Have Yoga Mat, Will Travel

**The original version of this post appeared on Land Yoga’s Blog in July, 2018.

Summer is in full swing, and chances are if you haven’t already been on a boat, train, plane or in a car, you will be in the coming weeks. Vacations are a wonderful privilege; a great time to unwind from the ordinary, spend time with loved ones or even explore far-away places. But what about your yoga practice? Carefully cultivated throughout the year only to be lost while you’re out of town for a few weeks?

I’ve just returned to my regular NYC routine after five wonderful weeks out of town in Israel (for the Israeli version of our wedding and a family trip), Greece and Italy (for our honeymoon). Taking my practice on the road isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it. I find the benefits of peace of mind and a healthy body far outweigh the hassle of finding time to unroll my mat while on vacation.

Here are my top tips for keeping the prana flowing while out of town.

  1. Keep the tradition (yet stay flexible!)
    Mysore-style Ashtanga Yoga is a wonderful tradition ready-made for travel. Since we spend time in class slowly learning, internalizing and memorizing the sequence, we’re not dependent on a teacher’s counts or instructions. This means that with a little dedication, you can keep practicing almost exactly as you would while at home. If you’re new to the method and have any questions or uncertainties, talk to your teacher before you leave for advice on what exactly to do. Similarly, if you’ve recently started learning a more complex or intense posture, ask your teacher how you should approach it while away.

    Traditionally Ashtanga yoga is practiced in the early morning, under the guidance of a teacher, six days a week, taking one rest day (usually Saturday or Sunday) and the new and full moon off. This is an ideal guideline, however, I advise that when you’re out of your regular routine on vacation, that you remain flexible! Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day (or a few days!) or shorten your practice* to fit the available time between beach trips, or even switch around your rest day to fit activities or outings better. The important thing is that you keep some kind of consistency, even if it’s slightly different than you might keep at home.
    On my recent trip, I practiced six days a week, but it wasn’t always at the same time of day, nor did I push myself to make it through my entire practice each day. Instead, I flowed with the plans of the people I was visiting; fitting in my sadhana before breakfast or while everyone else was taking an afternoon nap. On those days I found it hard to stay motivated, I turned my thoughts back to my teacher, Sharath, in Mysore, and to my students at home in New York. Re-focusing on my teacher’s encouraging voice and my community always helps me keep my dristi.

  2. Make practice a priority (but be realistic!)
    Plan ahead. Take a look at what you have on your travel itinerary and make sure you carve out some time for practice. But be realistic…If you have an early morning trans-Atlantic flight which requires you to be at the airport two hours ahead of time, plus a layover and possible jet-lag, seriously consider if it’s realistic to be up extra early for practice! Maybe it is – but my point is not to set up unrealistic expectations for yourself and feel like you’re letting yourself down when you fail to meet them.
    Tell the friends and family you are vacationing with about your dedication to your yoga practice. If others know, they’ll be more supportive of helping you fit it into the routine, and more likely to understand when you turn in an hour early, maybe skipping that extra helping of gelato. Consider inviting loved ones to join in with your practice if they’ve done yoga before (or even inviting them to do a different physical activity or meditation while you’re on your mat). Sharing your healthy habits might be the inspiration someone else needs to make a positive change. I was lucky enough to practice with both my mom one morning and my dad another while on our family trip around Israel after our wedding. Both have done yoga before and were happy to practice alongside me for a short time while I completed my longer practice. My husband also has an Ashtanga practice, and we made it a priority to practice together on our second wedding morning in Israel, and several other times throughout our honeymoon in Greece and Italy.
  3. Visit Yoga Shalas and Studios (make it a part of the vacation!)
    One of my favorite things about visiting a new city is dropping into a local Yoga Shala. Visit kpjayi.org for a list of authorized and certified teachers around the world, and do a quick google search of the area you’ll be visiting to see if there are any studios offering Ashtanga classes. It’s always a good idea to email the studio in advance to ask if they allow Mysore drop-ins for visiting students and to inquire about any special policies. At Land Yoga, we’ve had traveling students from Japan, Brazil, Denmark, England and all over the U.S. just to name a few!
    Taking a class at a studio is a great way to meet locals and get off the beaten tourist path, plus it offers a chance to reconnect with the group dynamic.
    During my recent trip, I took a class at Ashtanga Yoga Tel Aviv where I’ve practiced and taught before. It already feels like a yoga home away from home in Israel! I even took a class at a small, new outdoor yoga studio on Milos, the Greek island we were vacationing on. Yoga Journey Milos offered a great outdoor yoga experience on a secluded beach overlooking the sunset. Back in Athens, we dropped into Mysore class at Ashtanga Yoga Athens 2002. I loved waking up early before a day of sightseeing in Athens and navigating through the sleepy streets to practice. My hotel’s front desk was happy to offer advice about the best route to walk and where to grab a coffee. I’d emailed the studio in advance, and the teacher was happy to welcome me in, where – although thousands of miles from New York – I felt right at home among the ujjayi breathing and the smells of Mysore Sandalwood incense.

