Celebrate International Day of Yoga

Wednesday, June 21st is International Day of Yoga, or at least it has been since the prime minister of India  and the United Nations General Assembly declared it so three years ago. On that first day of International Day of Yoga in 2015, thousands of people practiced yoga in hundreds of different cities in many different countries around the world and did so again in 2016. Just the same, there will be thousands of celebrations around the world this year, and there may be one near you.

International Day of Yoga is a day in which people are encouraged to practice on their own or find an event to attend, the day is a day to take time to practice for health and well-being, and it is also the summer solstice – the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, which makes it a great day to practice outside in nature.

This internationally celebrated day, as opposed to other silly national and international days (say National Donut Day, sorry to throw a dash of negativity in here, but I do find it slightly infuriating that more people recognized National Donut day as compared to World Ocean’s Day  here where I am in the U.S. and nobody I know locally participated in National Ride Your Bike to Work Day, but there’s hope for next year and chance of redemption with International Day of Yoga) is a day that promotes health and well-being in yoga studios, communities, and schools. The practice of yoga is beneficial for the physical and mental body. Yoga strengthens muscles and increases flexibility in muscles and joints. Yoga is a safe form of physical activity for all ages when taught and practiced with awareness. When meditation and breath practice is included, yoga has the added benefit of calming the nervous system and mind and relaxing away tension. This is a day that encourages all of this and on which you can likely find an event nearby to practice at, in my opinion this is an international day worth recognizing and participating in.

Most events are free or donation based. Many are held in front of monumental and historical landmarks such as the Capital Building in D.C. and the Eiffel Tower in Paris (shown below). For the past two years I have had the good fortune of teaching at and being apart of events in Busan, South Korea, my old expat-hometown. I have since relocated back to the United States and am excited to be bringing an International Day of Yoga celebration to Jamestown, New York, it’s first I believe – very exciting.

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Our event in Jamestown, which is being hosted by Sun Moon Yoga, the beautiful, newly-relocated studio that I have had the pleasure of teaching at for the past few months, and will be held in the second story court yard of the historical building where the studio now resides. The two-hour session will consist of 108 sun salutations, also known as a yoga mala. There will be at least three teachers teaching a wide array of styles of sun salutations to students who are encouraged to rest in child’s pose or even step off of their mats for a rest and refuel with provided refreshments. Jumping into a practice of 108 sun salutations is a major increase to students who may only be used to doing 3-6 salutations in a class, or may have never even done them, so taking rests are highly recommended. International Day of Yoga is by no means a day only for those who practice yoga regularly, but rather it is a day for newcomers to try yoga, maybe for the first time, so that they too can reap the benefits of this ancient science.

Celebrate International Day of Yoga

To find an event near you, which may be occurring this coming weekend, June 17-18th or the following weekend of June 24-25th, simply google an event in your city, ask your neighborhood yoga studio, or look for events on Facebook. To attend the event in Jamestown, arrive to the Pearl City Arts Building located on Cherry Street between 2nd and 3rd a little before 6pm to set up. The event in Jamestown has a suggested donation price of $5 or whatever you can give (if money is tight for you at the moment, please come regardless and practice for yourself and the community, donations are suggested, but not required) which will benefit Saint Susan’s Center in Jamestown, a local soup kitchen that provides meals to those in need.

 

 

Teachers – Create a Community in Your Class

We all know the usual drill of attending a yoga class – walk in with your mat, take off your shoes, roll out your mat, either at the back of the room if you’re shy or a beginner, or at the front of the room if you’ve been practicing a while or show up late. Then sit on your mat, maybe stretch out a bit (before you’re about to stretch out) as you wait for the teacher to begin class. Often times it’s quiet in the studio, no music, and generally students don’t speak to each other unless they already know each other outside of class.

The class commences, sometimes without the teacher getting names, the flow is guided, students follow, it all ends in a relaxing Savasana from which the teacher pulls you back into reality and everybody silently rolls up their mats, exits the studio space to slide their shoes on, and walk out the door.

Although the yoga practice itself is calming and rejuvenating, in an atmosphere of solitude and isolation on individual mats feelings such as loneliness and anxiety can also creep in as a result of slight social anxiety and students comparing their body’s abilities in poses to the rest of the class and the teacher, as teachers we have a responsibility to make everyone as comfortable and at ease as we can, which requires some effort from the teacher.

 

As a yoga teacher there are a few easy things that we can incorporate into our teaching to make students feel a part of a community in class.

Meet & Greet

Get names. Ask names as soon as a new student walks in, shake their hand, and give them your name. It seems a simple and polite thing to do, but I’ve been to plenty of classes as a student in which I never meet the teacher and vice versa. Also, have students introduce themselves to each other, it may feel a little forced as if it’s the first day of school (which it technically is,) but by meeting each other relationships may build over the course of the series or if returning students continue to attend.

Definitely as the teacher you should know your students’ names to greet them as they enter class, inquire about their days, and to then use their names to ask permission to make a physical adjustment. I have even attended a class in which the teacher asked us to write our names on a sticker that was put on the top edge of our mats. It was effective for the teacher to remember our names, but I don’t like to be wasteful, so would not suggest to do this unless you are hosting a large workshop.

