Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Please Visit Our New "Om"

Thank you for reading!  After nearly three years, OmGal.com has a shiny, new hOMe.  No longer located on Blogger, we've created a clean, unique, and user-friendly design, just for you!  Please visit by retyping www.omgal.com into your browser or clicking here.  (Be sure to change your bookmark).    

I'd love to hear your feedback on the new site, and I am so grateful for your support.

Om Shanti,

Monday, October 25, 2010

Seated Yoga for Head of the Charles Athletes & The Rest of Us

In honor of the athletes who participated in the Head of the Charles Regatta this weekend, in Boston, I wanted to share a simple seated yoga sequence to relax tight shoulders, stretch the entire spine, and massage abdominal organs.  For those who didn't row (skull?) in the world's largest two-day rowing event, this short sequence is also very beneficial.  For one, it counterbalances computer hunch by improving posture and opening the upper back . . . Not that you ever slouch at your desk, right, OGs?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Advanced Backbending Series: Wheel to Handstand

You know I would bend over backwards for you, right, yogis?  Or, in this case, I'll show you how to bend over backwards.  The video, here, is an advanced sequence that I enjoy a lot, so I thought I'd share it.  Please note: it's important to be highly proficient at wheel pose (urdhva dhanurasana) before attempting the first stage, which is simply to lift one leg and place your foot against a wall.  Over time, you'll transition into handstand, initially, with the help of a teacher or spotter.  For backbending tips of all levels, see 6 Tips for Safe Backbends.  

If there's a pose or sequence you'd like to see broken down on video (beginner or advanced), please post a comment.  

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Om Gal Gear: My Multi-Tasking Skirt-Scarf Thingy

Multi-tasking can be good, like meditating while the water boils for a pot of tea, reading on the elliptical machine at the gym, or emptying the dishwasher during a commercial break.  However, it can also be a terrible idea.  Texting while driving, answering your cell phone during yoga, or using your yoga class as a bendier, sweatier version of Match.com.

When it comes to clothing, I'm a believer that multi-tasking is great.  For instance, while studying abroad in college, I bought a piece of fabric in Kenya.  First, I hung it on the wall in my dorm room, then I wore it as a sarong.  Next, it became a tablecloth, and, finally, a scarf.  Snicker all you like about a gal who wants to wear a tablecloth around town, but I call it being "resourceful."  (Shhhh, if you're quiet you can almost hear the exasperated sigh of Om Mama).  

Fast forward a couple, a few, 10 years, and I am still pulling off (and putting on) the same creative dressing antics.  My latest inspiration is a skirt-scarf-thingy that I bought at lululemon a couple weeks ago.  Ever since, I've been incorporating it into my wardrobe on and off the mat.

It was an added layer of warmth, as a skirt, while climbing Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire.

Then, it came in handy as a disguise when I had to run from authorities.  Kidding . . . It was a useful hood to block the wind at the top of the mountain.

Naturally, it makes a nice scarf.

It also works as a vest, which Om Gal intern Megan thought was pretty nifty.  (She took this photo). 

For those who get chilly in sivasana (body temperature tends to drop during meditation), it's a cozy, light blanket.  

Or a meditation shawl.  

What do you think, OGs [om guys and gals]?  Which function is your favorite?  When is multi-tasking good?  When is bad, very bad?  

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I've Been Shot During Yoga & KO'd on a Golf Course

Last week, I thought I was being shot at during a yoga class.  It’s embarrassing, but I can explain.

It was a special class featuring a live DJ, and my mat was positioned near the speakers.  While DJ Mantra was making some technical adjustments, something backfired or short-circuited, which caused a huge kaboom!  I swear it sounded like a gunshot.  From downward facing dog, I hit the deck and reflexively curled up in a ball, protecting my head.  Good instincts, right?  Except for one crucial fact: I WAS IN A YOGA CLASS.  Not a war zone.  Not on a hunting trip.  Not stranded in a back alley in gang territory.  Not, even, visiting a movie set where gunfire is simulated.  A yoga studio: where the most violent crimes against humanity include leaving your cell phone on and flatulence.  

My dear friend, Chanel Luck, who was teaching class, found the whole scene highly entertaining (who could blame her?), but, although ridiculous, she'd probably tell you it wasn't totally out of character to those who know me best.  In other words, I'm great at making a fool of myself.  It's not a frequent occurrence, per say, but when I humiliate myself, I do a really thorough job, especially in athletic settings.  

There was the time, as a teen, when I got stuck in a rowing machine while admiring a cute boy at the gym.  My T-shirt snagged under the seat, rendering me trapped, and the gym staff had to use scissors to cut me free.  The back of the shirt had a giant chunk missing afterward, so I told people I'd been attacked by a shark.  

More recently, I nearly knocked myself unconscious while golfing with Om Bro, my Dad, and my then new beau.  We'd just teed off in a friendly tournament, when I hustled back to the cart.  Unfortunately, the roof of the cart was precisely my height, so I slammed my head full-force into the cart, falling flat on my back (thank goodness for the semi soft landing of a manicured green).  My Dad and beau were stunned in silence.  From the ground, in my KO'd state, I could only hear my brother, exasperated and more than a little amused, "Rebecca, are you serious?"  

