Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Day of Gratitude...

Happy Thanksgiving!  My favorite holiday.  All the love and family and yummy grub of Christmas, but without the pressure to wow with photo cards, decor, and presents.  My Mom actually grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and I remember spending the majority of my childhood Thanksgivings at my Nana and Grandpa's house~ the same house in which my Mom grew up.  Plymouth is a quaint, beautiful little beach town that is every bit the Home of Thanksgiving it's cracked up to be.  Nana worked at Plimoth (yes, it was spelled the old fashioned way!) Plantation for years, and she would hand Mom and me our Pilgrim garb upon arrival and haul us off to volunteer during Thanksgiving Day festivities.  Somehow, Dad was always off the hook from dressing up, and he relished snapping incriminating photos of the two of us looking uncomfortable and ridiculous.  It's funny, though, what you appreciate as you get older.  I miss Nana's stash of peppermint Tic-Tacs.  I miss the smell of Grandpa's aftershave~ which, I'm now pretty sure was mixed with the scent of Ben-Gay.  I miss the creaky, so-steep-they're-silly stairs in the house.  I miss the Massachusetts accents and practicing saying words like "hauce" instead of "horse."  I miss playing endless rounds of Cribbage, Go Fish, and Gin Rummy with them as Mom read a book and Dad watched TV or napped in the background.  I am so thankful for every moment I got to spend with my grandparents and every moment I spent in wonderful Plymouth.

Last year, I participated in the '21 Days of Gratitude' Challenge that sporadically sweeps across Facebook and the Internet.  I began each day journaling about everything for which I felt grateful~a habit I have tried to sustain mentally through daily meditation.  This year had its challenges.  Today though, on Thanksgiving, I am thankful for so much in my life.   In honor of the 21 Days of Gratitude Challenge, here is my speed version for 2012:

I am grateful for...

1.  My sweet and supportive husband.
2.  My parents.
3.  My 2 adorable cats, Dockers and Martin, who are 100% love & keep us endlessly entertained.
4.  Marine Street Cafe ~ our new favorite neighborhood coffee/food spot.
5.  My amazing, talented, hilarious, and supportive girlfriends.
6.  My dear friend, Amy Ross, my BFF from high school who is, to this day, the 1st person to call me on my birthday every single year.  Words cannot express my appreciation.
7.  My yoga students, who inspire me daily.
8.  The gluten-free aisle at Whole Foods.  Thank you, God.
9.  Speaking of food, I am so thankful for Pamela Salzman and her incredible cooking classes.  Because of her, I now actually believe I am capable of creating healthy, tasty meals even with my limited chopping skills and teeny counter space.  Who knew?
10. Pinterest.   The binder situation was getting out of control.
11. The opportunity to re-connect with old friends and out-of-touch family this year.  Despite distance and busy lives, I have never stopped wondering how everyone was.  It feels good to say hi again.  :-)
12. Fit On spin classes!!!!  (this will be its own blog post...coming soon!)
13. The Pujalets, Vances, and Zunichs. :-)
14. The opportunity to travel so much this year!  Australia, New York/Brooklyn, Tahoe, San Francisco, Maui, camping at El Cap...good for the soul...
15. Our teacher trainees, their hard work and dedication, and my "business partner" and friend, Shelley Williams.  The schedule is grueling, but the reward is spending time with all of you!
16. Coconut Bliss~ specifically, Cappuccino, Ginger Cookie, and Chocolate-Peanut Butter.
17.  Ely, our waiter at Pancho's.  He has worked there for 35 years, drives all the way from Sylmar to work, knows our drink order, teaches us Spanish, and greets us with a hug.  He is one of the most darling souls I have ever met.
18.  The Voice.  Finally, a TV show that Darren and I can agree on!
19. My yoga practice~ I shudder to think what a nut ball I'd be without it.
20. Our home.  It's very small, with tandem parking and a lack of storage space.  The plan is another 1-2 years.  But it's cozy and warm and 1 block from the Strand, walking distance to El Porto and downtown Manhattan Beach, with a peekaboo ocean/sunset view from our bedroom window.  I feel incredibly fortunate to live where we do.
21.  The wonderful, engrossing, inspiring books I have read this year and the time to read them!  Some of my faves:
Discovery of Witches (Harry Potter-esque, romantic, and brainy)
Gone Girl (so clever and so sick!)
Wonderful Tonight (memoir from the woman who inspired "Layla" and "Wonderful Tonight")
What Remains (if you love good writing, tragedy, and the Kennedys, this one's for you!)
Cutting for Stone (heartbreaking...just beautiful)
And Then There Were None ( this is why everyone loves Agatha Christie!  brilliant.)

