Bend But Don’t Break – A Guide to Being Flexible Yet Strong

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As a long-time yogi and certified yoga instructor, I am constantly bending. In other aspects of my life I find myself being overly flexible as well – and I don’t mean physically.

If I could describe myself in one word it would likely be accommodating.  I have always prided myself in going out of my way to be kind to other people, and to be sensitive to their wants and needs. When you present yourself as a considerate person, this selflessness will likely attract various people into your life.

Unfortunately, not everyone you encounter will be willing to give without expecting something in return. I like to refer to these individuals as “takers,” who misinterpret your generosity for a consistent resource for what they need.

If you’re anything like me, if you look at your patterns in friendships, relationships, jobs, and living situations, you might find that you are constantly the one giving, apologizing, or bending. Unfortunately, when you give an inch, these people take a mile.

There are many books out there that tell you not to be nice if you want to be respected.

I disagree.  I believe there is a fine line between standing up for yourself when necessary, and being mean, spiteful, or disrespectful.

So, how do we tread this fine line?

Some forms of taking are more obvious and others are more subtle. I’m going to describe various types of “takers” you may encounter, and ways to deal with them in a way that is both flexible yet strong.

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The Bully

The bully “taker” uses your easygoing personality as leverage to intimidate you in order to get what he or she wants from you. As a person who detests confrontation, I have always struggled with how to respond when they get in your face and get aggressive. We all have different reactions to this personality type. We can become defensive, anxious, withdrawn, or attack back when provoked.

Don’t Apologize, But Do Move Towards Resolution.

Have you ever said the statement “I was just trying to…” If so, stop immediately. Defending your behavior enforces their opinion that you have done something wrong. Instead, try saying, “I don’t agree. If you are open to hearing my perspective we can talk once you are more calm, or we can agree to disagree and move forward.”

Don’t Disregard, But Do Take Time to Cool Off.

Nothing is more enraging to someone who is upset than to ignore them or treat them with disrespect. Instead, tell them, “I respect that you are upset but I need time to digest this and cool off before discussing it further.” This way you are not being rude, but you are giving yourself time to calm down and handle the situation in a more methodical and less emotional manner.

Don’t Be a Pushover, But Do Stay Calm.

Staying calm not only helps keep an already heated situation from getting out of control, but it also signals to the attacker that they might be overreacting. If you don’t react to their opinion of you, than you are letting them know their opinion doesn’t hold weight. However, if someone is disrespecting and/or talking down to you, it can be very healthy and cathartic to let out your feelings (just be mindful that words cannot be taken back).

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The Opportunist

This is a person in your life that you might very well like and get along well with. That is… until they do that super shady thing.

They are the type to invite you to lunch and then try to convince you to put it on your corporate card. They might butter you up to get information from you and end up using it against you or to further their own success to your detriment.

These people might be manipulating you purposely or they might be clueless that they are stealing you energy, your funds, or your ideas.  Whether consciously or not, they are using your kindness as leverage to extract what they can from your relationship.

Is there a way to salvage a relationship with this person?

Do let them know your bottom line.

If you are unable and/or unwilling to share your money, time, ideas, or resources, let them know. Clearly state “X is what I can offer, and Y is what I can’t offer.”

Do let people know when they have overstepped.

If someone asks you for a favor that you feel is crossing a line, nicely let them know that this makes you feel uncomfortable.  Feel free to offer to help in a different way or point them in the direction of someone who can help. If they are put off by you saying no, then they are probably not in the friendship for the right reasons anyway.

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The Victim

You’ve met this person. Everything has happened to them, everyone is mean to them, woe is me…you get the picture. Someone who is always a victim often lacks self-awareness, because they tend to think they are always doing the right thing and others are just out to get them.

Do remind them of what hasn’t worked in the past.

Not only are these people unaware, but they are often self-absorbed. “Selfish people also tend to have victim mindsets… Their actions plant seeds of loneliness; then they cry upon the blooming” Steve Maraboli. Essentially, their behavior is responsible for some of the negative things that have happened to them. It is okay to gently point out some of their patterns that are not working, and to encourage them to consider responding in way that serves themselves and others.

Don’t be afraid to let them know that only they are responsible for their own happiness. 

If this person’s victim mentality is draining your positivity with with their negative energy and you are burnt out by their neediness, it is okay to take space from them, let them know when you have hit your limit, and direct them to seek other help. While we can often feel responsible for helping people in need, we have to help ourselves first. If you are feeling guilty, remember that you are actually helping the person become more self-sufficient and avoid future co-dependent relationships.

Do let them know that they have the power to make their lives better.

“Victims declare,’The world is responsible for me,’ and never do anything to better their quality of life,” Changes That Heal: How to Understand the Past to Ensure a Healthier Future. Victims often take the credit for anything that goes right, but place blame on the external world for anything that goes wrong.

Give suggestions where these people can experience transformation because of their own efforts. You can suggest yoga, kickboxing, or therapy to work on some of their inner conflicts. You can suggest group activities like joining a sports league or meet up group to help them feel more connected to their community. By giving them the power to make positive changes, they can recognize that their happiness is in their own hands.

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The Spoiled Princess (or Prince)

“Expectation feeds frustration. It is an unhealthy attachment to people, things, and outcomes we wish we could control; but don’t,” (Steve Maraboli, Speaker, Author, & Behavioral Scientist).

We often form expectations for how others should behave based on societal standards or how we, ourselves, treat others. For example, this can happen in relationships when one person might expect exclusivity because of preconceived notions, while this was never discussed. One can’t assume that the status of their relationship or something they have done for this person entitles them to something of theirs without question.

So, how should we react when an entitled person lashes out because they don’t get what they want?

Do let them know that they are not entitled.

Whether it is your best friend or a close relative, no one is entitled to anything that you haven’t outwardly offered to them. The next time someone expects something you have not promised, respond with something like “Sorry you were expecting X. I would like to help you out but that is not going to work for me right now.”

Do look out for numero uno.

