Saturday, August 27, 2016

AromaYIN at The Giving Tree Yoga Studio

Forty-five minutes after the end of yoga class and I have finally crutched all the way back home, sitting at the computer, ready to write my blog.  Had I left after my prenatal class, I could've been done for the day (and the week) and at home by probably about 6:00, given my speed on the street these days.

What kind of class was worth taking, and worth keeping me out of the house an extra 90 minutes worth of class time and seemingly endless amount of getting-ready and crutch-commute time?  That would be the outstanding AromaYIN class at The Giving Tree Yoga Studio.

Yin, similar to restorative, yoga involves holding poses for much longer than in a typical hatha or vinyasa class - 5-10 minutes.  Like restorative, props are utilized for comfort, but in yin yoga there is a greater emphasis on therapeutic stretching of muscles and the connective tissues as well as resting comfortably in the poses.  You're changing your body more with yin than with restorative.

I have always been a huge fan of restorative - and now also, yin - yoga.  (For one thing, it's basically the only way I can really take a good nap.)  With both of these wonderful practices, you can take most any pose that comes to mind, add enough props and creativity, and you can allow your body to open, backward bend, forward fold, twist, laterally stretch, and rest with a minimum of effort and a maximum of results that make you feel completely refreshed.

The Giving Tree has been my neighborhood yoga studio since Ditmars has been my neighborhood - six years now.  There used to be just one or two restorative classes on the schedule, but as time has gone on and teachers have come and go, and as owners Anne-Margaret and Anthony have continued to evolve as phenomenal teachers, teacher training facilitators, and givers to their community, they developed a class based on a two and a half hour workshop they offer - which also adds massage and reiki to the mix.

Now AromaYIN is offered four times a week, with four different teachers.  I can most often be spotted in Iris's class, where her warm hands offer such comforting hands-on assists or in Clay's, where his soothing voice helps lull me into relaxation at the end of a long week.  I've had the pleasure of also taking Donna and Kim's classes, which are also lovely.

Having this class right in my neighborhood is so helpful whenever I'm on call for a doula client.  I often get too in my head and have a hard time sleeping when I ought to be logging as many solid hours of sleep at night as I can, or perhaps my client is in days-long early labor where I know I need to be ready at any moment.  Just getting into my bed for the purpose of napping usually just involves me tossing and turning fitfully while having insane conversations with myself - but in the context of yoga poses, guided by a teacher - and not to mention the wonderful aromatherapy - it completely turns off my anxious mind and helps rest my body.

Now I'm no longer on call, but my torn plantar fascia has my mobility and activity severely limited.  I find myself constantly exhausted now, either from the exertion it takes just to get from Point A to Point B, or because I'm also paradoxically nowhere near as active as I normally am on a day-to-day basis and I feel like inertia is pulling me under and sucking the energy out of me.  It'll be a long time before I can take a regular class and actually practice along with everyone else, but AromaYIN has been such an unbelievable comfort.  It helps me to rest, helps me to soothe my sore and imbalanced body, and probably most importantly, has helped me to feel supported and keep my spirits up.  My practice is different for the near future, but I still have one, and it's still powerful and profound.

Whether you're struggling with an injury or healthy as a horse, whether you have a type-A anxious New York mind that has a hard time being still or are just curious about trying something new, I cannot recommend the AromaYIN class highly enough.




Infusing the wisdom of the chakras with the balancing properties of aromatherapy, AromaYIN
offers a yin-like, feminine practice, exclusively on the floor, that restores the body, mind, and spirit. Each restorative and yin pose is enhanced with the inhalation of therapeutic-grade essential oils, chakra meditations, and hands-on adjustments to melt the body into sweet surrender. Created by Anne-Margaret Redding, AromaYIN is featured at The Giving Tree Yoga Studio in Astoria, NY.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Love & Obstacles

My original subject from this post was going to be all about responding with love to adversities and adversaries.  I was inspired by Corey Booker's response to a standard-issue negative tweet from the Republican nominee - answering the hatefulness with love, compassion, and rising above the negativity.  It's a truly admirable example, and one that everyone should follow, regardless of your party affiliation, if we actually want to make the country and the world a better place.

Little did I know that the obstacle put in my way this week would quite be to this level.

