07 December 2011

Noodles, yo.

I'm certainly making up for my two month vacation away from this blog. The kool kats at Recovering Yogi have been so kind to post another one of my stories rants. Read it here (click with caution).

You may be wondering why there's a picture of a bowl of noodles above. If you have to ask, then you have no business here. For those of you who get it and live in DC, I highly recommend Toki Underground over on H Street. The wait time is a little ridiculous so get there early.

I hope to visit Yogically Speaking at least once more before The Year of Laura (2012) but if not, I wish you happy holidays and a rockstar new year!

03 December 2011

Ashtanga and the Art of Being a Flake

I admit it. I’m a total flake when it comes to Ashtanga. I hate waking up early for Mysore practice. You will often find me practicing in my kitchen late in the evening with MC Yogi playing in the background and lavender incense fumes accompanying my sun salutations. But some nights, I’d rather just eat a bowl of noodles instead. In the mornings, I make all kinds of excuses as to why my bed needs me more than my mat. I say I’ll show up for practice and never do. I get bored doing the same poses every time so I make up my own flow on occasion. There is also something slightly masochistic about allowing teachers to twist my body to resemble some dead sage I know nothing about (I mean no disrespect Mr. Marichi but DAMN your poses are hard). In addition to flake, you may call me a sinner, rebel, bum, blasphemer, whatever…I can take it. I prefer Reject Ashtangi.

The origins of my flakiness date back to the days before I even knew what yoga was. Having attended parochial schools my entire life I developed quite the aversion to authority, rituals and most forms of indoctrination.  Recovering Yogi says it best, “ACHOO! I’m allergic to your dogma.” I developed major allergies to anyone on a podium with a Bible. Although, I think it was the pleated skirts and Jesus camp that did it for me. In elementary school, I started with the Baptists, then went to the Lutherans for middle school, followed by the Catholics for high school and stuck with them (voluntarily) throughout college and grad school. At the end of it all, if you were even thinking about discussing your religious and spiritual agenda with me, I would tell you exactly where to shove it.

Naturally, this left me spiritually lost, unreliable and lazy…three top characteristics of a flake. I would go to mass with my family, but also read about Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Harmless enough. We all go through investigative processes to discover what feels right for us. But I didn’t want to do any real spiritual work. To hell with praying, attending services, giving money or committing to anything with “tradition” written all over it.

Thankfully, the universe helps us when we are lost. My parents’ sacrifice for my education was not in vain. My favorite professor and mentor in college, Profesora Tomas was a complete flake. Or at least I thought so. And, for some reason I wanted to be around her all the time. Birds of a feather, I guess. She was from Argentina and would always show up to class late and unprepared. She strolled around campus with a Mona Lisa-like smile on her face, taking slow and intentional steps, looking at the trees and people around her as if she was walking into some magical forest for the first time. She seemed to have not a single care in the world. On one occasion after showing up late for class, a student sarcastically asked her if she had forgotten her watch that day and with her chin pointed toward the sky, she responded in her deep, dramatic tone, “chronological time has never interested me.” Except, she said it in Spanish so it sounded much more poetic and eloquent. At that moment, something majorly clicked inside of me. What did time matter? Why were we so attached to our own small reality in this classroom? Perhaps Profesora Tomas was unceasingly tardy, but her lectures were always profound and filled with passion. While we believed her to be unprepared because she deviated from the printed syllabus, she never failed at teaching us something new and fun. I wanted THAT - whatever “that” concept was - to be my tradition and practice. This woman knew about a higher sense of joy and peace. She had an incredible ability to let go and be in the moment. Without knowing it, she had taught me my first lesson in presence.  From her, I learned that despite the nature of inconsistency, there is a plane of equanimity and happiness--our true home--that is constantly flowing and waiting for us to meet it once again. She lived on that plane all the time and I wanted to as well.

