Thursday, January 27, 2011

Clearing the Path

Last night's Thunder Snow dropped 16 inches of very heavy, very wet snow upon my area. When I woke up this morning it was beautiful. The trees were bending almost in half under the weight of the snow. It was pure white everywhere you looked.

But there was little time to enjoy it. We needed my parents road and parking area cleared so the ambulance could transport mom to inpatient hospice. She needed to get there. It was time.

My two nephews, 10 and 16, were outside even before me to begin shoveling. At first I just stood there, overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of where to begin.

"Just start shoveling!", the 10 year old hollered at me.

Sixteen new fresh inches on top of the 6 inches already on the ground from last weeks storm. Where do we dump our over-full shovels?

Notice the snow is higher than the car.
Yet the sidewalk and street are clear.
It was hard work but everyone
pitched in to help.
The mounds of snow we cleared lining the sidewalk and parking lot are almost as tall as me.

As we were working up a sweat in the cold temperatures, the neighbors began drifting out to see for themselves. One of the men on the street told me not to bother, that once the plow came down the street we'd have to start all over again anyway.

No, we have to keep shoveling. We need to get mom out.

Soon word began to spread, and almost the whole street was out shoveling with us. At one point we realized the snowplow wasn't coming because our street was literally snowed in. No one could get in or out past the huge snow drifts that were blocking the way.

So little by little, shovel by shovel, we moved the snow.

The ambulance arrived right on schedule and immediately got stuck on one small patch we thought was out of the way. No one needed asked for help, everyone just started shoveling around the ambulance's tires and throwing salt down for him to drive on.

And then the neighbors disappeared. I don't know if the task was done so they moved on, or if they left to let mom preserve her last bit of dignity as she was wheeled out of her home for the last time.

But her path was prepared with the love of the neighborhood she lived in for almost 40 years. The kids that I played with as a child, that she was room mother to a long time ago, are now adults living here. They, and their children, helped clear the way for her.

My nephew left before the ambulance wheeled mom out. He couldn't watch. That's ok. His final gift to her was complete.

We've all done everything we could to make mom's transition as smooth and pain free as possible. I don't know of any other way to say I love you.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thunder Snow

There is a snow thunderstorm going on outside right now. Blizzard-like conditions with thunder and lightening.

It's awe inspiring, but not really scary.

My mom is spending her last night at home in the house where she's lived for almost 40 years. Tomorrow the ambulance will take her to inpatient hospice care.

It's time for her to die.

It's sad and heart breaking, but not really scary.

I lay in bed next to her tonight and watched the storm. We listened to the wind howl and the tree branches crack under the weight of all the snow. We hugged and laughed and cried.

She's weary. She's ready. It's time.

Thunder snow is very rare. I'm glad I got to experience it.

I'm grateful I was able to be here to help mom with her transition. To let her know I love her and it's ok to move on now.

I pray I brought her some comfort in the midst of her storm.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens. [Ecclesiastes 3:1]”

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why Do You Teach?

I recently finished a week of yoga teacher training. As always, I met some of the most interesting and like-minded people.

Except one woman.

She was, of course, a yoga teacher. She taught at a YMCA in her hometown somewhere outside San Diego. All week long all she did was complain.

Sometimes people in her class leave before savasana. She always has to deal with new people. Some of the class wants it to be easier. Some want a harder class. Some won't follow her cues. People complain about her music. She isn't friends with any of the other yoga teachers where she works.

And on and on and on she went all week about her list of complaints teaching. She didn't seem very happy to be teaching or to be at the training.

Finally at lunch one day I couldn't take anymore. "Then why do you teach?" I asked.

Well you'd have thought I just asked her the final Jeopardy question. She was speechless. (Which at the risk of sounding snarky was kind of nice that she stopped whining for a moment).

She never did give me an answer. But I didn't hesitate to tell her that all teachers have those issues. It's part of teaching.

And to remember, its not our class. It's our student's class. We are just there to facilitate their practice that day.

And it's a big part of the reason that yoga teacher trainings, retreats and conferences are so important. They feed and nourish us as teachers. We get to take a break from being teacher and get to go back to being student again.

We get a reminder of what it's like to feel a little confused in class, not feel well on the mat and unsure of ourselves.

Taking a break from teaching makes us better teachers. Not just from the new information we learn, but for the rejuvenation it gives us. We can return more knowledgeable, rested and re-invigorated.

I encouraged her to take a break from teaching. To nourish herself. And then decide if she truly wanted to be a teacher. It's not for everyone.

But when you are meant to be a teacher, you know it deep inside you. And no amount of distractions keep you out of the yoga room.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

You Might Be In A Yoga Teacher Training If...

