Hopeful Notes and Music for the End Times

In these turbulent times, I’ve found refuge on my yoga mat, and I’ve found real joy in listening to music, making daily space for deep listening sessions to soothe my troubled soul. I hope you all have been doing the same because it’s incredibly helpful. One artist whose music I’ve played a lot lately is the visionary Alice Coltrane, especially her beautiful piece entitled “Turiya and Ramakrishna” — Turiya being the 4th state of consciousness beyond time, thought, love and will, the superconscious which is indescribable, the one true, pure self. Such expansive, gorgeous, blue sky ideas… I hope you can give this music a deep listen as I have, not only because it’s so appropriate to the times, but you might enjoy it. In the spirit of Alice Coltrane and her gorgeous music, I’ve entitled my dharma talk:

Hopeful Notes and Music for the End Times

“Helped are those who love the entire cosmos rather than their own tiny country, city or farm, for to them will be shown the unbroken web of life and the meaning of infinity.” — Alice Walker

“We are caught in an inseparable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” — Martin Luther King

Truer words could not have been spoken by our beloved freedom fighter and novelist respectively, words that clearly illustrate something I’ve grappled with lately, and perhaps you have too: the collapse of the space between the personal and the collective as we confront together the epic tsunami of current events. We are living through extraordinary times, one might even say radical times, the word radical, here, perfectly defined for us by activist Angela Davis as meaning simply “grasping things at the root.” As yogis we can relate to this idea of the root, and the transformation that is possible from harnessing our ground. She goes on to urgently say, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” I have thought of this call to action often when for the past 90 days, a rapid succession of interlocking catastrophic global and national events has held us captive and sheltered in place. And like so many of you, I too have been gripped by reactions of disbelief, denial, terror, anger, horror, sadness and utter despair. Where was my blue sky, I wondered? Had you told me in February that we would soon be in the throes of a ferocious pandemic that is disproportionately killing people of color—my heartbreak, shutdowns/lockdowns/and social distance, a great recession where 1 in 6 black Americans is out of work, a destabilizing crisis in leadership, multiple murderous lynchings of innocent black people in plain sight, a great and diverse outpouring of public rage and pain on our streets and a fervent demand for justice and reform of the tenacious racial inequities that permeate every single aspect of our lived experiences in America, if you had told me in February that all these things would come to pass by spring, I would not have believed you. How could I? The streets are echoing the sentiments of Ms. Davis when she says: “In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” Never in my lifetime have I witnessed such a great reckoning unfolding before us here today. I never thought I would see the day…

“Neither love nor terror makes one blind; indifference makes one blind.” — James Baldwin

“Our lives begin to end the day that we become silent about things that matter. ” — MLK

“Your silence will not protect you.” — Audre Lorde

We have all learned in our studies that yoga means UNION, a linking of the the individual consciousness to the universal consciousness. We have learned that traditional yoga seeks a state of tranquil withdrawal from the world, a non-attachment, a letting go of the fruits of our actions. I hope you will join me along with the growing chorus of voices that also insist that in today’s world, it is also entirely possible and even preferable to cultivate the fundamental tenets of yoga, that is: serenity, non-judgement, peace of mind, while also being of and in the world, while also being of service to the world. Not just by the yoga that we practice on our mats, but by the yoga that we embody in our experiences, the yogic values that we embody in our lives: compassion, freedom, equanimity, a release from suffering, from illusion, from the fluctuations of the mind, spaciousness. Author and yoga teacher Roseanne Harvey says that there is “no fundamental disconnect between the deeper roots of meditative yoga and political involvement. On the contrary: the focus on compassion, truth and justice is essential for the practice to remain relevant.”

