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.

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.


On Being Asked to Write the Focus of the Month

As of this month, Yoga Shanti has opened up the writing of the focus of the month our students as well as our teachers. Margie Bono is one of our regulars at the Sag Harbor studio.

Thoughts of anxiety and trepidation, reminiscent of school day assignments, began filtering into my periphery. You know, the psycho-babble that takes over at the slightest hesitation. The moment you think you’re safe, calm, tucked into the dreamiest shavasana ever—boom, one tiny seemingly insignificant thought sets the overthinking mess of my mind in motion. And then I thought, I can do this! Sure, I’ll try to put some comprehensive thoughts down on paper—I do love to share…

I take every day on the mat as if it were my first. There’s no other way to look at it! No expectations, no disappointments. I am trying to weave this mantra into a basic approach on life… needless to say, some days are better than others!

Yoga Shanti offers so much more than a yoga practice. I truly believe there is a special presence in the studio, elements that go beyond the boundaries of the mat. The people—teachers and students—seem to mesh in an unusual dialogue of mind, body and spirit. I have begun to understand the art of patience, that transitions are so very important, that breath alone can change everything, that we are all connected…

Maybe I’m making this up, but there seems to be an understanding that it’s ok to be who you are when you walk into the studio—whatever that might be, on any given day. As long as you practice within the designated lines, almost all can be forgiven!

The morning mat chat is not to be missed… wars have been stopped (and started), world peace resolved but, most importantly, friendships forged. What happens when you put a group of people from varying backgrounds (philosophical, emotional, physical) in a room on any given weekend, practicing mat to mat with 70 of your nearest and dearest fellow yogis? Magic!!

I am honored to be a part of this special space, artfully carved into the Sag Harbor community, which in and of itself reflects and respects our individuality.

Thank you for taking the time to read this… now it’s time to take another breath…


#nothingisordinary: A Love Letter to Asana

#nothingisordinary: I’ve been using this hashtag a lot lately in my Instagram account. I like it because it speaks to a central experience of awareness: every living thing is absolutely unique. There is not and never can be a single exception to this rule: the sparrow that pecks at my bird feeder is as non-repeatable as the chihuahua sleeping by my feet or the tree I photographed yesterday. I would know my daughter by the shape of her left ear. Everything in nature (prakriti) is as non-replicable and non-replaceable as you are; no more and certainly no less. Nature has made a heavy investment in your uniqueness: millions of years of evolution have come together to form the nexus of miraculous wonder that is you, and your beautifully particular constellation will never grace the world again.

Yet it’s so easy to forget this in our everyday life. We become fond of our opinions and viewpoints. We get ensnared in dualistic thinking: we want to be right, so we assert our ideas, argue about them and squander our energy trying to get others to agree with us. So much human discourse is about defending our territory! We tend to forget that these territorial boundaries are all part of a self-made and illusory map, all samsara. And, ultimately, they make us small.

I love asana because it invites us into a space where dualistic boundaries fall away and we enter the paradox of the non-dual. In asana practice, we get to be both the observer and the observed, the field and the knower of the field (purusha), the hawk gliding through the sky and the sky itself, the breather and that which is being breathed. As we pin our attention with loving detail to the living form we inhabit, we learn to expand into the wider miracle of our being. That miracle resides in the movement of our muscles, the pull of apana in the bones and the rise of prana in our breath-stream, but it doesn’t end there. The concentration we bring to the body in every moment of asana flips our experience of it inside out until we can no longer say just where it/we begin and end.

For me, this is the greatest of the many gifts offered by asana practice. I get to step outside my small, constrained, self-protective self and sometimes glimpse, for the briefest of moments, the boundless Self that merges with all existence.

If we’re paying attention, we might even get to “touch life as it is arising” and see the whole of our being for the unified, fluid, co-existent miracle that it is.  (Rodney Yee: Yoga the Gift of Life.)

So each time you get on your mat, you’re knocking on the door to the miraculous. #nothingisordinary about that.

I love you, asana ❤️

Practice on.


Attitude of Gratitude

If you had told me a year ago that I would be writing the Focus of the Month for the Yoga Shanti newsletter, my response would have been, “Get outta town!”  Yet, here I am, doing just that. No, I cannot quote yoga sutras and give you words of wisdom, but I will share some of the experiences and discoveries I’ve had since I’ve come to Yoga Shanti.

