Celebrate & Balance

The holiday season has come and gone and it breezed by like the wind. Parties, festivities, friends and family, and loads and loads of treats in the way of delicious holiday cookies and plenty of alcohol and toasting to the new year. I sincerely hope that you were able to celebrate and let loose as much as possible, but I also believe that for the sake of health there should be a balance of enjoyment and restriction. As a yoga teacher I teach people how to stand on one foot and put their arms in the air and how to balance on their forearms and top of their heads and put their legs in the air, but balance in life goes beyond being able to do impressive feats of gravity.

Adults tell children to eat their vegetables (hopefully) and we ought to remember that rule ourselves, especially at the holiday season when almost every vegetable in site has been corralled and buried in pounds of cheese and some sort of oil. Did I eat those tempting casseroles? Absolutely, but I also practiced yoga regularly during the holidays and continued to eat salads and drink a lot of water. I did not sacrifice one for the other, I thoroughly enjoyed eating three cookies for breakfast and sweating on the yoga mat in the afternoon. Waste not want not, we had a lot of cookies around, but during the other 50 weeks of the year we don’t.

The ball dropped in Times Square people and people around the world set intentions and resolutions, goals for the new calendar year. Often for women those goals are diet and weight based, which I have mixed emotions about, but if phrased in another way, say like this: Often for women those goals are health based, then I am all for it. Self worth and confidence should not be defined by a number on a household scale, but instead making goals to move more and feel better for the new year are great ways to move into the new year.

The way that I have chosen to stay healthy and physically active has been yoga. It consumes a lot of my life because I love the way that it makes me feel and I dislike the way I feel when too many days go by without practicing yoga, so much so that not doing yoga is not a part of my life anymore, I make time for it multiple times through my week. However, I recently went for a run with my husband and instantly realized that I am not exercising my heart enough. In yoga I teach students to not push their bodies into a state of aerobics and to use their breath as a tool to keep their practice safe and that is how I practice as well, therefore I hardly ever move into cardiovascular work. My form of physical fitness is very imbalanced.

When the weather is nice enough I commute to work by bike, so twice a day, five days a week I ride my bike to work pedalling hard up a small incline to get to work on time which makes me breathe hard and sweat, but now that it is winter I drive to work and am now lack cardio. My goal for 2019 is to incorporate more cardio into my life, even though I pretty much hate it.

Having a fitness and health goal for the new year, or at anytime of the year is a good thing in my opinion as long as it is a healthy goal and is not developed from guilt, but from a healthy consideration for one’s own longevity and quality of life. I know that the heart is a muscle that needs to be strengthened just like the quads and glutes and that it plays an extremely important role in my health, a vital role you might say, so although it is a struggle for me to decide to go for a run in a way that doing yoga isn’t a difficult decision but rather a happy one, I will still strive to do so, not out of guilt, not to shed pounds, but as an investment in my own future and so that I am able-bodied enough to hike mountains with my husband and our dog.

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May you create joy, love, happiness, success, health, and balance in 2019 and every year to follow, Namaste.

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Warm Up Your Practice

The days and nights are cold and the sun, although present, is not very warming at this time of year in the northern hemisphere. Winter officially begins on December 21st – the Winter Solstice, and until then the days get shorter and shorter. Then, like magic, they start to lengthen day by day in such tiny increments that it’s difficult to notice. Short, cold days can make it difficult to find motivation for fitness or generally rolling out of bed. To counter the chill in the air here are some way to bring warmth and light into your yoga practice.

Heat Up Your Practice

When it is cold out there and the opportunity to be outside is slimmer than other months, I like to turn the heat up on the mat. My flows become more common than a hatha practice and I add variety into my vinyasa with more strength than flexibility work. By keeping the pace up and challenging myself with difficult pose varieties the heat comes from within and in a matter of minutes I’m removing a layer.

Awkward Chair Squats

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Some easy options to incorporate into your yoga practice include adding squats in awkward chair pose. Stand in chair with your feet hip distance, on the in breath stand up and squeeze your glutes pushing your hip points forward (this builds heats and tones the glutes), on the next breath, squat back into chair.
Add rounds of 10 squats at the beginning of your three Surya Namaskar B’s/Sun Salutation B’s to create fire in the lower body. Move with the breath.

