Happy Results from a Plastic Pollution Talk

After returning to small town U.S.A. after living in South Korea one thing that really struck me was the lack of recycling. At my job I noticed that there was nowhere to recycle, except for cans and bottles that were NYS redeemable. The exact opposite of Korea where they have really streamlined recycling right down to nationwide composting.

Back home in the US, myself and a handful of my fellow, concerned coworkers in NYS would wash out our recyclables and carry them home to recycle them there. Then, with the help of a kind-hearted, hard-working maintenance man at work, as well as my husband, I started taking the recycling from our admin building to the local transfer station, which is where people in rural communities take their waste if it isn’t collected by the town or a private waste management company. That same kind maintenance man informed me a few months later that we had switched waste management providers and that they provided zero sort recycling. Exciting!

That was over a year ago and most people were doing well recycling. I’d find the odd recyclable in the garbage, dig it out, give it a rinse, and toss it where it belonged at least once a week still, but the majority of people were getting it right, but it still wasn’t perfect. Plastic silverware and styrofoam cups were being used on a daily basis although we have a full kitchen (save a dishwasher, *hint*hint*) available for use that’s steps away from all offices and contains a surplus of silverware and mugs. What to do?

I decided to find an ally, who replied to my email saying others had similar concerns. We all teamed up and had a video conference about ideas. Zero waste my was primary contribution and it was decided that in order to ask our coworkers to make changes in their habits that it should be explained them why it is so important, so I volunteered myself to give my 5 Gyres plastic talk at the upcoming all staff meetings.

The first two meetings were less than a week ago and to be honest I was quite nervous. I have given my talk at places where people chose to attend and who were generally already aware of climate change and environmentalism, places like the local natural history institute and an outdoor outfitters; but to give my talk to a room full of people who are forced to be there and to some who might possibly be climate deniers was making me anxious, mostly because a poll came out saying that climate change is the more polarizing than abortion for Republicans and Democrats. 

My fear was unwarranted. During the sharing of statistics and heartbreaking images of the deadly effects of plastic pollution on marine life and land animals I witnessed shocked and devastated looks on my coworkers faces, it was sinking it. And it may have been the first time that some of them were hearing such information.

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Afterwards, a handful complimented me on the talk and some even shared how they already refuse plastic bags, bottled water, and one coworker asked advice on supplying a family restaurant with paper straws. Hearing that people were already making changes in their daily lives filled my heart with warm gushiness and melted away the nervousness I had originally been feeling.

In the days since giving the talk I have witnessed coworkers swap the styrofoam coffee cups for real mugs, noticed that the recycling is filling up faster meaning that it’s being used more, and have been told by coworkers with a smile on their face that they were rinsing out their yogurt tub to recycle. Things haven’t shifted 180, people still come into work with their iced coffees in massive plastic cups with big red straws, but not everyone has to go zero waste, small conscious decisions are a start.

Hearing the three coworkers’ stories about how they already hate plastic was enough fuel for me to feel really excited and happy, hopeful even, which is a difficult emotion to come by with ever more headlines in the news telling us how omnipresent this major problem is. And hey, the kitchen staff graciously agreed to switch to real silverware this year for our picnic instead of those bundles of plastic silverware, napkins, salt and pepper in single use plastic wraps. That alone cut back on a lot of waste.

What have your success been in this struggle against single use plastics? Please share, it’s these little wins that keep us going.

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No Pain, No Gain

This past week I started class by telling students that they were going to work hard and for them to remember that old adage- no pain, no gain. I admit that it sounds contradictory to what I teach as a theme in many of my classes which is to use the breath as a tool to protect the body so that you don’t go past your edge, but really what we should be doing in order to advance is to push ourselves just beyond that edge to a safe level of improvement.

Yoga asana is a practice of learning the body. In my practice that is quite possibly the primary benefit. The skill that I have to know where my hips are when I’m in an inversion and if they’re not forward enough to hold the balance is a skill that I learned though lots and lots of practice. Through injuries I have learned a lot about the limitations of my body from side to side, left and right, and how to modify my practice to make sure those injuries heal instead of inflame. And because of the mindfulness of breath and body work I can better detect when I’m getting sick, when I require more sleep, and when it’s a good time to push myself physically.

