Two Yoginis

A journey of yoga, friendship, and transformation


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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Let Me Hear Your Body Talk

When spring comes around, we often think about cleansing our bodies and our desks and our closets, but what about our thoughts? What about detoxifying our minds?


Spring in the City

This weekend, during teacher training, we talked a lot about how we practice yoga “with the body but for the mind.” By focusing our attention on the meticulous details of each posture, we are able to quiet the mind from its usual chatter. When our minds are busy making sure that each body part is doing what it’s supposed to, we don’t have the bandwidth to consider what we’d like to have for dinner, or who commented on our Facebook status, or how we’re going to get our latest work assignment done. (And, if we’re able to think about these things we’re not practicing yoga.)

Yoga also reminds us that we have a body; that we’re not just a jumble of racing thoughts. When was the last time you mentally scanned each part of your body to see how it felt? When was the last time you consulted your body for an answer to a question or a solution to a challenge (rather than exclusively tuning into the whirring activity of your mind)? When was the last time you put your hands on your heart or your belly and really felt your body inhale and exhale?

Not only do we have a body, but our bodies (if acknowledged and cared for) can become sensitive tuning forks, constantly sending us signals as to what we like and don’t like, what we want and don’t want, and what tastes good, looks good, smells good, and sounds good. Our bodies often know what we want before we do.

When the mind and the body work together as one team, we become unstoppable. It is in this state that we finally figure out what feels good, and stop filling ourselves with junky food, junky experiences, and junky thoughts. It’s when we realize that a cold, or insomnia, or a headache is not merely an acceptable side-effect of modern life; that it’s our body’s sophisticated system delivering a clear signal that something is out of balance. This is when we can start to consciously choose what actually feels good over what we think feels good. And when we feel good, everything around us begins to shift.

This week, let’s practice focusing only on that which makes us feel good. Let’s tune into the messages from our bodies and let our minds take a break from thinking so darn much. In the spirit of spring, let’s allow our bodies (to borrow a phrase from Bryn) to “till the soil” of our minds, thereby allowing fresh ideas to sprout. If you’re in need of a little hand-holding (myself included), nothing could be more perfect than this free 21-Day Meditation Challenge with daily, guided audio sequences narrated by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra (that I’ve been recommending to everyone I know).

Or, you could just watch this Olivia Newton John video:

Happy spring, yogis!

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Guest Blogger Ali B: Why I Love Essential Oils

I am joining Ali S. and Beth on the journey to become yoga teachers, and the one thing I know I’ll be taking with me to the first class I teach (along with a few nerves!) are my essential oils. My trusty purple knit pouch, which houses a few oils from my collection, has become my ‘tool kit’ that goes everywhere I do. These ‘tools’ can help me ‘fix’ almost any ailment or ache –  from calming me down when I’m stressed to curbing my nausea to healing a blemish! Here’s a little introduction to two of my favorite essential oils that are always in my tool kit: peppermint and lavender.

Peppermint has an uplifting and energizing aroma, and I use it often in a few distinct ways: I place a drop in my water bottle for a refreshing and uplifting drink*, I put a drop on my tongue to curb my chocolate cravings after a meal, I rub a drop onto my temples to relieve headaches and increase concentration, and I massage a drop onto my belly when I have an upset stomach.

Peppermint Essential Oil - Photo Credit:

Peppermint Essential Oil – Photo Credit:

Lavender is a popular scent that is known for its calming effect, and I often use lavender essential oil in a variety of ways to wind down after a long, stressful day. I love soaking in a hot bath infused with a couple of drops of it or mixing a few drops of it with jojoba oil and giving myself a much-deserved foot rub or placing a few drops on my pillow before bed – it puts me right to sleep!

Lavender Field - Image Credit:

Lavender Field – Image Credit:

On a physiological level, essential oils have profound effects on us due to the antimicrobial, antiseptic and antibacterial agents found in them. On a psychological, spiritual, and energetic level, the natural aromas found in oils can affect us by directly altering the chemicals in our brains. When we smell these oils the receptors in our noses send messages to the limbic system in our brains. The limbic system controls emotions and memory and can impact our thoughts, decisions, and behavior. Certain oils and blends of oils can promote particular feelings and emotions of positivity, well-being, and joy.

If you’re interested in learning more about essential oils, I’d love to share my experiences with you! Email me for more info or find me on Twitter at @AliBatwin.

*Note: The quality of essential oils is an important factor to take into consideration before ingesting.


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

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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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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.