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How Yoga Made Me a Wuss

24 Sep

After a blog writing hiatus, I’m returning to my computer. I am now 6 months post hip surgery. I am now able to bike, swim, and even do some jogging. My glutes are stronger than ever due to a somewhat sadistic personal trainer (and my pants barely fit lol). I have even returned to yoga, although my range of motion is still limited on my right side.

During these past 6 months, I have spent a lot of time working on my rehab exercises. I had to vary my workout routine greatly. For the first 3 months, I wasn’t even allowed to stretch and primarily had to do cardio to improve my range of motion gently. Prior to my injury, I primarily relied on yoga for my exercise and did some strength training as well. I thought I obtained enough cardio from this. I mean, I took some of the most bad ass yoga classes around, with instructors like Brock and Krista Cahill, Kathryn Budig, Briohny Smyth, and Dice Iida-Klein. For an example of my teachers, check this video with Briohny. However, a fitness assessment at my gym prior to my surgery revealed that while my strength and flexibility were excellent, my cardio left something to be desired.

As someone who swam competitively through college, I figured this injury was my chance to renew my former love for cardio. Once I was allowed, I diligently spent my time on the exercise bike, in the pool, and on the elliptical machine.  I realized that yoga had made me a wuss. I had become so good at monitoring my breath and backing off the intensity when I was out of breath that I could barely hang in a cardio class, like spinning. While my body was strong from yoga, my lungs and heart clearly were not on board. 

I also realized that it is MUCH easier to stay focused and mindful in a yoga class as compared to cardio, at least for me. Cardio became my opportunity to try to live my yoga off the mat. It was one thing for me to stay focused and present doing sun salutations, which feels good to me. It was totally different to stay mindful and present while trying to push myself to a state of being breathless in a spinning class. That HURTS!!! My mind did not want to stay there. Confession: I got called out in spin class for checking my cell phone. I was so desperate for something to distract me from the pain my body was in.

I am not going to lie… I still do not love cardio. At best it is a love-hate relationship, and it is probably more of something I acknowledge I just need to do. However, some forms of cardio lend themselves more easily to mindfulness in my experience. When I am running or swimming, it is a great opportunity for me to practice my pranayama and stay focused on my breath.

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Being OK with Just Being (or the Art of Not Doing)

15 Apr

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

- Ferris Bueller

Tomorrow is my first day back at work after one month of medical leave for my hip surgery. I am usually a pretty busy person between my job (I probably average 55 hours/wees) and other stuff (yoga, exercise, teaching, blogging, etc.). It was pretty hard for me to accept that I had to sit at home and do nothing for a month. I realize this sounds fun (the sitting around, not the surgery) to some people, but it made me very anxious to think about not being able to DO anything.

This anxiety about not DOING something made me stop and think. I definitely think a lot in terms of how “productive” I’ve been. Our productivity is actually measured at work (hours billed). Even on weekends or at night, I frequently use my accomplishments to determine if it was a “good” weekend or night. I often feel guilty when I relax. I have honestly struggle to sit and even just watch TV or a movie by myself. I feel compelled to do something else so it feels productive: clean, play words with friends, blog… :) If I’m with someone else, I can watch because then I’m “doing” something because spending time with someone else. My mom is the same way. I blame the Protestant work ethic lol. I even cataloged what I did over my break (yes I’m that big a nerd).

  • Seasons of Dexter watched: 2
  • Seasons of True Blood watched: 3
  • Seasons of Game of Thrones watched: 1
  • Hunger Games books read: 3
  • Game of Thrones books read: 3.5
  • Average hours slept a night: 8.5
  • Average wake up time: 9 am
  • Average naps/day: 1
  • Time on the exercise bike: 30 min/day average
  • Amount of time cuddling with Tansy (my dog): too much to count

I fought relaxing for the first part of my break (well, after I was off the pain meds).  I constantly looked for things to do. I wrote more blog posts. I created a Pinterest page. I checked Facebook obsessively, feeling like I was missing out on things socially. I felt cranky and irritated that I had to have help doing everything and couldn’t go anywhere. I played a million games on my phone (words with friends, scramble with friends, and draw something) multiple times a day. I think part of the problem is my more type A personality and the need to feel like I’m accomplishing things. I think the other part was fighting the message from the universe, which was that I needed to stop and slow down.

