Yoga in the time of COVID

Yoga in the time of COVID

When I started doing yoga, all of my teachers stressed the importance of a home practice. Our home practice, we were told, supplemented and supported our class practice and vice versa. I don’t hear many teachers saying this today. Is it because they assume we have a home practice, so they don’t need to remind us? Or do they not think it’s important? I think we may see a trend back to talking about it more, because of the experience of the past few months.

If COVID has brought about anything good, one of those things is, it has forced yogis back into their home practices. Whether taking class with a teacher live on line, doing recorded classes or just practicing on our own, if we’ve been practicing at all, we’ve been doing a home practice. And for some, it’s the very first time. And this is a good thing.

So, why is it important to practice at home?

Yoga is, first and foremost, a spiritual practice. It is about going within, moving inside ourselves in a way that is just not possible in a room full of people. Yoga is also about community. Kula is the Sanskrit word for community, but it’s not just any community. A kula is a community of people on a similar spiritual path, with similar values and ideals. It’s about studying, practicing, learning and fellowship, similar to a church community or any other group of like-minded people. We get this experience from attending class. Both aspects of yoga are important. We deepen our own yoga by doing both.

My practice has deepened in several ways in the last few months.

My meditation practice has never felt better. I practice a Tantra-based, initiatory mantra practice, Neelakantha meditation. It is an ancient practice that has been passed down from teacher to student for over 1,000 years. It is a sanctuary for me. I look forward to it. If I miss a day, I really miss it. I’ve never had this experience before. I feel connected to something bigger (God/Goddess/Universal Energy). My teacher describes it as the vibratory bubble-bath that we get to bathe in twice a day.

My physical practice has grown stronger as well. The two teachers I consider to be my main teachers have been doing more online offerings, both live and recorded. It’s been so great to be able to take Jeanie’s Goddess Flow or a Vishvamatrasana clinic from Christina, from the comfort of my own home. And on days when I don’t have the time or inclination for a class, I roll out my mat, start moving and see where it takes me.

I’ve had more time for my intellectual practice too. I have been reading more yoga philosophy and scripture. I am studying the Shiva Sutras. I continue to dive deeper into the study of Hindu Mythology and Goddess Lore. My connection to the Divine Feminine is strong. I’ve never been able to say that before.

I am practicing more karma yoga. I am assisting and mentoring yoga teacher trainees. I am deeply honored that I have been sought out, and at the same time, I am excited to see that the thirst for real yogic knowledge seems to be coming back around. Thanks to COVID? Maybe. While I’m not a believer in “Everything happens for a reason,” I am a strong believer that out of anything bad, can come good.

We are in a time when it often seems like there is more bad than good in the world. COVID, racism, sexual predators in positions of power, corrupt politics, violence in the streets, intolerance. It seems like the world could not be less yogic.

But when we understand yoga philosophy, we see that this is all part of the cycle. There’s no light without dark, no good without bad. The world cycles between good times and bad. We are currently moving from the Kali Yuga into the Sat Yuga and from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. Better times are coming, but things get more chaotic before they get better. There has to be revolution before there can be evolution. The better times are coming, and we yogis are the ones who will be ushering those times in.

Now is the time to be a Karma yogi, one who takes action, and does so, selflessly. . We must take an active role in ushering in the better times. It will look different for everyone. Maybe you are a nurse, working long hours doing COVID tests or treating patients, maybe you are an activist, attending Black Lives Matter or LGBTQ rallies. Maybe you are running for office. Maybe you’re spending money at local businesses. Maybe all you can do right now is be a good parent or partner. All of these things are so important and necessary.

As yogis, if we are making a sincere effort to ask ourselves often, “How can I be of service?” we’re on the right track. If we simply stop and inquire of ourselves, whether any action we take is coming from our heart or from our ego, we’ll take the right action more often than not.

Better days will come. That is both a promise and a responsibility. Let’s make it so.

