What the World Needs Now

It’s been a harrowing few weeks. Among protests, marches, crying, comforting, writing, and calling, I have come to a realization, something I am only able to crystallize now, but that I have known all this time: this country has an empathy problem. I say this while knowing full well that so many of us – especially in wellness spaces – understand the need for advocacy. But even then, I am learning, we need to go deeper with our ability to not only speak out, but also to listen. We need to empathize with our ears and with our hearts with plights that we alone may not have personally faced. And, hardest of all, we need to develop the capacity to act from a place of empathy.

When I did my first yoga teacher training in 2011, I struggled with meditation big time. I was perfectly content doing vinyasa yoga all day, but when a meditation teacher came in and told us to sit still and focus on the breath, I felt all sorts of I think I’m doing this wrong. Then, a fellow student in the training who seemed to embody loving-kindness taught us Metta (loving-kindness meditation). There was something about Metta that stuck with me on a deep level. This week, as I’ve practiced it on the subway every day to work and led my third grade students in the practice as well, I realized that Metta develops empathy inside the heart space through its very structure.

Here is how to do it on your own.

  1. Find a comfortable seat. When I say that this seat can be anywhere as long as you’re comfortable and your feet are planted firmly into the ground, I mean it.
  2. Tune into the breath. Notice the inhales and the exhales. Allow for something that is typically so passive to become an active experience.
  3. Visualize yourself at a moment that you felt like your best. Now, repeat silently to yourself three times:

May I be safe.

May I be healthy.

May I be happy.

May I live a life of ease.

4. Visualize someone you love. Now, repeat silently to yourself three times:

May they be safe.

May they be healthy.

May they be happy.

May they live a life of ease.

5. Visualize a neutral person / a group of people. For this one, I find it helpful to choose a group of people in the world that I know is suffering because of the current political climate. Repeat silently to yourself three times:

May they be safe.

May they be healthy.

May they be happy.

May they live a life of ease.

6. Visualize a person / group of people you resent. Repeat silently to yourself three times:

May they be safe.

May they be healthy.

May they be happy.

May they live a life of ease.

7. Now, visualize a sea of all of those people coming together and more. Repeat silently to yourself three times:

May we be safe.

May we be healthy.

May we be happy.

May we live lives of ease.

8. Return to the self. Repeat three times:

May I be safe.

May I be healthy.

May I be happy.

May I live a life of ease.

Yoga Joy in July

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photo taken by the lovely A last year in Portland, OR with a book that inspired much

Tell me, O quickly! dream of aliveness, the flaming source of your bright breath. ~ Langston Hughes

Happy July, everyone! I hope this new month is off to a lovely start for all of you, wherever in the world you are when you read this. I am writing you from the gorgeous Aspen, Colorado, where I am soaking up the annual and oh-so-inspiring Aspen Ideas Festival. Today is the third day of the festival, and more and more, I am reminded of the transformative power of ideas, and all they are capable of when put into action.

I think I am beginning to realize that ideas, when they aren’t put into practice and shared with the world, are dreams. Dreams are wonderful because ideas can be challenging to carry out, especially when we have many of them. Yet, there is something potent in what separates the ideas that make it up to the stage at this festival, such as Bryan Stevenson’s idea that children have a right to be children, regardless of crimes committed, or the ideas that Emily Bazelon espouses in the Slate Political Gabfest. These are dreams that people have transported into reality.

Speaking of, I would love to use this blog post to put some of my ideas into action. I am thrilled to share that I have spent many, many hours working on an online course for creating a yoga practice (a massive extension of the workshop you received emails about just a week ago, and one you can do anywhere).

But, before we launch into the e-course fabulousness (this email is chock-full of details!), expect some local yoga happenings this month in NYC! I’m teaching a Community Yoga class at Harlem Yoga Studio (i.e. donation-based! no excuses!) this Sunday, July 3rd, from 3:30-4:30pm. Because I’m having a summer full of travel, I will be mainly subbing so stay tuned on my website, as well as on social media, for additional sub dates as they come up!

