Namaste as Growing Up On OM officially welcomes you to summer!
Today was the Summer Solstice – the first official day of summer (although, I don’t know about you, but I feel like summer started a while ago). The first day of summer comes simultaneously as a relief (Yay! There is time still!) and a sign that it’s time to put the pressure on those intentions for new beginnings. As a yoga teacher, the Solstice – especially in NYC – feels even more salient than a national holiday; it’s the yogi’s international holiday!
The following is how I spent the longest day of the year.
1. Drink a glass of water when you wake up. Your body loses water while you sleep, so you’re naturally dehydrated in the morning. A glass of water when you wake helps start your day fresh.
2. Define your top 3. Every morning ask yourself, “What are the top three most important tasks that I will complete today?” Prioritizes your day accordingly and don’t sleep until the Top 3 are complete.
3. The 50/10 Rule. Solo-task and do more faster by working in 50/10 increments. Use a timer to work for 50 minutes on only one important task with 10 minute breaks in between. Spend your 10 minutes getting away from your desk, going outside, calling friends, meditating, or grabbing a glass of water.
4. Move and sweat daily. Regular movement keeps us healthy and alert. It boosts energy and mood, and relieves stress.
5. Express gratitude. Gratitude fosters happiness. Each morning, think of at least five things you’re thankful for. In times of stress, pause and reflect on these things.
6. Reflect daily. Bring closure to your day through 10 minutes of reflection. Asks yourself, “What went well?” and “What needs improvement?”
the sister site to the blog GrowingUpOnOM.wordpress.com
ATTENTION: STORYOFACOLLEGEYOGI HAS MOVED (and so have I!). Follow me on both Wordpress and the new Tumblr to continue to get that good old steady stream of yoga content, but this Tumblr is also going to serve as a general Yoga Q&A. Ask me all your questions. I’ll see if I can answer them and if I can’t, I’ll refer you to someone who can!
Although the road is never ending take a step and keep walking, do not look fearfully into the distance… On this path let the heart be your guide. - Rumi
Three years ago, I started this blog to document my life as a college yogi. Two days ago, I graduated from college where I grew as a yogi, as a teacher, as a student, as a writer, and as so many more identities that take my breath away when I even think about typing them out. The story of my life as a college yogi ended on May 25th, on College Row, as I posed for grad photos with fellow yoga teachers and with my family. It was in college that I became the yoga teacher I am today. I got such a dual education while studying feminist theory and English literature…all while doing yoga teacher training after yoga teacher training and teaching classes whenever I could. Through being a college yogi, I learned how to be a leader. I co-created an influential campus organization that will continue to bring yoga to my beloved school for a long time coming. In many ways, I graduated the day I taught my last class at Wesleyan (which a long-time student of mine live DJ’ed).
Since Sunday (but really, since graduation became a distant reality in the first place), I have been thinking a lot about closure. What do endings mean? How can we be graceful through the tears they bring on? How do we say goodbye? And, most importantly, how can we start afresh especially when we are so grateful for and connected to what brought us to this new beginning in the first place? Acknowledging what I am grateful for from the past is part of closure, as is identifying next steps…next steps for relationships, jobs, yoga, wellness, health, and homes. The rest of this goodbye post will be divided into the two, as they regard my life as a college yogi. Click on the links for previous posts and highlights from this Tumblr.
graduated as a yogi with a little sister (pictured below) who is convinced that I “majored in yoga”
above photo: me and yoga teacher anya with my yogi of a little sister (we taught to her age group at Green Street together)
Story of a Post-Grad Yogi
Graduation only happened two days ago, but already I am brewing with post-grad plans! This blog has been a space for me to cultivate what makes me qualified for those plans and for that, I am grateful. Here’s what’s coming next…
I am moving this Tumblr to two new sites: GrowingUpOnOM.tumblr.com is where I will post inspirational links and continue to re-blog that which I peruse on social media. However, and this is most important, all editorial content (and there is SO. MUCH. MORE editorial content to come will be on GrowingUpOnOM.wordpress.com. Cause hey, Tumblr serves me quite well, but Wordpress just screams adult-like writing behavior ;)
Tomorrow, I am auditioning to substitute teach at Harlem Yoga Studio!
And finally, I am moving to Portland, OR to try this whole teaching yoga in the real world thang for a year with my yogi partner-in-crime and will be thoroughly blogging my way through that entire experience and new cities so STAY TUNED!
