Friday, March 25, 2011

Things I Love FRIDAY (off the top of my head...)

Dark Blue Sky
Food Network. Pandora. Iron & Wine. La Croix. Rain. Hoodies. Socks. Manicures. Planning yoga classes. Reconnecting to my own breath, in complete silence, for as long as necessary. Beer and pizza. Tahini. Trying really, really hard to understand where another person is coming from, and giving them the benefit of the doubt as I do. Prana breaks. Healing from the inside, out. Good friends. Being completely and carelessly spontaneous. Confidence. Feeling beautiful. Feeling sexy. Purple. Impromptu porch sits. Shocking the server at the microbrewery by NOT ordering a light beer. Harmonicas. Feeling a deep commitment to compassion toward any and all to the point that buying local, organic produce becomes an act of love. Being ready. Being open. Being available. Not pretending things don't exist. Figuring out a secret message from someone a few weeks later. Looking forward to Kathryn Budig's workshop, Emily's wedding weekend, reconnecting with Leslie and Lauren in Columbus, Reunion weekend at Kenyon. Possible connections waiting to be explored. Sensation. Fantasizing about being a 3rd shift waitress in a seedy diner. Justin Timberlake-Britney Spears-Glee road-trip CD. Planning ridiculously complicated meal plans for dinner parties I will probably never throw. Spending an hour free-cooking with whatever I can find in the kitchen and seeing just how creative I can get but still nail delicious and healthy. Morning rituals. The comfort of steel-cut oats with blueberries. Soft-boiled eggs with cut up toast in a bowl. Remembering things without mourning them. Nostalgia. Candles. The color of the sky right before it gets dark. White sage to clear it all away.

Imagining it's all in the drop of sand at the end of Neverending Story...and all I have to do is start wishing.

(photo credit: onkel_wart)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

just a little note to self type of thing...

I have this anatomy question/theory I really need to sit down and research. It involves the iliocostalis, lower back/hip pain and deep, DEEP shoulder tension. Oh, and a hyper-extended elbow. TO BE CONTINUED. =)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A love affair with vegetables...

The title of the cookbook I will one day write will somehow encompass this idea. My food-life feels like a love affair with vegetables, a torrid, steamy, passionate affair with one after another after another. Right now, it's all about cabbage. So I decided to do a quick search on all things cabbage.

There is a LOT to know about cabbage! For starters, did you know that cabbage has significant amounts of glutamine, an amino acid that has anti-inflammatory properties, and that it is also a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells (according to the studies cited on Wikipedia!)????

Here's to more cabbage!! 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kathryn Budig, being full of love, a few random thoughts for good measure.

My beautiful friend Julia in a glorious ustrasana!
I am going to meet one of my absolute idols in the yoga world next month. I'm taking a workshop with Kathryn Budig in Nashville, and I'm absolutely GIDDY with excitement! Imagine how you'd feel if you were going to have the opportunity to study with one of the people who EMBODIES the best of the best in your field. I feel like a guitarist who is taking a workshop with Eric Clapton!

Kathryn is doing a four class Yoga Crawl in Nashville; I'd love to go to all four classes but a) I think it would possibly kill me and b) it's expensive. So, I'm treating myself to one of the four workshops, and I chose this one:

All is Full of Love: Heart Opening, Back-bending Asanas
One2Yoga Sunday, April 3rd 11am-1:30pm
Time to open the windows, clean out the cobwebs and let some sunshine in! Backbends are gorgeous poses that take our heart, chest and shoulders into full expression. These poses rejuvenate, stimulate and get the endorphins flowing. We also carry some baggage and most of it can be found stored deep within our hips. Emotions travel into this space and without a little affection, grow deep roots and settle in which leads to discomfort and tightness. This workshop will nurture the hips back into a place of space and surrender so we can exorcise the past and move into the present. It will also prepare the body for deep backbends that will enhance your ability to blend strength and surrender and realize that all is full of love!

