Happy Weekend!

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We are a culture that has become obsessed with “happy”. Commercials, adds, all feature smiling people and promise you that their product will make you happier. Social media, too highlights this phenomenon as everyone posts pictures of their fun trips, smiling family and successes. Social media was called a “hall of flattering mirrors” in something I read once, and it’s true, but what you see on the commercials, and on Facebook pages is not the truth. Everyone suffers. Everyone feels sad, has doubts, feels envious of others’ “perfect” lives. This is what unites us. We must not fight our sadness. It’s natural to have low days, sad days, bad moods. Just like the rain, a good cry can cleanse our minds and bodies. Of course, it’s not healthy to feel sad ALL the time, but every now and again is completely normal, and healthy. It’s a sign that you are human, that you are alive and experiencing life. Next time you feel sad, don’t judge it, just notice it and let yourself feel whatever it is you feel. Happy Weekend!

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The Yoga Regional Asana Championship!

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This Saturday was the Yoga Regional Asana Championship for California, and it was my first year competing. I’ve only been practicing Bikram for a little over 2 years, and I’ve never watched a yoga competition before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was scared shitless. However, I reminded myself of a lesson I learned in yoga “if you feel uncomfortable in a posture, that’s good. It means you’re changing your body. Sharp pain means back off”. Discomfort in a posture is often a sign of stretching or strengthening. In life discomfort is often a sign that you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and growing. Competing was definitely out of my comfort zone. In yoga class, when I would demonstrate my routine, my heart would beat wildly and my entire body would shake from nervousness. It’s scary.

Two weeks before competition, the reality of it all hit me and I got scared. Then I got injured. I’ve written about this in recent blog posts. Then, I got over it and lived my life for the last week. The day before competition I was scared again, worried of falling out of postures, but when I arrived day of and met with all of the other competitors I felt relieved. Everyone is so nice, and gracious. Everyone is rooting for you to nail your postures. It doesn’t feel like a competition based on the attitudes and actions of the yogis. I think of it as one big celebration of yoga, everyone who takes part is demonstrating what they have been working towards for months/years. We all just want to do our best, not necessarily with the goal of doing better than the other yogi.

The entire experience is so inspiring. Every competitor was amazing. Every competitor was beautiful and graceful, and the event was a true celebration of yoga. There were 3 masters (55years +), 10 men, and 30 women in total. What’s amazing to think of is that I was one of these 30 women in the entire state of CA to be a competitor. That’s an honor. I returned home feeling like I had been part of the yoga community, like I had been part of something great. I feel inspired to see how much better I can get in another year, and inspired by all of the amazing yogis I was able to watch during the competition.

Also, I conquered my fear and I am stronger for it. I am more confident in my abilities to compete again next year. I am more confident in my abilities to perform those 7 postures, and I learned a lot about strategy. In Bikram yoga, we do 2 sets of each posture. I’ve heard it said that the first set is your diagnostic set. It’s like when you walk into a room and take measurements, get a feel for the lighting and the layout. The second set, is the set that you own. The second set in a posture is when you walk back into that room and you’re rearranging furniture, fluffing throw pillows and kicking your shoes off. That’s how I hope next year’s competition is. This year was the diagnostic experience. Next year, I’d like to rearrange furniture.

