Making Fun of the Westernization of Yoga

“Yoga develops all five layers, not merely just the physiological layer as in Western disciplines.”- BKS Iyengar

In 2012, The Yoga Journal conducted a survey that found the top five reasons that respondents started yoga were for: flexibility (78.3 percent), general conditioning (62.2 percent), stress relief (59.6 percent), improve overall health (58.5 percent) and physical fitness (55.1 percent). Unfortunately, the study did not seek to find what percentage of people are pursuing all aspects of yoga not just the physical. Since coming to the west, yoga has become very commercialized, leading to the the popularization of styles such as Ashtanga (there’s a debate on whether it was developed for young boys or not, read about it here) and Bikram (founded by an egotistical self-proclaimed guru who’s been a very bad boy, read an article on him here).  In an attempt to get people to consider the benefits of the other aspects of yoga, and the fact that you do not have to blindly follow a “guru” to find inner peace, here are four videos that make fun of the westernization of yoga, but have a message we should all think about.

1. F*ck That: A Guided Meditation

This guided meditation, while hilarious, is actually a decent guided meditation.  It encourages you to let go of negative thoughts and feelings while using explicit language that is so ingrained in our Western culture.

2. If Gandi Took a Yoga Class

While hilarious, this video shows how the popular classes, teachers, and studios aren’t true yogis in the eastern sense, and that the commercialization of yoga can be disrespectful.  Some Western practitioners pretend they understand all of what yoga encompasses, but in a very superficial manner.

3. How to be Ultra Spiritual with JP Spears

This video is amazing! JP Spears tends to hit the nail on the head when it comes to the superficial practice of yoga in the West.  A perfect video to watch after #3, he calls out those who are fake and have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to the spirituality of yoga.

4. Kumare Documentary

The first time I saw this movie was at Sewall House Yoga Retreat, the teacher trainees had to watch it as part of their course and while there are parts of the movie that are hilarious and what he does can hit a nerve with some, the message is incredible.  With this one I’m not going to tell you what the entire purpose of Vikram Gandhi’s transformation into a “guru” is, but if you believe that what he did was the worst thing in the world, then you missed the whole point.  Just remember, he continuously tells his followers that he’s a fake, he’s not who he says he is, etc. and never asks for money or material things in return for his teachings.

While I don’t agree with the commercialization of the ancient practice of yoga, sometimes I can’t just help myself (case in point my Instagram, Facebook, and even this blog).  The point of this post is to remind myself and anyone who reads this to not unconsciously practice the asanas, but truly think about what living yoga means and maybe just maybe show it would be a good idea to learn a little of the history and spirituality of this wonderful thing we call yoga.

Love and light,
Stephanie

New Adventures, Better Self

“You’re off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.” ~Dr. Seuss

Since coming to Maine I’ve been able to let go, try new things, or become reacquainted with things I’ve haven’t done in a long time.  I actually have the energy and motivation to get out there and not sit around and watch TV all the time, which I was doing living in NYC.  My anxiety level has gone WAY down, and I feel like I’m in a much better place mentally and emotionally. Of course I’m much more active now and enjoy being outdoors, something I haven’t really done much of in a very long time (except when I was in Costa Rica and the Bahamas). So in order to keep the momentum going, especially when I hit the road in October, here are a couple of things I will focus on doing everyday to find my true north, become my best self, and in general just be happy for once!

  1. Practice yoga everyday.
    I’m not just talking about doing yoga poses, but the 4 different paths of yoga: Karma Yoga (action), Bhakti Yoga (devotion), Raja Yoga (science of physical and mental control) and Jnana Yoga (knowledge or wisdom). You can learn about the different paths of yoga on the Sivananda website (click here). Currently, I’m doing Karma Yoga (check out my previous post on this here), and Raja Yoga everyday, but I know that’s going to change while I’m on the road. I have to commit to myself that I will practice at least one of the paths of yoga.

