Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Long Run & Long Road

I haven't written about running as much lately - partly because this was originally intended to be a yoga blog, so I do try to write about that occasionally, but mostly because these last few weeks of training have been more stressful.

When I agreed to run the Brooklyn Half this year with my wonderful Laura, I did so with nerves and reservations.  It's one of my all-time favorite races, and when I first ran it in 2013 I felt amazing and unstoppable.  It's the race that convinced me I was capable of running a marathon.  But looking at the calendar and looking at my expected recovery time, it seemed like there was enough time to responsibly train without overdoing it.

As I started to kick my mileage up a little bit in mid-March, however, I had fewer pain-free runs and more consistent encounters with aches and pains.  Not enough to indicate re-injury, but just enough to bump up my anxiety ever-higher.  It was tricky to differentiate the normal and expected running pain versus things I should be truly worried about.  I've been hyper-aware, which is a good thing, but it led to being hyper-worried, which is not.  May 20th suddenly went from seeming very far away to much, much too close.

I started to realize in the last week or so that I wasn't enjoying my running - which is the whole damn point.  I love running.  It's one of my all time favorite things in the world to do.  I've been so consumed with the worry and paranoia that I might not be able to do it that I've been keeping myself from fully enjoying the fact that I am doing it.  I'm under the care of an excellent physical therapist every week who helps me get stronger and deal with my issues.  I'm building more cardio.  And a lot of my aches and pains, I've come to realize, are a result of the fact that I'm finally running with much better form than I used to - which in itself is a road to injury-free running.

Awareness and worry don't have to go hand in hand.  Moreover, they shouldn't go hand-in-hand.  It tints everything, just as it did last summer when I was on the opposite end of the spectrum - stubbornly ignoring pain that should have sparked some worry and attention.

The trick, I think, is to find that happy medium.  Last summer I wanted so badly to be fine and healthy that I was able to convince myself that the pain I was feeling - almost all day every day - couldn't possibly lead to anything serious.  I felt that I had a complete handle on it, and instead of resting until the pain was gone, I would take a week off because that was all I was willing to give up.  This past month, I've been worrying myself out of enjoyment and failing to notice how much better I feel now than I even did last summer when I was technically in better shape.

I seem to have to learn this lesson again and again - attitude is everything.  After a particularly helpful PT session yesterday, I decided to go into this morning's run - the peak of my training and the last long run before the race and also on a windy, rainy day - with awareness without the side of worry.  Paying attention to my body and when it needed a break or a stretch or to walk but enjoying myself every step of the way.  The difference it made was unbelievable, and instead of worrying and doubting this ten miles, I enjoyed it and was able to end it with exhilaration, pride, and trust that I'm doing everything I can to stay healthy while still pursuing my goals.

And seriously, it doesn't hurt that I have a killer new running playlist.  Something else I realized today is that I've been deliberately avoiding running with music because I haven't wanted to get carried away and go faster than I ought to.  While I think this was totally responsible and the right thing for the first few weeks back, I'm at the point now where I'm able to push my pace.  The first half of today's run was accompanied by a podcast (the excellent Pod Save America) and I decided for the second half to finally treat myself to some music - the first time since last summer I've run with any music at all.

I completely forgot how good it feels to run with music.  Running without any earbuds at all is its own kind of magic, don't get me wrong - but Nina and Janis were just what the doctor ordered to help me get my joy back.


Check it out here - start with Sinnerman, shuffle the rest, and enjoy every moment.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

An Earth Day Recent-History Lesson

Earth Day (which also happens to be the seven year blog-a-versary for this ol' thing) is today, and it's fitting that I just learned about an environmental activist I had never heard of before.

Julia Butterfly Hill may be a familiar name to you, but I'm sad to say her name didn't ever register in my time as a self absorbed middle and then high schooler in suburban Virginia.  She sat in a redwood tree in California to protest deforestation for two years.

She sat in a tree.  She lived in a tree.

For two. freaking. years.

Meanwhile, I've been feeling so powerless and useless and frustrated lately in the face of the never-ending tsunami of news of corruption and incompetence coming out of the White House (or Mar-a-Lago, more often than not), and on the one hand, hearing about this just makes me feel even worse and even more useless.  I donate to charities, I keep myself informed, I write and call my elected officials, I make my living helping women and kids feel empowered and peaceful, I do my best to use reusable shopping bags over plastic, but what am I really doing?  What is any of it really doing?  (And dear lord, the amount of times I don't have a reusable shopping bag and contribute to the plastic crisis!)

On the other hand- it actually makes me feel better.

I learned about Julia because one of the world's most spectacular yoga teachers and humans, Elizabeth Barnett, spoke about her in class at The Giving Tree last night, and read a quotation of hers that brought me to tears.  I'll pull from her website:

No matter the diversity of beliefs, we all know we live in a world full of problems.  Yet, one of the biggest problems is that not enough of us realize that we also live in a world full of solutions - and then live our lives as these solutions in action.

May you know that your every thought, word, and action makes a difference.

The question we need to ask ourselves is not, "Can one person make a difference?"  Each and every one of us does make a difference.  It is actually impossible to not make a difference.  So the question we need to ask ourselves is, "What kind of a difference do I want to make?"


It sort of reminds me of the butterfly effect (no relation).  The smallest action can have a massive impact.  Even though sometimes the things I might do feel small and trivial and not actually helping to save the world, it's better than choosing not to do it at all.

It also reminds me to be brave and try to do more than I am.  Even when I don't know what that is, or if I struggle with self doubt.

Every day, to once again crib from Elizabeth, is Earth Day.  We need it more than it needs us.

