Friday, December 17, 2010

40 + 90 + 14 = 26

This past weekend and week were both very special for different, yet oddly related reasons.

I had the awesome opportunity to take Prenatal Yoga teacher training this past weekend with Juliana Secches, a physical therapist, yoga teacher, Mom to beautiful little Bruno, and an excellent teacher with a wealth of information about the birth process, pregnancy, and the body and soul of prenatal and post-natal women!  It was so eye-opening in so many ways, and I am so eager to continue delving into the process of empowering moms-to-be through yoga.

And then speaking of birth...

It was my birthday on Monday, and Marc's on Wednesday.  I taught my Community Yoga class at Karma Kids, which is usually full of rambunctious boys.  Only one boy showed up that day, however, and when I asked him to guess how old I was turning, these were his answers:


"A little lower."


"A little lower..."


I can't express how much this deeply tickled me.  It was a very classic, "Kids say the darndest things" moment.

It also really got me thinking about the saying that you're only as young as you feel.  And all the other 800 sayings that basically say the same thing in a different way.  As cliche as it is, it's so true.  I don't feel 26, but what does 26 really feel like?  Some days I feel as giddy and silly as a 14-year-old (I was a particularly silly 14-year-old) and some days I feel very adult and responsible - perhaps closer to a 40-year-old.  But then again - I'm still me.  I like to hope that when I'm 40 I'll still have access to the giddiness and silliness that is (almost) as much an accessible part of me now as it was when I was younger.

It's all a balance, I suppose.  Juliana said repeatedly over the course of the training weekend that you need both the Ha and the Tha - Sun / Moon, Light / Dark, Strength / Flexibility, Effort / Ease.  It's the key to a successful yoga and meditation practice as well as a balanced life.  I hope I don't ever let the "grown-up"-ness completely take over my silly supply.  It's my hope for everyone, in fact!

And now I'm off to prepare for one of many wonderful holiday celebrations at my friend's cozy, probably-warmer-than-mine apartment.  Next week, if I'm able to write, I'll be coming to you from Grandma's in Florida!  Happy holidays, everyone :)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's a yoga practice, not a yoga perfect

That's something we say to kids at Karma Kids if there's ever anxiety or jealousy about not being able to do a pose as well as they'd like to, or one they "can't" do.  Honestly - I think we adults need to hear that far more often than the kids!

I feel like this is my first week back after The Cold That Would Not End, and I've been feeling some stress and pressure about being back in the game.  Momentum is a powerful thing, and I've been feeling very much like mine went missing at Thanksgiving and is stubbornly keeping itself from being dredged back up.  I've been teaching a lot at the Matrix gym by my apartment, I had a challenging but very fun class at Karma Kids, and I'm setting up as many Thai Yoga Massages as my calendar can handle.  The momentum is coming back, slowly but surely, along with my confidence.

One of my favorite teachers in the world, Joe Somodi, started his class yesterday by talking about this time of year.  The first biting freeze of winter, the beginning of all manner of holiday madness, and the speeding rush to the end of the year.  For me, this time of year (which also happens to include my and my boyfriends' birthdays - the 13th and 15th) causes absolute mental chaos.  So many parties and appointments to keep track of, so many cards to write, presents to get, travel plans to finalize.  Pair that with the fact that I'm physically just starting to settle back into my normal strength and stamina, and I've been feeling a little bit like a crazy person this week.

Normally in Joe's Tuesday class, I'm his assistant.  I get to go around the room and assist all the students in various postures as he teaches.  Last night, however, there were only a few of us and he looked over at me and asked if I wanted to practice.  He must have sensed how badly I needed it, and I said yes!

He offered a class of forward folds and twists - designed to energetically to ground the body and bring the mind into a one pointed focus.  It was slow, deliberate, low-key, and absolutely beautiful.  It was just what I needed and suddenly I felt like a yogi again!  I was so down on myself this week for getting stressed, but the de-stresser I needed was always right there in my breath and my body - and it always is.

The practice is everything.  Theory and pontificating (and even writing) will take you only so far, and the amazing feeling you get from a class probably isn't enough to keep you grounded and peaceful for the whole rest of the week.  Practice as much as you can, even if it's just 3 minutes in child's pose.  Practice doesn't mean breaking a sweat or mean that you have to make it last for a long time.  Grab what you can, when you can.  If it's a tough day and you just don't feel it - give yourself a break.  If you're in a class and a challenging pose you've recently mastered is suddenly out of your reach for some reason, don't sweat it.  It's a yoga practice, not a yoga perfect.  Our minds and bodies go through so many spectacular changes during a day, a week, a month, a year.  You will never have the same mind and body in one moment as you will the next moment.  We're in a constant state of change.

So off the mat, what does this mean?  Take a deep breath before getting stressed about December and all its joys and parties and time with old friends and family.  Give yourself a break if you're just too tired to go to one more holiday party, and kick back and take care of yourself instead.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The hard part of "Listen to your body"

If you attend yoga classes, you've no doubt heard the phrase, "Listen to your body" once or twice.  If you attend regularly, you've probably heard it a billion times.

It's the kind of thing that I find I hear so many times, I run the risk of letting it go in one ear and out the other without really hearing it - and more importantly, really listening.

As somewhat of a vinyasa junkie in my yoga practice, I've become accustomed to being highly physically challenged in my yoga classes.  Always working toward the next seemingly impossible pose, always working toward going upside down in new and exciting ways.  There's nothing wrong with that, by any means, but it does get you into the habit of pushing yourself.  That's a habit that's really important to learn how to break at certain times - most importantly, when you're sick.

The day before my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, Marc and I both got head colds at the exact same time.  As I sit here writing 8 days later, I'm better, but frustratingly, still not 100%.

Let me start out by saying - it could have been a LOT worse, and I added that to my long list of Things I'm Grateful For This Year.  We could have had pneumonia or fevers or the stomach flu (god forbid!) or been so ill we were bedridden.

But as active people, it's really frustrating.  What made it particularly frustrating was that I had planned to offer a free Thai Yoga Massage to any willing member of the LeVasseur family I could get my hands on to offer metta and to give myself a chance to practice and stay sharp in my technique.  Needless to say, no massages were given.

It didn't kill my yoga practice, however - it just changed it.

This is where the "listen to your body" comes in handy.  Off the mat, it forced me to lay down instead of running around the kitchen making a more elaborate dinner than necessary the other night.  It made me listen when my very generous boss at Karma Kids let me go early on Tuesday, lest I cough on the children and make myself and others worse.

On the mat, it changed my home practice from a juicy vinyasa exploration of poses and my limits, to, well...a kind of blissful 45 minutes.  (Many poses taken from my earlier blog post, Take it Easy) Being a compulsive planner, I decided the best way to save myself from going overboard and chasing down more challenging and stimulating Sun Salutations would be to plan out my practice.

15 minutes - Very mellow free form vinyasa.  On my back, hands-and-knees, and a couple of low lunges and on-my-belly backbends.

7.5 minutes - Supported fish pose with legs in supported bound angle (butterfly) pose.  This opened up my poor lungs and chest and helped wake me up a little.  In a really restful way, of course.

7.5 minutes - Supported Paschimottanasana (seated forward fold).  I put a pillow under my knees, a blanket under my seat, and stacked blocks up until I could fold forward, resting my forehead on the blocks, with comfort and the gentlest of stretches in my hamstrings.  This is a pose where I tend to have anxiety and overdo it, and I think this was one of the most enjoyable poses of the bunch.  Having my forehead supported was soothing and kind of massage-y, and it helped encourage me to relax my belly, which has been endlessly contracting the last week with the all the business of coughing and nose-blowing.

15 minutes - The queen of restorative poses, in my opinion - Viparita Karani, or legs up the wall.  My legs wanted to bend before the 15 minutes was up, which often happens for me, so I alternated leg positions for the last 5 or so minutes.  I also found I was kind of ready to get up and write before the 15 minutes were up - I can't decide if that's a good sign or a sign that I need to work harder to quiet my thoughts.

The moral of the post:  LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.  Be good to it.  It probably feels good to get a little sweaty or a little adrenaline rush if you've been laid up with a cold for a few days, but you're just going to prolong your recovery.  Use the opportunity to CHILL OUT, something I know I rarely do.

Perhaps not the most revelatory or original moral, but it's one that bears repeating and re-listening.

There's plenty more going on in my yoga-verse, but for now I'm going to listen to my body and call it a day.

