Your yoga will change…

Or maybe it won’t. Either way, it’s okay.

When I started doing yoga, I was at a low point in my life. I was directionless. Uninspired. Lost. Depressed.

My sister took pity on me and magnanimously bought me a full year’s membership to the local gym which offered free yoga classes. And then she dragged me to one. (I think she was tired of seeing me moping around the house).

At first, yoga was purely a workout for me. I had an emotional attachment to it but only in the sense that it made me feel good (and look good!).

It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized that yoga had become this physical AND mental practice for me. I mean I always knew that yoga was so much bigger than me doing poses. I was starting to benefit from yoga beyond the mat. I was using breathing techniques learned in class during stressful situations. I could channel into the good feeling that resulted from my practice even when I wasn’t on my mat. I was also starting to follow yogic principles of practicing self-care and non-violence. I was no longer just a gym rat who happened to be in a yoga class. I felt like a yogi. I had finally (maybe accidentally?) tapped into the larger fabric of yoga. Despite myself I had moved beyond yoga as a workout to yoga as a way of life. And HOLY HELL I liked it! I could not get enough. My heart felt bigger than my chest. I was calmer. I was happier. I didn’t feel so alone.

One of the more beautiful things about yoga is its independent existence. Whether or not I believed in yoga, it just was. When I stepped on to the mat, I was joining the millions of other people who have done the same poses for hundreds of years and sharing in the cosmic energy. I didn’t have to be special. I didn’t need to be able to do certain poses to gain access to its full potential. In whatever measure that I wanted to take it on, it was enough and there for me. I don’t even have to be vegetarian (though some would argue with that – but that’s for another blog post).

One of my teachers spent over ten years trying to define “his yoga” and he finally concluded that yoga was anything good that he was doing for himself. It could be anything from practicing, meditating, going to bed earlier or choosing a healthier meal to eat.

And so maybe like my journey with yoga, your relationship with yoga might change as well. Or maybe it won’t. It’s okay. You will get there when you get there.

So tell me, has your yoga changed?

Yogitastic on the beach

On being here…

Ever feel like maybe you are exactly where you need to be?

That circumstances and decisions made in the past have all led to your being here at this exact place and moment in time…

That maybe we shouldn’t be rushing off to or worrying about the next thing because this moment has its own value to impart…

That you wouldn’t have the great things that you have now if it weren’t for less than desirable situations in the past…

That maybe rough times are up ahead and we need to appreciate the present so that we can thrive in the future…

That this present though far from perfect is still good in its own unique way…

In the spiritual practice of yoga, one of the guiding principles is Santosha. Simply put, it is the practice of contentment. There are many ways to interpret that. For me, it’s living in the moment and spending more time recognizing what I have rather than lamenting over things that I don’t. I am where I need to be and I have what I need.

Does it mean that I don’t wonder how differently life would have been if I had decided to go to a different college? (Or other similar life-altering decisions?) I still do but rather than thinking it might have been better I simply acknowledge that all I can ever really know for sure is that it would have been different.

I am here now. In my current job. With my husband. In our cozy apartment. With good friends living nearby. With my gaze turned towards the future but my feet firmly rooted into the present ground.

Outerbanks Sunrise

Namaste.

I believe…

…that there is no such thing as a panacea (not even yoga). That to be better takes concerted effort using a myriad of solutions and tools.

…that suffering is a necessary evil. We are better people for it.

…that denying yourself builds character but occasionally giving in generates more happiness.

…that you can never be too kind to yourself.

…that you can have happiness NOW.. not when you’re thinner, richer or partnered up.

…that being happy doesn’t mean never being sad (or angry).

…that gratitude will change your perspective. Every. Single. Time.

…that embracing the unknown can be incredibly liberating.

…that surrounding yourself with people and things you love is medicine for the soul.

…that it’s up to us to define and shape our lives. Not societal precepts.

Sunset

“…above all treasure love, moderation and humility. Love begets courage, moderation creates abundance and humility generates power. Courage without love is brutish. Abundance without moderation leads to over-indulgence and decay. Power without humility breeds arrogance and tyranny.” – B. K. S. Iyengar

What do YOU believe?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by DavidYuWeb.

