Tuesday, February 23, 2010

simple rules

"Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more; and all good things are yours."
- Swedish Proverb

P.S. Those of you who know me well can attest to the fact that the "eat less" part will be hard for me. ;-)
Maybe they aren't so simple after all...

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

letting go of negative energy

"Don't compare your insides to somebody else's outsides."

This must be one of the best pieces of advice I've received... thanks to this dear friend.

I remember how I felt in my first few yoga classes, when I was in my early 20's...I remember being more critical, more judgmental of myself. (Oh my goodness. I'm realizing this a bit late, but saying "20's" now means saying it in past tense.)

"Why is my forward bend not as good as hers? Why can't I balance as well as she does? Why does her [insert yoga pose here] look so effortless?" And so on.

I think I've become less and less critical of myself over time. I've come to just enjoy how I feel in a particular yoga pose. I savor those moments of being sensitive and perceptive to how I'm feeling, physically and mentally, during a yoga practice. My forward bend may not look like the next person's, but perhaps I'm feeling a better stretch today than yesterday. And if I don't feel great in the stretch today, then I just gently ease into it, and stop when I have to, when I find that "edge." Through the past several years, I've slowly learned to stop focusing on what other people can do and how they look like in a pose. What a great relief it is to feel this way!

But I also remember being critical of myself in other ways, and comparing myself to other people. Why is it that when we're in a really dark place, we hear about someone who just seems to have the best luck in the world? Why does this person have this fantastic life in which nothing seems to go wrong? And then the "I'm-not-good-enough" self-talk sets in. Worse, the jealousy sets in. Ugh. Negative energy. Very toxic.

I now realize that as "perfect" as someone else's life may seem, it's not fair or healthy to compare myself to that image of perfection. Because I only see that person's outsides. And we all want to project our "outsides" as wonderful and great. Even if we sometimes don't feel that way inside. It's like having our photograph taken - we always want to project our best smile to others; we don't have our photo taken while we are sad or angry, do we? So that person, who seems, on the outside, to have such a perfect, amazing, happy life, may very well have some pain on the inside.

It's not that I'm celebrating the fact that the other person may be hurting and that makes me feel better. It's just a relief to let go of that unrealistic perception, that external image of someone else's perfection. It's a relief to realize that there's just no basis for comparison. The only thing we have in common is that we are each going through our own lives the best way we can.

What a relief to let go of all that negative energy that weighs us down.

So I've learned to stop comparing my insides to someone else's outsides. Because we all carve our own path, and each path is unique and special. Because my life, and your life--for all its joy and pain--is no less amazing.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

go big or go home

 Photo: My first skydive, taken by Start Skydiving

"Go big or go home."

I've been attending an intermediate flow yoga for the past few weeks, and this seems to be the instructor's favorite motto.

I love it though. It's all about giving your all. It's about passion.

She leads us through a challenging sequence of standing poses, and we hold warrior pose on one side throughout several variations, with 3-5 breaths per pose. Warrior I, hold. Warrior I with arms behind, hands clasped and fingers interlaced, expand chest. Bow forward into Devotional Warrior. Back to Warrior I. Warrior I to Warrior II. Warrior II to Reverse Warrior. Reverse Warrior to Extended Side Angle. Extended Side Angle with a half bind or full bind. Oh, and she might throw in Half Moon too. And yes, about 3-5 LONG breaths for each pose. Without switching sides or to the other leg in between any of those lunge poses. At one point the instructor even sat on one yogini's thigh while she was in warrior. (Thank goodness it wasn't me.)

Towards the end of this sequence, my right thigh is shaking, and finally I feel like giving up. I let out a loud "WHEW!" And she says, "Go big or go home!"

And sometimes that's all it takes - a little encouragement, a friendly push to find your edge.... then finally, we go through a vinyasa to rest in Downward Dog for about 5 breaths. I tell you, after that sequence, that Down Dog is the best Down Dog ever.

