The Month of Growth Opportunities, Facing Fears, and Lessons Learned...

Art by Olga Wagner.

Art by Olga Wagner.

          Monday, October 30, Rodney and I went to Newark airport early, in anticipation of hosting a retreat that was a long time coming. For months, crazy-busy, we’d look at each other and say, “Hang on—in three weeks we’ll be in India.” India couldn’t come too soon. Anyway, we went to check in at a self-serve kiosk at Newark on October 30, and the machine flashed a message: Check with an agent. “Where are your visas?” the agent asked when he arrived. Visas?! What?! No one had said anything about visas. We went into panic mode: How were we going to get visas in the five hours before our flight took off? The government site was down, so I finally found an agency that specializes in expedited visas - they said they could get them for us later that day. We would miss our flight, but United said that they would put us on another one the next day.

          Stunned, bruised, and feeling stupid, we headed back to our apartment to await our visas. Five hours came and went. The agency now promised they’d have the visas to us in 24 hours. We missed our next flight, and rescheduled for the following night. Finally, we got our visas, printed them, and headed to the airport 10 hours early, to make sure that we were good to go. All was finally flowing smoothly, as was the excitement of this retreat—the Ananda Hotel in Rishikesh, was like nowhere we would ever be able to stay if we weren’t teaching, and the participants were friends from around the globe (who we only got to see once a year).

          We boarded the plane and had a pleasant 14-hour flight. The plane landed, and we entered immigration. When we got to the counter and handed the official our visas, he looked confused and kept checking the computer, our passports, and the visas. He wanted to know if we had two passports. While this was happening, I looked at my phone, and found an email from the visa agency: In bold letters it said, “Present this visa to immigration—not the other one.” I immediately showed the officer the new visa, but it was too late: They had decided that we were frauds. They told us to get on the same plane that we came over on and head back to New York. The new visa was legit, but they’d made up their minds.

          Rodney refused to get on the plane home; he said he was worried about my health. I had had a recent seizure, and that sets the stage for more. Exhaustion, time change, and dehydration are a brutal trio as far as triggers go. United held the plane for 90 minutes while we were surrounded by intimidating military and immigration officers who kept trying to corral us onto the plane while telling us we would never be able to come back to India. Finally, an agreement was reached: Immigration would put us in a room for 24 hours, and we would take the same flight back to the States the next night.

          We still hoped we could somehow convince them to let us get to our retreat—after all, we did, in fact, have the right documents. So they put us in a locked holding room called “the refusal room.” It was a cell without bars. There was a guard there around the clock, and we were under no circumstances allowed to leave. By now, it was about 1 a.m. in Delhi. Rodney doesn’t do well in enclosed places, and started to feel trapped. The inevitable disappointment of the retreat participants was weighing heavily. We started to call people in New York who might have connections in India.

          In the morning, we started making calls to the Indian contacts we’d collected, and were blown away by the attention and support they gave us. Everyone understood the circumstances, spent an enormous amount of time on the phone, and even sent people to see us, but they were not allowed in. In the end, we were put on a flight back to the States.

          I am on that plane now. We have been in the air for eight hours, and I have not stopped crying. I’m crying mainly because of the kindness that we were shown. The guard who gave us food was so gentle and sweet. He got excited whenever we asked for anything, and offered it to us with such purity and grace. The manager of the Ananda Hotel had come to greet us upon arrival with his best driver, and he’d waited for four hours. For the next 28 hours, he continued to offer any help he could. The retreat participants stayed in touch the whole time, reassuring us that they supported us no matter what the outcome. ...And then there was the United personnel who came into our room at 4 p.m., even though our flight wasn’t until midnight. These two men might have had angel wings on: They tried their hardest to see if there were any other options that could get us to our retreat, albeit three days late, at this point. They spent three hours talking to immigration, the bigwigs at United, and even the embassy.

          These two men from United—Harpreet Singh and Mohit Dahiya—were almost as sad as we were. I don’t believe that I’ve ever met two more empathetic human beings in my life. Their patience, strength, ethics, professionalism, humanism, compassion, work ethic, and genuine concern for our wellbeing and happiness brought us to our knees. When we realized that there was no solution except to get back on the plane, I couldn’t contain my tears. They could not take me crying. They could not take it. Their mission was to dry my tears, and find some kind of a solution. They stayed with us for five hours just because they cared.

