Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crossed Paths

My husband likes to lift weights. He used to be really into it, bulking his muscles with repetitive curls and crunches and squats. Now, he lifts weights for health, and is much more balanced in his exercise. He mentioned recently that, while I do yoga nearly every day, I never seem to get uneven from it. I didn't understand what he meant, and he explained that a lot of exercises can lead to over-strengthening in one area. Or, one part of the body can get focused on so much, that it no longer makes any progress with training. I wasn't surprised by his observation, because yoga is a whole-body program, nothing gets left out in a good class, including the mind and spirit.
A lot of people have one type of exercise that they love. I have friends that run, and do not do anything else. They're runners, after all. That can lead to injuries to the lower half of the body, obviously, because the feet, ankles, knees and hips are pounding the pavement repetitively. I have friends who swim, and they can be prone to shoulder injuries from doing the same stroke over and over. Weight lifters tend to focus on the large, bulky muscle groups, ignoring the antagonists that provide balance to the joints. Ok, I'm making generalizations to demonstrate a point, but you get my drift. A lot of exercises are very focused in their goals, and also in the parts of the body they affect.
Yoga isn't like this. In fact, a lot of single asanas address multiple areas of the body at once. Consider Trikonasana, or triangle pose. The legs are strengthened, the core is isolated, holding the torso up, and the arms are working to stretch the chest open. Add in mindful breathing to expand the lung capacity, and a twist to stimulate the abdominal organs, and the entire body is being used. When Trikonasana is part of a logical flow in class, different parts of the body are flexed and extended, all with the goal of taking the triangle pose to a new level. Once again, yoga addresses the whole body.
Because of this fact, yoga can easily cross paths with other forms of exercise, making an athlete stronger and more flexible, less prone to injury, and possibly more successful at their sport. Runners can benefit from stretching the legs, particularly the hips, the IT band, and ankles. Bikers can open the hips and upper back, which gets rounded and hunched over the handlebars of a road bike. Weight lifters can balance the flex flex flex motion with stretching of antagonists to prevent injury over the long term. Really, yoga can enhance any other type of physical activity. You don't have to consider yourself a yogi to reap the benefits from the practice, and the physical aspects of yoga may be all you want. But maybe, over time, you'll start to see that the physical practice is opening you up in other ways, making you a stronger and more flexible person throughout your life. Then the real benefits of yoga begin!

Thursday, October 21, 2010


My mom once told me she almost never listens to the radio when she's driving by herself. I was surprised by that because previously, I always had some noise on. It had never occurred to me to just drive in silence. Since then, I read The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, and Deepak Chopra talks about having some silence in every day. I take time to meditate in the morning, but what about silence during random moments throughout the day? What an interesting idea. I started turning my radio off in the car sometimes, and just driving. It really takes some getting used to, and some days I really cannot stand the crazy lady jabbering in my head, so the music helps me be centered. Other days, after a few minutes of discomfort, I start to feel more peaceful.
Now I'm noticing how hard it is to find silence during a normal day. I fill up my car at the gas station, and there is a TV on the pump. The TV is not telling me anything important, it is really mindless idiocy. Do the people at Shell think we can't be alone with our own thoughts for the 4 minutes it takes to fill the pump? Or that they'll really sell more sodas and candy bars by advertising them in this way? My husband told me there are now TVs on the elevator at his work. He works in a high rise in the city, so I'm sure some of those rides can be long. But again, God forbid we wait in silence, or, worse yet, talk to someone else riding with us!
Sometimes I wonder if our culture of constant sensory bombardment is contributing to increasing rates of ADHD. No one does just one thing anymore, and almost nothing is done in silence. We are a nation of distraction. No wonder practices like mindfulness, meditation and yoga are enjoying such popularity. I believe they are the antidote to the gas pump TVs of our lives. Quiet time on my cushion in the morning makes me better prepared to meet the day. Quiet time on my mat (when I practice at home, I don't turn music on anymore) calms my stress response and slows down the rest of my thoughts. Eating mindfully ensures I not only enjoy my food, but eat the right amount and improve digestion. These are small moments in an otherwise noisy life, filled with normal distractions. I don't think we have to take a vow of silence to see benefits, but maybe a few moments of quiet can bring us all to a more centered place.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Can people with different beliefs get along? Can they even be friends? I recently discovered during a conversation that a new acquaintance of mine had some very different political opinions than I do. Now, I won't go into details, because I do not have strong political leanings. We'll just say she made a statement supporting someone in politics whom I don't consider worthy of respect. My husband and I have different political ideas, but we agree on our opinion of this political figure. He is more vocal than I am, and started to debate the topic. When it became clear that our dinner companions were not joking, I changed the subject.
Later, I found myself wondering what else they could be hiding beneath their seemingly normal outward appearances. Does that make me shallow, opinionated and judgemental? Decidedly so. I work toward an open mind and an open heart on a daily basis, and we're not talking about hate-filled or violent people, so why did this conversation affect me so much? I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who have different backgrounds and beliefs than I do. Most of the time it adds interest to our interactions, and I wind up learning something new. However, acceptance of differences is challenging. We have to acknowledge that we may not be "completely right" in whatever we believe, because clearly others believe something else.
That's usually pretty easy for me to wrap my head around. This time, I honestly hadn't considered that someone might share an opposite view. I feel humbled, because I felt so strongly "right" when they spoke that I ignored their other qualities in that moment. I instantly questioned their intelligence and wondered if we could still be friends. Wow. That is a slippery slope to a shouting match and never speaking again.
There is an old saying: "Would you rather be right or happy?" This can help us to determine if our opinions are getting in the way of our relationships. Mine were in this instance, and it was surprising to me because I haven't had to release my need to argue in a really long time. There is a time and place for intelligent debate, but there are also times when no one will change their mind based on the conversation, and feelings can only end up getting hurt. So, the best answer is a deep breath, recognition that my opinion is not the only one, and people are allowed to disagree with me. It still isn't easy to let this one go, but I will breathe into my heart and love their other qualities, since they will have to do the same toward me!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Finding the Positive

I have been battling a sinus infection. It's hard for me to stay positive when I'm sick. I am frustrated because I can't do my usual yoga class today. I know, let go of expectations of a particular outcome. But with this headache, all I can focus on is the negative. It feels like I've been sick forever, and it will never get better and I'll never get back to yoga class again! That's pretty negative. How can we access our inner joyful nature when we feel terrible?
I am starting with small steps today. I did some simple stretches instead of my usual advanced Friday morning class, because even 10 minutes of yoga is better than none. I am spending time catching up on some work that I would have had to postpone, had I gone to class. That gives me some stress relief, and I can feel pleased that I used my time wisely even though it wasn't what I wanted to do. I am already imagining my cup of chai later, how good it's going to taste, and I can feel another sigh of pleasure, in spite of my headache. So simple small things to attune to the positive. So far so good...
I have to remind myself that I don't actually get sick often, and find some gratitude in my overall state of health. Gratitude is good, it's impossible to feel grateful and angry at the same time! Now I can remember to be grateful for other positives in this day: it's Friday and the sun is shining. My parents are here, and my family is together for a fun weekend. I'm almost ready to smile :) Our home renovation project is getting closer to completion, and for that I'm so very very grateful. I am definitely smiling now!
Ok, so I still have a headache and sinus pain, but I am focused on things outside my aches and pains and can look forward to the day. Even though I don't feel well, this day doesn't have to be a loss. I will use the small pleasures and gratitude to turn my energy around, I will smile at others and receive back what I give. I will look forward to the weekend without self pity and irritation. I'm ready to face the day.