My Left Wrist: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

IMG_0035Remember when we took walks for the joy of fresh air and sunshine? When the best thing about walking was the unmistakable scent of spring in the air or the sharp, salty brine and the startling launch of an egret?

I do.

But then I wrapped a FitBit Charge II around my wrist and became shackled to the number of steps I took instead of being thrilled by the number of pelicans feeding near the shoreline. I looked forward to the reward of positive feedback from my FitBit’s app when I moved every hour for ten consecutive hours instead of looking forward to and embracing every opportunity to be still. I lived for seeing those celebratory green stars, animated balloons and flashy stripes that meant the goals my FitBit and I set had been accomplished. I was obsessed with keeping my FitBit happy and losing track of the happiness I deserve.

And so, on Monday morning we broke up. I broke free from the device and its freakishIMG_1676 ability to manipulate how I feel. I removed the FitBit and put it in my dresser drawer.

Yes. I know. A FitBit is a simple device. An inanimate object. A tool I use to measure with some accuracy the energy I expend and the energy I ingest. But for a person like me – a woman who likes to have a place for everything and everything in its place – it’s easy to become preoccupied with the numbers, the graphs and the positive reinforcement. Prone to giving human characteristics to machines, at times my FitBit became an encouraging best buddy. Sometimes, though, it was my worst enemy. 

My left wrist feels naked but removing the tracker is liberating. It’s brought me back to the reason why exercise and a healthy diet are important. My walks to work are mood balancing. They reduce anxiety and improve my outlook on life. They soothe me. Good food made from locally sourced ingredients provides my body with ‘clean energy’. Together exercise and an intentional diet have helped me lose the twenty extra pounds that were adding too much stress to my joints, my heart and my pancreas (there’s a bit too much diabetes in my gene stock to ignore).

Ending the relationship with my tracker does not mean I’ve lost my motivation. In fact, let’s be honest. I’ve not ended anything. What I’ve done is reconsidered the relationship. There will be a time when I reach into the dresser drawer and charge up my Charge. It may be that I need a little bit of motivation or that I’ve become so wrapped up in work that I need to re-focus my intentions.  And that will be ok. A tracker as a tool is ok. As long as I remember that healthy living – a life worth living –  can’t be measured in an app.


Death by Sugar

d689d520cd3e2d7653c5e1469e50ff90--liquorice-allsorts-floppy-hatsMy mother craved licorice while carrying the child who would become me. I blame her for my addiction.

Last week a client who eschews quests asked me if I would purchase a box of Barrett’s Licorice All-Sorts for her as she could not find them where she shops for groceries. This was a little bit like asking someone avoiding alcohol to pick up a box of pinot (a box, not a bottle – no cork screw required).

I giddily agreed.

I love licorice all-sorts and I know for a fact they are available for purchase at the store across the street from where I live. I know this because when I see them near the baked goods or stacked in the candy aisle I stare longingly. I marvel at the confection’s bright colors. I remember with affection their sweet and bitter taste. And I know that should I give in to temptation and bring a box of the candies home they will be eaten within the hour. I also know that it will be less a slippery slope and more an oil slicked slide. I won’t be able to stop and will continue to buy and eat licorice all-sorts until the inventory at Mollie Stone’s is decimated. Or I’m in a sugar coma. Whichever comes first.

Sugar is poison.

Is that true? The media loves an extreme headline almost as much as I love licorice all-sorts and as powerful as it is to label sugar a poison, it may not go far enough. I prefer to think of sugar – and by ‘sugar’ I mean sweeteners we add to foods as obvious as cookies and as surprising as spaghetti sauce – as a passive aggressive bully gaslighting me to ill-health. I’ll admit it, more often than not sugar can sweet talk me into those Panera chocolate chip cookies in the pain clinic’s staff room, the chocolate covered macadamia nuts at the yoga studio and even the half-pint of sorbet gathering ice crystals in the back of the freezer.

And while sugar is tickling my taste buds with sweet nothings it’s also contributing to weight gain and tooth decay, placing stress on my liver, heart, kidneys and pancreas, aging my skin and inflaming my joints.

The most recent nutritional advice is trading the theory that a calorie is a calorie no matter where it comes from for the more obvious and intuitive notion that it’s quality, not quantity.

In other words, one thousand calories derived from a balanced combination of fruits, vegetables and whole grains will beat one thousand calories derived from fruit rolls, potato chips and donuts hands down.
I told you it was obvious and intuitive.

