Welcome to my yoga website! I’m Roxanne Halpine Ward, a yoga teacher, writer, and editor in the Philadelphia area. My yoga blog chronicles my journey as a new yoga teacher, a new mom, and a person still constantly growing and learning. I write here about anything related to yoga and wellness, including physical postures, health, fitness, meditation, spirituality, food, and finding calm, peace, joy, and balance in a busy world.
Bacon Update March 5, 2014
On Christmas day, I made an exception to my usual vegetarian practices and had some bacon. I did this last year, too, only last year I only let myself have one piece; this year I decided to have as much bacon as I wanted. Interestingly, this led to a much different bacon experience.
Last year, that one piece of bacon melted in my mouth. I remembered how much I had loved bacon before; confirmed that abstaining from bacon had not changed my perception of its flavor (yes, still delicious); and enjoyed the heck out of every last morsel. This year, without a one-piece restriction, I didn’t feel the same need to treasure every sensation. I still enjoyed the bacon, but I also had the freedom to notice the imperfections: this piece was too crispy, that piece, too fatty and chewy. I noticed how the bacon seemed greasy after it cooled. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely a few perfect pieces that I gloried in, but overall the experience served less as a reminder of what I’m missing out on as a vegetarian and more as a confirmation that I’m on the right path.
This year I felt a little conflicted about my choice to eat bacon on Christmas. It occurred to me that, if my reason for practicing a vegetarian lifestyle is because I don’t want to participate in violence against other creatures or to fuel my body with that violence, then how could it make sense to break that practice on Christmas Day, a holiday I love, dedicated to peace and harmony and joy? My husband F told me I’m thinking too much, but even so, I feel that Christmas of all days is a day to stick by my principles. But Christmas is also a day for indulgences, and the holiday week is a good time for reflecting and renewing commitments, which certainly happened for me this year. I may or may not have bacon next Christmas, but I’m glad I did it this year.
Bandhas February 27, 2014
At the end of the workshop I attended at Dragonfly Yoga last week, we talked about bandhas. I studied bandhas in my YTT (including reading the definitive book on mula bandha) but it’s not something I usually think much about.
In the workshop, Alexis explained that bandhas are a physical lock we can engage in the body that work to channel the flow of energy (or prana) in the body. The most important bandha is the mula bandha, or the root lock (see the link above). Other key bandhas are the uddiyana bandha in the stomach and the jalandhara bandha at the chin/neck.The uddiyana bandha is engaged by pulling in the stomach, trying to pull the belly button in toward the spine. Jalandhara bandha is engaged by tucking the chin and lifting the sternum, feeling the throat pull back toward the spine.
Engaging the mula bandha stops the energy that is naturally flowing downward and out of the body, channeling it back up and into the body to be used. Engaging the uddiyana bandha keeps that energy flowing up and into the chest; engaging jalandhara bandha stops the energy at the throat, like putting a cap on a bottle. The effect is that energy swirls around in the body in ways that normally don’t occur. There are a wide variety of reasons that this is a positive thing. Practitioners of kundalini yoga work intensely with this energy both physically and spiritually.
What interested me most in the bandha discussion was that Alexis mentioned how people who move their bodies with a lot of grace and strength are using their bandhas. I know this is true in yoga: engaging a bandha in a pose, or not doing so, has a big effect on my energy level while holding that pose; I can hold a pose longer and stronger if I’m using my bandhas. However, Alexis also related this to other disciplines like dance. One of the other students who had a dance background said that this is totally true and ballet dancers are constantly “pulling up” in order to move the way they do; she said that, when a male dancer lifts a woman, she’s so “pulled up” and strong through her core that she’s practically holding her own weight. I’d imagine that bandhas are used in other physical areas as well, like sports and martial arts, even if they’re not called by that name.
On the drive home, I found myself singing along with the radio and realized that I had my uddiyana bandha engaged! Not with the full stomach scoop shown in the link above, but still, more than just tightening my abs. As soon as I noticed, this began to make perfect sense – I had some training as a singer when I was younger, and that core strength is so important to holding and sustaining a note; it makes sense too from a yoga theory perspective, because the uddiyana bandha channels energy upward, just as the singer is channeling breath and sound up and out into song. Of course the voice will sound stronger and purer with the energy generated by uddiyana bandha fueling it! I was so excited. I hadn’t thought of this when I was learning about bandhas in my YTT; it was Alexis mentioning how bandhas are used in other fields that made me notice. Now I have a stronger understanding of what uddiyana bandha is and what it does in the body.
