Know Thyself

A huge, hindering theme of the past year (2015) has been, “know thyself.” Without religious context or forceful presentation, the advice or suggestion to better ‘know myself’ was prevalent; and perhaps unsurprisingly, came to a head in the intensely evocative, hazy midst of India. What I might now recall as recovering from a “deep depression,” (relative only in the realm of my own experience), was much less an awakening but a pervasive relief; a relinquishment of some terrible unidentifiable burden of the past. What was I carrying? Pain, fear, grief. I carried them all the way to India. But, they never made it back.

That’s the magic, and the “spirituality” of India. You don’t know what happening when it’s happening. You don’t always know your own pain, your own sadness or overwhelm, before, during or after. It’s a shadow of darkness we avoid like the plague, that contains all of our sadness, confusion, pain. Things you never even knew bothered you suddenly arise. Things you never wanted to remember. Things you usually can’t remember. It’s all buried in us, and is rediscovered and released through the practice of yoga. Yoga is a process of purging, of cleansing and purifying, that challenges our being and threatens immediate gain for the promise of a truer, happier, healthier, more prosperous “you” somewhere down the road. This is my path, as I’ve ridden the tsunami wave of my past year; likely one of the most difficult, and one of the most rewarding of my life. I can’t yet know completely what it all means and how it all ends, but I so welcome the year ahead.

And welcome the beacon that challenges me: KNOW THYSELF

On the first day of the new moon as a new year unfolds, I hope you might find inspiration through your own practice to seek renewal – whatever this means to you. As I’ve also been reminded before, ‘once you face the darkness, there is only light.’ (That means simple, straight-up happiness always. Imagine no mood swings.) Turns out, it’s attainable. But the road is hard as #*&$.

But so, so worth it.

KNOW THYSELF!

Embrace 2016 with open arms. And perhaps you’ll share my commitment to renewal through regular practice, learning, and well practiced self-love. (Manicures, massage, candles always, incense often…) Best. Year. Ever.

With so much love,

Amy

//

Photo Cred: Snapchat by (fellow Yoga Master) Whitney Cerullo on New Years Eve 2015. Judge as you must…This is me in a moment of real happiness. Surrounded by friends, hope and so much love. 🙂

No Escaping It: "I Am That"

Looking into the mirror at myself just earlier, I gasped aloud. Large black smudges under both eyes, stringy and frazzled hair, tired eyes and skin imperfections. But, before I knew it the girl in the mirror was smiling at me, and I felt the tension in my body let go. It was okay. I know her…

There’s no escaping it. I write and I write and I write. My fingers on the right start to feel crippled and numb, but it doesn’t stop me. I’m not sure what drives me. I’ve been after that answer for years. But, I know that my heart aches to know it. That my mind dreams about it. And that by giving my full self into everything I do, fostering love in myself and striving to understand the incomprehensible – this fills my heart and gives me more wealth and fulfillment than I’ve ever known.


2015-09-17 15.50.25-1
“I am THAT!” – Instagram
Looking into the mirror at myself just earlier, I gasped aloud. Large black smudges under both eyes, stringy and frazzled hair, tired eyes and skin imperfections. But, before I knew it the girl in the mirror was smiling at me, and I felt the tension in my body let go. It was okay. I know her…

“I am That” will sometimes pop into my mind while catching a glimpse of my own reflection. It’s a phrase often referenced in classical theological discourse and is even alluded to in the popular Hindi mantra: Om Namah Shivaya. I like its simplicity, and its resonance on some unknowable level. And so it’s stuck.

“I am That” has become an unexpected reassurance that I have not, until now, fully acknowledged. It arises from a place in me where I guess that intuition, pre-cognitive dreams, and strange meditative experiences come from. It’s not posed as a suggestion when it pops into my brain, but as a forceful assurance. There is no reason to worry. “I am That.”

I am so blessed – with education, good health, family and friends; I am so lucky to be born into a wonderful family who taught me how to be authentic in life above all else; I am so powerful for having made it this far, for having chased a dream and allowed myself to find love and be loved along the way. “I am That,” and that is ever changing. But, there are also parts of me that have never changed and will never change – and from that place, I’m glad to have a reminder that I am here, present, and ever-evolving. This means forgiving yourself, enjoying every moment, and loving with every ounce of yourself while you have the time, the energy, and the power to give. “I am That.” Something pure and forgiven. Innocent and all knowing. I am that.

It sounds crazy, like something you’d overhear two old ladies discuss after church. But really it just means allowing yourself to move on, rather than clinging and obsessing over past mistakes, embarrassing moments, or bad interviews. It means having the courage to be authentic, to wear what you want when you want, to go where you want when you want (if I hear one more person say: “I’m too fat for yoga”…) , to live compassionately, to always give the benefit of the doubt, to welcome your neighbors and befriend your enemies, to life in a way that represents you, that you’re proud of, and that enables you to give your time, resources or energy back to those in need.

I’m not reading from a textbook or quoting last night’s lecture. There is no specific way of going and no certain outcome. Each path is unique, and after a five year journey from Copley Square Bikram to LMU, I have learned that I know very, very little; except that: “I am That.” And, since life is so short, I strive to live as fully and as best as I can.

I am thankful to yoga for giving me many paths to choose – different schools, ideas, and ways of thinking to explore – and for giving me many tools – mantra, yoga /asana, meditation, mala beads, freeform expression. Some I learned through reading, but others through exploring and moving within my personal practice. Thank you for the ability to practice as I please, to move freely, and to eventually gain the power stop judging myself.

This is what it means to live in yoga (to me). Without any assignment to religious denomination, political party or economic status; anyone can be healthy, engaged, and happy – but it comes with a price. It demands opening your mind and giving in, or rather seriously “letting go.”

When I moved to Los Angeles two years ago, I had a strong ego and a very specific list of priorities. (And I was fucking killing it, if I do say so myself…) But, sometimes, when we allow things to ruin our plans the best things can finally happen to us.

