Monday, May 30, 2011

My Summer Bucket List

I live in paradise. I'm a short drive from some of the most beautiful beaches in the country (maybe even the world). It's gorgeous, sunny, warm, and friendly everywhere you go here. (Trust me, I'm not bragging..) Do you know what do I spend the majority of my time doing? Sitting in front of my computer, of course ....

I want to sit in front of my computer less this summer. This is what I'd like to accomplish instead.

 1. Practice yoga by the beach.
 2. Buy a boogie board and a beach umbrella. (And learn to use them both!)
 3. Read my entire stack of magazines.
 4. Try 3 new yoga teachers.
 5. Worry less about things I can't control.
 6. Buy a plant for my porch.
 7. Drink more pina coladas.
 8. Spend more time with my husband and pets.
 9. Meet friends for coffee/tea/lunch more.
10. Make more time to do things that inspire me to create.
11. Go to the dentist.
12. Sew a dress.
13. Fly a kite.
14. Read more books.
15. Take more pictures.

What's on your list for the summer?

Yoga + Feng Shui = Harmony?

I can relate mostly anything in life to my yoga practice--changing seasons, grocery shopping, job drama... you name it! There are teachers and lessons everywhere. Even so, I am always a little skeptical when yoga studios try to combine things that aren't obviously related to yoga into a class. There's always the potential that it could be gimmicky... Of course, there's also the potential to teach us something new that's more related to yoga than we ever realized.

ZenSpot, a hot yoga studio in Eugene, Oregon, is launching a new teacher training program this summer that includes Feng Shui as part of the teacher training curriculum.

"We are sponges, absorbing energy everywhere we go," says studio owner Michael S. Bittner, Ph.D., E-RYT. "Unlike Vegas, what goes on in yoga does not stay in yoga. Energy emitted by the studio be it the layout, materials or personnel cling to your mind, body and spirit. A well thought out studio, designed with Feng Shui principles enhances the mind, body spirit connection. It does so by establishing balance in energy that affirms, enriches and comforts.  Would you choose a hospital that is unfriendly, dirty, haphazard and poorly lit? Why settle for a yoga studio that is just that?"

What do you think? Would you be interested in this kind of training? Should Feng Shui be a legit part of teacher training, or is it ancillary and just a trendy hook to get trainees in the door? Do teachers really need to know Feng Shui, or would their time be better spent going more in-depth into the sutras or into anatomy? 

For more information click here

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Barre Fitness: It's Not Ballet

Of all the fitness trends that have popped up in the last few years (Zumba, Crossfit, P90X) none have been more intriguing to me than barre fitness classes. I thought it would take me back to the days when I'd put on tights and a leotard and practiced twirling and stuff (I took ballet when I was about 5-7 so twirling around and dressing up for recitals is really all I remember).

If you had the same perception about barre classes that I did... be warned! This is not like the ballet class you remembered from your childhood. No, no, no. It involves squeezing a ball between your thighs for hours--it seems like hours, anyway. And there are weights! (For the record, I don't do weights.) It gets worse. No one wears a tutu or even a leotard. I did NOT feel like Natalie Portman in Black Swan... but that's probably a good thing.

When I got past the shock that this was indeed a fitness class that would kick my ass, I learned a few things about myself and (of course) my yoga practice.

It's OK to focus on your exterior sometimes. They were shameless about the fact that they were doing this to look better in their bikinis. You never hear, "I hope the instructor is feeling fat today," prior to a yoga class. Nor would a yoga teacher ever say to you, "You're so tiny! I'm sure you'll be just fine in this class." Hmm... I often get the impression that people go to yoga classes because they want to look better in a bikini, but they'd never say that. It was strangely refreshing to be surrounded by women who were totally honest with themselves and each other about their motives. There's nothing wrong with wanting to look good and working toward that goal.

You use totally different muscles to "pulse" than you use to hold yourself in one position. It was interesting to look around the studio and see that other people in class seemed to struggle with the parts of class that involved holding yourself in one position--Plank, Utkatasana, etc. That part was no problem for me, since that's my practice.. but all the lifting and lowering by one inch had me shaking like a leaf within just a couple of seconds. It became very clear to me that my muscles were not accustomed to working in that way.

My back is kind of awesome. This studio had mirrors everywhere. I think the idea is that if you can watch yourself you can correct your own form and get a better work out. I've been practicing yoga for the better part off a decade and have never actually SEEN my back body working (few yoga studios have mirrors). This class changed that. I liked what I saw -- I had no idea that my back looks so strong and defined! I know I have my yoga practice to thank for that.

Next, I think I'll try Zumba.

Have you ever tried a ballet barre fitness class? Did you reach any of the same conclusions I did?

That's Hot: Athletic Skirts

It feels like summer Charleston, SC with temperatures reaching 90 degrees some days. And even though I'm not exactly a "hot yoga" kind of girl most of the time there's no getting around it these days. I can't even walk from my front door to my car (20 feet away maybe?) without working up a sweat, and it's not even June yet. It's going to be a long, hot summer.

