Saturday, August 30, 2008

What is an "Om Gal?"

During the introspective week after the melee that categorizes the holiday season and before the lofty promises of a New Year, I started writing this blog. Looking back, I laugh at my somewhat uncharacteristic foray into the blogosphere, because before penning (err, typing) The World According to Om Gal, I spent very little time surfing the ruminations of other bloggers. I eschewed MySpace and Facebook and figured that YouTube was, as best I could figure, for teenagers or the extremely bored, or teenagers who were extremely bored. A few short months prior to Om Gal's inception, a reporter pal of mine rang from his post in the Globe's newsroom for my opinion on the burgeoning stratosphere of self-published content.

"What do you think about blogs?" my friend inquired.

"Shoddily written and self-important," I quipped sarcastically.

"Seriously! I picture some jamoke in a bathrobe and slippers, toiling away on a computer in his parents' basement."

"Exactly," I affirmed.

This is what we call irony, folks.

I'd like to think my perspective has evolved since then. (Admittedly, I was living in the dark ages). Today, I'm eight months deep into the cultivation of and one month gone to the dark side of Facebook. Meanwhile, the first video clip to appear on the Om Gal "channel" was uploaded to YouTube last week. It's no Battle at Kruger or Boom Goes the Dynamite, but it'll do for a rookie effort. I even have a Twitter account, through which I can alert "followers" when something interesting occurs in my world. (Don't worry; I'll skip the review of what I ate for breakfast in favor of when a post headlines on alongside the likes of Russell Simmons or Deepak Chopra or a master class to benefit a worthy cause is forthcoming).

In terms of being shoddily written or self-important, the former is in the hands of a grammar-obsessed one-time English teacher- that's me. The latter is monitored by the masses- that's you. It's open to interpretation, which is why I invite you to call me on it, if you perceive the content of this blog as being blathering nonsense, aimless self-promotion, or overly sentimental drivel. The raison d'etre for is soulful substance. Do we have a deal, friends?

In all reality, it was an unsubstantiated fear of churning out self-important slop that prompted me to choose the pseudonym "Om Gal," thereby allowing me to write anonymously. Not to mention I enjoy privacy to the point that it borders on reclusive, so putting myself "out there" was, initially, unnerving. (Yup, that's usually me, practicing waaay in the back row of a yoga class, tucked in a corner if I can help it). I figured that by rendering my identity irrelevant, the emphasis of the site would remain squarely focused on its subject matter and the needs of you, the reader. In effect, who I was, what I looked liked, and the details pertaining to my specific life experiences would fall somewhere between secondary and verboten, which is how I preferred it.

Then it dawned on me: How would you know that the "gal" doling out nuggets of yoga and wellness insight wasn't actually a man without yoga experience blogging from his parents basement, no doubt wearing a bathrobe and slippers, gorging himself on a vat of cookie dough and investing in puppy mills? Okay, slight exaggeration, there. Presumably the scope of my yoga knowledge would be evident in the quality of the site's content. Still, I realized that it wasn't prudent to share expert advice if, say, you weren't an expert. So, I slowly outed myself. First, I posted a cagey picture, wherein only my profile was visible in an ad for a yoga apparel line. Then, I included my full name within my profile. Finally, I went on the radio as myself, the creator of a new, tiny corner of the blogosphere, and the jig was officially up. I knew it was the right thing to do because it felt that way- authentic, fun, and obvious.

Everyday, I aim to share a certain perspective, informed by my own personal experience but through the lens of an "Om Gal," mostly because I know that this lens is what unites you, the reader, and me, the writer. Truthfully, we're all om gals and guys searching for ways to integrate our yoga (or other chosen practice of self-discovery) into our lives more fully. This lens is equally available to you as it is to me because there's no limit on enlightenment. If I eek out some clarity from a given moment in time, there's still plenty left over for you. If you attain perfect inner peace, NYC Gal's chances of arriving at the same blissful state are no less probable. The concept of Om Gal is a daily reminder, for me as much as you, that fresh perspectives create new possibilities. Or, as Proust once put it, "The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."