After trying to self-manage mild but ever-present pain in my left foot this summer, which I self-diagnosed as plantar fasciitis, my first run in a few weeks sent the pain level up a few notches and finally got my stubborn, prideful self to the podiatrist.  I expected to leave with admonitions about better shoes and not being barefoot in hardwood and maybe a cortisone shot to get me through.

Instead, I was told what no active New Yorker - or anyone, for that matter - wants to hear:  Crutches.  For at least 4 weeks, if not 8.   God save me from any more than that.  A tear in my plantar fascia.

So, yes.  My left foot is now my not-quite-literal flat tire - my obstacle.

I'll be put in a cast after Labor Day - wearing a boot until then, because I will be damned if I miss out on my last two weeks of swimming.  Crutching my way down to the pool took forever (and good GOD I forgot how painful it is to crutch around the city...my hands and my armpits are 20 billion times more painful than my foot) but hitting the water made it so very worth it.  Watching the sun set over the East River as I glided through the water was the absolute best thing for my body and soul.

So, now is where all my platitudes get put to the test.  The purpose of life is to enjoy every moment is my life philosophy, and I intend to enjoy this adventure as much as I can, despite the disappointments.  No more Labor Day getaway filled with hiking and exploring Cold Spring with my love.  No 10-mile Bronx race in September or 8K Run for France on Sunday.  No taking for granted going up and down stairs, making dinner, setting up mats for my yoga classes, dashing across the room to get the phone or the door, speedwalking from my apartment to the subway in 5 minutes.  As a very active, very self-sufficient, very spry (for lack of a better word) person, not being able to do these big and little things can set me off in anger and frustration like nobody's business.

But.

Silver linings.

Acts of kindness are never more on display, from my friends and from strangers, than when I'm injured.  My husband, thank the sweet lord, is not out of town doing a show like he was the last time I was confined to crutches, and takes incredible care of me in sickness and in health.  And despite being unable to run, I got to swim into the Astoria sunset tonight.

Perspective.

A torn plantar fascia is not a broken foot, or a broken leg, or cancer.  I'm young and in great shape.  Despite the considerable expense, I'm able to get good health care and have the resources to get the shoes and myriad of accessories needed for recovery and rehabilitation.  I am blessed with a roof over my head and stability & love in my life.  I have a job I love so much that it brings tears to my eyes when I think of not being able to do it.  I acknowledge that this is a first-world problem.

I am an optimist at heart.  I do have an excellent ability to be cynical and negative, to complain and to burrow myself into being a victim, but I truly am an optimist at heart.  And in the end, I know I will learn valuable lessons from this.  (The first being - stop trying to tough out pain, because the only medal you will be rewarded is crutches!  For some reason that one takes awhile to stick...)

They say comedy is tragedy plus time, which is completely true.  This doesn't qualify as major tragedy, not by a long shot, but it is a big physical, emotional, and mental obstacle.  So I'm just going to try to love it.  I'm going to try to love doing everything incredibly slowly.  I'm going to love the flights of stairs awaiting me in these next weeks.  I'm going to love my foot instead of reacting how I normally do to injury - with anger and resentment of my body.

Mainly, I'm going to try to find the humor and perspective in the moment that normally comes with time.  I will need lots of help and encouragement, but I know my fellow New Yorkers and loved ones are up for the job.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Let's go swimming

Two to three mornings a week, I go running.  This summer, though, in preparation for next year's NYC Marathon, I wanted to take some time off to let my body fully recover from the Brooklyn Half.  I've been running 1-2 times a week max, spending more time strength training, and luckily was given an absolutely perfect gift by my neighborhood - a chance to stay in shape and stay cool at the same time, while doing one of my favorite activities on the planet.

The Astoria Park public pool offers lap swim for grown-ups from 7-8:30am and 7pm-dusk - this has apparently been offered for years, but I've had my head under a rock and didn't realize it.  Of all the summers to discover it, how awesome that I'm getting back in to lap swimming during the Olympics!  I competed on swim teams for a good 5 or 6 years as a kid and I regret quitting when I did.  Swimming just for fun has always been one of my absolute favorite things to do - my mom has said that I could swim before I could walk (I don't know if that's true, but it sounds awesome).  If I could have any superpower, it would definitely be the ability to breathe underwater so I could basically live like a mermaid.  If I'm at the beach, I'm going in the water - temperature be damned.

