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"May all beings, everywhere, be happy and free. And may the thoughts and actions of my own life contribute, in some way, to that happiness and to that freedom for all."

Meditating without even knowing it

Meditation is not as big a mystery as you think it is.

Have you ever said something to yourself over and over again? Maybe under your breath or out loud? Maybe right before a big presentation and you’re telling yourself “I can do this. I can do this.”

Have you ever gone to someplace quiet or took a walk so you can sort out your thoughts? Or to escape your thoughts temporarily?

Have you ever used music to enhance your mood? Whether to cheer yourself up or as a way of expressing your feelings?

Have you ever taken deep breaths to calm yourself down when you’re upset or anxious?

Well, guess what? Those are all ways of meditating.

Meditating Couple

And there are countless of ways to do it. You might not realize that you’re already doing some form of it in your day-to-day life. We picked up these techniques from different people – maybe we saw it in a movie or read it in a book… Regardless, you have been unwittingly meditating to improve your life and get you through stressful times.

This is not to say that you couldn’t learn so much more about meditation. Only that it’s not as inaccessible as you think. You don’t need to be in an ashram, sitting on a cushion, surrounded by incense… It is a tool already found within yourself that you can use at any time.

And imagine this, if you are already benefitting from the little meditating that you are doing, how much more would you gain if you put more time towards practicing or studying meditation?

Need advice on getting started? Check out my post “Meditation: It’s here to cure what ails you.”

Good luck!

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Kevin Labianco.

Fat Yoga

“Do overweight ladies do yoga? It seems to be for the thin and flexible.”

In one form or another, the sentiment above is one of the most common ones expressed to me ever since I started doing yoga. It is infuriating!

YOGA IS FOR EVERY BODY. Repeat after me: YOGA IS FOR EVERY BODY.

It doesn’t matter whether you can touch your toes or even see them. Everyone can practice yoga. And it makes me angry to think that maybe someone or something has made a person feel like she can’t come to yoga because she’s too fat.

As an overweight person will there be poses you can’t do or have more difficulty doing? Yes, of course! There are poses I can’t do simply because my arms are too short. That doesn’t mean I can’t do yoga – only that modifications have to be made. Because we are all so anatomically varied, yoga is different for every person. If you think you might be more comfortable, there are plus-sized yoga classes like Annie Carlin‘s “Larger Bodies Miniseries” at Golden Heart Yoga. Find and take the class where you will feel the most secure and at ease.

Every teacher is trained and prepared to teach yoga to students of all shapes, sizes and different levels of ability. So that is never an issue when you walk into a yoga class. But I can’t pretend that every yoga class is a judgment-free haven. Rest assured, those classes do exist and it’s important to keep looking until you find one. Why? Because yoga is good for you and if you enjoy it, nothing should stop you from doing it.

Yoga’s popularity in the U.S. exploded these past few years and I’m glad people are practicing but I worry that others who could benefit from it feel too intimidated to come or tried it and felt unwelcome. When I look out at my classes, the majority of my students are thin, white women. More often than not, I’m the only minority in the room. That reality is probably a combination of where I teach and where yoga is at this time (or at least people’s perception of it). Organizations like Decolonizing Yoga are working to dispel the notion that yoga is only for certain types of people.

So you mustn’t feel discouraged. There is a yoga home for every person. When you find it, I promise you it will have been worth the search. Now go out there and do some yoga!

Yoga on the Mall 2013

Recap: Yoga on the Mall 2013

Sunday was an amazing day!

I participated in Yoga on the Mall for the first time. I even had the honor of practicing on stage with a few of my favorite teachers like Nina Stanger and Andrew McAuley! Over 1,600 yogis joined in the wonderful event and my goodness was it wonderful! The day started off cool and cloudy but by the time practice started the sun was shining and it had warmed up considerably.

