Happy September! (Maybe?)

I’ve been trying to figure out why the beginning of September makes me feel a little bluesy…  Not sad, per se.  But a wee bit of melancholia creeps up as I notice the light shifting and shadows growing longer.  The mornings are cooler, as are the evenings, but in between, the sun’s rays cause layers to be shed as the days heat up. Technically, it’s pretty terrific weather.  So, what gives?  (And shouldn’t I be good at living in the moment by now?)

As a kid, the shift in mood was due to summer drawing to a close and the uncertainty that comes with a new school year–new teachers, new subjects, new routines. (The silver lining?  School supply shopping!) But now that I’m an adult living life more or less by my own design, there’s no logical reason to feel like I have to hang up the carefree attitude that summer brings just because I may have to put on a sweater every now and then.

If you examine this on a social level, it’s kind of fascinating to think that this long-lasting effect came from educational reformers like Horace Mann, who wanted to merge the agrarian school calendar with the urban school calendar back in the 1840s.  At the time, farm kids were out of school for stretches of time to help with spring planting and fall harvest.  City kids, however, endured 48 weeks of learning in cities that sweltered without the benefit of electric fans or air conditioning in summer months.  According to Time magazine, the prevailing medical belief was that living in such conditions could spread disease and lead to nervous disorders or insanity.  It began as a way to provide a respite from the heat and, and continues to leave us with a desire to get away.  But what if it had never happened?  Or if it were during a different season?

Think about it.  By the time we are adults, we’ve been so conditioned by our school routines and experiences that many of us still get a pang of remorse as August ticks away–even if our careers are not dictated by season.  When I worked in education, admittedly, I liked having the holidays off.  Summer vacation?  Yes, please!  So, what’s my problem now?  It is just that I live in New England where there are actually seasons that make the change even more obvious?  Would it be different if I lived in Southern California where every day is pretty much gorgeous and sunny? (Could be a grand research project, me thinks!)  Is there a way to make peace with the changing of the seasons?

I don’t really have an answer to the question.  But I’d love to hear yours!

 

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Stay Calm and Barbie Om

Look out, world!  The Barbie backlash has returned!  Apparently, Mattel has released a new Barbie in their “I Can Be” series of dolls which features the icon dressed as different professions including a fashion designer, teacher, chef, SeaWorld trainer, President, track champion and veterinarian.  The doll that is causing the newest flurry of blog post rants is a yoga teacher.  Among the myriad entries online, one blogger asks, “Would You Take Yoga from Barbie?” as if to imply that because Barbie is pretty, blonde, and thin that she might not be as good a teacher as someone who isn’t those things.  There are others who still bring up the argument that if Barbie were a real person she couldn’t stand up without falling over because her proportions are not humanly accurate, and that letting girls play with Barbie dolls can somehow skew their self-concepts and perceptions of beauty.  Remarkably, the same energy doesn’t seem to go into arguments against toys for boys that have bulging muscles or super powers.  I’m sure that there are folks out there who argue against those toys as well, but their voices tend to be a little less aggressive than those of the Barbie-haters.

To answer the question about who wants to take class from Barbie, it would seem a lot of people do.  Some fitness centers audition teachers, claiming to look for a “spark” that sets them apart from other candidates.  I’ve heard from someone who works at one such place that every one of the instructors–group fitness and yoga alike–are beautiful.  And why wouldn’t they be?  Let’s face it, as much as it ruffles feathers and gets feminist hackles up, studies have shown that there are perks to being attractive: being picked for teams in elementary school, receiving job offers, and getting help when stranded on the side of the road are just a few.  From a business perspective, it isn’t a surprise that managers would hire good looking employees–especially if it means more people will be coming through the doors.  Do you really think Hooters would sell as many wings if their waitstaff were plain-looking or overweight?  It’s unlikely.  I can’t imagine the food is that great.  😉  Now Lululemon is taking it on the chin for an ad that makes light of the situation.  Really?