Just yesterday Rodney Yee taught us a master class on some of these related principles: He urged us to organize our bodies on the mat to be centered; to efficiently align our skeletal structure with our breath to harness our personal power; to practice asana to feel our bodies; to augment the peace within ourselves; to extend these actions from the internal to the external, from the individual to the collective, to reach for connectivity. To self. To cosmos. To community. Yoga is connectivity he told us. Organize. Center. Align. Augment. Feel. See. Listen. Connect. In her teachings, Angela Davis says, “It is in collectives that we find the reserves of hope and optimism.” And Martin Luther King asks of us this fundamental thing; “Life’s most persistent question is: what are you doing for others?” We have power on our mats and in the world. We have influence. We have tools. We have voice. Our calling as yogis, as humans, is to share these skills and empower others too. Yoga is an agent of change, not just of the individual, but of the universal within us and the collective without. Sanskrit scholar Manorama teaches us that the pulse of our heartbeat is the pulsation of the entire world.

I’d like to share a beautiful poem with you by Audre Lorde:

When I dare to be powerful, to use my
Strength in the service
of my vision, then it
becomes less and less
important whether I am

I invite you all to not be afraid, to use your strength in the service of your vision, to be an agent of positive change in America today.

Let us gather our hands in prayer in front of our hearts and let us close by contemplating the music of the spheres, the sound of the heavens within us, OM.

Lead us from untruth to truth.
Lead us from darkness to light.
Lead us from death to immortality.

Blue skies, at last.


Cherish Yoga

Cherish, more than a word.

I cherish my existence on this planet and the life that this universe has bestowed upon me.

This wasn’t always my mantra.

In 2005, Susan, my wife, coaxed me into my first yoga class as a means for achieving some physical activity on a rain-soaked summer weekend in Sag Harbor having just blown my NYC marathon training with an injury. Ten rain-soaked vacation days later, I had completed an 18-hour self-created yoga immersion and felt renewed as I re-entered the everyday rat race of my then life. I felt great for about seventy-two hours until my back muscles went into spasm and I had nerve pain running down both arms. I sought refuge at the nearest yoga studio a Google search could find and self-medicated by “biting the hair of the downward dog that bit me”. A lesson to be learned, new muscles need to be properly trained.

The brain is a muscle too.

Over the ensuing years, I continued with my yoga journey and regular practice, referring to a need to take a class as “my time to get out of my head”. Whether the yoga class or instructor was steeped in Iyengar, Hatha, Ashtanga or a mixture of them all, my focus remained centered on exercising my brain to accept who and where I am from the perspective of life’s cosmic journey from birth to death.  Each class becomes a metaphor for dealing with the daily struggles in life. Crowded studios, distraction of props, physical exertion to fleeting coordination, these are the mental obstacles and hurdles used as challenges to train my mind to find calm and clarity through internal focus. The class itself becomes the meditation, its energy a restorative force.

Perspective results from the pursuit.

My yoga journey has afforded me the necessary tools to see life’s horizon not blurred by the adversity laid bare at times and instead, cherish each sip of breath.

It is with much gratitude that I thank my instructors for their guidance and their studios for providing a home for my mat.

Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu…

Abhyasa, Vairagya My Ass

That was just to get your attention. And it was indeed my intention to write a funny/snarky essay about not being rewarded for my good deeds.

Which I still may do.

I started practicing in 1990 at Crunch (it was a gym) when my knees couldn’t take bench aerobics anymore. The yoga teachers were Sharon Gannon, Cyndi Lee, and a few years later, Dana Flynn. Nobody mentioned abhyasa or vairagya. There was little mention of philosophy. It was a GYM. I went every other day. Then I started going twice a day every other day. But Sharon Gannon passed out a free class card for her studio on 2nd Avenue so I also went to Jivamukti. It was a REAL yoga studio and I was a little intimidated. (I went to kirtan not knowing what it was. It was the first time both my legs fell asleep at the same time.)

It took two years of hopping at the wall to do a handstand. I tell my students who are struggling that eventually boredom will overcome fear. That’s how it was for me. After about three years, I did my first crow pose in Sharon’s class. I actually shouted, “I DID IT!”  Her response? “Well, it’s about time.”  Bummer. So I figured I wasn’t working HARD enough, OFTEN enough, blah blah blah. That may have been true but somebody should have mentioned that vairagya part.

Descartes once said: “Happiness does not consist in acquiring the things we think will make us happy, but in learning to like doing the things we have to do anyway.”

