Desiree Pais is an NYC-based Kundalini yoga teacher, beauty editor, and acupuncture student, among other things. I first met her a few summers ago in Brooklyn when I felt really compelled to do a one-on-one session with her. We instantly clicked and I’ve really loved watching her dynamic journey unfold (please go check out her gorgeous Instagram account, if you haven’t already). We decided to have a super low-key text conversation in lieu of the traditional interview style. Below is the (only slightly) edited conversation. We delve into the grit: Addiction, creativity, French culture, depression, Cardi B, Yogi Bhajan’s women’s teachings, and the sometimes Stepford Wives vibe of the wellness world. Along the way, D drops some serious pearls of wisdom. Enjoy, loves!
Emmalea Russo: Hey love! You’re killing it lately. What’s your life’s highlight reel at the moment?
Desiree Pais: I've been reading this book called Great at Work and it's changing my life in terms of how I want to show up in the world. It reiterated what I knew all along: doing too much (school, teaching, creative consulting, etc) was just a tactic because I was afraid one would fail rather than picking 1-2 things and becoming really good at them. So that's what I've been doing lately — slicing my life up in a way that allows me to become more powerful because I'm honing in on that power rather than giving it away by doing too much. I've also distanced myself from a lot of people and experiences that I gave my power away to... doesn't mean forever because I adore these people but I think it's especially important to go within and figure out how one shows up in the world without influence of others, which can be challenging in the wellness / spiritual world because we have teachers, mentors, etc. but we also know the answers, too. It is the shift of the Piscean to Aquarian after all.
In terms of highlight reel, in very excited to finally finish school this summer in the month that would mark my 6th year in school!
ER: I love what you said about slicing your life up and not giving your power away. It's so easy to get depleted. Congrats on finishing school! I remember when I first met you and we ran into each other outside of your acupuncture school! What are your post-school plans and how does acupuncture fit into your overall healing/Kundalini/spiritual practices?
DP: I'll be working with Chris! Let's see how long a Taurus and Scorpio can work together without killing each other....
Everything is so related. Honestly I'm taking a step back from trying to figure out how it all ties into each other and just focus on one thing at a time - finish school. Then I'll see how it all comes together.
ER: Love it. I’m always so drawn to Scorpio women! What healers, teachers, artists, practices are you super excited about at the moment? You’re such the tastemaker.
DP: Ellinor Stigle. She’s an amazing photographer (Interview Mag, Document Journal, etc). She wears all black like Rick Owens style but with blonde hair and blue eyes. She’s Swedish. Nicest sweetest person I know and SUCH a Yogi.
She really inspired me like no one else. She’s very quiet about her life / doesn’t preach all the things and practices she does. She just does them and I love it. It’s for her. She’s super healthy but never talks about it. And Simon Porte. He’s so happy and carefree. Oh and Thomas Jones of course. He’s the only person I work with aside from Chris. I call Thomas the Wizard of 27th Street. I send everyone to him.
ER: Wait Ellinor sounds incredible. Her works looks so interesting and specific. YOU are so real and honest about finding balance/authenticity in the sometimes too perfect seeming wellness situation. How did this happen and did you have an ah-ha moment or what?
DP: It was actually two years ago when I did 40 days of Long Ek Ong Kars. I started to feel very creative and also very sexy again. I’ll never forget that. I started to become more inspired by the fashion/creative world again — Jeanne Damas, Simon Porte, Jacquemus, the Posternak sisters, Sophie Buhai, and then I discovered Alexandra Nataf and Unconditional Magazine. I happened to date a guy who was up that alley and he was so handsome and successful but very stressed out. I wondered — "wow okay so Kundalini yoga awakens your potential/creative energy and also takes away stress and fatigue from the body. There’s really something here and the whole goal is to be creative, not obsessive…"
I realized in my personal experience the wellness world was just another big eating disorder trying to obsess my way into perfection. The to-do list of what I needed to be healthy and happy got longer and longer and I became more stressed out by it.
ER: YES! I love how you said the creative and not the obsessive. This is the whole thing with Plain Alchemy — this idea that we don’t have to stop being wild artists or whoever we were “pre-wellness.” These practices can and do make you more creative but only if you don’t burn off that energy with excessive puritanical obsessing.
I remember one of the first times we talked — I was telling you how I felt split between the art and wellness worlds and you were like “never forget how powerful it is to be an artist.” Basically, when we are in our authenticity, we get into that creative flow. Right? But when we try to align ourselves with an idea of perfection, POOF. The magic is gone. This obsessiveness is very American. I think you and I share an affinity for French women/culture.
DP: Yes! I think that Europeans are just more relaxed in general and therefore more tuned in. Tapped into their authentic selves. Americans obsess about perfectionism. Chris and I talk about this —- it’s very latitude and longitude based. On the planet. You can take yourself to a difference area and experience difference consciousness.
ER: Yes. That makes so much sense. But how do we embody that consciousness here?
DP: It’s challenging! Really have to go against the grain. I think who you surround yourself with is very important. Social media detoxes are SUPER important. This is where the Kundalini comes in and it’s really helpful to change patterns and shift how we feel about ourselves but I think we also have to figure out what REALLY inspires us. Like for one example for me it’s rap music - WOW. Concerts, listening to it, the pulse. I can totally shift my mood in one song. Those are the tools — the things that we can do to instantly feel good. IMMEDIATELY without having to self-improve.
