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“True wisdom is to know what is best worth knowing, and to do what is best
worth doing.” ~ Edward Humphrey

For the past several months, I’ve been agonizing over whether or not I should go back to school to pursue my Master’s degree. At first, I couldn’t decide which program I’d want to choose, as there are several that strongly appeal to me. But when I really started thinking about what I want to do when I “grow up”, I realized that above all else, I wanted to be able to do something full-time with my yoga. I’ve got my 200-hour certification and am about to embark on my 500-hour certification, I’ve got yoga therapy training, and I work full-time in the healthcare field. The company I work for full-time is owned by its hospitals, and we work with those hospitals to help them save money, improve quality of patient care, and meet national regulations set forth by the government, among other things.

As I sat mulling over what my path in life should be, it hit me that if I went back to pursue my Master’s in Public Health, then I could perhaps marry that up with my yoga knowledge to help design research studies. These research studies could be things like showing how yoga helps cancer patients better handle treatments, or how yoga can help treat things like depression or anxiety disorder. One of our hospitals mentioned at a conference last year that, since they are a small facility, they have been implementing wellness programs in their community in an attempt to educate people in ways that will keep them from being readmitted for the same conditions over and over. So why couldn’t I help design studies for our hospitals that show how yoga can help treat a variety of conditions, or how it can help speed recovery? I could not only design the study, identifying all the variables that would need to be accounted for and what the calculations would need to be, but I could also design the actual yoga sequences to be used for each condition being studied. Eureka! The perfect thing for someone like me, who is always wanting to research things to death and gather all the facts for everything thrown at me.

My company will pay for virtually all of this, so it’s kind of a no-brainer…I can’t pass this opportunity up, can I? Of course not! So why was I stressing so much? I finally figured out what I want to do with my life, and I can’t stop freaking out!

Well, it’s probably because I’ve got SO much going on in my life right now. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, the yoga world has really opened up to me since June, and the teaching opportunities keep coming my way, which is amazing and wonderful and what I’ve been waiting for these past three years. I’ve reestablished my personal yoga practice, and have been seeing some amazing growth in that practice. And I’ve been running steadily for over two years now, building up my distance to the point where I am about to run my third half-marathon next weekend. Oh, and then there’s spending time with my husband and daughters, taking my daughters to their various activities, spending time with our dogs, trying (but not succeeding) to keep my house presentable. The list goes on.

Over the past few months, my insomnia has gotten worse, my panic attacks have come back, and I’ve been a major grumpy-butt. So I’ve been thinking long and hard about how to do all the things I want to do and maintain my sanity, and there were just no good answers. So, I had to sit down and really think about what was the best thing for ME….what is the most important thing to ME?

The answer was easy. I really want to make a difference in the world, and I think that if I can help design these studies and analyze the results, I can do just that. Which means I definitely NEED to take advantage of going back to school, and continue pursuing my 500-hour yoga certification. But that means added stress, as I try to find time to attend classes, do my homework and pass all my exams with nothing less than As (I’m a perfectionist, what can I say?).

Coming to this realization meant I had to make some tough decisions. After all, I can’t maintain my current schedule (which is already hectic enough) and take on the additional load I’m about to take on. So, I decided this weekend that for now, I need to give up some of my teaching, as well as scale back on my running.

I took a look at which classes I’d need to give up, and decided I need to free up as much of my weekends as possible. However, I felt I couldn’t give up my Deep Stretch that I just started teaching on Sunday evenings, as it just the sort of class that can be very therapeutic for a variety of conditions. Plus, it’s the only actual yoga studio I am teaching at, and there’s nothing like teaching a yoga class in a true yogic atmosphere. It’s so nice to have the temperature right where I need it to be, have all the props we need, and have the peace and quiet that allow students to really get into the moment and focus on what they’re doing. As for during the week, I only teach on Wednesdays, so that can stay as-is.

