Thursday, November 6, 2014

I Am. In the Present.

There has been a recurring theme in my life. It comes in different faces, different messages, different situations, but it simply says this: 

Every day, we are all searching for that peace. One way or another, our minds are lagging behind in our past and skipping ahead into the future. All those to-do lists hanging over our heads, our regrets weighing down our hearts. Will it ever end?

It can, and it will… If you make that choice.

It is as simple as that. You make one choice. That choice to be within yourself, in the now, present and existing in this glorious world full of hope, love, sadness, anger, loneliness, and absolute joy. 

How do you know if thoughts about the past or future are positive? Simple, what are you feeling? Depression or nostalgia? Anxiety or hope?

I remind my student to notice their bodies, to realize they're sitting on their mat going from asana to asana. I ask them to look for tension within themselves whether in their muscles or in their minds. I tell them:

Notice it as you inhale. Release it as you exhale.

Breathe in and fill yourself up with the air that is around you right now. This air exists only in the now. The past and future are illusions of our minds. We invented them. We choose to call up painful memories and relive the negativity. We dive into our daydreams and lose sense of reality, responsibility, and self. We miss the very things going on right in front of us. So stop.

Inhale. Notice.

Exhale. Release.

Release the tension, the stress, the negativity, the memories and daydreams, the to-do lists and regrets. Release it all. 

Do you even remember what color your mat is? Will you walk out of class and forget everyone who shared the same sacred space as you?

Take a moment and ask yourself, "What is going on with me right now?" And then just observe. Remember ahimsa, loving kindness, and leave your judgement and criticism behind. Observe, notice, and be.

There, you will find the peace. It's been inside you all along.

Now, think of an image or word to see in your mind. Associate it with this beautiful feeling of peace. Concentrate upon this, breathing deeply. Inhaling and noticing. Exhaling and releasing.

Make a physical representation of this word or picture. You can draw it, paint it, sculpt it, write it, scrawl it across your mirror in dry erase markers. Concentrate on this physical reminder and find that feeling of peace.

Whenever you go through your daily life, call up that positive word or image as you start to spiral down into depression or anxiety. Concentrate, or meditate, upon it for even just thirty seconds. Find that peace and let it infuse you.

Search for more inspirational quotes from Lao Tzu. Another heart-hitting book is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I read this for my Yoga Teacher Training and it was very hard for me to understand at first, but with persistent reading, it finally came together and opened my eyes.

Do you have any good quotes, books, or messages to share on this theme?

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Twenty-Something's Call To Arms

The twenties have become the new awkward age. We are all overgrown kids with adult responsibilities and parents willing to bail us out if we need. Gone are the times where 18 was the threshold over which children cut their apron strings, finish school, find someone to marry, and start a family. Now, we're clearly in the era of delayed development.

High school drama lurks around the corner, and the person asking for our rent is right outside our door. We ping pong between business casual and Forever 21 slowly morphing the office dress code into "dressy jeans" and ironic t-shirts. No one blinks at my nose ring, even as I apply for a job working with small children. Tattoos are a topic of conversation rather than grounds for dismissal. 

We move out of state to start a new life, finding our own places with a roommate or two or four, work three jobs in between classes if we even decide to have any because our BA degrees are about as useful as toilet paper. We buy our own cheap beer, smoke some green whenever we want, and have parties until two am then arrive bleary-eyed to work the next day. We pat ourselves on our back for making it to work or school despite the college antics we have yet to let go.

Then, when eviction looms because our work has cut our hours for yet a third time, we call home and come crying back into our childhood bedrooms. We don't understand relationships or how to be in one. We think we can talk our way out of anything if we try long enough, like cops are just like school teachers and it's just in-school suspension they're threatening, not jail. We never even learn how to cook.

I could tell us to grow up, grow a set, take charge and responsibility, find actual jobs, start giving a shit about the mundane crap like renewing tags on our cars and paying bills on time; but it's never going to happen. We are firmly on top of the world blissfully unaware of our pending rude awakening. I'm right up there too and I can kind of see the stormy clouds approaching, waiting to knock me down. But as an apocaloptimist, I'm certain that despite how we are all going to hell, we will all be okay. 

I see the pending apocalypse but I'm optimistic that things will take a turn for the better. 

I'm firmly within my mid-twenties. It's not what I expected it to be. Half my friends are married, another half have kids, and most of us are all struggling day-by-day and laughing about it as we blow money on organic food because it's "right" without really knowing why. Some of us are blissfully ignorant, others are obnoxious know-it-alls. I preach about vegetarianism in the most annoying way possible, and other vegetarians are glad to pretend they don't know marshmallows contain animal ingredients. Whoops, now you know.

