Thursday, June 11, 2015

Here comes the sun!

Pigeon Pose
A good friend and fellow yoga instructor once exclaimed, "A day without pigeon is like a day without sunshine!"  The enthusiasm she felt for eka pada rajakapotasana in that moment expresses concisely how I feel about Surya Namaskar, which coincidentally translates to "Salute to the Sun" or "Sun Salutation."  With the Summer Solstice on the horizon and many yoga studios and practitioners busy preparing events and workshops featuring 108 Sun Salutations, I wanted to pay homage to this sequence of poses that comforts me, grounds me, connects me to my breath, and keeps me coming back to my mat day after day.

Sun Salutation A
Surya Namaskar is a series of poses linked together with the breath.  Like a circle, Surya Namaskar starts and ends in the same pose, symbolic of the earth orbiting the Sun.

As with the institution of Yoga itself, there is more than one opinion on the origin and age of Surya Namaskar.  Some experts believe that the sequence dates back to Vedic times aging it more than 2500 years, while others believe that it was created during the early 20th century making it less than 100 years old.  Traditionally practiced at dawn facing the rising sun, Surya Namaskar originated as a series of prostrations illustrating reverence to the sun--the great sustainer of life.

There are many versions of Surya Namaskar like there are many styles of yoga, but I am partial to the one I learned when I was a new born yogi, much like I am partial to the same flavor of ice cream I've been enjoying for over 40 years.  And just as vanilla is the foundation for many other flavors, sun salutations are the foundation of many vinyasa practices. You can add cookies, you can add nuts, you can even add caramel, chocolate chips, and mint flavor, but at the heart of the ice cream is vanilla.

After a long, cold, lonely winter nothing feels as good as the warmth of the sun, except maybe practicing Surya Namaskar while basking in it's glow.  In 1969, George Harrison penned a song that said it best, "Sun, Sun, Sun, Here it comes!"  So on June 21st, join in on the celebration of the Summer Solstice with yogis around the world and help us all Salute the Sun!


1.  Begin by coming into Tadasana (Mountain).  Ground down through your feet evenly distributing your weight throughout the corners of each foot.  Engage your quadriceps and core muscles, and bring your pelvis into a neutral position. Lengthen through the spine and out through the crown of your head.  Shoulders should be relaxed and down while your chin is in a neutral position, parallel to the floor.  Bring your palms to face forward into Samasthiti pose and take a few breaths to prepare.

2.   EXHALE: Bring the palms of your hands together at heart center in Anjali Mudra, prayer position.
3.   INHALE:  Bring the palms together overhead, look up in Upward Prayer pose.
4.   EXHALE: Fold forward with a flat back hinging from the hips for Uttanasana.
5.   INHALE:  Come half-way out for Ardha Uttanasana.
6.   EXHALE: Fold back down.
7.   INHALE:  Bend your knees and plant your hands.  Step or jump into Plank.
8.   EXHALE: Shift your weight forward onto the toes. Lower down, elbows brush the side of body, coming into a ninety-degree angle.  Release to the floor for Cobra or hover about 6"above the mat for Upward Dog.
9.   INHALE:  Press into the palms of your hands lifting the head and shoulders off the mat for Cobra (Bhujangasana).
10. EXHALE: Tuck the toes and push back into Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).
11. INHALE:  Step or jump to the front of your mat.
12. EXHALE: Fold Forward (Uttanasana)
13. INHALE:  Come half way out, Ardha Uttanasana.
14. EXHALE: Fold back down.  (Uttanasna)
15. INHALE:  Ground down through the feet, engage your core muscles, and rise up. Bring hands over head in Upward Prayer Position.  Add a backbend if you want.
16. EXHALE: Hands back to heart center in Anjali Mudra, prayer position.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Life is what you make it.

Life is what you make it.  

This is a hard concept to understand as a young person.  When you're 10, 12, 14, 16...time moves slow.  Your parents don't know anything, 30 is old, 40 is ancient, and appreciating what you have today because it may not be there tomorrow doesn't exist in the underdeveloped, teenage brain.  It's taken me nearly 45 years to discover this and at times I still regress.

I was recently reminded of this on a trip to Washington DC, when we--the parental units, opted to head North for Spring Break while the rest of the country headed South to the land of all things Mouseketeer.  We opted for historical and educational versus princess tea parties and character parades.  The children would have preferred hats with ears.