Incredibly, we're approaching mid-August, which means we are approaching fall.  I think in the hot humid misery of our current state, most of us are forgetting the joys of summer and are ready for cooler weather - and after the Olympics, I know at least I will be seriously ready for football season.

But even though now is the time to start preparing and laying the groundwork for "back to school" season, which in my line of work means back to a much fuller working and teaching schedule, now is also the time to revel in summer, even when it's as miserably hot as it is today and has been this week.

I've been replacing running with swimming every chance I've gotten, and one of the many things I love about swimming is that, unless you're shelling out the money for waterproof headphones, you can only listen to yourself and to your breath.  I don't run without headphones quite as often as I probably should, and most yoga classes I attend play music.  Swimming is a chance to move, meditate, and focus on the breath all at the same time.  It's a chance to feel cool and weightless and graceful.

It's also humbling.  Breast stroke comes very naturally to me, so as a result I hadn't attempted to swim freestyle in a very long time.  Probably years.  I assumed that because I'm a strong swimmer in the sense that I'm comfortable being knocked around by waves in the ocean, that I'd glide right back into freestyle.  That was definitely not the case.  It's an advanced stroke and it was good for me to get my butt kicked trying to rediscover it.  It took a few visits before I was able to make an entire lap of freestyle start to finish, but I'm finally back there.

Getting the chance to have that time to myself before teaching, especially for teaching my beloved and often totally insane Friday morning classes at The Giving Tree, has been wonderful.  It's always good, mentally and physically, to switch things up every so often, and I'm so grateful to the NYC Parks department for this free opportunity!

There are more community pools around the area if you aren't an Astorian - this website gives you locations.  Summer isn't over yet - get inspired and get swimming!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Stronger than we think

I had the honor of attending my 9th birth this past weekend.  It knocked me off my regular blogging schedule (a baby being born is slightly more important than my self-imposed goals...), so here's a quick one as I run around getting my head back on straight, my house back in order, and getting ready for the new week and month ahead.

During each and every birth I've attended, whether it's been completely drug free or medicated, whether vaginal or cesarean, there reaches a point (or several points) where the mother says, "I can't do this.  I can't do this anymore."

And yet somehow - they do.  They get through it, the baby comes out however he or she comes out, and life continues on to the next adventure, the next challenge, the next demands.

I'm inspired similarly whenever I come home from a visit with my sister, in frank awe of everything she accomplishes every day by raising her 3 small children and the absolute onslaught of work that entails - not just feeding and comforting and playing, but the phone calls to insurance companies and dealing with when things break in the house and being a support for my brother-in-law, who works his heart out on their business.

I never fail to be inspired by moms, and it never fails to remind me that we are all stronger than we think we are.  We can all do more than we think we can.  We all have more time than we realize, if only we did not squander it - through shallow distractions like facebook (and lord knows I am not counting myself above that one) and through deeper distractions like freezing in self doubt.

Sometimes, your body takes over and shows you the spectacular strength and capability you never realized you had, as in many births I've witnessed.  Sometimes, it's the mind that takes over in the face of overwhelming challenge, and a stubborn mental belief and strength is what carries you through.

The truth remains the same, though - we are all so much stronger than we realize.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Stewardship

A funny, fancy, formal, old-fashioned word - Stewardship.  That's been my word-o-the-month for July, inspired by one of my all-time favorite podcasts:  Two Gomers Run for Their Lives.

Like me, the Gomers choose a word to help to shape and define their thoughts, goals, and actions for each particular year, and I remember a year or two ago, one of them chose Stewardship.  It always stuck in my mind, and now it's maybe one of my favorite "words to live by" because it cuts across all categories - the gift of my time, my health, my marriage, my family, my friends, my work, the gift of my home, my energy, my city.  And it's less of a word, really, than a constant framework to a question - "Am I being a good steward of my {fill in the blank}?"

For me, it's become a simple way to get ahold of myself when my addiction to election coverage is causing me to breathe fire or a good way to motivate myself to get moving when the makes staying inside so very compelling.  When I know I'm squandering time or doing something not consistent with the habits I want to build and keep, the concept of stewardship pops in my head and makes me think about my actions - and on a good day, improve them.

It's remarkable the power that one little word or phrase can have when we consciously set an intention to be guided by it each morning.