Inconsistency has been one of my greatest teachers on the path of Ashtanga. It forces me to always return and start from scratch.  For all the times I don’t show up, make excuses and milk the shit out of my flakiness, the practice is always there waiting for me. Unchanged, patient, forgiving and unaffected by chronological time. Comfort lies in its ritual. Ashtanga is a tradition that is challenging but completely non-judgmental.  It is difficult at times for me to not carry over samskaras from parochial school into other areas of my life. I forget to wipe “screw you, and your stupid rules!” off my forehead sometimes. But, I realize that no one is going to admonish me from a podium for not showing up to the mat or make me confess in a creepy dark room for skipping a pose. When my enormous ego and aversions get in the way of my practice, I remind myself of the basics of Ashtanga. It is by no means my religion, and it has no threatening dogma. Through my dedication to it, as spotty and fleeting as it may be, I am able to find my true home and reconnect with a more aware version of myself: the part of me that deeply wants to be present and alive.   

 With Profesora Tomas (far left) in Merida, Mexico. Rest in peace. Thank you for your teachings!

29 November 2011

Top 10 Signs I'm Turning 30...

I just spent five wonderful days with my family and friends in Texas. On Thanksgiving I left my grandmother’s house with a giant tray of homemade enchiladas and enormous bowl of my favorite soup, both made especially for me. Being a long distance granddaughter who is still 12 years old in the eyes of her grandma is a rare and awesome identity. I wear that badge with pride. Leaving home is always hard, despite the fact that I’ve been doing it since 2006. Five years of arriving and leaving, fluctuating between two separate worlds. As I said goodbye to my Mom at the airport, I looked at her with tears in my eyes and cried, “the next time you see me I’ll be 30!” She laughed and gave me a big hug before handing me off to TSA. 

I wasn’t crying because of my approaching arrival to the third floor. It just always happens when I leave my Mom. Must be an only daughter thing. My journey to 30 has been a blast and I’m not taking any time here to eulogize my 20’s. From what I hear, the view is much better on the third floor anyway. But, in the last few weeks I had some pretty great “you know you’re turning 30 when” moments and I just had to share my top 10.  Enjoy and commiserate with me if you dare. 

I know I'm turning 30 when...

  1. I buy three pairs of shoes at the Naturalizer store because ensuring my feet feel like they walk on pillows is now a top priority.
  2. My holiday pre-gaming consists of a glass of sparkling light wine and a caprese salad.
  3. I'm overly excited about coming up with creative nicknames for my friends' babies.
  4. At the dinner table I tell my younger cousins stories of what it was like to party in my hometown "back in the day" (meaning the year 2000).
  5. Conversations with friends suddenly include phrases like "sciatic nerve", "high ceilings" and "property value."
  6. The hardest choice to make before a night out is which blazer and turtleneck to pair together.
  7. At social gatherings, the topic of my sprouting gray hair is in the same discussion as brain cancer and flesh-eating bacteria.
  8. My new guru is my facialist.
  9. I go to Barnes & Noble and head straight for the self-help section.
  10. A "fun" weekend is measured by purchases of decorative pillows and antique tea cups.

23 November 2011

'Tis the Season to be Flake-ish...

 Getting a little adjustment by Certified Iyengar Teacher, Terence Ollivierra (Buddha B Yoga)

Yikes! It's been 2 whole months since my last post! I think I was derailed at some point between my first Iyengar workshop (see photo above), a double whammy of Ani Difranco (see photo below) and a trip to Philly to see Feist (see my brain's force field for that one). The good news is that I did write a new blog post. The even better news is that you have to go to RecoveringYogi to read it. Only good news here today, folks. My story has been published by my favorite yoga blog! Just in time for Thanksgiving. Hope you enjoy. 

Ani Difranco put down the guitar for a little spoken word at 6th & I Synagogue (Oct. 2011)

05 September 2011

Week 1: 108 Days to Durty Thirty

Somewhere between Florida and DC, September 2011 

Now that I'm no longer battling hurriquakes, I finally have time to de-brief after the first week of my Wellness Project. Over the last 7 days, I've experimented with gluten-free cooking, meditating on my morning bus ride and pushing my own DC bike riding boundaries. I even lost a few pints of blood along the way (it was totally voluntary). What's more surprising is that I somehow managed to maintain my wellness policy in Florida of all places! Thankfully, I had Mom, Dad and my little chihuahua Gizmo for encouragement.

