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).
When people hear my story and see how happy I am, there is one question I surprisingly get more than all the rest. My story is that I went from a job that I was good at and paid well to one that I love that pays less. The positive shift in my demeanor and enjoyment from that change has been massive. The question I get more than any other isn’t, “How do I go about doing what I love?” It’s, “How do I figure out what I will love to do?” My answer is always calm your mind and pay attention deeply to your heart. Then I get looked at like I said the answer could be found inside a magical alien spacecraft buried at the bottom of the ocean.
Here’s how it works. We can choose what we pay attention to. If we don’t choose, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. There’s a lot out there trying to get the grease. More and more, there are things vying for our attention. Have you ever gotten the pavlovian response to a stranger’s phone dinging… that momentary feeling of compulsion to check a message that couldn’t possible have anything to do with you? There are ads inside taxis now. There are ads on the little thing that prevents you from being burned, surrounding your coffee cup. There is social media (also with advertising!). Sales and marketing permeate our culture and ask moment after moment to draw us outside ourselves. But advertising is only doing it’s job. Why does it work? Advertising works, in part, because we tend to seek everything from answers to contentment outside ourselves. But we know that kind of happiness never lasts. What does last is real, consistent, practiced change. But to get from point A to point B, we have to start at point A. And that’s the tough part. Sometimes point A is uncomfortable, and to sit with it can be challenging. And that’s where the outside world swoops in. Advertising says, “Are you at point A!? Here, buy this!” There’s a Facebook feed to scroll through. A stranger’s phone dings…
In the middle of 2014, the entire US had a collective bad week. A young black man got shot unfairly and protests broke out. Then, the protesters also were handled unfairly. Then, one of the country’s most beloved actors took his own life. Everywhere had little bit of a dark vibe. During this time, people I spoke with fell in to two categories. There were those who turned off the news and didn’t want to talk about it, and those who allowed it to the front of their awareness. Those in the latter category began to feel a sense of camaraderie and hope. Some went to protests. Others engaged in debate or read and became more informed. Those in the former category could only vacillate between distraction and discomfort.
The people who allowed themselves to feel most became part of our society’s steps toward healing, while finding healing and connection in their own lives – it was feeling it that made the difference. Those who felt least were more likely to be, and remain, numb.
A teacher recently told me that the moral arc of humanity is long, but it bends toward freedom. I’ll add to that, our own moral arc is long as well, and it bends toward whatever we give attention to. If you want to be distracted in a moment, there are plenty of things to buy, scroll through, and ding. Want inspiration, peace, and happiness? Make a practice of giving attention to your heart. Want to know your heart’s deepest desire? Feel the difference between what is and what could be. Keep in mind the practice of paying attention to feeling is key. We can develop the ability to choose what we pay attention to. Otherwise the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Want to learn how to navigate feelings, energy, and the way it can change your life? Justin leads Laughing Lotus’ first 50-hour Energy advanced training, which starts January 26th (learn more here). As always, you can join Justin MWF mornings to get your energy kick-started for the day in Sun Celebrations, or Tuesday evenings for Lotus Flow 1 (see class schedule).
“I am the Avatar of God.” In my own opinion, human beings could feel happier if they realized they are not a “Me in the World.” “Me” Is very much a part of the world, as it appears, as the higher self witnesses it. Thus the world in front of “Me” is not separate from the world witnessed by the higher self, which is aware of, and watching “Me, Myself, and I.” However, my (Leo Rising) personal “Me” exist in a world separate from your (Reader) “Me” But for each of us, we are not within the world; the world is not within us. Each World and Each Me are one and the same, A world appearing and being watched by God –US – Together at absolute no gauge of time whatsoever.
Don’t get lost – just start breathing deeply right now!
November 2014, I went away to Lake Como, Italy for a workshop called “Free to Breathe” hosted at Breathecomo.com. This is where the world began to “appear” differently, and this is where “Me” accepted that was the situation, it all came down to the “Appearance of Me and the World.” For weeks prior, I kept feeling this pain in my chest, from whenever I questioned “to be, or not to be” BEING a term used in my years of acting training which lead me to practice yoga, because the idea of being felt tied to surviving, and not connected to fully realizing a present moment or experiencing, or even perceiving a present moment. It felt like a task, and that task caused me chest pains.