20160121_182214.jpgThe majority of my practice involves ‘basic’ or common poses – the warrior poses, lunges, sun salutes, forward folds; only a small portion of my personal practice involves arm balances and inversions, but I do incorporate them in almost every practice in order to evolve. Of course those common poses are the poses that build strength and awareness in the entire body which enable the core to lift the lower limbs overhead in sirsasana/headstand. Those basic poses are extremely beneficial. Lying in savasana for 20 minutes is beneficial. Skipping asana practice to recuperate is beneficial.

 

But it’s the gentle pushes and hard nudges beyond the body’s limitations that cement new challenging asanas. That being said, it is so important to learn proper technique and alignment because injuries in yoga occur and will occur more frequently without proper support and guidance. You can’t do an inversion without a killer warrior II. You have to know how to read that the back foot is engaged and the back hand is in the midline to also know that the legs are engaged when upside down. Sure those are totally different body parts and skills, but the proprioception skill is the same.

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In one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books he wrote that the Beatles were so good and changed the music scene not because of how much they played and practiced, but because they challenged themselves and the industry as musicians. I believe that the Beatles reference came from ‘Outliers‘ a book that Gladwell wrote about how the best of the best came to be at the top and no surprise a big secret was practice and dedication. A study was done at one point to say that the secret number was 10,000 hours – put that much time into anything, time in which you’re constantly pushing yourself into an area of gradual difficulty, and you will become great.

Sometimes when I post a fancy yoga pose on my social media I’ll get comments and questions such as, “Oh my gosh, that was so amazing, how can you do that?” My response is always to say that I did that with a lot of practice and dedication. A good week for me is to put in 5-6 hours of yoga practice on top of my 5-6 hours of teaching. That might seem like a lot (I’m sure many teachers put a lot more in than that, but I also have a full time job) but yoga is my passion, it’s more than a physical practice, it’s a lifestyle. It permeates into all aspects of my life and I will be doing some form of yoga until the day that I die.

Challenging my body into difficult positions is rewarding. I no longer think of my falls or poor attempts as failures but rather as the effort needed to one day make the impossible possible.

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Plum Village -Loubès-Bernac, France

Review of a Day of Mindfulness

Last month I visited my husband in the south of France. His parents retired to a small village north east of Bordeaux about 20 years ago and in our eight year relationship I have had the luxury of visiting that area of the world four or five times. On this most recent visit we made it a priority to go to Plum Village located about an hour from his parents’ home. A couple of years ago he took his mother for a day of mindfulness and has wanted to take me there ever since.

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Days of mindfulness occur twice a week, Tuesdays & Sundays; they are either held at the upper hamlet or the lower hamlet, be sure to double check the website for which location your day of mindfulness is being held at. The male monks live at the Upper Hamlet and the female monks live at the Lower Hamlet. On our early morning drive to the Upper Hamlet we saw a trail of female monks walking in the chilly morning air making their way to the Upper Hamlet for the day of mindfulness.

The schedule for the day is registration (we found nowhere to actually register and were simply pointed in the direction of the main speaking hall,) dharma talk, tea break, walking meditation, lunch, and break up groups to discuss dharma further. Upon arrival my husband and I both commented how utterly happy that we felt at the monastery, it was a peaceful, excited feeling that we agreed that we had both felt previously at other retreat centers and similar to emotions that I had felt at my yoga teacher trainings. You’ll think me the hippy that I am, but it was almost as if we could feel the positive, peaceful energy in the air.

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We arrived early so we walked around the grounds. It felt homey to be surrounded by Asian architecture and Buddhist symbols, reminiscent to our years in South Korea. The dharma talk was held in the main hall. The talk was given in English with headsets for French or Vietnamese attendees. Shoes were removed upon entering the hall, another flashback to Korea. The day that we were there the theme of the talk was the four noble truths of Buddhism. In a nutshell, the four truths are:

  • Be aware of suffering
  • Be aware of the causes of suffering
  • The end of suffering
  • Path of happiness

There was so much detail given on this topic. This post is not to explain the dharma talk, but rather the experience as a whole. Suffice it to say that the talk was interesting and informative.

The tea break was notable in that it was almost 100% zero waste. Loose leaf tea was available with nifty little single tea strainers that hung on the edge of your mug. Vegan milk was available and the method for cleaning mugs and utensils was simple, well described, and effective. The same method was used for the plates and chopsticks after lunch – a series of washing tubs and rinse tubs that you walked your dishes through. Then they were collected for a final sanitation in a machine. Compost was collected and I assume used for the organic garden on site.