******************************************

Today, I’m also pleased to launch AYearInYoga.com!!! Be sure to check out my new and improved (inter)face 😉

I have a while to go before I get it where I want it to be – including more classes, workshops, and events scheduled, and videos, techniques and practices to share! I am so appreciative of having you along for the journey! It inspires me to know that there are other strong, intelligent, courageous people (particularly women, woo woo!) who are willing to learn, strive and expand in the name of yoga. In the meantime, don’t forget to bookmark me, share with loved ones & friends, and check in every now and again to see what I’m up to!

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Stay tuned! Sending love always,

xx Amy

// Photo Cred: Thank you Matt Annese for capturing so many amazing photo ops! @ Big Sur, Halloween 2015

No Escaping It: “I Am That”

Looking into the mirror at myself just earlier, I gasped aloud. Large black smudges under both eyes, stringy and frazzled hair, tired eyes and skin imperfections. But, before I knew it the girl in the mirror was smiling at me, and I felt the tension in my body let go. It was okay. I know her…

There’s no escaping it. I write and I write and I write. My fingers on the right start to feel crippled and numb, but it doesn’t stop me. I’m not sure what drives me. I’ve been after that answer for years. But, I know that my heart aches to know it. That my mind dreams about it. And that by giving my full self into everything I do, fostering love in myself and striving to understand the incomprehensible – this fills my heart and gives me more wealth and fulfillment than I’ve ever known.


2015-09-17 15.50.25-1
“I am THAT!” – Instagram
Looking into the mirror at myself just earlier, I gasped aloud. Large black smudges under both eyes, stringy and frazzled hair, tired eyes and skin imperfections. But, before I knew it the girl in the mirror was smiling at me, and I felt the tension in my body let go. It was okay. I know her…

“I am That” will sometimes pop into my mind while catching a glimpse of my own reflection. It’s a phrase often referenced in classical theological discourse and is even alluded to in the popular Hindi mantra: Om Namah Shivaya. I like its simplicity, and its resonance on some unknowable level. And so it’s stuck.

“I am That” has become an unexpected reassurance that I have not, until now, fully acknowledged. It arises from a place in me where I guess that intuition, pre-cognitive dreams, and strange meditative experiences come from. It’s not posed as a suggestion when it pops into my brain, but as a forceful assurance. There is no reason to worry. “I am That.”

I am so blessed – with education, good health, family and friends; I am so lucky to be born into a wonderful family who taught me how to be authentic in life above all else; I am so powerful for having made it this far, for having chased a dream and allowed myself to find love and be loved along the way. “I am That,” and that is ever changing. But, there are also parts of me that have never changed and will never change – and from that place, I’m glad to have a reminder that I am here, present, and ever-evolving. This means forgiving yourself, enjoying every moment, and loving with every ounce of yourself while you have the time, the energy, and the power to give. “I am That.” Something pure and forgiven. Innocent and all knowing. I am that.

It sounds crazy, like something you’d overhear two old ladies discuss after church. But really it just means allowing yourself to move on, rather than clinging and obsessing over past mistakes, embarrassing moments, or bad interviews. It means having the courage to be authentic, to wear what you want when you want, to go where you want when you want (if I hear one more person say: “I’m too fat for yoga”…) , to live compassionately, to always give the benefit of the doubt, to welcome your neighbors and befriend your enemies, to life in a way that represents you, that you’re proud of, and that enables you to give your time, resources or energy back to those in need.

I’m not reading from a textbook or quoting last night’s lecture. There is no specific way of going and no certain outcome. Each path is unique, and after a five year journey from Copley Square Bikram to LMU, I have learned that I know very, very little; except that: “I am That.” And, since life is so short, I strive to live as fully and as best as I can.

I am thankful to yoga for giving me many paths to choose – different schools, ideas, and ways of thinking to explore – and for giving me many tools – mantra, yoga /asana, meditation, mala beads, freeform expression. Some I learned through reading, but others through exploring and moving within my personal practice. Thank you for the ability to practice as I please, to move freely, and to eventually gain the power stop judging myself.

This is what it means to live in yoga (to me). Without any assignment to religious denomination, political party or economic status; anyone can be healthy, engaged, and happy – but it comes with a price. It demands opening your mind and giving in, or rather seriously “letting go.”

When I moved to Los Angeles two years ago, I had a strong ego and a very specific list of priorities. (And I was fucking killing it, if I do say so myself…) But, sometimes, when we allow things to ruin our plans the best things can finally happen to us.

******************************************

Today, I’m also pleased to launch AYearInYoga.com!!! Be sure to check out my new and improved (inter)face 😉

I have a while to go before I get it where I want it to be – including more classes, workshops, and events scheduled, and videos, techniques and practices to share! I am so appreciative of having you along for the journey! It inspires me to know that there are other strong, intelligent, courageous people (particularly women, woo woo!) who are willing to learn, strive and expand in the name of yoga. In the meantime, don’t forget to bookmark me, share with loved ones & friends, and check in every now and again to see what I’m up to!

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Stay tuned! Sending love always,

xx Amy

// Photo Cred: Thank you Matt Annese for capturing so many amazing photo ops! @ Big Sur, Halloween 2015

Ommm, Whatcha' Say? Exploring the Benefits & Basic Physiology of Mantra

Japa yoga. Singing, chanting, recitation. Bhakti yoga, kirtan. Vibrational ecstasy, collective consciousness, energetic purification. Mantra.

It was never my intent to become a mantra celebrating yogini when I left my round-the-clock corporate job to promote individual growth and wellness through yoga. Where does mantra fit into all this? You mean the weird, indigenous, unintelligible ramblings put to India melodies and Bollywood films? Why would I need to do that?

