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.

Top 5 Tips for Taking Your Practice Off the Mat

The following post is part of a countdown series leading up to the release of my first e-course (!!!), which comes out on Friday, July 15th. You can pre-register here with a special discount rate using the code LIVELEARNER for taking the course LIVE. These 5 tips come from the final lesson: Off the Mat.

  1. Meditate. Allow the physical practice to fulfill its initial intention: to prepare for a seated meditation. Choose whatever format you’d like. Sit down. Set a timer for 5 minutes to start out with. Close your eyes and let the fluctuations of the mind pass.
  2. One of the best motivators for a yoga practice is to involve other people in it. A practice is often fueled by specific forms of service to others. Try volunteering for a yoga service organization such as Off the Mat, Bent on Learning, Lineage Project, SONIMA Foundation (there are so many!).
  3. Breathe. Practice taking deep breaths throughout the day. Set a reminder on your phone if you need to at the points of the day when you’d need it the most!
  4. Talk about your practice with your friends. Don’t proselytize it; simply tell them that you’re doing it. You never know when the ripple effect will take place.
  5. Intention. Let your intention fuel all that you do, off the mat as well. Practice recalling it throughout your day and check in rigorously throughout the day to see what tweaks you’d need to make to fuel it better.

Register for the e-course here. The discount code for registering by July 15th is LIVELEARNER.

Oh, Mindful Day!

Even though I am a yoga teacher on the side, as a first-year elementary school teacher it is rare that I can and the day feeling like I am truly practiced a large amount of mindfulness. But today was different.

I did what I usually do in the morning. I woke up, showered, made and eat breakfast and got to the school that I am an assistant teacher at. In the morning I put my lesson plans together and even got the flat ladder ready for when I would teach health last period.

Health Class

Fast forward to the health class I teach to the whole third-grade. I am constantly gratified but the freedom my house around the curriculum. It allows me to fused together a wide variety of passions: pedagogy, curriculum, yoga, overall health and well-being, and the work I did all year in physical therapy that made me oh-so-aware of where my body stands in space on a daily basis.

For these two weeks my lessons are about proprioception. I begin by teaching the kids that large, impressive word. Then we do our first routine of health class: the check-in. For this check in because we were talking about how we move in the spaces we are in each student has to call out to an emotion word that represents how they’re feeling and Perritte with an action physically that also represents how they’re feeling. As the check-in progressed, we each acted our emotion in motion plus all the emotions that preceded them in the circle. When I was in my kids yoga teacher training I believe we called this “mudra vinyasa” and that term has stuck with me to this day.

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Our second routine of health class is the yoga deck. The yoga deck, formally called “Yoga Pretzels,” is definitely the kids’ favorite part. The most well-behaved student (oh, hay positive reinforcement) gets to come up to the front, close their eyes and pick the card we use. Then, we all do the pose / breathing exercise / meditation / yoga game together. This week, the kiddos were being particularly rowdy so after they chose their card from the yoga deck, I chose one for them as well: Rainbow Meditation (i.e. a guided savasana). And wow, did that work!

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The third routine we have in Health Class is Freewriting! I introduced Freewriting on the first day by saying that me and one of my best friends from middle school, T, freewrite together every Sunday night. We’ve been doing this for over seven years and create our own prompts and our own rules. I wrote those rules into this poster that I carry around with me everywhere.

After Freewriting, we do our activity. This lesson, on proprioception, involved me leading the activity I did for months and months for physical therapy. The thing with breaking your leg is that you kind of regress in terms of remembering where you are in space. The thing about physical therapy is that not only do you re-learn it, but you get even better at it! The thing about Third Grade is that these kiddos are constantly growing and their relationships to the spaces they occupy are constantly changing. Teaching proprioception as a skill is hard work. To make it easier, I snagged a floor ladder from the high school football coach. The name of the game? “Quiet Line.” Students couldn’t touch the ladder with their feet while doing a repetitive movement. When I said LINE, they had to freeze. It was the most fun I’ve had teaching health so far!

Mindfulness 101

After teaching Health and dismissing all the kids on their buses, I headed downstairs to the cafeteria for some scheduled professional development. We had a woman from The Mindful Classroom give us a mindfulness 101 presentation. Here were my main takeaways:

  • Do body scans with the kids lying down / with heads on desks.
  • No one pays attention by being told “pay attention.” Instead, we can teach kids how to pay attention and that is profound.
  • Tell kids that mindfulness is paying attention with awareness, curiosity, and kindness.
  • Mindfulness is a set of skills.
  • Hourglass timers can give kiddos a point of focus.
  • Do Metta meditation with the kids! Have them develop their own lovingkindness mantra!

I highly recommend taking a workshop with this fantastic educator. All the teachers left feeling so relaxed (it was like an extended savasana). I’d take that over a regular old faculty meeting any day.

