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I’ve been dancing the 5Rhythms for two years now, but this past Saturday’s class felt like I entered a new realm of movement and expression, as though the past 24 months have been Level 1 of a video game, and only now have I been given the key to the secret portal.

I’m really struggling to put into words the pure awesomeness of my dance this weekend. And I’m a writer, so this means I’m dealing with some intense sh*t. I just keep imagining that scene from Contact when Jodie Foster stares out the spaceship window at the golden galaxy of stars, moons, and planets swirling around her, and all she can stammer is, “They should have sent a poet.”

Yoga people, you probably understand this. You know that moment after you’ve been practicing for a few years, and then you have a yoga “experience?” And you’re like Woah. And then something even more Woah happens in your body and breath, and you’re like, “WOAH, I get this now!”

Kinda like that.

Here are the tangibles: The class was held in an amazing restored warehouse with the brightest of bright sunshine streaming through the windows, warming up the expansive studio and causing our sweat to glisten like diamonds.

The guest teacher was Daniella Peltekova, a 5Rhythms teacher from NYC whose Bulgarian heritage blessed her with an exotic accent that, for me, sounded like a saucy hybrid between Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz. Every word she spoke was a verbal expression of Flowing. Her instructions filled the studio like water filling a tub for a warm bubble bath, and I just wanted to soak it all up.

The experience was surreal. When I first entered the studio, I felt like Alice walking into Wonderland. The room was warm, radiating with sunshine, the music was already pulsing, bodies were spinning and flowing around me.

Daniella played bass-filled, earthy, sensual music, punctuated here and there by loudness and softness, just the right combination of melodies and sounds and lyrics that I exhausted myself by the end of class because I wanted so badly to dance to every song.


Halfway during class, as we all sat sweating and glistening and drunk on dance, Daniella poised herself next to a shaft of sunlight and spoke of the beautiful space, the wicked sunlight around us, the full moon, Easter and Passover and things rising and coming to life. She noted that we were out of winter’s cold and darkness, the light is here (oh my it was), and that we didn’t have to do anything but be receptive. “The light is already here; just receive it,” she encouraged us in her Flowing voice.

I felt like a born-again Christian, but not quite sure of my religion. The words comforted me so deeply, I felt them rattle my soul, I wanted to believe but didn’t know what to believe in. Everything within me screamed Hallelujah! but instead of praying we danced, danced, and danced.

(cue the non-tangibles)

Daniella began a new round of Flowing from the floor, on our backs, instructing us to move just the hands, feel our flesh, explore our body’s largest organ. We roll onto our bellies, and from there I observe my loose strands of hair illuminated in the sunshine, doing their own wispy dance to the whir of the overhead fan.

The adventure into Wonderland continued, my body gliding by others, my arms intertwining with those of strangers, our audible, sharp Staccato breaths engaged in a dual of inhalations and exhalations. Palm to palm we gently push and guide and use our single hand to initiate a twisted tango.

Over and over again in my mind, I ask, “Where am I?” The light coming in the giant windows is blinding; I squint long enough to watch a woman across the street on her front porch paint a shelf, and my arms unconsciously imitate her strokes inside the studio. Up and down. Up and down.


Every song that plays is like one of Alice’s “Drink Me” bottles, and I gulp and gulp and struggle for a breath and gulp some more. Down the rabbit hole I dance; where the hell am I going? Is this a portal to reality? Or is it my imagination?

(See this video for an idea of how I felt for much of the class.)

When Florence + the Machine’s live version of “You’ve Got the Love” with Dizzee Rascal blasts through the room, I am thrust into reality because I am dancing so hard that I realize I am gasping for air, my face flushed. OK, yes, lungs. Lungs need oxygen, and this is real.

Reality stuns me again as I briefly partner with an older woman whose overarched feet, willow-like arms, and elongated neck are a dead giveaway of her former life as a classically trained ballerina, and I suddenly feel like I am dancing in front of a mirror of time, an image of me in 30+ years projected right in front of my eyes. I see her age, wisdom, the muscle memory in her calves and shoulders and torso, and I am her and she is me. For the briefest of moments I want to cry, an innocent, profound urge coming deep from my heart, one of pure lightness.

It is a wonderful encounter, and an invitation to see all of my other fellow dancers in the same light. Although my brain had trouble processing much of the class and labeled the whole experience as some kind of wacky adventure into Wonderland, in my heart, the afternoon felt like poetry, something more along the lines of this:

My work week ended on a not-so-good note this past Friday, and I knew that if I drove straight home from the office I’d end up eating my feelings and drinking too much beer. In fact, on my way home, Bryan texted me to ask what I wanted for dinner.