One last word of advice: get a good travel yoga mat. At Land Yoga we sell the Manduka eKO SuperLite mat which folds flat like a thin towel, making it perfect to pack in a suitcase. I use my thicker Manduka Pro mat, even for travel, and have invested in a backpack with buckles that allow it to be strapped and carried right on the plane! Happy travels, yogis!

* A note on shortening your practice: I advise asking your teacher personally about this, but in general, if you’re short on time don’t rush or skip postures. Instead begin your practice as normal, taking the correct number of sun salutations and breaths in each posture. Do the series you’ve learned in order, and when you only have 10 – 15 minutes left begin the finishing series. Depending on the time you may choose to complete the entire finishing sequence or move directly to the final three finishing poses. Always make time for rest at the end.

Mysore Trip Five: Locked In

Two days ago I arrived in India for my fifth trip to study yoga at the KPJAYI in Mysore. So many things have changed since I made my first trip five seasons ago. I’m much more relaxed and strong now than I was then, so much more comfortable in the practice and in teaching, and more secure being a traveler in a foreign country.


But in many other ways, nothing much has changed. Again I’m here in November and just like my first trip, after I leave India, I’ll travel to Israel to spend time with my boyfriend’s family.

Again, I find that I brought way too many clothes.

And, just like my first trip, on my very first morning of practice, I found myself locked inside my apartment complex; unsure if I’d make it out to class.

Let me take you back a few hours…

Unlike most people, I kind of enjoy the strange effects of jet lag, especially here in Mysore, when I need to wake up so unnaturally early. Yesterday I let jet lag lull me to sleep around 4pm, woke up at midnight, and spent a relaxing few hours enjoying the silence of pre-dawn south India, reading and preparing for Led Primary at 4:30am. By 3:25 I was showered and ready. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m chronically early, but after five seasons of waiting on those steps, I’d already decided not to try to get to the shala too early. So I left at a reasonable time, assuming a good number of students would already be there.

I locked my front door, grateful for such a comfortable apartment so close to the school, and made my way down to the front gate. I was surprised to see it still locked from the night, since I could have sworn I heard several students leave the complex before me. Nevertheless I dug my keys out. The landlord told me that whoever leaves first for the morning can unlock the gate, so I’d been prepared for this.

I blinked through the pitch black, fumbled my key into the padlock, and turned. Nothing. I pulled it out and tried again. Stuck. I managed it take it out and tried three or four more times with no success. By then another student had come downstairs and she tried with her key as well…no luck. Our keys seemed to fit, but we couldn’t make any of them turn. Two more students joined us, all equally unsuccessful. (Now, I’ve had my fair share of drama with keys including managing to break a key inside a lock in Florida, and fighting with not one but two different apartment locks in Paris, one ending in tears and hours sitting in the stairwell, so it was actually reassuring to see that it wasn’t just me and my inability to use a key!)

But, let me take you back even further to November 2011: my very first practice morning of my very first season in Mysore. That year I was staying a solid 20-25 minute walk away from the shala with an Indian family who had never hosted a yoga student before. I had a tiny room on the family’s roof with a private entrance via an outdoor stairway. As I tried to leave quietly that similarly pitch-dark morning, I crept down the stairway and found it’s exit gate locked. I was totally alone: the only yoga student in the building. They hadn’t given me a key, most likely because they hadn’t anticipated I would be leaving in those pre-dawn hours.

What could I do? I had no way to climb out, and desperately wanted to attend my first practice. So, I knocked on their door. The family was fast asleep and didn’t stir, but the daughter, a girl around my age, was walking through the living room on her way to the bathroom. She squinted out the window, saw me, shrieked at the top of her lungs and ran, terrified that all her worst nightmares were coming true and a strange white woman was indeed trying to break in! Thankfully the father, realizing it must be me, his new yogi tenant, woke up and let me out. After quite a few embarrassed apologies, I made it to practice that very first day.

Back to this morning, years later, surrounded by fellow students, locked in again on my first day, I couldn’t help but laugh.

What could we do?

We threw our mats over the gate and climbed out, and again, I made it to practice today.


So, what I’m trying to say is that getting there isn’t always easy. We get locked in, sometimes literally, but more often metaphorically. We might have to ask for help, to climb fences, or make sacrifices, but it’s almost always worth it to get to practice. To meditate. To go to a yoga class. To do anything that makes us better. Usually, it’s us locking ourselves in because of stories we’ve told ourselves or ones others have told us and we’ve decided to believe.

It’s not often an actual gate locking us in, but rather it’s us actively creating obstacles that leave us locked inside our own excuses.

But if we can get past them,

if we dare to climb over,

if we can ask others for help,

if we attempt to start to undo the stories we’ve told ourselves,

…something remarkable is usually waiting.


Digesting China

I recently spent 10 days in Wuhan, China (an average Chinese city of 10 million people that none of my American friends had ever heard of). I went to see my boyfriend, to celebrate Christmas and Chanukah, and for the premiere of The Han Show, a new Franco Dragone spectacle he has been working on since June.
The Han Show Theatre
The Han Show Theatre

“Moo!” he wails, imitating a cow as he holds two fingers up to his temples miming horns. “No Moo-ooo! No cow! Meyo niyo!”

