This is a question that is forever on my mind. What is it that keeps people motivated and inspired? For me, it has been to nurture and embrace my mental, emotional, and physical pain, and perhaps even heal it.

I first came to yoga over half my life ago, as a teenager, because of “physical” reasons including the scoliosis I suffered as a young dancer. By my sophomore year in college, I experienced chronic back pain in my entire spine and repetitive stress injuries in most joints of my body. I am grateful for these pains, however, since dealing with them has helped me understand the anatomy of the body and, maybe more importantly, the mental and emotional stresses behind them.

I had an amazing physical therapist when I was 19; his name was Dave. (He appeared in my dream last night, so I thought I would shout him out. You can find him in Montclair, NJ at Focus Physical Therapy.)

He was the first medical professional, and person really, to not blame my injuries on something mechanical that I was doing while dancing, or on someone else I was dancing with, or on my eating, sleeping, other things that I thought that I was “managing” to the best of my ability. We did talk about things like posture and form, but he brought my attention to this question: “What was happening in the days, hours, and moments before the injury?” Basically, somatic mindfulness — and yes, I know it is all the rage now, but this was 14 years ago! I remember looking at him, dumbfounded for a moment (the truth hurts), but then a divine spark lit up in my eyes and I welled up with tears. The levels of stress and mental/emotional suffering was bottling up inside, was manifesting itself in distress and tension in my physical body.

Dave got me interested in guided meditations, which took my existing physical asana practice to a deeper level. I was introduced to breath work and eventually Kundalini Yoga and Meditation, which helped me embrace and understand the complex layers of mental/emotional suffering I was experiencing and that were bringing about my repetitive injuries and chronic illness. My life completely changed at that point and hasn’t stopped evolving since.

After continuing to teach dance and somatics through my twenties, receiving my various yoga certifications and teaching yoga for seven years, these “inner workings” of somatic curiosities and wonderment have continued to keep me motivated and inspired on and off the mat! Yes, I teach movement, yoga, meditation, AND I’m ALSO a somatic life coach… Someone once said to me, “Sorry, I can’t keep up with all the things you do. It doesn’t seem related.” Ego momentarily bruised, I smiled, then remembered, “Their journey, not mine.” Guess what? In that moment, I just needed a reminder that it IS all related AND IT IS ALSO WHAT MAKES ME TICK (and has been since I was a wee one). Dave was just the person to give me permission to step into my personal power and embrace it.

Sometimes knowing what makes you tick and sticking with it isn’t easy! It’s hard practicing embodiment in a disembodied world. It’s hard to stay connected with nature and the cycles of the moon when it’s easier to stare at screens for most of our day or grab a “quick bite to eat”. It’s hard to stay vulnerable and honest, connected with people who fill us up with love when we may not always remember we deserve that naturally from patterning in the past…

These are all daily challenges that require me to practice what I preach. It requires me to not only fill myself with self-care, love, light and hope, but sit with the pain and darkness compassionately instead of numbing it out, and know that the pain is me too, and it has great wisdom for me.

So… “What makes you tick?” If that’s a tough question, if you’re not aligned with it, get yourself on a cushion this week, or just lay down on the floor, or free-write in your journal, and settle into the vast stillness of the heart space. Sometimes we need permission to step into our power. Collectively, we are being given a green light right now with the New Moon Solar Eclipse so USE IT!


Workshop: Sunday, March 12, 2-4pm @ Portal 18

Full Moon in Virgo: Kundalini Workshop with Herbal Remedies

Join Nicole Smith Levay for a Kundalini Yoga & Meditation Workshop honoring the Full Moon in Virgo with special guest herbalist Jen O’Donnell of Green Bridge Botanicals. Leave feeling grounded, while aligned with your purpose. End the class with a special gong bath savasana. Ritual for forgiveness and gratitude, as well as tips on herbal remedies to support this part of the lunar cycle and your own rituals at home. All are welcome, no prior experience with Kundalini Yoga or herbalism necessary.

* We will be sitting on the floor and cushions for a lot of the experience.

** Space is extremely limited (max 12 participants) and we will sell out!

Investment: $30 or two punches of your Portal 18 class card (if paying with your class card, you must register in advance at Portal 18).

Register at Portal 18