Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Power of the Lotus!

Today was the first day in a brand new session of Lotus Palm's Thai Yoga Massage Level I Intensive (there is no way to convey that information that is NOT a mouthful!).  I'm assisting Jyothi, my beloved beloved teacher, and it was such a beautiful day!  As always, though, I'm totally wiped out.  Time for a shower, some tea, and time to get cracking on making the class contact sheet!

Today is my designated blog day for the week, however, and just when I was about to sit down and wax poetic, I remembered that I received an email last week from a friend at Athleta!  She shared with me some youtube videos from their most recent catalogue photoshoot, which took place - what are the odds - in Thailand!  So it seems terribly appropriate to give myself a break during what is always an energetically demanding 5 days and to let youtube do the blogging for me!

There are three videos:

The first is Dr. Karina Stewart, co-founder of the absolutely heavenly looking Kamalaya Koh Samui, the Wellness Sanctuary and Holistic Spa resort where the photo shoot takes place, sharing her insights on the popularity and benefits of yoga.

The second is Dr. Stewart again explaining the founding of Kamalaya and the origin of its name.  I loved her insights on the lotus flower - especially after a day of immersing myself in Lotus Palm!  As far as the resort...as Liz Lemon would say:  I want to go to there.

We were twins!  Kind of.
The third is pretty straightforward - behind the scenes on the catalog photo shoot!  Especially cool are the partner poses toward the end of the video.  (Not to mention the ELEPHANT!  I love elephants)  You might recognize one of the lovely models, Drisana, as my yoga teacher on the day of the awesome Athleta NYC Blogger event!

Next week, there I promise a post involving more rambling and waxing from me.  A number of interesting articles in the New York Times have come out recently that have inspired a lot of pondering, as well as some really powerful articles in Yoga Journal.  I've also completed Day 23 of the 40-day japa mala practice!  So expect some muse-y ramblings about that coming up as well.

In the meantime - please enjoy the videos and for the love of everything, stay warm!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

One thing at a time

I went to my local yoga studio yesterday, The Giving Tree Yoga Studio, to both observe a kids yoga class I'll be subbing in the next few weeks as well as to practice with one of my favorite teachers, Angelina.  I was so happy to be stepping into the peaceful, gorgeous studio after a long morning and afternoon of what I had labeled in my calendar as: BUSINESS PLAN DAY.   (Sounds fun and peaceful, doesn't it?)

As I walked up the stairs I noticed the studio's selected Quote of the Month:
"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." - Lao Tzu

We've all heard/read/spoken this quote before.  It's one of those things that's so woven into the fabric of our consciousness that we don't always really process it.  However, that doesn't make it any less true or any less worth repeating.  Often.

I mentioned in my New Year's post that my giant list of resolutions tends to be a daunting thing every year, with this year being absolutely no exception (it's possibly the most ambitious year ever).  Having begun the very, very unfinished work on my business plan for Thai Yoga Massage, I'm faced with yet another page of To Do, To Achieve, To Practice, To Figure Out.  It's daunting, and the temptation in the present moment of being overwhelmed is to stay still.  Usually while you're staying still, your mind is going a thousand miles a minute telling you why things are confusing or impossible.

I found it helped me to stop focusing on my To Do's and goals and aspirations for a minute, close my eyes, and think of the simple vinyasa of a sun salutation.  With each breath, there's a movement.  Inhale, the arms come up.  Exhale, forward fold.  Inhale, straighten your spine to a flat back.  Exhale, hands on the floor to step back into downward facing dog.

One breath, one movement.  One thing at a time.  As an admitted compulsive planner and one who absolutely detests procrastination, I tend to overplan, overbook myself, and be overly ambitious.  Even this blog, which is supposed to be an outlet for myself, sometimes falls victim to my list of "Things I have to do and don't have time to do and wish I just didn't have to do."  I wish it didn't, but, alas.  The important thing is to remind myself why it's important - whatever "it" is, whether it be the blog, business cards, or meditating in the morning.

This morning as I was up and about making breakfast for Marc before he had to leave for work, I came into the Nook (our little office where I write my entries and do my home practice and work) and saw my notebook open to the page I had left it yesterday - a page full of business planning, about which he knew I was stressed.

