Archives for posts with tag: yoga

I’m going to a baby shower this afternoon for a woman who had the inspired notion to register for gift cards to Whole Foods, something I am absolutely going to copy if I have the opportunity one day. My mom, sister-in-law, and I combined funds for one of these gift cards, and I volunteered to pick it up (really, I will use any excuse to go to Whole Foods). We thought it would be nice to add something more “gifty” and baby-oriented to the present as well, and initially I was going to grab something small off her registry, until I saw this:

Batteries not necessary

Yes, my friends. I offer you the classic wooden ring skill toy. Inexpensive, simple, and ironically “modern” in its retro-minimalism.

What initially struck me about this toy was the clear memories I have of not my own model, but the plastic version my younger siblings played with. I can clearly recall these then tiny people engrossed in the activity of successfully stacking the rings. Once the rings were mastered, they moved on to the intermediate level, stacking wooden letter blocks. Eventually, they entered the expert phase: making words out of the letters on their stacking blocks.

The classic toys are just so wonderfully simple, yet still attractive and beneficial, dare I say, even “fun.” It is this very simplicity, perhaps, that is the key to their staying power. They might even become trendy. After all, the “simple” has an undeniable modern appeal.

Take, for instance, running. There could not be a simpler way to exercise. You need your own body and, ideally, space. But space isn’t even an absolute necessity as it is possible to run in place. Same story with yoga. At its core, yoga is about moving and contorting your own body. No gimmicks. No energy gels. Just controlled movement.

Of course, we do have a knack for complicating the simple, and I’m absolutely guilty of falling prey to the allure of fancy accoutrements. We’ve yuppified running with fancy footwear that, ironically, is supposed to mimic bare feet. (I know. I own a pair of these and love them). We have a whole consumer market for running apparel that wicks away our sweat and increasings aerodynamics. For yoga, we have mats made from sticky tree rubber to increase stability, four million different styles of yoga pants, and even yoga gloves and socks. And lets not forget the countless popular publications that repeat the same information every month and offer the occasionally useful smoothie recipe for burning more calories.

Still, when stripped down to their basic selves, running and yoga are inherently uncomplicated. They are simple, like the classic wooden skill toy. Even though I have a tendency to pile on layers of unnecessaries, maybe it’s that simplicity that I find attractive. Unlike the complex, the simple always seems possible.

~Arrivederci

 

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A few weeks ago I was one in a line of about 10 people, all of us inverted. We were all balancing on our arms, feet reaching for the ceiling, (thankfully) ballasted by the wall.

While inversions were required elements of our training that weekend (though we were not required to actually perform inversions, just learn about them),  our Master Trainer, Kelli, questioned these poses. She said,

“A lot of people get into yoga because they want to do poses like headstands and arm balances because they look challenging and impressive. I always ask myself and my students, though, what our intent is when trying these poses. Why, for example, would I want to do a headstand?”

Being currently in a supported headstand, I was struck by the realization that I seldom consciously ponder my intent.

(Honestly, my first thought in response was “Why wouldn’t you want to do a headstand?” Not so introspective there, V.)

Kelli’s discussion of intent stemmed primarily from a recent article in Yoga Journal that charted the increase in chiropractic appointments by individuals who had been practicing yoga for a short amount of time. The article (which I am trying to refind) considers how yoga has developed a competitive aspect since gaining in popularity in the U.S., and that competition leads people to attempt poses they do not have the strength to achieve. The result is almost always injury to some degree. Kelli encouraged us all to make our intent a continual consideration when developing our personal practice.

I was reminded of this piece of my training when I saw this pose, Fallen Angel:

I instantly printed off the “directions” for easing into this pose to page protect and insert into my yoga binder. (I will literally organize anything.) Then I felt a little Jiminy-Cricket-Kelli on my shoulder whispering about intent.

What, then, is my intent for trying to master this pose?

To be honest, I have to start by confessing that it just looks cool. But my more mature reason is that in order to do this pose, I would have to work on balance, core strength, and stability, all of which I am trying to improve. So, while my intent is mostly based on physical goals, there is a hint of unabashed attraction to the coolness factor.

(You have to admit, though, this pose looks pretty awesome.)

While we may not necessarily talk about intention overtly, I believe we do consider this idea whenever we ask of ourselves or someone else, “But why?” (I happen to get asked this question quite a bit, in fact, as I just happen to take a lot of “curvy roads” in the day-to-day.)

But I do agree with Kelli that we should be more conscious in asking “why,” or considering our intent, and certainly not just within the context of yoga poses. Perhaps identifying the true or honest nature of our intent would help us to find more motivation for success, or even recognize certain pursuits or goals that may not be healthy or responsible.

