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!

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.

Forms of Freedom

A while ago, I went to the zendo where I regularly practice meditation and, donning my robes and grabbing a cushion, headed into the meditation hall to sit. Instead of being greeted by the familiar neat rows of cushions and fellow practitioners sitting quietly, everything and everyone was all over the place. Ignoring my puzzled expression, my teacher abruptly instructed me to “Just sit anywhere.” I found an open space and carefully arranged myself on my pillow, settling in. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I was determined to focus and embrace silence and stillness.

As soon as I had found my first few breaths, my peace of mind was interrupted. Instead of the usual melodious bells that indicated it was time for the sangha to rise and join in kinhin—walking meditation—there was a solitary loud wooden “clack.” We all stumbled to our feet, blinking into the fluorescent lights that had not yet been dimmed to set the mood. Still hopeful that order might be restored, I placed my hands in gassho in front of my fragmented heart.

“Just walk anywhere,” my teacher said, and began traipsing around casually. The mindful ballet we perform with each other in perfect lines was at once transformed into a crazy jig. It was like trying to navigate a clear path through Grand Central Station at rush hour with the cacophony of voices in your head providing irritated accompaniment: “Get out of my way, stupid!”

When my teacher said, “OK, you can sit down,” I was not near my spot, and so I had to sit on someone else’s cushion, which was too high, too firm, and too near the fan! I wondered if somehow I was in an episode of Stranger Things, and had slipped into the Upside Down. Then my teacher’s gentle tone resumed: “OK, that’s enough of that. Let’s reset the temple!”

We talked, then, about forms and ritual and their roles and importance in cultivating concentration and transforming practice. Form creates a container inside of which you can let go of anything that is not relevant to practice. The practice itself is illuminated as distractions take a back seat. The distractions are still present—they are all still my teachers—but they potentially lose some definition as the bigger picture comes into view.

Today, when I came into the yoga studio to teach, my students were dutifully lined up in rows, yoga mats cheek by jowl, blankets and blocks neatly stacked alongside. Unceremoniously, I asked everyone to get up and go put their yoga mats somewhere else—maybe behind the column or on top of someone else’s mat or facing the “wrong” way. I said, “Put your props out of reach.”

You know where I’m going, but they didn’t. Some looked confused, some annoyed, some excited.

“OK, sirsanasana,” I said, “or maybe hanumanasana.” Some looked like they might cry. Before anyone could move, I said, “OK, let’s reset the temple!” Svaha!

Krama is a Sanskrit word that denotes a thoughtful sequence of events, or step-by-step process by which we approach each asana, gradually developing knowledge and intimacy with the poses. This approach ultimately leads us to encounter ourselves as whole and connected—we experience the interrelated and evolving nature of the asanas and recognize that we, too, are interrelated and evolving. Paradoxically, it’s our observance of order, of sequence, of ritual, of form, that serves to bring us face-to-face with the formless—with pure possibility. Desikachar describes this awareness as having “no form, no gender, no qualities, no features.” Perhaps this is what moksha, or real freedom, is.

Back on track in class, the students moved through a series of poses preparing for hanumanasana. Now that they did not have to worry about where their mat or props were, or if they could trust their teacher to guide them safely and soundly through the practice, they were able to concentrate and relax: sthirum sukham asanamum! Each one was now held in the secure arms of the structure and sequence, and consequently able to add their own divine flair. One student said afterwards that they better understood how all the parts of yoga related to each other. That it felt good to be organized, and that it helped them pay attention to their practice. I think it also made everyone more sensitive to each other.

As a teacher, I now notice more and more a kind of resistance among many students to what I shall call the way of yoga—the form. It’s all very loosey-goosey, downward-doggy, or whatever flight-of-fancy pose they like, regardless of the teacher’s careful directions. Blocks mostly get used as mini-altars for iPhones, or trays for coffee and green juice.

It used to be a point of pride to fold your blanket nicely at the end of class and store it neatly for the sangha sister or brother who might use it next. It used to be a thing to sit up when the teacher entered the room, and to do the little bow at the conclusion of the practice together. “Namaste,” we’d say, “the light within me honors the light in you.” I wonder, have the lights gone out?

I think not. Krishnamacharya, the father of vinyasa yoga, literally met his students at the gate, and after guiding them through practice, accompanied them back to the gate. It was more than a formality. Like Krishnamacharya, I want to travel with my students barefoot along the path of liberation. I want to be a braver and more compassionate teacher. It is not enough to simply link the poses together. It is also my responsibility to demonstrate the connection between folding my blankets, and offering a blanket to someone who needs it. The way of yoga extends beyond the boundary of the yoga studio’s doors.

On the train home, I witnessed an old man with a cane stand and give his seat to a young girl with a heavy package. He insisted. She smiled and sat down. The ceremony of offering and accepting a seat had a certain formality to it, but seeing this made me feel as free as a bird.