On Dating. A Humorous and (slightly) Explicit Post

On Dating. A Humorous and (slightly) Explicit Post

My subjects have been pretty serious lately. With good reason. There are a lot of serious things going on in the world and a lot of shifts happening. Things are scary. But the good in people is showing up too.
I’m going to lighten things up with a little humor this week. It doesn’t mean that I’m forgetting about all the big things, just giving my brain a little break.
As many of you know, I’ve been working on a memoir. It’s actually a serious work that is both therapeutic and cathartic for me. It chronicles my 24 years in Colorado and all the wonderful and terrible things that happened during that time.
I’ve also been playing around with a lighter, satirical book. It’s about dating at mid-life and all the comedy that it brings. I thought I’d share a few excerpts.
Hummus Guy
“Kill me now,” I texted my bestie. Fuck. I knew I didn’t want to go on this date. We had had some lively texting, but I knew from the first phone call that it was going nowhere.
“What’s your favorite food?” he had asked. Ok, cool, I like a foodie, I thought. “A toss up between sushi and lobster,” I say, wondering if thats just so predictable. “You?”
“Hummus.”
“Seriously?”
“Yeah. I travel around to try the best hummus.”
Potential to be cool? Maybe.
“So, have you made/had some exotic hummuses? Edamame, sweet pea?”
“Huh?” Can you hear a blank stare?
Nope. Just chick pea. So much for thinking outside the box.  I was less enthused about the upcoming date.
Bestie encourages me to go. “People are different in different mediums. You found his texts engaging enough, that you were willing to go to a phone conversation, right? So give it a chance. Go in with no expectations.”
I go.
He shows up with a long-stemmed chocolate rose with a plastic stem, and proceeds to hit me in the boob with it. Awesome.
In the first 5 minutes, the words, church, christian and God are mentioned multiple times. Not by me.
He’s never done any drugs. (That’s two in a row. Whats that about? Is that a Wisconsin thing?)
So, I decide to fuck with him. Just to entertain myself. Seems like a better choice than slamming 3 or 4 glasses of wine.
He: “I’ve never done any drugs in my life.”
Me: “I’ve done all of them.”
He: Silence. Looks scandalized.
Me: “Well, not all of them. I’ve never done heroin or crystal meth. I’m not an idiot.”
He: “What drugs have you done?”
Me: “Oh, the usual. Pot, coke, acid, mushrooms, ecstasy.”
He: Still looking scandalized, changes the subject.
On Religion –
Me: “I’ve noticed you mentioned Christian and Christian values several times in our 30 minutes of conversation….”
He: “Well, I read your profile; you did say that you’re Christian, right?”
Me: “No.”
He: “You’re an atheist?” Why do Christians always think there are two choices – Christian and atheist?
Oh, the answers I could have given…
        “I’m a Hindu Buddhist Jew.”
        “No, but I’m spiritual as fuck.”
But I held my tongue.
We got into the what’s important to you in a relationship discussion.
I say – sense of humor, intellectual stimulation and sex.
He looks like he’s about to die. Cannot believe I said that. But it turns him on. He thinks I’m the most awesome woman he’s ever met.
I’m quite sure I am.
He says that he is mostly interested in the heart and the mind and that he can deal with mediocre/minimal sex. I say that I cannot.
I finish my wine, thank him and bolt.
There have been quite a few lame connections made. Some good ones too. I’ve made some very good friends through Bumble & Tinder. But online dating exhausts me like shopping at TJ Maxx. You’ve got to rifle through a bunch of crap to find a shirt that you like. And even if you like it on the rack, there’s no guarantee it’ll be good fit.
There was Dr. Sandwich, the dentist who always wanted to go to Subway and “walk around.” Sorry, but I prefer to sit down while I eat. There was the sweet widower who cried about his wife’s death in a motorcycle accident. I felt for him, but that’s no way to start a relationship. There was the sex therapist. I think he’s actually a good guy, but I couldn’t get past his profession. Most recently was the Repo Man. When I discovered that he misled me about his political leanings, I politely declined his invitation for a date. To which his response was to call me fat.
There were the red-flag guys. Guys who I actually liked, and thus chose to ignore the red flags waving right in my face. Surprisingly, the two I’m thinking of were both kind of deadbeat dads. Not in the traditional sense; I believe they financially supported their kids, but either weren’t raising their own kids at all, or put their own needs above their kids. So, I’ve logged that bit of data in my brain. Bad dad = Bad date.
The working title of the book is No Wonder You’re Single – Adventures in Dating at Midlife. And though I have plenty of funny dating stories, I don’t (and hopefully will never) have enough stories to fill a book. I’ve got some good stories from other single friends, both male and female, that will be included. If you’ve got a story, please reach out. The funnier and more awkward, the better. Names will all be changed.
Have a great week! Stay Strong, stay grounded. Laugh a bunch.
Real Yoga & Good Wine Do Exist