A box of Barrett’s Licorice All-Sorts will not kill me. Death by sugar is more insidious. All it takes is a little label reading to discover sugar shows up in places we’d never expect.
Why am I firing up my sweet tooth with all this thinking about sugar? It’s New York Time’s David Leonhardt’s fault. He wrote this, which lead me down several internet rabbit holes to this and this.

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Last week I stood in front of the Barrett’s Licorice All-Sorts and weighed my options. In the end, I didn’t buy them. I didn’t even pick them up. Instead, I came home with a bag of Pontefract Cakes.

And I ate them all.

Nobody said it was easy.


Toxic/Not Toxic

This is toxic:

Unknown

This is not toxic:

Unknown-2

And that’s why I don’t use the word ‘detox’. Yes, it’s time for my yearly campaign to ban the word ‘detox’ and any associated eating plan that encourages us to either eliminate entire classes of macronutrients, requires a blood test before we meal plan or encourages us to subsist on lemon, cayenne and honey.

Why don’t we call what most of us are about to embark on in a few days’ time what it actually is: an opportunity to practice mindful eating.

The problem with a ‘detox’ program – or any strictly defined and limiting diet that promises more than it can deliver – is that it is finite. The rules and edges are so sharply defined that we are almost guaranteed to fail.

If instead we reframe our efforts as an opportunity to slow down and to consider our food choices, we allow ourselves room to explore, to try something new, to reset and – most importantly – to change our relationship to food, our bodies and the intentions we hold when we eat.

 


Yes, Virginia, There IS Yoga Through the Holidays!

Photo 61Over the next two weeks, when I’m not teaching, I’ll be retreating to my Mimm Cave. I’ll be doing all those things I didn’t have time to do during the previous fifty weeks: reading for leisure, playing my guitar, waking up my creative side. I love the Mimm Cave.

But I love to teach, too! Here’s my schedule for the rest of the year:

Saturday 21 & 28 December

4:00 – 5:30 PM Samyama Yoga Center

Monday 23 & 30 December

7:30 – 9:00 PM California Yoga Center, Yin (donation based)

Tuesday 24 & 31 December

9:00 – 10:00 AM California Yoga Center

(Samyama Yoga Studio closed both days)

Thursday 26 December & 2 January

7:00 – 8:15 AM Samyama Yoga Center

9:30 – 11:00 AM Samyama Yoga Center (subbing for Hillary Easom on January 2nd only)

Friday 27 December & 3 January

9:00 – 10:00 AM California Yoga Center

1:30- 2:45 PM Samyama Yoga Center, Yin


I Eat Meat. I am Not a Bad Person.

Public domain photograph of various meats. (Be...

This afternoon I had an early dinner with friends. The main course was a perfectly roasted, medium-rare prime rib. It was delicious.

Yes, I’m a yoga teacher who eats meat.

Before you imagine Mimm Flintstone drooling over a giant Brontosaurus burger, allow me to explain. Michael Pollan is right – it is a dilemma being an omnivore. But sometimes it’s who I am. It’s who I need to be.

Over the past year a friend and I carried out a nutritional experiment. Our goal was for each of us to find a balanced meal plan that supported optimal health.

We began with an organic, vegetarian diet that teetered on the precipice of veganism. Eight weeks later, after not seeing the results we hoped for, caution was thrown to the wind and we ate whatever landed on the dinner plate. That was not the best move. We quickly regrouped and tried again by introducing meat back into the diet. At the same time we reduced grains. Our morphed version of the trendy Paleo diet. Three months later and I have to tell you:

I feel great.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to sell my vegan friends on the benefits of eating meat. Because I don’t believe everyone functions at their best on a meat-based diet. Some folks thrive on a plant-based diet. Others need to add a bit of dairy to their greens. Me? I like a side of skinless chicken breast with my arugula salad.

The real reason I’m telling you this story is to inspire. It took work to find the foods that help me thrive. It was frustrating. Sometimes we took two steps forward and three steps back. But we kept at it. My friend and I continued to peel back the layers. Paring our list of foods down to their most basic, simple forms. We now maintain a mostly gluten-free diet that includes meat, eggs, dairy, fruit and vegetables. We keep as organic as possible, which means we are also, as much as possible, GMO free.

This is not a sugar-free, fat-free diet. It’s a good, wholesome, meal plan that lets a potato be a potato instead of a french fry. Besides tinned tomatoes, there’s not much in my kitchen that comes out of a can or a box.