Don’t Take Things Personally

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In my last post I mentioned the injury that occurred while I was practicing my headstand. I went to the chiropractor and, thankfully, I’m better now, but the injury put me into my own head. It phased me. I thought to myself “why me” and “why now” so close to the yoga competition. I got into a place where I wasn’t in the moment for a few days after the injury and I felt this weight on my mood and my mind. Then I listened to a podcast where Oprah interviewed Jon Kabat-Zinn, the man credited for bringing mindfulness to America. He discusses the concepts of mindfulness, which he defines as “paying attention, in the present moment, on purpose, and non-judgmentally”. While I had the awareness part right, the piece I had been missing was the non-judgmental aspect of mindfulness. I had the awareness that I felt fear and anxiety about the competition, fear about my injury, and some resentment as well towards the injury. I knew I wasn’t living in the present moment, and so while I was experiencing these thoughts and feelings, I was also experiencing dismay by these thoughts and feelings. The dismay was caused by my judgment that these thoughts and feelings were bad, wrong, unwanted. Eckhart Tolle says “What you resist persists, and what you fight, you strengthen”. By fighting my feelings and emotions, I was actually making them stronger. Part of being in the present moment is accepting whatever is your reality at the time and one of the core components of mindfulness is that when you simply notice a negative thought or emotion, the thought/emotion will fall away naturally. I stopped resisting and moved to a place where I simply noticed negative thoughts and negative feelings. The thoughts/feelings fell away (seemingly magically).

The second component of the interview was Kabat-Zinn’s description of our tendency to “take things personally” (not just actions from other people, but also, with experiences). I often get this concept in social situations, however I had never thought about the concept of “not taking it personally” in life situations. For example, I was taking my injury personally asking myself “why me” and feeling sorry for myself. It wasn’t personal. Shit happens. The better question is to ask “why not me”. Eckhart Tolle talks about how the situation is always neutral but that our thoughts and reactions to the situation are what make us deem the situation either good or bad. Accordingly, our emotions are affected by our thoughts on the situation. We cause ourselves so much more suffering by taking it personally.

If you find yourself stuck in a negative rut like the one I just described, where you realize that you are not living in the present moment. Stop. Take a few deep breaths and just observe. Let yourself stop judging or fighting whatever it is that you are thinking or feeling and just notice. Observe. Whatever you are feeling or thinking is okay. If you do this, you will truly be in the present moment, and I bet, you will begin to feel better, lighter, and freer.

Happy Weekend!

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I was feeling sorry for myself this morning because I injured myself in headstand a few days ago while practicing my yoga routine for competition. I went to a chiropractor and I’m going to be fine, but for a few days I can’t practice my full routine. The choices we make consistently, everyday, speak more about our values, beliefs, integrity, faith, and character than words ever could. Remember that today is your temple and you have the opportunity to fill it with whatever you want your religion to be. I want to fill my temple today with gratitude, happiness, love, integrity, and faith that everything will be okay. What will you fill yours with today? Happy Weekend!

There’s Power in A Decision

One lesson I’ve learned from training for the yoga competition is that there is power in a decision. My body has changed drastically in just a few simple months and my postures have improved as well. I’ve become stronger, mentally and physically, and while I have been doing more yoga than I typically would have, I think the real power lies in having a goal to work towards.

I have heard time and time again artists and musicians say that there came a time when they had to decide their occupation was going to be their art. Adam Duritz from the Counting Crows discussed his decision to be a musician in an interview. He reported that he had to make the decision that he was a musician (not someone who wrote songs or played music on the side). After he made that decision (that commitment), things began to unfold for him and his musical career.

If I had waited until I was “good enough” to compete before I committed to competing, who knows if I would have ever been “ready”. There is power in a decision, and sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. With yoga, as with life, so much of what we do is based on faith. You work on a posture everyday in class and change happens so slowly sometimes, that you don’t even notice it until one day, suddenly, you can touch your toes in triangle, or kick your foot above your head in standing bow. This is true of life as well. You can’t only begin journeys when you can see the finish line from the start. Often, you must take single steps, with faith that one day you will get to your destination.

These two pictures show the progression in just a couple of months of standing bow pose. Remember: there’s power in a decision…in a leap of faith.

