Friday, November 30, 2012

taking a break

back to my fall/winter coffee habit

How is it the end of November already???

 If it isn't already obvious, I've really neglected this poor li'l old blog for a while now.

Between work, school, and 2 small side jobs, something's gotta give. And unfortunately, it was the blog. My somewhat frequent posting this past summer has now become a once weekly or bimonthly post. I do miss writing here, but I can only do what I can do.

And that's ok. 

I'm running around like a headless chicken again, in preparation for a big trip. So I'm making sure I have all my ducks in a row, trying to get as much work done as I can.

I counted, and I'll be going through 12 airports in 30 days.  AND around the world in 30 days (not making stops everywhere, but that's our flight path as we head to both our home countries and head back). Whew!

But nothing to complain about. I'm incredibly thankful for the things that keep my life full, and also thankful that given enough sleep, yoga, chocolate, and sunshine (at least the little bit we get this far above the Mason-Dixon line, this time of year), I am able to do them.

Meanwhile, blogging is on the back burner. But maybe I'll post pictures from my trip when the time comes...

Until then, I'll be dreaming of this to keep me going as I check things off my task list...

Boracay, Philippines | photo by my brother Carlo

Very soon, this tropical-blooded gal will be right at home.


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Thursday, November 22, 2012

happy thanksgiving!

Not having grown up in the US, I don't have a specific attachment to Thanksgiving as a holiday. I do however, love the idea of having a day to focus on gratitude.

mehndi (henna) on my 5-year-old niece-in-law, India | May 2012

I have to admit, I don't get excited about turkey and stuffing. So instead, I'll share what I'm reading and reflecting on today:
My Heart Brims with Affection and Expansion

I am committed to gratitude in my life. This choice opens my perceptions to receive the good. This choice shows me the inner doorway through which abundance comes to me. My heart is connected to universal love. Opening to my inner connection to Source, I receive an inflow of love and further gratitude. I give out an outflow of love and further gratitude. Gratitude for me is active. It is an inner decision to name and cherish what I love. It is a recognition of the many ways in which I myself am loved and cherished. In committed gratitude, I strive to touch all with the loving-kindness which touches me. I practice the principles of love in action. I am kind and compassionate first to myself and then to all others. I cherish our worth, our dignity, our shared path as co-creative beings shaping our shared world.

- Julia Cameron, Blessings: Prayers and Declarations for a Heartful Life

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Monday, November 19, 2012

on mindfulness, abundance, and gratitude

This time between Diwali and Thanksgiving has made me reflect on abundance and gratitude. I think they go hand-in-hand; as we recognize the abundance in our lives instead of focusing on all those "things" that we wish for, gratitude comes next.

Many times, I catch myself thinking, oh, I wish we had this piece of furniture or this or that or the other thing. We're only human, right? But nothing else jarred me back to my senses than the recent disaster that was Sandy. People suffered damage to their homes -- their shelter, for crying out loud, and here I am wishing for a new couch. 

I wish it wouldn't always come to that - for a tragic event as a reminder to be grateful. Why does that happen? A health emergency reminds us to be grateful for the health that we do have. An experience of loss or grief reminds us to be grateful for the people in our lives.

So I try to express gratitude as much as I can. For the abundance I have - love, friendship, health, work. And yes, even the challenges.

And for the little things. The stranger at the checkout line that lets me go ahead. The way my nerves, bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and every little part of my body work together so that I can enjoy my walk in the sunshine or a yoga pose. The little (but big) things that my husband does for me, like fill my gas tank the night before, when he knows I have a morning appointment.

I think it's mindfulness that connects the dots between abundance and gratitude. When I am mindful of the little things, it's much easier to recognize abundance and feel gratitude. If not for mindfulness, it's also easy to forget how important these "little" things are and how they enrich my life in so many ways. The extraordinary in the everyday.

To me, nothing else says it better than this poem...

