Monday, August 31, 2009

On Loose Change Yoga

One of the outcomes of my recent trip to Dunebuggy came from looking at their awesome community board outside the cafe. I saw a sign for something called "Loose Change Yoga" and was thrilled to see it was right next door, at the preschool next door.

I loved Loose Change. Loved. I seek out gratitude based yoga studios as a rule because, well, I think they work just as well at raising the funds required, while leaving doors open to those who can't afford to give much and otherwise would be unable to go regularly to class. I used to go to Yoga To The People because of my appreciation for this kind of payment system. However, YTTP was crowded and felt a lot like a city street- people packed like sardines into a small space, not speaking to each other or making eye contact outside of their social circles. It wasn't exactly the best yoga atmosphere, even if they had great instructors, vinyasa-flow style instruction, and mood lighting. Too many people, not enough personal attention to each student.

So, when I showed up at Loose Change, I was shocked to see that class would be composed of three students. It's because the program is new, of course, but until it gains in popularity, it's a Brooklyn jewel: inexpensive vinyasa-flow yoga with nearly one-on-one instruction. But I'll still want to go if the studio gets more popular for a number of reasons. Our instructor was so kindhearted, really illuminated the way you would expect a seasoned yogi to be, and added so many compassionate touches to the routine, from asking us where we're from and getting to know us by name, to making us hot green tea during the meditation portion. While it lacked the singing bowl that I loved at YTTP, we got to create the zone ourselves, with a recitation of OM. And she ended with namaste, which I think is essentially the most beautiful way to end a session. Namaste is a phrase traditionally shared between yogis, which basically means, "The divine in me honors the divine in you."

What a great thing to say to one another. When do we express our respect for each other that deeply in the outside world? Not nearly enough.

As much as I'm soaking up the personal attention from this blossoming little studio, I would love to see it grow. Here is the philosophy they share on their website:

Loose Change Yoga is a donation-based yoga studio located in Brooklyn, New York. The studio was created in response to the current economic downturn and its negative effects on people’s bodies, minds and spirits. The primary goal of Loose Change Yoga is to make yoga as accessible and affordable as possible so that money, or the lack thereof, does not hold people back from connecting to their inner selves. The studio offers Vinyasa–based flow classes with an emphasis on mindful breathing, muscle strengthening, and increasing flexibility and balance. Sharing its space with a pre-school, Loose Change Yoga classes are inspired by the innocent and truthful world of children. Through thoughtful sequencing implemented in an open, judgment-free environment, our teachers encourage people to reconnect with their inner child and release irrational fears and psychological walls.

This description couldn't be more true. We were encouraged to have fun with the practice, play around with our bodies and challenge ourselves in a lighthearted manner, breaking the tensions in our muscles with just as much laughter as deep breathing. It was a beautiful change from what I'm used to, and I definitely think I'll be heading back for more very soon.

Loose Change is on 21 Lincoln Road, right off the Q-B stop on Prospect, next door to K-Dog and Dunebuggy in the Maple Street Preschool. Classes Tuesday at 7pm, Saturday at 11am, Sunday at 5pm.

Friday, August 28, 2009

On K-Dog And Dunebuggy

I have had a really productive week. Wednesday I ran just over a half marathon (14 miles, and yes, I'm still a little sore), and today I finished the first draft of my first novel (which has taken me... well, longer than I think I'm willing to own up to.) And maybe by next week I'll actually be employed, considering after a dozen applications I finally received a request for an interview. I cannot credit myself entirely for the creative jolt. I have also to thank: a supportive husband, the music on my MP3 player, and, of course, lots and lots of coffee and tea.

Which brings me to discuss a little jewel in Lefferts Gardens called K-Dog and Dunebuggy. No, I have no idea what the name means, but I can tell you that the cafe is adorable and well worth a visit. Or many visits.