Then I took a look at my running. Running, as I’ve mentioned before, is just as crucial as my yoga practice in terms of helping me manage my stress. So giving up running is not an option. However, I realized I don’t need to keep training for half-marathons like I have been. I’m so freaking slow, anyway. So I have decided to scale back and only focus on 5K and 10K distances in terms of any races I sign up for. Training for those distances is completely doable, and will allow me to maintain the fitness and other benefits I’ve gained.

Scaling back in the areas above should allow me to maintain the yoga practice I’ve established for myself, at least for the most part. I may have to tweak things as I go, but I think I can do it.

So, now that I’ve made all these important and life-altering decisions, I feel a strange sort of peace. Don’t get me wrong…I am still stressed and worried about whether or not I’m taking on more than I can handle. But I’ve realized that it’s OK if I have to keep tweaking. I know that it’s crucial for me to maintain my running and yoga practices, so that is non-negotiable. Therefore, if school proves to add too much stress to the mix, then I will have to adjust my school schedule to account for it. It means it may take me longer to finish, but that’s OK. At least I’ll finish and I’ve got a plan, right? Knowing that is all I need to get me through.

It’s funny. Usually I’m so wishy-washy, and I flip-flop and second-guess my decisions constantly. But not this time. I wonder why? Hmmm…maybe I have FINALLY figured out what is best for me and what is worth doing. And that sure is a nice feeling!

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Whether you are yogi, a runner, or both, you probably view yourself in particular ways. For example, I tend to gravitate towards negative statements when describing my yoga practice or running (i.e., “I am so tight”, “I am so slow”).

Lately, I have been making a conscious effort to try and find the good things in my practices. Last week I caught myself marveling about how open my hips are now becoming, thanks to the Deep Stretch classes I’ve incorporated in to my routine. After last Saturday’s long run, I even caught myself patting myself mentally because it’s the first time I’d run that far in a long time, and I was happy to have been able to do it pain-free. For the first time, I didn’t focus on how slow I ran…I just focused on the fact that I was able to run safely.

It may seem small, but those are very big things for me. My tendency is to always find the flaws in the things that I do, and to put myself down. My lack of confidence in my abilities makes me see myself many times as not worthy, not good enough, etc. When I initially started saying good things about myself, I immediately chided myself for having “too much of an ego.” I guess I had to find SOMETHING negative to say, huh? Why do I feel that saying good things about myself means I’m egotistical? I have no idea, but I would like to figure out at some point where that’s coming from. 

But as the weeks go by, I find it is getting easier each day to find something nice to say about myself. And you know what, I’m actually starting to believe these things I’m saying! It’s bleeding over into all areas of my life. For example, I’m noticing at work that I’m speaking up more and making decisions on direction.

It’s all about how we perceive ourselves. If we perceive ourselves as weak or inadequate, others can’t help but see us in the same ways. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see someone who is strong, confident and/or happy? Or are you looking for the weak spots and pointing them out? Do me a favor. Just for this week, try to find at least one good thing to say about yourself each day. Just one thing. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to keep it going. And if you can keep it going, just wait and see…the opportunites that will present themselves to you will astonish you!

Yoga and running, for me, have a double effect on both my physical and mental states. They feed off each other, and have done for me what nothing else has been able to in terms of managing my stress levels and staying fit.

On a physical level, yoga has helped open my body, releasing the muscles I tend to carry my stress in (primarily hips, neck and shoulders). Since I don’t have a lot of time to exercise, yoga has also been my primary form of strength training. It’s amazing how strong my upper body and core have become because of my yoga practice.

On a more psychological and emotional level, yoga has helped me relax my mind when it gets too “busy”. It has also helped me manage the panic attacks I tend to get when the stress becomes too much. By noticing the changes in my breath and heart beat that precede one of these attacks, I can use the more restorative poses and breathing techniques to keep the panic from being as severe. And many times, I am able to avoid having an attack at all.

