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.

The Maloca: Types of Natural Building

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an introductory post about natural building, explaining briefly about what it is. As mentioned in that post, I have been very fortunate to have had multiple opportunities of traveling to multiple countries to learn more about natural building. One trip took me to Re-Green in Greece where I stayed, learned, and laughed with some of the most amazing people who I’ve ever met. While there I also had the marvelous opportunity to teach yoga in the stunning Maloca, which is the magnificent meeting room at Re-Green. The Maloca, is a round structure that was built by hand using multiple natural building techniques and it derives its name from the Amazon where a maloca is a long house used for communal meetings.

Not only is the Maloca a place of beauty and a space used for yoga, but it is also an exhibition of multiple natural building techniques. Each wall is built using a different technique and as is common in natural built structures, each wall has its own truth window. Truth windows are cute little peeks into what’s underneath the plaster. It’s a way for owners and builders to display the technique used to build the space. Generally there are small shutters or doors that you open to find Plexiglas which shows what lies behind and between the interior and exterior walls. The Maloca has exactly this on each unique wall, but without a door or shutter, it’s simply the Plexiglass displaying what’s really there.

One wall shows straw bale, another rammed earth, there’s earthen bags, and straw clay, plus cord wood,  and adobe brick. That is six examples of natural building in one 100 sq meter beauty of a building. The quite literal icing on the cake is the masterfully constructed reciprocal roof, pictured as the feature image and below (it’s so beautiful I had to show it twice.)

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To break down those techniques a little more here is an outline of each of the six techniques displayed in each of the Maloca’s truth windows.

Straw Bails

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Straw bales

Straw Bail houses and buildings are becoming somewhat more known in the U.S. and the rest of the globe. They are as they sound, houses built of straw bales – Three Little Pigs style, I’m sure one of them made a house out of straw! Well these walls won’t be blown down by a nasty wolf nor a nasty north wind. As you may have guessed, the walls are thick, as thick as a straw bail as a matter of fact! Now of course there’s more to it than stacking bails on top of each other into the shape of a house. To finish the walls earthen plaster (mud) is applied to the exterior and interior. This keeps the critters out.

Straw Clay

Straw clay is likewise made from straw, but this time the bails are deconstructed and the straw is blended right into the mud-clay mix, either by hand, taking handfuls of loose straw and drenching it in the mud mix, or by mixing it with machinery. A structure must be built first in order to hold the straw-dipped material inside. The wood is put together so that there is a hollow space in the middle where the straw clay will be packed, and it must be packed tightly or hollow spaces will be left, where those same nasty critters could burrow in through the tiniest of holes in the external wall; trust me, you don’t want squirrel pee soaking in to your living room wall! Pack it tight!

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Straw clay

Rammed Earth

A rammed earth wall is a show piece of a natural home. Rammed earth is layers of soil and clay rammed down hard so that it becomes sturdy and permanent. Did you ever go to a state fair and fill a glass jar or vase with different colors of sand through a funnel to make an elementary master piece? Well, that’s pretty much what rammed earth looks like. Layers of earth-tones on top of each other. These walls take a lot of time and brawny muscles, so an entire house is not likely to have all of its walls made like this, but an island in a kitchen or a wall near a fire-place could be examples of ways to use rammed earth as show pieces. Structural and beautiful all in one.

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Central, under the window, is rammed earth, shame that it’s not a closer shot as you miss the beauty. To the left is clay brick.

Clay Bricks

Clay bricks are commonly known in the U.S. as adobe. These types of buildings are, or were, prevalent in the south-western United States. These are bricks made from clay that are molded or formed and then dried in the sun. they then are mortared together to form walls. Unlike hobbit-house straw bale houses, which are more organic in shape and can look like they’ve come straight out of Middle-Earth; adobe walls tend to be straighter and more uniform. Adobe is also good for building more complicated forms such as arches.

