What’s that? A Groupon for Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga Michigan Groupon
(As featured in Saraswati’s Scoop, the news section of YogaRose.net)

I’ve been out of town for work, so this is being posted a day later than I would have liked. A friend yesterday sent me the latest Groupon Detroit deal. I’m glad she did, since I live about 90 minutes west of Detroit, so I’m not as in tune with the deals there. The Groupon is for Ashtanga Michigan, a traditional shala in the town of Royal Oak.

 

As of when I’m posting this, there is still one day and more than eight hours left to snag the deal:

  • For $25, you get 5 group yoga classes (a $75 value).
  • For $39, you get 10 group yoga classes (a $150 value).
  • For $59, you get 2 private yoga sessions with Matthew Darling (a $160 value).

At this point, yoga studios around the country seem to be very comfortable joining hair salons and massage therapists in going the Groupon route, but I think it’s still rare to see an Ashtanga-specific deal.

By the way, Ashtanga Michigan recently redesigned its website.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

You say tomato, I say ‘tomahto,’ you say swan, I say…pigeon? Does it matter what the posture is called?

This past weekend, my sisters and I took a class taught by a teacher trained in the TriYoga tradition. It was a much-needed post-Thanksgiving flow. I’ve never taken a TriYoga class before, though, so it took some getting used to to hear adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog) referred to instead as “mountain pose.” Or to be guided into what feels like pigeon pose and be told it’s swan. Uttanasana (standing forward fold) was cued as “Earth touch.”

I didn’t remember ever hearing about TriYoga before that class, so I hopped on my iPhone on the ride back from the yoga studio and learned that, according to TriYoga.com, TriYoga began this way:

On January 5, 1980, as Kali Ray led a group in meditation, she shared a concentration technique of energy rising up the spine. As soon as the meditation began, kriyavati siddhi awakened within her. At that moment, students witnessed her flow of asana, pranayama and mudra. This later was to become known as the birth of TriYoga. Moved by the powerful energy and beauty of these flows, students asked that she teach what they had witnessed. In this way, Kaliji began to teach TriYoga, which arose as did the ancient yoga, from the continuing flow of kriyavati. Kriyavati, as defined in Sanskrit texts, is kundalini manifesting on the plane of hatha yoga.

I also learned about TriYoga Prasara (TriYoga Flows):

TriYoga’s hatha yoga method, TriYoga Prasara or TriYoga Flows, integrates posture, breath and focus that is asana, pranayama and mudra. The inspiration and guidance for the TriYoga Flows comes from yogini Kaliji’s direct experience of kriyavati. This inner prana flow has given the knowledge to develop the systematic and complete TriYoga method. The evolution of TriYoga Flows continues to be guided by kriyavati.

If you are curious, you can watch videos of TriYoga Flows or see this discussion of a sequence.

Yoga Chicago covered Kali Ray’s visit to Chicago in 2010:

Kaliji brought three TriYoga teachers to help us, and we all received lots of personal attention. They began by demonstrating TriYoga’s graceful, tai-chi-like movements, which had them effortlessly flowing in and out of poses ranging from the easy to the most advanced. ‘There’s a feeling of relaxation in action,’ Kaliji explained. ‘Asana is being used as a tool of concentration. You are never losing awareness. Each movement is equally important.’

Read the full Yoga Chicago article it here.

One of the most interesting parts of the sequence for me involved doing a breathing method — kapalabhati pranayama — while in a standing pose (trikonasana). In power yoga classes, my teachers will sometimes have us do bhastrika pranayama in a seated lotus, but doing a fiery breath in a standing pose was a new experience for me.

There are definite differences in postures of the same name between the Ashtanga system and the poses I see in B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, and it always fascinates me why one school of yoga settles on a certain approach (parighasana in the style of Light on Yoga and parighasana in the Ashtanga style — gate pose — come to mind).

A posture’s name shouldn’t matter, right? What’s important is a posture’s design and how someone experiences it. I can’t help but wonder, however, if we sometimes initially make a different connection to a pose depending on the posture name. Is it easier to feeling more grounded when you have four points of connection to the mat if you know you’re in mountain pose versus downward-facing dog? Do you lose some of the suppleness of down dog if you call it mountain? What do you think?

I’ll let Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald take it from here:

(Illustration credit: By Michael Renner via Flickr Creative Commons license)  

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)

 

 

 

End game? Untethering the act of practicing from the feeling I want from practice

It’s a bumpy plane ride back to Michigan–so bumpy they’ve had to discontinue the beverage service. I really wanted my ginger ale, but I guess I’ll have to be content with observing my sensation of thirst rather than observing the sensation of that thirst being satiated. It should be a little easier to do now that I’ve finished reading The Mirror of Yoga by Richard Freeman, which dwells quite a bit on the process of, and benefits of, making room for clear observation rather than seeing everything through the prism of preconceived ideals.

On the way to California to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family, I blogged about Freeman’s story about the misguided man digging his wells. On the flight back, I want to touch on one paragraph in the book that speaks to how to free yourself from “the game you have constructed in your mind of what practicing is.”

What makes this topic particularly interesting to me right now is thinking about what the process of unhooking ideals from experiences might say about the possibility of doing the same for other aspects of our lives–from our body image to our careers to our most intimate relationships.

