by Alana Kessler
It was 2010. I was in Nicaragua with my friend, Janine, celebrating my 30th birthday. Being a yoga practitioner for over a decade, and relatively new Ashtangi of a little over a year, I was diligent about my early morning practice. The routine was this: We would get coffee delivered to the door, drink it leisurely on the balcony, watch the waves, and then practice.
I remember breaking my drishti and watching Janine with curiosity. While I was jumping back and jumping through, she was holding postures for minutes at a time in what appeared to be mini-naps. I judged it. It was a challenge to wrap my mind around this being a practice that supports the seriousness and attention that I identified my practice with.
Cut to five years later: I found myself in San Francisco eyeball deep in a 10-day Yin Yoga Intensive and Buddhist psychology training with Sarah Powers, and loving every second of it. How did I end up here, you ask? You see, somewhere along the way the yang element of Ashtanga Yoga opened me up to a deeper layer of interest. I began to listen to meditation teachers’ talks while doing my Mysore practice at home. I got quieter. I took notice of when I was pushing too hard. I asked myself if my motivations and actions were aligned with my higher intention. Did I even know what that was?
What happened was magical. I refined my attention to attune to deep physical and emotional injuries and unmet needs that were asking for some tenderness. I knew I needed something complementary to my current practice. Something slower, a practice where I could explore, engage, and enliven both the nature of my physical body but also my heart.
Years of “doing” had left me somewhat spiritually and physically exhausted, and Yin Yoga was the perfect medicine to restore and renew my resources. The long-held postures allowed a certain freedom to ask questions and wait for answers. They provided a composition through which I applied my breath and awareness in a new way and experienced the unfolding and uncovering of deeply held injuries of the body and the spirit. I began to heal them. I found a new world within the stillness that was so energizing it propelled me into new levels of creativity, courage, and compassion. My Ashtanga practice got stronger and softer at the same time, as did my approach to life in general.
So here I am now, eight years later, and I am so grateful for the circumstances that illuminated my path towards this practice. To share it with this community is a privilege, and I am honored by the opportunity.
a series by Maria Margolies
Autumn is a beautiful time of year, characterized by vibrant colors, blue skies, and crisp air. According to Ayurverda, it’s also Vata season. Other qualities of Vata are windy, erratic, and dry. Although these can be wonderful qualities that shape the landscape dramatically, they can bring challenges and imbalances for our inner and outer bodies. Our skin especially has a tendency to become dry, dull, and crocodile-like. In order to maintain balance and transition into the new season with radiance, it is important to adapt our daily rituals accordingly.
Summer is changing into Fall, and Ayurveda suggests that we should change, too. This 5,000-year-old science of health and healing makes lifestyle and dietary recommendations according to the season. Each season has particular qualities, and the way these qualities are combined and balanced define that season’s dosha. There are three doshas: vata (air, movement), pitta (fire, heat, transformation), and kapha (structure, density, cohesion). It is recommended that we eat foods that have the opposite qualities of the dominant seasonal dosha.
The first few chilly days at the end of summer inspire a renewed look at daily routine . To encourage and promote general well-being, Ayurveda suggests instituting seasonal modifications that both reduce excess dosha from the previous season and balance the incoming season’s predominant qualities. August and September in New York is essentially a pitta/vata-season yielding gradually to vata-predominant fall. While many of the essential routines for summer continue, such as sun protection, midday activity modification, and reduction of pita aggravating foods, knowledge of the effects of pitta overload can help in negotiating the seasonal change. Continue reading
shala teacher jenny campbell reflects on her recent west coast vacation, and provides helpful advice on how to practice self-care on the road.
by Jenny Campbell
If you have been practicing yoga for a while, there is a good chance you have heard the yoga cue to “breathe into your heart.” The verbal assist is meant to energize the inner body of the chest, as well as open the physiological body by making more space in the sternum, widening the collar bones, creating a sense of lightness, promoting good posture, and a developing a feeling of freedom in the upper body. While this verbal cue might sound abstract, it is actually an anatomically sound instruction. When we breathe in, the diaphragm (the dome-shaped muscle primarily responsible for the act of respiration) contracts downward, creating more space for air entering the body. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes upwards, assisting our bodies in the release of air. This not only allows for our full, deep yoga breathing, but the pumping action of the diaphragm also massages the heart. Therefore, we can literally breathe into our hearts!
Between the winter cold and daily stress, we could all use some self-care techniques in our back pocket. Practice this exercise anytime you need to connect with your breath and de-stress. This pranayama can be practiced in any pose with a long spine and a free abdomen, such as an upright seated position, savasana, or supta baddha konasana.
