Yoga

YOGAudacious this week and every week

Cross_LeggedThis week I’m the featured yogi on YOGAudacious, and I am pretty excited about it. As I’ve made clear, I’m not a fan of how glamorized yoga has become over the last few years, and I’m disappointed that it’s now often used to make people feel bad about themselves. Today alone there were at least three different pictures on my Facebook feed of people in that one-arm balancing split pose that everyone seems to be doing these days (except me). It frustrates me that these are the pictures of yoga that we see most often, and that we risk developing inferiority complexes about our own practices as a result.

But I’ve already gone on about that, so let me get back to YOGAudacious.

YOGAudacious was started this year by my favorite YogaVibes instructor, Gigi Yogini. One of the things I like most about Gigi is how open she is about the importance of having a positive attitude toward your body. Here’s how she describes the YOGAudacious mission:

In 2014, YOGAudacious is celebrating 52 different courageous women (one each week) to help diversify the faces, bodies and stories of yoga in media. We believe that not only does it take courage to show up on your mat, but doing so can help you feel even more brave. By sharing the different stories of women benefited by yoga, we hope to create new role models who inspire more women to get on their mats.

It took me a while to work up the nerve to contact Gigi about being on the website–ironic as it is, I struggled for a long time about how my picture would look up there alongside other fantastic yoginis. Who was I to put myself in that group? But of course the whole point of YOGAudacious is to show that we’re all already part of that group, and that we just need more visual reminders of that fact. I feel really good about working up the courage to articulate what yoga means to me and how it’s changed my relationship with my body, and submitting my application.

I’m so proud to be part of this initiative, and I hope that YOGAudacious not only inspires women to practice, but also to love and accept themselves. Every body is a yoga body, whether you can balance it on one arm or not.

Yoga isn’t Perfection

A few months ago, I tried participating in one of those challenges where you take a picture of yourself doing something, tag it, and share it online. This particular one was a yoga challenge, and you were meant to post a picture of yourself doing a specific pose (determined by the people organizing the challenge) every day. The prize package for the winner sounded awesome, and I thought the challenge itself would be a lot of fun.

I can’t remember what the pose was on the first day, but it was something I couldn’t even do. I think the second day was side plank; I asked Nat, my fiancé, to take a picture of me doing the pose, and then had to force myself to post it online because I found it so unflattering. On day 3, the pose was another one that was (and probably still is) beyond my level of ability. At that point, I decided this endeavor was not for me, and I gave up on it. The pictures that I was seeing online of other people doing the challenge made it look like all the participants were advanced yogis with perfect, lean bodies, and a lot of flexibility. In fact, I’d say that 99% of the yoga-related pictures I see online feature models that fit that description, along with a complicated pose, and a beautiful setting.

Image via doyouyoga.com

Image via doyouyoga.com

We live in an age where photoshopping is de rigueur; nearly every photograph we see has been altered in some way, and that includes all those pictures we put our own ready-made filters on and then post to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I guess it’s not all that surprising that the images circulating through the yogiverse would be held to the same standard as the rest of the pictures we’re exposed to. But when I see it in this context, I find it even more disappointing than I do when I see it everywhere else.

The image above was posted alongside an article entitled, “Is it Okay that I Will Never be Able to do that Yoga Pose…Ever?” Obviously, the answer to that question ends up being, “Yes, it’s okay!” In yoga, any expression of a pose is okay–whatever you’re doing, you’re pretty much doing it right as long as you’re not pushing yourself beyond your limits. The goal isn’t to touch your forehead to your knee while in a full standing split, or balance the weight of your entire body on one hand. There’s a reason it’s called a yoga practice. It’s not perfection. There’s no such thing as perfection in yoga. It’s not meant to be the ultimate anything in any way. So why don’t we get to see any of that in yoga-related media?

I want to see the openness of yoga and the diversity in its practice reflected in the pictures we have representing it. I want to see bodies of different shapes and sizes and yogis of varying abilities doing their practice. After all, that’s what yoga is–there’s beauty and grace in a long, lean body doing dancer’s pose, but yoga should also show us that there’s beauty and grace in every body in any pose. If nothing else, can’t we at least see a picture of an everyday yogi alongside an article about being one? Because if we’re really supposed to believe that it is okay that we might not ever be able to do that yoga pose, wouldn’t help to see someone else not doing it, too?

