New Year Yoga – Don’t Change

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The end of last year was well, quite glorious. I had two weeks to do nothing but massage clients, teach yoga and take classes. Going to school full-time was the smartest thing I’ve done but still a commitment and shit ton of work. And while I am grateful for all of the good stuff happening, I was feeling a little overwhelmed and tired.

I wanted to spend my time off doing all the yoga. My friend Kathleen and I strolled to Jivamukti to take a class with Julie Kirkpatrick on Christmas Day. Class was like wrestling a cuddly grizzly bear. When you move pose after pose after pose after pose you have choices- try to hang on for dear life or surrender to the moment. In savasana I felt myself let go.

Listen, I know that as yoga teachers we talk about letting go (and sometimes we even mean it), but in that moment if the lights went out, and I mean forever- I would have been okay. That may seem like a heavy statement but it’s true. Savasana prepares us for the biggest unhooking of all.

In a Sunday class with Cassandra Rigney at Jivamukti she talked about watching Time of Death, a miniseries that follows terminally ill patients during their last weeks. Seems grim, I know. But Cassandra said it was a powerful testament to how in the end we forget all the bad shit that people have done and only see the good. Why not live like that now? Why not indeed I wondered as I walked home. Fresh off a Serial and Marking of Murderer binge Cassandra’s mention of ToD seemed like a good move. I was wrong.

I wasn’t just a good move. It was yoga. I was riveted watching these stories of life and death. Some of the families graciously let us watch their loved ones transition on camera. Some didn’t and that’s a beautiful and noble choice as well. It got me thinking.

This is yoga. This is life.

Yoga doesn’t only prepare me for living life in the now, it’s also practice for the ultimate letting go. What stuck me most was my reaction. You can’t help but reflect when you watch people die. But instead of thinking about what I would change I found myself thinking about what I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t change a lot.

I wouldn’t change the way I love the time I spend with my family.  Or seeing my brother’s face at Thanksgiving. Or cracking up with my parents and sister at Christmas dinner. I wouldn’t change the way I laugh at Dakota’s spring in her step when she smells the air during her morning walk. I wouldn’t change what I’m doing with my life. I want to do more of what I’m already doing now.

Forget about what you would change. What are you doing right? What’s working?

Do that.

So when I think about 2016 I’m not challenging myself to rock the shit out of the new year. I’m going to fucking be more present than ever in the now.

That’s working. Namaste y’all.

 

Rikers Yoga – Teen Meditation

Photo via Groundswell.org
One of the many hallways at Rikers Rose M. Singer Center for women Photo via Groundswell.org

 

 

“Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.” 
― Pema Chödrön

 

After teaching in one of the sentenced women’s dorms I made my way to the dorm that held three teens who aren’t living with the rest of the teen population for various reasons. They were still in school so I waited until they got back. Things are always changing. ‘Tasha’ had been moved to another house (I think she’s back with the teen girls) and ‘Shakira’(not her real name) who was with the teen girls the week before was back in the ‘isolated’ (my word, not Rikers) section. Shakira lit up when she saw me. The CO in the bubble had let them know that I stopped by but I don’t think they realized that I’d be coming back. Shakira grabbed the only other girl in the dorm and told her to try yoga that it would be fun. ‘Andrea’ eyed me dubiously. I hoped that she would warm up as we began to practice but she didn’t and left class a few minutes in. Shakira unruffled asked if we could practice handstand. Andrea wandered back to see why we were on our hands and stayed for a few more minutes and then left again. Shakira asked about practicing crow and hurdler AND headstand. Who am I to get in the way such enthusiasm? As we were winding down practice I asked Shakira what was her favorite thing to do in yoga. She replied, ‘Meditation.’

‘A five-minute meditation?’ I suggested?

‘Can we do longer?’ she wanted to know.

I was all cool on the outside. ‘Um, sure we can sit and do a 15 minute guided med-,’

‘I don’t really need guided if that’s okay. I can focus on my breathing.’

‘Yeah okay- let’s do a 15 minute sit. ‘ But inside I’m like:

hermoine

My head had been pounding all morning so a seated meditation without support did not seem like a great idea. I let Shakira know I’d be moving my bolster to the wall for back support. She said, ‘We can do that? That’s cool because sometimes my back hurts sitting up.’

