About yoginiandthecity

After slogging through six winters (and three summers that felt like winters) - in Seattle, I gently uprooted my vrksasana (tree pose) and replanted it in Manhattan. yoginiandthecity is an exploration in finding balance in my personal practice, my teaching practice, and a new life in New York City.

on hOMe

Home is so very many things, isn’t it?

To me, home is

Phoenix, where I’ll return next Saturday to hike Piestewa, search for luminarias, and cuddle my sweet nephews.

breakfast on my parent's patio

breakfast on my parent’s patio

Home is Seattle, even if I haven’t been back in over two years. Because part of my heart will always be there, with my people.

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Home is New York, because I still get butterflies when I ride over the Manhattan Bridge and see the sun shining over the East River and lighting up our skyline.

Home is our new cozy little apartment in Brooklyn, and the comfort of living with a man and a cat that love you so damn much. A place you made together, in awe of how easy it is to cohabitate.

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A place where we refill the French press twice on Saturdays, where the bed is always made (not my doing), where jazz on the record player is a given with pancakes,

and where we are beginning our own holiday traditions.

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Home is also hOMe -

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the first space to welcome you, before it even had a name.

Sacred Sounds felt like a community before it even began. When I first walked in, the floor was still covered in dust and there was no desk, no shelves, no props at all. But it was clearly something special, and that is entirely due to our owner, Stephanie Tang.

Our growth into a real home, a sacred space for many, has not been surprising. Stephanie is so genuinely good and warm-hearted (but also smart and knowledgeable), so dedicated, that I never wondered if she would see this through. She has always let me know that Sacred Sounds is my home both in her words and in her actions. She does the same for my fellow teachers and our incredible students – what would be going the extra mile for so many is simply Steph’s every day. Her intention was to create a community for all, and the manifestation of that was evident during our Anniversary Party last weekend.

The big studio was packed with students, teachers, employees and local businesses alike, all there to celebrate this place we made together. Looking around, my heart began to burst with gratitude -

for our students, old and new, and their growth I’ve been so privileged to witness.

For Annie, who two years ago was stuck doing her work-study during my summer kids yoga class and who, in the time since, has become a dear and close friend.

For our brilliant teachers, who share the unique experience, joys and challenges of this job, and who I am so lucky to learn from every day. I love that I can talk with Danielle about themes and intentions and dharma talks, or discuss sequencing with Fergus, or share the frustrations of figuring out health care with Deanna. Our lives are a little bit bananas, and having comrades in this same weird boat is really comforting.

Most of all, I am thankful for Stephanie. I am so grateful for her understanding, for her genuine concern for my health, my every day life, and my experience at Sacred Sounds. I am so lucky to have a boss who actively listens to both my work concerns and my inane daily activities. I am so grateful for her hard work in creating this special place.

When I moved to New York, I hoped for a place like this.

I hoped for a community but never imagined I would get this lucky.

Thank you (yes, you!) for the special place you have helped create just by being present.

I am forever grateful.

Karma Repair Kit

Have you ever had a moment in time you wished you could live inside forever?

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I’ve just had a week of those. At the end of August, I got to live in a suspended reality somewhere in Southwestern Montana with my tribe. It was our own kind of college reunion, celebrated over the week of our beloved Friend’s birthday.

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I’m finding it hard to articulate how profound this trip was for me (and for all of us, really).

It’s impossible to describe how much these people mean to me, except to reiterate that this is my tribe. After years of absence it took only moments to settle in, to snuggle up and recall the dynamics that make us a family.

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photo by matt holmes

Maybe I didn’t realize how much I needed this. How much I needed these people.

How much I needed the crunch of real earth under my feet. How much I needed fresh air. How much I needed crickets and critters and wind instead of taxi horns and street noise.

The lady above once sent me a Richard Brautigan poem:

Karma Repair Kit: Items 1-4

1. Get enough food to eat,

and eat it.

2. Find a place to sleep where it is quiet,

and sleep there.

3. Reduce intellectual and emotional noise

until you arrive at the silence of yourself

and listen to it.

4.

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This trip was my karma repair kit.

Simple, in the most meaningful ways.

Profound, in the least precious way to describe it.

Quiet, by which I mean not silent,

but glowing, breathing, vibrating peace.

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It’s cathartic, wrapping yourself up in some of those who know you best.

It’s cathartic to practice yoga on your Friend’s birthday, to practice savasana on a day you are so aware of death. And to feel at once sadness and gratitude. To feel an invisible string tied to each person lying on that deck, so strong that you feel compelled to take each friend’s face in your hands, kiss them on the cheek, and tell them ‘thank you – I love you.’