About half-way through the break, something happened (long story that I won’t include here), and I was able to let go of my need to do something and accept just being. I think I was finally able to get it through my head that all signs were pointing to the fact that I needed to have time to just rest and recuperate and NOT be busy doing stuff.  I think the change in weather helped; I did “work” on my tan ;) I no longer felt so anxious, antsy and irritable. or I needed to look for something to do to feel okay. Instead I really enjoyed my time off. I was able to get into my longer book series (I’m completely obsessed with Game of Thrones now). I napped more. I checked my computer and phone less. I was happier overall.

Based on my experiences with time my off, the following are my mini resolutions for when I return to work:

  • Spend some time outside every day, ideally getting sunshine
  • Get more sleep (see point below)
  • Turn off technology 1 hour before bed (it made a big difference my sleep)
  • Enjoy my new found mobility and get out to see friends more now that I can. Make time for it during the week.
  • Spend less of my free time (nights/weekends) on the computer and phone. This includes work.
  • Make sure to make time for daily exercise/physical therapy. I have to do it now, so no excuses!
  • Maintain work/life balance (New Year’s resolution I did worst on so far this year)
  • Take more time to unplug and be present and mindful
  • More bubble baths
  • More meditation (made a big change in my mood)

We’ll see how they go :)

Tansy is the mistress of relaxation

Article published on Elephant Journal!

1 Apr

Pretty please check out the article I just had published on Elephant Journal!

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/03/sometimes-its-good-to-feel-bad–kristin-olson/

Please check the article and comment, recommend or share as you like. :)

Thanks for your support!!! :)

-Kristin

Standing Mermaid by Robert Sturman

Feeling Grateful for my Injury

21 Mar

I’m currently at home for the next month or so, recovering from hip surgery. I’m on crutches for two full weeks, then working my way up to being able to walk without extra support. I’m usually pretty active, so it’s weird to know I can’t really leave my house or exercise. However, sitting around and needing help has made me realize all of the little things I usually take for granted when I’m healthy.

Things I miss most:

5. I can’t wait until I can sit comfortably in a cross-legged position again. I haven’t been able to do this since October. I used to sit like that all the time.

4. I miss being able to take my dog for a walk. Or walk anywhere…

3. My independence. I need to have help with almost everything since I’m on crutches. It is REALLY hard for me to ask others for help.

2. Pigeon pose, with no props, yin style, for 5 minutes. Sigh… I miss hip openers!!! It’s at least 90 days before I’m allowed to try stretching.

1. Planning out little activities. It is a mission to do things like take a shower… I have to pack things into a bag, plan how to get in and out of the shower, and it takes FOREVER! And I’m a planner!

It’s also made me see the bright side to having this injury and my time off.

Hidden benefits:

5. My left leg and arms are going to be super strong from all the crutching around and one legged squats I’m doing!I’m really thankful for all the yoga and strength training I did before so that I can balance and get around so well now.

4. I’m totally catching up on sleep (9 hours a night plus 1-2 daily naps)

3. I’m watching all the TV and reading all of the books I can handle in addition to getting quality time with my pup.

2. I have time to do things like write blogs and start Pinterest!

1. I’m getting totally spoiled by my friends and family :) So much love!!!

Loving Yourself This Valentine’s Day

13 Feb

Valentine’s Day is one of my least favorite holidays. One could assume this is because I’m currently single; however, I never liked it even when I was in a relationship. I think you should ALWAYS share your love with the person you are with, and not be forced to do it one day a year at exorbitant prices with ridiculous expectations. However, I do really like the chocolate and candy part. Also the idea of celebrating love. :)

 

Now that I’ve climbed down off the soapbox, I do want to take this opportunity (after a long break from blogging) to discuss love in more detail. Specifically, I want to discuss self love. And no, get your minds out of the gutters, not THAT kind of self love ;) Valentine’s Day traditionally celebrates romantic love. I would argue that if you’re not secure with yourself, it’s hard to be in a successful romantic relationship.

