To India…

On Monday, I’m off to India (for the month of July!).

I’m sorry it’s been a while – too long – since I’ve written. If you can believe it, I’ve had more stories and ideas to share than ever; but somehow I’ve lacked the right words, and the clarity. Not much has changed since then, except now I’m off to India! Despite the obvious excitement of my impending adventure, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so raw, so humbled, or so small – even defeated – before in my life. Of course, I know every experience serves you. In some way, I even wonder if there’s no such thing as wasted time, or bad decisions; but just time, and decisions. And, as we accumulate experiences, we grow and form as a result of these experiences and our own personal reactions out in the big, big world. Well, either way, my world is about the get a lot bigger.

But for now I’m here, currently in Weymouth, Massachusetts with my best girl friends from college – laughing, drinking wine, and catching up on old and new times. On Monday I will board a plane and soon find myself in the over-crowded, noisy, chaotic streets of New Delhi, sharing the road with sweaty cows, mopeds and taxi cabs. Wednesday morning, my first in India, I’ll join classmates on the rooftop of our temporary home, a Jainist monastery, for pre-dawn asana, hopefully as we allow the thick grey smog to kiss our skin with warm embrace. Because, we’re in India. And as for all of India’s other crazy, challenging, unpredictable surprises, oh I know you’re coming. And I’m ready for you.

Too many guilty-pleasure readings of “Eat, Pray, Love” have taught me:

India doesn’t give you what you want, it gives you what you need.

This was my source of reflection this morning when I was finally able to find the time (and energy) to practice for the first time in weeks. [It’s amazing how tight your hips become after two months of travel and no asana.
Remember to keep your Pigeon Pose on hand! (Also note to self)]

From my practice this morning, with a bit of irony and a lot of surrender: 

To India, I go with little time to think – post-finals and a busy wedding season – I’m jumping in with both feet.

To India, because there’s no real choice, but most of all because there could be no other answer.

To India: please treat me well and share all of your richness. I am open, and ready as ever to receive all I have to learn.

I plan to dive into India as a course of study in Jainism (a sect of Buddhism known for its commitment to ahimsa, or universal non-violence), but also as a self-retreat. I surrender to indulge in asana, meditation and mantra; immerse myself in lecture and reading; and lose myself in ancient temples, Puja ceremonies, and the loving company of my cohort. I hope my trip will also include luscious afternoon sessions of day dreaming, journal writing and blog posting, but I’ll make no promises. Ultimately, India gives us what we need anyway. So, who am I to get in the way?

Friends and family on the East Coast: Thank you all so much for the unconditional welcome and warmth over the past few months. On my journey through graduate school – as well as through much, much more – our time together has meant the world. You all serve as a reminder of my roots, but also of who and what I aspire to become. I have so much gratitude for having so many smart, courageous, thoughtful and humble people in my life. Thanks for all you do, and you have my permission to show yourself a little love in my absence. (Had my first massage yesterday – Thanks Jill! – and I’m not looking back!) I’ll be sending more love your way!

To all: There will always be more to come, as long as you’ll have me. In the meantime, make a few moments to get your yoga on! (Or guided meditation, mantra, surf, or creative outlet of your choice) 😉

Bon Voyage,

Amy

My Hymn to Wisdom: Surrender (+ Excerpt)

Longer than I’d like has passed since my last note! This month has been quickly gobbled away by an upcoming Editorial deadline for Worldviews (my first edited issue was published this week & is available to read online), and my first [15-page] paper due in my [boss’] class, Yoga Philosophy: Text & Practice. Despite my scattered priorities, I was able to write what I felt was a kick-ass paper – Even if it meant checking a bit of my sanity. (Shout out to my bf and roomie, Matt, for handling me with love and grace!)

Overall, my lesson from the past several weeks has been: Surrender. In those moments when everything seems to be exploding in my face. When I’m moving so fast that I’m tripping over myself. When I can’t keep my eyes open, but I know I have to keep on going. In those moments – we all have our own versions – I’ve learned to just surrender. What this means physically (aka ‘in my body’), is just to stop. Pause. Inhale deeply. And, exhale deeply. Now that I’ve stopped: Is the world still moving? Are the walls crumbling around me? No. Well, then I guess I didn’t have to hurry as much as I thought I did. And then, I surrender. I either suck it up and keep on going, if that’s what I’m feeling. Or, I suck it up and go to bed, if that’s what I’m really needing. Either way: I surrender. It’s not worth the hassle of a meltdown, or a freakout. The world will keep on turning, either way. (Pass or fail, good or bad, finished or not…it all, always works out.)

