Thursday, November 17, 2016

Yoga As Body Love -- For Sacred Self-Care Women's Well

This practice is for accepting your body in its current shape and moment. 

Connect to your self-worth through a short sequence of shapes and breath that will remind you who you are. This sequence includes postures that open energy lines through the lower chakras and also the channel to the spleen, which when healthy helps us feel more at home in ourselves. The practice of yoga can be a most beneficial practice to aid in feeling what we need to feel and finding the acceptance needed in the present moment to keep going toward our purpose. 

*I apologize for the 3 videos instead of one long one. Unfortunately, this is how they could fit. If you click to view on You Tube, they will play in sequence. 
In part 1, you can fast forward to around 2:20 to jump right into the practice and skip my opening discussion. 

Enjoy and here's to slowing down and loving these forms that take us places and make us who we are!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Nantucket Women's Retreat--June 2016

For the 4th year in a row, I brought a group of women over to Nantucket island for four days of connection through yoga medicine, ocean/island medicine, yummy food, ritual, and fun! This retreat has taken many forms and each year has a different energy, different group and theme. The way things flowed and worked out this year meant that I was flying solo (no co-teacher) to plan, gather food, hold the space, and offer it all up. With that, it worked out that all of the women who came have been long-time yoga students on this path with me. There was no "getting to know you" period since it's been 7+ years of that with each of them! What a joy to be able to get deep and honest with fellow sisters in this life. And to have the most fun and extreme goofball-ness!
I know I will continue to offer this special retreat for Women…and we shall see how life and each year continues to manifest it and bring magic together.
Here's my photo diary from our retreat this past June:

Setting up our altar space. This view from the cottage never gets old!
Everyone got Bryonie Wise's book, Heart Roar, and Kate Bartolotta's book,  Choose Joy! Plus little wrist malas by Clay Twombly
Favorite shop in Nantucket town…with the best chocolate ganache-infused treats and spices/teas! Ambrosia Nantucket. 
Our first dinner together was a picnic! I made homemade veggie burgers, and we had a salad of local strawberries and lettuce! Plus, rose wine. So good. 
Picnic dinner on our first night. Divine. 
View from Yoga everyday. 
First yoga practice! Partner relaxing legs work. 
Dinner out in Nantucket town at Proprietor's! Thumbs up. 
Then, ice cream time!
My five year old would give me bird poses to teach each day…here he is teaching me about Osprey pose.
Perfect weather each day. So lucky!
Awesome afternoon at Steps Beach!
The view from Steps Beach. Magical. 
We had a waning moon just after the full moon. Can you see her faintly above our cottage? It was nice to see her in the mornings. 
Yin Practice in the shade.
Teamwork dinner that we all worked on together. So cozy. 
Hi Steph! Thanks for your magical woman's tea! We miss you!
Our last night, we always do a beach ritual. 
Our found beach object mandala creation infused with our personal prayers and ready for release.
The LOVE I have for these women is beyond. 
Wild rose flower essence soaking in the solar and lunar energies so we can take some of the retreat vibe home with us.

**Stay tuned for next year's Retreat details! There's a solid chance that I'll be offering it in late September next year instead of June. Be in touch via my site for more information. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Early Postnatal Snack Ideas

New Mamas (and friends to New Mamas)!

I'm passionate about sharing the importance of Postnatal support for new mamas in the community or  in my family. The first 3 months, or even 6 months is a huge transition for the mama in her body, her mental and emotional state, her lifestyle...everything. Our culture is not equipped with the same "village" that many other cultures depend on. In America it's often an attitude that the mom feels pressured to be able to do it all on her own. It's less likely that she'll ask for support because well, everyone is so busy, and we all have to fend for ourselves. Wrong! We do have a culture that tends to make us feel like we're not enough and builds our expectations on how things should be as new parents. But, it's simply not the case. We can be there for each other and we can lay our guards aside for a bit to step out of of our "busy" days and help some friends in need. Also, every woman is in a different and unique current cycle in their life when they have a baby. This is another thing to remember when it comes to postpartum healing and needs.

When I teach prenatal yoga and share with my mama community, we talk about ALL of the things. The unspoken topics, the nitty gritty of the body stuff, the transitions in spirit, the baby stuff. It's all worthy of sharing and staying open to all of the options and energies available.
For new moms, typically there are friends and family visiting on/off within the first month of giving birth. Or that's when neighbors bring food by and people are the most helpful. This is necessary. BUT...I urge you to remember your new mama friends in the months after that. This is when they most need you. This is when they might feel forgotten. They are stuck on the couch to nurse a million times a day. They may need help getting out of the house or feeling a bit like themselves again. They may be having a hard time feeding themselves. Or feeling into their bodies again. Especially if breastfeeding...the body is crazy ravenous during this period. Way more than when pregnant! The mama needs good nutrition throughout the day, but often she can't prepare it easily or is too tired/stuck in a certain position holding the baby.
(Mamas, stay gentle with yourselves. You are cared for and loved and you are a superpower of a being simply by caring for your baby or babies and showing up for them each and every day. Nothing else matters, and though hard to remember...the time WILL go faster than you think.)

My advice? Bring your new mama goddess easy snacks or help her grocery shop for them. Don't comment on how she looks or ask about sleep. Ask her how she's feeling about her current moment, or if there's a great podcast to listen to, or something fun to watch, or ask how she feels as a mom. Ask her what she needs. Love up the baby and give her time to eat or go to the bathroom. Listen. Be compassionate and loving and remind her that every new mama has their something. Their thing about their body that changed. Their thing about their lifestyle that has changed, or their job or their relationships. Every single new mama has a thing. Don't forget it.