Stromboliiiii!” I wrote back, because that is what I crave when I am overwhelmed. I mean, stromboli is the perfect food representation of feeling out of control. You’re just a shell stuffed to the brim with crap, ready to expel your guts the moment someone pokes you the wrong way.

Fortunately, instead of listening to the little stromboli devil sitting on my one shoulder, I gave attention to the angel of yoga sitting on the other. She whispered in my ear over and over again on my drive home that I needed to drive to the local yoga studio, change into the spandex pants sitting in my car, and do some yoga.

I was a bit hesitant because I have not taken a studio class in a very long time. I am very self-conscious about my hip situation and generally prefer to move about my own way in the privacy of my home, where I can jostle my leg and pop my sacrum without feeling like I’m disobeying the teacher. But I knew that I needed guidance that night, so I paid the $15 drop-in fee to try a new class and new teacher. Before class, I gave her the whole spiel about my hip and the poses I have to modify and how I sometimes have to stomp like a zebra between postures to get my leg feeling normal again.

As I sat there on my mat during the opening mantra, I realized that I was actually nervous. It has been so long since practicing yoga in public, and I was just deathly afraid that I’d get caught in a sequence of hip-centric postures that I would struggle with. It was such a different perspective than my old days of yoga, when I’d plop down on my mat without the need for a block or strap and just do pose after pose ever-so-effortlessly. But now I felt like a total newbie, not sure what was going to lie ahead and whether I’d be able to do it.

However, once we began our ujjayi breathing, warming up the spine, and eventually rising into easy Warrior sequences, I was in The Zone. I had had work on the brain since 8 a.m., and for once, I was blessed with 75 minutes of just me and my movement. We plastered ourselves against the wall for a supported half-moon pose, and instead of poo-pooing the notion of using the wall for a balancing pose, I allowed my back and head to nestle against the surface like it was a luxurious mattress. How great it felt to be upheld without struggle.

The class felt like it zipped by, and before I knew it I was wrapped in a blanket, doing nadi shodhana before settling down into savasana. The instructor came around and dabbed essential oil on my temples, gently rocking my head side to side before letting to relax in the center. (<—–THIS is why going to a physical class is SO MUCH BETTER than practicing at home. Ahhh, those soothing savasana touches.)

The class was everything I could have asked for—meditation, asana, pranayama, and a few chaturangas but not so many that my scapula ached—but unfortunately the studio was a little cooler than I would have liked for a class titled “Inner Fire.” Studio temperature is often a deal breaker for me, because, seriously, I should not have visible goosebumps on my arms while covered in a blanket during savasana. I may give the class another chance, but this is the same place I broke up with during the summer because they ran the air conditioner whenever the temperature rose above 80. And then this is why I began practicing at home, in my upstairs yoga room, where it gets deliciously hot and humid.

But for someone in need of a quick fix, soaking in 75 minutes of yoga was so much more satisfying than throwing back a shot. In fact, by the time I got back to my car, I wasn’t craving stromboli anymore and instead ended the evening with a delicious mushroom/pea masala from our favorite Indian place and a glass of red wine.

When was the last time you ignored the “stromboli devil” and said yes to yoga instead?

I was supposed to attend an African dance class this afternoon, as I so excitedly gushed about last week, but I ended up on my living room floor doing this instead:

This is what happens when you’re in your 30s. You spend a Saturday shoe shopping–bending down, standing up, lugging a heavy bag around DSW–and the next day your shoulders and back are all f**ked up and you have to decide whether to take the dance class and risk hurting yourself further or stay home and do an hour of therapeutic yoga instead.

While I’m on the subject, let me just say that the above DVDs have my 100% total approval, and if you have any issues with your low/upper back, sacrum, hips, neck, or shoulders, these are most definitely something to have in your media library. My first experience with Gary Kraftstow was about 1.5 years ago, when I was looking for some kind of relief for my bum hip. I was browsing Netflix’s selection of yoga DVDs and read several good reviews about the low back/sacrum/hips workout, and let’s just say that I watched that DVD so many times that I probably have ownership rights to it now. I eventually returned the disc to Netflix and bought the DVD online, later buying the upper body one to complete the collection.

I recommend these DVDs all.the.time. If you tell me you have a back problem, you can bet I will be throwing Gary Kraftstow’s name in your face. The thing about Viniyoga is that it’s designed to be therapeutic, kind of like a physical therapy regimen but with yoga postures. Each of the DVDs has three routines, ranging from 20-something minutes to about 50, and each workout is crafted specifically to help the affected area; the postures are meant to be done in the order they are presented. There is nothing fancy about the workouts, no bells and whistles, no music, no candles, no om’ing in and chanting out, no studio full of yoga models sporting the latest Lulu. It’s either a man or woman doing the postures and Gary’s voiceover giving the instructions. It’s boring as hell…but very effective, just like physical therapy.

