New Beginnings: Announcing Roots & Wings

Today I’m announcing a new program that I’m extremely excited about. In partnership with Dr. Melissa Vivino, we will be offering Roots and Wings: A Program for Mind Body and Soul Healing.

This program aligns powerfully with my intention to be more than a yoga studio, which is why we are also renaming the studio “MindBodySoul Yoga + Wellness.” Now more than ever, our studio will be a Home for Healing. In this space, I believe that powerful healing and transformation can occur through deep interpersonal work and a safe atmosphere held by experienced healers.

This is the path we are on as a community and as a business.

I’d like to share how this came about. It is a story of allowing life itself to unfold (without a plan) and paying attention to opportunities that arise to create the best possible outcome for all.

Almost two years ago, a person came into the studio that changed my trajectory as a teacher and healer. They were suffering from severe complex trauma, had found relief in yoga, and wanted to work with me personally.

In working together, we found power in combining all the tools I had in my toolbox from my personal and professional practice: hatha yoga, coaching, spiritual teaching, kundalini yoga and shamanic energy medicine. I worked with them using whatever tools were useful on any particular day. We were and still are each other’s teachers.

And then more people with varying trauma started showing up and my sessions began to crystalize into an actual system or modality. Actually a few:  Kundalini Shamanic Medicine, Kundalini Medicine, and Spiritual Mentorship.

With new students seeking deep healing, I ran into my limitations as a teacher and healer. I am not a clinical therapist and this work was beginning to get psychological in nature. I felt a deep need to talk to my client’s therapists about what was coming up. Unfortunately, those collaborations are outside the paradigm of how many therapists work.

I considered going back to school, but quickly remembered I have 4 kids (another foster daughter recently joined our family!) and a business. I realized that now is not my timing for that, or, as my husband said teasingly, the flow wasn’t flowing on that one.

So I literally asked in my prayers “Ok, you are sending me people to serve, so please send help to do this.”

In walks clinical psychologist Melissa Vivino, a student at MBSY who was having the same calling as me, just on the other side of the story.

She was sending her clients to acupuncturists, massage therapists, and yoga teachers because she felt that if she was able to communicate with those healers on her client’s behalf, healing could be expedited

For the last five months we have been meeting and talking and planning. In our hearts we envisioned a program where someone has a team of healers working on their behalf.  A mind, body and soul approach wherein we utilize clinical therapy for the mind, yoga and therapeutic body work for the body, and spiritual mentorship and kundalini medicine shamanic practices for the soul.

Though this feels like a new beginning for myself and the studio, it is most importantly a refinement of my original intention to create a space for healing and awakening through the heart of yoga and community.

Thank you, beautiful community, for being the very heart of the work we do here.

May you be blessed, may you be well, and may you have peace in your hearts.

WORDS FROM LIZ: Plant Yourself Into a Practice

Back home, my backyard is full of plants — falling ferns, cunning cacti, heavenly hydrangeas.  You name it, it is probably there. Growing up, these flowers were the marker of sunshine, swimsuits, and, soon enough, a break from school. My mom, whose thumb is greener than most, preaches that the number one rule of gardening is to wait until May before planting. However, she and her garden are in warm-wintered Texas, so she is often the first to break her own rule, too excited by the promise of the new season and its flora to wait any longer. Sometimes it pays off, other times the frost comes and she has to mourn the loss of some sweet flower friends. 

I’ve always been inspired by my mom’s plants and the patience she takes in tending them. She once counted and there were over 60 pots between our back and front yards. I’m telling y’all, she doesn’t mess around. This spring, I’ve decided to join her gardening games! However, I don’t have an actual garden in my New York City apartment, so I’ll be planting a symbolic garden, yoga-style.  

The first plant I’ll pot is the Geranium of Gratitude. Winter can be difficult – our bodies follow the natural call to rest, to go inward. However, society still tells us to produce, produce, produce. If you’re anything like me, this opposition between instinct and expectation is taxing. Counting my blessings, especially my health, relationships, and the promise of sunshine, helps to shift my mindframe from the stillness of winter towards the abundance of the spring. 

