Let’s Try This Meditation Thing I Keep Hearing About.

It seems that all of the information I’ve been consuming recently for inspiration, whether it be blogs, books, YouTube videos, or yoga classes, keep suggesting meditation. Of course, that could be because I’ve been wanting to give it an honest shot, and so now I’m seeing it everywhere.

It started with The Joy Diet by Martha Beck, which provides you with ten “menu items” for living a joyful life. You’re supposed to practice each menu item for a week before moving onto the next one.

Guess what menu item number one is?

Do nothing, for fifteen minutes a day.

In other words, meditate.

I’ve seen meditation suggested by Jessica Mullen, Gala Darling, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about meditation extensively in Eat, Pray, Love, one of my favorite books, it’s suggested by Abraham-Hicks, and of course, in yoga, we’re supposed to clear our mind of thoughts during Savasana.

I’ve been practicing it a little bit, and I mean a little bit. Mostly in yoga. I will try to empty my head of thoughts, but it will fill up again almost immediately. Even if I’m not thinking anything specific, or rolling an idea over and over in my head, or worrying about something or planning something for after class, I’ll most likely have a song stuck in my head. (Usually “Down On Me“.)

The truth is, meditation is pretty tough. But I know it can get easier if I actually practice it.

The idea of practicing and becoming adept at meditation is appealing to me, because there have been moments when I’ve attempted to clear my mind that it actually felt empty. Usually this only lasts for a few seconds because then my brain’s all like, “OH MAN, I’M DOING IT!!” Which blows the whole thing. But those moments when my head is absolutely empty, where it feels as though my nagging subconscious and emotional hangups have left the building, those moments are extremely freeing. It’s a huge relief to get a break from thinking every once in a while.

Leo Babauta did a Zen Habits post a while back about How to Start. In the post, he suggests you make it as easy as possible on yourself to start, and that concept really stood out to me. Fifteen minutes of meditation right off the bat seems overwhelming. So does ten minutes. But five minutes, that seems doable.

So that is my goal for the next week, to spend five minutes a day (no more, even if I think I could do more) practicing meditation. I even found a nice, non-jarring bell for free online that I can set to any interval I like.

I did my first five minutes today and it was not bad at all. Anyone want to try this with me?

Yoga Milestone – Full Camel (I Did It! I Did It!)

Bikram’s series of yoga postures are set up so that anyone can do them. It’s actually called “Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class”. A common misconception is that Bikram is somehow an advanced form of yoga, but the postures can all be adapted so that they are less or more challenging, depending on your practice. The class dialogue only covers the expression of the 26 postures required for maximum benefit. However, it’s possible to go even deeper in some of those postures, one of them being Camel Pose (Ustrasana).

(source)

The dialogue given in class for Camel Pose ends with you grabbing your heels and pushing your hips and chest forward. You can go deeper into this posture by bringing your hands up over your head and reaching for your toes, letting your head rest between your feet.

I first saw full camel a few years ago at a regional competition for the International Yoga Asana Championship. The competition requires athletes to perform five pre-determined postures and two of their choosing. Those chosen postures turned out to be the ones I enjoyed watching most, because I got to see samplings from Bikram’s fabled “advanced” class, where you perform 84 postures instead of just 26. (TheDancingJ did a great write-up about her experience at Bikram’s advanced class.) I saw camel performed to its full expression by several of the competitors, and I fell in love. I wanted to try it.

So of course, I got right on giving it a go, right? Well, not really. I did work on extending my gaze further down the back wall until I could see my mat and towel underneath me. But I was nervous about actually trying full camel without warning my teacher first. I wanted to make sure I knew how to perform the posture, and it never hurts to hear confirmation that you’re ready.

Naturally, I always forgot to mention it until we were already in the room and in camel pose.

UNTIL TODAY! I marched into the studio and informed the teacher that I felt ready to try full camel, and she said okay.

I found out that full camel is actually a lot of fun! It sort of feels like going on a roller coaster that flips you upside down. Before doing the posture, I tried to visualize what it might look like to be hanging backwards, upside down, and staring at my feet, and my brain couldn’t handle it. It’s like it split my imagination into two panels, one with my left foot and one with my right foot. So it felt pretty trippy to actually SEE my feet there under me, and walk my fingers toward them.

