Thursday, March 25, 2010

eat your heart out

the past few weeks i've had rough dreams; the kind of dreams you will yourself not to have before falling asleep, but can feel their roots spreading in your brain even as your eyes close. typically i have a week of vivid dreams before my period arrives, but the timing isn't right now. there's a lot of stress in my waking life currently--money issues, mostly--and of course the anxiety feeds the dream machine, but they're not all bad. a few nights ago i dreamed of skipping down santa monica blvd, literally skipping. 

it's been kind of a food week over here. i didn't teach much yoga, for one reason or another, and have been slowly fighting some weird version of the flu for about a week. this meant i was home, a lot. so i ate, a lot. i baked things, like cinnamon rolls and coffee cake, whole wheat biscuits and something i can only call 'a poor girl's pound cake'--by the time i made the pound cake, i'd run out of milk, soy milk, flour and had only a little sugar left. i used water and oil, and swirled half a jar of jam into the pan to sweeten the cake. it was a moderate success.

but all this baking means a whole lot of eating. so this morning, after mindlessly making a poor girl's pound cake butter sandwhich (it is exactly what it sounds like: a slice of cake cut in half and a slab of salted butter stuffed in between.), i said good bye to my boyfriend cheerily, dancing around at the top of the stairwell and humming. you're so happy today, he said, happily. i know! i exclaimed, what a sunny, beautiful day it is! la la la la, etc. he left, both of us so happy.

fifteen minutes later i was standing in front of the kitchen sink, ready to crawl down it. i was so tired. the corners of my mouth dragged toward my chin, i felt like my head weighed a hundred pounds. all week, this has been happening. around noon i crash hard. like, speeding car into a brick wall crash. as i stumbled around the kitchen fixing a cup of tea to soothe my strangely upset stomach, i eyed the pan of pound cake. eureka. with a big spoon i mashed up all the remaining cake into a ball and poked it while going over the ingredient list in my head. white sugar. white flour. vegetable oil. cheap sugary jam. i then considered the other things i'd baked this week, and a surge of self loathing hurled itself up from the pit of my belly. i felt, to put it kindly, disgusting. i'd baked all these things and then eaten them entirely without thinking, without pause, and then allowed myself to mope around all week.

but, what happened has happened. i threw out the rest of the cake (i should say that half of it was not edible--the oven i use is unreliable at best, and burns easily. the back half of cake burned badly. so throwing it out was not a totally wasteful, vengeful act.) and put the butter back in the fridge, came upstairs and rolled out my mat. i still felt like a total whale. my belly was growling at me; a strange sensation of mentally knowing you're full, but your body is requesting actual nutrition. child's pose called to me. i envisioned apana with each exhale, get it out, get it out. gradually making my way to downward dog, then a feeble chatarunga and a half hearted high cobra. this wasn't working for me. i rolled over and put my face toward the sunny spot on the floor, closing my eyes. a few moments later, i was ready again. i did ten snail paced sun salutes. the first few rounds weren't good--i felt like my body was as heavy as iron, and my muscles like stringy pieces of gum. by the fifth one, i wasn't feeling strong, but i did feel capable. a lunge salute followed, and then a long rest in pigeon on each side.

i realize now my dreams might be caused, in part, by my week of food. maybe my week of instability in general--i simply did not do enough this week, and ate as if every last meal was my last. my boyfriend and i are planning on meeting on the pudong side of the river this evening to walk along the canal, and i had planned to bake a little coffee cake to take with us. i think i'll steam some broccoli instead. the funny thing is my stomach is seriously growling!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Safe Spaces, from Casey

Just found this on old friend Casey's yoga blog..maybe because I know him, or maybe because it's true, or truly funny, but in my opinion it is pretttttty funnnny!

Baking is like Sequencing

The weather is shifting again, and with it the dust from the thousands of construction sites across Shanghai. Walking to the subway on the way to the studio I felt the stinging of exhaust, pollution and dry wind on my cheeks, and nearly took a shower when I got there. You get the feeling of turning into chalk during China springtimes, I'm learning. Sandstorms in Beijing, I hear, so it could be worse.

With the dry air and hazy pollution comes sore throats and runny noses. The weekend was spent mostly at home, snuggled up in bed or in the bath. The worst of it is over, but I'm still practicing much slower. Lots of just lying down on the mat in "savasana". (does it count as a savasana if you just collapsed onto the floor after crescent lunge and decided to stay?!) Tonight was flow at the studio, and several peeps came who I hadn't seen since Chinese New Year. Seeing them, and the feeling of overwhelming gratitude I felt upon arriving in the clean, welcoming space of the studio, gave me a surge of energy that I needed. Our big pose was coming from Dancer's into Half Moon.