In “Cutting Through Fundamentalism,” the last chapter of the book, Freeman writes:

Practicing yoga is not always easy. Sometimes the biggest difficulty is arranging a time to do it: starting the session of practice. But if you can trick yourself into just beginning, it often works out. If you have arranged a time to practice but do not really feel like practicing, the trick is to convince yourself to simply stand up in a samasthitih, to take three breaths, thinking that you will allow yourself to go off and do something else after that simple ritual. Then after standing in samasthitih, it often turns out that the idea of taking a big inhale, raising your arms and doing half of a sun salutation is alluring. Having done that, one full sun salutation before quitting may seem reasonable. Soon you may find yourself doing two, and then three sun salutations; and then all of a sudden, you are in the groove and the practice continues. (p. 203)

First off, I think this is true of anything–hitting the gym, doing exercise videos at home, learning how to play an instrument, and on and on.

A few years ago, before I started a more regular yoga practice, I used to let my car decide if I went to class after work or not. By that I mean that I usually *wanted* to go to class after work, but often I didn’t *feel* like going to work. Usually, it was because I was so drained (it was a very taxing job) that even though I knew I would feel better after moving my body in coordination with my breath for 90 minutes, I also knew I would feel better if I simply went home and collapsed. But as time went on, my car pointed me in the direction of the yoga studio more and more consistently, to a point where it was routine to go to studio after work, even if I didn’t feel like it.

One reason the practice can be difficult is that the mind is a very strict taskmaster, and it often creates images of what practice is or it should be. The parameters your own mind sets for the practice may erode the foundation of the practice itself; if you cannot do a ‘good’ practice, why practice at all? (p. 203)

Once I started going to the power yoga studio two or three, then four or five times a week consistently, I knew the next phase of my practice journey would be to try to establish a home morning Ashtanga practice. A big hang-up there was that I hated how my body felt practicing in the morning–my muscles felt ice cold, for one. That first uttanasana (standing forward fold) was always awful. On the flip side, my mind wasn’t as cluttered as it would get in the evening after work, which meant I felt I had less mental chatter to try to quiet down–again, less motivation to practice in the morning. I sort of thought I should save practicing for when my body and my mind appreciated it more.

You may think to yourself that if you are going to sit in meditation, you must sit for forty-five minutes. If you are going to practice pranayama, you should practice it for one hour, and that if you are going to practice asana, two hours is the minimum. When, in fact, if you were to do any of these practices with true concentration even for two seconds, you would open up the core of the body and have remarkable insight and a sense of freedom–particularly a sense of release from the game you have constructed in your mind of what practicing is. Again, we run into the notion of drawing a circle (defining the parameters of our practice) and erasing that circle (having mercy on ourselves if we cannot meet the standards we set for ourselves). For beginning students, allowing some leeway in some of the parameters we set for ourselves about the structure and consistency of our practice can be the golden ticket to jump-start a routine of practice that, once it is going, automatically draws you back day after day, year after year. (p. 204)

As I’ve chronicled over the past few weeks, I finally, a few short months ago, started a six-day-a-week Ashtanga practice (not a moment too soon either, considering I took my first Ashtanga class around 1999 or 2000 and have loved it since). I was doing it for the discipline more than anything else. I’m experienced enough now (read: old! :-) ) to know that a guaranteed way to fail would be to say that if I couldn’t practice for at least 90 minutes, I wouldn’t start to practice. On most days, that means I practice for an hour. Once or twice a week, I get nearly two hours. Maybe once a week, I might get as little as 50 minutes. But as I’ve said in recent blog posts, I don’t beat myself up for it.

This has meant that since August, I have slowly but surely started to untether the act of practicing from the feeling of practicing. I no longer turn off my alarm after hitting snooze a couple of times and tell myself that despite my best intentions, I won’t be getting up to practice because how good could that practice feel if I’m this tired, if it’s this cold, and if I have such little time. I no longer step on my mat at 6:30 a.m. thinking, “Well, this won’t feel very good physically, which means it won’t feel as beneficial mentally or emotionally.” I just get on my mat and start.

It is what it is–and for that, I have started to realize that if there is any tethering, it should be to connect the act of practicing with the feeling of contentment and gratitude, no matter what kinds of sensations arise in the muscles, joints and everything else.

Getting back to what prompted Freeman to dive into this point, it’s an interesting exercise to think about what other games we have constructed in our mind of what ____ (fill in the blank: acceptable physique, ideal spouse, etc.) is–and how our practice might be able to free us from it.

(Photo credit: Tether ball by gzap via Flickr Creative Commons

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)

 

A different kind of black Friday: How yoga therapy can be used to help treat depression

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Enjoying the post-Thanksgiving food high, I’m with my family in San Jose. And I see that the Mercury News ran a story the other day saying that here in Santa Clara county, someone commits suicide on average every three days. Think about that — every 72 hours.

Black Friday officially kicks off the winter holiday season — a time of year designed to be full of family, friends and celebration. For those who live with clinical depression, though, it can be one of the toughest times to go through.

