Friday, September 28, 2012

The bravest thing I can think of

I tell myself that I am a brave person. I take deep breaths, confront my fears, and try to do "the right thing".

But this post is dedicated to an incredible woman, and one of my best friends, who has done the bravest thing I can think of:

She has written a book about losing her child.

You may not think of writing a book as an act of courage. But as someone who is no stranger to grief, I cannot even find words for how brave I think my friend is for opening up her heart and baring it to the world, for publicly standing up and talking of her loss, her trauma and her journey. And as with all true acts of courage, her motivation was not selfish, but to help others.  If that's not yoga, I don't know what is.

The book is a beautiful achievement of courage. It provides practical advice for grief-stricken parents and for anyone supporting someone who has lost a child.

You can read an interview with the authors here, and, although I hope you never need it, you can find it on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. You can also visit my friend's website here.

Here's to my friend, a truly brave woman, a true inspiration, a beautiful soul. I love you.

Things I'm good at

I thought I'd balance out my last post by finding 7 (non-yoga related) things I'm good at! Here we go:

7 things I'm good at
  • Dental hygiene. I'm an AWESOME tooth brusher - twice daily at least! And I floss, too. :D
  • Wearing sunscreen. I wear SPF 30+ EVERY DAY on my face & neck, even if I'm not going out in the sun. If I am going out, I lather the stuff on. The only exception is if I'm in a high-latitude winter and it's an overcast day - then I wear SPF 15.
  • Self-teaching. I am good at learning independently, and I'm a learn by doing kind of person. So much so that I actually make my living using software programmes that I have never had formal training in. Hooray for internet tutorials and you tube!
  • Swimming. I guess I can thank my parents for this! They put me in the pool as a baby and I took weekly swimming lessons up until I was about 11. I had one teacher who was a former competitive swimmer and he really taught me how to do the strokes. To this day I'm a strong swimmer and I love the water!
  • Scuba diving. Again, I have my parents to thank for putting me in the water at an early age! I first scuba dived at age 12 or 13. When I came to Timor, a diver's paradise, I took it up avidly and in 2010 earned my Divemaster certification.
  • Singing. I have only the Universe to thank for the fact that I have a voice and can keep a tune!
  • Cooking vegetarian meals. I got into cooking around age 17 and have been at it ever since. I'm not so good at following recipes, but pretty good at taking random ingredients and turning them into something tasty!
Readers, what are you good at?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Things I suck at

This post was inspired by a wonderful post at Fusion Massage + Movement (written by the artist formerly known as Suburban Yogini), which in turn she got from elsewhere.

Loving yourself is just like loving another person: you have to embrace that person wholly - and that means embracing their flaws as well as their best qualities. And us yogis and yoga teachers, just like everyone else, are full of flaws just waiting to be embraced! In that spirit, here are:

7 things I suck at
  • Cartwheels. I have never been able to do them. Not even on - not even close!
  • Finance (whether personal or at work). My eyes just glaze over and my brain floats away. I can’t help it!
  • Math. This probably explains a lot about the previous point, but math just doesn’t make sense to me. In high school I was so bewildered by calculus that to this day my recurring stress dream involves not having studied for my math final. Seriously.
  • Drawing. Apart from stick figures, just forget it! This is a bit of a limitation considering that I do graphic design work some of the time...  I have learned ways around it, and still can't draw much more than a scratchy doodle.
  • Making decisions. Yep, I am the queen of second-guessing, third-guessing, and agonising for ages over the simplest things. I blame it on being a Libra.
  • Saying "No". I am getting better at this one. But I am usually the type of person who wants to make everyone happy, and says "yes" to please others.
  • Left & Right. Let's be clear here. I KNOW which one is left and which one is right. I just can't always SAY the one I mean!
Readers, what do you suck at?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Practical tips for accommodating late students, and other reflections

There is a wonderful discussion taking place on Nadine Fawell's blog which was sparked by a post on being late for yoga class.  It started with a post about the role of a teacher when students are late for class and evolved into a discussion of the idea of "individual sovereignty" in your yoga practice. There are some great discussions in the comments section, which is actually where this post started.

I agree in principle with the idea of individual sovereignty, and agree totally that respect for a teacher must be earned through a process of relationship - not automatically given. But I don't agree that my sovereignty as an individual entitles me to behave in a way that might be disruptive to those around me, and in a class setting, that sometimes that needs to be enforced.  And so there is really a contradiction in group yoga classes, because while we constantly hear that "your practice is all about you", it's not actually ENTIRELY about you as long as there are other students with you in the room.

Reading the discussion makes me reflect on how, as a teacher, I struggle to find the balance between showing compassion and being accommodating for the one or two or five latecomers, while still showing the same compassion and respect for the 5 or 10 or 15 students who were on time.  I struggle to create a safe space for ALL our students to practice - which may mean understanding and accepting people who arrive late, but it also may mean setting boundaries so that their lateness doesn't have a negative impact on other students.  This of course depends on the setting (is there plenty of space, or will students have to shuffle around to make room for the latecomer?), the timing (is everyone a bit late because traffic was awful, or is the same person constantly walking in during meditation and noisily unrolling their mat?), and other specific factors.  I don't think that teachers should set rules arbitrarily - but I have observed that sometimes individuals behave in a way that negatively affects others, and as a teacher we do need to mitigate the effects of those actions.