I'm not gonna lie y'all, the first 3 days were rough. I won't elaborate as to why, but I'll just say it's for reasons that only women can truly understand. I had to fight major eye-rolling urges, the impulse to make snarky comments and over-the-top chardonnay cravings.  In order to counter the evil forces of Smart-Assness and Possessed Hormones, I attended a yoga class in the park, went on a long bike ride and indulged in dark chocolate (that always seems to do the trick). I also used my frazzled energy to bake a healthy sweet bread (I'll add the recipe to my "food" page). Days 5-8 were the best because I was able to spend quality time with my dear Mama, Papa and Gizmo in Florida. There's nothing like Mom's words of wisdom, Dad's home-cooking and my puppy's unconditional love to bring you an ultra-special mega-dose of wellness. On Day 7 I donated blood to the Blood Alliance, something I hadn't done in years. I always felt guilty each time I received a voicemail from them asking for my blood type. Their donation trailer was conveniently placed along my activity path while in Florida. There's nothing like a little blood loss to seal the deal.

After a week of mindful cooking, awakened interaction and some karma yoga, I feel better knowing that I've incorporated more investigative intention into my life. These are all things I've done in the past, but I'm paying closer attention and really experiencing it in the present moment. The long term goal for this project is to create healthy habits and responses for the future, especially in the wake of change, strife and suffering. I can say that I feel happier, more organized and a stronger sense of overall positivity. The physical differences haven't been too profound, but I take it that'll change once I start my Ayurvedic cleanse next weekend (yikes!).

I'm grateful for all the support and encouragement from my friends and loved ones. Talking and sharing with you while you listen (or maybe pretend to listen) has been awesome!

Stay tuned for week 2!

20 August 2011

*Dharma Sprinkles*

This post is way overdue. Disclaimer: I'll be doing some major name dropping here. 

I just realized that I let the entire summer pass me by without mentioning my experience at the Kalachakra with His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) in July. When I look back, I still can't believe that the weekend actually happened.  In the days leading up to the Kalachakra, DC was all a-buzz with amazing energy. My daily routine was given a much welcome burst of freshness and change of pace as Buddhist monks sat next to me on my morning bus ride. They were often spotted hanging out in front of the local Whole Foods and partaking in the city bikeshare. I must say, it takes quite a bit of courage to ride a bike in DC...but riding while wearing a long robe...now, that's talent. I noticed there were less people on the metro with their heads buried in blackberrys as I received smiles and cordiality from passengers with prayer beads and Ganesh tattoos. There was even a strange crispness in the air, as if the all the enlightened energy was somehow making DC cooler and brighter. I savored the crap out of it. I wanted it to last forever. But, it was also no better time to acknowledge the impermanence of it all.

The weekend started with a World Peace lecture on the West Lawn of the Capitol. It was quite inspiring to see so many people show up at 7 a.m on a Saturday morning in honor of peace. The Reverend Desmond Tutu gave us all a big welcome via video screen with the message that it is up to each and everyone of us to cultivate peace. As he and his old friend the Dalai Lama reach the age of retirement, the time has come for them to enjoy solitude and contemplation. They have paved the way and we are now the future of peace activism. Whoopi Goldberg then came out as the emcee for the event and welcomed HHDL to the stage.

The Dalai Lama had a lot to say. He spoke for nearly 3 hours on the topic of happiness in the sweltering heat. I could write an entire essay on his lecture but will try to make it brief here. He told funny stories and spread his contagious laughter over the entire Capitol Hill area. The path to happiness is clear, he says. It begins from within. Only when we do away with formalities and extend "warm-heartedness" and compassion to others will we understand the true nature of happiness. As human beings we are born with a massive amount of intelligence, which causes us to create enormous difficulties for ourselves. The counter-force to these difficulties (ignorance, darkness and negativity) is awareness. As a simple Buddhist monk, he said that we didn't have to take his word for it or believe his message if we didn't want to. He encouraged us to, "think often, investigate, theorize and experiment. That is what develops conviction."