I swing wildly between trying to save the world and saying "fuck it all" as I trash a plastic bottle instead of recycling it. I drop off all my worldly possessions at my parents' house because I can't stand to pay rent for three months while I'm away working at summer camps. Things become ten times more complicated for my bosses because they have to find temporary replacements for me while I leave for the season. I feel awful for adding stress but am thrilled for all the adventures ahead of me. I'm selfish and compassionate at the same time. 

We all are.

Social media is the "Me" generation and it also spurs the "You" generation. We exhibit our egos but create awareness for plights across the earth at the same time. We are a group of paradoxes, veering between children and adults. 

The teenage years were dubbed the awkward years. But society, revolution, technology, and more have created a longer awkward era. Parents wishing easy lives upon their offsprings urge it along. Knowledge has created an environment of confusion. Globalization has turned us all into citizens of the world. What is our purpose now? What is the correct behavior? What are our expectations?

There is a mantra that I've come to adopt through my experiences: We are exactly where we need to be right now and it will be okay. 

Thinking ahead with global change or thinking inwardly with self-satisfaction. Surviving or spending. Making right choices to succeed or creating mistakes to learn from. There is no right or wrong. One day, our parents will not pick up the phone. One day, we will figure out how to love our significant other in the right way. One day, we will create families whether by divine act or purpose, and we will proceed to screw up those children for the rest of their lives, and they their children, and so on and so forth. We will recycle four plastic bottles for each one we throw away. We will incite positive change and create negative effects. 

There is a balance, a wave moving to and fro. While the world may veer towards the negative with climate change and the destruction of nature, our balance lies within this generation blindly encouraging an eco-friendly revolution. While wars continue to exist, our spirituality will grow through breaking away from corrupt religion and thinking for ourselves. We are unrecognizable and equally recognizable to every generation. Revolution and conformity. 

Let's go on and live.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Homemade Coconut Oil Deodorant: Be a Hippie But Not Smell Like One

There's a rising trend for hippiedom these days, but instead of harking back to the days of Woodstock where people didn't shower and braided their armpit hair, we're forced to work jobs and look presentable to the non-hippiefied masses in order to enable our lifestyle. 

Enter natural deodorant.

I barely keep up with all the hoopla surrounding aluminum and other creepy chemicals in our seemingly harmless deodorant sticks. All I know is that it contains chemicals and if I can't eat it and still be healthy or alive, I don't want it on my body. Whether the breast cancer risk is real or not, I rather just not. So, I go for the lesser of the two evils with the natural stuff you can buy, like Tom's of Maine.

It's not the most innocent of odor-blocking sticks, but it's affordable and accessible to me compared with most other ones. Of course, I have to admit, I use it purely for psychological reasons because it simply Really. It just doesn't. I put it on and say to myself, "And ye shalt not smelt for the next twelve hours." when really it's about twelve minutes and I go around apologizing to my yoga students for my ripening odor.

At least it kind of fits my image…

But really though, I'm over the whole smelly armpits and having to wash my clothes more often than not because really, they can last a few more wearings if it weren't for that sneaky smell that slowly seeps out with every pass of upward facing dog. Besides, b.o. does not make me feel awesome or sexy or pretty or cool. Major self-esteem killer.

So I finally decided to give in and try homemade deodorant. Don't ask me why it took me this long. I've had all the ingredients for practically a year just sitting in my pantry and I just never put two and two together. But anyway, better late than never, right?

It only requires three ingredients for the most basic recipe: coconut oil, baking soda, and cornstarch or arrowroot starch. You can fancy it up by adding essential oils like tea tree oil, peppermint, lavender, or anything else. Tea tree and peppermint have antibacterial properties that will aid in killing odors so you get a little extra benefit. I just made the base recipe for now to try it out.

To make sure it really did work, I put it together just for our backpacking trip last weekend. Three whole days of woodland hiking plus two nights of camping. Not a shower in sight. What better way to truly discover the effectiveness of this deodorant? 

Result? It really did work! Granted, by the third morning, I was a tiny bit ripe, but dude, I didn't shower for three days, I'd be more freaked out if I did't smell at this point. Now, this isn't meant to be an antiperspirant but the baking soda does offer a bit of sweat protection as well, just a little bit. But I don't mind sweat, I just didn't want to scream "crunchy granola hippie" anymore. This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Here's a recipe for a tiny batch, about 1/4 cup so you can try it out for yourself without a giant pot of deodorant going to waste if it's not to your liking. Double if you need.

Homemade Deodorant:

1 1/2 tbsp unrefined cold pressed coconut oil
1 tbsp baking soda
1 tbsp corn starch or arrowroot starch*
Essential oils if using

In a small bowl, mix together the baking soda and starch until combined. Add softened coconut oil and gently press it into the powder mix until well mixed. Add more oil or starch to get the a paste-like consistency if needed. Add a few drops of whatever oils you like to use and mix together. Store in a jar or ziploc bag.

