Pre-work: Yoga and meditation teacher training 2016

I signed up for yoga and meditation teacher training last fall, committing to 200 hours of instruction come springtime. Springtime is here, and the training actually begins on Saturday (gulp). There’s not much more I can do to prepare for the 90 hours of training that will happen between March 12 and March 20 (again: Gulp).


This leaves me to reflect on the first step in the process, which is already behind me—the pre-work that my fellow trainees and I were assigned back in December.
The reading. We were assigned several books to read, which was thrilling to me as a lifelong bookworm. Some were wonderful and life-changing, and I’m glad I finally had a reason to read them (I’m looking at you, “Mindfulness for Beginners” by Jon Kabat Zinn). Others, such as “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” contained a few revelatory parts, but otherwise didn’t feel applicable to a modern American yogi (knowing that the physical practice isn’t the main point of yoga is cool; learning about the various levels of consciousness and enlightenment seems irrelevant). And then, there’s the “Bhagavad Gita.” It is not pictured here, because its gargantuan size would take up the entire frame. I really *wanted* to love the Bhagavad Gita, which is about the best I can say about that.

A few of the books assigned ahead of my yoga-teacher training.

The sun salutations. Part of our pre-work involved teaching sun salutations to friends and family members. This was by far the most instructive—and humbling—task on our list. I found it pretty easy to get my “spiel” down, and easier than I thought to keep my lefts and rights straight. However, it was waaay harder than I thought to actually focus on what my “students” were doing. After leading my mom through several rounds of sun salutations, I told my teacher: “I realized that I was saying and doing all the right stuff, but I hadn’t looked up at her for maybe five minutes. She could have been doing jumping jacks, for all I knew.” And that’s with one student, not a room full of students. Other challenges: With all the breath and alignment cues, when do yoga teachers breathe? I have a lot to learn.

Photo credit Acyuta Gopi, from a kirtan in New York City.

The kirtan. If you Google “kirtan,” you’ll get a long description about traditional call-and-response chanting rituals. This makes it sound unfun at best, cult-like at worst. Here’s how I’d describe a kirtan: You know the music yoga teachers play in class? The songs that have a vaguely Indian-sounding beat and Sanskrit words you don’t understand that help you get in your happy yoga place? The groups that produce this music hold live performances, called kirtans. I attended one at Yoga Mandali on Feb. 20 with Gaura Vani.
My main impressions:  You get to sit on comfy yoga bolsters, not traditional seats (win!). You hear cool folk stories about ancient yogis and yoginis (win!). You sing along after learning what those Sanskrit words actually mean (fun fact: “mangalam” means “auspicious.”). And you leave feeling relaxed and energized at the same time—kind of like after a yoga class (win-win!). This wasn’t assigned as pre-work, but it helped me understand a different side of the yogic tradition, which felt extremely worthwhile.


So now, it’s all over but the shoutin’. Wish me luck! 
Have you gone through yoga-teacher training? What do you wish you’d known beforehand—and what advice do you have for me as I embark on mine?

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The victory of being lost in thought

I have a beginner-skier friend whose skiing self-talk is so overwhelmingly positive and cheerful (“Look at you!” she tells herself as she turns. “You’re doing it!”), it’s made me reconsider my own internal chatter. Hers is both positive and mindful, appreciating every turn for what it is, right as it’s happening. Mine goes more like this: I’ll be skiing along when I realize I’m engaging in some lazy bad habit—leaning slightly back, for example. At the moment I realize this, my self-talk becomes: “Good God, woman! Press your shins into the front of your boots!”
I thought about this recently when I stumbled upon this Mindful interview with ABC News anchor Dan Harris and meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein, titled The Victory of Being Lost in Thought. It addresses this very phenomenon in terms of meditation: For most of us, when we realize our minds are wandering, our inclination is to be mad at ourselves for being asleep rather than rejoicing that we’ve woken up.
Harris (author of the terrific book 10% Happier) says to Goldstein: Most of us use that moment of waking up from distraction to beat the crap out of ourselves. In fact, you’re saying we should view it as a victory.
Goldstein’s response: Exactly. So we’re lost in some thought. And then at a certain moment we become aware of that. We wake up from being lost. And the usual tendency is for the mind to jump in with a judgment: “Ah, I was lost again for the ten thousandth time.” And then berate ourselves for that happening. But the re-frame, which is so powerful and so delightful, is in that moment of going from having been lost to being awake, to being aware—To actually highlight first the fact that we’re now aware again, we’re now awake again. And the beauty of this practice, and the transformation from seeing the wandering mind as a problem to, in some ways, seeing it as a gift, is precisely in that moment. For as many times as we get lost in a thought, that same exact number of times, we awaken from being lost.
What a revelation! What if we treated that moment of realization that we’re being sloppy and mindless—whether it’s while we’re meditating, skiing or simply having a conversation with a family member—as a moment to appreciate that we awakened from being lost?


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How I’m starting 2016: Snowshoeing at Mont Tremblant

What’s a skier-girl to do when winter takes its sweet time arriving? If you’re me, you try snowshoeing (have you ever heard a snowshoer complain about trail conditions?).


Snowshoeing at Ski de fond Mont-Tremblant, a cross-country ski and snowshoeing center. 

I’d always assumed snowshoeing was basically plodding: A good workout and a good way to get outside if you can’t ski, but not something you’d necessarily do on purpose. I am happy to admit that I was wrong.

I borrowed a friend’s pair of snowshoes before a New Year’s Eve trip to Mont Tremblant after hearing that skiing conditions weren’t super-ideal yet. I wasn’t prepared to love it. But on an outing at Ski de fond Mont-Tremblant, a cross-country ski and snowshoeing center, I changed my mind. The snowshoes provided a mechanical advantage that made it feel like I was floating above the snow, and I felt like an intrepid explorer venturing through the snowy woods. By the end of the trip, I began to see snowshoeing as another way to go places outside you couldn’t comfortably go otherwise—and who doesn’t love that?

