It was about 90 degrees outside as I sat sweating in a barely bloomed lotus position on the outdoor deck of The Surf Lodge in Montauk this past Labor Day weekend. I had traveled here from New York City to participate in a “Miracles” workshop with the New Age guru, Gabrielle Bernstein. To my left and right, about 150 other women stretched and chatted, their golden temporary tattoos glinting in the sun (free packets were given away to all the participants). As a buoyant, impossibly taut blonde wearing capri leggings and a big floppy hat strode toward a makeshift shrine at the front of the stage, a hush fell over the crowd. “Good morning spirit junkies!” she boomed into the mike. She had long blonde hair, huge almond eyes, and a figure that looked like it could fit in your pocket. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “though she [appeared] but little she seemed fierce.”
As the sweat dribbled down my cheek and the muscle between my butt and upper thigh began to ache, I listened to her outline the morning’s agenda. We would start with a 20-minute guided meditation, then move on to Kundaluni yoga (“I promise to kick your ass,” she said with a demonically enthusiastic grin) and then finish with some stretching. It was hot as hell. But nobody seemed to mind. In fact, I think it’s fair to say this crowd was jazzed, as excited to be within spitting distance of Gabby Bernstein as certain colleagues in my office would have been to sit down with Madonna. Many of them had traveled from all over the country—and the world—to be there that day. The air was filled with sweat and giddy anticipation.
For the next two hours, we meditated and did yoga, closing our eyes and swinging our hips as we held bicep-crushing poses to the throbbing beat of a playlist designed by Google Play Music. At one point, a woman behind me actually cried. While I myself never technically shed a tear, I would be lying if I said the experience didn’t move me. At the end of the workshop, I felt spent but deliriously high.
As I wandered back to my bungalow, I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly makes Gabby Bernstein—and the hipster brand of spirituality she is peddling—so compelling. And then it hit me: It's her. Unlike some of the older spiritual teachers I had met in my ongoing quest to become more Zen, Berstein is cool and funny, as charismatic as she is self deprecating and honest. Sure, the words “flow” and “vibe” get thrown around a lot, but there’s a very 2015 sensibility to her messaging. She gets you, she gets your life, and before she’s done with you, she’s going to inspire you to be a better (not to mention happier) person. No wonder she’s been called a “next-generation thought leader” by Oprah.
Since getting clean 10 years ago, the self-described “spirit junkie” (and brand ambassador for Philosophy skincare) has used her story—and subsequent journey—to help inspire and enlighten thousands of people to live a more positive, meaningful life. To get a full sense of her philosophy and mission, I highly recommend getting her new book, Miracles Now ($13, amazon.com). In the meantime, here is a Cliffs Notes version from my “Miracles in Montauk” weekend:
Step 1: Pay attention.
“Start looking at the negative thought patterns in your daily life,” Bernstein says. “What triggers set you off?” Write down your biggest fears, she advises in Miracles Now. Next to each one, explain the reason you believe this fear to be true. “You may find that your fear is based on an experience from the past that you’ve been replaying over and over again for decades,” Bernstein explains. “Or it may be based on some future event that hasn’t even happened. As you look at your fears head-on, you’ll begin to see how much of what you fear is just false evidence appearing real. When you act on this false evidence, you create chaos in your life.”
Step 2: Stop panicking, start belly breathing.
So what do you do with all that negative energy once you’ve isolated it? Instead of acting out, Bernstein recommends using a yogic breathing technique to let it go. “Most people breathe the opposite way they’re supposed to,” she explains. When you’re stressed out, you tend to take shallow breaths, which actually increases production of the stress hormone cortisol. “A proper Kundaluni breath expands the lungs and diaphragm,” she says. To make sure you are doing it right, put your hand on your stomach, breath in for five seconds, hold, then release for five seconds, making sure that your stomach is extending on the inhale and contracting on the exhale (check out this video featuring Bernstein for a good visual). To release stress, practice this breathing for a minute and half at first, working up to 11 minutes (if you can). “As you breathe, visualize yourself pulling air into space where you feel that sadness and fear—allow it to be present—breathe in, and in that 90 seconds you can change your experience of that feeling,” she says.
Step 3: Be compassionate toward you.
Once you have a better understanding of the triggers that have been driving a lot of your anxiety and/or self doubt, “rewrite the script inside your head,” Bernstein says. “Talk to yourself the way you would speak to a child.” Do not judge, do not criticize. “Happiness is a choice you make.”
Step 4: Forgive yourself or someone else.
There is a reason that pretty much every major world religion emphasizes the importance of forgiveness: Without letting go of grievances, it is impossible to live with joy in the present. Bernstein offers this advice: “If someone else is making you feel disconnected, simply say, ‘I release you. I choose to forgive you.’ Use it as a mantra. Ultimately a state of grace will set in— just by setting the intention to forgive someone and let go.”
Step 5: Proactively incorporate mindful moments throughout your day.
This could be something as simple as repeating an affirmation that you post on a kitchen wall, or using an app that periodically reminds you to take a walk outside or a few deep breaths (I swear by the Headspace app, free on iTunes). If you find mornings particularly brutal, consider downloading Bernstein's own Spirit Junkie app ($2, itunes.apple.com), which wakes you up with a new affirmation every day (you can also reset it to go off at different times during the day). Even the products you use in your daily life can help remind you to be more mindful. Bernstein says part of the reason she got involved with Philosophy is because of the positive messaging behind all their products. (Instead of calling out problems, they use names like purity, grace, and miracle worker). The line also donates 1 percent of all profits to support women’s mental health issues (check out their charity page for more info). Which leads us to her final point...
Step 6: When you’re feeling helpless, help someone.
Bernstein says that many of the people she has met feel disconnected from their life’s purpose. “This issue isn’t that they have no purpose, rather, it’s that they’ve forgotten their true purpose: To be love and share love.” Donating your time or resources to a cause greater than yourself is like putting money into your spiritual bank. Not only will these efforts put your “problems” into perspective, they will help fill a void in your soul. "You'll be guided out of your own way by serving others," says Bernstein.