Back in April, I came on board as the new manager of the Sag Harbor studio. I had no prior experience running a yoga studio, but I’ve had plenty of other business experience over the years working in finance and running restaurant kitchens. I thought “How difficult could it be?”

Surprise!  In my first week alone, I was reduced to tears. I was bamboozled with trying to memorize a zillion student names, learning a new computer system, dealing with MindBody and customer accounts, finding last-minute substitute teachers, responding to a barrage of emails, dealing with emergency locksmiths, purchasing props, cleaning blankets, editing the newsletter, doing the bookkeeping and so on. A hundred times a day I asked myself, “What the heck did I get myself into?”  A former Yoga Shanti manager, upon hearing my plight, informed me, “Theresa, this is not a job. It’s a lifestyle!”  Boy, how right she was!

Amidst the maelstrom, I had one anchor in the sea of insanity at work each day and that was the chance to jump into yoga classes. It was delicious to have 60 or 90 minutes to “zone out” and not have to think at all. Tentatively, I started to take classes as if I was gingerly sticking my toe in to test the waters. Yoga wasn’t totally new to me but I hadn’t regularly practiced in almost 25 years. I used to frequent a little studio on Staten Island at the edge of New York Harbor where I could lay in savasana and hear the ferry fog horns and the clanging of the buoys. The passage of time, however, was none too kind to me, physically-speaking, with  the jelly rolls, the stiff and creaky bones and the loss of flexibility. Most of all, I had completely lost my ability to balance which, I believed, was merely a reflection of my mental state. My mind could not be stilled, it could not focus. It just raced from one thing to another and, try as I might, I couldn’t lasso it in.

While at the studio, I came to know the many students who religiously came to class each day, despite busy schedules, inclement weather, sickness, physical injuries and personal obligations. Some students even came twice a day. I watched the beginners’ club members, so dedicated and enthusiastic, and the 8:00 am crew who you could count on to show up like the rising of the sun. Don’t even get me started on all the wonderful teachers. I would try their different classes like I was sampling a smorgasbord. I gleaned a precious morsel from each one of them.

In retrospect, six months and 100 yoga classes later, I notice a gradual change, a shift. Physically, I feel like I’ve grown two inches taller. I find space in my body where there was none before, as well as increased strength and flexibility. Don’t get me wrong, I still have far to go. Tree pose is daunting and I fall out of it every time. I can’t do a chaturanga to save my life. But that’s ok. I just keep plugging at it. One day, it may come. If it doesn’t, that’s ok, too.

With that attitude, I note, more importantly, a shifting in my mind –  an acceptance of things as they are right here, right now. There is the beginning of a mindfulness, a new-found patience, an appreciation of every little thing –  even if it’s something as mundane as folding the studio blankets or, for that matter, something as basic as drawing breath. It’s amazes me how, for years, I’ve only breathed “from the neck up”, never taking the time to actually inhale deeply and exhale with satisfaction. At times, I confess, I’ve even caught myself with a peaceful and quiet mind –not racing around like it usually does. I can relish silence rather than be fearful of it. Has yoga taught me all that?  I don’t know…perhaps…or perhaps it’s just that yoga puts you in that mental state where you can be open to all things. It’s amazing how many times people have crossed my desk saying “Yoga has changed my life.”  Now, I can believe it! This is just the tip of the iceberg. Who knows the lifetime of lessons yoga can bring?

One of my favorite parts of class is when a teacher says, “Take time now to dedicate your practice.”  Wow!  What a beautiful thought!  To think that we can give something back for all the good we receive. Whether you believe in the power of prayer or of raising your mind and heart to a higher consciousness or of just sending good energy out into a world so desperately in need of it, I’m gladdened by the notion that, by dedicating your practice, you can bring somebody or something some good.

So, this Thanksgiving, at the risk of sounding sentimental, I will have an attitude of gratitude. I am very grateful for my beautiful daughter, Lucia; my family; my home; my job; my bosses; my chance to practice yoga – for all the blessings in my life. Also, I am grateful to you all – you students and teachers who continue to inspire and encourage me each and every day. This Thanksgiving, I dedicate my practice to you.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families!