My essay for Dr. Chris Chapple’s class focused on my personal interpretation of a hymn from the Rg Veda. My inspiration was a beautiful poem embedded within the ancient text, which divulges the essence and evolution of humanity through an individual’s own self-expression of the spoken word (or Vac). You could say this hymn spoke to me on several levels (the rhetorician, the advocate, the academic…), but I think its resonance on a purely human level makes it worth sharing. What’s more, inspired by our cohort’s recognition of National Eating Disorders Awareness Month by hosting the Day of Play Yoga Festival this Saturday Feb 28th at LMU (@ 1pm — details below), I thought I would, and should, share part of my personal interpretation of the hymn, explaining how I continually find strength and surrender in yoga.

You can find the Hymn to Wisdom (Rg Veda) below, along with a brief overview of the Rg Veda and an excerpt of my personal application of the hymn to my own life. From my corner to yours…

Excerpt: The ‘Right Path’ of Vac: An Exegesis Review of the Rg Veda 10.71, “Hymn to Wisdom,” Feb. 15, 2015

Introduction: Context & Meaning

The significance and impact of the Rg Veda, a foundational text of yoga and Indian philosophy dating back to 1500 B.C., is most evident through its longevity and its undying relevance to contemporary life. The Rg Veda is one of four major texts that together form the foundation of Vedic philosophy. The Rg Veda’s inclusion of sacrifices and hymns to guide readers’ successful completion of ancient rituals demonstrates its historical value; however, arguably even more significant is the text’s meaning and relevance for contemporary readers (who, notably, are not likely reading for literal reenactment). The complexities of life, love, relationships, and the human condition, among other topics, are divulged in poetic simplicity across the pages of the Rg Veda, particularly throughout its series of over 1,000 hymns.

Nine families are credited with writing the hymns, which brings our attention to the plurality of hands, minds, and thereby, perspectives at work in its creation. The majority of authors of the Rg Veda were poets and seers, or those advanced on the path toward enlightenment, often said to tote psychic abilities or magic powers (siddhis). Similarly, brahmans, as referenced in the particular hymn I will examine here, are representative of the highest priestly caste or social class in Vedic society. “Brahman” is also frequently used throughout late Vedic literature to reference the divine aspect residing within all living things, which I interpret as equal to one’s “soul.” Veda, in and of itself, is literally translated to mean “knowledge” in Sanskrit. Through what is likely the oldest philosophical text of this depth (even pre-dating Plato in ancient Greece), contemporary readers are able to find new resonance and wisdom to guide them through the most complex philosophical conundrums spanning the existence of humanity.

The power and complexity of human expression, as well as its interpersonal and social implications, are explicitly explored in Rg Veda 10.71, Hymn to Wisdom:

When men, Brhaspati [Lord of Speech], by name-giving
Brought forth the first sounds of Vac,
That which was excellent in them, which was pure,
Secrets hidden deep, through love was brought to light. 

When man created language with wisdom,
As if winnowing cornflour through a sieve,
Friends acknowledged the signs of friendship,
And their speech retained its touch.

They followed the path of Vac through sacrifice [ritual],
Which they discovered hidden within the seers [wise men].
They drew her out, distributing her in every place,
Vac, which Seven Singers her tones and harmonies sing.

Many a man who sees does not see Vac,
Many a man who hears does not hear her.
But to another she reveals her beauty
Like a radiant bride yielding to her husband.

Who forsakes a friend, having known friendship,
He never had a part or a share of Vac.
Even though he hears her, he hears in vain;
For he knows nothing of her right path.

.

  1. One man recites verses,
    Another chants hymn Sakvari measure.
    The brahman talks of existence, and yet
    Another sets the norms for the sacrifice.1

Personal Application

As a successful graduate from a private university in Boston, I quickly secured a job out of college with an impressive title, and had loving friends and family who supported me unconditionally. But, I was very unhappy. What right did I have to be unhappy? And yet, I couldn’t deny it, seemingly without cause. Despite my decision to seek guidance from a nutritionist and weekly meetings with a therapist, my eating habits became increasingly disruptive and unhealthy as a result of my unhappiness. My therapist informed me that I was classified as having ‘disordered eating,’ characterized as being on the verge of an eating disorder, but not (yet) having fully taken the plunge. When she asked me why I didn’t [take the plunge], I hesitated. Truthfully, I wasn’t quite sure. “I guess, I couldn’t do that to my body,” I responded. “Or to myself.” My therapist suggested that I was a “psychological prodigy,” given my ability to self-analyze and discern unhealthy thought patterns to choose my course of action, or “right path,” accordingly. When I didn’t gain what I’d hoped from my sessions with her – I still didn’t know what was ‘wrong’ with me – I ended them after six months. Soon after, I moved to California, in search of whatever it was I was missing. Today, my daily rift with depression is gone. I eat whatever I want without fear or anxiety. I am the healthiest I have ever been without the stress or self-loathing that characterize disordered eating, or an exercise obsession. And, most importantly, I am the happiest I have ever been.