But what about those of you who are less conceptual and more pragmatic in your thinking? You're quantitative; you want examples, evidence, and indisputable criteria. What qualities characterize an Om Gal, you wonder? Here's a quick anecdote for you . . .

On Saturday, I accompanied my younger brother to one of his favorite Outer Cape beaches for my first surfing lesson. It wasn't a beach day; in fact, it rained en route, but the waves were good, so we minded Mother Nature and pressed on. With only one extra board and wet suit, my beau and I would have to alternate our totally tubular efforts to a.) not get killed and b.) not wildly embarrass my brother in front of the modest gathering of surfer dudes in our immediate vicinity. O.G.'s S.O. took the lead, following Om Bro out to sea and posting a valiant first-time effort. He returned ashore having accomplished both aforementioned goals; he was in one piece, and nobody seemed to notice that he didn't know what he was doing. I was on deck but suddenly not too keen on this "radical" idea anymore. I was freezing just sitting on the beach and, truth be told, slightly terrified by watching the boys wipe out all afternoon. (You might recall that I've been demolished by giant waves before). Plus, the thought of putting on a sopping wet suit and risking my life and pride all at once was too much to bear.

"I think I'll sit this one out," I said.

"C'mon pal, you're here; you might as well try it!" responded my supportive Om Guy.

Protesting all the while, I put on a rash guard (think: fancy, fitted t-shirt) and a wet suit top in lieu of a full wet suit; remember my only hope for circulation in my legs (i.e. a dry suit) was cold and wet from S.O.'s outing.

"Take off some of the bling, will ya?" Om Bro teased, so I shed my multiple bangle and mala bracelets. Then, he was back in the water faster than I could utter another peep. I followed my brother reluctantly; with the first steps into the ocean feeling shockingly cold (even for an ex-lifeguard) and prompted a fair share of expletives. The next few sent aching pain into my ankles. By this point, I was howling in discomfort (so much for sparing anyone any embarrassment). Around the time the freezing water hit my knees and a gust of rainy wind whipped by, I staged my retreat.

"I CAN'T DO ITTTTTTTT! IT'S TOOOOO COLD!" I screamed while running ashore.

Standing at the water's edge, shaking his head, trying not to laugh (too hard), O.G.'s S.O. awaited my cowardly return and said- somehwat smugly- only one thing to get me to march right back in:

"Om Gal would do it."

So, I did. Fueled by the image of a braver version of myself, I became the only gal, in a freezing swath of ocean full of boys; with frozen, bluish legs to contrast their wet suit-clad, warm and toasty ones, even I was shocked at my willingness to overlook comfort in favor of adventure and shirk convention in hopes of inspiration. I forced myself to try something new and scary, and the outcome was exhilarating. The board only nearly decapitated me once, and my feet thawed during the car ride home, a small price to pay for the elation earned. It's always a victory when we stay calm and open in the face of fear (whether by a new and intimidating wave of technology, like blogging and social networking, or an actual wave). For this mini triumph, I am grateful, and, for what it's worth, I am happy that Om Gal made me do it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Om Gal Makes You Breakfast

Hopefully the holiday weekend treats you all to restful days, rejuvenating activities, inspiring friends and family, and wholesome meals made with love- starting with this one for pancakes! It makes for a perfect, lazy morning meal, pre-workout fuel, or post-workout replenishment.

The video was shot by my bro. Tell us what you think!

Kick It With Eco-Cool Shoes

Let your friends teeter around in sky-high stilettos while you positively prance in eco-chic kicks by Terra Plana. Made from reusable materials such as seatbelts and car tires (sort of like last night's episode of Project Runway, wherein contestants created high-fashion designs out of materials found in a Saturn vehicle), this footwear line won't hurt your feet or the environment. The Escape model (above) topped Om Gal's birthday list this year, and you can be certain I'll be rocking these "sneakers with soul" well into the fall and winter. They kind of scream "I'm a killer snowboarder, dude," don't they?

