By Nicole Berrie
Photography by Libby Gray
IT’S A HUMID MONDAY EVENING in July. My hands are held above my head and I’m shaking. Loud music blares from an iPod speaker into a crowded, hot room. No, I’m not at a downtown rave. I’m at a meditation workshop at Golden Bridge Yoga led by New York Times bestselling author and motivational speaker Gabrielle Bernstein. Still, there are enough sweaty bodies and Alexander Wang mini messengers to feel like the former. Ms. Bernstein, with Gisele-like tawny waves cascading long past her shoulders, is dressed in a white Reformation jumpsuit (Kundalini practitioners wear white to expand the aura, deflect negativity and help uplift mood.) “Shake it out!” she yells over Florence and the Machine. Her audience—a group of about fifty women in their twenties and thirties—dutifully follow her lead, shaking their extremities maniacally in the thick air in order to dislodge any negative belief systems they possess. At first, I shake self-consciously, then whole-heartedly. After three minutes wringing my arms I feel high. Immediately following, Bernstein leads the group into an eleven-minute meditation. Later, we retreat to the Juice Press.
With three best-selling tomes (Add More –Ing To Your Life, Spirit Junkie, May Cause Miracles) and counting, Ms. Bernstein has become a guru to countless young women who seek inner peace but are not ready to retreat to a monastic existence. (Think the Dalai Lama, if the Dalai Lama had a penchant for stilettos, Mad Men and American Apparel tank tops.) Through meditation, affirmations and prayer, Ms. Bernstein routinely encourages her ever-growing audience to “choose love over fear” and “listen to your inner guidance system”. Sound pretty straightforward? Try doing it everyday and every moment. At rush hour. On that date. During that job interview. Not so easy. But Ms. Bernstein has provided the map—complete with podcasts, apps and Twitter updates—to, at the very least, try. (Enough so that Oprah wanted to know what all the buzz was about, featuring Ms. Bernstein on a panel of next generation of miracle workers on OWN earlier this year.) Recently, we had the opportunity to catch up with Ms. Bernstein over a steaming bowl of vegetarian chili at one of her favorite neighborhood haunts Angelika’s Kitchen in New York’s East Village where she dished on how to meditate, her greatest lesson and her (semi) guilty pleasures.
In your lectures and in your first book, you constantly talk about the “ING” and the importance of adding more of it to our lives. What are you talking about?
“Ing” is inner guidance. It’s the opposite of the ego. A Course In Miracles calls it spirit, I call it inner guide. That voice is your intuition. It’s the voice that wants to support your life in a greater way. My book “Add More Ing To Your Life” is all about helping people release whatever is blocking them to their inner guidance system and to start to reconnect to that voice.
What would you say the major roadblock is in reconnecting with our inner guide?
The ego. The ego is synonymous with fear. It’s the fear voice that keeps your separate and disconnects you from others through judging, attacking, self-sabotaging and does not want to forgive. It rules everyone’s lives. Even if you are really mindful and conscious, the ego can still take over.
So how do you get rid of the ego?
The more mindful and aware your ego’s beliefs and behaviors, the easier it is to choose a different thought. It’s an unlearning. If you’re in a forgiving place you cannot sustain that ego belief system. They don’t coexist. Through the daily practice of choosing love over fear, you begin to unlearn the fear.
What are the first steps to reconnecting to your inner voice?
Prayer and meditation are the first steps. Prayer is conscious contact with a power greater than you. Meditation is when you can be still enough to hear the message that you’re supposed to hear.
You always say never deprive anyone of their bottom. What was yours?
I was in and out of nightclubs and trying to keep up with all the sceney things New York is. Just very obsessed with where the next party was, who the hot new promoter was etc. I was using drugs and alcohol and looking outside of myself for a sense of completion. I hit my bottom when I realized that I was no longer being nice to people. I was being mean to my family. The days were bleeding into the nights.
