Midnight Glory

This week, I am preparing to graduate. That means it has been not only one, but two years in yoga since I started this venture in writing…

I have no words, and I have so many. But, the greatest piece of knowledge I’ve likely received is a broadened awareness of myself, and of the world. I no longer feel that I need to fit into a box. In fact, I am even more intent on creating my own – but, now with a sense of foundation and roots, from and through which I can really flourish (instead of flounder…)

I have learned that there are no ‘rules and norms’ that guide our lives and our rituals. Only the things we allow to affect us, do. Knowing this – and really, truly believing it – we can experience freedom from everything, and everyone. Freedom in decision-making, in self-validation, and even in self-nurturing (through practices like yoga, that teach us to care for ourselves).

There is no normal. Our world is made of so much difference, and yet we’re all so interconnected, and interdependent. A teacher once told me, “At the root of every issue is a lack of love.” By believing this, and bringing a willingness to openly share love, there can be a solution, to anything. It’s so silly, and extremely idealistic; and yet, in my experience, it is absolutely true. Love changes everything. If you bring sincere friendship, empathy and compassion into any type of environment, it will flourish. From hospitals to prisons, universities and rehab centers – love, it seems, cures all.

There are no norms, there are no rules. There is only you, and this; and ideally, love.

But, that part’s up to you. First to find in yourself, and then to unabashedly share.

You can.

 

In love,

Amy

Know Thyself

A huge, hindering theme of the past year (2015) has been, “know thyself.” Without religious context or forceful presentation, the advice or suggestion to better ‘know myself’ was prevalent; and perhaps unsurprisingly, came to a head in the intensely evocative, hazy midst of India. What I might now recall as recovering from a “deep depression,” (relative only in the realm of my own experience), was much less an awakening but a pervasive relief; a relinquishment of some terrible unidentifiable burden of the past. What was I carrying? Pain, fear, grief. I carried them all the way to India. But, they never made it back.

That’s the magic, and the “spirituality” of India. You don’t know what happening when it’s happening. You don’t always know your own pain, your own sadness or overwhelm, before, during or after. It’s a shadow of darkness we avoid like the plague, that contains all of our sadness, confusion, pain. Things you never even knew bothered you suddenly arise. Things you never wanted to remember. Things you usually can’t remember. It’s all buried in us, and is rediscovered and released through the practice of yoga. Yoga is a process of purging, of cleansing and purifying, that challenges our being and threatens immediate gain for the promise of a truer, happier, healthier, more prosperous “you” somewhere down the road. This is my path, as I’ve ridden the tsunami wave of my past year; likely one of the most difficult, and one of the most rewarding of my life. I can’t yet know completely what it all means and how it all ends, but I so welcome the year ahead.

And welcome the beacon that challenges me: KNOW THYSELF

On the first day of the new moon as a new year unfolds, I hope you might find inspiration through your own practice to seek renewal – whatever this means to you. As I’ve also been reminded before, ‘once you face the darkness, there is only light.’ (That means simple, straight-up happiness always. Imagine no mood swings.) Turns out, it’s attainable. But the road is hard as #*&$.

But so, so worth it.

KNOW THYSELF!

Embrace 2016 with open arms. And perhaps you’ll share my commitment to renewal through regular practice, learning, and well practiced self-love. (Manicures, massage, candles always, incense often…) Best. Year. Ever.

With so much love,

Amy

//

Photo Cred: Snapchat by (fellow Yoga Master) Whitney Cerullo on New Years Eve 2015. Judge as you must…This is me in a moment of real happiness. Surrounded by friends, hope and so much love. 🙂

No Escaping It: “I Am That”

Looking into the mirror at myself just earlier, I gasped aloud. Large black smudges under both eyes, stringy and frazzled hair, tired eyes and skin imperfections. But, before I knew it the girl in the mirror was smiling at me, and I felt the tension in my body let go. It was okay. I know her…

There’s no escaping it. I write and I write and I write. My fingers on the right start to feel crippled and numb, but it doesn’t stop me. I’m not sure what drives me. I’ve been after that answer for years. But, I know that my heart aches to know it. That my mind dreams about it. And that by giving my full self into everything I do, fostering love in myself and striving to understand the incomprehensible – this fills my heart and gives me more wealth and fulfillment than I’ve ever known.


2015-09-17 15.50.25-1
“I am THAT!” – Instagram
Looking into the mirror at myself just earlier, I gasped aloud. Large black smudges under both eyes, stringy and frazzled hair, tired eyes and skin imperfections. But, before I knew it the girl in the mirror was smiling at me, and I felt the tension in my body let go. It was okay. I know her…

“I am That” will sometimes pop into my mind while catching a glimpse of my own reflection. It’s a phrase often referenced in classical theological discourse and is even alluded to in the popular Hindi mantra: Om Namah Shivaya. I like its simplicity, and its resonance on some unknowable level. And so it’s stuck.