Maybe not in my case, but one can dream, right?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Om Gal Writes a Letter to Summer

Dear Summer:

I understand that you’ll be going away soon. Initially, I thought I might persuade you to stay a while longer. Perhaps another trip to the Vineyard would change your mind. I could try to score some Red Sox tickets for us. Heck, I’ll buy you all the gelato you want. I’ll overload your closet with perilously short sundresses in all your favorite blindingly bright hues and serve watermelon at every meal. I promise, you can even use the good beach chair this time.

Still, I respect your position on the issue. If you stick around too long, Autumn gets cheated, and then we’re all stuck with Jack Frost longer than we’d like. Look, I don’t want to come off as disrespecting my elders, but the guy is infamous for overstaying his welcome, particularly, here, in the Northeast. Not to mention, he could really lighten up around mid February. I mean, dude, just because you’re single doesn’t mean that you need to put the deep freeze on all the lovebirds just trying to go out for a nice meal on Valentine's Day. Seriously, are you still THAT bitter about April giving you the cold shoulder, like, how many centuries ago? Quit the pity party, pal; she’s not your type! She flirts with everyone. You should know that by now.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you when you say that the only constant in life is change and nature abhors a vacuum. You’ve made that painfully clear every year of my entire life, but you can’t cut me some slack? Just. This. Once. Please, spare me the malarkey about being like the poor meter-maid who’s already written the ticket and can’t recant it once it’s “in the system.” You MUST have more authority than that. Delay your flight. Stay an extra week—or 12. For the love of God, at least consider a LAYOVER! Puh-leeeez. You’ve always been my favorite, Summer. That line about liking Autumn was a load of bull. She makes me anxious. At any moment, she's liable to go chilly on me. A gal can’t live like that!

[Insert grimace]. Oh, my. Now, look what you’ve done. You’ve shamed me in front of my readers. I’ve been caught desperate and begging . . . for the manipulation of Mother Nature, no less! What next—they’ll discover that I'm not voting Obama in November? (Kidding! It was hard just typing that for effect).

With any luck, the om guys and gals out there will understand my angst as a simple error in judgment and an attachment to my own selfish ego rather than an appreciation for the interconnectedness of all living things, the natural order of the universe. Of course, you need to take a holiday, Summer. I understand. You deserve it. The foliage always gets so giddy when you go anyway (it’s a shame you can’t see it!). Plus, the air smells amazing. Did I mention that colorful tights are going to be HUGE this season? And, let’s be honest; I didn’t have a prayer at getting those extra Sox tickets. It’s practically playoff season.

With love,
Om Gal

Monday, August 25, 2008

Quotes: Prescriptions for Happiness

"Nine requisites for contented living: Health enough to make work a pleasure. Wealth enough to support your needs. Strength to battle with difficulties and overcome them. Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them. Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished. Charity enough to see some good in your neighbor. Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others. Faith enough to make real the things of God. Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future."
-Johann von Goethe

"Do not worry; eat three square meals a day; say your prayers; be courteous to your creditors; keep you digestion good; exercise; go slow and easy. Maybe there are other things your special case requires to make you happy; but, my friend, these, I reckon, will give you a good lift."
-Abraham Lincoln

"Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life."
-Mark Twain

"Do you prefer that you be right, or that you be happy?"
-A Course in Miracles

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Breathe in The Final Days of Summer

The philosophy behind pranayama or "breathwork" is that by controlling one's breath, one can settle the fluctuations of the mind. For example, to simply focus on counting 10 steady breaths in a row, you must part with your other thoughts. In short, it's the breath (not the booty, or the biceps) that drives an asana practice. On its own, the practice of pranayama is a tool that can help you calm down, recharge, or refocus wherever you are.

Anuloma pranayama is a highly effective exercise, during which you alternatively block and release one nostril and then the other. The result is a calm sensation in the body and mind. While slightly awkward at first, this breathing practice is not difficult. Of course, having fresh air around you and being within nature while doing pranayama is a great treat; however, you can just as easily do this work at home or before yoga class, while sitting on your mat.

