Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Dress for Success:Halloween as a Spiritual Practice


“We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.”  -Anais Nin
If we want things to change we have to change ourselves. Then, suddenly, the world around us appears different. But how can we change ourselves? First we must become aware that there is an option to change. Most of us spend a good deal of our lives adhering to certain decisions about our preferences and characteristics, never questioning where those labels came from or if they are indeed permanent and true.
For instance, I may appear a loud and bossy type. When I come into a room, I let my thoughts be known and assert my desires. Perhaps my whole life I have behaved this way and from this behavior enjoyed much success. I may become known as "loud and bossy" to the point where others around me adjust to take supporting roles and even choose me for activities where those traits appear helpful to the group. I may not realize there is another role I can take. I may have been told that this personality comes naturally to me, but it may just be well practiced, or it may be that I subconsciously feel a need to play a role I was assigned, worried no one else will take that part or that I won't be effective in another position.
Eventually I will likely be awakened to the malleable nature of personality. I could be faced with a similar personality type across from me and find my usual responses ineffective. I could experience a loss. I could read a book or blog like this one and realize I do have choice. Then I might decide to allow different aspects of myself to come forward until my personality wouldn't be described as bossy at all. Part of the yogic journey is making better, more artful choices and finally arriving at no choice, but as an experience of our perfect, non-personality touched souls.
The self-help guides tell us to be ourselves, but who are we? Personality is a strange and fluid thing. Most of us have many; Sometimes they war inside of us. Other times they know their roles. Mom comes out at bedtime with the kids, but becomes a shy student in her night classes, hardly recognizable to her mother self. On date night, with girlfriends, with parents, all different personalities emerge.
Sometimes parts of our personalities remain buried for a long time. Suddenly I arrive at a situation where I want to use an archetypal energy but I can not access it. That's where the costume comes into play. If I've been demure for a long time I may need some help expressing my authentic assertive self.  In this case I can wear heals, and suits, and certain kinds of colors and hair styles until she comes out. Through the flow or restrictions of her clothing, movement becomes dictated. Through the eyes of those who witness my transformation I access her spirit.  She was always there inside of me. Never false. Just hidden. Suddenly the world around me looks different. New possibilities emerge. 
Choosing to transform through costume may have to be subtle on the day to day if we don't want to shock our friends and neighbors, but on Halloween we have the opportunity to go all out. This one day we can access our superhero, magical, sexy, silly, even dark, vampire selves. Each of us has a chance to play a part not allowed to us normally and access a layer of our personality that is hidden away. As we expose more of ourselves we gain more choices and open ourselves to seeing the world around us in a different way. This is a healthy and important part of the journey to self-realization, so be sure to use your societal pass this Halloween and be whoever you most want to be. Don't be shy. I know I won't be!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Follow Your Bliss! Retreat with me in Tulum this December!

MIND, BODY, SPIRIT: TULUM



Summer may have come to its unofficial end with the passing of Labor Day, but the ease, boundlessness, and warmth that come with it should not have to be lost. I figure we can all hold on until the beginning of December, but we are going to need a re-boot before holiday time comes around.
As many of you know I was in Napa in August teaching yoga for UPTOWN magazine's food and wine retreat, Uncorked. It was a spectacular moment for so many from so many different backgrounds and locations, who came together in peace for peace and transcended even their wildest dreams.

In that beautiful setting, separated from city life, and surrounded by an intension of positivity and growth, I saw our guests thrive and grow at such a rapid pace. With my help, they were able to tune in to some really deep places and let go of some serious blocks. Morning sessions were physical, fun, & challenging and got everyone out of their heads and energized for the day. Evening sessions were slow, meditative, and reflective. Everyone who wanted to could participate and felt comfortable doing so.
I left with a string of testimonials and stories of great personal and professional progress that each guest attributed to our time together. It was beyond inspiring to have that kind of impact, and just the sign I needed to be sure I must do more retreats like this one. This is what gave birth to Tulum, Mexico.
Famed as one of the absolute best retreat centers in Tulum, Amansala was the obvious choice.  I wanted a place that was close and doable but also transcendent and I know we have found just that in their eco-chic, beachside accommodations. Everything from the food, to the yoga, to the mud treatments is designed to cleanse and bring you an experience that will have you at your highest self when you return to "normal life". There are some personal growth secrets that I've been accessing and I will be sharing those step by step with all who want to makes leaps, personally, spiritually, even financially in 2016. All you have to do is show up.

