Health and Wellness Feed

After 25 Years of Practice, I Sign Up for My First Yoga Teacher Training

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Here I am in Crescent Moon pose, one year into my practice. All photos taken in 1995.

My yoga practice began 25 years ago - with a yoga video tape I played on a VCR at home.

Imagine what St. Louis, Missouri, was like in 1994. There were no yoga studios to speak of back then. The only yoga I had ever encountered was on PBS, in the form of a super-slender woman in leotard, with a long braid running down her back, who led you through a series of bendy, twisting poses. She was like the Bob Ross of the yoga world. Yoga was something that people who followed gurus did. 

But then I read a glowing review - printed in the back of a women's magazine - of a yoga video. I'm not sure what it was that convinced me, maybe the white sand dune setting in the marketing image, or the fact that the yoga guide in the video was actor Ali MacGraw. But I went right out and bought it, back when you could go to an actual store, look for a video on a shelf, buy it, take it home, and pop it into the black box under your TV.

I'm convinced that purchase changed my life.

It's a beautifully done video, now a classic in the yoga world. The setting is gorgeous, and the soundtrack - by the band Dead Can Dance - became the rhythm of my breath and movement, weaving itself into my muscle fiber and psyche. While Ali MacGraw acts as your guide, Master Yogi Erich Schiffmann is the teacher here, and his calm, meditative voice is still with me at times when I practice:

Ujjayi breathing is the most important single element of our practice.

If you start to sway, don't give up. Trees sway, get more grounded.

As first yoga teachers go, you can't get much better than Erich Schiffmann, and although I've never met him in person, he narrates so well in Yoga Mind and Body that I feel like I've taken his class, in real life.

The video holds up really well after all this time, with its cast of yogis - diverse both in terms of age and ethnicity - and the distilled elements of what is yoga at its heart. MacGraw's opening profession of wanting something more than a workout, something to "still the chatter" in her mind, captures what makes yoga so transformative. It was for me then and continues to be.

My yoga practice has changed and evolved as I have over the years since that initial connection. By 2002, I had migrated out to the West Coast, where you can't throw a rock down the street without hitting a yogi. (Not that you should throw rocks at yogis!) My first in-studio yoga experience was Bikram's now-infamous hot yoga - the same 26 poses done each time in a room heated to 104 degrees. Bikram is a powerful, disciplined practice, and I recommend every yogi try it at least once in their lives. My teacher was a gentleman I knew only as Scott, who taught nearly every class I took, sometimes seven days a week, at Bikram Yoga Tacoma. The studio closed a while back, but the lessons Scott imparted are still with me. He taught me to focus on my own mat and ignore what's happening on my neighbor's, and he taught me to take Child's Pose when needed, but not for too long.

When I moved to Seattle proper, I continued to practice that style at Bikram Yoga Seattle (which has now morphed into Sealevel Hot Yoga). I'll never forget yoga teacher and owner Kevin Cooke calling out in his characteristic accent, "Ahms back, ahms back," to cue a standing backward bend. A line in a poem in my book Broom of Anger is inspired by moments in class when another teacher there told students to "look back with your eyes." 

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My beginner's Locust pose.

In 2005, I discovered Baptiste-style vinyasa flow, and that was it for me for the next decade.

Vinyasa style is free-flowing, like dancing on your mat, and the funky, cool studio where I practiced in Seattle often had music. Sometimes live music - more than once, we practiced with Steve Gold performing in the same room. Shakti was a lively, energetic, fun place to practice, and it was there that my practice reached its peak, at least in terms of the range of more difficult, challenging poses I could do. I was very lucky to get to practice with teachers Lisa Black (the studio's owner), Scott Simon, Eric Elven, and Jodi Boone - all very good guides. 

From there, I tried acrobatic yoga, Pilates, a dance style called Nia, and even trapeze.

My husband was a brave partner for acroyoga, with my stepson joining us occasionally as well. We took classes taught by two fabulous sisters, Angela DiMario and Jill Baumgardner, both owners, for a couple of years at Kula Movement. Through acroyoga, I learned to fly, and finally I could practice inversions confidently. Kula is right in the heart of Ballard, and we would practice on market days in front of a big window of onlookers. For the first time, I didn't mind.