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Standing bow at the end of October/beginning of November

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Standing Bow end of December/beginning of January

Finding The Balance Between Strength and Softness

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Image credit to Live. Laugh. Exercise.tumblr

I was in yoga the other day, in the middle of a pose, and probably tensed up, pulling or pushing in some type of attempt at increasing my flexibility when my teacher explained that a real breakthrough happens when you are able to find the balance between strength and relaxation. If you are a seasoned yogi, you know that something magical happens in your practice when you are able to stay relaxed throughout your practice. This “relaxation” begins mentally/spiritually, and then translates to your body. It is possible to be exerting strength in the places of your body you use for the posture and relaxed everywhere else. Now, in Bikram yoga, I believe relaxation may be even harder because you have more to overcome. You have the heat (a 100+ degree F room), you have the poses (who knew holding your arms over your head could be so challenging!), you have the mirror (if you have body issues, get ready), and you have yourself (yoga is really a journey in and through yourself and we are all our own worst enemy). If you go to a Bikram studio where the teachers tend to be militant and dialogue-based, then you also have to overcome someone yelling at you at an auctioneer-like pace, clapping to queue the beginning and end of every posture, and ordering you to correct specific postures when you may believe you’re using every ounce of energy just to move your body into a resemblance of whatever posture you’re supposed to be in already. So much of this practice is mental and we can choose to fight the practice mentally or to accept it, relax, and stay connected with our breath and our body. Sometimes, I’m in the zone. I’m relaxed, connected to my body, flexible, and feel like I can do anything in that room. Other times I’m distracted, nauseated, and feeling like every part of my body is tensed, un-relaxed. Often, I notice that any type of emotional baggage I’m holding onto weighs on my practice. If I’ve had a particularly stressful day, I can feel it in my muscles and in my body occupying space.

So how do you relax in stressful conditions ? In my personal experience, the breath has been the key. Being conscious of the breath, connected to the breath, and breathing with the intention of releasing tension is the beginning. Also, letting go of your attachment to the result of the posture helps. Go into the room with the attitude that you will give your all and that your all is good enough. Yoga is a practice, it’s a process, not a result and therefore, you don’t do yoga to get to a specific place. You do yoga for the experience each day, to release tension, to connect with yourself, to clear your mind, and maybe to get a nice tush in the process : )

One thing I have noticed in retrospect is that when I was a runner, I thought of my body in a Cartesian sense. It was something that I conquered, used, and exploited. I felt superior to my body, like I was in control of it and used it to take me places I wanted to go. Now, my body and I are in a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship. I listen to it, care for it… I eat to make my body feel good, and yoga has become both a means of communication and a way for me to give back to my body. I’ve noticed that when I eat gluten, I’m much less flexible, so I don’t eat it anymore. I try to go into the room with the goal of releasing tension and creating space, rather than with the goal of dominating my body into the perfect form of each posture. Of course, the ego still pops up in certain classes and I have to remind myself of this goal. Letting go of the ego and staying connected to my body is part of the practice of yoga (notice I said practice as it is something I have to continue to do with intention behind it).

Finding the balance between strength and softness is something that we can learn on our mat and then use in life. When should we stand our ground or back off and let it go? I’ve heard it said that our bodies hold onto every pain we’ve experienced, every heartbreak, and injustice. The body holds the story of your life through tension, disease, anxiety, depression. Healing that relationship with your body is a good place to start in the process of learning this lesion, and the breath is a road that can lead you there.

Juicing!

ImageMatt and I have been drinking green juice everyday for at least 2 weeks and we have been noticing some wonderful changes in the way we feel since staring this new regimen. We bought a Breville Juicer (if you buy it from BB and B, you can use the 20% off coupon they give out like candy) last June and were juicing mainly sugary plants (e.g. carrots, beets, apples). The juice tasted fantastic, but it really did a number on my stomach. Finally when watching this video I figured out what was going on. Kris Carr the author of “Crazy Sexy Diet”, “Crazy Sexy Kitchen” and a plethora of other books related to cancer and health explained that a juice too high in sugar actually feeds Candida (yeast) growth in the body subsequently creating an environment that diseases (like cancer) really enjoy. Kris Carr was diagnosed about 10 years ago with an incurable cancer and basically stopped it in its tracks through diet and lifestyle changes. She discusses the importance of chlorophyll for health and energy and, therefore we have been making sure our juice is always green. She also recommends a 3:1 ratio of vegetables to fruit and I found that when we make juice using this ratio, the juice actually makes my tummy feel better, not worse.