I point frantically to pictures of vegetables on the grease-stained paper menu they’ve dug up for us, the only menu with photos of the food served in their modest restaurant, and smile at the giggling staff.

“Cock-a-doodle-doo!” he screeches flapping his elbows as wings for the now nodding waitresses, “No chicken!” Their cheeks turn red, but we think they understand!

Preach! Vegetarian food stand at the buddhist Temple, one of the rare places we found completely vegetarian food.
Preach! Vegetarian food stand at the buddhist Temple, one of the rare places we found completely vegetarian food.

I’m smack dab in the midst of the fantastic whirlwind that is China. Past the grueling 15.5-hour flight and dealing with the comforting fog of jetlag from the 13-hour time difference, I’ve ventured into a noodle shop with my boyfriend and the hopes of an at least vegetarian-looking lunch. We comb the menu and end up with two warm noodle soups, steam rising away from their bowls triumphant in the icy December air.

China is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been, and since I haven’t traveled in Asia (save my 6 months spent over 4 yearly visits in south India, some of which you can read about here and here) landing in there is a special first for me.

I’m in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province. As a city, Wuhan is distinct mostly because it’s MASSIVE. Walking along the many lakes, riding in busses through freeways and dodging traffic in taxis for ten days, I get the sense that it never really ends. Once on a bus, I’m crossing a river and see a skyline, but an hour later on the same bus I suddenly notice that we were crossing another immense river looking out over multiple skylines and city centers in every direction!

It spills out over itself, new construction sites clamoring against existing developments and bridges standing proud over the brown Yangtze River, each one worthy of being a city’s centerpiece. (Case in point: there’s one that looks exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge. Exactly.) Mall after mall after department store seem to overtake every neighborhood and in that way, that commercial way, it gives me the same urban feeling as any western city, and despite its incomprehensible size I settle easily into its rhythm.

Crossing The "Wuhan Yangtze Great Bridge"
Crossing The Great Yangtze River Bridge

Embracing jet lag’s calming murkiness, I spend most early mornings in our living room on my yoga mat. I do my practice between tight-from-sitting-on-a-plane-hamstrings and before sunrise, watching the sky gradually illuminate: high-rise buildings with neon signs and construction sites cluttered with cranes slowly visible through the haze, out the windows of our modern, fifteenth floor apartment. Some days I accompany my boyfriend to rehearsals or performances, and others I am on my own, left to discover the city for myself through museums and parks.

Looking out our window at sunrise
Looking out our window at sunrise

We have the chance to do some real sightseeing on the show’s dark days so we wander through The Yellow Crane Tower and its gorgeous, winding park full of monuments to both the ancient, idyllic China of legend and the modern Chinese cultural and communist revolutions. We laugh and almost give up as we loose our way searching for a Buddhist temple, only to find it by following the smell of burning incense. We emerge, tumbling happily through markets and smile at vendors selling hot breads cooked by slapping dough straight onto the coal oven’s inner wall. We make it a mission to decipher the symbols on the myriad of moon cake flavors; landing on red bean as our favorite and memorizing it’s markings. We pretend not to notice that our lungs ache slightly from the pollution. We dress up for the premiere of The Han Show and listen to terrible American music in a fancy nightclub (with squat toilets) at the after party.

Pincha Mayurasana in a Pagoda at The Yellow Crane Tower
Pincha Mayurasana in a Pagoda at The Yellow Crane Tower
The Han Show Premiere after party!
The Han Show Premiere after party!

Unlike many places I’ve traveled (India, Europe and even Israel) where English is learned in school, China is content imagining it is the center of the universe (just as we imagine in the States) and so Chinese people speak Chinese (Mandarin, in Wuhan, to be exact). Luckily, I have something of a language-wizard for a partner (and one who is not afraid, when language fails, to use his pantomime abilities!), so when we are together I cling to his skills and learn the fundamentals: “Hello,” sounds like nee-how, “Thank You” sounds like shey-shey, and “One coffee!” Sounds like E-Bay cafe.

Armed with the ability to say hello and caffeinate myself, I become more and more confident.

Despite his knack for language and being well aware of my visit and my vegetarianism, we just never learn the word for ‘vegetarian’ (and even if we had, we’re still not sure they would have understood!) So it is the same full on game of charades at most restaurants. 

The food is delicious: we down rice and veggies on paper plates at a street-side joint, soaking the meal in thick black Chinese vinegar and soy sauce. We have an expertly seasoned side dish of bright green seaweed and peas at an upscale restaurant, which manages to be crispy and perfectly slimy at the same time. I eat warm, salty noodles in what I’m sure is chicken broth but hope is vegetable (and cry a little for the chickens just in case). And we finish off the week with one of my favorites: coconut-fried rice with pine nuts and golden raisins along-side a rich, saucy eggplant dish we are assured has “no pig,” sprinkled with, yep – pork (I ate around it).

