In My Bag

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Earlier this year, I took advantage of a Kate Spade Surprise Sale and bought this tote for 75 percent off. I am deeply obsessed with it, and feel instantly more put-together throwing it over my shoulder. I love that it zips up (though it takes an effort to pare down what I carry enough to allow it to zip). I love that it has a hook for my carabiner clip to strap my (also Kate Spade – what have I become?!) water bottle onto. What I love about it is that, unlike my backpack or my former lower-quality totes that opened in every direction, it forces me to be intentional about what I carry. While I am writing my first “in my bag” post – I love reading these on other blogs! – I know that all these things are purely symbolic. I believe in Tim O’Brien’s words and the idea that we carry so much baggage with us every day. More than that, everything we hold – including the good – is symbolic of aspects of ourself. So, here’s what’s in my bag on a typical day:

MqGZWCWTTRYMR5a5.jpgiPhone: I spend a lot of time on my iPhone. From the WordPress app to Snapchat to Pinterest, so much of my social and work lives intersect on this device.

imgres.jpgRXBAR + Gum + Tea: I am super prone to being hangry. Carrying a snack on me at all times is so, so necessary for my personal well-being. Gum also wakes me up in the afternoon when I’m a bit sleepy. As does Fortnum + Mason’s Smoky Earl Grey Tea.

sweaty betty 240.jpgYoga Clothes: I usually go from work to yoga so my yoga clothes typically include Sweaty Betty pants, a sports bra, and a Laughing Lotus tank.

lilly-pulitzer-agenda-stickers-2.jpgLily Pulitzer Planner + Planner Stickers: I am obsessed with my Lily Pulitzer planner that I bought at the beginning of this school year. It has a spot for planning my vacations, taking notes, monthly calendars, and the day-to-day. I also bought a pack of cute planner stickers from Paper Source that I love to decorate the interior of this beautiful planner with. When super busy, documenting the cluttered days in a stylish way helps.

UV.pngBeats by Dre Headphones: I bought these with my holiday bonus from work after really feeling ambivalent about spending so much money on headphones, but my purple beats make my day every day, and I get so much use out of their wireless capabilities when I’m cleaning my apartment or stowing my phone away at work.

imgres.pngKate Spade Wallet: I got this at Second Time Around and was thrilled to finally find a wallet that carries all my cards!

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 9.44.37 PM.pngKindle Paperwhite: I used to have a Kindle Fire, but I switched to a Paperwhite because I wanted to feel like a reader of books more than a user of a tablet. I love how user-friendly and designed-with-readers-in-mind it is!

Sparkly Water Bottle: Enough said.

Tinted Lip Balm: I use Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm and Burt’s Bee’s Lip Shimmer to both rejuvenate and color throughout the day.

Grad School Folder: I carry around a Poppin folder with just the readings I want to get done in a day. In an effort to not overwhelm myself, I put them in here and then transfer them to a binder after the class in which we discuss them.

image.jpgMoleskine Notebook: I have a large squared Moleskine notebook to record my thoughts, journal, and sketch out ideas.

What do you carry in your bag?

 

 

4-Day Weekend: Livin’ it Up in this City

Last weekend was one of the most fabulous extended weekend stay-cations I’ve ever experienced. New York has so much to offer that it’s rare to feel as if one is fully taking advantage, but this weekend with a combination of friends coming into town, getting some movie-watching in before Oscars weekend, and the kickoff of Harlem Restaurant Week, it felt incredible to be one of many that chose to stay in NYC during a long weekend and do things to actively appreciate this unbelievably incredible city that has a multiplicity of greatness to it that I am humbled by.

Friday

Riverbank Run

Eager to see my guy who was in town for the weekend, I rushed home after work to join him for a run around the track at Riverbank State Park. The cold literally made my phone stop working and while I was at first severely disappointed to go on a music-free run, I eventually began to enjoy the meditative experience of running (jogging, really) in silence.

ROKC Ramen + Double Date

Screen Shot 2017-02-26 at 9.32.44 AM.pngI live in upper West Harlem, which is apparently the land of hidden gems. At the suggestion of my roommate, we went on a double date to ROKC, which has fabulous ramen, cocktails, and wait staff. I couldn’t recommend it more.

