Archive for Holidays and self-care

Happy 2019! Resolutions and my Tai Chi Easy/Chair Yoga Returns

Wishing you a magical and wondrous New Year filled with happiness, harmony, and abundance!

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Often as we think about our plans or resolutions for a new year, we have been conditioned by society to create unrealistic or onerous resolutions, such as to lose 15 pounds in a month or eliminate sugar or “bad” carbs completely.  Perhaps there are some who will be able to succeed in their quest and maintain such a rigid restriction or goal for the long term.  But most such resolutions get broken fairly quickly, creating more disappointment and negative self-talk for the goal seeker.  However, if we can flip the resolutions so that they are not about removing something desirable from our lives (let’s be honest, sugar tastes delicious!), but instead is about adding things (such as, I will eat more fresh fruit and veggies), we won’t feel the same level of deprivation.  By focusing on the positive side of a new dietary lifestyle (note, I did not use the word “diet”), we will not feel as if we are on punishing ourselves – as we eliminate the things have been used to eating or craving.  Instead, it is more likely that if we add more nutrients and fiber from fresh fruit, berries and veggies, for example, we probably won’t be craving as much sugar or unhealthy carbs. Psychologically, we are adding to our lives – not detracting –  which is very different than a resolution that focuses on depriving ourselves.  As soon as we vow to not have something anymore, ironically it becomes all that we seek.

I used the sugar issue as an example, but there are so many more examples of how we can create positive goals instead of punitive ones.  Let’s say we want to spend less time on our electronic devices, social media, tv, etc. If that is our resolution, we are likely to go through withdrawal, experience FOMO (fear of missing out, especially in these politically charged times). But instead, what if our goal was to add activities such as going to more museums, plays, concerts, yoga and dance classes, walks in the park?  We reward ourselves with these positive lifestyle changes and as a secondary consequence, it is likely our screen time will diminish without any feelings of deprivation or loss.  So in this 2019th year, let’s ask ourselves what we would like to add into our lives that makes us feel inspired, excited, healthy, and optimistic!  What are the things we experience that uplift us and what do we find energetically draining?  Take some time to create two lists noting this, and after a week or so of adding to the lists, reflect upon the answers. Can we find a way to nourish ourselves by increasing the things we now explicitly see uplift us?  Now, that’s a New Year’s resolution I can make and stick with! 
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     WINTER TAI CHI EASY & CHAIR YOGA CLASSES:

I hope to see you this Monday night at our first Tai Chi Easy™ and Chair Yoga class of the Winter semester at Integral Yoga Institute.  The chilly Winter season is a time when it is tempting to hibernate in one’s abode, but is important to continue to support the immune system with gentle movement, energy work, and self-care techniques. Our practice will include all of the above, as we warm up, strengthen and stretch the body with Chair Yoga exercises, standing balancing poses (optional use of the chair for support), Tai Chi Easy™ weight shifting and walking for balance and coordination, and Qigong energy cultivation.  Class ends with an extended yoga nidra deep relaxation and guided meditation to refresh the body and spirit. This class, formerly called “Chair Chi & Prana“, is accessible to all ages and levels.  Please wear or bring traction socks (like pilates or Barre socks).  

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Additionally this Friday morning, we continue my Fall/Winter Tai Chi Easy™  telephone course with the “University Without Walls” Dorot for Seniors program.  I love teaching this course as it brings the benefits of seated qigongmeditation, and breathwork to those who cannot attend in-person classes. This is now our fifth semester of our teleclass, and I have found that distance is no obstacle to having a profound group and individual experience.  Written materials are provided in advance of the class (included my teacher’s book “The Healer Within” by Dr. Roger Jahnke), and each session is devoted to reading and discussing the materials, alternating with experiential movement and guided meditations.  Please call Dorot to sign up, and for a catalog.  No prior experience is necessary!  In general, Dorot’s University Without Walls is a wonderful resource for telephone learning and community-building, and their courses cover a myriad of topics.  If you know someone who can benefit from at home learning, please share this wonderful resource! http:// http://www.dorotusa.org/site/DocServer/UWW_Spring_Summer_2018_Catalog.pdf

January 2018 Qigong & Yoga Classes; Simplification for the New Year

Happy 2018 to you all.  Let’s hope that the New Year is filled with more positivity and peace than the preceding year, and that we all find the tools uniquely helpful for each one of us to best navigate these complicated times with ease, clarity, and a lightness of spirit.


