The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time


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My Evolving Practice

As those of you who are regular readers have probably noticed, I’ve been a less frequent blogger over this past year and I’d like to try to explain why. After my knee surgery, I stopped doing yoga as I recovered. This was unexpected, as I often like to tell people that anyone can do yoga, no matter what the physical (or mental/emotional) limitations are. I still believe this to be true, but I now also see that it is a bit more complicated than that.

While my body weaned off pain medications (not a very long process), and then my physical body, along with the other 9 bodies, slowly recovered (a much longer process than I ever realized), I found that my yoga practice just did not fit into the current space my life was in. This did slowly change as I started to add a few poses to my day. But I still found that Kundalini yoga was still not a style I was interested in accessing.

After knee surgery, which may or may not be related, I began to process some emotions, and began a journey into my emotional state, through therapy that was intense and exhausting. While I still think Kundalini yoga can be a wonderful tool to process through emotions, for some reason it was not right for me at the time. I really needed a gentle approach to life. I continued a sporadic and almost luxurious hatha practice, in which I indulged my body in doing only the poses that felt right for it, without pushing myself. My knee was still healing, so many of the vigorous Kundalini poses, as well as many hatha poses still did not feel right, or I was incapable of doing them. I swan dove into sun salutations, and my practice mainly revolved around that, and the occasional silent meditation when I could muster it, for a long time.

I continued to take a break from teaching, because, since I am only certified in Kundalini, I felt I wasn’t qualified to teach the yoga I was practicing, and couldn’t honestly teach a yoga that I was not practicing.

This past month I decided to give Kundalini a try again. It was no coincidence that emotionally and spiritually I had finally come out of a place of turmoil and was now feeling strong again. I felt that I now had the space (and courage) in my life to begin to dabble back into Kundalini. I’ve been trying a few of my favorite kriyas, which are different for me now, with my new knee and less in-shape body, but also feel good in a new way. I have been especially drawn to the heart opening kriyas. I feel that New Lungs and Circulation is going to be an important one for me in the coming year. This vigorous (but not impossible) kriya works on opening the heart chakra, cleansing the lungs, and freeing up emotions, which seems to fit well with the space I’m in now.

letting go of shouldMy practice is a lot less rigid than it was before. I am only doing Kundalini probably every other morning, or less, and still indulge in those feel-good hatha sessions with some silent meditation on many mornings. Some mornings I don’t do yoga at all, but instead go for a run or a swim, or read or write.

This rhythm of practicing less yoga isn’t new, what is new (at least since I’d gotten more serious about my practice,post-yoga teacher training) is that I let my body dictate where my practice will take me. I listen to how I’m feeling that day, rather than to my mind telling me how I should be practicing. I do not feel guilt for not practicing enough, or not practicing in a specific way, or style, or certain routine.

This holds true for other aspects of my life as well. In other aspects of my life I feel like I am finally saying yes to what my heart and soul want to do, and no to how I think I should behave. It makes sense that my yoga practice is following suit.

In the coming months I will be taking an exciting new journey* that has nothing to do with yoga, but I’m sure that yoga will be a part of it. I have definitely learned through this last year (as I have discovered in other periods of my life as well) that yoga is always there for me. Even if I’m not physically practicing, I am still living the lessons I’ve learned on the mat, and my physical practice is always there quietly waiting for me, just as my mat quietly waits in its corner to be unfurled.

Yoga is not a part of who I am. It is a thing that I do. I think that is something I let go of this year. I had a lot wrapped up in the idea of myself as a yoga practitioner, yogi, yoga teacher. But yoga is not really a part of one’s identity. When I was able to drop that, I was able to drop the “shoulds” I had begun to insert into my practice and, with them, the guilt I felt if I wasn’t living up to what I thought I should be as a yoga practitioner or teacher.

Yoga is a tool that I use to support me in my soul’s journey through this life. I am not yoga. There is no practice I should be doing. There is only what I need to be doing.

As always,

In light and love,

Catie

*My husband and I have decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, and continue on living in the Pacific Northwest upon finishing and see where it takes us!

DSCN2789 DSCN2824 Because I promised some wedding pictures too long ago, and because today is our six month anniversary!


