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


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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?

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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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Clear the Cache

There are days I feel like a Beth-bot. Like a computer program automatically set to reply all. I imagine Beth-bot like that rotisserie infomercial where you “set it and forget it.” This past week, on more than one occasion, I found myself answering people with one word answers: “yes,” “cool,” and “yeah.” I knew I had entered bot land, and needed to find a way out.

Set it and Forget it

Set it and Forget it

Without fail, Ali will cause me to LOL when she exclaims: “Is this a bot? Where is the real Beth?” I know exactly what she is referring to when she asks me this question. I can feel myself drift away into Beth-bot land as the one word answers take over. This usually happens when I am doing too many tasks at one time, and begin to feel overwhelmed by the amount of things on my plate. It becomes my way of partaking in the conversation without really being involved.

Tonight in yoga class, my teacher, Christina, began the class with a message to “clear the cache.” She reminded me how often we become computer-like and need to clear the cache or fully re-boot in order to function properly.

The poses quite literally twisted and cleared our bodies. With every sun salutation I could feel the cache empty. I felt as though the stress was falling away and clearing space to be present again. Each breath created a bit more space for full sentences to form. My computer screen was no long freezing with e-mails in my outbox, I hit re-boot and Beth-bot was slowly disappearing.

We all need to clear the cache, sometimes, even if it seems like a scary idea to lose all the saved history. Sometimes we become attached to the operating system we are most familiar with, even if we know it is not working optimally. I know from experience that I become attached to the “stuff” and sometimes need an extra push to actually clear it out.

However, clearing out means there is room to be present and to let go of whatever was taking up so much space in the first place. A simple child’s pose or seated meditation is a really easy way to clear the mind. We ended our class in a cross-legged meditation with our eyes closed and our breath deep. I realized this was the ultimate way to clear the cache.

Namaste

Namaste


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Pura Vida

In April of 2011, Beth and I ran our second More / Fitness Women’s Half Marathon in New York City’s Central Park. As chance would have it, the race coincided with a last-minute trip to meet my friend Erin (who was studying for her MBA in Paris) in Italy, along with a client visit to my company’s center in Costa Rica. In the interest of fulfilling each of these commitments, I was forced to plan my travel such that I would run the race, fly from New York to Italy, Italy to New York, New York to Costa Rica and, finally, back to New York, all within a two-week time frame.

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Bopper n’ Me – At the Finish Line

When I arrived in Italy, just 36 hours after crossing the finish line, my body was feeling the effects. My ankles were swollen, and my joints and muscles were stiff from the combination of running 13.1 miles and sitting through a long, overnight flight. I limped around Florence that evening, hoping the pain would eventually dissipate; however, Erin and I had an ambitious itinerary – pounding the cobblestones in Florence, Cinque Terre, Sorrento, Pompei, Capri, Positano, and Rome, all inside of eight days. I would spend the duration of our (amazing) trip applying the Italian equivalent of Icy-Hot, icing, and elevating my wounded ankles, when we were not on our feet (which was not that much).

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Capri – off the Amalfi Coast, Italy

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The Coluseum, Rome, Italy

Following our Italian adventure, I flew home, unpacked, repacked, slept in my bed, and got up the next morning to fly to Costa Rica. I went straight from grungy European traveler to business casual and heels – swollen, wobbly cankles and all. In addition to attending meetings in San Jose (and staying out until 4 AM dancing, but we won’t talk about that), I also had the opportunity to take a beautiful day-trip to Isla Tortuga, a much needed rest for my ailing body. At this point, I had literally run myself ragged, but I had a few more days to get through before I would get home and could truly begin recovering.

La Isla Tortuga

La Isla Tortuga

On the final flight home, I was (serendipitously) seated alongside two sisters returning from a yoga retreat, a common activity in a country where the mantra is “Pura Vida” (pure life). We discussed the virtues of yoga and running, at length, noting the difference between an activity that is healing and restorative to the body (yoga), and one that frequently causes the body pain, injury, and discomfort (running). I could not help but think this was a sign, pointing me in a different direction.

When I arrived back in NYC, I came to the conclusion that running was no longer getting me where I wanted to go. Besides the obvious pain it had caused me, it started to feel like an obligation, rather than something I actually enjoyed. It was at this point that I decided to try an experiment: what would happen if I tried practicing yoga every day? What if instead of committing to run some arbitrary distance, I committed to getting good at yoga?

