#makedesmoines

This week I was honored to be a part of a neat photo series called Make Des Moines by the talented Justin Meyer. I met Justin about a year ago, and he's one of those local folks that everybody seems to know. He is clearly dedicated to both his family and his photography, and just an all-around nice, genuine guy. Justin said he started #makedesmoines to not only improve his own photography skills, but showcase the people who make Des Moines a vibrant, creative community. He particularly wanted to focus on individuals on the fringes -- the people who are perhaps a little more obscure, yet still doing their part to help Des Moines thrive while exploring their own passions and hobbies.

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The funny thing is, I wouldn't have considered myself someone who "makes" Des Moines. It actually took me a solid year and a half to like living here! I had moved in 2012 for a relationship and a job -- and both are fine reasons to relocate -- but I didn't realize how long it would take to make new friends and find my personal footing on a lot of levels. It eventually happened, but it took a while.

That's why I so enjoyed being a part of #makedesmoines. Over the past year, I dug much deeper roots here. The things I had slowly chosen to be a part of started to come full circle, started to flower, and it made me appreciate this community more than ever. That's how life works sometimes, right? You take one step down one path and it leads you to places you never imagined or intended. And usually, that's right where you need to be.

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I started this blog, and made writing much more of a priority. I joined the Art Noir board, and now I'm a co-chair for an awesome event fundraiser next year called Big Hair Ball. I discovered Power Life Yoga, and decided to embark upon the teacher training journey, and now teaching alongside practicing is a fundamental part of my life, of my happiness, of my sense of service. I threw my hat in the ring to teach composition at DMACC, and realized how much I enjoy helping other people learn how to put their viewpoints on paper. A meeting from my first month in Des Moines turned into an opportunity to freelance for Silicon Prairie News, where I get to share the stories of all sorts of people doing cool, important things in their own communities.

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But all of those things -- those relationships, connections, goals, opportunities -- took a lot of time to develop. There were many moments when I felt unsure about being on the right path, or I wanted to give up. So the biggest lesson I've learned in Des Moines thus far involves patience. The value of showing up, despite failure or unmet expectations, and dedicating yourself to the process. Trusting that the work matters whether the effects or outcomes are immediately visible or not.

During the shoot, Justin and I talked about how we witness so many people doing cool things in this city, and the striking thing is that nobody seems afraid to fail. People start a new project simply to see how it plays out, with the goal of bettering this community somehow or just because they're excited about it, and more often than not, it works or succeeds. And if not, on to the next thing. All the people I've met here are insanely committed to their creative endeavors, and they carve out time for those efforts, which is incredibly inspiring.

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That's why I value yoga and writing so much. I am certainly not the only yogi in this town, and there are many, many others with more experience and skill than myself. Likewise, there are plenty of writers producing quality work. But all these people inspire me to show up to the page or to my mat every single day, and do the work to discover the joy involved, and hopefully make a small difference in the lives of others. For that, I'm grateful.

See Justin's full post and check out the rest of the series here.

#YogaEveryDamnDay Challenge: Day 1

inhale exhale 2 One of the local yoga studios around here kicked off its "20 for 30" challenge, where the goal is to attend 20 classes in 30 days. This studio has held this specific challenge a few times before, and I think I was in teacher training during the last one, so I was already practically living at class most of the week and didn't make any major changes to my schedule.

This time, however, is different. I'm still practicing most days, but certainly not every day, and I notice -- physically and emotionally -- when I take a few days off. (i.e., I am stiff and cranky!) So I decided to up the ante and attempt to not only make it to my mat 30 times in 30 days, but blog about it every day (!) and reflect along the way.

The "20 for 30" theme this month is "I will . . . " -- fill in the blank with whatever declaration you want, something you will do or maybe will stop doing. There's a lot of great social media activity surrounding the challenge, with people sharing their "I will" statement. (Of course, upon seeing all the "I will" declarations about healthy living, I immediately thought about the connections to Lent, but I'll save that for another blog post.)

Mine is pretty simple: I will prioritize what's important to me. To me. 

Things that are important: family, friends, faith, sleep, writing, reading, eating energizing foods, drinking water, being active, yoga, enjoying the sunshine.

