Sunday, April 24, 2011

Keep Calm and Carry On

This week has been like surfing during a tsunami.  Crazy amount of adrenalin and excitement, followed closely by a storm of “oh my god”.

So as some of you know, last weekend Matt and I got engaged! It came as a total surprise and we tried to keep it between us for as long as possible.  And for the record, he was totally smooth.  So, all weekend I was riding on a high.  It started out as shock, then pure shrill excitement, then this floating, weightless feeling of joy.  By Sunday, I felt as though I was glowing.  Throughout my childhood and even into my teens, I was never one of those girls who envisioned her perfect engagement.  So when Matt was standing there with a ring and a proposal to spend the rest of our lives together, I was beside myself with emotion.  Feelings surfaced from a place deep within my heart.   Physically I felt like I was standing towards the sun, arms open wide, heart open, and my gaze to the sky, the whole world to see my happiness.

My emotional balance had of course been thrown off; the excitement caused me to lose sleep, I was mentally moving at a speed far faster than normal and my body tingled with pleasure.  Everything was wonderful.  But with every high, comes a low.  And that low came mid-week.  It was as if suddenly all the reality and the gravity of what was to come, tumbled down upon me.  Questions of finances, family, time, and decisions all came to me quickly.  Then as things often work, Matt and I had our first disagreement with the “planning” of the wedding.  As minor as the situation was, my emotional panic was anything but.  I realized at that moment, sitting at my desk hot with frustration and confusion that this was going to be a lot for me.

I went out to a local bookstore in Wilmington, hoping that perhaps I would find something—anything—to level out my mind and ease me back into normalcy.  (Don’t get me wrong, I loved the ecstasy I had felt, but after came panic—so something in between would be alright with me.)  Almost immediately my gaze fell on a bright pink book with white letters which read, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”  Nothing could have been more appropriate.  The book fit into the palm of my hand and was filled strictly with one-liners from famous people worth quoting.  But to me it hardly mattered what words I found inside, for the words on the outside already worked for me.  I bought it without hesitation.

When I practice yoga and something becomes a struggle I am unable to ignore, I drop down into child’s pose.  It’s the pose of comfort, calm, and rejuvenation.  With your arms reaching out in front of you, palms and forehead on the ground, while your bum rests on your heals, it feels as if you are surrendering to yourself.  The moment is yours to just take a deep breath in, and then let that breath go.  After I have recovered, I push myself up into a downward dog.  To me this is a sign of carrying on—pushing your palms into the mat, heels pulling down, and stretching through your spine is like waking up in the morning.  It awakens you slowly.  When I saw the words “Keep Calm and Carry On,” I couldn’t help but think of child’s pose and downward dog.

I knew then, as I had known all along, that I will get through every stress that comes my way for not only do I have a man who is an amazing support to me, to us, but I have my yoga asanas that are always there to calm me.  

Much of this journey is going to be balancing emotional highs and stressful lows, knowing that in the end I will have a new beginning with the one that I love.  I cannot think of a more exciting time for me and at the same time I know the process will not always be blissful.  I know have a tiny pink book, grounding yoga poses, and the love of my life to help me through.

And I did eventually open the book and so far this quote has helped me conceptualize our engagement, as nothing has changed, but everything has changed:

“After a day’s walk everything has twice its usual value.”—G.M. Trevelyn

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Original Social Network

The other day my boyfriend and I were discussing the importance of mentoring.  Even though I work for a mentoring program, this was strangely the first time this topic came up.  And even more bizarre—I wasn’t the one that brought it up.  He felt he has never had a mentor, never had someone take enough interest in him. All great people have had a person they consider a mentor.  More so, I would even believe that mediocre people have had someone help get them there.  So the idea that no one has been your mentor…well, that thought alone is depressing. 

When I am training high school students to be mentors to elementary school students I always start with the question, “What is a mentor?”  Most fumble around with words, twiddling their thumbs, and looking rather nonchalant about this “mentoring business.”  But eventually they come up with wonderful answers to what a mentor is—a role model, leader, a friend, someone to talk to, someone to listen, someone to guide you, a teacher, a coach and someone to show you what’s right.  When we define mentor like this it’s harder to think of ourselves going it alone. We are not simply trudging our way through life as no one has before.  Someone, somewhere has done something similar to us.  When my boyfriend asked if I believed my supervisor at work was my mentor, without hesitation I said yes.  But had you asked me the same question last year, about the same woman, I would have not been able to say yes.  It took me a while to realize what a mentor was.  More than that, I had to understand who I was. I had to ignore my screaming ego that shouted, “You are unique! You are special!  No one is like you!”