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photo by matt holmes

And while quiet is important

Every once in awhile, you need to hike to the highest point and scream.

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photo by estee clifford

Scream with joy and anger, pain and revival, survival, this surreal reality.

Scream in fear and acceptance, gratitude and awe, audacity.

Scream for presence and for preservation.

Maybe you need to scream to find the silence of yourself.

Two Years!

Last Thursday night, my Love took me out in Williamsburg, to a bar I’ve now seen in all seasons. We clinked our glasses and toasted to my New Yorkaversary.

Two years, pals. It’s been two years.

Year One was about perspiration, planting seeds and barely sleeping.

Year Two has been about sowing those seeds, and while there were a few frustrations, I am beginning to see everything come to fruition.

This year I made Brooklyn my home.

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I became an auntie for the second time.

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My cat finally joined me as a New Yorker.

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I survived a Super Storm

a treehouse made from fallen branches in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

a treehouse made from fallen branches in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

and consequently learned to bike again.

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I met the love of my life.

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And started seeing hearts everywhere

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And the big jump I made, that I hardly told anyone about?

I started teaching full-time. Which meant new and diverse communities of students in addition to my well-loved ones.

I am grateful for all of you, and all you continue to share with me. Your grace, strength, irreverant humor and gentle wisdom has been my greatest teacher.

The reason I grin at you so wide, with my hands at heart center at the end of each class, is because I am so in love with all of you. There are days I feel like I could burst from the love of this all.

Thank you for making this place feel like home.

To many more years – and to the ♥ of New York -

yogini and the city

on tapas (not tiny Spanish dishes)

When there’s nothing left to burn

you have to set yourself on fire.

even these sunnies couldn't stand the heat

even these sunnies couldn’t stand the heat

Hi New York.

That heatwave was brutal. I hope this finds you all in the midst of a vacation, or at the very least, enjoying this merciful break from those blistering temperatures. The heat has had me thinking about tapas a lot lately. Not tiny Spanish dishes (although those are good, too), but tapas as explained in the Yoga Sutras: purification through pain, or accepting but not causing pain.

The actual word tapas comes from the Sanskrit verb tap, which means ‘to burn.’ It might bring to mind a particularly long-held Chair Pose (and the burning in your quads) or practicing so many vinyasa that your biceps begin the Quiver of Truth.

I prefer not the think about tapas in terms of physical practice, both for myself and my students. I find that perpetuating the idea that poses must be difficult in order to be satisfying fuels the ego; I’d really rather not watch my students muscle their way through a class because they think “working HARD” is the only way to grow. While many of us move away from physical pain (like touching a burning pothandle or holding a Chair Pose for an extraordinarily long amount of time), there are a great many people who love the idea of pain in practice. I believe it’s why Hot Yoga became so popular (“I just feel like I’m working so much HARDER when I sweat!” No. You’re not. You’re body is sweating more in that hot hot room to cool you off so your body doesn’t reach a dangerous temperature).

Instead of thinking about pain in asana practice, I liken tapas to the neccesary wildfires – controlled burns that jump-start new soil and new life. Impurities (like tree diseases and insect pests) are burned away, and new growth can return in the soil rich with wood ash. It’s the idea of processing something uncomfortable – or maybe even a little bit dangerous – in order to get to a brighter and more fruitful place.

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Tapas can also be described as putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation in order to grow. Jaganeth Carrera uses the example of a particularly clumsy person enrolling in a tap dancing class, or someone with a fear of heights riding a tall ferris wheel.

Think about that in terms of your practice. What pose looks terrifying, but doable? What pose makes you feel silly-stupid, and can you acknowledge that feeling and let it go?

Think about it in terms of your life practice. I dislike the term “putting yourself out there” but I think the sentiment applies here. How can you challenge yourself this week? This summer? This year?

When I feel stuck, or complacent, I remind myself that I moved 3000 miles in order to plant seeds for new growth. Living in this City and working like I do is not always easy. But damn, some remarkable things have happened, some of those seeds are finally coming to fruition, and I’m pretty happy with who I’ve become in the process.

How are you like the phoenix?

what are you waiting for?

A few weeks ago, at a health fair in Crown Heights, I nearly lost my voice talking to community members about yoga.

It’s great for you! It helps alleviate stress! Yoga helps strengthen and stretch your whole body!

