Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

2012: Year in Preview January 8, 2012

Last week, I looked back at 2011 to assess my progress and see how far I’ve come. Now it’s time to think ahead for the new year.

I definitely want to continue to pursue my yoga, to build myself as a business, to maintain the skills and knowledge I’ve built in the past year and keep growing. Here’s what I have planned:

  • Get registered with Yoga Alliance. (I started on this, and all I need to do to finish is to scan a copy of my graduation certificate to PDF, which I can hopefully get done this week.) After registering, look into yoga teacher insurance.
  • Turn this blog into an official website with a schedule and more information about me. Start a Facebook page for RoxDoesYoga separate from my personal FB to make it easier for yoga friends and potential students to find me.
  • Keep up my ties with EEY, the yoga center where I completed my training, by attending hatha yoga class there at least once per month. I also hope to attend any special events or workshops that come up, and teach as a sub there as opportunities arise.
  • Reach out to new studios and make connections with other local yoga teachers by attending at least one new yoga class per month. I’d love to start building a new yoga community a little closer to home than EEY and look into teaching opportunities with other yoga centers.
  • Keep teaching my weekly Front Porch Yoga class for private students at my home, at least for the next few months. This class will continue to be free, since these students are my friends and their interest in yoga and continued dedication to showing up at my house has provided me with invaluable teaching experience. For now, I really want to stay in practice as a teacher and not lose my confidence, and continuing the free Front Porch class will help me do that.
  • Begin exploring other yoga teaching opportunities. This is a little more vague, since I’m not sure what’s out there. Some ideas include teaching a discounted class for my neighbors at our town community center, or seeing if the dance studio in the next town over might be interested in starting a yoga program.
  • Continue to challenge myself with reading books on yoga and meditation, with a goal of one yoga-related book per month. Contact Yoga Journal and other related magazines to look into writing book reviews for publication.
  • Maintain my personal yoga practice. My goal is to fit in some sort of practice every day, whether it’s an hour-long class or three sun salutations. I want to work on practicing pranayama and meditation daily.
  • Continue this blog by posting 2-3 times per week. I figure all the goals and plans I’ve listed here will give me plenty to write about!
  • Look into and begin researching prenatal yoga.

Yeah, prenatal yoga. Because here at the yoga blog we’re expecting a yoga baby! For me, this makes the goals above even more important. I need to keep up my personal practice to get ready for giving birth and to keep my body healthy and strong as my pregnancy progresses. I need to rededicate myself to pranayama and meditation, in preparation for the birth but also to help me become the kind of mother I want to be. And I don’t want to give up my yoga dreams in the midst of fulfilling our dream of having a child. The baby’s scheduled for a July debut, so of course these plans and goals will get sidelined for a while mid-year, but I want 2012 to be a year with room for all the dreams.

 

2011: Year in Review January 5, 2012

Filed under: checking in,reflections — R. H. Ward @ 6:47 pm
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With the new year, I always like to take a little time to consider the year that’s just passed. Most of you know that 2011 was a big year for me. I started the year with the hope that I’d look into yoga teacher training programs, maybe buy a house with my husband, and try to write more. I managed to complete all of these things.

I not only looked into teacher training programs, I found one I liked, signed up, worked hard, and graduated. This fulfilled a goal I’d had for over five years, and I feel really proud not just of graduating, but of how hard I worked in the program and how much I learned, how much I drove myself to learn and make the most of the opportunity. I managed this even while my husband and I were buying our first home, moving and settling in. This was a huge step for us as a family, and all of it – from house shopping to inspection and settlement to moving and doing yardwork and making repairs – has been exciting, sometimes difficult, and usually time consuming. Yoga teacher training and the house together made this a big, challenging, and rewarding year.

Another major part of this year has been this blog. I started the blog in March 2011 with the idea that it would give me an outlet for my writing during a period when I wouldn’t have much time for my poetry and creative work, and that it might help me keep up with my teacher training homework assignments. Since then this blog has grown, and I’ve been really happy with how it’s helped me to work through many of the issues and lessons of this past year. I never really expected that many people would read this blog, but lots of you have found me, and getting to know you has been, well, really neat. It’s meant so much to me when you tell you’re out there reading this, that my words touched you or helped you or inspired you or just made you laugh. You’ve kept me honest and dedicated when I might have slacked off. I started this blog for myself, but now it’s just as much for you. That’s pretty cool.

