Yoga for Self-Inquiry, Awareness, and Peace

     Some of the positive shifts I made in my life coincided with the decision to get seriously devoted to my yoga practice. The true beginning of my yoga practice took place last summer, after I got a piercing in Philadelphia at my favorite spot, Infinite, and was chatting with the guy who worked there. He mentioned his favorite place to practice yoga was Dhyana Yoga. When I went home, the name of the studio slipped my mind, but I did some Google searching until I found it, and discovered there was a studio near my house.

     I started attending classes and I immediately felt at home at the studio, its energy, its palpable atmosphere of love. This was the first studio I went to which started and ended each class with the chanting of mantras in Sanskrit. The practice of chanting with others, of opening the throat chakra and allowing love in, was transformative in itself. One day, Dhyana came into the studio with a harmonium and surprised the class by playing it during the chanting. She played so beautifully, in such a way that as I closed my eyes, I felt my voice melting seamlessly into the voices around me. It was a special experience because I connected to spirit in that moment. By the end of the summer, I was becoming more true to myself.

     Later, in August, the studio held a month-long yoga challenge dubbed the “Yoga Plunge,” a personal challenge for each person to expand their practice by attending classes 6 times per week, and observing the effects. I decided I wanted to devote myself to my practice and successfully went to 5 or 6 classes per week. That studio became my second home in that month, and the other yogis my family. Yoga is first and foremost a spiritual path which allows one to settle into their body and to be truly present in their experience. It is all about acceptance, love, and devotion. When I first went to the studio, I was expecting a good workout, but I received so much more. I felt stronger, lighter, and more balanced physically, mentally, and emotionally. No area of my life went untouched once I delved into my practice because I began to shift, evolve, and change radically. The shift was an internal one, a shift to being in alignment with my inner truth. For example, during this time I transitioned to a vegetarian diet after years of wanting to do so for health, environmental, and spiritual reasons. I always wanted to be a vegetarian, and the emotional blocks that were holding me back were dissolved. Yoga is one of many catalysts for an inner journey of self-inquiry, awareness, and acceptance. I believe yoga also lends itself to establishing inner peace, and as a result, peace in one’s outer world. 

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     I choose to share the experience of my practice in order to let others know about the transformative power of yoga. On a physical level, it certainly helped me get stronger and more flexible, but it also taught me the most important skill ever, to breathe. To breathe truly, deeply, with every cell of the body. In yoga, it does not matter how strong or flexible you are, or what your poses look like. Yoga has everything to do with the breath. If you can breathe, you can practice yoga. As one of my teachers said, when you breathe in harmony with the movements of the body, you are definitely raising your energetic vibration. Connecting with the flow of the breath is relaxing and induces inner peace, without a doubt.

     Try it for yourself. Get still, and settle into your body for a moment. Watch the breath as it flows in and out, long, deep, slow, and steady, like waves in the ocean. Take the biggest breath you have taken all day, filling your beautiful body with prana, the life force of the air. Stay with the awareness of your breath for several moments until you feel your mind becoming still. Connecting with the breath is a way to bring yourself into the present moment. Breathe deep, love more, and practice yoga! 

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Living and Loving in Melbourne

     Last February, I commenced an amazing semester abroad studying in Melbourne, Australia. I knew I needed to get away, to go somewhere brand new with completely new landscapes and situations in order to truly find myself, to see what I was made of so many miles away from home, family, and the comfort of knowing how each day would play out. Though I had never been to Australia before, the city of Melbourne is not a far cry from my life in America. The lifestyle, culture, and pastimes of the people mimic Americans, but with that undeniable laid-back Aussie manner. For example, in Australia, you will often hear people chiming “No worries” in response to pretty much anything. I was also charmed by how genuine and fun the people are. They always ask questions about me to get to learn more, and they show true interest. I am certainly trying to take some social cues from the Aussies, who can strike up witty conversations with anybody in any situation.


     Koji from Japan playing a space drum in the streets of Melbourne.

