On Blogging, Portland + Vulnerability

0-3

This morning, I did something that reminded me of why I moved to Portland in the first place. I went to a positively chic and adorable blogger meet up brunch at a publishing headquarters in an industrial district of the city that was only 20 minutes away from my house. At ten past ten, I walked in with my DIY “business cards” (i.e. strips of paper where I wrote the URL to this blog), tinted Burt’s Bees on my lips, wide-rimmed glasses and WordPress pulled up on my iPhone. A fabulous food platter was out with New York bagels (oh, how worlds collide) and Black Rock coffee.

0-1

I filled up my plate, chatted with these fabulous bloggers and got down to the highly enjoyable business of speed networking (i.e. speed dating, but – I assume – way less awkward because there are set questions to help everyone identify and fine-tune their passions). I learned so much from this event in much more of a qualitative way than – and this was what I had initially expected to get out of it – a quantitative way. We didn’t discuss the information you could find online on how to boost numbers or ratings or followers. No, we discussed the heart of why we do what we do and what about what we do makes others’ hearts tick.

0

Here are five lessons I learned and realizations I had while in good company:

1. Vulnerability, which was the dharma talk theme of the yoga class I took yesterday, is what makes our messages powerful. One of the networking questions we were asked to answer was on which posts surprised us by being so successful. One woman shared that she didn’t expect her most successful blog post to be about depression yet it was. Another shared on writing about her struggles to find time. My answer was about all those blog posts about me and my broken leg. Vulnerability…it’s the connective tissue between all us humans.

2. Focus your time on where you get the most traffic. This little tip will, I believe, prove to be a large time-saver in the long run.

3. Networking – meeting people in person – is where the online work is done. It is all about that personal connection.

4. Instagram, baby.

5. The beautiful thing about blogging is that it encourages self-expression in an informal yet inspirational way.

This post was written at The Dragonfly Coffee House, an utterly blissful new find in NW Portland that has poems by Rumi on the wall, energy bars made with almond butter and no-sugar goodness and classical music playing in the background.

Instagram Yoga

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

To Instagram or not to Instagram?

For yoga teachers, that is the question.

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 9.23.17 PM

I have been practicing yoga for seven years and teaching for four. Aside from the occasional Acro Yoga photo shoot that one crazy semester and a nude yoga teacher photo shoot I took part in that my ex was way too excited about for comfort, I was never one for the Instagram selfie. My reasons behind this are complex and varied. For a while, I worked for one of my teachers and shared closely in her views that as yoga teachers, we’re too busy doing our practice to take photographs of it.

There was also that reaction that I got when I saw photos of me doing yoga taken by other people. It was a high that, as someone who has struggled with body image and eating disorders in adolescence, terrified me. Shut it down, was what my internal protective mechanisms told me when it came to letting my body be photographed. I seemed to rely on external validation – what others thought of my body – which did not feel like the beautiful, self-sufficient and self-sustaining non-aspirational practice I knew yoga to be.

But then I remembered an important lesson: when you combine anything with Service, the intention overrides the fear. 

So this month, I decided to raise over $400 for Living Yoga, the beautiful nonprofit that brings yoga to sites that deal with people who’ve been and are traumatized. You can read about what I chose as my goal here. To document this process, I had my roommates, students and fellow teachers take photos of me that I then posted on Instagram doing different asanas – poses – that were emblematic of the class I took/taught that day.

IMG_1561

On the first day of the Yogathon, I taught a staff yoga class for teachers at the elementary school I serve at. I asked a coworker to take the above photograph of me in a warrior dog. She, also being a yoga practitioner, proceeded to tell me about where she finds inspiration for the practice as someone who also has a big butt. For years, she thought her a$$ got in the way of her ability to do arm balances…until she saw @mynameisjessamyn do all variations of crow pose and inversions in her underwear, largeness and all.

