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How a Practicing Yogi Finds Zen in New York City

Living in the bustling city of New York sensory overload is part of daily life. With its high trafficked streets and sidewalks to twinkling lights and billboards, New York can be just as exciting as it can be exhausting on the nervous system. So how do people who are actively creating a life that supports their nervous system, while fostering mind-body balance find zen in New York? We chit-chaat with practicing yogi and vegan Pam Jones, a Dharma Yoga instructor, and Ayurveda Lifestyle Counselor about how she supports her chosen lifestyle in the vibrant city of New York

Q & A with Pam Jones, Dharma Yoga Instructor

 

In a vibrant city like New York, where the senses are constantly stimulated, what techniques or tools do you find helpful to calm the mind?

I try my best to keep a consistent daily practice. The pranayama and meditation practice calms the mind and the senses. After my practice, I feel I’m ready to start the day and my ‘battery’ is charged but if I skip my morning practice, something is off and then naturally the senses go towards external stimuli. It’s like we have to control the senses like a naughty child, or a dog on its leash, constantly bringing it back otherwise they get up to all kinds of trouble. There are many techniques to help one calm the mind. One thing I really like to do when I notice the senses going here and there is to take a pause and slow down, I force myself to walk slower and be really mindful of every step and watch the breath. It’s a meditation you can do anywhere. There are also many powerful pranayama exercises like nadi shodhana, a form of alternate nostril breathing that automatically calms the mind and the senses.

We get so exhausted because we’re juggling many things at the same time. For example, when we eat, we look at our phones and check our emails and are constantly making appointments, on the move to the next thing. In this generation I think the hardest one is to switch off the phones, we have become a slave to it. It’s important to stop, slow down and be present with every breath, every time you do something. Spend time to be quiet. I’m originally from London but the hustle and bustle is nowhere as near as New York City. If you can be calm in New York then I think you can be calm anywhere.

Where are some of your favorite places to find peace, quiet or seek guidance in Manhatten?

There are actually a lot of quiet places in NYC, like parts of Central Park, near Battery Park, Hudson River, and of course, my favorite quiet sanctuary is the Dharma Yoga Temple right in the middle of the Flatiron district. It is a beautiful space and when you walk inside you immediately feel quiet. It’s a place of refuge, a precious jewel in the middle of the city! If you can be calm right in the middle of the hustle and bustle and still feel calm no matter what the external circumstances then you know the practice is working!

Eating in a timely manner along with fresh, prana rich food is considered to be an integral component to a spiritual based yoga practice. When you are out and about for the day, how do you approach eating or food?

I’ve had many ups and downs with food and had many health conditions like severe allergic reactions where hives would just bubble up whenever I would go out to eat. It would be so painful and embarrassing that I didn’t want to leave the house. That forced me to really look at what I was putting in my body and find out what worked for me. I have been vegan for about 10 years now and it’s a diet that has worked well for me. I feel full of energy, I have more energy than I did when I was in my 20s when I ate a lot of processed junk food. However, being vegan, we still have to watch the intake of processed foods. One can be vegan and still eat a lot of junk food!

Change comes naturally though. After a while, the body craves healthier whole foods; lots of fresh vegetables… avocadoes, sprouts, sweet potatoes, brown rice, etc and less processed foods. My suggestion to students who are choosing the vegan path, it to change slowly. If we make the transition too fast the mind will rebel!

In all our yoga trainings we talk about the importance of a clean yogi diet, one that is free from animal flesh since yama and niyamas are the foundation of yoga. Ahimsa (nonviolence) is the very first rule or ethical code of conduct. I’m so glad that I met my Guru Sri Dharma Mittra because even though at that time I didn’t want to hear it, he would say things like ‘Other beings want to be happy and free from suffering just like us, including the piggies and the chicken, they also want to be happy and be with their families!’ I mean who can argue with that.

My schedule is pretty much different every day, I’m teaching at different locations or flying somewhere to give a workshop so I’m always on the go. I found that it’s really important to plan out the day, to have enough time to prepare healthy snacks. For example, I try to have a couple of tangerines, or a small bag of sprouted almonds ready in my rucksack so that there is always a healthy snack nearby. I never leave the house without a flask of herbal tea because I know myself too well! The mind is too fickle, it’ll just grab whatever is convenient. I never leave the house without a flask of herbal tea because I know myself too well! The mind is too fickle. When I fly, especially long distance I prefer not to eat on the plane, maybe just some herbal tea because it’s easier for the body to recover from the jet lag.