Things that aren't important: television, wasting time on the internet, lingering on social media (especially first thing in the morning or right before bed), gossiping, eating sugar, drinking too much alcohol, being lazy on the couch.

You get the drift. Part of the busy complex that's going around is that we're all spending too much time doing the things we think we should do, instead of what soothes our souls and is important to us. Everyone's to-do list has some core items on it, like go to work, brush your teeth, pay your bills, etc. But with the rest of one's day, the little pockets of free time, notice what you're doing. Are you looking down at your phone? Zoning out in front of the television? Basically, are you wasting your precious time, your present moment being alive in this body, in this mind, in this spirit, in this life? Or are you cherishing it?

Starting today, alongside that intention, I aim to practice #yogaeverydamnday and share thoughts about it here.

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Today, I made it to a 6 a.m. class and had the honor of practicing right between two friends, which always feels secure and fun. We exhaled the old, inhaled the new, and listened to our bodies. I noticed that my mind was ALL over the place, likely because of a very busy work week full of meetings, teaching yoga classes, all the new stuff I mentioned above and plenty of social obligations.

And I thought of something I try to say in every yoga class I teach (this morning was a perfect practice what you preach moment!):

Everything your mind is racing to, all the long lists and obligations and fears and anxieties, all those things will still be there for you after this moment; your hurried brain and your ego will still be waiting for you after class whether you relax right now or not. So you might as well embrace this time for yourself, this gift of yoga that YOU chose to prioritize today, and breathe.

Exhale all the old, inhale all the new.

Yoga Training: Done!

Earlier this year, I set a goal to complete yoga teaching training. Check! 20131212-095513.jpg

Here's what I learned after nine long, wonderful weeks:

1. Community is crucial.

I feel super blessed to know each and every one of my new friends, and I have learned something from every single person in my training. My fellow teacher trainees (TTs) are all passionate, thoughtful, funny, smart, dedicated and strong individuals. It's so neat that each of us felt called to explore teacher training, and no matter our differences of personality or opinion, we all share that special feeling in common. Now when I head into a yoga class, I feel fortunate that one of "my people" will likely be there. It's an instant sense of connection, a powerful bond of shared experience.

This experience also reminds me that community can always be built, wherever you are. It's unrealistic to assume that all of us TTs will remain in the same city or at the same studio; it's likely we will all move on at various points to new and different endeavors and locations. Before yoga training, I didn't feel like I really belonged anywhere in Des Moines. Because of yoga training, I now benefit from a sense of belonging, but I'm also aware that it's up to me to build friendships with the people around me in all of my settings.

2. Everyone is stronger than they think.

Strength shows up in different ways during a yoga class. Yes, the person who can do a million crazy poses is strong. So is the person who decides to take a class for the very first time. And the person that rests in child's pose half of class. And the teacher that gives, gives, gives throughout class, being thoughtful about every aspect: the assists, the flow, the music, the temperature, etc. I mean, I could not do a real push up before yoga teacher training, and now I can knock out ten. That is such a small thing, but it makes me feel strong and badass. All of us in training went to two or even three classes a day at times, and we survived.

I'm feeling pretty damn strong, emotionally and physically, these days. And it's because of my yoga practice.  I was a little overwhelmed at how much we were required to practice during training, but I see now that it encouraged us to be focused, committed and dedicated to our physical practice. Even when we didn't feel like it. Especially when we didn't feel like it. By practicing yoga daily, I practice mindfulness. I take deep breaths, over and over. I listen to my body to decide when it feels right to power through and when it feels best to take it down a notch. I try new things, I play. I fall down, I reach my limitations. There are yoga practices where I'm counting down the minutes, annoyed by the heat, frustrated by my inability to get this or that pose. And then there are days when I venture outside my comfort zone to find success, I discover freedom in the flow or my stress melts away as sweat. Just like the ebb and flow of real life.

3. Commitment comes at a cost.

I read this quote recently: "We change, but always at a cost: to win this, you lose that." (Geoffrey Wolff, A Day at the Beach).