Recovering from an injury, my ability to do certain yoga poses is stunted by the slow regrowth of my bones. Documenting this process of doing a yogathon while still in physical therapy allows me to celebrate how far I’ve come and to acknowledge and sprinkle gentleness upon how far I still have to go. It also allows me to be like, here I am, scars and all, thighs that rub together and knees with dimples, and oh, here’s that tree pose in the middle of a market on a beautiful day in this new city and see how happy I am?

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 9.44.06 AM

“Show up imperfectly” is a phrase I’ve taken to heart in my spiritual process. Yet what I realized this month is that my imperfections are my perfections. My scars are, in the words of a dear friend who stayed with me in the hospital, “the gorgeous tattoos that insurance pays for.” My body is simply an example of a shape that can morph into other shapes – poses – that allow us to expand, to take up space, to be more of us; when society tells us to be less, yoga tells us to be more.

Yoga Class Practice

At the beginning of the month, I posted about how I am doing at the Living Yoga Yogathon. It recently struck me that my goal, which I am documenting daily on Insta, might seem a bit strange. Why not just do yoga every day for the month of April, you might ask. Why a class every single day and why does it not matter if I’m teaching it or taking it?

My answer is both simple and complicated.

Yoga classes were my gateway into the practice. They were how I first got to know the poses and they were when I was first told to breathe deep. In more ways than one this year has been like learning to walk again. We were lucky when we were little and walking for the first time. We did not know what it was like to walk once and we do not know the pain of not being able to do what we were so used to doing. From leaving the complicated and frenetic nest of New York to breaking my leg and quite literally not being able to walk, I know the pain that makes for great breakthroughs and the necessity to return to the beginner’s mind.

Here are some of the many reasons why I made yoga classes in particular my goal for this month:

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 9.44.06 AM

1. Listening. I will never forget one afternoon class I took with Ali Cramer, a dear teacher of mine, where she shared a dharma talk on the power of just surrendering to listening. At the ends of long days, we are all exhausted and sometimes, we need to just have someone else tell us what the f*ck to do. A yoga class, versus a home practice, can provide us with that kind of decision-making surrender. When this month feels like a series of long days (in a good way!), yoga classes become just what I need to have someone else make the decisions for me when I spend my whole day making them at work.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 9.45.41 AM

2. Well-Rounded. There is a lot of power in a complete practice. Complete practices, for me, move through all seven chakras, include a robust playlist that matches the mood of the class and provide the surrender of savasana. I have yet to see a class that is not a complete practice because classes set sacred boundaries around the practice in ways that only very premeditated and prepared home practices do.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 9.44.30 AM

3. Any and Everywhere. I want to prove this month that you don’t need a spare two hours to take a yoga class. You don’t even need to go to a yoga studio. There are a plethora of resources online and in podcast form that can help us take our practices to the class level. Yoga is accessible and it’s basically my life-long mission to prove that in whatever ways I can.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 9.45.08 AM

4. Newness. Taking a yoga class a day has enabled me to return to the yoga studio life of Portland, which is, to say the least, positively fantastic. So far in this yoga challenge, I’ve taken classes at Yoga Union, Unfold and The Grinning Yogi. What I am about to say blows my mind: they are all in walking distance of my house. Coming out of college where I basically started an organization to provide walking distance yoga to students, this is such a huge relief for me. It aids in feeling like Portland is and can be hOMe.

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 9.44.48 AM

5. Because I Can! Every time I do a warrior pose or an arm balance, I feel like I could cry out of gratitude. I had a gigantic injury this year and while returning to the practice isn’t easy, it is a tremendous relief. Sometimes, I stand in tadasana while others are doing standing balances in the class. I am not used to child’s pose – what used to be my resting pose – being painful, which it still is (oh, hay, flexion). But it feels like a gift to be able to show up, to have working legs that can take me to a class, to be able to see my imbalances on the mat and work on balancing them…through yoga. I am hyper-aware that yoga is not all about the asana and my feeling of can-do is only metaphorically expressed through my asana practice. More than anything, crazy arm balance or not, it’s about coming hOMe to my body, in all its trauma, ups and downs and abilities.

written from my breathtakingly gorgeous porch this sunday morning  – sunshine, trees and all!

