Rikers Island Yoga

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This post is for the introverts. As much as the big personalities make themselves seen in a place like Rikers, I also see those that are quiet.

In the summer the city gets hot but it feels even hotter at Rikers. Despite the heat students asked if they could work on the core. This made me smile for a variety of reasons. First, it’s awesome to see students feel empowered enough to ask for something. This takes courage. Second, it was HOT and I can’t believe they were looking to get even sweatier. But who am I to argue with passion? I had planned on talking about compassion for the self but instead we discussed our inner fire. How do we light it? Honor it? How does it inspire us?
Miriam practiced with a peaceful determination. She didn’t chat during class but smiled at certain points and it seemed that she was looking inward. In side plank her leg floated in the air and in half-moon she smiled to herself as she explored her possibilities by lifting her hand. This was yoga in action. Half-moon was a way for Miriam to embrace the moment rather than getting the pose right. Miriam had touched her core and lit her inner fire.
So much happens in the boisterous conversations at Rikers but it was really Miriam’s inward reflection that moved me. Sometimes I feel guilty to witness such beauty. But because o know it’s not mine I’m able to let it go and hope that Miriam knows what a powerful spirit she is. Shout out to those who are quiet. Sometimes it’s not the loudest voice that gets heard,but the most sonorous.

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Adventures in Meditation – Learning to Stay

meditationmedication

 

My mama said
Baby don’t ride that crazy horse
And my mama said
You must push with much force
And my mama said
Go get all that you’re after
And my mama said
That love’s all that matters

But I’m always on the run,
Always on the run,
But I’m always on the run ( on the run )

– Lenny Kravitz ‘Always on the Run’

 

Sometimes meditation just- sucks.

It ain’t been so easy the past week. Sitting still has been a struggle. I’ve been grasping at frustration and physical pain. Added to that are the thoughts that I should be headed down a different path than the one I’m currently on.

But I’m sticking with it.

This morning while walking Dakota I was listening to Pema Chödrön (as I am wont to do when I am feeling a bit out of sorts). I pulled up any track. Pema was talking about learning to stay. My facetious face reared its snarky head. Oh great. I listened anyway.

In meditation there will be bad days. But if I can learn to be with the thoughts and stay compassionate with myself, it’ll be okay. On the days that I’m feeling growly is when I most need this. It’s on these days when seconds pass like hours that I learn the most. The space in between the seconds is my opportunity to open my heart a little more. Acknowledging feelings of hurt, frustration or fear during a sit helps me move beyond instead of running away.

Yes Meditation, you are a crafty vixen but I see you.

Namaste y’all.

 

Ding Dong Goes the Inversion Practice

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I zipped downstairs to an early hot power vinyasa practice with friend Jessica Ashen. She’s a yogi and founder of Spiritual Pretzels Yoga. Jessica brings donation based yoga all over Jersey City. It’s awesome and so is she. Her classes are a mix of being playful and learning how to challenge your body in new ways. Jessica teaches from a place of love that is tangible. As a result, I leave her classes lighter in the heart. I love this because that’s something I used to only get from my hot practice.

Anyway, back to this morning.

It’s great taking classes with a teacher who knows that you teach. They tend to be gently relentless about form and adjustments. I’ve been getting a bit lazy when it comes to stacking my hips over ankles in Uttasana.

No slackin’ with the stackin’ in Jessica’s class. It was what I needed.

Roll  the weight forward onto the toes, roll the weight forward onto the toes, roll the weight forward onto the toes. 

Jessica made an interesting observation about me being in between my vinyasa practice and my hot practice. In hot classes the weight is back in the heels a lot.

Shifting the weight forward into my toes and engaging the low belly and feeling my heels lift,  my body yearned to go higher.

It was my brain that was talking me out of it.

Jessica mentioned Christina Sell and how I need to check out her approach to handstands. I found this video, which is fantastic. She points out that many seemingly unrelated poses connect to turning the body upside down. It’s worth the seven minutes. Check it out.

We did handstand practice again the wall and it felt great. Jessica showed me an exercise that Christina Sell uses called Ding Dong.  As you kick up you alternate tapping feet on the wall. I sort of powered through that and felt good.  Inside my active mind, I thought back to my earlier fold and rolling the weight forward so one day can lift into handstand.

One day I can do it, I thought.

And then…we moved onto practicing Pincha Mayurasana against the wall. It was horrible.   hard.

Oh hello Ego, I didn’t see you sneak into class behind me. Seriously? It’s early, I thought you’d be upstairs asleep with Dakota, or getting coffee down the block waiting to pounce on me later riding my bike to class.

Form matters. It was tough activating my triceps, pushing down and engaging my abs. Sure she could have had me just kick up and play, but there is something to be said for doing it right.

Ugh. Hard work.

“Perfect we have something to work on next time!”, she said.