At some point Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” was blasting over the speakers, teachers were snapping their fingers and everyone was singing along as they rooted their feet into the earth while hands reached up to the glorious sky. The only thing brighter than the sun was the smile on everyone’s faces. I was not expecting to be so moved by the experience of doing yoga in a beautiful place with hundreds of other yogis but my heart felt like it was going to explode from all the joy. I felt alive, awake and so grateful to be part of the DC yoga community. I thought my heart would burst! (No wonder Forbes.com recently counted Washington, DC in the top ten U.S. cities for yoga). By the time we reached the end and everyone chanted OM loudly and clearly, it felt like every cell in my body was vibrating! I felt alive, awake and thankful to be part of this yoga community. I will not easily forget this day. But I will let the pictures below do a better job of describing what I saw. (There are more pictures on my Facebook page.)

Yoga on the Mall 2013

Yoga on the mall sun salute

Yoga on the mall sun warriors

Yoga on the mall childs pose

If you missed it this year, hopefully you can join me in 2014. One thing is for sure, whether you practice yoga or not, you shouldn’t miss it. Thank you to the organizers of DC Yoga Week for all of their hard work!

How to have a good day

We wake up every morning – some days feeling like P-Diddy (couldn’t resist) – not really knowing how our day will go. Prepared for the worst but hoping for the best. Some days unexpectedly exciting things happen and other days cat videos are the highlight. But there are a few things you can do to help yourself along to a good day.

Cat and Egg

  • Give yourself plenty of time to get ready in the morning. Even if it means 10 minutes less of sleep.
  • Wear clothes that make you feel good. Not too tight. Not too loose. Clothes that are just right.
  • If you have a crappy commute to work, expect that it will be crappy and stop fighting it. Put on some music instead or bring a book with you.
  • Make a to-do list. Then attack it. Maybe celebrating every time you check an item off of the list.
  • Get up from your chair and chat up a co-worker about something non-work-related.
  • Play your favorite songs. You know, the one you can’t help but sing along to or tap your foot to.
  • Do something nice for someone. No need to be extravagant. Just a random act of kindness.
  • Drink lots of water. Coffee and soda don’t count.
  • Have lunch away from your desk. (Even if it means sneaking into an empty conference room).
  • Get some sunlight. (Pull your chair right up to that window).
  • Give someone a hug. (Preferably not a stranger on the Metro).
  • Try not to dwell on or rehash unpleasant events from your day or the day before.
  • Read or watch something funny.
  • Tell someone how much you love and appreciate him/her.
  • Do yoga. (Duh)

These are just some suggestions. Maybe an impromptu dance party will dispel cranky thoughts or an ice-cold glass of something. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you not get mired in the muck of your day. Break away from your train of thought and give yourself some space to breathe. We don’t have complete control over our day-to-day but since spending our days hiding under our covers isn’t an option, I suggest you try any of the items above.

What do you do to make it a good day?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Mar O.olmL.

Karma is as karma does (aka An ode to the guy who hit my car)

My poor car

Yesterday, someone hit my car in the parking garage and drove off without a note. We’re not talking love tap here. This person hit my car so hard that it ripped a hole in my back bumper, then he (or she) drove off without a word.

I was so mad that I ran out of expletives. I yelled, “I hope karma gets that bastard!”

But then I thought, what if this was MY karma coming back to me? Then my mind turned to my day wondering what I could have done to deserve this… I’m pretty sure I wasn’t a jerk wad to anyone today but maybe I wasn’t as nice as I could have been… And so on and so forth in a downward spiral. My mind stuck on this idea that I deserved to get my bumper hit and forced to pay the painful deductible. And, honestly, I felt crappy about it. I felt crappy about myself.

This is why I struggle with karma.

According to Merriem-Webster, karma is “the force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.” Some simply define it as “you reap what you sow.” But karma isn’t that simple. Your life is affected not just by the things you think or do in this lifetime – it could be from a past life! Additionally, karma isn’t restricted to actions. Good behavior motivated by less than perfectly altruistic intentions will still generate bad karma. That is, you can’t do good things for the sole purpose of generating good karma (because that’s self-serving). The good or bad seeds that you plant in one lifetime could manifest itself in the same lifetime or in the next. Karma works in mysterious ways!

