Monday, December 29, 2014

The 31 Day Challenge

2012 was one of the best years of my life.  2011 very nearly burst at the seam with personal and professional challenges and the year ended with a series of flukey things that left me unemployed for the first time since I was a teenager.  Right around the time of my layoff, O2 Yoga, the studio where I'd been a member for about four years, announced it was closing one location to open another and I, on a whim, emailed Mimi, the studio owner, to offer my expertise.  Mimi said she'd be in touch down the line, but it was clear the new studio was a big project in the making and so I didn't anticipate any further action for awhile.

So there I was, unemployed, the job huntress, thankful for my stacks of writing projects and my yoga practice when something magical happened:  my yoga studio was offering a one-month membership for only $31.  All I had to do was show up January 1st!  I did one better by attending the New Year's Eve class and purchased my $31 prize just after the stroke of midnight.  

This 31 Day Challenge became significant to me in so many ways.  First, in an effort to avoid the over-crowded Basics classes, it pushed me to take more Power classes, something I was typically a little too chicken to try.  Instead, I learned these classes were just fifteen bonus minutes of awesome with some of my favorite teachers.  Fear conquered.  Second, part of the 31 Day Challenge involved a punch card that would translate into a discount on my February membership.  So instead of practicing my usually five days a week, I practiced six or seven, only missing the full thirty-one days by maybe two or three.  And this heightened routine led to the third significance:  since I was now practicing on Fridays (something I never did in the past), I ran into Mimi when she returned from her annual trip to Mexico and she told me she was almost ready to consult with me about the new studio location.

What happened next was me coming to tour the new site of O2 Yoga Cambridge with Mimi and her husband Steven and after we dreamed a little dream about how to use the massive space, it became clear that we made a good team and Mimi asked me to stick with them as a consultant and help get the doors of the new studio open, an offer I gladly accepted.

What happened next is even more unbelievable.  It's kind of like walking into a room only to find out there's a false wall with a whole other world on the other side.  Maybe two weeks later, I had another series of fortunate events sneak up on me.  It started on a Monday when Katherine, one of my favorite teachers, stopped me before class to suggest I consider enrolling in the 200-Hour Teacher Training program being offered at the studio starting just a few weeks away in March.  I was flattered by the suggestion, but wasn't sure it was the right thing for me.  Two days later, my dear friend Lauren and I went to one of Karen's classes at O2 and as we were leaving, Lauren asked me, "Have you ever considered doing Teacher Training?"  But the kicker came a few days later when Mimi herself called me on a Saturday afternoon to say, "I really think you should do this Teacher Training."  The magic of threes.  I was sold.  I wasn't entirely sure what I was getting myself into, but no amount of anything in the world could compare to experience I had in the "yoga bubble."  I made friendships that will undoubtably last a lifetime, learned things I never thought I would learn, achieved goals I never knew I could even set.  Teacher Training changed my life completely, positively, wonderfully.  Signing up for the program may prove to be the single best decision of my entire life.  Since completing Teacher Training, my bond with the O2 community has only continued to grow, both personally and professionally.  I feel very lucky to call O2 home.

And in a weird way, I have The 31 Day Challenge to thank.  It's the thing that set these series of events in motion, which makes those $31 the best I ever spent.  

What will The 31 Day Challenge do for you?  I guess you won't know until you give it a shot.  

The Deets:
The offer is $31 for a January membership.  For every time you come to class, you earn a percentage off your February membership (Example:  if you come to class 10 times in January, you get 10% off your February membership).  Because it's such an incredible deal, the only "catch" is you must come, in person, to one of the studios on January 1st.  You do NOT have to practice on January 1st in order to purchase the deal.  Both Somerville and Cambridge will be open all day, even in between classes, for your to stop by.

Somerville:  288 Highland Avenue (near Porter/Davis)
Cambridge: 1001 Mass Ave (between Central and Harvard)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sweat the Small Stuff

I am a woman in motion who sweats.  A lot.  It drips down my face, my back, my arms, my legs.  Sometimes it drips into my eyes.  Sometimes it soaks through my clothes.  I prefer tank tops to t-shirts more because tanks don't show off sweat stains as readily as t's do.  I am nothing if not practical.

Sweating is good, sweating is healthy, sweating is normal.  A sweating body is one that is self-regulating properly, it's keeping the internal heat at a manageable level.  It is good to sweat.

And thank goodness for that because, as I'm sure it's clear by now, I sweat.

I was thinking about this the other night in Ann's class at O2 Yoga as she adjusted me in a seated spinal twist and gave her familiar explanation about how doing twists helped massage and cleanse internal organs -- to put it the simplest of terms, twists served to wring out your insides like a squeezing a sponge full of water.  My back was sweaty as Ann pressed her hand against the small of it, her other hand guiding my shoulder.  Somehow her simile took on profound new meaning to me as I felt my entire body become that sponge she referenced.  Drip drip drip.