You would think this is the end of the story; but in truth, it depends on which story we’re telling. Yes, my struggle has subsided to reveal a happy ending: I am healthy, I am happy, and I have conquered (at least a few of) my demons. But the real catalyst for this positive transformation wasn’t any event in singularity. Rather, it was learning to consistently listen to and cultivate my own intuition or Vac, and to leverage this wisdom in guiding my actions and learning self-love. This is an instance of how surrendering and harmonizing with my inner guiding principle proved to remedy a source of suffering in my life. However, this is just one instance and one moment in my life, while realizing Vac [as real peace] requires cultivating inner harmony throughout a lifetime. And so, in truth, my story continues…

*This is not to suggest, by any means, that this is an easy feat, or that yoga is the only or best way to address disordered eating, depression or an eating disorder. These are just some of my personal thoughts and observations. And, of course, when these types of thoughts do arise, it’s a continuous battle – not to be discounted. But, learning to control your own thoughts, to cultivate positive thinking, to practice yoga (of the body and mind), in my experience, is a wonderful place to start.

With love, Amy

Day of Play Yoga Festival
Sat / Feb 28 / 1p-5p
Sunken Gardens, Loyola Marymount University

Day of Play will bring together Yoga, music, movement, and discussion in order to cultivate awareness, self-care, a supportive community, and positive feelings about one’s body. This event is donation based and open to the public. Activities include a group Vinyasa Yoga class, AcroYoga, Yoga Slacklining, vendor booths, food trucks, a discussion panel, and a mindful sound bath meditation.

For more information please visit: http://www.gofundme.com/kjtxzo.

  1. deNicolas, Antonio (1976). Meditations Through the Rg Veda: Four-Dimensional Man. Stony Brook, NY: Nicolas Hays Ltd.

Living your Truth (the true grassroots movement)

Every conversation, and every challenge brings us clarity. In our individual process, our unique life, we’re all creating our own story. And at times, I know I get all too anxious to know how the story ends…

But, of course, this is just wishing time away. Valuable, irretrievable time, which in culmination builds our lives. And I imagine one day, not too far away, I’ll be wishing for more.

This insight drives me to incorporate, but not always rely on my heart, as well as my head in decision-making. Because, if we’re only here a short time, it’s reasonable to hope that we make the most of it. So we can look back at our lives lived, our own story, with a full heart – and no regrets.

There are many ways to go about this, and no wrong way. But, there is your way. A concept I’m particularly interested in – which is a theme of the ancient texts and textbooks we’ve been reading in school – is that of individual “duty,” or as I’ve come to understand it as, one’s unique “purpose.”

In Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita (written in approximately 300 C.E), Krishna (the eighth worldly incarnation of the god, Vishnu) imparts to the great warrior Arjuna before he enters into battle: “Now, if you will not undertake/ This righteous war,/ Thereupon, having avoided your own duty and glory,/ You shall incur evil…Your right is to action [duty] alone.”

Many centuries later, in the 19th century C.E. Ralph Waldo Emerson (a Harvard graduate) founded the Transcendentalist movement here In the United States. In his ground breaking essay, Self Reliance, he belabors the significance of individual authenticity for the benefit of society, to evoke and unleash one’s own genius (more here); ultimately, in my favorite line he states simply: “But do your work and I shall know you.”

In the 20th century, Mahatma Ghandi (or the “great soul” in Sanskrit) had the courage to voice his beliefs and to publicly advocate for the liberation of India from British rule. He is credited with the nation’s success, and yet the U.S. – not India – was the first to recognize his honor and integrity as an individual force for empowerment. Ghandi credits his courage to God (or his higher power), and simply shared with all who inquired that it was his duty, his purpose on this Earth to serve out this work. (Bob Dylan used the same allusion to “duty” to describe his experience as a musician and songwriter, as that of a conduit; receiving messages to share with the world from and as part of something bigger.) Ghandi read the 2nd chapter of the Bhagavad Gita every morning, and cited it for motivating his voice and leading his service for the sake of humanity throughout his life.

