Thursday, December 27, 2012

To all of you currently reading my blog (hi, mom!) thank you from the bottom of my heart. Writing and illustrating this each week is a time consuming process so it means a lot to me that so many people find my little labor of love worth the time it takes to read it. I know your time is valuable, so thank you. I made a card for you all with a little donation in your honor. Have a happy, safe and healthy holiday season! 

And in plain text so you can read it: Women, 51% of the world’s population, are notorious community builders. With a tide this big we can lift nations. 
Women for Women gives women of war-torn countries the tools to become Leaders in their communities, and in turn, their nations. And who wouldn’t benefit from a better South Sudan, Afghanistan, Kosovo, or Iraq? 
A donation has been made in your honor to Women for Women International. Happy Holidays!

Women for Women International supports women in the war-torn regions of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Kosovo, Nigeria, and Iraq with financial and emotional aid, job-skills training, rights education and small business assistance (including micro-loans) so they can rebuild their lives.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Guide to Meeting Parents: Ice Breakers

The holiday season is here and many of you will be meeting your significant others' parents for the first time. Under horrifying conditions. Not only are you confronted with impressing these people but you must do so in pressure-cooker circumstances. I would like to offer you hope. The hope of the season, a story The Boy's parents love to tell guests over dinner because humiliation is best shared over new potatoes and rump-roast.

The first time I met The Boy's parents was in a pressure-cooker akin to that of the holiday season -- a wedding three states away. This meant that the first time EVER meeting his parents would be over a three-day period after a multi-hour plane flight in an area unbeknownst to me. To make the roast extra crispy, there would be no method of escape. No car, no yoga studio (honestly, I didn't do yoga back then, but I had a healthy addiction to lifting weights* and there was no gym either).

The Parents were to meet The Boy and I at 8:30am. We would then proceed to a meet-n-greet breakfast on our way to the airport. It is important to note that even in the best of circumstances I am not a morning person. I have what I call a "problem with inertia" (Inertia being the tendency of an object at rest to stay at rest and an object in motion to stay in motion). Changing states of consciousness takes me hours of slow, intense, mental pain. At 8:30am, appearing to have the mental capacity of a sozzled sloth was going to take an Herculean effort.

I don't deal with social stress well. I drink. Heavily. Hand me a crisis where lives hang in the balance and I will navigate a colony to safer shores. Hand me a situation where I may have to deal with long awkward silence and I hide in the corner with a bottle of red. So, the night prior to our meeting, in a fit of the jitters, I got it all out of my system...or into my system, depending on how you look at it. This served only to thicken the usual morning-haze.

That morning, my bladder rudely woke me up and I begrudgingly obliged, throwing my legs off the bed and pulling on the closest piece of clothing on the floor, a button-down dress shirt. I might have gotten one or two buttons done, probably mismatched by at least a button or two, so that one side of the collar was pulling down and the other was slung over my shoulder somewhere. I can't say I cared much. I shuffled to the bathroom. The shower sounds coming from it told me The Boy was blocking my pee-space. UGH. I would have to plod downstairs. 

I cracked my eyeballs open as much as I could, which didn't help much because I didn't have my coke-bottle-sized contacts in. I slowly navigated the stairs to the first-floor bathroom.

Something registered on the edge of my periphery. I ignored it, opting to deal with all sensory input after coffee. I turned the corner to the bathroom, opened the door and noted there was something blocking the toilet.

Small amounts of information began the arduous journey through the mud into my brain. The first piece of information to pick-axe it's way to my awareness was that this, "something" was a man. I wondered why a robber was peeing in The Boy's toilet.

The second piece of information to arrive sputtering from the hole it had burrowed to my brain was, "if this was a robber I would run." I was too tired to run so something else must be going on.

Finally, the clincher broke through the porridge announcing in a booming voice, "This is The Boy's father! He is peeing!" on a side-note it stated, "The periphery vision on the way into the bathroom was The Boy's mother, waving from the kitchen table." 

My hand was still resting on the door-handle when the toilet blocker said, "Hello!" in a sunny morning-person voice. An echo of the same exclamation came from the kitchen table behind me. I wanted to dart upstairs quickly, but I was stuck in one of those dreams where you are trying to run really fast and it feels like your legs are caught in quicksand. My body turned, I clutched the opening to the dress-shirt a little tighter together, mumbled something of a greeting and shuffled back upstairs. 

As in those dreams, my brain was running far quicker than my body and the inner panic turned me into a rare mute.** Once upstairs, I stepped into the shower with The Boy and managed to blurt out, "I met your parents." I was unaware that the phrase held none of the horror of the meeting. The Boy replied, "Good!" I replied that it was not and continued to stare at the shower head, water running down my body, unable to leave the cleansing water like that famous scene from The Crying Game.

After some time, The Boy came back upstairs to get my caboose moving. We were starting to run late, despite the fact that his parents had arrived early. We ate breakfast, rode the plane, went to pre-wedding festivities. It wasn't until The Boy and I were alone again, late that evening, that I was able to impart the horror of that morning's first greeting. His jaw dropped. He no longer wondered why I had been blushing for 12 hours straight.

Take solace in my tale, weary travelers. It is unlikely that your first mumbled greeting to your father-in-law will be uttered while staring bleary-eyed at his privates, with his wife looking on from behind. Both possibly catching glimpses of your own nether-regions through their son's hastily fastened shirt. Even less likely is that you will then be unable to escape their knowing gaze for the following 72 hours.

If you do, however, happen to find yourself in that situation, I am sorry to report that seven years later it will still haunt you. You have my sympathy.

* Due to a lifelong Napoleon complex. The Boy refers to it as my, "She-Ra Complex."

** Job matching says you should work within your skill-set. If anyone knows of a job where non-stop banter is required please let me know. Drivel quality must not be of import. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Cunning Plan

My hips are opening. My teachers say so. What this evidently means is that my triangle hurts like the ruddy dickens. It didn't hurt before my hips started to open. In fact, triangle and I were buds. Maybe not besties, but if triangle was moving, I would totally show up to move the couch in exchange for pizza and beers.

That happens periodically. In exactly this order:
  1. I hate a pose.
  2. I struggle with the pose.
  3. I get angry in the pose.
  4. I figure out what I am doing wrong. A sudden light is shown on the pose and I feel as if a miracle has happened. Jesus-rays* shine down on me while I am in that pose, despite the fact that I am in an enclosed building. There may be angels singing. I imagine I see a tear of joy falling from my teacher's eye.
  5. I get confidence up. I believe I have nailed the pose.
  6. A week later I discover a muscle not contracted. Or a light-space where there should be none. Or a joint out of line.
  7. Repeat steps 1-7

For this recent struggle with triangle, my hips were rolling, so I wasn't stretching some inner bit somewhere. So, now, I learn to be calm in that pose. It's the hardest part of step 3, and I won't usually get to step 4 until I do.

But not this time. This time I am taking a shortcut. Instead of being calm, I have a cunning plan, a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a fox.**

Instead of taking weeks, months, years, to open my hips, I should have a baby. Yup. Hip opening in 3-24 hours (if you discount the 9 months of gestation). I have gotten one of my teachers to agree to adopt the child once my hips are opened.

Oh, get your panties un-bunched! I won't forget to be grateful to the little guy; I figure a "thank-you for the triangle" card once a year should do it.

Now, off to discuss my plan with The Boy! I am sure he will be thrilled!

*Those directional lights coming from the clouds that show up most prevelantly in Christian inspirational artwork.

**If you know where this quote is from, we must meet for lunch. We may be long-lost besties. If you do not know where this is from, look it up, watch some videos. You are welcome.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Talk to Aunt Ethel

I was published! In print! What follows is an earlier draft of the article I wrote for the November edition of Yoga Chicago.

I lie in savasana concentrating on my breath. Inhale…one…two…two bottles of milk. I have to get whole-milk for making yogurt and almond-milk for making green juice…I mean…three.

