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magical stories : Sasha Nelson

Posted on May 08 2019

This is the second in a series of magical stories told by the women who are living them.

My intention is to hold space for women to talk about subjects that are mostly kept private or not talked about openly. Hearing what goes on behind the scenes in real life (as opposed to what we show on social media or talk about on a regular basis) gives us a connection on a deeper level & lets us learn from what others have experienced & conquered. 

.  .  .

Sasha Nelson is a yoga teacher, wellness consultant, & an advocate of  sustainability & holistic wellness.

Originally from California, she lived in NYC for close to a decade & has recently relocated to Paris, where she continues to teach in person & online.

The following is a recent exchange we had, exploring the boundaries of what it means to live on her own terms in all aspects of life.

x Monica

You just hosted a retreat in Costa Rica and then moved to Paris!
How has that influenced your current state of mind? 
The Costa Rica retreat was epic - it was my third year at Rayos Del Sol and continues to be one of my most favorite places in the world. Being so immersed in nature (without getting too far out of my personal comfort zone) is always a transformative, energizing, and deeply connective experience. Plus it just feels good physically and mentally to be near the ocean and in the sun, especially in the depths of a New York City winter. I find that my brain automatically softens there - I'm on a natural cycle of getting up and going to bed with the sun (most of the time), and am reminded by nature herself that there's no rush to life. We'll be back next February 2020.
(visit www.thegoodliferetreat.com to learn more)
On the opposite end of the spectrum - I am recently freshly planted in Paris for at least a year to live and work. I'm coincidentally in Montmartre, location of my favorite movie Amélie, and even though it is a city (and a foreign one at that) I feel a little less bamboozled here than I did in NYC. I adored living in Brooklyn, but it was time for a change. I enjoyed teaching in Paris so much this past summer that I thought it might be interesting to try doing my work in this magical city - it inspires me in new ways, especially with a less-saturated wellness community of international people who are interested in learning more about yoga, mindfulness and meditation (even though they've got the whole quality-of-life concept down). Europe as a whole has always enchanted me, so I am very humbled to have the opportunity to be here for the time being.  

What’s inspiring you currently? 
I'm inspired by Paris/Europe, the jungle/nature, meditation - especially a 2 year program I recently started with teachers Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield, minimalist living (not really an option having spent the past year as a traveling gypsy and now in a tiny Parisian apartment!), the interesting and creative endeavors of my friends & family, Divine timing, unconditional love, human connection, yoga (always), podcasts - Supersoul Conversations and Armchair Expert are my current favs, sourdough bread baking thanks to a friend who taught me (to be continued when I have an oven again...), building a global community. 

What are you passionate about putting into the world or creating? 
My newest request is that I be a vessel for love, and/or to serve my purpose well, whatever I am meant to do in this lifetime. I am deeply passionate about human connection both to one another and the planet, with love as the undercurrent.
I hope to inspire a global community to infuse ancient practices into their modern day lifestyle, and to enjoy the process with as much curiosity as possible without taking things too seriously.
(hence my podcast: i am a mess but also delicious)
I want to do great work & also have a great time. And eat great food :)


In what ways have you witnessed yourself becoming more powerful? 
I love this question, because I think everyone has unique circumstances that wake us up over and over again - the quest in this life is not necessarily ever quite fulfilled (it's about the journey, not the destination), and I think that offers us such an amazing opportunity to be both aware of our actions and also trust that the Universe has our back.
Personally I've witnessed my own power grow during my studies in yoga, nutrition and meditation throughout the years, and also in a recent period of extreme weakness and darkness. I went through a devastating breakup in 2018 that gutted my insides, and the result of feeling so empty was being incredibly filled with love. There is a challenging albeit profound awareness that arises when you are that open and vulnerable, and amidst heavy grief I was also able to experience outrageous sweetness, kindness, generosity, selflessness and nurturing from others. It also, by default, gave me the courage to do things I might not do otherwise - like apply for a Visa and move to Paris on my own, and very simply just overcome excruciating sadness from the loss of a partner, apartment, and life that was my identity for over 6 years.
I firmly believe that strength is born out of times where we experience the opposite - relaxing as much as possible into intense feelings instead of resisting them winds up ultimately making us stronger, more powerful, and more intuitive than ever before. There is so much fortitude born out of allowing ourselves and our lives to get a little messy, to surrender control and trust, to go deep into somewhere that feels really dark without thinking that we can't also experience a lot of joy even in tough times. 

