Tag Archives: yoga

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.

 

 

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Preach what you practice

Yesterday I was thinking of the common expression “practice what you preach” and considering why it is an admonition of sorts. Probably because it is easier to tell others what to do than to take our own advice sometimes.

So let’s turn that one on its head and instead preach what we practice. It occurred to me that I am trying to do this on my blog. There are certain things that really help me to live a better life: meditation, yoga, writing, eating real food, choosing love over fear, etc.

I love to experiment with practices to see how or whether they work for me. If they do, after some time and testing, I adopt them as part of my daily or weekly routines. Of course, you will have to practice them yourself to know if they work for you. I am not saying they will. But I really do like to “preach” some practices that work.

Blogging has led me to some really fascinating and insightful people online. The ones I enjoy most do this very thing: they preach what they practice. They share what works for them. They show some vulnerability in admitting they are not perfect, that they have made mistakes. And they invite others to learn from their experience as well.

Today I just want to thank a few of them that I read regularly and have given me feedback on my work as well. I am grateful that the internet has enabled this kind of virtual connection and that like-minded people can collaborate on this great experiment of life.

Steph at Make More Meaning is doing some fascinating things with minimalism. Jessie at Hoosier Mystic is doing some significant personal work. Julie de Rohan has given me some great shout-outs as well, and I appreciate her support. And also raynotbradbury is a source of creativity and delight, so check out her humor when you have a moment.

I know there are more of ya out there, and I thank you for your comments and contributions to the world of ideas and this ever-expanding universe that is the blogosphere. Cheers & happy Friday!

Responding vs reacting

One of the benefits of practicing meditation and yoga consistently is that it teaches you the difference between response versus reaction.

To me, I define the difference in these as temporal, relating to time, and emotional, relating to reactivity. When we slow things down, in our breathing, our movement and our thinking, we can often realize when our reaction to a stimulus may be out of proportion.

For example, when someone make a remark I may perceive as offensive, my first reaction may be to get angry. However, if I give the words a moment to sit there, without immediately responding, I may consider the perspective of the speaker. I may pause and realize that they words they have said are not about me (or someone I love) but they are about them.

In fact, this practice has been so powerful for me, because I know my tendency has been to react, to say something back, or to at least indulge in anger or negativity. But as I have started to consider what I can do to act with more love and less fear in every situation, I realize I have a choice about how I respond.

This is true in meditation and yoga. When we realize there is a little discomfort in the body, maybe in the lower back or neck, we have a choice about how to respond. We can observe and watch the feeling. Sometimes it intensifies momentarily, and then dissipates. We can move and adjust if needed or try to breathe into that area.

This is contrary to the speed of our culture right now. We want more, we want faster, we do not wait to wait for things. Everything is available on demand, and we get frustrated when we have to wait for more than a few moments for a download. So we become conditioned to react, not to wait a moment and respond. Hey, I get it! I am the same way.

But what if we tried to move a little counter to what the culture tells us and we move more slowly and deliberately? We say no to having too many options open, and we take more time to respond mindfully instead of reacting. We improve our relationships, because we may ask clarifying questions instead of getting upset over a remark someone made.

It is worth trying, just taking a breath or two when something seems to “trigger” a response in you. Notice where the emotion lands in your body. Decide if you want to respond or let it go. I am far from perfect at this but I am playing with it more, and forgiving myself for the times when I did not have this skill.

It may have a radical impact on how you interact with the world. Let me know how it goes!

 

Do you have a few minutes?

Happy February! To those of you who live in northern climates, we are three fifths through the winter, mas o menos.

Somehow when we get to February I always feel a surge of optimism. Spring is not so far away now, and those of us who get a little “cabin fever” this time of the year start noticing more light in the evenings.

Last February I started a habit of daily meditation. I had been meditating before that, and developing some consistency. But last year, I fully committed to a minimum of 5 minutes per day. It was a do-able goal, and I count my yoga sessions as part of my practice, so with 3 classes a week, that made the goal easier as well. This weekend I will celebrate an entire year consecutive days of meditation.

It has changed my life, particularly since I have struggled in the past with a.d.d. Meditation has helped me calm my mind and become less reactive to the “bouncing” thoughts. I can observe them and not follow them. I notice when I am caught in a story that I am spinning, and start to question whether that is even true. I hold less judgment about my mind, and more curiosity.

To those who have been thinking about starting a practice, I encourage you to start small. Literally commit to only 2 minutes the first time, focus on your breathing. It may not be easy at first! But then add a minute a day, and see how this changes the quality of your days overall. It may take a few weeks before you really start to notice benefits, so give it at least 30 days.

People used to tell me I needed to have at least 15 minutes for it. That was a big barrier. I simply could not imagine how I would fit that in every day. Now I average a lot more than that. But if I only fit in 5 minutes in the morning, and then get 10 minutes on a lunch hour, I still do it. It is not always easy, and sometimes I feel “too restless” to want to do it. But those are the times I am most likely to benefit, I now realize.

Last fall I read Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body (Goleman and Davidson). For a clinical researcher like me, I loved learning about experiments, past and present to demonstrate the value of meditation. The authors actually critique some of their early studies, the bias and the lack of proper controls. They review the field and conclude that yes, even with some flawed studies in the beginning, reliable science is beginning to emerge on the benefits of meditation.

If the idea of silent meditation is not your cup of tea, there are many guided meditations available at the Insight Timer app that I use. Jon Kabat Zinn has a book called Mindfulness for Beginners with some guided meditations that I really like also. Another resource that was great for me about 2 years ago when I first wanted to commit to practice was Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.

For those of you who have a regular practice, I would love to hear how you got started. As I like to say about sleep, doing more of it is like a super-power! If only I had known when I was younger. But I know now. So I will continue to encourage people to try it, and see what works for them.

 

 

 

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!