April 18, 2012

The Sangha of Life. ~ Lauren Imparato

melissa gray

There are many days that I think I am the luckiest person alive.

The days I do not consciously think that, my body knows it, for the only reason the thought does not cross my frontal lobe is because I am running around doing the things I love, living a life I have always dreamt of living.

So how did I get here? God only knows, but as I have grown and matured, thus improving my introspective tactics, I have been able to pinpoint a few things that have helped me feel so lucky, helped me be so lucky. Here is the sangha that has made up my lucky life, and my perception of it as lucky and myself lucky in it. (sangha is the Sanskrit term for community or association, sometimes intangible, sometimes not).

1. Family.  

I love them more than words, and they love me. I know that there is not one thing my parents would not do for me. In fact, there is not one thing they have not done for me. They gave me an amazing home to grow up in, full of love and learning, and continue to do so now.  What they have given me has nothing to do with money or dollar–my father is a professor and my mother decided when I was five to stay home and raise us. It has, instead, everything to do with wisdom, compassion, integrity, and education.

My parents offered me the tools to learn, the pathway to think, and thus the ability to flourish, in whatever way I have ever desired. My sister is a gem who always keeps me on my toes. She is an inspiration, and the example of perseverance, bravery and strength. I know she has perhaps more Brooklyn Italian-American vengeance than my father who actually grew up in the ‘hood. My grandmother, La Chata. No words can explain what she has done and continues to do for me and my family, but let’s just say that when your grandmother is your best friend, it is a good sign.

Her many lessons, tangible and intangible, can best be summarized by her motto, ‘love life and it will love you.’ And from there the amazing larger network of uncles, aunts and cousins that in connection with my nuclear family creates a web of wonder that always leaves me feeling safe, and part of something larger than me and my New York apartment and job. My family has struggled and been through a litany of trials and tribulations, more than this space has room to express, but because of our belief in each other, we always persevere, even if it is a drawn out challenge.

2. Faith.

I grew up Catholic, going to Church every Sunday. But the faith I speak of has nothing to do with the denomination or the religion. It has to do with the spirit. Again and again, every day of my childhood and though every phone call back to California now, my family reminds me of the importance of cultivating the soul. Which, in reality, is the essence of a true yoga practice–the connection to that deep, internal and intangible you that is ever present, even if you forever ignore it.

This faithis in something other than these tangible belongings we long so much for. It is a faith in something more esoteric, but far more powerful, than our day to day lives. It is a faith in our true inner selves, and the connection of that inner self to something much, much greater than our rational minds can conceive. This faith in something other than me, my job, my body, my home, is what picks me up when I am down, and gives us all the ability to go beyond what we see or think we can see, think, or feel.


3. Giving Back. 

Growing up we spent one day a week giving back to the community. Whether it was taking cupcakes to the elders in a nearby old age home, packing lunches for a homeless shelter to distribute, working as a camp counselor for children with disabilities or simply going to visit a sick older friend of my family for a long afternoon, we were raised on the principle of giving, for truly it is only in giving that you receive.

Granted, there were numerous times when I would have preferred to be running around outside as opposed to giving in what were often intimidating situations for a young girl, but my parents promised one day I would understand, and that I did. When I took up my Wall Street job with little flexibility in terms of time, I changed my approach, instead donating large portions of my paycheck to organizations who actually made an on-ground difference with little overhead and giving to family members in need. Since launching I.AM.YOU., I have been lucky enough to be able to go back to the way I was raised, going on community service trips and donating my time via yoga, health, medicine and wellness. The more I give, the more I want to give, and as my parents told me, the happier I am. It really is true that all the happiness you have in the world is created by what you have done for others.

4.  My Partner. 

I have never been, and even more never seen myself as the ‘girlfriend’ type; my independence has always been too important, and my tomboy streak too strong. But with my partner, soon to be husband, of almost 10 years has never made me feel like a girlfriend, and instead led me to be more and more me. He pushes me to be a better person every day. He encourages me to follow that path to be a better person even if it is 10 times more difficult. He inspires me, teaches me, and expects that I will follow my inspiration and dreams.

He has never stood in my way, and he puts us first. It is relatively easy to find some partner in life, but it is very, very challenging to find one that you grow with, one that is your best friend, your teacher, your inspiration. One with whom your intentions are genuinely pure. One that values what you value—family, faith, and giving back. One that is selfless while being focused on yourself.

As I walked down the street today, pondering and giving thanks for this company that has helped me be who I want to be, in a world I want to be in, my mind naturally drifted towards yoga.   When yoga started two thousand years ago, it was meant to address all these points, so that everyone could feel lucky in life, and have a lucky life. (Again, by luck I do not refer to money, career success, wealth, or accolades, but rather the intangible sense of living to the fullest, as best you can, every day).

The community of practitioners served as the family, the kula. Together they meditated, ate, and practiced asana.  The dharma, ancient texts, and meditation served as the portal for faith, a faith resting in something other than you, more in lines with “I.AM.YOU.” The Buddhist yogis of Tibet approached it via logic chains, the Hindu yogis of India via moving asana meditations and their gods. But the focal point of a daily practice of faith was the same.

Giving back was expressed via Karma Yoga, the yoga of doing things for others. Simple, straight up, and exactly as it is today. The partnership that I speak of was in its most pure form that of a Guru. Someone who could remove the clouds and muck of your perception and point you in the right direction, someone with whom you would vow to stay side by side.

By fusing these elements together under one science, the science of ‘yoga,’ which literally means union, the ancient philosophers and original ‘yogis’ created a sangha for people to live lives full of light, happiness, health, enlightenment, and luck. They did not care if people could touch their toes or stand on their heads, although they assumed that if you practiced the entirety of yoga, as the designed—kula, dharma, karma and with a guru—you would be able to. They cared that you felt like I did today—happy and lucky.

Too often in today’s world the message of yoga goes missing, and the purpose of life gets forgotten. We focus instead on sweaty through badly instructed postures and climbing the ladder of job, apartment, and ‘things’ to acquire in our life. We may feel lucky for an instant, but more and more I see that instant flittering away. The good news is getting it back is not as complicated as it may seem. All it takes is taking a step back, and going back to the basic roots of living, and have belief that they will work. That the yoga will work. That the sangha works. When you do, you will float through life, feeling so lucky that you are living, every second of every day.

editor: Greg Eckard


Lauren Imparato is the founder of, I.AM.YOU., a yoga centric lifestyle brand & yoga studio in New York City. At the studio and around the globe, Lauren teaches intense, fun, and athletic Vinyasa classes, each set to a unique MusicMix designed by I.AM.YOU.’s Resident Mixologist. She works as a Nutritional Coach and offers trademarked Detox to Retox Programs as well as Career, Health & Wellness coaching – all with a realistic, urban savvy edge.  Prior to launching I.AM.YOU., Lauren worked on the Wall Street trading floors. For more on Lauren and I.AM.YOU, read her blog, check out http://iamyoustudio.tumblr.com/ visit iamyoustudio.com, or follow her on Twitter @IAMYOUstudio, and Facebook: IAMYOUstudioNYC.
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