Cord Wood 20160420_090612

Imagine a big tree that’s been timbered and the logger starts to cut the tree like slices of bread creating great big circular remnants of the tree. Now imagine that those pieces of the tree are inserted into a wall, that’s what cord wood looks like, although of course the cord wood isn’t just inserted into the wall, it is inlaid slowly as the wall is built. Cord wood structures are quaint and very reminiscent of the nature from which the wood has been derived. One thing to know about building with pieces of a tree is that wood moves, breathes, and contracts with the weather, so gaps may form if the malleability of the wood is not kept in mind while building. You can see an example of a cord wood wall behind the gang of us after a morning yoga class at Re-Green, a superb backdrop for any photo.

Earth Bags

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Earth bags just behind this gal doing a handstand.

Earth bags are large bags filled with soil then piled on top of each other to build a wall. This is a form of natural building that is quick and relatively easy, although of course, some building knowledge is required. The gags are filled with earth that contains some amount of clay or another substance such as volcanic rock. This is a good technique to use if your build site does not contain much clay, as less is needed. Of course the major elephant in the room is the bag which the earth fills. The bags are as most bags are in our modern world – plastic. Now you know how I detest plastic bags, so I would not choose to build with earth bags if I could build anoterh way, but I understand that using earth bags is the lesser of the two evils when the alternative is to use conventional building supplies that have more chemicals and are likely not produced localy.

 

And there you have it, the techniques used to build the sacred space that is the Maloca at Re-Green, Greece. There is a lot more to say about each and all of these styles of natural building. For now I’ll let you day-dream over your little hobbit house, a great day dream to have as winter surrounds us. Just picture sitting by the wood stove, wrapped in a blanket (or not, these houses are energy efficient, but the blanket helps the vision of coziness I’m going for here,) sipping tea, reading a book with your dog at your feet inside the natural house that you built with your own hands. What a dream, and it’s a dream that becomes more and more realistic the more you learn about natural building. I can almost guarantee that once you get your hands in the dirt, you’ll be back for more, just as I was.

I hope that these photos of the Maloca have directed your day-dream in the right direction. Keep following this blog for more information on natural building and other things natural and yoga.

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Manifest Your Destiny, Set a Meaningful & Successful Resolution for 2017

The new year is approaching quickly. Now is a time to look back at the past twelve months and appreciate all that was good and learn lessons from the bad in order to switch out bad habits for good. Changing habits is extremely difficult, so take advantage of the New Year to motivate you into making some healthy resolutions. Read on for some simple tips to get you started on your resolutions and to come back to when the going gets tough later in the year.

 

Think Hard About Your Resolution

If you’re serious about starting 2017 in a healthier way, then take the setting of your resolutions seriously. Meditate on what your change will be. Sit in silence and bring your mind to focus on what would really serve you best. If you already have a yoga practice, then do this thinking after a strong yoga asana practice when your mind is clear of all of it’s normal, monkey-mind clutter. If meditating is not your thing (yet, maybe a goal for 2017?) then do a simple brain storm on paper to discover what change will be best for you in the coming year.

Share It

Once you have your goal in mind then be brave and share it with someone. It might feel vulnerable to do so, but by sharing your change with a friend or family member you will begin to turn the wheels on your new habit. Having someone else know about your goal will motivate you to put it into action, if you tell someone and it never materializes, then you might feel embarrassed about not pulling through with your commitment. The person who you inform can also act as a motivator by asking about your progress now and again. Plus, you never know, maybe your friend has been wanting to make the same changes in their life and you could be the nudge they needed to take the plunge. Two people tackling a new healthy habit together are much more likely to succeed than just one.

Start Small

Changing habits is tough, to make things easier on yourself start small. Let’s use yoga as an example. If your yoga practice has ebbed and flowed, being strong and nonexistent in 2016 and your goal for the new year is to get a consistent, strong practice back, then start small. The long-term goal might be to practice for an hour, 5x /week, but that is a major change in your schedule to begin on January 1st. Be more realistic by starting small. Instead of trying to do an hour practice every day, start by making the time in your schedule to do 20 or 30 minute practices a few times a week. It will be easier on your body and on your ego, for if you start big and fail, then you may not get the energy to try again later in the year. And by starting small you can gradually build up to your bigger goal.

