Monday, September 27, 2010

Label This

This morning, one of my yoga students asked me about yesterday's half-marathon. Another student overheard and said, "Oh, you're a runner." Which made me think, "I'm not a runner. I just run because I have to in order to finish triathlons. Runners are those people" Wait, what?

Is there a difference between someone who runs and a runner? Is everyone who goes to a yoga class a yogi? If I knit a scarf, am I a knitter? Does every activity I participate in give me a label?

That would make me a wife, a mother, a yoga teacher, a yogini, a runner, a cyclist, a swimmer, a triathlete, a knitter, a writer, a housekeeper, a kayaker, a hiker, a meditator, a bookkeeper...

And you wonder why I'm tired sometimes. How can I be all those people?

Our left-brain-oriented society is very fond of labels. We like to put people into named categories. Then we decide which categories we like, which ones we tolerate, and which ones we don't like. When we put someone into a category we expect them to be like everyone else in that category and get thrown off when they don't really fit.

All this labeling makes it hard to experiment, to try new things, because if, for example, you tell someone you went to the pool and swam a few laps, you are likely to hear, "Oh, I didn't know you were a swimmer." Bam! Just like that, you have to make a choice. Either you own up to the fact that you doggie paddled up and down the lap lanes three times, or you accept that label and set out to make yourself fit into that category.

Marketing companies love this. Before you know it you have a whole list of things to buy so you have all the stuff the other people in your new category already have. They make you think that you can't just go out and have fun riding your bike unless you have a pair of overpriced padded shorts and a pointy, aerodynamic helmet. You have to go get yourself a career label to pay for it all.

My own beloved yoga practice now qualifies me for a mega-label. When Satchidananda chanted "om" at Woodstock, could he have foreseen what yoga would become in America? It's too big for just one label. Yoga had to get sub-labeled, because people who do gym yoga aren't like those hippie ashram yogis. Yoga Journal even created a quiz so you could figure out which category to stick yourself in. (How else would you know whether to buy spandex and a yoga mat-sized towel or a white cotton tunic and a pretty woven rug?)

How did something which is supposed to get rid of all the labels get so many labels?

Yes, that's right. Yoga is not about putting yourself into a category. It's not designed to help you fit in. Yoga is about shutting up the labeling left brain and having a really nice visit with the right brain. The right brain is like that kid you hung out with when your parents dragged you to that lame cabin in the middle of nowhere for summer vacation. You know, the kid you knew you'd never see again so you dropped all the posing and were just you around him. (If you remembered his name you'd be looking him up on Facebook right now.) The right brain knows the real, label-free you. But it takes more than a couple of hours and Google to get back in touch.

If only my right brain had internet.

I do things. I try stuff. I have experiences. None of those things are who I am. I am an infinite spirit taking a turn at this finite flesh-and-blood existence we call life. And every now and then, while standing on my eco-friendly natural rubber mat wearing my name-brand yoga pants, I know that.

I am not a runner. I run and I am. That's the difference.
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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Adirondack Half-Marathon

I suppose running farther than I've ever run before is a fitting end to my 2010 race season. Getting to run a half-marathon as part of the Adirondack Distance Festival, right here, around my lake, made the end of the season extra-special.

Since it was my first half-marathon, I had no idea what to expect from myself. My longest training run was 12 miles and it took me 2 hours and 21 minutes to complete, so I estimated 2:30 for the entire 13.1 miles. Since my knee was still hurting when I ran 3 miles on Saturday, the day before the race, I thought I might not even make the 2:30, but would be happy just to finish.

The morning of the race was kind of weird. I'm used to being at a triathlon, setting up transition, around 6:30am. This race didn't start until 10:00am. We had to be at the buses that would take us to the half-marathon start (the full marathon is a loop around the lake) by 9:00am. The buses were waiting less than a mile from my house. My husband drove me over at 8:50am. I didn't know what to do with myself all morning.

I warmed up by alternately jogging and walking for about 15 minutes before the race started. My knee was stiff and sore. When the gun went off and I started running, my knee hurt. Knowing this was the last race this year, I decided to let it hurt and I kept running.

