rocky by adam dougherty

if you’ve visited our union square location in the last month, you’ve had the pleasure of viewing artist and shala student adam dougherty’s intricate, exuberant, and reverent animal portraits. shortly after the show went up, fellow shala students jonathan and alene herman reached out to adam to commission a piece honoring their beloved cockatiel, rocky. jonathan shares rocky’s story here.

Continue reading

virasana: the unsensational hero

a dharma talk by Braeden Lentz

Our focus for the month of February at The Shala is Virasana. The two Sanskrit components are “vira,” often translated as hero, and “asana,” which yogis know well to mean seat, shape, pose, or the way we arrange our body building up from the ground. The names of poses evoke imagery to consider as we make our shape.

The first things that come to mind when I consider the term “hero” are superhuman qualities. I think of someone who engages in unusually daring but necessary actions. A hero might be a charismatic, especially self sacrificing, or visionary person. There might only be a few in my lifetime.

Continue reading

New Basics Class in Fort Greene with Deidra Demens. Saturdays 3:15 to 4:15. Starting March 9th. Also check out fresh wisdom: an interview with deidra.

How would you describe Iyengar Yoga?

When I started the Iyengar teacher training, I felt like I needed a foundation as a teacher. I had that as a student, because that’s what I was practicing. So many schools of yoga say different things about the different poses. I expected to go into the Iyengar teacher training and they would tell me, this is how you do it. We asked them, In Urdhva Hastasana, should the fingers be spread wide or should they be together? They said, Both. There are times when you spread the fingers wide, there are times when you bring them together. They told us that you are going to have to do both again and again and again and again until you understand what’s happening when you do it this way versus when you do it that way. When you teach class, you’re going to know when to tell the students to spread the fingers wide and when to tell them to bring them together.

What I learned in the teacher training is that it was all about experience. That’s where the props come in. That’s where the different ways to do the poses come in. There’s no one way. When you practice asana, you’re finding yourself. You’re finding yourself in the classic shape, and then you change that up a little bit. It’s finding yourself in this pose but then there’s kind of looking back to, what does that tell you about who you are as a person, or where you are right now in your life, or where you want to be, what this whole thing is to you?

It is structured. It can be strict. I can see how Iyengar Yoga is whole. I don’t know enough about other styles of yoga to see how their method is working to help people that are brand new or open-level or experienced practitioners or teachers or recovering from injury or pregnancy. I really appreciate how Iyengar Yoga strives to make yoga available to everyone.

It’s so interesting how because of the structure, you can find yourself. I am interested in seeing people and finding how yoga can help them wherever they are. In Iyengar yoga, you are taught to see people.

Continue reading

the wisdom series, part 2: an interview with lisa schrempp


What does your practice look like?

My practice of asana is generally a bit shorter than I fantasize about. I am on my mat by 4:45 a.m. and start teaching at 6 a.m. I still love the Ashtanga practice as given to me by the Jois family. I tend to split up Second Series so I have the time to fit in some of Third Series.

My practice includes my teaching, and for that I need to have a good amount of energy! The short time I am on the mat is appropriate for my work as a teacher. I do try to practice yoga all day long—I feel that is where and how I need it to fulfill my hopes of continuing realizations. Most days I practice formal pranayama and meditation later in the day.


How has your practice changed since you began?

I tend to practice a lot slower. I really enjoy going slow and deepening into the asanas to find more awareness and more freedom. This often means longer than the traditional five breaths that are given to most poses. I want to feel the pose manifesting inside of my body versus laying a pose onto the body or having my body perform a pose.


How has your teaching changed?

My teaching is constantly changing according to who is in front of me! My prayer is to help others heal through the practice. There are so many ages of students as well as varying interests that bring them to the mat. I usually start with more physical assists and migrate toward verbal suggestions of how they can find more awareness in their bodies and in the architecture of the asana. Over twenty-eight years of teaching Yoga I have investigated techniques to help students but I feel my intuition is the best guide. Sometimes my intuition may say, “Leave them alone for the time being,” and I think that is one of the more challenging feelings for me to follow.


How are you inspired in your practice at this point in your life?

I draw my inspiration from the ancient texts on Yoga, and I am really interested in Somatic healing. I usually read from one or two books every morning on some aspect of Yoga. This reading, prayers before leaving for the studio where I practice, and then the actual teaching—it is rare that I don’t find inspiration in these routines. There are a lot of challenges I see in my world and I try to use all of it—the good, bad, and ugly—as a voice pulling me to connect to something that is pure and timeless and part of myself. The students inspire me. I especially love teaching beginners in this method. I find their innocence, courage, and dedication to a regular early morning practice truly beautiful.


