Tag Archives: routines

The Circus in my Head

A few years ago, I was asking each of my yoga students how they were feeling before I started class. Most people told me something about their body: “my neck is stiff”, “my hips are tight”, “I hurt my knee but I don’t know how (or I know exactly how)”!

This is quite useful, because as a teacher it helped me decide which movements or poses to incorporate, which modifications to offer and to whom, etc.

But I’ll never forget the first time a woman decked out in colorful yoga leggings answered the question in a different way: “I have a circus in my head,” she said in her fabulous Italian accent. So true, my friend, so true.

To me, the goal of yoga isn’t really standing on your head or achieving ultimate pretzel state. Although it’s nice, it’s not even getting stronger or increasing flexibility or balance. The ultimate goal of yoga is to take all the activities my mind is capable of: perceiving, imagining, remembering, etc., directing this mind to a place of my CHOOSING, and holding my attention there as long as I want.

The circus often has other ideas about where attention should be placed.

I recently relocated back to the Boston area from Austin. Talk about chaos, and the need to multi-task. Three days prior to this writing, I was playing “mover delivery bingo”, crossing 188 numbers (in random order) off a sheet while 3 different guys brought things into my apartment, calling out numbers. All while trying to instruct them on which room to put things in, and where. Needless to say, this was all my mind was being instructed to do.

I’ve only been gone 3 years, and some things have changed. I can *sort of* drive on autopilot, but when I do, I often realize that no, this wasn’t the best way to go. I have to be a little more active in my attention when I want to get from point A to point B.

In the new Market Basket the other day, I had a pretty surreal experience. I was unfamiliar with the store — and quite frankly the layout is pretty hokey — but as I was walking through I would “tune in” to a single thing. For example, I was first captured by the woman hollering into her cell phone: “I don’t understand how they found out! They must have overheard me talking or something!!” The irony of that made me smile. An aisle later: listening to the cadence of some produce workers speaking Spanish.

It was as if I had a laser beam of attention that I focused on one particular situation, and everything else got a little hazy. I was feeling a little weird about it until a friend reminded me of what it really was: mindful attention. We’re so not used to it!

Even though I’m no longer in the corporate world, I consider myself a go-go-go kind of person. I’ll always be busy. So I know that sometimes health recommendations are just too.freaking.hard. I don’t sit in meditation — in fact health issues prevent me from being physically able to. My mindfulness, my meditation, my practices have had to be more IN the world than removed from it. And that’s taught me a lot.

In fact, all these upheavals in my life helped me rediscover a practical, easy-to-remember technique I learned years ago in a different context. When practicing it, I’ve greatly increased my ability to be present, especially when the circus wants to play. What’s even better is that each step in the 5-step technique is also independently do-able and useful in and of itself.

I want to share this with more people; while it’s not new, it’s likely a different combination and a new “take” on something that may just change your life.

So my hope is that, regardless of where you are located (and where your mind is) right now, I hope you’ll join me Wednesday evenings starting June 14. Learn more here.

When your health routines get disrupted

Traveling naturally disrupts one’s routines. In fact, that’s one of the great parts of traveling–to experience something new, outside the ordinary. However, it’s also sometimes important for physical, mental, and/or emotional health to maintain some routines you know help you, even when everything else around you might be different.

During my recent trip to Prague, Czech Republic, I allowed myself to be on vacation. I did many things I wouldn’t normally do. And, because I knew it would keep me grounded and happy, I tried to maintain my short daily yoga practice as given by my teacher.

My current practice requires that I take several different positions with my body:

  • standing (sometimes at a wall)
  • lying on my back
  • sitting on a chair with my thighs parallel to the floor

IMG_0604These positions are pretty simple when I’m at home in my own practice space. But in a small hotel room, it can be a little more challenging. For example, due to various wall hangings, windows, and furniture, I didn’t really have access to a “wall”. So I used these closet doors. They were the widest “wall-like” surface in the room, and although they sometimes slid open as I did my movements, they were the best available substitute.

