The August Dilemma

Vasisthasana

Vasisthasana

Dear Friends

August is to September as Sunday is to Monday. This statement, that often gets people's heads nodding in agreement when I share it, has been the focus of my classes this month. And you know what I’m talking about. It’s that anxious feeling you get when summer starts to wind down and September’s responsibilities and commitments begin to encroach on your summer vibe. You may have taken some time out to travel, to visit friends, go on a retreat or just enjoy a staycation in the city. And then all of a sudden, you feel the fall season closing in, pressing up against that expanded feeling that summer inspires.

On a more micro level, I’ve heard people say that in terms of the weekend, Sunday is often poisoned by Monday. Now this entire argument is based on our traditional model of a workweek, which doesn’t apply to everyone, of course. But because this model is so ingrained in our society, we might generally agree that weekend days feel energetically different that weekdays. It seems that people are expressing the challenge of being completely present on their day off. There’s a kind of push and pull with Sunday, often having a slow luxurious start, and then a hurried end riddled with preparations for the following day. So Saturday wins as the purest day of the weekend, a day where you can let it all hang out, truly unplug, expand and enjoy.

In a city where busy is a status symbol, it’s important to bring balance to our lives. Because even when we love what we do and look forward to new work opportunities, it doesn’t mean we’re immune to anxiety.

Here are 3 practices that I’ve found helpful in maintaining balance:

1. Set boundaries

My friend Rachel once told me that she doesn’t answer calls or emails after a certain hour in the day. And her Saturdays and Sundays are strictly family time. I thought that this was revolutionary when I heard it. I like to think of myself as someone who is accessible, accommodating and ‘on top of it’. It was freeing to recognize that I could still be all of these things while setting boundaries!

2. Be aware of your transitions

Something that I observe in my yoga classes is a lack of awareness when it comes to transitions. There is a willingness to tune in, to bring attention to the breath and to be present to feel into all those first movements in a warm up. But as soon as I say the word Downward Facing Dog or Flow, students go right into autopilot, forgetting to connect to their breath or to move with mindfulness. We all need reminders to be present, to breathe, and to release expectation! What we do on our mat is meant to be carried into the macrocosmic expression of our lives. Can you think of some daily transitions that you could bring more mindfulness to?

3. Sprinkle your weekday with a weekend vibe

What are some of your favorite weekend activities? Reading? Journal writing? Meditating? Going for a run? Cooking a special meal? Walking in the park? Visiting a friend? How can you recreate these activities so that they fit into your weekly routine?

All three of these practices are rooted in creating balance. I’ll leave you with this great quote from Wynton Marsalis, on maintaining balance:

“Swing is extreme coordination. It’s maintaining balance, equilibrium. It’s about executing very difficult rhythms with a panache and a feeling in the context of very strict time. So, everything about the swing is about some guideline and some grid and the elegant way that you negotiate your way through that grid.”

An Ode to Tamu

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Dear Friends,

Kali, the fiery goddess of destruction is the mighty disruptive force we may experience when we’ve suffered the loss of a family member, a job, a home, a lover or a beloved pet. She has become a familiar force in my life lately, teaching me about life and death, love and loss, grief and resilience.

About 8 weeks ago, my beloved dog, Tamu passed away. Tamu was my anchor, best friend and companion, and the love of my life. Although I’ve experienced loss before, Tamu’s death has introduced me the full range of my grief.

His love was profound and I relished in his pure spirit every single day. I thought we’d have so much more time together, but what a blessing it was to be HIS human for 5 incredible years. It has taken me a long time to share the details of his passing, as it brings up feelings of shame, regret and at times unbearable pain.

On Wednesday, May 22, I went to Prospect Park to spend some time with a friend, after having taught a yoga class earlier in the day. On the way to the park, I stopped by the organic market in my neighborhood to pick up some chips for my friend and I to share. Rachel and I hadn’t seen each other in a long while, and time passed quickly as we caught up. I had another class to teach at 8pm. When I looked down at my phone it was already past 6pm. I debated going home first to walk and feed Tamu, as he hadn’t been out since morning, but I knew it would be a tight squeeze on time.

I decided to go home. On my way, I ran into a friend who I hadn’t seen in years and we had a quick exchange and a hug. I ran home, fed Tamu and took him out for a quick walk. When we returned to the apt, I hurriedly packed my bag, shoving in yoga clothes and water bottle. The bag of chips that Rachel and I had been sharing was still in my bag, or so I thought. I gave a quick glance to the apt to make sure nothing was on the floor and then I left to teach.

