Saturday, June 19, 2010

Itchy Travel Feet

FYI--This was written in two parts: pre and post work.

"She kind of got stuck in her life, she waited too long..."

I overheard that in a stranger's random conversation while waiting for the train this morning. I don't know exactly what they were referring to, but it definitely describes one of my biggest fears: that it will be too late to do any of the things that I want to in life by the time that I (A) fix my body, (B) save up enough money, (C) work up enough nerve to do it, and, the big one (D) I figure out what exactly it is that I want. I'm afraid that I'll be stuck in my current job forever without ever doing work that actually matters. I've heard many of the people that have worked in sales for 10+ years say that, at some point they just stopped looking for something else and they just kind of ended up staying in sales...but they're not really happy with it. They just passed that point where they could make a change; that point where they're still relatively unattached and free. What do I want so badly right now, that I'm afraid I'll never get a chance to do again? TRAVEL. When am I ever going to be at this point in my life again? When I'm almost completely unattached. I have no boyfriend, no children, no pets. I've been living with minimal contact with my family for years. I'm not in school any more. I'm not in a job that I like. I'm also not locked into this job. It may feel like it, but I know that I could drop it the second that I wanted to and felt like I could, without putting myself in a place that's obviously worse off than where I am now. I'm not in a contract at my job and I'm not such an integral player that it makes a huge difference whether or not I'm there (as I would if I were a manager or something). There is almost nothing holding me here. I could say "my foot," but how long have I been living with that?! I could certainly manage living with a less than perfect foot, though it would definitely make traveling much easier if it were healthy and strong. The only thing I have to be accountable for is me and my student loans--that one "thing" that still holds me to society and says "you still have to work and earn money."

"It's time to go, I know. I've hung out in the sun long enough that wonder has turned into routine...All the signs are telling me: Move on."

I read that a little over a month ago in an article from the May 2010 issue of the National Geographic Traveler. It was an article titled, "Parting is such sweet sorrow," by Daisann McLane, and in that author's point of view, leaving a place is the "most emotionally intense thing" that travelers do. And I can understand that. You travel someplace completely new and then adapt to a new way of living, often discovering things about yourself and about life that you never would have prior to traveling to that place. In a way, it seems like locations become a part of who you are: California girl, Arizona desert rat...and they carry certain traits with them as well. Whenever I'm back in Cali, I feel that little bit of a tougher side showing through (I was more inland and it was anything but laid-back). Arizona is where I was more laid back and where I cultivated my love for the outdoors, the stars, and my "small town girl," (though my co-workers here would refer to it more as being naive). And Boston...Boston is the "city," where I learned to treasure my communication and connection with complete strangers. Boston is also a wonderfully unique city where history exists alongside the present. You can see it in the old "Puritan" laws that residents hate but refuse to give up; and in the historical buildings whose history was determined to be so important that it's original face cannot be changed (like the "post office" in South Boston that hadn't been one in over 50 years but still said "post office" on the front of the building).

Most importantly, I feel, Boston is where I started getting a glimpse of the vast world that exists outside the United States. Boston is where my adventurous traveler finally had a chance to come out and play. I loved the days where I could just hop on the subway or commuter rail and get off and wander around somewhat aimlessly...just to see a new place. I also learned how much fun and how incredibly rewarding it is to explore new places on your own. For some reason, it seems like people think that if a person (especially a younger woman) travels alone, bad things will absolutely happen. But you know what, I've only ever uncovered kindness. I find that traveling and exploring on your own lets you experience things in a completely different way, because you're not going by someone else's schedule or hearing their point of view. A good example for me is hiking. I much prefer to hike a new place on my own, as "dangerous" as it may be. I go slower, explore my surroundings more, take more pictures and I take more breaks to just stop and absorb the world around me. When I'm with someone else, we tend to move faster and notice less. Basically, you get to experience and see a new place through your own eyes first. And I've come to find that I usually treasure that experience more than when I visited a new area with someone else first. Though it is nice to be able to share the experience with others...that's what pictures are for :-)

It definitely feels like it is time to leave Boston, "wonder has turned to routine," and I feel that pull to pick up and venture out to new places...far away from the U.S. I've even been venturing away from the one "thing" that I thought would be the hardest to leave--my yoga studio. There are amazing and unique teachers here who could never be replaced, but I have a feeling that I will never be too far from a good yoga teacher/studio. Take the knowledge, leave the attachments. I've been trying to remind myself of that for these past few months because I know that I have a tendency to cling on to things that feel safe, secure and comfortable even if they're hurting me or holding me back (like my 6-day a week Ashtanga practice that was damaging my knees). It's not time to leave just yet (as in the next few months) but I feel like it's definitely soon. There's just nothing left for me here. But, until that time comes, for now, for this moment, I'm simply enjoying being exactly where I am: laying out on a blanket on my roof listening to the sounds of the birds and the wind in the trees, mixing with the sounds of cars, buses and my neighbors' voices; while savoring the smell of the restaurant below me and delighting in a spectacular sunset, bringing the end to a particularly beautiful Boston summer day.

~~~Don't ever let anyone tell you that city sunsets are boring :-)

Thursday, June 17, 2010


"What does it mean to change your life?"

Bindu Wiles asked that in her post earlier today and that's something I've been trying to figure out ever since I graduated from college. I've been making lots of changes during this past year: there's now green in my diet that is NOT food coloring; I've participated in and help set-up two pujas (a year ago, I didn't even KNOW what a puja was); I practice yoga with a passion equal to or greater than I did with running; I went on my very first vacation BY MYSELF; I've been more open about my life with people than I EVER have before; I cry a little more (which is actually a huge accomplishment for me) and I laugh a little easier; I got my very first passport (which BEGGING to be used); I drove in Boston for the first time while driving a U-Haul for the very first time--without maiming or killing anyone AND without destroying any property! I made an almost spontaneous decision to move out of a perfectly reasonable and good apartment to a fairly small but comfortable room with 2 complete strangers, I'm now sharing my writing with an entire WORLD of strangers when I used to get nervous whenever my teachers read my papers.