Sometime between miles 3 and 4 my knee stopped hurting. I didn't feel it at all. I have no idea why. Maybe the running gods thought I deserved a break. I was checking my time at the mile markers and was running just over 10 minute miles, which is faster than I expected. All I had to do was keep that pace and I would come in before 2:30.

When we made the turn onto Route 9 I really started to have fun. I logged many miles up and down this road while I was training. I knew all the hills and where the potholes and bumps were. People I knew were watching from lawn chairs at the bottom of their driveways or side streets or volunteering at water stations, so I got to hear my name and cheers often. There were bands and musicians along the route and Mark Piper, our infamous local singer-songwriter, managed to get out "Go Debbie" in the middle of a song. I ran past my parents' house and was greeted by my family and some of the neighbors. My aunt gave me water at the next water stop. It was like having the home field advantage.

When I reached mile 12, I still felt great. I knew I had more than a mile left in me, and couldn't help thinking that I needed a swim and a bike ride to go with this run. My pace hadn't slowed at all. I was loving every step.

To get to the finish line we had to make a right turn, run past the church where I teach my yoga classes, then go another block to the town beach. As the time on the finish chute got close enough to read, I realized that I could finish under 2:15 if I hustled. I had plenty left to go faster, so I sprinted and finished with a time of 2 hours, 14 minutes and 21 seconds.

I came in 257th out of the 526 runners who finished the half-marathon (22nd out of 52 in my age group), which puts me squarely in the middle of the pack and - I can't believe I get to write this - in the top half of the finishers. I've never gotten to use the word "top" in any of my race reports, so you can imagine how excited I am.

Next year, I'm trying the full marathon. But for now I'm putting my running shoes in the closet to focus on my yoga practice, put a new knitting project on my needles and spend more time writing. And I plan to spend some time in another pair of shoes. Stay tuned...

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Lake George Triathlon

My last triathlon of 2010 has come and gone. During the weeks leading up to the race I got bored with training, it started getting cold and I told myself I was never racing in September again. Then the race came and I had fun and now I'm sad my season is over. All that's left is Sunday's little half-marathon...

The Lake George Triathlon is an Olympic-distance race. The swim is .9 miles, the bike course is 24.8 miles and the run is 10K (or 6.2 miles). I finished in 3 hours, 30 minutes and 20 seconds. I'm happy to report that, while I'm still solidly at the back-of-the-pack, I improved on last year's time by 24 minutes.

They say that you can't win a triathlon in the swim, but you can definitely lose one in the water. My race must have been a lost cause! According to my training log, I've spent a whopping 3 1/2 hours working on my swim this year (and that includes the two sprint-distance triathlons I did earlier in the summer). I didn't even deserve
to get in the water with that little training. One thing (maybe the only thing, except my friends) that I miss about New Jersey is having a pool nearby. Our closest YMCA pool is a 45 minute drive, if it's not snowing. Even if I could afford the membership, I can't find a way to fit a couple of swims a week into my schedule. I'm not sure what I'm going to do about that. With proper training I might figure out how to swim in a straight line instead of going off-course 5 or 6 times. Anyway, I managed to do the swim in 39 minutes, two minutes faster than last year. I was not last. And I enjoyed it. If it wasn't for all those people knocking me around as they passed me, it would have been a nice swim on a sunny day in fall.

Since the bike course nearly did me in last year, I was determined to conquer it this year. I felt
like I rocked the bike. I was loving every minute of it, even the hills. Unlike the swim, I've done lots of bike training this year - more than 800 miles on the Schroon Lake hills. I felt really strong the whole ride. The only thing holding me back is my bike. My vintage Schwinn 10-speed just can't compete with bikes made within, oh, the last decade. (My bike was made when I was still in middle school. Yeah, it's that old.) Her tires are too fat to fit properly in the transition racks. And she's heavy. Despite her limitations, my classic baby and I managed to shave 20 minutes off last year's time to finish the leg in 1 hours and 36 minutes. That's huge. But I still want a new bike.