Maybe nice is not the first adjective you would assign to me (kind or sweet probably aren’t either). But I go through my day inflicting as little pain as I can to others. I keep to myself. I do what needs to be done. I don’t cheat or commit fraud. I play by the rules. If I can help, I do. If I didn’t make someone’s day, then at least I didn’t make it worse.

Nevertheless, bad stuff happen to good people. Good people like me.

I would like to think that good deeds are rewarded and that bad deeds are punished. But I struggle with the idea that I (or others) did something to deserve the bad things/events in our lives. And that I won’t ever know whether it was this action or another one. I wouldn’t even know if it was in this lifetime or a previous one! I don’t need to walk on the moon myself to believe that it isn’t made of cheese but the fact that you can’t prove the existence of karma or predict how it works makes it hard to swallow. It’s all a little too convenient – like whether God hears your prayers or not. If what you want doesn’t happen, then God must have an alternate plan for you. (<~Yup, I’m going straight to hell for that one. Sorry, Mom!)

Karma tells you to live a life where doing something good is its own reward but how do you escape the idea that if I do good, I will reap good things? Sounds more like true altruism doesn’t exist – not even for Mother Theresa.

I don’t think that life is meaningless or purposeless. I’m not denying that I can’t see patterns or causality in my life because I do but I also feel like sometimes things just happen and we can’t do a damn thing about it. Other than come up with a rationalization that helps us sleep at night… The Indigo Girls expressed it best when they sang in “Galileo:”

And then you had to bring up reincarnation
Over a couple of beers the other night
And now I’m serving time for mistakes
Made by another in another lifetime
How long till my soul gets it right?
Can any human being ever reach that kind of light?

I am not a karma expert. What little I know about it is a shallow understanding at best. But as of now there is no place for it in my life. Reality is hard enough as it is without feeling ambiguously bad about myself. Maybe the person who hit my car will get his just desserts or maybe he won’t. I will never know and I am okay with that.

Sharing the light series: Meet NINA STANGER!

Nina Stanger is a serious yogi who doesn’t take yoga seriously. (Have you seen her picture?)

Nina’s class was the first Vinyasa Flow class I had ever taken and truthfully it blew my mind. It was a beautiful experience – I was challenged and tired but it felt a lot like poetry in motion. The sequence of poses just made sense. It was where my body naturally wanted to go (aside from Savasana which is where my body ALWAYS wants to go). Her gentle way of teaching has an undercurrent of strength and support guiding you through the practice rather than leading you to it. There is a lightheartedness to her tone and style – you’ll still notice that your body is being taken to its edge – you just won’t mind. Nina is one of my favorite yoga teachers and I am really glad I can share a little bit of her with you.

You can find Nina’s classes at extendYoga on Tuesdays at 9:30 AM, Fridays at 5:30 PM and Sundays at 4:00 PM and at Allay Yoga on Tuesdays at Noon. If you’re lucky, you can catch her teaching at Lululemon in Bethesda Row. She is one of their ambassadors. Online you can get to know her on her blog on food addiction and recovery: Prana Rising. When you are ready to take the next step in yoga and you want to learn more about Nina’s teaching style, she is also a core faculty member at the Sky House Yoga – Yoga Teacher Training.

Okay, one last thing: She’s also hosting a yoga retreat in St. Croix in June. (Who could resist?)

Nina Stanger1.How did you find your way to yoga?