Have a beautiful day, friends.  Love, Gen

Friday, September 28, 2012

To DJ or Not to DJ...That is the Question

Ohhh, how I wish I were a DJ!   I’m not talking about one of those uber-hip, techie geniuses revving up dance floors across the globe.  (Anyone who knows me knows how, to quote Tommy Lee, “sautéed in wrong sauce” that would be!)  No, I want to be one of those old-school, run-of-the-mill, close-to-obsolete DJ’s who just loves tunes and babbles about celebrities and traffic.  After all, I’m chatty.   Marginally obsessed with many genres of music.  And, most importantly, though most days I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, I have an uncanny knack for retaining useful gems like… the fact that Rupert Holmes was the artist behind the “Pina Colada Song.”  I know.  It’s a gift.

The beautiful thing about teaching vinyasa flow yoga is that, if I choose, I can actually pretend to be a DJ on a daily basis.  Two careers in one!  Perhaps double the salary?  If only.   When I first began teaching, I would actually spend hours each week burning yoga-appropriate playlists onto blank CD’s (ok, sometimes I missed the mark on the ‘appropriate’ part).  Then, along came my beloved BFF, the iPod.  A life-changer for a flow teacher!

Alas, twelve years after I began teaching, and probably over 100 playlists later, I am faced daily with internal conflict.  As much as I love music, and as much as it inspires, does it really have a place in yoga classes?  I struggle with the answer to that, and I’m not convinced there’s a right one.  Like many other dilemmas in life, the answer may be, “it depends”.

I had a wonderful mentor who affectionately referred to the thumping, high-energy, musical yoga classes as “the ones that get people in the door”.   This made sense to me.   When I first began my yoga practice, I came from a dance and running background.  I thrived on high-energy and loud music.  It made me want to move.  It brought out emotions that otherwise may have lay dormant.  A teacher’s awesome playlist made me want to return to that teacher’s class.  Likewise, as I embarked on a teaching path, I felt safer when the music was on.  I thought, insecurely, that if my sequence and teaching weren’t good enough that day, maybe they’d like the playlist and come back anyway.  Nothing is better than a depressing, tear-jerking power-ballad in pigeon pose, right?  Music, when carefully selected for a flow class, can be thematic, evocative, and meditative.  It can be an effective teaching tool, if the mood of the playlist matches the journey you’re taking your students on that day.   And, yes, it still gets the yoga-shy in the door.  Isn’t the world a better place when more folks are practicing yoga?

On the other hand, as my own practice and teaching have evolved, I find music to be a distraction.  When we’re on our mats, the whole point is to get still and focus on our breathing.  We are so bombarded with stimuli all day, and what is so healing and calming about yoga is that we can retreat from those stimuli for a little while.

At the moment, turning the music off completely would likely be jarring for my regular students.  I have found a compromise in making my current playlists more ambient and always offering 10-20 minutes of class time sans music.  On recent days when my iPod was on the fritz or temporarily missing, I have wondered, “Is the  Universe trying to tell me something?”  For now, I will continue to play DJ.  And, for those of you frequently asking me to post my music, here are a couple of recent playlists to have some fun with (everything is available on iTunes):

Eternal Dance            9:13   Gabrielle Roth & The Mirrors         
Om Namah Shivaya (Eastern Sun mix) 6:23  Donna De Lory    
Be Set Free     4:00    Josh Garrels  
Shambala       3:41    Beastie Boys  
Nwahulwana (remastered) 6:41    Orchestra Marrabenta        
Crystalised     3:22    The XX           
Under the Milky Way           3:35    Sia                              
Fruits of Labor           7:22    Glen Velez                 
Loka    4:47    Ena Vie          
Yesterday       7:34    Rara Avis       
Corner            4:41    Jai Uttal & The Pagan Love Orchestra
What You Are (Acoustic)      3:33    Jewel                          
Society            3:56    Eddie Vedder                                   
Any Other Name       4:08    Thomas Newman                                         