I also realized something during my yoga practice today as my forehead and hands reached my foot in a variation of Hanumanasana (a.k.a "splits pose") where your front leg is straight, your back leg is bent up and then you reach your hands and (maybe) your head back to your foot: my body has come a long way during this last year. My "runner's" body probably would not have been able to do a pose like that because my quads and many other areas were always super tight. That pose felt phenomenal! A perfect balance between "strength and surrender." And, after feeling how great it felt, the first thought that came to my mind, that I felt, was "I don't want to leave this place." "Place" having several meanings. The physical location: it was in one of my favorite studios and I was practicing next to a couple of the wonderful new friends that I've made through yoga. The shape my body was in, mainly the back bend. I've been loving back bends lately because they just make me feel so free. But also the strength and flexibility that my body has gained through the practice of yoga. Some areas might not be as physically strong as they were during different times of my life, but it feels different...more integrated? Kind of like the entire body feels strong and not just a few select areas? I'm still figuring out how to put words to that experience. "Place" also meant my state of mind at that open, free, happy and alive. That's definitely one good word to describe the difference in my body now, it feels alive. Every part of it, and that's hard to understand myself sometimes, let alone try to explain it to other people. Bindu had posted a reply from another person doing the 21-5-800 project: "Don't ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." I have never felt more alive than I do when I practice yoga. I can't explain it, but that's the best way to describe it.

But I also feel like it's been slipping from me as I keep getting more and more frustrated with the one area of my life that has seen NO movement or change ever since I realized that it needed it: my job. I know I have some days where I actually feel like I'm doing good there but more often than not, it feels like a giant area of stagnation and on my really bad days there, it feels like my "spirit" is dying. Melodramatic? Possibly. Though there have been many days where I look at the door to work and think, "I can't spend another minute in that place." I also can't figure out how to make a change. It's that question I was contemplating a few days ago: is it the place and the job that need to change? Or just me? "What does it mean to change your life?" What kind of change do I need in that area of my life? And the answer is always the same: I don't know. Obviously positive and genuine interaction is important for me. As is physical movement. One of my favorite past jobs was working as a beach attendant, where I hauled around luggage, bags of ice and canopies outside in the sun and lake air for 5 days a week. And I loved it....until it got quiet and there was no work to do. My mind craves work, stimulation, a challenge...whatever. In other words, it needs to be used AS WELL AS my body. In that view, my last career objective should have been ideal: law enforcement. Definitely a challenging job on all fronts. Except that working on the very fringe of it felt like it was going against my nature and it was changing my personality in ways that I didn't like. I want a challenge, yes, but not unending stress that leaves your heart and spirit depleted of trust and a sense of peace and of goodness in people. I know that many people are able to do that job without coming to that result, but simply being on the fringe of the law enforcement field was having that effect on me. On top of that, it felt too restraining physically. I've had itchy travel feet for the last 2-3 years.

is another thing that makes me feel alive: TRAVEL. There is something so freeing about it. Getting to see and experience how other people live without being attached to anything about it. It's as though because you don't live there and you aren't a part of that community, you get to experience all the good things about it. I'm not sure why, it's just a feeling I get. That's what I see when I travel to new places, I see all the beauty and amazing things that are there. I can obviously see some negative aspects of it (gravity and "homeless" people being the easiest to see) but it's like all the "good" parts overshadow it. As though, "yes, there is this 'bad' thing, but there is also this wonderful thing and this is worth remembering, because it is exists despite all the 'bad' things going on around it." Reminds me of how excited I get whenever I see random acts of kindness in a bigger city like Boston. A homeless person sharing his food with the pigeons, people giving up their seats on the subway or bus for someone else, someone pausing for a moment to hold a door open for someone they don't know, a group of skateboarders patiently taking turns practicing their tricks on the steps of the public library but stopping to let people walk by....there are so many. It feels like it is so much easier to see the negative side of things, why is that? I'm far from perfect and I definitely have days where I don't see that. But when I travel, it feels like it's easier to see the beauty in places and things. I feel "unburdened," by my own problems, and by the rules and norms of society because I don't live in the place I'm traveling to. I still respect the customs of wherever I am, but when you are a traveler, it's kind of expected and accepted that you'll slip up because you don't know how you're supposed to act. And it's ok not to fit in completely because you're not actually a part of that community. You're free, "boundless."

Learning also makes me feel "alive." You gain more knowledge, insight and skills and it feels like it's easier to see a bigger picture of the world around you; and to see how more things connect to each other. Nature, being outside in it and interacting with it also makes me feel very "alive." So does talking with people: listening to their stories, maybe even being able to help them in some way. Then there is also physical movement. I've been an active person for as long as I can remember and actually being able to use my body definitely makes me feel more alive: yoga, martial arts, running, kayaking, hiking, swimming...Again, I have no problem thinking about and figuring out all the things that make me feel "alive," or passionate, or happy. I just can't figure out where to go from here or what to do next. I feel like I keep chasing around the same ideas without any actual thoughts on what to purse or how to do it. It kind of feels like I'm beating my head against a wall, or the proverbial "dog chasing its tail." And it always leads me to the same conclusion: "I don't know." Quickly followed by, "I'm tired." :-) What does it mean to change your life? The recurring themes seem to be movement, deeper connections, knowledge and growth. And it feels like I'm seriously lacking in all these areas in my current job. So what needs to change? Me? The job? Both? Sri K Pattabhi Jois has said, "Practice, and all is coming." I sure hope so.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Find comfort in the pose"

I had a small epiphany today: open, honest and genuine communication can completely alter a situation. I had a good day at work. I'm always more than a little amazed when I'm having a fairly enjoyable day at work. Probably because I hated everything about it with so much passion for so long. Actually, my "dis-passion" was the only thing I was passionate about (I know, I'm ending sentences with a preposition...send in the grammar Nazis!). Am I eating my own words from the previous post when I was so completely frustrated with the reminder that "it's not the situation that needs to change, just your attitude?" Quite possibly. I saw a sign in a window today that read, "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll still land among the stars." My immediate reaction was a small smile and I felt the slightest lift in my spirit...until "that" part of my mind chimed in and said, "Sure, unless you fall so short that you end up burning up in the atmosphere." Ouch! Really?! When did I get that pessimistic?! And I only say and think things like that to and about myself. I have far more encouraging thoughts and words for others, and I believe and hope for every one of them. So why don't I do the same for myself?