We all convened near the temple for the walking meditation. A few monks explained that the walk was a practice of living in the present. There was absolutely no talking during the walk, instead of holding each other’s attention with conversation we allowed the nature of spring to be our guides. After completing part of the path we ended up on a grassy knoll where we sat in the sun for some time before continuing the walk.

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Lunch was beyond delicious. There were multiple lines to feed the masses, the meal was vegan and Asian inspired. Although the food seemed to be cooked simply, it did not lack in flavor. The eggplant was especially notable and the marinade of the tofu had a satisfying umami taste. My husband and I ate in the grass together and glowed in our blissed-out state.

Something that you should be aware of – throughout the day monks ring large bells that resonate throughout the grounds. When a bell is rung an angel gets… no, actually, when a bell is rung all are to find complete stillness and to move their awareness to their breath as a form of mindfulness practice. As I mentioned at the beginning, my husband and I did not register, so we missed the sign board on this. I instantly caught on as I was nearby a lot of people and did as they did (although it did very much feel like the zombie apocalypse had occurred) but my husband was preparing his tea and humming to himself. Apparently he did not catch on immediately and continued to hum and go about his task blissfully unaware of the statue-like people surrounding him. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall to witness him happily humming aloud at exactly the wrong moment.

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The Logistics

Plum Village is way out there in the middle of nowhere. Most definitely you will need a car. It is an hour and a half’s drive from Bordeaux, but only a 25 minute drive from Bergerac. In the summer there are frequent flights to and from Bergerac to multiple cities in England if you are holidaying in France from England.

Days of mindfulness are by donation with a suggested donation of 20 euro per person. There are donation boxes in the cafeteria.
My husband and I did not stay long after lunch. It was one of my last days in France and he had plans to take me to Sarlat, a picturesque, Medieval town not far from Plum Village. If you are interested in Buddhism and especially in Thich Naht Hanh, then I highly recommend adding a trip to Plum Village to your trip to the south of France.

 

Studio Review – Vision Yoga, Cleveland, OH

A couple of weeks ago I visited one of my best friends in her beloved hometown, Cleveland, Ohio. It was not a special visit in that I go and crash at her place probably 3-4 times per year to attend concerts, eat ethnic food unavailable to us in rural western New York state, and to generally spend quality time with my good friend and her very cool friends. Crazily, I haven’t tried out many of the yoga studios in CLE, until recently.

I had been wanting to go to a class at Vision Yoga & Wellness located on W 25th St in the western part of Cleveland since noticing it while attending an outdoor yoga class in 2016 at the Ohio City Farm, I just never got around to it. Out of all the trips I’ve made to Cleveland since summer 2016 I never got myself to a class at Vision Yoga until I finally woke up early on  Sunday and booked a spot at their 9:30am Powerful Flow.

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The studio’s entrance is a large glass door with their name and logo and takes you to a second floor location. After dumping my stuff on the old church pew next to the desk I checked in with the woman working the desk (prior to leaving my friends house I bought a drop in pass and checked in online to reserve mys pot.) I wasn’t a very good student and arrived right on time instead of early, but in my defense – my GPS took me a very roundabout way to get to a studio that was literally down the street. The way home was much quicker.

After checking in I walked down to the studio space which is a narrow room at the front of the building, past yoga supplies and merchandise that the studio sells. The walls of the studio are beautiful exposed brick and there’s a nice stained glass piece that I rolled my mat out underneath. The studio is warm and inviting with house-plants-a-plenty. At the back of the room there is a shelving unit with props which I helped myself to.

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The Powerful Flow that I attended lived up to its name. The flow itself was challenging and incorporated lots of back bends. There were quite a few of challenging asanas sprinkled throughout the entire class that were both playful and invigorating. The teacher offered assists which were welcomed and beneficial. It was the perfect warming class for a chilly Sunday morning.

After class ended the teacher kindly stuck around and took the arm balance photo of me, shown below, to promote an upcoming arm balance workshop that I was teaching back home in WNY and we also shop talked yoga, as I love to do with anyone, anywhere; handstand technique was discussed.