Dig in! Rice and Veggies at a local joint.
Dig in! Rice and Veggies at a local joint.
Crispy Seaweed with Peas
Crispy Seaweed with Peas

I know I want to visit a teahouse but its hard to tell, when signs are written in Chinese and you’re staying in a sprawling 3,280 square mile city, where exactly to look for a tea shop. My boyfriend thought he had seen one or two just a few blocks from the apartment and thought that might be a good place to start. Sure enough, while flipping through the welcome pack provided by his company I find it; casually listed among the hundreds of malls and shopping centers: The Hankou Tea Market. Allegedly the largest in southern China and just a five-minute walk!

We set out one chilly, clear morning clutching coffees to roam amongst the tea. It’s early and still quite cold so we follow the fog of our exhales and as main city streets filled with pharmacies and post offices start to give way to smaller alleys and shops packed with barrels of loose tea leaves and vendors hawking exclusively things to add into your tea (like dried plums and bitter limes) we know we are getting close. We round a corner and turn down an alley that expands into the actual market to find dozens more stores and stalls selling everything from tealeaves to tea strainers to tea sets. I have my heart set on a traditional tea set of our very own, but how in the world will we be able to pick?!

We breeze through several shops selling perfect kettles and tiny cups, my heart adopting each one: delicate white porcelain with painted flowers, brown and red clay pots alive with their earthiness, sharp contours on a loud yellow set aflame with embossed red dragons, and one powder blue so light it’s almost transparent with a kettle whose rounded curves beg to be held, all nestled into individual boxes, shrouded in fuzzy fabric packaging.

Baby blue tea pots
Baby blue tea pots in the Hankou Tea Market

We do finally find it: a 10-piece tea set which is both rough and polished: earthy with a clay foundation but alive and shiny with azure glaze dripping over the edges of its light, delicate cups.

Our new set! Still nestled in its box.
Our new set! Still nestled in its box.

After a successful Chinese haggle (every price is negotiable in China and success is when both parties feel a little as if they’ve taken advantage of the other) we decide to make the purchase and are ushered into folding chairs clustered by the register.

The owners serve us tea in a set not unlike our own: first pouring hot water over the tea and discarding it, opting only to serve us the second or third strain in cups so small they hold just a sip.

Sips of Tea...
Sips of Tea…

The store has a few customers already and they watch us closely, explaining in careful detail how to use our set. Explaining perfectly the secrets of Chinese tea culture. Explaining their love of this drink and of their country.

Explaining in Mandarin.

We don’t understand, but we are thrilled.

A (Yogic) Photographer’s Assistant

Behind the Scenes

By far one of my favorite jobs ever has been assisting Christine Hewitt of Yogic Photos during her asana portrait sessions. She was kind enough to share some of the shots she took while I was at work:

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Assisting the beautiful Ainia into Supta Kurmasana.

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A crisp, clean shot is all about the little details. Acting as wardrobe for the lovely Elena in Natarajasana.

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We drop back with a little help from our friends: helping in urdhva dhanurasana.

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Location scouting, lighting and composition testing and bovine monitoring.

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Sometimes we decide it’s a good idea for Laila to try bakasana on a cannon. In these cases I’ll be there, just out of frame, to make sure the she doesn’t tumble down (she didn’t and it was a gorgeous shot).

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Smiling during a shoot 🙂

Mysore Trip Four: Yamas and Niyamas, Pillars of the Practice

Every morning I wake up, rub the sleep from my eyes, make a cup of coffee and try to practice Ashtanga Yoga. I start with a few hours of asana. I inhale and exhale, bending my body into different shapes and experiences, and hopefully removing some of the samskaras stuck between my joints. I try and I fail and sometime I fall flat on my face. And after the yoga rug is rolled up and the laundry is hanging out to dry, I keep trying to practice Ashtanga Yoga.

Because this yoga thing doesn’t end at the corners of my mat.

I’m attempting to allow the remnant feelings from the ritual of asana practice to spread like butter on bread throughout the rest of my day. I try to be nice. I try not to do harm. I try, through interactions with others and with myself, to practice Ashtanga Yoga. I try and I fail…

Pillars at Melukote Temple
Pillars at Melukote Temple

For the past few weeks in conference, between beautiful discussions about guru and mula bhanda, Sharath has continually brought our attention to the first two limbs: the Yamas and the Niyamas. (If you’re a Land Yoga student or following me on Instagram, you might have participated in or seen The All Eight Limbs Movement’s first few monthly focuses: the Yamas, where Lara invited us to share photos about non-violence, truth, non-stealing, energy conservation and non-greediness.)

