my friend, my teacher, my lotus is burning cohort, and my eternal mentor… by the time you read this, you will have taught your last class at our holy temple of laughing lotus. you are beginning a new chapter of your life; you are still continuing to grow, to learn, and to evolve as a spiritual seeker, a student of life, and, most of all, as a human being.
i was at your final class. of course i was. because there was, in plain truth, nowhere else that i possibly could have been. what happened in that class was something beyond the scope of words, of reason, of logic, of intelligence, and even of understanding. what happened in that class, quite simply, was yoga.
towards the end of class, when lovesong (the adele version) came on, i was in pigeon, on the left side, and, suddenly, the veil between parallel worlds– inner and outer, past and present, light and dark, fear and love– completely disappeared. i don’t know what happened, but all that i know is that all that i felt was complete openness. and, trust me (or ask ali cramer), there was a whole LOT of deep FEELING.
i could not even care about doing janusirsasana on the other side. i could not move. i could barely breathe. and you know how i feel about breathing. i was so in my own experience, and absolutely nothing else existed, except for that present moment. and, as we all know, this is yoga.
you taught me yoga. you brought me into yoga. you gave me yoga. thank you.
i am quite certain that every person in that filled dancehall was having their own personal experience. under the discoball. alongside the graffiti wall. in front of ganesha, on his skateboard.
emily, you have meant more to me, and to the entire lotus community, than words can convey. i didn’t realize it at the moment, but only upon reflecting on it as i was writing this, my attempt to honor you in a literary way, i feel that there was some mystical passing of the torch that happened that day.
not that i, or anyone else, could ever fill your top-notch designer shoes, but as i witnessed you, my mentor through my own training, going through your own personal transformation, within me resonated the spirit of connection, empathy, and love. i stand on my own pivotal moment of taking a leap of faith.
for many years of my life and practice i built and guarded a huge resistance towards being a “teacher”. it took me everything to quit my job, and do my teacher training. but, even then, i had never planned on teaching. i can never adequately express how tremendous of a gift it was to be blessed with being given you as my mentor.
you taught me infinitely– infinitely valuable lessons of depth and meaning that i only began to understand as the course of time unravelled. you gave me keys to a kingdom of tradition, spirituality, and ancient wisdom. i do my best to uphold and perpetuate this humbling and imperative responsibility. thank you.
months ago, i planned on writing a blog entitled: where have all the gurus gone? it was going to be about how, as i perceive it, in this modern age, we have almost completely lost this concept of finding a teacher, a guru, and learning from your guru in pursuit of enlightenment and spiritual evolution. then, i learned of your impending departure from teaching, and knew that i needed to do my best to use this blog as an ode to you. then i took your class.
and it all came together.
while i do think that the traditional format of guru/disciple has all but disappeared in modern society– even, and especially, within our community– that being, the community of ALL yogis, and spiritual pilgrims– what i realized in your class– my teacher, my friend, my mentor– is that, in this present moment of time, it is, as thich nhat hahn, proposed: community is the guru.
and, if you think about it, it makes sense. these practices may have originated in caves, in remote parts of the world. gurus may have used to live high atop mountains, and their devotees may have to have travelled far and wide seeking the hidden treasures of their teachings. however, the nature of this practice is transformation. just as you are in the process of your own transformation.
and, as these practices and teachings have spread far and wide, so too, do i believe, based on what i witnessed in your final class, has the method of transmission of this ancient wisdom. no, there may not be any more sat gurus, but, maybe even the concept of there being a “sat guru” has evolved into their being a collective guru. that is what watching you teach one last class felt like to me, anyway.
emily, you brought together an entire room, and community, based on love, spreading a message about the vital importance of kindness. that is yoga.
now, i stand on this threshold, also finding myself peering over a ledge, about to take a leap of faith into unknown territory. the devoted practitioner who never believed he could ever be a “teacher” is about to dive into becoming a full-time teacher. i am scared, i am full of doubt, i am increasingly creating hesitancy, but, during your class, at one point, your brilliant blue eyes peered into mine, and you said, to the class: “it might be your dharma to become a teacher,” and i knew, that, connected to my mentor, witnessing her own personal evolution, i am meant to experience mine as well.
