Saturday, April 4, 2015

On Headstands and Fear

Crouch into child’s pose. Interlace fingers, cradle crown of head with palms. Fold over, pinky fingers and elbows press into the mat, the head lightly touches as a balance point.  Stabilize shoulders, extend legs to lift hips, engaged belly, strong back, walk feet forward, press arms and shoulders down, extend one leg up...

…come back down before ever really leaving the ground.  The same script every time.

Hand stand? No problem.

Plant hands, square hips, bellybellybelly, kick off the ground—one leg, then the other.  Float to the sky, hold for a few seconds. On a good day, rock back and forth between fingertips and palms to fine tune balance before floating gracefully and cat-like back down to the mat. 

Try again. DO again.  And again.

But headstand?  That quintessential yoga pose?  I can’t do it.  Or really, I can’t don’t won’t let myself do it.

And yes, I know, I KNOW that all of these are simply “yoga party tricks.”  Yoga is far, far more than asana practice—and I work hard in my life to practice yoga in the greater sense. To practice the steps of the 8-fold path. To try to live by the principles of self-study and non-harm and truth and… and… and…

I don’t have a problem being the yogi (or the yoga teacher) that doesn’t “do” headstand. I have a problem being the yogi (or yoga teacher) who doesn’t headstand because she’s afraid of it.  Because, really, that’s the issue here.  My body has the strength. My brain understands the mechanics, knows that I am physically able to do it.  But my heart? My heart’s not in it. 

The problem isn’t the pose, the problem is the fear of the pose.

It’s like that for me in life sometimes. I build things up in my head to be far worse than they actually (usually) are. I role play conversations in my head and go through worst-case scenarios. I make plans and back-up plans and back-up-back-up plans. In my head I make up tragic newspaper headlines for the stories that might-or-might-not happen.  All the while, I find every possible way to make myself stable and rigid and rooted down, because anything else requires change—and change is scary.  Change is uncertain. Change is hard.  And I’ve had enough uncertain and hard and scary in my life, and I just plain don’t like it.  Or, at least, I assume I don’t like it. Because by avoiding change, I often avoid finding out whether something could be better.

The problem isn’t change, the problem is the fear of change.

The ironic thing is that I am a generally confident person. I've been called fearless more than once. But that confidence stems from the fact that I also happen to be calculating and logical and rational and risk-averse.  I find confidence from knowing who I am and where I am and knowing (or thinking I know) how events will unfold. 

But change, by its very nature, is disruptive and sometimes transformative. A butterfly cannot emerge unless the caterpillar is first willing to change

Acceptance of this truth—true, deep-down-in-the-pit-of-my-heart-that-I-don’t-like-to-acknowledge-exists kind of acceptance—requires crossing the bridge from rational and logical to emotional and vulnerable.  It’s crossing the divide “where courage and fear meet.” (Brene Brown, “Daring Greatly”). It’s going to the “touchy-feely” kind of place that I avoid at almost any cost.

In the in-between, it means setting aside my ego, asking for help and support and love and encouragement. It means letting go of the conversation in my head, of the assumption that I know how things will turn out (because hasn't the universe already let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I have no way of knowing how this life will turn out)?  It’s accepting that “truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” (Brene Brown, “Daring Greatly”)

In the end, stability is good. It’s a necessary starting point, but it’s only that—a starting point.  At some point, growing requires letting go of fear.  It requires accepting that I will likely stumble, I will fall. But I will have people there who love me, who will catch me, who will encourage me to try it again. 

And then I will breathe, find the strength that I know is in me, and simply have the faith to see how far I rise. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Impermanence of Things

I'm visiting a good friend on the other side of the country right now, and as busy as my life has been lately, it's been really nice to get out in the fresh air with sunshine and friends.  

While I'm out here I decided to catch a few yoga classes.  Between grad school and National Board Certification and life in general, my yoga practice at home is only a fraction of what it used to be--maybe one or two classes a week as opposed to the 6-8 that I used to take.  And while I absolutely adore my studio at home, I also now realize that it's always nice to get "out there" and learn from new studios and new teachers.