The great thing about Dunebuggy is that it looks like it belongs in Greenwich Village; great decor, great music, free wifi, low key staff, good food, good coffee, and great tea options (Check out this tea menu! Today I wrote the final pages of my novel while sipping Fiji Green Tea, which is papaya and pineapple infused and really unique.) And they have lots of outlets, and only ask you make a purchase of some sort for every hour you are there on your laptop. But on top of the downtown feel of Dunebuggy, it has a quintessentially Brooklyn characteristic to it: a local neighborhood atmosphere. The sign outside actually says "Coffee - Food - Neighbors" and like Vox Pop, they offer all sorts of events and have a play area for children. I love that the tables are actually decorated with pictures of local children. Half the people that come in are regulars, and in the course of my stay I saw the barista get into half an hour long conversations with patrons, and even walk over to embrace one of her regulars and ask her how her leg is feeling.

This cafe is very good news for me, especially since I'm a strong believer in cafes as a necessary part of urban living. Actually, I'm a believer in cafes in general. Because, even if you are out in the woods somewhere, cafes act as gathering places, and switch up our sensory load so that we don't start to habituate our living room and forget to appreciate simple things, like strangers laughing and pretty decor. If you are a writer or artist or yogi or meditation practictioner of any sort, I think cafes are absolutely essential for you. And if you are married, all the more so, since a little healthy distance goes a really long way. A little healthy distance, free wifi, and some caffeine, even better. Friendly, local atmosphere to boot? Call me a regular.

K-Dog and Dunebuggy is located on 43 Lincoln Road (between Flatbush and Ocean), right next to the Prospect Park stop on the Q-B.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On Prospect Park, And Dappled Things

This afternoon I went for a walk with my husband, Nick, in Prospect Park. It felt strange at first to walk casually around, since I know Prospect Park primarily as a runner. It was essential to me when we were moving to Flatbush that we were as close to the park as possible, since I wanted the considerable miles and hours of my life I spend running to be scenic. (Coincidentally, the outer loop of the park is just over a 5K in distance. This is a really helpful website with all of the exact distances of the trails to help you plan your run.)

But anyway, today I wasn't there running. I was there to show Nick the spot I always pass and never, in all my athletic rigidity, allow myself to stop at before finishing a lap on the outer loop. It is a beach-like area on the lake, where all the geese gather on the sandy shore. The roots of the trees are all exposed and spread themselves out on the ground in intricate patterns, and in the late afternoon, the light is really stunning on the water.

It was really wonderful to sit out there on a tree root reading what Nick calls my "hippie books." In other words, I'm beginning another Julia Cameron book called Vein of Gold. A "hippie book" it might be, but I really enjoyed The Artist's Way, and she isn't positing any crazy theories, so it's more like a craft book for seekers of creativity. Anyway, the theme of the course is to live life artfully, which is convenient, considering that is what I am trying to do these days; dig deep, live mindfully, experience New York and all it has to offer me while I'm still here.

And in a simple way, I feel like I did live artfully today. I sat on a root watching the geese on the lake, reading a book, and listening to an Indian woman singing by the water side while the runners too diligent to stop ran by me. At one point Nick pointed to a bird and said, "That looks like a cow pattern. Isn't there a name for that kind of pattern?" I said, "Dappled. I know a famous poem praising dappled things. It goes something like, 'Glory be to God for dappled things...' and praises everything dappled, dappled cows, dappled light, all dappled things."

Late afternoon gives a great opportunity for appreciating dappled light since it hangs so low in the trees and leaves lacy shadows on the walk. If you are present enough you'll realize there is a lot of raw natural beauty hidden away right here in Brooklyn, ready for you to experience. To get to the spot where I was watching the geese, take a meditative walk to the park and enter from the Flatbush corner of Parkside and Ocean. Walk against the tide of runners and bikers (or, better yet, take the run-down walking path next to the road) until the road starts to bend and you reach a sandy beach area and four dozen some-odd geese, and experience the beauty of Brooklyn and dappled late afternoon light through the trees in Prospect Park. Maybe you'll find yourself living your day a little more artfully.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tofurky Part Two: On The Flaws of Inductive Reasoning

In my last post I said that there was no Tofurky in Flatbush, and that I had to trek all the way to Manhattan to gratify myself. Well, I should also mention that I am new to Flatbush, and I based my conclusion on inductive reasoning. There was no tofurky at any nearby stores, providing evidence that there was no Tofurky in Flatbush, period.