you have made me laugh; you have laughed with me. you have made me cry; and we have easily shared many tears together. you have taught me how to teach. you have changed my life. every time i put a liz phair song on my playlist, i will think of you. whenever i go to patsy’s, or bareburger, westville, or, of course, 16 handles, you will be with me. so many memories. billy joel’s first concert of his residency at madison square garden (“i’ve bern to a rock concert before,”). born to run. breaking your swimming pool because i wanted the heater on, and wanted to crank it the max. danielle and harry’s wedding. vienna. and, the nite that changed us forever: the magic and legendary epicness that happened on friday 9 may, 2014. i will never see a construction vehicle, a firetruck, or a firehouse the same again, ever, for as long as i live. for all of this… and for more than i can ever possibly express in 800 words or less, in a blog that is defiantly not a blog…
we will ALWAYS have lotus is burning.
#iloveyou #ourlives #thismeansnothingtome
with peace and positive energy, * vr
*readers, please feel free to share any of your favorite anecdotes with or memories of emily in the comments section below. namaste*
Get grounded to lift yourself up! Victor leads this month’s FLY workshop on Sunday, November 23rd (register here). As always, get sweaty and uplifted in class with Victor, MWF 2pm for FLY and Sundays at 7pm for Lotus Hour (see class schedule).
I discovered the tradition of Thanksgiving shortly after moving here from France and found it fascinating. I absolutely loved the message of peace, offerings and being grateful. No matter what we are going through in life, we can always find gratitude. It can be as simple as watching the sunset over your beautiful city, the song of a bird in the early morning hours, or a kind shoulder to lean on.
One thing we rarely think of being grateful for is ourselves – our bodies, our strength, our minds just the way they are. Self care and self-acceptance is so important, especially in today’s world where we are surrounded by messages in the media telling us what we should look like and how we should think/feel.
Yoga and meditation have helped me be more accepting of myself. When I found this beautiful practice, I rediscovered and learned to fully embrace who I am. That’s not to say that I no longer struggle. But the practice of yoga helps me daily, because it helps me take care of my body and my mind, and I can accept myself exactly the way I am today.
The body, like everything around us, including our self-image, is always changing. Trying to hold on to an image of what we think we should be like is like a tree trying to hold on to its leaves during the autumn season. Instead we should focus on discovering or rediscovering the amazing person we truly are inside.
My practice has changed with me. It did not always include meditation and restorative yoga, but I can’t imagine my life without it now. I love movement. It has always been difficult for me to sit still, and before I became a teacher, vinyasa yoga was always my go to – until my 300-hour teacher training at Laughing Lotus where I discovered Restorative Yoga .
So what is Restorative Yoga? In her book, Relax & Renew, Judith Lasater, widely regarded as the woman who brought Restorative Yoga to the mainstream in America, described it this way:
“Restorative poses cultivate the habit of attention. You learn to identify how and where you hold tension and consciously release it. You discover a clear space from which to make life choices. Through restorative poses you come into harmony with your body’s natural rhythms. Living by these rhythms is the key to good health.”
Our Restorative Yoga includes props (blankets, blocks, and straps) to ”relieve your muscles and bones of their roles of support and action, your nervous system sends and receives fewer messages and becomes quieter. Layers of tension melt away as you learn to be present to what is happening in the body and mind in each moment.”
I had no idea my body could feel so good! It feels decadent after each practice.
I’ve heard restorative yoga described as “adult nap time” but to me it is yummier than any nap I’ve ever taken! After each practice I feel truly rested, my aches and pains are greatly reduced – if not gone. My mind is sharper, and my senses more in tune with the world. I am ready for what is coming my way and more present for my friends, family and students. When I restore, I become a better mother, partner, friend, teacher, because I am learning to accept myself and discover that I am okay exactly the way I am.
So, I am asking you: How can we be truly grateful for what is surrounding us, if we are not grateful for ourselves? How can we be there for others, if we are not our top priority?
The journey to help others starts with us. Self-care and self-love are not selfish; they allow us to give more and be more present for the ones we love. Today and everyday, take special care of yourself so you can share your unique gifts with the world in all gratitude.
