Honest Yoga - Part Deux!

So back in February, I wrote a post about my irritation with yoga selfies and how most of what you see on Instagram is unattainable for mere mortals. One of my friends had inspired the post because she had implored us yoga teachers to show the crappy-looking poses as well, to prove that we could "walk the walk" of our talk about how "there's no perfect pose" and "honor your body," etc.

So I'm back with more of my crappy-looking poses, yeah! Actually, for my body, I think they look just fine, but they won't be winning me any cool leggings in an Instagram yoga challenge. 

First up, here I am doing the splits, hanumanasana.

   I took dance for a few years when I was very little, but I've never done an actual, all-the-way-down split in my entire life. I joke with my students that it's a bucket-list pose for me, and I hope to get all the way down by the time I'm 70.  Here's what I'm aiming for  as a septuagenarian, tube-top and all. (No, Kino MacGregor is not 70 years old, I know, but I bet she'll still look like this when she is!)

 

I took dance for a few years when I was very little, but I've never done an actual, all-the-way-down split in my entire life. I joke with my students that it's a bucket-list pose for me, and I hope to get all the way down by the time I'm 70. Here's what I'm aiming for as a septuagenarian, tube-top and all. (No, Kino MacGregor is not 70 years old, I know, but I bet she'll still look like this when she is!)

And speaking of splits, in yoga, we do them standing up as well!

   Let me just say that without the wall for help, my leg would probably be at least a foot lower. I actually really do like this pose as a transition, but preferably in a yoga studio with no mirrors so I don't have to see how pitifully low my leg is.  Here's gumby lady  to show y'all how it's done.

 

Let me just say that without the wall for help, my leg would probably be at least a foot lower. I actually really do like this pose as a transition, but preferably in a yoga studio with no mirrors so I don't have to see how pitifully low my leg is. Here's gumby lady to show y'all how it's done.

And last for today, I share with you lord of the dance pose, natarajasana.

   I love dancer pose, especially because there are so many different expressions of it, and my balance is really good. But the full-on version where both hands are supposed to reach for your foot as it draws near your head...well, I've got miles to go.  Here's someone  who is rockin' out her full-on dancer.

 

I love dancer pose, especially because there are so many different expressions of it, and my balance is really good. But the full-on version where both hands are supposed to reach for your foot as it draws near your head...well, I've got miles to go. Here's someone who is rockin' out her full-on dancer.

Moral of the story: none of us is perfect. We call this a yoga practice for a reason. So let's keep on practicing and keep it real. 

Find Your Fitness Jam

               O.M.G. What are these people doing?!?

 

            O.M.G. What are these people doing?!?

So you know those people who are TOTALLY INTO FITNESS?

They go for a six-mile run, then head straight to a yoga class. Or they lift before work and spin after work. And every weekend it’s either a hike or a bike ride. Or they’re on some kind of training schedule for a triathlon or something.

Whew. They wear me out. That is so not me. I have never been a fitness buff or considered myself to be an athlete of any kind.

As a child I took a few years of dance and played rec league softball, but once I got to eighth grade, marching band was the only form of physical activity I participated in outside of PE, and that wasn’t year-round.

(By the way, and I kid you not, my PE experience included bowling and horseshoes, so we weren’t exactly hitting it too hard.)

In college, I think I hit the gym maybe twice, because you know, freshman fifteen! But gah, I hated it. So walking back and forth to class was it.

So you may wonder how I got where I am today, teaching ten classes a week, having my yoga mat as a permanent living room fixture for my daily practice, occasionally agreeing to do a plank challenge “for fun,” and posting #flexfriday pics on Instagram.

Well, as happens to most of us when we reach our mid-20’s, I discovered that I couldn’t keep eating like a teenager without working out and still expect to fit in my pants. So naturally, I joined a gym.

But back then, I thought “working out” had to be cardio and weights - no variety, that was it. I suffered through the elliptical machine and pretended I knew how to use those weight machines or hold a dumbbell properly.

Did I enjoy it? No. Was it my idea of fun? Not at all. Did I start to like it more after I did it for a while? Nope. Did I at least start to see significant changes in my body? Sadly, no, but that’s probably because I didn’t like it enough to do it well or often.

