Archive for the 'Yoga' Category

Re-United: 11-Day Yoga Cleanse Wrap-Up

Since beginning a nutritional and yoga cleanse on June 22, I’ve been so busy shopping for new grocery items, finding and preparing new recipes, and taking yoga classes (in addition to a demanding semester at work and marathon training) I’ve barely had time to share the results. The official cleanse finished July 2. sunshine

Really it may be early to use the word “results” to describe differences so far, although I’ve experienced quite a few:

  • The low energy I’d almost surrendered to drastically reversed. All of a sudden I stopped feeling sleep-deprived, despite not sleeping any more than I had been. No longer was it a struggle to get myself going. Though I’m building up a lot of base miles with running daily, I felt like the end of a marathon taper energy-wise. At times I had almost too much energy, but after feeling semi-lethargic for much of the last year, will never complain about that.
  • I’ve been a generally nutritious eater (with an equally healthy appetite for indulgent treats and preference for things that can be quickly prepared, however) for as long as I can recall. During the cleanse eating plan, I was able to feel my body thank me for putting supportive, unprocessed, nutrient-rich, carefully prepared meals and snacks into it. It was almost like my cells were purring. That sounds pretty dumb, but it felt like the cliche “natural high.”
  • I laughed more and was able to more easily be “giving” to others.
  • The nutrition nerd in me had a great time learning about foods that support various organs, new superfoods and supplements to sample, and a little more about how the nutritional detoxification/cleanse process is thought to work.
  • My hair is shinier.
  • Last time I weighed in, the scale read a few pounds lighter. All right!
  • I discovered some delicious foods and recipes that I’ll share soon. It’s a fun process to research and experiment when you have the time, but at times it was also frustrating. I don’t love cooking or grocery shopping or have ample free time anyway, so I hope that the post learning-curve period will not involve so much time in a grocery line or standing over the stove.
  • A negative effect I experienced off and on during the cleanse was feeling more mood swings and negative emotions. Even though they weren’t pleasant, I realized all the extra caffeine and more processed/refined foods I craved were probably masking those feelings, which never works long term despite my stubborn persistence. I can take the insight forward and when I find myself wanting to reach for more coffee or sugar, check in and see if there’s something going on that I could share with a journal, friend, or a few miles traveled under my feet.
  • I re-awakened my desire to continue what I intend to make lifelong study of yoga, nutrition, and holistic health.
  • I brushed off the cobwebs on my poor, neglected asana practice. In 10 yoga classes my body went from stiff, sluggish, and a tad soft to a more defined appearance, stronger-feeling core, and noticeable improvement in flexibility – even those tight runner’s hamstrings.
  • I was able to deepen my yoga practice and study from some very talented, creative, and challenging teachers at Cleveland Yoga.

20081226resetOf course, I can’t revert right back to the “surfing the crave wave” ways of pre-June 22.  Since the cleanse finished I’ve followed the eating plan, but not as strictly. It isn’t a restrictive or rigid program, anyway. I find that I do not want to go back to consuming artificial sweeteners, breads, refined grains, and overly salty or sugary processed foods at this time. I discovered the magazine Clean Eating and its corresponding books and am exploring those and other resources to continue developing this new way of self-care. I’m also continuing to attend yoga classes, though not daily – if only my budget allowed that!

When I began the 11-Day Cleanse, I remember thinking I needed to press my “Reset” button.  It feels comforting to know the next time my body, eating, and energy feel out of balance,  there’s a powerful tool I can access to restore myself.

Re-United: 11-Day Yoga Cleanse, Day 7 Update

I’m now a week into an 11-day yoga and nutritional cleanse. Physically I’m having fun with the experience overall, although it hasn’t been without challenges.