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Music

Play music before and after class. Even if as a teacher you choose not to play music during class you should have something on as students enter and leave to break any awkwardness. Like music in a waiting room at a doctor’s office, gentle background music can lighten the mood of the room as people enter. It does not have to be elevator music, it could be yoga music or contemporary, just be sure that it is non-offensive and not too loud.

Share Events

Before class begins and as you are waiting for students who are running late, introduce any upcoming events at your studio to promote and ask students if they have any events coming up. This is a great way to learn about things going on in the community and gives students to share any events that they are a part of or care about.

These are a few basic ideas of how to make your class feel more like a community. At this time of polarization and divisive fear-mongering, your yoga studio should be a safe and welcoming place, create that atmosphere as a teacher and keep spreading the love.

Review: Flying Tree Yoga Studio, Medellin, Colombia

Do yourself a favor and visit Flying Tree Yoga Studio if you find yourself in Medellin. This intimate studio is well worth the 20 minute warm up walk from Estadio Metro Station, address: Transversal 39a #71-85, Medellín, Colombia.

Please note, I did not receive any incentives for this post; it is pure observation and opinion. Some content was provided via email with the studio. 

Class Review – Yoga Flow

Unfortunately, my schedule only allowed for one class at Flying Tree during my time in Medellin. But, boy was it a class to remember. I attended a Friday evening, English “Yoga Flow” class taught by yogi Elodie Huart. Along with five other students, Elodie guided the class with vigor and flair, through one of the toughest yoga classes I have ever taken.

My understanding of what to expect from the class occurred as we rested in child’s pose at the start of the hour-long class. At which point Elodie gleefully stated, “this is the only child’s pose of the night”, translation: “get ready for boot camp style yoga.” The class had me pushing boundaries, overheating, and there may have been a point of quietly cursing on the inside, but I loved it! The class covered a few advanced poses (think, head stand to side crow) and included pilates influences (high plank ab work). With such a manageable class size and practiced students, Elodie was able to work individually with each student according to unique needs.  It was clear she wanted to boost each student’s confidence while guiding with her expertise and talent. In fact, after the end of the class she stayed late to work longer with me on my head stand, further proving that she’s dedicated to her students’ growth.

By the end of the night I was beaming with confidence in my practice and strength. I left with an abundance of energy and felt the repercussions for about four days, a good thing. The class was more advanced that I had expected. Therefore, I would not recommend this class to someone fresh to yoga. On the other hand, please get yourself to one of Elodie’s classes if you are itching for a powerful session with a talented teacher.

More than Your Average Yoga Studio

Flying Tree offers a range of classes in both Spanish and English, which immediately drew me. For a drop in single class you’ll pay $20,000 pesos (under $7 US dollars). But if you are around for a week or more you can up your visits and save your pennies by buying their 4 class pass (must be used within 30 days) for $65,000 pesos (about $5.50 US dollars per class) or a monthly unlimited pass for $120,000 pesos ($40 US dollars). Monthly schedules can be found at their attractive website. Classes are offered in three levels: Beginners classes are taught in the gentle style, Relaxing Yoga classes are yin and restorative based, and Yoga Flow classes are for those looking for a challenge. Another bonus of the studio is that they provide mats, straps, eye pillows and bricks for students without any additional charges. This is always a plus, but is especially appreciated by travelers – hallelujah.

The studio is more than simply a yoga space. The teachers lovingly host events to encourage local and international community. The week I visited they had hosted a “Brownies & Fruta” (brownies and fruit) night after their Wednesday evening class (two things I love!). Other ways they build community are through events such as: teas, potlucks and workshops. To me, yoga is community and an extension of the self, a way to give inner peace to those around you. It’s fantastic that Flying Tree Yoga embraces their ability to encourage communal well-being. A listing of upcoming events can be found via their site.

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The studio also runs an internship program for budding teachers. The program is a month-long commitment (I completely recommend a month in Medellin) in which experienced staff work with interns to find their voice as a teacher. During the four weeks attendees take part in: a two-week Spanish language course designed for yoga to expand their student base, plan and teach classes to the Medellin yoga community, participate in workshops and nurture the self. Check our www.yogainternships.com for full details. An attractive opportunity for teachers looking to grow and travel!

As if all of this wasn’t enough, the studio offers reiki and a variety of massages, additional information can be found via their site.

If you couldn’t tell by now, I was really impressed and happy with Flying Tree Yoga. The space is calming, the staff friendly and their community based work is what the world needs more of. Beyond the links offered in this post, you can find the studio on Facebook and Instagram at, www.instagram.com/flying_tree_yoga/ and www.instagram.com/yogainternships/.

 

DIY – Sustainable – Low-Budget Wedding

There are many reasons to want to have a low-cost and simple wedding, you may be loaded with student debt, don’t see yourself in a princess gown, or like us, need to rush things along for a foreign-fiance visa. If you are a bride or groom looking to save your pennies on your big day, then there are short-cuts that do not take away from the magic of the day. As just stated, my situation was that my foreign-fiance and I needed to tie the not in a three month time frame from his arrival on U.S. soil so that he could fulfill the requirements of his K-1 visa. We knew all of this after months and months of research and luckily neither of us are very fussy or uppity, so a shindig planned in a couple of weeks neither stressed us out or meant that we had to give up big dreams of violin quartets or three tiered cakes. We were however, quite stubborn about our special day being waste-free, ethical, and sustainable – meaning little waste, lots of second hand finds, and DIY.

