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THE MARATHON – BY SARAH NORRIS

This is a story about running but really it’s about yoga. And when we talk about yoga really we’re talking about life. They’re the same. How do we know that yoga is working? Our lives are better and more fulfilling; we have clarity and our relationships are improving.

The Sanskrit word prapti describes shortening the distance between where you are and what you want. Learning that where we choose to focus our energy is where our lives are going has been and remains the sweetest nectar of practice, even and sometimes especially when yoga/life is hard and hot, uncomfortable, aggravating, and there’s a voice in our heads telling us that we can’t go on or we’re not doing it right and should give up and admit defeat. I’ve developed over time so much compassion and gratitude for that voice—my harpy, ungenerous, frightened inner critic—because as soon as it suggests failure, I know I’m doing something right. To feel afraid I won’t succeed is proof that I’m taking a risk.

Growing up, I hated sports. Forced to serve time on teams, I wildly swung softball bats and slogged through swim practice, never hitting a home run or placing first. Assigned to defense on the soccer field, I skulked in the grass like Ferdinand the bull, braiding chain necklaces out of clovers. When the ball was kicked towards me, I jumped up and down, hands flapping, shrieking, “Somebody, do something!” In the seventh grade, I managed to get my orthodontic braces tangled in the badminton net during P.E. class. The universe had a message: it was better for everyone if I stayed on the bench.

After my father took over as our YMCA basketball coach when I was in fourth grade, he had a much higher stake in our victories and losses than I did. I would have preferred to hunker down with a paperback, lapping up a bowl of Rocky Road. Understanding that my dad and I would likely never bridge the divide between his obsession with and my aversion to activities that wouldn’t appeal to a housecat, I showed up for my basketball games to support him.

My father is a born-again super athlete. After college and before law school, during a period he refers to as the “lost years,” he supported himself as a pool player. He rented a creaky-floored apartment in Nashville, only blocks away from the house where he grew up on Fairfax, furnished with only a mattress on the floor. One day a little girl from an apartment above popped in and looked around before asking, “But where’s the television?”

The scope of his ambition changed one afternoon while hanging onto the door frame of his parents’ basement, when he realized he could only do one pull-up. Every morning since, for four decades, he’s woken up while it’s still dark so he can exercise. Last month, at 65, he finished a marathon in just over four hours, qualifying for Boston in 2016.

Throughout my twenties in New York City, I walked everywhere and practiced yoga, meditating regularly. As for running, I found it ridiculous that people willingly “did laps” or, on a treadmill, went nowhere as quickly as they could, with faces set in fierce and sometimes grim determination. I loved to sit still for hours, which I viewed as an integral part of my identity: not a competitive athlete.

Then one night, eating Chinese food shortly after my fiancé and I had broken off our engagement but were still together, I opened a fortune cookie that read, “You have to do the thing that you least want to do.” Stabbing a piece of tofu with one chopstick, I determined that the last thing I’d ever want would be to finish a marathon. Feeling waylaid in romantic purgatory—knowing my relationship was over but not having the guts yet to let it go—the prospect of running struck me as radical. Necessary. I resolved to take on a marathon. I’d do it with my dad.

“How about the half?” my dad suggested gently, offering to email me a training schedule. This will be a breeze, I told myself as I set out to jog the following morning. A few blocks later, legs aching, I realized I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. I had to learn how to run. First, humiliatingly, I had to learn how to walk. What had my arms been doing my whole life? Coming along for the ride. They had no idea how to get involved in what my feet were doing. Anger about my inability to quit my relationship got me started but I kept running because I got hooked. I leapt through snow and cyclones of trash, when my fingertips turned white from the cold, and on the evenings when I wanted most to get together with friends to drink red wine on fire escapes instead of taking Epsom salt baths because my body was so sore. Still, again, most days for months, I forced myself through those clunky rhythms until it was easier and more satisfying to run than not.

On race day my dad and I stayed side by side. Or, rather, he slowed his pace to stay with me. He timed every mile so we wouldn’t burn out in the beginning. After awhile, I didn’t mind the rain on my face and the cramp in my calf went away. When we got to the 13-mile mark in less than two hours, my father slowed down to let me cross first. I bounded over the final 30 feet in a rush of endorphins and gratitude for my dad. I hadn’t broken any records, but secretly it stood as my triumphant Rocky moment: the reward in every step. I had challenged my view of who I was and what I was capable of, and the result was victory to my spirit. I felt my heart pounding; I felt strong in my body. My relationship with my then-boyfriend wasn’t over yet but in that moment I knew that it would end and that I would be OK.

The idea that sweating and effort wasn’t for me? Or that it was best if I didn’t show up? Or showed up only to give up? These were only as true as I’d made them, and they weren’t anymore.