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A couple quotes to throw in there:

Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all

-Whitney Houston

Do not do unto yourself what you would not do unto others.
—Tal Ben-Shahar

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A lot of us can be very giving when it comes to other people, but we don’t take the time to stop and give to ourselves at all. As I frequently tell the parents I work with in therapy, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” If you can’t take the time to find little things to take care of yourself, you will burn out and it will be hard to give to signficant others in your life, be they a partner, children, pets, clients, etc.

What things bring you joy? Sure, the first things that come to mind for me might be big ticket items like a tropical island vacation or a spa day. What are the little things that bring you joy on a daily basis? Some of mine are my puppy Tansy, a delicious cup of dark roast coffee so thick the spoon stands up with half and half, good dark chocolate, doing handstands, and getting at least a little bit of fresh air and sunshine daily. Taking the time to enjoy these little moments creates lots of little opportunities for self-care. A week long vacation sounds great but it can be expensive and hard to take time off. You can usually find the time to mindfully enjoy something you love, even for one minute. Check out my friend Jennifer Pastiloff’s blog for more ideas on finding joy.

Me and Tansy having cuddle time

When I get around to it, I am going to write a blog post about New Year’s Resolutions (clearly not procrastinating isn’t one of them lol). One of my resolutions was to meditate more. [Check out the Hot and Healthy meditation challenge!] I personally love the Loving Kindness meditation (check the hyperlink for more information). I find it a very helpful and healing meditation.

Here is one version of it:

 Find a comfortable position. Begin by focusing the meditation upon yourself. Repeat the following phrases to yourself.

May I be filled with loving kindness.

May I be well.

May I be peaceful and at ease.

May I be happy. 

Continue to repeat, while focusing on yourself until you begin yourself fill with love and acceptance of yourself.  Next, bring your awareness to someone in your life that you love. Extend the loving kindness meditation to them. Next, chose someone to whom you have neutral feelings (neither strong loving nor bad feelings) and focus the meditation on them. From there, chose someone with whom you are struggling with your relationship. Finally, extend loving kindness to the universe.

See how you feel when you’re done. I find myself filled with peace and love and often a sense of release.

There are numerous variations on this meditation. I summarized and selected based on a large number of readings. Feel free to explore and modify as you like!

Finally, I’d like to close with my favorite Hafiz poem of all time in honor of Valentine’s day.

Even after all this time

The Sun never says to the Earth,

“You owe me.”

Look what happens with a love like that

It lights the whole sky.

 

Doing yoga when you can’t do yoga

13 Nov

Sounds kind of like a Zen riddle, no? Or maybe just the start of a bad joke…

As some of you might know, I injured myself about 7 weeks ago in a yoga class. I thought initially it was a minor injury, and I’d overstretched my hip flexor by stretching too deeplybefore I was warm. No big deal, I thought. It’s a sign from my body to back off for a few days; I’ll be as good as new, then I can go back to my practice.

It’s been 7 weeks, and I have yet to be able to practice asana. The doctors still aren’t sure what I did to my hip. I’ve been to the chiropractor and the acupuncturist. I’ve RICEd (Rest Ice Compress Elevate) my little heart out. I’ve tried anti-inflammatories. I’ve had X-rays and an MRI. I still do not know what is wrong, how to fix it and when I will be able to practice yoga again.

I’ve also ridden a roller coaster of emotions with the injury. Frustration. Sadness. Impatience. Fear.  All of those many times in all of their permutations. I’m sick of this roller coaster and I want to get off.

