Friday, July 11, 2014

The Painted Girls - BOOK REVIEW

Edgar Degas was a French painter living in Paris in the late 1800's who is thought of as one of the first Impressionists. Degas did not identify with the Impressionist movement and instead thought of himself as a realist. He painted portraits of the French lower class citizens, such as laundresses and milliners, hauntingly capturing their isolation and despair.

Many of his works depict young ballerinas, known as 'petite rats', showing the fatigue and hopelessness they felt while trying to raise from poverty to stars upon the ballet stage. In 1879 he created a famous sculpture called 'Little Dancer of Fourteen Years', showing a young girl with a low brow, jutting chin and squinty eyes.



During this period phrenology, or the measuring of the skull to indicate brain function and impulses, was becoming popular. When Degas showed his sculpture at a Paris exhibition reviewers widely praised the sculpture but criticised the subject, suggesting that the 14 year old girl's features indicated evil, stupidity and a general low nature.

The same exhibition featured a painting by Degas called 'Criminal Physiognomies'. Two young men who were on trial for gang-related murders were shown, also bearing sloped foreheads, heavy brows and squinty eyes like the young ballerina. The newspapers seized upon the similarities and cruelly insinuated the 14 year old girl was destined for a life of crime.



The Painted Girls is the story of Marie van Goethem, the young girl who inspired Degas to create his famous sculpture. Canadian author Cathy Marie Buchanan bases her story in real history, giving a voice to Marie and her sisters as they try to survive living on the slopes of Montmartre during the Belle Epoque of 19th century Paris.

The reader enters a world of hope, temptation and mire where every day is a tightrope walk and one misstep can send you into disgrace. The ballet is a place for young girls to be sold off to rich Patrons, the caf├ęs are where desperate young men ponder jail time as a respite from everyday struggles and the wash house is a place for making money to feed your absinthe addiction.

I couldn't put this book down because the description of the people and the scenes are so rich that I kept thinking about their world when I was not reading about it. The themes of good and evil, obsession and ultimately the bond between sisters will leave you heartbroken and satisfied at the same time. Is Marie destined for the life of crime that her features suggested? This is a great summer read that will allow you to escape to a completely different time and place.





Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wedding Cards Scrapbook

I have a box in our computer room into which I randomly stuff keepsakes and souvenirs that I want to put in a scrapbook at a later date. I know it's a little dorky, but I started it when I moved back from Europe. I had tons of ticket stubs, fliers and notes from friends that I glued into this big book with the Mona Lisa on the front. Now all those little mementos are reminders of the fun things I did while living in England. My 'scrapbook box' has been getting really full and heavy so I promised myself that I would do something about it when I got back home from Kelowna.

Well we've been back in Vancouver for a month and this weekend I finally had time to tackle the box because my husband is out of town. (He's writing a blog about practicing medicine in Uganda and if you want to read it, send me a message and I'll give you the link.) Most of the space in the box was being taken up by all these beautiful cards we had received for our engagement, shower and wedding.

So on Saturday I searched online for some ideas of what to do with the cards, I didn't want to just throw them out. I found some cute ideas but the best one was to make a scrapbook by cutting up the cards and pasting the images and messages in a notebook.


I went shopping for a pretty notebook, lots of glue and bought some gorgeous fall-orange flowers. When I got home I put on old movies, baked some pumpkin brownies and got started.


It took hours to go through all the cards and re-live such a wonderful day. It was a good chance to really read the cards, they were so thoughtful. On our wedding day there was a lot of excitement and so many well-wishes being extended our way that it was impossible to give each and every one the due attention it deserved. Instead, the warm sentiments behind each greeting added up, one on top of another, to create a glow and a high that left me wide awake at 5am, hoping the day would somehow never end.

It did end, but I still look back on that day and wouldn't change anything. Over a year later, reading each carefully selected card and individually written message I could see people's unique connections to us being expressed. I wish I could go back again and say an even more heartfelt thank you to all of our family and friends for giving us this book of love that will always keep the day alive.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Green Smoothies

Something weird has been happening in my yoga practice lately. You know how sometimes when you're stretching and bending and meditating.... suddenly your body tells you loud and clear that it is craving a certain food? Well lately mine has been screaming 'I WANT A GREEN SMOOTHIE'. I usually have a frozen fruit smoothie in the morning but now sometime between Standing Bow and Balancing Stick my muscles and cells seem to crave the energy they can only get from greens.