YogaVibes Class Review: Exhale Flow Focus on the Hamstrings

Yoga Class at a Gym

Yoga Class at a Gym (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every time I do a yoga class through YogaVibes I find myself thinking I should review it–you know, keep track of which classes I’ve done, what they were like, and whether or not I liked them. I lose track pretty easily, and sometimes find myself going back to one I’ve already done, not realizing until I’m five or ten minutes in that it seems a bit too familiar to be entirely new…and that I didn’t like it when I did it before. Today, I’m turning thought into reality! I just finished Exhale Slow Yoga: Focus on the Hamstrings, what better time to write a review?

I’m not really sure why I chose this class. While browsing, I picked out a different practice, and was all set to do that one. At the last minute, I changed my mind. That Forrest yoga will have to wait for another time! I’ve had a chest cold for the past few days, so I was looking for something that wouldn’t be too strenuous, but I was also in the mood for something that would challenge me a little bit. As it turns out, this Exhale class was a good fit in that regard. It’s an hour long slow flow class, and I managed to get pretty sweaty. Stefanie Eris, the teacher, gets right into things and structures the class around a few sun salutation variations that open up into poses like warrior III, parsvottanasana (which, translated, is something like intense side stretch–very catchy), and what seems to be yoga’s pose-of-the-moment, hanumanasana. She also manages to work standing splits, crow, and whatever complicated name you want to call this pose. So it’s not a practice for the lighthearted. Although, I have to admit that it wasn’t until I started looking through the guide on the ‘Yoga Journal‘ website that I realized how many pretty solid poses were in this practice. I mean, the experience didn’t scar me or anything. I realized at the time that it was challenging, but I guess looking back on it I’m now realizing *how* challenging. It wasn’t something that I got hung up on during the practice–that’s a good thing in my book! Also, I think it’s important that you know that when I do those poses, I look exactly like the ‘Yoga Journal’ models. In fact, I’m not sure why they haven’t contacted me to do some modeling for them. (By the way, ‘Yoga Journal’ people: my rates are very reasonable.)

Although my overall feeling about this class is a positive one, there were a few things that I could have done without. First of all, Stefanie Eris definitely has a Yoga Teacher Voice, and the combination of that and the wireless mic that she used throughout the class were a bit much for me. I don’t know, am I the only one who doesn’t really like the microphone thing? I get it–your class is big, projecting can be draining, etc. But…meh. There’s just something about the mic–the inevitable popping and cracking? the amplified breathing? the fact that it makes me feel like I’m in the congregation of a mega-church?–that bugs me. Occasionally, the teacher would move the mic aside to talk to a student she was adjusting, but the sound would still be picked up, and she was speaking totally normally. I think I would have preferred that over the loooong draaaaawn ouuuuut vooooowel sooooouuuuunds (okay, I’m exaggerating…a little) of the Yoga Teacher Voice that she used while addressing the entire group.

Ultimately, though, the practice was well structured and had a good flow and rhythm to it. I feel really good having done it, and the positive things about it far outweigh the negative things. Would I do this one again? Yep!

The take-away:

pros: challenging practice, good length, logical flow from one pose to another, and good variety of poses

cons: Yoga Teacher Voice, megachurch microphones, occasional confusion about what pose I should be in (this might have had more to do with my chest cold-induced brain fog, though)

I Don’t Get It: Standing Split

Standing Split

Image via YogaJournal.com

It’s no secret that I love yoga. And since January 1st of this year, I’ve made an effort to do a little bit of yoga every day. So far, I’ve only missed a few days–I think about three or four in all. Even though it’s only been a little over a month and there are days when I don’t do more than a 20-minute practice, I’ve already seen a lot of improvement. I’m stronger and more flexible, and able to get into fuller expressions of poses that used to elude me. It’s a good feeling. But in spite of all my progress, it’s hard for me to shake the idea that there are some poses that I will just never, ever get. One of them: standing split, or urdhva prasarita eka padasana.

Balance poses are a mixed bag for me. I could hold tree or eagle for days, but ask me to go into half-moon, dancer, or warrior III and it’s more than likely that I’ll fall flat on my face. Before I do, though, I’ll manage to show you some approximation of the pose–something that will make you say, “Oh yeah, I see it.” You might only see it for half a second, but you’ll see it. Standing split? Not so! And just in case you were wondering, see that picture there? To the left? That’s not me. When I attempt standing split, I look more like a cat, flailing around after having been thrown out a window–limbs everywhere, no real sense of where things should be in relation to anything else.