So, anyways, work was surprisingly good, and it was doing one of the things I usually hating doing the most: meetings. One of my responsibilities is holding little "trainings" or meetings with the people in my areas of responsibility. And I despise doing it. I don't like having to be in the center of attention and "speaking" in front of other people. I hate having everyone watching me and having to provide answers. I'm always afraid of giving out the wrong information, of it being interpreted wrong and then having people end up doing something wrong and then being responsible for it. I don't like being responsible for other people's actions. Aside from that, the "meeting" topics tend to be repetitive and feel worthless as they only seem to exist to fulfill some audit point. It also often feels like no one actually cares about anything I was talking about. Today was different. I had to go over the results from the store's recent inventory count and discuss the areas of high shortage (a.k.a "loss"). I was surprised to see how interested people were in the subject. Even more than that, I was surprised at their input. The other part of the meeting was to discuss what they thought might be responsible for the shortage. It was a good reminder why it's important to listen to people outside your usual "field" on whatever the topic may be because they literally have a different point of view--their experience with it is different so what they see is different. When I see shortage, I automatically see theft. That's literally all I see. I look for theft, that's my job. But, as anyone who has ever worked in retail can probably tell you, there are so many other "legit" (meaning not dishonest or illegal) ways for a shortage/loss to occur. I won't go into them because this isn't the place for it, but that's not the point. The point is that I wouldn't have even been aware of it if I didn't talk to and listen to people who have a different experience with it and, therefore, see other aspects of it. Some of it may not be accurate or relevant, some of it might be...but that's something we'll eventually figure out as we keep watching what happens in the store.

Another thing I loved about today was getting to talk honestly and openly with other people. And you know what, people have a lot to say! And many times I think people just want someone to listen and be open and interested in what they have to say. To really hear what they're concerned about and think is important. It felt like a really productive day because it felt like I really had them more aware, engaged, and interested in what is going on in the store. I also learned more about the people who work in the store, the people who shop in the store and about the store itself.

I also got a nice treat during my lunch break. I got to eat lunch with a couple of my "yoga buddies." Though I do enjoy being alone to get a mid-day "re-charge" by resting and listening to music during my break, this was a nice change. I feel like if I had done that today I would have actually lost energy. I also feel like I don't get to spend a lot of time with friends so I rarely turn down an opportunity to be around them.

My yoga practice this morning was a "slow vinyasa." One thing I love hearing my yoga teachers say is to "find enjoyment/ease/comfort" in the pose. We all have poses that are among our least favorite and make us groan every time the teacher says to do them. I get varying instructions on them. One teacher likes to remind us that it's our practice and that we don't want to do something in our practice, or if it isn't serving or benefiting us, then we don't actually have to do what they say...what we do in our practice is our choice. The other is what Kai over at The Reluctant Ashtangi said, "If it feels hard, it’s worth exploring." This could actually tie in with the first set of do you know if it's serving or benefiting you if you aren't present and don't explore it? Me? I tend to zone out whenever poses get difficult or intense. It's kind of an effort to "quiet the mind" so that I can get the benefit of whatever the pose is. Problem is I'm also not breathing as deeply. In fact, sometimes I stop breathing all together. Neither one of those is good...especially when it's warm in the studio, makes you really dizzy :-) Not only that, I'm also missing an opportunity to learn what is making the pose difficult. Is it an alignment issue? Injury? Or simply yoga "growing pains," where parts of my body are getting used, stretched and open that have never before received any attention? Won't ever know if I zone out and completely shut the mind down...might as well give it some good work to do if it insists on voicing its opinion during my practice. Sometimes it seems like yoga has a very negative view of "the mind," like it's this useless thing that exists outside ourselves and serves merely to tear and weigh us down and must be disposed of. That could just be me. Either way, I think there is a good reason for "the mind" and that we just have to use that part of ourselves in a healthier more productive way...enter one of the many aims of yoga. Actually applying that theory...I think that's one of the hardest "practices" out there. I'm still working on that :-)

Monday, June 14, 2010


It's the end of the day and I really have nothing to write about. I did laundry, read blogs, made a bunch of quinoa for the rest of the week, and picked up a last minute shift at the yoga studio. Nothing to really write about. Thoughts running around in my head...nothing I haven't already covered yet. I'm really stuck. Kind of like my life, lol. I've analyzed every part of my life and behavior to death, read several "find-your-idea-career" books and listed everything that I love to do, don't like to do, what I'm passionate about...on and on. And I ended up not practicing yoga today. I feel pretty un-inspired and stuck. Think that about covers it. Better to write a few words of meaning than rambling on in circles to meet a word count? Today, I'm thinking yes. I learned during my last year of college that when I felt like I wasn't getting anywhere in a paper, it was better to shut the computer off and rest and then wake up fresh and with better focus. On that note, goodnight all, here's wishing everyone a restful night wherever you are.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dementors in Limbo

"Be grateful for what you have." "It's not the circumstances that need to change, just your attitude towards them."