By Mary Oliver

Every day
   I see or hear
         that more or less

kills me
   with delight,
      that leaves me
         like a needle

in the haystack
   of light.
      It was what I was born for—
         to look, to listen,

to lose myself
   inside this soft world—
      to instruct myself
         over and over

in joy,
   and acclamation.
      Nor am I talking
         about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
   the very extravagant—
      but of the ordinary,
         the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
   Oh, good scholar,
      I say to myself,
         how can you help

but grow wise
   with such teachings
      as these—
         the untrimmable light

of the world,
   the ocean’s shine,
      the prayers that are made
         out of grass?

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

sharing traditions

Last Tuesday, my husband and I celebrated Diwali. Diwali, also known as the "festival of lights", is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu tradition. One of the rituals is to workship Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth.

my husband's altar, with the lit "dia" (oil lamp)

As we are a half-Indian/half-Filipino household, my husband and I have been celebrating each other's traditions. I sit beside him as he says his prayers for blessings for ourselves, our families, and loved ones. And beside him, I pray in my own Catholic tradition for blessings as well.

As we have been married only... let's see, about 1 1/2 years / about 1 year and 2 months / 6 months--based on our legal, Catholic, and Hindu ceremonies, respectively (Confused yet? Yes, it sounds wedding-crazy but believe me we are sensible people!) -- we are figuring out our interfaith marriage as we go forward. Our individual spirituality is something important to both of us, and something each of us respected in the other. As I look back, getting married in each other's tradition perhaps has marked the beginning of something that will evolve into this shared spirituality.

We don't have it all figured out yet, especially when the time comes for us to start talking about having a family. I don't know what it will look like in the future, but this I know....

I am reminded, yet again, of what the poet Rumi wrote:

"There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." 

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

confessions of a yoga teacher

At 30+, I still get *slightly* giddy over pretty notebooks.

I will preface my "confessions" by saying that these are just personal preferences and tendencies, not judgments or evaluative statements about practices or preferences that are different from mine. It takes all kinds to make the yoga world go round.

Here goes...

~ I don't wake up at the butt-crack of dawn for a 2-hour asana and meditation practice. I stumble out of bed with my eyes half closed, head to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face, and then head to the kitchen because my stomach is grumbling.

~ I need my stimulants (i.e., espresso/cappuccino in the fall/winter, Earl Grey tea in the spring/summer) in the morning to get going.

~ I wish I could say I drink a freshly-made green juice every morning. But I'm more likely to have a chocolate croissant with said stimulants above. Or cake. But I do eat my greens at lunch and dinner.

~ Needless to say, I don't "salute the sun" with surya namaskara (sun salutations) in the morning. I will at sunset though. Or in the evening.

~ Sometimes, depending on what else is going on, my asana practice is just child's pose or a yin-style forward bend. That's it.

 ~ I don't chant OM in my practice. Or chant anything. Not to say I didn't try for a good long while. I understand the meaning behind OM, but I'd rather meditate on something that resonates more deeply and more personally with me (like a favorite prayer). I say it silently to myself. But if I am taking a class and the teacher leads the group through OM or a chant, I gladly listen.

~ On that note, I don't chant OM when I teach either. It's not that I'm "against" it. But if it's not in my own practice, how can I genuinely teach it?

~ I don't do crazy arm balances effortlessly like Kathryn Budig or Seane Corn. I've become more and more cautious over the years about the limitations of my physical body (and the fear of crashing on my face and losing a tooth). But I have done some crazy things like 108 sun salutations during the summer solstice.

~ I'm not crazy flexible. Gone are the childhood gymnastics days of straddle-split-chest-on-floor stretches. There are just certain things my body doesn't do, which I now have a deeper understanding of - thanks to the concepts of tension, compression, and proportion (with credit to Paul Grilley - his anatomy DVD changed my yoga world).

~ Related to the previous point above, I have never, and probably won't ever, sit in a full lotus. And that is ok, because my hips just won't seem to move that way and I love my knees too much to compromise them for what my hips can't do. And I want my hips and knees to carry me through old age 50+ years from now.

