Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Professor Mosquito

Father's Day was perfect - spending time with my family at my sister's house. We hung out by her pool while the boys played with the 4-wheeler, go cart, and golf cart. It was an amazing day spent entirely outside with family. But there were additional guests as well - mosquitoes. I was having so much fun I didn't realize how many had crashed our party until I was in the car on the way home. Within the first mile of driving home, I realized I had a gazillion mosquito bites on my right foot. Okay, so in reality it was 4. But they were strategically placed on the bottom, top, by the heel and by my toes so that my entire foot felt inflamed and itchy. SOOOO itchy!

I would hit the gas pedal then quickly pick up my foot so I could scratch it. Then hit the gas pedal. Then itch. It made for a very bumpy ride and more than once I had to quickly correct before hitting the curb. I was thisclose to switching with my boyfriend so he could drive home and I could tear my foot apart, when I decided to make this into a challenge.

Yoga has taught me everything is impermanent, and that reaction is unnecessary. Things will change on their own, I just need to be mentally strong enough to hold on. To not give in. I issued a challenge to myself to not scratch my foot the entire rest of the way home.

Never have I had to come to my breath more than that car ride. The itching became so insistent it was painful.  I was getting shooting pains coming from my foot all of the way up my leg. My brain was BEGGING me to just give it a little scratch. I refused. My foot and leg kept tensing, which made it worse. I had to talk my brain into easing up on the muscles. I tried talking to my boyfriend to get my mind off of it, didn't help. I turned up the radio. Still there. I came to my breath over and over, focusing on that little part of my upper lip where I could feel a slight wisp of air. Nada. The pain became unbearable. I began to imagine each breath in was going straight to my foot and grabbing a little bit of the itch, then racing back up my body in my exhale to release that itch outside my body. Like someone trying to empty the ocean with a pail, my breath kept taking tiny pieces of that itch away.

The car ride was 40 minutes, and it felt like 3 times that. But I slowly got into a rhythm. Breathe in slow, send it to the foot, breathe out slow, picture some of the itch leaving my body. I acknowledged this pain was completely mental - if I could get control over my mind I could lessen my discomfort. I was more focused than I ever had been before. About 30 minutes in, miraculously, the itch began to subside. I was scared to actually think about it because I figured it would come back, but I found I wasn't tensing up as much. It became bearable. It went from something I couldn't handle to the distractions I feel in meditation and Savasana that are noticed but easily not reacted to.

By the time I pulled into my driveway, I was okay. They still itched, but it wasn't the intense, going-to-tear-my-foot-off type of itching anymore. In fact, I didn't even scratch them until later that night. Between unloading the car, letting the dogs out, etc, they had lost their hold over me. Only once I was sitting down relaxing did the sensations come back and I allowed myself a quick scratch.   

It is amazing how yoga teaches us to be in control of ourselves. This may seem like a simple example, but to me it was a huge triumph. I resisted reaction in a situation stronger than I ever had before. My yoga teacher always says "You are in training. For what, you may not know just yet. But you are in training." That statement came true during that car ride. I was a warrior. I was focused. I was strong. I had faith that things would change. I took on my brain and won. And it felt amazing. I urge everyone to start noticing when your brain has control over you, and to fight it. To breathe instead of react. We are all in training. Something as simple as triumphing over mosquito bites will train me to keep my cool when faced with an intense situation later. Just like working out your body - every rep adds minuscule benefits but together all of the reps and all of the workouts increase physical strength - so it is with mental training as well. These tiny moments where you can test your mental strength add up together to truly make a difference.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bionic Woman

I LOVED this scene while watching Scott Pilgrim vs The World a few months ago:

Little did I know how accurate it would be! Ok, so no, my eyes don't glow and my hair doesn't smoke. I doubt I could throw a person through a wall without even touching them (realistically, I couldn't do it even with touching them). But whether it is the veganism or the yoga or the combination of both, something amazing is happening to my body. 

I already wrote about my sinuses now being completely normal after 34 years of hell. There are so many other things I am noticing as well. I have had issues with my weight for years. I have always been an active person, but I have stayed on the same weight plateau since high school (20 years!). For the first time, I am crushing that barrier. Although I'm sure the exercise helps, I attribute it more to the fact that I rarely ever have cravings anymore.  I used to go into the kitchen for just anything. Out of boredom, hunger, whatever. I was a muncher. Now I have such stable bloodsugar that that urge has all but disappeared. When I'm hungry I can tell when my body now switches over to its storage instead of releasing the urge into my brain. It is pretty amazing to actually feel my body working correctly. On the occasion I do have an urge to snack, I can now recognize it as such and have the willpower to hold off until the moment passes. I will never be a skinny-minny, but feeling good in my clothes starts off my days on the right foot.