Mexico Sunset 2018 by Melissa Elstein

My personal mantra for the new year is to “simplify” – to streamline and declutter my internal and external spaces.  With our 24/7 information age, social media threads to infinity, email demands, online petitions, etc., it just seems as if we cannot keep up with the onslaught of news, requests to act, donate, join, resist, and other pulls for our attention.  If you are a caring person, it can feel overwhelming as there are so many worthy causes and too little time.  The problems of the vast world can seem so much closer and more personal these days as we view them in our handheld gadgets at all possible moments.  Unlike the days of my childhood, the tv does not turn to gray static once the late news has ended.  There is no end to the news. Last year, many of us sought more and more information to find understanding of what has been unfathomable.  We endlessly clicked, to assuage our anxiety with the false belief that the more we knew, the better we would feel.  Or maybe that was just me.  In any event, I found that game plan does not work so well.  The news keeps coming, whether I tune in or not – and the results are still beyond my control.  So to simplify my life this year, without hiding my head in the sand (though at times, that would seem heavenly) will be a learning process and a goal.  Creating healthy boundaries of what and how much we take in from our external environment, allows more time and space to nurture our own personal inner environment – and that is just as real and important as any headline or breaking news story.  As with so many spiritual lessons, it’s all about finding balance.

And speaking of balance, our next Chair Chi and Prana class will be held this Monday night, January 22 at Integral Yoga.  This unique fusion class helps increase our vitality, and improve balance and coordination by combining Chair Yoga, Qigong, and Tai Chi Easy™ walking. Seated and standing Yoga poses strengthen and stretch the body, gentle and flowing Qigong movements enhance one’s life force energy, and Tai Chi walking increases balance.  These practices are a moving meditation that calm the nervous system, focus the mind, and are accessible to all bodies and ages.  We end class with a long savasana and yoga nidra (deep relaxation) to fully relax and absorb the benefits of our practices.  All levels are welcome!

Here is a wonderful short article written by a psychiatrist on how tai chi class has benefited her:  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/denise-nagel-md/health-benefits-of-tai-ch_b_7641712.html

Additionally, I am so pleased to be again teaching a telephone class for the Dorot Center for Seniors “University Without Walls” that brings the benefits of seated qigong, meditation, and breathwork to those who cannot attend in-person classes. This is now our fifth semester of our teleclass, and I have found that distance is no obstacle to having a profound group and individual experience.  Written materials are provided in advance of the class, and each session is devoted to reading and discussing the materials, alternating with experiential movement and guided meditations.  We will continue with this course throughout 2018, so please call Dorot to sign up, or for a catalog.  No prior experience is necessary!  In general, Dorot’s University Without Walls is a wonderful resource for telephone learning and community-building, and their courses cover a myriad of topics.  Please help spread the word about this wonderful resource! http:// http://www.dorotusa.org/site/DocServer/UWW_Spring_Summer_2018_Catalog.pdf

February Schedule; Thoughts for Turbulent Times

Wishing everyone a February filled with Valentine’s Day love all month – love for one another, for our country, for our planet!

During this turbulent political time, cultivating love may be more challenging than before, or you may be finding the opposite – that the more some (those who will not be named here) espouse hate and separatism, the more you are seeking and finding love and harmony.  For me, joining with others in peaceful protest and community organizing (as well as teaching and taking movement and spiritual classes), makes me feel more connected to others and more positive about the future.  Even though I highly value solitude and my peaceful walks in Central Park, sharing my feelings with others has been an important tool for support. After just two weeks of a new “presidency”, most of the people I know (including myself) are aghast, petrified, depressed, anxious, embarrassed for our country, fearful for our democracy, and desperately wishing that we are going to wake up from this horrible situation to find that it was all a nightmare in our dreams.

