Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Summer Playlist

Summer is here! I'm not totally jazzed about being sweaty all of the time due to DC's swamp-like weather, but there definitely is a frenetic energy about. For me, summer music is energetic, a little sexy and fun. Perhaps that's why my current playlist violates at least one of Mary Catherine Starr's Yoga Playlist Rules...

My summer look: Toms tan & adventure legs (highly bruised & scraped, mosquito bites forthcoming). 

Summer 2014 Yoga Playlist:

  1. Glenn Jones- Bergen County Farewell
  2. Fionn Regan- Be Good or Be Gone
  3. Louis Weeks- Fold
  4. St. Vincent- Now Now
  5. TEEN- More Than I Ask For
  6. Theophilus London- Flying Overseas
  7. Miguel- Gravity
  8. When Saints Go Machine- Kelly
  9. Dr. Dog- Heart It Races (Architecture in Helsinki cover)
  10. Wilco- Theologians
  11. Takuya Kuroda- Rising Son
  12. Lianne La Havas- Final Form (Everything Everything cover)
  13. Radiohead- House of Cards
  14. Outkast- Take Off Your Cool
  15. The Wilderness of Manitoba- Manitoba 
  16. A classical song in my iTunes simply as "Franklyn"...  sorry guys! 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tara Brach & Radical Acceptance

I listen to a lot of podcasts. For a lot of different reasons. I listen to Savage Love and Guys We Fucked to lightly entertain myself while walking dogs, I listen to This American Life, Radiolab and Snap Judgement when taking a migraine nap or screen break and want to hear a beautifully told story.  I listen to Tara Brach's meditation talks in two instances: 1. To help me sleep (honesty is the best policy, right?) 2. When I feel like punching someone/thing because I have so many feelings that I don't know what to do with. 
A recent peaceful moment, provided by Lubber Run & Lucy, the bulldog. 

She's a Buddhist teacher of meditation, "emotional healing" and "spiritual awakening". I put those terms in quotes not to make fun of them, but because I recognize that they are very subjective concepts that may seem wishy washy at first glance. I don't meditate, yoga is the most spiritual activity I've ever been involved in, but somehow her teachings click with me.

This evening I read this quote at the end of my yoga class:
“The emotion of fear often works overtime. Even when there is no immediate threat, our body may remain tight and on guard, our mind narrowed to focus on what might go wrong. When this happens, fear is no longer functioning to secure our survival. We are caught in the trance of fear and our moment-to-moment experience becomes bound in reactivity. We spend our time and energy defending our life rather than living it fully.” From Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha 
I realize that it seems like a pretty negative quote. It points out an emotional pattern that can be damaging and articulates how that damage is embodied. But for me, reading that passage was a happy surprise because it describes my emotional experience in a very simple way.

Fear or anxiety, has been an actor in my life for a long time, with varying degrees of power over my mental state at any given time. It's helped me in some ways, pushing me to work hard in school, to keep my room clean, to do X or Y menial task as soon as possible because of my fear of failure. But that fearful energy has also kept me from actually experiencing much of the beauty in my life. Because I was so addicted to my quest for achievement, I didn't take the time to breathe and see the wonderful things/people in front of me.

In my case, the fear-motivated achievement rampage ended in a screeching halt when my body decided to revolt and trap me in a year-long migraine that sent me back to my hometown to try to sort things out. One of the things I learned in that time away from normalcy was that anxiety & fear inhabit my body, and the resultant stress had built up so much that I cornered myself into sickness.

Because I found myself so abruptly halted in my path to adulthood, I was forced to look around a little.  It turns out, it's pretty easy to live in the moment when your future is a giant question mark. The life I found when forced to step out of my fear-driven rat race grew into a pretty sweet setup, rich with friends, yoga, dogs and family.  When I let go of the fight-or-flight impulses that led me to push myself so hard, I could breathe and take pleasure in simple things.

Tara Brach has another quote that describes the emotional growth I've experienced in the last few years:
"When we put down ideas of what life should be like, we are free to wholeheartedly say yes to our life as it is." - Tara Brach
Once I abandoned the lofty expectations I had set for myself, I was much more able to enjoy things for what they were and experience my emotions in a much fuller way. It was easier for me to simply know how I felt about something when I let go of how I thought I was supposed to feel. My meta-feelings (feelings about feelings) had generally been negative and self-deprecating. Now, thanks to yoga, Tara Brach and some hard knocks, my internal critic has quieted down a lot.

For example: I used to get anxious when sitting quietly with people, scared that if I didn't fill the dead air with some chatter or activity that people wouldn't enjoy being around me.  Now, some of my favorite moments are the quiet ones, spent with someone I care about, enjoying a warm night or lovely view. The silence gives us license to speak only when we have something worth saying, so it has lead me to much deeper (and more memorable) conversations than I may have had before.