Anyway, new mamas, I love you. I remember. And at 18 months postnatal after my second...I still struggle sometimes to feed myself well and to find moments of real self-care. We all struggle with the balance and the overwhelm. If you hear a mom say she doesn't or you see her perfect instagram's some smoke and it's not real life. We all have meltdowns. We have binge-watching days. We all eat too many cookies sometimes. We all get angry and yell at our kids or our partners or ourselves. And we're all doing great. We are. You are. If you're reading this, you care and that caring is where the love moves out of your mind and into your heart.


My go-to snack ideas for throughout the day when you're a new mama or have little ones and not much time to cook:

(my favorite go-to is made with ice, frozen blueberries, frozen greens of choice, banana, spoon of nut butter, hemp powder, cacao powder, chia seeds, spoon of local honey, and then combo of water or coconut water with your milk of choice (I usually do either full fat coconut milk or a nut milk of choice).

quinoa is fast to cook (around 15 minutes once brought to a boil) and full of protein and nutrition. Once it's cooked, I add a bunch of olive oil, salt and pepper, some za'tar spice. Then whatever you have around. Some days I add sunflower seeds or pine nuts, some avocado, some greens, or dried fruit. Whatever floats your boat.

-Icelandic yogurt (if you're eating dairy)
my favorite kind is Icelandic, but it could be Greek or other protein-rich yogurt or kefir. I like the Smari organic brand. Siggi's is pretty good. Look for what you can find.

-granola with low sugar and healthy nuts. I love the Purely Elizabeth brand and there are some other local brands I get at my local health store. When I have time, I might make my own...but hey, I'm over a year don't push it, mamas.
Easy to throw any granola in a bowl with your favorite milk to munch.
Trail Mix is also a good choice.

-Rice cakes or Toast with any of these toppings are my go-to's:
nut butter and banana
butter, cheese and jam (Icelandic style)
olive oil, avocado and spices
hummus or other spread
goat cheese

-cheese and crackers of choice
you can get gluten-free crackers if needed, or non-dairy cheese or whatever works

-hard boiled eggs
A bit easier to manage as an egg-eater...I eat them with salt and pepper and other spices, or on toast. That said, I'm more of a scrambled eggs fan and if you get the chance, you can get fancy and create a yummy eggs, greens, cheese combo for nourishment. This is sometimes my mid-morning meal...or brunch.

-beef jerky or other meat sticks if you're a meat eater. Pre-made chicken every now and then might not hurt, if you need meat. Bone broth to make easy soups with.

-sweet potatoes
throw in oven at high heat for at least 30-40 minutes and then you can top with whatever you want. Butter, coconut oil, olive oil, nut butters, hummus, spices...endless options.

when nursing, I crave sweets like nothing else. It's nuts. But I make sure to have all the good dark chocolate around. My favorite brand is Theo Chocolate. A nice daily treat.
Also, Apotheker's mallows and chocolate bars make me feel healthy eating them to some extent. Super yummy.

-herbal teas and tinctures
there are bountiful herbal concoctions you can use as a new mama that might be of the right physical or emotional support for you. I use flower essences daily, and drink teas with minerals that will build my blood and immune system to be of proper health. You can refer to my gal, Steph, for more information, among other wonderful herbalists in your area.
A favorite tea blend safe for new mamas includes: nettles, tulsi, and rose.

There ya have it. Some of my favorite go-to eats as a busy, breast-feeding mama who is always hungry and eating. ;) I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Here are some other resources for you:

**My awesome friend, Michelle, has started something on FB called 1 Meal Mom Community. For tips on how to feed your family. She's inspiring and real and her website and energy might be just the insight you need.

**My other friend, Mischa, also just posted a wonderful blog post with other great snack ideas. She's an herbalist, doula and compassionate woman and this was a great find of the moment for more new mama snack ideas!

Finally, if you're a new mama or know of one looking for postnatal support, please don't hesitate to be in touch. I'd love to share or connect you to the right resources as needed.
I also host a sometimes monthly meet up out of my home that I call Yoga for Mamas. I offer yoga (without your baby present) to reconnect to yourself, and then we drink tea and eat yummy things while we talk about stuff.
I'm hosting a Women's Urban (4 hour) Retreat at Borealis Yoga in May... and the annual
Women's (4 day) Retreat to Nantucket in June. In case you're a mama who can get away either time for some connection and self-care.
Info on my website or on social media.

Big Love.

Gus and I between 2-3 months postpartum.
Photo copyright Cara Brostrom. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

On popularity and vulnerability, as a yogini in 2016...Virgo Full Moon reflection

I've noticed over the last few weeks that many of my peers and friends have been wanting to discuss social media, branding, marketing themselves...the do's and don'ts of it all. For me, this brings up the themes of vulnerability and popularity. This discussion seems to come around every few months, actually. It must be a very relevant theme for those of us that are yoga teachers or artists or writers (freelancer-independent contractors--insert your field here). In this time we are living in with social media, and with so many people out there who have marketing prowess for prolific content, it can be so challenging to strike the right balance of what's true (authenticity) to what will get people to see your truth (marketing). There ARE many who have been able to do both in lovely ways, but typically there tends to be much more image projecting in order to share valuable words. Meaning, it takes an image for the majority of people to read the words. I've been doing my own silent research in this area...and have found that yes, it's true that more people will "like" my posts if there's an image of a smiling me in a nice posture, or of my cute toddler in a close up. This can break my confidence at times and make me want to quit it all, but then I realize those images and things uplift people to see in these strange times...and it's not always a bad thing that those images get more attention. This doesn't mean I've been sharing more or less of those things, necessarily. I'm trying to share what's current, in real time, in my life, and sometimes that resonates to people while other times not. However, I realize that perhaps I could have better strategy and post more images that people want to see. Or not. Oy. Who's noticing? What we feel about it comes purely from within and the pressures and ego we put on ourselves to aim for what we think is success. Maybe I have people gently nudge me to do more with my image and brand, but it's me who has to be at ease with it all in the end. 