I'm currently focusing my own sadhana on opening and exploring anahata - the heart chakra - so this is really ideal timing. Tonight I lead a heart-centered meditation for my meditation group and I've been dedicating my own meditation and asana practice to heart-opening as well. Lots and lots of GREEN swirling around me these days.

I used to DESPISE backbends. I would literally freeze up completely when a teacher led the class into camel. Having a tendency to express fear as belligerence, instead of ever being honest about WHY I wouldn't explore backbends, even to myself, I just refused, declaring that backbends didn't work for my back, and I'd retreat to my comfy, safe child's pose. Of course I'd hurl myself into some version of the pose first just so I had proven to someone (who?) that I *COULD* do the pose if wanted to, but I just DIDN'T WANT TO, DAMNIT. =) Nothing wrong with choosing child's pose over a backbend, though - I always encourage my students to listen to their own inner wisdom and honor what they hear their body needing - I truly wasn't ready to explore backbends fully back then. This all shifted for me at Kripalu (what DIDN'T shift for me at Kripalu? I've been thinking a lot recently about how absolutely transformative that month was, and how I am still feeling and finding and noticing the reverberations of that transformation even now, almost eight months later!) with the love and support of amazing people all around me, encouraging me to step into my fullness. It was after I came home - literally, within a few days - that I found myself voluntarily in camel pose during my own practice. And it was INCREDIBLE! It didn't feel like I was crunching my back - instead it felt like this exsquisite lengthening and opening - my spine blossoming up toward my heart center - free and vulnerable to the world - radiating light and love and energy.

I'm still letting the experience of my four-day cleanse (which has now continued and evolved into a 21-day whole foods cleanse) settle, but I will write about it soon. It ended up being a lot more personal and challenging than I ever expected, so I need to make sure I know from what perspective I want to write and what I want to share in a public medium.
I've discovered handstand with my feet on the wall and I can't describe how incredible it feels. More powerful, for me, than headstand - a complete shift and release in the whole center of my body that feels so incredibly cleansing. It is my new inversion of choice. I see myself rocking some super-challenging arm balances in the next year. Limitless possibility.

I invented two salads this week that I have to share. They are both simple and delicious!

The A-Team Salad
  • 1 whole red apple, washed, cubed
  • 1 avocado, peeled, cubed
  • 1 oz. whole, raw almonds
  • 1 lemon
Combine the apple, avocado and almonds in a bowl. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over it. Stir and serve.

Tabouli on a bed of spinach with roasted beets
  • 1 box instant tabouli (or you can make your own, but I really dig the organic boxed tabouli I can pick up at Kroger...)
    Prepare according to package directions, then add...
  • Juice of two lemons
  • two diced tomatoes
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, washed and finely chopped
  • 2 large beets, washed, tops and bottoms cut off, roasted in glass dish with 1/2 inch of water, covered with aluminum foil at 400 degrees for 1 hour (or until soft when poked with a fork), skin removed while still hot with the backside of a fork, sliced, salted and drizzled with olive oil
  • Fresh spinach
Place a bed of fresh spinach on a plate. Scoop one cup of taboul over the spinach, place several sliced beets next to the tabouli. ENJOY!!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Breath of the day - Ujjayi (aka: MY FAVE, y'all!)

ocean tree at sunrise

I love Ujjayi pranayam. I seriously, seriously, seriously LOVE IT. Love. Can I make myself more clear? I LOVE IT. (My niece often tells me I should put a tux on my iPhone and marry it. Ouch. I would, however, consider putting a tux on Ujjayi pranayam and marrying it. Really. Let's work on that.)

Ujjayi breath is also known as the ocean sounding breath or the Darth Vader breath. My official Kripalu School of Yoga 200-hour Teacher Training Manual says it is "a meditative and soothing Pranayama that may be used when doing postures."

Thanks, manual.

