Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bounce Back

Yesterday, I ran my fourth half marathon, and my third Brooklyn Half.  It's an amazing race with a really well-designed course that starts at the Brooklyn Museum, takes you into beautiful Prospect Park, and then sends you straight down Ocean Parkway to end at the beach in Coney Island.

The first time I ran Brooklyn, as a newlywed in 2013, I ran my best time at 2 hours, 17 minutes.  I'd yet to have a running injury, but oh lord, I look back on the videos Marc took of me when he was cheering me on from the sidelines and my form was terrible.  I was pronating all over the place, and my knees knocking together look like an ad for How to Eventually Need Knee Surgery.

The second time was last year, with my stalwart and amazing friend Laura.  We both felt undertrained, we both had plantar fasciitis that was concerning to us, and neither of us had the training season we were hoping for, so we were anxious to get the damn thing over with in one piece.

Yesterday carried with it similar worries of last year's race in the sense that I've been extremely neurotic about injuries and injury prevention, but it was less a "thing to get through" and more a challenge to see - am I really and truly well?  Was going for this race that I love so much so soon after a significant injury a stupid idea or the perfect way to get my brain back on board with my body?

The healing force that came into my life in 2014, while I was still dealing with vague mystery hamstring pain that had plagued me all year, was a physical therapist named Fabricio Rodrigues.  I've sung his praises in the blog before but mainly I just recommend him to everyone I encounter who complains as having so much as a slight headache.

Fabricio got me back to running after my hamstring injury, even joining me for my first race back.  When a random case of runner's knee popped up the following winter, he gave me the tools to squash it immediately without slowing down.  He's let me swing by multiple times so he can KT tape me before a race to get me feeling stable, supported, and strong.

And when I continued to run on my plantar fasciitis last summer and tore the damn thing, he made "house calls" to Karma Kids to help my crazily out of balance body as it went through life on crutches / the peg-leg.

Fabricio, me, & Marc
Achilles Run, 2015
He pushed me to swim, which kept me sane and kept my left leg moving pre/post cast.  He's been treating, supporting, and helping me every step of the way through recovery, rehab, and getting back out into running.  He challenges me to do hard, new things, and also knows when I need to be pulled back a little from my running ambitions.  He has coached me to strengthen parts of my body I had no idea weren't already strong, fixed my atrocious running form, and I think about each and every movement my body makes in a completely different way based on what I've learned through my work with him.

Plainly put, I probably would not have run a single pain-free step these nearly three years without him, and I just finished a half marathon entirely due to his expertise, treatment, and friendship.

So, don't be like I've been oh-so many times in my life - don't push through pain if you don't have to.  Bounce Back Physical Therapy is where you'll find not just Fabricio but other caring PT's (and the fabulous Irene at the desk) who can set you back to doing what you love again.  I cannot overstate how profoundly it has changed my life.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

That Beatles Time of Year

Obviously, there's never a bad time to listen to The Beatles, but I've recently been on a bit of a kick lately.  Partly inspired by the lovely Iris's Aroma Yin class at The Giving Tree Yoga Studio, partly by spring, I created a new yoga playlist that is 100% The Beatles (with a couple instrumental versions thrown in to bookend it).

Enjoy!  Feel free to follow me on Spotify, where you can find me as "yoginiannie."





More to come next week - I'm sure I'll have much, much more to say, as I'm running the Brooklyn Half on Saturday!  I'm nervous but mostly excited - it's not just my first big race since recovering from my injury, but it's a big race way sooner than I would have originally expected since going on crutches in August.  So, stay tuned!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Green & Green

Being from the South, springtime in New York always feels like it comes way too late.  By March, I'm expecting full on blooms.  Even though it always comes a little later than I want it to, it still somehow seems to come in perfect time.  March is the slow (painfully slow) thaw, April is for the blossoms, and in May - almost like clockwork - the buds blow away, the leaves fill in, and it's green, green, green everywhere you look.  At long, long, long last.

I always associate May and springtime with green for the obvious reasons, but lately I've had a different green on the brain - money.  As a freelancer married to an actor, money is always on the brain, and 99% of the time it's a source of stress.  I'm sure no one else on earth can relate!

