Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Notes From The Road: BKK and CNX

Holy holy holy
Sa wat dee kha from Thailand, where, in a hilarious turn of events, we are having a nasty, wet cold snap. No part of the Asian continent has been spared; it's so cold in Shanghai that the water pipes have frozen. So much for skipping winter! Luckily my friend and travel partner, Rachel, had previously visited Thailand and warned me that it might be cooler in the north, where we now find ourselves shivering in the outdoor restaurants in which we were sweating a couple days ago. Still, I'm layered up and having the time of my life!

Thailand is beautiful and wild, rich with daily devotion in the form of big, ornate temples and tiny ancestral shrines which dot the streets outside businesses and sometimes stand alone, seemingly random yet well maintained. We began our journey in Bangkok, which possesses the manic magic of New York City but with far more interesting street life. Because Bangkok is so consistently warm, so much life is lived outside. We stayed in Chinatown, which is enormous and incredibly dense. Every alleyway leads into a winding vortex of things to buy; from
Street cat
unidentifiable, delicious foods, to innumerable plastic trinkets, to produce markets, to clothing stalls, you can find pretty much anything tucked away in a Chinatown back alley. The city is adorably overrun by stray cats, many of whom are so tiny and all of whom I want to bring home. We came across so many strange treasures, like the huge monitor lizards which live in the lake of a public park. They're so intimidatingly big and dinosaur-like, I can't comprehend how they're allowed to run free.

As much delight as I found in BKK, after a week it electrified my being to the point of short circuit. When we boarded the night train north to Chiang Mai, it was with relief for a drastic change of pace. The
Little dinosaur
night train was such a sweet, special experience all on its own. We opted for a 2nd class AC sleeper car, affording each of us our own shockingly comfortable bunk. Our tin can chariot lumbered and swayed through the cities growing smaller and into the lush green of the Thai countryside. Jungle opened into neatly domesticated farm land. Ban Pin. Mae Mo. Khun Tan. Occasionally we would groan to a creeping halt to pick up or drop off a lone traveler at a brightly decorated train station which seemed to have sprung directly from the earth amidst dense vegetation. I have a crush on you, Thailand.

We're now passing pleasurable time in calmer, more comfortable Chiang Mai. The turn of weather led to some much needed rest after dozens of miles of walking over a week and a half of travel. I feel a terrible sense of guilt staying in and taking naps when there is so much splendor left unseen. Yet there is no way to sustain the level of activity we've been averaging over the course of this lengthy journey. After the ecstasy, the laundry...which am close to needing to do. Life still requires maintenance. Ordinary things still need to happen, even in extraordinary places. In the flow of the strange and the new, the mundane can feel delicious, though.
Wild and untamed

And once again we're reminded that it's all a gift. Savor every flavor of experience.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Spiritual Fitness: NYC Edition

Exhibit A
People who are interested in beginning a practice in yoga often ask me for advice- how to get started, where to go? Yoga has been a part of my life for 17 years and the amount of yoga selfies I shamelessly take in all manner of places make it obvious that I'm a little bit smitten. I will certainly grow old with yoga and it will stand as the longest intimate relationship of my life. (The traditional 17th anniversary gift is furniture. Yoga and I are registered at Pottery Barn.)

Yoga serves different purposes in my life. It's a spiritual practice, for sure, but the classes I've been taking lately barely have so much as an OM. They are slower and full of rich, technical instruction. As I grow up in my practice, I'm far more interested in the Why behind the poses. I've become a big fan of good alignment and intelligent sequencing. Since my constitution also demands that I move vigorously, I take powerful, fast paced flow classes. The commonality in all my movement is that I pour my full attention into each breath with total devotion. This linking of breath to movement has been proven to very effectively combat PTSD, as well as anxiety and depression. For me, it has the added benefit of doing what yoga is designed by name to do: to yoke. It gives me a personal,
Exhibit B
visceral experience of my innate and unbreakable connection to The Divine. As I practice, I feel God operating in me and myself operating in God. Overtime, I have learned to take this off the mat and into my daily householder life.

