Monday, September 26, 2011


Yoga literally means union. A fellow yogini reminded me that the linear world of either/or is not the path of Yoga. Yoga is the path of both/and. As practitioners, we are bringing together our light and dark, masculine and feminine, Yin and Yang. It is as important to embrace and honor the less appealing aspects of ourselves, as well as the strengths. We tend to mask the darker side of our nature, yet this is as potent and vital a part as the light within. The judge in me and the scorekeeper tries to stay safe by separating, however, I feel safest and most honest when I look for the similarities. When I notice myself particularly repellant to a certain behavior or person, I tend to try it on for size. For example, I dislike cat-callers so one day I howled out my window at a few people... and it felt amazing! I totally get why they do it. I remember being disgusted by some gum stuck under my seat at the movies. “Who does that?”, I thought. Then I decided to try it myself: “I do”. I have done neither of these actions more than once, but it was helpful to see the flip side of the coin.

In striving to unite my opposites, I find even more joy. There is really no joy without grief. There is no good or bad. We all possess polarities within us that demand integration. I feel that I am a blend of both my parents. I have my father's drive, but also his temper. I have my mother's humor and kindness, but also her defensiveness. How can I bring this blend together? I am here to completely accept and work with ALL aspects of myself. The more I can bring these qualities into the open, the more I am able to access their power. Yoga can help us to detach and watch both our dark and our light. Often when I am trying a posture, I feel that I want to give up, or I may judge myself for not being good enough, but then I also find this incredible strength and power when I stay with it and observe. The power of owning all of who I am, dark and light, brings me a sense of wholeness and Union and Balance.

Balance is two opposing forces extending in opposite directions. Balance is not static. We tend to think that balance is stillness, but the truth is that finding balance is being in constant flux. Balance poses require me to be one hundred percent present in the moment. When attempting a balance pose, notice that when you over think it, it doesn’t happen. Try to do Warrior 3 while you are thinking about what you need at the grocery store later. Energy flows where the mind goes, so if your mind is at the market, there is no attention to your pose. Imagine how this translates into the rest of your life.

Below are some guidelines to help you with these challenging poses:
  1. Gazing point
    They say when the gaze is still, the mind is still.
  2. Breath
    When you focus on your breath and the natural rhythm of your body, the mind begins to relax. The mind needs a focus point, so the breath can be a soothing solution.
  3. Extension
    Balance is largely about extension. There is a dynamic energy in balancing.
        Watch a sample of my Balance Challenge.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Detoxifying Yoga Workout

What if I told you that you already have a perfect body? Look in the mirror: It's within you. I have given health and fitness advice to women with some of the best bodies in Hollywood, including Jennifer Aniston and Kate Beckinsale, and you are equipped with the exact same components of your favorite stars: a body, heart, mind and spirit. The key to getting the body you want is aligning these components. A great place to start is by cleansing and detoxifying. Follow my step-by-step guide below, and you'll begin your journey to having the body you deserve.

1. Detoxify the mind. First, I recommend you lose toxic self-talk. Let's perfect a new perspective: "Even if nothing changed, I have a perfect body." In fact, your body's natural state is health, and its job is to constantly eliminate what is no longer necessary. I should know: Having spent a lot of my life being hypercritical, forcing my body and depriving myself, I had actually convinced myself that this was motivation. It turns out that when I remove that slave-driving voice and replace it with healthy choices, my body falls into place effortlessly, and I actually begin to develop the loving relationship with myself that I crave. My food cravings subside because I am getting the right kind of nurture, and it isn't through ice cream.

Each morning, start the day with a short meditation. This literally means five minutes of mindful breathing -- simply inhale and exhale. While doing this, set an intention. "I love my body exactly the way it is today" or "I am taking care of myself today."

2. Notice your breath. The breath is the pathway from the mind to the body, and when you breathe, you are going to feel more. Breathing brings us into the present. Use this during your meditation or come back to this at the beginning of your practice or when you sit down to eat. During exercise, some emotions may come up, and they are all good, because that is your fuel. And that is what you have been stuffing down with those desserts and beverages. There is no difference between negative and positive emotions; they are simply energy for you to use. The breath will eliminate what is no longer needed, which is alchemy for transforming your anger, grief or even joy into pure energy. Use it as you like. 