Those were my thoughts on the first day of my 200 hour yoga teacher training, when I realized that mantra, or japa yoga, was substantially embedded in our eight-week program. Group chanting sessions for 30 minutes, or over an hour at a time in seated meditation; the experience stirred within me an unfamiliar sensation I can only explain as “energetic” or “vibrational” in a very tangible sense. Like recognizing the presence of static electricity manipulating our clothing or the tingling sensation when a hand or limb falls asleep, conversations concerning “energy” or the “subtle body” in yoga are generally referencing a quite tangible presence of an internal energy – comparable with an understanding of the nervous and endocrine systems in Western anatomy – that is roused through the processes of asana, pranayama and meditation, simply by sitting in stillness. Through this process, further catalyzed by one’s control and slowing down of the breath (particularly, the practice of elongating the exhale to twice the length of inhalation), one can feel an internal tingling sensation accompanied by a clear, yet thoughtless bliss. As generations and centuries of ancient texts support (including the oldest found texts in the world, from India as early as 1500 B.C., and the proliferation of “mindfulness” and yoga in contemporary Western society), there is something to be said for practicing this way. Perhaps even something fundamental, physiological, psychological and/or atomically energetic (thereby linking the study of quantum physics to yoga, as well) to be said about yoga, that we have yet to understand or discover as Westerners exploring this tradition.

This conversation is important because, after countless lectures and workshops suggesting the use of mantra for concentration during meditation and to fight anxiety and depression (a hereditary gene in our family), I finally gave in. After much initial resistance to the “eclecticism” or “unusualness” of the sounds and language of mantra, I finally gave way to an understanding of mantra as similar to a church hymn, an album of nature songs, and a global ritual traditions, all wrapped into one. How is that possible? For me, mantra reinforces an inexplicable notion of unity; because, although you may not understand the words, your body eventually feels or experiences the music in ways I never thought possible. It’s not “magical” or even “mystical” necessarily, but mantra inspires and opens one’s creative capacities to help embody feelings of love, compassion and unity, or “oneness.” This occurs through the vibrational, energetic genius of the Sanskrit language (similar to modern Hindi, as Latin is to English). Although Sanskrit it currently a “dead language,” primarily learned and referenced for textual translation (especially in Yoga Studies), the language and grammar itself is arranged to stimulate one’s energetic body (Anandamaya kosa), or in Western terms, mantra stimulates the atoms and molecules within our bodily system to provoke a range of responses on a deep, intrinsic level; often associated as a natural reaction of one’s nervous system. In this way, different mantras may manifest different feelings or sensations based on the language and grammar used, to stimulate your body’s system accordingly. While in India, we were graced with a lecture by Dr. Manju Jain, who currently serves as an international expert and resource in scientists’ exploration of the potential for mantra to heal incurable diseases and aid those with severe mental and physical diagnoses in a highly medical context.

My journey in mantra has been sloppy, inconsistent and hideously flat (referring to my own melodic attempts), but as I continue with renewed zeal and curiosity I better understand how mantra is also referred to as one’s “heart song.” During difficult and stressful times – recently, while cleaning tuna and mac and cheese out of a youngster’s hair, sitting in traffic, suffering through class (we all have our days…), or proactively warding off stress as I feel it building in my throat and stomach – it’s helpful in the moment to know that mantra is always with me. It’s a consistent place of centering, of calm, of peace. (Hey, why not make your favorite slow song your own personal mantra. It’s whatever works for you! Yoga is THE no judgment zone.) You see, when you’re recalling a mantra you can’t also be thinking – this is a physiological response, as your thoughts must cease in order to regain control of your breath (as simple as: inhale/exhale). And so, by interrupting our train of thought and briefly introducing a melody and vibration associated with happiness, calm, patience, and peace, I can better and more quickly draw out these same attributes in myself, for the benefit of myself and many, many unsuspecting others.

If you’d like, try reciting a mantra while holding onto a single bead of your mala. (Search for your local mystic bookstore (why not, right?) or check online, here and elsewhere!) Rotate through the beads to recite your daily/regular mantra, an auspicious 108 times. When you reach the final bead or tassel, it is custom to take a moment to thank the teachers who help you on your way, past and present. Cultivate gratitude, cultivate joy, cultivate love, and it will come right back to you. No kidding. I shit you not.

Google is a wealth of information on the ideas I’ve discussed here, as well as free You Tube videos and guides to different mantras you might explore. The key to choosing your own mantra is simply finding one that feels good and resonates with you, and then sticking to it. This means not switching to a different mantra or dropping off the practice altogether, but trying to recall your mantra in recitation as least once a day, while in seated meditation is ideal. Even 5 or 10 min a day will have a noticeable impact on your daily patience, attitude, and curiosity. Progress and experience only comes with practice.

Over time I’ve found myself opting out of some of my old guilty habits or stressful impulses (such as: overeating, getting angry, or feeling frustrated or stressed, to name a few), and instead have found some kind of solace and comfort in a familiar, happy song, that might just also alter my body and my brain to keep this feeling coming all day, everyday. Whatever mantra has begun for me, I look forward to exploring it further, and of course, sharing my journey with all of you.

Thanks for reading, for asking questions and for seeking out new ways of thinking during a very troubled time in our country and our world. Even in moments of perceived stress, grief and suffering, there is relaxation and happiness available to us. (Really, it’s true! Although, it takes time and practice…) Although mantra may not be the way for everyone, it’s just another “tool in your toolbox” for self-regulating your emotional and mental being, and finding calm and happiness today – I mean in this moment, right now. As other yogis have passed on to me, I am so grateful for the opportunity to share japa yoga with others.

Here is my current practice, which you might consider taking on yourself or adapting to your own style and vibration.

No matter your path, may you find happiness and be greeted with love all along the way! (It’s important to remember, we’re all in this together. There’s no harm in rooting for the other team; when we build community, it only enhances the experience.)

Peace, peace, peace.

Om Shanti Om,

Amy xx

————————————————-

Regular Practice & Resources:

(inhale)
(exhale): OM MANI PADME HUM
(inhale)
(exhale): OM MANI PADME HUM
(inhale)
(exhale): OM MANI PADME HUM

[to the melody of Deva Premal’s recitation, here)
*Start by sitting in a seated position and singing along just for the length of the song. Repeat, repeat, repeat (even when you don’t feel like it), repeat, repeat, repeat – and see what happens.

