The Ayurveda Inception
Posted by Alana Kessler on November 17th, 2015 | 0 | Asana, Musings, Wellness, Yoga
Ayurveda changed my life. This may seem like a huge statement but it’s true. I had been practicing yoga and mindful living for about 7 years and recall one of my teachers referencing the 3 constitutions (vata, pitta, kapha) represented in this ancient science during a yoga class one day. I was intrigued. I went over to the teacher after class and asked her a litany of questions on its theory, how I can know more and what I can do to really understand my constitution. Am I only one constitution?, does it stay the same over the entire life span?, are there foods I have to eat? etc… I don’t remember exact details but I do know that the impulse to understand how I co-exist in nature and with nature became a seed that now informs my entire life.
A few years after this initial introduction to Ayurveda, I found myself in a space of poor mental and physical health marred with oxymorons. I was constantly fatigued yet anxious and obsessive, my skin was dry, pale and puffy, and my hair was coarse and thin. I was eating healthy food, exercising, practicing yoga but my body felt bloated and inflamed. I was frustrated and confused. I understood so much, and still I felt the least vibrant energetically than I had in years.
It was then I realized Ayurveda is a practice. It’s not a science where memorization of theory and topics serve to provide insight into its transformation. It is a wisdom baked in only through careful and continuous inquiry, attention, participation and curiosity. It is also best transmitted via a trusted practitioner.
For me, this reckoning happened 8 years ago. I let go of the need to understand and consume Ayurveda and its principles intillectually and surrended to embodying Ayurveda as a lifestyle. As the months went on I noticed huge shifts in my energy, body and mind. I found a new fluid rhythm with which to navigate my life and have since never been healthier.
I love this practice for its consistency and vast support of the changing nature of life. This practice doesn’t ask you to sacrifice or change, instead it balances out the life that is right here, moment to moment.
An Origin of Practice
Posted by Alana Kessler on November 9th, 2015 | 0 | Blog, personal development, Yoga
by Katie Brain
My first yoga class ever was with my best friend. We were about fourteen. Our moms had enrolled us and we both didn’t really understand it. We went once a week for a couple months and only once did I ever really relax in Shavasana. Eventually, I stopped doing it as my interest towards anything that even resembled exercise was pretty low.
Some time later, at sixteen, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). At that point, I had been hospitalized more times then I care to remember, lost my vision and my ability to walk and was on all kinds of medications with even worse side effects. All of which sounds pretty bad, but I was still a teenager and, like all teenagers, believed I was invincible. It’s actually kind of scary, thinking back, how not scared of my having multiple sclerosis I was. My mother was a nervous wreck, but I was totally confident I would be fine and for whatever reason, be it medical science or a teenager’s stubbornness, I regained all my mobility and vision within a couple months. After that, I developed an interest in yoga as a means to always remind my body, “Look, I’m using you. I care about you. Don’t try that M.S stuff again”. There’s an actual science behind exercise’s benefits for M.S, but at the core of it, staying active has been my way of expressing gratitude for another day with no symptoms.
My experience with yoga has been life altering. The scenery has changed constantly, from Ithaca, to Chicago, to NYC, but the practice has always provided me with a familiar place to grow, meet new people and reflect.
Most recently, Sangha Yoga Shala has been providing that space for me. Just practicing the asanas alone can be transformative, but Sangha also provides a space for community, art, personal growth and relaxation, all things I desperately need as a 20 something living in NYC.
The Deeper Truth – A Manifesto
Posted by Alana Kessler on September 30th, 2015 | 0 | Musings, personal development, Wellness
by Alana Kessler
I was watching a movie the other day in which one of the characters said to another – “you have had a life, but you haven’t lived”. I found this statement to be so true and so relevant. It’s easy to get caught up in the blame and regret of the unlived life, but the truth is, “living” is one of the hardest things to do. It seems counterintuitive, we “live” everyday. We wake up, take a shower, go to our job, talk to friends, eat, shop, read, have sex, exercise, meditate etc.., but what is really happening here? Isn’t there more than what we consume and produce that makes a human life valuable? And an even deeper question is, is it the inherent lack of interest as a society in a different quality of experience?
Is our life worth more than the sum results of our “doing”?
