Category Archives: Non-Judgement

Day 30: Switching it up

Well, I don’t know about you guys, but Day 30 really snuck up on me.  I guess that’s what happens during this time of year!  But the yoga has been a great reminder to slow down and be in the moment, even if only for a few minutes each day.

Last night I was trying to decide what I should do for my last day of the challenge.  I knew I wanted to go to a class and not just do a Yoga Today class here at the apartment, so I checked the schedule at The Yoga Room.  The Astoria location listed a hot flow and an Iyengar class.  My first reaction was, “Darn, why isn’t there just a regular Vinyasa flow?”  But then I thought about it and realized that this is, after all, a challenge.  I should go outside of the box.  I decided to go to the Iyengar class.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Iyengar is a form of yoga developed by, you guessed it, B.K.S. Iyengar.  It is extremely precise and alignment-based and often utilizes props in order to help the body maintain proper alignment in each asana (pose).  My older sister Rebecca practices Iyengar almost exclusively; I have taken a few classes with her over the years and have discovered that, to put it mildly, it’s just not my cup of tea.  I find it to be too slow and choppy; I prefer more movement and flow (which, conversely, my sister absolutely dreads…but I’ll get her to a Vinyasa class one day :)).  However, you do end up learning a ton about your body in these classes, which is why I’ve said in the past that I couldn’t practice Iyengar exclusively, but it’s good to go occasionally for a tune-up.

"Seriously, Rebecca, vinyasa flow is awesome, you'll love it!"  :)

“Seriously, Rebecca, vinyasa flow is awesome, you’ll love it!” 🙂

It had been a while, which is why, upon rethinking my game plan for today, Tzahi’s Iyengar class sounded like a good idea.  Of course, within the first five minutes, I was quickly reminded why this is not my typical practice.  The focus for today was the movement of wrapping the inner thighs to the back of the body, of which we were constantly reminded as we stood in tadasana, urdhva hastasana, and parsvottanasana.  Times like these are when I just want to yell back to the teacher, “I AM wrapping my thigh!” or “I have NO idea how I’m supposed to do that!”  But then, it was as if the universe winked at me when he directed us to the wall to practice our full arm balances (a.k.a. handstands).  Sweet!  I went up a few times and felt pretty good, although my arms are definitely tired from all of the practicing.  Not to worry, however, because next thing I knew, the universe was giving me a huge hug when we were cued into Sirsasana (headstand) and Tzahi hooked up some straps to the rope wall and showed me how to hang…upside down.

You can pretend one of these people is me. :)

You can pretend one of these people is me. 🙂

Yes friends, the one thing that Iyengar has that vinyasa classes do not is a rope wall.  There are many ways it can be utilized, but up until today I had never used it for any inversions (though I had watched in awe in previous classes when fellow students easily strapped themselves in and let it all go).  Since I had told the teacher in the beginning of class that I wouldn’t be practicing headstand, he seamlessly set up the straps for me while I was resting after handstand.  It was a little nervewracking at first, but he guided me into it and before I knew it I was hanging upside down with zero pressure on my neck…total bliss!

I reluctantly came out of the pose and finished the class–which included more mind chatter about how much longer we’d have to hold a pose, but also a lovely supported savasana in supta boddakonasana (reclined bound angle pose).  All in all, I left class feeling more open and definitely more aware of my inner thighs.  Plus I’ve gotten a dose of Iyengar that should last a few months at least…

And that completes my 30-Day Challenge!  Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop yoga (or blogging).  I’m formulating a new challenge for myself already, probably for the beginning of the year.  Until then, I’ll continue to share insights into my yoga practice, delicious treats and whatever else strikes my fancy.  Let me know if you have any great recipes to share or thoughts for my next challenge!

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Filed under Goals, inversions, Non-Judgement, Practice, Yoga, Yoga Snax

Days 26 & 27: Turning Upside Down Part Deux

Hello Friends!

I had every intention of posting last night, but I ended up being preoccupied with decorating this new addition to the apartment:

I downsized this year, but he's a cute little guy.

I downsized this year, but he’s a cute little guy.

