On being REAL

This week, my work is in the height of its expansion – breaking through a concrete wall on the South side of the building to create new work stations for employees working on a highly confidential project. As a result, there is no parking, no air conditioning, increased noise level, and low morale.

Is there ever a better time to practice yoga?

Yet, a lot of people seem surprised when I share that my own practice nowdays doesn’t always contain asana postures. In fact, finding myself in an unfortunate conglomerate of transitional life circumstances, asana is the last thing my body or mind feels fit to undertake. And that’s okay. Here lies my yoga: non-judgement during my own process of flux, transition, and hardship, and instead a self-awareness of what I do need. Be it rest, time with friends, or a glass of wine – it is all okay. Part of yoga, as we know, is being compassionate and empathetic toward your neighbor, particularly during times of hardship. This same rule applies to yourself. Forgiveness and understanding can reduce and virtually eradicate stress.

Today I was three hours late to work. I overslept my alarm, tried to anticipate but miscalculated my boss’ needs, and had to bring my pup to doggy care to allow myself the time to make up the additional hours at the end of the day. At one time in my life (not too long ago), I would have experienced physical pain in my chest, a headache, nausea, and perhaps even hyperventilated over my inability to meet my employers’ expectations. My identity was absorbed in others’ view of me, particularly that of my employer. But not anymore.

For better or worse, I’ve undergone a transformative process through yoga by erasing and re-scripting my personal narrative to one of understanding, of self-care, and of compassion. There’s still work to be done to adopt unconditional self-love (I too have my days…), and carry this understanding into all aspects of my life. But I will say, I no longer have anxiety attacks and it’s not the meds (because I’ve tried those too). Rather, it was my willingness time and time again to stop and say: What will really happen if I do this? What is the worst case scenario? And I was surprised to see time and time again, that the thing I feared the most was others’ opinions of me. Yet, they had no idea who I really was or where this decision was coming from. Trusting myself to make the best decisions for me and remaining open-minded to criticism, communicative with all parties, and transparent about my intent – I’ve found that the worst case scenario rarely comes true. And, if it does, I know in my heart that I did the best I could, and we can’t please everyone in this life.

Nina Simone  (featured above) says in a song, something like, “If we spend our lives trying to please everyone, we’ll die still trying.” Putting ourselves first in daily decision making is something I feel strongly about. Because only you know where you’re at, and only you have to live with the consequences. Go easy, be compassionate with yourself, and you’ll find the same compassion and caring – with practice – translates into everything you do.

I also feel the need to say: Please feel for your friends and for yourself when you confront one of those rare, but severely disruptive challenges in your/their life. “Coming out of numbness,” as I’ve previously referred to it, is a slow process of untangling the psyche from self-absorption. During trauma our psychology is innately bound by the need to survive the casualty at hand (at least this is how our body and nervous system registers drastic change); and thereby we are likely to find ourselves at a loss for the usual social aptitude or casual lightness that she/he may have previously enjoyed.

When trauma or crisis occurs, we go into survival mode. Parts of our brain that are unnecessary for our survival shut down and those that are most pertinent go into hyper-productivity mode. Meeting my own needs and those of others I directly care for (children, pets, elders) is my top priority. Recognizing social signals and norms to protect the feelings of others, emotional intelligence in an external sense, aside from recognizing signs of danger through hyper-vigilance are not necessary for survival. This is when you might notice a friend has “changed” or gone off their rocker. Nurturing, love, patience and forgiveness heals all. Judgement, condemnation, or agitation causes separation and hurt. There is a method to the madness, and time does heal all. But it’s not always so clear when you’re the one stuck in a fog.

Forgive, forgive, forgive and your life will be so much richer. Forgive yourself, forgive others, and strive to understand your enemy. Then, and only then, are you on a path of yoga.

Easier said than done, but it starts with your relationship with you. I’m still working on mine. Knowing my boundaries and recognizing my flaws without internalizing them to a point of pain or self-destruction. Acknowledgement without internalization. Awareness without judgement. We’re here to learn and grow. Don’t stand in the way of your own process.

This is a valid reflection of my own process over the past several months and as I continue to re-find myself as an individual, a woman, a professional, a yogi, a friend, a sister, a daughter. There is room for growth in every role we play, but ultimately we should strive to be the same throughout. To have the same light shine and to let our flaws show true so we may learn from them, grow from them, and leave them behind – as a snake sheds its skin. I look forward to the day when I can finally show my true colors again. Until then, I am an eager slave to my own process, to an understanding of my and others evolution as painful and unpredictable; however, impermanent.

This too shall pass. Stay with it, stay with yourself, stay with me.

So much love,

Amy

 

Challenging Concepts of the “Western Yogi”: Part I

Challenging the “Western Yogi”: Part I
By: Viviana Vallin, M.A.

Imagine walking into a magazine shop and all of the covers concerning yoga have a woman who is of brown skin, has a full curvy body type and thick dark hair. All of the covers had this image. Imagine walking into a yoga class and all of the yoga instructors also fit this image. This image is all around you, and yet this is not you; this is not what you look like. The majority in the class also fit this image. Perhaps, you consider whether you should stay or go.