I tried searching online for recipes but couldn't find a simple one that used everyday ingredients. I just wanted to use the things I had in my fridge and try something 'safe'. I mean, I had no idea whether this was even going to taste good or not. I came up with a simple recipe that has a very mild green taste and gives my body the boost it needs.

This is a great smoothie for Bikram yogis, it only takes five minutes to make and the coconut water and spinach are good for hydration. The banana gives you potassium and also makes the smoothie taste creamy and light. Be sure to drink at least two hours before yoga because protein powder takes a long time to digest and will make you feel full in class.




Banana Spinach Protein Smoothie

Ingredients:

- 1 Banana (frozen for a thicker smoothie)
- 2 cups Spinach
- 1 cup Coconut Water or Tap Water
- 1 scoop Whey Protein (I usually use Vanilla but was craving Chocolate today, both taste good)
- 1 Tbsp Chia Seeds or Other Supplements


Directions:

1. Break Banana into smaller pieces and put into blender container.


2. Add in 1 cup of Spinach.


3. Add in Protein Powder and Chia Seeds or other supplements like Flax Seeds or Hemp Hearts.


4. Pour Coconut Water into the container, it should wilt some of the Spinach and push the mixture down, creating more space.

5. Add the other cup of Spinach to the container now that there is more room.


6. Blend all the ingredients together and drink at least 2 hours before yoga.



Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Back to School

I am back in Vancouver now and happy to be here.

I loved the last two months in Kelowna. I learned so much from the teachers at the Bikram Yoga studio, I got to practice more than usual and the weather was phenomenal. I feel like I have had a good long summer and I'm ready for fall. This never happens because I'm not a big fan of the rain and it feels like the summer in Vancouver is never long enough.

But I'm happy to be back. Today was my first day teaching in Richmond again and it was wonderful. Both of my classes were relatively small and the students were working hard and listening closely. I had quite a few first-timers in my second class and a lot of people who had come back to yoga after taking the summer off. I can relate to them more easily after taking a bunch of time off at the beginning of the year to travel. I just tried to encourage them to realize how strong they were and to keep on trying.

One of the people just returning looked a little green at one point and another lady could only sit on her mat but they both made it through the whole class without leaving and their determination inspired me. If they could finish up class, I had no excuse not to myself! One of my favorite teachers was there too and it was a pleasure to see her practice and hear her feedback after class.

Then I took class, and I have to say I was the one being schooled. I haven't taught two classes in a row for almost four months so I was pretty tired after teaching. I noticed how exhausted I was when I took class. My breathing was heavier than normal and I struggled to get it under control during the standing series. That's ok though, it means I am working on my cardio and improving my lung capacity, it is all good.

I'm starting to find the beauty in struggle in class, the things that are hard are the things your body really needs and that's how you make change happen. I also noticed that I have let go of being 'perfect' in class. If I needed to go a bit easy in a posture I didn't stress out like usual. I've been focusing on the form of the posture and letting go of how far I can stretch into it and it's had an impact on my mental state when I'm in the room as well.

These are just some personal observations I have made about the differences between Kelowna and the Lower Mainland studios. The Kelowna studio is hot and dry. It was hard to get in and take class because I was already sweating when I got to the studio. In contrast, the air in Vancouver is much cooler but more moist. Taking a breath in here is like drinking water, it is so refreshing. It also means the classes are more humid, and seem hotter as well.

In Kelowna the teachers taught with a strong focus on dialogue and there were a good group of experienced students who practiced regularly. In Vancouver there are so many more beginning students that the teachers use less strict dialogue in an effort to explain the postures in a more accessible fashion. Both are good. Vancouver teachers make up for less dialogue by correcting more experienced students so I have gotten some good tips on my practice, Kelowna teachers have such wisdom in the things they say between the postures and I feel my teaching grew much stronger as a result of their motivational classes.

I'm stuck between missing Kelowna and looking forward to bringing everything I learned back home and putting it into practice in Vancouver, but I know it's going to be a great fall and winter!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Find the Stillness in Your Postures

Last summer I wore a pair of white Havianas almost every day. In August when the weather got nice we took long walks around Stanley Park and all over downtown. By the end of the summer I felt the damage my flip flops had done. My lower back was sore, my left hip ached and my ankles hurt too. Every time I put my shoes on all those familiar pains were there but I just kept wearing them, they were too easy to put on and toss off at the end of the day.