So how do we deal with this unique time in our history?  How do we stay involved but also protect and nourish ourselves, our health and sanity in the process?  How do we not burn out?  To be honest, a part of me since the inauguration, is already feeling exhausted and burnt out.  In part, because I was already doing so much organizing and environmental protesting during the last 10 years, and I felt like we had made progress. Then the election happened, and it feels like there will be a huge concrete wall (no pun intended) blocking any more progress.  I know we are currently facing enormous obstacles towards making progress on not just environmental issues, but every issue I care about from human rights, rights to a living wage, money out of politics, animal welfare, education, gun control, free internet, voting rights, separation of church and state, ending gerrymandering, income inequality, corruption, corporate greed, government transparency, criminal justice, the Supreme Court, and the list goes on and on.  It honestly feels overwhelming and we are just two weeks in.

During this time of transition, I have felt so much compassion for those who have lived or are currently living under even more challenging political situations.  For my generation of Americans who have not been overseas fighting in the Irag or Afghanistan wars, we have not had the experience of living in such uncertain and stressful times – unlike our recent ancestors who experienced the World Wars and the turbulence of the 60s. If we were born here, we have not lived under dictatorships, strong men or military regimes. We have not experienced life under a repressive system, such as North Korea’s. We have not lived through coup d’etats. I cannot even imagine the stress and fear that citizens under those types of political situations must suffer.  I know that those of us fearful of losing our democratic system here in the US are seeing warning signs under this new administration, and we feel that we are literally fighting for our country, and more globally for the environmental health of the planet and the prevention of nuclear war.  And that feels heavy, depressing, and infuriating – especially given that we are such a technologically advanced society and yet, in the year 2017 that we are still having to fight against greed, hate, power-mongering, and short-sighted visions.  All the qualities specifically listed in the ancient yoga sutras’ yamas.

So these are the thoughts and feelings I have been experiencing the last two weeks.  I hope you will appreciate my honesty and my openness about my inner struggles at this time. What are some of the things that have lifted me from my despair?  Joining with others in solidarity, humor (thankfully, we have so many genius comedians/ennes), movement (from yoga, dance, qigong, running/walking in the park), being with open young children who are still not yet conditioned by society, petting a dog, listening to beautiful classical music, attending the theater, gentle bodywork, aromatherapy, and yes, probably having a little more wine, chips, and dark chocolate these days.  But maybe most importantly, is having the belief that this is a historic international moment and movement that perhaps needed to occur to truly awaken us. That not only are we witnessing history, we are also co-creating it.  And in that, we have power. How will we each co-create our present and our future is individualized.  But my intention is to not be an angry activist, even though I do have a lot of anger at the situation and injustices I observe. But if I can channel that anger and that despair into fighting for what I believe in with positivity and good energy, I think that will ultimately be more helpful for myself and for others.

Towards those goals, I hope to, in addition to continuing to march and engage in community work, create and host vision board and manifestation circles. Please email me back if you are interested in this as well, and we can organize one hopefully soon.  This would be a group of us creating visual representations of how we each envision a positive future. I believe it would be a very powerful and uplifting event.

January 2017 Yoga Schedule and Post Election Satsang Sharing Circle

Wishing everyone a peaceful and healthy New Year, and hoping you had joyful holidays.

This past year’s Christmas and Hanukkah were celebrated on the same day – an event that had not occurred in 40 years!  Let us hope that is a good sign for more tolerance and harmony in the world for 2017.