Placed on top of it was a big orange post-it with a note in Marc's unmistakable scrawl:  "YOU CAN DO ALL OF THIS!  AND YOU WILL!"

The boost it gave me was remarkable, and it was a reminder that we all have to be able to give that boost to ourselves.  Replacing "have to" with "can" and "will," being patient with whatever time we have to devote to our goals and obligations, and taking things one step - and breath - at a time.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Book Report: Ina May's Guide to Childbirth

Remember this, for it is as true as true gets:  Your body is not a lemon...Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth as well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo.  Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.

When I realized that today was the day I needed to write my blog, I had a little bit of a pre-writer's block panic.  What have I been doing in the last week that could help me write about yoga?  What particular aspect could I shed light on today?  I was kind of coming up empty.  In the last week I've worked on my personal practice, which is going well, but not really the stuff of an entire entry.  I started back at Karma Kids, which has been great fun, but still...nothing was really coming.  I finally saw the first season of Mad Men, but aside from recommending some yoga to help chill Peggy Olson out and cheer up Betty Draper, that wasn't providing me with any insight.

What's really been on my mind more than anything else for the past week and a half has been pregnancy and childbirth.  After taking my amazing prenatal training last month, I put two recommended books on hold at the library - Birth: The Surprising History of How We Were Born, which I started yesterday and am almost halfway through now - and the subject of my post today, Ina May's Guide to Childbirth.
I absolutely positively devoured this book.  It's been a revelation for women since 2003, but Gaskin has been empowering women and revolutionizing the way we view childbirth and our bodies since the 70's when a big home birth movement descended upon the country.  Gaskin's first book, Spiritual Midwifery, is now in its 4th edition.  (And is next on my reading list!)

The book begins with a series of Birth Stories written by women who gave birth with the capable help of either Ina May or one of her fellow midwife partners.  The dates range from the 60's to the 2000's, and the voices range from ultra granola to the ultimate modern, techno-savvy woman.

The second half of the book, titled The Essentials of Birth, is a wealth of information about your body, the mind/body connection, the science and ABC's of labor and birth, and the state of obstetrics and midwifery today.

Given that it's so densely packed with information, I expected it would take awhile for me to read.  I don't tend to read informational non-fiction books the way I read novels, but I have to use that word again - I devoured this.  Gaskin is intelligent, detailed and shrewd while still being perfectly clear, understandable, and often very funny.

What has struck me the most about this new wealth of knowledge I've discovered between my excellent Prenatal training with Juliana Secches, re-watching the documentary The Business of Being Born, and reading these books is that in this, the information age (it is still the information age, right?), how is it that the true, genuine, natural process of childbirth remains so shrouded in mystery?  Why do we blindly accept the procedures done in hospitals, the rising C-section rate, and the seeming necessity to give birth in a hospital, the positively absurd notion of laboring and birthing chained to a bed?

I don't ask these questions to pass judgment on the way anyone has chosen to give birth - far from it.  I ask them because I want to know if we all are aware of the process of birth.  Not just drugs vs. no drugs, but what do the drugs do?  What natural drugs does your body provide, in terms of hormone release, and how do synthetic drugs affect them?

It's amazing that in this age where we can google literally anything and educate ourselves, there is so much darkness surrounding the facts of childbirth.  Not to say there's no information out there - no one gets more book or magazine or information recommendations than an expectant mother.  It's that there's such a wealth of information and misinformation, how does one distinguish the genuine, woman-based information from the big business based or faulty information?

There's entirely too much to be said about this book and its profundity than I could hope to capture in a quickie blog entry.  I don't just recommend this book for couples thinking of having a baby or women who are already pregnant - read it because at some point in your life, whether you plan to have a baby or not, you will know someone who is.  Women deserve to know the facts about what their bodies are capable of and what is truly best for them.  This book espouses a principal that is profoundly yogic and profoundly truthful:  the power lies within you, body and mind, to create a successful experience for yourself.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year!

