… is this thing still on?
I was thinking of writing a post here about my adventures in regaining control over my body, but I’m not sure if anyone’s still reading here. If not, I’ll post it at the Blue Door…
I’ve also got some more pose posts brewing (I’ve decided that I LOVE plank pose, and I want to do an investigation of it here). If you’re still around, let me know and I’ll write here again if anyone’s still tuning in; I’m not really interested in talking to myself…
WOW. How long has it been since I’ve been HERE?! Is anyone still following?
Regardless, I was inspired to come back and write in this space when my friend Liv posted this article on facebook. Go ahead; read it. I’ll wait.
This part stood out to me:
“Because if you don’t practice it, how can you teach it?!”
While a part of me honors those who leave out certain poses because they’re simply not in their own practice, I find that I use this principle as inspiration for moving outside of my proverbial “comfort zone.” I WANT to try new things so that I can share them with my participants, and I think that there’s a LOT of under-appreciated value in having participants watch an instructor wrestle with a pose.
I think that too many people come to yoga class thinking that they’ll NEVER be as good as the instructor. Hell, I’ve been practicing for going on 13 years now, and I STILL think that every time I walk into someone else’s class. Despite my exhortation that students NOT compare themselves to other people (or judge themselves too harshly), I find myself doing just that. Every teacher is more graceful and flexible than I am, and I’m particularly bothered by the fact that I can’t (yet) execute a full bind and that my standing straddle is, in my estimation, wholly insufficient.
Letting that go is still a deliberate practice for me. Someday, maybe, I’ll get past it, but for now it’s still something that I’m actively working on.
I think, though, that letting my participants see me fall out of half moon – sometimes spectacularly – or fight for a bind that I can only maintain for one breath gives them permission to fall down and fight, too. Watching me struggle, seeing me shake and sweat, and listening to me talk about the places where it doesn’t just flow demonstrates to them that this yoga thing really IS a process.
Though it sounds counter-intuitive, falling down makes us better.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. I’m not going to apologize or make excuses. The reason I’ve not written here is simply because, until just recently, I’ve not had much to say that fits the theme of this blog; most of my focus has been on my job and my home life, and they both have blogs of their own.
I’m firing this site up again, though, because I’ve finally decided to make a commitment to getting back into shape. Because I know myself and I know that I need A) accountability and B) to work through my thinking on the page, I decided that I’m going to document my progress (and yes, my backsliding, as I’m sure there’ll be some) here. I have no idea if anyone’s still reading – do any of you have this blog on your feed reader? – but I’m not sure how important that is. For now, I want this to be mostly about keeping myself focused and on-task.
I come from a genetic cesspool. No, really; the only thing I don’t check off at a new doctor’s office is Alzheimer’s disease, because no one in my family lives long enough to develop it. I check off everything – and I mean everything – else; high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, mental illness, cancer, diabetes – you name it and someone in my family has had it (and probably died from it). I’m 42 this year, and though I’m in significantly better shape than either of my parents were at this age (mostly, I think, because I do exercise now and then, I don’t smoke, and my diet doesn’t come entirely out of cellophane), I’m not in the kind of shape I WANT to be in.
Around the holidays last year, I enlisted the help of Success Warrior in making some adjustments to the ways I eat and move in an effort to get myself more in line with habits and behaviors that would benefit my physical body. He recommended, among other things, significantly reducing my intake of grain-based foods while increasing the amount of protein I eat every day. As a consequence of his advice, I replaced my morning Ovaltine (the first ingredient of which is sugar) with a protein shake, I became much more conscious of how much bread I was eating, and I nearly quadrupled the amount of water (well, green tea) I drink every day. I also focused on changing not only what I eat, but how I eat; I’m eating far more smaller meals than I did in the past and am including protein-rich snacks – mostly nuts or yogurt – in between meals.
Changing my diet wasn’t enough, though, and despite the fact that SW gave me a quick exercise routine to do every day, I never picked it up. I’m not sure what flipped my switch – perhaps it was the onset of summer in New England and the cold hard fact that I was going to start wearing tank tops and shorts that did it – but I’m committed now to working out. Even though I have a gym membership, I know myself well enough to know that if there’s ANYTHING else I can do around the house as an excuse for not driving 15 minutes to go to the gym, I’ll not go. In fact, the only time I’ve gone to the gym in the last 5 years is because I’ve had to, either because I’ve been teaching a class or because the girls have had tennis lessons. I didn’t trust myself to get to the gym 3-5 days a week, so I went to Target and bought myself a workout video.