We've used a system for a few years now to track our expenses called You Need a Budget (yes, you do) which has been amazing in keeping us on the same page and helping us communicate about our money or, often, lack thereof.  We didn't always use it as intended, though - we used it more as a tracking tool than as one to actually help us stick to the principles it lays out for eventually saving and aging your money so you break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.

YNAB recently updated its whole system, which inspired us to make a fresh start and lay out a new, updated budget to better reflect our life as it is now, rather than a few years ago when we started.  We also recommitted to each other to stick to the budgeting principles and exercise more self discipline than in the past.  (Also, not being injured / not doing lots of showcase shows for little pay really helps in the money department too!)

So now here's where the yoga comes in - as part of the eight limbs of yoga, there are ten ethical guidelines (so to speak) that are things not to do (yamas) and things to do (niyamas).  Budgeting - and even just attempting to budget - employs all of them to some degree, but there are two I feel it touches on the most:  self-study (svadhyaya) and truth (satya).

You manage what you measure.  Tracking your spending requires complete and total transparency with not just yourself but another person.  It can be very easy to deceive yourself and live in a state of denial about spending habits, especially with handy dandy credit cards, which never feel like spending real money the way it does when you use cash.  By utilizing self awareness with every dollar earned and spent, you are automatically gaining more control over your financial habits.

Budgeting not just your own money for your own self, but with another person  makes it harder to keep up that habit, that we all have, of self-deception.  We're all very good at telling ourselves little lies or simply glossing over our bad financial habits, but when you have to track every little thing, and be accountable not just to yourself but with your partner, the truth can't help but come out.  It's not about assigning guilt, blame, or shame, but simply taking an honest look at your habits, strengths, and weaknesses.

What's difficult and sometimes painful in the short run, though, is ultimately what's best in the long run.  (Isn't it annoying how often that's the case in life?)

We seriously can't recommend this app enough, and recommend it all the time to friends and family.  Money is hard.  It's hard when you don't have enough, when you don't understand why you can't get ahead, when you're unsure of how you're managing it.  Yoga is all about awareness and connection - this lets you gain that clarity which leads to accountability.

And while it would be AWESOME if this were a paid advertisement, it's really not - just an entry I've been meaning to do for a long time in praise of one of my favorite things.  (YNAB, if you're listening, I'll totally be a paid shill for you...)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Health Scare

I had a whole draft of a blog in my head all made up, but it has been a day.  And now that I've come down from all the life-stuff of the day, I'm left to ponder with a growing, nauseating dread what 217 elected representatives voted for today.

Forgive the pun-y and ridiculous title.  I'm just so afraid that this is our country now.

In case you're wondering who voted how, check out this helpful page in the NYTimes.

Listen - we all know Obamacare wasn't perfect.  But I know several people who would literally not be alive today without it.  I wouldn't have health insurance without it - and you better believe I use my health insurance.

Instead of having a group of adults who can intelligently discuss policy and talk about improving our health care system, we have a group of children who stick their fingers in their ears and simply shout about destroying any bit of legacy President Obama may have had.  They've denigrated this so deeply that there are literally people in the world who don't realize that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the same thing.  It's politics.  Not policy.  How much do you want to bet that most of these jackals haven't even read the bill?  We know the President hasn't.

Victim of a sexual assault?  You now have a pre-existing condition under this bill and would be denied health insurance.  So that basically covers half the women the President has ever come into contact with.  Cancer survivors, pregnant women, asthmatics like me - basically everything you could possibly imagine is a pre-existing condition and grounds for denial of coverage, except for erectile dysfunction, probably because the majority of congress suffers from it.  Not that that really matters, since they're not including their own health care plans under this bill.  Even they don't want this unhelpful piece of garbage that doesn't solve any actual problems of Obamacare - it just creates all new ones.

This has nothing to do with yoga.  I'm angry.  I'm sad.  I feel sick.  I'll do some yoga tomorrow and feel better and more balanced and better able to fight back and do what I can to protest this horror of a bill.