Happy 2011 blogverse!  Long time no see.  I had fully intended on posting between Christmas and New Year's...and then the universe decided to dump a massive amount of snow on the east coast and turn everyone's travel plans (including mine, alas) upside down!  Long story short...I was without access to a computer and frankly, without access to much zen!  Things weren't so bad, though, and we eventually made it to our destinations safely.

And now I'm back in my favorite city for one of my favorite, favorite, favorite times of year!  I'm such a New Year's Resolution geek.  I always want to write a list of them about a mile long.  I've tried to shy away from that, afraid that I'm setting myself up for failure, but my beautiful friend and fellow yogi and yoga teacher Katie Hartke had an inspiring and positive way of looking at it.  Instead of being afraid you're setting yourself up for failure, just do what you can and after the year (or whatever 'deadline'), congratulate yourself on what you've done instead of letting what you haven't yet achieved block your view of your accomplishments.

As I sat at my journal to start 2011 and to suss out all I want to achieve, I did what I usually do around the new year and looked at my January 1st entries of last year and a year or two further back from that.  I noticed something rather startling - a tradition I hadn't even remembered starting!  In 2009 and 2010, I made two lists in addition to my resolutions (I'm a listing nerd):  one in which I stated things I was proud of myself for accomplishing (or things I survived/dealt with) for the past year and one in which I stated things I was not so proud of or happy with.

This seemed like such a cool and rewarding and enlightening idea that I couldn't believe I forgot about it!

Something else I noticed - my number one resolution last year was to "get back on the meditation wagon," which I fell off spectacularly after falling head over heels in love.  Needless to say...that resolution didn't quite work out.  So top of the list again this year - daily practice, or sadhana.

In journaling, I realized that although I have a lot to be proud of in the past year in terms of working on and growing my career as a yoga teacher, along the way I lost a bit of just being a yogi.  Being a teacher depends on being a yogi, but you can do one without the other.  You just probably won't teach as well or authentically.  Anyone can stand in a room and call out poses, but that would be an incomplete representation or embodiment of the whole practice.

I'm getting a little ramble-y here, but my point is this.  My career as a yoga teacher is deeply important to me on a personal level and on the obvious level where I need to make money in order to pay for food and my rent and my bills.  But I started as a devoted yogi, in love with the practice and in love with the positive changes I've seen it create within myself.  Like anything else, though, you either use it or lose it.  That doesn't just apply to the flexibility of your muscles, it applies to the flexibility of your mind, your spirit, your patience, and your feeling of yoga - union - with yourself and all that is around you.

To get myself started in my daily meditation, I decided to really specify it at first.  Part of what can keep me from the mat is the intimidating vastness of possibilities in meditation.  Should I do a silent mantra?  Should I just focus on my breathing?  Should I do a visualization?  Even answering one of those questions leads to a billion more.  What kind of mantra?  There are ZILLIONS!  What kind of visualization?  Unless I make a decision and stick to it, I'm potentially doomed to sit and debate my method of meditation and then let my mind go off and do its natural thing - planning - until my timer goes off and I feel bad about myself for being a bad meditate-or.  So unbelievably silly.

So here's my plan.  Using a mala, I've chosen a mantra for my japa practice (basically meaning a practice where you repeat a mantra).  A mala is a necklace with 108 beads (or a bracelet with 27) plus an extra bead to mark the 'beginning/end' of the necklace.  You sit in a seated meditation, hold the mala in your hand, and repeat your mantra once for each bead, moving on until you hit that 109th extra bead (there's usually a tassel or charm at the end to let you know you've gotten there), which completes your practice.  Most teachers recommend 40 straight days of a japa practice to get all the spiritual punch you can out of it.

The website I linked to is run by a fellow Karma Kids teacher and absolutely lovely yogi, Camy Becker.  She started making malas this past year and they are simply stunning.  She hand makes each one herself and can custom make a mala for anyone.  She can be found at http://www.mala-madness.com.

So that's my starting plan.  40 days of my mantra - I started that specific practice on Monday, so I've got until February 12th.  After that, we'll see what further sadhana adventures lie ahead for 2011.

Anyone else have any yogi-fied resolutions, or anything to share for the new year?  I think it's going to be a beautiful one!