As I attempt again to ignore my grocery list, I start wondering, what the heck am I doing this for? Am I really getting any calmer? And if so, what good is calm really going to do me? I have heard over and over that breathing will help me deal with stress at the Department of Motor Vehicles but am I really spending this much time per week preparing myself for the DMV? I make mental note to examine my teachers' claims that breathing will allow me to restrain myself when the DMV teller informs me that I am missing one item and I will have to go to the end of the line once I get back with it, and get back to breathing…five…six…exhale….

Weeks later I find myself up to my neck in yoga articles, books and scientific journals, which, I suppose is not overly impressive, considering I am sitting in lotus.

I have stumbled across findings that not only verify that I will be less likely to assault DMV tellers because of yoga, but also promise that yoga will boost my decision-making capabilities and self-control. For simplicity, rather than defining self-control as, “the ability to resist abusing DMV tellers,” let's define it as, “the ability to postpone gratification and control emotional responses.”

Yoga's key to self-control and decision-making, not surprisingly, is the breathing and meditation focus. These centuries-old practices allow us to do something amazing, to control our hearts. Controlling your heart-rate sounds like a really neat, although prop-intensive,  party trick (Hold my stethoscope and listen to this!) — possibly one on par with throwing your leg over your head in om pose — but it's way more than that. People who have a wider heart-rate variation (HRV) range have more self-control, including emotional, and better decision-making skills.1 HRV is the range of acceleration and deceleration your heart is capable of. In other words, when you get a fright, how much does your heart-rate speed up and when you calm back down, how low can it go?

You want a wide-range HRV because it is an excellent indicator of mental health; much like cholesterol levels indicate the health of your body. In a longitudinal study, babies were monitored at 9 months, then again three years later, using three methods of behavior prediction: parental opinion, standardized tests (including the Beyley Scales of Infant Development) and HRV. The most accurate indicator of which babies would develop social withdrawal, depression or aggression issues was not the standardized tests, not even parental opinion. It was HRV.1 Babies with greater HRV were less likely to develop those social adjustment issues. Many such tests have established that a low HRV can be linked to higher occurrences of anger, hostility, stress and anxiety.2 

Although personal HRV is an innate quality, it is not completely fixed. Experience can change HRV. For instance, trauma can suppress the heart’s responses; victims of child abuse have smaller-range HRV later in life.3 Nor is HRV completely without conscious controls.

Our body, the fantastic tangle of tissue and tendons that it is, communicates with itself via nerves, like a massive rat’s-nest of telephone line. We can harness these to alter our HRV, thus gaining self-control, (the ability to postpone gratification and control emotional responses) and coveted decision-making skills.

The telephone wires we are most interested in, the physical communication system between your heart, lungs and brain, is the vagal nerve cluster. The vagal nerve starts in your brain-stem, where it plays a key role in decision-making, then wraps around numerous organs, most significantly, the lungs and heart.

The vagal nerve is part of the automatic nervous system. The automatic nervous system is composed of sympathetic nerves (which control the fight or flight response and gears the body up for work) and the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the body down.4 Since the vagal nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, its stimulation will slow down your heart and lungs.*

Yoga can stimulate the vagal nerve cluster by using the parts of it that we do have control over, our breath and higher brain functions (via meditation), to talk to the parts we have limited communication with, the heart. It’s like telling Aunt Ethel (your brain and lungs) about the new puppy we adopted. The news will get back to Aunt Sally (your heart) because Ethel is a gossip, the message just might be a bit convoluted; the puppy might be a pug instead of a husky. So we keep talking to Ethel hoping that eventually the message gets back clearer (this is the importance of practice we will discuss in a minute).

No matter what flavor of yoga you have chosen, meditation and breathing techniques are both central principals. Even the red-headed left-handed stepchild of yoga**, Bikram yoga, is in on the action. When my Bikram teacher, Liz Olson, notices students have removed focus from their breath and are holding it during postures, (often full-locust or floor-bow) she makes the distinction between ‘practicing yoga’ and ‘using yoga poses for exercise’; she announces to her class, “If you aren’t breathing you’re not doing yoga. You’re just doing funny poses in a hot room.”

Yogic breathing techniques also change the speed at which you metabolize carbon dioxide, slowing your body down or speeding it up, depending on which technique you are using.5 And, research shows meditation is key to controlling heart-rate.1

Don’t forget though, it’s not the calm itself that makes for a self-controlled, sound-decision maker; it’s the ability to adjust. Embrace the annoyances in your yoga and everyday life. Distractions in meditation during yoga are simply upping the skill-level of your meditation practice; like reaching the next level in Super Mario Brothers. If the person in front of you is talking or there is a police siren blaring into your home-studio, relax; you have just gained the opportunity to level-up. It’s the same type of self-control increase you would need had someone taken cookies out of the office break-room and put them on your desk. The temptation may be harder to avoid, but the practice is invaluable. You have increased the weight of your mental dumb-bells.

Like any other training, practice makes perfect; keep telling your metaphorical Aunt Ethel that you got a HUSKY. H-U-S-K-Y. Not pug. Husky. Regular yoga and/or meditation will result in better ability to stimulate the vagal nerve cluster, giving you greater control of your heart-rate, resulting in greater control of self, including the ability to pause momentarily, which turns out to be the key factor in better decision-making.2 The knee-bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the hip-bone…!

To throw a cherry on top of all that yoga-goodness, this stuff is especially important now because our society has ramped up its response-time expectations. Today we, and those around us, expect quick responses; there has been a dramatic decrease in our expected response-time. Mail takes seconds, not minutes, to arrive. We don’t have to plan a visit to the reference library to check a statistic (Thank you, NPR-online for helping me write this article). In fact, the DMV may be the only thing that hasn’t sped up.

Without daily practice, we get worse at being patient (which is a form of self-control), just as we would with any other learned skill. This makes it important to consciously re-insert patience training into our daily lives, just as it was done automatically a few years ago.

So, laying in savasana, I get back to talking to aunt Ethel. It’s frustrating. We end up on tangents like groceries, work and how a disturbingly increasing number of my friends are having children. Still, I know the conversation is important so we keep it up. Exhale…three...four...five.

*A bizarre example of how these systems work in tandem and the critical part the vagal nerve plays in communication between your organs is panic-peeing. The same function of this all-important vagal nerve that slows your heart-rate can also make you pee your pants when you are super-scared.

The parasympathetic and sympathetic nerves work in tandem all the time, like having one foot on the gas and one on the brake all the time. When a spider larger than your cat lands on your shoulder, the sympathetic system kicks your heart and lungs into high-gear, preparing you for battle with the spider. Your vagal nerve quickly counters by putting its, “wait, let’s think about this,” brake on its organs (the heart, lungs and bladder). Sometimes, in it’s hastiness, the vagal nerve over-does it on the bladder, causing it to relax completely. That’s how you piddle your pants.

** I would like to note that there is nothing wrong with being red-headed, left-handed or a step-child; nor is there anything wrong with being a Bikram yogi.

1 Partnoy, Frank. Interview by Diane Rehm. " Frank Partnoy: "Wait: The Art and Scien." Diane Rehm Show. Host Diane Rehm. NPR. WAMU, Washington, DC, 10 July 2012. Web. 10 Aug. 2012.

2  Partnoy, Frank. Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. New York: Public Affairs™, A Member of the Perseus Books Gro, 2012. 6. Print.

3  Partnoy, Frank. Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. New York: Public Affairs™, A Member of the Perseus Books Gro, 2012. 12. Print.

4  Blakemore, Colin, and Sheila Jennett, eds. The Oxford Companion to the Body. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. N. pag. Web. 14 Aug. 2012.

5  Broad, William. Interview by John Dankosky. "The Science Of Yoga: The Risks And The R." Science Friday. National Public Radio. Feb. 2012. Web. 24 Aug. 2012. .