Notice how a dedication to your own breathing (even for a short period of time) leads to calmness, peace, and clarity within the rest of your being.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Running Workout to Beat the Heat or Recent Apocalyptic Thunderstorms

As you may know, I've been coerced by my om gal pal, E, to run a 24-hour adventure relay in New Hampshire next month. While I'm fairly certain I'm going to die and question my sanity for agreeing to participate in such a masochistic endeavor (om gals can be so persuasive, no?), training for it has been- I dare say- a fun and fulfilling experience in its own right. The following indoor workout has been my go-to routine of choice this summer when the weather or my knees are being uncooperative. Of course, I can't take credit for devising this run-like-antelope-indoors, knee-saving, calorie-incinerating routine. It's another Jack Fultz special.

Hop on the Arc Trainer* at your gym, (I'm beginning to think this piece of cardio equipment is the sleeper hit of every health club around), and press Quick Start. Immediately increase the incline to 5 (the resistance level will automatically set to 15). Maintain a Strides Per Minute cadence of 160, for 10-15 minutes. Next, increase the incline to 6 and the resistance to 25. In turn, amp up your strides to 170. Do this for one minute. Then, return to the previous setting. I try to continue these intervals for 20-30 minutes. You won't be able to leisurely read a magazine or gab with your neighbor on the Stairmaster, but you will get a killer workout on par with logging a substantial number of miles at a good clip without the impact on your knees or exposure to the elements. Happy running!

* If given the option of using an Arc with or without moving handle bars, use the one WITHOUT. You want to simulate running; there are no handle bars involved in running.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Happy Feet

Any fashionista wearing stylish shoes that compromise comfort or person working on his/her feet for hours on end understands that aching tootsies can really get you down. Here are my favorite antidotes for relieving tension in your body, from the bottom up:

Toes Pose: Kneel with your toes curled under, and sit on your heels. Stay for 10 breaths or more. If it's too much pressure to bear, simply rise up onto your knees, but try not to abandon the pose completely. As a counter-movement, place your hands on the floor behind you, and lift your knees off the floor (you'll get a great stretch in the tops of your feet and shins). I'll be straight with you, here, this pose hurts for some people at first, but it is absolutely essential- particularly after a long run or night in sky-high heels.

Viparita Karani: My parents are in the restaurant business, so I logged plenty of waitressing hours in high school and college, and this pose saved me on several occasions. After work, I'd lay on my bedroom floor and rest my legs against the wall until my feet stopped throbbing. I promise you, this pose is damn near divine after a long day, or night.

Any Asana Can Become A Treat For Your Feet: Bring an added level of awareness to your feet in yoga class. I don't mean that you should analyze your hammer toe or the shade of nail polish you chose for your last pedicure, but really wake them up. As a teacher, I can often tell the experience level of a student just by looking at his/her feet. Fan your toes; lose their death grip on your mat, and continually redistribute your weight across your soles so that the foundation of your standing poses is always relaxed, steady, and even.

And, if all else fails, buy a pair of clogs.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Quote: Hope

"If you do not hope, you will not find what is beyond your hopes."

-St. Clement of Alexandria

Monday, August 18, 2008

"When are you going to teach again?"

In the two years since I decided that teaching yoga full-time was no longer my ideal career path, former students and colleagues, Om Gal readers, friends, and complete strangers have often inquired when and if I might start teaching again. To date, I’ve ventured out of “retirement” only on special occasions—benefit classes to support great friends and causes and intimate practices comprised of pals, usually in locations of natural beauty to where I’m graciously invited by said pals.

Some houseguests bring wine; I bring yoga class.

Still, many speculated (myself included) that I would eventually get the itch to teach, publicly, again. So, here it is, the words some of you have been waiting to hear:

You were right.

Now, I don’t want to mislead, I’m not diving back into the teaching lifestyle; however, I do have a few exciting endeavors up my sleeve this fall that I thought I’d share. Peppered among them I’ve also listed events of interest that I’ll be attending, emceeing, or lending support in some way. Hope to see you there!

September 12, Reach the Beach Adventure Relay, Fraconia Notch to Hampton Beach, NH: While this isn’t a yoga event by any stretch (nor is one you want to attend- heck I’m hesitant to attend!), the 200-mile, 24-hour race will surely provide fodder for a few entertaining blog posts, so you have that to which you can look forward. Expect Twitter updates when reception allows!