Friday, July 15, 2016

A few words for Nice

I've been in love with the idea of Nice since around 2006, or maybe a year or two before.  I had read The Bay at Nice by David Hare, the one act play that was to be my senior thesis directing project.  True, the play is set in Russia, but its constant evocation of Nice as this heavenly place filled with perfect light and beauty, combined with my pre-existing love of all things French inevitably created a wistful desire to some day go and see it for myself.  I always smile as I remember some college friends teasing and mocking me for my snooty (though it was quite cheap) French wine and my Edith Piaf music as I was immersing myself into writing and directing my thesis.

Fast forward to 2013, and I'm newly married with a French last name, and I'm heading to the only place that's ever crossed my mind if I were to imagine where I might go on a honeymoon.

Over our two week honeymoon that September, we spent 4 or so days in Italy's stunning Cinque Terre, but the bulk of the time was spent, at my request, in Nice.  Our favorite beach was Lido Plage.  Our favorite restaurant, hands down, was Le Bistrot du Fromagere - we loved it so much we went there 3 times. We wanted to be best friends with the owner, who was also our server and the slicer of the home-made bread, which is still the best bread I've ever had in my life.   Our favorite wine was a rose, of course - Chateau de Berne.  Every single night, no matter how much we had at dinner, we got gelato and walked down the Promenade des Anglais.  I cried when we had to go home.

The beauty that I read about, the beauty that I saw in pictures, the beauty that I imagined - absolutely nothing compared to seeing it in person.  Even my own photographs don't properly capture the light and color - the staggering blue of the Mediterranean and of the sky, the spectacular golds and pinks of the sunsets, the vibrant bursts of color of the fireworks at night.  We were so wrapped up in the la-la land of honeymooners that I don't think we ever did figure out why there were fireworks displays so frequently during our time there in early September.  We were content enough to let the occasion be a celebration of the city itself.  Who needs a reason when you're Nice?  A city full of the friendliest French people you're likely to find, the best seafood in the world, endless bottles of cold rose, gelato for days, and simply effortless beauty.

My head and my heart can't keep up with this summer.  Orlando, Istanbul, Baghdad, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas, and now Nice.  And forgive me because I know that list isn't comprehensive - how could it be?  And I can't write an ode to each tragedy, to each city, I can't change my profile picture in solidarity with every act of violence in every culture - to do so would be pointless and madness, anyway.

But oh, how I love love love love love the city of Nice, France.  How my heart aches for the residents and tourists who stood where we stood, looked up at the sky as we did at the fireworks and the stars and the moon, breathed the same salt sea air.  It just aches, and I just have to share it and find comfort in the beauty of the city, and the knowledge that as it always does, out of this tragedy will grow love and brotherhood and fellowship and stories of courage and kindness.

Often it feels like there's nothing we can do in the wake of tragedies, particularly those that occur across the country or across the ocean.  You can always live your life striving to be an agent of peace.  You can strive to be peaceful in the microcosm of your life, and do what you can to allow your love in action affect the macrocosm of this brutal but beautiful world we live in - and it is a beautiful, beautiful world.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Fear and Heartache, Love and Change

What a week it has been.  I find myself both at a loss for words of what to write this week, and also overflowing with ramblings thoughts pouring every which way, going down this branch of reasoning or that.  The idea of coming up with something coherent and comprehensive and concise but not reductive is more than a little overwhelming.

This past week was mired in heartache, on a personal level for various private reasons, and of course, on a national level.  Baton Rouge.  St. Paul. And my beloved home during my childhood, Dallas, TX.

I think the root of so much of this violence and inequity is fear.  Black citizens are afraid of police officers.  Police officers are afraid of black citizens. (Dallas citizen Kellon Nixon articulates it much better than I; please give the video a watch.  It inspired this post.) That's what racism - conscious or unconscious - is.  That's why we use the word "homophobia" to describe discrimination or hate against gay people.  Homophobic people feel their own sense of normality and the way the world should be is threatened by this reality wherein it's okay for two men or two women to love each other, and that fear leads to hate.

Like with any extreme, though, there exists its opposite, and there have been heartwrenchingly beautiful moments of connection and peace in the midst of the division and violence.  Protestors from opposite movements crossing lines and embracing.  Police officers and Black Lives Matters leaders and protestors having respectful and caring dialogue, or marching together (as in Dallas, before the protest turned deadly).  Stories of kindnesses, and strangers reaching out to each other in their grief.

