Rolling Eyes and Heavy Sighs

| On Living Well

Photo by Next to Me Studios
Photo by Next to Me Studios

Last week my boss popped into my office to use our printer and found my wedding invitation sitting on my officemate’s desk.  “Girl!” she cried, “You’re getting married?!?” I make it a point to keep my personal life under lock and key at the work place so I hadn’t mentioned it. Since I come in contact with very few people during the work day, I imagined getting all the way down to the week prior to our big day without telling anyone.  I would just return the next week – poof! – married.

My boss gushed the way I think most girls always hope their girlfriends will when they hear such happy news.  It was sweet. I had the opportunity to smile and glow and bask in the glory of the engaged.

Instead, I acted like it was no big deal, in fact, I acted like it was a huge pain in the ass.

“When did you get engaged?” she asked, genuinely interested.  “Oh…(pause)…March.”  As if I had forgotten the one-of-a-kind proposal that Jeremy orchestrated on stage for me in front of all of my friends and family.  And then I kept talking to fill the awkward space I had no idea what to do with, “We’re just…it’s a short engagement…we just want to get it over with so we can move on with life…you know, it’s nothing…it’s like, whatever.”

She stopped gushing and looked right at me, “Well, that’s romantic.”  The sarcasm couldn’t have been thicker.

She finished up what she came into my office for and left me sitting in a pile of shit.  Yep, shit.  I shat all over my own wedding.

I realized I had actually been shitting on my wedding for quite some time.  Tongue-in-cheek comments about my fiancee’s charming decor suggestions turned into all out complain sessions to anyone who asked.  Complain, complain, complain, sigh, roll eyes, complain some more.

Complaining is a very seductive thing.  Once you start, it’s really hard to stop.  Complaining is cathartic in all the wrong ways.  Letting one out can feel so good.  And even if it took some coaxing to get it out, once your complaint has been released you realize what a burden it had been carrying it around.  Lord help the complainer who has a captive audience!  Because once the first has been set free, others are sure to follow.

As soon as you mention you’re engaged the knowing nods and streams of advice roll out. Everyone talks about how hard it is to plan a wedding.  They say it brings up all kinds of issues you didn’t know were lying dormant, just waiting for you to plan the biggest party of your life so they can make themselves known.

Then, let the eye rolling begin.

I am not the bride-to-be who’s been dreaming of her wedding since she was four.  When I got engaged, I didn’t know what kind of dress I’d wear: mermaid, princess, vintage, funky, glamourous, or whimsical.  I had no idea what kind of bride I would be–DIY, green chic, alternative, or classic.

In the early stages of planning I scanned Pintrest trying to figure it all out. Wedding veterans and wedding hopefuls did something remarkable–they got me excited.  Discovering images women everywhere have been compiling for their own dream weddings lit a fire in me.  Finally, I was excited to plan and craft and imagine and create my dream wedding.  I may not have been dreaming this wedding since I was four. But I did begin dreaming of it the moment I met Jeremy and finally it didn’t feel like a dirty little secret.  It felt amazing.  It felt fun.

Seeing my boss’ excitement sink into a puddle of crap made me realize how much I was giving up by allowing myself to be seduced by the eye-roll.  I had the chance to [metaphorically] jump up and down and squeal with glee because I was marrying the most amazing man in the world.  I passed it up to roll my eyes! Somehow, all the trying to please everyone and money worrying and arguing about colors, tradition, ceremony, and guest lists seemed stupid.  Stupid because they were zapping all the joy out of the only wedding I’ll every plan to the only man I’ll ever marry.

I decided right then and there that I would enjoy planning a wedding. When anyone asks me if I’m excited, I’ll say, “Oh my goodness, yes!  I’m soooo excited!  I can’t wait!  I’m planning the biggest party of my life.  It’s so fun!  I love it and I love him and I’m the luckiest girl in the world!”

Now, we are exactly two months away from our wedding day.  Yes, we have invoices to check.  But we also have songs to choose, flowers to select, clothes to try on, and dinners to plan.  I couldn’t be happier. And when it’s all said and done, I’ll be married to my best friend.  You can’t beat that.

