Where have I been?

Funny how I can jet off to Chicago for a weekend and still have time to write 3 posts, but give me a week to spend at home, and all you get is internet silence. What have I been doing with my time? I’ve actually been working on a longer post about my recent pixel laser treatment.

The short version: I got a pixel laser done on my face on Thursday June 13. The pixel laser is far more aggressive than glycolic peels and microdermabrasion. It basically “nukes” your skin cells in a pinpoint pattern, forcing them to regenerate. Even though the pixel laser only blasts 20-25% of the skin’s surface, you probably would not want to be out and about for 3-5 days post-pixel (unless you happen to be the kind of person who doesn’t mind stares). Honestly, it looked as though I had run face-first into a burning screen door. Since I can be shameless when I believe I am helping people, I taught all my regular fitness classes – first with a red face (like nightmare sunburn) then, as it started to heal, with flakey patches of brownish and burlap-textured, dead (fried!) skin. Not surprisingly, a few participants told me that they might want more information, but only after they could assess the final results.

Before going “under the laser,” I managed to squeeze in a night out with my boyfriend to celebrate our 31 month and one day anniversary (and people call me “un-romantic!”). If you look at a photo he shot, you will notice that my face changes color to the left of and below my cheek. Behold the ravages of time, genetics, and tropical excursions!

NOTE: suspecting he would shoot a few photos, I slathered on the BB cream. What you see here is an un-retouched photo with makeup.

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You can expect a longer and more detailed post (with gruesome photos!) about my pixel at a later date. In fact, I’m making a whole separate category called TMI for posts like that.

Also in the works are posts (with recipes) about our weekly CSA. What is a CSA? Enrolling in a CSA (community supported agriculture) basically amounts to investing in a “farm share.” You pay up front for a regular “share” of the harvest, guaranteeing a market for the farm and a regular supply of fresh produce for yourself. CSAs are also a sly way to rack up some karma points since you will: 1. support local farms, 2. eat cleaner and greener. So what if you don’t believe in karma? Joining a CSA will probably force more nutrition and variety into your diet. Here’s how ours works. Every week we pick up a bunch of locally grown, organic produce at our farmers market. But there’s a catch – although we know the produce will be seasonal, we never quite know what we will be getting until we pick it up. In that way, a CSA can be a little like a weekly Iron Chef challenge. And who doesn’t enjoy a fun challenge when the prize is a healthy and delicious meal? This week we received broccoli, green beans, tomatoes, garlic scapes, blueberries (our share always includes one fruit item), a huge cucumber, a little bag of spring mix, and fresh sage. Since we have some potatoes leftover from a previous share I’m looking forward to Salad Niçoise … and then maybe pasta with broccoli and garlic-scape pesto for a quick mid-week dinner. Once in a while you might find something mysterious (like garlic scapes) included in the share.  Luckily, the man who hands over the produce will identify unusual items such as sorrel or mizuna and even offer cooking ideas.

Anyway, I’m quite green at this blogging business, so my writing and posting probably seems a bit irregular. But in the immortal words of Shri Patthabhi Jois, “Practice and all is coming,” which is my way of saying,  “Thanks for your patience – more posts soon.”

Yoga Weekend, Part 3: Led Primary Series

During Saturday morning’s session (10am-1pm) Kino led us in the Ashtanga Primary Series. This series formed the foundation of my initial yoga teacher training back in 1998 at It’s Yoga in San Francisco. Since that time, I’ve been something of a “yoga slut” – dabbling in a variety of formats, studying with a whole host of “yoga stars”: Shiva Rea (vibrant), Sean Corne (intense), Anna Forest (wildly funny), and so on – sucking it all in and mixing and matching styles to suit my participants’ wants and needs. But sometimes it’s nice to get back to your roots, to stop wandering, so for the past few years I’ve limited my workshopping and yoga-vacationing to ashtanga.

Despite the fact that the Primary Series is a set series (same poses every time, start to finish), no two instructors seem to teach it in exactly the same way – including people who have studied at length with the grandmaster himself, Shri K. Patthabi Jois. Each time I’ve done the Primary Series with a new instructor there have been several moments when I thought, “Whoa! never seen that before!” or, “What just happened?” But since Kino spoke of lineage and tradition with great reverence, I assumed there would be no corners cut, no easy options. As we took our places on our mats I closed my eyes just for a second, cleared my head, and surrendered.

Surrendering to the practice involves far more than following the postures in order. We were told to bring three elements into play: the postures (asana), the breath (pranayama), the gazing point (drishti). Of the three, drishti has always been most difficult for me. If the class uses music (traditional ashtanga classes do not), I want to close my eyes; if there is no music, I start looking around – “Oooooo, what a cool tattoo! Philly seems more tattooed than Chicago. Wow! her spine is crazy flexible! Why don’t hairbands stay on my head?” So surrendering – at least for me – meant making a conscious effort not to look around, not to think about lunch. The first half of the class rocked! My body felt strong, my mind was focused, everything just flowed. Then all of a sudden my abs bonked. There I was humming along between navasana (like a V-sit) and a cross-legged “pop-up” onto the hands. I got through two or three rounds, and then in mid-pop-up my legs dropped, and my butt hit the mat. I tried to get back into it, but I just kept falling. So for a good 10-15 seconds I was baffled. I thought, “I teach Core Conditioning! I sing through planks! I love arm balances! What just happened?!?!?!” But there is magic in these large and music-free classes, and it lies in the breath. The sound of eighty people breathing in sync billows like a wave. You hear it, you feel it, and if you surrender, it might carry you to the next asana. And that’s exactly what happened. Call it acceptance, call it a second wind – but after that things actually got easier. Supta kurmasana (sleeping turtle), chakrasana (backwards roll to the bottom of a pushup, sort of), finishing sequence … not every pose was perfect, and at one point Kino gave my butt a little push as I hesitated mid-chakrasana, but for 90% of the class I managed to accomplish what I had set out to do, which was not to worry about accomplishing anything.

