Most of these summer days, the sky tips our faces upward and it feels good to remember just how small we stand amongst all this wonder.Read More
The following post was written by TaraMarie Perri, the Founder/Director of The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Her professional work is dedicated to yoga education and research, holistic health therapeutics, and the integration of mind/body practices with the arts and sciences. TaraMarie holds an MFA and serves on Faculty at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She maintains private practices in New York City and Brooklyn.
This spring, I have been carrying Merce Cunningham’s Other Animals: Drawings and Journals in my bag. Merce is world-renowned as a groundbreaking choreographer. Did you know he was also a visual artist? Flipping through his book, Merce’s creatures are playful, odd, and not surprisingly, drawn with a persuasion of physicality as if he was tempting them to jump right off the page! When reading journal excerpts which accompany the drawings, one can imagine how work and play might have co-mingled in his world.
It was Merce’s routine to wake and draw animals and creatures before going about his other activities. His drawing practice began as a way to pass the time during an unexpected morning travel delay on tour with his dance company. That singular experience quickly led to personal time he looked forward to each day. As the joy of painting has recently entered my life over the last year, his sentiment deeply resonates:
One of the pleasures of drawing for me is the rapidity with which one ceases to have concerns about oneself. The intensity of trying to capture the line and the sense of something in nature becomes absorbing enough to hold all one’s attention.
Considering the benefits of meditative practices, it is my belief that his fearlessness in observing the world unfolding and changing around him as he drew contributed to how he kept his signature fresh spirit. His choreographic pursuits evolved organically as he was influenced by nature, music, visual art/design, technology, and contemporary culture. His work was never stale or derivative. He was ever-present as an artist (with a capital “A,” as my friend Liz likes to say!). I honor his approach and aspire to bring a similar comparative and open-source philosophy to my own life’s work.
As a teaching artist, I bring the work, musings, and inspirations of icons and collaborators into my classes and class preparations. I am fortunate that my work and play flow easily in this manner. I find endless resources to challenge teaching concepts while forging new relationships with my broader research into the mind/body arts. As a personal practice for spring, I have taken a cue from Merce and began an almost-daily practice painting loose and flowing watercolors. It has become a welcome companion to my morning tea and Manhattan skyline viewing routine. I look forward to the warmer temperatures arriving and taking it up to the roof!
Do you have an avenue for how your work and play might mingle? Do you have a time of day when you let your mind quiet into another focus or dream into a new flow? Spring is the perfect time to investigate how this might be possible for you.
I’ll use a couple of Merce Cunningham’s drawings to animate my suggestions:
Discover a New Vantage Point
Days are getting warmer and the daylight hours are lasting longer. Spring is the perfect time to climb out of your winter nest and get back on your feet. Stand tall and look all around you. Stretch your legs and walk a new path to work or take a detour on your way home. Expand your field of vision to see what is out there in your world to inspire you. Maybe a new outdoor café popped up. Perhaps a new public park or art installation is underway where you can sit on a sunny day. Did a new building pop up on the skyline? What flowers are in bloom this week? When you recognize the growth and expansion in the world around you, you can more easily understand the impulses within which inevitably rise up this time of year. Strut your stuff and go for it!
Climb up. Get down. Look more closely at the world around you. The phrase “stop and smell the roses” is not an arbitrary one. As you observe the beauty of spring growth in nature, take a moment to stop and appreciate it. Not only will this cause you to slow down and pause, you will also set new pathways in mind of practicing gratitude. You may then begin to interact with your peers and projects at work in a similar way. You may rediscover a creative project at home with new interest. Could your favorite window or the corner of your desk benefit from a bright green potted plant or a vase of spring flowers? By enhancing beauty in your surroundings, your inner landscape also benefits. Beauty in its truest form is not just an ideal. Appreciating beauty is a teacher for all of us. To pause in our busy lives and truly appreciate beauty means we are connecting to the present moment and that is a worthwhile pursuit.
