asana’s worst enemy

if you’re like most people on earth, you probably spend a good part of your life sitting around. sitting at the computer, at meals, while driving, watching tv, hanging out on the toilet, and whatever else you sit around and do.

and this may or may not come as a shocker to you, but sitting around is one of the worst things you can do for your health and your yoga practice. the biggest culprit, of course, being sitting at work (unless you’re one of those people who spends most of your time sitting around in the bathroom).

as a dedicated yogini who spends way too much time at my computer (like now, for example), i can tell you that sitting causes your hamstrings to tighten, which also has negative repercussions for your poor little low back.

but there are other risks that come with a very sitty, sedentary lifestyle such as increased risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and, according to the mayo clinic, even cancer. nuts Workplace Hacks

hold on one second…i need to get up and stretch…

okay. i’m back. and my back is happy and back in action.

it didn’t take much!

simply getting up once an hour (or, in my case about every fifteen minutes) and doing a stretch or two–or taking a little stroll around the office–helps to fend off the tightness and illness that sitting can bring on.

wondering what stretches you can do in heels and a dress, or a formal business suit?

well, i’m not talking full wheel here. think things like interlacing your hands behind your back and lifting up your arms to open the thoracic spine, doing wrist circles to stave off carpal tunnel syndrome, or just drop and do ten. joking about the ten…sort of…

two super-easy ways to keep active during the workday: always take the stairs instead of the elevator, and whenever possible, walk to your coworker’s desk instead of emailing when you need to talk to them.

once you’ve got the movement habit down, don’t forget to maintain strong posture at your desk. it’s so much easier to slump than sit up straight. and there’s a reason for that. sitting up straight requires muscles. core and lower back in particular. that’s good news and bad news.

bad because it does mean that posture takes work–and who wants work and work? but good because you are actually strengthening your core as you sit…and you have the added benefit of long-term stability for your lower back.

in my estimable opinion, the good far outweighs the bad. so, watch that posture! until it becomes a habit, consider setting reminders on your phone or computer…sort of like your mom, but without all the guilt.

so, that’s all fine and good, but perhaps the hardest part of spending a day at the office is all the bad, unhealthful, but oh-so-yummy food that’s lying around.

your first line of defense is a great offense.

Healthy-Dessert-Truffles.jpg

healthy vegan truffles! recipe at nuts.com!

your offensive team:

  • water. and lots of it. not only is it the healthiest thing in the world for you, but it also fills you up so you aren’t so hungry for all that other stuff.
  • healthy lunch. going out for lunch–or even worse, eating at a cafeteria–often leaves you without many fresh, healthy options. pack your own and you always know you are getting something nutritious.
  • healthy snacks. forget the chocolate, cookies, doughnuts and pastries that seem to be ubiquitous around every workspace. but you don’t have to forget to snack. snacking is a great way to keep your energy–and your metabolism–in peak condition. check out nuts.com’s healthy snacks page for all sorts of awesome recipes (including vegan ones!) that i would totally make if i ever stepped foot in a kitchen or could boil water without burning it.

and now,  you are armed and dangerous! ready for anything that comes your way! full wheel anyone?

 

E.T. Phone Home!

When I was a kid I was completely traumatized when a mean girl at camp saw my legs dangling over the side of the bunk bed and squealed loudly “Oh my God! You have ET feet!”

All in all, it was a very unimportant event in the history of my very eventful life, but somehow I still remember it to this day.

Why???

Some small (in many ways) and insignificant person said something mean to me 30 years ago and I’m actually taking time to write a blog about it today???

Well, I’m not writing for the reason you may think.feet

I’m not writing because it traumatized me for life and I can finally look at my feet again and say “I love you.”

I’m writing because this story tells a lot about us as human beings (or extraterrestrials, as the case may be) and how we react to criticism.

When someone says something mean to us, we cringe, get ashamed, take it deeply to heart, maybe carry it with us the rest of our lives. People who are told they are fat when they are teens tend to see themselves that way for their whole adulthoods…regardless of how thin they may get. Those who are told they are stupid or unable tend to underperform because they believe it.

And here is the irony: if someone says something kind to us, we dismiss it, hem and haw, deflect and say they’re just being nice. Compliments fall by the wayside like old tissues, only to be swept up by our insecurities and fears again.

Why do we do this?

Instead of dismissing the nice people as just being nice, how about we start dismissing the mean ones as just being mean? And instead of taking the insults to heart, how about we internalize the compliments?

Our lives would be so much better, so much more enriched, if we allowed ourselves to be empowered by others’ words instead of broken down by them.

I’m not talking about constructive criticism, of course. That should always be taken to heart and we all have room to improve. But it’s time we owned our beauty and our talents and our brains and our all around awesomeness so no one can ever take that away.

a matter of life or death!

this is the pose.