We rented a turn of the century row house in the NE quadrant of the city in a neighborhood currently undergoing gentrification.  It sat on a loud, busy corner where sirens screamed throughout the night.  And with the constant hustle and bustle that comes with being planted in the middle of a busy metropolitan area that never sleeps, it could have significantly benefited from blackout shades.  In describing the home, I'm reminded of a Mother Goose rhyme:

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile;
He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a crooked little house.

Yes.  The house was crooked.  Very crooked.  It had crooked floors and crooked walls, but I didn't mind.  With every out of square corner or creak in the floor, I imagined the life this house had lived for the past hundred years, the things that it had witnessed, and I felt alive.  I was now part of it's history. I fed off the energy of the city and relished feeling like I was in the epicenter of something really significant, something newsworthy.   And for one night I was--as I witnessed a barrage of police cars scream through the narrow streets ending a high speed pursuit just blocks away.   It certainly wasn't a four star resort.  It was better.  And thankfully my children didn't complain about the sights or sounds or lack of room service once. The house was equipped with television and wi-fi and all was good in teenage-brain land.

We spent five, over-scheduled days in the city, and as anyone who is familiar with DC knows, that was not enough.  We filled our days with tours, museums, monuments and memorials covering more than thirty miles on foot and canvassing even more distance by train and yet we left with miles and miles still undiscovered. 

Arlington National Cemetery
The majority of children today and even my own Generation X cannot fully comprehend the sacrifices that the generations before us made for our freedoms.  It, however, becomes a little more comprehendible when you stand facing a wall with more than 58,000 names engraved in memoriam or stand before a field of gold stars representing lives lost with the words, "Here We Mark The Price Of Freedom."  A humbleness befalls you as you walk amongst a backdrop of simple white, marble headstones that date back to the Civil War, and stand silently in reverence as a funeral procession passes for service men still being buried today.  The 45 year old me understood how hallowed the ground beneath my feet was.  I'm not sure the 16 year old me would have.  

At times during the week, the teenage brains preferred to sleep as the landscape of America the Beautiful passed by.  At times they needed to be told to put away the electronic devices.  And, at times they needed to be reminded that life does not offer guarantees, take advantage while the opportunity presents itself.   Life is what you make it.  You can spend your hours brooding.  You can spend your hours mindlessly in front of a computer screen.  You can choose to be unhappy, ungrateful and selfish or you can choose the opposite.  It took me a long time to figure that out and without my yoga practice, I'm not sure I would have ever arrived.  Today I choose happiness. Today I choose to be grateful.  
Because life is what I make it.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Love knows no religion

Some time between the year(s) 53-55 AD, the Apostle Paul was credited with writing the book of Corinthians.  One of the more well known passages from those writings is found in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

But long before Paul wrote these beautiful words defining love, which are often recited at Christian wedding ceremonies, there was Metta Sutta, thought to be written as early as 400 BC.  Metta, in its simplest terms is defined as loving kindness.  It is a meditation focused on the development of unconditional love for all beings.  Because of its practice of loving all beings, it is also known as universal love.  The word Metta is of Pali descent which is an Indic language, closely related to Sanskrit, in which the sacred texts of Theravada Buddhism are written. Some of my favorite concepts of Metta from the website are:
  • Metta is empathy. It’s the willingness to see the world from another person's point of view: to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.
  • Metta is wishing others well.
  • Metta is friendliness, consideration, kindness, and generosity.
  • Metta is the basis for compassion. When our Metta meets someone suffering, then our Metta transforms into compassion.
  • Metta is the basis for shared joy. When our Metta meets with another person's happiness or good fortune, then it transforms into an empathetic joyfulness.
  • Metta is boundless. We can feel Metta for any being, regardless of gender, race, or nationality.
  • Metta is the most fulfilling emotional state that we can know.
  • It’s our inherent potential. To wish another well is to wish that they be in a state of experiencing Metta.
  • Metta is the answer to almost every problem the world faces today. Money won’t do it. Technology won’t do it. Metta, loving-kindness toward all beings, will.  

While Apostle Paul's words, "Love is patient, love is kind...." are undeniably true, so is the idea that if you project love into the universe, you will get love back.