You see, I believe in every bit of what Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability and shame have uncovered. And in learning more about it over the last 4-5 years…plus studying with my teacher, Elena Brower, it’s been part of my mission as an individual and as a yoga teacher to stay honest, and to stay in my vulnerability. This is so very hard in our culture at times, but it’s completely shaped my life in a new way. I think (well, I've had some nice feedback) it’s been helping others when I share in this way…though I’m certainly not “popular" in doing so. 
I truly believe that once the majority of humans can learn to embrace vulnerability as a strength and necessity towards more love, then the Earth will finally start healing again. For me, the way there is through getting connected and in rhythm with the natural cycles (both external and internal). But if you “follow” me, you know that and I’ll leave it at that. 

You see I’ve never been “popular." Nope. Not in my school years and not now. I’ve always been somewhere in between. Able to stride the lines of friendships with the introverts AND the extroverts…because hey, I’m actually a little of both. Which has its own awkward qualities and has always had me just “weird” enough to our society’s standards that I never quite make the “hip” list. 
A couple of years after I began teaching yoga in Boston, I started desiring to be a more popular teacher because I thought that was what success looked like. We are projected that idea so much. It seemed like everyone else was doing it and that was how I’d achieve x, y, z to be able to host retreats and do the things I craved. Plus, the popularity and increase in this field of yoga has brought about that want and need in all yoga teachers to stay consistent on social media, with websites, photoshoots, cool gigs, and so on…in order to get students, jobs, etc. 
But, the more I evolved to my truth, I saw students come and go. Some wanted to keep me in a pretty little box and others stuck with me. And I realized this was going to be the path and always has been. Basically I’m not the type to agree to teach a certain way in order to get bodies in a room…but that’s a whole other (though related) topic for another time.
You see, I could go ahead and only ever post perfect professional photos to social media. Ones that stuck to yoga and showcased my practice. Or maybe if I stuck to just motherhood and yoga. Or just women’s yoga. Or just my moon insights. Maybe that focused and neatly artistic presentation would get me to 1,000 followers, finally. Maybe I’d sell out my retreats faster or get more people interested in these ideas that I’m passionate about. I see that that is how to do it. I know there are tactics and tools I could be using to achieve this and be in the popular crowd. Or what if I simply taught more classes a week, or got myself into some more well-known studios. What if I had only signed up for B-school with Marie Forleo (or insert any other popular self-help/business school for the spiritual folks). Or if only I got myself in Mantra magazine…then I’d be worthy of more “followers.” This is not just what I’m writing about here, but what I’ve heard and seen around me, and continue to hear and see. There is SO much judgement, opinions, and ideas of what success looks like that we all swim against a current of shame on the daily. I’ve noticed this conflict among my friends and peers, and at times within myself, too. This idea all around us that we for one reason or another are not worthy to be hip, popular, well-liked, followed, respected, trusted in...
It's the ebbs and flows of our time and so we have to stay vulnerable and take breaks when we need to, or share about it all when we need to, in order to manage the feels and allow ourselves the chance to get back up and share again. 

**Vulnerability alert! I just shared again how I sometimes feel unworthy. Let the strange judgements and feelings surrounding this post commence!** 

With it all, as I set out to finally create a real website (one that someone other than my non-techie-self builds), in addition to creating a book, I see the need for a logo and a sort of “brand.” Yet I want to do it in my way. I don’t care to spread it all over the world, but I do hope to share my passions to a deeper tribe when the timing is right. And I know SO many wonderful people who I do "follow" and who offer such tools that could help me expand or market myself better...but what if I don't really want to at this time? What if I'm (trying to be) okay with who I am and what I'm sharing in the moment? Perfectly imperfect musings on the perfectly imperfect life of mine. I don’t want to stress over my image! I simply don’t. At least not right now and that’s okay! I don’t want to portray something that I’m not. I believe that the right people will find me as needed, and me to them. That my path will keep going whether I’m widely known in my city, or elsewhere, or not. Not playing small or big. Not playing at all. I’m much more interested in posting images (a mix of professional and amateur), words, and thoughts that are a part of my life in the every day, because my life is my yoga practice and my yoga practice is my life. It’s all one collaboration that influences the other and how I teach. There is no separation. This for sure leads to people unfollowing me. I’m certain of it. The non-yogis don’t want to see all the yoga stuff, and the yogis want to see more. Maybe posts about motherhood or self-inquiry, or questioning different themes (such as this post) turn people off. Well, it also turns people on. There is absolutely no major method to how I present myself out there…meaning how I market myself. I’m just ME. Not sure if this smart or not, but it’s what always feels right. I’ve “rebelled” over the years and never set myself up with a Jenn Falk Yoga Facebook page or separate IG account. For me it’s a combo of simply not wanting to spend extra time managing various accounts (if you have young kids or another job in addition to teaching yoga, you understand), coupled with this fact that all facets of my life is my practice. 
The various accounts and pages on social media, the strategy, the scheduling it in, the detailed marketing...this works for so many of you. And thank you for your work and your inspirations! I do follow you, too. And I enjoy your success! This is why our world is beautiful because we are all different. The question and the issue arises when we start stacking ourselves up against everyone else to measure our success, instead of asking ourselves what it is we really want from the sharing, the posting, the images. Do we want to be published in an online forum? Do we want someone to comment that they feel the same and that resonance allows us to release our own shame? Do we simply want to get our stuff out to get it out and then keep moving forward, no baggage? It's so valuable to learn from our motives and how we can grow into ourselves with ease. 