What thoughts or feelings arise in your body?

It probably depends on how closely you resemble that woman. If you are also a woman of color, a woman with a fuller body, a woman with thick curly hair maybe you would breathe a sigh of relief or maybe you would also feel incredibly uneasy, like what is going on here? Is this a trick?

If you are a woman who is Caucasian, slimmer body type and have blonde straight hair you may also be feeling uneasy. How comfortable and easy would it then be for you to walk into a yoga studio space and be able to jump right into focusing on your practice when you are a blatant minority in that space?

This example is simplified, but I want to highlight the discomfort and not-so-subtle message of what is and is not the “normal” yoga practitioner. This is what people of color experience not only in the yoga studio but in other spaces where Whiteness is the standard. It is not only people of color, but really anyone who does not fit that image or standard who may be more aware and made to feel uncomfortable by pronounced difference.

Since I started practicing yoga eight years ago, I have been on a journey to deepen my understanding of yoga and to explore the ways in which, within the U.S., it has become a mainstream physical practice for a select group of wealthy, white and educated individuals. This past year, I undertook a thesis project for my final year in the Yoga Studies Masters program at Loyola Marymount University. I was the only Latina student in my cohort and one of only a few students of color in the cohort overall. Here and elsewhere, I felt the very subtle but also very real messages that yoga is not for me, or for people that look like my family members in most yoga studio spaces. Most of the women in my family for example, are closer in image to the women I described in the opening imagery.

I never experienced direct discrimination from anyone when taking a yoga class. This is because, in most cases, these impacts are happening outside of the studio space. Media images, commercials, clothes, high costs, and the mainstream profile of the typical yoga teacher, as well as an overall lacking of yoga studios in most communities of color, are all messages that people internalize. They [the media] tell you that yoga is not meant for you; so you naturally might wonder: Why would I even go try a class?

For my thesis, I conducted a survey of people of color who practice yoga in Los Angeles. I was able to collect over 40 surveys within just a few weeks. Although this is a small sample size, it is not meant to be representative of all people of color; however, there are some very strong common responses. The majority of the respondents did not report experiencing discrimination in yoga spaces. They did however share a similar feeling of unease, discomfort and anxiety over not “fitting in” or looking like the “typical yogi.”

These doubts tend to increase self-criticism and so, feelings about not fitting in are powerful barriers that often prevent individuals from exploring yoga or attending a class in a studio. We cannot see this type of exclusion and discrimination, but the results are evident when you look around most yoga classes in Los Angeles. Here and most everywhere, yoga is equated with Whiteness.


So, what can we do? To reclaim yoga as something that is representative of its natural integrity, history and essence; by encompassing and including all persons regardless of race, sexuality, disability or any other ‘difference.’ This is our shared goal and the ultimate goal of yoga, to achieve a real understanding of Oneness.

Photo Cred: People’s Yoga, “Yoga Seeds Family Class” held each Sunday

In Part II…
By Vivi Vallin

The story about how yoga came to be this way is both simple and complex. In a way, it feels like our nation has corrupted yoga. Yoga in itself is a practice of self-awareness, self-inquiry, self-liberation. It is not inherently exclusive or discriminatory. Yoga is just highlighting what is already present in America.

A Foreshadowing…..

It is my pleasure to precede the release of a work by my dear friend and fellow grad, Vivi Vallin, which will grace this page in three parts – the first of which will be released on Wednesday.

The whole point of A Year in Yoga is to challenge contemporary thinking and explore alternative traditions, to ideally arrive at a new way of being – that we each choose for ourselves – that is whole, fulfilling and brings us joy. In this endeavor, we MUST confront discomfort, recognize our vices and create different channels through which we can navigate the world.

One of the most important “vices” is one’s relationship with and identity of oneself and others, (encompassing body image and personal bias). Recognizing difference, not as “diversity” but as different shades of a flower bloom; each color and shade equally beautiful and equally cherished. This is how we can all jointly see the world with joy.
In an effort to support and draw attention to the emergence of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance, I defer to a scholar with much more insight to share than I on an important evolution in what contemporary “yoga” is and can be. I hope you’ll tune in on Wednesday to read part I of III of her inspiring work….

Stay tuned! In the meantime, here’s more about Vivi…

 


Viviana Vallin is a yoga teacher, naturalist and LPCC trainee in the field of mental health.  She is passionate about finding the intersections of traditional therapy, yoga therapy and nature therapy to provide wellness support to individuals and communities in need, especially those who are marginalized and under-served by our nation.

Viviana worked as a Teacher Naturalist with the Audubon Center at Debs Park for 2 years, and was then promoted to Education & Outreach Manager. In this role, she created and led programming for K-8 students, teens, adults and families in the community to connect to the nature that was in their own neighborhoods, and learn about how to become stewards of these special pockets of green in Los Angeles. Viviana was selected as a Toyota Together Green fellow while at Audubon to lead her project entitled Empowering Communities: Building Capacity Through Youth Leadership Programs. The emphasis of the project was giving teenagers from communities of color the tools and knowledge to lead their own initiatives of change by engaging their communities in a place-based conservation project. Viviana strongly believes that individuals have to care about the nature in their own backyards first, in order to build a relationship with nature which will lead to changing behaviors for the betterment of the planet.