Then we switch to Warrior on the left and do the same sequence all over again.

"Go big or go home."

At the end, it feels great though. To know that I've given my all. Pushed myself to find my edge... not to be competitive with others or with myself (ok, maybe a just a little competitive with myself...), but to reach that point of a little discomfort in order to grow stronger...while recognizing that it's ok to lose my balance from my Half Moon pose. I don't have to judge myself when I fall; I just accept it. I can get back up and try again. Recognizing that someone is there to help you stretch just a little bit further - not too much, but just enough. Just enough for the challenge to be right for you at that moment. 

And isn't that what we do in life, anyway? We dream, and we dream big. We push ourselves beyond our comfort zones, to know what we're capable of. But we also forgive ourselves when we fall and make mistakes. We can accept help and support. We also accept periods of rest, and when we do, the rest is so deliciously blissful... much like the Downward Dogs after the challenging standing sequence. And in this state, we know that we are stronger for it, and that we made every moment count.

Go big or go home!

* The Yoga Journal website is a great resource for photos of yoga poses. Click here.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

words to live by

Some random snapshots of store signs and other everyday things...

 Life is good,
when you...

But life is...

...when you...
"roam the earth. eat chocolate."
Tagline of Salazon Chocolate Co., maker of my new favorite:
Organic Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar

I thought that after two serious, fairly heavy blog entries, a little lightness is in order. Just thought I'd have a little fun on this snowy day... :)

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Monday, February 15, 2010



25 degrees Fahrenheit today, light snow, with wind from the North at 1 mph, according to weather.com.

I've been watching the snow from my window tonight, feeling blissful after a kick-butt, feel-the-burn yoga class and a delicious savasana. The snow is different tonight. It's not the relentless kind that guarantees a half hour of digging out your car the next morning, the way we've had it the past few weeks. Tonight it's falling slowly, gracefully. Without any urgency, any rush.... much like how I feel after this yoga class. The snowflakes are larger than usual, almost like little white feathers. I've only experienced snow for the last six years, and until now I can't get over how beautiful and perfect snowflakes are. Especially the kind we have right now. 

As a child growing up in a tropical country, I've always wondered why snowflake designs or snowflake cutouts (you know, the kind they use to decorate storefronts) look the way they are - rays radiating from a center with intricate lines and details. I just dismissed it, thinking someone just thought to draw them that way. 

Then in 2003, during my first winter, I finally understood. During the first snowfall of the season, I bundled up and went outside. Snowflakes landed on my black coat, and I realized that when you look really closely, that's how they look - rays radiating from a center in perfect symmetry. Well, perfect to my naked eye, at least. But I trust in nature, as nature is the perfect design. When I finally saw a real snowflake for what it was, I was brought to tears. It was a profound experience. I suddenly remembered learning about fractals in school - the idea of a complex structure of self-similar patterns. Yes, I know that there is a mathematical something or other that explains it, which I do not have the ability to explain myself. But looking at this perfection... this is not the work of human hands.

It also brings me to think about the fact that there is perfection in all of us. And it's not perfection in an "egotistical" sense. It's not vanity. It's more like being at peace with the self. When we release judgment, we see our goodness and inner light.

That's another thing that I realize through yoga... as I settle into my space, I settle into being. I meet myself where I am, in perfect acceptance. Without needing to be something other than who I am. Without judgment. Towards myself, or others. Realizing that I am right where I need to be. And there's the perfection of that moment. 

Here's a mantra for a heart chakra meditation: "I am safe. I am whole. I am loved." 

Enjoy the sweetness of perfection.

Snowflake image courtesy of Free ClipArt at cksinfo.com.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

more thoughts on passion

I am reminded yet again, of how the lines between the so-called "categories" of life become blurry. In an earlier post I wrote about seeking passion - in yoga and in other areas of life.

