Thursday, June 23, 2011


I've recently noticed that I get into certain patterns.

Patterns of favoring some yoga poses over others, especially in a home practice (e.g. revolved triangle... ugh.). Patterns of standing or sitting a certain way because it's something my body has gotten used to, even if I know it is not the ideal alignment. Patterns of not sleeping well.

And, there's also my usual pattern of initial avoidance when I have to tackle a big school/work-related project. Like now.

I just realized how many times I've seen this happen, and it's only now that I've put two and two together. When I have to work on a big project, I usually get extremely overwhelmed in the beginning, and my first response is to go on a crazy, compulsive cooking spree and cook/bake like a maniac. Not because we have to feed a dozen guests or anything. Just... because. Because it's my way of feeling productive as I procrastinate. Because it's a way of creating something when I don't quite feel ready to create yet, as far as the real project is concerned.

So in the past day and a half, I've made...

- homemade veggie burgers: Everything from scratch! (I'm also working on developing a recipe - more on that later)
- homemade ricotta cheese: Because I wanted to make a peach crumble out of the bowl of peaches I got recently, and I wanted to have honey-vanilla ricotta on the side. I know, my food brain thinks in a weird way. In all different directions.

... so as you would expect, I also made
- peach crumble (baked peaches with a crunchy oat topping)
- zucchini bread: also to enjoy with ricotta on the side... this time with minced dates mixed into the ricotta - doesn't that sound delicious?)
- no-knead bread: to enjoy savory herb ricotta on crostini - as a change from sweet ricotta

(Oh, and this is not counting "regular" cooking for dinner)

And after all that, I didn't even eat a whole lot. They were all really good though!

There's just something about this process that I go through before working on a project/deadline. As odd as it sounds. In past crazy cooking episodes, towards the end of cooking I have had to call my friend/colleague/neighbor, saying, "I need an intervention!" - at which time we would both set small tasks and deadlines for ourselves (by "small" meaning something that can be accomplished in a couple of hours) which we would then report back to each other for accountability. For someone like me who works from home most of the time, this has been really helpful. And then I go over to her house to deliver a baked treat or a sampling of a dish, because in all reality, A and I can't eat it all.

But I digress. Going back to the concept of patterns...

I wonder if this is a healthy pattern for me. Time is of the essence when working towards a deadline, and sometimes I berate myself for using up all that precious time to do non-essential things in the kitchen. But the thing is, whenever I do this (going through cooking/baking compulsions before the work at hand), I find that I can approach my work more grounded, centered, and more focused, as opposed to thinking in all different directions. Sure, maybe it takes me a day or two to get there. But today I feel more ready to work. So am I excusing myself? Or taking care of myself? I don't know. Meanwhile, today I am hanging up my apron...

What patterns do you notice in your life? Are they healthy or not?

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

tribute to the summer solstice

 Lake Erie, Cleveland

Such love does the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,
I have to wring out the light 
when I get home.

- St. Francis

I stand in awe, and I am thankful.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

taking a leap... plus, a website on yoga anatomy and alignment

teaching yoga at Burnett Woods park (2009)

I have to say that I have not been teaching yoga for the past 2 years, at least. After going through my teacher training and receiving my certification some years ago, I taught part-time (one class a week) while trying to juggle a full-time day job -- which I loved -- and part-time graduate studies -- which I loved too, enough to quit my day job and go full-time with school.

Needless to say, teaching yoga took a backseat. Waaay in the back.

Partly because of time constraints (and we all know how I'm still constantly learning about time management), and partly because it took some time for me to find a yoga community that resonates with me after I moved here. But mostly because I didn't feel qualified enough to teach after taking such a long break.

But, I am happy to say that I've found IT! A yoga community, I mean. Since the beginning of the year, I have been taking classes with an amazing instructor. The classes are small, and, while not advertised as private, they almost seem that way, with a regular group of people attending. The instructor has a lighthearted, yet very informed style of teaching. I was blown away by her knowledge on alignment. And not just alignment in terms of lining up your feet a certain way in the Warrior poses. No, not just the alignment of the extremities, but pelvic alignment - so that alignment comes from way deep in the source, allowing everything else to open up. Wow. I'm still trying to take it all in. I've never explored pelvic alignment to this extent in any yoga class before. As I learn more, I hope to share more on this blog as well.