Please, please, please - call your reps.  Write your reps.  Show up at town halls and give them hell.  And then tell me what else I can do.  I feel at such a loss.  All my reps are solid blue - they're already going to vote my way.  So I'm open to ideas, friends.  Tell me what to do.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Long Run & Long Road

I haven't written about running as much lately - partly because this was originally intended to be a yoga blog, so I do try to write about that occasionally, but mostly because these last few weeks of training have been more stressful.

When I agreed to run the Brooklyn Half this year with my wonderful Laura, I did so with nerves and reservations.  It's one of my all-time favorite races, and when I first ran it in 2013 I felt amazing and unstoppable.  It's the race that convinced me I was capable of running a marathon.  But looking at the calendar and looking at my expected recovery time, it seemed like there was enough time to responsibly train without overdoing it.

As I started to kick my mileage up a little bit in mid-March, however, I had fewer pain-free runs and more consistent encounters with aches and pains.  Not enough to indicate re-injury, but just enough to bump up my anxiety ever-higher.  It was tricky to differentiate the normal and expected running pain versus things I should be truly worried about.  I've been hyper-aware, which is a good thing, but it led to being hyper-worried, which is not.  May 20th suddenly went from seeming very far away to much, much too close.

I started to realize in the last week or so that I wasn't enjoying my running - which is the whole damn point.  I love running.  It's one of my all time favorite things in the world to do.  I've been so consumed with the worry and paranoia that I might not be able to do it that I've been keeping myself from fully enjoying the fact that I am doing it.  I'm under the care of an excellent physical therapist every week who helps me get stronger and deal with my issues.  I'm building more cardio.  And a lot of my aches and pains, I've come to realize, are a result of the fact that I'm finally running with much better form than I used to - which in itself is a road to injury-free running.

Awareness and worry don't have to go hand in hand.  Moreover, they shouldn't go hand-in-hand.  It tints everything, just as it did last summer when I was on the opposite end of the spectrum - stubbornly ignoring pain that should have sparked some worry and attention.

The trick, I think, is to find that happy medium.  Last summer I wanted so badly to be fine and healthy that I was able to convince myself that the pain I was feeling - almost all day every day - couldn't possibly lead to anything serious.  I felt that I had a complete handle on it, and instead of resting until the pain was gone, I would take a week off because that was all I was willing to give up.  This past month, I've been worrying myself out of enjoyment and failing to notice how much better I feel now than I even did last summer when I was technically in better shape.

I seem to have to learn this lesson again and again - attitude is everything.  After a particularly helpful PT session yesterday, I decided to go into this morning's run - the peak of my training and the last long run before the race and also on a windy, rainy day - with awareness without the side of worry.  Paying attention to my body and when it needed a break or a stretch or to walk but enjoying myself every step of the way.  The difference it made was unbelievable, and instead of worrying and doubting this ten miles, I enjoyed it and was able to end it with exhilaration, pride, and trust that I'm doing everything I can to stay healthy while still pursuing my goals.

And seriously, it doesn't hurt that I have a killer new running playlist.  Something else I realized today is that I've been deliberately avoiding running with music because I haven't wanted to get carried away and go faster than I ought to.  While I think this was totally responsible and the right thing for the first few weeks back, I'm at the point now where I'm able to push my pace.  The first half of today's run was accompanied by a podcast (the excellent Pod Save America) and I decided for the second half to finally treat myself to some music - the first time since last summer I've run with any music at all.

I completely forgot how good it feels to run with music.  Running without any earbuds at all is its own kind of magic, don't get me wrong - but Nina and Janis were just what the doctor ordered to help me get my joy back.


Check it out here - start with Sinnerman, shuffle the rest, and enjoy every moment.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

An Earth Day Recent-History Lesson

Earth Day (which also happens to be the seven year blog-a-versary for this ol' thing) is today, and it's fitting that I just learned about an environmental activist I had never heard of before.

Julia Butterfly Hill may be a familiar name to you, but I'm sad to say her name didn't ever register in my time as a self absorbed middle and then high schooler in suburban Virginia.  She sat in a redwood tree in California to protest deforestation for two years.

She sat in a tree.  She lived in a tree.

For two. freaking. years.

