Off Your Mat

Bringing yoga off your mat into your life, one pose at a time.


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Garden Yoga: The Planting Pose

Gardening and yoga have a lot in common.

They both require focus, effort and sweat.  They both nurture a meditation where your mind can unravel and create.

They both can surprise you with spaces and places you did not expect.

For the past two years we have planted a garden.  I sprout the seeds in my kitchen bay window.  Much like my yoga practice, I have a routine.

It starts with seeds, coconut fiber growing pellets and some water.

sprouting Collage

 

I fashion mini greenhouses that end up looking like this…

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The window fills.

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They look pretty cool close up.

Close up seedling Collage

 

After a couple weeks they break free.

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Tomatoes. Snap peas. Jalapeno. Purple carrots. Yaya carrots. Zucchini.

 

The greens don’t need the mini greenhouses, they go straight into the soil.

seedling greens

Beets. Spinach. Arugula.

 

In the beginning of May the window seedlings find a home in the garden.

Snap peas. Tomatoes.

Snap peas. Tomatoes.

 

Everyday these plants will reach for the sun.  They will expand, flower and offer up food.  It is amazing and one of my favorite things to do.

Just like my yoga practice.

How does your garden grow?

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Buddha & Cilantro


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The Ironic Animal Pose

Puppy love. Pigeon toes. Going ape. Blind as a bat. Stubborn as a bull. Dog tired. Pony up. Busy as a bee. Old goat. Happy as a clam. Fish out of water. Barking up the wrong tree. Eager beaver. Hawk-eyed. Sitting in the cat bird seat. Horsing around. Monkey see, monkey do. Lion-hearted. Naked as a jay-bird.

And going on a lark. As I’m about to do now.

We attribute a lot of our human characteristics to animals. The animal kingdom holds up a mirror to humanity.  It helps us tell our stories.

Yoga is a great example. The asanas we move through are named after animals.

This pose…

 

is named Adho Mukha Svanasana and translates to Downward Facing Dog Posture.

 This pose …

 

is named Urdhva Mukha Svanasana and translates to Upward Facing Dog Posture.

Our practice is an ancient imitation of the animal kingdom. Animals naturally do yoga all the time. That very subject fuels many a goofy email chain.

Here’s the ironic animal point I’m working towards:

In my yoga-loving house, it is the animal that imitates people.

See for yourself.

It is as if my dog developed a kind of reverse yoga.

I am aware that I have become a pet owner who projects human thoughts and emotions on to her beloved animal. But considering the material, I couldn’t help myself.

If you are equally fascinated by my dog’s ability to conjure human expressions in photos, I would be happy to hear from you in the comments below.

 


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The Community Pose: Hey Ladies! It’s a Round-Up.

I prefer practicing yoga in a studio rather than at home. There is a sense of community that dwells there. Every person brings their own energy and every instructor has their own personality. A million little details allow each class to develop a life of its own. I like being a part of it. When I started practicing yoga, I didn’t realize how important that community would be to me.

The same thing has happened here. Originally, I started Off Your Mat as a writing exercise. I wasn’t tuned in to the blogosphere.  But since I took on this endeavor, I found I am suddenly part of a huge community. Each blog is a portal into someone’s unique, carefully created world and these worlds are not isolated.

My new virtual neighbors are warm and supportive. They reach out, give feedback and create opportunities to interact. I am thankful to be rubbing shoulders with some amazing talent.  No matter how different I might be from anyone one of these bloggers, I feel a kinship with all of these people howling into the abyss.

This week, to show a little hospitality, I am doing a round-up of the top 5 women’s blogs that completely inspire me.

Why just women?

Because I am one.

1) A Buick in the Land of Lexus

The first time I read A Buick in the Land of Lexus, I thought “this is everything my blog is not” and I loved it.  Samara is brash, ballsy, unapologetic and had front row tickets to everything I worshiped as a 20-something coming up in Philly.

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2) Andrea Reads America

You have to love someone who gives herself a reading assignment that includes 153 books. Reader, blogger, and essayist Andrea Badgley plans to visit the entire United States through literature. She will read 3 books set in each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. Brainy! She had me at “plus the District of Columbia.”

Also, she is collecting “Show Us Your State” stories for her Andrea Reads America website. Submission guidelines are here if you would like to participate.

 

 3) Bucket List Publications

When I say this girl gets around, I mean it in the best possible way. Lesley Carter is bright, brave, traveling and kind enough to bring us into her universe.

 

 4) Deborah Rose Reeves

She’s a poet and she definitely knows it.  An Irish writer living in Portland and sharing out.  I especially love her Writing & Reading Resources.

 

5) Yoga Peach

Keli is the busiest, nuttiest yogi I know.  I met her in yoga teacher training and I never know what she will be up to next. Clicking here might be the only way you can keep up with her.

