Friday, July 31, 2009

Funny Friend Friday

Me: "I'm marching toward 30 with a mission . . ."

Friend Dan, CEO, Yoga Earth: "30 is nothing! I just stared down 35, and it blinked first."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Yoga Tradition Tuesday: What Is Karma?

"Karma is the eternal assertion of human freedom . . . Our thoughts, our words, and deeds are the threads of the net which we throw around ourselves."

-Swami Vivekananda

Sunday, July 26, 2009

An Efficient Ab Exercise For Swimsuit Season

"From the cutting room floor," as they say. . .This simple how-to video was shot earlier this month but recently edited and posted to my YouTube channel. It features one of my favorite abdominal exercises, for enhanced athletic performance, maintaining a healthy back, and, yes, just in time for swimsuit season. No equipment necessary, with the exception of a small towel. Give it a try. Tell me what you think, beach gals and guys.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I'm Not A Gal Who Goes Ga-Ga For Weddings

But, I think this is pretty fantastic. Enjoy.

With love,
Om Gal

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Marathon Flashback

There are no hero shots, declares my friend Christina over a Thai food lunch a few weeks after the Boston Marathon. By then, I'm ambling down stairs easily and catching up with friends whom I haven’t seen since my monastic marathon training routine began several months earlier, but the travails of the 26.2-mile trek are still fresh. Christina is referring, specifically, to one particularly painful truth: My pictures look like shit.

Hers do too, she insists (she ran the race just one year prior), and while I can’t vouch for her photos, I can say, with confidence, that mine look at once pained, deranged, and near-dead—and that’s before the finish line. I won’t even address those taken by Om-Mama following the race, back at my apartment. Oh look, there I am, crawling around on all fours. Sweet.

These are not the images that I envisioned, the ones that sustained and motivated me on frigid, dark mornings in February when my only resources for staying warm were picking up the pace or visualizing my triumphant finish on Boylston Street in April (eventually, it would be April, right?). In reality, any photographic evidence of my achievement or elation upon crossing the finish is largely obstructed by some guy name Mike B. (per the duct tape on his shirt). I'm not sure how he managed to set a pick after running 26.2 miles, but he completely blocks what would have been my hero shot. Thanks, dude.

I guffaw into my tom yum soup while Christina and I recount all the horrible photos captured by friends, family, and official photographers along the course. She looks gaunt and dehydrated. I look as though I'm on death's doorstep, or half drunk, or a combination thereof. The drastic contrast between marathon expectations and reality is both comical and disappointing, but it also reveals a great deal about the journey. My race time, for example, is vastly slower than projected, which admittedly remains a sore spot, so does my right hip, but I digress . . .

Having completed my first marathon means a lot to me, but not in the ways that I anticipated or even hoped. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "The reward of a thing well done is having done it," and that rings true here. I have no hero shots or a time worth boasting, but I have done it.

It's safe to say that I'll never play in a Superbowl or a World Series. I'm terrible at tennis, so Wimbledon is out, and considering my phobia of biking too fast downhill, you won't see me in the Tour de France in this lifetime. But I've run the Boston Marathon, a historic, iconic athletic event, with hundreds of thousands of spectators, who at times- bless them- cheered for me. I shared the road with Kara Goucher, Ryan Hall, Colleen de Reuk, the Hoyts, and all those elite Kenyans. Sure, I was hours behind them, but I understand, on some level, what their journey was like that day, a feeling no photo can capture.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tradition Tuesday: What Does "Om" Mean & Other Key Yoga Terms

OM: Sacred monosyllable symbolizing oneness/the Absolute; the oldest, most popular mantra.

MANTRA: Thought or intention expressed in sound (e.g. prayer, hymn, plan).

MUDRA: Literally, a "seal" or way of "locking in" an intention, typically formed through hand gestures.

NAMASTE: "The light/divine within me bows to the light/divine within you," used as a greeting or farewell in India; traditionally said at the close of a yoga class.

ASANA: Used to refer to the postures we practice. Translates to mean "seat," as in a pose in which you are seated. While there are plenty of standing and supine positions, you should seek to feel grounded/rooted in all of them, as you would if you were seated.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Quote : Jack Kerouac

"But they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, 
but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles 
exploding like spiders across the stars . . ."

-Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday, I'm in Love: A Gym Floozie Exclusive

In the conventional sense of the word, I am not promiscuous; however, my tawdry affairs with multiple health clubs are well documented.  Therefore, when it comes to gyms (which should not to be confused with guys named Jim), I'm more unfaithful than an episode of The Bachelorette. I will two-time any health club on the planet, regardless of how charming or sophisticated, stylish or suave.  While this season's bachelorette, Jillian, narrowed her field of suitors down to two, Ed and Kimptyn, earlier this week, I can similarly identify two gyms as being closest to my heart right now.  Since Friday is the day that I typically dish on something with which I'm smitten, today I'm coming clean about my current health club love-triangle with the urbane Equinox in Boston and my weekend fling with Rocky's on Cape Cod. 

