Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Thursday, March 25, 2010
This realization came to me over the weekend, as I migrated my apartment from one corner of Boston to another, with staggering amounts of yoga gear in tow. One might assume that yoga clothes are fairly portable, light, and unobtrusive, which is true . . . to a point. I exceeded that point many moons ago, and, now, I have enough Lycra to outfit a small army-- albeit a stylish, non-violent one.
And, this is after I thoroughly purged my wardrobe, donating bags and boxes (and more bags and boxes) of gently worn tanks, tees, jackets, and Groove pants* to Goodwill, good pals, and Om Mama, who loves my hand-me-ups, as she calls them. Nevertheless, there I sat on Sunday, on the floor of my new closet, in my new apartment, utterly perplexed at how anyone fits an entire wardrobe within these confines. Embarrassingly, my excess of athletic apparel did not occur to me initially. Athletic wear is pragmatic, I thought. You can't do yoga in jeans. Trust me I've tried. (No, really, I forgot yoga pants once and did a hot yoga class in the jeans I was wearing. Not recommend).
Then, it dawned on me; half my closet is reserved for clothes created for sweating, thereby prompting the realization that if I didn't exercise, I'd have a heck of a lot more room for "real" clothes, acceptable for, say, wearing to dinner or the theater. Think of the possibilities! I could curate a swanky shoe collection or buy lots of fedoras. One can never have too many fedoras.
I'd also have more room in my schedule if I didn't exercise, with all those blocks of time made available after wrestling them free from 90-minute yoga classes, 7-mile runs along the Charles River, hours spent at Equinox taking group fitness classes with elaborate routines to make me look like some gangly, uncoordinated, Steve Urkel in spandex . . . Consider what I could accomplish with actual spare time! I'd pen a novel, dedicate more energy to philanthropy, improve my knitting skills, or maybe just eat lots of pancakes on leisurely Sunday mornings sans the urge to bolt out the door for yoga class.
No sooner had I entertained this little daydream of vast amounts of closet space and free time (and pancakes), when I settled upon the following reality:
If I didn't do yoga, I'd be a miserable, crazy wretch. Without an outlet for stress or steady source of healthy endorphins, I'm sure I'd fill my new found closet space and spare time with less productive substitutes. Admittedly, I could stand to streamline my material possessions (most of us could). This action represents a type of yoga practice, itself. Aparigraha, one of the yamas of the eight-limbed yogic path, encourages yogis to examine attachments to worldly goods, not to hoard wealth, and to neutralize desires to acquire wealth.
I simply wouldn't be who I am without yoga and physical exercise, and I think there are worse things than being a yoga clotheshorse. Plus, you wouldn't want to read an entire blog dedicated to fedoras and pancakes, would you?
Photo: Sadly, that's not my dog. It's my pal and fellow yoga teacher Chanel Luck's. It is my fedora.
Friday, March 19, 2010
With tomorrow marking the official start of spring* (who doesn't love spring!), many active types are feeling an additional springiness in their step. Yesterday, the Northeast experienced temperatures in the mid 60s, providing near perfect conditions for an array of outdoor activities, including running. For novice runners, this weather offers added motivation to get outdoors and greet the season with fresh air in your lungs and newly thawed ground beneath your feet.
For serious runners, this weekend kicks racing season into high gear with the L.A. Marathon and NYC half marathon, among many others. Here in Boston, the countdown to Marathon Monday has officially begun, with runners taking to the streets to squeeze in their final long training runs before April 19. (Though I won't be out there this time, I'm running with you in spirit!). Fundraising season, too, is in high gear, with many runners opting to raise money for local and national charities such as the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Running Team, a cancer-fighting behemoth that has raised more than 30 million dollars in the past two decades. The team's coach, Jack Fultz and champion of the 1976 Boston Marathon, is an OmGal.com reader, who even dropped in on a yoga workshop of mine last year to prep yogi/runners for race day and talk about the psychological parallels between racing and yoga. He's Om Gal's go-to resource for running tips and insight, like his knee-preserving, calorie-scorching, running-simulating indoor running workout (one of my favorites), shown here.
Speaking of workouts, whether you are a recreational runner, Marathon Mama, or elite athlete, yoga is a perfect complement to your training. It helps keep you healthy and free of injury as you prepare to lace up your sneakers this spring, for a casual jog after a long winter hibernation or the culmination of months of arduous training. The video below, shot at Stil Studio in Dedham, MA before my Yoga for Runners Workshop last month, by Nabil Aidoud of FiVi.com, includes a few of my thoughts on how yoga can keep athletes fleet of foot this spring and beyond. [File under: Friday, I'm in Love with Spring!].
Friday, March 12, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Why does this hurt when I do that?
Why do I sweat so much?
Why can't I do wheel?
What does namaste mean?
Why are my handstrings so tight?
Is it OK to do yoga if I have my period?
How do I practice yoga on my own, at home?
Why do I hate half pigeon?
I came to enjoy and anticipate these questions and many others. I loved how eager my students were to learn and the feeling of sharing helpful hints to make their practices more pleasant and productive. If I didn't know an answer, I researched it so that I could offer better information in class the following week or the next time someone asked.
Then, the oddest thing happened. A very simple question stumped me.
What do you eat? The question came from an earnest 20-something female student.