Don’t be afraid to share your inner desires for work/play balance with others. Maybe the winter quiet tuned you into something deep down in your heart that needs to be cultivated this spring. You might be surprised how many of your friends are also craving new outlets. The spring season supports the spirit of change, personal growth, and new adventures. When we give ideas vocalization, they become more real. By giving our thoughts audible sound, we also give them physical weight in the world. Only then can we consider how to bring them to life. Share your intentions for personal growth or creativity in your life with loved ones, and support your friends in their own investigations. You might be surprised how many inspired conversations and play dates you will have on your calendar!
You do not have to follow anyone else’s formula for an inspired life. Spring gives us much flux in weather patterns and the necessary earth and water to plant your seeds of growth. Plant as many as you wish and see what sprouts! Do you like to read? Do you like to draw? Would you rather run barefoot up a trail? What inspires you? If you don’t like to wake up and draw, then don’t. If you’d rather listen to your favorite heavy metal ballad while writing a poem, do that. There is not one way to awaken the personal dance of work and play. The only way to find this out for yourself is to experiment and investigate.
May spring be a season of personal discovery and growth for each of you! And when you need inspiration, simply recall Merce’s memorable creatures that embody the qualities of the season.
- TaraMarie Perri
Photos by Richard Rutledge. Drawings by Merce Cunningham from Other Animals: Drawings and Journals.
The following post was written by Katherine Moore. Katherine has been teaching for The Perri Institute for Mind and Body since 2013. You can find her running all over New York City, working as a teacher, choreographer, freelance dancer, and writer. Relax with her at Steps on Broadway on Friday nights at 6:30pm for restorative yoga.
This past Monday night, Liz Montgomery taught a class for the Fall Seasonal Series that emphasized transitions, new creative pathways, and making choices in our practice. This class really struck home for many reasons, one of them being that I currently have a very limited practice (in some ways) due to a shoulder injury. Right now, downward dog is not an option for me.
I've been working with my practice in this way for about a month, and while it is certainly challenging and frustrating at times, for the most part I've actually found it kind of fun. Normally of a serious mindset, I have always loved how classes with The Perri Institute teachers offer many opportunities for play, risk-taking, and lightheartedness, which are not areas that I normally gravitate towards. Being injured has made accessing these qualities not only easier, but even more essential in order to continue my physical practice. While I miss certain poses that are not accessible to me at the moment, I'm getting a huge kick out of finding new variations, playing more with my props, and in some ways, being a little free of the normal structure and flow of my typical practice.
I am so thankful that through my training in yoga and dance, I have had years of practice of being placed in unknown situations where the only option I have is to be open and available to whatever comes my way. Years of studying dance improvisation and composition have taught me how to build a larger framework out of a blank slate, with only simple idea as fodder. For me, teaching and practicing yoga feel very similar to the creative process I use in choreographic settings; it's all dedicated time and space where I can draw connections and make meaning between seemingly disparate ideas, and then grow from there. Without these experiences, losing the ability to fully use my arm might have been much more dramatic and frustrating than I'm currently finding it. Because of my experience in the unknown world of creative choice-making, I am able to still fully participate in my practice.
This, and Liz's class on Monday, reminded me of how important it is to teach creative choice in our classes. The lessons we learn from breaking up our routine and trying something new are so critical to how we carry our practice on the mat into our everyday lives. Unless you work in a creative field, the average person rarely gets the opportunity to explore this type of creative thinking, but it's this type of thought that actually makes us more engaged in our society and relationships. Being able to take risks, trust yourself in new situations, and put new ideas into motion are essential traits of the movers and shakers who make change happen in our world. The ability to imagine a life ahead of you that is safe, satisfying, and interesting, while perhaps different from the life you’re currently living, is also necessary for mental well-being and stability. The role of the imagination in our lives is nothing less than essential.