  • The same pattern can be applied to others:“Om” (Sacred Syllable, most fundamental sound/vibration of the body)
    “Ram” (Sacred Syllable and chakra seed sound, represents “God,” or generally “the Divine” in this context)
    “Om Shanti” (“Peace”)
    “Om Namah Shivaya Gurave” (“The spirit of all also lies within me” – loose personal translation)
    The Seven Chakra Seed Syllables (Bija Mantra): “Lam Vam Ram Yam Ham Om”
    Gayatri Mantra (See Google & You Tube video)
    Namokar Maha Mantra (See Google & You Tube video)
  • Artists to follow:Krishna Das (Mantra, Kirtan)
    Deva Primal (Mantra)
    Falguni (Pandora station, instrumental only)
    Maneesh De Moor (Nature/Instrumental only)
    Bon Iver (Not mantra, but my favorite Pandora station for at-home asana)Photo Cred: http://elinatrance.com/

Ommm, Whatcha’ Say? Exploring the Benefits & Basic Physiology of Mantra

Japa yoga. Singing, chanting, recitation. Bhakti yoga, kirtan. Vibrational ecstasy, collective consciousness, energetic purification. Mantra.

It was never my intent to become a mantra celebrating yogini when I left my round-the-clock corporate job to promote individual growth and wellness through yoga. Where does mantra fit into all this? You mean the weird, indigenous, unintelligible ramblings put to India melodies and Bollywood films? Why would I need to do that?

Those were my thoughts on the first day of my 200 hour yoga teacher training, when I realized that mantra, or japa yoga, was substantially embedded in our eight-week program. Group chanting sessions for 30 minutes, or over an hour at a time in seated meditation; the experience stirred within me an unfamiliar sensation I can only explain as “energetic” or “vibrational” in a very tangible sense. Like recognizing the presence of static electricity manipulating our clothing or the tingling sensation when a hand or limb falls asleep, conversations concerning “energy” or the “subtle body” in yoga are generally referencing a quite tangible presence of an internal energy – comparable with an understanding of the nervous and endocrine systems in Western anatomy – that is roused through the processes of asana, pranayama and meditation, simply by sitting in stillness. Through this process, further catalyzed by one’s control and slowing down of the breath (particularly, the practice of elongating the exhale to twice the length of inhalation), one can feel an internal tingling sensation accompanied by a clear, yet thoughtless bliss. As generations and centuries of ancient texts support (including the oldest found texts in the world, from India as early as 1500 B.C., and the proliferation of “mindfulness” and yoga in contemporary Western society), there is something to be said for practicing this way. Perhaps even something fundamental, physiological, psychological and/or atomically energetic (thereby linking the study of quantum physics to yoga, as well) to be said about yoga, that we have yet to understand or discover as Westerners exploring this tradition.

This conversation is important because, after countless lectures and workshops suggesting the use of mantra for concentration during meditation and to fight anxiety and depression (a hereditary gene in our family), I finally gave in. After much initial resistance to the “eclecticism” or “unusualness” of the sounds and language of mantra, I finally gave way to an understanding of mantra as similar to a church hymn, an album of nature songs, and a global ritual traditions, all wrapped into one. How is that possible? For me, mantra reinforces an inexplicable notion of unity; because, although you may not understand the words, your body eventually feels or experiences the music in ways I never thought possible. It’s not “magical” or even “mystical” necessarily, but mantra inspires and opens one’s creative capacities to help embody feelings of love, compassion and unity, or “oneness.” This occurs through the vibrational, energetic genius of the Sanskrit language (similar to modern Hindi, as Latin is to English). Although Sanskrit it currently a “dead language,” primarily learned and referenced for textual translation (especially in Yoga Studies), the language and grammar itself is arranged to stimulate one’s energetic body (Anandamaya kosa), or in Western terms, mantra stimulates the atoms and molecules within our bodily system to provoke a range of responses on a deep, intrinsic level; often associated as a natural reaction of one’s nervous system. In this way, different mantras may manifest different feelings or sensations based on the language and grammar used, to stimulate your body’s system accordingly. While in India, we were graced with a lecture by Dr. Manju Jain, who currently serves as an international expert and resource in scientists’ exploration of the potential for mantra to heal incurable diseases and aid those with severe mental and physical diagnoses in a highly medical context.

My journey in mantra has been sloppy, inconsistent and hideously flat (referring to my own melodic attempts), but as I continue with renewed zeal and curiosity I better understand how mantra is also referred to as one’s “heart song.” During difficult and stressful times – recently, while cleaning tuna and mac and cheese out of a youngster’s hair, sitting in traffic, suffering through class (we all have our days…), or proactively warding off stress as I feel it building in my throat and stomach – it’s helpful in the moment to know that mantra is always with me. It’s a consistent place of centering, of calm, of peace. (Hey, why not make your favorite slow song your own personal mantra. It’s whatever works for you! Yoga is THE no judgment zone.) You see, when you’re recalling a mantra you can’t also be thinking – this is a physiological response, as your thoughts must cease in order to regain control of your breath (as simple as: inhale/exhale). And so, by interrupting our train of thought and briefly introducing a melody and vibration associated with happiness, calm, patience, and peace, I can better and more quickly draw out these same attributes in myself, for the benefit of myself and many, many unsuspecting others.

If you’d like, try reciting a mantra while holding onto a single bead of your mala. (Search for your local mystic bookstore (why not, right?) or check online, here and elsewhere!) Rotate through the beads to recite your daily/regular mantra, an auspicious 108 times. When you reach the final bead or tassel, it is custom to take a moment to thank the teachers who help you on your way, past and present. Cultivate gratitude, cultivate joy, cultivate love, and it will come right back to you. No kidding. I shit you not.

Google is a wealth of information on the ideas I’ve discussed here, as well as free You Tube videos and guides to different mantras you might explore. The key to choosing your own mantra is simply finding one that feels good and resonates with you, and then sticking to it. This means not switching to a different mantra or dropping off the practice altogether, but trying to recall your mantra in recitation as least once a day, while in seated meditation is ideal. Even 5 or 10 min a day will have a noticeable impact on your daily patience, attitude, and curiosity. Progress and experience only comes with practice.

Over time I’ve found myself opting out of some of my old guilty habits or stressful impulses (such as: overeating, getting angry, or feeling frustrated or stressed, to name a few), and instead have found some kind of solace and comfort in a familiar, happy song, that might just also alter my body and my brain to keep this feeling coming all day, everyday. Whatever mantra has begun for me, I look forward to exploring it further, and of course, sharing my journey with all of you.