Although I didn’t have a ton of space, putting down my travel mat and lying on my back wasn’t a problem. Next was sitting with thighs parallel to the floor, which honestly challenges me in general, because I’m usually too short for most chairs to do this. At home, I have yoga blocks and cushions and can adjust both the seat height and floor height easily.

IMG_0607But again, when in a different space one has to make do, so here was my set up. There were two firm show pillows for the bed, but those weren’t high enough for the chair. So I used another of the firmer pillows from the bed to get the right height. It was a little less stable than yoga blocks, but for the most part, it worked.

Did I practice every day? Honestly no. Did I always do all parts of my practice–asana (physical movement), pranayama (breathing practice), and meditation? No. But there was only one day I skipped altogether. Sometimes, due to all the walking, my body cried out for more asana. Other times, possibly due to jet lag, I couldn’t seem to extend my exhale. And contrary to that, consciously attempting to extend my exhalation helped me fall asleep some nights. On a night that I saw some incredible manifestations of the moon (see below), my meditations happened with more ease.


Town Square, Kunta Hora

I had also brought my Ayurvedic oils with me, which helped tremendously given the dry air on the plane, in the hotel room, and being outside in the cold wind every day. I used them fairly frequently!

Was I perfect while I was away? No. Do I feel good about what I did to maintain my health and sanity while traveling to another country, during a time of increased world turmoil, handling drastic time changes, long flights, and unfamiliar sights and languages? Absolutely. I did what I was able to do, and I let the rest go. I continue to do what I can as I re-enter my more daily life routine, knowing that it will take at least a week to get fully adjusted to “normal”.

What about you? Do you struggle to keep your healthy habits when life changes around you? Do you beat yourself up when you don’t maintain your habits perfectly? The holidays can be a time of disruption for many of us, whether or not we travel. I can relate, and I’m here to help if you should need it! Feel free to share your experiences and let me know your strategies for staying true to yourself during this holiday season. And look for my stories from Prague, coming to the blog soon!

30 Days to a Happier & Healthier Me

A mocha latte

As some of you know, starting June 15th I’m facilitating a Facebook group called “30 Days to a Happier & Healthier You Practice“. In it, each person decides one habit they’d like to practice encouraging, or one habit they’d like to practice softening. I’m specifically calling this a practice (rather than, for example, a “challenge”) because although it may be challenging, it’s not intended to be something we beat ourselves up over when we’re not perfect at it. The idea is that we support each other, and just keep trying.

Of course as the facilitator of such a group, I have many ideas about what I could do for myself and post about. I have to set an example, right? So my first thought was that I could do anything EXCEPT giving up coffee (again). That would just be too challenging.

A little history of me and coffee: back in the day I was never really into it. I used to have one cup (read, 8 oz) in the morning with a powdered milk substitute. I preferred Dunkin over Starbucks. (Yes, really.) And then something happened–especially after I got a job in the city of Boston–I was surrounded with coffee shops. I got hooked on a morning Starbucks, joining in the morning ritual,  feeling all “Sex and the City”. Soon I decided visiting the Boston Common Coffee Co was a better, more local alternative. I started drinking americanos and almond milk lattes. When I moved to Austin, the first thing I did was check out all of the coffee shops I could find. My favorite is Monkey Nest Coffee–where you’ll often find me working.

When I’m doing a cleanse, I get off coffee pretty easily. I drink a lot of water, and don’t have too many symptoms (e.g. headaches). But I miss it terribly. I miss the imagined comradery with other coffee drinkers. I miss greeting the people who make my drink, take my money, and stamp my frequent visitor card. I miss the ritual. Drinking coffee gives me pleasure; pleasure beyond what comes from the energy boost of the caffeine. (Anyone who’s ever shared quarters with me knows I’m generally wide awake and perky somewhere between 5-6 am, even without it.)

So I could do anything but give up coffee as part of this practice. Right? Hmm….

Well truth be told, the group of people who have agreed to participate in this 30 day practice have inspired me. They’ve inspired me to set an example by being REALISTIC, to set myself up for something challenging enough to require practice but to still be ACHIEVABLE. So for the next 30 days, my practice will be to have one SMALL coffee drink no more than 3 times a week.