I am constantly reminded that access to art, beauty, and nature help people think in imaginative ways, and then I am reminded that this access is a privilege not shared with many. Across the country, music, art, and dance programs in public schools are being cut and underfunded. The lucky students are exposed to creative arts throughout their formal education, but after embarking on a career path, most people leave those experiences behind. In my dancing life I teach creative movement to untrained adult movers, particularly the elderly, and I can see clearly how magical and transformative that experience is for them, even when it is difficult. Giving adults the opportunity to imagine and invent, to experience creativity via their physicality, is just as important as experiencing it in childhood. I could say more about arts education and community engagement, but my point here is that the day-to-day grind that many adult people experience in their jobs, and sometimes even in their family and social circles, rarely allows for creative experience, which is why teaching creativity in our yoga classes is so important.
People come to yoga for many reasons: for physical health, for mental well-being, for rest, for study. This actually gives teachers room to introduce creativity for all, regardless of why a student is there. Teaching creative choice is naturally easier with a room full of experienced practitioners who are comfortable with themselves and taking some chances, but I might suggest that it belongs in all levels as long as it is taught mindfully and safely. I will be using the fall season to investigate ways of teaching creativity in my classes, and I would welcome any suggestions from our community. Some ideas to start:
- Ask your students to find their own transition from a standing sequence back to Downward Dog. (Thank you Liz!)
- To shake things up, use something other than Downward Dog as your "home base." Try sequencing from Tadasana, Child's Pose, All Fours, or even Upavesasana or Malasana (what?!) and keep coming back to it as you develop your theme.
- Offer variations from the traditional Vinyasa for students to choose from instead of the normal sequence (For example, instead of Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Dog, Downward Dog, try Plank, lower the knees to Child's pose, roll up to sit in Vadrasana, roll back down to plant hands and find Downward Dog). You may need to add a breath cue or two, but if you teach it clearly and with the same intention as the traditional Vinyasa, your students will be able to follow.
- Give choices in terms of imagery. Sometimes we need to support our students' energies by teaching specific imagery (ie. cooling water dripping down the shoulder blades on a 95 degree day in August). But what if you offer energetic choices occasionally? For example, "Imagine the center of your heart space. What is it's texture? Color? Tone?" Your students will probably come up with very different ideas. Ask them to notice if the image has changed by the end of class.
- After teaching a sequence several times, and if you sense that your students will be comfortable with it, ask them to move through the postures on their own. Encourage them to keep moving through postures, even if they forget what’s next. They can pick!
- Instead of only offering variations to challenging postures, offer variations based on energetics or focus. For example, offer Crow as a way to experience the balance of the spine, and offer Side Crow as a way to experience the spirals in the spine. Before Savasana, offer a choice of restorative postures: Restorative Fish for heart opening, Restorative Child's Pose for inward looking.
The following post was written by Liz Beres, a NYC-based dancer; dance teacher; and yoga teacher, certified by The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Liz currently teaches yoga privately and at various gyms, including that of the Federal Reserve Bank of NY through Plus One. She is continually intrigued by and appreciative of the power of mind/body practices, and is grateful for the chance to share her musings on MindBodyBrew’s digital platform.
In beginning to pack up my home a few weeks ago, I came across Jean Tinder’s Creator Cards on a bookshelf, a deck of cards my mom had gifted me with years prior. Inspired by the thought that every human being is innately divine and serves as the creator of his or her own reality and experience, the Creator Cards are designed to help the bearer move towards clarity, discovering answers that reveal one’s Truth and can lead to choices that match the reality of such truths. Each day I’ve turned over another card and considered its message, as well as its corresponding, longer passage, and each day I’ve been mesmerized by the serendipitous relevance of the day’s reflections to my reality in that moment.
