Two Yoginis

A journey of yoga, friendship, and transformation


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Let Me Hear Your Body Talk

When spring comes around, we often think about cleansing our bodies and our desks and our closets, but what about our thoughts? What about detoxifying our minds?

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Spring in the City

This weekend, during teacher training, we talked a lot about how we practice yoga “with the body but for the mind.” By focusing our attention on the meticulous details of each posture, we are able to quiet the mind from its usual chatter. When our minds are busy making sure that each body part is doing what it’s supposed to, we don’t have the bandwidth to consider what we’d like to have for dinner, or who commented on our Facebook status, or how we’re going to get our latest work assignment done. (And, if we’re able to think about these things we’re not practicing yoga.)

Yoga also reminds us that we have a body; that we’re not just a jumble of racing thoughts. When was the last time you mentally scanned each part of your body to see how it felt? When was the last time you consulted your body for an answer to a question or a solution to a challenge (rather than exclusively tuning into the whirring activity of your mind)? When was the last time you put your hands on your heart or your belly and really felt your body inhale and exhale?

Not only do we have a body, but our bodies (if acknowledged and cared for) can become sensitive tuning forks, constantly sending us signals as to what we like and don’t like, what we want and don’t want, and what tastes good, looks good, smells good, and sounds good. Our bodies often know what we want before we do.

When the mind and the body work together as one team, we become unstoppable. It is in this state that we finally figure out what feels good, and stop filling ourselves with junky food, junky experiences, and junky thoughts. It’s when we realize that a cold, or insomnia, or a headache is not merely an acceptable side-effect of modern life; that it’s our body’s sophisticated system delivering a clear signal that something is out of balance. This is when we can start to consciously choose what actually feels good over what we think feels good. And when we feel good, everything around us begins to shift.

This week, let’s practice focusing only on that which makes us feel good. Let’s tune into the messages from our bodies and let our minds take a break from thinking so darn much. In the spirit of spring, let’s allow our bodies (to borrow a phrase from Bryn) to “till the soil” of our minds, thereby allowing fresh ideas to sprout. If you’re in need of a little hand-holding (myself included), nothing could be more perfect than this free 21-Day Meditation Challenge with daily, guided audio sequences narrated by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra (that I’ve been recommending to everyone I know).

Or, you could just watch this Olivia Newton John video:

Happy spring, yogis!


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Old Coaches Can Surely Tell

There is so much to say about the lessons I learned from my Grandpa Jim. He was a vibrant, loving grandfather, who I am grateful I had the chance to know. He was the head the Chafey family, who successfully raised seven children, and was happily married to his beloved, my Grandma Joan. My grandpa passed away last September at ninety-three; peacefully, at home, and on his own terms. Saturday morning, I woke up and immediately thought of him. I have been processing his loss and allowing myself to mourn through my practice on the yoga mat.

Hiking in San Diego remembering Grandpa

Hiking in San Diego remembering Grandpa

A few weeks ago, Ali wrote about our first session with Jonathan FitzGordan. Jonathan was introduced to the group as our anatomy teacher. After getting to know Jonathan, I would also call him a “walking” expert and a role model for teaching. Last night, at teacher training, he taught us another way to open up the body and release emotional and physical pain.

Throughout this session, Jonathan repeatedly mentioned (a tactic he encouraged us to do) the psoas major muscle and its importance to all yoga poses. As we learned in our first session, the psoas major holds trauma and stress in the body. Jonathan suggested that we could feel a great release from certain psoas-focused exercises and from proper alignment when standing and walking.

Another statement Jonathan repeated (read: teaching tactic in action) was that we did not have to believe anything he was saying. With excitement, he encouraged each of us to learn by experimenting and discerning whether an idea resonated with us. Then and only then would be able to trust him and his teachings. Each time he gave us a new piece of information or asked us to try a physical pose, I would decide if I believed what he was saying. Each time, I did feel the effect, and, therefore, trust Jonathan as an expert.

We practiced a small round of a psoas release called constructive rest position. This position is meant to allow the psoas and back body muscles release and let go. Something about this experience, brought up the memory of my Grandpa Jim, another great teacher. I woke up with an overwhelming feeling of sadness and happiness mixed together. I could feel my sorrow release, physically and emotionally.