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.


Once upon a time, I went to a party. There were a lot of other yogis in attendance, and after a good amount of apple cider and vegan carrot cake, merriment was at a high point. Someone asked, “What’s the hardest pose?,” and the challenge was on: One by one, the yogis proceeded to demonstrate their definitive answers, showing off really hard stuff — visvamitrasana, vatayasana, and mukta hasta sirsanana. (Look, Ma! No hands!)

Biding my time, I waited until the shenanigans had peaked, and then made my move. Ceremoniously, I lay down, feet a little apart, arms a few inches from my sides with my palms upturned, chin gently regarding my chest, ears equidistant to each other. Within me, I beheld my breath, and let my muscles fall away from my bones. As a finale, I disappeared completely. Well, so to speak. Recognizing a slam-dunk, the enlightened company at once exclaimed, “Savasana! Of course! The hardest pose of them all!” I rest my case.

As I write this, I am in England with my family. Too soon to coin it “recently,” my father passed away on October 11th. Safe to say, he has reached his final rest.

Today I wandered out on the Downs and lay in the grass. I arranged myself as comfortably as I could, including all of the asymmetry in my body, my mind, and my heart. I scanned from head to toe, looking for something other than the natural lop-sidedness of things. I was searching for a sense of evenness, or sama — a Sanskrit word that essentially means “same,” or “equal.” Since everything is marked by impermanence, and moment-to-moment the world spins, what is it that remains the same?

Savasana offers us a glimpse of an unperturbed place — in Rumi’s words, “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing” — where we may subtly perceive the deep mystery of our being. We realize the miracle of our existence — a state of grace, actually. Lying on the earth under the sky, nothing added, nothing taken away. There is no more practice, no one to practice. You have arrived. You are the practice.

Still lying in savasana, I opened my eyes. Just above, a swarm of late-fall fruit flies circled my head, vying with each other for my attention. I pursed my lips and blew a long, reluctant exhale toward them. My breath, becoming one with the wind, dispersed the flies. I had a vision of being dead, and coming back to life.

Savasana, or mrtasana (mrt meaning “death”), also known as “corpse pose,” ultimately presents us with a chance to rehearse for our last curtain call, only without the drama. I think of words by the poet Shi Te, “Not going, not coming, rooted, deep and still.”  This equanimity is savasana.

So savasana has everything to do with preparing us for death, yet it’s equally a powerful prescription for life. The pose promotes relaxation for mind and body, helps to alleviate anxiety, depression, and stress, and cultivates peace and calm, or, at the very least, acceptance. While the pose can help reduce fatigue and insomnia, it has nothing to do with taking a nap or zoning out after an exhilarating asana practice. If you do fall asleep, no need to berate yourself, just try to have an early night. But so you don’t miss the whole show, resolve to roll your mat out again in the morning.

Savasana occurs in that gap between coming and going. Richard Freeman says this gap is where “observed content is released and dropped.” In Buddhist terms, it’s shunyata — the awareness that all things are intrinsically empty. It’s reached when one is not attending to any themes. The paradox is that savasana, for many, is anything but empty; instead it’s filled with a sense of what B.K.S. Iyengar described as “illuminated emancipation, freedom, unalloyed and untainted bliss.” There’s room for it all in savasana.

But what if you aren’t one of the lucky ones who just plop themselves down in savasana and feel instantly at home? Trust me, I know where you’re coming from: I witnessed the catastrophic events of 9/11 firsthand while standing in the WTC Plaza with my infant daughter in a stroller. I was shaken and stirred to my core. But I continued to get on my mat — continued to lean in and take a closer look. For an entire year post-9/11, I practiced savasana with my eyes open. Sometimes I had to just sit up. An unexamined life, it is said, is not worth living.  Sometimes that examination takes place with gritted teeth and blurred vision. Rumi, again: “When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”

Anyway, you begin to see why savasana might be the hardest pose, don’t you? I mean, who in their right mind is going to voluntarily lie down on the ground, belly-up, heart exposed, eyes closed, in a room full of strangers, and hang out with absolutely everything and nothing? The physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual challenge of savasana is immense. As a yoga teacher, watching my students in savasana is humbling. It’s an honor to witness the human condition — vulnerability and valor side-by-side.

Savasana is generally suitable for everyone, though one size doesn’t fit all. Practice according to time, place, and circumstance. Try to position your body so that it feels balanced, neutral. Let the earth hold your weight, and simply notice that you’re breathing. No need to reach for anything, or push anything aside. Let the tongue rest on the bottom of your mouth, as though it, too, were in savasana. Relinquish the desire to speak, to see, to hear. Let your hands serve the sky, and your feet serve the earth. Relinquish the energy of your arms and legs. (You can place a bolster on the tops of your thighs to help with this, or under your knees, if you experience any discomfort in your back.) If you’re pregnant, elevate your head and torso. If you’re sad, keep your eyes open and your gaze gentle. If you’re scared, make sure you’re covered with a blanket, or near a wall.