In high school, I worked on a teen hotline where, in theory, anyone contemplating suicide could call (gratefully, I was never on the other end of one of those calls). Depression has profoundly affected the life course of people I care deeply about. If there’s one societal change I have long wanted to contributed to, it is that, in my own way, one conversation at a time, I want people to understand that depression is not simply being sad. Or feeling really, really down. It is chemical. Deeply physiological. You don’t just buck up to get yourself out of depression. You don’t just will yourself out. Would you tell someone living with a heart condition to just get over it? True clinical depression should be considered with the same social regard as other serious threats to health.

Which brings me to yoga, and what yoga can do. The new issue of Yoga International has a wonderful piece by Gary Kraftsow:

Depression tends to hit us on every level of our being, often all at once, which makes yoga the perfect antidote for the physical ramifications, mood swings, thoughts, and behaviors that it engenders. From a physiological perspective, depression affects the entire body, including the digestive, respiratory, hormonal, and cardiovascular systems. Yoga therapy’s main impact on our physiology is via the sympathetic and parasympathetic functions of the ANS. Depression creates a state of sympathetic/parasympathetic disregulation, which further impacts how we feel, what we think about, and how we behave.

The sympathetic nervous system governs the functions involved in the fight-flight-or-freeze response and is activated when we perceive danger. The parasympathetic nervous system governs the functions involved in the rest-and-digest or rest-and-repose response and is activated when we are at rest.

Although some types of depression include sympathetic activation (feelings of agitation or anxiety), when people become depressed, they most often experience a state of sympathetic suppression. They may have physiological symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal distress, and/or decreased libido or sense of pleasure.

Practicing asanas with adapted breathing, pranayama techniques, and guided relaxation will help to balance the nervous system. For example, doing standing postures and backbends with an emphasis on movement—during which you progressively lengthen the inhalation and the exhalation and gently hold the breath at the end of the inhalation—will activate the sympathetic response and energize the system.

Even if you don’t know anyone right now with depression, I highly recommend reading the entire article to get a better sense of how yoga can work with depression. Kraftsow also offers a unique practice sequence. And because I’m a writer by trade, I will also say–better even than consuming online, buy the winter 2011-2012 issue of Yoga International and support this kind of quality yoga content (versus so much of the vacuous, fluffy and celebrity-driven stuff you can find these days).

(Photo credit: gogoloopie’s Flickr stream)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Dig, or all dug out? Reading Richard Freeman’s ‘The Mirror of Yoga’

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I have this bad habit of buying plane tickets in the middle of the night when I’m tired and only half-alert (part of the multitasking reality of my life) and not looking at the itinerary again until the morning of departure. I’m on a flight from Detroit to Los Angeles right now, and because I didn’t pay enough attention to the ticket I bought, I am only now realizing that (1) I’ll be connecting at LAX with a really short stopover in which I have to change not just planes but airlines entirely–a pretty inadvisable thing to do during the heavy Thanksgiving holiday weekend traveling period and (2) this flight is a lot longer than I expected (we’re on our second beverage service already).

The good news is that I’ve had time to read the first half of Richard Freeman’s The Mirror of Yoga: Awakening the Intelligence of Body and Mind. I think a smart, well-written book is an extremely fruitful way to fulfill the 1 percent of Pattabhi Jois’ “99 percent practice, 1 percent theory” advice. A few favorites are B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Life and Guruji (although admittedly, I have only bounced around in Guruji,waiting for that international flight when I can have an uninterrupted period of time to start reading in earnest).

I’m enjoying Freeman’s as well. Where Light on Life is breezy (not to be confused with light), The Mirror of Yoga is heady, intellectual. Perhaps they are serve as good counterposes to each other.

Freeman writes that the purpose of The Mirror of Yoga isn’t to make the reader a “premature eclectic” or an “armchair enlightened being.” Its aim–obviously–isn’t to add confusion:

Instead it is to allow us to slow down a bit so that we can delve deeply into the subject rather than skidding along the surface side to side, from one school back to another. We are aiming at the core of the teachings. By sticking with it and going deeply, we find that the jewel at the heart of every valid school is that we are eventually invited to face ourselves just as we face reality. (p. 9)

Freeman then dives into the story — the allegory, really — of the man digging a well.

He would begin digging down and after five or six feet of digging, which is very hard work, he would find no water, and so he would climb out of the little hole he had made, move twenty feet over, and dig another hole for his well. But after digging about six feet down, he would give up again, move twenty feet in another direction and start digging again. This went on, and on, and on, and he never found water. So it is with the relentless ego pursuing yoga, seeking ornaments for an improved self-image and new ways of feeling better, but avoiding the true facts of life.

When the school or practice becomes difficult–which is precisely the entry point into reality–it is at this crisis point that you really have to drop your pretenses and keep digging deeper into the experience. However, all too often, it is right at this juncture that we tend to give up the practice.

We move on to a ‘better’ teacher or a ‘more interesting’ school, rather than sticking with it and investigating the inner work that is the purpose of the school and the teachings in the first place. (p. 9)

Much has been written in the Ashtanga blogging community about a recent New York Times essay in the Fashion & Style section by a purportedly formerly “addicted” (to the practice) ashtangi who found, after a decade of practicing Ashtanga, that personal training performed better at the task of shedding pounds than her practice had.

The writer, Deborah Schoeneman, seems to relish admitting that she initially lied to her L.A. yoga instructor about why she wasn’t attending practices. These days, she only practices yoga once a week — “for meditation, stretching and community.”