The rise of corporate yoga has proven that God doesn't have to be anywhere near yoga; the practice space can be safe for those who don't desire to sing out to any gods or to the ones they don't recognize. From my perspective, chanting a mantra doesn't make you or yoga spiritual, though. It's the attitude and intent you bring to your practice. We don't have to be in a house of worship to worship. My body is the sacred space. In my practice, whether slow or fast, I honor the Breath behind my breath as I lovingly, mindfully move. 

If you're in New York City and wondering how to begin, or bring more depth and richness to, a spirit-filled life, I offer you a list of my favorite places to move, breathe and be.

Devotional Movement

Yoga to the People: Their foundational flow is basic and the classes are often too crowded to get attention, but it's good yoga and donation based- a good place to start that is also very affordable! I wouldn't recommend their hot yoga, as I'm no longer a hot yoga advocate, but I love their class offerings at YTTP2. If you're up for a challenge, Doorways to a Deeper Practice is dynamite.

Annie Piper is the boss
The Shala Yoga House: Shala is a teeny tiny Ashtanga-based studio in the basement of a Fort Greene apartment building. As unassuming as it appears, it offers up the most consistently good practice I’ve found in New York. Annie Piper’s classes in particular are not to be missed! Annie teaches a deeply grounded, slow, mindful class that is readily accessible to anyone and very healing. She is now offering a monthly, donation based meditation event called Breathe-In NYC (see the flyer on the left!). If you can't make an Annie class, everyone else at Shala is awesome! 

Abhaya Yoga: Another Brooklyn gem! I've enjoyed all the classes I've taken at Abhaya, but particularly appreciate Tara Glazier, the owner and founder. Bhava Friday is my favorite way to close a week. And if you're a yoga teacher or enthusiastic student, Tara's Wednesday afternoon Advanced Practice is amazing! Tara is very anatomy smart and I learn so much from her.

Sacred Sounds Yoga: At Sacred Sounds, it's all about Liz Mandarano. She teaches an open level class on Monday mornings, but her Tuesday 2/3 class gives me so much life...while also very quietly kicking my yoga butt. Liz is incredibly smart and talented, offering a class made challenging by how slow and mindful it is. "How am I sweating and shaking so much when we've barely done anything??" I find myself thinking every time.

Yoga Vida NYC: Saturday afternoon Deep Flow with Dominic Savino is my favorite weekend highlight. His playlists are always killer and his flow is indeed deep, but also fun, intelligent and sweaty. It's my favorite yoga party in town!

Yoga Shanti: Urban Zen is a really beautiful restorative class that helps me unwind so deeply that I have to sit for awhile before heading back out onto the street. If you're in the mood to move, I can't recommend Ally Bogard highly enough. Like the lady teachers above, Ally teaches a smart, mindful class that feels great. She also teaches at Twisted Trunk Yoga. Yoga stalk her! She's so good!!

**All these studios are on Classpass, with the exception of Yoga to the People.

Meditation and Contemplation

Dharma Punx NYC: You'll find the Dharma Punx meeting all over New York (and across the US), but the richest offering for me is on Monday nights at Maha Rose in Greenpoint with Josh Korda. The class begins with 30 minutes of seated, silent meditation, followed by a themed lecture that seamlessly blends Buddhist wisdom and neuroscience. Josh is a brilliant neuroscience researcher as well as a Buddhist teacher, and his bringing the two together grounds what might otherwise be considered hippie woowoo in scientific reality. Meditation changes your brain. Here's how! Dharma Punx is a non-judgmental, diverse, compassionate community and the classes give practical solutions for dealing with all manner of suffering. It's one of the most valuable things I do in New York and enriches my life immensely. It's also donation based, so accessible and affordable!

Spiritual Home and Community

Liberty Church NYC: Speaking of spiritual enrichment! Liberty is full of recovering Catholics like myself; people who love and believe in a New Testament God who is about compassion, not fire and brimstone. I'm not much of a church person, but Liberty is the real deal. The founders, Paul and Andi, are fully committed to bringing everyone who walks in the door not just to Jesus but into a loving community who will do life with them. Every Sunday is a vibrant, joyous Jesus party. I never knew worship in church to be such a lighthearted celebration. Aside from weekly services, there are seasonal small groups where you can explore your faith, or just be social, with kind, supportive hearts. I'm so grateful to have found Liberty and to do life with this beautiful family.