Lotus Flow

I walked to the subway stop with the school guidance counselor, so I had a chance to debrief our PD workshop after it occurred. A lot of it had to do with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). unfold, the Portland studio I worked at last year, focused heavily on MBSR. I struggled with that focus because I de-stress at times by moving so fast that I forget what I was worrying about before I started moving. And this very reason is why I love Lotus Flow. This very reason is why I became a member at Laughing Lotus this year, my first year as a full-time teacher. It is the antidote to my brain at times. That night, I went from the beautiful stillness of the mindfulness workshop to the gorgeous fluid movement of Lotus Flow vinyasa with the fabulous Sheri Celantano. She centered the class around Mary Oliver’s latest poem. Let us end this post Mary’s mindful words:

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

Wanderlust 108

Leave it to me, now that there are actual readers of this blog, to take a hiatus. It’s been back-to-school season (i.e. back-to-work season for teachers) and on top of everything, I’m teaching at a new school so…I hope you, dear readers I now (think) I’ve acquired, will understand!

But I, as usual, digress. What I really want to write about is this thing I did about ten days ago that I meant to write about nine days ago, but that now has added days of reflection and perspective to fuel this post. Ten days ago, I did something I never thought I would do – or would want to do. I did something that, just six months ago, would have made me laugh in your face – or cry out of frustration – if you told a recovering-from-a-broken-leg me I would do it.

Last Sunday, I ran a 5k.

And I did it in true yoga teacher style: as part of a “mindful triathlon” where I ran an untimed, noncompetitive 5k, took two yoga classes and meditated. I am excited to share the details of each part in this post.

I arrived in Prospect Park at 10am. While I am infamous amongst friends for having claimed that “I’m not outdoorsy enough for Brooklyn” (living in the PNW probably changed that), I had zero trouble finding my way to the event. Beginning in Manhattan, I was joined on the subway by hordes of yoga-mat-toting and sneaker-wearing participants. All I had to do was follow. It felt good to feel like one of many; this sensation was the general vibe of the day: rejoicing in multitudes doing their own thing, but together.

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The 5k itself was…hard, but great. I went at my own pace and made it feel as normal as possible. I’d been consciously training on a beginner’s training plan for six weeks. My physical therapist suggested I run to a metronome so I put on my Urban Ears just like I did when practicing on the Reservoir and Riverbank State Park and blasted Spotify Running. I also, it turned out, underestimated how long this 5k was (whoops…). Around the time I hit 3 miles, I walked for a minute…and I was in good company. I’m OK with that and that – that lack of perfectionism and an ability to be proud of effort – is major progress for me.

A dear friend met up with me as I rounded the bandshell. We took some time to explore the Wanderlust “Uncommons” together. A few summers ago, I was a volunteer at a full Wanderlust event at Squaw Valley. The fact that the Wanderlust team/corporation (I don’t mean that meanly, but they, I feel, are basically spokespeople for yogic consumerism) could make a one-day event in a park feel just as full and rich as their four-day events at ski lodges is seriously impressive. A few free tote bags, temporary tattoos and coupons later, I headed over to MC Yogi’s class on the lawn, which was followed by Dharma Mittra’s precise asana teaching.

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There is a saying that I love: “Don’t quit before the miracle.” Often, the miracle is the grounding of physical practices in meditation. This is to the masses that left once the yoga classes ended: DON’T QUIT BEFORE MEDITATION, PEOPLE. Sage Rountree, a fitness and life coach, flew to New York to teach us Metta – lovingkindness – meditation. It so happens to be my favorite kind of meditation. Running on a plethora of endorphins, practicing this kind of meditation amongst hundreds of people rather than on my own cushions, moved me deeply and offered up a different perspective on what is probably the only practice I don’t get a ton of professional guidance with. The whole day was like banging a tiny hammer on a glass. Cracks were made with each nudge. The meditation, I think, cracked me wide open.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that this year has been one heck of a journey – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When I suffered two open fractures and major surgery in December, I seriously started to doubt my physical capabilities for the future. I had a physical therapist (who I emailed on the train back from Brooklyn that Sunday) who believed in me. Six months after my surgery, she put me on a “Return to Running” plan to eliminate my last bit of atrophy – atrophy which was once so intense I could barely look at my leg without crying. The joke at the PT office when she put me on that plan was as follows.

PT: We’re going to put you on a Return to Running plan.

ME: Um…what am I returning to?

My sister reminded me that when she flew out to Portland to take care of a post-surgery immobile me, I was so frustrated with my inability to exercise that I told her I was going to run every day after “it was all over.” I likely said that without fully believing that day would come. She reminded me of that while I was training. One day, over frozen yogurt on the Upper East Side, she asked me, “What do you think of while you’re running?”

I think, “I can RUN!” I told her. Crack. That realization always made my eyes well up just a bit.

However, on my way out of Prospect Park, my eyes welled up quite a bit. Well, let’s face it, I burst into tears and couldn’t stop crying until, like, I was halfway back to Harlem on the 2 train. My tears were a concoction of endorphins, gratitude, and relief.

