Category Archives: yoga

You are not made of sugar

And therefore you will NOT melt if you walk or run in the rain. 

This was what my husband just said to a friend of his, who asked for his help to to get in better shape by walking and possibly running, and taking care of himself. So he agreed to coach this young friend. He has taken a hiatus from running for a few years, and wants to get back to it, and possibly lose some weight as well.

Eight years ago when hubby and I met, we were both avid runners, but I was running 10-milers and half-marathons and he was training for a crazy number of marathons. For a couple years, we had a crazy streak of Half Fanatic and Marathon Maniac madness. I still run, and have done the Twin Cities 10-miler for about 8 out of the last 10 years (due to a connection to the sponsor).

Now that I know that yoga is a better path to body wisdom for me, I run a lot less, and I actually find it easier to maintain my weight. Cortisol and stress-generated hormones are probably the reason for that. Now that I understand how insulin resistance and stress-hormones work, I am able to follow an eating plan that makes it easier to keep weight off.

I used to joke to my husband that running kept me out of prison because it allowed me to deal with the frustrations of working with a boss (at the time) who was clueless and full of herself, without resorting to violence. This is a very tasteless and insensitive joke, I now realize. Workplace and school violence are no joke, and it breaks my heart that children must go through metal detectors to get to their classrooms these days.

Managing our emotions is a key part of emotional adulthood. Since our thoughts drive our emotions, and our emotions drive actions (or lack of action) and therefore our results, we must take the time to develop awareness of our thoughts. Since subconscious thoughts come from long-held beliefs, it can be hard to “tease out” those habitual patterns by ourselves.

I have found that coaching and therapy have been two incredible tools for dealing with anxiety and depression that are hallmarks of those struggling with a.d.d. or any kind of addiction issue. Also, family patterns and learned habits of dealing with stress can be hard to unravel. Knowing how all of those elements work together can help us move forward in our lives.

I realize it reflects a lot of privilege to be able to access therapy, and it is not available to everyone, which I believe is tragic. Yoga, meditation and running are wonderful tools to deal with stress. There is no shame in seeking help, whether through therapy, or a trusted friend or confidante that can compassionately witness our pain and sit with us through it.

No, you are not made of sugar. You will not melt. But there is no shame in getting shelter from the emotional storms that may batter us more than a gentle Spring rain.

Peace, y’all.

 

 

 

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Channeling Athena

A few weeks ago in my coaching sessions I uncovered a character trait I call “Mary the Martyr” who is one of the internal “voices” that sometimes interferes with imagining and manifesting my dreams.

My given name is a reference to the ultimate Christian martyr and on this Good Friday, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the role of that cosmic joke in my life, and now to evolve it in a new way. I chose Athena to represent the powerful other influence in my soul, that part of me with courage, compassion, generosity and a sense of social justice.

I like the warrior goddess image because I have always gravitated toward fierce warrior female archetypes. I love imagining this embodiment of my own qualities of standing up for my team, doing what is needed to defend my “people” whomever they happen to be. I love that courage and fierce strength. I love it that she arose as a “headache” in Zeus’ head.

My inner goddess has a disdain for patriarchal authority figures. She questions the value of hierarchy and the wisdom of keeping social structures in place that no longer serve people. She rebels against this notion of being a “good girl” and instead wants to create a bit of mayhem in order to shake up the status quo. She is a goddess of reason, and so happily, she is not completely swept up by emotion but stays even in the face of challenge.

As I consider how she will show up in my work, I imagine her ability to stay focused on the task at hand, defending the “city” (or people) and standing up courageously always. I enjoy her penchant for handicraft, which implies creativity.

Do you find it shocking that I call on a goddess to invoke the kind of wisdom and strength needed in the next phase of my life? Perhaps some might. But having finished Dance of the Dissident Daughter, I now understand the value of embodying the divine feminine in our lives. As someone raised in a Christian tradition, I saw story after story of “Father” and “Son” held up as ideal examples of ways to act, and archetypes to emulate. When it came to women, all I saw was obedience and service.

Women have been infantilized and cut off from their own divine source in this limited view of the divine. As I reclaim parts of my internal wisdom and divine soul, Athena provides an anchoring point for me to courageously battle for what I know is right. Joseph Campbell was right about the role of myth and story to our human species. His limitation was acknowledging the need for women to go beyond simply bearing children as our role in the world.

So I will channel her as I need to fight bravely, and stay centered in the battles that lay ahead.

Happy Friday, fellow warriors.

Surrender

This morning I woke up very early (3 a.m.) , a byproduct of the time change perhaps, or maybe that 2 phase sleep that humans used to undergo in ancient times. Some historic investigations of human patterns in sleep indicate that we did not expect one long sleep prior to the invention of electronic lighting and an industrial economy. Typically there was a “first sleep” at night for about 4 hours and a period of wakefulness for a couple of hours followed by a “second sleep” or morning sleep of another 4 hours.