Tis the season to chill out, let go, and take some time for you. We’re so grateful Cathy is one of our Restorative yoga teachers – join her every Monday at 8:30pm (see class schedule). Restorative Yoga happens M-Th 8:30-9:30p and Fridays at 7pm. And, right before the holidays kick into full swing, Cathy and Susan Derwin host The Art of Sweet Release: Yin and Restorative Workshop on November 22nd, 2-4pm (register here). Come get extra relaxed and open for all that is wonderful in your life!
In some cases, the term seva is defined as selfless service. However, how can this qualifier be true, when the concept of seva is inextricably linked to gratitude?
As we all know, gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; and, when I revisit the moments when I felt of most service, they are one and the same as the moments when I felt my heart most open, my eyes at their widest and my most basic perceptions of the world altered.
That which I was receiving far exceeded that which I was giving.
As the great writer Rebecca Solnit says, “The stars we are given, the constellations we create.” While it is true that we are given certain gifts at birth, these gifts are ours to nurture and develop. Seva is one of the many ways in which we nurture these gifts and forge the core of who we are. On a basic level, isn’t the act of opening the door for a stranger, giving up your seat on a crowded subway or picking up chicken soup for a sick friend a form of seva? Through these seemingly inconsequential acts, we create bridges into the community and define our values.
To recognize the value of how we serve in small ways, it can be helpful to look toward the grand gesture as illustrated in popular culture. However, examples of selflessness can be difficult to find in a world seemingly obsessed with superficial imagery. But, sometimes, a fictional character comes along who emerges as a true heroine, someone who shows us all how to be a little bit better, how to give a little bit more.
Katniss Everdeen (of the Hunger Games) is one such character. We don’t love Katniss because she is a fierce warrior who can shoot a bow and arrow better than any guy, ever (o.k., maybe on some level we do!). We love Katniss because we get chills when she volunteers to sacrifice herself by entering the arena in the place of her sister, Prim. Through this act of seva, performed, as most service is, out of LOVE, Katniss sets herself on a life-altering course in which every act of service that she renders – to family, friends, community and, ultimately, to society as a whole – is met with the divine gifts of self-actualization, growth and enlightenment.
Giving everything away makes her richer, in every way.
Katniss is both teacher and student through divine providence and, ultimately, through the connections she creates while in service to others. From her innate abilities, she creates connections, which write the story of her life.
This is an invitation open to us all. While most of us won’t be asked to make so grand a gesture as Katniss, it is almost guaranteed that, when we act in service, a world of possibilities opens before us.
It is up to each of us to settle into our dharma, and through our dharma to explore ways in which we may be of service in the world. The following are a few tips to get you started:
• Allow the little things to matter.
It’s not the grand gestures that make you, but rather the small kindnesses and acts of support that you offer as the moments reveal themselves. You don’t have to travel half way around the world to offer service. Walking into a deli and buying a sandwich for someone in need of food does more than you might imagine. Don’t let these moments pass you by.
• If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Oftentimes, volunteer vacations are presented in a way that appears seductive. You are promised the vacation of a lifetime AND the heart melting enticement of helping those in need. This isn’t necessarily a BAD thing. But, some organizations spend most of the donation money you raise on things that do not directly affect the group of people you are trying to help. Do your research.
• If you ARE called to venture out into the wider world, CHECK OUT THE FACTS. Find a reputable organization that can easily account for the money that flows into their coffers. If luxury hotels run by foreigners are involved, think twice. You volunteer because you want to direct money, effort and love toward a specific community. Make sure this is where your efforts are going.
• Make connections that last.
Whether you are serving soup at a church in the Rockaways or building schools in Haiti, forge friendships within the community you have joined.
• Be grateful.
Never lose sight of the gifts and the grace that rain down on you when you set yourself aside in deference to the greater good.
Please join Mary Dana Abbott, Heather Parks and some super special guests on November 21st at 7 p.m. for the Mockingjay Mash-up (register here). As they say in the Capital….”May the odds be ever in your favor!” Prizes for best costume! You can always flow with Heather in class when she drops in to teach several times a month (check the schedule). You can also look for her on the new Lotus BK schedule, coming soon.
