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.


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

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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.


Sunday Run-down: November 7-13

A calendar showing the leap year day.

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It’s probably not a great sign when I can’t remember the last time I wrote a Sunday Run-down post, is it? If nothing else, it’s a sign that there hasn’t been much to run down in the past few weeks. I’m not entirely sure what’s been going on lately–it’s been a combination of being out of commission for one reason or another (sick, exhausted, it’s too dark, etc) and having very little motivation.

I’m still planning to run the Philadelphia half-marathon next weekend, but instead of being excited about it, I feel like I just want to get it over with. At this point, the past few months of training have been so full of stress, depression, anxiety, and other negative things, that I would really like to just put it all behind me and move on to something different. I’m hoping that crossing the finish line after those 13.1 miles next week will be a good time to start over and have a clean slate.

Rather than do a day-by-day breakdown for the week, I figured I would just group things together and sum them up that way.


Well, there wasn’t much of this going on this past week. I was hoping that since we turned the clocks back, it would be a bit easier for me to get up and run in the morning. Even though I managed to wake up with my alarm a few times this week, I actively chose to reset the alarm and go back to sleep rather than go out and run. Not great. I went to the gym after work one evening and did 4 miles on the treadmill, and I ran 6 miles yesterday in spite of some very unpleasant nausea (something to remember: sometimes running can be a good distraction, if you can overcome the slightly motion-sick feeling you have and get yourself up to do it). 10 total miles for the week? It’s better than zero.

Yoga (and, by extension, the 30-day challenge)

Sadly, I haven’t been to a single Bikram class. Indeed, it’s possible I won’t have a chance to go at all–I planned on going Friday (the day my Groupon deal expired) but the registration instructions I had were wrong, and when I tried to go to the studio, I couldn’t find it. I guess I walked right past it because I went up and down the block a few times. Clearly this means I need to work on focusing more on the present moment, which yoga would help me to do if I could find the studio where I’m supposed to be doing it. I emailed the studio this weekend to see if I could still use the Groupon. I’ll let you know how it turns out. In the meantime, though, I’ve been doing classes from YogaVibes, although probably not as frequently as I should.

It’s hard to keep up with a challenge and a training plan when you’re not all that happy about how many things in life are going. So far, November has been one of my most stressful months in recent history. Fortunately, it’s not even half over yet, so I may still have a chance to turn things around.

Looking ahead: Like I said above, I am antsy to get these past few months behind me, and I think that running the Philly half will be a good way to do it. That said, I am still going to try for a decent week of running over the next seven days. Tomorrow, I’m running with my friend Tracy, so I’ll have a reason to get up in the morning! Tuesday evening, I’m joining another friend for a bootcamp class (another Groupon, and one that I will use before the expiration date this time). Between those two activities, I should be able to get the week off to a good start. And soon I’ll start working on building up a mileage base and getting things back on track overall.

How was your week of workouts? Are you struggling as much as I am, or did you check off every workout on your to-do list?

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For the Next 30 Days: November

Logo for the program 30 Days Category:Televisi...

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I am many things. Unfortunately, quick to post updates and create new pages for things when I say I’m going to is not always one of them. The worst part is that it’s not that I forget, it’s just that sometimes I don’t do what I say I’m going to do, in spite of my best intentions. A recent example of this: creating a page for my 30 Days project, and then updating it with information about my 30-day sleep hygiene experiment, and my most recent 30-day attempt at self-improvement, which I managed to avoid posting about for all of October.

So! It’s entirely possible you’re wondering what exactly I was doing for my October 30 days (or you may have thought I’d completely forgotten. Or, you may have completely forgotten)! I was trying to eat a total of five fruits and vegetables every day. I did a pretty good job. I started out thinking it would be easy, but as it turns out I was wrong. It can be much harder than you’d think to fit five fruits and vegetables into your day, especially at times when you’re traveling or you don’t have immediate access to a very wide food selection. In learning that it could be more difficult than I’d originally anticipated, I developed a greater appreciation for fruit- and vegetable-rich meal opportunities, and also started paying a lot more attention to the composition of my meals and snacks (generally something I try to avoid, given my history with food). Overall: a good challenge, and one I’d recommend. If you don’t feel like going all out and investing a full 30 days, at least try to think more about your fruit and vegetable intake for a week.