3. Move your body. The mind/body union can happen during any physical activity -- not just yoga. But try to bring yoga into your walk, run, cycle or elliptical routine by bringing intention and awareness of your body and breathing into all your exercise. Today is not the one time you are going to exercise. It is a routine you create because your body craves it. Anything you care for -- kids, pets, plants -- they all need consistency. Follow my detoxifying routine below, and you'll start seeing big changes!


Warm up with 20 to 30 minutes of your favorite cardio (walking, cycling, elliptical training and dancing are good examples).

2. Set an intention. Consider something like this: "I am letting go of what is no longer serving me" or "I am loving my already perfect body."

3. Follow this yoga routine. These are must-do poses for detoxification. Twists literally wring out the toxins from the body, while balance poses connect you with your core, and abdominal work targets and activates the midsection. 

Come to your hands and feet, with your hands shoulder distance apart and your feet about hips width apart.
Press your heels down as you lift your hips up (see image above left).
Shift your body weight forward toward your hands as you draw your right knee in toward your forehead (see image above right).
Use your abs to hold. 


Step your right foot forward between your hands and come up onto the toe of your left foot as you press your heel back.
Try to straighten the left leg.
Bring your left hand to the floor on the inside of your right foot.
Twist your right arm up toward the ceiling and look up (see image above).
Make sure your arm is extending out from the base of your spine through the crown of your head. 


Bring your right hand back down to the floor and step your right foot back to meet the left foot, staying up on your toes (see top image).
Hold here in a high push-up position for three to five breaths.
Move into 
FOREARM PLANK (middle image).
Stay on your toes and slowly come down onto your forearms. This is where you will really need to stay connected to your core to keep your back straight.
While here, lift your right foot off the floor just a couple of inches and hold using your abdominal strength (bottom image).
Repeat on the left side.
Press back up into 
PLANK POSE, then back to DOWN DOG.


From DOWN DOG, step your right foot through between your hands.
Press gently off of the back leg and shift forward to balance on your right leg (image above left).
Extend your arms out to the sides or back alongside your body. Balance here (image above right).
Without putting your right foot on the floor, bring your hands to your hips, slowly hinge back up to standing and extend your right leg straight out in front of you. 


With your feet together, bend both knees and sit your hips back into an imaginary chair.
Extend your arms up toward the ceiling, tuck your tailbone slightly and use your core to lift your body away from the thighs (image above left).
Bring your palms to a prayer position and hook the left elbow on the right knee.
Press your palms together.
Look up toward the ceiling (see image above right). 


Balance on your sit bones and extend your legs upward and your arms out in front of you, parallel to the floor.
If it is too challenging to keep your legs straight or if you have a lower back issue, you can bend the knees (see image above). 


From boat, cross your arms over your chest and slowly lower down, using your abdominal strength (see top image).
Hover with your feet and shoulders a couple of inches away from the floor.
Then extend your arms and use your core to bring you back up to boat (see bottom image). 


Bend your left knee on the floor in front of you.
Cross your right leg over to bring your right foot to the outside of the left knee.
Hook your left elbow on the outside of the right knee and press your right hand into the floor near the base of your spine (see image above).
Inhale as you extend your spine up, then exhale as you twist back. 


Lying down on the floor, extend your arms out to the sides and bring your right foot on top of the left thigh.
Slowly lower the right knee toward the left and look over your right shoulder. Relax into this twist (see image above).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11th- Remembering

As we mark the 10 year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, we all remember where we were when this tragic incident occurred. We all have a story. And this is mine...

I was in New York City for the U.S. Open. There was really no reason for me to be at the U.S. Open, as I am not particularly knowledgeable about tennis, but my dear friend and student at the time, Helen Hunt had planned a trip and wanted me to go.