Meanwhile, I've been feeling so powerless and useless and frustrated lately in the face of the never-ending tsunami of news of corruption and incompetence coming out of the White House (or Mar-a-Lago, more often than not), and on the one hand, hearing about this just makes me feel even worse and even more useless.  I donate to charities, I keep myself informed, I write and call my elected officials, I make my living helping women and kids feel empowered and peaceful, I do my best to use reusable shopping bags over plastic, but what am I really doing?  What is any of it really doing?  (And dear lord, the amount of times I don't have a reusable shopping bag and contribute to the plastic crisis!)

On the other hand- it actually makes me feel better.

I learned about Julia because one of the world's most spectacular yoga teachers and humans, Elizabeth Barnett, spoke about her in class at The Giving Tree last night, and read a quotation of hers that brought me to tears.  I'll pull from her website:

No matter the diversity of beliefs, we all know we live in a world full of problems.  Yet, one of the biggest problems is that not enough of us realize that we also live in a world full of solutions - and then live our lives as these solutions in action.

May you know that your every thought, word, and action makes a difference.

The question we need to ask ourselves is not, "Can one person make a difference?"  Each and every one of us does make a difference.  It is actually impossible to not make a difference.  So the question we need to ask ourselves is, "What kind of a difference do I want to make?"


It sort of reminds me of the butterfly effect (no relation).  The smallest action can have a massive impact.  Even though sometimes the things I might do feel small and trivial and not actually helping to save the world, it's better than choosing not to do it at all.

It also reminds me to be brave and try to do more than I am.  Even when I don't know what that is, or if I struggle with self doubt.

Every day, to once again crib from Elizabeth, is Earth Day.  We need it more than it needs us.

Let's all do something big or something small, but let's do something, today and every day to help support it, and support our future as a species.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bus Yoga!

This week was spring break for public schools in NYC, which also means it was spring break for the kids classes at Karma Kids.  Our truncated schedule (prenatal & baby classes only) and my boss's well-deserved vacation left me with both way more and way less time in my schedule at the same time, somehow.

The point being - I'm squeezing my weekly blog in at the last second before Marc and I take a very mini-break of our own as we head to Philadelphia to see our spectacularly talented friend Jake Blouch in The Walnut Theatre's The Importance of Being Earnest.  We are taking a Megabus there this morning and a Megabus home this afternoon - and tragically, that means a lot of travel time with me unable to read due to the last stubborn bits of lingering childhood carsickness.

So, I've got my knitting needles, my headphones, my crossed fingers - and alternate nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana.

My friend and often-times guru Laura Frye suffers much more acutely than me from carsickness, and she swears by this yoga breathing technique to get her through.  It's also incredibly handy for springtime, especially on weeks like these where NYC is finally (FINALLY!) seeing our first real leaves and blooms and green - and pollen.

Thanks to http://www.healthyhints.com.au for this adorable and useful illustration

Sit comfortably.  Gently close your left nostril and inhale into the right.  Retain the breath for one to five seconds.  Gently close the right nostril and exhale out the left.  If you wish, retain the exhalation for one to five seconds.  Inhale into the left nostril, and retain the breath for one to five seconds.  Gently close the left nostril and exhale out the right.

Lather, rinse, repeat as needed.

Stress reduction, nausea reduction, allergy reduction - nadi shodhana is one of the most useful and simple pranayama, or breathing, techniques you'll find in a yoga practice.

Time to catch a bus!  Happy spring break, everyone!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Paradigm Shift / Pratipaksha Bhavana

When I was new to yoga, I loved reading Yoga Journal every month.  I subscribed to it, and was stoked when I was able to get a reduced rate as part of my liability insurance once I became a teacher.

The last few years, though - eh.

Part of it is almost certainly that I've allowed time to diminish my interest in to the capital-Y Yoga practice - reading the sutras, learning more about the history and diving deeper into the non-asana parts of the practice.  I expected to be knee-deep in it forever, but when I took a shift toward kids yoga and prenatal yoga years ago, that became less a part of my teaching and therefore I let it slip as part of my personal practice.

