Thursday, September 29, 2011

State of the Blog

I almost always have one of two inspiration issues when I sit down to write a blog:  overabundance and underabundance ("underabundance" isn't actually a word, but why shouldn't it be?).  Today, I suffer from an overabundance.  I just finished rereading The Happiness Project, I've started reading The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, and I'm starting to consistently read one passage a day from Rolf Gates's fabulous Meditations from the Mat.

I started this blog as a way to have an outlet for myself to sort through the massive, life-changing yogic education I had received months prior through my teacher training at Sonic.  Even before Sonic, I had started reading books on meditation, getting deeper into a yoga practice, and found myself learning all these crazy new words and theories and ideas.  A blog seemed like a perfect way to make sense of things for myself, one week at a time, and to share what I was learning with whoever was interested in reading.

It quickly became a source of stress, pressure, obligation, writer's block, judgment, and disappointment.  That's not all it's been, of course, but more often than not I have anxiety about not living up to my own expectations, or feeling shy or embarrassed about putting myself out there.  I forget that I didn't start this to be a Yoga Expert or a saint or anything - it was about sharing my own journey.

Lately, I feel like I've cleared out a lot of the spiritual and mental cobwebs that have been hanging around.  I feel more connected to my meditation practice than I have since I was in teacher training, I feel happier and more at peace at home after going through my Happiness Project-inspired cleanfest, I feel secure and strong in my job teaching beautiful children, and I feel like I'm really ready to make my personal yoga practice a priority again.

During my teacher training, I fell in love with the idea of being a Perfect Virtuous Yogi.  I loved the idea of meditating every day (maybe I'd meditate for an hour a day!), having a "code" to live my life by in the Yoga Sutras, and maybe even becoming vegetarian!  I was absorbed in my education and my practice all the time, every day - even when I fell off the meditation wagon a bit (okay, a lot) when Marc and I started dating in the middle of the training.

Once the training was over, however, things were different.  I got caught up in major anxiety that I wasn't ready to be a yoga teacher, I was so afraid of how much work I was going to have to put into supporting myself as a freelance yoga teacher, and I lost myself in my insecurities, judgments, and fear for awhile.  Not to say I didn't do anything - I didn't get to where I am now by accident, after all - but it was very hard.  Even though at this present moment I am thrilled with how my career has gone and am so in love with teaching children, I've realized that I have shied away from really delving deep into the practice of yoga.  Not just working on my arm balances and chaturangas, but "Living My Yoga," as we like to say.

Now that the dust of the past two-and-change years seems to be settling a little bit, I'm re-prioritizing.

I had vastly underestimated how much of a commitment I'd have to make day-to-day in my continuing education and practice.  I should have had an idea - my teachers called our training, "Yoga nursery school," telling us we were barely scratching the surface.  They crammed in as much knowledge and education as they possibly could in the 200 hours allotted, but any progress beyond that is up to each individual.  I knew that intellectually, but now I fully understand how it applies to my practical, everyday life.
The point of all of this rambling is that yoga is a top priority on my life.  It has changed my life dramatically for the better, and I'm still at the very beginning of my journey.  This blog is supposed to serve my journey, and I want to get better at letting it.  One of my resolutions - and believe it or not, I have yet another post in me about The Happiness Project and resolutions, so stay tuned for that - is to spend more time on my blog.  Often I carve out an hour or two for it a week, and then feel like I'm cramming to write something amazing, or I just write something really quick, like a link to an article.  There's nothing wrong with that, necessarily - the blog police aren't going to get me for being lazy or neurotic - but for my own sake, I want to change that.

So now that I've set the bar way up high for myself...stay tuned to see what next week brings! 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Taking Care

Happy Monday!  I'm breaking out of my usual middle-of-the-week entry writing so as to avoid driving myself crazy by trying to squeeze in an entry in the midst of what is going to be a very busy week.

It's that time of year again...one of my all time favorites.  To me, fall means soup, sweaters...and assisting my teacher, Jyothi, in her Thai Yoga Massage Level 1 Intensive.  From Wednesday through Sunday I'll be bouncing back and forth from Massage Intensive Assistant to Kid's Teacher to Karma Kids Desk Lady.  I'm excited about it, as these are all three hats I love wearing.  However, every time I'm either taking or assisting any kind of training, I find that I forget to make the proper space to let myself rest.

