Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Season Of Fear

Happy Halloween!

It's been a while, folks. A summer full of fun and challenges has passed and here in New England the grayness of autumn is seeping in. Recently, I read that more people make life resolutions during September than during the January New Year. Autumn seems a natural time for renewal and change. Gardens die, leaves change color and fall from trees with no choice in the matter. Days grow shorter, and the planets have no say. Change comes simply in nature. The ground does not fear the coming frost, and storms do not fret over how much snow they will drop. People in contrast, do not have the luxury of complacency when it comes to big changes or life upheavals. As humans we possess the unique ability to worry, a sometimes enormous capacity for anxiety and an endless supply of the all crippling, most often disguised affliction, of Fear.

Damn straight.

October is the perfect month to talk about fear. While we masquerade as ghouls and ghosts with fists full of candy corn in tow, the time is right for some inward reflection, and contemplation on the costumes we wear during every day life. Some costumes we may need; the business suit at work when you want to stay in jammies, acting as the accommodating holiday host when you wish you'd opted for catering, these types of costumes are the result of choices we've committed to that we need to follow through on. They are a minor pain, a temporary inconvenience. Some disguises stay with us after work or Thanksgiving dinner however, and these need to be examined and evaluated. When one is uncomfortable or unsure of how to live life as their true self, walls and falsehoods are constructed out of fear. When we mask ourselves with fear, we rob ourselves of living the life we are meant to have. Fear subtracts positivity from life and hijacks opportunity. I have first hand knowledge, you probably do too.

Sometimes the toughest part can be identifying the fact that the fear is actually present. Next time you hear the voice in your head saying "You can't do that! Don't even bother!" or "There's nothing I can do, I just can't do it," ask yourself if it's really something you can't do, or just something you are scared to do. You can only walk through fear after your acknowledge it exists. If you make yourself believe that you are not capable of something, than you never will be. The only absolute power we have as humans, is the power over our thoughts. Shape your thoughts to the shape you want your life to take. Try it. See what happens.

These ideas aren't new, but I've been thinking about them a lot lately. They aren't airy-fairy new age ideas. Just ask Eleanor...

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do."

Friday, May 18, 2012



I've been practicing at home in front of this lately. I've been doing a lot of plotting, thinking, and meditating. More to come!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Don't Procrastinate! Motivate!

Everything in moderation. (Including moderation!!!)

The holidays are over. No more lasagna, cheese platters, spiked egg nog, cream cheese dips or pie. It's time to undo some of the damage done these past couple of months. I'm not talking about weight loss, I'm talking about health. Rebooting your body and kicking out those nasty artery clogging toxins. Lots of folks start off the new year with the best of intentions, plans, and hopes. But for some, right around now reality kicks in and we start to procrastinate.

Maybe you started a new exercise routine this month, maybe you modified the one you already had, or maybe you are just trying to keep up with the constant juggling of finances, family, friends and fitness. I always seem to be in a cycle of hitting it really hard and then fizzling out after a few months. So how can we stay motivated and dedicated to caring for our bodies and minds when life seems like it might swallow us whole? Here are 3 tips that work for me when it comes to staying committed to my fitness goals when what I really want is to couch it with some pizza and beer.

And you need to breathe.
1. Breathe.
I know I've worked myself into a mental frenzy when my shoulders have crept up by my ears, my teeth are being ground down to dust, and dizziness creeps in. ANOTHER bill? HOW many family events? WHAT is wrong with the car? To hell with exercise today! (And I don't even have kids. Moms and Dads, I have no idea how you do it. KUDOS) When I find myself slipping into this mindset I immediately sit down, close my eyes, and breathe. Stress is an oxygen killer and nothing helps pull those mental bearings in check like a few minutes (or maybe just 1 minute for you) of slow, deep, mindful breathing. It is something which yields amazing results from very little effort.

Just one day! The best day!
2. Just Pick One Day
Now that you are thinking clearly again, start small when it comes to exercise. Pick one day each week to spend time on an activity. Maybe for you that day changes each week, maybe it's the same day every week. The important part is to start small, and stay committed. You can work your way back into 3-5 times a week next month. This week, just focus on one day. Chances are you will be back at it quicker than you think. After your workout/walk/mediation/Zumba/whathaveyou, take a mindful moment to asses how you feel. Aren't you glad you went? Do you mentally and physically feel good? When I need motivation I often tell myself, I never regret exercising, but I always regret not exercising. Who needs regrets? Not me! And not you!

