As published in Yoga City NYC
Hearing about the special New Moon Double Gong ceremonies in Alphabet City, I was intrigued with how such an ancient, tonal sound would be instrumental to intention setting, a way to mindfully call into one’s life a goal or resolution, be it physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual.
The event was led by two highly respected women from different fields: sound healer Lucy Child and clinical psychologist Emily Horowitz. How would they pair up to create this unique offering, I wondered as I walked into the beautiful, dreamlike setting of ABC Sanctuary with its stain-glass window flanked with butterfly wings painted on the walls, the space lit up by candles large and a large tree branch on the altar. It felt as if something had started to shift in me before anything had officially happened. Mats lined up to perfectly fill the space, I found a spot, lay down, and waited for the magic to begin.
“[It’s] a really good time to work with intention: the beginning of things, the beginning of a new cycle,” explained Horowitz about holding this gathering on the New Moon. “And the gong is so good at helping you do that too because the power of sound is so strong, so to couple that with the New Moon energy just magnifies it.”
In essence, the significance of the New Moon is like hitting the reset button on what you are trying to attract in your life, or what you’re trying to work past or let go of. And lying there, bathing in what felt like tidal waves of sound, its power seemed so potent.
Repeating my intention to myself as I bathed in aural ecstasy, there was a release, like something had been sucked out of me. Something left my body and felt as if it hovered over me. I felt the vibrations of the room from the gongs and all the other instruments the two women used and was overcome with emotion.
Both Child and Horowitz’s first gong experience also unleashed extreme emotional responses in them. Discovering the gong in radically different ways—Child during a Kundalini class, and Horowitz at a Chapel of Sacred Mirrors Halloween party—both women felt an instant connection to the ancient instrument; entranced by its sound, they knew that it was something they needed to pursue.
“I felt a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety as things were coming up,” recalls Child. “It was, for me, a profound experience. I cried afterward. Right away, I just made a beeline to the teacher and the gong, and I said, ‘What is this thing, and how do I get one?’”
“I was totally transported,” says Horowitz. “The vibrations were just culminating in my heart, and I could feel my heart beating and this explosion of energy bouncing out of my heart, just this love feeling. It was amazing.”
The two came to study the instrument from two different entryways: Child, disenchanted from the business of being a singer/songwriter, felt herself drawn to a sound-healing program at the Open Center; Horowitz sought out workshops and private lessons with master gonger Don Conreaux. “‘You don’t play the gong, the gong plays you,’” says Horowitz, quoting Conreaux. “But you kind of have to learn to get out of your own way and just be intuitive and just go with the flow with what the gong wants to do.”
“I had always felt like music was inherently a healing medium,” says Child. “And I was already into alternative therapies and healing circles—even shamanism.” Studying shamanism in locales such as Cusco and Machu Picchu, the feeling of community that surrounded the ceremonies and meditations she attended resonated with her the most. “We found intentions for ourselves, but as a community,” she says. “There was this big accent on community that I feel is lacking in our regular society. We’re very individualized.”
Meeting at a mutual friend’s wedding that Child was playing her gong at, Horowitz was thrilled to meet another female gonger and vice versa. “I had never met someone—a woman—who played the gong that wasn’t Kundalini. So we just hit it off and said let’s do something together,” says Child.
“Most [people] who are attracted to healing work are women,” says Horowitz, “but for some reason, in the gong community, there are more men. So it was really nice, and we both talked about that feeling, Wow it’s really cool to work with another woman and do this kind of feminine type of thing.”
And what better way to infuse the gong world with feminine energy than to host gong ceremonies in celebration of the ultimate feminine energy: the moon?
“I just feel like this is something that we need energetically, because I know how much I got from it,” says Child. “I just want to create a sacred space for people that they can go and release stuff and find comfort in the presence of others and music and sound and listen to the gong.”
The next New Moon Double Gong ceremony will be held at ABC Sanctuary on Friday, August 9 at 9pm with an energy exchange of $25. RSVP here for your spot.
On Friday, I had the privilege to take part in an extremely rare opportunity: to teach a 10-minute yoga class to thousands of students in Times Square for the annual solstice event. It seemed like I had been picked out of obscurity, and I almost didn’t trust the email that made its way to my inbox asking if I would be interested in the task. But it wasn’t spam; this was real.
It was a PR firm that had contacted me to gauge my interest; things like this don’t magically happen to relative unknowns like myself, so there was, inevitably, a slight catch: I (or whoever would be chosen, as there were other teachers also in consideration) would be teaching on behalf of a client-slash-brand and so would have to be sure to “plug” them during my short class. The client and message wouldn’t be revealed, however, until a teacher had been chosen, so figured I would just go with the flow until I discovered who or what it was that I would be representing, promising myself to walk away from the opportunity if the message was something I couldn’t get behind.
The client turned out to be Tampax, and, after a phone interview where I argued against teaching Crane as the apex pose of the sequence they wanted me to lead as unsafe to practice while menstruating, I would turn out to be their No. 1 choice.
Women’s health is a huge concern of mine, and Crane isn’t exactly the safest pose to practice while on your period. Not only is it extremely heating in the abdominal area (adding to the heat that a woman’s body is already creating by trying to get rid of the unfertilized egg that is being eliminated through the process of menstruation), but for most who come into the pose (with your legs balancing on your arms in an airborne squat position), the pelvis will be higher than the heart, reversing one’s flow—a big no-no for a safe practice.
In discussing my concern, I expressed that the only way I would do it was if I could give a disclaimer right before it was time to instruct the students into the pose. I didn’t want to misinform women that practicing such core-heating poses and/or inversions are safe to do during the first heavier days of one’s period. Because my students’ health are important to me, and I wouldn’t be able to consider myself a good teacher if I provided false information or conveniently omitted the truth.
