Find Your Tribe – Your Health Depends on It

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

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

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

Mental Health Awareness Month

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Victorian Farm to Table Dinner

This spring our local history museum, the Fenton, and a local historical society of Busti, NY partnered up for the second year in a row to host a Victorian Dinner. These are some of my favorite things: fundraisers for good causes, local history, and delicious, local, real food. The dressing on the salad was that Victorian costumes were encouraged, my dream event, save if there was yoga, then it would have been over the top, but it was still quite fantastic without, reasons why below.

Victorian Costumes

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I love to get creative and dress up. The creativity comes into play by piecing costumes together with pieces that I already have and by borrowing from friends and family to pull it all together. This is an ethical decision to avoid plastic packaging and to not support fast fashion.

I knew instantly what I was going to wear for a Victorian costume. Years ago I bought a frilly white top from Zara (purchased before I knew about fast fashion) that I wore to my bachelorette Downtown Abby tea party and that would work for this event because the frills give it a perfectly Victorian feel. A friend had given me a hand-me-down long black skirt that initially I considered donating on, but I held onto it just for the Victorian Dinner and I am glad that I did, also, it grew on me so I’ll keep it for regular wear.

To perfect the look I knew I needed a hat. I spoke to a coworker about this because I had a hunch that she might be the perfect person to ask. She pulled through and delivered a magnificent hat complete with a red bird on it (Put a bird on it! Any Portlandia fans reading?) The hat was red, green, and black so it worked well with my long black skirt. Another coworker lent me a pair of black booties with buttons on the sides that fit the theme.

Others at the dinner wore their costumes and there were at least half a dozen big hats. One lady told me that she rushed around that day hot gluing fake flowers to her simple, black sun hat – I love it, another DIY costume maker! Even some of the men were in elegant three piece suits complete with pocket watches. Historical Halloween in May? Yes, please!

Farm to Table

The food was mostly local from the very first course which included apple cider which was pressed at the Busti cider mill last fall and kept frozen over winter, apple butter – homemade by our tablemates, and flour and corn meal ground at the Busti grist mill that went into the dinner rolls. Soup and salad followed. The soup was potato-corn chowder that had the ends of the bacon of a pig that the caterer had purchased and had butchered.

Mains included a pot roast beef and turkey and stuffing. At least the turkey was local as the event took place during turkey season here in WNY. Root vegetables and garden asparagus accompanied the meat. The meal was served family style and seating was unassigned. Not forgetting desert, although it would have been sensible to pass on desert after taking multiple servings of the first rounds, I am glad that I did not pass on it because it was scrumptious – pound cake with rhubarb compote from the garden pictured below. Make note of the lack of plastic, real cutlery, dishes and teacups.

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After desert was served the owner of the cartering service, 3 C’s, spoke about the food, where it came from, and how it was cooked in a Victorian way. As mentioned above, most of the food was local. The meat was cooked simply without any exotic spices. Given the season of spring, the root vegetables would have been stored in the root cellar. There was no refrigeration or frozen food in Victorian times, so we were spoiled by having tomatoes, corn, and the apple cider at our tables.

Education & Entertainment

Before and after dinner a local troupe of musicians played period pieces on stringed instruments, speaking about the songs that they played and their history. Instruments included fiddles, guitar, banjo, and stand up bass. The music was enjoyable and made me realize how quiet it was during dinner when the band was not playing. Today we’re used to music in restaurants and bars, sometimes it plays too loudly and conversations can barely be heard; it was nice to have silence for polite conversation over dinner.

Two men spoke after dinner about local history. The first man, our tablemate and one of the organizers of the event, spoke about the Victorian era and what the local town where the event was held looked like at that time. It had a tannery, shoe maker (who got leather from the tannery), carriage maker, creamery, multiple churches, school, etc. It’s romantic to imagine a time when communities were entirely involved and mostly sustainable, when everyone knew everyone else and supported each other.

The second man to speak shared historic items from the Jamestown Police. He himself a former officer, had a box that contained an old whistle, a sheriff’s badge, a police officer’s hat, and a photo of the police force from last century. Both short talks were interesting and tied the event together.

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Two sets of couples that sat with us at our table drove down for the event from about an hour away. They told me of other such historic dinners that they had attended throughout New York State, one a candle light dinner in an old mansion at Christmas time. It makes my heart smile to know that there are others out there that enjoy learning about and celebrating history. I’ll keep my ears to the ground for other such events and am already looking forward to next year’s Victorian Farm to Table dinner locally.

