Tuesday, January 31, 2012

50,000 Words

I won't be sorry to flip the calendar tonight. Although January has been an absolutley fantastic month in many respects, it's also been incredibly busy - some of it busy-ness of my own making.

This blog, for example - I decided to revive it in the New Year and, as a send-off of sorts, write here every day for the month. It was interesting to go from never-blogging to always-blogging overnight. The compusion to fill this space every day *did* result in some thought provoking posts (thank you, NYT and others for providing a rich source of material to write about).

But at times, I found myself chewing on the end of my electronic pencil. That's when you guys got posts about my dog's age spots or quirky anecdotes about arm balances and margerine. There's only so much awesome in this brain - about three days a week worth, I think.

I do need to give props where they're due, though: For nearly a year, I've been using a website called 750 Words to do my personal journaling and it's been an amazing tool for me.

I'm a long-time journaler. I still have my journals from Grade 6 through my teen years all the way to the present. There are some gaps, but for the past 10 years or so, I've journaled regularly in some form or the other.

I abandoned my paper journals a few years ago, though I continued to write 'morning pages' (a la 'The Artist's Way') for awhile. I stopped because the paper notebooks had become too ponderous - they literally filled boxes in my small hall closet. I continued to write on my blogs, but writing for public consumption just isn't the same. I missed the 'anything goes' vibe of my journals.

Enter 750words. It's completely private and intended as a 'morning pages' type of space for writing. The creator estimated that two pages of writing equals about 750words.

That's the practical part. The *fun* part is that there are badges for daily writing, for words counts and other things (like typing quickly or not being easily distracted). I *love* this aspect of the site and it's kept me going for months. I've been writing there since March 8th and my current writing streak is at 290 days. In less than 100 days, I'll earn the 'unicorn' badge for writing for 365 days in a row.

One of the badges I haven't yet earned is the one for writing 50,000 words in a one month. I decided to tackle that one this month and as of today, I've completely exceeded the amount needed for the badge (I'm SUCH a girl scout! lol!).

Throughout January, I was writing upwards of 1700 words per day!

As of tomorrow, I can return to the relatively pedestrian goal of 750 words a day. And I'll probably blog in this space a bit less. But I promise you'll hear from me a few times a week.

I think I'm going to use this newly-freed-up time to take naps. And practice Pincha Mayurasana. ;-)

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Monday, January 30, 2012

It's Definitely Not Butter!

I'm currently going through the 'I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!' phase of my practice of Pincha Mayurasana.

About 95% of the time, I feel very solid in the pose and come into it easily. My body has figured it out (on Saturday, I held the pose for a couple minutes while simultaneously carrying on a conversation with the shalamate on the mat next to me).

But my brain hasn't caught on to what my body knows, so every time I'm setting up for Pincha, I worry a little bit. I wonder if I'll really be able to do it. Will I stick the balance? Will I fall out? What if it's scary?

Then I come into the pose, I balance, I hold it. It's a lot of fun, not scary at all. And my brain is all confused.

I *know* my brain is the problem here because as soon as I start lotusing my legs for Karanda, Pincha becomes a moot point - my body just does its thing and balances there while my brain is busy lotusing my legs.

This morning was one of the 5% of days when I couldn't seem to find the sweet spot in Pincha. I'd go up, come down. Go up, come down. Then I'd sit back on my heels, brow furrowed, trying to puzzle it through. When I finally figured it out, I came up easily and stayed there!

The issue? I forgot my bandhas. I needed to turn them on.

You know those people who, when confronted with a black computer monitor, carefully wiggle all the cables, shake the keyboards, power the monitor up and down a few times and do the hokey pokey for good measure - before it finally occurs to them that it might be a good idea to turn on the computer?

I'm the yoga version of that person. Gotta power up before you go up!

Now, if I can just Believe It's Not Butter, I'll be set!

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Keep Climbing

I don't even know what to say about a day like today. Sunday is usually my day off, but I had a few errands to run. After practice, I went to my favourite Sushi restaurant for the lunch special. So far, so good.

Then I headed over to the main library to use their Wifi. I had some work to do on a website that I absolutely should not have gotten involved with. This work lasted all afternoon. It was infuriating. I saw my only day off disappear into a black hole of HTML and Wordpress Widget configuration. I was knashing my teeth.

I knew it was a Bad Idea when I said yes, but now I'm stuck with it, having made the committment. I'm trying to keep my role in this very minimal, as in: "Here's your website and here's the admin password. Have fun."

Clearly, I need more practice saying "No." And I'll get a chance to do that next week when the website committee once again tries to pull me into yet another meeting.

"No!" "No!" "No!" (I'm practising!)

The coming week is going to be so busy. I'm trying not to think too much about it. From the perspective of Sunday evening, it feels like an endless staircase, disappearing into the clouds. It will never end.

But it will. It will end on Saturday afternoon. I can do this! I can do this!


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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Does Yoga Count As Cardio? Do we care?

Just in from the Huffington Post: Does Yoga Count As Cardio?.

Yet another article about yoga written by someone who really doesn't know a helluva lot about yoga (but to be fair, he admits as much). The question: Does yoga raise the heart rate to cardiovascular levels and does yoga burn significant calories?

The author disputes claims that Bikram Yoga burns upwards of 1000 calories during the course of a 90 minute class. He argues this point by citing studies that examine calorie expenditure during a typical beginner's Hatha yoga class and a typical Astanga yoga class. Mysteriously, he attempts to prove this point by measuring heart rate levels during various activities, like sitting on the couch, and jogging.

Fair enough, but my understanding is that calorie expenditure and cardiovascular fitness are two entirely different issues. It's like saying "That's an apple because it's an orange." We're always burning calories whether our heart rate goes up signficantly or not. You just burned a couple of calories reading this blog post. If you're heavier or have a high metabolism, you burned more calories than someone who is slim or has a low metabolism, regardless of your heart rate.

But that's beside the point. The real benefits of yoga have nothing to do with cardiovascular fitness or calorie burn. I doubt many serious yoga practitioners are stepping on their mats with the intention of burning lots of calories. Though I don't doubt my heart rate goes up significantly during my Astanga Yoga practice, that's not the reason I practice. It's not even on the radar.

I feel like I just read an article deconstructing a visit to Santa Claus, elaborating on all the evidence that Santa isn't real, but ignoring the practical and entirely valid reasons people take their kids to see him anyway.

And it makes me just a bit sad that this article completely glosses over this point. I don't step on the mat every morning to 'burn calories' or 'raise my heartrate', nor do I seek to 'zen out' (as one commenter to the article so charmingly put it). My practice does make me stronger. It builds mental strength and clarity, self awareness and self-control. These are all good things too, they're not the primary reason I practice.

How many times do we need to say 'Yoga is not *just* exercise' before it starts to sink in to the collective consiousness?

If you asked me why I practice, I would struggle to put it into words. My practice has made me a better person in a thousand small, immeasurable ways. My daily yoga practice offers a structure to my life. It's helped me develop self-discipline. I'm also happier, more patient, less prone to anger, more sensitive to the needs of the people around me. I feel more at home in my body. I've learned to pay attention.

If I had to define it in one sentence, it would sound something like this: My practice connects me to something greater than myself; it gives me peace.

But let us suppose that reasons of fitness and weight loss *do* factor in. Here's where the article completely misses the boat:

- Practising yoga to lose weight is an exercise in futility, but so is running, or spending an hour on the stair-climber. Because exercise alone will not lead to weightloss. The weight loss formula is simple: Burn more than you consume. The best way to do this is by consuming less - in other words: moderating your food intake. If you want to lose weight, you'd best start with a food diary and dietary changes.

- Practising yoga can certainly raise your metabolism, especially practising a more vigourous style that emphasizes strength. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so if you build more muscle, your metabolism will inevitably go up which increase calorie burn during all activites.

- Practising yoga causes a suble mental shift, a state of great awareness. Often, overeating or emotion-triggered eating is a mindless act. Becoming more alert to the body's signals, more willing to face discomfort and more aware of our own resistance to change and difficulty can shift eating patterns. Nearly all daily yoga practitioners who I've spoken with cite changes in their eating habits that correlate with their yoga practice. Studies indicate that yoga can lead to significant behavioural changes, including our relationship to food.

