because it’s April, and springtime, and a Wednesday… and don’t we all just need a poem today?

I got a text message from a good friend yesterday asking me about my blog… Every excuse about why I’m not writing more sounds a little contrived, a bit shallow… because everyone is busy, everyone has meetings and book clubs, and piles of laundry, gardens to tend, plans to make, people to see. And the only real answer I can give is that sometimes, when you are out living life, it’s challenging to slow down enough to write about it. But, that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it… there is pretty much a constant dialog in my head, ideas, recipes, snippets of life, anecdotes about the dog, photos from countless restaurants. This, like everything else, is a work in progress.

And because it is Poetry Month, and because it is yoga day, and just because… here is this.
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This morning as I was heading to the shower I started to think about what sort of conversation I wanted to have today in my yoga class. I like to think of my classes as conversations more than anything else… because no matter what I plan in advance, I always come in and ask my students how they are feeling, what they want to work on, and we start the conversation there, and what develops each week is a little different. As I spent the first few moments in the shower trying to wake up and embrace the day, I was thinking a lot about feeling grounded, and as I let the ideas of balance and rootedness marinate in my pre-coffee brain I couldn’t help but think about Vrksasana. (tree pose)  In that moment I started mentally reciting a few lines from a poem I wrote several years ago when I was applying to graduate school, and then re-wrote a few years later when I re-applied to graduate school… And there is was, my class, my conversation.

Of course, I was almost late to class, because when I went to find the poem I realized it was saved on my external hard drive, and as I pulled up to the studio there was a gathering of students waiting outside the door.  And these amazing students of mine, were chatting in the sunshine, waiting patiently as I frantically waved at them as I circled the block trying to find a parking spot, and as I ran up to the door I told them this was all part of my class plan, spending a little time in nature, embracing the springtime, finding our breath. They all laughed as we filed into the studio, and I made a full confession… “I’m running late because of a poem… but it’s for you, because it’s April, and springtime, and a Wednesday… and don’t we all just need a poem today?” and really, I think all of them did.

And so we settled into class, talking about being grounded, about finding balance in our lives, in our bodies. We talked of trees and how their toes dig deep into the earth, how they stay grounded through so much change, season after season. We laid on our backs and felt the support of the mat beneath our spines and we visited our first tree pose of the day. I watched as they firmly flexed their feet, pressing them into nothingness, watched as their shoulders slid into alignment, encouraged them to engage every muscle, activate their core strength, and from this very supported place, to create a muscle memory. To feel the length in the spine, the support, and to grow from there.

We moved towards standing, played with balance, played with strength… then we warmed up our feet, talked about our roots and tried it all again… this time with a little more confidence, a little more stability, feet feeling alive, bodies feeling warm… I asked them to turn to face the wall, so they could shut out distractions, and we settled back into tree. “Listen to your bodies here” I said, “remember how this felt  when we were on the mat, engage that muscle memory.”.  And then I had them turn around, because in life there are always going to be distractions dancing in your peripheral vision. Because that is how life works, and the challenge is being able to stay rooted enough through it all. And you know what? We wobbled a little bit more this way… but we were just being authentic… because even the tallest and strongest trees sway in the breeze. And what more can we ask from ourselves than to be authentic?

From here, we gathered in the center of the room, for the pose we had been building towards… standing in a circle, touching hands, relying on our neighbors for strength and for support we traveled through our final version of tree pose. Allowing our arms to reach up over head, hands pressed into our neighbors, branches growing toward the sky, our own little oak grove.  And I loved standing in that circle, watching the students laugh, watching them come out of their comfort zones, leaving behind fear, and blossoming into a cohesive group. Supporting each other, growing together… And they all got it… THIS is what our conversation is about today. This right here…

And as they settled into Savasana, as they began to embrace a different kind of groundedness, as they surrendered all of their thoughts and hang ups, as they gave themselves a few precious moments to let it all go, and to absorb all the benefits of our class, as they let our conversation resonate, I finally read for them my poem. The poem that started our conversation.
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I knew that I liked the earth–dark brown and rich with life–

but I didn’t know that I loved it

until I bit into a carrot, freshly harvested,

the taste of soil still lingering

This is the flavor of life.