Don’t get me wrong—I’m as pleased as the next skier-girl that winter has, in fact, decided to arrive on the East Coast. But that’s in part because I plan to get some more mileage out of my new snowshoes. Yep—I liked it so much, I decided to buy my own pair.

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An atmosphere of growth

I’ve become a bit of a Gretchen Rubin fanatic over the past few months after picking up The Happiness Project, her bestselling book on how to build a happier life within the framework of the life you’re living right now. I was instantly hooked, thanks to Rubin’s simple, clear writing and her engaging personal journey.

She starts with a simple concept: To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. When I read the last item on the list—an atmosphere of growth—I sat up a little straighter in my chair. It’s so obvious—it’s kind of the whole point of this blog, after all—and yet most of us spend almost no time consciously trying to foster it in our own lives.

We don’t wake up at 6 a.m. on Saturdays to train for distance runs and open-water swims because we enjoy hearing our alarms go off before the sun rises. I didn’t sign up for ski patrol training or run my first marathon because I figured the process would be an ego-boosting hedonism fest. We do these things because they create an atmosphere of growth, which is truly a necessary ingredient in a joyful, meaningful life.

As Rubin says here: “To feel happy, it’s not enough to have fun with your friends, and not feel guilty about yelling all the time, and feel like you’re working in the right job; you also need to feel growth—a sense of learning, of betterment, of advancement, of contributing to the growth of others.”
I had that concept in mind when I made the decision this fall to embark on my latest adventure: yoga-teacher training. My favorite teacher is offering the 200-hour training, and it’s full of other yoga “classmates” of mine. It’s offered locally, with a schedule that’s easy for me to accommodate. In other words, if I’m going to do a teacher training, this is the one I’m going to do.
Still, I waffled on making the decision. Do I really want to be a yoga teacher (maybe, but not in a burning-desire kind of way)? Is this a worthy use of my time and money? Can’t I grow enough in yoga by continuing to work on my handstand, or by going a little deeper in meditation? Am I really up for taking on 200 hours worth of intense training, along with the reading and other pre-work that comes with it?
Those are all worthy questions, but in the end, I chose to be OK with not having solid answers to any of them. I’m not sure where this journey will take me, but I know what I’ll create along the way: an atmosphere of growth, which is sure to boost my overall level of joy.
How have you created an atmosphere of growth for yourself? Has it boosted your happiness?


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Simple, foolproof homemade Greek yogurt in the slow cooker

A couple years ago, my breakfast life changed forever. I made yogurt at home, and I’ve never turned back.

In fact, if anything, I’ve leaned in, and have developed what I’m pretty sure is the simplest and most foolproof method for yogurt-making aside from buying a completely unnecessary yogurt maker for $300.

It’s basically the same method I used back in 2013—but using a slow cooker rather than a stovetop.

First, go buy some milk. I’m lucky to have access to fancy local milk from Battenkill Creamery, which I’m convinced tastes better than any other (but I’m sure your local milk will be delicious, too).


Heat the milk until your candy thermometer tells you it’s 180 degrees. In my slow cooker, this takes about seven hours. If you overshoot that and get it closer to 200 degrees because your afternoon hike takes twice as long as you expected it to, or because your 4 p.m. meeting runs long, no harm, no foul.


Cool the milk to 110 degrees. You can use an ice bath, but I find it easiest to just pop it in the fridge for a few hours (about four hours in my slow cooker). This is the only step that’s kind of a pain to overshoot, as you’ll need to reheat the milk to 110 if you do.

Gently stir a few tablespoons of plain yogurt into the milk. Your new batch of yogurt will take on the taste and the cultures of this “starter” yogurt, so choose wisely. Wrap the pot of the slow cooker in a beach towel to keep it warm, then place it in your oven with the pilot light on overnight.

IMG_0956.JPGAfter taking it out in the morning, I strain mine with a muslin cloth and colander to make Greek-style yogurt, but this is a nice-to-not-need-to step.

Et voila—breakfast for the week (plus some snacks)!

Let me know if you try making yogurt in your slow cooker—I’d love to hear how it works for you!

Also, let me know if I can provide any tips on food photography. I’m happy to share my secret techniques that enable me to take photographs that are both harshly lit *and* blurry.

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(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday: Thanksgiving plans

Not pictured: A comfy couch. A warm blankie. And SO much pie. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


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Workout of the week: Justin Michael Williams’ core sequence

I’m on a constant search for the next new core exercise—the twist or tweak that will render the standard few abdominal exercises (plank, sit up, crunch) nearly un-doable, and therefore super-valuable to any athletic endeavor or yoga practice. Yoga teacher Justin Michael Williams delivers a dozen or more such movements in one 17-minute video.

From twists on the classic boat pose to a forearm plank variation that will eat your obliques and shoulders alive, this sequence offers enough movement and variety to keep things interesting, and enough breaks and modifications to make it do-able for beginners (or for people who reeeally don’t feel like doing core work today). I’m going to be honest and admit that the first time Williams suggested I take a rest in sphinx pose, I laughed out loud, then laid flat on my stomach in exhaustion.

Yogis will love the way the sequence fuses movement with breath, and the way it boosts their inversions and arm balances—I have been doing the sequence regularly for about a month, and I genuinely think it’s helped my handstand practice. Athletes will love that their midsections will be sore for days after their first attempt at the workout.

Let me know if you try this—and if you make it to “rest” in sphinx pose!


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