The other part of it is that the magazine has largely let itself turn into Glamour with a side of yoga. Every issue it seems like there are more and more pages - not just advertisements, mind you, which come with the territory, but actual magazine content - that's nothing but product placement.  The clothes you have to have, the meditation cushion you need.  Every single cover - every single cover - has been reduced to "8 poses to cultivate inner peace!"  "10 poses to strengthen your core!"  "The 4 poses you need to beat the winter blues!"

Yes, yoga poses are amazing and helpful and can do all those things.  But...come on.  It's not a magic bullet or a magic cure.  Yoga should be better than that, and the magazine's continual quick-fix implications feel gross.

Anyway - getting off my high horse, let me take a moment to actually give props to YogaJournal - or to a teacher quoted in an interview with them, at least.  It's been a long time since I've turned to the Yoga Sutras for help and guidance, but I've been thinking about them more lately, and this week was reminded of sutra 2.33.  My favorite interpretation is from Nischala Joy Devi from her lovely book The Secret Power of Yoga.

"When presented with disquieting thoughts and feelings, cultivate an opposite, elevated attitude.  This is pratipaksha bhavana."

Like a lot in the yoga sutras, it sounds so ridiculously simple.  Having negative thoughts?  Think happy thoughts!  Yay!  All better!

The key word here is cultivate.  The presence of that word indicates an acknowledgement that this is not always so simple.  To cultivate is to try, to foster, to encourage, to seek, or - my favorite definition, from Merriam-Webster: "to improve by labor, care, or study."

My favorite example of this physically is the idea of countering fatigue and exhaustion by doing something as simple as ten jumping jacks.  Just try not to change your energy level after that - you can't help it!  The key is to get yourself up to standing and doing those jumping jacks in the first place to spark the change in your energy level.

As hard as it can be to get your body to move when it's tired, it's all the harder (for me, at least) to get the mind to move when it's stuck on negative thoughts and perceptions.  Whether it's a person whose actions or words have you hurt or angry or a simple case of a negative mood, the mind usually wants to stay in that negative space.  My mother-in-law always refers to the law of inertia (usually in a physical context), and for me that totally applies to a bad mood.  My mind in a whiney space wants to stay in a whiney space.

Tiffany Russo, the yoga teacher quoted in YogaJournal, explains this sutra further: "Patanjali said it's taking a negative and making it a positive.  I think it's also that moment when you can pause and choose to make a shift.  That's yoga - if you can pay attention enough to pause, you have a strong sense of your foundation, and you can blossom and grow from there."

This strikes a chord with me, and makes me think of one of my all-time favorite books My Stroke of Insight, where brain scientist Jill Bolte-Taylor details the stroke she suffered and how much more she learned about the power of our brains as a result.  She teaches us that we have so much power in how we interpret events and thoughts.

We can make a choice to focus on the negative or to focus on the positive.  We can make a choice to step back, take a breath, take a pause, and re-evaluate any given situation from a different perspective.  It's simple, but simple doesn't mean it's easy.  As we say at Karma Kids - that's why we call it a yoga practice, not a yoga perfect.

So - well done, YogaJournal.  Amidst your all-too-typical front cover promises that all my life's problems will be fixed with your "7 poses to find quiet amidst chaos," I feel so much more connected to the true work and benefits of yoga.  More of that, please!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Partial Book Report / Cultivating Play

Have you ever read a book that strikes such a chord with you that you almost don't want to read it because it's overwhelming?

Last month, my book club and I selected Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection after one of our members said she was rereading it.  Coincidentally, my sister happened to be reading that when she came up for her visit last month, so I was excited to get into it, especially after seeing Brene Brown's TED talks.

It's so dense with nuggets of great information and moments of, "Yes, that's so me," that I was very particular about when I read it.  And even as I was reading it, I'd know I would need to reread it several times for it all to sink in.  So, I'm not up to writing a full entry about it because it encompasses a lot - but one element of it has been popping up a lot this last week.

The book is divided up into ten Guideposts - things we ought to work on cultivating, and things we ought to work on letting go.  Easier said that done - another reason why this book overwhelms!

Guidepost # 7 is Cultivating Play & Rest - Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol (hello, NYC) and productivity as self-worth (ME).