Now 34 and happier than I’ve ever been, I choose joy every day. I choose bliss. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get upset, sad or frustrated, but I know that how I react is my responsibility. I choose to be here, wherever I am, and learning from as well as teaching my students to be present. That’s the breath. That’s the amazing grace of being present. On my steering wheel I taped a little piece of paper that reads, “It’s not them.” When I lose patience or get distracted or overwhelmed, I know I need to let it go. I know I can come back. I keep coming back. I fall and come back. I take bigger risks now, succeeding more and also failing better, with more courage. I don’t run regularly but I’m on my mat most days. Sometimes when I don’t feel want to, when it’s hard and my eyes sting from sweat and I have a to-do list that’s spilling over. It’s never a mistake to practice. I don’t always do what I know I need to do in order to show up and be my best in the world, but I know that practice is one of those cores. The times I feel I’m too busy or stressed are when I need it most. The extent to which we feel annoyed by anything in our lives is the extent to which we need our yoga practice.

To show up, to stay the course, to stay focused and intentional, to forgive myself when I get distracted and return to being mindful of my breath and to be present, to get comfortable getting uncomfortable, to trust this process as a catalyst for growth physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually: that’s the practice. That’s prapti. It’s giving up complaining and excuses to make room for what we truly desire. No one else can do this for us. If you’re searching for that one person who can change our lives, look in the mirror.

SNOW WEEK

It’s been a snow week – for some more than others – but for most of us, we have been affected in some way by the snow and ice storm. Maybe you had the whole week off work, maybe you got to show up late for a couple days, or maybe you had to work extra to cover for someone who could not make it into work. Whatever the case, your schedule was likely altered, and your routine was surely interrupted. This was probably a positive thing if you had some unexpected time off, some freedom from being at a place at a certain time. Maybe you got to spend time with family or friends, maybe you caught up on sleep, maybe you had to be creative making meals out of the things that have been sitting in your cupboard or freezer, maybe you walked to the coffee shop instead of driving like you do most days. A spirit of adventure and spontaneity might have taken over as you lived out your day a little differently. You might have felt more connected to others as you all crowded into the one open coffee shop in your hats and boots. You might have even met a neighbor you never knew before!

 

It’s interesting how it takes a mild emergency to get us to slow down a little. I also found it incredible how I could make work for myself and create some routine even when I was “off the hook” for those very things. As always, I’m reminded that I have farther to go on my intentions and more mindfulness to practice. The thing is, there is a time to rest and a time to work. When we have a chance to rest, we should do our best to use it without thinking of the task we have to do after our rest is over. When it is time to work, we should do it 100 percent so that we feel we have done our best and feel a sense of accomplishment for that. Maybe we Americans just have a harder time with these concepts because we are told to work 40 to 60 hours a week so we do it sometimes begrudgingly, and our idea of rest usually involves the addition of distractions like watching Netflix or scrolling through social media feeds. When we have unexpected time without work, if we sit without a distraction for very long, we will inevitably start planning what we are going to do next. We put ourselves right to work again. I am one of the worst offenders at bad resting habits. I notice my habits often in savasana when I’m supposed to be resting but realize I’ve quickly turned my mind to planning, making lists, getting things done by just thinking about doing them. Being productive. But how productive is it to constantly be in motion or be distracted, even when I’m not actually moving my body physically?

 

If we can rest when it’s time to rest, it really is more productive in the long run, so I have to think of it this way to keep myself from making other work for myself to do while I’m resting. Fully resting helps us conserve energy so we can use that energy when it’s time to work. And we do love to work. That was apparent when 22 people showed up for yoga at 10 am after being snowed in for just one day. We like our work and our routine just as much as we like our rest. And we don’t have to feel bad about that. The thing to do is to be present in both. Enjoy the rest, enjoy a small indulgence, enjoy a day off of the routine with mindfulness. Minding the fact that it’s healthy and minding the fact that you can resume the work or the routine even stronger the next day. I do well with routines and goals but I tend to be an “all or nothing” kind of girl, so when I take a day off, it can turn into 3 or 4 days off or a few weeks off. Good thing my jeans don’t let me raise hell for too long. However, the point of all this is that it shouldn’t be the job of my jeans to keep me from going off the deep end. A little indulgence here or there is healthy, and it doesn’t mean the whole day or week is shot. It’s a state of mind. A state of mindfulness.

Wednesday was Ash Wednesday this week. I’m not Catholic but I’m familiar with Lent and the idea that people give things up during the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday to practice moderation and to preparation for Easter. It has always seemed a novel idea to me, even if it’s not my own tradition. First of all, structure and boundaries, but more than that, structure for a reason. Purposeful sacrifice and mindful moderation. With New Year’s Resolutions becoming foggy and after taking my snow days pretty seriously, I started to think that maybe I should try this tradition out for myself – 40 days of focused moderation.

I’m a day or two late to the game but as I consider picking 2 or 3 things to give up, I found the following questions and suggestions (from another blog by Rachel Evans) helpful.