Yoga Book Review — Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses

Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses, by Claire Dederer (2011), is a memoir of a mother and wife, but also of a yoga practitioner (she doesn’t like the term “yogi”), in which she weaves in threads of yogic wisdom she’s gleaned from her teachers over the years.

Yoga Book Review

She also scatters bits of the history of modern yoga throughout the book, yet it never gets bogged down by these facts. The book moves at a fast pace through her present life as a mother of two young children, and wife of a writer. She sprinkles bits of her own history in as well, and the book suddenly turns into an exploration into the modern woman and her ideas on marriage and family life. This was a happy surprise for me as a reader. Reading this book in the days leading up to my own wedding, I was giving a lot of thought to this topic.

Dederer, came to yoga, as many of us do, a skeptic, but looking for a cure for something. (For her, it was anxiety and tremulous nerves.) What she found was not that, yet so much more than that. Dederer offers us her experience of yoga, not from the perspective of a guru or teacher, but a humble practitioner, which creates a really refreshing and honest perspective. In her easy-going and humorous style, I found myself laughing with her, remembering some of my own thoughts and judgments while attending my first yoga class. She doesn’t pretend to be holier-than-thou, openly admitting to the things we all do in a yoga class –looking around to see what everyone else is doing, comparing ourselves, judging, longing, wanting.

These stories are all cleverly organized into chapters revolving around a specific yoga pose that further moves along the theme and/or narrative. I would recommend this book to anyone, whether a yogi or not (in fact, maybe especially not). I love a good memoir that lets me peek into the intimate details of someone else’s life journey, while enticing me to probe into my own. This book does that for me.

I’d like to end with this lovely little nugget Dederer discovers while attempting wheel pose:

It was easy to think of yoga as a cure, a program, a teleology. You were going to end up somewhere really great if you just stuck with it. I often thought about what yoga would give me: yoga butt, open hamstrings, equilibrium, a calm mind, that mysterious yoga glow…The idea was, you got better, looser, stronger while you were at yoga, and then you exported that excellence to the rest of life…What if, as [Boulder yoga teacher Katharine] Seidel said, we just enjoyed the way our bodies and minds were when we were at yoga, and stopped freighting it with expectations? What if the whole point of yoga wasn’t getting ready for the future, but was instead finding whatever pleasure we could in the present?

What do you think? What is the purpose of yoga for you?

Sidenote: Some of you may have noticed my infrequency in posts as of late. I have to admit, my focus has been elsewhere lately. You can find some of my other projects at my other blog, Creating, Cate’s Way. And for the month of November I will be participating in NaNoWriMo again, so you may not see much of me then either. But I hope to return to a more consistent posting schedule after the holidays. Hope you are all well. I have enjoyed hearing from some of you and about your own yoga journeys. Namaste.


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Embrace the Unexpected

I am sitting on my couch, looking out the window on this frightfully windy day, and I am watching a flock of birds attempt to fly against the wind, and fail. They are flapping their wings and merely hovering in midair by the force of it. Some dive down to the ground in defeat. A little one is actually blown backwards. I’d never seen anything like it. I watch them over and over again do this.

I think to myself, willing their safety, why don’t they just decide to go in another direction for the day? They’re just birds after all, where do they have to be? Why struggle so hard?

Then I realize I could be giving myself this exact same advice. Two days ago, I sprained a ligament in my knee while skiing. In the grand scheme of things, I am quite alright and I am so grateful it wasn’t worse. But it has put me out of commission, needing to take time off work, and rely on someone else to make me meals, get me things, or help me take my socks off. Strategizing a hobbling trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night becomes a major feat.

Then there is the business of my yoga practice. Remember my post from earlier this week –how I was going to get back on track, restart that energizing morning practice with a new 40-day kriya? Well, that plan flew out the window. Doing daily crow squats is just not an option right now.

Ok, universe, you have other plans for me.

Well, I’m perfectly functional from the waste up, and there’s no bodily prerequisites to meditate. So that’s what I did. I have been experimenting with chair yoga for the past two mornings, focusing on lungs, heart, arms, neck, figuring out what exercises I can do from there. Then I end with a 31 minute meditation.

