8 pics for #TransformationTuesday

Its been so long that I carried around what I would consider to be extra weight on my frame that I would wager the majority of the people in my life  have no way to recognize the changes I have undergone over the years. Below are eight snapshots from the last decade or so of my life that show the various stages of my body and a quick reference to the frame of mind I was in at that moment in time:

1. Sophomore Year High School

Still hoping at this point that boys would like me and that my family-life would be ok...soon to have that bubble burst.

Still hoping at this point that boys would like me and that my family-life would be ok...soon to have that bubble burst.

2. Junior Year of High School

Really REALLY uncomfortable in my body. 

Really REALLY uncomfortable in my body. 

3. Sophomore Year of College

Very angsty. Trying to own my body in a way that felt empowering but still overall uncomfortable and not fully understanding why or what to do to get to the other side.

Very angsty. Trying to own my body in a way that felt empowering but still overall uncomfortable and not fully understanding why or what to do to get to the other side.

4. Senior Year of College

Still without a boyfriend (ever), still uncomfortable, coping with drinking, puking a lot due to alcohol. The beginning of bulimia? More than likely.

Still without a boyfriend (ever), still uncomfortable, coping with drinking, puking a lot due to alcohol. The beginning of bulimia? More than likely.

5. Two Years Post-Grad, circa 2009

Halloween costume (Christie Monteiro from Tekken) - Crossfitting, zone diet, bulimic, very lonely but not for lack of wonderful friends. This is where I began to be more or less the size I have maintained to this day.

Halloween costume (Christie Monteiro from Tekken) - Crossfitting, zone diet, bulimic, very lonely but not for lack of wonderful friends. This is where I began to be more or less the size I have maintained to this day.

6. Circa 2010

So intensely obsessed with my body that I had slipped into full-on bulimia even though I was Crossfitting 5-6 days per week and otherwise very active. Alcohol did not help, dieting made things worse. I lived alone and hid my behaviors, knowing they needed to change. From here things got worse though. My weight fluctuated up and down by roughly 10 or so pounds depending on how well I could get a handle on gorging myself and puking. I loved Athens but was hoping that a move to Tx would help me. Things in fact got worse until I started yoga in 2012.

So intensely obsessed with my body that I had slipped into full-on bulimia even though I was Crossfitting 5-6 days per week and otherwise very active. Alcohol did not help, dieting made things worse. I lived alone and hid my behaviors, knowing they needed to change. From here things got worse though. My weight fluctuated up and down by roughly 10 or so pounds depending on how well I could get a handle on gorging myself and puking. I loved Athens but was hoping that a move to Tx would help me. Things in fact got worse until I started yoga in 2012.

7. Fall 2014

Two years clean of bulimia, no more Crossfit, fixing my range of motion issues, body readjusting to adequate amounts of relaxation coupled with strength training through vigorous vinyasa. Very happy.

Two years clean of bulimia, no more Crossfit, fixing my range of motion issues, body readjusting to adequate amounts of relaxation coupled with strength training through vigorous vinyasa. Very happy.

Summer 2015

Poorer than I've ever been in material possessions but very full of confidence in my drive to do things out of love. Full of love for my body. Full of gratitude for how far I've come. Still clean from bulimia. Still growing every day.

Poorer than I've ever been in material possessions but very full of confidence in my drive to do things out of love. Full of love for my body. Full of gratitude for how far I've come. Still clean from bulimia. Still growing every day.

The moral of this story is not that I got skinny and then I got happy. That's a bullshit narrative that is tired and poisonous. In 2009/10 I was tiny, ripped, had the attention of attractive men and was still absolutely miserable and very unhealthy. Wellness is holistic - body, mind and spirit. Everyone's ideal will incorporate different emphases on each of those aspects. Good luck to you all as you continue your journeys and transformations. It would be great to hear some of your stories in the comments!

My 5 Favorite Pictures from JRY and Hot Yoga Downtown

Nancy Allen at James River Yoga recently extended the use of her studio space to me. It was a generous offer and a wonderful opportunity to try out a new Donation's Based model of pricing. 