September 14, Screening of Enlighten Up!, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA: Enlighten Up! (2008, 82 min.) is distinguished by its view of mystical yoga through the eyes of a curious-but-skeptical hedonist. The film follows journalist Nick Rosen through mainland United States, Hawaii, and India as filmmaker and yoga enthusiast Kate Churchill documents his increasing immersion in the world of yoga. Her goal is to prove that yoga can transform anyone, even Nick. Visit the website for screenings near you.

September 21, Global Mala, Boston: The date marks the UN's International Peace Day. Celebrate and support peacefulness within yourself and others by practicing with hundreds of like-minded yogis in Boston and thousands across the world. Last year, 400 Global Mala events took place in 35 countries.

September 28- October 3, DuVine Adventures Yoga & Biking Trip to Provence, France: Join me in southern France on a trip through the landscapes that inspired Monet to paint and foodies and oenophiles to swoon. I’ll kick off each day of riding with asana practice and conclude each evening with a lighter practice, pranayama, and meditation.

October 17-19, Private Retreat in the Adirondacks.

October/November TBD, Benefit Class in Boston (organized and taught by me): Details to be released next week.

November 16, 6th Annual Saluting the Spirit: 108 Sun Salutations to support Pathways to Wellness and yogaHOPE, the Sports Club/LA, Boston: Join me and om pals Coeli Marsh, Chanel Luck, and Jessica Lopez (and many more talented teachers) for an uplifting practice for two organizations dedicated to serving the greater good.

Quote: Buddha

"On life's journey, faith is nourishment; virtuous deeds are a shelter; wisdom is the light by day, and right mindfulness is the protection by night. If a man lives a pure life, nothing can destroy him."


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Reader Query: Chanting

Dear Om Gal,

I am interested in learning the Sanskrit chants I often hear my teachers recite in class. Do you know of a resource, such as a CD, that would chant the words and provide the translation? I would really appreciate any suggestions.

Thank you,

Dear Susan:

Admittedly, my chanting acumen is limited, relegated mostly to om-ing before and after asana practice and cheering at Red Sox games. So, when your inquiry came into the account not too long ago, I needed to do a little research before answering you in an effective and honest capacity. Faking it isn’t my forte, so I set out and culled my available yogi resources to make a few informed recommendations.

First, I attempted to incorporate more chanting into my own daily routine. At home, I began bellowing at the TV in a fervently spiritual manner, but instead of singing “om namah shivaya,” I’d say “ommmMichael Phelps-yee-haaa!” Okay, maybe not.

However, I did delve into my slightly overstuffed closet (how many pairs of Crocs does one gal need!) in search of my favorite CDs by kirtan king Krishna Das. It's been a while since I've listened to them- what, with all that gangster rap on my iPod and all- but for any om guy or gal, CDs from "KD's" prolific collection are great resources to have on hand. I have often integrated certain songs into yoga classes and workshops or my own home practice. With contemporary and catchy beats (he does a duet with Sting on Pilgrim Heart), even the most hesitant chanters will easily find themselves belting out the accessible choruses of these devotional hymns with a Western influence.

For a more traditional perspective, I attended a workshop with Patricia Walden on pranayama, preceded by a chanting session with Leslie Freyberg, who received her extensive training through the American Sanskrit Institute. Leslie, along with the assistance of Patricia’s staff, including Jarvis Chen, led students through a series of chants. In addition to the conventional call-and-response method of teaching, I enjoyed Leslie’s translation and interpretation of each verse that we learned. From my experience of her teaching, in person, I imagine that her CD, Learning with Leslie (available on her website), is just the type of resource you seek. When and if you decide to take your Sanskrit to the next level, she also teaches immersion courses throughout the year, wherein a weekend-long workshop breaks down the Sanskrit alphabet, pronunciation, and eventually words, verses, and their meanings.