Groan is what I did.

“Be excited! It’s a new adventure!”

Damn if she wasn’t right. It is a new adventure. Something else I get to explore.

I left with a lighter heart, ready to open the door to the unexpected.

Better still, I reconnected with the foundation of yoga, uniting body and breath.

Yoga keeps reminding me that I can go home again (and again) and that more importantly, I must.

Yoga sweet yoga.

Namaste y’all.

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Adventures in Yoga (Part Two)- Love, Sweat and Tears…The Sweat Lodge Ceremony

Do-one-thing-every-day-that-scares-you.

You are coming
You are coming among us.
We have everything prepared for you
and we are waiting.

– From  The Lakota Ritual of the Sweat Lodge: History and Contemporary Practice

My silent retreat in the Catskills was proving to be an amazing experience.

There was much to be learned when I shut my mouth. I think my biggest revelation was that not everything had to be fixed.

Being in the quiet with my thoughts helped me see that I was talking the talk of being happy but maybe there was a piece of me that was still insecure about my recent life choices.

If a steep (a steep a**) hike could help me be more at peace with every piece of me, what would a sweat lodge ceremony bring?

The night before we attended a Q&A with the leaders of the sweat. Both Sarah and Salvador followed the Lakota tradition of the sweat ceremony.

The sweat ritual would take place in a traditional inipi- it was a structure that had an igloo shape. Inside we would assemble in a circle around the stones that had been heated in a fire right outside of the inipi.

The Lakota see the inside of the inipi as a representation of the inside of Mother Earth’s womb. There are other interpretations but the idea is to cleanse and purify the soul.

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You may be thinking sweat ceremony? Didn’t people die in a sweat ceremony?

I can’t speak about that experience, but I can say I felt really safe and comfortable with Sarah and Salvador.

They explained:

  • We would be dressed modesty (no nudity)
  • The ceremony consisted of four doors
  • The first door we were to let go of what was holding us back (fear, shame, guilt, past hurts, etc)
  • The second door we would focus on what we wanted to have
  • The third door was the pipe ceremony- no drugs. Salvador made it pretty clear that the pitch black, heat, steam and your own mind was plenty to deal with- drugs are not necessary.
  • The fourth door we show our gratitude

After each ’round’ or door, the door would physically open. So, you’re not sitting in the dark heat the entire time.

If it ever got too hot you could ask for the door to leave.

Yeah, yeah you’re saying.

We entered the inipi on all fours and said “Mitakuye. Oyasin”

Salvador asked if anyone was scared- I broke my silence to squeak, ‘ A little.’

He handed me some cedar to sprinkle on the first seven stones that were brought into the inipi. The stones are carefully chosen and are important to the Lakota because of all that they have seen.

After the rest of the stones were brought in the door closed it was dark and Salvador said, ‘It’s gonna be a ride!’

We all laughed- because we were thinking- uh-oh.

But Oneika, what was it like?

In a word- hot. How hot? Not sure- hotter than hot yoga- not so hot that my insides cooked.

In one more word- it was dark. Can’t see your hand on front of your face dark.

It was hot. And I was uncomfortable. I cried. Not a lot.

But enough.

And then I smiled. I hummed along with the songs.

Sharing the darkness with 15 other people and connecting with what they were feeling was a powerful and intimate experience.

It’s a very individual and personal experience.

On Sunday when we entered back into speaking we swapped a couple of experiences. I felt like the fourth door was the the hottest- almost about to call for the door hot.

Some other folks swore that the second door was unbearable. Which I thought was an otherworldly groove. So…

At times my hair was too hot to touch.

I laid down (which is hilarious to imagine because there isn’t much room and it’s pitch black) at one point to touch a space of cold dirt.

It. Felt. Awesome.

I didn’t see a wolf or feel a need to go on a vision quest. I’m not being funny (well maybe a little) but I did leave (on all fours, out of respect- and because I was exhausted) feeling peaceful.

I’m not here to recommend or dissuade anyone from participating in a sweat ceremony.

I think spiritual journeys are a very personal decision. This worked for me.

My hot yoga practice is also pretty intense so I think that may have also helped me deal with the heat element.

But as we shared stories we all got out of it what we needed.

And that seems like it is more than enough.

I’m grateful for the safe and transformative experience that Sarah and Salvador gave me.

Namaste y’all

Stay tuned for the last post on the retreat tomorrow!

Why So Serious? Maintaining Joy in Your Practice

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A few days ago a teacher encouraged me to come to class two days per week with nothing but a mindset of letting go.

I’m thinking too much.
I’ll wait for the shock and awe to sink in.

*crickets*

This is what good teachers do.

They see you.

They watch.

They give good advice.

My over correction issue seems to be getting the best of me.

I may be a little hooked when it comes to letting go.

My backbends are where it’s most obvious.

