Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Insecurities of a Yoga Selfie

Before I began my Yoga Teacher Training, I didn't follow YogaSelfiesRUs or whatever it's called on Instagram; I didn't bother with looking through yoga poses uploaded by fellow Yogis on Facebook; and I certainly, most definitely, did not post any photos of myself doing asanas. It was all just too much. It spake of ego, of "Look at me, I'm so pretty!"and it played with my self-esteem. (Image Credit: Giesel Widmer)

I was not the most flexible in my training class, nor was I the strongest. One girl could do handstands practically on her fingertips. Another girl could hook her legs behind her head. Me? I was the grunting, gasping girl in the corner, all rounded back, and collapsing over sideways. I wasn't the most slender or serene-looking. My ujjayi breath was barely audible. I fidgeted in Easy pose. Down Dog hurt my shoulders after a few too many. I discovered I had been doing Tadasana all wrong for the past three years. I couldn't even stand properly.

So what was I going to feel when I saw pictures of these magnificent males and females contorting themselves into stunning straight lines, nary a bump or stomach roll in sight, holding themselves up effortlessly on the palms of their hands? Like shit. Yeah. It made me feel shitty, plain as that. Instead of being inspiring like how it is for quite a few co-trainees in my class, I could feel my heart sink and my cheeks flush in embarrassment. There is absolutely no way I'll ever let anyone see me blunder into that pose. I would think to myself. So I won't let them see. See, even though I went to a handful of yoga classes before my teacher training, I did a lot of home practice. Moreover, I rarely let anyone practice with me lest they see me in a less than stellar form. I was embarrassed. I felt kind of like a fraud. Here I was, saying "Yoga, yoga, yoga!" and what if I was actually doing everything wrong and had no idea?

Well, I kind of was, as evidenced by the whole Tadasana debacle, but so was everyone else. Imagine my shock when I discovered that all my co-trainees were no better or worse than me. They were all as good as they could be at that moment, and we all were slated for improvement. I had strengths in one area that I didn't in another, and another person had vice versa.

After two months straight of training, I was slightly more flexible and slightly stronger. I fit into my body better. I felt more comfortable in my skin, but I still retained a bit of that insecurity. Two months isn't enough to abolish years of conditioning you get from society. We were born in the age of Kate Moss. We watched celebrities like both Jennifer Connelly and Aniston go from pretty girls with full faces to skinny waifs. In short, there's a tremendous amount of worthless value being placed on specific bodies and looks that are not very attainable nor practical.

During my training, I gained a lot of confidence in my skills. I took my first yoga selfie and was shocked by how I looked. It wasn't what I expected at all. I looked good. More than good, I looked awesome! I did the pose right! There weren't any stomach rolls! Whaaaaaat? I felt brilliant about myself. I took more selfies, started doing scary poses that I kept falling out of in public, I stopped caring. Somewhere in there, I realized, who cares? All that mattered was that I was trying and I was improving with each trial. One day, I was going to get there.

Then, training was over. I became certified. Two months of all the yoga I could get was finished. #yogaeverydamnday wasn't true for me anymore. I was back in Cleveland where I didn't have a studio I called Home. Not only that, I went back, then I moved to Columbus. I was starting over for real. Everything from scratch. I had to find a studio I liked. I had to find a job. I had to make connections, network, meet people. I had to turn nothing into something. It was and still is a daunting and scary task, but little by little, I started chipping away at it. My training went from three-plus classes a day to three home practices a week if I was lucky. My joints were becoming creaky and my muscles were withering into floppy underarm hang. I felt like I was losing my strong Side-Crowing self.

Then, I picked up a couple back copies of Yoga Journal from the library for inspiration. They're great publications, really, but I did not expect my reaction after I finished reading. My old insecure self returned, thinking thoughts like "I can never get my legs that straight in the air," and "My abs are a joke, I can't hold myself up in Boat," and I started to panic. The insecurity took me over. In my mind, I was a fat, ugly, lumbering rhino who couldn't do a graceful Freebird anymore. All those emotions I had from when I avoided YogaSelfiesRUs rose up in me and I didn't like it. This wasn't who I've become, who I've earned the right to be after my training. This wasn't me, it never really was, and it never would be again.

So, I just let myself notice the pain. I felt it. I recognized it and identified it. I gave it time to go away on its own without fighting it or inflicting guilt on myself. I practiced ahimsa, nonviolence towards myself to get through a momentary breakdown. Today, I did another home practice. It's not back-to-back classes at Black Swan in Austin, but it was what I needed. With time, I'll be back to #yogaeverydamnday and I just need to be patient. I realize I have to give myself credit. Like I said, I'm starting from scratch and every accomplishment, no matter how tiny, is actually huge. As long as I maintain my practice and maintain the respect I give to myself, my mind, and my body, I will always be as beautiful as all those yogis in their selfies, even if I can't go from Crane into a handstand… yet.