For the new year, WordPress sent me some interesting blog stats that I thought I’d share. I made 198 posts: almost 20 posts a month, so on average I achieved my goal of posting 3-5 times per week. This blog was viewed 11,000 times, which isn’t insane or anything but sure isn’t bad for the first year. I’m kind of fascinated that a lot of people found my blog by searching for “yoga gorilla pose”. The full report can be viewed here.

Next time, I’ll look ahead to 2012 to plan and imagine what’s next for this blog and for me, in life and in yoga.

 

Aversions September 16, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:52 pm
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For our homework this month, we were instructed to make a list of our likes and dislikes, attachments and aversions. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to see if we like ice cream or whatever – we’re intended to look critically at ourselves, at the attachments and aversions that hold us back in our spiritual practice. Attachment and aversion are actually two of the kleshas, or obstacles to achieving enlightenment; when one is focused on enjoying pleasant experiences or avoiding unpleasant ones, then that person won’t be focused on meditation. Pleasant things come and go, and so do unpleasant things, but the true Self remains unchanging and unaffected by momentary events. Plus, even if you’re not worried about spirituality, it’s a good idea to examine your attachments and aversions: what’s really so great about this? what bothers me so much about that? The answers could be surprising!

Earlier this week I posted my list of attachments (here and here). Here’s my list of aversions, with some commentary about each one.

Broccoli

This is going to sound silly, but I hate the taste of broccoli. I read once that some people either have an extra enzyme or are missing an enzyme, and this makes certain foods (like broccoli) taste very differently than they do for most people. I am clearly one of those with weird taste buds, because I can’t find anything pleasant about broccoli. Further, I was forced to eat broccoli as a kid, and that experience has made a simple dislike deepen into true aversion (when I was 12 or so, I actually vomited after having to eat broccoli, and after that my mother never made me eat it again). So my experience with broccoli is both physical and psychological. I know that broccoli has a lot of nutritional value, but I just cannot bring myself to eat it, and I’ll actively and obsessively pick it out of any food I’m served.

Cold Weather

I hate being cold. The books we’ve been reading for teacher training all say that to the true yogi, heat and cold are the same, but I just can’t imagine getting to that point. Part of the problem is surely the lack of sunlight during the winter months – I feel cold and uncomfortable, and then without sunlight I just get depressed. I’ve started taking vitamin D supplements for this and it really does help. However, I really just don’t like being cold.

My Job

There are many things that I appreciate about my job. I’m paid well, I work with great people, my work is respected by my colleagues and I’m good at it, and my company gives back to the community, values its employees, and does provide a valuable service in the world. I’m grateful to even have a job at all in this economy, let alone a job as good as mine. However, I just don’t enjoy the work, and I never have in the five years I’ve worked here. I know that everybody hates their job sometimes and that I need to make the best of what I’ve got, but that’s just hard to do on Sunday nights and Monday mornings when I’m dreading going back to the office. When I imagine spending another five years in this job, I just feel bleak. I try to combat this by taking one day at a time instead of focusing on the long term, by focusing on all the wonderful non-job things in my life, and by trying to do my best at each task at the office regardless of how much I enjoy it.

 

Attachments, part 2 September 14, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:35 pm
Tags: ,

For our homework this month, we were instructed to make a list of our likes and dislikes, attachments and aversions. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to see if we like ice cream or whatever – we’re intended to look critically at ourselves, at the attachments and aversions that hold us back in our spiritual practice. Attachment and aversion are actually two of the kleshas, or obstacles to achieving enlightenment; when one is focused on enjoying pleasant experiences or avoiding unpleasant ones, then that person won’t be focused on meditation. Pleasant things come and go, and so do unpleasant things, but the true Self remains unchanging and unaffected by momentary events. Plus, even if you’re not worried about spirituality, it’s a good idea to examine your attachments and aversions: what’s really so great about this? what bothers me so much about that? The answers could be surprising!