We only have a certain supply of Prana, or life energy force. You can compare Prana in your body to gasoline used to fuel a car. If you use up all your energy helping or accommodating other people, you will have none left to fuel yourself. This is not to say you shouldn’t give when you have the capacity, but don’t be afraid to say no when you are running on empty. Take time to nurture yourself, so you stay healthy both physically and mentally. If you give too much you can end up resenting someone, which won’t serve either of you.

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The Hypocrite

This person is possibly the most infuriating “taker” of them all because they have high expectations for what you should do for them but refuse to give you the same respect in return. They are the first to complain about something you have done but then will show no remorse when doing the same thing to you. These people will shut down any suggestion or request and belittle you in an effort to make you feel like you are wrong. However, they also want you to adhere to their guidelines.

Do say no.

If someone isn’t treating you with respect or being considerate of your feelings, let them know. If they make it clear they don’t care, let them know that is perfectly fine, but that you will not be acting in a way to accommodate them. Try not to threaten but make it clear that kindness must flow both ways or not at all.

The Taker Takeaway

Yoga teaches us how to be flexible but also how to be strong. While some poses show us how find mobility in our joints, other poses give us strength in our arms, core, and hamstrings. The ability to find both strength and flexibility can not only be applied to our bodies but also to finding this balance in the rest of our lives.

Do be flexible.

While selfishness and manipulation should not be excused, we must recognize that there are cases when people don’t realize their behavior is affecting you. This is where the importance of setting boundaries comes in. By drawing attention to their taking in a gentle way, you come closer to resolution.

Do be strong.

If the person refuses to listen to how you feel, self-reflect, or is unwilling to change, then they can take their friendship elsewhere. However, by staying quiet and not standing up for yourself, this leaves room for miscommunication and causes you to harbor resentment.

Therefore, be kind whenever possible but don’t put up with people being unkind to you. Just remember that Al Capone once said, “Never mistake kindness for weakness. I’m kind to everyone, but when someone is unkind to me, weak is not what you are going to remember about me.”

10 Inexcusable Excuses Not To Meditate

1. I’m not sure what to expect.

Meditation is about accepting that there is something in the Universe that is greater than ourselves that we can’t necessarily classify or prove. It is human nature to accept what we see, hear, taste, smell, or feel, and fear the what we cannot. In fact, many people have “xenophobia,” or fear of the unknown.

We might be scared of what is hiding in space or the depths of the ocean. We can fear someone we have never met before or hesitate to venture somewhere we have never been. However, at least in these cases we can do research and have an idea of what to expect.

While we can appreciate other peoples’ meditation experiences, that doesn’t mean ours will be the same. Because we don’t know what to expect in our meditation practice, we begin forming preconceived notions. I advise you to stop expecting. Go into the experience with an open mind. If all you experience is 5 minutes of mindfulness, that alone is an accomplishment.

2. I’m not getting anything out of it.

I wish I could tell you that there is a concrete guide to follow that will guarantee you have the perfect meditation experience, one in which you are so at one with yourself and the divine that you levitate from earth. However, I cannot see into the depths of your mind and soul, and understand what you need to quiet the fluctuations of your mind.

I can tell you that in my experience, if something isn’t working, it is a good indication you should try something else. In “Meditation for the Love of it,” Salley Kempton suggests that the destination of meditation can be reached through many doorways. This can include chanting, visualization, counting, etc. It is reassuring to know that we can experiment with various techniques and discover what works best for us.

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6. I can’t turn off my mind.

The thought of quieting our minds can be extremely daunting, as our thoughts are constantly flowing and difficult to control. Be realistic about your expectations and consider what works best for you to get you closer to that quiet state.

Rather than turning off your mind completely, start with something concrete like an object and try not to form any attachments.  By attempting to focus on one movement or thought, you are getting closer to your objective.

If thoughts flow in and out, accept this without judgement, and try to come back to your centered place. Accepting yourself for who you are and what you are capable of will allow you to get deeper into the experience.

3. I’m not religious.

While there are often religious associations made when it comes to yoga and meditation, it is important to recognize that spirituality and religion are two very different things.

Religion has a set of dogmatic and unquestionable rules that are expected to be followed without question. However, spirituality is something that is born and develops within a person. Spirituality extends many facets of ones life. It has less to do with rules that have been established, and more to do with the way you relate to yourself and the world around you.

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4. I don’t have the time.

It can be anxiety-provoking to think about reserving even five minutes of our time to thinking about nothing. However, we must remind ourselves that yoga and meditation gives us time by taking us into a more clear and mindful headspace to be more productive throughout the day.

If you think you don’t have time, consider a five-minute increment during your day where did something less significant than allowing yourself to lead a happier, balanced and more fulfilled life.

5. Sitting still makes me anxious.

Patanjali’s basic advice in the Yoga Sutras, is Sthira Sukham Asanam, or to find a seated posture that is both steady and comfortable. While this advice seems pretty straightforward, many find sitting in meditation to be painful and difficult.

I advise you to find a seat that feels comfortable for you that you can hold steadily. Sit up on a block if you have tight hips, pad up with a towel or blanket if you have knee pain, or recline on a bolster if you have back issues. Make your seat your own and you will find more ease.

Also, if stillness is an impossibility, try a moving meditation. This will allow you to move your body and while simultaneously finding stillness in your mind.

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7.  Meditation is boring.

If you find meditation boring, perhaps try switching up the location of your practice. Some enjoy an indoor space with candles and music and others are more inspired by sitting by an ocean or a park and listening to the sounds of nature.

If you would really like to shake up your meditation practice, you can try a dancing meditation. If dancing isn’t for you, think about what makes you centered. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

8. It’s too “out there.”

I still remember in my yoga training when one of our teachers began chanting with musical instruments, about gods and goddesses and stories that I didn’t know to be true. Although it made me feel uncomfortable, it also made me analyze why. In the following days, I couldn’t get these songs out of my head. I now include songs with some of these chants and deities in the yoga classes I teach.

I am a big advocate of not pushing your beliefs on others, but I also think that it is helpful to try different things and see what works for you. Your meditation practice is your own but it will never expand if you don’t open yourself to possibilities.

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9. I have no inspiration.