What was the most valuable lesson you’ve learned throughout your work?
Idolizing anything outside of yourself was really big for me because at the time I was so disillusioned by making people outside of myself special—particularly romantic partners. I was losing that sense of self-love and confidence because I thought that somebody outside of myself would fill me up. The message of oneness and equality was probably the biggest deal for me.
What is the biggest issue or complaint you see among twenty/thirty year olds across the country?
The main issue is fear. People have hooked into fear and they let that fear voice become their voice. One common theme is this next generation has a strong sense that they are here to do something great but they don’t know how to handle it rather than allow it to happen.
Throughout your work, you encourage people to meditate, even if for just one minute a day. What is the benefit of meditation?
There are so many. Meditation balances the hemispheres of your brain. You calm your nervous system. You radically reduce stress. It makes you more beautiful.
It makes you more beautiful?
Meditation actually will expand your magnetic field. You begin to look lighter and your presence is very pleasant to people. There is more power in your presence. You start to magnetize people, situations and support.
What are tips for the person who says “they can’t meditate”?
A really great beginner meditation is to lightly place your forefingers on your pulse and your thumb under your wrist. Let the pulse vibrate against the fingertips and go along with the mantra “Sat Nam”. Sat Nam means truth identified. Just breathe deeply and hold your pulse with Sat Nam.
How long is good to meditate?
1-3 minutes is great.
How long do you meditate?
It depends on the day. These days I’m doing at least a half hour of Kundalini Yoga and a ten-minute meditation on average. I feel very called to do that on a daily basis. Every time you check in your breath, you become more meditative. Throughout the day I have time where I tune in.
Do you believe eating affects your energy?
Insanely. These days I am gluten-free, dairy free and caffeine free. I have coconut palm sugar. I try to juice by day and eat salads by night. But totally raw isn’t good for me. I lean vegan. I haven’t had meat or fish for a while but I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t.
So that means, no guilty pleasures?
I’m obsessed with the raw donuts at Gingersnap’s— and those Panda licorice.
In your first book, you incorporate a lot of exercise and movement. What do you do to exercise now?
Occasionally I’ll work out in the gym. The rest is Kundalini yoga. The bikini kriya. I renamed it. It’s called the advanced kriya. It has a lot of crazy calistethics. I love frog pose, which is like squats almost. The kriya I’m doing is cardio. Your heart rate is definitely racing.
How do you handle friends or romantic partners who don’t have a spiritual practice?
Mind your own side of the street. Grow your own practice and trust that as you shine brighter, you’ll give people permission to shine bright too. They’ll start to want what you have and they’ll want to know what you do.
There is much talk about transitioning into the Aquarian Age. What does that mean?
From an astrological standpoint, once you reach a certain point in time, the energy shifts. Prior to this, we were in the Piscean Age where the energy was all about the individual rising up. Individuals fighting for their money, Madoff, the banks. The Aquarian age is about people working together and more people rising up rather than the individual. It has to be that the masses rise up because there is so much chaos that we need to balance the chaos with a group energy. This is a time of compassion. Yogi Bhajan said in this time, one third of the masses will commit suicide, one third will die and one third will wake up. If you identify as the third that is going to wake up, you have to take it very seriously, because you have to be a balance of the energy.
What was the last piece of great advice that you received?
My mentor Gramouk said not to talk about my spiritual practice with the people who are close to me. Don’t try to convert people, just be. Don’t talk about how spiritual you are, just be spiritual.
GABRIELLE’S TIPS ON HOW TO HAVE A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE:
1. Find a yoga studio or meditation group. It’s nice to have an anchor for bringing yourself back to that calm space that you might not be able to get to on your own.
2. It’s really helpful to have a spiritual running buddy especially if you live in the city. People find that being on a spiritual path can be very isolating. A Course In Miracles says when one or more gather that’s when real miracles occur because they’re gathering in the name of love so the energy is greater.