Yes, I am serious.  A serious klutz.  A serious hazard to myself, even in sports and activities with as little contact as yoga, indoor rowing, and golf.  Sad, isn't it?  So, now that I've shared some of my more colorful, more embarrassing moments with you, it's your turn, om guys and gals.

Tell me about your most embarrassing yoga or athletic moment.  I have a feeling there will be a lot of anonymous comments on this one . . .

Monday, October 11, 2010

On Columbus Day: 6 Pioneers Who Changed the Yoga World

The following is a list of people whom I'd call the great pioneers of modern yoga-- teachers who changed the shape of the yoga world, from a "flat" existence in one corner of the map, to a rounded, global experience by countless cultures and people. 

6 Pioneers of Modern Yoga

Patanjali (150 B.C.E.): Like Christopher Columbus, Patanjali is sometimes credited with "discovering" yoga; however, the truth is that people had already been practicing yoga for centuries before he collated the sacred teachings into an organized text called The Yoga Sutras.

Krishnamacharya (1880): Krishnamacharya believed yoga to be "India's greatest gift to the world," and through his teaching and, later, his disciples (Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar among them), he further developed the practice and disseminated it to a larger audience.

Paramahasna Yogananda (1893): Author of the book Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda moved to the United States in 1920 and is thereby credited with being the first Hindu teacher to make his permanent home in America. Yogananda had a brother who was also an influential yoga teacher and the guru of Bikram Chouhury, a popular and polarizing figure within the yoga community today and the first to franchise a style of yoga practice.

Pattabhi Jois (1915): The late Pattabhi Jois was one of Krishnamarycha's most recognized students. The creator of ashtanga yoga, Jois was the first yogi to accept Westerners as students at his ashram in southern India. Some of these students included Norman Allen, Sharon Gannon and David Life, of Jivamukti Yoga, Doug and David Swenson, Tias Little, and many others.

Maharishi Mahesh (1918): Perhaps best known for his mentorship of The Beatles and other celebrities in the 1960s, the Maharishi was the most visible yogi to travel and teach outside of India in his day.

B.K.S. Iyengar (1918): Like Jois, Iyengar is also part of Krishnamarycha's lineage. The living legend turns 92 in December. His books are among the most influential, accessible, and articulate yoga resources on the market. He trained several of modern yoga's top teachers including Boston's Patricia Walden.

For A Guide to Different Styles of Yoga, click here.

Quote: John Lennon

We've got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant.  You can't just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it's going to get on by itself.  You've got to keep watering it.  You've got to really look after it and nurture it.
-John Lennon (former Beatle, who would have been 70 today).

Night blooming cyrus, a rare blossom, nurtured by Om Mama all year.  It blooms once annually, at night, for just a few fragrant hours.     

Friday, October 8, 2010

Step on a Crack; Don't Break a Yogi's Back: 6 Tips for Safe Backbends

Safe backbends keep the spine supple, heart open, and core strong, among many other benefits.  When done correctly, these poses energize and detoxify the body, leaving yogis feeling cleansed and revitalized—no master cleansing required.  Whereas a forward bend is calming and introspective, a backbend is opening and awakening.  Last weekend, I held a workshop that focused specifically on backbends, called: Fall Head Over Heels.  

On the heels of the workshop (sorry, you know I'm a sucker for a good pun), I've been answering a lot of questions regarding backbends, such as upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana), shown above, bow (dhanurasana), camel (ustrasana), wheel (urdhva dhanurasana), and more advanced variations, including transitions from wheel into camel, drop-backs, and more.  To help make your poses more accessible, safe, and advanced, I've compiled some key backbending tips to keep in mind.
  • Solid foundation: Every asana must begin with a steady and relaxed foundation.  In upward dog (shown above), my ankles and feet are relaxed, while my thighs are squeezing and lifting, helping to alleviate any pressure in my low spine.  My hands, too, should be well-aligned (shoulder-width distance apart) and rooting strongly into the earth.  My right hand, for example, should be flatter to the ground, here.  (Shame on me).    
  • Strong legs: After intense backbending, I tell yogis that, if anything, their legs should be sore, as opposed to their backs.  Before I reach backward in the pose below, my legs must be wide awake.  The front thigh is driving forward, while the back leg is, again, squeezing and lifting.  

  • Tucked tailbone: This is very important for the safety of your lower back.  Tucking your tailbone helps lift and lengthen the spine upward before it bends back.  
  • Supportive core: Think of your core as a supportive, broad belt (like the type worn by UPS workers or body builders).  Its job is to protect your spine.  The abdominal work often incorporated into yoga classes today helps to support poses such as backbends, along with inversions, in particular.     
  • Relaxed shoulders: My male students, especially, are sometimes perplexed by backbends.  They know they're strong enough to do them but often struggle with accessing poses such as wheel or king dancer (below).  The magic ingredient for these backbends is space and flexibility in the shoulders.  More muscles in your upper back and shoulders (likely found in om guys, buff gals, swimmers, and others) leads to less flexibility.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing (be proud of your strength!); however, it will hinder some of your backbends.  Aim to open the shoulders before attempting deep backbends, and in any backbend, focus on dropping your shoulders down.  This will also create space and safety for your neck . . .  

