Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tabata My Glutes Off

I felt like a veritable beast during my yoga teacher training. I was out there taking two or more yoga classes a day, running on the trail, and doing "core-ture" workouts. Get it, torture, core-ture. Not only that, I did other completely random things: hooping, acro-yoga, arial yoga, stand-up paddle boarding, and whatever else I could find that was free and not at some ungodly early morning hour. Having been transplanted to Austin just for training, I didn't have a job or family obligations to deal with. So I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted. Plus, it was nice that the friends I had made were right there next to me on the mat, trail, or paddle board. My yoga practice benefitted greatly through my recreation. I became strong and active because I had a well-rounded practice. I didn't focus on just one form of exercise, I balanced it out through cardio, flexibility training, and strength building. 

Now, I've returned to real life where I do have jobs, obligations, and so do most of my friends. My activity level had waned, not to mention the freebies here in Columbus are significantly fewer in number. Time and money got in the way and well, to be honest, the polar vortexes of this winter has prevented me from wanting to go outside at all. My well-balanced exercise regime have declined. While I can do sun salutations without breaking a sweat, I didn't feel an overall strength anymore.

It's made me realize how beneficial cross-training is. One person can practice running forever until they win a marathon. But for me, I don't want to just win a marathon, I want to take a weekend off to go rock climbing, drop in on a yoga class, then try flipping myself through the air on a trapeze. But again, we come back to time and money. How can I continue my badassary if I don't have the means to do so yet?

One word: tabata. For those in the know who I've talked to, it basically strikes fear into their hearts. Really, I should be terrified of it as well but we're still going through that delicious honeymoon period where I'm all, "This only takes 20 minute and I've burned off that slice of cake I just shoved in my mouth!" and tabata's all like, "Aww, this girl's really into me even though everyone else is scared of me. We must have something real!" Give me a few more weeks, then we can talk.

Basically, tabata is like a high intensity interval training exercise. You do various exercises and plyometrics at high speed for 20 seconds with 10 second breaks in between for 4 minutes for a total of 4 rounds breaking for 1 minute in between. With me so far? To be fair, I'm still very new to this and don't know very much about it. However, I do know that it has been an awesome addition to my practice and it only takes about 30 minutes altogether with warm ups and cool downs. 

Here's the first tabata work out that I've ever tried and that got me hooked on this whole idea. I begin with a set of pretty vigorous sun salutations to stretch out my muscles and get my heart going. Any cardio exercise is fine, whether it's running, biking, or getting a heart attack. Just kidding. Then, I did two sets of each round, totaling in four sets with one minute breaks in between. 

A timer is necessary to help keep track. I use my regular iPhone stopwatch but there are special tabata apps that can help you. Set it for 4 minutes for the first set and do each exercise for 20 seconds, taking 10 second breaks in between. At the end of the first set, take a 1 minute break, then repeat the first set. Do again with the second round for two sets. 

Then cool off. I walk around a little bit to get my heart rate and my shaking legs, oh my shaking legs, back under control. Then, I finish off with some yoga poses that stretch out my hamstrings, quads, glutes, and side body. Pyramid pose, side triangle, half split (or full,) lizard, and low lunges are pretty good. 

Many tabatas vary slightly in timing and exercise. This is what works best for me and I've modified it with different exercises, adding weights, alternating abs moves to keep it well-rounded. Just a quick Google or a search on Pinterest will yield so many options. Plus, the weather is finally beginning to warm up, so that just means I get to take this outside and try some of the sprinting moves!

How do you keep yourself in shape and balanced? Do you cross-train or prefer to stick with one type of exercise?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Our Reaction to Stress is Our Karma

“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” 
― Wayne W. Dyer

Stress. This single, seemingly harmless word invokes a myriad of emotions and words: fear, failure, pressure, anxiety. All negative reactions. We have been conditioned to view stress as detrimental to our life and health whether it's mental, emotional, or physical. We have been taught to fear stress and to remove it as quickly as we can. If it doesn't go away, we must go at it like battering rams, fighting the stress itself while causing guilt to ourselves for failing to remove it.

Stress takes on a life of its own. It's really amazing what a malleable, changing creature it is. It is incredibly sensitive to our thoughts and behaviors and slowly covers us with a finely woven net of frustration and despair. We end up battling stress itself rather than focusing on the root cause of it. It is a distraction leading us away from solving our life's problems. 