Additionally, I have always been a nail-biter. Well, nail chewer is more like it. Just recently I have realized I am having a hard time keeping up with my chewing - my nails are growing so fast! I will chew one off and two days later there's a 1/4 inch of white again. I am slowly breaking that habit because it is becoming a bit too much work - lol. I actually cut my nails for the first time yesterday - huge milestone for me. 

Then, last weekend, we went out drinking to celebrate the end of teacher training. After not having drank alcohol for 12 weeks, I was a bit worried. Even before I had quit drinking, 1 or 2 drinks would always result in at minimum a headache the next day. More than 2 and I would be bowing to the porcelain God. My body didn't take well to poison. I left the next day a bit open to nurse my hangover. I lived it up that night - having 5 or 6 mixed drinks and 2 shots. We stayed out until probably 2 or 3am (my usual bedtime: 10pm). I woke up around 7am, really scared to move. I was feeling ok just laying there, but I really really had to use the bathroom. I was scared as soon as I got up the full force of the hangover would come crashing down. I slipped out of bed....nothing. Walked down the stairs....still nothing. In fact, I felt great! I ended up putting the dogs in the car and heading to the park - where we walked 4 miles worth of mountain bike trails before 10am! I am not sure what happened, but somehow my body was able to process the alcohol and efficiently remove it, resulting in no hangover whatsoever! I truly felt like a SuperHero when I came back home and my boyfriend was still in bed moaning and groaning about how hung over he was :)

After my walk, I decided to get a jump on some chores I wanted done. I began by clearing a section of lawn for a patio. It was a fairly large section - digging up the grass, hauling the grass patches to the other side of the yard, smoothing out the ground. It took me about 4 hours of hard and heavy labor - all while my boyfriend slept off his hangover inside. I had already planned on not going to yoga the next day since I knew I would be so sore I wouldn't be able to move. However, the next morning, I jumped out of bed rearing to go. Not a sore muscle to be found. Huh?! I was doing heavy lifting for such a long time period, and I wasn't sore???!  My daily practice must have prepared my body for anything that could be thrown at it. 

These are just a few of the many side effects courtesy of my new Vegan diet and daily yoga lifestyle. I cannot believe how transformed I feel. I feel Strong. I feel Healthy. I feel Amazing. I had no clue how much my old bad habits were holding my body back. It feels like my body has now "clicked" and is working the way it was intended to. What bad habits are keeping your body from reaching its peak potential?

Saturday, June 11, 2011


We all know Commencement, the noun, as another word for Graduation, or ending a chapter in our lives. We also know the verb form, "to commence" refers to beginning something. I have never felt the full impact of this union of opposites until last Wednesday, our last day of Yoga Teacher Training. On one side YTT is ending, yet on the other I am beginning a new life, where I get accepted into this yoga teacher community.

During our last class, we had to go around the circle and speak about what we have gotten out of the training program. There was so much, I had no idea what I was going to say. So I thought about it for a while. I got motivation, inspiration, knowledge, a regular practice, meditation, - the list could go on for days. I tried to boil everything down into 1 thought. What was the underlying least common denominator? Connectedness.

I am someone who has always lived by the motto "if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself." I know that sounds horrible, but it had been proven true time and time again. I take charge and get things done. I rarely lean on anyone. I am an island.

Yet, I found in YTT I did a lot more leaning than I had ever imagined. The training required many personal lifestyle changes: no drinking, daily practice, daily meditation, daily yoga meal, daily gratitude journal, weekly class observations, etc. I would love to say I completely made over my life that first week to accommodate them all like it was no big deal. But making that many changes all at once, in addition to changing my eating habits to vegan, got overwhelming. And not just at first. I would be a stellar student some weeks and slack off on others. I found on the weeks when I missed a few yoga practices it was so much easier to miss even more. It also made it so much easier to slow down on all of the other requirements - skipping meditation here and yoga meals there. But there was one constant throughout it all: when I would go to YTT class each week, I was motivated to start again. Didn't matter how far I had dropped off.

YTT class became a place I could re-energize my commitment to living this lifestyle. If I came in weak, I could lean on the energy in the room to refuel. I could feel how connected I was to everyone else. And how generous they were to share their prana with me. On the weeks I came in stronger and ready to take on the world, I made a conscious effort try to share my own energy. I learned I didn't have to be on my own. I didn't have to do it by myself. I could count on that class to get me back on the right path. 

I am a bit uncertain about what happens now. Can I continue down this path without my fellow amazing students to hold me up when I need it? I am starting a yoga book club to hopefully invoke a similar sense of accountability and to bring people together who all love this lifestyle as well. But will it be enough? A year from now will I still have my daily practice? My meditation? I have no idea. I can only take it one day at a time, as I commence down this new path. 