I guess in terms of this particular personal tale, I’m not terribly interested in the science of which method helps you shed more pounds. (For the record, I would have no problem believing that personal training, which is focused on burning calories and building muscles, drops more weight faster–but that’s not really the point of a yoga practice anyway.)

What interests me more is why the writer made that move when she did. Ten years is a long time. Why not after five years? Even seven? She mentions a few important developments in her life–a new career (a writer in Hollywood), a return to a life of wining and dining, an engagement and an upcoming wedding.

Was it that a juncture had been reached, and it had come time to start digging deeper?

In any case, back to the book. I’m looking forward to the second half. And at the rate this flight feels like it’s going, I might get through it by the time I see my family this evening.

(Photo credit: foamcow’s Flickr stream)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tapas before turkey. Tristana before tryptophan! And watch out for Rahu.

I’m pretty excited that Thanksgiving falls on a new moon day, which means it’s a day of rest. But let’s face it, even if it wasn’t a rest day, there are so many distractions and so many logistical inconveniences (like, traveling) that can make getting to the mat a challenge.

I think practicing the day before a holiday is critical. Tapas before turkey, I told my students today. Tristana before tryptophan! Hilaire Lockwood, the owner of Hilltop Yoga, will tell her students to get to the studio just before July Fourth or New Year’s Eve by simply saying, “Detox before you retox.”

Tim Miller of the Ashtanga Yoga Center of course offers an astrological perspective to the holiday in his most recent blog post. He talks about Rahu, the North Node of the Moon, known as the mighty and naughty child of Maya, Goddess of Illusion, who does his best to plunge any area of life he controls into chaos by taking us off our dharmic path and tempting us to veer off into self-destruction and insatiable desire to taste, achieve, and conquer.”

Tim continues:

When we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, Rahu will be center stage, stimulating our desires for food and drink and possibly to dominate the conversation. Typically, Rahu teaches us through our excesses. After we eat or drink or talk too much we don’t feel so good. We realize that this is not the path to fulfillment, although, at the time, it may have been quite enjoyable. We find the edge by going over the edge. If you find that you get gobbled up by Rahu on Thanksgiving, don’t be too hard on yourself—there’s always yoga class on Friday.

I guess what all this means is that bookending your holidays with yoga might help you enjoy the celebrations a little more — either because you had enough self-control to find the edge without going over, or because you did go over the edge and need to climb back up to the ledge.

My youngest sister and my brother-in-law have already started cooking our family’s Thanksgiving dinner. I can’t wait to take that first bite. By this time tomorrow night, if I’m thinking, “Rahu: 1. Rose: 0” — well, I’ll be giving thanks for my next yoga practice. And if the win-loss is flipped, then I’ll have to give thanks for my last practice.

(Photo credit: “Thai demon god Rahu snacking on the moon” via kk+’s Flickr stream.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Indignation as the kindling for practice

I’m exhausted and would love to go to bed, even though it’s not even 9 p.m. It might have to do with how I woke up suddenly at 5:30 this morning and was unable to fall back asleep because my mind immediately went to something I’ve been indignant about for a couple weeks now (a decision someone else made that directly affects me). I got up and inadvisably looked at my gmail inbox, where I saw an email about the violence levied against non-violent student Occupy protesters at U.C. Davis, sent on behalf of University of California President Mark Yudof. That made me even more indignant.

Needless to say, I was pretty heated by the time I got to the mat. And you know what? it was a lovely practice. In recent posts I’ve complained about how I have a hard time feeling warm enough when I practice at home, especially in the mornings. Well, my indignation seemed to be the kindling I needed today. I burned away thought after thought I don’t want or need. If you study the yogic system, this was my agni in action, right? My sacred fire. Tim Miller says one application of bandhas — the energy locks rooted between the tailbone and the navel — is taking the waste (toxins, impurities) to the incinerator. I love that image.

But I didn’t burn it all away this morning (I am human). So I guess I’ll be back on the mat again tomorrow.

P.S. — My kindling this morning was all mental — emotional reactions to external events. But there’s also a physical aspect you can think about from this perspective. At a recent workshop in Chicago, Tim brought up asanas — our yoga postures — and the friction and resistance we meet when in them. “We should be thankful for our own resistance,” Tim said, “because it creates the fuel for our sacred fire.”

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The image on the back of the cereal box

I love Kellogg’s Smart Start cereal — something about the crunchiness and the simplicity (and it’s got antioxidants, so what’s not to love?). But the back of the cereal box drives me a little crazy. Just a little. Because the cereal box sits on top of my fridge, I see it nearly every time I’m in the kitchen. What drives me just a little crazy is that the woman pictured on the back is totally mailing in her virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2) pose. Warrior 2, which can be viewed as reflecting a warrior drawing a sword, is such a beautifully strong pose. While this model looks like she’s enjoying it enough, I want her to engage her energy locks and dig into that pose to really feel the challenge and benefits of it.

I mean, you don’t need to be David Swenson, climbing up rock formations to express your inner warrior, but…well, as Tim Miller likes to tease in his yoga classes, how about trying again — with feeling this time.