Yes, I’ve always been an active person. Frankly, it sucks to not be able to do much but walk moderately and do some strengthening work. Yes, yoga has been my main form of stress relief the past 8 years and some form of exercise has been my stress relief since I joined a swim team at the age of 5. It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense. It sucks that the doctors can’t figure it or move things along more quickly. Also, if you don’t know me well, I hate when things are out of my control, and I’m stuck in an ambiguous situation. Yup, “it sucks” would pretty much sum up the situation.

However, all my whining and complaining and pity party-ing of one doesn’t change the fact that my hip is hurt and  I don’t know what is going to happen. I can choose to get myself all worked up about it (and trust me, I’ve had quite the temper tantrum about it… or two) or I can do my best to accept it and make the most of the extra time I now have since I’m not working out. See that positive spin there? :)  I’m not going to lie: I still have my days where I’m grouchy and cranky and I want to cry and say it’s not fair. But those days getting to be fewer.

In all my free time, I’ve had the chance to ponder the practice of yoga. We typically think of yoga as the postures, or asana practice. However, there are 7 other limbs of yoga. These include the yamas (how you treat others), the niyamas (how you treat yourself), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawl of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (state of ecstasy).

I can’t practice much of traditional asana right now. Funny enough, I can actually do some inversions, arm balances, and backbends, which I think of as more “intense” postures, but I can’t do the more relaxing and opening poses since most of them include stretching the hips. While I typically seek out classes where I push my boundaries and I like to try hard poses, I’ve been amazed at how much I miss the basics right now: warrior 2, anjaneasana, pigeon. Oh pigeon…

However, I think a great deal of yoga goes back to the name. Yoga means yoke, or union, as in the union of the body and mind or the breath and movement. I’ve been been trying to find this union in other ways. Being mindful while taking a walk and enjoying the sunset on a clear day. Appreciating what my body can do when I do the strengthening exercise I can still manage. Keeping my mind present and not just zoning out (though it would be so easy when left with exercises I don’t really enjoy as much as yoga).

Tansy in the Halloween Dog Parade

In addition to finding my yoga in other forms of exercise, I’m trying to remember that the practice of yoga isn’t just on the mat. What can I do off the mat to live my yoga? Where could I be more compassionate? Where could I be more truthful? How can I find contentment in my life? I even practiced my pranayama like no other when I was in the MRI (if you’ve never been in one it’s pretty freaky and you have to hold totally still for 45 minutes). I would like to say I’ve been meditating more… Well, it’s on my list :) I used to have a daily practice and this seems like the time to get back to it.

Birthday cake makes me happy

So I’m trying to find a way to still practice yoga, even though I can’t practice yoga :) I’m finding a way to see the good things in my life. Celebrating my birthday with friends (with chocolate cake with chocolate chips and mocha icing and princess sprinkles). Taking my dog to the Halloween parade. Being compassionate with myself not being able to do everything.
 
I still can’t wait to do pigeon pose again… :)
 

Moving from Your Center

24 Sep

Photo by Jasper Johal 2011

In the yoga classes I tend to frequent, we do a lot of core work. I mean a LOT of core work. In one class recently with Brock Cahill at Yogis Anonymous, we did 108 navasana v-ups. Ouch. In a good way of course… ;)

Now you often hear about how it’s important to have a strong core. This helps prevent back injury, improves alignment,and helps you find strength to do arm balances. Besides that it just looks good. Let’s be honest lol. It’s ok to have not all spiritual reasons for doing yoga. :)

In a recent class with Krista Cahill, she spoke about the idea of moving from your core in order to stay integrated while finding your handstand. The cue really helped me to find more strength and stability in the pose. Most of us try to press out of our shoulders to lift and muscle ourselves into the pose (perhaps we focus on the ends and not the means). This means we end up with our shoulders by our ears (never a good look) and it leads to very sore trapeszius muscles (the muscles where your neck connects to your torso). When you do this to find a handstand, you are not moving in an integrated way as your shoulders are pushing up and out of the sockets. Over time, this can lead to very bad shoulder injuries.