It has always been terribly difficult for me to accept that reality, the fact that commitment to anything or anyone is both difficult AND wonderful, and with change comes loss, sometimes unpredictably so. When you fully commit to something--whether it be a physical practice, or a job, or a person, or a location--it's really hard. Growth and honesty can be painful or uncomfortable. You don't always know how something will turn out, you make mistakes along the way and you often have to trust your gut.

By delving deeper into my yoga practice, I faced some of the costs of change and commitment. Money, for sure--teacher training is not cheap. Time for relaxation. Opportunities to travel to see friends and family. Sleep. Most of all, I think teacher training awakened certain parts of myself that had been pushed aside or left dormant, and that caused me to get back in touch with what really mattered . . . and that's not always easy. All of us TTs were repeatedly asked to make choices with integrity, and many of us realized that we needed or wanted to reevaluate aspects of our lives. I had to let go of some old thoughts and stories about myself, as well as people that no longer had a positive role in my life, and goals that no longer served me. I had to move forward to let go; I had to be vulnerable and take chances. Essentially by committing to my mat on a daily basis, I am able to be more committed outside of the yoga studio in all areas of my life.

4. The truth of yoga inspires me to share it with others.

I've encountered some folks who have made comments like, "Oh, you've joined the yoga cult?" or "It's a phase, yoga being so popular." And . . . I don't really care if it's trendy or not. It works. I have seen the transformation on people's faces--the scrunched up tension at the beginning of class that slowly shifts to a peaceful release. I have heard friends, post-class, talk about the way their body feels and how their mind responds to their practice. The fact that I'm just at the very beginning of this teaching journey is actually pretty exciting, because there is so much more to learn and so much more to share with others. Learning about the composition of various poses, how they each potentially flow together in sequences, as well as how the body is affected -- all of that is so, so interesting. I admire the knowledge of my leaders and teachers, and I hope to join them in the ranks someday.

One of the most powerful things about teaching yoga, to me, is finding a way to make it accessible for someone else--the person that says, "I'm not flexible, I'm not strong, I'm not athletic," etc. I want to help people realize that practicing yoga is about so much more than the poses themselves. It's about body awareness and strength and commitment to taking care of your body. It's about forgiving and loving yourself for who you are, right now in the present moment--instead of focusing on the person you used to be or think you should be in the future. It's about the fact that you can take your yoga practice with you anywhere you go, and reap the benefits over and over and over again.

The end! I'm happy to be done, and have a little more free time, but I look forward to the journey ahead. Namaste.

Yoga Training: Weeks 6, 7 and 8

Number of times I practiced: I lost count. Number of times I wanted to practice: 50% of the time. Per usual.

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The past few weeks have flown by! It's hard to believe that there are only two weeks remaining for teacher training, and while I look forward to having a bit more free time in December, I also am sad to not see my new yogi friends multiple times a week and challenge my body on a daily basis.

Recent highlights include:

  • getting to know my co-teachers even better (and developing some great friendships)
  • learning the beginner flow inside and out as well as how to add theming and music to a class
  • learning how to make adjustments and assists to help students move through poses safely and more deeply
  • participating in a kickass inversion class this past weekend, taught by Nick Wilder -- handstands, headstands, crow and side crow galore, plus so many tiny tips and tricks to work toward different variations of each post
  • teaching my sister and her boyfriend a beginner class at their apartment

Most of all, this next Saturday, my small group is teaching a beginner class at the studio! I'm so excited, and really look forward to growing from that experience in order to share my teaching ability with others so that they can benefit from yoga.

Back to enjoying Sunday before a crazy week!

Yoga Training: Week 5

Number of times I practiced: 5 Number of times I wanted to practice: 5

Ah ha! The desire and the outcome finally match up. I wondered when I would start to want to practice as much as I was choosing to practice, instead of feeling like I "had to."

On Sunday, I wanted to attend Justin's guest class since he's not in town that often. I knew what I was getting myself into--great music (new Avett Brothers, woo!), many chaturangas, and no mercy--and I was right. At one point, I exchanged a glance with a teacher trainee to my left and we literally both started laughing because we were covered with sweat, physically shaking, but had giant grins of joy on our faces. Afterwards, a group of us went down to the IMT Des Moines Marathon to cheer on runners, which was wonderfully inspiring, followed by some casual Sunday fun at El Bait Shop.