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Edible Animals Win at Hide-and-Seek

A while ago I went to a yogi pot-luck. Knowing the group was full of specialized eaters, I brought a little label for my salsa: Gluten-free, Vegan, Raw, Organic. To my surprise, a fellow guest made the comment, "Isn't all salsa vegan?"

For all of you who may think that it is; no. No, it is not. In fact, the first salsa recipe I ever committed to memory was simmered for 15 minutes in chicken stock. That's pretty common for traditional salsas.

The recipe was my father's and when I last visited, he had made a huge vat of the salsa, knowing I love the enchiladas he makes smothered in the stuff. When I reluctantly admitted that I really wasn't going to eat the salsa he was befuddled. "Why? There isn't any meat in it."he retorted. "The stock, Dad." His face contorted into a grimace as if the recollection of adding the stock had been a repressed memory, now back to traumatize him.

I felt horrible and it reminded me of a gluten-free friend (she wasn't gf as a 'thing.' She could literally die from eating gluten) who was invited to a boyfriend's house for dinner. Knowing the restrictions, the mother carefully selected a soup to serve for dinner. The soup remained gluten-free right up until a moment before it hit the table when the mother noticed the soup was a bit thin and, without thinking, threw in a handfull of flour. Poor Rose watched in horror as the flour left the quick-flinging woman's hand, leaving Rose in the awkward position of not eating her specially prepared supper.

I won't die from eating meat, heck, I have even been so desperate to try a food that I will pick around chunks of bacon, pretending that animal fats stay on their relegated pieces, much like smoke knows to stay in the smoking section of restaurants. Still, I like knowing what I'm eating in an almost obsessive way. Here are a few foods you might* be surprised to know have meat in them:

Salsa: We just covered this, beware of the cooked ones, they can be simmered in stock. Likewise, simmer-sauces can contain meat.

McDonalds French Fries & Hash Browns: "In 2002, McDonald’s agreed to donate $10 million to Hindu and other groups in the U.S. to settle lawsuits that accused the chain of mislabeling french fries and hash browns as vegetarian. The vegetable oil used to prepare the fries and hash browns had contained traces of beef for flavoring purposes." — The Washington Post. To be fair, I am not sure if they still use the 'seasoned' oil. I don't really care either. McyD's is known for using a scary number of ingredients in foods. Take a look at the Oatmeal they've been advertising as 'grown.' Grown my left butt-cheek; the list is 21 items long. Last I checked, sodium stearoyl lactylate did not sprout from a branch.

Refried Beans: Not really a shocker because there are cans labeled, "vegetarian." The ones that are not have bacon-fat in them. Be careful when eating out. The really wonderful greasy-spoons are more traditional and traditional means animal fat.

French Onion Soup: Beef base flavors this otherwise veggie caramelized goodness.

Cows are good at hide and seek

Cheese Soups, like Broccoli: If it's not one, it's the other: chicken base.

Packaged Side-Dishes: Rice, beans and pastas often have lard (animal fat) or animal stock in them.

I will touch on only one not-really-vegan food for this post. As far as I can tell, animal derivatives are in everything. I couldn't eat this keyboard and claim it vegan (For real. There is more cat hair in it than there is on my cat.).

Stout Beer: Not vegan. To be a "stout" the beer has to be filtered through a fish bladder.** Sorry all you hipster-vegans. Party's over.

But let's end on a good note. One surprisingly VEGAN food:
Bac-os®: They are made from soy!

* If you are a passive meat-avoider. Strict vegetarians will already know this.
** I had originally stated that it was a fish-bone. Thank you, Baleeteen (on reddit) for the correction!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Homeless or Yogi

Yesterday I did a yogathon. A yogathon is when you do all the classes offered at your studio in a single day. Yesterday there were 5 classes.

Knowing from past experience I would be brain-dead I planned on taking the bus home. After waiting for 20 minutes I realized the bus I wanted had stopped running. I started walking home, in the rain, when I made the realization that walking 4 miles after 7.5 hours of yoga was tipping the scales from crazy to insane. So I called The Boy to pick me up at the nearby grocery store.

An urgent hunger hit me so I ducked into the grocery store to grab some pineapple for the wait.

There was no seating outside of the rain so I hunkered down under an overhang to munch on my sweet prize. I ate that pineapple with such relish that it took a gasp from a customer exiting the store to realize that I looked like a gollum creature; slightly damp, feasting on a hastily opened pack of pineapple, juice dripping down my hands and face.

No, I did not spend weeks illustrating this. The shot is from LOTR.

Eh. Pride. Who needs it? I didn't move until the pineapple was gone.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Humble Bumble

A few years ago I had the privilege of attending a seminar led by Mary Jarvis with my fellow yogis, Jen, Borislava and Bryant. My teacher and few of my yoga-idols were also in attendance. This made for a very nice stage for what may have been my most apparently self-aggrandizing moment ever.

Mary had me demonstrate a pose at one point (Don't think that means I'm 'all that and a bag of chips,' a LOT of people demonstrated poses). I'm no longer sure what the pose was. The specifics of that moment are lost to time. The moments that followed, however, those moments I remember clear as a plexi-display case.

I remember trying really hard to conceal the grin that plagues me when I get nervous. When I get emotionally overwhelmed one of two things happen, A) my eyes water and my face flushes, giving the appearance that I will burst in tears at any moment or B) I grin. The grin may seem like the preferable of the two options. Let me assure you it is not. At least my near-tears may be interpreted as nearly the correct emotion. The dumb-grin that spreads across my face, nearly meeting in the back of my head, leads to the general impression I am having a ball. It shows nothing of the horror going on in my brain. Sometimes there is even inappropriate laughter, which can be mortifying.

After the demonstration, I sat back down on my matt and all eyes were back where they belonged, Mary. Then a student asked a question that put eyes back on me, "Is she humble?"

I felt the red run to my face; this could be either tears or a grin, neither of which would work well. PLEASE be the tears, I thought. I put my head down to mask whatever was coming and especially not to feel all those eyes looking for signs of vanity. A million things rushed through my head. First of which was a very offended, "What the F*CK sort of a question is that!?!"

I quickly analyzed that thought and decided that what they were really pointing to was the mind-body connection, that the physical aspects are only half the posture. In that moment I may have messed up. Bad.

I am to this day terrified that I may have actually nodded to my own internal approval of the question. I can't be sure if my head actually did bob or not, but I do remember the terror of thinking it did. I froze realizing what the rest of the seminar had possibly just seen:
"Yes, but is she humble?" The class turns to see me, grinning like a cheshire cat, head bowed in apparent mock-humbleness, then I give a nod as if to answer the question myself. "Yes, of course I am humble, look at me, I even bow my head!"
Mary tactfully answered the question saying she trusted that my trainer judged that I was. The seminar continued. I may have been grinning/crying the whole rest of the day had my body not gone into massive detox, giving me a headache that knocked out any chance at self-evaluation.

Since then I have attempted to determine what being humble means to me. Am I humble and could I ever be a humble person?

If I were to ask anyone familiar with me I am sure they would say no. I mean, really, I have none of the outward affectations of someone who is humble. I am loud, I am outspoken and I am particularly talented at taking charge (-10 humble-points for narcissism).

I've asked myself if a person like that can be humble? Do all humble people contemplate sullenly in baggy robes or is there room among their ranks for the boisterous? And is modesty by necessity self-effacing? Is it better to be modest even if it means sacrificing potential?*

It's been two years since that seminar and I still don't know what being humble means to me but I'm thinking about it and that's got to get me somewhere.

* I encountered this question in the book, Pillars of the Earth. It was posed to Prior Phillip, a very humble man capable of great leadership who nearly missed his life's calling because he thought it too ostentatious. It opened a new perspective on humbleness for me. I am still not sure how I feel about it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Don't Wrestle with Trust. Fly with It.