 

  1.  What am I preparing for? How would I like to feel different when I wake up on Easter, after 40 days             without something I normally have?
  2. Is there something in my life— a form of excess, a habit, a grudge, a fear, a prejudice, an addiction, an emotional barrier —that keeps me from loving myself, loving my neighbor, or loving God fully? How might I address that over the next 40 days?
  3. Lent is a time to listen. To God or yourself or something you believe in. And to those who might show you something about yourself or God – particularly the poor, oppressed, marginalized, and suffering. To whom should I be listening? How can I cultivate a listening posture toward others whose perspective and experiences might differ from my own?
  4. Is there a discipline you’ve been wanting to try – prayer, meditation, reading a particular book? How might I alter my daily routine to include one of these disciplines?
  5. Other things you might want to consider “giving up” are things that might allow you more time or mental/emotional capacity to allow the things you do want: social media, sleeping in, TV, perfectionism, comparison, cynicism (replace with wonder, compassion, and hope).
  6. And finally, one ”fast” that has crossed my mind this week is the idea of giving up the consumption of people for Lent. Our culture (through social media, reality TV, celebrity gossip, etc.) has so profoundly commodified people—actual human beings— it’s become a phenomenon we hardly even notice anymore. If we practice mindfulness towards people over the next 40 days, can we start to notice when people, even ourselves, are being commodified and consumed and can we choose not to join in and propagate the problem. Can we stop the cycle when it comes to ourselves?

MINDFUL LIVING – WEEK 5

I am on a retreat. I am in-flight actually, but my retreat has already begun. I awoke to the new week yesterday morning, and my first thought was literally, “God, give me something to do this week.” I don’t usually have such lofty thoughts first thing in the morning, or really any thoughts at all…. it was certain to be an unusual day. Truthfully, it has already been an unusual year for me. In terms of my work and my time, I am closer to my goals than ever before. It’s a destination I’ve been running towards for about 3 years, with this particular point in focus, but overall, I’ve been running the race for much longer. High school – 4.0 and no less because I was planning ahead to get into any college I wanted. College math and science major (with no time for anything else) because I was planning to get a job in engineering. Master of Science and thesis in hydrogeology because I was planning to get a job in the Hydro Group at GeoEngineers. Eleven years of working as a consulting geologist because I was planning to start my own business later on. Selling everything, leaving my friends and bands, moving to Nashville, working 3 jobs at once, and risking the previous 16 years of effort to build this new life. A “simpler” life where my passion is my work, and I am my boss, and I have more time for hobbies and friends and me. Always planning ahead and looking forward to the future. We all do it. The next weekend, the next vacation, the next season, the next life event…. We are always looking forward and planning ahead. It’s natural. We have goals and they help us grow up and achieve things that we want and are proud of. But it can be hard to live mindfully in the present moment when we are so focused on the destination, which is always out in front of us, just out of reach.

After years of these habits, apparently, one day Future Life walks through your door unannounced, sits down on your couch and waits for you to look up from your very busy, important life. “Oh hello, I was just sitting here waiting for you to notice that I got here.” Of course, life is always there for the experiencing, but there are finite points in time when goals are achieved – some are momentous like receiving a degree, while others are gradual and take years to accomplish such that you may not realize when you are finally there. I am trying to figure out why Future Life doesn’t feel like I thought it would and how I can fully embrace Future Life without looking more. “Oh hey Future Life. Yeah, you’re alright but now I’m going to need to also remodel the house, fit into my skinny jeans the way I did after that one breakup, get a new tattoo, . . . Oh, and find my soul mate to hang with now that Future Life is here. It’s not really perfect until. . . “ It seems like we can say that forever.

It’s weird when you imagine the future – where you’ll live, what you’ll be eating for breakfast (including the table you’ll be sitting at with sun always beaming through the windows and the white cotton pajamas you’ll be wearing as you look and feel as fresh as a daisy), how you’ll arrive at your job ready to change the world each day, the friends you’ll share meals and laughs and walks with. And somehow, even if your reality comes close to achieving that scenario, it never quite feels the same as when you dreamed it playing out in your mind. It doesn’t feel as serene as we imagined. It feels normal. Average. It’s just me, I guess. It’s not that girl in the white pajamas. Maybe the answer to removing the mundane and revealing the beauty is as simple as Mindfulness. Being present to notice and enjoy what you choose to eat and are blessed to eat for breakfast – whether the sun is shining on you through the window or you are watching the rain watering the ground outside. Even noticing if you are focusing on the rain itself and the fact that it might make you cold when you go outside or focusing on what the rain brings – hydration and life to the earth and the promise of spring and summer. Being self-aware enough to know that you have never owned white cotton pajamas and you prefer your old sweats, thank you very much. Mindfully extending grace to yourself when you wake up looking less than daisy-fresh. Giving your all to your job – at every task, big or small – so that you can make a difference in other people and the world. If Future Life is here, or rather just, Life is here, it is time to practice Mindfulness. Not a moment to loose, not an experience to pass us by unnoticed or regarded as mundane.

