Two Yoginis

A journey of yoga, friendship, and transformation

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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


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:

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.

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?