Chaturanga Push Ups

Chaturanga push ups, or double dips. This can be done on the knees or from full plank. On the exhale lower down to chaturanga, hold and hover there until the breath is fully out, on the inhale push down into the floor through both hands with fingers spread wide, and push back into plank. One is enough for me, but if you have the power and energy do two or more at a time. Watch your form and drop the knees if the body isn’t straight.

Handstands at the Wall

If like me, you require the use of a wall for handstand as you build up your skill and confidence to move to the middle of the room, then begin a practice by doing handstands at the wall. The hop up into the pose is warming in its own right and to hold and build endurance using the wall for balance will teach the body the tone that is needed to hold the body upright, upside down. Do not simply allow the legs to rest on the wall creating a banana curve in the back, that relies on the wall too much meaning that no engagement is occurring in the muscles of the lower body. Instead, move one leg slightly away from the wall, over the corresponding hip, then try bringing the second leg over the hip until you are in a vertical handstand. Likely, your legs will float right back down to the floor, if that’s the case then try again. Be sure to alternate the leg you kick up with, do not favor the stronger leg. Rest in child’s pose, balasana, afterwards for 5-10 breaths.
If handstands aren’t something that you feel ready to practice, then you can substitute kick ups from three-legged-dog. Begin in three-legged-dog, walk the lower foot in slightly closer to the hands and bend that leg’s knee. Come on to the ball of the standing leg foot and do little hops, kicking your heel to your butt. Land lightly! That is key, land with a bent knee and try to land as softly as you can. Do five on each side.
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Light the Way

There are times in the winter when a mug of hot chocolate and good book sound better than anything and the same idea is true of yoga. Sometimes a fiery vinyasa flow is needed, sometimes a slow, restorative practice with mounds of bolsters and blankets is what warms the heart. For these types of classes lighting a nice scented candle, or lots of tea lights is an excellent way to bring peace and serenity to what is already a calming practice.
The glow of real candles is beyond relaxing, but could be dangerous to have around if going into savasana, especially if you’re sometimes prone to falling asleep in savasana as I am! If you are going to use real candles, I suggest investing in natural, soy, hand poured candles and having someone else in the house when you burn them and practice yoga.
An alternative to practicing with lit candles are to use battery operated ones. I have around 20 that I bought second-hand for my wedding that I use for special candlelight yoga classes. Their glow is nice, although can’t match a real candle, the downside is the wastefulness using something that is battery-powered. Another alternative could be to use Christmas lights in your yoga space as a soothing form of lighting.
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It is easy to become lethargic on cloudy, cold days. To desire to bundle up and lay around, and although that is beneficial in its own right, it is also extremely beneficial to keep your yoga practice consistent through all seasons and temperatures in order to create a habit of practice and drill the discipline of rolling out your yoga mat multiple times per week.

Gift Ideas for that Special Yoga Lover in Your Life

It’s the holiday season, meaning that many of us are scratching our heads trying to think of personal gifts to buy for friends, families, and partners that will make them happy. Buying gifts can be fun and enjoyable or annoying and boring. If you’re running out of ideas for what to get someone in your life who loves yoga, then let me help you out a bit.

 

Class Pass / Yoga Studio Gift Card

Pay attention and get a sense of where your loved one enjoys practicing yoga. There is a chance that they have a preferred teacher or studio. It is highly likely that the studio that they prefer visiting sells gift cards and/or class passes. Class passes are electronic or are physical punch cards that give the buyer a discount on drop in prices. Generally the savings is enough to encourage students to buy passes instead of paying per class so that the student saves and the studio has . somewhat of a commitment from students of attending more than one class.

The best thing about buying a class pass or gift card is that not only are you encouraging the continuous healthy habit of going to yoga class, but you are also supporting a small, local business. Bonus! Many yoga studios are women owned!

 

Pact Apparel

These comfy organic cotton apparel items were recently gifted to me by my twin for our birthday and I instantly fell in love. For the environment and for my wallet, I try to only buy new yoga gear when I ‘need’ it, which isn’t often since I have a closet full already, which is because Fast Fashion is a major problem in our modern world, but there are some companies out there trying their best to practice environmentally friendly business and fair trade. Pact Apparel is one of those companies.

47379553_214234589468014_739410316865044480_nTheir products are organic cotton meaning that they are less harmful to the environment because harmful pesticides were not used on their cotton, which is non-GMO, and let me tell you, these babies are soft. I have worn my leggings to do yoga in, as a layer under jeans when it’s really cold out, to work, and to sleep in. They have performed well in all movements, and not so active movements

(the sleeping). This is a company that this environmentalist yoga teacher can get behind.