My favorite thing about teaching Sun Celebrations is that I get to start my day with awesome people. One of them is Rudy, the building’s doorman/guru. Last week, as I was walking down 19th Street, I saw Rudy in front the building, sweeping the sidewalk as he does every morning. When he spotted me from half a block away, he stopped his work and pointed at me. I knew I was in for it.
We had the following conversation:
Me: “Go on.”
Rudy: “The turtle never sees the outside of his shell. The turtle doesn’t care what his shell looks like, or what people are saying about it.”
Me: *imagines people talking trash about a turtle*
Rudy: “The turtle looks at the inside. The turtle sees himself.”
Rudy: “Have you ever seen a crazy turtle?”
Me: *looks skyward as mind is blown* “No.”
Rudy: “That’s right. The turtle…has peace.”
Rudy may have a unique way of expressing himself, but he speaks truth. The thing is, for those of us who aren’t turtles, the inside of the shell may feel like the last place to find peace. It can be a bit of a mess in there, but according to yoga and Ayurveda, you can’t find peace until you honestly look at yourself—without (and this is key) judgment.
If you’ve been around Lotus this month, you’ve probably heard the word “Vata” a lot. That’s the season we’re in: One day it’s 75 degrees, the next it’s 40; the air is light and dry; things are shifting quickly and unpredictably.
There are also people who carry quite a bit of the Vata energy, and by studying Ayurveda, I learned that I’m one of them.
At first, I wasn’t thrilled by that information. Vata people have dry skin, and their joints crack loudly, and their eyes are small, and they forget people’s names, and they get constipated. I wanted none of that. Kapha people sounded way cuter and more likable; Pitta people sounded much more confident and together.
That brings up another Vata thing: We tend to worry, usually about stuff we’re making up in our whirling minds.
Fortunately, I also learned that when Vata people are in balance, life can be sweet. They’re fast learners. They’re curious and creative and make hot playlists. They’re quirky and talk about turtles. Those seem like pretty good things.
Ayurveda gives us a lens for seeing ourselves—not for judging, but clear seeing. Vata isn’t good or bad; it just is. Any of us can find balance (peace) if we honestly look at how our thoughts and habits either steer us wrong or lead us in the right direction.
For example, I learned that some of the things my Vata enjoys—like taking five hours of dance class, then eating an enormous bowl of Brussels sprouts—are not actually what my Vata needs. Vata needs a squat, sweet potatoes, restorative yoga, warm colors and the scent of sandalwood. It definitely needs a seated meditation practice.
Amazingly, when I do those things, some of the scourges of my life—like insomnia, or trying to use my Metro card to get into my apartment—loosen their grip.
Those are simple antidotes, not dramatic or flashy, which is good news, since most of us don’t need drama. But, before we can take wise steps toward peace, we have to understand ourselves—even if kicking around in your own shell sounds terrifying.
It does take courage to be the objective observer of your own thoughts, or to change habits that are comfortable, even when you know they’re doing nothing good. But as Rudy (or apparently any turtle) knows, it’s ultimately the path to peace.
Vatas, Kaphas, and Pittas… are you a brand new beginner to yoga? Amy is your guide in November for our Absolute Beginners series – three Saturdays of learning the fundamental poses of Lotus Flow so you feel ready to dive into class (register here). Early morning yogi? Flow with Amy Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday mornings in Sun Celebrations (see class schedule). She might even take you into turtle pose.
I’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts lately about the woes of Vata season. Vata is the Ayurvedic season that corresponds to our Autumn. This season is ruled by air and ether, and a lot of us struggle with staying focused. If we’re not careful our minds can get swept away with the strong winds of the season. This is known as Citta Vrtti.
Patanjali refers to “citta vrtti” in yoga sutra 1:2 when describing the meaning of yoga. Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah. Yoga is the cessation of the whirlings of the mind. All that we do on and off our mats in the name of Yoga is in pursuit of this sutra. And during Vata season, our work is really cut out for us.
Because all of the elements of nature are within us, our bodies react to the seasons just as nature does. When the wind blows the leaves off of the trees during this time of year, so do our thoughts get blown around in our heads. This can leave us feeling frazzled or even frustrated that we can’t follow one thought process to its blessed end.
If you can relate to any of this, don’t worry – you’re in good company! Luckily, there are many ways to find balance in our bodies and minds during this turbulent time; simple pranayama (breathing) practices, grounding asanas, and mantra, to name a few.