My Grandpa taught me that there is always a solution. He could fix anything, and left me with the knowing that there is always a way. He loved to travel. He loved to observe people and places. For my college graduation, he bought me a set of luggage. I think of him every time I go to check that bag and head off on an adventure. Most of all, my Grandpa taught me that family and sharing love is most important and when there are bumps in the road and you fall down, get back up and try again. What I love about repetition is that the words become ingrained in the mind. At any moment, I can close my eyes and hear my grandfathers voice: “thank you for the love we share together.”

One of Grandpa's many hat's

One of Grandpa’s many hat’s

Coaching the Ballgame by Jim Chafey, Sr., March 2011

Just keep on swinging,
No matter your age.
Life’s joys will stay with you.
You’re at the top of the gauge.

When the fast-balls come at you,
Don’t step out of the box.
Just swing even harder,
Hit the ball right over the rocks.

Sometimes the game may be very easy,
Sometimes it may be hard, that is true,
But, just keep right on swinging,
And the win may come to you.

There is joy to be found in every game,
And each player can search for that joy.
All the coaches cannot do it for you,
Then, you self-learn that your game is quite real, not a toy.

In time, the coaching grows silent,
For your games are playing quite well,
And now there are new young games,
The formerly coached are now coaching young winners.
Old coaches can surely tell.


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I’ve Made A Huge Mistake

I used to work at a Madison Avenue ad agency, where I shared an office with four women that I fondly nicknamed “the quad.” However, the quad remained a trio until our fourth office-mate arrived in the form of a Kansas City native named Amy, who had relocated to New York from Miami.

The Quad - 2009 Halloween Contest Winners

The Quad – 2009 Halloween Contest Winners

Amy and I became fast friends, with shared affinities for fashion, film, television, and food. While most people sat at their desks, eating lunch over their keyboards, Amy and I explored the food wasteland that is midtown Manhattan. We happily ran around on lunch adventures, soup sampling tours, and street cart expeditions in an attempt to find edible meals. While we dined on the spoils of our afternoon quests at the quad’s center table, we would yammer on about the latest episode of “Dexter” or “Mad Men.”

To make work life more entertaining, we would pepper in quotes from our favorite TV shows into our silly, everyday vernacular. I can’t tell you how many times we would giggle about a guy wearing a “kill suit” (a la Dexter’s semi-tight Henley shirt and cargo pants) or advise someone to “use the Macy’s accessory wall thoughtfully” (a la Tim Gunn on “Project Runway”).

A huge “Arrested Development” fan, Amy introduced me to Gob’s quote “I’ve made a huge mistake” and it really stuck. Whether referring to something small, like making the wrong dressing choice on a salad (or, in Amy’s case, wearing a crop top sweater) or something bigger, like copying an inappropriate person on an email, when we exclaimed “I’ve made a huge mistake” it always seemed to shed some light on the situation.

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The reason this (overly dramatic) quote is funny is because we can all relate to it: that moment of dread when you realize that, at some point, you made the wrong decision. You turned left when you should have turned right. You decided no when you should have said yes. You made a careless error that turned into a giant ordeal. Mishaps of varying degrees are sprinkled throughout our everyday lives. Sometimes they are small and (relatively) insignificant and sometimes they have big repercussions that affect others.

Despite the recognition of our innate tendency to make mistakes, we’re quick to point a finger (myself included!) when someone else makes a mistake. This applies especially (but not limited to) when it’s someone close to us. We judge the mistake-maker harshly. We tell them what they should have done or said. We act self-righteously, convinced we would never have made the same mistake if we were in their position. The truth is, it’s easy to identify the mistakes of others. It’s far more difficult to think critically about the nature of mistakes and realize: that could have just as easily been me.

If we are capable of recognizing this truth, we are capable of a profound transformation. If we can bring compassion, unconditional love, empathy, and even a sense of humor to the mistaken (including ourselves – sometimes we are our harshest critics), then we are less susceptible to toxic emotions like anger and blame. We can begin to laugh at all the things that go awry in this crazy experience called life (because things will go awry), rather than judge and lament them.

The reality is almost too simple: making a mistake of any degree is fundamental to the human experience. We’re ALL meant to make mistakes so we can learn from them and course-correct. We’re meant to stumble, fall on our butts, do things wrong, say “I’ve made a huge mistake” and then choose differently the next time. There’s a (strong) possibility we’ll make the same mistake again and again until we finally get it right.

