Tag Archives: depression

Forrest Yoga Classes in New Jersey

I recently completed the 200-hour Forrest Yoga Foundations Teacher Training at Fresh Yoga in New Haven, CT with master teacher Ana Forrest. It was a life-changing experience.

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Some of the many gifts I received from this training are:

  • I got my personal yoga practice back. It’s not unusual to hear yoga teachers bemoaning the loss of their own personal practice. As of today, I have practiced yoga 31 days in a row. And I have no intention of turning back. One of the personal ethics I created for myself during the training was to practice a minimum of 6x/week for at least 30 minutes per day. So far, this ethic is guiding me into health, a sense of wholeness, and a sense of trust in myself that I have not felt for a very long time. My strength is growing by the day.
  • My connection to breath has deepened exponentially. I have always felt a strong connection to breath and had a good intuitive understanding of how to teach breath. But since this training, my application of breath is becoming so much more skillful. I am better able to share this understanding with my students, and teach them in a practical way HOW TO USE BREATH FOR HEALING. This will revolutionize your yoga practice and your life.
  • I realized through this training how I had a plethora of habits that were holding me down and dimming my light, as well as showing up as obstacles to moving forward in life with clarity and conviction. Social drinking and partying (I have been a DJ in the nightlife scene for 10+ years), mindless eating, even social media use suddenly revealed themselves as ways that I would distract myself from what was essential in my life at the moment and choose a behavior that took me away, that numbed me out. Getting clear about the myriad ways I was squandering my life energy made me see that all those things we take for granted as being normal, “let loose” or “have fun” type behaviors are actually hooks that drain our vitality. I have since reformed how and what I eat, and my tendency to casually use “party favors” (drugs & alcohol) in favor of clarity around how these actions keep me from feeling what I need to feel. The pull towards addiction or compulsion is insidious, and our modern culture accepts and even encourages our slavery to various forms of addiction, from shopping to gambling to online porn to recreational drugs to exercise. Getting clear about my tendency to fall into these traps and speak about it to anyone who will listen has been liberating.
  • I have learned how to connect to my spirit by breathing well, finding beauty in the everyday, and speaking my truth from my heart. These concepts sound nice on paper, but applying them is ironically not as easy as it sounds. When our thoughts are poisoned by a steady stream of negative inner dialogue, our spirit is often in hiding or maybe even not in residence. If our spirit is our essential, truest self, the best version of ourselves, why would that best version of yourself hang out for the punishment most of us put it though on a daily basis? In Forrest Yoga, we learned to see ourselves as ENOUGH. I am enough. This is a radical concept because our culture is always telling us we are NOT enough, that we need one more degree, more money, less cellulite, more hair, more boobs, etc. to be worthy. This is the furthest thing from the truth because who we are is ONLY and EVER from our spirit, never from what we do, what we earn, what we learn or accomplish along the way. It is WHO WE ARE at the essential, spiritual level. Developing tools to help us connect with this essence of who we are is one of the most powerful and healing aspects of Forrest Yoga.

These four paragraphs above sum up the four pillars of Forrest Yoga: Breath, Strength, Integrity, and Embodying Spirit.

Forrest Yoga is a healing, therapeutic approach to yoga. It heals at the physical, emotional, and energetic level. I am so grateful that my spirit guided me to Forrest Yoga nearly four years ago. Before I was even ready to begin the healing I’m experiencing now, my spirit guided me in this direction. Healing is a process. We must have patience and put in the time to reap the rewards. The rewards are nothing less than a transformed life, freedom from addictive and compulsive behaviors, clarity about life and what we most want and need, letting go of our rackets (ritualized and rationalized behaviors designed to keep us from being present to what is actually happening in the moment) and life-zapping mental habits.

I am offering Forrest Yoga privately in Jersey City, NJ and New York City. If you are interested in private instruction in Forrest Yoga, or an inter-disciplinary approach utilizing the other styles of yoga that I teach, along with thai massage and shamanic reiki, please contact me.

