Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Back to basics

Happy almost-June!  As May comes to a close and June with its promise of gloriously long and sunny (and stormy) summer days quickly approaches, it feels like a lot of things in my life are coming to a close and a lot of space is opening up.

From the wedding, I dove headfirst into a very fast and furious half marathon training.  From there, taking care of more newlywed business (this whole name change thing is a chore and a half in New York State!!), and then culminating this weekend, Marc and I tackled a massive spring cleaning of our apartment that was easily 3 years in the making.  It's been on the agenda probably since the winter - knowing that we needed a big spring clean/purge/reorganization - and we always put it off until that generic time, "after the wedding."

We spent all day Sunday and all day Monday under the bed, way back in closets, vacuuming places that hadn't seen the light of day in lord knows how long, dropping off trash bags of clothing and more at Goodwill, overwhelming our apartment building's garbage and recycle cans, and putting everything all back together again better than we found it.  It's an exhausting, frustrating, and ultimately massively rewarding thing to do and I'm so profoundly grateful we had the time to put into it.  (Now hopefully the next time we have a day off together we can make plans to just enjoy ourselves instead!)  It had me thinking a lot about some basic yogic principles - saucha (purity, cleanliness) and aparigraha (non-hoarding) chief among them - and I noticed that although we were putting them fully into practice in our apartment, I was still struggling a bit in applying it to my day to day life.

With those three big tasks behind me now - wedding, race, massive spring cleaning - my mind keeps finding its way back to yoga - specifically, my own practice.  During training both of my half marathons, my meditation practice got pushed to the back burner, and I feel like I've been so busy and so attached to the idea that I'm busy for so long, it's hard for me to just relax and to have an empty spot on my calendar and not fill it with something. It's an attachment to being "productive," or a habit, or some kind of anxiety, but whatever it is, I need to learn how to have the opposite as well!

I've had a hard time connecting with a genuine, personal yoga practice and with tapping into that which made yoga so important to me in the first place that I wanted to make it my life.  It used to be something I went to to help me deal with life and work and stress, but now that it's become my work, I don't know how to allow it to be both.  It's hard to be in a class and not have my analytical teacher mind and compare myself to the teacher - favorably or unfavorably.  It's hard not to turn off my "note taking" brain and think about her sequencing or whether I agree or disagree with her style.  I also keep thinking that I don't necessarily want to have my own personal asana practice if I"m going to be doign asana (especially with kids when it's harder to be careful of my body) becasue then I'm just asking for over-use injuries.

All of this is to say - I'm hoping this summer I can start to re-learn how to relax, connect, and enjoy my yoga again.  To be productive in my life without being obsessed with productivity and work - to come out of high gear sometimes.  This city has a way of sweeping you up to a fever pitch and it's unsustainable.  Back to basics for me - meditation, yoga classes with no expectations and a beginner's mind, and truly tuning in to what I need.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Two down, infinity to go!

Half Marathon number two = completed!

This experience has been both more and less stressful than training for October's Myrtle Beach half.  Although this time around I've had the experience of doing one before and knowing that my body is capable of doing it, I was doing it alone this time around with no big sister to talk to throughout (though having a dedicated husband cheering me on from the sidelines as much as he could was phenomenal!) and I had a much shorter training schedule which led to more aches, pains, and worst of all, doubts!

The race went better than I could have ever imagined, though, and I bettered my first time by a lot - I'm now a 2.17.39 half marathon-er.  I'm still riding high from the experience and all I want to do is sign up for the next one, but it's probably a good idea to rest my poor knees and calves a bit...plus having a September honeymoon takes away any possibility of all training, which I think is for the best!

Next up running-wise - lots of short distance races in the park!  I'm officially a member of the wonderful New York Road Runner's and plan on fully taking advantage of the discounted rates on race registration fees.  And then in the spring, I definitely want to do Brooklyn again...I think there'll be a New York (aka Manhattan) half in March as well, but I don't know if it would be insane to run a half in March and then another one in May.  We shall see!  After this race, I even had the thought for the very first time that maybe I would actually want to run a full marathon, and maybe I actually could...we'll see, though.  I just have the running bug something fierce!

This summer, however, is looking like it's going to take a shift back more toward yoga, which I think is a wonderful thing and much needed in every aspect of my life.  Physically, emotionally, spiritually, and for my continual improvement as a teacher.  I'm planning on finally trying out Laughing Lotus, a popular NYC/San Francisco based yoga studio that a lot of my Karma Kids peeps love, and then I'm taking advantage of another special deal from Bikram Yoga NYC (remember my month of Bikram in 2011??) for the month.  Bikram is always an interesting experience - I'm of many minds about it, but I can't deny that I always feel good after a class!

