Yoga Challenge Day 23: Sunrise Yoga on the Dock

It was 57 degrees out this morning. And when they say sunrise yoga “on the dock” they REALLY mean “on the dock.”

But hearing the water lap the wooden planks, watching the sunlight reflect off the Potomac and getting a prime view of the orange and pink twilight from the swaying dock was well worth the chills – and the 6 AM wake-up on a Saturday.

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Contentment is a hot cup of coffee

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Picture courtesy of Valeria Vannini.

I went out for a run tonight, trying desperately to keep up with the challenge I set for myself. I’ve been doing pretty well with the yoga and the healthy eating, but I’ve really struggled to fit the running in there.

Until I realized that I can’t have a demanding full time job, be a mom, try to pave my way as a freelance writer, maintain a blog, stay fit, be a Beachbody coach and have a life at the same time.

Indeed my friends, something’s gotta give, so I’m not going to force myself to run 10 miles a week if that means everything else is going to suffer.

That being said, I set out to run three miles today and felt the kind of contentment I feel on Saturday mornings when I wake up to a quiet house, make myself a cup of coffee and an Eggo waffle, open up my computer and start writing.

I always wanted to be a writer. In high school I actually wrote a couple of books. One was a book of short stories I gave my favorite English teacher as a graduation present (for my graduation), and the other was a rip-off of some baby-sitting books I used to read in elementary school.

I feel really happy sitting in front of my computer, sharing my thoughts with you guys. And it makes me wonder if I didn’t miss my calling somehow by thinking I needed to be an engineer or a businesswoman or a sales manager all these years.

Last year I read The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho for the first time. This week I read an article he did with Oprah Winfrey for O Magazine, and he reminded me of something I truly believe. If you really want something the whole universe will conspire to help you achieve it.

And we all have a “personal legend.” Something we were meant to achieve in our lifetime.

For Paulo Coelho, he really wanted to be a writer. And even though culturally it wasn’t well accepted in his culture to be a man and an artist, he had the balls to follow his own path and eventually became a writer.

So here I am, writing. I’m writing because I love to write, but I’m also writing because (and maybe this is presumptuous of me), but I feel like I’ve found some sort of key. Some sort of secret to happiness that so many people around me seem to be missing. I’ve figured out that something about this journey I was on – the anxiety, the moving from place to place, the yoga, the near-death childbirth experience – led me to think differently than most, and I want to share with others what I’ve picked up from my experience. I want people around me to be a little happier, too.

I didn’t really get it until recently, but happiness in life is really no more than contentment with the little things you do on a daily basis. No pressure, no goals, no ulterior motives – just contentment. Like watching a bunch of boats sail into a sunset and realizing there is nothing else to life but enjoying the beauty of watching a bunch of boats sail into the sunset. You just have to clear out the wounds that prevent you from getting there.

Maybe I’ll tell you about mine some other time (the wounds, that is). But for now, I’ll enjoy another simple pleasure. My post-run aches and pains, my husband’s excellent gallo pinto, and a perfectly chilled glass of red wine, while I listen to my son reading to his dad in the background.

Living Someone Else’s Yoga

Yesterday instead of going to yoga I went to play golf with my husband and son.

photo (10)We got up early, headed over to our local public golf course and signed up for my husband’s regular nine holes. Getting up at seven and being out the door by 7:45 made me feel incredibly productive.

Spending the next two and a half hours outside with my family felt even more rewarding.

Golf is nothing like yoga, except that it’s a lot like yoga. From one hole to the next, I thought about nothing but hitting that little ball to make it go in the general direction of the hole I was aiming for. The more you play, the more you learn to focus your mind and the more you develop the muscle memory required to make the ball go closer and closer to where it needs to be.

The crickets chirped, the Washington Monument shone in the distance, and I loved every minute of chasing that little yellow ball around with my clubs, given it a whack, and chasing it around some more.

My son laughed and ran and played the whole time, to the chagrin of the serious golfers on the course. He was desperate to drive the golf cart and at one point I have to admit, I let him put his foot on the gas pedal while I steered.

I was so distracted and amused by the fact that I was in fact successful at hitting the little yellow ball forward that I forgot to keep count of my strokes. Given that my son was the official keep of the scorecard it didn’t matter much anyway. Deciphering his hieroglyphics was next to impossible even for my husband, who was keeping track.

After our nine holes, we went over to the driving range where I got a chance to whack some more balls into oblivion. In the booth next to ours there was a guy cursing under his breath, trying desperately to get into the right position so his shots would go exactly as far and in the direction he wanted them to go.

I felt bad for the guy. His shots looked pretty good to me but he didn’t seem to be having much fun. I almost wondered why he bothered.

All in all it was a very worthwhile activity to exchange a day of yoga for, particularly since I managed to get in a good thirty minutes of practice when we got home, and I was fortunate enough to spend over two hours outside enjoying my family’s company and doing something I’d never done before.