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Yoga Strong

| On Yoga

Girl got hips
Girl got hips

Show me a woman and I’ll show you an eating disorder. In some way, shape, or form I guarantee she’s got one.

Body image is something that I’ve struggled with since 5th grade when Barbie stepped onto her Barbie scale and the weight read, 110 pounds–six pounds more than my 5th grade body weighed. It is still something I struggle with.  Yep, pro-woman, yogi, college educated, Women’s Studies minor ME still struggles with body image.

My body image issue usually lays dormant. But about two and a half years ago I was trying to figure out some health issues and restricted my diet.  Not in an unhealthy way; I was simply cutting some things from my diet to figure out what was triggering symptoms.  This new diet, combined with a new found love for running resulted in weight loss.

I dropped 2 pants sizes.  But there was this weird disconnect.  I held up my new jeans and they looked so tiny.  I couldn’t believe that I fit into them.  Then I’d put them on and wish that the itty bitty pinch of flesh that hung over the waistband would disappear.

One day I overheard a gal pal tell my boyfriend how “smokin'” I was looking.  His response (God bless him!), “She’s losing her ass.  It’s no good.”

Well, there’s a quandary.

One of my closest confidants was singing praises to my new figure (Ladies, let’s be honest, we are more hell-bent on impressing other women than we are men–even men we care about). On the flip side, my guy was wishing he had a little more somethin-somethin to grab when reaching for my behind.

As a yogi, my priority is my health.  So while I entertained these thoughts, wellness won.  I figured out the culprit and slowly began to integrate wine, yogurt, sugar, and whole wheat back into my diet–in moderation.

Poof!  Booty came back!

And let me add, so did my periods, which had mysteriously disappeared.  Marvelous!  Irregular periods, just another way for mother nature to let you know something’s not right. AND just another excuse for insurance providers to deny you coverage.  Sorry, that’s another post.

Since then, no–since 5th grade, this is something I struggle with. What my intellectual self and my emotional self understand are two different things.  It’s a constant conversation. So when I see things affirming what I know is true (intellectual self) I have to stop and take note.

Not too long ago a blog post caught my eye as friend after friend shared it, liked it, and cried hallelujah in appreciation of it.  “Strong is the New Skinny,” a gal named Sophie says.  Masses of strong women stand behind her.

I was reminded of this post today after a series of events.

1. Facebook post by friend, Anna Brown: “Awesome moment of today: I was working out at work (GO JAG GYM!) and a group of little girls, had to be 8, came over and were mimicking my movements on the balance beam (V-sit on beam while shoulder pressing dumbbells). I notice them out of the corner of my eye and had them grab smaller weight (2pders) and had a mini work out demo. LOVE LOVE LOVE! I will be a positive change in the world of child fitness… you have been warned!”

2.  At home yoga practice: a few warm up vinyasas, a few standing balances, forearm stand with variations.

3.  Passed by the mirror and wondered how my hips got so wide…

What?!?

Yes, despite my support of the strong women I know and my appreciation for a practice that allows me to view the world upside down, I still measure the value of my physical self by the standards set by our culture.

Forearm Stand
Balancing those hips

I love being a yoga instructor and being part of a movement that promotes wellness and strength.  Some of the most rockin’ yogis I know sport swimmer’s arms, round tushies, and quads that could squeeze the life out of you.  I admire these women.  Furthermore, I am not so blind as to discount the waifs of steel that can hold their own in a sea of inversions.  We are all born with different bodies.  Therefore, “strong” is going to look different on each and every one of us.

Skinny is one of those words that can be a compliment or an insult depending on how it is said.

“Ay, you look so skiiiiiny!” (said by my auntie handing me a plate of carbs) or “Damn girl, look at that skinny little thing!” (said by the man on the street)

Regardless, I’d like to replace skinny with strong.  Piggy backing off of what Sophie so eloquently said, strong is the new skinny.  But let’s keep in mind that strong is going to look different on different women. That may mean curvy calves, broad shoulders, or an expansive belly.  It also may mean wide hips.

At the end of the day, I bow my head and smile to my practice and to my body, as I acknowledge how strong I am despite all the squishy, jiggly, and wide parts of me.  Let my insecurities give me insight.  Let my weakness give me compassion.  And let my body give me strength.