Somehow, this all managed to ground me more in my practice.  It made me think more about why we were doing what we were doing when and how we were doing it.  And for me to think more about these things than I do ordinarily is what made me want to sit down and write about it.

It made me want to write about those things that I've learned while on my mat.  Those things about anatomy and sense of purpose and fundamentals and what it means to breathe.  It made me want to write about how doing yoga has better equipped me to live life off my mat.  It made me want to write about how learning to regulate my rapidly firing brain, to slow it down, has made me a kinder, more honest, more giving person.  And it made me want to write about how all of this may seem like cliche, like hippy-dippy baloney, but that none of it is.  Not everyone has the same truth, but this is my truth.  Yoga did these things for me.  And I still can't believe it, not ever, how deciding to sweat on my mat at O2 Yoga instead of on an elliptical machine at a gym changed my life in an untold number of positive ways.  Doing yoga taught me to sweat the small stuff -- to let it out, to shed it, to keep my internal self safe and healthy as a means of keeping my external self much the same.

So here I am, writing about these things.  And I know I am choosing to write and think about them now because of a sense of crossroads I feel inside of me now.  I am actively striving to keep from repeating mistakes I've made in the past.  I am seeking alternatively routes and thinking long and hard about how to achieve the unachievable.  There may be no harder thing in life than changing a behavioral pattern.  Especially when love is involved -- especially then.  But change is part of the journey -- it's part of the extended practice.  Change shows learning and growth have pushed in and refused to take no for an answer.

This brings me back to Devon's class at O2 on Monday night.  That class, hard as all get-out, also involved an intense breakdown of the pieces of the vinyasa -- plank, pushup, updog, downdog.  Over and over and over again, Devon took us through these motions, more familiar than almost any other to a regular yogi, and this room was full of such practioners.  Breaking down a vinyasa is something usually reserved for a Basics class, not Power like this one was.  But Devon is a stickler about these fundamentals, as she should be, and she wanted to push us to do these things perfectly, not just automatically.  My entire body shook in the extended length of time we held each plank, listening to Devon's explanations of anatomy and physics, coaching specific students to do this or that to make the pose flawless, and my body shook even more when we lowered into chataranga, the yoga pushup, to listen to her do it all over again.  By the time we got to updog, everyone had a game face on and we all sighed in relief to return to downdog, a resting posture if there ever was one.  What Devon did was she made us think about this series of postures we do ad nauseum in every single class.  What she did was take the ordinary and showed us why it was extraordinary and why doing these seemingly routine functions served a higher purpose -- pay attention, this shit is important.  There's a reason we do this so many times in class and there's a reason we should be doing it correctly.  It was the perfect thing to spend time on in a Power class -- fundamentals are just important to experienced yogis as they are to beginners.  What I learned is a bad habit can begin and then slip through the cracks until someone takes the time to point it out.  How many things do we do in our daily routine that could use the same amount of extra attention?  There must be so many things.  Take a minute and figure out what they might be for you.  I am definitely taking that moment for myself.

It's healthy to sweat.  It's good to have that release, that return to equilibrium.  Unloading the small stuff makes room to deal with the big stuff -- it prevents what I like to call the "crumbs around the toaster" argument -- you know what I mean -- when you and your partner or your roommate or your friend or your mom get into a screaming fight because one of you isn't as tidy in the kitchen as the other.  Screaming about crumbs left around the toaster.  We all know these arguments have nothing to do with something so trivial and have everything to do with something bigger, maybe something unseen or unacknowledged.  But if you just said upfront when the waters were calm that, hey, it would be cool if you cleaned up a little, then when the time came to tackle the bigger issues, you could do just that instead of wasting time and energy on things that simply do not matter.

I am happy to be a woman in motion who sweats.  I am happy to be able to recognize how amazing this seemingly gross attribute is.  I will sweat all the small stuff right out of me until what's left is what needs to be there to keep me healthy.  And when my workout is over, I will be sure to drink plenty of water to be ready for the next time.  Hydrate, sweat, repeat.  This is one pattern I won't break.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Little Change'll Do Ya Good

All of the sudden, everyone is moving.  To Philly.  To San Fran.  To Boulder.  To Washington.  To Santa Fe.  Back to Boston.  Within the last few weeks, I've heard both expected and surprise announcements along this line more than I think I ever have in my entire life.  I wonder -- is this an astrological phenomenon?  What is making everyone suddenly throw lives into boxes and jettison across state lines?  Most people are making these geographical changes for work-related reasons (or their significant other's work-related reason).  But whatever the cause, all this wanderlust has stirred a bit of that within me, too -- where would I go if I were to go?  Where would I want to go -- and do I want to go?  I've lived in Somerville, Massachusetts for almost thirteen years and am deeply in love with this place and the people and events that have shaped my life over this decade-plus.  But could I love somewhere else -- is it worth considering?

