Community Spirit

This weekend I had the opportunity to go car camping for the first time in my life at Arroyo Seco. (It’s never too late in your life to experience any firsts!) Part of the camping trip involved a 3-4 mile hike through a relatively easy trail, followed by a short descent to the bank of the stream. We blew up our inflatables (which is a lot harder than it looks) and set down the stream.

Due to the drought the stream was nonexistent for large portions and required hiking through moss-covered rocks (super slippery), rock protrusions in the water (which my friends dubbed butt sharks) and rock hills.

Making our way through a narrow slope down to a part of the stream.
Making our way through a narrow slope down to a part of the stream. I’m carrying my dog in her life vest with my left hand.

By the 5th hour of our hike, sun blazing and shade non-existent, the environment started to take a toll on us. Dehydration from poor water rationing, sunburn despite copious amounts of sunblock application, heat exhaustion from the beating sun and headaches set upon us. We had no idea how much further we had to go to reach the end of the stream (where our campground was located.) We plodded on. And on. And on.

There were moments I wanted to give up, but watching my friends be hopeful that the next bend might provide relief from the heat, or a path to the original hiking train, propeled me on. There wasn’t much that could be done to improve the situation, but we shared the remaining rations of granola bars and sunblock.

Eventually, after another hour, we found a trail of sorts, but we weren’t sure where it would take us. At this point our group split. Those of us with dogs trekked up the trail in hopes of finding the main path while the remaining continued down the stream. After a steep climb that involved ropes and ample quadricep strength, we reached the main path. From the main path, it was about 25 minutes before we reached the campground. I shoveled the only available food (since the good stuff was in the car of someone not at the campsite) of guacamole flavored ships, marshmallows, graham crackers and warm cranberry juice.

As for those down the stream? Two hours after my trekking party separated, one of our friends limped back telling us to grab the first aid kit because someone was injured. They were unable to find any trails after we separated and after an hour of wandering, started to climb up the side of a gorge. Loose rocks tumbled down and eventually sliced through the leg of one of our friends (who eventually had to get seven stitches).

So what is the point of this? Sometimes being in the company of others who can encourage us when things don’t look so peachy can inspire us to persevere. Not just in hikes, but in yoga class, at work, or just in life in general.

[All images courtesy of my friend Jeff Wang.]

To Music or Not To Music

I started a draft of this article awhile ago, but never finished. It seems like a good time to bring it up today in light of a story on The Atlantic that claims that people prefer electric shocks to be alone with their thoughts. Aside from the glaringly overstatement (in actuality, “a quarter of the women and two thirds of the men gave themselves a zap when left with their own thoughts…” which means that a majority of men, but not a majority of women), it does bring up a good point on how hard it is to just be with your mind.

For me, yoga asana can be a great precursor towards eventually learning to sit still. At the very least, you are given the opportunity to sit with your own body while adding some stretching and strengthening to it. All the while you can really focus on the extension and compression of muscles and joints and everything in between.

Which brings me to the title of this post: to music or not to music?

I take classes with teachers that play and teachers that do not. I have personally found a preference towards soft music or no music. This doesn’t apply to everyone though. I’ve seen classes with loud Lady Gaga, heart pumping, Zumba-esque musical soundtracks that are packed from one wall to another. To each his own.

I ultimately choose to not play music for a variety of reasons, and not all of them are what you think it is.

1. It takes a long time to create a playlist. Sure, I could slap together a string of zero 7 music with some xx, Ben Leinbach, and nature calls thrown in without much thought. But I have to make sure that the playlist tunes in to what I plan on teaching… and that it won’t push the class in any direction that will become unnatural. A lot of thought needs to go into what I want to play… and I’m not going to lie – somewhere between my full time job, my personal practice, my husband, my dog, traveling, rock climbing, eating, sleeping and everything else, I don’t want to make a half-assed playlist with my remaining time.

2. I’ve play had playlists that were very invigorating, which the class didn’t really appreciate since they were in a worn-out mood. I’ve had playlists that were soothing when the class needed a bit more pep in their practice. I can’t suddenly swap out the music like a maestro DJ so the class had to suffer through some awkward music before plodding through to savasana.

3. In my personal practice, I like to hear myself breathe. I’m not sure if all of my students feel that same sentiment though. Please let me know if you don’t. 🙂

4. I like to hear myself think. I think a lot of garbage and it’s quite fun. In my mind, I lead a life like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Outside of my yoga practice, I work full time at a fast-paced start-up. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and the people in it. But sometimes you need some space from the ones you love. For me, that means going out for a walk with my mind. Sometimes with and sometimes without music. But it’s mostly for me to be alone with my imagination.

I’m not sure if I fully convinced anyone if one way or another is better. The point I’m trying to get at is, I don’t play music because I want to let each student define their own practice. If they want to play music, they are welcome to tune up a soundtrack in their heads. I won’t know and I definitely wouldn’t disallow it.

[Also, I know the featured image is just of my dog running in a field. Bear with me while I test out some features.] [/expand]

Inhale, Exhale, Lather, Rinse, Repeat

I have a habit of overplanning things in an effort to mitigate any potential problems on the horizon. I try to overprepare and live with the container of the box I created.

Unfortunately, I married a fly by the seat of his pants/live in the moment/carpe diem kind of guy.

Well, crap, now what?