I didn’t get my face between my feet today. To be honest, I kind of forgot that’s what I should be doing because I was too busy thinking, “HOLY CRAP! I’M ALL FLIPPED OVER! OH MAN!” But once I started focusing a little more on making actual adjustments, I could feel where I should aim, and I know I can get there eventually.

I don’t know if I’m going to try full camel every class, but I’m REALLY excited I tried it today, after dreaming about it for so long. At least now I know it’s an option!

My mom requested a picture of it, so here’s me trying it outside of class. Not recommended. I got into it as slowly as possible and held it only until Green snapped the picture, then I did some forward bends to compensate. This is a posture that I’m keeping to the hot room from now on!

And just for reference, here’s an video of what it looks like to go deeeeeeeeeep into this posture:

Nine Year Yoga-versary!

I’ve been doing Bikram Yoga for a while now. I say “for a while now” a lot because until yesterday, I couldn’t remember exactly when I started. I had a vague idea, but it was driving me crazy not to know. Finally, I decided to e-mail the studio where I first started taking class to see if they still had me in the system. I asked if they could tell me the date of my first class.

I got an e-mail back from them yesterday, and yes! They did still have me in the system, and yes! They had the date of my first class!

It was…*drumroll please*…May 22nd, 2002!

That means yesterday was my NINE YEAR anniversary of practicing Bikram yoga!

I felt like I should do something to celebrate. I went to class yesterday, and I informed them of my exciting discovery. But it feels like that’s not enough. I feel like this entire year should be one big celebration, as it is the beginning of my tenth year of practice. So I’m thinking of making posts over the course of the year talking about each posture and what I’ve learned from them, as well as general reflections like I’ve been doing from time to time.

I also feel like I should set a goal. I want to be a Bikram teacher. I know that, I’ve known that since I started doing the yoga, but in one more year I’ll have been practicing for a decade, and I feel like I should be a teacher by then. My goal is to get to teacher training by this time next year.

It’s kind of a big deal for me, knowing for certain now that I’ve been involved with yoga for nine years. Knowing the date is intriguing, too. I graduated from high school on May 19th, 2002, which means that three days after I walked the stage, I decided to give in to my mother’s request for me to walk into the hot room. I honestly couldn’t remember if I’d started going before or after high school ended. It’s oddly meaningful to me to learn that it was just after the end. The beginning of a new era. I know when I first went to class, I expected to hate it. I literally had the expectation that it would be awful beyond all reason and I would walk out in a huff. I was pretty surprised when it was not as terrible as I thought it would be, when the heat was bearable, when I could do more than I thought I’d be able to.

And now here I am, nine years later, Bikram yoga still a major part of my life. I know this is something that will be a part of my life forever, because every time I’m away from it, my mind is working out a way to get back. Every time I need it, it’s there. I’ve learned so much about myself in that room, and I’m not anywhere near done. Here’s to an incredible upcoming tenth year, and another life-changing ten years after that!

How Yoga Works

I did a quick Google search to see what popped up when I typed in “how yoga works”, and I was a little surprised to find there’s nothing that just comes out and tell you what is happening to your body when you fold yourself into these pretzel shapes, and why it’s good for you.

There’s plenty of links that will tell you yoga is good for flexibility, that it can be a deep spiritual practice, and it has healing effects. All of this is true, but none of it explains why or how. Yoga doesn’t work just by making you more stretchy. And you don’t have to be flexible to gain benefits from yoga.

I know a lot of my friends don’t know what yoga’s really about, I’d wager even a lot of people who do yoga don’t know (I know I didn’t really know until I’d been taking class for a few years).

My ex (who is still a good friend of mine) and I were talking about yoga once, because I’d constantly tried to get him to come with me through the entirety of our relationship*. I thought it would help him SO much and I didn’t understand why he was unwilling to try something beneficial. Finally, one day, he said to me, “Okay. Tell me how yoga works. And do it without using words like ‘spirit’ and ‘flow’ and ‘energy’ or any weird hippy-dippy jargon.”

