25 November 2012

Is it "taste-worthy"?

We're smack in the middle of the holiday season, and making good food choices has likely already been challenging for many of you. (I know it is for me.) However, I've come up with a very simple question that helps me in deciding whether or not to eat something.

I ask: "Is it taste-worthy?"

Seinfeld joke aside, the point is that whatever I decide to put into my mouth--especially if it's a dessert or other chocolate treat--has to be REALLY good. If I eat it, I have to know that I'm going to enjoy it thoroughly, and that it's not just going to be OK.
Chocolate Brownies

Here are some examples of when asking this question helped me make a good decision:
  • When out at a restaurant, faced with a dessert menu. Sure, there may have been some options, but were they more taste-worthy than the gourmet dark chocolate bar sitting in my pantry at home? No. I'd rather taste that.
  • At pot-luck gatherings. (My company likes to have "cookie lucks", which are even worse!) I can examine a dessert table and automatically exclude any obviously store-bought items. I also know I love chocolate above all else, so that reduces the number even further. And dark over milk (and definitely white -- foul stuff!), any day. Now I can make a few selections I'm more likely to enjoy.
  • This morning, when I tried making Paleo pumpkin pancakes. They were a crumbly mess. I took a bite and it tasted like it looked. Initially I was upset about wasting all the ingredients and time, so I thought about eating them anyway. Then I asked the question, realized how gross it tasted and figured my calories were better spent elsewhere.
Like all things in life, if nothing really grabs you, save yourself for something better! Savor what you choose. You won't have to feel guilty, you'll have satisfied any craving for a treat, and you'll be able to partake in the social connection.

17 November 2012

Reflections on Teaching

As I've started teaching yoga more, I'm realizing what a true gift teachers are. In the definition of "teacher" I include people both in an official teaching capacity, as well as others who, for whatever reason (and whether we like it or not!), come into and leave our lives to teach us something we wouldn't have otherwise discovered about ourselves.

Teachers: in the official capacity
I got my first taste of teaching several years ago when I substituted as a dance instructor for a friend who was recovering from surgery. Trying to verbally communicate how I moved my body (even with demonstrations) was a difficult task. I'd been dancing for so long at that point that it was hard to articulate the minute details of what I was doing so those who didn't have that experience could understand. I also quickly learned that students interpret what they see and hear from teachers in different ways, and through their own filters on the world--which may not always be what the teacher intended. And even more interesting was how students picked up on things I did even when I didn't speak to them. (I vividly remember seeing one student bending her knee in a certain way that I always did, which I never spoke of because it was simply a bad habit. And oops, now there is someone copying my bad habit!) It took one class into the six week session for me to appreciate my teachers for their dedication to spreading the dance, and to gain a first-hand understanding of why they'd sometimes seem frustrated.

Teaching yoga is similar, and potentially even more challenging than teaching dance. It's similar in that the teacher has to verbalize what they're doing with their body, but in dance, it's completely left up to the student to find the flow of the dance, to feel the freedom and joy in the experience. I don't think any class or instructor can teach that--it has to be found by the student on their own, in their own time. But in teaching yoga (and maybe this is just my perspective as a new one) the teacher's role is not just about articulating the body positions so no one gets hurt (though that's important). It's also to use verbal and body language to create a safe emotional / mental space that assists students in finding the spaces and openings within themselves, setting the stage for self-inquiry and the spiritual side of yoga that isn't immediately obvious when performing the postures. I also know this cannot be taught. The best a yoga teacher can do is create the conditions for it to be learned, when the student is ready.

Which segues nicely into my second category of teachers: the people who come into and out of our lives to help us learn a lesson.

Teachers: as mirrors into our souls
These teachers can be (and often are) even more powerful transformers than those in an official role. Maybe that's because they almost sneak up on us, challenging us by making us think or feel things we've chosen to avoid. These teachers might help us grow by constantly pushing our buttons, by loving us in ways we never thought we could be loved, by supporting (or not supporting) us when we really need it, by being close to us and then moving on. Quite often, these life teachers are really mirrors into our souls. They show us reflections of ourselves, often without any softening or distortion. And this can be hard to take.

Have you ever had the experience of not liking someone, for no apparent reason? I have. A few months ago I met someone I had a visceral reaction to, without knowing anything about them. Sure, I could point to a few surface-level things the person did that could justify some negative feeling (maybe), but none that could explain what I felt, which bordered on hatred. (How un-yogic of me, right?) Fortunately, I kept running into this person and we got to talking here and there--me feigning interest in what they had to say--at first. It took only a few deeper conversations for me to realize how similar our pasts were, and then something clicked in me: I hated this person without knowing them because I instinctually picked up on the things I saw in them that I hated in myself. Talk about enlightening! And now because of this experience, I know that whenever I have strong feelings about someone (whether that's hatred or love), that person has come into my life to teach me something significant, and may be mirroring me as well.

