Starting the New Year “Sin Culpa”

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Before a night of over-eating and drinking, I made sure to start my New Year’s Eve with some hot yoga. When I entered the Haute Yoga Queen Anne studio, Leah (our instructor) had set down small squares of paper and pens next to everyone’s spot on the floor. My gut reaction was to think we’d be writing down our New Year’s resolutions to set our intention for the day’s practice.

This did not sit well with me because I’ve been avoiding setting 2013 resolutions in the first place. I don’t like the idea of setting “goals” because every time I do, I inevitably start feeling bad about where I am in my life — like what I’m currently doing isn’t enough, or too much — goals like: eat healthier, save money, etc. These are all important things, but I don’t need to self-inflict punishment by avoiding all my favorite foods or creating a strict budget. I have great momentum going with where I am in my career and at school, so my intent for 2013 is to keep doing what I’m doing, and make sure I’m having fun while I’m doing it.

Instead, Leah started class with a discussion about how resolutions always tend to make us feel guilty (amen), and said that the start of 2013 was about being guilt-free — “sin culpa.” In the first half of the square piece of paper, she had us write down one thing we want more of in 2013, and on the bottom half, she had us write down one thing we wanted to do away with. So what do I want? I want more balance — 2013 is about giving work and school my best, but while also making sure to do that for myself, friends and family. What do I want to do away with? Well, I could sure get rid of any self doubt and fear holding me back.

And that’s exactly what we did. Leah instructed us to tear our paper down the middle so these two desires are separated. She collected all of the things we want to get rid of in 2013 and put them in a small fire pot (caution: do not try this at home). We watched all of these things holding us back go up in smoke, and then we did 90 minutes of hot yoga. What a great way to enter 2013!

The point is that we don’t have to punish ourselves and dwell on all of the things we want to get rid of. If we just concentrate on  pursuing those things that make us happy, the rest will come.

What are you looking forward to in 2013? How do you plan to stay motivated and on track?

The Importance of Seeking Struggle Over Challenge

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The other day as I was getting ready for work, I put on NPR programming as I usually do and was captivated by this short segment titled, “Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern and Western Cultures Tackle Learning.” The segment wasn’t your stereotypical rendition of why Asians are generally smarter than Americans. It instead looked at the nature of struggle in learning and how it is perceived in each culture. Eastern cultures see struggle as an opportunity to grow, while Americans see struggle as a sign of incompetency. When someone is successful in an Eastern culture, they attribute it to their hard work and dedication. In America, we assume that a person’s accomplishments are just a reflection of our intrinsic abilities.

The NPR  segment told the story of a graduate student who went to Japan to do some research on classroom teaching methods. In one particular fourth-grade math class he visited, one student was struggling to draw a cube. So, the teacher invited him up to the board to draw it in front of his peers — a place, the segment notes, that is typically reserved for the exemplary students in class. The student tried, and tried and tried again to draw his cube, and with every failure, the class just shook their heads no, until he finally got it right. Amazingly, the student was overjoyed — not beaten down or humiliated — to have overcome his struggle and finally achieve what he set out to do.

This story got me thinking about a lot of things, but in particular about the difference between a challenge and a struggle. In the work place, I always hear about what a “great challenge” something was, and how “we all like to be challenged,” “overcome challenges,” etc. To me, a challenge is an obstacle — something that came at someone unexpectedly, but they had the experience and/or knowledge to deal with it. A challenge could be doing more work in a shorter amount of time, giving a public speech when you never thought you were ready or any other activity that you’re equipped to handle but may not be fully confident in your abilities – yet.

A struggle, on the other hand, is grasping for that next level that’s just out of your reach so that you have to build your own stepping stones to get there. You don’t have these tools in your toolbox, and you’re not sure if/how you’ll ever get them.

So how does this relate to yoga, you ask? Well, I think of hitting the gym as a challenge, and yoga as the struggle. When you go to the gym and lift weights or run on the treadmill — even if it is more weight than you’ve ever lifted, or longer/faster than you’ve ever run — you’ve still been preparing yourself to make that incremental increase since you’ve been running and lifting. Yoga, on the other hand, is a practice usually guided by someone else who directs you into poses that may make you uncomfortable and that you’ve never had experience contorting your body that way before. On top of that, you are struggling to stay physically and mentally balanced. You are building mental and physical stepping stones for yourself to reach these poses and a greater sense of self awareness.

I think one can argue that yoga still helps you inadvertently build to a pose you’ve never tried before, but in yoga I really do feel like I’m struggling and grasping blindly for the next step, as the student aimlessly drawing the cube.

What are your thoughts on the value of struggle? Do you see it as different from challenge as I do? Can we benefit from struggling more at work or in school?