So what changes have I noticed since beginning juicing? I’ve had more energy. I’m also doing a 14-day Bikram challenge (14 classes in 14 days) and I think that this juice has been my saving grace in keeping my energy levels up. I’ve also noticed healthier looking skin both in tone and clarity. I suffer from mild adult acne (usually one break out on my chin) and my skin has been clear since beginning the juicing. The tone of my skin has also improved (I think it may have to do with the fact that we add one or 2 carrots to every juice). Also, my fingernails are looking clear, and pink, and just better. I looked down at my hands the other day and was surprised to see how healthy my fingernails looked…Lastly, my digestion has been on point lately and I think it has been improved by the juice as well as the ginger root that we add to each juice. I feel great.

So here are some tips for juicing: We always make about 32 oz. and then fill mason jars up so we can drink it throughout the day, bring it to work, or whatever. Separating it into mason jars and sealing also helps to prevent oxidation of the juice (this is a tip I picked up from Kris Carr’s video).

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We also add 1/2 a lemon to each batch of juice we make. Lemon juice is supposed to create a more alkaline environment in your body (which prevents disease) and it’s just good for detoxifying the body. We also ALWAYS add ginger root. Ginger helps with digestion and just makes everything taste better! With ginger, you always want to add less at first, and then add more if needed. If a vegetable isn’t organic I’d recommend peeling it first. Certain veggies yield a lot more juice than others (cucumbers and celery are two good ones). You can use the throw away parts of veggies for juicing (e.g. the stalks of broccoli). Also, don’t be afraid of throwing herbs in there. I made a juice the other day with a little bunch of mint and it freshened everything up.

So what goes into a typical batch of juice for us? Kale, 1 cucumber, celery, broccoli stalks, 1/2 lemon, 1/2-1 inch of ginger, 1 apple and 2 carrots.

Some tips to cut down on cost include going to farmer’s markets or fruit stands. Sometimes you can get really good deals here (e.g. a massive bunch of kale costs 1.50 at the farmer’s M, but 2.50 at Whole Foods). Use the stalks of veggies (like broccoli). Juicing does cost more money but you could probably offset the cost by packing a lunch a couple days/week instead of buying lunch on your lunch break : )

Lastly, this juice actually tastes good. Everyone who has tried it has been super surprised because you think it’s going to taste disgusting but it actually tastes earthy, fresh and delicious. It’s even better cold.

Yoga And Fitness??

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As I mentioned earlier in my post on yoga and aging, I’ve been reading “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards” by William J. Broad. Broad is a science journalist who has practiced yoga since 1970 and wrote this book to uncover which yoga claims are scientifically supported, and which are not. What he found about yoga and fitness was surprising to me. He found that yoga, while improving aerobic fitness somewhat, is not nearly as beneficial to your heart as running, biking or swimming. Many studies setting out to study the effectiveness of yoga as a aerobic exercise found time and time again that aerobically, it just doesn’t compare. However, one of the first major studies conducted by Duke University (pg. 56-57) found that the individuals in their yoga group reported feeling better about themselves with enhanced social benefits, better sex and social lives, and improved family relationships. The yoga subjects reported “enhanced sleep, energy, health, endurance and flexibility” and also described “better moods, self-confidence and life satisfaction”. These individuals felt that they looked better. The researchers were surprised, because although they measured that this yoga group hadn’t really gained any aerobic benefits, their perceived and felt benefits far outweighed the aerobic group or control group (pgs. 56-57)

In 2010 a literature review was published that compared the benefits of yoga with those gained from other aerobic activities. While yoga still doesn’t measure up aerobically to other forms of exercise (e.g. running, swimming) it excels past other forms of exercise with the benefits of improved balance, improved mood and sleep, decreased fatigue, decreased anxiety, and many more. For a complete list of how yoga crushes other exercises flip to page 73 in this book.

