Getting Centered on the Seas

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Have yoga mat, will travel…..and meditate.

“When you are quiet, you see everything with love.” – Sri Dharma Mittra

For the past three years, I have taken one specific trip that puts me on a cruise ship with 3,000 exuberant souls. We come from all over the globe, a melting pot of ethnicities, faith, sexuality, emotion, and expression. We come together to leave reality behind and celebrate life and love and music. But mainly life and love.

Each year I pack my yoga mat for this vacation. It’s my solitude amidst the beautiful chaos that fills the boat 24/7 for four straight days. Every morning I make my way to Deck 11 and I allow the energy to guide me to either the front or back of the ship. I lay down my mat and begin my meditation and yoga practice. This is especially important for me as an empath because as beautiful as it is, that is a lot of energy coming at me at once, nonstop. My practice keeps me centered, and in some cases, makes me more aware of what energies I am taking in and which I will shield myself from. For those unaware, being an empath means you naturally pick up other people’s emotions. Sometimes you pick them up as if they are your own. For example, I can feel that you are sad, or I will feel sad myself and not know why I am sad. That is when the energy is coming from an unidentified source. I also feel all of the anxiety, anger, fear, and love.

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The universe always provides.

The cruise, from New Orleans to Cozumel, Mexico, is hosted by popular boy band NKOTB. They have various events scattered throughout each day, capped off by a lido deck party that begins at almost midnight and goes all night. One of the band members, Joey McIntyre, hosted an event called Joe Time. Joe Time was held in the ship’s theatre so it was split into two groups each on a separate day.

Joey McIntyre stepped on the stage and began talking about his semi-new meditation practice. The band had toured throughout the summer and Joey would post videos on Instagram showing the tail end of his daily meditation practice. Like most of us who find our way to meditation, Joey needs stillness.

“Quiet the mind and the soul will speak. ” – May Jaya Sati Bhagavati

He acknowledged the popularity of these videos. He spoke about meditation and what it means to him. He then invited all of us to join him in five minutes of meditation. The yogi in me didn’t hesitate. I took off my flip-flops. I sat in full lotus position. I placed my hands in Jnana Mudra and for the second time that day, I meditated. It was just what I needed.

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Joey McIntyre leads a 5-minute meditation practice on the Carnival Triumph.

This was the second time I shared a moment of meditation with Joey. During the tour, I had the opportunity to have a one on one meet and greet. When it was my turn to talk to Joey, we discussed meditation and, at his suggestion, took a few meditative breaths facing each other. At one point he said “let’s touch heads” and so we did.

As an empath, I took in his energy. What a truly lovely soul he is. As a yogi, I couldn’t have been more honored to have shared that energy with someone I have admired for 30 years and counting. To see him embrace such an important practice of the mind, body, and spirit, a practice that has healed me. . . I can’t quite put my pride into words. And now, months later, it is still so important to him that he shared it with 3,000 others. On a party boat.

“When you are doing things together, you are inside the collective mind, and share psychic knowledge with each other. That is how you become one.” – Sri Dharma Mittra

 

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Lisa & Monique gave me the honor of leading them in meditation & yoga during the cruise.

“I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and love.” – Gandhi

The next day two of my friends, Lisa and Monique, requested that I lead them in meditation and yoga on the boat. It was raining, so we had free time. We made our way to the boat’s gym and laid out our mats. Then, something beautiful happened. They let go of ego and worry. They let go of everyone around them. They took exactly what they each needed from the practice I guided them in. They were self-aware. They weren’t concerned about the teacher, as they shouldn’t be. I am merely a guide. Each woman honored her mind, body, and spirit while, yes, allowing me to guide them. They meditated a little longer if needed. They took child’s pose and honored their body when needed, not worrying about what the teacher or student on the next mat would think. They very respectfully made the practice their own. I will never divulge details on someone’s private experience, but I will tell you that I saw two uplifted souls when practice was completed.