The need for rest and recovery, both physical and mental, is necessary in any intensive training, but I find it's especially true for Thai Yoga Massage.  There is a lot of intense energy and emotional exchange back and forth.  As a student, you feel like your head's going to explode with all the new poses to master, and as an assistant, it's both a major energy boost and drain to be the median between the teacher and all the students.  Jyothi affectionately calls her assistants the "good cops" to her "bad cop," which, although not true in any literal sense at all, is a way in which we function.  If a student feels more comfortable coming to us with confusion or stress, we're there for them.

I've gotten a jump on it this time, however.  I took two half vinyasa/half restorative classes this weekend, one at The Giving Tree and one at the Om Yoga Center in Union Square (I'm using my new student 3-pack - it's a lovely studio!).  I'm trying my hardest to cut down on outside activities and obligations.  Most importantly, I'm going to be super vigilant about sleep.  I'm usually super vigilant about sleep anyway, because I know how losing sleep affects the whole rest of my day, but this week it's especially important.

Regardless of what's going on in your life, fall in general is a great time to shift your focus toward taking extra good care of yourself.  A lot of people's allergies flare up around this time, and a lot of people get the dreaded change-of-season-cold which can really put a damper on enjoying the changing colors of leaves or the hot apple cider that fall is so loved for.  This is a good time to prepare for the turning inward that winter will bring by catching up on sleep, maybe introducing some restorative yoga poses to your morning or evening routine, and be mindful of not overextending yourself. 

These practices, though they sound lovely, often become very hard to actually apply - especially if you live in the city that never sleeps.  Even just choosing one to focus on can increase your energy level and your focus, and give you a little more time to stop and bask in the beauty of fall.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Report: The Happiness Project

At the train station on the way back from Massachusetts last month (which feels like just yesterday and zillion years ago all at the same time), Marc and I killed time by browsing the mini-bookstore at Boston's South Station.  Browsing bookstores is one of our all time favorite activities as a couple.  We could probably spend an entire day doing it and not get bored.  While there, Marc spotted a book that had been on a list of books I'd sent him to try to get from the New York Library before we left (where he had gotten me enLIGHTened).  In bright, lovely blue and yellow, there was The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  I snatched it up and promptly spent the entire train ride reading magazines...my biggest travel indulgence.

A few days later I started the book, and had to force myself to make it last and not gobble the whole thing up in one or two sittings.  It's just shy of 300 pages, but compulsively readable.

Gretchen Rubin, Supreme Court law clerk-turned-full-time-writer, is a wife and mother of two little girls.  One day she realized that although she had a perfectly wonderful life - a family she loved, a career she loved, a life in beloved New York City - she too often let crabby moods or a short temper  or day-to-day sources of stress get the better of her.  She often didn't act the way she wanted to feel - which was happy.  Thus, The Happiness Project was (pretty much) born.

Rubin modeled Ben Franklin's Chart of 13 Virtues (google it to download a pdf example) to create a Resolutions Chart for herself.  She decided to make this project last a calendar year, tackling a different element that contributes to happiness (and unhappiness) for each month.

January: Vitality
February: Marriage
March:  Work
April:  Parenthood
May: Leisure
June:  Friendship
July:  Money
August:  Eternity
September:  Books
October: Mindfulness
November: Attitude
December: Happiness 
(or "Boot Camp Perfect," where she tried to live up to all her resolutions every day)

In addition to all this, she makes up a list of Twelve Commandments, Secrets of Adulthood, and, as she discovers them for herself, the Splendid Truths of Happiness. 

Rubin is a wonderful tour guide through all of her happiness research as well as through her own personal day to day life and struggles.  She doesn't shy away from her own personal shortcomings at all - she is nothing if not honest, which makes her very relatable, whether or not you share the same shortcomings, or even have the same lifestyle circumstances.