    Demonstrating headstand (Raja Yoga)
    Demonstrating headstand (Raja Yoga)
  2. Spend time in nature.
    I love the outdoors, and being in Maine has allowed me to reconnect with nature in a way I couldn’t in NYC. Since I’ve been here I’ve hiked a mountain (Mt. Chase-2,415 ft.), gone paddle boarding and kayaking early in the morning, splashed in a waterfall, camped under the stars, meditated over a river, went for a few boat rides, and did yoga on a large rock island in the middle of a lake. Within the short amount of time I’ve been here, I’ve done more outdoors then I’ve done in years.

    Made it to the top of Mt. Chase!
    Made it to the top of Mt. Chase!
  3. Try something new
    Ok, so this might not happen everyday, but it is something that I am going to be doing often, especially when I hit the road.  Recently I tried paddle board yoga for the first time, and I’m in love with it! It was kind of a two for one deal since I had never done paddle boarding and never did yoga on the water! The point of trying something new as often as possible is to get out of your comfort zone, break up the routine, and take a risk.  You never know what you’ll end up falling in love with!
    boat on a lake

My hope is to be able to keep going down my current path, and by continuing to do the things that I’ve established while I’ve been in Maine, I think that I’ll be able to figure out whatever it is I’m searching for!

Love and light,
Stephanie

Making $$ on the Road

“Making money isn’t hard in itself…What’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting one’s life to.” -Carlos Ruiz Zafón

So before I quit my job and got on the road to Maine, I needed to think about what I was going to do for money while traveling.  Even though I’m no longer paying rent and utilities, I still have bills: cell phone, student loans, gas, etc. My savings won’t last forever, so how the hell am I going to pay for all of this now that I no longer have a steady income?! My solution (so far) has been to look for online positions that I can do remotely.  All I need is a computer and an internet connection and I can work from anywhere in the world! I have a computer, but where am I going to get an internet connection on the road? Right now I’m good because the yoga retreat I’m at has WiFi, but I’m only here until October.  What then after that? Luckily I know about mobile hotspots, which you can add to your cell phone plan for usually not much more than you’re already paying.  I have Verizon Wireless, so I’m thinking about getting their MiFi 4G LTE Global USB Modem, which works internationally if need be (check it out here).

Verizon MiFi

Once you have the computer and internet figured out, what kind of jobs are out there that allow you to work remotely? I’ve been trying my luck with online tutoring and freelance writing.  There are many online tutoring websites to choose from, check out Top Ten Reviews “Online Tutoring Review.”  I ended up being accepted to Eduboard.com. To be added to their tutor list, you must first fill out an application, then take a English test. After three days (or more) they do a short phone interview before approving your application and registering you on their website. The phone interview was literally two questions, so it’s incredibly easy to get onto their site if you’re qualified.  Getting tutoring jobs is another story.  Each client/student places an order for something they need help with, and you then have to apply for that order.  The student then selects which tutor they want to work with.  The site itself is more like a marketplace, and so far very few orders have been posted, meaning I have not done one job through Eduboard yet.  Of course, the school year is just beginning across the country, so maybe there will be more opportunities later.

I also am trying my hand at freelance writing, and have had a bit more luck.  After registering for elance.com (which is about $10 a month) I got my first writing gig fairly quickly.  If you’re really lucky (and qualified) you may be able to get a long term gig! When you see a post that you are interested in you submit a proposal to the client.  Included in your proposal is your experience, resume, how you would approach the project, and your desired pay rate.  It’s pretty straight forward but you are usually bidding against a good amount of other freelancers.  Of course if writing isn’t your thing, there are other freelancing categories that you can register for such as Sales & Marketing, IT & Programming, and Design & Multimedia.  Overall, not a bad place to search and the cost to use the site isn’t bad.