  • You spend Saturday night alone in your hotel room studying the insertion angle of the femur bone.
  • You know what the acetabulum is, where it is and how to spell it.
  • You know acetabulum isn't a dirty word.
  • You use the ice bucket to keep the non-fat Greek yogurt fresh you bought at the local market. 
  • You are eating the yogurt for both breakfast and lunch instead of paying for meals in the hotel restaurant.
  • But you consider it an investment to buy some cool, new overpriced yoga gear from the school boutique.
  • After spending 8 hours in class and 2 hours doing homework, you still read ahead in the manual so you can get a head start on tomorrows lesson.
  • You get up super early to fit in a sunrise yoga class before yoga teacher training starts at 7:30am.
  • You know the phrase "where are you in your journey" is another way of asking what training level you are in right now.
  • You wonder if you have enough chairs at your fitness center to put all your students into chair headstands.
  • Your muscles are sore but your brain actually hurts. 
  • Before the week is over you've made three new yogi BFF's and make plans to see each other at next year's yoga teacher training.
  • You board the plane home so exhausted you have trouble carrying your yoga bag.
  • You are already counting the days until you can go again!

    Working on our tan during lunch break.
    Really, we worked hard!

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    I Have the Hips of a Dog

    Based upon my body type and shape it's quite possible I was a Labrador Retriever in a previous life:

    1 - Labs love to get a running start and jump off the deck into the water to play in the waves. I will take my shoes off and jump in the ocean whether it's January or July.
    2 - Labs are hard workers and known for their strength, yet enjoy lounging in the sun. I love sweating it out in the gym and tackling a new yoga pose. As much as I love laying on the porch swing in the sun.
    3 - Labs are big, thick dogs who prefer to think they are small enough to snuggle on the bed under the covers. I've been called thick a couple times myself, and yes I like to snuggle under the covers.
    4 - Labs are known for having bad hips. I too have achy hips.

    I roll over many times throughout the night just to alternate which hip I'm laying on. The other morning, my hips were really bothering me and before I even got out of bed I rolled over into supta baddha konasana (reclining bound angle). In fact I fell back asleep like this and woke up 20 minutes later still in the pose!

    My hips are my barometer to what is going on in my body. Ear infection or strep throat? I'll feel it in my hips first. A heavy menstrual month? My hips will warn me. Packing on a few extra pounds? The hips are more accurate than a scale.

    According to Deb Shapiro in her book Your Body Speaks Your Mind, problems in the hip area can indicate an inability to let go of the past, fear of change and difficulty with intimacy and trust.

    Well, I definitely get anxious about the thought of major change. I don't let too many people get close to me and it takes a long time for me to trust new people.

    The hips, lower back, sacral area, abdomen and genitals are part of the second chakra. Chakras are like spinning wheels of energy. There are a total of seven chakras in the body, each spinning energy upwards  from the spinal column.

    This second chakra is connected to emotional identity. So stuffing down feelings and refusing to express them, allowing guilt to manifest for things out of our control and the need to stay stoic at all times cause blockages in the second chakra.

    Feel guilty for having human feelings? Who me?

    Yes, me.

    My home practice is heavy with hip openers. I can always tell when I've gone too many days without asana by the tightness in my hips. I'll do hip circles while on long car drives. And, of course, I embrace my lab likeness.

    Yoga for Hips and the Second Chakra:
    New lab puppy Stella
    laying on my lap during
    morning meditation.

    • Seated hip circles
    • Low lunge
    • Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)
    • Utthita Parsvakonasana (extended side angle)
    • Ardha Chandrasana (balancing half moon)
    • Eka Pada Kapotasana (pigeon pose)
    • Gomukhasana (cow face pose)
    • Ananda Balasana (happy baby)
    • Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle)
    • Seated meditation 
    This series, especially the meditation, is best done with a beautiful Lab laying next to your mat.

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    The Spirit of a Teacher

    This weekend I had the pleasure to help lead a series of SilverSneakers workshops. SilverSneakers is a fitness program for active older adults that includes cardio, strength training and even yoga.  I always enjoy these workshop weekends because most of the instructors you meet are eager and willing to learn. Even if they've been teaching fitness classes for years, they become students once again for a few hours. After the weekend of training, they go back to their fitness center refreshed, renewed and excited about teaching all over again.

    Except, every once in a while, there will be the student sitting in the back of class with her arms folded, a bored look on her face and checking the time every five minutes. More often than not she's the one who's been teaching fitness for twenty years and is there only because she needs continuing education credits to renew her certifications.

    It doesn't matter how up-to-date the training manual is or what new medical benefits of exercise I can share, her mind is closed. She already knows it all.

    Except, she doesn't. None of us do.

    The Bhagavad Gita says When you go to a teacher saying "I know a little bit, can you add a little more?" or "I know, but can you verify it?" you are just going to check your capabilities, not to learn anything new.

    You're going because you need those CEC's. You have predetermined there is nothing new for you to learn.