As mentioned above, I had noticed the studio while attending an outdoor class at Ohio City Farms, but I also admired the studio every time I went to the West Side Market, both are walking distance from the studio so an afternoon could easily be made of a class and visit to farm & market.

Through FB sleuthing I discovered that Vision Yoga teaches rooftop yoga classes in the temperate seasons (if you’ve never been to a rooftop yoga class, get to one) and also has a second location. Both studios have a plethora of class times and styles to choose from and like most yoga studios offer discounts to new students and give a deal for buying class passes as opposed to dropping in. I paid $18 for my drop in since I don’t live in the area. I highly recommend this studio with lots of charm and friendly teachers.

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Teachers Should Be Beginners

 

Most adults don’t try new things very often, that’s dependant on the adult of course, but in general we seem to stick to our routines. It has been told to us for years that failure is bad, and more recently that you shouldn’t post it on Instagram unless it’s perfect. Fear of failure is often felt when being courageous and attempting something new, say,  a yoga class.

Emotions such as frustration, comparison, jealousy, anger, and other similarly negative emotions are felt when our foot slides off our leg in tree pose and there is someone else in the class who looks like they could knit and do tree pose at the same time. I know this because I’ve felt it and I’ve seen it in my classes. In fact, it happens in pretty much every single class that I teach, I can’t speak for the emotions felt, but certainly not every single person can do every single pose in every single yoga class, myself and all teachers included.

That is why I remind my students over and over again to move out of the negative emotions and into a spirit of playfulness. Negative self-speak almost always creeps into our heads when unable to do something new and while witnessing someone else do the same challenging thing in a seemingly carefree manner.

Personal examples of things that I have tried in the past few years in which I have felt down on myself for struggling with include: learning to drive a standard drive, learning phrases in new languages, handstands, running, learning to swim better, learning to sew, etc. Luckily, most of those things I have learned with the guidance of my supportive husband. Sure, there were arguments, most notably during the teaching and learning to drive a stick shift, but mostly there was encouragement.

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As a yoga teacher I value those new experiences, even those outside of my yoga practice, because they put me into an uncomfortable state of fear, frustration, anxiety, stress, and doubt in my abilities which are the same sorts of sensations felt when trying half moon for the first time and during crow pose at almost every attempt. Facial expressions in class give me insight into what emotions my students are feeling and I try to lead them to positive optimism. I also remind students that difficult yoga poses are just that and take many hours of training and practice to achieve until the right muscles are built, awareness is learned, and technique is taught, then one day a pose will just click and will be felt for a microsecond until balance is lost, but the aha moment exists and suddenly the pose seems less evasive.

If you are a yoga teacher, or a teacher of anything to anyone – teaching your partner to salsa, your child how to read, you daughter how to knit; remember that trying new things is challenging and sticking to them is even more difficult. Walking into a yoga class and being unable to do 25% of the class might put people off from ever returning, which is why as teachers we have a duty to warmly reassure those that trust us to teach them that while many yoga poses seem impossible, with dedication and commitment the challenging can possibly one day become our realities.

Yoga teachers must be able to empathize with their students, but most yoga teachers have been doing yoga for a long time so forget just how much the thighs burn and shake in warrior two because it’s such a common pose that it can feel as easy as sitting in a chair to teachers. That is why being a beginner in other arenas or pushing your practice with new challenging poses for yourself is one of the best ways to improve your teaching skills. Empathize with your students in warrior two the same way that you would want empathy in tortoise pose.

 

 

 

Do Yoga for Your Mom, Your Neighbor, & Your Dog

I have heard it said, I have said it to classes, and I strongly believe that a yoga practice not only benefits the person practicing, but also every single person that they have contact with, in person, daily, now and again, passing by, or via a screen. This is not a truth just for yoga, if you do what brings you joy, then that joy will shine for others to see and benefit from.

In my case, and for many that I know, that thing is yoga. When I teach beginners I tell them that the difference between yoga and a general exercise class such as Zumba or Spin, is the link between breath and body. That’s usually where I leave it. I don’t dive into the mind and body connection right away. That comes with time and practice, but breathwork is from day one on the mat. It is through an elongation of the breath and concentration on breathing that the mind can slightly settle and calm. A deep exhalation releases tension in the muscles and the mind. By making inhales and exhales as long as possible your nervous system moves from the sympathetic nervous system into the parasympathetic nervous system, or from the fight or flight setting to the rest and digest setting.