Instead, when you start your handstand, you want to think about finding your center and integrating before you lift up. Start out in a standing split with your hands flat and shoulder distance about one foot forward of your standing leg and come onto the ball of your standing foot. Press into the finger tips to activate hasta bandha, and imagine you are isometrically drawing the forearms towards each other to fire up your hands and arms and create a solid base.  Draw the shoulders into the sockets, rotate the biceps forward and triceps backwards, and broaden across your collar bones. These actions will help keep your shoulders integrated and in their sockets. Drawing the shoulder blades down the back and spreading them helps to engage your lattissimus dorsi muscles, which will help the traps relax more. Pressing the bottoms of the shoulder blades towards the heart help you find the slight bit of backbend in the pose. Draw your navel towards your spine and try to find a feeling of crow in your core. Remember, this is all before you’ve even lifted your standing foot off the ground! Now you’re starting with a firm foundation so you can move in an integrated manner. You can just stay here and practice the alignment to build strength if you are new to handstand.

From this integrated position, you’ll start to slightly lean into the pose. Your shoulders will probably move further forward than your wrists. This allows your heart to move forward (and your center of gravity). Check in that you are still integrated in the shoulders. Then you can keep leaning and slowly lift into the pose, stacking your hips over your shoulders and wrists, while maintaining your shoulder integration. It can be easy to backbend too much here, which is where moving from your core comes in. Imagine like you are drawing your bottom rib closer to your hips points and inner spiral the thighs to keep the core engaged. Imagine like  you are drawing your front body (right around your solar plexus or third chakra) towards your back body to help engage the core as well (thank you to Annie Carpenter for that tip). Ta da! You’re in handstand! :) Or maybe you’re just working towards the feeling of having more weight in your hands than the feet. Give yourself permission to just maintain the alignment without worrying about the result. Sometimes it can be frustrating because it takes more practice and work to move into it correctly. However, the end result is a much more stable posture.

In real life as well as yoga, you want to maintain your alignment to your personal principles and values and move from your center in order to find more stability and ease. Sometimes it seems easier to just get to where we want to be as quickly as possible, but if you do not move from your center with integrity, bad things often seem to follow.

Now go do some more core work :)

Free yoga classes for National Yoga Month!

9 Sep

copyright Jasper Johal

 

Come check out FREE yoga classes for National Yoga Month at Fred Segal Yoga! The classes are all levels from 10-11:30 AM on Saturdays. Come get sweaty, stretch out, and enjoy some fun music!

Fred Segal Yoga is located at 420 Broadway. Parking is available in the Fred Segal parking lot and is also free. The entrance is located on 5th Street between Broadway and Colorado. Enter through the salon (entrance is towards the back of the parking lot). You can check in at the hair salon desk. Mats and props are available in the studio.

There is also a cafe with delicious snacks at Fred Segal or Umami Burger at the Fred Segal across the street if you need refreshment after class. Check out the amazing selection of yoga clothes available at the boutique as well!

Space is limited to 15 participants. RSVP via facebook or email fredsegalyoga@me.com to reserve your spot! See you there!

Heart and Core

11 Aug

The gorgeous Angela Kukhahn shot by the wonderful Jasper Johal

 

While working on handstands in Brock Cahill‘s Flight Club class at Yogis Anonymous, I was chatting with other students about handstand tips. We were talking about how hard it is to manage simultaneously two of the tricks to finding balance in a handstand: engaging your core while opening your heart. Thinking about it after class, I was pondering about how these two principles apply in life.

Most of us have a tendency to lead with one or the other. Personally, I tend to open my heart without always using my strength to maintain balance. In handstand this means I collapse into scorpion or wheel and I can’t maintain my balance. In life, this can result in being a pushover and not standing up for myself.  Other people can keep their core strong but find it hard to stay open. In handstands, they muscle their way in but cannot soften into the pose, which can make them push out of your shoulders so they are not integrated. In life, people with this tendency are strong and able to stand up for themselves, but their defenses are so high they can’t let others in and expose their true selves for fear of being hurt.