He keeps coming back to this starting place. We can do all kinds of “yoga practices,” but if we don’t place attention on the first two limbs, the foundational pillars on which the rest of our practice is built, something big will be missing. So I’ve been spending a lot of time with them. Recognizing my failures and seeing my efforts…

“How will you know the depth of the sea if you continue to sail around on the surface?” Sharath asks, echoing one of his favorite analogies. “You have to dive in to know the beauty of the sea. Just like this you must apply all the Yamas and Niyamas to your practice in order to experience an in depth understanding. This process won’t happen suddenly…”

Pillars at the Venugopala Swamy Temple
Pillars at the Venugopala Swamy Temple


The Yamas are:

Ahimsa, non-violence:

Yoga Sutras 2.35 “As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in non-violence (ahimsa), other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility.”

Being non-violent is important. Sharath says that our asana practice creates heat and strength, but it is important not to misuse the strength! Grounding ourselves with peaceful thoughts and actions off the mat is vital.

Satya, truth:

Yoga Sutras 2.36 “As truthfulness (satya) is achieved, the fruits of actions naturally result according to the will of the Yogi.”

We should be true to ourselves and to others.

Asteya, non-stealing:

Yoga Sutras 2.37 “When non-stealing (asteya) is established, all jewels, or treasures present themselves, or are available to the Yogi.”

Sharath reminds us that a yoga brand that steals postures to create its own yoga “style” is not practicing this yama!

Brahmacharya, celibacy or energy conservation:

Yoga Sutras 2.38 “When walking in the awareness of the highest reality (brahmacharya) is firmly established, then a great strength or vitality is acquired.”

 Aparigraha, non-greediness:

Yoga Sutras 2.39 “When one is steadfast in non-possessiveness or non-grasping with the senses (aparigraha), there arises knowledge of the why and wherefore of past and future incarnations.”


The Niyamas are:

Shaucha, cleanliness:

Yoga Sutras 2.41 “Also through cleanliness and purity of body and mind (shaucha) comes a purification of the subtle mental essence (sattva), a pleasantness, goodness and gladness of feeling, a one-pointedness with intentness, the conquest or mastery over the senses, and a fitness, qualification, or capability for self-realization.”

This applies to internal thoughts and our external environment. Asana helps to clean the internal body, but we must also do our part: keep our mat, our clothes, our home and our thoughts clean. (Also, it’s important to shower before asana practice!)

Santosha, contentment:

Yoga Sutras 2.42 “From an attitude of contentment (santosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained.”

This niyama asks us to be happy. To be deeply, internally, happy and to think good thoughts and not compare ourselves to others or to what we don’t have. We should relish each moment in this human life and find happiness that comes from within! “Santosha does not come from the iPhone 6…because next week iPhone 7 is coming!” Most of our stress and delusion will melt away with the practice of santosha.

Tapas, discipline:

Yoga Sutras 2.43 “Through training of the senses (tapas), there comes a destruction of mental impurities, and an ensuing mastery or perfection over the body and the mental organs of senses and actions.”

This niyama is related to the Sadhana, the practice and leading a disciplined life. “Without discipline,” Sharath says, “it’s impossible to learn something.”

Svadhyaya, self study:

Yoga Sutras 2.44 “From self-study and reflection on sacred words (svadhyaya), one attains contact, communion, or concert with that underlying natural reality or force.”

Self-study is the art of doing internal research and putting effort into understanding what your teacher has told you. We should become a Sadaka, one who does Sadhana.

Ishvarapranidhana, surrender to the divine:

Yoga Sutras 2.45 “From an attitude of letting go into one’s source (ishvarapranidhana), the state of perfected concentration (samadhi) is attained.”


So we have our work cut out for us! These foundational concepts are deep and complex. I love hearing Sharath talk about them and reminding us of the well-rounded life we should aim to lead. Which is why I say each day I wake up and try to practice Ashtanga Yoga… Some changes have been easy for me, like maintaining a vegetarian diet based on ahimsa…others not so easy, like keeping a disciplined schedule.

What about you?

How are the yamas and niyamas working in your life?

What are you trying to practice?

Mysore Trip Four: Travel Update and Conference Notes

“A Beautiful Habit.”

Shala Card

To get to Mysore from New York City takes roughly 30 hours. Between taxis and planes and layovers and delays I notice a sense of internal calm I haven’t felt before. This is my fourth trip. I’ve already done this three times. As my boyfriend says, it’s not a coincidence anymore… I’m not going to India on a whim. I’m consciously choosing to make this trek year after year after year.

I arrive in early morning of October 1st, stumble into a taxi and sleep for most of the 3.5 hours it takes to drive from Bangalore to Mysore. Sharp stops and turns and then,

“Madame! Sleeping? Mysore coming!” says my driver.

I pull myself upright and recognize the stretch of road we’ve entered. By the time we reach Gokulam (the neighborhood where I stay and where I practice Ashtanga Yoga), I’m ready for a proper nap.

I find my small studio apartment, shut the curtains, settle into another typically hard Indian bed, and snooze until the shala opens at 3:30pm for registration.

I have my passport photos ready and copies of my Indian Visa. I’ve printed my confirmation letter which grants me access into the increasingly in-demand shala. I have my rupees counted and stacked to pay tuition.