Money's been tight for us lately, and pinching kuai is not super fun. But I'm learning a lot about myself, and budgeting, and that's important. More importantly, though, is the sense of thankfulness I'm cultivating for my job, and for all my private students. I am approaching every class with a deep happiness to be there, and it's making everything so much nicer. It's surprising how stressful everyday life can make someone, and being mindful of having the presence to be grateful for being able to do work at all is so crucial for me. Also, I'm listening to "Don't Worry, Be Happy" on my iPod pretty much constantly.

What I came here to say, though, was not about saving a few kuai by taking the metro, or buying noodles down the street instead of from the fancy schmancy Western place. I wanted to talk about cinnamon rolls. I made some this morning, using a recipe I've used before, but this time I didn't have any cream, so I used milk. This was a mistake! After about a minute of stirring, the dough should have formed a nice ball, so that I could knead it in the bowl a few times without really disturbing it's shape. This was not the case. The dough was goopy, runny and after removing my hands from the bowl, they looked like I was wearing thick, dripping gloves. I suppose the lesson is that milk is too thin to hold the rest of the ingredients together.

At first,  I felt extremely frustrated, mostly the mess I was creating. But also, this recipe was called "Quick Cinnamon Biscuits", and I'd made it before--it should have been so easy! I stayed calm. I forced myself to think creatively. I added more flour and stirred till my arm ached. Still gooey. I added even more flour. Stirred and stirred. I coated my hands with flour and started kneaded and patting until a loose ball took shape. Victory!

Taste wise, they're about the same as I remember. Visually they look a little whiter, and are rather firm to the touch. But otherwise, you'd never know I dumped an extra cup and half of flour in there. My point is, my yoga sequencing is like these biscuits, or rather, like all the recipes I follow that turn out deliciously. I know what I need and where it will end up, how it will look. I've been so afraid to make mistakes that I'm getting into a rut (both with baking and with my practice! i keep making the same vanilla orange cupcakes over and over again because i know they're so good) I know I'm veering into cheeseball territory here, but it really struck me how much I'm afraid of letting my creative brain to any work. When I sequence a class, I stick to the same rotating rolodex of poses, and when I bake, I only use recipes and rarely make substitutions--what if it turns out badly!? Then what will I do?! (usually eat it anyway..)

So tonight was an excersise in getting away from the recipe. I made an outline of flows I wanted to do, like always, and then I relied on my intuition and creativity to lead. It was fine! It was wonderful! We started with a cycle of five lunge salutes, and then moved into the Warrior sequence. After a vinyasa, we repeated the Warrior dance but added Triangle, Knee to Nose, and then Revolved Triangle. I've never approached Revolved Triangle like this, as hard as it is to believe. It felt so natural!

I'm trying to shake myself out of my yoga box. Watching DVDs, youtube videos, reading blogs and old Yoga Journals. I'm not shelving the old poses, though--we still did a prayer twist tonight. That one is like the orange vanilla cupcakes--it's just too good.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Class Six

Tonight I subbed for Winifred's Yoga for Recovery class. I was super nervous but measurably less so than the first 5 classes even though this was only my second more flowing, non-yin class. So that's a big improvement and makes teaching yoga seem a lot more appealing. I assume that the calmer and more connected I am, the better a class it will least I will enjoy it more!


I realized I had to rid myself of the ridiculous notion that I had to say profound things and just focus on getting the physical instructions out as clearly as possible. Those can be taken metaphorically often enough that maybe people will THINK I'm being profound.

It's 100% impossible to tell what people are thinking about you and your class.

It's surprisingly hard for me not to be cheesy at certain moments. I tried really hard to stay genuine but sometimes catch phrases want to pop out that don't really come from me and so I feel weird saying them. Again, tried to just focus on the physical instructions. And I'm fine with "element" instructions because those happen to have meaning for me. It really works for me to connect with feelings of earthiness or fluidity. So I brought those in a lot.

I feel better about certain parts of the sequence than others. There is so much freedom beginning at the 60 minute mark that I get scared there. I mean, the first 30 minutes are warm-up, easy enough. The second 30 minutes are a basic salutation or 2. And then? A peak pose followed by wind-down? Am I thinking about it too much?

There was one moment, while demoing and talking through a salutation, when I had the time to think, "Wow! I'm teaching yoga and it's kind of fun!"

