Archive for Nature

Finding Peace During Stressful Times (Pandemic, Election) Through Nature & Sacred Activism

Dear Friends and Family,

I hope this post finds you safe and well, and finding some peace and tranquility in the midst of these surreal, intense times. If a novelist wrote a book about what we are experiencing, critics would say it was too unbelievable. No wonder we are charged up, yet simultaneously exhausted. It seems every day, moment by moment, breaking news about politics, the election, the pandemic, the environment and climate, gets more distressing and anxiety-provoking.

And yet, we can, and hopefully do, experience moments of transcendence during our days during our spiritual and artistic practices, walking in nature and parks, listening to beautiful music, observing flowers and  plants, watching the sun set and the full moon rise, connecting with loved ones, joining with others towards a mutual goal, and many more ways. 

I always find it amazing that we can experience seemingly contradictory emotions during stressful times. However, it is a reminder of how multifaceted we are, and that situations are more fluent than we may realize. During challenging times, it helps to realize how resilient we truly are.     
Photo by Melissa Elstein
In terms of finding a more spiritual perspective even for our country’s upcoming election (which is a stress trigger for me), I have found the courses and meditations by David Nicol, a sacred activism author and teacher, very helpful. I have signed up for a daily meditation that arrives in my email box from entitled “May Wisdom Prevail in the USA”. Click here to join in these beautiful, transcendent meditations.

April Schedule; Earth Day “Bag It” Screening & Plastic Pollution

I am away on vacation April 12 – 17, traveling to the beautiful red rock area of Sedona, AZ.  Hoping to have deep and transcendent meditations in some of the area’s world-famous vortexes while hiking. We shall see!  I am open to the possibilities.

Friday, April 22 is Earth Day 2016, and I would like to invite you to an environmental event I am co-hosting that afternoon. See flyer and links below. Yoga means “union” in Sanskrit, and union can be defined many ways, such as the union of mind, body, spirit when we practice yoga and qigong.  But I view union also as our connection to one another, the planet, and all the planet’s inhabitants.  My personal belief is that practicing yoga extends way beyond the mat (in fact, that is generally the least amount of time we may be practicing yoga). The true practice of yoga is how we consciously engage with one another and the planet that is our home and source of life.  As such, my community work is very much a yogic practice to me; it is my karma yoga (volunteer work or selfless service).  I see a direct relationship between my teaching and practicing yoga and my lifestyle choices, and that includes trying to make environmentally-friendly choices as much as I can – such as refusing to use single-use throwaway plastics like plastic bags and bottles (and that includes no longer buying those “healthy” ready-made green juices that come in plastic bottles, and of course not buying plastic water bottles).

One of the documentaries that inspired me to make these personal lifestyle changes is “Bag It”. Because it is so profound, my neighborhood association is showing the 45-minute version of “Bag It“, followed by a panel, and audience Q and A on Earth Day 2016!  Please join us to learn about  the alarming environmental issue of plastics in our oceans and the health implications to ourselves and the planet, as well as our economies – and what we can all do to confront this growing problem, and turn the current disastrous trend around.  The event will end with a free raffle drawing during which we will give away eco-friendly bags and other prizes! This event is family friendly and is co-hosted by the environmental club of the Trevor Day School, so it is perfect for all ages!See   Please feel free to share this email and Facebook Event widely!

Some sobering facts about plastic:

Did you know it costs NYC approximately $ 10 million per year to transport our single-use throwaway plastic bags to landfills each year, and that New Yorkers use over 5 million plastic bags each year – the majority of which are not recycled.  We have all seen plastic bags stuck in our street trees, clogging storm and sewage drains, and being washed out to our waterways; this creates visual urban blight, harm to animals and marine-life, and contamination of our food system.

A recent local study found that there are at least 165 million particles of plastic floating in the waters surrounding NYC at any given time.  See
It is estimated that by 2050 if we do not reduce our reliance on fossil-fuel based plastics, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

Find out more about what we can all do locally about this alarming global pollution issue, and learn about the status of NYC’s pending carryout bag legislation by attending my Earth Day event!  See also

Travels to LA

I wrote this blog post from California, where I spent a week on vacation visiting family and friends – most of whom have relocated here from back East.  It always interesting to travel and see the differences in cultures and lifestyles, and given the vast expanse and diversity of the United States, we don’t even have to travel abroad to experience this.

