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Being in a Pose Isn’t Yoga

I didn’t mean to surprise so many of you with that last entry. In fact, I was surprised that so many of you were surprised that I struggled with arm balances for such a long time. I guess I did a pretty good job faking it out, or probably, more accurately, we are all so entirely absorbed with our own practices and what is happening on our own mats that we don’t bother looking around the room to see what else is happening, or isn’t happening. Go eka grata!

When I first started practicing, I used a videotape and then graduated to going to gyms or to Bikram. In all those settings, I never encountered arm balances, inversions or any deep backbend. It wasn’t until I started going to OM Yoga in New York City that I was aware these Cirque Du Soleil-esque postures existed and that “normal” people practiced them. Until then, my yoga practice was pretty basic: standing postures and sun salutes and some belly down backbends, which, by the way, is a great place to build strength and flexibility, so I’m not knocking those kinds of classes. They are crucial to any yoga practice and provide the exact body awareness we need to attempt the fancier, party trick poses we see in yoga clothing advertisements.

Unless you were a gymnast or a dancer, most people cannot just lift into an inversion or arm balance or bend into upward bow. These poses take practice and patience. It’s not supposed to be easy. In the beginning, I remember getting frustrated with how hard such a practice was. I vividly recall holding a lunge pose for what felt like at least twenty minutes and just as I was about to quit, the teacher said something about the whole class hating her for holding the pose so long. It was then that I realized this was hard for everyone, that yoga is supposed to be hard and challenging, and that the harder we work the less likely we are to think about dinner or the to-do list. We can escape the tedium of the monkey mind.

Of course, the more you practice the easier some poses get so this other group of frustrating poses is introduced. Again, I distinctly remember the thought pattern when I was first taught pincha mayurasana, forearm stand: “What the [bleep]. There is no way I can do that.” Yet, with practice and patience I figured it out. Sure, it helps that I’m on the more flexible side of things. For some, if both the shoulders and upper back are really tight, then a pose like pincha may take years or even decades. On the flip side, if you’re too flexible it may take just as long to build the strength you need to support such a pose. But it’s the practice that is important, not the pose. Being in a pose isn’t yoga. It’s some hybrid of gymnastics and ballet. Keeping an even mind while you attempt the pose is yoga.

If you’ve ever been to a class I’ve taught, I’m sure you have heard me say many times that these poses are useful because they reveal things about ourselves. We can see how we approached a challenging pose and how we reacted to it. Were we competitive, angry, perfectionist, defeatist, fearful, fearless? Usually, these characteristics are prevalent in our life off the mat, too. So we can use them to learn about ourselves. Don’t lament if you weren’t ever a gymnast or ballerina, or don’t let whatever your bete-noir pose is get you down: the poses are simply a vehicle for self discovery. It’s svadhyaya, one of the five niyamas, which is defined by many as the study of the self, or the true nature of the self, self-reflection.

Take the Action, Let Go of the Result

I hated arm balances. Hated. I know: you’re not supposed to be attached to any pose or have any judgement and all that stuff, but I did. I absolutely hated arm balances. I could do not do them, and I came up with every excuse for why. My shoulders are way too floppy. My balance is terrible on my feet, so there is no way I can balance on my hands. My arse is too heavy. I’m just not strong enough.

So, I had decided, quite declaratively, that since arm balances clearly were not for me, I would not bother even trying them any more. It was humiliating. Again, I know the “rules” of Yoga tell us we should not approach the practice in such a way. I wasn’t supposed to let my ego tell me I was humiliated or, more accurately, angry that I could not balance on my hands. This anger was exacerbated when some newbie would come into class and float into bakasana the first time trying — and then laugh in amazement that they were able to balance only on their hands. Disgusted. I think that’s the word I”ll use to describe how that made me feel. I’m not sure if it was with the new person or with my self. Either way the feeling was palpable.

At its peak, I would start to worry about whether a class would be filled with arm balances on my way to class. I thought my inability to lift my feet off the ground said something about my practice. “She can’t even do bakasana!,” they would say behind my back. I had no idea at that point in my practice that the people who are in their arm balance — or whatever peak pose — have no inclination to look around the room and size people up. Still, back then, the sense perceived failure would last throughout the class and into the evening.