“I am That” has become an unexpected reassurance that I have not, until now, fully acknowledged. It arises from a place in me where I guess that intuition, pre-cognitive dreams, and strange meditative experiences come from. It’s not posed as a suggestion when it pops into my brain, but as a forceful assurance. There is no reason to worry. “I am That.”

I am so blessed – with education, good health, family and friends; I am so lucky to be born into a wonderful family who taught me how to be authentic in life above all else; I am so powerful for having made it this far, for having chased a dream and allowed myself to find love and be loved along the way. “I am That,” and that is ever changing. But, there are also parts of me that have never changed and will never change – and from that place, I’m glad to have a reminder that I am here, present, and ever-evolving. This means forgiving yourself, enjoying every moment, and loving with every ounce of yourself while you have the time, the energy, and the power to give. “I am That.” Something pure and forgiven. Innocent and all knowing. I am that.

It sounds crazy, like something you’d overhear two old ladies discuss after church. But really it just means allowing yourself to move on, rather than clinging and obsessing over past mistakes, embarrassing moments, or bad interviews. It means having the courage to be authentic, to wear what you want when you want, to go where you want when you want (if I hear one more person say: “I’m too fat for yoga”…) , to live compassionately, to always give the benefit of the doubt, to welcome your neighbors and befriend your enemies, to life in a way that represents you, that you’re proud of, and that enables you to give your time, resources or energy back to those in need.

I’m not reading from a textbook or quoting last night’s lecture. There is no specific way of going and no certain outcome. Each path is unique, and after a five year journey from Copley Square Bikram to LMU, I have learned that I know very, very little; except that: “I am That.” And, since life is so short, I strive to live as fully and as best as I can.

I am thankful to yoga for giving me many paths to choose – different schools, ideas, and ways of thinking to explore – and for giving me many tools – mantra, yoga /asana, meditation, mala beads, freeform expression. Some I learned through reading, but others through exploring and moving within my personal practice. Thank you for the ability to practice as I please, to move freely, and to eventually gain the power stop judging myself.

This is what it means to live in yoga (to me). Without any assignment to religious denomination, political party or economic status; anyone can be healthy, engaged, and happy – but it comes with a price. It demands opening your mind and giving in, or rather seriously “letting go.”

When I moved to Los Angeles two years ago, I had a strong ego and a very specific list of priorities. (And I was fucking killing it, if I do say so myself…) But, sometimes, when we allow things to ruin our plans the best things can finally happen to us.

******************************************

Today, I’m also pleased to launch AYearInYoga.com!!! Be sure to check out my new and improved (inter)face 😉

I have a while to go before I get it where I want it to be – including more classes, workshops, and events scheduled, and videos, techniques and practices to share! I am so appreciative of having you along for the journey! It inspires me to know that there are other strong, intelligent, courageous people (particularly women, woo woo!) who are willing to learn, strive and expand in the name of yoga. In the meantime, don’t forget to bookmark me, share with loved ones & friends, and check in every now and again to see what I’m up to!

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Stay tuned! Sending love always,

xx Amy

// Photo Cred: Thank you Matt Annese for capturing so many amazing photo ops! @ Big Sur, Halloween 2015

No Escaping It: "I Am That"

Looking into the mirror at myself just earlier, I gasped aloud. Large black smudges under both eyes, stringy and frazzled hair, tired eyes and skin imperfections. But, before I knew it the girl in the mirror was smiling at me, and I felt the tension in my body let go. It was okay. I know her…

There’s no escaping it. I write and I write and I write. My fingers on the right start to feel crippled and numb, but it doesn’t stop me. I’m not sure what drives me. I’ve been after that answer for years. But, I know that my heart aches to know it. That my mind dreams about it. And that by giving my full self into everything I do, fostering love in myself and striving to understand the incomprehensible – this fills my heart and gives me more wealth and fulfillment than I’ve ever known.


2015-09-17 15.50.25-1
“I am THAT!” – Instagram
Looking into the mirror at myself just earlier, I gasped aloud. Large black smudges under both eyes, stringy and frazzled hair, tired eyes and skin imperfections. But, before I knew it the girl in the mirror was smiling at me, and I felt the tension in my body let go. It was okay. I know her…

“I am That” will sometimes pop into my mind while catching a glimpse of my own reflection. It’s a phrase often referenced in classical theological discourse and is even alluded to in the popular Hindi mantra: Om Namah Shivaya. I like its simplicity, and its resonance on some unknowable level. And so it’s stuck.

“I am That” has become an unexpected reassurance that I have not, until now, fully acknowledged. It arises from a place in me where I guess that intuition, pre-cognitive dreams, and strange meditative experiences come from. It’s not posed as a suggestion when it pops into my brain, but as a forceful assurance. There is no reason to worry. “I am That.”