Living Yoga Practice with Purpose Yogathon

Yogathon_2015_-_Instagram

Happy April! Wednesday marked the first day of the Living Yoga Annual Yogathon. While this fundraiser and muse for the yoga practice has been going on for years this is my first year taking part. One of the factors that drew me to Portland was my association of the city with the combination of yoga and social justice and social change. I made this association because I did a Street Yoga teacher training here. And leave it to Portland to have competing yoga service nonprofits! I’ve learned a lot about Living Yoga this year through teaching at Unfold. In desperate need of having some accountability tied to my practice I am thrilled to say that I am participating in the Living Yoga Yogathon  on Unfold’s team you raise money for teaching yoga to survivors of Trauma (more blog posts to come on this!).

In our western fitness society we know about marathons. We know about triathlons. We know about 5K’s and we know about races. What makes a yogathon different is exactly what makes yoga different from all of these other fitness modalities. With yoga, we have the constant opportunity to personalize our practices…to constantly make them our own. With the Yogathon, it’s the same. Unlike a “race for the cure” where a bunch of people raise money for the same distance, with a Yogathon, we all get to set our goals for the month of April (and it’s not too late to do so and to sign up).

Here’s how it’s going to work for me:

For the month of April, I commit to a yoga class a day: teaching and/or taking.

I will blog about my experiences and fundraising achievements here and I will photograph each day of the challenge with the hashtag #practicewithpurpose on Instagram @shirabengel.

I will dedicate every single yoga class I take and teach to Living Yoga. I will ask for your help in doing this by donating to my fundraising page here and by spreading the word. As an AmeriCorps member, I want to emphasize this to all my readers: no donation is too small. If you are reading this, I encourage you to please donate at least a dollar.

Let’s do this. One dollar at a time. One breath at a time.

Namaste,

Shira

written from the boca raton resort & spa

March Link Love: Powerful Women, Loving Differently + Body Acceptance

Introduction to the monthly Link Love column: One of my favorite blogs (and a total blogger role model of mine) is Gala Darling. Every month, Gala Darling publishes a link roundup in a narrative form of what she’s been reading. Lounging in bed on lazy Friday mornings (when I was in college) or Sunday mornings (now that I’m a working lady), I open up the links Gala posts like presents on Chanukah evenings. I want to create a similar experience for my readers…with the added bonus of documenting these reading gems so I no longer have 17 tabs open on Google Chrome. So, without further adieu, thank you Gala for the inspiration. Here is a delightful (Central Park) link carousel of my own.

my preferred mode of reading this month

my preferred mode of reading this month

This month has been full…of work, of travel and of reading about strong, powerful women in honor of women’s history month. It felt great, during this month, to honor women who will make history – the modern as well as the historical. Anyways, without further adieu, here is what I read this month!

* I really want to go to Europe with this card that will give me a working pass for that awesome continent.

* Lauren Conrad recommends three busy girl breakfasts. Meanwhile, Glamour lists the best (healthy) foods to eat when stressed.

* I’ve been saying this since the beginning! Mindy Kaling is the walking contradiction feminist hero of my generation!

* Welp, someone beat me to it…an article in The Atlantic on how the Cuban literacy campaigns are relating to our current US-American education situation.

* Words cannot describe how much I identify with this article on being a yoga teacher + body image. There has been so much press lately on yoga + body image, but taking it to the teaching level is so important. I’ve had so much healing body image wise through having yoga teachers that have shown me what their “unconventional” bodies are capable of. That, above all, is what has shown me what my own body is capable of.

* A competition for wellness startup ideas, via Well + Good.

* Here’s my Living Yoga Yogathon Fundraising Page! (See how I snuck that in there for a good cause?!)

* Glamour presents dating challenges you should try.

* These are the things happy people do before they get out of bed every morning.

The New York Times shares that fat talk is bad for us. No sh** Sherlock, but since the NYT says it, it must be true! And on a lighter – and better note – here are the 10 celebrities with the best responses to fat shaming (Mindy Kaling’s is – of course – my fave).