Then something happened. Instead of faking out my effort, I actually began to work the actions in the pose without regard for whether or not my feet would lift. I had already come to terms with them not lifting, so I may as well try to get some benefit out of the pose rather than just stewing in my own anger, disappointment, disgust, frustration. It happened something like, ‘take the action, let go of the result.” I wish I could remember what clicked to allow me to have some sort of peace with the arm balance family, so that I could share that with you, but, I don’t. Sorry.

What I can offer is that the moment I let go of my feelings of success or failure about bakasana, I was able to work more intelligently and figure out the geometry of it. For me, my hands were too close together. All it took was separating them another half an inch, and I was up. So it had nothing to do with my shoulders, balance, strength or even my butt. It was just about figuring out how to stack my bones most effectively — and for many of us that can take time. And since bakasana is the blueprint for almost all arm balances, as soon as I was able to figure that pose out, it cascaded throughout my practice quite quickly. It’s all the same actions, just different placement of the limbs.

Whether it’s this family of poses or another, if we keep our minds steady and perform actions, the results will come in time. The Bhagavad Gita says that we should never let the fruits of our actions be our goal — sort of like that old adage, it’s the journey not the destination. This advice is easy to give but very hard to follow. I still have poses that elicit something like anger, but, if we can notice when that happens we can remind ourselves that “work alone is our privilege, never the fruits thereof.”

Now, the Practice of Yoga Begins

In the last entry, I wrote about the effects of a physical practice lingering throughout the day. Granted, if you run into obstacle after obstacle, that state of semi-bliss can dwindle quickly. Often, it doesn’t take much: a slow-poke driver when you’re in a hurry, the Starbucks barista who gave you the wrong drink, landing behind the customer who has sent a store clerk on a scavenger hunt for a product. We obviously cannot just jump onto our yoga mats and practice every time someone or something annoys or upsets us. We can make a choice, however, to deal with it gracefully or not.

The very first sutra from Patanjali, the bible, if you will, of yoga, is translated by Satchidananda as: Now, the exposition of Yoga is being made. A fancy, Shakespearean-like way of saying, “Now, the practice of Yoga begins.” He does not qualify it by saying, when you get on your mat or meditation pillow, Yoga begins. Or after you finish your glass of wine, it begins. Or tomorrow, it begins. There is an imperative call to action to begin Yoga right now, at this moment.

He then goes on in the second sutra to explain that Yoga is the “restraints of the modifications of the mind-stuff.” To simplify, it is the ability or attempt to stop all the craziness we think about all the time — most of which will never happen or has already happened and there’s no longer anything we can do about it. So while most of us connect practicing yoga to the physical practice, it is much simpler and, yet, a whole lot more challenging to keep your mind quiet at every moment. I can assure you that is not going to happen to me in this lifetime, but I can’t abandon the idea entirely because I know it’s absolutely impossible for me. I’ll try, when I remember.

Of course, I can hardly remember to practice this Yoga when I’m cursing myself at five in the morning because I forgot to move the Elf on the Shelf again and the kids are stirring. But, really, this is the practice: to keep an even mind when things are not quiet and peaceful. It’s far less challenging to find an even mind when we are in a quiet yoga studio with our yoga teacher who is reminding us throughout class to keep our minds steady. On top of that, the movement and hard work help to rid the mind and body of these disturbances, or vrittis. The intense focus on each and every pose stops us from looping back to whatever our own personal crazy thoughts are. The harder we work, the less likely the mind is to wander off.

So, the physical practice is vital, not only to help shake out the vrittis, but also because, and maybe more importantly, the asana practice can teach us about ourselves by revealing how we approach poses and how we react to them. We can then try to take this knowledge off the mat, so that, when we’re faced with one annoyance or hardship after another we can, as Patanjali says, right now, begin the practice of yoga.