Do you agree with this article? Why do *you* practice yoga? What benefits have come from your practice that the article doesn't mention?

Princess Fur finds that yoga enhances her ability to nap, particularly when I'm doing it. ;-)

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Where everybody knows your name

To be perfectly honest, the fringe benefits of getting up at 4:30 in the morning and travelling to a shala to practice yoga are sometimes elusive, but here's one: great customer service!

Not only have I come to know some of my fellow riders on that 5:15 streetcar (the two or three who ride at that ungodly hour), but I've come to know the various drivers as well. I don't always have the same guy (and at that time of morning, it always seems to be a male driver) but it seems to be a consistent group.

This morning, the 5:15 streetcar never arrived, so I had to wait for the 5:30. One of my favourite drivers was driving that one. I greeted him and he shared the gossip: the 5:15 had broken down and was waiting in the bay for maintenance.

As I was exiting at my stop, I noticed that I didn't have my gloves with me. With a sinking feeling, I realised that they had probably fallen onto the streetcar platform at my originating station - I set them in my lap when I sat down to wait for the tardy streetcar. I told my driver and he promised that he would look for them the next time he passed through the station.

A few hours later, I finished my practice and I headed back to the station. When I approached a supervisor on the platform, I didn't even need to tell him what I was looking for. He said: "Gloves?" I nodded. He retrieved them from the control room for me.

At any other time of day, I'll bet those gloves would have never made it back to me, but at 5:30 in the morning, the world is just a bit friendlier...if you know the right people.

Stuff like this makes my big city feel smaller and warmer!

Princess Fur Friday: This is the smirk she gets on her face when she wants to be fed and I'm not fulfilling her Royal Demands quickly enough.

Lunch, Your Majesty? Rowr!

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Siddhis. And Google.

Miss Stan wrote a hilarious blog post about teaching yoga to children. If you haven't read it yet, you should: Maybe a Really Sharp Knife.

I too teach children's yoga and I've told the story of Ganesha many times in my classrooms. It's the story I use when all hell breaks loose and I can't get their attention any other way. Because seriously? Kids LOVE that story. It's their favourite. I think they like it because it's quirky, and because somebody's (Ganesha's) head gets chopped off.

When I first started telling the story of Ganesha, I grappled with the same concerns that Miss Stan had. Story! Too Violent! Must sanitize! But, really, there isn't much you can do to santize head-chopping. Besides, half the kids in my classes go home after school and play 'Shoot-'em-up-and-chop-em-up' video games on their gaming consoles. And at least Ganesha gets a new head!

Eventually, I decided that I should just be brutally honest: "Shiva chopped Ganesha's head off." *plunk*

This worked really well...

Kid in the Spiderman Tee: "How? How did he chop the head? He used a sword?"
Me: "No. He used a trident!"
Kid in the Spiderman Tee: (bewildered look) "Gum?!"
Me: "A trident's a weapon. It's like a big fork."
Kid in the Spiderman Tee: "No way! You can't chop off someone's head with a fork!"
Me: "You can if you have siddhis!"

Ah ha! Siddhis! Thank the gods for siddhis! Siddhis explain everything!

I spent a few weeks teaching yoga to teen girls in a rough part of the city. A few days before my first class, someone was shot and killed on the same bus I rode to get there. But believe me, I was far more intimidated by the idea of teaching yoga to a bunch of reluctant teenagers who glared at me when I first walked into the room.

I won them over with arm balances.

Within a half-hour, they knew how to do Bakasana and I had been educated in a half-dozen slang words and pop-culture references that were entirely new to me. It was a fair exchange! Things were going so well, I decided to tell them the story of Ganesha.

Me: "So when Shiva came back from his sadhana in the forest, he found a strange young man guarding his wife's bath. He became very angry and took his trident..."
Girl with Sparkly Shirt: "Wait! Wait, Miss! Why was Shiva mad at his son?"
Me: "He didn't know Ganesha was his son. Remember? Parvati made Ganesha in the bathtub..."
Girl with braids: "With toenail clippings!"
Me: "Yeah, something like that..."
Girl with Sparkly Shirt: "I'll bet Shiva thought they were getting it on!"
Me: "Um, I'm not sure about that...(stalling)...but let me tell you about the trident! Shiva took his trident and chopped..."
Girl with braids: "Uh huh! Shiva was jealous!"
(all the girls start nodding, knowingly)
Girl with Sparkly Shirt: "Miss, was Parvati a MILF?"

The embarassing part of this story isn't the fact that a 14-year-old girl asked me if a Hindu goddess was a MILF. The embarrassing part of the story is that I didn't, in fact, know what a 'MILF' was.

But I was pretty sure that Parvati wasn't one...

Me: "No, Parvati was not a MILF. Now where was I? Oh yeah, the trident..."


After the class, the teacher walked me to the main door and thanked me. "The girls loved you." She quietly added, "And you handled the MILF thing really well!"

As soon as got home, I Googled.

OMG. *jawdrop*

Parvati is *definitely* not a MILF! LOL!

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No dignity for the fur'ed

I had a class cancellation this afternoon, so I used the time to do something I've been putting off for months: grooming Princess Fur. I've been clipping her myself for nearly seven years now, so I'm pretty good at it. I can do the entire job, including clean-up, in under 90 minutes (my yoga practice runs longer than that).

The best part is, besides the time spent, it doesn't cost me anything. I recieved professional quality dog clippers as a birthday gift several years ago and I taught myself the skill through trial and error (dogs don't care if they have 'bad hair'). Since dog-grooming can cost upwards of $80 in this burg, I generally consider it time well spent.

But I still put it off endlessly and I'm not sure why. My back no longer tweaks out because I finally got smart and moved the whole operation to the kitchen counter. It's the perfect height for dog grooming (and yes, I realise that all you hygiene-nuts out there are clutching your throats in horror, but it works for me and I clean the kitchen thorougly afterward).

Princess Fur is calm and well-behaved as I groom her, mainly because she's wallowing in misery. She just stands there and looks persecuted the entire time, occasionally hanging her head or shooting me an anguished stare ("howcouldyoudothistome?!"). Grooming her is fun, in a reductive, sheep-shearing sort of way.

Anwyay, it's done now and I can proceed to put it off for another two months or so until my dog resembles a small, gray wookie and then the cycle will start all over again: Procrastination. More fur. More procrastination. Too much fur. Too much procrastination...and so on.

Two things:

Each time I groom the Princess, I notice the age spots more and more. Schnauzers tend to get them and she's covered in them now. She's starting to look like a dalmation! They make me a bit sad - it's a sign she's getting old.

She's turning into an eccentric old lady! A few years ago, I had to get her front incisors pulled so now her tongue sticks out whenever she's relaxed. She's the goofy spotted dog with the tongue sticking out! Someone get her a polka-dotted cane to match!

Also, I tend to keep Princess Fur's coat longer in the winter to give her extra protection against the cold. But this winter has been so mild, she's been a bit *too* warm. So I gave her the summer cut.

Giving your dog a summer cut in the winter is probably just asking for trouble. It's like washing your car because you're *sure* it's not gonna rain - you're bound to regret it.

Just watch! I'll bet within 48 hours, the temperatures will drop to -30 or so. I'll need to double-layer my shivering dog and I'll feel like a Bad Lady for it. But you can thank me for bringing back winter!

You're welcome!

See the spots? After her post-clip bath, she stumbled around shivering with great drama. So I let her come up on the bed and covered her up in my flannel pyjamas.

She wouldn't turn around for this photo, though. The Princess is NOT amused!

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rishis and Community

There has been some interesting discussion in the Cybershala about the 'Rishi Series'. This was a series that advanced practitioners used to do either following sixth series or after finishing Intermediate (as a preparation for Advanced).

(Note: This was practised in the past, but isn't part of the Astanga method as now taught in Mysore. Thanks, Susan, for making this clarification in your comment on this post.)