Trapeze is another story: It put me in touch with my intense fear of heights, and I came to quickly accept the limitation. I have a newfound respect for trapeze artists, who make something look so easy that is actually quite demanding on the body.

Pilates is great for your body, but it's very expensive and rare to find the one-on-one Reformer classes that have the biggest impact. Mat Pilates didn't quite do it, not when I can do yoga instead.

I practiced a somatic dance style called Nia for two solid years at Embody, a studio that became a sort of second home to me. Owner Christina Wolf is a fantastic teacher with true-blue leadership skills, and it was an honor to learn from her and her crew of fellow teachers, especially Rachael Prince (Nia, barre) and Greg Bowles (yoga). There I earned a white belt and a Moving to Heal certificate, which meant I could teach the dance style in both its more energetic form or its slower, more healing-focused pace. But life had other plans...

Now I find myself back in a transformed St. Louis, where there are three yoga studios within walking distance of my house, let alone in the city as a whole. And at the closest one, I've found the perfect place to take my first teacher training. 

I feel really self-conscious telling people I've been practicing yoga for 25 years. Inevitably, it raises the expectation that after all these years of practice, I should be able to flip around in handstands with ease, twist my body into a pretzel shape, or even levitate.

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It's funny to see these pictures, taken on a pre-digital camera at a time when the Internet and email were both brand new. Loooong before Insta yoga photos.

But I can't do any of those things. I realize we're conditioned - especially by inexperienced yoga teachers - to believe that over time, any depth or achievement in a pose is possible, as if yoga can be represented as a line graph, the arrow soaring upward and to the right over time. Truth be told, my yoga trajectory looks more like a bell curve.

And that's OK. Because of a lifetime of car accidents and a 22-degree scoliosis S-curve, I have pain in my left shoulder and right hip that has signaled to me it's time to recalibrate. Here in my late 40s, my body craves a slower, more contemplate practice. Fortunately, the teacher training I've enrolled in fits with that recognition exceptionally well. You can tell by the fact that my fellow students range in age from their 20s to age 70, encompassing a wide variety of yoga expressions. Our teacher espouses the snowflake principle - no two yoga poses are ever alike. 

The teacher training also includes private lessons. During my first one, the instructor expressed delight with what she could see in my practice as evidence of a long history of good training. That's part of why I decided to honor my past teachers in this post. I thank them deeply for sharing their lessons, helping to calm and center my mind and make my body stronger and healthier. They have been amazing guides, and I will endeavor to continue their examples.

Wish me luck as I begin my yoga journey anew, and tell me about your experiences in the comments below. How long have you practiced? How has your yoga changed with you?

 


Hello!

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Lisa Brunette is an award-winning novelist, journalist, game designer, and longtime blogger. Originally from the Midwest, she spent 20 years in "outer space," otherwise known as Miami and the Pacific Northwest, but now she's returned to her roots... to dig in the soil and define good living for herself. 


Cool Announcement Coming Soon... For Now, Lessons from the Garden

Table w coreopsis

 It's hot today, with the thermometer already at 94 degrees and steadily climbing. So I'm inside, working on a cool announcement I'll be making this week, hopefully. In the meantime, here are some pics of my garden. 

I keep moving my household to different homes, so I haven't been able to get to the point of a well-established garden yet, but the upside is that I've experimented a lot. It's fun and creative in a different way than writing. I love playing with the color and texture of leaves and flowers, growing my own food, and the challenges and victories of a totally organic garden. I've rescued many a rose and turned lackluster yards into whimsical retreats. I always leave a place better than it was when I found it.

Rose swirl

Like many of you, I'm sure, I often feel emotionally shredded by dismal environmental news, like bee colony collapse. I'm very sad to have witnessed the reduction in the numbers of butterflies in my lifetime. So much of that feels outside my control, but the garden is all mine. I plant the flowers the bees and butterflies like, and my own hands are the only weedkillers. 