This summer I was in Germany and was reminded that I needed to update my footwear when I saw some Birkenstocks on sale. I had never considered wearing them but heard they were supposed to be really good for your posture and were kinder to your body than regular flip flops. I know they're not the most stylish of shoes so I tried on a bunch of different styles before settling on some shiny red ones. They didn't have my size at the time but somehow my parents found the correct size in another store and gave me a pair for my birthday!


I decided to test them out one day on my walk to the yoga studio. I walked across the street and at first they felt weird, my feet were not used to such stiff shoes and being held into proper alignment by a strap...


Then I walked by the park and I started to noticed the arch support felt pretty good on the soles of my feet...


By the time I was walking up Lawrence Street I could feel a difference in my whole body. My ankles were not sore and my hips felt more aligned. Even though my left hip always feels tight I was now able to walk normally instead of compromising my gait...


Suddenly I was hit with a thought - what if I did the same thing in yoga class? What if I just let my body feel the tightness it has in certain areas and don't do anything to overcompensate? I thought to myself, if my left hip wants to be tight all class it can just go ahead!

We started Hands-To-Feet Pose and I felt resistance in my hip as I tried to lock my knees. I realized that my normal habit is to shift my body weight to my right hip more so I could stretch around the tightness and get deeper. Today however when I got to the point in the posture where my body gave me feedback I stopped right there and just held the posture until the teacher said change.

I suddenly remembered the many times while taking class that I had heard the teacher talk about observing the stillness in your postures. I always took this to mean that it's important to make sure you hold the postures for the specified time and don't come out early. However, I realized it also applies to going into the posture the right way and then when you can't go any further, holding still without breaking the form. Practicing this way made me more aware of what was going on inside my body in yoga class.

Now that I am mindful of the stillness in my postures I am noticing all kinds of bad habits that I have in class. When I sit down in Awkward Pose I always sway to the right to work around my tight left hip. When I do Cobra Pose I don't squeeze my heels together enough and when I lift up my shoulders are crooked because I haven't stretched out and realigned my hips enough yet. These are just a couple of examples!

Stillness is part of Asana, it allows you to look inward and see how the pose is affecting your body. By holding the posture at your deepest point you will become aware of the tight areas in your body that need to be stretched into. Once you get to the part of the posture where your body can't go any further, just breathe. The stillness will allow your body to relax and instead of stretching around the tight spot, you will be able to stretch into that area and that's when the yoga really starts to work.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Call the Yoga Police!

Last week I really slacked off my yoga practice. My parents were visiting and they stayed across the lake in Westbank. Every day I went to their campsite and relaxed, went swimming, drank wine and ate junk food. Every day as the hours passed I had that little voice inside my head - panicking - telling me I was missing yoga class and I should be on my mat right now!!!

This can be a problem for us yogis. When we get into a routine of going to yoga class we feel so good practicing, we don't want to miss a single day. Bikram yoga infuses discipline into the practice and teaches us to gain control of our body in order to tame our 'monkey mind'. These are great things but what about when you start feeling guilty and anxious for missing a class? I once had a student tell me that if she misses a class she continuously looks at the clock, mentally going through which posture she would be doing if she were in class at that moment. How can you enjoy the time outside the room with your mind so distracted?

Yoga means union. In the hot room it is easy to see how we connect the mind and the body but what about practicing your yoga outside of the hot room... When you miss a few days and your mind is going crazy giving you a guilt trip, take a step back and breathe. Bikram says your mind can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Just like you breathe through and let go of the critical thoughts you might have about yourself in the hot room, see if you can let go of some of the guilt you might have about not going to class.

I find when I've been practicing three to five times a week regularly and miss a few days of yoga, I actually get mad at myself for every day that I don't go. Each day seems like a missed opportunity to take class and when I can't make it I get upset. Last week I pulled back and reminded myself that I actually don't go to yoga every single day, so it's ok to miss a few and make them up later. It helped me calm down and enjoy the time with my family.