Work is definitely one area in which there must be passion. Sure, there will always be moments of frustration, or moments of doubt, when the challenges are great. But at the end of the day, there must be passion. This is what gets us up in the morning.

I am fortunate that I have found something to be passionate about early on, and have since worked in the field of early childhood intervention. Years ago, in my first year of teaching, I learned a very valuable lesson from a child and family I worked with, about the inclusion of a child with a disability. That child, that family, and that particular experience was my first teacher. I am humbled to this day, and I owe them much gratitude for teaching me an important life lesson and inspiring me to become a better teacher... and more importantly, to teach with compassion and passion.

I recently had an opportunity to listen to Ann Turnbull, a well-respected professor, researcher, and national expert in the field of special education, through a "webinar" for educators and families. She herself is a parent of an individual with a disability, and she spoke about her son, who passed away last year at the age of 40. He developed a passion for music in early childhood, and this passion for music continued on throughout his adult years. This was her message to the audience of educators and families:

"What passions are you facilitating in the children that you teach, so that they can use this passion as a way to connect with others, to feel self-esteem... as a way to contribute, as a way to truly have a quality of life?" 

Wow. That is a great challenge. It is a challenge that inspires: how do we take action from here?

She went on to say:

"Make room for genuine relationships."

And the most important lesson: "We are not just in the education business, or the rehabilitation business. We are in the dignity business."

These are important lessons, not just for the work we do to practice inclusion in classrooms, but beyond that. In yoga, we talk about yoga "off the mat" - we talk about how we "live" our yoga. Along the same lines, how do we "live" inclusion beyond the classroom? How do we truly include people of varying abilities in our lives, in our communities, so that they have dignity and quality of life?

So why am I writing about this?

Because I think that yoga - which by definition, is union - is also about inclusion. I am not separate from you, or you, or you. Which is why, at the end of a yoga practice, an instructor typically says, "Namaste." The word is derived from the Sanskrit namas, which means "I bow," and te, which means "to you," - "I bow to you." An extended translation is "The light in me honors the light in you" or "The divine in me honors the divine in you." Such beautiful, profound words - but made even more beautiful when it carries over to other parts of our lives: to our relationships, to our work, and everything else. Because what good is my spiritual practice, if it is not truly practiced?

So I am prompted, especially, to think about how I should try to live by these words in my work: to always remember that people are differently-abled, not disabled. To keep in mind that we are not separate, and that by disregarding your dignity I also disregard mine. To never forget to hope... and to be a source of hope. To not just teach with passion, but to elicit and foster passion in others, so that they can live out their passions. Because the purpose of education goes beyond the 4 walls of a classroom.

Because we should all be in the "dignity business."

And so I say to all those children and families who have taught me the most important life lessons, and reminded me everyday about dignity: Namaste. I bow to you. The light in me honors the light in you.

To Gabe and his mother, Mrs. K: Thank you for what you've taught me through your compassion and gentleness.

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aaahhh.... love


Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, 
let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook 
that sings its melody to the night. 
To know the pain of too much tenderness. 
To be wounded by your own understanding of love...
To wake at dawn with a winged heart
and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart
and a song of praise upon your lips.

- Kahlil Gibran

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

seek passion

Ikebana at the North Carolina Arboretum

Passion makes the old medicine new:
Passion lops off the bough of weariness.
Passion is the elixir that renews:
how can there be weariness 
when passion is present?
Oh, don't sigh heavily from fatigue:
seek passion, seek passion, seek passion!

- Rumi

How do we seek passion in our lives?

I chose to post these ikebana pictures, because it so clearly illustrates the idea of putting passion into what you are doing versus just doing it.  Ikebana is not just a matter of shoving flowers into a vase. It's an art form that that requires one to be mindful, to be present. It requires both discipline and creative expression. It's an example that rules can coexist with passion. In many ways, it's how I would like to live my life. 