          These were strangers who could have held a grudge after we inconvenienced them the night before by refusing to board. These same men got us our boarding passes and quietly said that they would try to get us three seats so that we could sleep. (At that point, we were going on 60 sleepless hours). They escorted us to a premium lounge with showers and food. We got on the plane and were given three seats in premium economy. Within minutes, the flight attendant brought us goody bags from first class. She said, “The United ground attendants want us to give this to you.”

           So why am I crying? I’m crying because I have been so deeply touched by such decent, caring, and loving people. I’m crying because I want to be one of them. I’m crying because I’m rethinking my priorities. I’m crying because of all the times I didn’t have time to cry or didn’t have time to comfort others the way these people comforted us with their genuine human compassion.

          I’m also crying over my mother’s death—I’m missing her tonight. I’m crying over the fact that my consoling of a friend who lost her baby was mainly by text message. I’m crying because all our kids are grown. I’m crying because I’ve been too busy to let friends and family know how grateful I am for them. I’m crying because of how fortunate we are and how often we complain. I am crying because we weren’t able to follow through with our agreement to teach this retreat. I’m crying because I feel like we’re being sent home on dishonorable discharge, rather than a feeling of a job well done.

          But mainly I’m crying because these saints touched me so deeply that it ripped me apart. I’m crying because we are bombarded with hate and forget about the kind of love that we were shown today. Thank you to everyone that made me cry: I am grateful.

          We’re getting ready to land. I have learned so many lessons this week and am attempting to learn them without judgment and guilt, and with the realization that I do the best I can at any given time. I have a lot to look at, work through, and let go.

          India has always been a spiritual mecca. Who knew that you didn’t even have to leave the airport for one of the deepest and most profound spiritual teachings? I would love to hear any of your stories of how spiritual teachings have come to you in the most unusual package.

          I also feel like I need to acknowledge a few other people that went above and beyond to come to our rescue: Hania El-Tamer - for stepping up and teaching yoga classes at the retreat, and being such a positive influence on the group. Michelle Adams - powerhouse student and friend—put us in touch with the Consulate of Public Affairs and the U.S. embassy in Delhi. Dr. Mathew Fink - the neurologist who dropped everything and wrote a letter explaining why I shouldn’t get on that plane. Robbie Stein - who happens to know everyone, and put us in touch with two people highly connected in India. Robbie’s friend Christopher - an art dealer between D.C. and India. John Nevado and his partner, Jalpa - who run the largest travel agency in India. Jalpa is a take-matters-in-her-own-hands kind of gal. Peggy Leder - who connected us with Sam, the owner of local Indian restaurant, who had family that may have been able to help. James Dragon - consulate of public affairs who we woke in the middle of the night. He also sent someone to hear us out, though they were not allowed access to us. Jessica - from the U.S. embassy with the patience of a saint, who we must have called 20 times. Adesha’s roommate Kanak - whose uncle is the retired Lieutenant General of the Indian military. He tried to send a corporal to see us, but immigration would not let him in. Melissa Ong - who was trying to get us entry to Singapore so that we might be able to fly back into India. Kartikay - the general manager of the Ananda Himalayan Hotel and Spa in Rishikesh, who spent hours calling people on our behalf, and spent five hours at the Delhi airport trying to get us out. Jill Heller and Valerie Yee - who were communicating with the participants constantly. United Airlines - The participants that kept our morale up. You, for listening.

Peloton Cycle - Colleen Saidman Yee’s Beginner Yoga Plan

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Whether you’re just getting started with yoga or want to get back to the basics you can use my beginner plan to start small and build from there. This plan includes 5-10 minute workouts in order to work on key yoga poses to set you up for success.

To start, dive into Week 1 first and either move on to Week 2 or repeat Week 1 depending on how ready you feel for the next set of workouts. I’d recommend repeating both weeks, in any order, to total a month. Remember that you’re able to find all of these workouts on your bike or the Peloton app.

Week 1

Day 1   5-minute yoga basics: cat/cow

Day 2   5-minute yoga basics: hip openers

Day 3   10-minute chair yoga

Day 4   5-minute yoga basics: lunges

Day 5   5-minute yoga basics: standing poses

Day 6   10-minute evening yoga

Day 7   5-minute meditation

Choice of repeating Week 1 or moving on.

Week 2

Day 1   5-minute yoga basics: twists

Day 2   5-minute yoga basics: sun salutes

Day 3   5-minute yoga basics: backbends

Day 4   5-minute yoga basics: core

Day 5   5-minute yoga basics: forward bends

Day 6   10-minute beginner yoga

Day 7   10-minute meditation

Yoga is a perfect balance to cycling. It can be your companion in good times and in difficult times! Take this plan day by day and let me know how it’s working for you by connecting with me here on Facebook.

