The surprising complexity of something seemingly simple is just one added benefit of a yoga practice. Beloved teacher Caley Alyssa breaks down Upward-Facing Dog for us here. A common pose that’s ubiquitous in modern Vinyasa and Hatha classes, Upward-Facing Dog is a deceptively difficult shoulder and chest strengthener. Keeping the legs lifted can be challenging—keep a blanket under the thighs in order to keep from collapsing in the low back. Similarly, place blocks under the palms to keep from hunching the shoulders.
Though you may not immediately understand what the whimsically-named pamplemousse is all about, just like Upward-Facing Dog, chances are you’ve come across it.
What are your favorite simple but challenging poses?
I’m not someone you’d expect to be interested in Reiki. I’m not a yoga instructor or a regular meditator. I consider myself spiritual, but not woo-woo; I don’t travel with crystals (but I have to admit that I own a few) and for the most part I consider myself a regular girl from New Jersey. So why did I choose to get my Reiki Level 1 certification? You may be surprised.
I first got interested in Reiki sort of by accident. I was searching for beginner French classes to take while living in Boston and for some reason Reiki appeared as a class offered in my area. I signed up out of curiosity, but the class was canceled last-minute. I took it as a sign I was better off without it. I left Boston, traveled for a while, and eventually landed in Brooklyn, working for Wanderlust. Wandering the grounds of our Festivals, I was exposed to all sorts of wellness and mindfulness modalities that piqued my interest. There were celestial soundbaths and Silent Discos and smudging ceremonies and Kundalini classes and sweat-inducing workouts… But I wasn’t necessarily moved to facilitate any of these.
Through work, I met a woman who worked at the Brooklyn-based wellness center Maha Rose. It was as if being at the Festivals had opened up a portal to interest in my brain, and this time, something just clicked. Years after my first attempt, I was again face-to-face with the opportunity to try for my Reiki certification. So I did. And I LOVED IT.
What an Training Looks Like
I was nervous that I’d be surrounded by people whose “woo-factor” far outpaced mine, and who wouldn’t necessarily be receptive to a regular girl from New Jersey. I was wrong. After showing up and making introductions, the training opened with a meditation. Through the day, we learned the basics, and then practiced Reiki on each other and ourselves. We took a few breaks to chat, to journal, and to grab lunch. It was everything you might expect from a full day of learning something new. There were some awkward moments, some nervous giggling, but mostly we were all excited to lean into the experience and be vulnerable with each other and our teacher.
The things I least expected were the attunements, which are essentially moments when the Reiki Master performs an energetic opening of your body in order to allow energy to flow freely through you. Attunements are crucial to becoming a Reiki healer.
The colors during the attunement were intense. My eyes were closed but I was seeing rainbow fireworks as the attunement proceeded. It was almost an out-of-body experience. I felt like I could see the energy moving across my eyelids and deep into my brain. The blood coursing through my veins felt electric and my whole body was vibrating. There was a lightness, a levity that filled the room. It was … weird.
I wasn’t the only person who felt this way. We took a couple breaks because of the intensity of the course overall. People cried, people shared deep stories, and we all felt a sense of connectedness to the practice and to each other. It was truly special. I won’t go on to wax poetic about the whole experience. I think it’s very clear I enjoyed the entire process and would do it again in a heartbeat. Here’s looking at you Level 2…
Reiki in Practice
The goal of practicing Reiki is not to create energy, but to become a vessel for the energy transfer from the universe unto another object. You can do Reiki on people, animals, plants, rocks, benches, and everything in between—with permission. (Consent counts spiritually as well!) When you think about it, the universe has an incredible amount of energy to give and Reiki teaches us how to become a funnel for that positive energy to heal other people and things. This is my favorite part about Reiki training—I was not asked to become an expert or to harness any power, it was truly an exercise in opening myself up to let the universe do its own work to help others feel better and to take away a little bit of pain that lives in this world. Learning to do Reiki is truly a selfless task (though you can do Reiki on yourself and It. Feels. Amazing.).
And I’m living proof that it’s not just yogis and hippies doing it! According to research from the Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center and published by Mayo Clinic, Reiki has been used during open heart surgeries and for cancer patients, for pregnant women and firefighter first-responders at 9/11’s Ground Zero. The benefits are scientifically proven. According to a Reiki study done at Hartford Hospital:
86% of patients reported improved sleep
78% of patients reported reduced pain
80% of patients reported reduced nausea
A whopping 94% of pregnant women reported reduced anxiety
Whether or not you believe in the study results, I think it’s worth noting that spending an hour lying down with your eyes closed, while someone else is actively and sincerely trying to help you feel just a little bit better through energy healing is kind of a wonderful thing, and I strongly suggest you give it a try.