You might not necessarily feel inspired to sit and meditate, but I can guarantee that there is inspiration all around you. If you look around your room, you can probably find photographs, souvenirs, decorations, or even plants or flowers that remind you of something that can influence your practice. You can also take a life lesson you learned this week, and take this with you into your practice as your mantra. If you find something that works for you, share it with others. It can be inspiring to motivate others.

10. I don’t need to meditate.

While there are certainly people who are more self-aware and/or mindful than others, we are all a work in progress. Even on our most balanced day, something is bound to make us react. Some of us are more fiery and might go on the offensive. Some of us may be inclined to apologize and take blame. Some might see a confrontation coming and remove themselves from the situation altogether. If you think you are perfect and don’t need time for self-reflection, than you probably need meditation more than anyone.

The Take Away

Meditation becomes a lot less daunting when you remove your expectations for both the journey and the destination. Think about what you would like to get out of meditation. If you have a hard time sitting still, perhaps your goal is to move less. If it is difficult to quiet your mind, maybe allow your mind to whisper occasionally rather than shout constantly. If you are bored or uninspired, look for ways to tap into your creative spirit. If you connect meditating with certain ideals that you don’t agree with, remove these attachments. If there is no wrong path or outcome, why not try it and see what happens?

Spring Cleaning – A Guide to Decluttering Our Homes and Our Hearts

Growing up, I remember breathing in fresh, floral notes as the earth sprouted green carpet and colorful buds.  The smoke from the chimney was gradually replaced by the charcoal of my neighbor’s grill. I would always take notice when he simultaneously trimmed the weeds in his yard and the hair on his face, revealing bright purple flowers and the fact that he was not a character from the Lord of the Rings. Perhaps I was simply amazed that he could shed a layer of himself so easily, and grow something so much greater.

My insatiable desire for warm weather and barbeques is something that has transcended into my late 20’s and has me convinced that I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Despite my appreciation for nearly everything related to Spring, there is one seasonal activity that has always made me cringe; Spring Cleaning. My OCD tendencies would lead one to believe that I would welcome this activity. However, Spring Cleaning does not only imply wiping down furniture with Clorox wipes or artfully arranging yoga mats and books; it also implies throwing items away. For me, this has never been easy.

As someone who grew up with parents that were opposed to clutter, I have always prided myself on being closer to a minimalist than a hoarder. Paradoxically, I tend to hold on to things with emotional sentiment. I save birthdays cards, photographs, and souvenirs as though they are legal documents that could rescue me from a precarious lawsuit. I also allow myself to procrastinate the inevitable, because it is never easy to eliminate something from your life that you care about.

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Springing Ahead

It has been said that “things left undone can be our own undoing.” For this reason, I promised myself that this Spring would be different. I would dispose of things that no longer fit me, as they would ultimately create stress and waste my time. As I began to clean, I noticed a dress in my closet that once hugged my body in just the right way. However, as I slipped it on, I realized that I had outgrown it. I had kept it for so long because I loved the way it fit at one time. I now know that we cannot hold onto things out of comfort or fear of a future without them.

The Twisted Truth

My yoga teacher recently shared that Spring Cleaning is necessary in all aspects of our lives, because it makes space for new things. Did you know that certain yoga poses help us dispose of what we no longer have space for and make room for future potential?  Twisting poses can encourage blood flow, eliminate toxins, reduce abdominal bloating and aid digestion.

I’ll show you how to complete one of my favorite twisting poses, Seated Spinal Twist.

1. Begin in a seated position.

2. Bend your left knee and place your left foot outside your right hip.

2. Then, bring your right foot over your left knee.

3. Place your right hand behind your hips and hook your left elbow outside your right knee.

4. Lift your spine, twist to the right side, and gaze over your right shoulder. Then, do the same sequence on the other side.

To make this more challenging, hook your left elbow over your right knee and thread your left hand through your left leg. With frequent practice and perhaps the use of props such as a strap or a towel, you will be able to connect your hands. No matter the variation, you will reap the benefits and get closer to your ultimate goal.

Keep in mind: It takes a while for the body, heart and mind to open up to something new. Be comfortable with who and where you are, and what’s meant for you will find you when the timing is right.

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The Take Away

In addition to making space, Spring also gives us more time to fill that space. Daylight is longer and we are more motivated to do all the things we now have time for. This Spring, I made the commitment to follow my own passion; to become a certified yoga instructor. It will take a lot of time and commitment but I have learned that you create time and space for the things that you care about.

As we move through our yoga practice and other aspects of life, we have the power to choose what we release and what we hold tight. When you let go of the things that are no longer right for you (or they release you), you have the space to plant new seeds so you can continue to grow.

Change of Heart

Deepak Chapra once said, “The less you open up your heart to others, the more your heart suffers.” People who have experienced heartbreak might argue the opposite; that opening our heart makes us suffer. However, if we can use our past mistakes to understand ourselves better, we will eventually recognize the people and experiences that allow us to open up and be ourselves.

Despite his rising career as the Chief of Medicine at a prominent hospital in Boston, Deepak Chopra began to grow a distaste for Western medicine due to its emphasis on prescription drugs. He studied transcendental medicine which influenced him to quit his job and form a company that specialized in holistic products that healed people naturally. He encouraged others to stop focusing on material items and drugs to make their lives seem brighter, but to instead focus on their own happiness to find their inner-light. (Deepak Chopra Biography, A&E Television Networks).

This ideology dates back to the early 20th century, when Swamis, or yogis founded by religious teachers, began migrating West, hoping to spread spiritual understanding through the practice of meditation and the concept of self-realization. One swami named Mukunda Lal Ghosh, urged others to ask themselves, “Who am I?” so they could discover their innate self, beyond their exterior ego (How Yoga Got Here, Yoga Set Free).

Once we set out on a path towards understanding and appreciating ourselves, we are that much closer to opening our hearts. In an ode to the swamis who brought yoga and its practices to Western culture, let’s practice some heart-opening poses that will teach us more about ourselves.