Because it’s the opening of the season (my teacher only opens the school for western students to practice for part of the year) it’s a week of led Primary Series classes to begin. Jetlag wakes me up at 3am the next morning. In the pre-dawn dark I make coffee and prepare for practice.

Class just feels right the next few days. Strong and soft at the same time. The shala rugs feel a faded shade of familiar. I place my mat in the front row and listen to my teacher chanting the opening mantra just a few inches away from me. I practice with a smile. I see friends from past seasons, meet new ones from all over the world, and surrender to jet lag. I get my only-in-India pink elephant print bed sheets out of storage and make my bed. I walk around with wonder still in my eyes at the sights and smells of India. I try a new Eggplant curry at lunch and marvel at how they’ve cooked the vegetable just right so it actually does melt in my mouth.

Right now everything feels comforting here. The familiar and the unfamiliar. I want to keep this beautiful habit of coming to India year after year…

As the week of Led Classes (classes during which our teacher calls out each posture and we practice together as a group) gives way to the regular classes (called ‘Mysore Style’ classes during which each student practices only the postures they have been taught, individually without a teacher leading) my back starts to ache. I see a sweet Canadian for acupuncture sessions and the pain slowly melts into comfort.

This year the day off is Sunday instead of Saturday as it has been in the past. Conference with our teacher, Sharath, is now on Saturday afternoon. It’s a small change that funnily enough has most of us wondering what day it is – constantly holding to that old, conditioned pattern of ‘the week.’

So we adapt to our new week and pile into the shala each Saturday to listen to Sharath’s wise words…

Some Conference Notes October 11, 2014

“Yoga is the greatest gift,” Sharath says to start this season at the shala. Words so simple and true we all smile softly in a reply to him.

He explains that yoga is special because of the breath and the vinyasa system, the art of placing the breath in a special way connected to your movement. This process of breathing and moving takes time to learn. It must be tuned like an instrument or like a singer might train to tune her voice.

Once one has learned to control the breath, automatically control of the mind happens.

Student questions begin to flood the room.

“Is it possible to practice with perfect vinyasa?”

Sharath says yes, it is possible and we are all working towards it. But this is something that you must do one posture at a time, slowly. At the beginning we might spend two weeks on just Surya Namaskar A and B. The first day to complete a sun salutation it takes 25 breathes! But the more we practice, the more we train to breath correctly, and over time we can complete it with one breath per movement, the nine vinyasas required to complete a sun salutation A.

A question about the importance of alignment prompts Sharath to remind us that of course the alignment of muscles and bones are important, but so are the movements, the breathing and the heat that this helps to create. These moving asanas help to purify the lungs and nervous system and create a spiritual transformation within us.

Some Conference Notes from October 18, 2014

During the second conference of the season Sharath reminds us that there is no recoded birth date for yoga. For as long as there has been this universe, there has been yoga.

Almost universally it is agreed that yoga is for calming and controlling the mind. These initial stages lead to deeper understanding and ultimately higher consciousness.

In order to begin to control the mind, Sharath spent time talking about the importance of the Ashtanga Tristana, the three points of focus. They are asana, pranayama (breathing, which brings control to the mind) and dristi.

Sharath specifically mentioned the power of the gazing point, dristi, and it’s ability to bring more focus to our practice. Our attention is always on others, on the outside. The more we bring the focus inside the more potential the practice has to become a meditative experience which can lay the groundwork for deeper spiritual growth.

Pranayama can be described as the expansion of prana. In one day we take 21,600 breaths, he says. But we can expand the breath. And if we can expand the breath we can expand our life.

The ancient risis knew this, he reminded us, because of many, many years of practice, research and experimentation. He told a story of Guruji’s village, Koushika, where the great sage Vishvamitra did many thousands of years of meditation and research. Now everyone is rushing, but this research takes time!

Sharath reminded us that “yoga cannot be described. Yoga cannot be purchased. Yoga is all that happens within you.” And without the yamas and niyamas asanas are useless. He spoke of the importance of especially satya, to be truthful to yourself and others and asteya, not to steal. He also mentioned ahimsa, nonviolence. He warned us that asanas make us strong and create heat, but it is extremely important not to misuse the strength!

One of the points that made the biggest impact on me was a question regarding the global community of teachers and practitioners and the unfortunate but sometimes unavoidable conflict and competition that arises. Sharath really encouraged the community to commit to be wise enough not to fight, and instead to unite. To have an internal focus and not worry about the actions of others. To not get worked up in politics and external distractions, but instead to correct our own actions and build a supportive community that way.


Serengeti Namaskar: Yoga on Safari in Tanzania

driving into nothing
Driving into nothing…

We’ve been driving into the nothing for hours, it seems. Our caravan is made up of three Jeeps. Three amphibian Jeeps: vehicles that can be almost fully submerged in water and still run, I’ve learned. This can be particularly important on a safari, I’ve learned.

My companions are sixteen Israelis, one of who is my boyfriend, none of who want to speak much English. Our Tanzanian drivers are experts: they know this journey intimately. I can’t yet imagine knowing this nothing. It’s still an alien landscape on our first full day out on Safari.