I am so blessed – with education, good health, family and friends; I am so lucky to be born into a wonderful family who taught me how to be authentic in life above all else; I am so powerful for having made it this far, for having chased a dream and allowed myself to find love and be loved along the way. “I am That,” and that is ever changing. But, there are also parts of me that have never changed and will never change – and from that place, I’m glad to have a reminder that I am here, present, and ever-evolving. This means forgiving yourself, enjoying every moment, and loving with every ounce of yourself while you have the time, the energy, and the power to give. “I am That.” Something pure and forgiven. Innocent and all knowing. I am that.

It sounds crazy, like something you’d overhear two old ladies discuss after church. But really it just means allowing yourself to move on, rather than clinging and obsessing over past mistakes, embarrassing moments, or bad interviews. It means having the courage to be authentic, to wear what you want when you want, to go where you want when you want (if I hear one more person say: “I’m too fat for yoga”…) , to live compassionately, to always give the benefit of the doubt, to welcome your neighbors and befriend your enemies, to life in a way that represents you, that you’re proud of, and that enables you to give your time, resources or energy back to those in need.

I’m not reading from a textbook or quoting last night’s lecture. There is no specific way of going and no certain outcome. Each path is unique, and after a five year journey from Copley Square Bikram to LMU, I have learned that I know very, very little; except that: “I am That.” And, since life is so short, I strive to live as fully and as best as I can.

I am thankful to yoga for giving me many paths to choose – different schools, ideas, and ways of thinking to explore – and for giving me many tools – mantra, yoga /asana, meditation, mala beads, freeform expression. Some I learned through reading, but others through exploring and moving within my personal practice. Thank you for the ability to practice as I please, to move freely, and to eventually gain the power stop judging myself.

This is what it means to live in yoga (to me). Without any assignment to religious denomination, political party or economic status; anyone can be healthy, engaged, and happy – but it comes with a price. It demands opening your mind and giving in, or rather seriously “letting go.”

When I moved to Los Angeles two years ago, I had a strong ego and a very specific list of priorities. (And I was fucking killing it, if I do say so myself…) But, sometimes, when we allow things to ruin our plans the best things can finally happen to us.

******************************************

Today, I’m also pleased to launch AYearInYoga.com!!! Be sure to check out my new and improved (inter)face 😉

I have a while to go before I get it where I want it to be – including more classes, workshops, and events scheduled, and videos, techniques and practices to share! I am so appreciative of having you along for the journey! It inspires me to know that there are other strong, intelligent, courageous people (particularly women, woo woo!) who are willing to learn, strive and expand in the name of yoga. In the meantime, don’t forget to bookmark me, share with loved ones & friends, and check in every now and again to see what I’m up to!

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Stay tuned! Sending love always,

xx Amy

// Photo Cred: Thank you Matt Annese for capturing so many amazing photo ops! @ Big Sur, Halloween 2015

Ommm, Whatcha’ Say? Exploring the Benefits & Basic Physiology of Mantra

Japa yoga. Singing, chanting, recitation. Bhakti yoga, kirtan. Vibrational ecstasy, collective consciousness, energetic purification. Mantra.

It was never my intent to become a mantra celebrating yogini when I left my round-the-clock corporate job to promote individual growth and wellness through yoga. Where does mantra fit into all this? You mean the weird, indigenous, unintelligible ramblings put to India melodies and Bollywood films? Why would I need to do that?

Those were my thoughts on the first day of my 200 hour yoga teacher training, when I realized that mantra, or japa yoga, was substantially embedded in our eight-week program. Group chanting sessions for 30 minutes, or over an hour at a time in seated meditation; the experience stirred within me an unfamiliar sensation I can only explain as “energetic” or “vibrational” in a very tangible sense. Like recognizing the presence of static electricity manipulating our clothing or the tingling sensation when a hand or limb falls asleep, conversations concerning “energy” or the “subtle body” in yoga are generally referencing a quite tangible presence of an internal energy – comparable with an understanding of the nervous and endocrine systems in Western anatomy – that is roused through the processes of asana, pranayama and meditation, simply by sitting in stillness. Through this process, further catalyzed by one’s control and slowing down of the breath (particularly, the practice of elongating the exhale to twice the length of inhalation), one can feel an internal tingling sensation accompanied by a clear, yet thoughtless bliss. As generations and centuries of ancient texts support (including the oldest found texts in the world, from India as early as 1500 B.C., and the proliferation of “mindfulness” and yoga in contemporary Western society), there is something to be said for practicing this way. Perhaps even something fundamental, physiological, psychological and/or atomically energetic (thereby linking the study of quantum physics to yoga, as well) to be said about yoga, that we have yet to understand or discover as Westerners exploring this tradition.