Earlier this week, my card read, ‘What would you choose if there were no rules inside you?' And so I began to really think, how do we control ourselves – our bodies, our minds, our expressions of ourselves? How many of those regulated choices are unconsciously made, rooted in previous conventions that were set by other people or current or outdated belief systems? The card’s passage suggested that there is another way for us to live--that instead of relegating ourselves to living an unconscious life, we can choose again, and again, and again, consciously.
Curious about what ‘rules’ I may recognize and what ‘rules’ may not live so close to the surface of my consciousness, I attempted to make a list of ‘rules’ I have lived by and still largely live by. I found myself able to identify quite a few, some of which originated in childhood and others that arrived later in my life. Some were tinged with negativity, others with promise. And while it certainly was interesting to configure such a list, I soon found myself finding an alternate route into the exercise--I became much more intrigued by the consideration of what comfort zones and ‘rules’ I feel I currently am breaking out of. As I continue to ponder it all, this other entryway into the realm of rules and freedom seems to be lending itself to a more truthful and rich deciphering of how I have been and how and what I am becoming, consciously.
What are rules anyway? They would seem to be nothing more than invisible barriers that we set for ourselves, out of consideration for our moral, spiritual, and social values. I in no way mean to demean the setting of boundaries, for it can be within and from such clearly delineated lines that we grow. But as more years pass and I delve deeper into my yoga practice, the world seems to grow grayer each day, and amidst that gray emerges an opportunity to dissolve such barriers that bind us and to replace those obstructions with a more porous substance that makes space for tolerance and openness.
There’s such beauty in our ceaseless evolutions as human beings. That evolution is pronounced so vividly for many of us who practice yoga, on and off the mat. I believe too that growth unquestionably can be highlighted and prompted through artistic practices as well. Movement and contemplative practices alike draw out facets of ourselves that are present but less visible, and in learning of these diverse bits of ourselves, we learn how alike we all are; we recognize the ways others’ vulnerabilities are set beside their strengths, and in seeing such contrast in one being, we begin to realize the spectrum of a whole self. Yoga particularly has encouraged me to become more open--to see others, to really listen to them, and to interact on a visceral level based in the truths that showcase themselves. Only with such sensitivity to others’ ways and energy can we act from a more tolerant place and be lucky enough to witness others’ warring strengths and weaknesses.
This summer I have been blessed to be part of a community that is filled with ambitious and fearless men and women. The choices they make on stage and off have driven me to make bolder choices and actions daily; inspired by the way they move through life, I’ve endeavored to let hope guide me, which has, in turn, eclipsed the immense bursts of fear that can overwhelm my path. The courageousness I’ve witnessed in them has showcased how powerful the momentum and motivation of making daring choices that are right for you can be; while challenges often still arise, one truly can become bolstered by such progress.
In her MindBodyBrew Monday Mantra post entitled ‘Desire’, Brianna Goodman wrote:
[O]ften when we view the uncontrollable not as antagonists, but as welcomed events of our grander life story, we discover that our narrowed focus was actually not the ideal—that it prevented us from experiencing all that was at our disposal. A one-track mind is unable to recognize that what it thinks it wants might be nothing like what it actually needs. It seeks a reality that does not exist, a reality that tears our focus away from the reality we should be focusing on: the one that we’re living right now.
To live in the here and now requires, I believe, an incessant acceptance of permeable principles. If we are to meet our inevitably evolving selves, we must then recognize that our world’s ‘rules’ will change, and with that, hopefully, will come a broadening of our knowledge and acceptance of all that surrounds us. This is not to say that we should be doormats or that we should not hold opinions of our own, but is it not possible to affirm our common existence, to remove the feeling of separation and distance between our heart and another’s--as Oprah and Deepak Chopra note in their latest 21-Day Meditation Experience--in order to let abundance flow? Why must we limit ourselves with rules that no longer serve us? Why must we set rules in the first place? If we do set them for ourselves, what purpose do they hold, and how can they be established in such a way that allows for them to be revised in the future?