     During my time abroad, Jupiter, the giant planet of gifts, opportunity, and luck, was transiting my natal 9th house which rules higher education, travel, and foreign cultures and people. When I realized this, I knew this semester would be magical and eye-opening, and I was not mistaken. I am so lucky to have met and mingled with people from a diverse range of countries and cultures during a short time. In addition to lovely Australians, I have met people from Germany, France, New Zealand, Canada, Israel, Japan, China, Indonesia, Italy, and England. All of them taught me so much just by being who they are. I learned by observing and listening to their stories. Like my friend from Israel who had to serve in the army for two years. I can hardly imagine the turmoil and stress he faced each day, nor the indescribable beauty he saw during his hike of the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal. In him and others, I chose to see their light and it was a true blessing.

     The colorful and creative street art in Melbourne takes on a world of its own.

     My time in Australia is nearing an end. I have three weeks left, during which I will be spending some time at another yoga ashram nearby Melbourne. Looking back on my short time here, I am amazed at how much I did and all of the amazing people I met so far. I have been so inspired by the people I was fortunate to meet. Traveling and meeting foreign people are the most amazing things one can do. It is nearly impossible to travel and remain unchanged. Traveling opens your mind in many ways and challenges you to grow, evolve, and move past programmed thoughts or patterns of behavior. It is my goal to travel more and allow the beauty of the world to fill me with inspiration and love.

May you follow your gypsy heart and see the world as your magical playground. Light & love.

Manifesting Magic in the Physical Plane of Reality.

     I have seen it happen countless times, over and over again in my personal experience. When I choose to focus on positivity, love, peace, and abundance, more of that flows to me with ease. The more I choose to follow my heart, take risks, and leave behind negative thought patterns, the more I am guided to beautiful experiences, people, and lessons to guide me on my path. It is no mistake. There is a reason that the Universe is reflecting back to me more love and abundance than ever. It is because I have made the conscious choice to raise my vibration and align with love rather than fear. This is because the Universe is a mirror and the physical world merely reflects one’s internal state of being. Therefore, one can choose to see life through the lens of doubt, negativity and fear, or through the outlet of peace, opportunity, and Divine guidance.

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     For me, the shift came after I evaluated my life, choosing to take a close look at the things I was doing and the people I was surrounding myself with. My life was characterized by a perpetual state of unease, discontent, inner turmoil, and unhappiness. I decided I was not living in alignment with my greater power, the way I was meant to live. I chose to give up excessive partying, materialism, fake friends, drugs, drinks, and all of the mess that comes along with it. I effectively made space in my life to replace with things that were in alignment with my inner wisdom, such as yoga, meditation, self-inquiry, and a healthy vegetarian diet. I chose to do more of what makes my spirit light up, like hoop dancing, travel, self-expression, and reading.

     When I made that shift, my life blossomed. It blew up like a thousand colorful fireworks. For the first time in a long time, I felt excited to wake up in the morning, to pursue those things that truly make me happy, and to no longer have to hide who I am. I finally wanted to be me rather than somebody else. I am now living in full alignment with my truth, and there is no need to apologize for who I am, or what I like. There is no longer that inner desire to make others happy, impress them, or seek their approval or recognition in any way. It does not matter because I no longer answer to them, but to my Higher Self. 

     All one needs to manifest magic in one’s world is to set the intention to love more, to be more peaceful, compassionate, and present in each moment. Magic is when you choose to love yourself radically and unapologetically. That is when the Universe will reflect the richness and beauty of your inner world in the physical reality.
Sending you love and magic. 

The Zap Zone: Align with Truth and Evolve

     This month in the starry skies, many astrological events are taking place. Whether you follow astrology or not, you will likely feel the shifting energies in your own life because the world is experiencing these shifts together. Mystic Medusa is one of my favorite bloggers. She writes a witty, smart astrology blog. She calls this time the Zap Zone. Specifically, it is Uranus in Aries Square Pluto in Capricorn, directly squaring on June 24, 2012. Mystic Medusa states, “Pluto in Capricorn is already about a global transformation of corrupt or no longer viable business, power and money structures. Uranus is the catalyst for this process. Get that the going is going to get weirder – not ‘back to normal soon.’ This IS the new norm.”
     When planets square each other, their energies are intensified and when two major outer planets like these align, it means major worldwide shifts. Our current time is one of expansion, both on a global and individual level, as well as a shift in politics, economics, and the way we see the world. The next several years are going to be a time of dramatic shifts in all areas of life. We cannot expect the world to remain in its present condition, nor can we cling on to dying industries that do not serve the development of the world. In the news, there are daily stories that conjure up fear, government corruption, poverty, and inequality. This is the time to change all the ideas we thought about what the world is, and take responsibility for our place within it in order to create an Earth that is in alignment with love, peace, and truth.