So back to my question yesterday morning. I had 4 days ahead of me that were almost commitment-free. Since that never happens, I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste an opportunity. I wanted to do just the right thing with the gift of time and savor every bit of it. I had actually been thinking over this the previous night, and had only come to a point of frustration at the options to do nothing or to do everything and to do it in what order. I even started fantasizing about 60-hour work weeks, waking up at 6 am, speeding down highways and road raging to get to the next place, stressing out over what yoga class I could fit into my schedule that day… “wasn’t that exhilarating?” I thought . . . . Oh the irrational places the mind can go at night. . . . Mindfulness – sometimes the mindful thing to do is to remember that you cannot always make rational, mindful decisions late at night after a glass or two of wine. It can be very mindful to just leave the thing alone and pick it up again in the morning. I woke up picturing my ideal day – spending time at a coffee house reading and writing, doing yoga, eating amazing food, walking around a city, visiting friends – and then it hit me. Seattle. The place I can do all of these things, and now, without working the other 8 to 10 hours of the day. I always wanted to take a Stay-cation in Seattle but in 11 years, I never did. Now I can, which was indeed one of my defined and ultimate goals of the simpler, Future Life. And so, I will. Embracing Future Life without hesitation and without second-guessing. I will return to my homeland to rest and rejuvenate, to practice being present and mindful in Future Life here and now. A savasana.

  • Buti yoga, Ashtanga yoga, Bikram yoga,  Hot yoga,  East Nashville
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    BREATH IS LIFE – 7 BREATHING TECHNIQUES FOR BIKRAM-STYLE YOGA

BREATH IS LIFE – 7 BREATHING TECHNIQUES FOR BIKRAM-STYLE YOGA

by Wendy Westmoreland

Seems pretty obvious; ‘breath is life’. I think it’s safe to assume that at some point, most adults learn that although you can go a while without food, a few days without water, you can’t go more than a few minutes without air. Stop breathing, stop living – pretty simple concept. What’s interesting is that most humans hold their breath when they are afraid. Ironic, as it seems that is when we need it the most. It’s also interesting that breath is automatic; it still happens when we’re not focusing on it. That’s good news. Considering the part about holding our breath, humans probably can’t be trusted with the responsibility to think about every inhale and exhale … heck, some of us forget to eat (pointing at myself here!)

Yoga inherently teaches about breath. In Sanskrit, ‘Prana’ literally means life force. It is defined as life-giving energy or force of the universe. If there is no breath, there is no yoga, there is no life. ‘Pranayama’ is the process of breath control. Every yoga practice, every yoga posture incorporates some form of pranayama. I am a certified Bikram instructor. Therefore, I am writing specifically about pranayama of the 26 hatha yoga postures and 2 breathing exercises practiced in that series.

To my current knowledge (and I reserve the right to add to it as I travel this yoga path) there are seven identifiable pranayama or breathing techniques used in the Bikram series. Most obviously, there are beginning and ending breathing exercises – bookends, alpha and omega for a complete experience. Continue with your practice, keep listening to the words, explore your breath and you will be able to identify the others.

Normal breathing: There are many ways to label this kind of breathing but put in simplest terms, it’s equal inhale and exhale. This is the base for most breathing in the 26 hatha yoga posture series. The breaths can be short and shallow or long and deep but ideally, they are equal to each other. Holding your breath for just a millisecond briefly interrupts the uniformity of the flow and is not considered ‘normal’ breathing.

Compressed breathing: Deep forward rounding, bringing your forehead to your knee(s), naturally compresses the front side of your body and the internal organs encased within. This includes your lungs. Exhaling all of the air out of your lungs as you round forward can help to find physical comfort. It alleviates pressure on the other organs. While compressed, there is room to take short and shallow breaths. Do the best that you can to make those breaths ‘normal’.

Savasana breathing: Dead body pose promotes relaxation. Breathing long, slow, deep breaths releases tension from the body, mind and spirit. It is very common for students to find difficulty with this breathing technique. We hold a tremendous amount of tension in our chest, shoulders, neck and face. Also, some of us habitually tense our abdominal wall. Watch how babies breathe and you’ll see that when they inhale, their bellies rise and when they exhale, their bellies fall. Learn to relax your abdominal wall, breath normal and follow the baby’s breath in savasana. Bonus! This breathing technique is an excellent remedy for insomnia.

80/20 breathing: This technique is helpful in postures executed belly side on the floor. When you are lying face down, it is difficult to take consistent, long inhales because your body weight is pressing down on your chest or abdomen. With 80/20, breathe in as you begin the posture, filling your lungs. Throughout the posture, keep most of the air in your lungs (80%) and exchange only small amounts (20%). Try to keep you breaths ‘normal’. Exhale all of your air out only as you release from the posture.