Openness/Overcoming Fear

I recently encouraged a student to try an arm balance. She was hesitant. When I asked her why, she said, “I’m afraid to try it.” The posture—visvamitrasana—requires stability and openness, and is complex in the type of preparation that is required for even the most advanced practitioner. The student told me, “I am flexible but not very strong.” She had become so attached to these labels of herself that she was limiting her practice. Clinging had created a boundary of fear.

At Yoga Shanti, we are encouraged to practice and teach the concept of any amount, which means listening to one’s body without pushing or forcing ourselves into something. But there is an important distinction between the boundaries that we set out of mindfulness and the boundaries that we set out of clinging to our fears. Sometimes rules are meant to be broken. Sometimes we need to test the ideas that we have about ourselves in order to flex our fearlessness muscles. This is what it means to be truly open. As the brilliant Pema Chodron has written, “Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well.”

The cool thing about working with students repeatedly is that eventually I will have observed their practices long enough to recognize their blind spots, allowing me to serve as a mirror. I am not telling them what I think their blind spots are but, rather, holding space for them to test theories, take risks or try something new. Often times, this means I need to physically assist them. A sense of humor also helps. Most importantly, the encouragement needs to come from a place of warmth and care. Through repeated practices together, there is the potential to build a relationship of trust, and that’s when the real magic happens in a yoga class.

The student eventually did attempt visvamitrasana, albeit a modified version. When I asked her how she felt afterward, she looked at me, smiled and replied, “I feel great!”

Yoga doesn’t always have to be serious. It can be playful. You can break rules. When we allow ourselves to face our fears on the mat, we are strengthening our courage in our everyday lives. The result could be more openness, confidence and compassion for those around us who push our buttons, because we are better able to recognize our own fears in their behavior. The secret is to keep showing up and, hopefully, get to know your teachers and fellow students.

Yoga Shanti Tribeca is officially open. Come play with us. Our space is small but our community is warm, and I feel blessed knowing I am surrounded by teachers who lead with incredible knowledge and grace.

In peace,

Start Now

For the most part, I love my life. Sure, I go back and forth on what could have been or what might be. But incessant worrying about past decisions can lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression, and excess worry about the future can cause havoc. Psychologists have shown that indecision causes anxiety which can lead to depression.

Science tells us that if one’s basic needs—food, water, clothing, shelter, and companionship—are met, then contentment, as evidenced by brain activity, is present. Anything extra, they say, doesn’t increase happiness (that is, the brain activity doesn’t change much). The search for happiness/contentment is ancient.

For me, though, a morning sit of 10 minutes and a bit of asana have a profound effect on my day. Time spent in nature looking at beauty and listening to ambient sounds is also therapeutic. I also love to ask myself the questions “What am I passionate about? What do I like to do? Am I doing it?”  No rush, but a few adjustments may need to be made.

The bottom line is, if we practice something that prevents us from obsessing over the “what ifs,” then we’ll get better at it. We get good at what we practice. How many times do we need to hear this?! Roshi Joan Halifax says, “Now is the time. Appreciate your life.” Even if you didn’t one minute ago, now is the time. (She adds that being kind and helping others in some sweet way is part of a surefire way to be happy.)

Life is so short. We have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) because we think something else may make us happy. But missing out on what is right in front of us is actually a shortcut to discontent. If we are loved and give love, if we work hard and have fun, then whatever it is that we have chosen is the perfect thing to be doing.

Here’s a recipe for contentment:

  1. Practice asana without judgement and force.
  2. Sit for a set time each day, and just listen and feel.
  3. Become familiar with the yamas and niyamas.
  4. Do good work.
  5. Help others.

This recipe yields space that has been log-jammed by physical or mental agitation, including agitation caused by worrying about the past or the future. It also reveals the answers to the questions “Am I happy?” “How did I get here?” and “What choice should I make?”

I try to live by the words of Nkosi Johnson, an activist from South Africa who was born HIV positive and died at age 12, “Do all you can with what you have, in the time you have, in the place you are.”

The Gift of Surrender

In June, I signed on to do a 10-day yoga retreat in Ladakh, India, led by Nikki Costello. This was to be my very first retreat, and the days leading up to it were fraught: I hadn’t been away from my three daughters for more than a couple of nights since they were born, and now I was about to jump on a plane, cross a few times zones, and park myself on a mountaintop in the Himalayas.

I wanted to back out.