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

First Class

This blog was started to chronicle my journey becoming a yoga teacher. Along the way I have gone on tangents, but today I want to bring it right back to the heart of the matter. Last night I was able to teach for the first time. Well, officially the second time, but it was my first real class.

The previous time I taught was at a Boys & Girls Club. There were only 5 girls between the ages of 7-12. They spent the entire time giggling, talking, putting in half effort, resting, cartwheeling, etc. So I don't really consider that teaching, it was more like babysitting.

My friend and fellow teacher training student, Michelle, set up this class with a local gymnastics club. There would be 2 classes - one with the gymnastics students and one with the coaches. We would take turns - each teaching one and assisting in the other. I really wanted the coaches class, because of my hellish experience with kids previously.

Michelle and I met and put together a flow and a playlist. We tried to incorporate everything we had learned up until this point - starting, building, intensifying, and using the fire inside. She mentioned me teaching first, which meant the student class. Crap. But I really wanted this experience and to get teaching.

I spent the next few days going over the class we had designed. I wanted to know it cold - no mistakes. As I drove to the class last night I ran through it outloud in my car. Thank goodness for handsfree phones nowadays so anyone passing me on the expressway probably assumed I was on the phone instead of talking to myself :)

Walking in I was pretty nervous. We were shown the room and got some mats ready. We figured out the stereo so our music was queued. And in walked the class. The girls seemed to range from 6 or 7 on up to early teens. Shoot. I had flashbacks of the unruly kids and the Boys & Girls Club. Suck it up, Jenn.

I got them in Child's Pose and a miraculous thing happened - they did it. No giggling. No looking around. No popping out of it after a moment. These girls had focus. When I started talking about deep breathing I saw their little backs rising and falling. They were listening! I spoke about stillness and saw their fidgeting stop. As we moved onto our first Sun Salutations, I saw real effort. It was amazing to watch these girls, so young, yet so disciplined.

We flowed through our Sun A's and Sun B's. Onto some balancing and deep lunging. Even during a Buddha Squat that would have broke most adults, they pushed through. These girls took Child's when needed - a brave move for anyone, admitting you need a break. Then they popped right back into the class. We had some fun with headstands, attempted an Inverted Lotus while in shoulderstand, and laid still in Savansa.

All in all, they were amazing. There is a saying that we are all eachother's students. Last night, I truly understood. Although I was the "teacher", I learned so much from that first class. They taught me how strong they could be. They taught me how humble they could be. They taught me how determined they could be. They made me recognize and retract my own judgements I had made about their age. What an incredible learning experience.

Can't wait for the next class!!!!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Run, Forest, Run!

A huge deciding factor in me quitting my job and working for myself was outdoor activities. I wanted to be able to take my dogs hiking or jump on my bike whenever I wanted. I hated wasting beautiful sunny days in a cubicle. I am that girl you pass on the yellow loop at Island Lake Rec Area with a goofy smile on her face while struggling to pedal up a "mountain." I know of a secret section no one else seems to where my dogs can run free while I run up and down huge sand dunes. This is what makes me happy. Feeling. Free. Fresh air. Sun. Dogs. Sweat. Play. Bike. Wind. Me. This is my church on a Sunday morning.

A few weeks ago, I saw an online posting for a Triathlon at the end of June. It was a beginner's one - just a 2 mile run, 9 mile bike, and 300 meter swim. I have never ran more than a few blocks, and haven't swam since high school gym class. But I signed up, thinking it would give me more of an excuse to "get into" running. 

For years and years all of my runner friends have told me how much I would love running once I got into it. They told me how amazing it is, how freeing. So I have tried. I have jogged here and there and hated it. I kept telling myself if I just push through I will love it. Too many people have promised me I would if I just kept it up. They couldn't all be wrong...right? 

For the past few weeks I have been trying. I can't do it with my dogs (they pull me off balance) so right there I felt myself getting negative and wishing I could be doing something to get them fresh air as well. But I pushed past it to keep trying. As I "run" (quoted since I actually run slower than my normal fast walk - lol) I just keep feeling the jarring sensation in my joints. The impact on my knees. My feet slapping against the ground. My lungs burning for more oxygen than my inhales can provide. It has been torture. I have not found one ounce of enjoyment out of it. Yet everyone says how wonderful it is, so I must just be a freak of nature. 