See? Whenever we start with closure, we end with new beginnings. This is not goodbye; it is simply a see-you-elsewhere-I-am-giving-you-all-a-huge-internet-hug. Please, please, please come visit me on these new sites. Content shall abound!
This Wednesday, the 14th of May, is a Full Moon. The phases of the Moon have become very important to me as I continue on my radical self love journey and get more invested in magic and spirituality. Since last summer, I’ve been meeting with a group of very special women every month, to celebrate…
There is a new guidebook for the modern-day yoga practitioner gracing bookstore, library, and (hopefully) university shelves this month! Sacred Sound: Discovering the Myth & Meaning of Mantra & Kirtan by Alanna Kaivalya is a reference book that will rock the contemporary mystic’s world with witty writing, examples from popular culture (two whole pages on the dharma of the Matrix), and story-telling that will transform the way the West interprets spiritual practice and mythology.
In this book and guide, Alanna merges two of her strongest gifts: storyteller and singer of sacred sounds. I have experienced both of Alanna’s great gifts firsthand through being a long-term student of hers. In fact, her use of mantra inspired me to become a yoga teacher myself a few years after I first took a class with her accidentally (I was on my way to hot yoga and stumbled into her class at Pure Yoga instead). What initially separated my first class with Alanna from that fateful hot yoga class that I had missed that day was her use of mantra. The first instrument I witnessed her with was a guitar, not a harmonium, though I came to know her as a master of those as well. Following the chanting of mantra in the beginning of her classes came a mythological imbuing of pranayama and asana. She cannot help herself; everything she does from singing to arm balance has to have a story connected to it and she finds it her responsibility to communicate those stories to the world. She does so through the myth. “Don’t miss the vibrations” is what I heard when beginning Alanna’s yoga podcasts all those years ago. What set her classes (and podcasts) apart from my previous experiences in yoga class way back when was her use of mantra; Alanna sang to us during savasana, creating a complete experience of utter joy through chanting and nada yoga.
In the introduction to Sacred Sound, Alanna firmly states that what she writes “isn’t merely a theory to understand but a practice meant to be fully embodied and experienced.” She says, “Through practice, we make these mantras our own so they help us on our spiritual journey.” Yet even as Alanna emphasizes and re-emphasizes the importance of immediate applicability in one’s spiritual practices in her latest work, she does not compromise practicality for mythology.
Because I know Alanna well, I know that one of her personal heroes is the mythologist Joseph Campbell; Alanna’s dharma is to continue his life’s work now that he has passed. Sacred Sound continues the work of Myths of the Asanas: The Ancient Origins of Yoga (Alanna’s first book) by making her dharma - her enthusiasm for this particular part of the practice - public.
For the yoga teacher, this book is fuel for 21 (the number of mantras Alanna breaks down in Sacred Sound) classes, dharma talks, and mini-kirtans. As Alanna says in the chapter on the mantra of Asato Ma, yoga is about the student-teacher relationship. Mantras are a means of educating. Knowledge, thus, is power. This book conveys that power to its readers. For the yoga student, this book gives context to the practice, a context, which extends far beyond a 90-minute class. And for the skeptic, Alanna’s entertaining voice and perspective provides enjoyable mythology and concrete, accurate knowledge of Sanskrit for all readers. Both myths and mantras are powerful containers for the teachings of yoga. In Sacred Sounds, Alanna delivers these containers to their owners: the modern-day yoga practitioners who know there is more than just asana.
This powerful new work will leave you with more answers than questions, which is a feat for a spiritual text. After sharing all of that with you, I honestly do not know what you are waiting for; delve deeper into the practice in any way possible. Sacred Sound: Discovering the Myth & Meaning of Mantra & Kirtan is an excellent tool.
The week following Bhakti Skool, I embarked on yet another training (I know; I might be a bit addicted): Ayurveda Skool with Ali Cramer. I was fairly nervous for this training; two weeks of ten-hour days are a lot and I was already exhausted after the first. Thankfully, my yogi partner in crime who flew in from San Francisco to do these trainings with me reminded me of a very important fact: Ayurveda is about self-care. Now, a few days post-training, I can honestly and thankfully say that I experienced this training while practicing the utmost self-care: good food, every night a full night of sleep, and replenishing asana and pranayama. Here is a round-up of my experiences. Enjoy!