Now, the letting go stuff is a waaaaay longer post / therapy session, but cultivating play and rest is really important to me.  I feel incredibly blessed that I work at a place which, though it can be stressful and demanding like any job, is devoted to play.  Even beyond playing yoga with the little yogis who come to our classes, the other teachers and I are constantly playing to find new poses, new games, new events, and new ways to connect to our community and each other.  Just this week I had the opportunity to spontaneously turn into a mermaid as the class that Laura was teaching went on their under the sea yoga adventure!

We talk a lot at Karma Kids Yoga, especially when we're talking about bigger kids and teens, about what a huge stress reliever laughter is.  When was the last time you were in a fit of hysterical laughter?  Like belly cramping, face hurting, genuine-danger-of-peeing-your-pants laughter?

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a laughter meditation.  We share it with the trainees in our Teen Yoga Teacher Training Intensive and it's always the most incredible release.  Yoga doesn't always have to be so holy and serious and all about flexibility or silence - you can play it!

Especially with the news moving at a speed impossible to keep up with, we need the balance of play and laughter in our lives more than ever.  So find a toddler to run around with, grab some friends willing to be ridiculous with you and try a laughter meditation, watch something silly (maybe even live theatre!).  It's hands down the most fun way to beat stress and anxiety while cultivating the joy of play.

Me with the creator of Karma Kids Yoga and all the fun and games I get to enjoy every day, Shari Vilchez-Blatt.
There was much laughter and play as we figured out how to get in to this awesome new partner pose.



Saturday, March 25, 2017

What is your happy place?

Ever since the election, and even more so since the most frightening ever Inauguration Day, I've been trying to temper staying informed and being involved with putting more effort toward adding things that make me happy to my days.  It's a silver lining of the cloud we find ourselves stuck under that this administration has me turning more than ever to practices of self care and focusing on the positive.

In that spirit, I want to start a series of entries focused on those things that bring me joy in life.  A happy place seems like a good place to start.

There are many places I'd identify as my Happy Place, and the one I'm featuring today isn't necessarily a specific place.  Races are a major happy place for me.

This past Sunday, I fulfilled my volunteer credit to work toward getting into the 2018 Marathon.  I went to bed at 9:30, woke up at 4:20, and was out the door by 4:40 heading to Central Park.  If you think that's early, just ask the volunteers for bag check - I think they had to be there at 3:30!  Total madness.

There's a quiet excitement in Central Park before sunrise on the day of the NYC Half Marathon.  20,000 runners are preparing to descend upon the park, heading to their respective park entrance depending on their corrals, checking bags, bouncing up and down or wearing soon-to-be-donated sweatshirts to stay warm.  Volunteers are cheerful and excited and giving as much crazy energy as they can - to stay awake, to stay warm, and to get the runners even more pumped up.


This is the second year I've been a NYRR Ambassador for the Half and both years it has been freezing cold.  One of these days I'll remember that March in NYC does not equal March in the south.  In the south, March is basically the start of flip flop weather!  The cold does, however, I think make the energy even more fun.  Runners who are feeling nervous probably feel a little more nervous, runners who are feeling excited probably feel more excited - and since most runners are feeling both of those emotions at once, it makes for really intense energy really early in the morning.

By the time the first two waves of runners are headed through security and toward the corral, the sun starts to rise over the park.  The world starts to feel a little more real, although there's a profound sense of unreality at sunrise in Central Park, especially when you've already been up for three and a half hours.


My volunteer shift is fun, simple, and rewarding, and this year I got to take advantage of the amazing NYRR RunCenter and their free lockers and went for a run myself around the park after my shift ended.  Running around the course, cheering the runners on, seeing the gorgeous snow in Central Park, seeing the area get flooded with typical Sunday tourists and atypical excited, cheering friends and family just creates even more joyful, excited energy.

Usually, I'm a runner at a race - and usually, the race is a smaller one, like a 5K or a 4 miler.  Volunteering is so valuable not just because it's so very necessary for races to function, but because it reminds you of what is so wonderful and special about racing from a totally different perspective.  It also brings back both bitter and very, very sweet memories of my half marathons and marathon.  Being on the outside looking in helps you see things from a different angle and, for me,  helps me value it all the more the next time I get to be the one wearing the race bib.