Do you have some favorite vegan restaurants in New York City?

Oh, we are so blessed to have so many great places to eat here!

Divyas Kitchen | great ayurvedic cuisine. Divya herself is amazing, you can tell she prepares everything with love. You can taste it in the food! She does an amazing kitchadi and carob cake!

Peacefood | my two good friends and yogis own and run this place and it’s fantastic. The vibe is chill and a great place to meet your friends whether they’re just transitioning into vegetarian/vegan or full on raw. There are great options for everyone; you can get raw sushi to a full-on vegan burger. Their most popular dishes are the chickpea fries and dumplings. Oh, and they have amazing desserts! The raw coconut pie is my favorite

ABC-V | is also a beautiful place to dine! There are little hidden Ganesh deities within the walls of the place and everything about this restaurant is just so beautiful including the layout of the table and the dusty pink shirts that the servers wear! They do an incredible vegan dosa with avocado, sprouts, coconut yogurt and lots of yummy spices!

Hangawi | is also another beautiful vegan Korean place. You have to take off your shoes and sit on the floor, really traditional Korean style! There is something so special and grounding when you sit on the floor to eat. They have some of the best vegan dumplings!

You can tell I like my food!

As a yoga teacher, who teach several classes in a day, how do you maintain your practice or sustain your energy to nurture your practice?

I love practicing yoga and used to take many classes but teaching is very different, it requires different energy because you are giving and one has to be careful not to exert too much energy in things that are not conducive to the practice. One thing that helps is to listen to the body and be kind to yourself. If my body feels achy I do a gentle practice and don’t push too much and when I feel strong, I will go for it. I’m careful now of how much time I spend out and about and if I don’t need to then I’d rather be at home, practicing, doing Yoga Nidra, reading a good book. I sustain my energy by doing pranayama and meditation practice in the morning because it charges me. I try my best to get up early and go to bed early, eating at the right time, not too late. I take care of myself the best I can so I can better serve the students.

One of life’s challenges can be to find what you love doing while earning a livelihood. Working in a “field” where help raise awareness to support conscious living,  how do you apply all the principles of yoga to your business?

I certainly love what I do, and I feel blessed that I can survive and earn a living by doing what I love. If you love what you do then it doesn’t feel like a job, everything is just a bonus. My teacher Dharmaji says that sharing spiritual knowledge is the highest charity, it’s not something that money can buy, although having said that you still need to pay the rent.

Even the business of yoga should be put through the lens of the ethical rules. When you conduct business you have to ask yourself, are you hurting anyone? Are you doing it for fame or fortune? Only for money? Recognition? What is the intention behind the action? Sometimes one can lose sight of why we’re offering yoga in the first place, then the ego gets involved and then trouble comes.  Now I can make a livelihood from teaching yoga, sharing vegan/ayurvedic cooking workshops, everything came naturally at the perfect time! I truly believe if you’re sincerely doing
your best to share the way, to serve others, everything is coming.

As yoga travels throughout the globe and becomes integrated across cultures and in our daily lives, the image commonly associated with a practicing yogi will begin to evolve.  What does it mean to be a practicing yogi in today’s world?

Yes exactly! It is constantly evolving and there is a teacher for every person, every need, every step of the way. A yogi doesn’t have to be wearing Lululemon pants, holding a yoga mat or wearing mala beads. Some of the yogis I have met have been in disguise. A yogi is a mum or dad who is serving her family and always doing karma yoga, or a teacher always sharing their knowledge, your spouse who may be pushing your buttons and giving you the opportunity to practice patience or a beggar on the street who is giving you the opportunity to practice generosity! You cannot judge someone from the external but the kindness and purity of heart are what matters most. A yogi by definition is someone that lives in harmony with all beings, serving others, someone that wants to alleviate the suffering in the world because they see it as their own. As Gandhi put it so beautifully, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.

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Pam Jones is an 800-hr Dharma Yoga teacher who teaches daily at the Dharma Yoga in New York whilst serving as a mentor for the Life of Yogi Teacher training. She also leads an international yoga and plant-based food workshops and believes yoga can be practiced by all. Pam hopes to inspire people to reach their fullest potential and spread kindness everywhere

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. The information is not intended for use in the medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.

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