 

Hand Poured Soy Candles

Most people who practice yoga begin to learn more about their bodies, how they treat them, and what goes into them. That bodily awareness often extends to where their food comes from and to all aspects of being a consumer; it’s more likely to see a yoga student walk from the studio to the co-op than from the studio to the box store.  Awareness of a healthy lifestyle often moves from the yoga mat to the aisles.

In keeping with fair trade and supporting small businesses, a great gift idea for your yoga friend is a hand poured soy candle, made locally if possible. The hand poured aspect supports local artisans and the soy is important because it is a purer than one pulled off of the dollar store shelf.

Candles are a great gift for someone who has a home practice. There’s nothing like a slow flow or long holds with some soothing music in the background and a nicely scented candle glowing in the foreground. Just be sure not to fall asleep in Savasana, or at least to not be the only one in the house if you do.

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I hope these quick gift ideas satisfy you and the yoga practicing receiver of the gifts. Not to completely contradict this post, but remember, that the reason of the season isn’t to give or receive presents, but rather to spend time with one another, so if you’re still not sure what to do, the best advice might be to attend a class together, or meet up for a tea.

Find Your Tribe – Your Health Depends on It

Life gets hard. Life is hard. Personal struggles build up and then there’s all of the negativity in the world at large. Stress and anxiety are common and ever present in our daily lives, especially with frequent use of social media. Stress strains our moods, relationships, and health. As much as we try our hardest to impress  to the cyber world how great our lives are, how much fun we’re having, and what great food we’re eating, the inside does not always match the outside.

It is important to pause now and again and deeply reflect on what is and what isn’t bringing you joy and happiness. If something does not serve you, and for the purposes of this post – if someone does not serve you, then it is time to make some edits. It might sound slightly harsh to mention editing relationships, but we’ve all been in toxic relationships with romantic partners or ‘friends’ that cause more harm than good, in those cases, recognize the detriment and let those people drift away.

There are some communities of people in your life that benefit you and some that bring you down. We all go through different phases in our life – possibly partying when we’re young, settling down when we’re older, finding and dropping habits and routines. Scan your social scene and ask yourself if the way you’re spending your time is healthy and beneficial, and is there anything lacking or could you add more beneficial activities. You can go to the bar for happy hour on Friday night, and still go to the gym a couple of times a week. It’s not one or the other, it’s recognizing if some aspect of a healthy lifestyle could be added to your routine. Not just for your figure, but for an increase in endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin –  senses of pleasure and bliss through releasing of hormones that occurs through physical activity. 

Mental Health Awareness Month

Being a yoga teacher, of course I am a promoter of the many health benefits of a yoga practice. Through the physical challenge of the asana practice and calming control of the breath, a state of relaxation and calm can come over the body and mind. Learning and utilizing a tool that helps you to manage your moods, whether it is yoga, boxing, surfing, etc., adding or increasing positive physical practices can be life-improving additions to your life.

Not only does a new, positive habit aid your bodily systems – circulatory, muscular, etc., in functioning the best that they can, it can also give you a much needed boost of endorphins in a day to day life that is wrought with cortisol secreting activities such as checking how popular your most recent post is on social media. The icing on the cake of starting a new healthy habit can be that it might create a new social outlet for you.

The blue light of screens is blinding our eyes more and more, and while social media and modern technology in general have created whole new economies and kept distant loved ones in touch, they are also a major cause of feelings of isolation and loneliness. It doesn’t make sense that what connects us simultaneously divides us. Social media is the perfect environment for feelings of competition, feeling less than and left out. We’ve all had FOMO now and again.

Joining a new gym, trying a free promotional class, inviting a friend to come along with you and keep you accountable for physical activity, may also lead to meeting and getting to know others at the gym, or studio. Being social within that community may simply be sharing a smile and a good morning with someone, but sharing a neutral social interaction can often be better than none at all, and definitely feels better in the heart than a like on a screen.

It is not always easy to put yourself out there, especially if your personality is an introvert, or are feeling vulnerable – an emotion that is evermore common as we put our lives out there for the world to see every day, but by finding or increasing an already existing sense of community, especially through a physical form of activity, you may be able to stave of modern feelings of loneliness. Social media is fun, and can be interactive, but real human interaction is far superior.

