Sunday, July 26, 2015

Really Real Yoga

Really Real Yoga
A little over three years ago I did yoga teacher training.  I almost wasn’t allowed the 2-weeks off to go but at the last minute was allowed time off from my job.   I was at a job with a horrible commute that was literally sucking the life out of me.  I think at the time I thought I could teach a little yoga on the side and who knew, maybe make a full-time job out of it.  Then I could quit my job and everything would be better.  I knew I had a greater purpose than driving three hours every day, surely.  I returned from yoga teacher training and definitely had a lot of ideas of how I could put into motion all the things that I was taught.  Two months after I returned, I broke my foot.  To say that was a hard time in my life is an understatement.  Once I got over the, “why me?” I began to see all the reasons exactly why it was me.  I truly believe I needed to learn more about patience and “let go”, that things will happen in their due time.   While I wasn’t able to physically practice the yoga postures I began to focus on the pranayama (breathing) and the yoga sutras (mantras).  I think there was one day that I must have listened to MC Yogi’s song, “Breath Control” over 100 times - “Inhalation, inspiration, take a deep breath, increase the vibration, Exhalation, Exultation, send a bright light into creation, breathe in, breathe out, release the stress just let it all out.  Receive an inspiration with every inhalation.”   Just breathing helped me in the following months of healing and rehab.  My yoga teacher training was intense because it was in a short period of time and there was SO much to learn.  Coming back from training I’m sure I was on a natural high and felt like I could do anything.   It’s one thing to have the head knowledge but it’s another thing to put that knowledge into motion/practice.  During the next six months is when I really truly understood my yoga teacher’s mantra – #Really Real Yoga.  What is Really Real Yoga you ask?  It’s emphasized in some of the yoga sutras, these four in particular:

Progress in the Present Moment – 1.1 Now, the teachings of yoga, the steps that allow one to progress.

Quiet the Mind – 1.2 Yoga is the ability to direct and focus mental activity and the ability to still the turning of thought.

See What is Really Real – 1.3 With attainment of a focused mind, the inner being stands in its true identity observing the world.

Understand What Isn’t Real – 1.4 Otherwise, we identify with the turning of thought and the misperceptions of the mind.

My explanation won’t do it justice.  For the full explanation from Marianne Wells, my yoga teacher:

This is my interpretation/application of Really Real Yoga.  It’s what I mentioned earlier, I knew I had a greater purpose.  Sure, I needed to stay present at my job (with the long commute) but I also knew that I couldn’t stay at a job where I was just “going through the motions”.  I didn’t have to think too much about what I was doing at my job.  I could wing it and get by.  I stayed at my job for almost 2 more years and Really Real Yoga is what helped me through those two years.  I decided in that moment of healing (from my foot) that I would be as mindful day to day as I could.  I would teach with intention (not that I hadn’t before, but now more than ever I would teach with meaning).   And lastly I decided to be aware of all that was going on around me – I literally was driving daily to the Everglades.  20 miles of my commute was on Snake Road and those 20 miles were the most treacherous.  The minute I decided to be mindful and aware of my surroundings, I began to appreciate Snake Road.  Here’s one of the pictures I actually stopped to take (where I’d normally speed so fast just to get off of Snake Road):

After two years of searching for a job I was able to get a job that I definitely “do what I love and love what I do”.   I have learned so much in this last year and still have more to learn. 

This past week on Instagram there was an “Instagram inspiration” that my yoga teacher and another sponsor were doing.  I’ve never done one of the IG “challenges” and must admit they seem overwhelming to me.  This one was different.  It was taking all of the “Really Real Yoga” concepts with the hope to inspire others in the yoga community.  Inspire and show that yoga is so much more than just the Asanas.  The challenge for me is always to stay present and focused, to stay calm and continue to open my mind.  I don’t ever want to just go through the motions again.  Here’s how I apply “Really Real Yoga” in my daily life:
Breathe –                                                                                                                                                         Every day at work at lunch time I sit and just breathe.  Some days it’s two minutes and some days it’s 10 minutes.  Breathing helps me reset and reconnect.  When my mind is focused on all that lies before me for the rest of the day, I focus on nothing else but just breathing.  Mid-day recharge.  “Before you can breathe to learn, you must learn to breathe.”
3 years ago I broke my foot.  I was literally stopped in my tracks and felt like I couldn’t MOVE.  Little did I know all that I had in store to learn during the following six months.  Injuries teach you a lot.  I now can appreciate being able to move daily.  I’ve slowed down and am more mindful with each movement I do make.  And I definitely remind everyone around me never to run in the rain in flip flops (you won’t get there ANY quicker!)  “It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.” ~Confucius~