When I came back home at around 10:15 pm I opened the door and there was an eerie silence. No movement. The apt felt airless. The bathroom door was shut which was weird. When I opened the bathroom door Tamu’s body lay lifeless in front of the sink with that potato chip bag snug over his head. There was feces, urine and potato chip crumbs everywhere. His last moments were filled with struggle and fear! I couldn’t get a grasp on what I was seeing. He had just been alive a few hours ago.

Tamu suffocated from trying to get the potato chips out of the bag. He must’ve panicked and taken several inhales with the bag over his head, tightening the seal, and unable to remove the bag himself. It didn’t seem possible. It looked like a staged horror scene. But it was completely real and I was in shock.

I called my friends Angela and Rich who were basically co parents, and I tried to give words to the unimaginable. No words came out but they came right over.

My dear friends cried with me. They cleaned my bathroom. Washed my dishes while I washed Tamu’s body in the tub. We sang to him. Touched him. Thanked him. And then we drove him to the pet hospital to be cremated. *The pet hospital was right across the street from the yoga studio I’d taught at only hours before.

Since then I’ve relied on the love of my family and friends to keep me alive.

I ‘d like to thank:

Angela and Richard Serrano

Charles Vincent Burwell

Kendra Foster

Dara Cole

Rachel Costello

Kwame Brandt-Pierce

Mom and Dad

Chris and David Carden (my brothers)

Yasmin Carden (niece)

Sylvia and Lolo (dear friends in Costa Rica)

And all my friends, family and students who’ve checked in on me, sent loving messages and held space for me to grieve. I love you.

I am still hurting, still processing. But I will forever be in awe of the pure connection a human and animal can share.

Last but certainly not least, I’d like to give a big shout out to Preventive Vet, https://www.preventivevet.com/ for sharing such extensive information on pet suffocation and awareness. Pet suffocation happens a lot more frequently than people realize. If you are a dog owner, please go to the website and educate yourself on safety, so that this never happens to anyone else again.

Summer Summer Summer Time

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It’s getting hot in here so take off all your . . .

Wait now, give it a minute. Before you do anything, even if you’re ‘sweaty and miserable’ keep your clothes on and just wait. Take a breath. Find a shady spot and cop a squat!

Now, the song reference here may not be spot on, but give me a little wiggle room. : )

Sometimes what we do instinctively in response to a situation isn’t always what’s best for us. It's easy to launch headlong into our default setting, without giving it a second thought. It may give us a sense of relief in the moment, but our knee jerk reactions rarely serve us. When yogis talk about yoga being a practice, they are referring to the opportunities we are given to grow.

In Patanjalis Yoga Sutras he says that, 'yoga is the quieting of the fluctuations of consciousness.'

Yoga = to yoke, to join, to unite

Chitta = consciousness

Vritti = fluctuations

Nirodhah = quieting of

Life is a practice. And if we practice life skillfully it can be considered a yoga practice. We can take our physical yoga practice off the mat and into the world. Life gives us the opportunity to engage, and through our engagement we often encounter disruption or disquiet. This is happening every moment of every day! We may start our morning contemplating the snooze button-to snooze or not to snooze. We ride the train, but don’t get a seat and are left standing up, squeezed between two sweaty arm pits. We order food and when it arrives at our door 2 hours later, items are missing. When you’re on a first date and your date accidentally spits in your eye while talking to you. . . You get the picture, and I’m sure you’ve got a long list of your own!

All of these encounters create disruption in the mind and are opportunities for growth. Any number of responses are available to us. We can lash out. We can walk away. Or we can make choices that strengthen our character. The choices we make in these moments, how we respond, shape who we are.

The Sanskrit word tapas, in yogic texts literally means 'heat' and describes a kind of internal friction. This friction happens when we come up against ourselves. Yoga asks us to sit in the ‘heat’ of discomfort and recognize our relationship to it. It teaches us that we have a choice, and when we take responsibility for our actions by being responsive versus reactive, we grow into the best versions of ourselves.

When we’re very young and in the midst of a meltdown/tantrum, our parents might say, “ok, calm down now. take a breath.” This is our first lesson in managing heat. We pause, take a breath and are hopefully guided through an assessment of the situation. Have we completely gone off the rails . . . over a box of Cocoa Pebbles? Yes, we have, because we haven’t yet developed the ability to discern between a real live tiger threat or fight or flight response and the feelings that come up when our parents crush our cereal isle dreams. But with time, patience and discernment we figure it out.