Finally, you mentioned that your current yoga teachers often chant before or after the asana practice. Perhaps you could request a printout of one of your favorite verses so that you can practice at home or inquire about any local kirtan groups that practice together (maybe you could join them)? My students often request copies of certain readings or quotes that I incorporate into class, and I am always happy to oblige. Teachers enjoy knowing that a student is actively committed to his/her spiritual path.

Above all, remember that your good intentions (which it’s clear you have!) far exceed the importance of perfect pronunciation or pitch. A verse that resonated deeply with me at the session last week was Ksama Prarthana, which translates to mean:

I dedicate everything to the Supreme Lord.
Whatever I perform with my body, speech, mind, limbs, intellect
Or my inner self- either intentionally or unintentionally.

In other words, even when we botch the pronunciation of a mantra or feel unfocused and distracted during a yoga practice, our good intentions maintain their significance. The Lord, the universe- whatever higher power you subscribe to- is accessed through your efforts. The sacred place within each of us doesn’t discriminate. It’s always available to enhance our yoga and our lives.

Good luck. Happy chanting!

Friday, August 15, 2008

An Om Gal Birthday

So, let's cut to the chase- today's my birthday, which reminds me of one of my favorite birthday cards, received about eight years ago from a childhood friend. On the front, it illustrated two Buddhist monks, one receiving a birthday gift from the other while exclaiming, "Just what I've always wanted!" Inside, the monk was portrayed gleefully opening an empty box and elaborating, "Nothing!"

Thank you for your readership, reflections, and input this year. To you, it may seem like nothing much, but I am very grateful.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Funny Thing About Pacing: It Works

In many ways, my ability to pace myself is somewhat compromised, always has been. As a child I envied friends who were able to savor their ice cream cones so that they would last and laaast, an ostensibly endless ice cream cone to mock my long-gone, down-the-hatch, dessert-eating technique. As a teenager, I competed in track events that required running as fast as possible from start to finish. Regular O.G. readers might recall that, just last winter, I struggled through the cautious and uncoordinated stages of being a newcomer to the world of "shredding, dude" known more commonly as snowboarding.

In other words, my nature is one of immediacy: Do it now. Do it well. Make it snappy.

Sound familiar?

However, as we can all attest, this "seize the moment" mentality isn't always wholly effective. For one, eating ice cream too fast can lead to a brain freeze, and two, some life experiences simply take more time. No one needs to be reminded of the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare . . . Or, do we? Let's consider this question against the backdrop of this weekend's 36th annual Falmouth Road Race.

Thankfully, just before boarding the shuttle bus to the starting line on Sunday, I bumped into my friend and running resource Jack Fultz who called out only one, small piece of pre-race advice as I set out for Woods Hole, "Don't go out too fast!" For the die-hard running buffs among you, Jack is, indeed, the same Jack Fultz who won the 1976 Boston Marathon and currently coaches the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Running Team. Needless to say, if he's doling out racing advice; I'm taking heed.

I ran the first mile at a slower pace than usual. Rather than attempting to keep up with my speedy, former professional athlete brother (which I'd normally be tempted to do), I ran solo and resisted the urge to expend too much energy weaving through the masses (approximately 10,000 people run the seaside race, making the first mile rather congested). Instead, I soaked up the atmosphere and found a manageable rhythm, specifically, one that gave me a steady base from which I could improve from one mile to the next. Previously, my strategy was go out really hard, bite the dust around mile 4, curse my stupidity for signing up for such a masochistic event year after year, nearly blackout at the top of the final hill, and finish the race with a pledge not to repeat the charade the following year.

To be fair, I've been training more this year than in past years. Being a native of Falmouth, there is an odd level of pride taken in our collective lack of preparation for the iconic race. After all, the world-class competition did evolve out of the suggestion that one could run from one bar in Woods Hole to another in Falmouth- the distance between the two watering holes? 7.2 miles. And, so the tradition began . . .

I, too, have started a tradition of my own. After a lifetime of watching the race and what I estimate is a decade worth of running it, I've finally learned to pace myself (and train properly), which makes the experience much more enjoyable and efficient (no near blackouts!). One might say it's the athletic equivalent of the Buddhist principle of right effort. I even posted a time to rival that of the race I ran 7 years ago. Plus, there's plenty of free, frozen dessert to savor at the finish line.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Watch This Now: Nike "Courage"

Nike "Courage" clip, previewed in conjunction with the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics.