I'm so excited about the summer.  Different classes, more yoga for me, and most exciting of all - my husband will be playing Macbeth at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City, Queens this July!  Being his real life Lady M (with less murder, more running lines) is something I couldn't possibly be more excited about, and I'm excited to make that a big focus for the summer.  Add in my mom and Jim coming in to see the show and the big flourish at the end of the summer - our honeymoon! - and I'm the little hole in my heart where half marathon training used to be will fill right up!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Take a seat

A quick entry tonight.  Only 34 1/2 more hours until the big race!

This week I've been tapering off my mileage - only 7 for Sunday's long run, 2 for Tuesday's speedwork, and 4 for today's easy run.  I've also been going to bed earlier and getting up earlier in increments of 15 minutes, culminating with tonight's early bedtime of 10:00 and wakeup call at 6 tomorrow.  (Saturday's will likely be in the neighborhood of 5 or 5:30)

Along with this, I've worked on adding more yoga for myself (now that I have all this extra time in the morning!) and on chilling my practice out.  Simpler poses, shorter sequences - more floor-based poses rather than pushing myself too hard.

I took a beautifully simple but fantastic open level class this week, and we held dandasana, staff pose, for several breaths without ever taking it to the usual forward fold.  We just recognized it as a worthy pose in and of itself.  It's overlooked, much like tadasana (mountain pose) so often is, and I thought I'd highlight it this evening.

More than just a preparation for paschimottanasana, dandasana is a deeply beneficial pose, relating to that utmost important element of our body - our posture.  It's very challenging - sitting down with legs outstretched and engaged, feet flexed with the toes reaching toward your face, and the back straight, honoring the natural curvature in the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spines to make that slight S shape.  Long in the side waist, no hunching forward or rounding in the lumbar.  Bringing the hands to either side of the hips and pressing the fingertips down assists in creating that tall spine.
Photo from http://www.yogr.com/

Most folks (myself included) need or at least greatly benefit from having a folded blanket or a bolster underneath their sit bones to assist in having a tall spine.  It can also be helpful to place a block in between the thighs to properly engage the legs, creating a slight inward rotation of the thighs.

This pose strengthens the muscles that give us our posture.  So often we sit slouched at desks all day, stand hunched over, crane our heads forward to play with our iPhones - I'm guilty of all three.  Releasing the ever-present tension from our foreheads, brows, jaws, and necks, this pose allows us to hold ourselves up straight with strength and integrity.

With the half marathon so close to being finished, I can feel in myself a desire to get back to the yoga basics on my own personal practice.  I look forward to rediscovering the intricacies, benefits, and challenges in seemingly simple poses as I start to heal my asphalt-battered body post race!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Running in Circles

This past Sunday was another long run day in anticipation of the fast-approaching Brooklyn Half Marathon (click here to donate to the Boston One Fund, the cause for which I'm running this sure to be awesome race!).  It was only 8 miles as opposed to last week's 10, which felt positively luxurious by comparison!

My plan for this long run, as it is for all of them, was to run the Central Park loop, which is about 6.2 miles, from the east side to the west side.  I love running a loop because it completely takes away any need for me to calculate the distance (that's also what my Nike Plus is for) or to wonder how I need to change my route to make my goal distance.  I just get on Park Drive and go - that part of my brain can check out.  Plus as a non-native New Yorker, I still don't know my way around the actual park - the inside of it - to save my life.  I have an irrational fear of getting lost in the park!

I also had a plan to run completely sans headphones.  I don't wear headphones for races (anymore, at least) because I prefer to be as present as possible to soak up the crowds, the course, and the fantastic energy that any race day brings, especially one as big as a half marathon.

Springtime gorgeousness.
To my utter dismay, I arrived on Park Drive to discover that the Bike Tour scheduled for the day was authorized to take up all four lanes of the loop.  My first reaction was total outrage and anger.  It's the loop!  New York runners run that as religiously as others attend church!  My outraged was shared and magnified by a lot of the other Type A runners who were making the discovery as I was, and being told by the endlessly patient, cheerful, and really nice course marshalls of the bike race that - sorry!  We were out of luck, and on a day when I didn't even have the silliness of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! or my Jillian Michaels podcast to distract me from the inconvenience.

After starting to see some of the other runner reactions - "This is RIDICULOUS!" or defiantly running in the loop anyway, risking their safety and that of the bikers - I forced myself to take a pause.  For one thing, I really feel like the behavior of runners is under more scrutiny than ever.  We took some backlash around the cancellation drama of the NYC Marathon, and after the Boston Marathon the sport has gotten even more attention.  Reacting with grace and not entitled defiance was really what this situation called for - I mean, really, let's get some perspective!

Realizing this, realizing that my practice calls for me to be flexible in life much more so than in body, and realizing that making myself upset would only raise my heart rate and adrenaline levels and not help me on the 7.5 journey I still had ahead of myself, I just started following other runners who seemed like they knew where they were going into the park.

