First Yoga Class – by Zara Bielkus

Trying something for the first time can feel daunting. You don’t know what to expect, you don’t know how the experience will feel, and sometimes you just plain and simple feel apprehensive. This is natural, it is instinctual; after all, cautiousness helped humans survive the early evolutionary years.  Adrenaline pointed us toward and away from danger depending on desired outcome. And I rather speculate that Anchiornis,[i] too felt a small “rush” when it was the first of its kind to jump out of the branches and use its feathers as a safety net to glide to the ground below. Without risk takers, our maps would never have become globes. In our own lives we often have to make some decisions based only on partial information.

A first yoga class is often like that too, where we have heard it is good for us, we have heard it makes us feel great, but still we have no idea how we will achieve that in our first yoga class. This was very much my experience before my first class.  I had read all the FAQs for new students, I had all the props, but I still had no idea what I would be doing …or how! But at some point the preparation must give way to action, and I had to take a chance and go. No amount of Cliff Notes from my sister was going to help because within the first 10 minutes of my first class I realized only me, myself and I was having that new experience. The need to concentrate on what I was doing surpassed the feelings of uncertainty that I felt before coming.  And as a yoga novice a lot of concentration is required, but as you attend more classes the concentration needed decreases and movements become more natural, fluid, and desired.

Observing your mind during this new process is especially fun, as often your mental reaction resides with the status of your inner equilibrium. New to yoga I would arrive with something that I would ‘want’ from the class, like to relax, or to stretch my hamstrings. But after more and more classes, I realized I was there because in other aspects of my life I didn’t know what I wanted.  But the commitment to the yoga practice acted as an anchor to my thoughts so I could pause to contemplate, and then sail freely on.

So if you have heard the health benefits of yoga, and you have thought a yoga class is something that might be good for you, that is exactly the time to leave the shelter of the trees – evolve your self. There is no stipulation about how you have to ‘arrive’ to your first class: uncertain, excited, self-conscious, prepared…whatever. The only part you are responsible is taking thought to action.

Ready for Footsy? Review by HYL Sister: Zara

One of the most fun things about practising yoga is you can walk around barefoot all year round! It is easy to do in a hot yoga studio, where the hot floor heats your feet. But at home during the fall and winter the floor can be an uninviting place, like interstellar space, cold and filled with dust (bunnies). The only solution for keeping your tootsy ready for footsy are LL Beans slippers. Their original moccasin is owned by every member of our family; like Macouns, Chronicle and Nor’Easters these slippers are another iconic staple of a New England lifestyle. Somehow slipping into these beauties takes the bite out of the bitter part of winter, so comfortable in fact you almost want a bad snowstorm so you could justify not leaving the house, or the slippers, for the day.

At first glance, ‘sheepskin’ may seem un-yogic, but until the entire world is vegetarian, companies that find ways to utilise otherwise wasted by-products are okay in my book. If you feel differently, maybe check out their other styles made of wool or fleece.

My favourite way to unwind after a long week is to have a pamper-me-party.  I return all RSVPs with regrets, stay in and turn off any device that might interrupt my rest. Then to create a mini-retreat I’ll make a pot of fragrant tea, play relaxing music, and take a bath or do an at-home facial, all by candlelight. Then to ground the energy in my first chakra, I finish with massaging into my feet Dr Hauschka’s Rosemary Foot Balm, or Weleda’s Foot Balm, pull on some thin, cotton socks, and get them into those slippers! Your feet will be skipping with joy. By taking this time to go inward I feel more like myself when I go out by strengthening my foundation.

Bob Marley got it right when he sang ‘my feet is my only carriage…’. Caring for our carriage seems what can make or break a day – and it all starts with the soles. Some days my soles are rubber, some days my soles are au naturel, and of course on special days my soles are red. But a great way to winterise the soles of that carriage is the addition of these LL Beans Wicked Good© slipp-ahhhhs.

5 Reasons Why Every 19 Year Old Should Take a Yoga Teacher Training. Guest post by Nicole Hicks

Oh yes. I said it. Just like we all read Shakespeare in high school and learned how to make mac n’ cheese in the microwave, I believe that a yoga teacher training (like the one I experienced) should be added to the list of must-do things for all people under twenty. Here’s why:

  1. At 19 you’re just figuring out who you are. It’s better to dive in deep now than when you’re 45 and have to break all of the habits and stereotypes you’ve been working with for so long (not that teacher training isn’t a great thing to do at 45!). Wouldn’t it have been easier to develop your sense of self when you were 19 and had lots of time to mull it over? The path of self-discovery should be introduced to more young people – perhaps the concept of a mid-life crisis could disappear.
  2. Yoga teaches you how to live. But really. Just the physical practice (asana) can help you learn to deal with stress on and off of the mat; not to mention the other seven limbs of yoga that most people forget even exist. Signs of stress, peer pressure, and judgemental attitudes become pretty universal by the time kids are in third grade. Now 19 years old seems a bit late to start a deep yoga practice, doesn’t it? Yoga gives us ways to cope and even avoid the plague of negative feelings that many adults unfortunately consider normal. The younger you learn, the better!
  3. Change is permanent, and any yoga teacher will tell you this. At 19, most people are experiencing dramatic upheavals (moving away from home, starting college, deciding on a career, etc.) and need to be told this. Change is natural and necessary. Life will go on, I promise.
  4. Learning to be open and present will change your life“Hellz no” you say. “I’m fine, thank you,” you say. And that is how being closed just kept you from taking a yoga teacher training and meeting wonderful people. Being open to new ideas is the only way we can grow into our authentic selves. Like everything else, it’s best to start this when you’re young, so you can practice keeping an open mind and heart for the remainder of your life! Being present is incredibly hard to do too – right now you’re probably half reading this article, checking facebook on your cell phone, and pretending to listen to your friend who’s telling you a story. With the insane amount of distractions adolescents face today, it’s easy to get lost in “la la land” (yes, I know, I’m a victim of it too). Teacher training will give you the tools to be present when you’re teaching a class of yogis, and that skill sticks with you outside of the classroom.
  5. Most importantly, you will learn to be authentically you. Any yoga teacher will tell you that one of the highest compliments you can receive is that you taught a class authentically. Being authentic, or “real,” is something that many of us struggle with as we try to figure out just who we really are. What better way to start your adult life than by learning who you are, and how to present that true-you to others?
  6. I know I promised just five reasons, but this one is good – You’ll learn really cool things like how to do a headstand, how to avoid that nickname for Massachusetts drivers, and what breath of fire (pronounced: BREATH OF FIYAHHHH) is and how to do it.

(This picture may or may not be an accurate representation…)

To learn more about the 200-hour teacher training course that I  took, check out!

What’s your favorite color? by Siga Bielkus

One of the first decisions a bride faces is the choice of color scheme.  When asked whether I wanted my Save-the-Date cards to be accented in green, pink, or blue, I didn’t have to think long to know my answer. Not blue. Not green. I wanted pink.

How did I know this? I have no personal vendetta against green. Green is lovely. It’s the color of nature, of my favorite veggie drink, of Kermit. But it wasn’t for my bridesmaids’ dresses. Why did my instinct, my gut, seemingly choose one wavelength on the color spectrum over another?

One of the first questions we ask as children is “What’s your favorite color?” Every child has an answer. Most are willing to go to the mattresses to defend their choice. They know that they like pink better than green by tapping into a deep, personal side of themselves – their observer mind. It’s an early instance for them to step outside of the moment of action and reflect by asking, “What do I, removed from the distractions and noise of the moment, truly feel?” It’s a simple act, but one that underlies the infinitely more complex web of choices and actions into which they’ll soon find themselves bound.

In yoga, you return to that simple question that appeals to the observer mind. What do I, apart from the white noise of life, really feel? Finding that “I” can feel impossible. Yoga helps us locate ourselves.

Within that context, the million choices I face planning my wedding don’t seem so stressful or complicated. All I need to do is ask myself, “What’s my favorite color?” Then, like I would have done when I was three years-old, answer from within.

Heels in a Marathon – by Zara Bielkus

Some memories in life are so strong that when we remember them, we feel as though they are happening right there in that moment when we are recalling them. This may happen when you hold your child for the first time, or you are told you passed the BAR exam. Or it can be something more collective, like when you saw the new Dalai Lama for the first time, or seeing George W’s face on the news in that elementary school in 2001.  We all have these moments, some public, some private. Some we share. Some we don’t. Perhaps part of our consciousness remains there, in that moment, for good or for bad, and therefore every time we recall it we can almost live it. My most recent experience of this is from the day of the 2013 Boston Marathon. I imagine it will remain raw for some time for the whole city, and part of our collective consciousness will remain there, cradling the incident with the stronger arms of the present.

A week after the incident I gave my nude-colored stilettos in to my cobbler.

“What did you do in these?” he asked. The leather had been stripped off both heels, the soles cut, and blue spots (Gatorade?) all over one.

“I wore them in the Boston Marathon – ” I replied.

“Heels…in a Marathon? Who…” he scratched his head.

I had meant to say I wore them to the Marathon. In many ways I did not even want to get into it, because most people don’t wear heels at sporting events, even as a spectator.  But in a more comprehensive way I guess I was trying to say, I wore them in the Boston Marathon…bombing.   But I could not. I did not want to. I did not want to have that memory there in a cramped shop, with my head aching from the smell of glue and leather.

