Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Utkatasana...Just a Pose or Mirror of Self?

Recently, I was in a wonderfully challenging Hot Vinyasa class when I found I was giving myself more permission than usual to get out of the poses when the going got tough. I started thinking about why I was doing this, why did I keep backing down? My norm was to push and push and push. That's when I noticed how closely my effort in yoga class resembled what I was going through in the outside world. I realized professionally, I was somewhat slowing down my fervent push as well. The more I thought about it the more I saw how much my yoga practice mirrored what was happening in my real life.

Take for example, Utkatasana - or chair pose. You stand with your big toes together, drop your hips like you're sitting in a chair, and raise your arms overhead. In terms of yoga poses, it is a fairly simple one (no levitating required). But there are different commitment levels. You could keep your hips fairly high saving enough juice to just wait out the teacher until they move on. Or you could get low and just keep stealing quick little leg-straightenings when it starts to get tough. Or you could give it everything you've got for as long as the teacher holds you there. Regardless of anything that comes up, you stay committed.

The first option - staying just low enough to be considered in the pose - is how many people live their lives. They glide through just waiting for something to end. Waiting for what comes next. They give effort, but save enough in reserve because they have no idea how long they will need it and don't want to come up short. So they hold back. This is often called Playing It Safe. Maybe it's not opening their entire heart in a relationship. Or not throwing out extreme ideas at work. They live in a way that keeps their life constant. There is no fear of failure because there is never a push for greater success, for growth. Instead, they coast.

Some people do put in extreme effort, but quickly back down. They sink their hips low but at the first sign of trembling, they ease up a bit. They come back into their safety zone if there is a chance of failure. At work they might throw out that crazy idea but then play it off like a joke if no one jumps on it, even if they truly believe in it. Or maybe ask someone out in a roundabout I'm-asking-you-out-but-you-totally-don't-have-to-say-yes way (recently I had a friend who asked someone out like this: "I know people get very busy around the holidays but if you are ever bored maybe we could grab coffee or something". Compare that with a direct "I would love to take you out on a date" and which would you prefer?). They step a foot outside that comfort zone but never quite plant it. It almost seems like they want to extend themselves, yet don't quite have the discipline to really commit to it, so they live their lives pretending they're going to push but never actually do.

Lastly, there are the shakers. The ones who get so low in Utkatasana their thighs almost immediately begin to tremble. But they breathe through it. They know in their heart this pose cannot last forever, so they give it everything they got. They commit to the pose for whatever length of time the teacher chooses. They know a deep dark secret: The body can take it, it's the mind that cannot. By knowing this, they get an edge because they learned the secret to success: overcome the fear of failure in the mind and you will succeed. These are the people who fight for what they believe in off the mat. They don't take no for an answer. They live whatever life they want, go out and push their own boundaries because they know failure is 100% mental. Even if they start a business that goes bankrupt, that is not failure. They still learned and grew from the experience. Knowing failure only exists where they create it in their mind gives them the courage to keep putting themselves out there. To keep pushing. To keep growing. To get those hips down one more inch and stay there.

Somehow, I woke up in the second category this month. Luckily, I recognized it and am taking steps to push my way back into the last category. I want to grow. I want to push. I want to banish failure from my vocabulary so it can't get a hold on me. Last night's intense practice (and today's intense soreness) is a good first step. What does your practice say about where you are in life right now?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Housing Bubble Burst = Good Thing?

9 (?) years ago I bought my house. It was a great little bungalow for me and my dog, Kylie, back then - 3 bedroom, 1 bath, just shy of 1,000 square feet. Perfect for my first house. Then I added another 65 lb pound dog and it began to feel a bit claustrophobic. Suddenly I was stepping over dogs at each turn. I was driving out to the country every chance I got to let the dogs run off their energy while I got my fresh-air fix. The noise of the city began to grate on my nerves. I started thinking about moving, and a new obsession was born.

Unfortunately, the thought of upgrading my house appeared to be the pin that popped the housing bubble. I could literally watch the falling value of my house on Zillow.com until my house was worth a fraction of what I owed. Failed attempts at selling over the next few years just made my obsession grow larger. 