If you are diligent about the practice and do the workout(s) regularly, I can almost guarantee you will feel progress/relief (however, I am not a health care practitioner, and this is just my 2 layperson’s cents). I did the low back one almost daily for about a month, because at the time my hips were all kinds of crooked and my sacroiliac joint was always popping one way or the other. I didn’t always feel relief immediately after doing the workout, but throughout the day I would feel things settling into place. Like today, I do a workout anytime I feel “out of sorts,” when my body feels like a car that’s driven over one too many potholes. Nine times out of 10, something in my sacrum/neck/spine always gives a desirable pop or crack of relief when I rise from savasana.

So, no African dancing for me this week but I had a nice, long date with Mr. Kraftstow (did both a low back AND shoulders routine!) and did these dancey-dance things instead:

• Subscribed to Conscious Dancer magazine.

• Discovered Nia and Dharma Dance teacher Susan McCulley’s blog, on which she posts some excellent playlists that have made their way to my Grooveshark menu.

• Discovered the music of Cryptex, which made me dance so much that now I’m certain the floor in our 80-something-year-old house is going to fall through.

Last Friday, I posted this message on Facebook and Twitter:

I’m getting my semi-annual “I’m losing control of my life” panicky feeling where a million things happen at once & I start to withdrawal 😦

Now, realistically, things aren’t that out of control. I have friends who are doing a ton more than me or who are going through some huge life issues, and I should just be counting my blessings that I’m not in grad school or caring for an insomniac toddler or having to approach HR about taking family medical leave (all real-life instances among my circle of friends). For the most part, the panic is just all in my head, and I’m letting stupid things get to me. I’m sweating the small stuff.

That’s why when I found out that Laughter Yoga leader Bob Pileggi was coming to town again, I knew I had to attend his class. I took one of his classes back in October, and the effects were immediate. It’s no secret that taking in more oxygen makes you feel good, and that’s the whole point of Laughter Yoga: to loosen up, open the lungs, work the diaphragm, and BREATHE! Suck in the air, let it out, and feel the ripple effects of all those sweet inhalations and exhalations. Everyone’s heard of a runner’s high, and it’s not that far off from the feeling one gets after Laughter Yoga. You get that same oxygen-induced buzz–almost a giddiness–minus the disgusting sweat and painful shinsplints.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the class this time around; most of the exercises and my reaction to them are described here.

This particular class, however, had significantly more people, which certainly added to the experience. There were more eyes to connect with, more bellies to watch shaking. I even joked that one man had to have been the paid “decoy” because he was just so committed to the practice, his eyes twinkling, his laugh so hearty that every time I heard it I couldn’t help but double over myself.

We closed class by lying on our backs, our legs propped up comfortably on several folded yoga blankets, with just one instruction from Bob: “When I say ‘start,’ begin laughing and don’t stop until I say so.” What usually happens is that the first few seconds are a bit forced, simply a physical practice of vocalizing and pumping the belly. Then comes that tipping point, the moment at which something–usually someone’s cute little giggle or a bowl-full-of-jelly Santa Claus rumble–just sets everyone off, and the scale tips toward the truly authentic, gut-busting laughter. And I don’t mean a texting “LOL,” I’m talking about LOLFR–laughing out loud fer realz. Head thrown back/back arched/eyes crinkled laughing, the kind you get when it’s late at night, you’re a bit slap-happy, and you and a friend decide to apply Transformers tattoos on each other:

Bob always starts class by asking us to check in with our bodies and mind, to list on a scale of 0 to 10 how present and open we feel. I came into class as a 3 and just an hour and 15 minutes later was boosted to an 8. To tell you the truth, I’m always pretty resistant at the start of any kind of class, but I kind of see these endeavors as “therapy,” and know that by the end I will usually feel a million bucks better. Actually, even just a few minutes into class–after some simple deep-breathing exercises and a bit of meditation–I was already shedding my armor.

I used the lessons from the class later in the evening, when I was forced to park blocks away from the take-out restaurant where I was picking up my dinner. The walk I didn’t mind; it was the frigid wind chill that initially had me shouting expletives in the wind. I tried trading a f*** for a chuckle, and you know what? It made me feel better. Not warmer or less windblown, but just a little better.

Ever think of just laughing off a particularly annoying situation?

I could probably do this every morning on my drive to work, when I’m almost always stuck behind a slow-moving school bus/garbage truck/oil tanker.

