Thursday, May 26, 2011

Upside Down

I am somewhat of an inversion junkie. For some reason, feeling that stacking of bones while blood rushes to my head gets me more tipsy than a few Captain & Diets. I remember the first time I felt stable in headstand - I never wanted to come down! It just felt My cheeks hurt for 2 days from the resulting perma-grin.

That said, I am really bad at inversions. Handstand and forearm balance are those pie-in-the-sky poses for me. I really WANT to be good at them, yet I can't get the stacking feeling. I always seems to kick up too hard or too soft - a lot of it depending on where I am at. Put me in front of a wall and I put too much power into my kick so the wall catches me. Put me in the middle of the room and my lack of confidence stops me from putting in enough oomph to get my legs over my hips.

Naturally, I picked any class at the Midwest Yoga Conference that even so much as mentioned the word "inversion" in its description. I was so excited - I wanted to drink in whatever I could to help me out. First up was Brock and Krista Cahill's Bouancy Control class that promised to teach us how to be lighter and get up into those inversions. It went something like this: boat, crunches, boat, crunches, handstand, boat, crunches, chair, chair, chair, boat, crunches, crunches, boat, boat, push ups, boat, handstand, boat, etc. In other words, almost no inversions! I was a little bummed seeing as I had gone in with the expectation of spending half the class upside down (that will teach me to not go into a class with expectations!). It was a good class, just way too much core work for my taste.

Fast forward to Les Leventhal's Arm Balancing and Inversions class the next afternoon. He had us pull our mats to the wall and proceeded to work on all different variations of inversions. About the 3rd or 4th time I went up, I began to notice something - I was no longer falling to the wall! I was catching my legs instead of letting them fall back to the wall. I was balancing! Feeling brave, I moved my mat to the middle of the room. There I proceeded to stick out some of the inversions for multiple breaths sans wall - something I had never had the confidence to even try before!

And that is when it hit me - it wasn't the arm balancing class that brought me to this, it was all of that core work the day before. The core work from Brock and Krista is what gave me the strength to feel in control while upside down. What I was frustrated with is really what I needed to get to this point. I finally was able to "get" and appreciate yesterday's class.

So many times, we want the end result but don't want to put in the hard work to get there. We want a magic pill. We want to skip the unpleasant parts and just get to the pot of gold. But there usually is no secret short cut. This set of classes taught me that. Just a little effort during the journey can make all of the difference in the world. I am by no means an inversion professional, but just feeling that slight stacking in Les' class was enough to make me appreciate the work I need to do to get there permanently. In classes this week I found myself amping up the effort during the postures I tend to back off on - crunches, boat, chaturunga, pushups, plank, etc. Those core poses that are uncomfortable and unpleasant. It finally sunk in that to make my end goal - confident inversions - a reality, I need to really work on my core strength. What used to be dreaded is now a huge opportunity to push myself farther. Next time you find yourself backing off of something, try to look at the big picture. Try putting in 110% even if you are uncomfortable and annoyed - everything prepares us for something. What is your next unpleasant situation preparing you for?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

If I Only Had 24 Hours to Live.....

Taking a quick break from my MYC posts (there are more coming) to finish up a bit of homework for class. This week's assignment includes writing an essay on "If I only had 24 hours to live".

To some, having 24 hours left to live might mean freedom. Freedom to go do things they wanted to but for some reason never found the time to - like sky diving. Or for buying things such as a sports car to enjoy one last thrill. But when I really reflected upon what I would do, it always came back to my loved ones. How could I make this easier on them? I have lived an amazing and complete life and there really isn't anything else I need except to know that my loved ones will be ok without me.

That said, I would probably have a party. I would want to get everyone I loved together and spend those last 24 hours making sure everyone knew how much I loved them. How much they impacted my life. How much I will miss them. So often the only time everyone you love gets together is for a funeral, so I guess this would be a pre-funeral. But I would get to be there and create final memories with everyone who means something to me. I would want it all recorded so if anyone was sad they could look back and watch how in love with life I was and how important the people in my life were to me. After this party, I could go in peace, knowing there was nothing left unsaid, there were no questions in anyone's mind.

Life isn't about the "stuff" you accumulate. It isn't even about the memories, since who knows if you will get to keep them after you die. It is about connecting with someone else and letting that connection carry on after you are gone. To me, that is what life is about. How long your legacy lives on.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dieter's Anonymous

One of my favorite lectures while at the Midwest Yoga Conference was, ironically, not about yoga at all. It was about "dieting." I could be the spokesperson for Dieters Anonymous. All my life I have struggled with the fact I eat healthy and exercise, yet am not the skinny-mini some of my friend are. So when I saw

His first point negated everything I had been told, so I started out skeptical. He made a bold statement: that eating 2-3 meals is better than 6-7 small ones throughout the day. Bull. I had heard time and time again about how "grazing" throughout the day is so much better for us because it doesn't allow our bloodsugar to drop.  But I slowly realized that was his point. If we regulate our bloodsugar manually ourselves with food, why do our bodies have to do anything?