Namaste and take care of yourselves!  Fight cold season with all your might!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A quick pre-Thanksgiving note...

I'm not planning to write too much tonight - it's been a wonderful and busy couple of weeks and my body is crying out for REST!

My Thai II Intensive was this past Wednesday-Sunday.  What can I say?  It was magical.  I love Lotus Palm, I love my teacher and her assistants, and all the wonderful souls who came together to learn to spread metta and joy (and stress relief!) to others!

Here are a few pictures of the to Massachusetts tomorrow to spend Thanksgiving with Marc's wonderful family.  It should be fun and delicious.  I'm definitely excited about my favorite of all holidays!

Performing Cow Face II on my lovely partner for the final day, Buffie.

Chopping her back...feels so good and it's so fun to do!

Performing the Diva Twist, the most intense of the 3 twists (at least up to this point in my education!)

Vivian, who runs an amazing healthy living center in Harlem, performs Kneeling Side Arc on Marianne, a lovely yogi and Mom (who I pictured in my entry on assisting Thai I in September!)

Lots of yummy stuff - in the back corner, Buffie is pulling me into a Long Stretch; forward of that, Natalie is performing Scapulla (yep, with two l's) on Beatriz, and on the right, Tama is palming sen line #3 on Jeanette's leg.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Adventures in the Fancy New York Yoga Blogger World!

It's been kind of a weird week.  For the last two weeks I'd gotten into the rhythm of going to Karma Kids almost every day as I was covering for my lovely friend Laura and helping out with other various events.  Now that she's fully back in action, I've had some space in my life this week to bounce back to the grown-up end of the yoga spectrum a bit.

As I mentioned at the end of my last entry, I was quit honored to be invited to an event called Wake Up with ATHLETA.  Bright and early on Tuesday morning, I went to Yoga Sutra studio on 39th (which is a gorgeous space, by the way) and was greeted by several insanely nice and lovely Athleta folk.  The other bloggers and I had our pick of several Athleta clothes to wear for the class, taught by one of their models, the lovely Drisana Carey.

Now I have to admit...I had never worn Athleta clothes before Tuesday.  For all my love of beautiful yoga-wear, the reality is I have been in massive penny pinching mode for awhile and can no more afford brand name yoga wear right now than I could...well, anything else that isn't food and rent.  I have some lululemon clothes I cherish that I have by the grace of a gift card, and some Be Present pants I treated myself to last year.  The benefit to "designer" yoga clothes - they can last you a REALLY long time!

So I was very shamelessly and girlishly excited to play fashion show, and I have to say...oh my WORD, their clothes are so unbelievably comfortable.  Some yoga clothes can make you feel like you're vacuum sealed in (which makes breathing a bit of a challenge), but these fall on the body so softly it feels like you've got nothing on.  I chose for myself the Udaya tank in Vintage Violet and, my new favorite article of clothing of all time ever, the Harem Pants in black.  The material is so smooth and's almost like cotton and silk had a baby and sacrificed it for the supreme joy and bliss of wearing Harem Pants.

(By the way, when I told Marc what they were called, he said, "How are you not offended by that name as a Thai Yoga Massage practitioner?"  I told him anything this comfortable could never offend me. )

We all eventually got ourselves dressed and into the practice room, and Drisana led us in a lovely hour-long practice that helped all of our yawn-y selves wake up and join the living. 

Chatting pre-class with Drisana (center) and a fellow blogger (left).

  Row o' down dogs.

 I am absurdly serious here.

 Is there anything in the world better than a yummy twist?

Afterward, they provided a delicious breakfast for us and a chance to chat and get to know each other.


I couldn't stay long, as I did have to get on to Karma Kids, but I am so thankful to have been invited.

Speaking of Karma Kids...I'm off for some Downward Doll Yoga!  I'm pretty sure it'll be the cutest thing in the universe.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Yoga Fountain of Youth

This is the most amazing article...if you find you need motivation and inspiration on a Monday morning, look no further:  "The yoga supergran who can still assume the lotus age 83."

Last week was a great yoga-week.  I subbed my first class at the Matrix, my neighborhood gym, and it went really well.  I was at Karma Kids a lot, still covering for my beautiful friend and fellow KKY teacher Laura who got married on October 30th.  I taught my first Storytime Yoga, which is crazy and fun.

I also, on the subject of yoga keeping you young, was insanely blessed to finally have my one-on-one session with my beloved Thai Yoga Massage teacher, Jyothi.  I don't know exactly how young she is, and I'm sure she looks younger than her age, but let me tell you, that woman is FLEXIBLE!  She puts her age group to shame, I'm sure.  I gave her a 90-minute massage and she critiqued me along the way, and I'm very happy and humble to say that I passed my evaluation with a perfect score.  The best part of the one-on-one session?  I then got to receive a massage at Jyothi's expert and magical hands.  It was like glimpsing heaven!

The next level of my training is in 9 more days, and I can't wait.  How appropriate that it's the week before Thanksgiving - what better time to be surrounded by love and light and metta?

That's all for this morning - time to get going on my own work!  I'll write again Wednesday though to report all about an event sponsored by Athleta I've been invited to on Tuesday morning for New York bloggers.  I was shocked and pleased out of my mind to get the invitation and I can't wait to share the experience!

Happy Monday, everyone!  Here's to a beautiful week!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cleanse Mania

I received one of my guilty pleasures in life in the mail earlier this week - Self Magazine.  I always enjoy dramatizing the big cover story promises with Marc - "'Beauty tricks for busy chicks'??  Why, I'M a busy chick!" - and analyzing just how much airbrushing has gone into the cover model.  But I find once I open the page, Self often has interesting and empowering articles among the standard "Lose 8 pounds in one week!"-esque empty promises.

So I was intrigued, as a yogi, as someone who loves food more than words can possibly describe, and as a lover of alliteration when I came upon this article:  Detox Diets Debunked.  (At the bottom, be sure to continue to click on "Beat Bloat," etc. to read further - it's less general information and more "eat this instead of detoxing with that" but it's still interesting)

Given our body obsessed culture in our modern world (even in the magazine that publishes this very article), plus the "detoxification" obsessed culture in the yoga world, it's no wonder that Cleanses just keep getting more and more popular.  This morning as I was sitting to read the New York Times before writing this blog, I came upon another article about detoxes/cleanses:  The Juice Cleanse:  A Strange and Green Journey.  (I think it's also worth briefly mentioning - the Self article is actually more investigative and the NYTimes article is more fluffy.  Interesting.)
Mmmmm.  Dinner.
I'd hear about them occasionally in college - a friend or two wanting to drop weight fast or get back to feeling good after some junk food binges left them feeling sluggish.  Since I moved to New York, however, I seem to hear about them all the time.  I have several dear friends who have done the Master Cleanse (it's crazytown to me how detailed this website is).  They lost weight, they sometimes felt wonderful and sometimes awful, and they survived.  Some people do it once a year or even once a month.

Personally - I have never understood it.  I certainly understand the desire to hit a reset button on your body when you've overdone it and I understand the desire to shed weight and to feel - well, cleansed.

But what I understand more?  My body needs food to survive!  Not just "craves," not just "desires" - needs.  If you go without food for a time - yes, you will likely lose weight.  But what kind of weight are you actually losing?  How long will it last once you inevitably start eating again?  What happens to your metabolism, your blood sugar, your muscle mass, and your necessary fat stores in the meantime?

As a New York yogi, I'm not sure just how in the minority I am on this.  Often it's  justified through the concept of saucha, or purity, which is one of the niyamas (observance) of yoga.  To me, however, that just implies that your body is a dirty thing which requires extra effort on your part to cleanse it.  That's not what I think saucha is supposed to be about.

The cleanse trend seems to be commonplace, but all I hear and say in yoga classes and conversations all day long is honor your body.  How on earth are we honoring it by depriving it of fuel?  It's about as logical as "honoring" your car by driving on fumes for a week to cleanse and detox.  We can honor our body by trusting our internal organs that work just fine at detoxing and taking care of waste, thank you very much.  No cayenne lemonade diet required.

Anyone else have any thoughts?  I'd love to hear opinions.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rub your hands...Sit up tall...Take a deep breath...


The Karma Kids "Om Song" seemed an appropriate way to begin another "long lost blog" entry ;)

So even though it's been over a month since I quit my old job - it still seems like just yesterday - the big news is still my transition out of "day job" security and into the joy and occasional terror of being semi freelance.