Lokah Sumastah Sukhino BhavantuMay all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life, contribute in some way, to that happiness and that freedom for all.

I’m not perfect, nor will I ever claim to be, but I have experienced pain and suffering that I would wish on no one. This has led me to a life of compassion for others. I’m on a mission to show and share love, to make sure everyone who leaves me walks away feeling better than they did before we met. I want to prevent other’s pain as best as I can. Yoga, on and off the matt, is my way of getting this done. I never want anyone to feel what I have once felt. I truly want happiness and freedom for all.

The light in me bows to the light in you. Namaste.
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Sunshine in the Rain

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It was all smiles in the rain as Run for Betty aka Remember Betty raised almost $85,000 for breast cancer patients. Photo Credit: Remember Betty

In my previous entry, I blogged about my participation in the New England City Challenge Race as a member of Remember Betty, a nonprofit foundation for breast cancer patients. I’ve had this blog in draft form since two days after the race. My apologies for being late. My life has been crazy (all good!) and it seems like there aren’t enough hours in my days. Again, all good!

 

But back to the race…..

Since March many of us have been part of a private FB group pertaining to the race. It seems like a small number of us had participated in this particular obstacle course race in the past. A good majority were first-timers. Naturally, there were first-time jitters. Lots of questions, concerns, and self-doubt about getting through the course. We “vets” answered their questions and gave them words of encouragement. All while hiding smiles and telling each other “I can’t wait to see them do things they think they can’t do.”

We had faith in our rookies!!!!!

Race day finally arrived, along with some rain, but that didn’t dampen our spirits.

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Army man didn’t look to upset about all of the women in attendance. Photo Credit: CCR

We gathered inside the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell for some pre-race socializing and prep (shout out to the girls who gave me the honor of leading them in a pre-race stretch). While inside, a true warrior approached me, a beautiful, tough as nails soul named Monique. This was Monique’s first obstacle course race. Monique had reached out to me on social media with questions about the obstacles back in March and we had kept in touch periodically since then. Now, on the day of the race, her nerves were showing. I told her she could race with me and my girls from Team Betty NYC. My NYC girls were more than happy to have Monique join us.

Monique is 5-year breast cancer survivor and is now paying it forward by, in her words, doing what she can for her pink sisters. In addition to showing empathy and compassion by emotionally supporting her pink sisters,  Monique raised almost $4,000 for Remember Betty’s race fundraiser.

When it was time for our wave, we gathered at the starting line, which included the usual overly-caffeinated, pre-race one-man cheering/hype section. I can never remember this man’s name, but whoever he is, City Challenge Race needs to bottle up his enthusiasm and sell it. They’d make a killing!

Run for Betty was in the last wave of the day. We were split into three groups of about 30, all starting 5-10 minutes apart.

For 24 obstacles, what came next wasn’t surprising, it was amazing.

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Breast cancer survivor Janice Sally Czosek Hetrick helps Jenn Murphy Riordan over a wall while Kristine Davis & friends are set to make sure their teammate lands safely. Photo Credit: Bill Davis

Obstacle by obstacle, fears were overcome (even if you skipped one or more obstacles, you achieved more than you imagined, right?!), smiles grew wider, laughs grew louder and most beautiful of all…..there was teamwork. Everyone helped each other over walls, up the ropes, through the monkey bars…..it was as if, for those moments, we had all been here together before. It just all came together in such an amazing wave of determination and friendship. Obstacle by obstacle, we left trails of love.