The run was what it was. I ran the 6.2 miles eight seconds slower than last year, in 1 hour, 9 minutes and 34 seconds. Consistent, if nothing else. My knee hurts every time I run now, and I was very careful not to push too hard. It would stink to injure my knee training for the half-marathon and then not even be able to run that race because I blew my knee out in the tri. I took it slow (obviously) and was just happy that I didn't have to stop and walk. Although I'm considering switching to walking. It might be faster.

I finished faster than last year. I was not last. I can still walk. I met all my goals.

When it comes right down to it, while I like to imagine myself getting age-group hardware someday, I'm not at all attached to the idea of winning. I set goals for myself, trying to improve my bike time for instance, to make training more interesting, but I participate in triathlons because they're fun and I get lots of satisfaction out of completing the race, not because I have any expectation of winning. (Besides, it's easier to find your times when you're on the last page of the results.) So next year I'll tackle a longer distance for the challenge of finishing and the joy of training. And because it's a good excuse to get a new bike.
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ten Days of Zazen

A zafu, the traditional seat cushion used in z...Image via WikipediaWhen life gets busy, things like taking ten minutes for meditation tend to get skipped. Of course, it's when life is at its craziest that meditation helps the most. Sometimes you need to quote Nike and just do it.

Since I was feeling unsettled and, admittedly, had been neglecting my own yoga practice, I thought perhaps I should take the baby step of cultivating a regular meditation practice. The day I decided to give it a try I never got around to it. So the next day I did what any anal, schedule-driven Virgo would do - I put it on my to-do list.

(Remember the Milk is a really good online to-do list if you're like me and appreciate those kinds of things.)

The idea of Zazen, the Buddhist practice of just sitting, appealed to me. I'd been researching Buddhism online, on the off chance that there was a closeted group of Buddhists in the North Country I could hang out with and learn from (if they're here, they're well hidden), when I came across Treeleaf Zendo, an online Zen Buddhist Sangha (community). It's a great website. They have a nice meditation timer, a very welcoming forum where I can ask questions and a great video blog published on Shambhala SunSpace, part of the online home of Shambhala Sun magazine. Among the blog entries are 23 entries on "Zazen for Beginners." These ten minute talks cover the basics of sitting, from how to actually physically sit to what's going on in your mind during all this sitting.

For the past ten days I've been watching one of the videos, then just sitting for 10 minutes. It's on my to-do list, so I've made time. After 5 days, I started doing my morning chores faster so I would be able to sit before I left to teach my first yoga class of the day. (Today I wasn't quite finished so I folded some laundry during the video so I'd have enough time to sit.) You know what? I like it. Lots.

Of course, it's just ten days, not long enough to say it's a habit. I'm still learning, and will probably be learning for a long time, if not forever. But I'm excited because it feels right and makes sense.

In the chaos I call my life, that's saying something.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Drawing Class, Day 1

I have always dabbled in artsy things. I loved art class in middle school, but gave it up for "academics" in high school because "smart kids" took calculus. I never considered myself good at art, but I remember the middle school art teacher being disappointed when I told her I'd dropped art from my schedule. I can still picture a pen and ink drawing I did of a plant in art class. I can't remember a single thing about calculus, despite tackling the subject twice more in college. Lesson learned.

So, to fulfill my artsy need as I made my way into the career world, I dabbled. I've tried drawing, sculpting, cross stitch, knitting, macramé, beading, sewing, more drawing, writing, more knitting, decorating...and you get the picture. I'm not good at any of them. I just liked to get creative sometimes. It was a nice balance for the left-brained world of accounting.

Yoga also helped me find some left brain-right brain balance. When I started teaching I found the act of creating a class very fulfilling. When I left accounting and started teaching full time, I felt like an artist. Now, after a year, I feel like a burnout.

Some days I just don't feel very creative. Some days I listen to myself teach and I am sure I'm the most boring yoga teacher ever. On those days my mind, instead of coming up with clever new sequences or adding a word that freshens the instruction of one asana, is busy babbling on about what a lousy yoga teacher I am. Hello, left brain. I guess doing yoga studio bookkeeping once a week isn't enough for you.

My teaching has felt really stale lately, and the negative self-talk is out of control. My left brain has been so busy being a critic that it can't keep track of my lefts and rights. If I don't keep those straight, my students end up looking like they're playing Twister instead of doing yoga. I needed a creative jump-start.