When I learned about this pattern, and as I have really worked on getting better quality sleep in recent years, it relieved some anxiety about the morning wakefulness I sometimes experience. I am a morning person, and these beautiful, quiet, spacious times are actually welcome for me, when I get to bed early enough. Today I will attend a meeting on behalf of my boss, who opted not to travel here from Miami on Health Economics and Value Based Healthcare from 9-5.

Since my director volunteered me to attend this all-day meeting on his behalf, I was not able to turn down the opportunity. I am trying to get myself psyched up for it, since I will likely see a few of my less favorite colleagues there, one in particular that always seems to challenge my patience.

So instead of trying to get back to sleep this morning, I surrendered to the wakefulness, knowing I love my morning solitude, my writing time, meditation and personal journal time. I am unwilling to sacrifice these when called upon for professional responsibilities, so sleep is sacrificed for a day. I can cope in the short-term, and I will be gentle with myself.

As I consider what my day will involve, I open myself to the possibility of learning something new. I am very interested in value based healthcare conceptually. Though sometimes the economists cause me to grit my teeth in the way reduce human health to cost effectiveness models, I strive to be open to an understanding of how we best can serve patients while creating sustainable health care.

The concept of surrender came to me again in a recent insight I have had regarding an issue I want to solve with my family. I have been obsessing and tossing and turning it about in my mind, looking for a solution. It has kept me up at nights, and clearly it agitates me. But when I was lying in savasana on Sunday night yin yoga class, I had this strong sense of an inner voice asking me to surrender that problem. Surrender it? To whom? To what? Permanently?

Some inner knowing may be nudging me toward backing off from the problem, and allowing it to unfold. I am not sure, but some of us with a tendency toward worry or anxiety can allow our minds to run rampant with playing out scenarios. I realize I have a tendency to do this, probably a learned tendency from parental figures.

We have to acknowledge sometimes that we are not in control of everything. No matter how much thought and energy we put into some outcome we may want, at some point we need to allow things to unfold. Some people put their trust in God. I am not sure how I feel about that. I do believe there is some higher power, some creative and loving force in the world. I have felt this presence at times, and it is nothing less than miraculous.

Right now, and considering other obligations I will handle today, I will surrender the worrying on that particular issue. I will pay attention to my distractions, and notice when my mind wanders. And I will stay mindful of being in the present moment with the intention of learning today. Now that I have gotten my writing done early and prioritized the daily routines I most treasure, I can move on.

Have a happy Wednesday, peeps. Remember, it’s pi day – 3.14! Treat yo’self! 😉

 

 

Hating your body into submission?

Best to stop that now. It does NOT work!

Some of us spent way too many of our adolescent years, and perhaps 20’s and beyond hating our bodies. It is not hard to understand why this occurred:

Check out every media publication in the world (practically) that shows women should be thin, beautiful, coiffed, manicured. AND: all of this should occur with the least amount of perceptible effort possible.

Seriously?!?

Body shaming is an epic tradition, especially for western cultures. It is a sad and pathetic tradition and we need to end it now. Why?

For one: it does not serve anyone (except advertisers and people trying to sell you something). Taking care of our bodies properly requires that we love ourselves, and have compassion for ourselves. They are doing the best they can to keep us alive, including storing fat for the lean times. Our ancestors did not always have food to eat on a daily basis, which is why humans (and many other creatures) are adept at storing extra calories in the form of fat.

When you think about it, we have the evolution process to thank for the fact that, if we were short of food, we would be able to survive a remarkably long time just tapping our fat stores. But do we ever give thanks for this handy little phenomenon? Not likely. In the modern world, food is around us. Evolution has not caught up with that reality.

For years as a runner, I used extra mileage to sometimes “punish” myself for bad behavior, i.e. eating chocolate or having some kind of treat forbidden by my diet. I love running but this approach really was not healthy for me, and led to chronic injuries. I was always running from something, and usually it was from feeling any painful feelings, just sitting with the sensations in my body and observing them.

It was not until I started practicing meditation and yoga more regularly and learning to sit with those feelings of discomfort sometimes. Rather than “escaping myself” I learned to come back to myself and to feel compassion and forgiveness for myself. Our bodies do the best they can for us, and meanwhile, they only want us to take care of them.

We can drink plenty of water and get plenty of fresh air. We can eat plenty of healthy vegetables, along with healthy fats and proteins to keep our brains and bodies in balance. We can avoid sugar and flour, highly processed powdered substances that create unnatural insulin releases into the body. We can get plenty of sleep. We can work out to improve endurance and strength, but know resting is equally important to build healthy tissue.

