Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Restorative Yoga & Massage

I had the absolute joy and privilege this past Sunday to attend an event conceived by yoga teacher Dhyani and yoga teacher/massage therapist Krystal, both of whom I know from The Giving Tree, my local yoga studio.  (Two more days of 30 Day Giving Tree June Yoga Challenge, by the way!)  From 2:00 to 4:00, Krystal and Dhyani lead an intimate class of about 8 or 9 of us through restorative yoga poses as well as massage.  It was, in a word, incredible.  Bliss doesn't even begin to describe it!

They held this special event at a studio in quiet, peaceful Murray Hill called mang'Oh, opened by a Laughing Lotus alum.  Mang'Oh was the perfect place for this event - it felt intimate, serene, and the gentle teal and yellow colors promoted tranquility and beauty.

The ladies introduced themselves and the event, and then we began with deep yogic pranayama (breathing techniques) led by Krystal.  After that centering beginning, poses like restorative spinal twists, restorative child's pose, and ending with legs up the wall ( just to name a few), were clearly set up and demonstrated by Dhyani.

The two hours melted away into something timeless.  Time didn't fly, exactly - it kind of stood still for a little while and then when I came back to full consciousness it was time to go.  It's not like I slipped into total mindless naptime mode and  checked out (well, sometimes I did).  Dhyani, while observing long stretches of silence, also has an incredibly soothing voice and is deeply skilled at guiding you deeper into an awareness of your physical peace. It's like she's inside your body and knows exactly what still might be holding tension or what can release more deeply.  Krystal glided silently around the room providing fantastic massages to complement whatever restorative pose we happened to be in at the time, keeping you connected to your physical body while helping you fully let go and relax.

I'm not sure what their plans are for the future in terms of how much they'll be charging, but this event cost $30 - an absolute steal for what you receive. I'll be sure to post information on when they'll hold future workshops.  I can't recommend this highly enough!  I believe it was Dhyani who described it as a reset button for your body and mind.  Especially in this crazy city, I think that's something we can all use!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer Solstice!

I had the absolutely phenomenal experience of practicing yoga with bazillions (okay, thousands) of fellow yogis in Times Square yesterday.  They offered three classes, and I chose the evening one after a lovely day of work at Karma Kids.  I couldn't have asked for a better companion - my best friend in the world, Lisa!  We were among the very first to file in (numbers 49 and 50, to be exact) because I was absolutely determined that we were going to be able to get that free mat!  What a bummer it would have been to wait all day and then not be able to participate because I didn't feel like hauling my own mat around all day.

Anyway, I digress.  The class was led by Douglass Stewart of ISHTA and YogaWorks, two studios I thoroughly enjoy.  It was lovely, the weather was perfect, the onlookers were fun, and Times Square was its usual insane self.  It's probably the first time I appreciated it instead of letting it drive me insane in a very long time!

 I'm having an insanely hard time uploading photos on my blog today, which is sad considering that's a majority of what today's post was going to be.  Luckily, you can view the album here on Picasa.

It was an extraordinary experience that I plan on repeating next year!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

30 Day Yoga Challenge

Happy Thursday!

I'm writing today to share what my next daily practice is...it seems like this year I've been trying out different meditations/yoga practices for a certain amount of time to see how they've affected me.  I did 40 days of a japa mala practice, nearly a month of writing every day, a (somewhat failed attempt at a...) 21-day Sun Salutations, journaling, and meditation practice...a few more were in there, I'm sure.  I've really enjoyed them, and for the most part have been able to stick to them consistently.  My May Sun Salutations 'challenge' suffered many roadblocks, most notable the fact that I felt ill for nearly the entire month.  Allergies in New York are a brutal thing that my southern body is still getting used to in my second spring here.

Just as May was drawing to a close, however, I got a message from my local yoga studio, The Giving Tree, about a June special they were offering.  For $120 ($30 less than the normal rate), you get an unlimited month of yoga at this fabulous Astoria studio.  They're challenging you to take full advantage of the reduced rate and this glorious time of year to dive into deeper waters in your yoga practice.

On Day 16, I'm feeling fantastic.  I've had my fair share of sore hamstrings and lower back (and randomly, my right bicep) from some of the classes, but the next class or two always seems to have it feeling better.

It's not turning me into an Amazing Super Yogi - there are some days (today, for instance) where I walk into class feeling low energy, exhausted, and full of doubt that I'll be able to make it through without all my muscles turning to jelly.  But that's the beautiful thing about yoga - no matter what, I leave the class feeling wonderful.