Ujjayi is performed by taking long, slow breaths while slightly contracting the back of the throat - the area around the glottis. The slight muscular contraction creates a hissing sound in the back of the throat that some people think sounds like the waves of the ocean. It doesn't sound like the ocean to me, but it IS soothing and calming, ocean sounding or not. =)

My love for Ujjayi well-stated, allow me to also confess: I didn't understand this breath until I went to yoga school. Yep. Now everyone (who reads this blog) knows my dirty little secret. I was accepted into yoga school without a firm grasp on one of the most basic breathing techniques in yoga. (I admit shit like this hoping that it is disarming or makes yoga seem more accessible, when really I'm probably just making an ass of myself and admitting too much, right? Oh well.) I had the exhale figured out - I could find that constriction in the back of my throat and make the sound on the EXHALE, but on the inhale? No way. Now it is SO NATURAL for me that it's almost difficult for me to remember not being able to DO Ujjayi. It really is a hard breath to teach, and a hard breath to understand (in my opinion, anyway) but once it clicks - BAM - a whole new level of yoga opens up. I have found Ujjayi to be the key to sustaining difficult postures. In fact, Ujjayi is EXACTLY the means of BREATHING THROUGH just about anything, but especially a yoga practice. =)

I usually teach Ujjayi by having my students imagine they are fogging up a mirror as they exhale through an open mouth, asking them to try and feel that constriction in the very back of the throat. Another way of doing this is by exhaling the word home, although I don't find that as helpful. Once you can make the sound with the mouth open, try keeping the visualization of fogging up a mirror with the mouth closed. It's kind of like this openness in the mouth area while the back of the throat closes slightly. I feel like the sound is right in the middle of my head. The next step is imagining there was a hole in the back of your neck and you could INHALE and fog up a mirror behind you. (Typing that out, I realize that it sounds incredibly unpleasant, really. Hmm.) I think this is the harder part. In can help to imagine you are about to snore, or make a piggy sound (did I really just say that?) to understand where the constriction is.

So, eventually, you are inhaling and exhaling with a closed mouth while constricting the back of the throat slightly so that you hear a hissing sound in the ears. Once you get it, you get it. But it takes practice.

The next step is allowing your attention and awareness to become completely absorbed by this sound. And remember, the point is long, slow, deep breathes in - belly, ribcage, upper chest - long, slow deep breathes out - upper chest, ribcage, belly. The constriction naturally slows down the breath because less air can come in. This is good! Slow down, people!The other thing I've become aware of is that most people try to inhale before they are REALLY DONE exhaling. (Always in such a hurry to get to the next thing, aren't we?) So use the slow pace of Ujjayi to focus on exhaling COMPLETELY before inhaling. Set a timer for ten minutes (or five, if ten sounds completely overwhelming), close your eyes and practice Ujjayi. Focus just on the sound of the breath as you inhale and exhale. Allow distractions to melt away - the ever-clamoring mind to simply be a reminder to come back to the breath, no matter what to-do list it tries to start writing for you, no matter what judgment it passes for you taking a few minutes to breath. Just do it. (Thank you, Nike).

Okay, okay - you want reasons to do it. How about the fact that practicing Ujjayi breath:
*calms the mind
* provides a complete exchange of air in the lungs
*oxygenates the blood 600% more than your normal, shallow, unconscious breathing
*releases tension in the chest and abdomen
*strengthens the breathing muscles, as pulling the air thought a contracted glottis takes more effort
*facilitates a deeper experience of yoga postures and increases holding time
*generates introversion of the mind
*increases concentration
*increases breath-control

(This list brought to you by the aforementioned manual, but I back said manual up. I've experienced all of these via practicing Ujjayi!!)

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts, experiences and opinions!


(photo credit: bettina n)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is Yoga a SPIRITUAL practice? And what does spiritual MEAN, anyway? Rut-roh, Hilary is rambling on and on and on....

Apologies now: this blog started as a response to my dear friend John's blog that you can read HERE if you'd like. He was sort of responding to the blog I wrote HERE. And really, you don't have to read ANY of that if you just want to read my (disjointed and sometimes incoherent) thoughts about yoga as a spiritual practice and yoga becoming mainstream. 

