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  • The Next 40 Years

    Yup. My time has come. The big 4-0. Everyone tells me it only gets better from here. Well, then, I’m pretty darn lucky because for all its ups and downs, my first 40 have been pretty amazing. I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world, see and experience things only a handful do. From Thailand to Nicaragua to where I am celebrating now – Mexico. From safaris to surfing. Broken hearts, but luckily never a broken bone. I had a few thoughts on turning 40, but to be honest, I haven’t done a whole lot of contemplating on the subject. It’s another year like any other. And I truly feel I am where I am supposed to be. (Right now, that’s enjoying a margarita with three of the best girlfriends I could ever ask for). While I’m certainly not stress-free, I do stress less. And enjoy more.

    Thought I’d share my contemplations, straight from my journal entry from the morning of –

    Wow. 40 years. Of pretty cool living and I’m only halfway there – at least. My wish for myself? To come into and go through the next decades of my life with grace, abundance, more love – to keep cracking open to uncover the light and see my true nature. To connect to that more and more. And speak, walk, and act from that authentic space. To fear less. To enjoy more. God willing – to stay healthy and strong and adapt as needed. To embrace those I love more fully and not worry so much about the ones who don’t love – or even like – me. Worry less. Smile more. Even when I may not want to. Think less, do more. But do less too. So maybe not “do.” Actually, be OK with NOT doing all the time. BE more. That’s better. Be OK with just being here. In one place. Being happy and healthy because there really is no greater gift. You are loved. And supported. You are blessed with so much. And you are love. Be honest. With yourself and with others. Authentic. Speaking your mind does not make you a bitch. But know now, that you will make mistakes. Apologize. And so will others. So forgive. Celebrate successes because you deserve them. And embrace and then release sorrow. Help others even it it’s just by being kinder to them. And forever be grateful that you were brought into this world for a reason. To live with purpose. And grateful to the two people that supported your gift of life – Mom and Dad. Now go forth and enter the next 40-plus years with all of this.

     
  • The Ten Gifts of Christmas

    I love lists. You should see my desk and purse. Tons of lists. Especially Top Ten lists. If I don’t have ten things to do in a day, I make shit up, like “Breathe”  just so I can cross it off. Actually, being reminded to take deep breaths isn’t such a bad idea, especially this time of year, so add it to the list! Now it’s on to your Christmas gift list. Stuck? Well, without further ado, I give you my top ten Christmas gifts for 2013. All in good health! Ho Ho Healthy!

     1. For the Fitness Fashionista: I’m loving this new dance look from Lorna Jane! Especially the back detail. (I did my best to get the rear view! Bonus if you can tell me what the back of the pants says!) Check out all their cool apparel here

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    2. For the Healthy Chef : There are so many wonderful recipes in this new Move Over Sugar cookbook (FREE) available online! I found many similar to the ones on my site. Simple, unprocessed, clean and 100% yummy!  I’m can’t wait to try all of them, but being the breakfast gal that I am, I wanted to share a morning fave! Plus, who doesn’t love chocolate for breakfast???  

    moveoversugar copy

    VEGAN SUPERFOOD PANCAKES

    1 cup almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)   
    ½ cup buckwheat flour
    1/3 cup dates, pitted and chopped
    1-2 tbsp. raw cacao powder
    1 tsp. vanilla powder
    1 tsp. maca powder
    1 tsp. mesquite powder
    ½ tsp. baking powder

    topping suggestions:

    whipped coconut cream
    strawberries
    maple syrup
    cacao nibs
    (or add what you like!)

    Blend ingredients together until smooth and combined. Add a splash more almond milk if needed for consistency. Cook a couple of tablespoons of batter in coconut oil in a pan over medium heat.
    Stack pancakes and top with whipped coconut cream, strawberries, maple syrup and cacao nibs.
    Eat em up!

    3. For the Gadget Guy: Nautilus Bowflex Boost.  ($49.95)

    bowflexboost

    Worn as a bracelet, this 24 hour activity tracking device offers all the bells and whistles for a fraction of the cost of some other wrist monitors. Plus, I personally like the sleek design. Stay motivated to get moving! Another great reliable product from Bowflex. 

     

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    4. For the Yogi Who Has Everything: Personalized Mala Beads. ($205) You know the yogi – has the best mat, the coolestwater bottle, an eco friendly towel, enough lululemon to last a lifetime, and even cute hairties. What else do you get them? Why bespoke malas, of course! Shakti Malas are custom designed malas, intuitively created for the enhancement of spiritual practice and prescriptive for each individual. Tracee Stanley, yoga goddess, and Karen Rinzler, gifted artisan, will guide you through the process including an initial consultation  to ensure your malas are truly one of a kind! Normally, these special pieces are $225 but Shakti Malas are offering them for $205 for livWhole customers only! Please email SSMALAS@ICLOUD.COM to order yours and set up your consultation!!! 

     

    5. For the Scent Saavy : Please ladies – enough with the processed, fake, marketing laden perfumes. I can’t tell you how many times I get sick, especially over the holidays, from phony scents. You don’t smell like a flower. You smell like a teenager who idolizes Britney Spears. Try a natural essential oil instead. You can keep it simple with relaxing lavender, or sweeten things up a bit with a vanilla based scent. (Studies show many men love the sweet stuff.) The bonus? Depending on what scent you choose, essential oils can also affect your mood, whether you need to relax or revitalize! Dab a little behind your ears and on your wrists. And remember, no one wants to smell you coming a mile away. Someone should maybe get a whiff as you breeze by or if they are whispering sweet nothings in your ear! A perfect stocking stuffer available at natural product stores such as Whole Foods or most yoga studios carry nice lines.