What I’m sharing here is to shine a light for those of you out there who resonate with this strange balancing act and the inner struggles over the years to conform, or to not do what every one else is doing. Maybe you’re somewhere in between, which is how I think I am. 
So, I share this to say that your ability to rise strong, to achieve your dreams, to honor who you are…may come at a slower pace. It may not look like everyone else’s. You don’t have to share only the most gorgeous, artsy photos or the most perfect yoga shots. If that’s not YOU, then stop stressing about it and share your heart! If you want. If it IS you and your aim is for recognition and perhaps, fame, and you want to take the time to curate how you present yourself, then do it! If you want. Neither is better than the other and both are worthy! 
Mostly, keep aiming to recognize the power in each of us! To own our shame, our imperfections…because we all deal with it, and see if that not only empowers yourself but your peers. We ARE all in this together even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. Love on up and through and out of what you share to bring necessary change and energy to the world through your own small, medium, or large circles! 
And if you notice the fluctuations of "followers"…breathe in some loving kindness and know that at least you’re being you. 

AND, I didn't even read this before writing my own post...but check out the marvelous Chani Nicholas' full moon post for more beautiful insight into the balance of being yourself. 

"We can know that even in the most intense struggles to become ourselves and to find our way, we are still, and will always be, a perfect fit for our own lives. "

- See more at:

#beyou #stayweird #socialintroverts #sensitiveandstrong #fullmoonenergy #vulnerability #courage #findingyourownbalance 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Lunar Love Flow...more to come this year

Photo copyright Liza Voll Photography. Shot in my beloved Iceland. Autumn 2015. 

*written a few weeks ago on Christmas Day-Capricorn Full Moon in Cancer*

 Perhaps you find yourself in this high lunge to give thanks for this day and to send your love out. Spirit needs us!
As a Cancer with Capricorn rising, I feel this balance of Water~Earth all of the time. Sometimes the duality is easeful, sometimes not. 
I haven't always been able to walk down my own path with true confidence...because, well, fear. Fear of what others might think, my family would think, of what my own expectations were. It can be hard to get out of your own way. Still is, but it's feeling easier. 
Since having my own kids, finding love, AND since discovering what it's like to have true courage has shifted. The last 5 years have been teaching me to choose more acceptance and love within myself. 
So, my truth is that I've been practicing and teaching yoga with the lunar cycles since the beginning of this yoga path (a decade). That path has been clear to me, but I haven't openly shared my method out of worrying too much that I may not be taken seriously. Or that I'm too hippie/out there. Or not hippie enough! You know the stories we tell. 
The truth is I'm more than those stories and I'm also part of them. We all have so many facets that make us unique. 

I'm part bohemian vibes/part practical. Part wanderlust dreamer/part homebody. Part scientifically-drawn/part mystical moon worshiper. Part holistic health mama/part let them eat the cookies mama. 
Point is-- We all have to keep moving past what we think we need to be in order to just BE it. To let go and shine. 
I'm now seeing the Moon infused in tons of yoga stuff and teachers. I'm psyched! Finally, I'm ready to share what seems to be ready to be shared! 

And yet I'm not going to market myself to look a certain way and sell my method of practice as more Moon Goddess or more yogini mystic than I am. I want all (especially women) to feel included in this way of cycling, listening, moving with the lunar and seasonal cycles...because when we all tune in more, then the world might start to connect deeper to *heart* medicine. 
So, 2016, I am closer to getting my #lunarloveflow out more widely. If you search the hashtag on Instagram, then you will find my posts from 2015 and onward. And I'm currently working on a book guide for you all to have in your hands as inspiration for your own practice! Yes. Let's do this. 

Today, lift yourself up.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Diary entry: On Yoga Culture, Retreats, Decolonizing Yoga

So when I get time to myself to work on my current yoga-related writing and creative projects...I often write about something else, like the good procrastinator that I am. Toss this entry up to the intense Scorpio energy of the moment? Not sure. I normally wouldn't share such a long entry and post but this one felt like perhaps some of you think about the same things? Or maybe it'll open you up to think about such things? 
Big thing to remember when reading...I LOVE YOU ALL. All of you yoga teachers leading retreats around the world and putting yourself out there to help people love their bodies, have fun, and be themselves. Please know these are my journal-like thoughts and important thoughts but that I'm not trying to judge anyone. So much of this is toward myself as much as anyone or anything else. 
Thank you for reading and being part of a vulnerable discussion within myself...that I feel others can benefit from as well. 

