PSA: Beware the yoga voice!

This is a public service announcement!

Caution Tape

At some point during your practice, you have been subjected to “yoga voice.”

It comes in the form of a well-meaning yoga teacher who, in attempting to create a certain atmosphere, will use a heavily affected, drawn out, sing-song tone during class. It may go something like this…

“And you raiiiiiiiiiiise your arms aaaaaaaaaaall the way up to the ceiling…
Reeeeeeeeeeeaching as faaaaaaaaar as your fingertips will go.
Exhaling slooooooooowly as you continue to streeeeeeeeeeeetch as far as you can goooooooooo…” While cooing reassurances all the way.

You get the idea. It drives me nuts… and to distraction.

Why would a perfectly good teacher feel the need to put on a performance like that? Just last week, I had the displeasure of being taught by a yoga voice-using teacher. There is no way she talks like that in the “real world.” Her sequence of poses were fine but I couldn’t focus because I was wondering how bad yoga voice happens to good teachers.

Don’t get me wrong. I wish I could be and sound like the gatekeeper to Nirvana but it just ain’t happening. That’s not who I am. Yoga voice smacks of insincerity. Your knowledge of yoga, your carefully chosen words and the sequence of poses you put together is all your students need to create their own internal yoga practice. A little incense, essential oil or soft music might be nice but mostly just you in all your authentic glory. Just like you don’t need an expensive yoga studio or mat to make beautiful yoga happen, you don’t need an affected voice to inspire your students.

I have run into a few yoga teachers who use this alternate voice to teach. I don’t know where they learned it or who encouraged them to do it. But it isn’t necessary. If you don’t speak that way outside of the yoga studio, don’t do it once you’re inside. Voice and tone is important. It sets the tone in the room so that a student knows it’s time to turn his gaze inward, let go of the outside world and begin his practice. But leave the sickly sweet voice out of it. You sound totally ridiculous. I don’t think your students are buying it either.

So my dear beloved fellow teachers, new and old alike, don’t let yourself fall into the trap of using a yoga voice. Our students deserve better than that. You are beautiful and wonderful without adding any affectations to your style.

Namaste.

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Picture Perfect Pose.

When pride is a good thing…

A few days ago I went surfing for the first time in my life.

I love the ocean… From afar, that is. Getting into the water without the protection of a boat or inflated arm floaties is something I never do. I have always been very afraid of submerging my head under water. Be it in a pool, the ocean or a river, I absolutely hate the sensation of water up my nose and not being able to breathe. In fact, I still pinch my nose and squeeze my eyes shut when dunking my head to get my hair wet.

And so it was with a lot of trepidation that I approached my first ever surfing class. Heart racing. Palms sweaty. Eyes dilated in sheer panic. But I knew I had to do it. It was not a question of whether I would try it but whether I would make it. I am happy to report that the only damages incurred were one lost contact lens, a huge intake of salt water and a bruised right hip.

Floaties

When I tell people about my surfing experience, their instant reaction is to say how impressed and proud they are of me. I would modestly smile and brush it off. But for whatever reason, when my friend, Rachel, told me she was proud of me, something clicked. It occurred to me that though I was hearing people saying this, I had not said it to myself. I had not acknowledged my own good work.

When she drove away, I took a moment and said to myself, “I am proud of me.” And this warm feeling started in my heart, spread out to my arms and legs all the way out to the top of my head and I felt giddy! “Holy crap! I am awesome!” I practically skipped up my driveway!

I had overcome this super scary thing – way out of my comfort zone… When in the past I had let my fears dictate my decisions. I needed to recognize that I am this person who pushes up against her very edges. So I deserved a pat on the back – not from others but from myself. I don’t tell myself enough how proud I am of me. I don’t always make big courageous decisions but I make brave choices all the time. Whether it’s trying a new dish, learning to do something or going up to a complete stranger. I take the harder road when easier ones are available. I continue on when many might have given up.

When I talk about pride, I am not talking about switching teams. I am talking about more than just accepting compliments from others but recognizing all the good things within ourselves and projecting it out to the world. We are good whether or not others see us and shower us with accolades. It is most important that we recognize within ourselves the work we have accomplished, the work we continue to do and the work we WILL accomplish.

So be proud of yourself and let your freak flag fly!

How have you celebrated yourself today?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Board Shanty.

Yoga vs. Religion

Do you have to believe in God or a higher being in order to practice yoga?

Newcomers (and maybe not so new ones) delving deeper into yoga often come up against that question. The books that I have been reading assume that a yogi believes in a higher being (at the very least). But we all come from different religious backgrounds. Some of us don’t have a solid definition of God while others are flat-out atheists. So isn’t it a little presumptuous to assume a belief in God? And if I did believe in God, what if my God isn’t the same as your God?