You can read more about this on Grimmly's blog:
Ashtanga Rishi Series(explanatory post)
Ashtanga Rishi Approach: First Day
Ashtanga Rishi Approach: Second Day

Ursula has been experimenting with it too:
Dandasana and My Rishi Series Variation

I'm keen to try this myself, though it will need to happen as a second practice, probably falling on a Sunday when I have time to experiment. I'm feeling very good about the direction and intensity of my shala practice right now and I don't want to break any momentum there.

Still, sometimes I will 'Rishi up' some of the poses in my regular practice. Sirsasana is one, but I suspect everyone goes through that phase eventually. I was up to 10 minute holds when I finally got bored - literally bored, which was probably a good reason to stay with it, come to think of it! ;-)

There are definitely a few poses in my current practice that would benefit from longer holds. I've already been holding Ustrasana for longer durations. Right now, I typically hold it for a minute, but two or three minutes would be an interesting experiment.

I've noticed during these longer holds that the barrier to staying in the pose isn't physical, it's purely psychological. Napper has blogged about taking long holds with Kapotasana B. I use this pose as a warm-up to A and I struggle just to get through five breaths! But I'm pretty sure a longer hold would be good for me. I've also found that repeating Kapo A doesn't seem to help me much. I'm wondering if holding it longer would?

Just an aside, I've been impressed and deeply touched by these amazing senior teachers who have so readily responded to Grim's queries regarding the Rishi Series and the Astanga series 'as it was' (in the 70s - a topic for another time). It makes my heart swell to see this generosity of spirit and community. It's a lovely antidote to some of nastiness and infighting that occasionally pops up amonst yogis.

They're certainly leading by example! As I read Nancy G's letter, the Astanga community suddenly felt smaller, warm and intimiate, very supportive. It made me proud of this lineage and the people who practice it. When the Cybershala is awesome, it's *really* awesome!

What do you think of the 'Rishi Series'? Do you hold any poses in your practice for longer durations? Have you experienced any benefits from doing so? Anyone out there experimenting with a Yin-style practice?

This was from the fall - I have no idea what my backbend looks like these days. Maybe I'll do a photo shoot soon. But not on the balcony! ;-)

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Creative Avocado-ing

One of the things I miss most as a vegan is pudding. Any kind of pudding, actually, but especially chocolate pudding. I really can't eat soy and the soy puddings I've tried never quite tasted the same anyway.

To be honest, I don't think it's possible to entirely replicate the chocolate pudding experience diary-free, but I recently stumbled across something that comes remarkably close. When I spotted Frozen Chocolate Avocado Cups on Laura's blog, I immediately bookmarked it.

Avocados were on sale last week! :-) I decided to give it a shot.

The first thing you need to know is that this recipe works best with VERY ripe Avocados. I let mine sit for a few days until they were quite mushy underneath the skin. This isn't a Vitamix recipe - a plain old hand mixer does the job better because you can use a spatula to scoop the finished product into the paper cupcake cups afterward.

I taste-tested the mixture before freezing and it's subtley sweet with a pudding-y texture. This recipe is adapted from a 'vegan chocolate pudding' recipe which also sounds amazing (the recipes are almost identical - Laura just leaves out the vanilla extract and adds nuts).

My mind is already jumping ahead to other uses - pie filling, anyone?

I really enjoyed this as a frozen treat. The chocolate cups reminded me a bit of the 'fudge bars' I used to love as a child. And because they're cold, I'm less inclined to eat them too quickly. They would make a fun treat in the summer!

Be sure to check out Laura's blog! It's full of fun vegan and raw recipes. All the recipes are illustrated with her photos.

Here's the recipe:

Frozen Chocolate Nut Avocado Cups (makes 4)

1 *ripe* avocado
2 heaped teaspoons of cocoa powder
3 tablespoons of agave syrup
3 tablespoons of walnuts
(this is the same recipe and measurements I used for the plain pudding yesterday - just omit the nuts)

Reserve a couple of the walnuts to top each cup then add the rest to a food processor and blitz until chopped. Put to one side. Add the avocado flesh to the processor along with the cocoa powder and agave and blend until smooth. Mix in the chopped nuts then spoon into muffin cases and top with half a walnut for decoration. Freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Invasion of the Dust Bunnies

Everyone has their personal tipping point when it comes to domestic chaos. My blech-o-metre is pretty hair-trigger, but when I'm busy I find it hard to keep up.

At the moment, I have only one day off per week and that day is a Sunday. I still do my Mysore practice on that day, so it's not entirely a laze-around-at-home day.Theoretically, it's also the day I run all my errands and pick up groceries, but I usually try to sneak that stuff into the week so I can relax on Sundays. And the urge to relax (read: lay in bed reading a good book and sipping chai) often means cutting corners.

Alas, I couldn't ignore it any longer: my floors were filthy. Last year, when I was practising at home every day, I kept the floors in a state of pristine cleanliness. I swept daily, mopped weekly. A friend joked that she would happily eat a meal off the floors of my apartment. When I started practice at the shala, it didn't seem as important anymore and the floors languished.

To be honest, I can't remember the last time I mopped! *hangs head*

I'm not sure what tipped me over the edge today, but I suspect it was the colony of dust bunnies that established themselves around Princess Fur's crate. I couldn't even bring myself to take a nap this afternoon - the need to sweep and mop felt *that* urgent.

And that's how Princess Fur found herself confined to her basket under my desk, completely surrounded by toys! And my floor mopping adventure turned into a epic three hour domestic blitz.

The dust bunnies have been evicted! (but not the dog)

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

It's never too late to be awesome

When I was a young child, my mother used to take me to the local racetrack. I know it doesn't sound like the most wholesome of places for a little kid to hang out, but I just loved it here because I adored horses.

I'd hang out down by the track, watching the grooms scurry about and hero-worshipping the jockeys. I was a tall child (and would become a tall adult). I used to tell anyone who would listen that I wanted to be a jockey when I grew up. They humoured me with amused glances. At age 11, I was already taller than most of the jockeys!

I noticed that in almost every race, there were frontrunners. Sometimes they retained their lead and won the race or another horse in the middle of the pack would overtake them. But there were always a few horses who hesitated coming out of the gate and lagged behind for the entire race.

Long after the cheers had died away for the winners and spectators had turned away to cash in their winnings or buy a drink between races, these game competitors would cross the finish line without fanfare.

Except from me. Because I would stand by the fence and cheer my little heart out for the horses that were coming in last.

I remain a champion of valiant finishers!

Yoga, it seems, is still Wrecking Our Bodies and though it seems like just about everyone who was going to weigh in has weighed in, there *are* a few remaining responses to the debate.

Let's cheer them to the finishline:

OM My God Who Wrecked Our Yoga
How The NYT Can Try To Wreck Yoga
Article Throws Exponents Off Balance
The Great Yoga Divide
Leslie Hendry: The NYT Stepped on My Yoga Toes
Yoga Can Save Your Body

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Schedule Hoarder

I realised something today, as I was knashing my teeth over feeling so overwhelmed and so overscheduled: I'm overwhelmed and overscheduled. Epiphany, I know.

The thing is, this stuff just sneaks up on you. You add one thing, and then another, and still another. You think that it's a good idea to be social, building community is golden, participating in activism of some kind seems like a civic responsibility in this day and age, volunteer work feels virtuous and what about seeing friends?

I'm pretty good about keeping the physical clutter out of my space. What I seem to be accumulating is obligations and they're slowly taking over my life. Since there isn't a lot of space in my life to start with, the main activity being pushed out is good ol' sleep.

I'm exhausted and cranky. My afternoon nap (necessary after only 5 hours of sleep last night) was interrupted by a phone call from one of my cluttery obligations.

Clearly, it's time to declutter. I'm starting tomorrow.

A return to 'Princess Fur Friday' - this shot is from the summer. Happy days of sun-soaked afternoons. I miss them too!!!

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Still Out-Dooced

Most of us here in yoga-blog-land are busy either being indignant or completely nonchalant about Bodies-Being-Wrecked and Viral-Yoga-Videos. But outside our cozy little circle, Dooce has separated from her husband and it's Big News.