I hear versions of these sentiments many times in yoga classes and many times, they actually make me a little angry. I am grateful for the good things that I have in my life. I am grateful for a strong immune system despite having a less than healthy diet. I am grateful for a relatively strong and limber body (despite some chronic injuries). I am grateful for my great new roommates who are quickly becoming friends. I am so grateful for my yoga practice and that I have access to some pretty phenomenal teachers and studios. I am grateful to have a boss who actually cares about the well-being of his employees. I am thankful to live in a city whose mayor reminds people to check on their elderly neighbors during times of crisis and extreme weather; to be in a city where the subway uses professional athletes to advertise being courteous to other riders on the trains. I am grateful to be in a city where it is possible and even sometimes more economical and more efficient to live without a car. I am grateful to be able to live with an animal again. That I have a computer with access to the Internet so that I am able to easily access information and be able to stay connected with friends and family. I could keep this list going on for quite a while. I have no problem finding things in my life for which I am grateful. And I'm fully aware that having a positive attitude can make even the worst of situations better. So, with all that, why is it that whenever I stop moving and/or am not "doing something," I feel nothing but frustration and a strong urge to find a way to escape my life. No; I am not suicidal--I never have been. I'd actually be far more likely to drop off the face of the planet to travel "aimlessly" around the world a pied (by foot); who knows, could actually be what I need, lol. Indeed it's quite the opposite--I want to live!

Limbo. That's how I refer to my life at this point. It's where I've felt like I've been ever since I graduated from college a year and a half ago. It was a major transition for me because I lost two huge elements of my identity: “student” and “runner.” I'd been a student for my entire conscious life: preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school and 7 1/2 years of college. My entire life revolved around being a student: when you go to sleep, when you wake up, when you go to work, what kind of job you do, when you do any sort of extracurricular activities, any sort of social life (which I didn't have)...everything is centered around helping you achieve that one massive goal of obtaining a college degree. So, what do you do when it's gone? For some, the answer might be obvious: more education or going to work in the field of your degree. But what if you discover that you don't want to do either one of those? And what if you lost the ability to do the only other thing in your life that gave you fulfillment? During my last track season I fractured my foot and was forced into a sedentary life for 3 months directly after I finished my last semester in college AND after I had moved into my very first apartment and was living completely by myself. To use a term from Harry Potter, you get to live with your very own "Dementor." For those who have never read Harry Potter, here is a brief description of what that fictional creature is:

"..They glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them... Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you."

That is the best description of what those months while I was in the boot and during the many weeks of physical therapy felt like. So, in more recognizable terms, you end up falling into a deep depression...until a voice inside of you finally screams loud enough, "this is not me!!!" Then you fight like hell to get out.

I didn't start practicing yoga because of the depression. I was already starting to work my way out of it once I was finally more mobile. But I was a bit too overzealous and I ended up injuring my back after embarking on a hike that my body was not yet ready for (it seems I have this tendency to do "too much, too soon, too fast"). I was once again rendered immobile and I said to myself, "I am not doing this again!" Then I found myself doing the only movement that didn't bring pain to my body: yoga. I can see now that it is also slowing helping to give me my life back. My body is finally able to move again and is getting stronger in some areas (while others obviously need more support than just yoga can give). My moods are considerably more stable and brighter than they used to be. And, after almost 3 years of seeing nothing but the bad side of people through my work, my relationship to other people is healing as well.

So why do I still feel the need to escape? Because I still spend 5 days a week at a place I can't stand doing work that I hate, and I need to leave my job? Or is it simply my outlook that needs to change? When is it the circumstances/environment that need to change and not just you? It kind of reminds me of the contrast between sociology and psychology. Sometimes it seems like sociology sees the individual as being completely controlled by his/her surroundings (i.e. society) without any ability to think and act independent of the society he/she is in; while it seems like psychology places far too much responsibility on the individual without taking into account the pressures from the outside world (i.e., media, advertising, cultural traditions, social norms, etc). This could all very well be factually inaccurate, but that's how it seems to me. But that's straying a little too far off on a different tangent...

Either way I have been doing a lot better, but all that came to the forefront of my mind again after someone at work asked me if I had gone through any sort of depression after I couldn't run anymore. I remember thinking, "Oh yeah, you don't know the half of it, lol." Yesterday, Bindu Wiles posted a blog topic on fear. She asked, "What are you afraid of?" For me, I'm afraid that I'll never find my place in this world, and that I'll forever be stuck in this state of limbo with a life that has no purpose. I'm also terrified that there's serious damage to my foot and back (and now also my knee!) and that I'll never recover and be able to do all the things that I want to do. It's still a daily struggle not to fall into that depressive mode, so I do my best to keep looking for healthy ways to deal with it. Yesterday I read an article on that discussed what to do if you start falling back into a relapse of any sort (addiction, depression, etc) and there were a couple suggestions in particular that really caught my eye: "With severe depression or a crippling addiction, though, positive thinking can sometimes make matters worse." Which would explain why those sentiments I talked about at the beginning of this post make me upset. As the author also says in this article, people who are depressed or are fighting an addiction tend to have super low self-esteem and feel like they are the worst possible people in the world. So, when I hear people saying "be grateful for what you have; it's not the situation, just your attitude towards it, etc," it makes me feel like I'm weak, even deserving, of the depression because I can't just simply be happy by "changing my attitude." You beat yourself over the head because, "hey, what do you have to be depressed about?! Don't you realize how bad other people have it?!" That's a hard thought to push away because it makes so much sense; until I'm able to pull in the non-competitive attitude I learned through yoga. Our pain and suffering is not a competition. It doesn't matter how small it is in comparison to what other people are going through. The circumstances of each person's life are different and all that matters is that someone is hurting, for whatever the reason may be. The outward expression of whatever it is might be different, but the feelings tend to be similar. Reminds me of a quote I saw on a fellow 21-5-800 member's site: "Be kind. Everyone is fighting a great battle." -St. Athanasious

The article also suggests to "say yes anyways:" "Always say yes to an invitation out. That keeps you from isolating, which is so easy to do when you're grieving or stuck in a depression or off the wagon in a big way." Even though I just read this article, this was a big reason why I took a leap and decided to live with roommates. I finally accepted that, during this time of my life, it is not best for me to spend that much time alone. I know that, sometimes, simply being around caring people (without even talking to them) is enough. I do still need time to myself to process and re-charge and I definitely make sure that I get enough of it.