 

Tell me about the blogs you love.  Tech? Music? Fashion? Sports? Niché hobby? Politics? Gardening? Don’t leave me hanging, I wanna hear about them.


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The Mother Pose

Around the age of 30, I apologized to my mother for my behavior between the ages of 13 to 19.  I felt it was the right thing to do.

At the time of my apology, I was single and had no children.  My empathy was not because I was going through the trials and tribulations of parenting.  It was perspective that prompted my act of contrition.  There were over ten years stretching between me and my distant adolescence. From my adult vantage point, I was appropriately ashamed.

Upon hearing my apology, just as appropriately, Mom laughed.  She accepted it though, with an all in a day’s work kind of response.  These days we still laugh about it.  But it was an important moment for us.

Mom & me

Mom & me

This year, I will be celebrating my 4th Mother’s Day as a mom.  Right now, my kid thinks I’m the bee’s knees.  She is so taken with me that there are times she will stop her constant busyness to hold my face in her sticky hands and tell me she loves me.  Over pizza the other day, looking at me across the pizzeria’s chipped linoleum table, she said, “Oh mommy, I love your eyes.”  Best pizza date ever.

I realize this will change. I do not look forward to it. There will be a day when she figures out I’m not so cool.  The prospect is chilling.

This particular fear gets me thinking about balancing poses.  There are days when your balance is off.  Even if it is not visible to others, balancing can become a truly daunting task when your mind is not right.

In a balance, our instructors might say, “Find your drishti” or “Soften your gaze” or “Breathe.” These are all great cues. But if you are wobbling away, drishti or no drishti, there are times when gravity or your own unsteadiness wins out and you just have to let go of the pose.

Looking back at those moments, I realize I get so caught up in my own thoughts about balancing, the act of balancing is impossible.  It goes something like this:

Here comes Tree. Ok, no big deal you’ve done this for years. Nothing to prove. Ok a little wobbly. Wait where is my drishti?  I like that spot. Or maybe I should look a little higher. Oops. Ok. ok. Little wobbly but graceful.  Trees blow in the wind. Am I throwing off the people behind me? Melting my shoulders down my back. What is that guy doing? a toe hold?  I can’t do that today. Should I try that? My foot hits the mat.

There are other days when I will literally float into a balance.  I honestly can’t recall what I might be thinking at those moments.  Its more of a feeling.  I am consciously taking all the cues.  Gazing softly at my drishti, breathing, relaxed, foot rooted, everything as it should be.  Bird of Paradise, here I come.

The difference between the two is in the first I am thinking about the moment, in the second I am in the moment.

So what does balancing have to do with my daughter’s impermanent adulation?

In yoga class, a drishti is an unmoving point of your choice that you focus on to assist your pose.  However, the full meaning of drishti isn’t limited to its use in yoga class. In Sanskrit, drishti can also mean a vision, a point of view, or intelligence and wisdom. Yoga Journal does a nice job of exploring the concept here.

Point of view. Wisdom. The only thing that allowed me to have the insight to apologize to mom for my teenage misdeeds and general jerkiness was my perspective.  My point of view gave me wisdom.

Today my daughter has made me the focus of her small scale idol worship.  (During the typing of this post she stopped me multiple times to look into my eyes, kiss my face and tell me she loved my ponytail.)  In a few years her perspective will change along with her opinions about my appearance. I could let the worry of all those changes headed my way trump this outpouring of child love. I could busy myself with what to expect instead of what is happening.

I choose, in this moment, to gaze softly upon this ever moving 3 year old vision that loves me, whether I’m wobbly or still.

 

I would love to hear about your favorite “mom” moment, whether it is about your mom or about being a mom. Please share in the comments.

 

Mother's Day 2013

Happy Mother’s Day!

 


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The Strongest Pose

Amy-Manta-I

I’m a fan of the woman pictured above.  She caught my attention in 2012 doing a photo shoot with plankton eating whale sharks in the Philippines. Now she has appeared again, popping up on my yahoo home page, floating in lotus pose above a giant endangered manta ray.

This visual act of beauty and bravery is begging the observer to pay attention. And we should. These activists are using yoga to send an important message.

That is one reason why I am sharing the picture here.  Sharks and rays are endangered. They are over fished and their numbers are dwindling. It’s difficult to see these well documented predators as victims and in need of our help. They do not appeal to our empathetic instincts. In short, sharks are the public relations nightmare of the animal kingdom. Regardless of their violent reputation, they are an important part of our ecosystem and need protection.

The other reason I shared this picture is because it draws me back to a very specific moment.

In the 1990’s, I was part of a small group of backpackers making our way through the Australian outback in a crowded Land Rover.

red center

Gathered at Australia’s Red Center

Setting up camp next to our vehicle

Setting up camp next to our vehicle

On one leg of our tour, we crossed the 1700 miles from Adelaide to Perth across the Nullarbor Plain. The Nullarbor is a flat, almost treeless, arid area between southern and western Australia, located on the Great Australian Bight coast.