    The Gita goes on  If you want to learn, go empty and open. "I'm an empty cup; please pour in all you can." If you go with a cup already full, even if the teacher pours something good, where will it go? It's not that he or she is miserly, the teacher would like to pour, but it will overflow and go to waste. So empty your cup.

    It's an honor to call ourselves teachers. Our students look to us for answers, so it's our duty to be sure we are educated and continue to study our chosen path. But it's also important to remember how to be a student. To remember to empty our cup every once in a while.

    The best teachers I've studied under were the most humble. They were quick to knock themselves off any pedestal I put them on and always gave credit to those who taught them. 

    Yoga tradition is passed down from teacher to student. There is always someone ahead showing the path, and someone behind waiting for you to show them the way. 

    It's the spirit of a teacher. To carry on the passing of knowledge. 

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    Yoga For Weight Loss

    Tonight I got the question yoga teachers dread,  "Can yoga help me lose weight?"

    And as most good yoga teachers I know, I answered, "Yes, but..."

    Yes, yoga can help you lose weight. Depending on the type of yoga you practice, yoga can burn between 200 and 400 calories during an hour-long class. Even a gentle yoga class will burn about 150 calories.  Vinyasa yoga classes, where the breath is linked to a flowing series of poses, can accomplish the upper end of calorie burn. Enthusiasts of Bikram Yoga, which is practiced in a heated room, claim to burn a whopping 600 calories per class. Although from experience, I'd caution to be careful to differentiate between true caloric burn and water-weight loss.

    But ...

    Yes, there is a but. Yoga can help you lose weight, but it's so much more than a weight loss program or traditional exercise class.

    Unlike other aerobic classes, which focus on strictly raising your heart rate and keeping it elevated to the much sought-after "fat burning zone",  yoga provides a cardiovascular, strength and flexibility component to each session.

    Basically, with yoga, you get a total body workout in just one class. More bang for your buck!

    Sun Salutations will elevate the heart rate, as will jumping back and forth through your vinyasas. Where step aerobics uses only the muscles of the legs, yoga strengthens both upper and lower body muscles.

    And still, it's more than just a physical class.

    The time reflecting on the mat will bring you in touch with the root causes of what leads you to want to over eat in the first place. Fear of failure? Self doubt?  Emotions that once were stuffed down with french fries and chocolate sundaes, can be explored and dealt with on the mat.

    As your yoga practice grows, you'll find yourself more in tune with what your body needs to fuel itself. A sugary, empty calorie breakfast won't give you the energy to practice for an hour. A heavy, fast-food dinner will leave you sluggish and unable to move easily during class.

    When sitting down to a meal, ask yourself "Will I want to practice yoga two hours after eating this?"

    If the answer is yes, odds are you're on the right track.

    Can yoga help you lose weight? Yes, but it's so much more.

    When stepping onto your yoga mat, try not to think of it as another physical exercise session. Instead, think of it as a step towards a new life and a new you.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    My Core Story

    December 31 – Core Story What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world?

    Yes, I know I'm about two weeks late writing the last of the Reverb10 prompts. I've been mulling it over and debating with myself whether it should even be written at all. There's a fine line in blogging between being open and honest, and well, being too open and too honest.

    What is my core story? I'm not going to tell you. It's mine. I expect openness and honesty from myself and to myself. 

    What I will tell you is my core is strong. It gets challenged daily. It has been tested and stressed and challenged. Each time it has supported me and held me upright.

    I've shared my core strength with very few people. That's been my choice and it's been a good one. You need to prove yourself to me before you get to experience what's inside me.

    This blog, and even teaching yoga, are a way to share my core story with you in a small, controlled way. In a safe way. 

    In a way that won't damage what's inside me. My core.

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    These Books Are Mine - Get Your Own

    I just finished an amazing book that brought me to tears -  The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  This book is being added to my collection of 'Books I Won't Lend You But I Will Buy You Your Own Copy.'

    Yes, I really have such a list.

    I'm a little weird about my books. It's very hard for me to give them away. And I actually feel anxious if I do lend a book to someone. I'll let you borrow my clothes, jewelry, household items. Just not my books. In fact, it's been 20 years I still know the name of the person who borrowed my hardback copy of The Hunt For Red October. (Mark Butler if you are out there I still want it back).

    After Hurricane Katrina hit and we lost most of our household possessions, I was most upset about the floor to ceiling bookshelf full of books I'd collected over the years that was destroyed. I realize a book can be replaced. But that specific book, which meant something to me at that specific time, can never be replaced.

    Sometimes I'll write in the edges of the book or highlight meaningful passages, but never ever dog ear a book. It's disrespectful and an affront to the integrity of the page.