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Left: Monique & Stephanie help Danielle stay balanced. Right: 1st Timer Melissa Blushi conquers the Urban Balance Beam. Photo Credit: CCR

One moment that stands out for me happened when my group arrived at one of the taller walls. Two of my teammates, Veronica and Jackie, were first timers. Jackie was going over one of the taller walls, not an easy feat on a dry day, let alone we had some rain, making obstacles slippery. While we were all cheering Jackie on,Veronica turned to me and jokingly said she was shit talking by cheering on her friend because she herself was fearful of the wall. I told Veronica, “that doesn’t matter, what matters is your friend can hear you cheering her on.” Veronica’s expression turned into this sweet look of love for her friend, and she asked me “you think so?” I said “of course!” Veronica then cheered for Jackie even louder. And yes, Jackie made it over that wall.

 

When people support each other, incredible things happen…..

As a team, we raised almost $85,000 for breast cancer patients. It brought Remember Betty to a lifetime total of $2 million raised. That’s a lot of peace of mind financially for those fighting to survive.

That day, almost 90 warriors came together, all fighting our own personal battles, but that day it wasn’t about us.

It wasn’t about beating anything except negativity. We all came together to lift each other up in body, mind, and spirit and tackle obstacles that, if given the chance, we would choose over the obstacles we face every day. It was about everyone who lost the battle to breast cancer and everyone still fighting it. It was about Monique and Janice and Betty…..

We came together in honor of a woman named Betty whose soul lives on in what Remember Betty does and whose spirit is seen in her family.

Life is a collection of little moments, tests of faith and strength. My heart is full from what I experienced that day, from all of the little moments that I will always look back on with a smile. I couldn’t feel prouder of my Remember Betty teammates. I’m blessed to cross paths with each of you. Whether it’s for a few minutes or a lifetime, thank you all for being part of my journey. You inspire me.

Let’s collect more little moments together…..

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Best for last: my group, all new to the race except for four of us, totally rocked that shit. I will always BIG PUFFY PINK HEART each of them. Photo Credit: CCR

 

Peace, Love & Boobies

This weekend I will be off to Boston, to participate in the first ever New England City Challenge Race. In case you’re wondering what it entails, think Tough Mudder without the mud. A little bit of running and a whole lot of tackling obstacles. Kind of like life, right?

We rise by lifting others.

Those of you who know me are aware that I participate in the NYC City Challenge Race annually. I don’t do it for the competition, the medal or the free muscle milk at the end of the race. Although the latter two are definitely fun perks. It’s a day to gather with friends and strangers, where we all truly unite to help each other conquer each obstacle. The way life should be. We literally push each other over walls, applaud each accomplishment, or simply empower each other with an exuberant “YOU GOT THIS!” Whether you’re a rookie to this race, or a vet, you always cross the finish line sweaty, tired and filled with a sense of accomplishment. You come out stronger in mind, body and spirit.

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But that isn’t why I race. I race to raise money for a non profit named Remember Betty. Remember Betty was created out of a son’s love for his mother. Betty is sweet soul who passed away from breast cancer in 1999, and her son honors her legacy by turning his loss into something positive.

We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.

In case you’re unfamiliar, Remember Betty assists breast cancer patients financially, with medical and day to day needs (such as medication, transportation to/from medical visits, chemo packs, wigs, scarves, rent/mortgage/utilities, food, etc). The goal is to take away any financial obligations they struggle with, so that the patients can recover as stress free as possible.

Anyone wanting assistance must submit a letter from their oncologist confirming the diagnosis and a copy of the pathology report. They also must send copies of the bills they need assistance with, in which case Remember Betty pays the bills directly. Seeing the thank you letters from women who were able to recover without financial stress makes this so rewarding.

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Other women are not my competition. I stand with them, not against them.

When I turned 40 I donated my Birthday to Remember Betty. I raised $1500 that year. I want to beat that this year. So far, I have raised $1300 for the New England race. I have $200 more to my goal. That’s a third chemo pack. I am shamelessly placing my race link here, in case anyone would like to contribute.

Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have. – Jim Rohn

https://www.crowdrise.com/official-charity-team/fundraiser/stephbkny

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Where were you when the Towers fell?