The frustrating thing about standing split is that it’s so close, but so far. It’s not like peacock pose or crane pose which I can look at and immediately recognize as something that I am nowhere near doing. Those poses don’t even come up in the practices I do because they’re so far outside my realm of capability. But standing split comes up all the time, and usually in a really casual way, “Now, from warrior II, plant your palms on the ground and transfer your weight into your right leg. As you straighten your right leg, lift your leg into standing split…” Oh right, of course. No problem. Except for the fact that my right leg is straight and my left leg is just sort of dangling like a useless appendage over which I have absolutely no power. Why, left leg? Why?!

Hoping to enlighten myself, I sought the advice of YogaVibes. They have a couple video explanations of how to go into standing split, but oddly they don’t really do much to clarify how you get there if you are me. And YogaJournal has a list of postures to do to prepare for standing split. The thing is, I can do all of them just fine. My hamstrings are pretty open. I can bring my forehead to my knee. But how does that translate into successfully getting into standing split? There seems to be a piece missing here. Namely, the one in which I do a forward bend with my forehead to my knee and then raise one leg into a split. Can someone explain this to me? Am I the only one confused about this?

Seriously. I don’t get it.

 

What Kind of Month is February?

Why, it’s a Health Month!

Generally, I find February the most depressing and drawn-out month of the year, which is always strange to me given that it’s actually the shortest month of them all. If it’s so short, why does it feel like lasts forever? Why doesn’t it just fly by?

This February, I’m trying to turn things around a bit and not get caught up in my usual slump. To do this, I’m making a concerted effort to stay positive (vague!), run regularly (slightly less vague!), and chart my progress toward specific goals through this website/online game called Health Month. I started playing around with the site toward the end of last month, and decided I would play with it some more this month, in order to get the full effect.

Image via Health Month

Here’s how it works. At the beginning of the month, you choose a series of rules, and set parameters for yourself. The rules you choose can be selected from pre-entered ones, or customized to suit your goals. You get to determine how often you do/don’t do something, and what kind of reward or punishment will be meted out at the end of the month. To the left, I’ve provided a screen cap of the rules I set for myself.

Once you’ve chosen your rules, you’re ready to play. You can set things up so that the site sends you a reminder to check in (or “play your turn”) once a day, and there are different metrics you can use to track your weight, body fat percentage, energy level, mood, and stress level. You can provide as much or as little information as you want.

The game is meant to have a social aspect to it, but so far I haven’t really interacted with anyone, which is fine with me. I think (although I’m not sure) that it’s currently in beta, but I was able to sign up without having to request an account, so I’m not sure that access is limited in any way.

Admittedly, I haven’t been a user of Health Month for a very long period of time. But that hasn’t stopped me from formulating an opinion on it, naturally! As far as I’m concerned, there are things about it that are positive, and there are things about it that are less positive. Here’s my assessment (and I should point out that a) these opinions are entirely my own and b) I wasn’t asked by anyone from Health Month to post about it, mention it, or even use it. I just thought it  might be kind of interesting to check out):

Pro:

  • A lot of options to customize. You really can select a variety of things to focus on, and there’s a lot of freedom when it comes to determining how important your goals are, how hard they will be to accomplish, etc.
  • Playing can add an element of fun or interest to goals that might be hard for you to achieve otherwise. When you fail to meet your goals, you lose points. No one likes to lose points, even if the points have no value outside of the game. I lost one recently and I feel really guilty and kind of ashamed of myself.
  • The social aspect of the game potentially puts you in touch with others who are looking to accomplish similar things.
  • The site analyzes the information you put in and tracks progress for you in a variety of ways. I always find it fun and interesting to track my own progress in different areas, and I like the fact that I don’t have to generate summaries and analyses myself.

Con:

  • A general lack of information when it comes to many aspects of the game. For instance, you can set up to three rules for free. If you want to add more rules on top of those, you have to pay. I’m sure that’s fine for some people (depending, of course, on how much you value your rules), but the site doesn’t make it very clear.
  • A few things seem kind of buggy. I set up a profile, and to the best of my knowledge, I completed it. But the site is still prompting me to complete my profile.
  • Support doesn’t seem great. I sent in an email about a few problems I was having early on (ie back in January) and never heard back. This struck me as strange because there are a lot of places on the site where users are encouraged to submit feedback and interact with the Health Month team (which, as far as I can tell, consists principally of one person).
  • I really had to work out for myself how things were supposed to be done. There are guidelines, but their location wasn’t immediately obvious, and I didn’t get a sense that there was anything equivalent to a quick setup resource. Everything I know about Health Month, I figured out on my own. For that reason, everything I’ve said in this post could be 100% wrong.