Dooce and I go way back. No, really! ;-) Here's the story:

I started my first blog in late 2000, back when Blogger was brand new and there were exactly 8 bloggers in my city (We all knew one another and used to meet up to go bowling - and all are still good friends of mine). In those early years, I was interviewed by both our city newpaper *and* the national one. I gave a radio interview and appeared twice on a national talk show. All because of my blog. My blog attracted a mind-blowing 500 readers per week (times have changed: this blog averages that same amount in about a day).

Back then, there were very few cut-and-dried rules about what you should or shouldn't blog about. We were all winging it and I winged it badly. I made the mistake of writing about work on my blog and I was fired from my job as a result. About a month later, a blogger in the States named Heather Hamilton also (and more famously) got fired. Feeling her pain, I decided to send a note. We exchanged a few emails. "This sucks." "Yeah, it does suck." What else is there to say?

I never heard from her again, but I've certainly heard *of* her because Heather, Dooce, is now the owner of a online media empire. She's appeared on Oprah, runs marathons with Christy Turlington and has travelled the world on the strength of her blog an her story. Me? I became a yoga teacher. Different paths, indeed!

Heather has created a brand out of the very blog that got her fired. And her personal life has become part of it. Her home decore, daily photos of her dogs, stories about her two daughters - it's all there. She was the forerunner of a blogging genre called MommyBloggers and she does it really, really well.

The announcement of her trial separation from her husband brought up mixed emotions for me. All of us who blog publicly have had to sort through our own boundaries regarding what we do and do not post. I've stumbled through this process on a few different blogs, including this one. I still suffer as many misteps as I did with my very first blog over ten years ago. It's always a negotiation; It never gets any easier.

So this seems like a good opportuntity to talk about my vision for this blog, moving forward.

Last year, I took a hiatus from blogging. I was no longer comfortable with the format that had served me so well for almost four years: practice reports. Simply put, I no longer enjoyed writing publicly about the process of my Astanga practice. It felt uncomfortable, like shoes that had become too small. I simply outgrew it.

I was also struggling with how to manage my relationships with my teacher and my shalamates while writing so openly about my practice in a public sphere. That too felt uncomfortable. I didn't want to find myself in a situation where I might inadvertently upset my teacher. I wanted my communication with her to be free from that kind of 'static.'

I felt like I couldn't write honestly, not because of anything that had been said to me, but because of my own discomfort. When I started this blog, there were five readers and I knew all of them. My audience had expanded in wonderful and unexpected ways, but it had changed my writing.

I took a hiatus last year. I always enjoyed the blog and I missed writing it and being part of the 'Cybershala' community. I thought about how I could best serve my 'audience' if I came back. To be honest, the posts that drew the best response were always those that examined current issues in yoga or those fun personal stories that weren't practice-related. I suspect there are more than a few of you who come here just for the Princess Fur photos. ;-)

For my return, I made a promise to myself: I would write in this space each day for a month, just to get back in the habit (it's been hard!). I also had to make decisions regarding content and the boundaries around it. I decided that any specifics about my yoga practice/the shala/my teacher were now off-limits (writing about shalamates has always been off-limits).

I'm now using private online communities to update friends about my practice. If I need to get stuff off my chest, I write or talk to trusted friends (you know who you are and how precious you are to me).

It's a compromise that's seems to be working well so far. When January draws to a close, I'll continue writing but slow down the pace to a few posts per week. But as it stands, I *do* plan to continue writing.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Presentation Matters

I first viewed the controversal Equinox video a couple weeks ago and frankly wondered how long it would take to go viral and piss people off. The time is now. I'm suddenly been seeing it everywhere. It's been posted within my yoga circles on Facebook a half-dozen times and Grimmly just wrote a post commenting on it.

I'm not sure why I didn't dive right into this one. I suppose I'm just weary of this debate because it can go in so many different directions: What is yoga? Does western yoga objectify women's bodies? Are sex and yoga mutually exclusive? Does modern yoga glorify a particular body type to the exclusion of others? And on and on...

For me, it boils down to one word: intention. Intention is the reason I couldn't conjure up a lot of indignation over the naked-Kathryn-Budig-Toesox-ads. I'm familiar with Jasper Johal's photography and felt that the intention was good.

Back to Equinox. This video portrays a woman's yoga practice and it's a very nice one. Briohny Smyth is strong and lithe and she makes it all look easy. Even the atmosphere of the video is muted and gentle. So far, great intentions.

It's the camera angles I take issue with. The first time I watched, I was creeped out so I watched it again to figure out why. Gratuitous crotch shots, boob shots, close-ups. It was all a bit over the top. For me, anyway. And I know that others may feel differently and that's okay. I guess I just wish the whole thing had been shot from one angle to capture the full beauty of Briohny's practice, instead of exploring the lines of her underwear.

To sum up: The practice=good intentions. The camera angles and production=bad intentions.

Interestingly, Briohny Smyth is a student of Kathryn Budig, of naked-Toesox-ad fame. Budig wrote an article for the Huffington Post in which she explores the issue from her own perspective and she also interviews Briohny to capture hers: Stop Judging and Read.

Meanwhile, the Equinox video continues to wrack up the hits, over a million last count. In skill and strength, I think Laruga's practice videos are every bit as impressive as this one (perhaps more so), but I doubt she gets those kind of numbers.

You see? Presentation matters!

If you're in the mood to view some 'real world' morning yoga, Nadine shares her early morning practice with this video: Not Quite Equinox. It probably looks a bit more like what most of you experience at home, add a cat or dog or small child into the mix.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Expect the Inexplicable

Today was sponsored by the phrase "I never saw THAT coming!"

Over and over again, I found myself on my toes, facing the unexpected.

Divorcing friends. Nothing much to say about this one except, 'Wow, you were head over heels just last month - what happened? (In truth, I know all too well how it happened - I've been there myself...).

Wonky weather. March in January? No, thank you.

New cavities in my mouth when I was just in the dentist's chair last month. Do cavities even grow over a month? And while we're on the subject, how is it that now that I'm taking care of my teeth with regular cleanings and dental care, my mouth is falling apart?!

My Ladies' Non-Holiday, which arrived with almost no warning at all and left me bedridden for most of the day. Blech.

A sudden reversal of fortune, which means for now, my morning routine is unchanged (but this could shift tomorrow).

Caution friends doing incautious things, Weird friends doing normal things.

Plus, a half-dozen other odd and inexplicable occurences that left me scratching my head.

Oh yeah, and decorative cabbages.

Okay, not really decorative cabbages, but I've had this image queued, trying to think of how to work it into a blog post.

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Monday, January 16, 2012


This beauty of this is that it's vegan, raw (if you leave out the artichoke hearts) and I'm sure you could add daikon or a dash of shoyu or something to swing it in a Macrobiotic direction.

But mostly, it's just fun, a Faux Spaghetti with a Faux Cheesy Sauce. For this Italian girl, who has almost entirely given up pasta, it's a little bit of magic. I'll definitely be doing this again!

This was my maiden voyage with the new julienne grater and it was super easy. I couldn't believe how simple it was!

To top my noodle dish, I just used stuff that I had on hand: mixed up some raw green peppers, red peppers and sliced avocado heart (not raw) with zucchinni noodles (raw). Sliced black olives would have worked too, or sundried tomatos.

I used a sauce I improvised with some guidance from the interwebz. Roughly: 3 tbsp tahini, 1 tsp miso, 2 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 clove garlic chopped finely. All mixed up with water added to desired consistency.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Warm Mitts

We had our first snowstorm of the season on Friday. It started in the early morning while I was at the shala. I glanced out the window and realised that a small blizzard had started. It made me ridiculously happy. There's something warm and cozy and comforting about practising Mysore-style while a snowstorm swirls around outside.

My teaching assistant just returned from a vist with her family in Norway and she brought me a gift: a pair of mittens handknit by her own grandmother! As a handknitter, I'm particularly appreciative of a gift like this. I've been wearing them this week in the cold weather.

My assistant told me that when her grandmother knits, her hands are a blur and she rarely pauses or even looks down. The mitts fly off the needles, lovely and intricate and perfect.

This is kind of how I'm feeling about my practice lately - it's finally starting to come together.

For months, while learning the poses and transitions, I felt very clumsy - like a new knitter figuring out how to hold the needles, paying close attention to every stitch. I was deeply focused on the poses, finding the alignment, remembering what came next. My practice often felt ponderous and unwieldy.