The following day, my friend and I attended the 3rd day of the Kalachakra event at the Verizon Center. A makeshift Tibetan market had popped up in the streets surrounding the Center and we had to dodge Nepalese vendors trying to sell us momos and mini-Buddha statues. As we entered the stadium and caught a glimpse of the stage, we both gasped and stood in awe of the radiant, ornate, and glowing altar. A flood of gratitude came over me for having the fortune of standing at that spot at that very moment. As we took our seats and listened to the sound of the making of the sand mandala and observed endless prostrations in the audience, a number of high lamas, including His Holiness the 17th Karmapa came to the stage to welcome HHDL. The 4-hour session begun with a chanting of the Heart Sutra and was followed by a very dense and philosophical discussion of the Buddha's teachings. Again, a little too deep to focus on for this piece. The Dalai Lama, strutting his famous red visor, often switched between English and Tibetan and had the help of his translator, Thupten Jinpa. The take-aways were many and I can't express enough how my heart expanded after the weekend ended. 

We wrapped up the day with Sharon Salzberg and Krishna Das at the historic 6th and I Synagogue. From our seats in the second level we could spot Richard Gere in the front row with his entourage of Lamas. There was no better way to end the weekend than with some kirtan lead by the one and only KD!

Go and be creators of PEACE!

03 August 2011

Allergies and Donuts

I know that I'm still a few weeks away from officially starting my wellness project but I wanted to kick-off August with a good start and I gotta say...it hasn't been going so well. Four days into the month and I've done enough bitching to start my own talk show. I woke up earlier this week without being able to feel my face because I was punched by the king of all allergy attacks. I sat around for a few days complaining about my allergies as I allowed small mountains of tissues to pile up around my apartment. I was so fed up with all the sneezing and nose-blowing, I decided to reward myself with a donut. Yes. A donut. A fried piece of flour, glazed with processed sugar and covered in sprinkles. And it was good. For about...5 minutes. My allergies didn't go away. But the sugar rush I received from the donut inspired me to dig deep into the back of my bathroom cabinet and bust out the NETI POT...or what my friend calls, the "teapot of torture." Despite knowing how effective it is, I've never been a huge fan of the neti. I'm definitely an advocate of nasal irrigation and love to push it on others but don't enjoy practicing it myself. I only neti cleanse about 3 or 4 times a year and every time I do, I'm like a kid going to the dentist: I really need it but I don't wanna. No matter how hard I try not to, I always end up coughing and choking on salty nostril water.  But, it totally worked. I've been allergy-free for over 24 hours now. I guess they don't call it a kriya for nuthin'. My lesson this week: BE INSPIRED, EAT MORE DONUTS!

Totally kidding...despite the donut, I've actually made some pretty significant dietary changes and have some really great recipes to share along my wellness journey. Check out the "Food" tab above for a few of them. More are on the way!

30 July 2011

108 Days to Durty Thirty

 In your 20's, this picture has a perfectly legit explanation.

"One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. 
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself." Gretchen Rubin 

Today, I realized that I'm approximately 5 months away from turning 30. Gasp! That means I only have 138 days to milk what's left of my roaring 20's! What to do?! Skydive? Botox? Freeze my eggs? Move to an ashram? There's gotta be some fabulously outrageous and cliché way for me to close out this decade. I've never been a fan of goodbyes, and it will be hard bidding farewell to my 20's. They were pretty darn good to me.

I must say, showing up for 30 is a rodeo I've been to many times. I've sat back and watched as those around me celebrated their 30th, some kicking and screaming as the day approached, while others welcomed it with open arms. For 30, I've done limos, wine tastings, pinatas, a Manhattan club circus party, and...well...that's all I can really disclose here [what happens at 30 stays at 30]. I always show up with bells on, ready to rock and my 30th is no different.

I'm not afraid of 30, by any means. Especially since 30 is totally the new 20 (right?). What I am afraid of are wrinkles and an increasingly slow metabolism. I heard a quote once that says "after 30, the body has a mind of it's own." Well, I for one am not giving my body one inch! So, instead of letting 30 take me, I'm taking 30 by the horns...gently and with love. Inspired by Gretchen Rubin and her Happiness Project, this hanging-by-a-string-29 year old is starting a wellness project...and you are all welcome to bear witness.