Yesterday I learned how to fly. Not in a plane, I already took lessons for that and I suck at it. Frankly, although it altered the course of my adult life to much bemoaned mediocrity, I think they were probably right to tell me, "No, you really do need to understand the basic principals of flight before we give you the helm of an F-15." Pshaw. Whatever.

Yesterday, I took a lesson on the flying trapeze. It. Was. Awesome. I was allowed three goes at the bar and each flight had it's own oddly endearing goofy quality. I was trying to mimic the graceful curvature of an arc with swanlike agility, but the reality was part, 'flailing goose' and part 'badly drawn squiggle.' All the same, the endorphins were released en-masse and I came out of the experience being able to say that I did a flip dismount (never mind the un-intended flip to belly-flop as I hit the net), a leg-hang, and a hand-off.

Before we started, the head instructor informed us all that trapeze was not so much about upper body-strength as it was about timing. "Timing is EVERYTHING." he claimed. I see what he means. If timing is right you become weightless and it doesn't matter how much body-weight you have, you aren't actually carrying any of it. It is gone, as is the gravitational pull that causes it.

After each stint on the trapeze the coach gave me a brief coaching session outlining where improvements could be made. To his credit he never gave over-arching commentary that would have been hard to achieve, like, "try not to be so confused while the whole world has flipped upside-down and you are watching the ground swiftly shift beneath you." He focused on small, attainable goals like, "Don't swing your legs quite so much."

That was hugely important because the whole experience goes by so fast that I can only describe my reactions as mechanical. He yelled, "arms up" and I moved my arms up. Which was good because at exactly the moment I managed to get my hands up, back arched, reaching outward, there was another pair of hands clutching my wrists. My reaction, much to the surprise of the 10+ year trapeze veteran who would be swinging me off my bar and transferring me safely to the net, was, "Oh. Hi!"

Yup. I had a fraction of one second to process what was going on and my reaction was the summarized equivalent of, "Well, hello, fine sir. Pleased to make your acquaintance. I am thrilled to be flying with you today. Would you be so kind as to deposit me safely into the net directly below us? I bid you adiu and fond wishes to the family. Tata!" I suppose there is never too little time for niceties.

She flies through the air with the greatest of...Oh CRAP! Oh Crap! Oh Crap!

I will make one and only one contention with everything I learned (because as flyer of one day, I am naturally in a position to take contention with the knowledge of seasoned vetrans) -- "Timing is everything."

My biggest challenge and subsequent high of the whole evening wasn't the small hop into the void, the remarkably shaky ladder leading to the platform (which seems very large until you have three people on it), or the wicked-cool flip that you do to dismount the net. It was the moment before I hopped.

That fantastic moment I was staring two stories down, grabbing onto an unreasonably heavy bar that threatened to pull me off the platform, hips forward, my weight being supported only by my left hand on the platform and a gentleman who's hand was shoved into my safety-belt. Then, the gentleman coached me to move my other hand onto the bar and every cell in my body started screaming, "Excuse me, but no!" He intentionally yanked a little on the belt and casually said, "Don't worry, I have you by the belt. Do you feel that?" And my body loosened, "Yes."

And I let go. It felt wonderful.

The stranger holding me onto the platform, the coach leading me, and the man swinging like a gay* monkey on a parellel bar 20 feet away, all wanted me to have the time of my life. All I had to do was trust them.

There is a study I read about in the book, "The Geography of Bliss" and have since heard cited in numerous shows on NPR (It is safe to say that I blindly find anything on NPR credible). The study says that the single greatest factor in determining if we are happy is not wealth**, it is our ability to trust others. I believe them. How many wonderful experiences would I have passed up had I not trusted others? I couldn't have flown, I never would have kicked into a handstand at the urging of my yoga teachers, I wouldn't have painted out half a canvas to start over at the urging of my professer who, rightly, promised a greater lesson would lie in the tear-filled hours ahead as I re-painted the scene.

May we all find happiness in that moment before the jump, the ability to let go and trust our fellow humans.  Hup! Hup!

* As in, "happy." I may talk like a grandma sometimes but I never talk like a bigot.

** Wealth does make us happier, but only up to a surprisingly small income. Something like $20,000 per year in the US and it ceases to be a determining factor in our happiness quotient.

A special, "Thank you" to Dancing J (Juliana) who first piqued my interest in trapeze through her blog, Lock the Knee!. I have been nursing the idea since she posted in March!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Yoga in Feathers, Scales and Gloves

I hope everyone had a fantastic Halloween! This year I consolidated and only did two costumes:

  1. Marie Curie, the physicist/chemist who won multiple nobel prizes for her research in radioactivity.  She loved the soft glow of radium and polonium, both of which she discovered, and as such, she wore a radioactive necklace and kept radiant rocks by her bedside. While we are not sure if it was her choice of nightlight or jewelry that killed her, we are sure she died from radiation poisoning. My outfit consisted of a full French-Victorian gown, complete with bustle* and a necklace with a glow-stick charm. I coated my face in talc powder, underlined my eyes in grey and lined my lids with red, in mimicry of radiation poisoning. I looked ill. Really ill. I realized I overdid it and cut back on the make-up for the second party. 
  2. Wonder Woman, my yoga costume! I painted little white stars on my pair of blue yoga shorts and sewed a red taffeta cape to pin to my yoga top. I also had a thick gold choker, which I forgot to put back on for the pictures. It occurs to me that most super-hero women are clad in bikram-yoga outfits with capes and irresponsibly tall boots.** I may have to dig into my geek repertoire for next year too.

My yoga costumes are quickly becoming a favorite tradition of mine. This is my third Halloween as a yogi and therefore, third costume. Year one I was yoga-ninja. Year two I was Gianna, a favorite teacher of mine. Year one was just me and the teacher in costume. Same with year two.

This year, year three, I attended the 4:30 class and was thrilled when my good friend Tony, a huge advocate of adult play (he's writing his dissertation on it), showed up in full garb! He wore a hooded cape, sunglasses and gloves and a shirt with a human skeleton printed on it! The clever man even had an explanation, "look at how healthy my spine is!"

This was genius. He changed into orange shorts (for a black and orange ensamble) and we did the entire class in costume. My cape posed only slight problems; I can now tell you definitively what it is like to practice under a wet blanket.

After class, the 6:30 class started filtering in. I could have cried big, fat, wet, sloppy tears of joy.

Costumes everywhere! I felt like I was witnessing a magical unicorn convention! Ballerinas, fish, peacocks, (OMG, I just realized TWO of those are poses! *SQUEEE of JOY!*) and wizards paraded past the front desk. To my utter adoration none of them disrobed before class.

I was so excited I almost took a double to join them. Almost. Okay, not almost, but I totally thought about thinking about it.

UPDATE: Here is a photo of Tony (We call him Avo, short for Avocado. He eats them every morning) and I. If I can get a photo of the fish, peacock, ballerina and wizard I will post that too!
We both heard there would be candy.

* Which I am selling should anyone happen to need such a gown. Suggested situations perfect for this ensable include: dancing with chimney sweeps, riding a penny-farthing, or swooning.

**  This bolsters my argument that yogis would make excellent crime-fighters.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Today Was a Very Good Day

I had a great day today.

After four days of getting less than 6 hours sleep each night, I had to wake up at 5am. I really like my sleep.

Getting into my car, I discovered my check engine light on. My heater was making a "thwap, thwap" noise, so I figured a leaf was stuck in the fan. I turned off the heater and drove onto the highway in the cold, deciding to deal with the wayward leaf later.

Once in the fast lane at roughly 80mph, my vision became impaired by massive plumes of smoke. The smoke was shooting out of the seams of my hood like a gravity-defying Niagara Falls. I pulled Mount Vesuvius over and lept from my car, fearing a fire and a Die-Hard II-style explosion. After examining my engine and (incorrectly) determining the source to be a fan belt  I limped the car 1.4 miles to the nearest exit where I established that I would be over an hour late for work.