Real Yoga & Good Wine Do Exist

Not long ago, I didn’t like when people used the term “real yoga.”
With so many different styles of yoga today, who has the right to claim that their yoga is any more “real,” than anyone else’s?That’s what I reasoned. If I enjoy it and it makes me feel better, it’s real yoga. Right?
Well, no. I enjoy riding my horse and stand-up paddle boarding. They make me feel better. But, that doesn’t make them yoga.
I’ve changed my tune in the last few years. There are a lot of activities (read: exercise classes) out there, that call themselves yoga, but in fact, are exercise classes. A few poses with Sanskrit names, the mention of bandhas (which most students don’t understand and most teachers don’t know how to teach); throw in a few “love and light”s and voila! It’s yoga. Except it’s not.
I felt similarly when I first got into the wine business. In my attempt to not be a wine snob, I’d tell people, “If you like it, it’s good wine.” And similarly, that is not true. You can like Two Buck Chuck (probably five bucks now), all you want, but that does not make it a good wine. Truth be told, it’s a crappy wine. The grapes, purchased on the open market, are of poor quality, mechanically harvested and processed, produced in a huge facility that more closely resembles a factory than a winery. Very little care or experience goes into the making of cheap, bulk, commodified wines.
Sadly, we are now faced with a glut of expensive, bulk, commodified yoga. The western world has transformed yoga from a spiritual practice to a fitness regimen. Yoga franchises are pumping out new batches of yoga teachers up to four times a year or more, bestowing on them the certification (and responsibility) of teaching to others, something that many of them had little to no experience with, just a few months prior.
So, what are we to do?
First of all, we need to determine if we even want real yoga. Do you want a spiritual transformation? Or, do you want a good workout and to de-stress with some feel-good words? There’s nothing wrong if your answer is the latter. Nobody has to be interested in real yoga. There is plenty of fitness-feel-good yoga around and it’s not going away anytime soon.
The western world (the US mostly) has appropriated yoga to the point that it barely resembles the spiritual practice in India. As the US tends to do, we decided to “own” yoga. I know someone who spent 18 months living and studying yoga in an ashram in India. When she returned to the US, she could not get Yoga Alliance certified, because she didn’t learn from a YA accredited school, in – you guessed it – the US.
We’ve decided that 200 hours is the magical amount of time to make someone a yoga teacher. That amount of time is completely arbitrary and often, some of those hours are done online. We see yoga teacher trainers in their early 30s or even their 20s. They may be serious practitioners. They may be practicing “real” yoga, but they simply have not had enough time on the planet to be teaching others what they need to learn in order to be yoga teachers. I don’t know about you, but when I choose a teacher with whom to study deeply, I want that teacher to have been teaching for at least 20 or 30 years! I often mentor teacher trainees in yoga teacher trainings and I always tell them, that after they are done with the training they will be beginner yoga teachers. One becomes a yoga teacher through experience; through years and years of teaching. I have been practicing yoga for 17 years, teaching for 13. I have over 1,000 hours of training and over 2,500 hours of teaching. I do not consider myself and advanced yoga teacher. I would not consider myself qualified to be a lead teacher-trainer. Malcolm Gladwell said in his book, Outliers, that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. I tend to agree.
So, if you have determined that you do want to practice “real” yoga, what should you do? Here are some suggestions:
  • Start a home practice. Classes are great – essential even. And so is a home practice. You can start with videos or livestreams, but the journey of yoga is largely an inner journey, and we need alone time for that. If you can do a sun salutation, you can do a home practice!
  • Read yoga texts. Read different translations and interpretations of the Yoga Sutras. Read the Bhagavad Gita. Over and over. Go deeper with the Shiva Sutras. Read Georg Feurstein’s book, The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Pgilosophy and Practice. 
  • Know the difference between Classical and Tantric yoga and why the differences matter.
  • Learn and practice Ayurveda. Practice Dinacharya (Ayurvedic daily habits). You don’t have to become an Ayurvedic expert, but you need to know more than a dosha quiz will tell you, and you need to incorporate Ayurveda’s diet and lifestyle practices into your life.
  • Find a great teacher. Not just a great asana teacher. Someone who can teach you yoga philosophy and spirituality. Someone you can learn from for years. Someone who’s been practicing and teaching at least twice as long as you have.
  • Meditate. Meditate. Meditate. Did I say meditate? I can’t stress how important this is. There are many styles of meditation; find one you enjoy and can stick with. Learn from a teacher. I was recently initiated into the Neelakantha tradition of meditation and it has already shifted my practice in powerful ways.
  • Do your best to not appropriate yoga. This is a tough one. Westerners have appropriated yoga to the point that there is almost no going back. But try to remember that yoga is an Indian spiritual tradition. It has nothing to do with expensive yoga clothes, yoga tattoos (I really wanted that Ganesha tattoo, but opted not to, for this very reason), rock and roll playlists (which I love), yoga with dogs, goats, wine, weed, hula hoops etc. If you want to learn more about how not to appropriate yoga, a quick Google search will bring up lots of resources. Also, listen to the Yoga is Dead podcast. There are only six episodes. It’ll make you uncomfortable! But, listen anyway.
  • Don’t use yoga for Spiritual Bypassing. Real yogis get sad, mad and unhappy sometimes. Shitty things happen. Life throws curveballs. Everything is not love and some vibes are bad. Don’t discount your feelings or the feelings of others by saying something trite like, “Good Vibes only,” or saying that negative emotions aren’t yogic.
Sounds like a lot of work, huh? It is. Being a yogi, even a householder yogi (what we are – not ascetics), is hard work. That’s why I started this post saying that it’s not for everyone and that is ok. If you like going to a couple classes a week and that’s all you want, you can do that. But, if you really want to be a yogi, there’s a lot more to it. Luckily, there are a lot of great teachers out there teaching real yoga too, and lots of courses and immersions, both in person and online.
If you would like to be part of the conversation and learn more deeply, please reach out to me. I want to support anyone who wants to really deepen their practice of yoga. Maybe we can chat over a glass of good wine. 
I Tried to Not be a Foodie ~ Dumbest Thing I Ever Did