Nevertheless, I am really excited to tell you about the Inversion workshop yesterday at The Yoga Room.  It was taught by one of their teachers, Marko, and I think he did a fantastic job.  He began with a dharma talk that was all about the importance of process over final product; that, as much as we want to be able to do a handstand right now, the journey is the most important part.  Lessons like this are what yoga is all about.  What we learn on the mat is completely applicable to our lives off of the mat.  Breaking down a handstand into steps and practicing each step slowly and purposefully teaches us the value of hard work and persistence.  And when you finally reach your goal, it makes it all that much sweeter since you worked so hard to achieve it.

That is how Marko designed the workshop.  We worked on several variations of headstands and handstands over the two-hour class, and he broke down each pose into different steps, giving us the option to stop where we felt comfortable, or move on if we wanted to challenge ourselves.  My headstand practice is still on hiatus, which gave me the opportunity to really work on headstand prep, which is basically a downward dog with forearms and head on the ground.  If you’ve never done this prep before, it is challenging!  It really works your shoulders and core.  I also practiced bringing one leg in to my chest, which really got my ab muscles fired up.

By the time we got to handstand practice, my core was nice and warm, which, as I’ve mentioned previously, is really important for inversions.  We did several preps for handstand including L-shape against the wall and extending one leg up, which really helped me to get a feel for handstand away from the wall.  There was also more core work that included hopping over a block with our hands on the floor, arms straight.  This probably sounds easy, but it’s definitely work.  When he finally cued us to go up into handstand against the wall, it felt like my legs floated up, as opposed to my usual method of flinging my legs as hard as I can until I reach the wall.  I even managed to come off the wall for a few seconds.  If The Yoga Room offers this workshop again, I highly recommend it!

Today I found a Yoga Today class that was dedicated to handstands and forearm stands.  It was great to get in more practice, although I have to say my arms were tired from yesterday!  So I did what I could and either took a childs pose or just watched the yogis on the screen when I needed a break.  Marko made sure to let us know that consistent practice is the way to achieve our goal and I would have to agree; this 30-day challenge has definitely helped me to become more comfortable with turning upside down!

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Filed under Dharma, Goals, inversions, Non-Judgement, Practice, Uncategorized, Yoga, Yoga Snax

Days 22-24: Almost there!

Hey yogis!

As you could tell in my last post, my time in Harrisburg was full of cooking and Christmas decorations–but I did manage to get my yoga in there thanks to Just Plain Yoga over in Camp Hill. I also taught a quick class of Sun Salutations to the man friend who had a sore lower back. **Quick Tip: Sore lower back is often a sign of tight hamstrings, so gentle forward folds, seated folds, or supine (on your back) hamstring stretches with a strap can do wonders!**

After running around the last few days, I woke up this morning with a cold…not so fun, but it’s also my body’s way of telling me to slow down. I’m glad it is happening now so I can have the chance to take better care of myself this holiday season (my mother can probably tell you the number of Christmases I woke up sick as a kid). So today’s practice will be something gentle and restorative–my bolster will definitely be involved.

An extra motivation for kicking this cold is the workshop I am going to on Saturday! Since handstand has been one of my goal poses, I signed up for another inversion workshop, this time at The Yoga Room (thanks to my wonderful roommate who alerted me it was filling up fast, I snagged one of the last spots!). Rumor is he has some crazy core work in store for us–I can’t wait! Until then, time to load up on Vitamin C.

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Day 17: The Fountain of Youth

This morning I had to go to a meeting at Little Man’s school and afterwards spent some time catching up with my co-teacher (since we haven’t been traveling much lately we never see each other).  As we were leaving each other, there was an elderly lady with a boot on her foot and a cane about to cross the street.  She asked me if I would help her cross and I said yes.  As she held my hand and we slowly crossed, I found out she was going to a doctor’s appointment on the next avenue, so I offered to take her the rest of the way.  She thanked me and mentioned how difficult it was crossing the street and that if it was more windy, she would be afraid she would get knocked over.  In that time I learned that she used to love ballroom dancing and was also a fashion designer but, as she described it, now she “can barely move.”