Saturday

Soulmates SoulCycle

This was unlike any other Soul Cycle class I’d ever experienced. It was led by Sue and Sean, a couple that met at SoulCycle, and are now both instructors. Between sharing their love story and playing cute 80s love songs, they led a sold-out class at W77.

I Am Not Your Negro Documentary

maxresdefault.jpgThis was by far the highlight of the entire weekend. I Am Not Your Negro should be required viewing for every American. I remember sitting in my high school English class, desks re-arranged in a circle, for the purpose of discussing Baldwin’s essay “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me What Is.” It is so rare that we get to contextualize change-makers on their own terms. At the end of the documentary, the credits Written by James Baldwin appeared on the screen and they seemed so appropriate; even though the documentary was made after his death, his words leave a legacy that this world – this country in particular – need so desperately right now. I am planning on doing a Baldwin author study group this summer – let me know if you want in!

Harlem Shake

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After we left the Magic Johnson Movie Theater, we walked the few blocks to Malcolm X, trying to process the film and yet unable to process it all at once. We arrived at Harlem Shake, got burgers and beers, and talked about the place of all of this in our world today.

Red Rooster

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We did not want to leave Malcolm X that night. It was bumpin. So, we walked into a totally crowded Red Rooster, ordered some drinks, and danced and talked some more. It was the perfect Harlem evening.

Sunday

Yoga at Laughing Lotus

Image result for laughing lotus nycWe woke up on Sunday because the boyf had a soccer game to go watch and I had some yoga to do. This Soul Sweat class was true to its name and by the time we reunited on 14th St, I needed some food.

Taim

Screen Shot 2017-02-26 at 9.38.09 AM.pngThe fact that Taim isn’t packed for how incredibly delicious it is baffles me. To me, my family, and everyone else I know that’s gone there, it is the best Israeli food in the city (I highly recommend the sabich – eggplant and egg – sandwich)!

Toilet Paper Exhibit at the Cadillac Showroom

We then took a walk to the Cadillac Showroom, a totally weird place with a fantastic Joe the Art of Coffee inside. I don’t completely understand what the exhibit was about, but it was definitely fun to walk through. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Monday

Call Congress

I woke up on Not My President’s Day, put on my Nasty Woman t-shirt and started calling congress using 5calls.org, which now has an app that I highly recommend downloading.

Chelsea Market

We then went down to Chelsea Market, followed by Milk Bar, for some lunch and good company.

The Bachelor

In the evening, my roommates and I opened a bottle of wine and settled in to watch The Bachelor. These cozy moments of connection aren’t anything short of critical of our popular culture today, and I mean that in the most fun way.

Tuesday

Arts ‘n Crafts

IMG_4086.JPGMy stepmother dropped off my 9-year-old sister at 8:45am Tuesday morning. The first stop on our day together was to a pottery studio on the Upper West Side, Little Shop of Crafts.

Books of Wonder

I have found it tremendously comforting to spend time in bookstores lately. Being surrounded by literature that opens up new worlds and possibilities is deeply healing and inspiring. The sis and I each chose three books, found a bench, and began to sample them all by reading the first chapter of each, before choosing one to continue with.

Yoga at Laughing Lotus

I ended the day in one of my favorite ways – with a wonderful heart-opening Lotus Hour.

10 Ways to Practice Self-Love for Under $10

Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy belated Galentine’s Day! Happy Day of Revolutionary Love! With so much to celebrate involving one of my absolute favorite words – love – I started thinking about one of the goals of this blog: assisting millennials in practicing self-love in small, manageable and consistent ways so that they – we – can better serve the world we live in. This February 14th, I want to share 10 ways to practice self-love for under $10. Too often, the rhetoric of self-love overlaps with the rhetoric of advertising – getting us to be part of a “self-love” consumer base that makes us forget that self-love is something that is a right, not a privilege that should cause us to break the bank. Here are some inexpensive strategies for practicing self-love…