Finding a “generally healthy” by mainstream American culture standards meal in most restaurants is difficult enough. Dining out and staying “cleanse-friendly” proved almost impossible Thursday at a post trail-running group dinner at a great local restaurant in town, The Courtyard. It has a huge and diverse menu, with most items prepared from scratch. I chose the best entree I could find, grilled shrimp with sauteed tomatoes, onions, rice, and guacamole. I focused on the shrimp, veggies, and guac, and left most of the rice. The problem was I did not stay strong. Very hungry after running twice, teaching pilates, and lifting weights that day and surrounded by fellow runners enjoying beer, bread, and french fries, I allowed my resolve to weaken and partook of the Simple Carbohydrate-Laden Trifecta. Rather than beat myself up I resumed eating according to the cleanse guidelines the next day, but I felt sorry that I had given up a chance to reap benefits from food.

The other difficulty occurred on today’s 15-mile run. Though I normally avoid high fructose corn syrup when possible, I do drink Gatorade on warm long runs because it is the most common sports drink served during marathons and I like its taste. I usually fuel with breakfast before running, but keep an emergency gel handy. Though they are used by the body immediately for energy when taken during exercise, both of these ergogenic aids are high in simple sugars and therefore high on the 11-day cleanse “avoid” list. This warm morning, I replaced Gatorade with a no-sugar electrolyte supplement made by Alacer and never felt my hydration was off. But again I ran into problems. Despite a good breakfast of steel-cut oats with organic peanut butter and a little stevia, I had gnawing hunger pangs by mile 7. I tried mind-over matter for another 2+ miles before breaking into the “in case of emergency” monosaccharides.

Again, I didn’t beat myself up. I ate cleanse-approved foods for recovery fuel and the rest of the day. I told myself this is all  new and whatever I choose to integrate long-term from the cleanse eating plan, it will take some time to re-pattern and re-learn. Sports nutrition in particular requires a lot of trial and error and individual experimentation.

On the plus side, I’m having a great time discovering some delicious recipes, foods, and resources that I might never have tried since starting the cleanse and will definitely incorporate into my long-term diet. Last night we had colorful peppers stuffed with lean ground turkey, sauteed veggies, and a little brown rice. I found the recipe in the great new magazine Clean Eating, a slightly more relaxed and more “realistic” nutritional lifestyle than a detox cleanse.  Huge creative salads have always been my favorite thing to prepare, but I never experimented with additions like chopped kale, snipped fresh basil, and homemade garlic balsamic vinegrette dressing. I found out that unsweetened puffed brown rice cereal also goes “snap crackle pop” and sampled refreshing coconut water, a natural sports drink high in electrolytes. Tonight I savored a glass of Our Daily Red organic red table wine that far surpassed my expectations of a $9 bottle.

It goes without saying that without a consistent personal asana practice for about a year, returning to my yoga mat has been physically challenging. The power yoga style emphasized and expertly instructed at Cleveland Yoga is the most physically challenging activity I’ve experienced other than marathoning. Deconditioned aching muscles shake, balance is wobbly, and poses that used to feel freeing now serve as an opportunity to realize all the tight and weak places in my body. My poor Upward-Facing Dog is doggone tired. Like nutrition, yoga can detoxify the body, and some poses like twists and hip openers are notorious for releasing toxic emotions. I’ve been surprised at some feelings that have come up this week. Even though I understand the process and can step back and recognize that moods pass, in their present moment they aren’t exactly a party!

Looking on the very bright side, on the fifth day of yoga I could already feel more openness and suppleness in my body as it more easily remembered Upward-Facing Bow, Seated Forward Fold, Eagle, and Double Pigeon. It will take longer than five days to come back to the calmer mindset I arrived at after a regular daily meditation practice and long to return to, but I feel certain that renewed enthusiasm for practice will motivate me in that direction.

Re-United: 11-Day Yoga Cleanse, Day 2

Pain and steak. These were two unexpected parts of Day 2 of the 11-day yoga and eating cleanse I’m doing.