The second plant I’ll pot is the Chanting Chrysanthemum. I recently taught a workshop here at MindBodySoul Yoga wherein we learned and chanted the Gayatri Mantra together. For me, chanting is incredibly healing and is a great practice to implement as the seasons shift – the throat chakra, related to creativity, is stimulated by chanting. What is spring all about if not the blossoming of creation? 

The third plant I’ll pot is the Sunflower Sangha. When feeling stuck in our purpose, the only question we need to ask ourselves is “What does the world need and how can I give it?” For me, at this moment, this process looks like: The world needs healing? Teach more yoga! The world needs to laugh? Say yes to playing in that Shakespeare comedy! So simple, but so powerful. By connecting to our sangha, or community, and using our skills to add to its wellbeing, we are able to answer our personal needs, as well as a need in the world. 

What pots will you be planting? Whatever they may be, on or off the mat, I hope they flourish. 

With love, 
Liz

PS: Click here to hear the Gayatri Mantra.

WORDS FROM STACEY: That's the Practice

Oftentimes students ask me how can they tell when their yoga practice gets better.  We are so wired for the need to constantly improve that we naturally seek it in all aspects of our lives, including yoga.  But here's a little secret: your practice gets better every time you do it.  The beauty of yoga (okay, one of the many beauties of yoga) is that there's a reason it's called a practice.  Because yoga is never perfect.  Because WE are never perfect.  

Does getting “better” at yoga mean that you can stand on your head or hang out for an additional breath in Chaturanga?  Not necessarily.

Does getting “better” at yoga mean that you can sit at the beginning of class and focus on your body and breath, even if it's for 15 seconds?  You're getting closer.

Does getting “better” at yoga mean that you finish your practice and feel open and lighter and present?  Yes, I think so.

I started practicing over 20 years ago.  I fell in love with yoga quickly, and within a short period of time was taking class two to three times a week. My Warriors were deep, my Chaturangas were low, and my shoulders could do things that I can only dream about now.  I would leave class stretched out and calm.  I felt great, but I also don't remember feeling much beyond that.   

Now when I take class or practice at home, I am much more aware of my body and breath.  I can feel the weight on my feet in Warrior 1, if my shoulders are aligned correctly in Chaturanga, and whether or not I'm breathing only in my rib cage.  I realize that some of this awareness comes from being a teacher; I tend to analyze my practice and how it changes day-to-day.  But I also think it comes from being more present in my body and breath.  I have 20+ years of yoga practice behind me, and that is probably the most significant improvement I have made during all that time.

Maybe my hand doesn't reach the floor in Triangle anymore, or I hang out in Down Dog when a teacher gives the option of moving through a vinyasa.  But I end my practice feeling strong and open and present.  And I'm not quite sure the me of 20 years ago could say that.  Yoga doesn't have to be perfect.  If that were the point, many of us would be frustrated after our first few classes.  It can't be, so we shouldn't expect that of it...or of ourselves.  So enjoy your practice wherever it is today.  Practice doesn't make perfect; it makes yoga.

WORDS FROM STACEY: Back to the Breath

“Take a deep breath in.  Hold.  Exhale it out.”  I heard those words a lot growing up as an extremely asthmatic child.  If I had a dollar for every time a doctor held a stethoscope to my back or chest and said those words, you would probably pass my pony tied up outside the studio every time you came to class.  Anyway, suffice it to say that breathing wasn't always easy for me as a kid.  I had an inhaler, multiple medications in case I wheezed (which was often), and in the autumn just as the leaves were starting to fall, you could pretty much guarantee that I would be rushed to the pediatrician with an asthma attack.  My mother even enrolled me in a class for asthmatic kids.  We practiced breath control, worked on strengthening our core, and learned how to direct our breathing to different parts of the body.  Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

I was fortunate enough to outgrow the asthma by the time I was 13.  And even though I didn't start practicing yoga until over a decade after that, I did not outgrow the breathwork.  I kept practicing pranayama, even though I had no idea what it was.  All I knew was that deep breaths in and out felt good.  Doing that helped when I was stressed about school, friends, and life in general.  When I would lie in bed at night, place my hands on my ribs and breathe into them, it was a lot easier to fall asleep.  