In order to promote my new classes and have beautiful images for the re-working of my website Nancy helped me assemble a beautiful group of yogis for a morning together practicing and taking pictures. 

I went for James River Yoga to Hot Yoga Downtown without skipping a beat to teach my beginner-level Hot Vinyasa class at Noon. It seemed right to re-create that magic with some of my yogis and yoginis from Hot Yoga Downtown.

Here are my five favorite pictures from last weekend...

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Remaining Vulnerable Through Adversity

My boyfriend paid me an unexpected compliment the other day saying "You seem to do really well against adversity." I appreciate that people are able to see me in a graceful light even when I feel like I'm struggling. More and more I'm realizing that the way I get through the toughest situations is somewhat counter-intuitive. When I want to curl up into the fetal position and cry or grit my teeth, instead, I seek to open my heart up an be even more vulnerable. 

For many years this was not my approach. Born into a somewhat tumultuous family situation I developed a hard demeanor and protective emotional barriers as early as the third grade. You can see the transition in my school pictures. My third grade picture is the last school-picture where my smile reaches my eyes. Every year-book picture thereafter there are shadows where the twinkling of innocence and joy should have been for one so young. Even now some of this is evident in my posture. I constantly have to remind myself to open my heart, relax my shoulders and let my smile radiate to my eyes. These are things that for me, take practice, as it would turn out. 

 

 

At 23-years-old I had substantially repaired my relationships with my mother and sisters and we had all done much healing from the toxic relationships of our past. I lived by myself and had plenty of time alone to begin the journey into myself that led me to recognize the coping mechanisms I had established as a reaction against my environment. I began to sort out the parts of my personality that were the true expression of myself.

Until this point, I had been walking around with an emotional-social range that ran from "tough/punk bitch" to "cold-hard-facts scientist" to "goofball one-of-the-dudes." I neither loved myself nor allowed myself to be loved. I am so grateful for the circumstances that allowed me the time and space to be contemplative and to sort this out and learn to respond to hard situations instead of react.

Circa 2007 - I still wore make-up and clearly had a 'tude.

 The most important and foundational realization that I had was that I wanted to be happy and to love and be loved in return. The second realization that allowed me to begin to be happy and to love was to own the fact that I am very sensitive. I am very aware of my own short-comings and quirks and I started to be aware of how social interactions resonated with me. I decreased the amount of time I spent socializing and increased the amount of time I spent reflecting on how the interactions impacted me. Did they energize or drain me? Did they hurt my feelings or make me feel awkward? Did they make me feel loved and secure with my quirks and flaws? I had lived fast and furious as a late teen, early 20-something and had left myself zero time for such questions. But around 23-years-old I had the "mid-life crisis" that is not atypical for an INTJ/Aquarian, sensitive, self aware, universally-minded human.

I started to let my guard down. I started to experiment with dating here and there. As it would turn out I was still a little too guarded and a little too green with my emotions so I stepped that back for a while and started to re-examine my environment and career. I realized, for the first time, that I valued my various skills enough to consider switching careers entirely. I was content in my environment but that was the contentment of a person who was not fully actualized. I made the decision to leave. Faced with the challenge of personal growth, instead of being cautious and guarded I decided to be vulnerable. I packed up my 700 sq. ft house entirely by myself, and left to move to Austin, Tx from Athens, Ga with only my dog for company. 

One of my earliest attempts at self-expression. I had just purchased my first macbook and spent a long time editing this picture to reflect the sense of other-worldliness I was experiencing as I began my journey inward. Somewhere around 2009.

 

 

My adventures and misadventures continued and eventually brought me full-circle, back to Lynchburg, Va. I continued, throughout, to challenge how far I could take expressing love to those around me. I finally came to a place where I felt comfortable being in a relationship. That came to an end and was yet another challenge. How was I to stay open and express love in the wake of love ending? Living alone, again, with plenty of time for introspection, I realized that there was so much room for error when interacting with people socially. I decided, for a time that I was going to pare down my socialization time, yet again. In my free time I studied for and attained my Crossfit L1. Then I started to re-engage with my community via personal training in the hopes that I would be able to be open and vulnerable in the new endeavor of teaching but always be reminded of how special all relationships are via the same construct. In a way I was practicing yoga - offering up each class as my best effort at loving individuals and my community.