I’m two days into the week 1 routine. I can’t say I love Michaels’ style, but the workout is good; it’s challenging enough to make me sweat, but not so difficult that I feel I can’t get through it. In fact, I felt today like I should have done more and I briefly considered adding a 2 mile walk to the end, but then I looked at the time and realized I was going to be cutting it too short; I had a time commitment today that I couldn’t make work if I’d tacked on the walk. If it’s not pouring rain tomorrow, I’ll walk then.
I’ve also logged myself on to a calorie tracking program. I’ve done this before, but I never really stuck to it. I’m expecting that my new-found commitment to my body will make this time different, at least until I get a really good feel for what a good nutrition day looks like for me. The site I’m using is myfitnesspal.com and, so far, I like it. It works like every other tracking program – you enter some vital stats, then log in everything you eat and all the exercise you do, and it keeps track of your general nutrient intake and figures where you are at any given point in the day. I confirmed something I suspected in the first week I used the program – I was actually UNDER eating; I wasn’t getting enough nutrients/calories and, as a consequence (and with my already slow metabolism) was likely putting myself in “conservation” mode. I was able to remedy that with one yogurt smoothie, so I think I’m back on track. As I’m someone who doesn’t mind eating the same six or seven things all the time, figuring out a day’s worth of good food is pretty easy; I have the same thing for breakfast every day (since I don’t like breakfast in general, this is easy; a glass of protein-powdered milk and a protein-heavy meal bar), lunches are now meat-based (something like cold chicken on a mess of baby spinach salad or an ice cream scoop of tuna salad with carrots or Triscuits), and dinners, especially in the summers, are light, grilled things, usually chicken or lean steak, with as many veggies as I can eat. Once I get into a habit, I’ll be able to stop keeping meticulous track of everything I eat, but until then, I think that logging is a good idea – it keeps me conscious of the choices I’m making.
As of the last time I stepped on a scale (last Sunday), I was 152 pounds. That’s 3 pounds lighter than I was when I first consulted SW, but still about 30 pounds heavier than I really should be given my height and frame. I’ll take a “before” picture in the mirror today and post that the next time I update, and I’ll be checking back in, probably once a week, to track how I’m doing (though I may skip next week as Mr. Chili and I will be second honeymooning in Bermuda and I’ll likely be too busy to get much other exercise, if you know what I mean).
And away I go…..
I am not as healthy as I could be. Seeing that I come from a long line of remarkably unhealthy people, I have an interest in doing whatever I can to buck my genetic legacy and stay upright and breathing in and out as long as possible.
I’ve been flirting with the idea of getting serious about my health for a while now, but I think I’m finally ready to commit. In an effort to stay on the path and to hold myself accountable, I’m going to post my progress here. I don’t know if I’ll get to post every day, but I will aim toward regular check-ins, just so that I have a map of what I’m doing and how (or if) it’s working.
I have decided to begin with a private yoga practice (which is part of why I’m posting this part of my life here instead of at home). I’ve been teaching yoga for about 8 years now, but I’m not sure that I’ve been practicing for that long. I’ve always known that teaching is very different from doing (sarcastic adage aside); the feel of presenting material for others is often an entirely different activity than experiencing it for oneself. Since I’ve also been going through a bit of a blue period lately, I thought that taking the time to practice just for me – to honor myself and my body and my place in the Universe – might just be the thing I need to change my energetic hue.
I started this morning with a 45-minute, silent practice. I was pretty easy on myself, though I did work a series that included Warrior II and another that was a back-and-forth between down dog and plank; I was pleasantly warm by the time the whole thing was over. I’ve settled on 4 as my tempo; I like to move with my breath, but I’ll hold poses for 4 complete breaths before I’ll move to the next expression. I didn’t give myself much of a savasana today; I’ve got to get the family moving so we can go to my sister’s house for a pre-wedding gathering, and I don’t have the time for laying out. I did sit for a bit, though, and gave myself permission to release negativity. I’m going to continue that through the day (I find, too, that I can do a great bit of meditation in the car on the highway. Don’t worry – I don’t zone out or anything; it’s a mindful kind of meditation).
I’m working on being aware of what I eat, as well, and I’ll likely start keeping a food log here, too. So far, though, I’ve nothing much to report; just my usual morning dose of Ovaltine in a glass of 1% milk.
Thanks for coming along this ride with me. I welcome your questions, comments, or suggestions.
(Hey! I’m still here! Didja miss me?)
I’ve been feeling like I’m on the verge of something for a while now, and the truth of it is that I’m probably on the verge of a lot of somethings. For the purposes of this post, though, I’m going to talk about something very specific.
