Yoga Facial

I slouch too much.

At times – pecking away on my laptop, eating a meal, relaxing on the couch – I’ll catch myself and try to fix it.

Lately, I’ve noticed another habit I’ve developed over the years: frowning. Well, maybe not frowning exactly, but holding a tense face.

Opening the yoga practice, I am sitting with my legs crossed mid-shin. The teacher tells the class to close our eyes and place the back of our hands on our knees with our palms facing the ceiling. Then she tells us to relax our face.

“Relax your jaw,” she says.

“Relax the muscles around your eyes,” she continues.

“Relax the space between your brows . . . your eyelids . . . and even the skin underneath the eyelids.”

She tells the class that relaxing the face is one way to help quiet the brain.

As we continue the practice – sun salutations, standing poses, and core exercises – she gently reminds us about the muscles in our face. And every time it feels amazingly nice to relax them.Š

Poetry

It’s not often I’m in a yoga class where the teacher gives a reading during closing. But those rare times when that has been the case — well, I’ve adored it. I love words. Language. Poetry. Here’s the quote my yoga teacher read the other day:

Even after all this time
the sun never says to the earth
you owe me.
Look what happens to a love
like that – it lights the whole sky.
– Hafiz

Skinny Female Dog

Have you read the book Skinny Female Dog yet? (That’s not the real title, but I don’t like to cuss on blogs.) I laughed my way through it with advice like “All carbs are not created equal. There are two types: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates suck and are as nutritionally beneficial as toilet paper.” The authors’ big tip throughout the book was to “use your head” when you make choices about eating. They are proponents of no meat and no dairy. I’m of the mindset that I need a little of those food groups for a well-balanced diet (my head says there’s something not quite right about a replacing meat and dairy with soymilk, soy “cheese,” soy “meat,” etc. – BUT that’s just me. The book has some great info in there and is worth the read.)

Moving on, the point I’m trying to make is that I visited the authors’ website the other day. Watch their Video Interview. I loved it. It took one of the author’s seven years to transform her eating habits. The other one – ten years. Their message is so clear and true: the goal is to eat well and do the best you can, but no one is perfect. It’s takes time to change your diet. Taste buds need to be retrained. Moving towards healthier foods is a progression. You give up what you can and don’t beat yourself up when you eat something less than ideal.  Š

Big on Arms

We are in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) and the teacher is walking us through the pose nice and slow. She has us begin in Tadasana (Mountain pose) and then tells us to touch our fingertips together in front of our chest. As we jump our legs apart, our arms open up too (so they are parallel to the ground).

Next, the real instruction begins. She focuses on our feet, making sure they are spaced far enough apart and turned in the proper direction. She reminds us that our back heel should be aligned with our front heel.

She pauses as we breathe.

Inhale, exhale.
Inhale, exhale.

She moves onto our legs. She makes sure that our right knee is bent so that it’s directly over the right ankle. We need to press our thigh back so we can see our second toe. She keeps us focused on our lower body, giving us directions on our tailbone, butt, and – again – our thighs. She mentions that second toe again.

Inhale, exhale.
Inhale, exhale.

You can practically hear the thoughts of every student in the studio: My arms are tired. My arms are so tired! When will this pose be over so we can put our arms down? Are anyone else’s arms tired? Or am I just a wimp? How much longer do we have to hold our arms up?

Finally, the teacher says, “I know your arms are tired.”

Her acknowledgement is a relief even though she encourages us to keep those arms lifted. “Stretch them out even further, reeeaaaaching for the walls,” she says.

She moves onto our shoulder blades – are they scrunched up by our neck? Release them.

Lengthen our torsos.

Broaden our chests.

She knows exactly what we’re doing – allowing our minds to be consumed with thoughts about our arms.

“Your brain starts to panic first,” she says. “Your body is strong and your arms can handle this.”

That’s the extra motivation we need for the last few breaths until she finally has us step our feet back together and place our hands on our hips.

I’m working out in LA for a couple weeks – my old hometown – and it’s great to be back in my favorite teacher’s class. Now that I’m here, I remember she was always big on arms.

Like the Lotus

During closing, my hands are at my heart in prayer. The yoga teacher says to move my fingers so that only my thumbs and pinky are touching – the center is to remain open, like a flower. She says the lotus grows in the mud and opens up when the sun shines on it, and closes when it doesn’t. She says, “Remember that when life is murkey, and I’m struggling through the mud, to open up, like the lotus.”

On the Road

Had my first cup of coffee in a long time the other day (well, a month, which is long for me!). I was on an airplane heading to Los Angeles and there is nothing I like about planes. Can’t stand the smell, the sounds, the uncomfortable seats, the bathrooms. Can’t stand how my head feels when I read (dizzy) and how my body feels no matter how still I sit (woozy).

I wanted something pleasant. The coffee smelled good, and I figured a cup or two wouldn’t hurt (I mean, heck, those cups on the plane are so little). Well, the next day I had a massive headache. So much for my theory that it wouldn’t hurt – it hurt a lot. I think on the flight home I’ll opt for decaf.

Since arriving, I’ve been sipping non-caffeinated herbal teas like crazy – it’s cold and rainy. Anyway, one of the many things I love about California is the fresh produce. With year-round farmer’s markets and a city full of restaurants that serve up lots of organic fare, it’s great to be here again.