 

I hope these simple tips can get you excited to make change for the better for your health and yourself in 2016. Whether you want to increase your practice, get your arm balances down, or give up carbs, meditating on your change, sharing it, and starting small will help you achieve your end result. Have a safe, happy, and healthy New Year!


 

Join me for a Flow into the New Year yoga workshop in Jamestown, NY on Saturday, December 31st from 2-4 pm. For more details follow the sidebar link to Kara Bemis Yoga Facebook page.

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Long Distance Relationships – How to Deal

Living far away from home means that many relationships will be strained. Not simply romantic relationships either but family and friendships, too. Being a good daughter or friend is hard to do when you live geographically near to a person, it involves a lot of effort to visit, make phone calls, and to truly listen and be involved in the other person’s life. To be present in any relationship is a skill that is often left by the way side for Facebook feeds and other modern-day distractions. When you add distance to the mix it can be a time zone challenge to strongly maintain the relationships you leave behind.

I have been in a long distance relationship since 2010 and I have lived away from my friends and family for years at a time. Fortunately, my romantic relationship is not always long distance. We are an international couple that met while teaching in Korea, so things have always been about visas and passport stamps. In my view, I am extremely lucky for this, for even though we sacrifice not being able to physically live near to one another, we make up for it in adventures to far away locations, and we have mapped out our lives to be able to spend long spans of time together throughout the years. Reversely though while we were happily living and exploring the world together I had to give up being near to my family and he away from his, it has been years of trade-offs.

When we are apart we have had to adapt our relationship by being flexible and understanding. If you find yourself accepting a job far away from those you love, know that it will take exactly that – adaptability and flexibility. After years of living through distance, here are some tips of advice to get you through the miles apart.

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Learn Each Other’s Schedules

It takes time to get used to time zone differences. While living abroad in Korea I had to constantly know what time it was in the U.S. and remind my family of the 14 hour time difference so that we could organize Skype calls. In my first year when I was younger and enjoying Korea’s endless nightlife (quite literally the nightlife is endless because the bars don’t close until the people leave) I would phone my sister in the U.S. after returning from a night out at 4 or 5 am Korean time because I was tipsy and homesick and it made sense being that it was 2 or 3 pm on Saturday there. Drunk dialing my sister became normal.

Be sure to update your loved ones when your schedule changes. If say you get a new job, take on more work, or have any other consistent change in your day-to-day schedule. Especially when working on a romantic, long distance relationship it is vital to update your partner on even minor changes. And therefore you will expect your partner to do the same, but sometimes we forget to inform and if that happens, talk it through and be forgiving.

Work Around Each Other

At this very moment I am doing long distance. Due to my work schedule the best time for us to speak is the last half hour of my lunch break at work. That time works because it’s mid-evening in Europe for him, so every day I tell him what time I’m going to take lunch, I quickly eat, and await his call. Once he rings, I bundle up and go for a walk while we talk for 30 minutes before returning to work. Speaking to your partner for 30 minutes a day is not a lot. We message each other throughout the day to supplement and sometimes he stays up late so I can call him when I finish work. It’s not ideal, but it’s wast we have to do.

Sometimes things don’t work out and a call doesn’t get made or it gets made late, which isn’t a big deal generally, but it is when you only have those precious 30 minutes and I’ll admit that the first emotion that I feel is usually anger. Generally I express my anger, we talk about the perfectly logical reason why the call was late, and then it’s forgotten. I typically apologize for my reaction and things are fine. You have to understand when you’re in a long distance relationship that your partner is living their life, taking care of things that come up, and interacting with people who are physically near to them. While respecting schedules is important, it is just as important to allow your partner personal time and the right to live in the moment.

Live in the Present, Keep Busy

A lot of people have questioned how I can live so far away from someone who I love and I always give them the same answer,which is that I keep busy. I try to pick up my hobbies more strongly; I practice more yoga, read more books, and spend time with friends. The same was true in Korea when I was homesick for my family, it was very difficult the first year, but with time I made Korea my home and tried to live less in the past. I’m not saying of course that my family was my past, but it was absolutely necessary to be present where I was and to form relationships there so that I could thrive and be happy.