Bhakti Gita     8:17    Masood Ali Khan      
1000 Suns     4:26    Micheline Berry & Shaman's Dream
My Baba (feat. Krishna Das)           3:47    Trevor Hall    
Bittersweet Symphony         5:58    The Verve     
The Richest Man In Babylon            3:50    Thievery Corporation
Unity   7:19    Glen Velez     
Is Love Enough (feat. Gentleman)  5:08    Michael Franti & Spearhead                                   
Protection      7:53    Massive Attack          
Shambho Mahadeva 8:24    SWAHA                      
Elevator Beat 2:44    Nancy Wilson            
Shanti (Peace Out)   6:59    MC Yogi                      

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Super Mario and the Girl Who Listened...

I am not one for political rants.  Growing up, my Mom was a bonafide, card-carrying liberal.  My Dad was the son of a political journalist, so he’s always been about as politically vocal as Switzerland.  I, naturally, landed somewhere in the middle—full of opinions, but reluctant to voice them until provoked.  In the midst of constant election coverage via traditional and social media, I have heard many a rant in the past several months, and I have done my fair share of cringing.  A while back, I heard a recorded Success Magazine interview with Maria Shriver.  Asked why the country has become so divided politically and whether it was irreparable, she said, “I fear that we have lost the ability to listen to each other.”  I fear that she is right.

For some reason, her comment has lingered at the back of my mind.  It seems to me that, when I first became politically aware, Republicans simply believed in big business, small government, and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.  Democrats believed in big government and the funding of social services for those who didn’t even have boots to begin with.   When I was 13, I actually remember proudly announcing to my mother that I was a Republican--no doubt to her abject horror.  I have to give Mom credit for nodding and smiling, biting her acerbic little tongue, and patiently waiting for me to find my own way politically.    My 13-year-old self chirped at Mom that, after all, Lincoln was a Republican and he freed the slaves.  Ronald Reagan was a Republican, and he seemed like the nicest, most grandfatherly man, didn’t he?  And, best of all, Republicans always seemed to have a lot of money.  I wanted a lot of money—mostly for clothes.  Therefore, I was definitely a Republican.  Until I wasn’t.

One day in 1984, my parents were watching the Democratic National Convention on TV.  They were busying themselves in the kitchen after dinner, waiting for the big moment when nominee Michael Dukakis (remember him?) would speak.  Mario Cuomo, then governor of New York, was giving the nomination speech that night.  I sat there by myself on the living room floor, Leave-it-to-Beaver-style, staring with an odd fascination at the TV screen.   Mario Cuomo began to speak about education, about welfare, about healthcare, about women's rights, about the common man.  His voice was thundering.  Commanding.  Resolute.  He was articulate, persuasive, confident, fists pumping in the air.  I don’t remember the details of his speech, but I remember that at its heart was a strong commitment to social responsibility and the notion that we must take care of one another—that we are all one.   I was deeply moved, and for the first time, something political made sense to me.  His speech said to me, “Just because you’ve made it in life doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be programs out there to help those that haven’t had the same luck and opportunity.”  I found myself internally cheering him on, this superhero.   Yes!  Yes!  I understand!  Forget video games.  This was the original Super Mario.  I was hooked.  And I knew it was a defining moment.  Funny that I have always looked at my yoga teaching path as something random.  I wonder if the seed was planted that evening, listening to my Super Mario.

Four years later, I was entering my senior year of high school while the country was entering another election year.  At Glastonbury High School, all seniors were required to assemble each morning in the auditorium for a class called Current Issues, affectionately known as CI.  The teachers of our social studies department gave lectures daily on rotation, and we were required each week to read—cover to cover—Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report.  Sadly, I must admit that my time in that class was probably the most politically informed I have ever been.  We had weekly debates on serious, relevant issues.  I remember a kid named Chris debating on gays in the military, saying he’d “rather have a guy covering his ass than looking at it”.  I also remember a shy, sweet Vietnamese girl named Tram tearfully scolding all 425 of her classmates during a debate on low budget housing.  Many in the room had a snotty, not-in-my-town attitude, while she told us what it was like to be from an immigrant family struggling to make it.  Tram couldn’t have stood more than 4’10” tall, but that day she was a giant, with more backbone and guts than any of the rest of us combined.  To this day, I am so grateful for the gift of that CI class; it taught me how important it is to stay informed and to truly listen to both sides of an argument before mouthing off.  It taught me that political and social issues are complex and emotional, and that it’s alright to disagree.