 

Rolf Gates Yoga Workshop Review

My recent post was about choosing which workshop or retreat will be best for you and around the time of writing it an opportunity arose to practice with a travelling, well-known teacher nearby where I live. Although the teacher was quite well-known, I had never heard of him, so I did my research and decided to attend one session of his weekend workshop and these are my thoughts about attending a Rolf Gates yoga workshop.

From the description of the Faith & Flow weekend I had a hunch that Rolf’s classes would offer more than simply asana. In my research I discovered that Rolf consults works with the US Military and has projects supporting boys and men, all through meditation and yoga. This peaked my interest as service and karma yoga are two areas of the eight limbs that speak to me. The weekend description included meditation and lectures both of which he delivered in the module that I attended.

The three-hour workshop began with him having all 60 or so participants join him

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Seated, receiving intention

around his mat so that he could speak to us about philosophy, yoga, and life in general. From this I took away some lessons and put them down in my notebook to reflect on and possibly incorporate into future classes. One thing I should mention is that due to the lecture portion of the class there was a decent amount of time spent sitting. I presumed as much and brought a cork yoga block to use under my sit bones. If you are attending his workshop or any classes that involve long periods of sitting, I suggest bringing along a yoga block, meditation cushion, or blanket to use under the sit bones for ease of sitting.

The asana portion of the class was very similar in style to a class of his that I found on YouTube from five years ago. It was vinyasa and a nice steady flow. Rolf incorporated his philosophies into the flow sprinkling them into his cues now and again, enough to make an impact and still give cues to the flow.

IMG_20181019_210123.jpgThere must be a note made on the organization of the event and event space. Whoever arranged the workshop paid close attention to detail that I myself quite appreciated. There was water sit out in the hall with real glasses (no plastic!) and little ginger candies for participants. There were flowers on the sign in table and a bowl of cards. It was explained to us upon signing in that the cards were for participants to take and leave notes for the teacher. I assume they were for comments and compliments, which after more thought I think are a great idea. As a teacher I would very much appreciate instant feedback from class attendees. I had never seen that before and think that it was a nice touch.

All in all, the workshop was a nice way to spend a Friday night. A room full of local yoga students and teachers is refreshing and inspiring. Two other local yoga teachers went as well and we practiced together. It was a nice way to get to know them better and to learn and grow together. If you are considering attending a workshop with Rolf Gates then I would recommend it. It was a good blend of yoga, meditation, and philosophy. A nice balance to the heavy asana practice that I personally, usually practice.

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Choosing a Yoga Retreat

Yoga retreats take place around the globe, in Costa Rica, Greece, Canada, the US; most everywhere. At first it might seem self indulgent to gift yourself a yoga retreat or something that only the wealthy can afford, it’s true that they can be costly, but for not much more than the cost of a hotel stay, you get the added benefits of yoga classes, healthy food, a beautiful environment, and like-minded yoga people.

As a yoga teacher earning some of my income from teaching, it is on my mind to invest some of my income on the betterment of my teaching – this means attending classes, workshops, trainings, and retreats. Especially if you are a yoga teacher, spending to attend a retreat is an investment in your teaching and having a few days away from it all to practice and reflect is good for everyone.

If you are a yoga student who hasn’t made the leap into becoming a teacher, and may never will, then attending a yoga retreat is just as beneficial for you. Give yourself the gift of well spent time investing in your wellbeing. Treat yourself as memes on Instagram say.

What to Consider When Choosing a Retreat

 

Location, Location, Location

Consider where you want to practice yoga for a few days. Likely, taking time off of work and away from your family will mean that this time away is both a retreat and a vacation, so choose a place where you would like to visit. Are you a beachy person or mountains? Tied into this question is the question of travel costs – how far are you willing to travel? Remember to keep those costs in mind as well. Can you drive to the location or must you fly?

Take a look at the retreat center and make sure that it is somewhere that you want to spend your time. This website is great to find retreats. Once you have one in mind, look up the retreat centers website and find them on Facebook to look at photos. Make sure that the place jives with your desires and needs – are they vegetarian friendly? Sustainable?

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Who’s Teaching? Who Was Their Teacher? What Style of Yoga is It?

Ask yourself the same questions you would ask of any teacher that you are going to spend a fair amount of money on practicing with. There are countless different styles of yoga out there so make sure that the style that will be taught at the retreat is a style that you enjoy or have interest in learning about. Research the teacher on their social media and see who they trained with. If you can’t find the information, write them a private message or email and ask. They will be glad that you are interested in attending their retreat and should happily reply.