Sit-up breathing: There are many different sit-up techniques and corresponding pranayama. It’s agreed that sit-ups are front side compressions and that open mouth exhaling is beneficial. I find inhaling before and exhaling throughout execution to be effective for me. It supplies a quick spurt of energy while releasing a short blast of metabolic waste from my lungs – out with the old, in with the new.

What about breathing in backward bends and spine twists? Postures that include these kinds of spine manipulations are innately intense. In the beginning of your yoga life, you may find breathing deep intensifies discomfort in back bends and spine twists. In this case, try starting with short, normal breaths. With consistent practice, the body opens, becomes more strong and flexible. With time, the student achieves true relaxation and deep breathing may become more comfortable.

Breath is a tool and used correctly, it can bring release and relaxation to your practice, your body and your mind. To test this, think back on the effects whenever you yawn or sigh. Yoga is an intimate, individual engagement and pranayama is but one experience that demonstrates such. I encourage all yoga students to continue the exploration of breath throughout this life journey. Yoga teaches faith. Yoga also teaches how to be our own best teacher. Consistent practice builds a strong physical and mental foundation. Eventually, the yogi learns to trust that they will know what is needed and when.

MINDFUL LIVING – WEEK 3

I took the weekend off from continuing our conversation (i.e., reflecting, writing and re-intending) to make way for the much more eloquent and pertinent piece on MLK by Mary Margaret. We stopped and paused to remember the injustices of the past and present and our responsibility in treating our sisters and brothers with more love today and tomorrow and for generations to come. A little mindful living

My time away from writing has been no vacation at all. I have to admit I’ve felt a little lost, forgotten some of my intentions, and found it harder to keep my focus. I need you all! I need accountability so that I can form better habits one day at a time, which further confirms our initial hypothesis and reason for the blog/conversation – Mindfulness requires community. It takes a village to raise up mindfulness in each one of us.

So this week in review. It’s not that I’ve been so bad about any particular thing. It’s that maybe I haven’t felt as inspired. My determination is waning. I’ve had extra time on my hands, and this is not always a good thing. Especially to someone who is not accustomed to having a day off with a To Do list numbering only 4 items instead of 40. This extra time and freedom is like an old friend that I haven’t seen in 3 years. And it’s nice to see them but I don’t know what to talk to them about at first. Do I ask them about every day and happening over the last 1,095 days or do I just ask them about their day today? Looking at free time in the face, I wonder if I should do everything I’ve ever wanted to do in one day or just do nothing?

I usually start my day with coffee and my laptop. After an hour or so, I finish my mouse-work (i.e. chores on the computer). Then I prepare to leave my laptop on the table and go do something. But I check it again – every email, every facebook account, every instagram…. Just in case I missed something in the last 45 seconds. I get ready to shut it down again but wonder if I’m going to miss something in the next 45 seconds. I remind myself that I have a smart phone for such reasons as this. Having spent a minimum of 8 hours a day on a laptop for the last 11 years up until August, I struggle with leaving things unchecked. Emails have to be answered within seconds of receiving them and ideas that come to mind have to be set in motion immediately – orders placed, schedules updated, group emails sent. I just love to get things done!

So here I was with several hours of free time, and I haven’t known what to do with it. I felt guilty about potentially not being productive, or rather, not knowing how to be my very most productive at that very moment (usually this is not a difficult question for me). I have a gift for instinctively knowing what I should do at all times. A brief aside, it’s not like I never relax or have fun. If I am visiting with friends or out socializing, then I am perfectly OK with time spent recreationally. However, that is probably because it fits into a different category of productive – because it is maintaining good relationships, maybe time networking, or time I deserve to relax because I am in the company of others. But this week, I had WEEKDAYS off. I had a solid 8 hours one day with nothing to do and nobody to do it with. And I’m telling you, it bothered me. There was no project to work on, no problem to fix, no business to start, and no person/relationship present to give my attention to. All week, I was just wanting something, looking everywhere I could, finding nothing to satisfy. And just today, I realized where I’m at and what is causing this constant nagging, uncomfortable feeling. I have a restless heart.

I’m sure you’ve all been there. One of the worst human conditions – discontentment. Maybe it is just this week and will be gone the next. Or maybe it has been there longer than I realized and was masked by my lifestyle of constant motion.

So how am I going to fix this one? Well, that’s kind of the root of the problem – trying to find something, someone, some relief, some distraction from the present. If I was content, then I wouldn’t be restless. If I try to fix it, I’ll be chasing after the wind even more. It seems to me that it is a problem that doesn’t need “fixing.” It needs to be acknowledged and accepted as part of the journey. I am now mindful of the fact that it exists. Using that knowledge, I can avoid useless distractions and concentrate my focus and energy on whatever my task is at hand – whether it be writing emails or taking a walk – I can give it all I’ve got and find fulfillment in doing my best and being present. I can rest in the fact that I know it is a season that will pass, and I can be ready for the lessons I will learn as I walk through it. Hmmm, these last few sentences are definitely reminiscent of a 90-minute Hot 26 class. The best way to master my postures is to focus on the present moment, and the best way to work through the discomfort is to stop. The worrying, the wiping away of sweat, the looking for relief and comfort outside of yourself. To just breathe and be still. In the upcoming weeks, we’ll dive into some ways to practice Mindfulness in our day-to-day activities. I’m looking forward to it! And hey, speak up! Let us know how your mindfulness journey is going!