And then it happened. It happened anyway. But for the first time the memory was not of the day, or running in heels, or the fallen barricades, police, cattle bells, baseball caps, magnolias, smoke. It was not of the hurt. A totally different aspect of the event surfaced. My mind saw a man in a raincoat with puffy eyes, turning the door knob of my sister’s apartment front door, with my scarf in his hand. Through the night following the attack, I had reported the experience to some news networks. Because of time differences I was asked to report near the crime scene in the middle of the night. Standing at the door, at 3am, to help me was my future brother-in-law.  All things considered, he said, I shouldn’t have to go alone.  When we arrived at the television crews, I realized I had to say something as opposed to just show how I felt. Crying would only say one thing. I needed to say some thing. Shocked from the day and the hour, and the cold spring night, I froze – until my future brother-in-law said, ‘just be you. People just want to hear you.’

Then the memory finished, and all I felt was kindness. The kindness of him keeping me company, the kindness of the reporters sharing stories so compassion could be showered back to Boston. And kindness to myself, allowing everything that unfolded that day and week to follow to be okay as opposed to wanting it, or me, to be feeling or acting differently.  Returning to a place where part of your consciousness sits, you see more of it than before.  You learn more than before. You are more than before.

Me. That is who wears heels as a spectator to the Boston Marathon.

You’ve Got a Friend in You – by Zara Bielkus

Like people and animals, friends, come in all shapes and sizes. Some are strong and always there, some are fuzzy fence sitters who are great when you need to bounce ideas off another person; but often the best thing about friends is that they find you.  This happened to me nearly 15 years ago. Standing in the coat room line, I could see a gentleman struggling to get his arm through a rather elusive sleeve. More than 35 years my senior, I thought to myself that my grandmother would be proud for respecting my elders if I helped him find it.

“It seems your left sleeve is playing hide-and-seek with you,” I said to him, grabbing the shoulder of his coat so he could guide his arm through. When he introduced himself, it turned out that according to the seating plan we were meant to have been sitting next to each other for dinner, but someone had shuffled him to the head table. As a result, I had dinner next to a dull so-and-so, but this chance meeting in the coat room line seemed ever more intriguing. Many years of our friendship elapsed and I was helping my friend collect legal paperwork for his estate. Grasping hundreds of papers, one page slipped from the pile in my hands to my feet – it was his father’s death certificate; it turned out we shared the same birthday.

“Perhaps you and I have been playing hide-and-seek even longer than we thought,” my friend chuckled when I highlighted the coincidence. Well if our spirits had shared a previous life, I, for one, did not remember!  This friend often talks of the divine and all the grandeurs of spiritual understanding. But I most admire his ability to treat strangers and friends with the same level of trusting compassion and I enjoy his wider knowledge base, which generally only the process of aging reveals. One day, after dedicating 10 years to one project, he said he would no longer pursue it. There were many reasons behind his choice, which I accepted, but I could not accept his loss. He felt he lost because now that he decided to stop the project before completion, “everybody will laugh [at me]”, he said. It made me want to cry when his voice trailed on the other end of the phone line. At that moment, I realized his loss was not the loss of the project, but really the feelings of embarrassment from a perceived loss of dignity – measured only against other people’s opinions.

So I said to him boldly: “The greatest loss here is not the project, or the loss of dignity. The greatest loss here is that in the roughly 70 years of your life, you still haven’t found your best friend: yourself.” You are never alone once you have found this true companion. With the hectic life of modern age it is critical to have a relationship with this ‘friend’ because of the high demands expected of individuals.  The yoga mat is a great place to find this friend because the stillness of the room allows you to hear what they need, what they want, what will make them happy. The differences in acts of selfishness and selflessness may be very apparent, but the mental differences between the two are less so.  Sometimes by being a little selfish (like meditating instead of washing the dishes) allows us to act more selfless (like setting aside time to really listen to your partner’s/friend’s day).  Was I being a good or bad friend when I told my dear, old friend to look for himself? Neither. I was being a true friend, because truth holds no judgement.

When you are able to slow down through yoga, meditating, or a quite walk, ask yourself do you have a best friend in you?  If not, why not? What might need to change, what might help you like you as a person more? When you hear a voice criticizing you – which more often than not sounds just like your own – try replacing that voice with one of support, kindness, and appreciation. Look for ways to improve this internal relationship in order to improve relations with others. Having self-awareness will enable you to have better boundaries in your life that support the growth of the true you. Loving yourself unabashedly will ensure the journey of a lifetime.