I'm no mechanic, but I think this might be a problem.

Once at work, I plowed through the meager lunch I had brought within the first hour. The Office is located in the midst of the great wide expanses known as 'the surrounding suburbs of Chicago,' where a 20 minute walk will get you as far as the end of the parking lot. Walking to a Whole Foods is an attempt comprable to the original Google-maps directions to Europe, which included driving across the Atlantic. So by noon I was starving.

Later, I got news that it was not a belt that had given way (a mere $80 repair) but that the entire radiator had cracked, taking with it the thermostat (a $500 repair).

But like I said, I had a great day.

What also happened today was that my groggy-self was greeted at 6am yoga by one of my loving teachers, with a smile and a good word. I saw some folks I hadn't seen in a while because I only resort to morning classes under the most dire of circumstances.

When my car turned into a smoke bomb I was able to get to a parking lot only .3 miles away from a repair shop (found by my trusty smart phone). The repair shop's manager drove the final, yet impassable, .3 miles in order to spare me the tow fee. He then established that he would need to get the car back to the shop so he would come back later, once the engine had cooled completely, to pour enough water in the engine to limp it to the shop on his lunch hour.

My friend, who was also on her way to the office, cheerfully picked me up road-side and we had a delightful trip in, twittering away while another co-worker texted to make sure we were okay.

When I discovered I had no food left I gorged myself on the free Blue Bunny ice cream provided by the employer. When I was sick of that, the same girlfriend fed me macro-biotic bars from the stash she keeps in her desk (Life is about balance, right?).

When I got the final call with the estimate, the repair guy said he had noted that my oil was overdue. I confirmed, quoting the exact milage it was overdue by (so that he knew I wasn't ignorant, just lazy). He decided he was going to change the oil for me, so I didn't have to take the car back in, for free. 

When I got home, The Boy was waiting with some kind words, a big hug and (lord does he know me) the offer of dinner ordered in. The Boy then stopped working on a tight deadline for an hour to eat with me and watch Walking Dead.

So, I must re-iterate, this was a great day. People can make all the difference. Be kind and look for kindness in others. Sometimes kindness is there but you can't see it through the drudgery of your day.

Namaste, darlings.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

I do not want to give the impression that I have in any way superior knowledge about yoga compared to, say, your average aardvark. Anything I may think I know is bound to be different in a week as I discover more, or realize I was hallucinating. Possibly, the only thing I have learned definitively is that a double chocolate fudge brownie will not always effect your class adversely. Hardly a piece of information that I should tout because, as the piece of phrasing implies, more often than not the brownie will pose a problem. I've just learned not to skip class because every now and then, you can still get a really great backbend with the brownie still churning away in your gut. 

That being said, I think I found a winner here. Now, as I've said, this may change. I have been conducting experiments and believe I have discovered, drum roll please, the perfect hairstyle for long hair in the yoga room! Thank you, thank you. Hold your applause, please. 

I am sure many with longer locks have had the same issues I have. My Ashkanazi mane has been growing for three years. Three very long years.* Many hairstyles have been tried. Let me diagram what is problematic about each of them:

Example A: Down
This is obvious. Hair is everywhere, your mouth, stuck to your face and eventually knotted up like starter dread-locks. While dreads are lovely, if you are not seeking to achieve the look, finding it on your head is rather dismaying. 

Example B: Singular Braid
This style gets in the way of wind removing pose. When you tuck your chin in you have a lump of twisted hair just behind the nape of your neck preventing you from getting your neck-spine to the floor. While, if we are being honest with ourselves, most of us are less than full-bore in wind removing, knowing before you start that you have no hope of achieving the posture is decidedly silly. 

Example C: Top Knot
Good for Wind-removing pose, as it will allow you to put your neck all the way on the floor, it gets in the way of separate leg stretching. Try touching your head to the floor with a three-inch wad of hair in the way. No dice. Same issue for rabbit. Furthermore, if you have the basketball-sized mop I have, standing head to knee is about impossible. When you start lowering your head, the basketball flops, shifts your weight forward and you find your center-of-gravity suddenly three inches in-front of your toes. Down you go. 

Example D: Pig-tails
This is the style I have preferred for the last year+ as I have been growing the mane. This will allow every one of the poses, with no impediment. The only problem is that 90% of your class is spent wishing you did not have a wet, clinging, scarf of hair wrapped around your neck. The room is hot enough without hair-made accessories appropriate for snowboarding. 

Example E: Two French braids
I imagine this would be great. Imagine. While most girls were learning this skill I was hanging out in a tree competing with my best-friend to see who could eat yogurt the grossest. If a yoga pose included french-braid lessons, I might be able to pick it up. As it does not, I am excusing myself of learning this skill. 

And The Ideal: Pig-tails with a third hair-tie holding them loosely together
Note that all the other styles have nice concise names and this one does not. I would like to believe this is because it is brand new and I have discovered something that will catch on like wild fire. I should patent this! The truth is that this is ugly and no person outside of the yoga room would ever consider this presentable. But hey, I am willing to sweat so bad I soak multiple towels, wear underwear and breathe using my arms. Really, a stupid hair style is not going to matter one iota. 

And now that I have discovered the ideal hairstyle for long hair, it is time to chop the mop and donate it. Hooray! I feel like I should send it off with an apology note, "I am sorry it is so unruly; I swear I tried to train it. It gave me nothing but grief. I hope you have better luck with it than I did."

I bequeath the actual hair to cancer patients and the hair data (presented above) to yogis.

* I have been growing it out for donation. During this process I have re-discovered that long hair and I do not get along.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sock It to Me

For about a year I was plagued with the inability to purchase socks. For a time, my usual resource would be I have since decided that they are the devil because of their decision to disallow funds filtered to Julian Assange (It's not a matter of whether he was right or not, I don't like a massive corporation deciding what causes I can donate to.).

I then turned to Target. No go again. They were among the first to contribute large quantites to the GOP once corporations were deemed people (again, it's not a matter of who the money went to, it's that the donations themselves are morally reprehensible). Target also allows their pharmasists to deny birth control to patrons which is especially disturbing knowing that they have locations in rural communities where they may be the only source for contraceptives.

Again and again my attempts to buy socks were thwarted by moral dilemmas. Finally, after months of darning the thread-bare upper-foot covers (the bottoms had long since deteriorated) JC Penny featured ads with Ellen DeGeneres.

When controversy arose in the form of a botched FaceBook protest, (the "Million Moms" page who's group comprised a couple folks paid for by religious groups) they followed their stellar first act with a not-so-subtle answer of Father's Day ads with two dads! While the LGBT community was hailing JC Penny for not backing down, I was rushing to my computer to order armloads of socks.

When my mailbox finally contained the blessed pairs of foot-warmth I had so been yearning for, I was overjoyed! I ripped open the bag and slipped on a new pair, not even bothering to wash the socks.

The next few minutes were very happy. My feet were cushioned, clean and fully covered! Over the course of the next few hours, however, I discovered that all was not well. It seems that the holes in my socks, generally located at the heel and ball of my foot, gave me a lot of traction. I could easily run accross my slick wood floors when the teapot whistled or when the telephone I had left on the counter needed answering. Now, I slipped pathetically and had to shuffle my feet when attempting to run. This gave me the quick but tiny steps of a cartoon geisha. My feet were moving very quickly, but the steps were so tiny I might have well been walking.

And that, my dear readers, is why I sit here with three of my toes slowly being drained of blood because they have poked out of their holes again and are being strangled by the few threads still holding the sock in one piece while a drawer full of brand-new socks sits in the bedroom.

We two shall never be parted...or three. Whatever.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Awww, Camping!

The Boy and I went on a canoe camping trip last weekend. When I tell people this, without exception, they squeal, "Camping? How romantic!" I wonder what experiences these people must have had to make them so delusional.