Inspired by my memories, with Maria Shriver’s comment still nagging at me, I decided several weeks ago to get informed--really informed-- for this election.  I set an intention to listen.  I watched both conventions.  I watched a CNN special on Mitt Romney.  I have read articles from both sides of the political spectrum.  I have even (gulp), watched a few minutes of Fox News.  A few minutes were all I could actually handle without a far stiffer cocktail than I had handy.  But hey, I did try.  Has anything changed my political views?  No.  Watching the other side has pushed every button I have.   I have cringed, eye-rolled, and yelled.  I will still vote for Obama.  I am still afraid of Paul Ryan.  What I am, however, is more tolerant of the other side.  My frustration and disapproval have softened.  I understand that likely many of my Republican friends have, at some point, had their own Super Mario moment, when a voice deep inside said, “this is what I believe to be right.”  If anything, listening to both sides has—to quote every president in recent memory—“strengthened my resolve” to stay informed, to listen and absorb, and to make an effort to understand other points of view.    I have realized that if I vote from an informed, tolerant, issue-based place, I have done my part in the best way that I can.  Yoga is not about being Switzerland.  Yoga is about action.  It’s about standing up for your convictions and being respectful of others and theirs.  It’s about discovering your own truths and not being afraid to speak them, in a mindful, non-harming way.  Sometimes, my yoga practice is about finding my voice and using it as wisely as possible.  This fall, however, my yoga practice is all about listening.  What a peaceful vantage point it has turned out to be.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why I Teach...

I do love my job.  However, being a yoga teacher is sort of an odd career choice.  I spend a large portion of my day telling folks where to place their feet and hands and where to look.  I touch sweaty bodies all day.  Clients regularly confide in me about their struggles, drop their drawers to show me injuries, and openly discuss all sorts of private ailments and issues typically reserved for doctors and therapists.  I am constantly reminding people to breathe and babbling in Sanskrit, saying impossibly complicated things like "utthita hasta padangustasana," when all I really want is for everyone to pick up their leg and grab their big toe.  And that's an odd thing, when you think about it- getting paid for wanting people to do such things.  I live in sweats and spandex.  Square hips, healthy sacrums, and perfectly "flointed" feet make me swoon.  I am faced daily with the conundrum of trying to live simply & humbly as a yogi but having to constantly self-promote via Facebook, mass emails, etc. to make a good living.

On the other hand, nothing I have ever done has brought me more pride and gratitude than teaching.  My students have taught me far more over the years than I have taught them.  They have given me support and love and laughter when I needed it.  Watching their practices grow is a constant source of joy.  My students are my extended family, and I rarely, if ever, wake up and think, "I don't want to go to work today."

A couple of years ago, I began leading teacher trainings at Yoga Loft in Manhattan Beach.  Last year, I teamed up with my dear friend and amazing teacher, Shelley Williams, to form Yoga Mittra, a teaching training school offering both 200-hour and 500-hour Yoga-Alliance-registered programs.  I am frequently asked by fence-straddling potential trainees, "I just don't know.  It's a lot of time, and a lot of money.  Should I do this?"

If you are thinking about becoming a yoga teacher, all I can say is that it is one of the best decisions I have ever made.  If you have any reservations, they will be laid to rest the first time one of your students comes up to you and says, "Thank you for helping me."  As a yoga teacher, you have the capacity to turn someone's day around and make them feel a little better--if just for a moment.  Further, your students' gratitude and progress has the potential to turn your day around.  The yoga teacher-student relationship is one of the most trusting and mutually-respectful I have ever encountered.  What greater gift is there, really?