Writing

Of course, tutoring and freelancing aren’t the only options, check out this article from Huffington Post  “10 Jobs You Can Do From Home.” The best part about all of this is I’m able to go anywhere I want but still be able to make enough to support my new lifestyle (which shouldn’t take all that much money to do). I can just imagine Morgan and I relaxing by a lake, me writing for my new client from Elance, Morgan trying to catch and eat flies…

Love and light,
Stephanie

 

Karma (Yoga) Isn’t a Bitch

“Karma Yoga is the selfless devotion of all inner as well as the outer activities as a Sacrifice to the Lord of all works, offered to the eternal as Master of all the soul’s energies and austerities.”-Bhagavad Gita

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Whenever I tell people I’m doing karma yoga, they always ask, “What’s that?”  Every time I either describe it as a work exchange type of program or “selfless service,” but it is much more than that.  Karma yoga is one of the four paths of yoga (bhakti, raja, and jnana are the other three) and is known as the yoga of action.  Sivananda describes karma yoga as “the path chosen primarily by those of an outgoing nature. It purifies the heart by teaching you to act selflessly, without thought of gain or reward. By detaching yourself from the fruits of your actions and offering them up to God, you learn to sublimate the ego. To achieve this, it is helpful to keep your mind focused by repeating a mantra while engaged in any activity.”

I first found karma yoga while looking for inexpensive ways to go to a yoga retreat during summer break last year.  When I found the karma yoga program at the Sivananda ashram in the Bahamas, I admit, I was interested because the cost was very affordable, especially for a month long stay on Paradise Island.  I never thought that I would end up gaining so much more than a cheap working vacation.  Not only did I become part of the community there and befriend so many amazing people, I felt like I was really contributing to the welfare of the community.  During my time, I worked in the kitchen which was a fairly big deal since I don’t like to and usually don’t cook.  Sure I was getting housing, yoga classes, and food at a discounted price, but once I became a part of the ashram that didn’t matter. Just feeling like I belonged to something was incredible and something that I had been missing in NYC.  I was important even though I knew I was replaceable.  The amazing thing is you don’t even think about it as a reward, it just becomes a part of your everyday life there.

Kitchen Crew 1.5
Kitchen Crew 1.5
Kitchen Crew 2.0 aka Vishnu's Angels
Kitchen Crew 2.0 aka Vishnu’s Angels

My days at Sivananda consisted of morning satsang (gatherings for the truth), yoga class, free time, kitchen duty (my karma yoga assignment), evening satsang and then bed. During satsang we would meditate for a half hour, chant (kirtan), and then the swami or a staff member would give a lecture.  Satsang was more spiritual than religious, which was fine with me, but I have to admit I would have preferred going once a day rather then being required to attend both.  While I understand the ashram is a spiritual community, and I was there to explore my spirituality among other things, it would have been more fulfilling if I came to the desire to attend satsang twice a day on my own, rather than be forced to.  Of course nothing beats the beach with the white sands, clear turquoise water, and gentle waves.  In the end, I really enjoyed my time there and felt stronger spiritually, mentally, and physically. If you are interested in learning more about the karma yoga program at Sivananda in the Bahamas, click here.

bahamas

So when I had the opportunity to once again do karma yoga, but at a small retreat called the Sewall House in Maine, I jumped at the chance. I have only been here a week, but the vibe is completely different and my karma yoga assignment is more flexible depending on the needs of the house and guests. So far I’ve done everything from housekeeping, to helping in the kitchen, to learning how to code so I can update their website! The owner Donna is amazing, a beautiful soul and great yoga teacher. Also, I got to bring Morgan with me! Of course, she’s loving it in Maine, we’ve had a lot of outdoor adventures like hiking to Shin Brook (or maybe it was Shin Pond) Falls or riding a boat to a huge rock on Mattawamkeag Lake for yoga.

Helping in the kitchen that day, making marinara sauce...fun!
Helping in the kitchen that day, making marinara sauce…fun!

Stay tuned for updates on my karma yoga at Sewall House and if you are interested in learning more about this cozy little retreat close to the Canadian border, click here.

Love and light,
Stephanie

Change is Good?

