Category Archives: ashtanga

october spotlight on: the 30 while 30 (THE DIRTY THIRTY)

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Today I turn 30.  One year ago, on my 29th birthday, I sat down with a legal pad and a pen to come up with a list: 30 things to do during my thirtieth year on this earth, from October 4, 2012, to October 4, 2013.

Many people have done this already, apparently. The direct person to inspire this was my dear friend Meghan, whose own list is much more athletically ambitious than mine. My thought was that I would take the next 365 to do 30 things that I’ve either always wanted to do/try/learn/experience, and do them. I tried to keep it realistic, within the realm of my capabilities and interests — no scaling Mt. Everest, for instance — but also personally, and maybe even socially, relevant.

I’m sharing my list because I’m told that if you write something down and/or tell the world, it becomes an intention, it manifests as a visceral, physical thing in the universe, and it will exist. Also people will hold you accountable. You’ll notice this list includes tasks that will take a great deal of planning (#4 & #5), some that channel my inner 8-year-old (#12) and my inner 85-year-old (#1), some that are entirely selfish (#16), some that push me physically (#3) and emotionally (#29), and others that will require friends’ help (Spencer, are you reading this? Holding you responsible for #14 & #22).

It literally took me an entire year to finish this list, so know I don’t take it lightly. People, will you help me? Will you pray for me during gluten-free month? Will you eat my experimental Norwegian food? Who will teach me to drive a stick? Not my father nor my uncle nor anyone ever has succeeded…

In no particular order, I give you The Dirty (Purdy) Thirty: 30 Things to do During my 30th Year.

1. Learn to knit and knit something.

2. Attend monthly meditation at the Shambhala Center. maintain a daily meditation practice.

3. Run a sub-8 5k. A sub-8! Coach Hood, are you reading this?

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4. Read 15 books of the classic literary canon (see forthcoming sublist).

5. Read 15 books of the contemporary literary canon (see forthcoming sublist).

6. Try 30 days of gluten free.

7. Stand Up Paddleboarding.

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8. That trip to Istanbul we’ve always talked about? We’re doing it, Meghan. It’s on the list.

9. 30 days straight of Mysore Ashtanga (minus 2 moon days, of course).

10. Be an adult: create final will and power of attorney.

11. Visit (finally!) these historic New York necessities: Ellis Island. The Tenement Museum. The Cloisters. Guggenheim Museum.

12. Go ALL OUT for Halloween. Like, REALLY.

13. Learn to drive a flippin’ stick.

14. Fly in a plane piloted by Spencer Elliott. Then jump out of it.

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15. Learn to cruise on a skateboard.

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16. Save up monthly to buy a pair of Louboutins on 31st birthday. Paid for by me.

17. CENSORED: this one is for my (and the mister’s) knowledge only. ❤

18. Take 6 cooking classes, each of a different cultural persuasion: French, Thai, Japanese, Norwegian, Argentinian, Lebanese.

19. Host 6 different dinner parties for friends and serve 6 meals to show what I learned.

20. Compete in a mud run obstacle course: Tough Mudder? Do it!

21. Attend performance of Handel’s “ Messiah” by the boys choir of St. Thomas Church.

22. Circumnavigate Manhattan by foot (calling on you yet again, Spencer).

23. Volunteer once per month walking dogs at Animal Haven in SoHo.

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24. Start a fire escape herb garden.

25. Take my Forearm Stand to the middle of the room.

26. Visit the subject of my fifth grade state report: Maine.

27. Invest in some really nice stationery.

28. Write a letter once a month to both grandmas.

29. Conquer insanely debilitating fear of needles by donating blood.

30. Say bedtime prayers again.

august spotlight on: moving on…

“Femme aux Bras Croisés (Woman with Folded Arms).” Pablo Picasso, 1902.

I am now just coming out of what has been a long, dark season in my life. I have not been very good, in any sense of the word “good.” I need a change, said my brain, but this wasn’t a thought that came to me as a calm, gentle nudge. It overcame me like a tsunami and drew me into a rabbit hole of sadness, heaviness, anxiety.