Let's all do something big or something small, but let's do something, today and every day to help support it, and support our future as a species.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bus Yoga!

This week was spring break for public schools in NYC, which also means it was spring break for the kids classes at Karma Kids.  Our truncated schedule (prenatal & baby classes only) and my boss's well-deserved vacation left me with both way more and way less time in my schedule at the same time, somehow.

The point being - I'm squeezing my weekly blog in at the last second before Marc and I take a very mini-break of our own as we head to Philadelphia to see our spectacularly talented friend Jake Blouch in The Walnut Theatre's The Importance of Being Earnest.  We are taking a Megabus there this morning and a Megabus home this afternoon - and tragically, that means a lot of travel time with me unable to read due to the last stubborn bits of lingering childhood carsickness.

So, I've got my knitting needles, my headphones, my crossed fingers - and alternate nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana.

My friend and often-times guru Laura Frye suffers much more acutely than me from carsickness, and she swears by this yoga breathing technique to get her through.  It's also incredibly handy for springtime, especially on weeks like these where NYC is finally (FINALLY!) seeing our first real leaves and blooms and green - and pollen.

Thanks to http://www.healthyhints.com.au for this adorable and useful illustration

Sit comfortably.  Gently close your left nostril and inhale into the right.  Retain the breath for one to five seconds.  Gently close the right nostril and exhale out the left.  If you wish, retain the exhalation for one to five seconds.  Inhale into the left nostril, and retain the breath for one to five seconds.  Gently close the left nostril and exhale out the right.

Lather, rinse, repeat as needed.

Stress reduction, nausea reduction, allergy reduction - nadi shodhana is one of the most useful and simple pranayama, or breathing, techniques you'll find in a yoga practice.

Time to catch a bus!  Happy spring break, everyone!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Paradigm Shift / Pratipaksha Bhavana

When I was new to yoga, I loved reading Yoga Journal every month.  I subscribed to it, and was stoked when I was able to get a reduced rate as part of my liability insurance once I became a teacher.

The last few years, though - eh.

Part of it is almost certainly that I've allowed time to diminish my interest in to the capital-Y Yoga practice - reading the sutras, learning more about the history and diving deeper into the non-asana parts of the practice.  I expected to be knee-deep in it forever, but when I took a shift toward kids yoga and prenatal yoga years ago, that became less a part of my teaching and therefore I let it slip as part of my personal practice.

The other part of it is that the magazine has largely let itself turn into Glamour with a side of yoga. Every issue it seems like there are more and more pages - not just advertisements, mind you, which come with the territory, but actual magazine content - that's nothing but product placement.  The clothes you have to have, the meditation cushion you need.  Every single cover - every single cover - has been reduced to "8 poses to cultivate inner peace!"  "10 poses to strengthen your core!"  "The 4 poses you need to beat the winter blues!"

Yes, yoga poses are amazing and helpful and can do all those things.  But...come on.  It's not a magic bullet or a magic cure.  Yoga should be better than that, and the magazine's continual quick-fix implications feel gross.

Anyway - getting off my high horse, let me take a moment to actually give props to YogaJournal - or to a teacher quoted in an interview with them, at least.  It's been a long time since I've turned to the Yoga Sutras for help and guidance, but I've been thinking about them more lately, and this week was reminded of sutra 2.33.  My favorite interpretation is from Nischala Joy Devi from her lovely book The Secret Power of Yoga.

"When presented with disquieting thoughts and feelings, cultivate an opposite, elevated attitude.  This is pratipaksha bhavana."

Like a lot in the yoga sutras, it sounds so ridiculously simple.  Having negative thoughts?  Think happy thoughts!  Yay!  All better!

The key word here is cultivate.  The presence of that word indicates an acknowledgement that this is not always so simple.  To cultivate is to try, to foster, to encourage, to seek, or - my favorite definition, from Merriam-Webster: "to improve by labor, care, or study."

My favorite example of this physically is the idea of countering fatigue and exhaustion by doing something as simple as ten jumping jacks.  Just try not to change your energy level after that - you can't help it!  The key is to get yourself up to standing and doing those jumping jacks in the first place to spark the change in your energy level.

As hard as it can be to get your body to move when it's tired, it's all the harder (for me, at least) to get the mind to move when it's stuck on negative thoughts and perceptions.  Whether it's a person whose actions or words have you hurt or angry or a simple case of a negative mood, the mind usually wants to stay in that negative space.  My mother-in-law always refers to the law of inertia (usually in a physical context), and for me that totally applies to a bad mood.  My mind in a whiney space wants to stay in a whiney space.

Tiffany Russo, the yoga teacher quoted in YogaJournal, explains this sutra further: "Patanjali said it's taking a negative and making it a positive.  I think it's also that moment when you can pause and choose to make a shift.  That's yoga - if you can pay attention enough to pause, you have a strong sense of your foundation, and you can blossom and grow from there."

This strikes a chord with me, and makes me think of one of my all-time favorite books My Stroke of Insight, where brain scientist Jill Bolte-Taylor details the stroke she suffered and how much more she learned about the power of our brains as a result.  She teaches us that we have so much power in how we interpret events and thoughts.

We can make a choice to focus on the negative or to focus on the positive.  We can make a choice to step back, take a breath, take a pause, and re-evaluate any given situation from a different perspective.  It's simple, but simple doesn't mean it's easy.  As we say at Karma Kids - that's why we call it a yoga practice, not a yoga perfect.

So - well done, YogaJournal.  Amidst your all-too-typical front cover promises that all my life's problems will be fixed with your "7 poses to find quiet amidst chaos," I feel so much more connected to the true work and benefits of yoga.  More of that, please!