It's funny, or perhaps sad, that even as a Registered Yoga Teacher (oooooo so fancy!) who did her training at one of the largest and most well-known yoga centers in the country, via a month-long, residential, intensive program, during which I learned more than I thought there was to learn about yoga (this run-on sentence brought to you to say I feel very confident in my training and actually calling myself a yoga teacher, even though every day I realize I have SO MUCH to learn) I still struggle with how to define or explain a yoga practice to someone who thinks yoga is "hippie-dippie-new-age-bullshit." There was a lot of hoopla recently in the yoga community about a teacher in NYC named Tara Stiles. If you're really interested in this, there are two articles I'd recommend - the first one is the NYT article that prompted the frenzy and the second one is a response from another very well-known celebrity yoga teacher, Sadie Nardini, found here.

The problem I have with calling yoga a spiritual practice (even though it absolutely IS a spiritual practice for ME and many others) is the word SPIRITUAL. What does it actually mean?? My sister recently forwarded me this article which essentially, and perhaps not incorrectly, challenges the coherency of the word spiritual at all. Please take a second to read it, won't you?

Frankly, I find it hard to disagree with a lot of what he says. For me, a spiritual practice is simply something that connects me to a deeper layer of myself and my experience of life, or a deeper layer of the interconnectedness of life, which sometimes feels - TO ME - like a universal consciousness. Is that incoherent? Maybe. I just made it up right now, because I haven't ACTUALLY taken the time to sit down and dissect it (which is probably a big yoga teacher faux-pas, oops) but it works for me in this moment. I guess that's just it - and maybe this is fuzzy math or total bullshit - but I think spiritual is whatever draws you closer to something that - to YOU - feels holy, sacred, and true. (And no. I don't think it's legit if your definition of spiritual involves killing my best friend, my family, or my cat, but that's a different conversation for a different day.) I heard David Foster Wallace say in a speech that there is no such thing as an atheist; that we all WORSHIP something. It might be money, it might be power, it might be a god, it might be food, it might be reputation, it might be many gods, it might be sex, but everyone worships SOMETHING. My very intelligent, articulate and proudly atheist sister won the debate that ensued when I suggested this to her, though, saying the connection between the definition of atheism and the definition of worship imposed is inaccurate, so who knows. But I also remember my Introduction to Religion class at Kenyon with Professor Rogan and being completely taken by the idea of sacred space, and actually FEELING, in my bones, the lawn of Samuel Mather AS a sacred space because of the ritual and ceremony that takes place there every August (convocation) and every May (graduation). What is sacred? What is divine? What is holy? What, exactly, IS spiritual?? (I bet I thought about and answered these questions via my minor in religion, but that was, what? Fifty years ago now?? ;)

The spiritual component aside, however, I think that yes, the perception of yoga IS changing, but slowly, and slower especially in rural areas. The physical benefits of yoga and meditation are really no longer up for debate - Western medicine is slowly catching up and studies at Harvard (in partnership with the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living) are proving - SCIENTIFICALLY - the immense benefits of both yoga and meditation. I agree with the anonymous comment - Americans want one yoga class to change their lives, and it just doesn't work that way (at least not for most of us).

I started practicing yoga when I was 19 years old and having a rough semester at college. I got a VHS tape (remember those?!?) called Yoga for Beginners with Patrica Walden, and I did it, faithfully, every other day for the two weeks of spring break (yes, this was pre-Chamber Singers, John!) I was also running on the days I wasn't doing yoga, and eating healthy and trying desperately to let go of some crap that was happening at school. At the time I didn't connect it to yoga, but after two weeks, I suddenly felt this IMMENSE calm, just generally. I felt like my mind was no longer racing. I felt like I could handle my life. When I got back to school, I stopped doing yoga (because it's just hard in a Mather dorm room to do a 75 minute yoga practice uninterrupted) but kept running, and you know what? Within a week or so I felt my mind racing again. So I got my roommate (and her boyfriend!) to do yoga with me, so it wouldn't be weird, and BAM, I started calming down.