In the 108 days leading up to 30, starting August 29th, I will commit to doing one thing a day that contributes to my emotional and physical wellness. Whether it be through art, eating healthier, yoga, meditation, charity work, a new skincare regimen or simply opting out of unnecessary snapping toward people. Most of you who know me may say that I already live a pretty healthy lifestyle, strong in wellness department, however I must respectfully object. It's true that I practice yoga and eat lots of kale, or whatever, but I lack consistency and steady discipline. Yesterday, for example all I consumed were 4 cups of coffee and a granola bar, and I practiced no yoga or meditation. My stomach was very upset with me and I felt so lazy. Of course, at the end of the day, it's not a big deal, but if this body is going to last me through my 30's (and hopefully the years following) I have to do a better job of taking care of it. I also have a 9-5 desk job sitting at a computer all day and sometimes the stress and lethargy lead me straight to sugary pastries and choosing a glass of prosecco over yoga. This does not wellness make. There's nothing wrong with the occasional cookie or glass of wine, but over time the ethics of consumption become lost and it's the little things that count. The laziness and cookies add up to layers upon layers of bad decisions that can eventually cause serious illness and health problems. I figure if I start now, the less modifications I'll have to make later on.

This project is specifically about mindfulness and discipline, choosing insight over impulse and creating positive energy. As I age, the more I invite presence, I think the less averse I am to the aging process. By making a daily commitment I create healthy habits without giving myself too much room to be a slacker. At this point I haven't decided if I will write about it daily, weekly or monthly but most definitely the good, bad and ugly of it all will be posted right here on this blog. I will also post updates on my Facebook page. I invite you to comment and share any thoughts you may have. 

Naturally 108 was chosen because of its spiritual significance. For those of you who may not know, 108 is a sacred and auspicious number in yogic philosophy, Buddhism and many other religions. It has deep roots in astrology, history, mathematics and literature. You can read more about it here

This may turn into a hot mess, but it's worth a shot. Blast off to 30!

03 July 2011

Diary of a Yoga Assistant: Lessons in Human Touch

The Bishop's Garden at the National Cathedral, Washington, DC

A few months ago, I received a great opportunity from one of my neighborhood yoga studios to assist in their weekly ashtanga classes.  My duties would include providing the students with hands-on adjustments and verbal instructions on alignment during class. An added bonus of the job description also required that I serve as the studio’s official Prop Police by confiscating blocks that unsuspecting students would sneak past the teachers. Having taken nearly a year-long hiatus from teaching, I was looking to grow as a teacher and the new gig was extremely welcomed and appreciated.

I’ve compiled a list of the top four lessons I’ve learned (and dusted the cobwebs off of) as a Yoga Assistant so far. 

1.    Everyone has a different body constitution. 
Simple enough. Yogis come in all sorts of beautiful shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of flexibility and motion, and adjustments should reflect so.  A beginner ashtangi will likely not receive the full weight of my hands in their downward dog while a more regular practitioner can withstand a much higher degree of physical pressure. The student’s body lets me know just how deep I can go by communicating it through the breath.  This is my time to listen and tune in with the language of their ujjayi. There is a precise moment when the breath will not let me go any further in an adjustment, and it happens just as naturally as exhaling. Regardless of a student’s physical make-up, each and every body has its own unique beauty and grace, which becomes more pronounced and apparent through dedication to the practice. 

2.    Voice is just as powerful as touch. 
“Flat palms damnit!” Just kidding.  I would never say that. Out loud. No really though, as humorous as it may be, barking orders does nothing to help a student’s confidence or personal growth. In most academic classrooms you have students that are either visual or auditory learners.  This doesn’t change in the yoga classroom. For some, the weight of one’s voice is more powerful than touch. By quietly whispering a simple instruction such as “open the chest” I see the integrity of the entire asana change, and it is quite a beautiful transformation to witness. Its as if the student’s inner compass has finally figured out the right direction. I admire the strong listeners out there, I could learn a thing or two from you.