Ikebana at the North Carolina Arboretum

Do we go from day to day on auto-pilot? Or do we immerse ourselves fully in every moment?

I just had an interesting conversation with someone today who said that she likes feeling "jazzed-up" in her work. I like that.

I have to admit, there have been times when I practiced yoga on auto-pilot. You know how it goes: inhale, sweep arms up overhead, exhale and fold forward, inhale to lengthen the spine, exhale to step feet back in plank, inhale in plank, exhale to lower. Inhale to upward dog, exhale to downward dog. Neglect how you feel, forget to breathe deeply, obsess about the time. Yes, I've been there.

When you do something often enough there is a tendency to do it automatically. To take shortcuts. It happens in day to day routines, and it happens in my yoga practice too.

It takes some reminding to make myself more fully aware of what kind of practice I need on any given day.

I've learned that it's so important to check in with myself at the beginning of each yoga practice. To just sit and breathe, and be aware of any physical sensations and yes, even emotions, that need attention. Whatever we feel inside, is usually manifested outside - in how we breathe, how we tighten our shoulders, how we tighten our jaw and facial muscles.

I've learned that those 5-10 minutes --of just sitting and practicing pranayama (breath work)--tells me a lot. Sometimes it tells me I need a flowing vinyasa sequence; sometimes it tells me to slow down with a softer, slower yin practice. Sometimes it tells me to sit and breathe some more; and sometimes it tells me that I need a deep, delicious relaxation in savasana. That time of sitting and breathing also reminds me to enjoy whatever I decide to do. To put passion into it. Whether it's a breath that goes deep into your belly, a nice spine-lengthening downward dog or a rhythmic, flowing vinyasa. I've been in classes with instructors who tell you to close your eyes during a sun salutation. I think that helps me really feel the poses -- the movements, the transitions, and the pauses. It helps me put passion into it.

The same goes for whatever else we do in life... seek passion!

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

snow day = slow day

Ever since I moved to this colder and more snowy city, I have to admit that I have a tendency to obsess over the forecast on weather.com. Being the control-freak-in-recovery that I am, knowing the hour-by-hour forecast is somehow very...comforting.

I have to remind myself not to stress out about it, because 1) I am back home this afternoon and have no other reason to go out driving; 2) it's pretty toasty warm in my apartment; and 3) I have the luxury of sitting in my room and looking out the window to watch the falling snow.

(If you are out and about and have to face the roads tonight, I'm sending you some positive energy.)

The other thing about snow days is that it reminds me to slow down. I am working mostly from home today but I just took a nice 10 minute break from work to get up, stretch, and enjoy a short tea ritual.

For me it always has to start with boiling water in a real kettle. No microwave water here. Microwaved water makes the tea taste flat.

Then I take this wonderful green tea blend from my favorite tea place in Cincinnati. I'm glad I got a refill when I went back for a visit a few weekends ago.

I take in the scents as I open the canister. Wine connoisseurs swirl their wine in their glass and take a sniff. I like opening tea canisters to take a whiff of good quality loose tea leaves.

If I can make this a scratch-n-sniff photo I would. Just smelling it is an experience in itself.

Here's the description:

"Luminous green tea infused with cheerful mango-apricot flavors and flower blossoms. Evocative of a sunny spring meadow."

Isn't it beautiful?

Had this with some Meyer lemon bars which I made last Sunday. The tangy-sweet citrus flavors of the Meyer lemon bars complemented the tea nicely.

I sat in the kitchen to watch the falling snow. I sipped tea, took deep belly breaths, and felt thankful for being safe and warm today.

I have an even greater respect for those who drive the snow ploughs, who go out in the elements to keep us safe. Another reason to be thankful.