So we sat. I don’t drop into a deep meditation but it was hard not to chill out because the dorm is silent. I did think about Shakira’s desire and willingness to be still for 15 minutes. Not an easy task for an adult in this distracted world, even more challenging as a teenager. If you add the element of detention and stress of Rikers Island, it’s almost an impossible task. And yet, when I glance over at her just to see that she’s okay, her face is smooth and her breathing natural. This is no BS she’s in meditation.

Pema Chödrön talks about folks who really take meditation seriously because they have to. She says (and I’m paraphrasing here) those that haven’t had lots of serious trauma or addiction enjoy meditation and can treat it more like a trend. However, if you are a card carrying member of the shit hitting the fan club you get real serious real quick about meditation. Life can be pretty grisly where there aren’t any options left for a decent life. If meditation shows up an an answer, most take it. Because once you can look at your naked truth and not run, you can do just about anything. (Can I get an amen for Pema?) Sorry, I digress.

I thought my class with the teens would be about jumping around and laughing. And sometimes it is. But other times it’s about being quiet. This is what trauma informed teaching is about – listening and honoring the students. It’s not about my personality, my goals for a class or my wants and desires for students. It’s about my big ole mouth being shut , my hands and heart open, saying what can I give to you. How can I serve where you are in this moment.

I will not ignore people who are locked away. I will continue to speak up and out about the need to END mass incarceration. I will continue to plead for the need for more volunteers to visit people in prison as we work to end the system. I will continue to encourage people to volunteer and give assistance to those who are out of jail and need support, love and encouragement. I will not ignore those I can’t see. I will not be silent. This is my mantra and my meditation.

Namaste y’all.

 

 

The Whole 30

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I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned my friend Patrice. Fate has a way of bringing people together and from the moment I met her I knew we’d be friends. She listens to my rants, tells me when I’m being silly (as in stubborn) and makes me feel better if I’m feeling low. So when she asked if I’d do the Whole 30 with her I said yes instantly. A program that helps you feel great and focuses on real food? That’s what I preach, bring it on!!!

And then I saw what I couldn’t have red wine (or any alcohol, boo) for a month and was less enthused, but sticking together and all that I’m still on board. I like the idea of doing something for 30 days. In a week I’m launching a 30 Meditation Journey- it’s for folks that want to try meditation, but have felt a little nervous about doing so. Partnering meditation with whole eating sounds like a fine way finish up healing from abdominal surgery.

 

So back to the Whole 30. Here’s some scoop from the site.

The Whole30 Program Rules

Yes: Eat real food.

Eat meat, seafood, eggs, tons of vegetables, some fruit, and plenty of good fats from fruits, oils, nuts and seeds. Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re totally natural and unprocessed. Don’t worry… these guidelines are outlined in extensive detail in our free shopping list.

 

– See more at: http://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/#sthash.Q0ru9FdQ.dpuf

No: Avoid for 30 days.

More importantly, here’s what NOT to eat during the duration of your Whole30 program. Omitting all of these foods and beverages will help you regain your healthy metabolism, reduce systemic inflammation, and help you discover how these foods are truly impacting your health, fitness and quality of life.

  • Do not consume added sugar of any kind, real or artificial. No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, stevia, etc. Read your labels, because companies sneak sugar into products in ways you might not recognize.
  • Do not consume alcohol in any form, not even for cooking. (And it should go without saying, but no tobacco products of any sort, either.)
  • Do not eat grains. This includes (but is not limited to) wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, sprouted grains and all of those gluten-free pseudo-grains like quinoa. This also includes all the ways we add wheat, corn and rice into our foods in the form of bran, germ, starch and so on. Again, read your labels.
  • Do not eat legumes. This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. No peanut butter, either. This also includes all forms of soy – soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and all the ways we sneak soy into foods (like lecithin).
  • Do not eat dairy. This includes cow, goat or sheep’s milk products such as cream, cheese (hard or soft), kefir, yogurt (even Greek), and sour cream… with the exception of clarified butter or ghee. (See below for details.)
  • Do not eat white potatoes. This is somewhat arbitrary, but if we are trying to change your habits (chips and fries) and improve the hormonal impact of your food choices, it’s best to leave white, red, purple, Yukon gold, and fingerling potatoes off your plate.
  • Do not consume carrageenan, MSG or sulfites. If these ingredients appear in any form on the label of your processed food or beverage, it’s out for the Whole30.
  • No Paleo-ifying baked goods, desserts, or junk foods. Trying to shove your old, unhealthy diet into a shiny new Whole30 mold will ruin your program faster than you can say “Paleo Pop-Tarts.” This means no desserts or junk food made with “approved” ingredients—no banana-egg pancakes, almond-flour muffins, flourless brownies, or coconut milk ice cream. Don’t try to replicate junk food during your 30 days! That misses the point of the Whole30 entirely.

