You know that moment when it feels like you are involved in some kind of Divine joke and the characters in the story of your life keep reappearing, guised in new forms?
I have certainly noticed myself, at times, showing up to face circumstances that very creatively and sometimes humorously repeat themselves: a specific crossroads in a relationship, a difficult colleague who challenges my sense of self-worth, an impulse to act out in a way my wiser self knows does not align with my actual needs.
Pema Chodron wrote, in her book, When Things Fall Apart, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” Wow. These words sometimes feel like a painful stab of truth, asking us to see difficulties as teachers. In my own practice, I have worked hard to get to know myself and examine the way I tend to escape from pain and difficulty. This awareness has allowed me to slowly (and over time) practice making better choices.
I have learned that the more I show up on my mat with an open heart to meet myself with kindness, the less I feel crushed by those darker layers of myself in other parts of my life. I have practiced, to the best of my ability and with a lot of guidance, taking a deep breath, stepping back, and seeing whatever I need to see from more of a bird’s eye view perspective.
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
Recently, I took a restorative yoga class on a night that I was feeling unsettled and overwhelmed by some unpleasant events that had happened earlier. I had a difficult time staying present, my entire body was aching, and I noticed a long decision-making dialogue happening inside my head. As the class was about to end, the teacher acknowledged how much courage it takes to practice restorative yoga – to choose sit, quietly with ourselves.
Even as a regular teacher and student of restorative yoga, these words nailed me. It was a sage observation and offering.
Choosing to be kind and loving to ourselves, even the not-so-pretty parts of how we sometimes show up, takes endless courage. Allowing ourselves to feel what we are feeling also is no easy task. As we move through the chaos of the holidays and the end of another year, we enter a time where reflection. Slowing down and self-care are vital. We need healing rituals.
Let’s enter 2015 soaked in kindness, gentleness and a whole lot of love.
Visit Anastasia in her new class on Wednesdays at 8:30pm: Restorative Yoga Flow, a blend of movement and sweet restorative poses to get you ready for rest through the night. You can always start the day with Anastasia on Saturdays during Sun Celebrations (see schedule here). For a whole afternoon restoring energy from the holiday season, join Jamie Skolnick on December 20th for Holiday Restorative with Aromatherapy (register here).
I have seen many Facebook and blog posts over the last few days and weeks of varying degrees of outrage, confusion and complacency. There is a lot of back and forth happening in comment sections and timelines. A lot of friend-deleting, name-calling, and presumption. Emotions are coming up, a whole lot of them, and being in a line of work that proposes to deal with taking a closer look at them helps you be more aware of the bigger picture.
At least that’s what I think we are helping, but all too often I see people use their yoga practice to shut down from what’s happening in the world around them. I understand that we need time to process our “stuff,” but are we dwelling too much in the space of our individual needs that we are becoming less aware and more closed off from everything and everyone else around us? Are we hiding behind our self-help slogans and positive yoga speak?
Often, when I share a teaching or idea with students, I ask myself if I can teach it universally. This has made me long ago shed such sayings as: “just think positive thoughts” or “your thoughts create your world, so change your thoughts and your world will change.” I am paraphrasing here and I also understand the wonderful intent behind these ideas. But can you imagine saying that to someone whose child has been killed or somewhere where there is no running water, food or shelter, or someone who has been raped? In these situations, anything is not really possible and reality is raw. And about this reality of ours, do we really create it? Is it really plausible to think that the 230,000 men, women and children who died in the 2004 Tsunami brought that upon themselves with negative thoughts and actions? What about Katrina, Sandy, The Middle East today? Can we agree that sometimes circumstances matter too?
When horrible things happen, I do believe we have to meet them with something positive. I think the power of yoga lies in raising the collective consciousness of society, which is not always going to look and feel like a positive thought or a beautiful flower with an inspirational saying on it. I know I disagree with some of my fellow teachers. Recently, I was instructed (Not in NYC) to push my thoughts away while on the mat. That seems to me like putting all your dirty dishes in your cabinets. There is a facade of clean kitchen, but you can’t ultimately escape the messiness, and it’s going to start stinking sooner or later.
I also sometimes hear things that echo the sentiment to push away anger, resentment, and fear- anything icky. You can’t just stick a smiley face on reality when it’s raw, you can’t hide from this stuff and you shouldn’t. But we can take this frustration and use it for positive and powerful change, both individually, and collectively as a society. That realization is acceptance, not avoidance. It’s not just acceptance of the way things are either-that’s too easy for some of us, and dangerous for others. It’s acceptance of the emotions that arise from the way things are. We are allowed to be upset – and horrified. Let’s use it to change the world. We have to create the space to not only accept our own anger, but also the valid anger of our fellow human beings and meet it with compassion, care and consciousness. It’s not just awareness, it’s proactive awareness, and there is no greater time than now to put this in to play, because as the good old saying goes, if not now, when?
Join Mary Dana as she explores the facets of healing hands in yoga on December 14th, during “The Art of Hands On Assists” (register here). Or, you can immerse yourself in the topic at the Hands On 50-Hour Training – the first 50-hour weekend program in Lotus BK. MD will also be DJ’ing the New Year’s bash at the New York studios to ring in the new year, Lotus-style (register here).
We’ve all been to the doctor. When we are sick or in pain, they prescribe the medicine and proper course of treatment for healing. I’ve never had a fear of the doctor, and I’ve always put my faith in their abilities and the resilience of my own body to restore me to health. About one year ago that faith was drastically tested.