The pain came first. First thing in the morning. I woke up and for a moment couldn’t lift my head up, turn, or lift my body from bed. It seemed my trapezius muscle had been replaced in the night by firey soreness and stiffness. Hmm, I remembered trying especially hard to find comfortable neck positions in some asanas in yesterday’s yoga class, but otherwise couldn’t pinpoint the vice grip on the back of my neck.

Physical pain was almost immediately overshadowed by mental pain. As always, my day began with a long, meticulously scheduled mental to-do list. First item on that list was an easy 5-mile run, to squeeze some miles in the only available time to do them. Seeing how nodding my head was causing something to roughly grab me by the scruff of my neck, I knew I wouldn’t be running today. Luckily my week’s meticulously scheduled training plan has room to swap today with a scheduled rest day, but my half-awake reaction was that my day was already off to a lousy, run-free start.

I tried to meditate, another part of the cleanse. But it hurt to hold my head up, and as soon as I got sort of comfortable the phone rang. Discouragement. Now I had to scurry to get ready for work, anyway. Tuesday happens to be my Monday, and though I’m very grateful for a good job that I actually like much of the time, I admit I’m struggling with a bit of burnout the first summer of my teaching career where I’ve taught a full load rather than had complete freedom. So I downed Advil and drove with a stiff throbbing neck and thoughts that throbbed worse. I despairingly hoped the 11 days would also result in a cleanse of my attitude!

Now for the steak. No, I didn’t follow the “natural” remedy of placing it on my hurting neck. A small cut of lean steak was prepared for dinner by my boyfriend, who bought it because he kindly did all the grocery shopping this week and wasn’t aware of the 11-dafruit salady cleanse requirements. Animal protein isn’t on the “avoid” list, but the suggestion is to stick with organic lean poultry and fish. But, I figured a small lean portion prepared with love couldn’t be too toxic, so I enjoyed it with a large side of veggies sauteed in olive oil and the company of my partner.

Despite, or maybe even including the pain and the steak, Day 2 of the cleanse went well. After work I took an inspiring yoga class from an instructor who’s obviously a gifted teacher and devoted student of yoga with much wisdom to share. My appetite was still very strong all day. Other than the steak it was no problem to stick with the cleanse program, except I again couldn’t believe how hungry I was!

The cherry on top of Day 2 was this divine fruit salad I mixed up. All the gorgeous colors and flavors we get to enjoy for the next few days make me feel both decadent and blessed.

Re-United: 11-Day Yoga Cleanse, Day 1

First in a series.

Eighteen months ago when I created this blog, I thought I’d write more about yoga than I actually have. My yoga practice, in the various forms it’s taken, has been an invaluable stabilizer and teacher for me. I’ve been practicing – and teaching – yoga longer than I’ve been dedicated to running, the subject of probably 99% of my posts here.  In The Distance’s description even mentions “a yoga journey.”

Sadly, in the last year, I would describe my yoga journey as a journey away from all the wonderful physical, mental, and spiritual practices I’ve discovered since I walked into my first yoga class 12 years ago.  I can make the excuse that the lapse was the result of demanding new job stress and relocating and setting up and keeping a household in order and the wonderful and welcome change of going from living alone to living with a partner, but the plain truth is I didn’t properly take care of my yoga practice. I let it go. I still taught my beginning yoga classes to college students and enjoyed that, but with yoga if you aren’t walking the walk, it’s impossible to effectively and authentically talk the talk to your students.

While I felt bad short-changing my students, the one who suffered most was me. Cracks started emerging. I replaced morning meditation with another cup of coffee. I noticed I was getting more “reactive” and letting emotions control me. My energy level ebbed big-time, and I struggled with regular cravings for unsupportive foods. Or another glass of wine. Or both.