As part of this practice I will explore:

  • what it is about drinking coffee that gives me so much pleasure?
  • how does it “fill me up” emotionally?
  • what am I afraid will happen if I don’t drink it?
  • what tools can I use to get through times when I’m really craving it?
  • what needs does drinking coffee fulfill for me?
  • how can I enjoy working in a coffee shop environment without over-drinking coffee?
  • what is it I really desire?

It’s my belief that we have difficulty changing habits because we focus on the “giving up” part by trying to use willpower. However, the habit represents something that’s important to us, so we need to explore the deeper meaning behind the habit first. What are its benefits (even if we do label it as “unhealthy” or “bad”)? How does the habit make us feel better, how does it serve us?

Only when we answer these questions will habits soften and perhaps fall away.

I’m ready to explore. I’m ready to practice. And I promise you, I will not be perfect. 🙂

I hope you’ll join me. See https://www.facebook.com/groups/1430137057252728/.

Juiceland Juice Cleanse: Day 3 Finally Brings Dedication?

Update: I’m doing another 3 day starting 6/26. I’m actually very excited about it. Since this cleanse I’ve gotten very into juices, and I’ve found that I missed them! I even ended up purchasing several in between. 🙂 So we’ll see how round 2 goes!

drink fresh juice @juicelandaustin

OK, so on day 3 I’m acutely aware of the fact that I’ve “cheated” for 2 out of 3 of my juice cleanse days. But the honest the truth is, I’m OK with that. To remind us all, “cheating” entailed a handful of pistachios, some crystallized ginger, and a bag of frozen peas (defrosted and cooked, with a little salt, of course)!

Still, day 3 brought new dedication to stay just on juice and tea and water. How did it go? Well, I DEFINITELY felt the need to eat food, especially around lunchtime, which was always the time I ended up snacking on real food. I made it past that milestone, yay!

I also managed to do some Ashtanga yoga, though not the entire thing. I made it to asana #5 in the seated sequence, which isn’t bad given my limited caloric intake. In fact, it felt really good. I felt like I was able to engage my lower bandhas in a way I hadn’t before.

Other things I noticed today (also yesterday, though I’m not sure I mentioned them):

  • My nose is occasionally runny, and I’ve been sneezing a bit.
  • I’m SO COLD! It’s about 90 degrees here in Austin, and it feels hotter if you’re in the sun or a car. Yet whenever I’m in the apartment, a store, or any place where there’s any breeze or AC, I’m cold. (Great idea do to a hockey game last night, wasn’t it? LOL.)
  • The taking of an herbal laxative on day one has kept me loose for days 2 and 3, no more required!
  • More water between juices helps with hunger (duh).
  • My primary craving (every day!) was for a banana.

When I picked up my juices this morning, I wanted a pick-me-up, as I was missing my coffee and feeling sluggish. The girl at the counter was friendly, helping me decide how to make yerba matte less yucky. She was on her way to make me a lovely sounding version with pineapple and cayenne, when I changed my request to the yerba matte latte that grossed me out last week. My thought was I’d try it without the agave–no luck though, I drank 1/2 of it and was nauseous. I don’t think yerba matte is for me, else the hemp milk is just too much. (I’ve never been a “drink milk in a significant quantity” type of person–of any milk, even the alternatives–although I use them often for smoothies and baking.)

Anyway, I ended up going to Whole Foods to have food on hand for tomorrow. It wasn’t so bad, and I even found myself looking at what juices they have. I plan to do a smoothie in the morning, unless of course I’m craving the organic omega-3 eggs, the smoked salmon, the organic cauliflower, avocados, or bananas, blackberries, blueberries, apple, and pear that I bought! 🙂 I plan to have a salad with those ingredients for lunch, and a light halibut with bok choy for dinner.