Anyway, thanks for letting me get this off my chest. This is not something I would admit to a non-yogi crowd. :-)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


The New York Times Magazine wants to help you become a morning person

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been soaking up advice on how to become a morning person, even though, as you may remember from a recent blog post written from a hotel room, my feeling on mornings dovetails with Neil Gaiman‘s line:

Right. I was up at 6:00am this morning, and I have to be up at 5:00am tomorrow, and I am not a morning person (in much the same way that the stars are not fruit-bats) so I think it best if I simply stop writing just like

(yep, Gaiman’s 2004 blot post just ends there).

But I seeing as how it’s nearly 11 p.m. as I start this post, I better start getting to the point. Today’s New York Times Magazine features an article in the “Well” column called “So you think you can be a morning person?”

Like most creatures on earth, humans come equipped with a circadian clock, a roughly 24-hour internal timer that keeps our sleep patterns in sync with our planet. At least until genetics, age and our personal habits get in the way. Even though the average adult needs eight hours of sleep per night, there are ‘shortsleepers,’ who need far less, and morning people, who, research shows, often come from families of other morning people. Then there’s the rest of us, who rely on alarm clocks.

For those who fantasize about greeting the dawn, there is hope. Sleep experts say that with a little discipline (well, actually, a lot of discipline), most people can reset their circadian clocks. But it’s not as simple as forcing yourself to go to bed earlier (you can’t make a wide-awake brain sleep). It requires inducing a sort of jet lag without leaving your time zone. And sticking it out until your body clock resets itself. And then not resetting it again.

Shortsleeper, huh? In my book, that’s someone who can get by on seven hours of sleep — maybe six and a half. Left to my own devices — as in, how long I will sleep if I don’t have to be up for anything — I will get up after nine or 10 hours of sleep. I am not kidding. (I might average something like six or seven hours of sleep a night during non-crazy periods of my life, less if my schedule is seriously jammed.)

 

The article even comes with a quiz. Here’s the sixth question:

 

If there is a specific time at which you have to get up in the morning, to what extent are you dependent on being woken up by an alarm clock?

 

Again, I kid you not, I set three alarms to get up any given morning. Three. I think that makes me “very dependent.”

Perhaps the part I found most interesting was the part about light:

…you can facilitate the transition [of getting up incrementally earlier every day] by avoiding extra light exposure from computers or televisions as you near bedtime. (The light from a computer screen or an iPad has roughly the same effect as the sun.) ‘Light has a very privileged relationship with our brain,’ says Dr. Jeffrey M. Ellenbogen, chief of sleep medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. While most sensory information is ‘processed’ by the thalamus before being sent on its way, Ellenbogen says, light goes directly to the circadian system.

It’s still pitch dark outside when I wake up for a morning Ashtanga practice. Does this mean I can stare into my iPad as soon as I slam the alarm clock one last time in order to simulate throwing open the curtains to see the glow of a rising sun? I’m willing to try it.

As I referenced in a recent blog post, this AY:A2 post also has some good advice for getting up, including jumping into a hot shower. In the coldest months of our Michigan winters, I will surely rely on this.

That said, I’ve been managing, for the past few weeks anyway, to stick to a 6:30 a.m. practice on workdays. Ashtanga — the elixir for all ailments, including that genetic one of being born a night owl.

(Photo credit: “World Alarm Clock – Grove Passage, London” via bobaliciouslondon’s Flickr stream.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Hey, how did that gluten-free ginger molasses cookie get into my shopping cart?

After seven months of procrastinating, I finally went in today to get blood work determining if I’m sensitive to gluten. Based on my symptoms — feeling bloated much of the time, for one — my doctor thinks I might be.

I think I might be too, which is probably why I’ve avoided these tests for so long.

Don’t touch that
Over the past few years, the list of Things I Should Not Ingest seems to have grown quite long. First came an endoscopy determining that my acid reflux was intense enough to pay some serious attention. I was prescribed Nexium and told to cut out three things from my diet: coffee, caffeine and chocolate. I cut out none of the three, although I rarely drink any soda these days and my chocolate consumption is occasional. (I like my dark chocolate truffles around the holidays, but I don’t have chocolate stocked in the kitchen cabinets the way I used to.) Coffee is trickier, but I will say that as I have a more consistent morning Ashtanga practice, it’s been easier to get by without my morning cups of coffee.

Then, a couple years ago, I learned the hard way — from a terrible allergic reaction to a seafood meal that caused my fingertips and eyelids to turn bulbous, inflating like little balloons — that I am allergic to, of all things, sesame seeds and peanuts. (This dinner was consumed the night before a job interview; needless to say, walking in to talk to a hiring panel while looking out from under still-swollen eyelids, I did not get that job.) I’ll take these allergies any day over being allergic to seafood. But this does mean that despite my Thai heritage, I can’t enjoy that delicious Thai peanut sauce ever again. It means I can never again have hummus on a bagel, since the tahini that makes up hummus is a derivative of sesame seeds.

Now, what if I can’t have that bagel anymore either?