Enter Yoga

As the season merry-making, peace and joy gets underway, it’s fitting that most of us start thinking about the people we love; yet, most of the people I know, and of course I’m including myself in that category, also feel a certain amount of stress, anxiety and guilt. The list of errands grows. We must shop, bake, and party-go. We want to give gifts that connote how well we know someone and how much we care for him/her. We pick and chose which get-togethers to attend. Most of us lament about not having more time. We need help to put all the work involved with this season into perspective.

Enter Yoga.

No, I do not think that yoga can save the lives of everyone. I do, however, think that Yoga and its 8-limbs can get us all off to a good start. Most of us are familiar only with the physical practice of yoga, which is the third limb and is called asana. It is the branch that most Westerners associate as yoga. The others include aspects like how to treat others and yourself, (analogous to the Ten Commandments), breath control, sense withdrawal, meditation, concentration and finally, for those rare few, enlightenment. For most of us, the physical practice is where we can start to get glimpses of the other, more elusive parts of Yoga. It’s also where we can most tangibly learn about ourselves.

Granted, an asana practice takes time, maybe even 2 hours a day if you’re traveling to and from a 90-minute class. But it gives so much more in return. When our brains are running on empty, and thoughts and organization get scattered, we cannot run efficiently. Often things that are not all that important begin to take center stage. What typically takes 30 minutes can take twice as long — and we could be quite angry as we do it. Personally, I get frantic and bitchy — not a good combination, ask Tom.

Now, reflect on how you feel after a solid yoga practice, one in which you were able to completely absorb yourself in the present moment and let go of whatever is happening in your life. For me, after a class like that I am more focused and quite calm. A bit of serenity lingers throughout the day. The fact that it can take my daughters 10 minutes to get buckled in their booster seats when it would take me two seconds if they’d let me buckle them, does not irritate me as much after such an asana practice. I realize with that extra ten minutes, I can check my texts or emails and be proud of their accomplishment, rather than huffing and puffing about losing a precious ten minutes I’ll never remember anyway.

It is similar to taking an exam for which you have prepared, rather than one for which you have not studied. You can breeze through a test without sweating or stressing and leave with confidence if you made an earnest effort at studying. If you don’t have time to attend a public yoga class, take 20 minutes to practice at home — shut off your cell phone, television and any other potential distraction so that you are truly able to find eka grata, one-pointed focus. If you’re into meditating, maybe ten minutes of meditation will give you the same effect. Just like the test analogy, you don’t get the same long term results if you cheat. You’ve got to be focused.

Aside from allowing me the ability to complete tasks more efficiently and effectively, keeping up my yoga practice in stressful times, especially the holidays, forces me to reflect on the aspects of my life for which I am thankful. It forces me to remember the reason for the hustle-bustle. I want to make the season special for my children and my loved-ones.

We Are Not Limited to Carrot Sticks

As soon as I received my copy of Kris Carr’s new book CrazySexy Kitchen, I devoured it. It is so full of scrumptious sounding and looking recipes that it re-ignited my passion for eating healthy and with the holidays coming up that can be especially challenging. While a crudite sounds quite lovely, it pales compared to the mounds of cheese and sugar lurking at every table.

Ever since last Thanksgiving when I brought my own pre made vegan dinner from Whole Foods, it became somewhat public that I don’t eat what the crowd does at my family parties. I was out of the closet and the questions kept rolling, along with the laughter about what appeared to be a sad little Thanksgiving dinner not fit for a bird. Like most who follow the standard American diet, it is almost inconceivable to eat a plant strong diet. As I said before, I didn’t grow up this way. It wasn’t nurture that did this to me. My father, a meat, potato and Cheeze-It lover, will have you know he had no hand in this lunacy.

So keeping with this diet is not something that comes easy. I have to prepare and think ahead and make sure that I have something I want to eat at whatever function I’m attending, which means bringing it with me. I also have to be willing to make allowances every now and then and accept that it is okay for me to have fish once in a while or to enjoy a piece of cheese when I simply can’t resist. It’s not all or nothing with me. Deprivation leads to binging.