The premise of these books sounded a lot like the Ayurveda 101 discursive lecture Ali gave us on this first day of training where we used basic information on Ayurveda to determine our factions doshas. I uncovered from this discussion and lecture that based on my curvy body and driven/ambitious nature, I am kapha-pitta. Want to find out what this means? Check out Ali’s article on BreatheRepeat here.
Gratefully, this lecture-heavy day (which was - don’t get me wrong here - AWESOME and full of what I consider concrete information…at least for yogis) was followed by a fantastic class with the one and only Dana Trixie Flynn. She moved us around and gave us the experience of a true teacher’s practice where we were able to adjust one another during the flows. I left abundantly grateful for such a well-planned training; by the end of the five days, we were all doting about how whenever we wanted to change topics or get moving, that was what was next up on the agenda anyways. In other words, it was a training of feeling very well taken-care-of.
Day 2: Intelligent Sequencing (of a whole intensive)
This day brought my last point home. We began Tuesday by learning about the Vata (airy) dosha. Now, I have very little vata in me so I was surprised when I was actually balanced out by the vata class Ali taught us. And then I realized that we flow with the seasons, regardless of our dosha and not only that: Lotus Flow intelligent sequencing makes sure that everyone can get something out of it. The architecture of this style of yoga that I have grown to love taught me that on Tuesday when we flowed through vata’s creativity, but with the stability that balanced it out. This whole intensive encapsulated the intelligence of Laughing Lotus’s sequencing; we did Vata before Pitta and Pitta before Kapha to progress from the space of airiness to a space of groundedness (i.e. how our knowledge of Ayurveda progressed throughout the week).
That afternoon, we brought Vata down to earth even further with the amazing Nikki Costello who had us hold prasarita paddotonasana for what felt like 20 minutes. We learned the alignment of savasana and created a bhav (mood) in the room that was unshakable. Nikki asked us to describe what we thought yoga was both before and after the practice.
BEFORE: Yoga is liberation through union of all.
AFTER: Yoga is awareness coexisting with both action and being; it is the facilitation of awareness and awareness to facilitate union.
Day 3: Labor Day fashion rules don’t apply to yogis.
We came in wearing white and I spent the entire morning terrified on the 4 train that I would spill coffee on my white scrubs or white belly-shirt. Why would we wear all white on an overcast day in April, you ask? Kundalini day, of course! We had a fantastic teacher come to teach us Kundalini kriyas by dosha, but honestly, it was not the kundalini that got to me; it was this teacher’s unshakeable happiness and enthusiasm for life and for the practice. I was instantly enamored and that adoration was what made me willing to participate in the practice and give that which I was skeptical of a chance. The experience served as a potent reminder of what it takes to be a good teacher: enthusiasm, kindness, and the quirkiness that makes us all unique!
Day 4: Satsang
After a yoga-filled morning, we spent the afternoon basking in the presence of Morley, a fantastic sound healer, but more than that, I learned what it means when 26 smart and service-driven yoga teachers occupy a space with one another. At one point, we went around in a circle to share what we plan to do with what we learned in the training and the answers put me in a state of awe, from making yoga something that one does not need to “afford” to opening an orphanage in Brazil. But above all, I was reminded that sangha - community gatherings - are what nurtures dreams so that they have the fuel to become reality.
Day 5: Butter in my eyes!
The last day of training was FANTASTIC. And how could it be anything else when my yogi partner in crime and I began it with fresh NYC bagels (let’s just say we had to give ourselves something to balance out with Ayurveda), running into my 10th grade Global History teacher on the street (a true reminder of good teaching practices), gospel music on the subway (we bought the CD), and the Union Square farmer’s market…all before 7:45am - huzzah!
The rest of this day (selfishly) felt like it was catered to me; we began the day with Kapha errythang; herbs that felt good in my body, asanas that cleansed, and pranayama that released. In the afternoon, we went over Ayurvedic nutrition and yet again, I was in awe at a) the scholarly approach of this training, and b) the sequencing of the information and how Ali doled it out. To only learn what Ayurveda is most known for on the final day puts food into perspective, especially for the yoga community that can get obsessed with what we put into our bodies. I will forever appreciate the non-proselytizing tone that came with this kind of learning. Ali kept repeating, all throughout this training, “It’s all just information.” We have the agency to choose what we do with it afterward.