If I haven’t convinced you yet to try yoga, let me try to sell you on golf. It’s not as bendy and it’s not as sweaty, but it’s a great alternative if all you’re looking for is a two hour break from your thoughts and a chance to give a tiny ball a good hard whack. 🙂

Why I Rarely Say Namaste

This post was written for the #yogamatters blogging contest, sponsored by the MPH@GW blog. To participate in the contest, write a post about why yoga matters to you and follow the instructions here.

When you have a mind like mine – constantly filled with worst case scenarios that won’t abate despite significant effort and numerous rounds of logic – it’s very easy for the embers of worry to turn into a full-blown fire if you inadvertently fan them.

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I like my yoga irreverent.

In another life, I found myself having to claw my way back from a panic disorder with the help of a very successful but counterintuitive – and intensive – course of therapy.

The premise of the therapy was simple: don’t fight anxiety and panic with logical tools like rational thought, situational avoidance and in-depth analysis. Instead, use simple tricks to short-circuit your mind into releasing its vice-like grip on your worries and accepting the unpleasant feeling of panic.

By the time I discovered yoga a couple of years ago, I’d already been living panic-free for a while. I’ve found that anxiety, though, is a little bit like addiction. Once and addict, always an addict, even when you’ve managed to find a way to keep your addiction under control.

And six years after having lived the experience and come out of it unscathed, I was due for a tune-up. Of the therapeutic kind.

I hadn’t made the time yet to find a therapist I liked in my new home of Washington, DC, but when I realized that practicing yoga tricked my brain into thinking about nothing but practicing yoga for at least an hour and fifteen minutes at a time, it dawned on me this might be exactly the kind of tune-up I needed.

If you observed a yoga class and told me that the physical movements that make up the practice are aimed at building strength, improving balance or increasing flexibility – or a combination of these – you’d be right, of course.

When you practice yoga, though, you begin to realize that it’s not just physical strength, balance and flexibility you’re acquiring.

Focusing on one pose at a time helps you achieve mental balance. It clears out the clutter and the preconceived notions and helps you see the here and now as they really are.

Building up the courage to attempt challenging poses you don’t think yourself capable of creates more than just physical strength. It allows you to take risks outside the studio regardless of whether you think you’ll like the results.

And accepting the fact that your tight muscles won’t let you get into a pose right now no matter how hard you try to force it helps you practice a different kind of flexibility. Over time you come to embrace the fact that you can’t always get the outcome you want, and that you can indeed make progress despite your imperfections.

All three skills are fundamental for keeping anxiety sufferers like me from getting sucked into a life of fear, avoidance, co-dependence and emotional stagnation. All three are fundamental to living a happy and balanced life in general, regardless of which variety of mental imbalance happens to ail you.

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Excuse me, sir?

Since I started practicing on a regular basis – and seeing the results for myself – I’ve become a big proponent of using yoga as small-scale practice for working through the mental barriers that hold people back. I don’t know what it is about accepting the way you’re built and achieving flow during class that helps you create the mental synapses to do it outside of class, as well.

It has helped me so much with own sanity that I feel compelled to reach out and offer it up as a gift for people who are also struggling to keep theirs.

The problem, though, is that even a somewhat innocuous new activity like yoga can be intimidating for some, and it can be especially intimidating for people with the kind of mental health problems I suffer from. And while the benefits of yoga are almost too numerous to count, there is an aura around yoga culture that can make practicing feel closed off and inaccessible to folks who have never been exposed to it.

There is a very positive set of principles and rituals that accompany the practice of yoga. And there are people who genuinely try to live their lives by those principles. Every “om” and every “namaste” comes from the heart, and you can tell.

But it’s easy for people who have never really practiced to be put off by a stereotype. And it’s really difficult to convince my friends and family that they’d benefit from a regular practice when they feel the stereotype doesn’t fit.

That’s part of the reason I started this blog. I’d like to do my part by giving people a voyeuristic view into someone with a corporate career, an inflexible body and a firm belief that yoga is for everyone – regardless of their lifestyle.

Yoga changed my outlook and had a positive impact on my mental health, but it didn’t change my personality. I don’t have to fit a mold. I don’t chant, I don’t meditate and I rarely ever say “namaste.”

There is, of course, nothing wrong with doing ANY of these things. And I genuinely believe in the “namaste” message – ‘the light in me honors the light in you.’

But in the spirit of that message – and given my mission to offer yoga up as a tool to people who could use it to achieve peace of mind – I try not to throw around what could potentially be a divisive code word for “I’m a yogi and you’re not.”

In other words, since yoga really matters, let’s band together to try to make it less intimidating, so instead of reading about the benefits everyone can experience them first hand.

Shall we?

Namaste! (Just kidding!)

A Stint in Paris

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My friend over at 1847: First Impressionist Exhibition asked me write a guest post related to her tag line.

Given how big a fan I am of this lady and her adorable family, I happily obliged.

I was stumped for a bit about what to write, given that I her blog is not about anxiety OR yoga. Then for some reason while I was out for a run last night, my semester abroad in Paris popped into my head.

The Universe must have wanted me to write about that, because I’d written a couple of paragraphs already when I went to look over at her blog for additional inspiration, and she actually mentioned having lived in Paris in her latest post.