The "semi" part of that is due to my new position as a teacher / part time desk person at Karma Kids Yoga!  It's a wonderful kids yoga studio that also provides classes to tons of New York schools, community centers, and even private family yoga in the home.  I started my teacher training very shortly after my last blog entry, and it was amazing. Working with kids is a completely new venture for me and it's been really fun and challenging so far.  I'm excited for everything it holds for me.

So now I have a whole almost-month until my next training - in November, the week before Thanksgiving, I take Lotus Palm's Thai Yoga Massage Level 2 Intensive.  I'm so very ready.  I'm reaching out to everyone I can for my last pure Thai 1 massages before I learn all kinds of new wonderful tricks of the trade and can start reaching out to people all over again to offer a "new and improved" massage.

To that end, today I have two massages lined up - one being with a friend who has also been my most steady and loyal Thai Yoga Massage client, bless his heart.  The other is with Alison Renee Foster, an incredibly talented actress, singer, dancer, and now - fitness guru!  Her awesome blog, Foster Fitness, is inspiring, informative, and funny.  It's really worth a read, especially if you're a reality tv junkie like Alison.  Even if you're not - it's worth the time.

I haven't seen Alison since we were both in Sarasota working at Florida Studio Theatre two years ago - which feels like a lifetime.  It'll be wonderful to catch up and to share with her my little corner of the fitness/yoga world.

Even though it's been over a month since I've been starting this independent venture, it's still taking time to get used to things, to find order in a somewhat more chaotic schedule, and to pinch myself and realize that it's actually happening.  The dust is slowly beginning to settle, but I'm not sure if it ever completely will!  And I think that's fine with me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One intensive down, one to go

Hello, semi long lost blog!  It's been an absolute insane couple of weeks, with another crazy one to start on Thursday.

The day after I wrote my last entry announcing my departure from "survival job" land and into full time yoga-dom, I hopped a plane to Massachusetts for the next 5 days to attend the beautiful, beautiful wedding of my boyfriend's older brother to his long time love.

The happy couple!

After that, I took a couple of days to nurse my out of control allergies (going back and forth from the trees of New England to the mold of New York was intense!) and then jumped headfirst into Thai Yoga Massage Intensive, Level I.  This was the same course I took back in May, only this time I was attending as my teacher's assistant.  Jyothi, my teacher, is an absolute delight of a person and a phenomenal teacher.  The class was full of really special people and I just can't say enough good things about those five days.  I'm so blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of it, and I am HOOKED on assisting! I learned just as much taking the course again as I did the first time.

So now I'm getting some life-stuff in order that has been put on the back burner in the midst of all this travelling and massaging (and being massaged!) and giving some love to my oft-neglected blog.

Starting Thursday, however, I'm diving back into the sea of intensive yoga training - this time for Karma Kids!  My excitement is growing every day to start in on this next part of my yogic journey, and I'm sure I'll have much to report!

In the meantime, I leave you with some pictures of the past week, courtesy of Kevin, Tama, and Dave, some of the wonderful souls in class with me.  Enjoy!

Jyothi shows the class how to do Hurricane Kick.  Note our awesome toe socks, one of the most fun things about the Intensive :)


Me performing Neck Massage for the lovely mom and yoga teacher Marianne.

 This is me blissed out after 90 minutes of Thai Yoga lovin' from Marianne.
 Our group!  Congratulations to all the students and THANK YOU to Jyothi and my fellow assistants, Dave and Renee!

Have a beautiful last couple days of September...can't wait to welcome October!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life... know how the rest of the song goes.

Happy September!  I can't believe I haven't posted yet this month.  Time has been flying, full of wonderful family events and get-togethers (with a great one still ahead - the happy nuptials of my boyfriend's brother on Friday!).

I've also been busy crafting and shifting into a new chapter of my life.  Last week I left my office job that I've held since the day after I first moved to the city - I left it exactly one year ago to the day after I started!  It's quite nerdy how much that symmetry pleases me.  It was a wonderful company and I plan to stay in touch with the folks via the wonderful world of Thai Yoga Massage.

It wasn't my passion, however, so I'm really thrilled to be starting anew.  In two weeks, I'm going to start teacher training with Karma Kids Yoga to learn how to teach yoga ranging from Mom & Baby, toddlers, all the way up to teens.  I have two lovely friends who work and teach there already who are constantly singing its praises.  Kids yoga wasn't something I thought I'd be able to dive into so soon, given that this year has been packed with finding my way around my 200 hour Vinyasa certification and with getting my Thai Yoga Massage certification, but things rarely work out the way we think they will!

I've noticed over the last few years that my post-college life has been naturally dividing itself into semesters.  I tend to have a different job or set of friends or residence in the fall than I do in the spring than I do in the summer.  It's the funniest thing, and I find myself wanting to refer to last fall, when I was doing my teacher training, as "last fall semester."  Does that happen to anyone else or am I just subconsciously structuring my life that way for some reason?

Regardless - fall is possibly my favorite season, and I am so in love with fall in New York.  The weather is releasing us from its sweaty, humid grip and I have that "back to school" spirit and motivation.  I'm re-reading Eat, Pray, Love and devouring my new issue of Yoga Journal and my head is exploding with insights and inspiration - I need to pace myself!

I hope all who are reading this are feeling the same burst of energy and motivation...happy fall, everyone!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Take it Easy

Today, on this beautiful lazy Sunday (a phrase I can never, ever say again without calling to mind that dang SNL sketch), I'd like to write an entry in praise of rest, relaxation, and one of my favorite ways in which to experience those things - Restorative Yoga!

I've loved restorative yoga since the first time I tried it a few years ago, but I never practiced it or went to restorative classes regularly.  I shared the mentality of most of us in the US, namely:  if I'm going to take the time to go to a yoga class, I'd like it to make me sweat.  We're so pressed for time that often workout time becomes very precious and very tight, and the idea of taking a class just to relax can seem to some people like a bit of a waste of both time and money.

I really lucked out, however, when I started as a Karma Yogi for The Giving Tree - working two shifts at the desk a week in exchange for unlimited free yoga.  My assigned shifts were Friday and Saturday evening, and one of the Saturday evening classes is Hatha Restorative, taught by the wonderful Dhyani.  Nearly every Saturday for several months, now, I look forward to Hatha Restorative as one of the highlights of my week.

I lovingly call it Naptime Yoga, but it's so much more than that.  This specific class offers about 45 minutes of gentle Hatha flow - yoga poses that never get quite so sweaty, intense, or quickly paced as Vinyasa tend to - and 45 minutes of restorative.

So what on earth is this Restorative Yoga?  It's a slow, gentle practice focusing on relaxation.  There are usually lots of props involved (blankets, blocks, straps, bolsters, glorious eye pillows - or maybe cucumber slices, if you're feeling extra indulgent) to completely support your body and deliver you into a state of complete comfort and stillness.  Poses are usually held a lot longer than regular asanas - anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes depending on what you desire.

Here are a couple of my favorite restorative poses, with suggestions on how to get into them with as few props as possible, as I know very few people who own tons of yoga props.  (You can also always substitute any folded blanket or pillow - no need to spend $30 on a special "yoga blanket" just to make yourself comfortable!)

Supported Supta Baddha Konasana (bound angle pose)
A more prop heavy version of this pose is pictured at the beginning of this post, but here's a simpler version if you don't have a million props laying around.  Sitting with your feet together in front of you, place a block under each of your knees and lay back, dropping your knees open so that the knees/thighs are supported by the blocks.  You can lay down on a bolster, pillow, or blanket situated any way that makes you feel supported and comfortable.  You shouldn't feel any straining or too much stretching in your hip flexors, but feeling an opening sensation is normal - and should feel good.  The hip flexors get a lot of abuse in our culture of sitting-at-a-desk-for-8-hours-a-day and should be gently opened up as often as possible to counter that tightness that develops as a result of prolonged sitting.

Supported Matsyasana (fish pose)
This is another laying-down pose.  Place a yoga block (or bolster, foam roller, or very firm pillow with a folded blanket on top) under your back so that when you lay down, the block is on its lowest level running lengthwise along the base of your shoulder blades.  The easiest way for most teachers to cue this is so that it hits right where your bra clasp would be.  (Sorry, guys)  Adjust as needed - and perhaps cover with a blanket if the block feels too hard - until you're able to lay down and feel a gentle expansion in the chest, collarbones, and shoulders.  If the neck is in any pain, you can always place another block or a pillow under the head for support.