Not long after, Martin Luther King Jr. led the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. Today, we celebrate his work annually, and recognize his name as synonymous with efforts for justice and peace. MLK too read Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita regularly, and specifically revered it as his source of inspiration, in conjunction with the Bible, in motivating his work.

Nelson Mandela served as South Africa’s first black chief executive (President) and first democratically elected individual in the early 1990’s. Prior, he served 27 years in prison for standing up for his beliefs to end the apartheid and embrace racial equality, justice and peace. Mandela also credited the Bhagavad Gita for inspiring and motivating his service throughout his life, and up until his recent passing in 2013.

Well, maybe it’s our turn…to believe in something bigger.

I have a dream that yoga as a philosophy and a worldview is a source for empowerment. That it is undeniably and inextricably connected to individual, societal and global politics as a vested belief system and lifestyle (with a physical practice to aid in this process), representative at its core of truth, justice and peace; that it has the power to inspire people to their fullest potential by motivating them to speak and live by their own Truth (and thereby, also enjoy life more fully). Inspired by a higher purpose, if not a higher power, yoga is nondenominational and nontheistic. It doesn’t require prescribing to Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, or any religion at all. For instance, my higher power is the Universe: a force I believe to be greater than myself, which – as the sun and the moon guide our existence – provides comfort, predictability, and an opportunity for fulfillment of purpose for each and every creature that lives within it.

Purpose, truth, duty. It’s heavy, for sure. But yet, we see the Earth degrading beneath and around us, and the large majority of the world’s population suffering in ways we in the U.S. could never imagine, if only in our worst nightmares. This is life. This is it. And, we create it – past and future. We are responsible for it, and for how our individual behaviors impact the greater whole, the entirety of the human race, and the world around us.

This realization is scary, and perhaps the most daunting task that can and will ever be set before us. (And so, we see many of today’s politicians turning a blind eye.) But again, what’s most important to recognize is: we create it. We control it; what will remain for future generations and the course of our own lives. All we need to do, as individuals (perhaps the best and greatest grassroots movement) is to live truthfully and cultivate a real personal sense of compassion and peace; and others (even the most unlikely among us) will follow. According to a December 2012 study, over 20 million Americans practice yoga regularly – and the number continues to grow. What if all of these people united their practice* as a way to explore and ultimately live out their Truth, their “duty” – while losing weight and reducing stress at the same time. [Rupert Murdoch and Oprah Winfrey reportedly meditate every day…anything is possible.] * (yoga = “yoke” or “union”)

I still strive for clarity of my own purpose, my own duty. And I understand this is a life long journey, and that we may never fully realize the fruits of our labor during our time on Earth (but we can plant the seeds…) The biggest, and most challenging part of this process is trust. To trust that if you are a good person and you are open to new possibilities, that the right one’s will find you, and soon you will see clearly your purpose, and your duty – for your own happiness, for the prosperity of those you love, and thereby for the betterment of the greater whole, the human race, and Mother Earth.

I believe it, because great men (and unspoken women) before me believed it. And through this belief, they accomplished what no one else before them was able to do. By simply changing their own lives, they changed their nation and the world.

Trust. For the betterment of our nation, for the safety and prosperity of future generations, for the love of life and in gratitude for all we’ve been given, I urge you to listen and trust in your own authenticity. (That voice inside you that tells you what’s right and what’s wrong – even if it goes against what other people are doing, or thinking, or even saying…) We all innately want to be great: Mahatma, “great souls.” All we need to do is stay open and trust (according to the great’s before us, practicing yoga regularly makes this much easier, even effortless and blissful); because the world is broken, and every voice can and should be a voice of reason, a role model to bring about hope in our own small way. By always learning, growing, and living our own Truth –  we can all be that voice.

With love and in honor of those who paved the path before us, to venture into our own authenticity and our own genius. There is always a light.

I hope you might join me (in your own way) in committing to using your lifetime to explore and relinquish your own: Let your light shine!

Namaste,
Amy

Photo Credit: Alex’s Photo Blog from Jama Masjid, Old Delhi, India (2011)

New Years Revelation

It’s New Years resolution time. A time I remember greeting with promise, hope and great expectations, this year, seems a bit more daunting. It might be that I’m growing older – which was no more apparent than while suffering the day-long consequences of enjoying one drink too many at a holiday party last week (my 21-year-old liver is no more…) Or, it might be circumstantial – following my first semester in grad school, I already find myself searching for the light at the end of the tunnel. (While I won’t say it’s all darkness ahead, I will say I can’t yet see the light…)

Of course, it could also be that my year as a yogi has changed my perspective.