All this to say that it takes time - and probably more than two weeks, usually - to start to see and feel the benefits from ANY type of practice. And yes, new things are hard at first. But yoga really can work for anyone and everyone - I promise. There are modifications that make some version of every pose available. It might not LOOK like a picture in Yoga Journal, but the benefits are the same, because it's YOUR body and YOUR experience. It doesn't have to be spiritual for you, unless taking care of yourself is an intrinsically spiritual act (which I think it is - and many people would rip that to shreds) and I don't think it's a "sin" for a Christian to hear a bit of Hindu or Buddhist theology or philosophy in a way that relates to life as we all experience it (if a yoga teacher is so inclined to teach from one of those perspectives) or chant OM for the hell of it, but trust me, I know many Christians who think it is, which is a total bummer.

My friend, and yoga school classmate, Valerie Reiss, summed up the difference between yoga and pilates in her really KICK-ASS Huffington Post article as follows: 

It's All About the Prana. Not just the clothing line, but the essence of the Sanskrit word, which means "energy," or "universal life force." The next time someone at a party asks me how yoga is different from Pilates, this is how I'm answering (with thanks and apologies to Priti, Devarshi and all future hosts): "Take your hand, place it on your chest. Breathe quick and shallow for 15 seconds ... How do you feel? Anxious? That's likely how you usually breathe. Now, put your hand on your belly. Breathe three slow, full, deep breaths through the nostrils ... Feel calmer? That's because you soothed your sympathetic nervous system. You also tapped into prana, the life-force energy. Breathing like that in yoga you'll soon physically sense that you're enough as you are--infinite, eternal and whole. A creature made of ever-changing energy, surrounded by the same. And once you notice the noticer, your witness consciousness, you'll bring compassionate awareness to everything you do, enabling you to embody and give your true self--a divine being of love and light. [Pause.] Stuffed mushroom cap?"

...and I love this, but would the eye-doctor come to my class if I said this? Hmm.

So, John, those are my ramblings. I don't know that they are particularly coherent, but your blog post prompted me to write, and apparently write way more than you are allowed to put into a comment box. Take them for what they are - I'm sure I could re-read this and argue with myself on every single point. That's kind of how I roll, and why I hesitate to share my opinion sometimes. I never should have majored in political science, seeing as the object of the entire major was to learn to argue every possible side of every possible coin (and apparently coins in my life are like 2000-sided!) Me and me have been fighting daily ever since. ;)

ps - anyone who thinks yoga can't be a KICK-ASS cardio workout should try some Baptiste Power Yoga or one of Kathryn Budig's level 3 classes on YogaGlo and holla back. =)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ida-Lunar-Left! Breath-Breath-Breath!

I didn't actually work out exactly WHEN I'd be blogging during this four day cleanse, but I feel as though I need to at least pop in and keep my word to blog about a pranayama technique. Oh, the cleanse? So far, so good. Way too much to try and fit into a hit and run blog post like this one, though.

Breath of the day: Left-nostril breathing
Gently close off the right nostril with the right thumb and begin taking long, deep breathes in and out through the left nostril. (The Kundalini tradition suggests keeping the right fingers pointing to the sky as little antennas for cosmic energy, but, umm, I don't do this. Forgive me.) Inhale completely into the belly, letting it pooch out, filling the rib-cage three-dimensionally, bringing the breath alllllll the way over the collar bones. Pause - just for a moment, a split-second, really - and then exhale through the left nostril completely - following the breath as it leaves from the upper chest, the rib cage (can you feel the sides and back of the rib cage and not only focus on the front body?) and finally the belly, squeezing and pushing every last bit of air out. Pause at the bottom of the exhale - what does it feel like to be completely empty? - and then begin inhaling again: slow and controlled: belly - rib cage - upper chest - pause.... and exhale: slow, slow, slow: upper chest, rib cage, belly pulls in - pause.... and continue.

The left side of the body is considered the lunar side of the body (which I didn't know in 2007, so my moon tattoo is on my right foot, but I'll fix that soon when I get a sun on the left foot and tell everyone it's a criss-cross of my solar/lunar energy - that TOTALLY works, right??) and breathing only through the left nostril is reflective, calming and cooling. To put a Western spin on it - the left side of the body is associated with the parasympathetic nervous system. So left nostril breathing is RELAXING (whereas right nostril breathing increases energy and wakes you up!) and a great way to calm yourself down when your mind is racing.

