Japan, A Cultural Story With Karma.

I am in love with this country.

As I write this, I sit up early on day 2 of our exploration of the Niseko resort area, it is 5:48 a.m. I just showered and love my morning quiet time to just be. I keep conking out around 9 p.m. and thus the early wake up.

We are staying at Moiwa Lodge at the base of the Moiwa ski/board resort.Yesterday we spent a day riding here as snow gently fell and there were zero lift lines. I took a photo of weaving in and out of the bamboo shoots and trees. 

The snow was good, not perfect powder for the pow chasers on the trip, but for a beginner freshie like me, I was happy. I put my phone in my pocket and mindlessly did not zip it back up. On the lift ride back up, I realized that I had lost it. Jess and I combed over the area but to no avail, Chad and I tried to set up finding the phone remontely, but to no avail. All the while, I just knew it would turn up.

The reason I knew my phone would turn up is that everything I have encountered in Japan is on time, has specific guidelines and runs smoothly. The people are filled with kindness and gentleness. I am a complete outsider and therefore may be off as to how an inner society is ran. However, it is quiet in restaurants, train stations, in people-filled subway stations and on crowded bus rides. They even ask you to not talk on your phone while on public transportation! I think, too, that if you did loudly someone would probably come and remind you to not. You take your shoes off at the door of many establishments and all homes and you bow and smile a lot. (I keep putting my hands up in namaste when I bow, which is not custom, but it feels natural to me as a yogi.)

After two trips down the mountain to see if I could find my phone, I realized that the lost phone ‘just is’ lost.

The concept of ‘just is’ came to me back in the spring, I even wrote about it earlier. Then, on the trip from Sapporo to Niseko, this concept was reintroduced to me through another yogi and writer, Baron Baptiste. In his book, “Perfectly Imperfect,” he talks about two views of a yoga class being full, so full that the mats are touching. He talks are out one view of the room, “it is too cramped” and another view, “spacious enough to hold many yogis.” He mentions that the room ‘just is.’ I thought about my lost phone as thus: ‘just is’ lost. As a result, I went on to enjoy my day, still believing it would show up, but knowing worrying about how much it would cost to replace it, how I was going to travel back to the states with it, and many other things would not increase my chances of finding it. Not to say, that I didn’t keep an eye out for it!wp-image-966439951jpg.jpg

This concept of ‘just is’ is something I have wrestled with throughout growing up. I have desperately wanted to feel in control. I have had tragedies happen in life that I almost could not accept because they were out of my control. Serious control issue there. I remember sharing a classroom with another teacher and he would always say “It is what it is” and I used to get so frustrated with that concept. Turns out, he was right.

As I continued to snowboard that second day at Moiwa, a sense of okay-ness, a sense of “Just is” set in to my soul. I went into Moiwa Lodge and talked with them about the situation and one of the workers said, your phone has been found! I went running over to the Ski Resort counter, and there it was, warming up and still charged. I could not believe my fortune. I talked about karma a lot that night, when I met up with friends for drinks at the Lodge 834. Chad and I kept saying that I do a lot of work to make sure that my personal karma is balanced out. As we left the lodge, I walked to the restroom. As I was leaving, I saw someone else’s phone on the back of the toilet seat.

FOR REAL.

I picked up the phone, told everyone and we were in complete awe of the day that the integrity of Japanese culture and apparently, my karma, were in perfect display.

7 Ways To Maintain the Elixir of Travel at Home

attraction-castle-tokyo-tokyo-imperial-palace-0001-0001-0001-flickrI just returned this week from Japan. The Japanese culture is cascaded with a respectful quiet, peace-filled ambiance and an awareness into daily life. I remain impressed and hope to translate some of this peacefulness and respect into my personal days. I do think it is very possible to do things such as say”thank you very much” to everyone that you meet, regardless of their state of being. I also know that by slowing down, I can learn to  be peaceful with my days. Quiet with my days. Whenever I travel, I return home and  experience reverse culture shock. I LOVE traveling, it is a huge part of my soul. I especially love to travel internationally. To date, I have been to eleven countries and all but five of the United States. Travel is my elixir, a concoction that brings me centered and home to my self.

