30 July 2011

108 Days to Durty Thirty

 In your 20's, this picture has a perfectly legit explanation.

"One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. 
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself." Gretchen Rubin 

Today, I realized that I'm approximately 5 months away from turning 30. Gasp! That means I only have 138 days to milk what's left of my roaring 20's! What to do?! Skydive? Botox? Freeze my eggs? Move to an ashram? There's gotta be some fabulously outrageous and cliché way for me to close out this decade. I've never been a fan of goodbyes, and it will be hard bidding farewell to my 20's. They were pretty darn good to me.

I must say, showing up for 30 is a rodeo I've been to many times. I've sat back and watched as those around me celebrated their 30th, some kicking and screaming as the day approached, while others welcomed it with open arms. For 30, I've done limos, wine tastings, pinatas, a Manhattan club circus party, and...well...that's all I can really disclose here [what happens at 30 stays at 30]. I always show up with bells on, ready to rock and my 30th is no different.

I'm not afraid of 30, by any means. Especially since 30 is totally the new 20 (right?). What I am afraid of are wrinkles and an increasingly slow metabolism. I heard a quote once that says "after 30, the body has a mind of it's own." Well, I for one am not giving my body one inch! So, instead of letting 30 take me, I'm taking 30 by the horns...gently and with love. Inspired by Gretchen Rubin and her Happiness Project, this hanging-by-a-string-29 year old is starting a wellness project...and you are all welcome to bear witness.

In the 108 days leading up to 30, starting August 29th, I will commit to doing one thing a day that contributes to my emotional and physical wellness. Whether it be through art, eating healthier, yoga, meditation, charity work, a new skincare regimen or simply opting out of unnecessary snapping toward people. Most of you who know me may say that I already live a pretty healthy lifestyle, strong in wellness department, however I must respectfully object. It's true that I practice yoga and eat lots of kale, or whatever, but I lack consistency and steady discipline. Yesterday, for example all I consumed were 4 cups of coffee and a granola bar, and I practiced no yoga or meditation. My stomach was very upset with me and I felt so lazy. Of course, at the end of the day, it's not a big deal, but if this body is going to last me through my 30's (and hopefully the years following) I have to do a better job of taking care of it. I also have a 9-5 desk job sitting at a computer all day and sometimes the stress and lethargy lead me straight to sugary pastries and choosing a glass of prosecco over yoga. This does not wellness make. There's nothing wrong with the occasional cookie or glass of wine, but over time the ethics of consumption become lost and it's the little things that count. The laziness and cookies add up to layers upon layers of bad decisions that can eventually cause serious illness and health problems. I figure if I start now, the less modifications I'll have to make later on.

This project is specifically about mindfulness and discipline, choosing insight over impulse and creating positive energy. As I age, the more I invite presence, I think the less averse I am to the aging process. By making a daily commitment I create healthy habits without giving myself too much room to be a slacker. At this point I haven't decided if I will write about it daily, weekly or monthly but most definitely the good, bad and ugly of it all will be posted right here on this blog. I will also post updates on my Facebook page. I invite you to comment and share any thoughts you may have. 

Naturally 108 was chosen because of its spiritual significance. For those of you who may not know, 108 is a sacred and auspicious number in yogic philosophy, Buddhism and many other religions. It has deep roots in astrology, history, mathematics and literature. You can read more about it here

This may turn into a hot mess, but it's worth a shot. Blast off to 30!

03 July 2011

Diary of a Yoga Assistant: Lessons in Human Touch

The Bishop's Garden at the National Cathedral, Washington, DC


A few months ago, I received a great opportunity from one of my neighborhood yoga studios to assist in their weekly ashtanga classes.  My duties would include providing the students with hands-on adjustments and verbal instructions on alignment during class. An added bonus of the job description also required that I serve as the studio’s official Prop Police by confiscating blocks that unsuspecting students would sneak past the teachers. Having taken nearly a year-long hiatus from teaching, I was looking to grow as a teacher and the new gig was extremely welcomed and appreciated.

I’ve compiled a list of the top four lessons I’ve learned (and dusted the cobwebs off of) as a Yoga Assistant so far. 

1.    Everyone has a different body constitution. 
Simple enough. Yogis come in all sorts of beautiful shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of flexibility and motion, and adjustments should reflect so.  A beginner ashtangi will likely not receive the full weight of my hands in their downward dog while a more regular practitioner can withstand a much higher degree of physical pressure. The student’s body lets me know just how deep I can go by communicating it through the breath.  This is my time to listen and tune in with the language of their ujjayi. There is a precise moment when the breath will not let me go any further in an adjustment, and it happens just as naturally as exhaling. Regardless of a student’s physical make-up, each and every body has its own unique beauty and grace, which becomes more pronounced and apparent through dedication to the practice. 

2.    Voice is just as powerful as touch. 
“Flat palms damnit!” Just kidding.  I would never say that. Out loud. No really though, as humorous as it may be, barking orders does nothing to help a student’s confidence or personal growth. In most academic classrooms you have students that are either visual or auditory learners.  This doesn’t change in the yoga classroom. For some, the weight of one’s voice is more powerful than touch. By quietly whispering a simple instruction such as “open the chest” I see the integrity of the entire asana change, and it is quite a beautiful transformation to witness. Its as if the student’s inner compass has finally figured out the right direction. I admire the strong listeners out there, I could learn a thing or two from you.

3.    Laughter also counts as an official adjustment. 
Ashtanga is serious business.  There’s memorization, tradition and jump-backs for goodness sake! But, if we can’t laugh at ourselves in this practice, we may as well just go home and admit that we have huge sticks stuck up our mula bandhas. In some of the most rigorous and sweaty parts of the class (ahem...like after the first navasana) I like to grab a student’s toes and pretend to tickle them in order to help them lift their legs higher. Why? Because I think toes are funny. Do they laugh? Sometimes.  Or maybe roll their eyes, whatever.  I’ll take the occasional stink-eye for the sake of a few laughs.  In this practice we are guaranteed to fall, mess up, make weird sounds and even cry at times.  In between those moments the important thing to remember is to turn the corners of our mouths up, show our teeth and let laughter come out.  Hell, if you can fall and laugh at yourself immediately afterwards, you deserve some major yoga snaps. Once we start taking ourselves too seriously all the fun will officially be sucked out of the journey.  One of my personal mantras is to never compromise my sense of humor. I find that laughter creates lightness and a sense of comfort, which we could all use to help us get through those jump-backs. 

4.    Approach with love.
We all know that if you give love, you will get it in return. I’m sure there’s a famous quote out of a page from something in Oprah’s book club that could drive that point home for us here.  At the end of the day my role as an assistant is to provide love.  By no means are my adjustments attempts at “fixing” or making robots out of yogis. Via an open heart, my intention is to help students tap into their potential, go deeper into the poses and at the very least hope they learn just a little something about the practice of yoga.  I cannot speak for the students, but I can express that by simply allowing me to show up and share their yoga with me every week, they have opened their hearts and given all the love a little ol’ yogini like me could ever wish for. I’m giving a huge “AMEN!” here to the words of Guruji, that if you practice, practice, practice all will most assuredly come.