Attitude Equals Latitude When It Comes to Your Workout

I will readily admit to not being a touchy-feely yoga instructor. I come from a rational family, my husband is a pragmatist and I find it hard to believe in auras and the like. I practice because it makes me feel amazing, and I teach because I want others to have the same feeling.

With this in mind, it was hard to find my zen as I prepared to teach my first yoga class of 2016. We just finished a headache-inducing move, complete with mismanagement at both the old and new apartment communities, and weren’t feeling completely settled. I found out that one of my favorite people at my job was leaving for a new opportunity. Suffice it to say, with a disorganized house and impending goodbye at work, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind – or so I thought – to lead a class.

We all experience days like that – your workout is the last thing you want to do, as opposed to getting a glass of wine with a friend and ranting until the cows come home. Not every day will be ideal when we have partners, kids, jobs and sometimes just general low-grade Seasonal Affective Disorder to compete with for our time and energy.

In those moments of “might don’t make it,” we have to rally around the right attitude. When life becomes stressful, even a brief workout can improve your mood by releasing endorphins. For me, my attitude changed once I hit the front door of the studio, which is not surprising since a recent study showed that the smell of happy sweat can improve your mood. I allowed myself to take the challenges of what was happening personally and apply that as a lesson for my students. By the end of class, as I sat on my mat facing the supine bodies and hearing their slowly regulating breaths, it hit me that I had turned my attitude around completely. By focusing on what I could contribute to the practice of those in the room, I’d unknowingly calmed the anxiety inside me. For the first time as a teacher, I was moved to (almost) tears by the power of wellness, even more so when I saw the glow on their faces as they exited the room.

Flickr user Fizzr
Flickr user Fizzr

My reminders to you:

  • You’ll never regret a workout once it’s done.
  • Get up and get moving, even if it’s only a 10 minute walk. 
  • Make your workout social – meet with a friend for a HIIT class, yoga session or walk in the park.

How do you motivate yourself when you’re just not feeling the workout?

 

Festival Review: 5K & Yoga at Wanderlust 108 in Houston

I mentioned earlier this year that one of my 2016 goals will be attending a yoga retreat, so when my mom said we should attend Wanderlust 108 in Houston, I was all over it. Wanderlust was on my radar but I thought they only went to the standard festival locations: Colorado, NY, beautiful islands with amazing views. Imagine my surprise and delight that they came to my hometown of Houston, Texas.

Wanderlust - me and mom

The experience was fantastic, and Wanderlust is now high up on the list of events I would attend again. Here a few of the fun-learned lessons from the event:

  • Plan to fail and have a sense of humor about it – My mom and I got all the way (30 minute drive) to event location and then realized we’d left our yoga mats at the apartment. At that point, all we could do was laugh at ourselves. Thankfully, Pravacana Mats was one of the vendors and we ended up with both a mat for the day and for the memories.
  • Accept what you can control and embrace what you can’t – Wanderlust billed the event as a “mindful triathlon,” starting with a 5K, followed by an hour and a half of yoga and ending with meditation. The forecast stated heavy rain all morning, but the event was going on rain or shine. Rather than drop out of the event, my mom and I went full force into the 5K. It started out cool and dry and halfway through the rain was coming in sideways. What can you do at that point but enjoy the natural cool down of the rain? Thankfully, it all cleared up for a lovely 90 minutes of yoga with Faith Hunter (a hilarious teacher who kept the energy high) and Brook Cheatem (who I need to go find, since she teaches in Dallas).
  • Recovery is as important as preparation – confession time: I am not a runner. In fact, I low-key dislike running long distances. Give me sprints and I’m a happy camper. So five kilometers of running had my hip flexors, glutes and thighs upset with me. The post-run rolling with TriggerPoint helped me focus on those trouble spots in a new way, and I plan to incorporate the lessons into my regular stretching routine.
  • Enjoy the moment – though I may be of the “look at me” generation, I have never understood the compulsive need to document every moment of my life on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Though it wasn’t very “yogi” of me, I wanted to smack the camera out of everyone’s hand during asana and tell them to focus not how cute they think they look but instead center in on the energy of 200+ people who want to enjoy the moment.
  • Say yes to new experiences – one of the sponsors, #ActuallySheCan, set up a trampoline and a photographer, which means of course I couldn’t say no. You can’t avoid new experiences for being afraid of how you’ll look to others!