Here are how we managed to make our Earth Day wedding as down to Earth and friendly to her as possible.

The Dress

18156349_1268217376630846_7658297236323043971_oI am no Bridezilla, but I know how important the dress is and after dress shopping with my mom and twin sister, I know now too just how fun and flattering wedding gowns can be, I cannot however, justify paying hundreds of dollars on a dress to be worn just once, especially not for the garden, civil ceremony that we had. Therefore, while my fiance was across the pond spending his nights researching immigration documents, I was browsing the internet for the perfect civil ceremony dress (don’t worry, I helped with the legal research, too!)

A company had been stuck in my mind since watching the eye-opening documentary, The True Cost, the company is People Tree, which I instantly fell in love with when I watched the film. They are a U.K. based, fair trade, and sustainable company. After browsing their site, I found the dress. A cream dress with a navy, red, and carmel floral print, boat neck, knee-length, vintage-style, organic cotton beauty. I shipped it to my beau, and tried it on for the first time a few months later after he landed here to be with me – and it fit! If you are planning a laid-back wedding or will be married with a civil ceremony, then looking at dress shops instead of bridal shops will save you hundreds of dollars. Thrift stores or a friend’s closet will cut the cost even more. My dress is of a much higher quality than most low-end wedding dresses (which are priced mostly for the “w” word,) because it’s made of a thick, organic cotton with strong stitches at the hem whereas many wedding dresses are of polyester and are likely made in factories in developing nations where the women who sew them together are not paid fair wages.

The Rings

My engagement ring is a family antique from my husband’s side, no blood diamonds for us! I can’t state how much I love the fact that the ring that began our lives together forever comes from his family history and not from a store (which really came from mining, which when you think about, is blowing up a mountainside in order to pry out it’s natural resources.) Not to mention, the idea of needing a diamond engagement ring is a relatively new one, women around the world got by without a shiny rock on their fingers for hundreds of years prior to the late 1940’s, but now it’s the norm – good for De Beers, not always so good for the savings accounts of young couples.

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My wedding band is likewise not from a big-name jewelers, instead it is from a smaller producer in California that I found on Etsy. My husband’s band is also from Etsy. They don’t match at all, but they are what each of us liked and they did not break the bank. In order to know my ring size for ordering I went to multiple jewelry shops to get sized, playing that I was browsing there, I then ordered from Etsy. The seller was quick to respond to my order and even asked when the date of our wedding was so that he could have it to me in time, which it was, and I only ordered it a few weeks before our Earth Day wedding. My ring came from this seller. Pictured is Freddie, practicing being ring-bearer with the pillow I had stitched him.

The Cake

I made it! Yes, it was slightly stressful to be making homemade frosting to then frost my chocolate, Greek yogurt cake with only two hours before walking down the aisle, but it was better, in my opinion, to make a healthy,  homemade cake than to make one from a box or get it from a shop. I used all natural ingredients and made it to out specific taste – rich chocolate. It must be said that making my cake myself was possible because I only expected a total of six people at my ceremony, that’s including the bride and groom. For a larger shindig it may not be so do-able, but a local bakery would be better than a grocery store if ethics and health is on your mind, however a grocery store cake would do just fine for a large crowd and a small budget.

I also made my cake topper which was Pinterest inspired. I used burlap ribbon, embroidery thread, and paper straws to hold it up. It was made with the same burlap ribbon I used to make my ring bearer’s pillow, so tied it all together, plus the colors matched the print of my dress. By making my cake and having a low key venue of my grandmother’s garden and kitchen, I was also able to ensure that our cake-cutting was absolutely zero-waste – no paper plates or plastic forks. (The cake topper we kept and it is now adorning one of our house plants.)

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Flowers

My mom and I researched wedding bouquets at local florists, but in the end I decided to go with a simple bouquet of tulips bought from a local grocery store. I would have liked to have supported a local florist for their skill and work, but it seemed to me that just like wedding dresses, wedding flowers are pricey because they are labeled to be for a wedding. The twelve tulips cost $12, the cheapest bouquet I could find online was around $40, and to make them fit in with our earthy theme I cut the wrapper down and wrapped twine around the stems. By the end of the ceremony they were very droopy, likely because they traveled in the car out of their vase, I suggest keeping your flowers in water as long as you can to avoid this.

The Groom

Rather than go out and buy a new suit or rent a tuxedo, my fiance wore khakis, a navy button up that matched my dress, and dress shoes which were all purchased from second hand stores; costing a total of roughly $10, but to be honest, that’s probably a high estimate. Everything that he wore he had bought prior to our engagement except for the shoes which we lucked upon about two weeks before the wedding. Yes, your wedding ceremony is a special event and a special day, but if you can come to terms with you and your groom wearing items already owned, then you can save yourselves hundreds of dollars.

There are many ways to save money on your wedding, especially if you have a civil ceremony with a low number of guests. Make your special day uniquely you by adding special touches that match you as a couple. Keep your eyes out in the months ahead at thrift stores and estate sales, or your friend’s and family members’ houses for items to borrow and return. May your civil ceremony be as romantic and cheap as mine, the two can definitely go hand in hand.