Pre-Falmouth Road Race: Overheard

Om Gal's pal, while unloading pre-race snacks into the fridge, holds up an electrolyte-enhanced bottled beverage and offers cheerily, "I've never tried this, but Whole Foods make this 'recovery' drink."

To which Om Gal's brother (Om Bro?) responds:

"Have you ever heard of Budweiser?"

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tips for Teachers

The purpose of this blog is to be an insightful and honest resource for yoga students and teachers, alike. To that end, here are a few quick tips to consider for aspiring and established teachers. To my teaching colleagues, please feel free to add your own input.

Lose the British accent unless you're actually British. Yoga may have originated in the exotic country of India, but it's unnecessary and inauthentic to conjure up your own accent in an effort to seem more exotic yourself- and, to be candid, it sounds bloody ridiculous. Occasionally, newer teachers acquire a slightly Shakespearean lilt as opposed to an accent attributable to any particular nation of origin, and either way, it's asinine. Instead, speak like yourself. If your best friend from college overheard you teaching, he/she shouldn't catch a case of the giggles at a drastic change in your persona.

Shhhh. The best thing you can do for your students is give them space. Allow them to turn inward. You inhibit rather than enhance their ability to reflect and rejuvenate if you prattle on incessantly.

Be a sponge around your mentors, not a parrot. Soak up the philosophies, sequencing, and styles of teachers who inspire you, but don't regurgitate their vibe; it won't be nearly as compelling as when you speak with your own voice and cultivate your own style.

The legendary basketball coach John Wooden was fond of saying, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail," so was my friend and college study group pal, Doc, before exams. The same holds true for teaching yoga. Turn off your cell a half hour before class. Figure out a "warm up routine" that mentally prepares you to teach, and use it more often than not. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but topnotch teaching requires presence and commitment, particularly within the first five minutes of class. If it takes you 15 minutes to find your rhythm, you're sabotaging your own efficacy and will expend more energy than necessary trying to compensate for the attention span loss within your students.

Learn to "edit." Gifted teachers are adept at watching the clock and being able to meet the needs of their students in an allotted amount of time. Private clients, in particular, may request an abbreviated practice that they can do at home. You should know what's essential versus extraneous, for a given individual, and be able to address their objectives accordingly. The best way to cultivate this ability is to practice at home, by yourself, regularly. You'll soon be able to hone in on the asanas that give your students more "bang for their buck," in terms of potency.

Have fun. Be grateful that your students opt to spend their time and money with you. Repay them by fostering a lighthearted environment that gives students reason to smile.

Quote of the Day: Emerson

"Whatever games are played with us, we must play no games with ourselves, but deal in our privacy with the last honesty and truth."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Am I Still a Yogi if I Listen to Gangster Rap?

When I began practicing yoga at the age of 16, I wasn’t exactly the target demographic. In retrospect, I realize how out of place I must have looked—the lone teenager amongst a gaggle of former hippies and beatniks [the majority party practicing yoga at the time] who refined their sun salutations at the local recreation center. Thankfully, they welcomed me into their tribe, and I immediately felt at home.

From the start, I knew that practicing yoga would have larger implications for my lifestyle choices. Surely, I would have to stop fudging my vegetarianism. No more fish! I vowed. I also suspected that I probably wasn’t catholic anymore. Chanting “om” sounded reverent and holy but not like anything I’d heard in church. I should start wearing my clogs more often (easy enough). Heck, maybe I’d quit shaving my legs or, better yet, grow dreadlocks! As a whole, I would have to be a kinder and gentler person, without makeup. I needed to swear less and stop listening to rap music with offensive lyrics.

Wait. . . what? I love rap music with offensive lyrics!

And, so began my yogic journey toward finding balance with who I was and who I wanted to become. Initially, I erred too far in the direction of virtue- a simple enough mistake- and, consequently, missed a lot of quality rap music. I also removed countless foods from my diet and, in college, bypassed the Saturday morning tailgates in favor of an ashtanga yoga class off-campus. I’m not saying I regret my path—or the debauchery (and shellfish!) that I missed; however, I now recognize that balance is an inside job.