(There's so much that circulates the web about the topic of retreats, and about yoga culture in general. It seems like these discussions have been more frequent over the last 2 years or so. The older I get, the deeper into my yoga practice, the deeper into motherhood…I want to also continue learning and bettering myself as a person. I've been reading and having more discourse about cultural appropriation, about the environment, politics, agh…everything! Here's the thing. It matters! We have the discussions and we can do them with love and respect. Gosh, it's easy to get caught up in the negativity...especially during highly political seasons. Here's some thoughts on some things I've been thinking about. )

I decided this year after reading this that every time I host a retreat, I will try to donate some proceeds to an environmental cause that gives back to or protects the land we visited. I believe the environment is a most pressing issue of our time. I've also decided to try to stay consistent with my retreats in that they are places that I have a strong connection to and are sustainable for me to do (especially since I have a family). In addition, they must support the local people and culture, they must be out of respect, and they will be mostly about taking time to slow down and give back to oneself through the yoga and meditation practice, and less about fitting in as much as we can for the sake of saying that we went here and here and saw this and this. 
I'm not for or against the yoga selfie boom. I'm for what feels right in a moment. I'm for being yourself and expressing yourself as you need in this moment in time. 


Now, I'm a highly sensitive person, and sometimes it all gets to be too much. But, if I can do it, and take time to read things, educate myself, look at my actions, and try to change…so can you. It's a balance. Motherhood has taught me a lot about that...and yet I still have so much to learn.
You see, it's hard to look at yourself and realize, "shit, I was saying that or doing that without really thinking about where it comes from and who it could be affecting." This happened to me recently and it forced some vulnerable feelings to well up. You see, I don't do well with criticism. As highly sensitive, I wasn't allowed or praised for my sensitive nature growing up. It was looked upon as a weakness instead. This has taken a long time to work on in myself, and well, I'm still working. 
In many ways, it's easy for me to be transparent and vulnerable. I do it all the time on Instagram, and most especially surrounding motherhood and body issues. This actually really helps me with my own issues and dealing with criticism better. I'm trying hard to keep it as real as I can fathom, while also staying true to myself, staying at least a little bit private, and also inspiring. It's all so weird, right? 
But at the same time, this yoga teaching career is the path that I chose for myself right out of college at a young age. I've thought about giving it up sometimes, as it all has gotten much more saturated and stranger to navigate. I've definitely changed a lot in this last decade. In some ways I'm more passionate about aspects of the practice than ever before. When I see how it effects me as a partner, mother, daughter, sister, friend…then I keep plugging along. I'm just hitting a decade of teaching! I'm also realizing more and more how honest and "me" my teaching is. 
I've worked hard this past decade to discover my voice. To build my practice. To become a teacher and not just act like one. To learn more. And more. To listen to myself. To take the breaks. To give away my services for free. To also ask for what I think I'm worth. To honor what I do as an art. I do believe I'm not just teaching yoga, but I'm teaching how to make your life an art and a canvas for growth, color, risks, change, awakenings, fun, breaking out of stagnant moments, getting through pain, etc.…
I've stuck with my teaching to the lunar cycles in my quiet way of doing so for this entire decade and I'm just now starting to emerge out of my cocoon to share it more widely…to work on getting some creative projects out there and sharing it, and to feel comfortable and at ease doing so. 
I mean, ten years is not really a long time to have been teaching yoga. There is way too much to learn and way too many variations of the practice and wisdom to be discovered. It's really true that it's a lifelong practice. But in our fast-pased world, people are seasoned teachers after just a few years...and so now after doing it for ten...I feel strange in ways that I haven't done certain things, like helping to lead a teacher training. But that hasn't been my goal and I'm still grateful that it hasn't happened for me. It's simply interesting that that can be a gauge for "success" after someone has been teaching for a certain amount of time. 
I'm also not always staying up with all the things that yoga teachers are supposedly doing these days. It makes me feel odd sometimes because I : 
didn't study with so and so, or go to this training and spend my money going to this module at this resort, and then perfecting my scorpion pose while in the sassiest new pants and then having myself in said pose featured in Mantra magazine on stands at Whole Foods which then scored me 1,000 new followers on social media. Yowzers. I mean, this conversation is old now, right? We all know of it. I'm not going there. I shop at Whole Foods and I like all things mentioned in doses and with a certain angle of looking and knowing about it all. I just find it interesting that when I get new students or get asked what I do at parties/events, they often want to know those logistics instead of perhaps how many hours I've spent on my own yoga mat listening to my own body, and how many hours I've taught classes. To me, that's so much more valuable than who, where, when, how I have studied the practice or how I look doing it. Though it ALL has some value and purpose, sure. I'm simply pointing out the obsession with success via numbers, images, status, popularity...
None of my evolution as a teacher have gained me huge accolades in the way that our culture likes to say people are successful. I've never been in a magazine about yoga, or been nominated for something, but I've been super successful in so many ways in that I've inspired people to teach yoga themselves, or to break addictions, or to find more calm and less stress...all important ways to provide in my own community. This has been a big lesson for me. That it's all as important. But also that now I must keep going and encouraging those that I've inspired to become teachers to look deeper into how and why and what. Yes. I feel that ten years in, it's important that I'm looking at all these things again for myself, too. The cycles in our lives are real and we have to honor them. 


Shit. I want to teach to local teenage girls. I want to teach to local Somerville people who have lived here forever, and not just to those that can afford to come or who feel accepted to come practice. I found SWSG a couple years ago and offered my time and have done special classes, and I hope to continue...but I'm also raising 2 young boys and trying to keep myself sane while doing so. Plus I enjoy bringing in some income to my family, creating some projects, and thinking about all of this important stuff at the same time. I've realized that I can't do it all and when I'm ready to devote more time to giving back to my community, then I will be able to. The fact that I'm opening myself more and more to these issues is progress. This is an art in itself. I'm so thankful for Bow Street Yoga because it feels like one of those places. And I think more studios are feeling like that around this area. But the problem still exists. So much. 