But now it’s time to put October (and those 30 days) aside and move on to November, the next phase. This month, I’ve got yoga on the brain. Specifically Bikram yoga. And in addition to having yoga on the brain, I’ve got a Groupon in my pocket, conveniently for a month of unlimited yoga at a Bikram yoga studio near my office. It’s set to expire on the 11th, which is part of the motivation for this month’s challenge: 30 days of yoga, 20 of which will be of the Bikram variety.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bikram, it’s a variety of yoga that consists of a set number of postures (the same set for every practice) that are done in a room heated to over 100 degrees. I’ve dabbled with it in the past, but I have never been the greatest fan; however, people who do like it really like it. Most Bikram practitioners say that the more you do it, the more you like it, and that it’s especially important to do it at least two days in a row when you first start. Why? I don’t know. Is it true? Again, I don’t know. But I intend to find out.

My non-Bikram days will be pretty loosely structured, and I’m setting a minimum of twenty minutes for those practices. It’s pretty likely that I’ll stick to practices from YogaVibes, and I’ll try to post reviews of them. To be honest, I’m kind of scared of this challenge. It’s a tall order, but I think it’s got potential to be a lot of fun. And sweaty.

Anyone with me? If not for 30 days, then maybe at least for a few?

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Strongest feelings

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Today was the first day of one of my favorite things: lunchtime yoga at work!  I signed up for it last year and it was the best.  I’m so happy that my office decided to bring it back again this year, with the same instructor.  I love her as much as I love the class.  And now, between this and boot camp, I should have a pretty regular schedule of cross-training for a while.  Hopefully it will be long enough to help me establish a habit.

The group of people doing office yoga this year is pretty big, and I think there may be quite a few people who are somewhat new to doing a regular practice.  As we went into our first downward dog today, I started thinking about how I felt the first few times I went into the pose: not good.  It’s now one of my favorite poses, but it took me a long while to get to that point.  In fact, every time I heard an instructor say that this was a rest pose, I couldn’t help but scoff inside.  Rest pose?  For whom?!  It was so unpleasant to me that I couldn’t imagine ever reaching a point where it would feel any different.  But slowly and surely, I got there.

In one of her videos available on Yogavibes, Sage Rountree talks about the poses that bring up the strongest feelings for you.  Maybe you love them, maybe you hate them.  Either way, those are the poses that should be explored more fully.  In particular, the poses you like least can tell you a lot about your body and your emotions.  Are you uncomfortable because these muscles need to be worked more often?  Is this an area that you should probably work on opening up more regularly?  What is going on both physically and mentally that is causing you to have such a strong reaction?  Chances are good that if you can identify what it is, and put in the effort required to address it, your feelings for the pose will change completely.

So now that I’ve conquered my feelings toward downward dog, which poses give me the most trouble?  Well, I can’t help but feel a twinge of dread every time I hear “boat pose”–to me this really means balance on your butt and feel your whole body tremble as you try to keep your legs parallel to the ground (and maybe extend your arms…depending on the day); table top and bridge are also sticking points for me because, from what I can tell, my hamstrings need some work; and anything that calls for leg extension or a standing split–poses in that family just highlight my lack of flexibility.

The nice thing is, though, that working your way through those strong emotions in a pose is a really great way to measure progress, and as you gradually grow stronger and more flexible, you get a whole new array of poses to conquer.  I don’t know about you, but forward movement always feels good, no matter how many stubborn feelings you have to push past in order to get there.

