The Tapas of Radical Self-Care

This month at Unfold, the yoga therapy studio I teach at here in Portland our theme is tapas. Tapas is Sanskrit for the trifecta of heat, discipline and passion. When I think of tapas now, I think specifically about the tapas of self-care. For me, right now, tapas looks a lot different than it looked a few months ago. Now, tapas looks a lot less like one hundred chatarangas and a lot more like prioritizing physical therapy and doctor’s appointments above all else.

Self-care in and of itself is radical because it forces us to pause. Pausing is against most social norms (especially if you’re a born-and-raised New Yorker) and it holds us accountable for how we are of service to others. My excuse for not taking care of myself in the past was that I had to be of greater service – show up for other people before I could show up for myself. Going to PT first thing in the morning and bearing witness to students that tend to their yoga practice at sunrise during the 7:30am classes I teach reinforces a deep-down knowledge that too few of us access: self-care enables us to be of service, not the other way around. And if we do it right and truly gauge the kind and amount of discipline or heat we need in any given moment the tapas of self-care sets us up to be radical givers of care in the rest of our day.

Yoga, Yoga Questions Answered

I am about to get all PBS commercial (I know, an oxymoron) on you, but in truth, this blog is made possible by…other blogs. Specifically by the ones I’ve included in the sidebar: women bloggers who totally rock my world with their content.

One of these bloggers, whom I’ve followed since I was in college, and who seems to always be just one year ahead of me, is Carly from The College Prepster. She blogs about organization, the art of blogging, style, writing in general and what it’s like to be your own boss (the new meaning of BYOB!). These are all things I am interested in, which was reason enough to read this blog for a few years…so imagine my delight when this morning, I found this post about how the lovely Carly is about to take a yoga class…in my own stomping grounds, the UES of Manhattan, no less! One of the reasons I loved this post was because of all the questions and vulnerability Carly posed to her readers. As a reader, and yoga writer in my own right, I am thrilled to provide some answers for the newbie yogi or returner!

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My post-writing warning: this post has kind of turned into a lengthy manifesta…but I think it’s worth it!

How early do I show up for class? If you’re already wearing your yoga clothes (which I recommend!), show up 15 minutes before class. As someone who now has a ton of experience working MindBodyOnline at yoga studio front desks, it’s just nicer to the people signing you in…and I have yet to meet someone who goes to yoga to be mean. Plus, if you get signed in early and set up your mat, take the time to do your own practice. This can mean child’s pose, meditating or my fave – a supported bridge pose with a block underneath the sacrum.

Where do I put my clothes? Only some large studios (usually chain ones/franchises) have lockers for you to put your clothes in. My suggestion: take up two cubbies in the studio room – one for your clothes and another for your bags. It makes the clothes way easier access because the most competitive part of yoga is the post-class mad dash to the few dressing rooms afforded in most studios.

Will everyone be in tiny shorts and a sports bra? No and yes. Sorry, but as a veteran of the Upper East Side, the chances of tiny shorts and a sports bra are definitely high, especially for hot yoga classes at Pure Yoga, New York Yoga and Earth Yoga (studios on the UES). And you can bet on it at any Bikram studio…but that’s a whole other ball game and my diplomatic opinion on that is…to each their own, but if it were me I wouldn’t venture there. If you go to a regular vinyasa, the tiny shorts + sports bra is a 50/50 chance. If you go to Slow Flow or Yin or Restorative (all options are so yummy!), you’re likely to find lovely leggings and fitted full-length tops. This latter option – in any yoga class – is my bias as a yoga teacher. When adjusting students, I adjust over the clothes and depending on the clothing brand/how much you’re willing to invest, the clothes will prevent your mat from getting too sweaty.

photo via laughing lotus nyc

photo via laughing lotus nyc

Where do I put my mat? Middle of the room! Next to a wall! Why? You can look to the people at the front of the room as a reference for proprioception. If you’re near a wall, you can use it as a prop for balancing poses, inversions and some restorative poses – plus, you’ll avoid the rush when the teacher will tell you to go there anyways.

Now that we’re past the etiquette, here are some of my answers to Carly’s more direct questions (yes, this is a maha post!):

Does anyone have tips for overcoming that gym/studio fear that sets in?

Breathe! Remember that everyone is there for themselves just like you’re there for yourself. They’re too busy worrying about their downward dog to worry about yours.

Has anyone tried a yoga studio that they love in NYC or on the Upper East Side?

Pure Yoga East on 86th and 3rd  is where I first got my education. I met teachers there who inspired me to become one myself. There are still some fantastic educators, but the ones I “grew up on OM” with have moved on elsewhere…and it’s on the very expensive side. For New York Yoga, I recommend Chloe’s classes and they have two locations: 85th and Lexington and another on 86th and York. I discovered Earth Yoga more recently (before I moved to the West Coast and on a particularly chilly winter). Every teacher I’ve taken class with there is a power house (Matt is particularly amazing), but be ready to be hard-core and combine some martial arts with yoga! And then there’s the gem of House of Jai that has an awesome two weeks unlimited new student special on 76th and 1st. If I were a beginner, I’d go there. My friend Leo Rising teaches there and he’s a doll. But really the best place for beginners if you’re okay with making a trek to Harlem 125th is Harlem Yoga Studio, my beloved studio that I taught at when I lived on the East Coast.