In order to see the mentors I had around me, I had to see that I needed guidance.  If you do not admit to yourself that you need an extra hand, then you will not see the resources you have at your fingertips.  All throughout high school and college I was a good student.  Extremely bright, but terribly stubborn.  I was offered help and support from teachers and professors, but my ego told me help was for those who were struggling.  And I was not struggling…yet.  What I was struggling with was the idea that someone was perfect or ideal, and that I could look up to him or her as a role model.  Pessimistically, I found flaws in those that would have been mentors.  Perhaps this was a way for me to continue to be the solo adventurer I fantasized I was.  Ultimately I could not admit greatness in others.  I wanted their greatness, but did not want to share their knowledge.  It was self righteous and competitive.  The essential problem with my stubbornness and fabulous ego was that when I eventually needed help, I was too guarded and barely knew how to ask.

Luckily for me, I opened my eyes to the wonderful minds around me.  It began with asking my parents for more than financial help, enlisting their wisdom in new ways.  Then as I began the stage after college, the dreaded “real life,” I began to seek advice from co-workers, program managers, etc.  I began soaking up information like a sponge.  I went from not wanting to ask a single question to not being able to ask enough.  I humbled myself and admitted that I was not yet invincible.  There was so much I didn’t know, that I learned from my mentors.  Whether or not I am a special and unique person, I am not the only one that experienced a terrible middle school, awkward break-ups, unfortunate wardrobe choices, or a life-changing experience.   Thankfully, I am where I am today largely due to the people who have influenced me on my way.   I had mentors long before I thought I did.  Looking back on my young life, I called upon my mentors (whether they knew it or not!) to guide me through strange and confusing times.  

A mentor can be a favorite author, whose words spoke to your heart.  Or they can come in the form of a teacher, who helps you see your potential.  Mentors are often are own parents, as we learn both what to do and what not to do.  What’s important to know about our beloved mentors is that we cannot make them perfect in our minds.  Trying to find the perfect mentor will leave us missing out on our best teachers.  Just like we hope they accept our faults, we must expect that they will have faults as well.  What we can do is take the best parts of our mentors and grow from there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What's with the heat?

Yesterday was a wonderful, almost record-breaking, hot April day.   The sun was out and smiling, as the wind gently made its ways through the streets.  People were outside laughing, running, driving with the windows down and even grilling.  The smell of burgers and dogs nearly made me turn around as I walked to yoga.  Oddly though, it did feel strange to feel the warmth on my skin when just last week I was bundled up.  It was cool and overcast when I went into work, then nice and toasty when I left.  It reminds me of my initial feeling when I walked into my first heated yoga class.

At first the heat hits you like a brick wall; your breath fills your chest with heavy fear. We get uncomfortable that it feels so hot, we begin freaking out and breathing noisily through our mouth, letting our chest fill with anxiety.   We begin sweating profusely and curse all the people around us who are seemingly calm and collected.  But perhaps most of what makes the heat so exhausting is dealing with our own perceptions of comfort.  That’s all it is; fear of the unfamiliar.   I will write a post about the importance of breathing, but today it’s all about the heat.

If it’s such an emotional and physical challenge, then why do we practice in the heat?