Yoga Weekend, Part 2: Twists

Unlike the workshop on adjustments, the evening session on twists was organized just like a “regular” yoga class. Kino began with a short description and rationale of what was to follow, led us in some chanting, and then took us into asana (poses/postures) practice. Since twisting is meant to detoxify, I assumed the class would be fast-paced to heat our bodies quickly and include numerous postures. I was pleasantly surprised when we focused on about a dozen poses. Kino employed a very meticulous, step-by-step method to get us into each one, and even repeated several poses. As someone on the less-flexible end of the yoga spectrum, this worked wonders for me. I actually had to stop myself from shouting, “Marichyasana C, Baby! Check out the bind!”

Digression: sometimes I get my formats confused – but only in one direction. That is, I never accidentally “speak yoga” while teaching Body Combat or Total Body Conditioning (although maybe it would be fun to say, “Open your heart” next time I’m teaching pec flies). But on several occasions I have very inappropriately gone “full-on aerobics instructor” while taking a yoga class. The worst episode occurred during a master class at Fireflow Yoga in Toronto. I was very focused on following directions, being “in the moment,” and not anticipating the next pose. But suddenly I found myself in a previously impossibly pose and inadvertently shouted, “Yeeeeeaaaaaah!” Thankfully no one fell, and class proceeded as if the outburst had never happened.

But back to twists … very commonly, spinal twists end up confined to the cervical and maybe the thoracic spine. That is, people turn their heads more than their bodies. But if the lumbar spine is left out of the twist, so are all those digestive organs! Kino had us anchor our sit bones very firmly onto our mats and then initiate our spinal twists with lateral movement of the ribcage. If you’ve ever taken modern or jazz dance, you will recognize the movement from isolations. Adding this lateral movement – which she described as “packing” – allowed me to feel that spinal twist much deeper and lower in my body than ever before. We employed this tactic with sitting poses like Marichyasana C, standing posts like Parivrtta Parsvakonasa, and even the super-exciting Parsva Bakasana (during which I made a conscious effort to keep my mouth closed – maybe this is an unstated reason behind nasal breathing in yoga?). Since returning to Philly, I’ve incorporated some of what I learned into my own classes, and participants have been binding left and right, literally!

The three hours flew by like one, and I felt interestingly sore in some new areas: psoas and internal obliques (this was to return with a vengeance during the Saturday morning Primary Sequence class). But as we came out of relaxation, my mind immediately flew to the urgent matters of catching the train and silencing my stomach.

Yoga Weekend, Part 1

This weekend, I flew to Chicago for an amazing series of workshops in Ashtanga Yoga with Kino MacGregor at Moksha Yoga. Even though it would have been possible to sign up for the sessions à la carte, I figured, if I am going all the way to Chicago, why not just do it all? The schedule included two sessions on Friday, two sessions plus a Q&A on Saturday, and one session on Sunday (each session lasted approximately three hours). The weekend was amazing, but it really wiped me out. In fact, I was a little nervous about teaching Spinning today at noon because I had hit abdominal failure during Saturday’s morning session (seriously, my abs just gave out!) and my quadriceps suffered the same fate during Sunday’s session.

Friday afternoon was geared towards teachers and focused on adjustments. I loved this session and raised my hand at the first opportunity to ask for some pointers on being a short instructor helping tall participants. Kino gave me a great tip (and had me practice on the tallest man in the room!) for a tricky pose called uttitha hasta padangustasasa or extended hand to big toe pose. She had me get under the man’s outstretched leg so that he could rest it on my shoulder. What a neat trick! This allowed him to feel secure as I adjusted his hips. In addition to addressing questions, Kino had us partner up and practice adjusting a series of tricky poses on one another.

The evening session focused on “twists.” According to the yogic model of the body, twists are detoxifying – which makes sense once you think about it. I always tell my participants, “You move your guts around like they’re being agitated in a washing machine and then squeeze everything out like a sponge!” Detoxifying is great, but I wouldn’t want to walk into an entire session on twists with a full stomach. Luckily, I had eaten such a huge lunch that I only wanted a snack during the break. But this brings me to the subject of food …

NOTE: if you want to read more about the yoga portion of this week, skip to the next post, because I am about to digress (I do this a lot).

Eating has always been a problem for me when I do workshops and trainings. I the past I’ve wildly miscalculated and ended up bloated and crampy or shaky and weak at all the wrong moments. I’ve even returned from a weekend only to discover that I’d lost 2-3 pounds from dehydration. Not good! Over the past year I’ve gotten better at planning ahead and now carry snacks like Lara bars, nuts, and packets of peanut or almond butter with me at all times. But since I had left Philadelphia on a 9:30 am flight and then hopped on a train at O’Hare airport, by the time I got to Moksha I was starving. In anticipation of the weekend, I had mapped out the neighborhood and located coffee shops and restaurants. I quickly spotted the Windy City Cafe, which I recognized from my Google search. Breakfast? Lunch? Pancakes? Salad? Panini? the menu looked so uniformly tempting that I wanted it all! I settled on the Juan’s Black Bean Burger with kettle chips and told myself, “You can just eat half if it’s huge and save the rest for the break.” Of course I ate the entire burger, the chips, and was actually eying the top piece of grilled bread my boyfriend had discarded from his Cuban Melt when the server took away his plate. As a result I was happy-full, energized for the afternoon, and well digested by the time we got to twists. So even though I thought I had miscalculated yet again, it turned out to be just right. My yoga friends would tell me it was meant to be; I call it felix culpa.