My cleanse actually prescribes beginning and ending each day with this breath. It's not something I've practiced often - I'm a big fan of Nadi Shodhana, which is alternate nostril breathing (crash course: close right nostril with thumb, inhale left, close left nostril with ring finger, exhale right, inhale right, close right with thumb, exhale left, inhale left, close left with ring finger, exhale right, inhale right, close, exhale left) and we were taught at Kripalu to always end a round of Nadi Shodhana exhaling through the left, which makes sense if you want to end on the calming, lunar note. =)

My experience this morning? Left-nostril breathing is, indeed, calming and relaxing. I was very aware of it releasing tension in my chest and abdomen as I progressed through my prescribed eight minutes, and it made me feel very introspective. Maybe try it right before you go to bed for five minutes and hit me back with your experience.

Love, oxygen and prana!!

ps - I have spent a grand total of 38 minutes on the computer today! As soon as I hit publish I'm closing it until around this time tomorrow... cleansing is good!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Why I'm doing a four-day cleanse.

Ayurveda Health Spa Phuket, Golden Tulip Mangosteen Resort and Spa

On Monday I am starting a four-day Ayurvedic cleanse. I will be drinking ghee in the morning and eating kichardi for every meal and taking Ayurvedic supplements and drinking tons of warm water. There is more to it than that, but that is definitely the gist.

Yes, I am crazy.

Okay, no, I am NOT crazy, but I've been struggling with the winter blues as of late, feeling a little bit yucky and lethargic, and I'm ready to do something to jump-start my system. Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga, and I've said over and over I want to learn more about it - what better way than to DO an Ayurvedic cleanse? I am also combining four days of physical detox with something along the lines of a personal work retreat, the work being the Job of Being Me. I guess that could sound ridiculously selfish and narcissistic, but I trust that people who truly know me know that it's been a long time since I've done something like this. (Have I ever done something like this?) I was thinking about the retreats we used to go on every year when I worked in college admissions. At all three of the institutions where I worked, we would go on these retreats to take stock, set goals and make plans. Sometimes they would be all-staff events, sometimes it would just be the counseling staff, (I spent 10 years as an admissions counselor - yes, I may or may not be the one who dashed your admission and scholarship dreams...or, perhaps I made them come true? Heehee!) and most of the time it would be some combination of work and play. Usually it was off-campus because a change of scenery can change perspective (and also limit distractions). At one school we went up to the Wisconsin Dells for three days and combined team-building activities with meetings, strategy sessions, touristy activities, nature hikes and great meals. At another school we'd go to a state park for an overnight, but spend most of the daylight hours in a windowless boardroom. I even planned these types of things for the Tour Guide program that I ran. We'd spend a day at a restaurant playing silly (but fun!) get-to-know-you games, eating yummy food and having training sessions. The common thread was always a combination of taking stock and then planning and setting goals, while LEARNING, all in an intensive environment without distraction.

I think there was a point in my life when I was much better about personal planning. In my mid-20s, though, I went through a period where I didn't even have life by the tail, but instead it had me by the back of the neck, and I slowly gave up on making plans because it just seemed as though there was always something that would throw itself in my way at the last minute. Let's face it - life is hard. Bad things happen. The best laid plans, blah blah blah. I started being way more go-with-the-flow, and, if I'm being really hard on myself, I'd say that I stopped actively participating in my life. I suppose I got used to just letting things happen to me as opposed to making them happen.

No more! If companies spend big bucks sending their employees to retreats (now that I think about it, I did have a boss who called them advances - he liked the idea of moving forward better than retreating...hmm, perhaps he was a yogi?) to figure shit out, well hell, we should all care about ourselves enough to do the same thing on a personal level. So I'm diving head first into four days of FIGURING SOME SHIT OUT. FOR ME. And it couldn't come at a better time; today I managed to let go of something that has been weighing heavy on my head and heart for a long while in a way that felt incredibly authentic and like the best possible outcome.