Saturday’s Workshop at Dragonfly Yoga February 24, 2014
On Saturday I went to a yoga teaching workshop at Dragonfly Yoga Studio in Doylestown, PA. Dragonfly has a totally different structure to their yoga teacher training program than East Eagle Yoga does: at EEY, the YTT program is a 10-month, very structured program that begins in March and ends in December, but Alexis has made the program at Dragonfly a lot more flexible. At Dragonfly, there’s a three-hour workshop every month, and the topics are decided in advance. You pay for each workshop as you go; if you want to complete a 200-hour certificate, then you need to do all of the workshops (as well as other requirements), but they can be done out of order and over the course of a longer period of time depending on your schedule and desires. And the workshops are open to those who are not on the path to RYT-200. I was able to sign up and attend Saturday’s workshop even though I already have my RYT. Because the topics of each month’s workshop are set in advance, I can pick and choose depending on my own interests and the places I’d like to develop in my own practice.
I think the difference between the two models is pretty fascinating. At EEY, you have the benefit of traveling through the program with a group of other students who are on the exact same path, and there’s a lot of benefit to having that backup and doing it together. It’s also nice to have the structure and to know that these are the things I need to do and as long as I do them, I’ll be done by this date. I could imagine that for some people, the more flexible arrangement could mean not ever finishing the program; however, for people with busy lives, the added flexibility would be really appealing. And it certainly seems like the students in Dragonfly’s program have bonded, even though they’re all at different stages of the training; starting and finishing together isn’t a requirement for team-building. Plus Dragonfly’s model allows them to pick up random extra students like me along the way. They made an easy $75 from me on Saturday for something they were doing anyway!
And I really enjoyed the workshop, too. Here’s the description for Saturday’s class:
Unit 2 (February) – The Prana Of Yoga: Chair Asana /Presentation of Opening & Closing/Bandas/Presentation of Yogis/Types of Hatha Yoga
Sure, some of the content was material I’d learned before, but my YTT was three years ago now and it’s always good to have a refresher, plus different people teach and interpret yoga concepts in different ways. Looking at the full list of Dragonfly’s workshop topics, I think I’d find something interesting and new almost every month.
Since it was my first session, I had no homework to prepare, but the other students had to make presentations based on their reading. Each person presented on a yogi or yogini that they’d researched, as well as on a different type of hatha yoga. I remember the research presentations from my YTT and I really enjoyed it then, and it was no different this time – everybody presented on books I hadn’t read and people I’d heard of but didn’t know much about! I now have several new books to add to my reading list, all suggested by people with whom I share a common interest, which I find to be the best recommendation.
The main part of the class was taken up with chair asana, a topic I’m really interested in but haven’t studied at all. Alexis set up the class in an interesting way: each student was assigned an asana to study and write up, in the same way that I used to do for the Pose of the Month during my YTT, but the difference was that in addition to examining the primary version of the pose, each student also had to look into how the pose could be done using a chair or using the wall. Then each student had to teach the pose and its variations to the class. I thought this was a really cool way of structuring the lesson, making the material easier to remember than if it had just been a lecture. I feel like I learned some useful information about chair yoga and I have some ideas about how to convert other poses using a chair as well.
Overall, I really enjoyed the workshop. Just as important is the fact that all the logistics worked out well: Dragonfly is in Doylestown, quite a hike from my house, but I was able to drive up to my parents’ house and drop off YB for the afternoon, then pick her up on the way home and have dinner with her and my mom. This was a perfect arrangement because (1) my husband F then got the whole day to himself, and (2) YB and my mom adore each other and had a great time. So I had nothing to feel guilty about in taking the afternoon for myself! And I can check three contact hours off my requirements for renewing my Yoga Alliance registration. Win-win. I’ll definitely be going back to Dragonfly later this year.
Practicing Satya and Ahimsa at Work January 16, 2014
Lately I’ve been thinking about my own behavior and wanting to get better at practicing kindness, and going along with it, the intersections of satya and ahimsa. Back when I first began my yoga teacher training journey, I thought a lot about satya and ahimsa, but then the topic sort of fell off my mind’s back burner and I hadn’t considered it in a while. Lately, though, I’ve been noticing myself engaging in some inappropriate behavior and comments, especially at work.
For example, one of my colleagues in my office – we’ll call him Larry – has a droning, lengthy way of talking that makes him difficult to listen to, and he’s in a position where he periodically conducts trainings, all of which seem to do in an hour what could have been accomplished in 20 minutes with time for questions. This would be bad enough, but Larry is also not a very friendly or nice man, and my friends who have worked with him more closely report that he’s also not very good at his job. However, not even all of this taken together is justification for making fun of him behind his back. I’ve caught myself saying some rather cruel things about Larry when he comes up in conversation, just for the purpose of getting a laugh. No one deserves to be the butt of a joke – who knows what’s going on in Larry’s life that makes him act the way he does? And all of the things I’ve said about Larry may be technically true, but did they need to be said? Or did they need to be said that way? Practicing satya demands that I be truthful, but it doesn’t demand that I say every truth out loud; practicing ahimsa means not letting violence into my speech. This is one of those instances where, if I don’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all.