~ Although I know yoga is not really just about the physical poses - because the physical practice is just 1/8 of the entire yoga philosophy - sometimes, I really, really, really just want to "get it" while in a revolved triangle (not one of my faves). And I won't deny that I let out an excited squeal when I went up in a headstand for the first time during my yoga teacher training.

~ I never really liked the term "advanced" to describe someone who practices yoga. Someone once asked me if I were "advanced". I asked him, "what do you mean?" I truly believe in what my first teacher, Anna, said: "Always have a beginner's perspective." And I feel it in my muscles, my joints, and my mind every time I step onto the mat. The body doesn't lie.

~ And on that note, I would much rather use the term "committed" than "advanced" to describe someone who regularly practices yoga.

~ I hit a plateau in my yoga practice a few years ago. I just wasn't "feeling it" for some reason. But I definitely came back to it with a deeper appreciation the second time around. And it really drove the "beginner's perspective" home for me.

 ~ Sometimes I come in with a detailed plan (written down) for how I'm going to teach class. Sometimes I have a general plan in my head. It all depends - and it largely depends on who shows up.

~ I often get my right and left sides confused while teaching. Especially when I'm facing the group.

~ I've gone from omnivore to vegetarian (lacto-ovo) to "vegan" (" " used intentionally, because it lasted 2, maybe 3 weeks max - no matter what I do, I just do not get the same results when I bake with things like Earth Balance. I want the real-deal butter. I have Julia Child to thank.)... so I went back to vegetarian to most recently an occasional pescetarian. Dessert, however, is a mainstay. Always was, always will be. 

~ Though I'm pretty good at choosing what I eat and cooking things from scratch most of the time, I'm just as likely to make my own kimchi as I am to open a bag of Cape Cod salt + vinegar chips every now and then.

~ I don't remember all the Sanskrit names for the asanas (poses).

~ I'm not perfectly outfitted in color-coordinated Lululemon from head to toe. Target and Gap workout clothes work just fine for me (and my wallet).

~ I try my best to be a mindful and ethical consumer ("reduce-reuse-recycle"), but I am just as likely to reduce my use of plastic as I am to lust over a beautifully made, high-quality leather bag that will last for years.

~ I prefer not to have incense burning during yoga (whether I teach or attend a class). Especially if it's patchouli. But if it's already burning when I enter a yoga room, I'll just position myself far away from it.

~ I'm not a huge fan of "hot" yoga. I've tried it a few times, but I really just prefer regular room temperature. 

~ I don't plan my yoga music playlist ahead of time like I know some (or a lot of) teachers do.

~ I'm not relaxed and blissed-out 100% of the time which seems to be the general yoga teacher stereotype. I have anxiety and insomnia. And several years ago I suffered from depression too. There, I said it. But this experience deepened my yoga practice like no other.

~ And truth be told... you won't regularly find me in a cross-legged seated position, fingers in a mudra, and eyes closed, meditating. I try, I really do. It is a practice, after all. But I meditate better while swimming than I do while seated.

Yoga teachers or yogis/yoginis: 'fess up! I'd love to hear the quirks that make you "you".

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Monday, November 12, 2012


This is what has been going on:

image source

Not much to say today, so I'm not going to ramble. Over and out.

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

sleep props

Ever since I was a teenager, sleep has been something that always evaded me. I think it all started when I discovered Sidney Sheldon novels that would keep me up at night.

And now, 15+ years later, it still haunts me. Not Sidney Sheldon, but the trouble falling asleep.

Working from home (most of the time) certainly has its advantages, including working in pajamas. Well, it could be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it. But one clear disadvantage, for me at least, is that it's been very difficult for me to just leave work behind the way you would when you physically leave an office outside of your home.

I haven't been great at structuring my work hours, which is largely the problem.

But I try. 

I start with turning off my laptop at least 30 minutes before I going to bed - ideally an hour, but sometimes I end up turning it off before I accomplish what I needed to accomplish, and so I end up tossing and turning - and then I get up anyway to either get it done or put it on my list.