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150 minutes of Pure Yoga

A few weeks ago I read about a series of free events taking place at a New York City yoga studio that I’d heard a lot about: Pure Yoga.  With one location on the Upper East Side and another on the Upper West Side, the studio was celebrating its third anniversary with classes, workshops, and giveaways.  Although there were a number of activities I wanted to sign up for immediately, there was only one that fit in with my schedule: 108 Sun Salutations.  Without giving it a second thought, I enrolled.

The exterior of Pure Yoga on the Upper East Side

It never occurred to me to be nervous about what the event entailed.  Instead, I felt a bit worried about going to the yoga studio itself.  I’d heard a lot about Pure, but the only thing I knew definitively about it was that I couldn’t possibly afford to attend classes there with any sort of regularity.  Because I’m really self-conscious about my income, I was concerned that somehow, everyone else at the workshop I was attending (not to mention the staff at the studio) would be able to recognize that I was an outsider, some kind of socioeconomic interloper.  Totally in line with yoga, right?

To my relief, the environment was nothing but welcoming.  The interior of the studio is beautiful, and evokes elements of the outdoors that you rarely get to experience in the heart of the city: water features, stones, woods, and greenery.  When I checked in for the workshop, the staff member I spoke to suggested that I go to the location on the west side, saying that just going in would make me want to start taking classes there.  What I wouldn’t give to be able to do that!  Being at Pure Yoga for a one-time workshop was a treat, I can’t imagine how incredible it would be to go consistently!

Once I’d been given the information I needed (location of the locker rooms, where the water fountain was located, etc.), I stowed my shoes and other extraneous objects in a cubby and headed into the studio itself, where roughly one hundred yoga mats sat waiting for their yogis.  I couldn’t wait to get started.  Not too long after I picked a mat and got settled, the studio manager came in to tell us a little bit about what we were doing and why.  Pure Yoga had chosen for us to do 108 sun salutations so that each one would correspond to a bead on a mala.  The sun salutations would be led by ten instructors, nine of whom would take us through eleven salutations each.  He would be the last instructor and would lead us through the final nine.

We started off with a pretty standard salutation, and warmed up quickly.  Each instructor brought their own style as well as their own variation on the sun salutation to the practice, so each set of eleven that we did was different from the last one.  Some were energizing, some were calming, and all of them underscored the power that yoga has to unite people in a common practice, even as it honors the differences that everyone brings to the mat.  This balance of uniqueness and union showed in the teaching styles that were on display as well as the way in which we all moved through the poses.  It’s not often that you get to be part of something like that, and I really appreciate having had the opportunity.

We moved through two and a half sweaty and satisfying hours of yoga, cheering at the end in celebration of having pushed through chaturanga after chaturanga, and countless downward dogs.  In spite of all the sweating I did, I felt hydrated and alert, proud of what I had just accomplished.  Because I had to stop occasionally to reposition the towels I was forced to place on my mat (and I want to apologize to Pure Yoga for sweating SO MUCH on that mat), I missed some of the salutations, but I’m pretty sure I did over 100.  My body had stayed strong throughout the duration of the workshop, the only hindrance being the amount I was perspiring.

After the event, I was so sweaty that I chose to bypass the free granola and yogurt parfaits, and mimosas that were on offer right outside the studio, and go straight to the showers which, once again, made me long to find an additional source of income in order to spend more time at Pure Yoga.  The showers were large and luxurious, the towels were soft, and the locker room experience was almost as relaxing as the yoga practice itself.  I left the studio feeling amazing, vowing to keep my eyes peeled for any more free events I could take advantage of.

I’m obviously a huge fan of having an at-home yoga practice; I love being able to pop over to YogaVibes, and have complete control over what sort of practice I do and when I do it.  But doing 108 sun salutations at Pure Yoga reminded me of the power (yes, I said it) of practicing yoga alongside others, of engaging in this individual and meditative, yet shared activity.  Although yoga is a strongly unique and individualized experience, there is value and comfort to be found in being surrounded by others, even if you never speak to them or see them again.  It’s just another one of those things that makes yoga so great, and one of those things that I wish I could be a part of more often.  Special thanks to Pure Yoga for making that possible for so many on Saturday.


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