There will be daily yoga and meditation offered on this trip, but it is in no way required. Anyone looking for a chance to get away, rest, and get clear is welcome.
Please join us. Email me at lara@landyoga.com.
For more information link here.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Horrible Price of Cheap Yoga


This article was featured in the Huffington Post last month. It drew a lot of attention. I wanted to give you a chance to read it incase you missed it.
Since opening my first yoga studio, Land Yoga, in 2011, I have had the wonderful opportunity to offer free and donation-based yoga classes to our community. In fact, I was featured in New York Magazine for offering free classes in neighboring Morningside Park in collaboration with the Community Markets Farmer's Market. We love to support our community, especially those in need, so we have continued our specially curated partnerships and our generous teaching staff donates classes when they can. In addition to the market, we've worked with The Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention and even at Columbia Law School.
However, we do NOT offer cheap classes at the studio. You heard it, no $5 community class, no Class Pass, no Groupon. The reason is simple: we are not free or cheap. We come with homes, bills, and grumbling tummies, and we deserve to have all those needs met.
Most people have these same needs, so the question becomes why do only some yoga teachers demand livable payment for teaching? The issue is very complicated and multi-layered but one of the major components is the ubiquitous "yoga teacher certification." With no prior experience you can hand over a few thousand dollars, train for 200 hours, and walk away a "teacher." This leads to undertrained teachers, agreeing to work for very little, causing a culture of unfair wages for qualified teachers, and a lack of real benefit for the average yoga student. After completing such a short yoga course, the green teacher knows she knows nothing, and therefore can take little issue with being paid nothing, perpetuating this cycle.
In the Ashtanga Yoga tradition in contrast, you don't learn to be a teacher until well after you have come to a level of understanding of the practice and learned to be a student. You commit to making life-long annual trips to India for months at a time to be with your teacher and learn to teach primarily through watching and experiencing the way he IS. You show up every day and maybe one day he gives you the nod to teach a little something to the people back home, if you agree to continue your learning and training and teach as you've been taught. 
The teacher who goes through this process has struggled and sacrificed to internalize these ancient teachings and values the knowledge that has been handed down to her.  For this reason she will ask for what she is worth.  She is aware that her energy and self-care are vital to the transmission of the teachings and serve as an example. She must therefore resist running herself ragged teaching every class she can find and instead spend time deepening her own practice. Her dedication to her own self-improvement is one of the reasons she has become a great teacher.
But let's think about the consumer for a moment. Do cheap classes really benefit the student the way we've come to believe? All you need to do is think about the psychology surrounding purchases to understand that a student who has enrolled in a cheap class will not value it the way they would a larger purchase. Think of a time you saved up for something you truly desired and were finally able to afford it. Remember how excited you felt when you could finally make that payment. Recall how much you treasured your deserved and earned gift and how you took such care to keep it new and unharmed. You put the most into and got the absolute most out of that object of desire.
That's the kind of student an Ashtanga teacher yearns to develop: one who comes from a place of hunger and who can't wait to pull out each bit of nourishment from the practice. It's not about exact pricing because what is expensive is relative, but about paying a real price, the kind of price that makes you have to choose your practice over other things. 
What I observe consistently as a yoga studio owner is that the people who really want to practice always find a way to make it work.  We have a partial scholarship program at Land Yoga with an application to help us distinguish real need and evaluate desire to learn. We would never turn a truly dedicated student away. More typically what I find, however, are those who can afford classes asking for discounts and those who can barely make it work, making sacrifices to put their practice first.
Another major issue I see with cheap trials is the encouragement to hop around from studio to studio. While a period of exploration is necessary before choosing a teacher, no real growth occurs until that decision is made. Surrendering to the teacher teaches us how to let go of our egos, a major component of the yoga process. One will never get to that place of surrender by bopping around to different studios especially if they leave right when they face challenge in their practice.
So what should the yoga studio owner/teacher do when so many are offering their yoga services for so little? How can they compete with the endless free trials and $5 classes? I believe that educating the consumer is key. Students should understand a quality variation exists in yoga classes that can mean the difference between no real advancement, attachment to the physical aspects of yoga, and even injury, verses a chance to experience knowledge of self and perhaps even taste enlightenment through the guidance of a true teacher. When, we as teachers, own our role, and trust in the value of our service, we will always know what to charge for that exchange and those students seeking our knowledge will be drawn to us like we were to our teachers, making it a win-win at any price.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

#HowIMeditate Part 2: Five Steps to Easier Meditation.