     

    libretea6. For the Tea Junkie: Individual tea travelers by Libre Tea.($20.40) A dear friend of mine gave me one these as a gift, and I’m sick now that I realize I must have lost it!!! It’s a perfect way to brew loose leaf tea on the go and keep it warm for hours! For an at home individual tea experience, a simple mesh infuser is a great option and should fit into any mug . I love to grate fresh ginger and turmeric into mine. Pour hot water over and let steep for 5 minutes. Remove filter, add honey and drink up the anti inflammatory, anti viral goodness! And now you know what you can get me!

     

     

    7. For the Home Asana Junkie: Manduka PRO Squared mat. ($360) Because one rectangle just aint’ big enough! Yoga- better than a game of Twister! 

     

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    8. For the Facial Junkie: LifeLine skincare products. ($350) For the person that needs the newest technology and research for their facial products, you can’t beat LifeLine products. Applying the latest in stem cell research to your skin, LifeLine products will turn back the clock in mere months. And I know. I use it. Seriously. Click here to save 10% on your order through the livWhole store using the code HOLIDAY at checkout! 

     

     

    9. For the Massage Junkie: Yoga Tune Up Balls. ($12.95) Something else I use. Every. Day. Seriously. Jill Miller (or as I like to fondly refer to her as the “body dork”!) has created a simple to use, affordable solution for pain and tight anything! Give someone you know with a tight ass (literally) these and watch the tension melt away and range of motion return. Nothing says I love you like a fluffy butt! Plus, much cheaper than a daily masseuse!  You can also find these in the livWhole store and save 10% on your total order by using the code HOLIDAY at checkout!

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    10. For the Eco Freak: Thinksport! eco friendly athletic and baby products! Perfect for the active eco conscious member of your family, even your kids! From baby bottles to sunscreen, Thinksport! has got you covered.  Not only will you be caring for yourself and those you love, but the planet as well. Spread the joy!

    Okay, fine, I’ll include my DVDs!!! You can also find them in my store here! Remember, 10% off your total order using the code HOLIDAY!  

    Dance Off the Inches: Hip Hop Party Pack!

  • Five Food Myths You Need To Forget

    Many of us try to eat healthy. But with all the fads, trends, diets, new products and claims, it’s no wonder people wanting to make a change are left saying, “Huh?”

    It’s difficult to know what’s honest and what’s hype. I took an informal survey on Facebook and came up with five topics of confusion.

    Let the truth be told.

    PROBIOTIC YOGURT

    Probiotic Yogurt and Diet

    CULPRITS:  Activia, Yoplait and Stonyfield.

    CLAIMS: Many yogurts now make special probiotic formulas for a healthy gut.

    TRUTH: Yes, probiotics are wonderful to maintain healthy flora in the gut; however, most of the brands above contain an ungodly amount of sugar that negates any positive effects in your gut. Sugar can cause bloating and a whole host of other digestive problems. Plus, ANY good quality yogurt contains probiotics. Don’t fall for the gimmick.

    BETTER CHOICE: Stick to PLAIN flavors (even those have natural occurring sugars found in dairy products), and if you have sensitivity to dairy, try a goat or sheep milk yogurt that’s  lower in lactose, Or my favorite, the lactose-free variety from Green Valley.

    WHOLE GRAIN

    whole grain bread health

    CULPRITS: Any and all cereals, breads and crackers with this label

    CLAIMS: Products now made with whole grains are more nutritious than their predecessors.

    TRUTH: This is probably the most egregious assault on American health since the Big Mac. Big food companies have convinced people that their cereals are now healthier because of this new whole grain label. It occurred to me how bad it was when I recently was on vacation and one of my friends—a very intelligent, fairly well-off, grown man—said, “Yeah, I’ll only buy the whole grain cereals now. They’re all going that way.” I didn’t have the heart to correct him because he truly thought he was making a healthier choice for himself and his family (plus it was 6:30 a.m. and I was on vacation). Here’s the thing: processed food is processed food. The whole grains are still processed to the point of nil nutritional value. Okay, maybe they add a gram or two of fiber, but the first or second ingredient is usually some form of sugar.

    BETTER CHOICE: Stick to oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa or other grains in the morning. You can doctor it up with a ton of healthier options such as fruit, flaxseed, and natural sweeteners. Tastes good, good for you, no label required.

    And while we’re on the topic of grains…

    GLUTEN FREE

    Health Benefits of Gluten Free Diet

    CULPRITS: Everything in the supermarket these days.

    CLAIMS: Eating gluten free is the solution to any and all of life’s problems.

    TRUTH: Poor wheat. It’s gotten such a bad reputation. First the no carb trend then Paleo and now this. Truth is, wheat is not the devil. It’s the processed part that does you no good. Gluten-free foods can still be extremely processed and full of sugar, salt and artificial ingredients. Gluten-free does not mean good for you. If a gluten free lifestyle leads someone down the path of more whole grains, simpler ingredients and more educated food decisions, kudos! However, more often than not, I see this label being used by people anxious to conform to the latest fad. Maybe you’ve heard a similar version of this conversation?

    Trendy Eater #1: “Oh, I can’t have that amazing homemade French bread with butter on it while I’m on vacation in Paris. I’m gluten-free.”

    Waiter: “Mademoiselle, would you like a pint of our gluten free double chocolate gelato, topped with gluten free Oreos and gluten free whipped cream?”

    Trendy Eater #1: “SURE!”

    This isn’t to say there is no place for gluten free treats. Many people are diagnosed with a very serious condition called Celiac disease, cause of a whole host of serious health problems. By golly, these people deserve some cake too. But, by and large, let’s not use it as an excuse to indulge in more garbage with a different label.

