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Five years ago on this day, I wake up from a dream about spiders and Kripalu. Morning sadhana is with Roger, a slow but stretchy class. Delicious, very spine-soaking. It felt like it was a 2-hour class, but I could have gone on forever.

Posture clinic with shoulderstand and fish. After Rudy demonstrates sarvangasana, Megha put on some “upside down” song, and we did a pantomime dance on our mats. “I spend more time planning goofball things to do in between sessions rather than the program itself,” she jokes.

Megha, the goofball guru

***

We do a 15-minute meditation with Rudy, during which I have a sudden flash of that icky spider dream. I hadn’t remembered it until then. A huge, black tarantula dangling off my hand. Aside from that, meditation felt great. I need that still time. I hear my cracks and pops as I settle and calm down. It is sunny and warm today. In the sun it feels like 65 degrees. Feeling better.

I eat lunch outside, soaking up the sun and warmth, eating my Asian tofu stir-fry with J. Amazing. The trees are almost bare, but it is spring weather. I didn’t even need a jacket. Afterward, I call Reservations and extend my stay by a day. I’m now leaving November 18, a Saturday, which means I can do one final DansKinetics! I figured that instead of losing both my friends and surroundings at once, I’ll take it in steps. I think making that decision put me in much better spirits.

***

Jurian’s birthday is today, the third during the program. We sing the Birthday Song in a round: “We wish you a happy birthday; A joyous and celebrated birthday; Our dear friend Jurian, May you have a long, long life!”

Jen 'n' Jurian, birds of paradise

We also find out that the Marketing and Development department, whose office is right behind our program room, loves our singing and has expressed interest in recording us to make a CD!

During posture clinic in the afternoon, Megha lets us go outside to soak up the sun. Sometimes we feel like little kids, being let loose, recess. It was only five minutes, but what a relief from gomukhasana and paripuna navasana.

***

Evening sadhana is with Larissa, who kicked our asses and got a lot of us fuming about what is Kripalu yoga and what is boot camp yoga. Her bhastrika breath nearly blew us away…and kind of scared us, too.

***

Angela Farmer is still here–still very royally intimidating. She just owns this place. If she looks at you, you feel like she’s looking through your soul. Every move is deliberate.

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This past week has been a little dizzying, and Bryan and I have been trying to ho-ho-ha-ha-ha our way through a testy George Foreman Grill, a cracked kitchen sink and the installation of a new one (shout-out to my dad, who spent about 2.5 hours squeezed into the bowels of our kitchen cabinetry), and the demise of Bryan’s 10-year-old Hyundai and subsequent purchase of a new (used) car, complete with test-driving vehicles on a windy, rainy Wednesday night in rush-hour traffic.

Whee!

As such, I’ve neglected to pay tribute to the honest-to-gosh things that have recently put a smile on my face. Of note:

Late-Season Tomatoes

As usual, our tomato plants showed promise at the beginning of the season, produced a few good ones (the rest were devoured by squirrels and rabbits), and then withered into nothingness somewhere around late August. We went on vacation in early September, completely neglecting the plants and never once looking back. Yet abandonment makes the vines grow stronger (or perhaps it was the 279 gallons of rain we got this summer), because earlier this month these guys made an appearance on the sagging, droopy plants:

And they were amazing! Firm, red, with very few seeds, and not the least bit watery. Bonus: We got to them before those darn squirrels.

Toddler Time

As I’ve already mentioned, I am in love with my friends Emma and Peter’s daughter, Bella. She is a one-person show, and she is so entertaining that I could see people paying to witness her side-splitting expressions, silly dances, and toddler babble. I recently got to hang out with her all afternoon during her 2nd birthday party, which featured almost zen-like gift unwrapping (surely to turn into monster shreddage-unwrapping by next year), train rides on Thomas the Tank Engine, and the requisite cake time!

(Not pictured: Bella’s grandfather leaning a little too far back in his chair and falling to the garage floor in slow-mo. We all held our breath…and then busted up laughing as he gave the thumbs-up from the ground.) 🙂

Our gift to Bella was Disney related, of course: a baby doll version of Ariel. I brainwashed Bella into acknowledging that it was her most favorite present of the bunch, and it was a success.

Two-year-olds don't quite grasp the concept of "Say Cheese!"

My impression of Bella

She played with the doll all evening, much better than the time as a newborn she broke out into tears when her momma placed the Mickey Mouse plush I purchased in her arms.

She even crafted a seasonally appropriate thank-you card for us:

Indian Summer

The same weekend as Bella’s birthday, Bryan and I went down the shore for the day. The forecast called for temps in the mid-80s at home, so we took the opportunity to experience Ocean City in October. It was surprisingly warm (what ocean breeze?!), so much that Bryan had to buy a pair of shorts on the boardwalk and ditch his jeans.

I was excited to walk on the sand without a beach tag and, since lifeguard season is over, pose contemplatively on the algae-covered jetty.

We intentionally parked several blocks away from the main boardwalk so we could get in plenty of walking time, making us feel a little less guilty for indulging in super-huge slices of pizza and frozen desserts. (It also balanced out all the time we spent sitting in traffic on the drive home, since the rest of the world had the same idea about going to the shore.)

Where one slice is enough!