I was raised Roman Catholic (with all the baggage that comes with that). I attended Catholic school for most of my life and even went to a Jesuit college. During college, I was a Eucharistic Minister and I attended and led religious retreats. I was not a religious zealot by any means – I more enjoyed being part of the Catholic community. After college, I removed myself from that community and I only go to midnight mass now because I can’t say no to my mother.

Through yoga I have become exposed to a different spiritual experience. Yoga is rooted in eastern traditions but not necessarily tied to a religious system. Statements like “the universe is conspiring to make your wishes come true,” “humans are intrinsically good beings” and other similar themes are common when talking about the full expression of yoga. But I have to admit that as a yoga practitioner I don’t buy into all of that. I can appreciate the spirit in which it is shared but I have my own beliefs that I am working to refine based on what works for me, my experiences and what I perceive as the truth. And that in no way hinders my practice. I am not less of a yogi.

I asked one of my teachers, “What if I don’t believe in God or a higher being?” And her response was, “Well, whether or not you believe in a higher being, there is something outside of yourself that you are working towards, working for or answering to – be it your family, your dreams or something like that and so even in that context we are not functioning in isolation.” And that made a lot of sense to me within the context of my practice.

So can you continue with your yoga practice while having a completely different belief system?

The answer is a resounding YES!

Ultimately, yoga is  a personal journey and is open and flexible (pun intended) enough to accommodate your religion or lack thereof.

If you are a yogi, I encourage you to learn a little bit more about the history of yoga and its traditions. But don’t be afraid to explore, push boundaries and ask questions. You can ask them here or share your experience with religion and yoga.

Candle Flame

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Peter Zoon.

Why do you yoga? by Crystal Ellis

I know why I practice yoga. But I wanted to know why others do. Are they the same as mine? What is their story? What can I learn from other people’s experience with yoga?

So I asked the Twitter-verse WHY DO YOU YOGA?

Crystal Ellis (aka YogiCrystal) shared her answer with me. You can check her out on her blog and on Twitter. She’s also on Facebook.

A picture of Yogi Crystal

A couple weeks ago Samantha posted a tweet asking “why do you yoga?” and because I am so passionate about how yoga has helped me, I jumped at the chance to share my story and tell you why I yoga.

I started yoga in January 2008 after much deliberation and critical self talk. I had been in a car accident in 2006 and suffered whiplash/soft tissue damage to my neck and had myself thoroughly convinced that I did not belong in a yoga class.

You see, back in that time I didn’t know anything about yoga and I believed that it was only for the flexible and strong. I had been weakened from the accident and couldn’t touch my toes, so in my mind, I would look like a fool in class. Good thing that a friend of mine had just graduated from teacher training and listened to my story. First thing she told me was that there’s no ego in yoga and most people are doing their own thing, so they don’t really see you. Well, that was enough to get me to my first class and I have been hooked ever since.

I am glad that I had a great teacher from the start that supported me and offered adjustments according to my injury. This helped me gain strength and confidence in my practice and pushed me to never give up. I quickly grew quite interested in yoga philosophy and anatomy and I completed my teacher training in 2009. I believe this helped me gain understanding and awareness on a whole other level that I am extremely grateful for.

I started yoga for injury rehabilitation, but now it has grown into so much more. Pain relief, strength, energy, flexibility, and most of all, peace. Yoga takes me away from the world for just a little bit. Away from the rush, stress, noise and occasional craziness of life. It’s an escape for me, like a mini-getaway. Like most people, my life can be busy and it always feels like I am on the go. I get to stop in yoga. Get to breathe. Get to relax. And these days, it’s so important to have yoga in my life for these reasons and more.

Yoga brings me such a sense of serenity that I can’t imagine my life without it now.

I sometimes laugh at my old self and all those nerves I had about taking a class, because now I am the one helping unsure people get to their first class. I feel great doing yoga, but it also feels amazing sharing this practice with others and seeing how they change and grow.

These are the reasons I yoga, have you thought about yours?

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?

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.

What I learned from the D.C. storm power outage

On Friday, June 29th, a weather phenomenon called a Derecho, slammed into Washington, DC and left more than a million people without electricity. I was lucky enough to have been away for a few days and only had to suffer through the power outage from Sunday evening to Tuesday evening. But, boy, did those few days test my mettle! It left me cranky and sweaty but with some incredibly powerful lessons…

  1. Eat the ice cream. Right away. Don’t save it for an emergency. When there is ice cream in the fridge, every single day is an emergency.
  2. Hanging out in the outdoor patio furniture section of Target is totally acceptable.
  3. Trees are lovely things… Lovely, deadly things that like to take down power lines. You will never look at a tree the same way again.
  4. You will re-evaluate your friendships based on their location on the power grid.
  5. Complaining won’t get you anywhere, but it’s going to feel damn good.
  6. When you don’t have power, you will actually look forward to going into the office. It’s possible.
  7. You will invent new ways to stay cool – like naked brushing your teeth or naked sweeping the floor.