Amanda Crooks is a full-time staff member at Wanderlust, curating integrated partnerships. In her free time, she visits National Parks, studies French, tries new trends in health and wellness, and goes on whiskey distillery tours. She splits her time between New Jersey and Brooklyn and doesn’t have social media.
A first-generation Indian-American yoga and mindfulness researcher and teacher reflects on what feels misrepresented and appropriative to her in modern yoga.
When I began contributing to yoga research five years ago, I was invited to a meeting to discuss how to bring yoga and mindfulness practices to university campuses as wellness initiatives. Thirteen out of 15 American administrators and researchers at the conference table happened to be white, the only exceptions being me and another Indian-American woman. The person in charge had thoughtfully invited both of us; though newer to research, we were experienced in yoga teachings because of our South Asian culture and decade-long practices. Entering the room was both moving and intimidating. On one hand, I was honored to share my cultural and personal understandings of yoga. On the other hand, I was one of only two nonwhite people in a group gathering to talk about a practice that originated in India.
Conscious of my identity, I used yogic principles to set aside my conditioned fears and preconceptions and opened my mind to discussing yoga—the practice of self-realization that has transformed my life.
I soon found myself in respectful conversation with everyone at the table: Yoga and mindfulness-based practices can provide what we call “healing” in Eastern tradition, and what we call psychological and physiological “benefits” in Western research. Although we used different words, we were saying similar things.
Until the middle of the meeting.
One of the administrators said, “We’ll need to create a set of guidelines to ensure absolutely no Eastern symbols, bells, or words are used in yoga classes. We can’t make anyone uncomfortable or offend them by suggesting spirituality.”
I don’t believe that Indian words or symbols are required for people to benefit from yoga, but this leader, who was in favor of creating an inclusive yoga experience “for all,” wanted to remove any sign of the land where the practice originated. She overlooked the fact that two yoga teachers with Indian heritage sitting right across from her were the ones left to nurse our exclusion and offense.
Invisible oppression is something many Indians have been forced to endure in quiet pain for centuries. Like when you learn about a popular yoga movement and book jarringly titled No Om Zone: A No-Chanting, No-Granola, No-Sanskrit Practical Guide to Yoga. The title itself normalizes ethnocentric views of yoga, India, and people who chant. The irony of a movement like this is that it renders fear of foreign words while allowing itself to brand and use the Indian practice of yoga, a Sanskrit word signifying “unity” or “yoke.”
Those without access to an in-depth history education might lighten this to a question of political correctness or cries by minorities for cultural recognition. But it goes so much deeper.
Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice of self-realization that originated in India, but, in addition to Indian devotional practices such as sacred dance, it was perceived as threatening, ridiculed, and banned among its own people in its own land under British colonization, beginning in the 1700s and lasting until the mid-1900s. Today, yoga is often marketed by affluent Westerners to affluent Westerners—and Indians, ironically, are marginally represented, if at all. While this multibillion-dollar industry is offering much-needed well-being to Western practitioners, it’s re-inflicting the same violation on India and Indians: invisibility and misrepresentation.
In recent years, conversation has begun around the “cultural appropriation” of yoga. Cultural appropriation is the taking, marketing, and exotification of cultural practices from historically oppressed populations. The problem is incredibly complex and involves two extremes: The first is the sterilization of yoga by removing evidence of its Eastern roots so that it doesn’t “offend” Westerner practitioners. The opposite extreme is the glamorization of yoga and India through commercialism, such as Om tattoos, T-shirts sporting Hindu deities or Sanskrit scriptures that are often conflated with yoga, or the choosing of Indian names.
Yoga teachers and students are starting to ask the questions, “What is the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation?” and “How can I still practice yoga without being offensive?”
According to Rumya S. Putcha, PhD, a scholar of postcolonial, critical race, and gender studies, we’re still asking the wrong questions. “The terminology ‘cultural appropriation,’ in and of itself, is a way of diluting the fact that we’re talking about racism and European colonialism,” she says. “It undermines what is happening as only ‘culturally inappropriate’ so as not to disrupt mass yoga marketing, leading us to ask surface-level questions like ‘I don’t want to be culturally inappropriate, so how can I show cultural appreciation appropriately?’ It’s not about appreciation versus appropriation. It’s about understanding the role of power and the legacies of imperialism.”