We played a round of miniature golf and took note of all the migrating monarch butterflies fluttering over the boardwalk wildflowers. I wish I had a picture of the butterflies—they were all over the place!

Ego Boosters

I don’t toot my own horn much, but two personal accomplishments last week really made me beam: (a) I found out that I passed a super-hard exam I took last month that officially makes me an Editor in the Life Sciences (complete with credentials that no one but our little circle of nerdy editors will understand), and (b) a triathlon coach at my gym praised my swimming skills. I told her that I was interested in taking her freestyle swim lessons (intended to improve your technique), and she looked at me and said, “Nah, you don’t need that.” I went on to explain that other than childhood lessons at the Y, I’ve had no other training and was looking to improve my form. Again, she said, “I’ve seen you swim. You’re fine.” Maybe it’s because I feel like my hip slows me down and that it compromises my kick, but few times when I swim do I feel confident about how I’m putting it all (kick, arms, breathing) together. My little pseuo-panic attack back in June wasn’t really boosting my self-esteem either.

But apparently I’m just a smidge above OK when it comes to editing and swimming. It feels awkward, but I guess I’ll give my ego horn a little ::toot toot::

Nature Walks

Every morning during my walks through the park, I see the changing leaves, curious deer, and sometimes even a wild turkey or four. This will be a separate post to come, though. Too much excitement to cover in this already overloaded post!

I’m going to kick myself when I read this in January but here’s the truth: It’s too hot for hot yoga.

Sometimes a natural glow isn't all that becoming.

Up until three weeks ago, every Tuesday night was cleared to make room for my hot yoga class. The studio is right around the corner from my office, so I’d stay a little later at work, change into my duds in the bathroom, and head off to class with 15 minutes to spare. Hot yoga was my savior during the winter and into spring, especially those evil April days when it would rain cold rain for hours and end with a blast of chilly wind. Thank god for hot yoga, I’d think, walking into the heated studio wearing sweatpants and a hoodie to “keep myself warm” before stripping down to capris and a tank.

Three Tuesdays ago, however, things changed. First, it became July. I walked out of the office that Tuesday in my yoga gear, and I was so happy to be warm. Yay, summer!, said the cold-blooded yogi. Then I entered my car, which had been sitting in the unshaded parking lot for the past 8 hours.

Sitting in a 100-degree tin can is no motivation to drive yourself to a yoga studio that’s 5 degree hotter.

So I drove home. Now, I wasn’t being lazy. I ended up doing a 90-minute Jivamukti podcast in my yoga room upstairs. The room was hot, but it wasn’t intentionally set to eyeball-melting degrees. I rose from savasana feeling sweaty but not saturated.

Last Tuesday, it was still July, but now it was creeping into mid-summer, which adds a new element to the mix: Humidity! I had gone outside earlier that day for a 30-minute lunch walk and knew right then that I would not be going to hot yoga class that night. I felt bad–I was now missing my second class in a row–but again, I wasn’t taking the lazy person’s way out. I went home and did yet another Jivamukti podcast. Still sweated, but not to the point where I’d absolutely need a shower afterward (which is pretty much standard after every formal hot yoga class).

And so we come to today. I pretty much knew at 7 a.m.–when it was already 81 degrees outside–that hot yoga was out of the picture. That’s when I had just returned from a relatively mild 20-minute walk covered in sweat. Things did not improve throughout the day. I went out to lunch with my department and ate a giant turkey burger that put me into a post-meal stupor. Then the air conditioning in my office broke, which made that turkey-burger stupor even more difficult to overcome. It got so hot inside that we were actually permitted to leave early, at which point I drove home in my 100-degree tin can and collapsed on the living room floor, red-faced and kind of stinky.

However. Although I didn’t make it to class for the third week in a row, I still committed myself to yoga. I found a new podcast on iTunes (an 80-minute vinyasa flow) and went upstairs to my yoga room…which was pretty much a hot yoga studio in itself at that point on this sweltering day. I sweated, I dripped, rubber mat bits stuck to my slimy feet, stray strands of hair were plastered all over my arms and neck, and, by golly, I needed a shower when it all ended.

On this third week away from the yoga studio, my guilt about not attending class is finally dissipating. As a regular student, I tend to get all kinds of anxiety if I have to miss class. I’m afraid of upsetting the instructor, of unintentionally making the studio owner think I hate her business, of tricking myself into thinking I’m lazy. But it’s none of the above–I’m just hot, and I don’t want to do yoga right now in an even hotter room.

This same studio started offering Saturday morning classes, and at first I was really excited. I went to one class and had every intention of making it a regular thing–until it became summer. And then I had a 5Rhythms class one week. And then I slept in the following Saturday because I had gotten to bed really late the night before.

I feel bad because I was once a yoga teacher and know how it feels to see someone one week and not the next. Or the next. All kinds of crazy things spiral through your mind–Did I say something offensive last time? Was my class too hard? Did I touch her feet during savasana and maybe she has a weird foot thing? She thinks I’m a dork. A diva. A doofus.

But sometimes (most of time), it’s just life that’s keeping us from the studio. Or the weather. Up until three weeks ago, my body craved hot yoga class. I’d be in my cubicle at 4 p.m., thinking Yay, yoga class in two hours! When my body doesn’t do that, maybe it’s time to take a little break and try something different.