With running, I initially weaved it into my routine because I needed to get more cardio and lose a few pounds. I chose running because it was the most convenient, since I could run while the kids were at their various activities…all I needed was my shoes. I knew running could help me meet my physical goals, but I never expected that it could help me manage my stress. When I’m running outside, breathing in the fresh air (well, SOMETIMES it’s not so fresh, but we won’t go there in today’s blog), focusing on my pace, my form and my breath, I can’t help but relax. It’s a great outlet for me when I get that “nervous energy”, when I can’t seem to sit still either mentally or physically. It never fails me…after every run, I feel more relaxed, confident and “quiet”. I don’t even need music anymore. I just enjoy listening to the sounds around me…noisy cars and all.

Yoga and running complement each other very well, in my opinion. Here are some key benefits I’ve experienced by combining running and yoga:

  • Strength and flexibility: Since running can add extra pressure on the joints, using yoga helps me stretch properly after my runs, keeping my leg and pelvis muscles flexible. Also, yoga is an excellent way for me to cross-train, as it helps me strengthen my muscles in the lateral directions they don’t move in when running.
  • Breathing: Yoga teaches breath awareness, and practicing the various breathing techniques helps to increase lung capacity. This translates into a more efficient and healthy run for me, as I feel much more in control when I’m breathing properly.
  • Balance: Running and yoga both develop core strength and postural awareness. A strong core and good posture are crucial to improving or maintaining balance, which can diminish as you age.
  • Resistance: The cardiovascular improvements I’ve gained from my running have helped me build up my stamina and endurance, which are crucial when I practice the more active “power” yoga.
  • Mental and physical focus: When I am holding postures for a long time, it forces me to be focus on my breath and how my body feels, which helps me stay centered. This is critical now that I am running longer distances, as long distance running requires mental (as well as physical) focus and discipline.
  • Stress relief: Both yoga and running force me to be in the moment and to “let it go”, so it’s impossible for me to worry about all the things going on when I am doing either of these activities.

For me personally, I find that yoga and running are all I need to keep me mentally and physically fit. I do love to ride my bike as well, so I use that as a back-up cardio activity about once a week.

Right now, my schedule goes something like this:

  • Monday: Rest Day, but I usually at least walk the dogs for a mile or two.
  • Tuesday: Run with my running group at 5:30 a.m. We usually work on speed work or hills during these runs.
  • Wednesday: A little bit of Power Yoga and Spinning/Biking.
  • Thursday: Run at 5:15 a.m. with one of my running buddies. We usually do an easy run of about 4-5 miles. On Thursday evening, I attend a Deep Stretch yoga class, so I can work on releasing my connective tissues and joints.
  • Friday: Yin/Yang Fusion Yoga at 5:15 a.m.
  • Saturday: If I’m not teaching, I get my long run in first thing in the morning, then try and make it to a Power Yoga class. If I am teaching, I usually have to push my long run to be on Sunday.
  • Sunday: If I didn’t get my long run in on Saturday, then I do it on Sunday first thing. Then I try and make to a Power Yoga class before going to teach my two classes.

Sometimes I have to tweak things, depending on “life stuff”, but for the most part, my routine is pretty regular. My Type A personality does much better when I have my routine planned out, which helps me handle stress much better as well. So I try not to switch things up too much.

What about you? What do you do when things get stressful? I’d love to know what activities you use to help you stay stress-free. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing here, e-mail me privately at scyogagirl@gmail.com.

On Monday, I saw my chiropractor to check out my left leg, since it’s been causing pain for over a week now. Thankfully, it’s nothing serious…just a super tight sartorius muscle, which is a long thin muscle that runs down the length of the thigh. It’s actually the longest muscle in the human body, in case you’re interested. 🙂

The doc was able to work out the tightness, and I am very tender still but definitely feel much looser. I was able to run yesterday, though I took it easy (per coach’s orders) and alternated running for 8 minutes and walking for 2 minutes for a total of 4 rounds. I felt great after and will be able to run tomorrow (alternating 10 min of running with 2 min of walking for a total of 4 rounds)…if I get through that fine as well, then I can run the full length of my long run on Saturday (9-10 miles). Woo hoo! Keep your fingers crossed.