  1. Do a themed home yoga practice. This morning, I re-discovered a playlist I made for Valentine’s Day from back when I taught yoga consistently (you can find it here). At 5:40am, I lit three candles in my yoga room, turned the music on, and folded myself into a child’s pose. Starting my day off with yoga was definitely a lovely way to start the day off with self-love. To find out how to do a home practice of your own that is both safe and sustainable, check out my e-course here.
  2. Treat yourself to a fun coffee beverageMake it something you don’t get everyday. Make it a treat and allow it to infuse your morning with the feeling of specialness.
  3. Meditate. 
  4. Write a gratitude list.
  5. Get a change of polishThese often cost less than $10 (way less than a manicure, but for a similar effect).
  6.  Buy a new book for pleasure.
  7. Purchase a magazine and read it in bed!
  8. Get a mindful coloring book (or download mindful coloring pages off the interwebs) and get to it!
  9. Put on a face mask!
  10. Catch up on blogs.

Enjoy the day! And comment: how are you practicing self-love this February 14th?

Seva for Millennials

Seva is a Sanskrit term that means “service.” We are in a political time when we need full-on and present engagement in service. We need to be and stay woke. As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, we need to practice self-care in ways that serve others. For the purpose of this post, I want to focus on the latter part of that mission statement: serve others. What are some efficient ways to serve others, mobilize fellow 20-somethings, and contribute in effective ways while still holding down the one, two, or three jobs that most millennials have (plus, you know, grad school, yoga, and other hobbies)?

Call your representatives!

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My roommate got me hooked on 5calls.org, which makes it extremely easy and user-friendly to make targeted phone calls and to log your engagement. This website runs the gamut of sociopolitical issues from legislation regarding climate change to education to immigration.

Volunteer for one organization.

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In an effort not to spread yourself too thin to the point where you quit everything, choose just one organization that is involved in a cause you’re passionate about. Maybe that’s Planned Parenthood or the ACLU or a local tutoring program. Find out where they need volunteers the most, take out your planner or log onto GoogleCal, and schedule it in. Time is change-making currency, baby! (Pun intended.)

Donate when you can’t protest!

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Recently, I made a rule for myself: for every mass protest I don’t show up for, I will donate to an organization that does the kind of work that protest is fighting for. Two weeks ago, I was unable to show up to airports to protest the ban. As I shared my guilt with my friend on the subway back from yoga, I took out my phone and donated to the ACLU. It took me less than two minutes. I am not saying that donating is the same as protesting! I am also not saying that we shouldn’t do both if we can! But, there are so many ways to be involved and engaged, and to make a contribution. Time and money are both forms of currency. I am going to try to use one when I cannot use the other.

Practice positive reinforcement: write thank-you notes.

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This is my third year of teaching elementary school. In elementary school (and many of the classes I take in graduate school as well), we talk a lot about the idea of positive reinforcement. The psychology blog Very Well defines this age-old field-tested concept,

In operant conditioning, positive reinforcement involves the addition of a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future. When a favorable outcome, event, or reward occurs after an action, that particular response or behavior will be strengthened.

Thank the people who are doing good work. Thank them genuinely – because you really appreciate what they’re doing – but also thank them because you want to encourage them to continue doing the good work that they’re doing. Finally (as if you need more reasons to intentionally say “thank you”), it shifts everyone’s mind to the positive, which is so important…especially if you’re making a lot of phone calls or going to a lot of protests to get legislation changed. My roommate is writing thank-you letters to her representatives that stick out to her as speaking out against the administration in productive ways. I wrote an email to my principal thanking her for broadcasting immigration stories on the announcements. The possibilities are varied, and bottom line: taking this action is refueling!

Which one of these are you going to do today? Let’s get to work!

How to Host Galentines

Last night, my roommates and I hosted a Galentines dinner…for ourselves.

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Leslie Knope (a.k.a. Amy Poehler on Parks & Rec) defines Galentine’s Day,

Basically, it’s like Valentine’s Day, only instead of celebrating the love you have for your significant other, you spend it with your best girlfriends, who are after all your soul mates, and therefore deserve a holiday all to themselves, too. Leslie chooses to observe the day of lady love with brunch (her other true love), but you can kick it back lady-style however you want. Since the episode aired in 2010, it’s become just as big a deal as its Valentine’s Day counterpart. Ovaries before brovaries, you know? – Bustle

It served as a truly lovely opportunity to celebrate one another, cook some delicious food, and engage in fantastic conversation. Connection is so deeply important in our world today – as is the celebration of fellow women. It’s not just important; it’s healing. So, I would love to use this blog as an opportunity to show you how to #treatyoself to a Galentines Day for you and your lady friends!