Do or do not. There is no "try".
3. Don't think. Just do.
Not everyone can get up early and get a workout done first thing. But if you can you certainly should! Keep your sneakers by your bedside. Sleep in your sports bra. Pre-fill your water bottle. Pack your gym bag the night before. Even if you don't workout first thing you'll have everything you need ready for when you need it. Don't think. Just strap those sneakers on or roll that yoga mat out and do it before your brain has a chance to give you an excuse not to. You will find a million excuses to not take care of yourself if you want to. Don't be that excuse person. Do 30 Jumping Jacks, rock out 10 Sun Salutations, crush 20 Squats. Whatever it is you do, do it and do it for yourself. Afterwards, be proud of your accomplishments and gear up for next time!

How do you stay motivated?

Follow me on Twitter! @OMGKatAttack

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Reminder to Stay Humble

Yesterday started great, but turned facepalm worthy.
I taught my first class yesterday! With much excitement and a healthy dose of nerves I lead a group of about 10 ladies through a 45 minute gentle yoga and meditation class. Only a couple of them had practiced yoga before, so I demoed most of the class. This was actually a bit tough for me since I'm used to walking throughout the class teaching in more of a coaching style. The studio owner took the class as well. She was very encouraging and supportive which I was thankful for. It was a great experience, the first of many to come. Yay!

Later in the day I decided to take a class. Having recently moved, I'm still trying to find a studio close to home to settle into, I've checked out a few. My "New Student" three pack at one studio in particular was soon to expire so I decided to hit up the 5:45 class. The other two classes I'd taken there were lightly heated, and of moderate intensity. Right up my alley! I actually prefer heated classes since I love the feeling of exercising until unequivocally drenched in sweat (Gross, Kat!). I expected the same experience yesterday evening when I walked into the studio.

As I was kicking my shoes off, I gave the instructor my name so he could check me in.
"Oh, I'm so glad you used your New Student Pack before it expired, so many people let theirs go" he told me.
"Really? That's too bad, glad I got to use mine up."
"Were these your first yoga classes? Are you new to yoga?"

Mental pause. I feel sort of douchey even telling people that I completed a training program sometimes. I don't want to come off condescending or, honestly I'm not really even sure WHAT I don't want to come off as. I guess, sometimes I just feel a little odd telling people about it. That's probably another post entirely.

"Um, I've been practicing for a while, I actually just finished a teacher training program. I just moved here so I'm looking for somewhere to practice."

The instructor proceeds to congratulate and welcome me, as well as give me the contact who hires new teachers and subs at the studio. Sweet! I thank him and head in to class, find my spot and wait for class to begin.

It is hot. Much hotter than the other two classes I'd taken. Now, I'm used to hot, but a little out of practice. Prior to visiting this new studio, my last heated class was probably in August or September. And laying on my mat, I don't remember them being THIS hot. Pea-sized beads of sweat begin to form at my hairline. I've got water, I'm confident, just roll with it, I think to myself.

About an hour later I am nearly drowning on my mat, every down dog sends near panic of sweaty suffocation as sweat pours into my nostrils (Gross, again. I know. Sorry.) While in headstand,  everything suddenly goes airy and white, and then I am tumbling (literally) ass over elbow on to the floor sending my blue metal water bottle sailing across the room into Stripey Shirt Girl, who is not sweating at all. A normal person would feel embarrassed and cower in shame, but not me. Nope. I laugh. And then I have to focus on containing my laughter so as not to disrupt the class more than I already have.

The now 300 degree room has boiled my brain right inside my skull and I'm now hallucinating that all the other sweatless lady students are circus people and I am the new bear they are physically breaking down for the big top. Stripey Shirt Girl, who I am sure is the ring leader, smiles and gives me my water. I chug the entire thing down and retreat to Child's Pose. For the love of god why is there no clock in this room from which I can monitor what are sure to be these last few minutes of my stinky, sweat-filled life, I wonder. The instructor suggests that I try using the wall next time as it is a "Great tool." Good call! 