I slept in again this Saturday, and then on Sunday I tried something totally different (and terrifying)–I went to a new yoga studio! (Ahhhhh, yoga studio anxiety kicking in again!) It’s just a 15-minute walk from my house, so I went over there on foot, took what turned out to be a challenging but manageable and fun vinyasa flow class in an un-air-conditioned (warm but not hot–just perrrrfect in my book) studio, and came home feeling great…until my yoga high (and the caffeine in the iced coffee I grabbed for my walk home) caused me to dance uncontrollably for an hour in my living room, to the point where I was almost as sweaty as my husband after his 4-mile run.

So even though it’s too hot for hot yoga, I guess it’s never too hot for a yoga-induced dance party. 🙂

Lately I’ve been discovering that some of my best workouts happen when I’m just winging it, when I leave the house for work in the morning with not a clue of what I’m going to do for that evening’s workout. I’ll always leave with a bag of random gear in hand–yoga mat, sneakers/socks, shorts, combination lock for the gym. Sometimes I use ’em, sometimes I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, structure is great. In fact, it is somewhat scary for me NOT to have a solid plan, because I am normally a very.structured.person. I like to be home by 8 on weeknights, ensuring me enough time to stretch before bed, get the next day’s outfit together, prep the coffee maker, make tomorrow’s lunch. I wake up by 5:30 every morning so I can do my “routine”–more stretching, some breathing, a little yoga, a few hip exercises before hitting the shower. I have difficulties being spontaneous, because in my mind, I already have a plan.

When it comes to working out, though, I’ve been finding that I get discouraged if I start the day at 8 a.m. thinking, “OK, tonight you will ride the bike for 30 minutes and then do 10 minutes of abs and an upper-body workout.” My body doesn’t respond well to repetitive motion exercises like biking or the elliptical, so the instant I tell myself that’s what I have to do, I already start hating it. Nine times out of 10 I’ll still follow through with it, but I’ll leave the gym feeling meh instead of yeah!

As I mentioned in this previous post, sometimes just tossing a medicine ball for a few minutes sparks a spontaneous and exhilarating workout. So this week I’ve been making an effort to just wing it, or–to tie in with my blog’s mission statement–to go with the flow. Here’s what happened:

• I woke up early last Saturday because I thought I’d go swimming before my friend’s pool party later that evening (hey, what’s wrong with a little double dipping?). But as the morning wore on, it was clear that I was never going to get my butt to the gym; also, it was beautiful out that day, and I hate wasting sunny skies and summer weather by being inside. So instead of a bathing suit, I slipped into some shorts and sneakers and headed out for an aimless walk. Two bathroom stops, one organic juice purchase, a red iPod Nano on the fritz, and 7 miles later, I arrived back home, in just enough time to clean myself up and change into that bathing suit for my friend’s party. There, I played around with a kickboard in the pool and treaded water in the deep end for a bit. Long walk AND some light swimmy-swim. Score!

• With my hair still heavy with chlorine from the previous night’s party, on Sunday I headed back into the pool for a lap workout. But because I got a decent night’s sleep and had coffee recently infused in my system, my body was primed for anything but light swimmy-swim. A huge burst of energy came out of nowhere, and my normal ho-hum out-and-back lap routine turned into fast-forward, high-powered workout. In my workout log, I actually termed it the “Woah, Speed!” swim.

• Monday was probably the most satisfying of winging-it days. It was the day before the summer solstice, the weather was warm, the sun was brilliant. I felt like I had to honor this day and soak up as much daylight as possible (aaaah, the bittersweetness of summer solstice, the commencement of my favorite season yet also the beginning of the end of what feels like round-the-clock sunlight, happiness, and rainbows). I drove to the nearby Red Bank Battlefield, which is ever-so-gradually becoming my go-to spot whenever Mother Nature is dressed to the nines (Side note: It’s a national park, so there are rangers on site. Rangers, with government patches on their shirt sleeves, wide-brimmed ranger hats, and official-use golf carts to drive around the property. I love rangers! It makes the place feel so official. It reminds me of Ranger Rick magazine!) There, I threw together an impromptu workout of walking around the many winding pathways, climbing the steep steps several times, doing some triceps dips on park benches, and attempting to do a chin-up on a tree branch (FAIL, because the branch ended up being a lot higher than it looked).

The sun wasn’t ready to set yet, so I set up camp (plopped down my yoga mat) on the big lawn that faces the Delaware River.

I did some basic yoga stuff (lots of sun salutes), but I had on my iPod and the music was calling for me to dance. I did stand on my yoga mat and do a lot of dance-inspired asanas, but the sprawling lawn, glowing sun, sparkling river, and overall beauty of the day were just begging me to bust out some free-form moves. I’m ashamed to admit I was held back by fear of what others in the park would think of me, this girl dancing in the grass. My body ached to express itself in such a picturesque environment, and even though I felt insulated by the iPod ear buds that separated me from any passersby’s comments, I held back and did not dance how my body was requesting to. I moved and grooved with reservation; it was nice, but not 100% fulfilling. How come I think it’s acceptable for someone to sit on a park bench and play the guitar while singing along, but I fear that dancing is totally weird? Argh. Still, a pretty decent combination of random stuff that made me sweat and get my heart rate up.