How to Host Galentines 

  1. Decide on a day + time. This is the biggest challenge. I live with three other graduate students. We all have various interests and commitments, and finding a day that worked for all of us took several tries.It doesn’t have to be the traditional February 13th; choose a day in February that works to you to reclaim February as a month of women supporting women! Once you decide on it, write it and sticker it into that beautiful planner of yours!
  2. Discuss a menuWhile watching The Bachelor last week, we discussed who was going to make what. One roommate made cocktails (rose slushies and red wine hot chocolate – haaay!), two roommates made the main course (cauliflower spinach mac and 4 cheeses and roasted asparagus), and I made dessert (candied rose and pistacio brownies). It’s important to divide up the kitchen based on when everything needs to be made.Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 8.48.11 PM.png
  3. Pick a playlist. I chose Spotify’s Bridget Jones Jams because Bridget Jones screams Galentines to me almost as much as Leslie Knope (yay to imperfectly perfect heroines!).
  4. Discuss what you want to discuss. I so appreciated the discussions leading up to Valentines Day about what we would talk about: what we can do to better the world, how we’re spreading activism in our own communities, encouraging girls to be kinder to one another; make it intentional!
  5. Dig in and enjoy the company!

written while watching the bachelor

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 + Social Justice: The Preliminary Inner Work

YogaSocialJustice-HomePage4.jpgAs part of the Yoga + Social Justice training that I am thrilled to be able to participate in at Laughing Lotus San Francisco, I was required to fill out a detailed and thought-provoking questionairre. As part of Radical Self-Care for Radical Action (#RSC4RA), I am documenting every element of this training for this blog! I am writing this now from San Francisco, two hours away from joining the training myself. I missed the first day and, unfortunately, Jasmine’s class this morning because of train troubles and needing to be in NYC an extra day, but such is life. In the spirit of this training and RSC4RA, I am setting an intention for the day: gentleness + calm.

Anyways, I want to share with you some of my answers to the deep questions asked of me by the organizers of this training. Here goes…

What is social justice to you?

Social justice is a collective understanding that all members of society deserve to and should be treated with dignity and respect. It is the belief that all people deserve everything needed for physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Yet social justice does not stop at that understanding. Rather, that understanding translates to direct action that bridges gaps so that individuals become closer to obtaining all that they need to be Whole and have their existence in the world affirmed.

What is your understanding of privilege?

To this day when I think of privilege I still think of the Peggy McIntosh article on “invisible backpacks” that we all carry. I probably read it for the first time when I was in middle school and realized that my own backpack contained within it the fact that I’ve never been in a situation where my basic needs were not filled. With that privilege comes a complete lack of understanding for what that is like for others. I remember when I filled my first emergency food box as part of my AmeriCorps work and was told that I filled it with the bare minimum. My supervisor told me that when people are in crisis – when they lack in their basic needs – we need to approach our service work from a place of abundance. That was when I realized as well that my own privilege informs my biases. In this new year, my primary intention involves learning when to listen versus when to speak up, and in doing so, to call myself and others out – in the most gentle and implicit ways – on our privilege.

How do you navigate privilege and/or social justice as a yoga instructor?

I want my yoga teaching and practice to mirror my overall philosophy on yoga: that it is a bridge and a way of life. Yoga is a technique for getting to higher practices…like doing the work and actually serving people and causes. So, for me, I navigate social justice as a yoga teacher by not teaching yoga full time. I don’t yet know if that is the right decision for me, but what it does mean is that I get to infuse my day-job as a third grade teacher with as much yoga (both the asana and a yogic attitude) as I can. This comes with practice. Through practicing at Laughing Lotus NYC I am able to refuel so that I can give to others. I have had times when I’ve had very little to give because I wasn’t refueling. This is a tension I find in my activist and teaching life in general: taking the time to fuel up so that I can respond rather than react to all the various chaotic life that comes up when immersed in service.