This conversation is important because, after countless lectures and workshops suggesting the use of mantra for concentration during meditation and to fight anxiety and depression (a hereditary gene in our family), I finally gave in. After much initial resistance to the “eclecticism” or “unusualness” of the sounds and language of mantra, I finally gave way to an understanding of mantra as similar to a church hymn, an album of nature songs, and a global ritual traditions, all wrapped into one. How is that possible? For me, mantra reinforces an inexplicable notion of unity; because, although you may not understand the words, your body eventually feels or experiences the music in ways I never thought possible. It’s not “magical” or even “mystical” necessarily, but mantra inspires and opens one’s creative capacities to help embody feelings of love, compassion and unity, or “oneness.” This occurs through the vibrational, energetic genius of the Sanskrit language (similar to modern Hindi, as Latin is to English). Although Sanskrit it currently a “dead language,” primarily learned and referenced for textual translation (especially in Yoga Studies), the language and grammar itself is arranged to stimulate one’s energetic body (Anandamaya kosa), or in Western terms, mantra stimulates the atoms and molecules within our bodily system to provoke a range of responses on a deep, intrinsic level; often associated as a natural reaction of one’s nervous system. In this way, different mantras may manifest different feelings or sensations based on the language and grammar used, to stimulate your body’s system accordingly. While in India, we were graced with a lecture by Dr. Manju Jain, who currently serves as an international expert and resource in scientists’ exploration of the potential for mantra to heal incurable diseases and aid those with severe mental and physical diagnoses in a highly medical context.

My journey in mantra has been sloppy, inconsistent and hideously flat (referring to my own melodic attempts), but as I continue with renewed zeal and curiosity I better understand how mantra is also referred to as one’s “heart song.” During difficult and stressful times – recently, while cleaning tuna and mac and cheese out of a youngster’s hair, sitting in traffic, suffering through class (we all have our days…), or proactively warding off stress as I feel it building in my throat and stomach – it’s helpful in the moment to know that mantra is always with me. It’s a consistent place of centering, of calm, of peace. (Hey, why not make your favorite slow song your own personal mantra. It’s whatever works for you! Yoga is THE no judgment zone.) You see, when you’re recalling a mantra you can’t also be thinking – this is a physiological response, as your thoughts must cease in order to regain control of your breath (as simple as: inhale/exhale). And so, by interrupting our train of thought and briefly introducing a melody and vibration associated with happiness, calm, patience, and peace, I can better and more quickly draw out these same attributes in myself, for the benefit of myself and many, many unsuspecting others.

If you’d like, try reciting a mantra while holding onto a single bead of your mala. (Search for your local mystic bookstore (why not, right?) or check online, here and elsewhere!) Rotate through the beads to recite your daily/regular mantra, an auspicious 108 times. When you reach the final bead or tassel, it is custom to take a moment to thank the teachers who help you on your way, past and present. Cultivate gratitude, cultivate joy, cultivate love, and it will come right back to you. No kidding. I shit you not.

Google is a wealth of information on the ideas I’ve discussed here, as well as free You Tube videos and guides to different mantras you might explore. The key to choosing your own mantra is simply finding one that feels good and resonates with you, and then sticking to it. This means not switching to a different mantra or dropping off the practice altogether, but trying to recall your mantra in recitation as least once a day, while in seated meditation is ideal. Even 5 or 10 min a day will have a noticeable impact on your daily patience, attitude, and curiosity. Progress and experience only comes with practice.

Over time I’ve found myself opting out of some of my old guilty habits or stressful impulses (such as: overeating, getting angry, or feeling frustrated or stressed, to name a few), and instead have found some kind of solace and comfort in a familiar, happy song, that might just also alter my body and my brain to keep this feeling coming all day, everyday. Whatever mantra has begun for me, I look forward to exploring it further, and of course, sharing my journey with all of you.

Thanks for reading, for asking questions and for seeking out new ways of thinking during a very troubled time in our country and our world. Even in moments of perceived stress, grief and suffering, there is relaxation and happiness available to us. (Really, it’s true! Although, it takes time and practice…) Although mantra may not be the way for everyone, it’s just another “tool in your toolbox” for self-regulating your emotional and mental being, and finding calm and happiness today – I mean in this moment, right now. As other yogis have passed on to me, I am so grateful for the opportunity to share japa yoga with others.

Here is my current practice, which you might consider taking on yourself or adapting to your own style and vibration.

No matter your path, may you find happiness and be greeted with love all along the way! (It’s important to remember, we’re all in this together. There’s no harm in rooting for the other team; when we build community, it only enhances the experience.)

Peace, peace, peace.

Om Shanti Om,

Amy xx

————————————————-

Regular Practice & Resources:

(inhale)
(exhale): OM MANI PADME HUM
(inhale)
(exhale): OM MANI PADME HUM
(inhale)
(exhale): OM MANI PADME HUM

[to the melody of Deva Premal’s recitation, here)
*Start by sitting in a seated position and singing along just for the length of the song. Repeat, repeat, repeat (even when you don’t feel like it), repeat, repeat, repeat – and see what happens.