DSC_2614

warrior two.

one day–maybe five years ago–we were all in this pose. and something inside of me starting laughing. at myself. at the teacher. and at everyone around me.

here we were, a bunch of fully grown adults standing still like statues in some sort of superhero museum, taking it as seriously as if we were truly superheroes and if we didn’t bend our knees just so we would, in fact, fail to save the world from imminent destruction.

that was the day my whole view of yoga changed forever. the day that i woke up and realized that asana, while incredibly powerful, healing, and profound, is also sort of stupid.

there. i said it.

my whole life revolves around teaching this stuff and i love everything about it, but if i were an alien recently transplanted to planet earth, and dropped into a yoga class, i would probably let out a huge “wtf”…if my alien language capabilities allowed me that utterance.

after that revelation, it became very difficult to teach asana without a smile on my face and a laugh in my discourse.

some people take this stuff way too seriously. i used to, too. but now i look at my asana practice a bit differently.

now, it looks like this:

w2

listen, there are things in life that are truly worth furrowing your brow, hunkering down, and worrying about. like cancer, world hunger, terrorism…not like warrior two…or one or three or whatever other number you wish to insert here.

as far as i’m concerned, there is yin and yang energy to every endeavor in life. in asana, the yang is obvious. it’s the hard, intense work–both physical and mental–that goes into mastery. but there’s gotta be the yin, too. the part that relaxes somewhere, smiles, and is even willing to laugh…sometimes at yourself.

http://www.YOGAthletica.com

yoga for butterflies

it must be pretty comfortable to be a caterpillar. you get to wrap yourself up in a warm, soft cocoon and sleep for ages. pretty much my world’s greatest fantasy.

but then…there’s a choice.

you can stay cuddled in your comfy cocoon for the rest of your life until you die, or you can wake up and become a butterfly.

i don’t know about you, but i think butterflies are pretty damn cool. i vote butterfly. butterflies get to be all beautiful and surreal. they get to fly and flit and land on happy people’s noses.

and then, of course, they can also be eaten by birds, break a wing, or get trapped by an overzealous kid with an oxygen-deprived glass jar. yeah, being a butterfly has its downfalls, too.

butterfly meme

and, so, when faced with such a dilemma, it always helps to ask the age-old question: wwyd? what would yoga do?

the answer lies in the second niyama, santosa. contentment.

contentment can be a nuanced concept and should not be confused with complacency (the other “c” word that isn’t quite as kind).

santosa is the ability to accept and respect where you are in this life. you may not be as pretty, smart, strong, funny, successful, wealthy, or talented as you might hope and dream to be, but you are doing the best you can (damn it!) and that is as much as you or anyone else can expect. but…you still hope and dream. and you strive and stretch. and you experiment and explore because you know that with hard work and dedication (tapas!) you can be more and do more than anyone ever imagined.

you see, complacency is a nice way of saying lazy happiness. too comfortable to care. too tired to try. the complacent person is not a yogi/ni because s/he has given up on his or her dreams and full potential. the complacent one settles for mediocrity.

so while santosa/contentment is happy with how things are, it’s only because it knows that it is the best it can ever be. the yogi/ni is a person who gives 100%, 100% of the time. stand or fall, pass or fail, it doesn’t matter because the integrity is in the effort.

when it comes to asana, santosa changes the whole game.

with santosa, you accept there will be poses you can do and poses you can’t…yet. but you try them all.

with santosa plus tapas, you know there is a tremendous world of asanas out there. some of them will be easy and some hard, some invigorating and some downright frightening. but you try them all. and you never, ever give up.

slip into complacency and you stick with the same poses day in and day out because you know them, you love them, you’re good at them. but you never take a risk.

great things were never, ever achieved in this world by living in your comfort zone. all the excitement, all the challenge, all the risks, and all the incredible triumphs lie outside of your cocoon.

do you want to be good enough? or do you want to be great?

choose great. then break out of your cocoon, away from your complacency, grow some wings and fly. nothing will be impossible for you.

oh! my!! god!!!

we’ve all been there.

something terrible–or seemingly terrible–happens and we suddenly become very religious. we pray and pray to a god we only really talk to when something terrible (or seemingly terrible) happens. we promise him we will never sin again if he just fixes this one problem. we’ll give 100% of our income to charity and will never so much as ever think a mean or bad thought so long as we shall live.

and one of two things happens.

the problem is solved. and we exclaim “thank god!” and we go about our merry way. and 100% of our income doesn’t actually go to charity. and we think a lot of really mean and bad thoughts. and there are sins. but god couldn’t have possibly thought we were serious about all those things anyway, so who really cares? life is good.

or…

the problem isn’t solved. and we curse out god. how can god cause such terrible things to happen??? how can god allow cancer, war, murder, abuse, famine, earthquakes, floods, terrorism…and so on…and so on. that god! life is bad.

and then, life finds its equilibrium. for better or for worse. life does go on (until, of course, it doesn’t).

and we don’t spend too much time thanking god for the good and easy and normal times, because they are just good and easy and normal.

are we mindful yogis or are we reactive robots?

enter ishvara pranidhana. the last and most potent of the niyamas, ishvara pranidhana means complete submission to a higher power.