Gradually, all of those details have started to come together, and the postures are starting to flow. I find myself thinking less about the poses themselves and more about the rhythm of the series.

Lately, my needles are flying! I'm moving intuitively through my practice and it's such a joy. Even those poses that challenge me seem to 'fit' into this flow and every day it gets a little bit better.

My practice has started to feel like a meditation again. After I'm finished and taking rest, I bask in this feeling of having created something intricate and lovely, just like those mittens. And I'm filled with a deep and satisfying joy that carries me through the day.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Yogi Fashion Emergency

Okay, let me put this out there: I'm not a big fan of shopping. I'm just not. And I'm almost embarrassingly oblivious to matters of fashion (but realise I should probably step it up a bit). When I'm teaching, my students are looking at me and of course they notice what I'm wearing.

I'm *sure* they weren't sending me a message or anything, but over the holidays, a group of them presented me with an impressive gift card to that Yoga-Clothing-Retailer-Everyone-Loves-To-Hate. I'm not necessarily a fan of Lu's business practices, but the fact is, their stuff holds up well, fits like a dream and looks good.

Since led class was cancelled today, I took this as a sign from the Universe that I was meant to spend the afternoon fumbling around in a tiny room under flourescent lights while a perky 20-something piped up outside the door, "How are those sizes working out for you, Kai?" (Lu is nothing if not dedicated to a persistently up-beat customer service experience *forced-smile*).

Anyway, the staff were pleasant enough. I went into the store with a gift card, a battle plan and a long-term strategy. It helped a lot, kept me focused in a room full of options. OMG!!! It was overwhelming!

But I walked out with new teaching clothes (crops and yoga bras) that will eventually become 'shala clothes' when my current set kick the bucket (I'm giving them another year; this is my 'long-term stategy'). And I took home a pair of gray leggings in the softest, most luxurious fabric, just for the joy of it. Love them!

But my favourite purchase of the day was a vegetable grater.

A few days ago, I visited a local 'gourmet kitchen gear' store and asked how one might create 'raw spaghetti' from zucchini. The sales staff (a posse of three) proudly presented me with a variety of huge, ludicrously expensive and scary-looking vegetable guillotines. I thanked them politely and ran for the door.

When I posed this same question to a serene, aproned sales associate at W-S, her eyes sparkled with joy and she placed a tiny vegetable grater in my hand. "This one is my favourite!" she exclaimed with genuine enthusiasm and explained how it can make zucchini spaghetti AND big long zucchini noodles for raw vegan lasagna.

By sheer serendipity, I had stumbled across the only vegan, raw-foodist sales associate at W-S. I wouldn't be surprised if she was also an authority on Macrobiotics. I wanted to kiss her.


Isn't it gorg? And I brought it home for just $12. Recipe tomorrow! :-)

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Affordable Sequined Blugg

Whenever I'm feeling a bit down, I know I can always turn to my comment moderation page for a quick lift. Today's bit of inspiration: "Discount Glitter Uh-gs give us a better life" (I've deliberately mispellt the name of the boot to foil the Google-bots - last thing I need is a slew of fugly boot referrals).

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm always up for something that gives me a better life. It's difficult to imagine anything more atrocious than the plain old garden-variety Uh-gs, but Glitter Uh-gs? That's a new twist! And Discount Glitter Uh-gs? Now you've got my attention!

Not that I'm going to post a spammy pseudo comment on my blog or anything. In fact, I changed the name of the product so I wouldn't give 'George Orwell' (*eyeroll*) any free publicity. But gee, George, thanks for playing!


If bodies were cars and Yoga was an 18-wheeler, it would be a 50-car pileup out there. Yoga is *still* 'Wrecking Your Body'. And everyone has something to say about it, too! Now we've got some of the stragglers weighing in: The guess-I'd-better-go-ahead-and-edit-this-video crowd, the 'I-wasn't-going-to-write-about-this-but-I-guess-I-will' crowd, and the 'this-will-be-great-fodder-for-my-newsletter crowd.

It's been a lot of fun compiling these. Maybe when it's finished (will it ever be finished?!), I'll create a master list, sort of like those aeriel photos of highway pileups you see on the news. Somebody call a tow truck!

One blogger suggested that the NYT article was intentionally controversial in order to stir the pot and promote the book. But the funny thing is, I can't remember the of that book or the author - all that leaps to mind is that somebody wrote a stupid article, everyone is talking about it, and Eddie Stern is The Awesome.

Oh yeah, and that guy in Virasana, chanting for world peace. I'll never forget that...

Anyway, here are a few more contenders:

Leslie Kaminoff: Video Clip

Morning Mysore: Why Fearing?

YogaSpy: Tell Me About Pain...

Dashama: Is Yoga Safe?

Doggs? D'uggs?!

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Magic Hours

A blog friend of mine recently wrote about her morning routine. She described the serenity of those early hours, before her family wakes. It deeply resonated with me.

There's a kind of magic in doing the same thing, the same way, every day. So much of our lives are unpredictable and tenuous. It brings comfort to know that, for at least an hour or two, things will unfold exactly as we plan, with grace and certainty. In this magic hour, everything will be as we hoped.

My routine sustains me. I doubt I could carry a six-day Astanga yoga practice without it. It's certainly changed over the years - from shala to home practice (even to hospital) back to home practice, on the road, back to the shala. When I can, I settle into this steady drumbeat of my daily round, recreating it as circumstances require, clinging to it when it feels like everything else is falling apart.

Here's my current rhythm: Wake, journal, bathe and walk to the station. Ride the streetcar with a cast of characters who have become familiar and beloved to me over the months (at 5 a.m., not many people ride public transit and those who do tend to be consistent about it). When I arrive at the shala, I turn on the heat, sweep and get mats out for my shalamates. I take a few moments to circumambulate the room with a stick of incense to clear the space. I light candles, then sit down with my fingers wrapped around my mala beads to settle in for meditation. By 6 a.m., when the shala officially opens, I'm already reaching my arms up to embrace my first sun salutation.

No matter what happens the rest of the day, I have these golden moments of the early morning to sustain me. But I also know that everything could change in a heartbeat.

There's a very good chance that sometime in the next two weeks, my life is going to be completely turned upside down by events entirely outside of my control. I've been watching breathlessly, trying not to allow the fear of what might come taint my present moment. But it's incredibly difficult. I'm a planner, I like lists and schedules. I like to know what's up.

And the truth is, right now, I don't really know.

In the end, it may work itself out. Or, like a meteor already on course, it could be making ready to collide with this life of mine.

When I'm not freaking out about it, I'm trying to stay calm and nurture the faith that in the end, everything will all work out for the best. And it will - I'm sure of that, because everything always does whether we think it's going to or not. But it doesn't make it any easier, does it?


For those of you still following the Wreck My Yoga Fallout, here are three additional responses to that NYT article that everybody loves to hate:

Peg Mulqueen: Caution, this yoga might be hot
The Awl: Six Reasons to Ignore The NYT Yoga Article
David Keil: Response to NYT Article

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Everything is achieved already

When I'm teaching yoga to children, they often ask me how old I am. I almost always tell them that I'm 136 and they scream with laughter..."No, you're not!" When I insist that I am, I go on to explain that I appear so young and spritely because of all the yoga I do. ;-)

It's not a stretch. I'm in my 40s, but a student told me recently that, until I mentioned my age, she thought I was in my 20s. Honestly? I don't *really* look like I'm in my 20s (I *wish*!) but I think this speaks volumes about perceived age. Is youth a number or the ability to do a nice backbend?

Some would argue that it's a little bit of both. I've lost track of how many times I've heard master teachers say "You're as young as the health of your spine" (or variations on that theme).

Let's rewind a bit, say, 20 years. I was in my early 20s working as a professional field archaeologist on the east coast of the United States. Forget everything you've been told about archaeologists and bullwhips, or dental picks, or trowels for that matter. Try: shovels - and buckets. And screens full of heavy, heavy dirt. By the time I was in my mid-20s, I had wrecked my body.

(Let's add this item to our list: Archaeology Can Wreck Your Body.)

