Holidays are making me flip upside down

This weekend one of our Advent activities was to put up the tree. I hate to admit it but nothing ruins my holiday spirit quite like setting up the tree with the lights – even with a pre-lit tree! One section of our tree’s lights ended up being burnt out so George had to buy a small string for me to weave around that one area, and that worked fine.

Tree

Tree

Tree

Luckily then we were able to move on to the part I truly do love which is decorating the tree. We put on some Christmas music on the television, I made myself a cup of Chai tea, and we went at the tree with every ornament, string of beads, and bit of tinsel that we have.

All done

Details

Lit up

In the end it looked great and I was very happy to hang out by the tree for the rest of the evening. We also had a string of lights that wasn’t really going to work in the window so I wrapped it around one of our lamps instead and it makes the living room look so cheerful.

That was yesterday and then today I decided that after almost two years of practicing near-daily yoga, it was time to confront my fear of headstands, well, head-on. I blame Bex who was working on the same thing today.

It worked. I still have to get more comfortable with it and learn to get my legs up higher in a full headstand, but baby steps work for me for now. I did a headstand once (halfway like I did today) back in April of 2010 and then I suddenly became terrified and wasn’t able to bring myself to do it again. Part of my problem was I had needed to hop up and I know you aren’t supposed to hop into a headstand (or any inversion really other than maybe a handstand), and I couldn’t figure out how to just bring my legs up without it.

I’ll keep working on it but for today, well, my clap at the end of the video pretty much says it all.

How was your weekend?

Meditating on the bus

I think I’ve mentioned this before but because of the fun and never dull anxiety issues that I deal with regularly, I sometimes get very anxious before I have to leave for work. I don’t even really know why, nothing horrible has ever happened to me on the bus, I’m fine when I get to work, and I enjoy my job so there’s no reason to be right on the edge of having a full-blown panic attack.

Ommmmm

However, that doesn’t mean my brain doesn’t decide to throw me under the bus. You know, so to speak.

There are two things that help me. One, Rescue Remedy is my friend. It’s an all natural product that comes in drops or spray and helps to calm nerves so I take some of that before getting on the bus. It does a lot to dial it down but even more than that I think that my habit of meditating on the bus has made it so much better.

When I first started yoga I kind of shrugged over the meditation aspect. It wasn’t that I thought it couldn’t work or be beneficial, I just didn’t think I could do it. And truth be told, if I sit or lie down all by myself with my breathing I will either find myself thinking about the latest episode of The Walking Dead or I’ll fall asleep. However, if I do a guided meditation I have something to concentrate on and I do really well with it. I still sometimes doze off for a split second but overall it works for me.

Meditation isn’t necessarily something you’re supposed to do on the bus, I suppose. It’s generally suggested that you do it when you’re all alone with no distractions to get in your way. That’s all well and good but the fact of the matter is that I need it most on the bus so I do the best I can. People probably think I’m sleeping on the bus but I’m not – I’m just meditating!

If you find yourself stressed out and in need of some meditation as well, I have a few suggestions for you.

One is a guided meditation from Dashama, my very first yoga teacher who taught me so much. She does a meditation that is almost 20 minutes long and she offers it up from time to time for free with her newsletter.

Another is this fabulous anti-anxiety meditation that I found on YouTube. It’s amazing and by the time it’s over I’m usually calm and mildly limp, practically incapable of getting worked up.

I have a good one from Deepak Chopra that is sadly under five minutes but it’s really nice even if it’s short. It’s this one:

I particularly love the line “wherever you go, bring the whole Universe with you.”

Finally, and not everyone will be into this, I enjoy doing a chakra balancing meditation. I always kind of scoffed at chakras until I got Dashama’s DVD and did the chakra meditation she has on there; the way I felt afterwards, both energized and relaxed was enough to convince me. I found this good meditation on YouTube and it’s quite helpful if you’re open to that.

Of course my preferred method of meditating is yoga; I like getting lost in the movement and breathing of a nice vinyasa flow. It’s not like I can really do a good downward facing dog or crow pose on the bus though, so meditating with my iPod will have to do!

Do you meditate? What’s your favourite method?

Passions

I’m a bit brain-fried tonight because I had a crazy busy day at work today, so I can’t think of a darn thing to write about. As a result I decided to check for a prompt on the official NaBloPoMo site, and settled on the one that asked, “What is your secret (or not-so-secret) passion?” I have more than one passion, so I’ll give you a few.