If the added heat of summer’s got you all flustered and agitated, use it as an opportunity to slow down and make conscious choices that best serve you and the folks around you. Whether you’re stuck between two sweaty arm pits in the train this summer or between relationships, remember to just pause and take a breath, or on second thought, (funky armpits) maybe not.

XOXO

Stephanie

Stoke Your Inner Fire: Moving Beyond Stagnancy and Doubt

Dancer’s Pose (Natarajasana)

Dancer’s Pose (Natarajasana)

There are times when we lose the courage to endeavor, and when we do, it's good to just sit quietly with that feeling to sense where it's coming from. The word courage comes from the latin cor, meaning heart. Our heart is where love, empathy, self-acceptance and connection reside. This energy center is supported by the chakras beneath it, namely the solar plexus-where our will, self-esteem and power live, fueling us into action. Sometimes it isn't that we've lost heart, or the courage to push through, but that what once wanted to become manifest is no longer relevant. and we can easily let it fall away.
But then there are those much deeper ideas to cultivate, develop and manifest that are essential to our growth. They're deeply connected to who we are and an expression of our spirit, which taps our vulnerability.  So instead we swallow our voices and shove our down light until it's dim and quiet. We lock them inside, closely guarded, for if we were to reveal them prematurely, it'd be a devastating blow.


"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." Anais Nin

We arrive at the moment when that part of us has to be expressed and known, and suppressing it any longer is unbearable. But then . . . here comes all the mind chatter--'Someone else has done it already. What will make this any different? I'm not ready. I'm not good enough. What if I fail? I'm too old. I'm too young. I don't know enough. I don't have enough experience.'
And the list goes on . . .
The truth is, it's the doing itself that makes us who we are. The doing brings us out of our stagnancy and doubt. It's action that teaches us the relationship between things and brings us closer to who we are. If we can love ourselves through our efforting, through our messiness and perfect imperfection, we will see that the reward is in the connection our struggle brings us.

"To love means to open ourselves to the negative as well as the positive--to grief, sorrow and disappointment as well as to joy, fulfillment and an intensity of consciousness we did not know was possible before." Rollo May

Letting Go


In the process of letting go, you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.~Deepak Chopra

In the process of letting go, you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.~Deepak Chopra


As the old saying goes, the only constant is change! Unfortunately, we don't get to choose what changes and what stays the same. But we definitely have an opinion about it! It's much easier when we initiate change, and in that way we're under the impression that we have control over it. That misconception becomes very clear when something changes without warning or our permission. Then we're forced to adjust to what simply IS!
This happens over and over in our lifetime. As many times as I've experienced change, resisted it, navigated through it and ultimately accepted it, change continues to have lessons for me to integrate.

The beauty of this cycle is that each time change comes knocking we are a little bit different-WE have changed! So our relationship to change shifts as well. Maybe the questions we ask ourselves about how we'll move forward begin to change. Maybe we've loosened our grip on attachment to the familiar and can see a glimmer of light on a new pathway. Slowly we begin to see the empty space that's been created from what's been taken away as an opportunity for growth.

We usually put some sort of time frame on this, ie; by the time I'm twenty I need to know what I'm doing with my life. By thirty, I need to be married with children. By forty, I need to own a home. By fifty I need to have made enough money to retire etc, etc, etc. But the goals we set in our lives only serve as a template to help us move through change. Life, as it turns out, is a skill. The Bhagavad Gita defines yoga as skill in action. Meaning-Trust in the natural unfolding of life. Live in the present, never allowing the pain and disruption of attachment to blur your clearest vision of theTruth. Live in freedom.

All my love,

Stephanie

 

Hustling for Belonging in the Digital World

Be You.

Be You.

Beautiful Friends,

Allowing ourselves to be seen and known in a world that toys with our vulnerability is one of the most courageous acts a human in modern society can do. With the advancement of technology and social media, it’s no small feat.

When I was a teenager, MTV was brand new. I had a pink rotary phone in my bedroom. My closest friends and I exchanged long hand-written letters between class periods and folks just dropped by our house unannounced to visit. Long before Apple, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat . . . And long before it was commonplace for a president to use Twitter as the default mode for communication, there was a less strategic quality to the way we connected that felt almost innocent.

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” ~Almost Famous


A lot has changed in the last 30 years, particularly how fast we’re moving and how that shapes the way we communicate. Although I admit to moving at a slower pace (and loving it) I recognize my own growing impatience, that no doubt has been fed by technology. 
I’m old enough to yearn for simpler, slower  times but still too young to let myself fall behind.

