"I hope everyone will allow themselves to be really crappy today, to walk away from being perfect. The real yoga isn't in the perfect pose; it's in the crappy pose that you are really feeling."

~the red-haired yoga teacher as quoted by Claire Dederer, author; Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Confessions of a Coke head

I just finished another weekend  of yoga teacher training (my ninth!) with Holistic Yoga Therapy Institute and it never fails.  Each day when we break for lunch, I am the only person who orders a diet coke as my beverage of choice.  Plenty of people place orders for water with lemon, water without lemon, iced tea, hot tea, and even the occasional glass of wine or Sunday brunch mimosa--but never soda.  I'm the only one.  And I know why--artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners--they're not good for me.  They know it and I know it, but I'm an addict...and not just to the caffeine but to the bubbles.  What is it about the bubbles?  And now, my thirteen year old son seems to be heading down the path of addiction as well...so if not for my own health, definitely for his...

I hereby publicly denounce the further consumption of soft drinks.  I don't plan to quit cold turkey.  That would be asking for failure.  Caffeine deprivation would surely lead to migraines and as someone who suffered from stress-induced migraines for the first quarter-century of life, I cannot knowingly inflict such pain upon myself.  I will, however, incorporate the less painful, less stressful method of weaning myself off the drug.

On any given day, I probably consume the equivalent of six cans of soda.  So, beginning today and for the rest of week one of "Operation Confessions of a Coke Head," I plan to drink no more than four cans of soda per day decreasing by one each week.  Therefore, next week I will drink no more than three, the following week two, and so on.  If my math is correct, I should be coke-free in about 30 days--approximately the same amount of time it takes to form new habits or break old ones.

I recently read an article about chemicals in foods that are banned in other countries but still allowed to be used in the United States.  It proclaimed citrus flavored sodas and sport drinks contain Brominated Vegetable Oil, a flame retardant ingredient used in the manufacture of plastics.  Yikes.  And to think before I was a Coke head, I did the Dew! 

So, let's raise a glass...of water with lemon...to new habits formed and old ones defeated!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Power of Positive Thinking

As part of my 200 hour yoga teacher training, I was tasked with journaling 5 things I felt grateful for each day, over the course of 30 days.  From this assignment, I discovered that there is an amazing shift in paradigm that occurs quite quickly when asked to contemplate gratitude.  I gained a new found appreciation for perspective.

At the end of each day as I sat down to journal, I discovered the ability to turn a negative situation into a positive one.

"Saw a snake today--grateful it didn't chase me down and attack."

"Backed out of the garage with the passenger-side door open--although a bit askew, grateful it still closes."

"Sat in traffic today while an accident was being cleared--grateful to see both drivers outside of their vehicles uninjured.  Double grateful I reached my destination safely and without incident--even if I was a little late."

In all of these instances, I could have wallowed in the negative:

Seeing a snake created a fight or flight response.  Because of my fear of snakes, I chose flight.  I turned back and walked an additional mile in order to avoid crossing its path.  Fortunately it was a beautiful morning, I had no where else to be, and I needed the exercise. 

Crunching my car door may prove to be an expensive repair.  Fortunately, it is not a repair that is critical to being able to use the car.  The repair can wait--if I even have it repaired at all. 

And while being late usually induces anxiety, I used my yogi Dirga Breath to remain calm.  And when I finally did arrive at the doctor's office after sitting in traffic for the accident, I discovered she too was running a bit behind schedule.  My time spent sitting in the waiting room was significantly less than it would have been had I arrived on time. 

Three potentially negative situations; three positive perspectives.

Abraham Lincoln said, " We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."  
I will admit I haven't always viewed the world from a rosy place of love and gratitude.  For most of my life, I had a "glass half-empty" soul.  I loved drama. I loved exaggeration.  I loved playing the victim.
"Woe is me...I had to walk an extra mile because there was a horrible reptilian creature blocking me from my path."
 "Woe is me...I cannot drive an ugly car.  We are going to have to fore go our family vacation to pay for the repair so my car can be pretty again."

"Woe is me...I had to sit in traffic, causing me to be late to my appointment, and no one was even injured."
My husband used to say, "You're not happy, unless you're miserable."  He was right.  And that is one more thing for which I am grateful.  I am grateful to have found yoga..not just as an exercise program, but as an entire mind-body experience.  Those words have since been shuttered from his vocabulary.  In the present moment, I have such peace and contentment--all because of a change in perspective.