It's not hard to imagine why I would fall for Equinox, what with its good looks, brawn, sense of style, and cool group of friends.  Rocky's, on the other hand, is a less obvious match for me.  If Equinox is the handsome quarterback that everyone fawns over, Rocky's is the all-business kicker who never misses, exceedingly valuable- in some cases, more so- but never as visible.  Here, I share some of the reasons a nice gal like me would ever dream of two-timing her big city romance for a small-town crush.

He writes love letters . . . OK, so this note is not actually meant for me, but in an age when just about any city gym will cut your lock if you stow your stuff for too long, Rocky's reserves lockers for its inner circle with a charming, hand-written note. 

He's a good listener . . . In a world of non-stop cell phone contact, you have to love any place that lays down the law and tells that jamoke on the Stairmaster to put his celly away for a hot minute.

He's committed . . .

OK, you got me; he's a bit of a bad boy . . . Swanky city gyms have valet services, but Rocky's has a parking space relegated for motorcycle use only. If that's not badass; I don't know what is.

He's neat . . . This one probably makes me swoon more than all the rest.  Rocky's prides itself on being the "cleanest and friendliest gym on Cape Cod."  So far, I see no evidence to the contrary.  Have a great weekend everyone; I'm Cape bound. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reader Query: Yoga Poses for Healing

Hi Rebecca,

I used to take your classes at Baptiste in Cambridge and Boston about 4 years ago, and I can't remember how I learned about your blog sometime over the last year, but I did, somehow, and I'm so glad I did, because I am really grateful that even though you no longer teach [regularly], your blog still allows me to get some of the wisdom that I used to love so much about your classes. On that subject, I still remember being in eagle pose in one class of yours and hearing you say that it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness—thanks for that; I remind myself of it frequently. I was wondering if you could do a post addressing grief—yoga and grief, how to take care of yourself when you are grieving, what are the best poses to most optimally meet emotional pain and transform it, which poses heal a broken heart, which poses most clearly show you who you really are, etc. I've been going through a really hard year and there are periods where I'm grieving really heavily, and during those times, when I could probably use yoga more than ever, sun salutations feel obnoxious and overwhelmingly strenuous to me, and my asana options feel limited. These days, viparita karani with my legs up the wall has turned into a part-time job of sorts for me, but I was wondering if you have any secret weapon restorative sequences up your sleeve.

Thanks so much,


Hi Patrice:

Thank you for writing. The simple act of drafting this email shows that you have a healthy instinct for taking care of yourself. Perhaps you’ve heard the adage that joy shared is joy doubled, and grief shared is half grief? Put simply, your instinct to share your grief helps dilute it.

Yoga, too, will help ease the pain; however, I understand the feeling of being overwhelmed by a practice that is too strenuous, perhaps obnoxiously so. Grieving expends a great deal of energy, so a yoga practice, during times of heartbreak, needs to restore, rejuvenate, and heal. That means different things to different people, but it’s best to begin gingerly. If viparita karani becomes a part-time job, then so be it. Clearly, that’s something you need right now.

From my own personal experience, I have often felt that postures bringing the greatest level of support and healing are, well, supported postures. If you don’t typically use props, such as blocks, bolsters, straps, blankets, etc., now is a perfect time to start. Suffice to say that using a bolster just might bolster your spirit. I like using one under my spine in supta baddha konasana. Don’t have a bolster? Try firmer pillows such as those on a couch.

In general, poses performed closer to the earth will feel more comforting and reassuring when your life seems to be in upheaval. A few poses to try include half-pigeon, janu sirsana, and even gentle twists (which are known to be cleansing).

To balance all this emphasis on the lower body, you might try dolphin (downward dog, except your forearms rest on the floor). This pose is strengthening without being overly strenuous or showy.

Encouraging your heart to open is the last step toward healing. For this reason, gentle backbends are useful now, as they open the front-body, including your heart, chest, throat, etc. Again, these can be done with the support of blocks and bolsters if you choose. A few options include fish pose, dhanurasa, and urdhva dhanurasana.

Finally, you might try working with a mantra or visualization technique during your practice to make it feel more spiritual rather than strenuous. You could choose a traditional mantra such as “om shanti,” or you could create one of your own, “It's better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” Visualize sorrow leaving your body, or summon an empowering image in your mind’s eye, one that makes you feel safe and happy, like the protective elephant-head god Ganesha (above, left), the warrior goddess Durga (right), or a serene place that makes your heart smile.

Have patience with yourself during this process. Eventually, the cracks and caverns in your heart will no longer feel empty from pain, but empty and open to receive greater amounts of joy.



Monday, July 13, 2009

Pose of the Day: Dragonfly

The beauty of yoga is that one practice simultaneously makes us feel grounded, centered, and stable while also providing opportunities for adventure, freedom, and daring, perhaps never more so than in arm balances. Mostly named for birds or insects, arm balances allow us to fly. They're fun, challenging, and exploratory, like tittibhasana (or dragonfly), for example (photo: above).