    LOW OR NO FAT

    Low-fat diet health benefits

    CULPRITS: Milk products, salad dressings, bread, cereals.

    CLAIMS: Eating less fat is better for you and will help you be skinny.

    TRUTH: I was tempted not to add this to the list because I was convinced this trend went out with the “Let’s Get Physical” headbands and step aerobics. Apparently, I was wrong. Many are still confused and duped by this label. Say it with me: “THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH FAT.” There is something wrong with hydrogenated oils and margarine or other butter-like products made out of plastic that your body has no clue how to digest. Or replacing fat with sugar in an attempt to make up for the loss of taste. Salad dressings are a huge culprit of this. Avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, flax oil, nuts, seeds? Go for it. Even eggs, if you don’t have more than a couple a week. Stop counting numbers. Start eating less processed foods. Your body will thank you.

    NO ADDED SUGAR, LOW SUGAR OR NO SUGAR

    Sugar free diet and foods health

    CULPRITS: Juices, diet soda, cereal, bread, protein/nutrition bars, protein powders.

    CLAIMS: Less calories and, therefore, better for you – sending you to skinny land!

    TRUTH: So it may seem I am contradicting myself here, as I basically expose sugar as the devil in every example above. But here’s the deal, like Marvin Gaye says, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.” If you’re going to have a Coke, go for it. But don’t make it a habit. Don’t kid yourself by thinking you’re doing better by having 5 DIET cokes a day instead of regular ones. Yes, you may save yourself hundreds of empty calories and a serious case of Type 2 Diabetes, but you’ve replaced one bad habit with another. And that’s just no good. These products usually contain artificial sweeteners likened to Aspartame, Sucralose, and everyone’s favorite Saccharine!

    Remember TAB? The fake it ‘til you make it approach does not apply here. The best rule of thumb when it comes to sugar products? Moderation. Use a teaspoon of primo maple syrup, honey or agave nectar. Or try Stevia, a natural sugar substitute. Although admittedly, there are conflicting claims on this product too. Bottom line: No one likes a fake.

    On that note, we’re not saints. Notice the use of the word we. I have a real honest to goodness Coke in a bottle sitting in my fridge right now. Made with REAL sugar and not corn syrup! And I’ve been known to down a diet Dr. Brown’s Cream or Black Cherry soda a couple of times a year. As a matter of fact, I had one last night. However, these are not habits, and I don’t pretend I’m doing something good for me because that soda was fat, sugar, calorie, and gluten-free.

    Make educated decisions. Read ingredient labels, not marketing claims. Education is key. Knowledge is power. Don’t buy into the gimmicks and the advertising schemes.

    My new website at http://www.livwhole.com features easy and tasty recipes that avoid these common pitfalls! Sign up for mynewsletter here so you can keep abreast of the latest updates! Got a question? Hit me up at info@livwhole.com.

  • Waste Not Want Not

    I recently moved into a new apartment and realized all my ‘junk’ moved with me. I’ve spent the past two weeks tossing old papers, photos, pens and other things I don’t need or even like. I’m not saying I belong on an episode of “Hoarders”, but I’ve been challenged by many circumstances in my life to simplify as much as possible. With the exception of my bedroom suite, I barely have any furniture. My yoga mat, props and meditation cushion lie in the middle of a fairly empty room, a vintage desk I purchased from Craigslist for $75 beckons me to work and write.
    My life is filled with things I adore, need and truly want. And that feels good.
    After multiple trips to Goodwill, the recycling bin and the garbage can, I got to thinking about how weighed down I had become with my stuff. Literally. I shipped too many boxes to count from LA and NYC to Austin, only to throw half of it out. Not exactly economical. Now I have space and I can breathe and am determined to maintain a clutter free and unencumbered lifestyle. Here are FIVE rules you can follow to do the same.

    1. First things first. Take half (or whole depending on how much ‘stuff’ you have) a day to clear your space. Categorize it. You can spend one day attacking clothing. Another powering through your office. Rule of thumb for clothing/purses, etc. – if you haven’t worn or used it in the past two years, to Goodwill it goes. If it’s couture or cool, you may even earn a buck or two from a vintage store or an online reseller like this one. On to your office. Get rid of half used pens, old receipts, dried out highlighters and magazines from 1999. Organize your bills into file folders. Even better jump to #2.
    2. If you are computer savvy, take all your bills online. Subscribing to e-payments is an easy way to keep your physical mailbox free of clutter and to systematically organize your bills in one place – your virtual mailbox, aka, e-mail. I keep a document with all my usernames and passwords or use a little notebook in your office to keep all of them straight.
    3. Remember the 3 R’s. Reduce Reuse Recycle. (If you need a handy jingle to help remind you, listen here.) I’ve started reusing my plastic baggies if they are not totally mangled. Turn them inside out, rinse (another R!) and dry. (REUSE!) The grocery stores where I live imposed a ban on single use paper and plastic bags. If you happen to show up without your own, you buy one. Keep it in your car for subsequent visits. I’m not for telling people what to do, but I am for nudging people in the right direction toward healthy change. Don’t wait for a ban. Trust me, it’s a wonderful feeling to not have 800 grocery bags folded and jammed in the space between the fridge and the kitchen wall. (REDUCE!) If you are lucky enough to live in a city with grocery stores that sell in bulk, it’s always a great way to go. Spices, teas, sugars, granola, nuts, seeds, grains, even olive oil and vinegar in my local Whole Foods markets and Co-op! The list has become endless. Sure, buying bulk does require some sort of plastic vessel but you know what you can do with those. (REUSE!)
      When push comes to shove, move to the last “R”. Recycle. If your city doesn’t provide recycling bins, you can find a local recycling center here. This site is a great resource as it will not only provide centers that recycle the basics like plastic,paper, etc. but also other junk you can get rid of . . . like this cell phone.
      MDcellphone
    4. I refuse to buy any more shampoo, toothpaste, conditioner, soap, scrubs, facial wash, lotion and other bathroom accoutrements until I am completely done with what is currently in my cabinet and shower right now. This includes sample sizes from the various hotels, spas and resorts I’ve visited in the past ten years. If it’s half full, I tossed it (into the recycling bin of course). I’ll never miss that quarter sized lotion of Aveda lotion. No matter how expensive it is on the retail shelf. You don’t need five different shampoos, no matter what the commercials say or what your hair type. Use it or lose it.
    5. Now that you’ve cleared some space, STOP before you shop. Seriously. Next time you go shopping, whether for food, clothing, (luckily I don’t enjoy this activity too much) or just ‘stuff’, be present. Before you throw another thing in your cart, real or virtual, take pause. Take a deep breath and close your eyes. Count backwards from ten on every exhale. Then open your eyes and see if the initial urge to spend still exists. We all know what it’s like to go into Target to buy one thing and come out with 100. It happens. Use this trick, come out with 10, and you’ve hit a home run. 
  • I Call Bull*hit