So in an effort to keep up I’ve come face to face with the struggle of my own evolution.
 I honestly miss the analog world for its unabashed realness, for the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, album covers and liner notes. The digital world often feels glossy, cold and sterile to me. But since change is the only constant I have to recognize that within this space there’s still an opportunity for human connection. How we choose to engage with it makes all the difference.
When it comes to social media, it can feel like we’re hustling for connection and belonging. In a time where you can actually purchase ‘friends’ to increase traffic to your social media sites, it’s important to have an awareness of how you’re participating. To notice when you’re scrolling endlessly and making comparisons. Or when your internal dialogue becomes negative. My friends and I often talk about how manicured social media is. . . and to not ‘believe the hype’! And even though we know much of it isn’t real or doesn't tell the whole story, it’s still hard to not get caught up in a comparison spiral.

“The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of “fit in and stand out!” It’s not cultivate self-acceptance, belonging, and authenticity; it’s be just like everyone else, but better” Brene Brown

When I’m feeling inspired, vulnerable or need to share something personal, ie; an accomplishment, a disappointment, a piece of joy or sadness- I still pick up the phone or visit a friend. Nothing can replace that. I know exactly who I’m sharing my story with and that they’re deserving of hearing it!
Having a network of friends-or just one friend you can connect with in real time, where their loving support is immediate and palpable, helps us better understand how to safely and mindfully share on social media platforms. It gives us the power of discernment.
When posting social media content, we get to ask ourselves some important questions. Why am I sharing? Who am I sharing my story with? Who am I reaching out to? And have I processed my own story enough to safely share, as to not jeopardize my own sense of self-worth? Because whether you receive 3 or 3,000 likes, you are necessary and worthy of belonging.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. 

“Letting go of comparison is not a to-do list item. For most of us, it’s something that requires constant awareness. It’s so easy to take our eyes off our path to check out what others are doing or if they’re ahead or behind us. Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared. And, without comparison, concepts like ahead or behind or best or worst lose their meaning.”



Love,

Stephanie

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Do What You Love!

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Hey Lovelies!

It’s been way too long since I’ve written and I’m excited to be reconnecting with you.

2018 was a difficult year for many, including myself. And it seems that 2019 is asking for all of us to step into our power in new ways.

Each one of us has something unique and necessary to share, to make the fabric of our community stronger and more vibrant!

The human spirit seems to thrive in times of oppression, miraculously taking flight when its wings have been clipped. It reaches a pivotal moment in its survival and ultimately chooses joy.

In this new year, I’m deeply inspired and motivated by all the ways my friends, family and colleagues are rising . . . tapping into creative energy and taking action.

2019 comes with a lot of uncertainty. Much of what we’ve depended on has been dismantled. This is the destructive energy of Shiva asking us to let go and recognize this moment as an opportunity for growth and expansion, to move us into the truest expression of who we are.

Teaching is the love of my life. And I’m excited to immerse myself more deeply into teaching this year.

There are many changes around the bend that will impact where and how I share yoga. But as Octavia Butler says, “God is change.” This is the moment to trust that divine connection to universal consciousness and to move in alignment with that force. So expect more special classes, workshops and awesome offerings in new venues and spaces in 2019! Let’s rise together.

Love,

Stephanie

New Beginnings

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As we move through the beginning of 2018, we may be reflecting on this past year: what goals we tackled head-on and others that may have fallen by the wayside. We may be looking back at how we showed up for ourselves and for our community, pondering how, or if we were in alignment with our intentions.

 Intention setting is a practice that I’ve often given a little side-eye. Not because I don’t believe in it, but because of the way it’s often presented: as capitalistic and without much mindfulness or depth. Am I a hater? Maybe so . . .

 

What I do know is that what may be true for us in one moment may not be true in another. We’re constantly changing, and our perspectives, always shifting. And unfortunately, we only tend to hear about how our intentions have failed, by February.

 

What I realized with the most profundity in 2017 was that we cannot do this life thing alone. We need help. We need our friends and loved ones to hold us up and to also hold us accountable. We have to know ourselves well enough to know that that’s what we need- Help. And then, ask for it!

The practice of asking for help creates a surge of energy that puts intention into action. It humanizes us. It connects us on the heart level, setting our egos aside so that we can make room for the abundance that awaits.

 

 

I have a set of mala that I’ve invoked only Ganesha on, and I keep that mala with me at all times.