Being an editor for a publication about gerontological health care, not a day goes by that I don’t read something about aging. Cognitive impairment, mobility limitations, incontinence, falls, digestive/musculoskeletal problems…all sobering stuff. Sometimes I let it get to me, and I think, Holy crap, I am 31 years old. In this era of technological achievements, it is very possible that I could live two.more.cycles of my current lifetime. And while research is certainly advancing and more and more therapies, treatments, and interventions are being developed, aging is still aging, and even the most expensive procedures or drugs can’t stop the human body from…changing.

I struggled with the last word of that last sentence, changing. I originally wanted to type deteriorating, failing, or decaying, but those are all such negative words. For some older adults, even those whose bodies are gradually shutting down, a shift in perspective prevents them from falling into a pit of hopelessness. This mindset–resilience–“is an important concept to consider as the life span increases so [health care providers] can coach older adults in attaining life-course perspectives that help them maintain positive adaptation in the face of adversity” (p. 9).

Even the American Psychological Association, whose publication manual we use for editing, seems to follow this line of thinking: “Use emotionally neutral expressions,” the manual advises. “Objectionable expressions have excessive, negative overtones and suggest continued helplessness.”

I distinctly remember during the first week on the job my manager explaining to me how we are never to use the word suffer, as in, “suffering from bipolar disorder,” or victim, as in “stroke victim.” Think of all the people you know who have arthritis or hypothyroidism or ADD. Are they all “suffering”? When I hear that word, I think of someone huddled helplessly in a corner or shuffling dejectedly down the street.

However, plenty of people choose wisdom over despair. Although it doesn’t stop the skin from thinning or the muscles from atrophying, wisdom is just a different way of viewing the inevitable changes of life:

Despair is the unchallenged acceptance of negativity. Negative life events are viewed without a search for greater meaning. Losses are carried as heavy burdens from which one does not recover. Where wisdom calls for recovery from loss, despair is immobilized by the fear and anxiety triggered by loss. (p. 25)

I know it’s easy to write all this stuff when I’m still young. But after five years of editing articles that show both sides of the coin, I’m determined to be wise and resilient when I grow up. Here are some people I look to for inspiration:

Tao Porchon-Lynch


She’s a 90-something yoga master who also decided to add ballroom dancing to her CV…at age 87. A short and sweet interview with her is available here on the Kripalu Perspectives podcast page.

Age of Champions cast

Age of Champions – Trailer from Documentary Foundation on Vimeo.

I haven’t watched this documentary yet, but it features the stories of a 100-year-old tennis champion, 86-year-old pole vaulter, octogenarian swimmers, and team of basketball grandmothers all competing in the National Senior Games. This may be more interesting than the 2012 Summer Olympics!

Gotta Dance team

Photo credit: Gotta Dance & NBA Entertainment

I already gushed about this documentary here, but in short, the movie documents the inaugural season of the NETsationals dance team, a group of 13 seniors ages 59 to 83 who dance hip hip for the New Jersey Nets. The number on their jerseys represents their age. (I’m looking at you on the right there, Little Miss 81!)

5Rhythms Elders

My 5Rhythms instructor used to live in London and was part of the 5Rhythms Reach Out, which brings the practice to special populations such as older adults, children, and prison inmates. The video above is super sweet, and even if you don’t have time to watch the whole 7 minutes, at least just watch a few snippets. The average age of the adults in the video is 75, and their movement is a heartwarming indication of the expression and emotion that still lives inside of us, even when our body may not be able to jete across the room.

My 90-Year-Old Grandmother

No, not my grandmother, but Adam Forgie’s grandmother. She’s become an Internet sensation after her dance tribute to Whitney Houston went viral. According to Adam, grandma is nearly blind from macular degeneration, partially deaf, and has a hip replacement. But she still “wanna dance with some somebody.” And with such soul, too!

If it were up to me, I’d be a lifelong Peter Pan and never grow up, but because I’m not a cartoon character, the least I can be is as spirited as these folks above.

Do you have anyone you’d add to this list of resilient older adults?

I don’t meditate as much as I’d like, especially because there used to be a time when I’d allow myself a solid 15 to 30 minutes almost every night to sit. Nowadays, my meditation is much more spontaneous than it is planned, and it usually occurs after a particularly satisfying home yoga practice or dance session.

As was the case last week.

As the clock struck 5, the evening felt like anything but a time to sit still and meditate.

I stayed at work way too late–I had finished “working” at the usual time but stayed glued to my computer for an extra hour, trying to catch up on everyone’s Twitter, blogs, and Facebook. I got sucked into the social media time warp and was disgusted with myself as I drove home in the cold and darkness. When I got home, all I wanted to do was Eat All the Things! I was especially craving a big, fat vegetarian stromboli, thanks to perusing a take-out menu that had come with the day’s stash of mail. I was already in a funk; I imagined myself just caving fully into that funk, devouring my sloppy stromboli cocooned in a nest made of blankets and soft pajamas and slipper socks, an episode of my latest Netflix guilty pleasure playing on the TV screen.