Viviana left Audubon to complete her education at Loyola Marymount University, and in May 2016, she graduated from the Masters in Yoga Studies program at LMU. She was simultaneously enrolled in the Masters in Counseling program at LMU and plans to complete her second graduate degree over the summer months. Viviana is currently completing an internship at Open Paths Counseling Center in Culver City as one of their bilingual therapists; a community mental health organization which provides accessible services to diverse clientele. Viviana works with a client load of 8-10 Spanish-speaking individuals per week and has co-led the Spanish parenting class as well. Viviana will complete her internship at Open Paths in December and plans to register for her intern number with the BBS at this time.  Her focus in mental health has been working with clients who suffer from addictions, eating disorders, and trauma.

Beginning in September 2015, Viviana began working as a yoga therapist at Reasons Eating Disorder Center located in Alhambra, CA. As a yoga therapist, she leads restorative yoga sessions at both their hospital intensive program and the residential house located in Pasadena, CA. Viviana creates a class which aims to help clients reveal a new relationship with their body, focused on the meditative aspects of yoga and learning to listen to one’s own body. This approach aims to redefine what a client might typically think about yoga (as exercise) and instead creates a practice of self-inquiry and supports processing emotions and thoughts which arise in their treatment process. Viviana has also led yoga for a girls residential program for Optimist Youth Homes & Family Services in Highland Park. This population of girls included at-risk youth who had been mandated by the court to be placed at Optimist Youth to support their academic learning and emotional/social needs, after challenging circumstances early in their life.

Viviana has trained to support individuals experiencing trauma through their yoga practice including attending the Yoga for Trauma: Mind/Body Resources for Working with Marginalized Communities Conference in Seattle, WA (2015) and the Recovery 2.0 Move Beyond Addiction Conference (2015). Specific counseling courses in trauma, crisis, multicultural, and addiction have also provided rich knowledge for working with clients with these specific needs.

Viviana is incredibly excited to continue to find ways to connect yoga, mental health and nature. Each practice on their own has been shown to provide healing and health benefits to the practitioner, but the combination of the three practices allows for a deeper engagement with the individual and the potential to shift the way in which they interact with the world.

 

 

New Years Revelation

It’s New Years resolution time. A time I remember greeting with promise, hope and great expectations, this year, seems a bit more daunting. It might be that I’m growing older – which was no more apparent than while suffering the day-long consequences of enjoying one drink too many at a holiday party last week (my 21-year-old liver is no more…) Or, it might be circumstantial – following my first semester in grad school, I already find myself searching for the light at the end of the tunnel. (While I won’t say it’s all darkness ahead, I will say I can’t yet see the light…)

Of course, it could also be that my year as a yogi has changed my perspective.

In the midst of the holiday season and a particularly stressful time in my life, I’ve been seriously craving some clarity and some reprieve, which has led me to consider how my mindset is impacted by dwelling on the choices I’ve made in the past and on my anxiety for the future. As you’ve likely heard before, the practice of yoga is about bringing your awareness into the present. I recently read in James Fowler’s “The Present Moment” that the practice of meditation can even be simply defined as an act of “love for the present moment,” (as well as for the love of Truth, of Beauty and of Goodness – such a beautiful sentiment, I’ve recently incorporated into my practice/daily intention setting). And Yoga Journal recently shared that the key to happiness is to stop planning for our ideal future, and to shift our focus on living today, in this moment.

As these seeds were planted in the back of my mind, the time was right – and ripe – for a revelation. And sure enough, as often happens during my daily practice [of asana and meditation], a single thought swept through me and helped assuage my fears and anxieties for the coming year. Just like that…Not a resolution, but a New Years Revelation:

You have everything you need.

Soaking in the peace of mind that comes along with this resonance, I realized I need a re-prioritization this coming year – Not a ‘quick fix’ solution, or yet another brilliant addition to my busy schedule, as I often associate with a resolution. I already have it all, but my current mindset consumed by back-peddling and negativity isn’t serving me, or allowing for all the Truth, Beauty and Goodness of the present moment to shine through, to really enjoy it. Although I usually avoid getting too personal (because after-all, A Year in Yoga is all about you!), I hope that sharing more of my revelation with all of you might help plant the seed to inspire your own, for a happier, brighter, more content and gratitude-filled year ahead…So here it goes ❤

 My Priority List for 2015:

  1. Self-care. Much of my work in Yoga Studies thus far has centered around healing and trauma, and what I’ve come to learn is that everyone is healing from some sort of trauma (big or small) – and it’s not our job or our right to evaluate how deep, how harsh, or how justified someone else’s trauma, or journey is. I can’t be any good at my job, in my relationships, or even in my yoga practice, without taking care of myself first. (A lesson I can attest, I’ve learned the hard way.) For me, this means allowing myself time and space. Time to breath in between an all too hectic schedule, even if this means telling someone else you’re unavailable. (Sorry, I’ve got a date with myself tonight!) And space: a few moments of solitude, a clean environment, and at least an hour a day when I’m totally unplugged. Create your own rules, or don’t. Whatever it takes to give yourself the attention you need to heal from whatever hurt you’re holding onto; to rejuvenate, to flourish. You’re no good to anybody, until you’re good to yourself; and life is, along with many other [beautiful, wonderous] things, a process of healing.
  1. Love. I have to admit, this is a new list-topper for me. I’ve always loved the idea of love, but I’ve never wanted to make it a priority. It’s simply too scary. The moment you open yourself up to love, you create space for rejection and loneliness. It’s much easier to be alone. Much easier, but empty. And certainly no less lonely. This kind of love doesn’t have to be with a significant other, it can be for a family member, a best friend, even a furry companion – but it is that pitfall, head over heels, unconditional, crazy-expressive-passionate kind of love; that fills your heart until tears well up in joy, and makes you equally as vulnerable to hurt and despair at its loss. If you’re lucky enough to have experienced this kind of love, you’ll likely also agree that it’s simply this feeling that makes life worth living. It gets you out of bed in the morning, keeps you going when you’re running on fumes, and picks you up when you (inevitably) trip over your own feet and fall on your face. While yogis aim to embody detachment, this kind of love is the only exception. To love whole-heartedly and steadfastly, to love all living things this way is a yogi’s primary goal. Because only by loving this way can we achieve happiness, and can we find peace, in our lives and for others. I am so very blessed to have an abundance of love in my life. Really, what else is there to want? But putting our own ambition, or other priorities ahead of love means abusing it. It’s a two-way street. Let the love in your life come first and guide you, and you will have a life full of love – and therefore, at its very core, of happiness and peace.
  1. Stability. Of course, even with love and self-care, we all need stability in our lives to do anything more to function in society. (Consider: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) Having grown up blessed with a strong foundation of stability, I ventured out over the past several years for a taste of challenge, of hardship (though not explicitly so at the time). I had something to prove, to myself. If I wanted to serve populations who had less than me, then I felt I needed to know what that really meant – and even what that felt like. Studying abroad in a third world country, working full-time for minimum wage, and immersing myself in homeless, low-income and prison populations; these choices have undoubtedly shaped my life. I say so with full recognition of how privileged I am to have made these choices – sprinkled after and in between my private college education, graduate coursework, well-paid jobs and refused opportunities. But what I’ve learned, however difficult at times, has been invaluable. Stability to me, represents a strong support system and enough financial resources to provide a home, pay the bills, and put food on the table (which varies in feasibility based on location and skill-set). When one of these areas is lacking, our whole being is at risk. The love and self-care we’ve worked so hard to cultivate is threatened, and we’re unable to do much more than run in place, and just “get by.” Evaluate what makes you feel stable; what’s your springboard for growth? And be so grateful for it. Nurture it. Cultivate it. Cherish it. This is also living with present awareness for all that we already have, and a goal of mine for the coming year.
  1. Be. And the rest will come. I can spend today, tomorrow and next year conjuring up my next project, worrying about my final exam, mulling over my past mistakes, and yearning for the light at the end of the tunnel. But at what cost? Too often stress and anxiety overshadows our ability to experience, enjoy and live in the present. By living this way, we risk losing a sense of ourselves and of those we love. When we finally achieve whatever it is we’re after, or perhaps just get tired of the chase, who will be there with us? What kind of shape will we be in – our physical bodies and our mental well-being – when we get there? Will we really be able to enjoy it, or will we already have our eye on the next prize ahead – an even bigger house, a more expensive car, a promotion, another degree? What about right now? Wasn’t there a moment when we dreamed of being right here? Relish it. We’ve all worked hard and learned tough lessons, jumped over hurdles and slayed dragons to be here – and here we are. We’ve worked so hard to be right here. So, we better enjoy it – You never know what tomorrow will bring.

Instead of thinking about what you should add to your life in 2015, I encourage you to consider all you already have. And challenge yourself to have your own New Years Revelation. To re-prioritize what really matters to you, at this point in your life, and allow that to be your mantra and your intention for the coming year. And strive to just be with it.

Sending boundless love and well wishes for a safe and very merry new year to you and yours. Cheers to all that 2015 will bring!

The light in me honors the light in you.

Namaste,

Amy

Photo: Throwback to New Years 2012 with my BFF Ashley at Lansdowne Pub Fenway Park in Boston. Thank you, Ashley for being there through it ALL and for always letting your light shine – & for always encouraging and inspiring me to do the same ❤

Reality Check: When Life Gives You Lemons (+ Recipe)

As 2014 comes to a close I find myself reflecting on the past three months and my first semester in Yoga Studies, and a resounding lesson – or key takeaway persists:

Reality Check #1 (since I lost count long ago, we have to start somewhere):

When life gives you lemons, you still have to squeeze your own [damn] lemonade.