And then one day, I braved my first yoga class at the gym, and everything changed. I actually...liked it! It was hard, but not so hard that it was frustrating.

Yoga made me feel strong, but also peaceful.

And while it definitely felt like I had worked my body, it didn’t feel like “working out,” a. k. a. “torture,” to me because I wasn’t sitting there counting reps or focusing on one stinking muscle to the point of fatigue or watching the minutes tick by slowly until I knew I had done enough.

Yoga just felt...right. And the more I did it, the more I loved it and kept wanting to do it more.

My friends, I think this is the secret to finding your fitness jam. I wholeheartedly believe that exercising SHOULD NOT FEEL LIKE TORTURE.

Bodies are meant to move, and there are so many different ways you can move your body! You just have to find the one that feels right.

And then your body will start to change, but it will not come by force, but by surprise because you are enjoying what you do.

When I get on my mat, it’s because I love the way my body and mind feel while I am doing yoga, not because today’s leg day, so let’s make those thighs a little less jiggly.

If you haven’t found your fitness jam yet, I want you to keep trying. There’s safety in numbers, so grab a friend and go try that Zumba class at the rec center. Check out a belly dancing DVD from the library.

Many fitness centers offer your first class free or very cheap intro offers for new students, so what have you got to lose?

And a funny thing happens once you get into your own fitness groove. At least for me, I’ve become more open and willing to try other types of fitness activities (gasp!). And sometimes...I actually have a good time!

Don’t get me wrong, yoga will always be my BFF and one true love. But I went to a spin class once, didn’t die, and thought it was pretty fun. Since I like to dance around the house, I also decided to try a dance-fitness class a friend was teaching, and I had such a good time!

See?? I'm smiling after doing something other than yoga!

See?? I'm smiling after doing something other than yoga!

But let’s not get carried away. Remember, I don’t consider myself a fitness buff. If it involves running or jumping, count me out. And I still get a nervous twitch just driving by the barre studio. (Holy Jesus, waterboarding has nothing on that place.) I have scary flashbacks about how much it hurt to breathe after that one Crossfit class.

And that’s okay. Those things were not my jam, but one of them might be yours. Lord knows, I’ve had plenty of people tell me they hate yoga. And while, yes, a little piece of me dies inside when I hear that, that’s okay, too.

One last bit of advice as you seek out your fitness jam - the instructor can make or break your fitness experience.

Don’t be scared to try something a second time if the instructor didn’t feel right to you the first time. (Yes, I’ve even taken yoga classes I did not enjoy, dare I say, hated.) And if you say you hate yoga but haven’t tried my class yet, I dare you to come.

If anyone can make you fall in love with yoga, I can!

The Power of Words

So I have this little rub-on fake tattoo on my arm at the moment, looks like a silver bracelet. I’ve never been a tattoo person, would never dream of getting a real one, but I think these are fun.

tattoo

As I was giving an adjustment to one of my yoga students in class today, one who does happen to be a tattoo person (TONS of tats in yoga studios, y’all!), she said, “I like your tattoo,” and smiled.

Instead of just saying “thank you” and smiling back, because god forbid we just take a compliment and say “thank you,” right?...I said something like, “Oh, I’m too scared for the real thing.”

And then instead of her saying, “Oh man, you should totally get a real one!” or “Don’t be chicken-shit!” or anything like that, she just said, “You’re brave in other ways.”

You're brave in other ways.

Whoa.

Do you see what she did there? She turned my being self-deprecating about something as silly and unimportant as a rub-on tattoo into an even greater, deeper, more real compliment than her first one. A compliment about my soul.

Whoa. Student becomes teacher and vice versa. (P. S. This lovely student of mine is currently going through yoga teacher training, and I think she’s going to be awesome because SHE GETS IT!)

In case you didn’t know, this blog post is not about tattoos at all; it’s about how we talk to ourselves and each other. Can you imagine how amazing it would be if a) we stopped with all the self-deprecating crap, and b) if we catch a friend saying that kind of crap, we turn it around to make them feel good about themselves?

Whoa.

CAN YOU IMAGINE?

Let’s try it. Who’s with me?

Kindness is free. Sprinkle that shit everywhere.