For a few seconds, that vision felt wonderful. But then I got realistic.

Really? You’re going to feel better after reading stupid Facebook posts all night and then stuffing your face with a greasy pocket of cheese? Really, Jen?

Image source: Flickr, willieabrams

I actually said aloud, “Do some yoga, Jen. Just go upstairs, do some yoga, and after an hour of some deep breathing see if you really still want that stromboli.” If the desire to be a sloth for the rest of the evening was still present after yoga, I knew it was meant to be. Yoga always sets me straight.

I opted to do one of my favorite Kripalu-at-Home yoga classes, an hour of moderate vinyasa flow with Coby Kozlowski.

Coby does these beautiful arm movements during one of the most intense poses, utkatasana, and I find that throwing a bit of upper body flow into the pose makes it much softer. Also, the last time I did this class, I remember feeling a bit uncomfortable during Warrior I, which she does in traditional Kripalu fashion, with the foot facing forward, ball of the foot pressed into the mat and the heel up. This time, I moved into the more well-known Warrior I, with the entire foot pressed firmly into the mat, turned out on an angle. What a difference! I felt so much more steady and enjoyed the sequence more than I ever have. Duhhhh. Listen to your body, Jen. Just because Coby does it one way doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same.

By the time we were on our backs for bridge pose, I was feeling pretty good. I felt present, and I was fully aware of my shoulder blades pressing evenly into the floor. I sunk easily into savasana, and when the video ended and the room became silent…

…I allowed the silence to continue.

I wanted to prolong this feeling of contentment and stillness. I felt cocooned, but not in a pajamas/blanket/pizza kind of way, but a cocoon of connection. My mind, body, breath, and brain were all connected, and, damn, it felt pretty good. Strombolis were the furthest thing from my mind.

And like that, without planning it out or setting up bolsters or timers or exotic music, I began to meditate.

I didn’t think too hard about it, and I tried not to force myself into getting into “the zone.” Many of my meditations result in me seeing a beautiful indigo glow that keeps growing and growing until I am immersed in a bubble of bluish-purple behind my closed eyes, but I didn’t want to force an outcome. I just wanted to be. I focused on my breathing, the physical sensation of air entering and leaving my nostrils.

For most of the sit, that’s all it was. My inhales and exhales. There were no colors or indigo pulses. I was OK with this. There was no chatter, and that’s all that mattered.

Then, out of nowhere, a very vivid image of an acquaintance flashed before my eyes. I rarely converse with this person, and our lives hardly intersect. But now this person was suddenly right there, in my face.

This person lives a simple, frills-free life. I know this person does not go home and stare at the computer screen, eyes glazing over from too many hours watching a Twitter feed continue to refresh. This person doesn’t get caught up in celebrity drama, fashion dos and don’ts, and all the mumbo jumbo that bombards our TV screens and radio waves. I’m pretty sure this person keeps work at work and doesn’t mentally carry home the petty woes and whining associated with a day on the job. I sometimes find myself questioning this person’s life because it just seems so…empty? Or maybe that’s MY definition of it, because my life has all these silly distractions and unnecessary, First-World mental dilemmas, like, Oh my god, I already had a Chobani at lunch; I can’t possibly get frozen yogurt later after dinner!!!!

Yet this person has the kindest smile, the softest voice, and always seems under control. Things get done, but not with teeth gritting or exasperated sighs or excessive eye-rolling. That evening as I meditated, it hit me that this person has many Buddhist qualities, a presence and peacefulness that says, “Everything is as it should be.”

Without warning, tears stung my eyes, yet before I could respond to this sudden punch of emotion, they were gone. Images of the person lingered in my brain, and for a moment I found myself wanting to embrace the qualities of this person that I so often dismiss and raise my eyebrow at. In my meditation, this person was a bodhisattva, an enlightened being, and I felt far from ever being considered the same. It gave me a new respect for this person but also disappointment in myself, and yet hope for self-improvement.

When I had first escaped upstairs to do some yoga, I never imagined I’d be coming back downstairs with a satisfying yoga and meditation session completed, a newfound and oddly deep appreciation for a semi-stranger, and a stirring connection with the elements of Buddhism.

The desire for the stromboli and a TV date with Netflix had passed, and instead I made myself a simple egg and cheese sandwich with a side of clementines, and sat down at the kitchen table to read the newspaper.

I love when music guides me into a surprise workout.

Like sitting in a patch of sunlight on the living room floor on Sunday morning, stretching around aimlessly in my pajamas, not quite sure how to wake up: Yoga at home? Yoga at the gym? A walk?