In May of 2014 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer that is neither genetic nor the result of any past habits or exposure. There is no real rhyme or reason as to why one person gets it and another does not. Approaching this frightening new diagnosis with the spirit of compassion, I defined the disease as a confusion on the part of my cells that caused them to start doing extra work that quite simply didn’t need doing.
I consider myself a pretty healthy yogi. I eat well. I get as much rest as possible. I get plenty of exercise. Throughout my life, my body has been one of my greatest teachers, and maybe you can relate to that. We all have faced our share of physical, mental, and emotional challenges, and as we move forward and do our best to care for ourselves, a new wisdom is gained and powerful lessons are learned. Never, in a million years, did I expect this news, let alone before the age of 30. For this lesson, how could anyone be prepared?
We can never be sure how the work we do on our mat will show up for us in our lives. I kept coming back again and again, showing up for my practice, trusting and knowing that it was serving me in my life. In fact, the summer before my diagnosis, I dove deeper into my practice and decided to do the 200-hour teacher training at Laughing Lotus. Little did I know how the transformation on my mat, and the community I had found, would show up for me down the road.
I can say without reservation that my yoga practice helped me to have a very positive experience with a health challenge that could, at many points, have been very dark and debilitating. What did I find on my mat that served me so well you might ask? Many things, but the brightest light I found was FAITH – faith in myself, my body, my mind, my courage, my compassion, my strength and vulnerability… and faith in the people around me. This faith also then extended to all of my doctors, to my treatment, my healing, and my life.
Over the course of my treatment (chemotherapy and radiation), I met and was looked after by many health care professionals and healers – doctors, nurses, and administrative staff, as well as dear friends, family, and the beautiful Laughing Lotus community. This month, as we celebrate the saints and sages, lets celebrate all of the people and practices that inspire our faith – for what is a saint or sage but some wise and compassionate being in whom we can place our trust, devotion and faith?
It has been one year since I finished treatment, and I am in full remission and feeling great! I am forever grateful for this beautiful life and for each of the teachers, lovers, healers, friends, and family that shine their wisdom and hearts. Without you, I might not have found my way through the darkness. Bowing down to all your sage-saint feet!
Namaste and blessings to all!
The wise guide Emily K Stone is hosting Absolute Beginners on three Wednesdays in January – in Brooklyn! (Register here). As always you can join Emily in class at Lotus New York, MWF 10am and TuTh 7pm, plus Lotus BK Sundays at noon, starting in January (see class schedule)!
I remember there was a lot of uttanasana in the Dance Hall on the night I met Elena Brower, star yogini and former co-owner of Virayoga. Last year, during her annual mash-up with Dana Flynn, she repeatedly guided us to stand, then, fold forward.
Uttanasana (standing forward fold) asks you to bow down and look within. Growing up in an Asian family, I have done my fair share of bowing toward others as a sign of respect, especially wise elders. That night, prompted by Elena, I bowed many times into myself and realized that uttanasana is so clearly a sign of respect for the self, too!
Self-respect has not always come easy to me. For many years, it was somewhat fuzzy (like this selfie with Elena and Dana, taken that night). I had to learn what self-respect was and how to give it to myself. It’s no small thing and took practice. I learned that self-respect means connecting with self-love. Making that connection brought more love into my life, period. No question.
Since that night, every time I fold forward I know I’m bowing to love. For this gift, I am grateful. Many thanks, Elena Brower. Recently, I asked Elena about her thoughts on both gratitude and love. Her answers are fun, wise, and I bow to her again. Read this, and you will too. Then, bow deeply into all that you are.
Chen: As yogis, we always practice gratitude, but it’s not always present, nor is it perfect. Is there such a thing as perfect gratitude?
Elena: Gratitude is always perfect!
Chen: Why is practicing gratitude a year-round commitment, rather than just around the holidays?
Elena: Gratitude has been found to shift our minds – neurologically it helps nourish the architecture in the part of our brain associated with calmness, health, healing.
Chen: We know love can change your life. Can gratitude change your life?
Elena: Every time :)
Chen: Does a gratitude practice lead us to more love?
Elena: Yes. Helps us remember when we forget to love – sometimes for me, if I’m struggling to “love” something, gratitude is the right gateway drug. I can always find SOMETHING for which I’m thankful.
Chen: You recently let go of something that was a huge part of your life. How did it help to let go? What makes you give thanks about this new chapter in your life?
Elena: A few things converged at once. For 12 1/2 years I was so grateful for the Virayoga community, the love, the home we all built together… but I wanted to be around more for my son. I wanted to cook more (!). And, I needed to save more money (instead of paying a huge rent for the studio). And, I was longing for more space in my day – to study and just be. Now I’m grateful for all of it.
Chen: How can people bring more love and gratitude into their lives through yoga?
Elena: In practice, keep noticing the myriad feelings that arise until they turn into thankfulness. They always will.
Chen: You have a long lasting, beautiful friendship with Dana Flynn, and you two are teaching together in your annual benefit for Women for Women International. How does giving back affect the way we practice gratitude and love in our own lives?
Elena: Funny thing about gratitude – it’s just like a yoga pose, or a language. The more you practice it, the more fluent you become. Typically I’ll do a handful of benefits a year, donate each month to both finite creative projects and ongoing organizations like Women for Women. The more I make, the more I can give, and the more I give – somehow – the more I make. The most beautiful cycle…
Dana and Elena come together – like the water and sky on our horizon – for their annual Women for Women International mash up – don’t miss it. (Sign up here, and early because this one always sells out.) Join Christine Chen to be grateful for what you can do on the mat and off… in Lotus Flow 1 on Thursdays at 7:15pm and Sundays at 11am. View Schedule
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.