The good ole heart chakra. I wonder if I have lingering trust issues that are keeping me from falling back. Not relationship kind of stuff, but the trust that comes from making big life changes. Falling into my yoga completely means the letting go of my old life. Am I trying to straddle two worlds? This would explain why my hamstrings have been freaking killing me.

I kid. But for real- there’s some truth here. I have to leap. I have to trust.

I’m resourceful.

I work really hard.

If anyone can make this work- I’d say that I’m probably a good candidate.

Am I keeping all of this fear in my backbend?

Seems crazy- but since I’m writing about it, uh- there’s a good chance that it is so…

Back to the studio…

A deal was struck. Two days weekly I come to class just for fun.

You might infer that I’m waaay too intense on other days, so let me clarify.

There will always be a side of me that is like Alice through the looking glass. My curiosity is infused with tapas. So my fire to learn can burn a bit too brightly.

Striking this balance is just what I need.

This morning I showed up at the 10am. I’ve never been to the Saturday morning class.

Just what the doctor ordered.

I just chilled. I smiled a lot.

It was dare I say, fun.

Disclaimer- I thought about taking the next class thinking maybe I needed a little more.

But I didn’t. Huzzah! Progress.

I was walking to the subway when I saw the teacher who gave me the advice. We said hi like passing ships and I shouted, ‘Hey! I had fun in class today! ‘

She replied, ‘Best news I heard all day!!! I’m so glad.’

Exhale.

Have a great weekend everyone.

This is yoga.

Namaste y’all.

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Adventures in Teaching Yoga – Being Wrong Feels So Right

Yoga Costa Rica

I was wr- wr- wr- wrong about something.

Clearly this yoga ish works because despite the false starts, in the past the word wrong was the ‘he who shall not be named’ of my vocabulary.

Back up, back up!
In the not so distant past, it (this notion of wrong) wasn’t even a thought.
There was what I knew to be true. That’s it.
I know- what a maroon.
Enough of my silly past- the point of the story is far more interesting than my arrival at said point..
How or why one starts yoga doesn’t matter to me.
Let that marinate.
Let me explain, of course I care why someone decides to come their mat. The catalyst matters to the extent that I shape a class or a program for private clients.
As a teacher and yogi it’s my job show them a path that helps connect body, breath and individual goals.
I think I wanted students to arrive at their mats with grand plans of a seeking higher awareness. This was a secret I kept to myself until I realized yesterday that it’s unfair to impose such expectations on anyone. What the hell Neik? You know better… I came back to my mat for good because someone broke my heart. No grand shit there. Pretty cliche actually.
This is a little icky to admit, but isn’t that the point of yoga- to share what makes me feel awkward and dorky so I can embrace it?
This acknowledgment is my connection to the world I suppose. This is how I breathe.
Learning to breathe is a funny thing. If you have been living life with stifled, ragged breathing learning how to exhale can be revolutionary. It can change your way of thinking.
It can also make you face some shit. That’s the dirty, happy secret about body and breath. Once you learn how to do it, all sorts of truths can rise to the surface, some good, some not so much.
No such thing as a little bit of freedom- you are free or you are not.
Not everyone wants to sit with that on their mat.
That’s cool.
Really it is.
If a student discovers that they are a fellow traveler, a seeker if you will- she/he will ask questions and it will be apparent.
Some people just want to relax.
Some people want to learn how to touch their toes.
Some people want to learn how to sit up straighter.
It’s all good.
It’s not my job to judge. It’s my job to teach, love and grow.
Most days I feel like two steps forward, two steps back.
Today, I can flip that.
Ha! It’s a good moment. I’m going to enjoy it.
This is yoga and it loves me even when I am dead wrong. Word.
Namaste y’all.
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What I Learned from 108 Days of Yoga

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Here is a list of the things I had done for more than 108 days in a row:

1. Smoke
2. Quit smoking
3. Breathe
4. Eat
5. Sleep

It’s not a very impressive list.

I didn’t intend to do 108 days of yoga. It was something that I had planned for later in the year. But we never get to plan our greatest lessons.

After doing 45 days of hot and vinyasa I decided to keep going. So overwhelming was the thought, I wasn’t ready to get into the details. It was more personal than I anticipated.

Now that I’m done and have taken some time to reflect, I may have learned a little somethin’.

1. Flexibility

I’m a reformed partially reformed control freak. When things go as I plan, I’m okay. When I expect things to go awry, I’m also okay. But when things go okay and I expect awry, I’ve been known to fuck bring unnecessary chaos where it wasn’t needed. When things go awry and I expect okay I can also get a bit stubborn. While my body is flexy, not all of me is always so willing to stretch.

Work in progress…

I got sick during my 108 days. Panic set in- all I could think of was missing a practice. Fortunately, I’m not all crazy, so there was a side of me that said chill out.