I was in chronic pain (my back and oddly enough, my feet) and went to a doctor. He shook his head: "You have the body of an 80-year-old woman", he said to my twenty-something self. His suggestion: 'bed rest'. Whenever I tell this story, I always throw air quotes around that prescription because I was a total spitfire back then and I had no intention of resting. I didn't like to rest.

The first day of 'bed rest', I went jogging. The second day, I drove out to a local mall and perused the 'bargain bin' at a video store. In it, I found Patricia Walden's video "Yoga for Beginners". The next morning, I tried this yoga thing, which I hoped would help heal my spine. I hated it, but I kept doing it, each and every morning. I still don't understand why I kept it up, but I'm grateful.

Fast forward 20 years and I can do things I never imagined would be possible in my 40s. And I know this because that beginner's yoga video featured a demonstration of Patricia Walden's practice. Watching it, my 20-something self was completely gobsmacked. Watching it now, I can do (or feel I have the potential of learning) everything she does in that demo.

Last year, I had a complete physical for the first time in many years, with a doctor who had never seen me before. She weighed me, took my blood pressure, asked some questions about my health and activity levels. Then she squinted at my file and said cheerfully "Oh, look at that! The nurse mis-wrote your age. You're *31*, right?" I just grinned at her.

From the lofty perspective of my 40s, my yoga practice feels like a miracle and I'm grateful every day for my health and strength.

Thanks to my practice, I feel curious and ready to experience the aging process. I'm not afraid of the more-than-occasional gray hair on my head or wrinkles around my eyes. Yoga has given me this gift, as have the master teachers I've studied with over the years (leading by example), many of whom are now in their 60s or 70s.

Recently, iVillage published a photo essay of aging yoga teachers and their thoughts about yoga and the again process: Anti-Aging Secrets From Yoga Superstars (found via Flo). Ignore the silly title and dive in - I guarantee you'll be inspired.

Several years back, Yoga Journal also published an article about aging yogis entitled: Better With Age. I was in my early 30s when that article was published, but I was so dumbstruck by what I read that I clipped and saved it. Now I see it with new eyes.

The teachers interviewed were all still practising and teaching, most of them daily. A few of mentioned practising poses that they couldn't have attempted 30 years ago, but that's not the greatest commonality. This is: As they've grown older, practice has become more contemplative and this meditative ease has spilled into their daily lives.

I get it. I'm starting to get it more and more. You see, all of this asana stuff? It actually leads somewhere! It leads to something fabulous and worthwhile. I truly believe that, because I've seen it in the faces of my most respected teachers.

"My practice is much simpler. I don't have anything to achieve anymore. Everything is achieved already."
~Dharma Mittra (at age 64 - he's now in his early 70s, still practising)

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Vitamix Tales: Hummus

I stepped outside of my Vitamix 'comfort zone' the other day and whipped up some hummus. I was determined to do this on the cheap, so I measured out a cup of dried chick peas and cooked them up, used ingredients I already had in my cupboard.

It was so easy and the number of ingredients so modest, I was a bit skeptical, but the end product was fantastic and tasted like...wait for it...hummus! And it cost a mere fraction of the prepared stuff I usually buy at the supermarket.

I took the recipe from the Vitamix cookbook, then modified and pimped it up.

Here's the blueprint:

2 cups of cooked Chickpeas (or one 16 oz can)
1 cup of water
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic glove
1 teaspoon cumin
sea salt to taste

I had to add some additional water to bring it to the desired consistency because I used a bit more tahini. I actually waited to add salt until after the blending process (and mixed it into the hummus in a bowl) so I could get it just right. I halved the original recipe to make a smaller amount of hummus - I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to eat a huge batch. But I would definitely prepare a larger amount if I was taking a bowl of it to a party, for example.

Here is the end result:

And it tastes great! It's every bit as good as the atrociously expensive stuff I buy at the store. I crunched the numbers and discovered that in hummus-preparation alone, the Vitamix pays for itself in less than two years (based on the estimated cost of weekly hummus at supermarket prices, around $6-7 per tub).

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Monday, January 9, 2012

What happened to my bon bons?!

"And then the Vacation Fairy waved her sparkly wand and vanished into a cloud of pixie dust. As the Reluctant Ashtangi caught a glimpse of herself, she realised that she had been turned back into a pumpkin. A pumpkin who had to go back to work..."

*snortsnuffle* *wakesup*

Oh! I must have been dreaming, a very bad dream! But surely I have hours and hours of The Lazy still ahead of me, afternoons spent eating chocolate bon bons while laying in bed, reading a book...no? NO?


Today, my full schedule of classes kick back in. I'm busy, busy, busy and will be all week, and I'll be on my full schedule pretty much until summer when it all starts to slow down again (the traditional season of 'schedule death' for professional yoga teachers).

I'm happy to be busy and I'm not complaining. But! After only a couple weeks on holiday, I've sort of gotten out of the whole 'time management' habit. It's been a rude awakening, hard to get used to. Well, that, and the mysterious disappearance of those bon bons.

The controversy continues to rage over Yoga Wrecking Your Body (I expect t-shirts to come out any day now). Of course, everybody is linking to Eddie's response (we love you, Eddie!). Also, Loo wrote a long and thoughtful post over on Small Blue Pearls: Time to Take a Big Breath. YJ's blog weighs in with a comment from MD and YJ Medical Editor Dr. Timothy McCall: Is Yoga Unsafe?

Is this the end of this discussion? Probably not. And one key theme that keeps leaping out of the reponses I've read so far is this: The safety of a yoga student is directly proportional to the quality of training received by the teacher instructing that student. Hm...

That issue is a bit of a tired one, but I do have a few thoughts and I'll share them soon.

But first, I have a question for YOU. This is not only for the Ashtangis out there, but also the Bikramites, the Anusaris, the Iyengaris and all of you who practice yoga in any form (I was kind of on a roll there - sounded a bit like the cast of a Star Trek episode, didn't it?)

Here's my question(s):What makes a yoga teacher (or *your* yoga teacher) awesome? What are your own set of qualifications for the person who teaches YOU? What do you need from a teacher-student relationship? Does rapport matter? Does knowlege of anatomy, alignment? What about tradition and lineage? Have your needs changed as your practice has developed? What about home practice? Do you even *need* a teacher to order to grow a yoga practice?

No need to 'name names' in your comment - this isn't about individuals, but more about general values. If you don't want to comment publicly, you can email me (reluctantashtangi on Google Mail) and I'll keep your repsonses private.

Okay. Ready, set, go...

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Me and Eddie, we're tight

In just one week, I've gone from being the blogger who's famous for dropping her keys down an elevator shaft to being the blogger whose name is casually dropped into the same sentence as Eddie's.

You should have seen my face! I was all, Eddie? Which Eddie? Oh, THAT Eddie. *jawdrop*

My nanosecond of fame was instantly eclipsed by Eddie's thought-provoking blog entry. And I'm totally fine with that because holy, can that man ever WRITE!

If you haven't yet read Eddie Stern's reply to the now-infamous New York Times article, I urge you to do so right away. Now only is it well-expressed, but he has *fabulous* taste in music. Off you go: How the NYT Can Wreck Yoga (but come back after you're finished).

There are a number of other bloggers who took on the topic this week.

Of note:

- YogaRose.net: If you only read one response…
- It's all yoga, baby: The NYT takes on yoga (again)
- Yoga in the Dragon's Den:Wrecking Your Body and Brain
- MetafilterMetafilter discussion of the article
- Balancing on Two Feet: How yoga can wreck your body? A response
- Patrick:Something of a detour - this 'wreck your body' bit
- YogaDork:Yoga Injuries and Battered Egos
- Rachel Anne Scott:How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body: A Response

I really appreciate all of the comments and the links, retweets, shares on Facebook (and ect). It felt like a helluva a comeback from my 'hiatus' (and it was really nice to hear from people too!). My stats went through the roof on the 7th. After months of relative abandonment, my poor blog probably didn't know what hit it.

There are a number of you who are new to my blog and arrived on the coat-tails of my NYT rant. Welcome!

I used to write endless practice reports in this space, but since I've sworn off that sort of thing, I now blather on about historical fiction and lost keys. I also post cute photos of my miniature schnauzer, Princess Fur, and muse about cookies.