Yes, choosing to eat meat was a struggle. Throughout my life I have spent short periods – sometimes a few months, sometimes a few years – playing and ultimately failing at being vegetarian. The movie Food, Inc. was a turning point, but not in the way you might think. The film taught me that meat eaters had choices. I had choices. My friend and I both decided it was worth the extra money to source our animal protein from farms that reared their livestock humanely. We look for labels that say ‘organic’, ‘grass-fed’, ‘cage-free’, ‘pasture raised’. I’m a big fan of the number system Whole Food’s uses at their meat counter to educate the consumer.

If our meat is organic, then it goes without saying that our produce is organic and, when possible, local. Milk is from grass-fed cows. We also drink goat milk. Warmed goat milk with honey and turmeric is a wonderful bedtime treat.

Mornings begin with freshly juiced organic apples, carrots, ginger and beetroot. I dilute my juice 50/50 with filtered water.

Breakfast might be boiled eggs with wild salmon or porridge made with Rice n’ Shine. Lunch is usually the largest meal of the day – a one-pot meat and vegetable stir-fry. Dinner could be leftovers but sometimes a simple bowl of yogurt and fruit.

While my new food choices are bringing results, the meal plan has its challenges. I wasn’t accustomed to planning three meals each day. It’s been a bit of a learning curve but mastering the Crock Pot has helped. So has preparing and then freezing large batches of home-made soup.

Food shopping, in the beginning, can be a bit like an episode of Portlandia. Changing habits takes patience and requires some knowledge. Remembering to read labels and then knowing how to translate what those labels mean, in the beginning, was frustrating. It left my friend and I agonizing for thirty minutes over which honey to choose on more than one occasion.

Fortunately, we’re fast learners.

Do I feel deprived? Overwhelmed with all the planning and cooking? Do I miss spending my lunch hour circling the hot bar at Whole Foods?

Not one bit.

I’ve gained more than good health from my new food choices. I’ve become more mindful and more thankful. More grateful. I can see the farmers hands in the mud I wash from my orange carrots. I can feel the power of the soil and the sun as I slice through deep crimson orbs of beetroot. This can’t happen when we’re eating pre-formed food from a styrofoam box.

The truth is, good health from good food is a wonderful gift. So much has to happen to bring that food to my plate. Pausing to give thanks for all the work and lives that contributed to the food that nourishes my body makes that gift even better.

ps…and despite spending more to choose organic, cage free, humanely reared food I’ve discovered I’m actually spending less on food because I know longer use Whole Foods as a refrigerator.  I’ve stopped buying one (sometimes TWO) meals per day from the hot bar!


Let’s Talk About Yin. Yes, again.

English: Tension lines of the human skin. They...

English: Tension lines of the human skin. They follow the main fibres of the connective tissue of skin.

While we’re at it, let’s talk about anatomy, too. And whether or not a yoga teacher needs to study anatomy and physiology…

I was having coffee last week with Anirudh Shastri and John Berg. Both are much admired and deeply loved teachers in the Bay Area. In January John’s dream will be a reality when Samyama opens its doors in Midtown Palo Alto. I am so proud John found me and asked me to teach at Samyama. I’m proud to be part of a faculty that includes – besides John and Shastri – Louis Jackson, Annika Williams, Hilary Easom, Amy Rogg, Clive Beavis and Lindsey Amrein. We are not only a team of teachers but a family. We meet regularly and support each others’ practice and teachings as strongly as we hold our vision of Samyama. We all chose different paths and somehow still managed to arrive at the same place. How wonderful is that? Eight individuals. Amazing journeys. Same vision. Different stories.

Here’s my story about why I believe the study of anatomy is important for any yoga teacher:

I didn’t go to medical school. I attended massage school. It was a good school and the anatomy was fast, furious and hard taught. I learned the names of the muscles and the names of the bones. I learned the origins and attachments. I looked at fake plastic skeletons and the living limbs of my bodywork clients and my yoga students. But until I saw these photographs I didn’t know. Until I studied with this couple and then this man I didn’t know. I didn’t know that for fifteen years I was teaching an alignment-focused style of yoga and assumed my students’ inability to move deeply into any particular posture was the fault of a ‘tight’ muscle. I never considered the important contribution bones and connective tissue make toward how we move and how we feel. How we experience asana.

It seems obvious. It feels like it is something I should have known all along. But I didn’t. It’s my continued study of anatomy that has provided an insight I didn’t have when I began teaching.