And I said, sure thing.

How Yoga Works (Without the Hippy-Dippy Jargon):

Yoga works by cutting off the blood flow to a given part of your body during the posture. When you are in the posture, a tourniquet effect is created, damming up the blood in the area you are compressing, while simultaneously stretching the muscles in another part of your body.

When you come out of the posture, a reserve of fresh, oxygenated blood flows into the area that was compressed.

In our day-to-day lives, most of us spend all of our time sitting, standing, or lying down. Our blood circulates evenly (hopefully) throughout our system. When you do yoga, however, you are sending fresh blood to every part of your body through a series of postures. This “wakes up” your body. Getting a rush of fresh blood provides that part of your body with more oxygen and nutrients in twenty seconds than it would otherwise get during a normal day. This is why you have more energy after class than you do going in.

It’s also why yoga is so good for injuries, because you are safely sending healthy blood to a damaged area, rather than letting it atrophy from non-use.

While this compression is happening, there is another part of your body that is getting stretched out, and this is where you gain your flexibility. Yoga teachers stress form over depth. The reason for this is that it’s easy to “cheat” a posture, to make it look good by lifting your hips, leaning one way or another, etc. But by forcing yourself to go only as far as you can with proper form, you are stretching specific muscles that may not get used very often, as well as putting your body in proper alignment for the duration of the posture.

Yoga improves your strength, balance and concentration because in order to hold the postures for very long, you have to focus completely on what you are doing. It also challenges you to learn where to distribute your weight so that you don’t fall on your ass. And since yoga doesn’t use any special equipment**, you are using your own body strength to hold yourself up, twist yourself around, pull yourself down, and so forth.

Those are the physical reasons behind why yoga works and why it heals. Of course, there is more to the practice as a whole than this, such as the importance of breath, but for your basic summary of how yoga works, I feel the above is sufficient.

One more thing I would like to mention is that there is a commonly held misconception that “Hatha” yoga is different from other “types” of yoga (Ashtanga, Iyengar, Bikram, Vinyasa, etc.). The truth is that ALL of these types of yoga are Hatha yoga. Any yoga where you practice a physical series of postures is Hatha yoga. Unless they study yoga and are aware of the seven other branches of the practice (none of which involve physical postures), what most people in America think of when they hear the word “yoga” is Hatha yoga.

So there you go. Yoga is not just about twisting yourself into funny shapes to impress your friends, or sitting in a quiet room and smiling graciously at your peers while whispering “Namaste”. There are real, legitimate reasons why it is a physically beneficial and healing practice. Reasons that can be explained to your fellow humans without sounding like a granola munching hippie. Even if that’s what you are. 😉

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*This is something I don’t do anymore. Trying to get someone to go to yoga when they are resisting is like trying to shove a cat into a toilet paper tube.

**For the most part. There are some schools of yoga that let you use props, like a block or a tension band.

AN EXPERIMENT and Some Hoops I Made Today!

Today I decided to try something a little different in my routine. Normally I wake up and go to yoga. If my alarm goes off at 8:00 AM and I don’t immediately feel like going back to sleep, I will get up and go to 9:00 AM yoga. If I feel like going back to sleep, I will go back to sleep. And then get up later and go to 11:00 AM class.

I like to go to yoga first thing in the morning for a couple of reasons:

#1: It’s a good way to start the day

and

#2: It’s out of the way, and I have the whole rest of the day to say to myself, “Even if I do nothing else the entire rest of today, at least I went to yoga.” And then I high-five myself.

TODAY, however, I decided to EXPERIMENT. I’m not a scientist, mind you. This could easily be proven by the Science Fair “experiments” I was forced to do in elementary school and Jr. High. They were usually thrown together at the last minute and it was embarrassing to even put them on display. I used to wander around the gym trying to find display boards and data that looked worse than mine, just to make myself feel better. It was really hard.

Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, I graduated a while ago and there is no need for me to compile data and display it in an appealing way, I can just babble about it here.