     On a personal level, the Zap Zone is a call for everyone to evolve and align with one’s authentic truth. To get clear about who we are on a fundamental spiritual level in order to more fully embrace our Higher selves in order to serve others. It is our duty to work out our own personal demons, the shadow side of ourselves, so that we can more effectively help others during this time of expansion and transition. Mystic Medusa also advises to go with the flow of life, get out of debt now, and make the shift to be more authentically ourselves. She states, “Innovation is the new comfort zone.”

The Universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, and so are you. This is your wake up call to believe. Love more. Trust. Listen to your inner wisdom and guidance.

Radical Self Love

     Radical Self-love is a term coined by the brilliant Gala Darling to describe the concept of being smitten with yourself, of treating yourself like a goddess and loving yourself fully and unapologetically. Radical Self-love can be crazy or even scary, just look to those days where one inevitably feels like loathing in negative ego thoughts or eating crap, sugar-filled foods, instead of nourishing the body with love, positivity, veggies, hydration, and exercise. It certainly happens to me, but the idea of Radical Self Love is one to be focused on daily. I practice Radical Self Love by keeping a notebook and filling it with positive affirmations, intentions, ideas, inspirations, and Divinely guided action plans. This notebook is a powerful and transformative tool because I refer to it often and fill it with new ideas frequently. If I ever feel horrible about myself or begin to wallow in self-doubt and pity, I open one of the pages and remind myself of my truth, of my Divine nature, of the unlimited love, abundance, and inner power I possess.

     I began writing about Radical Self Love last summer, when I took a spiritual journey of sorts sitting in my quiet garden in New Jersey. I would go outside, get still, get silent, and listen to the sounds of insects buzzing about, of birds singing their sweet songs, and the quiet whispers of the lush plants. It was here that I meditated each day, and read books about self improvement, Buddhism, spirituality, psychic intuitives, astrology, and everything I could get my hands on. I recommend Dr. Wayne Dyer’s “Change Your Thoughts Change Your Life,” or any of his other works. I also took yoga classes nearly every day and volunteered to clean the yoga studio afterward. This was my spiritual summer camp, and I took this time to get grounded and clear about what I wanted. Time well spent. Radical Self Love is not easy. It demands devotion, practice, and getting yourself back on track. No matter what happens, there is always a choice to choose to love and accept yourself fully or align with fear and negativity.

How do you practice Radical Self Love? Inspired by Gala Darling.

The Beauty of Bali

     Bali has a spirit all its own, and is quite indescribable. This lovely Indonesian island is filled with magic, waiting to be noticed, under each banana leaf, coconut tree, and hibiscus flower. The people live humbly in communion with nature. The beauty of Bali can be found in the villages, in the terraced rice fields that look delicately carved, stretching through fields as far as the horizon, into nearby villages and beyond. There are coconut trees everywhere, lone trees and clusters of them swaying on hilltops. One day Kadek uses a large stick of bamboo to knock down two coconuts from a tree. He gives me a warm smile that is characteristic of the loving Balinese people. At a leisurely pace, we return to the homestay and cut open the young yellow coconuts, enjoying the fresh, sweet coconut water. I learned how to say “young coconut” in Indonesian: kelapa muda. It definitely beats the stuff I drink from a box at home. In the rice fields, you can find towering banana trees with large green leaves that can be used as an umbrella in the event of an unexpected tropical rainfall.



      The spirit of Gaia is alive on the island of Bali. We saunter through the rice fields, stepping with care so as to avoid any holes. In every direction, it is as green as the eye can see. Small birds and insects flitter around, seeking cool refuge under the leaves of plants, peeking out from their hiding places. We spy dragonflies and butterflies, kupu kupu in Indonesian. Lush tropical flowers dangle upside down from the leaves, and my favorite, the small white and yellow frangipani, a delicate and fragrant type of plumeria. The beauty and spirit is everywhere, if only one slows down long enough to feel it. Bali Jegeg beckons to be discovered, appreciated, and adored.