 

I knew that I liked falling asleep next to you

feeling your chest rise and fall with the rhythm of your breath

listening to your heart as I drifted off…

But I didn’t know I loved waking up in your arms

until our first night apart… the bitter sweetness of solitude.

 

I used to be impartial to the wind,

until I heard it whispering through the aspen trees

and suddenly I was home.

 

I always knew I loved trees and their quiet strength,

but I didn’t understand it until I started practicing Vrksasana,

and the strength of the tree, the rootedness,

became my own.

 

I just remembered the rain

walking with you, hand in hand down the busy street

the darkened asphalt peaking out beneath the bright

fallen leaves. Flashes of crimson and saffron, the wildest orange

the wet slick grey… we were happiest then,

in the autumn, falling in love on our way to the grocery store.

 

I knew I loved the sun, being solstice born,

we are kindred, forever…

but I forgot I loved the moon,

I didn’t appreciate its constant pull on my heartstrings

until the first night in the new house, I saw the moon rise over the garden,

her beams reaching around my curtains

and flooding into my bedroom in translucent waves…

how can anyone not be inspired by a moonrise over the garden?

My nocturnal muse.

 

I knew I liked the color red

and then I saw the wild bergamot

reaching its crimson petaled fingers towards the blue sky

and I fell in love

with the color

and the moment…

sitting under the olive tree sucking the nectar from the flowery digits.

 

And stillness… how could I not love it?

though I never gave it much thought

the utter content in the quiet

being left alone with nothing but breath

the inhales and the exhales.

 

I knew that I loved lists

tangible or mental

a glimpse of organization

in my ever-chaotic existence.

Perhaps –if I sit here with my thoughts–

this list of loves will become the world.

 

 

 

Bergamot

Hello Hamstrings: a basic intro to Supta Padangusthasana

I have really tight hamstrings… me and every other person in America (or so it seems). As a yoga teacher one of the things I hear about the most is tight hamstrings… which is why one of my favorite poses to do in class is Supta Padangusthasana ( or reclining big toe pose). If you have ever taken a class from me there is a very good chance this pose was visited… I do not preach in my classes (at least I don’t think I do) but I know I have told pretty much every one of my students that life would be better if we practiced this particular stretch in our daily lives.

Of course I have been saying this for years… and thus far I have never managed to get into a routine of doing this stretch at home… but I do teach it at least twice a week (if not more). But here I am, virtually unemployed, with a plethora of free time, and a lot of motivation, so I’m pledging to do this stretch every day for one week, and see if it actually makes a difference in my life. Who is with me? I’ll do a follow up post after a week of consistent stretching, and I’d love to have your comments & personal feedback (feel free to comment here or on the facebook page).

I’m not expecting any profound epiphanies, but I do know that since I have been running more this year, my hamstrings are even tighter than normal, and though this is certainly not the only good hamstring stretch (and maybe not even the absolute best one) it is by far my favorite.

There are a ton of other great benefits about this pose as well. It’s great for lower back pain, it stretches the calves and inner thighs, helps strengthen the core, it can help with sciatica, it can even help you reduce stress.  Denise Benitez says in an article for the Yoga Journal that “You may never become a model for the loose hamstring calendar, but the benefits of Supta Padangusthasana will enrich your life in many ways. Your pelvis will enjoy more of its full movement through space (great for Latin dancing!), all your yoga poses will benefit, and your spirit will be soothed by the gentle release of the often overworked muscles on the back side of your body.”

Do I really need to keep listing reasons why almost everyone would benefit from a daily dose of this pose?  Hamstrings can be tricky, and stretching them takes time (I’ve heard 20-30 minutes a day of un-loaded stretching) And we might not all have that kind of time to devote to opening these key muscles, but even two minutes a day is better than none.

This stretch is usually done with a  yoga strap, but if you are trying it at home a belt or long sleeved tee-shirt should do the trick.

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Bulldog is optional. =)  but he does add a little complexity to the pose when he starts nibbling on your ears/ face.

Start by lying on your back (supine) with knees bent. Place the strap (or whatever prop you are using) over the ball of the right foot and begin to extend the right leg up towards the sky. (keeping a slight bend in the knee is a-ok. First and foremost, listen to your body).  Starting out I’d recommend keeping the left knee bent with the foot on the floor, but if you are feeling a little more open, and don’t have any lower back considerations, you might want to extend the left leg out onto the floor, keeping a strong flex to both feet.