Living in the city, I find it reasonable to assume that these people have only seen camping through the eyes of Hollywood, where people wake-up with perfectly separated, full lashes and hair perpetually under the influence of a light breeze. It's best to assume this is the case because the other possibilities are that A) They are insane B) I have been camping wrong.

 Canoeing Offers Numerous Bonding Opportunities with The Boy
In my experience, camping is less a romantic getaway and more preparation for apocalyptic survival. All luxuries that mask your loved one's body odor have been removed. Simultaneously, so has the shower that would ensure a quick-fix. Lovingly prepared meals ("Honey, I know you love your empty starches so I added a potato to your meal!") have been replaced with... um... whatever you can heat on a stick with an open flame. And may the gods help your relationship if you neglected to bring pre-cooked foods; nothing smashes 'the illusion' like the trips to the woods. 

Do you think you will be different, you can sneak off under the guise of 'looking for kindling'? No, you can't. Nature will call after your second beer in the canoe. You will have to ask to pull over to the shore. Then you will have to dig through your waterproofed gear to find the roll of toilet paper. That's a sexy moment for you. Try wiggling your butt as you walk up-shore to find a tree just out of your lover's sight to squat behind, you know, to accentuate the mood.

And for all of you saying, "But sleeping under the stars is sooooo picturesque!" Yes, it is beautiful. It is also cold and uncomfortable. Do any of you women have hips? You know how your mattress allows those hips to sink down so your spine stays in-line? The forest floor doesn't do that. If your figure is anything like mine your side-sleeping spine takes the shape of a hockey-stick. That "L" crook will hurt like the dickens in the morning, but you're so cold that you don't care. When the sun stopped kissing your skin, or gnawing on it if you forgot to re-apply sunscreen, it left in its wake cold that could harden the nips on a polar bear. 

Sunscreen poses another sexiness-dilemma. Applying it liberally, and often, will leave you sticky, smelly and give you zits. Not applying it leaves you red and swollen with bits of skin that peel off you in pale phillo-dough-like layers. 

If you are contemplating your first camping trip with your loved one, let me tell you something that is equally relevant to a potential threesome or a potential camping trip, "You have to be REALLY comfortable with your partner before trying it out." 

The best reason to go camping with your partner clearly isn't the romance. It is the comfort you get knowing that you can depend on each other. You both survived the trip without attacking the other person with an oar (hopefully). The day after camping you can both truly appreciate the little things, like order-in sushi, and let the things that don't matter go, like walking in on the other person peeing. At least this time he was peeing in a designated area.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Staggering Beauty

One shouldn't remake a movie or song unless you feel you can add something to it with your own artistic voice. I can't possibly do a better job than the following article so I won't try:

Reddit Shaming Turns Beautiful

Move Over, Angelina. The Most Beautiful Woman in the World Has a Beard.
I can only hope to someday be as beautiful as this woman. I believe religion is dubious at best but sometimes, out of the pretense, indoctrination and partisanship, a flower so rare and beautiful blooms that you feel disingenuous faulting the soil.

The only shortcoming I see with the Jezebel recap is glossing over the bravery of the original poster. Frankly, the title, "douchebag" doesn't fit this guy. It takes real guts to apologize like he did; not just a token, but a genuine admission of wrongdoing to all the communities and individuals effected by his comment. Bravo, douche, bravo.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Fine Display of Geekery

I would like to share my (flat-fingered, I know, I am working on that) geek-crane.

Similar to the standard-crane, geek-crane supplements the usual deep-breathing meditation with images of ewoks and wookiees.

Whenever I do crane I see myself as a Millennium Falcon. PEW! PEW!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lightly Sacrilegious

A shout out to all my Jewish yogis:

If yoga had brought me out of the house and not shown me exercise - Dayenu, it would have been enough!
If yoga had shown me exercise and not strengthened all the muscles - Dayenu, it would have been enough!
If yoga had strengthened my muscles and not my mind - Dayenu, it would have been enough!
If yoga had strengthened my mind and not eased my eczema - Dayenu, it would have been enough!
If yoga had eased my eczema and not unburdened me of athsma - Dayenu, it would have been enough!
If yoga had unburdened me of athsma and not given me more self-confidence - Dayenu, it would have been enough!
If yoga had given me more self-confidence and not humbled me - Dayenu, it would have been enough!
If yoga had humbled me and not given me coping mechanisms for stress - Dayenu, it would have been enough!
If yoga had given me coping mechanisms and not shown me the way to find peace of mind - Dayenu, it would have been enough!

The way I was taught Judaism was to question everything* and, as illustrated above, to be grateful for everything. Many of us are atheist Jews in my family and I see nothing contradictory in this.

Growing up I loved singing Dayenu (the psalm that has been Weird Al Yankovic'ed above) loudly and off-key with my family. Dayenu has similar meaning to hallelujah. The song goes through all the wonderful miracles bestowed upon the Jews in their flight from Egypt citing that G*d could have done only one thing and it would have been a miracle but he kept going.

We were the proverbial weary traveler and G*d was the gracious hostess throwing piles of shrimp, oh wait, that's not really going with the Jewish theme now is it, um... latkes at us. Latkes really aren't as lavish as what I'm trying to get across here but you get the idea.

The moral of the story is that when a hostess gives you a latke, don't get all, "Where's my gefilte fish?" on her, be thankful for the latke and for the fork.

Although, honestly, you should never ask for gefilte fish. Just on principal.

There are a million things my yoga practice has given to me and I would have kept up with it had it only given me an arm muscle or two.  Had I received even the smallest bit of good, it would have been enough, yet look at how much has been piled on! Dayenu!

* Passover is the major holiday in our family. The service teaches you how to answer questions because questioning is important. My sister even put an orange on the sedar plate one year. When we asked "Why on earth is there an orange on our sedar plate?" she responded, "Why not, the service does not tell us not to put an orange on the plate. We should also question what is not in the service and why not." The idea being that a bunch of men wrote this stuff down and they might have been a wee skewed in their judgement of women. You know, a just smidge *massive eye-roll*.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

More Energizing Than Half-Tortise

Training has begun again for a small group of yogis at my studio. With the new year came a boat-load of new additions to last year's routine. While I approve of all of the changes (not that it would matter if I didn't) they do make for a noticeably longer training session. Last year, we struggled through 40 back-bends in a row. We would approach those backbends with the nervous anticipation that marks the high-point in any routine -- be it camel pose, the 3pm push at work, or that one point running up-hill that always makes your legs ache. 

This year, the backbends are sliced to bits and sandwiched neatly between handstand push-ups. For me, the push-ups are fun, making the backbends less tedious. For more bendy, less muscular folks, I am sure it is the opposite. Either way, most of us get a nice sandwich out of the deal, the bread being the delivery system one puts up with in order to obtain the delicious peanut butter and jelly middle. MMMmm. Just a moment. ....

*wipes crumbs off face* This new format, while containing delicious proverbial peanut butter, also has a plethora of bread to wade through. This section gets long. And tedious. I have not actually checked, but if I were to estimate the time, my guess is about 8 hours for this section of the routine (I am pretty sure time and space bends in that room). At the four hour mark* things can get a little loopy. No amount of counting backbends in fun languages (last week included counting like The Count from Sesame Street and Pig-Latin) staves off the desire for a looong water break. 

Fortunately, the exact point where we all lost hope last week coincided with the ipod's random choice of George Michael. I don't know about you, but for me, the nostalgia factor of George Michael is high. Combine it with the also high cheese-factor and you have a winning combination for a few "I don't give a football if you are watching" dance moves from yours truly. 

Sweat-Slingin' Dance Par-tay!
I can not dance. At all. I do not care. My completely soaked-in-sweat tiny yoga shorts were swinging in a rhythm that was as close to the beat as I can pull off. 