The teacher appears when the student is ready?
Maybe. It's taken me 15 years to recognize the spiritual aspects of yoga. (Even though throughout my life, I've had teachers who offered the space for me to discover it. I denied it when anyone told me I was "spiritual" because heck, after 12 years of Catholic school I was anything but religious!). When I look back on notes from dance privates 5+ years ago, I see the same advice I'd get if I took one today. And it's only in the past few months that I've finally figured out what "dancing down into the floor" means--which I've gotten through the "grounding" concepts of yoga and Ayurveda. It's taken me 13 years to recognize that I can always trust my intuition, because it is always right (even when the ultimate outcome isn't what I expected), and even longer than that for me to recognize what's important in life and love.

So yes, I think teachers always appear, but regardless of whether the student is actually ready. They'll keep appearing too--as both official teachers and soul mirrors--over and over until we students are in a place where we can really entertain the lesson they're here to teach us. And once we learn a lesson, they'll be new lessons to learn. Life is learning, and learning is life.

11 November 2012

Acupuncture for the Needle Phobic

Two years ago I decided to try acupuncture, and ended up going fairly regularly to a  practitioner who saw clients at the yoga studio I frequent. It was summer when I started, and over the course of the next several months, I struggled with the acupuncture experience. I was generally fine with the needles (apart from some nervousness the first time), but I couldn't seem to handle the effect it had on me. For several months I was terribly weepy and often sick with flu-like illnesses (while it was 90 degrees out, mind you!), and after awhile I couldn't quite bring myself to return. I knew that what was happening was likely good--a release of long-held feelings and toxins--but I wasn't able to function very well as a result, and just couldn't keep it up. You can read about the first and second of these experiences on my prior blog.

Since the beginning of 2012 I'd been thinking about trying acupuncture again, thinking that maybe I was more "ready" somehow. Between my yoga teacher training and some other personal efforts, maybe things would be different. Or maybe a different practitioner would take a different approach to me and my reactions to the treatments. They say that when the "student is ready the master appears", and a month or so after I discovered that my neighbor was a Reiki master, she gave me the contact information for Robert at Gracey Holistic Health. I made an appointment right away.

My experience with Robert has been quite different. He spends a good amount of time learning about what's going on with me before every treatment, often acting as a good friend or even a therapist at times. When I first climb onto the table, he checks my pulses in both wrists, and then looks at my tongue. Next, he presses firmly in various spots on my lower legs and feet, asking where I feel sensitivity. He marks those reference points with a pen. Because Robert favors Shakuju--a gentler, Japanese-style of non-insertive acupuncture--there are never any needles put into my skin, as in traditional acupuncture. Rather, he does something called contact needling, where he holds a needle and places in on the places he needs to to move the chi, or energy, in my body. For sensitivities in my legs and feet, the needling happens on my stomach, as shown in this video. Robert then repeats this process by checking my abdomen and chest for sensitivities, and using the needle on my right arm to correct them. When I flip over, sensitivities are searched for in my calves, upper back, and jaw. (The latter of which is the most consistently problematic area for me!) The interesting thing is that after the contact needling, Robert presses on those same reference points, but the pain is either completely gone or radically diminished. Many time I've exclaimed, "you're not pressing as hard!"

Robert has also had dietary recommendations for me, including which supplements to take and which to ditch, what foods are helpful for me and not, and various other (sometimes strange) suggestions, including coconut oil pulling.

While I can't say that there has never been a time in between treatments where my emotions are out of control, I do know that it isn't a result of acupuncture this time. And, I've not been sick once since I started to see him. No matter how wound up I might be when I arrive, when I leave Robert's office I feel grounded and calm. Anyone local who's been interested in acupuncture but unsure about the needle part should definitely check him out.

04 November 2012

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

"Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify."

Today my post is inspired by Henry David Thoreau and his classic work, Walden Pond. It's a short post, because I've spent most of the afternoon clearing out stuff I don't really need: clothes, purses, shoes, jewelry. I feel so free.

A different me, one that was overly concerned with looking fabulous on the outside instead of being truly authentic, purchased all these things over the past few years--and I won't lie, I often had fun shopping!. But if the past few years have shown me anything, it's that there are truly more important things in life than material goods.

The bags you see below will be donated to Planet Aid: it's as easy as driving to the supermarket and throwing them in a bin. 

Not inspired to purge your closets anytime soon? Well, if you're still feeling a bit selfish, also know that as a result of this effort, I'm able to get rid of the wobbly shoe tree, all my handbags fit on my holder, and all my clothes fit in one closet (with room to spare). Benefits all around.