One of my colleagues at another company, Bob, sent an email asking about a project. I had told Bob about the project back in May and we’d even paid Bob’s first invoice for work on this project, so I got annoyed. Instead of just giving Bob the information he needed, I dug up the earlier correspondence and forwarded that along too, and then sent an email to another involved editor at my company, basically saying “That Bob! He needs to get his act together!” Now, maybe Bob did need to get his act together – it seems that there was something incorrect in his records, which was why it didn’t come up when he looked for the project – but there was no need for me to act the way I did. Everybody makes mistakes, and Bob is no exception. I should have just given him the information he needed in a non-judgmental way. And the extra email to my coworker was completely out of line. Again, practicing that balance of satya and ahimsa would have helped me here – delivering the truth and no more, in a kind and compassionate way.
I think part of this issue stems from my own uncertainty in my job. I was moved to another group last summer, and we’re still shaking out some of our roles. Sometimes I have a lot of very important time sensitive work to do; other times I am processing invoices or doing other basic work because our group doesn’t have an editorial assistant; still other times, I am waiting for work to be given to me. I am supposed to have my own projects, but because of my boss’s deeper involvement in the overall product, much of the workflow is still tied up around her and has to go through her first; often I feel like I am waiting for her to give me tasks to do, which is frustrating because I’m used to working independently. I think I’ve been taking this frustration out on others – putting down people like Larry and Bob to make myself feel more secure and more important.
But the office isn’t a playground, and this behavior is childish. What I need to do instead is to open myself to learning new things – if I can learn more about what my boss does on our overarching product, I’ll be able to work more autonomously and will be able to help her more with her heavy workload, balancing out the work between us. Opening my heart and practicing humility on the larger scale, practicing satya and ahimsa in the short-term – these will help me to navigate these challenges and respond to my colleagues with the compassion they deserve.
My Year in Blogging: 2012 and 2013 January 9, 2014
Each year, WordPress sends me a report of my year in blogging. Last year, I meant to post about it but just basically filed it and left it alone, so I thought this year it would be fun to do a bit of a comparison. Here are the links to the full reports: 2012 and 2013.
My blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2013, as compared to 18,000 times in 2012. That’s despite the fact that I added fewer posts in 2012 – I posted 76 times in 2012 versus 90 times in 2013. (I feel like I posted less and less often in 2013, but I’m guessing the volume difference came from the extended blog break I took after having YB in July 2012.) All of the most popular posts were from 2011 and 2012, too – none of the most popular posts were from 2013.
In both 2012 and 2013, the most popular posts were all “pose of the month” posts or sequences of yoga poses (a gentle prenatal sequence I did in 2012 ranked for both years). I think I was doing a lot less actual yoga posting in 2013; I feel like I posted more about spirituality, goals and resolutions, and about my family life in 2013. Those sorts of posts are less likely to get hits from internet searches, and are less likely to be read more than once or referenced regularly. That probably explains the decrease in blog views, since I was producing less of the hard yoga content?
My posts on Thread-The-Needle, Gorilla Pose, and Malasana (Squat) were among the top five posts for both 2012 and 2013. For each of these poses, I seem to remember the posts being difficult to find sources for, so it could be that these are topics not covered as well by the general internets. I’m glad that people are continuing to find my write-ups of these asanas helpful.
People who found my blog by searching online often used these search terms: yoga humor, prenatal yoga sequence, what to say during savasana, thread the needle yoga pose, and upavesasana. (And if you google upavesasana – a less common name for malasana – my post is the second link!)
In the new year, I’d like to come back to the pose-of-the-month concept (although it may be more like “the pose of the semester” or “the quarterly pose” or even just a “Pose Breakdown” – happy to take suggestions on a more accurate name for this!). I enjoyed doing those, and it seems like they’re useful to people. I hope too that at least a few of the people who found me by looking for a specific pose found something else here that they liked as well.
The daily struggle to be a better person January 2, 2014
To start the new year off right, I wanted to share this quote from Cheryl Strayed’s Facebook page:
Is there ever an end to the daily struggle to be a better person? I’m not asking this rhetorically. I’m wondering if there’s a time when you reach it, when you say “I can no longer think of any way to be a better person.” (Or maybe there are people who do not ponder every day how they can be a better person?) When I say “better person” I don’t mean that I constantly tell myself how awful I am but rather I’m very aware of the ways in which I could’ve done better as a friend, as a mom, as a spouse, as a sister, as a writer, as a woman with some serious aspirations for this thing called “balance” (ie: time for exercise, lounging, sex, thrift-store shopping, voracious reading). On a pretty much daily basis I think of how I’ve failed in many of these areas. It’s not a self-hate thing, but rather a deep desire I have to someday fall asleep thinking, “Well done, Strayed. You’ve got it down.” I’m reflecting on this as the first day of 2014 comes to an end here on the west coast of America. Not thinking “Well done, Strayed” but thinking instead, “Maybe next year. Maybe tomorrow. Keep going. Keep walking. Just try to do better in every action, intention, thought and deed.” Happy new year, my friends. I hope 2014 is a revelation and a firecracker for you.
I LOVE this. Strayed is a writer I really admire, both personally and professionally, and I think she really hits the nail on the head here. May we all keep striving to be better people in the coming year.