Adventures in Bali: A Practice in Following the Heart

     Each day I spent in Bali was brimming with love, and overloaded with joyful, beautiful experiences. Everything was brand new to me and I just took it all in. From the back of Kadek’s motorbike, the wind swept strongly and brought with it the scent of the fresh plants, the burning fuel of the surrounding motorbikes, and the incense wafting from the temples and the daily offerings found all around Bali. The people create delicate trays out of folded bamboo leaves and place upon them rice, flowers, and sticks of incense for the spirits and Gods. It is a daily tradition for the people, and these offerings can be found everywhere. They are placed on the ground, on the steps of the temple, on a rock, or the side of a bridge. Each morning the owner of the homestay would place two freshly made offerings on the branches and the base of the tree outside my porch.
     Not only does each village have a temple dedicated to the Gods, each home has its own temple as well, placed in the North-east corner. Kadek told me that he constructed his home temple by hand along with his family. Devotion is integrated into daily life in Bali, from the offerings and the home temples, to the frequent village wide celebrations. Driving through the villages at any given time, one comes across people in traditional dress celebrating with the community. The women wear brightly colored sarongs with sashes, and delicate shirts of lace, carrying elaborate offerings of fruit, sweets, and flowers upon their heads. It looks like a difficult skill to balance objects on one’s head and walk amidst the clamor of the streets, but the Balinese do so effortlessly. The men don all-white sarongs, sashes, shirts, and headbands. Beautiful music, chanting, and the ringing of bells can be heard as the people celebrate with their village, expressing gratitude and devotion.
     There are many sacred areas of Bali where the people celebrate and I was fortunate to visit a few of them, including the two biggest mountains on the island, Mount Agung and Mount Batur. The day that we visited Mount Agung, the foggy skies shrouded the top of the mountain in thick clouds so we could not see the top. We went to see the temple there which is the second picture below. Mount Batur was also lovely. It is located near the village town of Kintamani. I got to see it at night, when the lake next to Mount Batur reflected the few lights of the villages and the stars sparkled brightly. The entire sky was illuminated by thousands and thousands of stars, and the Milky Way was clearly visible as a band of stars across the sky. We saw three shooting stars that night, all within seconds of each other. It was quite amazing, as looking at stars is literally peering into the past.
     
This is Bali, the island of a thousand temples.

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Take a Risk: A Solo Excursion to Bali, Indonesia

When I was younger, I would flip through volumes upon volumes of my father’s photographs from his travels in Asia. The albums were filled with candid pictures of local people, reflecting their daily lives and capturing their pure emotions. The crowded streets, roaming dogs, busy markets, and the genuine smile of a young child. Candid pictures of people living their lives in a world that was foreign to me. The photographs taken in Indonesia, China, Singapore, and Thailand, were a portal to far-away places that seemed light-years away from my comfortable life growing up in America. Looking at these pictures, I knew I would one day travel to Bali, Indonesia.

During my study abroad semester in Australia, I decided the university’s break between the end of classes and my first exam would be a perfect time to travel to Bali, the last week of May to the beginning of June. I bought the flight ticket and decided there was no turning back, no room to second guess my decision. I had a sense of internal wisdom and trust that Bali was a place I had to visit. I did not know how it would all work out, but I knew I was being guided to exactly where I needed to be. I had to stop freaking out and projecting my fears onto the future. Instead, I had to shift my perception and trust that I could travel on my own and allow myself to be guided. Many times, the endless chatter of the egoic mind tries to keep me safe, small, and stuck. What is normal is often deemed as safe. But this moment was different. I had some fear about going to Bali by myself. I had no idea what I was doing or how it would happen logistically. I felt the fear but my trust overshadowed it.