Ultimately, life is what you make it. You can be lucky, work hard, and be at the right place at the right time – but where you go from there is entirely up to you. It’s how you interact with others, what imprint you leave on the room (and the world) after you leave it; who you influence, the choices you make and how you are. That, is also your karma. It’s your footprint, and your fingerprint. It’s uniquely you and a lasting impression. How deeply do you love? How fully do you live? These are choices, as much as they are inherent to you.

Sometimes you have to really bust it to get through, and other times it’s easier. For better or for worse, in speaking for myself, I’ve made the decisions I’ve made to land me in this very moment, right where I belong. (Really, what benefit is there in believing otherwise?) There’s something to learn from difficult times and a way to grow in painful times, that will just make you stronger down the road. And in turn, it’s important to remember there’s always something to give in times of success and prosperity, time to lend to old friends or family when things finally seem to slow down. We all have all of these moments – the good and the bad. Embrace them for what they are, but don’t let them rule you. And know it’s how you react that makes you who you are, and how the world knows you. Less so what you wear, where you work (“what you do”) or what you look like. And much more, how you love.

Our choices – mine and yours – are responsible for what happens next. They’re an expression of ourselves, our individuality, that’s more bold than wearing a crop top and hot-pants. Because, when you make a new friend or find a new relationship, it’s not about what they’re thinking as much as what they’re feeling. That rush you get from a great conversation with a stranger, because they listened, and stopped to focus their attention on you. That’s an impression, that’s an air, a compassion, a reputation. That’s who are you, and that’s your karma.

So, [in other words] my takeaway this year is: When you find yourself in the right place at the right time, you have a responsibility to act. Don’t wait for the world to do it for you or for life to get a bit easier first…You are brilliant and capable, or you wouldn’t have found yourself where you’re standing. (With gratitude!) When you find yourself in a position that just feels right – which may sometimes, tragically contradict what “makes sense” – you can rest assured that if you move forward, you won’t regret. Take every opportunity like it’s yours, like it’s the only one, and like it was meant for you; because, it was – because our choices dictate who we are.

I’m making the commitment to take on 2015 like it’s all mine for the taking. Always: Go get ‘em – in whatever you decide to do. And remember, it’s already in you, you just have to let it shine…

A little autumn inspiration to fuel your fire (both your internal fire & your agni, or the fire in your belly) 😉 I had all the ingredients in my cabinets and got the rest (along with this recipe) from my CSA, Farm Fresh to You. Eat with the seasons! (Your body will thank you…) And don’t fear, all this goodness is also readily available at your local supermarket.

butternut squash

Honey-Roasted Butternut Squash (with Cranberries & Feta)

* I served with whole wheat couscous, extra veggies and tofu + garlic, butter (we use, Melt), sea salt, pepper & red wine!

Ingredients:

-1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped (or acorn, spaghetti squash, or your seasonal favorite!)

– Olive oil (or your oil of choice, coconut oil in this combo is delicious)

– Salt, pepper, garlic (crushed or minced – so cheap at Trader Joe’s! – or garlic powder works just fine)

– 2 cups of fresh cranberries

– Honey, to taste (2-3 tablespoons average)

– ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese

– Ground cinnamon, to taste

– Fresh parsley (optional)

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 F. Drizzle baking sheet (or glass baking pan) lightly with olive oil.
  1. Cube squash or cut how you’d prefer in approx. 1-2 inch pieces. Lightly drizzle olive oil and sprinkle a light layer of salt, pepper, and garlic over squash, to taste.
  1. Roast at 400 F for 25 minutes on center rack. Then, add cranberries to roasting pan.
  1. Return dish to oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the cranberries begin to soften and burst open.
  1. Remove from oven, add a sprinkle of cinnamon (~ ¼ teaspoon) along with feta and honey, to taste. Garnish with parsley (for “ooh lala” factor).
  1. Enjoy with others or on your own! I enjoyed my leftovers 😉

 

Bon Appetit and well wishes for an abundance of warmth and light [in your life and your heart] this season ❤
Amy

Getting Intimate

Over the weekend, I was surprised to find myself completely immersed in a five-hour training on yoga, sex and intimacy. My confusion was justified – The title of the workshop was “Yoga is Peace.” Where did I go wrong (or, wonderfully right)?

Mark Whitwell is a famous yoga teacher (I use this phrase reluctantly, but if anyone deserves the title, he does) and writer who studied for twenty years under Sri T. Krishnamacharya, the guru (or teacher) graciously credited with introducing yoga to Europe, Asia, and the Americas within the past century. (Should your interest in yoga meaning and philosophy grow, his work is a great place to start…)

Mark began by introducing himself to the class and proclaiming emphatically:

“YOGA IS… [wait for it]…DIRECT intimacy…with reality.”

He followed: “Forget any other definition you’ve ever heard. This is Truth.”

Mark’s “no bullshit” approach to teaching struck a chord. Perhaps too tight of chord, as he later added in the words of his teacher, Sri Krishnamacharya: “Yoga is not information gathering.” (Tell this to the girl working 24/7 in yoga studies.) What he means by this, of course, is simply: It’s already in you. So, focus your attention there.

