Archive for 2009

Considering a New Year: 10 Resolutions

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about new year’s resolutions. Maybe because last years’ were unexpectedly potent. Over Christmas dinner last week (at a table surrounded by friends), I remembered one of them: “Be better friends with the friends I already have.” Huh, it worked. I also made some new friends. How great is that? (I raise a toast.)

The other was to start a meditation practice. After 20 years of attempts, I finally did it. Sitting every day! (Thanks for the method, Alan. Thanks for the prodding, Vanessa. Thanks for the company, Tim.)

So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about this week for the coming year. Take it or leave it—it’s free. Here’s to a happy new year—and an inspired decade.

1. Keep a small notebook-–a small one that fits in my pocket. Write down ideas, events and thoughts of the moment, lists, words overheard, sights overseen. I started this in November at the suggestion of a writing teacher (thank you, Victoria) and it has blazed some interesting new trails. How much was I censoring myself? A lot.

2. Break out of the routine for one hour every week—even if it means walking down a new block (which in fact I love to do). In 2010, I’d like to shake things up; keep the brain and spirit fresh. Visit new parks, museums, bookstores etc. Cheaper than a ticket to Rio de Janeiro, too.

3. Use a key phrase for comfort.  Sometimes I have a mantra from my meditation teacher and then I forget to say it. But it could also be a phrase someone—anyone—has said that was moving. Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, for new year’s 2006, said, “one of the most moving experiences I have had was when one of my teachers said it to me – “Whatever happens, you can handle it.” Another good one is from ad exec, Paul Arden: “Start being wrong and suddenly anything is possible. You’re no longer trying to be infallible.”

4. Take on a reasonable amount—and no more. This week I set out to do a reasonable number of tasks each day instead of a superhuman number. It’s been fantastic. Lo-and-behold, I’ve been getting more done and feeling friendlier, too. (It sure helps to get to work at noon.)

5. Check in weekly to see where I am and what’s ahead. My own personal 1:1 staff meeting. I’ve set Friday afternoons for this weekly accounting. It’s actually pretty fun, and it helps manage the overwhelm. Another good idea from Victoria.

6. Use iCal on my laptop and on my iPhone. Getting my schedule out of my head and onto “paper” clears some space…. for all those thoughts that I need to get down in my notebook! (See #1.)

7. … also it’s *really* interesting to see how much junk I’m carrying around in my head. I would like that junk to stop jabbing me in meditation, so I’m excited to put it down somewhere. (The creative company Behance has all kinds of strategies, apps, and stationary to help with this very thing—thank you, Jocelyn Glei!)

8. Inbox zero! Again: inbox zero!

9. Annoying people and situations (hello, crowded subway) offer a chance to learn and grown—I know, I know, SUCH a cliche! But there’s a catch: they are opportunities only if I can stay vulnerable. It is challenging not go into habit—and so, interesting. Heart forward!

10. Open your eyes. For one minute every day, see who and what is around you. This summer I noticed an overgrown corner lot at S1 and Driggs. I’ve lived one block from it for probably 10 years: in July it was lush vines, weeds, morning glories, and leafy tree branches spilling over the fence. It was wonderful to walk past. I found myself taking detours to stroke the cat-tails, smell the flowers, inhale the green. Even if you’ve seen your local spot or your trusted people a 1,000,000 times, see them again. Recall the native greeting in Avatar, “I see you.”

It’s great to open your eyes.

Stubdog: Half-Price Yoga?

According to the ad copy on Flavorpill’s “thehookup,” Stubdog offers half price tickets on music, comedy, dance, special parties—and YOGA.

Is that yoga classes, yoga events, yoga fashion trunk shows? Not clear. A quick search of the site turned up zero offerings in any of their cities currently (Houston, Los Angeles, Dallas/Ft Worth, New York).

But a half-price anything is worth it these days. So I pass it along to you, dear reader. Maybe while you’re waiting for a yoga class to pop onto the list you’ll catch an Afro-Cuban extravaganza or the next Eddie Izzard?

Stubdog for Event Tickets – Houston, Los Angeles, Dallas/Ft Worth

Bollywood 101

Bollywood 101, a great film series, has been happening this fall at the Ossining, NY, Public Library. The last screening is this Saturday at 4pm. Don’t miss it!