 

Come On, Get Real – DIY Beauty Products

The beauty industry is ginormous. In the U.S. in 2016 industry sales reached 16.2 billion dollars and globally was 244.8 billion dollars in 2012. We spend a lot of money on products that we powder, smear, rub, and brush on to our faces and bodies every day. We use products literally from head to toe. Men aren’t immune either; in Asia, or at least in Korea, the male beauty industry is one in and of itself, and men worldwide at the very least wash their hands, their hair, and their bodies.

Specific to the U.S., the beauty industry has very little regulation by the government. Manufacturers can put almost whatever they wish into a product to make it shine, lather, or sparkle, and nobody will ask whether the chemicals are safe, chemicals that we apply to our body, on to our skin – our largest living and breathing organ. The skin has pores that absorb what is on and around it, and although only small amounts of product are applied at one time, those applications add up to a large amount, day after day, throughout a lifetime.

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Many chemicals in beauty products (and in the plastic bottles that they come in) are endocrine disruptors, which means that they disrupt the endocrine system, the system of the body that produces hormones. Overtime, exposure to harmful chemicals can cause fertility problems and cancer. As mentioned previously, there is very little regulation over the American beauty industry. The food and drug industries are highly regulated compared to cosmetics and toiletry items, as found on http://www.fda.gov, “cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA premarket approval, with the exception of color additives.” When shopping for beauty products it is fair to say that we all assume that companies and the government have our safety as their number one priority, but that is not the case.  Beauty products are primarily made up of harmful chemicals, often times without clear labeling. Up until 2013, there were two dangerous chemicals in Johnson & Johnson’s “No More Tears” baby shampoo. Read that sentence again, harmful, cancer causing chemicals were in products used for the vulnerable and pure. And that massive change of re-figuring the chemical make up of the shampoo came only after years of hard work by activists, all the while they were manufacturing a formaldehyde free version for their other markets around the world. In fact, other governments have been doing a much better job at protecting their citizens against harmful chemicals than the U.S. does, for example, the EU and Canada have out-rightly banned carcinogenic chemicals from being used in beauty products.

Some chemicals are released by preservatives (as was the case with “No More Tears,” so are not technically added to the product, but do occur. Companies when pushed will often state that it’s ok to have chemicals, such as formaldehyde and the like in products because the level is low enough so as not to be harmful. Sure that might technically be true to be said of the small amount used in one wash, but years and years of use add up.

Chemicals to look out for when making purchases are dyes, “fragrances,” parabens, and triclosan, to name a few. Being aware of just these four chemicals, you’re likely to put back every single bottle and tube that you pick up at your local grocery or box store. I recently went in to a big box store thinking that they are so large that they must carry a shampoo without parabens and made with more natural ingredients, but even with a large aisle-full of products, I could not find a single shampoo that met my requirements. I instead had to go to TJ Maxx where I had had previous luck finding organic shampoos and soaps at discounted prices. I eventually went with a shampoo that was made in the U.S. and lacked a lot of the harmful chemicals that I try to avoid. Yes, I paid more than I would have at the big box 20170413_082220.jpgstore, but not all that much more because I bought a large bottle, so it will last months. When opting to pay more for organic food and products over cheap, chemical-laden foods and products I remind myself that paying more now is a lot cheaper than paying for health care treatment down the road.

Another option is to do some research and DIY your beauty products. This is something that I have had interest in, but never made the time to do. Fortunately for me, I have thoughtful and loving friends. One of my friends organized and prepared natural, organic, DIY face wash and toner for my girlfriends and I to make during my Bachelorette party (we did this activity early in the night before getting too wild, more posts about having a DIY, sustainable, waste-free wedding to follow!)

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The face was contained just two ingredients in the recipe – coconut oil and raw honey. We added jajoba oil since it was winter and skin is dry at that time of year, but I think that the recipe would be fine without it since the coconut oil acts as a hydration component. For the face wash you simply melt down the coconut oil and honey, if they are solidified, mix and combine the two together, pour into your glass container (do not use plastic!) and let harden again. While the mixture is melted you can add in essential oils of your liking for scent, but this is not necessary.

If you have never used an oil based wash before then it may feel weird to smear oil on your face – but it works! I suggest not wetting your face before applying the wash. Simply get a small portion on your fingers, rub between your hands to warm it back into a melted consistency, and apply to your face. Massage onto your skin for 20-30 seconds then rinse with water. Oil and water don’t mix, so it will feel as if there is still some residue on your skin, but that’s fine, simply dry your face with a towel and you’ll feel fresh as a daisy.

The toner was a mixture of chamomile tea, honey, and apple cider vinegar. You can find the recipe here, which was a little more complicated being as it has three ingredients instead of two, there’s some friendly sarcasm in there – pick up your face wash and try to count the ingredients, far more than two I’d think! The toner has a strong sent of the apple cider vinegar which is very recognizable, we tried to mask it with essential oils, but it still comes through; I’d much rather smell AVC than spray potentially dangerous chemicals onto my face, though.