This poses a bit of a problem for my wardrobe since I do not like to wear shorts. Not ever. There's just something about shorts that isn't aesthetically pleasing to me and they leave me feeling a little too exposed. During the hottest of summer days, I opt for a breezy dress or skirt instead. And when it comes to my yoga practice? Well, I've been known to just suffer through it and wear my tried-and-true yoga pants anyway.

Luckily, this year there are more options for my yoga practice: many of my favorite athletic wear companies are making skirts that offer more coverage than shorts but are still cool and breezy.

My favorite is this skirt/skort by MPG, called Leap.

It might have been designed for running or tennis, I don't know. But the built-in shorts underneath this adorable skirt makes it perfect for yoga! You don't have to worry about giving the lucky person on the mat behind you a peep show when you practice your Down Dog.

Inversions? No problem. You're covered.

To and from class is OK, too. Since there's no clingy spandex you don't have to bring along a cover up.

I've been living in this skirt for my yoga practice, walking the dog, grocery store runs, and most anything else I'm doing that's doesn't require me to go into the office.

What do you wear to yoga during the hottest months of summer?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Lesson for Teachers

I went to a workshop for teachers today, and I learned many great things about how to communicate the practice of yoga in a more meaningful way. (I'll share more about the workshop later.) But I also noticed something that's been bugging me about yoga teacher workshops for.. well, as long as I've gone to them. When a group of yoga teacher get together to talk teaching techniques, there's usually also at least some energy given to criticizing other teachers (and broadcasting how much more competent WE are).

In part of the workshop we were asked to voice our personality strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. For the weaknesses, a common theme emerged: Insecurity about making mistakes. When a brave soul spoke up about how she beats herself up when she said left instead of right, every head in the room nodded with understanding. We've all been there!

Later, the conversation took at turn for the worse.

Several people talked about their experiences in other people's classes. There wasn't enough instruction. There was too much instruction. This one teacher would NOT shut up... Yada yada yada.*

I bit my tongue.

All I could think is that there's no wonder we beat ourselves up over our teaching mistakes when we sit through this kind of critique of other teachers. I mean, come on! That's one of us you're talking about! God (and anyone who's suffered through one of my classes) knows I've made a TON of mistakes in my teaching efforts.

I have a better idea. The next time I'm in a yoga class and I can tell that the teacher is struggling. I'm not going to roll my eyes and make a note to bring it up in my next teacher workshop. I'm going to smile at her. I'm going to devote my Sun Salutations to her. I'm going to look around and see that even though this might not be working for me, someone else in the room is hearing exactly the message they need to hear in this moment. And when class is over, I'm going to make a point to tell her how much I appreciate her efforts--even if she didn't teach her class the way I would have.

*To be fair, the critique segment was very short compared to others I've endured.

5 Things Yoga Poses Have Taught Me About Life

1. Alignment, alignment, alignment. In yoga asanas it's important to align your body properly to avoid injuries. I know it sounds cheesy, but I'm learning that if I don't align the way I live my life with my values, I put myself at risk of injuring my spirit.

2. Don't create unnecessary tension. When I get into a pose that challenges me a great deal, the first thing I do is clench my teeth and tense my shoulders. This does not help me achieve the pose. When I face challenges in my life, I tend to panic, rush, place blame, and over-react. This does not help me to

3. If something isn't working, you have the power to change it. I love that joke where a man goes to the doctor with the complaint, "It hurts when I do this," and the doctor says, "Stop doing that, then." Sometimes it really IS that simple. If it hurts when you practice a pose a certain way... change the way you're practicing it. If you have a co-worker who is bringing you down with his constant negativity, you have the power to change the way you relate to that co-worker.

4. Little changes can make a HUGE difference. My practice completely changed when I learned not to jut my ribcage forward, lengthen my tailbone toward the ground, and engage my core. Seriously. Every pose felt different--stronger, more grounded, and all around improved. I don't have time to practice for two hours a day right now, but I can devote 30 minutes to my yoga, and 30 more minutes to writing, reading, and doing other things that make me happy. It's not much, but it totally shifts the entire day.

5. You are capable of more than you ever thought possible. I have to believe that whatever my goals are, I can accomplish them if I approach them determination, hard work, and persistence. Just a few years ago, I saw someone do a challenging arm balance and thought that I'd NEVER be strong enough to do that no matter what. But I can do them now (at least for a brief moment) because I just kept practicing, gaining strength, and learning the technique little by little. It did not happen over night. I remind myself of this when I get discouraged by the small paychecks that trickle in from my writing projects or rejections yoga teaching auditions. It's only a matter of time... so we might as well enjoy the process.