It’s run by my friend and colleague, former punk rock East Village 80s bartender chick, grammarian supreme, and all around excellent person, Carolyn Lengel.

With her husband Mike Enright, and daughter Harriet, they not only curate the film series, they make these great YouTube videos as promos, interviewing themselves (here Harriet delivers her commentary while hanging laundry) and Bollywood experts while showing clips from the featured film.

From Carolyn’s message:

Escape to the Ossining Public Library at 4 p.m. on Saturday, December 5, for the grand finale of the “Bollywood 101” film series, LAGE RAHO MUNNA BHAI (2006), a completely charming movie about a Mumbai gangster who falls in love and begins to see visions of Gandhi.

What better way to get in a holiday mood?

Even if you can’t make it to Ossining, you can join in the fun from the sidelines. Watch theYouTube videos and join Bollywood 101 on Facebook. Stay tuned!

Eating Meat–or Not?

It’s true that I eat meat: the humanely raised, grass-fed kind. I have been surprised by how many restaurants offer it. There’s even a full on BBQ place that’s all organic near where I live.

In fact, to eat good meat that’s not full of hormones, antibiotics and that won’t contribute to any being’s misery has been my New Year’s resolution for a few years running. (Sometime towards the end of the year I find myself at a dinner party or in Chinatown breaking it, hence the need for a re-up.)

With the end of the year approaching there comes a slew of help from the New York Times, and, of course, literary star, Jonathan Safran Foer whose recent book is Eating Animals, and why we shouldn’t.

Mitchell Feinberg for the NYTimes

Mitchell Feinberg for the NYTimes

I have to confess that these days I eat mostly vegan anyway. No dairy, no sugar, no meat, no wheat (not that vegans avoid gluten). It’s not quite a question of ethics, but what is easier to digest. And what will keep me healthier now that it’s plague season. (The subway: H1N1 incubator?)

According to the Times, 1% of Americans in 2009 are vegan, and it’s getting easier and easier to find vegan food. Not just at ethnic resautrants such as Indian and Thai, but in mainstream America. A 17-year old Long Island boy—a vegan—managed to instigate a slew of vegan fare at his father’s pizzeria where he works. It attracted a vegan crowd.

Moo-Cluck Bakery on Long Island sells retail and wholesale. And it’s not just the vegans who like their cakes: the bakery owners, “took a box of several dozen Moo-Cluck cookies to a family Christmas party of 30 people last year, intending it for a vegan relative.

“The vegan arrived too late to enjoy the gift. Half an hour after Ms. Cummings brought them into the house, the cookies were gone, she said. “All the nonvegans ate them.”

If cutting out meat, dairy, and sugar seems dire to you, consider this: vegans eat cookies like everyone else.

Here’s a cookbook to prove it: Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar: 100 Dairy-Free Recipes for Everyone’s Favorite Treats by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero (Da Capo).

That’s sounds like holiday fun (though the reviewer of her sister’s vegan cookies in this article thought they tasted “like homework.”)

Decide for yourself. Make your own resolution.

Receiving the Medicine Buddha Initiation

guest post by Viniyoga teacher,  Linda Prosche

The Dalai Lama visited Long Beach Convention Center at the end of September and I attended the Saturday two hour session to receive the Medicine Buddha Initiation. Usually, Tibetan physicians receive this initiation, but it also works to give laypeople more healing powers, too.

“If one meditates on the Medicine Buddha, one will eventually attain enlightenment, but in the meantime one will experience an increase in healing powers both for oneself and others and a decrease in physical and mental illness and suffering,” says Lama Tashi Namgyal.

medicine buddha

Some 5 days later, the glow of the experience still wrapped around me. A Buddhist friend who’d scored front row seats confirmed this: “Once you have been touched by His presence, your life will never be the same.” I wondered, “Am I different, now?”

Although, I am not a Buddhist, my personal yoga practice helps me to compassionately release my habituated conditioning which no longer serves me.  Is it possible that I could have swapped out a bad habit for a better one just by listening to this man?

Apparently, he is not just any man. When I entered the Center in the company of thousands I felt the quiet hush of meditative reverence. My other feelings are harder to describe: I found myself serene, humbled and in a state of awe.  Awe at the sheer simplicity of this man in robes with his back towards us in preparation for his offering.