* Bustle shares what 15 esteemed female writers did before publishing.

* The Generator School Network seems cool (#jobhunt2015).

* I’ve been all up on reading that Danielle LaPorte.

* A new celeb fitness fashion line that has a great deal if you get it now!

* We had QUITE the New Moon this month!

* After so much physical therapy before I go into work, I definitely needed to read this Well + Good article about how to clean up…fast and without a shower.

* This is the most beautiful article I think I’ve ever read on the ways children of divorce love differently. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for simply reading this beautiful piece. Here are my faves:

7. Love means questioning everything. We ask why over and over, even if we already know the answer. We need to reaffirm your love sometimes, just to make sure it’s still there. We need to make sure you have no ulterior motives, which we learned from our parents’ post-divorce paranoia.

8. Loving one person for the rest of our life seems terrifying. Not because we want to cheat, just because we are incredibly unsure if two people can stay married forever and actually be happy.

* Oh, and most recently, my roommate turned me onto this fantastic Tumblr about love, life, heartbreak + everywhere in between.

I think I’ll end on that note.

Love,
Shira

A Perfect New Haven Day

Last week, I spent the first day of my brief return east in New Haven, Connecticut, home of Yale and the last four seasons of Gilmore Girls and good pizza (yes, I have my priorities on straight). I was expecting it to be a chill day where I could get work done before heading to Wesleyan to teach oodles of yoga. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by the day’s chill fullness. Here’s my brief 24 hours guide because sometimes I like to imagine that I am (or can be) a New York Times travel writer.

Cedarhurst Cafe

There were three things that drew me to this coffeeshop:

  1. They use medicine/yoga therapy balls as chairs.
  2. They serve kale chips.
  3. It is located directly across the street from Fresh Yoga (see below).

I spent my Wednesday going in and out of Cedarhurst to get my AmeriCorps work done. My barometer for judging cafes usually has to do with how much my work feels like work while I’m there (the less it feels like work, the better). That’s what gives Cedarhurst a high rating in my book. That…and the unofficially free refills (a big thank you to the owner for that!).

Capture Salon Spa

photo via their website

photo via their website

Ever since the whole broken leg fiasco and being in a surgical boot for months on end, my feet have been lusting after a luxury of the past: a pedicure. That said, having still a recovering leg and ankle area, I wasn’t going to trust just anyone with my right foot. This place was the perfect choice (you know you have a good manicurist when they act like a bit like a therapist). The ambiance was lovely and it is located in a historic water production building, making every inch of it look elegant – it was an excellent welcome back to the east coast! I got the whole room to myself for my pedicure and the color that I chose was called yogi toes!

Fresh Yoga

This with another excellent example of why this day was great. I went into this Fresh Yoga class with low expectations. These expectations were irrationally low – I’d heard nothing about the teacher before and I haven’t been to the studio in years. But oh my goodness was this class amazing! While on the schedule it said that it was a beginners to intermediate flow, it definitely aired on the side of intermediate. I grew highly aware that I was back on the East Coast when the person on the mat next to me kept popping up into a handstand whenever she said she said chataranga (it is a coast of overachievers). My face was one big sweaty smile throughout the entire hour. It was exactly what I needed before teaching at Wesleyan. For the first time since I broke my leg I felt capable in my body. Kami’s focus for the class was on loving our bodies as they are. She kept reminding us of that focus in the context of maybe not taking a vinyasa when she offered it. But I, on my mat in the front of the class, took every single one because I was so grateful that I could do it.

Archie Moore’s

Known for the best wings in New Haven, this pub is a staple for Yale graduate students…and N’s coworkers when they go out together. The three best things about this place were definitely the company, the waiter that we had and the fact that they played 90s and 80s hits the whole time.

Well, folks that was my magical Wednesday in New Haven. And if I learned anything from my college experience it is that one of the reasons why Connecticut is so great is because you go in with low expectations and once you get to know the state, they are always exceeded.