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I’m excited!

February 1, 2011

Once again, I have not been around for weeks months. I would apologize, but had I just didn’t have anything to share with heart. Until now. And I am very excited! One of the classes that I most consistently attend each week will now be taught by a different instructor. So I am very excited. It may seem like such a small thing, but I just recently realized how although my physical yogic abilities have been increasing, I have not been having any of my spiritual needs met. Until this realization, I hadn’t really known how important the spiritual aspect of my practice was. I mean, not really.

Of course, I enjoyed the spiritual aspects of my practice and I knew that I enjoyed. But I guess I never truly grasped exactly what that role was. Until I found it missing. At that point, I think my practice changed. I still enjoyed my classes and my practice in general. But I no longer found myself contemplating things that we had discussed in class days or even weeks after the class had ended. I did still think about yoga spiritually, but I found that I recalled discussions from yoga classes of long long ago. Years ago. Now there’s nothing wrong with that and I’m sure that those instructors would love to know that I still think of the lessons they weaved into their classes. But I really find that I enjoy my practice so much more when I get consistent reminders.

So, our new instructor is amazing and after her subbing for our (former) instructor a few weeks ago, I felt inexplicably drawn to her. I found myself checking the schedule, seeing if I could attend her one class each week. But now it seems like she has been brought to me! What a great motivation to get to class! She taught today’s class and I felt really distracted, but I think that’s just because I was so excited at the possibilities ahead! Her official start date is next week, which coincides with my attendance in a 4 week workshop at my studio that is sure to stir up some spiritual gunk.

I don’t know how long it has been since I have actually been looking forward to next week so much. Probably not since college and at that point, I was most likely more looking forward to the end of the current week and not the beginning of the following. But it feels great. Not that I’m not enjoying the present because I am. But it sure is fun to be so excited again.

On Anger

October 31, 2010
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Wow, almost two months since I last posted?!? I knew it had been a little while, but not quite that long. Honestly, I really just didn’t feel compelled to post and didn’t want to struggle to come up with something. My heart just wasn’t in it…..so I just waited until I felt drawn back to it. And wouldn’t ya know, here I am again.

I recently reunited with several people that I went to junior high school with and hadn’t seen in over ten years. One of the first questions I was asked was “are you still the same angry person you were in junior high school?” and although I was a little shocked at the direct question, I thought about it and realized that yes, I am still that same angry person. Of course, now my anger rears its head in a totally different way. But I have to admit that it’s still there. The question set into motion my own reliving of my college years, then high school, junior high, and onto elementary school. In reliving each of those times in my life, I realized that I have been angry for as long as I can remember. Now, to say that you might categorize me as an “angry” person is probably not totally true. So while I don’t necessarily identify myself as an angry person, I do feel like a lot of my actions and thoughts are guided by anger. Especially looking back upon some of the things I have done, I can clearly see how anger and insecurity have dictated my general behavior. And I don’t like it. I don’t want to be so angry. I want to have ease and happiness in my life, not anger and violence and everything that goes along with it. So my mantra over the past several days has been “I will not be angry.” I will not be angry. I.will.not.be.angry.

I’ve also become very concerned with where all of this anger is coming from. So many many questions have come up because of the initial question at the reunion. Where is this coming from? Does it matter? Why do I feel so drawn to figure out the source of this anger? And let me just say that I have tried and am still trying to just move forward, as I’m not sure that the source of the anger matters in the least. But it’s really hard to do. I have this innate desire to *know* why I am so angry. Maybe if I could just figure out the why of it, I could just recognize it and move on. Or maybe not. But damnit, I still want to know where it’s coming from. And why I have been angry since such a young age. In reliving all of the phases of my life, I expected to be able to identify a time in which I wasn’t angry. And I could not find one. The absence of that non-anger was very jarring for me. I mean, sure I’ve had great days and great times with great people. But overall, I have been angry. And in so many more ways than I realized. But just because I have *been* angry doesn’t mean that I have to *be* angry.