Thanks for reading, for asking questions and for seeking out new ways of thinking during a very troubled time in our country and our world. Even in moments of perceived stress, grief and suffering, there is relaxation and happiness available to us. (Really, it’s true! Although, it takes time and practice…) Although mantra may not be the way for everyone, it’s just another “tool in your toolbox” for self-regulating your emotional and mental being, and finding calm and happiness today – I mean in this moment, right now. As other yogis have passed on to me, I am so grateful for the opportunity to share japa yoga with others.

Here is my current practice, which you might consider taking on yourself or adapting to your own style and vibration.

No matter your path, may you find happiness and be greeted with love all along the way! (It’s important to remember, we’re all in this together. There’s no harm in rooting for the other team; when we build community, it only enhances the experience.)

Peace, peace, peace.

Om Shanti Om,

Amy xx

————————————————-

Regular Practice & Resources:

(inhale)
(exhale): OM MANI PADME HUM
(inhale)
(exhale): OM MANI PADME HUM
(inhale)
(exhale): OM MANI PADME HUM

[to the melody of Deva Premal’s recitation, here)
*Start by sitting in a seated position and singing along just for the length of the song. Repeat, repeat, repeat (even when you don’t feel like it), repeat, repeat, repeat – and see what happens.

  • The same pattern can be applied to others:“Om” (Sacred Syllable, most fundamental sound/vibration of the body)
    “Ram” (Sacred Syllable and chakra seed sound, represents “God,” or generally “the Divine” in this context)
    “Om Shanti” (“Peace”)
    “Om Namah Shivaya Gurave” (“The spirit of all also lies within me” – loose personal translation)
    The Seven Chakra Seed Syllables (Bija Mantra): “Lam Vam Ram Yam Ham Om”
    Gayatri Mantra (See Google & You Tube video)
    Namokar Maha Mantra (See Google & You Tube video)
  • Artists to follow:Krishna Das (Mantra, Kirtan)
    Deva Primal (Mantra)
    Falguni (Pandora station, instrumental only)
    Maneesh De Moor (Nature/Instrumental only)
    Bon Iver (Not mantra, but my favorite Pandora station for at-home asana)Photo Cred: http://elinatrance.com/

No Regrets: A Guide to Managing the Chaos

I’ve experienced quite a shift in the past few weeks. And from what I’ve heard from family, and especially friends – going through the same grad school grind or 40-hour funk – the feeling is mutual. Perhaps the New Year holiday isn’t such a pointless occasion. Maybe, something actually does happen worth celebrating; a shift into greater consciousness. Or, as it’s more likely be familiar as, a new perspective. Suddenly, we’re all asking: Where am I going? What am I doing this for? Is this really where I want to be?

A new year will do that to you. Just when you think you have it all figured out, and you’re in full-out holiday 2014 turn up mode. Routine strikes again, and we find ourselves asking: Why? Why do I do the things I do? Is this really what I want?

Doubts inevitably start sweeping in. And then you have a choice – continue doing what you’re doing, or change it. Well, unfortunately I’ve (pretty much always) opted for the path of most resistance. Change it. Or change something. Because, if you’re noticing there’s an issue – how can you go forward with it any other way?

After spending a good part of my holiday ‘break’ formulating my plan for change, I realized that all of my commitments (work, school, research) are important to me, and worth going after. There’s nothing I want to, or can change, at this point in time. And, I’ve also learned bailing isn’t always the answer. There’s always something to be learned and gained, even from the most difficult situations. Then, I came to an interesting thought: You can’t muscle through it. You can only breath through it.

I’d been pushing and pushing, and putting my head down and hoping for ‘the end.’ (Whatever that means…) I was muscling through it, and hoping that would be enough. But of course, my strategy didn’t sustain and despite my efforts, I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel. But, even in the worst situations, there’s always a light; a way to make it better for yourself. I’d been trying to muscle through it when I really needed to just stop and breath.

Distinguishing these moments, when you’re running out of gas and it’s time to switch gears, is the secret. It’s everything. Because, if you can keep your self in tact, you can do anything you want to do without feeling mysteriously (and overwhelmingly) exhausted, or stressed, or angry. For me, allowing myself to have downtime; to take care of myself (who knew a home manicure could feel so amazing?) and in turn, devoting myself back to the hustle; to stay true to the commitments I’ve already made, and be present to all the things I’m looking forward to this year. It’s an ongoing balance and it takes work. But, most importantly, this means ‘checking in’ (or as somatic psychologists call it: a body scan) – every day, as often as you can. How am I feeling? Am I thirsty or hungry? Tired or getting sick? Am I agitated or stressed? Am I angry or irritable? What can I do to take care of myself right now?

We’re used to – and good at – putting things off. Especially, when it comes to self-care. The last priority on our “To Do lists,” often are the items that involve taking care of ourselves. But, what good are we really after we reach our breaking point? I know when I was working a corporate job, this came before lunchtime. Last semester, it came even sooner. So naturally, you start to wonder: Why am I doing this?

I found it helpful to consider why I’d started instead. School or work is tough sometimes, sure. But it must be that the reasons why we’re there in the first place are far more worthy of consideration – the long-term vision, rather than the day-to-day grind. Now that the honeymoon period has ended, what’s your motivation?

Only you can answer that, and it’s for no one else to judge. It’s your life, and you should make it yours. No matter what position you find yourself in, there can always be a reason to get you through (especially, the tougher times) – be it personal, professional; trials, tribulations; learning, growing, sharing. If you allow yourself to believe there is a purpose for this place in this time, then you allow a feeling of forward movement and fulfillment to supersede. And if you check in with yourself, and put yourself first (for the benefit of everything and everyone that comes after), there’s only joy.

Whether you decide to muscle through it, or breath through it – only an attitude, a perspective changes simply by changing your focus. And, you control it. (Imagine that, in this crazy, scary world of ours…You ultimately have control.)

Like many I know, I’m off to a very busy and daunting 2015; but I’m optimistic. I’m taking one day at a time, and trying my best to be present when and where I am, in each moment. If these events, and people, jobs and classes are important enough to be part of my life, then I owe it to myself to be present for them. (Also, you can be sure this way: you’ll have no regrets.) We can choose when and how, and if we want to change. But ultimately, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Wishing you all the very best things a new year can bring, and all the joy that can possibly come along with it.