A year and a half ago, my boyfriend and his 5 year old moved into my already bursting-at-the-seams house. Suddenly, toys were constantly underfoot because they had no where else to go. Half of my clothes went into storage to make room in the closets. Potty breaks had to be timed just right since there was only one bathroom for the three of us. Chaos reigned supreme - video game sound effects, multiple tvs going at once, battery operated toys reciting the alphabet....Calgon, take me away! 

I would spend hours just looking at houses online and dreaming about how wonderful it would be once we could get to the perfect house, in the perfect location. I could picture it all in my head - a finished basement for the boys to be as loud as they want. My home office upstairs away from the hubbub. For a year I did this - bookmarking houses to show my boyfriend even though we couldn't move until this house was sold, daydreaming about being on a lake or having enough property for horses (or both!). I researched furniture for the new house. Looked on craigslist for boats. I planned for the holidays I could finally host because there would be enough room for more than 4 people to come visit at once. 

During this year, I also went through Yoga Teacher Training and began my morning routine of heading to the studio for a sweaty hot vinyasa flow every day. One of my teacher's favorite sayings is "you're exactly where you're supposed to be." I would let that bounce off me time after time without really absorbing it. When he would say it, sometimes I would rebuttal in my head "so I'm supposed to live like a sardine?!?!" or something equally as clever.

Then, one day, it hit me. I WAS exactly where I needed to be. Had I moved when I wanted to, I never would have gone through yoga teacher training. I certainly wouldn't have made the 6:30a hot vinyasa class every morning if I had an hour drive instead of a 10 minute one. By being forced into chaos at home, I  searched out peace elsewhere. I found it in yoga. And now, yoga is changing the whole course of my future. It is getting me in the best mental and physical shape of my life. I am working towards incorporating it into my livelihood. My circumstances took yoga from being something I enjoyed every so often as a workout to an entire lifestyle. Yoga has changed my eating habits, my view on relationships, my perception of my own body. It has made me happier than I have ever though possible. And it came into my life because of where I was.

I can't say I don't still dream of the day we can afford to move, but I find myself looking less and less at houses online. When I do get the itch, I notice there isn't the intensity involved anymore. I know in my gut we will be able to move when its time. When I am supposed to. For now, I listen to the Mario Brothers theme song coming through the paper-thin wall and smile, knowing I am right where I'm supposed to be. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Today, I was reading my best friend Erica's blog detailing her gratitude list. After a somewhat crummy day, I really needed that inspiration to get myself back on track. I decided the only thing to cheer me up is to recount a few things I am grateful for as well, so here they are (in no particular order! :) ).

1. My Kylie-dog (aka "gimp dog", aka "princess", aka "pumpkin butt" :) ). For the past 15 years, it has been me and her against the world. She has been with me through relationship changes, career changes, location changes, etc. She is the constant in my ever-changing world. I know she may not be with me much longer, but I am immensely grateful for her coming into my life and accepting me, even when flawed.

2. My Oliver (aka "butter", aka "carmeldog"). I am grateful he has taught me to put stuff away instead of leaving it on the counters. And how, the first day I got him, he got out of the yard then ran up and down the fence barking when he couldn't figure out how to get back in. That was the cement that he was meant to be in my life permanently  I am so grateful for his cuddling talent and the soft fur on the very top of his head. Not so grateful for his breath.

 3. My Family. They have watched me go through many transitions and although they may tease me (and I, them), they always support me. I am grateful that my sister just rolls her eyes when I use an interaction with her as the basis of a blog post, instead of getting upset. I am so blessed that I get to be whomever I want to be and still get accepted, even if they don't always agree. I am grateful I was taught unconditional love from birth.

4. My Childhood. I am grateful to be naive. To have had such a Leave-It-To-Beaver childhood that going to downtown Detroit still makes me a little nervous, even though I'm almost 35 years old. To not be street-smart, because I never had to be. To grow up feeling safe and secure. I am also grateful my parents gave up so much to ensure we could have hobbies (especially when I chose the most expensive of them all - see #5).