I happily talked to a lot of people who were excited to try yoga for the first time or return to practice after some time away. I talked to a few people who were not at all interested in yoga (“you guys have like, bootcamp, right?”). And then I talked to a handful of women who all gave me the same response:

“I’ll come to yoga once I lose a few pounds.”

No. No no no no no no no.

This broke my heart and made me want to leap across our booth. It made me want to grab each woman by the shoulders and put my forehead on hers.

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Here is what I wanted to say:

You are perfect.

Your body is inherently full of strength and grace.

I believe in you. I believe that you will move beautifully, and that you will be beautifully moved. I believe you will be shocked by what your body knows already. I believe you know things in your bones.

I believe you are beautiful, exactly as you are now. I believe yoga will make you feel more beautiful, without ever knowing the numbers on the scale and how they might be changing or unchanging.

We start where we are. We start somewhere and see where yoga will take us.

Stop waiting. Stop waiting for your life to take shape and shape it yourself.

Live your life on purpose.

Yesterday, a friend asked me how to maintain the self-discipline to practice. I didn’t quite know what to tell him, because I have a hard time with home practice myself.

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So instead of answering him right away, I rid myself of excuses and grabbed my roommate’s cheapie mat. I moved the coffee table into the hallway and shut my cat into my bedroom.

photo (21)Once I begin to practice, I remember where yoga has taken me. As a friend of mine likes to say, yoga is a vessel through which we change ourselves. Through the work I have done in yoga – mentally, spiritually, and yes, physically – I have found acceptance and even gratitude for my body.

The numbers on the scale are unneccesary. Your level of flexibility is unneccesary. The brand of workout wear is unneccesary. Even a real space to practice is practically unneccesary.

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The only neccesity is the willingness and openness to someday soon realize that you

(yes, you)

are truly, truly remarkable.

In awe of you – yes, you,

yogini and the city

on mirrors and mothers

I strongly dislike mirrors.

This is probably because I grew up in ballet, staring at my imperfect reflection and spotting my own face in pirrouettes for hours every day. When I’m practicing yoga, I want to be in my body rather than experiencing it from the outside. I’d rather feel Warrior II than try to make the shape of Warrior II in the mirror. To me, yoga is less about making your body contort into a certain pose and more about making the pose work for you.

Not everyone shares my distaste for mirrors. While home for a wedding last week, I took a class at the beautiful Metta Yoga in Phoenix. I spent the first half of class like the kid who doesn’t want to be called on, avoiding eye contact (with myself) so that maybe I wouldn’t be noticed.

You can’t avoid eye contact forever though, and eventually I started to pay attention to my postures in reflection. Right hip, too high. Left ankle unsupported. Ribs in, ribs in, RIBS IN. Eagle is more balanced than I expected. Chair looks deeper than it feels. Sometimes my body still surprises me.

But not everything is obvious in the mirror. Just because my pose looks like the poster doesn’t mean it maintains the same integrity; I can be in a super-looking Parsvakonasana that hurts my hip like hell. A mirror can never tell me what I really need to know in a three-dimensional way. And there is so much I could never, ever see in reflection.

These are the things I think about in Phoenix – mirror images. My darling nephew has my sister’s eyes, and my sister has our mother’s eyes. Like when you face one mirror towards another and it just goes on forever.

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mom and I, 2005

I don’t really look like my mom, as evidenced above. I have her shape, and the same straight hair, but mostly I resemble my dad (this is also not to say that I don’t love my father dearly, too, but that post is for another day).

Instead, I inherited my mother’s love for books and fresh flowers, her love of chocolate and berries and citrus and baking. I hold babies in the same sure way, and I swear (loudly) when I get lost while driving. When I read storybooks aloud, I hear my mother’s voice, as she read them to me; I have inherited my mother’s intonation.

If I am ever so lucky though, I have inherited her goodness. If I am lucky, I have absorbed her compassion, her insistence on doing the right thing – without expectation and certainly without a need for acknowledgement (my mother likes to care for people in secret, so they don’t know who to thank).

with her grandson, 2010

with her grandson, 2010

I hope, I hope, I hope I grow to become just like my mother. I hope I remember to make chocolate chip cookies after every audition – so that there is a celebration for a job well done or a good try, either way. I hope I remember to buy a ticket to every show (not just the opening night) and sit through every single performance like I’m seeing it for the first time. When I am my mother, I hope I remember to take care of my children but also myself; I hope I remember what a beautiful example that sets. I hope I remember to let my children fail sometimes, but to celebrate their failure with pure maternal optimism.