So...when you're having a bad day, see if you can shift your perspective.  Try looking at the situation from a different angle, and see if you can find gratitude where before there might not have been any.

You'll be grateful you did!

Monday, June 30, 2014

So Hum. I am that.

The sanskrit phrase So Hum is a mantra.  A mantra is a sound, word or phrase used to focus the mind during meditation.  So Hum translates to:  I am. ThatThat refers to a much bigger picture--all of creation.  At a recent seminar on meditation and pranyama, we were asked to meditate on the words So Hum, which for me immediately begged the question:  I am what?  When the exercise ended, I scribbled down these words:

So Hum
I am that.
I am what?
I'm a wife and a mother.
I am that.
So Hum.
I'm a daughter.
And a sister.
I am that.
So Hum.
 I'm a teacher.
I'm a friend.
I am that.
So hum.
Seeking peace.
Seeking truth.
I am that.
So hum
I am peace.
I am joy.
So hum.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hello...My name is Fawn and I'm an Ophidiophobe.

During his first inaugural address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."  The country, in the throes of the Great Depression, feared for its future.
Abhaya Mudra

The sanskrit word abhaya means:  freedom from fear. With his infamous words, FDR sought abhaya for the nation. 

According to B.K.S Iyengar in his book Light on Yoga, "Freedom from fear comes only to those that lead a pure life.  The yogi fears none and none need fear him because he is purified by the study of the Self. Fear grips a man and paralyzes him.  He is afraid of the future, the unknown and the unseen.  He is afraid that he may lose his means of livelihood, wealth or reputation.  But the greatest fear is that of death.  The yogi knows that he is
B.K.S Iyengar
different from his body, which is a temporary house for his spirit....Though the body is subject to sickness, age, decay and death, the spirit remains unaffected.  To the yogi, death is the sauce that adds zest to life.  He has dedicated his mind, his reason, and his whole life to the Lord.  When he has linked his entire being to the Lord, what shall he then fear?
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
FDR continued his inaugural speech with these words, "Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men."  He then ended that speech with these words:  "In this dedication of a Nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us. May He guide me in the days to come."

FDR would have made a great yogi.

After reading Light on Yoga, I knew I would never achieve pure yogi status.  Hello.  My name is Fawn and I'm an Ophidiophobe.  According to About.com:  Symptoms of Ophidiphobia may include, but are not limited to, shaking, crying or running away from snakes, experiencing heart palpitations or having difficulty breathing, and/or difficultly or even finding it impossible to remain in the same room as a snake. 

Yep. Yep. And Yep.  And you could even add, cannot watch a TV show featuring snakes to the the list.

When we moved to North Carolina in the summer of 2012, it never occurred to me that we'd be moving to the heartland of Copperhead Nation.  Oh yes, it's true!  North Carolina has the dubious distinction of having the most venomous snake bites of any state in the U.S.  When looking for a new home, you research the school district, crime rate, cultural events, but snake bites per capita?  In the two years since moving here, I have witnessed more snakes, both squished road side and sunning themselves in the grass, than in the previous four decades of my life.

So...I remain ever vigilant, keeping my eyes wide for anything that resembles a snake, scanning the road ahead and the brush beside as I walk the dog.  You'd be amazed at the harmless objects that look like snakes from afar:  twigs and twine, broken shoelaces and bungee cords, rubber bands, wrappers, menacing worms and even the occasional used condom.  I still sometimes jump at the sight of a big, ominous stick ready to strike from the side of the road, but since giving birth to two kids, I'm not as afraid of used condoms as I once was.

Last fall, I made a break-through.  A snake crossed my path while mowing the lawn.  I could have easily chopped it to bits and asked for forgiveness after the murder.  But, I didn't.  I actually felt sorry for it...and then I felt annoyed. It was slithering at a snail's pace!  I had to stop mowing and wait for it to get out of my way.  Once safely under the canopy of the tall, ornamental grasses, I continued mowing.  I didn't hyperventilate.  I didn't run and hide.  I.continued.mowing.  Victory!

