Saturday, November 29, 2008

This Is Not A Video

You're smart people. It would be tough for me to dupe you. If I didn't know you so well, I might attempt to coax you into believing that the new video camera that I bought last week has already enhanced all our lives by giving me the ability to post insightful, instructional, and entertaining videos, here, on I might even ask if you enjoyed Sunday's post, which I spent three hours filming, featuring an effective ab-blasting, yoga-inspired exercise in time for Turkey Day. Or, perhaps you got a chuckle out of my brother, Reece (Om Bro, as he aptly named himself), using our parents' kitchen as a make shift gym on Thanksgiving morning. From your prolific comments (you remember writing those, right?), I gathered that some of you found tricep dips using the kitchen counters quite innovative; others thought we were a bit daft (and you are entitled to think so). I bet you loved today's clip, especially the crafty, DIY types, looking for cheap, eco-chic ideas for holiday gifts or projects for the kids, using mostly recyclable ingredients.

Alas, we are all resigned to a different fate today. Despite three separate, investigative visits to Best Buy, hours of Internet research; incessant polling of people who knew a lot (my pal who heads up the video component on Madonna's tour right now) or next to nothing (the "Geniuses" at Apple- lovely young folks, all, but no help regarding the compatibility of their computers with camcorders); and endless internal debates in my own, limited brain; I clearly landed myself in exactly the predicament I sought to avoid . . . I have a new high-tech toy but can't play with it.

Or, rather, I can play with it; I can take video clips, but then, I'm limited to watching them on the gadget's four-inch screen. Um, sweet.

I'm not sure what the zen lesson is in all this. Perhaps it's don't throw a nutter on the phone with the nice customer service representative (I didn't). Or, life is a journey not a destination, which is fine by me since the files never made it to their final destination- my computer- anyway. Be in the present moment, rather than trying to capture it for eternity on film? I'm still unsure which revelation might deliver me to a state of enlightenment and understanding, so for now, I'm headed back to Best Buy. Wish me luck.

Friday, November 28, 2008

"Hometown Glory"

Sitting in a quaint coffee shop in my hometown, working on a post for, I just noticed the following quote on a gift card for sale, "What you are now is what you have been. What you will be is what you are now." I feel absurdly peaceful right now, so that's a good sign. I'll go with it.

And, now, I'll be getting back to my tea and tapping away at the keyboard.

(By the way, the title of this post was borrowed from the title of one of my favorite songs by up and coming artist, Adele. Highly recommend- no wait, insist).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Even Om Gals Get the Blues

Even om gals get the blues on occasion, which is why sometimes we turn to others for a little pick me up. This one came from my brother, channeling one of his former lacrosse coaches. Given the current climate (economic/bleak, weather/dreary), I thought some of you, out there, might appreciate it. Enjoy!

As the great Coach J. once said, "Hey ya know what? Hey ya know what? Don't let those clouds bother you. The clouds are OK. The rain is OK. Know why? Because beyond those clouds . . . The sun's still shining. Oh baby! The sun's still shinin'! You got that Ross?"

"It's Reece."

"Okay Ross, oh baby!"

-Om Bro, Reece Pacheco

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Postures of Gratitude

Certain poses evoke certain feelings. Some make us feel powerful, like Warrior II. Others bring us comfort, such as Child's Pose. Inversions can energize, and hip poses clarify.

So, in light of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I'm wondering which poses give you an "attitude of gratitude." My personal favorites for when I need an outward expression of inward thanks?

Parsvottanasana: This forward bend, particularly with hands in anjali mudra (anjali appropriately means "offering"), evokes an image of bowing and offering gratitude to the world (or, at the very least, the person behind you in yoga class).

Fish Pose: More subtle than other backbends, Fish Pose opens the place in our bodies where gratitude resides, our hearts.

Sivasana: Whether you're grateful for your yoga practice or just the opportunity to rest on the floor afterward, sivasana embodies the essence of yoga, the ability to "still the fluctuations of the mind." And, who wouldn't be grateful for that?