Now, I will not spoil the workshop in Italy, the study with Dr. David Norris and Christiane Piano is so unique and sculpted with practical theory and asana you must dive in yourself, but without it intentionally being a religion or spirituality workshop, in my personal world it appeared “Me” had a religious experience. I was felt closer to something more beautiful then “Me” with that knowing aspects of my ego’s worries have dissolved and with it chest pain. As you, the reader runs your eyes across those words again. “I Am The Avatar Of God” you might have a soft smile or a squinting stare, you might have doubts or feel empowered, whatever you’re feeling do not question it one bit. Actually follow it inward, follow the root of the opinion formed by your conditioning, “preference”, follow it and when you get to the point of thinking you can’t think another answer. Breathe in and out, then keep reading.
Some humans have reservations about the word “God” – citing what has been done in the name of God, but c’mon, what has not been done in the name of God? Science is the search for the root of existence. God is existence itself. Science investigates deeply from the appearing world of the human being and the human experience. The human being is a machine-like- entity with patterns and processes accompanied with circumstances that create identity from the data collected upon witnessing the world and forcefully making choices. The human being then holds an election for a group of lesser selves called “THE EGO” or “ME”. Now, “ME’s” have an opinion, about everything. “Me” is always worried about survival, and it’s needs, it’s wants and don’t wants. “Me” will survive at any cost even if it means the Human Being has to suffer, and suffer we do.
The worst acts done in the world are human acts, not GOD acts. God, which I believe exist within every human being, does not drive acts of terror, fear or harm. Humans are capable of acts of FEAR and acts of LOVE.” Me, Myself, and I” are not inherently good or evil, I believe “Me” to be quite grey. I am starting to release the fear-driven need to believe in evil. I mean seriously, EVIL is LIVE spelt backwards…what greater hint towards God, did we need. On what surface in the appearing world if we wrote LIVE on our forehead would the world EVIL appear???
It’s okay if you’re mind was blown, you should have seen me walking around Lake Como, Italy in the rain for 2hrs, no hat, no umbrella, JAW DROPPED! I kept thinking about the separatism of it all. How far I wanted to be from EVIL, and how far I felt from feeling fully A LIVE… instead of LIVE, Like a LIVEWIRE.
Skip ahead to all the good shared from world to world from the “Me” nobody knows, ego aids “Me” along the journey of Self-Realization. From my understanding and my process of the Yoga Sutras, Bible, and Spiritual Ancestral studies, the Oneness I seek with God, The Highest Spirit, Love Source has everything to do with the image “Me” sees in the mirror, and the illusion, of the “natural world” The world “Me” sees has laws and rules, physics (for the time being) According to human history these rules have been disproven, evolved, filled with magic and then aliens…what if they all were true, per case and per necessity? What if they were all equally a full on special effect of the power of EGO is conduit of Godtricity (electricity) in motion, along the journey SUPER EGO develops and says, I get it, I see myself, I am so amazed at my amazingness, GAH!, I must be what created me. I am God, now what do I want to do?
The realized God (that has always been out beyond ideas of right and wrong), then witnesses the mirror image of Superego “God” lost in its needs and wants for survival as “A God”, instead of realizing the surrender into the fold of ALL SELF. Surrendering is like a fold into one’s self, and with that fold “The World” and I” cease to exist, thus sacrifice, we hear so much about along the journey to God, releasing the illusion that the appearing world “Me” is in will die and with it all the stories, data, experience, and Facebook photos about ME! The funniest part is, this does not stick with “ME” very long. Our world has rules, we cannot expect this to stay with us, our mind cannot function, and early reincarnation is not an option because we have a concert to attend, we never ready to die. Not for too long – just a 12minute max savasana.
What believing yourself to be an imprinted expression or Avatar of God does for the mind has all to do with the bridging power of God’s benevolent creative energies. What works within you is infinite potential of your very TRUE BEING as a Patron Saint of Gratitude, Peace, and Harmony and Absolute Oneness. This supernatural belief is preparing the Superego the for it’s face to face interaction with the Absolute Self, so that it can gleefully surrender into the FOLD or Realization and detaches from Reality. That is what these yoga practices prepare us to do.
