Friday, March 6, 2015

Om at Home: Beginning a Yoga Home Practice, Part II

In case you missed it yesterday, read part one here! Let's just jump right back in, shall we?
5. Learn child's pose. Child's pose is a rest pose that you can find at any point during your workout. If the video/instructor is demonstrating a pose you are not comfortable in, find a child's pose. If you tried a posture and it hurt, find a child's pose. If you feel dizzy or short of breath, find a child's pose. If you need a rest, find a child's pose. Even if the person on your screen or the mat next to you is making revolved half moon look easy, you can find a child's pose. It's not hard to learn, so learn it first.

Understand that you don't have to do everything every time. Some days my balance is just not there, and I can't work my body into the full expression of a pose. After 10 years! It happens. It's okay. Some days I can hit warrior 3 like what, and other days I can't even lift my fingertips off the floor. Every day is different. Do what your body is capable of today. Don't be afraid to push yourself, but know your actual limits.
Warrior 3
6. Do and don't look at others. There is nothing wrong with finding motivation in other, more advanced yogis. Instagram is absolutely lousy with impressive yogis (I love @badyogi, @twofitmoms, and @yogaslackers) who can really light a fire in your belly and keep you aggressively working toward your yoga goals. Follow them, interact with them. Find a yoga buddy who just nails a pose you're working your way up to and use him/her as inspiration.

Do not look at a yogi who's been practicing for years and feel inferior because you look different than s/he does. Do not look at someone who practices for an hour every day and feel that your practice is inadequate. Do not look at someone's flexibility and give up after you decide you'll never be at that level. Do not watch people throw scorpions in the air and feel like you're not working hard enough.

Like I've said, your practice is YOURS. Your body is capable of different things at different times than other peoples. I can spend days in a headstand, but I nearly fell over the last time I attempted warrior 3 in class. I used to be a master of the full front split, and I'm not anymore. But, I can twist like a champ. Do not become so preoccupied with what you can't yet do that you forget about the amazing things your body does do and will soon become able to do.

7. Find your yoga community. Maybe you're One Bad Yogi, like me. (#badyogiarmy) Maybe you pledge your allegiance to Adriene and interact with her and her followers. Maybe you have a group of friends to discuss yoga or practice with. One principle of yoga is connectedness, and I personally find it fundamental to have someone to connect with when it comes to advancing your practice.
I have a few friends who do yoga who inspire me. I have people to share technique with and share horror stories with. My chiropractor is a yogi, and having that in common has been a huge asset when assessing my issues and how to remedy them. A few weeks ago we talked for 20 minutes about yoga and I went into lifted lotus on his table while we chatted. Ya know, for funsies. The point is, there's no reason to be alone in your practice, even if you practice alone. Ask for advice, or critique, or help. If you move on to practice inversions, a spotter or assistant is crucial. Your community can be virtual (hi!) or in-person and can look like whatever you want it to. I just really believe it should exist.

8. Make it yours. Once you get into the good stuff, that's when you really get to make it your own. You can practice in the morning or evening. You can wear socks until you warm up (like I do!) or do yoga naked. You can start in cat/cow and end in lotus, or you can start with sun salutations and end in savasana. You can do a headstand in the middle or a child's pose in the beginning. You can practice for five minutes or 75 minutes. You can skip weekends or go all out on Saturdays. You can dim the lights or blast Metallica. You can follow the same video every day for a week or create a new series for yourself every time you hit the mat. Your practice should serve you.

9. Know that it will never be finished. Your practice will never reach a stand-still, unless you let it. There will always be a pose you're working to find the full expression of. There will always be more groundedness you can find. There will always be chakras to balance. There will always be a way to advance your practice. There will always be more to explore. There will always be room to grow and there will always be more benefits to reap. There is no end-point to your practice.
10. Explore outside your home, if you'd like. Once you're comfortable, I do recommend exploring outside of home practice. There are a few different ways to do this:

(a) Festivals like Wanderlust (anyone want to go with me to Vermont?! Or maybe WV?) and others I'm sure you can find local to you. Some studios host great big sessions in local parks or even arenas. In my town, one studio shuts down a block in the summer and sets the yogis loose in the street. (It's awesome.) This is great for people who can't or don't want to commit to a studio schedule, but want to take their practice out into the world and meet fellow yogis.
(b) Workshops and retreats. Most studios offer them. Sometimes it's in the form of a three-hour workshop on arm balances; in other instances it's three days on secluded property. Great immersion for people really looking to get into the thick of their practice.
(c) A studio class. Don't get me wrong — I love my home practice. But the flow and exchange of energy that takes place when you practice with others in a studio really can't be matched at home. You also have the benefit of a teacher to correct your posture or help you reach a fuller expression of a pose that alludes you. It can be pricy, but it can be an investment in your health. Also, keep an eye on Groupon and Living Social; they usually run great deals for new customers. You may also be able to participate in work study, where in exchange for services like cleaning, signing in members, etc. you can practice for free at a studio.

Remember: You do not have to be a pro before you go into a studio. If a class makes you feel like that, it's the wrong studio for you. If you don't want to join a drum circle, you don't have to. If you hate green juice, you can still be a yogi. If you never want to take your practice upside down, you're perfectly fine staying right-side up.

The most important part of defining your yoga practice is defining it on your terms: Advance your practice as slow or as fast or as little or as much as you feel comfortable. Do not compare your practice to another person's. Remember that our bodies and minds are different. Remember that your yoga practice is yours and yours alone, and it should serve you and your goals and your needs.
Terms to know (for all yoga types):
*Note: These are not, like, literal translations of Sanskrit terms. I'm just telling you
what you need to know if you hear these terms in a yoga class or video. Or read them on this blog.

Asana — A yoga pose or a posture. Most Sanskrit terms for postures end in"-asana," like savasana (corpse pose), virabhadrasana (warrior pose), and bakasana (crow pose).

Vinyasa — Both a type of yoga (flow, see here) and a term used to describe a sequence of poses (generally plank > chaturanga > cobra/upward facing dog > downward facing dog) that flow together with pranayama in a Sun Salutation.

Drishti — A spot or focal point to focus on during a challenging pose to help you keep your balance.

Pranayama — Breath control, essentially. In yoga, we generally breathe in and out through the nose (unless we're talking about breathing exercises, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish, as my mother would say). Vinyasa yoga asks you to match one breath to one motion. Most instructors will indicate this, ex: "Inhale, push up to cobra; exhale, take it back to downward facing dog."

Namaste — The literal translation is I bow to you, but it's generally accepted to mean "The light within me honors and celebrates the light within you." It's not always spoken in class, but I've never seen a class end without the motion that accompanies "namaste:" Bring your hands to prayer in front of your heart ("the heart space" or "heart center") and bow your head slightly. The movement can be substituted for the verbal expression of namaste. My current class usually begins with the gesture and ends with the gesture and spoken acknowledgment, but every instructor is different.

S(h)avasana — Shavasana or savasana, corpse pose. My yoga teacher calls it the most challenging pose in our practice, and I agree. It's a restful meditative pose. And sometimes, meditating is really damn hard. I don't always get there. Sometimes I get so deep that it takes me a long time to get back out. Sometimes it puts me to sleep. This isn't a post about meditation, but I'm more than happy to elaborate on meditation if people are interested. Let me know!

Sun Salutations — A series of poses (with pranayama) usually used to warm the body up at the start of a practice. There are a couple of different sequences (denoted as Sun Salutation A, B, etc...) but here's my favorite and the most common one I see, in simplest terms: Mountain > forward fold > flat back > forward fold > plank > chaturanga > cobra > downward facing dog > forward fold > mountain.

Chakra — Essentially, an energy center, of which the body has seven from the bottom of the spine to the top of the head. I can go into more detail in that meditation post, if you'd like.

I really hope you found these posts useful and maybe even inspiring! If you have any questions, I am more than happy to answer them. (And if I don't know the answers, chances are I know a good yogi who does!) Want a virtual yoga buddy? Want to chat yoga? I'm here for you!

Do you practice yoga? Are you interested in starting?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Om at Home: Beginning a Yoga Home Practice, Part I

(Just kidding, you totally don't have to om. Unless you want to.)