5. Horses. I am grateful for horses, and that my parents encouraged and supported my passion for them growing up. Even now, living so far away, I am so grateful I can call on Carol and Tif  when I need a horse day. I am grateful for that feeling of "home" when I walk into a barn and smell the hay and the leather. Grateful I feel like I belong somewhere, no matter how long I've been away.

6. My Boyfriend. I am grateful to have met someone as unique as I am. Someone who gets me sometimes more than I get myself. I am grateful to know what a healthy relationship is and how I should be treated. I am also grateful that although he doesn't share some of the same beliefs as I do, he has an open enough mind to discuss multiple sides of a topic rather than write me off as being weird. I am grateful he will watch food documentaries before I do so he can tell me to leave the room when a graphic animal-hurting scene is coming up.

7. My Boyfriend's Son. I am grateful for the chance to ease into parenting. I have always said I don't want kids, but Alex has shown me what I would have been missing, in a way that was exactly what I needed. I am grateful that he came already potty-trained and well-behaved, so I had no choice but to adore him :) Watching him learn is teaching me more than I ever thought possible. I am grateful for him opening my heart just a little bit wider.

8. My Yoga Studio. I first typed "Yoga" here, but that isn't entirely true. I have been doing yoga on and off for many years, but it never really truly "clicked" until I found my current studio. I am grateful for the heat, the music, the creative flows, and the freedom. I am grateful for all of the friends I have met - ones who, like me, start yawning by 10p and get excited over vegan recipes. Finally I am not the odd man out! I am grateful for 6:30a Hot Vinyasa, because I start each day conquering my attachment to my warm cozy bed.

9. My Breath. I am grateful to recognize the significance of something many people take for granted. Yoga has given me a tool I can use to conquer any situation. It is always with me, I just have to remember to use it. My breath can be a distraction, a heater, a focal point, an energizer, a healer. I am grateful I am learning how to take those lessons off the meditation cushion/yoga mat and into every day life.

10. Myself. I am grateful I have allowed myself to grow. That I have given myself permission to become fully immersed in a new lifestyle instead of being scared or conforming to what is "normal." I am grateful I quit my job when it was no longer serving me.  I am grateful that I sometimes care too much about things, even though it sometimes takes it toll on me. And that everything I do comes from a good and loving place, even though some people may not understand that. I am grateful I can feel grateful every single day - that I can step back from my life and see the miracles constantly surrounding me.

There are so many more things I am grateful for, but my cramped fingers are telling me I have already written too much. So I guess this list is to be continued, until the next time I need a little bit of inspiration :) What are you grateful for?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Big Picture

So much of what is wrong with this world is the narrow view people keep. I know I lost a lot of readers right then - making such a bold and self-righteous sounding statement. Acting like I know what is wrong with billions of people I have never met. I truly don't mean it in an arrogant way. I am just trying to justify to myself why people who I know are good at heart can contribute to such cruelty without blinking an eye. It is my belief that we have been conditioned to block out everything that does not pertain directly to us. We see things as only how they impact us, and dismiss the bigger picture. That's because sometimes we may not be strong enough to handle the bigger picture. I know I often am not.

I woke up to a bunch of facebook statuses proclaiming excitement that the circus was in town. I tried to see it from their points of view - glamorous costumes, clowns, the smell of popcorn, regal animals parading around. That is what they see, those that block out the bigger picture. They see only what is immediately in front of them. I struggle because I don't want to always be Debby-Downer, but I also want to shake them until they come to their senses. I want to reach into their heads, grab both sides of that image in their brain and I want to pull until it expands beyond the 3 rings in front of them. I want to expand it until it shows the other 22 hours in the day of these "performers." I want them to acknowledge the bigger picture their money is supporting.

Circus performers choose this nomadic lifestyle, but the animals have no say. They are kept in tiny cages chained up 22 hrs per day. The only time they get out is when they are being "trained" - meaning they are having fear instilled in them. A Tiger does not jump through a hoop of fire for fun. He does it because the alternative is being beaten and starved. And yet these good-hearted people in my life - ones who have pets they love and know how amazing animals can be - they clap! They allow their children elephant rides, even though the handler has a stick with a nail sticking out of it to keep the elephant "under control." They condone this abuse, even enjoy it. They bond with their children over it, and raise a new generation who are taught to ignore The Big Picture.