Recently the fans of hip-hop/rap mogul Kanye West, blew up the twitter-verse praising Kanye for giving an older, unknown artist a big break by recording the song, Only One with him.  That “unknown” artist, actually known to millions of people over the age of 25, was none other than Sir Paul McCartney, a bit of a music mogul himself.  In 1969, SPM penned a song titled, The End, which appeared on the album, Abbey Road.  True to it's title, The End was the last song the Beatles ever recorded together.  In the song, the line, "Love you, love you" is repeated 12 times, but it is the last line of that song that has garnered the most attention over the course of the past 45 years, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”  

Universal Love.

And while the Beatles never recorded as a complete group again, John, Paul, George, and Ringo each continued to make music, both in solo careers and with other groups including one or two Silly Love Songs.

Released in 1971, the lyrics to Imagine suggest to me that John Lennon had a philosophy for love and peace all his own.  In a January 1981 interview with Playboy magazine, John Lennon stated, "I am no more a Buddhist, than I am a Christian..." I wonder if the fans of Kanye West have ever heard of John Lennon?


Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries

It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

So whether you subscribe to the Biblical belief of love, the teachings of Buddha and the philosophy of Metta, Imagine the world according to John Lennon, or all of the above, I wish you a very Happy Valentine's Day filled with much loving-kindness and peace to all!  Be sure to take lots of love this it it equal to the love you make

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Flavor of Yoga

Since the beginning of the New Year, there has been an influx of new students showing up to the mat.  Yea!  One of two things may be driving this:  My nagging is finally paying off...people are hauling their friends and neighbors to class to shut me the hell up OR a lot of people penciled in "try yoga" on their list of New Year's resolutions.  Either way, I'm a happy girl.  

More and more people are discovering the myriad of health benefits that having a regular yoga practice provides.  From managing stress and anxiety, to improving strength and flexibility to helping prevent cancer, the research and findings are vast, and as such the popularity of yoga is on the rise.

Are you one of those people that resolved to try yoga this year, but due to the multitude of choices, aren't sure where to go or what class to try?

Yoga is readily available at a many venues.  The first and most obvious being a studio.  Yoga studios usually offer the largest selection of classes on a daily basis, which makes it easier to find a class that works with our over-scheduled lives.  But having the convenience of schedule does not always come cheap.  The drop-in rate for a single class can easily be fifteen dollars or more depending on the size of the city in which you live. However, studios usually offer class packages or monthly memberships making the cost of yoga more affordable on a per class basis.

Many gyms and fitness centers offer yoga, in addition to several other group fitness classes as a benefit of membership.  This is a great way to sample yoga without making a large financial commitment to a studio.

Great yoga teachers can also be found teaching in church basements, community centers, in neighborhood clubhouses, and even at Lake Norman Taekwondo on Monday's at 10:15. (hint, hint!)  

If group fitness is not an option for you, many teachers offer private instruction or small group instruction.  The going rate is $50/hour and up, with an average of about $65/hour.  Again the price depends on the city in which you live and the experience of the teacher.

A good resource for finding classes near you is:

Okay.  That handles the where, but what about the what?

If they can do it, you can do it!
Even if you have never tried yoga, even if you cannot bend and touch your toes, even if you are well into your retirement years, THERE IS A YOGA CLASS FOR YOU.  Look for a class titled:  Beginning yoga, Gentle yoga, Restorative yoga, Chair yoga or look for the words, "good for all levels" in the description.

On the flip side, even if you are a hard core athlete, even if you run marathons or do cross-fit, THERE IS A CLASS FOR YOU.  Look for a class titled:  Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Hot, or Power yoga if you want to lose five pounds in sweat every time you practice.  Or, look for a class titled:  Yin yoga if you want to go past the muscle, deep into the fascia as a complement to heavy weight training.

Last summer I sat amongst a group of women and listened as they chatted about their protein shakes and wheat germ diets.  The conversation quickly turned from diet to exercise as each proclaimed, "Yoga is soooo boring."  WHAT!?  Obviously they haven't been to the right class...for them, for their lifestyle, for their personality type.

Like Baskin Robbins with 31 Flavors, yoga types and styles are many.  If you try one flavor of yoga and it's not to your taste, don't spit it out and walk away.  Sample another flavor.  Because like ice cream, yoga is delicious once your discover the flavor you like best!