Then last weekend, I tried to put two of the activities together. First, I biked 9 miles. The trail was paved with lots of gradual hills, so I tried to push myself. I set a timer on my phone and began. Right off the bat, I found myself obsessed with the timer. I pushed myself and pushed myself. Instead of smelling the blooming lilacs, listening to the birds, seeing the bright green contrasting with the blue sky, I pedaled hard. Everything I loved about biking was gone. Instead of that satisfied, peaceful feeling I usually have when I end, I just had breathlessness and disappointment when I looked at my time. I loaded my bike into my car and started back down the trail at a jog. Within a few steps, I was heaving for air. I slowed to a walk and caught my breath. I started again, this time with my legs feelings like jelly. Walk, run, walk, run, walk, walk, walk. I did the 2 miles but it was hell (and majority walking).

Sitting in the car, I was struck with an overwhelming feeling of WTF. Here I was wasting a beautiful morning doing something I hated with every fiber of my being. Instead of feeling rejuvenated and de-stressed after an early morning at the park, I felt negative and disappointed and that I was a lesser person since I didn't thrive on this feeling of competition like most do. 

I get that things like this need to be worked up to. But I am beginning to question why I am even trying. I have so much in my life that brings me joy, why do I feel that I should be a good runner as well? Why do I want to complete a triathlon when I have always detested competitions? I like to grow, but I am not a huge believer in "no pain, no gain." Yoga, hiking, biking, kayaking, horse back riding, etc - these are all things I have enjoyed right from the start. My love of the activity is what has pushed me to grow and learn more. Not some competition. And certainly not anyone's opinion that I should enjoy it. 

There's a good chance I won't be doing the triathlon. But it has taught me how much I have in my life already. That in my busy life where I don't get much free time, it is silly to choose an activity I dislike over one I thoroughly enjoy. Stop choosing a path that makes you unhappy. Life's too short. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011


My boyfriend hates the word "mucus." However, if I was forced to pick a theme that has stayed with me my entire life, that would be it. I was that kid. The one always stuffy and coughing. We affectionately called it the "Slis Nose" in our household because my dad and grandfather were the same way. Any slight temperature change in the weather and our sinuses would begin working overtime, resulting in extreme congestion. And in Michigan, the temperature changes on a daily basis - it isn't uncommon to go from 35 degree to 85 degrees over the course of a day. Therefore, congestion became the norm, with the only relief in the sporadic weeks Michigan held onto a consistent temperature for more than a few days at a time.

When I was little I would keep my family awake with my hacking. I have spent many nights walking around because the instant I laid down my closed off nose would suffocate me. I should have bought stock in Chapstick due to how much I needed it to offset my mouth-breathing. I have become resistant to just about every over-the-counter drug (although I had a good few years where Claritin gave me short-lived relief). I own a netty pot. I have a closet full of natural remedies (none of which work on me). I can often be found doing handstands at 4am because it will give me an instant of relief while the congestion rearranges itself. More than once I have had to pull over to the side of the road while driving because my nose was completely blocked and the drainage was choking me - so I would panic and have to chug water to get one airway open. And I get reprimanded in yoga a LOT for mouth-breathing - even though at those times I have no alternative.

I was in the store a few weeks ago waiting in the register line. The lady in front of me had the telltale red nose and 6 different kinds of decongestants in her cart. When she saw me looking she gave a sad smile and said "I love spring but hate the allergies it brings with it." It made me realize - I wasn't stuffy. Michigan has been fluctuating between 70 and 30 and then up to 90 degrees and I wasn't congested! Somewhere along the line, after 34 years, my sinuses stopped their attack and slowly receded. Thinking back, I believe the last time I had had sinus issues was back in Feb, and it was now almost June. This was by far the longest I had ever gone without the miserable feeling of sinus pressure and the inability to take deep breaths.

This got me thinking - what had I changed? That's when I realized the answer: my diet. I had cut out all dairy. Although I went vegan for compassionate reasons, it was actually helping me in a very tangible way as well. Bonus! Doctors had told my mom when I was a child to lessen my dairy when I had congestion problems, but I had never cut it out completely before. My dairyless lifestyle had just begun 6 months ago. My mucus-less lifestyle began just 1 month after that.

Since I have realized this the past few weeks, I have had constant gratitude for the deep breaths I am able to take. I am no longer tempted by ice cream because I just have to think about that horrible feeling of suffocation and the pressure making me feel like my head is going to explode. I am so in awe of how this yoga journey led me to fixing an issue I had assumed I would be living with the rest of my life.

I cannot express how immensely this will change my life. My quality of life. I know many of you think my changing to a vegan diet was extreme and unnecessary, but the benefits just keep coming. I know now, this is a lifestyle I will sustain for the rest of my life. And anyone else who has similar issues, I hope you give it a try. Drinking Almond Milk is so much better than hacking up a lung on a regular basis :)