• Tuesday morning, I was listening to my otherwise chill Grooveshark playlist as I did my morning stretches when Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” clicked on. Suddenly, I was on my feet and dancing. Hard. What was supposed to be a few minutes of gentle yoga postures turned into a spontaneous dance party, and by the end I really needed my morning shower. (Note: This happened again this morning as I was listening to Florence and the Machine’s album [Lungs] for the first time. Seriously, how can one NOT be moved to dance to “Cosmic Love”?! Note II: It’s the song they’re playing with the trailer for Elephants for Water.)

• Thursday night is supposed to be my non-negotiable hot vinyasa class. The studio is 2 minutes from my office, I love the teacher, and it’s one of the few studio class I get to take each week. I had my mat and change of clothes packed, but when I left the office I suddenly just didn’t want to go to class. It was insanely humid outside already. I wasn’t looking forward to getting home no earlier than 8:00 p.m., missing the group number of So You Think You Can Dance as I showered, and rushing to make dinner. I still wanted to do yoga, however, so instead I came home, took the laptop upstairs to my yoga room (which, given the weather, already felt like a hot yoga studio), and did a 75-minute Jivamukti podcast. I love that the classes are recorded live, so when I Om, other students are Omming along with me! (Many thanks to all the yoga teachers out there who record their classes and put them online; taking a “live” class is so much better than listening to someone speak into a microphone in a recording studio.) I still feel like I’m getting that community experience…plus it makes for a wild experience when the music the podcast teacher plays during savasana is the same as what my hot vinyasa teacher would have been playing at that time!

I was winging it, but that security blanket of familiarity was still rolled up under my knees, supporting me along the way.

The other day I finally fulfilled my desire to spend a day down the shore. I get anxious and antsy when summer weather kicks in and I have yet to see the ocean; summer is already so fleeting, and I feel like once Memorial Day hits, a countdown clock to doomsday (cold weather, dark nights) starts ticking. I have do everything NOW!

I feel very fortunate to live in such an area where I can grab a few dollar bills, spare quarters, hop in the car, and in just over an hour be surrounded by surf and sand. I was giddy on the car ride down, my anticipation and excitement doubling once I hit the rest stop on the AC Expressway.

Signage that tickles me pink. The beach beckons!

Going over the causeway...the final gate to Ocean City!

The causeway, which links the shore points to Jersey mainland, is like the rainbow to Oz. Once you cross over the bridge, only good things lie ahead.

I made the mistake of taking off my sandals to walk from the boardwalk to the ocean. I was expecting the sand to be hot but not scorching. It was like walking on burning coals, and I nearly collapsed onto a stranger’s blanket just so I could save my feet. I could feel the heat rising from my soles to my knees to my thighs; it was an awful, awful feeling, and I thought I was going to need medical attention.

Save my feet!

Relieeeeeef. I made it to the ocean just in time.

Bad sand!

One of my most brilliant decisions of the trip was to wear running shorts for the day, the kind with the built-in underwear. It was so stinkin’ hot and humid that day, even down the shore, so I felt pretty relaxed and comfy. 🙂

Smiles all around!

I was by myself that day and didn’t have my photographer husband on hand to snap shots of me by the ocean. So I was so happy when I found a woman lying on the beach who volunteered to be my interim photog. It turns out we live only minutes away from each other! She was so friendly and encouraged me to “work it” for the camera!

In fact, I had a really great time connecting with people that day. I struck up conversations with shopkeepers, a guy playing a djembe on the boardwalk, a teenage boy who didn’t want sprinkles on his custard (“That’s so un-American!” I said), a group of seniors who needed help taking pictures with their cell phone, the owner of a hippie clothes/jewelry store who told me fascinating stories about sweat lodges and a customer from Nepal, a girl who was cheering to a group of friends on the beach:

and a group of teenage girls eating ice cream on the boardwalk:

I loved them so much that I asked to take a front-facing shot of them. They were all giggly and honored.

I took LOTS of people shots over the course of the day. The boardwalk and beach is a smorgasbord of photo-worthy individuals.

Girl on beach gets happy text message.

Looks like it could be a cover of a Baby-Sitters Club: Beach Edition book.

"I like long walks on the beach..."

Half and half.

One fancy beach chair!

Even scruffy guys eat custard.

I was a bit obsessed with taking photos of older couples too. They are cute and romantic, and it made my heart swell for my own husband.

This could totally be me and Bryan in the future. "My aching hips!"

It didn’t help that I had PMS, and I was passing all of these “memorial” benches on the boardwalk. They all seemed to be dedicated to older couples and dead spouses. I got really choked up at times!

The boardwalk really is a perfect “resting” place, though. It’s nice to just sit down and observe the sights, sounds, and smells around you.

That's Atlantic City somewhere behind the haze.

Don't get caught walking in the bicycle lane on a busy day. You'll get run over!

Even the TV stations find the boardwalk worthy of broadcasting:

She flubbed up her lines several times. It was fun to watch her keep re-doing the scene.

The insides of the shops along the boardwalk are also entertaining.

All the jewelry you need, and then some.

Christmas 24/7/365.

Need to hang this in the bathroom at work!

Pseudo shout-out to my blog!

Fudge making!

...at least I HOPE that's fudge...

Finished fudge.

Bizarro cheap clothes and junk shop.

Salt water taffy heaven.