So yesterday, I made movement back toward the place where I must have wandered off the course of my yoga journey. I began an 11-day yoga and eating cleanse offered by a studio near work, Cleveland Yoga. The most common English translation of the word “yoga” means “union,” so I am calling this 11-day experience my “Yoga Reunion.”

vegetablesThe 11 days combine daily yoga with a nutritional cleanse. Unlike more “legislative” type cleansing programs, this one offers a list of food substances to avoid for the most powerful cleansing. A second, more detailed “to-do” list of foods to include each day reads like a beautiful, pure grocery list: whole fresh foods like green and cruciferous veggies, citrus, berries, eggs, foods known to support liver and colon function, good oils and fats, friendly carbs, lots of filtered water, and optional extras including (thankfully!) a daily cup of organic coffee. As long as you avoid the “cleanse-blocking” foods and check off your “to-do” list, you can eat as much or as little as you like of anything else. The emphasis on awareness and doing your best each day is empowering rather than prohibitive. It is an excellent mindset for anyone who eats, whether or not they are following a cleanse program, so will be a powerful practice to keep after the formal program ends.

Day 1

This morning I woke up excited to start new. I had my coffee with stevia rather than hazelnut Splenda and copious low-fat half and half. I won’t lie; it wasn’t nearly as delicious. But, I was willing to give the cleanse a chance. Breakfast was steel-cut oats (instead of instant oatmeal for my impatient tastebuds) with raw almond butter and blueberries. The texture and flavor were both much more interesting and very appealing. I also drank about twice the water I normally would in the morning.

organic_coffee

Mid-morning I ran 8 hilly miles and it was Hot and Humid and not shady enough. Somehow I felt strong and energetic the entire way. I didn’t whine to myself about the muggy weather or fight feelings of lethargy.

After running I enjoyed lunch: lean chicken with a little brown rice, and veggies sauteed with olive oil, garlic, and onion. Plus two big glasses of water to rehydrate.

I thought that would hold me until a pre-yoga snack. Usually it would. But all afternoon at work, I felt hunger pangs. It took an apple, and orange, more raw almonds than I would normally eat at once, some dried edamame, organic green tea, and plenty of water to take the edge off. My appetite was crazy! I was still sort of hungry when I went to yoga, but luckily the sweat-triggering practice tamed my rumbling tummy.

After yoga I got home as excited as Snoopy for suppertime! Lloyd and I made an amazing huge green salad and shared some lentil soup. For dessert I savored a frozen whole fruit bar.

snoopy suppertime

I enjoyed the first day of 11 and feel great, although I suspect at this point the good feelings come from knowing I’m taking better care of my body – and spirit – again, rather than from being scrubbed and polished from the inside out.

(H)OM(e)made Yoga

With the nearest yoga studio 40 miles away, taking a class isn’t a realistic option for me most days. Aside from teaching, which is for the students, my yoga practice has been mostly solo and home-based for the past four years. Really for six years, since before that I was a grad student who couldn’t afford $10-$15/session.

As a student and instructor, I firmly believe that nothing can take the place of working in person with a qualified teacher in an appropriate level class, even if just for a half-dozen sessions. I recommend that to anyone. A good teacher can tailor the class to individual students’ abilities, work one-on-one within the class to help each student feel best in the asanas (poses), offer encouragement, answer questions, and more. There’s really no substitute, but unfortunately many of us (including myself) have full-time jobs, major commitments to training and/or family, live in inconvenient places, or are on tight budgets.

The next best option for beginning yogis, I believe, is some type of visual media: DVD, Web-based class, podcast, cable show, etc. More and more instructors and studios are providing classes online, some for purchase and others free of charge. I haven’t explored many offerings, but a good search engine result for “online yoga classes” should come up with plenty. If you have TiVo and a satellite dish service, you can record “Namaste Yoga” on FitTV or “Exhale,” broadcast on the Oxygen network.

To have the optimal experience, take the time out to simply watch the video before trying a new routine. It is frustrating and counterproductive to be hanging out in Downward-Facing Dog craning your neck to see what’s going on on the screen, and in some poses (Bridge, Shoulderstand) could compromise the cervical spine.