1. My family. Obviously this has been a passion of mine for years now but now that I work during the hours that my kids are home from school, I try to focus on a lot of fun things during the times that we are together. I read to them in the mornings before school, and on weekends we try to do things like playing at the park, visiting interesting places, or even just watching movies as a family.

2. Photography. My interest in photography has shifted a bit due to time constraints. I have less time now to play with post-processing so I tend to just go more for the stories and worry a little less about playing around. I’ll still use some post-processing filters and actions to have fun with my pictures, but I fiddle less with each individual shot. Still, I love creating lasting memories and telling stories from photos.

3. Yoga. This a big “no kidding!” thing to anyone who has been reading for more than three seconds, but it just really is. Fitness in general can get me going (lately I’ve been really interested in Tabata) but yoga in particular is what I love. I love the way it makes me feel physically, and I love the way it makes me feel emotionally too. It has helped me with aches and pains and it’s helped to tame (not eradicate, but tame nonetheless) anxiety issues. I do a little bit almost every day whether I have time for an hour or whether all I can squeeze in is ten or fifteen minutes. I can’t imagine not doing it.

What are your passions?

Yoga Sunday

Today we were planning to have some of George’s family over for supper so after brunch he and his sister took the kids out and ran some errands and did a bit of visiting. This left me all alone and I had just finished reading a book so I decided to fill my time with some yoga instead. I spent 45 minutes just doing whatever I felt like, not bothering with DVDs of YouTube videos, just running through sequences and poses including my rapidly improving Natarajasana or Dancer’s Pose.

Natarajasana

(Yes, I know, legwarmers. I wear them without apology for yoga but promise to not wear them out in public a la 80s.)

It turned out though, that what I left like doing was mostly inversions, and I have to tell you that if you learn to throw yourself upside down and balance you’ll feel strong enough to do just about anything. First off I discovered that my Full Wheel pose has improved.

Full wheel

I haven’t even tried it in ages but I’ve been working on other poses that involve a bit of back bending and apparently my spine is gaining some flexibility. Seeing how well I can do this now compared to my early attempts has me wanting to do it more and more to really nail it down.

Then after playing with some fun variations of Side Crow pose…

Side Crow variation

… I practiced Fallen Angel. It looks insane and impressive but if you can do Side Crow you can learn to do Fallen Angel. This is the first time I’ve ever gotten my legs this straight and it felt amazing.

Fallen Angel

After finishing all my poses and routines I spent some time lying flat on my back in Savasana and marveling over how strong and relaxed I feel after doing yoga. I know that going in but it still takes my by surprise to experience just how powerful it is.

As a result I had plenty of energy to do a quick vacuum in the living room, made some fresh carrot-apple-celery-ginger juice for myself and my sister-in-law (who has now gotten me so eager to get a Vitamix that I could just about cry over how expensive there are, but ohhhh I want one!), shared cooking duties with George, and had a lovely evening.

I think it’s going to kick off my week quite nicely!

Making time to make space

Ever since starting to work I’ve been finding it just about impossible to fit in the amount of yoga that I used to do. Back in the not-so-distant past I would usually do it in the evening after getting the kids off to bed and it wasn’t unusual for me to do a full hour. These days I get home too late to get started with a yoga routine (although I sometimes do a quick before-bed gentle routine right in bed) and I don’t really have the time to do an hour every morning because I’m busy tidying up the house and getting ready for work.

IMG_5776

However, if I convince myself that no, I really don’t need to wash my hair today (my hair is pretty dry, it’s really only necessary to wash it every second day) and that I can just hop in and out of the shower then I can find the time to get in 20 minutes or even half an hour. The time that I don’t have to devote to blowdrying my stupidly thick and overly long hair is time that I can devote to getting my Om on instead.

This morning I was showered, dressed in yoga gear, and back down in the living room by 9:30 and I generally don’t eat my breakfast until 10 (otherwise I’d be starving by the time I actually get to work!). That gave me half an hour to roll out my mat and run through some routines. I did a round of Sun Salutations, a balance sequence, a de-stressing routine, and topped it off with a strength building routine. The only thing I forgot to do – and I just remembered now – was to end it all with a Savasana but maybe I’ll throw one in before I get changed into work clothes.

I’ve had to let a lot of things slide since starting my job but this is one of those things that I just can’t ignore. I did let too many days pass without yoga at first and the side effects of that were quick and obvious. My legs started aching, as did my hips. The latter is probably due to sitting. My shoulders began tightening up because of my unintentional hunching (I try to catch myself doing it and straighten back up) and then not opening them up with yoga. The biggest thing was feeling a sense of anxiety start to creep back in and that was definitely what kicked me in the ass to get me back on track again.