Chive flowers w bee

The garden is great therapy, too. I know I feel restored when I can putter around out there planting, relocating, deadheading, trimming, and the like. But did you know there's scientific evidence that gardens really do reduce depression? There's a microbe in the soil that could actually improve your coping ability, according to this study. Mice exposed to the microbe were much less likely to give up trying to find an exit route when submerged in water (sucky thing to do to mice, though). So working in a garden might actually make you better able to escape the next time you feel in danger or trapped, or at least find a solution to your next big problem!

Other studies show that the microbiome of your garden can be good for your gut. And since we seem to be finding out more and more how important gut health is for general wellbeing, it's safe to say a little dirt can do you good.

As soon as it cools off, I'm going to pick some arugula for dinner. (I love that pungent green, which works well in both stir-fries and salads.) Happy Sunday!

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That Reaction We Have to Our Bodies in Photos

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So here I am, for the first time my body used in an ad.

The dance studio I belong to draws on its members for depictions to help celebrate—and yes, advertise—its offerings. The owner only uses images of members who have given permission to do so. 

Over the past six months, I have given and then rescinded and then given my permission again, struggling with the power of seeing photos of myself in motion. Not controlled. Not posed. Not sucking my belly in but breathing fully.

I’ve seen many images like this in my Facebook feed--showing other women. I even have a calendar on my kitchen wall, each month a photo not of Photoshopped models but of the women I see every week on the dance floor, in all their sweaty, smiling glory.

Without exception, I’ve viewed these photos as beautiful and inspiring. But when my own image, the one above, graced the top of an email banner one day, and a slew of other photos followed close behind on Facebook, I felt mortified with embarrassment.

And this surprised me.

It still does.

You see, I’m someone who’s done all the work. I long ago tossed aside Hollywood beauty standards, have never wanted to be New York thin, and have always praised myself on my body-positive attitude. More than a decade ago, I brought the multimedia production bodyBODY to the college where I taught so that students could participate in a show that celebrated the diversity and health of real women’s bodies.

Apparently seeing what women really look like is great as long as I’m not one of the women in the photos.

I can keep doing the work. That’s why I’m sharing this post.

But you have to do it, too. 

When I lose weight, even if it’s from illness, I am praised, mostly by other women. But if I gain even within a healthy range, no matter what amazing feat I’m achieving on my yoga mat, there’s no praise.

I’ve been asked if I’m pregnant when I was merely bloated. By the way, “Are you pregnant?” is a question that should never be asked.

When dating in my late thirties, one man told me flat-out that he preferred “skinny Asians.” Another said a weight-loss and exercise plan would be “such a great trend” for me.

The very photographer who took the picture above told me the only way to photograph “curvy” women like me in a flattering way is from above. I was criticizing her, and she was being defensive, but this still came out. 

Once, my own mother went through every one of our family photo albums, cutting herself out of all of the pictures.

Why wouldn’t I react to seeing myself in photos?

How did you react?

Did you think I was being brave?

Consider that for a moment.

To paraphrase comedian Amy Schumer, no woman wants to be told “you’re brave” in response to sharing a picture of herself.

Because here I am, dancing my dance, working every breath on loving myself. And I could use a little help.

 


Sex-Positive Research for Sexy Mystery 'Bound to the Truth'

The armory
The Armory. 

 In case you missed it, the third book in the Dreamslippers Series has a sexy theme. Cat and Granny Grace must find out who killed up-and-coming architect Nina Howell. Her wife is convinced a libertarian talk show host is the murderer. Following the clues takes the dreamslippers into what in another novel might be labeled Seattle's "perverted dungeon" or "dark underbelly."

 But not in Bound to the Truth. After a decade in Seattle and a lifetime studying human behavior, my position is that there isn't anything inherently dark or perverted about sex. And by sex, I mean the activity engaged in between two consenting adults that may or may not have anything to do with procreation but could include any number of "kinky" behaviors. Spoiler alert: Through the course of the novel, Cat explores a shop selling bondage gear, she and her grandmother go undercover in a sex club, and several characters confer on lingerie and sex toys.