Re: Demoing: I have to be super careful because people copy every little thing I do. If I start demoing a bridge, I'd better finish it instead of sitting up because visual learners will sit up too.

It's hard to be funny but I wish I could figure that out more often.

It does not help to think critically of your own yoga practice. In the middle of doing crescent lunge with the class, for some reason I thought, "Mine isn't good enough." But it passed.

On a related note, as a sub, I tried my best to let go of the feeling of "Sorry I'm not Winifred! I know she's so loving and plays nice music. Come back next week for that!"

It's so nice when friends are there.

It helps to wear a new lemon-colored tank top. And leggings are a refreshing change from heavy, thick yoga pants.

The group: 5 strong, energetic practitioners

The sequence:

Sukhasana forward fold both sides
Cat/cow rounds
Barrel Roll
Hip Circles
EZ Side Plank with cat/cow in between
Extended Child's
(Had planned to do Supta Padha Gustasana but group seemed so energetic I skipped it and went towards standing)
Squat and Cowboy Negotiation pose (just because I love saying that)
Tadasana feeling Ujjayi along back, front, and middle lines

3 Half Salutations

Lunge Salute with lunge and dog only
Tadasana with shoulder work with strap
Uttanasana with strap/interlaced fingers

Sun salutation:
Twisting lunge
Low lunge with hamstring play
Crescent lunge
Vinyasa: Baby Cobra-Baby Penguin (Locust)-Big Cobra-Windshield Wiper-Rocket Cat
Sequence other side
Vinyasa: Sphinx-Seal-Child's

Pigeon Left Side

I totally copied this next brilliant move from Winifred's class on Tuesday, hope that's ok!

Transition from Pigeon to Ardha Matseyandrasana

Then I randomly added in Half Cow-Face since the legs were already nearly set up for it.

Shake legs out, rest in Starfish

Other Side





Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Here's Me, In Natarajasana

Just Joking! It's supermodel Gisele. It's so funny, though, because I totally have that same yoga outfit!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Flat Stanley Takes a Nice Long Savasana

My cousin Jenny and her son Jake have sent me a doll, Flat Stanley, to visit me for a few weeks in Shanghai.. My job is to host him around town and answer the hard questions "Have you ever seen a dragon?" and "What do dumplings taste like?". Stanley had the pleasure of coming to work with me and here he is, resting and restoring in a nice, long savasana. 

Yesterday's flow class was nice. A good group of yogis willing to do work. Our 'peak' pose was revolved half moon. Thought about taking it to the wall for emphasis, but there was a good flow and it felt too disruptive. I realize as both a teacher and student I tend to enter and exit the asanas quickly, and I'm trying out this new slow movement. I think the 'one breath, one movement' training from CPY is engrained into my brain, but I'm learning that breath and movement can look and feel like anything I want it to. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

You Don't Have a Chance Unless You've Got Those Moves that She Likes

I am making progress in the arena of Not Thinking So Much. I know this to be true because I DANCED tonight. It makes my heart retreat in fear a little bit just to type that. The Yogery patrons will probably think I'm crazy. But I know millions of people dance every day! It is a very human thing to do. I think I have been moving toward this ability to let go and dance for a while now. Perhaps a lifetime.

I learned how to do this strange, frightening, primitive-yet-evolved activity on Sunday at a workshop taught by my new boss (you read that right!). I totally lost track of time but I would guess we were moving constantly for about an hour, sometimes subtly, sometimes exaggerated, with wordless, drum-heavy music in the background. The main rule was--just keep moving. We started on our backs just moving our hands and arms, and I was so delighted and surprised at how many different ways my hands wanted to move. One motion after another helped keep the thinking brain turned off. I felt really alive moving my hands like that. Obviously I've danced many times in my life, but almost always quite mechanically while thinking, "Oh, isn't this a nice activity for coordinated people? I wish I didn't look so stupid doing it!"

So tonight I pressed play on my dance playlist. At first I just kinda wiggled around a little bit while scrubbing the toilet and then thought, what the heck, and I got out my mat. And just kept moving. When I would start thinking, I just moved again. I didn't once compose a blog in my head or worry about doing chores. I got a workout, and I felt into some interesting nooks and crannies in my body. I feel quite smoothed out. I am infatuated right now with this practice. Now I just need some more dance music; my dance playlist is kind of heavy on Mr. Timberlake. (Now THATS the most embarrassing thing I've typed this whole post)

Above: Justin Timberlake. Just for fun. I pulled this off of some teen's Twilight-inspired blog. And no offense to him; I mean come on, Lovestoned is the best song ever.