Huh. Did she mean for breakfast? I wracked my brain . . . A massive smoothie and a granola bar en route to class I recalled. After my marathon teaching stint that morning (two classes in two different locations with a 40-minute walk in between), I planned to meet a pal for a Thai lunch on Newbury Street, where we'd share my all-time-fav fresh rolls, and I would likely order a bowl of tofu, vegetables, and noodles the size of my head. Is that what she meant? Did I get the answer right . . . What do I win?
I searched the woman's face for some hint of information. What. Do. I. Eat. Why was this so perplexing? And, why is it interesting to her? Then it hit me: she probably wants to become a vegetarian! I talked about ahimsa in class today, and she's curious about how to put that guiding yogic principle into practice as it relates to her diet. I was thrilled to help, albeit a tad sheepish. Predominantly vegetarian since the age of 9, I'd recently wandered into exceedingly pescetarian territory. I worried the vegetarian police might be lurking and not wanting to mislead, I copped:
Um, well, I'm mostly vegetarian, but lately I've been eating dairy and even some fish . . . energetically that seems to work better for my body. Ultimately, I think people need to make mindful choices that work best for themselves . . .
I trailed off upon noticing the boredom that swept over my student's face. This was not the response she was seeking.
No, I mean, what kind of diet are you on, she clarified. Admittedly, I bristled at the word. Diet? I don't know, the eat-when-you're-hungry diet?
It was the age of Atkins, and I wanted as much distance from that sort of harebrained, extremist nutritional nonsense as possible. (Sure, eat a bacon double cheeseburger sans the bun, but don't have a piece of fresh melon because there's too much sugar or carbs or whatever? WTF!). Having only recently graduated from college in the debutante filled south and previously boarding school in New England, pressure-filled environments where eating issues among impressionable women can run rampant, I knew all too well the sensitivity of situations wherein one woman (intentionally or unintentionally) pedals her eating habits, insecurities, or beliefs upon others. I can't remember precisely how I answered my student's hunger for dietary advice, but hopefully, it included something like this:
Yoga helps us appreciate our bodies as being vehicles of the spirit. We learn to practice compassion toward our bodies and feel present within our own skin. It's certainly possible to lose weight by doing yoga, through the exertion of asana practice but more likely by making mindful lifestyle choices, including what to eat and when. If we're present in our bodies, tuned into our emotions, and thinking clearly with the help of yoga and meditation, then suddenly, eating a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream after a bad day doesn't make much sense. It doesn't make your boss more bearable, absolve your parking tickets, or fix your relationships, does it? That's not a diet, merely awareness.
But more than likely I cracked an awkward joke and recommended lots of vegetables. Some eight years after grappling with a student who hoped to learn the magic bullet of weight loss through a yoga lifestyle, I still feel uneasy when I hear students and teachers promoting and evangelizing specific diets, nutrition regimens, detoxes, cleanses, fasts, and so on. It's not that I don't think they can be done safely and have myriad benefits, it's just that I worry about the intentions behind anything so rigid or absolute as not eating whole categories of foods, permanently swearing off meals cooked above a certain temperature, or subsisting on liquids for multiple days. Instead, I prefer the simple advice of the likes of Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Or, my mom, "Don't eat just because you're bored." Or, my own initial instincts, "Eat when you're hungry." What do you think?
Have you experienced any of these feelings in conjunction with your yoga practice? Have you ever worried that students or teachers around you were being motivated by unhealthy intentions? Do you think yoga studios and/or teachers should attempt to influence students' eating habits? Please share your thoughts by commenting. As always, I am grateful for your willingness to share.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Friday, March 5, 2010
I met you after the [focus group] last Sunday*. . . I really enjoyed your class and I especially liked that you played music as we went through a few series of sun salutations. I have never practiced to music, and I would like to incorporate that element into my home practice. I can't remember what music you played but thought it fit the asanas very nicely. What type of music do you suggest listening to while practicing? What music do you like to listen to when practicing?
I am so happy you enjoyed the tunes! I don't use music all the time when I teach, and you'll notice that even when I do, it's only for a song here or there, rather than a consistent soundtrack throughout class. In general, it's important for students to experience external and internal quiet during practice, to listen to their breathing and tune into themselves instead. However, the right song combined with a great sequence can be complete bliss. And music during a home practice is a wonderful way to add a dose of inspiration to ordinary surroundings. If my memory serves me correctly I played one song each from the following three artists in that class: Matisyahu, Reema Datta, and Cat Power, each soulful in his/her own way.
The song I played during sun salutations was One Day by Matisyahu, which experienced a recent boost in popularity due to its association with the Olympic Games. It's a really uplifting song and fits the energy of sun salutations well. That, and the energy of, say, stomping a McTwist a la Shaun White, but we mere mortals will just have to settle for the accessibility of sun salutations, I guess. [Insert sigh].
Reema Datta's album would be a great addition to your home practice, as the kirtan vibe matches an asana practice well. My friend and CEO of YogaEarth, Dan Cook, turned me on to Datta, and I've been incorporating her music into the latter half of classes or sivasana a lot lately. [Disclosure: I am on the advisory board for YogaEarth].
I was a bit late to the Cat Power craze, but she's among my favorite artists right now. I have a feeling I must have played Lost Someone when the class was doing floor work. She rocks, pure and simple.
You might enjoy and gather more suggestions from a few other OmGal.com posts related to the topic of music, here:
Hey Yoga Teacher, Play That Funky Music
Am I Still a Yogi If I Listen to Gangster Rap?
*On Sunday, February 28, I taught a special class in conjunction with a focus group of experienced yogis for a company researching innovative yoga products.