  • Safe cervical spine: Keeping your spine safe during backbends is the utmost priority.  For this reason, the tailbone tucks, the mid-spine lifts, the shoulders drop, and the neck remains long.  It can be tempting to crank your head back in upward dog or wheel, for example, but this doesn't provide any discernible benefit to the pose.  Over time, it can hurt your all-important neck.  In most cases, try aiming your eyes/gaze (known as drishti) straight ahead, rather than overly up or down.

Focus on these tips and you'll be able to open your heart and energize for the weekend ahead and beyond.  Enjoy!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Style Saturday: I Heart Hats

A few years ago, after working late at a magazine in Boston, I hovered in the doorway of my boss's office to say good night.  Unfortunately, I scared the crap out of her.

"Jesus Christ!" she gasped.  "You look like broccoli."

She had a point.  I was wearing this hat.

It's come to my attention, recently, that I have a thing for hats.  Along with broccoli hats, I am fond of:

Boyish hats . . .

Bohemian hats . . .

The flower is real, a gardenia from Om Mama. 

Championship hats . . .

I went home and cried after this photo was taken.  It was my first official night of Boston Marathon training: 9 miles, up Heartbreak Hill to Kenmore Square, in sub-zero temperatures, and I knew it was only going to get worse.  My hair was partially frozen beneath my 2004 Sox hat.

En route to the gym. 

While not wearing a Patriots hat, per say (of course I need to represent all 3 of my teams), this photo was taken at Gillette Stadium with my marathon training partner, Cara, in October 2009.  Yes, really . . . October, and yes, that's snow.

Fedora hats . . .

On Vinita (left), Livity.  Me: Billabong.

And, the newest addition: Ear-flappy hats . . .

Purchased at the first Ibex store, Newbury Street, Boston.

I'm not sure why I dig hats so much.  It might be an unhealthy obsession, or a creative form of self-expression.  (Thoughts, om guys and gals?)  For now, I'll chalk it up to a harmless vice to protect me from the elements this fall and winter.  Hats off to October & happy weekend, all!

Friday, October 1, 2010

We All Want Only One Thing in Life: Happiness

People who inspire me tend to illustrate how similar we all are, rather than how different.  They reveal what is most special inside each one of us, instead of insisting that they are more special than the rest.  They are leaders who unite, rather than divide.  Teachers who speak with integrity, as opposed to ego.  Spiritual guides with grace, and without grandiosity  Friends, relatives, and neighbors who do selfless, substantial, soul-strengthening things when no one is looking, all day long, just because . . .

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai, for example, will often tell audiences that we are all the same.  We fundamentally want only one thing in life: To be happy.  In the video below, taken last year when he was in Boston, the Dalai Lama explains that our best chance for being happy is by, first, being present.  He offers that by continually distracting and overstimulating our senses (with TV, music, etc.), we run the risk of being dependent on these experiences and sad when we do not have them.  This leaves us feeling "lonely" and "uncomfortable," he says.    

So, today, I'd like to turn it over to you, readers . . . What makes you happy to the fully present core of your being?  Let's enumerate all the ways, large and small, triumphant and trivial, in which we feel grounded, joyful, creative, supported, and calm.  Happy Friday!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Quote: Meditation

"When we speak of meditation, it is important for you to know that this is not some weird cryptic activity, as our popular culture might have it.  It does not involve becoming some kind of zombie, vegetable, self-absorbed narcissist, navel gazer, 'space cadet,' cultist, mystic, or Eastern philosopher.  Meditation is simply about being yourself and knowing something about who that is.  It is about coming to realize that you are on a path whether you like it or not, namely, the path of your life.  Meditation may help us to see that this path we call our life has direction; that it is always unfolding, moment by moment; and that what happens now, in this moment, influences what happens next."

Monday, September 27, 2010

6 Tips for a Fall Detox

Toasting fall with a carrot, beet, cucumber, & apple juice in Boston.    

This may come as a surprise, but I'm not so keen on cleanses.  If I'm feeling toxic or low energy or- let's call it like it is- like I've gone hog wild with red wine and chocolate lately, then I curb my overindulgent ways by erring in the direction of raw fruits and vegetables and plenty of water.  I go for a run.  I meditate.  I spend some time in the steam room of my gym.  I don't endure days of a liquid-only diet.  I don't condone grown ups eating baby food for any reason.  And when students or friends tell me they're on the Master Cleanse, it makes me completely anxious.

'Please don't faint in my yoga class,' I think.

'Please don't end up with an eating disorder.'

I see the merit of giving one's system a rest and healthful restart, especially during certain times of the year and with proper supervision, if your organs need it.  However, more often than not, I watch cleanses used as starvation diets, with the virtuous disguise of a yogi ritual.