Recently, I decided to take a leap. After not having taught yoga for a while, and not having had any "formal" continuing education opportunities in yoga recently, I talked to the instructor and asked if I could assist her in her classes (such as by giving students adjustments). I knew I wanted to learn from her. She was thankfully very open to the idea and I was really appreciative of her warmth and enthusiasm; understanding that it does take time and energy to mentor someone. 

She shared this website with me called Bandha Yoga, and I've been studying the (web)pages and pages of anatomy information.

So, I'm learning. And loving it. And grateful for people who love to teach and willingly do so.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

conditioned stress?

For the past few days, I've been experiencing mysterious stomachaches and headaches. I've been thinking about anything I'm doing that may be different or out of the ordinary... well, other than the fact that we just moved to a new apartment recently, everything else has been the same. Same kind of food. Same exercise. Sleep - well, that is another story.

And then I realized, I had been putting myself under premature stress in anticipation of my written comprehensives (a major rite of passage in my academic program) which officially began yesterday.

So I thought: why do I do this to myself? I put myself under undue stress over something that was not even happening yet. It's almost as if I had been conditioned to be under constant stress such that even when the stressor is not actually present (yet), I am already bracing myself for the upcoming event. Even my left eyelid is already throbbing from time to time (just like when I was under stress in May from working on a big project). And then I thought to myself - my eyes feel strained already??? And I haven't even started on the major computer work yet! The truth is, I am making myself feel sick.

Now this is a hard truth for me to admit to myself (and even more so here on this blog). For someone who is aspiring for balance, I really should have learned this lesson a long time ago!

But the good news is... if these physical symptoms of stress are really rooted in our mental state, then we can learn to control it. Now this is not breakthrough information; just something I'm constantly trying to learn.

So today I'm breaking down my project into manageable tasks and creating timelines for myself. Organizing my physical workspace to allow a better workflow, with necessary files and books within easy access. Just having moved, things are not perfectly organized yet, but it's getting there.

I'm also adding some inspirational, non-work "things" on my work desk. Such as the collage I made at a retreat a few years ago.

And on the other side of my office is my yoga sanctuary, my sacred space. A corner of the room just right for my yoga mat, my yoga books, and other props. A physical reminder to take a deep breath, do some asanas, sit quietly, or go into savasana whenever needed.

But at the root of it is not just the organization of the physical space (although it helps!), is really controlling the mind. As in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga chitta vritti nirodha = "yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind." So, we practice yoga in order to achieve a stillness and clarity of mind.

I don't think I can ever take away stress from my life. In some ways, there are healthy levels of stress - or at least when stress is managed in a healthy way. Which is what I'm learning. So that instead of feeling conditioned by stress, I can then condition myself to address it and respond to it in a positive, productive manner.

But it's also learning to give myself credit. After I completed that big project in May, at the end of it I really had to remind myself not to say, "I think I did a pretty good job..." - which is what I'm more inclined to think, in a second-guessing, hard-on-myself type of way... but instead, "Heck I did a damn good job!" Hey, we all need affirmations, right?

And so begins my project for the next four weeks... and throughout this time, my goal is not just to complete the project, but to complete it with a greater degree of mental and emotional well-being intact.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

organized chaos

So... in thinking about this idea of "chaos" (in previous post), I suddenly remembered what a classroom-full of young children is like when they are all engaged and engrossed in an activity.

Organized chaos.

As contradictory as that may sound, that is what it's like! Sure, the room may look messy, but they are playing... and for a young child, play is their work and their work is play. I remember how our play kitchen area or pretend grocery area looks when children are actively involved in purposeful, self-directed, and collaborative play. It's amazing - and as chaotic as it may seem to an outsider, there is a sense of organization to it. You have children taking on roles and behaving accordingly. You have children taking turns, children using language appropriately to communicate. Sure, conflicts arise here and there, but such is the reality of life.

Organized chaos. So.... what lessons can we learn from this scenario to manage the chaos in our lives?

A dear friend of mine told me about the concept of "big rocks". Visualize a jar. The "big rocks" are your biggest priorities right now. Place your big rocks in the jar first. Then, smaller rocks go into the remaining spaces in the jar. That way, you can organize your time to deal with your big rocks - your big priorities first, and then the smaller priorities later. (Thanks, Kim!)

I know that sometimes I tend to procrastinate and do other, less high-priority things first, because I don't want to face my fears -- the big, "scary" priority. But then in the end, it becomes a disservice to me, because despite how "productive" I thought I felt doing less high-priority things, the big priority goes into emergency mode.