There are many interpretations or translations of Patanjali’s Sutra 1.12-14:

From Barbara Stoller Miller: 1.12- “Cessation of the turnings of thought comes through practice and dispassion.”  1.13- “Practice is the effort to maintain the cessation of thought.”  1.14- “This practice is firmly grounded when it is performed for a long time without interruption and with zeal.”

OK. Thirty years later I have never maintained the cessation of thought. While I am spreading my breath through my spine to the soles of my feet, there is a WHOLE LOT of thinking going on. Sigh.

From Satchidinanda: “Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness.”

Oh, I am earnest. BUT I HAVE A LIFE! What is “well attended”? What is “without break”? What about my wonderful students who can only come to class once a week? They are earnest. They are thoughtful. They show up regularly.

Doesn’t that count? I sure as hell think it does.

From Vimala Thakar: “If you persevere, if you persist, then even when you are working throughout the day the mind will remain steady, because it has learned steadiness.”

I like that one. So maybe I should stop feeling like a fake because I don’t practice four hours a day every day. I am doing the best I can. On the mat. But what about OFF the mat?

I had the interior of the Plum House at Heathen Hill Retreat Center painted recently. I packed everything that could move. I boxed up the dishes and emptied the china hutch. I took down every picture and removed the nails. I took all the ceiling fixtures down. I removed every switch plate and outlet cover. The rugs were rolled up in the bathtubs. Anything I could carry went into the basement. The painters (Chad and Nate. and yes, they did look like they could moonlight at Chippendales) arrived and said NOT A WORD. No, “Hey! This is the best prep job we’ve ever seen. Thanks! We know it was a shit ton of work for you but you made our jobs SO much easier.”  Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Just a perfect smile and a quick twist of a muscled torso before getting to work. I WAS CRUSHED.

Vairagya. I did the work. I did a fine job. It should have been enough.

And yet…

No one needs to applaud my effort on the mat in any pose. I am OK with “retiring” some of the stuff I used to be able to do. Now if I could just take that equanimity off the mat. Apparently 30 years is only the beginning.


Have courage.

An Artist’s Vision of Yoga

Having spent decades in the New York art world, moving my tent to Bridgehampton ten years ago was a lengthy transition. I decided to investigate yoga as an exercise and a way of evolving and changing my life.  Yoga Shanti felt like home as soon as I reached the reception desk. The quality of the classes caught my attention. I found the teachers to be extremely skilled and quite diverse, presenting precise and exacting anatomical sequencing, appropriate balance and timing, along with restorative yoga even with a touch of shamanic innuendo tossed into the mix. These very different visionary and personal approaches have a connective thread with their own feel and gravity connecting with their individual experience and history.

My abstract paintings are about pure color overlaid with forms that are pulled from my own made-up alphabet incorporating a sense of play. There is no reference to the human figure, nature or landscape.  More about emotion and looking than anything else. The art and beauty manifested in the asanas subtly pushes the yamas and niyamas (speaking truthfully, experiencing spiritual exploration, espousing pure details, being generous…) forward into the practice and sets a tone of well-being.

A special form of comradery surfaced through new-found friendships and acquaintances with writers, real estate brokers, models, chefs and other artists and local business owners. A sense of being together becomes part of the equation along with a combustible sense of humor and, for me, the expectation of surprise on this small piece of land surrounded by water. The whole experience is an overdose of beauty. To completely close out the outside world with savasana and collect one’s thoughts of the day is to me one of life’s greatest luxuries. This exquisite calm at the end of class is unmatched in feeling and a long-lasting gift to oneself. Our role is piecing this masterpiece together as it continues to form and reinvent itself over the length and shape of one’s practice.

Grateful to Rodney and Colleen for their more than brilliant leadership, tireless dedication to yoga and their own brand of special magic.

May the New Year shine through the universe as your best and brightest one yet.


Over coffee, a friend recently put it to me quite clearly:  “Holidays are all about family!”