As I've said here many times before (you know, back when I used to write more regularly), one of the best and most important reasons I continued to practice yoga once I started had nothing to do with the physical practice and everything to do with what my studio lovingly calls the "mumbo jumbo." The teacher for today's class spoke about anicca or impermanence, and the way it ebbs and flows moment to moment through life.

Throughout class, I thought about what anicca meant to me.  The physical discomfort of a workout? The 1 minute "hard interval" on my bike? The stressful day or week or month (or, let's be honest, year) when there are a million things which need to be done at once? I (and you) can get through them because they're all temporary. And even during that period of discomfort, there are moments when the difficulty lifts. It can be hard, but it's important to take that time to enjoy the moment (however fleeting), to take a breath and be happy that just to be there, to be alive, and to be able to enjoy this ebb and flow of life. Even when there is another hill to climb or another paper to write or another challenge waiting around the next corner.  

And in that moment, I remind myself, "YOU are strong and alive and beautiful and the hard parts won't last forever. You can do it."  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

It's a Dog's Life

I had an interesting start to 2013.  A friend of mine posted on Facebook that she was looking for someone to drive some basset hounds from Arlington to Baltimore on New Year's Day.  It just so happened that I was planning on visiting some friends at Johns Hopkins around that time anyway, so we worked it out.

And that's how Mabel, Honeychild, and Glenda showed up on my doorstep on New Year's Day.

Their story is heartbreaking.

It all started on Christmas Eve.  A desperate email at 2pm about 7 Basset Hounds that were going to be killed in a shelter in Hattiesburg, Mississippi at 4pm.

A breeder could no longer afford to feed them or give them vet care and had dumped them in an overwhelmed rural shelter already 50 dogs past their limit. We  couldn't let them die - especially not on Christmas. We committed to them, knowing that four were Heartworm positive and they were all older than the 5 years the breeder had claimed.

In spite of their poor condition, all three puppies were incredibly sweet and gentle.  

Poor Glenda.
They were also old, tired, and very sick--between the three of them, they have heartworms (all of them), a serious dental infection, pneumonia, hernias, and a mass on a spleen.  Not to mention needing to put on lots of weight.

Sick or no, they all still have plenty of spark left in them.  During their pit stop in our backyard, all three of them ran around and played with Rowdy and Millie's toys.  (Seriously, you haven't lived until you've seen three basset hounds running chasing the same ball around the yard.)  These dogs are spunky.  These dogs have a lot of life left in them.

Glenda, Honeychild, and Mabel and the rest of the Hattiesburg 7 need your help.  Between them, they need thousands and thousands of dollars in medical care, even after receiving reduced-cost treatment.  

If there's any way you can help, please donate to the Tri-State Basset Hound Rescue to help with their care.  Their full story and more information on their medical needs is on the Hattiesburg 7 donation page, here.  Every little bit helps, and these guys deserve a shot at being happy and healthy once more.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese with Roasted Mushrooms & Broccoli

I find that, when Duff Man is out of town, I often revert to a vegetarian diet.  It's not for any particularly noble reason--I'm just too lazy to thaw out meat when I can cook a perfectly delicious meatless meal as soon as I get home.

Earlier this week, I took a look around my kitchen to figure out what I could make for dinner.  I had pasta, broccoli, pumpkin, mushrooms and all the usual pantry staples.  So I threw it all in a pot and made Pumpkin Macaroni & Cheese with Roasted Mushrooms and Broccoli.

It was delicious and I had plenty of leftovers for lunch for the rest of the week.

My friend Kate kindly pointed out that it's not actually macaroni.  But really, just use whatever past you've got laying around.

I will also note that I didn't actually measure anything so... well, your results may vary.  I'm also doubling the recipe since I used 1/2 lb of pasta and that just seems silly to put into a recipe.

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese with Roasted Mushrooms & Broccoli

12 oz crimini mushrooms, cleaned and halved
1 head of broccoli, chopped
2 cups pureed fresh pumpkin (yes, I really do keep this in my freezer)
1 lb. macaroni, shells, or whatever other pasta you desire
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
1 cups milk
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
salt & pepper to taste
Grapeseed oil (or canola or vegetable oil if that's what you have)
Optional: 1 tsp cinnamon & 1/4 tsp nutmeg OR chopped fresh sage

Preheat the your oven to 425 degrees F.  Toss the mushrooms & broccoli with a few tablespoons of oil--just enough to give them a light coating.  Lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet (I lined mine with a silpat) and roast for 15 minutes, turning halfway.