One of my yoga students, Anne, is a recently retired art teacher. She's beginning the next phase of her life by teaching classes and workshops for adults. She offered a six-week drawing class. Last week, on an impulse, I signed up. Yesterday was the first class.

After we talked for a few minutes, Anne told us to open our sketch pads and draw a person. I panicked. I don't draw people. I draw flowers. I draw trees. People are scary. They have too many parts that need to be in the right places. I spent the entire time (10 minutes - an eternity!) thinking that I had made a big mistake, that I wasn't as good as the other people in the room, and that I was never going to be able to face Anne again after this. Why, oh why, couldn't the first drawing be a daisy?

I'm sure you'd love me to tell you that the person I drew ended up looking great. But, honestly, it's pretty awful.

The class got better after that. We did some exercises designed to help us use the right side of our brain, focusing on lines and negative space instead of what we think the picture should look like. By the end of class, my left brain had mostly shut up.

We got homework. I sat and did some this morning. And I don't hate what I made. But really matters is that, while I was drawing, I started thinking that I should blog about it. So after the drawing I started writing. And while I was writing this I started thinking about yoga. Ah, the juices are flowing.

I thought about scanning that first drawing of the person to share it with you, but I really value the people who will take a few minutes out of their day to read this blog and just couldn't put you through that. Instead, here's a daisy...
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Monday, September 13, 2010

I'm back. Or, maybe, I'm not...

Foucault's PendulumImage by sylvar via FlickrSometimes my yoga practice feels like a chore, like just another thing that needs to be crossed off my to-do list. I have to drag myself onto my mat and don't feel any different when I'm done.

Sometimes stepping onto my mat is like finally coming home after a long journey through a storm and climbing into a warm bed next to my soul mate. Yeah, it's that good.

I went through all the craziness of the past few weeks and then, one morning, woke up in a different place. When I got on my mat later that day, everything felt right. I flowed through the practice my body needed, not thinking at all about what I should be doing. When I stepped off my mat I felt very centered and calm. I was home again.

But I think someone redecorated while I was away.

The person I was last time I felt centered is gone. I am different. I have another storm's worth of experiences to ponder. I have learned new things. Heck, I even got a haircut.

Have you ever played with a pendulum? If you hold a pendulum over your palm it might swing wide from side to side or it might make small circles in one direction or the other. My mind feels like that pendulum, sometimes off-center and swinging wildly, other times making gentle circles, getting ever closer to the place where it becomes totally still. Perfect center, as long as you don't move the hand holding the chain. Or think.

I am approaching stillness with a new tool. I have been exploring Zen Buddhism and practicing Zazen, the meditative style of "just sitting". Trying to practice regularly, I have sat for 10 minutes a day for over a week. It's pretty challenging to just sit. My mind has a million things to tell me.

And every time I sit down the phone rings. Seems it's not only my mind with something to say.
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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Downhill Battles

People running at the 2007 20 kilometer road r...Image via WikipediaI am less than three weeks out from my first half marathon and my right knee is giving me lots of trouble. It's okay for five miles, then it starts to hurt. I've noticed the pain always starts when I'm running downhill and lessens when I run uphill. After weeks of repeatedly running uphill to build endurance and speed, it would figure that the downhills would do me in. I don't think I have enough time to fix it before my races, so I guess I'll be the only one running hard uphill and jogging as slow as I can downhill.

Off-season training should be interesting. How can I run downhill on my treadmill?

Life seems to be a downhill battle lately. I have had a hard time grounding. Even long runs, which always seemed to bring me down to earth, haven't settled me down the past couple of weeks. When I try to sleep, I am either having very strange dreams or I am laying in bed wide awake, buzzing with energy, but without the strength to sit up. It's all I can do to roll from one side to the other. I've tried cutting back my training, thinking it was muscle fatigue, but it made no difference. Yoga helps me ground a bit, but it doesn't last. I've been trying to meditate as much as I can and, while I can sit for 30 or 60 minutes at a time, once I move back into the day-to-day stuff I start to buzz again.

It would be great if I could focus all this energy on my to-do list, but it's very scattered and I find it difficult to do even small household tasks without getting tired. The excess energy isn't making it into my muscles. It just makes static in my head.