MINDFUL LIVING – WEEK 2

Big thanks to all of you who have subscribed to this blog over the last week! I am encouraged and slightly nervous. I realize more tangibly now that I owe you all my very best at mindful living, as well as writing down my thoughts and experiences, and gathering those of others. I feel humbly privileged.

Well, let’s start with Week 1 in review. I intended to practice my banjo, eat raw/clean food two-thirds of the time, run and do yoga, not eat superfluously at night, smile at strangers, and a handful of other items that will take much more than a week to accomplish. So in the first week, I did, in fact, practice my banjo every day but one. I learned a new song, and my banjo teacher offered his first words of praise, “you are living up to your tattoo!” (I have a banjo tattoo but am still a beginner, undeserving of said tattoo, of which the plan has always been to be reminded to practice and one day live up to the permanent ink). Win! I now need to start playing with other folks. I am considering the bluegrass jam class at The Station Inn (one of my favorite of places in Nashville). I think the time has come. All in all, I am proud of my banjo practice this week and motivated for more! Next, yes, I did eat raw foods two-thirds of the time, I ran twice (in spite of the cold snap) and did plenty of yoga (about 6 classes with one double day). Feeling good about all of those things. However, there was one late night in which I ate the better part of a bag of popcorn and some chocolate chips that I had scavenged out of trail mix in an attempt to soothe my troubled heart. The trouble with the heart was temporary but I let it result in a nice round of emotional eating. A lonely night that would have been remedied by simply going to bed and waking up to a fresh new day. But instead, I became fully convinced that I had good reason to cheer myself up by means of popcorn and chocolate, which inevitably did not help at all. I may have been “entitled to a treat” in my rebellious mind but my body and heart felt none the better from it. Lesson learned. I will do my best to remember next time that my well-deserved, “F-it I’m going to eat ALL the popcorn” attitude is not showing anyone anything and is only setting me back on my quest for mindfulness. Not to worry, I showed myself grace and resolved to utilize my wisdom the next time.

This review exercise really highlights and brings us back to our theme – Mindful Living. During my successes this week, I was being mindful of my actions and choices as they were happening in order to do the thing I intended to do. When I wanted to be lazy at night, I had to first notice my lethargic mental state, then remember my intention to practice my banjo, and finally, change my momentum in order to do something productive and rewarding. I used mindfulness to accomplish my intention! When I was blinded by my emotions and attitude of entitlement to popcorn and chocolate, I was not being mindful and completely forgot my intention to not eat snacks late at night. It’s so obvious and simple! Even a child could learn this mindfulness thing, and actually, they do! They probably learn it better than us adults because they do not have our ingrained habits and patterns of thinking and reacting. And therefore, our task at hand is to set new patterns and establish new habits. Be present so that we can be mindful of our intentions.

I haven’t studied Mindfulness as a theory (yet) but it seems intuitive that the fruit of mindfulness is remembering. Remembering to live the way we want to live. Noticing that we have the opportunity – to live authentically. And this is exciting. Encouraging, hopeful and even freeing. So week 2, here we come. With more knowledge, more experience and more mindfulness to receive the rewards of our good intentions.

MINDFUL LIVING IN 2015

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OK, here it is. Mindful Living in 2015. Are we just trying to be trendy and yogic, or do we mean something by this? Why Mindful Living? It is basically just a name that we’ve given to an idea. A thing that we want to do. An inspiration and a conversation that began on a hike one cold, fall-colored day in November. In 2015, we want to reflect, remember, communicate and encourage each other in living our healthiest and happiest lives. Although, it’s an easy and agreeable concept, intentional/mindful living doesn’t just happen on it’s own. It is a discipline just like our yoga. It’s about habits. It’s about feeling good in our own skin. It’s about being our authentic selves, having full hearts, and giving back to others. It’s about community. Helping each other grow. One day at a time. One minute at a time.  One breath at a time.

Mindfulness and Yoga go together pretty intrinsically.  The two have a similar focus on the mind-body connection. Noticing our feelings, sensations and alignments while they are happening. Being in the present moment. Practicing with integrity to avoid injury in yoga is the same as living with integrity to avoid negative consequences in life.  Being mindful about what is happening in our bodies, minds and lives can come with yoga, as we take time away from work, family, technology, busy-ness to take care of ourselves. To focus. To find peace and calm. To let go of attachments that do us more harm than good. To truly rest. Yoga can help but it’s not the only thing we want to do in Mindful Living for 2015.