  • The same pattern can be applied to others:“Om” (Sacred Syllable, most fundamental sound/vibration of the body)
    “Ram” (Sacred Syllable and chakra seed sound, represents “God,” or generally “the Divine” in this context)
    “Om Shanti” (“Peace”)
    “Om Namah Shivaya Gurave” (“The spirit of all also lies within me” – loose personal translation)
    The Seven Chakra Seed Syllables (Bija Mantra): “Lam Vam Ram Yam Ham Om”
    Gayatri Mantra (See Google & You Tube video)
    Namokar Maha Mantra (See Google & You Tube video)
  • Artists to follow:Krishna Das (Mantra, Kirtan)
    Deva Primal (Mantra)
    Falguni (Pandora station, instrumental only)
    Maneesh De Moor (Nature/Instrumental only)
    Bon Iver (Not mantra, but my favorite Pandora station for at-home asana)Photo Cred: http://elinatrance.com/

Ommm, Whatcha' Say? Exploring the Benefits & Basic Physiology of Mantra

Japa yoga. Singing, chanting, recitation. Bhakti yoga, kirtan. Vibrational ecstasy, collective consciousness, energetic purification. Mantra.

It was never my intent to become a mantra celebrating yogini when I left my round-the-clock corporate job to promote individual growth and wellness through yoga. Where does mantra fit into all this? You mean the weird, indigenous, unintelligible ramblings put to India melodies and Bollywood films? Why would I need to do that?

Those were my thoughts on the first day of my 200 hour yoga teacher training, when I realized that mantra, or japa yoga, was substantially embedded in our eight-week program. Group chanting sessions for 30 minutes, or over an hour at a time in seated meditation; the experience stirred within me an unfamiliar sensation I can only explain as “energetic” or “vibrational” in a very tangible sense. Like recognizing the presence of static electricity manipulating our clothing or the tingling sensation when a hand or limb falls asleep, conversations concerning “energy” or the “subtle body” in yoga are generally referencing a quite tangible presence of an internal energy – comparable with an understanding of the nervous and endocrine systems in Western anatomy – that is roused through the processes of asana, pranayama and meditation, simply by sitting in stillness. Through this process, further catalyzed by one’s control and slowing down of the breath (particularly, the practice of elongating the exhale to twice the length of inhalation), one can feel an internal tingling sensation accompanied by a clear, yet thoughtless bliss. As generations and centuries of ancient texts support (including the oldest found texts in the world, from India as early as 1500 B.C., and the proliferation of “mindfulness” and yoga in contemporary Western society), there is something to be said for practicing this way. Perhaps even something fundamental, physiological, psychological and/or atomically energetic (thereby linking the study of quantum physics to yoga, as well) to be said about yoga, that we have yet to understand or discover as Westerners exploring this tradition.

This conversation is important because, after countless lectures and workshops suggesting the use of mantra for concentration during meditation and to fight anxiety and depression (a hereditary gene in our family), I finally gave in. After much initial resistance to the “eclecticism” or “unusualness” of the sounds and language of mantra, I finally gave way to an understanding of mantra as similar to a church hymn, an album of nature songs, and a global ritual traditions, all wrapped into one. How is that possible? For me, mantra reinforces an inexplicable notion of unity; because, although you may not understand the words, your body eventually feels or experiences the music in ways I never thought possible. It’s not “magical” or even “mystical” necessarily, but mantra inspires and opens one’s creative capacities to help embody feelings of love, compassion and unity, or “oneness.” This occurs through the vibrational, energetic genius of the Sanskrit language (similar to modern Hindi, as Latin is to English). Although Sanskrit it currently a “dead language,” primarily learned and referenced for textual translation (especially in Yoga Studies), the language and grammar itself is arranged to stimulate one’s energetic body (Anandamaya kosa), or in Western terms, mantra stimulates the atoms and molecules within our bodily system to provoke a range of responses on a deep, intrinsic level; often associated as a natural reaction of one’s nervous system. In this way, different mantras may manifest different feelings or sensations based on the language and grammar used, to stimulate your body’s system accordingly. While in India, we were graced with a lecture by Dr. Manju Jain, who currently serves as an international expert and resource in scientists’ exploration of the potential for mantra to heal incurable diseases and aid those with severe mental and physical diagnoses in a highly medical context.