I took this photo on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain with a disposable camera.

I took this photo on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain with a disposable camera.

I snapped this photo on the other side of the tree pictured above, peeking over the 200 foot drop of The Great Australian Bight.

I snapped this photo on the other side of the tree pictured above, peeking over the 200 foot drop of The Great Australian Bight.

We had stopped on a deserted peninsula in Southern Australia and were wading into the waters of the Indian Ocean. The closest town was about an hour away – and when I say town, I mean gas station. We were up to our hips in the clear, crystal blue water when a large dark form appeared, swimming about 20 yards away from us. Two of my fellow travelers grabbed their snorkel gear and headed straight for it. I headed for dry land.

Exploring the peninsula.

As much as I am a supporter of the shark’s cause, I’m terribly afraid of them. I’m not interested in swimming with them, photographing them or bumping into them under any circumstance.

Turns out it was a manta ray.  It stayed in the shallows, letting them observe it closely for about 15 minutes, then it disappeared back into the deep. When my friends returned to the ankle deep water, where I had staked my claim, they were exhilarated. They talked excitedly about the connection they felt with the creature and the gentleness of the giant fish. I was so excited for them.

But never, even for a moment, have I regretted my decision to leave that dark looming figure alone.

I love the ocean and adventure, however I will not subject myself to that level of vulnerability. The probability of that large swimming shadow being a Great White was a little too high for my taste.

Which brings me back to the amazing picture of the woman and the manta ray. She is so obviously vulnerable. It reminded me of a quote my sister brought home from a yoga class, “You are your strongest when you have made yourself vulnerable, because in that moment you are taking a risk for what you want.”

The essence of that statement is captured in the photograph of Amy Ippoliti and the manta ray. She took an enormous risk to raise our awareness. Her drive to bring attention to the plight of these massive animals gave her the strength to be vulnerable.

So many times we look at vulnerability as a weakness, when really it might be the strongest pose we can take.


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The Cooking Pose: Clay Pot Practice

Clay Pot Cooking and Yoga.

They are ancient. They are earthy. They are delightful.

Both require patience and hydration.

The pots themselves are a lot like yogis.  They come in all shapes and sizes and each is unique.

I stumbled onto cooking with a clay pot when I came into the possession of a Romertofp Pot along with a little recipe book.  Having never seen one before I was intimidated, so I let it sit in its box, tucked away, until I uncovered it during a move.

My clay pot

My clay pot

At the time I discovered the pot, I was experiencing my own little cooking renaissance.  Until then, I had never considered myself much of a cook. Anytime spent in the kitchen was for organizing salads or reheating someone else’s dish. Throughout college and the years following, I depended on other’s culinary skills and the miracle of take out.

On New Year’s Day in 2005 I checked my office voicemail from home to learn that the company I was working for had declared bankruptcy and the entire workforce was laid off.  Suddenly, I had a lot of time on my hands.

Sitting on my couch, avoiding my job search, I thumbed through a macrobiotic cookbook given to me by my sister.  It was my jumping off point.  Before I knew it, cooking became a daily obsession.  I loved hunting down hard to find ingredients, bringing them home and following the happy formula of the recipe.  Nothing gave me pause.  I cooked with seaweed, umi plum vinegar, kuzu root and miso paste.  I got bolder and started examining other cookbooks.  Soon I was steaming my own bagels, roasting beets and whipping up chicken tamale casseroles.  By Mother’s Day I had the culinary confidence to cook a full meal for 10 people.

It was around this time I found the clay pot, never unboxed, sitting in a lonely corner of my basement.  This time, I saw it with new eyes.  Finding the clay pot, earthen and humble, all but forgotten, reminded me of getting my first bike.  I had never ridden before, but I was dying to take it for a spin.

What does this have to do with taking our practice off our mat?

First, the word practice. I had weeks of cooking practice under my belt.  My practice gave me confidence to try something new, something that had previously been indecipherable and intimidating. Just like yoga.  As we build our practice on our mat, the impossible becomes possible.

Second, one of my favorite yoga instructors has a great way of articulating an instruction.  In class we will be holding a particularly long pose and she will invite us to take the pose to the next level by saying “because you can.” For example, we will be in a side angle bind, holding through a long count of 5 and she will say “Let your heart shine to the ceiling, because you can.”  Speaking those three little words, she is empowering us to take advantage of all our abilities. You’ve got muscles, strength, flexibility and will. Use it. Because you can.

Looking back, rediscovering my clay pot was a “because you can moment.  I didn’t worry about my lack of experience or the baffling simplicity of the pot itself.  I had the pot, I had an oven and I could cook.