3-Part Breath (Dirga Swasam Pranayama)
Find your seated or supine pose and bring your attention to your breath. Allow the breath to be continuous as you initiate your inhale from the low belly, lift the breath into the rib cage/diaphragm, and then the chest. Once you reach the top of your inhale and your chest, take a long, continuous exhale, following the same path in reverse. If helpful, you can use your hands to guide your breath as you move up and down the torso.
Inhale: one long breath into the low belly, rib cage, chest
Exhale: one long breath out through the chest, rib cage, low belly
Repeat 5-10 rounds. You may slowly start to lengthen the breath as you feel ready.
- Teaches one to breath fully and deeply
- Can calm and ground the mind
- Can help to decrease stress and anxiety
- Can help one to focus on the present moment
*Proceed with caution with this and all breathing exercises, especially if you have a respiratory condition. As with all pranayama, stop if you feel light headed.
by Bibi Lorenzetti
One of my favorite winter foods is dhal. Dhal is a type of legume, usually split yellow or orange lentil. There are many different ways of making dhal soup, which tends to be nourishing and balancing for all doshas, depending on preparation.
I learned the following recipe from my cooking teacher in India, who is known to Westerners as Tina. She works on a camping stove set on a big rock in her living room. We gather around as she talks us through each step of cooking traditional Indian food. When the meal is ready, we—Tina, her students, family, and dogs—go outside to sit and eat together on big floor pillows in the shade of colorful fabrics.
For a while, I was making Tina’s dhal for special order at the Shala. I would pack a cart full of jars and wheel it from my Greenpoint apartment to the Bedford L, all the way to the Shala fridge. It was fun, but a lot of work! For those of you who enjoyed it and ordered it weekly, follow these steps.
You will need:
- A Dutch oven, otherwise known as a cast-iron pot
- A wooden spoon
- Measuring cups
- Pan or small pot
- 1 1/3 cups of yellow or orange dhal
- 3 1/2 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp turmeric (I like to buy it fresh and grate, so I do 2 tsp turmeric; if you use powder then 1 tsp is enough)
- 1 tsp coriander, ground
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
- 5 cups water
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 cloves
- 1 tsp cardamom seeds
- Pinch of asafoetida
- 1 garlic cloves, mashed
- 4 dried red chili peppers (broken up)
- A few stems of cilantro (to be chopped and added at the end)
Soak the dhal in a bowl with cold water for an hour. Drain and wash under cold water until water runs clear.
Transfer the dhal to the pot together with water, and turmeric. Cover and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, remove the residue that rises to the top. Reduce heat. Add salt. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until you see the dhal is getting mushy and soft, a paste-like consistency. Stir frequently throughout this process.
In a separate pan, melt ghee over medium heat. Add dried chilis, garlic, mustard and coriander seeds, grated turmeric and ginger. Stir seeds pop, then add the rest of powdered spices and fry for a few more minutes, stirring. Make sure the flame is low enough that seeds don’t burn and ghee does not dry up. You can always add a little more ghee if needed!
When dhal is ready (mushy, and water has been nearly completely absorbed), add the ghee and spice mixture to dhal and cook for a few minutes on low flame. Cover and let sit. Add cilantro as garnish upon serving.
Depending on your predominant dosha, you may want to add more or less of the following:
Grounding spices for vata: cardamom, fennel, nutmeg, asafoetida, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, black pepper, cayenne, mustard seeds, turmeric, ginger, garlic, chilis.
Cooling spices for pitta: cardamom, coriander, cilantro, fennel, cumin, turmeric, mint, parsley.
Warming spices for kapha: black pepper, cardamom, cayenne, cloves, garlic, ginger, mustard seeds, turmeric, asafoetida, cilantro, coriander, cumin, parsley, cinnamon.
By Julie Peacock
Are you using essential oils for your health and wellness yet? It’s amazing how healing and beneficial essential oils can be for your body, mind, and spirit. They have the power to lift the spirits, conjure up powerful memories, boost your energy, calm your nervous system, assist in healing the body, clean your home, and so much more.
I’ve been using essential oils for years, but once I discovered the certified pure therapeutic oils (CPTG) that doTERRA makes, I have experienced their many benefits—in my practice, with my kids, and with my clients. Consider peppermint. Peppermint not only freshens the breath, but can be used to soothe digestion, cool the body, help with focus, and relieve various aches and pains.
The other day, right before my Mysore practice, I was experiencing a tension headache. Instead of popping a couple of Advil, I dabbed a drop of peppermint on each of my temples and at the base of my skull. My headache was gone within minutes. And that’s just one way to use peppermint—there are so many others!
Check out my November 5th workshop (12pm-2:30pm at The Shala Union Square), where we’ll practice getting grounded using yoga, nutrition, and essential oils. See more information here.