Monday and Tuesday, I made it to two evening classes. We spent most of Tuesday night practice teaching in pairs again, and then giving and receiving feedback. My areas of improvement are voice projection and concise cueing, so not surprising at all! One of my introverted qualities is that I speak in a naturally lower, softer voice; I can't tell you how many times friends and family members have asked me to repeat something, and then I do, and then they say, "No, I mean actually say it louder because I can't hear you." Sometimes it's frustrating, but it's an important thing to work on. Even if I feel confident, my soft voice sometimes suggest the opposite, so I've learned that if I feel like I'm shouting, it likely means I'm just being heard clearly on the other end. As for concise cueing, well, I'm a long winded writer who takes after her father in telling non Reader's Digest versions of stories. I always want to provide all the information, so in yoga, it doesn't surprise me that I keep veering toward lengthy explanations instead of just keeping it short and sweet and direct.

Wednesday, I attended another evening class, and Thursday morning, I went to my first 5:45 a.m. class downtown. Getting up at 5:30 a.m. sucks but I'm always reminded how awesome it feels to have your workout done before the sun comes up. Sara, the instructor, was so sweet and motivating, and I'll definitely try to attend her morning classes more often because it really started my day on a great note. I spent Thursday and Friday at a work conference out of town (but did do some handstands and headstands in my hotel room), and then traveled over the weekend visiting family.

Halfway through! Also, this piece on the emotional roller coaster of yoga class cracked me up.

Yoga Training: Weeks 3 and 4

Number of times I practiced: 7, plus practice teaching during training. (I'll go ahead and serve my ego by patting myself on the back, thanks.) Number of times I wanted to practice: 3.

Week 3 was a bit of a blur. I missed training due to a work event and a trip to Charleston, SC to visit my best friend and her husband, and fitting in class was nearly impossible because of general work craziness, pre-trip packing, traveling and then simply enjoying vacation. I made it to a class on Monday, and upon arriving in Charleston on Thursday afternoon, I spent about 45 minutes going through a freestyle sequence at my friend's house just to stretch out all the kinks from driving and flying. It felt great, especially once followed by a long nap!

On Friday, I ventured to downtown King St. for a power vinyasa class at Charleston Power Yoga.

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The small, narrow studio had two rooms: the entryway with nooks to the left for personal belongings and mats and water to the right, and then the practice room with wood floors, floor-to-ceiling framed mirrors and actual wooden blocks (instead of the typical foam ones). The instructor was also the owner, and you could tell that most people in attendance were regulars. Straight away, I could tell that this would not be similar to class in Des Moines, despite the studio's online identification with Baptiste-style ashtanga.  The woman next to me was about six months pregnant and kicked up into forearm stand at CHILD'S POSE (you know, just easing into her practice...); the instructor utilized competitive, boot-camp style language ("look to your right! if that person is six inches lower than you, exhale and lunge lower!") I had also elected not to purchase a towel, I guess because I had already spent $15 and thought I'd save a dollar. Mistake. By the end of  the 90-minute class, I was sliding all over my mat and it looked like I had just gotten out of the shower due to the massive amount of sweating happening. It. Was. Intense. Which is why I spent the rest of vacation enjoying copious amounts of wine, delicious foods, and casual walks!

I knew that I needed to kick it into high gear during week 4, however. After 10 hours of travel on Tuesday, I took a quick nap and then forced myself to go to class before training. I could definitely feel the tightness in my hips after a few days off as well as all the indulgences of the trip, and I felt stressed out about not practicing much over the past week. But this is what I love about yoga--you never know how that one practice is going to benefit you. Kirk emphasized having fun with yoga rather than taking it so seriously, and while I came into the class with a frown, I left smiling and feeling a sense of lightness. That message really resonated with me, and reminded me that I practice yoga because it makes me happy. It's not simply another thing on my to-do list.

Training that night involved practice teaching the first half of the Power 1 sequence. I already felt behind due to missing a week of training, and I started to over think every posture and cue, getting focused on the "right" thing to say rather than just being clear and direct. Many others had typed out notes, which is what I normally would have done . . . but I also know my reliance on paper and the written word sometimes, and so I am actually glad I had to simply dive in. I made mistakes and I forget things. Guess what? The world didn't end :) We spent the final hours of training watching anatomy videos, which in the past would have bored the hell out of me, but it's kind of interesting to see how the body responds to yoga and learn how various poses help with different muscles and bones.