We want to practice yoga. That’s a given. It is our joy and our lifestyle. But we also want to challenge and nourish our bodies in other ways. We will talk about these ideas in upcoming posts so stay tuned! Not only are we setting intentions for healthy physical bodies but we are also setting intentions for our mental and spiritual bodies. We want to check in and make sure that we are feeding our minds, hearts and souls, so that we are more capable of being authentic and kind to those around us. We will touch on all of this more throughout the year. For now, we will start with some more specific ideas for intentions in 2015. We want you to add yours to the list.

  • Sing with friends
  • Practice banjo 5 times/week
  • Smile at a stranger each day
  • Stop eating after dinner or after 7 pm
  • Eat only 2 squares of chocolate instead of the whole bar
  • Try a new sport, exercise or class
  • Walk instead of drive to work at least once a week
  • Practice yoga 5 times/week
  • Run with friends 3 times/week
  • Eat raw, whole foods 2 out of 3 meals per day
  • Eat French fries once/week
  • Read a book about yoga
  • Pray every day
  • Do the splits
  • Do a headstand
  • Start a community group
  • Write this blog at least once/week for all of 2015

All of these intentions, and yours added, might seem overwhelming but here’s the good news. We don’t have to do it all at once. Changes that are drastic often times don’t stick. We will take it little by little and arrive at our destination gradually, and if we fall off the path, we will simply get back on it. For the first week of January, maybe pick 3 to 5 intentions and try it out. See how it affects your life after one week and the lives of those around you. Then let us know!

This is, most basically, a conversation. A continuing discussion. We imagine there will be many vehicles to communicate our intentions and encourage each other in 2015, including but not limited to: blog posts, special classes, workshops, challenges, guest writers, book clubs, events, and Instagram photos (#mindfulliving). We welcome your ideas and involvement! After all, our inspiration is you, this community and seeing what happens in Nashville when we help each other live fully.

PRENATAL YOGA & BABY ARRIVES!!

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My friend who I was pregnant with (she still is), bought me a yoga package for Christmas with the idea that we’d take prenatal up until our due date. I was familiar with hot yoga but had never practiced any other style, and to be honest, I was a little worried I wouldn’t like it and was pleasantly surprised when I did! Each week challenged me and helped me refocus and relax—both of which are luxuries I are hard to find during the emotional moments in pregnancy. I looked forward to every Saturday because not only was it beneficial to me & baby, but I loved getting to see the other mommas each week and hear about how their pregnancies were going!

My last class was my 36th week. I knew I was close to being full term and labor was much more of a reality than a far off idea of something that will happen one day. I was honestly getting a bit nervous. During the class we practiced some of the poses we’ve done almost every week but I practiced them differently, really trying to remember each one, focusing on my breathing and practicing sending my breath to where I needed it most.

The Monday following the class was when I started pre-labor contractions; they weren’t intense enough to make me stop what I was doing, but I was fully aware that they were, in fact, contractions. By Tuesday night, I was having intense contractions, and during each one, I applied the Ujjayi breathing I had learned. I’d count the number of breaths in and attempt to have the same number out. This helped me stay relaxed (as much as possible) and in control, not letting the contractions get away from me. Throughout labor and delivery I squatted often (my least favorite pose during class – ha!) which helped relieve some of the back labor I was having and once it got to the pushing phase I squatted almost the entire time.

I had known prenatal yoga has plenty of benefits for pregnancy and labor, but experiencing the benefits was amazing. I know taking these classes played a huge role in me being able to keep my all-natural birth plan and I will definitely take it again for the next pregnancy!

My beautiful baby boy, Harper James Falcon, was born Wednesday April 16th— 5lbs 14oz and 18.75in long.