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Upward and Onward

Let’s start with the heart opener used commonly in vinyasa sequences; Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). In this position, you lie on your stomach with your legs stretched long and the tops of your feet on the floor. You hands should be flat on the floor as your arms hug the slides of your chest. Next, straighten your arms as you lift up your torso, move your tailbone towards your pelvis, and lift your legs a few inches off the floor. Make sure that your elbow pits are facing forward. Rather than rounding your hips and chest, you are opening them, as well as your heart (Upward-Facing Dog Pose, Yoga Journal).Screen Shot 2017-01-03 at 3.43.22 PM.png

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Dancing On My Own

Looking for a more challenging heart opener? Try Lord of the Dance Pose (Natarajasana). Start by standing tall with your feet flat on the ground, about hips distance. Ground your standing leg as you lift your other knee up to your chest by maintaining a tight core. Once you find balance in this position, take hold of the top of your lifted foot and pull it behind you without letting go of your grasp. Next, tilt your body forward until it is parallel with the floor, similar to your positioning in Warrior 3 Pose (Virabhadrasana III).

Once you feel balanced, tip your other hand and chest up toward to the ceiling. If this feels comfortable, try adjusting your arm so that your elbow is facing towards the ceiling as it grasps down toward your toes.

Remember: Don’t be afraid to use props. If your foot and hand are far away, use a strap to connect them in this pose. This will further open your heart and get you closer to the completion of this pose and unlocking all its benefits.

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A Rosy Outlook

Did you know that the stone, Rose Quartz, promotes self-love, clarity and restoration of harmony through forgiveness and compassion? It is believed that wearing jewelry close to your heart that contains Rose Quartz can attract love from others and/or promote a deeper appreciation for oneself. If a fashionable, heart-opening piece of jewelry peeks your interest, check out the Rose Quartz Expandable Necklace by Alex and Ani, for the affordable price of $78.

Feed Your Soul

Once we begin to open our hearts, how do we keep them healthy so we can live long and prosperous lives? “The food we eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison,” said Anne Wigmore, a well known holistic health practitioner, nutritionist, author and doctor who used wheatgrass juicing to heal herself and promote natural healing across the world. Let’s use Anne Wigmore’s approach to self-healing by fueling our bodies with foods that have tremendous benefits for our hearts (The Anne Wigmore Foundation).

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Go Fish

Did you know that the grilled salmon on your plate or the raw salmon in your sushi, is not only delicious, but also beneficial for your heart. It is full of omega-3 fatty acids that prevent heart disease.

Not Nuts About Walnuts?

Maybe you’ll have a change of heart when you discover that they contain omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E and fiber which promote a healthy heart. Tip: Throw a few walnuts into your oatmeal or salad. It will add texture to your meal without overpowering it, while simultaneously providing you with nutritional benefits.

Cha Cha Cha Chia

Did you know that Chia Seeds can reduce bad cholesterol and plaque buildup? Best of all they are only 60 calories per serving. Some of my health-conscious friends have raved about items like chia pudding and chia shakes for years; but I was late to the party, only getting on the ban-wagon this year. I think some people are scared away from the consistency, as this was a main concern for me. However, I discovered that you can purchase ground chia seeds that can be added to your morning shake or yogurt, to fill you up, provide you with heart benefits, while remaining undetected (The 25 Best Foods for Your Heart, Deborah Hastings).

The Takeaway

When we open our heart to something or someone, there is always the potential to get hurt. Despite this risk, it actually hurts us more to stay closed to life’s infinite possibilities. Furthermore, if we practice self-love and become truly content with ourselves, we will be less likely to fall apart if things go wrong, and more likely to move forward and prosper with a better idea of what we want.

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Nobody Puts Yogi in the Corner

A hot shower, a toothbrush, a caffeinated beverage and business attire are typically the only things to touch my skin before 8am – and that is the way I like it. As the day drags on, it becomes gradually more difficult to avoid coming in contact with objects and people. I consider myself an outgoing introvert, who values companionship, but equally appreciates my alone time. There are days when I am mentally prepared to rub elbows with people I would not necessary choose as friends. However, there are other days when I would trade my left kidney for a seat in an empty subway car or for an Uber to rescue me from the sheer torture that is my New York City commute.

During the holidays, the streets are filled with eager shoppers and enthralled tourists that gawk at Christmas displays in department store windows, and serve as yet another obstacle between me and my office building. When I finally make it to work, the crowd on the elevator implies my fellow passengers believe it to be their last hope to escape an apocalypse.

Surely, if you make the conscious decision to move to NYC, you know what you are signing up for and thus, should be subjected to your inevitable fait of a claustrophobic existence – or should you?

Create Breadth With Breath

Breathing is important, both in yoga and other aspects of life. Learning to breath properly can help us control our central nervous system. It can calm us down if we are feeling overwhelmed or overcrowded. The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says breathing techniques can help us cure our anxiety, depression, and chronic illness.

If you are feeling trapped on a subway, an elevator, or a crowded street, why not meditate through the use breathing techniques. There is a common misconception that meditation must happen in a certain place, with a specific chant, or in a certain position. However, meditation can occur in any place that allows you to breath in order to create physical space as well as mental space for what you want to come into your life.

I have previously mentioned my obsession with my monthly Yogi Surprise subscription, where me and my fellow subscribers received a box full of yoga-related goodies on our doorsteps every 5th. In my November box, I received a life-changing book called “Breath Perception: A Daily Guide to Stress Relief, Mindfulness, and Inner Peace.” I highly recommend it, as it has changed my whole perception of breath and meditation. Another aspect of the book that I love is that it provides breathing techniques for specific situations, which makes it applicable to every day life.

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Trapped With No Way Out

Three years ago, I was “stuck” in an intolerable living situation with two craigslist roommates that went very, very wrong. After two months of harassment and feeling like I could not leave my tiny bedroom, I was eager for us to go our separate ways. The stars seemed to align for me then, as two friends had an opening in their apartment at the same time I was planning to move out. Cutting ties with the old roommates was not as easy as I imagined, with arguments as juvenile as who would keep the communal blow-up mattress. I let them have what they wanted, in an effort to escape this feeling of entrapment – preferably in an amicable fashion.

Three years later, I am in a positive living situation and am happy to have escaped the drama of my brief Hell’s Kitchen home – or did I? When one of my roommates at my current residence recently moved out, the Con Edison bill was transferred to my name. When I opened the first bill since changing over the account, to my horror, I had a balance of $1,200. When I called, distressed, I was informed that while I had requested that my name and email address be removed from the old account when I left my previous apartment, my former roommates had kept the account open under my social security number, had not paid their bills, and allowed a hefty balance to pile up under my name.