When we accept this reality, we can transcend it. When we channel our inner Gob, and see our mistakes as the stuff of comedy rather than the makings of tragedy, they begin to agitate us less and less. It’s then, and only then, that our mistakes can become not the cause of our failures, but the fabric of our eventual triumphs.

Need some mistake-spiration? Here’s a “I’ve made a huge mistake” montage and a Billy Joel tune to get you on the right track:


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Guest Blogger Ali B: Why I Love Essential Oils

I am joining Ali S. and Beth on the journey to become yoga teachers, and the one thing I know I’ll be taking with me to the first class I teach (along with a few nerves!) are my essential oils. My trusty purple knit pouch, which houses a few oils from my collection, has become my ‘tool kit’ that goes everywhere I do. These ‘tools’ can help me ‘fix’ almost any ailment or ache –  from calming me down when I’m stressed to curbing my nausea to healing a blemish! Here’s a little introduction to two of my favorite essential oils that are always in my tool kit: peppermint and lavender.

Peppermint has an uplifting and energizing aroma, and I use it often in a few distinct ways: I place a drop in my water bottle for a refreshing and uplifting drink*, I put a drop on my tongue to curb my chocolate cravings after a meal, I rub a drop onto my temples to relieve headaches and increase concentration, and I massage a drop onto my belly when I have an upset stomach.

Peppermint Essential Oil - Photo Credit: http://www.dgaryyoung.com

Peppermint Essential Oil – Photo Credit: http://www.dgaryyoung.com

Lavender is a popular scent that is known for its calming effect, and I often use lavender essential oil in a variety of ways to wind down after a long, stressful day. I love soaking in a hot bath infused with a couple of drops of it or mixing a few drops of it with jojoba oil and giving myself a much-deserved foot rub or placing a few drops on my pillow before bed – it puts me right to sleep!

Lavender Field - Image Credit: http://thedavenblog.com/

Lavender Field – Image Credit: http://thedavenblog.com/

On a physiological level, essential oils have profound effects on us due to the antimicrobial, antiseptic and antibacterial agents found in them. On a psychological, spiritual, and energetic level, the natural aromas found in oils can affect us by directly altering the chemicals in our brains. When we smell these oils the receptors in our noses send messages to the limbic system in our brains. The limbic system controls emotions and memory and can impact our thoughts, decisions, and behavior. Certain oils and blends of oils can promote particular feelings and emotions of positivity, well-being, and joy.

If you’re interested in learning more about essential oils, I’d love to share my experiences with you! Email me for more info or find me on Twitter at @AliBatwin.

*Note: The quality of essential oils is an important factor to take into consideration before ingesting.


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Clear the Cache

There are days I feel like a Beth-bot. Like a computer program automatically set to reply all. I imagine Beth-bot like that rotisserie infomercial where you “set it and forget it.” This past week, on more than one occasion, I found myself answering people with one word answers: “yes,” “cool,” and “yeah.” I knew I had entered bot land, and needed to find a way out.

Set it and Forget it

Set it and Forget it

Without fail, Ali will cause me to LOL when she exclaims: “Is this a bot? Where is the real Beth?” I know exactly what she is referring to when she asks me this question. I can feel myself drift away into Beth-bot land as the one word answers take over. This usually happens when I am doing too many tasks at one time, and begin to feel overwhelmed by the amount of things on my plate. It becomes my way of partaking in the conversation without really being involved.

Tonight in yoga class, my teacher, Christina, began the class with a message to “clear the cache.” She reminded me how often we become computer-like and need to clear the cache or fully re-boot in order to function properly.

The poses quite literally twisted and cleared our bodies. With every sun salutation I could feel the cache empty. I felt as though the stress was falling away and clearing space to be present again. Each breath created a bit more space for full sentences to form. My computer screen was no long freezing with e-mails in my outbox, I hit re-boot and Beth-bot was slowly disappearing.

We all need to clear the cache, sometimes, even if it seems like a scary idea to lose all the saved history. Sometimes we become attached to the operating system we are most familiar with, even if we know it is not working optimally. I know from experience that I become attached to the “stuff” and sometimes need an extra push to actually clear it out.

However, clearing out means there is room to be present and to let go of whatever was taking up so much space in the first place. A simple child’s pose or seated meditation is a really easy way to clear the mind. We ended our class in a cross-legged meditation with our eyes closed and our breath deep. I realized this was the ultimate way to clear the cache.