Take these workouts on-the-go! Click here to learn more about the Peloton app.

Real Love

Real love…hmm—what the hell is it? I know I’m not the only one asking, because “love” is the most googled word there is. I love the quote from Neil Gaiman: “Have you ever been in love? Horrible, isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up.” Maybe love is anything that gets below the surface and shatters your armor.

Krishnamurti says that romantic relationships are a training ground for true love. I remember when the movie “Love Story” came out, and my dad laughed at the now-famous line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” “Are you kidding me?” he said. “Love means alwayshaving to say you’re sorry, and also always having to say, ‘I forgive you.’”

People talk about divine love, self-love, mother-child love, husband-wife love; maybe there’s one big love and we’re all trying to put it in a neat little box with a label. Maybe to have an overwhelming feeling of love we need to get out of the way—we need to relax and receive the beauty of this moment. Maybe love is the sunset that I’m sitting here watching from an airport lounge, that for a moment leaves me in awe and suspends my normal tick-tock of thoughts.

I believe that yoga can bring us to a state where we might catch a glimpse of an all-inclusive feeling of expanse, where maybe love makes us lay on our mats with tears streaming down our faces. Relaxation is key—not lethargy, not spending all of our energy on something that doesn’t uncover our vital essence. If we don’t get to know ourselves in this way, how can we tap into that love? And if we don’t tap into that love, how can we share it?

I realize that this is a lot of questions and nothing affirmed. But that’s love, right? Maybe? I don’t know.

Love,

Colleen

The Yoga Of In-Between Moments

This week’s #FocusFriday isn’t actually a pose.It’s all of the transitions between poses.Transitions between poses are the most difficult time to stay focused and mindful.They are the times when people often get hurt.We go on autopilot.We space out and simply stop being attentive at the moment when our presence matters most.Even when we’re coming out of shavasana, we tend to jerk the body up and don’t leave time for a considered reinstating of movement.That’s why we tell students to go deeper into a pose just before coming out; it’s in order to keep ourselves attentive to those critical in-between moments. For instance, I’ll say in class an alignment instruction learned from the Iyengars: “Continue to externally rotate the standing leg knee while coming into and out of half moon pose.” This isn’t just filler; these instructions are crucial for both the body and the mind. This is the micro for the macro. Transitions between yoga poses are metaphors for transitions in life (a small subject, I know, a little like birth and death). For instance, Rodney & I have one daughter, JoJo, transitioning into college and one daughter, Adesha, transitioning out of college. Watching them go through these transitions, readjusting and redefining themselves can be painful. It can also be revelatory. We are always transitioning: Making the change from living alone to living with someone can be as tricky as is the transition from being married to being divorced. Beginning to menstruate is a major transition, as is menopause. Becoming a sexually active adult can be initially traumatizing. Much of our yoga practice, as well as our lives are spent in transition. Yoga shows us that becoming mindful and comfortable during these transitions will open the way to more meaningful and full human experiences. The maha transitions are the big ones, birth and death; the small births & deaths we experience every day are dress rehearsals. How should we handle these moments of uncertainty—moving from one thing to another? My advice is with humor & compassion. (This photo is of a transition—it’s not very graceful, but it’s taken with both humor & compassion).

Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha

Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha is today’s #MantraMonday . This mantra evokes Ganesha, an elephant-headed little boy who is the son of Shiva, the great yogi God that sets about destroying ego. We chant this mantra when obstacles are holding us back from realizing our true selves and living purpose. Gansesha helps us overcome obstacles to make room for new beginnings. He is particularly identified with the Hindu mantra, Om. Om is all sounds in one, and Ganesha personifies this primal sound. Gam is Ganesha’s potent seed or bija, Ganapataye is a nickname for Ganesh and Namaha is the act of bowing down ?.
I’ve chosen the Mantra because my book #YogaforLife: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom will be officially published tomorrow. And though I don’t have an elephant-headed little boy living inside me, I do still have the little girl from Indiana who suffered traumas that are still stored in my body, and I’m sure continue to hold me back in many ways. The book is a major new beginning for me; I had to overcome a sh-tload of obstacles to write it, and continue to overcome obstacles in owning the reality that the book is now out there, that I am now a published author. I also chose the mantra because I love the way it feels in my mouth and body when I chant it ?. Apparently there’s a reason for that. Mantras are a collection of what is called bijas or seeds, which are vibrational sounds that have meaning deep inside the body. The planting of these seeds have the potential to expand our consciousness, something the analytical parts of our brains can’t distort. Just by chanting this mantra, we’re saying that we are ready and willing to let go of old, stored junk. This elephant-headed little boy that resonates so deeply with me, that I made him the logo for my yoga studio and had him inked permanently on my back?. Ganesh resides in our root chakra, the muladhara. When we awaken root energy, we activate a strong and loving sense of self. We’re able to communicate clearly and without personal agenda. Intuition is also awakened. Ganesh holds a tusk in one hand and a sweet in the other, which I take to mean that he is sweet and powerful at the same time. It’s a beautiful combination, one to which we can all aspire. Chanting to the Ganesh that dwells within is powerful, playful, magical and mysterious. It is chanted in pods of 9, and is especially potent when chanted 108 times, holding mala beads. I will be doing this today in anticipation of the book entering the world. I’m hoping that I will be able to tune into others chanting to Ganesh, as obstacles are removed and we all reveal our true natures, and live to our potential ?. Here’s a great verse from a song by the hiphop artist and yogi, MC Yogi:

“You’re the ancient tone, known as Om,
Vibrating and illuminating all my bones.
The enlightened One, who’s tons of fun,
Ganapati rocks the party when he plays the drum.
Master of Mridangam, and the tabla,
When you’re blessed by Ganesh then nothin’ can stop ya.
I trust that you can bust with just one tusk
through every obstacle, until they’re crushed.
From dawn to dusk and from dusk till dawn,
Removing all obstacles — ’till they’re gone!”

Padmasana (Lotus Pose)

The great B.K.S. Iyengar considered Lotus Pose (padmasana) the easiest asana in Light on Yoga. So why is it so difficult for Westerners to sit in padmasana? Because we don’t squat when we go to the bathroom. (That’s sort of a joke, but not really. The main action of Lotus Pose is the folding of the legs, and we just don’t do that very much in our society.)

Why are Buddha and Shiva depicted sitting in Lotus Pose? Maybe because it’s a balanced pose which illuminates the central channel, sending one into a deep meditation. What is a “balanced” pose? Is it one that balances apana (downward wind) with prana (upward wind) and creates inner and outer spirals? (The groin is released in the inner spiral and the hips externally rotate in the outward spiral.) Lotus is a pose that creates equanimity. It sends you to the center of the center. How should one approach Lotus? Every day, try to practice these things: First, lie down on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Then strap your legs in Cobblers Pose (baddha konasana). Hang out in Child’s Pose. After that, practice the release of your groin while doing standing poses and end with the great groin releaser: Hero Pose (virasana). Then explore external rotation with ankle to knee (lying on back first, then seated), Tree Pose, Simple Cross Legged Pose with a forward bend, and Pigeon with a forward fold. Can you feel the draw into your central channel even if you can’t do a perfect Lotus? Yes, but you may need to let your ego take a back seat and use props to find that kind of balance and ease in the meditative seat.

Sit on folded blankets with your back at the wall. Sit in a simple crossed legged position so that the groin releases and you are not straining your lower back and then support your knees with blankets or blocks until the pose becomes easy. The main energetic action is to feel the connection from your feet to the pelvis, to the roof of your mouth, and to the crown of your head. These connections are important to your meditative seat. If you don’t know how to begin to find this integration and conversation, come to @theyogashanti and we’ll help to illuminate it for you!

Vasisthasana (Side Plank)

Today’s #FocusFriday pose is side plank, pose! After the last earthquake in Nepal, it was noted that Mt. Everest had moved. How crazy is that? And what an example of impermanence. Mountain pose is the same—strong, steady, and yet moveable. If we reach our arms out so that they’re parallel to the floor, flex one hand, and turn the head towards the other, we begin to understand the basic architecture of side-plank pose: the arms make a perpendicular line to the center line of the torso.

We can’t just topple sideways from mountain, because our wrist would be destroyed, so instead we come to side plank from plank pose or downward-facing dog. The most common mistake in getting into side plank is to place the supporting hand right under the shoulders; the supporting hand should be placed so that the bottom arm can stay at a right angle with the center line of the torso. At the same time, strong legs reach through the inside of the feet, and hips lift a little higher than a straight line between the feet and the crown of the head. The top arm extends straight up from the bottom arm, as the pelvis and the chest turn slightly upward toward the sky. Even in this orientation, the mountain looks up toward the sky. If balance is too challenging, place the bottom leg knee on the ground.

Remember, this is an arm-balance pose, but the more you find the center, the more it feels like who you think you are doesn’t exist, and you get closer to your authentic self and the unknown mystery and beauty that waits for us in the center of the center of the center.

Xoxo
Colleen