No Regrets,

Amy

Personal Photo: Meditation Retreat @ Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, CA (January 17, 2015)

It's Your Year

Last week, I discussed yoga as a process of becoming.

This past weekend, I was exposed to exactly the sort of setting where you would expect the winds of change to come sweeping through: Off the Mat, Into the World’s 4-Day Advanced Leadership Training in Ojai, CA – of all places, my favorite place.

It was there that I felt very aware of a newness to myself, my being. Who is this girl, so lucky to be attending this workshop in this beautiful place? Who has such a strong, intuitive (asana) practice? Who speaks so confidently of her experiences in politics and global affairs, which have prepared her for this discussion in social justice yoga? Sometimes our process of becoming isn’t so pretty – and more likely than not, you won’t even know it’s happening. It’s darkness; it’s bitterness, fear, angst, and frustration. But in the inevitable moments of light that follow, you can look back on yourself and how far you’ve come, and realize gratefully that that whole time, you were just becoming.

Today I changed the name of my blog (and Facebook page) to “A Year in Yoga.” I did this because it’s never really been about “my year,” as I created it of and for all of you. I created this blog as part of a greater vision – for peace (inside and out), for justice (in the form of our own tolerance, acceptance and harmony), for empowerment (in understanding our own unique capabilities, our gifts, and finding the strength to live in that light). I have been so moved and inspired by the many women – and few men – who have reached out in response to my posts over the past three months, and shared a bit of their process with me.

It is important that the name reflects the fullness of this collective effort; to cultivate greater virtue in our lives is “A Year in Yoga.”

I was moved – or rather, moved myself – into the yoga community, in search of conversations surrounding the difficult questions: How do we stop the fighting? The destruction? The war, the hurt, the suffering? If it is innate in us to care for one another, at least when residing in close proximity, how can we work towards extending this sense of responsibility and compassion to the global community? To come from a place of love and to admit you are a work in progress is to live in yoga. No asana required. (Despite our Western spin, yoga is not the same as asana, or physical yoga postures. Simply living life truthfully, with compassion, patience and mindfulness, is living in yoga.)

We are all always in a perpetual state of change, growth and evolution, although we rarely realize. Approaching life with this awareness has its perks. Nonjudgment of yourself and others (ahimsa) is a practice which requires conscious cultivation, but ultimately takes the pressure off; allowing us to be more patient and easy on ourselves, and to have greater empathy toward others in acknowledgement of whatever war they’re fighting (or challenges they’re facing) themselves. This means acknowledging that you and I are both enduring similar, however very distinct, journeys toward becoming whomever or whatever we are intended or going to be. Here, we can relax in knowing that we can’t have all the answers.

Imagine what it would mean for families, for communities, for countries, for the environment, for your children (present or future), if everyone in the world approached life with nonjudgment and compassion toward themselves and others. You and I can’t change the world, but (a much larger, global) we can. We starts in communities, with individuals. All over the world, people are increasing their awareness and acknowledgement of the necessity for sustainability, for the preservation of our Earth, for future generations. Every yoga practitioner, protest attendee, business owner, community leader and politician who supports this cause, is a single “I.” I urge you to consider how you’re contributing to the inevitable change, growth and evolution that is becoming all around us, and in you. It doesn’t have to be here or there, right wing or left wing, working or upper class – you are individual, and your process is different from theirs or mine. But bringing a greater consciousness, or mindfulness to your daily life – to be present in acknowledging the impact of our daily choices and accepting responsibility for the effects of our actions and thoughts – is what the world desperately needs. The world needs you and me, because if not us, then who?

You’ve inspired me with your stories of success and struggle, because however personal and distinct from my own, I too feel the heaviness life sometimes brings and don’t want anyone to ever have to stand in it alone. This is empathy. This is peace, however small. And (despite the cliché), it starts with you. It really does.

I dedicate this venture forward, to you. It’s your year (in yoga, or however you choose to live it). And it’s time to start asking, “Who am I becoming?”

Be present, and you’ll know. I look forward to seeing all that flourishes.

Unconditionally here,

Amy

It’s Your Year

Last week, I discussed yoga as a process of becoming.

This past weekend, I was exposed to exactly the sort of setting where you would expect the winds of change to come sweeping through: Off the Mat, Into the World’s 4-Day Advanced Leadership Training in Ojai, CA – of all places, my favorite place.

It was there that I felt very aware of a newness to myself, my being. Who is this girl, so lucky to be attending this workshop in this beautiful place? Who has such a strong, intuitive (asana) practice? Who speaks so confidently of her experiences in politics and global affairs, which have prepared her for this discussion in social justice yoga? Sometimes our process of becoming isn’t so pretty – and more likely than not, you won’t even know it’s happening. It’s darkness; it’s bitterness, fear, angst, and frustration. But in the inevitable moments of light that follow, you can look back on yourself and how far you’ve come, and realize gratefully that that whole time, you were just becoming.

Today I changed the name of my blog (and Facebook page) to “A Year in Yoga.” I did this because it’s never really been about “my year,” as I created it of and for all of you. I created this blog as part of a greater vision – for peace (inside and out), for justice (in the form of our own tolerance, acceptance and harmony), for empowerment (in understanding our own unique capabilities, our gifts, and finding the strength to live in that light). I have been so moved and inspired by the many women – and few men – who have reached out in response to my posts over the past three months, and shared a bit of their process with me.

It is important that the name reflects the fullness of this collective effort; to cultivate greater virtue in our lives is “A Year in Yoga.”

I was moved – or rather, moved myself – into the yoga community, in search of conversations surrounding the difficult questions: How do we stop the fighting? The destruction? The war, the hurt, the suffering? If it is innate in us to care for one another, at least when residing in close proximity, how can we work towards extending this sense of responsibility and compassion to the global community? To come from a place of love and to admit you are a work in progress is to live in yoga. No asana required. (Despite our Western spin, yoga is not the same as asana, or physical yoga postures. Simply living life truthfully, with compassion, patience and mindfulness, is living in yoga.)