I took Friday off after going to class both Wednesday and Thursday, and then attended the 7 a.m. P2 on Saturday morning before training. It's been pretty off and on in terms of physical activity on Saturday sessions, so I wanted to be sure to get a practice in. That backfired because we spent the entire day practice teaching, minus about an hour at the end where we discussed various challenges of teaching and practicing at this point in our training. The common theme: everyone is tired and feeling uncertain and wanting to be "good" at teaching. It's nice to know we're all in the same boat!

Right now, I definitely have to prioritize my time carefully. Watching a tv show before bed means less sleep, which affects work the next morning and/or my yoga practice. That glass of wine with dinner? Too tired to enjoy it. Social media and reading? It's just not at the top of my list, not when I'm rushing through work responsibilities, getting to and from class, running life errands, and trying to eat, clean, sleep, etc. I do sort of thrive on extreme busy-ness, as it tends to make me much more productive, but I'm being really attentive to making sure I don't burn out entirely . . .  considering there's still five more weeks of training, a lot to learn, and major deadlines for my day job.

Still, I chose this. And I love what I'm learning. I love getting to class and seeing 3-5 familiar faces of other teacher trainees, who are all equally tired and happy because of this challenge.

Yoga Training: Week 2

Number of times I practiced: 3, aside from training. Number of times I wanted to practice: 0.

That pretty much sums up week 2! It was one of those weeks where I discovered endless excuses to skip yoga--I was too busy at work, I didn't feel well, I didn't get enough sleep, etc.--but managed to push past that feeling of "Ugh, I don't wannaaaaa." Basically every time one of my excuses popped up, I was like, "Hello Mr. Excuse. I see you. Now move out of the way."

Monday was the worst; after a long day at the office, I came home and literally got back into bed with a book. Sometimes you just have to do that on a Monday, you know? 10 minutes before yoga class started, I somehow got out of the cozy covers to put on clothes and gave myself the "IT'S ONE BLOCK AWAY, JUST FLIPPING WALK THERE ALREADY, GOD" pep talk. And it turned out to be an excellent, challenging class, full of chaturangas in a row and handstands galore. The instructor, Michelle, has the sweetest voice of all time which is in direct contrast with how hard she makes her students work; I was sore the rest of the week!

Tuesday we had training and spent almost 3 hours on a few introductory poses (standing/tadasana, chaturanga, upward facing dog, etc.), breaking them down individually to get our form corrected and adjusted. It's going to make a huge difference in my personal practice, and I loved receiving some personal attention to improve my poses, but I realized that my yoga effort has only been at about 50%. (Concurrent example: when you go for a run, and really just slowly jog, and then you run with someone concerned about pace and stride and your lungs are like, Shit, this is work.) I also felt happy to see all my new friends again.

Wednesday I hit up a 6 a.m. session, which is rare for me. The nice thing about early morning yoga is that class seems to fly by because you spend the first half feeling sleepy and generally unawake; I also love getting my workout out of the way early because it sets my day off right with a little sweat and peace.

Thursday I felt sick all afternoon, so I had decided not to go in the evening. Last minute I conceded to myself that I didn't actually feel that bad, just a little lazy and tired . . . and as always, I was so glad to be there the second I walked into the studio. Friendly faces, warmth and a chance to breathe deeply and leave the rest of the world to the side. That instructor, Vince, really pushed our class to think about what lifts our spirits and how to dig deep when trying new things. And he played Avicii's "Wake Me Up" which is my workout JAM these days, so I loved that.

Friday I ran around like a crazy person at work, so deemed it a rest day and spent the evening enjoying a much-needed dinner and movie date, followed by an early bedtime.

