Two Yoginis

A journey of yoga, friendship, and transformation


The Yoga of Happiness

On Saturday, Ali and I were buzzing as we walked arm-in-arm down 7th Avenue. We were reflecting on the last three hours of teacher training with our guest lecturer, Harshada, on meditation and the yoga of happiness. His energy was peaceful with a mixture of vigor and humor. He laughed at himself and helped us laugh at ourselves as we probed the topic and explored our inner bodies and emotions.

We began class by answering the question as to what brought us to yoga. My answer was simple. I found the yoga mat during a dark period of my life, when I was searching to feel better. I recognized that regular practice created a positive feeling and, therefore, I returned regularly. My classmates also shared their reasons, and, as our attention returned to our teacher, he recapped what everyone was pointing at. What was it that everyone was searching for? We all described this idea differently, but inherent to each answer was a very simple point: we were all searching for a greater sense of happiness and well-being.

We were searching for ways to be deeply happy and the day would be dedicated to giving each of us the tools to manifest this happiness.

As I mentioned in my last post, our society focuses so much on a need to be busy. Beyond the constant need to remain busy, we put ourselves down regularly as to what we should do, didn’t do, or should not have done . Whether expressed verbally or as part of our internal dialogue, we look at ourselves critically every day. “I don’t make enough time to workout,” “I always lose focus,” “I eat too much.”

Where is the wiggle room in such absolute statements? Our teacher suggested that, instead of phrasing our critical thoughts in this way, we should preface each statement with the words “up until now.” These simple words create the wiggle room to allow the self to define itself how it truly wants. We stop identifying with the harsher, more critical self and, instead, leave some room to change.

The day continued with guided meditation sessions that led me on a path I never imagined. I felt as though I tapped into something deeper than ever before. I was watching my breath with my eyes closed and actually feeling emotion that was stuck inside my heart. I was starting to become ultra sensitive to what was blocking me from feeling truly happy. I was searching for my true north, a step toward finding deep, lasting happiness.

What Ali and I were ultimately buzzing about, as we walked outside (besides the fact we were both totally engaged with the lecture) was that this teacher training was affecting us on a much deeper level than just providing us with tools to teach yoga. This training was shifting and changing the way we see the world and ourselves. When we shift internally, we can start to see things show up differently around us.

Up until now, I did not know what my true north was. However, just showing up and doing the work is bringing me one step closer to knowing and refining my inner compass. My true north will likely change many times, but even going in the wrong direction is a clue to finding the right one.

Look out for happy road.

happy road


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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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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Simply Be

Last Saturday night, I attended my very first Kirtan at Yogamaya. If you are not familiar with a Kirtan, here is a brief explanation from Yogamaya’s website:

“In a Kirtan, a group of people comes together to sing, dance, and make music. A leader sings the names of Divine Beings to a melody, and then the group of people responds. The chanting goes back and forth, an intimate exchange between the leader and the group, where you can listen and then sing, listen and then sing. The repetition of the names creates the most sublime meditation and inner sweetness.”

After a late afternoon practice and a quick bite at Terri (a favorite veggie spot), Beth and I returned to Yogamaya to participate in the Kirtan, led by Acyuta Gopi. We greeted our teachers and fellow students, along with a host of other people who had gathered especially for this event. There was a palpable excitement and energy of joy in the air for what was about to transpire.

Inside the studio, the walls were lined with a row of chairs, while the middle of the floor was set up with folded blankets. Yoga is known as a “grounding” practice, so it was no surprise that we would sit on the floor for the Kirtan, allowing us to feel a connection to our bodies and to the Earth.

Pretty Yoga Friends

Beth and Giana ready to Kirtan it out!

By the time we entered the space, the attendees had crowded around the “stage” area (the front of the studio), where the performers had set up their instruments – a variety of hand drums and a harmonium, front and center. After a short introduction in which the diverse group of participants were encouraged to sing from the heart, and after being showered with rose petals, Acyuta began Kirtan began with a slow, sweet mantra. As the Kirtan went on, people swayed, danced, clapped, and closed their eyes to take it all in.

Acyuta Gopi

Acyuta Gopi & Ananta Cuffee @ Yogamaya New York, photo credit: Glenn Riis

Perhaps it was the sense of being part of a community, the foreignness of the Sanskrit words, the sweet hum of the harmonium, or the vibration of the drums, but something about the experience awakened a sense of connectedness, a feeling of being less alone. As I lay in bed that night, I felt a heightened sense of emotion that had been awakened as the mantras reverberated through my body.

Sometimes it seems like we need armor to face the challenges of our lives; that we have to show a hardened, tough shell to appear as though we have everything under control. But in this sacred space, where people came together to sing, chant, and lend their energy to a peaceful, beautiful practice, there was a sense that you could smile, let your walls down, and simply be.