The Yogi Next to You


The Yogi Next to You - Ruah BhayWhat’s your yoga story? How did you find Mala?

I was first introduced to yoga when, growing up, I used to do “sun salutes’ and “self-hypnosis” meditation with my mom.  In college I got into Tae Kwon Do, running, and rock climbing.  One of my climbing friends recommended yoga to improve strength and flexibility, so I began taking Iyengar classes — a style quite different to what I was used to with my mom. It was so physically and mentally challenging, yet extraordinarily satisfying and uplifting; I knew I was in love and hooked for life.

Throughout my twenties I worked in several different career fields, from high school teacher, to assistant to the CEO of an investment bank, to non-profit manager. I also lived abroad for years at a time in France, Senegal, Sri Lanka, and India, learning different yoga styles (Ashtanga, Kundali, Anusara and Vinyasa) and completing the 500 hour yoga certification along the way. During every stage of these experiences, practicing and teaching yoga remained a consistent physical, emotional and spiritual pillar of inspiration. After a while it became clear that yoga was my true path, and in 2008 I took the leap of faith to quit my day job to pursue teaching yoga full-time. When my son Nadal was born in 2010 my life completely transformed!  When I’m not with Nadal I teach classes in lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn, including Mala.

A year ago my family and I moved to Boerum Hill from my native Manhattan. I took a Saturday morning class with Angela and it was love at first asana! I immediately had the familiar feeling that this was where I was supposed to be. Angela’s presence was so welcoming and I loved the vibe from the other students in the room. Overall, Mala struck me as having all the attributes important to me in a home studio — friendly atmosphere, excellent teaching, seriously engaged students, and the added bonus of being a few blocks from my house!

What pose do you want to do all day? What pose could you never do again?

I am in love with upavista konasana (seated wide-angle pose) and any hamstring or hip opener!  I had been a regular runner since I was 16 and was constantly searching for ways to open up my hips, hamstrings and inner thighs. Upavista konasana was my absolute favorite, really getting into the inner thighs, belly of the hamstrings and lower back. Eventually, my muscles loosened up with time and I moved onto other poses to work on.  After giving birth, my body changed dramatically and I’m back to my obsession with upavista konasana.

“Never” is not a part of my vocabulary, but back-bending poses have become a serious challenge since having my son and now still carrying him around as a toddler. I have had new lower back sensitivity and much tighter shoulders, which are the two places in the body that require opening in order to find freedom in back bending. When back bends come up in my practice or in a class, my mind immediately wants to withdraw and skip them.  Instead, I focus on how wonderful I know I’ll feel after I have done the poses mindfully, and it really works!  I anchor my mind to my breath and just go for it, knowing that it’s not forever anyway. Without fail, I always feel so delicious afterwards!  Our bodies are constantly changing as we get older regardless of what we do, so I figure that I may as well get used to adjusting!

What are your biggest yoga obstacles and how do you overcome them?

My biggest yoga obstacle is getting caught up in my desire to do more.  There are times when I feel overwhelmed with balancing my passion for practicing/teaching yoga, and being a mom and wife. In my new life as a parent, it is difficult finding time to continue the discipline of practicing the things I am passionate about in the way that I used to.  I often dream about having more time for yoga, meditation, writing, reading, running, rollerblading, spending time with my husband, family, friends etc.  I have chosen this life and am deeply grateful for the many blessings that have come along but, as with all of our lives, it’s only possible to do so much.

One of the yoga practices that help me embrace life and all of its new challenges is upeksha, letting go/disregarding any judgment.  Another is Pantanjali’s first Yoga Sutra, atta yoga anunasanam – now is the time for yoga!  I get on my yoga mat and sit down to meditate as much as possible, acknowledging my accomplishments of each day and it really helps.  I can’t control my wandering mind, but when I practice the limbs of yoga such as asana (physical postures), pranayama (mindful breathing), concentration (dharana) and dhyana (meditation), I can’t help but feel wonderful, seeing the beauty of life and feeling peaceful in my mind!  Dr. Deepak Chopra explains that in Ayurveda (the science of the body) how the mind is today, so will the body be tomorrow – and vice versa.

What was the last Dharma talk that resonated with you?

Yoga philosophy is so applicable to life and reminds me of a connection to what I’m going through all of the time! One of my favorite texts is Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I love how these two sutras below offer guidance in real terms:

II.1 Accepting pain as help for purification, study of spiritual books and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute Yoga in Practice.
This sutra reminds me of a few things on how to connect to our best self in everyday life. First of all, that our challenges serve a purpose, helping to peel away at the koshas (outer layers of the self) to get closer to the Atman (real self) that is loved and loves others. Also, reading inspiring texts or spending time around inspiring people really does help to feel better. Finally, it’s so important to step back and perceive the vastness and blessings of life – that we are all so deeply connected by a greater power than ourselves.

II.33 When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.
This sutra speaks for itself. I think it’s so important to acknowledge and honor how real all of our struggles are. Yet, rather than get tangled in the negative, which can be a downward spiral, it is essential to draw awareness to the positive and bring ourselves into the present moment. I believe in Karma in that what we offer to ourselves and to the world is what we receive back. Coming from a place of bhakti (love) and karuna (compassion) in all that we do makes us happier and maybe even the world a better place! Just as Ghandi said, “be the change you want to see in the world!”

Where is your favorite place to get coffee, or a drink post yoga?

After yoga, I always head home (usually on my rollerblades :)) to enjoy a green smoothie from my blender!  Basically you start with water or other liquid, stuff your favorite greens (kale, spinach, chard, etc.) in with any kind of melon or fruit.  Add berries, a bit of banana and blend. I start every single day with this adding a scoop of hemp protein powder, flax meal and even a nut butter if I’m in the mood.  YUM! I usually have leftovers, so stash it in my fridge and sip it when I want a snack.

If you could practice yoga anywhere in the world, where would it be?

My ideal place to practice is on any beach in the world at sunrise or sunset! I’ve had the blessing to practice on many beaches so far, but one of the most beautiful ones that I often think about is Unawatuna in Sri Lanka, but really any beach will do!

How has practicing shifted other aspects of your life?

I love yoga! When I practice yoga and meditation I feel so good, happy and free! Yoga helps me connect to a better me as a teacher, mom, wife, daughter, sister, and friend. Every new stage both in life and in a yoga practice presents new challenges. Right now, my stage is being a relatively new parent (to a very active toddler) and finding a balance with the rest of my life discovery. I am figuring it out as I go along, yet it’s always on my yoga mat when I feel the most free, come up with the best revelations, or work through whatever is going on in my life off the mat with a little more equanimity. I am so grateful for my yoga practice – both as a student and teacher. Other than my husband, child, family and friends; it is truly the great love of my life!

We’re thrilled to bring you the stories of Mala yogis in their own words.  Maybe you know them, maybe you’ve never seen them before, maybe they look familiar, maybe you once knew their name, but forgot.  Whatever the case may be, here is the chance to learn a little more about the person practicing on the mat next to you.  Click here to read about other yogis.

About The Mala Yoga Blog

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One Response to The Yogi Next to You

  1. Pingback: The Yogi Next to You | MALA YOGA

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