I know I sound like a Baz Luhrmann song telling you to wear sunscreen but if you take anything away from this post it’s that you should never let ice cream go to waste.

What did YOU learn from the power outage?

P.S. A HUGE thanks to the men and women who worked tirelessly in the blazing heat to get power back on as soon as possible.

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Brittany Herbert.

6 tips on getting the most out of your yoga practice

Your yoga practice is called that because – duh – it requires practice! It also takes work, commitment and dedication. You will be elated by your good days and you will have to persevere through your bad days. You will learn and re-learn things. You will discover truths about yourself.

Each time you step on your mat will be a complete and unique experience. Your yoga teacher plays a role in what happens during class but, more importantly, YOU play a role in your yoga experience.

Think about it – after a particularly heinous day, you get on your mat thinking you’re going to “yoga this day right out of your hair” but then you hold on to your unpleasant thoughts… Does your practice then feel a little lacking? Do you feel as frustrated as when you started? Do you feel like you just wasted your time?

Below are some tips on how you can make the most of yoga each and every time you step on your mat:

  • Be patient. Strong poses take time. It will come.
  • Stay present. Mindfulness increases awareness of your body. It will not only help you fly in your poses but also prevent injuries.
  • Release your expectations. Don’t start with the goal of successfully holding a difficult pose. Allow your body to guide you and don’t be too hard on yourself.
  • Do not multi-task. Set aside your to-do list or what lies ahead of you. Focus on the one thing that you are doing. You will be better at listening to the needs of your body.
  • Ignore your peers. You are on a different point in your yoga journey than your fellow yogis. Turn your blinders on and focus.
  • Breathe. When you are straining, you tend to hold your breath. When you hold your breath, your muscles tighten up instead of expanding and this will hamper your flexibility.

I know… You’re thinking… It can’t be that easy?!? Trust me. It isn’t. In an age where multi-tasking is king not letting our mind go “SQUIRREL!” is a hard task. Rather than talking to yourself as you flow from one pose to the next let your mind go blank. Then come back here and tell me how it went.

Good luck!

Falling into emotional traps

When I step through my door at home I always feel like I’m taking a giant exhale from a long day of holding my breath in. It’s like switching from fancy pants to ones with an elastic band. Or swapping high heels for flip flops. Or simply wiping off makeup. It’s a slow unraveling of the day… Divesting a little bit at a time to a more recognizable me.

Then I sit on the couch and let my mind go blank. I don’t think about what happened earlier – what was said at work – something I did that I wasn’t proud of – not even conversations I had on Twitter or Facebook. Just a nice blank thoughtless few moments of peace… At this point my mind is healing from the ravages of the day – from the unpleasant thoughts that have come in and the worry cobwebbing various corners of the day. With a sweep of my mental broom I attempt to brush out the ugly things.

That is my usual after work mental routine…

But not yesterday…

Yesterday something happened at work in the early morning that really made me angry. Someone acted poorly and it pissed me off. I was upset but I did my best to let it go. I did eventually brush it off but it took a while.

When I came home later that day, I recounted the offense to my husband and found myself getting angry and worked up all over again. All the emotions that I felt that morning came rushing back. My heart was racing. My face was flushed. I was yelling. It felt like the incident just happened all over again.

After I was done “venting” I felt terrible, spent and empty. My anger turned inward. What the hell??? Why did I just do that to myself? I didn’t need to feel those emotions again. It wasn’t like my husband could have done anything to help me. I had already planned to talk with my supervisor the next day so what was the point? Was there some sort of masochistic satisfaction in repeating the story?

I ended up nursing a headache for the rest of the night.

I completely regretted re-living the emotions and even now I fail to see any reason for needing to. The smart move was to let go and move on. I definitely lost more than I gained. In fact, I didn’t gain anything – unless you consider a headache a gain. Sometimes it can be as simple as saying to yourself, “It’s okay. I’m done with that.”

I tell my students all the time that we can only be as strong as our ability to let things go. That when you free yourself of constraints your ability to expand is limitless. I forgot that yesterday but it was a lesson well re-learned.

Emotional traps are easy to fall into. But when you pay closer attention to your emotions, you will get better not only at not setting emotional traps but avoiding them as well.

How often do you do this to yourself? Are you able to recognize them? Do you make the conscious decision to avoid rehashing old negative feelings? What tricks do you use to get around emotional traps?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Billaday.