How would you describe your relationship with your body at this moment? 
My relationship with my body is complicated, and also beautiful/evolving. I know deep down that my body is amazing and I am eternally grateful for its abilities, strength, flexibility, and the mere fact that it functions here on this Earth. It performs miracles every day and I am constantly in awe.
That being said - I've dealt with some intense body images issues since I was a teenager, when I started noticing the differences in my curves versus the narrow-hipped thin-thighed models on the covers of teen magazines. I have a nervous-tick where I look at my sideview in the mirror to see how flat my belly looks on any given day, and will get down on myself easily if I look a bit puffy in a photo or if my pants feel tight. I know it is a waste of energy and is damaging to my heart, but thankfully I am also now able to recognize it as an ego-based pattern that is not necessarily true - it's just my perception, and I'm constantly working on shifting it.
One of the reasons I did the photo shoot with harMonica was to give both myself and others permission to feel awesome in their body no matter what it looks like on the outside - I was and still am incredibly self-conscious about how I look in the pictures (I legit hold my breath every time I share one on social media), but I also have to keep reminding myself that it really ultimately doesn't matter what it looks like, and that looking "good" or "bad" or "puffy" or "thin" is all relative anyway. I 100% know and believe that what's on the inside is far more important and that life is MUCH more than our appearance, even when I judge my waistline or weight.
I recently sifted through a lot of old photos and saw that my body changes every year - it is never exactly as it was the year before, and that is pretty phenomenal. It's gone through so many physical and mental challenges and continues to be a vessel for me to do the work and be with people I love, and for that I am forever grateful. So long story short... #itscomplicated but also #blessed.  
What’s your history with your moon cycle? 
I've never been one to sync my lifestyle to my moon cycle, but I would like to develop that relationship. Thankfully I never had insane cramps or periods growing up - I went on birth control at 18 and got off around 26, which felt much better on my body to be clear of it.
In my later 20s I tried the copper IUD which totally screwed up my insides - I had horrendous cramps and heavy cycles, and then it would disappear for up to 3 months at a time. My spirit team of holistic doctors told me to get that thing out of my body ASAP, and when I did my cycle would come and go, until it just stopped coming for about 1.5 years.
During that time I became more involved in Ayurveda and learned about the importance of food - especially (and surprisingly, to me) dairy - for hormone regulation if prepared and consumed in specific ways (I wrote about it on my blog, including how I stopped fearing gluten to boot). When I was teaching yoga in Paris this past summer before moving here, my cycle came back. I'm doing my best to connect a little bit more to that part of my life/body and plan to one day get more involved in cycle-syncing, but for now I am honoring the process and the miracle of motherhood, which I also plan to one day be part of...  

What kind of information did you get as a teen or when you first learned about it? 
I don't remember getting a ton of insight on my cycle, other than how to wear a pad and a tampon - which I resisted until I had no choice due to synchronized swimming classes the summer before 7th grade.
I vaguely remember sex-ed in elementary and high school, and was happy to be introduced to the vast realm of the topic in my Human Sexuality class my freshman year at UCSB. I took that class with a close guy friend, which was cool to me because it made sex part of a curious and important conversation instead of something that was taboo and to be avoided. I mostly just remember learning more about STDs (and being scared shitless), and my friend burying his head into my shoulder during a huge projected video of childbirth. I honestly don't remember much about the period portion... I do however think it's a topic that should definitely be given more attention as early as possible in childhood and onward. 

What do you know now that you wish you knew then? 
That the body is such a miracle, and that it is REALLY important to pay close attention to our bodies and minds - and how they coexist together/inform each other. I would also remind my younger self that being a certain weight will not necessarily ultimately result in prolonged happiness, and that we are all amazing just as we are.

Is there anything you can think of that you wish existed for your cycle? 
A tutor! A confidant. A diva cup. Someone to talk me out of birth control and instead stress the importance of safe sex (which I practiced anyways, but still...).
Maybe a legit and relatable book or movie that gave information openly and honestly about the entirety of the experience alongside the science behind it - not the cheesy stuff from 90s sex-ed classes, but something that might prepare us for what was to come in a really realistic way: ups and downs, feelings and sensations - not sugar-coated.
I eventually learned more about this, but early on I would have loved to have more insight on the spiritual/nutritional rituals and practices from various cultures - how others from around the world celebrate(d) and honor(ed) women and cycles. That continues to be so beautiful and fascinating to me.


