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 .

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Fresh Fruity Spa Water

I hear Vancouver is finally getting some heat! I feel like our summers never really get started before August anymore so hopefully we have a nice warm fall again. It's pretty hot up here in Kelowna, this week it has already been at 37 degrees which is almost the same temperature as inside the room in a Bikram Yoga class. We experienced similar conditions the first week in I was here and one day during the 5pm class the room was so stifling the teacher decided to let us practice with the windows open!

It's taken a lot of adjusting for my poor confused body and I'm still finding it challenging to keep myself hydrated. Today I taught the 12pm class and wanted to take the next class myself which was at 4pm. I quickly went to a cafe down the street and ate something so my food had time to digest. I had a nice Tiger Spice Chai Latte then went home to re-hydrate.

I had sweat out a lot when I taught the noon class and knew I had to put the moisture back into my body so I drank a liter of Gatorade-infused water before walking down to take class. I know Gatorade is not recommended by yogis because of its' high salt and sugar content but when I'm really feeling parched it seems to be the only thing that works for me. When I was at Teacher Training I had to drink a Gatorade every day just so I wouldn't feel weak and dizzy in class. I try to avoid it normally and drink Vega Sport Electrolyte Hydrator instead, which is a nice clean product. However I believe we're all a bit different and you need to find what works for you and when I'm desperate my body reacts well to Gatorade.

Lately I have been getting dehydrated at the stragest times. I usually drink a ton of water before yoga class so I don't need to have any when I'm in the hot room. I also drink a lot afterwards to replenish everything I sweat out during class. Yet in the morning I have been waking up feeling very dizzy and nauseous, sort of like you feel in the middle of a Bikram class when you know you didn't drink enough water beforehand. The first thing I have to do is run to the fridge and drink coconut water until I feel more energized and my head is clear. I finally realized the best thing to do is drink coconut water before I go to bed and today I woke up feeling better. (Thanks Elsa for the coconut water!)

I also have been making some chilled spa-like fruit water, hoping the vitamins and minerals from the fruit will help a little bit. I have been hearing about this everywhere and it's easy to make if you have a big container and a few different kinds of fresh fruit. You can combine different fruits to make new flavours, here's what I tried:

Cucumber and Kiwi


Lemon and Blueberries

Monday, August 6, 2012

Kelowna Farmer's Market

Saturday two of my students from Coquitlam, Elsa and her husband Steve, were traveling through Kelowna and we met at the yoga studio to take class together! I arrived at 8:45am and it was so nice to see their familiar faces. I'm used to going by myself which can be a little bit lonely and I was glad for their company. The teacher was bubbly and knew everyone's names, it was a lot of fun. The class moved together without effort, what a great way to start the weekend! Afterwards we felt relaxed and energized and my husband finished work right as we were done so the timing was perfect.

This weekend in Kelowna was the Centre of Gravity Concert and there were so many people from out of town it felt like the population had more than tripled with partiers. We wanted to eat brunch but I thought it would be wise to steer clear of the restaurants downtown because they would be filled with people nursing their hangovers. So we went to the Farmer's Market for snacks. The Kelowna Farmer's Market is the biggest in BC.

The day was already getting hot and we were thirsty after class so the first place we stopped was the smoothie stand. We all got fresh fruit smoothies, I tried the coconut and pineapple Pina Colada. It was the best thing ever to order after yoga. It was pure fruit with a little bit of cane sugar and was so hydrating and delicious. It was exactly what my body was craving and it helped keep us cool as we walked among the various stalls.

Then we all decided to try the crepes. My husband and Elsa couldn't resist the Nutella and banana crepes and I ate a buckwheat crepe with eggs, cheese and peppers. Steve also got a breakfast crepe and they were all delightful. I ate the best crepe in Paris in May so can't help comparing to that one but these were perfect, just as good as in Paris. Elsa and Steve had to leave then so we said goodbye and walked around looking for more snacks. We found an all-vegetarian foods place where my husband got some steamed veggie buns that were very nice, especially the pulled pork one.

After walking around some more and buying some fruit and cookies and more snacks for the week, we wanted something else to drink. There were fresh squeezed lemonade stands everywhere and it looked tasty but I couldn't get the thought of that wonderful smoothie out of my head. When he said we should almost get another smoothie instead of lemonade I jumped on it and we went back for more! This time I tried the Mango smoothie and although I liked the Coconut one better I could taste how fresh the smoothies were with this one - it was simply a whole cup of squeezed and diced mango.

I think the Farmer's Market was actually a great place to go for breakfast. It was so fun to walk around in the heat and look at what everyone was offering. We ate whatever we thought looked good and had lots of little snacks. The smoothies were a highlight and the people were friendly, I think we'll go again next weekend (or I'll sneak there myself on Wednesday)!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Eyes are the Windows to the Soul

The first time I took class in Kelowna, I had just returned from traveling through Europe. Although I did take class over there, I think all the wonderful food and wine I consumed didn’t help my practice. So there I was... full of toxins and out of shape, in a new studio with full dialogue classes.