I was raised celebrating all the main Jewish and Christian holidays (of course, loving all the extra gifts). But now as an adult, I appreciate having been exposed at a young age to many holidays and traditions. I was also raised in Teaneck, NJ after my parents moved from NYC when I was a toddler.  My town was a true melting pot of ethnicities and races, and I believe was the first town to voluntarily desegregate its’ schools. When I look at my old class photos, I am amazed at how diverse my class truly was.  We just accepted it as normal, and I do not remember any racial issues or religious intolerance between the young students. Looking back at that formative time of my life, I also appreciate that positive exposure to inclusivity and believe that early exposure to differences is key to tolerance, acceptance, and racial harmony.

As a young ballet dancer in NYC, I was further exposed to students with different sexual orientations and that broadened my horizons as well.  When we have friends who some people label as “the other”, we see beyond those externals and to the true inner selves. It is harder to generalize and rely only on unfair stereotypes, when we know the humanness of the individual beyond the color of skin, beyond whatever god that is being worshiped or not, and one’s sexual orientation.  It is not to say that we are completely immune to internalizing some cultural and media-influenced stereotypes, but hopefully our self-awareness cultivated through our meditative and psychological practices allows us to examine those negative thoughts or feelings, and release them without acting upon them.  I am grateful to have lived my entire life in the northeast of America where I have worked and socialized with the world’s multicultural human rainbow.

Many of us are thinking about these issues of inclusion versus discrimination, love versus hate, peace versus violence after what can be described as a depressing and base election season (I believe, a true low point in this great country’s history).  January 2017 will mark the end of our first African American President’s two terms, and I can remember the excitement and pride I felt 8 years ago watching President Obama being sworn in to office.  This month also ushers in a new president and administration, and with any major changes, anxiety and stress may ensue; especially given the tenor and tone of the campaign.

As such, my friend and fellow yoga teacher Deborah Quilter and I are hosting an evening of sharing.  You are invited to a yoga “Satsang” on Thursday evening January 12th where we can share our responses to the 2016 election and our hopes for 2017. This will be a sharing circle where we will create a safe, non-judgmental space for all opinions and feelings. As such, we all will participate in non-partisan political way, and as open-minded yoga practitioners.  We will come together for an evening of chanting, sharing, and support. We thank Integral Yoga Institute for ​providing space for our Satsang! If you know anyone who would like to join us, please pass this invitation along to them, but please let us know who will be attending. This is a free event as IYI is generously donating the room for the event, and Deborah and I are volunteering (“karma yoga”).  However, IYI will accept donations for their continued mission of being an oasis of peace and yoga. We look forward to seeing you on January 12!

December Yoga Schedule; Post-Election

Wishing everyone a peaceful and healthy holiday season!  This beautiful white bird landed on my terrace Thanksgiving Day, and this is the first time in 16 years we have had such a bird come visit us.  This month’s Really Simple magazine also caught my eye while waiting for the subway to Integral Yoga, and so I hope these symbols of peace are prophetic for all of us!

I have seen many, but not all of you, since the Presidential election results in the beginning of November.  For those of us who voted for a candidate who did not win the election, it has been an extremely emotional and challenging time.  Many, including myself, observed that NYC felt as depressed, shocked and traumatized after Trump won as it felt on 9/11. NYC was eerily silent after both of these game-changing life events. Just as after September 11, 2001, we will find ways to move forward by processing the events, digesting emotions, gathering with others, sharing feelings and thoughts, creating coping plans, and cycling through the cycles of grief over and over.  Joining others in dialogue as well as in healing circles, movement classes, protests, prayer gatherings, and meditation groups can be very therapeutic and each of us will find the best way to meet our own unique needs during these turbulent times. For me personally, I am finding it uplifting to be with others at this time, and that includes an all-of–the above approach: yoga and dance classes, human and environmental-rights affirming marches and street gatherings, dinner conversation, lectures and town halls, and organizing meetings. For each one of us, it will be individualized – there is no one recipe and there is no time limit. What is feeding your spirit and soothing your soul at this stressful time?  I would love to hear!