I believe as a culture, we are evolving towards this aspiration of self actualization, interconnectedness, de- personalization and the importance of self love and generosity. Finally people are beginning to give validity to the individual experience and understand how much stronger a community is when the people in it are in mature relationship with themselves first. What I mean by this is, truly turning towards the direct experience of what is happening to you and feeling it, without first blaming, shaming, projecting, or judging someone else for the feelings that are inside at the present moment.
As a child, I felt this pull towards purposeful personal expression, accountability and tolerance. I don’t know where it came from – an ayurvedic astrologer that I see once a year told me back in 2008 that I was a buddhist monk in my past life – so there is that. But, if regression therapy isn’t your thing, we can say that perhaps I was just tuning into something bigger that has guided me throughout life.
I wish I could say it was easy. I wish I could say, I found my truth and it led me to the land of the living enlightened, but this is in fact so far from it. I spent so many years hiding in the most creative ways. I held on to deep rooted values and beliefs even though my outer world expressed the opposite. I continued to feel small, misunderstood and short of making the impact that I felt was available in my heart.
I shied away from romantic relationships and anything that made me feel too much. Fiercely independent, I had a hard time living in the intimacy of connection. When I was a teenager, even as a talented and well respected singer, I would turn and face a wall when performing for small crowds, because I didn’t feel worthy of being great. I didn’t feel that my contribution was good, or big enough to be seen. In fact, I felt in the most vulnerable place in my soul that sharing in my most natural way, truly expressing without censorship, curation or permission would make me a bad person. It would make me selfish, a show off, trying to hard, too much – and I would be exiled into loneliness, rejection and humiliation. This is the truth I lived with for 34 years of my life. This is way I lived.
The reality is that this isn’t just my limited belief. This framing of life is mirrored through many conservative and dogmatic cultures, including more primitive generations of human beings fearful of “others” as a threat to their mere survival. These beliefs are continually reinforced in the schools, and social circles I participated in as a teenager and young adult. I experienced so much pain as a result of this universal consciousness. I was criticized, bullied by my peers in regards to my physical appearance, and eventually self-inflicted harm and interpersonal conflict.
The interpersonal conflict is still an ongoing practice and the one most prevalent as an adult woman navigating these rapidly changing times, especially when there are such strong and deep rooted beliefs and values around the community and its obligations from the individual. These values are in fact the opposite of the self expressed, personal development, self love paradigm as a means to serve at the highest potential for humanity, that I believe the world is fastly moving towards. This remains extremely challenging and sad, and I implored sophisticated measures, for many years, to get around feeling it. But I have reached the end. There is no more back road that leads to anywhere but more suffering, and I have finally thrown the white flag.
I am still unsure how to navigate this chasm in beliefs, when the interests are so different and yet we are still so interconnected. I so badly want to be able to have an inclusive relationship with all communities, one where I don’t feel like I have to reject anything and isolate in order to be truly free and expressive, because I know that is not where it leads.
In my heart I know there is a higher path, I know there is a way in which we can stop expecting the other to change, stop personalizing each other’s actions as though it reflects upon us. The rub is this – the conflict and the feelings on both sides are real, but they are not the deeper truth.
So how can we evolve? The answer lies in our willingness to connect to ourselves.
I have had many incidents over the years where with the arising of difficult emotions, I abandoned myself with unhealthy dissociation behaviors. I spent years getting trapped in a cycle of choosing men who are unavailable, over a decade of binging and purging, and engaging in friendships with people who are apathetic and contentious rather than encouraging and supportive of my creative pursuits, reinforcing my insecurities and defensiveness. I so badly wanted to be seen and loved for who I am, and that was the underlying desire.
However, it was me who was keeping myself invisible, because what I deeply wanted to feel was right there in the response to the suffering I was ignoring. I was subconsciously choosing to not be seen. I wasn’t attending with kindness to my own emotions that were right there, taking long term residence in my body and long forgotten. In turn I had these great expectations on others to validate me, sacrifice their own expression of direct experience and offer me accolades so that I would feel understood, worthy and valued. Of course this is unrealistic and only served to reinforce my insecurities and fears. In the end, I am responsible… but not to blame. Forgiveness.