Another lesson I really loved (and which I have yet to fully master) is Stephen Covey's time management matrix in his book "First Things First". Those "things" are divided into four categories:

  • Urgent and Important
  • Not Urgent and  Important
  • Urgent and Not Important
  • Not Urgent and Not Important

This is best represented in a quadrant; as shown here. According to Covey, our time should be spent mostly on the Not Urgent and Important category. For example, if we spent enough time planning and preparing for a project, then it doesn't go into emergency mode, or the "Urgent and Important". Granted, some projects tend to go into this category especially during crunch time... but I would agree that we would limit emergency mode if we spent enough time in the planning and preparation phase. The Not Urgent and Not Important category refers to the time-wasters and need to be avoided - or limited as much as possible.

I then took a good honest look at my "things" and filled in my own quadrant. To be brutally honest, here's what it looks like:

But I will say that my activities under "Urgent and Not Important" can be managed to go under "Not Urgent and Important" - meaning I would manage it in such a way that I would not completely avoid it (because I would argue that it's a creative outlet), but instead I would "save it for later" instead of acting on a compulsion to cook when I have a more pressing demand at the time (which tends to happen a lot when I don't want to face my big scary project).

How about the "Not Urgent and Not Important"? How can I avoid or limit this? Well, certainly junk mail and junk e-mail can be avoided or managed (try to opt-out as much as possible) Do I have to completely give up watching a cooking show on the Food Network, for example? But what if I can multi-task (do a load of laundry, or maybe a little exercise) while I'm watching Barefoot Contessa?

Ok, time to organize my chaos now...

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Thursday, June 2, 2011


I've finally resurfaced from a reclusive writing period. At the end of May - after weeks of seemingly endless computer work, I turned in over 200 pages worth of writing. It is such a relief to finally have that behind me (now if only that writing project was my dissertation... then I would be close to being done with my degree. But no...). As stressful as it was, I welcomed the challenge. I didn't quite welcome the stress (and its associated neck and shoulder pain, achy wrists and back, throbbing eyelids, etc) with open arms, though. But I have to say that at the end of the project, I felt pretty proud of myself!

As much as I enjoy (and need) writing in a leisurely manner, like on this blog, somehow I just didn't feel like there was any more space in my brain. So leisure writing and journalling certainly took a backseat. Instead I churned out pages of research and other academic "stuff". It was definitely a process... of saying "yes" to the challenge, from starting from a blank page to one page, two pages, several... seeing the process of how it slowly took shape. I found myself reaching towards yoga in the process - especially the principles of practice and non-attachment. I knew, that if I were to take on this endeavor, I had to detach myself from the very high stakes involved, from the result, and instead just commit myself to writing. Because high stakes = pressure. Interestingly, I'm not sure how "acceptable" this concept of non-attachment is in the workplace and in a product/outcome-oriented world. When I mentioned this to my superior -- about how I would just write and let go of the outcome (in different words) -- I think she misunderstood me and thought that I was not going to give my 100%. But I did - 100% and then some. Because I was so overwhelmed by this project in the beginning, I just had to detach myself from thinking about the result in order to just take that step forward and do it. Hmm. Makes me think about how I should maybe keep some thoughts to myself and out of the work environment.

Now that the project is done, the question that has been on my mind is, what if the thing/activity/work that you love is also a stressor?

I read an article somewhere (wish I could remember the source) in which the author wrote about how sometimes we unconsciously seek more drama (stress, chaos, deadlines, etc...) in our lives, and behave in such a way that we end up having more of that. Could this be true? Do I really seek more stress in my life, and if I do, why?

That line of thinking portrays chaos as something negative... and then I remembered that I have a magnet that reads: "One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star." (Nietzsche)

I love that. I think it explains this state of being. Chaos (i.e., challenge, stress, etc) will always be there. Even if it comes from something (or someone) you love. I'm not a parent, but I would guess that parenting is like that - yes, it's stressful, but it involves someone you love so dearly. It involves someone that matters so much. And in my world, my work matters to me. I love what I do, stressful as it is. So it's how we deal with it - it's what we do with that chaos. Because it's the chaos that pushes us to evolve, to adapt, to create...if, within that chaos, we can come to a place of stillness and focus. If we can gather all that chaotic energy and somehow transform it - to "give birth to a dancing star." (or in my world, 250 pages of work)

Perhaps chaos isn't a bad thing after all. How do you transform the chaos in your life?

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