    And, with apologies to the authors this will offend, some books just should not be made into movies. Very rarely does Hollywood capture the magic of the book. Eat, Pray, Love is the perfect example of an amazing book that should never have been made into a movie.

    I can't give a concrete reason a book will make my Do Not Lend list. It's arbitrary. There are books that were so good I cried that I'll gladly pass along to you (South of Broad by Pat Conroy). There are books that have changed my thinking that I practically force into other peoples hands (Eating Animals by Jonathan Safron Foer). For a book to make the list, it has to have that "it" factor. It has to affect my soul.

    A short list of the books I will not lend you, but will buy you your own copy, in hopes they too affect your soul:

    1 - The Art of Racing in the Rain  -  Garth Stein
    2 - The Alchemist  -  Paulo Coelho
    3 - Happy Yoga  - Steve Ross
    4 - Something More  - Sarah Ban Breathnach
    5 - Eat, Pray, Love -  Elizabeth Gilbert
    6 - When Everything Changed - Gail Collins
    7 - The Shack - Wm. Paul Young
    8 - Columbine - Dave Cullen
    9 - Buddha - Deepak Chopra
    10 - The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom
    11 - She's Come Undone - Wally Lamb
    12 - Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows - Melanie Joy

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Yoga for Headaches - Head Wraps & Restorative Poses

    If you are one of the 70% of women who suffer with migraines, you know that the more than $4 billion the National Headache Foundation estimates is spent on over-the-counter pain relievers don't work for long term relief.

    My own personal experience with migraines, and now the migraines suffered by my nine-year-old daughter, have proven to me that self awareness of what triggers my migraines is a crucial step to controlling these debilitating episodes.

    As more and more people are turning to alternative therapies such as yoga for headache relief, scientists are finding proof that yoga does indeed decrease both headaches sufferers frequency and intensity.

    Yoga can help relieve and prevent both headaches and migraines by:

    • Decreasing stress
    • Releasing muscular tension which improves blood flow
    • Improving skeletal structural alignment
    • Practicing asana and pranyama (poses and breath work) balance the endocrine and nervous systems
    • Practicing inversions regulates the blood flow in and around your head, preventing constriction and dilation of the blood vessels)

    In The Woman's Book of  Yoga & Health, author Linda Sparrowe says that restorative yoga poses are an essential part of a yoga practice not only to relieve headaches, but also to prevent headaches. Restorative yoga poses offer the body a state of complete rest to restore balance, release tension in the shoulders and to ease estrogen and serotonin levels which regulates the size of blood vessels. 

    Head wrap for headache relief
    When in the throes of a migraine, the only thing I've found that truly helps is a head wrap. Any large Ace bandage will work for a wrap.

    Begin at the back of the head, and wrap clockwise at the forehead. Be sure to wrap loosely yet with compression. Tuck the loose ends in to secure it (don't use pins) and pull down one layer gently over the eyes.

    After wrapping my daughter's head, I'll prop her legs under a bolster and dim the lights in the room.

    Some people find that either warm compresses or even an ice pack on the forehead is also helpful. I've found relief by placing the top half of a sandbag on the top of my forehead, allowing the rest to drape down over the back of my head. 

    For the more common, yet still painful, tension headaches, try supported restorative poses.
    • Janu Sirsasana ( head to knee pose) - with legs in traditional janu sirsasan, place your arms and head on a chair with a bolster for extra support
    • Ardha Halasana (half plough pose) - with blankets for support under the shoulders, come into plough pose with the legs resting on a chair
    • Viparita Karani (Legs up the wall pose) - lay with a bolster supporting under your lower back and ribs with legs up the wall. Your shoulders and head are on the floor. A second bolster can be placed on the floor touching the crown of your head. Place a sandbag half on the second bolster and half on your forehead to apply steady pressure

    Saturday, January 1, 2011

    Living The Yoga

    When you realize how PERFECT everything is... you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky. ~ Buddha 

    It's been ten days since I've taught or attended a yoga class. Ten days without traditional asana or the fellowship of other yogis. No, I haven't abandoned yoga. I've been living my yoga this week.

    Flight delays? Just breathe.

    A holiday vacation with extended family in an overcrowded house? Say I love you.

    Meals eaten out and on an irregular schedule? Keep the meals healthy to balance the between meal sugar overload.

    Sore back, hips and shoulders from sharing beds or sleeping on air mattresses? Seated hip openers and spinal twists throughout the day.

    Being told you are going to miss your connecting flight and will be spending the night in Atlanta with your six children? Just breathe. 

    Finding out the next day's flight is overbooked and you will probably be spending two days in Atlanta with your six children? Trust the universe has an exciting adventure waiting for you.

    Finally being airborne, and a little dog escapes it's pouch across the aisle from you and the stewardesses are trying to catch him but he's too fast and keeps darting under the seats? Just laugh.

    Live, Love and Laugh. That is yoga.