Saturday, January 22, 2011

Playtime with Paint

With all the things I try to fit into my life, playtime usually gets left off the schedule. Time to play never seemed like a priority. But the Inside Out e-course gives homework, and the homework feels an awful lot like play.

After the first week, my visual journal has fewer blank pages. My favorite journal project was putting paint on pages, using any method I wanted. My friend, Anne, gave me some acrylic paints to use - lots of gorgeous, bright colors. I didn't use any brushes. The paint went on with the edge of a piece of cardboard,

a sheet of plastic wrap

and some yarn.

I had fun creating my painted pages. Since I have never painted, I got to approach the project with a beginner's mind, free of any expectations. That attitude makes yoga fun, too. Sometimes I take my practice too seriously and care too much about what asanas I can do and, worse, which asanas I can't do.

Looking at the splashes and streaks of color, I'm reminded that what I can't do is just an opportunity to try something new. I feel very satisfied with the results of my painting play. It makes me smile.
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Going Visual

The start of my 2011 creative adventure is being guided by Shannon Kinney-Duh's Inside Out e-course, which started two days ago. It's wonderful so far! I'm really looking forward to the next four weeks of exploring.

Part of the course is creating a visual journal. Today's assignment was to find words in old magazines and put them in the journal. I wasn't really feeling creative, but I ended up having lots of fun gluing the words onto the pages.

When I spread out the words on my desk, they seemed to fit into groups and some clearly were part of the same thought.

Yoga had a whole page, of course.

Looking again, I see messages I hadn't planned. Or, at least, not the part of me that thought it was doing the planning.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dancing Star

"One must still have chaos in oneself to
be able to give birth to a dancing star."
Friedrich Nietzsche

Today, Creative Every Day 2011's January theme of cosmos, and Nietzche, inspired me to create a yoga flow sequence I've named Dancing Star.

The circular pattern of the flow, which fills the whole mat, and the ever-changing focal points felt cosmic. The movements flow through five-pointed star and dance in and out of triangle pose on the way around the mat.

Roll out your mat, free your inner chaos and be a dancing star.

stand in tadasana
reach overhead and fill your lungs with a big inhale
as you exhale, fold into uttanasana
lift halfway up, hands to shins, and extend your spine
jump (or step) back and lower yourself to chaturanga dandasana
lift to urdhva mukha shavanasana
reach back into adha mukha svanasana
lift your right leg behind you into a down dog standing split
step your right foot forward between your hands into
runners stretch
spin your left heel down, reach your left arm forward
then up, lifting you into
virabhadrasana II
straighten your right leg and bend to the right
into trikonasana
lift your torso upright
turn your right toes toward the side of your mat and feel
five-pointed star
drop your arms down
sweep your hands together in front of your heart, then
press your hands overhead
open your arms back to shoulder height
turn your left toes toward the back of your mat
and bend left into trikonasana
lift out of triangle, bend your left knee and take
virabhadrasana II
windmill your arms to the floor framing your left foot
in high lunge
step back to plank and flow to down dog
lift your right leg behind you
step your right foot forward between your hands
and flow from lunge to virabhadrasana II to
trikonasana to five-pointed star
(you should be facing the other side of your mat this time)
bring your hands together at your heart then press them overhead
and flow to triangle then warrior II and back to lunge
step back to plank and come back to down dog
now you've circled all the way around your mat
you're facing front again
repeat the flow, beginning with your left leg this time
you'll circle around in the other direction
when you flow back to down dog facing the front of your mat
hop (or step) forward
lift halfway up
fold deep and let go
come up to standing, reaching your arms overhead
return to tadasana

I played with my kids' colored pencils this afternoon. I guess "dancing star" is my theme today.

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Adventures in the Kitchen

This photograph shows two pink grapefruits (Ci...Image via WikipediaEvery now and then I get a bit daring with dinner. It usually happens when I get a hankering for something but don't have all the ingredients to make it. That's what happened tonight.

An hour before dinner, while the salmon steaks I was going to cook defrosted, I was pedaling my bike (it's set up inside on a bike trainer), reading The Two Towers (the second book from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, just in case there's someone who managed to not hear about Lord of the Rings anytime in the last decade), when suddenly I thought "grapefruit salsa". Don't ask me where the idea came from. The inner workings of my mind are a mystery even to me.

When the bike ride was over the adventure began. A quick web search yielded a number of grapefruit salsa recipes. I lacked some ingredients from every recipe. After getting a sense of what went into grapefruit salsa, I decided to wing it with what I had around.

At this point my husband checked the freezer to make sure we had frozen pizzas. I would have been insulted if I thought I actually had any culinary skills, but I know myself. People who can cook don't use the smoke detector as a kitchen timer.

Most of the recipes called for grapefruit (duh), green onions, jalapeno peppers, and either mint or cilantro. I had grapefruit. I had yellow onions, but no green ones. I had half a green pepper left over from breakfast and a can of chipolte peppers in adobo sauce that was on hand because I finally found them in the store months after I'd needed them for a recipe and bought a can out of spite.

