Dana Trixie Flynn turned me on to this really groovy French song. I’ve been listening to it on repeat. A few days ago, on my morning commute, I plugged in my earphones and bumped up the volume to listen to my new jam.
When I got off the train, I was all smiles and happy, and a lady purposely bumped into me, yanking my iPod to the ground. This weird energy brutally pulled me out of my bubble and it felt as if I was taking my first breath of air after being held down under water for a long time. The crankiness around me, the effervescence on the street, the sunshine on my skin, the air brushing my face, the anxiety in me… I could all feel it, and it all became real.
In Ayurveda, we learn that health is the well-integrated correlation of a balanced mind, a balanced body, and a balanced spirit – in harmony with the world around us. It is all three. There is no such thing in Ayurveda as a happy mind/body/spirit withdrawn from the world. We are wired to find peace, happiness, balance and health in the way we connect with our surroundings and our awareness to this connection.
One of my favorite authors, Brené Brown says that “We cannot selectively numb emotions; when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” It’s more than that: we cannot selectively numb emotions, and when we open up and feel emotions, we also don’t get to pick which ones are going to show up.
When this lady pulled me from my happy place back into the real world, a rush of anxiety came over me. That bubble of happiness exploded and the hidden stuff bubbled up to the surface: anxiety, sense of unworthiness, unending negative self-talk – in three words, the fear-based emotions. You know: these emotions that feel so bad that they feel good… the addictive sweetness of familiar discomfort.
Ayurveda helps us deal with our fear based emotions and ease our physical body from the effects of fearful thinking. Here are some easy ways to invite Ayurveda into your life to wiggle out of your fears:
#1. Brew Cumin, Coriander and Fennel Tea
We store our fears in our kidneys. The kidneys help clear waste from the blood. This formula, suitable for all three doshas, is very famous for burning out these wastes. It also supports the kidneys in flushing the urinary tract and getting rid of unneeded water in the system. The healthier our kidneys, the less likely they’ll be willing to host our fears!
Do this: Boil a cup of water, add ¼ teaspoon of each herb, let steep for about 5 minutes, strain, and drink up!
#2. Have Faith
Dr. Claudia Welch, a teacher in Ayurvedic Medicine, says “faith is an antidote to fear.” You’ll tell me that faith isn’t a physical aspect of our beings, but our bodies don’t make a difference between a real fear and a made up one. The sensation will creep down into our kidneys either way. And, my teacher, Ali Cramer, says that “faith is a muscle.” In that way, it IS physical!
Do this: Sit down and exercise the faith muscle! Pray for the willingness to let our faith guide us.
#3. Sprinkle Food with Basil and Drink Warm Nutmeg Milk
The emotion of fear weakens our nervous system. By adding to our food the herbs and spices that can strengthen the nervous system, we can help the energetic body regain a little bit of its power. Basil is yummy, and it helps strengthen the nerve tissues. At night, have a glass of warm milk with nutmeg. It is soothing for your soul and cleansing for your nervous system. Bye-bye fearful dreams!
#4. Use Sandalwood, Orange, Frankincense, and Vanilla Essential Oils
Through familiar smell associations, our past experiences enclose us into habit patterns, very much related to our fear of not being able to handle the new and different. Using essential oils such as sandalwood, orange, frankincense, or vanilla helps rewire our brains and break the patterns. There are plenty of other oils that can help you with this; I chose these because they are widely accessible.
Looking at our fears doesn’t have to be so serious – it can be fun and playful, too! If you want to know how, join me on April 4th, 2-4pm, at Laughing Lotus New York for my workshop: Yoga Practices to Beat Your Fears.
I’ll share fun tips and tricks on how to embrace the emotions that show up and dance with them. I promise I’ll play that groovy French song that makes me wiggle like a worm on the subway platform.
- You are reading this from your bed. On your nightstand is a dirty coffee mug, and your pillowcase has a mascara smudge and a soup stain on it.
- Your Hulu.com, Pinterest.com, Seamless.com and Netflix.com are coming up in your “Top Sites” browser.