And I write about yoga, lots and lots of yoga. I hope you'll stick around :-)

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Blog readers! Well met!

I had a lot of fun over my winter holidays. I did a lot of reading.

I never thought I would be that person who would find herself obsessed with 16th century England. I never watched a single episode of 'The Tudors', medieval plots in novels bore me to tears and I'd rather have my eyeballs gouged out with a finely honed ankle dagger than attend a 'Ren Faire'. I do have a documented fascination with Jane Austen novels and their movie adaptions, but that's a different time period entirely. And I'm over that. Well, mostly...

But in the deepest, darkest December, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. Quite accidentally, I picked a new paperback off the shelf at my local library, entitled 'The Red Queen.' I'll be honest here: The book was brand spanking new and that's SO rare for a library book. Mostly, I just wanted to enjoy the crisp pages and the 'new book' smell. The plot was secondary. The thing is, the book was GREAT! I loved it!

Mainly, I loved the main character, who was a self-absorbed bitch and I was fascinated by the machinations of the English monarchy and the court. Also, I loved the mostly modern use of language in the books. Aside from the occasional 'Well met!', Gregory's characters spoke like real people, as if royal court of King Henry VIII had been linguistically transplanted to the 21st century.

It was a slippery slope from there. After I finished 'The Red Queen' (a novel about Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VIII), of *course* I had to read the companion novel, 'The White Queen' (a novel about Elizabeth Woodville, one-time Queen of England) which led to 'The Other Boleyn Girl' (more Henry VIII) and that was absolutely gripping (I think it's still my favourite). I followed that up with 'The Constant Princess' (Katherine of Aragon, first wife of the moronic Henry VIII).

Suddenly, I was up to my neck in Tudors and loving every minute of it. I even popped over to Wikipedia and looked up some names. In doing so, I realised that I'd become something of a light-weight authority on the monarchy of King Henry VIII. The names jumped out at me, relationships between people became clear and I was all "Hey, these are my peeps! My Tudor peeps!".

It amazed me that Philippa Gregory was not making this stuff up! Well, okay, she *does* stretch the facts a fair bit, augmenting, elaborating. But she's really onto something quite brilliant! She doesn't have to come up with any plots - they're already written and she remains remarkably faithful to the historical record. I do realise that this is the premise behind all historical fiction, but I think Gregory does it particularly well. I yawned through this entire period of history in university but in reading these books, I found myself riveted.

Luckily for me, Gregory is very prolific. I probably have another month of good fun waiting for me in her other novels (I just started a new one about Queen Elizabeth I's affair with Robert Dudley). I'm not sure if this is as much an endorsement as a warning: these books will swallow you into a medieval black hole and you'll emerge thousands of pages later, thinking about how you can retain the Spanish as allies while still holding off the Scots on your northern border. And is there any marchpane in the pantry, because you could really use a snack.

What say you, blog readers? Have any of you read these books? If so, well met! Let's joust! ;-)

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Reading Blogs Can Wreck Your Body


Oh, this is rich.

The New York Times, striving as they always do to offer in-depth and quality coverage of all facets of Yoga culture and practice, has published yet another gem. I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, folks, but it's hot off off the presses, breaking news: Did you know How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body?

As an Astanga Vinyasa Yoga practitioner, I think my favourite thing about this article is that the word 'Astanga' never appears anywhere in it. Nope! It's not us this time. It's the Iyengar people! Wow, they must be spitting bullets over there in Pune. Hey ya'll, check it out! Iyengar Yoga wrecks your body! And this, according to an experienced Iyengar teacher. *snark*

Okay, sorry. But we Ashtangis get picked on enough in the media over the whole injury thing, it's almost a relief when the crosshairs zero in on another lineage. But seriously, Iyengar? What gives?!

"Popped ribs, brain injuries, blinding pain..." Sounds kinda serious, doesn't it? At least, it does until you hear the case studies. True life escapades of stupid people doing stupid things with Yoga. And getting hurt! Amazing!

Check it:

-a male college student with a whole year of yoga under his belt decides to 'intensify his practice by sitting upright on his heels (Vajrasana) for hours a day, chanting for world peace. Dude was having trouble walking...ya think? *eyeroll*
-a young man with 18 months of yoga experience practised Sarvangasana (shoulderstand) with 'his neck maximally flexed against the bare floor' holding the inversion for five minutes at a time, causing a series of bruises down his neck. Diagnosis: Neck Trauma...well, duh! Use a pile of blankets under your shoulders, buddy! *sigh*

To the defence of the article, not all of the cases were as wacky as these. And to the defence of BKS Iyengar (in the second case study mentioned, the article places full blame on this yoga master for 'suggesting that this is how the pose should be done'), I'm certain that BKS Iyengar would have never allowed a student to practice shoulderstand in this manner. No yoga teacher worth her salt would.

The Iyengar teacher cited in the article, Glenn Black, points a finger at 'ego' as the root cause of most of these injuries. Okay, I can't argue with him there. Raise your hand if you've pushed your practice a little bit too far and hurt yourself... (I'm raising my hand) But let's also acknowledge that injuries can come seemingly out of nowhere. Genetic predispoition leads to weaknesses in the body or we develop patterns of unbalance over years of sports, work or just plain living. A momentary lapse of mindfulness can cause an accident. We've all been there.

Our bodies are fragile. They break. And they break, in part, because we use them. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. It reminds me of a friend who cleared out her recently deceased grandmother's home and found hundreds of beautiful candles, all unused. Her grandmother had felt that they were too beautiful to light. My friend vowed to burn every one of them on her altar and glory in their beauty, savour every moment of every candle.

If our bodies begin to wear from joyful, mindful use, is this a bad thing? We can and should endeavour to create a sustainable yoga practice, but in the end, I would rather use my body and enjoy the experience of being 'embodied' rather than carefully sit on a shelf and never take any risks.

Annoyingly, Black takes a subtle cheap-shot at Astanga teacher Beryl Bender Birch, smugly reporting that 'one of the biggest yoga teachers in America' had limited mobility in her hip joints, requiring hip replacement surgery. What he doesn't mentioned is that thousands of other Americans have needed joint replacment surgeries from nothing more than sitting in their easy chairs watching television. I'm certain that Beryl has no regrets about her years as a runner and yoga practitioner. I know of other senior teachers who have perfectly healthy hips. My first teacher, Patricia Walden (an Iyengar teacher!) is in a stunning state of fitness and health for a woman in her 60s. She is one of my heros and role models.

Ultimately, that's the point I'm trying to make. Our spirits live in bodies. Bodies are impermanent. They age, they wear, they deteriorate, especially if we use them. We should use them carefully, but we shouldn't live in fear.

I was having some fun on Facebook today, citing other articles about 'stuff that wrecks your body.' For example, back in April we learned that 'Sitting Wrecks Your Body'. Apparently, 'Standing Wrecks Your Body' too. And don't forget walking: Yup! 'Walking Wrecks Your Body' (runners, I'm going to leave you out of this - you get pilloried enough in the media as it is).

Other things that Wreck Your Body:
- Hard Partying Wrecks Your Body (wassup, Charlie Sheen?!)
-Food Wrecks Your Body
-Tofu Wrecks Your Body (actually, this one just wrecks your brain, but what good is a body without a brain?)
-Forward Head Posture Wrecks Your Body (with a nod oto the Alexander Method)
-Alcohol Wrecks Your Body

Or, as so eloquently expressed by The Smiths, "...past the pub that wrecks your body." I'll leave you on that glorious note. And, um, don't dance or anything. That might wreck your body too.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Cult of Smoothie

I had a pretty good holiday and my Christmas loot was all kinds of awesome. OMG, the gift cards! A Lulu shopping spree will be coming up sometime in the next few weeks. Also, I'm literally drowning in David's Tea cards, bolstering my New Year's resolution to switch to loose teas.

For years, I've not-so-secretly pined for a Vitamix Blender. Santa must have tired of my sniffling because I finally got one this year. Carrying that box home was one of my Great Life Moments. Please know that I'm not exagerating. If you don't have any idea what I'm talking about, you clearly don't hang out with enough vegans and raw-foodists.