I can't pretend that I have a clue what it's like to be a police officer.  To undergo the constant stress of risking your life and putting yourself in harms way every single day.  I can't pretend that I have a clue what it's like to be a black American - to continually see videos of unjust police shootings, and live in a society where so many fellow black citizens are incarcerated disproportionate to whites, and a thousand small everyday injustices and inequities in between.  But I am a citizen of this country, and so I've been grappling with and trying to wrap my head and heart around all of this to see how we can cope.

One thing I've learned as a yoga teacher, doula, and student of my wonderful prenatal mentor, is that the opposite of fear is love.  Fear produces adrenaline; love produces oxytocin.  One produces the "fight or flight" sympathetic response; the other produces what some call a "tend and befriend" parasympathetic response.

How do we overcome fear?  We look it straight in the face.  We get to know it.  We educate ourselves.  Movements progress through dialogue and connection and common ground with your counterparts.  On the small scale, it's reaching out and talking.  Hate speech and violence perpetuate the problem, dig people deeper into their entrenched beliefs, narrow their blinders, and either affects no change or makes things worse - usually both.

My mom told me this week that life is all about change.  That's all it is.  Yoga teaches us that nothing is permanent.  As Lin-Manuel Miranda so poignantly put it - "nothing here is promised; not one day."

Change is scary.  Change usually provokes fear.  This is a situation that has to change and has to stop.   There is so much we can do - and there are many helpful lists circulating online of numbers to call, bills to ask for action on, groups to join, marches to attend - there's so much we can do on our community level and by engaging with our lawmakers.

On a smaller level, the change we should first and foremost be enacting is within ourselves and to our neighbors.  Especially in New York, where the order of the day is to avoid eye contact with everyone you encounter on your commute - make a connection.  Even a moment of eye contact and a slight smile.  Be an agent of peace and love.  Speak out against racism even when it's uncomfortable.  Be kind.

It's oft-quoted to the point of cliche, but Ghandi's, "Be the change you want to see in the world," has never rung more true for me than during these violent and unkind days.  Focus on those kindnesses you see in the news alongside the tragedies that also rightly demand our focus.  Then do it, and be it.  That's how I see getting through this, and I hope many more join.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Control, Risk, and Cliche

I realized after I posted my blog last week that I had completely lost the little spark of inspiration that led to me wanting to write about that topic at all.  In my haste of following my rigid and totally arbitrary standard of posting something every Tuesday no matter what, I found the random idea I had jotted down and went with it...totally forgetting about the root and revelation of it all.

As I was running in a race last month, I had found myself thinking of the 2017 NYC Marathon - which is not unusual, as that's where my thoughts usually tend when I'm running these days.  Then my thoughts shifted to a few variations on the theme of crossing my fingers and hoping that I'd be able to make it through this marathon uninjured and relatively unscathed.

And that's when the thought occurred to me - so much of that is in my control.

We don't realize through the course of living our lives just how much of what happens to us is in our control.  How much control we have over our reactions to events that befall us.  How much influence our previous actions have over those events that befall us.  How much responsibility we bear, how much of a difference we can make.

In the context of running, that of course led me to figuratively smacking myself upside the head and realizing that I could wish and hope that I can do this without getting injured and continue to live in my comfort zone - in this case, doing some PT and strength training when I'm inclined to, but mostly just rigidly following an intense running schedule - or I could actually change my behavior which might actually change my result.

Do I want to change my behavior?  Hell no.  The ways in which I've prepped for a race are challenging but familiar in their challenge.  Changing that will be uncomfortable and require way more effort, but I know it will lead to the results that I actually want.

Now, I know there's no such thing as being totally injury proof, but if I make an active, concerted, real effort to do the work that I know in my head I need to do to prevent injury...that's not just me wishing and hoping and throwing it to the Gods that I don't get injured, but that's me putting in a real effort, making a real change, and actually contributed toward that hoped-for outcome.  And hell, I might make this big change and put in all this effort and still get injured, and that sure would suck.  But it probably wouldn't suck as much as it would if I made a half-assed effort and just crossed my fingers for the other half.

So yes - that's the running context.

In the larger context, I think it has to do with putting yourself out there.  Or with choosing optimism over cynicism.  To admit that you're actually trying to do something hard or new or different or risky or something that doesn't come naturally.  From the small and mundane (attempting to keep a house plant alive would be on my list) to the bigger and bolder (making a career switch, moving to a new city), just making the decision to try, and just making that attempt to succeed is a brave act.

