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."