Supported Setu Bhandasana (bridge pose)
This is very similar to support matsyasana except we're now raising up the lower part of the back instead of the upper back.  Move the block to your sacrum, that flat triangle-shaped bone between the tailbone and the lower back (if you practice yoga regularly, I'm sure you've heard the sacrum mentioned by your yoga teacher at least a half dozen times per class).  It should be on the lowest level.  This pose is beneficial in relieving digestive problems and can greatly reduce menstrual discomfort.

Supported Paschimottanasana (seated forward fold)
Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Place a rolled up blanket or pillow under your knees to bend them, relieving any potential strain on the low back or hamstrings.  Next, place a bolster, several pillows, or stack several folded blankets on top of your thighs.  You could even place a block or two covered in blankets.  Fold forward and adjust your props as needed so that you are resting your forehead on a soft surface and feeling a very mild stretch in the hamstrings.  Make sure your props are stacked high enough and that you have enough support under the knees so that you can completely relax and sink your upper body onto your props without any strain or holding.

Finally, my favorite restorative pose as of late:  Viparita Karani.  

This one deserves a picture.  Viparita means "inverted" and karani means "action," but its English name is Legs Up the Wall.  And that's literally what it is.

There's not really a graceful way to get into this pose, so you just kind of have to go for it.  There's plenty of grace to be found once you've gotten yourself there.

Sit down close to a wall - turn to the side so that one hip is right up against the wall.  Then - well, put your legs up the wall.  You'll find yourself laying down.  Place a rolled up blanket, pillow, bolster - whatever makes you feel the best - under your low back so that your sit bones pour off it.  You're basically supporting the natural curve of your lumbar spine.

Arms can go over the head, as pictured, for a nice shoulder opening.  You can also place them on your belly, by your sides, supported by pillows or blankets - truly, it's all about your pleasure.  I've recently discovered the joys of putting slices of cucumbers on my eyes in this pose in lieu of an eye pillow.  (It's a cliche, but it really does help puffiness!)

There's a great article on viparita karani online at written by Claudia Cummins; another appeared in the most recent issue but isn't online yet.  I'll definitely provide the link when it is!

To learn more about the practice of Restorative Yoga, YogaJournal has a great informational article on it, as does WikiHealth.

So the next time you come home feeling exhausted and in need of relaxation, resist the urge to sit on the couch in front of the TV or computer to attempt to relax.  Truly let yourself go and free yourself from any outside stimulation by luxuriating in some restorative yoga.  Your body, mind, and stress-level will thank you.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Settling in and pondering aparigraha

Last week I promised a more unpacked, settled, and firmly planted me, and I am overjoyed to say that me is indeed here.  I'm sitting at our desk in the nook (as we call it - our 2nd bedroom we're using as a practice room/office - it is teeeeeny tiny) and reveling in this moment of being home.

This current phase in homemaking that we're in - where the boxes are all unpacked and the bare bones are set up, but there's still a list of Things We Need to Buy and Organize and Wouldn't a Wall Clock be Nice to Have? - is really fun and exciting, amidst the occasional chaos and the fact that it costs money.

It's been a particularly interesting time for me, because I've spent the last few years of my life learning to live with as little as possible.  I've gone from tiny theatre-provided apartment to tiny theatre-provided apartment - not to mention first tiny New York apartment - and then being an unofficial 4th roommate at Marc's...

Well.  You get the idea.  Minimalism was the name of the game.  It kept things simpler if things could just fit in the back of my car or a pickup truck, and not buying a lot meant saving money that I didn't really have on hand to spend anyway.

So now suddenly faced with the prospect of "nesting," of living in an apartment that is completely mine and my partner's, of staying put in a place for longer than a's gotten me thinking a lot about attitudes toward "stuff," materialism, and the yogic concept of aparigraha - commonly translated as "non-hoarding."

No doubt about it, we live in a major consumer goods based culture.  Especially living in New York, where you can't go anywhere without walking past a store of some kind that no doubt contains something you want or need or, more accurately, think you want or need.  We're absurdly blessed in this country to have ready access to anything we could want or need to make ourselves comfortable and sated, and it's just as absurdly easy to get sucked into mindless, harmful materialism.

How do you draw the line between being excited to set up your home and grateful for your comfortable surroundings, and becoming consumed with consumerism?

Stuff - and that really is all it is, no matter how shiny or chic or cute or practical - all too quickly and easily can become too much of a main focus in our lives, trumping more meaningful connections or being able to rest in gratitude with the abundance of what we already have.  Bringing it back to moving for a moment - it's truly amazing how quickly one's attitude will change toward their belongings throughout the course of a move.  When you're packing and planning out the move, who doesn't get to a breaking point where they just want to throw out or burn all their stuff because they're sick of dealing with it and transporting it?  And yet, as soon as it's safely unpacked and tucked away and back in that plastic bin in the back of the closet that you know you'll never use, it's important and precious again because it's yours.

Aparigraha, as I mentioned before, is a yogic concept that is part of the yoga sutras.  In it, Patanjali (the ancient sage who authored them) outlines 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas - often viewed as a kind of "ten commandments" of yoga, although there's no smiting involved if you fall off the wagon. (As far as I know) Going with the commandment metaphor, one might interpret the Yamas as the Shalt Not's and the Niyamas as the Shall's.

Apart from being one of the most fun to say, aparigraha is one of my favorite Yamas because I think it has a really profound relevance to the way we live our lives in our present society.  How often, when cleaning out closets or drawers, do we find clothing we've either never worn or haven't seen in years and have forgotten about?  Yet having discovered this clothing, or whatever object it might be, how often do we cling to it, claiming to need it 'just in case?'

Nischala Joy Devi writes eloquently of aparigraha in her amazing book, The Secret Power of Yoga.  It's a must-read for anyone looking to explore the yoga sutras, and although she wrote it from a predominantly feminine perspective, men can get a lot out of this clear, engaging book as well.  She frames her definition: "Acknowledging abundance, we recognize the blessings in everything and gain insight into the purpose for our worldly existance."

She writes, "As a nation, our facade of abundance is possible because of what we imaginatively call credit, which in reality is debt...This masquerade is facilitated by our engorged belief in propriety and greed.  Creating a complex misunderstanding of the flow of abundance, we tend to overlook the premise that when money is owed, obligation is accrued.  Most importantly, we have distracted ourselves from the true happiness within by impeding the access into the spiritual vistas with material wants and needs.  If we are able to live within the material energy allotted us and generously use the word, 'Enough,' abundance cascades in our direction.  We become free."

Within my own life, this is certainly something I always struggle with, particularly at this shop-happy time of setting up house.  I don't think there's anything wrong with getting excited about a shiny new tea kettle (nerdy, perhaps, but not wrong) as long as the tea kettle, the bedside table, the desk, the apartment itself - as long as whatever it is serves as a platform of comfort and care from which I feel free to pursue my dreams and cultivate happiness instead of the source from which I derive that happiness.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Vacation, Move-in, 22 Hour Day and Need for Metta

The day I published my last blog, Marc and I left the big city for beautiful Virginia to visit my family.  It was a wonderful visit, relaxing as well as fun and filled with the southern culture that I love so much and is so much a part of my being.

So I was going to write a blog about that.

The day we came back from that vacation - Tuesday the 3rd - was our first night in the new apartment.  We got home from the airport around 5:30 and immediately began the still-ongoing task of taking all of our belongings out of the "nook" (small second bedroom/practice room) and unpacking.

So then I was going to write a blog about that.

In the middle of last week, though, Marc got upsetting news from home.  A close friend's younger brother, who Marc also knew, had died suddenly.  He was only 22 years old.  We decided to attend the memorial service to be held on Sunday in Boston.

It was a day filled with every kind of emotion in the book.  We got up at 5am to catch a 7am train to the city and got home that night at 3am.  We had lunch and dinner and wonderful times with his parents, I got to see his beautiful high school (the service was held in the theatre) and, though we obviously wish it were under better circumstances, I met many of his old friends and his mentor, Brother Ron.

The memorial service itself was a beautiful experience too, along with the obvious sadness and grief (and many, many, many tears) it inspired, and I'd like to take a slight detour to write about it in more detail.

Brother Ron opened with the Prayer of St. Francis along with some really comforting words of his own, which struck a deep chord with me. 