When we love our bodies, we treat them with care and respect. When we take the time to be grateful for what they do for us every day, we tend to pay closer attention, and to ask them what they need, instead of mindlessly shoving down what the advertisers are peddling.

If you hate your body and think this will help you lose weight, I implore you to reconsider. Loving your precious body, the instrument you were granted to live in while on this earth is the way you can best serve it.

Treating your body with kindness and respect is the best way to get more energy, vitality and health. Give it a try. It might surprise you by rewarding you with a more natural weight without the struggle.

 

Soma + yin

On Sunday I was getting ready for another work trip, this time to Mexico City and Guadalajara for the week. I had signed up for 2-hour soma and yin workshop at Tula Yoga in St. Paul and I am grateful that I made time for this.

Last November I had attended a similar workshop at Tula. I remember being surprised at the small movements making such a difference in how I was feeling in my body, particularly in my shoulders and lower back. We are so accustomed to “large” movements in our exercise classes. Sometimes we throw our bodies around a bit recklessly trying to keep up with our classmates.

Soma yoga has a therapeutic effect that is powerful, especially for those of us who have habitually “trained” our bodies to hold stress and tension. We may not even realize it, this type of tightness and tension that gets held in our muscles, and affects our fascia, that connective tissue that supports all parts of our body. I first noticed it when I began getting regular massages a few years ago. There is a knot in my upper back, near the shoulders that tends to grow and tighten up over time.

It feels awesome when it is “worked out” or today, as I was doing some shoulder movements I realized it released again. Goodness knows, we all have times when our bodies “hold” our tension, in an attempt to protect us from harm. But as we navigate our lives, which may contain stress and busy-ness, we may forget how to relax these muscles. The tension becomes what we think is normal, and as my favorite teacher, Ruth often says, it may not be that simple to relax.

We have every intention to relax, but if we have spent months or years holding tension for much of the time, it just may not come naturally anymore. I have become much more mindful through breath and through yoga practice when I am holding tension, or even holding my breath! Now that I now how to focus on the breath and observe it, even that can help me relax my body when I am in a “thought spin out” which I am learning to recognize.

After about an hour of soma practice, we finished with a yin portion, long holds of a few poses that were much easier to release after soma. Ahhhh, wow. Felt SO good. I typically take a yin class once a week, but with the soma preparation, I got so much more out of these long holds, and was able to release my body more easily.

I will have three travel days in the upcoming week before I return home next Saturday. I am grateful I had time to nurture myself this weekend with yoga. It is one of the best things I do to take care of myself, especially with these gentle and mindful practices. I am now ready to face the week’s challenges. Namaste.

 

 

Thank you

I often sit in the morning drinking my coffee while I watch the sunrise, along with my cat (Willy) who watches and seems to love it too. Or maybe he is just watching for the neighborhood dogs, I am not sure.

We have a really well-positioned large window in the living room. This photo does not do it justice, but the flaming orange, red, purple and pink colors make me breathless with wonder.

sunrise-jan-19-2018.jpg

It is these intense moments of gratitude when I feel myself losing the need to worry, and coming back to the present, where I have all I need in this moment. Such a simple concept, and yet we are drawn away from the present so often. It can be hard to live right here and now. So many distractions and enticements can take us away from the simplest joys.

Our habits of mind, well-practiced and reinforced by generations, have not placed value on being, just breathing and sensing. But that is okay, it is still possible to learn and practice this new skill. The practice of mindful gratitude, focusing awareness on our breath or just watching the thoughts come and go, is a foundation for joy.

Last night during yin yoga class I noticed my tendency to escape into my mind when I was in a more challenging pose. But I kept bringing myself back, breathing into some slight discomfort but allowing myself to stay with the sensations. This is good practice for sitting with difficult emotions as well.

Life will never be 100% positive, and that is okay. To be fully human is to feel good sometimes and bad other times. The range of emotion is a gift to us as humans, and the less we fight and resist the harder emotions, the more joy we can access. It is okay to feel sad and to grieve losses. It is necessary and good, and allows empathy for others.

Joy comes at moments when we are able to notice all the good within us and around us. It can also be practiced, and cultivated with thoughts of compassion and love. Saying thank you to the universe, to the spirit, to a family member, or to whatever moves us, helps us to access that joy more readily. Thank you, friends. I hope you enjoy your weekend.

 

Learning to dance

I don’t dance. I am trying to remember when I last danced. I guess it might the time I drank a couple of strong aguardientes in Colombia and danced for a few minutes at Andres Carne de Res with a couple colleagues. Now that I have given up alcohol, I can’t see myself repeating that. I needed to be a bit sauced for it. I danced a bit in high school, to those stupid pop songs where people just move around to the music. I guess that really cannot be called dancing. I certainly never thought of myself as good as it. And I was way too self-conscious about my body to do more of it.