Nobody can strike the delicate combination of sacrifices and indulgences within each one of us that brings optimal peace and happiness.

Certain pillars of achieving balance are obvious. Set positive intentions. Meditate. Exercise. Eat healthfully. Spend time with people you love. Commune with nature. Any of these activities inherently cultivate a feeling of ease within us.

However, human beings are complex creatures, and some of us feel positively Zen-like during activities not known for being, traditionally speaking, very Zen. Like my aforementioned affinity for rap music, for example . . .

Is my taste in music “unyogic?” I have often wondered. Shouldn’t I be listening to Enya? End of story?

Yeaaaah, not so much.

Sure, you can argue that my affinity for Tupac in the 90s helped fuel the East coast/West cost feud, from the standpoint of consumerism, and if you consider the Buddhist principle of “right speech,” the fact that I played the aggressive lyrics loud enough for others to hear and sang along could be percieved as cause for concern. However, you could also argue that I was a big dork who deserved to foster at least one mildly rebellious interest.

As I often mention in this blog, I hold authenticity in the highest regard, and in the 13+ years that I’ve been ensconced in the yoga community, I’ve witnessed a lot of malarkey. I’ve heard yoga teachers vilify coffee or dairy or wheat in one breath, yet in the next breath ask a fellow teacher for drugs. Do you see my point, here? I’m supposed to believe that wheat is a malicious toxin of which we should rid our bodies, but unprescribed Xanax is cool? Did I miss something?

I tend to believe that the crux is thus: Balance is contingent upon authenticity. If you’re putting on airs and deceiving yourself and others, your sense of self will feel rickety and unstable. If the actions in which you engage to feel balanced actually harm you or those around you, the veneer will come down, sooner rather than later.

For me, rap music can feel stable when I need it. It feels brash and unapologetic in ways that I can’t be. During one particularly painful break-up (yup, I’ve weathered my share), I steadied myself by running and listening to music that said all the angry things I couldn’t say. I didn’t feel tough at the time, so I had to muster the strength from somewhere else. If Dr. Dre or Jay-Z could lend me some of their confidence and bravado, then I would accept it gratefully.

In truth, inner peace is cultivated in lots of probable places, like ashrams, on sandy beaches, and in hushed libraries, but it’s the unlikely sources of balance (please feel free to share your own!) that often give us unexpected joy and the clearest perspective of ourselves as individuals. Word to that.

Postscript: Rebecca Pacheco and Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Records and devoted yogi, were recently posted side-by-side as contributors to Coincidence? I think not.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hanging with My Homey, Deepak (Sort of)

Rebecca Pacheco (a.k.a. Om Gal, a.k.a. O.G.), a regular contributor to a new website venture launched by Deepak, Mallika, and Gotham Chopra, is featured on the site's homepage today, right below her homeboy, Deepak (who O.G.'s S.O. has taken to calling, "Deeps" for short . . . around the house, of course, as neither of us have actually met the uber-author and holistic doc). Yet . . .

For regular readers, you'll recall the recent submission from a post on Mother's Day; it's a letter written to my [scrumptious- check out the photo] godson, on the morning of his christening.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Friend Friday: O.G.'s BFF Shares a Recipe for Families

Hey OG,
I wanted to pass along a wonderful recipe that I found during my adventures as a new mom (with a very big baby). Having a healthy lifestyle is important to our family, so rather than feeding our baby organic baby food and ordering pepperoni pizza after he falls asleep, the whole family eats the same thing (albeit in different pureed consistencies for the member with the fewest teeth). Currently, this is what we are eating [wearing, wiping and playing with] during breakfast. I make one big batch on Sunday and it can last the week. Enjoy!

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon honey
1-2 apples, peeled and grated
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
1 cup low-fat yogurt (any flavor you wish)

Combine oats, milk and honey and leave soaking in the refrigerator overnight.
Next morning, add the grated apple, hazelnuts, and yogurt.