Now, given that I'm (finally) combining career with passion - these four days WILL include a lot of professional work. But they will also include even more personal work. Intentions, goals, ideas, a lot of self-care: massage, baths, gentle yoga, long walks, and, as it turns out, a few teaspoons of ghee in the morning and a bunch of beans. Sounds like a recipe for...well, we'll see. (Yes, I'm aware that there are some GREAT JOKES waiting to be made right now.) I'm completely open and ready.

Jai, Jai, Jai, Jai!!

(photo credit: Mangosteen Resort)

Saturday, March 5, 2011



I wish there was a way I could convince everyone I know (and don't know, for that matter) to give yoga a chance. I had a conversation with the eye doctor (this was the first time I'd seen this particular eye doctor, by the way) the other day that went as follows:

Eye Doctor: "So, what have you been up to?"
Me: "Oh, you know! Stuff!"
Eye Doctor: "Well, what kind of stuff?"
Me: "I teach yoga at the YMCA - you should come to one of my classes!"
Eye Doctor: (laughing dismissively) "Oh, sure, and be the only man there, right?"
Me: "No! I have men in my classes."
Eye Doctor: (after a disdainful grunt) "Yeah, men who would hit on me."

UGH. Ugh, ugh, ugh, for SO many reasons. Not the least of which was the inflection of his voice that betrayed his homophobia. He went on to tell me about a show he had watched in which the main character blamed his idiosyncrasies and problems on his "hippie-dippie mother who did yoga." I calmly smiled and said I'd love to see him at any one of the classes I teach at the YMCA so he could form his own opinion about yoga based on actual experience.

That was a disappointing interaction, yes, but let's talk about something a tad more positive.


Pranayama is composed of two Sanskrit words: prana and ayama/yama. Prana translates as life-force - it is the energy behind all life expressions. Ayama means a lengthening or restraining and yama means to restrain or hold back. So pranayama translates as "to restrain or master the life force." Swami Kripalu taught that most people expend their life force through indulgence and stress so much that it becomes very weak and is barely felt. There is all sorts of yoga philosophy to learn when it comes to pranayama. You could get lost in a sea of information about nadis and the sushumna, the physical, subtle and causal bodies, the flow of energy, the purification of the aforementioned nadis, the awareness of prana, and so on and so forth. I love yoga philosophy, but my guess is that I'd lose the eye doctor's interest pretty quickly if I tried to shovel that much new information at him in an effort to convince him to try my yoga class. To be honest, it's hard to explain to someone that something they do all day, every day - BREATHE - can actually be done differently, more mindfully and with complete awareness, and have a profound effect on how they feel and their overall health and well-being. But believe me (or TRY IT FOR YOURSELF!) - it really, really can, and does.

I tried to teach an entire class on pranayama in December, and I didn't feel as though I did a particularly good job. Teaching breath work is truly a skill that has to be developed; Micah Mortali, who I had the great privilege to meet at Kripalu, has an amazing CD called Inward Diving that I highly recommend to anyone wanting to learn more about yogic breathing. He teaches seven basic yogic breathing techniques, and then offers a flow practice that you do with a blindfold on. The flow is incredibly powerful, and I can say from first hand experience that incorporating it into your personal practice regularly truly cultivates increased awareness and expanded consciousness. Done every now and then, it's kind of like hitting a reset button on yourself - which can come in handy when you're having a particularly crappy day, or when you're having a great day and want to experience it even more fully.

Why all the pranayama talk? Well, I have a plan. In an effort to start blogging more frequently, I'm going to explain and then write a little something about my personal experience with various pranayama techniques every day this coming week. It's a good way for me to practice articulating breath instruction, and it'll get me blogging again, which I need to do. I might even ask for some input (guest posts!) from some of my favorite people, and fellow Kripalu YTT graduates, about their experiences with pranayama. (Yes, Miss Nina, I'm thinking of you and the day we spent an eternity learning Dirgha pranayam.) 

Stay tuned!!

(photo credit: Fe 108Aums)