Why am I the only one who sees the fear in the animals' eyes? Why am I the only one not intoxicated enough by the sparkly costumes to miss the scars on the elephants' skin?

I am starting to get it. Caring is so much harder than not caring. Seeing The Big Picture means putting a crack in the memories from your childhood where you were programmed to see only a narrow view. And that requires immense strength and commitment. Sometimes I think it would be so much easier to just close myself back up to that narrow view......to relearn how to block The Big Picture....cause this path I am choosing, one of compassion and empathy, let me tell you, it is exhausting.

Friday, November 11, 2011


It's been a while. It wasn't a conscious decision to stop blogging, but moreso it kept being pushed down the priority ladder as other things filled my list. Then it got to a point of no return. Every so often I would think of something I wanted to blog about but it wasn't "huge" enough to lead with if I were to jump back in. Silly, I know. But it kept me away. I have known this feeling in other places in my life as well - where the more time you let pass the harder it is to step back into something.

Well, today it finally IS something huge enough to break down that imaginary wall.  It's 11/11/11. I know it is just a date to most of you, but to me I truly believe there is significance. I started seeing the number 11 just recently - maybe 8 or 9 months ago. It wasn't something I noticed before in my life. But this past year, it has been very prevalent. I would look at the clock and it would be 11:11. My oven timer randomly froze at 11 minutes until I hit start again. I have have 4 grocery store trips that the final bill was $111 and some change - just try doing THAT on purpose! My website analytics, pricetags on clothes, license plates of cars I'm driving behind - pretty much anywhere there are numbers the number 11 makes itself known to me. One day I saw the time as 11:11 on my computer then I saw it again a few hours later. How could that be, you ask? My computer inexplicably changed itself to PST timezone after I saw it the first time! I would say I see the number 11 at least twice per day and most of the time more. Yes, it could be I was just noticing it more, but why just recently? Why haven't I noticed this number stalking me the past 34 years of my life?

After the first few months of novelty wore off, I began getting really frustrated. What did it mean??!??! There had to be a reason I was seeing it this often. I don't believe in coincidence - especially when my plane's takeoff time was 11:11a out of gate 11. I went to see a psychic that had given me an amazing reading before. She had nothing to offer. I wanted to scream.

So I meditated on it. Every time I wold see an 11, I would quietly close my eyes (as long as I wasn't driving!) and I would clear my mind. I would breathe. I would wait to see if any clarity would seep in. For a few months, nothing happened (except me fitting in small meditations multiple times throughout the day). Then one day, I opened my eyes and saw something I hadn't seen before. Instead of the number 11, I saw two sides to a path. Like the paths I always walk my dogs on - a dirt path with woods on either sides. I saw the 1's side by side not as an eleven but as that barrier forming a path in front of me.
1   1
1   1
1   1
1   1

With a clarity I have never known, I began to believe these 11's were reinforcing I was on the right path.  Thinking back, they started coming into my life when I quit my job. They increased during yoga teacher training. They stepped up their game even more when I was building TravelingOms.com.

The logical part of me still knows this could be completely wrong and they are just there by coincidence. But if every time I see one, I get motivated to keep moving down this path I have chosen, is there harm in believing it? I mean besides the chance the men with a straight jacket may end up at my door? I will never know the true reason (if there is one) that all numbers lead back to 11 for me. So why not go with an explanation that has positive results?

So many times we want to explain stuff away and not believe because we may get laughed at or looked down upon. But we miss out on so many opportunities that way! Who cares what someone else thinks - if I get a kick in the pants every time I see an 11 because my gut believes it is the universe telling me to keep moving down this path I have started, why does it matter if that it the "true" message or not? It is the one I am choosing to take from the experience. What is happening in your life that you are allowing the logical part of your brain to explain away as coincidence when, given the chance, your gut may think its more?