After returning from Japan, it became evident to me that it would be fun to somehow maintain this sense of luxury, adventure and wonder in my daily life, and to treat myself as if I was on vacation. So, I am making a list of things that I do on while traveling that I do not do while I am at home in hopes that I can maintain somewhat of a sense of the dreaminess of travel while in my lovely home.

  1. A fluffy comforter. I have one, I need to use it.
  2. I drink coffee slowly and read every day (sometimes several times a day) while I am traveling. It sets up my day slowly and peacefully as I enjoy one of my favorite things-good coffee.
  3. I look around my world I am in and I participate enthusiastically. I wonder where in my own city have I never been? What could I look at from the eyes of newness around me?
  4. I walk outdoors a lot. To and from places, or hiking. Walking clears the mind, the fresh air whisks any thing that was troublesome out of my soul.
  5. Self-care. I slow down and treat myself very well on vacation. I do not hurry through meals. I enjoy the conversation. I look around at what I am eating and doing. This is something that I can easily apply to my daily life.
  6. I meet strangers easily. I treat everyone on travels as if they were magical beings with so much to offer.
  7. I am spontaneous. I travel a lot with big groups and so having a set schedule does not usually happen. Usually, we stand around trying to figure out dinner until we are all starving and tired.

I picked 7 things because 7 is my favorite number.

As I am sitting in my beautiful home and grateful to be here, I recognize that I can not travel all the time. I love what I do, where I live and the life I have built around me. However, each day can have a sense of travel regardless of where you are.

So, tomorrow, I plan on grabbing that latte and reading my book before heading off to work with those magical people who have so much to offer!

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What are some habits or things that you do traveling and which you could cultivate into your day-to-day? 

mindfulness.

Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,” says Kabat-Zinn. “It’s about knowing what is on your mind.

The founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Jon Kabat-Zinn, reminds us that we are not defined by the thoughts that go on in our head, which he adds are mostly centered on “Me, myself and I.” I came upon mindfulness last year in my yoga teacher training in the form of the book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Naht Hanh. This book came at me as does the Japanese language: I recognize what is being spoken, but cannot translate it.

2016 became some of my busiest times. I continually think to myself how much I need to “just say no” to social and other engagements. If I do, I find myself feeling guilty for not participating-guilty because my friends might not like me if I don’t show up (and other silly things). I would like to say it is because I am doing so much good in the world-and that may be true-but as a result, I do suffer. I teach yoga 3-4 times a week on top of my full time visual art teaching job and work a promotion that I received in my job. I also attempt to maintain friendships and a relationship with my husband and family, all while working out and trying to plan healthy meals.

I am tired.

In the midst of the busyness, my yoga practice lessens and my meditation, although daily became an opportunity to think creatively and plan a to-do list. 

I am missing the point.

Yoga should guide one, meditatively by bringing awareness to the now. Each asana/pose should be guided by breath, thus mindfulness should be inherent in yoga. Often in our hurried world, I see myself and students rushing through a vinyasa to get to the next pose. This rush is even present in yoga! The rush to be stronger, fitter and onto the next thing-which we think might be better.

Lately, I have noticed in my teaching a desire to slow my students down. To notice the sensations they feel as they lower into chaturanga, where the shoulders go, and maybe where they should go. After doing multiple vinyasas in a class, I know I personally get sloppy. This is where mindfulness needs to be present to protect one’s self from injury. (In yoga, we call it  ahimsa-non harming.)

A dear friend gave me this mindfulness book for Christmas this year:

It is an amazing way to slowly process the gift that mindfulness can be. It is a reminder to me this busy season to 

slow 

                      down.