 

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone: Trying New Studios

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Before I joined Haute Yoga Queen Anne, I tested out about a dozen studios in the Seattle area using new student deals. This allowed me to learn a bit more about the instructors’ teaching style and the community before officially joining. I think this is an important step because, unlike working out at the gym, you are part of a collective experience in yoga class. If you’re not on the same page with the message the instructor is delivering, you’ll just be distracted the entire class and counting the minutes until class is over.

All this is to say that I love trying out new studios because I always find something that I like about others’ approaches to teaching yoga. While visiting my family this weekend in Beaverton, Oregon, I did a quick search for studios in the area and wasn’t surprised to learn that there were but a handful around. Most of the studios are within Portland, and even Portland’s yoga community is still “growing up” compared to the likes of Seattle, San Francisco and New York.

Of the slim pickings in the area, I chose to go to Hot Yoga For Life, a studio tucked away in a shopping center right off of T.V. Highway. On the outside, the space looked like it could barely house a practice room, but as soon as you walk in you see that the studio is the size of about four practice rooms combined. It is all very modern and clean, with tons of space to store your things and a nice little vanity area to get ready after a morning workout. What I really loved is that the studio offers all new students a $10 deal for three weeks of unlimited yoga!

I was surprised to see that I was one of four students to arrive 15 minutes before class. I’ve gotten into the habit of arriving 15-20 minutes early to secure my spot in the room. With just about 5 minutes to spare, the room began to fill up with a total class size of about 20. Then again, it was 8:30 on a Saturday morning.

This practice was primarily focused on the physical workout itself. We went through several dancing warrior series and kept flowing for the 75 minutes, as opposed to going through a peak pose. This was great – sometimes you just need a solid workout to energize your body. One thing I was missing, though, was the therapeutic release I get through yoga. There was no Silvia or JL to guide my self-study and challenge me. It was all up to me.

And I hated it. I was way too distracted by my own mind. I kept looking at the clock and thinking, “When is this over?” I was annoyed that my towel kept moving during the flow. Then I couldn’t hold my warrior poses because my feet started slipping on my towel. My mat was right under a heater, and I’ve never felt a mat so hot in my life. I was annoyed that my feet felt like they were scorching as I balanced on one leg.

I know, this all sounds miserable, but I hope you’re not making judgments about Hot Yoga For Life because the real message here is that I made it seem miserable. It was my own inability to see the glass as half full and instead make a fuss over nothing.

And that’s the power of yoga – to help you realize how you react when the going gets tough. That day, I was not in a good mood, and not even yoga was going to help me. So instead of making the most of it, I decided I just wasn’t going to like it and would power through for the sake of powering through.

What has yoga helped you discover about yourself? Have you had similar experiences when testing out new studios?

Top 5 Reasons to do Yoga in the Morning

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It’s been a while since I’ve rolled out of bed at 6 a.m. for a heart-pounding yoga sweat session, but I finally had the willpower to go this week – and it felt great. Now, I know setting your alarm a full hour before you normally get up isn’t ideal, but bear with me.

I’m guilty of having the best intentions to go to the morning class, and then I just hit snooze for 10 minutes (or 20 – or even reset my alarm entirely). On these mornings, the extra sleep doesn’t do much good because I spend the last hour of rest feeling guilty and continuing to hit snooze.

So here’s a tip – set out your yoga clothes in the morning (or sleep in them if you have to), and when your alarm goes off, just lie there for 5 minutes. I promise you, 5 minutes is all it takes. I take this time to scroll through my email on my phone, check Twitter or Facebook – just anything to keep my eyes open and my mind moving. If my eyelids are closing uncontrollably, I’ll usually elect to fall back asleep. But, most of the time, I’m alert after this exercise and ready to start my day.

If you have a 9 to 5 job and are lacking motivation to go to yoga in the cold, dark winder evenings, here are 5 motivating reasons to consider morning classes instead:

  1. You start your day with intention: Rather than just jumping into the shower and worrying about everything you have to get done that day, you are giving yourself a full hour to just focus on you.
  2. It feels better than a cup of coffee: Once you get into the flow, your body wakes right up.
  3. You can do back bends without staying up all night: Since I usually only practice in the evening, I’m hesitant to do back bends because they are so energizing. In the morning, you don’t need to worry about the extra energy jolt!
  4. You start your day with positivity: It’s not healthy to show up to work every morning, turn on your computer and just plug away at your to-do list. We are social creatures. We need interaction and inspiration. Yoga is a perfect way to satiate this need because you’re around like-minded people who all want to leave class feeling better than when they walked in.
  5. You’re done with your workout for the day: If a last-minute project comes up at work that might keep you late, you don’t have to face the dilemma of work v. yoga because it’s already taken care of.