Who is/are your teacher/teachers?

My main teacher is Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Though he left his body in 2009, I hear his teachings daily and they too are a great source of inspiration. I have been blessed to study with many great teachers of wisdom, and at times they return to urge me to go deeper into awareness. At this time I travel to study with R. Sharath Jois and Manouso Manos. I find that interesting because they are as different as night and day in their techniques and systems. I believe them both to be highly trained, and I feel they both understand how to teach me on a more personal level. They see where I am stuck and point the way in and through.


How do you teach younger yogis?

I want them to tap into something in themselves which they can rely on, which is not their youth or their skill at performing the poses. Social media has made Yoga asanas two-dimensional, and that is very harmful for a young mind. The asanas are cosmic maps for exploring our journey to the Self, but this can be destroyed by attempting to look like a photo of someone else posing for a pretty picture. It’s important to let them find their own discipline, dedication, and enthusiasm for the practice, and not try to feed them my meal of commitment.


How does the aging process inform your thinking about/approach to practicing yoga?

Ah, this has been an incredible process which is a great destroyer of my ego! Aging has taught me lots about how I am in misalignment—that goes not only for my postures in yoga but really my personality and my beliefs.

When I was in my twenties, thirties, and forties, I spent a lot of my time in extension of the spine. The arching of my spine was natural, it was comfortable and ultimately the pain I finally ended up with in my forties from chronic extension has been one of my secret teachers. I call it a secret because I really had to endure lots of pain and lots of struggle to learn the correct use of my spine in postures, and this is an ever-continuing process. I have had brilliant teachers but it was me that had to go through the pain and chart a course for my way out. This has been very eye-opening because it is easy to live in suffering and, of course, it is very uncomfortable. The moving away from suffering is so much harder than staying in it. It requires me to move away from attachment and stubborn ways of looking not only at the pose but at all of life in general. My studies and teachers have pointed the way, but I have to be brave enough and curious about seeing something new and unknown, or else I am stuck in the suffering. I owe it to my teachers who have demonstrated their joy, compassion, and skill in making me believe and have faith in a higher vision. I have healed from three debilitating chronic pains and those have taught me the most about suffering and the possibility of ending suffering.


How does the aging process inform your thinking about/approach to teaching yoga?

I offer my students a way to look at their practice which is sustainable and regenerating. Many people like to be told how to get the pose. I feel there is no getting in. Inhabiting a space within the geometry of the asana elicits openness and loss of tension. Patience and friendliness is what I always aim to uphold. Of course, there are as many ways of teaching as there are students. I hope to offer exactly what the student can hear at the place the student is at. I often mistake where they are at and what they need to get them free, and this keeps me awake and continuing my education. One of the most important practices I want to convey is a friendly attitude toward one’s body and the journey in. I am teaching a cooperation between body and mind, a union of friendship and kindness that is able to cross stormy seas because of that kind bond.


Why do you think it’s important to have some kind of practice?

I am a great lover of formal practice. It brings discipline. It helps us measure freedom from attachment. There is a great menu of things to be attached to and in this life I have found pleasure in most of them. The aftermath often leaves me feeling shallow or not exactly happy. The discipline to yoga practice never leaves me with a toxic build-up. In fact, I always feel cleaner and more complete from the practices of yoga. When I first started a formal practice in my twenties, it was difficult to get to a 10 a.m. class, it seemed so early! Now formal disciplined practice has illuminated the path that is always available. Formal practice has actually led me to a place where I maintain my practice to some degree all the time, consistently checking in. Questions arise: “What am I doing with my time?” What am I doing with my mind?” I am rereading S. Radhakrishnan’s introduction to the Upanishads and he says, “To evade discipline is to empty life of its significance.”


Ayurveda is a big part of your work. Please describe how this is integrated into your life and practice.