When I read that suggestion in the article, I took it as a hint to change up my yoga practice for today. I went to 2 classes that a couple of my friends were teaching. The first was a sweet, gentle little class held outside amongst rose bushes, trees, and birds :-) What, I ask you, could be LESS depressing? I LOVE practicing outside: getting to feel the air on my skin, actually getting to see the sky when the teacher says "reach to the sky;" feeling the grass beneath my feet and hands; a dog that has strayed away from its owner coming over to say hello, reminding us not to take our yoga too seriously ;-). The grass hadn’t been mowed, so it was very high and made a tiny wall around our towels (no mats, this was “old-school”style!) that kind of gave me the feeling actually being “held” during savasana. This class was the embodiment of "community" yoga: it was outside in a neighborhood meeting area, in the open for everyone to see and to join; donation only, so it was affordable; and it was a gentle practice, so it was accessible for all body types and levels. We even had a mother and her two daughters stroll by and join us on a whim! Very sweet little practice :-) The second class was also a community class but held inside one of my favorite yoga studios. It's a one-room studio where I literally feel welcomed and accepted as soon as I enter. The class was full of a variety of twists and a few fun standing balance sequences. I also got to see some yoga buddies that I haven't really talked with in a while. I am so grateful that by changing my practice and accepting invitations to go out, I was able to support my friends during the beginning stages of their lives as yoga teacher, and that I was able to receive the best hug that I've had in a while :-)

What's most important

I'm forgoing hitting the 800 word count for today in favor of what I think is most important for this moment: talking with my new roommates and forming real connections with them, rather than keeping to myself and playing the hermit card so that I will hit my 800 word limit. That and sleep :-)

I do enjoy journal writing because it gives me a chance to process everything that has happened during my day, but sometimes what I really need is the human get myself out of my head. I've discovered that it's easy for things to seem worse than they are when the only opinion you have is the same overly critical voice that's followed you for the majority of your life...your own. So, no 800 words for today. I went to work, had an intense day in the world of retail security, let some of it loose during my evening vinyasa yoga class and then had some positive human interaction with my roommates...and the dog :-)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Day of Rest

Today, my yoga practice was one that is always a little difficult for me: not going to class. I decided that I needed a day off because all the signs were showing that I was not letting myself slow down. Clothes are piling up, my dishes aren't clean and my eyes have been drifting closed at work because I usually end up writing later at night. All good signs that today is an off-day. It's always one that is a little hard for me because I still have the old runner's mentality that says you can't miss a day of running because you'll fall behind: you're body is going to get stiff, your muscles are going to get weak...Which is crazy because it's only one day. Even one of the most intense yoga practices that I've seen (Mysore Ashtanga) has a regular day of rest, sometimes 2 when there is a Moon Day (either a full or new moon). And if you're a lady then you're even luckier because their view is that you should rest more during "that time of the month;" it's even called a "ladies holiday!" Furthermore, if you believe in this faith, even God gave Himself a day of rest back when the world was being created. I'm not a Christian and religion is still an undecided and confusing topic for me, but if we can be open to the idea that even a higher being needs a day off, then maybe it won't kill us if we take one too :-)

On the physical level, your body needs tie to rest, recover and rebuild. I learned that in my weight training classes back in high school: you are supposed to space out your workouts because when you workout you're literally breaking your muscle down so that it can grow back stronger. But it's hard for something to grow and rebuild if you keep breaking it down and never give it a chance to rest! These kinds of days can actually reveal a lot about what other areas of your life need attention, if any, because you have to rely on them instead of your physical (asana) yoga practice. It also gives you a chance to see how your asana practice is effecting your body. One of the biggest things I usually tend to notice is how food effects my body. If I eat too much junk food and I haven't had a physical yoga class, I can really feel how much it weighs down my body. It literally feels like it gets stuck in my body. And not just in my stomach, but also in my arms, neck, legs, back...everywhere. Which makes sense when I remember something a friend (who is also a yoga teacher and holistic health counselor) told me: "your food literally becomes a part of your body." So when you fill it with junk, that is going to be coursing through your veins and muscles. Does that mean that I never eat junk food? Of course not. Just like my friend and pretty much everyone else that lives in the U.S, I live in the "real" world where sometimes I run late and forget to make my food; or I want to enjoy a tasty sweet or go out for food with friends (or family when I am with them). But I've also really started to notice that if I eat too much of it, I start to get cranky and my body doesn't feel so good. That's even more apparent when I haven't been to a yoga class where I can bend, twist and sweat the toxins out of my body. So after a lifelong diet that rarely included vegetables and cooking my own meals but always included highly processed and sugary foods, this is always an area of my life that I am working on.