So…thanks, Wanderlust 108, for making me cry a much-needed cry, and for creating the most chill event ever for my first 5k.

written from jivamuktea cafe with sheer glee after discovering the top secret spicy tempeh recipe

The Last Weekend of June

June has been an intense month. Transitioning out of graduating college…spontaneously surprising friends in Chicagotraveling to Italy with my family…beginning two teaching jobs…a romantic beach trip in Nantucket…

It seems only appropriate that it would end in an intense way. 

Yoga is, and has been for quite some time now, my buffer. My constant in a sea of change. In the transition out of school, out of relationships that have become my backbone, and my impending transition out of New York City, my need for this practice has only grown. I’ve had to find organic ways to comfort myself, newness in a practice I have gotten to know almost too well. Yoga and I, well, we’re like a couple that’s recently celebrated our 6-year anniversary. We started out dating slowly, then more intensely, and then the intensity became the norm. We have gone on honeymoons (yoga teacher training) and we have fought (about finances). We’ve met one another’s friends, loving some and disliking others. It’s as if we have almost gotten too comfortable.

So, as any good couples therapist would suggest for a relationship like ours, we’re mixing it up. Going on new dates. Trying new places. And all in a rapid succession before I start work full time and me and Yoga start seeing one another just a little bit less.

This weekend, we’ve gone on dates galore. They have been exhilarating, fun, and we’ve learned so many new things about one another. 

(And okay, now my yoga personification will terminate as I move into a description of our weekend-long revisiting of our honeymoon.)

Friday

Harlem Shakes

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I had, as per usual, a fantastic time subbing Harlem Yoga Shakes on Friday. But what made it even more fantastic was the emphasis on Pride and Love that the upcoming weekend allowed for. Being in NYC during Pride, while not as happy, joyous and free as it would be if I were in San Francisco…is still pretty freaking happy, joyous and free. The playlist emphasized that sense of unabashed love that this holiday brings about. The icing on the cake, however, was the Poetry. Picking up a book of translated poems by Rumi from the little HYS boutique in the lobby, I read two poems by one of the best Lovers I’ve read.

Kirtan

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Honestly, my plans for after teaching were to go home, eat Chinese takeout with my mom and watch OITNB. But as my class ended, the Kirtan artists introduced themselves to me at the HYS lobby and as the incense, candles, blankets, altar and drums got set up in the room I taught in 15 minutes prior, I simply could not bring myself to leave; I felt viscerally compelled to stay. That night, I did not need Chinese takeout. I needed divine human connection of voices and of souls. I have had experiences in Kirtans where I haven’t been able to stop smiling even if I tried and this Kirtan, where we chanted Interfaith melodies and words (including to Yemayá, reminding me of my spiritual experiences in Cuba!), was certainly no exception. 

Saturday

Vinyasa

In what seemed like a few hours later, I was back on 125th Street for a full day at HYS. I began by opening up the studio at 9am and taught another Pride-themed class. I was reminded yet again of the transformative power of teaching and the ways in which it is a Practice in and of itself. After I left Nantucket I felt sad, but I am oh-so-aware that the one true remedy for sadness is to GTFO my head and into Service. 

Yoga, Sewing + Creativity

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After a quick lunch and walk around Harlem, I returned to HYS for Tara’s fantastic workshop. We began with an introduction of ourselves, why and when we started yoga, and our creative practices other than yoga. I was reminded that so many of us come to yoga after we have been Awakened by something else as well. For me, that something else (that constant in a sea of change) was – and is still – writing. In high school, I was part of the most nourishing writing group: Girls Write Now. Yoga is most certainly not the be-all and end-all for me; it, rather, nourishes all else that I do. At this workshop, we channeled the Second Chakra (the theme of the weekend and I suppose of my life lately) and the Goddess Saraswati of Creativity and Learning. Tara led us through a gorgeous Second Chakra-themed yoga sequence and deep, deep guided meditation. These practices infused me with the patience I later needed in order to learn how to use a sewing machine for the first time and create my own yoga mat back (which is still a WIP). 

Sunday

Lotus Live at the Rubin Museum

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Image via http://rolfgross.dreamhosters.com/Thanka-Web/Thanka-Web.htm and the Rubin Museum

It is no secret that Sheri and Ali are two of my fave teachers at Laughing Lotus. I did FLY Skool with Sheri as my first 50-hours of my 500-hour training and Ayurveda Skool with Ali as my most recent. Their energy combined is grounding, healing, but most of all, CREATIVE. It also felt like coming full-circle: during my 200-hour teacher training with Three Sisters Yoga, we took a very memorable field trip to Chelsea’s Rubin Museum of Asian Art, which frequently features exhibits on the Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern traditions. The class itself channeled the Goddess Tara. After the class, we went on a guided tour of the exhibit and saw three different sculptural iterations of Tara, the Goddess of Compassion.

(There are more yoga + museum tours at the Rubin during this exhibit – check them out here

While I ended the weekend feeling a bit exhausted, I also closed it by feeling yogically fulfilled, temporarily satiating my ever-present desire to learn more.