What's the problem? Well, it's not a problem, but a fact. I am a privileged white woman with resources. And I continue to lead retreats and teach. I'm not from India, the birthplace of this practice but I'm benefiting from it much more than Indian women or Indian-American women who are yoga teachers themselves could be. This is how our society has been set up. It doesn't mean I shouldn't teach. When I fell in love with yoga in my early 20's and then was brave enough to embark on this teaching journey...I didn't think about these things. At all. And if you didn't either or haven't until just now...there's nothing wrong with you. Deep breaths. We all have to start somewhere. Then eventually we can choose to pay a little more attention to how we're going about it all.
I feel something so honest and real when I teach and lead retreats. And it's not just ego. When the ego steps in…I try to take 10 steps back. Even then, though, I'm not saying all ego is totally wrong. (This is perhaps a female issue too. We have to allow ourselves to welcome our success and enjoy when it happens too. Ah, that's another essay...)
What I feel when teaching and hosting and sharing is something that's more than just the poses. And I think this reflects in the students who come and receive. I hope? Hey, I don't get the droves of people lining up that you might find in NYC or LA or even downtown Boston. I don't lead 20 person retreats or teach to 50 people regularly. I don't teach handstand or sweaty flow all of the time (hardly ever). I've changed my style throughout the decade and have lost people along the way. But, my heart remains the same. My passions and basis for teaching the practice remain the same. 

I haven't cared for awhile to teach most of the class in Sanskrit, or chant. (okay, I do at few certain times say some poses in Sanskrit or do a chant here or there)
Some say this is not the true practice. There is so much judgement out there about what true yoga is and what is not.  It's more true for me these days not to use Sanskrit as much because I've never been to India and I'm not Indian. I want to include more people into the practice and sometimes I think using Sanskrit can not only confuse newbies to the practice, but also irritate native Indian practitioners. That's just me in this moment in time based on where and what I teach. I love knowing the names of postures in Sanskrit for my own use and I feel that teachers should know them, for the most part. It's an act of respect for the practice among many other things. And I know so many teachers who do it well and teach it well in this way. For me, it doesn't automatically make one a superb teacher who knows more just because they use the "right" terms. 
Shall I instead call myself teacher-of-movement and breath? I'm not sure about all of this yet. But I know that over the last 5 years or so I've been trying to figure out more and more of "me" in my teaching style and how I present myself. And so, that means more about: 
using yoga to reduce stress, teaching to slow down in our fast-moving culture, teaching to stay safe in the body, teaching to connect to our spirits and hearts, teaching for more love, moving your body as ritual, teaching as a way to connect to nature and the seasons, focusing on your breath…and it's so not about getting into a special alignment or coming up with the best playlist or the best sequence or getting in to teach at this particular studio or festival.
But again, I love people who do those things. And, I do teach with playlists that I connect to, I do like attending festivals sometimes, and I do like learning from all kinds of teachers and styles. There's no perfect solution, but it's worth learning what YOUR solution is and how it makes sense for you. 
I'm not saying that some yoga teachers out there haven't found their popularity and success for themselves in a natural progression. And I'm not saying that the white teachers who teach in Sanskrit or are steeped in the Indian tradition should not be doing so. No way am I saying so. For SO many, they truly have been to India on many pilgrimages and have a relationship to the land and people there just like I do with Iceland. They come at it all with utmost respect, research, immersion into the culture, and love. It's beautiful to witness and powerful. I'm simply saying that it's interesting to look into why you may or may not use Indian traditions in your teaching. And then to choose and do it with your whole self...or to leave it out if it's not YOU. (And perhaps also read sites like Decolonizing Yoga to get new perspectives.)
I think a lot of what drives the yoga careers right now and  what people are seeking are often for the wrong reasons. Who knows? Only YOU know. I'm writing this so we can ask ourselves these questions more and talk about it more. Let's not just succumb to it all because everyone else is doing it and we need to do it to. Let's try to keep teaching, making money, and supporting each other in doing so while also taking action to create change. The politicians aren't going to do it for us if we don't first activate and take steps ourselves. That's the way it is. We can't sit around and wait for studios to pay us more, or for other ethnic groups to find us. We have to ask and seek and provide. And, hey, I'm the first to say that I still have a long way to go. 

Yoga Retreats:
 Here's a big can of worms. My first retreat was with 3 participants down in Dominica (island in the West Indies)...8 or so years ago. The opportunity came about and I jumped for it. We became a part of that community and the land on that retreat, while also having amazing food to eat from the permaculture spot we were staying at and the gorgeous views and rainforest around us. It was not a spa-retreat, but sure it was privileged. One thing we did was to hang out with the people there. And my bff, who was also part of the retreat had studied there and already had a connection to the island and the plant-life there, so it wasn't from left field that we were going there to do a retreat. Anyway, my takeaway is that I had stellar people showing me the ropes of how to do a retreat but also make it count (huge ups to the amazing Trish for that). That experience put the retreat bug in my bones. It was profound for me personally to be immersed in that culture, to have my own spiritual awakenings, and to connect with others through yoga and my own knowledge. 
So time goes by and I travel to Iceland for the first time and have a deeply moving experience within myself. Initially inspired to travel there by my profound love and passion for Icelandic music, my love for this northern land deepened. I go back and go back there because it challenges me, it opens me, and it brings me into my heart. I make the trips happen and I begin (5+ years ago) to personally develop retreats there because it really feels like my Spiritual place in the world. I even looked up my astrocartography and Iceland has tons of interwoven energy running through it...for whatever that might be worth. ;)
When we go there on retreat, we hire people from the country to work with, we eat the local food, we learn about the culture, I try to teach for the people there when it's possible and include them as well. It's an exchange. It's also not a third-world country, so quite different than other popular retreat destinations. 
With all of this, however, I haven't really made much money myself from these offerings yet. Still learning on that end. It's an expensive place. And is it worth it to only get people along for the ride who can afford such a trip? These are predominantly white people in a predominantly white land. Is that irresponsible  of me? It doesn't feel that way at all when I'm in it. But I do wish I could somehow allow for more people to come with us and experience such moments. I'd need fancy people to donate money so that I could offer scholarships. Again, simply pondering here. Still unraveling and educating and learning... 