Going with the Flow (for Betty)

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about transitions, both in yoga and in life, and how sometimes they feel amazing and go really smoothly, and other times they feel like hell. I’ve been thinking even more about transitions over the last week because I’ve had two family members and now a friend and colleague make the transition to the after-life.

Betty.jpg

My friend was Betty Kalister, a fellow yoga teacher here in Knoxville. Betty was probably the most vibrant woman I have ever met. She had a passion for life and just got excited about EVERYTHING.

She was oozing with love, and everyone who met her felt it.

I got together last night with a group of Betty’s yoga friends for a spiritual gathering to help her soul transition. We talked about how we thought she would have been very calm and at peace knowing what was happening, as her plane was about to crash. We knew that she would have been praying for those on the ground below her to remain safe. That was her way, always thinking of others.

But for those of us left here, how do we make the transition to a life without her? I would definitely file this under one of those transitions that feels like hell. But as hard as it is, death is part of the flow of life, and we are all just along for the ride, however short or long that ride may be.

In our physical yoga practice, we even use corpse pose as a way to symbolically “die” to the old and then awaken to the new. But when a person is no longer with us physically, loved ones have a harder time accepting that it is just another transition: an awakening to something new.

A Poem for THIS TRANSITION

I ran across this poem by Henry Scott-Holland that so beautifully and meaningfully expresses death as a transition. While I can’t read it yet without crying, it does give me comfort. I know that my sweet friend Betty is still with us, and will always be.

“Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.

Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.

All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!”

Yoga Anywhere - Part Deux!

Back in November, I shared a yoga anywhere post about how I worked yoga stretches and exercises into my day-to-day routine, and now I’m here to tell you, there’s more!

We all lead busy lives, and sometimes we just don’t have the time to devote to a full practice or workout. But that doesn’t mean it’s all or nothing! And heck, this is part of the reason I stay in yoga clothes all danged day.

So let’s get to some Yoga Anywhere multi-tasking!

wall sit

Whenever I wash my hair, I have to blow dry it if I want it to have a chance at looking decent. But honestly, it seems like such a waste of time.

So that’s why I decided here to sit in chair pose against the wall, aka a wall sit. If you get your thighs parallel to the floor, holy crap, it burns so good!

squat

Remember that time you bent down to pick up something off the floor and tweaked your back? Yeah?

Don’t do that! Squat instead. Instead of leaning over the trash can to trim my nails, that’s what I did. Great hip opener and leg strengthener.

sphinx

If you’ve got time for reading, you’ve got time for sphinx pose. Notice I’m not slouching. Such a nice, gentle backbend.

seated pigeon

If you’re stuck in the car (parked, of course!) waiting to pick up your kids from camp, or if you’re in the passenger seat on a road trip, seated pigeon is a wonderful stretch for the hips, glutes, and back.

Keep the foot flexed and gently guide the thigh open with your hand.

legs up

And for those times when you just need to CHILL THE FREAK OUT, there’s legs up the wall. Can’t beat it for a stress-reducer. It’s awesome before bed. You can prop up your hips with a pillow or blanket as needed.

Ahh.

Work these into your day, and let me know what you think!

Follow Your Dharma

If you checked out my blog post from February, Honest Yoga (a. k. a. Get Some Freaking Perspective), you may remember that I sometimes find Instagram annoying.

If you follow any yoga profiles at all, you are constantly bombarded with skinny, white 20-somethings doing handstands on the beach and putting their feet behind their heads. It’s enough to drive any “mere mortal” yoga practitioner crazy.

And if you’re a type-A yoga teacher like me, you’d better be meditating and pranayama-ing like Buddha when you scroll through your feed, because you literally can’t even with the alignment sometimes.

Every once in a blue moon, one of these handstanding hooligans with a gazillion followers will post a picture of something “basic” like triangle, and that’s when I say “no” (usually out loud) and unfollow them. (Insert Jean-Luc Picard facepalm gif here.)

Girl, get your skinny butt to my class so I can adjust the hell out of that pitiful pose.

What’s a yoga teacher supposed to do?

We know we’re supposed to be all up in social media because that’s the thing to do these days to “grow our business.” But lately, that has led me to think, “What IS my business?”

Flashback to my yoga teacher training. As part of our study, we had to read, discuss, and write about the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu text.

