Category Archives: Simple Musings

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?

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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?

 

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?

Yoga + Halloween Pumpkin Carving

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Andrew and I got our pumpkins two weeks ago and just now found the time to carve them! I was stumped on what to do this year — normally I just go for the typical jack-o-lantern face, but this time I was feeling more ambitious. So, I looked up an image of Dancer Pose and sketched it out. What do you think?

Thanks Y is for Yogini for the inspiration!

Learning to Let it Go

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I had this instructor a couple years ago who would always say, “Let it go, let it flow” as we’d move through our vinyasa, particularly as the “hour of power” class was really picking up steam. I always found this reminder useful, with my triceps trembling while moving through plank to chaturanga and willpower waning. But, I survived every class, and by the time we were laying in savasana, I was always glad I powered through.

Then this week Jenniferlyn Chiemingo got me thinking about the difference between just powering through an activity and surrendering to it. To illustrate, she had us sit on the backs of our heels, with toes curled to the ground and arms raised in front of us for two minutes. She warned us that we’d all hate her for this, and we all did. The first minute was fine, but then my feet started to feel like they might break, and my shoulders were aching from all of our planks and chaturangas. I was sure we’d never finish. I kept opening my eyes to make sure she was even looking at a clock and kept thinking “Just get through it! It can’t be too much longer.”

After what seemed like 10 minutes, she let us out of the pose, and we all breathed a sigh of relief and verified that our feet were still in tact. The point is that I survived, and I don’t necessarily think I needed to exhaust all of that mental energy to sit in such a simple pose. Could I instead have just surrendered into the pose, knowing that two minutes is two minutes, and no amount of negative thoughts or looking for the clock was going to change that?

I learned a lot about myself in those two minutes. I want to tackle everything head on — I want to be active in it, dig deep and power through. In other words, I don’t know how to just, “Let it go, let it flow.” Sometimes life events call for you to just experience it and move on. Not everything requires some sort of active, emotional response to it. Sometimes it just a waste of energy, and I know this first hand from many a mental fit.

Jay-Z had it right — Dirt off your shoulder.

Saturdays with Silvia: “Greenlight” your Life

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I’m so happy Silvia is back from retreat! I’m a fan of all instructors at Haute Yoga Queen Anne, but I have to admit I was missing my inspired Saturday mornings with Silvia. Today’s theme was all about changing your outlook to fit what you want to accomplish. Basically, negative thoughts can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is something I’ve always believed, but when Silvia was discussing this tendency in class, I couldn’t help but feel like a hypocrite.

I mean literally all week I have been so down on myself! In fact, this has been going on for months. I’m sure Andrew is sick of me moping around the house after a long day at work saying, “Ugh, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do this,” or “I should have known I was supposed to do it this way…how could I be so stupid?” Instead of looking at my accomplishments, I nit pick at my deficiencies. Someone recently told me, “It doesn’t do you any good to go around comparing yourself with other people because you will always compare your weakest attributes with someone’s strengths, and that’s simply not fair.”

So, when Silvia bluntly said, “If you think you’re never going to lose weight…guess what? You aren’t! If you think you’re never going to be rich…well, you’re right!,” it really hit home with me. This might be a far fetched example, but she told us to think about driving down Mercer street and recall our thoughts about hitting the green lights. If we’re moving through traffic and thinking, “There’s just no way I’m going to make it through this light!,” we really aren’t giving ourselves a chance. The moral of the story? “Greelnight your life.” Think that you will get green lights all the way through right before you hit the freeway on the way to your destination.

There is definitely a connection between positive thinking and one’s accomplishments. It’s time to start cultivating positive thoughts for those green lights!

I Brought My Co-Worker to Hot Yoga

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This week, I brought my co-worker to hot yoga, making this her second class…ever. I have to admit, I felt a little weird bringing someone along to my hot yoga sanctuary. I’m so used to going solo — and apparently I have a reputation for “my spot” (front row, second spot from the mirrored wall) because Maria saved it for me and quickly realized I’d be taking a back-room seat this class, per Allison’s request.

I should clarify that Allison isn’t just any co-worker, so this makes this sweat session much less awkward. We started at our firm together as interns and quickly became friends outside of work — we even went to Cabo together and shared a parasail. True friends!

Monday night, I picked Allison up from her place in Queen Anne, and we headed over to the studio for my favorite 7:30 p.m. class with Jenniferlyn. As soon as we opened the doors, I felt the welcome tropical heat thaw my skin, and Allison just as soon remarked, “Dang, it’s so hot in here!” Yes, yes it is. And then I started to see this experience from the eyes of a newcomer.

As we entered the practice room, I ask Allison where she wants to lay our mats down, and she looks at us about two feet into the room and points to the back corner. Ok, back corner it is! We were a few minutes early, and I used the time stretching, while Allison explained to me that she can’t touch her toes but still made valiant attempts to do so.

The first 10 minutes or so of class were fairly manageable. The focus of the class was on ujjai breathing, so we laid still on our mats doing some basic stretching exercises and worked on our breathing. It wasn’t until JL instructed us to raise our feet above our head, interlace our hands behind our head and start doing some serious crunches that I got my first worried look from Allison.

The rest of the class continued just that way — Allison and her worried face. In our down dog she’d look under her arm at me and mouth “What the eff ?!” as the rest of the class was two steps ahead, jumping to the front of their mats and moving into our dancing prayer — Serie A. What seemed like this simple, intuitive move now all the sudden seemed so foreign as I watched Allison follow the steps and move through the motions.

When we moved into our balancing series, she just gave me this look like “no way in hell am I attempting to do that.” I couldn’t keep myself from laughing, and the girls next to us were visibly offended by the fact that Allison was whispering in class to begin with, not to mention using profane words.

She took frequent water breaks and sometimes just sat in child’s pose, but soon the 75 minutes were over, and class was finished. From the moment we entered the door, to our closing Om, I felt like we were in a different country just seeing it all through Allison’s eyes. I thought she’d never attempt hot yoga again, but the next morning she sent me an IM saying how great she felt from last night’s class and how she wants to go again this week. Maybe I have a yogi in the making!