What is the relationship between yoga and social justice and privilege?

During this new era, I believe that we need to keep activism and social justice efforts continuous and sustainable; we cannot afford burnout. While burnout and activism have had close relationships to one another, so have healing practices and social change methodologies. We need to learn how to systematically refuel during these trying times. Yoga is a thoughtful, spiritual, emotional, and physical way of refueling so we can approach Social Justice Work from a place of intentionality and responsiveness.

What are three Yogic teachings or practices that bridge Yoga and Social Justice?

  • Tapas – steady discipline (this means writing down actions – representatives to call! – in my planner, and carefully planning out the lessons I’ll teach).
  • Aparigraha – non-possessiveness – as a way not to hoard conversations around social justice. As mentioned previously, my intention for the new year is to gauge when I need to listen versus when I need to speak up. Also, determine when I need to speak up and do so thoughtfully. And then, I intend to act from that space. I think it is imperative to act with intention. To act unintentionally is to act carelessly, and we can’t afford carelessness. I also want to acknowledge my own privilege and my own unique experiences. I want to use them to be a better listener anda better activist…which are really one in the same.
  • Setting an Intention – As a yoga teacher and a practitioner, the asana practice offers me a specific time and ritual around intention-setting and asking myself (in the post-election words of writer Elizabeth Gilbert), “Who do I want to be in this situation?”

written from stanza coffee in san francisco’s mission district, a convenient 1/2 block away from laughing lotus sf

 

2017 Intentions

Happy New Year!

While I am not the biggest fan of resolutions, I am a lover of intention-setting. I think that what deters me from setting resolutions is the idea that we somehow wake up radically different on one single day of the year. It denies the essential fact that change is a process. Intentions are inherently processual; they are all about setting an intention to begin a change or even a particular attitude that a change might represent. Intentions accept us where we are, as we are, and encourage us to be better – not “new” – versions of ourselves. So, without further ado, here are my intentions for the year to come. All I can try to diligently do is my best to infuse them into my everyday.

  1. Gauge when I need to listen versus when I need to speak up. Also, determine when I need to speak up and do so thoughtfully. And then, I intend to act from that space. As I’ve clearly written about on this blog before, I believe we are entering (have entered?) a new wave of activism. I think it is imperative to act with intention. To act unintentionally is to act carelessly, and we can’t afford carelessness. I also want to acknowledge my own privilege and my own unique experiences. I want to use them to be a better listener and a better activist…which are really one in the same.
  2. Live Lightly. These words are the lock screen on my iPhone and a fierce inspiration that came from another blogger, Miranda of Miranda’s Notebook. She writes,

    One big realisation I’ve had in living lightly is that everything is connected. What first started me on this journey was the desire to be more productive and fit more in my day. I then realised how closely productivity is linked, not only with good systems, but with my energy levels. You don’t have a great morning routine unless your evening routine ensures you’ve got a good night’s sleep. To have more energy, you need to exercise and eat right. Cleaning out your closets, developing your own style and living in a space that reflects your personal values and taste allows for organised, empowered living. Just as you can get trapped in a negative spiral of bad habits and unhealthy choices, so too can you be transformed by the positive cycle that starts with just one good habit, or one powerful statement like I want to be more productive.

  3. Embrace hyggeIt’s been getting a lot of buzz lately and I’ve personally found that there’s a reason for that. Hygge, which has no real direct translation from its Danish roots, is the epitome of what it means to be comfortable in our homes, and to make our homes soothing and comfortable places we’d want to be in. It involves sipping warm beverages, cozying up in corners with a good book, and lots and lots of blankets. Because it’s been getting so much buzz lately, it’s my pleasure to have culled together some resources on the subject: the Tea & Tattle Podcast has an episode entitled “All About Hygge,” The New York Times has a fabulous article on it, as does The New Yorker, and I have a Pinterest board entirely devoted to this art of getting cozy!
  4. Read 50 books. I set a Goodreads goal this year by joining their 2017 challenge!

What are your 2017 intentions? Broaden the possibilities of what this year can look like in the comments!