Survey says…
So I guess I’ll find out after Thanksgiving whether the tests say I need to cut out, or at least cut down on, gluten. It might almost be a relief, because if the tests say all is good on the celiac front, then I have to start to systematically determine what exactly is making me feel like ugh. The more time goes by, the more uncomfortable I seem to be getting. I spend much of the day feeling like my torso is working against me. I’m bloated, my digestive system is always so sensitive, and, with my acid reflux, I have heartburn from food and from work-related stress.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been buying things that look good despite the gluten-free label — I think it’s my way of preparing myself if the tests say I have to give up some of the dishes I love so much (carbs and I were meant to be together!). Yes, yes, those of you more enlightened than I am on the healthy food front are shaking your head about my prejudices. That’s the point, though — I am trying to decategorize the concept of gluten-free so that I can think of gluten-free and “tasty” in the same sentence. It’s a similar process I’ve been working through to prove to myself that vegan does not equal tastes-like-cardboard.

On my way home today, after starting the day by getting blood drawn, I stopped at Foods for Living, the local bastion of healthier food options, and picked up a few things. I found a few wheat- and gluten-free products that looked pretty appealing — a ginger molasses cookie, a box of quinoa macaroon cookies (I love quinoa and I like macaroon, so we’ll see how adding the two go) and brown rice hamburger buns.

Before sitting down to write this blog post, I opened up the wrapping for the ginger molasses cookie to try a bite. I ended up inhaling it.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Only one day off a week? Is this negotiable?

As I type this post from a hotel room bed, I’m thinking about when I’ll get my practice in each day of this hectic week. And as I think about that, I find myself daydreaming about my ideal practicing conditions:

  • Room temperature around 84 or 85 degrees
  • A time slot of two hours to practice
  • Start time around 1 p.m.
  • A clean, bright studio with large windows — a skylight, even.
  • Hardwood floors

Laughable, right? I have these conditions on precisely zero days a week — and when I’m traveling for work, as I am now, or working particularly long days, or on vacation, it gets even trickier. Who lives in their ideal world, anyway?

But I am trying really hard to maintain the traditional Ashtanga lifestyle of upholding all my societal duties — aka, in Indian terms, staying a “householder” rather than withdrawing from society — while still getting on the mat six days a week. So what that ideal practice list turns into is the following.

Be content with less external heat.
My little room heater typically only climbs to 76 or 77 degrees in the morning — and the winter chills haven’t even hit Michigan yet. So I settle for less external heat and let my breathing practice (ujjayi breath) and my bandhas (energy locks) take me the rest of the way. I love the detoxifying feeling of the hot, sweaty practice you can get when practicing in a studio surrounded by the body heat of other yogis — but I find contentment in the heat I do build up in my home practice.

Be content with less time.
If I have an hour, I practice for an hour. I don’t beat up on myself for it. Weekends are generally the easiest time for me to fit in a longer practice, so I try to have at least one long practice (maybe an hour and 45 minutes) once a week and do what I can the other days.

Float my rest day.
The traditional rest day in the Ashtanga vinyasa system is Saturday. Since weekends are prime time for me to practice, I find the most packed day of my week and use that as my rest day. So tomorrow, I’ll be traveling back home and will likely be getting in around 8 p.m. I’ll use tomorrow as my rest day and practice on Saturday.

Float my moon days.
I try not to do this because I like the idea of trying to sync your energy with the lunar cycle, but sometimes, if it will really make a difference in my schedule, I take rest not on the moon day itself, but on the day before or after.

Suck it up and wake up earlier.
I love this Neil Gaiman quote I saw in a recent Confluence Countdown blog post:  “I am not a morning person in the exact same sense that I am not a fruit bat.” That’s ME. It really is. I am convinced I have circadian rhythm sleep disorder. I work best between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. (probably 95 percent of my body posts, including this one, was written during that timeframe). My body and my mind have a visceral aversion to mornings, etc. etc. But yes, yes, this practice teaches us discipline and yes, I just try to suck it up these days and wake up earlier.

On this point about waking up earlier, check out the AY:A2 blog post for tips on how to wake up for yoga. It contains excellent tips — and if you live in a cold climate like I do and have an aversion to that ice cold feeling in the morning, then the blog post advice is invaluable. Some of the most dedicated Ashtanga practitioners get up at 4 a.m. My goals right now are less intense — getting up around 6:30 a.m. or 6:45 a.m. Baby steps.

Be content with the space you have.
We rearranged the coffee table in our small apartment to clear a space in the middle of the living room so that I didn’t have to move furniture every time I practice. I roll out my mat and don’t even think about how I don’t like practicing on carpet or how I don’t like practicing with stuff (couch, guitars, etc.) around me. I just practice, focusing on how I’m grateful to be able to practice at all.

It is so much work to get to the mat six days a week, but in the short time I’ve been able to maintain it, the effects have been noticeable and worth the trouble.

So that’s what I do. How about you?

(Photo: My room heater.)  

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How do you spell community? #wcdet

My Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications friends and I today attended the second annual WordCamp Detroit, where I learned the following:

 

There was a lot of good information and a lot of campy fun. WordCamp Detroit is, according to its organizers:

…an event in which we can bring together the community to share and experience the power of WordPress. Organizing this event is just a small way for us to give back the community as a way to say thank you. WordPress has effected all of us in many ways and by leading this event we can connect local WordPress users and developers as well as introduce new people to the amazingness we all know as WordPress.