- Your home yoga practice: Supta Baddha Konasana. For twenty minutes. Savasana for ten. Then a snack.
- You promise to meet your best friend at Sun Celebrations at 7:30 am. You live four blocks away, so you set your alarm for 6:45 am. You hit snooze once, cuz it doesn’t really take more than five minutes to get there. You hit snooze twice cuz you made coffee yesterday and there is some left over, you’ll just nuke it and be out the door. You hit snooze three times, cuz your bed is so warm and cozy and it’s so dark out. Instead of that fourth time, you turn off your alarm, throw your phone across the room, and pass out. You can always go tomorrow. Or the next day.
- Monday and Wednesday, when you get off work, you volunteer at a homeless shelter. Tuesday and Thursday, at an animal shelter. Friday and Saturday night finds you babysitting for your next door neighbor (for free) and Sunday you are your building’s resident dog walker. For free. And you live in Chelsea. That’s a LOT of dogs.
- Pudding for breakfast! What a great idea! It’s SORT OF like a smoothie!
- On your Spotify, on repeat: the top 100 Lullabies of all time.
- Your hair and skin are suddenly shiny…umm, actually oily. Okay, greasy and broken out.
- Skinny jeans? Nahhhhh. Pajama pants? Yeahhhhh.
- You’re inexplicably crying at dating website commercials, life insurance billboards, and magazine covers of Queen B and Blue Ivy.
Easy enough to take care of, but, first off, you have to actually DO something about it. Ayurveda Ali has got you covered. Take a deep breath, and get started. TODAY. NOW.
- Get out of bed. Strip off the sheets, and throw them in the wash. Bring your dirty dishes to the sink, wash them, and vow to not eat or drink anything (except water) in bed.
- Give yourself a half hour time limit with Pinterest, Hulu, and Netflix. No, not a half hour each, a half hour total. Set an alarm.
- If you want to practice at home I have two words for you: Surya Namaskar. Do three minutes of Ego Eradicator (look it up on Youtube if you don’t know what it is) to start your Practice, then ten rounds of Surya Namaskar. That’s about 20 minutes. When you are done, short savasana (like 3 minutes) and then have a glass of warm water with lemon.
- Planning on taking an early yoga class? Give yourself some extra incentive by changing your mind set. Instead of thinking it’s something you have to do, think of it as a Gift you can give your strong healthy body, and be grateful that you can move today.
- Volunteering and helping out is GREAT. AND, you cannot expect to be effective when you are burning yourself out. Repeat after me, “I am not saying no to you, I am saying yes to me” (I learned that one from DTF. Changed my life). Or just “No”. It can be a complete sentence. Pick one or two things you feel you can truly support.
- Cold, heavy breakfast is not the move right now. Try hot oatmeal with a little almond milk, ginger, cinnamon, and a dash of black pepper. If you eat eggs, try a big egg white scramble with a little hot sauce, turmeric, cumin, and some chopped kale. Try to avoid dairy and too much oil and/or salt. Even, dare I say it, coconut oil. (I know! My favorite too! We can start up again with it in Pitta Season).
- On your Spotify, on repeat: The Top 100 House Music Songs of all time.
- For your hair and skin: Head to Sun’s Organic Teas and Herbals, on Bayard Street in Chinatown, and get Trikatu, an ayurvedic blend of ginger, black pepper, and pippali, an Indian long pepper. Have a half teaspoon in warm water twice a day. You can also order it from banyanbotanicals.com And dry brush before your shower with a natural bristle brush. You can get one at Bed Bath and Beyond or Whole Foods. Long strokes up towards the heart, it’s great for circulation.
- Repeat after me, “I am a grown up. We get dressed in the morning. Pajamas are for infants. I am not an infant.” Lay out your clothes the night before if necessary. (No, not on your bed! Lay them over a chair so they don’t get that disheveled look. It’s not 1994. Throw out anything stained, stretched out, or with holes in it). And no flannel allowed. Until October. (see “Vata Season”).