I've been practicing yoga for 10 years. For the first four years — during which my practice was inconsistent, I'll admit — I practiced exclusively at home. I took a studio class in college, then returned to my occasional/non-committed home practice. Then I committed to my practice about 16 months ago, took a three-day workshop, and rejoined the studio world. All while maintaining a daily at-home yoga practice. So, yeah, I've had some experience practicing yoga in my living room.

For some people, and at some studios, taking a class can be incredibly intimidating, and I know this keeps a lot of people from trying to create a yoga practice. I hate this. I've said it before and I absolutely will say it again and again and again: Yoga is for everyone. Everyone can do yoga. Everyone can benefit from yoga. I know some people will prefer the studio, but I think a home practice is an important part of growing as a yogi. It can be in conjunction with your weekly studio session or independent. It can be your baby steps as you build up some confidence before you walk into your first studio. You can choose to never leave the mat in your bedroom, and that's fine too.

If you've been reading here for a while, some of this may sound familiar. I've recommended yoga YouTube channels several times, demo'd some poses, and talked about yoga...a lot. But as promised, I've finally put it all into one post for you guys! Please remember a few things: (1) I am not a certified yoga instructor (yet) and this is just my experience; (2) You can injure yourself in yoga, so be sure you're taking appropriate precautions before beginning a practice.

1. Decide what you want to get out of your practice. Yoga is a multi-faceted discipline capable of transforming your mind and body in unthinkable ways. There are various types of yoga (see next point) that serve you in different goals. A few different ways to utilize your practice:

• To facilitate recovery of a higher-intensity workout regiment (running, weight-training, etc.)
• To increase flexibility and fluidity in joints and muscles
• For a whole-body workout, or to target specific areas for toning
• Fat-burning/cardio workout
• To facilitate meditation, mindfulness, and mental clarity
• To engage deeper with the body's energy centers (called chakras) and master breathing
• As a sleep aid to help your body recover from the day and prepare for bed
• To learn to fly
If you read my Sunday Sweats posts, you know that I have no single expectation from my yoga practice; I use it as a vehicle for all different things, depending on the day and my mood. You can have a practice that helps you meet all of these goals. But it's important to be aware that it will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to get each thing out of each session or workout.

Once you've taken a sort of inventory of what you want to get from your practice — and every goal I outlined above is valid and a great goal of yoga, on their own or in conjunction with one or several others — set your intention. We hear this a lot in yoga classes, to set our intention for the practice. I think it's important to do so at this juncture and in each individual session. Check in often to see that your intention still serves you.

2. Research the various types of yoga and become familiar with what does what. There are so many different types of yoga. The most commonly-practiced in the U.S. is vinyasa, or flow. It's what most people think of when they think of yoga. It can accomplish many of the goals I listed in point one. But it's not the only type of yoga.

Here is my favorite yogi, Erin Motz, giving a run-down of the most common types of yoga you will find as you begin your practice.

There are others, and depending on how deep into your practice you get, you may want to experiment. You may go for ashtanga one day, vinyasa the next, and hatha the day after that. You may love or hate Bikram yoga. You likely won't know until you try. But it's important to know what you can expect from each type.

One thing I have, have, HAVE to explain, which is irrelevant to home practice UNLESS you decide to supplement your home practice with studio classes: Bikram yoga and hot yoga are not the same thing. More than once I've read an "informative" article say hot yoga, aka Bikram yoga, but they are not interchangeable. Both are practiced in heated studios, but the similarities end there.
Hot yoga is — generally — vinyasa flow yoga that's simply practiced in a hot room, at 98-106 degrees (F). Hot yoga became trendy a couple of years ago and then hot yogis started kind of acting like they had invented yoga and like it's miles superior to other types. Hot yoga is NOT for everybody. There are claims that it releases more toxins and aids in flexibility during practice. There are also claims that it leads to dehydration and injury from over-extension. If you go this route: (a) bring a towel (b) drink a ton of water the day of, but not too close to class (c) bring water with you to class (d) check in with your body often and be sure you're taking care. 
Bikram yoga is a type of yoga popularized a few decades ago that focuses on one series of 26 poses in a heated studio. There's lots to read about it here. (I have limited experience with it, so I'd rather direct you there for the best info.)
3. Supply yourself. You will need a yoga mat. If you're practicing at home and are a beginner, you will need DVDs or a couple of YouTube channels.
It will help if you have a few yoga blocks. Two should be plenty. I have been using these since college and have no issues. Although, full disclosure, I do not travel with them and use them rarely in home practice, so I can't speak to their durability under vigorous use.
It will help if you have a yoga strap. Some mats you buy will come with one. You can buy them on Amazon or most box stores. Truth? I use a detachable shoulder strap from an old purse in the few sessions where I need a strap. You can also use an old neck tie, a towel, or a scarf if you don't anticipate needing it often.