Perhaps this is all an overly complicated way to say that I am growing up. Either way, I think that Tara Brach's teachings can be a wonderful tool when trying to avoid the vicious cycle that can be caused by an overactive mind. I'll close on a positive note:
"There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying yes to our entire imperfect and messy life." - Tara Brach 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Transition to Spring Yoga Playlist

Cherry blossoms at sunrise photographed by the lovely and talented Andrea Lynn Taylor, who will be completing her 200hr yoga teacher training soon!!
It's spring in DC, finally! I've pulled my jorts out of storage, begun the annual process of being annoyed by, hating, then accepting cherry blossom tourists and painted my nails a bright easter-y purple.  Working the front desk (going to class nearly every day) at Tranquil Space, I've noticed that the season's change and accompanying weather-uncertainty has left yogis pretty drained. One way to counteract that is to focus on twisting, a cleansing motion. Another, is through happy, energetic music, which I've added to my current yoga playlist in no small dose. Also, Beyoncé.  Because I can't help myself.

This list also features some of the cutest music videos ever (see: Lavender Diamond, Rhye, Peals...).

Transition to Spring Yoga Playlist

  1. Memphis- Swallows and Amazons
  2. Charles Bradley- Heart of Gold (Neil Young cover)
  3. Beyoncé (ft. Frank Ocean)- Superpower 
  4. Laura Mvula- She (Robin Hannibal Remix)
  5. Jessie Ware- Wildest Moments
  6. The Preatures- Is This How You Feel?
  7. Architecture in Helsinki- Do the Whirlwind
  8. Thumpers- Unkinder (A Tougher Love)
  9. Ben Lee- Catch My Disease
  10. Lavender Diamond- Open Your Heart
  11. Peals- Tiptoes in the Parlor
  12. The Honey Dewdrops- Across the Universe (Beatles Cover)
  13. American Analog Set- Like Foxes Through Fences
  14. Rhye- Open 
  15. Anna Silva- The Suburbs (Arcade Fire Cover)
  16. Sigur Rós- Glósóli

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My Favorite Assist*: Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

*Except savasana assists, duh.

Tranquil Space (the studio in Arlington where I work at the front desk and practice yoga) is a hands-on yoga studio, in the best way possible. Instead of calling out steps to a sequence and demonstrating poses on a mat in the front of the studio the whole time, teachers walk around the room offering "assists" to students.

An "assist" usually doesn't mean you're doing something wrong, often it simply means that the teacher (or teacher's assistant) knows a way to help you get deeper into your pose. Sometimes, they'll come in with a corrective aligning of the hips or to hug your elbows in during chaturanga, but more often they will bring a steady hand to your pose that allows you to reach farther, bend deeper, or simply let go.
Photo by Yoga International.
A great pigeon assist does all three of those things. To refresh your memory, what we call "pigeon" is actually "half pigeon" or eka pada rajakapotasana. You come in to the pose by bringing the shin of one leg in front of you, ideally parallel to the short edge of your mat. Then, lengthen the other leg towards the back of your mat, reaching your toes as far as possible to the back of your mat and making sure your leg flows directly out of your hips (doesn't flail out, away from your body). Engage your front foot by reaching your toes towards your knee. Check in with your hips: often, the hip connected to the front leg is higher off the ground than the other. If that is the case, use a prop (my go-to is a blanket) to fill that space between your active hip and the mat. If you want to get deeper into the stretch, fold forward, allowing your arms and head to rest on a block or your mat.

Seasoned yogis are fairly unanimous about their love of this pose. It opens the hips, muscles that are thought to hold stress, anger, whatever sort of feeling you may or may not want to actually face. For me, it's always an intense stretch and whenever I find my edge in pigeon, I have to be consciously still, or I will get VERY figety. That being said, it's called "yoga crack" for a reason: it just feels great. It's the definition of release.

How can a teacher/assistant help with pigeon?  The best assists start from the bottom up, grounding before pushing yogis any further. So, with pigeon it's about grounding your hips. A teacher puts his/her hand on the upper back thigh of your extended leg, and the other in the hip crease of your bent leg. Using pressure to even out the hips, they can then lean on your back to push you deeper into your stretch or lift a hand off your back leg and press along your spine to encourage you to fold from the hips, not your back. Another option that encourages folding from the hips is to press hands in your lower back (sacrum). From this assist, teachers can use one hand to trace your spine and, if you're really lucky, give you a little neck massage. It's chicken soup for the yoga soul. I'm relaxing just thinking about it!

I hope you get a chance to experience the joy that is a well-executed pigeon assist! It is a thing of beauty.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Yoga at Home

Photo taken by Andrea Lynn Taylor at the Key Bridge in Washington, DC. 
One of the most important things I took from my Level One Teacher Training at Tranquil Space was the structure of a Vinyasa Yoga class.  This structure gave me a foundation to fill in for both classes I teach and my home practice.

Wake up the spine, lunge back and forth to down dog, surya namaskar A, warriors and their variations, peak pose (such as an arm balance or intense twist), hips, floor poses, inversion, rest.

When I practice at home, this structure guides me into my next pose or sequence. I listen to my body, feel if it's not warm enough in some part, or if there's a muscle crying out to be stretched. That feeling guides the poses I do, or sometimes I just follow a whim. The best part is, there's no one watching me mess up. That means I don't have to keep track of which poses I've done on which side, how to most gracefully transition from one pose to another or whether I'm ignoring a key area of the body. I just do what comes.