One last and final rule: You are not allowed to step on the scale or take any body measurements for the duration of the program. This is about so much more than just weight loss, and to focus on your body composition means you’ll miss out on the most dramatic and lifelong benefits this plan has to offer. So, no weighing yourself, analyzing body fat or taking comparative measurements during your Whole30. (We do encourage you to weigh yourself before and after, however, so you can see one of the more tangible results of your efforts when your program is over.)

– See more at: http://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/#sthash.Q0ru9FdQ.dpuf

 

I’m skeptical about some of this. I’ve read through the site and some of the language is a little too tough love for me. I’m already the chick who used to live her life without moderation- so I’m not really sure if the Whole 30® program is a good fit for someone like me. Life in extremes can play to my addictive nature and if I’m not careful I could be looking down the abyss. So, I’m keeping a watchful eye on me. This isn’t to say that this isn’t a great thing for lots of folks who need a serious kick in the ass to stop some healthy habits and/or thinking.

My eating habits are pretty good- but keep a mindful eye on what I’m eating may be a kind of food meditation. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

 

I’ll keep you guys updated weekly.

 

Let the games begin.

 

Namaste y’all.

 

Have any of you done The Whole 30? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

No Resolutions- Say it With Me.

Originally published on November 16, 2012

The holidays are here, we can pretend they aren’t. But as I prep a recipe post using sage even I can’t fight it. So now that I’ve said it let’s buzz right past Thanksgiving through December and settle in on January 1. The dreaded New Year. Why?

 

New Year’s resolutions are a set up for failure. I’m going to type that again. New Year’s resolutions are a set up for failure. I hope you all are pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down.

We need to keep it real.

Think about it for a minute. We (usually drunkenly or with a hangover) make promises of sweeping change. We will stop the recession, lose 20 pounds and train for a marathon while we find a cure for cancer. We fling arms around each other and vow we will be different this time, that this time we will ________.

Then we pass out or fall asleep. Because of pride and ego we move forward for a few days with our promise (a week if we are really lucky) until something happens and we call it quits. The content of the promise doesn’t matter. Our lack of planning does.

I’ve mentioned before that I was a smoker. If I had a nickel for every time I secretly promised myself I was going to stop I’d be writing this post from my place in Tuscany or maybe from the French side of St. Martin because that’s how much freaking cash I would have. Truthfully, I’d be reciting this to someone who would be typing this post.

 

Think my point is made.

 

I mention this because a few weeks ago I was struck by a urge to smoke. Not a passing thought but an incessant screaming that sat next to me for a few days. I blame myself really, when you are addicted to something you need to stay focused and realize that when things feel safe is when a slip is most likely to happen.

 

I didn’t smoke. But it wasn’t wistfully looking back on a tipsy New Year’s memory that got me through.

 

My plan did. I reminded myself of how happy my smoke-free life was. I looked in the mirror and reminded myself that I stopped doing something I didn’t think I ever would. And I made it a point to do some extra yoga that week. And it worked. Here I am living to tell the tale. So this holiday season while you are lighting up or doing something else that you’d like to stop, no need to wait until January 1.

 

Start today. Start right now. Create a plan. Get help if you need it. You’re worth the work and the reward.

 

Let the holiday season begin.

 

Namsate y’all.

 

O

Smashing Negative Thinking

 

I used to beat myself up if my asana practice wasn’t what I planned.

I should have taken a few more classes last week …

OR

I have to get to more hot classes (even though I’m exploring some other disciplines) 

Fortunately, I’m understanding a bit more that negative self-talk isn’t helpful. Some leaders out there are insistent that breaking down by beating down is the way to go, but I’m not so sure.

Make no mistake- I’m not saying let’s hold hands and sing campfire songs- challenges help us grow. But calling yourself an idiot while it’s happening may not help you get the best possible outcome.