I’m really inspired by a lot of rappers. So many of them came from hell and made something of themselves. A lot of people don’t know my background and what I went through in my youth. Drug overdoses, suicides, heroin addicts, etc. I saw ripples of hell and the effects of it and so when i see people who can come out of that and make something of themselves, I have so much respect for them.
Like Cardi B - she was a stripper who became a stripper to be able to afford to move out of her boyfriend’s house who was beating her. And now look at her. And I respect her because she knows who she is. She’s like “I’m naughty and I’m not going to change that. I’m not trying to be a role model I’m too x rated but I am trying to show people that they can become anything they want to.”
ER: Absolutely. I totally agree and I LOVE Cardi B. There is this light that comes with making it out of hell. There’s also not enough compassion in our culture re: drug addiction and these kinds of invisible hells. Drug addiction, abuse, mental illness, etc. — these things are so often overlooked or even judged because we can’t SEE them in the same way we can see more physical ailments. We’re such a visually obsessed people. That’s where the fear mongering comes in. But when you go to these dark — your whole consciousness can change. It can e a really wild reset. I experience this with epilepsy and serious mood stuff, depression, etc. How do your past experiences impact the way you show up in the world?
DP: I think seeing so much reality at a young age really affected me and contributed to a lot of the eating disorders, the depression, anxiety. When I was 8 my mom’s stepbrother overdosed and seeing my grandfather leaning over the open casket talking to his son was really hard to watch. We had a few more deaths in between there but the hardest was my mom’s best friend overdosed when I was 17 and we had to essentially kidnap her kids who were my age, from their father. My mom took it upon herself to adopt them until they were both 18 and it was hell. The pain they went through. My brother never recovered. He became a drug addict and is in and out of rehab and has done things that hurt my heart so much. I can see his pain. He and his mom got in a fight the night before she died and he never got to say goodbye and essentially subconsciously feels it’s his fault. So I’ve learned a lot about humanity and pain and sadness and also helplessness. Feeling like things will never change. I’ve experienced depression my whole life. It comes and goes and I’m really learning how to not be afraid of being happy and trusting that life is on my side. I felt like I was finally at a good place by the end of last year and then found out someone very close to me has cancer and it’s been really hard to accept their choice of not wanting to treat it and watching so many people around get hurt from that.
I’m really grateful for Chris—he’s been my rock and support system through all of this. From day 1 — teaching me how to go through all of the experiences of being human without judgement. It’s not easy and I totally understand that. Kundalini helps immensely but I do a lot of other things too. Mental illness hurts just as much as physical and sometimes I’m like..you got out of bed today, you get a gold star.
ER: Oh man. That’s so much reality at such a young age. At any age, really. You came out so bright. But I think what initially drew me to you is the realness — the way you show your darkness and grit. So important especially in the wellness world. I also have terrible experiences with drug addiction and people I love. And depression is ongoing. It’s all so connected. And I love that you talk about Chris so much. Everyone should have a mentor/teacher/rock. I wonder who Cardi B’s is.
DP: LOL prolly herself.
ER: Exactly re: the gold star. I’m like, where’s the applause? And sometimes love and light and yoga is not the thing.
DP: Well I think the love and light of the wellness world is like that movie Stepford Wives. It’s kind of creepy.
ER: So creepy. I don’t buy it.
DP: I can’t relate to people like that. I was never able to even when I was IN it.
ER: Ah I love her. She is so embodied and HERSELF.
ER: I used to teach yoga and I remember this one time I had a total meltdown and this guy I knew was like “Practice what you preach.” And that kind of attitude can be a problem, right? Like, the strange pressure to sterilize ourselves and not have moods.
DP: Well I think it’s two-fold. I think there are ways we can show up bigger and practice what we preach. If someone says that to me I know it’s not unwarranted. No one will ever say anything to us that we don’t already think about ourselves. So I’ll always look for ways to take personal responsibility in those moments. And two it’s not about not having moods and feelings but about being graceful with them.
ER: Yes. It’s both. Which is sort of the heart of these practices — okay here’s this feeling and I’m going to feel it and not Stepford-Wives-it, but let’s figure out how to not spew that energy at others. Which is such a lifelong practice for me.
DP: It’s like my dad for example. He’s a huge trigger for me. We can get into huge blowups. Like, atomic bomb status. And I get very dramatic with him which in turn causes him to call me emotional, dramatic, etc. It’s like because he doesn’t give into acting the way I want him to act, I create drama to get a reaction and it’s so destructive. So I’ve had to learn to stop the circuit before it starts. Which is very hard but that’s the practice. That’s why we do these Kriyas and meditations. To be able to go against the grain of how we usually act. So the other day we had this really heated discussion and instead of flipping out I was able to say, I love you and I can feel this is not the best time to have this conversation with you, let’s talk about it later. And a huge incident was averted. But it took a lot of power for me to be able to do so many things at once — put myself in his shoes, not react emotionally, go against the grain of normal patterns. These are all in the women’s teachings that Yogi Bhajan left behind.
ER: YES. It’s so hard to change energy dynamics. It’s like creating a new pathway in the brain. That’s why the teachings are so applicable to the daily life stuffs.
Ugh! I feel like this conversation could go on forever but I guess we have to wrap. Thank you so much for chatting!
DP: Adore you!!!!!
ER: Adore you my dear!!!!!