Trying to pull evenly through both sides of the strap, invite your shoulders to relax. (you might even anchor your elbows on the floor so you encourage the arms to relax). I like to engage my core while in this pose, by simply drawing my belly button in and up… offering support to the lower back.

You might gently let the right leg rock back and forth in this pose, getting a little bit of movement in the hip joint (because motion is lotion).

After spending at least 1 minute with the leg up towards the sky, transfer both sides of the strap/prop into the right hand. Invite you left hand to help anchor your left hip to the ground. (if you left knee is still bent, you can slightly let the knee open towards the left to act as a counter balance, which will help keep the hip rooted down). Very slowly, perhaps to the count of 10, invite your right leg open to the right side. Keeping the flex in the foot, you might even encourage the toes to inch a little bit in the direction of your right shoulder.  This is usually about the time I have to remind myself about what my core is doing, (keep zipping up!). Holding here for several breaths (or several minutes, you know your body best), then slowly begin to engage the secondary muscles in your right leg. Trying to use the strength of the leg rather than the pull on the strap to slowly (SLOWLY! Work through the resistance, you’ll gain more benefits if you help strengthen while you stretch! It’s not just about momentum!) lift your leg back up towards the sky. Hold here for a few more breaths before slowly releasing the strap, and lowering your leg.

Take a moment, and notice if you feel a difference between your right and left leg (right leg might feel just a little bit longer! Progress!).  As you are ready, bend both knees, and get ready to stretch out the left leg!

Helpful hints:

Try to stretch for the same amount of time on each side. How you track is up to you, you might just be able to “feel” when you are even. But you might count the breaths spent in each part of the pose, listen to a set amount of songs, or maybe even set a timer.

I love stretching in the morning, but you might try this stretch at the end of the day, and see if you notice a difference in flexibility from morning to evening. We tend to be a little more warmed up at the end of the day because we have been up and moving around a bit and your hamstrings might be a little less resistant.

You might also experiment with trying this stretch at the beginning/ end of a yoga practice, and see if you notice a difference. This stretch is a great way to warm up for a variety of standing poses, but it’s also a great way to end a practice after your muscles are already warm and have been working a little bit.

* I should probably put a disclaimer in here that yes, I am an RYT, but stretching/ exercising at home can have risks. PLEASE BE CAREFUL! For further and more detailed instructions, you might visit the Yoga Journal website

Turning Point (not to be confused with the ballet movie from the late 70’s)

Finally, I’ve reached the turning point. The point I always knew I would reach, the point that everyone has been telling me to get to for the last month or so. The point where I’m finally done mourning the loss of my job, (and the relationship) and I’m finally realizing that having free time at this moment in my life is actually a huge gift.

I knew I would get here eventually, but like every journey, it isn’t really something you can rush. I needed a little time to process, to hang out in the void, to wear a lot of yoga clothes and sit on my couch… and frankly, I think that is healthy. I think it is good to mentally take a step back from where you were, and take some time to really figure out where you want to go… and it takes some of us longer than others… Honestly, I’m still not entirely sure of the where part… but I’m finally not terrified of exploring that.

A few weeks ago, when my lack of a job was still very raw, someone asked me “If you could picture the perfect job for you, and the most ideal situation, what would that look like?” and I panicked… I mean almost completely shut down panicked, because I realized that I had no idea. Like, not even a little bit of an idea, and it’s a pretty scary thing when you realize that you can’t even imagine what you want your future to look like. (I’m 27… I should have some grasp, right?) I’ve always believed in the 6 month plan… 6 months is manageable, 6 months is safe, and at the end of 6 months you can reevaluate, and tweak and reorganize as necessary. And I’ve been living on this 6 month plan for almost 6 years. I take a beat, I reevaluate… and most every 6 months I decide that things are going pretty swell, and I don’t veer too far of the path I’m already on. That is until last October… that is when I changed everything…  Suddenly I had new goals, new dreams, and a new plan… and it didn’t even remotely resemble my old plan. It was fresh and exciting… and the really scary thing is that it felt 100% right. But life kept happening, and plans changed again, and suddenly I was back where I was… and it felt a little forced, and boring, and even a bit frustrating, but hey at least it was safe. It was money in the bank, it was familiar, and there is something to be said for settling back into a routine.  Well the universe once again had other plans, so there I was staring change in the face, and fighting it kicking and screaming… (and crying, there was a lot of crying) So I took a few weeks, I readjusted, I mourned, I settled into the fear… and tried to get a grip.