When these feelings started to arise, my first step was to get to my mat, and quickly. Yoga is supposed to fix us. But my practice eluded me and as I approached it with increasing desperation and intensity, it actually contributed to my frenetic struggle. Thinking my increased, frantic energy needed to be expelled, I increased my running and added lunges and pushups and crunches and other horrible things. Soon I was exercising three hours a day, with such a ferocity that I actually left my workouts angry.

I found myself crying randomly, in bathrooms and in bed. I sought comfort in giant fistfuls of kettlecorn and margaritas, both of which went down with so much desperation I barely tasted anything. I stuffed my depression deep down, like a typical Norwegian, only to then unleash a beast of myself on my poor husband, who felt my perplexing wrath (tears, snappiness, etc.) at odd moments. I consumed hundreds of inspirational quotes from books and Facebook and Google searches, hoping that something would stick and propel me forward. When that didn’t work, my Googling shifted to researching antidepressants and self-help books. I couldn’t stop reading this dismal series of true-life recession stories that only fed my sadness. My lower back developed an achy, crampy pain that lingers still.

I knew that I needed a change, but I didn’t know how or why or what. This led to a frightening mental paralysis: I was immobile, like when your boots get stuck in deep mud, trapped in a swirl of anxiety. I remember feeling this particularly one afternoon, standing at my kitchen sink, as I rinsed a pint of blueberries. I just stared at each berry and started sobbing, and couldn’t stop, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move.

And then. Nearly three months later, those feelings have all but dissipated, slowly, and in the quieter aftermath, I have only the tiniest bit of perspective, not a revolution. When my cloudy mind started on the slow upswing, I started to take care of myself again. I did a juice fast. I got bangs. I started seeing a specialist to treat my back pain. But these things were not what caused me to stumble towards Happy again. These are the effects of starting to see Happy on the horizon, and moving toward it, toward the light. In other words, the end of this “dark period” was not brought about by anything I did or did not do. My spirit was in a tumultuous transition, and I was just a passenger along for the ride.

This is how most of us change: slowly, fearfully, clumsily, poorly.

So, I’m moving on: I am leaving the yoga world and have accepted a job at a company that I am so excited about. I suspect yoga will always be a part of my life, and believe that the skills I acquired through teaching will serve me well. Teachers of all kinds get to experience a profound, unique skill-set: empathy, gentleness, assertiveness, and a love for her students that transcends all other known types of love. I won’t soon forget how the past four years of teaching in New York have been both a blessing and an incredible journey of discovery.

Friends, I wish I could offer some sort of advice for pulling yourself out of a deep funk. I don’t have any magic, and I certainly tried a lot of different things. I’m someone who has to learn things the hardest way possible. Two things I wish I would’ve done differently (maybe these are the secrets then?); perhaps they’ll work for you:

1. Be nice to yourself.
2. Ask for help.

Here’s to moving on. And to change, and challenge, and to just being along for the ride…xx

SL NOTE: I’ll be continuing to teach in very limited quantities in NYC. Do check my schedule, and my Facebook, for the most updated info.

march spotlight on: aparigraha (non-possessiveness)

Have you seen that show Hoarders? It’s been on air for a while now (I’m usually last to hop on the reality show train, forgive me), but I recently started watching a few episodes. In case you weren’t aware: each episode of Hoarders follows a person who accrues so much stuff that it eventually overruns her home. We see piles of junk on floors, counters, beds, tables, anything from trash to food to feral cats, and each show takes us from the breaking point to the transformation and healing process, with the help of a professional. Hoarding is a devastating illness usually accompanied by at least one other psychological ailment, such as manic depressive behavior, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or some kind of trauma (abandonment, abuse) that was never dealt with in a healthy manner. The show itself is wildly depressing to watch, and completely heartbreaking, especially when hope for the hoarder is bleak; often, these people are in danger of losing their homes, and loved ones are ready to walk away forever. It’s really hard to fully understand why this person physically cannot throw away even the most putrid of garbage, spoiled food, broken toys, splintered furniture. They can’t seem to let go. They are totally possessed by their stuff.