If you’re struggling and feeling lonely in a new setting then the best advice I could give you would be to get involved in the local community. Seek out culture, music, meet-up groups, yoga studios, etc. that will keep you busy and help you feel a part of the community. Loneliness and homesickness will dissipate when you feel a part of you new surroundings.

Keep Those Far Away Involved

Once you start doing all these fun new things be sure to include those back home by sending updates. Send messages on social media, blog, or go old school and write some post cards. For romantic relationships I suggest sending loads of updates, even those that are thought of as mundane. My boyfriend and I send pictures of our pets, food, clothes, the weather, anything. I’ll admit he’s much better at updating me than I am him, and I very much appreciate knowing what his day-to-day life is like without me there. Having the constant updates also makes conversations flow more smoothly since the evidence of everyday life has been seen and will more likely be remembered.

When living far away from loved ones try your best to listen well to even all of the details of their daily lives. It might seem boring to hear who your mom saw at the store yesterday, but you would want her to care about the interesting food you ate in your new foreign country, too. Both conversations are the same in that the other person can not personally relate to what is being said by the other, but try as hard as you can to show interest, to ask questions, and to stay informed on what’s going on in each others’ lives.

 

Living far away from home is tough. It’s super hard at the beginning and with time it is less hard, but it’s always difficult. In order to maintain your relationships you must put in the effort, make sacrifices, and communicate often. In all honesty I am so grateful for my long distance relationship because it has filled my life with adventure and travel. I have a family in America and a family in Europe, and not many people can say that. Sure it’s difficult, but the hard work pays off.

 

 

Come On, Get Real – Pranic Food

I wrote a few weeks ago about trying to eat as many whole foods in my diet as I can and to try my best (it’s not always easy) to steer clear of processed food. There are definitely nutritional reasons to do this. Food that comes in boxes, cans, jars, and bags may resemble what they’re striving to be, or may very well be a frozen or only semi-processed version of what’s pictured on the label, but some processed foods are far and removed from real food. Take Lucky Charms as an example: the carbohydrate cereal part is an odd, cardboard color and the “marshmallows!” From my memory of being younger, I remember those marshmallows being hard to the bite, much unlike an actual marshmallow, and dying the milk all sorts of shades of pastel. I think we can all agree that Lucky Charms and other such sugary, grainy, processed cereals and food are very much unlike real food and therefore if placed on a scale would rate very low as to how much energy, or prana, that they provide the body.

For those of you who are unaware of prana, it is commonly translated into English as “Life Force Energy,” or more to the point as energy. Primarily prana is used to refer to the energy that is sent throughout the body by use of the breath. You may hear yoga teachers say something along the lines of, “Use your breath to send prana into all areas of your body.” Pranayama is the Sanskrit word meaning “control of the life force” and in yoga class is used to describe an array of various breathing techniques to utilize for a more advanced yoga practice, for as we know, yoga is a heck of a lot more than just asana (physical posture.)

Now, when it comes to diet and prana, then prana is the energy provided to our bodies by means of nutrition, and not all foods are created equally when it comes to nutritional value. And if you’ve studied Ayurveda at all then you’ve heard of the three doshas, (I’m afraid that that’s too deep for me to include in this post and would be better left to a person more versed in Ayurveda than I) and in order to create balance in the body and in life, then each blend of the doshas should eat foods specific to their doshas, but again, that is for another post and I don’t want to lose you, but you can’t very well write a post about Ayurveda and not include a mention of the doshas. I want to be much broader here and think of food in terms of its energy value, and I’m not talking about a caloric number.

Consider when you grocery shop, eat out, or prepare a meal how much prana, or energy that the food you are preparing and eating has within. Now I know what some of you are thinking, “Wow, this is some hippy-woo-woo crazy talk!” but stay with me here. Fresh, organic, whole foods contain a lot more energy, or nutritional energy, or prana than food that comes from an aisle and has a shelf life of many months. I understand that packaged and processed foods hold their value in low-cost and convenience, but I think that we would all agree, that eating whole foods is better for us than eating packaged foods.