I read recently that it takes 40 days for a habit to stick. I find that pretty profund, as it rained for 40 days and nights on Noah and Jesus went into the desert for 40 days. Researching on the number 40, I see that it often signifies a transition or change. The number 40 in numerology is said to elevate a spiritual state.

Maybe by starting right now.

Bringing mindfulness into your days is not that difficult. It requires slowing down and paying attenion. It requires stillness of mind, body and soul. With this stillness comes pure clarity. I firmly believe the age old saying that if you look inside yourself, you will find all the answers you need.

Lower Back Yoga.

Ahhh, the sacrum and lumbar spine20121230-173252. This may be the number one area that I hear students talk about when referring to physical discomfort. Mostly, I hear the complaints from mountain bikers that I ride with, but lately, I have been hearing people in almost every area of life talk about this region of their backs. I do suggest yoga for this area of course, but I am highly cautious with students. I do not want students to overstretch their lower back and create even more trouble.

Maryjaryasana/Cat Pose is a most excellent warm up, especially when attached to the famous Bitilasana/Cow pose. My two favorite, which relieve pressure on the lumbar are Downdog and Puppy Pose. An entire list of these poses with examples can be found at here at yoga journal.

Some of the poses that work for me when my lower back is tight and even in pain, which occurs only while I am mountain biking are the twists: Bharadvaja’s Twist, Half Lord of the Fishes and Marichi’s Pose. I highly recommend Supta Padangusthasana/Reclining Hand to Big Toe for lower back and IT Band issues (I also recommend a strap with this series of poses, as outlined here).

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An entire sequence for lower back can be found here. The poses are highly recommended to loosen your fascia (Fascia, which means “band” or “bundle” in Latin, surrounds, connects and supports our muscles, organs, bones, tendons, ligaments and other structures of the body. Similar to the membrane around each section of an orange, fascia both separates and connects body parts at the same time. Containing nerves, these tissues also serve as a layer of protection and body awareness.)

 

A yoga sequence I created for a student to work with the lower back:

Lower Back Sequence.

Recommended hold time is one minute-one minute and 12 seconds. This holding/slower pace is conducive to opening the tight spots. I recommend once a day or every other day for noticeable improvement.

Great reference for specifics on poses in this sequence: http://www.yogajournal.com/category/poses/anatomy/lower-back/

Easy Pose/Sukhasana

Cat Pose

Cow Pose (these two poses in sequence are a warm up for the back)

Uttkatasana/Chair Pose (for strengthening lower back)

Utthita Trikonasana/Extended Triangle Pose.

Virabhadrasana 2/Warrior 2.

 Padangusthasana/Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose.

Malasana/Garland Pose.

Bakasana/Crane Pose. (pillow on floor in front of face )

Uttana Shishosana/Extended Puppy Pose.

I find the twists help me most when I am IN pain to alleviate pain in the lower back area, especially due to mountain biking.

Marichi’s Pose/Marichiasana 3.

Bharadvaja’s Twist/Bharadvajasana.

Ardha Matseyandrasana/Half Lord of the Fishes.

To finish, bring both knees into the chest, squeeze and gently rock from side to side. Finally, come into Savasana/Corpse Pose.

((**I also highly recommend doing abdominal strengthening poses as well to increase strength in back:  Navasana/Boat Pose)) 

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Inner Thigh Yoga.

Right before Thanksgiving, a student asked me about poses to open the inner thighs. This student commented that this area was very tight. I did some research and am posting my notes here.

This video helped me to find these poses, which the instructor recommends staying in each pose in for one minute. During yoga teacher training, a guest lecturer recommended holding the pose for 72 seconds.The first pose is the yogi squat pictured here:

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The second pose is an extended leg squat, which I have been incorporating into my daily yoga classes:

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This entire visual contains poses that are useful for opening the inner thighs and the remaining information can be found on this page:

The three poses that I personally recommend are Upavista Konasana/Wide-Angle Forward Fold, Bhekasana/Frog Pose Agnistambhasana/Firelog Pose. With these poses any additional modifications can ease you into and out of the poses. Over time, you will notice an opening of your inner thighs. I personally recommend practicing at least two of these poses on a regular (daily or every other day) basis.