Persistent repetitive thoughts can be useful when you are trying to lose weight, quit smoking or change your diet. But what happens when the thoughts hold you back from the things you want to do? When self-doubt creeps in it seems that negative thought is like a song programmed repeat in our heads.

We all have the ability to put an end to that pattern. Here are 3 ways to halt those thoughts and get back on track to success.

1. Acknowledge the thought

Noticing that you are having a negative thought is a necessary first step. After recognizing that you have started to play that self-destructive song take a moment to figure out why you started to play it in the first place. Did you face a stressful situation? Were you faced with making a decision and unhappy with what you chose? Have you slipped in your workout routine or made a few unhealthy food choices? Beating yourself up isn’t the answer.

2. Confront the thought

When a particularly powerful or insistent negative thought strikes you, examine it. If it’s an objectively true thought, agree with yourself and then restate your commitment. Maybe you just heard yourself say, “I can’t workout for an hour by myself.” Squash that thought by getting in its face. Reply instantly “Don’t ever say that you can’t do anything”. This kind of confrontation gives you power and control over damaging thought patterns.

3. Change the thought

As you notice yourself saying something negative in your mind, you can stop your thought mid-stream my saying to yourself “Stop”. Saying this aloud will be more powerful, and having to say it aloud will make you more aware of how many times you are stopping negative thoughts, and where. Replace a limiting thought like ‘I only ran for 30 minutes’ to ’30 minutes is the most I’ve run yet!’. Good feelings create more good feelings and before you know it those patterns are broken.

Thoughts are things so choose to make the them good ones!

 

Namaste y’all!!!

Sugar Yoga- Is it Toxic?

 

 

60 Minutes and Dr. Sanjay Gupta from CNN aired a controversial interview with Dr. Robert Lustig. The question, ‘Is sugar toxic?’. Lustig says yes. It makes sense that for a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight we should eat high-calorie foods in moderation, especially sugar. Too much of anything is not a good thing. But can sugar actually cause health issues? Lustig says yes.

 

Who is Dr. Robert Lustig?

A nationally-recognized authority in the field of neuroendocrinology, Dr. Robert Lustig has been researching obesity and its effects on the human body for years. For many of those years it seemed as if he was railing into the wind about sugar and its danger. In a world that was covered in butter, sugar with its no fat content was the lesser of two evils.  The thought process was, as Americans got fatter we needed to eat less. In order to get healthy and stay that way we also needed to eat less fat.

 

Low-fat diet food revolution

In 1982 The American Heart Association made recommendations about reducing our fat intake in order to cut our chances of a heart attack. Since fat makes most things taste good, to make foods without fat more palatable, sugar was added. The food market was flooded with low-fat food options that had lots of sugar. This is when according to Lustig everything went wrong. The majority of calories we eat now come from foods containing sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

 

The Bitter Truth

Lustig’s findings were presented in a lecture that you can watch on YouTube. His premise was that sugar more specifically, fructose has links to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. His claim is sugar gets broken down in a similar fashion to protein but takes another path in a way that makes a sugar calorie different. ‘A calorie is a calorie is a calorie’ has been the weight loss refrain from nutritionists and doctors for years, this idea changes all of that thinking.

 

photo credit msn.com

 

What is the danger and where is it?

Yearly, the average person eats 130 pounds of sugar. That’s about 1/3 lb a day. This isn’t just sugar in it’s sweet form but also as high fructose corn syrup. This can be found in more  foods than you may imagine. Foods breads, ketchup, store barbeque sauces, pasta sauces, snack chips, processed cheese, deli meats, bacon, fruit yogurt, hot dogs all contain sugar. Is there a difference between ‘regular’ sugar and high fructose corn syrup? In Dr. Lustig’s words, “No, they’re both bad”. Studies show those who consume too much sugar sends the liver into overdrive. As a result, the body turns some of this sugar into fat. After only two weeks of eating a diet that had slightly higher levels of sugar LDL levels were raised. High levels of LDL cholesterol and low levels of HDL cholesterol are risk factors for atherosclerosis.

 

Sugar addiction just like drugs?

One of the segments of the interview showed that even a teaspoon of sugar sets off the pleasure centers in our brains. When dopamine is released, we feel good and tend to do what made us feel good again, and again and again. What’s more concerning is that the tolerance levels of participants increased, thus requiring more sugar to get the same response. This is what happens to people with addictions.