When I did eventually make my way to yoga class, I remember setting up at the end of class and having the teacher lead us through three-part dirga breath.  My first thought was, “Did her mother drag her to asthma class, too?”  It was almost exactly like the breathing I had done two decades earlier.  It was familiar and comforting, and it was very easy to drift off to that Savasana happy place.

Does bringing attention to the breath always lead you to that happy place?  Not at all, but sometimes it's worth a try.  When you control or direct your breath, you might just be able to control how your body – or even your minds – reacts to certain situations.  I'll give you a completely un-yogic example: two weekends ago, my son was wrestling in a big tournament.  His last match had three overtimes.  He was exhausted, my heart was racing, and all I wanted to do was yell, “Get your hands off my baby!” to the other kid and call it a day.  But I couldn't.  Nor could I control what was happening on the mat.  So I crossed my fingers, took deep breaths, and my pulse slowed down just a little bit.  Not enough to make me less nervous, but enough to help me to realize that even if he lost the match, he would be okay.  He did lose, and he was okay.  (Defeat tastes a lot better after three pieces of pizza and some fried dough.)

You probably aren't watching a wrestling match anytime soon.  But I encourage you to see what attention to the breath can do for you, whether you're in a stressful situation or not.  It's amazing how a full breath in and a complete breath out can make you feel.  

Take a deep breath in.  Hold.  Exhale it out.

WORDS FROM LIZ: EMBRACE THE PROCESS

We live in a society obsessed with the final product. Heck, you could probably set your phone or computer down right now, walk to the nearest market, and purchase a prepared meal within the next ten minutes; or, better yet, just have it delivered! While this convenience is often a lifeline to sanity for busy New Yorkers, it also separates us from the process. 

There is a process to everything, from creating a piece of art to the series of expansions and contractions that make up a single breath. In yoga, we are asked to notice the process and release expectations of the product. That sounds beautiful in theory, I know, but how can we actually practice non-attachment when there is obviously a set physical structure to each pose?

Well, here’s my take:

I once had a Russian movement instructor, Vlad, who ended every class by challenging us to become “pelmeni.” In Russian, this means “dumpling.” In yoga, we recognize this asana as Yoganidrasana, or Yogic Sleep Pose.

Vlad would walk around the room belly-laughing at us as he yelled, “MORE! MORE! MORE!” It was not pleasant, but I knew that there was a lesson to be learned. My ego decided this lesson was to teach Vlad a lesson - I’d be a Pelmeni by the end of the first week if it was the last thing I did. 

Needless to say, that did not happen. 

Once my ego was sufficiently busted, I decided to get curious about the process. It went something like this: deep hip openers every single day, several weeks of practice, and having the courage to laugh with Vlad as he laughed atus. 

Guess what? I became a Pelmeni and I didn’t even care

Those several weeks of practice didn’t teach me that I could become a dumpling. Rather, they taught me that there is a process to everything. This meant that not only can I train my body to fit into a certain position, but I could also learn how to navigate the metro in a foreign country, cook a five-course meal, and even become a certified yoga instructor. I can do whatever I want as long as I embrace the process! 

You can, too. Humans are cool like that. 

So, while you may dream of a perfectly parallel Warrior III or hope that your heels touch the mat in Downward Facing Dog, I encourage you to insteadfocus on the joy of the process. That feeling of the future calling as new air enters your lungs, the release of the past with every exhalation. Allow your practice to be an asylum from the onslaught of societal expectations. Just…breathe. You may become a dumpling one day, but you’ll be so in love with the process that you’ll barely notice. And that’s why we keep coming back to the mat. 