It seems to me that there are 3 approaches that teachers (or studios) can take in dealing with lateness:
  1. Have a strict on-time policy and lock the doors when class starts
  2. Have a 5-10 minute grace policy but don't allow people in who are more than 10 minutes late
  3. Allow people to come into class whenever they arrive
Personally I teach somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd options. I think we need to be flexible - if a student arrives late, and I know that the person can warm up and safely join the practice, and if there is space for them to do so without disrupting anyone else, then I don't see why they shouldn't come in for what's left of the class.  But if I think the student might injure themselves from not being warmed up, or if other students would have to interrupt their practice to make room for them, I would ask the person to come back next time.  And if someone was chronically more than 15 minutes late I would likely talk to them to understand their circumstances and see how we could work around them. This approach suits my space and my circumstances - I teach dontation-based, drop-in classes that are often large groups - if I were teaching in a more intimate space with small groups, I might enforce Option 2.

If you are going to have students walking in after class has begun (which, let's face it, most of us always will) are some other practical things you can do to minimise the disruption on other students:
  • Ask students to leave some free space near the door so latecomers won't be stepping over anyone when they arrive.
  • Encourage students to set up a mat for a friend if they know s/he is coming late.
  • If the class is full and can't accommodate any latecomers, put a sign on the door explaining the situation so the class won't be interrupted unnecessarily.
  • If people enter during a meditation or breathing session, ask them to wait outside or to sit quietly by the wall until the meditation is over, OR
  • Don't schedule a meditation period at the very start of the class if you know for sure that people are going to be coming in late. Instead teach warm ups first and leave time for a period of stillness during or at the end of the class.
  • Hold discussions in class to get feedback about how people feel about lateness. Encourage people to be on time while also encouraging others to be accepting and compassionate of latecomers.
What else have your teachers (or you) done to ease the disruption of students coming in late? I'd love to hear your experiences or ideas.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Coffee and Yoga: An Ayurvedic Answer

Coffee and yoga. Some swear by it. Some swear off it. Some swear by swearing off it! Since coffee probably didn't come to India until at least the 17th century, it is unlikely that anyone will dig up an ancient scroll to light our way... So what's a yogi to do?

Thankfully, yoga's sister science, Ayurveda, has kept pace with changing diets over the centuries, and modern ayurvedic doctors have some pretty clear guidance to help poor confused yogis navigate the dietary perils of the modern world.

For those of us who need a refresher: Whereas yoga is primarily concerned with the subtle body (pranamaya kosha) Ayurveda deals directly with the physical body (anamaya kosha). The goal of Ayurveda is to keep the body healthy, and in doing this, Ayurvedic practitioners believe more than anyone in that old saying "you are what you eat". Essentially, the health and balance of the body is regulated by our diet, and dis-ease is caused by "pollutants" that we consume which then wind up in our tissues. Yuck.

Ayurveda is not, however, a universal prescription. It recognises three fundamental "qualities" of the human body - called doshas - and says that everyone is made up of a unique combination of those three qualities, which in turn are made up of a combination of the 5 elements. Of course, we all have each element within us, but it's the combination that makes us way we are. As a reminder, the 3 doshas (and their elements) are:

- Vata (air, ether)
- Pitta (fire, water)
- Kapha (earth, water)

According to Ayurveda, every individual is born with a combination of the elements that give them their prakriti, or nature. A person's essential prakriti never changes, but of course everyone will move in and out of balance in their life, depending on their diet, their environment, their age, and even the seasons. To keep optimum health and balance, therefore, your need not only to eat right for your dosha, but also to be aware of imbalances (vikriti) creeping in, and to modify your diet to deal with those.  To find your dosha, take a quick online quiz (this one is pretty good and part 2 gives you your vikriti)... Although it's no substitute for a detailed diagnosis by an Ayurvedic doctor, it should at least get you thinking.

Anyway, back to the original point, what does Ayruveda have to say about coffee?  Well, first we need to think about the qualities of coffee. We all know that coffee is stimulating and drying (dehydrating + a diuretic). In the language of Ayurvedic tastes, coffee is pungent (stimulating), bitter (lightening/diuretic + laxative) and astringent (drying/dehydrating).

So what does this mean for coffee and the doshas?  Well, the general ayurvedic wisdom is as follows:

Most Balancing Most Aggravating
Vata Sweet, Sour, Salty Bitter, Pungent, Astringent
Pitta Sweet, Bitter, Astringent Sour, Salty, Pungent
Kapha Pungent, Bitter, Astringent Sweet, Sour, Salty

Which lets us easily see that Vatas should NOT drink coffee, Pittas should drink it in moderation and favour decaf, and for Kaphas, coffee is positively recommended (within reasonable limits of course!), although without milk or sugar, which are not recommended for Kaphas.  For people with combination doshas (e.g. Vata/Pitta or Pitta/Kapha), use common sense in finding the right balance - for instance, a Vata/Pitta with Pitta predominance might drink decaf occasionally.

Finally, in Ayurveda you eat first for your imbalance. So if you are a Kapha but you have a Vata imbalance, coffee is out... And if you are a Pitta but you have a Kapha imbalance, then you can have a cup - but only until your imbalance is resolved!

And as Ayurveda is all about customisation, here are a few ways you can help to moderate the negative effects that coffee might have on your dosha:

Vatas: drink weak or decaf coffee mixed with plenty of warm (boiled) milk (at least 1/2 the cup) - almond milk is even better! - sweetened, and spiced with cardamom (the best spice for Vatas),  nutmeg, cloves or cinnamon.

Pittas: drink coffee mixed with warm (boiled) milk, sweetened with sugar or honey.

Kaphas: drink coffee black or use rice milk instead of cow's milk. Avoid sugar and instead, sweeten with honey, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Mmmmmmm. Enjoy!

This post is mainly based on class notes with my Ayurveda teacher, but I am also super-grateful for the wisdom found on the following websites & blogs:

- Hey Monica B (Ayurvedic blog): Customise your cup o'joe
- Eat, Taste Heal: The 6 Tastes