Above all else, listen to your body when practicing solo. If anything causes sudden, sharp pain, dizziness, lightheadedness, or shortness of breath, carefully come out and take a break.

Yoga Conditioning For Athletes

These titles are just one yogini’s suggestion. There are hundreds on the market, and I’m sure another practitioner would have different recommendations. Yoga is a very individual and personal experience, and part of the yoga tradition is connecting with the teachers we feel drawn to. If you want to begin a yoga practice, trust that you will discover what you need as you go. A DVD or book that ignites one person’s enthusiasm for practicing will sit on someone else’s shelf collecting dust and taking up space. That’s why, if you have access, I suggest first sampling from the public library, renting from a video store or Netflix, or downloading free online classes.

All DVDs I mention should be available through Amazon.com or Yogajournal.com’s “Shop” section.

The title I recommend most to runners and other athletes is Yoga Conditioning for Athletes. I love this practice and in the past, have done it after every week’s long run during marathon training. The whole hour-long routine is a complete practice with stretching, strengthening, and relaxation. The DVD also includes short, sport-specific routines, and instructor Rodney Yee tailors his instruction to explain how the poses benefit sports performance. It is very easy to follow with three people demonstrating three different levels for each pose.

New and intermediate yogis will do well exploring the titles produced by Gaiam.com. The Web site offers previews and categorizes titles by level of difficulty. Every Gaiam DVD I own features an experienced instructor, is beautifully filmed, well-organized, easy to follow, and has quality content. Some of them do have more of a “workout video” feel than a yoga practice feel, but that’s just my experience.

New yogis who want more in-depth instruction can try the series Step by Step A Total Guide To Beginning Your Home Practice produced by Yoga Journal magazine. Each of the three DVDs has a practice routine, but the special features include in-depth instruction of every pose. This is the next best thing to taking a Level 1 class.

I gravitate to vinyasa (“flow”) yoga for its dance-like feel, creativity, and more moderate pace. This style is also called “Power Yoga” and emphasizes strengthening as well as stretching. I have nearly 20 DVDs of ths style, but my two favorite titles are Eoin Finn’s Power Yoga For Happiness and Shiva Rea’s Yoga Shakti. Both titles let practitioners choose short or long practices. Finn’s instruction is playful and fun, yet he has a way of helping students experience poses on a deeper level. “Yoga Shakti” has an especially cool Matrix feature where you can select and sequence your own routine.

And finally, to anyone who needs a good laugh while learning a pose or two: Yogabeans!

A Yogic Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day! This year I find myself enthused about the Hallmark Holiday for a change. Sure it’s a bit contrived and more than a bit commercialized, but what is so bad about a day that encourages people to be more loving all around?

So many times, people turn their backs to you
‘Cause they don’t wanna see what’s inside of you
‘Cause lookin’ inside of you
They might realize there’s something inside of them
They might not wanna find
But it ain’t about who ya love, (who ya love)
See it’s all about do ya love, (do ya love)
— Michael Franti

Though Valentine’s Day has evolved from its saintly or possibly pagan origins into yet another retail sales benchmark, there are plenty of low-cost and no-cost ways to spread some love. Here’s one I found:

Thai Yoga Massage

Yoga Journal also features an 8-minute video of a few better-known modern yogis looking at relationships from their own perspectives.  I found it an insightful reminder of what I’ve read more than once, that a relationship is the ultimate day-to-day yoga practice.

Let Love Rule, y’all.

On a related note I’ll be traveling for the next several days, but plan to be back with some good training updates. Keep an eye on this place for me, will ya?

A Yoga Journey

The tagline of this blog mentions a yoga journey. It’s time to take off the running shoes for a post and instead solidly place my bare feet on the mat. 