This morning I decided it would be helpful to do a healing meditation. With upturned palms, I envisioned myself pulling in this energy from the universe. The white healing light coursing through my body, ribboning around my knee joint. Since there’s plenty to go around, at the end I sent some of it out to others I know in my life that could use some healing. For now, this meditation feels right. Tomorrow I may try another.

IMG_4792 It has certainly been eye-opening for me, a person who has never been injured before, to experience moving more slowly. It has been a way to bring more mindfulness to every action in my life. All of the little activities I typically take for granted throughout the day –getting a mug from the cupboard, bending down to pick up a towel, getting up to answer a knock at the door – have become little studies in movement. The knowledge that this struggle is temporary, and my limbs will soon move back into their effortless everyday dance is constantly present. I can’t help but feel so grateful for every small movement now.

Then there is the fact that I can’t go to work, which is harder for me to accept. But really, I’m just human after all. Where do I really need to be when my body needs to heal? The world will go on without me. So I take this opportunity to be still, to think, to read, to write, to heal.

I’m not sure how those birds in the wind made out today, but I know I’m gonna be just fine.

I’d like to send this thought out (with much love) to anyone who is healing right now:

Wherever you are in this process is where you need to be. If it is a place of discomfort, it will not last. It’s all going to be just fine.

birds

Healing foods for the joints:

If anyone is experiencing a similar joint injury, I’ve been doing a little research online and in my yoga books as to healing foods I can be eating that I thought I would share:

  • For breakfast my fruit and veggie smoothies are still a good choice, or oatmeal. These are some things you can add to either a smoothie or oatmeal (complex carbohydrate good for muscles) to make them even better: ground flax seed (for omegas), wheat germ (for trace minerals), Vitamin E oil (for healing tissue)
  • Lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, especially dark leafies, and berries for Vitamin C and bioflavonoids, carrots for Vitamin A
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids, like those found in fax seed or salmon
  • Protein, plant or animal-based
  • Zinc, found in supplements, or barley, wheat, crab, oysters
  • Golden Milk (read recipe here) –this is a yogic recipe for lubricating the joints, the milk supplies you with calcium and Vitamin D, turmeric has all kinds of good properties (including anti-inflammatory), plus it’s really yummy and comforting!

Healing Meditation:

Here is the full instructions to the meditation I described above: Healing with the Siri Gaitri Mantra (Ra Ma Da Sa Sa Say So Hung). And click here for a truly beautiful version of the mantra that goes with it, by Snatam Kaur.

Resources: Healing Muscles and Joints,

Food Remedies for Strains and Sprains,

The Aquarian Teacher, Level 1 Teacher Training Manual by Yogi Bhajan, PhD


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In Search of an Authentic Practice

You may have noticed lately there has been less posts about specific yoga and meditation techniques. I have been hinting I’ve been a little yoga-lite lately. This has happened in the past when I have taken a break from teaching. I took this break, firstly, to allow myself more time for some other writing projects (which you’ll hopefully hear more about later), but to also develop my yoga practice for myself, not for “yoga teacher Catie.”

I was beginning to feel inauthentic in my home practice. I was practicing, almost exclusively, kriyas I was going to teach in class that week. I found myself thinking about what I would say to the class during each exercise, reciting this script in my head. Even in my meditation, I would find myself rehearsing little monologues or things I’d tell my students to help them get back on track in the meditation -meanwhile, I was way off track!

offering up my practice to my Self

offering up my practice to my Self

So I decided to stop. I decided to give teaching a break until I cultivated an authentic practice for myself, that I could call my own, not my students. Don’t get me wrong, I think as a teacher it is important to keep up a practice for your students, and to plan well for classes, but there also needs to be a yoga that is just your own, and I had lost that.

I lost it because I lost some time, I started a new job that I had to get up a lot earlier for, I wanted to devote more time to other pursuits, so something had to give, and it was my personal practice that took the hit. But that was something I didn’t want to sacrifice, so I decided to take a break from teaching instead. I know I will come back to teaching (I miss it already), but I need to find some balance in my practice and life before returning to it. So in November I said goodbye to my classes with a bit of a heavy heart, and hoped that taking this time for my own practice will only make me a stronger teacher when I return.