That was the jump-off point for the real yoga to begin - the asana practice, the pranayama and meditation and finally the teacher training - almost a year ago, now. Recent times are no more or less challenging than my past has been - just different. I'm once again working on vulnerability and love in the context of a relationship, I've re-established some semblance of a social-life and strive to be loving, compassionate and open there, too. I've also started my own yoga business, as you know since you're reading my blog. This is one of the biggest challenges I have yet faced. It is very easy to judge myself and others from a business-perspective unless I am 100% open to possibility and steadfast in compassion. When I find myself shrinking into myself at this point I am well-enough practiced to know full-well that what I need to do is to open up instead. Its just not a natural response for me - but I had a thought today:  How much could I really congratulate myself on being open to the world if cash was raining in and within one year I was jet-setting all over the world to teach. I am just getting past the beginner stages of openness. To some people loving and being vulnerable comes naturally. Its refreshing and encouraging for me to interact with people like that to show me just how far I have to go. But for now, all adversity is an opportunity to practice openness beyond the beginner level. I accept that and am grateful for it.

My sisters and me - adults and happy. Those are real smiles. Photocred: Foster&Asher // August 2014


Here's a video of me from yesterday's practice. It features me doing a lot of heart openers. I have a long way to go. Before I even wrote this post, about a week ago, I decided to dedicate the month of October to getting my back more flexible. This video has some great back bends in it and hopefully in a month the progress will be obvious, physically. Knowing full-well there is a link between the physical and spiritual bodies I am curious to see what other changes occur as a result. Ah, the grand experiment with life and the self...

140908 Yogi Time Lapse - This is how to lotus

Warrior poses and handstands and one-leg balancing postures and down dogs and planks, and cobras - yep, all great poses. Those poses only help, minimally, however, in developing the lotus seat - padmasana. If you only have a rigorous asana practice you are missing out on some of the biggest benefits of yoga derived from sitting and meditating. It is widely agreed that the lotus seat is one of the best postures for meditation. This is due to the natural torque that occurs in in the hips which in turns grounds the ischium. The reciprocal energy of the legs into one another and then into the ground and a similar transference between the ischium and ground allows energy to be drawn into the pelvic floor almost effortlessly. In turn, through controlled breathing, the abdominal diaphragm lifts the energy though the anterior and posterior planes of the trunk, into the chest and when the shoulders are relaxed the chest has room to fully expand. Thus, this particular seated posture allows for the greatest ease and expansiveness with breath. With an appropriate dristi or focal point, the neck continues this unbroken transference of energy all the way through the spine from tailbone through the crown of the head. 

Such economy of energy transference is hard to replicate in other poses. In my experience "easy pose" or sukkhasana requires more trunk stabilization as does bound angle (boddha konasana). Child's pose (balansana) or kneeling are good options but the compressive element of those poses puts the shins, ankles, calves, and feet to sleep when held for a long time. Savasana or "corpse pose" is great for economy of movement but the challenge in that posture is to keep your meditation from turning into sleep! 

So how do you get into lotus? Have you tried only to have too much pain in the knee or ankle to get all the way situated? For some the lotus seat is easy. The hips are naturally very open, their legs are long enough that the angle for the knee is less severe. For many, however, lotus is anything but comfortable and just about unattainable. I fell into the latter camp my entire yoga career until just this past month.

A year ago it was pointed out to me that my ankles were turning under or "sickling" when doing poses like pigeon, cow-face pose and in half lotus, fire long pose - really the list was very long. For me, unlocking lotus started with fixing my ankles. The ankle is intended to be either extended - nice and straight with the toes expressing that straightness by pointing OR the ankle can be in some degree of flexion as in when you are standing on it. Problems with the ankles start in the bottom of the foot more often than not, though mine actually was a combination of poor foot placement during walking and old soccer injuries. People over-weight the outside of the foot when walking and that translates to the seated position. The outside edge of the foot begins to turn under and there is an outward bowing of the ankle joint placing a LOT of stress on the lateral ankle ligaments. I started by making sure my ankles were either expressing full flexion or extension in each of the poses above.  Two things helped me get my foot into really good flexion -

1) When possible use your hand or another body part to give the foot feedback. If you walk wrong chances are the second you try to put your foot into flexion without the floor underneath it you will default to your bad walking pattern. Use your hand on the bottom of your foot to simulate a floor and root down the base of the big toe and pinky toe as well as the heel to get your foot flat and start to re-train appropriate flexion at the ankle.