To prove that I had not been at this residence for years, I spent weeks collecting cancelled checks and leases, clearly showing that I no longer lived at this address and had not received notifications that payments were due. To my dismay, my proof was denied, as it was suggested that I could have two residences. My parents were even able to find old email communications and a moving van receipt as evidence of my move. As I continued to call Con Ed, describing my plight, I began to feel somewhat hopeless.

Let There Be Light…At The End Of The Tunnel

With a notice of cancellation hanging over my head, I pleaded with the billing dispute operator to investigate this matter further and/or provide me with an extended amount of time prove my innocence. Perhaps it was an act of charitable holiday giving or maybe the stars were aligned once again — because Con Ed chose to clear my account balance yesterday – just in the knick of time.

When we are “stuck” in bad a situation, we should set out in hope of a resolution, but recognize that the outcome might not be what we planned. While ultimate success after a period of struggle can feel like a gift, the journey is often more significant than the destination. Going forward, I now know to take every precaution to protect my personal information, as we cannot control others’ actions; only our own. I am fortunate that I was able to not only keep my electricity, but also see the light.

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Mind Over Matter: Why The Mind Matters

George S. Patton once said, “Now if you are going to win any battle, you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the mind tell the body what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

A few months ago, my yoga teacher informed me, “Some days I can do an inversion with ease and some days I can’t even come close. Your potential or lack there of is all in your head.” He sounded so sure of his assertion, but I found it hard to believe. I wondered: Is my mind the only thing standing between me and the completion of an inversion?

While I had my doubts, my teacher’s words remained ever-present in my head. The words screamed out at me on a cool September evening, beckoning me to test, once and for all, whether my mind was as powerful as my instructor suggested. In the privacy of my New York City apartment, on wooden floors, in a narrow hallway, I made the decision to complete a headstand.

I flattened my yoga mat to the ground and positioned myself over the thick rubber with fierce precision. I widened my stance and forward-folded between my legs until the top of my head touched the ground. I placed my hands flat on the mat, slightly behind the line of my feet until my body formed a perfect triangle.

Suddenly, I was not sure what changed, but I recognized a shift. My once-flimsy arms were now strong and sturdy like a foundation for a New York City skyscraper. My core felt tight like I had done a thousand crunches. My feet floated up until they were above my head, flat and facing the ceiling. I continued to float in a dream-like state, until I lost my foundation. I collapsed to the floor, banging my knee. Although I was in pain, I was more optimistic about my potential than ever before.

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Istockphoto.com/aluxum

The Secret Weapon 

“The spirit is larger than the body. The body is pathetic to what we have inside of us,” said Diana Nyad, an American author, journalist, motivational speaker, and long-distance swimmer.

Nyad recently published a book called, “Find A Way,” discussing how her competitive drive kept her motivated in the face of adversity, and allowed her to make swimming history in her 60’s. Despite facing emotional struggles such as being sexually abused by her swimming coach, and battling physical limitations as she got older, she continued to flourish.

When I read about Nyad and her success despite her struggles, I began to wonder: When one has hit their physical capacity, what makes one person continue towards success while another simply gives up? Are our minds so powerful that we can will ourselves to go on when our bodies do not feel capable? 

The Battle

The day I realized the full capacity within myself was a strange day, because the majority of the day was like any other. I did not feel stressed, lethargic, weak or sick. I felt eerily normal. I got on the train going home, eager to finish my current mystery novel. There were no seats on the 5 train but, again, this was normal. I stood, engulfed in my book and not phased by the crowd surrounding me. I felt my heart rate pick up and assumed the novel must have been having a profound effect on me.

I was suddenly fighting off a feeling of nausea so strong, I felt like I was a battling the worst hangover of my life. I groaned as I continued uptown to the dreaded 59th street station. For those who are unfamiliar, this New York City subway station is made up of multiple floors and stairwells, impossible to navigate and find an exit on your best day.

I tried to fight off the dizzying feeling taking me over as I wobbled up a set of stairs. I felt myself draining of all energy, helplessly trying to read  signs, and pushing myself to find a way out. I collapsed to the ground, sweating profusely, and I saw strangers ignore me apathetically, through blurry vision. I pushed myself to stand up and finally made my way towards the last set of stairs, choking on my own breath.

As I finally reached the exit, cold air washed over me but I was still drenched in hot sweat. I weakly hobbled into a nearby eye-glass shop that conveniently contained a row of seats. I sat in one of the leather chairs and waited until the room stopped spinning and I began to feel like myself.

The experience was like a scary dream, as it came on so suddenly, with no particular trigger. I now believe I had a hypoglycemic attack, due to low blood sugar. However, there were moments during my episode that I thought I might die. Getting through this experience made me appreciate my inner-strength that willed me out of the subway station that day.

The War

While my week was a challenging one, it pales vastly in comparison to the horrific experiences people are encountering around the world. ISIS is claiming responsibility for the Paris attacks this weekend, that killed at least 128 people with gunfire and blasts. In the wake of this horrendous violence, we are confronted with the questions: What if we are confronted with a horrific event that we have no control over? What do we do when our willpower is not enough to help us exit our current situation? What can we do to safeguard our lives?

Preparing For Battle

We can’t always anticipate negative events, but we can do our best to prepare ourselves. When it comes to a terrorist attack, we can avoid target areas and suspicious looking people, but we can never be sure when or where violence will strike. However, when we are struck with a sudden feeling of illness, we can at least pack medicine, water, or a healthy snack that may make us feel better.

Since my incident, I have been packing myself zip-lock bags of Laughing Giraffe Organics Snakaroons, a healthy take on macaroons that are vegan, gluten free and delicious. They come in all different flavors, but my current favorite is Pumpkin Spice.

I discovered snakaroons through my newest yogi indulgence — Yogi Surprise. My Yogi Surprise subscription allows me to receive a box of personalized, yoga-related gifts each month for less than $40. As captured in the picture below, my reaction to my surprise items each month is similar to a child’s excitement on Christmas Morning. If you love yoga as much as I do or would benefit from what is essentially a vacation in a box, check out the above link and surprise yourself!