I may not be able to do an hour a day six days a week anymore but I can do what I can during the week and then do something longer and more intense on the weekends. It’s important enough to me and to my overall well-being that I can’t afford not doing it. As long as I can carve out even five or ten minutes and do something most days I’ll be fine.

Namaste! :)

Beach yoga

Much to my shock, what with being a Canadian who is very used to Canadian-esque weather, Thanksgiving weekend was ridiculously beautiful and warm. Despite the fact that it’s fall and we’ve had some pretty chilly days and cold nights, the entire weekend was above 20C which is all but unheard of.

Taking full advantage, on Saturday we went to check out an old fort called York Redoubt. It was really nice and I’d like to go back when we have more time to do the hike down through the woods to the water. On Sunday it was so hot we ended up at the beach. Because it was Thanksgiving weekend it wasn’t too packed either. We were silly enough to tell the kids they weren’t going swimming so naturally they waded in right in their clothes and soaked themselves up to their waist. Naturally! Then on Sunday we went to have a delicious Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family and all the kids played outside most of the day.

I haven’t had a chance to dump any pictures off my camera yet but I did shoot some video of some beach yoga and was able to edit one. It was the first time that I did a voice-over narration and I still strongly dislike listening to my own voice on a recording, but overall I’m pleased with it.

I had originally wanted the ocean in the background but there were too many people in the shot and the camera would have been aimed at the sun which doesn’t create very good lighting. In the end I really like the beach grass behind me and the lighting was much better.

Hopefully I can post an update with some of the pictures from the weekend soon!

Higher and higher

When I first started doing yoga almost a year and a half ago I looked at all the inversions people were doing on YouTube and all over the Yoga Journal website and thought, “those are really cool, but not for me!” There was no way I was going to find myself upside down and I certainly wasn’t going to be able to balance my body on my own arms.

In the end it turns out that (other than headstand, my big nemesis) I love flipping myself upside down and balancing my body on my own arms. Who knew?

There are a few poses that are intermediate-to-advanced that I’m working on right now like compass pose:

This is not me

(I can get into it, I just haven’t been able to fully straighten my leg yet.)

And peacock pose:

This is also not me

(I scared the crap out of myself by tentatively kicking up into it and actually finding a split second of balance. I think I’ll be using a wall next time I try just because I never actually expected to get up there!)

But the one I’ve been working on the most lately is Flying Pigeon and as of recently I can get my back leg out. It’s not up as high as it should be, but it’s up!

This, however, is actually me!

I need to figure out my balance point a little better so that the leg can go right up in back. This is how it should look, if I was Kathryn Budig!

I’m looking forward to working on it again tonight. Maybe I’ll eventually even take the pillow away, but last night I face planted right into it when I overshot my balance so I think I’ll wait a bit longer for that!

Yoga update and recommendations

I had three people contact me last week one after the other asking about my yoga practice and if I had any suggestions for getting started. I guess my enthusiasm for doing yoga is very obvious! I still do it regularly; I don’t quite manage to do it every single day but I generally get in some sort of routine 5 or 6 days a week. If I go too many days without it I can definitely feel it. Not only do I physically find myself stiffening up and getting little aches and pains, I also feel it mentally. Yoga has been a huge factor in my ability to beat back the panic attack monster, but that’s a story for another day.

Eka Pada Galavasana

I’ve become mildly obsessed by inversions and balances. Above I’m halfway into Eka Pada Galavasana, or Flying Pigeon Pose. I can get this far easily. The challenge is trying to complete it. From my position in that photo I need to extend the back leg straight up behind me. Every time I try, my base collapses, the folded leg slides off my elbows, and I crash – laughing – to the floor. It’s okay, it will come. That’s another thing that yoga has taught me, that sometimes you just have to wait. Patience has never been easy for me but I’m learning.

Balance

Basically though, I’m having fun with learning how I can balance my own body. I’ve learned that aside from just needing to build enough arm and core strength to support arm balance poses, it’s mostly a combination of confidence (that still stands in the way of my headstand; I know I won’t succeed in that pose until I learn to stop being so afraid of being upside down like that) and basic physics. The pose above, Side Crow looks like it shouldn’t even be possible but once I found the center of gravity it became possible. It’s mind over matter a lot of the time, a physical meditation.

33/52 - Low crow

That’s why I love yoga. Meditation is amazing but I find it difficult to just sit and do it. Going through poses and sequences is moving meditation for me. Trust me, you can’t balance your own body weight on your arms in Crow (above) and keep yourself from face planting if you’re busy worrying about bills or work or whatever concerns are occupying your brain space. As long as you’re moving from one pose to the next you have to push everything else away and just be right here, right now. If I could do yoga 24 hours a day I would be the most relaxed person in the world.