My mind started to ponder this. If I feed my body constantly, why would it have to burn off anything stored? It wouldn't. And that is the point most of us "habitually thick" people are at. Our bodies know we will keep feeding it throughout the day so it stores any excess but never has to dip into those stores because we keep the food coming. All it has to do is give a little growl and boom, more food. Oftentimes we eat even before the growl. Dr. Douillard was saying that the body will wake up and start burning fat once we give it a chance to. But we never give it a chance to learn this, so it gets stuck in shutdown mode and just bangs on the table for more food instead of doing any work once the food is gone. Once we can teach our body to start seamlessly jumping between burning off the food in our stomach then the fat in our stores, our bloodsugar will remain constant by itself - without our manual intervention - and we will lose weight. We will no longer crave quick "pick-me-ups" such as coffee and chocolate because the body will immediately switch over to the fat stores in our body instead of demanding we feed it.

So this sounds kinda starving ourselves - right? Not at all. His premise is all about WHEN to eat, not really WHAT to eat (at least for this part of the lecture). Without all of the technicals he gave, the way to reset your bloodsuger to self-regulate is by following this plan:

  • Eat enough breakfast that it will hold you through to lunch - no snacking!
  • Eat a larger and preferably warm/cooked lunch. This should be your largest meal. Again, no snacking until dinner so fill up.
  • Eat a very small, light dinner - like a salad.
  • Eat nothing else until breakfast.
  • Drink 1/2 your body weight in oz of room temperature water per day
  • Sip on hot water throughout the day (long explanation why that I don't have room to go into and not even sure if I remember it correctly)
You should work towards finishing up all eating before 6pm. That gives your body enough time to fully digest the days worth of food so by the time you go to sleep your body isn't burning anything except fat stores. Having food in your stomach when you fall asleep, means you just burn that throughout the night. Stick to this for a few months and you will see your bloodsugar stabilize and your cravings disappear. Hmmm.....that kinda makes sense.

Although I got into a bit more detail than I had planned on, this blog is not about trying to convince you to follow this diet. It is more about understanding that even 34 years of diet research may not be sufficient to know everything. This talk took me from a skeptic to a believer (of course, he had 2 hours worth of charts and technical terms and whiteboard doodles). For you, I hope it just gives you one more perspective on something many of us feel we are experts on already, having dieted most of our lives. If we keep questioning, we keep learning. And isn't that what life is about - constantly learning and growing?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Midwest Yoga Conference

Wow. That's all I have to say. I just got back last night from the Midwest Yoga Conference and it was so much more than I had imagined. I learned so many things that in themselves will become individual blog topics, but just wanted to take a moment to give a quick overview of the conference as a whole.

It started when my Yoga Teacher Training teacher, Jonny Kest, offered complimentary tickets to our entire class. Being somewhat new to the yoga community, I admit I had to research some of the names that others already viewed as Rock Stars. Once I got a glimpse of their immense wisdom and track records, I knew this was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up.

As the weekend drew nearer, I really wasn't sure what to expect. Will it be 6 hours of intense sweaty yoga each day (and if it was, could I survive it?!?!)? Will it be mainly lectures? Will I feel out of place? Will everyone be pretzel-like except me? There was some comfort in the fact other students from my class were going - so at least I wouldn't be completely alone. But it was still pretty nerve-wracking (especially not knowing what to pack!).

We drove the 5 hours to the conference with both fear and excitement. But the fear was unfounded. During the conference, there was a mixture of pretzels and rods, of physical and mental, of inspiration and perspiration. The energy was infectious. The thing about yoga is it is all-accepting. And I have never before experienced what non-judgement feels like in such a large group. All body types, all knowledge levels, all different personalities coming together to learn from each other and accept each other as-is. The teachers were not only approachable, but seemed to want to learn from us as well. There were no egos, just gratitude so thick it was palpable.

The largest lesson I learned (which is saying a lot since I learned so much) is that it IS possible to live a yoga life in the real world. These people were not just putting on their good behavior for the conference, they truly were that happy and non-judgmental and egoless. In a world where we define our worth based on possessions, people at this conference had broken through the societal teachings to value each other's spirit instead of their size of their house. Can you even imagine living that way? Pick up lines in a bar would shift from "what kind of car do you drive?" to "who have you hugged lately?" - lol! It is so ingrained in our brain to base our impressions on external criteria that walking into this mini-world where people viewed you as valuable just for being you was really....different. In a good way.