Tristan's Occupational Therapist has been working with him on "slowing his engine down." We've been giving him crunchy and chewy foods, practicing push-ups against the wall and sun salutations, and compressing his joints every night before he goes to sleep. He had a successful first day of school. I breathed a big sigh of relief when he got off the bus with a smile on his face. Now I hope he will have a successful second day and not start his own race downhill.

The problem with downhill is you get rolling and it's hard to slow down. It's great when you're racing, but life's not a race. There is no finish line at the bottom of the hill, just the valley before the next climb and, looking back, lots of things you missed while you were flying down at full speed. I'm going to take it easy on my knee so my first half marathon won't be my last, even if it means finishing last. I'm going to continue to try to ground my energy and focus on tasks for short bursts so I can slowly accomplish what I need to. And I'm going to try to guide my son so he can slow down and not miss out on everything there is to learn in second grade.

Now, if I could just get one good night's sleep...
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Friday, September 3, 2010

The Garage Sale

garage sale. Spring cleaningImage via WikipediaEvery year on Labor Day weekend Schroon Lake's Senior Citizen Club hosts a town-wide garage sale. For twenty dollars you can rent a space on the grass at the town beach, drag all your unwanted stuff there and then see if you can at least make your twenty dollars back. I'm not a big fan of garage sales, but after selling the cabin and emptying our self-storage unit the basement is a bit crowded (i.e., I can't get to the washer and dryer without climbing over things).

The good thing about taking part in a garage sale someone else has organized is that you have a deadline. You can't keep putting off going through all your stuff until you feel like doing it. The bad thing about taking part in a garage sale someone else has organized is that you have a deadline. They aren't going to change the date just because you keep putting off going through all your stuff.

My mom, who is a big fan of getting rid of stuff, whatever the method, and who is also a big-wig committee chair or something of the Senior Citizen Club, rented us a space for the garage sale. She did this sometime in July, I think. Which means I've had weeks to get my stuff together and labeled.

Nobody should be surprised that I didn't start until this week.

My mom says I work better under pressure. I suppose that's true, since working under pressure is better than not working at all, although the quality might improve if it wasn't the eleventh hour.

So here it is, 10:00 pm, the night before the garage sale, and I'm as finished as I'm going to get with garage sale stuff. The house is a disaster because there are piles of things people didn't want to give up but which have not yet found a home. Tomorrow morning we have to put all our stuff into the cars and drag it down to the town beach by 8:00 am (in the rain, if the weather forecast is correct). And I'm tired and cranky.

I am never again selling anything in a garage sale. After tomorrow, I am officially retired from the junk selling business. There is still way too much stuff in our basement but, if it can't get reused or recycled, it's getting donated.

You are probably thinking that, without the looming garage sale deadline, I will never finish emptying the basement. But I have other motivation. I was just given a treadmill and it needs a home before it starts to snow so I can begin my half-ironman training. Which means that I'll be dragging stuff to the Share Shop in December.

Hey, I work better under pressure.
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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gratitude and Hope

Cover of "The Out-of-Sync Child: Recogniz...Cover via AmazonMy seven-year-old son, Tristan, was recently diagnosed with a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). This should probably be upsetting ("Oh no, my son is not normal!"), but it's actually a relief to finally have an explanation for his bizarre and frustrating behaviors and to have a plan to help him in the future. With the right changes, he might be able to successfully navigate second grade.

As usual, when I have a need (whether I know it or not), the universe comes through to fulfill that need. Today I am extremely grateful for the kind people the universe sent my way to help Tristan and me.

A few weeks ago, on a recommendation from the school's Occupational Therapist, we made an appointment with a private center to get more support for my son's school issues. Or, we thought we did. Our appointment never made it onto the Occupational Therapist's calendar. Emily was good enough to squeeze us in anyway, and that first appointment was very enlightening. Today we went to see Emily again and came home armed with things to do to help Tristan settle into his body and, as Emily put it, "slow his engine down." I am very grateful for Emily and look forward to our next session.