I spent the evening of September 10th at home. The Brooklyn Cyclones (the NY Mets Single-A minor league team) were on the verge of a championship. They had a stellar inaugural season. I was listening to the game, engrossed in a group chat full of friends and fans. The Cyclones won that game and were one win away from the title. Being an avid Mets fan, therefore a Cyclones fan, I went to bed excited. Little did I know the world was about to change. Forever.

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The next morning I woke up to an unusally beautiful day for mid September in NYC. I got dressed with two things in mind for that day, work and a first date that was planned for that evening. I left my apartment and started towards the D train. I felt something different in the air but couldn’t put my finger on it. Everything seemed uneventful, until I arrived at the office…..

I worked for Bear Stearns in Metrotech Center, Brooklyn. Not far from The City (aka Manhattan for non-New Yorkers). I worked in Human Resources and was always the first one in. I may have been there for 10 minutes when my phone rang. It was Tommy, one of my colleagues. He sounded confused. He had been in a cab on the way to work and told me to turn on the news. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing from the cab. The top of the WTC was filled with smoke. He would be in as soon as he could. I hung up the phone and turned on 1010 wins.

Strike 1…..

The reporters were as confused as anyone else. And for the first time, at least for me, I heard panic in their voices. “There’s a huge hole in the building, toward the top, maybe about 3/4 of the top. It looks like it’s the Tower with the [radio and television] antenna. There’s smoke and debris is falling.” An airplane had hit the North Tower. The reporter was on her rooftop in NoHo and saw the plane strike the Tower.

I immediately thought it was an odd accident considering the clear skies. I ran to an office window which had a clear view of the Towers. There it was, the top floors of the North Tower were up in smoke. Colleagues started trickling in, some had already heard about the fire at the WTC. We stood there, almost frozen, watching in disbelief.

But it’s just a fire…..The FDNY choppers and engines will contain it and extinguish it. Right? Kind of like when the helicopter hit the side of the Empire State Building all those years ago. I kept praying there were no major injuries or casualties on the floors that were up in smoke. At least let there be nothing severe. God willing.

We took turns checking news updates. We all started making calls and sending e-mails to friends and colleagues who work in both Towers. Some phone calls resulted in voice mails, while others had busy signals. The worst were the e-mails that bounced back.

I was finally able to reach Jeff, an ex who I had remained good friends with. He was ok, and told me that everyone was told to remain calm and stay at their desks. I pleaded with him to leave and told him what I saw from my view.

Smoke. Debris. One image I will never forget. Ever. Four people, holding hands, as they jumped out of one of the towers, one of them holding a white cloth of some kind, maybe a shirt. (I remember later on, a friend who made it out told me “Had I been trapped, I would have done the same thing. Better to jump and die quickly, than to suffocate and burn.”)

Jeff told me he would call me back.

Strike 2…..

I ran back to the window to join my colleagues and here came the second plane, smashing into the South Tower. Now it was obvious. This was no accident.

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I wasn’t sure which Tower Jeff was in, so I ran back to my desk to call him. He answered and didn’t sound so calm this time. He, along with another co-worker, decided to leave. He would call me when he was somewhere safe (two days later I found out Jeff was ok). Back to the window. We let out gasps and screams as we saw the South Tower collapse. It looked like a house of cards falling.

“World Trade Center destroyed” – The news ticker on the bottom of the office television.

World Trade Center destroyed. What in the actual fuck was happening?

One of my colleagues started praying aloud. I’m pretty sure I blacked out. Another colleague screamed that he was leaving to grab his kids from school. The rest of us stayed in the office, making calls to family and friends who were in the Towers, and sending e-mails (still bouncing back). At this point I saw that I had voice mail and it dawned on me that someone may be concerned for me as well. Sure enough, I had messages from friends checking to make sure I hadn’t gone to the WTC that day. My turn to return calls.

Strike 3…..

Holy shit. The pentagon was hit.

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My immediate thought? This is war. I assumed WWIII was breaking out right then and there. I was watching the end.