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” ~Socrates

I’m back!! It’s been three weeks since my last post and so much has gone on in those three weeks.  First, my amazing, crazy, beautiful Oma (that’s German for grandmother) suffered a stroke a couple of weeks ago.  All of her children (my mom, aunt, and uncle), as well as us grandkids (me, both of my sisters, and my cousin), as well as her son-in-law rushed down to Delaware to be there for her.  It’s been a tough road, but her progress has been amazing! She has made it out of the hospital and into a rehab facility where she is relearning how to speak and the right side of her body, weakened by the stroke, is getting stronger and stronger everyday! So all those positive vibes I asked to be sent to her on my private Facebook page are paying off, so keep ’em coming 🙂

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Before all of this happened, I made a major life changing decision, well maybe a couple of life changing decisions.  I’ll start with the lighter, kinda eccentric decision of dying my hair blue.  Yup, I have blue hair.  I love my blue hair.  I’ve always wanted to dye it blue, but never did because of work. Which brings me to my next decision.  After about a year of though (seriously I was thinking about this for a very long time), I decided to submit my resignation and travel the US for a good long time (exact length of trip TBD).  While I love teaching, I was getting burned out and the little trips I took the Bahamas and Costa Rica were amazing, but the effects were not lasting long at all once I got back to the city.  So after my Oma’s stroke, I packed up my apartment, found someone to take my room and moved out of Brooklyn (with the help of my Uncle Michael Diggins).

Blue Hair      Moving

 

After putting my stuff in storage in Delaware (sooo much cheaper than NYC), I drove out to Kentucky with the car my Uncle Michael is letting me use to visit my parents and my sister Corinne who’s staying at the farm for a little bit. It was a nice seeing everyone under better circumstances, and Morgan and I got to spend some time with my handsome dog Bailey.  Bailey is living on the farm with my parents, since he was too big to bring to NYC with me three years ago and most roommates don’t want to live with two dogs.  It was nice to see Morgan and Bailey together again, they has a great time getting reacquainted.

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Now this brings me to the present. Right now I’m sitting on a very comfy window bench in Island Falls, Maine writing this post.  Morgan and I arrived last night after driving from Kentucky to Pennsylvania to Brooklyn to now Maine.  For the next three months, I will be doing karma yoga (selfless service) at a quaint little yoga retreat called the Sewall House Yoga Retreat.  I’m looking forward to taking this time to work on myself and grow stronger physically, mentally and spiritually.   All of this may seem a little crazy and not normal, but it’s the right thing for me to do at this point in my life.  So change, while sometimes scary, can be good, all you have to do is make the jump!

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Love and light,
Stephanie

Setting Up a Home Practice

“First month paining, second month tired, third month flying.” ~ Sharath Jois

While a class at a yoga studio is a great way to to do yoga, sometimes it can get expensive if you want to do a daily asana practice. In NYC, some studios have a sliding scale payment system where you pay what you want between a certain range (usually from $7-20 for an hour), but that can add up! While other studios offer a month long pass, it can seem like a lot of money to put up at one time.  I suggest setting up a home practice and going to the studio once a week or once every other week to get adjustments from an instructor.  Here’s a couple of steps to get you on the path to a home practice:

1. Find the right mat for your home practice. I kinda have a yoga mat collection.  One mat is for my home practice, one is for studio practice, and one is for when I’m on the go.  For your home practice, I recommend Lululemon’s The Reversible Mat 5mm (you can find it here). The hardwood floors in my apartment are killer on a thinner mat, so this thick mat from Lululemon is prefect for practicing at home! (If you want to know what mat I take to the studio click here and the mat I use when I’m on the go click here).  Just choose what feels right for you!

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2. Create a dedicated space to place your mat. While I would prefer practicing outside in the park, sometimes weather gets in the way. Luckily, my current apartment is large enough that there is a huge space where I can practice.  Although I didn’t, you should make the space your own.  A friend of mine has a beautiful yoga/meditation corner where she keeps her yoga mat out,  has yoga and meditation books, and pictures or things that inspire her.  Unfortunately, I do have to roll up my yoga mat after practice or Morgan thinks it’s her new nap spot!

