Archive for 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

September 2017 Classes; Eclipse and Yoga; Adult Ballet; Self-Care Sabbatical

Hi friends and family,

I hope you are enjoying the last couple of weeks of August, whether you are on vacation or back at work. Maybe you had the opportunity to watch the solar eclipse today.  Although those of us in NYC did not have the total eclipse other parts of the country experienced, it was still pretty exciting watching NASA TV, observing the amazing eclipse effects and the excitement of the crowds and scientists. Were you aware that “hatha” yoga actually means sun-moon?  In other words, hatha yoga is the balance of the masculine energies within ourselves with the feminine.  This is an individualized personal assessment for each practitioner to explore. Similarly, tai chi state is the balance of the yang with the yin energies. Achieving that energetic balance in our yoga and tai chi/ qigong practices will be different for everyone, and will likely differ with each personal practice as well. So when we design our practice, or take group classes, we ideally want that balance of effort and ease, stability and mobility, rigor and rest, energetic and relaxation. These principles as well shall be applied both on and off the mat, so that we don’t suffer burnout or physical strain yet we do not become lazy or complacent – in our exercise and in our lives. Seeking balance, or the middle ground, is the heart of so many spiritual practices (even though we often observe how that middle ground is usurped by fundamentalism and extremes).  So it is our own quest to continually seek and find balance, knowing that there is no end result but rather a lifetime practice.  Enjoy the process, keep an open mind, and be non-critical to one’s self (ahimsa).

Speaking of balance, I am also making some yoga class schedule changes starting this month.   As many of you know, this past year has been a challenge for me and my family, as my father has been dealing with various health issues that have necessitated numerous trips to the ER, hospital stays, and doctor visits. He has been rising to each medical challenge with a level of determination that is admirable and I hope he continues to fight to regain his strength and health. However, the number of doctor visits and specialists has grown and it has been challenging for me to coordinate all those appointments around my daytime class teaching schedule. Truth be told, it has also been emotionally and physically exhausting, and I am listening to my inner guidance which is telling me to slow down and take time for myself and my family.

As such, I am taking a 4-month sabbatical (September – December) from my weekly daytime yoga classes.

My dear friend and fellow Integral Yoga teacher, Nobue Jaya, will be teaching the Monday morning Chair Yoga class at Dorot.   Many of you already know and love her classes, as Nobue has been teaching at Dorot’s Memory Tree program for a while. You are in lovely and capable hands with Nobue!

Jessica, who already teaches Core Yoga at UWS Yoga and Wellness, will teach both the Tuesday and Thursday Core Strength Hatha 1 Yogaat noon. I know that many of you already take both my Tuesday class and Jessica’s Thursday class, so again you are in capable and lovely hands with Jessica!

My Chair Chi and Prana class will be held during this sabbatical period on three Monday nights (Sept. 25, Oct. 30, and Nov. 27) instead of weekly during the daytime. It will also now be 1.5 hours so we will have time for a longer savasana and yoga nidra (deep relaxation). I hope that you will appreciate this enhanced version of this fusion class! If this new time slot goes well, we will likely add a December date too.

During my sabbatical, I will continue to be on the sub list (so for example, I will be teaching Core Strength Yoga on Tue. Sept. 12 at noon at UWS Yoga and Wellness).

I trust you will all understand my situation, and my need for a bit more space (“sukkha”) in my life due to changed family circumstances. Since I plan to sub, I will notify you when I sub, and hope to see you in class on those occasions. I also know we will stay in touch via emails, and perhaps by getting together in person.

I hope you know this change is not a reflection of my feelings towards any of you. But rather, a needed self-care adjustment to support my and my father’s well-being.  Please email me any questions, concerns, and thoughts.

Adult ballet classes this month:  Additionally, my ballet mentor Finis Jhung will be having surgery early September, and so I will be helping to sub his adult ballet classes at the Alvin Ailey Extension School. These classes are open to the public and to adult beginners.  If you have had dance experience, you can take either the basic or beginner class, and if you are a brand new beginner, please take the basic class. I hope to see you in ballet class, and please join me in sending ballet master Finis Jhung healing energies for his surgery and a quick and full recovery!

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.

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!

August 2016 Schedule

Happy August!  After the recent heat wave (or “dome” as the newscasters labeled it), it feels as if we have already been in the midst of August, and yet, there are likely more hot and humid NYC days still before us.  So please stay hydrated, especially after yoga or dance classes or working out.  To help me remember to drink more water during these Summer days, I have been adding fruit slices, such as oranges, lemon and lime into my reusable water bottle and it is much more refreshing and flavorful than plain water.  Other nice additions are watermelon and cucumber slices – very cooling!  Berries can be added too. Be creative!  But please use a reusable water bottle made from glass or steel, and try to avoid all plastic bottles for your health and the health of the planet! Please see:  https://www.banthebottle.net/bottled-water-facts/

Some scheduling notes this month: I will be on vacation, the last week of August through Labor Day, so please see the side bar for my August teaching dates.  Also, on Sunday, August 7, I am teaching two ballet classes at Alvin Ailey Extension – subbing for my teacher, Finis Jhung.  For brand new beginners (no experience necessary), the 12 noon class is ideal.  For those of you with ballet experience, you can take the 12 noon class if you want a great refresher on the basics and an opportunity to really feel your muscles work, and/or the 2 pm class as well – which moves faster, includes turns and more center work off the barre. Sometimes, I take both classes in a row, and it a great combo to solidify one’s technique and build strength.  Please email me any questions!

If you are interested in learning Tai Chi Easy™ and Qigong from my first teacher, Roger Jahnke, OMD, he will be teaching at Kripalu in the Berkshires this month!  I highly recommend studying with him, and if you take my classes where I blend in Tai Chi Easy™ with yoga, you will recognize some of the healing movements.  This would be a way to deepen your practice and learn from the tai chi master himself!  See http://www.kripalu.org
August 19 – 21: Public Workshop: Portal to Happiness, Healing and Inner Peace – Awaken Your Healer Within and  August 21 – 26: Certification Training: Healer Within™ Practice Leader Training: Medical Qigong Certification

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