These two traits also are associated with two of the seven chakras. The manipura chaka is located at the solar plexus, right in the center of the core. It is associated with personal power and the transition from simple emotions to more complex emotions when it is open. When it is closed or blocked, it is associated with anxiety and fear. I know handstands are anxiety and fear provoking for me! :) The anahata chakra is the heart chakra. When the heart chakra is open, it is associated with complex emotions, compassion, tenderness, and unconditional love. When it is closed or blocked, it is associated with rejection and being out of balance.

While it can be easy to get down on yourself for realizing you tend towards one or the other, the key is observation without judgment. Everyone has a natural tendency, you just want to learn more about yourself so you can grow. From there, you can try to integrate the two aspects of yourself to find balance, whether it is in a handstand or in life in general. :)

Scorpion pose

Gifts Where You Least Expect Them

27 Jun

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness….It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”
—Mary Oliver

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
-Pema Chondron

“This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”

-Rumi

I chose all of three of these quotes as they reflect similar themes to me: the theme of finding gifts where we least expect them. It can be so difficult when you are in the midst of dealing with something difficult to hold onto the hope that there is a higher purpose and a reason for this happening.

As someone who is admittedly a teensy bit type A, I struggle with the idea of not being in control. I want to be able to control and plan and have things go the way I think they should. Somehow, this rarely turns out to be the case… One would think that as a yoga teacher and a therapist, I would be better at this. One would be wrong.

A good friend of mine recently told me that we just have to trust that our angels know better than we do. I have been trying to take this advice to heart and not worry as much when things seem to be going awry and just have faith that it will all work out in the end.

When I reflect back on my life, I can find numerous examples of not receiving what I thought I wanted, which turned out to be better for me at the end. For instance, I really wanted to go to one of the Ivy League schools for undergrad. I didn’t get into any. Instead, I ended up attending Amherst College. A Division III school in New England was perfect for me. It allowed me to continue swimming competitively and be a contributor to my team, while still protecting my time for studying (among other things). After graduating, I applied to and was rejected from a few teaching jobs before obtaining a job at an educational policy think tank. This job helped shape my decision to pursue my doctorate in clinical psychology. When applying for graduate programs, I desperately wanted to attend the psychology program at UCLA. Not only was it prestigious and ranked number one, but it would have meant I could have moved home to my friends and family. When I had my visit and interview however, my gut told me this was not my best match on numerous levels. Fate made the decision for me and I did not get in. Instead, I remained in DC and attended a program that more closely aligned with my career needs and allowed me to stay near my friends in DC. Had I been accepted, I’m not sure that I would have listened to my gut.

Yet I still get so frustrated when things are not going my way in a given moment. My yoga practice has been a huge help in allowing me to observe the emotions, sit with them, and let them go without just burying them and hoping they go away only to fester and pop up later. The Pema Chodron quote above reminds me that I seem to have yet mastered this lesson as life seems to keep presenting it to me ;)

Recently I found myself confronted with a situation in which I finally had to acknowledge I had received one bright and shiny box full of darkness, addressed to Kristin. I ignored my gut feeling and intuition and was distracted by the fun wrapping and package and the allure of a gift. After all, it promised just what I thought I wanted! I refused to listen to those that could see past the shiny wrapping paper and tried to warn me, insisting that I knew the true contents and they were not looking hard enough. I had bought into the slick design and packaging and was unable to see the truth. I tried hard to believe that if I only changed or tried harder, somehow the darkness would go away and the true gift would reveal itself to match the packing. I fed the darkness, giving it opportinities to change and prove itself. All it ever proved was that it continued to be a box of darkness. After the fact, I struggled to understand the purpose in having an experience that hurt so badly. Why would anyone want to give me such a gift?

I have to believe that it is true that this will turn out to be a gift, that I am learning my lesson so that it no longer needs to be repeated, and that it is clearing me out for some new delight. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it :)

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

-Helen Keller

PS – My beautiful and talented friend Halle wrote a blog post about a gift of darkness years ago. It has stayed me all of these years, so I’ll share it in the spirit of this post as well. She is a much more poetic writer than me :)

 

 

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