I met my teacher Dr. Vasant Lad after practicing Yoga for almost a decade. He was teaching at a medical center in NYC and at that time I was teaching and practicing both Ashtanga and Jivamukti. When I heard him speak I thought, “That’s it, I found a faster route to freedom.” I frequently find myself mentally plotting my escape from suffering through the practices of Yoga. I felt a bit like if I was a good thief I could attain enlightenment faster and cheat unnecessary pain. This is exactly how I felt when I listened to Dr. Lad speak to an audience of mostly medical doctors that afternoon. Yoga and Ayurveda are Vedic sisters and the power of their wisdom together can propel the practitioner toward their goals more efficiently. This was my initial feeling, which led me to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to study with Dr. Lad for the next three years. The traditional disciplined self-care of Ayurveda is a preventative plan for health. Many of the practices of Ayurveda are simple, healing, and even fun to incorporate. I have learned more about myself and also learned the places where I stubbornly hold on to patterns which prevent my radiant health. I think many of us have levels and sub-levels that prevent our basic goodness from being ever-present to ourselves and our world. It is a work in progress. The added benefit of the knowledge and use of Ayurveda has benefited me and my clients/students who are also interested in practicing. It does take more time in one’s day and more discipline to engage in the practices, so the practitioner needs to be ready for that!


What are the other modalities and disciplines that you integrate into your thinking and teaching? How do you deal with the stressors?

The most valuable way to deal with stress for me is to practice. The practice means study, devotion, and gratitude that I have teachers in my life. At times a deep faith arises that I too can loosen the ties of samsara. When I feel a sense of failure my most important ally is compassion. I feel that recognizing the sense of failure or dejection of some sort is a fantastic wake-up. My work is turning that into compassion for self and others. Of course it seems logical that with enough suffering and living in a realm where the spiritual teachings/teachers are available to me, the whole planet will awaken.


How do you deal with injuries?

Modify! There are traditional times when we don’t practice asana. There are specific illnesses when we should not be moving our internal winds around. Other than those times I stand by the motto, through hard times and good times, in sickness and health. I have been healed in so many ways at so many times by this Ashtanga Yoga practice, and those experiences have gifted me with faith. I really can’t think of one teacher who ever said to me, just take some time off, your injury will heal. When I have modified poses or the way I am practicing in general I have learned something new. Most people have heard that my teacher, the great Sri K Pattabhi Jois, used to call injuries “openings.” I don’t think this means everything is all right! When we are having lots of bodily pain the ability to see through the storm and keep calm and move into it with curiosity gives one courage and possibly wisdom to understand the body from a new wider perspective.


How does one maintain energy after teaching for many years, or teaching frequently?

This is an area where the Ayurvedic practices have helped me sustain and revive. The daily oil bath in Ayurveda called abhyanga has been so important in my routine. Yes, I rub medicated oil into my body every day and take a hot shower or bath after. There is a protocol one needs to follow to get the proper benefits. Abhyanga offers loads of benefits, but removing fatigue and bodily pains is probably the number one benefit that I can count on.

I believe if I am coming from the correct place towards my students this keeps me from getting exhausted. I am constantly working on relationship with the students so that there is clarity, a commitment to set aside egos and maintain a feeling of camaraderie and joy of discovery. The practice belongs to everyone who puts faith and energy into it. One thing that has gotten me in a funk with students is when I help too much. The practice is theirs and it is important for me to step back and let the students be responsible for their own freedom. Devotion to and excitement about my own practices and learning has to be maintained. This is the easier part of the program for me. My own freedom, joy, and happiness is connected to my own practice and that is my responsibility. It is not connected to how many students I have.


What are you reading?

My dominant Dosha in the Ayurveda paradigm is Vata, which is the energy of movement. This shows up strongly is my reading protocol. I have about ten books on my reading table right now. Touching Enlightenment by Reginald Ray,  Smile at Fear by Chogyam Trungpa, The Complete Tales of Nikolai Gogol, Hospice Nursing: An Intimate Guide by Margaret Crawford, BSN. I always have a copy of Swami Chinmayananda’s Bhagavad Gita. And I’ve recently started to re-read the principal Upanishads by S. Radhakrishnan.


What inspires your practice and teaching that isn’t explicitly yoga-related?

My negative response to life. Whenever I feel that I have been short changed in some way and feeling low, I stop and observe and question my understanding of life in general. I feel that this malfunction of the spirit is a very juicy time to get reacquainted with how I see myself and the world. It is the most valuable and difficult time to dig deeper. Generally, if I can practice patience, I come out on the other side of the experience with a small but perceptibly keener and softer gaze.

the wisdom series, part 1: an interview with genny kapuler

Tapas is not just on the mat. It’s how we live our life: An Interview with Genny Kapuler

photo: the all watch

How are you inspired in your practice at this point in your life?