I’ll use an example for clarity; think of coffee, and I know – coffee is not very Ayurvedic, but it’s a food item that most people consume daily. Here are two examples of a highly pranic coffee option and some processed, lifeless options.

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Organic, fair trade, whole bean, freshly roasted, freshly ground close to the time of consumption. See photo of green coffee beans in a basket, freshly roasted dark or medium roasted beans (all organic and fair trade,) organic milk and organic raw cane sugar all set up for sampling by my friends at Ironwood Coffee Company of Owen Sound, Ontario. Check them out via the hyperlink. This is coffee that will give you energy!

 

Non-Pranic Coffee

20161210_155823.jpgPre-brewed, cold, highly sugared with high fructose corn syrup, sat in a cooler at a convenience store, packaged in plastic with a long shelf life; or grounds sat in a plastic (non-recyclable might I add!) K-cup; or coffee grounds bought in bulk at the grocery store that has a use by date of one year after roasting. These examples all processed more than the freshly roasted beans above and therefore have lost prana along the way.

Once you begin to think of food in terms of life held within it gets easier and easier to see the difference and make better choices when out shopping. Organic produce and products beat out non-organic, and of course freshly picked, grown in your back yard with organic compost has even more prana. While staying at the Ashram in Zdaric u Skutec, Czech Republic, Jan, my host ground his own flour on site in his kitchen because it contained more prana than flour bought at a store. He then prepared Ayurvedic meals with that flour and other local, fresh ingredients. The featured image of a meal on a tray was taken during my yoga training in India. The food served there was Ayurvedic, freshly prepared, vegetarian and full of zing. The nan shown was prepared fresh, by hand for every meal, the vegetables cooked with spices and love. Not pictured is freshly made yogurt made with milk from the cows that lived in the goshala on the Ashram grounds – now that’s pranic food! Fresh, probiotic, real living food.

Whether or not you think that prana-Life Force Energy is a load of baloney, or you’re delving deeper into your yoga to include healthy choices off the mat and into the kitchen, making wiser choices of eating fresh, whole, and when you can, organic foods is going to feel a lot better for your body than eating processed food. You don’t have to go to the extremes taken in an Ashram, start small and build up as you learn bit by bit about your body, it’s digestion, and which foods fuel it with the most prana. Live well.

Thoughts on America’s Busiest Shopping Week

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, a time to meet with family and share a meal. It’s an odd holiday that no longer represents anything much historically, thoughts of relationships between native cultures and the population at large have been substituted for turkeys and shopping (a statement that surely can’t be denied with the ongoing strife happening at Standing Rock – Native Americans and protesters freezing and being sprayed with water cannons and rubber bullets while we all sit down to a hot meal. It’s been on my mind a lot, I couldn’t stay silent on a post about Thanksgiving without bring it up, I hope you couldn’t either.) After the turkey and potatoes have been consumed thoughts quickly jump to the deals the box stores and malls. No, let me correct myself, thoughts of the deals happen much earlier than the day of Thanksgiving as the advertisements flood television, newspapers, and the internet weeks before Black Friday.

Now, I’ll admit it, I like a bargain. As my Mom likes to remind me, I am cheap, and there’s a reason for my cheap behaviors beyond trying to keep my savings account as it is. One of my primary reasons for obtaining my clothing via hand me downs and second hand shops is that I have come to disagree with mass consumption because of the harm it does to people working in factories far away as well as the land that surrounds them. So while I can understand why people get excited for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I try my best to refrain from buying unnecessary items, no matter how good the door buster.

Personally I have primarily acquired my clothing from clothing swaps, friends, and thrift stores for the past 2+ years. The last time I went shopping at a mall for fun was the summer of 2014, which was a major change of habit for me; shopping used to be one of my hobbies of choice. I’d go out, find a deal that I may or may not have needed, and go home to call my sister to tell her about it. It’s how we used to bond. With time and awareness however our phone calls about our recent buys have switched from bragging about a good deal found at the mall to telling one another of a new item that was Made in America, fair trade, bought second hand, or made locally. We’re ethical shoppers now.