Shreena Gandhi, PhD, a religious studies professor at Michigan State University, and Lillie Wolff, an advocate with Crossroads Antiracism, emphasized in their 2017 article “Yoga and the Roots of Cultural Appropriation” that the goal of these conversations should not be for white practitioners to stop practicing yoga, but rather for them “to please take a moment to look outside of yourself and understand how the history of yoga practice in the United States is intimately linked to larger forces”—such as colonization, oppression, and the fact that a devotional practice that was free of cost for thousands of years is now being marketed and sold.
As an Indian-American teacher, practitioner, and writer, I often ponder why this means so much to me and why I can’t offer simple bullet points for what makes something “appreciative” versus “appropriative” of yoga. I just know when I start to feel sick or hurt—like at a conference table when an administrator suggests that Eastern elements, such as bells used to train the mind to focus on the present (dhyana), will threaten the comfort of white American practitioners. Or when the young CEO of a new yoga organization asks me where she can get her 300-hour yoga certification done the fastest, missing that yoga is a lifelong process of balanced living. Or when I see social media celebrities and yoga advertisements promoting athletic, model-like bodies in sexy apparel, potentially encouraging more attachment to items and creating insecurities rather than relieving people of suffering. Or when I’m walking by a shop with my parents, only to see their confusion over why holy Hindu scriptures—which my father can read, being literate in Sanskrit—were printed on a hoodie and tossed into a sale pile.
“I think they don’t realize that these are not just designs. They are words that carry deep meaning for people,” my father says.
His sentiments make me realize that many Western yoga companies and consumers are unaware of what they are branding and buying. And that’s what we need to change together, by asking deeper questions such as:
“Do I really understand the history of the yoga practice I’m so freely allowed to practice today that was once ridiculed and prohibited by colonists in India?”
“As I continue to learn, am I comfortable with the practices and purchases I’m choosing to make, or should I make some changes?”
“Does the practice I live promote peace and integrity for all?”
Educating ourselves, like the practice of yoga, can be seen as an evolutionary process. Start where you are. You may have already developed a lot of awareness that is becoming more finely tuned. And for some—Indian or not Indian, experienced yoga practitioners or not—this article is a first-time exposure to something you never realized.
Rina Deshpande is a teacher, writer, and researcher of yoga and mindfulness practices. Having grown up with Indian yoga philosophy, she rediscovered its profound value as a New York City public school teacher. For the past 15 years, she has practiced and shared the benefits of yoga across the globe. After studying yoga and mindfulness as self-regulation at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, she designs curriculum for science research and K–12 education. She is the author of Jars of Space, a new book of handwritten and illustrated yogic poetry. Learn more at @rinathepoetor rinadeshpande.com.
Kia Miller is leading an immersion at Wanderlust Snowshoe next month! You won’t want to miss this deep dive into her Radiant Body Kundalini Yoga—trust us. For tickets and more information, click here.
Yoga, at its core, has a meaning of union—the yoking of body and mind. Yet even among our own global yoga community, we can often feel separate, disconnected. It can seem overwhelming to go to a new class, to try a new style of yoga, or even to practice with a new teacher. We manage to create comfort zones in our practice and stay in them. Kia Miller, yogini and teacher of Radiant Body Yoga, says that perhaps, in an effort to justify our resistance to change, “we often claim that ‘our yoga’ is the ‘right’ yoga. Our teacher is the ‘right’ teacher.”
If we want to evolve as yogis and to refresh our own practice, she says, we should be open to widening our horizon and the possibility of embracing something new.
Kia has made trying new things a way of life. After childhood in the Falkland Islands, she moved to England where she began to study yoga at age 15. She then traveled the world as a model and filmmaker before settling down in California, where she now teaches. Her personal style combines her love for Ashtanga and Vinyasa with Kundalini yoga.
“Whether it’s Iyengar or Kundalini or Ashtanga, or another type of yoga, what I’ve learned is that there is power and transformation within all styles, and that becoming attached to one way as ‘right’ actually limits our experience,” says Kia.
“We can stay balanced throughout life’s changes if we modify our practice to meet us wherever we are on a particular day.”
It’s not as if she doesn’t understand preferences. The first time Kia took a Kundalini class, she walked away thinking it was “weird.” Regardless, it ended up being one of the most transformative practices she had ever ever done. “I practice and teach Kundalini still, and it has changed my life,” she says.
That is to say, though one yoga style may resonate with us more than another, when we keep our minds and hearts open we can see that there are many paths to the one, that all yoga comes from the same source. Then, according to Kia, we truly begin to understand yoga as union.