In the midst of the holiday season and a particularly stressful time in my life, I’ve been seriously craving some clarity and some reprieve, which has led me to consider how my mindset is impacted by dwelling on the choices I’ve made in the past and on my anxiety for the future. As you’ve likely heard before, the practice of yoga is about bringing your awareness into the present. I recently read in James Fowler’s “The Present Moment” that the practice of meditation can even be simply defined as an act of “love for the present moment,” (as well as for the love of Truth, of Beauty and of Goodness – such a beautiful sentiment, I’ve recently incorporated into my practice/daily intention setting). And Yoga Journal recently shared that the key to happiness is to stop planning for our ideal future, and to shift our focus on living today, in this moment.

As these seeds were planted in the back of my mind, the time was right – and ripe – for a revelation. And sure enough, as often happens during my daily practice [of asana and meditation], a single thought swept through me and helped assuage my fears and anxieties for the coming year. Just like that…Not a resolution, but a New Years Revelation:

You have everything you need.

Soaking in the peace of mind that comes along with this resonance, I realized I need a re-prioritization this coming year – Not a ‘quick fix’ solution, or yet another brilliant addition to my busy schedule, as I often associate with a resolution. I already have it all, but my current mindset consumed by back-peddling and negativity isn’t serving me, or allowing for all the Truth, Beauty and Goodness of the present moment to shine through, to really enjoy it. Although I usually avoid getting too personal (because after-all, A Year in Yoga is all about you!), I hope that sharing more of my revelation with all of you might help plant the seed to inspire your own, for a happier, brighter, more content and gratitude-filled year ahead…So here it goes ❤

 My Priority List for 2015:

  1. Self-care. Much of my work in Yoga Studies thus far has centered around healing and trauma, and what I’ve come to learn is that everyone is healing from some sort of trauma (big or small) – and it’s not our job or our right to evaluate how deep, how harsh, or how justified someone else’s trauma, or journey is. I can’t be any good at my job, in my relationships, or even in my yoga practice, without taking care of myself first. (A lesson I can attest, I’ve learned the hard way.) For me, this means allowing myself time and space. Time to breath in between an all too hectic schedule, even if this means telling someone else you’re unavailable. (Sorry, I’ve got a date with myself tonight!) And space: a few moments of solitude, a clean environment, and at least an hour a day when I’m totally unplugged. Create your own rules, or don’t. Whatever it takes to give yourself the attention you need to heal from whatever hurt you’re holding onto; to rejuvenate, to flourish. You’re no good to anybody, until you’re good to yourself; and life is, along with many other [beautiful, wonderous] things, a process of healing.
  1. Love. I have to admit, this is a new list-topper for me. I’ve always loved the idea of love, but I’ve never wanted to make it a priority. It’s simply too scary. The moment you open yourself up to love, you create space for rejection and loneliness. It’s much easier to be alone. Much easier, but empty. And certainly no less lonely. This kind of love doesn’t have to be with a significant other, it can be for a family member, a best friend, even a furry companion – but it is that pitfall, head over heels, unconditional, crazy-expressive-passionate kind of love; that fills your heart until tears well up in joy, and makes you equally as vulnerable to hurt and despair at its loss. If you’re lucky enough to have experienced this kind of love, you’ll likely also agree that it’s simply this feeling that makes life worth living. It gets you out of bed in the morning, keeps you going when you’re running on fumes, and picks you up when you (inevitably) trip over your own feet and fall on your face. While yogis aim to embody detachment, this kind of love is the only exception. To love whole-heartedly and steadfastly, to love all living things this way is a yogi’s primary goal. Because only by loving this way can we achieve happiness, and can we find peace, in our lives and for others. I am so very blessed to have an abundance of love in my life. Really, what else is there to want? But putting our own ambition, or other priorities ahead of love means abusing it. It’s a two-way street. Let the love in your life come first and guide you, and you will have a life full of love – and therefore, at its very core, of happiness and peace.
  1. Stability. Of course, even with love and self-care, we all need stability in our lives to do anything more to function in society. (Consider: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) Having grown up blessed with a strong foundation of stability, I ventured out over the past several years for a taste of challenge, of hardship (though not explicitly so at the time). I had something to prove, to myself. If I wanted to serve populations who had less than me, then I felt I needed to know what that really meant – and even what that felt like. Studying abroad in a third world country, working full-time for minimum wage, and immersing myself in homeless, low-income and prison populations; these choices have undoubtedly shaped my life. I say so with full recognition of how privileged I am to have made these choices – sprinkled after and in between my private college education, graduate coursework, well-paid jobs and refused opportunities. But what I’ve learned, however difficult at times, has been invaluable. Stability to me, represents a strong support system and enough financial resources to provide a home, pay the bills, and put food on the table (which varies in feasibility based on location and skill-set). When one of these areas is lacking, our whole being is at risk. The love and self-care we’ve worked so hard to cultivate is threatened, and we’re unable to do much more than run in place, and just “get by.” Evaluate what makes you feel stable; what’s your springboard for growth? And be so grateful for it. Nurture it. Cultivate it. Cherish it. This is also living with present awareness for all that we already have, and a goal of mine for the coming year.
  1. Be. And the rest will come. I can spend today, tomorrow and next year conjuring up my next project, worrying about my final exam, mulling over my past mistakes, and yearning for the light at the end of the tunnel. But at what cost? Too often stress and anxiety overshadows our ability to experience, enjoy and live in the present. By living this way, we risk losing a sense of ourselves and of those we love. When we finally achieve whatever it is we’re after, or perhaps just get tired of the chase, who will be there with us? What kind of shape will we be in – our physical bodies and our mental well-being – when we get there? Will we really be able to enjoy it, or will we already have our eye on the next prize ahead – an even bigger house, a more expensive car, a promotion, another degree? What about right now? Wasn’t there a moment when we dreamed of being right here? Relish it. We’ve all worked hard and learned tough lessons, jumped over hurdles and slayed dragons to be here – and here we are. We’ve worked so hard to be right here. So, we better enjoy it – You never know what tomorrow will bring.