Now if you’re going to get your panties in a wad about yoga and religion, just stop right there because that’s a blog post for another day. I can only be annoyed about one thing at a time. Focus!

Let me just say that I had a hard time getting through the Gita the first time. For sure, yoga philosophy is NOT my “business.” The language is all weird, and they never just come right out and tell you the lesson directly, preferring to make you wade through pages and pages first.

One of the lessons I did eventually get out of it was the idea of “dharma,” which in a nutshell means, the work that you are meant to do by your very nature. And it goes on to instruct that “One’s own dharma, performed imperfectly, is better than another’s dharma well performed.”

If you prefer Western sources, a related quote from another hard to understand text goes, “To thine own self be true.”

So again, if you read my Honest Yoga blog post and saw those pictures, it is glaringly obvious that being a bikini-clad, handstanding, backbending Instagram yoga star is NOT my dharma. I’m about 20 years and a twin-momma-belly too late for that.

Realizing this has been so freeing!

I can now scroll through that stuff and just say, “That is not me. That is not my work.” It also helps me not get as annoyed with those beautiful bendy young things because just maybe they are following the shit out of their own dharma.

Carry on, circus freaks.

I KNOW what my dharma is. Teaching. I know it when I get down on the floor in class next to a student who is trying a new arm balance, and I tell her to kick her leg towards me. I know it when she says she can’t, and I tell her yes, she can, just do it, AND SHE DOES IT.

We both hear angels singing. THAT is my dharma, bitches.

The moral of this story: be you. Do you. Follow your dharma.

Transitions

So if you’ve ever taken one of my power yoga classes, you’ve experienced some interesting pose sequences. (You say crazy, I say interesting!) One of my biggest joys as a teacher is finding new ways to link poses.

  • Warrior 1 to Warrior 2? Yuck. Warrior 1 into Goddess? Heck yeah.

  • Pigeon into Down Dog? That’s all well and good, but I think it’s more fun to first go into an opposite-side forearm side plank. Because, abs!

  • Chair twist right back into Chair? Okay, sure, but how’s about we throw in a Revolved Half Moon? Because we can!

Yoga = Life

But sometimes getting from one pose to another can be tricky. During my boys’ last week of elementary school, I was teaching some particularly funky sequences in what I like to call my Wacky Wednesday class.

At one point, I got the deer-in-headlights, you-want-me-to-do-what look from several students, so I told them, “Sometimes these transitions are magical and feel like a million bucks, but other times, they are awkward and messy as hell, AND THAT’S OKAY.” And just then, as if I had planned it, a student proclaims, “Just like life!”

Bam. Yoga teacher moment of zen right there.

As it happens, the afore-mentioned student is the mom of a kid who is the same age as mine, going through the same major life transition of being done with elementary school and getting ready for middle school. I had been psyching myself out about this for a while.

I look at my boys and can’t believe my babies are almost as tall as me now, with only two years left before they become teenagers. I’m not ready for this! But ready or not, it’s happening.

Thankfully, yoga has taught me that I just need to keep breathing and try to stay present. There is no sense in worrying about what’s coming next. It may feel like a roller coaster ride or it may be smooth sailing, but we’ll get there all the same.

I happily made it through 5th grade awards night and the last day of school without crying, yeah! We still have the whole summer to go before we complete this transition into middle school, but I’m not freaking out yet. One day at a time, one breath at a time.

Y’all can remind me of that come August.

 

Learning to Fly

Considering my last post (a. k. a. rant) about all the crazy advanced poses you see on Instagram these days, you may find it ironic that I'm about to teach a workshop on just that, arm balances and inversions! Yes, I've got some 'splainin' to do, so don't go calling me a hypocrite just yet.

I have a love/hate relationship with these types of poses. I love them because once I get them down, they look super cool and make me feel like a freaking rockstar! I hate them because, well, they're hard and frustrating and can be really scary and intimidating. Do NOT search #handstand365 on Instagram unless you want to end up like me, crying in a fetal position. Trust me on this one.

My journey with arm balances and inversions has been a long and slow one, somewhat because of my fear, but also because it took a while to find the right teacher who said the right thing to make the light bulb go off in my head. And my journey is ongoing. I've by no means mastered all these poses, but I've picked up lots of great tips along the way that have made the difference for me between flying and falling.