    A dear friend and fellow yogi, Ben McLellan recently posted this comment on his Facebook page: This is astonishing to me…..we will take a drug that may cause internal bleeding, stroke, heart attack, and possibly death to sleep better. We won’t practice yoga, chi gong, or tai chi because we don’t have time, it’s too expensive, or it’s weird. Dumb is an understatement.
    I share these sentiments and have become increasingly frustrated with the excuses people give that prevent them from embarking on a routine that will lead to greater health, healing and ultimately, happiness. Despite my sincerest efforts to be patient and accept that everyone is on their own unique path, so often I have the desire to call out “Bullshit!” in the middle of a sentence. Not exactly polite, I know.  
    I think what pisses me off most is the lack of personal responsibility. (I’m obviously pretty fired up on this topic lately. Just ask some of my poor friends who have to listen to me.) If I had a quarter for the number of times I have heard the words “CAN’T” and “DON’T”, I wouldn’t be writing my own blogs anymore (Just kidding! I’ll always write my own stuff. Promise. )
    “I CAN’T meditate. I CAN’T turn off my brain”. To which I’ll retort, “Who the fuck can?”
    Or “I DON’T have the time.” Oh please. I know how much time I spend on Facebook. And I still manage to do a meditation practice.
    Or my favorite “I CAN’T do yoga. I’m not flexible.” 
    AGHHHHH. Please. Just. Stop.
    Be honest. With me. With yourself. We all have nothing but time. It’s up to you how you spend it. And where you spend it. I am FINE if you don’t WANT to do yoga, Tai Chi, meditate, lift weights or eat broccoli. That is your prerogative.
    ABSOLUTELY, without a doubt, it is challenging to make these practices a habit. They require more effort, more work and more discipline. However, they also ultimately make you a healthier, happier, more productive, balanced and evolved human being. Ask the thousands of people who do such things. But please, stop with the excuses. You have choices. Take responsibility for those you continue to make, and realize you’re life is what it is today because of them. As Jean Paul Sarte so simply states: “You are your choices.”
    Choose wisely. And stop telling me you ‘can’t’.

    For a list of some of the most hysterical excuses some of my trainer friends have gotten, please read this. If you recognize yourself, you’ve been publically outed! http://espn.go.com/espnw/athletes-life/9104429/espnwtrainers-share-worst-excuses-national-athletic-training-month

     

  • Shit Yoga Teachers Say (And Shit I WISH They Would)

    While I haven’t taken many yoga classes in the past year, preferring to stay at home to cultivate a personal practice, I recently have returned to the group setting in my new hometown to get to know the community. Classes are the first place I’ll go to meet like-minded people when I land on unfamiliar territory. But it reminds me of why I often stay home.
    The routine is the same. I begin by checking out some studios online and then look for instructors I think I may enjoy based on class descriptions and bios. Words such as ‘uplifting’, ‘intelligent flow,’ and ‘leaving students feeling centered and blissful’ often make their way into the picture. ‘All levels welcome’ is one I tend to see a lot as well.
    However, what I typically experience is a rote reproduction of a vinyasa class with too many chattarangas for my taste and no clear purpose or aim. It seems like the latest generation of teachers are all reading from the same script. Yes, some have different jokes and others are slightly more entertaining, but rarely have I experienced a true ‘sattvic’ state at the end of the journey. Light. Clear. Steady and balanced.
    The intention of this blog is not to blast every teacher I’ve come across nor to criticize every class I’ve taken. Because truth of the matter is there are a lot of good teachers out there.
    However, it does seem like we are pumping out yoga teachers like BigMacs. It seems to have become the ‘job du jour’ as more and more people begin to dip their toes in the waters of yoga, creating an ocean of demand. Get laid off? Become a yoga teacher. Looking to balance your 9-5 job? Start teaching yoga on the side. Bored? Eh, may as well sign up for a 200 hour RYT.
    And just like fast food, quality declines as mass production increases.
    I’m all for learning the traditions, the ancient teachings, the intricate, detailed and sacred practices of an entire yoga system to help more people find joy and happiness in their lives. However, it seems like little more is being taught than where to put your foot in Warrior I and how to perform Ujjayi, if that. 
    There are a couple of oft-repeated directions I hear to which I say “Huh?” Here are some my favorites.