I put one of my new CDs into the stereo:

Something in the music stirs me; I rise to my feet. I am doing sun breaths facing the window, the sunlight on the white curtains like a celestial spotlight on my body. My torso sways, my legs join in. I am stretching up and down, my arms undulating like snakes. I am breathing fully, inhaling as my chest reaches upward, exhaling as I curl myself down. Now I am doing small chainé turns right and left. I am marching in place, but with grace. Before long, I realize I am dancing. The music is no longer an external factor; it has downloaded itself into my brain and spread throughout my body. I no longer think about what to do; I just let myself be, and the movement comes to me.

Still dancing, I reach for my yoga mat. I carry it to the center of the floor upright and with honor, like it is the Olympic flame. I unfurl it as the music swells. Soon I am flowing, sun salutations in the sun, my muscles coordinating themselves with the music. I have never heard this album before, but my body already feels one with it. My cobras and locusts feel so high; physically, they aren’t spectacular but inside I am flying. I am open from the crown of my head to my toes. The chorus keeps repeating “Shine.” I allow myself to do just that.

As the last track ends, the CD stops spinning and the music stops. An hour has gone by, and I no longer have to think about how to wake up. The album didn’t lie. It was certainly Automatic, an instant linkage of music to breath to movement.

I usually go to bed on Saturday night feeling guilty about all the errands/chores I never got to and all that I’ll need to cram into Sunday, but ya know what? NOT THIS WEEKEND.

It was 60-something degrees this Saturday, a rarity in the Northeast in January. After a few days of an “Arctic blast” in the region–complete with snow on Thursday morning–this kind of meteorological surprise was permission for anyone with Christmas decorations still up in their house (::cough::me::cough::) to just let it go. Tree in the living room, stockings still hanging? Let ’em stay…I’m going outside to play!

Inspired by Meg from Spirit Moves Dance, yesterday I gave myself permission to:

• Wake up naturally, without an alarm clock.

• Do yoga in my pajamas for an hour.

• Cut back on the chaturangas in the yoga podcast when my sore scapula began speaking to me.

• Feel ever-so-content standing in a super-steady and grounded dancer pose, even if my lifted leg doesn’t go as high as it did 5 years ago.

• Add not just almond butter but pumpkin butter, raisins, prunes, banana, and a handful of Kashi GoLean Crunch to my bowl of oatmeal.

• Sit on the computer for two hours, but do so writing meaningful blog posts.

• Download Foursquare on my new BlackBerry, use it to check into a handful of places, decide that I hate the application/concept, but then later reconsider its usefulness (i.e., to remember what I did/where I went over the course of time, because my memory sucks).

• Go on a long and leisurely 5-mile walk with Bryan, occasionally bumping into him as I stared skyward to look at planes.

• Decide to take the “long way” on our walk home, because it was just that nice outside.

• Stop at the Pooch Park to watch strangers’ dogs frolic and romp, secretly hoping someone would come along with a pug. (We’re satisfied with the two puggles we saw, though.)

• See the giant orange sun set on one side of the sky as the nearly full moon began to glow on the other.

• Go to California Pizza Kitchen for dinner, even though I swear every dish must have bacon fat folded into it, considering their calorie counts. (Roasted veggie salad = Amazing, and probably not so bad if you get the dressing on the side.)

• Ask my dining companion for one of his pizza crusts to fulfill my need for some kind of carb to accompany said salad.

• Use my new BlackBerry for entertainment/diversion when waiting for a table at CPK, even though minutes earlier I had blasted society for being so obsessed with their smartphones.

• Spend an hour at a music store that’s going out of business listening to/selecting discounted CDs (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides soundtrack, Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack, Radio Retaliation [Thievery Corporation], Empires, Automatic [VNV Nation] <— thanks to Meg for introducing them to me!!).

• Get frozen yogurt in January from our favorite self-serve place.

Honestly, that last one is the most accurate barometer of them all. If I’m OK eating a frozen treat in the middle of winter…yeah, it’s probably a good day.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I came home from work last Wednesday utterly drained and so blah-diddy-blah, I was actually in the throes of PMS. Once a month, usually a few days before my period arrives, there is “Tired Day,” usually in the middle of “Rage [I Hate Everyone] Day” and “Hungry [Eat All the Things!] Day.” No matter how much coffee I consume or how many hours of sleep I get, if it’s Tired Day, I will be on zombie mode.