I think yoga found me, actually. I took my first class in high school as a way to get out of gym class. We had the option to do yoga for a semester, so I chose that since I hated gym. After that, I took random classes at different studios in the area. Then, in college, I again had the option to take it at school for a semester, and the teacher was absolutely wonderful. She was the first Vinyasa teacher I had, and her classes inspired me greatly. I continued to dabble with other classes on and off, but didn’t have a dedicated practice. Then, the summer before my last year of college, I decided I’d really like to be a yoga teacher, but I thought I wasn’t flexible enough, good enough, etc. One of my teacher friends heard me say this, and he said, “If you want to teach yoga, all you have to do is LOVE yoga.” That was all it took; I got over myself and became a diehard Vinyasa student, and a year later, a yoga teacher.

2. How would you describe your teaching style?

FLOW. I guide students through sequences linking breath and body, building flexibility and strength. In my classes the poses are important, but the breath comes first. I like to have fun and teach challenging asanas with gentle spirit.

3. What is your go-to stress fighting technique?

Closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, and remembering that I am alive. Laughing and getting outside helps, too.

4. Describe your perfect day.

SLEEP IN. Wake up when my body is ready to wake up, not because an alarm is buzzing! Eat a delicious breakfast (my favorite meal, especially when chocolate chip pancakes are involved), go to a yoga class, hang out with friends/my boyfriend, spend some time in the sun… I’m pretty content as long as yoga and the people I love are involved!

5. Your last meal would be?

Chocolate chip pancakes, complete with whipped cream. (It took me about half a second to come up with that answer.)

6. Best advice you can give someone would be?

In the form of a question: How can you love yourself right now, in this moment? Whatever we are struggling with, whatever is challenging or difficult or confusing, how can you trust your heart and follow your gut instinct? One of my favorite quotes says it best: “The heart needs no reason.”

The Alchemist is full of crap

Yeah, I said it.

The Alchemist with its message of the universe conspiring to make our dreams come true is (in my humble opinion) a bunch of baloney. When I first read the book 10 years ago, I was totally on board. I wanted to believe it. I bought it hook, line and sinker.

So did everyone else apparently. As of 2012, this book has been translated into at least 56 languages and has sold over 30 million copies.

Universe in a teardrop

But my feelings about it over the years have changed. Why? Because we don’t function in a vacuum. Our actions have consequences and affect others. If one person wins, it means there are losers. Picture this scenario: What if your goal is to win a baseball game or be the best team ever? Well, the universe conspiring to make that happen for you means it’s working against the other team. And all I can say to that is “WTF?!? Not cool, Universe.” That kind of arbitrariness is not something I want to live with. Not to mention that karma will tell you that wishing that kind of bad juju on someone else is going to land you in a whole heap of trouble. (Disclaimer: I am not necessarily a believer of the machinations of karma either).

So what do I believe? Personally, I take huge comfort in the idea that the universe is neither working for me or against me. Things just are – whether they’re beautiful or ugly. Imagine how much better it would feel for everyone if we were all prepared for and accepted whatever life threw our way? I don’t mean settling or compromising but more like doing our best and if things don’t go well despite our efforts, then so be it. That’s just how it’s going to be. Peace and coming to terms with unpleasant things happens so much more quickly when I don’t spend time trying to analyze and re-analyze everything. Ultimately, we will never know the “why” behind the events in our lives anyway. Though I guess you could then argue that it doesn’t matter what you believe or what rationalization you attach to life events… (If that works for you, why not?)

We are all so caught up in trying to find the meaning of life or trying to figure out how the universe works. Whether things happen for a reason… Or whether if we behaved in some terrible way (in this life or a past one) and simply “got what was coming to us…” I don’t know if spending time trying to figure that out serves a purpose when the truth will never be known. Why can’t we just be good to ourselves and others?

Like the Staple Singers sing in their song “Respect yourself:”

If you’re walkin’ round think’n that the world
owes you something ’cause you’re here,
You goin’ out the world backwards like you did
when you first come here…

But in case I am wrong and the Universe really is paying attention, then I would like him to know that I am still interested in, nay, dedicated to winning the lottery. And that I’m being good, praying to him every night and I have left him some milk and cookies for when he comes down my chimney. 🙂

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by H.Koppdelaney.