While I am presently pausing to analyze my personal intent for present and future goals such as adapting to a vegan/raw food plan, natural childbirth (if, that is, I am blessed with kids one day), not buying a house, feeding my future kids only real food, or making my own laundry detergent (thanks A.Hab!), I do see the need for all of us to be more vocal about asking each other the true intent of our actions or “dreams.”

Feel free to pause and get all existential and stuff in considering intention and action…

I am thoroughly tempted to launch into a polemic on society, but I won’t. For this lovely Saturday morning, I think it’s enough to end by simply asking you all to spend a second with me asking ourselves the intent behind some of the choices we make.

That’s heavy enough for a weekend.

~Arrivederci

*Image courtesy of Yoga Journal

I think of sun salutations when I hear Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.” A Sting song starts playing and I want to move into a Moonflower flow. Sarah McLachlan’s “Answer”? Child’s Pose.

If I hear a song for the first time I now involuntarily mull over what poses could match the song. At this very moment, in fact, I’m listening to The Civil Wars, a band brand new to me recommended by lovely Shanna. Their song “Poison & Wine” just started, and I have visions of how beautifully the tune would fit a deep supine stretch pose…(Hmm…I might add it to the playlist for tomorrow’s class…)

Maybe it’s because I started taking yoga in a gym setting where classes are usually sequenced to playlists that exercise seems to beg to be accompanied by music. Anyone who has ever taken a Les Mills class at their gym knows what I’m talking about. The Bobypump one-song-per-muscle-group is familiar, friendly. It’s nice to know that when Pink stops singing, I’m done working my back and we’re moving to triceps. Maybe my comfort with gym classes has something to do with why my yoga practice includes soundtracks. I would even venture to say that my yoga practice needs soundtracks.

Yogis across the globe commence cringing.

There is, perhaps, something very “Western” in my obsession with incorporating music whenever possible, and especially with yoga. “Real” practitioners would undoubtedly encourage me to “allow myself to find music in the rhythm of my breaths,” or “honor the beauty of silence” in my poses. At the very least, they might offer, I should limit my playlists to instrumentals. Indeed, classes at the studios and Ashram I’ve attended are playlist-free zones, save for some chanting in Sanskrit (which, again, is not my thing).

And I get their point, I suppose. (Wasn’t it Simon & Garfunkle who crooned about the sound of silence?)

I “get” that I should be able to be comfortable with silence, that I might even benefit from eliminating all aural distractions in order to better concentrate on my alignment, that contemporary Western society has a seemingly insatiable desire for constant distraction and “noise” and a yoga practice could provide moments of escape. Ok. I get that.

But I like music with my yoga.

I like making playlists for different types of practices. (I even have a page dedicated to various playlists that is desperate for an update.) I have a whole folder of yoga playlists on iTunes that I add to constantly. I like that listening to music reminds me of yoga and how much I like yoga.

And I really like how the right song can actually accentuate the goal of a pose, and how easy it is to forget about my dissertation in those moments.

Even though my need for melody with my Reclining Pigeon is possibly a weakness, I have no plans to turn off my playlist. In fact, I am always looking for new songs to add to my little repertoire of yogic playlistasanas. So, I ask all of you, what are some songs you listen to that I should add?

~Arrivederci

 

This will be a short post, but consider this more as a foreshadowing of what is to come rather than a lazy offering from a sleepy writer…

I’m in the middle of yet another yoga training. Despite the fact that I’m functioning on very little shut-eye and may, in fact, be writing whilst in a REM cycle, I am thoroughly convinced that I’ve been yoga-ing for sixteen hours in two days based on the fatigue creeping through my frame. My legs are sore, especially my thighs; my core smarts, and my shoulders feel like I benchpressed couches all day.

All this pain makes me wonder…

Isn’t yoga supposed to be relaxing?

When I first started practicing yoga I was surprised at how hard it was. I thought I was decently in shape from Bodypump and Boot Camp classes, but yoga is a very different animal. Yes, yes, there is relaxation at the end that makes one feel amazing and calm, but that final relaxation follows a great deal of work. Sun salutations, standing balances, Warrior sequences, twists, arm balances…

So much stretching…So much tightening…So much holding of the poses…

Granted, I actually like the work phases of a yoga class. I like the burn that lets me know my body is changing and I’m getting stronger.

But sometimes it’s just sooooo hard…

~Arrivederci

…At least, that was the conclusion this past weekend in my Level 3 Yogafit training.