Ganesha is a Hindu deity, the elephant-headed God, known as the remover of obstacles. He is full of wisdom, innate joy, humility and love. He is also the Lord of Beginnings, so it’s considered auspicious to invoke him at the beginning of any journey. He is often paired with Lakshmi, the Goddess of Abundance. This pairing seems very auspicious to me, as we have a tendency to block our blessings, whether the obstacles are rooted in fear, doubt, laziness, frustration or even external challenges, seemingly insurmountable. Lakshmi reminds us of the great abundance that exists in the universe. The lotus flower she rests upon and the ones she holds in her hands are a symbol of her ability to rise above anything that is negative, heavy, dark or chaotic.

 

Part of the beauty of invoking these deities is acknowledging their presence as energy we already embody. When we chant their names, we are not calling out. We are calling in and calling up the energy within ourselves! When we are tapped into this energy of receiving without obstacle, and then we take action towards our goals and dreams, the universe positively acknowledges our desires.

 

I’ve found it helpful to have a sense of clarity about my desires. It’s super important to just sit and listen for what wants to come forward, and not rush it. Setting intentions that are inauthentic makes them less likely to stick. So, connect to an intention that truly resonates and then open your heart!

 

XO

 

Stephanie

 

 

 

#LoveWins

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Life is a mixed bag of curve balls and blessings. And let’s face it, we don’t like to admit it, but often the curve balls ARE the blessings.
I’ve never seen this be more the case than it is right now. Marching in Union Square in protest of the election of Donald Trump and then marching in the packed streets of Washington DC in support of women’s rights and the rights of all people, has been nothing less than moving and completely awe inspiring! Walking alongside like-minded and spirited folk and seeing people from all over this nation rising up in record numbers to let their voices ring out in protest has given me hope. We are now standing on the shoulders of our American heroes and sheroes- Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and the list goes on . . . This Black History Month has found its true meaning and gives weight to the definition of oppression as we find the struggles we’re facing impacting ALL people. The Mountaintop that Dr. King spoke of may not be this utopian society, where we’re literally all holding hands and singing-but a nation where we simply respect each other’s differences and live in peace together.

We watched the 2016 election unfold in disbelief and when it became too surreal, many of us closed our eyes, dismissing it as political folly. Then it was real. . . And now we face an overwhelming barrage of hatred and intolerance daily, funneling through the news feed. It takes my breath away!  Americans have been criticized for being lazy, asleep--turning their backs on their own history and choosing to instead, feed the hungry ghost of power and greed. Some say the protesting has come too late.

But here’s the thing-- it’s never too late to love. It’s never too late to fight. It’s never too late to speak up. This lesson has been extremely costly. But we can heal through purposeful action, together as a community, galvanized. Action is all we’ve got. 

Valentine’s Day takes on a different tone this February, cupid’s arrow shooting straight to the heart of injustice, hatred, racism, misogyny, Islamophobia and xenophobia. Our attention focused beyond all of the lonely, abandoned chocolate hearts and teddy bears in the storefronts, to a day where real love and true unity stands. We’re aiming towards the transparency of government, the righteousness of our actions, the integrity of our media and the truth of our word. This Valentine’s Day we set our sights on that shiny diamond of Hope and a commitment to our shared vision of justice…Yes, this is love!
So as we organize, as we march and as we protest, remember self-love, compassion and self-care shall remain high on the list of priorities! If we ourselves fall, we can’t lift anyone else up. 

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest.” ~ Ella Josephine Baker

Spring Awakening

As I prepare for our magical weekend together next month, I find myself reflecting on this past winter and how the darkness of the season has impacted my life. I truly struggled to stay light, positive and motivated at times . . . wanting to do nothing but pull the covers over my head in the early mornings and pray for darkness to envelop me! But yet, I am here!!!
I was reading a passage just the other day from Camille Maurine's book, Meditation secrets for women, where she discussed how a blade of grass struggling through the soil, sometimes even through concrete, to find the light is a form of aggression. She encourages women to celebrate their forcefulness and not bend to the idea of the gentile and accommodating woman. Our Fire is our power, our motivation and our Light! It is Shakti, specifically Kali energy, that creates and manifests against all odds.
I feel the exhale coming from this struggle, this "rage against the dying of the light" to quote Dylan Thomas. It brings us here, into the Light. So I'm celebrating the darkness, even though at times it's difficult to find gratitude for it. I celebrate the struggle and the ascent through muddy waters, to Fire. And I'm finally beginning to feel the light and airiness of my heart expanding. I celebrate the Awakening of my spirit.

Click here to register for the Awakening Retreat @ Maha Rose North! April 22-24

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Wholehearted Living

"Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It's going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn't change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging."~ from The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. 
What's one thing you can do today to tap in and connect to what this beautiful day has to offer? For me, it's saying "Thank you" with deep gratitude and recognizing the beauty and abundant possibility all around me.