So it has always been in my house. The Holiday Season was a magical time of year of which I have so many fond memories…watching Rudolph and the Grinch on TV, sneaking around with my cousins to find the hidden Christmas presents, lying beneath the Christmas tree gazing at the nativity, the ornaments, the twinkling lights and listening to Dad’s record of Perry Como’s Christmas carols. My Mom made sure the house was cleaned spic and span, all cozy for winter, ready for company and smelling of bay candle, sugar, spice and everything nice.

Sometimes my Dad would regale us with tales of his childhood Christmases. A child of the Depression, he received oranges and walnuts in his Christmas stocking. (My brother, sister and I were horrified at the thought.)  There was no money for Christmas decorations, so my grandmother put a statue of a pizzaman under the Christmas tree. You know the classic “pizzaman” found in the windows of old-school pizzerias, dressed in his white apron and chef hat, big mustache, holding a pizza high in the air. Because of this, my father, as a boy, believed that the pizzaman was Santa Claus.

Christmas Eve Dinner was the height of the festivities when all the family would gather together. Preparations were made in advance as my Mom and aunts congregated to cook for the “Feast of the Seven Fishes.”  It was as much a social gathering as a time to get work done. All the while, they would banter, laugh, and argue about things… how long to soak the baccala, who was going to kill the crabs, how spicy to make the scungilli sauce.

When Christmas Eve arrived, you could just feel the excitement. All the folding tables and chairs were set up, the good tablecloths and napkins brought out. No matter how many people came, everyone had a spot at the table. You knew you had to settle in for the long haul because you’d be at the table for hours as course after course was presented. And even when the last course was served, everyone would still linger for more talk, more laughter, sometimes even a spontaneous burst into song. We’d join in singing an old Italian Christmas carol – an homage to the old country – for those who still spoke the language or, at the very least, could remember the words.

As I got older, I began to see that what made the Holidays special was not any gift under the Christmas tree. It was all of us being together – sharing good times. It was family. And, I speak of this not just in terms of my own experience. I know you can all relate – you all have special family memories this time of year – no matter what holiday you celebrate, what beliefs you hold, what your family traditions are. Family is the most important thing. It gives our lives meaning and it is the glue that binds us together.

These days, the Holidays are not the same as they used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I still have wonderful holidays with my family but it’s different.   The family has gotten smaller. There aren’t 25 people around the table. Some relatives have moved away or some are “on-the-outs”. Sadly, others have passed away. No one cares as much to keep with traditions. And, although, I am the preserver of Christmas traditions past, when I prepare the “Feast of the Seven Fishes”, it is not quite the same cooking for the carb-counters and cholesterol-watchers.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, “family” is defined as a group descending from a common ancestor. As the Holidays have changed, so must our definition of family. It has expanded to encompass more than just a blood-relation. A family consists of people who love, support and guide each other. They’re the people you can trust, depend on and can call on anytime anywhere knowing they will be there for you. They are your confidantes and your critics in the best sense of the word. They are the people with whom you share a common interest that unites you.

And so, although my “blood” family has gotten smaller, my family has gotten bigger. There is a family here at Yoga Shanti. And it’s not just because we see each other day-in and day-out and share our yoga practice.  It’s so much more than that. Sitting here at the reception desk, I am a voyeur who gets to really see the yoga family in action. I watch the exchange of laughter and even tears. I see the hug given to buoy up someone going through a rough time, hear the advice given to someone faced with a dilemma, the congratulations wished to a new grandmother, the concerned inquiry about someone who is ill, the consoling words of sorrow at someone’s loss. There’s the ride offered to someone wishing to attend class but has no car or the invitation for everyone to meet after class for coffee. This is more than just community. Yes, it feels like family, is family, and although it can be dysfunctional at times as every family is, it is really quite wonderful to experience. What’s even better is that I get to partake and be a family member, too!. For this, I feel lucky and I thank you for including me!

And so, this Holiday season, I propose a toast:  “Alla Famiglia!” (To Family!)

Together may we have the Happiest, Healthiest and Most Joyous Holiday Season ever!