It sounds very simplistic and obvious, I know.  And more than a little superior and preachy despite my best efforts.  But the older I get, the more I realize that often the lessons that are the hardest to learn, the most profound, and the most valuable are the simple cliche's that you've heard repeated a thousand million billion times before.  You hear them, repeat them, let them fly in one ear and out the other thinking that you get it, but then some sort of life circumstance befalls you and you really hear that advice for the first time and get it.

The phrase "putting yourself out there" is probably the most neat bow I can put on what it is I'm trying to talk about here.  It's often easier to accept challenges in life without challenging back.  It's easier - in the short run - to play the victim of your circumstances instead of seeing what kind of space there might be for you to change the course of things.  Because what if you put yourself out there, what if you try to take control, what if you try to make a change - and you fail?

Well, then.  You fail.  And that sucks.  And that's embarrassing.  And sometimes it's even heartbreaking.

But what's the alternative?  I'd rather not find out if I can help it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The (Running) Journey

Everyone know the cliche - "Life is about the journey, not the destination."

We all hear it.  We all "know" it.  When someone says it, it sort of washes over us and through us.  But the only way you really learn it, the only way you really feel it, is through some sort of significant personal experience.

In this particular context, I am, of course, talking about running.  This is a lesson that's been painfully (literally) slow to sink in for myself, and it started with the marathon, subsequent injuries, and more importantly, the subsequent journey into the world of physical therapy, mobility work, and strength/cross training.

Runners hear all the time about the importance of strength training, but I kept myself stuck in a narrative that said that I "can't" do strength work on my own.  I can do it under a teacher's guidance or in a class setting where I have someone to impress, someone to push me harder than I'd push myself, but I just don't have it in me to do it by myself in my living room.  Running is so easy by comparison - you decide how long you're going, and you just go.  No agonizing of decisions over how many sets, how heavy, how long, when you can cheat and when you can quit.

Even after my PT "graduation," after plenty of time of faithfully doing my PT strength homework as assigned, doing that work still felt somewhat temporary.  I regarded it as just a warm-up to do before a run and as tune-up to do when I started to feel any nagging pain.

However, my painful and slow, but ultimately healthy, half marathon last month finally hammered it home.  If I really want to run for the rest of my life - to say nothing of running next year's NYC Marathon - I have to accept so much more than running as part of my journey.

Listening to a special episode of the best running podcast ever, Two Gomers Run for Their Lives, articulated this as well.  One of the Gomers got a lecture from his physical therapist (PT's to the rescue, once again) about how runners and athletes, especially younger ones, put all their energy into the race or the sport/activity itself, and nowhere near enough emphasis on form and technique - aka STRENGTH.  Injuries happen as a result of this - sometimes permanent injuries.  Your speed or personal record race time is not an accurate reflection of being a healthy, well rounded athlete - just as being able to do a headstand is not an accurate reflection of being a "true" yogi.

It means spending less time actually running, and it demands so much more honest awareness.  I used to think that because I taught and practiced yoga, that was all the "cross-training" my body needed.  I felt like I got a pass.  But repetitive motions of any kind, even the sainted practice of yoga, can cause imbalances and potential injury.  The real work of keeping our bodies healthy and active for the rest of our lives is not that exciting.  It's not in the moment of crossing the finish line, it's in all the boring, sometimes tedious, but sometimes tremendously rewarding little moments that lead up to it.  It's all the little moments where you show up - where you foam roll for a half hour in front of the TV instead of sit.  Where you decide to no longer short change the warm up or the cool down.  It's an honest, thorough assessments of points of pain, points of weakness, and facing them unflinchingly.

And of course, it's all a metaphor for life too, isn't it?  We have watershed moments, the big milestones in the personal and professional realms.  But without the hard work to build us up to those moments, they wouldn't exist.

I've been a runner for nearly nine years - but in some ways, I feel like a complete novice.  I feel like for the first time I'm treating my body responsibly, like the fragile and finite - and strong - thing it is.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sleep Tune Up

Today is Day 21 of my 3rd round of Whole30!  Physically, I feel fantastic - my energy is starting to level out (those 3pm crashes are on their way out!), ----, and I'm enjoying one of my favorite Whole30 benefits - better sleep.