Another approach is to practice inversions. Yes, inversions! It seems counterintuitive to combat Vata imbalance by flipping yourself upside down, but hear me out. Practicing inversions is an effective way to focus on one thing and one thing only: being upside down. Think about it: it’s quite difficult to have that hypothetical conversation with your boss while you’re in handstand. Forearm stand is not exactly the ideal place to decide on a working title for you next novel. And, I haven’t met anyone who successfully planned his or her next vacation in headstand. These inversions are designed to keep your focus on right now. Because right now is all there is. Right now is glorious!
Additionally, sirsana (headstand) actually stimulates our seventh chakra, the sahasrara chakra at the crown of our head. When we connect this energy center, associated with enlightenment, transformation and bliss, to the stability of the very earth beneath us, we immediately calm the mind and keep the strong winds at bay.
Don’t believe me? Try it! Next time you feel your mind moving in 108 different directions, come to child’s pose, and then, roll up to the crown of your head. Breathe slowly and deeply a handful of times, then proceed into headstand, or roll back to child’s pose when you need to.
Set up the shapes intelligently, from the ground up, so that you feel connected as you rise beyond your citta vrttis. No matter what season it is, no matter how loud the citta vrttis are, we can use these ancient practices to find balance in our lives right now. And for that, we are truly blessed.
Find focus upside down! Danielle shows you how as she hosts our Monthly FLY workshop on October 26th (register here). You can always chill out and fly with Danielle every week for Lotus Hour MWF at 9:30am and Sundays 1pm (see class schedule).
All of life works the same way. You have to live it.
Back in the 70’s, a group of neuroscientists wanted to study the effects of meditation on the brain. So, they set out into the Himalayas to find a particular monastery where many of the monks had logged more than 100,000 hours of meditation. After two months arduous journey, they reached their destination. Following the formalities, the scientists told the monks why they were there. The monks laughed. A little taken aback, the scientists asked the monks what they found so humorous.
The head monk said, “You want to study the effects of meditation on the brain?”
The lead scientist excitedly answered, “Yes!”
“Then why didn’t you stay home and meditate?” replied the monk.
The scientist said, “But… you don’t understand…”
With a smile, the monk said, “No, you don’t understand.”
To truly understand the benefits of meditation on any kind of useful, personal level, one would have to meditate. As American philosopher Timothy Levitch said, “Life understood is a life lived.”
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been skeptical. My parents taught me, in a variety of different ways, to question authority and make my own choices. It’s a lesson that’s always served me well but isn’t exactly prevalent in our society. Most organized religions teach that the key to divinity or salvation lies in external authority. The American public school system drills in obedience to authority and a conforming to norms. Advertising is a deluge of, “Trust me, THIS is what you really need!”
By the time we reach adulthood, we are conditioned to take other people’s word for things. But while experts and empirical analysis and teachers of every sort can point us in the right direction, it is we and we alone who make our choices in life and decide what is right in a moment or for the future. Those choices are served best by our own experiential awareness. We give ourselves the ability to move from, “I think this is the right path” to “I know this is the right path.”
Action creates knowledge – not the other way around.
I find myself learning the most from yoga classes in which the teacher encourages us how to look, rather than what to see – ones that are threaded with words like feel, sense, observe, listen, awareness. The only way to discover an ability or awareness that you never thought possible is to let go of attachment to what you already know is possible. As an energy worker, I can now cure almost all headaches with very little touch in less than 15 minutes. I definitely didn’t think that was possible before. But I didn’t learn its possibility because someone told me. It’s an ability I developed over years of playing with energy and exploring what it can do – what it feels like… how it affects others. When teaching students how to wield energy, a vast majority of my time is spent teaching how to observe energetically rather than having them memorize diagrams of energy lines.
Yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, is based on this same observational wisdom. We look at our defining traits physically, mentally, and emotionally. Based on those observations, we make fitting changes to our yoga practice, diet, and surroundings. Then we see what difference those changes make and recalibrate again. Because of this, Ayurveda has helped me tremendously in getting the most out of my life. It’s helped me to balance out the things that are challenging and enhance strengths.