I recently completed a 21-day detox which was the longest that I had ever been able to keep sugar and processed foods out of my diet. At one point, there was a giant platter of my favorite cookies hanging out in my office at work and I didn't feel the urge to even eat a little bite of them. I felt pretty incredible. My moods were more stable and even if I couldn't notice too many other changes in my body, there was no mistaking the benefit it made to my yoga practice. I could get deeper into my twists and it was easier to access the muscles in my abdominal area. And then "life" happened. I knew it would and I tried to hang on as long as I could, but it was causing me more stress and discomfort to keep resisting than to just let myself be knocked off balance for a little while. The "life" I'm talking about was a whirlwind trip to visit 8 family members in 2 states within the span of a week followed by moving to a new apartment with 2 complete strangers. All the traveling meant that I wasn't cooking and the foods my family and I were eating were definitely not the most healthy. I've done this process before: kicking out the sugar and junk food for a while, something happens and it slips back in, and then I have to try and balance it back out. I'm still in the balance it back out phase. Because cooking is still very new for me, I'm super self-conscious about cooking in front of people (especially when one is a good cook, like one of my new roommates) because I'm afraid that I'm doing it wrong. Which is an odd idea since cooking is all about experimenting and discovering what is best for your body. And both of my new roommates are very open and non-judgmental people. But I still get really self-conscious and feel like I'm being watched and judged; and then I kind of just give up and resort to my old comfort foods: bagels and cereal. Both of which seriously lack in any real nutrition. It's a process that is made even more difficult when you take into account the fact that sugar is addictive and I react very strongly to it, especially when I'm frustrated with other important areas of my life (like my job). Adding in the fact that it is included in the vast majority of pre-packaged and processed foods that are readily available for those who are "on-the-go" makes it very difficult to knock myself back out of this habit. So, I think it's time to bring back my new, easy, simple and healthy "go-to," comfort food: kitchari. Kitchari is wonderful. It's simple and it's a very complete meal. I've also used it as a sort of foundation to move from, adding a few more veggies or switching up the grains, etc. Here's the recipe that my Mysore teacher gave us when we did an Ayurvedic cleanse last year:

"1 c. Basmati Rice
½ c. mung dahl (Split mung dahl is yellow color and can be purchased at Asian and Indian groceries. If it has added coloring, rinse double well in cold water and soak for a few hours before cooking, or overnight)
1 c steamed vegetables of your choice (one at a time)
1 Tbsp ghee
1 tsp each as you like, whole or powdered: cumin seed, fresh ginger, fennel seed, coriander, turmeric, salt.
Fresh cilantro (optional)

Cook the rice and dahl together with [3] c. water. White rice takes about 20 min. On the side sauté the spices in the ghee (except turmeric, you just add this one at the end) a few minutes, until you can smell them. Don’t burn your spices. These will be added along with salt before eating. If the veggies steam quickly you can throw them in with the grains and spices, stir with fork and cover for the last 5 minutes of grain time. If they are longer cooking, cook them on the side and add in with the spices for the last 5 minutes."

On her blog, she said to use 6 cups of water, but when we did the cleanse, she said 3. I imagine that 6 would make it more like a soup, which would probably taste just as good. Either way, it's super simple and it tastes pretty fantastic. I find the philosophies and teaching of Ayurveda intriguing and very important to American society because in this view, food is medicine. My teacher always reminded us that "Food and the act of eating is sacred. Sit down; connect with your meals. Chew. Relax. Enjoy." I think in modern society where we are growing increasingly disconnected from the foods we eat, that idea is an important one to remember.

Runner's heart

"Would you still run and compete like you did in college if you could?"

One of the sales associates at my store asked me that as he was leaving today. Like me, he used to run. I ran track and cross country throughout all of high school and for one semester in college. That last semester was incredible. I had just started running again after taking about 3 years off to let my body recover from numerous injuries. I was faster than I ever was in high school, my body felt stronger and I enjoyed it more. This last time around, I had a wonderful coach who was happy with any sort of improvement--be it a better time or simply having built the strength it takes to carry a consistent pace. I also had a better mentality. It's kind of funny: getting to run races with people who were so phenomenally out of my league actually made the experience more enjoyable by taking out the competition with other people. I had no hope of ever being close to running at their pace; so it became more just about improving myself against my own standards (rather than comparing my efforts to other people's). I was also a better coach to myself. Due to schedule conflicts, I had to do the majority of the practices on my own early in the morning. My coach would email or text me my workouts, I'd do them and then tell her the results. It really became my own practice. I warmed up the way I felt was best, took as long as I needed to when I stretched and gave myself more recovery time between sets than I would normally get or allow myself to have in a regular team practice. I would even do extra sets of whatever I was doing simply because it felt so good and I wanted to push myself beyond what I thought I could do. That was definitely some of my best running.

However, the same thing happened to my body that always did when I ran track: we went to war. Ibuprofen became a daily vitamin and my shins were always wrapped in Ace wrap and athletic tape after the shin splints returned to both of my legs. After the season ended, my body won and I stopped running because the pain in my right foot had become unbearable. After seeing 3 doctors, it was discovered that I had been running on a stress fracture. I cracked a bone directly where the foot bends. Three months in a cast boot (2 on crutches), over 14 total weeks of physical therapy, at least 4 cortisone injections and almost 2 years later, my foot is still hurting. I haven't run with any sort of consistency in months--just a handful of sporadic attempts.

Do I miss running? Of course I do. It was a huge part of my life for a long time and eventually became a part of who I am--a part of my identity. I miss the simplicity of running. Just throw on a pair of shoes and off you go. I almost never ran with headphones because I liked being able to hear what was going on around me. And, as someone who developed asthma when I was young, I liked being able to hear myself breathe. Running is where I first learned how to control my breathing. I miss running early in the morning when the city is still sleeping and quiet but nature is awake and coming back to life. I miss feeling the sun and the breeze on my face and I even miss running into the wind. It always felt like I got an extra boost of air, like it was a reminder to take a breath. Some people run as an escape or a way to tune things out--but for me, it was almost like getting to connect with and be a part of the world around me. Not to mention the simple act of running felt good--like my legs were set free and were able to really move. I miss the endurance base that running gave me for every other activity that I did. Of course, there was the slim runner's body with legs of steel. Lately, my legs feel anything but strong.

But there were things I didn't like as well. My muscles were perpetually tight and sore, even if I stretched. I usually developed a persistent hacking "runner's cough" that hurt my chest, lungs and back. Oh, and I was always battling some injury (did I mention the shin splints, lol). And I tended to be a bundle of nerves because I was always worrying about an upcoming race and about reaching my goal times. So would I still compete if I could? Probably not. Too much competition tended to suck the joy out of the activity. Would I still run if I could? I don't know yet. I find great joy in it, but it obviously takes a toll on my body.