See you there!
Liz

WORDS FROM COLLEEN: Mind Your Meditation

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Meditation seems to be on the fast track of becoming the “next wave” of fitness. What’s a finely tuned and toned body actually worth without an equally-tuned mind behind it to run the show? It seems we are finally starting to appraise and appreciate the entire package. Countless articles, testimonials, and clinical research all extoll the benefits of a regular meditation practice. But what’s that supposed to look and feel like? One of the most important messages starting off is simply this: let go of any pre-ordained ideas of having some type of “experience.“  That frees you from any self-imposed restraints and allows your meditation time to feel more natural and alive with curiosity, even if you label it as unsuccessful.  Don’t beat yourself up.  The work is in the consistency more than the result.  Slow and steady shifts.

 

The Buddha taught that real wisdom is recognizing and accepting that every experience is ultimately impermanent. Nothing lasts. What you see and monitor closely through a neutral filter cannot trip you up. You are going to know what’s coming and head it off at the pass...well, sometimes.  You would still be improving.  The following is an excerpt that I wrote a while back that offers a slightly humorous perspective on this subject:

 

“Sri Dharma Mittra, in his typical trademark self-effacing humor and good natured scolding, points out that we have been, since the moment of birth, gradually surrendering ourselves towards demise (disease, old age) and ultimately death.  Now in his seventh decade, Dharma has some helpful perspective and advice to offer on this point.  Without a trace of vanity, he cheerfully uses himself as an example - grabbing fistfuls of gray hair and beard to great effect and then rakes his fingers down his face to exaggerate the sagging folds of his jowls.  The room erupts in fits of giggles at his antics, but the message is loud and clear.  That message being: this body is a vulnerable and transient vehicle, and in order to unlock the joy and freedom from deep within, we first need to recognize and eventually get past the superficial. While I agree that a lot of what he says is not exactly comforting in our youth-obsessed culture, it is a valuable and honest assessment offered with whole hearted sincerity.”    

 

Meditation and mindfulness won’t make us into a perfect human.  What we may find, however, is that we can, most of the time, find the calm composure necessary to pause, distinguish, assess and respond with more wisdom instead of blindly reacting to situations and triggers of our day-to-day.  There can be a conscious choice to override those “auto-pilot” settings of entrenched behavior.  That’s the magic right there - it’s in that one moment that invites you to simply wake up and steer an alternate course, change up your game, rotate your perspective.  Because trust me, if you can manage this once, you can do it again and again...

WORDS FROM ALYSSA: When Life Gets Hard, Breathe!

The first 10 days of 2018 presented some challenges for my family.

First, when it was 10 degrees outside, the thermostat broke and we had no heat.

It took several different people over the course of several long days to figure out that it was the thermostat and not the boiler. We used space heaters in the bedrooms at night and dressed in about a zillion layers during the day. It was cold.

*Note: MANY people living in public housing in NYC, including children and senior citizens, were without heat and hot water during the coldest days last week.*

About a week after that was fixed, we had a flood in the basement.

Not just your garden-variety water flood, no. A sewage flood.

Home ownership = good times.

The sewage flood was in fact as gross as it sounds. And to make matters more complicated, the plumbers could not find the sewer drain, which meant almost two full days without running water and usable bathrooms.

So, Steve, Lily, Amanda, my mother-in-law Jeanne, and dog Polly got an AirBnB downtown.

They found the sewage drain underneath the ceramic tile of my basement floor, and now it is fixed.

When we were in the car on the way home, my mind went to how inconvenient this all was. I got cranky, my chest got tight, and I felt restricted. I shifted my awareness to my breath and created some space in between those thoughts.

I thought about all the Syrian families that were abruptly forced from their homes with no resources and nowhere to go. Families just like mine.

I thought of all of the families that recently lost their homes to hurricanes, floods, fires, mudslides. They had to leave with just the clothes on their back and the lost everything. Families just like mine.