This is, of course, a very extreme (maybe the most extreme) example of attachment, what we know in yoga as ragaRaga is considered one of the five kleshas, the root causes of our suffering. The kleshas are universal and ever-present. They include raga, as well as avidya (ignorance), asmita (ego), dvesha (aversion), and abhinivesha (clinging to bodily life). As human beings, none of us are immune to the effects of the kleshas, and at any given moment we are likely plagued with some kind of suffering, even if just a tiny bit.

Attachment invites the other kleshas to plague us also. We easily become so attached to a thing or a feeling that we are unwilling to give it up, and when we’re unwilling, we become fearful (aversion), we are blind to reality (ignorance), we think it’s what we need to be happy and powerful (ego), and we’ll make sure no one takes it away from us (clinging).

How do we even begin a practice of aparigraha, non-possessiveness, non-hoarding? Do we give all our possessions away and banish ourselves into a life of nothingness? Some might interpret it this way. But not all possessions and attachments are “bad.” It can feel nice to be attached to your partner, your pet, your morning rituals. In this way, you could think about aparigraha as a mental practice of putting your possessions into categories: observing the things you need for survival (food, clean water, a home), the things you need to meet your goals (nice pants to wear to the office, a car to take you there, a toothbrush, a computer, running shoes to train in), and the things you want to help you with your joy (your flatscreen TV, a happy hour margarita and bucket of guacamole, that vacation to Hawaii, expensive sheets with a high thread-count). Think of all your stuff simply as tools that are helping you along your path. From here, sift through your inventory and filter out the things that don’t fit into these categories. Make a few sacrifices, notice how it feels to go without. Observe is the key.

When we invite a practice of aparigraha into our lives, we are saying that we choose freedom. We don’t have to rely on things, or even feelings, to bring us happiness. And each time we exhale, each time we relax into a state of quietness and stillness, each time we choose simple over complex, we learn to be comfortable with less and less.

yoga in the news: a pain in the neck (and butt and wrists and back and shoulder and…)

amazing sketch via isuckatyoga.blogspot.com/

Ouch. Yoga takes another critical hit from the NY Times this week (you may remember this from December), in the mince-no-words exposé “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.”

So how can yoga wreck your body? In so many ways, author William J. Broad says: specifically, compressive and straining postures that put pressure on the head and cervical vertebrae lead to swelling in arteries, clots, brain and eye trauma, and stroke. According to Broad, healthy, young, experienced yoga practitioners have suffered from yoga-related injuries that have led to ER visits, intensive rehabilitation, years of recovery, and stymied physical ability. All from practicing commonly taught postures, like Shoulderstand and Headstand, and from rotating the neck beyond the “normal” limits, like in Extended Side Angle.

I usually approach these reports with some grain-of-salt skepticism, especially in the fear-mongering world of journalism. But I couldn’t help but feel scared, and completely sympathetic to one research subject mentioned: a 28-year-old woman who suffered a stroke while in (and as a result of) yoga. In 2008, while undergoing yoga teacher training I also suffered a mild stroke that started as a tingling in my left arm, eventually becoming a violent migraine, accompanied by vomiting and trembling. The episode lasted all of 15 minutes, and my doctor later attributed it to the pill. I’ve since been healthy, normal, and practicing more than ever. At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder if the increase of yoga in my life had anything to do with my “mini-stroke.” Four years later, my brain is fine (no strokes, at least), but my chronically tight hamstrings remain resistant, my thoracolumbar mortice joint (anatomy nerd?) is freakishly and dangerously hyperextensive, and other little creaks and cricks all over the place give me some trouble. Some of it’s just because I’m getting older. Some of it’s because I’m careless, and a little reckless with my precious spine…

But look. Yoga is exercise, and all exercise poses risk of injury. And what do you always hear from every yoga instructor in every yoga class? “Practice with awareness.” “Move into this pose with care.” “Be aware of how you feel physically and mentally here.” “Awareness is true yoga.” There’s a reason “awareness” is forever engrained in your yoga teacher’s vocabulary: we don’t want you to hurt your dang self!