After taking a few extra days (or weeks) off yoga we're confronted with another source of anxiety: returning to the hot room. I told a few of the teachers here at the Kelowna studio that I had only practiced a couple of times last week and instead of shaking their heads in dismay and disgust they were overwhelmingly sympathetic. They were not judging and telling me I should have tried to come in and taken a class. All of them told me that the reason we practice yoga in the first place is so our quality of life is improved and we can indulge ourselves sometimes without having to worry too much about the outcome.

When I went to class for the first time this week yes it was a little rough... tight muscles and joints, major dizziness and detoxing happening. But I kept thinking to myself that if I had done just one or two more classes last week I would be feeling fine. That's it. Not five more classes like I felt I had missed out on. I realized I need to not let my mind make a mountain out of a molehill, next time life gets busy just try to fit in one extra class and all will be good.

Remember that we practice yoga in the hot room to become better people outside of the hot room. All the lessons we learn about patience, determination and acceptance can be applied to everything we do. Don't beat yourself up about missing a few classes now and then, especially if it's for a good reason like enjoying time with your family and loved ones or indulging in an activity that is meaningful to you. These are precious times made even more special by the fact that your yoga practice has taught you to be present and savor the moment.

Then use your determination and get back in the hot room. Accept that you might have a tough one but at one point during class you will think "ahhhhh why didn't I come in here sooner? My body loves this!".

P.S. I love this video & it inspired this post!



Friday, August 10, 2012

Sadsies in Yoga Class

During the past few yoga classes I have felt a little sad during certain postures, especially when I'm stretching into tight areas of my body. It hasn't been anything serious, more of a lingering sadness I feel that has been trapped in my muscles.

It is usually strongest in the spine strengthening series after I have stretched my neck and shoulders then turn my head to the side and just rest while taking deep breaths. These are typically the areas in my body that become tense when I'm feeling stressed out.

After recently re-visiting the place in the UK where I used to live, I needed to process some feelings of 'letting go' so I could make space to focus on all the great things happening in my life now. Four years ago I was living and working in Leeds when I flew back to Vancouver for Christmas... and then never returned to England!

(the flat I lived in)

My poor flatmate had to pack up my things and ship them all the way to Vancouver. For four years I felt like I never got to say goodbye to all the things I loved about England and I constantly wondered what my friends were up to and if they still thought of me too. During that time I completely changed career paths to become a Bikram Yoga Teacher and met the love of my life and got married.

(a good place to shop for fresh flowers & candy)

When I was in Leeds this past May I spent a whole day walking around the streets I used to shop on, the building I used to work in, the flat where I lived and the areas my friends and I would go out for dinner to and pubs we would frequent. At every corner I was overwhelmed with the sense that I was walking in the footsteps of my younger self, a little more naive, a little more silly then. I reflected on the changes my life has undergone and felt strong feelings of happiness and contentment, I knew I had made the right decisions to bring me to where I am now.

(inside Leeds Market)

At the end of the day I was supposed to take the 6pm train back to my friends' place but I couldn't tear myself away from the familiar view of the city at the door of the train station. Knowing I would never see these buildings, taxi cabs and fashionable people through the same eyes again was sad. I had to leave my younger self behind to linger in the essence of the city.

(one of the arcades filled with unique shops)

After the major life changes in the past four years there is no longer room for her but I will always look back at that time fondly. I went back to my friends' flat on the 6:45pm train and we had dinner and subdued drinks. We have all changed, grown up together at the same pace even though we are the world apart.

(a glass of champs at Harvey Nichols to finish the day)

Often we do not express negative thoughts or emotions we experience in our everyday life. Society doesn't allow us positive outlets for sad feelings; growing up kids are made fun of if they are seen crying. However, all experiences are valuable and should therefore be acknowledged and expressed appropriately.

When you bury emotions that you don't think are appropriate or you don't want to deal with it may seem like they disappear but they do linger and can actually have an impact on your body. Some people would say that the different areas of your body 'trap' different emotions and some people even believe that your thoughts and emotions play a large role in physical ailments we experience.

How many times have you felt stressed out to experience a tight neck or have stubbed your toe and kept re-injuring the same area multiple times? As unbelievable as it may sound, these can be indications of something unresolved inside of you. Bikram's own guru believed that the majority of illnesses people encounter are caused by stress.

Stretching deep into the places of my body makes me realize I have these thoughts and lets me experience a sweet sadness I wouldn't normally allow myself in everyday life. After class I feel meditative and content, and ready to open myself to enjoy the many happy things that are happening all around me right now .