Yesterday, I left the house around 7 a.m. with the dog in tow.  With the freshly risen sun, the air felt warm and my heart light as I walked at an energetic pace.  Along the way, we spied the usual suspects:  birds and squirrels and deer all out in full force...and then I saw it.  Three-quarters of the way through our 4 mile walk, lay a snake in the road...varying shades of brown on it's back.  I didn't step another inch, but quickly turned around and headed back the way I'd come.  Four miles turned into five miles.  "It's okay," I told myself, "I needed the exercise anyway."  Defeat?  Not entirely.  I used my yogi breath to keep my body from succumbing to anxiety and only looked back twice to make sure it wasn't chasing me!

Today I awoke to the following news story:  A recent high school graduate drowned at a local lake.  He let go of the log he was hanging on to when he spotted a snake.  He went under the water and never re-emerged.  His body was found two hours later.  While the official cause of death may be accidental drowning, it was fear that took his life.

I have often thought:  If a car was traveling toward me and I had to get off the side of the road in order for it to pass safely, but there was a snake in the grass, I would rather jump into the path of the oncoming car than share space with the slithering serpent.

"Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” ~Marie Curie

I understand that my fear of snakes is not rational.  I understand that if a snake were to chomp me, my chances of survival are far greater than my chances of death.  And, yes, I understand that the snake is more afraid of me than I am of it.  I also know that through regular pranyama practice (controlling energy through the breath), I am better able to control my stress response.  I regularly use Sama Vritti (same length inhale and exhale) or Langhana (longer exhale than inhale) three-part breath (using the complete diaphragm) throughout the day to keep my mind and body calm, which is just one more way I benefit from yoga.
“He who has overcome his fears will truly be free." ~Aristotle

Once again, Aristotle speaks of the notion of abhaya:  freedom from fear.  FDR was right when he said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."  Not only did he lead the nation out of the Great Depression, he went on to be elected for three additional terms, serving an unparalleled thirteen years as POTUS.

If I am able to obtain abhaya over my Ophidiophobia, I still will not qualify for pure yogi status.  Did I mention my fear of death by plane crash?  Or by house fire?  Yep.  I'm a work in progress...but aren't we all?

Monday, May 19, 2014

If you fail to plan, plan to fail 2.0

One of the first rules of being a successful blogger is to write and post often...in other words...blog.

One of the many sources I'm using to write sequences
In my last blog post, titled:  If you fail to plan, plan to fail, I concluded that not having a plan was in fact THE PLAN.  But then Miss Peggy at Lake Norman Taekwondo asked if I would be interested in teaching yoga at their TKD school.  And the planning began...hours and hours of planning.  Which is why I have been such an absentee blogger...because it takes hours and hours to plan a class.  Oh.  Did I just mention that?!

A lot goes into preparing a single 60 minute class because it is important to perform the proper preparatory poses before reaching the peak pose.  (I love alliteration!)  So I am spending hours upon hours researching and researching and researching not only how to write a sequence, but also what are the proper preparatory poses and how do I cue each pose?  I'm also evaluating the sequence to ensure it flows smoothly without any awkward transitions and taking into account injuries the students have communicated such as sciatica and back surgeries.  And then there's choosing the music and practicing the class before I actually give the class.  All that and I'm sure I'm still missing key components like having a "theme."  Maybe someday my classes will have themes.  Right now my theme is, "I hope I have enough material to last 60 minutes."

The best part of all the time spent researching is that I am learning a ton and am so grateful for the opportunity to practice teaching.  And I'm convinced in time, writing sequences will become as easy as breathing.

And I've learned another valuable lesson.  In Yoga we are always seeking balance in our lives. There is a time and place for planning.  I cannot leave everything up to the Universe because like Jon V. and Benjamin Franklin said, "If you fail to plan, plan to fail."  So for now, my new plan is to embrace all opportunities as they present themselves to me and to not fail!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a class to plan.  And...if you missed the original, "If you fail to plan, plan to fail," check it out on this very blog!  Namaste.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

If you fail to plan, plan to fail.

Anyone who knows me, knows I like order.  I like to plan, and more importantly, I like to stick to the plan.  Do not even suggest we change the plan once the plan is written in ink, because it might as well have been carved in stone. I'm also a consummate list maker and derive great pleasure from crossing things off the list once the task is accomplished.

As flexible as my body is, my actions and mindset are often a stark contradiction.  That is why Yoga is so important to me. It provides me relief from myself.  For sixty minutes or ninety minutes or for however long the class is, the only task on my "to do" list is to breathe.