Around 5 pm I felt really wiped, but I’d also gone to the chiropractor who put my body back in alignment after I’d done a great job knocking it out, sitting in front of my laptop with bad posture for too long, putting together my upcoming workshop content (see http://ajourneyintohealth.blogspot.com/2014/05/upcoming-workshop-announcement.html). I was so sluggish that at 6:30pm, before teaching a Hatha class, I caved and had a banana! Oh well.

I do like the idea of doing this once a month. My hypothesis is that it should be easier to break poor habits by cleansing more regularly. At least 3 days out of the month, my body would get a break from the toxins I love: coffee, chocolate, and alcohol! Speaking of which, I’m not sure when those will get re-introduced, but my guess is that a nice dark chocolate will be the first on the list–it was last time!

JuiceLand Juice Cleanse Day 2: Body Hate & Bad Hockey

Update: I’m doing another 3 day starting 6/26. I’m actually very excited about it. Since this cleanse I’ve gotten very into juices, and I’ve found that I missed them! I even ended up purchasing several in between. 🙂 So we’ll see how round 2 goes!

drink fresh juice @juicelandaustin

Well with no celery and more variety of juices, there isn’t much to say about Day 2.  The juices were fine; it was me who wasn’t.

I cheated again with the crystallized ginger and handful of pistachios, and then had a bag of frozen peas (cooked of course). Sigh. Around lunch time I just really wanted to eat FOOD! I then ended up in a funk about how much weight I’d gained over the past few years, but decided that I was going to don a bathing suit and go to the pool to get some sun ANYWAY. That was all fine until a gang of kids came and started making comments about “the lady’s bootie”. Fortunately I was enthralled with Bruce H. Lipton’s Biology of Belief and was able to ignore most of it before I left at my usual time.

I tried to do some exercise too–I decided to pull out my difficult Bar Method DVD because I didn’t make it to a class, but then I found I really couldn’t do much. I desperately need another chiropractic adjustment, so everything just feels off , and that has nothing to do with juice.

Overall I felt disappointed in myself, which led to old familiar feelings of hating my body. But as I rode to the Cedar Park Center to watch the Texas Stars get their butts whipped in game 6 of the AHL Western Conference Finals, I decided that I could spend those three hours beating myself up with automatic negative thoughts, or I could go and have fun. I decided on the latter.

It was somewhat more difficult than usual to smell things and not want all the nasty food stuffs there. One smell that stood out in particular for me was ketchup (which I never eat, weird!)

I slept mostly OK, but woke up to a nightmare about discovering that my juice was ground up body parts–likely due to a comment made yesterday by a yoga student’s husband, who said that in the 60s or 70s there was a movie like that, though I can’t find any reference to it.

More than yesterday, I am thinking this would be a good once-a-month “clean house” kind of thing. Although I will admit to getting excited about eating food. Honestly, what I really have been craving is a banana.

JuiceLand Juice Cleanse: The Celery Madness of Day 1

Update: I’m doing another 3 day starting 6/26. I’m actually very excited about it. Since this cleanse I’ve gotten very into juices, and I’ve found that I missed them! I even ended up purchasing several in between. 🙂 So we’ll see how round 2 goes!

drink fresh juice @juicelandaustin

A few weeks ago I got a wild hair to try another juice cleanse. (In fact, I thought it might be a good idea to do a little mini-cleanse at the start of each month.) I played around on JuiceLand’s web site and decided to go hard core, for the “Purify” package. Here’s what happened on Day 1.

Because I was teaching Sunday morning it was best to pick up my juice Saturday night. That was totally convenient; I was excited, until I got home and realized how many of my juices were green. This turned out to be the correct instinct: I HATE celery. I don’t tend to eat celery, and I should have known because I can always overtaste it in veggie stock. Of course celery was in EVERY green juice, as well as the one other juice that wasn’t green (that was better). I was totally relieved it wasn’t in my Green Hemp Milk, which I added on for more calories.