My journey in mantra has been sloppy, inconsistent and hideously flat (referring to my own melodic attempts), but as I continue with renewed zeal and curiosity I better understand how mantra is also referred to as one’s “heart song.” During difficult and stressful times – recently, while cleaning tuna and mac and cheese out of a youngster’s hair, sitting in traffic, suffering through class (we all have our days…), or proactively warding off stress as I feel it building in my throat and stomach – it’s helpful in the moment to know that mantra is always with me. It’s a consistent place of centering, of calm, of peace. (Hey, why not make your favorite slow song your own personal mantra. It’s whatever works for you! Yoga is THE no judgment zone.) You see, when you’re recalling a mantra you can’t also be thinking – this is a physiological response, as your thoughts must cease in order to regain control of your breath (as simple as: inhale/exhale). And so, by interrupting our train of thought and briefly introducing a melody and vibration associated with happiness, calm, patience, and peace, I can better and more quickly draw out these same attributes in myself, for the benefit of myself and many, many unsuspecting others.

If you’d like, try reciting a mantra while holding onto a single bead of your mala. (Search for your local mystic bookstore (why not, right?) or check online, here and elsewhere!) Rotate through the beads to recite your daily/regular mantra, an auspicious 108 times. When you reach the final bead or tassel, it is custom to take a moment to thank the teachers who help you on your way, past and present. Cultivate gratitude, cultivate joy, cultivate love, and it will come right back to you. No kidding. I shit you not.

Google is a wealth of information on the ideas I’ve discussed here, as well as free You Tube videos and guides to different mantras you might explore. The key to choosing your own mantra is simply finding one that feels good and resonates with you, and then sticking to it. This means not switching to a different mantra or dropping off the practice altogether, but trying to recall your mantra in recitation as least once a day, while in seated meditation is ideal. Even 5 or 10 min a day will have a noticeable impact on your daily patience, attitude, and curiosity. Progress and experience only comes with practice.

Over time I’ve found myself opting out of some of my old guilty habits or stressful impulses (such as: overeating, getting angry, or feeling frustrated or stressed, to name a few), and instead have found some kind of solace and comfort in a familiar, happy song, that might just also alter my body and my brain to keep this feeling coming all day, everyday. Whatever mantra has begun for me, I look forward to exploring it further, and of course, sharing my journey with all of you.

Thanks for reading, for asking questions and for seeking out new ways of thinking during a very troubled time in our country and our world. Even in moments of perceived stress, grief and suffering, there is relaxation and happiness available to us. (Really, it’s true! Although, it takes time and practice…) Although mantra may not be the way for everyone, it’s just another “tool in your toolbox” for self-regulating your emotional and mental being, and finding calm and happiness today – I mean in this moment, right now. As other yogis have passed on to me, I am so grateful for the opportunity to share japa yoga with others.

Here is my current practice, which you might consider taking on yourself or adapting to your own style and vibration.

No matter your path, may you find happiness and be greeted with love all along the way! (It’s important to remember, we’re all in this together. There’s no harm in rooting for the other team; when we build community, it only enhances the experience.)

Peace, peace, peace.

Om Shanti Om,

Amy xx

————————————————-

Regular Practice & Resources:

(inhale)
(exhale): OM MANI PADME HUM
(inhale)
(exhale): OM MANI PADME HUM
(inhale)
(exhale): OM MANI PADME HUM

[to the melody of Deva Premal’s recitation, here)
*Start by sitting in a seated position and singing along just for the length of the song. Repeat, repeat, repeat (even when you don’t feel like it), repeat, repeat, repeat – and see what happens.

  • The same pattern can be applied to others:“Om” (Sacred Syllable, most fundamental sound/vibration of the body)
    “Ram” (Sacred Syllable and chakra seed sound, represents “God,” or generally “the Divine” in this context)
    “Om Shanti” (“Peace”)
    “Om Namah Shivaya Gurave” (“The spirit of all also lies within me” – loose personal translation)
    The Seven Chakra Seed Syllables (Bija Mantra): “Lam Vam Ram Yam Ham Om”
    Gayatri Mantra (See Google & You Tube video)
    Namokar Maha Mantra (See Google & You Tube video)
  • Artists to follow:Krishna Das (Mantra, Kirtan)
    Deva Primal (Mantra)
    Falguni (Pandora station, instrumental only)
    Maneesh De Moor (Nature/Instrumental only)
    Bon Iver (Not mantra, but my favorite Pandora station for at-home asana)Photo Cred: http://elinatrance.com/

A Changing Tide

“I’m sorry I haven’t written,” seems to be a theme of my posts lately. So, as often as I think of writing, I don’t want you to think that you’ve been forgotten. I wish I could even give a reason, but other than fairly consistent writer’s block and a fleeting awareness of some sort of tension, of being in the eye of the storm in the midst of change, I got nothing.