  • AcroYoga:  A combination of yoga and acrobatics that utilizes partners to perform various aerial yoga poses. 
  • Ashtanga:  A vigorous, athletic flowing style of yoga comprised of six different pre-determined sequences, which students progress through at their own pace.  Considered a pre-cursor to vinyasa and power yoga, it heavily influenced the way we practice yoga today.
  • Bikram:  The name Bikram was trademarked by living yoga master Bikram Choudhury.  It is a series of 26 yoga poses completed in a ninety minute period in a room heated to 104 degrees fahrenheit with 40% humidity.  The classes begin and end with a prescribed breathing technique and always follow the same sequence.
  • Hatha:  The term "hatha" encompasses all styles/lineages of yoga.  When you practice, Iyengar yoga, you are practicing Hatha yoga.  When you practice, Ashtanga yoga, you are practicing Hatha yoga.  When describing a class,  Hatha typically refers to a style of yoga  practiced where each of the poses are held for several breaths, rather than moving quickly from pose to pose.  For this reason, Hatha yoga is good for beginners.
  • Hot:  Any style of yoga performed in a heated space.  Bikram yoga is hot yoga, but hot yoga is not Bikram yoga.
  • Iyengar:  The focus of this style of yoga is precise alignment.  Its founder, B.K.S. Iyengar is credited with being the first person to utilize yoga props (straps, blocks, etc.) which are now commonplace in most yoga classes/studios.  Props are used to make yoga postures accessible to all body types and assist the practitioner in finding proper placement of joints and skeleton.
  • Jivamukti:  A physically intense practice where each class has a theme that is explored through yoga scripture, chanting, meditation, asana (poses), pranayama (breathwork) and music.
  • Kundalini:  Kundalini yoga is rich in tradition and ritual, with its' devotees often dressed in flowing, white (or light colored) apparel with their hair covered in a turbine-like dressing.  Kundalini sequences, called Kriyas, usually consist of rapid, repetitive movements performed in conjunction with a designated breathing method or holding a pose while breathing in a particular way.  It goes beyond the physical performance of poses with its emphasis on breathing, meditation, mudras and chanting. 
  • Restorative:  Relieves the effects of stress by alternately stimulating and relaxing the body to move toward balance.  Considered "active relaxation", this form of yoga relies heavily on the use of props, such as:  blankets, blocks, bolsters, and straps to put the practitioner into the pose and leave him/her for several minutes.
  •  Thai Yoga Massage:  Often dubbed "lazy man's yoga", TYM involves two people: a "giver" and a "receiver" whereby the "giver" performs yoga on the "receiver".  It is a healing art that utilizes Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine along with yoga and focuses on balancing the physical and energetic bodies of the "receiver" while following his/her breath.  This is a great option for people with very limited mobility including but not limited to practitioners with arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and paralysis just to name a few.
  • Vinyasa:  One of the most popular styles of yoga, Vinyasa simply means to flow from one pose into the next.  It is very similar to Ashtanga, but the sequences on not predetermined.  It can be found in varying degrees of difficulty and intensity depending on the teacher and/or studio.  Typically a more intense vinyasa will be labeled "power" yoga.
  • Yin: Most of the styles of yoga described above are yang in nature, meaning the practitioner is moving through a series of yoga poses (asana) and typically staying in the pose for 2-30 seconds.  Yin yoga incorporates approximately 25 poses, seated or reclined, and each pose is held for 2-10 minutes.   Yang yoga targets muscles where yin yoga targets fascia.  This is a popular choice with the cross-fit community.  

If you're in the Charlotte Metro area:  Mooresville, Cornelius, Huntersville, Statesville, Concord or Davidson and would like recommendations for a yoga teacher or studio, please feel free to contact me.   Through my yoga teacher training, I have met some of the best in the area and would be happy to make the connection.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Great Minds Think Alike

Hatred does not cease by hatred but only by love.  
This is the eternal rule. 

Darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can do that.  
Hate cannot drive out hate only love can do that. 
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Winning Attitude

Today I sat for several hours in an over-crowded school cafeteria patiently waiting while Child Numero Uno auditioned for the all-District Honor Band.   I am no stranger to sitting and waiting.  I'm a parent.  It's what I do.   This is not even my first time at this venue.  I've visited this cafeteria with its cold, over-priced pizza for the past three years.  And you know what?   I don't mind cold, over-priced pizza.  In fact, I rather like it.  It symbolizes my child's willingness to put himself in the path of failure, and for that I am extremely proud.  In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the author Amy Chua states in part, "...the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those which they can eventually win a medal; and that medal must be gold."*

Clearly, I am no tiger mom.