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Brass Balls

| On Yoga

Photo by Keleigh Layton

40 Days of Yoga–Day 10

Art & Soul Yoga~Sayde

It took less than 40 days. I set out to practice everyday so I could make a clear decision about my work schedule.  I knew I needed to fill the well and nurture myself.  Plus, I love a good challenge.

A challenge it has been.  Squeezing my practice into a day that is already packed with teaching and writing is tricky.  It means planning ahead and packing lots of snacks.  But at the end of each day, as I tuck myself in bed, I feel good.  I have peace of mind knowing that whatever has slipped through the cracks, yoga hasn’t.

Aside from a dewy glow and a sense of peace, what happens when you do yoga everyday?

Brass balls.  That’s what happens.

Author Benjamin Lorr quotes his friend Anna in his book, Hell Bent:

“I don’t know how the yoga works, but I do know that I started practicing and I grew a pair of brass balls.  I kicked my alcoholic husband out of my life.  I got a better job.  It’s a power tool for taking responsibility.”

This is not an uncommon experience.  Many people experience this when they give yoga a go for the first time.  They try it for the physical exercise and it ends up changing their lives.  But the funny thing is that when you return to a regular practice after a hiatus of whatever length, the brass balls come back.

I experienced this about 3 1/2 years ago.  I was tending bar and acting as manager at an Irish pub in Long Beach when I began my 200 hour yoga teacher training.  I knew I was growing in all kinds of ways but I had no idea that all the while my ability to tolerate bullshit was decreasing.  I had a hard time faking a giggle for drunk old mean and sleazy bachelors.  And then one day I up and quit.  I truly thought I’d rather shoot my own knee cap than spend one more day pouring beer and faking a smile.  No more.

It was unlike me.  I didn’t have another job lined up.  Although, I had oodles of skills I really wasn’t sure where I was going or what I was going to do next.  I just kept going back to the mat.

I eventually found my way, as I knew I would.  But growth occurs in cycles.  You find your groove, get down and get comfy.  Yet, you are not meant to stay there forever.  You will transition.  It will be uncomfortable, maybe even painful and difficult.  But you must. And then, you’ll find your groove again.

This is where yoga steps in.  I don’t think transitional phases of our lives should last years at a time.  For some they do.  That’s unnecessary.

Yoga helps expedite the process of moving from one place to another. It gives you brass balls so you can call bullshit on the things in your life that bring you down or steer you off course.

What’s really happening is this: yoga breaks down the walls separating you from yourself and your desires.  That’s when you tap in and the path that lies before you is clear.

So, my brass balls came back.  And I had to call bullshit on myself.  I really thought that I could manage 2 writing jobs, 4 yoga classes, planning a wedding, my own creative projects, and still be able to connect with the people I love, take care of my boyfriend, and nurture myself.  Yoga says, HA!

I’m still practicing everyday for forty days.  I like the challenge.  And it’s keeping me connected to me.  But it only took me four days to figure out what I need to do.  Now I have to ask the big questions that will get me to the next phase.  Brass balls and all, at least I know I’ll be there soon.

 

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Thirty Minutes Counts

| On Living Well

40 Days of Yoga–Day 4

Felicia Tomasko~Yogaglo

A daily yoga practice is no big deal over the weekend.  Saturday and Sunday seem to be made for yoga.  They go together like huevos and rancheres, especially when followed up with brunch and girlfriends.

But weekdays are tricky.  There are jobs to juggle, errands to run, phone calls to make…at  home there are dishes, laundry, stinky litter boxes–I could very easily put off my practice.  But I didn’t because I set an intention that I really want to fulfill.  And failing at day four would be sad and embarrassing.

So I convinced myself that 30 minutes counts.  I tore myself away from the dozens of tasks that need doing, unrolled my mat, set up my iPad and let Felicia guide me through 30 minutes of sweet, sweet yoga.  In less than a minute I was so, so thankful.

Yet how often do we put things off because we think we don’t have enough time to make it worthwhile?  Reading, meditating, phoning a friend–all things to which we’d love to devote big chunks of time.  I dream of a lifestyle that involves curling up with my cats, a fluffy blanket, and a good book for a good hour nightly.  I love the feeling of being so lost in fiction that I am jarred by the sound of an incoming text message.  This image is delicious to me.  Books are meant to be savored.  Sometimes I read passages over a second or third time just to take in the rhythm of the language, to admire the attention that went into crafting prose.  It just doesn’t seem worth it to dive in for so short a period of time.  But small doses add up.