One of my responsibilities as a yoga teacher – particularly a teacher who loves introducing beginning students to the profound joy of an asana practice – is to keep you safe. Knowing the difference between a femur and a tibia helps me do that. Describing the sacroiliac joint and understanding fascia helps me do that. No, my classes are not a lesson in human anatomy. But sometimes it’s more efficient – more precise – to name a muscle in the body rather than indicate an area on the body.

In-depth study of anatomy has changed my teaching. I will agree – it’s not for everyone. But it turned me from an alignment-centric cookie cutter teacher into one who focuses less on the aesthetics of alignment and more on helping each student have their own, ever-changing, safe, unique life-affirming asana experience.

Shastri was about halfway through his coffee and John had probably finished his tea when the discussion turned to Yin and connective tissue.

Yin – like any style of yoga – can provide something different depending on what time of the day you practice and what your intention is for your practice.

Yin Yoga shifts our awareness away from yang’s contracting strength and power to soft and melting expansion. Contraction and expansion are neither positive nor negative. They are states our body experiences as we move through life. Yin Yoga restores but should not be considered the style of yoga we call Restorative. Yin Yoga is challenging but many of the challenges differ from the ones we find in classic Hatha Yoga.

Physiologically, Yin Yoga stresses connective tissue. These tissues include fascia, tendon, ligament and bone. Because we hold yin poses for time, the practice also offers a deep release to the nervous system. It feels intuitively wrong to consider stressing our joints, but done with right intention the practice results in greater stability and fluid flexibility. Consider this – we don’t correct crooked teeth (yin tissue) with a blow from a hammer. We use orthodontia – a long, slow and sometimes uncomfortable technique that realigns and corrects. That is Yin Yoga in a nutshell.

When I take yin in the morning my muscles are cool. They’ve not woken up. They’re at their shortest. This is the time when my yin focus is less on the benefits to the nervous system and more on the gifts to the connective tissue. My cold muscles won’t “steal” the stretch away from the connective tissue. The stretch/stress is not diluted by muscles that are warm enough to accept a deep fold or twist. The practice is more challenging to me in the morning because my body is cool and my ego is bruised. In the morning I cannot sink into the same deep and calming positions I can explore with an evening yin practice. The morning yin practice is sometimes frustrating but teaches acceptance and mindfulness. And it reminds us not only to be humble in our practice but to have a sense of humor.

But Yin Yoga is not all about the connective tissue.

When I practice Yin Yoga in the evening my intention shifts from the effects on the body to those on the spirit. In the evening our muscles, warm from a day full of movement and work, will absorb some of the effort saved for the connective tissue in the morning. But experiencing yin’s long-held poses in the evening calms the mind and prepares the body for sleep. Many of my students have told me the evenings they attend class are the evenings they know they’ll have the week’s best nights sleep.

Yin is a style of yoga that nurtures balance. For the yogi whose practice emphasizes power, strength and endurance Yin Yoga may feel too slow or too easy. With time and an open mind, however, even the most ardent Bikram devotee’ will recognize the grace, challenge and benefits of Yin’s quiet beauty.

As for me, I need both. I love a strong, contracting Yang practice just as deeply as I love a cool, quiet and expansive evening of Yin. That’s what balance is all about.


How the Faux-Grinch Made Christmas All Her Own

yogaI’m not really a Grinch. I’m just one of those folks who love winter not for the shiny tinsel but because their’s nothing quite as cozy as a cold winter day burrowed under the blankets with a few good books and a hot toddy.

Too much burrowing, however, does not a festive yogi make.

This year I’ve decided to celebrate the season doing what I love. Yoga.

And I hope you’ll join me. Over the holidays I’ll be teaching these four classes at the California Yoga Center:

Monday 24 December – Christmas Eve

7:00 – 8:30’ish PM (please note earlier start time)

Yin Yoga

Donation Based

Tuesday 25 December – Christmas Day

9:00 – 10:30 AM (please note extra half hour)

Hatha Flow

$18 drop-in

Monday 31 December – New Year’s Eve

7:00 – 8:30’ish PM (please note earlier start time)

Yin Yoga

Donation Based

Tuesday 1 January – New Year’s Day

9:00 – 10:30 AM (please note extra half hour)

Hatha Flow

$18 drop-in

CYC Students – Please note the time change on the Yin Yoga class.  We’ll be starting at 7:00 and NOT 7:30.  Also note the extra half hour added to the morning classes.  

I think we deserve a longer savasana on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.  Don’t you?