What is yoga anyway? It’s a uniting of body and breath. Maybe your yoga is to do a few restorative poses that foster healing instead of going balls to the wall in 105° heat. This thought didn’t come until after I had practiced two days with no voice in the heat, but like I said I’m a work on progress.

Change happens- it’s the one thing I can count on. 108 days taught me that I can always breathe through it.

Learning to breathe cultivated my flexibility more than any asana.

2. Commitment/Trust

I may or may not be known to twitch just a smidge when it comes to commitment. We all have out shit. This is mine.

But when you show up every single day for 108 days, you learn to trust the process. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen at the end.

Maybe nothing.

Maybe everything.

Regardless, I wanted to see it through. On the days that I really didn’t want to go, I learned the most. There were also days that when I hit my mat and felt like a rock star, only to be humbled, a crumbled sweaty mess.

But fall down seven times, stand up 8.

3. Peace

Say hey, doing 108 days of yoga is a row is hard. But, I did it. The act of practicing daily became meditative, down to the way that I prepared my yoga bag the night before. There was a sense of calm that I took with me once I left my mat.
I think I’m most grateful for this.

I realize that while coming to my mat each day is pretty much given- what will happen in that moment is unknown. That is a little scary. And a lot of fun. But no matter what, I can be with whatever happens.

This is yoga for 108 days and beyond.

Namaste y’all.

Evolution Revolution aka Birthday Yoga

Evolving

I’m a May baby.

It’s hard not to get reflective around your birthday. On Friday I was walking to class listening to Badu’s Window Seat. This doesn’t make the day unique, I listen to this song a ton, but the weather was finally May warm. Everyone seemed to be rockin’ a lil bit of swag in their steps. It’s awesome when people around you unknowingly are cast in your real life music video.

I love everything about Erykah Badu. She seems to live her life eloquently out loud.

A smile crept on my face…Can I get a window seat, nobody next to me…

I resisted the urge to strip as I walked down Newark Avenue. I was feeling pretty  absolutely great.

I’ve read about women truly becoming who they are when they turn 40, but I was in my 30’s so of course I thought it was utter bullshit.

What we don’t plan for when we are young is our constant evolution as people. I’ve changed so much over the years, each year coming closer to what I believe is my most authentic self.

As birthday 42  up, I realize that I couldn’t be more complete. It’s quite a revelation because for so many years I was always searching.

Searching for the perfect job, partner, weight, look, hair etc…

But as I walked in that warm sunshine, I was exactly where I wanted to be literally and metaphorically.

Ooh-ra.

At first glance it might seem like it’s because of my yoga practice.

To say I’ve met some incredible people because of my yoga journey is an understatement. Yoga people are my people, it’s all good in the hood ( as the kids used to say).

But that’s not the source of my peace.

You might think it’s my physical practice. I’m strong again. I love it. There is a joy my body feels because I practice a few hours each day.

But that’s not the source of the peace either.

As my 108 days of yoga comes to a close I realize that yoga brought me close to me. No matter if you are single or married with 10 kids loving others begins with loving yourself.

My love for self goes beyond the regular self-love that I discovered in my 30’s.

It’s the kind of love that comes with unapologetic acceptance of every inch of your body and soul. I love the good in me. I love the stuff that makes me icky.

And living yoga helps me move closer to a place where it’s all okay.

This is yoga and it’s always evolving, just like me.

Namaste y’all.

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Be Where You Are, When You Are

Budha in Garden

“You’re running and you’re running and you’re running away. You’re running and running but you can’t run away from yourself.”

– Bob Marley

I checked out during my hot class. It happens, I’m human.

The slip took place in between poses. The ‘in between’ is a big part of my yoga.

Am I moving mindfully as I transition? Or do I wander somewhere? In the instance mentioned above, go somewhere I did. I wasn’t where I went that mattered. The issue was leaving.

It’s almost too easy to run away. When the going gets tough, ducking out seems like the best option.

In a real or perceived crisis making my exit and kissing it all goodbye seems better than what I used to do- which is fight. Meeting obstacle with obstacle.

Also not a good plan.

There’s middle ground. It’s not all or nothing.
But what would happen if instead of checking out, I checked in? Instead of meeting the heat with a brute force attitude. What if I just hung with it for a sec?

It was only an instant but I came back to the heat. It wasn’t as bad as I had initially thought.

As if she was in my head the teacher started talking about a cabbie who’s sage advice was to be where you are when you are.

I wanted to get up and leave class- not because it was hot, but because that was the answer to the question I didn’t know I was asking.

Un. Freaking. Believable.

Have you had those kinds of moment on your mat?

I checked back in.

Leaving is never the answer.

Deal with being uncomfortable.

Things are never as bad as they seem if you stay.

In fact, things can only get better.

This is yoga and it’s always there for you. So stay.

Namaste y’all.