Find out if your local studio is hosting any retreats. It’s becoming more common for yoga studios to book retreat locations at beach locals for a few days to a week. To be able to go to a retreat with a teacher that you already have a relationship with and to get to build upon that relationship as well as get to know the other students that are attending would be a beautiful thing. Make your yoga community tighter. If you plan ahead enough you can likely benefit from early bird pricing as well to save some money.

Different styles of yoga speak to different people. Research what style of yoga will be taught at the retreat and how many classes there will be. If it is a new style to you, jump on YouTube and do a few classes to see if you’d be willing to spend the money and time to study the new style, just because it’s unfamiliar, doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy it. If you are a yoga teacher, exposing yourself to a variety of styles can benefit your yoga teacher toolkit and therefore your students. How much meditation are you looking for, pranayama, service? Do the research to make sure that you are investing your valuable time and money into the right fit.

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What Are You Looking to Gain From the Retreat?

The photo above is of Jason Crandell demoing an assist in handstand at a weekend workshop that I attended in the spring. That sort of break down to challenging poses and assists to utilize as a teacher is exactly what I was looking for. As organizers and teachers if the retreat will be geared towards teachers if that is what you are looking for. Likely, may will not be as they will not be considered continued education, but there’s no harm in asking and maybe the teacher will then throw in a few teaching tips if they know that is what participants are looking for.

If you’re not a teacher or are one but just want to get away for a few days to relax, then look into what other activities the retreat offers or things to do in the area. A retreat that I researched recently had a beautiful lake and hiking trails for leisure time. Check if there are any day expeditions offered or that could be added on to make the most of your time away.

Let Go and Enjoy!

Finally, once you’ve made it to your selected weekend workshop or retreat, let go of expectations and settle in to learning. Recently I was at a workshop and the teacher said that out of the hundreds of things that he taught and said only one may speak to us as students, and to accept that possibility and take that one thing away to incorporate into our teaching and daily lives. This was reasurring to me, because sometimes things do not turn out as we were expecting, but there are always a few take aways. At the very least, enjoy some time away from your day to day responsiblities, let someone else cook for you, and do that thing that you love – yoga.

Day Trips from Bordeaux – Bergerac

Bordeaux is a small, beautiful, French city that lies in the south-west region of France, you may have heard of the wine. Being that the city is not very big it is something to consider taking some day trips from the river city into the slow pulse of rural France. One such trip is to picturesque Bergerac.

Bergerac is quaint with gorgeous architecture everywhere (similar to Bordeaux). The town is accessible by car in an hour and 45  minute drive, or by public transportation by train. If you hire a car, then there are some fun châteaux a few miles from Bergerac that I highly recommend visiting, unfortunately, they are not possible to get to by public transport. A post on those châteaux to follow.

Bergerac

Those of you that studied French or French literature, may have heard of Bergerac in a French lit class, or at least may have heard of the famous character Cyrano de Bergerac. If the quaint architecture and cute shops don’t draw you to this little town, then maybe the statue of Cyrano will. It is situated in the cutest little European square surrounded by busy restaurants and an old church.

When you drive to Bergerac, park near the tourist office and begin your visit with a stop in the office to get a walking tour map of the town. They have them in French and English. The map displays more than 20 little stops to visit on a walking tour that lasts a little over an hour and takes you to old universities, statues, and the most scenic little nooks in the city. The architecture is historic half-timber, similar to a white Tudor house, but a lot more rustic. I read before visiting the area that in the past the space between the timber frames were filled with whatever materials could be found to save money and to use natural resources. They are postcard perfect.

 

Maison de Vin

IMG_20180904_123858.jpgWhile in the small town on the Dordogne, it’s worth a stop at the Maison de Vin. This little museum and gift shop has a some small displays and a video on the making of wine which plays in French and English, if you walk into the viewing room and it is in French, then check back for the English version. It describes the process of growing the grapes, harvesting (the vendage) and processing the grapes into wine. Once out in the beautiful courtyard, there is a wall of the history of wine from ancient days to the present, also in French and English. This is a great second best to those budget travelers who didn’t want to spend the €20 ticket price on the Cite du Vin while in Bordeaux. If you are looking for a spectacular wine learning experience, this will not be it, then you should go to the Cite du Vin, which looks great, but was beyond our budget and all of us agreed that we are not that into wine. Regardless how you feel about wine, I suggest stopping in to Maison de Vin. The entrance is on the waterfront near the river, there is an old entrance ona back street, walk around the building to find the glass fronted entrance way.