On Tuesday I posted the first few of my attachments. Here are a couple more.

My Appearance

I definitely feel like I have major issues with my physical appearance. From a yogic perspective, physical appearance means nothing – we just do these yoga poses to make the body strong, so we can sit in meditation, and having Michelle Obama arms or looking hot in Dancer pose has nothing to do with it. But I constantly feel myself getting caught up in concerns about my looks. Maybe it’s because I was a nerdy kid. I made a big effort to change my appearance and the way others perceive me when I entered high school: I grew out my perm, got contacts, and it made a huge difference in my social life and even in the way I perceived myself. Maybe that’s where I got the idea that external appearance is linked to internal self. Another factor, I think, is that I went to Catholic school and had to wear a uniform, so that when I did get to wear normal clothes, I would agonize for ages over what I was going to wear. I don’t think I learned how to get dressed the way that other kids maybe did. Whatever, appearance is big with me, whether it’s weight, clothes, physical fitness, signs of aging, all of it.

Sleep

I feel really attached to sleep. This sounds stupid but really isn’t. I’ve read that getting enough sleep is critical to daily happiness and even to personal relationships, because we treat others better when we feel better ourselves. For me, my sleep issue is pretty childish: I don’t want to get up before 6 am. It’s bad enough that it’s dark out at 6 am, don’t make me get up at 5. This was actually a pretty big factor in me turning down a job a few years ago (and I don’t think I’ve ever confessed to anyone what a big factor it was) – the job was 8-5, and there was a long commute, so I would’ve had to get up at 5:00 to be there on time. I took a 9-5 job instead. I guess the flip side of not wanting to get up early is that I don’t like to go to bed early either; it’s just not part of my natural rhythm. 9:30 pm is about the earliest I can go to bed, and if I go to bed any earlier I just lay there. There are things I enjoy doing in the morning – I like going running or doing yoga, and it’s such a great feeling when it’s 7:00 am and that’s already done! But don’t push it. I know that at some point if I have a child I will likely be getting up very early every day, but honestly, not much besides a screaming infant seems worth it.

Next time: my aversions! Don’t worry, I’m the kind of person who tends to like things rather than hate things, so I have fewer aversions than attachments.

 

Attachments, part 1 September 13, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:38 pm
Tags: ,

For our homework this month, we were instructed to make a list of our likes and dislikes, attachments and aversions. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to see if we like ice cream or whatever – we’re intended to look critically at ourselves, at the attachments and aversions that hold us back in our spiritual practice. Attachment and aversion are actually two of the kleshas, or obstacles to achieving enlightenment; when one is focused on enjoying pleasant experiences or avoiding unpleasant ones, then that person won’t be focused on meditation. Pleasant things come and go, and so do unpleasant things, but the true Self remains unchanging and unaffected by momentary events. Plus, even if you’re not worried about spirituality, it’s a good idea to examine your attachments and aversions: what’s really so great about this? what bothers me so much about that? The answers could be surprising!

Here’s my list of attachments, with some commentary about each one.

Chocolate

I’m not sure if this falls under the category of “attachment” or “addiction”, but it seemed right to list it here. I used to have a much bigger issue with sweets – I could eat a whole bag of mini candy bars or an entire package of cookies (or, heck, raw cookie dough) in one sitting, just while watching TV or studying. I’ve worked hard to become more conscious of this and control it better. I purposely choose dark chocolates and try to avoid more processed sweets; I cut back on the sugar when I bake; I don’t keep many sweets in the house or at my desk at work; I’ll pack just four chocolates in my lunch and then space them out over the whole afternoon. Still, I find myself needing those little chocolates to get through the day, and when I don’t pack any I’ll sometimes have to make a candy run just to get by.

My husband, F

This is probably my biggest attachment. When we were first dating, F and I spent two years long distance, and I was constantly afraid that something would happen to keep us apart; now we’ve lived together for almost three years, but I still sometimes get that feeling, that our life together is somehow too good to be true and can’t last. Losing him is my worst fear.

