Outside In, Inside Out: Reflections from the Mat on the Mind-Body Connection

Tonight’s yoga practice was an unexpected yoga practice (the most meaningful kind). It was one where my body expressed a deep and spontaneous need for it…and I actually listened. More than that, it stirred up so many thoughts on the practice, why I practice and how I practice. Practice, practice, practice.

Tonight’s yoga practice reminded me of Cuba, of my body knowing on the deepest level, what it needed, and when, without me even needing to try. I remember that month of a home practice when I was so far away from home that blew my mind every time I stepped on the mat. I remember exhaustion from Havana heat and dirt, the way it smacked me in the face every time I left the air-conditioned residence. I remember using my practice as an internal refuge during a time of so much transition. Now, four weeks away from moving back to New York, in the middle of a Pacific Northwest heat wave, I find myself doing the same.

So often I get bogged down in formulas: the Ashtanga Primary or a class or even the extroverted fluidity of Lotus Flow. I rarely trust my body to want what it wants…except in those moments when I have no choice but to do just that and trust. Usually, those moments are those of exhaustion, of knowing there is nowhere else to turn to for comfort and that is A-OK, because the tools I am given are enough.

In the nonprofit world that I’ve been immersed in this year, we talk a lot about depth rather than breadth. In my practice this evening, I stayed in the most introverted of poses. I abandoned my wheels and fast chataranga-ed ways of releasing anxiety and surrendered myself to forward folds and Pratyahara, this sense of Drawing In. The beauty of the yoga practice is that it is intended to balance out – to complement – the rest of our lives. Usually, I think this means physical rigor. But then there are nights like tonight when the exhaustion – blissful in its own way – catches up. I spent all weekend being so present for other people and then today, I had the Gift of being present for a group of third graders. And then there is the being present with difficult feelings that working through a trauma and a breakup and struggling family members bring up.

Last night, I read the Young Adult novel that I wrote back in November and found myself gasping with surprise at the plot twists I forgot I included. That was how I felt this evening when I discovered that yes, I can indeed breathe that deep and oh, yes, Karnapidasana was what I needed after my shoulder stand. Sometimes, we are left with no choice but to draw in. To start on the inside and move to the outside. Usually, I choose outside, in. But tonight, I let my body choose for me. Without any further adieu – and thank you, readers, for your patience with this long post – this is what my body chose.

pigeon pose ~ eka pada rajo kapotasana

proud pigeon ~ urdhva eka pada rajo kapotasana

stargazer

vinyasa

other side

seated forward fold ~ paschimotanasana

one-legged seated forward fold ~ janu sirsasana

plow pose ~ halasana

shoulder stand ~ salamba sarvangasana

knees to ears ~ karnapidasana

fish pose ~ matseyasana

meditation ~ dhyana

written from my yoga mat, in pigeon pose

P.S. To find all these poses, and more, check out my e-book Yoga U: The College Student’s Tools for Balanced Living.

Tell Me About OM

the glittery OM at yoyoyogi, the studio i've been loving practicing @

the glittery OM at yoyoyogi, the studio i’ve been loving practicing @

Below is my yoga teaching fairytale of the weekend. Enjoy!

“Tell me about OM,” my yoga student said after class.

I took a deep breath. We – yoga teachers, that is – say these words so often that sometimes we forget their simple potency, their meaning.

“Great question,” I responded. “OM, as I was taught it, is the universal sound. It can mean everything and it can mean nothing. I include it at the end of classes, yoga privates, and my own practice, because it is a seal. We open up a practice with the sound of OM as a way of leaving everything that happened before we begin the practice – the chaos, the mundane, whatever – outside the practice, secluding the practice off as a sacred space where we can recharge. I believe in closing the practice with the sound of OM because it seals all that we do in one hour in, setting it apart. Make sense?”

“Yes. Now, tell me about Namaste.”

I take a deep breath. “In Sanskrit, Namaste translates to…” I backtrack. “There are so few direct translations from Sanskrit to English so Namaste can be interpreted as ‘The Light in me honors and appreciates the Light in You.’ It means thank you. For the purpose of what we just did, Namaste means, ‘The Teacher in me honors and appreciates the Teacher in you.’ While we have this time together once a week where I am teaching you yoga, the rest of the week you are your own teacher. It’s nice to end the practice with an acknowledgment of that, of what’s to come. Make sense?”

“Interesting.”

written from bed

June Link Love: Presidential Possibilities, Privates + Practical Self-Care

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.