The young man's Uncle Christopher spoke about using his memory to inspire compassion into our every day lives - nearly everyone who spoke emphasized that this young man never said an unkind word about anyone.  Christopher called for all of us present to stop and consider where someone else may be, emotionally speaking, the next time a person on the street or in the supermarket annoys you or does something to make you angry.  He or she could be feeling, "exactly as we all are now."  It really reminded me a lot of what Dr. Taylor wrote in My Stroke of Insight, and it's so important to remind ourselves of the importance of daily, constant compassion.

The final speaker, the young man's older brother - Marc's friend - was unbelievably eloquent.  He invoked Buddhist philosophy, which he had been reading a lot of the last week in search of comfort.  It was comforting to me that I was finding inspiration in everyone for all of the variety of things they were invoking - words of different faiths and words not necessarily derived from faith at all, but just from loving this incredibly special young man and hearing the stories of how he touched people and how he has inspired them to live their lives better because of how he lived his.

Major life events like funerals, births, any kind of extreme joy or tragedy, really causes us to take stock of what we have, what we're grateful for, and what we really want out of our lives.  Throughout these last turbulent, stressful, but ultimately great two weeks, my yoga/meditation practice, which is unspeakably important to me, has really slipped.  I let the circumstances of vacation or moving or fatigue or stress or whatever it was rule me instead of taking charge and firmly planting this beloved practice into my stubborn, inconsistent schedule.

Luckily, being back in town for a week has meant that things are slowly starting to fall back into place - I'm scheduling massages and sorting out my yoga teaching and, more importantly, my yoga practice.  My phenomenal Thai Yoga Massage teacher, Jyothi Watanabe, is coming to my new apartment this very evening for our one-on-one session, and I could not be more excited about it.

In preparation for that, and equally to shower Marc with well deserved metta (loving-kindness, which is the most important element of the philosophy behind Thai Yoga Massage as a healing art) and relief from Sunday's wildly uncomfortable train rides, I gave Marc the 90 minute Thai Yoga Massage in our new place Monday night.

It really cracked us open, emotionally, spiritually, physically.  On the heels of such an intense (and sleep deprived) Sunday, we were rather vulnerable to begin with, and the session truly felt like a marked beginning in our re-commitment to our practice.

For me, one of those things that I've felt like I just haven't been able to firmly plant into my life as a satisfying ritual has been this blog.  I feel like I have so much to say, and I feel like I have so much I can learn just by exploring it through here.  Now that I feel I really have a home that's going to be geared toward supporting that...well, it still is entirely up to me, isn't it?  Circumstances can conspire to make it easier to make good choices and to engage in self discipline, but it's still ultimately up to you.

I realize this has been a disjointed and more personal than generally yogic...but yoga is living, not just the philosophy and history and poses and terminology.  When you don't officially do your 10-20-45 minutes of seated mediation or yoga or journaling, when you're just living life...there's still yoga present in what choices you make, how you treat people, and how you treat yourself.  It's just a lot easier to access and keep present when it's rooted in a sadhana - a daily practice.

So with that, I leave you, World of Blogs, and will be back next week...a little more unpacked, a little more settled, and a little more firmly planted.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Running to get back on the horse

Last week was entrenched in a process that almost everyone has to go through at some point - Moving.  While the result is (usually) a blessing, the process usually feels like a curse.

For some reason, however, this time coincided with a burning desire between my boyfriend and I to finally really start getting up earlier to work out and be productive.  We've been talking about it forever and for the longest time it's just existed in the land of things that you want to do "someday," when things are calm and settled and you have the time and energy.  We really took the cake in proving that you can turn your motivation into action no matter what's going on with your life.  And you will mostly make it out not only alive but changed for the better.

I touched on this very issue in my last entry when I talked about really wanting to rekindle my relationship with writing and how I've had a hard time figuring out how to sync my motivation with the required time.

Oh, and to top it all off - I developed a burning desire last week to get back into running after being inspired by the blog of a yogi who decided to run a marathon.

Isn't it bizarre when you get bursts of motivation in the midst of one of the most stressful events of your year?

Bizarre though it may be, I'm proud of Marc and I.  Last week, every day, we got up early and either ran, did yoga, meditated, or just talked out stuff for moving over a breakfast which we ate sitting down for a change instead of our usual style of scarfing it down as we speedwalk to the subway.

I think we've both been pining for so long for our own place that a part of ourselves just completely lost patience for waiting until we're settled to have our new grown-up routines that we've been talking about and fantasizing about.  In retrospect, was it smart to alter our sleeping patterns so much during a week-plus process that added a new helping of stress to our already busy lives?  I think, despite the exhaustion, the answer is yes.  As any early-riser will tell you - particularly one who used to be a late riser - it gets easier with time.  And even in the course of a few days, we felt it get a little easier.  We're on a dedicated mission to killing the snooze button.  And in the midst of turning our fantasy of getting up early and starting the day off right instead of in a rushed stressed state, we still spun our fantasies of how it'll be even better in the new place.

This whole thing has made me think about when all of my yoga teachers (and when I tell my students) talk about listening to your body.  If something hurts, don't do it.  If it feels good or for some reason you just feel like you need to take a twist before savasana, or come down to child's pose when you're really not even that out of listen and you obey.  (Going back to running has really been making me think about this in terms of injury prevention, but that's another post)

It felt like what we were listening to was something a deeper than just the physical body.  To be sure, it was not our heavy eyes and dead-tired limbs that were getting us out of bed at 6am.  It wasn't even as simple as desire, either, because people desire things all the time that they don't do, either because those things are bad for them or because, like getting up early, they're ultimately good in the long term but not so fun in the short term.

What it felt like more than anything is that Voice of Reason we all have inside ourselves.  A teacher of mine also calls this the Witness.  Something that isn't purely mind or spirit or body, but something inside you that's all three.  Your own source of connectivity with the divine in you and the divine in the universe.  Also known as the For Your Own Good voice.

As I post this, we're preparing for our departure from New York to beautiful Virginia, my home.  We've spent the last few days in my small bedroom in my apartment (a wrinkle in the moving process) but when we come back next week we'll finally be in the new place, and that impatient, insistent presence that propelled us off our lazy sleeping bodies will still be right there with us.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One month later...

...another entry!

I think I've figured out why, although this blog is important to me and I want to write consistently and well, I tend to go so long between entries.

I have a bit of a perfectionist side to me.  Not in a debilitating or obnoxious way (most of the time), but enough so that it sometimes hinders me.

My inspiration to start this blog was, as I'm sure I've mentioned, the blogs of several friends and strangers that I found myself reading and following.  I was often bowled over by the cleverness, thoroughness, and just plain interesting-ness of these entries that these bright, funny fitness/yoga aficionados were posting.

And, as so often happens to me, my ambition got too big for its britches and I decided I was just going to start any old yoga blog, but I was going to start a GREAT one filled with knowledge and the de-bunking of myths and the de-mystifying of concepts and one that would serve myself just as much, if not more, as those who read it as it would be an outlet for me to sort through the tons and tons of knowledge I've gained during this wonderful year of my life.

And continued to go on and be busy, and instead of being a joyful outlet, the idea of writing my blog started to sound like something that would require the time and energy I simply didn't have to give.  On any given day, I get up to work until 4, take a class or offer a Thai Yoga Massage, and some nights do a karmi shift at one of the lovely yoga studios I frequent.  Not all of my days are sunrise - to - sunset packed with activities - and a lot of those days are often also packed with fun boyfriend/social activities as well - but a lot of them are.  Enough so that when I find a couple of hours at the end of the evening, I feel like doing a whole lot of nothing - which in itself is rather yogic, isn't it?  We do need rest, after all.

The obvious conclusion to this ramble is - I haven't been updating because I knew I wouldn't be able to give my time and energy to write The Best Blog EVER.  And instead of doing a little bit of what I could do, I got caught up and thus stressed out in what I simply couldn't do.  I'd look ahead and think, "When I move into the new place and have a study..." or "When things calm down a bit..." (whatever that last one means) or when any old thing would happen, my inspiration and discipline would magically come flying back.

Something that's easy to spout in theory and hard to put into practice is that yoga isn't just for when you're alone in a quiet, peaceful room with lots of easy time ahead of you to meditate or do whatever it is you do to practice.  The true benefit of yoga comes in the midst of a hectic, stressful day when maybe you deepen your breath to keep your blood pressure and stress levels from spiking too high.  It's a tool to help you live your life, it's not something that stops your life so you can bask in it.  As nice as that sometimes sounds.