The week was very interesting in New York. It was fashion week. The weather was moody. A random thunder shower on Sept 10th,  got me drenched, because I could not catch a cab. This was our last night in NYC and we had decided that we wanted to get up early before our 11am flight on Sept 11th, so that we could have breakfast at Bubbie's, the deli downstairs. As we walked downstairs at 8:30am,Sept 11th I remember saying "What a beautiful day" aloud. It was so clear out. Not a cloud in the sky. Where should we sit? By the window, so we can see the view. My view was facing the World Trade Center. I heard a sound above me in the background (in retrospect, a plane) and I heard what I thought was thunder, before remembering what a clear sunny day it was. Then I saw what looked like confetti and glitter exploding everywhere. "What's going on?" Was it an explosion? Or maybe a celebration? The shattered glass and papers that filled the sky almost looked like a parade to my unknowing eyes. We went outside to see what was going on. Simultaneously, the TV in the deli was turned on, and the two towers stood there, one seemingly punched in with a hole.

I went out to witness it with my own two eyes. There was a hole in the side of the WTC. People could be seen waving out from the top story windows. The buzz of people talking on the street informed me that there had been a plane crash. "You can see the tail", said one man, as he pointed it out to me. I could see it. I saw the tail of the plane. When I heard that it was a plane crash, I thought good... it was an accident. And, disoriented, we went back to our breakfast, with this happening in the background. Matthew, the third person in our trio, decided to go check on our car to the airport while we spaciliy ordered breakfast.

I was facing Helen, with the World Trade Center in the background, when I witnessed the second hit. The explosion on the other side of plane crash #2. The  waiter buckled to his knees, and it was clear that this was more than an accident. We exited the restaurant. I remember talk of "why doesn't someone come to save the people at the top?"... "Forget it", I thought. Somewhere, I knew. We darted off to get our luggage and get out of NYC.

While we gathered our things, we turned on the TV, and got the word that the Pentagon had been struck, and then a call that the airports were closed. We were in shock. I watched as both buildings burned. Don't ask me why, but I knew as I watched that we would witness these buildings coming down. I later heard that considering the structure of the buildings that this was an unlikely outcome, and noone expected it, but for some reason I knew. I was spooked that the entire city had bombs planted underneath it, and that perhaps this was the end for me. Our trio decided to stay put in the loft where we stayed. With windows closed. I was reminded of my ancestors and relatives who had not survived the Holocaust, and those who had spent time locked in attics and closets, etc. I felt trapped.

I began preparing myself. Praying. Literally at the edge of the bed meditating and praying, saying "Please let me be safe. Even in my death, let me be safe". And I began to visualize a shaft of white light protecting me.

When the buildings crashed down, we could feel the rumbling, like a rocket ship taking off. This was 3D TV for sure, being able to feel physically what I was viewing. We remained in the loft for the next 6 hours. Lucky for the city, the wind was blowing in the other direction, so we could still see out, but what was happening for the next several hours had me on edge. I could not relax. It felt like any second more of the city would be under attack.

We were 9 blocks away from the scene of the crime, and the entrie neighborhood was covered in a layer of dust, and death. There were pieces of the building and bodies found 2 blocks away from the scene. So 9 blocks is about as close as I could handle. I wanted to get the F out of there. I did not own a cel phone at the time, but I kept my running shoes on, and my credit card and cash in my hip pocket. I was ready to dart.

Towards the afternoon, I was looking out the window, when building 7 went down, and a group of people went running by our place. At the same time the doorman evacuated our building, and I was down those stairs so fast! (Thank God for being in shape!.. By the way, another great argument for being physically fit.) We found ourselves outside in surreal chaos. I managed to obtain a mask (asbestos poisoning, i thought... but do those things really work. Was it aleady too late?), and we started running Uptown.

I noticed that as we got farther away from the scene, it had an eerie feeling of this billowing smoke in the background, but not the same urgency. No others around us were wearing masks, and I was a bit embarrassed, not wanting to scare the children in the park on the swings. So I put it away. We saw a Hum V military truck, and men with camouflage and guns ride by. Is this what it was going to be like from now on?

Some friends of ours let us come by their place, and we sat together in trauma, fear, relief and shock. Not the least of which was some televised retaliation that resembled 4th of July. We went out for dinner that evening. It felt sweet to be alive, among the community. Later a friend of Helen's, Bill Gerber, took us in and nurtured us. It seemed like we had awoken to a kingdom of riches when we got to the Upper East Side. The incident was no longer visble, but you could smell it.  The air traffic was shut down, and so the island of New York City felt like some haunted house. Every several hours there was another scare. I was glued to the television, which I had not watched in 20 years. Suddenly it seemed very important to see what was going on and to hear each individual's story. It took us 2 days to hit a clearing where we jumped a plane and had the shortest plane ride of my life. I was intent on getting back to Los Angeles, as my father was dying of cancer in the background, getting his first chemotherapy treatment.