I send out positive energy to my loved ones who have to drive home from work tonight. I wish for your safety. You know who you are. :)

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Monday, February 8, 2010

live in balance

"Live in balance between the head and the heart by filling your feelings with wisdom and your decisions with love." - Innerspace

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Friday, February 5, 2010

the heart chakra

I've been reflecting on the heart chakra lately. I don't know if it's because Valentine's Day is coming up, as cliche as that sounds. I prefer to call it El Dia De Amor Y Amistad--the Day of Love and Friendship-- which is how February 14th is celebrated in other countries, as a good friend of mine told me (thanks, RZ).

Back to the heart chakra. This excerpt is from Yoga Journal:

"Through the heart chakra, we open to and connect with harmony and peace. The health of our heart center registers the quality and power of love in our life. In Sanskrit, the heart chakra is called Anahata, which means “unstruck” or “unhurt.” Its name implies that deep beneath our personal stories of brokenness and the pain in our heart, wholeness, boundless love, and a wellspring of compassion reside." - Barbara Kaplan Herring

I thought that was a beautiful definition.

It reminds me about what yoga really is - union. That yes, even with pain, sadness, and brokenness, we are all capable of offering love and compassion. And we are capable of receiving it too. It's all part of that oneness. We are also capable of being compassionate towards ourselves. Which I think is harder sometimes.

It makes me think about the thoughts, experiences, and memories that may keep me from being open in my heart's center. All these things that we hold on to, we feel in the tightness in certain areas of our body, when we contract and tighten to protect ourselves, or to keep from letting go of something that we need to let go of. Which is why backbending, a great heart chakra-opening pose, can be so challenging sometimes. I know it because my body doesn't lie. It's right there in my hip flexors. Ouch.

*Play background music here: "Fear... can stop your love and...love...can stop your fear..." (Morcheeba, Big Calm)*

I am reminded of how easy backbending is as a child. I remember doing it all the time as an 8-year-old, with hardly any discomfort. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that children are fully present. They let go. They may get into fights among themselves, and then not long after that they are fine. Well, life isn't that simple anymore. As adults, we tend to hold onto things longer.

(photo taken by Dad in New Hampshire, summer 2006)
I went to a challenging yoga class a few weeks ago. The instructor had us hold Warrior II (photo above) for what felt like a REALLY long time. Not only that, she had us go deeper, till your front thigh was parallel to the floor (still keeping knee above ankle). And this was after several sweaty sun salutations. And yes, we had to breathe deeply and fully (of course, right?!). Then she said, "Think about something that happened that is causing annoyance that you are holding on to. Sometimes it's something so petty, sometimes it's more serious. Visualize where your level of annoyance is. As you sink your hips lower into your Warrior, deepen your breath, and with every exhale, lower that level of annoyance. See the level go down with every exhale."

Whoa. Now that was intense.

But that's what the physical practice of yoga helps us with. It helps us recognize those areas in our life that we need to face and work through. Those things that cause us to tighten, contract, and close up. Those things that we need to let go of to move forward, so that we can be open, so that compassion can flow in and out of our hearts more easily. When we ease gently into a challenging asana and let go through the breath, or decide to let go of something that holds us down, we create space. We create space in our bodies, and we create space in our hearts and minds for more positivity to enter. That's what is so transformative about yoga.

A thought has been forming in my mind about a yoga practice of asanas for opening the heart chakra. More on that later...

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

chocolate for breakfast

Chocolate French Toast from this local restaurant. Three thick slices of chocolate bread (which had chocolate chips baked into the loaf). I order one plate, eat one slice, then take the other two slices home for breakfast for 2 more days. Quite an indulgence for $5.99.

I love this place.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

is this heaven or what???


This local yoga studio is hosting a yoga + chocolate workshop this February, three weekends from now. The Saturday workshop is entitled "Yoga + Miracles: There's Nothing a Little Chocolate Can't Fix" and the Sunday workshop is "Chocolate-Covered Happiness". Two hours of vinyasa yoga for blissful stretching, followed by chocolate tasting. Sigh...

What could be better??

Find out more about the workshop here, and read more about the concept in this article here.

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