Lots of rules on the reservoir...
Happily, one particular runner led me to someplace in the park I've always wanted to run but have never "had time" to explore and find - the reservoir.  It's a much smaller loop, only 1.59 miles, but it's absolutely beautiful and has a softer surface on which to run than the asphalt of the loop.  It was really good for me mentally, I think, as well as physically to switch it up, and in hindsight I couldn't have picked a better day to go without headphones.  Not only for safety reasons to be wary of all those bikers, but also to talk myself down from getting annoyed and to truly appreciate the peace and stillness of the reservoir compared to the more heavily trafficked loop.  The reservoir felt more secluded, more surrounded by the nature of the park, and it reminded me a little bit of a mini-version of when Marc and I would run in Hyde Park in London.

After a few laps around the reservoir and then awkwardly navigating my way back to 5th Ave and 59th St, I found myself not only happy about the day's funny turn, but also thinking back to the second blog post I ever wrote.  Titled Best Laid Plans and written three years ago (wow!), it's a much more eloquent and yoga-fied version of how I (and hopefully a bit of the greater "we") tend to react and can choose to act when things don't go our way.  Try as I might, as a Type A New York Planner, things will always go wrong.  I hope more often than not I choose to accept and surrender, rather than resist and suffer.
Reservoir view of the skyline.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Tough Week, Tough Love

Happy May!  Gorgeous, glorious May.  I always associate this month with the color green (for very obvious reasons) and it was so wonderful to go out this morning, on the first run of the month, and to see so many trees that were bare when I started training for the half at the beginning of March turn completely green.  The blooms of April are gorgeous and I'm always sad to see them go, but May brings the promise of summer.  And this year, of my very first solo half marathon!

This week started out tough.  The weekend was amazing, but filled with so much fun (theatre, drinking, late nights - all with a full teaching and work schedule!) that I woke up on Sunday feeling really under the weather.  I've been calling it allergies all week because that makes it sound much better than a cold, but I really do think I've been fighting a cold.  You can feel the difference, you know?  Stuffy head, sore throat, and just plain physical exhaustion.  Too bad for that cold, Sunday was chock full of activity, including a gigantic Karma Kids birthday party and my longest training run until the race - a whopping 10 miles in Central Park.

I got up and did it, and I kept getting up and doing all of my classes and desk shifts.  The only thing I was able to really skip to give myself a break was Tuesday morning's run, which I had no problem doing at all!

Yesterday, however, Marc and I had planned a date night (it turned into a sushi date with my father-in-law, which is always a great time, followed by Mad Men reruns at home because we're obsessed).    We planned to take an hour long class with personal trainer, spin teacher, yoga teacher, and Karma Kids Yoga's Director of Business Development, Manager of Teachers & Desk staff, and Resident Tinkerbell Jen Fink Oppenheimer.  It's a free class for couples (or bff's!) offered through New York Sports Club for the month of May called Tough Love:  Bars, Bands, & Blindfolds Bootcamp.  Always a sucker for Jen, a great workout, and alliteration, I immediately scheduled a day for Marc and I to take the class.  Always a good and willing sport, Marc signed on board.

The odds were slightly in favor of us bailing.  I was exhausted from a busy day of lots of running around and was just feeling burned out from the week and Marc was tired, cranky, and overwhelmed with how much material he has to hammer into his head for upcoming auditions.  Luckily, I had already told Jen multiple times that we were coming, and dammit I wanted that free couples workout!

Though I was nervous because I was feeling tired, I was also pretty confident after going to Refine regularly since December and training for the half - I'm in good shape.  I can tell you very honestly, though, that Jen kicked our butts!  It was broken up into "Chapters," as the original workout was inspired by the Fifty Shades of Grey craze of last year.  After a warm-up, we went into absolutely brutal intervals to be done twice (the second time while blindfolded) of mostly plyometric based exercises like jump squats, jump lunges, and some others like single leg lifts (which my hamstrings are still crying over).  There was also some fun blindfolded wheelbarrowing - where I feel the deck was stacked WAY against me!

Lounge chair...highly recommended for all ages!
The second chapter was one of my favorites - one person does a cardio exercise for 1 minute while their partner does a core exercise for 1 minute, and at time they switch.  We did this for a total of 12 exercises each.  It was fun to see where I struggled - and where I performed better that Marc!  The third chapter closed off with some intense strength based exercises with no rest...and then the glorious end included some yummy partner poses.  A lot of them were super familiar to me as a Karma Kids Teacher, but it had been ages since I'd done them with a grown-up!  Lounge chair feels a lot better with my 6'2", 180 pound husband than with a tiny 4-year-old...as much as I love the tiny 4-year-olds.

We left the gym exhausted, sweaty, and with major mood boosts!  Gone was the crankiness, and my energy skyrocketed for the rest of the night.  And I'm not saying the workout cured me, but I woke up this morning feeling better than I had all week.  So...take that as you will!

Sweaty and happy!
You have this whole beautiful month to grab someone you love and head to New York Sports Club to take this free, fun, butt-kicker of a class!


 Post workout sushi optional, but recommended.