A kink in the shield

Late Sunday evening I started to feel dizzy… As in room spinning… Drunk-without-the-alcohol dizzy… By 5:00 PM on Monday, the dizziness hadn’t gone away and it was making me feel really queasy. I had no other symptoms and as long as I wasn’t moving I felt perfectly fine. I thought it was strange so instead of letting it linger on like I like to do, I headed to urgent care last night and was told that I was experiencing VERTIGO.

Damn it all to hell.

Vertigo Staircase

With vertigo, I could not go to work. I could not take a walk let alone attend Monday night yoga class and I had to find a substitute for my yoga class tonight. So I am sitting at home, staring at my computer screen, not doing much.

This morning, I started the day with a little meditation in the hopes that it would make me feel better. Two minutes in… an emotional dam broke. Tears came flooding out of me. We’re talking body wracking, full-on sobbing, snot running down my face, Ron Burgundy weeping… And I couldn’t stop. The tears just kept coming.

I was scared.

When I closed my eyes to listen, I ran smack dab into a scared yogi.

What if it keeps coming back and gets worse? What does vertigo mean for me and my yoga practice? What if I had to stop doing the things I enjoy? What if I had to change my lifestyle? This person I had become? I’m doing everything right. How could this happen???

You see, I don’t get sick. Not really. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been really really ill. I even escaped my husband’s bout with viral meningitis. I have never been seriously injured. I exercise. I eat well. I get plenty of sleep. I take good care of my body. Fanatically so.

And I guess I felt like I was invincible.

But I wasn’t. Vertigo has shown me that. I was terrified. And humbled.

I am reminded that life holds no guarantees for us. That try as we might and as healthy as we are – things happen. Beyond our control. No one is immune. Not even the most health-conscious.

I have calmed down since my weep-fest this morning. Although I have yet to find the words to allay my fears and give me comfort. For now I am simply acknowledging the possibility that I am overreacting and senselessly worrying myself.

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Ewar Woowar.

Resolution! Schmezolution!

Ever hear the joke that “my last New Year’s resolution was to stop making New Year’s resolutions?”

Okay, okay, you probably heard ME say it. (It just doesn’t get old!)

Frankly, I find resolutions to be a little silly so I don’t make them. Instead I set an intention for the new year with a list of actions that will help me with that intention.

For example, last year my intention was to become more courageous. So I  thought about what I have been afraid of (mostly failure) and how it is holding me back. Then I thought about some courageous actions I could take to encourage the behavior. Two really big ones were finally teaching my first Spinning class and learning to cook a dish (any dish). I accomplished both during the last quarter of the year. (The intention was to find more courage – not stop procrastinating after all). Taking larger chances, committing to things that are outside of my comfort zone and making new connections are a few other actions that contributed to my intention. It has made 2012 a phenomenal year.

But what is the difference between intention-setting and making resolutions, you ask? Well, I find resolutions to be uninspiring and a bit cliché – as cliché as breaking them. Most people promise to lose weight or “get in the best shape of their life” in the new year. But it doesn’t answer WHY? To what end? For what purpose? Or even how! The “why” is the motivation to keep going when temptation is just too… well, tempting. And without a clear call to action for sticking to the resolution you’re almost guaranteed to fail.

Losing weight just to lose weight without clear, measurable steps can falter in the face of a lot of beer and chicken wings paired with the best blue cheese you ever put in your mouth. (Sorry, I got distracted). On the other hand, setting your intention and then listing the actions to support that intention will expand your ability to get to where you want to go because you’re not limited to one action. After all, there are many ways to complete a journey.

So in a life where you have set an intention, imagine painting a bigger picture of your world! Imagine better things for yourself! Imagine expanding your sphere of influence! Then let’s go and make it happen!

Now tell me, what are your intentions for 2013 and what actions will you take to fulfill it?

Fireworks

Happy New Year!

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Bayasaa.