I asked why this happened, since I’ve been so diligent about stretching, doing my yoga and using my stick after runs. The answer should’ve been obvious to me, but wasn’t…when you increase your mileage, as I am in preparation for my upcoming half-marathon, you need to increase the time you stretch…particularly the time used with the stick. So a big “Duh!” on my part, and now I feel like a total idiot. But now I know, and it’s nothing serious, so I feel hopeful again that I just might be able to complete this half-marathon without any walk breaks after all.

So yesterday, I taught yoga to about 35-40 teenage girls, ages 11-16. They are part of the “Tailoring Teens for Success” program sponsored by Girl Talk, which is a really great program that helps teens with self-esteem, empowerment and values. A wonderful program!

Yesterday’s theme was about dating relationships, and I have to admit that I was a bit scared about having to teach this topic. First of all, how would I tie dating and yoga together? Second of all, I am certainly NO expert on dating…I’ve made so many mistakes in the relationships I have had, been divorced…pretty much everything a person could do wrong, I’ve done.

After checking out some Yoga for Teens books, I finally figured out how I wanted to tie the two topics together. I wanted to work with them on moving from Triangle to Balancing Half Moon and back to Triangle…it can be quite challenging, because your alignment goes in multiple directions with both these poses, and your balance is challenged as well. Many people topple when trying to do this sequence, and that’s exactly what I wanted to happen. I wanted to illustrate that when you fall in a yoga pose, you usually pick yourself up and try again, right? Same thing in a relationship…if you fail in a relationship, you should pick yourself up and try again with someone else. It does no good to dwell on what went wrong…you learn from it and move on, taking the lessons you learned and applying them to the next relationship you have.

We then worked on some backbends. We worked on Camel, Bridge and Wheel. I wanted to use these backbends to illustrate how being open to new things (i.e., opening your heart) can help you figure out who YOU really are as a person. After all, you can’t exactly have a good relationship with ANYONE if you don’t truly know yourself. Plus, backbends are wonderful at boosting your mood when you’re down, so I wanted to let the girls know that they can go into any kind of backbend when they’re sad or upset, and they may notice they feel better after.

Then we worked on an arm balance (Crow) to illustrate that our strength can help us find balance in most any situation.

Though it was hard at times to maintain order and control in the room (it’s kind of hard when you’re one person trying to work with that many kids at one time), I think they really enjoyed the class. I even had music all about relationships…they loved it, and were shaking their hips to the groove as we did our warm-up moves and Sun Salutations.

Most importantly, I tried to make sure I shared with them the things about relationships that I wish I had known when I was their age. Like knowing that no matter what, you are perfect the way you are, flaws and all…so don’t change yourself for anyone but yourself!

I definitely hope I get more opportunities to work with this age group. Yoga can be such a wonderful tool to help with improving your confidence and self-esteem, and the non-competitiveness tends to inspire people cheering each other on as they try something new, whether they succeed or not. That’s what it’s all about!

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” ~Frederick Douglass

September was a very interesting and busy month for me — in my world as a yoga teacher, in my world as a runner, in my world as a mom, and in my world as a working professional.

In my yoga teaching, I not only taught more than I have in quite some time, but I taught completely new formats than I am used to teaching. I have always taught pretty much the same style since I became a teacher…a blend of Vinyasa and Iyengar that is geared towards a blend of students of all levels. This month, I started teaching a Power Yoga class, which is the format I typically prefer to practice when I get to be a student. I was very nervous to teach this format, but working with one of my teachers over these past few months (thanks, Sara!) has really helped me define my style, and I really feel like I found my groove teaching that format almost immediately.