When I am my mother, I hope I remember to enjoy all of the best little things – wine on the patio, fresh flowers, and a good hike in the mountains. I hope I remember that my partner is my ally. I hope I remember that when I bear the brunt of my daughters’ bad days, it’s not because they love me any less but because they trust in my love completely.

my parents, 2007

my parents, 2007

If I am the absolute luckiest, I will reflect my mother’s love. I will love my children in the same way my mother loves me -

fiercely, surely, confidently, and completely.

If I am lucky, I will always see my mother in my mirror.

In reflection,

yogini and the city

PS In New York, I am lucky to teach both children and their parents. Sometimes I’ll see a mother in class and remark that she makes the same faces as her daughter. I am lucky to see these mirrors. I am luckier to have the opportunity to see some of them together, next weekend, in our Mother and Daughter workshop. Join us if you can!

on impermanence, and failure

The only thing constant is change.

Sometimes your life is going along swimmingly when suddenly, as if someone has swung a baseball bat across your chest, you are knocked flat on your back with the wind knocked out of you. And all you can do is clutch your stomach and gulp for air.

Mindy Kaling gets it

Mindy Kaling gets it

I have felt knocked down these last few days, after being let go from a beloved dance job. In some moments I feel that this is my failure, and in other moments, I feel this failure is someone else’s. In my kinder and more lucid moments I know that it doesn’t really matter either way. When I am at my most gracious, I know that it isn’t really failure at all.

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Pada 2.5 begins “Ignorance is regarding the impermanent as permanent.” My favorite translation (by Reverend Jaganath Carrera) describes it as such:

Though we know that everything in nature changes due to passage of time and the influence of circumstances, we tend to feel that good situations will continue and that painful ones will never end. The boring lecture, the difficult financial times, or the budding romance can all seem as if they will last forever. When we catch ourselves with these thoughts, we know we have slipped into the grasp of ignorance. The impermanence of worldly experiences quietly waits to sting us, often when we least expect it.

To oversimplify: the good stuff feels really good and the bad stuff feels really bad because we depend on things staying the same.

We’re in the muck that is the edge of winter here. When the snow is no longer pretty but just thick city sludge, when another grey day makes you want to slide further underneath the covers, only reemerging for July. The kind of snow that necesitates wellies, that makes the trains run slow, that makes you run a heavy, thudded, rainboot kind of run in order to make it on time.

When I was running my thick heavy rainboot run on Friday, I ran past a very long flowerbed on Bleecker. It was covered in snow but the stems and buds of the crocuses had popped up. Maybe they have been there for some time now, but I think I needed the snow to notice.

Then Saturday morning appeared – snow melted – the kind of sunny, warm, “this might be kind of like spring?” sort of morning that makes you want to go on an adventure. To eat Lemon Ice in Corona, Queens and wander around Louis Armstrong’s house.

Because here is the thing: nothing is permanent. Nothing is forever. Not the weather, not a job, not your body and certainly not that feeling of having the wind knocked out of you.

My tiniest students will grow bigger and taller and wiser and perhaps they will even outgrow me; my prenatal students will deliver, and wrap their arms around their new lives, overwhelmed by how much you can really love another person. Our practices will deepen and change; Down Dog will start to feel a little different every day. We may find ourselves in some crazy bananas Hummingbird Pose – victorious – or we may find ourselves with a goose-egged forehead, defeated.  But we will all march on through March and into real, true Spring.

Life will sting us a little less if we are living in the moment. Our gratitude for life’s greatest moments is deeper when we understand it may be fleeting; our grief is lessened when we know that we won’t always feel this way.

It’s good to remember that crocuses come up in the snow.

In (maybe, hopefully, embracing) change,

yogini and the city

on Valentine’s Day

At the risk of being trite, Pals… let’s do the Valentine’s Day thing, shall we?

I’m for sure teaching heart openers in class this week, because I am totally that yoga instructor.

I’m all for the cheesy, give-your-pals red lollipops kind of Valentine’s Day. I’m all for mushy cards and I am definitely, definitely all for delicious chocolate things. I am decidedly NOT for spending money, so tomorrow I’m simply making dinner with my guy.

I am lucky enough to be falling into something lately, something I recognize is special and few and far-between. I am lucky enough to find myself in those early stages of gooey-ness, and lucky enough to be making googly eyes and swoony faces at a very handsome man across the table.

At the risk of jinxing the whole thing, I will say that this man is different from anyone else I have dated. He is genuine and honest, he is funny and warm, he is unfailingly kind to those around him (a moral compass!) and he is always, always present. On days when I get jangled up about my life, he is constant, steady and grounded.