We are all always in a perpetual state of change, growth and evolution, although we rarely realize. Approaching life with this awareness has its perks. Nonjudgment of yourself and others (ahimsa) is a practice which requires conscious cultivation, but ultimately takes the pressure off; allowing us to be more patient and easy on ourselves, and to have greater empathy toward others in acknowledgement of whatever war they’re fighting (or challenges they’re facing) themselves. This means acknowledging that you and I are both enduring similar, however very distinct, journeys toward becoming whomever or whatever we are intended or going to be. Here, we can relax in knowing that we can’t have all the answers.

Imagine what it would mean for families, for communities, for countries, for the environment, for your children (present or future), if everyone in the world approached life with nonjudgment and compassion toward themselves and others. You and I can’t change the world, but (a much larger, global) we can. We starts in communities, with individuals. All over the world, people are increasing their awareness and acknowledgement of the necessity for sustainability, for the preservation of our Earth, for future generations. Every yoga practitioner, protest attendee, business owner, community leader and politician who supports this cause, is a single “I.” I urge you to consider how you’re contributing to the inevitable change, growth and evolution that is becoming all around us, and in you. It doesn’t have to be here or there, right wing or left wing, working or upper class – you are individual, and your process is different from theirs or mine. But bringing a greater consciousness, or mindfulness to your daily life – to be present in acknowledging the impact of our daily choices and accepting responsibility for the effects of our actions and thoughts – is what the world desperately needs. The world needs you and me, because if not us, then who?

You’ve inspired me with your stories of success and struggle, because however personal and distinct from my own, I too feel the heaviness life sometimes brings and don’t want anyone to ever have to stand in it alone. This is empathy. This is peace, however small. And (despite the cliché), it starts with you. It really does.

I dedicate this venture forward, to you. It’s your year (in yoga, or however you choose to live it). And it’s time to start asking, “Who am I becoming?”

Be present, and you’ll know. I look forward to seeing all that flourishes.

Unconditionally here,

Amy

Drop the Baggage

A common theme of my last several posts has been the importance of feeling. And this morning, at a lecture and asana class with founder of Off the Mat and Into the World, Hala Khouri, she emphasized a similar point: “Yoga is a process of becoming – by feeling the sensations in our body.” By this she means feeling in the fullest sense. Yoga is about allowing ourselves to feel the discomfort, fear, anger and anxiety in our lives, of past traumas. Yoga is about letting things come up, feeling them fully for a brief moment and then, letting them go. She followed this idea with, “Of course, if we told people that yoga is all about “exploring your grief and misery,” nobody would come!”

How many people are affected every day by past traumas? We know how past traumas affect us personally, many of us living under the rule: Never make the same mistake twice. You live, you learn. And, like anyone, you pick up (or rather, pack up) a bit of baggage on the way. These past traumas soon surface in other ways. Body aches and physical tightness (muscle tension), depression, social anxiety, binge eating, domestic violence – and school shootings. Undoubtedly, our past shapes who we are in the present. So it stands to reason, that only once we’ve come to terms with the past can we be our happiest and fullest selves, in the present.

This is how yoga is described as a “process of becoming.” It’s about fully realizing your [True] self, or the best version of you. In the science world, yoga as a healing modality is increasingly considered a viable method of somatic psychotherapy. Recently, yoga has begun planting its roots in Western science, working its way into physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychology, counseling, and even physician’s offices throughout the country.

What happens when we feel? How much better can we be? Hala explained, for her kids feeling means running outside to the trampoline or hitting the punching bag, instead of hitting their brother. Rather, “This is progress.” To recognize a feeling in your body, instead of reacting impulsively or burying it away. To consider the best reaction – whether or not we express that emotion, and how. And to consciously choose a healthy way to release the feeling of tension, distress or anxiety from your body, without harming yourself or others. (Pretty impressive for a six-year-old! And a great example of applying mindfulness.)

To feel something in its fullest expression, to allow yourself to let it out, is to know yourself without the baggage. Whether it’s running over a squirrel (as was Hala’s recent trauma) or the death of a loved one, a car accident or betrayal by a friend – it’s often easier, and cooler, to just put it away. But when we hang on and never allow ourselves to surrender to what we’re feeling about a given situation, it shows up in other places. Insecurities, eating disorders, cheating, anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, perhaps even ADD. How different would our world be, if we were raised to express every feeling – in a safe, deliberate, mindful way?

Yoga is one way, but this kind of yoga is done off the mat. It’s a way of thinking, non-judgmentally and with compassion, patience and mindfulness towards yourself and others. It’s a practice and a process; it helps you let go and be free, to easily become our best [kindest, warmest, loveliest & most lovable, thinnest, trimmest, funniest, happiest, etc.] selves.

Everyone has trauma, small ones and big ones, that they carry with them. What are our real reasons for holding on? What happens when we let go?

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to explore somatic psychotherapy and yoga for trauma from the best in the field. My dream (in its ever-evolving form) is to bring this knowledge to all of you. Because how different, how good could our world be? Could our community be? Could our corporate leaders and politicians be? Could you and I be, if we dropped all the baggage and lived mindfully?

Dare to dream,

Amy
—————

For more on yoga & somatic psychotherapy – an interview with clinical psychologist, Bo Forbes: Narrowing the Gap Between Insight and Change: Yoga, Psychotherapy, and the Body

Photo: Point Dume, Malibu, California

Reset & Let Go (+ Juice Recipe)

Two unlikely themes kept popping up in my conversations this past week: Juicing and Karma. This hardly seems like a compatible duo, but I was surprised (after closer consideration) that my conversations on both topics stemmed from the same concern: How can we get a fresh start? When we feel like our diets, our actions, or our temperament (mood swings, stress level, etc.) have spiraled out of control, how can we wipe the slate and move forward? Whether, the result of enduring a big life change or a big weekend out, letting go and hitting the “reset” button can be a welcome relief – and really, a necessity – to get you back on track, feeling better and more like yourself.