If you want to get a taste of this particular WordCamp, check out #wcdet, the Twitter hashtag used for the event, and see @redcrew‘s Storify. There were four other WordCamps held this weekend — in Caguas (“Para nerds, geeks y todos los demas”), Kenya (held, by the way, at a campsite), Denmark and Richmond. WordCamp Azerbaijan, also scheduled for this weekend, was postponed due to complications with the venue.

This blog is powered by WordPress.org, and if you’re looking for a great (I am biased) blogging platform/website content management system, I highly recommend WordPress — both the ready-with-a-few-clicks WordPress.com and the self-hosted WordPress.org. With WordPress, which is free (the price is right!), you get powerful flexibility. You can build beautiful websites or blog till your heart’s content — and if that wasn’t enough, you get a community ready to help.

Whether it’s Ashtanga yoga devotees, Radiohead devotees or WordPress devotees, there is always a sense of comfort for me to be surrounded by people with similar passions. That’s one of the benefits of community, right? People who understand — and can’t help but to share.

(Photo: The red WordPress tee that Dave Farinelli won during WordCamp Detroit’s WordPress Game Show and then gave to me (thanks again, Dave!), along with the cool, official WordCamp Detroit 2011 tee.)  

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Mystery meat: How my search for missing taste buds led me to a Chicago vegan diner

 

Last night at this time, I was in a diner in Chicago’s Boystown district, sitting across the table from my very talented, very funny and very fast (in that marathon/triathalon kind of way) friend Molly. We were having a blast catching up after not seeing each other for two years.

But there was one undeniably strange thing about the situation. It wasn’t the circumstances that brought the two of us back together. It was that we were voluntarily doing our celebratory catching-up dinner in a vegan joint.

I’m no Anthony Bourdain when it comes to my view on veganism. I respect other people’s choice about food. For myself, however, I draw the line at vegan dishes — if I can’t have milk or eggs, that’s a deal breaker, and I don’t even want to spend my hard-earned money in a place that caters to vegan taste buds.

I’ve always eaten meat, except for about three years in my mid-20s in which I pretty much cut out pork, poultry and beef from my diet. (I am very nearly a seafood addict, so I never even considered cutting that.) I had initially cut out pork because of one bad sweet and sour pork dish I ate — it tasted like I was eating a carcass, and I was not OK with that. A while later, I cut out poultry because I didn’t like what I had heard about the way chickens and turkey were raised. I cut beef out last, because I believed that red meat wasn’t healthy.

It shouldn’t have taken me so long to figure out that this experiment was not working. I seemed to constantly feel tired. My hair would fall out in clumps every time I washed it.

When I finally started listening to my body, though, was when I started having random thoughts of cheeseburgers (like, while driving). If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. So perhaps for the first time in my life, I really listened to my body. I reintroduced meat — all of it — and I felt much better. On every level.

Now, at the not-so-tender age of 35, I’m facing another fork in my gastronomic journey. The last year or so, I’ve felt strongly that I wanted to eat better. It seemed to be less about what I ate — because I don’t eat much fast food, and I naturally crave things that are good for you, like greens, Brussels sprouts and squash — and more about how much I ate.

Then came the game changer — the six-day-a-week Ashtanga practice.

One day off

While I have long aspired to have a six-day-a-week Ashtanga yoga practice, that resolution has gone the way of so many diets over the years — great intentions, but never actually starting.

Since returning from an Ashtanga yoga retreat at Mt. Shasta this past August, though, I’ve fought for, and so far maintained, a schedule that gives me only one rest day a week (in addition to the typical two moon days a month when you don’t practice). When I say “fought,” I mean it. It has been a battle to keep this schedule up — for six days of every week, I fight to carve out enough time to practice.

On the level of honoring traditions, I’m drawn to how this is the prescribed schedule for an Ashtanga practice. On a personal level, I’m drawn to what such a consistent practice does for my body and my mind.

But right now, I think that more than anything, I am fighting for this schedule because I want the discipline of it. I need to prove to myself that I have it in me to follow through. If six days had been something dictated by my employer, I would have done it already. I have always, on some important level, put my personal life after my professional life. I feel, first and foremost, that my responsibility is to my work — to doing a kick-ass job on whatever it is, and to meet all my deadlines. I’ve always asked my family, my friends — and, finally, myself — to understand during those times when work had to come first.

What I’m proving to myself with this six day a week practice is that I can do both — I can still rock out at work while not short-changing my personal life. Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor has reminded me that the Ashtanga practice is by design a householder’s pursuit. This practice wasn’t designed for people who could shirk off daily responsibilities.

Do you have chicken that tastes like something else?

So it’s early November now, and one thing that started happening maybe three weeks ago — so roughly eight weeks into this six-day-a-week practice — is that I have not been able to bring myself to eat chicken. I’ve been fine with beef — even had a craving the other week for my favorite burger place in Lansing. It’s just been chicken that I’ve wanted nothing to do with — something about the taste and the texture. If someone were to set a plate of Southwestern eggrolls — one of my guilty-pleasure appetizers — in front of me at this moment, I think I would look and then keep typing.

Is that a vegan menu?

This weekend, I headed to Chicago for Tim Miller’s workshops at the yogaview studio. My friend Molly very generously offered to let me crash at her place, so we had the chance to compare notes about how the past couple of years have gone. For our big dinner Saturday night, Molly ran down a long list of suggestions — awesome-sounding places that featured small plates and/or seafood. Fancy places, less fancy places, fun places. The one that sounded the best? Chicago Diner, a joint that specializes in vegan cuisine.