And if you’re wondering what this has to do with yoga…..well I don’t quite know. Except that everything that we do with intention is yoga. So from now on, I am going to do things with the intention of not being angry. I will not be angry will be my mantra for a long long time I think. Which makes sense, given that I have been angry for so long it will take me a while to be un-angry. Which is OK. I have already gotten several reminders from my wonderful husband that I have decided not to be angry. Way more than I thought I would need. But hey, the first step is recognizing that something is going on, right?

“Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one.”
~Benjamin Franklin

Keep it Simple

September 6, 2010
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A few weeks ago while in class I looked down at my wonderful yoga mat and noticed, to my dismay, that there were several little black spots on it. My mat is a lovely blue color that I reminds me of a beautiful clear ocean. I have never seen another yoga mat that is quite as lovely in color as mine. As I bent down to inspect these strange spots more closely, I realized that they weren’t ON the mat, but PART OF the mat. As I desperately tried to remove the offending material, I noticed that I was actually making small craters in the mat!!!!! WHAT?!?!

After realizing that my mat was in fact degrading, I counted up the years that I have been using my wonderful mat and figured that it may in fact be time to replace my yoga mat. Now, to be fair let me just say that my yoga mat was hastily purchased in a discount store (Ross, I think) on a whim after I decided that using the mats at my studio is terribly unhygenic. It was certainly not an expensive mat, as my college student budget was somewhat limited. And although it wasn’t state of the art, I was happy. My mat never let me down, never let me fall and is a perfectly sufficient tool for my practice of yoga. And now it was time to replace it. I knew that I would never be able to find another mat that was as beautiful in color (other students have more than once remarked on the color of my mat). So off to the internets I went in search of another perfect yoga mat. I searched high and low from the standard www.amazon.com to the yoga-centric www.manduka.com. I read reviews of different mats and tried to decide what the most important component of my yoga mat is. Then it hit me like a bolt of lighting. My first yoga mat was purchased, as I mentioned above, on a whim. For less than $15 I had grabbed my yoga mat and used it for years. Why was the process so different now? I don’t know what had convinced me that my new yoga mat purchase had to involve hours of research at the computer, looking for that illusive “perfect” mat. From that moment, I took a step back from my research and appreciated the fact that I can simply buy a new mat.

And so I did. And although I am grieving a little because my new mat is not the same gorgeous blue as my old one, I am really excited to see where my new (purple) mat will take me on this incredible journey of yoga.

Does yoga help you lose weight?

August 14, 2010

When I tell people that I practice yoga regularly, one of the most common questions I am asked is “really?!?! How much weight have you lost?” And to be totally honest, I don’t know. I mean, have I lost weight while practicing yoga? Sure. But I also tend to make other healthy changes in my life when I am actively attending my yoga classes. So I don’t really feel comfortable telling people that doing yoga has helped me lost weight. I mean I’m sure that if I attended physically vigorous classes that last 90 minutes long in a room heated to 85 degrees seven days a week, I probably would lose some weight (water weight, if nothing else-which would not really be healthy!). But for me, this question was not one that I considered when deciding to practice yoga. I started practicing and continue to practice yoga for a number of reasons, but to lose weight has never been one of those reasons. To me, yoga is about connecting with myself. My real self. The one that gets buried under my daily life, my frustrations with traffic, my “work” me and whatever else is going on in my life. That very special and very unique part of me is what I really want to connect with and so I practice yoga. And yoga does exactly that for me.
The question of weight also brings up an unfortunate aspect of our society. The obsession that our society has with super-duper-unnaturally-skinny women and men are in seemingly every advertisement. And many women (men too, but I think women especially) will go through life trying diet after diet to lose those ten pounds. Or twenty pounds. Or five pounds. Self-esteem is a commodity in a society such as ours and it really drives me crazy. Some people will never be able to accept themselves for who they are. Even when they are perfect. We are all perfect just the way we are. For a long time, I have been afraid of showing my true self to the world due in part to fear. I have found myself thinking “what if they think I am a freak?” or even worse “I KNOW they will think I am weird if I admit X, Y, or X thing about myself.” And maybe that is true, but probably not. It has taken me a very long time to realize that I am perfect just the way I am. As we all are. This realization seems incredibly difficult for so many people to reach. So please know that you are beautiful and wonderful and perfect! Just the way you are. The way you are right now. Not after you lose those five pounds or fit into a smaller size. Right now.