The theme of Level 3 is Introspection (Sidenote: the OCD side of me loves that Yogafit has themes for the trainings. So much organization…Le sigh of happiness…). Although we did spend a lot of time in poses and two-hour “master” practices, which is why I have been very much aware of my shoulders and quads since Saturday afternoon, we spent more time than I expected just talking and journaling.

One of the most interesting and, dare I say in the parlance of pre-teens and those of us who cannot shake the most awesome verbiage of adolescence, “cool” topics was that of the heart. Like, I mean, the actual, like, heart, and stuff.

We mused about how the human heart pumps blood to itself first, then to the rest of the body. Smart, right? Much like whence flying we are instructed to put oxygen masks on ourselves first so that we can more effectively and successfully mask and help those around us, the heart takes care of itself, then sends that lovely, red, oxygenated goo to the other fleshy bits. We related this brilliant move of the heart to the need for us as individuals to practice that same approach in our own lives.

I have to admit, at first I cringed at this idea. I’m not one to tout notions of “self-love” and what could be construed as selfishness. (I also was not totally into the whole chakra convo, but that is for another post). I tend to enforce the belief in my own life that others should always come before self. However, the more we talked, the more I started to understand at least the logic of this approach. I know that I am not very useful to anyone if I eat poorly, procrastinate, or (sacre bleu) haven’t had my morning coffee, or afternoon coffee…or mid-afternoon coffee…or elenvensies coffee….

Between physical practice and discussion, we were encouraged to journal about whatever would help us clear the clutter out of our minds by putting thoughts on paper. I spent a good deal of my journaling minutes struggling with the implications of following the logic of the heart. Conceptually, of course, I understood the intent, but I could not shake the nagging thought that the little-organ-that-could may not provide the best and most moral path. Nevertheless, I also could not completely reject the sensical notion of concentrating on self before focusing on others.

After much internal debate, and several practices of inversion poses, I came to the following conclusions:

  • There is a difference between self-love and self betterment
  • It is necessary to take care of oneself before attempting to take care of others
  • The taking care of oneself is not inherently selfish

Here is my reasoning:

  • Self betterment involves introspection and recognizing our own weaknesses, strengths, gifts, etc.
  • It is necessary to better ourselves first so that we can more effectively and intelligently help others.
  • Taking care of oneself is simply responsible.

What led to these conclusions was the reason I was at this training to begin with. I desire to be a healthier, more active,
more balanced person, and yoga is helping me work towards those goals in conjunction with and not in opposition to my faith. The healthier I am (spiritually, physically, emotionally, psychologically), the less I will require of others both now and as I age. And the more I can learn about yoga, and the more advanced I become in my own practice, the better I will be able to help and teach those around me, which is a desire I am cultivating.

So, while I did learn much about new poses, modifications, and breathings, I did not expect to come away with a self-realization. Well played Yogafit, well played.

~Arrivederci

(My apologies for the brevity of this post. I’m very sleepy at the moment.)

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading a few of my beautiful friends, one of whom is my lovely friend A.Hab, in a restorative yoga practice. I have to admit, I was probably more nervous last night than I was when I taught at the gym. I was concerned that it would be difficult for my friends to see me in an “instructor” role.

Turns out, I was worried for nothing.

It was so rewarding to be able to give something to my friends who have supported me throughout all of my crazy ideas. I hope to have the opportunity to introduce them to more poses and lead them through more sequences very soon!

Also, I sailed again today. It was awesome, even though I got a wee bit of sunburn. Our new instructor, John, told us to become comfortable moving around on the boat. So, I spent some time lounging on the bow in the sun while one of my classmates sailed us on course. It was glorious. Next time I’m wearing shorts to take advantage of the sun. I’m also wearing a bucket of sunscreen.

Life=amazing

~Arrivederci

Yesterday, I taught a yoga class. A real yoga class. Pretty weird.

One of my regular yoga instructors asked me to sub for her at a rather large gym. Of course, I went to a class at this gym first to determine how comfortable I would be in attempting my first go at instruction in such a formal setting. I was happy to find that the room was small, dark, and did not require the use of a microphone. Surely I could not falter too terribly in this space.

When I arrived yesterday, though, I found her guiding me to a large, window-encircled group fitness room in the middle of the gym. Naturally, the class I attended is the only one held in the quaint, comfortable, dimly lit space upstairs. All others, including Sunday afternoons at 4:30, are held in the intimidatingly large and visible room that practically echoed the increasingly loud pounding of my heart’s nerves. Methinks I will need a mic after all.

