The un-glorification of busy

1947549_887313647986875_4493608073950915997_nI started training for the Brooklyn Half Marathon a couple of weeks ago – or at the very least, I started running a few miles a week again, with my longest run being 5 miles, and a couple of three-milers thrown in during the week just to get back in the habit.

This is all in addition to three days a week of yoga, of course, which on weeks like this one (I had a business trip to New Orleans that threw me off schedule), means I’m doubling up on running and yoga on Saturday and Sunday. Continue reading

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Tight hamstrings and unexpressed emotions

10369867_882883995096507_3644969196834567357_nI ordered my yoga teacher training books from Amazon, and even though our sessions don’t start until late March, I started reading them this week. There will be a lot going on in my life between March 28th and May 30th, what with my teacher training program and the Half Marathon I impulsively signed up for, and for once I wanted to make sure I got a head start on what I needed to do.

Most of the books focus on philosophy and history of yoga, but a couple zero in on human anatomy and how certain poses affect certain muscles. Not having had any exposure whatsoever to biology or any other natural sciences, I am particularly intrigued by that portion of the curriculum.

We talk in yoga about how we (we human beings) carry tension or emotions in our muscles. Some of us carry fear and sorrow in our shoulders, while others store anger and frustration in their hips.

Negative emotions and experiences become trapped in our tissues, and yoga is a method for wringing those emotions out. As you change your body, you also change your outlook and perspective on life, letting go of past experiences that no longer serve you.

I read somewhere that for many people, tight hamstrings Continue reading

No crying in yoga

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This is a stressful time of year in my job. Everyone on my team has an annual sales goal they need to cross, and those numbers ultimately roll up to me and my own sales goal.

It’s a time of year that’s FULL of awkward conversations, early mornings, long days and a mounting degree of pressure given the upcoming holidays and the threat of losing your contracts to Christmas and New Year’s vacations.

On Tuesday, the family and I are heading down to Nicaragua for a few days to spend Christmas with our loved ones. I am excited to see my parents and my siblings, and looking forward to getting away from the cold for a bit, but the travel adds a little bit of extra stress to the season.

Given all this, I’ve been surprisingly calm in the face of the storm. I’m relatively close to my goal, although there are still a few things out there that may well derail me. Still, I haven’t felt too anxious about it all, and I was beginning to think there might be something wrong with me. Continue reading

YogAudacious Feature

Grateful to have been featured by the very inspiring Gigi Yogini in her blog YogAudacious.

There are several premises behind YogAudacious, and behind Gigi’s work in general, that I identify with. The first is that yoga is for everyone and those of us who practice should be role models of that philosophy. The second is that yoga helps us be more courageous. I’ve always said yoga helps me create a safe place to practice dealing with some of the issues we may not be equipped to deal with in the “real world” quite yet.

Thanks in advance for reading – and please visit Gigi on her own site, as well as on Yoga Vibe.

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.

August 2014 - Big Dog, Little Dog

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!)

Your Personality as Reflected by Your Practice

My son and I, finding our balance.

My son and I, finding our balance.

My balance is VERY terrible – particularly right side up, although not so much upside down. I’m also weirdly inflexible in some places and highly flexible in others, so much so that I sometimes end up providing the comedic relief in my yoga class when trying to come into what for most other people is a very basic pose. I’ve held back giggles more than once as everyone around me sits with their legs in a V and folds forward, and I have to conjure up all the strength I can muster to even sit up straight without propping my self up with my hands. Even a 45 degree angle would be a challenge for me in this pose! Continue reading