Taking your practice off your mat isn’t always a conscious thing.  It is something you just do  – because you can.

Click here to check out an unbelievably delicious Clay Pot Indonesian Beggar’s Chicken recipe.


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Advanced Yoga: The Swimsuit Pose

I was 40 minutes into my interval strength power hour at my local gym. Twelve other women and I were completing a series of walking lunges followed by weighted squats that left my legs quivering. The teacher called out, “You all know why we’re doing all these squats, right?” Right on cue, in breathless unison we answered, “Swimsuit season!” Privately, I was a little disappointed in myself.

Swimsuit season. I have mixed feelings on the subject. It is right around this time of year, the snow melts, we start walking outside without coats, the trees begin to bud and this phrase gets used over and over again. You turn on the TV or open a magazine and someone is gleefully letting you know with a heavy hint of trepidation, “Swimsuit season is coming!!!! Are you ready?”

Every time we reach for a second helping or decide to skip the gym, we hear it. “Tsk. Tsk. Maybe you ought to rethink that,” a well-intentioned friend might intimate with a knowing tilt of the head, “you know, swimsuit season.” Or maybe, like me, it is just the voice in your head.

I’m assuming that you too, have a voice similar to mine that will occasionally bark out your worst fears or weaknesses. It might murmur at you about your lack of industry during a binge watching marathon. Or it might nag at you about your terrific ability to procrastinate when it comes to cleaning the bathroom. Swimsuit season is the voice’s time to shine. The voice, unfortunately, focuses on the negative and is not much fun.

This is one of those moments that I lean heavily on my yoga practice to stop myself from giving too much power to the voice. I could spend and have spent an enormous amount of energy berating myself and my ancestors for my short-legged genetics.

Instead, this is a perfect opportunity to take our yoga practice off our mat. It is important to recognize when the negative chatter in our minds is causing unneeded anxiety. Let’s use our yoga practice to turn this negative ship around and head for kinder waters.

“Practice gratitude”

How do you become grateful while we are baring it all in a swimsuit, under the brutal glow of fluorescent lights in a department store dressing room?

You do it by practicing gratitude.

Think of all the amazing places your body has carried you. Your body has been there for you. It might have stretch marks or be thicker than you wish, but think about all it has done for you. It has fought for you through illness, tingled for you during pleasure, hustled for you to keep your schedule, wiggled for you when you wanted to dance and let your heart pound when you fell in love. Thank your body for being there. Don’t shame it for showing signs of the life you are living. So maybe your arms aren’t perfect or maybe your hips are wider than they were when you were sixteen. So what? Honor your body by throwing back your shoulders, straightening your spine and letting it enjoy the summer.

Nice, right? It feels good to feel good about you. But maybe that little voice isn’t ready to surrender to positive thoughts. Maybe it has some more ammunition.

You have been there, sitting by the pool and she walks by. It doesn’t really matter who she is. It’s the fact that she looks stunning in her bikini and to add insult to injury, she is carrying her nine month old child on her cellulite free hip.

In a flash, the little voice can gain the upper hand. It might cause you to question your choice of swimsuit. You might start to shame yourself for not covering up your belly that day or choosing a suit that showed your thighs. You might suddenly feel embarrassed on your walk from your chair to the water.

How do we tap into our inner yogi at that moment?

“This is not a competition”

Swimsuit season is not a competition. Let me repeat. Swimsuit season is not a competition. This can be a confusing statement because here in America, we have been brought up on bathing suit competitions. (Thank you Miss America, Miss Universe and countless other pageants.) Everywhere you look online or on TV people are being judged on their appearance. It is the reality of our culture.

Yes, that woman at the pool has been dealt the perfect hand in the genetics department. You might not have been. But unless you have the celebrity status of Gwyneth Paltrow or Hillary Clinton, no one will be comparing pictures of the two of you on the pages of a national magazine. You are the only true judge in your life.

When you enter the yoga studio you learn very quickly that different people have different abilities. There are some poses that will come naturally to you, there will be others that you will always be working toward. For example, arm balances are a challenge for me. I marvel at other’s ability to effortlessly tilt into crow. Their ability does not make me feel less about my practice.

Let’s take that attitude to the pool. Do you really want to follow the negative train of thought that somehow, on some level, this lovely woman is better than you because she looks better in a swimsuit? No, you don’t. You and your body are better than that.

Think about the favorite people in your life, the people you truly admire. The people who changed your life for the better or made you who you are. Picture them in your mind. Think about why you love them.

Are any of them your favorite because of how they look in a swimsuit?

I’m hoping your answer is a definitive “No.”

Let’s take this swimsuit season off your mat. Practice gratitude. Remember this is not a competition. Our bodies deserve that and so do we.

You or your little voice might be thinking, “Easier said than done.”

That’s true, but aren’t most things worth doing easier to talk about than to actually put into practice?