Instead of thinking about what you should add to your life in 2015, I encourage you to consider all you already have. And challenge yourself to have your own New Years Revelation. To re-prioritize what really matters to you, at this point in your life, and allow that to be your mantra and your intention for the coming year. And strive to just be with it.

Sending boundless love and well wishes for a safe and very merry new year to you and yours. Cheers to all that 2015 will bring!

The light in me honors the light in you.

Namaste,

Amy

Photo: Throwback to New Years 2012 with my BFF Ashley at Lansdowne Pub Fenway Park in Boston. Thank you, Ashley for being there through it ALL and for always letting your light shine – & for always encouraging and inspiring me to do the same ❤

Give in to Comfort (+ Recipe)

O’ tidings of comfort and joy! Comfort and joy… I’ve never stopped to consider these lyrics before, but giving a nod to a holiday classic, I’d have to say that word choice here is key. Tidings of comfort can allude to many things, such as that of family, of warmth – both physical (hanging fireside with hot cocoa) and emotional (open hearts and widespread generosity), of abundant food and ideally of relaxation. To feed yourself [and others], to love yourself [and others], to celebrate love, life and gratitude for all that you have. For an old church hymn, they’ve covered a lot of ground. (Good work, ye merry gentlemen!)

Of course, like any good celebration, the holidays come with their fair share of temptations and frustrations (and did I mention, expectations?). So, if you’re like me, the pre-Thanksgiving time is marked by a bit of anxiety. Excitement for a season of family and friends [with their respective social outings and get togethers], and a looming hope that you don’t get too carried away – with your holiday shopping, long-nights out and working overtime, heated dinner-table discussions with relatives, or double chocolate fudge [martini] indulgence. How do we walk the fine line between indulging in the comfort of the season and not over-indulging? It’s a difficult balance made much simpler by approaching the season with mindfulness – remembering that indulgence foremost means caring for yourself.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you look forward to the comfort and joy of the holiday season! (And to relieve any lingering anxiety over all the goodness yet to come…)

Bubble baths. To me, bubble baths are the ultimate form of indulgence. For you, it may be something else – perhaps reading a book or having a glass of wine by the fireplace (actually, I change my answer…) Take time during your time off this holiday season to indulge the way you want to. Too often in the past, I’ve felt the holidays have come and gone without allowing myself any time to relax. But I’m giving you permission – you can even put it in your calendar! – to make time for yourself, as often as you can, to indulge this holiday. (I’m talking bubble baths, candles, home facials and red wine…) You’ll be just as grateful come January, when you return to your routine feeling rested and rejuvenated 😉