I got hit with two stressful events- problems at work and problems with my car. Then, suddenly, the stress escalated. I became stressed with the fact I wasn't exercising enough and began letting myself make bad food choices. I became stressed with wanting to just sit and read a book but feeling like I needed to clean the house and cook dinner. I became stressed with how it felt like I was the only one closing the window blinds at night at home. Yes, that's right, I was stressed about window blinds

That's how stress works. It begins with one thing, and when we don't get right down to the cause of it and take care of it, it begins to sneak its way into other things. Eventually, the small things that we would never think twice about become the reason why we suddenly burst into tears or begin snapping at people we love. 

The problem with stress lies in our conditioning, in the "agreement" we made that stress is a negative thing and must be demolished instantly or else, we are to blame for its existence. We "shouldn't let stress get to us." 

Actually, it's all based on our reaction. There is such a thing as positive stress, also known as eustress, as opposed to distress- negative stress. But before we start happily categorizing everything into eustress and distress, we have to analyze our own karma. How we react is our karma, and when we react negatively towards something, it will rebound to us in a negative way. 

Stress has been shown to give us a burst of energy, that little bit of motivation we've been waiting for to finally tackle an issue head on. Who of us works best under pressure? There's quite a few out there who excels in beating the deadline. And speaking of deadlines, all it denotes is stress, but we finally get that kick in our butt to get things done that would otherwise get put off. Butterflies in our stomach before we go on stage? We end up giving the best performance ever. That stress biologically puts our bodies and minds into high drive, pushing us to give our best, igniting our fight or flight instinct in every situation.

Stress also forces us to really think. Have an issue without an obvious solution? Or time-tested answers just don't work? Now, we have to think creatively. We have to really reach into the back of our minds to come up with something. We have to go find people to talk to, to help us, to give us new perspectives. It forces us to spin the world as we know it on its head and start looking at things from a new eye. It's how we continue to survive, creating evolutionary changes in our society and species. If we continue to do the same old things over and over, we'll never progress further than where we are now. 

Instead of dwelling on the negative, which is generally a subconscious action and escalates stress, we have to begin looking for the positive outcomes. It's the silver lining in things. Lose a job? Now's the chance to find something that fits what we want and need better. It's not making light of a devastating event if we choose to "look on the bright side." It's essential to our survival. 

Sometimes, people tend to shut down completely. We become so overwhelmed we turn into zombies going through our routine on auto-pilot. This happens in extreme times of distress, such as death or divorce. Our reaction still counts here. Death of a loved one is an extremely stressful event, but we have to remain aware of our process of grief. Instead of allowing subconscious actions to come in, causing us to fall into a doldrum-like state of depression, we need to constantly be conscious of our karma, to continue living, functioning, and protecting ourselves. 

Let's cultivate karuna- compassion, ahimsa- kindness, and patience. Allow ourselves to experience our emotions, our grief, our pain and sadness due to a stressful event. Give up a day or two to work through it in whatever way we feel we need through sleep, food, friends and family, escape. Then, practice aparigraha- non attachment. We let go of that stress and transform it into a tool for us to progress and develop. We have complete control over our karma and it is all based on how we choose to react. 

Change our reaction, and we will turn stress from a negative, harmful experience to a positive, progressive growth.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Happy Half Birthday!

Half birthdays. Some people celebrate them, some people don't even realize it's come and gone. I usually acknowledge them and if conditions are ripe, I'll do a tiny little celebration.

After all, why not? Each day is special. You ever ask a little kid how old he or she is? If she's past the halfway mark, you're sure to know it. Six and a half, she'll count out on her fingers.

For me, my half birthday today marks the exact halfway point not just through my 25th year, but my entire 20's. It's a slightly sobering thought. No longer am I a young, early-twenty-something. Times of care-free behavior read: bullshitting suddenly become inexcusable. By now, I should be finished with school, well on my way to getting married, and thinking about starting a family at some point in the near future.

After all, my peers are getting engaged and popping babies out left and right. I can barely check my Facebook newsfeed without getting yet another announcement in the form of a bedazzled left ring finger or some girl baring her bulging belly to the world. 

As women, we are in our prime. Strong, healthy, and mentally able to handle a tiny individual helplessly depending on us for the next 18 years rest of their life. I guess that's why this half birthday has a bit of a cloud over it. 