Given that these heated discussions are about a doll, it seems that there is a deeper psychological meaning underlying this displaced aggression toward Barbie and all things “too pretty.”  Perhaps it reflects in the way many women treat other women.  (Need an example?  Check out the Real Housewives franchise!)  The cattiness, the lack of trust, and the criticisms that often fly are really the things we should worry about our collective daughters being exposed to; not whether Barbie’s boobs are too big or if she is too pretty to be an achiever.  Why not teach them to be kind and compassionate?  To me, that is one of the greatest ways to exude beauty.  And I think we can begin with the way we treat each other.  Be the example.

But I digress.  (Which is known to happen from time to time!)

My mother had Barbie dolls.  I had Barbie dolls.  I also had other toys that encouraged imaginative play, including Holly Hobbie, a rag-dress-wearing plain Jane who got just as much love as the other dolls I owned.  If you are of a certain generation, you’ll remember Miss Hobbie, but you might not recognize her 21st century incarnation.  She’s a little more stylish and doesn’t look as meek or self-conscious as her predecessor.  Check it out:

  

I’m not upset about yoga teacher Barbie.  I think it’s great.  If I ever have a daughter, I’d hope that she’d be interested in yoga because of my career as a teacher, but if Barbie and her high pony and bright capris capture her attention and interest in getting on the mat?  Awesome.  But one thing is for sure: I won’t let her self-esteem be dictated by society, mean girls or self-proclaimed “goddesses” who may who take things too seriously.  And if she wants a Barbie doll, damn it, she’ll have a Barbie doll.

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Dig Deep

At this exact moment, 530am HST/1130am EST, ten years ago today, I ran my first race ever–the Kona marathon on the Big Island of Hawaii.   I’d never really run any distance prior to training for this event.  Not more than a mile or so with my dog, anyway.  😉  The short story of why I chose to train and run the marathon is this:  I was looking to do something significant for my birthday and I was too indecisive about getting a tattoo to mark the occasion.

About six-weeks later, I heard someone on the radio talking about joining a group of folks who were training for a marathon while raising funds for a good cause.  (Ten years ago, there weren’t as many charitable organizations training for races as there are today.)  They mentioned an information session that was coming up.  I attended.  And while this was a huge undertaking, training for the rigors of a 26.2 mile event that would test my mettle with every step, when I met the group from Boston that was going to run it, a little voice inside of me was screaming, “I’m in!!”   I signed up on the spot.  There was no logic involved.  It was heart.  It was intuition telling me that this was it.  This was the significant thing with which to mark my birthday.

I learned a lot about myself over the ~4 months between sign-up day and the race.  Especially since I chose not to attend the group runs due to my schedule at the time and trained exclusively, 100%, alone.  I had a training plan and a coach who was available to answer my questions, but as far as the motivation that comes from being amongst a group, well, I had to dig deep and find that in myself.

No one else was there when I hit the wall…  When my body ached and rain pelted my face…  “I am a machine…  My body was built for this…” was my mantra.  And I repeated it that day.  With each.  And every.  Painful.  Step.  I remember so clearly getting home, feeling defeated by the achiness in my muscles and dialing up my coach.  *voicemail*  I took a hot bath.  He called back and asked me just a few questions about my run, an 11-miler that day–the longest one so far.  What seemed to be a monumental physical fail to me was brushed off with cool nonchalance as he said, “you have to drink more water.”  And as simple as a parent kissing a boo-boo, I was relieved.

I continued with my training, listening to a mix of music and a motivational speaker as my mileage grew.  By the time we got to Kona, I was ready.  The night before, Coach John’s words of wisdom would again be called upon.  Many questions were asked by the team, each answered with short, to-the-point replies that seemed to be his signature.  My favorite was, “Coach, how do we know what to wear tomorrow?  Do we wear long sleeves?  Shorts?” We hung on his words as he said in his deadpan style, “Step out on your lanai when you wake up.  If it’s cool, wear long sleeves.  If it’s hot, don’t.”  Brilliant, right?