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If you take the course LIVE with me starting on July 15th (and you can sign up anytime until then), you will receive a full 20% OFF with the code LIVELEARNER.
Yoga U Summer School is my online course that’s been in the making for years! Through taking this course, you will learn a plethora of strategies for starting + sustaining hOMe yoga practices that will blow your minds + keep you coming back to your mats!

Over four weeks, you’ll enjoy: 

  • a detailed syllabus that will lay out exactly how to create your hOMe practice in a manageable, step-by-step fashion
  • 9 detailed + fully developed lessons in total, which you can do at your own pace (unless you love structure like me and want to do it syllabus-style)
  • plenty of video content to bring the practice to life
  • a ton of encouragement, resources, essays, hOMework, visual cues + diagrams to make your yoga practice the best that it can be
  • unlimited email contact with me + a private Facebook group so that you can get answers to all your questions!

Curriculum Preview

  • WEEK ONE: SUSTAINABILITY
    • About Me + Your Syllabus, Top 5 Tips, Journaling Prompts
  • WEEK TWO: AMBIANCE
    • Checklists for both what you need + what you might want, a tour of my own yoga room, creating a mood, + how to make a yoga playlist that fits your practice perfectly
  • WEEK THREE: ASANA
    • Finding Your Sun Salutation, videos + PDFs of practice structures, hip opening + hip closing, peak poses
  • WEEK FOUR: MOVING ON
    • Using props effectively, meditation, service, intentions

Remember, if you sign up before July 15th, the price of this course will decrease dramatically…and the content will never go away! You’ll have full access to the wide variety of lessons + home practices to do at your own pace, whenever you want!

I hope to see you on the mat or online soon!

How are you? (Really.)

Mindfulness not only makes it possible to survey our internal landscape with compassion and curiosity but can also actively steer us in the right direction for self-care.
Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

When I walked into yoga this afternoon, my teacher stood in front of my mat and asked, “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” I responded: the truth, after a gruelingly challenging Monday I some how made it through. “How are you?”

“Okay,” she responded as if mulling it over. “You’re like, ‘I made it. I’m here.'”

Inhale. Exhale. Exhale again.

This morning, I experienced a series of unfortunate events that I somehow made it through. My story of growing up on OM is a story colored darkly with bodily trauma, and painted over with a sheen of brightly-colored emotional recovery. This morning’s events triggered those feelings of trauma…and I made it through those moments, to a 5:15pm yoga class and more.

Today was one of those days when I realized the vitality of providing an honest response to the question, “How are you?” Like a reflex, reply, “Good,” even – and almost especially – when we’re not. But our vocabulary contains more words for a reason. We feel more things than “good.” And even though it might seem like people are asking that question as a courtesy, that question is also an opportunity. An opportunity to check in, to respond, to pause, to regulate. More than that, when we respond honestly – and this my yoga teacher from this afternoon taught me – we become the kinds of people that others feel comfortable responding honestly to.

So, how are you?

My Yoga Mama

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Happy (belated – I promise, I wrote this post on the day of!) Mother’s Day​! While it is important to view celebrations as nuanced based on who is and is not able to celebrate on a given day I would like to use this day as an opportunity to honor my mother and her yoga journey on this blog.

This afternoon, after a lovely brunch and walk around the Central Park reservoir, we settled in her living room to discuss her very important yoga journey. Needless to say, I am an abundantly proud daughter.

Let’s start off…What was the highlight of your Mother’s Day? (And that can be going to yoga!)

The highlight of my Mother’s Day was seeing you and getting a gift I totally enjoyed – Sweaty Betty yoga pants.

Tell us about the yoga class that you took this morning.

Oh, this is my favorite class! Sho, a teacher at Pure Yoga, teaches a very gentle class. He also always puts in something very spiritual, which puts things in perspective and gets to the heart of what really matters: centering yourself, being the best you can be, and it is just such a good class in every which way. It helps my back and relaxes me.

Why did you start doing yoga?

I started doing yoga because I had a really chronic upper back issue: a lot of knots and really uncomfortable all the time. After doing an MRI, I was told that the only thing that would help me would be taking steroid injections. I tried that a couple of times and it didn’t help. I was inspired by my daughter’s yoga practice that I decided to give it a go myself.

Why did you continue doing yoga?