It all went in the bowl except for most of the can of chipolte peppers (because they're hot, which I discovered by tasting them) with some red wine vinegar, black pepper, agave nectar and olive oil. And it came out...


Not great. The flavor of the yellow onions dominated everything else, but it went okay with the fish. The frozen pizzas were not needed, this time.

I could have played it safe in the kitchen tonight, but being adventurous is much more fun. By taking risks, within limits, we learn and grow. Life always gives us chances to reach farther, climb higher, or just wing it. By taking the little risks that present themselves regularly, we learn how to face the big ones that show up in every life eventually.

Our yoga mats are a wonderful place to take small risks. Trying an asana that you've assumed was too challenging for you, experimenting with the limits of your stamina and balance, or just allowing emotions to flow are little risks we can take every day. Grapefruit salsa is nothing compared to Ardha Chandrasana, after all.

Have yourself a little adventure today - in your kitchen, on your mat, in your backyard - wherever you find one.

But stock up on frozen pizzas first.
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Saturday, January 8, 2011


My asana practice has been softening. I've been softening. Even Surya Namaskar has softened. Movements are lighter and, when my body is still, I let go in a new easy effortlessness.

Perhaps I am mirroring the light, powdery snowfall. The world is softening.

I wanted to play with that softness, so I dug out my extra-soft charcoal pencil and tried to capture the world outside.

The trees are beautiful today, looking like they've all been sprinkled with down then dusted with glitter. The snow is still falling in tiny flakes I can only see when the light hits them just right. The sun is low in the sky, turning the snow clouds gold, and blindingly bright.

Tonight is a good night for a movie and my knitting needles. I've been knitting every day, keeping the holiday momentum going, but enjoying the process without the December 24th deadline looming. I'm taking my time, feeling the soft yarn as it slides between my fingers. Even my knitting is softening.
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Friday, January 7, 2011

Mindfully Multitasking

If I had thousands of readers, thousands of people would be screaming "oxymoron" at my blog title. Since I'm pretty sure this blog isn't read by thousands, or even hundreds, of people, I think I can get away with it.

Multitasking has gotten a bad rap. Hear "multitasking" and most of us picture stressed-out office workers, desks piled high with papers and folders, dropping one task every time another piece of paper gets dumped in the mix and never finishing anything. I am no longer a stressed-out office worker, but, honestly, I couldn't get through the day without multitasking.

Instead of thinking of multitasking as trying to do ten things at once and not really doing anything, I consider multitasking the ability to switch focus from one thing to another in an organized, mindful way so everything gets done. Anyone who is managing a household, a business and several volunteer endeavors has to multitask. Really, anyone who's ever had to get dinner on the table needs multitasking skills.

Imagine making a simple dinner of spaghetti with sauce and a salad. Can you put water on the stove to boil and keep your focus on the water until it does? Then watch the spaghetti cook? Of course not, unless you're okay not eating until midnight and can deal with a mutiny by hungry children. While the water is coming up to boil there's time to make the salad. While the spaghetti cooks you heat the sauce. Have you forgotten all about the water while you're tearing lettuce? Of course not. You are mindfully multitasking, switching your focus from the water to the salad at the appropriate time, then bringing your awareness back to the pot when it's time to add the pasta.

Even on your yoga mat, that haven of mindfulness and focus, you practice multitasking. You move into the alignment of an asana, make sure you are steady and feeling open where you should be open, then bring your focus to your breath. Unless the yoga teacher comes by and knocks you over (no, we don't do that, so all of my students can stop the gasping), you don't just fall down because you stopped paying attention to what your muscles are doing. When it's time to come out of the pose and your focus moves back to your muscles, you don't stop breathing.

The mindfulness of multitasking comes with the awareness of deliberate, conscious shifts of focus. When the next piece of paper gets thrown on your desk and distracts you from your current task, notice if you chose to change focus or if you unconsciously assumed that the new thing was the most important. By taking a moment to evaluate the new task and deciding if it needs immediate attention or not, you can better plan where your focus will go and if you can truly do two things at once. Like making a salad while waiting for the pot of water to boil, there are some jobs that can be done at the same time: printing a stack of fliers while making phone calls, for instance, or holding an asana and breathing.

Awareness may be the most powerful benefit of your yoga practice. Spend an hour watching where your focus goes. Then take control and start mindfully multitasking. It works for me. I folded a load of laundry while I wrote this.
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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Finishing What I Start

When I started knitting again a few years ago, the first thing I did was finish a scarf I had started seven years earlier. Indeed, it took me seven years to knit a scarf, but I did finally finish it. Of course, the coat it had been meant to go with was outgrown by my daughter years before it was finished, but she was gracious enough to pretend she liked it anyway.

Leaving projects unfinished has become a bad habit. When the yarn dust settled after my Christmas gift-giving knitting, there were two partially-finished projects left on my needles. Both projects had been started, and abandoned, in 2009. I decided to start the new year with a clean slate and finished everything I started.

The first project was a lace ribbon scarf that I was making to use up some leftover yarn. I knitted a couple of hours a day for 3 days and it was finished. Rather than leaving it lay somewhere, I blocked it right away and it was ready by the next morning. That was all it needed. I'm wearing it as I type this, because I really like it.