I bet Gaga would NEVER fall out of a pose.
After a moment I begin to see straight enough again to rejoin the class, but I now find that each time my arms lift past my waist everything starts to go dark and there is a high pitched WEEEEEEE sound resonating in my sinus cavity. Not wanting to straight up faint on the floor in addition to my headstand tumbling act, I once again retreat sheepishly to Child's Pose, where I remain for the next three minutes while the class works through the final standing postures. Nothing to see here folks! And of course I just happen to be smack in the middle of the room since that was the only spot left when I walked in.

Finally after eighty-six hours the instructor brings the class down to the mat where even Cobra is making me dizzy. Now just a barely contained sweat-filled skin-bag, I impishly finish off the floor poses and praise every deity I can think of for finally getting to Shavasana. After we Om I thank the teacher for the ass kicking (yes, I said ass kicking) and mention that it's been a while since my last heated class. He is totally gracious and kind and thanks me for coming. He is seemingly unphased for which I am grateful. 

Now I bet you are thinking, wow I'd never show my face in that place again! Not me though. I'll be there again next week at 5:45 for Robert's Hot-As-The-Sun-Ass-Beating because now I have to prove to myself that I can hack it. I'll just be sure to show up with double the water, and to use the wall if I'm feeling rambunctious. Maybe I should bring a snorkel too, just in case.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The End of the Beginning

Happy New Year! Time to change your life!

Only a year ago frustration and helplessness seemed to be the normal course of my life for the foreseeable future. The job I once loved had gone supernova and quickly fizzled out. Disillusioned, I went to bed dreading each morning, and spent many nights drinking away the previous day. When the layoff notice finally arrived I was anxious but emotionally relieved.

My apartment, which once felt like a warm home became infested with inconsiderate, destructive and dishonest neighbors. Rodents appeared. Pipes exploded. Something died under the porch and began to smell. IT IS TIME FOR A CHANGE life screamed from every audible angle.

Halfheartedly I went on job interviews but the thought of sitting in a cube, no matter how cool the company, depressed me endlessly. When it seemed I was close to clinching a writing job at a well known, well funded start-up, I had a panic attack. Not a slight feeling of nervousness or trepidation, a full blown can't-breathe-chest-caving-in-seeing-stars-need-to-lie-down-so-I-don't-faint panic attack. As crazy as it seemed, I put the kibosh on any additional forward momentum with the position. In my heart of hearts, I knew it was the right decision. Clueless about what would come next, I vowed that my next "life move" had to be one about which I felt 100% confident.

For a long time a voice in the back of my head had lingered, whispering ideas about working in fitness. Helping people change their lives for the better seemed an inspirational way to earn a living. With my newly found unemployed free time, I began hitting the yoga studio hard. Sometimes twice a day. Each class was like a therapy session, forcing me to look at myself and the choices I'd made to get to the spot I was in. Svadhyaya. No one else was responsible for my unhappiness. If I wanted to be miserable, it was my choice and mine alone. If I wanted to be happy, I could choose to be happy. The moment I sincerely understood the truth in that, life became much simpler.   

As you now already know, I chose to take a chance and pursue my aspirations. I've completely changed careers and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. In the past, fear of the unknown stopped me from pursuing all sorts of things. Now I choose to eliminate fear from the vocabulary of my life. I am grateful for the year 2011 and will remember it as the year in which I began taking responsibility for my choices and emotional well being. It is the year I began living life deliberately instead of letting it just happen around me while hoping for something to change. I began practicing the mantra "Nothing changes if nothing changes." And then I lived it.


New Year's has always been one of my favorite holidays, and this year seems extra special. In 2012 I will begin my new career, celebrate one year without cigarettes, and TEN years with the love of my life whose unwavering love and support have been absolutely critical. I will continue to make our new apartment a home, and begin the rest of my life with joy and gratitude. In hindsight, it seems ludicrous that I ever felt helpless. I am the person most empowered to change my life, just as you are the person most empowered to change your life. Don't accept the expected because it is normal, expect normal to be exceptional.