I hope that when people bring their groups and practice yoga in Iceland and take their selfies in front of waterfalls and glaciers in yoga poses…that they are doing it out of respect for the land, the culture. Not exclusively to get attention that they are in some other-worldly place doing an otherworldly posture. More than that, can they feel the power of the place? And how that's affecting their mind and body in that moment? If so, heck yeah, document it. Honestly and passionately. I'm not trying to be a punk. I've been there and taken my yoga selfies. I'm trying to continue the conversation happening all around us and within myself. I see more and more yoga retreat companies popping up and they are also discovering Iceland. Different teachers leading different retreats there on the regular. Nothing wrong with this, really. This is capitalism and how the world works. I just now understand how other places must feel that are tourist-driven and then all of a sudden start changing and getting influx of new groups...and mostly white people with money coming all of the time. And bringing their entitled behaviors and perhaps not respecting the land. These are my fears for Iceland. I want to support everyone going there and I want to keep going myself...but when does the madness stop? It's only just begun there. How do the people of Hawaii deal with it? Or in Costa Rica? And the Caribbean? I want to think that yoga practitioners and groups are acting differently when heading to these places on retreats...but you never know. And I've seen all sides. I do feel a responsibility as a teacher and retreat leader in this way to help with the issue.

Here's the thing. I did a Mexico retreat a few years back. We actually did hang and vibe with the workers from the retreat center. It was a special retreat center in that it didn't feel too pretentious while we were there. And yet, I did witness some snobby and negative energy when there from a different group at the same center. It made me think about how some people go to these places and treat the local workers with less respect and expect such luxury. It's the strangest thing. 

I loved being there, however, and I made wonderful connections there while feeling a deep call when we went into the local town to want to give back more. I envisioned going back some day and including the retreat center employees for a class or helping out somehow in the nearest town and doing things differently. I don't know. Maybe going back there is missing the point of all this. Maybe I won't ever go back at all. They don't need me trying to connect with locals. They need me to stay away and spend less airplane emission and keep giving to my own community and to the places I've built a deeper connection to. I'm not Mexican and I don't even speak Spanish well. So yeah. But, hey, I have a strong love for Mexico and its culture. And I know many people who lead retreats there as well as in Central America. This is not to say they aren't doing some awesome work there and respecting the places and people they come in contact with. And these places actually need the tourism. Agh! It's all so confusing. 

Then there's Nantucket. It's my other place for retreats. I've developed a women's retreat there. It's also an expensive place in a different way, and the island draws a super privileged bunch. I go here because I married into a family that has long-standing history with the place. On Nantucket, my husband grew up going there his entire life (now almost 40 years). We got married there. I've personally connected to the community, the land, the energy there. I'm passionate about it. I want to share it with people in a reverent way. This is why the women's retreats started. They are small and intimate. They are super special. I organize it all myself (with the aid of my co-teacher) and I utilize so many different artists, foods, people from the island. It all feels right. It's not a big to-do. Is it luxury with a conscience? 
I've hosted 2 scholarship participants a year. I'm only just starting to make a little money from this retreat. I donate proceeds from that little money made to the conservation fund on the island. I'm going to start doing that for Iceland too, when I make enough money to. I'm sharing because I want to hold myself accountable. And I would love to inspire others to think about their retreat locations. 

So my plan:
Continue my relationship to Iceland with retreats because it's pure special magic for me to share. It's real. Once a year or maybe every other year...or really just whenever my life can handle it. 
Continue the Nantucket retreats because this makes such sense in that I have family to stay with while there and it's truly the most sustainable retreat for me. 
Find special spots even more local and much more affordable as short-term retreats to open up to even more varieties of people and incomes. Vermont, NH, here in MA, RI? Urban retreats? More Yoga on the Farm! 

I'm putting this out there because these are things I think about. These are important issues! 
Not many people are sticking up for the people of color, the traditions from India, the lands we are retreating on, the earth we are polluting by traveling to these places to do yoga and meditation…? 
Who's been sticking up for native people that inspire us to use their terms, conjure their goddesses and animals and make a living teaching it while the actual native women who might teach it make nothing or never even get a chance to teach it? 
Heavy, I know. But let it breathe. Let it swelter. It's gonna feel uncomfortable. It's gonna make you feel like a jerk. To me, it's worth it to feel that sometimes when it's a lifetime for someone else. Someone else who is not white and privileged. 

Sending the love out, everyone. This is all written from a place of love. An opening. It's time for the shifts. I want my boys to be more aware of these shifts than when I was growing up. And hey, this all might sound negative, but I remain an eternal optimist. I'm not going to stop doing my thing. I'm going to push forward with more and more attention, respect, and love. I hope you'll join me. 