As you can see, one of the BEST parts of being down the shore is the food. Sometimes a trip to the boardwalk really isn’t so much about catching waves or feeling your toes in the sand as it is about deciding what treat to eat next.

My eating adventure began with lunch at the Bashful Banana. It’s tucked off the main drag and is one of the only places on the boardwalk where you can get vegetarian, vegan, and clean, healthy eats.

Veggie burger on multi-grain bun with mushrooms, onions, Swiss, and turkey bacon. Side of fresh fruit.

Relaxing lunch in the shade.

I returned to the Bashful Banana a few hours later for my second treat: their famous “Banana Whip” dessert. It tastes like custard, but it’s only frozen banana + water. No dairy, no binders, nothing but fruit. I ordered a banana + strawberry whip with peanut butter chips, walnuts, and fudge sauce made from fruit.

The bottom was nothing but the peanut butter chips and fudge sauce. Mmmm...

For dinner I hit up Mack & Manco’s. It’s sacrilege to visit Ocean City and NOT get Mack & Manco’s pizza.

My final treat was Kohr Bros. custard. Although I love the vegan options that Bashful Banana serves, I do not follow a vegan diet and do not hesitate to get a classic vanilla custard with chocolate sprinkles/jimmies.

My visit down the shore lasted from noon till about 7:15, when I reluctantly decided to walk back to my car. I passed an older couple on their cell phone, talking to a friend: “It’s a little breezy right now, but the sun is shining. It’s beautiful. It’s just a beautiful day down here.”

A day at the shore contains so many stimuli, and driving home proved just to be as engaging. I swerved to avoid a giant turtle crossing the highway, and then I drove from blue skies to what looked like the end of the world. Black clouds–not even gray–loomed in front of me, and every time lightning flashed I could see the sunny sky behind all the doom and gloom. It was wild–and scary! An intense ending to an otherwise peaceful day.

I had such a deep desire this past week to run off to the Jersey shore for a day on the boardwalk. The weather has been stellar, and had it not been Memorial Day on Monday, man, I would have wasted no time getting onto the AC Expressway and cruising down to Ocean City.

I’m not a beach bum but I do love spending a day walking the boards and taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells of the seashore. The minute I hear the sound of the steel grid of the causeway bridge under my car tires–followed by the cry of the seagulls swooping over the bay–all of my senses are fired up. There’s the smell of curly fries and chocolate fudge, the taste of Mack and Manco’s pizza, the sight of the majestic Atlantic Ocean, the sound of arcade games, and the feel of slimy sunscreen all over my body, causing my pale skin to glow.

My husband finally convinced me that Memorial Day weekend was not the time for an impromptu drive down the shore, so instead I tried to make note of all the other wonderful, non-beach-related things this past week that tickled my senses. For example:

– The sight of Hidden Mickeys in my Sunday morning breakfast, which also included the glorious smell and taste of toasted cinnamon raisin muffins, something I’ve been craving since someone in my office toasted something cinnamon-raisiny, which is the smell of the gods.

– There was the taste of that first-really-hot-day-of-the-year bottle of beer, so cold in my hand, the condensation chilling my fingers.

– While I was trying to take a picture of the baby geese in the park, I spied something even more intriguing…a snake!


– As Bryan and I climbed the steep stone steps of the park at Red Bank on a super-humid day, I felt my heart pound inside my chest and saw sweat in my eyes.

– The park offered many more sensory pleasures, like the sound of the guy with the headphones singing a severely off-key version of “Kokomo.” Or the sight of planes landing across the river at Philly International. Or the sound of the air traffic controllers and pilots talking about descending and landing, because Bryan found a live feed of the transmissions from the air traffic control tower on his iPhone, and we totally dorked out for the next 30 minutes knowing which airliners would be making their approach. (Did you know the call sign for US Airways is “Cactus”?)


– On Friday, I tasted something new: banana sushi (right). This plate arrived, and I said, “Oh my, I will be taking home leftovers!” And then I ate it all.


– After sushi, it was time to see a half-asleep baby. Even more delightful was hearing her response to her daddy’s “Thundercats!” call. So faint and so sleepy and so cutie-patootie baby-voice, she responded, “Ho!”

– On Tuesday, with its high of 95 degrees, my upstairs felt like a hot yoga studio. So I did hot (Jivamukti) yoga.

– It is very tempting to visit the frozen yogurt joint when it’s 65, 70 degrees out, but waiting until a 90-something degree day makes the taste of soft-serve fro-yo a bajillion times better. And oh, how quickly it melts.

– Random smells: BBQ and charcoal in backyard picnics, funnel cake stands at the May Fair, gasoline from motorboats on the Delaware River, damp wood that reminded me of my childhood summers at Camp Johnsonberg, faded sunscreen, BO.

It’s good to see words on paper, too. Up until a few weeks ago, I couldn’t even remember the last time I was actively engaged in reading and finished a book. Then I started a regular routine of reading while walking and finished The Tipping Point and am nearly done with Realityland.

– On the walk home from the May Fair, I felt the sky open up and pour down onto my body. I was utterly drenched with nowhere to run for cover, but it was nature’s way of giving my stinky, sweaty, sticky body a refreshing bath.

– Going to the gym for my swimming workouts isn’t always easy in the fall and winter, but jumping into the pool on a hot day feels fanTAStic!