Intimacy with Fear and Moving Closer to Your Truth: Salutations for the Remover of Obstacles

A significant part of my personal journey in becoming a yoga teacher has stemmed from my intimacy with fear and my desire to move closer to my truth. Since university, I found myself fighting personal fears and obstacles – fighting for respect as a young woman, fighting to “make it” in NYC, fighting to be “successful,” fighting to prove myself professionally, fighting to make a six-figure salary by the time I was 30, fighting to climb the corporate ladder, fighting for credentials and fighting to make a name for myself in my industry.  While essentially achieving these conventional ideals, I was caught in an unhealthy vortex within the NYC hustle. I knew I was not the best version of myself. Yet, I was fearful of what would happen should I break away from these conventional goals.

Over the past two and a half years, I’ve been trying to live more fearlessly, moving closer to my truth. In 2017, I accepted a job offer to build and run a film production company, warning my business partner that I intended to eventually relocate to LA sometime in the future. After 12 years in NYC, it was time for me to move to LA for a lifestyle change. After working at the production company for a few months, I moved to LA while still running the company remotely with my business partner. Taking a step back from the office punctuated my re-evaluation of what is actually important to me in my life and what is the true meaning of “success”. I have come to realize that “success” is achieving happiness and inner peace – which are more valuable than surface-level things such as money and job titles. In December 2018, I handed in my resignation at the film production company, not knowing exactly what I would do to make a living.

Last autumn, I felt the calling to become a yoga teacher and decided to devote my energy to achieving this goal. I completed a 200-hour teacher training at Yoga Shanti this summer and, just recently, taught my first Community Class. While putting together the sequence for my class, I (by no coincidence) came across the chant (and mantra), “Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha,” which translates to “Salutations for the Remover of Obstacles.” I incorporated the chant into my class as it has deeply resonated with me in my personal journey becoming a yoga teacher. While in teacher training and in teaching my first class, I became very intimate with fear – fear of failure, fear of vulnerability and my perfectionist tendencies haunted me. When  giving reasons/excuses as to why I didn’t think I was ready to teach, my YS teachers/mentors responded, “You are never going to be ready”(ha!) and told me that I just needed to dive in and start teaching. So, I did! Achieving that alone felt really GOOD. But, as Rodney says, my work and the journey have just begun!

In Pema Chodron’s book, When Things Fall Apart, she discusses intimacy with fear and how fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth. Pema says that to be fully alive, fully human and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. As a result of my personal intimacy with fear and striving to move closer to my truth, I’ve begun to drop ideals of who I think I ought to be or want to be, or what I think other people think I should be. It’s as if I had amnesia and have now awakened to remember who I really am.  I’m touching the simplicity and goodness of things and realize that, fundamentally, we are not “stuck in the mud.”  I find that certain things in life are not such a big deal as before nor are they as solid as they seemed.  Many of life’s dramas have collapsed. I find that I am not as tense and anxious, living as though my life was spent in a dentist’s chair.  I’m not cheating myself out of the present moment and am more present in my activities and thoughts.

This experience of my opening has begun to benefit myself and others. It’s not just about my individual liberation, but also how it creates a bigger halo effect. I’ve encountered my heart more than ever. Making friends with my demons, who brought insecurity, has led to an understated relaxation and joy. Life feels spacious, like the sea and sky. There’s room to relax and breathe and swim, to swim so far out – I no longer have the reference point of the shore. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and I feel like I’ve LIVED more in the past year than I have in a long time.

So, this November, I hope we can all:

  1. Think about what we are fearful of and aspire to get to know that fear, become familiar with it, look it in the eye as a complete undoing of old ways of seeing, hearing and thinking.
  2. Reflect on any obstacles holding us back from realizing our true selves, our living purpose. Focus on dissolving those obstacles, letting go and creating space for new beginnings.

In Pema’s book, she says the most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves. I’ll be teaching Community Classes at Yoga Shanti in November and would be honored for any readers to share their practice with me and help me learn and grow as a teacher. I’m forever grateful for the education, inspiration, mentorship and support from the YS family. Admittedly, I aspire to be any iteration of Colleen someday (ha!). 🙂

Life After Deaths

Remember those kids’ bounce-back inflatable toys—the ones you hit, they go down, then magically pop back up again, unscathed and poised for the next round?  In one, Bozo the Clown’s inane smile remains unflappable and unflinching, in spite of blow-after-blow.