He began with a simple message.  “Take care of the earth, it is your only home. Be kind to one another and don’t kill things.”

Then he asked who would be interested in the initiation and 90% of the crowd raised their hands.

It was a bit funny. I shot my hand up only to wonder, what is he really asking of me? In a culture of sensationalism and drama what did I have to do and how much would it cost?

Again, his requests were simple and if I was not able to do them all, he explained, I could do less. How tolerant!

Dalai Lama

He then began the Medicine Buddha Mantra which I was unfamiliar with.  But I joined in.

We seemed to go on chanting for hours, between wakefulness and deep sleep. Then, without skipping a beat, he said, “That’s all. Goodbye.”

I was stunned. But then again, what else was there to say? I just wanted to sit in the delicious reverberation of the mantra.

I returned home and the next morning made my way over to Starbucks. I noticed the pleasant mantra rumble still floated through my brain.  I also noticed that I chose a new nutrition bar over my habitual chai latte. The bar was called NICE. Can you believe it?

Was it a message to me, prompted by His Holiness? Maybe I had changed!

Later that morning a student asked what I had learned from my visit with the Dalai Lama. I reached into my bag and tossed the nutrition bar her way.

I said “This is his teaching: be NICE to one another and share love and compassion on the earth just as easily as I shared this nutrition bar with you!”

Of course she laughed and I felt that infectious giggle so many people have experienced in the presence of his joyful being.

And then I did something very different. Just like the Dalai Lama, I said, “And that’s it. Good bye!”  It was that easy and that simple.

guest post by Viniyoga teacher, Linda Prosche

Happy Diwali Message from President Obama

Diwali party, the Hindu festival of light, was last Saturday. I helped a friend prepare for his Diwali party by picking up food from Jackson Heights, Queens: trays of saag paneer, spicy lentils, rice, tubs of chickpeas, and sweets such as jalebi (which seems to be 100% sugar spun in pretzel-shapes, fried, and dipped in sweet red syrup and is kind of like eating a tasty neon sign).

stacks of jalebi

stacks of jalebi

Last week, President Obama showed his chutzpah by delivering first-ever presidential wishes for the Diwali festival. He addresses Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs and even citing Sanskrit verse (a chant you might recognize from yoga class!).

It reminds me of watching Queen Elizabeth give her Christmas Day speech from Buckingham Palace on TV as a kid (true story) but way, way cooler.

Watch President Obama’s message for Diwali here:

LuLu or Cult: Clothes Call?

The NYTimes Style section today (The Critical Shopper) goes after the LuLu culture, focusing on the boppy, sunny, perky, happy, can-do, yes’m attitude of the staffers. The writer walks into the flagship store in Manhattan (sounds like the set-up to a joke) and “A nanosecond after I entered, a spunky girl greeted me with a “Hi!” as if she were my life coach or wife.”

His take is that it’s all a bit culty. Not just out on the LuluLemon-covered streets (which is what New York Magazine’s juicy LuLuLemon article this past summer was talking about), but in the store itself.

LuluLemon works hard to create such boppy attitude in its educators, with personal growth coaching that sometimes includes a session at Landmark Forum.

This is not very “yoga,” but it is to be expected if you are to create a brand that appeals to the public on a global scale. Lululemon understands that we like our enlightenment to be results-oriented, self-esteem boosting and comfortable so that we can flop on the couch after doing our inner work and watch “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Hmm, true: how many of us like our enlightenment to be results-oriented? Many, I’d guess, though we’d never say, “Oh, checked in with Brahman, supreme cosmic spirit from Hindu Vendanta philosophy this morning, cross that off today’s to-do list.”

Aside from using the word relentlessly relentlessly (well, twice, gad zooks! “relentlessly sunny”, “relentlessly cheery”), he also does his bit to give the back story on Chip Wilson and review the clothes. He likes the selection of men’s clothes. He seems to practice yoga himself. He’s a fair reviewer, not beneath a bit of ribbing:

Some of the get-ups are insanely garish. Run Ultra pants have black and white swirly striped panels over purple fabric and look like something Patricia Heaton wears on one of her 14 sitcoms; cropped bottoms with green plaid fabric around the waist is fine if you want to look like a Scotch tape dispenser while you are in Uttanasana.