Tomorrow morning it’s only supposed to be in the mid- to upper 50s, and I will be swimming…outside. More on that sensory shock to come!

I had a family obligation yesterday morning that had me dressed in business attire and stuck in an office for 2 hours with another 2 hours on the road, which is torture in itself but even moreso when the sunny sky and warm temps made yesterday one of The Most Beautiful Days in the World. On the drive home, sitting in the car in my black pants and black blazer, I fidgeted like a kid before recess, declaring that all I wanted to do was change into my play clothes and frolic outside! All the usual demands of the weekend–laundry, cleaning, sorting through a week’s worth of mail–automatically switch to “low priority” when Mother Nature gives us a beaut like yesterday. I spend so much time in the winter complaining about the dark and cold that I feel like I have to take advantage of every awesome day that comes our way.

After grabbing lunch at one of my favorite juice and burrito cafes (no burrito juice, however) and changing out of my stuffy office attire, Bryan and I headed to Red Bank Battlefield, which I’ve written about on here before. It’s one of our favorite “nice day” places to hang out, a sprawling park on the edge of the Delaware River, directly across from Philadelphia International Airport (perfect for plane watching!).

A new plane every 90 seconds!

Obligatory couple shot.

Pre-pubescent goose and parent. Hasn't reached the "God, Mom, you're so embarrassing" stage yet.

Canada geese. You're so darn cute when you're little, but then you get older and we hate you.

Sun and skyline.

Vrksasana break!

While we were walking around the park, we noticed a wedding party posing for photographs. They couldn’t have chosen a better day to get hitched (especially since the world didn’t end, as predicted).


We toted along some blankets, chairs, books, and magazines for some quality riverside reading time. Bryan prepped the space…

…and then I promptly fell asleep. I had been awake since 5:15 and was dragging at that point. I always feel the urge to nap but rarely actually follow through with it. Yesterday was an exception: I conked out for close to an hour but was delighted to do so under a big tree and wearing a tank top without being chilly. This is the stuff I dream about from November through April.

Bryan likes to put lobsters on me while sleeping.

Days like yesterday are my fuel. They revive my engine, bring light into my heart, and make me focus on the positive. They remind me of all the good things I’ve been wanting to write about and share, stuff like:

The mind and body studio in my gym is my secret getaway spot when the urge to dance calls. Every now and then, like this past Friday, I’ll be minding my own business, lifting weights, swinging a kettlebell, or stretching, and something on my iPod comes on that just hits me in the solar plexus, and suddenly my body says, “Dance! I must dance! Get thee to a wide open space and move, please!” It’s almost like a sickness, like a feeling of nausea that you know must exit soon, but not as gross. Just very urgent, and you know that if you hold it in, you’re going to feel (psychological) discomfort for the rest of the day. Luckily, my gym’s yoga studio was free that Friday afternoon, and I was able to sneak inside, pump up the volume on my iPod, and just dannnnnce. Twenty-five minutes later, I emerged a little sweatier and very satisfied.

I am actually, like, 95% “cool” with my yoga teacher’s languaging. I tend to be very critical about what teachers say in class and how they say it (I can’t help it; I’m like the Larry David of yoga students), and if something irritates me too much for too long, I’ll turn to a podcast for class instead, like the one teacher who said “really” in almost every sentence (“Really feel your sitz bones pressing into the ground,” “Really lengthen the breath,” “Really press those feet into the mat and really feel alive”). But the teacher I go to now, aside from some “blossoming like a lotus” stuff she starts off with every now and then, is very mindful about her choice of words and what she says to the class. For example, there is a pregnant woman in the class, and as the teacher is showing her modifications she says, “Now, as the baby grows, you’re going to have to adjust your legs like this…” Notice it’s “as the baby grows,” not “as you get bigger.” Yeah, yeah, it’s the same thing, but I’m a semantics freak (and a woman), so I know how choice of words can make a huge difference. The teacher is also very careful not to showcase certain students; meaning, if someone goes into a perfect Bird of Paradise or scorpion, the teacher doesn’t blurt out, “Everyone, look at Heather! See, that’s how it should be done,” making those less flexible or with limitations feel inferior.

My Fake Mom Carrol and her (real) daughter went to Kripalu this weekend for an R&R. Knowing how much I love the place, she sent me an e-mail yesterday (“Hi from Kripalu”) describing her afternoon yoga class, deep (emotionally and physically) massage, big changes, fresh whipped mango sauce, and a neti pot workshop. “Love carrol ( you are here in my heart and spirit can you feel it)?”, she closed. Instead of feeling jealous about her getaway, her e-mail made me so happy for her. Her daughter melted my heart, too. She tagged me on this photo she posted to Facebook:

"This one's for you, Jen!", Vee wrote from Kripalu.

I’ve switched up my morning meditation a bit. Instead of sitting down and starting right away with a mudra meditation, I do 5 minutes of nadi shodhana pranayama (alternate nostril breathing), finish with solely right-nostril breathing (it’s the “solar” side; it’s a good early-morning energizer), and then do whatever mudra feels appropriate. Meditation is A LOT easier after opening the lungs and waking up those brain cells!