A few chuckles from the rest of the crew later, possibly some inspiration that nobody was going to look sillier than I did, and we were all gyrating in our sweaty glory to "Faith." 3 minutes and 16 seconds later we hopped right back to it and crawled down the wall for our final two rounds of backbends. I have now incorporated the dance-party into my training sessions and, like yoga, they defy logic for energy creation. 

I highly advice impromptu dance-parties when you need a little energy. If you feel gross, are highly un-coordinated, unmotivated, and covered in your own diaphoresis, all the better. 3:30 push at work? Mid-hill on a long jog? Stop, plug in some C&C Music Factory-style guilty pleasure and bust-a-move.

* Times may not be accurate

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Adult Beverages Lose Their Status Near My Mouth

As I am thirstily drinking my water, tipping the glass so far up that two streams form at the corners of my mouth, rushing down my chin and forming dark spots on my t-shirt, it occurs to me that I should stop drinking my water like this because a considerable portion of the precisely-measured supplement I just added to said water is not making it into my mouth. Reason number 3,487 that I am not yet an adult. 
I'm not really all that thirsty, just that sloppy.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dry Brushing

So I've got this knee thing going on. It's not as bad as I was afraid of, but we'll see how long I feel that way. My mom, who knows me pretty well,* says that I will be fine for about a month and then will be impatient. She used the word impatient; we both know that means irritable, verging on pissed-off. 

As for now, I am basking in a glow that makes me wonder if I could become a hypochondriac. 

I have gotten an inpouring of messages from teachers concerned about my physical and mental well-being. One teacher in particular, (Love you, lady!) wrote me despite being thousands of miles away and not having taught me for a year. She's not the only out-of-state sympathizer with a wealth of knowledge either. Captain obvious, I know, but yoga people are really friggin' warmhearted. 

Through this outpouring I have learned about this neat thing, "dry brushing." It sounds ridiculously benign, and it is.  You can not possibly imagine results from this, which is when I usually label things, "new-age foof," try it for a week, and then forget about it. 

Par for the course, I made my investment in the $10 brush, figured, "screw it, can't hurt" (I learn a lot of great stuff with that attitude) and brushed the bare skin on my leg. Officially a dry-brusher, I started casually discussing my new 'foofy' habit with some of my friends. Surprisingly, I discovered my 'foof' is mainstream! 

One friend (not a yogi) has pretty bum knees and has been dry-brushing for ages post knee-surgery. The fact that traditional doctors recommended this gave it major points for me. I share this story with another friend and she compares it to treatments she got when she was in high-school for her injuries related to softball. I share the story again and The Boy (the most scientifically critical person I know) tells me that he knew someone who used dry-brushing on developmentally challenged youngsters with amazing results. Now I'm so excited about it that I'm about to buy a dry-brush for a friend with a seriously effed up arm. 

I have become a dry-brush pusher.

I had asked the original suggester of the dry-brush how one goes about this task. He said, "Buy a dry-brush. Brush." Nice one, smart-ass. But yeah, he's right. If you want to stop reading here and run out to get your brush to start -- you have been given the green light. 

My beloved and I share a moment.

For those of you as detail-oriented (read: anal-retentive) as I am, here are some further details. 
  1. Go to the Whole Foods aisle with all the pills and supplements. 
  2. Request a "dry brush." They will hand you a long-handled brush that resembles a bath brush. The bristles are stiff, made from the roots of the agave plant. Some of you might be familiar with the plant because of its sugar-alternative that doesn't spike blood glucose the way cane-sugar does. I prefer to tip my hat to this plant for its gift of tequila. 
  3. Preferably before a shower,** stroke the bare skin on your arms, legs, then torso, gently with the brush. Use long strokes. I have heard it said that you should go away from your heart. I have also heard it doesn't matter. I choose to believe that it doesn't matter. 

And there you have it. Don't get over-zealous with it and brush till you bleed. I always feel a little tingly afterward, which makes sense because the intent is to encourage circulation. Circulation is good because oxygen, yada-yada, flushing out scar tissue, yada-yada, white blood cells, yada-yada. You get the idea. Good stuff. 

For more experienced dry-brushers (anyone who has done this for more than a week qualifies) I do have a few questions that I would love answers to in comments or email. 
  1. Is there an amount of time, or number of strokes that is optimal. I usually go for roughly 15 strokes or so. Too many more and I think it would hurt rather than soothe. 
  2. What is the heart-direction thing? Why would it matter?
  3. Anything to add?

* Massive understatement. She can probably tell you what color socks Im wearing right now. From two states away. 
** I don't know why, but I have been told this repeatedly, even by the friend coached by traditional doctors. I take my showers at yoga most days so I ignore this and just do it before bed. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

AFO. Already.

I have the supreme privilege of writing you today with new insight. I can now tell you what it feels like to tear/sprain/strain your meniscus. Frankly, Im not sure which of the adjectives are appropriate because I, like many freelancers, have no insurance and, therefore, go into the doctor only when I fear something may fall off. My doctor is very flexible with me and so understanding that I am not sure how he is not practicing out of a cardboard box.* Still, I try to keep the visits to a minimum. 

On Monday, not at my usual studio, I was shifting my weight around in lotus and I heard a 'pop' in my knee. Knees are notorious for being fickle. I know this because at my studio the teachers watch the knees like hawks. In fact, as if they were hawks and your little round knee-caps were their eggs. I had heard of the 'dreaded pop' before and knew this might be an issue. I unfolded myself and became hyper-aware of my knee. Oddly, there was no pain. I figured maybe I was okay and wrote my home-base studio owner when I got home (this is why being at a knowledgeable studio is important). I told her precisely what had happened, what sensations I was getting and at what points. It was like car-talk for the human body. She responded right away with, "meniscus," a list of things to watch out for, modifications to poses, and how we would determine the severity of the injury. Eff Allstate, Im in good hands already. 

For those of you about to scream, "she's not a doctor," (Hi, mom!) chill. As I said, I wouldn't have gone to the doctor anyway. Plus, there isn't any pain, just a 'loose' sensation in my knee so, had it not been for my involvement in the yoga world, I wouldn't even acknowledge this as an issue; I would be skipping merrily to the club having no inkling. If it starts to hurt or immobilize me I will dutifully call in the standard medicine-men.

'Tis only a flesh wound!

Two points I would like to make: 
  1. I did not hurt myself in the beginers' Bikram Yoga series, so don't freak out and go all "New York Times" on me. The designated postures are as safe as walking.** The chosen inversions don't have you balancing on your neck, arms extended, for a reason. There is no lotus in the series.
  2. I was not going into the pose with aggression or ego. I know that the running theory is that if you don't go in with ego you will be fine. This brings me to the point I want to make regarding my new Exercise in Patience.***

Given #2 shouldn't I have been safe? Yes and no. The posture I was doing isn't in the beginner's series for a reason. Aside from that though, The yoga room is not magic. You do not get wrapped in a bubble of anti-wound the minute you step on whatever foam has been designated a yoga-mat by Lululemon. I take issue with people who get defensive about yoga injuries. Injuries are most-often caused by aggression or ego but sometimes they happen without it. You can choke eating. That does not mean that you should declare eating dangerous and stop. 

The Boy said it beautifully when I came home, head bowed in shame afraid of being chastised for hurting myself. His response to my Exercise in Patience? He told me matter-of-factly, "Welcome to the world of physical activity." He is absolutely right. I can (and have) hurt myself walking. That does not mean it is better for my health to do my grocery-shopping in a hover-round. Although, what a lovely excuse for one!

I have long road ahead of me. One that promises to be graced with many hard lessons. I anticipate learning about sympathy, patience, perseverance and limitations. None of those sound pleasant but I can already pin-point a few I could use. My instructors are amazingly sympathetic and are helping me both emotionally and physically -- I am only on day two and I have already gone from laughing at myself to crying over my lost competition poses to anger. This is going to be a riot. I'll share the lessons I can articulate as they come. Those that I can't articulate we can assume come from a pain-induced delirium. Haha, just kidding...I hope.