A sequence to loosen the inner thighs and increase mobility:

Inner Thigh Sequence.

Recommended hold time is one minute-one minute and 12 seconds. This holding/slower pace is conducive to opening the tight spots. Do these poses and your inner thighs will begin to loosen. I recommend once a day or every other day for noticeable improvement. 

Baddha Konasana/Bound Angle Pose.

Yogi Squat.

Extended Leg Squat (right and left sides)

Upavistha Konasana/Wide Angle Forward Bend.

Bhekasana/Frog Pose.

Instruction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBb65G6NuYo

Supta Baddha Konasana/Supine Bound Angle Pose.

Bound Angle with a support (bolster or folded towel/blanket)

Bound Angle Pose without a bolster

legs up the wall Bound Angle Pose

Upavistha Konasana/Wide Angle Pose at wall

Finish in Legs up the Wall, or in Savasana/Corpse Pose.

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Seven. (on the human expereince)

This small series of artworks were created from a single stencil. The stencil was used with different media or using different techniques of manipulating the media.

The result of these works is a reminder humans are universally similar vessels and yet our approach to the world due to our unique experiences make our reactions and intake is radically differing.

Pieces one-six are the individual, and the last piece, seven, is an intermixing of three souls together. A unit or a family.

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three

 

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15 Days Without Sugar.

There are 61 different names for sugar hiding in your food. Sixty-freaking-one. It is no wonder that we are a sugar-addicted society. Here they are. (Website Source.)

  • Agave nectar
  • Barbados sugar
  • Barley malt
  • Barley malt syrup
  • Beet sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Buttered syrup
  • Cane juice
  • Cane juice crystals
  • Cane sugar
  • Caramel
  • Carob syrup
  • Castor sugar
  • Coconut palm sugar
  • Coconut sugar
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Corn syrup solids
  • Date sugar
  • Dehydrated cane juice
  • Demerara sugar
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Free-flowing brown sugars
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • Glucose solids
  • Golden sugar
  • Golden syrup
  • Grape sugar
  • HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup)
  • Honey
  • Icing sugar
  • Invert sugar
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltol
  • Maltose
  • Mannose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Muscovado
  • Palm sugar
  • Panocha
  • Powdered sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • Refiner’s syrup
  • Rice syrup
  • Saccharose
  • Sorghum Syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar (granulated)
  • Sweet Sorghum
  • Syrup
  • Treacle
  • Turbinado sugar
  • Yellow sugar

Two weeks ago and one day, I stopped eating sugar in as many forms as I could find, (I JUST found this list of the 61 names of sugar…great). I worked hard to read EVERY label of EVERY food I put into my body. EVEN if I thought it would not contain sugar (i.e. cashews, corn tortilla chips, hummus), I read the label. I cut out as much sugar as possible. I did drink a coconut water containing 14g of sugar (the daily recommended dose by the American Heart Association is 20-25g for females and 38g for men) when I worked out hard this week to replace lost electrolytes.

A week ago, my body hated me and rejected me like I was a cocaine addict trying to quit cocaine. I found this fascinating and keep referring to it as my personal test, as I have not gone through withdraw before. However, what I am experiencing is JUST that. It is withdraw similar to that of a druggie.

Above is a photograph of an MRI comparing how sugar lights up your brain with how cocaine lights up your brain. IT IS THE SAME AREAS of the brain that are affected, and if you notice, the sugar light up area is brighter. This neuroscience stuff is fascinating, but it scared the fuck out of me. Cocaine and sugar?? I truly had no idea.

I had shakes. I had muscle fatigue (on a mountain bike ride, my muscles just quit). I was cranky. I was angry for no reason, full of rage. I had a piercing headache. See similar withdrawal symptoms here. The withdrawal IS the same as cocaine.