Rumors bubble back and forth through the three Jeeps in Hebrew, crackling from the radio and gossiped by my boyfriend’s niece and her cousins. Bits and pieces are translated from sweet relatives for me, the lone American:

“We should arrive to the lodge by sundown,” I learn.

“Someone was attacked by a Buffalo there just last week,” I’m told.

“We’ll each have a tent,” I understand.

Before this phase of the journey into the uniform nothing landscape, the terrain has been varied. We drove through the lush rainforest-like mountains that surround the Ngorogoro Crater, then entered rolling hills and plains where Maasai grazed cattle outside our windows.

Maasai children herding cows


“Can you imagine being Maasai?” our driver asked. “He walks all day. He is headed from nowhere to somewhere and back.”

And I can almost imagine it for a moment as I peer out the windows and see 360 degrees of nothing. Pure grey clay dirt stretching for miles. The scrub trees have long stopped decorating the terrain, and the herds of giraffe we came across a few hours back are nowhere to be seen.

The Lone Giraffe


But suddenly in the distance I see those flat-topped trees starting to appear again, adorning the earth, and as we approach the drivers make a sharp left turn. No signs. No indication that this might even be a road.

We drive slower now, the Jeeps staggering in parallel formation to avoid the other’s billow of white dust. We wind past the setting sun into thickening brush and suddenly take another left turn, this time at a small sign: Lake Masek Tented Lodge.

Lake Masek is a small lake several hours northwest of Arusha, at the corner of the Ngorogoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti National Reserve. This is where we’ll spend the night, right at the crux of these two legendary wildlife regions.

Lake Masek Tented Lodge

Our caravan pulls up, and my heart skips a beat. We’ve arrived to a collection of tents, majestic, as they appear to float on top of stilted platforms among the trees. We unload in front of the main tent, my group of Israelis and me, powdered with dust kicked up from the nothing terrain and blown into our open Jeep windows.

Rumors percolate easier through the group outside of the Jeeps, and the translations come in again:

“It was a driver who was attacked by the Buffalo, just here, where we stand!” I learn.

“Do not leave your tent alone at night for any reason!” I’m told.

“Ring the main tent and an escort will be sent!” I understand.

My boyfriend hugs me close as we’re assigned to the Duma tent, Swahili for Cheetah, and escorted through the dusk by a Maasai warrior with a spear and a flashlight, checking the pathway for animals.

Once inside the mosquito nets the celebration is huge! We are in a tent, its khaki fabric spires draped above us, cascading around a white-netted four-poster bed. We’re shown a shower outside, under the stars, and a tub inside, under our canopy.

We smile like teenagers and skip around our tent, giddy.

“It’s like a dream!” we cheer.

Nighttime is colder than expected and we huddle under extra blankets. No insulation from the elements in our magical tent. I’ve set my yoga mat out and my alarm for just before sunrise, when I’ll practice on our deck, safe inside the screened netting, facing Lake Masek.

But something unplanned wakes me from deep, Jeep-rattled sleep. The bellows of a huge animal seem to be coming from directly under the raised platform of our tent. In the deepest dark I can’t tell if my boyfriend has heard it too, so I lay still as the beast, making noises that seem to signify some immense dissatisfaction, makes a temporary home underneath us…

After falling back to sleep post-buffalo, I rise with my alarm before the sun comes up but it’s too dark and cold to practice just yet. I wait a few minutes, listening to see if our nighttime visitor’s still around before stepping out of the bed onto cold wooden floors to roll out my mat on the front deck.

Masek Sunrise
Masek Sunrise


To the east the sky above the lake is just beginning to crack open with the first rays of red sunrise. It’s a scene I swallow up whole. I raise my arms with the first Surya Namaskar and smile towards this golden African dawn. I’m thinking suddenly that this is quite possibly my favorite place in the world so far. The deafening quiet of the stars. The simplicity of sleeping in a tent. The impossibility of this lodges’ existence in the middle of hours of driving through nothing. Even the visit from some huge potentially dangerous animal in the middle of the night has charmed me.

upward dog masek
Upward dog on our deck at Lake Masek


I take rest on my mat as the sky turns from golden-black to pink then inky blue; the sun casting rays across Lake Masek.

As we leave the tent with our Maasai escort (still wielding his spear) we see definite evidence of our visitor: huge buffalo droppings, just next to our stairs!

The group reconvenes, bleary-eyed from the excitement of it all, and possibly from lack of sleep:

“The mosquitoes kept me up,” says one.

“There was a hyena outside our tent!” reports another.

I tell them of our Buffalo visitor and of my early morning yoga practice.

We set out again that day, north towards the Serengeti and the Kenyan boarder. No longer driving through nothing, the terrain turns from rusty orange grasses to green fields and dried streams. Our safari will see Elephants and Giraffes, we’ll see Ostriches mating and Wildebeest migrating across the Mara River. I’ll even teach the group yoga in a sparkling glass-windowed room deep in the Serengeti. The magic of this terrain and this country will flicker in our eyes for the entire week. But still, I think I’ll hold on tightest to the memory of our first night in tents along the lake, after hours of driving into the nothing. Of our escort with a spear, of the Buffalo under our tent and the next morning’s practice with the African Sunrise…a Serengeti Namaskar.