By the time we got to Standing Bow I was doubled over, feeling nauseous and trying to catch my breath. It seemed to make me feel better but I noticed that every time I took a little break to clutch my stomach, it got harder and harder to talk myself into starting the posture again. My breaks became more frequent until we finally got to the floor and I could rest.
The next time I took class the teacher rather pointedly enouraged me to keep going and stop looking at the floor. She had me all figured out and the second I dropped my eyes she called out,
“Why are you looking at the floor? There’s nothing to see there!”
You can read about how much I enjoyed that class here:(
However I did notice that for the first time in a long time I was able to complete every posture without taking a break and I even had more energy as the postures progressed. Could it really be that looking in the mirror made such a difference to my class? It took me back to another time when an inspirational teacher reminded me to look in the mirror as I was struggling...
In 2008 I went to Teacher Training in Acapulco. Mexico in the fall, in rainy season, was unbearably humid. The yoga room was filled with more than 400 yogis and in the first few classes I found myself kneeling on my mat, just trying to breathe. It felt like someone was stepping on my chest.
The turning point for me happened when Ulises from Mexico was teaching. He was encouraging us to just keep going no matter how hard it seemed. He told us to use our Jedi mind strength and always look at our eyes in the mirror. He said,
“When you look in your eyes you will see things are not as bad as you think, because you will never make a horrible face at yourself”.
Besides making me laugh, I found his advice very useful and started completing stronger, more focused classes.  Over the years I forgot all about the lesson he taught me but was reminded recently when I took that class in Kelowna and was forced to stop looking at the floor.
I was almost scared to look in the mirror in case I looked exhausted. Yet when I raised my gaze to my eyes I experienced  shock, awe and inspiration. Instead of seeing a pathetic looking creature begging for a stop to this torture I saw strength, determination and passion radiating from my gaze.
Throughout the rest of the class I used the mirror as a way to directly tap into my inner strength. It was like sticking my finger into a socket, the energy inside me was crackling through the mirror and invigorating my postures. Now I noticed that when I let my eyes drop down to the floor, even for a couple of seconds, my energy went down as well. I would quickly look back into my eyes and before I knew it, I had completed a strong standing series.
I said a silent little thank you to the teacher for reminding me of this valuable lesson and promised myself I would not forget it again.

We are the mirror as well as the face in it.
We are tasting the taste this minute of eternity.
We are pain and what cures pain both.
We are the sweet cold water and the jar that pours.
I want to hold you close like a lute so we can cry out with loving.
You would rather throw stones at a mirror?
I am your mirror, and here are the stones.
- Rumi

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cora Restaurant, Kelowna BC

There's nothing like weekend brunch when you live in downtown Vancouver. There are so many restaurants that serve variations of Eggs Benedict, Omeletes and French Toast and it's a Vancouver institution to take a walk downtown, sit on a patio and enjoy a fabulous breakfast late in the afternoon.

A couple weekends ago we wanted to keep up our Vancouver tradition of brunch on Saturday so we went to one of the big brunch places around here, Cora. It's a bright yellow building that you can't miss on Harvey Street (Hwy 97).

The interesting thing about Cora is that it is a Canadian-based business. Cora Tsouflidou opened a diner in Montreal twenty-five years ago in 1987. Over the years her breakfast business has expanded to now include more than 130 franchised restaurants (two in the Lower Mainland - Richmond and Coquitlam). Cora still  keeps the business family-based, with her family personally training new business partners and her son recently taking over as CEO.

Cora herself still tries out new menu items in her own kitchen before approving them to go on the menu. The restaurant's service model is based on the idea that customers should be wowed by the extra steps that staff take to leave them feeling at home and satisfied.

When we arrived the restaurant was packed and there was a lineup but because there are so many tables we only had to wait for about ten minutes. The hostesses were friendly and the inside of the restaurant matched the outside with cheerful yellow walls featuring cartoons of smiling suns and menu items written in bold lettering. Everything seems geared towards kids and families and the decor makes you feel at home and happy  in the morning, sort of like having breakfast in a kooky Aunt's farmhouse kitchen.

When we were seated our waitress was personable and told us the specials of the day. The menu has quite an extensive list of unique breakfast items as well as a few lunch meals as well. The nice thing about this menu is that with every meal you are guaranteed to get fresh fruit. It is a heavily fruit-based menu with several particularly french-inspired items including Crepes, Omelets and lots of Nutella. I chose the Strawberry Crepe with Vanilla Pudding and my husband chose the Crepomelette.


My husband's meal was delicious! It was a spinach and cheese omelet that had been rolled in a crepe and covered with hollandaise sauce. It came with a side of toast and of course a side of fresh fruit. The fruit included kiwis and strawberries and was not your typical canned fruit cocktail that many places serve. I tried a bite of his Crepomellette and the flavor of the spinach and cheese really came through and mixed well with the savory crepe and light hollandaise. If you can get over the hard-to-pronounce name this is a tasty item to order.

Strawberry Crepe

I ordered the strawberry crepe and as you can see from the picture, it was huge!!! The plate could not even contain it. When I first tasted the crepe I was delighted because it was light, fluffy and crispy all at the same time and had a pleasant vanilla flavour, delicious. The crepe was stuffed with sliced strawberries and I chose a vanilla custard filling rather than Nutella. There were three generous dollops of whipped cream on top and it was lightly dusted with icing sugar.

As I munched my way through I started realizing that this breakfast was an overload of sweetness! It was more of a dessert than a breakfast and the combination of the vanilla pudding and the whipped cream made me feel a little bit sick. I love sweet breakfast on the weekend and to be honest, I was out-sweetened by this one. A half portion would have been better because it was delicious at first, but just too much by the time I got more than halfway through. If you want to try it, I would recommend asking for it with no whipped cream.

As I mentioned before, sometimes I like to indulge with a sweet breakfast and cut it with the bitterness of a decaf coffee and I was craving this particular combination that morning. Our waitress brewed a decaf just for me and surprisingly, it was sooo tasty. Usually decaf coffee tastes like over-brewed watered-down dishwater but this was full flavoured and didn't have the metallic aftertaste that I hate in coffee. I also noticed they have an espresso machine and was delighted to have the option to order a latte or cappuccino.

To sum up, the staff did make the extra effort to be friendly and accommodating, the coffee was great and my husband's meal was outstanding. Although mine was too sweet, there are many other breakfast options to try so I think we will go back for another dose of early-morning cheer at Cora's.

Overall: 7/10