You may be thinking that you never get to that fight or flight state of being because you have a typical life – work, kids, house, etc., but anyone can find themselves in stress, and I probably don’t have to say this, but we all live stressful lives even if a tiger isn’t staring us down in the jungle. Simply driving to the yoga studio and experiencing some road rage can get your heart rate up and quicken the breath, not to mention larger stressors such as financial troubles, work situations, or health issues. In general, our lives have become very comfortable and many of us have enough to eat and a rough over our heads (of course, not all of us though,) but our modern lives are still stressful.

There’s no denying that I am an advocate of yoga. As a teacher for more than five years there haven’t been many (or any?) students that I have taught yoga to and that have left high-strung. They may enter the sidewalk and encounter something that annoys them and go right into a state of annoyance and stress, but right after rolling out of Savasana they’ve all been pretty well relaxed. Concentration on breath is a skill that can be taken from the yoga mat to everyday life, a way to manage stress. The gentle and slow movement of a yoga class is also rejuvenating for most. If you’re someone that’s already on the yoga boat then you’ve probably seen those memes about yoga, for those of you who don’t primarily follow yoga accounts on Instagram, they read things such as – Yoga, because punching people is unacceptable.

Sunset Savasana

So, how does going to a yoga class benefit those around you? Well imagine a scenario of a disagreement between you and your loved one, a shop attendant, coworker, etc. and imagine that you have been practicing breathwork and discipline through a yoga class. Hopefully you will think to utilize those skills in the argument. Also, when you are happy and care for yourself you are better able to make those around you happy and to better care for them. Selfcare is not just good for the self, it is good for the whole. Even your dog. One way that yoga benefits my dog is through empathy. There are times when it’s cold out and I don’t want to go for a walk with him, but then I think how happy it makes him to go for walks, the same way that doing yoga makes me happy and I don’t want to keep happiness from him (not to mention the bodily need he has for a walk!)

There’s never been a time when I thought, ‘ugh, I wish I hadn’t gone for this walk with him,’ the opposite is true – I generally enjoy the walk, get fresh air and more movement in my day. Likewise there’s never really been a time when I’ve left a yoga class and thought –  ‘ ugh, wish I wouldn’t have done that.’ My yoga’s good for my physical & mental health and good for my dog.

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Where Did All of Your Stuff Come From?

This post is part two of a response to the nationwide, nay, worldwide, sudden motivation to declutter brought about by one powerful force – Marie Kondo.

Do you ever get overwhelmed looking in your closet feeling that you have too many clothes but nothing to wear? That is a common anxiety, especially for women, because shopping has become incredibly easy and cheap, meaning that it is guiltless and painless to buy, buy, buy. Purchasing a new top for $3 often feels like a reward, a treat, that gives the mind and body a rush of good feelings which is how all closet spaces, wardrobes, and drawers in our homes got so full of clothes on top of clothes. Did you ever wonder how you ended up with so much in the first place and where they came from?

Well, to answer where they came from and in a roundabout way, how you ended up with so many – all of those clothes came from lands far away. Places where industries are free to do as they please, to pollute waterways with dyes and chemicals and to pay labor as they wish. A much longer answer could be dug into, which will be done here, but not so much a big dive as a scratch on the surface. The thread from which your overflowing closets and drawers’ items came from is a long and winding one. There is a great telling of that story, where clothes come from, by NPR’s Planet Money from 2013 where the program followed a T-shirt that they created from seed to owner. If you have 30 minutes, sit down and watch all of the videos, it really is fascinating where our clothes come from.

In two words it is known as fast fashion, which is to say that is how the way clothes are produced today, in an industry that is forever producing in developing nations at low costs to producers and consumers, but at very high costs to the human beings doing the actual work. Most are women that are paid less than a living wage. Many of our clothes today are made in Bangladesh where workers were just granted a minimum wage raise for the industry of around $3.16/day, up from the previous $2.10/day. This rise in wages only just took place in December 2018.

Cheap products behave like cheap products. Shirts made from poor material with low quality stitching tend to come undone more quickly than durable, natural fiber materials, sewn with the purpose of a lasting product. Have you ever noticed that a cheap, fast fashion top doesn’t last too many washes before it pills or has a seam come out?