And while he's had some success(es), this event is not one of them.  With 17 counties in the district and only two tenor saxophones chosen each year, the odds are stacked against him.  But still he tries. And still I'm proud.

Like Ms. Chua, you may believe my attitude is the parental justification of a child with a track record for failure, but can you imagine where we'd be if everyone who tried and failed, just simply quit trying?

Did you know that Michael Jordan, easily considered one of the best basketball players of all time, was actually cut from his high school basketball team?

What if J.K. Rowling had given up after her fifteenth rejection letter?  Can you imagine a world without the infamous boy wizard and his lightning bolt, shaped scar?

Or that for every home run Babe Ruth hit, he struck out twice?  When asked about this he simply said, "Every strike brings me closer to the next home run."

I couldn't agree more.  If we quit trying, we are certain to never succeed.

I haven't always had such a positive perspective about failure, but practicing yoga has taught me a few things beyond downward facing dog.  For example, it has taught me to be present; to live for today, to let go of yesterday, to not agonize about the future.  In doing so, I am able to shed my ego.  If I fail today, tomorrow will bring a fresh opportunity to try again.

You will often hear a yoga teacher touting:  Be. Here. Now.  It's not just a mantra, it's a way of life.  That's not to say I don't have moments of self-doubt.  I do.  But yoga empowers me to acknowledge those feelings and accept them.  Once I accept them, I can let them go, and the best way to do that is to come to the mat and breathe.

As of this writing, I still don't know whether or not Child Numero Uno has been chosen to participate in the all-District Honor Band this year.  Maybe this third attempt will be the one that puts him on the team. What I do know however, with 100% certainty, is that he definitely won't make it, if he doesn't try.

"You create your own universe as you go along"
~Winston Churchill, Nobel peace prize winner, twice elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, failed sixth-grade on his first attempt.

*As a side note, I want to clarify that when I read, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I loved it!  I only used a small snippet to prove a point in this post.  Overall, it was well-written, self-deprecating, and in the end the author experiences personal growth through the struggles she encounters with her rebellious younger daughter who prefers playing tennis to playing the violin.  Gasp!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Chewy Coconut Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I have a confession to make:  I am not a vegan or even a vegetarian.  I am not gluten-free, nor am I an avid consumer of organic-only products.  But a lot of my yogi (and non-yogi) friends are.  And therefore, when confronted with, "How do I show my love and appreciation to them during this holiday season?"  I decided to bake them cookies; not your average Christmas cookie, but a chewy coconut oatmeal raisin cookie made with only organic ingredients.

As a non-organic, non-gluten-free carnivore, some of the ingredients were completely foreign to me, but I was able to source all of them at either Whole Foods or Walmart.  Yes, Walmart!  They actually have a large selection of organic products in their baking aisle.


Chewy Coconut Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Servings:  48
Preparation time:  30 minutes

  • 1 cup coconut oil, softened
  • 1 cup organic whole sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 organic soy-free eggs
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups almond flour*
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 scant teaspoons Himalayan pink salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 2 cups dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 5-6 tablespoons water, as needed* 

Uncooked, golf-ball shaped cookies, pre-flattened

1.       Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2.       Line cookie sheet(s) with parchment paper.
3.       Cream coconut oil and sugar in a large bowl, add eggs and vanilla.  Set aside.
4.       In a separate bowl, mix the oats, almond flour, baking soda and salt.
5.       Stir the wet and dry together, then add cinnamon, raisins, coconut, and pecans.
6.       Roll into golf ball sized cookies and flatten***   Space approximately 1” apart.
7.       Bake 8-12 minutes until cookies are golden and fragrant.
8.       Let stand to cool.

*You can grind your own almond flour by placing whole almonds into a blender or food processor until a fine meal is produced.

*You can substitute almond flour for coconut flour.  I used 1 cup of almond flour and 1 cup of coconut flour. 

**If mixture is too dry to combine, add water until it sticks together.

Finished and fragrant!

I have another confession to make:  I'm not usually a fan of oatmeal raisin cookies, but these were delicious!  I ate way more than I should have, and while they are gluten-free, they are not calorie free!  Enjoy!