Genny Kapuler: It’s like the siren song. It calls me. It is my inspiration. I get up and practice. On the weekends I just practice in the morning. During the week I don’t have enough time in the morning to also do the inversions, because morning class starts early. The older I get the longer it takes me to do everything. I need more time to practice. During the week I separate the inversions in the afternoon, and the inversions energize me for the evening classes.

What do you think are the most important elements of practice?

GK: Commitment. Over and over, every day, day in and day out. Then it creates a path.

How do you understand yoga as a method for transforming the body and the mind?

GK: It is very mysterious, the way the threading of the mind and the weaving of our own experience into the body creates so much resonance with our world. Even now when we are living in such a difficult time politically and environmentally, I find that yoga supports my trust in life and people. Continue reading


The following is an excerpt from a longer passage from Pema Chodron’s The Places That Scare You. Ashley Dorr shared these words in a recent dharma talk.

“Chitta means ‘mind’ and also ‘heart’ or ‘attitude.’ Bodhi means ‘awake,’ ‘enlightened,’ or ‘completely open.’ Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love…Bodhichitta is also equated, in part, with compassion—our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices, and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt…But fortunately for us, the soft spot—our innate ability to love and care about things—is like a crack in these walls we erect…With practice we can learn to find this opening. We can learn to seize that vulnerable moment—love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment, inadequacy—to awaken bodhichitta.”


practice with pride! a community night with ash + dom on friday, june 2

An open-level donation class with Ashley + Domenick

to benefit the True Colors Fund

with music by DJ Lenny Stein

followed by dancing, mingling, snacks + drinks!


Join us in practicing proudly, celebrating diversity + building community.

Come prepared to practice + dance. Please bring a beverage of your choosing. 


Friday, June 2


The Shala

Union Square

$25 suggested donation

Sign up here!

the shala community movie night! Friday, May 5th, 7-9pm

Next up in our series of Shala gatherings: a screening of Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock, brought to you by Shala teacher Alystyre Julian. In belated observance of Earth Day, we look forward to snacking on popcorn, viewing this brand new documentary from director Josh Fox, and engaging in a consciousness-raising conversation about the intersections of social justice, environmental justice, and climate change. 

May 5 


The Shala Union Square

$20 suggested donation (all donations go to benefit the Pipeline Fighters Fund)


sutra 1.33 & the four keys

Yoga Sutras

Book 1: Sadhana Pada, Verse 33

Maria Cutrona

1.33 Maitri Karuna Muditopeksanam Sukha Duhka Punyapunya Visayanam Bhavantas Citta Prasadanam.

“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.” — Sri Swami Satchidananda

This is a pivotal verse in Book One of Master Patanjali’s sutras. He devotes the first verses to describing how the mind tricks us into a state of constant craving and aversion, like a 24/7 ping-pong between what you like and what you don’t like. In fact, we define ourselves by what we like and what we don’t like. Master Patanjali suggests this is our great mistake, that we are missing something finer, deeper, more pure. We are beyond our likes and dislikes, but it is extremely hard to change this habit of mind.

Swami Satchidananda suggests that if you are to learn one verse, verse 1.33 is the one to know. We understand restlessness, we understand dislike. What we don’t realize is if we give into these states we just experience more unease in the mind.

In verse I.33, Patanjali provides us with the four antidotes to feelings of judgement toward others. They are maîtri (love), karuna (compassion), mudita (joy), and upeksanam (equanimity). In Buddhism, these attitudes as The Four Immeasurables or Four Infinite Thoughts. They are referred to as infinite because ultimately the wish for our own happiness has to include the wish for everyone’s happiness.

Master Patanjali then presents the four ways in which the mind gets stuck in judgement. Known as the Four Locks, they are sukha (happy), dukha (unhappy), punya (virtuous), and apunya (wicked).

If we are to have a clear and undisturbed mind, we must apply these four “keys” to the four “locks.” It is a practice, a daily checking in with how you are feeling and a practice of shifting that feeling if necessary. We shouldn’t be thrown off balance by how we feel. Instead, check in with how the mind feels when you center your mind on “infinite love,” “infinite compassion,” “infinite joy,” or “infinite equanimity.” There is a opening, an expansiveness. You step out of the reactive mind and drop into a calm, expansive mind.

We are in challenging times. Can we go through the ups and downs of life with more peace? A yogi uses the template of life to constantly apply these practices. When one notices agitation, take pause. Allow the sense of the immeasurableness of love, compassion, joy, or equanimity to enter into your feeling body. 