Even though spring officially begins in March and we’re now more than 40 days past that starting point, I still feel like May is when the REAL spring begins. At this point, there’s absolutely no threat of snow, our trees and lawn are unquestionably green, the depressing rain/wind cycles of April have blown by us, and the temperatures are holding steady near the 70-degree mark. People just truly love May! So it’s appropriate then, that with this psychological start of spring—with all the blooming and colors and new life forming around us (it’s baby goose season!!)–that I plant my own new harvest—participation in the YIOM network!

 YIOM

YIOM (“Why I Om”) debuted last month as Yogis Inspiring Oneness Month, a sort of challenge for yoga bloggers to post regularly, if not daily, for one month about all things asana, pranayama, ashtanga, so on and so forth in an effort to form a vast collection of yoga posts from across the country. YIOM’s founder, The VeganAsana, was so successful at corralling this group that she didn’t want to see all of her efforts end after April 30, and thus formed YIOM II—Yoga Inspired Online Movement, an ever-growing network of yogis who blog. I wasn’t part of the original YIOM (I had just started my blog the month before and didn’t know if I could keep up with the challenge), but now that I’m feeling comfortable out here holding onto my precious “Flowtation Device,” I’m excited to join this group and wear the YIOM badge with pride.

To tell you the truth, I had been seeking a network like this for a long time. Before I hurt my hip and had a consistent running regimen, I was all about the fitness blogs, reading about how people fueled for long runs, what their training plans looked like, and what workouts they did on their cross-training days. After the hip went stupid and I had to stop running, these blogs simply depressed me! I no longer wanted to see the photos of their awesome early-morning runs around Central Park at sunrise or read their mile-by-mile race recaps. I had a few food-focused blogs in my Google Reader, but looking at pictures of the step-by-step process of making an omelet (chopping onions! slicing ham! whisking eggs!) or baking muffins (pouring batter in the pan! watching muffins rise through the oven window!) just wasn’t cutting it. I was thirsty for healthy living or holistic blogs, but whenever I searched for something to that effect, all I got were diet, food, workout, and green-living blogs. Not that those things are great—I just wanted something a little more stimulating, posts from people who were inspired by movement in general—not just running—breathing, meditating, appreciating the small wonders around them, learning how to connect more deeply to their soul. A big part of my life had just been eliminated, and I needed to refresh my Google Reader with blogs that were more than just fartleks and foodstuffs. I wanted feeling, depth, stories from people who are also suffering and adapting, simple metaphors about yoga and everyday living that make each day on this earth a little easier to comprehend, posts from yogis who challenge the status quo.

And that’s where YIOM comes in. I haven’t even digested all of the participating blogs yet, but the bloggers whose posts I have read thus far are feeding me. There’s substance here, and their posts make me hungry for more. And I totally want to be a part of it all too! It feels good to be part of a community that gets my posts about yoga. I used to write about my yoga experiences—struggles with the yamas, niyamas, yoga injuries, prana flow—in a restricted-access blog mainly composed of my real-life friends, and I always felt guilty writing about these things because I feared no one would read it or get it, and that it was simply a waste of time. On YIOM, it’s a bit like that beloved show-and-tell from elementary school: We pass around our treasures, and everyone gets a chance to ooh and ahh over our words, wisdom, and stories.

So hooray for May, for new beginnings, for Lorin for planting this little vrksasana sapling and getting it to grow!

P.S. How embarrassing is it that I’m the only blogger without a Twitter account?! (I just don’t like being captive to so many technology outlets.) Whatev, it makes me unique–I totally stand out (like a sore thumb). 😛

Visions of days like today are my “happy places” on dark, icy nights in January, when I’m sitting in yoga class, not really 100% sure if I’m actually there for the yoga or just the 95-degree-plus-humidity climate. During opening meditation, when the teacher tells us to imagine ourselves in a place where we feel at ease, relaxed, happy, I ditch her suggested visualization of a tropical beach, hammock, and ocean and instead envision a more realistic scene that includes our kitchen, with the sun streaming through the open windows, ceiling fan making the wispy white curtains dance; our bedroom, where I wake up at 5 a.m. in nothing but a t-shirt and underpants; my car, where the windows are down, my legs are bare under my flowing skirt, my feet sockless. I imagine driving down the main road in town, the path ahead of me a clear stretch of blacktop lined with flourishing green plants and canopied with flowering trees, no longer an obstacle course of snow piles and ice patches and bare tree limbs looming over me like giant skeleton hands ready to crack and tumble onto the roof of my car.

THAT’s my happy place, and I’m there right now, folks. April has been kind enough to bless South Jersey with a little preview of summer, a preview during which the digital clock outside the bank flashes 88, the shower dial isn’t turned all the way to the left, and the frozen yogurt Bryan and I dish ourselves for dessert starts softening just a little quicker.

Mornings like this make it more difficult to decide how to best wake myself up—it feels like the opportunities are endless! Do I do sun salutations synchronized to the sunrise? Do I put on my sneakers and walk around the neighborhood as the sky transitions from dark blue to turquoise? Do I bike? Dance? Swim in the sunny, salty waters of my gym?