The race was very warm.  Hot, in fact.  It was Kona in June, after all, and we were surrounded by black lava fields while running the Queen K Highway.  I’m glad I didn’t hear until after the fact that the heat index reached a high of 115*.  I started out a little nervous but mostly excited because I knew that I made all necessary course-corrections while preparing–I was well-trained and ready.  I had my music and my favorite motivational talk with me–a mountaineer named Jamie Clarke telling his story about climbing Mt. Everest.  Timing being everything, as I rounded the bend and headed toward downtown Kona, I saw Coach John and our fearless leader, Zach.  They ran along with me for a few yards asking, “How do you feel?  Doing okay?  Feel like throwing up?”  I felt good.  Tired, but good.  No nausea.  Just a little hot.  As they stepped to the side to greet the next runner on our team, I hit the highest mileage I’d ever run, and Jamie Clarke reached the summit.  I just got a little emotional typing and (sort of) reliving that moment!  I was ready to finish strong when I saw one of the girls on my team struggling.  She and her husband decided not to stick together, opting to run for their own individual times, and she was sick.  Her belief in herself was waning.  She kept repeating, “I’m gonna throw up.  I’m gonna die.  I’m gonna throw up…”  Quite different from my mantra!  Since I wasn’t concerned about my finishing time–only that I finish strong–I walked with her as we both poured ice water over our heads and made our way to the end of the race.  When the gauntlet was in site, we poured it on one last time and hit the finish line together.

This is in no way meant to be a “glory days” post.  I’ve run a marathon and/or half marathon every year since then with little 5Ks peppered in between.  But as I was on the road yesterday with the heat wave we’ve been experiencing in New England, it made me think about this event in my life, that happened to be almost exactly ten years ago at that moment.  Yeah, it was hot yesterday as temperatures flirted with the upper-90s.  I laughed to myself as I thought, “Did I really run a marathon in this heat?!  What a wimp I’ve become!”  But it was a good reminder for me and when it got tough, all I had to do was dig deep and keep going.

It’s all any of us has to do.  You have all the magic and strength that you need right there inside of you.

Dig deep, friends.

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Be Who You Are. Not What You Do.

Recently, one of the places where I teach announced that they were closing the doors on December 1st of this year.  They will be overhauling the building for fourteen months before reopening as a more medically-based fitness facility complete with specialized doctor’s offices to be located on the newly added third floor.  The news came as a shock to employees and members alike.  The club not only provides a beautiful place to workout, practice yoga, swim, and receive massages and acupuncture, but has also created a social network for its members.  They’ve received support at each stage of their lives–whether it was the birth of a new baby, the death of a loved one, or any point in between–from other members as well as instructors and employees.

While this change is going to force members to find (what we hope is) a temporary solution to their health club needs, it’s also leaving the employees to sort out where they will work in the interim.  Some folks have “real jobs” and simply teach as a supplement to their income or for the sheer joy they get from instructing and sharing their passion.  Others teach and/or work at the club full-time, and are very unsettled about what comes next.  Aside from the obvious reasons–Where will they go?  Can other local clubs absorb this many employees/instructors?–there are also more subtle reasons that many of them may not see, and it isn’t something that is relegated only to those in the fitness/wellness industry.   It can happen to anyone who has chosen to allow their careers to define them, no matter if they are a doctor, attorney, mother/father, business owner, teacher, etc.  What happens when that role is suddenly taken away or altered?  Whether you are relocated, fired, choosing to start a new job, opening a new business, sending the kids off to college or to be married, etc., being faced with your own self-perception can be staggering.

Many of the people who I work with at this particular club have been there for years.  They’re the proverbial big fish in a small pond.  They know their jobs well, have established relationships with members and each other, and often feed off the adulation that is bestowed upon them as so-and-so’s “favorite instructor.”  Aside from needing a new source of income, there is also the insecurity of moving from rockstar status to the new kid on the block.  For some, the ego will probably take a bigger hit than the bank account.