This insight has been incredibly freeing for me in my relationships, yet remains to be a challenge in the face of antiquated societal constructs such as the role and expectation of a woman’s contribution to society and a certain linear conformity which represent these patterns. After many years, I have begun opening myself to self-expression and sharing myself without censorship, something that leaves me feeling very vulnerable. I often receive feedback from more conservative communities that my creative choices in expression are harmful, disappointing, and potentially dangerous to my future and reputation. When I share that I am not ashamed, I don’t feel there is controversy, and there is value to my contribution even if it does not please everybody, I have heard responses such as – ‘ so what about the people that say they value it, what about all the people that don’t?’ ‘Shouldn’t you think about the people that don’t share your same ideology and how your actions make them feel?’ There is really nothing to say. I deeply believe it is in service of the greater good to be transparent, authentic, and empower people to expand their perspectives in a non-harming, non-violent way.
And even though I don’t believe these labels and lines of inquiry to be based in a deeper truth, all the fears I suppressed, years of proving through consumption of degrees, founding and operating a valued community yoga studio, living in a comfortable apartment and collecting material possessions, I still struggle with feeling safe, truly being myself, and sharing my unique gifts and creativity. Even after all the years of collecting knowledge, practicing and teaching yoga and meditation, producing in the way we are taught to, my worst fears of feeling judged, abandoned, exploited, criticized, shamed and unwanted have been made conscious.
And as I continue to undress from all the layers I wore to keep me hidden, I am feeling that hit of self-consciousness, rejection, paralyzing fear of isolation, and judgement that I touched into and ran away from over and over again as a young child, teenager and young adult. But I am staying with it this time because I feel the power living in my transparency rooted in a sincere contribution, in my courage to show up authentically without restraint, hopefully empowering others to know and feel it is safe to do the same, and there is a community and a full successful life waiting to be realized.
As an adult woman, I am stepping into my agency and answering the call that rang all those years ago that as a young girl I didn’t have the tools to live in. I am holding the space for my own vulnerability and feelings, giving them permission to abide and be responsibly visible through my creativity without feeling shame or exploited. I am releasing the notion that my value is in the hands of other people’s approval, that receiving help to realize my aspirations make my efforts less than valuable, and I am reaffirming my commitment that accepting others and being accepted is an opportunity for a deeper intimacy and understanding.
I am extending value and gentleness to my disappointments and sadness in the face of being viewed as selfish. I am valuing my expression as a human over the unverified truth and belief that my sincere, pure based actions will do harm to others if I am not always pleasing to them. I am extending space and love to the fear that I will be estranged, isolated and unsafe by living true to the voice of my soul. And I give value to the real but untrue belief that continues to live in the consciousness of others with compassion.
This is my contribution. This is my sincere interest. Today I begin living.
My Enemy. My Friend.
Posted by Alana Kessler on July 8th, 2015 | 0 | Uncategorized
“To be more open.” That’s what I would say when people asked me what my motivation is for practice, and my heart would fill with warmth and my mind with fantasies of being surrounded by like minded individuals as we grew together in aligned awareness and communication.
It sounds so simple and so spiritually appropriate. Of course, I hope to be more loving, more compassionate, more available to share joy with others, and when I began on this path of formal practice in the 90’s I had a linear perspective of this journey. I felt there was a natural order to the opening, and a route in which the saturation of goodness would be most skillfully baked in, and thus transform me into this radiant being of breezy lighthearted love.
I recently had a conversation with my mentor Tripti, and we were discussing the changes I have made to my life and practice in the past handful of months. She asked me how I am feeling, what is the nature of my feelings, and if I have been having any intense emotions. I relayed that I have included new disciplines and people into my heart and shared that though I was noticing the increase in stimulation, need for conscious communication and general energy balancing, I was feeling pretty good – nothing extreme in either direction.
However, when I took a closer look through the feeling body in my meditation practice, another story was being told, and not for the first time – only this time instead of skimming the pages, I decided to read the lines and get to know the story. The story revealed that my sensations, though not overt, were the workings of what I have come to learn through my mindfulness studies as the seduction of the “near enemy”. The idea of the “near enemy” is that for every beneficial habit or more enlightened quality that we might develop in our mind through practice, there is a devious, and highly intelligent version of confusion which tries to masquerade very closely as the positive trait.
It is very natural, extremely subtle and much less obvious than the more well known “far enemies”. For example, the near enemy of loving kindness is selfish / conditional action where as the far enemy is painful ill – will. The near enemy of compassion is pity whereas the far enemy is cruelty. The near enemy of joy with others is exuberance and the far enemy is resentment, and lastly the near enemy of equanimity is indifference while the far enemy is clinging.