    1. “Lift your head/chin” or its stepsister “Look up”. I don’t have an issue with taking your gaze to the hands or in the ‘upward direction.’ However, most students interpret this into cranking their head back until their chin is in the vertical position, slightly resembling the unnatural range of motion of a Muppet. Unfortunately, this does not improve your backbend or get you any closer to divine spirit.
    2. “Today we’re going to focus on ‘heart openers’”. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no amount of arching your back or pushing your ribcage out while scrunching your shoulders into your ears is going to help you feel ‘more love.’ Backbends, when practiced properly are wonderful to move energy in an upward direction, however, it is through thoughtful application of the breath that we begin to see shifts in our actual mind and emotional states. The best way to ‘open your heart’? Meditation and surrender. Take your practice off the mat and into your daily life. 
    3. I’ve witnessed many teachers tell students their breath should sound like ‘Darth Vader’ or ‘be audible to your fellow yogis’. Ummmmm, no thank you. I for one don’t want to hear your Star Wars like breathing. From “Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings” “To regulate the breath during the practice of asanas, the technique of ujjayi breathing is important. In ujjayi breathing you constrict your vocal cords slightly as you breathe so that you can feel the air as it flows past. A slight hissing sound often results—the more you constrict your throat and force your breath, the louder the sound. Conversely, the more finely you control your breath, the softer the sound. The goal is not to create a lot of sound but rather less sound. With practice and greater control, you should be able to breathe slowly and very smoothly. Then the sound will diminish and you can direct your attention to a more subtle indicator: the internal sensation of your breath flowing. Krishnamacharya used to give the standard instruction, ‘Feel rubbing sensation in throat.’” (PS: Thanks for posting this Ben! A perfect quote to support my point.)
    4. “Take a deep inhale in . . . and now SIIIIGGGHHHH out the mouth.” I’ll admit, this used to be me. I would love to make indescribable sounds during class and feel as if it was some huge release. Now, the symphonic collection of “ohhhhhhsssss” and “aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhs” drives me nuts. The concept of releasing all that energy seems counterintuitive to one of the primary goals of yoga, at least in the Tantric tradition: to contain and concentrate prana (energy) and direct it for a desired energetic effect. I understand the aim is to encourage students to release and ‘let go’, but there are so many other intelligent techniques a teacher can utilize to achieve this end. Let’s start using them.

    Conversely, much of my frustration comes from what teachers AREN’T teaching in their classes. Here are just a few:

    1. How to breathe. Yes, often instructors will speak of the importance of the breath at the onset of class but never revisit the concept as students gasp, grunt and “Aggghh” in their attempts to get their leg higher or their face to their knees.  I hate to repeat what’s been said so many times, but without the breath, it’s not yoga. It’s a stretch class. 
    2. Often, when I read teachers’ bios, everyone seems to have studied with world renowned teachers and highly respected gurus. Yet, why are they not teaching to what I assume they’ve learned . . . The subtle body, the energetic body? Why aren’t we giving students the space and time to sit in stillness after asanas (and not just savasana) to tune into the presence and feeling of energy shifts? And consequently, the results that ensue from a very predetermined, directed sequence of asanas? How the poses influence not only our body, but our minds and emotions. If we continue to gloss over this just because our students want a hot body, we are doing them a great disservice.
    3. What I’ve been experiencing lately is a lack of clear direction or aim in classes. I recently attended one where the instructor said, with genuine surprise, “Wow. It seems like this is turning into a backbend practice!” Needless to say I raise an eyebrow (or two since I am not that skilled in the unibrow lift) when there is a lack of clear purpose for a class. You are taking students on a journey. Know the destination.
    4. Meditation. Lest we forget the ultimate destination of our practice. To prepare us for meditation. So that we may sit, comfortably, our spine a clear channel of energy. If our teachers are not bringing us to a place of more ease, freedom and joy in our day to day lives, it seems that our efforts are not nearly as effective as they can and should be.

    I hear words my teacher has reiterated over and over on a daily basis: “If it’s not changing your life, it’s not yoga.” Yoga is a powerful tool. Let’s start treating it as such.

     

     
  • Bring the Heat

    This blog was inspired by a student I had in class the other day who said to me, as I was adjusting her in a pose: “I do better with Vinyasa, not these long holds.” (I took the liberty to paraphrase a bit, but you get the idea.) That’s code for: I don’t like this because I’m not comfortable here. She opened Pandora’s box. The same sentiment seemed to be present itself EVERYWHERE. In my other classes, watching people on the subway, walking down the street. It was all around. How do we avoid discomfort? How can I get away with doing this exercise/job/LIFE with as little aches and uneasiness as possible?

    I bore witness to this phenomenon again in my Barre Burn class later that evening. It was clear to me these ladies (Ahem gentlemen . . . if you ever go to the gym to meet women, you’re in the wrong class!) had gotten accustomed to going through the motions. Showing up, knowing what to expect and getting by with the least amount of effort possible. Clearly, there was discomfort (as signaled by the contorted facial expressions and piercing glances in my direction). Moving through movements slowly, activating your muscles rather than relying on momentum will do that to you. (Which, I will argue, is why the women in my earlier yoga class does much better with ‘Vinyasa’). I somewhat attribute this to the role of teachers more and more often not TEACHING but directing. But that’s a whole other blog.