If you're a woman (which if you're reading here, you probably are), you'll need a comfortable sports bra. I prefer one with a front clasp, as backbone clasps can be uncomfortable in reclined positions. You can wear pretty much anything you feel comfortable and can move freely in, but I find that form-fitting clothing (leggings and body shell tank tops) is the least intrusive. Excessive fabric can be uncomfortable, too warm, or bulky.

As for your mat, if you're just beginning, don't feel the need shell out big bucks for a mat before you know if you'll keep at it. They can get very pricy. But, read reviews. You want to be sure the mat you use will be sticky enough to help you keep your grip in poses. If you notice your mat loses its stickiness after a little while, try cleaning it.

You may choose to enhance your practice with bolsters, Mexican blankets, dim lighting, a private room (if possible), music, candles, essential oils, drum beats/chanting recordings, etc. But as you're starting out, don't get bogged down in all of that. You don't even need a hardwood floor. You need a mat and an open mind.

My favorite yoga videos to follow can be found on the following channels:
  • Do You Yoga: Erin Motz's first 30-day challenge can be found here, and I find it absolutely IDEAL for beginning a home practice. I still do these videos often, because she offers variations and makes the class work for every level.
  • Bad Yogi: You probably know by now how much I love Erin Motz, so this should be no surprise!
  • Yoga with Adriene
  • Sarah Beth Yoga
I also recommend Rodney Yee's yoga DVDs and have cycled through a couple over the years. There are countless other yogis who make videos that I haven't tried yet, but these are just a few that I can personally recommend.

4. Let go of expectations and restrictive thoughts, and go for it. Things I hear often:
(a) I wish I could do yoga, but I'm so inflexible!
(b) I could never do a headstand/handstand/anything-stand/any pose!
(c) I'd love to do yoga but I just don't have the time!
(d) I've never tried yoga, but I don't think it's for me. I hate green juice and I don't speak Sanskrit!
(e) Yogis are so intimidating; I'm so worried I'll mess up and get made fun of!

My responses:

(a) Do doctors know how to perform surgery before they go to med school? You don't have to by physically flexible to start yoga; you need to be willing to work. You will gain flexibility. Every pose has an accommodation for every body.
(b) Well, I thought the same thing. Now I can. We do call it a practice for a reason. But also, you don't have to do anything more "advanced" or difficult than warrior 1, if you don't want to.
(c) If you want to do it, you make the time to do it — period. Besides, five minutes a day is a great place to start.
(d) I find green juice disgusting. I only know a few Sanskrit words because they're often used in yoga and I've picked it up. (Glossary in tomorrow's post!) You don't have to fit the yogi stereotype to be a yogi. Buddha knows I don't! ;)
(e) I know they can be. I wish they weren't. I find it so frustrating when people act like yoga is a secret club. That's why a home practice can be exactly what you need. But also, keep in mind, that no one in your class is perfect at everything. And most likely, no one is looking at you.

Go for it. Start small. Keep an open mind. Give it a chance.

I intended to get through everything in one post, but clearly, this is already obnoxiously long. Part II — the fun part! — is coming tomorrow! 
In the meantime, any questions so far?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Can You Fill Me In?

What, you thought I got it all out of my system yesterday? Nope. Here's another round of getting things off my chest, confession-style:

I'm pretty sure I'm allergic or intolerant to alcohol. I don't like being drunk, so this isn't the worst news in the world, but it's pretty annoying because I do enjoy drinks as a social lubricant (heh dirty). Basically, every time I have more than two drinks — and sometimes two drinks is too many still — even if it's over the course of hours and not enough to even get me a buzz, I'm met with a massive headache, often a migraine, and an awful sinus reaction. I've been this way forever, which has led to a lot of different experimentations with my limits on alcohol. I always thought I was just really bad at hangovers, but this goes so beyond that. Two glasses of wine with dinner and I can't open my eyes the next day? That's not right. Does anyone have any experience with anything like this, either personal or second-hand?