Yoga + Activism: Interview with Yoga Teacher Sheri Celantano of Laughing Lotus NYC

Welcome to the Radical Self-Care for Radical Action blog series. This series serves as a multigenre and strategic compilation of ways to avoid or heal activist burnout. During this new era, we need to keep activism and social justice efforts continuous and sustainable; we cannot afford burnout. While burnout and activism have had close relationships to one another, so have healing practices and social change methodologies. Every week, both leading up to and following the inauguration of a president that has Cortisol levels running high for many, expect a post on what it means to heal oneself in order to heal a country. From neuroscience to yoga to meditation to cardiology, learn how to systematically refuel in these trying times.

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Sheri Celantano is a teacher and Creative Director at the Laughing Lotus Yoga Center (my downtown hOMe) in New York City. Her classes are a recurring event in my GoogleCal, and I attend them to stay gounded and get uplifted at the same time. I attended her class the Friday after the election, as I could not imagine a better place to breathe deep, unwind, let loose, and process. What I received from that class – and Sheri’s deep authenticity as a person and teacher – was so much more. She turned off the music and opened the windows so we could let the protests happening on Sixth Avenue fuel our flow, and she – above all – created a safe space for her students to feel the rollercoaster of emotions that emerged. I interviewed her after her FLY class last week. We sat down in the Love Room – one of the studio spaces at Laughing Lotus – and talked activism, election, yoga and spirituality.

Shira E: What was it like teaching yoga leading up to and following the election?

Sheri C: Leading up to the election, teaching felt good because I was surrounded by like-minded people. Teaching the day after felt like an earthquake shattering. You were in the class that Wednesday night, right?

SE: Actually, I wasn’t. I was drawn to do this project because I didn’t go to yoga that whole week until your Friday class; I was so shaken.

SC: I got really sick. I was sick that Monday and Election Day. I wasn’t going to teach Wednesday, but I felt like I had to, so I came in to teach Wednesday and I’m really glad I did. It felt like it was a rock. There were tears from the beginning of class. People were really distraught and hurting and confused, and so I forced myself to come in Wednesday night and I’m glad that I did.

SE: What did you notice around Laughing Lotus the week of the election, and the week after? Did you notice a significant increase or decrease in the number of people in your classes?

SC: Lotus is always pretty full. What I noticed, though, is that people came here as a lifeline. People felt really adrift and this was shore. People were like, “Go to Lotus. I’ll meet you at Lotus,” and so it felt like there were more groups congregating in class and staying to talk after class. There was a sense of camaraderie. It was a place where people could come and be held and feel all their emotions. Throughout the whole week, people were very up and then very down and they were angry and then they were crying. It was really a point of connection for people. I do think that classes were very much crowded. The week right after was very up and down. I think some people, like you, were home, but then a week or so later, I did one Blues class on a Sunday in Brooklyn and someone came out and was like, “I haven’t left my couch in a week, and I saw your post on Facebook and I’m so glad that I did.”

SE: Yeah, I had a whole conversation with Ali Cramer [another Laughing Lotus teacher] about how I felt very kapha the week following the election. What have been your experiences of the intersections of yoga and activism?

SC: I feel as if some become more aware through the practice. Yoga is a practice of action and so it teaches us how to take action. To truly practice yoga, you’re not just at home reading a book. Yoga is an act; it can’t just be passive. I know people who, through the art and philosophy of yoga, have become activists. It has given them fire and purpose. It’s removed enough clouds and shadow from our own selves that we then in turn want to serve. It’s karma yoga. Part of our 200-hour program is that we’re teaching people to serve the greater community. So we have people like Seane Corn who are doing Off the Mat Into the World who do become activists through the practice. It’s a big part of what we do.

SE: How do you keep your center in the midst of chaos? What are some strategies for staying grounded and mobilizing at the same time?

SC: Honestly, the teaching keeps me grounded. There’s an old saying: “I practice for my students and I teach for myself.” For me, the act of teaching is the most healing and grounding act that I could do. The actual teaching and connecting is keeping me sane.

SE: That makes a lot of sense. If you could choose any dharma talk to give courage to this new wave of activism to move forward in a thoughtful and intentional way, what would it be?