When we finally reached her destination,  I watched her shuffle into the building and my heart ached, both for her and the whole event of aging.  I immediately thought, “this is why I do yoga.”  Because I don’t want to be relying on canes and other people to get across the street.  Ever.  Yes, that sounds incredibly stubborn, but I think being stubborn in regards to health and wellness is a good thing.  And while I do have good genes on my side (you may remember when I talked about my grandparents here….they’re 95 now), there’s no guarantee that they will prevent my muscles from stiffening up and wasting away on me.  I have plans to be a pretty kick ass (pardon my French) old lady and canes and arthritis are only going to get in my way.  So, yoga it is.

This is my plan for 83.

This is my plan for 83.

In that vein, when I got home I decided to address the thing that has been bothering me since August…my neck (August also happens to be when I turned 30…hmm…).  I’m still not sure what caused the wonkiness (that’s a word, right?), although I’m sure there is a connection to the crazy heavy bags that I carry my life around in as I trek around the city every day.  At any rate, I turned once again to the wonderful Yoga Today to see what they could do for me, and I found Sarah Kline’s class, Relieving Neck and Shoulder Tension.  Perfect, I thought.  And it was.  Sarah created a restorative class filled with tons of neck and shoulder opening stretches, including my favorite, threading the needle (if you’ve never done it, you should try it right now).  Within the first 20 minutes, my neck and shoulders were feeling more open and free.  I will definitely be adding this one to the queue.  I imagine I’ll have to keep coming back to it if I’m going to be doing peacock pose when I’m 83 (in pearls :)).

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A Good Sign

Many of you know that part of my gig as a yoga teacher is teaching children in the pediatric department at a hospital in Brooklyn.  This is thanks to the generosity of the Starlight Children’s Foundation, where I used to work.   I was (and am) so excited to be back working with Starlight, which does amazing work for seriously ill children and their families–such as providing yoga in the hospitals!

I was fully prepared for the emotions involved with working with sick children; I don’t think you ever get over seeing small children in a hospital bed (or crib for that matter).  However, what I had not been prepared for was the fact that it is virtually impossible to be prepared…at least, not in the way that I was familiar.  No day at the hospital is the same, so every week I am presented with any of the following: group classes, bedside breathing/guided imagery, private sessions with family members, teenagers, toddlers, and everything in between.

Oh the anxiety!

I spent the first few weeks feeling like a fake.  Thoughts of nervousness and doubt were constantly ambushing my mind.  Sure, I’m a yoga teacher and I get along really well with kids, but does that make me a great children’s yoga teacher at the hospital?  Not necessarily.  But how do I become one?  I just spent 20 minutes doing yoga with a little girl’s Barbies, how is that going to help her?  That group class was chaotic, didn’t flow at all, and the one little boy didn’t try any of the poses or breaths.  Why are you even doing this?

Then one day I was leaving, once again being overly critical of my teaching, when I saw a sign with this quote posted on the wall just outside of Pediatrics:

“It’s not how much you do, but how much love you put in the doing.”

~Mother Theresa

And it all clicked.  What I am doing is great, not because my teaching is perfect, but because my intentions are good.  In yoga, we always begin our practice by setting an intention; life off the mat is no different.  The mission of the Starlight Children’s Foundation is to brighten the lives of seriously ill children and their families–which is exactly my intention.  So if playing yoga Barbie brightened that little girl’s day, then that was successful.  Keeping this in mind has given me greater confidence in my abilities as a yoga teacher, which in turn has helped me to relax and just have FUN with it–because at the end of the day, seeing a smile or hearing that what we did felt good to a child is way better than teaching the “perfect class” (what is that, anyway?).

Who knows more about giving love than Mother Teresa?