Now, your turn. For which poses are you grateful, or which ones help you express gratitude?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How To Have A Wholesome Holiday

This week, a succinct inquiry arrived at "O.G. H.Q." (otherwise known as the kitchen table, where my laptop resides- it's a complex operation; let me tell you). A one-liner included in a friendly email that wondered aloud, err, in print:

I'm curious how to make the holidays more wholesome.

So, I gave it some thought, hearkened back to my most wholesome holiday experiences, and compiled a few notes. Here's my take on how to make the season of giving a time of year that replenishes rather than depletes and remedy a mistletoe-induced meltdown without snorkeling in a vat of egg nog.

Falling into the Fray Will Fray Your Nerves: While holidays are meant to be shared, yet the constant exposure to crowded malls and festive gatherings of friends, family, coworkers, and the like often leave us needing a reprieve from all the excitement. Temper your commitments to others with opportunities to unwind by yourself or with a like-minded pal. For example, when one of my favorite pals visits her family in Boston from her home in San Francisco, we often bypass cocktails or exchanging fudge and fruitcake in favor of catching up with a yoga class or healthy lunch at our standby Thai restaurant in Cambridge. Ultimately, you need to find holiday activities that allow you to enjoy the season with your pals without losing your sanity by being subjected to constant over-stimulation, over-spending, and over-eating.

Address Expectations: Over-spending provides one of the largest sources of stress during the holiday season. While it’s tempting to stretch our means in the name of impressive gifts, this slippery slope often leads to buyer’s remorse, big bills, and, ugh, resentment. Here’s the bright side, friends: you’re not alone! Chances are many of your would-be recipients feel the seasonal strain too, which is actually a good thing since it can help you both escape the giving gauntlet this year. It’s early enough that you can easily give appropriate people the heads up that you think you should skip gifts and get together for a cookie-baking party, knitting group, nature walk, or Jenga tournament instead. What’s more, you might gather together to do something good for others, like sign up for a 5k race to benefit a charitable cause or log some hours at a local food pantry. It will be a gift you’ll both treasure—way more than yet another scented soap or box of chocolates. Can’t fit the quality time into your schedule or simply love the opportunity to wrap up a thoughtful bauble for your bestie? Define a price limit in advance, and stick to it. The peace of mind will be an additional gift to you both.

Pen Your Present: No matter how large or small the gift, it will have a valuable and lasting impact if accompanied by a thoughtful, hand-written card. (I know, so Martha Stewart of Om Gal). Consider a holiday card a chance to reflect on the last year of your relationship with someone and thank them for all that they give you year-round.

Celebrate the Season, Naturally: Stop buying pine-scented candles and faux green wreaths. Get outside and inhale the natural scent of the season. Bake the cookies from scratch. Indulge in the actual “fruits of the season” by stocking up on pomegranates, clementines, and other festive produce. For entertaining, seasonally appropriate, and healthful recipes via video, check in with my Canadian nutritionist pal, Meghan Telpner, who advocates Making Love in the Kitchen.

Have Silent Nights:
End-of-the-year revelry is expected, and it’s fun! However, you’ll avoid the likelihood of waking up on January 1 with a 2-month-long hangover, countless lost brain cells, an exhausted complexion, and no recollection of what a yoga mat does (Wait, there are other uses for the cushy floor piece than a place to pass out, after a night at the Liberty Hotel?) if you maintain a few nights to yourself sans the bubbly and boisterous atmosphere. Choose a regular yoga class; begin a meditation practice; treat yourself to 20-minutes in the steam room at your health club, or for heaven’s sake, read a book! Cozy up on the couch with your laptop to compile a kickass playlist or start a crafty Etsy-caliber project. Remember: small doses of solo activity will keep you feeling “whole” without missing the merrymaking.

Create Your Own Traditions: My friends and I enjoy a sushi meal on the eve of Christmas Eve each year. I go for a run on Christmas day. New Year’s Eve is one of my favorite days of year to practice yoga. Pick a positive activity that you’ll enjoy over the long-haul; share it with your favorite peeps, and consider making it an annual ritual.