Regarding sex, intimacy and yoga, we can go back to Mark’s definition of yoga generally as “direct intimacy with reality.” But, what does this really mean? He elaborated throughout his lecture that, from this view, our purpose on this planet is to have intimacy with life; that means with yourself, your partner, your community, and more abstractly, with your reality. In other words: Are you engaged, are you open? Are you a good friend, a loving partner, a “yes” person? Do you serve others in your community, do you love the work that you do? We all prioritize our own reality differently, and where and when we choose to get intimate. But, as Mark suggests, shouldn’t it be that when the day is done we can stand back and see ourselves reflected back to us (ideally with love and admiration) in all aspects of our life? If we desire to hold a purpose, as individuals and humans, shouldn’t it be to live life this way? (In this light?)

Yoga is direct intimacy with reality, with life. In this way, we can practice yoga everyday, in every aspect of our lives, by allowing ourselves to get intimate in our interactions with others and with ourselves.

As for sex: Mark shared his own observation that, as the churches continue to empty throughout America and Europe (Germany, in particular), the explicitness and vulgarity of sex in the media and social discourse continues to worsen. He digressed: “Everybody’s talking about it, and nobody’s having it.”

In my own classes, reluctant attention has recently focused on the realities of the over-sexualization of youth, and women and girls generally, in society. How prevalent are images of young girls (teens & twenties) in their underwear – or without – throughout the media? (Are you as tired of the viral Kim Kardashian as I am?) But giving this issue our sincere attention requires an uncomfortable shift of reality, and so many – including myself – do their best to stay quiet and turn the other way. There’s no need to revisit the profound implications that over-sexualization have on women and girls throughout the country, and the world. Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, body image obsession, insecurities, anxiety, inadequacies, sex trafficking and even hate crimes targeted at nonconforming homosexual individuals – all catalyzed by an extreme prevalence of “sex” in society, distorting the reality that sex [and sexuality] is intimacy – not an ego trip. Having the capacity to love and be intimate with another person is a gift, and an expression of equal exchange. It’s personal, it’s impactful, and it’s the basis of humanity. It’s easy, with the Victoria’s Secret fashion show fast approaching, to forget that this is reality. 

Mark’s parallel to the international vacancy of churches is meant to emphasize the necessity of individual spiritual life for the proliferation of humanity. He even goes so far as to say that the world depends on it. I take spirituality in my own heart to mean the active cultivation of a greater consciousness, founded in love and compassion towards oneself, one another, and our shared global community (the Earth and humanity). My church is my yoga mat. But no matter your definition or your vehicle, Mark attests that exploring your own sense of self and your own true nature is to experience intimacy, and promote creativity and creation. And, to experience direct intimacy with reality [in this way] is yoga – with, or without asana. (Although he and I highly encourage a daily home practice as a guaranteed vehicle toward exactly that. If you’re looking to create a home practice but aren’t sure where to start, contact me for help creating your own personal practice.)

In the midst of a non-stop graduate school schedule, the holiday season, and occasionally being all too aware of worldwide struggle and despair (sometimes all-to-close to home), I’ve found it helpful to go back to the notion that our purpose is intimacy. We can forget the rest. Because, if you can be intimate with life by being authentic, kind and present in every moment of your day, you’re contributing to the world in the best possible way. And, inevitably the goodness of the world will come back to you, more easily and with greater pleasure than you ever imagined. I guess, you could say in this way: Yoga is Peace.

Exploring your own comfortable definition of spirituality and creating a routine to express yourself through this light (be it yoga, attending church, simply sitting in quiet or your own personal practice) is the key to experiencing direct intimacy with life. And while it’s true – you get what you give – ultimately, getting intimate is what really makes life worth living.

Sending love and well wishes to your corner now & always,

Amy

Personal Photo: Playa Vista, CA

Work Hard, Play Hard.

In my previous posts, I’ve talked about the importance and “beauty” of finding yoga on your mat – particularly in those moments when you find your “yoga high” and perhaps even experience a state of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses, as awareness draws inward). We treasure these moments, because they are so few, and reconcile with ourselves that they can only be fleeting. But – ah ha! – what if it were possible to live in yoga, even when you’re off the mat?

If you haven’t heard the phrase “living in yoga” before, please allow me to introduce you. Living in yoga does not mean living in a perpetual state of pratyahara, perpetually withdrawn from the outside world – though some, very traditional yogis choose this path of renunciation. Rather, it means applying basic yogic principles (revisiting the eight limbs = yoga’s “code of ethics”) and practicing yoga as “the science of the mind” on a daily basis, by carefully observing your own thoughts and choosing your words (and thoughts) with care and intention. How nice of a notion. Of course, we know that though yoga is sweet, life is not that simple. So, often times, the “living” part gets in the way.

This week, I can certainly relate to the feeling of having to surrender to life – in this case: my schedule. I love school. I love yoga. Grad school for yoga? Sign me up! But somehow in the midst of two weeks of non-stop events/classes/studying (all of my waking hours) my enthusiasm waned, and life took over. And suddenly, it wasn’t so fun anymore.