Taste everything. As I’ve said before: Food is love! And you deserve only the best. But, of course, the best includes Gramma’s seasonal batch of double chocolate fudge and late-night pizza with high school friends. Don’t deny yourself a single thing this holiday, but do allow yourself [in most cases] just a taste. (Don’t panic – for me, this translates as one piece of fudge or 1-2 slices of pizza. Make it as realistic as it is delicious.) Ultimately, you have control over how much of what ends up on your plate. Start off with a taste of everything you want – one or two spoonfuls (use your judgment) – and then pick the thing (or two) you liked the most and go back for more! For dessert, go for that big ol’ slice of pie – but be kind to your body, pick just one (big) or two (small) things. And if you’re feeling bummed about missing out on a second piece of pie or that other tasty treat in the back, take one home for tomorrow or split with a friend. (I sometimes have to remind myself, there will be many more chocolate chip cookies in my future. No need to eat them all now!) Allow yourself to indulge in all the comfort of the season, while remembering to care for yourself foremost. This is key to avoiding next-day belly aches and painful hangovers at the holidays – and throughout the year, tried and true!

Stay Well. A lot goes on during the holiday season, you could even say it’s gained a reputation for stirring the pot. High emotions – of grief and loss, of being over-worked and exhausted, of frustration and anger, of fears and expectations for the coming year – often associated with the season are compounded by high stress, a natural derivative of the holidays. Acknowledge this, and even excuse yourself in advance. If and when things do come up, let them and then let them go. Take care of yourself and care for others. Greet stress  with as much compassion as you can muster. Remember that over-indulging in one thing, won’t relieve the burden of another. Give yourself the courtesy of acknowledging what you’re feeling as it comes up, and then take a step back and check out the big picture (“I’m really exhausted from being so busy.” Or, “I just miss my family, a lot.”) Then, from that place, decide how you’ll react. Take a nap, cook dinner for a friend, call a loved one, or hit a yoga class; indulge in a way that’s constructive and that won’t further aggravate yourself or others. Give yourself some love, and stay well.

Coincidently, these three are also a recipe for joy. I didn’t fully understand the meaning of joy, nor did I take much interest, until I challenged myself to follow these steps to the best of my ability, everyday (about a year ago this holiday). Since then, my constant belly aches have gone away, stress has become more manageable, I get sick less, I feel better, and I eat everything I want (but usually, just a taste). Caring for yourself is foremost. Once you can sustain a healthy balance of giving unto others (i.e. work, friends & family) and giving in to comfort – there is only joy. (Although, I’ll be the first to say this is an ongoing process, it’s certainly a commitment worth making to yourself, and for others.)

Live well and be well! ‘Tis the season of comfort & joy! I’m looking forward to spending quality time with friends and family in the coming weeks and wish you all of the comfort and joy that this season brings!

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As the weather gets cooler – and the urge to curl up on the couch gets stronger – I thought I’d share a recipe to put aside for your next night at home. Just keep a box of Annie’s handy and add other goodies as you see fit! Bon appetit…

This is a favorite variation to spruce up my favorite comfort food. I encourage you to add, subtract and modify to make it as delectable for you.

Veggie Bomb [Buffalo] Mac n’ Cheese
(Makes enough for two, or one with leftovers!)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Box Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese (I love the “white shells,” but you can use any brand or variety you like. I’d recommend sticking with organic or whole wheat, if possible.)
  • Buffalo Sauce (Franks or any variety. Hot sauce works, too!)
  • Almond milk (or soy or organic dairy. I wouldn’t recommend using coconut milk here, as it’s consistency isn’t ideal for the “n’ cheese” to follow)
  • Kale and/or Spinach (or any dark leafy green in your fridge)
  • Celery, 4 stalks chopped
  • Consider adding: chopped tomato, red, green or hot peppers, onion or broccoli, as desired

Protein, optional:

  • Tofu (firm, cut into cubes), boneless chicken (thin tenders are easiest) or chicken sausage

Directions:

  • Cook pasta according to box. Chop celery and put aside.
  • In a frying pan, layer the bottom with buffalo sauce (no oil necessary, but optional) and allow protein to cook in sauce. Tofu can be heated 5-10 minutes; chicken may take longer or can be pre-cooked. Add celery to frying pan and let simmer.
  • Once pasta is cooked to taste and before draining water, turn off stove and stir in leafy greens as desired. (The hot water in the pot will cook up the greens without overcooking the pasta. If you forget and drain accidentally, that’s all right – just add greens to frying pan with celery.)
  • Drain water, add milk n’ cheese, stir and let sit a minute or two for sauce to thicken.
  • Combine all ingredients and enjoy!