The other thing I learned is that I need variety. Having 2 of the same juices (2 Cold Pressed Green) two times (also 2 Cocolillys) just wasn’t working for me. Fortunately, I sent email to every address they had for cleanses, and they agreed that they’d allow me to customize my order for an extra $8 (worth it!) and leave the celery out of the next day’s batch. When I got to the store however, there was a mix up with the customization, and so we ended up taking some bottles out of the cooler to get the order right. (Apparently the cleanse juices aren’t made at that particular site.) Whew!

I had a pounding headache pretty much all day long, but I hadn’t slept well the prior two nights due to nightmares and general restlessness, so I attributed it to that. When I still had the headache after a nap though, I started wondering whether it was that + my love of coffee. (I had been better though–only drinking it before noon!)

I did cheat a little bit: I felt nauseous after drinking yet.another.green…I noticed this when flipping over onto my belly outside by the pool. I came inside and had a few pieces of crystallized ginger and a handful of pistachios because I was feeling desperate.

Another thing that I’m re-learning: I like to chew my food! It’s just not as satisfying to me to be drinking everything. It must be that cephalic phase digestive response, and I’m wondering whether not deriving as much pleasure from my food offsets any nutrient absorption I’m getting from the fact that it’s somewhat pre-digested for me. I ended up skimming through the online screening of “Super Juice Me“(it seemed relevant), and all I could think was “BUT I LIKE BROCCOLI!!!” (the narrator mentions that juicing has been beneficial for him because he hates vegetables like broccoli). I enjoy eating healthy fruits and vegetables–I could do it all day long!

I also found myself pretty hungry later in the evening, and wishing I hadn’t used up my last lemon in my water, because I WANTED to make a Master Cleanse lemonade drink. (I had tried this cleanse–for experimental purposes of course–back in May, and lasted 8 out of the 10 days with little hunger.) I’m not sure why I could drink the same thing all day long, and not feel hungry, while on the Master Cleanse yet not feel this way drinking different flavors of vegetable and fruit juice. Hmmm….

And one really rare occurrence, before I pack this up for Day 2: I ended up sleeping through my 5am alarm this morning. I have a Zen alarm clock, one that chimes more frequently and intensely the longer you ignore it. It took me a LONG WHILE to figure out it was going off. I decided not to go to Barre class this morning, and to sleep in until 7:30. So yay, I slept well! On to Day 2.

Does the number on your bathroom scale wreak havoc on your mood?

Mine used to.

Isabelle Tierney’s recent post, titled “God in Facebook Form” got me thinking about another way many of us end up seeking validation: seeing a particular number on the bathroom scale.

During a particularly difficult time in my life (when I was under a lot of stress and feeling pretty trapped), I developed a pretty serious obsession with my weight. My rationale was that in 8th grade I was 5 feet tall and 100 lbs. Going on birth control at 16 gained me 3 pounds, but I was OK with that. Fast forward 20+ years later, and you’d find me incredibly focused on getting back down to that specific number of 103 (since obviously I wasn’t getting any taller). I think I was around 110 lbs when all that started. When I hit rock bottom, I’d gotten myself up to 120 lbs–all by trying ridiculously hard to get the long and lean body I envied, weighing myself every day (sometimes more than once). That extra weight wasn’t muscle either: it was from the binging and overeating caused by how the number on the scale contributed to my already fragile mood.

When I started studying to become an Eating Psychology Coach, one of the first things that Marc David, the founder and primary teacher in the training said, was that we should get rid of the scale. In addition to the fact that there are normal fluctuations in body weight, he alluded to the psychological impact that seeing a particular number can have on us. In my case, if I weighed less than I had previously, or I was closer to my goal weight, stepping on the scale would have a positive effect on my mood. I’d find myself smiling, and being happy and confident in my body until my next weigh in. If I weighed more or hadn’t made any progress, I’d feel terrible. I’d go through my day thinking I was “fat and disgusting” (and I can’t count how many times I said that phrase aloud, further putting it “out there” into the Universe and making it seem more real)!