I try not to over think this part of my life (I spent too many hours on that in college) but I am very aware that something special is working with this person, and it’s not just because he is different. I am different, too.

swooning makes everything sunshiny

swooning makes everything sunshiny

In the three years prior to this (in which I went on a lot – A LOT – of terrible dates) I did a fair amount of self-reflection. Meditation is a frightening place to go after any break-up (yeuughhh, the self-loathing), but I’m grateful to my entire yoga practice and how it prepared me for this new relationship.

Lessons Learned?

-‘Aversion is ignorance.’ Years ago, I read this in Carrera’s Inside the Yoga Sutras the week my first boyfriend told me he probably wouldn’t ever love me (the morning after Valentine’s Day, to boot). Even after hearing that the feeling would never be mutual, I told myself “but it’s still so nice when we’re together.” Minus one for feminism until I read the Sutras – I highlighted that passage on aversion and re-scribbled it in the margins. Avoiding something – or someone – does not make the problem go away. The ability to broach a topic and have a rational discussion about it has been one of my best discoveries in adulthood.

-Ahimsa. Compassion and non-harming seem pretty obvious when we’re talking about relationships, but it took me a very long time to realize that compassion needs to be balanced; compassion for your partner should probably be in balance with compassion for yourself. I spent a very long time taking the blame for every little thing, every small event, if I felt it hadn’t gone perfectly. Putting someone else’s needs above my own, making sure my significant other was ‘right’ – 100% of the time – left me feeling wiped out and massively judgemental of myself. When you’re not kind to yourself, how can you ask someone else to be?

-Validation. This one goes hand in hand with compassion. I no longer need to search for validation from a partner, because through yoga I have found assuredness. I don’t need to go searching or fishing for someone else to tell me about my value, because I already know that my existence is valid. While it’s nice to hear someone tell me I’m beautiful, I don’t need to hear it the way I once did. It took a long time to not define myself by my relationship to another person – and that self-reliance feels really, really good (especially in a new partnership).

Yoga helps us find and become our truest selves, and when we are our truest selves, we can more genuinely and most truthfully connect with others.

I am lucky to be falling into something special with someone so wonderful. I am grateful for his support when I am feeling down, and I am grateful for his unwavering attention when I am yammering on. I am lucky that this man treats me and values me as his equal – but I am luckier because at this point in my life, I am aware of our parity.

I am also grateful this man tried yoga for the first time last week.

After all – if you are dating a Yogini – it’s kind of part of the package.

How has yoga helped your relationships, romantic and otherwise?

Swooning,

yogini and the city

Fresh Starts/Return to Saucha

I’ve been thinking about fresh starts lately.

By lately, I mean the last 48 hours, during which I have been just barely surviving the stomach flu. There is truly nothing like being purged of everything within you to think about new beginnings. If I can peel myself out of this bed tomorrow, I will be doing all kinds of restarting: disinfecting the house, doing laundry, and maybe making simple soup.

my cat was not particularly helpful in this whole stomach flu thing

my cat was not particularly helpful in this whole stomach flu thing

January is a return to saucha (cleanliness/purity) for many of us. Last year’s Sugar-Free Yogini went so well that I’ve done it again this year (although I’m pretty sure this Gatorade has sugar in it, and I’m also pretty sure I don’t care at this point).

I’m hearing from many of you resolutions of cleanliness in all kinds of ways: cleaner language, cleaner eating, cleaner breathing, cleaner homes. There are so many ways to manifest saucha in our lives, and in many ways it’s easier to begin with the external.

But what if we started this year with an internal focus on cleanliness? I’m not talking about the stomach flu, or any diet at all. What if we started this year focused on cleaning out all the stuff that takes up space in our head?

All of the unnecessary, unhelpful crap that jams itself in-between the important stuff and eventually takes over. What could you do in your practice if you didn’t have a little voice telling you something was impossible? How much more productive could you be if you let go of the nagging voice that repeats your to-do list incessantly? How much more compassionate could you be – with yourself and others – if you were able to let go of judgement?

When I feel overwhelmed by nagging thoughts – when I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about things I have to do – I first focus on my breath. Deepening our exhale helps us drop our blood pressure and prepares us to be more restful. And then in the morning, I do headstand. As hokey-pokey-weird as it sounds, I like to imagine in headstand all of the unnecessary thoughts spilling out, as if I am pouring out the unhelpful.

How might you clean out your mind this month? What do you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list?

in resolution,

yogini and the city