Is there any advice you would give yourself if you could go back in time? 
Be good to yourself - you are doing an amazing job. Don't try so hard to make everyone like you - you are kick-ass just as you are and have nothing to prove to anyone (and if someone doesn't like you, send them more love - it has nothing to do with you and in the end it doesn't matter).
Everything and nothing matters. Don't worry so much - it's a waste of energy - enjoy life as much as possible. Just because someone isn't paying attention to you doesn't mean you're not valued or seen or heard or loved - let it be and don't try to fix it/anyone.
Be honest with yourself/others and feel your feelings, even if it's uncomfortable - it will result in something so magical and lead you to what you ultimately want.
Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional - shit happens and all we can do is learn how to roll with it as best we can.
Give long hugs.
Meditate starting now.
Perfectionism is relative - YOU ARE ENOUGH.
Laugh - being a human is ridiculous & challenging & magical and everything in between.
Everything is fluid - learn how to ride the waves. 
Life is a mess but also delicious. 

Anything else you want to share? 
I studied sustainable fashion in grad school and love your initiatives using recycled lace, bamboo lining and producing in the US. These small steps make a huge environmental impact and I think every company needs to do their part.
I hope that whoever is reading this can do their best to put their dollars towards companies and brands that care about the customers and Mother Nature more than they care about their net profit - in the end, the people and our planet are what matter most, and the people can't survive without the planet.
Also - I have all levels of yoga classes & guided meditations on YouTube - join me!
 
What does yoga mean to you personally & how did you get into it? 
Yoga has informed every aspect of my life — physical and mental, internal and external, in my relationships with others and myself — but it wasn’t all instantaneous. I actually had an adverse reaction to it initially when my dance teacher in high school led us through sun salutations as part of our warm up. I found it both challenging and boring — I preferred creative movement.
I stumbled upon a class at a gym during grad school in San Francisco when I was feeling especially lost and confused, cried during savasanaand in that vulnerability found myself curious enough to return and find out more about that involuntary reaction.
I’ve always understood the connection between movement and the heart/mind/something bigger, and studying yoga/meditation helped bring more light to that. I wanted deeply to share that experience with others and even when I feel discouraged I still feel that calling to serve others in that way — to support the evolution of individuals and the collective.
How do you use yoga/movement as a tool for processing your feelings and emotions? 
Yoga, movement and meditation - even my studies and experience with Ayurveda - have all helped me to learn how to be softer with myself and with others, how to observe versus judge, and how to unlink my ego to my thoughts. This is not to say that I am not still a human with feelings and emotions, but these practices have offered me a variety of tools that help me work with them more effectively and witness them instead of push them aside. For example if I am sad about something, I'm more capable of being present with that sensation even if it's difficult, and I recognize that all of this is fluid no matter what the sensation/emotion is. I've learned to be more active instead of reactive or passive, to both take control of my life and also completely surrender - which all seems counterintuitive, but is actually an incredible (and ironic) practice of trusting my intuition. 
 
What are the most important things you do to feel nourished / fulfilled? 
(Non-negotiable or that you just don't feel the same when you're not doing.) 
My non-negotiables vary - as I am learning to be more fluid with them depending on how things are going in my life - but the essence is to always have a daily practice of being present with myself.
Right now for me personally this manifests as morning meditation (ideally morning, but really just at some point during the day), journaling as often as possible, a few chants that vedic astrologers have suggested for me based on my charts (which I have come to love), and eating well.
My schedule varies as a teacher/entrepreneur, but I find great joy in cooking my own meals as often as possible - I have a few recipes on sashayogawellness.com for things like Ayurvedic-inspired oatmeal, matcha lattes, veggie bowls and clean(ish) desserts/baked goods.
Part of feeling nourished is also practicing non-judgement & non-deprivation around food - I have a notorious sweet tooth - but also more importantly surrounding myself with the things and people I love. This might mean saying YES to hanging out instead of getting work done, but also might mean saying NO to something that feels like a forced obligation versus what I actually want. I used to feel like I had to go to all of the wellness events in NYC, but I learned that sometimes staying home and going to bed early was equally as important for my physical and mental wellbeing. That being said, sometimes breaking my own policies are also important to remind myself not to take things too seriously, and that "perfectionism" is all relative.
Travel and seeing the world has also always been important to me - hence my recent relocation to Paris! - so taking trips and teaching in new places is something I will always incorporate into my life and work because it deeply enhances both my heart and my offerings to clients/students/community.
On that note - community is everything to me - family, friends, teachers, friends that feel like family, and those colleagues who both challenge and encourage me. I am outrageously inspired by the people I've had the pleasure of knowing in my life and strongly believe in the beautiful power of community. 
 
Find Sasha online at sashayogawellness.com /
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