When one begins practicing yoga, or returns to it after a hiatus, it can be intimidating to look around the room and observe the more advanced students. Inevitably, there are a few people who can do incredible things, like pop effortlessly up into a forearm stand or wedge their foot behind their head, remarkable feats of flexibility and strength. There are two possible reactions as an onlooker: either to think, “I’ll never be able to do that,” or “I wanna do that!” I opted for the latter.

A couple of weeks into my experiment, I noticed that, even on days when I was stressed, or cranky, or tired, I wanted to go to class. Yoga wasn’t a punishment for eating junk food, an obligatory exercise activity, or a type-A, compulsive need to cross a finish line. I went to yoga because my body wanted it. I went because it made me feel happy, free, and mobile in my body, a sharp contrast to my painful (albeit exaggerated) experience with running.

Two years into my experiment (and nine years since I first tried yoga), I haven’t accumulated any more medals. What I have accumulated is deep layers of strength, ample mobility in my joints, flexibility in my muscles, along with a few less tangible qualities – the ability to quiet my mind (a challenging task in these distracting times), the ability to breathe my way through uncomfortable moments (both physically and otherwise), and an unanticipated connection with empathy that only comes when you experience your own emotions and humbly realize: we’re all the same.

I’m not sorry I ran a half marathon and went on an insane world tour that probably nearly cost me a joint (or two). Ultimately, this experience taught me something my friends in Costa Rica already know: that “Pura Vida” is about more than crossing finish lines, checking off accomplishments, and getting stuff done. Pura Vida is about enjoying the ride.

Pura Vida, Costa Rica

Pura Vida, Costa Rica


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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.

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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.


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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/


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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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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”


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Beyond the Crux and Toward the Light

During a night out two weeks ago, I was asked a question about a recent blog post in which I discussed a metaphor about the light at the top of the mountain.

“What is the light at the top of the mountain for you?”

I struggled to articulate the answer to the question that evening. The words came out of my mouth: “the light represents the notion that anything is possible.” The question had caught me off guard and I was not prepared to answer it thoughtfully. However, it got my wheels spinning, and when I reflected on it afterward, I realized that the light at the top of the mountain is the guide to push forward when faced with a crux, whether literally or metaphorically.

According to Wikipedia, a crux is the most difficult portion of a climb. The metaphor of “climbing a mountain” is something Ali and I have discussed at length. This past summer, as we walked along the beach in Montauk, escaping our busy lives for a few days of sun, family and ocean, we realized we were both staring directly in the face of another crux. In this moment, I wondered what would help guide me get beyond this difficult stretch.

At each crux, there are decision points that determine the path forward. In the course of training to run a half marathon, Ali and I would hit difficult stretches, both physically and mentally. Each time, we made choices that would allow us to meet our goal of completing the race and living up to our commitment. Other times, I have hit a crux, and in order to move forward and reach the light, I have had to dig really deeply, sometimes looking at the very thing that was causing the difficulty in the first place. At times, it has been as simple (yet profound) as forgiving someone or myself.

Each person is a unique individual, and within each individual are certain parameters that make a crux easier or harder to get beyond it. That said, each person does have the ability to use their unique experiences and learning’s to get to the other side of a crux.

As one of our teachers, Bryn, was talking this past weekend, she said something that made me want to yell: I TOTALLY AGREE (I didn’t do that). She spoke about the “mountain” and that we learn to keep climbing the mountain even though we cannot see the light. WE KNOW from past experiences when it appeared there was no light, that if you keep going, the light will shine again.

We have each experienced moments when things have felt very dark, but that despite this darkness, we have found our way toward the light or past the crux. The knowing and past experience that things will change can help you get past the most difficult portion of the climb.

For me, the cruxes along the way become a part of the journey. You make the decision to look straight ahead and keep going because you know there is a light atop the mountain.

A Crux on a Mountain

A Crux on a Mountain


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Let Us All Be Thankful

Some days there really is not much more to say than – “I am thankful.”

Certainly, some days it is not easy to feel or be thankful, but, hopefully, even on those days, there is a way to find something to cling on to that makes one feel even a molecule of thankfulness.

The start of yoga teacher training has made me incredibly thankful for a multitude of things. An immediate reaction to the start of this journey is that my time has become precious. What is important has become more clear and what is not important is not even in my line of sight. I am thankful for this clear vision.

The start of yoga teacher training has also made me even more aware of my body. I am aware of what I am and am not physically capable of doing. Being physically able to practice and to learn makes me thankful.

Being thankful makes me feel good. It makes me feel hopeful and excited and encouraged that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

Be thankful for one or many things today. It’s infectious.

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful. – Buddha

Butterfly in Montauk

Butterfly in Montauk