And then one day, I was meditating in the morning, and boom-my cells literally felt as if they were doing a dump of the last remaining residue from sugar and my body felt light and airy and free. My cells were truly happy. My body is feeling amazing now, I am actually getting used to feeling this lightness. It is an amazing feeling and one that I should have found sooner.cells

I will not, however, beat myself up, as I did fall trap to a very easily accessible drug. One that is so subtle and so sneaky that I did not even realize it was a part of my system until it was almost too late. I am grateful that the sugar addiction is removed from my body, and here is what I learned:

  1. Sugar is hiding. Be careful.
  2. It sneaks in slowly (your ‘healthy’ granola or ‘healthy’ bread.
  3. Withdrawal symptoms are scary.
  4. Even healthy sugars contribute and can lead to addiction of sugar.
  5. Sugar substitutes may be linked to similar patterns of sugar addiction.
  6. The more you eat, the more you need.
  7. Quitting cold turkey is not easy and requires a lot of help. (I read books, blogs and talked about it until my co-workers and family were tired of hearing about it. But, it worked!)
  8. IT IS TOTALLY WORTH IT.

My health is valuable and every single thing that I put into my body can either promote my well-being, or destroy it. Mindful eating is a thing.

The Centers for Disease Control project a double- or triple-fold increase in the proportions of Americans with diabetes by 2050. On the low end, a study published in Population Health Metrics projects 21% of Americans will have diabetes. On the high end … 33%.

Sugar free journey.

For the past two years, my yearly physical has come back healthy — except for one area. Where sugar is concerned. Last year, I assumed it was the breakfast I had eaten that morning (as I had not been told to fast) but this year, I did not have an excuse. As my body and mind worked to become stronger over the past years, yielding positive results that I had not seen before, I realized that this sugar thing needs some attention. My grandfather had diabetes, and it is hereditary. As you continue to fine tune your body, it definitely becomes more of a machine. Resulting, every single piece of food and drink that you put into your body is fuel. You would not dump cooking oil into the engine of a car, as you know it is the wrong fuel to run your automobile. That holds true for us: filling your body with junk, makes your body junk. It does not work properly, as the well oiled machine that it should.

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So, I assessed my diet to find out any hidden sugar (and f***ing obvious ones)(g stands for grams. Grams of sugar, silly)

granola for breakfast 9g

granola bar for snack (Kind Bar 12g) (WHAT?! That’s not very kind)

salad for lunch (dressing had only 2g of)

fruit for snack (natural sugar, but sugar no less!)

dinner usually meat and veggies/salad  followed by a cookie and/or ice cream (approx. 48g)

Okay, no rocket science here to see that I definitely had a late night dessert date that was out of control. :-/ When I started reading up on sugar and realized that sugar creates the desire for more sugar, which creates the desire for more sugar and in turn creates binges and monsters. And obesity.

I relate. (Not obesity, but the rest of it all.)

I read more about the obesity pandemic (I believe epidemic to be incorrect anymore–the obesity issue is now in a growing number of foreign countries who have adopted the American diet….I am sure they are grateful for your modern dose of American life.) The W.H.O. has even stepped in calling it “globesity.” With globesity comes a myriad of health concerns and problems–diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancers due to processed foods and chemicals in our foods.

No, the food industry does not make this easy for us. But, we are smarter and therefore wiser.

As I sat at a local coffee shop this morning and ate an icing coated cranberry orange muffin, I felt my sugar spike then drop, and then I could literally feel illness trying to work its way into my body. I could literally tell my body was suffering due to the malnutrition I fed it this morning. It was a fascinating process: turning my awareness onto the effects of the sugary food immediately brought wisdom into my life. Evolutionarily we love sugar. But, I plan on going to the grave with a clean slate.

Life is short…be well!