    It’s important here to make distinguish between pain and discomfort. Was I in pain when my teacher first took me in and out of chair pose what seemed like 50 times? No. I didn’t require an ambulance or paramedic. But you can bet your ass it was uncomfortable. More than uncomfortable. I wanted to scream all sorts of expletives at him and shout “I hate you I hate you I hate you! Are you crazy!?!?” No. He wasn’t. I was simply going through something I had not experienced before. That would be fire. In my back, in my thighs, everywhere. I would later come to understand this sensation, this burning intense heat, as the fire of transformation. And it’s necessary for change. Whether you are looking to merely change your body or your looking to change your life. FIRE is necessary. It is the element of change. How do you change the inherent properties of matter? Water won’t do it. Neither will wind. Fire does. And I’m not referring to the comfy cozy heat you experience from a fireplace in the middle of winter with a cup of hot cocoa. Typically, I envision more of a devil (although I don’t believe in the actual existence of one, just to be clear), too much Icy Hot down your pants, kind of heat.

    Why do you think meditation is so difficult for people? Most of us are used to being pulled along by the current, from dawn til dusk and long after, kept awake by the buzz of televisions, iPhones, video games, etc. We do everything to distract ourselves from feeling any sort of discomfort whether it be physical, emotional or mental. I’ve often stepped in to teach a ‘Vinyasa’ class and directed students to stand, close their eyes and simply feel the effects of whatever pose asana, flow, etc. we just completed. You wouldn’t believe the amount of fidgeting. People are looking around the room, playing with their nails. . . . I’ve even seen people pick up their phones during this moment of rest. If you can’t sit still, close your eyes, look inside, and FEEL for 15 seconds, I’m telling you. There’s a problem.

    Which is why, in my opinion many of these popular ‘Vinyasa’ are actually directing students further away from one of the main goals of yoga — change. I don’t want to make a sweeping statement that all Vinyasa classes are this way. I’ve been to some wonderful ones that are very mindful. But many can be just as distracting as the buzz of the phone or the mind numbing frivolity of Keeping Up With the Kardashians (Although, I will admit, I’ve succumbed to more than one episode of mind numbing.)

    Don’t get me wrong . . . there are definitely circumstances when what feels good and easy is SO right. A massage. A good pedicure. A restorative yoga class. Sun on your face. A margarita. (That is purely circumstantial actually, but often times, it’s both so good and so right! ) But as we well know, often times, we slip into what feels good because it’s easier than facing what may be a huge challenge and bring us to a VERY UNCOMFORTABLE place.

    Anything worth attaining, whether it be a tight tush or spiritual enlightenment, requires change. And change is again, typically, not comfortable. In fact, it may involve a whole lot of heat. But, as alchemy teaches, what’s on the other side of that heat could be liquid gold.

  • Speak Up

    For years I’ve feared asking for what I want or speaking up for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or offending someone. Never is this more true than when I am receiving a haircut, massage, mani/pedi, etc. Too many times I’ve left a massage feeling like I needed a massage. Or silently nodding left speechless with wide eyes when asked “Do you like it?”, walking out of a salon looking like Dorothy Hamil.

    Lately, there’s been a shift. I’d like to think it’s a result of a more dedicated yoga and meditation practice over the past year that has helped me cultivate more confidence and a stronger sense of self. I don’t seem to take things so personally, and conversely, I speak my mind when I have something to say. This may not seem like a huge deal. Many people have NO PROBLEM speaking their mind. But I’d venture to bet there are quite a few of us, even as mature adults, who do. We don’t want to rock the boat. We want people to like us. We fear we’ll be considered ‘bitches’. And our fears override our desire to leave with a fantastic haircut.

    Recently, my brother sent me an email criticizing a comment I had made on Twitter. Five years ago (hell, who am I kidding? ONE year ago, probably) his words would have sent me reeling, old hurts rearing their ugly head. The 10-year old scolded little sister would assert herself and the tears would flow. And his words would have echoed in my head for days if not weeks. While I initially felt a slight sting, I closed my eyes for a moment, then re-opened them to read the email with clear eyes as opposed to the eyes of that “little sister.” And I understand why he sent it. It had nothing to do with me. I responded, but didn’t react, asserting my position. The only apology I made was for the way it made him feel.

    The other day, I popped into an unknown nail salon for a manicure. When the gentleman began to hack away at my cuticles, I politely asked him to not cut so much. But he continued to trim them to a point I considered excessive. So I repeated my request. As you ladies may know, sometimes meaning gets lost in translation at nail salons. (I’m glad they don’t speak to each other in English. No doubt their comments would ensure I’d never go back.) Three time’s a charm apparently, and another nail technician replaced him. And I was fine with that. I’m sure he was a very nice man. But I left there with my nails perfectly painted and just as I wanted them.

    Again, this may not seem like a huge milestone. But for me, it was a hurdle I haven’t been able to clear. Normally, I would have left the place with bloody cuticles.

    And, feeling the effects of one too many hair whips in dance class, I decided to go to one of the Thai massage joints that litter Ventura Boulevard. Normally, I am very particular about who I go to for body treatments, however, I needed relief, stat. And I knew some of these Thai ladies are no joke. Unfortunately, my therapist was not one of them. For 15 minutes, I was more uncomfortable then when I first lay down. I played it out in my head . . . “Give her another 10 minutes. Maybe she’s just warming up. It could get better.” And “I can’t say anything, I’m already 15 minutes in.” Then I realized – if I go through with the massage, I can’t refuse to pay for dissatisfaction if I didn’t speak up. And then I’d be pissed for throwing money down the drain, feeling no relief and more agitated than when I arrived. At that instant, I stopped her and politely said, “I’m sorry. I think I need someone stronger.”

    And in came Nami. Hallelujah. This woman squeezed and kneaded every part of my body that screamed for relief. I could relax and enjoy. I left feeling happily exhausted and appropriately beaten.