The focus in chapter two is meditation, or steadiness of mind. In order to have steadiness of mind we need to enhance lucidity. In order to cultivate lucidity we have to interrupt the habits of mislabeling our reality and experience. Change the habit and steady the mind. Practice ensures that at all times, no matter the circumstances, we have the four keys in our pocket.

thank you, tim miller!


We are very happy and grateful to have hosted Tim Miller this past weekend. We learned so much from his 35+ years of work as a devoted practitioner and teacher of Ashtanga Yoga. See below for some of our favorite workshop takeaways.  Continue reading

new york cares coat drive


a big thanks to shevy katan for organizing the ny cares coat drive and to all of the shala and now yoga students for contributing coats. your generosity helped NY Cares receive more coats then they ever have in their 27 years of programming!

Who Gets Us Where We Are Going

by ashley dorr


The following has been adapted from one of Ashley Dorr’s dharma talks. Ashley gave this talk before she left for her annual trip to the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India. Ashley will return from Mysore at the end of this month. 


In preparation for my trip to India, I’ve been making a checklist of things I need to do: get my visa (check), buy toiletries (check), clean my apartment (check), exchange dollars to rupees (check), chocolate for the plane (check!!). All these things I need to get me where I’m going.

At the same time, I’ve had another list running through my mind, a list of all the people who have helped me to get where I’m going. The obvious ones: My boyfriend, who is watching my dog. The girl who is subletting my apartment. All my teachers and friends at the Shala. My students, who inspire me to gain more knowledge. Barbara and Kristin, who first inspired me with their own stories of India, and who introduced me to the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. The teachers I first started practicing yoga with.

The more I thought about it, the more the list grew, until it came to include the less obvious people. I’m thinking about the woman who exchanged my rupees, and the guy in the visa office who really helped me out during my 6-hour wait to process the paperwork.

There are a lot of people who help us get to where we are going. Strangers, even. I thought about this during the blizzard when I saw people I didn’t know shoveling sidewalks, and when I took the subway and noticed the subway workers and thanked them for being there. I would never normally thank them for being there, but they are always there.

There are a lot of people helping us all along our journeys. Maybe we only think of them during a big trip or a blizzard, but we can think of them everyday. When we do that, we realize how connected we are to the larger world. How there is yoga happening all around us all the time.

Sharon Salzberg puts it really beautifully when she talks about lovingkindess meditation, that just bringing awareness to the way others help us is an act of lovingkindness and gratitude: “Today doesn’t exist apart from the network of relationships and influences that brought us to this moment in our lives. How many people were involved in some way in your decision to meditate? How many people loved you or prodded you? Told you about their own meditation practice? Challenged you so that you decided to look for more inner calm and understanding? What about even those who hurt you, who brought you to an edge of some kind so that you thought, ‘I’ve really got to find another way’ or ‘I’ve  got to look for another level of happiness’? They may be a part of why you’re reading these words. We are each swept into the here and now by a confluence of events, causes, and conditions. A larger community brought you to this moment. And you can make your sense of that human community even larger.”


12531134_580304752121836_684573332_n A traditional rangoli by Ashley Dorr 

thank you martin luther king


excerpt of speech on Civil Rights, Segregation & Apartheid South Africa, london 1964

I’m not talking about a weak love. I’m not talking about emotional bosh here. I’m not talking about some sentimental quality. I’m not talking about an affectionate response. It would be nonsense to urge oppressed people to love their violent oppressors in an affectionate sense, and I have never advised that. When Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” I’m happy he didn’t say, “Like your enemies.” It’s pretty difficult to like some people. But love is greater than like. Love is understanding creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. Theologians talk about this kind of love with the Greek word agape, which is a sort of overflowing love that seeks nothing in return. And when one develops this, you rise to the position of being able to love the person who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does. And I believe that this can be done. Psychiatrists are telling us now that hatred is a dangerous force, not merely for the hated, but also the hater. Many of the strange things that happen in the subconscious, many of the inner conflicts, are rooted in hate. And so they are saying, “Love or perish.” This is why Erich Fromm can write a book entitled The Art of Loving, arguing that love is the supreme unifying force of life. And so it is wonderful to have a method of struggle where it is possible to stand up against segregation, to stand up against colonialism with all of your might, and yet not hate the perpetrators of these unjust systems. And I believe firmly that it is through this kind of powerful nonviolent action, this kind of love that organizes itself into mass action, that we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation and the world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. Certainly this is the great challenge facing us.