Karma-Juicing (verb): to enhance one’s actions by the process of purifying or resetting

I juice when I want to “reset.” Sometimes it’s after a few too many glasses of wine or slices of pizza, but other times it’s just when I’m feeling groggy and sluggish (or bloated). So, as you might guess, I like to juice most days – whenever I can. Because: a nutrient-packed [delicious] mug of green juice, when consumed semi-regularly (2-4x a week), helps give you more energy, boosts your immune system and cleans out your pipes 😉 So, food is digested easily and you feel lighter. And, as a result, when you do splurge on that pizza, the bloated sluggish feeling won’t stick around as long.

I still drink coffee, I’m learning to love tea, and I stock my fridge with pumpkin ale all season long. (Try Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Ale! So yummy.) Juicing doesn’t have to come solely as part of a “cleanse,” but it is still cleansing. Approaching juicing this way – drinking it when I want because of how it makes me feel, rather than how it could make me look – is empowering and effective, without being stressful or expensive. It’s nice to notice the difference in my body, to know how my body reacts to what I consume and how it likes to be treated. (Which really gives you more energy in the morning – coffee or fresh-made juice? You may be surprised…) Once you notice the difference it’s easy to eat healthily; you’ll do it because you feel better when you do. And, of course, because food is love and you, and your body, deserve only the best. There’s no limit to how often you can hit “reset.” (And it doesn’t have to be $10/day — see my recipe and recommendations below).

Resetting when applied to our daily lives can take on a different meaning. Have you ever wanted to just press a button and undo whatever you just said, or did (or wore)? Or even better, have you ever been confronted with a period of transition – a new job, a big move, a bad break-up, or settling into a new relationship – and just wanted to hit “reset” and reap the benefits of moving forward? I never paid much attention to this connection, or this urge, until a few recent conversations with friends, all of which centered on the same theme: Karma. More specifically, how karma – or our actions and behavior – is influenced by different periods in our lives, of light and dark.

*In this sense, “karma” is defined as one’s behavior or actions (versus the mainstream definition which is focused on the results or consequences of one’s actions); I also take “karma” to imply notions of one’s temperament, or general way of being. “Light and dark” can be thought of as life’s really high highs and really low lows, where you inevitably put forth your very best and very worst self (respectively).*

My friends and I discussed that, when you’re in a period of transition, you’re more vulnerable because your foundation has been disturbed or is suffering an imbalance. In daily life, this can take shape as a disruption at home, in relationships (family, love and friendships), and/or as general sense of stability and groundedness; in yogic and Ayurvedic terms, this refers more literally to Muladhara, or your root chakra. Regardless of the terminology, the resulting imbalance or turmoil while enduring periods of vulnerability and ‘darkness,’ directly affects our mindset, and thereby our actions on a daily basis. What you’re thinking and how you’re feeling (perhaps, in the broadest sense: anger, jealously, pride, love) determine your behavior and actions (whether you even apply for that job, move to that city, or can fall in love). When we feel our best and brightest, we live in that light and spread it to others. This way, periods of light and dark, or up’s and down’s, influence our daily behavior and way of being in the present moment – or our karma.

Sometimes, when we’re feeling like we’ve lost control, it would certainly be nice to hit reset. Luckily, yoga philosophy (namely in the Bhagavad Gita, a famously popular story and spiritual text) has an answer…In the Gita, Sri Krishna, cousin and charioteer to the heroic warrior, Arjuna, shares this advice before entering into battle. Among the many worthy take-away’s from this epic dialogue, he says:

“As the heat of a fire reduces wood to ashes, the fire of knowledge burns to ashes all karma.”

However eloquent, this statement – put simply – acknowledges the need to reset or let go of our past mistakes and hang-ups, and even offers a solution. Knowledge, specifically “self-knowledge” or striving to understand your Truth, is capable of burning away any negative lingering feelings – of anger, of jealousy, of pride – that stand in the way of moving forward. Dr. Chris Chapple describes this process of “burning karma” as putting your darkness on the table and asking [yourself] the hard questions. In yoga, detoxing can mean confronting your own feelings (often, on the mat) to purify, cleanse and reset your mindset and way of being, to move forward as – and ideally remain – a better person. All yoga practices (breath work or pranayama, asana postures, meditation and observing your own thoughts) prepare us and enable our efforts in this process; to reveal and confront whatever’s holding us back, hit reset (aka let go) and move forward as a stronger, happier, and more grounded person in our daily lives.

Hitting reset isn’t always the easy way, but – when it comes to our health and well-being – it is the only way. Bottling up negative emotions and bodily toxins has long-term effects on your overall wellness. Whether on your mat or at the juicer, I encourage you to make the investment – be it time, money or effort – to try resetting for yourself.

If, for you, this means taking the leap with at-home juicing, here’s my favorite recipe to get you started – full of warm, root vegetables, and simple Autumn goodness ❤

Autumn Spritzer
Makes about 16 oz.

  • 1 Sweet Potato (= 1 small or ½ large)
  • 1 Pear or Apple
  • 1 Lime
  • 2-3 Celery stalks
  • 3-4 Carrots, whole
  • 3-4 Kales leaves (or 1/4 bag, chopped)
  • Ginger root (~ 2-3 inches of root is plenty, less to taste)

*Try adding fresh Mint leaves and/or a dash of Cayenne pepper to reset and kick-start your metabolism

Remember, I urge you to use what you already have at home and make substitutions of similar ingredients to make it something you’ll enjoy! (i.e. lemon instead of lime, spinach instead or in addition to kale, [1] cucumber for [3-4] carrots, or take out sweet potato for a smoother consistency, to name a few…)

Preferably, drink in the sunshine, wearing a big cozy sweater (this is how I most enjoy it, anyway) – and drink through a straw, to avoid staining your teeth ❤

Now, that’s love. Enjoy!

With love,
Amy

Suggestion: If you are in the market for an at-home juicer, I would highly recommend a Fagor Slow Juicer. It was inexpensive among the high-quality brands (~$130 on Amazon) and has a 5-year warranty on all its parts. (Woo! Priceless…) If you’ve heard juicers are a pain to clean, you’d be right! But, just like anything, the more you do it, the faster you get and the easier it becomes. Some added incentive to rinse and repeat…