Comfortable Lifestyle

When I was in grad school I was broke. I worked three jobs and my parents put money into my bank account every month. I had a roommate and an affordable apartment, and I lived cheaply, keeping careful track of every penny, but I still couldn’t afford many things. I would patch my jeans repeatedly because I couldn’t afford new pants, and a hot date out was a milkshake from Burger King. Now that I’m older, I have a lot more expenses (mortgage, house bills, car payments), but I also make a lot more money than I ever did before, and so I have a lot more financial freedom to buy clothes, shoes, organic food at the grocery store, and nice dinners out. I know it shouldn’t matter but I feel really averse to losing these things. I remember how it felt when I couldn’t buy pants – pants! Kind of necessary! And I don’t want to go back to that. I’m definitely more loose in my spending than I could be, but part of me feels like the reward of getting to where I am should be that I don’t have to count my pennies anymore. On the other hand, although I do give to charity, and pretty generously, I always feel like I should be doing more, that I’m selfish with my money. The other issue with this attachment to a comfortable lifestyle is that it means I need to stay in my current job – for financial reasons, I don’t feel I can leave my job unless I find another job that will pay me comparably. But more on worklife when we get to aversions.

Next time: Two other things I feel overly attached to! And then, some aversions!

 

Four Paths: Karma Yoga August 5, 2011

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes the four paths of yoga:

Each of these paths has the potential to lead a yogi to enlightenment, so you choose your path based on your temperament and personality. Choosing the wrong path will make it much more difficult to make progress, because essentially you’re fighting your nature. This month, my assignment is to consider the four paths and decide which one appeals to me the most.

Karma yoga, the path of action, is the path that called out to me right away during our class discussion at the last teacher training session. The nice thing about Karma yoga is that it’s all about action – you don’t have to give up your life in the world or retreat into secluded study or meditation. You still have to read and study and meditate, of course, but your main focus is your secular life. The difference between a Karma yogi and some regular guy, however, is that the Karma yogi seeks to perform the actions of her life with an attitude of selfless service, with no attachment to the results of her actions.

In Karma yoga, you perform your actions because it’s your duty, because it’s the right thing to do – no more and no less. You don’t get caught up in expecting a reward for your efforts. If you receive a reward, that’s nice, but the point is to do the action for its own sake. It’s not that the Karma yogi doesn’t care about what happens: to the contrary, she cares very much and works hard at her work, but she recognizes that she has no control over the results of her actions, so she just does her best and then lets go. She takes an attitude of service, making each action an offering to the Divine. This way, doing the work actually becomes your spiritual practice. (Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita discusses Karma yoga in more detail.)

There are four steps to Karma yoga:

  1. Know your duty, know your life’s purpose (your dharma), and accept it fully
  2. Concentrate and be fully present as you perform your duty
  3. Do the work with excellence, as best you can
  4. Give up any attachment to the results of your actions

For me, this path is very, very appealing. I have always felt like I wanted to do more, to serve more, that there was something I owed to the world in gratitude for the wonderful life that I have. For years I secretly wanted to join the Peace Corps but was too afraid to take the risk. I can’t even talk about the Peace Corps; I get teary. I’m teary just typing about it. The concept of Karma yoga fulfills that need to serve by making everything a form of service. I don’t need to go far away to make my life meaningful or helpful or useful. I can do that right here.

I also like how neatly Karma yoga fits together as a system for running your life. If every action is service, is an offering to the Divine, then you’re pretty much going to stop being a jerk to people, aren’t you? The yamas and niyamas become even more practical guidelines for living. You start wanting to eliminate negativity and nastiness from every action you put out into the world; there’s an inherent kindness to it. I often feel that I am not very kind, and I’d like to be. As a system, it also puts emphasis on personal excellence – doing your best, striving to perform your work in the best possible way – and that resonates with me too because I’ve tried to live my life that way.