Whatever you do, remember to practice for all sentient beings. Don’t be afraid to let anything that’s holding you back from truly living, die. Realize that (in Rumi’s words) “ideas, language, even the phrase each other, doesn’t make any sense.”

It’s Hard To Be A Beginner

My two-year-old son, John Michael, was overwhelmed yesterday, during his first day of school. I kept looking around at the environment and seeing so many things that he loves — trucks! A sandbox! paint! a water table! I wanted him to get involved and have fun, but he wouldn’t leave my lap. He spent the first twenty minutes crying that he just wanted to “go home and see Dada.”

So in the spirit of trying new things, I took a class at Body by Simone today. I had never been to the studio, and had no idea what it was all about. To be perfectly honest, I found out about it from Taylor Swift’s Instagram: I saw a picture of her standing on a street corner a block from my apartment, and her comment was about how Body By Simone had kicked her ass! So I signed up for a “Tramp Cardio” class at noon.

I can’t remember the last time I felt so spastic and uncoordinated.

I haven’t been on a trampoline in a long time. Even so, I remember that my childhood trampoline impulse was to jump UP. But to help me keep up with the class and the beat of the music, the instructor kept yelling at me to jump DOWN. Wait — WHAT?? I couldn’t do it for the life of me. I was several moves behind the whole time, and I fell off the trampoline twice. I didn’t hurt myself, and I tried to laugh about it, but it was embarrassing. I didn’t even feel like I was getting a workout — I was just trying not to break my ankle and look like a total lame-o.

It’s hard to be a beginner! It’s scary, embarrassing, overwhelming, and intimidating to try new things. The experience gave me more compassion for my son, and insight into how he must have felt to be in a new environment, a new room, surrounded by new kids, new teachers, and not know the lay of the land. It also made me so proud of him and all the students who come to Yoga Shanti and yoga in general for the first time. It takes courage to walk into a new place where you don’t know the culture or any of the people. It takes guts to roll out your mat for the first time.

Do It Anyway

“We have to do our best and at the same time give up all hope of fruition. One piece of advice that Don Juan gave to Carlos Castaneda was to do everything as if it were the only thing in the world that mattered, while all the time knowing that it doesn’t matter at all.” — Pema Chodron

This quote by Pema Chodron is analogous to Mother Teresa saying, “What you spend years building could be destroyed in a day — build anyway.” Or when Buddhist monks spend weeks creating beautiful mandalas only to destroy them as an offering. At any moment, someone or something can take away your credibility or undermine all your hard work, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing it anyway. If there’s something you’re passionate about — something you believe in wholeheartedly — you must do it, even if in a second it could be gone.

And if what you love goes away, be able to honestly and gracefully let it go, and begin again. Impermanence is a part of life, and if we don’t practice accepting it, it will consume us. If we spend our lives afraid to pursue anything because of the fear of failure, condemnation, or upheaval, we’ll become stagnant. This is one thing yoga aims to prevent — stagnation. Yoga liquidates the stagnant places in the body and mind.

Pursuing what matters to you — whether it be a love, a career, a cause, or a journey — is as yogic as practicing headstand every day, knowing that one day no matter how great you are at headstand, you may fall and break your leg. (If you fall and break your leg you won’t be able to practice headstand for a while, but when you recover, you’ll get up and start again.) This perseverance in the face of impermanence is a training of both the mind and body, but most of all it’s a training in resilience. It will train you to react to the world in a way that is realistic but hopeful and impactful. By living this way, you might not know it, but people will notice, and they’ll see that they too are capable. By trying to do our best and accepting the successes and failures, we are telling those around us, “You are enough.” (As my mother and Jason Isbell would say.)

As some of you know, I’ve begun following in my mother and Rodney’s footsteps, and it’s terrifying for me. For a long time, I didn’t teach for fear of being weighed against (and weighing myself against) their success. Eventually I realized that this story I’d been telling myself wasn’t completely true — yes, it’s true, I will never be my mom or Rodney; and, yes, I don’t know half the things they do about the human body. But I’m only 20 — if I let the fear of my ignorance keep me from learning, I’ll stay ignorant. So I’m working hard at learning all I can about the human body (and the human condition) in order to help my peers as best I can.

I love yoga, I love people, and I want to help people love themselves. I’ll be able to do that in ways that my mom and stepdad can’t because I have a different perspective on the next generation — because, hey, I am the next generation. Even if I don’t succeed as a yoga teacher, I’ll be happy if I bring one person a little bit more peace. I’m taking the destination out of the equation to focus on the path.