- Turn off the tv, bundle yourself up, and GET OUTSIDE! Go for a walk in Central Park or by the river. Take your headphones and listen to the dance remixes of Madonna, Beyonce, Rihanna, or your favorite One Named Diva. Stop and do a few jumping jacks or dance moves along the way. No one will watch or care, or else they might think it’s a flash mob and join in. Either way, consider yourself busting some serious Kapha.
Final bit of breaking out of the Late Winter sluggishness? Come to my Kapha Busting workshop, March 27th, from 6-9 pm at Laughing Lotus. We will cover how to safely do a Spring Cleanse, and talk diet, herbs, essential oils and asana then eat some yummy spicy kichadi together. Prepare to move into Spring recharged, rejuvenated, clear and balanced!
What I do is… all about that voice, ‘bout that voice, ‘bout that voice (yea, you might hear Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” in there). Seriously “speaking” though, the vocation of Yoga Teacher is 80 percent vocal. Your voice can fire people up when attempting challenging poses, romance people into opening their hearts, soothe people into holding forward bends, relax them into a practice of mediation, and finally into savanna (corpse pose).
Ok, mixed into this 80 percent, you have the words you choose to use and the knowledge you have from your own dedicated practice and years of study. Throw into that last 20 percent a great playlist, the ability to assist your students, a demo or two, and, well… you’re there – maybe!
So what happens when you travel halfway around the world to teach in five cities in ten days? Well, most often it goes pretty smoothly. Sometimes, you may get hit with some sort of German Super Cold and go down – I mean, VOICE GONE. You’re down… like, can’t speak, shivering in your bed-down; having to cancel two out of the nine workshops-down; we’re talking cranky, coughing, croaky, can’t sleep, misery, flu-and-cold-down.
So what happens then? What shows up? Fear. Shame. Ego. Regret. Loneliness. Embarrassment. Oh Kali MA!! Is the yoga teacher Human after all? Is the tough, independent Brooklyn girl going to have to ask for help? Is that part of the personality that never wants to disappoint, wants always to be liked and worried about money rearing its head? But oh, I thought all that had worked itself out through years of practice.
What happens… is a reminder that the roots of our demons and patterns remain hidden often, but they tend to flourish at certain, vulnerable times, and we learn that the outcome of a forced hush is a collection of reminders of love and self-care.
- Gratitude. There is a huge yoga community around the world. I was SO TAKEN CARE OF. It was like I was (and I was) with Familia. I was staying with friends and offered to take my sickness to a hotel to not upset the flow of the house (which includes a baby), and that idea was shot down immediately as ridiculous – they wanted to take care of me!
- Silence. Sometimes you just have to be quiet. The inability to talk made me find the quiet time I desperately needed and also helped me to LISTEN more – to the people around me and to my own needs. It was fun to have people tell me stories, knowing that I couldn’t really participate with words.
- Sleep. My god… I slept and slept. The busy city life doesn’t always allow me to just sleep when I need to. Be like a baby: eat, use bathroom, sleep. Repeat.
- Humility. You know, it’s easy to fall into the ego – even more so as a yoga teacher (possibly why so many of the greats have a fall from grace). Yea, it sucks that I came so far to teach, but is it the end of the world for anyone? I think not.
- Hot water. And, add honey, fresh ginger, lemon… lots of it.
Self-care is a HUGE part of the Ayurvedic system. I am not an expert like my soul sister Ayurveda Ali, who has a 50 Hour Weekends Ayurveda Program starting April 11, but I DO know that finding quiet time is a prescription that many of us need. And, as the practice of Ayurveda gives us so many preventative care tools, I think this is one I will hold on to: quiet time.
I realized as I took this space to not speak, that I speak A LOT – all the time, because that’s what you do when you teach, and I have been teaching one thing or another for 25 years now. WOW. This is also why being the student in class or dancing to talk is fantastic medicine as well. Using the Body Temple as language has always been a great form of expression.
At the end of this though, I can’t help but wonder if the forced silence was actually a very LOUD reminder for me to find that space of quiet in my life more regularly. The body has a great way of telling you what you need – if only we can listen.