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June was filled with early mornings and late nights out and about. I filled myself up this month with smoothies, heaps of yoga at YoYoYogi in Northwest Portland, time with friends and long walks in this sweltering heat Portland’s been getting. I started a fiction-writing class at The Attic Institute and returned to my NaNoWriMo novel. As a result, this Link Love is shorter than usual…because I’ve also been busy writing and doing the things we write about in the first place. Enjoy!

Gala Darling shares these really amazing, tangible, and do-it-now goal-setting tips she learned from her dad.

HerCampus shares 15 things you should know how to do before you turn 25 (I’d say I have a year and a half and 10 things on that list left to do!).

A dear student of mine is profiled in SONIMA, on how is brain injury led him to his truest self. It is vital to remember that we all come to the mat for different reasons, some of them critical and chronic and deep experiences of healing and expansion of life.

I just don’t know who to vote for in the primary! In an effort to show that I haven’t been basing my personal political preferences on binge-watching The West Wing, I’ve done some research on Bernie and Hillary Clinton’s 20-something campaign workers had just as hard a time as I did finding an affordable apartment in New York. Here’s Hillary Clinton on the issues…and here’s Bernie Sanders. (#conflicted)

This month, I discovered the amazing-ness of Tommy Rosen and his thoughts on recovery.

My own personal authorial guru on most things, Meg Cabot, shares 12 ways to improve your love life and if I’m going to take advice on any of that from anyone, it’d be from her.

Well + Good shares low-sugar cocktail recipes!

Watch Obama’s eulogy. Let the feelings flow through you.

The Examiner profiles Heather Shrock on the intersection of nutrition and mental health – a necessary and innovative examination.

I am so excited to check out these bar specials near Columbia when I move to the area!

Apparently, the right dose of exercise for a longer life will surprise us.

The Abundant Yogi has some great teachings on lifestyle design!

Teachasana helped me out big time this month by sharing pricing strategies for yoga privates.

A nutritionist from The Chalkboard shares her thoughts and concrete tips on self-care. There are some serious gems in this piece:

Self-care is prioritizing and engaging in things that help us function well in our lives; things that make us feel balanced and allow us meet the inevitable stressors of daily life with energy and (ideally) perspective.

Self-care is not just the occasional pedicure or afterwork cocktail. It’s about identifying your own needs and building a repertoire of habits that make you feel grounded and like your best self.

For more super concrete (can you tell how much I love the practical?!) tips from The Chalkboard, check out this Ayurveda article on balancing Kapha. Proud to be drinking a cardamom latte while reading this one!

written from my bed

The Injury

I did not think I would blog about this. When I think of myself on the internet, versus myself in reality, I tend to reserve the internet for expressing the broad positives of my life, as they would apply to others. I am wary of narcissism while blogging, of thinking that my life ultimately applies to everyone else’s. I am also an intensely private person…which is odd at times seeing as I am selectively private as well, sharing liberally about that which I deem can be public knowledge.

But enough jargon or preface. This post is about the decision I am making to share with you some private information.

Last Monday, I got hit by a car while biking home from the elementary school I am doing my AmeriCorps service at. I took a bike route I do not normally take and while I stayed in the bike lane the whole time, there was a dangerous intersection involved and the next thing I knew I was lying on the ground in the middle of the street, police officers on one side, the fire department on the other and an ambulance pulling up within sight.

photo courtesy of saint amy, my roommate

photo courtesy of saint amy, my roommate

When I came to, I was a whole lot of emotions (as my sister and I say, all of the feels), but the sentiment that overwhelms me the most while going through a complicated trauma with an outcome that is challenging, but by far the best one possible is this:

I AM GRATEFUL.

I am grateful for years of chataranga. My recovery involves a lot of physical therapy. A lot of moving around on one leg on a walker and lifting my whole body up through isolating muscles. The doctors at the hospital assured me that I would’ve been there a whole lot longer had my arms – specifically my triceps – not been as strong. When I inform my physical and occupational therapists hat I am a yoga teacher, understanding dawns on their faces and I am grateful for the ways in which learning to move my able body has prepared me for these moments when my body is less able.