For a healthy dose of self-esteem, please visit www.operationbeautiful.com as often as necessary!

Cultivating Happiness

August 7, 2010

In my yoga classes, the instructor usually tells a story of some sort that he or she then relates to yoga. Sometimes those stories seem way off base to me (or at least not relevant at that particular moment) and other times, it seems like the instructor is speaking to me and me only. Like that story or message was meant for nobody but me. And sometimes the story just reinforces something I’ve already been thinking about in general. Lately, I have been thinking/reading about cultivating happiness in my life. Of course along with that goes living in the present moment and letting go of past grudges. Letting go of the idea that as soon as I get that perfect job/car/house/outfit that everything in my life will be complete. This is not an easy task. Though I do believe that you can “simply” decide to be happy and you will, it has not been something that has come to me automatically. It takes practice and I am far far far from being in a place where I am simply happy with whatever presents itself to me. But do not worry! I am determined to keep trying. I know that it will not happen over night and even though it seems to happen right away for some people, that is probably not the case.
I have been reading this book about creating happiness in your life and came across a section the other day about how your body reacts to your emotions, even on a cellular level. Being the skeptic I am, I felt awfully hesitant to believe that your cells actually behave differently when you are depressed than when you are happy. But then I can find examples of this being true everywhere. Well, not on a cellular level, but in general I do find that people who tend to have a pessimistic outlook on life and always have something to complain about only seem to bring about more sadness and dis-ease in their lives. And those that see the glass as being half full rarely have a bad thing to say. Of course, everyone has good days and bad days but in general, it does in fact seem that those who choose to be happy are happy. Simple as that. So I have in fact been attempting to at least notice when I start to complain and start to think negatively. The mere act of noticing when I am thinking negatively has been eye-opening. I do it ALL the time! Usually, it’s not as straightforward as something like “I hate this traffic” or “what kind of an a*hole cuts someone off like that!” But I have realized that my more subtle negative thinking has taken my mind over entirely. Things like “what is she thinking wearing that skirt?” and “I can’t wait to go home” permeate my day to day life. Pretty amazing realization. It’s no longer a mystery to me why I haven’t been feeling happy overall. I had no idea that my negative thinking was so automatic and rampant. I really didn’t. I mean, I know that I tend towards the glass is half empty way of life, but I honestly had no idea how often I think negatively. And although my outlook on the world in general hasn’t been shattered and totally turned around, I have been able to alert myself to the fact that I am thinking negatively and then–get this!–stop doing so! No other effort necessary. Simply noticing my tendencies has actually been helping me to change the behavior. Pretty cool! I think that one of the greatest things yoga has brought into my life is that just because I have been a negative person doesn’t mean that I will always be a negative person. The reminder that we are the authors of our own next moment is one that I never grow tired of hearing. It keeps me mindful of who I am and of who I want to be.

“It’s not how you are but how you are with how you are.”

How do you start practicing yoga?