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How to Do Yoga & Surf In the City

One of my 2016 goals is to attend a yoga retreat. There’s something about the thought of waking up on the beach, stepping out to truly salute the sun and then taking a dip in the ocean that puts me in the permanent “vacation” frame of mind. Plus, I want to learn how to surf! Until then, I’m stuck in the concrete jungle of Dallas.

Apparently, being in the relatively land-locked city doesn’t mean I can’t figure out how to find my center while challenging my balance. Last week, I found myself at City Surf Fitness down in Deep Ellum with a group of fellow fitness folks (gosh, I love alliteration), hanging 10 and trying not to tip myself like a little teapot right off the board.

Finding Balance at City Surf Fitness
Don’t I look really calm, as I try to work my guns? Alex of Just Alex (on my right) was a champ and kept me laughing the entire time. (Photo courtesy of Dallas Fitness Ambassadors Facebook page)

The very laid-back instructor, who looked and sounded exactly what you would think of a surfing coach, took us through several incarnations of the City Surf Fitness workouts: Big Kahuna, Beach Body Bootcamp, City Surf Circuits and Buddha Board. While I had a love/hate relationship with City Surf Circuits because of the way it worked my body from head to toe, as a yoga instructor, the Buddha Board held a special place in my heart. I could imagine myself out on the waves, finding my balance, as we moved through Warrior 2, Reverse Warriors and Child’s Pose. Sweat poured from my face and once I stopped rocking, I could sense an inner calm that belied my intense effort to find stillness.    After working up quite the sweat, we were treated to delicious juices and smoothies from Simply Fit Meals. The Almond Mylk was sweet without being overwhelming, thanks to the dates. I have a bag of dates in my fridge, waiting to be used in a homemade snack bar recipe. The Sweet Beet could have used a touch more sweetness, but when I added it to a smoothie, it was the ideal amount of flavor. Simply Fit Meals Juices - Dallas Fitness Ambassador I definitely need to try my hand (and foot) again at working the board. Check my Instagram to see if I make it! Thank you to the Dallas Fitness Ambassadors group for coordinating the workout, I’m hooked and I can’t wait for the next event.

What It Feels Like to Return to Yoga After a Hiatus

During training, we ate, slept and breathed yoga. Asana was the word of the day, all day long as we strove to understand every posture. Six months after finishing yoga teacher training, I’m immersed in functional fitness classes as I teach Sweat and Core classes at my home studio. Last year, 80 percent of my physical practice was yoga-based with 20 percent going toward weight training. That breakdown is now flipped on its head, and when I’m not in the studio teaching weight class, I’m in the gym with my fiance doing his regimen. Before I knew it, I’d gone nearly a month without taking any kind of yoga, which is a crazy-long time for me.

Last night, it was me and the mat and my Yoga Studio app. As I stepped to the top of my mat to begin an hour of class, my body automatically went to what it knew: shoulders back and down, chest lifted, breathing in and out deeply. Turns out, my time away doing weight work improved my practice. Upper body and core work helped stabilize Chaturangas and those taxing leg presses and weighted walking lunges meant I could get my thigh closer to parallel in Warrior positions.

Best of all, when I went to practice inversions – handstands – after the class ended, I got some hang time! For reference, just six months ago, I was either kicking over into a backbend or flailing. One key piece of handstand prep I found was from Kino McGrego (Kino Yoga); I’ve embedded it below.

Moral of the story: don’t be afraid to change up your fitness. Engaging in a range of exercises means you won’t get bored, cross trains your muscles and improves your performance. What are your two to three must-do exercise programs? How do they intersect? For example, do you find your Pilates classes complement marathon training?

Living as an Act of Necessity or Awareness

This post came to me when I was fighting a cold, wrapped up in two layers of blanket, tissue by my side and ready to share.

I shuffled into a yoga class, hoping the heat and movement would strike the ick from my system. In soothing dulcet tones, the teacher led us through a brief meditation on breathing, how to hone into our breathing.

“Inhale and exhale as an aware act. We breathe to survive, out of necessity. Instead of just taking the breath, make every breath an act of awareness.”

Such a simple idea, with life-changing effects. Today, on a beautiful Sunday, and as spring brings warm temperatures and blooms on the trees, the idea of living as an act of awareness echos in my spirit. Sunday is the day of the week that people begin to post memes about how “scared” they are that Monday is tomorrow, and with it the return to work. They joke that going to work will bring tears, stress, unhappiness, and they’re only living for the weekend. They are living their Monday through Friday as an act of necessity.