I had had a lovely, sweaty Timji-led Ashtanga primary series practice that morning, in a room full of more than 60 yogis all going to the flow of this practice. I left feeling amazing. I know that feeling carried me through the day, and I know that played a role in not feeling like eating anything heavy.

But vegan?

After seeing the full menu of choices including sweet potato quesadillas and a chicken firehouse wrap with “chicken” seitan, curiosity and an appreciate for creative flare and fare drew me to the place. It reminded me of Chu Chai, one of my favorite places in Montreal — a vegetarian Thai place that offers delicious faux-meat dishes.

The Chicago Diner did not disappoint. The food was fantastic. Molly and I started out with some sweet potato fries topped with “cheeze” and I had a Soul Bowl with quinoa (love that stuff!), spicy grilled tofu with chimichurri sauce, black beans, flashed greens and mashed sweet potatoes. We ended with — get this — vegan chocolate chip cookie dough shakes.

Did the dining experience make me want to go vegan or even vegetarian? Absolutely not. It did make me want to return to Chicago Diner, and it did make me reflect some more about the power of practicing six days a week. If this is already what I’m experience 11 weeks in, it’s going to be interesting.

As for chicken — will I start wanting to eat it again? We’ll see. I kind of like having this be my mystery meat for the time being.

How about you? Do you practice six days a week? What, if anything, changed for you?

(Photo credit: (Top) Wallace and Gromit‘s Feathers McGraw, as imagined on a T-shirt (Bottom) Chicago Diner’s website )  

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The sixth time’s still the charm

I’m writing this at half past midnight, thinking about how later today, I’ll be heading to Chicago for Tim Miller‘s workshop at yogaview (yes, the studio’s name is lowercase). This will mark the sixth time I’m getting to see Tim since I took my first workshop with him in April 2010. Getting to see your teacher three times a year doesn’t seem nearly frequent enough, but on the other hand, I am grateful for every opportunity (and sadly, three times a year is actually more often than I get to see my family out in California in a typical year).

Three times a year means three chances to be reinspired, reinvigorated and infused with a greater level of subtlety in the Ashtanga vinyasa practice. It always seems that I leave a visit with Tim with enough inspiration, energy and experiences/ideas to tide me over until the next time I see him.

The Confluence Countdown recently did a post on what you can learn from a workshop you don’t attend, and I liked that idea. In a similar vein, then, what follows are the descriptions (exactly as written on the yogaview website) for each of the workshops being offered this weekend. I think it’s the same schedule as last year when I attend Tim’s workshop at yogaview, and — much like the Ashtanga practice itself — the fact that a workshop’s theme is the same hardly means it will be repetitive to me. I learn so much each time — maybe I pick up on stuff I missed before or maybe I am able to connect with something a different way based on more recent developments in my life. Our bodies and minds are always in constant states of flux, and that affects our perception of, and therefore our experience of, a yoga training of any kind.

I always seem to have at least four or five blog posts kicking around in my head. One that I’m getting close to writing has to do with what draws us to certain teachers. I’ll put some more thought into this topic this weekend. In the meantime, I would be very interested to hear what you think are the most important qualities of a good teacher — yoga, martial arts, sports, academics, or otherwise.

In any case, without any further ado, here’s what I’ll be spending my time engaged in this weekend:

Ashtanga Yoga with Tim Miller
The practice of Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient and powerful discipline for cultivating physical, mental and spiritual health. Progressive techniques of breath, posture and movement, cleanse, stretch and strengthen the body as well as focus and calm the mind. A deeper experience of the self becomes possible through consistent practice.

Tim Miller has been studying and teaching Ashtanga Yoga for over thirty years and was the first American certified to teach by Pattabhi Jois at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. Tim has a thorough knowledge of this ancient system, which he imparts in a dynamic, yet compassionate and playful manner. “My goal as a teacher is to inspire a passion for practice. The practice itself, done consistently and accurately, is the real teacher.” Tim teaches workshops and retreats throughout the United States and abroad.

Roots and Wings – The Mysterious and Elusive Bandhas
Please join us as we explore the application of bandhas to a variety of asanas as a way of enhancing concentration, stability, comfort, alignment, and lightness. We will also use a variety of pranayama techniques to explore the connection of breath to bandhas and a refined sense of awareness.

Primary Series as an Archetype for Practice
This class will explore the philosophy of Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras combined with an in depth examination and practice of Ashtanga Yoga’s Primary Series: Yoga Chikitsa.

Adjustments Clinic and Q & A
Open to all interested in deepening their knowledge of the use of adjustments and alternative approaches to asanas found in the Ashtanga system. Examine problematic asanas and patterns and explore how adjustments and modifications can enable freedom and balance

The Heroic Journey – Sadhana as an Exploration
Please join us for this invigorating improvisational vinyasa flow class addressing the layers of the self (the koshas) using asana, pranayama, mantra, and sacred poetry.

The Art of Breathing
This class will focus on cultivating a deeper sense of the breath as it applies to our practice. We will continue to explore the subtle, yet powerful, use of pranayama techniques. At the heart of Vinyasa the proper use of the breath enables a sense of freedom and ease in our practice.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.