Yoga on, good people. Yoga on with consciousness, with clarity, with awareness, forever and ever…

on yoga and exercise, counting calories, and being american: time for a dialogue!

"pray the holy trinity". stencil art by jef aerosol.*

Many people (yogis, Ashtangis, exercise fanatics and civilians alike) have responded in kind to this NYT article from a former Ashtanga yoga practitioner, published last week. In summary: an Ashtanga devotee finds a new guru in a personal trainer after a decade of practicing yoga (including a pilgrimage to India, and dramatic changes to her diet and sleep schedule) fails to prevent that “softening in the middle.”

My teacher (the one whose name is always “uttered in hushed, reverent tones”) also responded to Deborah Schoeneman’s essay on the AYNY blog here. He then opened up the dialogue to the masses and posted some additional responses here.

We can mostly agree that yogis take yoga (and themselves) very seriously. Sometimes dead serious. Sometimes comically dead serious. I can understand and appreciate this. As someone whose livelihood depends on teaching yoga professionally, and whose spiritual and physical well-being comes from practicing yoga, and who spends any additional free time writing about yoga, I like to think that my entire life is NOT a joke, a mockery. Yoga is a serious endeavor. It’s discipline. And devotion. And it deals with matters of the spirit. It asks you to purify, to look within, to purge the unnecessary, to invite newness, to find complete consciousness without attachment. It’s hard work.

Also: it’s weird. No one reminds me this more than the teenagers I teach once a week in a public school gym. The poses can be twisty and awkward and complicated; butts stick up in the air and pelvises thrust at every angle. The breathing is questionable and laughable. Concepts like “practicing kindness for myself, for my neighbor, for my space” bring out smirks and words like “lame” and “dumb.” What’s served me best in teaching through these moments is remembering the truth of yoga. We’re human beings with bodies that do weird things, and we’re asking it to go into weird shapes, and then to eschew the distraction of all the other weirdos around us trying to do the same thing. Yoga’s hard work, sure. But it’s not meant to be only hard work: it’s also kind of funny.

Open and respectful dialogue will, as my teacher says, “turn the conversations about yoga in the mainstream in a different direction, to widen the dialogue and test ourselves to see where we really want to go with all of this…towards pages that reflect [yoga’s] greater relevance.” Let’s do this. Let’s also keep our senses of humor and not take ourselves too seriously. Ms. Schoeneman wrote her essay with a humorous tone, and then was serious (and sensitive) to write a letter of apology to my teacher for any hurt her article may of caused (which, he says, it certainly didn’t).

I’m a serious, devoted yogi. I’m also a runner and a caffeine addict and an occasional carnivore. I’m also an obsessive calorie counter (there’s an app for it) and someone who laughs out loud about the weirdness of yoga. I hope I can continue to LOL at yoga, and at myself. Laughter is important. Without it, yoga is just a whole lot of hard work.

*See more of Jef Aerosol’s work here.

getting back to the root of it


urdhva dhanurasana (wheel pose). ashtanga on location in brooklyn bridge park.

Sometimes the Universe calls you back to your roots so loudly, with so much obviousness and conviction, that ignoring it would be like denying your own thirst. This past summer my yoga practice wavered, thanks in part to an erratic teaching schedule and a life-changing new venture. I often felt depleted and low in energy. Like a sleepy teenager ignoring her mother’s calls to “Get dressed! You’ll be late for school!,” I ignored my once disciplined routine of waking early and trekking to the Broome Street Temple to do my daily Ashtanga practice. Instead, I hit the snooze on my iPhone, over and over and over.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not feeling guilty about it, and I don’t think I’m supposed to feel guilty about my absence. A lifelong practice of Ashtanga, like any lifelong commitment — playing piano, painting, running — changes and evolves and deepens with other life experiences. Sometimes we’re strong and consistent and disciplined. Other times we’re weak or wandering or distracted. And sometimes (as in my case), we’re just plain tired.