The next time you find yourself adding beauty products to your grocery list, I hope that you will note to buy organic and natural alternatives to the cheaper, mainstream options. If you have the time and desire, try making your own. It will feel satisfactory to create something for yourself and you’ll save a lot of money overall, plus waste since most products come in plastic containers. On your path to purifying your home and body, starting with what you apply directly to your skin is a good place to begin.

 

 

 

 

My Experience Standing

Adjusting to a Standing Desk

About four months ago I started my first office job after years of chasing after little Korean babies and singing ABC’s with them while sitting cross-legged on the floor. I led a fairly active life in my previous role as an ESL teacher and yoga teacher. I cycled around 6 km (4 miles) each day to and from work, plus an additional 6 km (4 miles, again) if I went to Kaizen, my yoga studio, which I did 2-3 times a week, totaling about a 12 km (8 miles, I’m sure you got that by now) cycle commute a few times a week and always a 6 km ride five times per week. On top of that I  was chasing the children and practicing yoga, acro-yoga, and teaching yoga. I was active.

Then I moved back to the US. Land of the car. I drive everywhere here. To work, to the grocery store, to see friends, to teach yoga. No more daily cycling. Even if I lived near enough to work to cycle, the winters here are brutal and wouldn’t warrant a cycle ride. That is a huge decrease of activity each day. Add to that the fact that I have been working an office job in which traditionally people sit sedentarily in an office chair for roughly eight hours per day. It has been a depressing transition and I mean that literally as maintaining high daily activity levels boost endorphins, is a way to shed anxiety, and give time to meditate and think through day-to-day problems; I have been in a slump without my cycle commute to work or extremely active yoga community.

Coincidentally, just as I was interviewing and preparing for my office job, I took out a book from the library called Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World By Dr. Kelly Starrett, a physical therapist, movement specialist, and author. I could not have picked this book up at a better point in my life. In fact, I brought it into work during my initial weeks of work as I was working through the pages and read it at my new desk.

I should back up and explain that there is a new common believe that sitting and living a sedentary life through adulthood is deemed bad for us, and you don’t have to have a doctorate in physical therapy to reach that conclusion. Simplified, sitting takes the weight-bearing responsibility from our feet and legs to our hamstrings and glues, which are not engaged when we sit. Also, tightness in the front of the body increases because muscles such as the psoas (that runs from the mid abdominal area to mid-thigh) engages to pull our legs up into a sitting position. Most people find positions such as a low lunge difficult to perform due to this tightness. A primary reason why sitting is so detrimental to health is how difficult it is to sit with good posture in the spine, especially while working on a computer. I can’t tell you how many students I have that complain of low back pain, which may in part be due to aging, but I think we also have to consider the way that most of us age – sitting poorly in a chair most of the waking day and not moving well when we are not in an office chair (and then we sit in the car to go home, and sit at the table to eat dinner, and sit on the couch to veg out… lots and lots of sitting!)

Because of all of this, within my first few days of work at my new job, I decided that I needed to modify my desk situation in order to be able to have a standing desk. I got lucky because my office area has a desktop area for the monitor and keyboard and a counter top at about chest level that is perfect for placing my monitor on. Instant standing desk! Then all I had to do was adjust the keyboard and mouse to be at a correct height for typing. I modified that by using two plastic paper sorters stacked on top of each other, it’s not the most stable thing in the world, but it works with caution.

As Kelly explains in his book, it takes time to adjust to a standing desk. For the first few weeks and months I used my modified desk from 1-2 hours per day. The rest of the day I relocated the monitor and keyboard back into their initial spots and sat in my office chair 20170228_103448.jpgcross-legged, a position that is more comfortable on my back – I’m able to align my spine and ground through my sit bones in the chair (you can find detailed instructions on how to sit and stand safely in the Deskbound book.) Without even noticing it, only three months into the big adjustment, I was standing up the entire 7 hour day, spare a 30 minute break to eat lunch seated and 30 minutes of my lunch break that I use to take a walk outside. I’ll point out again that it took about three months for me to get to the point of standing at my desk for the full day without discomfort, so do not despair if you try a standing desk and find it difficult, give your body time to adjust.

If you’ve heard about the trend of standing desk and would like to learn more, sign out Kelly Starrett’s book from your local library, or buy yourself a copy, and get to reading. You can buy yourself a standing desk or spin the creative side of your brain and DIY a desk from things you have around the office already. Before you set up your desk, know that there are rules outlined to follow on how a standing desk should be set up for the most effective way to stand in order to benefit your anatomy and to not cause any unwanted harm to the joints.

Stand strong, everyone!

 

Learn How to Love

As Valentine’s Day nears I have had love on my mind and those thoughts have seeped into my recently taught classes. Most prominently, the book 5 Love Languages has influenced my thinking and outlook on love. 5 Love Languages is a well-known, self-help style book on how to save loveless marriages written by Gary Chapman.

Don’t let that description scare you off though, I would recommend this book to anyone in a relationship. It’s an easy read and at just over 200 pages, a quick read youthat could get through in a weekend. The first part of the book describes the five love languages with anecdotes of couples struggling to communicate their love to each other. The second half of the book is more interactive with a quiz to find your love language and deeper advice in a Q & A section on how the languages can apply to you and how you can apply them. And if you’re still not sold, Mr. Chapman has another book called The 5 Love Languages for Singles if you’re unmarried and not in a relationship but would still like to better communicate love with family and friends.