 

New recommendations 

Dr. Lustig authored a paper that was published by the American Heart Association with new recommendations for sugar intake. They state:

“This study adds to the growing evidence that sugary beverages are detrimental to cardiovascular health,” said Frank B. Hu, M.D., Ph.D., study lead author and professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, MA. “Certainly, it provides strong justification for reducing sugary beverage consumption among patients, and more importantly, in the general population.”
  • The AHA suggests that men should not have more than 150 calories from sugar per day
  • The AHA suggests that women should not have more than 100 calories from sugar per day

The AHA doesn’t say that all sugars are bad. But sugars add calories and zero nutrients to food. Adding a limited amount of sugars to foods that provide important nutrients—such as whole-grain cereal, flavored milk or yogurt—to improve their taste, especially for children, is a better use of added sugars than nutrient-poor, highly sweetened foods.

 

 

 

The research will continue but it does seem clear that people who are eating too much sugar aren’t doing themselves any good and potentially increasing their risk for many diseases.  If you are having issues with too much sugar in your diet, here are some steps that can help you cut down:

1. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Shopping the perimeter of a grocery store means that the items contributing to weight loss  or a healthy lifestyle are along the perimeter of the store. About 1/2 of your groceries should be from produce. The inner aisles contain many of the processed items that should be avoided.

2. Read labels. Check the sugar and carbohydrate content to ensure that they aren’t too high.

3. Start and maintain a food journal. No need to get fancy- grab a notebook and write down what you eat each day. This helps you stay accountable and leads to better decisions.

 

Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks about more ways to cut sugar from your diet.  It takes 21 days to form and break a habit. Stay focused and take pride in the fact that you are taking control of your health and life. You’ll look and feel inspired.

 

Namaste y’all!!!

Adventures in Yoga- Don’t Go Chasin’ Yoga Waterfalls

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Dear Gorgeous Genius…

Your holiest pain comes from your yearning to change yourself in the exact way you’d like the world around you to change….

Your sweet spot is in between the true believers and the scoffing skeptics….

-Rob Brezsny

Today I stopped myself from chasing the yoga dragon.

When I first started yoga, my asana practice was physical and was what most mattered. I was keen on finding the shape rather that breathing into the space of it.

Besides understanding that most of yoga happens when I’m off the mat, I’ve learned to let my practice be whatever it’s supposed to be.

Usually. (That’ the goal)

You may know what I mean- you may not.

There’s the first time that an asana practice cracks you open.

It’s like rebirth, sex or a damn bursting. You are inside a pose and make a slight adjustment.

Then. Crack.

The rush of feelings is overwhelming…

You say to yourself, This. Is. Awesome.

It happened to me in Camel Pose. And I loved it. Sometimes I felt euphoric.

Sometimes I felt incredibly sad. But then it left me. Leaving me to feel- elated.

Once I burst out in tears.

Once I felt like a warrior.

Mostly I feel peace.

Sometimes I’m cranky.

It can start to feel like you need to go after a feeling.

As someone who never thought she’d give up smoking I know of what I speak.

My asana practice has helped me through dark times. I remember days when making it my mat was therapy.

But yoga can be addictive. I can get addicted to feeling good.

In extreme cases, an asana practice replaces living life.

I’ve danced there. When I was really into my practice, I did nothing but practice and practice.

There are times when it’s appropriate to push. But when life becomes about the pushing and not what comes after- we begin to wade in murky waters.

When your asana practice becomes all there is- you’ve got to do some investigation.

The fancy, technical term for this is called- hiding.

Sorry I’ve wandered.

Let’s float back to earlier. Take my hand I’ll guide you back to my class.

I warmed up. I could feel that I was a little tight, but my breathing was light.

As my practice was winding down I set up for Ustrasana. My mind was feeling cloudy. Both consciously and unconsciously I wondered if I pushed just a smidge (harder than I needed to) maybe I’d find something- awesome.

The thing about yoga is…it’s important to be in the moment- no need to chase waterfalls.

That’s what my yoga is about.

This was a big aha for me- recognizing that going for feeling awesome may not be what I need in the moment.

So I stayed. And it was what it was. Which is exactly what it was supposed to be.

Baby steps.

Namaste y’all.