However, I also started teaching a Deep Stretch class this month, starting last Sunday. It’s a format I am relatively new to as a student…I’ve only been practicing this style myself for a few months. If you’re not familiar with this style, it’s a Yin style of yoga, in which you work to stretch the connective tissues rather than muscle. As Paul Grilley (thought of as the founder of Yin Yoga) states, “We must remember that connective tissue is different from muscle and needs to be exercised differently. Instead of the rhythmic contraction and release that best stretches muscle, connective tissue responds best to a slow, steady load. If you gently stretch connective tissue by holding a yin pose for a long time, the body will respond by making them a little longer and stronger—which is exactly what you want.” In other words, in a Yin type of class, you’re  holding these poses for up to 5 minutes, which can feel like an eternity for some. The first few classes I attended were very challenging for me, because it was very hard to sit still for that long and to experience the uncomfortableness that came along with trying to release the tight areas of my hips and shoulders. But I felt great immediately after my first class and noticed a difference in my hips, so I have been continuously attending since. It’s a nice addition to the more Yang style of Power Yoga that I normally practice. 

As I mentioned, I’ve only taught one Deep Stretch class so far, and it went OK. It’s a completely different style altogether from anything I’ve ever taught, so I know I need some time to find my pace and my groove. But the students who came seemed to enjoy it, and they said they felt great after. Tomorrow is my next class, and I’ll be focusing on a spine opening sequence with them…I am super excited to see how it goes!

In my world as a runner, I am really struggling to find time for my long runs as I try to get prepared for my upcoming half marathon. And then last week, as I was in the middle of my long run, I had to stop due to knee pain. Ever since, I’ve had a pain radiating through my whole left leg, so my coach has me cross-training until I can get to the chiropractor on Monday. I saw a massage therapist yesterday, and he happens to be a marathon runner, and he is pretty sure my injuries are stemming from tight glutes and hip adductors. So when I got home, I used the foam roller and my stick in these areas, and I definitely feel a bit better today. But I still can’t run yet, so I will be heading to the gym to get my time in on the elliptical. I know that runners get injured, but my race is in 4 weeks! It’ll be my third half marathon, and I’d really like to be able to run this one from start to finish, without any walk breaks. I was pretty sure it was doable, but now I am not so sure. But if I don’t finish it having run the entire thing, then there is always the next one, right?

Even with the frustration of this injury, I had some breakthroughs in my running in September. I am definitely faster now than I was, and I was able to  hold a tempo speed for a whole 2 miles for the first time ever. That’s a big deal for a slow runner like me! Progress! Woo hoo!

As a mom, I got a super big challenge this past month. My youngest came home with some bad grades and after speaking with her teacher, we determined the issue was with her ability to focus on something long enough to complete it and to complete it with the level of detail needed. So my husband and I decided no more TV during the week for her AT ALL. Talk about torture! You’d have thought, by the way she reacted, that we were beating her within an inch of her life!  But by day three, she was actually excited to come home and have us help her with her homework. The challenge for me was to stop doing MY stuff and really focus on helping HER focus. Hmmm…wonder where she gets the focus issues from? 🙂

And finally, in my professional life, I really took the feedback from my performance review and tried to put it into action. For my whole professional career, I’ve been told that I am not assertive enough and tend to let people walk all over me. In my previous roles as a programmer and entry-level analyst, that was not SUCH a bad thing. But I am a Senior Business Analyst now, and being assertive and decisive is part of the job. As my boss said to me, “You know what to do, but you just don’t have confidence in yourself…own your role!” And something finally just clicked, I guess, because in September, I felt like I was on fire! All of a sudden, I truly felt like I knew what I was doing, like I knew my product well enough to decide the direction to go if a decision needed to be made quickly, and I started questioning decisions others made if I felt it was compromising the intent of the product. It was scary for me, but my boss sent me an e-mail last week to tell me how impressed he was with the progress I’d made this past month and to keep it up. That was SO what I needed to hear!

So the moral of the story is that sometimes, in order to progress to the next level of something, you have to be willing to endure a struggle of some sort. Sometimes it goes smoothly, as it did for me in teaching my Power Yoga class. Sometimes it goes in a direction you don’t want it to, like it did for me in my running with my injury. You have to be willing to give it up and see where it ends up, no matter how scary it might be. It’s how you grow and move along the path of your journey.

I’d love to hear your stories of progress, if you’re willing to share. If you want to e-mail me privately, my e-mail address is scyogagirl@gmail.com

Namaste and happy running!

Melanie

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