To use: Massage a dime-sized amount into each underarm until absorbed. Repeat if necessary. 

*The corn starch is to help turn it into a paste. Some people have expressed concerns with gmo in corn starch, arrowroot is a good alternative. I've read that arrowroot is a tiny bit more effective than corn starch but it's up to you.

Have you made this before? What do you think?

What Backpacking Does for the Soul

Despite a few initial setbacks such as pouring rain and cold temperatures, we finally headed down to Zaleski in Wayne National Forest to trek across hilly, woody terrain and camp out for two nights. It was the most magnificent experience. For the first time in a long while, I was able to think about nothing at all. I had taken care of any urgent errands and plans before leaving, so for the entire trip, I was free to blissfully take in the scenery with "reality" figuratively a thousand miles away.

We napped in the middle of the day in a hammock, the breeze gently blowing and the sun shining warmly my face.

We enjoyed each other's company and the company of the trees around us and the moths fluttering through our legs.

We ate simply. Drank pure refreshing water. Walked through narrow trails and muddy pits. Gazed upon a lake that surprised us over the incline. Stood on the edge of a cliff. Marveled at the blooming leaves, flowers, and ferns. Slept huddled against the cold. Roasted marshmallows over the fire. Grew awestruck at the millions of stars twinkling above. 

Found ourselves again.

The trip sent us back to basics. What is it that we truly need to be content with life? It's an exercise in discovering our santosha, contentment and satisfaction with our situation, and of course that  willingness to take risks. A soft bed with insulation against the cold is nice, but sleep is the key. Television shows and Facebook updates can be entertaining, but we truly need little more than the pulse of our footsteps along a dirt-covered path. 

We spend most of our lives sheltering ourselves from the great nature outside, but that's where our real self dwells. Floating through the wind and resting on the leaves of the trees, shimmering on the surface of the brook, and tumbling around with butterflies.

Coming back home made me feel like the reality was the dream. We're mindlessly look at computer screens and buying pre-made bread. Today, I worked my fingers through the pillowy mounds of pizza dough, gazing out the window wishing I could tear down the walls and make my vegetable stock and bread outside, where I really belong. I drive to work, watching billboard ads and stressed out people go by, and I feel out of place. I make money. Money for what? To invest in a society that is consciously driving itself away from our true place? 

I might be of the few who feel this way; yearning to go back to the real life and escape this dream, while most others view the trek through the woods as the dreamy distraction from real life. Whatever it is, I cling to the memories of my experience to preserve my soul and santosha as I live here and now. Images credit: J.J. Bechhold

Live Light - Travel Light - Be the Light - Spread the Light

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?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Treading Lightly on Our Earth - Pick Up Your Trash

The weather is finally making its crazy climate change swing over to warmer temperatures so talks of hiking is back in our daily conversation. 

Quick little story: during our record-breaking polar vortex deep freeze whatchamacallit, our furnace broke. Thank you, universe, for picking such a prime time to kill off our faithful heating machine. I shall never take it for granted anymore, so I appreciate the reminder. (Read: sarcasm.) Luckily, I had to work all day that day so I was nice and toasty warm in various yoga studios working up a sweat while my dear, incredibly appreciated, boyfriend froze his beard and butt off at home waiting for the repair guy to come and go and come and go until the furnace was finally fixed. 

Anyway, now that we're warm and back in business, Mother Nature is sending us onto 60 degree weather and boy, we're not going to let that pass us by. But all of this talk of hiking reminded me of the last time we went exploring in our local Metro Parks. These parks are run by volunteers and  employees who are paid so little it's practically a labor of love to preserve and bring these parks to the beautiful gems they are. Unfortunately, even with all these people who dedicate their time to the parks, there's just not enough bodies or time to truly keep it clean and maintained. That's where we come in.

As people who visit and partake in these little nature gems, it's up to us to continue their work where they can't. That means staying out of roped off areas that are set up to preserve growing eco-systems, respecting the boundaries of the trail, and most importantly, not leaving anything that doesn't belong in the parks. 

This means trash. 

It is so disheartening to look over the ledge into a grand waterfall and see a floating pile of trash under a bank. I can't fathom how anyone can rationalize dropping an extra-large styrofoam cup into the river. Do they think that there's some kind of park custodian picking up after them? Are they under the impression the styrofoam cup will eventually dissolve and disappear? Do they really just not care about the effects of what they just did?

It makes me sick to know there's people out there who literally just don't give a shit. They view the earth as theirs for the taking and theirs for the abuse. They walk around with a sense of entitlement and denial: "Climate change? Nah that's just something the liberals invented to scare us." 