Oh, and if you think this title is a joke, think again: we learned how to administer and receive abhyanga, Indian eye massage where clarified butter (ghee that we made during the training as we ground spices with our new mortars and pestles) got poured into our eyes. Literally. No joke. La verdad. I kid you not. And as I debated whether I wanted to receive this seemingly outdated treatment I came up with a new mantra to the tune of “When in Rome.”
"When in Laughing Lotus…"
Because this blog is called Story of a College Yogi, I would like to share the ways in which this training got “balanced out” upon returning to school that night to a house full of drunk friends ordering pizza. Yes, I returned from eating herbs to drinking beer, but you know what? The next morning I woke up, used my tongue scraper, and allowed for the information to assimilate itself in my body, my life, and my reality.
For more information on Ayurveda and college, check out Yoga U, specifically the chapter on “Dorm Room Doshas,” which Ali contributed to many moons ago.
“I’ve decided to let myself be an artist everyday. A flawed, messy, complex, and beautiful creature with thoughts, feelings, and a thirst for life-awareness. I will relinquish my fear and cling to my freedom. I will be kind to myself.”—
Take, for instance, the truth “Change is constant.” Mentally, we can absorb that teaching with little difficulty. Yet when change occurs in our lives this truth terrifies us. We often need years to recover from some changes because we had hoped that it—whatever “it” was—would remain the same. We knew all along that it would change, but we can’t help hoping that the energy of change will pass by this one part of our lives.
Even when “Change is constant” feels like an enemy that has swept away a happy part of our lives, our lonely times will come to an end and a new part of life will begin. The promise of “Change is constant” is that new beginnings always follow closures.
I don’t know how else to say it. Teacher trainings bring up whatever is going on off the mat. For me, my 200-hour teacher training was the first time I got intimately acquainted with what it means for yoga to be a spiritual practice, a mental practice, and an emotional practice. On a literal/practical level, this is evidenced by the fact that only 2 hours maximum of a typical 10-hour-long training is made up of asana. So what do we do for the other 8 hours? We sit (a lot). We chant. We talk about our feelings. We read the Sutras and the Gita and apply both directly to our lives. For me, my 200-hour was a time where I felt spiritually and emotionally full. It brought up the happiness I was feeling at the time, as someone embarking on a new adventure. But feeling fullness also means that the emptiness can come up as well; in Bhakti Skool on the second day, we all got acquainted with the struggles in our lives - with our obstacles - and we learned to draw on Ganesh and Mantras to move through them.
One of the ways we did this was by creating a cOMmunal altar with bits of our lives that we wanted to literally bring to the table. On a beautiful shawl, we spread out tokens of remembrance. I brought in a little Ganesha that my boyfriend’s mother brought back for me from South Africa (OK, fine, I’m the one who determined that elephant keychain was a Ganesha, but it might just be an elephant) and I also added to the altar the name plate my little sister made for me the night before at our Passover Seder. On everyone’s name plates, she wrote the word “LOVE” at the bottom - completely unprompted. I placed this gem on the altar to remind myself of how oftentimes, my best teachers are under the age of ten.
The end of the day was my favorite part of the training as a whole: POETRY TIME! We all chose poems that had personal meaning to us. Here is a line from one of my favorite Rumi poems:
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
Day 3: Harmonium for the Musically Challenged
Wednesday is hump day and apparently that means it’s time to give the musically challenged a big lesson in keys, chords, ragas, mantras, and sound. Raghunauth came in the afternoon to teach us a huge harmonium lesson, which then turned into him sharing his wisdom on life in general. I learned the drone for the sound of OM and you know what? That’s better than nothing for this tone deaf girl who yet again found herself in a sea of the musically gifted.
Day 4: Mythology & Philosophy for Academics
In the morning, Mary Dana taught us about mindfulness and the spirituality of alignment and mindfulness. We practiced almost exclusively on blocks, which was a refreshing change to the looseness of the movement we were acquainted with up until that point. Below is what I journaled on the subject before the practice:
Mindfulness, for me, does not mean thinking before or after acting; it is thinking while acting so that there is that sacred pause during the event. Mindfulness is the realization of our parts in complex situations that emerge from careful consideration of the truth of understanding a situation relatively, objectively, and with so much compassion.