Not so, me.

The first hit came when my father died unexpectedly. He’d been my champion, best buddy and teacher of all things:  how to throw overhand, how to play gin rummy, how to solve for X and most importantly, how to be gracious and generous— to vote for the other guy even if you and she were the only two running.

The second hit came eight months later when my husband died after a noble and epic fight with cancer. Having fled Iraq in his twenties, Sass lived in Iran for several years, then finally made his way to the US, where he saw an ocean and tasted cereal for the first time—both of which became lifelong loves. That’s why we came to the East End some thirty years ago and why, when he was asked what one food he would bring if stranded on a deserted island, it was a no-brainer. Corn Flakes.

The third came some four months later when my mother died. Here we have a more complex and labyrinthian story, the details of which I’m still trying to work out, but it was a devastating blow nevertheless.

The fourth hit? That was the knock-out punch. I was down for the count… and then some.

My daughter, Jess, and I found my only sister and best friend, Andy, dead in her bed. Although the autopsy said it was an overdose, we knew it wasn’t. She’d just chosen a golden retriever puppy from a litter of seven to be her very own. Cooper was the one with the green bow—the playful, goofy one—and we couldn’t wait to pick her up the following Tuesday.

The following Tuesday, however, never came for Andy.

After each hit, I had managed to stand back up, albeit slower and less steadily, but upright nonetheless—though definitely without the idiotic grin. I was strong!  Tough!  Resilient!  I could handle it. And I did—until I couldn’t.

Dark days descended, make that dark years, and I was smothered under heavy clouds of doom. I had no interest in going anywhere or doing anything. I stayed alone, took uppers, prescribed, went back to talk therapy and started EMDR, therapy for PTSD, my diagnosis. Everything helped. A little.

And then I tried yoga.

My first ever yoga class was at Yoga Shanti. Someone I barely knew suggested I might like it. Fat chance, I thought, since I had just told my therapist, “There’s not one thing in the entire world that I want to do: NOT garden, swim, socialize, bike, bake, shop, kayak, run, hike, sing, dance….”  You get the idea.

That first day, I took a beginner class. Of course, I didn’t know a Warrior One from a Down Dog, but there I was, giving it a go. The instructor was soft-spoken, kind and encouraging. I found myself inhaling and exhaling along with everyone else. I stuck my tongue out and sighed Haaaaaah—along with everyone else. I bowed my head in gratitude and dedicated my practice—along with everyone else. I felt a glint of possibility, a glimmer of hope. I figured I could do this again, which I did.

Then again. And again. And again.

For the first year, I sobbed during every savasana.

During the second year, several yogis asked if I’d like to go for coffee.

At the end of the third year, I braved a retreat.

During the next three years, I traveled to India and Montana (two equally exotic places) for yoga immersion, took yoga teacher training and fell in love.

With yoga.

Of course, the hits keep coming—not even love can keep them away. But now, when I find myself face down on the floor, I’m able to pick myself right back up—stronger, wiser and grateful. Yes, grateful. Grateful that I have the opportunity to do it again and again.

Yoga, that is.

And here are just a few things I’ve learned along the way:

Everyone has taken a spill in Tree Pose, and it’s okay. In fact, if we believe what we’ve been told, it shows progress. Thank you, Rodney. Make that tree pose a metaphor for life.

From time to time, everyone breathes in when it’s suggested they breathe out and vice versa.

Not everyone folds the blankets and puts them in the cubby the “right” way. And that’s not okay.

Knees, chest, chin was designed for inch worms.

Natarajasana—Dancer Pose—offers a glimpse into the sublime.

Everyone has a show-stopping yoga party trick—landing on your nose in Crow Pose counts. Regardless of what it is, it will be wildly applauded. Guaranteed.

And most importantly, we are all good enough. Thank you, Colleen.