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3. Get on the mat! It can be really hard to get the motivation to even get on the mat, especially since you’re home, but try to get on the mat everyday until it becomes a habit.  Even if you start off just doing sun salutations, at least you’re on the mat! Studies show that it can take anywhere from 2-8 months to form a new habit (you can read about it here), and while it’s easier to get motivated in the studio, there are plenty of 30-day yoga challenges that you can find online that can help you get and stay on the mat!

4. Know your asanas.  Since I follow Sivananda style of yoga, I already know the asana sequence I can do at home (since the Sivananda style is a set sequence of 12 poses).  But if you usually practice a style that would change from class to class if you hit the studio, then you may need some guidance.  There are online yoga channels  you can use like Yoga Today and My Yoga Online, and there are even apps that you can download to your phone or iPad like All-In Yoga (powered by Yoga.com).

Morgan practicing Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Morgan practicing Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Establishing a home practice can be incredibly hard, but if you stick to it you’re mat can eventually feel like hOMe!

Love and light,
Stephanie

 

Choosing the Right Practice for You

“Calming the mind is yoga, not just standing on the head.” ~Sri Swami Satchitdananda

When I got back from a month long stay at the Sivananda ashram in the Bahamas, I decided to try the various styles of asana practice to see which one felt right.  I was still pretty new to a regular yoga practice, before I had done yoga on and off for two years (mostly off). I tried ashtanga, vinyasa, a different style of hatha, acro, and ariel, but in the end I decided to stick with Sivananda style of hatha.  I’ll give you a run down of what I think about each style I tried:

1. Acro– This is such a fun style of yoga, you get to fly!  I wouldn’t recommend this style for a regular practice, but rather as a fun extra.  It’s also a great way to meet people, since you have to work together, whereas with other styles I’ve noticed people tend to keep to themselves.

acro

2. Ariel– This is the carnival style of yoga, and is also a lot of fun!  You get to learn a lot of neat tricks with the silks and can even deepen your pose (think resistance bands).  Like acro, you get to fly. I also don’t recommend ariel for a regular practice, but as a fun extra. Although, I love the end of class savasana in the silk, I feel like I’m in a floating cocoon (weird, I know, but you’ll see what I mean if you try it). Just FYI, I noticed that you’ll get a lot of one-timers who are just there for a photo op at the end of class.

ariel

3. Ashtanga– Like Sivananda, this style has a set sequence of poses. You learn the sequence in sections, after you memorize a section, you then are shown the next section.  Once you have the entire sequence memorized, you can practice at your own pace.  This style kind of felt like a home practice, except with an instructor there to do adjustments.  I really liked this style, however the instructors at the studio I went to made me feel like an annoyance since they had to spend a little more time with me (because I was a newbie) then the regulars. I would totally practice this style regularly if I found a studio that made me feel comfortable and welcomed.

4. Hatha (not Sivananda style)- I went to a class on my way home from work for a hatha class and honestly don’t have a lot to say about it.  The practice felt unbalanced and odd because it was a little too different from the style I had been practicing every day for a month.  It’s one thing to try a completely different style, but to try a different hatha style and feel off while doing it is never a good thing.

5. Sivananda- Honestly, I had never heard of Sivananda before I found the ashram in the Bahamas, so I didn’t know what I was getting into once I got down there.  Sivananda has a set sequence of 12 asanas that flows from the head to the feet (headstand is done in the beginning of the practice), with a lot of resting poses done in between.  I actually really like this style because I can close my eyes and focus within. Instructors do sometimes change things up by doing variations of the 12 asanas, so you’re not bored if you go to class everyday. Sivananda also includes chanting and pranayama (breathing), which I love.

fish pose

6. Vinyasa–  With this style I tried to different types of vinyasa flow.  The first one was fast paced flow and was horrible! It felt like I was in competition with the person next to me, the instructor had no clue what she was doing, and I couldn’t get deep into the practice.  To me the asana practice should be meditative, and it felt more like the instructor was trying to make us run a marathon.  The second vinyasa class I went to was a slow paced flow and a million times better than the fast paced flow.  The slow flow allowed me to go deeper into the practice and enter a more meditative state while going from pose to pose.