One of my favorite things to do when I first arrive somewhere is to go for a walk or jog, and sightsee along the way.  Especially if I have been on long flight, a walk outdoors seems to reset my body and psyche.  As a New Yorker, I am accustomed to walking a lot during the day, and almost daily leave extra time in my commuting schedule in order to walk through the park as part of my commute before hopping on the subway.  We New Yorkers probably don’t even realize how much extra walking and subway stair climbing we do as we make our daily commute and errands around town.  Many health and fitness coaches recommend using a pedometer or smart watch to record steps taken each day, and it would be an interesting study to compare averages between urban dwellers and those living in the country or suburbs. (Maybe someone has already done this….).

In LA, it is definitely a car culture as everything is very spread out.  Yet, given that the weather is so conducive to being outside many people hike the canyons on a daily basis – even if they have to drive back and forth to do so!  Last time I was here, I enjoyed hiking Runyon Canyon very much, and we enjoyed that hike again.  It is so important for urban dwellers, whether we are on the East or West Coast, to find those pockets of nature on a regular basis.  One never knows what interesting sights will be experienced, and each outdoor walk or run is always very different from the last – especially if we stay focused in the present moment, as our yogic and spiritual practices teach us.

LA tree

Saying hi, mid-run, to an amazing tree in Beverly Hills Park.

September 2015; Benefits of Nature

I hope you had a wonderful Labor Day weekend!

I write this newsletter at the end of a wonderful 2-week vacation in the Berkshires mountains in Western Massachusetts. We were fortunate with the weather and I was able to walk/ jog almost every day outside surrounded by a forest of beautiful trees, listening to the sounds of nature – from the wind rustling the leaves to the hum of the Summer insects, and the bird calls. Nature is endlessly fascinating, and I often stop to view interesting sights along the road, such as turkey feathers, rock formations, berries, apples (growing in great abundance this year), dragonflies, butterflies, and other constantly changing beautiful images before my eyes. (Ironically, this year we saw our first Berkshire bald eagle – but it was diving for food along a busy road and not in the forest. But it was quite the sight, and we were awe-inspired by its’ wing-span and by the fact that we now know there are bald eagles up here, which is a great sign). Stretching on the deck after my wanderings while looking at the blue Summer sky and green trees was so relaxing and invigorating at the same time. A great setting to do deep yoga breathing!

Recently, more studies have come out about the benefits of being in Nature – such as the lowering of blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol, reducing feelings of stress, hostility and depression, increasing circulation and improving sleep patterns. In fact, in Japan, walking in their many forests is prescribed by doctors and is called “Forest Bathing” or “Shinrin-Yoku”. There is a fairly recent book on this topic: “Your Brain on Nature – The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality” by Eva Selhub, MD and Alan Logan, ND – but most of us don’t need to read a whole book to know what feels intuitively beneficial to us.
So what to do if we are urban dwellers? Well, as often as I can, I make time in my commuting schedule to walk through Central Park on the bridal path, or end the day by getting into the park. We are lucky that we have a lot of NYC parks (even smaller ones are helpful, such as the charming park near Integral Yoga on Hudson and 13th Street). Spend some time each day disconnecting from technology, and bathing in Nature. Bring plants into your apartment, and meditate on their beauty and health benefits. Of course, if you can get into a local forest on the weekends, like in Harriman State Park, that is wonderful too! (There are trains from Penn Station that get to Tuxedo, NY in less than 1 hour.) Wherever is convenient, reap the benefits of walking in Nature, hugging a tree, doing legs up a tree, and combining your spiritual practices with the natural outdoors! I would like to be able to lead yoga and qigong retreats in natural settings in the near future, so stay tuned! I will set that intention, and hopefully it will manifest.

Sunset trees

Sunset Halo Through Forest by Melissa Elstein c 2015

July 2015 – Personal Independence & Freedom

Wishing everyone a Happy 4th of July, and that you enjoy a safe and relaxing holiday weekend!