Don’t just get by – THRIVE! (How not to go postal this season)

During this time of the year I turn into something that would make the Grinch cringe (or at the very least take notes). The stress of getting everything done at home and at work so I can take the week off sits heavily on my shoulders.

I know I’m not the only one.

It’s the dreaded holiday season. It’s filled with shopping, crowds, parties, alcohol, social obligations, travel, too much food, not enough rest and the worry that your wallet is hemorrhaging money. Who wouldn’t be stressed out?

And if you’re like me, this happens every year.

Here are a few tips on not just surviving this season but THRIVING!

#1.  Get organized. Make a list of everything you need to do. Great or small. Then maybe do a little dance every time you check one off the list. You will feel a lot less overwhelmed when you don’t have tasks floating around in your head – worrying if you’ve forgotten something. Bring this list with you and refer to it often so you can tackle something on it whenever you have a moment. But when you don’t, set it aside.

#2.  Plan your schedule. Know when the next party is coming up. Know when you have a social obligation to fulfill. Let yourself be emotionally ready for the social interaction (looking at you, introverts!). Allow yourself to enjoy the moment with friends and family rather than being distracted by all the things you still have to do. Some things won’t get done. Plan for that. That way you don’t let it hang over your head.

#3.  Get some sleep. This is not the time to run yourself ragged. It’s cold. More people are getting sick. And it’s the last thing you need when there is so much to do. While you’re planning your schedule, put in for a little down time so you can get some rest and sleep in preparation for all the festivities.

#4.  Don’t skip the gym.* I know. Who has time for exercise? But more than ever your body needs exercise… When stress levels are high… When food consumption is out of control… When energy is low… Exercise will help bring everything back to the center, improve your focus and even boost your self-control. Very useful when you discover that there is a second plate of brownies.

*There is a caveat to this. You should not sacrifice sleep or rest for the sake of exercise. Don’t put more stress on your immune system – especially if you aren’t getting enough rest. Studies have shown that people who sleep more, eat less. It will balance itself out. Relax.

#5.  Eat well when you can. I can’t resist a bowl of chips and salsa and will eat it all. It happens. But between get-togethers I eat well. When I am at home, I eat the normal healthy things that I eat. I don’t lament over the excessive amount of cheese I consumed over the weekend. I don’t starve myself during the week. I get back to my normal healthy eating habits. And I drink a helluva lot of water!

#6.  Avoid the mall. I know. It’s so un-American of me to suggest this but there are so many alternatives to the mall like buying locally at a small business, buying online, making your own gifts or give the gift that keeps on giving – CASH! Just the idea of going to the mall makes me hyperventilate. People are not at their best in the mall during Christmas shopping. We turn into less civilized versions of ourselves so don’t do it! But if a trip can’t be avoided, go during off-peak hours.

#7.  Listen to holiday music. It’s a mood booster. Trust me. The cheesier the better. Or even try some holiday-themed movies like Love Actually. Personally, I could listen to Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You over and over and over again. It is impossible not to get carried away with all the wonderful and beautiful holiday music. It is also a good reminder of why we drive ourselves crazy this time every year. It is all worth it in the end.

Now sit back on your couch, put your feet up and wrap your fingers around a nice cup of hot chocolate… With whipped cream, please!

Keep Calm & Carry On Coffee Mug

Do you have any additional tips on surviving the holidays that you’d like to share? Leave them here!

Resisting change

I am a creature of habit. I find a lot of comfort in routine. I try to sit in the same place in my yoga classes. I like to order the same dishes in my favorite restaurants. Every night, I change into my PJs, take my vitamins then take out my contact lenses. In that order. Every time.

I also drive the same route to and from work everyday. It is a short cut through back roads that shaves about five minutes off of my commute. But on Friday, I noticed a few new signs on my way home. Access during rush hour has been restricted on the roads I was using! I could no longer drive that way to work. I would have to use the already heavily congested main roads!

AND I SAW RED!!!!!

Do Not Enter Sign

“What the hell? Why would they do that? So that a few of the more affluent people in the neighborhood could walk their precious ugly little dogs in peace? We live in a CITY. If you want quiet suburban roads, then move out! You don’t get to choose who does and doesn’t use your streets. I pay taxes in this county, too!” (Pepper it with a few choice expletives and you come pretty close to what I really said).