what does that mean for us in everyday life?

it means that if we submit to a higher power (and you can call that higher power what you want: god, jesus, buddha, krishna, muhammad…whatever…), we have to give that guy (or girl) full credit for everything that happens to us. the good, the bad, and the ugly. and the beautiful.

we can’t pick and choose what is god’s will and what isn’t.

yes, god is responsible for disasters and diseases. but also for sunsets, and sunrises, and flowers, and chocolate, and art, and babies, and love, and rainbows, and koala bears, and puppies, and yoga, not to mention oceans, and day spas, and good health, and happiness.

the good news about all that: when you hand it all–and i mean everything–over to a higher power, it makes it easier to accept that everything is going to work out in the end…and hopefully somewhere in the middle, too.

not to mention, if everything is done in the name of god, goodness and kindness will always prevail. mindfully dedicate this moment to a higher power and it’s unlikely you will use it for nefarious means.

think about it. and think about it often. get in the habit. at random moments stop yourself and dedicate that moment to god…see what happens.

oh…and don’t forget to say thank you to the big guy…because life is good.

there are no bad decisions…

when you look back upon your life, there’s a good chance that you can pick out the good decisions from the bad. breaking up with your abusive boyfriend, good. breaking up with the love of your life, bad. leaving a dead-end job, good. leaving a fabulous job for hopes of better, bad. jumping into your first yoga class, good. jumping off the roof into the pool, bad.

the list can go on forever and it seems so cut and dry.

well, i’m here to tell you that it’s all just maya. illusion.

there are no bad decisions–or good ones for that matter. there are only desirable or undesirable outcomes.

so, you left the love of your life at the altar. and nothing better ever came around. and you are now old and gray and single and never had kids. seems like a really bad decision.

but you can’t question fate.

what would have happened if you left the altar and in the parking lot there was a royal prince on a white steed and he pulled you onto the horse, rode you off into the sunset and you lived happily ever after? then what? would leaving the love of your life have been a good decision? just because the outcome was different?

and so you left the dead-end job. great! what if the company wound up being bought out by google and everyone in it became instant millionaires? would that have been a bad decision to leave? just because the outcome was different?

at any moment in time we make our decisions to the best of our ability. from the small ones (grande or venti) to the large (should i leave my home, my job, my friends, my life for a new lover in a far off land), they all have infinite reverberations on the outcome of the rest of our lives.

and while it may be easy to trace left a man, did or didn’t find a better one. or left a job, did or didn’t find a better one, that is a very simplistic view of fate.

because when you made that decision–any decision–every single moment of your life thereafter just changed.

when you jumped off the roof into the pool, broke your back and became paralyzed (i know someone this happened to), who knows…maybe it stopped you from running the boston marathon 20 years later and being killed by a terrorist bomb.

you see?

it’s all just illusion.

if you want to be a yogi/ni, practice acceptance. acceptance of your choices, and acceptance of the outcomes. for without the colors you paint on top of them, you never know what lies beneath.

because, cecil the lion.

warning. you may be personally offended by this blog post. sorry.

it’s actually time to get off your high lion, step back and truly examine the concept of ahimsa.

i have to admit, i have not seen the viral video of a dentist killing cecil the lion. because i’m already a vegan, i feel like i don’t have to watch that violence. i already drank the kool aid, i’m not thirsty anymore.

while i think the outrage over cecil is very well-deserved, i also think that on a broader level, it is a misguided double-standard that shows a modicum of sympathy in exchange for a whole lot of turn-the-other-cheek.

at the same time that people scream their outrage against cecil’s murder, they are proudly carrying their leather purses to match their leather belts and leather shoes.

they buy their pure-bred dogs from the breeder instead of a rescue…because who doesn’t know about the horrific abuses and living conditions that take place at a breeder’s???

they watch the circus, the rodeo, the horse races with glee.

they go on fishing trips, sometimes even hunting trips. somehow it is not an outrage that every day right here in america, people are killing deer, wolves, bison, boar, birds and, of course, fish just for fun.

where do we draw the line? a lion is regal, royal, seemingly invincible. the king of the jungle. simba. i mean, who doesn’t love simba?

but every other life?

are we to choose that a fish’s life is less valuable than a lion’s? that the safety of a deer in it’s own habitat is less important than that of a lion? that a little bird is nowhere near as significant as a lion?

don’t even get me started on the food thing…you can click here for that rant.

this reminds me of when i discuss brahmacharya with my teacher training students. the room is overrun with cognitive dissonance because the thought that yoga would proscribe celibacy runs desperately contrary to their beliefs…and pleasures. people get defensive and scramble for other meanings. (honestly, brahmacharya isn’t about suppressing your sexual urges, it’s about transcending them completely…different story, different work).

when it comes to the discussion of ahimsa (non-violence), however, everyone is always on the same page. it’s all rainbows and butterflies. we’re all on the ahimsa kumbaya bandwagon.

because, cecil the lion.

but now it’s time to think of cassie the cow, darius the deer, frankie the fish, bella the bird….

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