But the amazing thing about this practice of yoga? When you show up (which, I’m starting to believe, just showing up is about 85% of the effort in any situation), it’s right there, and you can slip right back into it, at any point. My hamstrings might be tighter and my jump-throughs clumsier, but coming back to my practice after a season of non-practice? It’s like fitness, stress-relief, a therapy session, and a prayer group all meet up with me for two hours every morning in downtown Manhattan. I believe in it.

While I’m waxing poetic the joy of Ashtanga yoga, three things happened, as a result, I believe, of re-committing to the practice. First, my teacher gave me a new pose in the Intermediate Series to work on, which is a little bit like getting a surprise gift on a random Tuesday (in the Mysore Ashtanga tradition, you don’t “progress” through the series of poses until your teacher is ready for you to receive a new pose). I’m not gloating (that would be so un-yogic!), nor am I attached to advancing, since the practice is plenty hard without new poses. It’s simply that the new pose was unexpected and awesome, and reinvigorated my enthusiasm for Ashtanga.

Secondly, a private client I’ve worked with for years suddenly (coincidentally?) expressed her interest in the Ashtanga lineage and asked me to teach her the Primary Series. I realized that I love the Primary Series and am excited to share it with her.

Finally, Yoga High, a studio where I teach, asked me to begin teaching a Led Ashtanga class on Friday afternoons, beginning with an introductory workshop on October 30. Teaching the Primary Series to a group of people every week? Neat.

It appears that teaching Ashtanga is a natural evolution, bound to arise out of my own practice. This thought has drifted in and out of my consciousness more than once over the past few years that I’ve been teaching. But what happens when you commit to teaching Ashtanga? You commit to practicing Ashtanga. Consistently. And that’s what intimidates me. Does that then make me…an Ashtangi? Now do I have to uphold the practice and own it and represent it out in the world?

I’ve heard “practice” defined as seeking perfection through repetition. Perfection is a scary word, sure, but repetition? Repetition sounds hard and daunting. Especially for someone who dabbles. Throughout my life, I’ve dabbled in ballet, gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, rollerblading, watercolor, paleontology (seriously), Traditional Chinese Medicine (seriously), baking, cross-stitching, and amateur tight-rope walking (seriously).

I’m just a dabbler. And the practice that’s calling me demands so much more than dabbling. It demands that I be present, full, committed. So now, I commit to being committed. Pray for me.

two years later: remembering guruji

Sharath Jois and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, 1992

My teacher Eddie wrote an article for Namarupa Magazine in anticipation for today: the two-year anniversary of the death of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, called Guruji by his devotees. This anniversary is significant to me, not only as someone who studies and practices the Ashtanga lineage (which Guruji taught and made accessible to all), but also because it was exactly two years ago that my curiosity about Ashtanga piqued. In May 2009, I bought David Swenson‘s step-by-step instruction manual and began practicing in my tiny apartment. Soon after I found myself at Ashtanga Yoga New York, practicing daily with other Ashtangis and learning from one of Guruji’s original students.

Mysore, 2010: a post-practice treat of pressed sugarcane, sweet lime and ginger

Read Eddie Stern’s poignant article here, which sheds light on how Guruji learned yoga, and then learned to teach yoga. On this particular day, I’m reminded of the power of transmitting knowledge, sincerity, and compassion through the teacher/student relationship. Ashtanga has taught me many things, about the power of discipline, my tendency toward impatience, and about my hamstrings. I’m eternally grateful to Guruji, his family, and the devoted Ashtangis committed to this lineage.

I am teaching this ancient yoga to you, this day, since you are my friend and devotee. This secret is supreme indeed. (Bhagavad Gita 4.3)