Of course, full disclosure - I drafted this post last Tuesday (Day 14), and before a 36 hour birth-a-thon.  So, every night has not been full of sleep, glorious sleep and even-keel energy levels.

One of the best things about Round 3?  I'm really not thinking about food that much!  I was really worried this go-round for some reason - worried because two rounds of Whole30 and I'm not a magical perfect eater who has figured her way out of emotional eating and chocolate/sugar addiction, and I thought that my mind would cling harder than ever to the sugar I was going to be denying it for the next 30 days.  The opposite has turned out to be true.  My brain went right back into Whole30 mode, planning delicious protein and veggie filled meals, with only a passing wistfulness for the glass of wine and dessert I'd be forgoing for the next 30 days.

Because of my brain's remarkable ability to jump onto a Whole30 autopilot (who knew such a thing would exist for me last June when this was such a terrifying new endeavor?), I've actually spent the past three weeks focused on improving other areas of my health alongside the improvements that I'm making by eating a whole-foods, sugar-free diet.

One of the major areas of focus:  Improving sleep!

Living in the city that never sleeps, and working every day with new moms for whom four uninterrupted hours is a luxury, I sometimes feel like I'm all alone on Sleep Zealot Island.  I've been that way mostly my whole life (with the possible exception of college...), and I think it's partly due to my morning-person nature and the fact that my brain and body just shut down when it gets late.  When I don't get enough sleep, I'm emotional, cranky, foggy, and about 30% less smart.

For the most part, falling asleep has never been much of a problem for me, but I find the older I get, the less frequently I can just pass out as soon as my head hits the pillow.  The first days of a Whole30 often negatively affect my ability to fall asleep quickly too, because drinking a few glasses of wine is a great way to ensure I will fall asleep hard! Of course, issue with that comes with staying asleep through the night, but I digress.

As I've been expending way less mental energy on food (can I have chocolate after dinner? how much?  what kind?  can I have another glass of wine? will it really matter if I eat this entire bag of tortilla chips?), I've spent more of my energy focusing on helping myself to a better night's sleep.  I've been (a little) better about not looking at screens an hour before bed, carving out more to read, taking a magnesium supplement, and finally, I'm incorporating the amazing Yoga Tune Up balls to help my to body release tension and my brain to shut the hell up.

Yoga Tune Up isn't so much a type of yoga like Hatha or Vinyasa or Bikram - it's a "fitness format" that focuses not just on stretching and strengthening, but on self-massage, corrective posture, and the awareness to identify and consciously improve problem areas throughout the whole body.  It has been a huge part of my self-care arsenal, thanks to my fantastic physical therapist and to a former yoga teacher who also happens to be a renowned CrossFit coach and an inspiration to my first Whole30, Keith Wittenstein - aka Coach Panda.

For a yoga teacher, I don't always actually use the practice in ways I know I should.  One of the most powerful ways to incorporate yoga into your daily routine is right before bed to wind down and help transition your mind and body from the go-go-go bombardment of daily life to the quiet and ease of sleep.

Below are the two Tune Up techniques I've found to be most powerful and beneficial to sending me off to bed - and bonus points, they reduce the intensity morning headaches to which I've become accustomed.  If you don't have Tune Up balls, try lacrosse balls.

Coach Panda can take you through these better than I can, so I leave it to him.  Click the links below for his detailed explanations and videos.

The Headrest
This is also fantastic to do pretty much any time of day, or anytime you have a headache.  Use two Yoga TuneUp balls in their tote, or two lacrosse balls in a sock.  If you don't have a yoga block, use a thick book or two.  It may feel weird while you're in it, but after you come out you should feel a nice rush of relief from head and neck tension.

The Jawbreaker
This is a must of those of us who clench their jaws or grind their teeth in sleep!  It doesn't take long to gently massage each side, and consistency with this one will yield results down the road.


If you don't have TuneUp or Lacrosse balls, simply doing a few gentle yoga poses accompanied with slow, deep, full breaths in a quiet, dim room goes a really long way toward preparing your brain and your body for sleep.  My all-time favorite before-bed yoga practice is this classic from Jason Crandell, which I'm sure I've raved about on the blog before.

I highly encourage anyone to try adding a little pre-bed yoga - see if it yields results, and tell me about it!