Basically, the concept is a good once, but the execution still has a few kinks that need to be worked out. I think a bit more transparency when it comes to policies, procedures, and user guidelines could really help make this into a fun, enjoyable way for people to work toward achieving something. I definitely prefer it to Social Workout which, in spite of its potential, just doesn’t really go anywhere if you ask me. And because sites like these are becoming more and more common, they really need to set themselves apart in order to avoid fading into obscurity or never getting off the ground.

It’s Not Too Late

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s deciding that because I’ve missed out on part of something, or the designated beginning of a project or program, I’ve missed out on the whole thing and there’s no use trying to catch up or follow along at a different pace. Good old black and white thinking, right? It always finds some way to bestow special blessings upon those of us who practice it. I  tend to get so entrenched in the idea that things have to be done a certain way that I forget that in the majority of cases, I have the freedom to be much more flexible than I’m allowing.

Yoga Journal

Image via Wikipedia

A few weeks ago, I signed up for Yoga Journal‘s 21-day Yoga Challenge, and patiently awaited the first email on January 9. Of course since I hurt myself on January 8th, by the time the Challenge started, I was unable to participate. Since then, the emails (and the practices they contain) have been piling up in my inbox and I’ve been lamenting the fact that I missed the chance to get on board with the whole thing.

Except: duh. The emails are sitting right there. The videos are still accessible on the Yoga Journal website. If I want to start the challenge whenever I want, who’s to stop me? And wouldn’t it be better to start late than not to start at all? I know, it’s a total revelation over here.

So here we are, back feeling better, and ready for Day 1. The first practice is a Morning Sequence with Katie Holcombe, which I plan to start in the next couple minutes. I know what you’re thinking: a morning sequence at 7:34 pm? Is the whole world taking crazy pills? To which I say: I don’t know, maybe. It would explain a lot.

 

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Monday Run-Down: Wake Up Call!

 

A complete weight training workout can be perf...

Image via Wikipedia

Last week I mentioned the fact that I tweaked my back somehow while doing a bootcamp session that past Sunday. I made a goal of doing what was best for my body, and not pushing myself to work out as long as my back continued to hurt. And so until yesterday, when I did a yoga practice, I’d been about as sedentary as one can be while living in New York and relying on public transportation to get around.

My back is feeling better, but boy am I ever in a funk. I felt so good coming off that week of consistent running, and it sucked to get derailed by an injury. Exercising consistently has always been a key factor for me when it comes to keeping depression at bay, and not having the option to get my run (or anything else for that matter) on really bummed me out. Needless to say, I am really happy that my back is feeling better and that I can get back to running this week. Feeling this crummy (physically and emotionally) is just no good.

I’m even happier, though, that I didn’t end up with a more long-term injury. Hurting my back served as a major wake-up call, and was a reminder that for years I’ve been getting off easy in that I’ve really neglected doing any strength training, and ignored developing the muscle that could have prevented an injury like this one (or a more serious one) from side-lining me. I think that when you’re a runner, it’s easy to get a bit complacent, and figure that since you’re doing pretty solid cardio (and doing some decent work on your quads, calves, and hamstrings), you’re in good shape overall. Chances are that if I’d spent more time working my core and my glutes, I wouldn’t have had to take last week off at all. Let this be a lesson to us all!

So, time to hit the weights, right? I’ll still need to take it easy this week given that the last thing I want is to work my way back into another injury, but I’m aiming to incorporate some dedicated core work, and maybe a strength training session or two (this is at least something I will be working toward if I don’t end up fitting it in this week). I’m trying to find a strength program that I think will work for me, so if you have any suggestions for beginner programs, let me know! In the meantime, I want the week to go something like this:

Monday: rest

Tuesday: 4 miles/core

Wednesday: 4 miles

Thursday: yoga/core

Friday: rest

Saturday: 6-8 miles

Sunday: 4 miles/core

Pretty simple, nothing fancy. I’m aiming for about 15-20 miles, although more than anything I’ll be trying to keep tabs on how I’m feeling. Hopefully I’ll be able to do enough to get a bit of an endorphin kick–something to shake me out of the doldrums I’ve been in the past few days.

My goal is to do three core workouts, and to run at least three times. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that this will be an improvement over the past seven days!

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