 

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The Lineage Project Teacher Training

I recently completed a four-day training in the Lineage Project‘s model for teaching awareness practices to teens living in at-risk environments. The Lineage Project’s work takes them to juvenile detention centers, group homes, alternative to incarceration facilities and suspension schools. Lineage works both “inside” and “outside,” teaching life skills that can make the difference between a kid becoming part of the juvenile justice system or not.

At-risk environments are legion in New York City, where the statistics about incarceration are still shocking (even if in our racialized society such figures have become common knowledge). It is incredible to hear these statistics: 60% of juveniles in detention are African-American, 35% are Latino. That means everyone else makes up 5%. These figures indicate the massive disproportion of people of color in the criminal justice system. Additionally, of this population, 60% are in foster care and 85% of the females have been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused (or all three). Beth Navon, the Executive Director of the Lineage Project, thinks the real percentage of abuse might be even higher. While the majority in detention are male, females make up 30% of the population and this percentage is skyrocketing every year, as more and more young girls turn to violence or criminality in the face of poverty, drug and alcohol dependence, abuse, racism, sexism, and lack of education that pervades the neighborhoods they live in.

More shocking statistics from the training: did you know that the minimum age at which you can be arrested and detained in New York City is 7 years old? Hearing that almost makes no sense, yet it is true and 3% of kids in the juvenile justice system are under 10 years of age. Teens make up the vast majority, with the largest cohort being 15 years  old (55%) because at age 16, you can be detained with the adult prison population on Riker’s Island.

The majority of 14 and 15 year olds in detention read at a 3rd grade level. In 2009, the Federal Department of Justice brought a suit against NY State finding the the juvenile justice system violated the human and civil rights of teens in detention because it denied them access to educational services, which are required by law. Additional lawsuits have been brought against the detention centers, on the grounds of civil rights violations due to physical and mental abuse.

In this atmosphere of oppression and hopelessness, the Lineage Project teaches youth awareness practices so they might have a better chance at making it out of this morass of criminal and legal problems, broken homes, substance abuse, poverty, and so on. Can yoga really make a difference here? Lineage thinks so.

Over this teacher training, we explored how awareness-based practices can really be anything: yoga, martial arts, dance, art, whatever, so long as the activity is done with a focus on creating awareness around themes selected by Lineage Project teachers. Common themes include focus, gratitude, and choice. We built on these themes using various movement and healing arts, including West African dance, Qi Gong, yoga, and meditation.

The premise of the Lineage Project is that even one meaningful interaction with a competent adult could have a protective, beneficial effect on a child from these at-risk environments. Multiple interactions could have even more benefit, as children learn life skills such as patience, focus, reduced impulsivity and increased self-awareness through the practices.

During the practice teaching segments, where we got into character and acted like teens, I had flashbacks to my one year teaching middle school social studies in Brooklyn. This experience was rather traumatic, actually. A fight broke out in my classroom with one student going after another with a desk, attempting to hit him over the head with said desk. As the chaos escalated, I restrained the violent student, and was suspended from my teaching position, later found “guilty” of corporal punishment and fired from my job. The middle school where I taught has since been turned into a charter school, and from the looks of the photos, has had a major rebirth with classrooms with working lights, students in uniforms, and windows that actually work instead of being stuck closed (in summer) or open (in winter).

The Lineage Project’s model encourages teachers to be creative to find ways to teach mindfullness. Breathing, meditation, and body awareness are introduced to the young people in ways that might not “look” like yoga or meditation, but which teach the exact same thing: to turn the attention inward.

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From the Archives: Teaching Yoga at the Geriatric Psych Ward

Here is another archival blog post from Metropolitan Observer. I had very recently completed my teacher training and was fulfilling the karma yoga component (volunteering or donating yoga instruction) of my TT. One of the things I found out after my TT was that ironically, it is not easy to donate yoga. Many of the places I called either had no way to accommodate a yoga class, or required reams of paperwork to even begin the process of offering free yoga to a community.

I never continued teaching yoga at the Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, mostly because their volunteer program required a great deal of paperwork and records of immunizations. I know I have had the requested immunizations, but they occurred so long ago that the records are with a doctor I had decades ago, not my current physician. I ended up completing my karma yoga requirements with Hearts of Gold, a program run out of Reflections Yoga for women who live in the shelter system and their children.