 

Chocolat Almondine

There is an old church in Bergerac that the walking map will guide you to. It is La Eglise Notre Dame de Bergerac. You can tour inside the church when the doors are open. Whenever there are open doors to a historic church or cathedral in a European city or town I go through those doors. There is always beauty within, with unfathomably high naves, intricate stone carvings depicting biblical scenes, and glorious stained glass. Of course, a self guided tour of a church is another tip for budget travelers, remember to respect any signage asking you to stay out of areas and remain silent.

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La Eglise Notre Dame de Bergerac is lovely, but there lies another gem near the church that is worthy of your visit, a pattiserie called La Mie Caline. I have to be upfront and tell you that this is a franchise. I prefer to support small, local businesses, but every time my husband and I go to Bergerac we visit this bakery and every time we have their chocolat almondine we grin from ear to ear, as much as is possible with a mouth full of flakey pastry and gooey chocolate-almond filling. Honestly, this was our first stop of our most recent tour of Bergerac with my visiting twin sister and her fiance, that has to say something for the franchise.

 

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Picnic on the Dordogne

End your day trip in Bergerac with a picnic along the Dordogne river, from which the region gets its name. Buying picnic supplies in France is simple, swing in any grocery store to get some cheese (€3-5) and fruit (€1-3) and while you’re at La Mie Caline, grab some baguettes, other options are saucisson (sausage) or pate. Of course wine is a welcome option and in this region you can’t really go wrong.

Take your picnic to the riverfront where picnic tables await. There is ample free parking, but the stairs down to the tables are very steep and fairly dilapidated, so use caution when descending and ascending. The view of the Dordogne is beyond charming.

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Long Layover, Lisbon

My husband and I recently took a cheap flight from Toronto to Bordeaux that had a long layover in Lisbon, Portugal. This was exciting for me because I had yet to visit Portugal or it’s capital. Here is how we spent our 20 hours in the port city for some takeaways for your next visit there.

24hr Metro Tickets

This may sound unromantic, but let me explain. Upon landing at Lisbon Portela Airport, my husband and I waddled around like chickens with their, well you know the rest of the expression, because we could not find wifi to get detailed directions to our Airbnb and we do not speak Portuguese. In situations like these, I always head to the information desk at an airport and I have never been disappointed, friendly, English speaking attendants have always pulled out maps and circled routes and bus stops for me when I’m unsure of exactly where I’m. The nice man in Lisbon carried on the tradition.

My husband and I carried our 40 liter backpacks to the metro and got in line. While deciding which tickets to buy we opted for the 24 hour metro tickets that worked on multiple forms of transportation and would at least get us back to the airport for our 8:30 flight on to Bordeaux the next morning if nothing else.

The metro in Lisbon is relatively easy to figure out, it’s relatively small, clean, and runs from 6:30 am (just in time to get us there in the morning, phew!) until 1am. Now the reason why a metro ticket has made it on to the list is because it includes rides on the famous Tram #28. I knew nothing about this tram until I started seeing pictures of it on magnets and T-shirts at tourist stalls. It is canary yellow and looks as if it is straight out of the 1920’s, and it very well may be.

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Although Lisbon was a small city and our Airbnb was conveniently located a 30 minute walk from the sights that we wanted to see, we still hoped the tram a couple of times while there, it’s a must. Having the 24 hr ticket saved us money in the end because each tram ride paid in cash is €2.90 ($3.36) and we rode the tram on two separate occasions during our quick stay.

 

Word of warning – it’s a bumpy ride so not for those prone to motion sickness. Also, not comfortable to germaphobes or those with claustrophobia as the drivers do not seem to have a concept of “full trolley” and allow people on continuously even if the tram is bursting from the windows!

 

Get to Graça

We had a kind Airbnb host who recommended that we go to the next neighborhood, Graça for sightseeing due to a famous church, beautiful architecture, good restaurants, and a viewpoint of the city. We heeded her advice and were not disappointed.

The church is called Igreja da Graça and it is free to enter. Like most cathedrals in Europe it impressed this American traveler with its ornate carvings of biblical stories and height of the naval. Not a lot of time is needed to tour inside the church, which is perfect for a quick layover.The overlook is directly in front of the church, two birds one stone, even better for a short stay and battle with jet lag!

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There is a room connected to the church that consists of the famous Portuguese tiles that depict more biblical stories and Portuguese history. Unfortunately all of the descriptions of the work of art are in Portuguese. Magnificent tile art can be spotted all over the city.