I visited my old book club group the other night where there was a delicious raw veggie salad from Wolfgang Puck’s. Been eating fruit medleys (yum – it’s been awhile since I’ve had fresh, flavorful fruit – wish I could share it with all of you braving the winter snow back east). Today I enjoyed an organic greens salad at my favorite lunch spot, Coral Tree Café (I also had a big, ol’ brownie there – not so healthy, but very tasty).

I do miss cooking though. I’ve really come to enjoy making homemade meals. My husband was shocked when he looked at our budget the other night and realized how much we’ve cut back on eating out at restaurants. Ends up I have a mini-fridge in the hotel out here. In the morning I’ll be off to the local grocer to cobble together some wholesome goodies I can make right in my room. Š

Soul Food

It’s been raining ever since I arrived in Los Angeles. Pouring, actually. The weather reminds me of the 1997-1998 El Nino. It’s all good though. I’m here at a university working on a book project and the rain is keeping me indoors where I’m squirreled away in the library.

The last time I was out here to “work” I got a wee bit distracted and spent my days catching up with friends, visiting my old haunts, eating at my favorite places, etc. This time I’m being good.

“I picture you in a dark, dusty room all alone as you sort through archives,” my husband said to me on the phone the other day. Well, sort-of. I take the documents out of the dark, dusty room to a bigger, lighter conference room. And that’s pretty much where I’ve been the whole time – the exact same spot I was ten years ago as a grad student, typing notes on my laptop (do you ever have the feeling that you’re making no progress in life whatsoever? Anyhoo…)

Last Friday the weather channel called for rain Saturday and Sunday, so I planned to push through the weekend and continue working. But when I woke up Saturday morning, I felt sunlight on my face. I jumped up and ran to the window . . . sure enough it was a bright, shiny morning. The Pacific Ocean sparkled. I had to enjoy the sun while it lasted.

I was starving, so I gobbled down a veggie sandwich (tomato, California avocado, cucumber and sprouts on toasted whole wheat). Then I dashed to the bike path, buckled my rollerblades and – Zoom! – I was off. I bladed all the way to the end of the path, turned around and bladed back, and then turned around once again. I was like the Energizer Bunny . . . I kept going and going and going (‘cept for the part where I rounded a curve way too fast and hit an unexpected pile of sand).

It was the best. The veggie sandwich was certainly a tasty beginning to the day. But I tell ya, its sunshine that feeds my soul.

Broccoli

Broccoli. Used to like it as a kid. Then one day I ate it and threw-up later that night. Haven’t touched it since. We’re talking 19 years of no broccoli. That’ too bad considering it’s one of the best vegetables out there – packed with nutrients, fiber, and cancer-fighting antioxidants.

As I continue to adjust my eating habits, I am always looking for new ways to add vegetables into my diet. Broccoli is one vegetable my husband loves, so I usually steam a little bit for him and make something different for myself – spinach, green beans, whatever. But the other night I was boiling some Barilla whole grain pasta. I drained the noodles and poured some organic pasta sauce over the top.

As I was scooping out the broccoli for my husband’s plate, I decided to mix some of the florets in with the pasta and red sauce. Yum. I love broccoli again. But only this way. I’m the same way with asparagus. Can’t really stand the stuff plain (unless of course it’s picked fresh from my own garden), but I will eat it in an omelet. Go figure. Š

Freedom

I was “birthed” into the world of yoga through the Iyengar style where precision and alignment are emphasized. My teacher would adjust our poses starting from our pinky toe (literally – she’d have us lift it up and try to spread it away from our other toes) all the way to the tops of our heads (which, she would tell us, should be lifting toward the ceiling, as if a string was attached to our scalp and someone was pulling).

I’m one of those follow the rules, read the directions, life is in the details type of girls, so I ate Iyengar yoga up. The fact that my hamstrings are tight, my shoulders are scrunched, and my hips are narrow make Iyengar a fitting practice because I benefit so greatly from the blocks and straps and blankets that are generously encouraged in that style of practice to help with proper positioning.

From time to time I’ve experimented with other yoga styles – this article describes various kinds – and recently I found myself in a session where the teacher was leading a flow with pretty much no regard to form whatsoever.

At first I was distraught.

“Beautiful!” the yoga teacher said when I moved into Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II).

“Oh, yeah, right,” I thought to myself.

In an Iyengar class, the instructor is always adjusting my Warrior II pose. I’m like a toy where you push one section in and another section pops out. If she moves my left thigh, my right knee tweaks to a different place. If she tilts my pelvis, my arms plummet. If she tells me where to fix my gaze – whoops – there goes my thigh again.

Anyway, I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t want to spend the entire practice mentally upset that this yoga teacher wasn’t going to focus on form. Other than calling out the pose, she was giving no instructions, and deep inside I knew that was okay. Because yoga really isn’t about form. Not at its core. It’s about being in a present state of mind. Finding a place where I’m not worrying about the future or obsessing over the past, even if those thoughts relate to yoga itself. As I continued the flow, I let go of the details and the precision and simply enjoyed the movement.

I felt warm and flexible and free.