Through careful inquiry in my formal practices, I accepted the near enemies as very real guests in my consciousness and they were causing some serious havoc to my physical and subtle body. For as much as I wanted to be inclusive and loving, the knot in my stomach and throat, and throbbing in my jaw and forehead were inviting me to recognize the expectations and conditions I had around the new relationships and worldly inclusions in my life.
It was not easy to accept this, but once I did, I immediately felt an ease come over me, and through investigating deeper, I applied compassion to this near enemy of conditional action and unwholesome selfishness that I realize has been walking this path with me for years. I had a moment of internal cruelty which is a far enemy, berating myself for my failure to be “authentically open” (pity seemed to nice) and questioning my life’s work choice as a whole until I finally landed in a soft surrender of sadness, friendliness and appreciation for the understanding that is the true freedom. ( It is prudent to note that far enemies are easiest to shoot towards ourselves since nobody will judge us for it.. I came to intimately know this well.)
I realize now that this path isn’t linear, the enemies will always be circling, and the deeper you go, the more darkness is revealed. But it’s the continuous practice of courage and the willingness to walk in and among the darkness, open the windows to the enemies with curiosity, disentanglement and compassion. Its through this work that reveals the light of the natural awareness which shines and transforms, not only ourselves but all beings everywhere without exception.
Posted by Alana Kessler on June 30th, 2015 | 1 | Uncategorized
Lately I have been asked about my story. About the decisions and about the journey. It’s a funny thing, reflection – is the reflection about reflecting on the experience, or on how I thought I would feel when I “got there”.. It’s the getting there piece that has me turned around as I sit down at my computer to write.
There are so many versions, so much potential, so many rationalizations and expectations. I often say that I have made every decision with clear eyes and a clear heart since I was 25 years old.. Before 25, I lived my life much differently, with much less courage and a lot more insecurity. Not to say that insecurity and self judgement don’t find its way back in to my consciousness, but rather its presence isn’t the guest of honor or master of ceremonies.
There is that old adage, wherever you go there you are. I always heard it and nodded to myself – “ for sure, totally!”. That seemed kind of obvious as far as I was concerned and also endless. There are so many places to go, so many things I need to experience to find and refine myself. I remember thinking how neat and tidy things would be once I “did me” for 5 – 7 years. Maybe it would be lonely, maybe it would be challenging, but I was resilient and at peace with my progressive and non conformist attitude. There was a settling around the short term sacrifice for what I had faith would be long term happiness.
As I reflect back 9 years later, now at 34 years old, years of practice, heartbreak, successes and failures behind me I feel like I finally have realized that there is no strategy. I can’t help sometimes but sit with humility over the idea that I could somehow freeze life around me while I took the time to grow up. I have no regrets, for every choice I have made over the past decade have been mine and for that I am grateful and feel extremely privileged for the opportunity.
But the circumstance and container in which I now navigate this “newer me” is so different from 2006/7 and I find myself on occasion on shaky ground within myself. There’s no getting around technology has made a major impact on the way we relate to each other interpersonally and I am feeling the shift now that I am including more people and experiences into my life. Its such a shockingly different time, the way we engage with one another, communicate and I am finding it challenging trying to connect with people, cultivate relationships and intimacy in this new age of instant gratification.
Maybe it’s because our generation were the guinea pigs of this new revolution, therefore the most sensationalized by it, the most reactive to its pervasive and ironic “connectedness”. Maybe I am just overly sensitive and nostalgic for a simpler time when the glossy life and relationship wasn’t promoted and imprinted on my consciousness as something that actually exists and it something to aspire towards. Or maybe I’ve just finally understood that the happiness and short term satisfaction sought through external means is sometimes a reflection of the fear of the mundanity of achieving it, and aversion to the vulnerability and stillness of contentment.
What I have learned is this.. There is no future that waits for the present to catch up to it. There is no person who validates the truth of your own core happiness, and through which you will then be happy. There is only the direct experience of the moment and the choice of how to shape it, how to own and how to love it exactly as it is…When this is the method, happiness is spontaneously known
To Be a Student and Teacher
Posted by Alana Kessler on June 23rd, 2015 | 0 | Blog, Community, Musings, Yoga
To Be a Student and Teacher
by Sasha Nelson
To be a student is to be a teacher. To be a teacher is to be a student. We can’t be one without the other.
Have you ever tried to explain to someone how to do something using only your words? It’s not always smooth sailing, but we do it all the time – telling our barista how we want our matcha lattes, training someone at work how to do a specific task, leaving a note for a friend with instructions on how to feed our cat while we’re away, encouraging a child to tie a shoe or walk for that matter.