And now for the inevitable shameless plug:  

For more info regarding Yoga Mittra and our various courses, please visit  

Monday, July 2, 2012

I Heart NY...Even Its 'Housewives'

As you can see, it's been over a year since I've posted.  No excuse, other than a few little things like planning a wedding, having surgery, and co-leading teacher trainings have pulled me away from writing.  At times, blogging also seemed a bit self-indulgent, so I shied away from it.  I have missed writing, though, and it's funny where those little realizations come from.  Mine came while watching the first episode of this season's Real Housewives of New York.  There, I said it.  I love the show.  (Please don't judge.)  Anyway, Carole Radziwill is my new hero.  It is a mystery how such a smart cookie wound up on a show that often defies intellect, but I am enthralled.  I grew up fascinated by 5 things other than loved ones and dance:  NYC, writing, the news, the Kennedys, and music.  Carole Radziwill is an acclaimed author and ABC News journalist, a New Yorker, and she married into the Kennedy family.  She is currently dating a musician who tours with one of my favorite bands, Aerosmith.  She kills me.  I'm in awe.  So, I decided to read her book, What Remains.  It's wonderful.  Well-written, genuine, and tells a great story.  I feel fortunate to have read several stellar books this year that have reminded me how much I love to read.  What Remains reminded me that I also love to write.  So, I am giving this blogging thing another go.  Which leads me back to...the Real Housewives.

I watch the show each week to my husband's cringing and disappointment.  "Why are you watching this? It's not expansive!  You're killing brain cells!   It's so negative!", he pleads.  My stock response is, "Well, it's not just me!  Anderson Cooper watches it, too, ya know!!!"  I have to admit, though, that I have begun to question how a smart cookie like me wound up loving this absurd show.  The answer hit me one morning, the moment I opened up my Facebook page (my other go-to time-waster.)  A generous portion of my "Facebook friends" are yogis.  I am presented each day with posts offering life lessons, positive affirmations, inspirational quotes, and more x's and o's and uses of the word "beautiful" than you would ever think possible.  And most days, I soak it up and bask in it, this heavy dose of sunshine.  Most days, I am that person.  Sometimes I even borrow one of the quotes and read it to my students in the hopes of making their days brighter.  When it works, I get hugs and thank you's.  I truly believe that the world would be a better place if everyone took deeper breaths and practiced more yoga and meditation.  I love a good quote.  I believe in the law of attraction.  I love hugs.  I make vision boards.  And what could possibly be wrong with that?  Nothing.  And that's the problem.

It occurred to me that morning that, if an alien looked at my Facebook page, he'd surely report back to his ummm...tribe?... that Earthlings drive unicorns and poop rainbows.  The reality is that sometimes life is difficult and messy and painfully imperfect.  Here in shiny, sparkly LA, with it's perfect weather and perfect bodies, I sometimes long for the grit of New York.  I miss the cold winters and sticky summers.  I miss the honking horns and bustling crowds.  I miss seeing women in their 50's with naturally gray hair.  I miss the cranky hot dog stand guy who unabashedly yells obscenities at a rude customer without the slightest fear of appearing (gasp!) "negative".  You see, I love New York because, even with all of this ugliness, it is still one of the most luminous, energetic, abundant, and beautiful places to be.  It is balanced.  It is real.  It is the city that never sleeps and therefore a place where I feel incredibly awake.  Even many of my favorite yoga teachers~Vinnie Marino, Seane Corn, Jesse Schein~ are all from (you guessed it!) the tri-state area.

I harbor no delusions that Real Housewives of New York offers even remotely as much actual reality as the City in which it plays out.  It's so silly, and none of them is even really a housewife--they all work!  However, if my days are full of love and light and positivity, is it so wrong to tune in to a little appalling, train wreck, mean-girl drama every now and again?  I think it's ok.  It makes me feel balanced.  It reminds me that ugly and crazy and shocking are out there, lurking.  And it gives me a peekaboo glimpse of the shops, restaurants, and sights that I miss.  So, this summer, Anderson Cooper and I will continue to bust out the popcorn and watch the bad behavior unfold (sorry, sweetie).  And I will allow myself to have bad days.  And I will not touch up my roots.  And if someone darts out in front of my car, I'm going to honk.  In other words, I am determined to keep things...real.

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