In two recent yoga classes I used the book as an example and compared learning the intricacies of your body through yoga as being similar with learning how to best show love for others. In descriptions of my class I tell prospective students that through yoga they will learn how to read their bodies; in other words, by being mindful in an hour yoga practice and by listening to just how far your body is able to go at that moment, a student will gain knowledge about the abilities of their body one class at a time. As yoga students we build upon that knowledge and can be careful with old injuries or tight muscles all while building strength, balance, and flexibility. Without this acute awareness, an injury could occur as the ego nudges us to go further, to get in the pretzel shape of instagram yoga bodies.

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Tune in and listen to your body.

Likewise, learning how your partner or loved one expresses their love is a practice that requires mindfulness. If you read the book, you’ll learn that the five love languages are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. As an example, say that your partner learned to express love by receiving, and therefore giving gifts, but your family was never big on gifts or spending money on each other so to you gifts are not important. When you fail to give a thoughtful (or expensive) gift at a holiday, or small little gifts throughout the year, your partner will not feel as loved as he or she could. Once you pay notice and realize that your partner’s love language is gift giving, then it is your responsibility to make strong efforts to change your ways. After expressing your love in a way that is thoroughly understood and felt the idea is that your partner will reciprocate. Make the discovery a dialog, go online and take the quiz and work together to best show your love for each other.

Again, this does not have to be solely for romantic partners. I used the example of 13603703_997196337066286_6480232972816819961_oexpressing love to pets in one of the yoga classes as a relationship that isn’t romantic. Say your dog loves walks but you show love with cuddles, that’s nice for you because you get strong positive emotions from the cuddles, and your dog may too, but that dog just wants to walk! And sniff! Make your dog the happiest dog she can be by making time to walk her. Give her a life full of love and walks. And don’t pull her if she lingers on a scent, let her sniff, because she may love walks mostly for the scents and not for physical activity, but the physical activity is a bonus for you both.

This Valentine’s Day season be inspired to learn how to love. To remember that love is a noun and a verb and to realize that the action of expressing love has to be personal for each relationship. Sure it will be more work, but it will pay off. Just like rolling the mat out is often near an impossible task early in the morning of a cold, dark, winter’s day, but the time and dedication will pay off with each effort you make.

 

Auschwitz – A Remembrance

Today, January 27th, is Auschwitz Remembrance Day/Holocaust Memorial Day. Seventy-two years ago the massive and horrific concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated after five years in 20160428_104418existence as a concentration and death camp, the largest death camp of Nazi Europe. It is recorded that around 1.1 million people lost their lives at Auschwitz, people whom were sent from countries all over Europe, mostly Jews, many Poles.

 

In late April of last year, I visited Poland, spending some time in Krakow. From Krakow, my boyfriend and I got on a bus to Auschwitz. We initially thought that we were too late to book a tour of the concentration camp, so we went extra early  in order to learn on our own before the gate shuts to those without tickets of tours. We arrived around 8:00 am and got in line to buy tickets as soon as we could, reserving tickets for a 10 o’clock tour. All in all we spent around 7 hours learning about the camps.

 

Before the tour we walked Auschwitz on our own and then reconvened inside with our 20160428_083822English tour, we received headphones which is how the tour guide communicated to our group throughout the day, necessary since hundreds of people were touring that day, all in different languages, we then followed our Polish tour guide from harrowing landmark to harrowing landmark.  Our guide stopped us outside the buildings and told us how the S.S. made the prisoners stand outside in freezing winter temperatures while they called roll, at times making them stand and wait for up to 24 hours straight, no food, no rest.

 

We went inside buildings that housed prisoners – prisoners whose main offenses were to defy and disagree with the Nazi Party, political prisoners. One hallway was lined with intake 20160428_090122photographs of prisoners, the last image of many them to ever be preserved in history. There were exhibitions of belongings that had been taken from the prisoners. The volume of the items piled up high on top of each other put into perspective just how many innocent men, women, and children were sent to the camp and perished there. On our tour I learned of unspeakable atrocities, of unthinkable “living” conditions, if you can call the labor-prison-death camp existence “living.” The masses of people who were thought of in by the Nazis as fit enough to work, or too weak to live. The disabled or injured were sent straight to the gas chambers while the young and healthy were put to tiresome, endless work, producing for Germany. The gate at the entrance of reads: “Arbeit Macht Frei – Work Sets You Free.”

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A display of prosthetics and braces collected at the camp before their owners met thier untimely deaths.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is separate from Auschwitz I camp. After touring Auschwitz I, our tour group got on a bus and rode for a few minutes to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. This is where the gassing of tens of thousands of Jews, political prisoners, gypsies, and opposition of the Third Reich took place. The dark scene of crammed-cattle-cars slowly rolling up to the main gate of Birkenau is one that many of us have seen in Holocaust movies. Scenes that usually include smoke stacks emitting dark, thick debris. Direct signs of what was to come of many in the cattle cars. Arriving by bus decades later I was aware of what took place there and I was shocked at how extremely large the camp is. The small brick structures that housed the victims go on and on in a square grid for what seems like miles and miles.