Meditation–                                                                                                                                          Meditation sharpens our concentration, our power of thought, and allows personal transformation.  I like to use the quote that Dan Harris says about meditation when I describe it, “It’s like a bicep curl for the brain.”  Meditation for me isn’t easy.  My mind is always wandering.  I simply acknowledge that my mind has wandered and begin again.  It’s a bicep curl – strengthening each and every time.  Some days are easier than others.  The key for me has been consistency.
Food–                                                                                                                                                                     As a dietitian I teach variety, balance, and moderation.  I try and teach people that a “diet” is simply the food that they’re eating.  And I always use the Ayurvedic proverb in my teaching:  “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use.  When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”

Rest/Sleep–                                                                                                                                                    “Sleep is the most underrated health habit.”  Cheating your body out of the R & R it needs can make you more prone to illness, stress, traffic accidents, and weight gain.  My Fitbit monitors my sleep patterns.  They’ve even now added where I can make a goal for how much sleep I‘ll obtain.  I’ve started to meditate now before bed to try and help and a few yoga poses to help also.

Love –                                                                                                                                                                        I always tell my nephews that “I love them to the moon and back, to infinity and beyond forever and ever!”  When they were younger they just thought it was a funny quote.  But as they are getting older they understand how deep my love for them is.
Really Real Yoga
My yoga teacher uses this mantra and recites it often.  It helps you understand what Really Real Yoga is and incorporate it into your daily life.
“If my heart could do my thinking, and my head could truly feel, then I would know what is really real.”
Yoga teacher training forever changed my life (and continues to change me.)  I often used to think that yoga came into my life at just the right moment.  I didn’t choose yoga, yoga chose me.   I found a renewed faith in myself.  I began to settle into myself and as I began to settle I began to see that peace is the way.  I hope that from today’s post you can find a piece of inspiration from this concept of Really Real Yoga – whether it’s to deepen your practice or whether it simply has allowed you to see what “living the yoga lifestyle” really means.  

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Let’s suffice it to say work has been stressful as of recent.  I love my job and I love helping people learn how to eat properly and manage their diabetes.  So you say, what’s the stress?  Paperwork + charting = long days.  Just let me do what I love, which is teaching and educating, and let’s forget about all the minor details.  Yes I know I have to document what’s been discussed, I get it.  But why can’t I dictate my note like the doctors do?  Now there’s an interesting food for thought.  That would speed up some time, now wouldn’t it??   I can see up to 6 people in a day (at an hour per person or more) and each person will take between 20-30 minutes to chart.  You do the math.   Oh and I type fast, thanks to my 8th grade typing teacher Ms. Barker.   There have been some long days recently and that alone contributes to the stress.  Stress is a normal part of life.  Our bodies are designed to experience stress and react to it.  Stress can be positive but it also can become negative.

Stress can affect the mind and body in various ways:
Emotional – Mood swings, irritability, loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem
Psychological – Problems concentrating impaired judgment, anxiety, and memory issues.
Behavioral – Problems eating, poor sleep patterns, neglecting responsibilities, and drug/alcohol abuse
Physical – Headaches, muscle pain, nausea, chest pains, and possible flare-ups of preexisting medical issues.

Consider the following:
-Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress. 
-Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
-Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
-OSHA declared stress a hazard of the workplace à Stress costs the American industry more than $300 billion annually.

My last job I didn’t manage my stress as well as I should have.  I was constantly upset by my long commute as it was a daily reminder to me not only at the beginning but also at the end of the day – it literally would be sometimes too much to bear.  With my new job I’ve committed to identifying my stresses and finding ways to help resolve the stress that I’m feeling before it can affect me in any negative ways.   While my days aren’t getting any shorter just yet, I have been managing the stress better.  Here’s how:

Talking to Someone – Simply by talking to someone that you trust will help you to get a fresh view on the work problems that are stressing you out.  Just by putting my issues into words has made a big difference in how I see things.  Again, it doesn’t always solve the problem immediately at hand, but it has helped me reflect and recognize – whereas before I kept it all internally, which in many cases was worse.   