Misinformation and panic…..

We had heard there was a fourth plane that crashed, it was heading for the White House but landed in an empty field in Pennsylvania. We also heard 12-13 planes in total had been hijacked and all but the four that crashed had been unaccounted for.

Women who had worked in the Towers began arriving at Bear Stearns. They were tired, scared, and red-faced. Some had run so fast from the WTC that they had lost their shoes. It’s common for NYC women to wear comfortable shoes to work, and then change into heels at the office. Anyone with extra shoes at their desk gave their spare shoes to the shoeless women who escaped the Towers.

My colleagues and I immediately started planning our safety and discussing whether we were safer sleeping overnight in the office, or staying at the hotel across the street. Was going home even an option when we didn’t know if there was another target?

The City had shut down. Air traffic, bridges and tunnels. All closed.

A few of us decided to walk home, as long of a walk as it would be, we would carry each other if we had to. Once outside of One Metrotech Center, I noticed people scattered, sitting, their faces covered in white dust. They had escaped. They looked [understandably] defeated even though they had survived.

The walk home was solemn. No cell phone service and pay phones weren’t working. The scene was like something out of a movie. We all walked silently. Retailers and priests were standing outside of stores and churches, handing out water, offering any help needed.

It felt like the longest walk. At some point, the husband of a colleague picked us up with his car. I don’t even remember how she contacted him. It’s kind of a blur.

When I arrived home I hugged my cats. I called my Mom, and then I called my friend who lived three doors down. I eventually made my way to my parent’s house. I remember friends who live on my parents’ block coming in and out, sharing shock, disbelief, stories and tears. I felt numb. I barely heard a word the President said. My parent’s wanted me to spend the night, but I wanted to be in my own bed. On the way home I stopped at a bodega to pick up cat food. The man at the register was Middle Eastern. His expression was a mirror of mine. We looked at each other with empathy and said nothing to each other but “get home safe.” As I got to the bodega door, I turned and looked back at him. We shared another sad glance. I walked out of the bodega, went back home, and threw out the clothes I had worn that day. The weren’t dirty, or physically damaged, but for me, they now carried a feeling I needed to forget.

That night I stayed awake. Numb. Dazing in and out.

Suddenly September 11th turned into September 12th. A new day. I watched the sun rise, knowing that my world, my City, my skyline as I had known it, would never be the same. And neither would I…..

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A Yogi Tale

“You can take the girl out of Brooklyn….” 

I resided in Brooklyn for 30 years. My stomping grounds were Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge. Suddenly, I found myself living in Pelham Bay. The Bronx! It was a quiet neighborhood, quite pretty. I was bored. The local gym helped me keep off the weight I lost by giving up sugar. Blood sugar runs in my family so in 2007 I made a conscious decision to nip it in the bud early. I wanted to try yoga and pilates, but the gym I belonged to was strictly weights. It was my only option close enough to keep me motivated to go. Two years later, on a warm Saturday night in June, which happened to be my birthday, something in Pelham Bay caught my eye. A yoga studio!

I walked in and took a pamphlet. It looked pricey. I never gave it a second thought. The pamphlet went MIA and I continued to attend the gym.

“You don’t find yoga. Yoga finds you.” 

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On a crisp fall evening, I returned to that same yoga studio and signed up. I sat on my mat wondering if I can do the poses that were about to be taught. The teacher began class by explaining the Om chant and encouraging us to join her in it. On cue, I closed my eyes, took a breath and opened my mouth. Nothing came out. The rest of the students chanted OM. With my eyes closed, I hid laughter. One thought came to mind. “They really do this shit?” I decided to respect the process, continued to hide my laughter and focused on the class. By the end of the class, I, too, chanted OM with the group. I was hooked.