Into The Light

When I was in the tenth grade, my best friend and I went to the New England Tennis Camp in Groton, Massachusetts. After lessons, we were instructed to select an evening activity:  Pottery, Dance, Creative Writing, Painting or Yoga. YOGA – What was this thing called yoga?  The unknown and mysterious, ever exciting, lured us into its web and we chose Yoga. Outfitted in our Danskin leotards, we giggled continually throughout each class. Why was this lady with the VERY long hair and flowy, flowered dresses telling us to put our bodies in these strange, weird shapes?  (Surya Namaskar A & B). And yet, I went home at the end of camp and persuaded my mom to buy me the paperback, Integral Yoga Hatha, by Sri Swami Satchidananda. This funny little book with black and white photos of people in baggy clothes posing in these odd architectural shapes remained in my library, well-used, long into adulthood. That summer, my long and deep relationship with yoga was born.

Fast forward – October 2014.

I went for my routine gynecologic exam wearing my favorite skinny jeans, my suede and sparkly flats, my most delicious black cashmere crewneck with my breezy blue blazer. Great haircut, highlights holding strong, quintessential me. The start of a very good day. I was happy and calm.

By the end of that day, I was rearranging my schedule for a CAT scan. Nine days later, I was in surgery. I woke up from being debunked:  a hysterectomy, bi-lateral pelvic dissection, insertion of a metal abdominal port, 9” vertical abdominal scar, an appendectomy and my surgeon telling me, “You have Stage 2 Ovarian Cancer. You will be fine. It’s all gone. Next up, prophylactic chemotherapy protocol.”  In my post-op delirium, I asked if I would lose my hair and whether I would still be able to practice my headstand (yes and yes). But the “cantaloupes” (as we renamed cancer) were gone. I was elated.

In honor of my upcoming protocol, I vowed to make a Post-It Wall for each day of my treatment (126 post-its) with a positive affirmation for each day. (You are so much more than your hair. You did it. You are a Princess Warrior. Breathe. You are amazing.)  At the end of each day, I would remove a post-it and see my health be reborn. I am an optimist. I had GOALS!  At the end of week one, I stared at that wall and wondered how on earth a person could be expected to get through the next 119 days and why did I have GOALS.

But I did have my yoga mat.

Over the course of those next four months, I practiced a lot of yoga (most of it in my head) and made more GOALS. (Get to restorative yoga once a week.)  Those days are a blur of physical pain and avoiding mirrors so as not to see myself without “Gigi,” my beloved wig. Medicine through an abdominal port is uncomfortable and punishing. Often, I laid on my heated bathroom floor in a delirium of extraordinary discomfort. Steroids had me crushing the 3 am bedtime. As instructed, I took a drugstore of pain medication and was still delirious with extreme physical pain. Get to Restorative Yoga once a week. And so I did.

Often upon arrival, I was dizzy, other days, nausea sunk me and, on bonus days, I was both dizzy and nauseous. Yet, my mat, my beloved 24” x 68” yoga mat, was always there for me, always available, ever restorative, never judgmental, no matter my mood or condition, always re-energizing some part of me that was in hibernation during treatment. There was not one day that dragging myself from that bathroom floor was a mistake. I always felt reunited to a part of myself that I felt had been kidnapped. The joy of being on my mat reminded me during those months, despite so much that had been taken from me (flat stomach, beautiful long hair, my time…), I was still intact. For 60 minutes and beyond, I was returned to myself, fully back and reconnected to the person I had been for the past 51 years. I distinctly remember getting back on my mat post-surgery at Yoga Shanti in Sag Harbor. My place. My spot. My “temple;” filled with my people, so many of whom are now my most beloved and cherished friends. Each day on my mat, a part of me was resurrected, I was in flow and back into the light.

After I finished those 126 days of brutality (“No sign of disease present.”), yup, I had more GOALS. 30 days of yoga. I was bald and now fighting a severely damaged lymphatic system where my leg was extremely swollen. I woke up each day wondering/screaming, “Who took my leg?”  Those 30 days re-booted my reason for being and set me on a quest to find my purpose.