To enter this posture, your hips must feel nimble, open, and warm, as the pliability of your hips will largely dictate your ability to get your legs onto or near your shoulders and stay there. For this reason, it's best to do this pose after you have performed several sun salutations. In a sequence, I often place this pose after a squat or prasarita (expanded leg intense stretch or "straddle").

From prasarita (a forward bend with legs wide apart), walk your hands along the floor until then are planted flat, beyond your heels; your fingertips pointing forward. Remember, your hands are shoulder width apart, just like any other arm balance.

Bend your knees, and sit back onto your upper arms. Then, lift your feet off the ground. If you find that your arms don't feel long enough and you can't properly flatten your palms, try placing a yoga block under each hand. This will give you more levity.

Unlike many arm balances, the tendency to fall will lead you backward, as opposed to forward. If you're scared, consider that the floor is not that far away, and your tuckus can probably handle a short topple backwards. Eventually, you will feel weightless in this posture and strong, knowing that you can support your weight with your own two hands.

Happy flying.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Things I Dig Today . . .

This quote by Charles Bukowski: "If you're going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods. And the nights will flame with fire."

This necklace, which I conjured up and asked my pal Lanyapi on Etsy to create, one for myself and one for my friend C. with whom I ran my first 26.2 miles, the Boston Marathon in April. Stamping the simple silver disc with the number of miles is such a simple concept but could work for so many things: a lucky number, an important date such as a birthday, wedding, or anniversary, or significant initials that make you or the gift recipient smile.

My Zensah running skirt. I wore it last week on a grey, drizzly
morning run through Southie in an attempt to summon the sunshine
after a month of grey, drizzly weather (with the occasional deluge thrown in). Mine is bright turquoise blue and feels like summer.
It also feels super comfortable- and speedy! I love it.

Though not typically a fan of shoulder stand, I'm enjoying the pose right now. Here's a cute cartoon demonstration from ABC of Yoga.

Thai fresh rolls. This isn't anything new. I could live on them. I loooooove them. Why don't you marry them, you say? Maybe I will. Yum.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Quote: Aldous Huxley

"There's only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self."

-Aldous Huxley

How would you like to improve your corner of the universe today?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tradition Tuesday: Why Do We Roll to the Right After Sivasana?

After a yoga practice- regardless of its duration- it's customary to rest in sivasana or "corpse pose." This supine posture is paramount to any practice, sealing in the effects of each asana, providing meaningful meditation time, and allowing the body to rest and rejuvenate. Following the pose and just before concluding class, students are typically asked to roll to their right sides, in the fetal position, before rising up to a seated posture.

But, why the right side?

Simple. Your heart is located on the left side of your chest; therefore, rolling to the right keeps your heart slightly more elevated for slightly longer. It's believed to be the most gradual, subtle transition out of your yoga practice. I often tell my students to think of this movement as "taking the yoga with them" before they go.

You don't abruptly end a yoga class and dive back into the chaos of your life, do you? Ideally, you bring the restfulness and reflection with you. In other words, the yoga never stops.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Good-bye to a TV Host, an Angel, a Legendary Entertainer, a Quarterback, & a Guru

With the deaths of superstars Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson last week, and Steve McNair on Saturday, it seems we’ve bid farewell to an inordinate number of icons recently. While the losses of Jackson, 51, and McNair, 36, are more tragic and untimely than McMahon, 86, and Fawcett, 62, whose battle with cancer was well documented, each person occupied a place within our collective consciousness. A timeless TV host, the consummate girl-next-door beauty, the King of Pop, and a trailblazing quarterback—each entertained, inspired, and enhanced the way we view life, in various ways, both large and small.

The yoga community, too, recently laid to rest its own icon, Sri Pattabhi Jois, the founder of ashtanga yoga. While his influence was not as broad as the aforementioned celebrities, he occupies an exalted place among yogis. While newer yoga students might not recognize his name, it’s likely that the styles of yoga they practice were influenced, in part, by Jois. At 93-years-old, Jois witnessed yoga’s popularity soar from a sacred Indian ritual to an international health trend. Along with B.K.S. Iyengar, who turned 90 in December, and T.K.V. Desikachar, Jois carried the lineage of Krishnamacharya, credited as the “father of modern yoga.”

While I’ve been to southern India, not far from where the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute is located, and studied ashtanga with two of his disciples for several years beginning in college, I never took class with him personally. In a Vanity Fair column a couple years ago, he is described by students as “fierce and compassionate” as well as “strict and loving.” Here are a couple videos that capture the late guru:

When reflecting upon any one person's life, famous or not, I think Herman Hesse may have said it best when he wrote, "Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world's phenomena intersect, only once in this way, and never again."

Thank you to those mentioned here, who shared the unique intersection of their talents with so many. Please feel free to share how Sri Pattabhi Jois inspired your yoga practice or comment on how any of the other recently departed influenced your life.