I know that some people revel in being known by their profession, but I’ve never liked the question, “what do you do?”  It feels claustrophobic to me, like there is no room for anything else because I’m a ____________.  I’m not trying to take away any professional achievements or say that folks shouldn’t be proud of what they’ve accomplished in their careers.  But consider this:  If you work a job that requires 40 hours a week, and you sleep 7 hours a night, technically, you spend more time sleeping than you do working.  Would you answer the question, “what do you do?” with “I sleep?”  Of course not!  But I digress…

So, what’s my point?  😛  I suppose it’s that life is dynamic.  People are dynamic.  Nothing will always remain the same, no matter how hard we wish it would.  So, if you find yourself in a situation like I’ve described, don’t mourn the passing of the routine or familiar.  Be thankful for the opportunities and lessons that it has provided you and move on with your head held high.  You are not that job, that role, or that title.  You are YOU.  And it’s my bet that you’re a pretty awesome you, too…

 

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I Love This: Ganesh

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Ashtanga Yoga Confluence Conference – WOW!

As an active Facebook-er, information about yoga events around the world is pretty easy to uncover.  So when I found out what seemed to be too-little-too-late about an incredible opportunity for me as both a yoga teacher and an ashtangi, I was stunned.  It happened entirely by accident; I was checking out David Swenson’s website and stumbled upon a link to the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence Conference, featuring my teacher, David Swenson, as well as well-known and respected Ashtangis like Tim Miller, Richard Freeman, Eddie Stern, and Nancy Gilgoff… not to mention some other pretty incredible teachers who were assisting the masters.

HOW DID I MISS THIS?!  Four days of puja, practice, practice, and more practice.  A night with MC Yogi performing live (his mat was amongst us during the weekend, too).  Mysore.  Second Series.  Lectures.  Oh, and did I mention?  It was taking place in a beachy enclave just north of San Diego.  By the time I inquired about the event, it had been entirely full with hundreds of people on the wait list.  *hmpf*

Since I’d already decided I was going, even without knowing how, I continued to stay in communication with one of the organizers.  I offered to help with set-up, take-down, (wo)manning a table for them.  Just about anything.  I’ve organized conferences of different sorts in my “other life,” and knew all the work that went into them.  I’d happily help out if it meant I could practice with five of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ original students!

About two weeks before the conference kicked off, I gave it one last shot.  I’d need to book a flight from BOS to SAN, find a place to stay, etc.  What are the chances someone actually decided not to go?  Apparently, they were pretty high!  I heard back right away, as someone had literally just canceled.  *happy dance*

It’s hard to put into words what the experience was like, but I can tell you that if felt good to be on the mat as a student, gleaning knowledge and wisdom of the highest variety from each of the teachers.

On the last day, Eddie Stern told us during a panel discussion that he went to Encinitas on the break to see Manju Jois.  As they reminisced about the good ol’ days, another student of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois showed up with a photo album.  Eddie said he was moved to tears as he felt like he was experiencing the best kind of family reunion… and that the family was expanding (referring to those of us in attendance).  Given that this conference took place while the Anusara scandal was unfolding, it was nice to know that the lineage of Ashtanga yoga was being held with the utmost integrity–and that I was part of it.

I came back feeling like I was on the right path, hoping that the students who show up to my classes leave the mat feeling that this practice is a gift.  Both one that we receive by way of lineage and tradition, as well as one that we give others who come in contact with us, as we move through life with just a little more grace and presence.

Namaste.

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Jumping Through – video

Here is a good visual on how to jump through to seated from Maria Villella, a yoga teacher in Santa Monica.