2) Flare the pinky toe. Yogi toes look ridiculous at first but aside from the surface area they provide for balance, this simple flaring of the toes pulls the muscles of the plantar fascia and arch wider, stretching the bottom of the foot which in turn makes ankle flexion a LOT easier. 

So after the ankles, the next major crux is the knee, right? If your ankle is fully into extension or flexion you're going to have to work rather hard to get your knee out of alignment. Your knee is a hinge joint, just like the angle. The knee joint expresses range of motion between 0 degrees (knee totally compressed as in kneeling) and 180 degrees (knee open as in standing). In between the two is the mid-way, 90 degree angle, as in sitting in a chair with the feet flat on the ground. Those are the three safest positions for the knee. At any of those three angles, the foot angle can either be flexion or extension and the effect of the relationship between the ankle and knee is experienced in the hip. If your knees give you trouble my suggestions are as follows - 

1) Spend a LOT of time kneeling. Start small with a block underneath you for support and work eventually so that you do no need the block. Start with 5 minutes and work your way up to 20 or 30 minutes. Mind over matter, your legs will tingle but if you keep your pelvic floor and core engaged and your focus on your breath you will one day make it that long. Don't expect that to happen overnight or without some tears. When you have sat kneeling for a long time, make sure you give yourself a long time to unwind out of the posture and don't try to stand up right away. Just get in dandasana and let your body process what happened. 

2) Heros pose at least 3 days a week - once you can kneel for about 15 minutes without a block start working Virasana into your practice to help with internal rotation of the hip while the knee is compressed. This is the opposite movement of the hip than lotus pose but as is often the case one must go East to go West. The hip will not externally rotate if the internal rotation component is missing.

3) Start practice your half lotus - in tree pose, on the ground. Get the heel in contact with the abdomen about two inches below the navel and slightly to whatever side leg you are working. Get the very midline of the shin pointing to the ground and then lean forward to help your pelvis tilt anteriorly. Eventually your knee will drop down to the ground and you will have one half of your lotus legs.

Finally what does one do about the hips? If the ankle and knee are in a good relationship to one another, stretching that you do in pigeon, cow-face pose, janu sirsana, fire log pose etc will all work efficiently and effectively and most important EXCLUSIVELY at the hip. Unlike the other two joints, your hip is a ball and socket. The range of motion in the hip is huge comparatively and you need all of it for lotus. In my opinion the hip takes care of itself when the other two joints are in order. One of the most important poses to get your ready for padmasana is fire log aka double pigeon aka agnisthambasana. This pose is a doosey. It slowly torques the hip socket into submission. Often the hip does not rotate out or back all of the way in the socket but this pose will take care of both of those elements. The first time you try this pose however you might find that there is huge gap between your top leg and bottom leg. First, follow all of the aforementioned tips for the ankle, make sure they are both in flexion. You may need to hang the top ankle over the quad muscle of the bottom leg to be unimpinged in your top foot flexion. From there my tips are as follows - 

1) Lean forward and compress your torso onto your legs. This will guide your hip placement and  anteriorly tilt the pelvis so the head of the femur sits all the way back into the socket.

2) If it feels bad in the knee or ankle don't go there yet. That is my advice at every step of the way to lotus. You only have one knee and one ankle per leg. Treat them kindly. Go slow. Do not force things upon your body that it is not ready for.

I will likely do a tutorial or maybe even a lotus workshop here, soon. If you want a great video on how to get into lotus go here. To see all of the above advice in action check out my time lapse from yesterday below. Good luck and let me know if you have any questions in the comments.