Super inspired lately by:

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Iceland Equinox Retreat :: reflection

Just a short while ago, I was in Iceland (my Spirit home) for the 7th time. This trip it was my honor to have brought a group over on retreat for the 3rd time...and this time for a very special one. This retreat was a collaboration with my oldest and dearest friend, Steph. She and I first visited Iceland together 8 years ago! I've been the lucky one who has gotten to continue going back, so it was awesome that after all this time, we made this work. You see, we've been joining forces over the last couple of years to offer our passions as a special collaboration we call Poses & Plants. It's a combination offering of both yoga and herbal wisdom, and typically in rhythm to the seasonal and lunar cycles. After hosting a women's retreat at the Summer Solstice in June, it was powerful to take our new group to Iceland for the Autumn Equinox! We had such an amazing collection of artists, creatives, mothers, intellectuals, and soul searchers. It was potent to be on the Snaefellesnes Peninsula in West Iceland, where the glacier there holds a powerful energy that aids in aligning your 4th and 7th chakras. This is pretty much my favorite area in the world to visit. When I'm there, I feel that anything is possible and I feel so expansive and open to be the person I know that I am. What a gift it was to share that with the group, and to have done so with my very dearest friend by my side.

We stayed put for 3 nights at a secluded and magical hotel, in which we wandered in surrounding lava fields to identify plants with Steph, did an equinox ritual on the beach, ran out in the middle of the night to view the Northern Lights, and practiced yoga with a view of waterfalls, the sea, sheep, and an array of breathtaking beauty. 
The last 2 nights, we then moved to the northern side of the peninsula to stay in a larger town (full of 1,000 inhabitants...which is one of my favorite towns in Iceland). We were lucky enough to have insightful meditation and yoga practice in the art installation Library of Water there. This place I have visited a dream setting and vibe for me to teach in, with powerful acoustics for my beloved Icelandic music playlists. Such reverence we shared in that space for the country, nature, and people of Iceland. 
Steph ended the learning portion of our retreat in our cozy hotel with herbs to help ease transition and stress, which is key upon returning home from such a place, and for re-entering city life. 
On our last morning, we took an incredible drive back to Reykjavik, from which we stopped at a secret waterfall and also to sample some traditional pastries. The whole trip flowed smoother and came together as it did because of our beautiful raven-goddess of a driver/native Icelandic guide, Valgerdur. What a gift she was to our entire experience. SO much love and good energy.
Once back in Reykjavik, some of the group had to depart right away and the remaining crew enjoyed a short city tour from the exceptional I Heart Reykjavik walking tour before going off on our own to take in the city. We ended the whole trip with the complete MAGIC of the Super (Full) Moon/Lunar Eclipse, in which I had the privilege of teaching my #lunarloveflow for a special Full Moon class at Solir Yoga in Reykjavik that night! Such a growth experience and honor for me. And the skies were clear that night for us to bask in the brilliant glow and then mystery of nature. 

Through it all, I had my supportive and wonderful husband and 2 young sons along for the ride! My babe is just-turned-one and we are still very attached and nursing, so I could not have done this trip without my little family along. What a dear, amazing, heart-filled group we had to embrace this for me and allow me to continue to grow as a teacher, leader, and woman. With my job being that as a yoga teacher-leader-creative...I've made a decision to simply try to integrate motherhood into it all. It makes sense and works for me and my family. It's not always easy, and our culture might insist I do it one way or the other way...but I'm so grateful for the opportunities I have and we will keep moving forward with it. This trip was an experience we won't forget. 

Until the next are some photo highlights!

Steph and I on our first night back in Iceland together (with me wearing baby Gus)

Our altar view from our yoga space...with rainy windows that look like a watercolor.


Icelandic poppies were still in bloom, among other things. We had many herbs and plants to learn from!

My sweet littlest one and I while everyone hiked up a crater.
Connection. Rejuvenation. Listening.
Steph teaching her tea class on our last day.
Our whole group eating a fantastic meal in Stykkisholmur!

Typical fare: tasty local fish, a little bit of vegetable, potatoes, and sometimes some yummy Icelandic beer.

Stykkisholmur, our second destination.


Yoga practice at the Library of Water. Such a special place to feel our breath.


View from a hike. 

Our unbelievable yoga practice space at our first hotel. And my set-up assistant, Isak.

Some of our group during Steph's intuitive plant-drawing session. In the lava fields.

View of the Snaefellsjokull glacier at sunset from our hotel. 

Fancy dinner times. 

Majesty. The words used to describe Iceland are cliche...but there really are no words. You just have to FEEL it for yourself.

My older boy, spreading his cute spirit wherever he goes. 

Us 3 leaders of the trip, post-hike. So grateful for these strong women. 

My husband and I taking a moment of rest while our older one naps and I nurse the babe.

Secret waterfall!
Legs up the Glacial Water Column-- sneak peek at a collaboration project I'm doing with Liza Voll. 

One of the various rainbows we saw...this one greeting us back in Reykjavik!

Beginning our walking tour of Reykjavik.

For more gorgeous photos and different viewpoints/takeaways of this Retreat Trip, please enjoy these blogposts:

~Steph's take : her insightful and graceful plant-inspired recap of our experience.

~Liana's take : a stunning array of her photography from the trip, as well as recommendations for her favorite spots.

And follow Liza Voll Photography! She was our professional photographer on the trip. I will be spending the winter revamping my website with some of her work, among other things we are working on together.