AND IT JUST GOT UNDER MY SKIN… That night I couldn’t focus, couldn’t relax into my weekend, couldn’t stop talking about it… I slept poorly… In fact, I slept poorly all weekend! Every time I thought about it, I got upset all over again. Who the hell did these people think they were?!? Evil thoughts were running through my head like egging houses in that neighborhood. Or hoping they all got robbed. This feeling sat like a brick in the bottom of my heart and it weighed me down.

This morning, I headed to work and took a different route. It was as annoying as I thought it would be. But I got to work and got a sweet parking space. There was no apocalypse. Dead puppies and unicorns didn’t litter the streets. Nothing had changed for anyone else. And I got to work just fine. A little later but just fine.

I tortured myself all weekend over this thing that wasn’t personal. And over something that I could not change. Something I could simply adapt to. But I resisted it as hard as I could… to my detriment and to no one’s benefit. And I paid the price… I needlessly suffered instead of adapting to the change.

So the next time you run up against something that is or will disrupt your life, ask yourself and answer the following questions:

1. What is it about this change that bothers me?

2. Can I do something about it? (Like write my representative?)

3. How can I integrate this change into my life?

Then take a deeeeeeep breath and play Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy.”

The more quickly you go through the process by answering these questions, doing what can be done and accepting the change, the more quickly things can become smooth again. I am not suggesting you turn yourself into a doormat but some suffering stems from resisting change that we cannot do anything about. And there is no purpose to that kind of suffering.

Now, it’s your turn: How do YOU adapt to change?

Running headlong into your fear

Yesterday I taught my first ever Spinning class.

No biggie, right? After all, I have been teaching yoga for years. This is just another format… WRONG! To quote our esteemed Vice President, “This is a big fucking deal.”

I was certified to teach Spinning a year and a half ago. That is how long it took to gather enough courage to teach a class that is the antithesis of yoga. For 18 months these feelings of shame hung over my head – haunting me every time I walked into the gym. My mental block said that the expectations of Spinning students are different. They are very demanding. And I just did not know if I had it in me to switch from my easygoing yoga teaching style to hardcore Spinning drill sergeant. I was afraid of failing my students. (I still am.)

If certain individuals had not relentlessly pushed me to teach, I would have tried to live the rest of my life as a coward. And never teach a single Spinning class. But I knew that I could not continue to live with the weight of my fear (and failure) on my shoulders. And it has been a constant companion for too long.

I practiced like crazy but when the day finally came as I sat on the Spinning bike waiting for students to walk in (and possibly walk out) I still felt shaky and uncertain. I kept saying in my head, “Don’t let them smell your fear!” Fortunately, the members at the National Naval Medical Center were incredibly encouraging and all those hours I spent agonizing over this moment was a waste of time. When class ended I was so ecstatic that I hugged the Front Desk guy on the way out.

Sitting on the other side of my conquered fear I chide myself for building it up so much that I paralyzed myself. And it stumped me for a really long time despite everyone’s reassurances that I would do okay. I would even ask myself why was I torturing myself like this? I don’t need to do this. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone… But I did. I needed to do it for myself because it was something I had set out to do and I was terrified. But I couldn’t let myself fail without at least giving it a try. To quote my friend, life coach Lauree Ostrofsky of Simply Leap:

I am really proud of myself. I faced this thing I had been so afraid of. Ultimately, I had to stop telling myself, “I’ll do it when I’m ready. I just need a little more time.” Sometimes the best time is RIGHT NOW and that feeling of readiness is never going to come. You just have to take that leap. The best part is? I feel a helluva lot lighter. And, yes, I put myself through an emotional wringer but it was worth it. At this moment, I am flying high and it feels like there is nothing I cannot do.

So now it is my turn to ask you, what are you afraid of and what are you waiting for? More importantly, how can I help?

Beach umbrella at sunset - Antigua, Mar 2010

Why you need a mental health day

What if you had a whole day to yourself? What would you do?