Still, I try to stay on the wagon. We talk a lot in yoga about dukha, which is translated as pain, discontentment, suffering. However you translate the sanskrit, it’s bad and it leaves us feeling bad. One of my favorite sutras is sutra 2.16: Heyam dukham anagatam, which is often translated to mean: the pain that has yet to come can be avoided. While this holds much heavier significance in other realms, it can also be applied to what we eat. Remember how uncomfortable it is to leave a holiday party after mindlessly consuming and imbibing. Ugh. My belly and head hurt just thinking about it. And that pain can certainly be avoided.

Thankfully, my heroine came to the rescue with such recipes as faux nog, pumpkin bisque, maple candied pecans, edamame dumplings, walnut falafel, wild mushroom croquettes, chile rellenos, cauliflower risotto and countless dressings and desserts. My mission from now until the parties start rolling is to find just a few of these concoctions that my domestically challenged self can whip up and surprise people with just how tasty healthy can be. We are not limited to carrot sticks. We can replace holiday favorites with new ones that taste just as delicious and satisfying but leave us feeling light, so we can still practice in the morning. Avoid that dukha.

Slow It Down

Countless times, students have said to me that they “can’t believe” how much any particular pose hurts when you “do it right.” Indeed.

In this world of power and vinyasa yoga classes, alignment was dropped by the wayside and somewhat forgotten. To defend all teachers, how can you teach alignment when your students expect you to move so quickly through the practice? You can’t. So, if we want alignment to be a cornerstone of practice, we have to slow things down and many people don’t like the idea of moving slowly — myself included. It’s fun to flow through a fast-paced class and it can get the vrittis out. The downside: if this is all we do, we will very likely begin to suffer from repetitive stress injuries to the shoulders, low-back, hips or knees.

Anyone who has taken even one of my classes knows that my emphasis in class is always alignment first. Now many people may say that every tradition of yoga has it’s own alignment principles. While that is true, I think it is fair to say that the Iyengar system has a clear advantage in its alignment theory based simply on its longevity. Many of these other traditions haven’t existed for even half the time of Iyengar yoga. If you delve deeply into the reason for Iyengar’s alignment, it is all very anatomical. It has nothing to do with opening the heart or releasing the chakras. It is all based on the anatomy of the body and keeping it safe so that we can practice for the rest of our lives.

So moving slowly has its place. We are so used to flying through life that we can often get uncomfortable mentally just holding a pose and being still for more than five to eight breaths. Holding poses forces people to be in their own mind — without distractions — and, frankly, I don’t know anyone who looks forward to that experience. But it is in this stillness that we can learn to pay better attention and learn about ourselves in the process. This ability to pay attention, often called eka grata which means one-pointed focus, allows us to be fully absorbed in our practice. If we focus on the little actions or details within each pose, rather than just the gross movements, we can not only stay safe and receive more benefits in each pose, but we also have a better chance of finding pratyahara, sense withdrawal, instead of making a to-do list or thinking about what we will have for dinner.

I might add that aside from being mentally challenging holding poses is actually physically hard as well. If you’re not sure about that, try holding any standing pose for two minutes. You’ll build a completely different kind of strength than taking 50 vinyasas.

What often comes after the shock of how hard poses are when done correctly is the lament about the necessity of using props. I really don’t understand the aversion to props. I know sometimes they can be cumbersome and can disrupt the flow if you need to grab a strap or block. Still, if you want to make forward progress in your practice, you simply have to be aligned. Otherwise, all your efforts won’t move you forward. It’s like math. You cannot do calculus until you’ve mastered algebra. In order to open and strengthen the body most effectively, we have to be aligned. It’s harder. It takes more time. It’s not as fun. But it works.

Watch Your Thoughts

Five years ago, I had posted on my bathroom mirror this famous quote from the Upanishads:

Watch your thoughts, they become your words;
Watch your words, they become your actions;
Watch your actions, they become habit;
Watch your habits, they become your character;
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

My sister swiftly came out of the bathroom and said, “How the heck do you watch your thoughts?” One answer is through a meditation practice.