The hardest thing for me to imagine is acting without attachment to the results of my actions. And obviously that’s kind of a biggie. But that’s something I feel I need in my life, too. How comforting it would be to stop worrying over things that are beyond my control! To be able to let go of that suffering, and just reside in the fact that I did the best I could do. I’ve been telling myself this for years. Of course, it’s still incredibly hard for me to just do that, but isn’t that the point? To work at it, and to make the work the offering?

I’m getting a little emotional here, but that’s clearly indicative of something. Yesterday, I was thinking about Bhakti yoga and thinking that maybe that might be a good option for me, but Karma yoga is something I really feel passionately about, and something I’ve been trying to practice without even knowing I was doing it. There are many aspects of the other paths that do appeal to me, and there’s no reason I can’t take those things and use them on my journey, but my main path is going to be Karma yoga.

 

Being the Best July 6, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 10:07 pm
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One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is what it means to be the best. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve had a thing about being the best – maybe it’s because my generation was always told we could do anything, maybe it’s because as a child I learned quickly in school and got used to being praised. Whatever it was, it meant that whenever I was good at something, I wanted to be better, wanted to conquer it (or at least to feel like I could conquer it if I weren’t so busy conquering other things). In middle school when I got straight As in everything but science, in which I got a B+, instead of accepting that as good enough, I studied hard and pulled the grade up. In high school, I took geometry and algebra II at the same time so I could catch up and do AP calculus my senior year. In college I did exhaustive library research for all my papers, filling my dorm room with stacks of inter-library loan books. In everything I’ve chosen to pursue, I’ve always challenged myself to excel, to be the best.

Of course when it comes to yoga I do this too. A slow hatha practice wasn’t enough for me, I had to push myself in a tough vinyasa sequence. If there was a complicated, difficult pose, I was going to work hard until I could do it. A beginners class was fine for beginners, but I was an advanced student. When I decided to do my teacher training, this focus came up there too. Of course I would want to teach advanced classes, being that I was so advanced myself.

Through the teacher training program and even just in practicing at EEY, I’ve experienced a major attitude shift in my personal practice. When I signed up for teacher training, I thought that the classical hatha program wasn’t exactly what I’d wanted, and I was a little sad that I wouldn’t get to do the more vigorous vinyasa practice that I liked, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t still teach vinyasa after I was certified. What I’ve found is that a classical hatha class challenges me in completely different ways than a vinyasa class does.A few weeks ago, I went to a vinyasa class at a different studio for the first time since starting the TT program, and it was too fast for me: I missed having time to linger in each pose and really appreciate how my body stretched. I built up a sweat, sure, but I didn’t feel my muscles burning the way I do in hatha class. Having to hold the pose a little longer works the muscles differently.

The TT program has also made me more humble. I’ve realized that a lot of poses are hard for me such that the most basic pose is all I can manage, and I can’t even think about the more challenging variations; there are many ways in which I could be stronger, more flexible. There’s a lot to learn for everyone in a beginners yoga class, no matter what level you’re at, and I’m finding that I really enjoy beginner yoga class because it helps me stay strong on the basics. I’m learning that I don’t have to be the best at yoga – that there’s not even a “best”, only what my body is capable of doing today.

What I’ve really learned is how much yoga is a part of my full life, not just a workout. I crave my yoga time not just because it feels good physically, but because it keeps me calm and centered. I don’t need to do fancy poses or wrap my leg around my head because it’s not about that. I don’t know if I realized that as much before I started TT. I wanted to be a yoga teacher because I love yoga so much and I really want to share yoga with everybody, but I noticed that teaching advanced vinyasa classes doesn’t so much jive with the “sharing yoga with everybody” mission. Sharing yoga with everybody means teaching beginner classes, period. I’ve always said too that I want to teach yoga to older people, but older people often have physical problems that mean they need the most basic level of beginner yoga. There was a disconnect in what I saw as my mission, and I can see that now. I’m really excited about teaching yoga to people who’ve never done it before, and I’m much less interested in teaching advanced level classes. I’ll teach ’em, of course, but I’m psyched about working with beginners. Being “the best” teacher doesn’t have anything to do with how flexible I am compared with others. To be the best yoga teacher I can be, I just have to share my passion.