(Gathering in Support of the Water Protectors at North Dakota’s Standing Rock just as the Army Corps of Engineers Withdrew the Oil Pipeline Easement Today!)

Last month, NY1 did a profile of my Chair Yoga teaching and volunteer community work on the UWS of Manhattan, and I was very flattered to be profiled by one of my favorite news channels!  The 2-minute clip is linked below.  The final segment was edited down from 5 hours of me being interviewed and filmed by the lovely reporter Michael Scotto (who by the way, does his own filming, interviewing and editing – impressive!).  Let me know what you think:
http://www.ny1.com/nyc/manhattan/news/2016/10/12/manhattan-week–the-mayor-of-the-upper-west-side-uses-her-green-thumb-to-keep-the-neighborhood-serene.html

If you appreciate my community work efforts and would like to contribute, I would be most appreciative! My all-volunteer neighborhood organization is a 501 c3 organization, and so donations are tax-deductible! We rely fully on contributions to continue our work seeking to create a cleaner and greener NY!  Please go to http://www.west80s.org  to make donations, or to see more about community work.  Thanks for your consideration!

Happy 2016, and Setting Daily Intentions Rather Than New Year’s Resolutions

Wishing everyone a peaceful, happy and healthy New Year!

I am away this last week in December 2015, and will be taking a writing course New Year’s weekend at Kripalu Yoga Center in the Berkshires. Hopefully, I will learn how to deal most effectively with writer’s block and procrastination – traits I have been experiencing since college and law school! Can anyone else relate to these issues?

In part, I believe that for me, both writer’s block and procrastination stem from old, deep-rooted patterns of perfectionistic goals – ideals which of course, run counter to all that is taught in yoga; i.e., that the journey is more important than the result; that yoga is an exploration of the self, and not a perfect pose (“asana”); that we value the means, over the ends; and as the Bhagavad Gita teaches, it is the integrity of the process that is most important, and thus to let go of attachments to the outcome.

If you, like me, were raised in a traditional Western upbringing, these concepts are antithetical to messages we received at both home and school. Westerners tend to be very results and achievement oriented. I came from that type of background, coupled with the perfectionistic standards of a professional ballet training from a young age.

When I first read the Gita (Eknath Easwaran’s edition) in my first ever yoga teacher training, it was life-changing. I was amazed at how the concepts written about thousands of years ago, still directly applied to our lives in the the 21st Century. I still have to remind myself that staying in the present moment and enjoying the process, as well as valuing the process, is paramount.

Results cannot be controlled, as they are often beyond our mortal individual powers. But we can have control over the integrity of the process, and then let go of attachments to outcomes. Speaking and acting from a center of truth (“satya”) in seeking an environment that is just, peaceful, and non-violent (“ahimsa”) for all is a yogic ideal; we don’t know if that ideal will ever manifest in our lifetimes, yet that unknown does not negate the importance of those sattvic actions and state of being.

Many people create New Year’s resolutions, but often finding they are unable to fulfill those resolutions, become disappointed with themselves. Resolutions tend to be overly ambitious and focused on an unrealistic result, rather than small, step-by-step intermediary goals.

Before teaching the asana portion of all my yoga classes, I like to offer students and myself the opportunity to set an intention for the yoga practice, the day, or further out in time. In this type of practice, we are basically setting mini-resolutions throughout the year that are practical, timely, and manageable. Maybe they are attainable, maybe they are not. The important thing is setting that intention, breathing into it, and then letting go of the attachment to the result.

If we do this type of practice throughout the year, I believe it obviates the need or desire to set unattainable New Year’s resolutions, such as “I will never procrastinate with my writing ever again.” Once a year resolutions that set us up for failure and disappointment may not serve a useful purpose; instead having an intentional daily or weekly practice throughout the year helps us focus on the process over results.

With that in mind, wishing you all the very best for 2016! May we continue to teach one another life’s myriad lessons and support one another in the process!

Nutcracker Ballet Arts