Offseason Yoga

Then I stopped practicing all together. At first, I just told myself I needed a little break before starting back up. Then the holidays hit and it was easy to use them as an excuse. Then a couple more excuses came up that I won’t get into here, and before I knew it my practice was non-existent most days, a few casual stretches other days, interspersed with an earnest attempt at meditation here and there.

I don’t regret this little break. I read an article the other day about running. It talked about how even professional runners have an offseason. I liked that idea, the last couple months were my off-season for yoga.

I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself to be a perfect little yogi, so it kind of all came to a head, and I fell into what often happens with perfectionists -I got fed up and dropped it altogether. (If it’s not perfect, why bother doing it at all?)

I needed an offseason. I told myself it was nice to feel like just a regular, normal person again, not someone trying to be this enlightened being. But now I miss it, and there are no more excuses left not to get back into it.

So this morning was preseason. Rather than pick right back up where that little perfectionist yogi left off, I needed a gentler approach. If I was really going to re-discover my own practice I needed to do it in a way that was good for menot my idea of what a practice should be. It was hard to not let that perfectionist sneak in. I ended up sleeping past sun-up and my fiance woke up at the same time

But,” little miss perfectionist yogi says, “it is best to do your yoga in the predawn, it’s easier when no one else is awake and you have the space all to yourself. You’ve already failed. You should just give up and maybe try again tomorrow when you can get it right.”

Ritual of Recommitting

Okay, shutting that voice off like shutting off the snooze, I get up. I decide that even though the sun is up, the day is starting, there are other elements of my practice I could implement that would still make it comforting, still make it feel right. I return to ritual. I get up, brush my teeth, and make myself some warm lemon water. I get my cushion out, tune in with the Adi Mantra, and begin some of my favorite stretches, while taking breaks to sip my warm and soothing drink.

This is feeling good. But, besides creating ritual, I need to create a commitment to make this practice last. Choosing a kriya or meditation to practice for 40 straight days has always been a great way to keep me on my mat day after day. I choose a kriya that is something I want to work on in my life. That creates motivation to stick with it right there. But I also choose one that is short enough that I could make the time commitment to it as I build my practice back up. I pick Balancing the Head and Heart. This is a kriya I’d been wanting to try a 40-day practice of for a while now.

Again, since I’m only in preseason, rather than jump right into the full times and have my arms be super sore tomorrow, I start with the minimum times. Now they’ll just be a little sore, that good sore. So I’ll take a few days to build up to the full times, and I’ll add a few days onto the end of my 40 days.

Thank you for allowing me to share, openly and honestly, the state of my yoga practice these days. I will keep you posted on its progress, as usual, and hope to explore some new kriyas and meditations with you that I have been wanting to try for myself.

In the meantime, any teachers out there: Do you ever feel this way -that your personal practice suffers from being a teacher? And if so, what do you do to get through it?


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Thoughts on Autumn: Part 2

Part 1 of my Thoughts on Autumn is over at Rebelle Society, where I ponder the winds of change that fall brings, and if I am addicted to change.

Read it here, so the rest of this post will have context.

IMG_4727

Done?mt (4)

Good. mt (3)

So, what does this mean for a fall yoga practice? Which was my initial point when I started the post, which somehow got lost in the leaves.

Vata. Vata is what we feel full of when we are restless, when we are spacy, when we have our head in the clouds (perhaps it was vata that carried me away in this post). It was certainly vata that woke me up at 3 a.m. the other morning with the whipping wind to begin writing it.

According to Ayurveda, a system of natural healing associated with yoga, (and something I am exploring myself and still just beginning to touch the surface of, so please don’t consider this expert advice), vata, or the air element is highest in the fall. Think windy days, blowing leaves, air is up, energy is up. In Ayurveda it is recommended we balance the doshas (the other two being kapha and pitta), so if one is high, we want to calm it. Just as I want to calm my nostalgic mind that’s running away from me with new ideas, with change-cravings.