Jumping Through

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Recent Photo Shoot

I had the great pleasure to work with Ginger Nelson-Kellar recently and she managed to capture some pretty wonderful photos of me at one of the studios where I teach.  She has such a terrific eye and works so well with natural light.  Here are just a few (there were hundreds!).  🙂

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How Not Taking Responsibility Can Wreck Your Body

A recent article in the New York Times has stirred up a bit of controversy in the yoga world.  The title “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” certainly got a lot of attention, as did the claims that were made by the featured yoga teacher.  This teacher also made the sweeping comment that ““the vast majority of people” should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.”  Wow.  While valid concerns about injury and knowing limits may have been mentioned, they were lost in the fear factor/shock value in strokes, sciatica, nerve damage, hip replacements, etc., all as a result of practicing yoga.  What?!  I was not alone in this feeling of disbelief over what had been mentioned in this article.   Many prominent yoga teachers took to their blogs to fight back, give more detailed explanations about yoga, refuting the claims that were made by this writer and his subject.  One blogger made light of the article in her response, here.

Since the article came out, a fellow teacher sent an email urging his instructors to be extra careful in the way they lead their classes.  I’ve also had people in my classes ask me about the article, what I thought, was yoga really dangerous, etc.   Some asked out of curiosity, others out of concern for their safety.  And I get it.  This was such a sensationalized piece that it was bound to get attention.

Having practiced yoga for 11+ years, I can only recall experiencing the pain of injury twice.  Once was at the very beginning of my practice and the other came more recently.  One was after (during?) a forward fold of some sort (it’s been 10 years, so I don’t recall the exact pose) that my mid-marathon-training-season body clearly rebelled against.  The other was a drop back from standing into a backbend.  Both were a result of being over-zealous about getting deeper into a posture and not listening to my gut when I knew better.   And both required backing off from the things I love in order to get myself into “fighting form” again.  That, in and of itself, is enough for me to use caution when practicing!

That caution has also found its way into my teaching.  Because I teach to a wide variety of practitioners, until I am familiar with them, their bodies, their bodies’ stories, etc., I purposely do not give physical adjustments liberally.  I watch.  I cue.  I realize that many haven’t yet developed the body awareness that tells them when their shoulders aren’t in alignment, when they are sagging in the hip, when they are over-arching their back, when they aren’t engaging certain muscles, etc.  A gentle repositioning can help with the misalignment.  When it’s a simple matter of not being flexible enough to get into the expression of the pose that they are gunning for, I give modifications.  Sometimes, those mods involve props like a block or a strap.  And sometimes, the backing out of a pose can happen much to the practitioner’s chagrin because they want to be “good” at this practice.  They want to “get it.”  (This is why the word “ego” has been used in some of the aforementioned articles.  Because of the desire to attain something–in this case, a posture–to satisfy something within ourselves.)

Here’s the deal.  Being able to touch your hand to the floor by shifting your hips, twisting, and bending your knee (thereby in no way resembling the intended posture) misses the mark.  It’s no longer yoga, and it may just be the recipe for a nice injury.

People have said say some pretty wonderful things about my teaching style, and while I may occasionally break away from Primary Series short form sequencing to introduce a “wild card” posture into the practice (ie: something from 2nd or 3rd Series that makes sense for the people in my class at that time, given what their bodies will allow them to explore), one thing remains constant: there will be no injuries on my watch.  That’s my responsibility to the folks who come to my classes.  I will not be irresponsible with my cuing, sequencing or adjustments so that they may remain safe in my classes.  My humble request to them is to be equally responsible for not pushing themselves toward an injury when they practice.

There is definitely a tendency in the West to want to do more, faster…  And, unfortunately, that can show up in a yoga studio, sometimes resulting in injury.  If you want to deepen your expressions of asanas, the best advice I can give comes from Sri K. Pattabhi Jois:  “Practice, practice, practice.  All is coming.”

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Top 10 Foods for Women’s Health

So, I’ve been a little preoccupied since the holidays – a new puppy has joined the family and I have been busy putting together my Yoga for Athletes program that launches TODAY!  But when I saw this information, I knew I had to share it with you.  I’m so glad to see so many of my favorite things on this list!  And did you notice?  Some of the ingredients come together to make my favorite “Happy Shake!”

http://blissreturned.wordpress.com/2012/01/04/top-10-foods-for-womens-health-by-dr-ariel-policano/

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