What are your favorite reasons to take a morning yoga class? If you’re still hesitant to do so, what’s keeping you from trying it?

Post-Yoga Nutrition

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The other day I experienced the all too common “yoga hangover” — that feeling when you wake up the next morning after your workout, and each limb feels like a deadweight and your head aches. The yoga hangover is particularly common when practicing hot yoga since you lose so much water during the practice.

This got me thinking about the importance of post-yoga nutrition. Obviously, water is a must, which is an area where I completely failed the other night. But other than replenishing your body’s fluids with water, what’s good for you after a yoga sweat session?

I did some quick research and found this article in the Washington Post consulting yoga guru Shiva Rea on general yoga nutrition, and the basic takeaways are to: keep it simple, choose healthy fats (found in nuts and avocados) and weave in fruits, vegetables and fish throughout.

Core Power Yoga emphasizes the importance of fueling your body after a workout to maintain your muscle mass and keep your metabolism up. Suggested foods include fibrous carbohydrates and proteins like wild rice, yogurt, steamed vegetables, etc.

When I get home from yoga in the evenings, I’m not usually hungry but my body is craving something. I reach for the applesauce or drink some juice.

In just two weeks, I’m taking a class on ayurvedic nutrition where I’ll get an overview of our six tastes and how to customize my eating based on my body’s specific needs. For now, I’m playing more of a guessing game.

What’s your post-yoga go to?

Saturdays With Silvia: Celebrating the Power of Your Feet

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Today’s class with Silvia was all about the power of your feet. I’ve never thought to give much attention to these guys before; I’ve always thought the hands to be more superior, allowing me touch, embrace, write, type, feed myself — you name it! Or my legs, which hold up my entire body and allow me to move from point A to point B. But, that of course is not possible without your feet.

Feet become even more impressive when you look at the numbers. Did you know we take an average of 7,500 steps per day? I’ve always considered myself pretty sedentary during the day given my desk job, but when I think about walking from the bus to work, around the office, back home and around the house, it sure adds up quickly! Even more impressive is that our feet house 25 percent of our body’s bones!

I’ve always hated my feet to be honest. I take after my dad – tall and lanky. And with that physique comes big hands and big feet (size 9-9.5 to be specific). Growing up, I felt self conscious going shopping with friends when they’d take a look at the aisles for size 6, 7 or 8, and I’d be at the other end seeing what’s left in the cute stuff for me. For a while, I preferred cramming my feet into smaller shoes just so I could get the cute ones, and later realized that’s the fast track to completely deforming your feet. Mine are already pronated to begin with!

In today’s class, I was forced to really look at my feet — to stretch them, to feel them, to spread my toes out and balance on them. As much as I disliked my feet before, I couldn’t help but be thankful I had any feet at all!

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, it’s a great time to think about our body’s health and give thanks for what we’re able to accomplish with extremities so seemingly simple as our feet. What are you thankful for?

My feet :)

4 Ways to Think Before You Speak

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A few years ago at work, we had the option to take the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test, which is basically a personality test that identifies key traits such as extroversion or introversion, sensing and intuition, thinking and feeling, and judging (this is more about order and preference for having things settled) and perception.

We took the written test, and then had an in-person working session to learn about the key traits and what they mean. The purpose was for us to better understand the point of view we’re coming from and our working style so we can collaborate better overall. I wasn’t shocked to learn I was an introvert (and mind you introvert is not synonymous with shy) because I’ve always preferred my alone time, and I’m never the first one to say what’s on my mind. I like to do some information gathering, mull over it in my head, make an informed opinion and then present it.

I was a bit nervous, however, looking at the room full of extroverts around me. My company as a whole is dominated by extroverts, which can make things like brainstorms and general work styles pretty exhausting for those who prefer to internalize and organize thoughts. I’ve made do, though, and have become more comfortable with the idea of throwing things out there and seeing what sticks.

But, that doesn’t mean I don’t think there are inherent benefits to the introverted working style either. Last night’s practice with Jenniferlyn was all about the four gates to speech. Words are so powerful, and these four gates provide a simple guide that can make all the difference to the person on the receiving end. Before speaking, you can ask yourself these simple questions:

  1. Is what you’re about to say true?
  2. Is it helpful to this person?
  3. Is it even necessary to say?
  4. Is it kind?

In particular, I like the last two questions because sometimes what we end up saying doesn’t actually need to be said. And when there are times something needs to be said, it can be said in a kind, rather than accusatory way.

What do you think about this kind of filter? Is it helpful? Do you think it’s missing something?