I am grateful for friends and housemates and the families we choose. This is an understatement. No matter how I write this gratitude, it will always be an understatement. I currently live with my best friend from college; we decided to move to Portland together to pursue our passions (me in education and her in architecture). She is my rock, my North Star, the person who reminds me of who I was the last four years, a touchstone for who I am now, in a new city, across the country, without the stability of a college identity and with all the adventure to forge an identity of my own. She is also my emergency contact and the person the police called as the paramedics wheeled me into the ambulance and shot me up with pain medicine. She was at the hospital before I arrived there, withstood the gore of my dislocated leg more than I did, and did not leave until our other housemate – another AmeriCorps member – arrived with a packed hospital bag and stayed the night. Both got less than three hours of sleep that night. Both were there the following morning as the surgical team prepped me for the operating room, holding each of my hands, as I braced myself (pun intended) to have a metal rod inserted inside my bone). When you live in a new city and the closest family is three hours away minimum, the families we choose become hOMe, the ones that are there for us in the most unconditional way possible. All these gratitudes lead me back to them, to you J and A. Thank you.

saints j & a keeping me company in the hospital

saints j & a keeping me company in the hospital

I am grateful for that packed hospital bag. Speaking of the amazing-ness of my housemates (my dad now prefaces their names with “Saint” every time I tell them a new act of kindness they perform), the hospital bag that A made for me included the following:

  • my spiritual gangster yoga top – In order to leave the hospital, I had to pass lots of “tests” for my physical and occupational therapists, to show that I could take care of my basic needs without putting weight on the injured leg. The first test was my “dressing test;” could I dress myself? A packed my Spiritual Gangster tank top, which made me feel at once sexy and strong. Putting that on after wearing a hospital gown for four days that made me feel anything but was nothing short of a sheer miracle. I felt the blood rush to my face again. I felt like myself. Empowered. Like I could do thisThis being recover from a traumatic incident, provide space and loving time and patience for my body to heal. It takes strength – it takes being a spiritual gangster – to ask for help, sometimes.
  • snacks – Not gonna lie, I was in a great Level One Trauma Center hospital where the food was actually delicious. But there is nothing like one’s own food…especially during a time when pain medicines are high and cravings are particular. She packed my favorites: Bear Naked granola protein packs. a NuGo Dark bar, roasted seaweed and much more goodness all in my Craft Coffee box from the subscription service’s last delivery, a good reminder of how much I love coffee during a time when the narcotics outweighed any desire for extra stimulants or depressants.
  • magazines
  • a book – Word to the wise: there is no better book to read while lying in a hospital bed than Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. First off, holding that book in my hands as I lay horizontal reminded me to say “yes, please” to the nurses repeatedly; when in pain, it can be all-too-easy to forget simple manners and positive etiquette, but never is there a more crucial time than when so many people team up on your behalf. I felt like myself when I was polite with my recovery team and like an unfamiliar person when my pain overshadowed my ability to be so. It also does not hurt to read a book by one of the best comedians and empowering feminists while lying in a hospital bed after surviving a trauma.

It was perfect.

I am also grateful for my family of originWhile my family I choose was there for me pre-op, my aunt and mother (from different sides of a divorced family, which, for some reason, makes my heart swell even more at the anesthetized memory) were there wiping my forehead and handing me water. They were there each time I woke up during a day of confused recurrent sleep. My mom was on the first flight out of New York City and my aunt started driving to PDX from Seattle at five in the morning.

I am grateful for nurses. I am also grateful for my surgical team, but it is easier to be grateful for the faces I saw often, the faces who comforted me and told me that everything was healing on the right timeline, the faces who had unbounded patience in the face of my impatience.

I am grateful for my job and life in Portland, for all the people I’ve met these short few months. Outside of my families of choice and origin, my supervisors were the first to visit me after surgery (literally the night after I was operated on). The amount of care and thoughtfulness and appreciation that my AmeriCorps service has offered me is truly amazing. I am beginning to think that they – my supervisors, my fellow AmeriCorps members, the parents and students I work with at the elementary school – are part of my families of choice as well.

I am grateful my broken leg and for my helmet. Thank you for breaking my fall. Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for giving me the chance to heal fully. Thank you for protecting my back and neck. Thank you thank you thank you.

When it comes down to it, I know that injuries are great teachers. I know that I am lucky. Years ago, before yoga, before embracing a lifestyle rich with spirituality, I would have reacted by getting caught up in my own victimization. Instead, as the I woke up from the anesthesia and loved ones came in one by one, I cried out of gratitude for my life. I am sure that this recovery process will be long and challenging. So I wanted to write this post as a reminder when I am still in the thick of the drama of it. A reminder to myself and to all those who have helped and are helping, thank you.