Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Bloody Heels of Non-Violence

Friction Blisters on Human foot due to running...Image via Wikipedia

Today I spent 15 minutes sitting in a tub full of cold water watching dried blood flake off my heel and thinking about ahimsa. No, this is not a obscure yogic ritual. The cold water soak was keeping my feet and ankles from swelling after an 8 mile run on a warm afternoon. The blood was from a blister that gave up around mile 5 and failed to prevent the skin from being rubbed off my heel as blisters are supposed to do. And thinking about yoga's concept of non-violence? Maybe that's just where this yogini's mind goes after a fair amount of blood loss.

Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term from ancient yoga texts which translates as "non-harming" or "non-violence". How broadly the concept should be applied has been, and continues to be, a hotly debated topic among yogis. Some take it to mean that we should not harm any living thing and turn to vegetarian or vegan diets and animal rights activism. For others, it is enough to work on not harming ourselves when we practice yoga, being compassionate and caring about our own bodies in the asanas.

So why was I mulling over the idea of ahimsa while I sat in the cold tub?

The endurance athletes I know (distance runners and triathletes, mostly) tend to take pride in pain and injury. Not that we set out to injure ourselves, but if you follow any of our blogs you are likely to see pictures of road rash, lost toenails, blisters, knee surgery scars, etc. We wear scabs and bruises like badges of honor. They are a sign to our fellows that, in pushing our bodies to their limits, we faced adversity and we were tough enough to walk, or limp, away from it, ready to battle our limits another day.

If I'm beating myself to a pulp on a regular basis, am I violated the principle of ahimsa? Can I be a card-carrying, Yoga Sutra-reading yogini and run until my feet are bleeding? Isn't that harming myself? This is what I was contemplating in the cold tub.

Truth be told, I didn't come up with an answer during my icy soak. Nor have I found the answer since drying off, wrapping my heel in gauze and eating the entire contents of our refrigerator (running makes me hungry). All I know is that, despite the sore muscles and raw skin, running makes me feel good. The ultimate result is that my body gets stronger, my blood pressure gets lower and I have a great sense of accomplishment when, like today, I run further than I have before. Perhaps the means justify a non-harming end?

I'm sure I'll be mulling it over more, right after I contemplate how to get the blood stains out of my sneakers.
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Saturday, May 29, 2010


Beyond all coming and going of phenomena: the ...Image via Wikipedia

This morning I was feeling very centered after my asana practice and decided to sit for a few minutes of meditation. My husband, who normally sleeps through my sun salutations even though my mat is right at the foot of the bed, was awake this morning and playing a game on his phone. He had the sound off, so all I had to deal with was the click of the keys. The dogs knew he was awake and joined him on the bed. So far there was nothing that I couldn't tune out for a short time, so I settled into easy pose, rested my hands on my knees and closed my eyes...

As I brought my awareness to my breath, I suddenly became aware of a new sensation - cold tongue on my hand. One of our dogs had gotten off the bed and decided my upturned palm was tasty. I caught myself before I shooed her away. Couldn't I practice mindfulness by focusing on the sensation of being licked?

I allowed the hand wash to continue, keeping my awareness on the feeling of dog tongue. I noticed it was rough and dry this morning. I felt the movement as it curled around fingers or flattened against my palm. I was aware of my hand as the object of the licking.

After awhile, she got bored and curled up on the floor in her own meditative style. (Eyes closed, breathing regular, but always mindful of the smallest sound that might indicate food is about to be put in her bowl.) I returned my focus to my breath for a few more minutes before starting my day.

If you've never started a meditative practice because you can't find ten minutes of peace and quiet in your day, ask yourself if absolute peace and quiet is really necessary. Unless you move to an ashram, chances are life will always be happening around your meditation. Learning to be calm and still in the daily chaos can be more beneficial than needing to escape to a quiet, dark room when life starts to get crazy.

Start now. Close your eyes and focus on your breath for one minute. Don't try to shut out the sounds, the thoughts, the feelings. Notice them, acknowledge that life is happening, then bring your attention back to your breath. Try again tomorrow, and the day after that. See where your meditation practice takes you.
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Thursday, May 27, 2010


Giant Mountain seen from Noonmark MountainImage via Wikipedia

I have been neglecting my blog while I got some other stuff together. Now that it is, I suppose I should tell you what I've been up to.

Announcement #1: Beginning June 1st, I'll be teaching two yoga classes at The Studio at High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid. These classes are in addition to the classes at my Schroon Lake studio. The Lake Placid classes are Hatha yoga at 9:30 am on Tuesdays and Vinyasa (flow) yoga at 5:00 pm on Fridays. So, if you are in the area, come to High Peaks Cyclery and try one of my classes!

Announcement #2: I am putting on a number of workshops over the summer. The first, a workshop on the Chakras, is on Saturday, June 5th at 1:30 pm in the Schroon Lake studio. It will be a good introduction to the Chakra system and I am excited to be presenting it. In addition to the workshop, I am writing some blog posts on the Chakras, which I will be sharing over the summer.