We can do this with yoga and our lifestyle choices. For example, the foods we eat –in the fall we often move to the heartier, warm meals like soups and stews, root vegetables, and whole grains (that filling bowl of oatmeal I start to crave this time of year). This is a good move for balancing vata.

With your yoga practice, think grounding. This often means first chakra work, so Kriya for Healthy Bowels is a nice one. Also poses and sequences that are slowing down the body. Simply standing in mountain pose to ground. Relaxation as nourishment to counterbalance vata’s tendency to push us with the wind, faster, harder, more, more, more.

So now, in the fall, calming vata’s surge, think less is more.

Here are a couple nice articles from Yoga Journal. The first talks a little more about vata, and lifestyle practices to calm it; the second is a nice hatha sequence to sooth vata:

Gotta Lotta Vata?

Back in Balance

And maybe most importantly, slow down to take the time to enjoy this blissfully beautiful season!

IMG_4705


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Food, Self-Care & Yoga for Great Skin, Part 1

This time of year our skin can be going through a rough patch –between sun, heat, sweat, salt water, chlorine. Here are a few things you can eat, and do for yourself, and some yoga you can try for radiant healthy skin.

First, take a moment to draw your attention to it. Sit still and bring focus to the skin itself, to the sensations you feel on it.

Generally we don’t think of it this way, but the skin is the largest organ in the body. Physically, it is the first line of defense, or protective barrier of our bodies. It is where we experience sensation, and where temperature is regulated. Skin also insulates us; stores and synthesizes some nutrients, like Vitamin D; controls fluid absorption and retention; and helps with elimination through sweating.

One way to look at skin problems is through underlying causes. According to some Eastern teachings (and, if we think about it, make sense to our Western medicine-based thinking as well), health of the skin is related to the lungs, kidneys, and liver. So doing things to support those organs will also support the skin.

Taking all this into consideration, the following foods may be beneficial to include in your diet:

  • Unrefined sesame oil, and raw almond oil (great to add to home-made salad dressings or in smoothies)
  • Beta-carotene/Vitamin A rich foods, like carrots, winter squash, and dark leafy greens, such as kale, spinach and chard.
  • Cooling foods, like cucumber and mint
  • Beets and yogi tea are great liver cleansers
  • Avoid  spicy, fatty, greasy, and processed foods, as well as sweets, and citrus fruits

Here are a couple recipes for the skin:

Yogi Mush –A Recipe for Clear Skin (from The Aquarian Teacher)

Ingredients:

4 celery stalks

1 bunch parsley

4-5 medium zucchinis

1 sprig mint

½ tsp ground black pepper

1 cup cottage cheese

Steam celery, parsley, zucchinis, and mint for about 15 minutes until soft. Puree with black pepper. Serve with cottage cheese. Makes about 2 servings.

This dish is very mild in flavor, it just feels cleansing. When eaten regularly, according to Yogi Bhajan, it will cleanse the intestines, clear the skin, and help you lose weight.

Smooth Skin Smoothie

½-1 frozen banana (for texture and sweetness)

Handful of dark greens

1/3-1/2 cucumber

3-4 mint sprigs (stem and all)

1/3-1/2 papaya (if not available fresh, can sometimes find in a tropical fruits medley frozen)

6 drops Vitamin E oil

1 tbsp chia seeds (if available)

½-1 cup water

Mix all ingredients, except the chia seeds, in a blender until smooth.  Then add the chia seeds. Drink immediately. Or, if you are like me and like that gelatinous coating the chia seeds get after sitting a bit in liquid, store in fridge for a few minutes. I use this time to put ingredients away and clean out the blender.

Tip: Making smoothies for breakfast can be really easy. I cut up my bananas when they are getting a little riper than I like, and then store in the freezer to always have a stash on-hand. Freezing the banana really makes the smoothie. Clean that blender right after you use it –it’s so much quicker and easier that way!

The importance and Use of Water

Showerhead

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Of course, staying hydrated by drinking lots of water is one of the best things you can do for your skin.

Another great thing? Cold showers.

Ah, the time has finally come to talk about the yogic practice of taking cold showers, ishnaan. Perfect timing for me too, as I had fallen out of the practice, and just started up again. In doing so, I remembered the benefits, and, I kid you not, how good it makes me feel!