Last fall a studio opened in Isla Vista, California, where I go to school, and I took it as an opportunity to start my own teaching practice. This gave me a little space from my parents’ reign to explore how I feel about teaching. Turns out, I really enjoy it. I realized that I miss having a yoga community when I’m not involved in one.

I’m still terrified. Every time I get up to teach or answer a question in teacher training I have voices in my head saying, “You have to do this correctly; you know who your parents are.” But the truth is, it’s all in my head — nobody else expects as much from me as I do. This will subside as I become more confident in my teaching and my knowledge. The harder I work and the more honest I am with myself and my students (so weird that I have students now), the more all of us get out of the experience. Yoga and life is teaching me this. I’m petrified of failing, but that’s exactly why I’ll succeed.

Maybe I won’t continue on this path of teaching (in which case, I’ll do something worthwhile, and I’ll do a great job). The acknowledgement of the impermanence of everything allows for resilience. Fear is impermanent, joy is impermanent, success is impermanent, and failure is impermanent. I find the resilience to continue to do anything — even brushing my teeth when all I want to do is fall asleep — by remembering that whatever I feel right now will pass.

I picked this teaching by Pema because it reminds me to let go of my story and follow passion with as little hesitation as possible. It’s a reminder to enjoy the beautiful balance of hard work and no agenda because, even if nothing comes to fruition, the work was inherently beneficial to your human situation and the situation of those around you. Just by living your truth, you inspire others to do the same.

March Madness

March Madness is a term you rarely hear in a yoga studio, but one you become quite familiar with when you live with basketball fans.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, March is the month that college basketball reaches its peak, and the past year’s efforts come to fruition: the teams battle it out, one after the other falling to the wayside, until the “Final Four” remain, and then the long awaited Finals. Fans compare their brackets, making predictions and bets; even President Obama fills out his bracket.

Living out on the East End of Long Island, a sleepy community in the winter and an intense throbbing destination in the summer, March signifies the turning point for both local businesses and the summer crowd. There is the big push for visitors to secure their rentals. Restaurants and retail businesses are repairing and prepping for the crowds. Construction, landscaping, and pool companies are pressured to meet their clients’ deadlines, creating our own version of March Madness.

As I write this, I am fresh off the boat (plane) from my yearly yoga retreat, where time stands still – there is little wifi and no phones. For a week, our focus is on the beauty of the place and the people we’re surrounded by. The biggest gift we are given though is the gift of being PRESENT. As I reintegrate into my daily life, all around me people are preparing for a future that has not yet arrived, and few are fully present in the here and now.

March is also the last month of winter, a season that signifies and supports introspection and stillness, and for the East End, a bit of a “calm before the storm.” I came back from my trip with a strengthened resolve to enjoy this time when I can walk in the woods and on the beach, bundled up in my solitude, free of distraction from the summer crowds.

The present is not always a place of ease – it can feel uncomfortable, and I often find myself running toward distraction. But the more I practice, the easier it gets. As the world gets faster and busier, the present is where I feel the calmest, the most centered and at peace with my life. Staying in this space is now a bigger priority for me than ever.

I know that distracted energy affects my friends, family, and coworkers. And I also know that when I work to have moments of quiet every day, that stillness has a profound effect on my life and the people I come in contact with. Ultimately, our individual energy impacts the whole world.

My practice is still in baby steps, but if I can simply do five minutes of meditation and three Sun Salutations, and adhere to boundaries I put on myself regarding daily screen time, I consider that a success. 🙂

Being present allows us to enjoy the festivities of life, including the seasons and even March Madness. Then even if our team loses we can still rejoice in the journey, commitment, and dedication of these wonderful young athletes. All of which fades into the past as they step onto the court and into the present moment, truly the only moment that counts.






Cutting Through Doom

I woke up very early this morning with a sense of doom. Life is always a bit weird, but right now it’s downright bizarre—I can’t seem to calibrate, or make sense of what’s going on. Nothing was really wrong this morning, but all felt strange: the weather in New York was like summer around Christmas. The Presidential debates are incredibly unsettling. The media is feeding us fear. I’m missing my mom, I’m missing our kids. Life seems so fragile. Where is the tether in times like this?

Poor Rodney, to wake up to me having a hard time catching my breath.

Finally, I got up and started planning my Tuesday morning class. I picked up my favorite Pema Chodron book, When Things Fall Apart, looking for a spiritual teaching for my class. This is what I opened up to:

“When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart? The next time you get a chance, experiment with this.”

If we can become quiet, quite often a message or a guide will appear in a way that seems more than coincidental. Thank you, Pema, for being my guide on so many days when I have felt helpless. I hope this passage can help those who may be having mixed emotions at this time of year. Relax and use whatever comes as an opportunity. Beautiful, sage advice.