Join Sheri and the Lotus Temple Dancers for Waves of Blues: An Evening of Dance and Live Music on March 13 and 14 at 8pm. A lot of Heart Soul and Rhythm went into the choreography and music for this show. It’s a must see!
A literal translation would be: “lost body,” but that wasn’t really quite right. I would try to explain and the closest translation I came to was: “wholeheartedly.” Yet, this wasn’t satisfying to me, either. In the French idiom, A Corps Perdu, there is an idea of necessity and urge, an idea of having no other option.
When I was 18, I learned the hard way that dreams don’t wait. A few months apart, I lost my 20 year old cousin as I knew him, and a very dear 14 year old student. They both had dreams, so big!!! Yann wanted to ride the oceans and be a skipper, and Clémence wanted to dance.
My dream couldn’t wait. My urge to speak my soul, out loud, through my body, couldn’t wait. So, I danced, and danced, and danced, with all of my being. Ten years later, when I built my company, the name, “A Corps Perdu” just made sense – for my angels and for me.
It was only about two years ago that I found it – the perfect word to translate A Corps Perdu: Bhakti. “Devotion” doesn’t work as well, but the Sanskrit word “Bhakti”, that’s what A Corps Perdu really is: the words of poetry that have no choice but to be written; the love at the bottom of your belly that has no choice but to be lived; the songs on your lips that have no choice but to be sung; the dances in your heart that have no choice but to be danced; the dreams under your wings that have no choice but to become real; the voice that has no choice but to be heard; the screaming body that has no choice but to be seen; the jewel inside you that has no choice but to be revealed.
In the Bhagavata Purana, Krishna says:
“Where is Bhakti without the melting of the heart marked by the rise of goose bumps and the flow of tears of joy from the eyes?
Yet, without the intensity of this love how can one’s being become purified?
The one whose words stumble because of this joy, whose heart melts from the tenderness of love, who weeps when feeling separated from me, who every now and then spontaneously laughs in wonder, as the thought of my mysterious marvels, who sings and dances in joy, without inhibition: the one who is joined to me through love purifies the whole world.”
… the one who is joined to me through love purifies the whole world… So what is it, in you, my friends; that allows you to feel this connection? What makes your heart melt and gives you goose bumps? What brings tears of joy from your eyes? What is so intense that living it makes you feel fuller, more alive, purified? Do you have an answer? Then, why don’t you do it more often?!!!
Here are my two personal favorite devotional practices: I love the japa practice, the repetition of a mantra, and I love reading poetry. Now, the word practice itself entails that it is not always easy, so let me give you a couple practical tips on how to make your devotional practice successful.
1, Keep it simple!
If you pick a mantra and the japa practice is newer to you, choose a simple one. My teacher passed one along to me: Aham Prema, which means, “I am Love,” easy, short and beautiful, it is one of my favorites to practice. Sit down in a quiet place and repeat your mantra 108 times.
2. Be consistent.
The repetition and the discipline in your practice are what will bring the magic and miracles. Keep going back every day.
3. Do it first thing in the morning.
The temptation to look at your phone or to turn on the computer after waking up is so big! Leave the distractions aside. Reading a poem or practicing your mantra first thing in the morning is magical. The connection with the divine feels so pure. You’ll still have the entire day to hold your phone in your hand; just resist the temptation a tiny bit longer.
The Bhakti practice maybe one of the most accessible and yet one of the most powerful, because it is all in you! It is all the love at the bottom of your belly that you’re longing to connect with… that you are longing to feel and share – with no boundaries. Pick your practice, dig in deep, and live it out loud.