Fast forward one and a half years – 2016.

The BEAST is back. More chemotherapy (no hair loss!), more chemotherapy, a clinical trial and more chemotherapy (hair loss again, ugh) plus four unforgettable hospital stays. Five years in and I’m still on this path. Life is so very different now:  roller coasters of fear (6-week blood tests), elation (good CAT scans) and every other emotion possible, seeking precious time that often feels stolen from me. I still think about my hair and how phenomenal it is to have it. And yet, my mat, is always my re-entry back into living, not just surviving the brutality of an ongoing Ovarian Cancer protocol. Yoga is my medicine; it awakens the best of me, even as I often observe my abilities/practice diminished from the steroids and massive doses of Napalm-like drugs I have been administered. On my mat, it’s an imperfect/perfect and complex place; world wars against my personal demons have been fought in my head, rooms of my house redesigned, dinner parties planned and arguments resolved. It is a place of great comfort and safety.

The teacher may be within ourselves but I am grateful to my 10th grade yoga teacher for opening my eyes to a world of joy and possibility beyond my imagination, transporting me into the light each time I step on my mat.


Outside to Inside

When I first started my yoga practice with Yoga Shanti in October 2005, I was completely driven by the outside world. I gave you authority over my life. I adjusted what I did or said based on what I thought you wanted. If you needed me or wanted me for some role I acted according to your wishes. I had little sense of myself or my needs.

In fact, the first time I ever heard the words “I need” was when I was 29 up at the University of New Hampshire finishing an aborted college career. I never knew I could say those words. My sense of self and my sense of self-worth were dictated by how your needing me could fill the hole inside me. Being bulimic for 20 years, my mind and body were divorced from each other. My various addictions to people, places and things were also an attempt to fill up what was a cavernous space inside me.

As my yoga practice slowly grew, that mind-set gradually altered. I began to shrink from extending myself outwardly and started to recognize that my anchor lay inside. When I first started my practice, I used my neck and my lower back but had not an ounce of awareness in between. My core was likewise asleep and naturally, as a consequence of over working one or two parts and not utilizing my whole body, I hurt myself.

I cannot say which came first, the shifting of my mental attention and authority from being outwardly directed to being more inwardly driven, or my body becoming stronger and more whole; and maybe it does not matter. The body-mind connection is visceral for me. I certainly feel the consequences of a sustained yoga practice, where I can almost feel my bones and can operate from a sense of self that is new to me. I have taken back authority from outside myself to inside myself.

This is most keenly felt in my pranayama practice where through the breath, it is as though the outer world and my inner world merge. I feel my body disappear, and I am not doing the breathing but am “being breathed” as Richard Rosen would say.

Feeling that wonderful sense of peace that comes from really living in the ‘Now”, as Eckert Tolle would say, I no longer fear anything that might be coming towards me out of the future. There is an ability to be direct and speak my truth, without anxiety about a reaction from others. I am learning to be more compassionate towards myself and others and less judgmental. I might be direct, but I am trying not to be harsh. I have begun to solve the mystery of self and yet conclude that what “the self” actually is, is also a mystery.

Desert Island

A couple of years ago, one of my favorite and most generous yoga teachers, Heidi Fokine, randomly asked which three poses we would take with us if we were stranded on a desert island. I often think about that very question when I can’t fall asleep at night and create simple rhymes, and it sure beats that antiquated counting sheep exercise. There are plenty of poses I love, and even more that I don’t, but these are the three that I eventually decided to choose.

If I was alone on a small desert isle, surrounded by shells and sand,
I’d relieve my depression and loneliness by practicing a long headstand.
If I was alone on a small desert isle, wondering if life was worthwhile,
I’d practice tarasana for hours on end, just to make my frightened self smile.
If I was alone on a small desert isle, so full of worry and woes,
In the water I’d dip my tired limbs, while practicing uplifting triangle pose.

These are mine, what would yours be? Ask yourself this when you’re up during the night, unable to fall back to sleep. In the meantime, happiness and sweet dreams to the yoga community who has changed my life forever.