Any Lulu article must discuss the unusual materials in their clothes, and Albo obliges. And, like the NYMag writer, he takes a shot at the purpose of wearing those hot pants anyway (hint: it’s not all about “wicking away moisture”):

The materials, with names like Silverescent and Luon, are obsessed with wicking away sweat and therefore suit the typical yoga-goer’s secret mantra: I am willing to bow to an elephant-headed god, but I refuse to look skanky when I walk to my car after class because there might be a hot guy around.

It seems we can’t get enough of LuLu, even if we’re making fun of her: she’s an easy entree into yoga culture for, well, people who perhaps relate more to the lifestyle aspect of yoga than the, say, sutra-studying aspect. And she provides an opportunity to play in the entertaining contradictions in this yoga-saturated moment.

Global Mala NYC–It’s Happening

Apologies to readers outside of the city, but I was complaining about New York’s meagre showing for Global Mala earlier this week, so I feel the need to amend. Last night I got notice that we’re not as lame as it seems.

Jivamukti and Integral Yoga Institute have taken on the challenge, and will present NYC Metro Area Global Mala Yoga for Peace Event (a mouthful–and a concert/kirtan) at Baruch College’s Mason Hall, Sunday, September 20th, 6 – 10pm.

Your $15 donation goes to Animal Mukti, a spay and neuter program established by Sharon Gannon at the New York Humane Society.  (This event is looking for volunteers, hint hint.)

Earlier in the day, Yoga for Peace will host an outdoor mala from noon til 3pm—that’s right, 108 sun salutations at Battery Park. You need to pre-register and send in your $20 (see the website).

The evening event is a concert and kirtan featuring some key Jiva figures such as Shyamdas (who appeared in the yoga movie, Enlighten Up!) and Sharon Gannon. Swami Ramananda, president of the Integral Yoga Institute, will speak and so will  Sri Dharma Mittra.

All big vegans and vegetarians.

So, there you go folks! Global Mala NYC is on.

Celebrity Yoga Teachers–Problem?

Late in August, YogaCityNYC, a New York yoga blog, sent me to Omega for their Being Yoga conference.

There, I interviewed a lot of high-profile yoga teachers-–Shiva Rea, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Dharma Mittra, Sharon Gannon and David Life, Tias Little—about what they thought of their status in the yoga world. (Rodney Yee was there, too, but he wasn’t giving interviews.)

Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman
Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidmain, photographed by Michael O’Neill for Vanity Fair, June 2007

I also interviewed Glen Black who has taught and practiced for 38 years but in contrast to everyone else, has actually avoided the spotlight.

The result of my weekend in Rhinebeck, NY? An article on celebrity yoga teachers. What do we do with them? What do we think about them?

Is a media-friendly yoga teacher a natural outcome of yoga’s presence in America’s consumer culture? Turns out the peaceful yoga crowd at Omega had a lot to say, as well…

Read the article and send in your thoughts…. had any experiences with”celebrity” yogis?

Global Mala–Not Just an LA Event (though you gotta hand it to them….)

The Global Mala event—108 sun salutations, done in public, with a lot of other people, to live music—will happen next weekend, Sept 19 & 20.

The LA crowd—particularly the sun-dosed teachers and musicians working out of the Santa Monica/Venice mothership—have really got their act together for it. Their event is *huge*.

And no wonder, since it was conceived of by Shiva Rea, who teaches out of the Exhale Center for Movement in Venice, and has the backing of her local folks such as Hala Khouri, Saul David Raye, and Govindas and Rhada.

Nonetheless, there will be Global Mala events all over—not just in the US but in Canada, Japan, and South Africa.

From the press release: “On September 19 and 20, the Global Mala Yoga for Peace Project, whose purpose is to unite the global yoga community, will implement events throughout the world in honor of the United Nations International Day of Peace.

Forming a “mala around the earth” through collective practices based upon the sacred cycle of 108, the mission of the Global Mala Project is to raise both funds and consciousness for some of the most pressing issues facing the world today.”

In New York, the event is organized by Exhale Spa, too, and will take place at 150 Central Park South (212-249-3000).

But it looks like a *much* smaller affair. The LA extravaganza is described as “a 4-hour ritual with 108 sun salutations and kirtan music.” For a mere twenty bucks you can get a premium seat (seat?) in front of the stage with goodies thrown in.

New York, what are we doing here?