About a week before I was set to leave, I was working at the front desk at Yogi Shanti, thoughts swirling around my head, when Nikki appeared. My reaction? CRY. Nikki said, “Yes, this is big. Your feelings are valid. I’ll be there for you when your plane lands in India.” So I breathed again, trusting.

I know it takes an act of God to change the course of your life. Sometimes these acts are baby steps, and other times they’re grand gestures. India for me was that grand gesture.

Fifteen hours after taking off, our plane landed in Delhi and my heart cracked open. We spent three days in that city, which was a good transition for me. I had cell service to talk to my husband and daughters, great food, Balinese massage, and a king-size bed—all the comforts.

BUT. The night before our 6am flight to Ladakh, the “I cannot do this” set back in. It was as if I were standing in a line I couldn’t get out of. Nor did I want to: I want to cultivate individuality in my lifetime. I want to be authentic. But spiritual growth, for me, is scary most of the time. I can’t determine if it’s pain-filled joy or joy-filled pain.

Ladakh is 12,000 feet above sea level, and it takes several days to acclimate. In the first 24 hours of this retreat, I cried, laughed, panicked, and prayed. But I was there, and I was in it a hundred percent.

When I woke up each day after that, my heart was filled with gratitude. I’d look out my window at the clear view of a monastery built on the side of the mountain. I’d hear the engine of the local school bus start up outside. (The bus driver lived with his family behind my building). The majestic mountains surrounded me as I walked to the temple for morning puja with the monks. Their chanting pulsated my heart. The novice children in the monastary pouring tea, banging the drums, looking up at their elders, rebirthed me. That sacred place welcomed me fully.

I surrendered, and felt free. I had nothing to hide. Those mountains could handle and protect me even in the darkest of nights. It was magical and amazing. Each day was filled with community, asana, and refuge.

As we neared the end of our time together, we were told that a rare meeting with His Holiness the Dali Lama was organized for our group. When His Holiness spoke with us, his first words were, “We are all the same.”

I’m sure I’ll be unpacking this experience for many days, weeks, months, and years. But I leave you with this, from His Holiness: “We are visitors on this planet. We are here for 90 or 100 years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something useful with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true meaning of life.”

Align, Flow, and Inquire

Yoga Shanti’s aim is “to offer the perfect combination of alignment, flow, and Inquiry.” In the spirit of inquiry, I often find myself reconsidering what this phrase means.

I can best speak to “flow.” For me, a good flow class is poetry. It’s as enjoyable as reading Shakespeare or Keats. It’s the rhythm, the timing, the repetition, the musicality, and the humanity that brings enjoyment.

This analogy occurred to me the other night after reading Dr. Seuss to my little guy. If my son stops and says, “Why?” after every line in The Sneeches, he misses out on the humor and joy of the story. Yet if he never asks, then he may miss out on the deeper meanings of prejudice that the tale is really about. So both his inquiry and his ability to sit back and go with the flow of the story are important to his overall development in the arts of language and humanity.

Likewise, if you go to see a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you may not understand every quip, but you go with the flow, and the story reveals itself to you. The mysterious parts you don’t entirely understand intrigue you, as you are carried along by the rhythm and rhyme of the story. What puzzles you makes you think. The more it puzzles you, the more curious you become, and the more you may begin to wonder, “But, why? But, how?”

So you dig deeper. You pick up the play to read. You find an essay about iambic pentameter. You take a course. You study with teachers and other students who are unpacking the play. In other words, you dive into the alignment, the bones, the anatomy of the play.

But, you don’t stop going to the performances. No! Now you can enjoy them even more. After slowing the passages down and consulting the OED, you go to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the park, and you follow along more fluidly. Now the subtleties speak directly to you.

This is all to say that I believe alignment and flow go hand-in-hand. To be growing, evolving, healing, learning, and caring, we must pause, ask why, dig deeper, seek, inquire, align our minds with knowledge and our bodies with our minds, and then keep flowing with the tremendous river that is life.

What I’ve realized is that offering “the perfect combination of alignment, flow, and inquiry” can be a group effort, led by all of our teachers collectively. In this way, the burden doesn’t fall on any one teacher to strike this perfect combination for their students in every class. The students who tap into the breadth of our offerings are really enjoying and benefiting from the various ways of wrestling with the mysteries of life and unlocking the rubik’s cube that is yoga.