Thankfully, now I've found a way to move and strengthen my body without destroying it, through yoga :-) Today was a Vinyasa type class that highlighted so many things that I love about the practice. I love that it is an exercise that uses your entire body. That you can often achieve more by relaxing and easing into a pose that by tensing up and muscling into it. To get the breath so deep that you can literally feel it in places where you don't actually have lungs! And it feels soo good to stretch and open up parts of your body that you didn't even realize were accessible. We did a pose that has become one of my new favorites: Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana--otherwise known as "compass pose." It had been a long time since I had done that pose and now my body is so open that it feels absolutely amazing because of the deeper stretch along the side of the body and in the back of the extended leg. And then there's the fun of "gravity surfing," when you're able to find that balance between muscle strength and the power of breathing to flow between different arm balances! We did one of my favorite sequences that is getting easier every time I do it :-) Asta Vakrasana to Eka Pada Koundinyasana II with a jumpback to chatarunga. It's really quite incredible when all the elements fall into place and you are able to move through challenging sequences with grace. And then you are rewarded further by getting to drift off into a blissful savasana at the end of class...

I think that I will always be a runner in my heart and I hope that one day I will be able to run again. But, for now, yoga is what seems to be serving my body and mind the most; like this is just the next step in whatever I'm "supposed" to be doing :-)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Waking Up

I'm always amused that I when I sit down to "write" (like I did in college) I always think that I don't know how I'm going to hit a certain word count because I don't "know what to write." I just wrote my friend an email that was WELL over the 800 word count. I didn't even have to physically write it out first (as in pen/pencil and paper) in order to "get the juices flowing." It's probably because it was to a friend and I feel like she's an open and comfortable place to talk so freely that I don't feel like I have to structure my thoughts. They just come together, naturally.

This is a bit harder, at first. I knew what I wanted to say to my friend, but what do I want to say here for all the world to see (or at least those with internet access)? There a lot of thoughts roaming around my head today, which tends to happen when you wake up the mind :-) At first the commotion was actually welcome. There have been so many days during these past several months that I've felt pretty numb.

First off, a brief note about what I do for roughly 7.5-8.5 hours/day, 5 days a week at roughly 37.5 hours a week. I work in loss prevention for a high end retail store (think $1000 handbags and clothing, yes these things ACTUALLY exist). This means that the majority of my time at work is spent watching several monitors and numerous cameras for anyone who might try to steal. I won't say much more than that because it is a sensitive job and this is the internet. So, sounds exciting, right? Sure...when something is happening. When nothing is going on, it becomes mind-numbingly boring and you are left with only the thoughts in your head to keep you occupied. Some days I would swear that I could feel my brain cells dying. And then when something does happen, I have conflicting thoughts over it. I'm happy that we caught someone and stopped them from getting away with committing a crime, and that we did our jobs well...but I'm also upset that the satisfaction comes at someone else's expense. Because when things settle down, you realize that they're human, and that some of them are going through some pretty rough things in their life. I know that there are other angles from which to look at this. You could say that you're helping to stop them from doing things that are destructive to their lives--not to mention to others--and that you're forcing them to stop and look at what they're doing in their lives and how it impacts others. But I don't actually get to see that. It's a nice thought that can help keep me sane, but I don't actually know that's what happens; that there's any improvement in their lives. It's not a "mission" or goal of mine that I have to accomplish whenever I catch someone, it's just that I don't like to see people destroying their lives when there is so much potential in every human being. When I went to a prison during my internship in college (I was a criminal justice and sociology major) I was amazed, albeit horrified, at the ingenuity of people who often had no "higher education" but were highly motivated and had nothing but time perfect their skills.

Anyways, I guess it's the insufficient amount of positive human interaction in my job that tends to cause me a lot of stress. That and the isolation. The sitting in an office that is separated from the activity of the rest of the store, staring into cameras all day long. Though we are definitely encouraged to walk around the store, I guess I decided that wasted movement was the worst of two unappealing choices. But it also became very frustrating to keep sitting in a place that brought me so much dissatisfaction, so I kind of started shutting everything down.

Which is what I am now trying to correct through writing...which has made me remember the other reason for shutting off the mind--I think about a lot of stuff. I think about my life, the lives of the people in my family and also larger more macroscopic things about our society as well as "life" in general. All those thoughts running around in my head was one reason yoga became so appealing--it gave my mind a chance to stop moving. But it also felt like a part of me was missing. Of course, once I started doing more yoga, I also became more interested and wanted to know more about it: why we were doing certain poses, why we held them for whatever length, where it all came from, why it effected people in the ways that it does. Which, poses aside, is the usual gamut of questions that runs through my head when I think about the things I see and experience in life. I try to understand something's nature and how it relates to things at both the macro and micro levels. Sometimes I make some pretty interesting connections (or at least what I think are interesting and make sense to me); other times it's harder to see.

But, after many months of practicing yoga, an interesting thing has happened. The time spent looking at the cameras has almost become something like a meditation. I'm observing things about the people and things I see AND I'm watching my own thoughts as I'm doing it. It's also getting easier to determine which thoughts and ideas I should just let pass through my mind and which ones actually deserve attention at that moment. Like today, I realized that--for today--taking notice of this process was important because it made work more tolerable and a little more interesting. Being able to see a shift in my thinking was more important than what I was actually thinking about today. Thought I know well from experience that if there's something else in my mind that also needs attention, it'll keep appearing :-)

Now, on the the best part of my day: YOGA!!! Today was a Forrest yoga day. I'd been sitting for most of the day and I needed to twist and get some deep stretches. Anyone who has taken a Forrest yoga class knows that it can get Deep (yep, that's deep with a capital 'D') because you're in those poses for a long time. It's great because it gives you plenty of time to (A) get a stretch and create some new space, (B) you get more time to see how making a slight shift in the pose can totally change what you feel in the pose. Other times, the poses are more of a strength-builder (like being in Warrior 1 legs throughout several sequences) which challenges you to keep your focus without resorting to beating yourself over the head for falling short of your expectations when you do. I say "when" because it's inevitable: eventually everyone falls out of a pose. As my friend noted in her own blog (and as any good yoga teacher will tell you): learning how to fall with grace, humor and acceptance is part of the practice. Of course, the most important part is that you keep coming back but, this time, with more knowledge on what you need in order to be in a pose--to have a certain posture AND be able to breathe deeply while in it. I was very wobbly tonight. I have a chronic foot injury that has been acting up lately and it made several standing balance poses that are usually simple for me a little more difficult. I also noted a re-occurring and amusing thing that has developed during just about any ab sequence: my abs don't like to do any work, lol! EVERYTHING else will do work--namely my hip flexors, back, neck...face, lol--but the abs are chillin. We finish the ab sequence, people groan and clutch their stomachs; I groan and stretch out my hip flexors and try to breathe some space into my back--which, for anyone who practices Forrest knows that is the exact opposite of what is supposed to happen, lol. I'm discovering that, for right now, I have to do the less "advanced" option of the ab section in order to get the abs to wake up!