Class Reports Plus Cupcakes!

I've been teaching a new class at 109 called Hot Flow, a combination of Bikram asanas and vinyasa flow sequences in a relatively hot space--nothing like a Bikram class, but it does get pretty hot in there. The first few classes I taught I approached it as a CPY fusion class--lots of vinyasas, core strengthening, and the Bikram asanas incorporated quickly and seamlessly with the flow. It was fine. I enjoyed it, and we all got good and sweaty.

Lately, however, I've been in a slower mood. I'm approaching all my classes and my personal practice with the same sense of balance and routine. With that in mind, here's the sequence for the last two heated flow classes. The peeps seem pleased with the slower pace. I've been chatting a bit in class about deepening the understanding of why we practice yoga, and how to process the experience of the minimum edge and maximum edge (thanks, Joel Kramer!), ie when we sit back into Bikram's Awkward Pose/Utkatasana for the first time our thighs burn and our arms cry out, but the second time we're aware of the burn and can process it as not an 'immediate danger', and therefore can come deeper. Understanding why we want to go deeper is subjective, and I have been staying away from really 'answering' that, but trying to put it out there. I don't want to force anyone to do anything, but just guide toward that maximum edge. Does that make sense?

In a ninety minute class, we open with: 

cowface with arms x 2 second time reverse namaste

in sixty minute class, we skip all that and open in:

bikram style half moon x 2
bikram style utkatasana x2
standing forehead to knee balancing pose x2
dancer's pose x2
1/4 sun salute x 3
lunge salute x2
first flow sequence
step back right leg:
crescent lunge
parvotasana (forehead to knee with arms either behind back or hands clasped above the foot)
revolved triangle
baby vinyasa with floor bow
step back left leg: same thing
baby vinyasa with floor bow
second flow sequence
bikram style eagle for three breaths both sides
bound airplane (eagle arms with warrior III leg)
warrior III
standing splits
falling warrior
three legged dog
baby vinyasa
same side left leg
baby vinyasa

child's pose
camel x2 --second time we did the Scott Blossom way, pulling core back and using legs
rabbit(a bikram style variation on child's pose, i think. crown of the head comes to the floor and the hands reach back for the heels while pulling, which allows the hips to lift and the back to round quite intensely.)
roll onto backs
knees into chest x3 breaths
supine twist both sides
one round kali breath

So far I'm happy with it, I might play with it a bit more. Falling Warrior seems to be unfamiliar to most peeps, and I was thinking about scratching it, but now most of them are down with it so we'll see.

Also! I had the afternoon free this afternoon and to keep myself busy, I baked two different thing! Some vegan cornbread for Ben, and some vegan ginger cupcakes just to experiement--to be frank, I'm not a huge fan of gingerbread, but I so enjoy baking that its worth it to play around even though I won't eat it. In fact, I prefer baking this way--otherwise, I make orange vanilla cupcakes and eat them all before Ben gets home! I didn't take any photos because neither one really turned out very beautiful, but they sure tasted good!

I ran out of most of the ingredients called for in both recipes, but subbed olive oil for veg oil in the cornbread, and in fact like it better this way. It tastes a bit more moist. The cupcakes asked for things like soy yogurt and a half cup of maple syrup, which i had only about two table spoons of, and certainly no soy yogurt, and while they probably could be gooier, I'm happy with the results.

Cornbread recipe from The Joy of Vegan Baking, an awesome book, and the cupcakes from, of course, VEGAN CUPCAKES TAKE OVER THE WORLD! Recipe links in another post.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Frost and Flame

Well, I wrote this big long thing about my personal practice a few days ago, but then my fingers hiccuped across the keyboard and I somehow managed to delete the whole thing. Immediately frustrated, I closed the window and swore at my computer.

Guess all this sitting and calming I've been trying to do hasn't quite crept into my whole life.

The past week in Shanghai has been wet, dreary and dark. It rained for seven whole days and on the last day the rain turned to snow. Dismal. This morning, however, the sky is miraculously blue and the sun is shining into every last bit of darkness on the streets. Still cold as hell, though. I taught a private this morning, and have a flow class tonight at the studio.