Feeling this complete acceptance and meeting so many wonderful amazing people has cemented in my mind that I truly am exactly where I am supposed to be.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Butterfly Effect

butterfly effectn(Physics / General Physics) the idea, used in chaos theory, that a very small difference in the initial state of a physical system can make a significant difference to the state at some later time
[from the theory that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world might ultimately cause a hurricane in another part of the world

Today in class, I had the good fortune of experiencing the Butterfly Effect in full force. Heat cranked up, we flowed seamlessly from Sun A to Sun B, building an internal fire akin to Mount Vesuvius. Sweat pouring out, cleansing, detoxifying, we launched into our third flow. As we hit our first Chaturanga, I felt a breeze. That didn't seem right - we were still building our fire so the fans wouldn't be on......Where was that breeze coming from?

Then I saw it. In front of me was the temporary wall dividing my classroom from the next. Near the bottom, there was a small gap where it looked like a cap fell off the bottom edge of that partition. The hole was probably only an inch or two square, opening to the ground. I could see a shadow moving slightly on the other side - a class must have just begun in that room and there was someone directly on the other side of the wall from me. This anonymous person's actions were stimulating the cooler air, which gave it the freedom to rush into the hotter Hot Vinyasa room through the tiny opening. 

Chaturanga again, I closed my eyes and felt this cool air blowing over my sweat-soaked face. It felt delicious. It felt magical. It became my secret little motivator during an intense third flow. I usually rush through Chaturanga, which is not my favorite pose. But today, I relished it. I worked hard the rest of the flow, but when it came time to float my face so close to this amazing breeze I closed my eyes and held it like I never had before. I went deeper just to hold onto this feeling a moment longer before giving in to transition again. Mmmm.....

That tiny opening connected me to whomever was on the other side of that wall. Their actions changed my practice in a way they will never know. A simple raising of their arms in a completely different room took my practice to a new level - one where I actually looked forward to Chaturanga. And they had no idea. 

This happens on a daily basis. Our actions affect others in ways we could never know. Although we may never know the true effect of our words and actions, it is pretty interesting to just give it some thought. Who might benefit or be hurt from something you do? If you give a smile to the grocery store cashier, maybe her day will be brightened and she will go home and play ball with her son, which will lay the foundation for a professional baseball career in 10 years. Or if you snap at the cashier, maybe her negativity will snowball throughout the day and by the time she gets home she is stressed and yells at her son and he has had enough so he packs a bag and hitches a ride out of town and ends up on the side of a milk carton, never to be heard from again. 

Be mindful that your words and actions never stop with you. We are all affected because we are all connected. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I woke up to my alarm this morning and just groaned. Sinus pressure in my head and a sore throat. As much as I love spring, it is a one sided relationship. It enjoys making me miserable with pollen and drastic temperature changes. I threw on my yoga clothes and headed out the door. The door was unlocked - my boyfriend must have gone outside last night after I locked it and forgot to lock it when he came up to bed. Arrgh!  I got to the studio and laid down my mat, trying to muster a better attitude. Class began with pushups. Who can do pushups at 6:30am?!?!?! Class then moved into a flow that, I swear, combined every one of my nemesis poses and not one enjoyable one. I struggled through, keeping my Negative Nelly attitude up for the entire hour. By the time I left class, I just wanted the day to be done. Still want the day to be over, and it is only 8:30am.

The reason I let you in on my horrible beginning to the day is not because it magically has gotten better. Not even that I have learned some profound lesson. Just to show I am human. Sometimes it is just plain difficult to choose to be happy. Sometimes I just want to give in to the dark cloud so I do. Life is a cycle and there will always be good days and bad days. I realized my blog wasn't showing that. When I was happy and inspired I would sit down to write. When I was having a stressful or just plain crappy day I would hide out, not wanting to communicate with anyone. It painted a one-sided view of my life - that I am always full of rainbows and unicorns and delighted by every flower I pass. Although it is what I strive for, I am not there yet and have a feeling I am not the only one. So this post is about being real. Sometimes, you want to pull the covers back over your head and call a do-over. That's ok - I do too! Doesn't mean your yoga is "failing" or you are a bad person.