My first instinct when I came home that day was to immediately put on my pajamas and go to bed. Screw dinner. After all, Hungry Day wouldn’t arrive for another 12 hours! But something inside of me persisted, urged me to at least try to do something physical. I knew better than to push it, and I had no intention of even lifting a dumbbell or holding myself in a chaturanga. Then I remembered the CD I had purchased at Rudy Peirce’s yoga workshop last month, an 80-minute beginner-friendly gentle yoga class. I had yet to try it out, waiting for the perfect moment when such a practice would be appropriate.

That moment had arrived.


The practice is s-l-o-w. Circa-2004 Jennifer would probably hate the CD and throw it out the window in favor of a hot and sweaty ashtanga class. The postures are nothing new, nothing crazy. There are many moments of stillness to allow for integration. We bend to the right. We hold. We breathe. We release. Repeat on the left.

I don’t know if it’s because I know Rudy from Kripalu, whether it’s because I swear his voice alters your brainwaves into a meditative state, or (shocker!) maybe I just needed this type of practice, but man, I felt goood throughout the entire CD, like I was giving myself some kind of yogic massage. Each breath, each stretch, each hold seemed to release a “stickiness” in me, sometimes a physical stickiness in the back or shoulders or an emotional stickiness. The more I followed Rudy, the clearer my foggy head felt, as though each posture were plucking a cotton ball from my brain.

How could it be that I came into this practice so tired, and yet the more I moved the more full of energy I felt? Not an “I’m-gonna-dance-all-night energy,” but just a “Wow, I-feel-alive!” kind of energy? I was moving from zombie to human with each asana, and I loved the feeling so much that when the first 40-minute segment ended (my original self-imposed endpoint), I let the CD keep spinning and continued into the next 40 minutes to complete the entire practice. I even sat in meditation for a few minutes after the CD slowed to stillness, compelled to work with this newfound energy for as long as I could.

Slowing down is difficult for me, and most of my life I always feel like I’m running late to something. For example, last night I went into Philly with my friend to see a show. The second we got off the train in the city, I began booking it to the theater. Now, give me some credit, it was mighty chilly outside and walking fast helped keep me warm, but for some reason I felt like we were running late to the show. The performance started at 7; we walked through the theater doors at 5:58. The box office hadn’t even opened yet. Oops!

I just have a tendency to want to be fast. I drove past a girl running through the park yesterday morning, and for a split-second I really, really missed running. It was cold outside, and the girl was dressed in her black running tights, an Under Armor mock turtleneck, and her winter running hat. I recalled running in the cold-weather months, how I loved that feeling of warming up by running fast on a chilly December morning. Man, to be fast again, I thought.

However, as much as it sucks to have hip issues, maybe not running is some kind of life lesson for me, an invitation to just slow down. Maybe my walking practice is supposed to be the Rudy Peirce version of running, a meditative practice in enjoying the breaths between each step.

Actually, were it not for my long walks, I would never have the time to listen to some of my favorite iPod selections. Through walking, I am given the opportunity to listen to Christmas carols as I stroll through neighborhoods lit up for the holidays and some of the most intriguing/hilarious/inspiring podcasts. Right now, I’m addicted to NPR’s Radiolab, where each episode covers some mind-blowing aspect of science that leaves your jaw on the floor. For instance, the other day I listened to a story on the origin of AIDS and its spillover into the human race, a frightening account of a woman with transient global amnesia who couldn’t form new memories beyond 90 seconds, and a poignant story of a young man named Kohn whose voice was significantly altered after a childhood accident.

Coincidentally, the title of that last episode?

Slow.

I feel like I should have a little check-in with myself every month to review where I am with my yoga practice; in short, Am I doing it?

I rarely go to studio classes anymore, for many reasons: (a) I feel like I know enough to guide myself through a practice; (b) sometimes class times don’t jive well with my work/commute schedule; (c) I’m annoyingly picky about studio temperature/teachers’ voices/teachers’ word choices (i.e., “goddess,” “divine,” and any talk of angels will have me squirming in my savasana); and (d) I’m self-conscious about my hip and the fact that sometimes I have to stop what I’m doing and jostle my leg around to snap it back into place…and sometimes that takes quite a few jostles.

The one exception I made, starting back in October, was to sign up for a 5-week kundalini yoga series. I knew the teacher from a tai chi series I took two years ago, and she is very accommodating to injuries/limitations/modifications, as she herself has faced several physical challenges. I told her straight off about my hip and how I’d be using blankets to prop me up and may have to stop every so often for the jostling, all of which she was totally cool with. I was so happy when she guided us through frog squats but made a point to demonstrate that one doesn’t have to go all the way down to the floor and can simply hold onto their calves.