Both camps mostly remain standing, one building that was destroyed by the Nazis before Soviet liberation was one of the larger crematoriums (photo above, next to it are the cyanide-based pesticide-pellets that were dropped into the gas chambers.) Out of fear, the Nazis set the building to fire, but of course their heinous crimes were discovered and are remembered.

While touring in late April it was eerie how beautiful the landscape was, the grass, trees, and birds have continued on after the camp was liberated and the sun was shinning during our tour. The spring beauty was an odd juxtoposition to what went on in the past there.

The natural beuty of the Polish countryside that surrounds the ugly history of the big brick buildings is a metaphor to me of how we tend to live our lives. We are mostly distracted by the simplicities of our lives, our jobs and families, and we often overlook the tragedies happening right in front of our eyes. We put our blinders on and surround ourselves in the comforting safety of ignorance instead of remembering the genocides of the past and present. We look beyond the brick buildings and focus on the trees.

This post is short and lacks all of the detail that I could have included had I written closer to my visit, but I hope that it is an insight into the largest Nazi concentration camp. May we never forget the past; we celebrate victories and advances in society, but we must also remember the dark days of history, lest we repeat them. It is an especially necessary lesson to remember at these times of created division of race and religion. A time when many world leaders leave human rights and peace and justice behind for strict nationalsim and fearmongering of immigrants and outsiders. As one Holocaust survivor wisely stated,

“The Germans were well-advanced, educated, progressive. Maybe civilization is just veneer-thin. We all need to be very careful about any hate-propaganda.This is very important. It starts as a small stream, but then it has the potential to erupt – and when it does, it’s too late to stop it.”

Rise Up! MLK Day Flow @ embrace yoga d.c.

This past weekend was a long holiday weekend here in the U.S.; the holiday was in celebration of the great life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a remarkable man remembered by history as peacefully bringing attention to race inequality in the fight for Civil Rights and to beginning work towards ending segregation. Every January American’s remember his legacy and on the third Monday of the month schools are closed and adults have the day off from their jobs in honor of Dr. King. In many communities there are events that commemorate Dr. King and his life’s work; gratefully, while visiting my sister in Washington D.C. such an event was being held at a downtown yoga studio, embrace yoga d.c., and we were able to attend.

The class was entitled “Rise Up! MLK Day Flow” and was more of a workshop than a class which included a flow, relaxation, meditation, and community building. In the description of the class, which was free, the class was described as being held in honor of Dr. King’s legacy and was meant to empower attending students’ noble work in our changing world. Work that could be professional or personal, but all the same powerful.
The class was collaboratively taught by five different teachers from the embrace studio, which made the event feel as if it really were based in community building and collaboration.  It is enjoyable as a student to receive multiple styles of teaching in one class, because sometimes a teacher doesn’t jive with a student in terms of style of yoga taught, adjustments given, cues spoken, or levels of spirituality. In a collaborative class, students can be happy with the blends of styles and learn more than they would by having just one, solo teacher.
The teacher’s at the MLK class broke up their teachings to cover a warm up, gentle-modified sun salutations, a high-intensity flow of standing poses, calming cool-down poses, a guided Savasana, and a lovely meditation. The transition between teachers was smooth and each one had a strong point of view and confidently led their sections. Before the movement began an introduction was given which included a reading by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as a reflection by head teacher, Faith Hunter.
img_0025The heavy theme of creating community is something longed for by many during this tumultuous time of political transition in the U. S. The studio is located in the center of D.C., a city that is smack-dab in the center of the White House transition, or rather the White House transition is smack-dab in the city. The 2016 American presidential election was an emotional event for many because the country is extremely polarized politically, with Washington D.C. being no exception. An NBC Washington news poll claims that more than 90% of D.C. voters voted for Hillary, so therefore it is safe to say that there is a lot of unrest about the outcome of the vote and a lack of support for the incoming president, mostly due to his hateful rhetoric during the campaign trail, insensitive speech that is still being spouted via twitter and press conferences. Posters, such as the one to the right, were visible throughout most neighborhoods that I traversed while in D.C., there was a strong anti-Trump sentiment.
One idea expressed by Faith Hunter that got me excited was her insight that we are in a time of Siva at the moment. In Hinduism, Siva is the destroyer of the universe, and while destruction is often thought of as something very negative, it is also sometimes necessary. In order to come into a new era, the last one must be come to an end. Phoenix rising, you could say. Yes, it is a difficult and dark time to many in this country, but we must be hopeful and positive that the time of Siva will come to an end and we will reemerge into a bright, new era. As President Obama said after the November 8th election, “The sun will come out tomorrow.”
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The MLK yoga class addressed the darkness felt by many by taking a few moments in the middle of the class to have students voice their fears. The cathartic screaming out of fears, which seemed to be generally fueled by social injustices in the city and the country as well as race based issues, had the entire room of students closing their eyes and yelling out the first things that came to their minds as causing fear in their lives, many specific to the political change in their city. As loudly as they could, students yelled out  whatever it was that has been unsettling them. The small, intimate studio was filled with individual shouts by students. A lot of emotion was felt during this powerful exercise, and while it might be assumed that one of those most strongly felt emotions may have been anger about the issues being aired out, instead an emotion of relief was prevalent over anger. Personally, I felt relief in the fact that there were others, others around my age, whom practice yoga, and who have the same fears as I do in this country. It gave me relief that I wasn’t alone and then I felt hopeful that through building community and discussing uncomfortable topics, that we will be able to overcome hate and celebrate diversity.
Immediately following that exercise Kapalabati was practiced to build a fire, to grow strength to conquer the hate and injustices. Then the flow began to slow into a cooldown and ended in a group meditation. The focus of the meditation was on reaching out to others, to take this experience and go and spread it to those surrounding us outside of the studio and yoga community, to share our ideas of caring and love and to support those who are victims around us.
Yoga is not just a means of toning and stretching, yoga is a tool to better the self and the community. By practicing with others and taking the time to learn their names and their stories, we can better understand the larger community and country. By meeting our neighbors and joining together we can bit by bit get a better grasp of what’s really going on in this divided nation. “Rise Up! MLK Day Flow” was exactly what I needed to refuel my soul, to be filled with the needed energy to live each day from a place of love and kindness and to remember that we will overcome hate and injustices, one day at a time.