I am glad to say that I was very wrong.

Yesterday, I woke up wanting to explore deeper into Flatbush. I live on the border of Flatbush and Lefferts Gardens, so I haven't been too far down yet, or too far off Flatbush Avenue. I decided to take a stroll down Cortelyou, and here is what I found: a small micro-community of yoga loving, cafe loving, organic loving Brooklynites. It might have taken me twenty minutes to walk there, but I have a funny feeling I'll be there all the time, and in a second you'll probably see why.

The first thing I came upon was Third Root Community Health Center. Offers dirt cheap and by donation yoga, acupuncture, and meditation classes. Here's the mission of the center:
"At the Third Root Community Health Center, we strive to thrive and achieve social justice and community wellness by providing holistic, collaborative care in an accessible and sustainable manner. Our greatest intention is to watch students and patients walk out of the center with a heightened perspective regarding their own potential for good health."
Amazing. Really nice staff, beautiful entrance, lots of options for novice to advanced yogis, even a vinyasa flow class on Tuesday nights. I'll be there of course, dragging along my husband, next week.

The really cool thing about this area are the community-owned businesses. The market where I found the Tofurky, Flatbush Food Co-op, is jointly owned by all the members who support it. They had all sorts of locally grown organic products, in addition to a really nice selection of bulk foods. They even carry packs of seitan to use in your culinary adventures at home. I was really impressed by the selection, enjoyed the free samples (Mmm... mango salsa), and had to keep reminding myself I was in Flatbush.

So, inductive reasoning failed me. There IS tofurky in Flatbush. And an awesome neighborhood, too.

The other co-owned business I came upon was a cafe I've been hearing tons about from locals: Vox Pop. Vox Pop had a comfy, local feeling to it, which reminded me of Grounded in Manhattan, except way less crowded. They had seating indoors and outdoors, a large menu, friendly staff, free wifi, and an area for children to play in. They were out of everything I wanted that day ("Can I have a chai latte? You don't have that? How about a caramel latte? No? No, I definitely don't want peppermint flavored. Uh... Green tea? Ok...) And they were playing heavy screaming metal for the duration of my stay, which led to total sensory overload. Their was definitely a political vibe to the place, but it wasn't too intense, and overall it just seemed like a lot of locals looking to read a book or the paper or hang out with the staff. I love the neighborhood feel to cafes in Brooklyn, and this was no exception. I'll definitely be back, so stock your chai, Vox Pop.

Third Root is located on 380 Marlborough Road, just off Cortelyou. By donation meditation and vinyasa yoga is offered Tuesday nights from 8-9:30pm. Paid classes $10.

Flatbush Co-Op is located on 1415 Cortelyou Road and is open 7am-11pm

Vox Pop is located at 1022 Cortelyou Road. Open till Midnight weeknights, 1am weekends.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Trekking for Tofurky

Instant gratification. I like it.

Lately, I can't get it in two areas of my life, and it's making me think that the conscious process towards gratification that often is undervalued and overlooked.

Usually, if we have a food need, the solution is quite simple. Need ketchup. Go to grocery store. Buy ketchup. Satisfied. One of my little vegetarian needs is Tofurky sandwich slices. They're delicious, come in a wide variety of flavors (My favorites are Italian and Hickory Smoked), and they give me another option besides a garden burger or a hummus sandwich for lunch. But the problem is, I can't find a grocery market near me that sells Tofurky. Even at the big Stop and Shop 15 minutes away from me sells only Smart Deli slices, which, as someone who remembers the taste of meat from younger years, taste like bologne no matter what flavor you get. Yum. Except not. Not yum at all. (What is in bologne, anyway?)

So I trekked to Whole Foods in Manhattan recently to pick up some Tofurky, and felt Flatbush had let me down. I had to go all the way to Union Square for deli slices?