Certain resolutions, elements of research, and personal anecdotes of hers resonated with me more than others.  I went wild for January's part about Clearing out Clutter, because I have the same deep love for organization but struggle to stay on top of it during busy day-to-day life.  Just reading this book has actually sent me on an organizational tear of my own - throwing out, giving away, clearing up, and finding order in my own apartment has made a big difference in my happiness/stress level.

Although I don't have children, I was fascinated by April's Parenthood chapter, both as someone who works with children and as a future mother.  The dynamics of her relationship with her husband and my relationship with Marc are very, very different, so although it was hard to relate, it was still interesting to learn what her research showed her about coupledom and happiness.

As a former law student who is nothing if not thorough and as someone who loves organization, lists, and order, there are a lot of layers to Rubin's Happiness Project.  There are quotes galore about happiness and so many tips and tidbits that I feel I should reread the whole thing and take copious notes.  It can be a lot to take it, but the overwhelming of information doesn't slow the pace of the book or affect its compulsive readability, which is the number one element I reward gold starts for in the books that I read.

Another way to get more information, aside from just rereading the whole book (which I am seriously considering) is to visit her blog at http://www.happiness-project.com.  She posts daily tips and insights, and you can also email her to get a "happiness project starter kit" if you're interested in starting your own happiness project.  She recently just announced on her blog that she'll be releasing another book next August:  Happier at Home.  I'm already excited for it!

I highly recommend this book to...well, anyone.  Whether you're happy or unhappy, motivated or unmotivated, organized or disorganized, you will take away something valuable from this book.  Or at least get a few smiles of recognition.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Home is where the Heart is

I arrived back home this past Tuesday after almost 2 solid weeks of being away from the city to visit family. What was supposed to be a short weekend visit to Boston to see Marc's parents and his grandpa turned into a luxurious 5 day wait-out-Hurricane-Irene visit. It worked out great for us - I only had to cancel one class and Marc wasn't scheduled to work, so we could afford the extension and enjoy the extra time with his wonderful grandpa without worry of our oh-so important lives in New York going on without us.

For about a day and a quarter, we returned home. Just long enough for Marc to get in a shift at his restaurant and for me to re-pack for another 5 day trip. My brilliant sister came up with a plan for Marc and I to travel down to South Carolina to surprise my mom, who was planning to come down for Labor Day to celebrate her 60th birthday.  It was an incredibly special and fun-filled weekend and I'm so thankful we were able to surprise her and send her into her 60's in style. 

It also meant a great deal to me to be back in the south.  I grew up in a combination of North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Virginia, and had never lived above the Mason-Dixon line before September 8th, 2009 when I moved to New York (happy 2-year anniversary, NYC!).  I returned home to Virginia once last year, but this was my first time in the Carolinas in a good long while.  Just getting off the plane into the Charlotte airport was enough to make my heart burst with joy - hearing southern accents all around me, not being the only one saying y'all, seeing glorious seafood restaurants, seeing Tar Heel State memorabilia in the airport newsstand.  I felt the absolute ecstatic joy of being home.

Funnily enough, I experienced the exact same feeling upon landing in LaGuardia.  I'm sure part of it was the joy of knowing we were headed back to our own tiny, humble apartment after two weeks of being (very well taken care of) house guests, but it was more than that.  New York is just as much my home as the South - they just nourish different parts of me.  It's exhilarating, comforting, and frankly kind of weird that I can feel such deep love and attachment for two parts of the world as vitally different as these are.

Another thing I find that happens when I travel these days is that my meditation practice tends to become consistent again.  It strikes me as really funny, considering that usually travel completely throws things out of whack.  No matter what gets thrown aside or altered with travel - eating habits, exercise, etc - my meditation either stays consistent or becomes consistent once again.  I think part of it has to do with the fact that, as an introvert, my batteries sometimes get very drained if I don't get any time to myself throughout the day.  If I guarantee myself 10 minutes before breakfast to just sit (or in the late afternoon, as was my habit with the LeVasseur's), I'm much more comfortable spending all the livelong day in the presence of the wonderful people I'm visiting.  It also acts as a solid way to ground myself amidst the upheaval and change that travel brings.

Now that I'm back home, I'm rededicating myself to a seated practice every morning.  Ten minutes before breakfast is all it takes, and I'm home again.