Post-India Daze

Dana Colors

Dana Colors
It takes me roughy a month to decompress from life in India and settle back in to the peculiar comforts of western life. I love these post-India days. I remember my time in Mysore vividly through my jet lag. It was truly inspiring. As I grocery shop in Harlem at 6am because I can’t sleep, the days seem to swirl together, peppered with the smooth, polished sounds of Sanskrit chanting and the peculiar rhythms of the Indian tabla drums. They burn bright in my memory with Indian sunshine. They were fueled by the crispy masala dosa, and buzzed with the caffeine from sweet chai.

My physical asana practice felt steady, challenging, but surprisingly pain-free.

My boyfriend was able to join me there for the last half of the journey and we bonded over our deep love for the country, zooming through town on a rented scooter, marveling at the perfect chaos of each intersection we somehow survived.

And I started to study the Yoga Sutras with a wonderful teacher. After the talks I’d ride home on the back of Michael’s motorcycle, grateful for the helmet on my head, which seemed to be guarding not only my actual skull, but also my thoughts from spilling out of my ears as they ran wild with philosophical questions, realizations, revelations.

I tried, as my teacher Sharath says he does, to practice yoga 24 hours a day. I’m sure I failed, but I’m sure that doesn’t matter.

I started to examine what it means to “have a practice.” I’ve been bending my body for nearly ten years now. I’ve been dedicated to a spiritual practice for about five. I’ve been trying to seriously apply the principles of a yogic life to my life for about three years.

And I feel small.

I feel like I’m a total beginner.

I feel I know nothing of the depths of practice.

And it’s thrilling.

So I dive deeper.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describes Practice as ‘Any effort entered in the direction of restraining the tendencies of the mind,’ and says that practice should be ‘long-termed, continuous and done with dedication (love and respect) to be fruitful.’

In that way the physical asanas start to change the patterning of our outer material body. The yamas and niyamas shape or reshape the way we interact with the world and treat ourselves. As we withdraw our minds from the chatter, we’re practicing feeling the stillness.

And in that way, in anything and everything, in each moment of our day, we can practice.

How do you practice? How do you  still the fluctuating tendencies of your mind?  Do you do it with love and respect?

*photo by Christine Hewitt of Yogic Photos


The full moon was November 17. In traditional Ashtanga Yoga practice, we take rest on the new and full moon. Many believe that because humans are made mostly of water, we too, are affected by the pull of the moon. The moon’s relative position to the earth creates energetic atmospheres, and the full moon’s energy is characterized by an expansive force which can be powerful and full of emotion, but often lacks the feeling of grounding. These are some observations from the full moon day in Mysore…


I’m full,

Floating against this evening’s pale blue sky.

I’m whole,

my illuminated orb

hangs steady,

moving easy over your horizon.
You take rest.


I am dogs barking:

Huddled in packs on the street’s

red clay corner.

Growling, lips curled above canine teeth

until one’s distracted by your smile,

tail wagging, at peace again.

Then pulled back to the wrestle

with a quick bite, a sharp yip.


I am this little boy’s mischief:

Reflected on his dilated pupils

and the rocks he throws –

like insults beyond his age,

tied to firecrackers,

two weeks past Dwali.


I’ve waxed on this energy,

Your nerves

Pulled up like the tide

against chewed finger nails.

Your creative storm surge:

the volume of your chants,

the ferocity of your smile,

the depth of your tears.

Staged Sunrise

6:30am. After morning yoga practice at 4:30am, this is my view walking home and gazing east from my balcony. This is a first draft; presented to you unedited, barely re-read…as a stream of my thoughts…and my first post from India!

Staged Sunrise

This morning’s hazy scrim

raises slower than usual.

Stage hand’s missed his cue again,

but the director decides she likes it anyway.

                Add it to the show!

Cue soft purple light stage left and right,

and turn on the smoky, trash-burnt smell of the fog machine.

Cue crowing roosters…howling chants:

prayers echoing hollow from between homes,

as center stage fades to a rosy glow.

What corner of the sky

my audience’s eye sees

is only a small part of the story.

Past coconut trees,

I understand,

Unfold more stages,

foggy scrims,

directors and lights.

Actors still sleeping, already singing,

audiences seated, stories unfurling.

Cue soft yellow lights.

Cue sunrise: a fire orange spotlight through the banyan trees’ boughs.

Cue today.


On November 9, the day after I wrote this stage-and-sunrise-inspired poem in India, an accidental explosion killed one technician and injured over a dozen more cast and crew members in the Parisian production 1789, in which my partner Michael was an original cast member. I lived in Paris last year while he performed in and created original body-percussion numbers for the show. So from India, with a heavy heart, I dedicate this poem to the family of the victim, to the injured, to the cast, crew, creative team and fans.