The change wasn’t easy and I don’t write this in a self righteous way. My point here is that we as Americans are consuming far more than we need to. The cost of our purchases are low to us monetarily, but high to those who produce them in terms of their health, general well being, and to the degradation of their waters, air, and land. And even though the products are produced and assembled far away, an environmental cost is incurred to us  in terms of CO2 emitted in the atmosphere in production and shipping, and then there’s the wonder of what to do with all of the things that we had purchased in the past, things that no longer give us a shopper’s high, they either take up space in our homes unused or get sent to the landfill –  out of sight out, of mind.

Let me stress again that I am not trying to preach that shopping and consuming is entirely bad, but rather I wish to convey that it is completely possible to limit consumption and in doing so to become a conscious consumer. Seek out companies and products that are made of natural materials that are safe to the earth and to our bodies. Support items made in your country or better yet in your local area (helping out the economy as you shop, not just massive corporations that produce their products in unethical ways.) Learn to live with less, it takes time but is doable. I haven’t conventionally shopped in two years, but I still have a closet full of clothes and never struggle with what to wear, I have given up concerning myself with trends and sales, but I am so much happier for it.

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As you check off your Christmas shopping lists in the coming weeks give consideration as to whether there is a better way (and there always is.) Shop local, shop small. Show your love in other ways than monetarily, I don’t know when Christmas morphed from a time of religious celebration and being with loved ones to showing we care with our credit cards, but it feels as if it has. It will take time and dedication to cut back on consuming and to shop mindfully, but after some time it will become your new norm.

How are you and your family ethically sharing love for one another this holiday season?

Teacher Tech Tools

Being a yoga teacher requires a lot of self promotion and preparation for classes. Whether you get yourself a regular gig at a yoga studio or go completely free lance you’ll have to self promote your classes, style, skills, and experience. And then once you get in the studio, you’ll have to deliver. Here are my top tech teacher tools to help you be the best yoga teacher you can be.

Blue Tooth Speaker

Invest in a good quality blue tooth speaker, one that’s light and transportable and that delivers on sound. These come in handy to bring with you to outdoor, public space classes where other options requiring plugging in may not be available, keep in mind however, that if you host class in a very public space or near to a busy road, then even the best blue tooth speaker won’t be heard over honking horns or screaming kids. If you teach on an early Saturday when the public space isn’t busy yet, then bring your speaker for added energy to the class. Chose your playlists wisely.

Actually, Let Someone Else Chose Your Playlist

When I first started teaching I used to stress out about making the perfect playlist for each class. Honestly, I would spend more time on the music than on the sequence. I was fixated on having the best tunes for the varying layouts of each class. Thankfully for my schedule and my nerves I’ve loosened up about my music. Now I rely on a sharing service to have strangers in cyber space chose what students vinyasa and hold to. My choice of music site is 8 tracks. I know most people in the U.S. use Pandora, but Pandora wasn’t available abroad in Korea, so a friend introduced me to 8 tracks and I much prefer it. My go to vinyasa flow playlist is simply titled: Yoga.

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Get some Great Graphics12010532_899109916831156_7065303320034350228_o

When creating a social media event page, photos generally star as an eye catcher or are just generic-googled yoga images. But it can be more fun and more professional to create a poster or well designed social media image for your classes and events. For this you can hire out a graphics designer by using 99designs, a website where designers line up to design for you after you’ve set guidelines and price, but this site can be pricey and may not be financially feasible for a free lancin’ yoga teacher (may in fact be a better option for a logo.) Another option is Pic Monkey. This site is easy to use and offers a lot of fun fonts and backgrounds, they have recently started charging for they’re services though, which is a bummer. Above is a simple graphic made in 2015 for a community event I co-hosted with a bunch of great activists in Busan using Pic Monkey.

There you have it, a few simple tips from me to you for using tech to get the job and in class once you have it. Teaching yoga involves a lot more than just shouting out a pose name. As a yoga teacher aim to make your classes and events special and memorable by meticulously planning from the get go all the way through to the song that plays in Savasana. Utilizing tech tools can aid you in achieving that goal which in the long run will aid you in retaining students.