Exactly 10 years ago, I took a yoga class for the first time. My then-roommate Carla found a class offered at the local rec center in our suburban Seattle neighborhood. I can’t remember the instructor’s name, but I will never forget her. She was an older woman and a new widow. Sometimes during class she told stories about her recently deceased husband, remembering her mate with joy, humor, and warmth rather than inconsolable grief. That impressed me, as well as the physical strength and ease she demonstrated in asanas (yoga postures) that my four decades younger body struggled to emulate.

I will always be grateful to those two remarkable women for being part of the initiation to something precious and vast that has gone on to immeasurably enrich my life.

Carla and I continued practicing when we both relocated to Fargo. We even took partner classes where we were the only platonic, same-sex pair. I was a step aerobics instructor at the Y, and slowly branched into teaching beginning yoga there. This time my mentor teacher, Maia, was almost 10 years younger. I’ll never forget her, either. Her youthful body could do the most acrobatic postures, but outside of classes this 22-year old was much more interested in talking about meditation and philosophical aspects of yoga than in drinking or clubbing.

Ten years after that first class, I am a Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher. That means I have completed nationally set standards of training. Mine was in idyllic Asheville, N.C., with a wonderful, loving, if not slightly maverick lead instructor, Stephanie Keach. The credential may sound official, but doesn’t qualify me as a yoga master. After reading dozens of books and attending many workshops, I still don’t know any of those.

Rather than any kind of expert, I usually feel like either an impostor or a missionary in my current teaching practice.  In Western culture worldwide yoga is burgeoning. In this small Southern town yoga is unpopular at best, making the couple of instructors unintentional missionaries. Fundamentalist Christianity, the religion commonly practiced, interprets its scriptures in a way that yoga conflicts with worshipping that belief system’s god. I have had students openly object to or laugh at class activities and protest when I use music with “foreign words that might be a negative influence.” The few local classes available, including mine, are painfully small. The bright silver lining is that those who do come are truly appreciative of the chance to practice in a structured environment.

The impostor feeling comes in because my own practice has been greatly downgraded to the role of Running Antidote for tight hamstrings and hips. With the closest advanced classes more than an hour away, my physical practice has regressed rather than improved. On the other hand, being a solo yogini (female yoga practitioner) has allowed me to discover the riches of a daily meditation practice.  In the last year I’ve learned that simply sitting still has the power to reshape and transform far more than the bendiest yoga party trick ever could.

I dearly love yoga, but without a community frequently struggle with feelings of stagnation and low motivation for practicing and teaching. It is easy to feel jealous of city-dwelling friends who regale me with tales of a great instructor or amazing new studio opening up down the street. And it can be easy to allow the ego to muscle in and wish for advanced students crowding into the studio for 90 minutes of challenging flow practice, rather than students who are limited by their physical conditions to the most gentle, basic asana practice.

Somehow, when I’m feeling my lowest yoga mojo is when I have the best classes.  Maybe my students will share a story about how yoga helps them, like the Wal-Mart employee who regularly practices child’s pose in the middle of the aisle when work gets too hectic.

Other times, I hear words coming out from a place I am not consciously in touch with and cannot take credit for:

  • “Find a way for your body to experience comfort and ease in this pose, even if it means doing  a completely different pose.”
  • “Let your breath drown out the space between your ears and bring you back to your true self.”
  • “Search for something in you that feels better from your yoga practice. Maybe it’s physical, or energetic, or emotional. With each inhalation, fan that flame with your breath and expand what feels good. As you exhale, send it somewhere in need of that feeling. Maybe within you, or to someone else, or someplace else in the world.”

and realize I am talking to my students, but I am talking to myself too.

Or the practice will end like tonight’s class. I felt the four students’ relaxed states permeating the space with heavy stillness. I encouraged them to come out of savasana to sukhasana in their own time, and observed peace and bliss on their closed-eye faces as they held on to the last few moments of tranquility. 

It is so humbling to, on a very small and amateur scale, catalyze yoga’s power and share it with others. In doing so, I replenish my own drained energy and renew the desire to  journey farther and deeper in the direction of the source.


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