Have a very happy, spiritually fit 2016, ladies and gents!


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Joy Of Missing Out

DTLA is cute even when it's grey
It's grey in LA and I'm holed up with one of my best and oldest friends listening to rainy day music and being creative. Prior to leaving New York a few weeks ago, I was experiencing terrible FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). New York doesn't care if you're there or not! New York is going to continue being a thrilling, interesting place. New York waits for no man. In all my lamenting about missing out, my friend Mary told me that I needed to have JOMO...the Joy Of Missing Out on winter in New York and everything unpleasant about being in the city that never stops yelling. After walking around LA in the sun without a jacket or boots, I'm happy to report that my FOMO has been replaced by JOMO. I love you, New York. See you in April!

Trans America
Returning to San Francisco was a strange experience. Several people warned me to expect the changes that have evolved the city so rapidly. SFO was my return ticket at the end of every trip for a long time, but it stopped feeling like home when I left in 2010. I could sense the turning tide. When I moved out, I was paying $825 for my studio. The rent then went up to $1200 and is now over $1700. It's a cool old building and a great apartment but it was then and remains a crack block in a spicy neighborhood. I had the sense that if I moved out I wouldn't be able to afford to return. I'm sad to be right, but the steep rent hikes are merely symptomatic of the larger cultural shifts that make San Francisco unappealing to me now. If I won the lottery I still wouldn't move back.

It's an odd sort of cognitive dissonance to know a place so intimately yet feel completely foreign there. When I emerge from the train station, my body knows exactly where to go. I can function entirely on autopilot. I walked through my old neighborhood the other day, the same years long well tread path, and it felt like deja vu, like a memory from a dream or another lifetime. Did this really happen?

In a way, it was another lifetime, though. Even being back in LA, which is a homey place for me, has me blinking with wonder at the woman I've become in the 18 months since I was last here. New York has been an intensely clarifying crucible that while harsh, has brought out the smartest, sharpest, savviest version of myself yet. It's taken a lot out of me and turned me into a coffee person, but in return it's trained up my hustle game to Olympic level excellence. I have surely set a world record for fastest reply to an email for a gig.

In a way I love the hustle. I've really enjoyed learning how capable I am at making money. If you have a strange or difficult relationship with money, move to New York. There are equally expensive cities, but it's also wildly competitive and will constantly demand, "How badly do you want to be here?" To survive in New York, you have to make friends with money, which means treating it with the same respect and care you would anything else that's dear to you. I track every outgoing dollar to make sure that its being thoughtfully spent. Money doesn't rule my life- I share generously and will turn down work in favor of fun- but I've made it a partner in doing cool and beautiful things in the world. We're as happy together as we've ever been.

That being said, I did decide to check out for four months. I'm experiencing great JOMO on refreshing my inbox every 30 seconds so I don't miss a good gig. I have enormous JOMO on the melting snowy sludge garbage piles of early spring, slipping on black ice or the feeling of thousands of tiny knives stabbing my exposed skin on particularly bitter days. There are nice things I miss, but I'm too drunk on sunshine and real Mexican food to be totally overtaken by this.

There's no way that we can be everywhere doing all the fun things all at once. By choosing one thing, this sometimes makes other choices unavailable for the moment or forever. We will always be missing out on something, but sometimes that something isn't what we would enjoy anyway. Put other times and places out of mind. I too often find myself lamenting what *isn't* rather than celebrating and appreciating what *is*. It's something I'm working on because gratitude feels better and makes every day so rich.

And let's be real: when you have the option to take a months long, exotic dream trip, gratitude is the only appropriate response. Please remind me of this if I complain at any point. Traveler's diarrhea and jet lag are a privilege.

(p.s. If you have intel on beautiful/delicious/fun/magical things and places in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia or Bali, I'm all ears. I'm usually a fastidious planner but this time am relying on whimsy and all your good ideas.)


All in for the moment