I, like everyone else who’s ever lived, have heard my elders complain as they watched me eat whatever I wanted to no ill effect. “Just you wait,” they’d tell me. “Once you hit 35, your body’s going to betray you.”
Well, I don’t know if I’d call it a betrayal, exactly, but I do know that, in this stage of my life (the 40-something stage), the rules of the game have definitely changed.
I’ve been thinking for a while now about the condition of my physical being and recognizing that the events in the last year or so of my life have not been conducive to the healthiest me I could be. I spent most of last year on the couch at my mother’s bedside, and my level of physical activity since she died hasn’t increased much (though, to be fair, my level of activity goes down when the weather gets cold, anyway; don’t think that I’m blaming my current state on my mother, because I’m not).
My observation is that human beings don’t effect change until things get “bad enough” that the status quo can’t – or shouldn’t – be maintained. I’m pretty sure that I’ve gotten to that point, and I’ve been doing the typical stressing that I do before something gives. I’ve become far more aware of the fact that I don’t “do” anything – that is, I’m not moving my body around nearly as much as is probably healthy. I’m reminded, every work day, that I’m not in very good shape as I huff and puff my way up the five floors of stairs I climb to get to school. I have noticed that my clothes don’t fit the way they used to, and I’m starting to get self-conscious about the way I look.
I was talking about this to my Weeble after yoga class today. He’s someone I can bitch to about this stuff because he gets it; he isn’t going to give me that “just make the time” crap because he has a job and a wife and a son and a life, too, and he knows that it’s not always that easy to take time for yourself when you’re intimately tied to other people. Anyway, just a few minutes ago, this popped up in my inbox:
We are all so fortunate to have you and your words every week. Based on our conversation today, it is fitting that the spirit of your words reflects back to you…
There are things in all of us we don’t like. It is OK to have self-critical thoughts but always try to be patient and kind to yourself. Celebrate those things that you do so well and use those positive feelings to propel you forward in areas that you feel need improvement. Ask friends what they do. Try something you’ve never done. If that is not fun or effective, try something else. Be discouraged, laugh it off and bounce back.
Be happy for the journey even if the destination seems unreachable.
THIS is why I keep teaching this class (the only one I teach at the health club. I’m pretty sure I spend more in gas to get there and back than I earn a week). In it, I have a strong, supportive, loving community to remind me to be kind to myself and that doing what I can is enough.
I think I’m the fortunate one in this story….
Okay, here’s what happened; several weeks ago, one of my colleagues at the health club asked me if I’d sub her Saturday morning yoga class. I like this lady very much and I didn’t have anything planned for the morning, so I told her I’d be happy to do it.
I arrived at the club and taught a lovely class. When it was over, everyone was rolling up their mats in preparation for leaving. As I was clearing up my things, I was commenting to one of the participants that her form in a particular pose was especially lovely – keep in mind that I wasn’t just standing there talking, but was cleaning up as I spoke – when the woman who teaches the next class in the room – let’s call her Annie – walked in.
Her exact words to me were “Chili. Honey. It’s 9:30. I have a class. Get out.”
I was horrified. I gathered up all of my things and headed for the hall, seething.
Now, to be fair (fair? I’m not sure what other word to use), Annie is not famous for her tact. In fact, she’s got a reputation as being a self-centered diva. She’s the kind of person who announces in her classes, over the loudspeakers, that her birthday is next week and offers up gift suggestions. She’s blunt and forceful, and everyone knows this. Should I have been surprised that she would speak to me this way? No; I’m not part of her clique and she has made no show of hiding her disdain for those, like me, whom she deems to be less than her.
What I really objected to, though, is her willingness to be so rude and unprofessional in front of a room full of yoga participants. One of the women in the room found me in the hall and told me that she was upset by the display; there was no need of Annie’s behavior, she told me, and she was sorry that it happened to me. I tried to be professional about it and told the lady that *I* was sorry that it made her uncomfortable, but didn’t really say anything else. What else could I have said?
Here’s my question, Dear Readers; what do I do about it? Should I bring it up with Annie and ask her to please express her impatience in a more professional way? (Just as a point of reference, everyone complains that classes don’t clear out of the room fast enough, and this has been a gripe for YEARS; why we don’t stagger the classes with five minutes between them is a wonder to me.) Do I bring it up with the lady for whom I was subbing and let her know that I may not be comfortable subbing that class in the future because I’d rather not put myself in a position to be abused by Annie again? Do I tell my boss what happened? Do I hope a member complains to the management, or do I just chalk the whole experience up to Annie’s being an unprofessional, immature, and selfish child and leave it at that?