That’s it! A Corps Perdu!
whenever we are holding a kirtan– like this past 2 january, with the amazing sean johnson and the wild lotus band– you can pretty much bet your bottom dollar on seeing me there. i do love the expression of kirtan as yoga. the way that people come together; the way there is this very organic call and response between artist and audience; the way that the power of music flows through the soul, creating a communal spirit. i do, love, coming to kirtan.
however, this was not always the case. when i had first started really coming to laughing lotus, i could not believe how easily and readily i was embraced by the community. the colorful walls; the ecstatic vinyasa practice offered; the passionate group of teachers and students; the sheer joy and infectious loving energy contained in the walls; and, oh yes, the music…
laughing lotus was so different than anywhere else i had practiced yoga, and was practicing yoga at the time, and it awakened something within me, and, in short, i just wanted to be around. when i came onto the lotus scene, i had been practicing yoga for 16 years– and yet, in all of that time, i had never been to a kirtan before. when, before class, dana announced that there was kirtan that nite (it was a friday, during june, i believe, some several years ago), i sensed the passion that she felt as she told us about it.
i wanted to be around. i decided to give it a shot. i figured i could leave any time i wanted.
so that evening, i walked to 19th street to see some artist that i had never heard of… sista shree… i arrived with an open mind, but, perhaps with a semi-guarded heart… i did not know what to expect… would i love it, would i hate it??? would i talk to anybody??? what did it “mean” that i was going to something i had never been to before???
i got there a little after the kirtan had began. nervously, i walked into the light room (this was pre-dancehall), adorned with strings of neon lights on the floor, flower petals everywhere, and piles of neatly folded up yoga blankets scattered across the room. i took a seat on one of the blankets, by myself.
as the kirtan progressed, more and more people kept wildly leaping up, ecstatically singing, dancing, and jumping. “where the fuck am i?” was the question that crept into my mind a few times. that, and: “who are these weird people, and, why are they so damn happy?”
as much as my inhibited self wanted to remain contained, polite, and even respectable, and as many times as i had even consciously restricted myself from getting up, by the end of the kirtan i was on my feet, moved by the spirit. the bhav of the room lifted my self-imposed ban on fun, and set my inner-self free.
i vividly remember dancing ecstatically with jeanne halal, who i was familiar with just by seeing her in classes. but in those moments, of joy, of movement, of expression, of togetherness, it wasn’t like we needed a formal introduction… our souls met, embraced, played, and danced in wild abandon.
you do not have to enjoy kirtan to experience the essence of bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. for many, it is an easily accessible form, though, made easy– i think– through the creative spirit of music, singing, and (sometimes, especially at lotus) dancing. there are, however, many ways to experience the unadulterated spirit of bhakti.
the real essence of bhakti is the element of participation. so, you can show up at a kirtan, or yoga class, or anything else, but what makes the act transform into the devotion of bhakti is your participation. so, in my case, at my first kirtan, that moment that i stood up is when the bhakti took over my spirit. so, it is whatever inspires you that taps you into this frolicking force.
this might sound way out there, but last weekend was the superbowl. in it’s own way, this is mainstream america’s unique expression of bhakti, because, for millions of people it involves both participation and coming together. the participation can take the form of attending a party, bringing food or beverages, or, even buying boxes in those “pools.”
now, of course, traditionally, the bhakti practices are about our acts of devotion towards god, but i truly believe that we can experience feeling close to god in vastly different and highly unconventional ways. i know that when i go to a concert, especially by madonna, for example, the spirit takes over me, and i dance and sing and scream and jump my heart out, and when thousands upon thousands of people are singing the lyrics to, “like a prayer,” together, i know… i know… that we are experiencing bhakti yoga.
to surrender to this experience of bhakti yoga, i highly recommend trying something that you’ve never done before– maybe that’s going to a kirtan; maybe that’s trying a new activity (have you ever done the 5 rhythms??? try it!!!); maybe that’s joining a choir, or a prayer group, or a sports team!!! and take my word for it– you won’t forget the first time!!!
I didn’t realize it at the ripe age of 10 in Ballet class that every time I leaned back into a Port de bra I was developing an ability to open my heart. The sweep of my arm by my face while I leaned back gracefully, a ballet bar supporting me, was so familiar that it became second nature. A dance class is very in line with a yoga class, especially at Laughing Lotus, where we build from the ground up from the first chakra to the seventh.