 

Other than having my children, yoga has been the best thing. It’s been a way to clear the mind of clutter and it’s helped my back issues. [The helping of the back issues] is almost like a fringe benefit. It’s funny because you do it for the process and the result is the icing on the cake. When people say, “Oh, you look so great! You’re walking so tall!” I kind of smile inwardly because I think that they don’t know how much I have to apply myself to do that and it’s not that you go once a week and you’re going to get those results; you have to go three or four times a week.

How often do you practice yoga, and what kinds of styles do you practice?

On a good week, I would go four times a week and I have my favorite classes at Pure Yoga. I take Yin on Monday nights with Kate Cuss who is phenomenal, and then I take Iyengar on Thursday nights, but some of this depends on my work schedule. And then I take Sho who is a combination of Yin and Iyengar on Saturday and Sunday.

What’s your favorite pose right now?

Well, I love legs up the wall. As a matter of fact, I’m doing it now when we go into savasana and I just decide that I am going to just do it now because it’s much better for my back than just lying flat. But there are so many poses, and it’s a culmination. I love Yin because your body carries a lot of your emotions, and it opens up parts that you don’t even know you’re sensitive to. You feel more open and vulnerable, but in a good way.

What’s been the #1 lesson you’ve learned from yoga?

To be in the moment.

Reflecting on Amy Cuddy & the Power of Presence

Last week, I went to a lecture at the 92nd St Y Lecture Series starring Amy Cuddy, interviewed by her BFF Susan Cain. It was an awesome dynamic: Susan Cain, a self-proclaimed introvert who has made explaining introversion to the world her life’s work, interviewing a woman whose life work is making people – including introverts – exude a powerful presence wherever they go and in whatever they do. That and, as I mentioned, these two mainstream academics, are actually very good friends. Their whole interaction was like watching two friends enjoy one another at a ski lodge lounge (where they talked of vacationing together the previous week). As a result, the 92nd St Y lecture hall felt more intimate than ever, and it made for some seriously juicy conversation from my favorite TED speaker.

I became attracted to Amy Cuddy because of the above TED Talk. As a yoga teacher (I think about “posing” in powerful ways in terms of the asana practice quite frequently) and as a third grade teacher that specializes in social-emotional learning, the idea of power posing really resonated as a technique that is useful, tangible, and accessible. My roommate, a Ph. D candidade in neuropsychology introduced me to her TED Talk and it transformed how I showed up for my first big public speaking event of the year: a meet the faculty night at the school I work at (I know, on a different scale than most, but parents are nerve-wracking!). Then, I realized I could use it with children: having my third graders power pose before a test or an oral presentation of their poetry. The effects made and still make my heart swell.

In terms of the yoga practice, I learned, when I listened to Cuddy’s talk, that I can incorporate it into my yoga teaching by making the concept of expansiveness a core part of the practice. Expansiveness means to almost hold the world in your hands, to take up space intentionally, and to believe that there is enough space out there – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually – for everyone to take up a lot of it.

Here were my key takeaways from the talk:

  • Just as we frame talk of mindfulness as a mind-body connection, Cuddy frames talk about presence in terms of a body-mind connection. A body-mind connection is the idea that how we physically carry ourselves can change or reinforce how we mentally and emotionally feel. 
  • We store trauma in the body. Similarly, we can recover from trauma through the body. This experience feels abundantly true for me and I am forever grateful for all the work that is currently being done around trauma across disciplines. Hearing Amy Cuddy speak about her own car accident trauma and to see her powerful recovery from it was unbelievably inspiring.
  • She talked about a study on yoga for war veterans. This study showed that yoga, in small, daily practices had the potential to dramatically decrease PTSD responses. The two key words in there are “small” and “daily.”
  • There is a serious gendering of how we carry ourselves in the world (i.e. man-spread). Ladies, let’s start taking up some more space!
  • Speaking of which, Cuddy actually specializes in studying the -isms. She did not identify as a scholar on feminism or anti-racism. Instead, she identified as a scholar on sexism and racism. There’s something socially prodding about studying from a psychological standpoint that which is known as deeply problematic in the world.
  • Lastly, there difference between presence and charisma. Presence, she said, is for you to feel like you’ve done your best while charisma is the feeling that other people saw you in a certain – charismatic – way.