When you approach life with a spirit of gratefulness, you no longer see work or other obligations as a downer. I began taking yoga when I realized that this fear of an essential part of my life – my job – was taking over. The sense of dread that loomed over my spirit in the morning as I drove in and the sadness I felt on the way home after a mental beatdown became to much. My life was being lived out of necessity, not awareness.

In yoga teacher training, we started the day by stating our intention for the day. By focusing on how we felt, negative or positive, we named and claimed our disposition for the day. More often than not, we ended the day in a more positive headspace than in which we started.

In addition to setting an intention for the day, I recommend the following to start living your life as an act of awareness:

  • Gratitude jounaling
  • Move – I use the word move over exercise because whether it’s for the purpose of wellness or not, regular movement of your body makes you more creative and can be a building block to being more fit. Stuck in meetings all day? Make it a walking meeting.
  • Find hobbies and interests that give you release.
  • Spend time with friends and loved ones.

Purposeful living is an every day effort, and some days are easier than others. By taking an active role in your own life, you make the difference between deciding whether you dread every day or if you see every sunrise and sunset as an opportunity to feel awesome.

The Importance of Sensing Where Your Body Is In Yoga

When I began practicing yoga, I threw myself into it with the zeal of a neophyte. Much like other fitness-minded folks, I wanted to be the best: stretch the furthest, hold the pose the longest and generally be awesome. Instead of looking building and using strength in my practice, I relied on flexibility in my joints to get me into postures.

Post-training, after learning about prime movers – muscles that create the movement – and the proper alignment in many common postures – I approached my practice in a new way: using proprioception.

Proprioception is “the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.” In many yoga postures, you’ll need to be aware of specific body parts, from head to toe. For example, when in Warrior 1, you have to be aware of the following for your back leg:

  • outside edge of the foot pressing down,
  • hip rotating forward as you bring the hips square to the front,
  • and the muscles on the front of the thigh engaged to resist the urge to rely on flexibility to bring the front thigh to parallel.

Keeping awareness of these actions can take the mind away from centering. Through proprioception, you begin to sense that your hips are open to the side, rather than the front, and that your inner thighs aren’t working to keep you lifted.

Awareness of oneself, both physical and mental, takes a yoga practice from level 1 to level 10. Use these three tips the next time you’re on the mat.

  1. Take an assessment of your body. Use a mirror, and if there isn’t one nearby, use your mind to scan your body from head to toe. Has your knee gone over your toe in Bent Knee Triangle? Is one side of your body pulling forward in Twisted Chair pose? Make adjustments as necessary.
  2. Are your muscles engaged or are you relying on the body’s natural flexibility? Sure, you can balance in Half Moon, but it’s more powerful to use your obliques to stay lifted than to collapse and use the floor for stabilization.
  3. Back out of it. Part of honoring your body, day to day, is recognizing that maybe you’re not there yet. I had that experience with Standing Forehead to Knee. I just knew that I could get my head to my knee. I tried it several times, and had to accept that I had a death grip on my foot in an effort to extend the bent leg, compromising the goal of the posture.

Be fully engaged, listening to your body and honoring where it is. Until the next post, Namaste.

Adventures in Yoga: Teaching My First Class

I’d mentioned earlier this month that I was in a “name and claim” mood when it came to my development as a yoga teacher. Rather than be a bullhorn, I have selectively reached out to those who I know care about fitness. The one-on-one engagement has always gotten me more results, plus it saves me losing followers who don’t want to be “sold” on yoga.

Recently, in a conversation with my fiance’s cousin, I mentioned becoming active again in our sorority. I know she’s active in a graduate chapter, and I wanted to find out what activities the group performs in the community. By chance, she mentioned that the chapter holds fitness fundraisers after their monthly chapter meeting. *Ding!* My opportunity radar set off a loud ping; I dug deeper. After I asked her a few questions, she put me in touch with the woman who coordinates the workouts, who promptly asks me if I can teach a class…in 9 days. “Sure,” I say. “Not a problem.” Inside, total freak out.

