Two Yoginis

A journey of yoga, friendship, and transformation


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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: amc.com

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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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: http://www.dgaryyoung.com

Peppermint Essential Oil – Photo Credit: http://www.dgaryyoung.com

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: http://thedavenblog.com/

Lavender Field – Image Credit: http://thedavenblog.com/

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.


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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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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.

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