Happy New Year!
W/Marc and Rebecca, the people who helped me change my life.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Response - The Science of Pranayama

Hmmm...She doesn't look like a scientist.
         When I chose The Science of Pranayama to read for this essay, I had hopes that it would teach me how to increase lung capacity by practicing Pranayama, or about the effects Pranayama has on brain function. I did not expect a graphic colon cleansing lesson involving Vaseline and a “small bamboo tube 6 fingers long” in the excerpt on Basti, nor did I anticipate the lesson that the mind will control itself, “without emission of even a single drop of semen for 12 years” but those are exactly the lessons I learned. It seems that the science of Pranayama according to Sri Swami Sivananda, is very much an art.
         The first section of this book is dedicated to the “Shat-Karmas” or “Six Purificatory Processes.” During our yoga training, we’ve come to learn them as Kriyas. According to Sivananda, it is imperative that these processes be executed and mastered by “Those who are of a flabby and phlegmatic constitution only” in order to prepare for the practice of Pranayama. How an overly flabby person would execute Basti the way it is described in the book is a mystery to me, but apparently it is just such a person who would benefit most. The book contains an interesting full page black and white photo of a man wrapped in a cloth performing Dhauti. In the photo, about a yard of the gauzy fabric needed for Dhauti is being pulled from his mouth into a dish of tepid water laid at his feet. In the book, all six Shat-Karmas are said to cure asthma, however Dhauti is also said to cure fever and leprosy. This would be an excellent time for the science portion to back up these ancient practices as there must be some anatomical, scientific root to the claims of alleged cure for such specific ailments. Disappointingly however, not even a slight explanation is given.
         In Sivananda’s explanation of Neti, it is performed with a thin thread dipped in glue and not with the more commonly adhered to Neti Pot. This practice replaces the stream of saline water with the thread for purifying the skull and curing rhinitis. Trataka, Nauli and Kapalabhati are explained very minimally compared to the first three processes in this section of the book, though Kapalabhati is explored in depth later. Trataka is claimed to induce clairvoyance in the practitioner, while Nauli “destroys all intestinal disorders” and Kapalabhati “destroys all the disorders of phlegm.”
         In the second section of The Science of Pranayama the “Five Essentials” needed for proper meditation and Pranayama practice are discussed. When these essentials are met, then eventually the practitioner will be able to “retain the breath for 3 Ghatikas (one hour and a half) at a time,” when this is achieved the “Yogi gets many psychic powers.” Once again, I would be fascinated to learn if holding the breath for ninety minutes is humanly possible, and if so, what physical effects is has on the body and brain, but there is no science offered. Some time is spent discussing the proper location for practicing Pranayama, along with the best time of day, and what kind of person is best qualified for the practice. The “Dietetic Discipline” is described with the most detail, offering promises of levitation for those that consume the proper food and drink at the appropriate times during practice. Sivananda also explains which foods are forbidden (salt, sour foods, mustard and oil are some examples) with no explanation as to why they are harmful to the practitioner.
         Ideal postures for practicing Pranayama are then discussed including Padmasana,Svastikasana, and Samasana. Siddhasana, or “The Perfect Pose” however, should be noted as “not suitable for ladies” for some unexplained reason. Ironically, the bikini clad women on both the front and back covers of the book are sitting in this pose.
Back Cover. This is an ancient don't, ladies!
During the portion on the three Bandhas the reader learns that the entire purpose of the practice of Pranayama is to awaken the sleeping Kundalini and eventually achieve Samadhi, as “the goal of life is self realization.” According to the author, Kundalini is “the source for all occult powers” and is awakened by inhalations and exhalations which are measured by various units of duration including “Matras” and“Angulas.” Some other benefits of Pranayama include “the power of thought reading…levitation…psychometry, clairaudience…moving about unseen by anybody in the world…the power of entering the body of another man…the power to remain always young.” It seems the Pure Yoga Teacher Training is holding some knowledge back from its humble students. It is fascinating to read such claims, and it is interesting that the author also states that one who achieves any of these outrageous powers must never reveal them to any living person. These achievements must always stay within the yogi so they are not perverted by those only seeking entertainment. I hope my love of David Blaine is acceptable, I don’t believe he wants to pervert any ancient knowledge.
There are sixteen different types of Pranayama exercises explained in this book. Included are all of the practices we’ve discussed in class. The explanations of each are very instructional, with no scientific reasoning or offering given. My favorite Pranayama explanation is that for “Murchha.” The practitioner is instructed to “Retain the breath till you expect fainting then exhale slowly…this makes the mind senseless and gives happiness. But it is not suitable for many.” Indeed. The title of this book is at best misleading, though it was still an interesting and sometimes unintentionally comical read.