With no errands, appointments, obligations or responsibilities… Just a whole day beautifully looming before you?

What if you had a car and perfect weather to go along with your day?

What would you do? Where would you go?

………………And why haven’t you done it?

We all deserve a mental health day. WAIT! Screw deserve… We NEED a mental health day. A day to get away from life… Our life. I don’t care how awesome it is.

Taking the time to step away from your day-to-day allows you a different perspective on where you are and where you are going. From a changed vantage point you can more easily avoid pitfalls, take detours and correct your direction as necessary. Maybe even find opportunities you may have missed in all the hustle and bustle. You might even hear the quiet voice in your heart telling you what you need.

I always know I am due for one when weeks fly by and I know I have been busy and yet still feel like I haven’t done anything. My energy dips. My crankiness increases (it’s possible and it’s scary). I’m listless and though there is nothing wrong, nothing feels quite right either. I inexplicably cry happy tears and sad tears almost in the same moment. And anything that requires more than staring into space is a huge effort. In short, I am a total zombie.

Last week, out of nowhere I found myself getting emotional over a Nike ad about young girls finding their voices. Then I was perfectly fine after. But a few moments later I was teary eyed over the delicious dinner my husband had made. Huh? What the hell just happened there?

So tomorrow I am taking a day off… from work, from yoga and from my life. I am going to the beach. I am bringing my favorite hat, a notebook, some knitting, comfortable walking shoes and music. I don’t have a plan. Just a destination.

When I return, I might make some changes. Or I may find that I have been on the right path all along. But I know my smile will be a little less forced. My heart will be a little more calm and I will be better able to share my love.

So plan your next mental health day. Yours may not look like mine. Mine doesn’t even look the same every time. And, hey, sometimes you only need a few hours and other times you may need a few days. The plans could be an elaborate spa day filled with pampering and luxury or a quiet day relaxing at home and catching up on your reading. Maybe it’s a retreat you’ve been meaning to go on.

Don’t feel guilty. Go ahead. I’ll cover for you.

If you need ideas or encouragement, let me know.

Remember: Our voices are at its clearest during the quiet moments.

Beach umbrella at sunset - Antigua, Mar 2010

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Ed Yourdon.

The perils of watching the clock

While exchanging emails with fellow gym instructor, Curtis, I was lamenting how quickly the summer was passing me by. His response was:

“I try not to mourn the passing of summer until September…”

It both shamed and inspired me.

You see, I constantly fail at enjoying the present because I am already dreading the end. For example, when I visit my family, I feel sad about the inevitable goodbye. And I have actually thought to myself that if I don’t see them at all I won’t have to say goodbye! Problem solved! (Stupid, huh?)

I am most guilty during the warm months. It is my favorite time of the year. I am fearless when the sun is darkening my skin and I have a tasty Margarita in hand. I eagerly anticipate this awakening… I talk magnanimously about all the wonderful things I am going to do with my friends… Then the days and months pass by in a blur. Before I know it, it is time to don a jacket again and face shorter days with less sunlight. I am left unfulfilled, incomplete and a little depressed… Great. Just great. Year after year the best season seems to catch me unprepared.

After all, time flies when you are having fun, yes? But the real injury is that I am missing out on fully enjoying the present. On love. On life. On unadulterated joy. I am not allowing myself to completely experience moments so that I can learn from them and be refreshed!  Life is passing me by!

I know I can’t enjoy the present when I am living too far into the future. And I have to stop myself every time from looking at my watch and thinking “oh it will be time to go again soon.” (Unless I’m in a meeting then staring at the clock is a MUST).

A picture of my watch

I need to change this behavior. And Curtis’s statement reminded me that I need to work harder to do so. I can’t keep worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. {Insert cliché on worrying HERE}

I don’t yet have a solid solution to my self-jeopardizing tendency but awareness of the behavior and knowing my penchant for doom and gloom will hopefully keep me in check. I am patiently training myself knowing that it will be a dance of two steps forward, one step back.

Have you kicked this habit? Do you have any advice to share? Or are you (like me) still in the throes of fighting it? I would love to hear about it.