The take home message for me is that I may want to really pay attention to my body for the next few weeks during yoga to see if I feel like I am getting an aerobic workout. There are many types of yoga classes offered, and some may be more aerobic than others. For example, during a Bikram class, I feel like I am getting an aerobic workout but I took a vinyasa (super mellow) class one summer which did not feel like an aerobic workout at all, and I found myself craving a run after class. I used to run and really enjoyed being outside, listening to music, and using only my legs and feet as transportation, but since beginning yoga, I’ve noticed how much harder running is on my own body….joints, muscles, etc and then how tight my hamstrings feel afterwards.

In the end, every individual has to find what exercise is right for them because if it’s not enjoyable, it’s not sustainable.

Happy Weekend

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Hi everyone. Sorry for the lag in blog posts I’ve been soooo sick with the stomach flu that just kept hanging on but I’m finally back and better than ever. Further good news is that I’m almost out of graduate school for summer vacation which means lots of new recipes, ideas, and creativity! I’m also planning on doing a 14 day Bikram challenge which will be fun and interesting. Even though I’ve been doing Bikram for over a year and a half, I’ve never done a challenge. I’m someone who doesn’t like extremes and therefore have really shied away from anything that commits me to doing yoga but I think a two-week challenge is a happy medium.

Onto the quote. All good things are wild and free. I think Thoreau was talking about wild in the context of nature meaning natural and organic not wild meaning crazy. Wild plants grow on their own accord because of some force that compels them to pop up out of the ground. Wild things are also free, free from living according to any rules except their own. I’d like to be a good thing living wild and free. Abraham Lincoln said that “all people are born originals but most die copies”. Don’t die a copy try to live your life wild and free, do what feels natural to your own heart and mind and try to remain free from boundaries created by dogma. Happy Weekend!

 

Intention

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In my yoga classes the teachers often talk about letting go of your attachment to the result of the postures. They say that falling out of an asana (or yoga pose) is human, to get back into it after you’ve fallen out is yogi, and to not be attached to the result of the asana is enlightenment. I thought, hmmm, what would my yoga practice be like if I didn’t worry about how deep into an asana I could go or if I didn’t judge “how right” my pose was. When we are attached to the result can we truly be in the moment? Also, would yoga be more enjoyable if I could focus only on the process of movement?

I was watching this interview with Seane Corn the other day and I thought about this subject again (for those of you who don’t know who Seane Corn is, she’s well-known yoga teacher with amazing curly hair who does a lot of charity work and outreach in other countries through an organization she started called Off The Mat. She also seems pretty cool and often shares a lot of the same perspectives that I do on life, love, intention, etc). Anyways she talked about an experience she had working with an organization in Cambodia where she visited an 11-Acre garbage dump where families live in horrendous conditions. She described a scene where children were gathering around her gesturing for food or water because these children are starving and she felt this overwhelming feeling of helplessness and wondered how she could do any good. You should watch the video if this sounds interesting to you but in that moment something amazing happened and she had this realization that the point wasn’t the result. She said she realized that what mattered was that she was there with love and with that intention. The overwhelming feeling left her upon realizing that the point was the intention and after yoga yesterday, for some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about this topic.

How much more relaxed would we feel if we could let go of the result and realize that the intention is what really matters in yoga, and in life? If the result is the end of the process, then when we focus on the result, we are not being in the present (which is the only time that is real). In Bikram yoga there is a saying that your body will change slowly “like ripping a page from a phone book everyday” meaning that the process is soooo slow, but if you continue to show up, it will happen. Your body will become stronger and more flexible, and it will happen simply by your continuing to show up with the intention of doing the asanas, whether you worry about it or not. I think that the same is true for life. Although the process is slow, the intention is what will determine “where” you go, and so if you could stop worrying about the result the “how” you get there will be improved. You can enjoy the ride a little more and hopefully live in the present more often. The human mind likes to fight the present moment and so I propose a simple exercise that when you find your mind in the future, just bring your focus back to the intention and allow yourself to trust that the intention is what really matters.