In talking to fellow classmates and checking in with friends who are building their own professional careers (from event planning, to accounting, sales and yoga!), I began to notice a theme: Surrender to our schedules – to life – in a non-stop whirlwind of meetings, parties, and events all designed to achieve balance (to some degree) and overall success. These are great goals to aspire to, even admirable. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could get there without feeling like we’ve lost control along the way, and that our lives are driving us? When do we get to stop running and just enjoy? (And don’t say: retirement. Although that should be enjoyable too!)

Living in yoga, your schedule remains the same and your obligations and deadlines are just as urgent. But, instead you commit to living more fully in everything you do and allow yourself to stop and smell the roses – today (no waiting)! This is as lovely as it is challenging, because living in yoga also means devoting greater consciousness to your daily life. By being aware and observing your own thoughts and actions throughout the day, you aspire to live in the present moment with compassion and authenticity. This means, allowing yourself to take one thing at a time. And not only do it, but enjoy it.

This also means making a concerted effort to make time for you, to do what you love – even, and especially, in the midst of chaos. (The picture above was taken this past weekend when I showed my close friend, Laura, my all-time favorite spot* during her first-ever trip to California!) There is nothing more cherished – or important – than memory-making…

As my boyfriend ran out of the house to work this morning, we reviewed our schedules for the day, both with a looming fatigue already at 8:00am. (Whenever you think you have the craziest day ahead, there is someone with one even crazier…) But together, we reached the conclusion: “Well, you can only be one place at a time.” All you can do is the best you can, where you are – and do your best to enjoy it!

In my morning meditation today, I set the intention to bring awareness to the present moment as I go forward into the weekend and coming week, so that I can relax and enjoy all that’s in front of me instead of feeling bound and overburdened. This, like anything, takes practice. But is there anything more worthy of working towards? Being present means listening actively, expressing gratitude, sharing your ideas confidently, and enjoying life – as it is, how it is, right in this very moment. This is, at its simplest, living in yoga.

There are only so many hours in the day. You can only do one thing at a time. So, just do what you can. And enjoy it!

Gives new (& better) meaning to: “Work Hard, Play Hard.” Go forth, and play!

Namaste,

Amy

*photo taken at my favorite peak on Foothill Trail in Ojai, CA

Be Bold, Be Beautiful

Entering into the “world of yoga” can be intimidating. Especially in Los Angeles and especially in your mid-20’s, there’s a lot of pressure to achieve a certain standard. To add to this pressure, I’ve primarily developed my personal practice and knowledge of yoga by teaching myself at home.

In grad school right now, we’re learning in detail about the different types of guru-student relationships – characterized by one-on-one mentorship from a “teacher,” in this sense, spiritually focused – that are so essential to understanding and developing a personal yoga practice, in keeping with yoga’s historical and traditional integrity. However, the reality is that the rapid growth in popularity of yoga among Westerners today (especially in the States) has largely diminished concern for consistency in the traditional practice of yoga, simply out of necessity. In the interest of “reaching” as many people as possible, yoga teachers and studios aim to pack their [increasingly, hot] rooms to capacity. This leaves many intermediate yogis who have grown to feel and appreciate the deeper benefits of yoga, lacking the classically acclaimed direction and guidance necessary from a “teacher” to enable their development from intermediate to advanced; or, more specifically, to harness the full benefits of yoga in the truest sense, enabling cultivation of utmost strength, happiness and longevity.

I acknowledge and respect that not everyone who is interested in yoga seeks or expects any psychological or spiritual benefit. (I started with Bikram, remember?) But for those who have recognized a shift in thinking since beginning their practice, or might in the future, it’s natural to yearn for greater nourishment – perhaps, a teacher training – to explore the full scope of your evolving practice. While Westerners continue to sort through this puzzle of adapting traditional Eastern practices into modern Western society (big things to come from my wonderful peers at LMU!), it’s important to keep in mind for your personal practice, the integrity and real purpose of yoga – and not to let the pressure get to you.

If you’ve “followed” any yogis on Instagram lately, you’re likely familiar with the pressure I’m talking about. The intimidation factor that has made its mark on yoga in the West emphasizing achievement in yoga as equivalent to obtaining physical strength and a glamorous physique. (I recently saw the winner of an Instagram yoga contest posted a picture of herself in wheel pose, perfectly toned, in her bra and panties…) So, in order to be credible in the “yoga world,” you need to be able to stand on my hands, touch your feet to your head, and jump through a ring of fire (naked)? Props to those girls (& guys), but I’m not sure that’s for me, and if I’m a beginner, this might make me think yoga’s not for me. Sometimes, like many others I know, I’ve put down my phone after an intense scrolling session and decided: “I’ll just practice later.” I lost my yearning in a wave of feeling that my practice was inferior; this, of course, being the antithesis of the very virtues we’re trying to cultivate in yoga: of confidence, of feminine power (shakti) and of unconditional love.