The Giving Tree is a gorgeous studio, located right by the Ditmars N/Q station.  Every single teacher is fantastic and I not only feel great after every class, but I feel like I've truly learned something about my own personal practice as well as an increased knowledge of alignment.

Sadly, there are two days this month where it will be physically impossible for me to show up to a class.  This Saturday I'm leaving Astoria for Karma Kids at 6:30am and won't be back until probably 7:30pm.  The following Friday, a similar deal - 7:15am - 9:30pm.  It'd be nice to be able to do a solid 30 days, but it's not something worth dwelling on - especially considering I'll be off doing what I love.

Although in my own brain I always associate June 1st as the first day of summer, the actual first day of summer and the summer solstice is this coming Tuesday, June 21st.  Although The Giving Tree is having an awesome 108 Sun Salutations event at the studio, I'm already committed to practicing yoga in Times Square.  I highly recommend either event - both are sure to be blissful, sweaty, and amazing!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Big Questions

I spent this past Memorial Day weekend in one of my new favorite places in the world - Massachusetts.  Specifically, at Marc's parents' beautiful home near Boston.  The weekend was so peaceful but also stimulating - the LeVasseurs a philosophical, intellectual family that can debate, theorize, and just plain converse until the sun comes up.  Especially when there's excellent wine involved!

For a variety of reasons, on the train ride home, Marc started asking me some Big Questions.  Questions about how I deal with my undefined faith and if it bothers me that I don't have something solid that I believe in, the way Christians believe with all their soul that Jesus is the son of God, for example.  Does it bother me that I don't have a defined belief for what has happened to my loved ones that have passed away?

Marc has always been one to ask the Big Questions that mankind has never found an answer for.  What is the meaning of life?  His endlessly inquisitive mind has lead me to realize that mine is startlingly uninquisitive.  Or rather - it doesn't bother me that no one has the answers.  To me, spirituality and all those Big Questions are very personal things that slowly unfold.

When I was a kid, we didn't really go to church.  My mom was raised Episcopalian, but she never connected with a church when we were little and so we just never went.  I never believed in Christianity - it just never resonated with me.  I think it's something you have to fervently believe, and I didn't - it was almost an instinctive lack of belief.  This didn't bother me because I couldn't really imagine living differently.

For a long time I identified as an atheist, until I got older and realized if I couldn't have belief in a God, where was I getting this assurance that there isn't one?  I changed my label to agnostic with no existential crisis or fanfare.

In college, one of my favorite professors and mentors would always reference The Universe.  "The Universe will take care of you, The Universe will show you."  It endeared her to me further and I liked the idea.  I found that after I graduated, I thought and spoke in those terms more and more, and it was the first time I felt the need to have a spiritual connection or some kind of faith.  I wasn't able to define it anymore than "the universe," and I wasn't even sure I believed there was a fate or a way in which the universe provides.  But I was comforted by it.  After spending nearly your entire life in the school system and then college where everything has an order and is mapped out for you, going out on your own without any kind of organizational system is scary.  I needed an anchor, even if it was a vague one.

Here's where yoga really entered the picture.  The year after I graduated college, I started taking a gentle Hatha Yoga class that was pure stretching and relaxation - very little physical challenge and not a chaturanga in sight.  Because there was so little physical demand, which was new for me in a yoga class, I really began focusing the mind.  Eventually, these gentle classes started to feel like my very own church.  I'd dedicate one class to my mom, one to a friend in need, one to myself to try to wish for more strength or whatever you might think of.  I really loved how it felt and was very comforted by it.  It really showed me that I had some kind of space inside me that needed filling up by something spiritual.

Fast forward to today, and I've learned so much about yoga philosophy, meditation techniques, Sanskrit chants, even the Hindu gods and goddesses.  However, I still feel about the same as I did once I turned those gentle yoga classes into church.  I don't have any specific belief.  Ironically, two of my best friends in the world are very devout Christians (and shining examples of all that is good in Christianity!).  It helps to have them to listen and bounce ideas off of when we get into spiritual discussions.

I do wish I had a rock solid belief system.  I often find myself on a difficult meditation day - or a day when I skip meditation altogether - wondering what exactly I'm doing.  Am I praying to someone?  To myself?  If I'm not praying, who or what am I exactly communing with?  I know that I'm still very young and I have a lot of faith that my own spirituality and belief system will develop if I just keep practicing.


What about you, readers?  Is faith and belief something you struggle with - struggling to define it or struggling to maintain it?  Are you testing the waters or have you even decided any kind of spiritual connection isn't something you need?  I'd love to hear opinions.  Until next time...Namaste and enjoy beautiful June!