Spend Time With Elves and Wise Men: Whenever you feel a case of the bah-humbugs coming on, spend time with people much younger or older than you. Their bright-eyed cheer or worldly grace will help you reconnect with the soul-nourishing nature of the holidays.

Bamboo, Not Bamboozled:
The holidays feature plenty of dining out and over-indulging, so put a little emphasis on the meals you do cook at home. I love my bamboo steamer, which makes crisp, steamed, nutrient-rich vegetables in a snap (just add the healthy sauce of your choice). Pair with tofu, chicken, or other lean protein, and you have the perfect, well-balanced meal. Don't be duped by the misconception that the holidays require you to abandon your healthy habits. What's more, you can even create new ones.

Feed Your Brain: Delve into a good book while traveling to visit relatives by train or plane. Pick up a new activity, like Acro Yoga or playing the guitar, to kick start the New Year. Take in a performance at the symphony. Seek out ways to keep your mind active and engaged rather than consumed by shopping, visiting, and entertaining.

Warm Your Heart: The best way to feel whole during the holidays and all year-long is to make life a little better, easier, or brighter for the people around you (call it hokey, but it’s the truth). Your gesture doesn’t need to be grand, but it should reflect who you are and what’s important to you. Feel strongly about supporting inner city youth? Find a local organization or charter school and lend a resource (e.g. time, money, ideas). Believe that sports save kids from the streets? Scour through your garage or storage unit and donate your gently worn baseball gloves and lacrosse sticks. Love animals? Offer to walk dogs or cuddle cats at your local ASPCA. Think no one should go to bed with an empty belly? Get thee to The Food Bank, and grab an apron. The options are endless—just like the genuine spirit of the holiday season.

Have a suggestion of your own for how to make the holidays happy and wholesome? Share the love; post a comment!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

6th Annual "Saluting the Spirit" Event

Today, I'm teaching a portion of the 108 sun salutations that participants in this benefit class will complete in support of yogaHOPE and Pathways to Wellness. The event takes place at the Sports Club/LA. Hope to see you there!

[Photo above taken by "Om Bro," at Put Your Money Where Your Mat Is last month.]

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Peeking at the Poses of Others

Last week I joined some pals for a yoga class at Exhale, taught by Amy Leydon, who recently confided that I was one of her first yoga teachers, as many as seven years ago, here, in Boston. Small world, eh? So it was quite a treat to take the yoga journey full circle and attend her upbeat and graceful class, as a student. Moreover, I was happy to join my friends, who are all serious runners, in an activity that I love so much. Throughout the past year, some of them have, in turn, provided running tips, pieces of insight, and motivation- particularly when I was training for Reach the Beach.

With my mat positioned next to Jack and behind Barry, Sarah, and Chris, I enjoyed the experience of being surrounded by friends while absorbed in a solitary activity that, more often than not, provides me with quality introspection. I tuned into my pals only long enough to notice that they weren't nearly as stiff or inexperienced at yoga as they'd let on. In fact, they looked like seasoned students to me.

Still, when class ended and we huddled together, sharing our collective post-sivasana bliss, Jack joked that practicing next to me left him feeling slightly, yogically inadequate by comparison. To which I responded, "Well, if that's the case, none of us would ever bother putting on running shoes again." You see, Jack once won the Boston Marathon. Therefore, if we follow the logic of comparing each other's yoga poses, we could just as easily fall into the trap of comparing our mile paces (not to mention our bodies, bank accounts, and . . . the list goes on) with similarly dissatisfying results.

I believe it was the Buddha (or perhaps a middle school teacher of mine many moons ago), who said, "All unhappiness comes from comparison."

In other words, heaven help us all, if we base our own capacity to lace up a pair of New Balance sneaks and take a trot along the river, bopping to Rihanna while envisioning ourselves crossing the finish line, before being draped in a foil blanket and adorned with a champion's laurel wreath, on the standards set by someone else. Sh*t, why bother we might say?

Yoga, among other things, teaches us to turn inward and turn off the tendency to peer over at our neighbors, sizing up their downward dogs or dancer's poses. It's not an easy task, but it is just as much a part of the practice as lengthening one's hamstrings or steadying one's drishti.