Through all this I felt a little pathetic. I mean I have a tattoo on my foot that is supposed to be inspiring me every day to live the life I want to live, to follow my passions… and for a really really long time, people would see this tattoo and ask me “so what is the answer for you? What do you want to do with your one wild and precious life?”  And the answer was always the same “get a bulldog, name him Toby, write something amazing, be happy” So what are you supposed to do when you are heartbroken and out of work, and you realize that you already have a dog named Toby, and you are trying to write, and have been mostly happy, and that it’s not quite enough? Furthermore, what do you do when you realize that the one thing you actually want to do more than anything else you’ve ever wanted to do is no longer an option? I’m all for wishing, and setting goals, and visualizing what you want, but at some point you just have to let it go.  You have to realize that the person you want to spend your life with doesn’t want to spend his life with you; it’s probably prudent to get a new dream. Which is easier said than done. (and then you also have all the girly baggage of realizing that if this person doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life with you, he isn’t worth your time… but you can’t get over it just like that, so it just makes you feel bad about yourself, and like you aren’t empowering yourself, and that you are in fact pathetic for still being in love with someone who doesn’t love you back… trust me, being a woman, and being in your head is a dangerous dangerous thing… then add to it the extra free time, and the not having a job thing… and I’m actually amazed it has only taken me a month to start snapping out of things… )   Most mornings I would wake up, and it would take just about everything in me to try to focus on other things. My morning mantra became “find a new dream, move on.” And I’m still working on it…

But Friday morning, it finally hit me… You know like when you are running about 20 minutes late for work and you suddenly get inspired to bleach all the grout in the shower and deep clean every room in the house? That is what it was like. I was getting ready to head to the unemployment office for my mandatory visit, and suddenly all I wanted to do was get my life in order. It’s not like I had an epiphany or anything, I’m a practical person, and I did in fact realize that I should be working on something productive with all of my free time (and several of you have been hinting at this for quite a while) but it finally all clicked together somewhere in my psyche. What better time to actually completely the millions of projects I have to do around my house? What better time to get serious about writing? What better time to be creative?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I have completely stopped working on myself over the past month. In fact that opposite is true… sure, I’ve been a sad moping version of myself, but I’ve also been exercising a lot, taking vitamins, drinking more water… I might have had a grey cloud following me around, but at least I was being physically healthy… and now it’s time to work on the mental stuff.  I’m still definitely in a transitional period in my life. Fingers crossed I will hear something about graduate school by Friday ( at least about my application to the Peer Mentor Program, which will at least be some sort of news!), but in the meantime I’m working on all the projects I’ve been putting off.

I’m writing more. Because I have the luxury of time. And it’s not always good, and it’s mostly quite rambly (current post included) but it is writing none-the-less. Ask any writer, and I guarantee he/she will tell you the importance of writing every single day… making sure you carve out time, and write just for the sake of writing… so I’m writing. And I’m reading more, and I’m looking for creative outlets. I’m trying new recipes, getting ready to start collaging, I’m making lists of house hold projects, (I think it is finally time to paint the kitchen cabinets!)  and I’m starting to do some deep cleaning and purging.  I’m taking this time off, and I’m going to make the most of it.  I actually cleaned off my desk today, and got my home office set up and ready to go. I updated my chalkboard calendar, and sucked it up and erased the corny little heart he drew around the day we met. I’m ready to be inspired, and have a clean and cheerful place to settle into! (I even burned some sage).  I really want to grow my blog, expand my readership, and hopefully start submitting pieces elsewhere.  (this is the part where I shamelessly ask you to share my blog with others, like the facebook page, and send me good thoughts and positive writing vibes.)