But the thing is, not having it immediately when I wanted it didn't hurt me. I got to have my favorite Wheatberry Waldorf Salad while I was at Whole Foods, and in the meantime, I just had a hummus sandwhich, and I happen to have my hummus sandwich recipe down: since I'm not vegan, I just put a layer of shredded parmesan cheese on the hummus, layer it with sliced cucumbers and shredded carrots, or, as I had the other day, carrot chips for a nice crunch. It's a killer meal. And anyway, now that I have to trek for Tofurky, I find I appreciate it more. I prepare my sandwich more carefully, and enjoy it more slowly. So, Flatbush not carrying Tofurky, in a way, helps make me a more mindful eater.

It's like the guitar I'm trying to learn lately. As I type this, the four fingers of my left hand feel like they have third degree burns. I've been told that as soon as I get calluses, it will be clear sailing. But for now, I'm consciously pushing down my raw fingertips on thin wires. Ouch. I know the calluses are coming in, but slowly, nearly as slowly as my skills (my husband had to deal a couple days ago with hours on end of me singing "Let It Be" and twanging away at what are supposedly the chords to the song.) But trust me, I won't take those calluses for granted when they do come in. Not for a second.

I guess the summary of it is: never settle for instant gratification, don't take a good thing for granted, and be mindful of the end in the beginning. Or, in simpler terms: Don't buy Smart Deli. Trek for Tofurky.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Vegetarian Dim Sum House

Yesterday my husband and I trekked into China Town in search of a bonsai tree for the living room. We're almost done putting up all the earthy-toned, Asian inspired decor we chose for the room, and its finally coming together. But I wanted a bonsai tree to top it all off before I host a gathering Wednesday night in my home, so I had to go searching, and China Town seemed like a good first stop.

Sure enough, we got our bonsai tree. More importantly, I had been dying to try dim sum for a while after it had been strongly recommended to me, so before we left we were looking it up and trying to find a place with those cute little carts full of dumplings that waiters roll around all morning along with endless pots of oolong tea. It became quickly apparent to me that dimsum is particularly not vegetarian friendly. It's a meat laden ordeal. Thus my excitement to learn that there is a restaurant in the heart of china town called Vegetarian Dim Sum House.


There were no carts. Rather you order by checking which things you want on a list, and they bring you your order while you drink tea and relax. The place wasn't very busy, so I can see how the cart system wouldn't work as well. The drawback to the chart is that you can't really see what you are ordering size wise- we ended up ordering way too much. Other than that, it was fantastic! My favorite was the steamed mock pork buns. The mock meat was subtle and well flavored, and everything was cooked perfectly. The only complaint I have is that some of the starchy items with taro and lotus root were ultra-rich and oily, like they spent too long in a deep frier. So, nutrition wise, I give it pretty much a half star, but it was altogether delicious. Finish off your meal like we did at Ten Ren Bubble Tea (Go for the Shredded Ice! especially Taro!) and you'll be happily stuffed to capacity.

Vegetarian Dim Sum House is located on 24 Pell St. Take the Q to Canal.
Dim Sum served all day, 10:30am-10:30pm, regular menu also available.

Q Train Meditation

I just googled to see if anyone is sharing my domain name, and found a really awesome meditation for the Q train from 7th Ave in Brooklyn, just a couple stops from me en route to Union Square, where I just so happen to be going later today. How convenient!

The website itself is incredible. It's called Urban Mindfulness: Finding Peace In The Middle Of It All, and includes a blog with multiple writers posting about mindfulness and meditation practices in New York City, along with book recommendations, an introduction to the topic, and downloads for meditation. Very cool.

I guess I'm meditating on the Q today if I get a seat.

(Speaking of the Q from Brooklyn to Manhattan, I think everyone visiting or living in New York should take the train into Brooklyn at least once- it's one of the trains that goes over, rather than under, the water, and from the Manhattan Bridge where it crosses you get an astounding view of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge, especially at night.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

On The Difficulties of Urban Mindfulness

Taking the seemingly totally irrational approach, I thought the best way to start talking about mindfulness in New York City would be to talk about a very different city: Toronto. I just got back from a trip to Canada where I was presenting research at the American Psychological Association's annual convention, and I stayed right in the heart of downtown Toronto. Toronto is striking in a number of ways. First of all, it's clean and beautiful in a way that makes me question what a city should look like. On my first day there, I was scouring around for what New York has taught me is a trashcan - a little grated metal bin often overflowing (especially in dear Flatbush) with 7up drizzle and coffee cups and fried chicken combo plate remnants. I couldn't find one, but Downtown Yonge was somehow spotless. Not a ketchup packet to be seen. I thought- oh my God, Canadians are so eco-friendly, they must carry their trash with them all day and throw it out when they get home! No one is spitting and chucking drumsticks and ciggaratte buts on the street? Are they human? Finally I figured out that trashcans in Toronto are large rectangular bins where you can choose Paper, Plastic, or Rubbish. Every trash can comes with recycling options.