Saturday began early, since I had to skip over to the farmer's market to drop something off at our sponsored tent. As much as I love sleeping in on the weekends, I enjoyed being out and about in the brisk fall air with all the other early birds, and snagged some delicious coffee and a La Mie pastry to bring home before the long day ahead. I'm glad I opted for that little moment of peace and quiet before training, because it felt LONG. We discussed teaching yoga (tips, tricks, general principles and how to give/receive feedback), broke down more poses and learned more about the Yoga Sutra.

Short version: Yoga Sutra is the guidebook of classical yoga, and it was supposedly written by a sage named Patanjali more than 1,700 years ago. Comprised of 195 sutras (or words of wisdom), it also outlines ashtanga, the eight-limbed path for how to live a meaningful life of purpose. The eight limbs include:*

1. Yamas: restraints or internal observances of behavior, such as non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation and non-hoarding 2. Niyamas: actions or external disciplines, such as purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and devotion 3. Asanas: physical postures, such as the actual poses within a yoga class 4. Pranayama: breath control 5. Pratyahara: sensory control 6. Dharana: mental focus 7. Dhyana: meditation 8. Samadhi: state of union or sameness

Lots to digest and learn on those subjects!

Then we experienced our first foray into actually teaching sequences to our partners. Teaching. Is. Humbling. I consider myself pretty good at explaining things to people, and I taught gymnastics for so many years that I anticipated teaching yoga coming somewhat easily to me. Nope. As someone in class put it, teaching yoga is like a game of Whack-a-Mole--as soon as you ask someone to focus on one part of their body, something else pops up that requires direction, and then something else. That became clear really fast. When my partner guided me, I easily could anticipate what she might say next and realized how some of her directions were confusing or unhelpful. And then when it was my turn to guide her, I quickly discovered how damn hard it is to tell someone how to move their body. Good teachers are concise, direct and action-based, and as a newbie, it was so easy to overdo and overthink it. Instead of "Exhale, move your right foot through heart's center to low lunge," it became "Step to low lunge . . .  oh wait, Exhale first . . . now step through, no, in between your hands." And we're supposed to do this for 5-20 students, all at the same time? Plus music??

I know that we will all get so much better as the weeks go on, but again, it was super humbling. Just that small slice of teaching completely changes how I will experience yoga classes going forward, now that I understand how thoughtful and intentional each instructor is being about the movements of the students.

*Power Life Yoga © 2013.

Yoga Training: Week 1

After kicking off yoga teacher training, I realized I was pretty spot-on regarding my three observations! Five classes, one load of laundry and many deep breaths later, I have a much better sense of what to expect--or at least I think I do :) I woke up Saturday morning wishing I hadn't had that last beer at Oktoberfest; even though I took it pretty easy hanging out with friends Friday night, I'm definitely used to sleeping in on the weekends. Too rushed for coffee, I slammed a piece of peanut butter toast and a large glass of water just in case we were practicing first . . . and we were. Our weekend leader, Justin, made it quite clear that we would be pushed physically, emotionally and mentally, and we spent the majority of the morning sweating profusely. It was ROUGH. Every time I thought he might, might, give us a tiny break, he only asked for more: another crow pose, sink a few more inches deeper, hold it longer. More than a couple of us dropped to our knees for child's pose many, many times, but Justin is also the kind of inspiring yoga instructor that makes you want to push past your edges.

That afternoon, we explored the following topics, on our own in journals, in small groups and together as a whole: What's possible for me, after this practice? What does presence mean, and what steals my presence? Am I living a life with integrity, or am I compromising my integrity through the lies I tell myself? Uh, you get to know a group of people REAL fast after five hours of that. Our leaders weren't kidding that these people were going to become mini-family members. It's true. Once the walls started to break down and people began to share their opinions, perspectives, struggles and successes, it became clear that we had more in common with one another than we may have thought. We were also asked to physically face one another during conversations, and I realized how little I actually do this in real life, how many of my interactions with loved ones are to the side or distracted in general. It was really powerful to sit face-to-face with these new friends, to look them in the eye and really listen to what they chose to share. We were also asked to pay attention to how many times we use the words "right," "wrong," "good," "bad," "should," and "shouldn't." Answer: it's a lot--these habits and speech patterns are deeply ingrained, and it's kind of incredible how often I found myself reaching for those words to judge and categorize myself, others and the world. Finally, we wrote down our answers to this sentence: My old way of being is . . . And then shared it with every single person in the room. Talk about feeling vulnerable!