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I share an office with Toby… he doesn’t spend a lot of time in his crate (mostly for sleeping and time outs) but he was hiding from the vacuum…

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The corny heart. I didn’t keep it for sentimental reasons, I really just hadn’t updated my master calendar since September… shows you how much time I have been spending at my desk.

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Clean Desk, Fresh Calendar, Can’t Lose.

I’m also going to be following another passion of mine…Several months ago, after a particularly great day of teaching yoga, I had a moment when I thought “wouldn’t it be great if I could just teach yoga, and be a stay at home dog mom, and work on my writing?” Of course I promptly filed that thought under “yeah, wouldn’t that be a nice pipe dream” and let it go… and now I’m pulling it back out re-filing under “holy-s*%$, this is my reality!”  I have no idea if I can make a living off of teaching yoga… but what better time to try? I’ll be getting unemployment to supplement things, and I have time, actual time to devote to planning classes, recruiting students, and cultivating a dedicated and meaningful practice in this community, and it’s something that I am actually epically excited about. Especially at this time in my life when I’m feeling so off kilter, and like I’ve lost part of my identity. I’ve always felt that I am the best version of myself when practicing yoga… and it’s time to get back to that self.  For the rest of the month I’m experimenting with becoming a “full time” yoga teacher at 4 elements yoga.  I’m going to be teaching Power & Hatha Yoga on Monday mornings, two Hatha classes on Wednesdays and I’m also going to be subbing for Slow Burn Vinyasa, and Back & Shoulder care yoga for a few weeks.

Sure, they are all baby steps, but baby steps in the right direction.

Sitting is the new Smoking? I guess it’s time to wiggle around.

I just did a dance around my living room… as I was taking laundry to the washing machine I made sure to wiggle around, and as I’m sitting on my couch typing this, out I may or may not be doing the in-flight blood clot reducing exercises you see on the trans-Atlantic flights… In my yoga class today we started talking about how “Sitting is the new smoking” which is a concept that everyone else in the class seemed to be familiar with… I was in the ignorance is bliss category, and of course as soon as I came home started doing a little research. Sure enough, sitting is a lethal activity according to The New York Times among others (Go ahead, Google it “Sitting is the new smoking”). So yeah, I’ve been wiggling my person around a little extra today.

Generally speaking, I am an active person… I teach two yoga classes a week, I take a lot of yoga during the week, and I can honestly say that I have been running more this month than I went running in all of 2012. I like walking places, and mostly I like to think I move around quite a bit… but in the past month I know I’ve also been sitting a whole lot more than I used to…

I mean it’s all relative… I’m not spending nearly as much time in my car, as I no longer have a 20 minute commute to work, and am not driving 40 miles every other day to see ex-boyfriend. I’m also no longer sitting at a desk… but I am sitting on my couch… a lot. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I sit here all day, but I’m still adjusting to my life in the unemployed sector, and so I sit a lot. I search online for jobs, I do a lot of reading, I look for new recipes, I’m writing more, and yes, ok, I’m watching A LOT of The West Wing…

I’m here trying to justify things, but the reality is, even when I was working full time, I didn’t spend a ton of time at my desk… sure, I spent my fair share of time at the computer writing newsletters, updating social media, working on advertising, printing contracts, doing research. But I also spent a fair amount of time walking between my office and the retail shop, or the office and the tasting room… Some days it felt like I spent more time walking back and forth than I did at the desk. I would take breaks and walk Toby through the lavender fields, I would walk through the nursery on my lunch break, and I was constantly up and about taking pictures around the property, walking through the olive groves and grape vines… So yeah, I’m driving a lot less than I was, and I’m running quite a bit more, and I’m even taking more yoga, but I’m still sure that I’m also sitting a lot more than I used to… (BRB as I need to get up and move around, and maybe you should do the same! )

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Alright, I’m back…Is anyone else suddenly inspired to go invest in a pedometer? The statistics are a little terrifying… I mean obviously we know that sitting around watching tv all day isn’t good for you, but the idea that every hour spent in front of the TV gives you an 11% higher death rate? You’d think it would have to be the same for reading a book right? Every hour I spend reading a book, or sitting at my computer writing, is an hour closer to death. (Which I suppose is true of any hour spend doing anything… but you know what I mean) If you need me today, I’ll be bopping around my house…