During our first visit, Emily recommended the book The Out-of-Sync Child. The following week I had a new student in one of my yoga classes. I don't know how we got on the subject, but it turned out that she was a speech pathologist who worked with special needs kids and was very family with sensory integration issues. She also recommended the book and, when I told her I hadn't had a chance to shop for it yet, she came back the following week with a copy of that book and the related The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun. It was overwhelming to be given a gift by someone I'd just met. I started reading the books right away, and they are filled with the information I'd been needing to understand what was going on with Tristan. I am very grateful for Carolyn and her incredible generosity.

This week, Carolyn brought a friend to class and I was blessed with another student. Then another student brought somebody new. Both of the new students have been back for a second class this week. As a yoga teacher, there is nothing better than knowing I was able to connect with someone right away. I am grateful for everyone who brings a friend to class.

I am grateful for my family and friends, those I see all the time and those I've never seen except in their avatar pictures, for supporting my journey as a mother and a yoga teacher. I am especially grateful for my husband, Rob, who knows when it's time to shut up and buy chocolate. Because of all that they give, I have hope for a bright, happy future.

Who are you grateful for today?
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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Balanced and Flowing

Eagle's PoseImage by lululemon athletica via FlickrLife is good, even though this week it's been ridiculously hot again. I'm feeling balanced and energized. I'm getting stuff done - stuff like creating new sequences for my flow yoga classes. Remember that balance sequence from the end of my last post? Since we were already doing all that core-strengthening balancing, why not open the hips too?

Here's a sequence to try. My all-level flow classes can look forward to this one soon.

  • Start in Mountain (Tadasana). Inhale your arms overhead, then bend your knees for...
  • Chair (Utkatasana). Drop your arms to shoulder height and make your way into...
  • Eagle (Garudasana), balancing on the left foot. Keep your weight in your left leg as you straighten your left knee, bring the right foot to your left calf and lift your arms overhead into...
  • Tree (Vrkshasana). Drop your right hand, lift your right foot behind you and grab your toes with your right hand. Press your foot into your hand to come to...
  • Dancer (Natarajasana). Release your foot, reach your right hand overhead and reach your right leg behind you, finding yourself in...
  • Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III). Keep reaching back with your right foot as you bend your left leg, put your right toes down and lift your torso for...
  • Crescent Lunge (High Lunge Variation). Spin your right heel down, open your torso to the right and drop your arms into...
  • Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II). Straighten the left leg and move to...
  • Triangle (Trikonasana). Shift the weight into the left leg, take a chance and reach for the floor in front of your left toes as you lift your right leg for...
  • Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana). Rotate your torso until you're looking at the floor and bring your arms to your sides like airplane wings. You're in...
  • Airplane. Bend your left knee while crossing the right leg behind the left and come down to a seated position, right leg bent on the floor, left knee lifted, left foot outside the right thigh. You are ready to twist to the left into...
  • Half Lord of the Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrasana). Without using your hands, see if you can stand up on your left leg into Airplane again. Reach your hands to the floor, bend your left knee and put your right toes down into a...
  • High Runner's Lunge. Press the right heel down as you swing the left leg back and up into...
  • Downward Dog Split. Open the hips more by bending the left knee and lifting it towards the sky as the left foot drops towards the right hip. Then square your hips to the floor and swing your left knee under your chest to set it down in...
  • Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana). Fold forward first, then lift your heart into the full Pigeon pose. You can bend your right knee and reach back for your toes with your right hand to add a quad stretch. Release Pigeon, make your way to your hands and knees, then drop your chest and chin and flow into...
  • Cobra (Bhujangasana). Press back to...
  • Downward-facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Step your right foot between your hands, spin your left heel down and lift your arms overhead for...
  • Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I). Drop your arms behind your back, interlace your fingers and, keeping your feet grounded, fold from your hip to lower your torso over your right thigh. Drop your head towards your right instep. Come up with a flat back and return to Warrior I. Then step the left foot forward into a...
  • Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Lift to standing, reach your arms overhead and bring your hands to your heart to end in...
  • Mountain (Tadasana).
That's it! After you do the whole sequence once, don't forget to do the other side by balancing on your right foot in Eagle. And always give yourself a few minutes in Savasana at the end of your practice.

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