And the food was amazing, varied, and very vegetarian friendly at every level of cuisine. I dined fine a few times (BTW, Thaione on has some of the most innovative Thai dishes I've ever tried. Go for the Coconut Cashew Vegetables the next time you're in the area if you like it sweet.) and found plenty of veggie fare for me everywhere I went. But even the cart food is vegetarian friendly! Every single hot dog stand - and there were hot dog stands everywhere for some reason - offered 100% veggie hot dogs, with nearly a dozen toppings to choose from to sauce your meal with. So much for dry falafels with tahini and a mound of lettuce- this was personalized, and in my opinion, really good meat free street food.

But that is nothing, really, in comparison to the city itself. Oh, the aesthetics of that city. Every building was beautiful in a different way. I can't really describe it- you'll have to go there and be mindful of it for yourself. The infrastructure is in itself a work of art. I found myself thinking, as I took the subway (where a screen in the station tells you exactly how many minutes until the next train arrives, and the stop announcements are noticeably automated rather than yelled at you over a half-broken speaker system): if every city paid as much attention to beauty as to utility as Toronto seems to, well, everything would be different. The world would be revitalized. Because, if you ask me, beauty is transformative. And a society recognizing that is a society moving forward.

I digress.

The point is, several scratchy muttered subway announcements and a few overflowing trash cans later, I arrived back in Brooklyn, thinking about how challenging it is to be mindful here. Do we want to see all of it? Or just go to the Met for our prearranged by "donation" beauty (nothing against museums; the ROM was fantastic, thumbs up Toronto) and fancy restaurants for our cleanliness? What does it mean to live in a city where the bench I'm trying to read a book on smells strange and the woman next to me is feeding her infant child Mcdonalds french fries and Hawaiian punch through a straw? ... Yes, I actually witnessed that happen.

That's where New York City has a lot to offer, though. The challenge of holding all of it in our awareness with compassion, rather than bitterness and discontent, opens new doors. It stretches our craving for and ability to see and experience beauty. And I suppose that is what this is all about. Because New York is no Toronto. It's a rough, vibrant, dirty, bustling catastrophe, and a really hard place to just be in. But, rough edges and all, I adore it. The longer I live in this city, the more in love I fall with it, and the deeper I dive, the more I find there is.

So, considering that, as Iron and Wine puts it, our life is composed of endless numbered days, I'm trying lately to wake up a little less cynical, a little more aware, and most importantly, devoted to my intention: dive deep.

Wherever You Go, There Is Brooklyn

So, this is the story of a young, newlywed, vegetarian, part time health-nut, recent Flatbush transplant, blogging about wellbeing, spirituality, and mindfulness in New York. I'll be using this space to review everything from vegetarian restaurants to cafes to books to parks and benches good for catching a moment or two for quiet meditation between everything that makes up my overwhelmingly busy urban days. I'll also explore mindfulness and how it is challenged and enriched by marriage, friendship, culture, and city living.

How did this project begin? Well, this is, in some ways, a continuation of my previous blog, It Melts Into Wonder, which served as a long standing public diary sharing all the private details on my search for meaning and purpose in New York City. With my recent marriage and move to Brooklyn, I decided it's time to turn a new leaf. While before I blogged about the world of stirrings within me, I'm going to here try instead to blog the world around me. It's an experiment in urban consciousness, and if nothing else, it will result in a detailed review of just about every subway accessible froyo joint, vegetarian friendly restaurant, and beautiful patch of greenery the city has to offer.

So enjoy, and feel free share your mindful New York minutes with me, too.