So I'm here to offer you those tips and my empathy. I know how it feels to be that yogi hanging out in chair twist for what feels like an eternity while others are going into side crow, gawking at them and thinking, "How the hell are they doing that?" Been there, done that. If this sounds familiar, then this workshop is for you.

Poses covered will include scale lifts, crow/crane, shoulder-pressing pose, side crow, handstand, headstand, and feathered peacock. We'll do lots of prep work and use props so that even if you don't fly right away, you'll know how and what to practice to get you there eventually.

I'd love to see you tomorrow at Real Hot Yoga from 3 to 5! You can click here to register. Below are some pics to give you a little sneak peek. Let's fly!

 

Chaturanga IS an arm balance and also serves as the base for many others, so good form is vital!

Chaturanga IS an arm balance and also serves as the base for many others, so good form is vital!

In any arm balance, you have to press away from the floor and stay engaged!

In any arm balance, you have to press away from the floor and stay engaged!

Dolphin is so great for strengthening the shoulder girdle!

Dolphin is so great for strengthening the shoulder girdle!

Way easier with blocks!

Way easier with blocks!

The block brings the floor closer to you in so many poses.

The block brings the floor closer to you in so many poses.

Feel like you're going to fall back? Use a block!

Feel like you're going to fall back? Use a block!

Side crow is the gateway arm balance!

Side crow is the gateway arm balance!

This was me for at least a year before I could lift my legs all the way!

This was me for at least a year before I could lift my legs all the way!

I actually think L stands are way hard than just kicking up into a handstand.

I actually think L stands are way hard than just kicking up into a handstand.


Honest Yoga (a. k. a. Get Some Freaking Perspective)

I've been kicking around the idea for this blog post for a while, ever since a friend posted an exasperated Facebook status about how it's all well and good for yoga teachers to tell us to honor our bodies and celebrate their differences, but all we see on social media are young skinny things putting their feet behind their heads and doing handstands on the beach. Where are the everyday dudes who can't touch their toes, she wondered.

I, too, have had it up to here with yoga photos on social media, especially on Instagram. A quick scroll through on any given day will yield inversion after inversion, and not just the "basic" ones. I used to think I was cool for being able to do a headstand or kick up into a handstand up against the wall. Pfft. Now, cool is a no-handed headstand and a press up into handstand from an arm balance. And then there are the ridiculous displays of flexibility. They make me hurt just looking at them. Join the circus, ya freak.

And let's not forget the yoga challenges on Instagram, where the hosts offer a pose each day, and participants follow suit with their own pic of said pose labeled with the appropriate hashtag. I did them for a little while. I didn't really care about winning a prize from one of the sponsors; I just thought they'd be fun and get me to practice poses I might not otherwise try. But there would always come a time where a certain day's pose was just not happening. I wasn't strong or flexible enough yet or a combination of both. And I'm a little ashamed to admit that sometimes I lost my shit over it. I'd compare myself to all the 20-something pretzel types. That's when I knew I had to stop. 

Now I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with yoga selfies or Instagram yoga challenges. So much of what I see I think is truly beautiful - the shape of the human body as art. But for the vast majority of us yoga practitioners, those perfect poses are not reality and probably never will be. So I decided to offer you a little perspective and show you some of my yoga selfies that are less than amazing. With each I've included a link for comparison that shows someone who could be on the cover of Yoga Journal and whom I might want to punch just a little bit. The struggle is real, y'all.

This one's called compass pose. You can tell by the fake smile on my face how much I'm enjoying it.  Here's what it's supposed to look like , from a lady whose smile says to me, "I could stay here all day, bitches, and my armpit smells like a rose!" instead of, "I'm dying!"

This one's called compass pose. You can tell by the fake smile on my face how much I'm enjoying it. Here's what it's supposed to look like, from a lady whose smile says to me, "I could stay here all day, bitches, and my armpit smells like a rose!" instead of, "I'm dying!"

This one's called king pigeon pose. I'm supposed to be  touching my toes to my head . Yeah. 

This one's called king pigeon pose. I'm supposed to be touching my toes to my head. Yeah. 

If you've enjoyed seeing me look inadequate, never fear - I've got PLENTY more to share! Stay tuned. And keep it real.