A woman could slip a bit of arsenic in her husbands dinner night after night, and eventually he’d end up dead.

Hmmmm…bad example.

A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association  showed that children who exercised intensely for only 20 minutes daily achieved measurable health benefits, such as lowered risk for diabetes, lower body fat, and increased fitness.

Better example.

The point is, thirty minutes counts…or 20 minutes, or 15 or 10.  Consider this next time you put something off because you don’t have enough time.  When you can’t carve out as much time as you’d like for a restorative practice, create a little oasis of time in your day just for you.  After my short practice I felt less back pain, more relaxed, and more centered.  Totally worth it.

So what if my laundry isn’t folded?

 

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Overfishing the Pond

| On Creativity

I made a yoga date, as we do.  When yoga instructors get together to connect, it usually takes place around a mat.  All the catching up happens post class over a cup of chai or a glass of wine.  So I made a yoga date with Olivia Kvitne.  I’d get my practice in, check out a LA yoga institution, Golden Bridge Yoga (why have I never been here?), and connect with lovely Olivia, a fellow LA YOGA Magazine staffer.

I showed up for class, present and ready, but not really expecting anything.  But Olivia is good.  Really good.  And at the first skull-shining breath, I was off.

You never really know what your practice is going to bring up until it’s smeared all over the mat below you: resentment, frustration, a broken heart…Or maybe it’s all beautiful, radiant joy.  Regardless, it oftentimes takes you completely by surprise.

So, right smack in the middle of my practice I found myself sitting face to face with my work week.  I’ve just begun a new job, which takes up most of my time.  I love it but the best part is that I don’t have to give up teaching yoga.  I cut my classes back a bit to accommodate my new schedule, thinking four per week would be manageable.  But this transition hasn’t been as smooth as I would have hoped.

The first clue that I’m over-extended: jealousy.  I find myself walking through a sea of students flowing through their vinyasas feeling jealous.  And it’s not just a passing thought, it’s an active longing for each posture, each glorious stretch.  I catch small details –a student’s finger pads pressing into the mat, a trickle of sweat trailing down a student’s bare back, the oceanic sound of breath all around me–and I feel jealous.  I want to experience all of those things too.  I demonstrate simple postures like, downward facing dog, and linger in silence, just a bit too long.  I don’t want to move; it’s too delicious.

It makes me want to stop teaching.  Usually, it’s a fleeting thought.  But it’s still there.

The thing is, I haven’t neglected my practice.  I still get in about three days a week.  But, what became obvious in Olivia’s class was that it’s not enough.

The crazier your schedule gets, the more yoga you need.  Trying to balance a work week with meetings, appointments, errands, favors, fun, and friends means more yoga.

When the first thing you want to cut out of your schedule is yoga, something is wrong.  Yoga is the last thing to get cut, says Oliva.  And I agree.

That class changed my whole trajectory.  I realized that before I consider letting go of any classes, I need to make sure that my choice is coming from a place of abundance, not a place of lack.

Olivia reminded me of an analogy Julia Cameron uses in her book, The Artist’s Way.  She says we have an inner well that we need to refill regularly:

This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond…If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked…  Overtapping the well, like overfishing the pond, leaves us with diminished resources.

My well is nearly dry and needs to be replenished.  So, on the mat in mid flow, I set an intention to fill myself with my practice.  After 30 or maybe even 40 days of yoga in a row, if I still feel the need to let go of a class or two or all of them, at least I’ll know that it is an informed choice not a choice made from exhaustion.

It’s an experiment.  And what better place to record my musings and lessons learned than here on this blog?  As I write this, I realize it’s a crazy experiment.  I may be setting myself up for failure, disappointment, frustration, deeper exhaustion.  Or I am be on to something really good.  Either way, I’m down for the adventure.

If you’ve ever challenged yourself to practice consistently for an extended period of time, I’d love to hear about it.  Please share your experience below.