I Tried to Not be a Foodie ~ Dumbest Thing I Ever Did

For years, I struggled with the apparent dichotomy of being a yogi, an Ayurveda specialist and a foodie.
I was a foodie first. Really, I was a foodie before being a foodie was a thing. I came from a long line of gourmets. My grandparents were part of the early food & wine culture in New York City in the ‘60s and ‘70s. My grandfather had a wine cellar and was president of the New York chapter of the Physicians Food & Wine Society for years. They hung out with the likes of Craig Claiborne and Julia Child and traveled the world to eat amazing meals. They prepared four-course, sit-down Christmas dinners, each course meticulously paired with the perfect wine, by my grandfather. They threw big lobster parties in our backyard in Montauk, with multitudes of friends and relatives driving out from the City for the festivities. When I was 16, they took me to Europe for six weeks. While we did a lot of the usual touristy things, on the days that we dined, we DINED. They took me to Cafe Girardet, in Crissier, Switzerland, at the time, considered to be the finest restaurant in the world. We drove two hours to get there, had a five hour meal, and drove two hours home. It took up the entire day! In my teenage mind, I found that absurd, but I didn’t complain about the food!
While my parents were not the extreme foodies that my grandparents were, they always cooked from scratch, had a garden, and we always had a sit-down family dinner, a time that we’d eat, talk and laugh. After dinner my Dad would often break out a piece of parmigiano-reggiano, pour some olive oil on it, and wash it down with the rest of his Bolla Valpolicella.
My memories of food in my childhood are good memories, cherished memories.
I inherited my grandparents’ love of cooking, food and wine, as did my sister. Maybe it skips a generation? I started cooking for my roommates in college and afterwards. I started working in restaurants and gravitating towards other food & wine lovers. We’d cook big meals together or go to great restaurants whenever we could. I ended up marrying a chef. Then we were the ones throwing the big, elaborate, fabulous Christmas dinners. By this time, I was in the wine business, so between the two of us and our foodie friends, we threw a hell of a party. And we did it often.
As many others did, I started dabbling in yoga in the mid-nineties. When my daughter was born in 2003, I started taking my yoga practice much more seriously. In 2007, I became a yoga teacher and in 2010, I started studying Ayurveda. Yoga became, and still is, my spiritual practice. I grew up without any religion, and while I never felt drawn to any organized religion, I felt drawn to spirit. Yoga filled that void for me. (More on that in a future post.)
People started asking me how I dealt with the contradiction of being a yogi and being in the wine business. At first I didn’t see it as that. Yoga and wine are both ancient and both have deep ties to God and Spirit. But, then it did start to concern me. As my then-husband’s drinking became problematic, I experienced the damage that alcohol can do to a family. As a mother, I wanted to feed my child healthy meals and as a yoga practitioner, I wanted to be healthy. I still do.
I tried all the things. Vegetarian, vegan, Ayurvedic, Paleo, Paleovedic, Keto, Keto-cycling, Intermittent fasting. All are good, healthy ways to eat. Not all are for everyone; we all need to find the diet and lifestyle that best fits us.
I left the wine business and went to work for an Ayurveda company. Unfortunately, the person I worked for took Ayurveda to an unhealthy extreme. But, I didn’t realize that at the time. I thought I was just a gluttonous yogi and that I had to change.
The Ayurveda/yoga community I was in, had some pretty rigid rules:
  • Eat a tiny dinner at 4pm or skip it altogether OK. If your family isn’t into that, you do it, then just sit with them and sip tea while they eat. Sure. That’s not weird.
  • Give up drinking wine. Altogether. You can’t be healthy if you drink wine, or any alcohol for that matter. Okayyyy.
  • Ayurveda doesn’t use garlic or onions. But, wait. I’m Italian!
  • Don’t eat if you’re not hungry. That makes sense. Eat your biggest meal in the middle of the day. I’m not hungry then. Do it anyway. 
  • What about the family dinner? The bonding over breaking bread together, that humans have been doing for millennia? There are other ways to bond, I was informed. While that is absolutely true, and I partake in many of those activities – taking walks, hanging out, snuggling – those things don’t make the family dinner any less important.
  • If you have any body fat, you’re not a real yogi. Now that is utter bullshit. 
Let me be clear, Ayurveda is not this rigid. Neither is yoga. But the yoga/Ayurveda community I was in, was. Or at least they were striving to be. While there are some people who do best with a rigid approach to eating due to certain health issues or a predisposition to disordered eating, I think most people do not.  And I know that I do not. This doesn’t mean that I don’t follow Ayurvedic guidelines or eat healthily. I do. I eat seasonally; Spring brings bitter greens that cleanse the heaviness of winter, summer is the time to eat lightly and enjoy the bounty of fruits and vegetables, fall and winter bring rich, warming soups and stews, a little more animal protein and root vegetables. I also eat locally as much as possible, frequenting my farmers market and purchasing my dairy, meat and even maple syrup from Wisconsin producers. (The latter being a tough move for someone who lived in Vermont for a decade!)
Ayurveda prescribes a dinner that is smallish and early. And I mostly subscribe to this theory. That does not mean that dinner  has to be close to nonexistent. But if I am particularly hungry or haven’t eaten much during the day, dinner is sometimes bigger. Sometimes later. And that’s ok. On the other end of the spectrum, if I’ve had a bigger, later lunch and I’m not hungry, I am happy to skip dinner altogether. Ayurveda is all about learning what’s best for you. Learning to eat when you’re hungry, not just because the clock says it’s mealtime.
I hope that you are seeing that I am not rejecting Ayurveda; quite the contrary. What I’m sharing with you is what has taken me so long to come to terms with – Ayurveda and Foodieism do not have to be mutually exclusive. One can follow Ayurvedic guidelines and still eat amazing, sometimes indulgent food. And being a foodie is not about being a glutton; it’s about sourcing and eating the highest quality, fresh ingredients and creating delicious meals from them. It’s about the pleasure of eating, the experience of dining and connecting over food.
I recently returned to restaurant work, after years away. It’s so refreshing to be around people who are passionate about food and wine. I’ve missed that. I’ve missed people who “ooh and ahh” as they eat and who want to talk endlessly about the qualities of a particular wine. Those are my peeps! And I’m happy to be with them. One of my new co-workers (and fellow yogi) said to me the other day, “A meal without wine is like a life without love.” He was only being partially facetious. Passion for food and wine is part of who I am, just like being a yogi is who I am. I tried to squelch that passion for years. I am so glad that I’m no longer doing that.
Food & wine might not be your thing. I’m not pushing it on you. What I am encouraging you do do, is not squelch your passion, whatever that may be. I’ll be writing more about that in future posts. Until then….
Salute & Bon Appetit!
Pandemic Meditation