YogiSurpriseSubscriptionbox.jpg

jamesonmorris.com

The Takeway

When my instructor recently gave our class an opportunity to invert, I decided, once again, that I was going to complete a headstand. However, this time I was going to stay up. I was physically strong enough to do this, and after overcoming other challenges, I realized I also had the strength of mind. Not only did I will myself up into a headstand that day and stay up, but I was so confident in my strong foundation that I was no longer afraid of falling.

While we can do our best to lively cautiously, we should not let potential violence or illness affect the way we live our lives.  In addition to fueling our bodies with healthy food, we can fuel our minds by having an optimistic outlook, and letting this guide us as we overcome daily challenges.

Dr. Steve Maraboli, a bestselling author, philanthropist, and key note speaker, said it best, “People tend to be generous when sharing their nonsense, fear and ignorance. And while they seem quite eager to feed you their negativity, please remember that the diet we need to be on is a spiritual and emotional one. Be cautious with what you feed your mind and soul. Fuel yourself with positivity and let that fuel propel you into positive action.”

Don’t Go Overboard This Fall: Pumpkin Treats, Slimming Seats & What To Do When You Feel Beat

The temperature in New York is dropping and soon the air will be as crisp as the leaves descending from the trees. While I hate the thought of summer being over, I must admit that I am already falling under autumn’s spell; craving patterned scarves, boots, leather jackets and every girl’s best friend — leggings. Like a best friend, leggings are forgiving to a fault, always telling us we look thin, mostly to avoid hurting our feelings. Leggings allow us to fill our mouths with tasty treats, while simultaneously filling our ever-expanding waistband.

Solution? Say No To Leggings This Year.

Before you close this page in frustration at the mere suggestion of letting go of this fall fashion staple, hear me out: leggings are still acceptable when watching television, laying in bed or running the occasional errand. However, wearing them daily can cause us to lose track of whether we are maintaining our weight. Therefore, let’s pledge to opt for a pair of jeans instead.

In exchange for you joining in me in an effort to ditch our leggings this season, I found you a trendy, well-fitting pair of jeans that won’t even come close to breaking the bank. You are going to love these ASOS Ridley Black Skinny Jeans in Rip and Destroy Busted Knees, for a whopping $12.84. For that price, you can buy more than one!

Image 1 of ASOS Ridley Black Skinny Jeans in Rip and Destroy Busted Knees

us.asos.com

Pumpkin Without the Plumpin’

Once we toss our leggings to the side and put on our trendy fall jeans, we are ready to consume our favorite pumpkin flavored items…or are we? If we give in to our seasonal pumpkin proclivity, are our only choices sugar-filled pumpkin spice lattés or fattening pumpkin beer? If so, how do we maintain our jean size?

You might be surprised to learn that pumpkin is actually a great food to eliminate bloat. It contains potassium and fiber which help digestion. Pumpkin is also great for the diet as it is low in starch and sugar. The question is: how do we get the benefits of the pumpkin flavor we love, without the extra calories?

Have a Sweet Tooth? Blend Yourself a Pumpkin Smoothie

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of vanilla protein powder
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 4 ice cubes
  • 1/2 cup of water

*I like Designer Whey in French Vanilla, which is gluten free, low calorie and tastes delicious. Click here to buy this powder for 50% off it’s normal price, at only $22.99. This is an amazing value, as this powder will last you a while. Happy blending!

Have a Flavor for Savory? Warm Up With This Pumpkin Soup

  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 4-5 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 onion
  • cayenne pepper to taste
  1. Heat oil in pot over medium heat.
  2. Add onion and stir until translucent.
  3. Next, add pumpkin, garlic, and vegetable broth.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until pumpkin is soft. Add cinnamon and nutmeg. Puree soup in a blender (in batches) and return to the pot.
  5. Add coconut milk and simmer for a few minutes. Add salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste.

I got the basis of this recipe from Avocado Pesto, a gluten-free recipe book, and through experimentation, I made some adjustments to give it a sweet and spicy flair I think you will enjoy.

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unsplash.com/search/soup

Float Your Boat and Sink Your Bloat

I know we are into autumn months, but it is time to take a quick vacation. Envision yourself on a large yacht. The wind is blowing your hair, leaving it tangled and salty. Your skin is baking in the sun as the droplets coating you slowly evaporate. Your freshly manicured fingers clasp a champagne flute. The bubbles tickle your nose as the elegant liquid is inhaled through your lips. The fish on your fork was caught from fresh turquoise seas and has been artistically assembled on your plate. Your worries are non-existent as you are far away from anything that could cause you stress. You are rocking gently in your boat, in tune with the ocean current and the present moment.

Good news, you can experience the benefits of boating all year long. I know of a boat that will relax you, help you live mindfully and will allow you to fit into your new fall wardrobe. Sound too good to be true? Okay, it’s not quite a yacht….I’m talking about Boat Pose (Navasana) and breaking it down for you in 5 simple steps.

  1. Sit with your legs straight in front of you. Rock backward and gently shift your weight so that you are balanced over your sit bones. Don’t know where your sit bones are? Place your hands under your butt and you will be able to feel them. Note: You may have to pull some of your bottom flesh up, so you are not unintentionally sitting on your sacrum, or the triangular bone at the base of your spine (Spine-Health, Peter F. Ullrich, Jr., MD).

    2. Lift your chest and begin to straighten and lift your legs while keeping them together.

3. Once your legs are extended, reach your arms forward facing each other to balance.

4. Keep lifting through your chest and bring you chest and legs closer together.

5. Try to straighten your legs. Note: If you can’t do this, don’t worry, you are most definitely not             alone. Instead, bend and hold the back of your knees, and/or use a strap to support your pose.

Note: Although Boat Pose has tremendous benefits, Navasana is one of my most dreaded poses. It requires A LOT of core strength and can put stress on your lower back if done incorrectly. If this or any other pose starts to cause you discomfort, listen to your body and limit the amount of time you spend in this or eliminate it altogether.