Years ago, I took a workshop with Bryan Kest, who I recall telling the class, "You should not know what the person next to you is wearing [in a yoga class]," which I think is a helpful rule of thumb. Perhaps you admire someone else's level of experience for a moment or you're a beginner who learns visually; however, avoid getting too swept up with anything that's happening anywhere other than on your mat or in your shoes.

Remember, each of us has our own finish line, with a champion's laurel wreath, in just the right size, awaiting us during our own personal moments of triumph.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Quote: Kubler-Ross

"People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within."

-Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Monday, November 10, 2008

This Weekend: Bostonians Saluting The Spirit

Moments like this rarely happen in traditional yoga classes . . . Taken at the Global Mala event in Boston in September, the candid shot above shows me (foreground) and two of my favorite gal pals, Chanel Luck of YogaThree and Bonnie Argo, Boston's resident acro-yoga expert, getting a bit silly on our mats. While one could argue that I'm not quite doing yoga, it's evident that I'm still having a ball. Chanel and Bonnie, to their credit, are at least doing or assisting the poses being taught.

When I opened this photo for the first time, yesterday, it immediately made me smile and recall the special day that gathered yogis together around the globe for the benefit of a cause greater than ourselves. Boston's event supported Trees for the Future and the Food Project, and as you can see, the poses we practiced were quite secondary to the fun we had, blessings we shared, and positive energy and intentions we sent toward our brothers and sisters in need.

This weekend, in Boston, another opportunity arises to practice yoga for the benefit of two other, hugely worthwhile causes, YogaHope and Pathways to Wellness. Held at the swanky Sports Club/LA, the sixth annual Saluting the Spirit event, joins together some of the best yoga teachers in the city, for the purpose of creating a memorable practice that raises funds to support wellness, yoga, and holistic health programs for those in need. I'm teaching alongside many friends and countless respected colleagues, including but not limited to Chanel, Coeli Marsh, Roman Szpond, Jane Cargill, Taylor Wells, and Sue Jones.

This class will lead students through the symbolic and challenging practice of 108 Sun Salutations [No, I didn't stutter. Yes, you CAN do it], and I can guarantee moments like the one caught above- where the poses are secondary, if not almost irrelevant- will abound. I hope you'll join us for the fun, fundraising, and collective saluting of all our spirits.

[Photo taken by Deborah Perkins.]

Om Gal Joins the Patriots for the Pre-Game Stretch

Whether you're headed out for a run, preparing to take your squash opponent to school, or limbering up for the season opener of the company bowling league, you likely have a preferred pre-game stretch, a few signature moves and motions that help you loosen up and get ready to play. My pro-golfer pal, Joe Horowitz, uses twisting poses to simulate his swing, for example. Meanwhile, you can find my friend, Karen Fabian, an avid runner, in viparita karani before a race. Professional cyclist and regular reader J. Alain Ferry opts for lunges as a way to fire up the muscles in his legs before the starting gun fires. New England Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson cops to Om Gal that he's not a big stretcher, but he's mindful about lengthening his hamstrings with plenty of forward bends before a game, ideally with the help of a teammate or trainer to get a deeper stretch.

For football players, like Watson and his team, pre-game poses of choice depend upon the position of the player. Receivers, such as Watson and, say, Randy Moss, also benefit from twists, to mimic the game-time action of reaching around, receiving a catch, and then, continuing a forward motion. Offensive lineman, given their need to be very grounded and low to the earth, are best served by standing poses, like warriors and utkatasana- which appropriately translates to mean "powerful pose." For defensive players, I might recommend balancing asanas, forward bends, and some protective work for the shoulders. Likewise, a quarterback would benefit from shoulder work, hip postures such as pigeon (which also serve to protect precious knees), and some pranayama to boot. Think about: if you were about to endure four hours of the biggest, strongest, fastest men on the planet trying to clobber you at full speed- you'd need to spend some pre-game time breathing deeply too.