At first I found myself very reluctant to give up this mood-altering ritual. But eventually, the scale went into the closet. I pulled it out once a week instead of stepping on it every day, but I found that even the decreased frequency seemed to have the same effect on my mood. Weight down, mood up. Weight up, mood down. So back in the closet it went, and as I started to really internalize that I could love my body as it is (yet still exercise and eat well to be strong, flexible, and healthy),

I’m happy to report that it’s been over a month since the difference between a number in my brain and the one on a little square device has had any power over my mood, my confidence, or my life. Do I still think about weighing myself sometimes? Of course. Do I do it? Nope. Instead I remind myself that I can give my gifts to the world because of what is inside of me; and if that doesn’t work, I do something I know will make me feel good, like yoga. (And oftentimes, those self-care activities are exactly what I need to be as healthy as I can be! Funny how that works.)

Do you smile when you’re practicing yoga?

As a yoga instructor at both a studio and a gym, I teach many students who are brand new to yoga. It’s not uncommon for me to have one or more people in my class who have never done yoga before, and are feeling a little uncertain about their decision to try it.

One of the things I emphasize in my classes, beyond encouraging students to tune into the wisdom of their bodies, in addition to asking them to really pay attention to their breathing, and above asking them to (try to) stay out of their ego by only going as far as their body and their breath guide them, is to SMILE!

Most students love this, I believe because there are many things in life–family, work, school, etc.–that we all take so seriously. So when students come to my class and I encourage them to relax, strengthen, and stretch their bodies by being PLAYFUL and having some fun, the relief is almost palpable. (Balancing poses in particular are great opportunities for smiles and laughs!)

On the first yoga DVD I ever had, Baron Baptitse said (at a particularly challenging point in the class): “lift the inner corners of the lips”. I often find myself using that sly phrase–among other techniques–to get people to smile during my classes. For example, when we begin to extend our legs for wide-angle forward fold, I’ll joke “OK, now don’t everyone get into that full split just yet!” My YTT peers might sneer when I admit to have saying, “blossom your buttocks to the sky” (which I do if I think my students will smile at the imagery). Sometimes I feel a bit like a stand-up comedian, and it’s really an amazing class when the students get into it.

When students aren’t into it, I’m OK with that. I either keep trying, or if the class is entirely serious, I might tone it down a bit. What I notice though, is that it’s often the students who may have been practicing yoga for awhile who don’t smile, or seem to really let go.  And, I’m writing this blog because I think they may be missing out. It’s been my belief that making that small change in the face–moving the muscles of the mouth into a smile–helps relax the body and release tension. Sure enough, I’ve discovered that there’s some science to back up my hunch. 🙂

The Smithsonian and Medical News Today both reported on an interesting study done for Psychological Science back in 2012, where researchers “looked at how different types of smiling, and people being aware of smiling, affected their ability to recover from stressful episodes.” What they found was that smiling (even when the smiling was “faked”), reduced participants’ heart rates as they attempted to perform a stressful task. The Smithsonian article states: “Since heart rate is an indicator of the body’s stress response, it seems as though the act of smiling actually reduced the participants’ overall stress level.” Although there are no available sources, they also suggested there were others who indicate “that smiling could reduce levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone.”

When we are in yoga class, we are taking various shapes with the body, some of which may feel different, unnatural, or challenging (depending on our typical posture throughout the day). When we’re feeling sensation in various muscles in the poses, we are in fact “stressing” the body, although in a good way. We use the breath, specifically the out-breath, to try and send relaxation, love, and compassion to those areas in the body. And, I believe more than ever before that smiling is yet another, simple and easy way to help ease the body into greater strength and flexibility during yoga.

So the next time you’re in a yoga class (mine or someone else’s), and you feel yourself tensing your body, losing your long deep breath, or pursing your lips in great seriousness, try putting on a smile. Like anything else you do in yoga class, let the smile be an exploration: what do you notice in your body, breath, mind, and spirit as you do this? Observe, pay attention, and then decide for yourself whether to do it again and again and again!

P.S.: For those of you who are serious (pun intended!) about taking your yoga practice off the mat, here’s a short article listing some of the other benefits of smiling: http://goodrelaxation.com/2012/01/health-benefits-of-smiling/.