    Mind you, speaking my mind still doesn’t come easily. I often have to stop myself and ask if by failing to express what I’m thinking, what or who am I really saving? Someone’s feelings? My happiness? My truth? But by taking pause, and asking myself these questions, no matter what the answer, I find I’m more authentic in every moment.

    Good Thai massage? $50. Speaking my mind? Priceless.

  • Me and My Hamstrings

    We’ve always had a somewhat tumultuous relationship, the backs of my legs and myself. While I am grateful they are there and still working, they’ve plagued me with pain, discomfort and imbalance for as long as I can remember. My first concrete memory of tears and injury is from high school, when I kicked too high with my left leg during an overzealous cheer for our varsity basketball team. (Go Comets!) Years of dance and tennis only exacerbated the issue and, being an active and invincible teenager, I didn’t realized the damage I was doing would come back to haunt me. I had more energy than the Energizer bunny— and that was before I was introduced to lattes.
    I’ve always envied the dancers and yogis that could either get their leg up to their ear or place their face comfortably on their shins. And seemingly, without much effort. Their backs were perfectly straight, no rounding or crunching in the spine just to achieve the desired outcome. It wasn’t just the end result, it was the beauty with which they got there. I felt like a big elephant, prodding along, fighting for every centimeter.
    The more my yoga practice has developed, the more I’ve been ok with looking less like a Cirque du Soleil performer. I was strong and graceful and found ease where others struggled. As I began to accept and love my body for what it could do, I began to more completely embrace the concept that every body is different and has encountered different challenges along the way. Which has also made me a more compassionate teacher. 
    Yet something has always nagged at my consciousness. While I know that years of athletics and dance have contributed to accumulated scar tissue and adhesions in and around the insertion points of my hamstrings on both legs, something in me feels like these pains and limitations are a result of something much deeper. A deep seeded pattern. A tightly woven belief system buried in my physical body. Something I couldn’t see.
    Something that seems to be coming to the surface.
    It was a week ago. I was already having a trying day. To put it bluntly, I felt like crap, my body, disconnected. While my body was giving me all the signs to ‘take a break’ for some reason I was being drawn to a particular Vinyasa class with a teacher who I heard was a ‘must take’. I was hopeful this was exactly the thing that would make me feel better, at least for the evening until I could drift to sleep and put the whole day behind me.
    Cut to about 15 minutes into the practice in the first variation of Parsvottanasana. For those of you unfamiliar with the pose, it can be a slow assassination on the hamstrings if they are weak or injured. A deep forward fold that requires not only flexibility in the hamstrings, but quite a bit of strength if you’re aiming to look like a Yoga Journal cover. I’m not. I just want to get through it without crying. As I mentioned above, however, I had come to terms with my limitations and accepted them, knowing most of my life I would use blocks to support myself in this pose. Wrong.
    As we moved into the pose, my issues came screaming at me with an intense sort of fire.
    The instructor was yelling his directives over and over and OVER again. So many I can’t even recall what he was saying. Or screaming, rather. It was like receiving in email message IN ALL CAPS!!!!
    One instruction I do remember him SHOUTING was ‘BE HERE NOW!’ To which I replied, in my best LOUD internal voice, “Oh F YOU!!! I’m HERE!!!!”
    And then came something much more revealing as the snot came dripping down, tears hot against my cheeks. It was the little 10 or 11 year old girl in me shouting back. “STOP IT!!! STOP YELLING AT ME! SHUT UP! STOP! STOP BERATING ME! I’M NOT A FUCKING CHILD ANYMORE!!! You can’t yell at me like this.” And there it was. Again and again this scolded child keeps rearing it’s ugly head, strangling me, even at 38. Even as I type this, the emotions are there. The anger.
    I tried to build a fire right then and there to burn this child. The one that always feels she has something to prove. I tried to banish it with “You’re no longer welcome here.” And fight it off with encouraging words such as “I am so much stronger than you”. And while I know I was in some way destined to face Mr. Shouty Pants (seriously, this was the most aggressive teacher, maybe person, I have ever experienced) for a reason I also knew I had a choice, whereas the 10 year old in me didn’t. I could choose to walk away. To not listen to the constant yelling. So while I was grateful for this teacher who was pushing my buttons and my hamstrings, I also realized I could choose not to listen to him. Some people may enjoy an aggressive, stern disciplinarian like Mr. Shouty Pants. Not me. I’ve had enough of that and I’m done. SO done. I had that kind of stern discipline for the first 18 years of my life and it’s stuck with me ever since. While it served me well at certain points of my journey, our time is through. I need more love, more acceptance. More nuturing and kindness. And, in order to heal, I need to be receptive instead of pushing my way through things.
    And although I wanted to slap him in the moment, I am extremely grateful to Mr. Shouty Pants for the learning opportunity. It brought to light the wounds, emotional and physical, that are still there. The darkness that still seems to be holding me back with insecurity and false beliefs. But now I see these demons so clearly for what they are. I am aware. And every single day it is my job to shed more light on them so hopefully, their shadows will no longer cover the light within. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll one day be able to touch my face to my shins.

  • Knowing When To Say When

    Moderation. We’ve all heard the saying: “Everything in moderation.” If it were so easy, Mayor Bloomberg would not be initiating a ban on soda over the copious amount of 16oz. (Seriously? You need more than 54 grams of sugar in one serving? And people are resisting this. Unbelievable. I’ll have to save my rant for another day. This is not about the soda ban. Although this photo definitely speaks to my point.)
    How often have you thought “ I’ll just have a little bite of cookie dough ice cream”? Right. Or “Maybe just TWO chips.” Uh-huh. There’s a reason Lay’s had an advertising campaign challenging people to “East Just One.” It’s friggin impossible.
    We are a nation of excess. In everything. Food. Money. Things. We want it all and we want more of it.
    It seems to be human nature. More and more I see people around me (and truthfully, I may not be an exception) exercising to excess. And Lord knows, all you have to do is walk by a Chili’s or Cheesecake Factory to see that people are definitely eating in excess. I often write and speak about trying to find balance. So I decided to put together some tips to help you maintain portion control when eating without being neurotic and weighing your food. (Whoever came up with that idea should be hurt. Seriously? Isn’t it bad enough we weigh ourselves? We’re really going to weigh our food too?)
    Some tips are very practical and easily to initiate. Others will require a little more mindfulness and ask you to slow down a bit. All require discipline.