Any must-have products? What kind of routine has worked out best for you?

Not at first. Go low key. Rent out studio mats for a dollar or two and figure out which one you like best. Then – and only then – invest. The usual internal battle is between Jade and Manduka.

~ a yoga blog post written (not ironically?) from the orthopedist’s office ~

Receptivity

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“Turn your palms up in a simple gesture of receptivity.”

The above is a phrase that has stuck in my teaching and practice for years, a phrase that marked the moment when my yoga practice turned spiritual, a life-changing asana cue. That cue is a reminder that difficult concepts can begin in child’s pose. Balasana becomes the taste, if you will, the quiz preceding the exam.

As a yoga teacher with a broken leg, I am now taking the test. No longer just an option at the beginning of a yoga class, no longer something I say to students in any kind of rote fashion, I am now being forced to receive. My whole life at the moment is a not-so-simple gesture of receptivity.

Why is this not so simple? Receiving – asking for help – is HARD. It is beautiful because it provides the opportunity to see just how loved we really are. It provides countless moments for gratitude. But receiving – like anything else – is a muscle. And if I am learning anything from physical therapy, muscles have to be worked to get strong.

So thank Goddess for Goddess Cards (see what I did there?). One day when I was having a particularly challenging time receiving/asking for help with my broken leg, I reached into the goddess cards I’ve kept by my bed this whole time and picked out Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of receptivity. The piece of wisdom this card shared that blew my mind is:

When you receive, you have more resources to give to others.

Our ability to give is directly proportional to our ability to receive. Mind. Blown. As an AmeriCorps member, my life since graduating college has been about serving others. I have learned so much through being of service this year – running a food pantry, teaching kids about social-emotional learning, providing parent education. Who am I, then, to limit my ability to give by limiting my ability to receive? I am learning that each time I accept help with grace, as the Goddess Cards say, I increase my ability to give in the future. While it can be hard to have that kind of extended foresight, it is vital in living a life of sane and happy usefulness.

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2015 Intentions

via my friend georgia's fb page

via my friend georgia’s fb page

This year, I intend to

actively share my writing on shiraengel.com, other blogs + publications

heal with strength

be of service

proactively seek out help that i want + need (including mentors!) with courage + without shame

2014 in Review

I am inspired by bloggers Kimberly Wilson, Gala Darling and Chris Guillebeau to, in Kimberly’s words “tie a bow” on the year to make room for the presents the presents can bring. And heck, if Facebook is making one for me, I might as well make one for myself!

2014 was a huge year. I wrote a book thesis. Graduated college. Moved across the country. Began an AmeriCorps service. Started biking everywhere. Began paying rent. The list goes on…below (in chronological order).

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2014 was filled with
laughing lotus FLY skool + hands-on 50-hour intensives
• co-directed + passed off the middle school tutoring program in middletown
• taught diy yoga workshop
• participated in iron chef experiment with dear friends
• co-taught kids yoga class w/ the fantastic a
• taught radical vinyasa + fierce flow w/ wesBAM
• passed on wesBAM w/ partner-in-crime r
• attended NYCORE conference
• worked on friend’s senior architecture thesis
• wrote senior thesis on the cuban literacy campaigns
ayurveda + bhakti laughing lotus 50-hour modules
• participated in all senior events
• graduated from wesleyan university
tied a bow on story of a college yogi
• started new blog growing up on om
• spontaneously traveled to chicago for a day to be w/ friends
traveled to italy w/ mom + sister: rome, florence, venice
• romantic vacation on nantucket
• worked as a summer teaching fellow w/ the pase summer learning teaching corps
• had my own first middle school class
• taught a three sisters yoga alumni class
• taught yoga privates
• taught at harlem yoga studio, a new hOMe
• beach + lighthouse tour weekend in maine w/ old roommates + paris friend
• rekindled byfi friendships
• traveled to washington, dc for yoga weekend + to tie a bow on passing on wesBAM
• practiced at laughing lotus nyc a bunch
• returned after a few years to laughing lotus sf for inaugural courage + grace advanced tt
• continued shakespeare in the park tradition

* assisted ali cramer at gigantic yoga class in times square
said goodbye to nyc w/ summer streets + governor’s island

* took boxing course
• successfully completed 250 out of 300 hours of my advanced yoga teacher training w/ laughing lotus
moved to portland
• moved into tiny apartment
• heaps of happy hours
• began americorps service at the best elementary school imaginable
• turned 23 w/ a fabulous birthday party + day of service
• attended chris guillebeau reading
• trips to seattle to visit aunt

* camping trips + visit to oregon coast

* participated in and “won” national novel writing month

• began teaching at unfold yoga studio
broke leg + had surgery
• began healing process
yoga + social change training @ unfold
• home to nyc for the holidays

Here is to a 2015 filled with Metta: Safety, Happiness, Joy + Freedom!

Namaste,
Shira