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Teaching yoga at the geriatric psych ward, part 1

Last Saturday I taught yoga at the geriatric psych ward (in-patient) at Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. Part of my teacher training requires I do 10 hours of karma yoga, or donated instruction. Surprisingly, it has not been the easiest thing to set up. You say to an organization, “I would like to donate some yoga instruction” and they say “Great!,” and to paraphrase the first verse of the Yoga Sutras, “and now, the Red Tape.”


Anyway, I managed to schedule this appointment, which was to be an introduction to the ward, a meeting with the recreational therapist there, and a meeting with the volunteer coordinator, and “maybe,” some yoga instruction. Things did not proceed in this manner at all, but that’s ok, because if there is one lesson yoga teaches to its disciples, it’s to not be attached to any expectation or outcome, to be in the present moment.

First of all, the volunteer coordinator wasn’t there. He had the wrong Saturday in his calendar for me, but I found out where the geriatric psych ward was, and I went upstairs, on the off chance he was there waiting for me. The recreational therapist was surprised to see me, said she was expecting me next Saturday. I told her I think there’s been a mix-up. She said yah, I think so. She already had someone lined up for the day, a pet therapist.

I was ready to leave, as she seemed a bit stressed out. When I noted that, and said it was fine if she wasn’t ready for me, she said “oh no, I’m not stressed out!” There was a lot of tension in the way she told me she wasn’t stressed out. Her eyes were rung with blue-grey circles, puffy, darting. She fingered the corner of the paper she’d been writing on, twirled the pen in her fingers, her breath was short. I felt bad. It must be very difficult working in such a setting. How do you not absorb the energy of what’s around you? Not everyone is a sponge like me. Maybe she’s a little less porous and was stressed about something else. She didn’t want the visit to be a waste, so she asked me if I’d want to walk around the ward with the pet therapist, and maybe teach, if things worked out.

The pet therapist arrived with her lovely Shepard-mix Kola, a sweet dog who lets anyone touch her. Therapy dogs have to have a very particular temperament. They can’t be skittish or aggressive, biters or lickers, distractable or aloof. They have to be friendly and approachable. Kola was all of these, the type of dog that lets anyone pet her. As such, she’s a perfect therapy dog. Her big soulful eyes help a lot too.

Not everyone wanted to pet Kola though. Some people seemed afraid, hesitant. Some were asleep. Some were so drugged out that they didn’t even notice. A man sat at a table with his head in his hands. Kola approached and he looked at her warily. Her owner said “it’s ok, she’s friendly.” The man asked “will she bite me?” and the owner shook her head no. The dog slumped at the man’s feet, put her head on his ankle. He slowly, with hesitation, bent down to pet her.

Throughout the ward I could see the tattered remains of life.  Some people were afraid to pet a friendly dog, others were afraid to smile. Some were afraid of whatever they saw in their imaginations, screaming out or babbling. I looked a man in his eyes and smiled; he looked away. My heart ached to see how for some people, smiling is an impossible task. I could see the pain in his eyes, the hesitation in his movements.

In this setting, yoga is not what you’d imagine in one of the gorgeous, light-drenched studios that dot New York City. It’s not an air of incense or sandalwood, Oms resonating through the rooms, lithe and glowing yogis prancing through the halls. Yoga in the geriatric psych ward is a smile if you’re lucky.

After I’d been there about 90 minutes, the recreational therapist, the pet therapist and I went back to the therapist’s office. She had only observed my class, which I’ll write about in another post, but her breathing was different. She said “we could all learn to breathe better, no one seems to know how to breathe correctly.” I know she knows she’s not breathing deeply enough. It must bother her, and at some level, she wants to change it, but she’s not sure how yet, it seems a huge task. But her face was different, more relaxed, a bit more alive. She asked if I wanted to come back again, and I said of course. We scheduled a date in July.

Yoga is so much more than asana on a mat in a studio. Yoga is seeing the pain in others, in yourself, and healing it, breath by breath. Yoga is seeing the beauty and divinity in every living thing, in the broken, ghostly inhabitants of a geriatric psych ward, in the tension of an overworked therapist, in the sweetness of a gentle dog.

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