I am not one of these girls with a ring on my finger or a baby in my belly. I don't have a degree on my wall yet and I plan to go back and finish up this fall. A recent conversation made me realize by the time I do have a degree, I'll be nearly 30. I can only picture the next few years as a barren expanse of homework, exams, and grades with no fun, no travel, no excitement.

I know that's not true. There'll be fun and travel and excitement. But even just thinking about all the work it'll take it fit that stuff in a heavily committed schedule between school, my teaching schedule, and work hours makes me want to break out in hives. I sooner sacrifice one of those than the opportunity to explore the world. 

I don't feel old. That's not the case at all. But I do an urgent sense of time rushing by too quickly. I'm terrified of waking up and realizing that I've wasted even more time. But the idea of having a family right now leaves me in a cold sweat.

My life is just beginning. It barely got out of the gate, I feel. How the heck am I supposed to handle another life to care for? That's the most frustrating part. As a woman, I do have a finite amount of time before I miss the gate for childbearing. If I'm not ready at that societal-labeled "prime time" for having kids, by the time I am ready, I risk facing a multitude of health issues for myself and my baby. It's not a great feeling to carry around. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't spend every day or every minute thinking, "Oh god, there goes another egg!" But sometimes, a moment will hit and I start thinking about all this stuff, wondering what I should be doing. I'm happy with the way things are, I'm happy with continuing to learn about myself and build my life. If I had my way, I'd be 40 when I have my first kid and I'll be youthful and spry all the way up to when my kids have their own kids… at age 40 as well.

Alas, we can't always have what we want. But we can accept the way things are now. My life is turning out pretty good. I'm in great health. I'm in love. I have a roof over my head and food and chocolate in my belly. So happy half birthday to me!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Spicy Asian Noodle Soup to Cure What Ails You

Now that everyone's over the initial excitement of being snowed in or polar vortex-ed in or the whole "there's two inches of snow on the ground, shut down the city!" debacle going on down south, I'm jealous, #SouthUSProblems, we're all leaving the house and interacting with each other again. We all know what happens when masses of people start hanging out together in indoor spaces with no ventilation. That's right, flu and cold season is officially upon us!

Thanks to my mother's somewhat questionable habit of always leaving our milk and leftovers out on the kitchen counter all night serving it to us the next day without hesitation, I have an platinum strength immune system and an iron stomach. In short, I don't get sick apparently. Even when I spend all night cuddling and being coughed upon by my extremely sick boyfriend. Hooray.

Anyway, bragging over. Watch, the universe will decide to teach me a lesson in egoism and make me sick tomorrow. I wanted to give you a soup recipe that I'm convinced will cure you or at least make you better enough to go back to functioning. Inspired by Vietnamese Pho and all those other super delicious Asian soups with those amazing toothsome noodles and spicy light flavors, this is our new go-to sick-baby* soup:

Spicy Asian Noodle Soup
- Yields about 4 sizable servings
  • 1 Tbsp oil (olive, grapeseed, sesame, your choice)
  • 1 generous tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 jalapeƱo seeded and minced
  • 6 cups water (include a vegetable bullion cube) or vegetable stock
  • 3 green onions thinly sliced, reserve a tablespoon or two for garnish
  • 3 Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce 
  • 1 generous tsp rice vinegar
  • 2 baby bok choy chopped
  • 1/2 red pepper sliced thinly
  • 1 carrot sliced thinly
  • 7 oz extra-firm tofu cubed
  • Generous serving of soba noodles (Mine comes in packages of 3, I used one package)
  • Couple tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • sriracha sauce, for serving
  1. Begin preparing the soba noodles. Follow package directions and boil in a separate pot. Drain and set aside in a bowl with a little oil to keep the noodles from sticking together.
  2. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat until hot. Then, add ginger and garlic and saute until fragrant, 2-3 minutes. 
  3. Add jalapeno, vegetable broth, and green onions to the ginger and garlic and bring to boil. Then, reduce to simmer.
  4. Add soy sauce, rice vinegar, vegetables, and tofu, and simmer until veggies are heated through, 2-3 minutes. Then remove from heat.
  5. Pile desired amount of soba noodles in the bottom of individual bowls, ladle soup on top and garnish with reserved green onions, cilantro, and desired amount of sriracha sauce.
  6. Eat and be cured.

Honestly though, I'd make this even if we were spry and healthy. It's that good. Enjoy and get better!