Sunday brought more of the same, but this time, we were a little more prepared as a group. Or at least we thought we were! We faced another tough morning practice, and particularly focused on making general adjustments to our partners. Great yoga instructors (well, probably teachers and instructors of any kind) make it look so easy, but it's not. It's challenging to figure out how to describe poses without acting them out, for example, and it's initially awkward to reach out and touch someone's body parts in a way that respects their space and limitations. I used to think that part of being a good yoga teacher meant being good at yoga, but teaching and guiding someone through their poses and practices involves so much more. The afternoon mimicked Saturday in a lot of ways as well; again, we discussed the following:  What's the difference between possibility and potential? How often do I try to be right--and what is "being right" costing me? Who are the most important people in my life, and are they people I need or people who need me? What are my most extreme opportunities for growth right now? What do I commit to right now? And like yesterday, we wrote down our answers to another sentence: My new way of being is . . . And shared it in similar fashion with our fellow yogis. To conclude the weekend, we  filled out these sentences: I will extend the boundaries of . . . I will establish new pathways in . . . I will welcome adventure and surprise in . . . I will be one of life's players in . . . I will disrupt business as usual in . . .

Listen, some of these exercises felt cheesy as hell at first. You could tell that several people in our group were not into this sort of self-reflection by any means, and probably wanted to just do more actual yoga. But what we all realized, and will continue to realize, is that being a good yoga instructor does require a commitment to and respect for a certain mindset. My sister asked, jokingly, "So are you going to get all weird and spiritual now?" I had to laugh, because I wondered the same thing of myself! But here's the thing--everyone maintains certain opinions about yoga in general based on their own experience or lack thereof, and there are millions of different ways to practice yoga in the first place. If others think that my passion for yoga is strange or confusing, well . . . that's not really my problem or concern, you know? I don't view getting "zen" as a negative thing; I mean, I do actually go to yoga to find balance, peace and strength. That's important to me, so other people's perceptions of my choice to pursue teacher training simply don't matter. (I mean that in the nicest way possible.)

This training journey will be hard. I know that--I basically spent the rest of my weekend time eating and sleeping and being totally exhausted! But it already feels worth it, and I'm so excited to continue on.

(Note: I wanted to find some funny yoga GIFs to break up the text in this post, but I was too lazy. Next time!)

Goal #8: Yoga Teacher Training

This week, I start my yoga teacher training journey! (Below is my first day of school excited face.)

First Day of Yoga Training

I started practicing yoga about five years ago, when I first moved to Chicago and needed a bit of an exercise change. My roommate and I attended the yoga classes at XSport Fitness, right down the road from our apartment in Lakeview, and sometimes when I felt fancy and had the money, I would attend a class at CorePower Yoga downtown after work amongst all the yuppie stay at home moms. (Yes, I was judge-y about that.) Yoga felt like a great workout, particularly hot yoga, but over the next several years it became a bit of a lifesaver as I dealt with the stress, anxiety and depression associated with significant personal conflict, major life changes and a toxic relationship.

Yoga class is often where I take my first big, real deep breath of the day, which always amazes me--I mean, my body makes sure I breathe all day long, thankfully, but yoga reminds me that I don't actually breathe. Yoga class is where I discover my edges and limitations, where I don't have to be perfect, where the rest of the world slips away for an hour, where the only thing I can control is my focus, where I can shut off my yapping mind, where I realize that I am stronger than I think, both mentally and physically. I've never left a yoga class feeling worse than when I showed up, even if my hips are tight, I lose my balance or I'm just not feeling the 'om. You would not believe how many days I think, I don't have time for yoga or Ugh, I'm too stressed for yoga. That's when I tell myself, Just get there. You don't have to be great. You just have to show up.

Life motto, right? Just show up. You don't have to be great.

But when the possibility of yoga teacher training came up here in Des Moines, my mind raced to uncover all the Reasons It Was Not a Good Idea: it's too expensive, I'm not good enough yet, I won't know anybody, it'll take up too much time, I already have a job, etc. Even though it's been on my bucket list for years. Seriously, it's kind of amazing how quickly our fear of the unknown shuts us down even before we begin! Luckily, one of the training leaders asked me pretty much every week when I was going to sign up. So I took the plunge.