Fitted with a microphone headset circa 1998 Britney Spears, a sequence of poses on 3×5’s on the floor at the front of my mat, and a roomful of regulars, I found myself leading the class from Mountain, to Warriors, to Sivasana. While the class went fairly well (based on feedback from the attendees), I was struck with an unexpected realization:

This is a very different kind of teaching.

For approximately six years I’ve taught composition and literature while pursuing graduate degrees. Though the start was rocky, I am now incredibly comfortable in the classroom and could feasibly wander into a group of students behind desks and launch into a perceivably pre-prepared (though realistically extemporaneous) lecture on Dante or lesson on thesis statements and rhetoric.

However, what I discovered yesterday is that one of the comforts in a college classroom is the understanding one has with one’s students that only some of them are listening, that they can listen without watching. Not so in a yoga class.

Instead, what I discovered yesterday was that as a yoga student, I have been studying my teachers. In order to learn to move properly, check my alignment, etc, I had to actually observe how my instructor moved. While I was sinking into Warrior I and hoping that my back leg’s slight wobble wasn’t visible, it occurred to me that all of the people to my left were watching. They were looking at my alignment, my posture, my lines. Taking their movements not just by what I said, but by what I did. I was stunned at myself for never having thought of this little detail prior to agreeing to the class. I might be comfortable with teaching, but am I comfortable with being intently watched?

I am assuming that the more I teach, the more I will become at ease with adding a physicality to instruction. As of right now, I couldn’t get past wondering if my nerves were showing.

~Arrivederci

P.S. I sailed again this afternoon. It was wonderful. I’ve come to the welcome conclusion that I love boats and bodies of water. I hope to find myself in the company of both very often in the future.

Around 5:00pm yesterday evening I sat in a circle of people at a local YMCA. We took turns telling our individual stories of what brought us to that moment in what was called “Group Share.” Each of us offered a brief narrative, then we moved on to the next person. The stories were incredibly varied.

Two circle-dwellers were stopping in on the road to healthier lifestyles marked by incredible weight loss, 60+ and 30+ pounds respectfully. One woman was coming off of devoting over five years entirely to raising her young kids and wanted to begin something for herself. A beautiful Italian (that’s right, Italian!) woman wanted to learn in order to take the practice back to Italy. There was the soon-to-retire high school teacher seeking a new path to travel, and the Air Force Captain who found this place through a journey of coping with a frequently deployed-to-Afghanistan husband and a three-year-old daughter. The rest us earnestly thanked her for her service to our country, and she responded sincerely that it was her honor. “I love this country,” she said, “And I would do anything to protect it.”

Perhaps the most poignant story came from a very healthy senior who lost her husband in December. She came to enhance what she already did professionally, but left with a whole roomful of new friends and many, many hugs.

What brought all of us with our disparate histories and goals to that circle was a shared pursuit, to become yoga instructors.

And we did.

In 20 hours over two days in a bitterly cold aerobic room in a typical YMCA, we all studied and practiced our way through the first stage in becoming certified yoga instructors. Our Master Teacher was a wonderful, high-energy woman with a gift for teaching and being bouncy, and the assistant was a lithe RYT (200 hour Registered Yoga Trainer) who came to help despite her upcoming wedding this Saturday.

Our instructors broke down poses, walked us through teaching scenarios, offered advice, built class sequences, and even led us through three actual practices complete with battery-operated tea lights for ambience (apparently real fire is a liability issue), and ethereal music. Naturally, I took copious notes both in my yoga-specific journal and in the manual.

By yesterday’s Group Share, we were all exhausted, physically, mentally, and even emotionally. Our legs and shoulders hurt from holding poses for extensive amounts of time, and our brains felt close to explosion from information overload. Some people’s tear ducts even got a workout.

Aside from this training confirming that if one wants to change the shape of one’s legs, one need only hold a warrior pose for a total of about 90 minutes a day, it also confirmed something more lasting (as I do not plan on incorporating 90 minute Warrior II’s into my daily routine):

I love yoga.

~Arrivederci

(Technically I have to complete eight hours of “community service” yoga instruction before I get my official certificate that confirms that, yes, I have in fact been trained as a yoga instructor. Anyone want to take a class with me? Pro bono?)

(Prepare yourself. I’m in a cheesy mood and just got back from two hours of yoga…)

On this Valentine’s Day, an Ode to a Yoga Practice…

Let me not age a crumpled heap of taught tendons and loose skin,
Let my limbs not wither nor my bones fall prey to frailty.
Oh no! for the body may be temporal, but it need not be prematurely trashed,
The muses sing in the mornings of a lighter path
Of years marked by suppleness and limber movements
Of founts of energy untainted by artificial intrusions
Moments of stillness in childlike postures
Rhythmic transitions with feminine grace
Fluid and comfortable
It is with the easy contorting of this frame that the mind and soul find foundation for peace
The body strong prepared for giving in life, not content to simply take.