Pandemic Meditation

This is my first post since we were hit with COVID-19 and Stay-at-Home Orders. I haven’t been clear on what I wanted to write about. I could give Ayurveda Tips for Armageddon (I still might!).  I could talk about the effect this is having on our collective psyche (I’m not a mental health expert, but that hasn’t stopped anyone else!) I could rant about government and politics (But, I prefer not to have my entire list unsubscribe!)
The question I kept asking myself was, what can I write that will be useful for others during this time? How can I be of service to my community?
And then it came to me. Like many of you, I have a lot of time for contemplation these days.
My yoga practice has become more contemplative over the past few years. I’ve had some injuries. And while I’ve healed from some of them and am working on poses I haven’t been able to do in a while, I’ve also realized that there are some poses I will never do again, like headstand. My neck is just too jacked to risk it. And I’m ok with that. There are other poses I can do, when I want to be upside down. I also have to accept the fact that I am not as young as I once was. And as we get older, our practice is supposed to become more contemplative. We become wiser and more thoughtful.
I have been deepening my meditation practice over the past five years. Like so many, I got into yoga through the physical practice, asana, which is the third of the eight limbs of yoga. Dyhana, or meditation, is the seventh. Since each limb builds upon the next, we can assume that the seventh limb is extremely important. The only limb to come after it, is Samadhi, or Enlightenment.
I was recently initiated into the school of Neelakantha meditation, an ancient mantra practice, based on the Shiva Sutras, that has been passed down from teacher to student for thousands of years. This practice has catapulted my meditation into much deeper states. As my wonderful teacher, Jeanie Manchester says, I get to bathe in the bubblebath of the vibratory field twice a day. And it’s powerful.
So, I’ve decided that the way I can give back during this world-wide crisis, is to share meditation with my community.
Starting next Sunday, May 17, at 10:30 am CDT, I’ll be hosting a weekly, free, online Community Gathering and Meditation. We’ll start with a teaching/discussion/conversation and then go into a short meditation. You can join via  Facebook Live in my group, Life On & Off the Mat.
As I do want this to be a community gathering, I’m inviting yoga teachers, studios, meditation and spiritual teachers of any and all spiritual traditions to partner with me as a “sponsor,” and/or a guest host. I’ve put quotes around “sponsor,” because this is not a financial sponsorship, it is an energetic one. I will be happy to share your COVID online offerings with my community, and just ask that you do the same in return. I’ve got a couple yoga studios and teachers on board already!
I’m sure that many of you have heard how the power of prayer and meditation really do make a difference in the world. If we can get as many people as possible together, for just a few minutes, once a week, we can make a difference! In ourselves and the world. It’s called Subtle Activism. Whether you look at it as a simple stress-reduction for yourself during a very challenging time, or a way to deepen your personal spiritual practice, or as a method for planetary healing, I hope you will join us.
We’re in a time of unprecedented uncertainty. I’ll be writing more about that, and how we can keep ourselves grounded through it all, in future posts.