The other project was a pair of mittens - my first attempt at mittens - that I knitted from a skein of beautiful alpaca yarn I had picked up at a harvest festival. When I followed the pattern my mittens turned out too short, so they had to be taken apart at the top of the fingers and made longer. One was done. The other was waiting. It took less than 30 minutes to fix and I now have a soft, warm pair of mittens that I could have worn last winter if I had taken just a bit of time to finish them.

Once all my needles were empty, I tackled a quick knit that helps me meet my One Small Change goal for the month: replacing our disposable kitchen sponges with reusable, eco-friendly alternatives. I found a pattern for knitting scrubbies. Strips of tulle are knitted with the yarn to make them good for scouring pans. I just happened to have a roll of tulle that I bought years ago for who-knows-what, so last night I enjoyed the satisfaction of a quick knit.

The pattern, by Julie Anderson, is available for free on her blog.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the scrubbies is the needle size. They just happen to require size 10 needles, the size of my new Buddha knitting needles, gifted to me at the holidays by a yoga student. How awesome are these?

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Video Yogi

Hatha Yoga Video Lunge Pose - HanurasanaImage by myyogaonline via FlickrThis morning's practice was guided by a DVD. Most days I let my body and my teaching skills guide my home yoga practice, but some days my "teacher mind" needs a rest and I pull out one of the numerous yoga videos I keep on hand for days like this and for reference and inspiration when planning classes.

Not all yoga videos are created equal, and not every video is suitable for every body. Do you have a pile of videos you brought home or received as gifts, tried once, then decided they were no good because you couldn't do all the poses, they moved too fast (or too slow), or you couldn't follow the instruction and found yourself awkwardly twisting your neck trying to see the television screen under your leg so you could figure out if you had the pose correct?

Me too.

But there are a few tips for using yoga videos that might help you rescue some of those videos from the discard pile.

  1. Use the remote. DVDs give you lots of flexibility (how very yoga-like of them!) when you learn to use the remote. My favorite button is PAUSE. I have a yoga DVD with very nice sequencing, but the instructor rushes through the asanas so fast I barely have time to take a breath. I keep the remote close at hand, and when she heads into a pose I'd like to hold longer, I hit the pause button and watch my breath for awhile. Didn't catch something she said? Scan back and listen again. Need to take a break in child's pose? The STOP button is handy too.
  2. Modify, modify, modify. Very few videos, even the ones called "beginner" videos, offer modifications for the asanas, but you've been to yoga class and you know how to modify or prop some of those poses, so do it. Just because the video instructor isn't sitting on a blanket in her forward fold doesn't mean you can't do it. Tell yourself if she could see you she'd be right there tucking that blanket under your sitting bones.
  3. Look it up. A basic book of yoga asanas is a handy video-watching tool, especially when trying something new. If you follow the instructions on the video and the asana doesn't feel right or you just don't get the directions, pause the video, grab your book, find the pose and start reading. Maybe the book will give you the "ah-ha" you didn't get from the video.
  4. Listen to your body. Remember that the body on the television screen isn't the one you need to be paying attention to. Just because the video goes on for two hours doesn't mean you can't stop after 20 minutes. If an asana isn't right for you, skip it. Use the time between PAUSE and PLAY to feel your way through your body and learn something about that asana.
  5. Don't skip Savasana. Savasana is the hardest pose for me to do at home. Many videos end by putting your on your mat and then rolling the credits, leaving the viewer to decide when Savasana is over. Unless the video has a solid final relaxation segment, as soon as I settle down I start wondering how long it's been and thinking about what else I need to be doing. I find that setting a meditation timer or just the timer on my watch helps me let go of keeping track of the time so I can really relax. Savasana is the most important pose of your practice, so don't cheat yourself and take 5 minutes for bliss.
Some videos will never float your boat, even with these tips. Make space for new ones by donating those to your local library. Who knows? The video that you never liked may be just the thing to inspire someone else's practice. Share the yoga love.
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Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Affirmations

Resolutions are for sissies. As soon as I say "I am going to..." I am off the hook. Whatever it is I am going to do is in the future, and it stays in the future until December 31st rolls around again and I'm disappointed. That's just the way resolutions work.

Affirmations are for people who really mean it. No future stuff in affirmations; it is NOW. When my mind hears "I AM," "It IS" and "I LIVE" it figures it's already happening, so I'd better get to it. I am no sissy, so here, mind, are my 2011 affirmations. Let's get to it.

I am crazily creative.

I am creating sacred space for the practice of yoga.

My life is my yoga practice and includes teaching others to discover their own yoga practice.

My daily asana practice sustains me.

I am strong, healthy and fast.

It is easy to keep the house clean.

My house reflects my family's creative spirit.

My home is warm, calm and inviting, and all friends are welcomed there.

I open my home to friends often.

My gardens add beauty in all seasons, provide food, and support the natural ecosystem.

Planning ahead for holidays frees up time for meaningful, creative gifting.

My wild spirit pours into everything I do.

I live joyfully and blissfully.

Lastily, an affirmation I have repeated many times over many years, in celebration of my individuality:

I am divinely unique.

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