I tried really hard to not let this wreck all the nice energy I worked up in the class, but as you can tell from the fact that I’m writing this a little more than 9 hours after it happened, clearly I failed.
My husband rocks my world in tiny little ways every single day.
An example? This morning, I was wondering whether or not my firstname.lastname@example.org email address was working properly. I hadn’t received any email though that address in ages, and I used it as the contact for the certificate I made for Beanie’s Teacher Appreciation Week (every year about this time, I make up a certificate for a free hour of personal yoga instruction for the TAW raffle).
ANYWAY, I sent a note to Mr. Chili at work and asked him if he’d send me a test email to make sure that I could still get messages through that address. Here’s what he sent me:
This is a test of the emergency yoga email system!
This concludes the test of the emergency yoga email system. IF this had been a real message you would have been told how to contact your nearest yogini for immediate help.
I adore him.
….but I’m not sure it would fly.
What do you think of this?
I mean, I can TOTALLY get behind the premise, and I completely trust the science, too; it just feels like laughing would be a huge component to a healthy life, so the scientific findings bearing that out make sense to me.
What I’m wondering, though, is would you come back to a class where the instructor started off by telling you to take a deep breath and just start laughing? Would you think the instructer were off of his or her nut? Would you feel like an idiot doing it?
Before the video was even over, I was chuckling, so I think that the infectious nature of laughter would help to take care of any initial awkwardness. I love that laughing would do all the physiological things that it does AND that people would kind of be forced to not take their practices so seriously (it’s supposed to be FUN, People!). I wonder, though, if I’d turn someone fatally off by trying this at the end of one of my classes.
I’ve been bothered lately that I haven’t been posting with any kind of regularity here. Yoga is a really big part of my life, but one wouldn’t know it by glancing at the frequency of my posts.
Since it’s bugging me, I decided this morning that I would start a feature here in which I do an in-depth investigation of individual poses. I spend a fair bit of time in my classes trying to teach good (and safe) form; having some of those studies here might be a good way of clarifying the postures in my mind – not to mention helping others get them right, too. Here, then, is one of the foundational poses; mountain stance or tadasana (ta•DAH•sah•nah).
Begin by finding a comfortable position with your feet. Traditionally, this pose is taught with the insides of the feet touching and the insides of the legs zipped together, but I don’t find that a comfortable way to stand, so I go with a hip-width stance. Having said that, though, most people have no realistic concept of how wide their hips actually are, so I teach them to put two fists together at the thumbs and try to fit them between their feet; if the fists just barely fit – so much the better if they have to squeeze in a little too tightly – then the stance is just about right.
Begin by focusing just on the feet. Imagine looking at yourself from underneath the floor; you should see a nice, even footprint on the mat. Lift all your toes up as high as you can, spread them out, then set them back on the mat. Try to make your feet even toes to heels, inside of foot to outside of foot, and left to right. Make the outside edges of your feet parallel to one another, then wiggle around until your feet feel “right.”
Once you’ve settled your feet, bring your attention through your ankles, then put a soft little bend in your knees and put them underneath your hips; this will tilt your tailbone under just a bit, which is good. Imagine putting a big space between every bone in your back – start at your tailbone and open up all the way to the bone tucked under your skull at the top of your neck.
Pull your belly button in and up toward your heart (even if it doesn’t actually move very much), then push your heart out just a bit and lift it toward the ceiling. Square your shoulders and let them slide down your spine away from your ears. Check to make sure that the points of your hip bones are parallel to the floor. Release your arms down and relax your hands.
People generally lead with their faces. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re at a stop light, look at the guy in the car next to you; his face will be well in front of his neck, I practically guarantee it. Check out the woman at the table next to you in the restaurant. Watch the way people walk and you’ll see what I mean; people’s noses get there before they do. In order to counter this tendency, tuck your chin very gently toward your spine and imagine pushing all your energy out though the center of the top of your head. Think of a charging bull – always lead with the middle of the top of your brain, not with your nose or your chin. It’s not important how close you can get your face to the floor in yoga; what’s important is how long you can make your spine.
From here, I invite people to relax into the pose. You shouldn’t feel like you’re a soldier on review; you’re strong and straight, certainly, but you shouldn’t be tense.
Here is also where I invite people to close their eyes. Doing this accomplishes three things: one, it keeps people from comparing themselves to anyone else; two, it helps people get inside their skin to feel what’s happening in there and to make sure that their bones are properly lined up and that the right muscles are working and the rest of them are relaxed; and three, it helps to bring people back to a consciousness of their breath.