I’m definitely in my infancy when it comes to meditating. When I was in high school I dappled with it, but my expectation back then was that I would sit quietly, inhaling and exhaling the word OM or AUM, and expect that I would feel as if I were levitating and see bright lights and have such clarity at the end of each session. I thought I would be completely renewed. I think the word I used most often was “enlightened” — how obnoxious. I didn’t realize that I was not, in fact, Siddhartha. Frustrated that I would never become Buddha and reach nirvana from sitting cross-legged for a few minutes a day in between the many highs and lows of high school, I quit.

Years later, I’ve learned a lot more about meditating and how it is approached by normal people, who have jobs, kids, and live in the fast-paced real world.

In the meantime, though, between high school and now, I put meditation to rest. It simply wasn’t for me, I said. I didn’t need to meditate because my practice was my mediation. During a good practice, when I was able to completely tune into my breath and fully absorb myself in the moment, I was meditating. I could block out externals — the music, the heavy breather next to me, the show-off in front of me, the bumbling beginner. It was just me and my mat. I had found intermittent glimpses of pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga where the senses are withdrawn. Clearly, if the asana practice was this great, I didn’t need to meditate.

Not only did I assert that my asana was my mediation but I also found every excuse I could. I was way too busy. I was pregnant, again. I have three kids to look after: when will I ever find a few minutes of quiet. When I do have down time, I need to do the laundry. I deserve to sit quietly with a glass of wine instead. I came up with everything. Besides, how is meditating in silence for five or ten minutes any different from resting in savasana for five minutes.

Yet, my teacher kept urging me to meditate. She never expounded on its virtues or judged me for not doing so, she’d just ask with curiosity if I had started to meditate as if she knew that some day it would be a regular practice for me. So, since I do almost everything she tells me to do, I finally decided to make a concerted effort toward a regular meditation practice. After all, I teach many yoga classes a week, that’s a lot of savannas that I’m just sitting through, doing nothing but daydreaming and examining my pedicure. Why not put that time to good use and sit up straight and tall, close my eyes and breath?

I know if you have a well established meditation practice you may think that this is not the “right” way to meditate and that five minutes is barely enough time to drop into any significant meditative state. I am quite sure you are right and know way more than me. At the same time, I can feel the effects of this practice, even when I end up just daydreaming with my eyes closed. Taking just five minutes, to block out all external distractions and focus on my breath and slow things down has had a dramatic effect. To draw a parallel, as a yoga teacher, I would rather someone try a few poses each day than to never bother to try because she can’t do it as much as I would like her to practice. She can open her hips more by doing a few hip-opener poses a day than sitting on the couch watching television. So, a little is better than nothing and over time maybe both me and the part-time yogi will practice more and more.

What’s interesting is that even when it’s less than satisfactory, even when my mind has not slowed down one bit and I think it’s a big waste of time, later in the day I still notice I can give myself some space between what I am thinking and how I react to it. I can observe my thoughts much more accurately and much more quickly and ask myself, “now why am I getting so upset about this?” before I react. Not all the time, of course, but more often than when I wasn’t meditating regularly. It has given me the ability to not jump to so many conclusions about what other people are doing or thinking. It has given me more clarity, not in the moment of mediation, but the lingering effects.

Try it. Commit to just five minutes. Find a comfortable place to sit up tall, set a timer and make sure it’s started before you close eyes. Then, just watch your thoughts.

In Stages

So, remember all that talk in the last blog about how food is medicine? Well, here comes this blog’s Debbie Downer: cosmetics and beauty products are toxic. I laugh as I write this because I know how ridiculous and definitive it sounds, but honestly it is the truth. You might ask, where does the insanity end? A few years ago, my former self probably would have thought my present self is a paranoid lunatic and/or a boring walking yoga stereotype. Now, it’s just how it is. It’s really hard to separate the mindfulness I practice on my mat with other aspects of my life.