The afternoon went by so quickly on this second-to-last day because of Sri Emily Stone, mythology genius and former Greek mythology teacher who I so wish was my professor last semester when I took “The Epic.” Her approach was gorgeously scholarly and it reminded me of the purpose of critical thinking in learning how to be a better teacher. Feelings are awesome. But sometimes, we have to get down and dirty into opinions and forming our own thoughts. Maha gratitude to this hard-ass teacher (in the best sense of the term) for providing us with this insight.
Day 5: Integration & Stepping into the Seat of the Teacher
Ali Cramer woke us up on our last morning of training. It served as the perfect transition into her Ayurveda training, which I did the following week (post coming soon!). We began with writing exercises from Anodea Judith’s (new?) book Creating on Purpose and Oh, My Goddess, the answers those writing prompts revealed were shocking to me. In terms of what I have to offer when I bring these spiritual practices down to reality, there was a lot more of my writing passion bleeding through my pen than I expected. I am beginning to learn that it is vital for writing and teaching to coexist as divine partners, Shakti and Shiva. Ali’s practice was much needed because during the first four days of this training, we spent a lot of time with the Upper Chakras: the spiritual plane, and her morning practice was all about going from up to down; how do we integrate?
The afternoon answered that question as we all taught each other for fifteen minutes. I was relieved to realize how comfortable I feel in the seat of the teacher, even as I awkwardly “play the harmonium” while chanting Om Namah Shivaya (chanting, while not unfamiliar for me as a practitioner, does feel unfamiliar to me as a teacher). Yet as I shared a Dharma Talk and truly paid attention to everyone’s exhausted bodies, I took the practice outward and proved its transformative application to myself.
Two weeks ago, I had my last thesis meeting with my advisor. She is a professor of English and Caribbean literatures. She also grew up in a Hindu household. At the end of our meeting on the Cuban Literacy Campaigns, she summoned me over to her desk. “Shira,” she asked in her rather dramatic voice, “are you familiar with the Gayatri Mantra?”
"We learned it in my yoga teacher training," I responded. That was in 2011 and aside from when Deva Premal comes up when I put my iTunes on shuffle, I haven’t thought about it much since.
So this whole incidence with my thesis advisor from two weeks ago felt like divinely inspired coincidence today when we opened up our Bhakti Skool 5-day intensive 50-hour training at Laughing Lotus by chanting and learning the Gayatri, the mantra for new beginnings.
In the ten or so hours since then, I have chanted my mouth off. And this coming from a girl who considers herself severely tone-deaf.
This training is a lot different from the two other trainings I did with Laughing Lotus in January and I am reminded of how different trainings attract different kinds of people and yet there are so many of us who want to learn it all: the inversions, the Bhakti, the Ayurveda, what exists on the mat and what exists far beyond it.
Today, we studied (and drew) Ganesh, the elephant God (pictured above) who represents the root of everything, a great pairing with the Gayatri - a welcoming of new beginnings. And through it all we were encouraged to reflect on our introductions to the spiritual components of this abundant practice. Below is what I journaled about during a “stop and jot,” scheduled breaks in the vinyasas of a rather rigorous class.
The first time I heard a harmonium was years ago at Pure Yoga when Alanna Kaivalya played it in class. I felt a joy well up inside of me from the inside and it was almost like that joy didn’t even make its way outside; it was just for me.
Om bhur bhuvaheswaha Tat savitur vareneneyam Dhyoyo prachadimahi Dhyoyo prachayodhyat
“Take up more space as a woman. Take up more time. Take your time. You are taught to hide, censor, move about without messing up decorum for a man’s comfort. Whether it’s said or not, you’re taught balance. Forget that. Displease. Disappoint. Destroy. Be loud, be righteous, be messy. Do not see yourself like glass. Like you could get dirty and clean. You are flesh. You are not constant. You change. Society teaches women to maintain balance and that robs us of our volatility. Our mercurial hearts. Calm and chaos. Love only when needed; preserve otherwise.”—Mehreen Kasana, from “A Woman of War” (via weissewiese)
“Don’t think about what can happen in a month. Don’t think about what can happen in a year. Just focus on the 24 hours in front of you and do what you can to get closer to where you want to be.”—Eric Thomas (via rainysundaysandcoffee)
Literally the most important thing to remember during transitions…and yet also what we tend to first forget.