I also stopped bringing the iPad into the bedroom with me. This was tough, but it had to be done. I am doing everything in my power to NOT get addicted to Kindle. They say that screens from electronic devices stimulate your eyes the way sunshine does, which makes it even harder for the brain to recognize that it's time to rest.

Then I turn on my sleep playlist or the nature sounds app on my iPhone.

And then I take one 500-mcg dose of melatonin, the lowest available dose. I still don't know what to do about this long-term. I don't take it on the weekends to give my body a break - just so I don't start feeling dependent on it, physically and psychologically.

Then my bedtime routine begins...

My husband gets amused with all the props I use and surround myself with to help me drift off into sleep. Well, because normally I don't quite "drift off" into sleep effortlessly and blissfully.


 Clockwise from left:
Badger sleep balm, Indu aromatherapy lotion and spray, Origins "Bedtime Hug", and Blessings, a book of affirmations/meditations by Julia Cameron. Photos from each product's website.

The Badger sleep balm is scented with natural essential oils - lavender and bergamot - my favorite scents! I rub this on my temples, and sometimes the back of my neck and shoulders, giving myself a mini-massage. I love how the website says it's for "restless wanderers"!

The Indu aromatherapy lotion and spray is amazing. It's made by a local yoga teacher here in Cleveland. I just order it by email and pick it up at her house. It's also made with essential oils such as lavender, geranium, and other soothing scents. This hands-down the best lotion ever. I apply the lotion on my hands, and spray some of the aromatherapy spray on my pillow.

The Origins "Bedtime Hug" was a gift from a good friend of mine a few years ago, and it's holding up well. It's like a little pillow, scented with - yes, you guessed it - lavender essential oil - and you can dampen it then warm it slightly in the microwave. So comforting on my back or even on on my belly. It's got a little weight to it, and in the absence of sandbags to weigh myself down for calming purposes (don't judge - I've tried sandbags during a relaxation yoga class and it was amazing), this kind of does the trick.

Then I open up a book of meditations, just randomly, to any page - and on rotation is Julia Cameron's Blessings. Other books I have on my bedside table are 365 Yoga by Julie Rappaport, and The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi. This helps replace all my work-related thoughts, so I end the day on a positive note. It sets the tone for gratitude, loving-kindness, and prayer.


They say that "sleep hygiene" is all about creating a comforting routine that signals to your brain that it's time to rest. Very occasionally I might soak in the bath with (yes, lavender) Epsom salts - but I don't always have the luxury of doing this every night. Somehow, my mind still goes back to the time I experienced growing up, when water was rationed, and sometimes I can't bear to fill up a tub with that much water so regularly.

But perhaps my mindset will change if my bathroom looked like this:

floating modern bathtub | photo credit

Ok, went off on a tangent there.

Another routine that A. and I have gotten into is... I know, this will sound a bit strange.... reading our horoscope! I was never into reading my horoscope. But let me tell you that the Indian horoscope is WAY more fun. A. reads it from this Indian website -- in Hindi, no less, and he translates it for me of course. It's actually not a bad thing that I can't read Hindi, because then I don't have to look at the screen and stimulate my eyes and brain again after ALL the things I do to get blissed out and ready for sleep. Thankfully A. has no trouble whatsoever falling asleep - he's great at just leaving work behind. We tend to giggle our way through our nightly horoscope reading. Now I don't know if A. translates everything accurately or not (especially if there are not-so-good things in that day's reading), but hey, I'll take it.

At this point I close my eyes, then settle into deepening and slowing down my breathing.

And at the risk of lavender growing out of me (which is quite plausible at the rate I'm going - were you ever told that joke when you were a kid, that if you accidentally swallow a seed it will start to sprout inside you until a plant grows from your body? Anyone? Ok, maybe not...), I fall asleep within a half hour - on a good day. 

photo credit

It's been a good couple of weeks now (almost), except for maybe a day or two. Much better than when I was falling asleep at 3 or 4 am, which led to me being really grumpy, having no appetite (GASP!), and worst of all, taking it out on my poor husband who is nothing but the kindest, gentlest, most loving soul to me.

And for him, I'll take the risk of having lavender grow out of my body.

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