One month later the most turbulent part of my life took its course. I watched the health of a loved one deteriorate rapidly. I was on a personal roller coaster for 7 months, but that did not stop me from attending yoga. Yoga was my escape. My time in class forced me to focus on my breath and clear my mind. It was therapeutic. At the end of those 7 months, when my loved one crossed over, I was at the end of my rope. I was in shock, disbelief and experiencing depression. I had moments where I wanted to take my own life. I went to therapy, but my only real salvation was on a yoga mat. I needed more than a regular dose of daily yoga classes. One of my teachers suggested I enroll in Yoga Teacher Training. “Not everyone takes Teacher Training to become a yoga teacher,” she said. “Some people take it to heal, but you need to be receptive to it.”

I came to the realization that my own mental health, and in turn physical health, could be on a major downward spiral. My life isn’t just about me. I was blessed with wonderful parents, a beautiful nephew and a crazy but loving extended family. They would be devastated if I allowed my new found depression to defeat me. They did not deserve that. So, I began my Yoga Teacher Training.

“Now the exposition of yoga is being made….without practice, nothing can be achieved.” – Yoga Sutras 1.1

While learning how to cue asanas (poses) and deepen my own practice was enticing, I immediately knew the real challenge would be the education of yoga off the mat. Yoga, the union of mind, body and spirit. If this tough-nosed Brooklyn girl wanted to survive, she needed to tear down her walls, open up and be receptive to the healing process.

Satya – Truth

Satya is the second of the Yamas. The Yamas are the first of the eight limbs of yoga. Satya. Truth. I had to come clean with myself. Open up the wounds. Face my inner truth.

That truth was that I had to face a new life I hadn’t planned: 35 and single. But not the typical single category for a 30-something. No break-up. No divorce. For lack of better wording, I was an unmarried widow. I went from a duo to a solo act without warning. Getting up out of bed…..wanting to get out of bed…..showering, even leaving my house. All of the day to day activities we set to auto-pilot became challenges for me. I looked around the home I created for two and thought, “what do I do with a 5-quart slow cooker now?” And those matching mugs? I couldn’t look at them. Everything was a reminder. Two became one.

My breaking point was that Thanksgiving. My mom, God bless her, came to my home and practically threw me in the shower and dragged me to the family dinner. In the car on the way to dinner, I had my Mom put the family on notice. Under no circumstances was anyone to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving. When I arrived at my uncle and aunt’s I immediately noticed the dining room table. There was one extra place next to my seat. A full place setting was in front of an empty chair. I had to sit next to an empty chair and a place setting that wouldn’t be touched. It may have been my family’s quiet way of honoring my deceased other half. I didn’t ask. Even when I ventured out of my own home, the obvious was everywhere. Two became one. Thanksgiving and Christmas, normally my favorite time of the year, and I wanted to go full on bear and hibernate through New Years. Two weeks later, I enrolled in a 200-hour RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) training course.

Yoga Teacher Training was a true mind/body/spirit boot camp. It was very introspective, with just as many doses of external observation. I wasn’t 100% receptive, though the yogi who certified me may disagree. I battled with something I had always believed. Everything happens for a reason. I won’t lie, seven years later and I still can’t grasp why my significant other had crossed over at such a young age.

Mild cynicism aside, I came out of my Yoga Teacher Training with more than a class sequence, verbal cues, knowledge of anatomy, knowledge of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, the Chakras, some new reading material (The Sutras & Gita) & and cool new playlist. I was ready to live my life again.

Or at least I was on the path to a whole new life…..

Poetry Corner

This poem by Hafiz resonates with me on so many levels. I share it often. Enjoy.

 

It happens all the time in heaven,
And some day
It will begin to happen
Again on earth –
That men and women who are married,
And men and men who are
Lovers,
And women and women
Who give each other
Light,
Often will get down on their knees
And while so tenderlyy
Holding their lover’s home and,
With tears in their eyes,
Will sincerely speak, saying,
“My dear,
How can I be more loving to you;
How can I be more Kind?”

~Hafiz