Practicing yoga in the heat is nothing new, as they have been practicing in the brutal summers of India for centuries.  What is (relatively) new is the commercialized, year-round, temperature-controlled, American Hot Yoga.  At the studio where I practice, we have two rooms, both kept heated 24hrs/day, 7 days a week.  Depending on humidity, the room can be kept anywhere from 105° to 95° degrees (for example 40% humidity in a room set at 95°F feels like 99°F).   Now when it is that temperature outside, most of us wouldn’t venture out to do anything, let alone intense physical exercise.  As I said before, we must question our own perceptions of comfort in order to open our eyes to the many benefits of practicing in such crazy heat. 
We are all familiar with warming-up the body before physical exercise and we know it’s important.  But I would venture to guess that you don’t actually know why it’s important.  Let’s start with the base level.  Our capillaries respond to heat by dilating, which brings more oxygen to the muscles.  This process helps in the removal of waste from the muscles, such as lactic acid and carbon dioxide.  Blood then moves more easily through warm muscles, making it easier for oxygen to release from the hemoglobin. Heat also speeds up the breakdown of glucose and fatty acids in the body.  On a muscular level, heat makes our muscles relax, improving elasticity, and making us less susceptible to injury.  With little warm-up needed, we are able to go into postures more deeply and easily, and have a greater range of motion.  We are more flexible in our joints, muscles, and ligaments.  Warm muscles also burn fat more efficiently than cold muscles.  As the EY teacher manual explains, “Fat is released during stress.  The stress of intense exercise causes a deluge of fatty acids in the blood stream.  If you exercise with cold muscles they can’t use the fatty acids, and they end up in places where they aren’t wanted, such as the lining of arteries.” 
So what about all those people sweating like crazy? If I get a complaint or hesitation from anyone, 9 times out of 10 it’s regarding their distaste for sweat.  Is it gross? Yes, but without a doubt its very beneficial.  The more people in the room, the higher the humidity, and the more you sweat.  Humidity itself facilitates healthy lung function, especially in protecting against colds, respiratory problems, and the flu.  Sweating is also fantastic for your skin.  I’ve had people tell me, “I feel like I just had a facial!” as they leave class.  Essentially, you did!  The heat and our sweat opens up our pores and helps release all sorts of toxins.  Be careful practicing after a night of adult beverages! And do NOT practice after handling hot peppers, like jalapeƱos—a lesson learned the hard way!  Either way, our sweating will leave our hair and skin glowing, refreshed, and moisturized.
Despite my first experience practicing in the heat being weird and a bit nerve-racking, now I absolutely love it.  I look forward to the heat and usually embrace the sweating, as I know I will leave class relaxed.  So don’t knock the heat until you try it!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

No More Mope on Monday

Everyone should’ve enjoyed the outstanding weather yesterday.  In fact I can envision everyone enjoying the weather all weekend.  There is something about a nice day that just makes me feel inspired, in both a creative and physical sense.  What's great about accommodating temperatures and joyous sun is that it allows you to be imaginative in your activities.  For instance, I called my mother on Sunday and she was out in the yard, gardening and weeding and all things grass related.  Then the phone was handed to my father, who was working on the outside of the house.  Hammering, sawing and in general making lots of noise.  Had he not sworn off spending money on things he's bad at, he might've even gone golfing.  I spent the morning running around in our first Ultimate Frisbee game of our Spring League and then the afternoon assisting yoga.  There are so many options for warm weather—kickball games, disc golf (Frisbee golf), hiking, walking, gardening, running, rollerblading (if this was 1998), skateboarding, biking, yoga outside, sidewalk chalking, basketball, tennis, baseball, painting outside, even reading.  The list goes on forever.   Even more fantastic, sunshine loves our extroverts and introverts alike; you can grab a friend to enjoy together or simply go it alone.  Ultimately it doesn't matter what you do, as long as you are embracing the opportunity that nature has so kindly provided and make a more awesome you.

Getting spontaneous outside makes me feel alive; it rejuvenates me from the bottom of my wiggling toes up through my shining fingertips.  I have a spring in my step.  I have a bounce in my bum.  There is a rhythm in my veins and it feels fantastic.  Often I believe we define our happiness by what we do when it’s gorgeous out.  We are explorers, hikers, runners, athletes, gardeners.  I take pride in my wide range of outdoor activities—it makes me feel like a more awesome me.  But what about when it’s not so nice out—like today?  The sky is gray, the air is heavy with humidity, and the ground is a stagnant damp.  It looks nothing like the day before.  How do I handle a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?  To be honest, not always well.  Sometimes in fact, I allow it to be my downfall of my entire day.  Often, I embody the gloom of the world around me, as the weather is an excuse to be mopey. Right?

Wrong!  I decided that this is not the way to live.  I cannot allow my definition of myself be dictated by the weather.  I want to still be awesome even when the weather is not.  So when I woke up this morning and it was gross out, I needed to make my own sunshine within.  I wasn't going to leave the house with a bad attitude.  The cure for me?  Sun salutations!  This is a variation of one basic sun salutation, but I often play around with it since my body is still just waking up in the morning...

Add some hip opener stretches, spinal twists and before for you know it you're good to go!   My energy felt so good that even after work I practiced yoga with a friend, had a clean delicious dinner, and caught up with my best friend.   It turned out to be a beautiful day--despite the weather!