Last night marked the beginning of my 200-hour yoga certification and training program. Imagine 30 or so students of all ages crammed into a small studio looking at each other like, Here we go . . . None of us really knew what to expect, but here's what I quickly realized:

1. Wow. I'm going to be practicing a LOT. No shit, I immediately thought, it's YOGA TRAINING, what did you expect? But these next several weeks will totally change my perspective on what "a lot" of yoga means. I'm used to hitting up a class twice a week and feeling proud of myself. Aside from 11-12 hours of group class time, we still need to fit in 5 classes. Per week.

2. There's going to be a lot of touchy-feeling personal sharing. Even though I love that sort of thing with close friends and family members, it's harder for me to open up with large groups and I generally feel overwhelmed when people share a lot of deep stuff right from the get go. (Like Brene Brown says, relationships need to be able to sustain the weight of vulnerability.) But I guess it'll be an opportunity for growth and I'll probably make some great friends.

3. I need more yoga attire. Because I don't want to do laundry every day. Hello, Tar-Jay instead of Lululemon.

Along the way, I hope to share weekly recaps of training--what I'm learning about various poses, teaching skills and whatever else comes up!

Namaste, all.

Yoga Thought: Planting Seeds

When I moved to Des Moines, one of my first goals involved finding a good yoga studio. Yoga

I knew this would require my "I'll try anything once" approach: basically, my attitude toward anything exercise-related is that I need to try it at least once. If I don't like it, then I don't have to do it again. That mentality has really allowed me to focus on the type of exercise I like to do, which naturally makes me more inclined to, you know, go do it.

I knew from previous experience that I prefer a studio over a gym setting. There's absolutely nothing wrong with yoga classes at a gym. Heck, my first consistent yoga practice occurred at XSport Fitness in Chicago; my roomie and I already worked out there and decided to sign up for a class one day, which led to a full year of practicing with an older instructor named Guy, who was very weird and very hilarious and made yoga oh so entertaining. But since then, I prefer the zen-like spaces of a studio because it feels indulgent, like I get to do yoga rather than I have to. And since yoga tends to require budgeting (the high price of classes is my one major complaint about practicing in general), I like to feel as if I'm getting my money's worth.

So I tried several local places, and quickly discovered two that really worked for me on completely different levels: Shakti and Power Life. Brette at Shakti focuses wholeheartedly on traditional form with hatha/vinyasa classes, something I felt I lacked after years of quick power yoga classes here and there; whereas, Power Life offered a wide variety of hot yoga classes (sculpt, cardio, barre, traditional) throughout the week which kept me from getting bored. Most importantly, both studios maintained a really nice balance in terms of spirituality. I think most people who've practiced yoga get turned off by this aspect: either a studio goes too far with the rhetoric ("open up your rib cage and expand your power" or "breathe your spirit to the sun" -- huh? what?) or ignores it entirely, making it all about the body instead of the body and mind. I like the middle ground, where the instructor offers a few reflections or mantras for class and then gets things going.

This week, I attended a Level 2 class with Kirk at Power Life. (He's awesome, so if you're a Des Moines resident and interested in yoga, be sure to check out one of his classes.) Here's how he started class: "How many of you garden?" A few of us chuckled, and some shouted out the different things they were trying to grow. "You have to plant seeds, right?" We nodded. "And if you don't plant seeds, you can't expect anything to grow right?" Right, we agreed. Kirk went on to explain that in life, we get to choose the types of seeds we want to plant. What we plant every day will grow into something later, to positive or negative effect. We can plant seeds of happiness, joy, strength, trust--or we can plant seeds of hatred, fear, anger, doubt.

Planting Seeds

This mindset is nothing new, but it's incredibly valuable. Our thoughts shape our intentions, which shape our actions. The point isn't to train yourself to think you're the best damn thing since sliced bread (if you do, more power to you!) but to notice the types of mental seeds you're planting, and how they're affecting your life on a short-term and long-term level.

So today, decide what you want to plant--in your own mind and heart, and in the world around you.