Here’s what I did today: I woke up at 8:00 AM, ACTUALLY GOT OUT OF BED (this is the key to the experiment), and then I ate a little bit of breakfast and drank a lot of water and went to 11:00 AM class. I wanted to be up for at least three hours if I was going to have breakfast, because you’re supposed to go to yoga on an empty stomach. So when I was going immediately upon waking, I’d go with no food in my belly whatsoever. TODAY, HOWEVER, I had a LITTLE BIT of PRE-DIGESTED food in my belly, and three hours worth of hydration.

I am calling this experiment a SUCCESS because class was AWESOME, I did every posture, and at the part of class where I have the tendency to run out of energy, I did NOT run out of energy. SO YEAH. I think I will keep doing it this way and see how it goes.

ALSO, I managed to get some stuff DONE before I even left for class! I felt very productive and important. Suck on that, 5th grade me who always waited until the last minute to work on your science fair project. LOOK HOW PRODUCTIVE AND IMPORTANT I AM NOW.

*ahem*

Before class I put together some bare hoops and taped one, and after class, I taped four more. I MADE FIVE HOOPS TODAY. Would you like to see a picture? Good, because I’m going to show you one.

Would you like to see another? A close-up, maybe? GOOD. HERE YOU GO:

The orange and purple one is the only one that was special ordered, the rest I made for FUN. And to have on hand should someone approach me and say, “Hey, if you have any hula hoops, I would like to purchase one from you!” Which happens more often than you might think.

Oh, but anyway, the orange and purple one is collapsible and I took a picture of it all collapsed:

I’m giving away one of the smaller ones in my class tonight in celebration of my BIRTHDAY. 🙂 (Here’s my official hooping stuff website where there’s information on my classes AND my hoops because I am a PROFESSIONAL.)

Have a fantastic day! *HIGH FIVES*

BERFDAYS!!! (Why I Love Them and How I Roll Mine)

IT ARE MY BIRTHDAY.

Listen. I want you to know something. If you’ve ever wondered what the most beautiful sounding date is, it is “May 7th”. And I’m not just saying that because it’s my birthday. (Okay, I’m probably saying that in large part because it’s my birthday.) I could just be super lucky to have a birthday on the prettiest sounding date out of the entire year. Because May is such a lovely name for a month, it’s simple, it’s sweet, it’s when pretty things are happening outside. And then 7 is a prime number, and it’s a lucky number, and if you say “May 7th” and try not to think of it as a day but rather just a pretty word, it has a nice sound to it. 🙂

OKAY OKAY OKAY so today is my birthday and it started off by going to yoga and having everyone in class sing to me right before final breathing. 🙂 This happened last year, too, purely by accident! The teacher was like, “Is it anyone’s birthday today?” and I raised my hand and she was like, “Awesome! Well, we’re going to sing to you in Triangle.” So this is the second year in a row I’ve been sung to at yoga on my birthday and I think I really like the tradition, because both times I didn’t expect it. (Apparently this time, the lady working the desk snuck in at some point during class and told the teacher it was my birthday, or he would have had everyone sing during Triangle again.)

And then I went to Potager with Green and Freya and if you live in the Arlington area and you have never been to Potager (You say it like this: “Pot-uh-JAY” with a soft “J” sound) YOU SHOULD GO because it is the most delicious and “hummy” food in town. On the wrappers for Lara bars, they describe the snack as a “hum food”, or a food made of all natural stuff so that when you eat it, it feels like everything inside of you is humming. I really like that, and I feel that everything served at Potager is “hum food”. 🙂

No exception today, everything was DELICIOUS and I wish I could just live there and spend my whole life eating amazing, yummy, hummy food!!

I want to talk to you a little bit about “the birthday” in general. For the most part, I’m not one to celebrate holidays because I find them somewhat stressful. You have to get something for everyone you know or you have to do this or plan this or remember this only to have it happen again in a month or so. I like the concept of holidays, I like the concept of celebration, I just don’t love the expectations and stress that comes from them, especially if you’re someone like me who has a tough time remembering day to day stuff as it is. Dropping out the holidays just makes it easier on me, and I’m okay with anything that makes life easier for me. 🙂

The BIRTHDAY, however, is something different. I love my birthday, and I love other people’s birthdays, too. Because I think it’s very nice to have one day out of the whole year where you genuinely let yourself do anything you want, and be OKAY with doing the anything that you want to do. Want to spend the entire day lounging around in bed? OKAY. Do it and enjoy it. 🙂 Want to spend the entire day hanging out with friends? OKAY. Do it and enjoy it!