July 20, 2010

When I tell people that I practice yoga and tell them about how much I love it, it’s as if something magical happens. I can see their ears perk up, their mind become attentive and the longing in their eyes for something that brings peace into their life. Well…..maybe that faraway look is really because their eyes have glossed over and they are just waiting for me to move the conversation on to something else. But I much prefer the former explanation. So there I am telling them how yoga bring a sense of peace into my life and helps me feel connected with myself, plus it’s a great stretching work out and yet still gentle. When I finally let them speak feel like my recollection is complete (yes, this can take a LONG time!) the response I get is usually something like “Wow, that sounds great! Maybe I should try a yoga class!” And I agree with them and encourage and nudge them towards a class. But I have yet to find one other person that has actually gone to a class. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It took me a long time to work up the going-to-yoga-the-first-time courage. But I think that people have a lot of misconceptions around what yoga, about those who teach yoga and about those who practice yoga.
I think people are afraid that once they step into the studio that they are going to be greeted by some woman who has overgrown leg hair and smells too much like patchouli and speaks only in Sanskrit and can do an arm balance in 5 seconds flat. While all of those scenarios are indeed possible (especially the arm balaning), I have yet to come across ALL of those things in one person. Yes, there are women practitioners who don’t shave their legs but yogis and yoginis (the feminine of yogi) tend to not smell like patchouli…..much. The other fear that I think people have is that they will feel stupid or feel inadequate because they are unable to do a handstand, headstand or arm balance. They may fear that they will lose their balance, run out of breath, not know what they are doing or even hurt themselves. So instead of ever trying it out, people relegate themselves to the couch, wishing that they could do yoga. They look at me wistfully while I recount the poses we did in my last class or the story that my instructor told. I certainly LOVE to talk about yoga, so it’s no problem for me. But I really want those people to at least TRY a yoga class. So let me clear up some misconceptions and nudge those people more and more towards actually finding themselves in a class! Here are my 9 tips for anyone who has considered trying a class but for one reason or another talks his or herself out of it:

1) Go to a beginner’s class.
Yes, this may seem self-evident but you really do want to start in a beginning level class. Avoid classes with descriptions that include “fast-paced” or “challenging.” You will have a much more enjoyable class if you stick with the basics at first. If you are mot sure about which class to take, ask someone who works at the studio. The manager or any instructor should be able to direct you to an appropriate class. Many studios offer at least one free class to new students, so there’s often no upfront investment. Likewise, many studios offer yoga mat rentals so you don’t even need to purchase a mat for your first class (though the idea of a shared yoga mat has always grossed me out a bit, I have still used them in a pinch).
2)That old knee/shoulder/wrist injury won’t stop you from doing yoga!
I have seen so many different kinds of people in my yoga classes. Yes, some have been very advanced students with amazing bodies who can do every crazy looking posture in the book. And some have been older. some have been people with old injuries. I once took a class in which the instructor had had one of his lower legs amputated. So please don’t think that just because you had a knee injury 5 years or 10 years or 25 or 45 years ago that you can’t do yoga. You can! That isn’t to say that certain injuries don’t need to be considered when trying to do a shoulderstand or revolved side angle pose. You can still do those poses, perhaps with modifications or special attention turned towards maintaining the proper form.
3) Use the resources available to you.
Going to a yoga class for the first time is intimidating! Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the instructor or other students! I sat silent on my mat before class for so long that it’s embarrassing. I think I would have gotten a lot more out of the experience had I just opened up to the people I was practicing with a lot sooner. There is a tremendous support system there just waiting for you! I only wish that I had taken advantage of it sooner. Also, if you do have any sort of injury, make sure you let the instructor know about it. She or he can give you tips on how to make certain poses easier on you. This is another resource I wish I would have utilized earlier.
4) Don’t practice yoga on a full stomach.
Yoga has a way of….um…..moving things around. Things that you wouldn’t even think of. So it’s a good idea to wait at least two hours after eating to start stretching the body. Trust me, trying to hold in gas while doing a yoga pose is REALLY difficult!
5) Drink water
Before going to class, you will want to make sure that you are well hydrated. Of course, you don’t want to be having to leave class every ten minutes to get to the bathroom, so try to find a balance. You will also want to drink a lot of water after class. During class, it is generally recommended that you not drink water but of course you are always encouraged to listen to your body so if you really do need some water, drink it.
6) Don’t worry about what other students are doing
This one is easier said than done. But it really doesn’t matter what other students are doing. Focus on YOU. This really takes practice for me and is something I still find myself not doing. I’m more interested to see which student has gotten the furthest in his or her pose than concentrating on my own pose. One of the most powerful habits I’ve started to combat this distracting behavior is to imagine myself alone in a dark studio with a spotlight just on myself. It really helps me focus on MY practice. MY pose. MYself. Yoga is my time when I am totally devoted just to myself.
7) Realize that yoga is difficult!
I don’t say this to scare you away from yoga! But I have heard from so many first time students how surprised they are that it was so difficult. Yes, it may not look that difficult, but it IS physical exercise so if you are not used to it, you will feel sore the next day. There is nothing wrong with that. Don’t be surprised to find that your arms hurt from holding yourself up in downward facing dog.
8 ) HAVE FUN!!!
Most of all, have fun with yoga. It has been a wonderful journey for me, and one that I am anxious to continue. There are plenty of ways in which yoga has seriously changed my life, but I have also had so much fun trying new things, falling over, realizing that I am capable of so much more than I sometimes think I am!
9) Keep an open mind
You may have an idea of what you expect when you walk into a yoga studio. That’s totally fine but don’t be focused only on what you expect, be open to things that you hadn’t thought of. Be open to the possibility that you may enjoy chanting (yes, there may be chanting involved–it’s OK, I promise! And no, you don’t have to do it if you absolutely don’t want to). Be open to the idea that you CAN balance on one foot for tree pose. Just be open.