In thinking about what personal freedom means, aside from political freedom, I believe that the yogic principles directly apply. In yoga and other spiritual practices, we seek to undo the layers and layers of conditioning that bind us to repetitive thinking and habits. That conditioning mostly comes from our family environment, and even if our caretakers have wonderful intentions, we as little child sponges do soak up the norms, behaviors, and viewpoints of our family environment. Later, as we age, we also become conditioned by society – our friends, schools, media, etc. We continue through our lifetime to be exposed and conditioned by that which surrounds us. Though, as we age and mature, we begin to notice and perhaps question these outside influences. We can become more discerning and notice the effects of our family and societal influences on our selves. In our spiritual practices, we seek a liberation from these external influences so we can at least glimpse who we really are under all those conditions layers. Many of us have had moments, fleeting as they may be, of such peak transcendent experiences. Those moments are glimpses into who we really are – our true essence. For me, the more I can connect to the unconditioned self, my spirit or soul, the more I feel free and at peace. The paths to these momentary awakenings can be varied – yoga and meditation, qigong and tai chi, dancing, walking in nature, chanting, praying, jogging, being with animals or children, listening to music, connecting to art, and many more possibilities. When have you experienced this type of personal freedom?

Also, my wonderful Tai Chi Easy teacher, Roger Jahnke, OMD, will be teaching July 9 – 12 at The Open Center! Many of you have asked about studying this form of tai chi and qigong, and now is your opportunity. Thursday night, July 9 is the free intro and Friday – Sunday is his training. I highly recommend studying with Dr. Jahnke! Check out for more info.

June 2015 – Love Your Tree Day

Last month, my neighborhood group (in conjunction with other non-profits, local businesses, the community board, and my city council member) organized two community events regarding the importance of NYC street trees and a neighborhood tree bed cleanup day. We had noticed how unkempt many of our UWS sidewalk tree beds were after the long, rough Winter. Our community outreach aimed to gather residents, businesses, schools and students to “adopt” trees, and to help clean out the litter, cigarettes, dog waste, and to add mulch, till or cultivate the soil, and in some cases plant flowers and add “curb your dog” signs. Here is my article on our successful “Love Your Tree Day” events:

With NYC Parks Department employees, New York City Council Member Helen Rosenthal and her Community Liasion Jason Harding, Cheryl Blaylock of Trees NY, and Kim Johnson of Curb Allure tree guards:

April 2015 – Love Your NYC Tree Day Events

I hope you are enjoying these beautiful Spring days!  What a delight it is after our very long and chilly Winter. I am having Spring fever, and this is the ideal time for my neighborhood association’s upcoming NYC Tree Care events!  As many of you know, I spend much of my time on community work, and, like teaching, find it very rewarding.  Last year, I got certified as a “Citizen Pruner” by Trees NY, and loved the course.  It opened my eyes to the importance of our city trees and the condition of their tree beds/ soil (sadly, many are neglected or polluted resulting in challenging living conditions for our trees).

If you would like to learn more about my community group – The West 80s Neighborhood Association ( )– and our work with neighborhood beautification and sidewalk tree care, please attend our first ever “Love Your Tree Day” events:  on April 30th, an educational and fun kick-off event with raffle regarding the proper care of NYC street trees and their community benefits, the issue of rats in tree beds, and the tree census.  Then on May 2, our first W. 80s neighborhood-wide street tree clean-up, beautification and tree adoption outreach day.   This is a historic collaboration of community groups and volunteers, non-profit organizations, local businesses, government agencies, schools, residents, our community board, and co-sponsored by my NYC Council Member.  (See our flyer below and attached for more details and for the full list of organizers and sponsors, thus far).

In addition to attending our kick-off party on Thursday night, April 30, we are also seeking participants for the May 2nd street tree clean-up and beautification.   This link will take you to the sign-up for both events:   When you come to the May 2nd kick-off at Helen’s office at 11 am, you will get a free tree care goodie bag, with a beautiful curb your dog sign – as long as supplies last.

We have noticed how neglected our street trees were this snowy Winter, and that the sidewalks and tree beds remain strewn with litter, so let’s join together and help beautify our beloved UWS in a fun community event, and help our valuable street trees in the process! We believe these events can easily be replicated in other NYC neighborhoods by other groups, and that is our hope!  Please help us bring awareness to this issue, and see attached flyer for more information.  Thanks!