I suppose you can the girl out of the literature class, but you can’t take the literature out of the girl.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Buon San Valentino!

~Arrivederci

 

I am taking a brief departure from posting on my three main pursuits, but for a good cause. As my family and friends know, I have been a vegetarian for almost four years and have dabbled in a vegan diet for the last eight months. This weekend, I started easing myself into what will hopefully be a full-blown-hippy-granola-soaking seeds-sippin’ wheat grass vegan lifestyle (at least in terms of food consumption). Eating vegan fare has been a tough goal to achieve thus far, primarily because of my love for strong cheddar, salty feta, and creamy brie…(distraction)…but I am now most determined to reintroduce myself to the foods that manage to exist without being zapped of their nutritional core and pumped with table salt and sugar.

Hello unpackaged vegetables. Buona sera bulk grains.

My inspiration and determination came from reading the first few chapters of Brendan Brazier’s Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life. My academic roots drew me to the colon in this very impressive title, a punctuation mark so very familiar in my “scholarly” reading. Brazier himself is a healthy dose of effective ethos as well. He is a professional tri-athlete and Ironman competitor who began researching and experimenting with a vegan diet at the age of 15 (I, however, think I still climbed trees at 15). Since high school, Brazier has developed a sustainable (in all the possible connotations of the word) culinary vegan lifestyle designed for optimum health without collapsing into a gaunt tree-hugger with a protruding collarbone.

His diet is so effective, in fact, that Hugh Jackman wrote the forward to Brazier’s book after following the program while bulking up to play Wolverine for X-Men Origins. (Incidentally, according to sources, Jackman’s workout regime also consisted of much yoga and pilates. Take note boys.) Putting on another 20 pounds of lean muscle for the film “normally would mean a LOT of animal protein and synthetic protein powders,” Jackman writes, “While this worked in the past, I knew it wasn’t sustainable, that at some point my body (and probably my heart) would rebel. Not to mention that I often felt lethargic from eating so many hard to digest calories. Then there were the ethical considerations of the diet-environmental impact being the largest one.” Clearly, Brazier’s menu consisting of PH-balanced, nutrient-rich foods along with Jackman’s intense workout schedule produced the desired results (see accompanying image).

Wolverine has always been my favorite X-Men character, and kudus to Jackman for his portrayal of this feral biker dude, but my goals are slightly different. I don’t need any more mass, just for the mass I have to change from flabby-fluff to toned and taught. I would also really like to stop craving Cape Cod Salt and Vinegar Chips, white queso dip, and relying on coffee for energy.

So, I invested in this endeavor. I spent an hour in a grocery store called Earth Fare with a page-protected, color-coded list labeled “Week One,” loading my cart with hemp oil, adzuki beans, sesame seeds (hulled and unhulled), ground flaxseed, hemp protein powder (raw form), and green leafy things. I conveniently already had some of the necessary ingredients at home from all of my previous flirtations with a vegan diet, such as amaranth, quinoa, almond milk, and agave nectar. Amazon’s grocery section is supplying the raw cocao nibs and yerba mate.

Yesterday, my husband and I had Almond Flaxseed Burgers with a Sweet Pepper Pesto sauce and mixed greens on the side for dinner. This morning, I fueled up with a Banana Pear Ginger smoothie for breakfast, green salad with Cayenne Dill dressing for lunch, and tonight’s supper will feature an Adzuki Quinoa pizza. All prepared by hand. All raw foods. (One important discovery so far is that my blender is sub-par.) I have soaked and prepared formerly dry beans, sprouted quinoa, and attempted to pop amaranth with mixed results (i.e. I burned some). My kitchen table is resplendent with all of the various parts of the dishes to be concocted, and my oven smells like apples and cinnamon courtesy of the cereal I made this afternoon on a cookie sheet coated in a light film of coconut oil.

Thankfully, this process has not taken as much time as it sounds. Eventually, I anticipate having the foresight and experience to appropriately prep so the meals require no more than marrying several items onto the same plate. My kitchen skills are being tested, and I own foods whose names I am not sure how to pronounce, but I am excited. This, my friends, is the behind-the-scenes pursuit. I hope that changing what I put into my body will translate into being able to do more with this body in my other ventures.

~Arrivederci

Photo Credit: IMDB