In dance, from the first Plié, we start with the feet and legs to build strength in our foundation. Moving deeper into a Grand Plié, going all the way to the floor, we open up the hips, our second chakra. While one hand is gently grazing the ballet bar the other is extended out to the side to create a sense of balance, awareness, and steady frame. In comes the Port de bra, an arcing backbend to open the heart and move through the space. We create this build up with structure in the body, whether we are at the ballet bar or on our yoga mat, so that we can be free, let go, and learn about ourselves. For me, the progression of these movements created an artistic expression in its purest form that truly showed who I was and still am.
For most of my life I’ve been gifted with a bendy, mobile spine. The space to lean back into camel or press up into a full wheel has always been expansive. As a dancer I am fluid, unbroken, and seamless with sporadic moments of pause. I wouldn’t have a preparatory thought before bending my back into a dramatic arch – until one day, the range of my mobility started to shorten.
A couple of years ago my lower back started to lose its wide range of motion, causing lots of pain in any backbend. Having never dealt with this, I was first in denial, then angry. I’ll admit that I still can be angry about it. Losing the freedom to throw myself into an expansive backbend felt was like losing a part of myself. Diving deeper into my personal practice, and learning from my teachers, I discovered a few things that kept me moving forward: patience, nurturing myself, and even more space in my heart to transform.
Maybe I can’t fly back into a camel the moment I jump out of bed anymore, but I’ve learned to warm up intelligently and visit the pose in a new way. Building from the ground up, we always remind ourselves that our foundation is what keeps us steady and gives us strength to move in unimaginable, magical ways.
These shapes we explore in our bodies are the purest translation of expression. To open ones heart can be so intimate and slow growing. Without a strong foundation it can be difficult to open the heart and express joy and love. That’s why we build from the ground up, physically preparing the legs and centering ourselves to support leaning back and opening up. Emotionally and mentally, a safe environment and smart sequencing can give us the space to grow, move, and truly explore more about ourselves.
Explore the keys to heart-opening poses and learn safe techniques for your spine with Alison at her Bhakti Backbending Workshop on February 8th (register here). And, continue heart-filled and mindful exploration in Lotus Flow with Alison in both NY and BK studios (check schedule here).
“Okay, now say it again in your real voice.”
The first time he made that request of me I had absolutely no idea what that meant. My real voice? What is my real voice, if not the sounds coming out of my mouth right now?
The more I thought about it, the more it pissed me off. I caught myself, in every moment, in every conversation, stopping, slowing down, thinking, “Does this sound like my real voice?” I became obsessed with what my real voice was. I started to realize I had no idea what I sound like. I started to realize how often I opened my mouth and let words come out without hearing what I was saying, without listening for where I was coming from and what I was really trying to say. So many conversations were misconnections, talking to another person but not with another person. Making sound for the sake of making sound, to escape silence, to escape hearing the subtler sounds inside my head and moving towards me from the world around me.
I started to realize that if I wanted to know what I really sound like, if I wanted to use my real voice, I needed to shut up and listen. And really listen – not just take in the sounds that are pleasing to me and support my idea of what I want the world to sound like, but to hear everything around me. To listen is to pay attention. I stopped wearing my headphones on the subway because I can’t listen when I’m blocking out the world with sounds I like. It’s humbling, to say the least, to learn that after 27 years on this earth, I still haven’t learned to listen.
But I’m trying. The only way I can change the world around me is to change myself. I want to see a world where we listen to each other with love, with patience, with compassion. I need to start practicing listening, and hearing the messages from within and without that lead me closer to truth, closer to freedom, which might mean hearing things I don’t want to hear, bearing witness, and making room for that which makes me wriggle with discomfort. I might have to accept that the world isn’t only full of beauty and light, but that in order to experience true beauty, I also have to experience true pain and suffering to know how to offer love in all places.
The only way I can change the world around me is to listen deeply enough to use my real voice.
Join Ilana and explore the beauty and truth in your own voice at her Chanting Playshop February 1st (register here). Or, chant and flow in class with Ilana in New York and Brooklyn, plus, starting January 24th, in Blossoming Lotus Flow, our prenatal flow class for moms-to-be in New York (see schedule here).