Another thing I love about Forrest yoga is how deep it gets me in savasana. Through my Mysore practice, I have come to learn that savasana ("corpse pose") is probably one of the most important poses in any yoga class. It's the time when you completely stop moving and let your body process everything you just did to it. Tonight was one of those savasanas where you kind of leave the room. where you can hear from a distance that the teacher is telling the class that it's time to move, but you don't actually register anything until you hear multiple voices end the class by saying, "Namaste."

On that note, I think I've more than passed that 800 word count (yep, definitely feeling like college, it drove my teachers nuts: "Good paper, but TOO LONG!"). So, I'm going to say, "Good night," for now and hit the bed for an extended that will hopefully last for at least 6 hours :-)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


"21 days, 5 days of yoga a week, 800 words of writing per day." I saw the badge for this challenge/project on a blog posting at The Reluctant Ashtangi site. The basic gist of this project is pretty self-explanatory: for a period of 21 days, members will practice yoga 5 days a week and then write 800 words about something--anything. I read that around 10:30 on the night it began (Tuesday, June 8) and immediately decided it was something I wanted and needed to do--though it would take me over an hour to figure out what to call my blog!

At the project's website, Bindu Wiles said that "the point is to get writing again daily..." and this struck a chord for me. Writing had always been one of my strongest skills--from the very first penmanship award I won in the second grade through the 5-20 page term papers I wrote throughout college. One of my English teachers in college used to tell us that if we couldn't figure out exactly what we wanted to write about, then to simply start writing. It didn't even have to be complete sentences or be grammatically correct. But through the simple act of putting pen to paper, a common theme would eventually emerge. That advice stuck and writing eventually became a way for me to literally see my thoughts in a very tangible way and be able to look back and see how things in my life evolved, or stayed constant.

However, my college writing skills aren't really necessary in my current job. And after many months of being unable to find a way out of the seemingly endless state of post-college limbo, I became very frustrated, un-motivated and un-inspired. Gradually, I wrote less and less. So this project is, in part, an effort to wake up my mind and keep my writing skills alive. Another thing on the project's site that caught my eye was the idea of this becoming a "container" for all the thoughts roaming around in my head. I found that incredibly ironic because my new roommate and I were discussing this very idea Monday night. She had used a huge 10-foot long piece of butcher-type paper to literally draw out and connect her ideas; and I used to write. So, again, the writing portion is an effort to re-build that "container." I had also been tossing around the idea of starting a blog for a while but had been reluctant to jump in. Part of me thought: "what's the difference between journal writing and blogging? In both places, you're just writing about what's going on in your head." True, but when you know that there is a possibility that someone might read it, your writing tends to change. For me, it becomes a little more cohesive and I tend to see myself with a little more humor and focus a little less on how frustrating my life seems. So, this project just might help repair my positive outlook :-)

The last thought that finally gave me that last nudge is something I often hear my yoga teachers say: "send it out there to the universe." I've seen the input and support that can come from the blogging community--occasionally I've even contributed input to someone else's blog, someone I don't even personally know! It's just someone who shares a common interest and passion. I tend to have a lot questions, musings and thoughts buzzing around my head but how am I supposed to get an answer or response if it just stays in my head--or in my notebook? "Put it out there for the universe." I have no idea what will come from making the spontaneous decision to join this project (literally at the last minute), or if I will continue blogging after 21 days is over, but it'll be an interesting experience either way :-)

Oh, I also practice yoga--a lot :-) Ashtanga, Forrest, Vinyasa, Yin, Kripalu, Restorative, AcroYoga...I even jumped into my very first Kundalini class last week. I find just about every style I've tried to be completely fascinating with a unique point of view to offer to the growing world of yoga. In the beginning, my practice had a very strong Forrest yoga influence--including an unforgettable week of intensives with Ana Forrest in October of 2009. But I felt like I was missing a foundation in my practice. I had never really settled on just one style or one teacher. So I added more Ashtanga classes and developed a very dedicated, 6-day a week Mysore practice for about 3-4 months...until persistent knee pains grew worse and encouraged another shift in my practice around yet again. As of now, I still go to Mysore a 2-3 days a week and am working on the Kurmasana sequence while having fun mixing the blood around in my head while doing drop-backs :-) But I also include some basic Vinyasa classes with some of my favorite teachers, the occasional Forrest class and an awesome class that's full of inversions and arm balances :-) Though yoga is a fairly new addition to my life (it'll be a full year in a couple of weeks) it has quickly become something I treasure, even if it has a tendency to occasionally be very confusing. Yoga is effecting me in ways that is often hard to understand myself let alone to be able to explain to or discuss with other people. So, I'm really looking forward to being able to discuss this part of my life with people who probably understand it better than I do.

So, that's what I've got for now. Until the next time, happy writing and blissful and rejuvenating yoga practice to everyone!