Kim Johnson-Helen Rosenthal-AD-8.5x11-EMAIL

Why this yogi is marching in the People’s Climate March

Hi everyone,

I have created a Yoga and Spirituality Hub on the People’s Climate March website for
Yogis and spiritual seekers – let’s join together to create the high vibration “Yoga & Spirituality Contingent” at the planet’s first ever People’s Climate March this September 21 in NYC!

One of the main tenets of yoga is ahimsa – the practice of non-violence and non-harming.  For thousands of years, yogis and spiritual seekers have studied and followed this ethical principle.   As present-day yoga and spiritual practitioners, we continue to study and shape our lives based on ahimsa. Because we understand that the material and spiritual worlds, mind and matter, are connected, we seek non-violence not only in our actions, but also in our words and thoughts. We seek to live in harmonious alignment with one another and Nature.

As such, we cannot ignore the great harms being inflicted upon the Earth and our fellow sentient beings (whether they are personally known to us or not) as a result of man-made climate change. Such harms include the loss of human, animal, and marine lives, as well as damage to property, due to extreme weather patterns, super storms, drought, floods, fires, receding glaciers, and the rising levels and acidification of the oceans.

Climate change is linked to the Industrial Age – present day increase of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, which is linked to industrialization and the burning of fossil fuels. Many extreme methods are currently being used to extract such fossil fuels from the Earth. Such extreme energy extraction practices include explosive mountain-top removal for coal; “fracking” for methane gas by exploding chemicals, sand and our precious fresh-water into shale rock; and tar sands oil mining.  Drilling by-products, such as toxic frack waste water, are injected deep into the earth through injection drilling wells – linked to toxic water contamination and earthquakes.  These methods are acts of violence against the Earth, and clearly not in harmony with the natural world.

Yoga means “union” and “to join” in Sanskrit. Yogis recognize the underlying unity of life on Earth.  When leaking gas and oil wells pollute groundwater, contaminate farms, and poison animals, we are all harmed.  When an oil rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, an oil tanker sinks in Alaska, or a gas well leaks methane and chemicals into a Pennsylvania farmer’s water well, we are all negatively affected – no matter how far we may be living from those communities’ devastation. This is because we see one’s Self in all beings, and we feel compassion for the suffering of others.

And so, at this pivotal time in history, we are called to protect Mother Earth through our karma yoga or seva– compassionate, selfless service to others and the common good.  By volunteering and joining the People’s Climate March, we are joining a movement and a cause greater than ourselves.  With consciousness and compassion for all, we seek to spread the principles of non-violence to the planet.  We seek a sustainable and safe energy policy from our governments, the United Nations, and countries all over the world.  And we seek a life-sustaining society for ourselves and for future generations.

Our current way of life and corporate-influenced government energy policies are no longer life-sustaining. The rapid clear cutting of our forests, and the slashing and burning of our planet’s rainforests are resulting in the rapid loss of our Earth’s “lungs” and the mass extinction of species.  Our planet’s pollinators – bees, Monarch butterflies, birds and bats are currently being threatened and dying off.  Water sources are polluted by man-made toxins and chemicals – many a by-product of the fossil-fuel industry’s extraction practices. There is rapid depletion of our natural resources, leading to population displacement, starvation, and wars. Agricultural areas are reduced. Plastic debris (made from oil and gas) pollutes our oceans. Island nations are at risk due to rising sea levels. Carcinogens, such as benzene, and other volatile organic compounds pollute the air near fracking sites, causing major health issues and emotional trauma.

Because we understand the interconnectedness of life, we cannot accept this devastation to our planet as the status quo. We know this is the time of a global shift in consciousness: the understanding that all is one, and everything is connected. We see that science is beginning to support spirituality in that regard, and vice versa.

So on this historic day, we come from spiritual centers, sanghas, and yoga studios all over the world in defense of Mother Earth and all her inhabitants.  We yogis and spiritual seekers will gather mindfully and peacefully in New York City, focusing our energies together in seeking an enlightened future!

This is the spiritual revolution of our generation. The evolutionary shift has begun. Let’s join together September 21, 2014, and take our spiritual practice off the yoga mats and meditation cushions and bring it to the People’s Climate March!

May the light of all truth overcome all darkness; may the Universe be filled with peace, joy, love, and light – Jai!

Melissa “Mati” Elstein
Good Energy Movement and Wellness
Aug. 19, 2014