So, what's your favorite way to limber up?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Hey Yoga Teacher, Play That Funky Music

When it comes to playing music during yoga classes, students and teachers tend to have a jukebox rotation's worth of differing opinions, preferences, and advice. Some vehemently swear against it on the grounds that music provides a distraction from meditation- a mental crutch- while others see their playlists as extensions of their teaching talents and an added resource for helping students to achieve a certain mind/body experience.

Both sides have a point. Students shouldn't need a soundtrack to achieve yogic bliss. Instead, the breath, known as prana, serves to set the pace of the practice and lull the mind into a meditative state. Teachers, too, need to be able to engage a class and deliver a memorable, inspirational, and effective sequence without the help of Krishna Das or Durga Das or Madonna Das. (OK, so I got carried away with the Das). In short, there is no substitution for the experience of stripping away all extraneous stimulants (the chatter of other people, cell phones, TVs, radios, iPods, etc.) and connecting to sound of one's own breath, on a yoga mat, with no agenda other than being in the present moment and appreciating its potential.

On the other hand, I don't think anyone denies that music is a powerful form of expression, capable of setting a mood and evoking specific thoughts and feelings. How often have you heard a piece of music and felt transported emotionally? In its most basic form, music is a transmission of energy; it's a vibration. It can literally move us, which is why it comes in handy when you're absorbed in an activity that involves- you guessed it- movement.

I'm not one for insisting upon stringent rules when it comes to peoples' teaching styles or personal preferences during class, and to borrow the oft-used phrase and title of a book written by a fellow yogi and contributor, who also happens to be the CEO of Def Jam Records, Russell Simmons, you need to "Do You!" In other words, march to the beat of your own drum (or lack thereof) while on the mat.

My love for music is well documented; however, when teaching, I typically use music only under special circumstances, such as lengthy workshops or private retreats, for example. I cut my teeth as a yoga teacher by working in health clubs, which often present many acoustic and environmental challenges (like, say, the Tae Bo class in the studio next door or the blaring techno music on the gym floor), so I frequently used music to help camouflage the disruptive noise around us (get this- I used cassette tapes back then!). Later, I taught at a studio that prohibited music during classes. As in, play the music, and you can expect that whatever tune you play will be your swan song . . . Buh-bye. As a result, I am comfortable teaching with or without a soundtrack. Nevertheless if those of you who are teachers decide to play that funky music, here are a few tips to consider:

1.) Never allow the music to undermine your ability to create a meaningful experience for your students. In other words, have control of your class, first, before relinquishing the energetic reigns to Madonna and the like. As a general guideline, begin class with silence and pepper in your chosen jams when appropriate.

2.) Be sure the music matches the movement. Don't expect your students to have a restful sivasana if you're bumpin' No Doubt during it. Similarly, pick upbeat music for sun salutations and other energizing asanas.

3.) Bear in mind that not everyone loves your taste in music as much as you do. This is tough to swallow for all of us, but just because you think the Red Hot Chili Peppers are the rock n' roll equivalent of a Tibetan gong (ah, the sound of pure zen), doesn't mean your students will. Take their sensibilities into account. Approach your playlists from the standpoint of aiming to enhance the students' experience rather than entertaining yourself with your latest iPod masterpiece.

Yogis: Let's hear your take. Do you like to practice in silence or with a soundtrack? Teachers: Do you play music, and if so, what's on heavy rotation right now?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Quote: Goethe

Before you can do something, you must first be something.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Quote: Bhagavad Gita

"A lamp does not flicker where no winds blow; so it is with a yogi, who controls his mind, intellect, and self, being absorbed in the spirit within him. When the restlessness of the mind, intellect, and self is stilled through the practice of yoga, the yogi by the grace of the Spirit within himself finds fulfillment."

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Night at the Museum

A scary surgeon, a blue-haired rock star, and Cleopatra at last night's Institute of Contemporary Art fete . . . I hope everyone enjoyed the spooky day. Have a candy hangover? Try twisting poses (gently!). How about a good old fashion hangover-hangover? Try viparita karani and drink-lots-of-water asana.