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!

xoxo

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