3.    Laughter also counts as an official adjustment. 
Ashtanga is serious business.  There’s memorization, tradition and jump-backs for goodness sake! But, if we can’t laugh at ourselves in this practice, we may as well just go home and admit that we have huge sticks stuck up our mula bandhas. In some of the most rigorous and sweaty parts of the class (ahem...like after the first navasana) I like to grab a student’s toes and pretend to tickle them in order to help them lift their legs higher. Why? Because I think toes are funny. Do they laugh? Sometimes.  Or maybe roll their eyes, whatever.  I’ll take the occasional stink-eye for the sake of a few laughs.  In this practice we are guaranteed to fall, mess up, make weird sounds and even cry at times.  In between those moments the important thing to remember is to turn the corners of our mouths up, show our teeth and let laughter come out.  Hell, if you can fall and laugh at yourself immediately afterwards, you deserve some major yoga snaps. Once we start taking ourselves too seriously all the fun will officially be sucked out of the journey.  One of my personal mantras is to never compromise my sense of humor. I find that laughter creates lightness and a sense of comfort, which we could all use to help us get through those jump-backs. 

4.    Approach with love.
We all know that if you give love, you will get it in return. I’m sure there’s a famous quote out of a page from something in Oprah’s book club that could drive that point home for us here.  At the end of the day my role as an assistant is to provide love.  By no means are my adjustments attempts at “fixing” or making robots out of yogis. Via an open heart, my intention is to help students tap into their potential, go deeper into the poses and at the very least hope they learn just a little something about the practice of yoga.  I cannot speak for the students, but I can express that by simply allowing me to show up and share their yoga with me every week, they have opened their hearts and given all the love a little ol’ yogini like me could ever wish for. I’m giving a huge “AMEN!” here to the words of Guruji, that if you practice, practice, practice all will most assuredly come.

03 March 2011

Dharma Forces Unite!

Dharma Friends
February 2010
Cafe Saint-Ex, Washington, DC
Photo by Heidi Boas

11 February 2011

A valentine to destruction...

Somewhere in Maryland where red foxes live - Jan. 2011
"Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation
can that which is indestructible in us be found." Pema Chodron

Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Hello again blog,
How I’ve missed you!

I’ve recently been inspired by Rumi’s poem, The Chickpea to Cook. It was read to us during a meditation retreat I attended over new years, then recited again to me over the phone last week by a friend in New York.  You can find the poem online to digest it in its entirety, but to paraphrase what the poem discusses and its meaning to me: the chickpea who is about to boiled thinks he’s been tortured by the cook, but in reality the cook isn’t maliciously killing the chickpea, simply adding more spice to it, allowing it to mix with other flavorful ingredients and give people the gift of something good to eat.  At the end the cook says that the chickpea will "beg to be boiled more and more", to churn until eventually meeting the infinite light of final rebirth.

The poem is essentially an homage to that which destroys us, or rather a challenge on our perception of being destroyed. Everyday we feel tortured, by our bosses, partners, friends, finances, the past, the future. The immediate instinct is to run away, shut down, zone out, or do anything that will instantly eliminate the discomfort of being boiled. Our call is to recognize that it isn’t real, and learn something about ourselves…marinate in the spices, if you will. My personal challenge during fearful moments is in letting go of the unproductive dialogue in my head that seems to ramble on and on like an unwelcome gossiping neighbor. Before I know it, this uninspiring neurotic chit-chat has executed a coup on my spirit and I’m left believing a delusional and untrue story about myself.  On the delicate occasions when my awareness kicks in, I breathe deeply and settle into whatever situation I find myself in and the chatter melts away.  There is no self-inflicted judgment, brokenness or flawed conditioning.  Its such a powerful space to rest in - when you can mindfully feel the flames, jump off the ledge and let yourself be destroyed over and over again. It all starts with the breath.  Go into it, welcome the evolution.  I’ve been hearing my friend’s voice as a mantra in the background that says, “just let yourself be boiled.”

So, this Valentine’s Day I’d like to make a toast to all that which boils us - to not having the answers, 12 hour work days, deadlines, gaining weight, indigestion, wrinkles and sleepless nights. Thank you for making me stronger and helping me marinate in all the spices that are tossed my way.  May we be mixed, shaken, tossed and stirred along the path of the open heart.

~ With bhakti ~