yoga

Stacey characterized this complex breathing practice as akin to “playing with magic”. It certainly sounded like magic when it was explained that Pranayama techniques can both relieve stress and improve one’s overall physical health, while forging a deeper connection with one’s higher self or soul.

One of the books we are reading as part of our training is called Yoga and The Quest for the True Self, by Stephen Cope. In the book, Cope discusses the benefits and magic of Pranayama:

“Inhibition of full abdominal-diaphragmatic breath immediately cuts us off from feelings. But it also cuts us off from prana and deeply depletes the life force in the body. An increased reliance on chest breathing to supply the body’s oxygen requirements produces chronic muscle tension in the chest and abdomen, but that’s only the beginning. It also increases cardio-pulmonary stress, increases blood sugar and lactate levels, increases our perception of pain, decreases oxygen to the heart and brain, inhibits transfer of oxygen from hemoglobin to tissues, and increases our sense of fatigue.”

By learning how to breathe properly, we would further tune into our bodies, look at feeling through the breath, and cultivate powerful breathing techniques that we could use throughout our lives.

In the chapter called Riding the Wave of Breath, Cope explains a technique to help manage feelings that may arise through Pranayama (and, trust me, they can be vast). His technique called “riding the wave” has five parts: “Breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow.” This is Cope’s way to help others become witness to the wisdom of Pranayama.

Ali and I have both begun a daily Pranayama practice, and, as part of our homework for the next two weeks, will be recording a few observations after each practice.

With the technique of “riding the wave” and our lessons from class over the weekend, I feel prepared to begin my own exploration. Can I surrender to the freedom that comes with being present and to simply allow the process to happen without understanding every aspect of it? I am excited to find out.

“This kind of surrender requires a willingness to be changed. It involves, too, a willingness to trust life, to keep the focus of our awareness on energy in motion instead of on trying to understand what is happening. Prana is intelligent, after all.” – Stephen Cope on “riding the wave of breath”


Leave a comment

One Day at a Time

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States, was born on February 12, 1809. In the past couple of years, I have noticed a lot more talk about this revered American leader, including the release of a highly-acclaimed feature film and a forthcoming television docudrama.

That Lincoln’s impact is still being measured today reminds me that it can take years, lifetimes, and generations to integrate big lessons, in this case those having to do with basic human rights, like freedom and equality. It has been nearly 150 years since Lincoln’s assassination, and we are still reflecting on what his life meant, in the greater context of our nation and our society.

Photo Credit: My Mom - Taken before finding out I was writing a post for Lincoln's birthday (true story)

Photo Credit: My Mom – Taken before finding out I was writing a post for Lincoln’s birthday (true story)

The same concept applies, albeit on a smaller scale, to our lives, as individuals. With advances in technology, we have gotten accustomed to everything happening instantaneously. Yet, we must remember that, as humans, we cannot be held to the same standards as our devices. It can (and should) take months, years, and decades to make sense of and integrate our life lessons. We can surely speed integration through awareness – by observing how certain choices make us feel and then using those observations to create a roadmap to our desired outcomes. But, at the end of the day (pun intended), time is a fundamental ingredient in the alchemy of realization.

We are lucky to live in an age when all the information we could ever want is literally at our fingertips, creating the potential for rapid expansion. It is important to consider, however, that the time it takes to manifest the change we want to see in our lives is directly proportional to the time it takes to notice, understand, and be willing to alter our role in maintaining the status quo.

After three weeks into yoga school, I am aware that I have a long way to go and an infinite amount of information still to learn. I know that some of the seeds planted in this early stage of my development as a teacher will come to bloom, weeks, months, and years down the road. I understand that it can’t happen all at once.

But, then again, I’m not all that worried about it right now – because, in the words of Honest Abe: “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.

Here’s to building a bright, beautiful future – one day at a time. Happy birthday, Honest Abe!


Leave a comment

Just Keep Swimming

Due to a Disney-fied blizzard (The Weather Channel decided to name the storm “Nemo,” setting the internet ablaze with clever clownfish memes), our Friday night teacher training session had to be rescheduled. So, after nearly three weeks of non-stop action, we received an unexpected, but much needed, respite from the Tuniverse. On one hand, it has been nice to have a night to relax; but, on the other hand, slowing down can sometimes be more challenging than keeping going.

Nemo Meme

In Disney Pixar’s award-winning animated feature, Finding Nemo, the title character is a kindergarten-age clownfish with a faulty flipper (shark attack) who gets separated from his widowed father, Marlin, and ends up on an oceanic adventure. Marlin, emotionally scarred by the loss of Nemo’s mom and brothers and sisters (same shark attack), begins a desperate search to find his only surviving son.

Along the journey, Marlin meets a zany, forgetful fish named Dory (memorably voiced by Ellen Degeneres), who becomes his companion for the search. When Marlin begins to lose hope of ever finding his beloved Nemo, Dory playfully chimes:

“When life gets you down do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do? …[singing] Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.”

As of February 26th, Sun, Neptune, Mars, Mercury, Venus, and Chiron will all be in Pisces (read: lots and lots of Pisces energy). Pisces, the twelfth and final sign in the zodiac (how fitting, since this is the twelfth post on our blog), is a feminine water sign associated with the depths of the ocean and symbolized by (you guessed it!) a fish. Water energy, in it’s simplest interpretation, represents emotion. So, as we approach the end of February, we may find ourselves feeling submerged.

For those of you watery types (shout out to my Cancer, Scorps and Pisces peeps), you may already be accustomed to surveying the ocean floor for clues, and feel comfortable letting the currents carry you along to your next destination. 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).

Until then, my friends…

Photo credit: keep-calm-and.tumblr.com