The answer is, of course, yes.  I could love many other places, people, and things.  Other horizons will always beckon with the promise of valuable life lessons and opportunities to deepen my own sense of purpose on the planet.  And some day I will likely leave this place to find out more about what this life has to offer me -- and me it.  But what strikes me even more profoundly in this exact moment is how simple switches in my current life could be more significant than saying sayonara to Union Square hailing a cab for Timbuktu.

I have been practicing yoga regularly (almost daily) since the beginning of 2008.  There have been, of course, exceptions to this rule -- periods of time when my practice wasn't as regular, the longest stretch being maybe four or five months at the start of 2011 when my work and social life prevented me from making it to my favorite studio's class times.  During this woeful era, I was also dealing with the fallout of the worst breakup I've ever experienced as well as a difficult living situation and I truly felt like everything was unravelling.  It was actually because of an especially passive-aggressive trick played by my extremely immature roommate that I found my way out of the fog -- instead of getting mad at him for what he did, I felt, instead, that it would be more productive for me to wish him well than perpetuate his angry cycle.  "I'm not a religious person, but I'll pray for you," I thought.  It's not a huge surprise that shortly before this realization, I had thrown the emergency brake on my life and set some hard and fast rules for myself:  yoga at least three days a week, no exceptions.  This change also allowed me to find some forgiveness in my heart to heal the breakup wounds and even reconnect with that individual, rebuilding our friendship one brick at a time.  I didn't need to change my geography to get a fresh start -- I needed to change my thinking, my approach to familiar problems, and I needed to stick to this new plan of action with both kind and serious intention.  The result was I emerged from that very dark time in my life triumphant, returned to love, returned to writing, returned to my yoga practice.  And the next twelve months proved to be the most transformative of my entire life:  I self-published my first of many books, I did yoga teacher training, and I accidentally fell right into the perfect job.  The pieces of myself that I'd lost came back stronger than ever.  And the only change I'd made was a mental one.

Three years later, I am still gleaning lessons from that time in my life, that time that proved that if you're going through hell, you really should just keep going.  But the part Winston Churchill left out of that famous quotation is that you get out of hell by breaking the cycle, taking a different path, changing direction.  As corny as it may sound, thinking positive thoughts instead of negative ones saved my life and restored my sense of self.  I live my life with as much honesty and integrity as I can muster because I know first hand how short life can be and how much it matters to be good to the people you love.  

That said, I still have a lot to learn and am constantly listening to the lessons of the universe.  There is so much out there -- how can one lifetime be enough even to dream of learning it all?  The one thing I know for sure, though, is big change can happen with small gestures -- it doesn't have to be anything dramatic or huge -- your entire life doesn't need to be packed up in order for you to get the closure or renewal or surge of strength you desire.  Everything has a root and you can only effect real change when you find that source.  It's probably right under your nose.  I bet you barely need to leave your house to uncover it.  All you really need to do is be open, focused, and willing to listen.  Oh, and breathe.  Always breathe.  You may be surprised how tangible the solution is.  Maybe it's as simple as getting on your yoga mat or laying in the grass for ten minutes.  Maybe it's writing a letter or looking that significant someone in the eyes.  Maybe you just need to string together a few nights of decent sleep.  Definitely default to honesty and the rest will take care of itself.

And in case you were wondering, no, I am not such an enlightened being that my life is now perfect because I re-dedicated myself to yoga.  Far from it.  But the point is I learned the importance of being places where I was safe, loved, happy, calm, and respected.  I learned what that feels like and how to achieve it and how not to settle for any less.  So even now when I run into dead ends or hard times, I am equipped to move ahead steadily and with intention, sure that even if it doesn't turn out exactly as I hope, it will turn out exactly as it should.  I've learned what questions to ask out loud and to myself and how to determine what the acceptable answers might be -- and what to do if they're not to my standards.  And I've learned to be flexible with my standards and kind to myself and others, to see others in as many dimensions as they'll allow.  I try.  That's the best any of us can really do.

But, seriously, do yoga at least three days a week.  OK?  OK.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Yoga Body

As a manager in a yoga studio, I spend a good portion of my time talking to nervous first time practitioners.  I'm not strong enough.  I'm too out of shape.  I don't look like everyone else in their tight Lululemon pants.  I'm not flexible.  I am afraid of making a fool of myself.  To all of these people, I say the same thing:  "If you can move and breathe at the same time, you can practice yoga here."  The style of yoga we teach is Astanga-based so it's full of vinyasas and tends to be on the rigorous side and, yes, there will be things that beginners might not be able to do in their first (through twentieth) class.  Same goes to intermediate and advanced level students.  But that's not the point of yoga -- doing that arm balance or coming up into headstand or mastering a Sun B isn't what makes the practice.  It's the practice that makes it perfect.  It's the effort, the concentration, the intention.  In many ways, it's like having a good attitude instead of a bad one.  So maybe your heels don't reach the ground in downward facing dog.  Who cares?  Mine don't, not even after seven years of almost daily practice.  My calves are tight and so those heels will probably never flatten against my mat in that pose.  It doesn't stop me from getting on my mat.  I get on my mat, step one, to be in the moment, to achieve what I can in this singular class.  Yes, I can move and breathe at the same time -- I can do yoga.