I've decided to join the rest of society in this ritual called Snapchatting. I don't know why. I really have no valid reason, and even now I don't totally see the point when I can always just send pictures via text. But regardless, I want you to send me all your snaps. Snap me. Find me on the Snapper. No? See, I told you I don't know what I'm doing. Add me anyway: alyssagoesbang

My office-mate is on vacation this week and well, she's awesome and a great friend, but mostly I miss having someone to sarcastically sing along to "Everything is Awesome" with when a coworker does something really bad.

We also have sing-a-longs to Craig David's (remember him?) "Fill Me In" and "Zombie" by the Cranberries.

I know this is a major first world problem, but this is a major first world problem: BLOGLOVIN. GET YOURSELF TOGETHER. Why do you no longer want to mark my read posts as read? WHYYYYYY? You had better check yourself before you wreck yourself. And by wreck yourself I mean piss off a whole lot of Type A bloggers.

Sometimes Often I leave my headphones in with nothing playing while at work so people don't talk to me or so I can at least pretend I didn't hear them and don't have to acknowledge their moronic comments with actual responses. It works okay. I'm probably a terrible person.

Making Melissa 
Et tu?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Things I've Had Just About Enough Of

I'm always cautious about a ranty-like post, because I feel like it gives off the wrong impression. I'm not in a bad mood. I'm not angry. And I'm really not even trying to be negative. I don't like to be negative. I'm not a complainer. But the box of chocolates that we call life has been particularly crowded with the the gross nut clusters and weirdly-textured fruit cream things lately, and when that happens, we get a post like this:

Things I've Had Just About Enough Of

Mothers/parents acting like they're a persecuted population. "It's so harrrrrd!" Yeah, I know. So did you, before you had your baby, probably. You're not victims just because it's not fun and awesome 100% of the time, and acting like parenthood is a disability is insulting to (a) those who are truly disabled or persecuted and (b) the people who would do absolutely anything to be a parent but cannot. "They hate children, they're such monsters!" No. Merchants and customers don't owe you special forgiveness because your kid is screaming in the store; you owe your fellow patrons the courtesy of quieting or leaving with your screaming kid.
On a related note, I'm tired of the purposefully child-free population being treated like freaks because we/they (TBD if I'm a we or a they) don't want to join your vomity, whiney club where projectile poop is the price of membership. I don't hate kids. I used to be a nanny! But I'm not an asshole for not wanting parenthood to be a part of my life anywhere in the near future.

Snow. What is grass? What does the color green even look like? What does this road look like without cavernous potholes caused by rock salt? Is "warm" even a thing anymore?
Wind. Just stop it.

The yogis in the class after mine who strong-arm us out of the studio faster than our teacher can say "namaste." It's not very yogic of you. You have 15 minutes. Chill.

People pitying me because I'm single and apparently nothing else I do with my life can be adequately fulfilling as long as I don't have a significant other. Seriously, are we done with this yet? Sigh.

Not sleeping at night because my body can't get it together and follow a regular damn circadian rhythm. And then being so tired I feel drunk the next day.

"Uptown Funk" and every single Rihanna song I've ever heard. Radio DJs, there are other songs you can play. Just FYI.
My poor beautiful Jeep baby sporting a sheen of salt and snow. Sirius Black is not looking shiny black right now and I of the black car enthusiasts club am goddamn tired of it.

Meetings that run needlessly long because people like the sounds of their own voices so much that they simply must "um, like, ya know?" every 15 seconds. Just spit it out!

It not being chiropractor day.

What have you had just about enough of lately?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sunday Sweats Vol. 9

Monday: restorative yoga practice (20 min)
Today wasn't particularly challenging — there were no arguments, no work disasters, no catastrophes to speak of — but it wasn't easy either. It was almost like my mind hurt, the result of overactive thoughts. By the evening I was emotionally drained and mentally wired. I chose this Sarah Beth video for the first time and found it really peaceful, very helpful, and custodial to a much deeper stretch than I'd anticipated. Two thumbs up.