Last week, I had the opportunity to have  a second session with a little boy who I’d met the week before.  Then, he had limited mobility, so he stayed in bed and we had the most wonderful session of guided imagery; the places he went and the things he saw were truly heart-warming.  This time, I was glad to see that he was up and walking about, with just a slight hunch in his shoulders.  I asked him what he would like to do and he said, “I think I should do some stretching since I can move around more now.”  We ended up squishing ourselves into the only space we could find.  A few months ago, I probably would have been stressed out because the space was not ideal and limited what we could do.  But this time I kept Mother Teresa’s words in mind and, together with his mom, we breathed deeply as we did basic seated stretches, twists, heart openers and some standing balancing poses (his favorite).  We giggled as he renamed Cobbler Pose “peanut butter and jelly” (because your feet touch like a sandwich), and encouraged mom when her hips weren’t as open as his to move into a pose.  When we were finished, he stood up and his mom pointed out how much taller he was standing.  He had a huge grin on his face and told me that he felt more relaxed, which in turn made me feel wonderful.

When you put all the love into the doing, it comes back to you many times over.  All it took was a sign on the wall for me to realize it.  What signs have you been given?

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Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

This weekend I visited my 94-year-old grandparents (but you didn’t hear their age from me).  They are both amazing–still living in the house my mother grew up in, my grandmother cooks and cleans (lugging a vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs) and my grandfather takes walks and swims after a quadruple bypass 8 years ago.  Both still drive, both have amazing memories of names of people, places and events from over seventy years ago.  And both grew up in a time very different from today–at least in terms of social norms.

Those are some good-looking 94-year-olds.

So, needless to say, I was taken by surprise when during the visit, my grandfather asked me how I felt about gay marriage.  Anyone who’s met Harry knows he’s made some comments that only a 90+ year old could get away with these days, so what was even more surprising about his question was that he was genuinely interested in what I thought.  He wasn’t bringing it up to start an argument, but seemingly to get a new perspective in order to see all sides.

I told him what I thought–that any couple who loves each other and is committed each other should be able to get married, no matter their gender.  When he asked, “But what about the children being raised by gay parents?” I responded that, in my opinion, a home with two loving parents is better than one where the parents are constantly fighting and creating a toxic environment–regardless of gender.  Not to mention the numerous financial and legal benefits that come with marriage that many same-sex couples haven’t had access to.

I heard his side too:  That it was something he was never exposed to (that he was aware of) for most of his life, so it certainly wasn’t part of his social norms.  Furthermore, he worried about the children of homosexual couples and if they would be affected (having had a difficult upbringing himself, he is always worried about children in any situation).  For the most part, he told me with a thoughtful expression that he “just couldn’t wrap his brain around it.”

In the end, I’m pretty sure I didn’t change my grandfather’s mind on the issue, but that wasn’t my goal, nor was it what I took from our conversation.  Rather, it was really refreshing to have a civil conversation about this controversial issue.  In a time where people post their opinions on issues and current events in social media (such as…what I am doing in this blog…) the art of lively, face to face conversation, the exchange of opinions, and debate has become a rarity.  Instead, it is replaced by “likes,” retweets, and short comments that may or may not support the posted opinion.  In this forum, you don’t really have to listen, tone can be misinterpreted, judgements made, and debates can escalate to arguments or end abruptly in silence.

In yoga, we practice non-judgement: of ourselves, our yoga practice, and others.  Of course, the key word there is practice, and that effort can make a huge difference in our outlook on ourselves, others, and the world as a whole.  When it comes to issues like gay marriage, those who disagree with it can lose sight of the fact that the decisions surrounding it affect real, live people.  If those on the opposing side of an issue really stopped to see the full picture, and even ask questions like my grandfather, they may just find that the people they are judging are not so different from them.  Take Ellen Degeneres, for example.  This week on her show, Ellen responded to critics of her JC Penny partnership (who are against it simply because she is gay) by saying, “I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values. That’s what I stand for.”  That sure sounds like someone I would want representing my company, doesn’t it?

This week brought great news to gay marriage supporters in California and Washington, with Prop 8 being ruled unconstitutional and the gay marriage bill being passed, respectively.  As support continues to grow, I hope that more conversations happen, whether face to face or via media, which foster genuine interest  in differing perspectives and debate without judgement.  Total agreement on every issue is not what our country needs; practicing those traditional values that Ellen talked about–equality, kindness and the Golden Rule–is what will truly bring people together.  My relationship with my grandfather is proof of that.

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