This is the time of year when routines are broken, when just because I planned to do such-and-such this morning, you know what? It’s so beautiful out, I’m inspired, and I’m going to do THIS instead. I went to bed with every intention of waking up at 5, doing my meditation challenge, and heading outside for a 2-mile walk, but after assessing the way my body was feeling, I decided to dance instead of walk. I had just gone on a nice walk the evening before, and I was reluctant to change out of my comfy pajamas. Meg from Spirit Moves Dance recently posted a great 5Rhythms playlist that I have been itching to try out, so this morning my way of waking up included a little bit of Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. Forty minutes later, my pajamas were saturated in sweat, my heart rate quicker than any walk could have given me. I felt like I was partially responsible for helping the sun rise, like my 7 minutes of thrashing around in Chaos shook the earth just enough to pop the sun from under the horizon.

Although I changed my planned routine this morning, I do have morning rituals that are very hard to break. Aside from the basics (brushing teeth, getting dressed), my morning essentials include:

  • Drinking a big cup of warm water. Apparently warm/hot water gets the digestion tract going, and I also believe everyone wakes up dehydrated, so it’s important to get liquids in the system ASAP!
  • Rolling around and stretching on the living room floor like a cat, which usually involves some kind of yoga moves (downdogs, supta matsyendrasana), as well as using my foam roller to knead out muscle kinks.
  •  Standing warm-ups, such as Breath of Joy or Empty Coatsleeves…something with a hara breath.
  • All or some of my physical therapy exercises. Doing the entire set takes about half an hour, so usually I’ll abbreviate each exercise or do only a few.
  • Showering. Even if I shower the night before and do nothing in between then and leaving for work, I still need to stand under warm water for a few minutes. My muscles aren’t the same otherwise!
  • Finally, meditation. This is relatively new, but I’m trying to get it to stick. I started the Chopra Center’s 21-Day Spring Meditation Challenge 10 days ago, and I’ve actually been looking forward to the 10 to 15 minutes of quiet reflection each morning. I’m hoping that one day meditating in the morning will be as easy as drinking a glass of water!

QUESTION: What are your morning rituals?

I was so excited to see the sun today. After a mostly miserable/dreary morning and afternoon yesterday that had my husband and I in our pajamas until 3 p.m. trudging around the house like those depressed little wind-up dolls from the Pristiq commercial,

a 70-degree morning with sun blazing through the blinds and lighting up my beautiful carnations was enough to get me giddy.

I made an ambitious to-do list of everything that needs to be done before I leave for my parents’ house for Easter dinner, started sipping on my coffee, and felt the caffeine fly through my system. My body was buzzing with excitement over the weather–I wanted to frolic outside!–but I had other things to do first: throw in a load of laundry, wrap an Easter present for my mother-in-law, do my PT exercises…oh, and meditate. So there I was, attempting to do the most “still” thing ever, and it felt like I was tumbling around in a clothes dryer, my mile-a-minute brain thunking against everything thought it came in contact with. So although I was sitting there, hands on my lap, meditating…was I really doing it, or was I lost in some abyss of ungroundedness?

This mental frenzy reminded me of an analogy my 5Rhythms teacher used last week to explain the entire concept of 5Rhythms; specifically, a “Wave,” the term used to describe a linear completion of the five rhythms: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. The analogy, not surprisingly, was surfing.

My high school friend Wendy, now a Hawaii resident!

Surfing, my teacher explained, isn’t just “getting swept away” by the waves. Although it looks like the surfer is totally just going with the flow, allowing the ocean to do the work and the person just happily cruising along, there is a very strong connection between the person, the board, and the water. A surfer doesn’t just quickly pop up from kneeling to standing without some kind of intention, without some kind of relationship (kinetic, energetic, etc.) with the board and the swelling waters around her. When the surfer stands, she is grounded. There is connection with that board, a connection running from her eyes to her arms, to her torso, legs, feet, nerves, blood, muscles, and beyond. But to the naked eye, it’s just a big ol’ wave with a teeny tiny person going along for the ride.

Dancing the 5Rhythms is so very similar. If a newcomer stepped into a studio and found a group of people sweeping around the floor in Flowing, it would be so easy to assume that these people are caught up in some kind of mystical flow, moving around like directionless kites on a breezy day. And during Chaos? Clearly, everyone is out of their minds, possessed.

But just as I’m sure surfers would say their sport is mix of being grounded and letting go, so is dancing. Even during the most wild, sweaty, head-tossing, feet-flying Chaos, we are still in connection with something. Maybe it’s not the physical ground (especially if you’re leaping and jumping), but it’s spirit, Self, god, an intention, universal connection, so on and so forth. We are only able to let loose by staying close to something. In yoga terms, rising into an inversion or bakasana is like taking that brave step up on the surfboard, but even then during flight the yogi is connected to the ground, hands firmly pressed into the mat, core engaged, breath and mind in sync.

A very literal expression of this was done in my last 5Rhythms class. During the start of Chaos, the teacher gathered everyone in a circle, holding hands. The music was frenetic, deep drum beats, and we were instructed to let everything go, move the body, shake the feet and legs, toss the head–but to keep our hands connected. It was one of most powerful moments of Chaos I have ever experienced, even though I wasn’t flailing around the room, corner to corner, wall to wall. Here I was, confined to this space between the person on my left and the person on my right, my arms only able to move so much without snapping mine or my partners’ out of the sockets, but I was letting go, being swept away, dancing outside of my brain. The connection was what had made it so intense, being supported by those other dancers’ hands, being part of this circle in which everyone was holding on tight but simultaneously letting go.

I have a few more things on my to-do list to check off before I head out to dinner. I’m going to try my best to surf my way through them all!

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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