In a nutshell, the way that we consume now was changed by international trade laws, free trade, and outsourcing. Sending American jobs across borders to laborers who are paid less, although not always enough, as outlined above, and where lax environmental regulations equate to cheaper means of production, but with long term costs. This is not only true of clothing that stockpile up in closets, but of almost everything found around our homes. Cheaper, in all meanings, decor, utensils, furniture, etc.

A good sale feels like a win, but if the item bought quickly breaks or deteriorates then the value is lost, and honestly, how much value can be put on a cheap $3 top? Probably not much, which is why it got lost at the bottom of the drawer in the first place, it had no value. Plus, it cannot be ignored that, in terms of clothes, Fast Fashion items are not actually cheap, they have those, high costs that are felt by the laborers (mostly women in developing countries) who work long hours for little pay and have health risks from chemicals, dyes, and unsafe working conditions.

Learning the negatives of where things come from is not generally fun, but it might change consumer habits, so you’re not back to asking if this or that sparks joy in another 12 months. If you walked into the kitchen of your favorite kitchen and saw rats all over, you’d probably stop eating there, the same goes for the clothing industry and others. There are alternatives to modern shopping – clothing swaps, thrifting, and getting by with what you have. Those same principles can cross over to other home items and you get to keep your money in your wallet.

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This site has many more resources on fast fashion, just type fast fashion into the search bar to read more on the topic and how to shop in a more ethical, sustainable way.

Where’s All of Your Marie Kondo Stuff Going?

It’s all the rage to declutter and minimize your living space all thanks to a charmingly cute Japanese woman named Marie Kondo. She first came out with a book, ‘the life-changing magic of tidying up,’ three years ago and only recently did Netflix release a series on her philosophies and techniques. The series, ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,’ came out on New Years Day, the perfect time of year to make positive changes in life.

You’ve likely seen the series or heard about the phenom through news or social media. No doubt you have friends who have posted on an image of all of their items that they are letting go of bundled up in large, black garbage bags stacked in a big pile preparing to exit your friend’s house and life; or maybe that describes how you just spent your Polar Vortex weekend.

All I know is that there are piles and piles, mountains and mountains of stuff/junk/garbage/waste/clothes being taken somewhere as the realization has just struck that many meaningless things in our living spaces serve little to no purpose. You may have felt a slight anxiety looking around your closets and basements to discover that you yourself, to some degree, have the same problems as the clients on the Netflix show, trust me, we all do. Things acquire and it’s hard to let go.

In fact, most of us have that very same problem of having too much stuff, so much stuff that although an initial hit of happy-feeling oxytocin  is received when initially purchasing said too much stuff, that after some time we forget about it and the individual item gets entirely forgotten about because it is buried in a closet of hundreds of other items.

After piling up your clothes, books, knick-knacks, etc. and holding them close to you and questioning whether they spark joy, Marie Kondo’s signature philosophy, and you find that the majority in fact do not spark joy, then what happens to those poor, unloved things?

In the second episode of the Netflix special the family reported that around 150 garbage bags of stuff left their house – that is a lot of stuff… but where did it go? NPR reported that a lot of that stuff has been going to thrift stores.  That can be good, but thrift stores before the effects of MK were drowning in our used clothes, most of which gets put on clothing racks for sale for a while, weeks or months, and then sometimes gets shipped abroad to developing nations to be sold there, or sometimes is processed into secondary items for sale such as industrial cleaning rags or is shredded up to be used in homes as insulation.

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Both of those outcomes can be viewed as positive for the environment, but they are not the only results of people shedding their unwanted junk. According to this article in the Saturday Evening Post, Americans on average throw out 81 lbs. of textile waste (clothes) per year. That’s per person, per year. And that was before the Marie Kondo Effect, imagine the amount of waste being sent to thrift stores and landfill just in January 2019 alone, thre result of those that have taken inspiration from Netflix.

As you prepare to purge your closets and storage spaces, please be aware of where you are taking your items, for they may spend the rest of their days there, and their days are long if they are made of plastic or from plastic. Most clothes are synthetic these days, or at least partially, meaning they have a lifespan of possibly hundreds of years. That goes for your home goods, too.

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Follow this site for the next post about how you ended up with such a packed closet in the first place and life changes that you can make so that it doesn’t happen again.

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.

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.