Tuesday: studio yoga class (75 min)
Tonight's class was just okay. For some reason it was very, very full, and it felt a little crowded — I had to alter some movements to not touch the yogi to my left. The energy flow in the room just wasn't great, and we didn't have time for backbends and inversions — my favorite. I left without the grounded feeling I appreciate so much. BUT, it was a tough class. I thought I might get some miles in afterward, but my thighs were burning, to the point where I was dragging my legs up the stairs. They didn't have it in 'em.

Wednesday: vinyasa yoga practice (20 min) + 3.1 mile run
ALL THE SORE THINGS. Donna's insistence on revolved warrior 3s and half moons and standing splits left these hips a-hurtin' today, but again, it was the good hurt. I started the day with Erin's latest flow video and realized that I feel better, overall, this week than I have in a little while.

After my chiropractor went HAM on my tibias (I'll happily explain if you're curious, but I won't assume that you are) I felt like I was running on fresh legs, and I had to take advantage of the downright delightful temperature: 24 degrees. AND it actually went above freezing today! I see you, spring. Anyway, I averaged 9:23 but felt good, strong, satisfied. Really can't wait for more daylight so I can be comfortable running a bit longer route in the evenings after work.

Thursday: core yoga practice (12 min) + 4 mile run
Have I ever told you guys how much I hate core work? No? You guys, I hate core work. I just always have. That's partially why I spend so long in headstand, because it's an activated core posture that doesn't have any crunch motion involved. But I know I need to do it, especially coming up on a race, so I threw this video in this morning.

Tonight's run was a tad colder than yesterday but overall it was fine — not exceptional either way. I just really, really can't wait to have some light on these short runs so I can put the speed work in there without worrying about totally eating it on some black ice.

Friday: flexibility yoga practice (14 min)
Woke up feeling a bit of stiffness in my left shin and calf, which is where I found a bit of, let's say, not pain but stress at mile 4 and after last night's run. My first response is always stretching, so I picked this flow for the down dogs to go right into all those leg muscles.

Saturday: gentle vinyasa practice (12 min)
I had hundreds (literally) of pages to edit today, plus an apartment to clean, plus a cat to cat-sit, so it was a bit of a hectic day. I let my run slide till tomorrow and almost called it a day, but I managed to get a free flow in after dinner. Not much, but better than nothing: Some nice, deep, detoxing twists, a few sun salutation As, some cat/cows (always), and some slight backbends in table and stargazer. Turned out to be just the balancing act I needed.
Sunday: vinyasa yoga practice (40 min)
I'm really struggling with how I'll possibly feel ready for RnR in two weeks. My 8-mile intention was trashed today. First, I woke up with an absolutely POUNDING migraine. I hate, hate, hate this feeling, and I felt like I was doing so well for so many months, eliminating my triggers and reducing the number of headaches I had. But the past few weeks have been rough. And have you ever tried to run with a migraine? I have, and it's one of the most unpleasant experiences I've ever felt.

Later on as I finally started to be able to open my eyes, the snow came. I'm so done with the snow. The cold honestly isn't even bothering me this year but MORE snow? I can't. I know I don't have it as bad as my friends further north, but I've had enough. The roads are constantly disastrous, potholes and snow banks everywhere, and there's just no more room. I spoke too soon Wednesday. Spring, please come soon. I'm begging you.

So anyway, this all added up to the worst possible conditions for running. I took a long free flow instead, tried to focus on building heat in my legs and core to somehow, slightly make up for the lack of miles.

Weekly Totals:
Running: 2 runs, 7 miles
Yoga: 7 practices, 193 minutes

What felt like a really great and productive week kind of came crashing down on Sunday — starting the day with a migraine can really mess with you. Here's hoping my coming week's training goes according to plan and I can get a 10-miler in. I'm so glad Rock 'n Roll won't be my first half marathon, because I know I'll spend a good amount of time during the race willing myself to keep running because my body has already done it before — I know I'm capable of it. That knowledge will just have to be enough to supplement this disastrous training cycle.

Good thing I have Superhero Half two months later...