I saw this posted on Facebook with a message: How do these photos of a woman doing yoga in the nude make you feel? At first, I was intimidated. She is beautiful and nearly perfect. I may never have a body like hers. I know I'll definitely never have boobs like her for sure. But despite that, I see it as an accurate depiction for who she is: someone who loves and has put time into her practice. Her love is so raw that she has to practice it at its barest. It's a exquisite example of a yogi's dedication. 

How does these photos make you feel? Luba Shumeyko Yoga- Nude Yoga- By Petter Hegre.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Splendor in Surprising Scenery

There's something special about walking through the woods in that time between fall and winter. The summer greenery has faded. The bright vivid hues of the autumn leaves have crumbled into a flat, muted brown. The trees have become bare and the snow has yet to come and stick around. The scenery for lack of a better word, has become drab. The trees blend into the ground which blends back into the soft ebb and flow of the landscape. The sky is either overcast and grey or filled with the harsh brightness of the late year sun.

But this is part of the charm. Without heavy cover of the leaves and without the privacy of the bushes, it's like the curtains on the outskirts of the woods have opened up to the forest within. Like an old, antiquated house with the windows bare and yawning, you can now gaze at the treasures found within. A fallen oak tree stands center stage, its majestic girth leaving you in awe. The secret lives of the woodland critters have been exposed- a squirrel's every antic, a deer's peaceful foray, a twittering bird. That little brook is finally uncovered, babbling along and caressing rocks blanketed with moss. Each vivid burst of color whether it's the green living skin on a ledge or the flash of a bluebird is more valuable, more beautiful against the monotone background.

Usually you're by yourself. All the rest have retreated indoors to their homes or coffee shops or the mall. Each step you take is a new footprint on an unmarked path. The leaves crunch underneath. The chipmunk scurry past with a little less apprehension. As a tiny singular human body, you literally blend into the woodland, unnoticed by the wildlife, with only your breath to keep you company.

Hiking during this time of the year is seeing the same sight with a new perspective. A pink flower in the spring is beautiful, a green canopy in the summer is gorgeous, but can you find the splendor in a scene that wouldn't typically evoke a reaction? Go out to the woods today, see for yourself.

What did you find that is beautiful?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Holiday Survival Guide for Vegetarians and Cooks

Uh oh, I don't know about you but the holidays have certainly snuck up on me. For most, this means elastic waistband in preparation for the miles and miles of food that'll be put out, goodwill and joy, and that dirty old uncle that every family has.

And for a smaller group of us, we have overbearing cooks to contend with. As vegetarians, this is when we really start watching our backs, making sure no well-meaning grandmother slips a slice of turkey in underneath all that (vegetarian) stuffing. This is when we have to start analyzing all the dishes- Is there bacon in that? Did they use chicken stock?- without coming across as rude. We don't want to ruin the festivities for anyone, including ourselves, so how do we graciously tip toe our way around the meat-filled minefield that is otherwise known as "The Holiday Dinner"?

So this is my Holiday Survival Guide for Vegetarians and Cooks Expecting Vegetarians as well.