Without a little negativity sprinkled in every now and then, how will we recognize how good our lives are most of the time? I'm not going to get down on myself for feeling a little annoyed with the day, even though it is such an un-yogi-like attitude. Maybe next time you're having a bad day, or annoyed by something, just let yourself embrace it. Feel it fully, and then use it as the base for any good things - so the positive will feel that much sweeter when starting from below zero.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Pink Tree

A few weeks ago, a tree started blooming a few blocks away with these beautiful pink flowers. Every branch covered and bursting with color. I walk my dogs by it all the time - always slowing down to admire the "Pink Tree" as I call it.

Then last week, something happened. I got glasses. On the next walk, we headed to the Pink Tree and I saw clearly, for the first time, that the tree was actually covered with little orange and white flowers. Without my glasses, the colors blurred to make pink. With them, they stayed separate as orange and white. So was my beloved Pink Tree not pink at all?!?!

This got me thinking about perspective. Was I "wrong" in thinking the tree held pink flowers? No. It is what I saw, it is what I experienced. How could that be "wrong"? Yet, I also got lucky enough to experience an additional point of view on this tree - one that people with better eyesight saw. What an amazing situation to be in - to be able to remove my glasses to see one thing, then put them on to see something completely different. Neither one is wrong or right. Both are just my body taking in the surrounding information and using whatever tools it has at that moment to process it into something understandable. Some of you may be saying "but if the flowers are orange and white, then your observation of pink is incorrect". I disagree. Who says they are orange and white? Some computer reading in reflections of the sun and thus spitting out a numerical hue? How is that more valid than my own experience? If I had never gotten glasses, and those pink flowers are all I could see, then pink flowers were my reality. Why would someone else's point of view invalidate mine? Why do we feel this need to constantly be "right" or "wrong"? Why is is so hard for people to understand everything in this world is subjective? There may be a point of view opposite of yours yet just as valid since it is a reality for someone else - like your point of view is a reality for you.

This world would be a much more peaceful place if people had the courage to try to understand additional points of view, rather than immediately dismiss them because they are "wrong". To step outside their own experiences and try to see it from someone else's. The line between Right and Wrong blurs quickly when you can truly immerse yourself in someone else's reality for a moment. Suddenly you can see maybe there are multiple Rights to every situation. Next time you find yourself getting defensive and supporting your own point of view, try to step back a moment to see where your opponent is coming from. Not just their argument, but also what tools they have at their disposal, what life lessons they have under their belt to bring them to their conclusion. You'll be amazed at what you find.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Edge

In yoga, your "edge" is that thin line between pushing yourself and (physical, not mental) pain. Try just standing up and bending over at the hips, fingers towards the floor. You stop at a certain point because your brain tells you to stop, not because your body cannot go any further. Many of us go through life never challenging this - we stay in the comfort zone our brains create for us. Take a big inhale and then exhale and reach your chest a bit closer to your thighs. Your body can go a little bit farther. Keep doing this - big inhales then exhaling while moving millimeters further into the stretch. Once you truly cannot move any more without physical pain (not just mental discomfort), you have reached your edge. Stay there for a few moments, and suddenly you can usually move even a bit further. Your edge is ever-changing. There are so many variables in your life - what you ate, what time of day it is, what you did leading up to your practice, what is on your mind, etc - that even a few seconds after finding your edge, it may have moved. In order to grow in anything you do, you need to find your edge and work to move past it.

Today's homework is about how I work my edge off my mat. In "real life." As I was thinking about it, I realized so many things I could write about - recently I quit my job to work for myself, which totally took me out of my comfort zone. I invited my boyfriend and his 4 year old son to move into the house I have solely occupied for the past 8 years. That is a true edge, seeing as I am such an independent person. I even just signed up for a triathlon when I have never ran more than a 1/4 mile in my life.

But none of those have taken me as far out of my comfort zone as simply stating my opinions. This is something I have never really done. I am a people-pleaser. My most overused phrases are "sorry!" and "just kidding!" I go out of my way to worry if people are enjoying themselves, or liking me, or whatnot. I keep my beliefs to myself so as not to offend. For 30 years I have kept mum on being a vegetarian because I didn't want anyone to feel awkward eating around me. When people have acknowledged it, I brushed it off to put them at ease.

Maybe it is me growing up, or the confidence this yoga teacher training is giving me, but suddenly I feel my opinions have as much weight and merit as anyone else's. I speak up about my love of animals and disgust at eating them. I debate people who believe yoga is "just stretching." I put forth the "unpopular" opinion without regret. This is something I have never done in my life, and makes me very uncomfortable to do. But lately, I am continuing to do it, to push this edge I have never explored.