So, for a voyeuristic glimpse into a pre-anxiety me eating crepes and decidedly NOT working out during a stint in Paris, hop on over to her blog and check it out!

The Practice of Practicing

I'm only happy when I sweat.

I’m only happy when I sweat.

I get really annoyed at myself when I don’t make it to yoga, mostly because getting a really good session in sets me up to feel great for the rest of the day.

My Sunday morning practice has become a staple of my weekend. It’s a mixed level class so I know there will be challenging poses, I’m guaranteed to work up a sweat, and as an added bonus I really enjoy the instructor.

On Sunday, as I mentioned, my husband went to play golf and couldn’t make it back in time for me to go to my regular class. I considered practicing at home, but I’ve become such an outdoorsy person a big part of the allure of going to yoga is the process of getting up early, having my coffee, taking my time to get ready and walking the mile and a half to class. On days when I wake up late and don’t spend enough time outside the house, I get in a funk. Like I haven’t enjoyed my life enough that day.

So rather than stay home and get grumpy, I found a beginner class at noon at my own studio and headed out there instead. I avoid very basic classes because I don’t want to hold myself back, but I figured basic yoga would be better than no yoga.

The class was actually just the right mix of perfecting the basics and going for more challenging poses (like Galavasana). Interestingly, though, despite the fact that I’d be happy with an entire practice full of just arm balances, the part of the class I enjoyed most was working on perfecting the basic poses like Warrior I, Warrior II and Chaturanga.

I’m such a DOER in my life, and that’s naturally translated into the way I approach yoga. I’m not interested in doing things perfectly, I’m mostly interested in testing my limits, learning as much as I can and advancing as quickly as possible. I jumped very quickly into the mixed level classes, got my first Crow three months later, and forgot very quickly about all the foundational stuff other people spend months on.

It was nice slowing down and challenging myself a different way. Taking the time to get things right. No, to get things as near to perfect as I could get them given my body type, strength and level of flexibility.

Of course, by the time I got home I’d forgotten all about how good it felt to slow down, and I managed to drag my family out to National Harbor to enjoy what’s left of a dwindling summer.

I did manage to work in some therapy for myself, though. I suggested we ride the Ferris Wheel (which those of you who have been keeping up with my blog will surmise, I’m terrified of). Claustrophobic, freaked out, but happy and awestruck by the view, I remembered why I do these things to myself when my son happily declared it was the best day of his life while looking down at the boats in the marina from our capsule three million stories high.

I must admit, it was a pretty good day for me, too.

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Pokemon Yoga

Clearly my son has been paying attention during my vigorous home practice, since this is how I found him playing today after dinner.

My son’s stuffed Pokemon Oshawott does Niralamba Sirsasana (Headstand with No Hands) while his friends watch in awe.

Yoga Challenge Day 10: Struggling!

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Recipe: Chocolate Shakeology, bananas, almond butter, almond milk and spinach.

My freaking life is getting in the way of my challenge.

Ran on Monday. Ran on Tuesday. Went to yoga on Wednesday. Took a break Thurs and Fri. Planned to go to Sunrise Yoga on the Dock on Saturday and I set my alarm wrong, so I ran on Saturday instead. My husband went to play golf early this morning (golf is his yoga) and planned on being back in time for me to go to my 10:30 yoga class but closed streets for the Ragnar Relay prevented him from making it.

I’ve been looking online for Sunday afternoon classes but not having any luck. I’m going to have to bust out my mat and practice at home. It’s sub-optimal but it gets the job done. The problem with this is I don’t push myself at home – I only do what I like!

The good news is I’ve continued the healthy eating bit. I’ve been having salad for lunch more days and putting spinach in my shakes on days when there’s not enough green on my plate. I even have this munchkin drinking spinach without knowing it.

I guess I’ll keep on keeping on, and let you guys know how it went later.

On Anxiety, Parenthood and Compassion

Careful! Careful!

Careful! Careful!

I always thought that, given my proclivity for worry, motherhood would be incredibly stressful for me. But the truth is, for the first six years of his life I have worried about my son no more and no less than I worry about other things (that is to say, probably more than the average person, but not so much that I trigger full blown panic).

Logically I recognize that just like I can’t – and shouldn’t – protect myself from uncomfortable or unpleasant situations, I especially shouldn’t go out of my way to shield my son from them either. Unless he is in danger of seriously hurting himself, I usually let him do the thing that will cause him to fall, or nick his finger, or whatever it is. Continue reading

Mismatched Chopsticks

Here I am. Being THAT asshole.

Here I am. Being THAT asshole.

I like to push my own buttons at times. I recognize idiosyncrasies in myself that I want to challenge, and occasionally I’ll do something kooky to push me out of my own comfort zone. I’m in sales, so one such thing might be sending one more email, or making one more phone call, after I’ve sent many with no response. I do this because I recognize that part of myself that is worried about annoying people, or putting people off, and I actively reject it.

I also recognize the fact that I’m a complete closet show off. I like showing off (I think I’ve mentioned this before), but I don’t like doing it in such a way that people actually DISCOVER what a big show-off I really am. Continue reading