SC: The inward journey. The inward journey is the idea of being responsive as opposed to reactive. We often react to the state of affairs or the situation. Instead, what I’ve been trying to do is figure out how to respond. When I respond, I’m going inside and inward and saying, “Where am I most useful? Where can I serve? And, in what ways can I serve that will be most useful?” And so it’s not just a reaction with a nasty Facebook post. It’s a response instead. I need to respond rather than react so that when I do take action, it’s with force, it’s with intelligence, and it’s something that can actually make a difference. We need to move forward intelligently.

Book Review: Yoga Beyond the Mat by Alanna Kaivalya, PhD

510EvEJ6n7L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAlanna Kaivalya is a yoga, spiritual, intellectual, and mythologically-oriented force to be reckoned with. I first knew Alanna as my yoga teacher – the first one that turned me onto the spiritual side of yoga. I stumbled into her class by accident; I was 15 minutes late for the hot yoga class I had planned on attending. The studio suggested I go to Alanna’s instead, and I don’t think I missed her Tuesday Jivamukti class for the rest of my senior year of high school. Then, when I was doing my yoga teacher training, I sent out a mass email asking for some pay-by-the-hour work to help finance it. Alanna responded immediately and I went on to work for her for three years. The last project I worked with her on was the chakra sections of Yoga Beyond the Mat: How to Make Yoga Your Spiritual PracticeI could not be prouder to hold the hard copy in my hands today.

Alanna is the author of two other “yoga books” (I put that term in quotes because her work extends well beyond that niche category). Myths of the Asanas: The Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition (co-authored by Arjuna van der Kooij) is her physically larger book that tells the beautiful stories behind the yoga poses, complete with illustrations of both the mythology and the asanas. Sacred Sound: Discovering the Myth & Meaning of Mantra & Kirtan is her reference book for the yoga of sound that transforms a Western interpretation of Eastern mythology.

When I worked for Alanna I bore witness to something that I think many yoga teachers have in common: competing interests that define their lives and careers. As you likely know from this blog, those competing interests manifest for me personally in the forms of K-12 education, grassroots activism, and my love of teaching yoga. At the age of 25 I found that I have to put these various interests into stages in my life rather than attempt to do them all at once. When I worked for Alanna she constantly challenged me to move toward integration of these various interests and parts of me. In reading this book I now know why. She herself – a world renowned yoga teacher, mythology PhD, and and lover of the pleasures that this earthly life has to offer, has found integration. The integration of those various interests and parts of her are incarnate in Yoga Beyond the Mat: How to Make Yoga Your Spiritual Practice.

The crux and deep power of Alanna’s argument which she presents gently, but firmly throughout this book, comes from Chapter 4:

Each of us has our place in the world, and each of us must stand in our place firmly and without hesitation.

However, some people begin yoga and then jettison their life. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen it go through a yoga teacher training and get a divorce, move out of their house, change their careers, and make all manner of radical life changes in order to stop everything and teach yoga. In reality there are countless yoga teachers nowadays, but where does yoga actually have the most benefit? In places such as the hospital ER, The accountant’s office, and at the local middle school. No, I don’t mean rush to your local fire department and organize group classes. I mean that if you are a firefighter, be a yogi firefighter and save more lives. If you are a lawyer, be a yogi lawyer and seek greater justice…. Whatever you are, be that. Be no one else, they’re already taken.

The practices in this book are not only incredibly useful; they are extremely creative. Knowing Alanna, a next step for this book would be a supplementary material – an audiobook recording of only the practices, so that I and other readers can hear these samples of meditation, asana, dharana (Sanskrit for “intense concentration”) in Alanna’s own luminous voice.

Reading this book has made me desperately want to teach yoga again. I want to sit in class and read about the chakras in the targeted, reality-based, and utterly relateable way that Alanna lays out so clearly in this text. Then, I want to riff on the practices she offers with such abundant clarity. I recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone who has started to get the feeling that there’s something more to this whole yoga thing. I recommend this book to people who have known that for years and have devoured the ancient texts, but are a tad unsure as to how they relate to our lives today. In an Instagram chat, I confided to Alanna that I think this is her best book yet (and I know her other books), and I mean that with all my heart.