We are all so concerned with how our heart is functioning or our lungs or really any organ, as long as it’s located inside the body. For some reason, we all seem to forget that our skin is the largest organ. And we’ve been smothering it with toxins since the day we were born. These chemicals seep into the rest of our bodies through our pores. Would you eat some of the ingredients found in cosmetics? Men, don’t throw your hands up and think this doesn’t apply to you. It’s not just lipstick or mascara or body lotion. It’s also shaving cream, body wash, soaps, shampoos.

I was also laughing as I wrote that inflammatory sentence about this stuff being toxic because I remember feeling completely overwhelmed with the “how-the-(expletive)-do-I-change-this?” thought. I wasn’t about to go make-up free and stop washing my hair and actually look like a real hippie — apparently, that is where I draw the line. After doing a little research on goodguide.com and learnvest.com, I realized I needed to make some changes, at least one. So I started slowly over the last year and a half and one by one I let go of my old trusty beauty products and made friends with new ones. Once again, my hero, Whole Foods, came to the rescue. Their Whole Living section of the store, which I used to blaze past thinking that Whole Foods should stick to foods, has become my new favorite place to be. It was a miracle. It’s all right there! Make-up, skin care, hair care, lotions, the list goes on.

I’ve noticed that the very ingredients that high-end beauty products boast of in their age-defying recipes are on the shelves of Whole Foods in their pure, unadulterated form, which means they’re more powerful. Forget the moisturizers that say they include vitamin C or Argan oil. Just buy vitamin C or vitamin E or Argan oil or whatever it is you need, and for way less money. They package these marvels in a cosmetic-friendly way. You don’t have to buy the vitamin E capsules and cut them open. If you’re the type who needs to pay a high price to be sure that you are getting the best of the best, they have super expensive products too, like Dr. Hauschka, which I now stare at longingly. Suki is not only on the higher-end, but it’s also local. (I’m sure I’ll get to the virtues of local in a later blog but for now I’ll just assume you all know how important that is.)

If you’re looking for some suggestions I like the Alba brand for haircare and body wash. Suki for facial cleansing and toning. It smells so good you’ll want to eat it. I use pure Argan Oil these days for moisturizer. Yes, I use oil on my face! That sounds cuckoo, but the very helpful lady at Whole Foods informed me that stripping our face of oils is what actually makes them more oily. (Duh.) I use the MineralFusion brand for make-up — not to be confused with BareMinerals, that would be toxic. There are so many brands to browse. It could actually be fun. Maybe just commit to trying out one new product.

I still haven’t experimented with all-natural deodorant or toothpaste, for obvious reasons. But I think I’ll try them out soon. Every time I deodorize I now wonder what toxins I am spreading on an exposed epidermis right near lymph nodes. Think about it. Still, what seemed daunting and impossible a year and half ago is now almost entirely possible. Like Desikachar says: in stages the impossible becomes possible. And there goes Yoga, infiltrating my life again.

(To learn how toxic the products you use are check out goodguide.com. It has an easy 0 -10 rating system on almost all products out there. You can also learn more about this at learnvest.com)

Food is Medicine

When I started practicing yoga, I never realized how it would almost completely infiltrate my entire life and change it, for the better.

I first came to Yoga after reading Sidhartha in 9th grade. The first sentence said something about saying OM as you inhaled and I was hooked. I realize that isn’t typical behavior for a 14-year-old, but I also never liked cartoons and don’t remember ever really believing in Santa Claus. Aside from a sort of rebellion of my Catholic upbringing, I think I loved the idea of not having a supreme diety telling me what to do, but rather trying to find a supreme Self, the best Self I was able to be not so I could go to heaven but because it felt inherently right.

So from reading Siddhartha, I bought a yoga videotape that I saw at Blockbuster staring Ali McGraw. (Yes, i realize i dated myself in many ways with that last sentence.) Little did I know that Ali McGraw’s instructor in the video was Eric Schiffman, who happened to be a big star in YogaLand. He taught me my first Sun Salutation, which I later taught to my classmates as a junior in high school to psyche out the senior girls we were about to play in the Powder Puff football game. I guess the first yoga class I ever taught happened on that snowy Wednesday in 1996 when I led about 20 other girls through the strange movements of the sun salute.