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istockphoto.com/GoodOlga

The Takeway

In a city like New York, we often feel pressure to accomplish as much as possible and we sometimes forget to slow down when necessary. After back-to-back yoga sessions, weight lifting, and other daily obligations, I woke up last week with extreme back pain that preventing me from going to work, and also set me behind in my yoga practice. After a week of physical therapy, heating pads, and rest, I was ready to get back into my daily routine. When my yoga instructor asked me why I hadn’t been to class the previous week, I told him I hurt my back. He immediately knew that I had overexerted myself and had not given myself ample time to recover

Tyler Knott Gregson said, “Promise me that you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves, that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.”

We usually push ourselves in order to make our lives more profitable, whether it be monetarily, i.e. doing overtime at the office, emotionally i.e. making time for family and friends, or physically, i.eengaging in exercise. When the daily grind starts to feel like a harsh undertow taking us under, how do we know when enough is enough? We must strike a balance in our lives; pushing ourselves to succeed, without overworking ourselves to the point that we potentially worsen our quality of life.

 

Scoot Over Scoliosis: This Pose Can Help

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured, and endure what cannot be cured,” said B.K.S Iyengar, the founder of Iyengar, a type of yoga that focuses on the alignment of posture and breath control. B.K.S. Iyengar started practicing yoga at an early age to improve his poor health. He began to feel better through his practice and got well enough to begin teaching his asanas to others. When he got into a scooter accident  in 1979 and dislocated his spine, he began using props such as blocks and blankets, and even incorporated them into his teachings (Andrew Buncomb, The Independent). Let’s explore how we can follow Iyengar’s lead and help end back pain once and for all.

Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine curves to the side. You might be surprised to learn that it affects 6 million people in the U.S. every year. Those with a spine curvature of less than 45 degrees often require the daily use of a back brace. Individuals with severe scoliosis, or a spine curvature of more than 45 degrees, may have to resort to more invasive options such as surgery (Honor, Whiteman; Medical News Today). Before resorting to more invasive options, we should ask ourselves: Is there anything natural we can try first to relieve the pain? Can we prevent back issues from forming in the first place?

Eat To Beat Back Pain

Milk Does a Body Good

Your bones start losing mass in your twenties, which can weaken the vertebrae in your spine. Excessive weakness and brittleness is known as osteoporosis. To prevent osteoporosis and future back issuestry calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, orange juice, whole grains and dark leafy green vegetables (Scott D. Boden, MD, Spine-Health). Remember: Be mindful that dairy may worsen inflammation in those with lactose intolerance. If lactose causes you discomfort, opt for a dairy substitute, calcium supplement, or get your dose of calcium in non-dairy foods.

http://scottyfreefitness.blogspot.com/

 

Hydrating Helps

How is it that we can throw back a few glasses of wine so easily but it is so hard to drinks 8 glasses of water a day? Some people genuinely like the taste of water, but if you are like me – you find the taste of water a bit boring. To increase the likeliness that you will get in your daily H2O intake, infuse your water with fruit, vegetables and herbs. My favorite two combinations are lemon and cucumber and strawberry and basil.

Simply fill a filtered pitcher with water, ice, and infusing ingredients the night before and voila! – you have delicious tasting water when you wake up the next morning. You can buy a Britta at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $34.99 or try my money-saving tip: Visit your local dollar store. I recently purchased a filtered pitcher for $2.99! Be creative with your water infusions and let us know what combinations you come up with!

Want Your Scoliosis To Improve? Try This Move

A new study by Dr. Loren Fishman of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, NY, claims that performing the Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana) can reduce the spine curvature in patients in as little as 3 months. It is recommended that patients perform a side plank on the the side of the spine that is curved outward (Honor, Whiteman; Medical News Today). If you suffer from back pain, try this pose regularly, and let us know if you experience relief similar to the patients who participated in this study. Warning: for more severe cases of back problems, please consult with your doctor before attempting this pose.

Side Plank Made Simple

Many people dread side plank pose. I have no statistics on this other than the number of groans I hear when our instructor asks us to complete this pose. When I first started yoga, I dreaded this pose as well. However, by strengthening our arms, legs, shoulders and abdominal muscles through a regular yoga practice, we can master this pose and even take it into more difficult variations. I’ll show you how in 5 easy steps.

Side Plank Made Easy

Step 1: Start in plank, or push-up position. Your shoulders should be over your wrists and your hands and feet should be hip-distance apart. The majority of the pressure should be on your finger pads to take the pressure off of your wrists. Your shoulder blades will hug into the back of the spine to support your back, and your arms will rotate so that your “elbow pits” are facing forward.

Step 2: Turn your body to one side. Keep your legs straight, while balancing on the outer edge of your bottom foot and your palm. Make sure to keep your glutes and abdominal muscles tight to lift up into this side stretch. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles.

Step 3: Try a side plank with a tree pose variation. While in side plank pose, lift your top leg and place your foot on your bottom leg in a tree pose position. Make sure your bottom leg remains strong, and your abdominal muscles continue to lift you into your side stretch.

Step 4: For a harder variation, lift your top leg and reach for your big toe. Seem impossible? Try it, you might find that it is easier than you think. Keep practicing and you will eventually conquer this or a variation that works for your body type.

Step 5: For a simpler variation, try a forearm side plank. Start in a forearm plank and do a similar rotation as you did with side plank, so that you are tilted on your side. Balance on the outer edge of your bottom foot and your forearm, while tightening your glutes and abdominal muscles.

Remember: Be comfortable with where you are in this pose. As long as you achieve an adequate side stretch, you will receive the same benefits, no matter where you are in the pose.

Side Plank in a Stylish Tank

If you are going to put in the work to complete a challenging pose like side plank, you might as well look good while you are breathing through it. You may have noticed the yellow boxy crop style tank top with the NYC skyline image I am sporting in the picture above. This is my favorite new workout top, courtesy of Sas Graphic Designs.The coral wave tank top, another one of my favorites, is shown on the model below.

Wave yoga beach tank

etsy.com/shop/sasgraphicdesigns

Besides loving the look and soft material of these tank tops, I am inspired by their urban and yoga-esque designs and even more so by the story behind the brand.