Today I worked on my side crow, a pose I've been sorta able to do for the last few months and forearm stand, the inversion I am challenging myself to master. To warm up for side crow, I did a lot of twists in my warmup and sequence after surya A.  I spent most of actual side crow time with my face in my mat and most of the forearm stand with my feet on the wall (relying on support I should not use). But there was no one there to see me looking like a doofus, so I plated my face on the mat, then pushed my head up to a few inches above my mat for full-on side crow (I lasted about 10 seconds). I slowly eased my feet off of the wall in forearm stand, building my confidence. Sure, they fell in a not-so-quiet plop after a breath of free-balancing, but I was able to get some inversion time!  In short, I made progress with two difficult (at least for me!) poses.

There's something very humbling about practicing alone. Sure, I gravitate towards poses that I enjoy (i.e. poses I'm good at, if I'm being honest), but there's no one around to compare myself to. I can't twist deeper, sink lower or jump quieter than anyone else, because there isn't anyone else. It's just me and my mat. Which means that the image I have in my head of the perfect expression of each pose is my comparison point, and I am very far from perfect in my practice.

All in all, I much prefer practicing with others at my yoga home, Tranquil Space. But every once in awhile, putting aside 45 minutes to an hour to practice on my own at home is a great way to check in on my body without the distraction of yoga buddies or fantastic instructors. I also find it very useful when planning sequences, as it allows me to feel what makes sense as natural pose-to-pose transitions (and what doesn't).

Give it a shot sometime! Unroll your mat in your house and give yourself time and space to explore what comes.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Welcome 2014! Yoga Playlist

I spent the first 5 days of 2014 switching between these feats of engineering and my prescription sunglasses. 
Hi guys, Sorry I've been out of the blog habit. It turns out that applying to graduate school takes time and attention. Plus, my computer had a run in with some chai that left it worse for the wear.

But I'm back! Back to teaching, back to listening, back to yoga.  I'm teaching a class at The Bike Rack this coming Sunday and I teach with Alli in Court House every monday evening.

Here's what I'll be playing in class:

1. Taken by Trees- Highest High
2. Rio En Medio- Let's Groove (Earth, Wind and Fire cover)
3. Air- Surfing on a Rocket
4. Manitoba- Jacknuggeted
5. Of Montreal- Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games
6. Lorde- Million Dollar Bills
7. Animal Collective- My Girls
8. Vanaprasta- Nine Equals Nine
9. Django Django- Life's a Beach
10. Portugal. The Man- Work All Day
11. Beach House- Troublemaker
12. Field Report- Route 18 (Kiings remix)
13. Toro y Moi- Touch
14. Maps & Atlases- Pigeon
15. M. Ward- Let's Dance (Bowie cover)
16. Reinbert de Leeuw- Gnossiennes No. 1


Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Favorite Pose: Leg- Up-the-Wall

I know, it hardly looks like yoga! But it has a Sanskrit name and everything, I promise (Viparita Karani, though I've never heard it referred to as anything but "Legs-Up-the-Wall"). I LOVE this pose. When I go to classes at Tranquil Space, I always try to get a spot by the wall so I can do this instead of Savasana (corpse pose) at the end of practice.  I even mentioned the pose when I was interviewed as Team Player of the Month

Lots of yogis, from the old school to the new school, sing the praises of this pose. Cyndi Lee, yoga goddess, says it's her favorite.  It's said to help with just about every malady: arthritis, digestive issues, headaches, high OR low blood pressure, urinary issues, varicose veins and menstrual cramps. In addition, it's often suggested to people struggling with anxiety, depression or trouble sleeping.

I'm not an expert in the therapeutic effects of the pose, but if I hold the pose for a few minutes, I can definitely feel the blood that's been built up in my legs flow to my head. If I'm feeling  sluggish, I'll slip into this pose at home to get an energy boost. When I'm practicing yoga with an intense migraine, I make sure to give myself at least 5 minutes in legs-up-the-wall. 

To be as restorative as possible, Yoga Journal suggests 1-2 blankets or a bolster about 6 inches from your wall, supporting the area right above your sitting bones (the poke-y parts of your butt). With this support, your back should arc slightly, but your shoulders should always rest firmly on the ground. To up the comfort ante, I like to fold up the edges of a blanket a couple times and slide it under my neck for a little neck roll. 

I'll also play with different arm placements. When I'm doing this pose as a final rest during practice, I'll have my hands in the same position they would be in for Savasana (along my side, palms up). To add a bit more stretch to the pose (because you are already slightly stretching the backs of your legs), I'll bring my arms over my head and grab opposite elbows. This opens up the chest and shoulders. You can also play with spreading the legs wide, or bringing your feet together close to your body and letting your knees splay out, like you would in cobbler's pose

HOWEVER, the good news is that you don't really need any yoga accessories to get the benefit of this pose. You don't even need a mat! Just slide your hips close to an open patch of wall, gently swing your legs up and let the tranquility roll in. I encourage you to hold this pose for at least a few minutes so you can start receiving the benefits of reversing gravity's effects on your circulation. Or put on a podcast/some ethereal tunes and stay awhile!