As for the questions I’ve gotten about where to start, of course I have a few suggestions. I primarily use three online sources as teachers and each of them is great in similar and different ways at the same time. They all come from different styles of yoga originally but one thing they have in common is they teach a vinyasa flow style; while I am sure other styles are wonderful in their own way, vinyasa flow is the only thing I have patience for. I like to move when I do yoga!

  • Dashama Konah – Dashama was my first yoga teacher, and I still turn to her videos and her DVDs on a regular basis (this one for myself and this one when Hayley wants to do some too). If you want to study with someone who exudes complete passion for yoga every step of the way, you don’t need to look any further. She balances well between the physical side of yoga and the spiritual side. It was her guided meditation that made my once skeptical self believe fully in chakras; before her I would have rolled my eyes and now I know where each one is, what they do, and how to balance them. She has a great new program called Renew You that gives you 30 days of yoga videos as well as a complete lifestyle overhaul guide (with DVDs, books, and more). It’s not cheap, so you can also check out her free yoga videos on her YouTube channel to get a feel for her style first before taking the plunge. Not only is she my teacher, I’ve done work for her and feel lucky to consider her my friend.

  • Sadie Nardini – Sadie is incredible. I found out about her through a friend and have never looked back. If you want to approach yoga with the best possible alignment, she’ll get you there. Something that amazes me about Sadie is that she always knows when you’re about to screw up your pose by collapsing your elbows in or dropping your hips down too low, and she’ll give you a reminder just as you’re doing it. It’s the closest thing to having a teacher in person. She has a ton of great videos on YouTube that I’ve used; I also have one of her DVDs and I highly recommend trying out her 21 Day Yoga Body course where you pay whatever you can – as low as $1 or up to $100. It’s a great course that includes journaling exercises, lifestyle tips, and a yoga video every day for 21 days, and believe me it works.

  • Tara Stiles – Tara is a teacher that I don’t follow on a regular, consistent basis but she’s definitely someone I turn to when I want to do something a little different from my usual Dashama & Sadie rotation. If you’re someone who likes the idea of yoga but doesn’t want to deal with the spiritual side* or you’re put off by the Sanskrit names of poses, then Tara is a good start. She uses English names only and her approach has always been to make yoga accessible to the masses. Her slogan is “yoga anywhere” and although I do like some of the fluffier and spiritual sides of yoga, I appreciate her no-nonsense attitude. If I ever go to New York City I will take a class with her, but for now her YouTube videos and iTunes podcasts work just fine. I also own her book which is a great resource; on the other hand I bought one of her DVDs and while it’s beautiful to watch it’s not very helpful as an instructional resource. I think her new one with Jane Fonda is probably a lot better for learning.

*You may surprise yourself. I started yoga to deal with my anxiety issues and to get rid of the chronic ache I had in my legs. Like I said before, I used to roll my eyes at things like chakras and other similar “hippie-ish” concepts. Sometimes it sneaks up on you though. You might be taken aback by what you’ll get out of yoga besides the physical benefits. As for those physical benefits, yes they work too. Between Sadie’s course and Dashama’s Renew You program I officially have a six-pack, and I’m not talking about beer. Don’t believe anyone who tells you yoga can’t make a physical difference, because it absolutely can.

Other than the three teachers mentioned above, I’ve also been following Kathryn Budig when she writes over at Yoga Journal. I’m mostly a visual person for things like learning a pose so I rely on videos a lot but Kathryn has an incredible ability to perfectly describe what you need to do to get into a pose. I fully credit her for being able to get into Flying Pigeon at all.

Anyway, that’s my basic list of go-to people when it comes to yoga. Other than that though, it’s up to each person. More than once I’ve read that your greatest teacher is you and that’s true. The teachers will tell you how to do the poses but it’s up to you to devote yourself to learning and it’s up to you to listen to your body and learn when to keep pushing and when to back off. As long as you show up (whether showing up means in a class or in front of your TV/laptop), get on the mat, and put in the effort, the rest will come.

You can see my yoga progress in this set on Flickr. The difference between my early poses in January 2010 and now is huge.

Full disclosure: I am not being paid to promote anyone although the links to Amazon DVDs are affiliate links. The people I have mentioned here don’t know I’m writing this. I’m only listing them because people have been curious about what I do and who I recommend. If you have any suggestions of your own, please let me know in the comments!