This is all relatable to teaching asana: explaining to students in the best way we can how to place their foot, while aligning the knee and elongating their spine by using the breath… Before we become and as we grow as teachers of anything, it is imperative to be a student. How can we ourselves teach others if we don’t know what it’s like to learn?
When I first began training to teach, I remember how overwhelmed I was with the amount of information I didn’t yet and may never know. I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable, as if the amount of facts I was able to store in my brain index was a measurement of my accomplishments or abilities.
Then one of my teachers reminded me what a relief it was that we will never know everything there is to know. No one expects this of us except ourselves, and what a joy it is to learn something new! You know that feeling you get when you discover something for the first time that creates a little energetic spark within you? We can count on that joyful experience always being available simply by showing up to learn as a student of life.
Yoga is not confined to an asana practice – in its totality it is a means of looking at ourselves and/or connecting to something bigger. So whatever practice it is that makes you feel more connected to yourself – whether it’s painting, exercising, knitting, singing – I encourage you to continue learning and forever find that creative spark.
It is imperative to be open to not only being a student of something, but also to finding the space and patience to teach what you’ve learned to others. It implies to teaching everything from asana to language to forgiveness.
This is not always an easy flowing feat, whether you’re teaching with words or demonstrations, and can very quickly trigger emotions like frustration. It can be like trying to teach patience to someone who is impatient, then losing your own patience as a result.
What we teach we learn, and what we learn we teach.
This is why both being a student and a teacher is so valuable. We are teachers as siblings, friends, parents, pet-owners, colleagues and beyond. Because teaching others can often feel tricky and time-consuming, it can reflect and test our own human characteristics of compassion, understanding and softness. When we are able to approach the way in which we teach others with that sense of openness and non-judgement, we will continue to teach ourselves just as much as the student.
I invite you to contemplate: how do you learn from others, teach others, and learn from or teach yourself? Can you find a bit more room in your heart when discomfort arises as a student and teacher of life? Most importantly, can you be open to the ways in which the experience of being a student and teacher is ultimately a reflection of yourself (whether you like that reflection or not)?
Let me know your thoughts on this topic by commenting below – join the conversation on what it means and what it feels like both to learn and instruct.
Goods For Good Fundraiser Yoga Class
Posted by Alana Kessler on June 9th, 2015 | 0 | Asana, Featured Class, Featured Event
I am honored to be collaborating with this wonderful organization / Goods for Good on June 20th
Please come out and share in the yoga and generosity cultivated through this event.
Tickets // $25 (100% of funds will be donated)
Blends by Lulitonix
click to purchase
Posted by Alana Kessler on June 9th, 2015 | 0 | Blog, Musings
“Am I crazy” she asked ” I feel like I am sometimes”. “Maybe” he said rubbing her forehead. “But don’t worry about it. You need to be a little bit crazy. Crazy is the price you pay for having imagination. It’s your superpower. Tapping into the dream. It’s a good thing not a bad thing” Ruth Ozeki ( A Tale for the Time Being)
Posted by Alana Kessler on June 9th, 2015 | 0 | Teacher Spotlight
We caught up with Maria Cutrona, who will begin teaching her unique Vinyasa style on Thursday at 6:30pm.
Practice with her Saturdays at 12:30pm as well
What is your practice style?
My practice style is Mysore practice/Ashtanga
What do you resonate with most about Sangha Yoga Shala?
I’m really thrilled to be part of the Sangha Yoga Shala teaching staff. I find the studio deeply committed to lineage which sets up a strong foundation for the students practice.
What are your favorite ways to nourish your body?
I keep my diet fairly simple and consistent relying heavily on kitchari and seasonal vegetables . I drink plenty of lemon water and though I do drink fresh juices I try to keep this to a minimum.
If a friend visited NYC, where would you take them?
The area along the river are some of NY’s finest whether on the Brooklyn or Manhattan side . I often suggest a ride on the water taxi to get a feel for this port city. Other favorite haunts, Ft. Greene Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.
What is your go to self care method?
Frequent body work (1x) a week helps me to keep my energy in balance. I have the most amazing chiropractor is anyone needs help!
Something we don’t know about you…
Former dancer ; always a dancer? The quiet of Monhegan Island restores my soul and where I take pen to paper.
Thank you Maria <3