Once we’ve mastered this openness in our practice—when we understand the yes and, as in, yes I love this AND I see the potential in that too—it translates to our lives beyond the mat. It strengthens our ability, Kia says, to be ambassadors in the world for a heightened way of living. “We are practicing to become a person who, when confronted outside of our comfort zone, can stay open to the opportunity that is presented to us, and to remain neutral in the face of challenge. This is ultimately why we practice,” she says.
There are also times in our life where different practices will be called for. “We can stay balanced throughout life’s changes if we modify our practice to meet us wherever we are on a particular day,” says Kia. Whether it’s aging, or having a family, or changing job or location, we inherently know that doing the same thing over and over isn’t always going to be the best fit.
One of the greatest challenges about trying a new yoga practice is the new community we will join—it’s almost like making a pilgrimage. We have to leave what we know to go and explore another dimension of who we are. Practicing together in community is an essential part of our growth as yogis. “In many ways, it is coming together as a group when our practice expands and grows even more quickly. We energetically support and inspire one another to grow, to embrace new practices and to embrace the deeper teachings of yoga” says Kia.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stepping out of your comfort zone, Kia suggests trying the following:
Breath for Clarity and Balance
1. Sit in a comfortable position, spine straight, chin slightly in.
2. Inhale in four equal strokes (sniffs through the nose), then exhale in one long stroke.
Says Kia: “This four-stroke segmented breath will open up your lung capacity and elevate your mood and energy. We normally breathe around 15 times per minute, but this technique will help you to slow down your breath and develop a new breath rhythm. The more control we have of our breath, the more control we have of our mind.”
Helen Avery is a senior writer for Wanderlust Media. She is also a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, minister, and full-time dog walker of Millie, residing in Brooklyn, New York. You can find out more about her on her website, Life as Love.
As a mind-body practice, yoga shows us that our physical and mental well-being are inextricably connected. But while many of us talk openly about our physical health struggles, mental health issues are still largely shrouded in stigma. Widespread lack of understanding has created shame around these issues, causing many to suffer in silence for fear of judgment and discrimination.
Studies show that at least one in five American adults struggles with their mental health, but societal pressures prevent many from seeking treatment that could drastically improve their well-being, or from sharing a diagnosis with friends and family. The stress of hiding a mental illness can worsen symptoms, increasing the risk of suicide in some cases. In short, stigma is a formidable and unacceptable barrier to wellness.
Whether you’re struggling personally or it’s someone you know, mental health issues affect us all, and we’re all responsible for creating a stigma-free society. We do this by educating ourselves, opening up to each other, and taking the conversation mainstream. We do it by choosing compassion, remaining vigilant about how we speak about mental illness, and gently guiding others to do the same.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re grateful to have shared intimate and meaningful conversations with a few of our teachers. They opened up to us about their personal experiences navigating their mental well-being, as well as the tools they’ve used to support themselves along the way.
EP 1: Taylor Harkness’ launch, 5/3 EP 2: Stephanie Snyder’s launch, 5/8 EP 3: Marc Holzman’s launch, 5/15 Ep 4: Trudy Goodman’s launch, 5/22
We encourage you to create a wellness toolbox that empowers and supports you, whatever that looks like for you. And to anyone whose lives have been affected by mental health issues: we see you, we value you, and we hope that in any big or small way our offerings support you, just as you are.
We believe in the power of movement and meditation—whether it’s moving our bodies, our minds, or the world in a positive direction. We hope our curated classes guide you on your journey.
If you or someone you know is struggling emotionally or having a hard time, it’s important to seek treatment from a mental health professional. While yoga and meditation can be supportive tools, they are not a cure or substitute for professional treatment. If you are thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide, or you have a friend or family member in crisis, call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to be connected to a trained counselor and receive a list of resources in your area.
These rock classics will resonate with you and elevate your joy during your yoga practice.
Yoga is all about expressing yourself; yes, even the thrilling sides you might not realize are there. This playlist will motivate and resonate with you on and off your mat. Be prepared to fall in love with these rock classics all over again.
1. “Sweet Emotion,” Aerosmith 2. “25 or 6 to 4,” Chicago 3. “Limelight,” Rush 4. “Another One Bites the Dust,” Queen 5. “Misty Mountain Hop,” Led Zeppelin 6. “Yellow Ledbetter,” Pearl Jam 7. “Dream on,” Aerosmith 8. “Karma Police,” Radiohead 9. “Beast of Burden,” The Rolling Stones 10. “Under Pressure,” Queen 11. “Fool in the Rain,” Led Zeppelin 12. “Some Kind of Wonderful,” Grand Funk Railroad 13. “Africa,” Toto