These are only a few of the many styles of yoga that are out there.  The key is to find the style that speaks to you, that allows you to go within yourself, asanas are not only about the body but the mind as well. It’s important to find a style that you can really get into and make a regular practice, you don’t want to be all over the place with the styles or you won’t be able to get to a place where you can focus on the inside.  Of course, it’s not a bad idea to hit up an acro or ariel class just to add a little bit of fun to your practice!

Love and light,
Stephanie

Visualize the Future

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” -Abraham Lincoln

I love books. I’m an avid reader and will be reading many books throughout my journey of finding my true north.  The term “find your true north” comes from Wanderlust (the festivals) and is a constant theme in the book I am currently reading, Wanderlust: A Modern Yogi’s Guide to Discovering Your Best Self by Jeff Krasno (Cofounder of the festivals), with Sarah Herrington and Nicole Lindstrom (you can find the book here). This book is amazing and truly is a “road map that connects yoga the practice with yoga the lifestyle” (Wanderlust, inside cover).

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Wanderlust is divided into eight chapters that help you find your practice, direction, core, heart, community, creative spark, center, and finally your true north.  So far I have only been able to make it through the first two chapters, but am excited to continue reading.  Not only does the book include articles from those well known in the yoga community, but exercises that help guide you through living the yogic lifestyle.  One of these exercises was to create a “Vision Board” (Wanderlust, pgs. 68-69).  So I headed to Staples, got posterboard, glue, and markers, then off to Barnes & Noble to get magazines (went totally overboard on the mags!), and got to work on my little art project!

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The types of magazines I gravitated to were yoga and travel magazines.  It was a lot of fun going through and finding words, terms, or pictures that I connected to. To keep everything organized and easy to find, I used post-it tabs to mark the pages before going back and cutting anything out.

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While looking through the magazines, I was thinking about places I wanted to travel or live, my dream yoga teacher, things I want to do, and what would inspire me.  The purpose of my vision board is to not only decide what I want my future to look like, but to remind me of what I need to do to get there.

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If you’re in a rut, and can’t picture the future, I recommend creating a vision board to help inspire you to make the changes necessary to live the kind of life you deserve to live, and find that inner peace and happiness.  I also recommend getting Wanderlust: A Modern Yogi’s Guide to Discovering Your Best Self  if you want to go beyond the studio and live a yoga lifestyle. Even though I hate the term YOLO, you really do only have one life (unless you believe in reincarnation), so make it the best life possible!

Love and light,
Stephanie

Connecting to Nature in the City

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” -Albert Einstein

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One of the first thing I wanted to do to get back into my yoga practice was spend more time outside.  Of course when you live in a concrete jungle like New York City, you can’t just leave the apartment and boom there is grass beneath your feet. You have to seek out the grass, trees, and flowers. You have to seek out the peace and quite that comes with spending time in nature. Lucky for me, Prospect Park is only a couple of blocks away from my apartment. So this morning, I grabbed my Yogo Mat, a bottle of water, and Morgan to met up with my friend Jess.

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The only times I’ve felt connected to nature and even to myself was during my time in Costa Rica and the Bahamas.  When I’m home, it’s easy for me to disconnect from everything including my friends, my job, even my city.  This summer I will be focusing on

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It doesn’t matter whether you’re on a beach in Costa Rica, in a desert in Utah, a farm in Kentucky, or a park in the middle of Brooklyn, it’s important to take the time to connect to nature and reconnect to yourself.

Love and Light,
Stephanie