* I have even, on his suggestion, sent photos of horrid looking skin conditions while he is on vacation. All this free of charge. I owe the man my left kidney, also, my right, but he won't take them.  

** I don't have stats to back this up; just go with it.

*** That's what I've decided to call my injury. You like it? Evidently, this may take a year or so to heal. Hence AFO (Another Fucking Opportunity). I am starting over again in tree pose, which will be especially emotionally trying considering I was working on full bow-legged. I am an instant-gratification sort of person. This is going to be a hard lesson.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Entertainment News is Neither

How come we all know Macaulay Culkin did blow but none of us were privy to the knowledge that Blossom is a Neuroscientist?* Our media sucks.

* Mayim Bialik, the actress who played Blossom, got her doctorate in neuroscience at UCLA (she was accepted to Harvard and Yale but wanted to stay close to family). As if that's not enough, she's vegan too. I only learned this stuff because she was the keynote speaker at a fellow yogi's Texas Instruments conference.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Crap, AFO.

While working on slowly opening my hips, I was getting uncharacteristically argumentative with my teacher.* She was compassionately explaining that I had to feel where the stretch was coming from. I was requesting, instead,  a fool-proof, "sit like this, your body will fall where it needs to." 

In the particular position we are using to stretch my hips my hips will naturally slide to an angle in order to hit the floor. What I need to do instead is flex a little butt, pushing my hips parallel. I hate it. It is not comfortable. 

I can be a very lazy yogi. I had a beautiful picture in my head of how hip-openers would work. I would sit in the designated position, set my timer, open a book and read until the timer went, "ding," my cue to switch to the other side. Faced with the prospect of actually PAYING ATTENTION to my body, I was getting moody. Hrumph. "What if I forget exactly what muscle to move? I could be doing this for weeks flexing the wrong muscles and doing nothing," I complained to her.

Of course, warning bells should be going off. Weeks? Weeks in the yoga world is nothing. It doesn't even count as wasted time. Not to mention the fact that I would be working something, even if it weren't the area I meant to. Most importantly, I was miffed that my yoga would involve paying attention to my body? Really? 

My always-patient teacher replied to my whine, "You are going to need to trust yourself." 

And there it was, that familiar feeling of being punched in the gut; one gets used to it after a while of yoga. I am pretty sure yoga students would make excellent kick-boxers, if for nothing else than our familiarity with the gut-kick sensation when one is confronted by another personal demon. 

This is what I've been actually getting all juvenile about. UGH! Trust myself? I trust my teachers, I trust my fellow yogi. I've even, despite a severe childhood authority-figure issue, learned to trust my parents, but myself? Oh, heck no! So, here we go again, another epiphany moment (like I needed one more in my practice). I have problems trusting myself. Crap. Now I will be stretching my hips and learning to trust myself inside the yoga room so I can do so outside the yoga room. 

Alright, me, let's do this. I trust you. Okay, I don't now, but I'm totally working on it.

"Effing path to enlightenment," I grumbled under my breath.

As I complained to my teacher that I did not want another soul-searching issue to deal with, I had quite enough right now, thank you, she introduced me to what is now my very favorite not-yoga-yoga phrase, "AFO." 
"What?" I asked.
"AFO'" she said, "Another Fucking Opportunity."

Whenever I sit in my dreaded hip opener, feeling every muscle, not reading my book, about ready to give up because I'm not sure I'm feeling the correct stretch and I am doubting myself and my knowledge of the pose, just before coming out I think, "AFO" and take another breath. 

*Bless her for understanding that the 40 backbends we just did, compiled with the frustration of realizing that my hips will take years to open were making me emotional.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


New students often confide that they are scared of farting in class. "Does everyone look at you?" "What if it's loud?" "Have you ever really let one go?"

The answer of most experienced yogis is, yes. Aside from the fact that you are supposed to fart in class, (What do you think all that pushing, pulling and stretching is doing? Removing toxins by sweat, breath and yes, farting.) the yoga room is not a magical land where bodily functions cease. If you spend enough time in any one place, you will eventually fart in that place. Duh. 

This does not mean that the room becomes thick from gasses, causing methane gas to asphyxiate the yogis inside. I certainly don't fart in the room often; unless you count once per month often. I can, with some confidence, say that is the precise frequency with which I spend my class tooting. I have no idea if other females* have this issue, but during my monthly visit I develop copious amounts of gas. It's not always smelly, or noisy, thank goodness, but the quantities are rather astounding. 

Last week contained an unusually bloated day and class became an adventure in farts. In most poses wind was removed, whether the pose seemed to call for it or not. I felt a little bad about it in separate-leg-stretching, when my neighbor's head was uncomfortably close to my rear.

My shorts were so wet from sweat I got horrible visions of the material billowing like a sail with each fart. 

Hi! Nice to meet you. Yes, I ate curry today. Why do you ask?

Miraculously though, not a single one was loud or particularly smelly that class. I have, of course, been next to (and the cause of) those. New students are particularly prone, males especially.** I realize the goal is to become so focused you don't notice these things, but when a guy is accidentally telling you what he ate this week (That smelled like beer. That was Cheetos. Woah, that was spicey ramen) it is hard to give your focus adequate focus. 

All that said though, I notice the gas with the same amount of eye-rolling, snickering or superiority that I would address a person's thumb. We all do it. Get over it. Unless it's me. My farts are epic. Go ahead and laugh at my billowing sail-shorts.

* Aside from the ones with my same genetic code; I did feel the need to confide this issue with my mother at one point. Evidently she gets gassy at that time of the month too! What a relief it was to find out I wasn't alone!

**I know this is a horrible generalization, but I do feel it safe to say that, on the whole, men eat more red meat and drink more beer than women. Both substances are notorious fart-causers.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I Will

My studio is doing a wonderful little thing where it is currently documenting some poses of the yogis who have taken more than 500 classes. Being one of these yogis, I had my own little rock-star photo-shoot.* 

Chin-to-shoulder cheating; I move my jaw; causing this flattering face.

During this shoot, the wonderful teacher taking pictures asks me to do short-man. "You can hold it right?" she asked.

I replied, "Sometimes." in a bald-faced lie. I have never once managed to hold short-man. 

It wasn't my intent to lie, in fact, I was a little shocked after the words emerged, fully formed, from my lips. I may have said, "sometimes" because I actually believed that yes, I can do that, despite all the accumulated months of evidence to the contrary. The reason why I believed is that I always tell myself I am about to do it. 

Mary Jarvis, a senior teacher I am fortunate enough to have attended several seminars led by, says to "Make declarative statements; 'I am going to kick now.'" This way you don't give your mind wiggle room to baulk at your asinine requests of your body. Consider the following:
Scenario A:
Mind: Body, we are going to kick.
Body: Okay. *it kicks*
Scenario B:
Mind: Body, we are going to try to kick.
Body: That sounds hard, but I'll try. *body gives a dramatic tug at it's leg* Ugh! This is HARD!
If you doubt that your body will give you drama the second you allow it to, consider your last difficult class. Yeah. It's a queen, capital Q. 

For months I have been telling myself, "I am going to take one hand off the ground. I am going to take the other hand off the ground.  I am going to balance." I never get to that third part, but the step is already in my mind so one day that is exactly what will happen. I don't know that it ever sunk in that it wasn't yet happening.

So, under the scrutiny of the lens, I, once again, put the idea out there that, 'I am going to balance' and tried like heck. I tried at least four short-mans (short-men?) before the teacher/photogapher finally said, "Um....let's move on." 

Note to self: I can't actually hold short-man. Huh. Learn something new everyday.

* Few things will make you feel so rock-star as busting out a standing bow in-front of a camera. You know, with all the grunting, falling, laughing and intense focus on your spine that is still refusing to curve.