For Vegetarians:
  1. If you can, let the host know well ahead of time that he or she will be expecting a vegetarian.
  2. Then, explain very clearly exactly what you do or do not eat. Honestly, unless your great-aunt is very savvy for her age, she's definitely not going to know the difference between a vegetarian and vegan.
  3. I find myself apologizing for being an inconvenience. After a while, I realized, "Why the hell am I apologizing for being myself." Some of you are vegs for health reasons, if that's not a reason to speak up about your food, I don't know what is.
  4. Grin and bear it through all the "You are what you eat- cow-eating-grass" jokes and the like. It's only one day and you'll never have to deal with it again for another year. Likewise, no carnivore jokes. However, short-arm T-Rex jokes are always encouraged.
  5. Do not use dinnertime as the opportunity to shame and guilt your fellow meat-eating table mates as tempting as it may be. (See stupid herbivore jokes.) If someone asks and is genuinely interested, explain your lifestyle as positively as possible, answer their questions, and move on. 
  6. Forget the main dish, everyone knows that the side dishes are the best.
  7. If you are unsure about a dish, ask. Ask, ask, ask. Ask if they used meat drippings, if there's meat stock, did they garnish with bacon or use milk. Psst: You could say, "Oh, that dish looks delicious, what goes in it?" Flattery gets you everywhere.
  8. Bring a dish you know you can eat and that you know you can sustain yourself on it for the night if there are absolutely no other options. This is a great opportunity to show everyone else just how tasty vegetarian dishes are. (See sub note #3 below.)
  9. Bring another vegetarian friend. There's power in numbers and hey, they might bring their own dish too and now you have options! (God knows how excited we vegetarians get about options!)
  10. Have fun. Despite what all the media says, the holidays are more than just the food and the gifts and the material stuff, it's about the warmth of family and loved ones all gathering together and catching up.
For Cooks Expecting Vegetarians:
  1. If sending out invitations, requesting dietary restrictions as part of the RSVP is tremendously helpful.
  2. Ask questions. If someone reports that they are a vegetarian, ask them what they eat and don't eat. This includes dairy products, eggs, cheese, stock, even honey and alcoholic drinks. 
  3. Consider making at least one vegan dish so everyone is happy. The trick is to wait to tell your omnivorous guests until after they've eaten it but slip a hint to your grateful herbivore guests beforehand.
  4. Let veggies have the option of bringing their own dish. Happy herbivores equal less stress on you. And we're all pretty good at taking care of ourselves.
  5. Don't ask if they can eat chicken or pork "just this once." They made a lifestyle change and it's insulting to think they'll bend their will just for one dinner party. 
  6. Also, telling us "just a little bit of bacon won't hurt"will hurt when we're done cramming a turkey bone down your throat. "Just a little bit of bone marrow won't hurt!"
  7. Please, I beg of you, lay off the stupid carnivore jokes and the whole, "I could never give up meat" spiel. We've heard it. It's obvious you can't give up meat when you just served the whole table turducken.
  8. However, if you're genuinely interested in why and how, we're more than happy to talk about it with you! We promise to be kind and nice! (See Holiday Survival Guide for Vegetarians #5 above)
  9. When in doubt, use vegetable stock. This goes for stuffing, rice, mashed potatoes, whatever. Whenever it calls for chicken stock, vegetable stock or bullion is an easy substitution that's just as tasty.
  10. Labels with ingredients help us avoid tons of awkward or annoying questions which can bring a party down fast. Plus, we can get to the food much faster. Full vegetarians are happy holiday guests!
I've been able to cook the entire Thanksgiving meal on my own for the past four or five years, so I've been lucky to have complete control over all the dishes. However, this year will mark the first year I get to join someone else's family (so freaking excited!) Fortunately, I will not be alone in the vegetarian guests group. Here's to stuffing myself silly and elastic waistbands!

What do you do to survive the holidays? If you have any other tips, feel free to add them in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Learning the Exquisite Existence Within You

So this is it, I'm officially a yoga instructor. I can turn you into twisty, bendy positions because I, myself, have contorted into twisty, bendy positions for the past two months and learned how to tell you to do it.

But the two months that I've spent in Austin wasn't just about learning yoga poses. It was so much more than that. It was one of the hardest times and one of the best times I've experienced in my life so far. Some people say yoga teacher training changed them and that they're different now. I disagree. No one changed. Changing isn't something people can do. Instead, we learn. I learn. I was an awesome, amazing person going into Austin, and I'm the same awesome, amazing person coming out- just with more confidence to show it. We grow to understand things whether it's people, relationships, the world, or ourselves. We discover that we're still the same person regardless of whatever emotion we're experiencing and whatever situation we're facing, because all of that- drama, events, whatever- is still outside the realm of our Self. It's like we stand in the very center of a cyclone. We can choose to stick our hands out and get hit by flying debris, or we can simply stay still and watch the world swirl around us, noticing the little things, and smiling because imagine how beautiful it'd be to be in the middle of that twister.

I came out of training stronger, both physically and mentally. Like one wise person told me, "There's taking yourself out of the comfort zone, and there's being forced out of your comfort zone." Going to Austin was the agreement I made with myself to leave my comfort zone. Events occurred where I found myself being forced even further out of that zone. It was tough. I knew real life was waiting for me at home, but I didn't expect real life to hit me full in the face while I was still away.

To comfort me, people kept saying, "When you leap, the net will appear." As I drove away from Austin to go back north, I thought to myself: I've been free-falling from day one. There is no net. The net will never appear. But you know what else will never appear? The ground. The entirety of life is you just free-falling. You might find someone to hold hands with while you fall, or it could look like there's a whole group of people underneath you waiting to catch you. But everyone else is free-falling just as fast and far as you are. And honestly, I rather have that than to land in a net all by myself.

In the midst of my free-falling, I wasn't alone. I had my gorgeous group of yogis and my two phenomenal instructors offering support and wrapping everyone in all their beautiful energy. I had my loved ones back home. I had all the new friends that I made in the most unlikely of places. So in spite of the crazy cyclone I was in, I learned and still am learning the secrets of an exquisite existence. 

So when I interviewed for my first yoga position, they asked me why I said I wanted to get more experience. I told them, "I never stop learning."