God has no religion. God has no bondage to time and space, God only has Light, Love and Absolute Knowledge of all things. Even in our own doubts about God, which we are right to feel that way, for in thinking within our own illusion of separatism we’re playing by the rules of the appearing world we are not separate from and so the shadows of the mind, can’t exist where God is, But God, can exist and does exist above the shadows, watching “Me” every which way.
Jesus, The Christian saint and sage is quoted to have said
“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:5
You too, Divine Reader, are that same Light, SAT NAM “I AM THAT” so be THAT!
Want to get started in yoga or know someone who does? Leo leads our popular Absolute Beginners series at the New York studios in January
(register here), so you can join our Lotus Flow 1 classes with confidence and excitement to learn more! We have Lotus Flow 1 each day of the week in New York and Brooklyn; Leo teaches MWF at 4pm (see class schedule).
Wow what a year! 2015 brings on so many changes and new beginnings for our cOMmunity. I’m so excited for it all! Throughout ride, we are together… breathing… loving… living… we keep showing up. One thing that never changes is how blessed we are to keep learning from each other, each time we show up.
To honor 2014, I want to share with you a story from one of our 200-hour teacher training graduates, Felipe Gonzalez, who will serve our family as the general manager of Lotus BK.
Like you, he keeps showing up. Like you, he keeps transformation flowing through each breath. His words express what so many of feel at Laughing Lotus.
I can’t wait to see you in 2015!
Loving you, loving life!
I have been practicing yoga on and off for eight years. I had often played with the idea of doing a teacher training but always found excuses not to do it – money, time, career dreams were just some of the excuses I’d give myself. I half -assed several attempts at other careers, but I never really gave it my all in any of the other ventures I “pursued.”
Then, I turned 30, took stock of my life and got a harsh dose of reality. I had not done, and was not anywhere near, where I thought I’d be by the time I was 30. I felt lost and wandering life aimlessly, searching for a path that I was passionate about that went beyond me. It was time for a change. I decided to bite the bullet and do the summer intensive at Laughing Lotus. Laughing Lotus Yoga Center has always been my favorite yoga studio, and I wanted to teach like so many of my favorite teachers. Initially, I wanted to supplement my income by teaching yoga – what I embarked upon was a life- changing journey.
The Teacher Training program at Lotus challenged me in ways that I never thought possible. The instructors continually encouraged us to show up, not just physically, but with our minds, and most importantly our hearts. They nurtured every student to teach from their own practice. A quote from one of our textbooks by T.K.V. Desikachar that really stuck with me was “Yoga should fit the yogi.” This mentality is what makes the Laughing Lotus teacher training so special. Yes, they teach you the essentials of asanas but also guide you to bring your own unique point of view to yoga. I began singing daily by implementing mantras, chanting, and a 40-day sadhana into my daily practice. I found myself getting so excited and using my love of movement to create and sequence my classes in our practice teaching sessions with my yoga mentors and buddy. Most importantly, I began to rediscover myself, and the importance of a daily spiritual practice.
What a transformative journey! There were lots of moments of meditation and an introspective look that made me realize the person I wanted to be was already within me. It ignited this hunger to continue to learn, grow, and dive deeper into this cosmic yogic path. It gave me the courage to be vulnerable with my classmates and share parts of me that I kept hidden. I discovered that I wanted to help people heal. It opened my heart, making me want to connect to others and share my love of this amazing practice. It also instilled the importance of community.
Laughing Lotus creates this amazing environment and makes you feel like you are a part of a loving community. Before, during, and after I completed the program, I felt like I belonged to this amazing family. I felt like I had found my home. Whether you want to become a yoga teacher, or just deepen your own yoga practice, I can’t recommend this incredible program enough. If you are ready to experience a real transformation, give yourself this amazing gift. You won’t regret it.
The next Laughing Lotus 200-hour Teacher Training program begins February 6 (find out more here). Happy New Year!