    Practical Tips:
    1. Eat from a smaller, appetizer sized plate rather than a typical dinner size plate. This will keep your plate ‘full’ and prevent you from feeling like your portions are too small.
    2. When eating ice cream or other frozen treat, before it gets TOO soft (I find when it’s that nice, soft and creamy texture I’ll just sit with the carton and scoop around the edges until – SURPRISE! – there are no more edges!) scoop out a small portion into a white wine glass or highball glass (just like wine, no need to fill the glass!) and then, for God’s sake, put the carton back in the freezer! It’s a pretty presentation and when you’re done, you’re done.
    3. This one is more for single people (Can I get a “Woo-Hoo?!?!”) for making meals for a couple of people, or for those of you who cook in bulk. Once you’re done making the dish, place it in a leftover container right away. Then scoop out the portion you want and place the rest in fridge for another time. You’re less likely to keep going back to the pot for seconds, thirds, etc. when it’s already packed up and put away.
    4. Put a slice of ginger on your tongue and suck. It’s a wonderful digestive aid and anti bacterial agent. Meaning it will put that Altoid to shame. 
    5. Brush your teeth. This is the oldest trick in the book. And it works. It signals the meal is over. Kaput. Finished. No one wants to have another helping of creamed spinach or a donut after a mouthful of mint. Blech.
    6. Refuse to dine out with friends or significant others if they don’t like to share. (Unless it’s a first date of course. If they make it to a second, you can lay down the law so they know what to expect in the future.)  Often, my friends and I will each order an appetizer (usually a salad or veggie based dish) and split an entrée we both like. We get a little of everything and end up completely satisfied. You may need to reconsider with whom you keep company if they refuse. 
    7. Plan dessert. You heard me. Know at the end of the meal you’ll have a piece of dark chocolate, a small scoop of ice cream (see tip #2), tea or some other little morsel of heaven you’ll look forward to. And when you are done with your sweet thing, that meal is OFFICIALLY OVER. Never to be heard from again.
    8. Outta sight, outta mind. Meaning if you really have no self control with a particular food (Terra Chips anyone?!?), keep it out of the house. Maybe twice a year indulgences are o.k. but if you truly feel as if none of the tips above (or below) will help you resist the urge of consuming all 6 servings in one sitting, simply stay away.  

    Mindful Tips:
    1. Take a moment before you dive in to close your eyes and offer gratitude for the plate in front of you. It doesn’t need to be a formal ‘grace’, but it’s nice to remember how blessed we are to have food on our table. Plus, this can be done anywhere (at a friend’s home, at a restaurant, etc.) without too much of a fuss.
    2. Put your fork down in between bites.
    3. Invite a friend over. (Again for us ‘Woo-Hoo!’ single people) I find my meals are much more enjoyable when I have someone with whom I can share them. Good conversation and laughter keeps you relaxed and helps you digest your food. You’re not just eating to get it over with. It’s more about the pleasurable experience of sharing and less about what you are eating. (See photo to right. My friend and ULTIMATE meal—and carrot cake—sharer! She’s the best!)
    4. Many people recommend having no distractions when you eat to keep your thoughts on what you’re doing, but if you do eat alone a lot, this can be quite frankly, BORING. I like to read a magazine (nothing too heavy!) or flip through catalogs that have stacked up on my entry bookshelf. It’s a nice time for imagination, inspiration, etc. And I also use it to help me with tip #2. It’s hard to flip and concentrate when you’re chewing. So I’ll put my fork down, flip a few pages, and then get back to the task at hand: Enjoying my delectable meal.
    5. That being said, I wouldn’t make a habit out of eating with the TV on. Yes, I do it occasionally. (Maybe once or twice a week) but it’s not my routine. More than ever, TV is sensory overload. There’s nothing calming and relaxing about it. I actually find very little that’s enjoyable. And your meal should be enjoyed.
    6. Breath. Sounds simple. But how often do you go through your meal holding your breath only to lean back in your chair when you’ve finally cleared everything off your plate like a Hoover, puff your tummy out and say something to the effect of “Ahhhhhhhhh . . .” as if to let it all go? Let’s not wait til the end of our meal to take some deep breaths. It will calm your nervous system and prevent you from stuffing your face as if it’s the last meal you will ever have. For most of us, it won’t be.
    7. Plan for something enjoyable after dinner. Give yourself something to look forward to so you don’t just hang around filling your time with food. A bubble bath. A movie you’ve been wanting to see. A nice walk. Trolling iTunes for new music (one of my personal faces) or get in bed early with a good book and some tea. 

    Probably the most logical tip I can offer actually has to do with WHAT you eat. Eat REAL FOOD. Rarely do you see people walking around with an 8 pound bag of spinach or eating 15 carrots in one sitting. Processed foods are addictive and the only things that come in portions large enough to feed an army. When you tune in, listen to your body and feed it with nutrient dense foods, your cravings for offerings that come in Super Size will diminish. 
    The only thing you should be drinking in a 32 oz BIG GULP is water.