We arrived home to LA on a Thursday night, and I had a 7am spinning class scheduled to teach. I taught my classes in my pain, and shared that raw 9/11 moment with Santa Monica as best i could. The only 2 musical artists that I could tolerate were U2 and Peter Gabriel. I believe it was my personal pain, and the understanding of this incredible mass pain that dictated my limited musical preference for the next several days. This collective wound that is shared among all people who have been both sheltered from and devastated by war crimes created by governments.

When it happened, I didn't care what it took, I didn't even care about my own freedoms in that moment - I just wanted to feel safe. I so wanted to feel safe again, but in that moment, I felt that a veil had been lifted from my American eyes. This is what much of the world goes through, and it had never happened to us. Not here. It had certainly never happened to me. Not in the global sense. And the words: "what was I thinking?" echoed and wailed in my heart/mind. "what was I thinking? what was i thinking?" I wondered that day how many more would have to see tragedy with their own eyes. I wondered how I would ever go back to feeling safe. Somehow I knew that in time, this would just be another story.

And this is it.

In rememberance of the families that still suffer and the women and men who lost their lives on that random Tuesday ...may we all be free.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Practice Imperfectly

September is YOGA MONTH! Many people want to begin a practice. But where to begin? What I hear asked again and again is "What KIND of yoga do you teach?" or "What TYPE of yoga should I do?". Talking about yoga will not allow the true discovery. The experience will, so stop asking, and start acting! We all have places in our live and our practice where we hesitate because we feel like we have to wait until we can execute with perfection. You don't have to wait! In fact, it's essential to our growth to feel challenged, uncomfortable and like a beginner. On the one hand, this can be awkward for someone like me, being an instructor! When the opportunity arose to become an teacher, I didn't feel 'ready'. The expectations that I placed upon myself to be perfect were right there on the surface. However, what I have come to realize is that a teacher is simply a student who has taken the responsibility of being a guide. So what if I am imperfect!? That's why feedback from the students and the teacher-student relationship is so vital. We are all finding our way together.For the long-time yoga practitioners, perhaps it's time to mix it up and become a beginner again. Have you gotten stuck in a rut of doing the same classes again and again? Come along... You don't have to wait until you are 5 lbs. lighter, have more money, or are in the perfect relationship to start enjoying what you have. You can start exactly where you are.

When I was a child first finding yoga and discovering my body, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect. I felt that in order to be happy, I had to keep striving for a level of perfection that would fulfill that feeling. The catch was that once I felt that I had achieved a level of perfection, I felt the burden of maintaining it, and could not be satisfied. After incurring some injuries, I had to shift my perspective. Rather than reaching a specific goal, I tried to adopt an attitude of finding the perfection in what already existed. There is a way to find what is perfect in each pose, each moment... not just the result. I have even had to modify my practice, be less rigid in my form and be open to new ideas of perfection. It is my imperfections that allow my vulnerability and accessibility. Perfectly imperfect!

For a fresh perspective, explore a yoga that you have never done before. Since it will be new, you will have an opportunity to PRACTICE IMPERFECTLY! Here are some choices: KUNDALINI, (lots of breath work, and moving energy along the spine.) HATHA, (most yoga postures are based on Hatha, the yoga of force. This means exerting effort), IYENGAR (expect props, talk of proper alignment and lines of energy - this is the first yoga I ever tried), BIKRAM (this is the hot yoga, a series of 26 postures done 2 times in a row, very little upper body work, for those with wrist and neck issues), VINYASA (flow yoga with Sun Salutes, fairly active, stringing sequences of posture with the salutes which connects movement with breath), ANUSARA (lots of heart opening and backbends - this is a yoga I have never tried), YIN YOGA (much more stretchy and slow).

Each day, before you tackle a new type of yoga, or as you are exploring yoga for the first time in your life, try this exercise: list 3 things that you can see as perfect already. In your practice (and we all know what practice makes....), see if you can remind yourself that everything is already exactly as it should be.