On the other hand, I am a junkie when it comes to lifestyle cleansing.  I would detox my home, thoughts, and habits all darn day if I could.  Give me a stack of junk mail, and I'll happily go to town.  Show me a bulging, bloated closet, and I'll delight in extracting the Mrs. Roper dresses and trucker hats until what remains is a functional wardrobe of wearable clothing.  Plop me down on a meditation cushion to consider my toxic thought patterns, and I am IN.

Cleansing of this kind is essential.  De-cluttering like this energizes us.  Evaluating the pollutants in our lives (both physical and psychological) helps us reconnect to our power source.  No forgoing of solid foods necessary . . .

To help you feel re-energized and inspired for the new season, here are my 6 Tips for a Fall Detox: 
  • Closet Cleanse: Each season, it's important to review your wardrobe and shed items that no longer fit, you don't wear, or could be put to better use at a local homeless shelter.  If your duds seem too posh for the castaway pile, try consignment, perhaps using the earned money for a fun, fall purchase. 
The fruits of a previous closet cleanse, heading off to Goodwill.  
  • Technology Diet: Pratyhara is the fifth limb of Patanjali's 8-limed yogic path, and I've been thinking about this guiding principle a lot lately, especially as it relates to technology.  Pratyhara teaches us a "withdrawal of the senses," as a way to hone our abilities of delving inward and examining our inner lives.  Before you kick off your newest chapter of 2010, try unplugging for a day or weekend.  Turn off all iPods, iPhones, Blackberries, TVs, laptops, etc., and experience the quiet and clarity that comes from this simple experiment.  You'll immediately notice that you, as well as your devices, will be recharged afterward.      

Recharging my laptop and myself at the Denver airport this summer. 
  • Natural Supplement: To truly appreciate a change of the seasons, no matter how subtle, get outside!  Be with nature.  Supplement your daily routine with a trip to the mountains, a beach, lakefront, local park, or garden patch.  Even the smallest doses of time spent in nature can clear nervous energy and make you feel rooted.  

A stolen moment during the Natural Living Expo this weekend, Sturbridge, MA
  • Feel the Burn: Sounds like I'm going to tell you to try Crossfit or some other calorie-scorching activity, right?  Nope.  (That's for another post someday).  Fire is one of the most cleansing elements, and integrating it into our lives can be effective for clearing old energy.  An aromatherapy candle easily calms, while the first sparks of a campfire excite.  Recently, I received the gift of a sacred piece of wood from Peru, known as a palo santo, which is said to purify and protect when lit throughout one's home.  I can't wait to try it.  The woodsy smell alone is enough to snap me back to the present moment.
  • Play with Your Food: Too often conventional cleanses are restrictive and rigid.  Why not have fun with your food?  To savor the new season, bake apples for breakfast.  Be the first on your block to carve a pumpkin.  Try a new recipe using seasonal ingredients to connect you to the time of year.  
  • Go Organ-ic: While I recommend buying organic whenever possible, I'm referring to your organs, here.  Twisting yoga poses bring attention to your organs, helping to cleanse internally.  No joke.  Try adding more twisting poses to your practice right now, such as twisting triangle (parivrrta trikonasana) or a seated twist (ardha matseyendrasana), below.

Have your own surefire ways of clearing old energy and making way for the new?  Share them here, and happy fall to you!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fieldhouse of Dreams: Yoga Reaches Out/Global Mala Boston at Gillette Stadium

In what you might call the Battle of the Beautiful Quarterbacks (also known as the New England Patriots vs. the New York Jets game), Tom Brady's team fell to  Mark Sanchez's 28-14 yesterday.  Despite the Patriots' loss, there was much rejoicing on its practice field, in the Dana-Farber Field House.  Sadly, this had nothing to do with football*.

Instead, hundreds of yogis convened for Yoga Reaches Out/Global Mala Boston, a daylong event featuring talented yoga teachers and musicians to benefit Children's Hospital Boston and Yoga for Single Moms.

I was honored to emcee the whole event and teach during the morning session's Global Mala celebration.  Boston has participated in this worldwide yoga event (the brainchild of Shiva Rea) since its inception four years ago.  10 of Boston's favorite teachers treated yogis to a 108-minute practice that included everything from Vinyasa, to Hip Hop, to restorative yoga.  The featured instructors were (in order of appearance): Brian Lam, Chanel Luck (co-creator of Global Mala Boston), Me, Jacqui Bonwell, Roberto Lim (co-creator of Global Mala Boston), Lynne Begier, Christine Raffa, Amy Leydon, Bo Forbes, and Bonnie Argo.  Here's a video clip from Lynne's Hip Hop Yoga sequence, to one of my fav running songs.  It still makes me think of Heartbreak Hill whenever I hear it (but, in a good way) . . .