WTH is Plogging?

The next event that Kara Bemis Yoga is hosting is a Plogging & Yoga event which might have people scratching their heads. WTH is plogging? Essentially it is a newly invented word that means collecting litter while on a jog. It is said to have originated from Sweden in 2016 and has since gone global via social media, so it seemed like a good idea to ride the trend and get local people interested in cleaning up their neighborhoods.

If like many people you are slightly averse to jogging and prefer walking and are also highly averse to seeing garbage scattered around your walking route, then have no worries because plogging can easily be translated into an event that takes place during walking or hiking at your nearest state park.

Before there was a trendy Swedish term for it, I have been unknowingly ‘plogging’ for years. It started while living in Costa Rica. My then Tico boyfriend picked up litter while we were on a walk at the beach and initially I thought it odd, to touch someone else’s ‘dirty’ litter, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t odd at all, and that if we were to all clean up beautiful places then the idea might spread. Maybe others would begin to do the same, heck maybe the people who mindlessly and selfishly through their trash on the ground to begin with would change their ways.

Is it dirty to pick up others garbage? Short answer no. More often than not the garbage is plastic. What’s the difference of picking up a plastic fork lying on the ground and touching a straw at a restaurant. Sure the straw at the restaurant is ‘new,’ but it’d likely had been handled by others before reaching your hands. It was handled in production, packaging, distributing, and from the restaurant employee to you. Same with a plastic bottle or bottle cap. What I do consider as dirty litter to collect is cigarette butts. Those are nasty little things, they’re called butts after all. They’ve touched others hands and lips and what is even nastier is that they are made from plastic, so everytime a smoker flicks their butts out of the car window they are littering. I wish police would enforce litter laws with all, but especially smokers, I think that they it is harmless to flick them out  of their hands and onto the grass, but who is going to collect them? Plus, they easily make their way down street drains and straight out of the outlet to the nearest river, lake, reservoir, sea, or the ocean. For cigarette butts I would recommend wearing cotton gloves to collect, such as gardening gloves.

If you have an interest in making  a change in your local area, start plogging today! If you live in are around Jamestown, NY, then join me next Saturday for a community plogging event that will include a free yoga class (taught by yours truly.) Wherever your walking path may be: a sidewalk, in the woods, up a mountain, or on the beach have a two minutes cleanup and share your little victory on social media by using #plogging to spread the movement.

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Tis the Season for Karma Yoga

The holiday seasons is not only fast approaching, it is on top of us. As I write this, it is December 20th, so Christmas is just five days away for many in the west and those all around the world who celebrate the Christmas holiday. Here in the U.S. Christmas began showing up commercially way back around the time of Halloween. Retailers unpacked their Christmas stock, to what many is considered way too early, and each year it comes out earlier and earlier, so that customers can decorate early and check presents off of their lists. Although Christmas seems to have morphed into a season of materialism it still offers a time of giving to those in need.

This is an old tradition that may even go back to Mary and Joseph being given room in a barn, but at the very least goes back a few hundred years. According to a historical documentary by the BBC, Victorian Farm Christmas,  the Victorians were charitable during the holiday season giving through collections at churches to go to the poor or by giving food directly to those without. Many today continue this tradition of giving at Christmas time, whether it be by dropping change in a red, metal Salvation Army pot, or by making a donation to an organization.

Within my communities I have noticed multiple ways to give this year, such as by donating toys to children without, food to a food cupboard, and yoga classes by donation in which the money raised is given to a specific cause. In fact, I hosted a candlelit Slow Flow earlier in the month that was by donation. Teaching for free or attending a class and donating to a cause is what is classified as karma yoga, or yoga in action.

tis the season

Karma yoga can come in many forms. It might be performing a chore, giving of time or money, or freely sharing yoga with others. Around the winter holidays is a great time to host a karma yoga event or find one to attend. People have it in their hearts to give and it’s cold, so a great time to move towards indoor activities. Of course, however anytime of the year would be a good time for karma yoga, but during the holiday season is a very appropriate time to give.

As a student look for donation classes in your community. If you are a teacher or studio owner, host a class or two by donation and find a local organization that will benefit from the money you raise. It is so easy as a teacher to host a karma yoga class, the skill is already there, and the space if a studio is readily available is there as well, all that is required is organization, promotion, and some time to plan and teach.

May you and yours have a joyful holiday season and may you find ways to give to your community this season and into the new year.

 

 

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.