Why Cold Showers?

Cold showers keep your skin radiant, keep you young by keeping the blood chemistry young and healthy, and stimulating the healthy secretions of the glandular system. They also open up the capillaries, and flush the organs.

How, exactly, do you do it?

  • Before going under, rub your skin vigorously. You can also rub it with an oil, like almond or jojoba.
  • You’ll want to avoid getting cold water directly on your thighs. This can disturb the calcium-magnesium balance in your body. You can wear cotton shorts to prevent this.
  • Dance in and out of the stream of water as you rub your body. Chanting a mantra or singing at this point is helpful! The cold water really does draw your internal heat out, so that after a bit, you really do start to feel warm -honest!
  • Continue for at least 3 minutes. Set that ipod on an upbeat song or mantra that’s about 3 minutes long, or fast forward until you have 3 minutes left.
  • Don’t get your hair and scalp wet.
  • Tip from the approximate yogi (i.e. not the traditional by-the-book method, but what works for me): The purpose of this shower isn’t really for getting clean. I need to get clean, so I do soap up and wash some of my body. I then turn the water a little warmer (you’ll find you don’t really need it as warm as you used to), and wash the rest of my body and my hair. And wearing shorts really does make it easier.
  • Don’t find an excuse! I live in Maine and have even continued this through the winter –in fact, I feel it keeps my body warmer throughout the day. Starting this practice is the hardest part, maintaining it is a lot easier. But a hot summer day is the perfect time to start!
  • Avoid cold showers when you have a fever, rheumatism or heart disease, or, if a woman, if you are menstruating or pregnant.

Why do it?

For me, the cold shower is the quickest way to wake my body up in the morning. No need for caffeine! And amazingly, this awake feeling really sticks with me. I’m not just awake –I’m alive, my mind is clear, I’m ready to go! And what courage it brings to the day! I just faced a cold shower, what else you got for me, day? Bring it on!

If you don’t want to take my word for it, you can read more about it in the articles listed at the end of this post. The last one (“Ishnaan: The Science of Hydrotherapy), is in Yogi Bhajan’s own words.

If you practice this hydrotherapy, I would love to hear about it in the comments section.

And remember,

True beauty exists when the radiance of your soul permeates your physical appearance. By claiming your inborn divinity, and matching it with an outer projection and presence that represent your soul, you will experience true beauty…Beauty is the natural, balanced state of being and projecting yourself as the graceful, radiant woman you are. (from A Woman’s Book of Yoga, by Machelle M Seibel, and Hari Kaur Khalsa)

Stay tuned for Part 2 later this week, where we’ll explore yoga techniques for the skin, and the emotions associated with the skin.

*I feel the need for a disclaimer today: I have been trained in Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, which does include some training on yogic lifestyle. I have not been formally trained in diet and nutrition. Any information I provide is from my own reading, research, and personal experience. Take it for what it’s worth. If you have serious skin issues, seek medical advice from a professional.

Resources & Related Articles:

The Aquarian Teacher: Level One Instructor Textbook, by Yogi Bhajan, PhD

A Woman’s Book of Yoga: Embracing Our Natural Life Cycles, by Machelle M Seibel, MD, and Hari Kaur Khalsa

Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition, by Paul Pitchford

Human Skin, Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_skin

Cold Showers for a Radiant Glow http://www.3ho.org/3ho-lifestyle/women/radiant-health-and-beauty/cold-showers-radiant-glow

Yogic Lifestyle: The Amazing Cold Shower http://www.spiritvoyage.com/blog/index.php/yogic-lifestyle-the-amazing-cold-shower/

Ishnaan: The Science of Hydrotherapy http://www.3ho.org/3ho-lifestyle/health-and-healing/hydrotherapy/ishnaan-science-hydrotherapy

Anti-Infammatory Cranberry Smoothie http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10298/anti-inflammatory-cranberry-smoothie-recipe.html

Skin Saving Summer Smoothie Recipe http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10176/skin-saving-summer-smoothie-recipe.html

Go on and Glow Girl! ~Recipe: Breakfast #97 (planmylife.org)