There will also be three other workshops over the summer, which will be on Wednesdays in Schroon Lake (and possibly on Sundays in Lake Placid, depending on the timing). The first, which I'm calling Yoga Demystified, will be an introduction to yoga for people who have been wondering what it's all about. The second, called Yoga on the Trails, is a workshop on yoga and hiking. The third is all about Sun Salutations, both the history and the process.

Announcement #3: I've really been enjoying my research for my hiking workshop, and have been putting some good information together. I've decided that my winter project will be turning that information into a book. So, in a couple of years, when the book has yet to be finished, you can remind me I promised to write it.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend!
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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

5 things you may be telling your yoga teacher without saying a word

Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Bell 206 ...Image via Wikipedia

One of the things I enjoy about teaching yoga is being able to watch people. Yes, as I look around the room I am checking alignment and making sure my directions were clear enough for everyone to follow, but I also notice other things, too. Here are five things you may be telling your yoga teacher, without saying anything.
  1. You take your yoga practice very, very seriously. As a newbie yoga teacher looking around at a class with angry-looking faces and set jaws, I'd agonize, thinking that everyone hated the class. I couldn't figure out why the students kept coming back. Then I thought back to a class I took when, while holding Warrior II, my teacher came over, tickled my cheek, and told me to smile. I was wasting lots of energy tensing muscles in my face. There is no yoga rule that you can't enjoy your practice. In fact, yoga can be downright fun. So relax those jaws, or your yoga teacher might start asking what the yogi told the pizza chef. *
  2. You hold all of your tension in your shoulders. Lots of people play Atlas, carrying their and everyone else's worries on their shoulders. Extreme cases are easy to spot. It will be the end of class before you can see their necks. Shoulder rolls look more like little shrugs than circles. There are more subtle signs as well. If you notice your shoulders creeping towards your ears every time you lift your arms away from your sides, your yoga teacher knows you have some de-stressing to do.
  3. You like to go, go, go. Some people find it difficult to slow down. Whether you are rushing to get through class and move on to the next thing, or just trying to avoid feeling what's going on in your body, the need for speed is pretty obvious, especially when you're circling your foot so fast it seems you are hoping to lift off like a helicopter.
  4. Your life has a soundtrack. Background music is a nice touch in yoga classes. Music can be very soothing, but not for everyone. There are people who have a song playing in their heads no matter what they're doing, and sometimes it leaks out. If the music really moves you, you might find yourself perfectly still in mountain pose, except your hand, which is drumming your leg to the beat of a Krishna Das chant. No KD on the teacher's iPod? Maybe your internal playlist is on repeat.
  5. You'd rather be anywhere but on your yoga mat. We all know yoga is the best thing you could be doing with your time. We also know that there are those rare days when you are on your mat only because you've committed to it. You can fake it, but the teacher can tell you aren't really present when you end up facing the wrong way in Virabhadrasana II. It's okay. Your teacher has days like that too.

* Make me one with everyone.
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Monday, May 3, 2010

A New Plan

Triathlon photographs from the Chinook-Half-Ir...Image via Wikipedia

If you've been reading this for awhile you'll remember my New Year's post. I wrote about planning out my triathlon training for the year. I had carefully marked every workout in my day planner so I'd know exactly what I needed to do. It was a great plan, except for one small problem - it didn't fit into my life.

Some parts are working well, like my long, Sunday morning run. Usually my mid-week short run gets done. Every now and then I squeeze in some strength training. The rest ends up falling by the wayside.

I can give myself a break on the swimming, since the lake only melted a few weeks ago. I will only be able to get a month or so of swim workouts in before my first triathlon at the end of June, but I knew that would be a problem when I moved far away from a pool. I will just have to do the best I can at the swim, and hope that it's at least better than last year's. (During the same race last year my swim was really, really bad, despite the training, so I don't imagine it could get worse.)

The biking is the part that's been bugging me. I'm bored to tears with riding on the trainer, and the long bike workouts are asking for 2-3 hours out of my day. I never seem to have enough time before I have to do something or be somewhere, so I just don't get on the bike. I can't get outside if I leave it until the kids are in bed. It's just too darn dark out there. Instead, I keep skipping the workouts.

After beating myself up about not being ready for the big hill in Hague in June, I finally had a breakthrough. As of last Saturday, my bike plan is that there is no plan. I've decided I'm just going to ride my bike whenever I can. Fifteen minutes is better than nothing.

I started riding my bike to yoga when I don't have to pick up kids after school or shop for anything too big for my backpack. Saturday afternoon I put my bike in the car and, while my daughter was taking a riding lesson, I rode around Friends Lake.

I'm pretty sure 45 minutes on those hills were a better workout than two hours on the trainer.

We'll see how it goes, but I think it's better than having a nicely arranged plan that I never follow. I suspect that swims will get done in the same way. Once the lake warms up, that is.
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