Yoga Butts

Introducing Mindy Sisco, yoga teacher extraordinaire, this first post, Yoga Butts, is a perfect post to have in mid-January, a time when we’re tempted to body-hate ourselves after weeks of holiday parties and Resolutions that aren’t always fulfilled. In this writing, Mindy gets personal and insightful about yoga and it’s back-end-benefits, that aren’t for show, but for strength and empowerment.

 

Many have lusted after it. Lululemon made millions off of it. It has its own entry in Urban Dictionary. The holy grail. The Quan. The Yoga Butt. Against all my scoffing, it turns out to be just as powerful as all the hype.

But(t) before going further, let’s go back. Practicing outside of a Western context, I’m new to the concept having only heard it uttered by a non-yogi friend last summer in Montreal. A Google search of “where did yoga butt start” led me to a string of articles about struggles with body image. This is particularly topical as of late in Korea as pop star, JYP, just released a song about butts. I’ll let you google that on your own. To even greater disgust (I’m looking at your Bill Maher!), afterwards he was chastised, not for his objectifying message, but that the butts he chose to lust after weren’t big enough.  Korea is first in the world for number of cosmetic procedures, a whopping 1/5 have had some sort of augmentation. In a place of immense competition and commodification, Tina Fey’s sentiment couldn’t ring more true.

 

I’m not immune from the sexualization of yoga here in Korea but I do have the luxury of being sheltered from it. This is based purely on limited passive exposure to media in my native language. I don’t pick up on ads playing in restaurants or images in print the same as I would back in the States. I’m lucky and thankful to be in these circumstances, this bubble. Beyond the bubble, it was yoga that gave me back some ownership of my body. It wasn’t about how it looked, it was about what my body could become capable of. Nobody really looks cool splaying their toes likes a monkey, but mine definitely outstretch most. And I love them. They are hands (feet?) down some of the most dexterous toes in the game.

I decided: I’m reclaiming it. The Yoga Butt is real, and it’s awesome.  When I talk “yoga butt,” I’m going past an ornamental accoutrement made to parade around overpriced pants. Sure, let that be the bait to get you there. I’m talking ass-blasting power that keeps your sacrum stable and you balancing on one leg like King Flamingo. I venture to say that a majority of people don’t walk into a studio seeking enlightenment. What keeps you there is feeling like a badass doing something in the skin you’re in – not 10lbs lighter you, not two inches taller you, not 20 years ago you, not fatter ass you – YOU. Exactly as you are, exactly in that specific moment.

To the undiscerning eye (I’m looking at you, Bill Maher!) my butt is more pancake that apple. If you ever catch me out on a Saturday night, ask me about the time I met Sir Mix-a-Lot doing a radio show. Suffice it to say I was vapor in that studio. Dumps like a truck? No. Yoga butt? Like it’s my job. Honestly, I like it. I feel kind of like a superhero- packing heat undercover.

This is 40 inches -around- of pure balancing power. Photo by Amy Brassington

Insider’s secret: standing balances.

For a big chunk of my time with yoga, both as a teacher and student, I avoided standing balances. I like feeling fire as long as I can move with it. Standing balances were like being forced to stand still in the middle of a furnace while being melted alive. First coming to yoga as a means to work out, I expected to move, not stand still. It took me 12 years to really gain an appreciation for this part of the practice.

The science: body imbalances between the front and back body.

The problem most common across the board is a world full of “lazy butts.” Office life and desk warming leaves us sitting. The gluteal muscles aren’t put to use and if you don’t use it, you lose it.  Without the support of strong glutes, the psoas ends up working overtime to stabilize the pelvis. Hip flexion muscles, the psoas in particular, stay in a shortened position while sitting. This causes tightness over time and can change the default angle of the pelvis. A “neutral” pelvis should tilt slightly forward with the tailbone pointing down. This is why so many people struggle to sit upright on the floor. This imbalance is the start of a world of hurt: knee pain, back pain, eventually spiraling up the length of the spine to affect the shoulders and neck. Time to put that butt to work!


Click here to see the original posting of “Yoga Butts” by Mindy which includes a short sequence that will burn your glutes so good. For more information on the author, go to the About section of the blog to read Mindy’s bio.