 

Wander

Lisbon is touristy, granted we were there on a Saturday afternoon, but the city was buzzing with life and it seemed that the majority were travelers. As previously mentioned the city is small, so wandering around getting lost is not all that intimidating. The city is fairly hilly, so head down towards the water or back up into the higher neighborhoods until you stumble upon a good restaurant or cafe. Being that it is steep, wandering down is far more enjoyable than wandering up, so hopping on Tram 28 is a good idea when wandering up!

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Lisbon felt safe, historic, and slightly tropical. As my husband noted it has a Central American feel to it, more so than other European cities. Neither of us could say exactly why, it could just be the weather and tropical fauna, but it felt relaxed. Make your way down to the port, have a seat and dip your feet in on a hot day.

There are food stalls, restaurants, and a large market near the port that reminded me of a mall’s food court, it wasn’t the most atmospheric of European markets, so we skipped, but it likely would be a good place to get food to go (skipping the plastic bags of course) and heading down to the water to enjoy.


 

No doubt there was a lot that we missed in our short stay in Lisbon, but we enjoyed ourselves. We did check out the exterior of the famous Castelo de Sao Jorge, but to save money and time we did not pay the €8 entry fee. We had one meal in the Airbnb that we picked up from a supermarket, the prices were cheap for cheese, baguette, and sausage. We also made ourselves get up from our afternoon nap and head back into the center for a meal out at a restaurant because we though it a shame to leave the city without having seafood, but it turns out that restaurants, or at least this specific one, charge per item, meaning each pat of butter we used showed up on the bill and what we thought would be a €20 meal total for two turned out to be a €35 meal, it didn’t break us but did surprise us! Not sure if that is common for Portugal, Lisbon, or just restaurants in tourist infested neighborhoods.

Lisbon was the perfect place to have our layover on our way to visit my in-laws and a beautiful re-introduction to the romance of Europe.

A Trip to Pittsburgh – What to Do

A few weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity to see my all time favorite band in Pittsburgh – Radiohead. I won’t go on much about this, understanding that not everyone melts at Thom Yorke’s drones, but I must express that it was an amazing experience that my twin sister gifted me ten years after our first experience seeing the band. Not only did we get to see an amazing show (2 hours and 8 minutes of crooning Thom) but we also got to explore a pretty fun city. If you find yourself in the Pitts in the summer, then here are some things that you should check out.

 

The Frick’s Summer Friday’s

Pittsburgh is an old steel town and remnants of that history scatter throughout the city of three rivers. One historic reminder of the city’s past is a complex known as the Frick. The Fricks were a prominent family during the Gilded Ages of the late 1800’s that lived in a magnificently elegant mansion that is now open for tours as are an art museum and a car museum. If you are a history nerd yourself and would like to do some research into this time of American history before you visit the Frick, then check out this interesting PBS documentary on the time period which goes into the history of Pittsburgh specifically; at one hour in you can learn about a deadly gun fight between union steelworkers on strike and those hired do the job that they were refusing which was orchestrated by Mr. Frick because the bosses (Frick & Carnegie) were denying an increase in wages and in fact were dropping their wages as well as trying and succeeding to erase the unions. They didn’t tell us about that on the tour.

As a self-proclaimed history nerd I very much enjoyed walking around the old Frick mansion and listening to the experts’ knowledge of the home room by room. And although I assumed that the car museum would offer little to interest me, I was wrong. There was an exhibit on how the automobile paved the way for the suffragette movement the US and the old coaches and cars were beautiful in their own right.

 

Friday night is the night to go to the Frick in the summer months. The grounds are open, take a blanket or lawn chair and enjoy a live band. Ground floor tours of the Frick mansion run until 8pm, but no pictures inside. Don’t eat before you go because food trucks line the way up to the entrance of the grounds, do be sure to take your utensils with you though, food trucks create an awful lot of plastic waste. Fridays at the Frick run through August 31st.

 

Walk the Strip

The Strip is the downtown area of Pittsburgh buzzing with expensive tourist stalls to buy Steelers’ gear until your money runs out and bars and restaurants that lure you in with their industrial themed interior design. Parking was easy for us on a Saturday evening and no payment necessary during the weekend on the street where we parked, from the car we walked, and walked, and walked, about 20 blocks until we reached our destination of an amazing taco joint (yes, it was industrial inside.)