This past weekend, I start cutting out added sugars.  I am starting with replacing my quick granola from the grocery store with this tasty sugar free granola recipe. Lunch was a kale, chicken and rice soba noodle bowl (homemade) and dinner I am going to go vegan tonight with this sweet potato dish in honor of fall. I also plan on applying this quote to my daily living:

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Anyone want to join me? If you are interested in working with me and staying accountable to this, please shoot me a note and together we can make a small change that will yield drastic results.

Virabhadrasana I | Warrior I.

Last week in my practice, I watched myself in a mirror. Some conflicting thoughts about using a mirror might be going through your head, for example: “You’re so vain, you prob’ly think this song is about you…”  or “it distracts from the work you are doing internally in your yoga practice, like checking to see if your bra tag is sticking out, or your hair looks cute”. Admittedly, I can be a giant cheeseball in the mirror, smiling and checking my facial expressions (especially in difficult poses, as they are quite amusing) but I use the mirror for my personal alignment. When I first started practicing vinyasa style of yoga, I had no idea what I was doing (vinyasa means flowing from pose to pose in yoga, usually at a quicker pace, while using breath as a guide -inhale to one pose, exhale to another) . I lasted for years without an injury, flopping once a week through a yoga session, which I deemed a workout. As I deepened my practice, however, things in my body had newly found creaks. As a result, alignment was one of the main reasons I stepped into Yoga Teacher Training. My teacher, gratefully, was an Iyengar-trained instructor. This remains a relief to me, as I now consider alignment and safety to be one of the most important aspects of frequent yoga practice.I also no longer flop haphazardly through a yoga session, like a fish out of water, whixh was never cute. 

In Virabhadrasana I, instructors, including myself, ask students to square hips toward the front of the room. While teaching last week, I realized this direction is not entirely helpful as it leaves students with a sense that one must turn hips parallel with the front of the room, which is basically impossible in this pose. Aligning both hip points TOWARD the front of the room is a more accurate description, and leads students towards making the correct adjustments. It also assists students with not feeling inferior nor like a broken hip is the way to go in this pose, in order to attain proper alignment.

As I continue in my study of yoga asana, I realize, also, that alignment in a pose is truly dependent as Cindy Dollar says, “on what you want out of the pose.” 

Cindy taught us to check alignment starting from the base of the pose up. In Warrior I, the front toes are turned toward the front of the room, 90 degrees from the body while the back foot is turned out slightly, from 25-45 degrees. The stance is different than in Warrior II. In Warrior I, the the heels are aligned. As you move up the leg, muscles are holding the pose in a lifted manner. Not sinking into pose. The front leg is bent at a 90 degree angle to the mat (if strength and flexibility permit) with the knee aligned over the ankle. If you glance down, you should be able to see the big toe of the front foot peeking out beside the knee. The front thigh is externally rotating, while the back leg is internally rotated. The irony here is that you are pressing into the feet at the same time you are lifting the knees and flexing the thigh muscles. It is somewhat of an equal and opposite action in the legs. All of the while, lifting your ribcage up, lengthening your arms up, palms towards each other. Each pose in yoga should create space. If there is crunching or tension, come out of the pose, check your alignment (in a mirror, perhaps….”you’re so vain….”) and move into a pose that allows you to create space while strengthening your legs. Warrior I strengthens both legs, the shoulders arms and back. If you feel stable and strong in the pose, you can look up toward your palms, pressing the palms together and bending back. This opens the chest and shoulders when you add this slight backbend.

I continue to work with finding the proper alignment in a pose. Tonight, teaching  Warrrior I, I recognize that I hurried through the posture, and did not give alignment cues, but only did the asana as part of Surya Namaskar B. On Tuesday, at the Asthanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, California, my instructor told me that my down dog is very Iyengar-trained. She assisted me in a more Asthangi version and it actually felt better for my shoulders. I had worked very hard to get my alignment ‘correct’ in down dog only to learn yesterday that it is not where I needed to be.

Yet, again, is it correct for what I want out of the pose?

I will continue to practice, as Guruji Patthabi Jois said, “Yoga is 90% practice and 10% theory.” So just show up, practice and your body will do the rest.