And I was flooded with gratitude. My mind generated thoughts about how we were all safe, had the resources to fix what needed to be fixed, and were able stay somewhere safe and warm. My body felt lighter and more spacious.

We all know the power of gratitude. We all get it, intellectually, and it's easy to feel it when things are just humming along nicely.

But how do we access it when things go wrong? Most often, the mind latches onto what is wrong and down that road we go. How can we stop that? How can we turn the switch to gratitude and change our experience?

I truly believe the frequent practice of yoga makes this switch more accessible.

We must practice continuous self-care (in which I mean internal gentleness and non-judgement) and mindfulness. Notice the quality of your thoughts and how they make you feel without judgement. And then come back to your breath. Our breath is the doorway to more expanded states of consciousness like gratitude, joy, appreciation, and love.

When we are able to cultivate the practice of watching our breath in yoga, massage, or other subtle body work, we create a fertile soil in which gratitude can grow.

When things go wrong, we are resilient, spacious, and level-headed. And of course, able to access gratitude, which makes our inner experience so much better.

And when our inner experience is good, everything else falls into place, even if it looks like things are falling apart.

In gratitude,
Alyssa

WORDS FROM AMOS: Resolving to Be Present

It’s a New Year! Many of you are feeling stuck in this bitterly cold winter and want to go into hibernation and catch up on sleep missed over the holidays. Some may have chosen to set intentions, burn sage, or vision board, and the new calendar year is a great excuse to create new habits. But for most of us, many of our best laid plans dreamt on the bright dawn of day begin to dwindle almost immediately. In my experience, I have found the loftier the goals, the further they fall.

If you are feeling sluggish, slow and stiff or don’t feel like setting an intention, you don’t have to! Maybe that isn’t a part of your self-care process. Enjoy this time when the weather encourages you to stay inside and take the rest that you need. Build your stores of energy for a later date. But take good care. Be conscious of the choices you make in the present moment: a pint of ice-cream all in one sitting might seem like best self-care in the world, but you know in actuality it will just send your body into overtime to try to work that through your system, thus defeating this rest. Instead, dive deep into the quiet space inside all of us, perhaps practicing some focusing pranayama like alternate breathing or nadi shodhana. Nap, and repeat.

However, if you fall in the camp that likes to dream big, and have a list of self-improvements single-spaced and double-sided, don’t forget that old fable about the tortoise and the hare. Instead of lumping all of your self-improvement for the year into one month, can you start with something small? Making your bed daily, not looking at electronics one hour before you fall asleep, or making sure you have at least one vegetarian meal a day. Psychologist Jeremy Dean says that it takes 21 days to create a habit. Choose one “improvement” that you think you can reasonably succeed at implementing and would give you joy. Commit to that for three weeks. Mark the days you succeed on your calendar, and do me a favor, don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. If you miss more than three times in your three weeks, check in with yourself to see if this is a change you really need.

Because ultimately, change is a part of life. We can’t hold on to this current point in our lives any more than we can hurry the future. We practice on our mats to try to discover that balance inside each one of us. The sound OM that we call out each class represents four different parts of change: creation, maintenance, destruction and then the pause, the silence before the cycle begins again. Take this moment, whether you are feeling ready to take on the new year or need to wait until spring, and tune inward so that you can be the change you wish to see in the world!

-Amos

WORDS FROM STACEY: The Winter Solstice

"The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination, a time of pain and withdrawal that produces something joyfully inconceivable, like a monarch butterfly masterfully extracting itself from the confines of its cocoon, bursting forth into unexpected glory."

— Gary Zukav

I’m not the kind of person who can talk to you about signs and stars and what the universe is telling us through them.  I know that I’m a Libra, but that’s about it.  If there was another zodiac sign rising at the time of my birth, I’d be inclined to guess it’s the one that likes red velvet cake.

That being said, there is something about the Winter Solstice that both intrigues and comforts me.  I realize that I’m one of few who will say this, but I like the darkness.  Especially when it’s cold outside.  It gives me an excuse to come home, put on pajama pants, make some soup, and sit on my couch.  In the winter, I become quite skilled at doing nothing. 