So when I began this journey, it was quite out of character to not have a plan.  The truth is I felt scared.  Yoga is so important to my sanity, I didn't want to ruin it by placing expectations on what I was going to accomplish by attending teacher training.  I told myself, even if I do nothing--if I never teach a single class or earn a single dollar, it doesn't matter.  Yoga is for me.  If the only thing I get out of teacher training is a better understanding of Yoga, then it will all be worth it.

But then I started to feel pressure because that's what a control freak with a Type A personality does.  I started to brood, my heart grew heavy, a slight depression began creeping in.  Where's the path leading me?  I wondered.  Ironic considering, at the time, I was walking in circles on an outdoor track.

"If you fail to plan, plan to fail."  
The first time I heard these words, I was sitting in a large lecture hall with a few hundred other students on the campus of Michigan State University listening to Professor Jon Vredevoogd.  He spoke them loudly, clearly, and with intent.  And then he repeated them.  "If you fail to plan, plan to fail."  It was my first term at MSU.  Always a good student, I eagerly scribbled the words down in my notebook.  Nearly twenty-five years after I first sat in that classroom, those words are the only thing I remember and yet they seem counter-intuitive to what I am trying to achieve at this moment in my life...to Be. Here. Now.

So, just as I felt I may be on the verge of a complete meltdown because staying present is a lot harder than being present, Miss Peggy, from Lake Norman Taekwondo approached me about teaching yoga in their TKD studio.  Wow.  Talk about the universe showing up and taking charge.

Where my yoga journey takes me from here, I don't know.  In the course of writing this blog post and having the opportunity to reflect, I realized not having a plan was the plan.  So, in the future, when I start to feel anxious about where the path is leading me, I'm going to get out of my own head, go to the mat, and breathe...and trust that I am exactly where I'm supposed to be.

 Much later in life, I would learn those famous words first belonged to Benjamin Franklin not Jon D. Vredevoogd, but by that time it didn't matter.  They were already ingrained in my memory banks giving Vredevoogd total credit for placing them there.  Because I couldn't remember how to spell Vredevoogd, I googled my old Human Environments and Design professor.  In doing so I discovered Professor Jon D. Vredevoogd passed away in November 2013.  He was 70 years old and in addition to teaching at Michigan State University for 35 years, he also worked for NASA and American Airlines and  finished 6 Chicago Marathons...all of which I'm sure required rigorous planning.  
Rest in Peace, Professor.

Monday, March 17, 2014

An ode to Grandpa Garlock via Patanjali's Yoga Sutras

As part of my curriculum for yoga teacher training through Holistic Yoga Therapy Institute, I am required to read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  I am then further required to journal each week about a Sutra that impacted my life in that seven day span, culminating in a one page article on the Sutra that MOST impacted my life over the course of the training.

Book One, Verse 22 of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras reads:
The time necessary for success further depends on whether the practice is mild, medium, or intense.

In other words (mine), if the practice is intense, then the time necessary for success should be/will be shorter.  On one level, I agree with this.  However, according to Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success, it takes 10,000 hours to successfully master any skill.  And 10,000 hours is 10,000 hours regardless if it takes 5 years of practice or 10 years of practice to achieve.

As the granddaughter of a farmer, who was rarely seen without his hoe in hand, I believe in hard work.  I do not believe in short cuts and I do not believe in half efforts.  My grandfather would definitely have been classified a "master" hoer, having spent thousands of hours in the fields.  My yoga journey has just begun, but like my Grandpa, I plan to cultivate my garden every day.

Below is an excerpt from an essay I wrote several years ago about my beloved Grandpa Garlock:
Born and raised a farmer’s son, farming was all he knew.  Before the rooster even had a chance to crow reveille, my Grandpa was in the fields, hoe in hand.  Gently bent over row upon row of blossoming seedlings, he patiently and tenderly cultivated each plant as if the vegetables being born were his own offspring.
Like Michelangelo’s, David, my Grandfather’s hands were his most dominant feature--too largely proportioned to the rest of his body.  While David’s unusually large hands were used to symbolize strength and power, my grandpa’s swollen, callused hands represented the hours and hours of love and dedication he gave to his farm day after day from sun up to sun down.

When the last sliver of light escaped over the horizon, Grandpa rested.  Twenty minutes after the The Lawrence Welk Show would begin; he could be heard rhythmically snoring to the soothing sounds of the big band--until the next day, when he’d start all over again.