Our hungry bellies did not allow us many stops on the walk down to browse shops, but my nose did perk up funnily enough right in front of a Korean market where an ajuma was grilling kimchi-jeon, or something close to it – Korean savory pancakes with kimchi inside. My husband and I ordered one, each took a bite, and promptly ordered another, the greasy, spicy pancake transported me back to street food in Korea – I was in heaven. If you like Korean food and markets, then keep your eye out for the McDonald’s on the Strip, the kimichi pancakes can be found not far from there at Sambok Korean Groceries at 1735 Penn Ave.

Most types of food and drink can be found on the Strip. We passed seafood, Irish pubs, a Polish diner, etc. At the bottom of the Strip district there are many theaters, check out their websites ahead of time to find concerts, ballets, operas, etc. to entertain you during your stay. In my search for things to do in the city I was surprised to see how much comedy was happening. Lots of improv and sets, find out when and where by searching Facebook for events in Pittsburgh for the time that you’re there.

 

Bicycle Heaven & Randyland

These two sites to see are very near to each other and are by donation. Bicycle Heaven was two stories and hundreds (thousands?) of bikes. Bikes everywhere. Old bikes and parade bikes, facts about bikes, bikes in trees, Pee Wee Herman’s bike, the list goes on. It may seem like going to a museum of bikes would be for the avid cyclist only, but I recommend visiting Bicycle Heaven for everyone, from kids to adults. There is no cost, but donations welcome.

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Randyland is a colorful background for countless Instagram pictures so be sure to drag your #instagramhusband along! Bicycle Heaven are conveniently near each other, although were not aware of that and visited them on separate days. I suggest visiting both at the same time. What is Randyland? Well, it’s a building that has been painted in vibrant colors and is adorned with positive messages for visitors. Some of the art reminded me of Buddhist temples in Korea and as a whole Randyland could be described as a little brother to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.

 

These are just a few things to see and do in Pittsburgh, and bonus, they’re all free! Perfect for a budget traveler. I’m sure that there is also great yoga in Pittsburgh, next time I’ll check out some studios and do reviews. Until then, history and art are pretty good ways to spend time when not doing yoga.

Teach, Don’t Guide

This is a short memo to yoga teachers out there. No negativity is meant by this message. The message is simple and differs only in verbage, while at the same time has a major effect on your students.

There is a large gap between teaching yoga and guiding yoga. Teaching yoga is necessary for beginners and students with injuries – most students will have injuries, chronic or temporary at some point or another, and often times there is no easy way to ask all of your students if they are working with an injury in a well attended class. In order to keep the students that choose to attend your class safe, teach them pose by pose, cue proper alignment and watch your students as the make their yoga shapes. Know that bodies differ widely and that your students may never look like pictures of BKS Iyengar or Pattabhi Jois. Even as a yoga teacher, you yourself may never exactly mimic classical yoga images, or to put a modern spin on it, you may never pop into a handstand the way Kino does, c’est la vie. It is far better to be kind to yourself and respect your unique limitations (and those of your students) than to push bodies beyond limitations which is when yoga injuries occur.

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How guiding a yoga class differs from teaching is that when a teacher guides they flow along with their class and neglect to give individual attention to students; before I go into it further, I realize that there are times when guiding is preferred to teaching, for example when a class size is large or space is limited for the teacher to be able to walk around the room. There is also the belief that guiding and demoing every single pose for beginners is beneficial so that they have pose-by-pose demonstrations to look at and follow along with. This is completely valid and something that I was taught and sometimes utilize, but I sprinkle my class with walk-arounds and give students further cues or ways to use props to make the pose more comfortable and effective for them.

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Teaching yoga is not a yoga teachers time to practice yoga. If a teacher is guiding because they want to have a good practice themselves, then they are doing their students a disservice. As a teacher it is vital to make time in the day for self practice and to differentiate that time and the valuable time that you give to your students.

The advancement developed through self practice will translate to your students through your teaching. As teachers practice, learn, and feel their own bodies they are better able to serve their students. Recently, I attended two classes back to back at a studio. One was for advanced students, one was for beginners. I can only presume that the teachers trained and studied with the same teachers at the same studio because parts of their sequences were identical, although their classes were advertised as being for different levels of students. Were the classes good? Yes, but I can’t help but think that had the teachers stepped outside of their well rehearsed cueing and taught and watched and adjusted, that the classes would have felt more genuine and personal.

There are times to guide and there are times to teach. As both a student and a teacher, I much prefer to be taught than to be guided.