As human beings, we rise and we fall. We are vulnerable, exposed to natural and man-made aspects of our world that can support us and, likewise, can tear us down. Lately I have realized that in so many ways throughout my life I have lived from a place of fear. Such a way of life is exhausting and not nearly as productive as I’d imagined it could be. While pain is rarely a chosen lane, I am curious about how our lives can change if we choose to live with more abandon. Vulnerability will be ever-present. Uncertainty may reign. But if we choose to live a safe life, cozy inside the walls of our ‘rules’, is there really room for us to make our unique marks on this world? Mustn’t we break out of such barriers in order to learn who we are at our most primal states and from there, cast ourselves out into this unpredictable world we live in to live the fullest lives possible?
Another of my cards this week added a juicy turn to my ‘rules’ card. It read:
You cannot make a mistake, you cannot choose wrong. Every experience is simply another step along your path…when you see the divine imperfection in every choice and in every moment, you are truly free to create your world.
I love the sense of ownership in that passage--the way in which it places our lives in our hands. Yes, there always will be obstacles that jump into our paths that we did not plan for or do not suit our overarching life schemes, but perhaps in recognizing the accountability that we innately possess, we can take greater hold of our daily choices and build our lives to be much more full and fulfilling. And while it would be wonderful to come across less bumps in our life roads, there’s something in the grit, in the exposed edges that exist outside of our ruled realms, that presents colors and flavors that only wrong turns and missteps could create. So here’s to messiness, in your life and mine.
- Liz Beres
The following post was written by Liz Montgomery, a dancer/choreographer, writer, and teacher for The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. She currently co-teaches the Grow Your Practice seasonal series with TaraMarie Perri, and is involved with various aspects of the institute’s growth and development. As evidenced by her constant recipe sharing, Liz loves to feed people.
As the temperature climbs higher still, it's tempting to forgo breakfast altogether. Don't do it! The quintessential summertime breakfast, the smoothie, has been around since the 1970s, but has recently seen a surge in both popularity and creativity. Gone are the straightforward banana/strawberry swirls of my childhood. Now, smoothies are expected to have complex flavor and be chock-full of nutrients. Since I am a yogi on the run (and I suspect most of you don't have time to kill in the morning), I've provided two ways below to combine your breakfast with your morning drink-of-choice. That's right, no more juggling multiple mugs on your commute!
Lime Green Smoothie
3/4 cup coconut water or 1/4 cup greek yogurt plus 1/2 cup water
1 handful baby spinach
1 frozen banana
1/4 of an avocado
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 teaspoon Matcha green tea powder, optional
Maple syrup to taste (sometimes I add it, sometimes I don't)
Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.
Beans and Nuts Smoothie
1/4 cup cold brew coffee or 1 shot espresso
1/2 cup milk of your choice (cow, almond, hemp)
2 Tbs almond butter
1 frozen banana
A dash of cinnamon
Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.
And here are a few tips to help you become a smoothie pro:
- Pre-freeze your bananas. Anytime you've got a bunch and one starts to go brown, peel it and toss it in a bag in the freezer. I can't tell you how much easier this makes things.
- For the tea drinkers: invest in some matcha! Creamy and mild, matcha is a varietal of green tea processed into a powder. It is known for its ability to simultaneously increase both alertness and calm.
- For the coffee drinkers: cold brew your coffee. With just a bit of foresight, you can be out the door without ever needing to turn on your kettle. I find cold brew to be so much better on my finicky tummy--the acidity can be as much as 65% lower than coffee made with heat! A quick primer: take 3/4 cups of very coarsely ground beans and 4 cups of water and place in a glass container at room temperature overnight (12 hours), then strain with cheesecloth or a fine mesh sieve and refrigerate.
- Get creative... but not too creative. It is very easy to end up with too many competing flavors. When in doubt, make a small test batch. Some things you can add that will give your smoothie more oomph and texture while preserving the taste include: chia seeds, hemp hearts, ground flax seed, and rolled oats.