Latin danceHow’s that for defying a Latina stereotype?

I have rhythm, so that’s not the problem. When I was a little girl my Dad would put earphones on my head and I would start swaying my head. He thought it was adorable. My family is very musical, as I discovered when I went back to Mexico 3.5 years ago to visit.

I played the flute in middle and high school, and the saxophone in high school. I was also in the choir for all of high school. I know music, and I certainly love music. But I don’t dance.

One of my favorite songs by Lady Gaga is the tune Just Dance. Ironic, no? I am a runner, and it is part of my running mix. When I hear it, I think of my run as a “dance” – just move, just keep going, even though things are hard (or so my interpretation goes…).

My favorite yoga teacher also teaches a Zumba dance class. She is a former professional dancer, and she is always so graceful in the way she moves. I keep wishing I were brave enough to go to her Zumba class. But I am not there yet.

Half fanaticsMy husband and I have this aspect of our lives in common. We met while we were pursuing relatively crazy running goals nearly 8 years ago. He was trying to become a “marathon maniac” and that year (2010) I became a “half fanatic.” To become a maniac, you need to run 2 marathons within 16 days or 3 marathons within 90 days. The fanatics had similar qualifiers.

I have always been more comfortable with numbers and measurable goals rather than artistic pursuits. It is why I went into the sciences rather than the humanities, perhaps.

U2

Taken at U2 concert – September 2017

Lately I have been noticing a desire to learn to dance. It is just the hint of a desire, not a compelling desire. My husband likes to tease me about my lack of dancing ability, my “white girl dance”, even though he is as self-conscious about dancing as I am. He took me to a U-2 concert last September and I moved to the music, but I wouldn’t call it dancing.

About 5 years ago, one of the team-building events my team did together was in Argentina. They took a tango lesson together, but I managed to get out of it. That was before I was the leader of the group, so I did not choose the activity. I was pretty determined not to humiliate myself in front of my colleagues.

I realize that my mental dialogue about dance is very much a product of my own insecurities. It is about how I silly I feel moving my hips in a way that probably is not “loose” and comfortable, like so many women. It is about how I think people expect me to be, as a Latina. Surely I cannot be a “beginner” at age 43?!?

Why is it that the beginner’s mindset in yoga or meditation is so much easier for me? I guess because others do not judge my meditation or yoga. I think my desire to dance is related to a desire for freedom. It is about not caring what other people think, and I want to get there someday. I realize I still harbor body shame, after many years of trying to lose weight, and not being okay with my body size or shape.

Dance is play. To dance is to be vulnerable. To dance is to use our bodies to express something that cannot be said in words. This is what dance represents to me. I am not sure yet when or how I will explore this desire. But in 2018, I will learn to dance.

 

 

 

 

 

Back to yoga!

It is Saturday and I’m gonna make this one short and sweet, because I am bundling up and getting ready for a yoga class. It is -10F with a windchill factor of -19F right now, for your reference. But it is totally worth getting a couple of layers of clothing on and warming up the car for a bit to get to one of my favorite hatha yoga classes.

This Wednesday I got the all-clear from the surgeon post appendectomy to return to yoga. She told me I need to be mindful not to overdo it, of course, but that I was healing quickly and should be fine now.

It was the best news I got all week! Thursday night I went back to yin yoga class. It felt awesome. I was mindful of a few poses where I did not fully extend, knowing that I will slowly work my way back to where I was. After a month away from this, it is wise to go slow, and take breaks.

Most yoga teachers understand this, but a few of them out there still “push” sometimes. If you  ever consider a class, I recommend one where the teacher tells you that you can always take breaks or make modifications. Feel free to sit in child’s pose, or if your knees are too strained by that, just lay in savasana (corpse pose) if that is needed. Really!

So many people push themselves, perhaps at the goading of a teacher, “come on, I know you are strong enough to hold this pose longer…” Um, no. I call that kind of teaching “yogaerobics” or perhaps the teacher is new to the practice of yoga.

Best advice: listen to your own body. Yes, it’s true that you will become stronger if you practice something like hatha or vinyasa regularly. But it is also that every body is different, and that you must respect your limits. That is wisdom.

It is also true that every DAY your body is different. Some days you may have more energy and other days maybe you did not sleep as well the night before, and you are more tired. It does not matter. The best practice is the one where you did what was right for that day, for each moment of your practice.

The best teacher is the one that encourages you to listen to your body and pace yourself. Teachers are guides, not the authorities. Your body is the ultimate authority on what is right. When you learn that, everything else falls into place. Namaste!