So, what do you observe about yourself and your life? Not what do you think. Not what do you assume. Not what others tell you. What can you sense, feel, and thereby truly know? And, what would life be like if you made this observational awareness an ongoing practice?
Are you waiting until you understand life before you try and live it, or, are you living life and understanding more along the way?
Love and Namaste,
Share your magic! Justin hosts Practical Magic, a workshop on the subtle energies of the body and how it can help you shine your light in everyday life on October 18th (register here). Every week, join Justin in class to greet the day during Sun Celebrations MWF mornings and on Tuesday nights for Basic Flow at our new time, 7:15pm (see schedule).
I was really thrilled to buy my first pair of leg warmers this season at the local American Apparel. Just having them on reminds me of my legs and warmth! Ayurveda calls Autumn “Vata” season, described as cold, dry and irregular. The overall prescription to a healthy balance is daily routine, warmth, serenity, and nourishment – all of which can come from your lower chakras!
Chakras are reservoirs of consciousness or psychic wheels of energy. There are seven main chakras that run along the spine: root chakra, sacral chakra, navel chakra, heart chakra, throat chakra, brow chakra, and crown chakra. There are chakras in your hands and feet which are very sensitive and powerful, among hundreds of chakras all over your body. Let’s explore!
The Root Chakra: What You Need
We can nourish our root chakra, Muladhara, which lives at the base of the spine, by a regular, daily routine for eating, sleeping, and working. Eating regular, healthy whole meals (earth energy) can ground all the “Vata” in the air. Praying and giving thanks for each meal sends healthy LOVE messages to our bodies, which is foundation for a healthy SELF. I find that getting to bed no later than 10:30pm works best for me during Fall, so I can wake up fresh to start the next day. I love waking up early and receiving the magic of “The Ambrosial” hours right before dawn. They are perfect moments for yoga and daily meditation practice, including deep reflection (stillness). The root chakra is about having structure (its symbol is the shape of a square), and you can create that through discipline in your daily regimen. Smell some earthy grounding aromatherapy such as cedar wood or patchouli to make you feel secure and content!
The Sacral Chakra: What You Give Yourself
The second chakra, known as the “abode of self” or the sacral chakra, Svadhisthana, is located two inches below your naval. Water rules this placement, so watery remedies are a delicious way to juice up the dryness of “Vata” season. Self-massage with warm sesame oil for 10-20 min is a wonderful way to worship you, plus get the creative juices flowing. It’s also a great stress reliever, since Autumn’s changes can be a little daunting at times. Sweet, soothing music, smells, candles, scenes, and harmonizing company can all delight your SENSES. This chakra is ruled by the moon and our feminine nature, so it’s important to be receptive and listen to your body’s messages. Be very good to yourself and save up for luxuries every week or two, such as getting a new blouse or taking the day off to go to the museum. These extras are necessary to enjoy life.
The Core Chakra: What You Do
Your core is the light or FIRE of your life. It’s called your Manipura chakra, the city of gems, which is two inches above your navel. Your third chakra provides the warmth that’s needed during Fall. It’s a great time to be in your body, go running, do sit-ups, and be spontaneous and playful. The shape is a downward pointed triangle, which means focused fire. It brings the power of being proactive to finish up that project you have been working on, and it also brings a sense of responsibility and effectiveness. I am finally finishing up my case studies for my aromatherapy training this past spring, and this makes me feel really confident!
What do you need to complete? I just started going to spin class at my health club. It feels awesome to challenge my body. Go watch a funny movie, do something adventurous, and be playful with your friends! Set your boundaries. “I can, I will, I won’t.”
As one of my chakra teachers Guru Rattan says, “All chakras, all seasons.” So, make sure you honor the upper chakras as well. Make sure you LOVE (heart chakra, Anahata), EXPRESS (throat chakra, Visshudha), OBSERVE (brow chakra, Ajna) and AWAKEN (crown chakra, Sahasrara). Together, they connect you to your beautiful life this Fall Season.
Jamie Lyn Skolnick
Learn how to balance your energies with a poignant and deep look at the chakras with Jamie on Saturday, October 11th during a special workshop: Awaken Your Chakra Power (register here). Plus, we’ve expanded our Restorative offerings! Melt into bliss with Jamie on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings (see schedule).