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Four things I just learned about meditation

| On Living Well

While somewhat a newbie when it comes to meditation, I thought I understood the basic principles.  Did I still have something to learn?  Sure, I would have agreed to that.  But the basic principles were locked in.  Yep, I got it, thought I.  Meditation:  sit your tushy down, close your eyes, and empty your head.  Maybe a little pranayama.  Maybe a mantra.  But that’s about it.  Simple.

 

Do this everyday and enlightenment will come…someday…like, sometime before you die…right?

Well, sort of.

Recently, I had the fortunate opportunity to study meditation with Dr. Lorin Roche, a meditation expert and scholar.  And as it happens, I have a lot to learn about the subject.

Meditation is the new yoga.  It’s the new-agey thing that everyone wants to try. Little by little people are opening up to the idea, maybe even giving it a test run.

It’s a little less of a useless, hippie pastime since Dr. Oz began promoting the practice in his book, on national television, and during health conferences.  He declared that transcendental mediation effects and reduces mortality, heart disease, and stroke by 47%.  That got some folks to pay attention.  (Check out his lecture here.)

For a long time meditation was what I did at the beginning of yoga and then again at the end during savasana.  About six months ago I decided, without the guidance of a guru or an expert in the field that I would explore this thing called meditation a bit further.  I added it to my morning routine: wake up, go potty, scrape tongue, brush teeth, drink 8 ounces of water with lemon and cayenne pepper, then meditate.  I set my trusty iPhone timer for 15 minutes and then off I went.

Where?  I liked to imagine the White Cliffs of Dover.  I’ve never been there but they sound nice.

While I found it calming, it always seemed very serious.  It became part of a daily ritual that I did without much consideration.  It was, by no means, fun.  Goodness, no!  Peaceful, yes…well, only when my mind cooperated.  But fun?  No.  If I wanted to have fun, I’d practice cartwheels at the park.

An evening with Lorin Roche taught me that I’ve been a bit misguided on a few key points.  I learned that:

Meditation is informal.

It’s like meeting your best friend for a happy hour cocktail.  No pretense.  No need to prove anything.  Just you and yourself chilling out, connecting, and getting’ groovy on life.  As Dr. Roche puts it, “Meditation is being intimate with yourself.”  So, sit your tushy down, yes.  And then say, “Hello, Old Friend!”

Trying to “empty your head” is a waste of time.

I don’t know where this notion of clearing your mind of all thought came from but I held on to it like it was my rope to safety.  Actually, according to Dr. Roche all that chatter is your brain clearing away the clutter.  Kinda like organizing the stacks of paper on your desk.  Your brain needs to work though all that nonsense in order to get to the good stuff.  Dr. Roche guided our small group through meditation and yep, my brain tossed around all kinds of useless thoughts: Would Jeremy be landing at LAX on time?  Do we have enough cat food to get through tomorrow?  I have to call my mother back…  But after a few moments the chatter hushed.  It was still there but it was as if someone turned down the volume and my psyche could open up to what was significant at the moment.  I saw my brother, clear as day, someone I love dearly and very much look forward to reconnecting with in a month.  I was filled with joy, as if he was standing right in front of me with his arms open wide.  It was a beautiful moment but my brain had to clear the pathway before I could arrive there.  When I was done, all the thoughts that taunted me at the beginning were inconsequential.

No two meditation sessions are alike.

When the meditation newbie stumbles upon the magic stuff that is deeper meditation, the experience can be exhilarating, intoxicating, even addicting.  We want more.  We want it to happen again the very next time we sit down.  But while we may have similar experiences from time to time, each meditation is unique.  We can’t duplicate the time before.  That’s what makes it so exciting!  You never know what you’re going to get.  You’ll surprise yourself—perhaps, for the better.

Mediation is fun!

OK, maybe it’s not Space Mountain…but wait a minute, why can’t it be?  In a place where you can kick off your shoes, toast an old friend, and allow your subconscious to play a little bit, what else can be had but fun?  Sure, sometimes even with the dearest of friends the conversation can take a twisted turn but isn’t that just like life?  I’ll say it again—you never know what you’re going to get.  But without a doubt, we end up on the other side with more experience and just a tiny bit wiser.

And that makes the journey worth it every time.

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