In the meantime, put on a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.  Once the water has boiled, add a heft pinch of salt and then cook the pasta until al dente.  Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining.

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat.  When the bubbles have melted away, add the flour and whisk until there are no lumps.  Continue stirring and allow the roux to cook for about 5 minutes.  Slowly add in the milk and continue to whisk until thickened.  Add the pumpkin and stir until smooth.  A handful at a time, whisk in the cheese and stir.  Once the first addition has melted, add the next until all of the cheese has been added.  Season with salt and pepper (and any other herbs/spices you'd like to add.)

Add the pasta to the pumpkin cheese sauce mixture.  If the sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta water until it reaches the desired consistency.  Stir in the broccoli and mushrooms (or just pile them on top!)


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Strength, Vulnerability, and Grace: Natarajasana

In person, I'm not a really "touchy feel-y" person.  Oh sure, I'm passionate and opinionated.  But the big things, the emotions I need to sort out within my own head and heart, the important things--I don't let on how I'm processing those.

Except in yoga.  Yoga is where I learned to process those emotions, to acknowledge them and let them go.  At my studio, we often joke about the "yoga mumbo jumbo," our affectionate term for the spiritual and emotional lessons we give and take through our practice.

To me, a pose only feels truly authentic when I know why I'm practicing it.  What is the lesson I should learn from the asana?  As a teacher, when I approach class planning from this standpoint--by starting with why--I nearly always end up with a class I'm proud of.  

So in planning this week's class I turned to my emotions.  And lately, I've felt conflicted.  One of my dearest friends is, at this very moment, moving 2,000 miles away from here.  I am thrilled--over the moon--for her and the opportunity she has for herself and her family.  But I am also deeply saddened that I won't get to see her nearly as often.  The two of us have talked (a little... she's not particularly touchy feel-y either) about that conflict--the excitement and apprehension of such a big move.

So that's where I started planning my class this week.  Excitement and apprehension.  The need to feel secure balanced with the need to take a risk.  I needed a balance pose where I could root into the earth but still engage my core and open my heart.  

I settled on Natarajasana.  

My friend and teacher training classmate Sarah in Natarajasana
Natarajasana, also known as "dancer," "king dancer," or "standing dancer," requires a strong connection to the earth, an engaged core, and an open heart.  Finding a strong connection from my standing leg into the earth grants me security both physically and energetically.  Engaging my core not only protects the low back and stabilizes the pose, but also enlivens the third chakra--responsible for my personal power and sense of self.  While I feel less secure standing on one leg, a strong core allows me to safely open my heart through the physical backbend and to the emotional challenges provided by changes in life.  

I chose Natarajasana because it requires strength, flexibility, an open heart, and a little bit of grace. Natarajasana allows me--and my students--to find the inner strength to open our hearts and let them fly.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Old Married People

Hi friend,

It's been a while.  You see, when I get busy (which, if you're read my 3 other posts, you realize happens often) I prioritize and the blog is one of the first things to go.  But now I'm on summer break, heading in to my last week of grad school for the summer, and am back from vacation.  Likely, there will be another post (or two!!) coming your way soon.

The real reason I'm writing (albeit an hour or so too late) is because it's my anniversary.  

You see, at some point in the previous millennium I met this guy.  We started "hanging out" in October of our freshman year of college, although our first real date wasn't until November 20.  
First date photo. I think he enjoyed my sparkling personality.  And also my sparkling boobs.
Somehow we survived four years in college together.  After 4 1/2 years together we finally got engaged, and 17 months after that we finally got married.  
This was probably at the exact moment the pastor went on a tangent about spousal abuse ("knockin' each other around") and divorce during the ceremony.
It actually was kind of funny.
Or maybe you just had to be there.

That day we got married?  It was already 7 years ago.