There is a lot of confusion, frustration, and misinformation around meditation. Perhaps the word itself needs re-defining. In most yoga circles you'll more often hear it said that one has done their "siting practice". It's fair to say we've sat still for a length of time. What happens inside that stillness, only the practitioner knows for sure. I promise you, more often than not, it's a louder internal landscape then you think, especially if one is just beginning. 
Here are five steps for getting started:
1. Create a Sacred Space. This is a lot easier than it sounds. In my house it is literally a corner. The idea is that when you adorn a space and only use it for a specific function, that area takes on a new energy. (Think church.) Even if the energy were to remain the same, your brain associates that space with its single function (in this case meditation) and you'll settle into that function more easily then you would in a different space. 
2. Make Time. Set a specific time aside each day for your sitting practice. I recommend morning since as the day goes by, more and more things can get in the way. Also, the mind is quieter in the early hours. By coming to your space the same time each day it becomes a habit that you are unlikely to break. By scheduling in your meditation time you never have to "find time". It's already been made.
3. Be Still. Most teachers recommend that the spine be in alignment for meditation. If possible you'll be sitting with a tall straight back, and the legs in a cross-legged position (ultimately padmasana). Some students who can't sit up comfortably for long periods of time will sit against a wall or lay down on the ground. The most important thing is to be still. Once you find your position, try not to adjust or move in any way. Meditation is an attempt to move beyond the body so activating the muscles is out of alignment with your purpose. Most of the time, if you let the impulse to move pass, it will dissipate.
4. Just Watch. To meditate you will have chosen or been given an object of meditation which could be your breath or a mantra. (See my previous blog.) You will be telling your mind again and again to focus on that object only, but your mind will have other thoughts. This is normal. Keep working to make yourself aware as soon as the mind leaves the object of meditation and bring it back. Do this act without judgement. Simply observe the process. Ultimately you are the object of meditation, so by observing the way the mind moves, you are doing the work.
5. Get a Physical Yoga Practice. As mentioned, the upright spine position is optimal for meditation practice. Still sitting in this position for a long time is very difficult unless there is asana in your life. The physical practice helps you develop an easy seat and also does a lot of the pre-meditation work, cleaning and calming the mind. How long should you sit? The current experts say 20 minutes, but that's really just for entering a space of meditation. For being in and deepening that space one needs closer to an hour. Sounds long, right? Even 20 minutes is very difficult at first. Start with 5 minutes daily and slowly increase minute by minute as the practice becomes consistent in your life. You'll be at an hour in no time and craving more! Once you find the peace of meditation, staying in isn't the problem, it's coming out!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

#HowIMeditate


The seventh of the eight limbs of yoga is Dhyana, or meditation. This state occurs when Dharana (concentration) is held on the same object for some time. Another way to describe this state is that it is made of a string of back to back moments of concentration linked together without interruption. Again and again and again we are only aware of the object of choice.  
Different teachers and traditions advise on different objects of concentration. Some suggest focusing on the breath, others the third eye point, and still others put the focus on a Mantra (a repeated sound). Patanjai suggests focusing awareness on one of these things: breath, the sensations of the senses (just feeling), the inner light which is free of pain (most easily felt at the heart center), a mind which has already attained freedom of desire (the mind of a great sage or yogi), the state of dreaming or sleep (not the dreams themselves), or any object which brings a state of stability to the mind of the practitioner.
Through the practice of meditation our mind becomes stabilized and clear like a transparent crystal. The mind in this state is bright and aware, and can come to know any object it puts its attention on. In this clear state the mind is less susceptible to the impressions that create the cycle of karma. It lives in pure consciousness.
I'd love to hear about your meditation. During the month of October, please post your meditation or meditation inspired pictures to Instagram. Tag me at @landyoganyc and hashtag #howimeditate #alleightlimbs and I'll share your stories.
Meditation techniques should not be forced and are best experienced under the guidance of a teacher and in conjunction with all the previous limbs.