I wish I could say I just kept on going from there with my yoga practice, but I can’t. College got in the way, (read: i stopped yoga to participate in drinking and eating). Thankfully, I found my way back by 2002 and for the last 10 years have dedicated my life to the practice. Which brings me to how I didn’t expect it to infiltrate my life.

I didn’t know that Yoga was much more than the physical practice we hear so many celebrities touting as the reason for their buff bodies. I had no idea that the physical practice, the asana practice, was really just a means to transform my life, to learn more about myself, to observe my true Self. Yes, I certainly felt stronger and lighter just by practicing almost every day. I loved the energy the practice gave me and I remember when I decided to give up all other forms of exercise that I dreaded and just commit myself to an asana practice.

But I don’t remember when or how this practice made me more conscious of my eating and drinking habits, nor can I pinpoint when it triggered the ability to notice when i was over-reacting to a situation, which having 3 kids and a husband can happen often. This is not to say that I don’t still overeat or drink too much at times. And, of course, I still don’t always handle stressful situations in the best manner — I’m sure Tom can tell you stories. But I am able to observe and notice when these things happen. I can see my monkey mind working for what it is and, sometimes, I can refrain.

So, this blog is about the many ways yoga has changed and continues to change my life. It’s about what I observe about myself through my yoga practice, how the practice of yoga made me more mindful in the choices I make whether it concerns food, drink or behavior. Really, it’s about my ongoing yoga journey to try to be my best Self and the slip-ups I encounter along the way.

Change

When I started practicing yoga, I never realized how it would almost completely infiltrate my entire life and change it, for the better.

I first came to Yoga after reading Sidhartha in 9th grade. The first sentence said something about saying OM as you inhaled and I was hooked. I realize that isn’t typical behavior for a 14-year-old, but I also never liked cartoons and don’t remember ever really believing in Santa Claus. Aside from a sort of rebellion of my Catholic upbringing, I think I loved the idea of not having a supreme diety telling me what to do, but rather trying to find a supreme Self, the best Self I was able to be not so I could go to heaven but because it felt inherently right.

So from reading Siddhartha, I bought a yoga videotape that I saw at Blockbuster staring Ali McGraw. (Yes, i realize i dated myself in many ways with that last sentence.) Little did I know that Ali McGraw’s instructor in the video was Eric Schiffman, who happened to be a big star in YogaLand. He taught me my first Sun Salutation, which I later taught to my classmates as a junior in high school to psyche out the senior girls we were about to play in the Powder Puff football game. I guess the first yoga class I ever taught happened on that snowy Wednesday in 1996 when I led about 20 other girls through the strange movements of the sun salute.

I wish I could say I just kept on going from there with my yoga practice, but I can’t. College got in the way, (read: i stopped yoga to participate in drinking and eating). Thankfully, I found my way back by 2002 and for the last 10 years have dedicated my life to the practice. Which brings me to how I didn’t expect it to infiltrate my life.

I didn’t know that Yoga was much more than the physical practice we hear so many celebrities touting as the reason for their buff bodies. I had no idea that the physical practice, the asana practice, was really just a means to transform my life, to learn more about myself, to observe my true Self. Yes, I certainly felt stronger and lighter just by practicing almost every day. I loved the energy the practice gave me and I remember when I decided to give up all other forms of exercise that I dreaded and just commit myself to an asana practice.

But I don’t remember when or how this practice made me more conscious of my eating and drinking habits, nor can I pinpoint when it triggered the ability to notice when i was over-reacting to a situation, which having 3 kids and a husband can happen often. This is not to say that I don’t still overeat or drink too much at times. And, of course, I still don’t always handle stressful situations in the best manner — I’m sure Tom can tell you stories. But I am able to observe and notice when these things happen. I can see my monkey mind working for what it is and, sometimes, I can refrain.

So, this blog is about the many ways yoga has changed and continues to change my life. It’s about what I observe about myself through my yoga practice, how the practice of yoga made me more mindful in the choices I make whether it concerns food, drink or behavior. Really, it’s about my ongoing yoga journey to try to be my best Self and the slip-ups I encounter along the way.