Namaste

Namaste


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Pura Vida

In April of 2011, Beth and I ran our second More / Fitness Women’s Half Marathon in New York City’s Central Park. As chance would have it, the race coincided with a last-minute trip to meet my friend Erin (who was studying for her MBA in Paris) in Italy, along with a client visit to my company’s center in Costa Rica. In the interest of fulfilling each of these commitments, I was forced to plan my travel such that I would run the race, fly from New York to Italy, Italy to New York, New York to Costa Rica and, finally, back to New York, all within a two-week time frame.

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Bopper n’ Me – At the Finish Line

When I arrived in Italy, just 36 hours after crossing the finish line, my body was feeling the effects. My ankles were swollen, and my joints and muscles were stiff from the combination of running 13.1 miles and sitting through a long, overnight flight. I limped around Florence that evening, hoping the pain would eventually dissipate; however, Erin and I had an ambitious itinerary – pounding the cobblestones in Florence, Cinque Terre, Sorrento, Pompei, Capri, Positano, and Rome, all inside of eight days. I would spend the duration of our (amazing) trip applying the Italian equivalent of Icy-Hot, icing, and elevating my wounded ankles, when we were not on our feet (which was not that much).

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Capri – off the Amalfi Coast, Italy

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The Coluseum, Rome, Italy

Following our Italian adventure, I flew home, unpacked, repacked, slept in my bed, and got up the next morning to fly to Costa Rica. I went straight from grungy European traveler to business casual and heels – swollen, wobbly cankles and all. In addition to attending meetings in San Jose (and staying out until 4 AM dancing, but we won’t talk about that), I also had the opportunity to take a beautiful day-trip to Isla Tortuga, a much needed rest for my ailing body. At this point, I had literally run myself ragged, but I had a few more days to get through before I would get home and could truly begin recovering.

La Isla Tortuga

La Isla Tortuga

On the final flight home, I was (serendipitously) seated alongside two sisters returning from a yoga retreat, a common activity in a country where the mantra is “Pura Vida” (pure life). We discussed the virtues of yoga and running, at length, noting the difference between an activity that is healing and restorative to the body (yoga), and one that frequently causes the body pain, injury, and discomfort (running). I could not help but think this was a sign, pointing me in a different direction.

When I arrived back in NYC, I came to the conclusion that running was no longer getting me where I wanted to go. Besides the obvious pain it had caused me, it started to feel like an obligation, rather than something I actually enjoyed. It was at this point that I decided to try an experiment: what would happen if I tried practicing yoga every day? What if instead of committing to run some arbitrary distance, I committed to getting good at yoga?

When one begins practicing yoga, or returns to it after a hiatus, it can be intimidating to look around the room and observe the more advanced students. Inevitably, there are a few people who can do incredible things, like pop effortlessly up into a forearm stand or wedge their foot behind their head, remarkable feats of flexibility and strength. There are two possible reactions as an onlooker: either to think, “I’ll never be able to do that,” or “I wanna do that!” I opted for the latter.

A couple of weeks into my experiment, I noticed that, even on days when I was stressed, or cranky, or tired, I wanted to go to class. Yoga wasn’t a punishment for eating junk food, an obligatory exercise activity, or a type-A, compulsive need to cross a finish line. I went to yoga because my body wanted it. I went because it made me feel happy, free, and mobile in my body, a sharp contrast to my painful (albeit exaggerated) experience with running.

Two years into my experiment (and nine years since I first tried yoga), I haven’t accumulated any more medals. What I have accumulated is deep layers of strength, ample mobility in my joints, flexibility in my muscles, along with a few less tangible qualities – the ability to quiet my mind (a challenging task in these distracting times), the ability to breathe my way through uncomfortable moments (both physically and otherwise), and an unanticipated connection with empathy that only comes when you experience your own emotions and humbly realize: we’re all the same.

I’m not sorry I ran a half marathon and went on an insane world tour that probably nearly cost me a joint (or two). Ultimately, this experience taught me something my friends in Costa Rica already know: that “Pura Vida” is about more than crossing finish lines, checking off accomplishments, and getting stuff done. Pura Vida is about enjoying the ride.

Pura Vida, Costa Rica

Pura Vida, Costa Rica