With all my demands, I feared they probably thought me a diva, but this was important to me and, on my end, would make or break our collaboration if they decided to choose me. But pick me they did, and they agreed to let me give my disclaimer.
It was then that I realized just how important this opportunity truly was. Not only as a teacher to be seen on a larger scale, but it also leant itself as a grander stage to share information that, for whatever reason, isn’t being adequately addressed in class.
Turns out that Tampax Pearl Active is all about empowering women to live healthy, awesomely active lifestyles. When I stopped to think about it, I realized that leading them through a challenging pose like Crane was the perfect way to empower women while sharing both of our messages.
If Crane is already a pose that you can get into in your own practice, then you know that feeling you had that first time you got into it. It’s not exactly the easiest pose, and, for many students, takes years to figure out, so when you found yourself on your mat successfully balancing your legs on your arms for that first time instead of falling on your face or off to the side, you know the elation, the excitement that comes with realization that you are actually in the pose.
Match that with properly informing women of the effects of certain practices, and we are empowering them to lead healthier lives and providing them with the tools to maintain optimal health. But I am just a guide; I can’t tell who is and isn’t menstruating in my classes. Ultimately, it is up to students to decide how they practice.
But back to Friday: It was probably one of the most amazing and insane experiences of my life, getting to teach in Times Square for the Solstice event in front of so many eager students. And I am so grateful to Tampax for choosing me to lead the demonstration and help to share the message so that women have the information they need to best take care of themselves. And while it is each student’s decision to take heed, I, myself, feel empowered just by having been able to share this information to such a large group. If only one person walked away having learned something new, I’ll take it. I know I fulfilled my duty as a teacher—and had fun doing it.
Either way, everyone that day got to spread their wings. Some flew, some didn’t. Crane is definitely a challenging pose, one that elicits a feeling of triumph, victory when finally found for the first time. It’s important to remember that baby birds aren’t born with the ability to fly as soon as they hatch. Just like human babies, they have to learn—they, too, fall. The most important thing is to pick yourself up and try again and know that if you put your mind to it, you have the power to do anything. Period.
As published in Yoga City NYC
New York’s love affair with India runs deep and is ever blossoming: We’ve opened our minds and bodies to yoga and its philosophy; we’ve familiarized our stomachs with the aromatic spices that are a hallmark of the subcontinent’s cooking; now we’re squaring our attention to its native dances with DanceFEST INDIA!, a six-day festival from June 25 through June 30 dedicated to sharing the magic of the movements of the country, a first of its kind in our beloved city.
The framework of DanceFEST INDIA! was born out of a noticeable lack of representation of India’s traditional dances. Professional Odissi dancer Taiis Pascal, director and curator of the event, grew up in Brooklyn, her attraction to the dance reeling her in at the age of 11, leading to a lifelong obsession. More than 20 years later, Pascal’s passion for Odissi is as strong as ever, but looking back, she wishes she had had more opportunities to witness and engage in the art form. “During my early years of training, I always craved more exposure and opportunities to watch extraordinary classical Indian dancers who spent several years learning themselves from great masters,” says Pascal.
Taking a cue from DanceFEST AFRICA, Pascal began dreaming about having a similar festival dedicated to India’s native dances. Culling together the involvement of major cultural institutions like the Mark Morris Dance Group, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Lotus Music and Dance Institute, and the Kumble Theater at LIU Brooklyn, and finding sponsors in BAM, the Anamika Navatman Project, Indo-American Arts Council, Govinda’s Vegetarian Lunch, Brooklyn Arts Exchange, and Bombay Palace, this is the first classical Indian dance festival to be held in Brooklyn.
“Part of the inspiration for producing the festival was a way of educating people on the diversity of Indian dance,” says Pascal. “[There is a] limited view of Indian dance based on what they see in Bollywood films. Many are surprised to learn of the history, diversity, and formal training needed to become proficient.”
To educate New Yorkers on the art of Indian dance, the festival will highlight three specific traditions: Odissi, a storytelling dance that uses fluid movement and mudras and originated in the state of Odisha in eastern India; Bharatanatyam, another storytelling tradition that incorporates song and words with it’s interpretations, derivative of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu; Kathak is a dance of northern India with links to both Hindu and Muslim culture.
World-renowned dance company Mark Morris will be hosting master classes in each style from June 25 through June 27, though you don’t need to be a “master” to participate in these workshops, nor have had any previous dance experience, Indian-flavored or otherwise. “The class is tailored so everyone will gain an enlightened perspective of the classical Indian dance style you decide to take, from beginner to seasoned dancer,” says Pascal. “Everyone will learn a fun, energized, rhythmic combination to practice on their own. Be prepared to dance and sweat!
Along with workshops that attendees can participate in, DanceFEST INDIA will also feature performances from popular artists from each of the different traditions. Prashant Shah and Ammr Vandal will present an electrifying Kathak duet, featuring the classic work of their guru,Padmasree Kumudini Lakhia. Traveling from India for the event are “Sujata Mohapatra, an Odissi dancer known for her perfection and dedication of her guru’s lineage,” says Pascal. “Ayona Bhaduri, who studied and toured with the celebrated Nrityagram dance village for nine years, and Savitha Sastry, a Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer who will be premiering Soul Cages, a thrilling dance drama,” at this year’s festivities. “It’s a great way to intimately get to know these artists, ask questions, and learn classical Indian dance technique,” adds Pascal.
Other highlights include an Odissi dance intensive at Lotus Music and Dance Institute Odissi with the celebrated Mohapatra, an evening concert at the Kumble Theater, as well as a Joy of Indian Dance and Culture workshop for the kids at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum withBhaduri that incoporates colorful scarves, movements, and sounds featuring henna hand designs by Madeliene Buhler. Check the website for the full schedule.