I've been teaching this woman for awhile now, and it's been so nice to see her progress. We do a lot of core focused work---navasana, crunches, lots of plank. This morning, in the spirit of my other classes, we slowed down a lot. She's still very aware of me, of herself in the mirror(we practice in a gym in her apt compound) and extras like her ponytail or what is happening outside. I hoped by creating an even bigger routine than normally in the movements this morning we'd be able to flow with greater ease. It was freeeeeeezing in the gym this morning, so we got started right away.

plank for three breaths
dog for three
neck rolls/shoulder rolls
1/4 sun salutes x 3
lunge salutes x3 -first round with knee on the ground
baby chatarunga, baby cobra, rocket cat (this shall hence forth be referred to as baby vinyasa)
chair for three breaths(picked up this next sequence from Nina, it's awesome for getting into core right away)
navasana for five breaths
roll to standing/tadasana
knee to nose x 3
crescent lunge
warrior II
reverse warrior
side angle (times two each time)
baby vinyasa but before going back to dog, lifted back up into the 'inchworm' chatarunga by pulling the bum back up and pressing the hands into the floor. this is suprisingly challenging!)
same thing on the left side
roll onto backs
bada konasana crunches x10
twisted root crunches x10 (legs intertwined ala eagle with hands interlaced behind head, exhale to bring the nose and knee together)
bridge x2, third time with support
supine twist
mini savasana (was really too cold to be laying on the floor!)
sat for a few moments, working a slow rolling inhale to let the exhale wash down the back of the body.

Somewhere in there we also did three dips from dog into up dog. I think post-Warrior II sequence. Despite all the work we did, neither one of us managed to really warm up, and that was disappointing. Normally about ten minutes into it, I've shed my sweater and socks, but not this morning.

My plan for personal practice was to do one of Zen Muffin's yin classes, but I'm still too chilly! Our apartment is a bit drafty and there is no central heating. Holding plank for a few breaths always gets me immediately warmed up, so alas, it will be a yang practice this morning. I have been working on pulling my belly button back towards the spine, to keep my core engaged--I'm occasionally guilty of letting this go, and my low back has started arguing with me as a result, I think.

I'm hoping to get a video up here soon of a few sequences, so stay tuned!

Class Five

I had the honor of teaching Kira's Yin Yoga again last night. On my birthday! I now have 7.5 hours total of teaching under my belt and I'll be subbing for Winifred's Yoga for Recovery again on March 20. If Macolm Gladwell is right that we need 10,000 hours of practice to become experts at something, I've only got 9,992.5 more hours to go!

The sequence:

-Butterfly 5

Heart opener counter pose
Cat/Cow, barrel rolls, hip circles

-Extended Child's (didn't time it but it was a couple minutes)
Puppy Dog

-Neck opening on block (from Lisa's workshop) 5 min

-Swan 5 min on each side resting for 2 min after each side (also offered box and eye-of-the-needle at the wall options)

-Frog 5 min rest on belly 2 min

-Active locust 1 min
rest. reverse windshield wiper.

-Sphinx/Seal 5 min, resting for 2 min on belly

-Restorative Twist


Since it was my birthday, I brought chocolate coconut haystacks from The Farmer and the Cook and handed them out after class. This seemed to be a popular move. :)

Monday, March 8, 2010

An Instructional Video for First Time Yog

"i have been doing yoga since before i was born." "i have two broken legs and no eyeballs. can i still do all the poses?"

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Class Four

Taught Yin Yoga last night for Kira. The rain made it extra cozy. The sequence:

Extended child's

Puppy Dog


Hip Circles

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Dragonfly 5 min

Swan L & R sides 5 min each (or box or eye of needle at wall)
-plank and rest on belly 2 min. between sides

Butterfly with extra time for unwinding a la Lisa's workshop, took about 9 min total
-"favorite" resting pose, some took savasana; some took child's; some rested on belly, 2 min

1 minute active locust or "baby penguin" x 2
-windshield wiper and rest between asanas

Sphinx 2.5 min then option to go to Seal

Had planned to do Lisa's neck on the block method but there wasn't time.

Restorative twist 3 min on each side


Monday, March 1, 2010

Ray LaMontagne, "Be Here Now"

Lyrics for "Be Here Now" by Ray LaMontagne:

Don't let your mind get weary and confused
Your will be still, don't try
Don't let your heart get heavy child
Inside you there's a strength that lies

Don't let your soul get lonely child
It's only time, it will go by
Don't look for love in faces, places
It's in you, that's where you'll find kindness

Be here now, here now
Be here now, here now

Don't lose your faith in me
And I will try not to lose faith in you
Don't put your trust in walls
'Cause walls will only crush you when they fall

Be here now, here now
Be here now, here now