So to put in writing, where others can (and hopefully occasionally do) read writing will become whatever it will become.  When I do have the chance and motivation to write an entry that's supported by research or self study, that'll be great.  However, it's simply important to me that I write.  Writing has always been a personal form of meditation for me before I even really began to think about or be interested in meditation.  It's where some of my most peaceful and cathartic moments have occurred, and when I make a dedication to do it regularly, I'm always better for it.  An entry a week, whatever it's about and however personal or professional it is, will be my goal for this blog.  We'll see how it all goes...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Work Hard, Play Hard - Inspiration from The Giving Tree

No, not the book The Giving Tree.  Although I suppose it kind of is, in a way...

Let me explain.

So before I start thinking and sharing deep yogi thoughts, let me first announce that starting next month, I will be teaching the Community Classes (meaning donation-based - pay what you can!) at a yoga studio I absolutely love - who did receive its name from the book - The Giving Tree.  It's located off of the Ditmars stop on the N/W (soon to be only the N, lord help us...) and, along with fantastic yoga classes, also offers pilates, personal training, massage, reiki, and new in June - waxing! 

There are also community events every Sunday evening, and at least once a month on Saturday nights they do "Artists of Astoria," giving local artists a platform to perform.  I went to the one year anniversary party of this gorgeous studio last Sunday and still truly can't believe they've only been around a year.  The mark they've made on the community is huge so far and can only get better.

My July Community Class will be Tuesdays in July from 12-1:30pm...this month they're being taught by Cindy and in August - who knows?  (Maybe you!  If you're a yoga teacher.  In New York.)  I hope to see a bunch of familiar and new faces there each week.

It was in a Giving Tree class a couple Fridays ago taught by Anne-Margaret, the owner of the studio, that I got the inspiration for this particular little ramble.  She started off class, like most teachers I love do, introducing a theme for us to think about throughout class and beyond.  That evening she was talking about the old saying "Work hard, play hard."  A lot of people - especially in New York - would say that applies to them, and I suppose I do too.

What does this principle have to do with yoga, you may be asking?  Well, Anne-Margaret started talking about the common problem a lot of people have.  When you're at work, all you can think of is what you're going to do when you're "free," or what needs to be done in your personal life - whether it's errands or an issue with one of your relationship.  Conversely, when you're relaxing or engaging in some activity with family and friends, your time may be stolen by thoughts of, "It's almost Monday," or worries about a challenging project that lays in wait for you.

The way Anne-Margaret asked us to apply "Work hard, play hard' in our yoga practice that day was - when we're in challenging poses, go for it. When we're in a resting pose, completely let go and rest. Essentially - whatever you're doing, do it. Let go of thought and judgment and surrender to wherever you are. It really does apply to everything in your life.

Even (maybe especially?) if you love your job, I feel like this inability to live fully in the present moment at home vs. work is something everyone can relate to.  Some people I know get genuinely depressed on Sunday - every Sunday, like clockwork, because of that feeling of dread at having gear up for another week.  Imagine losing a whole day that's supposed to be dedicated to rest and freedom simply because of thoughts of what's to come on Monday!
During my yoga teacher training last fall, things got pretty busy.  Between work, the various demands of the teacher training, falling in love, adjusting to my new beloved city, and then eventually the holiday season (including my and my boyfriends' birthdays), my every waking minute was filled and scheduled to a T.

The current circumstances and events in my life are different, but the every-waking-minute-filled-and-scheduled part is still there.  I've been noticing, though, that I'm not dealing with my current stressors nearly as well as I was dealing with them a few months ago.  I've become so jealous of my free time that I sometimes resent my activities while I'm engaged in them or plagued with dread and worry during that precious free time.

After taking a look at circumstances then and now, as well as what my main sources of stress are these days, my self diagnosis is: Start meditating every single day...just like I was doing during teacher training.

What I, and so many insanely busy people these days, need is larger more than just the meditation practice itself, although I firmly believe meditation is something everyone should be doing for a happier and healthier world.  What is ultimately needed is some sense of grounding stability - a sense of ritual, of daily practice - of sadhana.  This can be something tailored to every individual if meditation isn't your thing or something you don't think you have time for. (Although you do have time for it - trust me.  But that's another post...)

Your daily practice (or sadhana) could be 5 minutes to an hour to whatever you can spare of some kind of activity that will give you some kind of peace.  Some things that really ground and rejuvenate me include writing, running, doing yoga by myself at home (or outside), get the idea.  It's time you take for yourself to unplug from the outside world and recharge your internal batteries.

Last year, I participated in Lent for the first time not by denying myself something, but by adding to my daily routine.  I banished the snooze button (so maybe I did give something up) and got up an extra hour to half hour early to engage in whichever activity I thought would help give me focus or calm for the day ahead.
Of course, there are other ways to help yourself find the present moment and avoid the cycle of longing/dreading.  One fun way to play with that is to challenge yourself to identify all the ways you multitask - and see how many of them you can eliminate for a week - or a day - or even just one hour.  I tried that at work a few weeks ago by forbidding myself from having more than one tab open on my Internet browser (I've fallen victim to technology ADD...and it doesn't help that I have not just one but two computer monitors at my desk!)

Another way is simply to have more awareness when your mind wanders away from the present moment.  Notice it and then do your best, without judgement, to release whatever longing or worries are taking you away.

The funny thing is, the expression "Work hard, play hard," always kind of turned me off.  I was very much a homebody as a kid and an adolescent, and that's still a big part of who I am.  I'm not competitive or aggressive or terribly ambitious by nature, and I always thought that expression applied to people much more intense and outgoing than me.  The expression seemed to be saying, "Work yourself to the bone and then stay out and get wasted all night!"  It's odd the way we interpret things.

Looking at it from this way, though - the total immersion of the present moment - has completely changed my view on it.  It's a beautiful mantra and a fantastic way to live your life.

So here's to a great start to the summer!  Work hard, play hard - and despite the fact that many of you may live in the City That Never Sleeps - rest.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Book Report: My Stroke of Insight

Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time and energy degrading, insulting, and criticizing ourselves (and others) for having made a "wrong" or "bad" decision.  When you berate yourself, have you ever questioned:  Who inside of you is doing the yelling, and at whom are you yelling?

One of the things I'd love to utilize my lovely little blog for - book reports!

There are always dozens of books that I want to read on any given day, and ever since I moved to the city and started pursuing yoga as a career, about a million more books have been added to that reading list.

Whenever I read fiction, I can easily speed read and plow through fairly quickly.  Nonfiction or "educational" books, however - especially those that delve into the insanely deep territory yoga can cover - take me a lot longer to absorb.  I often feel the need to spend a month on one whole book just so I feel like I absorbed part of it, and even then it feels like it's eluding my grasp.

Hence - a book report.

I decided to go with My Stroke of Insight for the first of this series.  Ironically, the book doesn't mention the word yoga one single time.  Its principals and revelations, however, are unbelievably relevant to yoga, and I think this book should be required reading for everyone who can possibly manage to get their hands on it.  It is truly phenomenal.

As a brief skeletal sketch - My Stroke of Insight is written by brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor chronicling what happened to her when she woke up one morning to find she was experiencing a severe stroke.  With incredible ingenuity and determination she managed to save herself by calling an ambulance (even when she couldn't distinguish the numbers on the phone or which ones to call - truly a terrifying chapter).  She ultimately survived (obviously) and wrote this book to tell us all what she learned about the brain from this first hand encounter.  Dr. Taylor obviously know a great deal about the brain before her stroke, but what makes this amazing is that her knowledge went from being merely academic or rote to being deeply ingrained, personal, and a present part of her everyday life.

I read this book at the behest of my boyfriend who read it after one of our favorite yoga teachers, Joe Somodi, recommended it highly during a meditation workshop.  While reading it he couldn't stop telling me all the fascinating things he was learning, and as soon as he finished it I picked it up.  Joe recommended this book so highly because, despite the fact that it's not "about" yoga, strictly speaking, it empowers us with the revelation of just how much control over our thoughts and emotions we have - more than you ever would have thought possible before reading this book, even if you're an experienced meditator / yogi.