I was glad that I had registered and paid for the class beforehand, which kept me from bailing out. The class didn’t start until 7:30 p.m., and at times I struggled leaving the house after it was dark outside and I felt settled in for the night. Fortunately, the studio is less than 10 minutes from home, so I never felt like it was a burden to drive to class. Another plus: I always, always, ALWAYS left class feeling a million times better than when I started. I’m sure my husband noticed that the cool-as-a-cucumber woman who entered the front door at 9 p.m. was not the same as the one who trudged out at 7:15.

We started every class with an aura-strengthening kriya, which the teacher recommended doing every day, not only to keep our physical self healthy but our energetic body as well. I took her words to heart and have started every morning with the set, especially because I find there is a lot of negative energy floating around this time of year, with harried holiday shoppers, disgruntled cashiers, and many meet-ups with friends and family who may be energy vampires. Also, on a physical level, ’tis the season for unwanted germs!

Over the course of the 5 weeks, we also practiced the “Sa Ta Na Ma” meditation for 12 minutes; the “Breath to do when you don’t know what to do” (inhale thru nose, exhale thru nose; inhale thru mouth, exhale thru mouth; inhale thru nose, exhale thru mouth; inhale thru mouth, exhale thru nose); a Celtic energy clearing (while standing, wave hands above head, over heart, over stomach, in front of knees, behind knees); and a gong meditation, first to a recording of a gong, then later to an actual gong. I found that the gong meditation really stirred up some stuff inside of me, because at times it was really, really loud, maddening, almost. It was chaos in my mind, and I found myself wanting to scream along with the jarring sounds, not because it bothered me but because it was just stirring up some residual emotions. But then when the gong slowed and became soft, so did I. It was interesting to fluctuate between the two very different sounds.

I loved everything about the series and only wished it were a permanent class. I was really bummed when the 5 weeks were over, but I try to do a little kundalini every morning after waking up.

***

During the process of writing about my Kripalu experience, I began to crave more Kripalu-based classes. I wrote about finding a Kripalu class on YouTube, and then shortly after that I found the actual Kripalu-at-Home website, which offers videos of 7 different, full-length yoga classes.

I had done Devarshi’s moderate/vigorous one previously, and I’ve since tried Megha’s gentle class (a little too introductory for me, but probably great for beginners; also just wonderful to hear Megha’s voice again!); Jurian’s moderate class (her theatrical voice is perfect for leading class; fun practice, but so glad I was in my living room because there was a lot of hip-jostling going on); and Coby’s moderate vinyasa flow (REALLY loved this one, especially her utkatasana series). Others available but that I haven’t tried yet are Sudha’s restorative class and two vigorous classes, one from Danny and the other by Jovinna. Coby’s class is my go-to video when I’ve looking for a flowing practice, and if I crave a little more power, I just throw in my own chaturangas in between the planks and downdogs.

In fact, I practiced with Coby this morning, when, after waking up late and doing some stretching in the living room, out of nowhere I felt the urge to do a full practice. I actually put off from drinking my morning coffee for an hour so I could take class! That says something!

***

As I wrote previously, November also marked a yoga workshop with Rudy Peirce. I’ll admit, it was nice to be in a studio setting and work with others, especially a workshop setting where things are more hands-on and instructive. Even better was meditating with others, because otherwise it’s so hard to sit still! I bought one of Rudy’s gentle yoga CDs so I could take home the experience, and I also bought a new yoga mat to replace the Gaiam one that I keep slipping and sliding on. Several months ago I had posted about the quest for a new mat, and several people commented about the wonders of Jade. This studio happened to specialize in them, so I picked out my favorite color (red) and brought the new guy home with me.

The studio owner warned me that it would need to “air out” for a while to get rid of the rubbery (not chemical) smell. Boy, was he right! I’ve been airing it out for about 3 weeks and it finally seems ready to use. Not that I couldn’t have used it earlier, but the thing made the entire living room smell like new tires.

***

Finally, although this type of yoga doesn’t require a mat, I spent two Thursdays in November participating in the final two practice teach classes of YogaDance teacher-in-training, Nikki (who actually is now a full-fledged Let Your Yoga Dance teacher; she graduated this past Friday!). Nikki deviated from her prescribed class outline during the final class and taught something she created herself instead, and the authenticity showed! I didn’t realize that her previous classes were not her own (the outline was chosen for her), because she did so well leading them. However, when she taught a class full of music and choreography that was her own, her true spirit emerged, and it was so fun to be a part of this creative awakening. She has plans to eventually teach a weekly YogaDance class at a nearby studio, and I hope I can be a part of it. YogaDance reminds us that yoga doesn’t always have to be about sun salutations and downdogs; it’s about taking time to connect body and breath, movement and spirit.

…That said, I do like the way that hatha yoga stretches and strengthens, and I would like to incorporate that a little more into my life. We’ll see during the next yoga update if I managed to do that in December!

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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