 Readers of the series will know this is not shocking new territory for me. As I've said on social media, book one was about religion and sex, book two art and sex, and book three politics and sex. Septuagenarian heroine Amazing Grace is sexually active and forthright about her trysts; twentysomething Cat is exploring her sexuality as a new adult. These women own their desires and act on them, apologizing to exactly no one.

 HUGE CAVEAT: The sex scenes happen mostly off-screen. This is NOT erotica. This is NOT porn. Sorry to disappoint you. Now, continuing on with the discussion...

 Readers of the blog know I've been highly critical of Fifty Shades of Grey, which utterly fails because rather than challenging its audience in any way, it allows readers/viewers to preserve their judgmental prejudices against the kink world and the presumed "broken" people who inhabit it. They can naughtily dip a toe into the world but then ultimately reject it, just as the vanilla protagonist does. With Bound to the Truth, I wanted to treat kinky people with the respect they deserve, rendering a realism that I hope not only transcends cliché and judgment but results in fully developed characters and concerns. 

 While Fifty Shades served as a sort of negative inspiration, and my writing on this book started as a reaction against it, here's a peep show of my research sources for this book, all positive inspirations.

 News flash to any Emerald City resident who hasn't discovered this yet, but when Cat observes in Bound to the Truth that "Seattleites as a population must quietly be getting their freak on in the bedroom 24/7," that comes from first-hand experience. Enter the city's decidedly online dating scene for two seconds, yes, even as a middle-aged divorcée as I was, and you're immediately barraged with a cornucopia of kinky come-ons. After thirteen years straight of committed monogamy, it was eye-opening, to say the least. If you have single friends who are also dating, you compare notes and see the same. 

 I owe a debt of gratitude to Savage Love syndicated columnist Dan Savage, who not only writes intelligently, compassionately, and wittily on the subject of sex but also launched a brilliantly curated alternative porn film fest. I've attended a couple of Hump Fests, which seemed to both sell out, and I highly recommend them.

 When I wrote as a freelancer for several Seattle publications, I had the opportunity to interview University of Washington sex expert Dr. Pepper Schwartz. A well-respected academic with a long list of accomplishments, the occasion for my interview with her was the publication of her tell-all memoir, which chronicled her experiences entering the dating pool post-50. As you can see from my choice of subject matter and character, Dr. Pepper had an influence. The piece was one of my most popular, too. Originally published in Seattle Woman magazine, it was linked to by Crosscut, where it was in the top ten for traffic that year.

 While I never joined a sex club, I did talk with people who have, and I also toured The Armory in San Francisco. You might recognize the signature building in the image at the top of this post. The Armory is a sort of castle of kink. Tours are open to the public, and knowledgeable guides wearing nothing sexier than street clothes will lead you through many a porn set. The building itself is worth the price of admission even if you profess a distaste for porn; the Moorish castle was completed in 1914, with much of the stone staircases, wainscoting, and impressive corridors intact, not to mention access to an underground cave, Mission Creek running below the structure.

 I also toured the Erotic Museum of Barcelona, but who wouldn't do that on her honeymoon?

 The drag and burlesque communities deserve credit for shaping my thinking on sex. In Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, you can catch first-rate live shows in which respectful, supportive audiences embrace a diverse spectrum of lovely people on stage in various states of dress, dancing in a variety of suggestive ways. Most notably for me is Seattle's Nerdlesque. In fact, I'm still pondering my affection for and confusion over "burlesque Carl Sagan." Affection because he was one of my childhood nerd crushes. Confusion because I'm not attracted to women, but this gal was a dead ringer for my beloved astronomer, so...

 I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Laura Antoniou's mystery set in the middle of a kink convention, The Killer Wore Leather. And Seattle's sex-positive culture in general for its art shows, film screenings, articles, workshops, and overall work toward making sex something that can be talked about without stigma, shame, and danger. If we could free ourselves from those chains, then the ones some people put on just for fun become simply that.

 I hope you enjoy Bound to the Truth. You can pre-order it, and Amazon will magically deliver it to your Kindle on the day of release. Or Barnes & Noble will mystically transport it to your Nook. Or, or, or...

 Now tell me what you think of all this in the comments! What turns you on? I mean in terms of literature, people.