Leaving Halifax

On Saturday morning we were all up bright and early because the day had finally arrived – the day we had to leave Halifax. Every year it gets harder and harder to say goodbye; on the Monday we had gone to my sister’s house for supper and much to my embarrassment I broke down crying when it was time to leave.

We took our time coming back, stopping over at the halfway point to spend the night in a motel. By Sunday afternoon we were home and immediately threw ourselves back into the school routine since Hayley had to go off to grade three (!) on Monday morning (two weeks late, alas).

First day

We had some great times before leaving Halifax though. There was the aforementioned afternoon and dinner at Amanda and Neal’s house.

Sniff

(Did you know she’s pregnant? You can read about it at her blog and let me tell you I did many creative crops in Photoshop to hide that fact until she announced it!)

One year

Schmoopy

We all had a great time; there are no pictures of the kids to share because they spent a lot of time in the backyard next door playing with the neighbors.

Later in the week we also headed out to my favorite beach, Lawrencetown Beach, as well as a couple of others that are nearby. The ocean was breathtaking. It was a ridiculously foggy day but in the end it created a fantastic atmosphere and I didn’t mind the lack of sun.

Lawrencetown Beach

<3

Off to wade

At one beach there was a sand bar that went out quite a bit and there were waves crashing from three sides when you stood out at the end. The best part was that when I stood out there by myself for a few minutes the fog made it so that I couldn’t see anyone else, nor could I hear them. It was like I was the only person in the world. It kind of felt like I had stepped onto the set of Lost for a bit but instead of being creepy it was exhilarating; when I got back I told George’s cousin that I had actually gotten giddy out there, bouncing up and down and giggling. I am an ocean dork, what can I say?

Our final stop was Conrad’s Beach which is very sandy and a popular swimming spot (not that day in those temps though!). It was the perfect place for some ocean-side yoga.

Friday took us on a quick shopping spree (you should see all the healthy stuff I bought at Bulk Barn – chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseed, etc) and then we stopped for a final fish & chips lunch and visit to Point Pleasant Park.

Relishing the salt

In the evening, we all stayed up far too late and we were tired the next morning but it was worth it just for a few extra hours with friends and family.

Last night

I’m home and I’m back in a routine of school mornings and homework in the afternoons and quick baths after supper. I’ve been unpacking and cleaning and purging and tidying, and life is back to normal. My heart’s still in Halifax though.

Is it too soon to look forward to next year?

(All the Halifax photos are over here)

East Coast ahoy

On Saturday, August 21st the family packed up in the wee (and still dark) hours of the morning. By 5 a.m. we had hit the highway and were headed east. After a year of wanting to go back, we were on our way to Halifax, after having said goodbye to the cat and our friend who is pet & house sitting for us while we’re gone.

Oh Em Gee

Last year we left at 3:30 am and had to stop so many times that it took us 17 hours to get to Halifax. George was fried and that’s why we ended up taking two days to drive back on our way home. This time he was determined to get there in a more reasonable amount of time and he didn’t want to stop overnight anywhere. We made it here in 14 hours and 15 minutes, which is pretty much what Google Maps estimates as well. What helped was having a minivan this year. The kids had more room and we alternated between having one in the middle row and one in the back row, switching them when we’d make a stop. That way they weren’t on top of each other which minimized bickering. They each had a DVD player, coloring books, crayons, and a few toys. On top of that, we were able to fit the cooler in between the seats so we didn’t have to stop each time someone was hungry or thirsty because everything was right there. Basically we stopped for breakfast, lunch, and pee breaks (including one pee-in-the-woods-by-the-highway stop, who says girls can’t pee outside like boys?).

It’s so good to be back here. I love Halifax more than anywhere else in the world. It’s not that I hate Montreal, it really is a good city. I just love it here more. And when you have fresh fish & chips and the ocean, how can you go wrong?

Fuel

Tree pose

Above

One day I have to actually type up my Life List, but one of the things I had on there was to do some yoga by the ocean. I can officially cross it off my list now, because we went out to Point Pleasant Park the other day which looks right out onto the Atlantic Ocean as the Halifax Harbour ends. While the kids were happily picking up 975 shells, George filmed me doing a couple of my usual vinyasa flows. Without a doubt it was the best moment in my yoga practice so far. Yoga while listening to the waves and looking out into the ocean is an incredible experience.

I think it will be a repeat performance when I go to one of the other beaches and can do it right on the sand. We still have over two weeks left here, I’m sure I can fit it in!

(Full Halifax photo set is over here and will be updated regularly.)