Let me tell you, Mr. Toad's got nothing on this Wild Ride.  I've written a little bit about the ups and downs we've had along the way.  But here we are, still laughing and joking and quoting movies and being silly, 7 years later.  

Don't get me wrong, it's not all sunshine and roses.  We bicker like old married people.  He gets irritated that I don't keep the coffee table tidy and I get irritated that he throws my salad dressing away and moves my shoes.  But then one of the dogs farts or a movie we love comes on and we forget about why we were arguing.  And then we laugh when we see our couple friends bickering like old married people like us as well.  
Not-so-glamour shot - Eating our anniversary dinner on the deck - July 9, 2012
Personally, I think that being old married people is a pretty awesome thing. 

I love you, babe, and I'm so grateful to have you in my life.  Here's to many more years of eating, drinking, laughing, bickering, being silly, and continuing to grow old together.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Curbside Cookoff: Trucko de Mayo... Part 2

And now...the rest of the story.

(Did anyone else listen to Paul Harvey while they were growing up?)


After our first round of savory offerings, it was time for a little snack.  We wandered over to Popped! Republic, a new truck which rolled out for the first time at Trucko de Mayo.  Popped! Republic offers hot air popped popcorn in a variety of flavors--traditional, kettle corn, Capital Caramel, cheese, and some specialty offerings too.  They a variety of sizes from mini to jumbo and you can mix flavors if you'd like.  

Duff Man & I chose a mini-sized bag of Capital Caramel.  It was delicious--crunchy and sweet.  Even better is that it was only $2.00 (and some of the other flavors were only $1.50 for the mini bag.)  This place is definitely a great stop for a snack.  Next time I might see if their "Obama Mix" (Capital Caramel + Congressional Cheddar) holds up to the infamous Chicago Mix from Garrett Popcorn.  If you get the plain stuff, it's probably pretty healthy too--but where's the fun in that?

After our snack, our group split to wait in two of the longest lines--Curbside Cupcakes and TaKorean via Pleasant Pops.  

The line for Curbside Cupcakes was pretty long, but at least it moved pretty quickly.  They had over a dozen flavors from which to choose (although several had already sold out by the time we got there.)  We decided to get a mixed pack of 6 ($15) and brought them home with us.

Top row: Tequila Sunrise, Banana-Chocolate Chip, Strawberry
Bottom row: Red Velvet w/ Cream Cheese frosting, "Black" Cupcake (dark chocolate), and Snickerdoodle
All of the Cupcakes were delicious--moist and flavorful.  I'm a huge fan of frosting, and I enjoyed the generous amount on top (although I know that not everyone does.)  

While Duff Man was waiting for cupcakes, our group hit up Pleasant Pops ($2.75 each or 4 for $10).  They used to set up at my local farmer's market, so I skipped them this time.  The folks in my group liked them, although one commented that the Mango Lossipop from Fojol Brothers was better.

I wish I had taken a photo of the lines for TaKorean and the Red Hook Lobster Pound Truck.  Insane.  I've been to the Lobster Truck before (DELICIOUS, but pricey), so we decided to try TaKorean.

TaKorean makes Korean BBQ tacos.  They come with your choice of protein (Bulgogi Steak, Tangy Chicken, or Caramelized Tofu), your choice of slaw (Napa-Romaine or Kimchi), and are topped with Sriracha (hot sauce), lime crema, sesame seeds, and cilantro.  

We stood in line for a long time--at least half an hour.  Since we were already pretty stuffed, Duff Man & I decided to split a Bulgogi taco ($3.50 each or 3 for $9) with Napa-Romaine slaw.  The taco was good...  but only just that.  I'm not a huge corn tortilla fan anyway, but the meat didn't have a lot of flavor and the whole thing was doused with so much Sriracha that it was hard to discern any of the other flavors.  It wasn't bad, but I think it's overpriced and the wait was too long for what I got.  

Overall, Curbside Cookoff: Trucko de Mayo was a great event--well-organized, good selection of trucks, ample parking, and the lines generally moved pretty quickly.  The only real down side was that the bands I heard weren't particularly engaging.  Ah well, you can't win them all.  

Trucko de Mayo was a fun and tasty way to spend a Saturday, and I'd gladly do it all over again.