Granted, I'm making assumptions and putting a made-up personality to an invisible face. However, these are all the feelings that rise up in me whenever I see a desecrated landscape on my hike. 

Our earth is precious. It is a finite resource that is rapidly being depleted due to our own selfish, greedy society. Some of us are just clueless about our impact and that ignorance shouldn't be punished, but it should be remedied. We need more education about how to preserve our home. It isn't our right to reside here on Earth, it is a privilege and we need to respect this amazing gift we've been given. 

Luckily, and not so surprisingly if you know him, my boyfriend had a trash bag in his backpack. So we carefully climbed down to the bank and picked up as much trash that would fit in the bag. Then, we carried it back up and placed it where it belonged, in a litter container. Unfortunately, there was still several times more trash than the amount we were able to cram into our bag. However, I can only hope our small gesture made some sort of impact and sent out much needed healing energy to the earth and universe.

So what can you do to help? It's as simple as "pack it in, pack it out." Whatever you bring into a park whether it's the wrapper of a granola bar you've eaten or a full-blown romantic picnic complete with cheese and wine, -no, that wasn't a hint, cough cough-  make sure you don't leave anything behind that you didn't find there in the first place. 

You can also look into becoming a volunteer for your local park organization or simply just pick up whatever you find on your ventures through the woods. Many parks and organizations host day-long "Clean Up" events that you can join in on. Bring as many friends who are willing and eager to help and spread that love for the earth. That sort of energy is contagious and the more you're willing to pitch in, the more people will be willing to do so alongside you.

Until there's no more trash being left behind, we'll continue to pick it up when we can and continue to remind everyone, there is something you can do to help the earth. It's never too late. The damage can be stopped and maybe even reversed if we make little changes in the way we live and tread lightly on our precious earth.

Friday, January 10, 2014

To Virgo or Not to Virgo? The Zodiac Identity

Who reads horoscopes? Maybe you don't believe in the daily horoscopes, but you'll read all those cool personality descriptions that are linked to your zodiac sign. I know I did. I was so proud of being a Virgo. I mean, yeah, look at that. I'm a young, hot female with the young, hot female sign holding a sheaf of wheat. I love bread, so it makes sense.

Plus, Virgo has that vibe that hints at a bit of sexiness. Virgo, makes you think of "virgin," which makes you think... am I or aren't I? Ooh, now you're thinking of me like that. See? It wasn't that hard. It made me feel like a feisty femme fatale. I say I'm a Virgo and bam, I'm one step closer to getting you to buy me a drink.

Not that I really had that much success. I am seriously one awkward hot female if you can believe it.

Which is why I'm so disconcerted with every reference to "who" a Virgo is lately. Back then, I was fine with knowing a Virgo was someone who was a total clean freak but could kick ass at being a total slob when it comes to it. They're know-it-alls. They're kind of uppity. They love fashion and pretty things. But at some period of my life, all these descriptions started to become less superficial and more personal.

And I became more disturbed.

The person I was reading about in these astronomy books and horoscope articles didn't sound like me at all. Some of it would apply to me- like I am a very supportive and loyal person. Blindly so, sometimes. But they make a Virgo out to be some kind of wallflower, patiently and quietly offering a hand to people. I am supportive and I want to help when and where I can, but I want to stand out and create something for myself too. How does that fit? I'm not a wallflower. 

They hold grudges. I used to do that. I was the queen of holding grudges. But now, I can't think of a worse way to waste my energy. They like material things. While I do love to lust at pretty little trinkets, I sure as hell do not want them collecting dust on my dresser. 

There's more but it's not worth recounting. What bothers me is the deep connection and acceptance I had with my zodiac sign has turned into some sort of loss of identity. I no longer relate to being a Virgo. I don't see myself in these descriptions anymore. I've built myself up to be Beatrice, this fascinating person who has an incredible ability to harbor two completely opposing opinions of herself at the same time. 

Then, I wonder- Is it because I don't like that person they describe as a Virgo that I fight so hard against it now? Am I in denial? Am I still really a Virgo and can't handle it anymore?

You're probably wondering why I'm getting so worked up over something that could very well be complete bullshit. 2013 has been a year of major growth for me. I've shedded a pretty thick skin of what used to define Beatrice. I left behind an old name, even. I'm in a completely new mindset and the old Beatrice isn't cutting it. I'm realizing that while I'll always have the same birthdate and count my years with that date, I've been reborn in a different astronomical time. The zodiac doesn't count for me anymore and you know what, I'm pretty excited not to define myself as a Virgo anymore. 

So next time someone asks for my sign, I'll say, "Oh hi! I'm Beatrice."