*Um, I feel the need to add a disclaimer, sick-baby as in that giant baby of a boyfriend/girlfriend/friend/roommate/adult who's sick, not an actual sick infant… 

Friday, February 14, 2014

What Valentine's Day Really Should Mean

There's been a lot of anti-Valentine's Day hate showing up on my social media feed lately. It makes me sad because I feel like these people are missing the point of what Valentine's Day should be.

Growing up, Valentine's Day wasn't just about a guy or girl you liked. It was a celebration of love as a whole- whether it was family love, friendship love, or romantic love. My father would come home with some flowers for my mom and a little extra gift for me and my sister. Sometimes, it was a cute teddy bear holding a heart, sometimes it was our own smaller version of flowers. In school, we made those Valentine "mailboxes" and had to give out cards to everyone. I never minded doing that, even with those I found "icky" or "full of cooties" because in the end, everyone deserves some love.

Of course, some would argue that we should show our love every day of the year, not just on February 14th. I agree. I do just that to the best of my abilities. I even will make gestures more special than others for no reason but because of love, not because it's a holiday. However, we do lead busy lives. We do become wrapped up in other things like work, errands, duties, and all those stuff that we'd probably drop at first chance to go do what we actually want. So sometimes, a holiday like this can be a blessing. It's a ritual, a society-wide reminder to stop and smell the roses, to turn to the people in your lives and say, "I love you," and to make lasting impressions.

It is not, however, a holiday where you're supposed to drop big bucks on diamonds and dinners and douchebags. That's where we go wrong. Valentine's Day is most definitely not about grand gestures done for show or to guilt people into displays of love. Go ahead and have a special dinner, but go somewhere that's meaningful for you, not just expensive, or better yet, make something at home. Something that you don't typically make like risotto or roast beef (I know, a vegetarian suggesting this but I'm appealing to everyone here.) Do little things you enjoy together, spend time with each other. 

And show your love for everyone. Your friends, family, coworkers, the stranger on the street. It's why we had to give cards to everyone in elementary school. Everyone deserves some love. Maybe Valentine's Day is a bit overrated with all the media and marketing, but if you ignore all that and just focus on the people in your lives, then it suddenly becomes a very special, meaningful date.

So Happy Valentine's Day to everyone, from the bottom of my heart. Pass that love along. Do one little thing for someone who might not expect it. And please, hate shouldn't be an emotion we feel… ever.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Meditation of Gratitude

Nearly everyday, I find myself in a constant state of awe. I go into each yoga class I'm instructing in a slight state of nervousness. Will my class be okay? Will the students like it? Will they be satisfied? Will I be able to instruct well and guide them safely? Will they come back to another one of my classes? (Photo: Heather Taylor)

I'm not going to lie. There has been many, many times where I've mixed up things like my rights and lefts and my hips and shoulders. I've said things like, "Make sure your knees are directly underneath your shoulders" as I guide my students into tabletop. Thank goodness most of them have common sense and that we all have a sense of humor.
One of the studios I work at have an extremely loud heater. I affectionately call it the "Monster in the Closet" and say hello to it if it comes on during class. The YMCA I sub at likes to make overhead announcements in the middle of savasana. My playlists have delighted some and made others grind their teeth. I've forgotten entire sequences. I draw out my down dogs as I frantically skim over my written-out classes to stay on track. People have burst out laughing in my classes when I tell them to bind hands around one thigh and hop their other foot forward.

I guess, what I'm trying to say is that I'm just human.

I am a human being who can get into wheel but please don't watch as I try to do seated wide legged forward fold. This is why I'm in a constant state of awe. I'm always nervous when I begin a class, but as I see my students move gracefully into each pose, breathing, and becoming more mindful, I'm amazed that this is happening because they came to my class. They trust me enough to guide them, to give them the words and poses to use to connect with themselves.

They trust me enough to keep coming back to my classes. They trust me with their artificial hips and arthritis and out-of-shape bodies. They trust me with their chattery minds and busy lives. They trust me with their goals to become healthier, happier, and more grounded. Wouldn't you be in awe if that happened to you?

I am so grateful that I am in this position. It is such a rare thing to experience and I get to experience it on a nearly daily basis. So everyday, when I wake up and prepare for my classes, sometimes I think, "No, don't let anyone come in. I'm scared to screw up and accidentally affect my students negatively." But then, as class begins, I can't bring up anything bad. It becomes impossible. The studio becomes full of such good energy and intention. As I guide my students through a beginning meditation where they find an intention to set their minds on, I can feel it rising through the air, filling up the space, and infusing us with energy to put us through our practice.