Begin to be aware of your breath here. Just observe it at first; don’t try to change or influence it. Notice everything you can about the breath; how it feels, how it sounds, how you actually physically breathe – through your mouth or your nose or a combination of each – how it tastes or smells, how your body changes as you breathe in and out, and what happens between the breaths. Then, using six or seven or however many you need to get there, begin to deepen the breath. Try to work from bottom to top; every time you breathe in, take the air deeper into your body with the goal of breathing all the way into your hip pockets and, eventually, all the way into the sinuses behind your eyebrows. Every time you breathe out, start by emptying the bottom part of your breath first, eventually emptying all the way to behind your eyebrows. Don’t force the breath, mind you – only breathe to your own capacity – but do be mindful fo reaching that capacity, and of maintaining it through your practice.
I often do a little visualization work here, as well. I ask my students to imagine a little ball of light between heart and breastbone, and ask them to use their breath to power it up so that it’s strong enough to send a beam of light to the bone that lives right behind their heart and, from there, to illuminate their spine such that a beam of light shines from their tailbone and from the crown center of their head. I use this image through the class to keep their attention on making their spines long and of reaching through poses rather than simply just standing there.
So, that’s mountain pose. It’s a lot more than “just standing there,” huh?
I generally use this posture at the beginning of class as a centering pose, and between rounds of forward folds, sun salutations, and series of warriors or standing stretches. After certain rigorous series, if one stands quietly in mountain pose, one can often feel one’s fingers and face tingling – I love the delight that people express when they realize that they can feel that in themselves, and I sometimes have a hard time getting people to leave mountain because they’re so enjoying being present.
Today was a GREAT yoga day for me.
For starters, I had 38 people in my Sunday morning class. Yep, you read that right; THIRTY EIGHT. I’m more than a little surprised that my numbers are still that high, frankly; I’m used to a surge in attendance after the new year – resolutions and all – but the herd usually thins substantially by now. I am heartened and humbled that so many people are willing to leave their warm beds on Sunday mornings to come and play with me.
I had a couple of brand-new, never-been-to-a-yoga-class-ever folks in class today. I LOVE it when new people come to my class; I feel like it’s an opportunity to hold open a door for them. So many of them come in nervous and apprehensive, and most of them leave feeling like this yoga stuff isn’t so scary after all. I love that.
Anyway, we had a great class. I worked ’em a little harder than usual, though don’t ask me why because I have no idea where the energy for a warrior series AND a sun salutation came from. Through it all, though, I was mindful of my new folks and made sure that my directions were very clear. I reminded people, again and again, to only do what they could – that their best was, and always is, good enough. When it was all over, I laid them all out for a little rest, settled into a seated posture myself, and waited for the Universe to tell me what today’s lesson was.
What I got was an impression of Thich Nhat Hanh eating a tangerine. In his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, Hanh tells the story of eating a tangerine – really EATING it – to remind us that we can receive so much more of life’s wonders and blessings if we just stop long enough to actually NOTICE them.
“So much of our lives,” I said, “feel like riptides. We’re so focused on keeping our heads above water – on just keeping UP – that we often look around and realize that days and weeks have gone by without our ever feeling like we were present in our lives. As you take your practice off the mat and into your world this week, try to be mindful of the opportunities that the Universe offers you to BE here. When you’re walking somewhere, be aware of all the wondrous things that happen to keep you upright and moving forward. Really TALK. Really LISTEN. Be where you are.”
I woke everyone up and started rolling up my mat when Gail came to talk to me. She’s an accomplished practitioner and rarely comes to talk, so I was concerned that perhaps she’s acquired an injury or wanted to express a concern about something that happened in the class (why do we always go to the negative first?!). Instead, she wanted to tell me that the closing thoughts I shared with the class were exactly what she needed to hear. She told me that she’s dating again after more than a decade, and that she’s finding it difficult to let go and trust. “Being where I am – being mindful right now – is exactly what I need to do.” It brought goosebumps to my skin to hear her say that – and it’s bringing them up again now as I retell the story.
After Gail left, one of my brand-new folks came and introduced himself. HE had something to say, too, and he touched on something that I occasionally worry about as a yoga teacher. “I know that some people, especially people who come to your class all the time, might find it repetitive, but it was great that you kept telling us to only do what we could. I can’t do much, and the only reason I stayed for the whole class was because you told me that what I could do was good enough.”
More goosebumps. I love my job.