I was chatting with a few of the teachers at the studio over the weekend about this month's concentrated focus:  prop usage.  Both of these teachers "look" like yoga teachers and practice with very few need for modification, unless they're injured.  I was explaining to them that props month was going to be a good one for many of our students, especially the ones who thought using props made their practice more remedial or elementary -- like they weren't really doing the practice if they "gave in" and used blocks or straps.  But, really, props are there to make certain postures safer on the joints and more accessible to people with physical limitations.  Using blocks and straps can actually make the practice far more beneficial for people who tend to hyper extend elbows or knees as well as people with tight calves or hamstrings (like me!).  It actually took me finally understanding when and how to use these props -- and being comfortable with this knowledge -- to get me out of the land of basics (where I lived like a queen for many, ahem, years) and into the very scary land of Power -- doesn't it just sound intimidating?  For me, it really was.  I mean...  My heels don't reach the mat in down dog, one of the most basic postures of all.  How could I ever think I was ready for something like power yoga?

It took comfort level with the props and lots of gentle encouragement from my trusted teachers (thank you Katherine, thank you Ann, thank you Mimi) to make that big step up to the class level I should have attempted more than a year or two prior.  I was just nervous -- who could blame me?  I still needed to use blocks in half moon -- just like everyone in basics does.  That must make me a basics kind of yogi, no matter how many years I had under my belt.

Of course, the answer to that is no, using blocks in half moon does not classify me as a basics bum for the rest of my yogic life.  It means that I have the knowledge of both the practice and my practice to prop those blocks up when I need them without worrying that doing so makes me less of a yogini than the person practicing next to me.  Because of this, I try to expand my answer of "When should I move on to intermediate and power?" from simply, "When you know how to do a Sun A" to "When you know how to do a Sun A and you know when and how to use props."  Truthfully, students advance at much different rates and there's no predicting what things impact the decision of when to move up in class level -- it's a very personal decision.  

For people like me, it was a big deal.  I am a perfectionist.  I didn't want to make a fool of myself or be the one person in the room who couldn't do the advanced posture -- the one everyone was talking about after class and rolling their eyes like, "What's that moron doing in here?"  I wanted to ace everything in basics before I allowed myself to graduate.  But the longer I stayed in basics, the more I realized there were some things I would never be able to do because of certain physical limitations and even though I learned to be OK with that and attempt power anyway, sometimes I do sit on my mat before class and look around at the other students, many of whom I know quite well, and I have a quiet laugh because I do not have a "yoga body."  I am not waif-like or stick thin or long-limbed.  I have never worn anything size extra small in my entire life and I have never skipped putting on my bra because, oh, I just don't really need it.  I often joke that I can't do certain arm balances because my boobs are simply too big and they get in the way and as silly as that might sound, it's pretty legitimate.  They are in the way.  Other poses are next to impossible because of my excessively tight calves (even physiology guru Mimi shakes her head and says, "You, those calves, I just can't figure it out"), making even the simplest forward folds the most challenging poses in the sequence.  It's not unusual for me to be the only student in the room who can't get certain binds (especially side angle or bird of paradise-esque stuff) and I won't be the one doing the "fancy" Astanga exit out of pretty much anything ever.  My body doesn't bend that way and it most likely never will -- not even if I practiced for two hours a day every single day (which would likely wreck my joints from overuse anyway).  And you know what?  None of that matters.  It took being dedicated to the practice and its myriad benefits for years to realize that even simply getting on my mat and moving with the breath made the practice worthwhile.  Being the "flawless yogini" wasn't my goal anymore.  Being the "diligent yogini" became the defining thing for me.

I have the body I have -- curvy and awesome -- and I accept me for who I am and what I can do and be both on and off my mat.  My time on my mat has proven to be one of the greatest teachers of my life and a friend I will never ever lose, no matter what.  Tight calves, woefully shallow forward folds, constantly bent knees, heels off the ground in down dog, unmastered arm balances, binds that will never be -- I thank you for teaching me, too.  We achieve so much more through things that are challenging than things that come easily, so I am thankful that I made myself mentally move past my limitations and, instead, find ways to work with them and still feel rewarded by my practice.  I guess when all of that is factored in, I actually do have a yoga body.  I get on my mat and I move and breathe at the same time and I am a better person for it.