Meditation – It’s easy to be skeptical but the truth is that whatever you want to call it – meditation, mindfulness, relaxation breathing – it has a subtle yet real power to help deal with my work stress.  Do not get me wrong, there are days when I barely get to have lunch, but it’s on those days that I need this even more!  I simply take a pause amongst the chaos.  If I keep going I will not be of any benefit to my next patient.  And even though I get stressed out about getting a few minutes behind for my next patient I know the simple act of pausing and breathing will help me reset my way of seeing what lies before me.   While I don’t profess to be an expert on meditation I do know that the more consistent with it that I am the more beneficial it is to me.  Dan Harris’s quote always helps me remember that, “Meditation is just exercise for your mind – bicep curls for your brain.”  Here are three simple steps from Dan to help you begin:
  1. Sit comfortably – you don’t have to twist yourself into a cross-legged position – unless you want to, of course.  You can just sit in a chair (You can also stand up or lie down, although the latter  can sometimes result in an unintentional nap.)  Whatever your position, you should keep your spine straight, but don’t strain.
  2. Feel Your Breath – Pick a spot:  nose, belly or chest.  Really try to feel the in-breath and then the out-breath.
  3. Return to the Breath – This one is the key:  Every time you get lost in thought – which you will, thousands of times – gently return to the breath.  I cannot stress strongly enough that forgiving yourself and starting over is the whole game.
I’ve been using a couple of apps to help me be more consistent with meditating.  Apps like Headspace and Happify have been my go to apps.   Explore and find the ones that help you.   All it requires is a smartphone and 10 minutes a day.  Just make sure to turn off your notifications.  10 minutes of not being connected to anything but your breath.

Don’t Lean On Bad Habits – The actual direct physiological effects of work stress are damaging in their own right.  But the other dangers, the ones like heart disease and obesity, come as an indirect result of the poor choices we all make while under stress.  I always tell my patients that we’re often too hard on ourselves.  There are going to be times when we make that poor food selection because we’re stressed.  The key is identifying the triggers to make sure we don’t keep repeating these choices, because it’s the frequency that can be harmful.  The fact is you’re vulnerable to making poor eating choices, either because you don’t make the time to prepare healthy meals or because you turn to comfort foods to make yourself feel better.  We all do it, it’s normal.  But like I said, don’t set yourself up to fail.  Even if you don’t have time to prepare healthier meals for yourself, plan ahead what you will eat.  So instead of waiting till you’re famished, have a plan before of when you will break for lunch and know what it is that you’ll eat.  Hangry people don’t always make the best decisions when it comes to food and many times opt for the feel good food option.  Plan a little ahead. 

Exercise Your Body And Mind – Surprising as this stat is, the American Psychological Association found in a recent study that only 17% of American adults exercise daily.  Yet it’s effectiveness as a stress-fighting tool is profound and clear:  Your body is better physically prepared to deal with the demands that are placed upon it and exercise will help to combat some of the physical effects of the poor lifestyle choices we make as a result of stress.  I truly believe that exercise also helps your mind to simply wander.  I know that whether it’s on my early morning runs or on my brisk walks at lunch, my mind is able to unplug for a moment and focus on nothing in particular.  I can simply let go.   With this freedom to let my mind wander I find I’m able to see things more rationally as well as with less emotional intensity.  I have also committed myself to do more yoga.  With these long days at work I found it hard practicing yoga on my own.  So I joined the gym at work and aim to go to yoga at least 3 of the 5 days during the week.   There are some weeks I’m able to go every day and there are some weeks that my third day ends up being on Saturday.  My goal has been simply to be more consistent with the physical practice of yoga.  This break however, allows me to come back with a fresh mind, creative boost, and fresh perspective.   
Make Time For Yourself! – While it appears that US working hours have remained relatively stable over the last decade, 47 hours per week, it doesn’t take into account the constant connection to work afforded by smartphones and other technology.  In order to offset stress building up it’s important to disconnect and not be on this 24-hour on-call mentality.  Set a time each night when you won’t respond to work emails or work calls.  The important point, stick to it!  The time spent answering a work email could be spent on some of the suggestions I’ve made here today.  Really truly give back to yourself by making time and keeping boundaries between work and home. 

The takeaway?  We all know that stress isn't helping any of us.  Find a healthy way to respond to stress.  Resilience, the ability to adapt to stress in a healthy way, can start with just your thoughts and your breath.  Be present, be self-aware, and attend to your needs.  How easy is that?