Neither extreme is particularly good. In my world, the rigidity of my plans leaves little room for the pop-ups that happen during our lives, trips, whatever. Something new and exciting may come up unexpectedly, but I am tied to my decisions. On the other hand, living in the moment completely may lead to a directionless soul.

As with most things in life, there are fluctuations in all directions in our moods, perceptions and choices. If the world and all of it’s inhabitants were completely perfect, then the middle ground would be easily attainable. But that wouldn’t be fun would it?

If what I wrote made absolutely no sense, I’m just saying that I need to learn to not be overwhelmed by spontaneity and overstimulation and he needs to enjoy the humdrum life. In both cases, we just need to breathe.

Home Practice

I love to travel. Problem is, when I travel, I tend to put yoga on the backburner. I do carry around my travel mat – just in case.

This past trip, I did manage to squeeze in some yoga, some meditation, and some gentle stretching.

Despite teaching a mostly physical/power/vinyasa class, I personally don’t aim to kill myself when I’m doing my home practice. My last 2 weeks consisted of some slow vinyasa, lots of yin stretches, and mostly feel-good stretches. The only “intense” thing that I did were a few planks for core, as well as a few handstands.

Today I took my first instructor-led class of 2014… and it was a power class. Despite not going full-on for the last 2 weeks (and mostly cutting myself a break), I had a great (physical) class. Mentally I am still somewhat all over the map from jetlag (I’ve only been back for less than 30 hours!), but I actually felt more flexible and less inflamed. I felt stronger and less worn out.

As I work through the last year of my 20s, I’ve learned to listen to my body more. I’ve discovered that I take a little bit longer to recover than I used to – and that’s fine. The hiking, kayaking and beaching was a good break from my “intense” yoga practice. A slow steady practice with gentle stretching was all I needed to decompress from the day.

That’s one of the best things about a home practice. You get to do whatever you want to do and not something that a teacher is telling you. You get to truly tune-in to your body and see what it needs. I’m not discounting instructor-led classes at all – those are great for learning something new, and for someone to constantly remind you of things that might fall to the wayside in a home practice.

It’s a new year. Be gentle with yourself and listen. A sustainable practice is more important than putting your foot behind your head.

Changes

I used to try and resist the change that occurred around me. When close friends left and moved, I could not comprehend how life would go on (yes, I was pretty melodramatic.) When life changes happened (graduation, work changes, relationship changes, my mother’s death, etc.) I struggled with the transitions.

I have come to realize that everything in life is in constant flux. So long as the flux is trending upwards, you’ll be fine. I see life like the stock market. This is the Dow Jones for as long as Google Finance could track it:

CaptureNothing but ups and downs. A lot of major setbacks, but a lot of major rises.

This month, three of my closest friends at yoga have moved out of the area for school, work or life changes. A part of me is a little sad that they’re gone since I am used to seeing them on an almost daily basis, but I know it’s not the end of the world.

This month I am getting married. I’ve dealt with other family changes [see my sister’s blog http://40daysofsobrietysf.com/] and it’s made our sistership better.

Speaking of change, my teaching schedule will change altogether. Still playing around with what works best. Will update schedule page when it’s settled.

Move with the change.

Yoga Tapas (not tasty like the Spanish kind.)

Yoga Tapas (not tasty like the Spanish kind.)

This is relevant to my last article. Sometimes you have to fall and make mistakes. You can’t baby yourself forever. 

Hip openers have always been uncomfortable from me (shortened hip flexors from years of sitting, tightness from years of running.) Nowadays, it can go both ways – sometimes it’s a relief on my hips, sometimes I feel like my hips feel locked into permanent stiffness. Someday I hope it will be more of the former than the latter.

Get Outside the Comfort Zone Or Listen To Your Body?

The more I practice, the more I feel like I hold myself back. I hear so many horror stories from other teachers (torn meniscus, herniated disk, face plant/bloody nose) that I start to worry that if I go too far, I’ll end up in the territory of unnecessary pain and injury.

On the other hand, I feel stuck in my practice – like I’m not advancing because I’m not trying. In not trying, I’m cheating myself out of the mental focus and physical awareness.

It’s a fine line between trying something that you might be ready for without going to the point of injury. It’s a line that everyone has to figure out for themselves.

As for me, I’ve started to venture out of my comfort zone. I’ve been lucky to have open hamstrings (or some people think I have none since I can forward fold deeply and never seem to find a stretch in them… Heh) and decent backbends. Hip openers have been hard. A desk job has shortened my hip flexors and had started to create some back pain (refer to iliopsoas.) After practicing yoga for a few years, my hips have finally opened enough that I can put my foot behind my head (not comfortably though) before I felt stuck. I’ve recently discovered an amazing sequence from Tiffany Cruikshank to work towards Kala Bhairavasana. Suddenly I’m outside my comfort zone, but well within the realm of what I am capable of doing. I’m not there yet, but I think if I try, I can actually do it. Toeing the line and hoping that my limits are farther than I believe.

You know you’re old when you realize that everything your parents told you was true.

I came to this realization about a year ago. The one piece of advice that I realized was true was, “You’ll thank me when you’re older.” So yes, I thank my parents for making me play the piano and guitar, for driving me 7+ dance classes a week, for forcing me to Chinese school and Speech and Debate, and loads of other things.

the miscellaneous thoughts of a daydreamer