While it has been over a year of mental, mindful, psychological, and spiritual metamorphosis, in a constant awareness of change, the year ahead promises to be one of materialization; but not without hard labor. I feel like I’m shifting – into adulthood, into independence, into my relationship, and all the wonderfully complicated things that go along with all those rites of passage. And, at the same time, I’m actually shifting. I am noticing the way I once behaved or phrasing I once used, no longer seems to fit me right in the moment. The style of my clothes over the past year has evolved, and become cubbies full of mediocre thrift store finds, yoga apparel, authentic India kirtas and remnant college t-shirts. But what will I be when I finally surpass my self-instated, grad school budget thrift store mandate? Will I still shop at Ann Taylor Loft, Express and American Eagle? (I think AE is taboo after 20, but their jeggings are genius.) But, who is this person I’m growing into? Who will that be? Will I like her? What can I do to help shape her, the future me?

All we can do is surround ourselves with the best of what we find in the world, and hope that a little bit rubs off on us.

A bout of high anxiety lately has reared its ugly head, just in time to disturb my peace of mind on a regular basis. There are so many things to keep track of these days; so many things to do and loved ones to tend to. When it all starts to spin, as minds sometimes do, I recently find myself gently putting my hand on my heart, and just feeling my heart beat. It’s a simple practice that brings me back to the moment. To where I’m situated in the room, wherever I am. And it reminds me, of my aliveness. As individuals, we’re prone to errors, complex, fragile, and very much alive. After this practice, you might find as I often do, that you move forward with a different perspective. A lighter, more grounded perspective. (This is a practice of mindfulness).

As my perspective evolves, I’m finding the content I’d like to post is as well. This means the possibility of guest posts, more creative prose, and the potential of more well-intentioned, but real discourse. My hope at this moment, as it always has been, is to share what “yoga” (broadly, or “yoga studies”) has taught me as a variety of tools to help make daily life easier, happier, and lighter. It doesn’t mean subscribing to a religion, political party, or an activist group. Yoga is free and you can call it whatever you want: hatha, vinyasa, bikram, kripalu, hot yoga, meditation, mantra, free movement/dancing, prayer, asana/yoga classes, kirtan, moving, walking, or eating meditation, for instance. Or, just placing your hand on your chest and practicing mindfulness by observing your heartbeat, and listening to your breath. Or, just closing your eyes and listening to the ocean, hearing the birds over head, and allowing yourself to feel a part of Nature for that single moment. Or, just catching a wave, going for a run, hiking through a national park or going through an asana class – any of these can be your yoga; when you practice mindfulness and your awareness turns inward (i.e. you become aware of your thoughts) as a result.

For all the definitions of yoga I have given over the past year, I also want to clarify that I have likely too casually adopted the Indian popular norm of: “Yes! But, also no.” Yoga, for me, and as it’s represented through yoga studies, includes and encompasses many, many things in the realm of psychology, experiential physics philosophy, language, physicality, subtle anatomy and beyond. Yoga is very much still a mystery. It’s large, it’s all encompassing, and yet it’s very specific, carefully articulated, and traditionally austere. In a modern Western context, yoga means “asana” or the physical practice of yoga. Yoga has been so widely popularized, that it has essentially claimed itself the name with it’s own meaning of “yoga” as asana (& of course, Lulu Lemon). Yoga in India, yoga in Tibet, yoga in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Russia may be very different depending on religion, sect or lineage (i.e. Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Islam, Muslim, natural healers and indigenous populations, to name a few). Yet, they all share an experiential or internal component that we, in the West, entirely lack. Possibly the first self-proclaimed American yogis were Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, as the Transcendental movement closely parallels and directly incorporates key Hindu yogic literature (i.e. Bhagavad Gita, Upanisads, Samkhya Karmika). Yet, Transcendentalists have little mention in society today in connection to yoga. Not to say this is wrong or inappropriate; cultural appropriations occur organically and are a reflection of contemporary societal norms. And, we’re ever evolving.

How will yoga look in the West in twenty years? Fifty years? Will I still be practicing? Teaching? Studying? I look forward to finding out (not too soon!), but hope I might help promote a “middle road” concept of yoga that is all encompassing, personal and creative, that can serve as a moment of optimistic rejuvenation in your day and mine, every day. For thousands of years, these practices have been used for centering, for finding peace and balance (among other things). Why not now, during such a troubling time in our world, wouldn’t we want to find a more peaceful way of being personally, for ourselves and others.

I hope you’ll stay on as my creative reinforcement and encouragement through this crazy journey – and my hope is that I might say something that you find helpful in your own evolution. As Jack Johnson once said, “We’re Better Together.”

Spread the love!