Friday, May 13, 2011

So Hum: Self Expression Through Yoga

Model: Megan Windeler 

Photography: Faern

Writing: Erica Rodefer

"I am kinda a no-frills yogi. I love the practice. I love the holding the basic shapes for a long time, exploring the spaces until some deeper, more blingy variation grows."
– Megan*

Yoga is deceptively simple. You unroll a mat and you stretch a little. What could be simpler than that?! But once you get into the practice you can see there's so much more beneath the surface. The poses are just a very small part. The simplest of poses can be extremely complex at the same time when you pay attention to the little nuances and the energy that make it special.

Like Megan, many of us see ourselves as no-frills yogis—the human equivalent of the simplest poses: Triangle, Warrior 2, Downward Dog. Through the practice of yoga, we get to know ourselves better. We notice how just one little tweak—a stronger grounding of the back foot or a more completely engaged thigh—can change everything. We feel the subtle shifts of energy inside of us. Suddenly, we see how that basic pose is more complex and amazing than we ever dreamed it could be. That's how transformation happens. In life, the yoga is in seeing that we are simple and complex at the same time—that we are perfectly imperfect no matter how we present ourselves in this world.

*Read a complete interview with Megan here.

So-Hum is a series of blog posts and photographs that celebrates individuality, style, and deep self-refection that naturally evolves from the practice of yoga. Models are asked to pose in everyday attire that expresses who they are as a person and yoga practitioner.

Would you like to take part in this project as a model? Please be in touch by emailing this address and we’ll send more information. If you are not in the Bay Area or planning a visit, do not worry, there are travel plans afoot, subscribe to the blogs  and  to keep in touch and get updates on travel plans”

Faern is a yoga practitioner and photographer in San Francisco. Visit her website, follow her on Twitter, or like her on Facebook.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Yoga Is ...

Yoga is staying in Savasana even when your dog is licking your face and your husband comes home from the grocery store with cupcakes ...

Yoga is learning how to let go of tension you don't need in your body, then learning how to let go of tensions you don't need in your life...

Yoga is failing a hundred thousand times at a pose, but practicing it anyway with faith that eventually, when the time is right, you'll get it ...

Yoga is being OK with the fact that the time might never be right in this lifetime ...

Yoga is about fooling yourself into believing you are actually calm and centered until it actually starts to be true (if only just for a moment) ...

Yoga is genuinely loving and appreciating the feeling of breathing oxygen into your lungs ...

Yoga is .... (It's your turn! Comment below!)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Stress ... I'm Opting Out

Stress is stupid.

I've been paying close attention to the things that stress me out lately. What I've noticed is that I get in a tizzy over things that don't actually matter--a typo on a blog post or press release, failing to reach some arbitrary goal at work, not meeting some family member's expectation. These things that I get SO upset about don't put someone's life on the line. They don't threaten someone's job. They don't even cost a lot of money.

So why on earth do I get so stressed out about things that I can't control and that don't matter anyway? I don't know... but I've decided not to do it any more. That's right. I'm opting out. I can't control many, many things in life, but I can control the way I react to them. So the next time something trivial seems like a life-or-death matter when it's really not that big of a deal I'm going to close my eyes, breathe deep, and try to see it as an objective observer. And if that doesn't work, I'm going to work it all out on my yoga mat.

What dumb things do you stress about? How do you put it into perspective? What do you do to

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

5 Things You Should Never Say to Your Teacher

1. My other teacher says you should never do it that way..

2. OUCH! My back!! ...(Teacher comes running)... Just kidding. Bahahahaha!

3. Don't touch that. My fungus might be contagious.

4. You're really flexible.. I bet your husband likes that.

5. It may not look like, but my shoulders ARE relaxed. Promise.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mindful Monday: Unveiled

It's wedding season. I just returned from my second of two out-of-town weddings in the past two weeks. I traveled far and near. I bought a new dress. My bridesmaid duties have been fulfilled.

But all this wedding business has me thinking a lot about veils. In a traditional white-dress wedding, the bride's veil is symbolic of the bride's purity.

From Wikipedia: "The lifting of the veil was often a part of ancient wedding ritual, symbolising the groom taking possession of the wife, either as lover or as property, or the revelation of the bride by her parents to the groom for his approval."

Romantic, huh?

I don't have any statistics to prove it, but I think all this virginal bride stuff isn't very common today. Brides do the whole veil thing because it's tradition or fashionable ... but it's usually kind of a facade.

This past weekend, as I traveled for a wedding, I read an article by Sally Kempton about avidya, meaning delusion or ignorance. It's like we're walking through life with a veil in front of our faces, unable to see who we really are. We're not trying to fool our friends and families into thinking we're virgins, but we're fooling ourselves. As humans, we identify with our emotions, thoughts, and feelings, but that's not who we really are. When sadness emerges, we think "I'm sad." Kempton suggests a change in that inner dialogue. Instead of thinking "I'm sad," what if we thought, "Here's some sadness"? Instead of identifying with feelings (both good and bad), just notice them and observe without judgment. It's only when we lift the veil that can we can begin to see that we are much more than our emotions and thoughts. I think it's still OK to wear them as a fashion statement, though.