My intention for my journey to this magical Indonesian island was to see how Balinese people live, to spend time with locals, to see the beautiful lush landscapes I had only seen pictures of. I wanted to challenge myself, to go outside of my comfort zone in order to embrace a lifestyle far different from my own. To live simply and happily, to immerse myself in the dizzying array of Bali’s dynamic and spiritual culture. I planned to check out a music festival on the sacred volcano of Mount Batur in Kintamani and to visit Ubud, Bali’s center of art, spirit, and culture. I also planned to stay far away from tourist areas, and spend time in the countryside. Aside from these ideas, I had no specific plans or schedule. There was a reason I was going to Bali, and traveling by myself. This was a journey of the spirit and a practice in following my heart and manifesting my dreams.

Before my departure, I joined Couch Surfing, after it was recommended to me by a friend. It is a social networking website for travelers and I connected with some people from Bali in hopes of getting information from the locals. Many people sent me messages and offered to show me around or meet up for a chat. One person who messaged me was named Kadek and I told him about my plans for my trip. He offered to pick me up at the airport on his motorbike and show me around. I gladly accepted the offer, since he seemed nice and he was a Balinese student close to my age. After a 6 hour plane ride from cold, rainy Melbourne, I landed in Bali and was delighted to see Kadek standing at the airport with a sign with my name on it. I went up to him, pointed at the sign and smiled saying, “Hello. That’s me!” He seemed surprised at first then smiled a warm Balinese smile. Instantly I felt at ease and comforted. He took my bags and asked where I wanted to go. It was late in the evening when I arrived in Bali. I told him that I wanted to go somewhere quiet and he decided we would go to his village of Sidemen. Kadek is still learning English, although I could understand him most of the time. I had to talk a bit slower than I usual, and be patient when I had to explain something in an alternative way so Kadek would understand me. It was a lesson in patience and compassion, of which I am grateful.

Kadek took me to Sidemen on the back of his motorbike. All I could think was, “If my parents saw me right now they would freak out.” I just hung on to Kadek and enjoyed the ride, my first look at Bali. By the time we arrived, Kadek noted that it would be too late to check into a homestay and it wouldn’t be worth it for just a few hours. He took me to his home, and cleaned his bedroom for me so I could sleep in his bed while he slept in another room. He was so happy to help me out, and I knew I was so lucky to have met him. I was so grateful that he invited me into his family’s home even though he did not know me. In two short weeks, Kadek and I became great friends. With his guidance, I was fortunate to enjoy so much and see many beautiful parts of Bali from Denpasar to Ubud to Lovina to the two biggest mountains.

The next morning I awoke to chickens yelling to each other. Kadek told me his family uses them for cock-fighting sometimes to gamble and earn some money, all in the name of entertainment. The chickens were so loud but he was used to it. All around Bali, the sound of the chickens makes it impossible to ignore the dawning of the morning. The first morning in Bali, we wandered by foot to the nearby market, where I bought some traditional Balinese treats for breakfast. The lady was sweet. With a smile, she let me sample each one. They were yummy so I bought a bag of each. I am not sure what they were, some little things made by tapioca, I was told.

I could not have done all of this without Kadek. He was my angel and became a great friend during my holiday. Anything I wanted to do or see, he was enthusiastic about making it happen. And when I didn’t have any ideas, we would hop on his motorbike and explore his village, receiving glances and smiles from every person we passed. I got to see all around Sidemen and the north, south, east, and west of Sidemen. When we were at the second homestay in Ubud, Kadek picked up a map and showed me all the places we had explored. I had seen all over the eastern side of the island, the north and many places in between.

Things I will always remember about Bali: the beautiful warm smiles of the people, the terraced rice fields, seeing geckos, butterflies, and dragonflies everywhere, the full moon on the beach in Lovina, eating delicious nasi goreng (fried rice) for $1, learning Indonesian words, waking up to the serenity of the Balinese countryside in Sidemen, gazing in awe at thousands upon thousands of stars illuminating the sacred volcano of Mount Batur, spending time with Kadek and Erick laughing the night away in Singaraja, practicing yoga at the lovely Yoga Barn in Ubud, seeing twin waterfalls as a rainbow appeared, and enjoying every second because I was following my heart.

This is just the beginning of my journey. More Bali posts to come.

Have you ever traveled to Bali or taken a spiritual journey to a foreign land?