TGIF (Almost), xx
Amy

Photo: Taken at sunset on September 12, 2015 – San Onofre Bluffs, CA

Living Yoga: A Tribute to India

Preparing myself for India, I anticipated change. Particularly, I imagined a life-changing, entirely radical moment of clarity. One that snaps you back down to Earth exactly where you need to be at that very moment. A transformational moment. Samyag drsti.*

But, of course, what we get is rarely what we want, and what we want is rarely what we really need. For me, India was an amazing experience. I learned so much about the world, Jainism and Indian culture, and even more about myself – my strengths and limitations. I learned that compassion can and should be inclusive toward all living things, even and especially Nature. I learned that I do well with heat and humidity, but am considerably bad at managing bugs and dirty streets (not entirely new knowledge). I learned a lot about my privilege as a caucasian American, not from a workshop or a round table discussion, but first-hand gazing out the car window into the desperate, withered faces of starving women and children in the streets. I learned that in the midst of chaos and hell (whatever that may be for you), it is still possible to smile, to shed light, to lend kindness, and to have faith. I learned that despite my studies and efforts in yoga and meditation, I still struggle to maintain peace in the chaos. In fact, I still have a long way to go.

India was stealthy in her approach, overwhelming my senses with new sights, scents, and sounds while my mind was consumed by an intensive course itinerary of lectures, temple visits and reading, reading, reading (six books in three weeks warrants the repetition). We spent our first two weeks at an ashram in New Delhi where we were greeted with warm smiles, tea & biscuits, and an impressive schedule of lectures and puja ceremonies for our full immersion in Jainist tradition. In contrast, our third week was marked by long, bumpy bus rides, too much Limica soda (for my unending “Delhi belly”) and countless hours gazing out at the expanse of Indian countryside in sleepless, silent reflection. There was so much to process, to take in, to debrief that I allowed my mind to wander. I found, and often still find, that my mind is consumed by incessant questions into the “why” for all of this – past, present and future: How did I get here? What are my goals? How can people live in these dire conditions and still embody such contentment and happiness? What can I learn from them? Is yoga the answer? What can I do to help? Am I doing enough? What is that man smiling about? Does he have a family he loves? Does he bear the responsibility to support them? What does he do? Where are they? I hope they’re smiling, too…**

I came back from India with many more questions than answers. Yet I’ve noticed (and am grateful) that, over the past year and particularly since my return, I’ve become more mindful and free to ask questions, to consider difference, and to explore new places with equanimity. The more open I allow my mind to become, questioning the basic ideas and norms I have always taken for granted, the more questions and freedom arise. So a year after I began this endeavor to chronicle my year in yoga, I feel in many ways that I know much less now than when I started. However discouraging it may sometimes feel, any Indian guru will tell you: Admitting you know nothing is the first step to true wisdom.

What I found in India was not samyag drsti, but instead was as much an experience of internalization, as it was an outward excursion. It was a passive process; my mind like a camera capturing each moment as it came with mindful awareness, acknowledging each moment’s value and relentless brevity. Practicing yoga for me in India wasn’t predominantly physical asana, but was a conscious effort in self-compassion and non-judgment as I sought balance between pushing beyond my limits and caring for myself. As I like to see it, India was the perfect culmination to a long and taxing process of change, accompanied and instigated by a newly emerging, intensive year in yoga studies. Learning, living and practicing yoga from and among dedicated yogis has undoubtedly changed me for the better by opening my eyes to all I still have left to learn: about myself, my connection to others, to the Earth and to the world around me.

In 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics & Practice (a recommended, easy read!), Chelsea Roff shares a short essay on her nearly lethal battle with anorexia and her experience with yoga. She says with beautiful concision:

“For so long, I’d come to my mat to run away from myself. Now I came to connect. I had to reconnect in order to thrive.”

For over six years, while indulging in and learning from yoga communities across two cities and three continents, yoga is my constant. Its purpose and form in my life is ever evolving, and yet it remains unconditional and devotedly focused on revealing my best self to the world, even and especially when I’ve given up on myself.

Sometimes my mat is my hideaway, and other times it’s my own slice of heaven, a sun-soaked temple on my bedroom floor. At times it’s a complicated relationship (when I find myself avoiding my mat, afraid of what I might face there), but it is always consistent, welcoming and one of deep, penetrating compassion. From this place, I’ve grown and continue on knowing that whatever I face in the future I can withstand with contentment and kindness in my heart. India reminded me of this fact, and of the importance of remaining humble and eternally eager to learn. To care for ourselves, others and the world around us, to live each day and each moment purposefully in seeking love and connection, this is living in yoga.

May you find a few moments of solitude today and everyday.

In love,

Amy

——-

*Translated literally from Sanskrit as “right insight.”
**Unfortunately, with a busy schedule in India I fell away from my regular meditation practice. ‘Sitting,’ though, is just the practice of observing your own incessant (and often disjoint) thoughts as they arise non-judgmentally and, over a period of time and daily practice, learning that you can control and quiet your own mind (and thereby reduce anxiety, stress, and signs of depression at their onset). I wonder how my trip to India might have been different if I had prioritized my practice…I won’t waste any valuable time or brain space mulling that over (it’s in the past!), but I know that I’m a brighter, better person when I sit for 10 min a day. (It has to be consistent/daily for your brain to catch on – Check out more on neuroplasticity here.) The free app Headspace is a great resource.

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.