When we finish, cross-legged after savasana, I thank them wholeheartedly for letting me guide them and practice with them. There has been times where I've realized I needed the class more than my students did. I'm always so shocked to feel that, but I shouldn't be. It is the students teaching the instructor, practitioners sharing their love and energy in a single mindset. 

That, right there, is the power of yoga.

Take a moment, sit in a comfortable position, cross-legged or on your knees. Place your hands palms up on your knees and close your eyes. Take a moment to begin a mediation of gratitude. What are you in awe of everyday? What is your grateful experience? And who, or what, do you thank to make that possible?

With that, I am grateful for my students, my fellow instructors, the people who supported me in my journey thus far- my boyfriend, family, and friends, everyone at Black Swan, my car (really,) and anyone and anything else that may have aligned whether I've known it or not. Thank you.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Is Yoga a Practice or a Race?

What is yoga to you? Is it deep long stretches and plenty of "ohm"s in a candlelit room? Is it Sun Salutations on top of Sun Salutations and intense arm balances and headstands? Is it slow, flowy movements?

A good practice for me is one where I feel my body become warm through movement and my muscles have that soreness that comes from strengthing asanas and stretches that feel oh so good. My mind becomes clear and focused on my center of gravity. My thoughts stop flitting around and begins to ease me through uncomfortable positions. It's a balance between motion and stillness. Where my savasana, final relaxation pose, becomes the most important part of class. 

However, some people prefer a practice where they end up heaving over in a puddle of sweat, practically crawling to their cars afterwards. While I love a good exercise, there's something that disconcerts me about doing twenty spiderman push-ups in the middle of a yoga sequence. 

This has been a little tough for me to write because I'm conflicted. I want to uphold the philosophy of yoga and what I'm about to express isn't going to be very "yoga" of me. It may be judgmental, it might be harsh, but this is how I feel.

I've had the opportunity to take a few classes here in Columbus. Some of them were fantastic, guided by instructors who clearly had a handle on their sequences, and I felt wonderful when I went through them. But then, I got to experience the other end of the spectrum. I've been lucky enough to have gone this far in my practice without encountering a teacher that fell a little bit short of expectations.

I don't want to say they were bad. But I certainly did not feel safe doing their classes, nor did I feel connected to the idea of yoga. Yoga is the union between mind and body, and when you're in plank bouncing left and right on your hips, it feels a lot more like a cross training workout than being mindful of your breath and body on the mat. 

I felt like there was a lack of respect for the asanas. Instead of easing your body into the poses- holding, breathing, flowing- it was a race in how many Sun Salutation Bs can you do in under a minute. I know that there is a very popular opinion that yoga is a form of exercise. And it is. It is exercise. You are moving your body, increasing your heart rate, building strength, growing more flexible. I, myself, held that opinion when I first started practicing yoga. 

However, the more I practiced and the more I learned about the philosophy and purpose of yoga, the more I realized that it is so much more than an exercise for the body. A well-rounded practice includes an exercise for the mind. My mind is infinitely calmer. I'm much more conscious and mindful of my body's movements and to a lesser, but still growing, extent, of my thoughts. It is a lifelong practice that reaps benefits for the whole package.

So when I left these classes with my body feeling out of whack from trying to cram in as many chairs as possible, I had a sour taste in my mouth. It was more like a sub-par boot camp workout than a one-hour flow. Sure, I was sweaty and my arms and legs were guaranteed to be sore the next day, but all I could think of was: That was not yoga.

I am the last person to judge what is and what is not yoga. I am by no means any sort of authority despite being an instructor. In my classes, I don't teach, I guide. Yoga is within you, I just help you through it. But I can feel a difference between a true yoga class led meaningfully by a teacher with real intentions and a yoga class led by the resident group fitness instructor at the local rec center. 

Go ahead, move your bodies. But move your mind too. Respect the asanas. Take time with them. Sun Salutations are not a race. They are a practice in bringing together your mind and body through your breath. King Lizard isn't only meant to stretch your quads, it opens your heart and sends your mind on a journey of endurance, patience, and tolerance. Breathe in positivity, breathe out negativity. View your sweat as toxins being eliminated out of your body. Yoga is a practice, a whole-listic practice. 

I hope that as yoga spreads, the story of yoga does too. That more practitioners will start following the philosophy behind it instead of just the trail of sweat behind the person in front of you.

What is yoga to you? What has been your favorite class and why did you love it so much?