Every year I go to a friend’s solstice party where we are encouraged to embrace the dark in order to bring in the light.  So many people dislike the shorter days and longer nights, which I totally understand.  But I also appreciate the fact that sometimes we need to dive deeper in order to grow.  Growth – whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual – can be a painful process.  And sometimes that process is better served under the cloak of darkness, within a cocoon, by one’s self. 

Every year around this time, my son spends Christmas out of town with his dad.  When this first started about 10 years ago, it was torturous for me.  I hated being alone in my apartment, and I did whatever I could to keep busy.  One week I saw five movies in four days just so I wouldn’t have to be by myself.  But little by little, I started to sit with my discomfort and spend more time alone at home.  I cooked food that my son doesn’t like, I devoured books that I’m embarrassed to read in front of other people, and, yes, I put on comfy pants at 5 o’clock in the afternoon and called it a day.  Now I use that week to take care of myself, recharge before the new year begins, and eat dessert before dinner.  (You didn’t think it was all about self-reflection, did you?)

So, even though the Winter Solstice was officially yesterday, I hope that you allow yourself time in the weeks ahead to at least recognize, if not embrace, the darkness.  The light will seem so much brighter after that.

Wishing you a happy Solstice and a wonderful holiday season!

xo
Stacey

WORDS FROM ALYSSA: What happens when we let stuff go?

I love coffee.  No, like, I mean, I REALLY freaking love coffee.

Super strong coffee. No sugar, but light with half and half.

In a big mug.

I go to sleep at night looking forward to my morning coffee.  There were many nights that I'm sure that my morning coffee was my last thought of the day.

Y'all...two weeks ago I had my last cup of morning coffee.

I let it go.  

“Why?” you wonder.

I realized that the coffee was affecting my sleep negatively (I often wake up at 3am and can't get back to sleep), and adding to my tendency for anxiety.  

I don't want to feel anxious, and I really want to sleep well.

My intuition has been pointing to the coffee (as reasons for my anxiety and insomnia), but I've been stubbornly refusing to listen.

Until I listened. And I let it go.

What did that look like?  Well, I started with green tea, so I wouldn't get headaches.  I really don't like green tea, I think it's thin and bitter and boring.  On day two I got really sick.  Body aches, lethargic feeling, heavy and sleepy.  Day three I was normal(ish) still drinking green tea.

Day four I switched to Kukicha tea, which is earthier than green tea and more to my liking.

So here's the thing.  Something happened that I didn't expect.  

Letting coffee go made room for some things to come in.

I'm sleeping much more soundly.  And I'm naturally waking up at like 5:30.  I've always wanted to wake up and do an hour of Kundalini yoga before the kids woke up, but couldn't quite get the energy to do it. It's dark and cold at 5:30am. My bed is warm and comfortable.

But letting the coffee go enhanced the quality of my sleep and now I'm up.  And so now I'm doing my spiritual practice in the quiet of the morning.  Something I've always wanted to do, but couldn't quite make happen.

And this shift happened effortlessly.  I can honestly say that.

I'm even slightly surprised at myself.

And my comittment to my spiritual practice has my re-committing to practice with you. 

As a yoga studio owner and teacher, I'm asking you to practice yoga frequently. To take time out of your busy day and come to your mat.  To get massages or Reiki or other private services to help you to integrate the physical, emotional, and psychological stuff that can come up with a frequent yoga practice.

I ask you to do this and I haven't been doing it myself.  I got really busy again and went down that rabbit hole of busy.

So no more of that.  I'm committing to you all to practice with you at least 4x a week in the studio AND getting massages at least twice per month.

Why? Because I want to feel good. My morning spiritual practice is the foundation of who I am.  My asana practice with you makes my body healthy and my mind open, and I connect with the community of students and teachers on a much deeper level.

So that's me.  That's what I've let go and allowed in.

See you on the mat.  

Love,
Alyssa