Dr. Taylor's stroke took place in the left part of her brain, severely damaging it, leaving her right brain to take over for a good long time.  The difference she illustrates between our left and right brain go far, far beyond "math vs." art, and she illustrates it both in scientific terms and visceral, personal terms.  She's a deeply skilled teacher and storyteller - her ability to impart complex knowledge while keeping it clear and accessible is impressive.

Here she is describing the sensation she was given as she was ruled by her right brain in the aftermath of her stroke:

I could not determine how my body was positioned, where it began or where it ended.  Without the traditional sense of my physical boundaries, I felt that I was at one with the vastness of the universe.

 If that's not yogic...

Though the entire book is fascinating and worth a read, the real gems are in the last couple of chapters.  The biggest revelation for me was that physically, our emotional response (via the limbic system) to any given situation only lasts 90 seconds.  As Dr. Taylor puts it, " takes less than ninety seconds for one of these programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our bloodstream...if, however, I remain angry after those ninety seconds, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run."

I felt a lot of disbelief after reading that.  It made me almost feel like a robot, or that she was suggesting I could have the emotional control of something robot-like.  After a really traumatizing or upsetting event - a death, a breakup, a physical trauma - it sure doesn't feel like I regain perfect control after 90 seconds.

The thing to remember, though, is that Dr. Taylor doesn't say it's easy or simple to let it go and tap back into the perfect bliss that always exists in the right brain after the 90 seconds.  It's a choice, despite the fact that it rarely feels like it.  If it was easy and simple, everyone would be happier all the time and we would all always feel connected and empowered.  Dr. Taylor refers to the work of discovering that empowerment as "tending the gardens of our minds."  It's work and it's every day.  Although her stroke has given her a major ability to access that joy and bliss, she still lives and struggles in this world like the rest of us and has to work to make that decision to choose calm over frustration, forgiveness over anger.

This book is a classic example of one I feel the need to read over and over and over again until it's a part of me.  It's so empowering but it's also very frightening.  It has made me acutely aware of the moments I feel attached to negative feelings of worry or anger.  Despite the fact that they're not pleasant and they don't make me feel good, it seems somehow easier to stick with those than to make the choice to be joyful despite whatever challenging realities may be going on in my life.

I recently read a passage from this book to a class of mine during savasana.  I told them it's easier said than done - but it is vitally important to each individual's happiness.  I hope you find it enlightening and I really hope you get a copy of this book and discover your own empowerment for yourself.

Don't have cash to get the book or time to read it right now?  Check out Dr. Taylor's website for more information.

For me, it's really easy to be kind to others when I remember that none of us came into this world with a manual about how to get it all right.  We are ultimately a product of our biology and environment.  Consequently, I choose to be compassionate with others when I consider how much painful emotional baggage we are biologically programed to carry around.  I recognize that mistakes will be made, but this does not mean that I need to either victimize myself or take your actions and mistakes personally.  Your stuff is your stuff, and my stuff is my stuff.  Feeling deep inner peace and sharing kindness is always a choice for either of us.  Forgiving others and forgiving myself is always a choice.  Seeing this moment as a perfect moment is always a choice.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thai Yoga Massage Level I

Hello, my long lost blog!

First things first - another class announcement regarding Creative Vibrations.  I may be teaching twice on Mondays!  I'm in talks with the owner regarding scheduling, but I think it's going to work out so that I teach an Open Level Yoga class at 5pm and a Yoga Basics (more specifically geared for beginners) at 6:15.  So come on to Ditmars at the end of the N/W line and bring friends!

When I started this dandy little thing last month, my intention was to create an outlet for myself (and hopefully others) to sift through and make sense of all of this newly acquired yogic knowledge I've been swimming in since moving to New York and training to be both a teacher and a more dedicated student of yoga.

And then I began another teacher training program and promptly fell off the face of the earth!  I can't believe how the time has flown since I completed the intensive.  When I emerged from the all consuming world I had a sudden feeling of panic.  I abandoned my normal work and routine for five days to learn this beautiful practice, but the world most definitely didn't slow down to let me catch up! 

It's tough when something like that happens not to feel like you're behind, and that feeling can be plenty overwhelming.  I tend to be a schedule-making calendar-worshipping slightly type A micromanager of my own life.  I let myself get caught up in all the things I hadn't done and needed to catch up on and got down on myself...when my very wise boyfriend reminded me - I had just taken a huge leap forward for my career!  I learned so much in those five days I could never hope to describe it.  It meant a few other things got put on the back burner, but panicking and beating myself for being "behind" was helping no one.

So with that sage wisdom, I plowed through the work that awaited me at my job as well as my Yogini work and have finally begun to emerge for air.  Hence: late blog entry.

Lotus Palm Thai Yoga Massage, Level I Intensive
Wednesday, May 5 was the first day of a five-day journey introducing me into the wonderful world of Thai Yoga Massage, taught by Jyothi K. Watanabe of the Lotus Palm School in Montreal.  It was a whirlwind and a challenge but it was mostly just plain yummy.

It can be a little difficult to describe what Thai Yoga Massage actually is.  I gave it a shot on my website, accompanied by some pictures to give an idea of what a couple of the poses look like.  The best way, I think, is to experience it.  It's not a traditional massage - you're not on a table (though there is a version of TYM that is), you're fully clothed, and most don't stay in one position the whole time.  You start in a seated position and your practitioner performing the massage moves your body for you, basically.  Some poses are relatively still and simple and others are more dynamic.  However, no matter how pretzel-like a pose may appear, you are not required to practice yoga or to even be athletic or flexible to receive a massage.  The practitioner will never force your body to move past its natural range of motion or flexibility.

Jyothi and her amazing assistants, Jenny and Dave, took our class through the entire 90-minute sequence of a standard massage.  She's been teaching the Lotus Palm Method for over ten years and her knowledge and ability to share it is staggering.  Aside from being incredibly smart and intuitive, she's unbelievably funny.  I could have happily gone back to the intensive for five more days to learn from her and practice with my fellow students.

The culmination of the experience was for the class to pair off and essentially practice the full 90 minute flow on each other, which allows me to say from personal experience and with total confidence that you will feel more open, relaxed, and again, for lack of a better word, yummy after a Thai Yoga Massage than any other physical experience.

I'm still a ways away from getting my certification.  Lotus Palm has a rigorous program for its three levels of certification - Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced.  For a Basic certification, you must complete both Level I & II Intensives, submit 30 documented massages, and experience two one-on-one sessions with Jyothi where you get excellent feedback on your progress.

What does this mean for those of you reading the blog?  It means I need bodies for practice!  So if you and/or someone you know could benefit from 90 minutes of passive stretching and massage, please let me know.

I felt drawn to Thai Yoga Massage when I first read about it last summer, before I even really knew what it was.  Now that I've officially begun my journey, I feel so lucky that it has exceeded my expectation.  This art combines yoga, massage, and most importantly, metta, a Buddhist word that essentially means loving-kindness.  Spending 90 minutes dedicating my mind, intuition, and body to serving another person and deliver them into a state of physical, mental, and spiritual ease is the ultimate metta and meditation for me.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Class Time Change!

Although the update won't be reflected on my website for a few days, my class time at Creative Vibrations has changed!  You'll find me there and ready to teach at 6:15 on Mondays from now on (as opposed to 5, which was the original time)

Located at the last stop on the N/W, Creative Vibrations is a warm, lovely studio that also offers massage and bellydancing classes.  Hope to see you there!


Thai Yoga Massage was AMAZING.  Can't wait to write more about it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Miscellaneous Update Time!

With very little time to write an actual blog entry tonight, I still wanted to share a few fun things...

First thing's first - my website, Yogini Annie, is officially launched out into the universe of Everyone I've Ever Met today!  Designed by Billy Griffin and featuring photographs by Paul LeVasseur, Gloria Rabinowitz, and Klee Walsh, I'm very proud to share this site.

Yoga in the Park
I had the wonderful opportunity this past Sunday to teach a free yoga class with an awesome initiative, Yoga in the Park.  YIP was developed by Grisel Olivo, a fantastic yogini and all around beautiful person.  We completed Sonic's 200-hour teacher training together and I'm so happy to continue practicing with her.

The day was probably the warmest of the year so far, but we found a shady spot and had ourselves a great practice!  I'll be teaching there again next Sunday, May 16, and I can't wait to venture out of Astoria to meet new "uptown" yogis and yoginis..