However, those images are only one perspective on “beauty” and honestly, though they are beautiful, I think they’re overplayed. Where’s the color, the fun, the creativity, the authenticity that truly characterize yoga? Have you ever laid in child’s pose and allowed your breath to takeover, losing sense for a brief moment of your long “To Do” list, and with it, the arguments and disappointments of the day? Finding this kind of calm in an otherwise hectic day of work and errands; that is truly beautiful. And the ease and accessibility of this posture – that anyone, anywhere, of any age, race, or orientation, can achieve this benefit (or, “yoga high”) in child’s pose – That is beautiful.

All this to say, whether in your yoga practice or out in the world, you should feel free to be, do and live as you are and where you are, today. This is your life, and there is no right way. That applies to your yoga asanas, Instagram posts, professional trajectory and personal interactions. There is a healthy way, a kind way, and an authentic way – but not a right one. Don’t let others’ standards (with their fancy handstands or boardroom presentations) make you think any differently about yourself, and what you could or should do to succeed, and to be valued. You are valuable, and your contribution is already great, whether you realize it or not – as long as it comes from a place that is genuine. Thinking boldly in this way, nothing can stop you. And more likely than not, you’ll be surprised by just how much you can do. Sometimes, I’ve learned, we are our own best teacher.

Next time you practice, whether in a class, in your bedroom, or in front of your television, remember that there’s more to yoga than handstands and that there’s more to you than meets the eye. And allow this awareness to inspire you, in all aspects of your life.

I also challenge you to post a picture of yourself on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter in your favorite, simple yoga posture (mine is tree pose – above!) as a friendly reminder to everyone out there that there is real beauty in simplicity. You just have to be willing to change your perspective. 

Be bold, be beautiful Xx

Amy

Losing Patience: Even Yogis Get Mean

Reporting back on my first week of grad school (in Yoga Studies): I learned a lot last week. In fact, I think I mentioned a few too many times that I’ve felt like my head might explode, in the most wonderful way possible. But the most challenging aspect of my week wasn’t the classes or my new assistantship, or even balancing my personal life. (I’ve got the logged hours and post-picnic hangover to prove it.) No, my biggest challenge by far has been: keeping my patience.

Patience. It seems like an obvious concept, but it can have different meanings in different contexts; and this past week, it’s taken on a few. There was my most recent frustration, when I couldn’t find the recycling bin in my friend’s building (…anywhere!) so I finally threw the bag of bottles down the trash shoot. (I’m still so sorry about that.) But patience could also refer to being polite with the operator after waiting “on hold” for fifteen minutes; listening to a friend’s story all the way through without interrupting; or letting your dog enjoy the outdoors instead of rushing her to hurry and “do her business” (guilty, guilty, guilty). Everyone has those moments of falling off the wagon and not making the best decision they could have, or should have made. Even yogis get mean. And for me, yesterday was one of those days.

One of those days where it’s not one thing in particular that seems “wrong,” it’s everything. Nothing sits well, nothing feels right, and no matter what you do or try to do, it’s wrong, stupid or counterproductive. But, lucky for me, an important part of a consistent yoga practice is being aware and observing your own thoughts. And eventually I realized that everything felt so wrong, because I was wrong. I was setting the bar impossibly high for myself during my first week of grad school and the busiest weekend of the semester (eight hour lectures Saturday & Sunday). But yesterday, I wanted to go to the Labor Day picnic. I wanted to spend time with my boyfriend, read 100 pages for class, write a two page summary, practice three hours of Sanskrit, go grocery shopping, meditate in the morning and do my usual asana practice. Totally feasible, I swear. Really.

And I did (most of) it. By all outside accounts, it was a great, very productive, really fun day. And in many ways, it was. (I even got a bit of a tan!) But I still ended the evening feeling frustrated – and inevitably, exhausted. Even after succeeding in checking off my “To Do” list, the list just got longer. And in my haste to “get it all done,” I hadn’t allowed myself to relax and be present and missed out on quality time with the people I love when I finally had the time to spare. My lack of empathy and patience with myself directly impacted the quality of my experience and my interactions with others. But rather than continue to beat myself up about it – as I may have done in the past – I’m instating some patience, pronto. I remind myself: You’re human, and you have a lot on your plate. You have to go easy on yourself. With any new transition, there’s an adjustment period. You need to give yourself time to adjust. 

Before I recently found myself in a constant state of transition, I found a constant state of kindness, having trained myself to think this way – with sincerity and patience – more regularly. Unfortunately, life happens, and enduring transition can make maintaining any type of consistency difficult. But today is the start to my second week of grad school, and I am deliberately (and publicly) setting the intention to always defer to kindness. Not only because it will make my week that much better (and trust me, it will) but because I know that, with practice, I can regain that steady peace of mind and live again in kindness – on the regular.

I encourage you to set an intention this week. For patience, for kindness, or for whatever you need most, because we are all, always in transition. And if we want to succeed and get the most out of life (and I hope we all do!), then we’ve got to be kind to ourselves, and to others. May as well start today.

Namaste (I honor the truth – and kindness – in you),

Amy

 

P.S. I haven’t forgotten the recipe(s). Stay tuned!