I used to find some stress from my birthday, too, because I always wanted to try and have this elaborate party and invite everyone I knew in the whole world and we would all hang out and do a series of awesome activities and it would be awesome. Which, I will admit, still sounds awesome! However, what ended up happening is that all of the people I loved wanted to do something different with me to celebrate, at different times, and by the end of trying to figure out how to make everyone else happy on my special day, I was tired and miserable and ready for it to be over.

So now, I plan my birthdays by leaving them completely planless. There is no party, there is no expectation of friends to shower me with gifts (though if that’s how they roll, they are more than welcome to!), there’s no special dinner, there’s no special movie, there’s no special activity…the whole day is just open. Open to me to explore what I most want to do in the moment of that day.

Today, it’s looking like I might want to spend the rest of the day either reading or napping. I feel like it would be silly not to hoop on my birthday, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it if I don’t. Burgers sound delicious, too. I might get a burger. We’ll see!

The best gift I can give to myself for my birthday is the gift of a stress-free day. And if you have a birthday coming up, I suggest you try this yourself! Let the day happen. And just keep reminding yourself, “This is my day to feel special.” Because EVERYONE deserves at least one day per year of guilt-free specialness.

And THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who has wished me Happy Birthday, either in person, by text, by phone call, or by Facebook. I can’t tell you how loved I felt when I loaded up my Facebook page this morning and saw all those well-wishes. I am truly, truly grateful for every single one of them, and the people that left them.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! And if it’s not your birthday today, MERRY UN-BIRTHDAY!

Yogic Reflections – Yoga for CONFIDENCE

It is Day Twenty-shmurmblemumble of my back to yoga forever lifestyle! Which is what I’m changing the name to because I think having a finite number of days is a bit limiting, and calling it a challenge gives it the illusion of being difficult, when what I’m really accomplishing is making yoga an easy, daily, regular practice for the rest of my life. I’ve been back for almost a month, and here’s what’s going on:

Classes are starting to get easier, waffling back and forth between days where I feel light-headed and dizzy and days where I feel strong and awesome and complete the entire class. I’m looking forward to more strong and awesome classes, because those are the classes where I really dig deep and get into the nitty gritty adjustments part of class.

The BIGGEST THING I’ve learned about myself this time around is that I’ve been holding a lot of compression and tension in my chest. The instructor told me sometime last week that if I lifted my chest more, I’d have been able to touch the floor in my backbend. (!!!)

I’ve also noticed that when I lift my chest up, there’s quite a bit of discomfort, a feeling of intense exposure that causes me to feel vulnerable, so it manifests as the desire to crunch back down. I know this is something I can work through, and it feels like something extremely powerful, like if I can break through this fear of exposure I will gain a whole slew of positive attributes. It feels like my chest is the key to my confidence, and it is my goal for the next thirty days of yoga to really push myself past that comfort zone and into the place where I feel comfortable keeping my chest high.

How often do I doubt myself, second guess myself, worry that I’m making the wrong decision to the point that I don’t make any decision at all? Every time I push my chest forward, these emotions come flooding in so powerfully that I feel almost like crying. Which means that this is where I’m trapping them, and keeping them by continuing to crunch myself up to feel comfort.

Which means I am holding within myself the solution to my own “issues”.

I will conquer these emotions and become the person I am underneath it all. Fear and self-doubt, you can suck it. Get ready to be TOTALLY DEFEATED. 🙂

Oh yeah, and it’s my BIRTHDAY! I am twenty-seven. I am pumped beyond all reason about being alive, and looking forward to making my twenty-seventh year my best, most confident and abundant year EVER. *HIGH FIVES FOR THE ENTIRE INTERNET*