Global Mala concluded with music as well, though, not the hip hop variety.  Daphne Tse performed an interlude during sivasana, followed by a set of kirtan chanting before lunch.  After lunch, Ana Forrest, creator of Forrest Yoga, took the stage to lead a challenging, heart opening, thigh scorching, toxic energy releasing practice.  She began the class by invoking the spirits of all four directions: North, South, East, and West (Ana derives much inspiration from Native American culture and philosophy).  I thought you might enjoy seeing a portion of the sacred ceremony.  

In between my emcee and teaching duties, I still found time to enjoy the company of my fellow yogi friends (new and old), soak up the experience of being at Gillette, and goof off a bit.  Shocker, I know . . .

Fellow Boston-based teacher Bo Forbes and me.  (The matching outfits were an accident).  

Feeling the turf between my toes.  

The 40-yard line, like never before. 

Coconut water, anyone? 

The event concluded with another stirring musical performance and guided meditation by kirtan and indie-pop rock performer Wade Imre Morissette.  Keep an eye out for his forthcoming movie musical, "Ultimate Boon," shooting in India soon.

Finally, it was time to go, and the gratitude among us was profound.  The event's key organizers, all inspiring women whom I am proud to call my friends: Chanel Luck (left), Bonnie Argo (not pictured), Sarah Gardner (center), and Laurin Panzano (right), took the stage.

Tomorrow, the New England Patriots reclaim their practice field, and I can't help wondering if there will be some residual love and gratitude in air.  We'll have to ask Tom Brady . . . For more photos of the event, please visit the OmGal.com Facebook fan page, Facebook.com/omgalblog.

*I fully acknowledge that there are certain subjects about which I cannot be neutral and unbiased.  Among these are: Boston sports teams (staunchly loyal), yoga (constructively critical), and mayonnaise (I hate mayonnaise of any kind).    

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Get Your Global Mala On!

For more information about the Global Mala tradition around the world, each September, and to find a celebration near you, visit the Global Mala Project's website.  To sign up for the Boston event at Gillette Stadium, where I'll be teaching, please visit the Yoga Reaches Out website.

The clip below, featuring my friend and one of the event organizers Bonnie Argo, offers more details regarding the festivities in Boston, including a workshop with Ana Forrest.  Bonnie's accent is way cooler than mine, too.  Enjoy!


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Prima Laugha-rina

When I was young, I did ballet, and like many young girls (and some boys), I loved it.  I had high hopes of living in New York City one day and dancing professionally, no doubt mentored by Barishnykov or the elegant, eclectic troupe at Alvin Ailey.  I would wear tattered jeans over my tights and live in a studio apartment (which, at the time, conjured up visions of an urban dwelling that resembled a spacious dance studio with an open layout and hardwood floors . . . oh, the irony).

In truth, a studio apartment is a shoebox; I could never live in NYC (the Yankees play there), and I'm built more like a beach volleyball player than a ballerina (without an ounce of volleyball related skill), not to mention my second toe is abnormally long and, therefore, a nuisance in pointe shoes.  I digress . . .  I loved ballet, and soon after I stopped dancing regularly in high school, I started doing yoga.  At that stage, my flexibility came in handy, and I naturally gravitated toward yoga's gracefulness and precision.  And, I haven't danced since.

While I've toyed with the idea of an adult ballet class here in Boston (heck, I live a few pirouettes away from Boston Ballet), I never make it past the mental check list of "where does one buy ballet shoes?" and "how ridiculous will I look in a leotard?"  

Fortunately, I was able to bypass the check list and experience a glimmer of my ballet days last night at the gym.  Yup, the gym.  Perhaps you've noticed that ballet-inspired workouts are leaping into popularity right now.  Some are fused with weights such as Equinox's Barre Burn or yoga and pilates (a la Barre3- Madonna is a fan), and all aim to let you plie your way to long muscles and a tutu-worthy tush.

I had a blast.  I looked ridiculous.  I can't wait to do it again.  

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Quote: Henry David Thoreau

"Only that day dawns to which we are awake."
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden 

Photo: Yogis arriving on Boston Common the morning of Global Mala Boston, September 2009. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Evolution of Yoga Events

When I was in college, I would often wake up at the ungodly hour of 8:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings (the college equivalent of roughly 5:00 a.m. for the rest of society) to attend an ashtanga yoga class in a church basement off campus.  It was an incredibly challenging 2-hour class, and I was younger than the other yogis by a decade or more.  I still recall how peaceful, reverent, and special these classes felt, and this Saturday morning ritual became my first idea of a yoga "event."  I would look forward to class all week, and, for me, it took on the air of a special occasion.  

My peers, of course, thought I was a weirdo, and I can scarcely blame them.  I would slip out my apartment's front door, past the beer pong table, while my three roommates slept.  One sunny Virginia morning, I trotted toward my car, yoga mat in tow, surprised to see that my neighbors were awake, along with their entire fraternity on the front lawn.  Just a few hours earlier we'd heard them "sledding" down their carpeted stairs on cookie sheets, so I suspect they probably hadn't gone to bed yet.  This might come as a shock, but they weren't going to yoga.  They were getting an early start on tailgating for the football game that day.  Now, that's an event, especially in the South.

I winced when one of them asked me where I was going.

"Yoga," I offered sheepishly (a hint of a question in my voice).

To which there wasn't so much of a response as a confused and drunken expression (without being drunken, the expression would doubtless remain confused: what the heck is yoga? said the expression), followed by the generous offer of a huge red plastic cup filled with jungle juice.  I politely declined, waved good bye, and drove away.    

This was ten years ago, and, oh my, how yoga and the criteria for its events have changed.  From stealing away for my makeshift Saturday morning yoga parties in 2000 to joining 10,000+ other yogis for a class in Central Park this June, to flying to Colorado for the newest yoga and music festival in July, big yoga and wellness events with broad appeal are now the norm.  

This month, there are several events on my radar: 

Yoga Reaches Out/Global Mala: The largest yoga event in New England to date, this daylong yoga benefit for Children's Hospital Boston and Yoga for Single Moms will be held at Gillette Stadium, home to the New England Patriots.  This event coincides with Global Mala, an annual yoga event, wherein yogis around the world gather in their respective cities to practice yoga and support local and national charitable organizations (is your city participating?).  I'll be teaching at Boston's Global Mala at Gillette, along with featured om gal pals such as Chanel Luck, Bonnie Argo, and Amy Leydon.  The day's headliner will be Ana Forest, creator of Forest Yoga, who is sure to bring her A-game.

Reach the Beach: It's not a yoga event but a 200-mile adventure relay in New Hampshire.  I ran it a few years ago with an inspiring team of gals (that's us at the finish line, below), and this year I'm honored to help teams feel more zen before their 24-hours of running (at times with a head lamp to light the way), riding in a van (praying that the elected teammate-driver knows the way), and not sleeping (which makes the way a little delirious).  The sheer fact that this hardcore endurance race, in its 11th year, is offering a yoga session the night before race day shows you how far yoga events and experiences have come in the last decade.  I can't wait to help these "om athletes" gear up for the adventure!

Natural Living Expo: The focus of this annual event in Western MA is more holistic than strictly yoga, but you can bet your Birkenstocks there will be plenty of yoga types in attendance.  Myself included.

Beauty, Fashion, & Wellness Event in conjunction with Boston Fashion Week: I'm looking forward to seeing the photo exhibit associated with this event (I'm featured along with other talented yoga teachers and friends) by photographer Arturo Martinez.  The posh party benefits the Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies at Dana-Farber, which provides new approaches to cancer care such as meditation, acupuncture, and more.  

Which yoga events do you plan to attend this fall, and in your opinion, what makes a great yoga event?  The size?  The venue?  The teacher(s)?  The jungle juice?  The kombucha samples?  Share the inside scoop here by posting a comment.  

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Quote: Vimala Thakar

"When the state of observation is sustained, it changes the quality of your biological structure.  The nerves are steady, the chemical system has an equilibrium, and there is relaxation, equipoise.  You live in the clarity of knowing who you are."
-Vimala Thakar, The Eloquence of Living

Photo by Jonathan Pozniak, for lululemon. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Back to School, Yogis!

My pal and marathon training partner Cara (right) and I love to read.  Here we are with some of our favorite books.  Post your most inspirational reads below!

Few months of the year hold the same anticipation and excitement as September, largely because of its association with going back to school.  Right now, pencils are being sharpened, new clothes selected, notebooks organized, and class schedules reviewed.  College roommates are getting acquainted, study partners scouted, and attendance policies surveyed.

Even those of us who aren't hitting the books often wish we were.  As an admitted nerd and one-time English teacher, I can't help feeling a tad envious when Boston crawls with co-eds, again.  I get wistful at the sight of a bookstore window freshly arranged to display curriculum classics like "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn."  And don't think for a moment that I'm not jumping on the knee sock fashion trend this fall.  Who says you have to enroll somewhere to dress schoolyard chic?

Likewise, who says you have to enroll somewhere to be a student?  We're all students in some capacity, right?  Some of us are students of yoga.  Others study favorite sports or hobbies or strangers in coffee shops.  Many of us, at any given time are learning a new chapter of life, such as a relationship, business venture, marriage, or parenting.  As we age, too, studies show that minds that continue to learn new skills later in life stay more agile, longer.  For yogis, svadhyaya (study) is a key principle of the practice, cited as one of the niyamas within the 8-limbed yoga path of the Yoga Sutras.

All of this school year nostalgia got me thinking about my favorite books for spiritual education-- literary companions that have bailed me out, lifted me up, or awakened me to some new insight or duh-how-could-I-forget-that! wisdom.  Here are a few of them organized to correspond with a school curriculum.  In other words, depending on which subjects you liked best in school, you might enjoy the corresponding book that pertains to yoga, wellness, or spirituality.  Happy reading!

The OmGal.com Syllabus: Fall 2010 Semester*

  • Yoga Anatomy, Leslie Kaminoff: If you enjoy sitting your gluteus maximus down and analyzing the architecture of the body in colorful illustrations of muscles and bones, you'll love this yoga-oriented anatomy book.  It's a helpful text for teachers.  
  • Creative Visualization, Shakti Gawain: Truthfully, this book is an excellent resource for anyone willing to tap into their imagination to "create what you want in your life;" however, creative types might find it particularly inspiring.  I did.     
  • New and Selected Poems: Volume One, Mary Oliver: With the exception of "The Buddha's Last Instruction," this book isn't outwardly about spirituality, but it is, nonetheless, a marvel for the soul, especially one that loves nature.  
The following books are among the most referenced and revisited in my yoga library.
  • Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, various translations
  • Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, B.K.S. Iyengar
  • Living Your Yoga, Judith Lasater

Home Ec.:
  • Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore: This "guide for cultivating depth and sacredness in everyday life" encouraged me to think more carefully about how I arrange my home, work, and relationships to evoke happiness rather than happenstance.  
Phys. Ed.
  • Mastering Your Metabolism, Jillian Michaels: Confession?  I just dig Jillian and her no-nonsense, tough-love, tackle-life-with-abandon approach, so she made the list.  The book is good, too, and will seriously cause you to reconsider the chemicals and habits that hinder your overall wellness, not just your weight.  
  • Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav: Zukav is said to have a "scientist's eye and philosopher's heart."  If you can relate to either, you'll enjoy this book.  It's one of my most heavily underlined and highlighted (a true sign I want to remember its contents).    
Political Science: 
  • Bhagavad Gita, various translations: This ancient text about a warrior prince headed into battle provides a literary scavenger hunt.  Each time one reads it, there are new insights to uncover.  It inspired the likes of some of my favorite American writers of the transcendentalist era, including Henry David Thoreau.  New Age quips and contemporary sound bytes seem to pale in comparison to this essential resource from the first century.  How's this for a timeless tidbit: "Your own duty done imperfectly is better than another man's done well."  Gets me every time . . .
  • Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra: These laws set people free rather than imprison them.  Reading this book might enhance your life for a maximum sentence.   
  • The Eloquence of Living, Vimala Thakar: If you're pre-med, you don't have time to read.  Ergo, I prescribe a little 109-page dose of peace.  You can pick up and put down this tiny treasure at your own pace, and each vignette stands alone, as a poem.  No elaborate plots or heady dissertations--just a sweet, small book filled with "freshness, fearlessness, and compassion."  
  • The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck: I'm pretty sure this book shepherded me through a sh*t break-up years ago, and judging from its status as a bestseller for more than two decades, I guess I'm not alone.  You'll love it.  Promise.      
  • When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron: I cannot say enough about this book by Buddhist nun Pema Chodron for its ability to provide people with peace during difficult times.  You will treasure it.  

*All books available on Amazon.com.  

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Om Gal Seeks New Intern

It's September 1st, which means my sweet city of Boston has been invaded by U-Hauls and SUVs brimming with futons and mini fridges.  New and old residents alike, particularly of the collegiate variety, know it as Moving Day.  It's a festive and frustrating harbinger of fall that welcomes scores of incoming students to Boston's many college campuses (including Boston College, Boston University, Emerson, Harvard, M.I.T., Northeastern, and more) and causes lots of traffic jams.  It's also a massive moving date for the recently graduated set (someone needs to vacate the plum apartments for all those late-night "study groups," right?).  Among those flying the college coop is Erin the Intern (sniff, sniff) [insert hysterical sob], bound for the "real world" or, in this case, NYC.

Perhaps you've followed the adventures of Erin this summer.  She contributed ideas and insight to many posts on OmGal.com, including popular pieces on fashionable fitness apparel and cheap, health food options, attended and assisted some of my workshops, and even provided me with an earnest explanation of the buzz surrounding Twilight so that I wouldn't be a pop culture outcast.  Now, she's gone, and I'm forlorn . . . and likely back to being a pop culture outcast.

If you're interested in being the next Om Gal Intern, send me an email at rebecca@omgal.com.  It's a fun, creative gig that doesn't involve any coffee runs (I don't drink coffee).  Yoga OR media experience required.  Video and podcasting skills might elevate you from intern to superhero.  Details regarding time commitment and upcoming projects available via email.

Happy trails, Erin!  OmGal.com will miss you.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Poem for a Summer Sunday

The Sun

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats towards the horizon

[A photo I snapped of my friend, Caroline, taking in a Boston sunset]. 

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone--
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance--
and have you ever felt for anything

such wild love--
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world--

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?  

-Mary Oliver, New & Selected Poems: Volume One 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hey, Baby, What's Your Mantra?

A mantra is a thought or intention expressed as a sound.  These sounds include syllables, words, or phrases, which may or may not have their own translatable meanings.  "OM" is the most popular mantra.

A mantra can be said aloud, repeated silently to oneself (as in meditation), sung with devotion (as in kirtan and bhakti yoga), or visualized in written form.  Many Sanskrit mantras, such as Om Mani Padme Hum, a central mantra in Tibetan Buddhism, are often captured in art, beautifully written or carved on stones and sculptures, or incorporated into clothing, jewelry, and talismans.

A yoga student and Buddhist friend of mine generously brought this stone back from Nepal last year; it features Om Mani Padme Hum (a mantra without direct, translatable meaning but believed to encourage enlightened awareness) on one side and the eyes of the Buddha on the other.  It resides on the bookshelf above my desk, where I write.

Mantras anchor the mind during meditation, soothe or energize the body in times of physical challenge, and connect the soul more deeply to God or spirit.

And yogis aren't the only ones to incorporate mantras into their lives.  Athletes, for instance, often use mantras or affirmations to improve performance, which is nicer than steroids, don't you think? World-class distance runner Kara Goucher chooses a new word while training for each race.  Words like "confidence" and "fighter" helped Goucher maintain focus in grueling races at the 10,000 meters and marathon distances last year, according to an article in the March 2010 issue of Runner's World.  

I'm not running any marathons this week, but I've chanted Om Namah Shivaya and repeated Catholic prayers under my breath, over and over, on multiple occasions.  It isn't intentional, which is the interesting part, and I realize, now, how much the brain craves the structure and repetition provided by mantras, especially in difficult times, such as the loss of a loved one.  For me, it's been one small, silent outlet for staying calm and remaining present.

Do you use mantras, as a meditation tool, coping skill, or sports performance enhancer?  What are your favorites?    

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Om Gal's Take on Eat, Pray, Love: What's Yours?

Eat.  Pray.  Love . . . Three individually simple and unanimously positive words that, when combined, as in the title of the book by Elizabeth Gilbert and newly released film starring Julia Roberts, conjure up mixed feelings within the yoga community.  It’s hard to pinpoint the precise root of these feelings, especially when the book was, by most accounts, well-written and well-received.  I suspect our reservations stem from the ongoing dialogue about how yoga’s mushrooming popularity and commercialization makes us feel—a discussion we have on this site often.  

“I’m curious because it’s Julia Roberts,” says a friend several weeks before the movie debuts.  “If it were, say, Jennifer Aniston, I would NOT see Eat, Pray, Love.  And I like Jennifer Aniston, but I would already know what kind of movie I was getting, and—no, thank you.”  

With this statement, my friend (who happens to be from India, where a portion of the book and film take place) summarizes the precarious task of taking a heartfelt and hilarious spiritual memoir and turning it into Sex and the City for the yoga set.  The girls-night premier parties, product tie-ins (Fresh cosmetics released a line of fragrances in conjunction with the movie; they include—wait for it—Eat, Pray, and Love), and oodles of coverage in the media all suggested that the film adaptation might be nothing more than a spiritually bereft and trite “chick flick.” 

Thankfully, it wasn’t Jennifer Aniston, a lovely and infinitely likable comedic actress but one lacking the depth of Julia Roberts, and it wasn’t Sex and the City for the yoga set.  It just wasn’t that great of a movie.

It was entertaining, and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t rock my om gal world.  I liked it most after the first 1/3 of the film, which was slow and clumsy.  I recall Elizabeth Gilbert’s heartbreak in the beginning of the book as being more potent, with the subsequent pilgrimage to Italy, India, and Bali legitimized by the level of that heartbreak and her determination to heal.  Moreover, Gilbert’s craft (writing) was more prevalent in the book, and it was evident she intended to write about her travels from the start.  Without this underlying objective, the movie bordered on self-indulgent at times.  How many newly divorced people can afford to heal their broken hearts by vacating all responsibilities for a year and taking a soul-searching sabbatical around the globe?  When a laptop finally made an appearance more than an hour into the film, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Then again, I’m a writer, so it’s possible this didn’t bother anyone else . . .

The absence of yoga, in asana form, bothered some.  Alas, not me.  I rejoiced in seeing nary a poorly aligned yoga pose or Hollywood orchestrated yoga class in the film.  Even if executed well, a yoga practice in Eat, Pray, Love might be too obvious or, worse, kitschy.  And it doesn’t hurt to show a Western audience that there’s more to spirituality in India (and yoga as a whole) than the tricky yoga poses featured in chick flicks such as: The Next Best Thing (Madonna), What Women Want, Spanglish (Tea Leoni), Failure to Launch . . . Do I need to keep going?

For some, the film not only didn’t rock their worlds; it pissed them off thoroughly.  Ask our pal David Romanelli about the response he got from heterosexual male friends when he suggested they see the film together and get some “fro-yo” afterward.  Peruse some of the critiques, comments, and blogs online, and you’ll find that people describe Eat, Pray, Love as everything from "fickle," to "insufferable," to "racist."     

I disagree with the harshness of these reviews; I liked the movie and found it charming, albeit a tad bland and unfulfilling (not the food, though; the food in Italy looked exquisite).  I walked away feeling entertained, which is I think the point of going to the movies, no?  It’s a visually alluring story of heartbreak, friendship, forgiveness, and love, peppered with some male eye candy (hello, James Franco) and infused with a few spiritual nuggets (though not as compelling or complex as the book).  

Wait a second . . . maybe it is a chick flick?  Maybe I’m OK with that.