So there you have it–now get off the computer and go try a class!

Acceptance

July 2, 2010

Although this blog is still in its infancy stage, I’ve already written about letting go and here I am, already contemplating it again. At the risk of being redundant, I am going to once again dive into it. This is after all, my blog. It is amazing to me how I am constantly being reminded to let go. To surrender. And there are times when I think that I’m doing pretty well at it. Usually the thing or idea I have let go of is pretty small. I can’t even think of an example right now, but I CAN do it. Sometimes. Then there are other times when I feel like I’ve never improved at all. I know that yoga is a journey and not something that will just happen one day. But I still tend to get frustrated when I don’t see the results I expect. Apparently, I need to let go of the result-seeking part of myself. However, it is so much easier said than done. I think that at some level, we are all hard-wired or culturally trained (or both) to focus on the results. You work (effort) so that you can buy a home (result) and go on vacations (result) and have a nice car (result) and on and on and on, right? I mean, what’s the point of doing something if you don’t notice a change (result)? That mindset is quite prevalent in our culture today so it should not be surprising that I have a hard time NOT focusing on results.
My focus on results (or in this case, not getting the results I want) lead me to the all-mighty, has never let me down, search engine google for some advice on how to feel less fatigued. And yes, my trusty search engine returned to me millions of websites giving instruction on what vitamins to take, exercises to do, relaxation techniques, foods to eat, water to drink, on and on just as I had expected (result!). As I was pouring over the information, I came across this article about how to fight fatigue. I’m reading along and I see: get enough rest, drink plenty of water, eat the right foods, try yoga and all of the other tips offered in a million other places. But the last entry was to simply let go. Amazing. Just know that you won’t always feel like running a marathon (funny, I’ve never felt that urge!). The advice was simply to acknowledge that you may sometimes in fact be tired. It’s normal. No reason to change. Even though this one bit of advice is so simple, it was profound for me. It was just another example of the universe telling me that I’m perfect just the way I am. No need to change. No need to rush out to the nearest vitamin store and buy out their stock of 15 different herbs and vitamins to try to combat my afternoon slump. Of course, I don’t mean to say that I won’t take any of the advice offered by the all knowing internet. I will in fact drink a lot of water and focus on eating healthier foods and such. But it was a nudge on the shoulder telling me to stop focusing so much on results. It may well be a fact that some days I am tired. So what? There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling a bit tired sometimes*. I am perfect just the way I am and I don’t need to try to change anything. That is, I don’t need to worry about the result so much. Just let it go. Surrender.

*To my readers: if you are feeling fatigued constantly, there could also be a medical reason for it. It is not in fact totally normal to feel very fatigued if you are getting an adequate amount of sleep. Please consult your doctor if you feel that you are experiencing an unreasonable amount of fatigue. If you are not sure, please read this article from the Mayo Clinic that details when you should see a doctor about fatigue.