The designs are hand-drawn and manufactured by Sarah Somers and Angela Cardaci, two talented twenty-something female entrepreneurs who were determined to create their own clothing line and profitable business. Despite market competition, they have flourished by believing in their own potential, and motivating others to do the same.

These tank tops are currently available in four colors: coral, yellow, mint, and white; and three designs: lotus, skyline, and wave. I have one of each…shopping problems! For $22, I can’t even feel guilty. Click here for more information and/or to purchase one of these phenomenal designs.

The Takeaway – The Harder The Battle, The Sweeter the Victory

http://choosehopetoday.com/

Despite having debilitating health problems as a child, B. K. S. Iyengar lived to age 95. By using beneficial yoga poses and eating anti-inflammatory foods, we can work towards improving our health and overall well-being. Iyengar’s ability to cure his own health problems afforded him the opportunity to help individuals with similar ailments.

Robert Tew said, “There is no need to be perfect to inspire others, let people get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections.” Therefore, you may have limitations, such as back problems, or challenges when starting a new business. However, your success in the face of adversity, makes you a more noteworthy and relatable example for others hoping to follow in your footsteps.

Namaste Your Way To A Sweeter New Year

Bikram Shoudhury, a well known Indian yoga teacher who founded Bikram yoga said, “You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late and never too sick to start from scratch once again.” On the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, with the Fall season around the corner, this quote is quite fitting and should inspire us to take our next big leap.

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istockphoto.com/oatawa

A Sweet New Year

A popular new year’s resolution is losing weight, working out, and the overall desire to be more healthy. This past year, I purchased myself a nutribullet and it has changed my life. If you are interested in getting into the smoothie and juice trend, I highly suggest you purchase a high quality blender. A shake makes for a great breakfast, especially when you are on the go. Keeping with the Fall and Rosh Hashanah theme, forgo your apples and honey and make an apple and honey smoothie. The following recipe will blow your mind, keep you fit, and allow you to keep up with holiday traditions.

Apple & Honey Smoothie

1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 apple (remove core)
1 banana
1 teaspoon honey
3/4 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon almond butter
2 ice cubes
1/2 teaspoon chia seeds

Letting Go of Last Year’s Garbage

On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate the sweetness of a new year, but it is also a day of judgment, where we are forced to confront our mistakes from the previous year and aim to do better next year. In the new year, we essentially start from scratch. Therefore, in addition to setting goals, it is important that we let go of anything that has been holding us back.

I like the yoga mantra, Om Gum Ganapateyi Namaha, which means “to release obstacles.” By using this mantra in our meditation, it helps us let go of whatever is blocking our path. Perhaps these obstacles were put there as a test, so we could learn how to work around them and move on. When yoga teachers tell us “let go of anything you are holding on to,” we can breath through our poses and our current situations, let go of negative thoughts, and move on with our practice and our lives.

Vrksasana, or Tree Pose is one of my favorite one-legged balances, that requires a strong foundation and focus. My trick for executing a successful tree pose is maintaining a strong standing leg and finding an object directly in front of me to focus on. Tree pose is said to have originated back in the seventh century. In ancient times, wandering holy men would meditate in this posture for long periods of time as a practice of self-discipline.

In some traditions, it is believed that a yogi Indian king, Bhagiratha, stood on one leg for a long time to appease the Hindu god Shiva, and repent for his sins. This teaches us that we can let go of previous negative behaviors and conquer new goals, by maintaining control of our bodies and our minds.

In the following picture, I am completing a tree pose in front of a tree on a street in Midtown East in Manhattan. If you look closely, there is a bag of someone’s garbage nearby. Let’s not focus on last year’s garbage, but instead work towards a brighter future.

Fall Lace-Ups You’ll Love

Start the new year/season off on the right foot by adding a great autumn addition to your closet. I might be slightly biased because of my affinity for the color burgundy, but I think these shoes from Lulu’s (only $39) would make an excellent addition to any Fall wardrobe. These lace-up boots are perfect for the transition from the warmer to colder months and would look perfect with anything from leggings to skinny jeans to (LBT’S) little black dresses.

Case in Point Burgundy Lace-Up Booties at Lulus.com!

lulus.com

The Takeaway

I am dedicating today’s post and yoga practice to my sister, who has confronted many obstacles in her work-life but has moved through them gracefully. She is fortunate enough to be starting a great new job doing something she loves. As we encounter challenges in the coming year, let’s make a resolution to breathe through them. We may find something wonderful waiting on the other side.

 

About Alex

About Me

I am a Yoga Alliance RYT 200 teacher, specializing in Vinyasa Yoga. With a positive outlook, energetic spirit, and accommodating demeanor, I offer challenges as well as modifications to make classes accessible for all skill levels. I whole-heartedly believe in the transformative power of yoga and aim to leave students feeling both calm and accomplished.

Types of Yoga I teach

  • Vinyasa
  • Beginner Yoga

Yoga certifications

  • E-RYT 200

Cities I service

  • New York

My Story

If you saw me on the subway, I might look like anyone else. You would see my sandy blonde strands, a chai tea late in hand, and my favorite accessory: my yoga mat. Thousands of girls who look like me stroll through New York City everyday; eating, exercising, and enjoying life.

Let me tell you how I’m different.

There once was a girl who was innately shy; but there was never an experience she wouldn’t try.

From going after different jobs, to finding herself a New York City home; she proved that there was nothing she couldn’t tackle alone. 

She would scout out every unique restaurant or bar, and eat her way through the city without the help of a car.

She had an interest in food and life in the city, but she was missing a passion that truly made her feel giddy.

She started doing yoga and took classes everyday. Yoga soon formed a place in her heart with boozy brunch buffets. 

She traveled across the world on a yoga retreat, which caused all kinds benefits to fall at her feet.

She got her teaching certification so she could teach others asana, and found a career where she could contain her prana.

She wrote for yoga magazines and read every meditation book on the shelf; and then she decided to take one more giant risk: and venture out in a blog by herself.

Why not create a blog that meshed her love of food, yoga, and life in Manhattan? All she needed was to start writing to make her dreams to happen.