Also – if you’re in need of any ideas for your Thanksgiving potluck, I’ll be cooking up some California Oatmeal Cookies with cranberries and dark chocolate chips 😉

Stay Well ❤

Amy

Personal Photo: Santa Monica Pier summer concert series, circa 2013

Be Bold, Be Beautiful

Entering into the “world of yoga” can be intimidating. Especially in Los Angeles and especially in your mid-20’s, there’s a lot of pressure to achieve a certain standard. To add to this pressure, I’ve primarily developed my personal practice and knowledge of yoga by teaching myself at home.

In grad school right now, we’re learning in detail about the different types of guru-student relationships – characterized by one-on-one mentorship from a “teacher,” in this sense, spiritually focused – that are so essential to understanding and developing a personal yoga practice, in keeping with yoga’s historical and traditional integrity. However, the reality is that the rapid growth in popularity of yoga among Westerners today (especially in the States) has largely diminished concern for consistency in the traditional practice of yoga, simply out of necessity. In the interest of “reaching” as many people as possible, yoga teachers and studios aim to pack their [increasingly, hot] rooms to capacity. This leaves many intermediate yogis who have grown to feel and appreciate the deeper benefits of yoga, lacking the classically acclaimed direction and guidance necessary from a “teacher” to enable their development from intermediate to advanced; or, more specifically, to harness the full benefits of yoga in the truest sense, enabling cultivation of utmost strength, happiness and longevity.

I acknowledge and respect that not everyone who is interested in yoga seeks or expects any psychological or spiritual benefit. (I started with Bikram, remember?) But for those who have recognized a shift in thinking since beginning their practice, or might in the future, it’s natural to yearn for greater nourishment – perhaps, a teacher training – to explore the full scope of your evolving practice. While Westerners continue to sort through this puzzle of adapting traditional Eastern practices into modern Western society (big things to come from my wonderful peers at LMU!), it’s important to keep in mind for your personal practice, the integrity and real purpose of yoga – and not to let the pressure get to you.

If you’ve “followed” any yogis on Instagram lately, you’re likely familiar with the pressure I’m talking about. The intimidation factor that has made its mark on yoga in the West emphasizing achievement in yoga as equivalent to obtaining physical strength and a glamorous physique. (I recently saw the winner of an Instagram yoga contest posted a picture of herself in wheel pose, perfectly toned, in her bra and panties…) So, in order to be credible in the “yoga world,” you need to be able to stand on my hands, touch your feet to your head, and jump through a ring of fire (naked)? Props to those girls (& guys), but I’m not sure that’s for me, and if I’m a beginner, this might make me think yoga’s not for me. Sometimes, like many others I know, I’ve put down my phone after an intense scrolling session and decided: “I’ll just practice later.” I lost my yearning in a wave of feeling that my practice was inferior; this, of course, being the antithesis of the very virtues we’re trying to cultivate in yoga: of confidence, of feminine power (shakti) and of unconditional love.

However, those images are only one perspective on “beauty” and honestly, though they are beautiful, I think they’re overplayed. Where’s the color, the fun, the creativity, the authenticity that truly characterize yoga? Have you ever laid in child’s pose and allowed your breath to takeover, losing sense for a brief moment of your long “To Do” list, and with it, the arguments and disappointments of the day? Finding this kind of calm in an otherwise hectic day of work and errands; that is truly beautiful. And the ease and accessibility of this posture – that anyone, anywhere, of any age, race, or orientation, can achieve this benefit (or, “yoga high”) in child’s pose – That is beautiful.

All this to say, whether in your yoga practice or out in the world, you should feel free to be, do and live as you are and where you are, today. This is your life, and there is no right way. That applies to your yoga asanas, Instagram posts, professional trajectory and personal interactions. There is a healthy way, a kind way, and an authentic way – but not a right one. Don’t let others’ standards (with their fancy handstands or boardroom presentations) make you think any differently about yourself, and what you could or should do to succeed, and to be valued. You are valuable, and your contribution is already great, whether you realize it or not – as long as it comes from a place that is genuine. Thinking boldly in this way, nothing can stop you. And more likely than not, you’ll be surprised by just how much you can do. Sometimes, I’ve learned, we are our own best teacher.

Next time you practice, whether in a class, in your bedroom, or in front of your television, remember that there’s more to yoga than handstands and that there’s more to you than meets the eye. And allow this awareness to inspire you, in all aspects of your life.

I also challenge you to post a picture of yourself on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter in your favorite, simple yoga posture (mine is tree pose – above!) as a friendly reminder to everyone out there that there is real beauty in simplicity. You just have to be willing to change your perspective. 

Be bold, be beautiful Xx

Amy