Lotus Palm Thai Yoga Massage
Tomorrow is the Big Day...or perhaps the beginning of Five Big Days!  I start Level I Intensive Training for Thai Yoga Massage with the delightful Jyothi Watanabe (check out her bio on the Kripalu center's website).  I've been looking forward to this for so long and I can't wait to get started!  Training takes place at the beautiful Integral Yoga Institute tomorrow through Sunday.  You can learn more about this amazing practice on my website.

Wrap Your Feet Around It

Speaking (kind of) of Thai Yoga Massage, there are four college kids (well, most are soon to be college graduates) on a truly amazing journey right now.  Wrap Your Feet Around It is a journey undertaken on foot by Jeff Gallo and Jake Mills with invaluable vehicular, organizational, moral, and blister-popping support by Kristen Merek and Sammi Geer from Christopher Newport University (also my alma mater) in Newport News, VA to New York City's Times Square.

It's a 16 day journey for the foursome, and upon their arrival in New York I offered to treat them all to a free Thai Yoga Massage courtesy of me.  I can't imagine what 16 straight days of walking and driving will do to them but I hope to just provide them some comfort and support!  They're really inspiring and generous.  Their cause?  Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, a favorite charity of CNU Theatre kids.  Please donate now to support an awesome endeavor and a very worthy cause!

And with that, I wish everyone a Happy Tuesday!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Best laid plans...

Last Thursday started out as a stunningly beautiful spring day here in New York. I had planned to take advantage of the sunshine by running straight from work to Central Park to do some yoga and meditation – a little sliver of peace and solitude in an otherwise typically hectic weekday.  About an hour before I was to leave work, however, the skies suddenly turned black and opened up into a drenching downpour. 

I was absolutely crushed.  My entire day had been moving toward this one fabulous treat, and my energy was completely inspired by my anticipation of some much needed communion with our little Manhattan patch of nature. Instead I wound up running around like a chicken with my head cut off, half-changing plans as the weather would seem to clear and having a massive communication failure with my boyfriend over where we should meet now that I was suddenly free.  I fought in vain to keep tears that I thought were completely ridiculous, but that stubbornly kept showing up, from falling.

I overreacted so intensely to this disappointment, which was by no means earth shattering or life changing, that it truly frightened me.  I could not let it go and cheer up for the life of me.  It didn’t help that I became more upset at the thought that I, a yoga teacher who is enthusiastically learning and teaching about accepting and embracing the present moment, no matter what it holds, could so easily cry over proverbial spilled milk.  It took me a good two hours to bounce back to my usual cheerful self.

Two days later, the beautiful day I had been anticipating was in full bloom.  I’d already had a lovely adventure riding the Staten Island Ferry just for fun with my fantastic boyfriend, and the three hours before my next scheduled adventure were dedicated to running home to Queens to do laundry and catch up on some reading.

As I got out of the subway after the long ride from the ferry to Astoria and headed home, I had a massive revelation that nearly stopped me in my tracks on bustling Steinway Street. 

I didn’t have my keys.  Not to his place.  Not to mine.  I was stranded with no book, no iPod, a phone that was mere seconds away from dying, and not much else.

Although it quickly occurred to me that I could very easily freak out about this potentially tragic turn of events…I didn’t.  I fully expected my brain to throw an absolute hissy fit over three hours of potential productivity down the drain, but I just shrugged my shoulders and set off for a simple, quiet walk by myself instead.

Why was I so embarrassingly devastated when plans didn’t go my way one day, but a mere two days later I embraced the same sort of unpredictability gracefully with a smile on my face?

Well, I could psychoanalyze myself till the cows come home, but that’s what my personal journal is for.  I’ll strive not to subject you to too much of that.  What it really got me thinking about was the illusion of control and how we react when we discover we’ve lost some (or all) of it.  I’ve always been a compulsive planner but since I moved to New York it has graduated from quirk to absolute necessity.  If I’m not totally on top of what I’m doing every second of every day, chaos ensues and things don’t get done.

So how do we learn to deal gracefully when carefully laid plans blow up in our faces? 

Studying yoga has given me an infinite number of answers to that question.  There’s a pose, a breathing technique, a chant, a visualization practice, a meditation, a passage from the Yoga Sutra or Bhagavad Gita for pretty much anything under the sun.  They’re all invaluable tools and I know for sure that I’m a much better, stronger, more patient person for having these tools at my disposal.  One of my personal favorites is to tell myself (or have my conscientious boyfriend remind me), “The purpose of life is to enjoy every moment.”  And I didn’t even get that nugget of wisdom from a class or my teachers – it’s from a Yogi Tea bag!  Gotta love modern American yoga.

It has surprised me to discover that for dedicated yogis and teachers, these inevitable stressful situations in life can sometimes be made harder, not easier, because of our dedication to our practice.  It can often be scary and discouraging when you spend so much time and energy learning to live in the present and accessing the constant peace that resides inside all of us no matter what happens in the external world…and then you learn that you’re still a human, vulnerable to these things called emotion, frustration, and disappointment.  It’s something that have personally been struggling with a lot since I began teacher training, and all it does is compound the stress I’m already feeling by adding guilt for not being able to let go of it.

Learning peace, patience, and acceptance is unbelievably life changing and important.  Learning compassion and forgiveness for yourself when you have a disappointment, big or small, and can’t just close your eyes and immediately access blissful equilibrium with a few ujayih breaths is just as, if not more, important. 

Beating yourself up over negative feelings does nothing but produce more of them.  Sometimes you have to yield to your emotions and accept that as your present moment instead of trying to force those emotions into wherever is the most convenient storage place for them in the body or mind.  You have to just let it run its course instead of imposing a false peace that isn’t peace at all but repression.

It’s very easy advice to give and usually not quite as easy to take.  The important thing is that you still give it to yourself – and give yourself a break.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

First Steps (aka the obligatory About Me introduction)

Greetings, Blogverse!  I am officially joining the ranks of the millions, billions, and/or zillions of self published and self proclaimed gurus of the Internets.  Who am I to do this, you ask?

Well, I'm Annie Foster, first of all.  Most of you reading this probably know me but if not - hello! I'm starting this little ol' yoga blog for various reasons.  I'm a southern girl who moved up to the Big City from beautiful Virginia this past September.  I had no idea how dramatically and positively it would change my life.

I've practiced yoga for about 7 years total.  It started as an off-and-on thing for when I had access to a gym or did a yoga tape (remember tapes?).  I started practicing more consistently during my senior year at beautiful Christopher Newport University, and after graduating in 2007 my practice really began to deepen.  I thought about becoming a teacher, but lack of confidence, scheduling challenges, or lack of money always made it seem impossible. After I decided to finally take the plunge and move to New York, it was clear there would be no better time (or place!) in my life to finally sign up for a training program.

I chose Sonic Yoga in Hell’s Kitchen for my 200-hour training, and it was the best thing I have ever done for myself.  The teachers there are phenomenal, and the program is life changing.

Since the program ended in December, I’ve striven to continue what I view as just the beginning of a lifelong journey in not just teaching yoga but becoming a better student of yoga.  My teachers referred to the 200 hour training as “yoga nursery school.”  Having graduated and subsequently been thrown into the big world of articles, books, classes, styles, workshops, not to mention more clothes, accessories, and various merchandise than anyone could possibly wrap their brains around, I’ve been yearning for some kind of outlet to help me make sense of this big yoga universe I’ve plunged into.

Hence: blog.

As my career as a full time yoga teacher starts taking its first steps and leaps I hope to make this blog an extension of everything I learn through both study and experience.  I plan to share thoughts on books I’ve read, concepts I’ve learned, and start a conversation with all the lovely souls who are kind enough to read it.

The past couple of weeks have been full of first steps for me as a teacher.  I subbed my first studio class and secured my first regular studio class, both at Creative Vibrations.  I'll be teaching there Mondays at 5:00pm and I'm very excited.  I also taught my first private client (or the first private client who wasn't already my friend, I should say!) last week.  I'm nearly finished collaborating with the excellent Billy Griffin to launch my yoga website.  I have my first exposure to the amazing world of Thai Yoga Massage via the Integral Yoga Institute and will soon have my first 5-day intensive there to become certified.  Lots of stuff is happening and I hope this can be a place where I share all that I learn through my study and practice yoga!


Resurrection of a blog (and a hip)

One year ago today - on a much cloudier, much colder, and quite frankly very hungover morning - I went out to run.  My goal was either 4 mil...