Fast forward a few days and I’m leading my fiance through a series of postures and noting his feedback – he’s also fitness-minded, so I know he is thinking of the client experience in his comments. The day of, and butterflies are dancing in my stomach. Will I manage to get the words out of my mouth? Will they silently judge my teaching style? What if I forget something? Then, it was show time. And you know what?

I didn’t suck. Not even a little bit. In fact, I kinda kicked butt. We all did, together.

The ladies were comedians from the very beginning. Of the ten or so students, about a quarter had never done yoga and had no expectations other than a good time and a good work out. Once I put on the music, we found our groove easily. I made adjustments (something that always made me nervous in training), demonstrated postures and got sweaty myself. And I did forget one move…but no one knew it!

At the end, they called me Major Pain/Payne, and I loved it. High fives were exchanged and the kinetic energy that I adore was in the room. I was reminded all over again why I teach, and that was the best part.

Shout out to the ladies of the Collin County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. I am open to coming out any time. Check out our fun pictures below!

Regular smiles.
Regular smiles.
Fierce yogis!
Fierce yogis!

Starting 2015 on The Right Foot: Setting My Goals

Since I managed to make it into 2015 without doing a 2015 recap post – I’ve not completely dismissed the idea – I figured the first post of the new year can talk about how I’m setting myself up for greatness in 2015.

I gave myself a reality check toward the end of the year. In the span of one year, I graduated with an M.A., started a new job and had a knock-out first year AND completed 200-hour yoga teacher training. Suffice it to say, that’s quite a bit! Hours of studying, full weekends of practice and learning in the studio and sacrifice of time for the things that mattered most to me. So, I say “Clap, Clap!” for me. And….that’s enough. I do want you to remember to recognize your own accomplishments; even if you don’t tell anyone about them, acknowledge your awesomeness.

The year was transformative and I’m ready for the challenges to come!

Continue reading “Starting 2015 on The Right Foot: Setting My Goals”

Inspiration for Creating Your Community: From Running to Yoga

The majority of my career has been spent in fields where diversity is lacking: travel/tourism, public relations/marketing and yoga. Despite the limited number of professionals who look like me, I’ve managed to create a network of contacts, associates and friends who understand the unique challenges people of color face in our shared industry.

Yoga, both as a community of practitioners and as a career, is facing a critical review. Many students feel a sense of otherness while in studio. And while you can find many photogenic yogis on Twitter and Instagram, it’s not likely that you will find a brown or black face among the well-known teachers and leaders at yoga conferences and events. Yoga may bring to mind peace, love and good feelings, but it’s also a business and a billion dollar industry. It’s hard to get excited about investing in an fitness environment that prices you out and doesn’t embrace you when you do venture into a class.

Knowing the challenge of representation in the yoga community, the growth of running clubs started and run by African American men and women has given me hope for what could happen to yoga. Groups like Black Girls RUN!, Black Men Run and Run2Live created multi-city communities from people who felt unwelcome in mainstream running clubs but still wanted to participate in the sport. Black Girls RUN! has been on my radar for about a year now. While they’re runs are far too early for my blood (seriously, what does 4:45 a.m. look like?), I have friends who swear by the camaraderie of the group, clocking multiple-mile runs two to three times per week.  The same high they get, heels pounding the pavement and sweat flying while they surpass personal records and create memories, is what I’d like to see created for men and women of color in yoga.

Now that I’ve made the comparison, I will point out that yoga is a different beast. For starters, most people practice yoga in a studio, which can be a restrictive cost. Running starts at walking, which requires minimal equipment (shoes, hat, iPod for music). Issues about costs can be addressed by offering classes at a reasonable rate in the communities that aren’t being exposed to yoga. Additionally, the running groups participate in races, which is another layer of satisfaction – who doesn’t love the thrill of a race and getting a medal? Yoga typically isn’t associated with competition or awards. By setting and achieving individual and group goals, yoga can create that feeling of accomplishment that some derive from running.

I was lucky enough to be in a certification course with two other Black women. I’ve kept in touch to learn more about their experiences of being a student and in finding a place to be a leader. The USA Today article and the founders of the running groups have inspired me to create a network of independent and in-studio teachers of color. Though Dallas is not considered a major hub like an Atlanta, NY or DC, the city is fitness-focused and greater visibility of black and brown yogis can bring additional people into the fold.

What is the multicultural yoga community like in your city? Do you see a unity like the running groups, or is it more disjointed? What are you doing to create a more inclusive community?