The perfect example came this morning. Last night, it was announced that Osama Bin Laden was killed. I woke to facebook virtually cheering - with everyone's status updates proclaiming what a great day it was. They did everything but sing Wizard of Oz's "The Wicked Witch is Dead" song. However, I couldn't join in. To me, it seemed horrible to celebrate someone's death. To me, all life has value. I get that what he did was horrific, but he did it because he was taught we were the enemy. Looking from his point of view, he "got the bad guys." How is that any more evil than us stalking and killing him? True less life was lost in our attack, but it is essentially the same thing - premeditated murder. So why do we cheer when we do it yet shun someone else when they do it to us?  

I went back and forth about posting my thoughts on facebook. I knew it wouldn't be popular. I knew I would offend people. I knew I was opening myself up to attacks from people who couldn't understand how I could look at Bin Laden as a human being. It probably took me 5 full minutes to hit "post" after I wrote my status update. Should I or shouldn't I? I hit the button. Almost immediately, my friends starting joining the conversation. To my surprise, it wasn't all the "you suck, I hate you" that I had expected. There were intelligent comments that make me stop to think. There were all different points of view, given from people with different life experiences than myself. There were people who agreed with me and people who didn't. And even when people didn't agree with me, the world didn't cave in. My unpopular opinion didn't make me self-combust. Instead, I learned a lot. I saw things through other people's eyes. Although I may not have agreed with it, I could see where others were coming from.

I believe the hardest part of life is getting outside of your comfort zone, of "playing your edge." But slowly, I am learning there are immense rewards for such exploration. How can you grow if you never push your boundaries? Think of something that would make you really uncomfortable and then go do it. Why not? You will probably find, like I did, that the positives outweigh the negatives.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

DOS: 1, Jenn: 0

As some of you know, yesterday I was doing my first Day of Silence for Yoga Teacher Training. We have to periodically do these and I had been putting it off. During them, we can communicate any way other than talking - gestures, writing, etc. Just no talking.

The day started pretty difficult. In the morning, Alex had been drawing some pictures while waiting for us to wake up. I had warned him the day before I wasn't going to talk, but it still broke my heart not to be able to tell him how good his pictures were. I clapped and gave him a thumbs up, but a four year old is really looking for verbal praise. He seemed to understand, but his smile was definitely not as big as when I tell him what a good job he did .

Next up came a dog walk with a fellow yogi. Between us we had 3 dogs in the car headed to the park where they would get to run free. We were respectful of the day of silence and rode the 30 minutes just listening to the radio. There was so much I wanted to talk about! I wanted to tell her about the park we were headed to, ask about some homework, talk about anything and everything - since that's what we do when we get together. I had brought a pen and paper, but something told me writing while driving is even more dangerous than texting while driving so I refrained.

Once at the park, I had to break silence just a bit to let her know we need leashes for just a little part then we could let them off. I also had to break a few times to call my dog back - no Day of Silence was worth losing my Oliver in the woods! Other than that, the walk stayed pretty quiet. At first it was weird, but slowly I got lost in my own world and just enjoyed the 60 degree day. For an hour we just walked - together but in our own heads. However, once we approached the car again, we both exploded with talking. Like it had been building up the entire morning and we no longer had control over it. We chatted about yoga stuff - the class, the homework, the readings, etc - so I felt a little bit ok since the talking had been at least on topic :)

I decided to try again after I dropped her off. I managed to stay quiet a good portion of the afternoon - just doing yardwork and chores. I found myself giving lots of hugs to express myself to my boyfriend and his son, instead of words. It was difficult not to answer when Alex would yell from another room, but then he would remember and come into where ever I was to ask me something. That was pretty nice - curbing the across-the-house-yelling.

We ran to the store and I finally had to break silence, since we were discussing what we needed for the backyard project-de-jour. Writing and gesturing just wasn't conveying my image of the finished yard. So I started talking, but only when necessary. This is when I learned the most. Instead of instantly replying, I thought about it in my head first. Was this just smalltalk (meaning it wasn't necessary to respond)? Was there a simple nod I could give? What would be the detriment if I didn't speak here? I really noticed my strong instinct to just talk talk talk. I also cut out about 85% of the responses I wanted to say. I kept things direct and to-the-point. It really made me realize how much we all talk for the sake of hearing ourselves talking.

All in all, I didn't succeed in doing an entire day of silence. I did, however, learn to quit talking so much. To think about the value of what I am about to add before just saying it. I gained an awareness by listening to how much others talk and realizing I am usually the same way. It was really nice to be in quiet for a while - even though I was the one doing the day of silence, others seemed to act quieter around me. Things were softer, more peaceful. I'll be trying it again, but for now, I am happy with the lessons learned and that I lasted as long as I did.