LETTERS FROM THE PEOPLE #5 – CARPAL TUNNEL HEALING

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I have to admit, I was skeptical. I thought I knew the kind of people that were really into yoga, and that kind of person is not me. They talk about energy and chi and buy granola in bulk. They listen to “world music” and quit their job to spend a summer in Thailand because, why not? There is nothing wrong with that type of person, but that’s not me. What could I get out of hot yoga?
I work as a computer analyst. Like so many other IT folks, years of constant typing and mouse movements in tiny cubicles have taken their toll. Specifically, I developed ulna tunnel syndrome in my left hand, which caused numbness and nerve pain in my wrist and hand during many activities. I went to a doctor about my issues, and was told to avoid motions that caused pain (Thanks, Groucho Marx). He also said that if the pain continued, he could perform surgery to alleviate the pressure on my ulna nerve. I went ahead and nope’d on out the door and never came back.
A few months later, I started to develop carpal tunnel syndrome in my right hand. Combined with the already existing ulna issues, it all was terribly painful and made sitting at my desk for any length of time pretty agonizing. I had my company buy the super-ridiculous ergonomic keyboard and mouse combination months back, but it really didn’t help all that much aside from making my desk look like the console of a spaceship.
Along with the repetitive stress injuries, I had also devolved into a sedentary lifestyle. This was fine in my twenties, back when I could consume an entire extra-large pizza and a case of dirt-cheap beer in a weekend and not gain an ounce of weight. However, at 30, that ridiculous metabolism decided to pull anchor; I started to develop quite the set of man boobs (read: moobs) and was working on a pretty sweet beer gut.
I was discussing my issues with a friend that was into hot yoga and she explained that there are postures specifically designed to target the wrists and arms to help and prevent ailments such as carpal tunnel. She said nothing about any moob reducing postures.
“Is there chanting,” I asked. “I don’t chant.”
“What? No,” my friend replied. “I don’t know what you think hot yoga is about, but you obviously have no clue.”
She was correct. After some convincing, she brought me out to your studio and I dropped $20 on ten classes. Within three sessions, the numb area on my left hand started to tingle for a few hours after each class. By my tenth class, the numbness was almost completely gone. Also, the carpal tunnel in my right hand had begun to noticeably subside.
Fast-forward four months later and the carpal and ulna tunnel issues are pretty much non-existent. Also, the moobs can no longer be classified as moobs and the gut has begun the long road to becoming abs. Aside from the physical improvements, I have also experienced mental benefits. I am able to focus at work for longer periods of time and situations which used to stress me out don’t seem nearly as taxing (I-40 during rush hour might still illicit three to five expletives, however).
An unexpected benefit from yoga is the much-needed disconnect I receive just by going. As a salaried employee, work is always a smartphone jiggle away and something that is constantly on my mind. During yoga, my phone can be vibrating away in the locker room and I would have no clue. At first this was maddening, but I have eventually been able to accept it and actually enjoy my time away from it. This was merely the first step. After a short while, I started to block out more and more of life’s little nuisances. The annoying director at work? Gone. School debt due? What’s school? Aliens could land on the White House lawn and I would have no idea until after kapalabhati breathing, and that’s just the way I like it. I’ve actually started craving yoga just to escape it all.
After seeing the impact that hot yoga has had on my life in such a small amount of time, I decided to sign up for a year’s worth of sessions. I continue to see improvements in myself and also recognize that I have a long way to go. Thank you, Hot Yoga of East Nashville. You’ve won a loyal customer and an avid promoter of the benefits that hot yoga can offer.

WHY 90 MINUTES?

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WHY 90 MINUTES?

Many people ask this question. It is common to overhear this sentiment in the yoga studio changing room, “I just don’t like the 90 minute classes. It’s too much. I can’t fit it in. I’m just a beginner, etc.” This is a normal conclusion, considering that most magazines prescribe 30 to 60 minutes of exercise per day and considering our fast-paced society of fast food, 22-minute sitcoms, and the 2-minute song, but we believe that the 90-minute class with the same 26 postures is more gripping than the latest Breaking Bad episode and will hold your attention more fully than the 20-minute Cross Fit Workout Of the Day. While it is always the same postures, every day is different. Every day brings you a new challenge and a new opportunity to grow, and we believe it is worth every minute of it.

The 26 posture series follows the tradition of  “the Beginners Class” that was developed by Bikram Choudhury, an Indian yoga master, to work all the systems of the body systematically. Years of thought and practice have gone into this series. It is tried and true for over 40 years, and it is designed to be completed in a 90-minute class. The series includes two sets of most every posture – giving you two chances to practice the posture and two opportunities for your body to open to the posture. Without a doubt, the second set of the postures is typically your “destination set” – the deeper set in which the body is more open to the posture, and your muscles and mind have retained memory of the posture from the first set which will aid in performing the posture during second round, helping you to master the posture. It is still possible to achieve this in the 60-minute class, as some postures are practiced twice, but you do not get as much rest between postures, which is another important part. We consider 60-minute classes to be more of a maintenance class to maintain your practice when schedules do not allow for 90 minutes of practice.

Perhaps the most important reason for 90 minutes is the chance for internal struggle and therefore, possibility for refinement. When you enter the room for a 90 minute class, you must choose over and over to remain. To remain in the hot room for the full 90 minutes. That, in and of itself, may be the most significant challenge. Lying in savasana wanting some ease, some air, some water, some relief can be the hardest yoga that is done in the room. When you stay in the room for 90 minutes, you have conquered a real and significant challenge. You learn the most important lesson that is to be learned – that you are stronger than you thought. When you stay in the room for 90 minutes, even if you are laying down half of the class, you have at some point faced yourself, your fears, your weaknesses and you have used your mental focus and determination to put those thoughts, perceptions, or physical feelings aside and you conquer. It may not be a transcendent feeling. It may feel more like giving up. A surrender to the heat and struggle. But either way, you have accomplished what you set out to do. You challenge your body and mind, through a 600- to 1,200-calorie effort, you stretch yourself to the limit, you grow stronger – inside and out.