The Vitamix is the *Cadillac* of Blenders. Serene Flavor calls it the 'best small car motor money can buy' and wow, no kidding! It revs up like a Mercedes. I was all 'ooooo!' and 'ahhhh!' the first time I used it to mix something.

Of course, that 'something' was a green smoothie. I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but since the life-changing moment when I brought my Vitamix home, that's all I've used it for. Every day. And it performs admirably. This machine can take a handful of kale and puree it into the creamiest cup of bliss (just add fruit). I've never loved kale so much.

And it's easy. How easy? Try this: Throw in a handful or two of kale, one chopped apple, a banana, a cup or two of water. Pimp it up: protein powder, maca powder, flax oil or flax meal. I throw a brazil nut into mine for the selenium. Then: Start your engine! Done!

It's enough smoothie to last me all day, two servings. LOVE *hugs blender*

But it can also make soup, almond milk, raw vegan chocolate pie (I'm bookmarking this one for the next shala potluck!). It came with a cookbook which is apparently so epic that people try to buy it without the blender (I'm assuming these people are the unlucky ones who purchased their Vitamix blenders before the cookbook was included). Donutzenmom sent me her recipe for vegan alfredo sauce. Clearly, I need to get a tad more ambitious.

Over on her blog, Loo is having a Vitamix love-in. We've been threatening to swap recipes. I feel like I've gained entrance to some kind of secret society or vegan cult. I like it! :-)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bad Elevator Juju

My morning was going so well. I had a great practice. I got a ride home from the shala. I stepped onto the elevator feeling all shiny and new and ready to embrace the day ahead. I pushed the button for my floor and the doors closed with an empathetic 'THUNK'.

And that's when it happened: the elevator groaned and shuddered. The control panel died and as I stood there numbly, punching the 'door open' button, I had a very bad feeling. I had a very bad feeling that I might be stuck in an elevator.

In fact, I WAS stuck on the elevator. I almost couldn't believe it. I seem to be moving through every possible nightmare elevator scenario in rapid succession this week.

I scanned the control panel, considered my options. I tried all the 'door open' buttons. I pressed my floor again. Tried the basement button. Tried the first floor button. The little button that resembles a bell looked very promising but on second thought, I realised it was probably the 'fire' button. Fire wasn't a problem. At least not yet (give me time!).

I finally decided on the button that looks like an old-fashioned telephone. I just wanted to talk to a human. And someone answered! I have no idea who it was. I didn't actually care. I described my problem and then surrendered to the moment. I was stuck in an elevator and there was nothing I could do about it. So I sat down, took out my iPad and told Facebook all about it. Yay, technology! ;-)

One level of Angry Birds and a few minutes later, help arrived. I heard a pounding on the elevator door, there was a pop, a shudder and I was instructed to push the 'door open' button again. It opened! Saved by the custodian, who is now my new BFF.

I'm not sure what the moral of this story is. Loo is certain that this is Disaster #3 and now that it's over, I can resume being awesome. To be perfectly honest, I'm just grateful that this particular mishap was a random-act-of-elevatorness and had nothing to do with my own clumsiness.

More than one friend has suggested that Bad Elevator Juju seems to be manifesting in my life. Not sure what to do about that. I guess I could take the stairs, but I live on the 15th floor - that's a lot of stairs!

For now, I'm focusing on prevention. After I taught my noon class, I stopped by the hardware store and made copies of my shala keys (they were the only keys that I didn't have spares for during this most recent disaster). Christmas is over, so I can probably easily avoid wreaths. And from now on, whenever I get on the elevator I'll carry my iPad or a book.

If there's a Hindu god of Elevator Juju, could someone let me know? I need all the help I can get!

(Princess Fur, rockin' the sunbeam!) - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Doggie, it's cold outside!

I think I may have finallly outrun the streak of fabulously bad juju that's been nipping at my heels since the beginning of the New Year. I managed to get through an entire day without dropping anything, breaking anything or offending anyone (that I know of).

Not only that, but when I returned home from lunch, my lost keys were waiting for me. I never would have considered a broken elevator 'lucky', but it was for me today. Broken elevators require elevator technicians and they are the rescuers of orphan keys. I think there's Karma in that somewhere.

The temperature, which has been unusually mild these past few weeks, took a dive today. By noon, the windchill was -27C. My practice was cold and stiff this morning (I was halfway through before I truly warmed up). I even broke out my decidedly non-vegan sheepskin hat and mitts (kept from my university days in the Colorado mountains).

Princess Fur, who keeps a full coat of fur this time of year (I clip her short in the summer months), also wore her turtleneck sweater, her red fleece coat and her hot pink 'mutt-luks' (doggie boots). Incredibly, in the face of so much humiliation, she somehow manages to retain her dignity. Behold:

But she refused to look me in the eye for about a half-hour after that walk. Can you blame her? ;-)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, January 2, 2012

Not a friend to wreaths

Today, I continued my path of Wanton Destruction through the Year 2012 by damaging a holiday wreath stored in a closet at the gym I teach at. I crushed it with my Mighty Yoga Mat, weapon of choice for distracted yoga teachers who are in-a-hurry-to-get-to-class.

The wreath belonged to my boss, so I'm pretty sure this is a 'fail.' Somebody get me a glue gun!

I'm blaming it, of course, on the Gremlin. Sore shoulder, weak grip, I dropped the mat, blah, blah, blah. I can't wait to see what disaster awaits me tomorrow. So far, this has been the Year of Accidents Waiting to Happen. I'm SO on a roll.

It feels good to be back into my shala routine this week. My teacher was away during the holidays. A few of us practised together in her absence and though it was good fun, she was greatly missed. I was very happy to see her this morning.

Of course, I was *totally* up to no good during those carefree days of non-supervision. I still am to a certain degree, though with fewer flourishes. I think 2012 is going to be a good year for yoga! :-)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Gremlin ate my keys

Hello, 2012! It's a bright, shiny New Year, and I'm back!

Relaunching this blog is a resolution of sorts. I'm planning to write a little bit every day. When I told my friend Cabbage about this resolve of mine, she asked me what I planned to write about. To be honest, I'm not really sure.

Here's the thing, I'm not very keen to write long and detailed practice reports anymore. I'm kind of over that. In fact, I'm not sure I want to write about my yoga practice at all. I know what you're thinking...I'm thinking the same thing. This whole blog was premised on my yoga practice...so what else is there to write about, aside from Princess Fur stories and tales of the Public Transit system? (my Facebook peeps are rolling their eyes).

I told Cabbage, "I'll just see how it goes."

But here's something: About 30 minutes ago, I dropped my keys down the elevator shaft. Happy New Year, *PLUNK*

I'm blaming this one on my Astanga Gremlin.

Remember the Gremlin? Well, it's been hanging out in my right lumbar lately wreaking all kinds of havoc (particularly in backbends). Until this afternoon, that is, when it decided abruptly to decamp to my right acromioclavicular joint. I'm not going to pin this one on yoga, at least not directly. In truth, I've spent the past week hauling my Manduka and a knapsack full of sodden yoga clothing around the city. I think I threw something out of whack.

I've been icing it all day. To save wear and tear, I decided to load my laundry into a cart rather than haul it over my shoulder as I usually do. I put my keys in the cart and as I was rolling it on to the elevator, the whole thing tipped over.


I'm a BIG believer in spare keys. I grew up on a sailboat and learned early on that no matter how careful you are, no matter how many 'floating key rings' you buy, lanyards to wear around your neck, precautions taken, prayers uttered, keys will always go overboard when you least expect it - and when the water is 20 feet deep, you can't get them back. Accordingly, I'm the founder of my building's 'key club'. No less than three of my neighbours have my spares at the ready. And I keep another spare in my apartment.

So it's not really *that* big of a disaster. I'll get the keys back in a week or two when the elevator technician stops by for scheduled maintenance.

But my shala keys are now at the bottom of the elevator shaft. So if you're my shalamate, please know that we'll be opening a bit later than usual tomorrow, at 6am when my teacher arrives.

And just to be clear, I'm blaming this whole fiasco on my Gremlin. ;-)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad