Living Alone is Overrated (for me, anyway)

About a year and a half ago I was living by myself for the first time ever after separating from my now ex-husband. I had lived with my family up until the age of 19, then with roommates through college, and then moved in with my ex immediately after graduating. It’s all I knew and I got used to it. Fast forward to September 2015 and I’m collapsed on the floor of my new townhome, scared to death and crying about being on my own. At the time I had no choice but to pick myself up and make the best of it. But now, March 2017, I’m about done with this sh*t.

 

I had a lot of support when I went through my separation/divorce, even from people who I hadn’t talked to in years. Some went through this same event, so they could relate, and that was particularly helpful. But one common thought was conveyed from several people after telling them I was living on my own for the first time; “you’ll love it”, “it’ll be so good for you”, “I sometimes wish I could go back to that time”, “living alone is the best!”, etc. Mind you, I truly appreciate the sentiment behind these statements, and I believe that these people did benefit from and enjoy living alone. So, I gave it a chance, thinking that eventually I’d come to enjoy it, too. But as I write this, there’s only one thought in my mind when I think about living alone…

 

I HATE IT.

 

Of course, it hasn’t been all bad. Some of the pros have included decorating as I see fit, randomly singing and dancing in the kitchen while I cook, coming and going as I please, and other fun things. But they pale in comparison to the cons I’ve experienced. As someone with more mental health issues than I can count on one hand, being by myself can be pure hell. I’m in my own head all the time because I don’t have the distraction of someone else to talk to, therefore I ruminate and over-analyze everything, which often results in a panic attack. I engage in bad habits because there is nobody there to stop me. The loneliness of being alone in my house just adds to my depression. I don’t sleep well unless I’m next to someone else. I will say that the one benefit of living alone for me was realizing that I don’t like living alone.

Fortunately, I’m moving in with Shane at the end of May. And while I know that living with someone is not a cure-all for my issues, I believe I won’t be as triggered anymore. I have never been so mentally unstable in my life than I have the past couple of years. I swear that if not for my two cats, I wouldn’t even be here writing this. As much as I can sometimes be introverted, I like being around other people. I like coming home to someone at the end of my work day. I like goodbye kisses and hello hugs. I like cooking meals, chatting and watching a movie with someone else. I like not having to get in my cold car at midnight to drive home or wonder when I’m going to see my partner next. Even if I feel like reading a book and taking some space, I know that there is still someone in the next room, and it gives me a sense of calm. Maybe I’m a bit of a love and romance addict, but I’ve come to accept that it’s just who I am, and who I am needs the company of another human to thrive.

So while I recognize why it was good for me to experience life on my own, and while I’m super appreciative of all the supportive comments from others, I’m ready to kiss this part of my life goodbye. I envy the people who truly enjoy it; I did it because I had to, but it’s just not for me. I was fortunate to have lived in an awesome townhome, and I will definitely miss that. But I’m ready to get back to adulting with someone else and experiencing that comfort and contentment I so fondly remember. Plus, Loki and Odin will have a new feline friend (which I’m sure all three are THRILLED about). Living with someone is just better for me, and I’m now counting down the days until I get to do it again.

Yoga Teacher Training: Weekend 2

I just finished my second weekend of yoga teacher training, and I’m happy to say I still absolutely love it! This weekend was very different from the first weekend, in that we spent the entire time filling our heads with all things anatomy. While a bit overwhelming at times, I already have such a new appreciation for the human body and how it relates to yoga. It was so great to see my fellow yogis again and spend some quality time with them while we put all that we learned into practice.

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FRIDAY

Our weekend began Friday evening at the NoDa Yoga studio, where we met our guest instructor for the weekend, Rebecca (who really knows her sh*t). We went around the room stating how we felt at that moment and what our intention was for the weekend. This is the second time we did this exercise, and I particularly like it because it gives us a chance to check in with ourselves and really think about what we want out of our weekend instruction. I was feeling anxious for some reason, but my intention for the weekend was to be open to learning all about anatomy and get myself to a grounded place.

 

Rebecca began our anatomy instruction by discussing our physiological selves, as that’s key to understanding anatomy as a whole. We focused on the nervous system and breath. It was quite eye-opening to learn certain aspects of this. For example, I realized that my sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) frequently overtakes my parasympathetic nervous system (rational thinking), resulting in my being an emotional and inconsolable mess some days. Simply using the breath is enough for the parasympathetic nervous system to gain back control, but it’s something most of us don’t do often enough, or don’t know how to do effectively. We also discussed why long, slow breaths are effective in ridding the body of carbon dioxide, conserving energy and relaxing the muscles. Relaxed muscles result in stronger muscles and less risk of injury. As an experiment in controlling our breath, she had us do 3 sun A salutations, 2 sun B salutations and 25 jumping jacks as fast as our bodies would allow. Once done, we had to immediately sit and breath to get our heart rates down. Lesson to be learned: yoga postures don’t matter unless you’re breathing. 

 

Next we talked about nutrition and “detoxing.” So basically, your body needs carbs, protein and fat to function. So those of you doing a no-carb or no-fat diet? STOP. And detoxes are a bunch of BS. Your body doesn’t need your help, and as long as you’re not overloading yourself with alcohol and eating generally healthy, you are functioning just fine. So those of you doing juice cleanses or week-long fasts? STOP. You are doing a bunch of damage because our bodies were meant to digest real food, not be deprived of it. Rebecca made a good point in that if something is seriously screwed up in your body, no amount of lemon or alkaline water is going to fix it. I had to laugh a bit as we discussed this, because I used to do all of these things at some point in my life. But I was also happy that I’m at a point where I don’t feel the need to do any of these things anymore and have a good understanding of basic nutrition.

 

A true body “detox” can actually be done through a specific kind of yoga practice, which Rebecca led us through at the end of the night. Yoga that involves a lot of twists, folds and deep breathing will strengthen your organs, so that if something damaging comes along your body is better equipped to fight it off. It’s also great for “cleansing” the body, and I’m not ashamed to admit that things were definitely moving around quite a bit in my digestive system afterwards on the way home!

 

Mr. Bone-jangles was being quite sassy this weekend. So I gave him a run for his money.

 

SATURDAY

The entire second day was another head-cramming day of anatomy, this time focusing on muscles, bones, joints, tendons and ligaments and how these apply in a yoga practice. We discussed the need to find a balance between strong and flexible muscles, the different types of muscle contractions and how they apply in various yoga positions, and how to move with intention to both protect your muscles and deepen your yoga practice. We learned the names of pretty much every muscle and bone in the body (there are a TON). We discussed the importance of protecting our joints, as tendons and ligaments take forever to heal if damaged (i.e. protect your knees!). We also discussed the vulnerability of the spine, and how backbends should never be done from the lumbar (low back) or cervical (neck) spine. And most importantly, stability is everything.

 

To apply what we learned, Rebecca had us go through two sets of sun A and sun B salutations. Our first set was just going through them as we normally would, and with basic instruction (calling out pose names). Turns out none of us were really breathing that first time around. During the second set, Rebecca provided that same instruction, but clearly stated which muscles we should be engaging and made us breath deeply. These were fundamental yoga poses, but what a difference (and a workout!) it made when we did this. It’s amazing how we can easily forget important aspects of yoga when we habitually go through the poses that we think we know how to do. Most of us had been doing cat and cow wrong (think about that for a second if you practice yoga), and we are all pretty seasoned yogis. Cat and cow are usually seen as easy, relaxing poses, but if done correctly, you should be feeling a lot more core and back engagement.

 

 

After lunch we were led through a thigh and hip opening practice. This one was particularly helpful for me, since I have very tight hamstrings. It was great to put into practice how to both contract and relax my hamstrings in certain positions. My hamstrings have psychologically affected my practice for years, so I’m hopeful that finding relaxation there and focusing on other muscles will help me deepen my practice going forward. We ended the day doing some fun handstand work. I have a major fear of face-planting, so any poses involving balancing on my hands usually causes me to freak out a bit, and thus, not be able to do them. But we partnered up to spot each other, and even though I was up against the wall, I was able to use my core to hold myself up for a few seconds! And it felt quite empowering.

 

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Don’t be jealous of my awesome yoga outfit

 

SUNDAY

We filled our Sunday morning with a fun Instagram activity. Our homework was to select one or two “celebriyogis” and choose one photo of a near-perfect yoga pose and one photo of a pose that needs some adjustments. If anyone is a regular Instagram user, you know that people LOVE posting pictures of themselves practicing yoga. If the post is meant to inspire others, I think it’s a great thing. However, there are a fair share of “look at me” posts, and funny enough, those are the ones who usually need adjustments. I chose two different IG accounts, with both doing a version of a headstand. One was a typical forearm headstand that was done quite well. The other was of a headstand being done without arms…so a literal headstand. After all of our talk about protecting our spines, this one seemed controversial to me, and I found out during discussion, that it indeed is. It’s a pose done strictly in Ashtanga yoga and only done after a lot of practice. But, the conclusion was that it can still be dangerous, and should never be tried by the average yogi.

 

Later on that day, we did a few more partner activities to apply all of our anatomy knowledge. The first activity involved sequencing. My partner and I were given a peak posture of side plank with extended leg and instructed to put together a short sequence to lead up to it. The intent of the sequence was to warm up and strengthen the muscles found in the peak posture through additional poses. Because our pose utilized obliques, glutes and triceps most, we chose a sequence that involved child’s pose, tabletop, downward dog, high and low plank and then side plank. Through discussion afterwards, we found that we could have also added in dancing dog and alternating standing wrist pulls to engage the obliques even more. Moral of the activity? When putting together any sequence, it’s a good idea to figure out your peak posture first and then structure the rest of your class around it so that you’re utilizing the appropriate muscle groups.

 

The second activity involved all of us getting into our white/light colored clothes to draw on each other with markers…I’ll explain. The purpose of the activity was to highlight the muscles being used in a certain pose, and then discuss what those muscles are doing in said pose. In our partner groups we were each given a pose, with one person drawing on the other at a time. My pose to draw and explain was upward facing dog. While I successfully highlighted the correct muscles on my partner, I completely confused which muscles were contracting vs. relaxing…so I have some work to do there. Then I got into downward dog while my partner drew on me (picture above). This exercise was definitely a good learning experience, and it’s amazing how many muscles you end up using in even the simplest of poses.

 

We closed out the weekend first with a short shoulder opener and backbend practice. This required us to put our knowledge of the spine into effect. It really makes quite a difference in a pose when you’re bending at the appropriate part of your spine and moving into it with intention. It actually made a lot of poses feel better in my body than they usually do, such as camel pose. Plus, it greatly reduces your risk of injury. Following that, we briefly discussed how we can work self-massage into our practice. Rebecca showed us various muscle massages using massage balls, foam rollers, and even a rolling pin. I have a foam roller already, which has been sitting in my closet up high since my cats decided to make it their new scratch toy. But I plan to start using it to loosen up my hamstrings a bit more, since that’s always my tightest muscle.

 

As we packed up to go, I reflected on how much I had learned about the body in just 2 1/2 days. I never realized all that was involved in anatomy, and while it was a heck of a lot to learn, I’m so grateful to Rebecca for teaching us as much as she could in such a short time. I feel confident that I had some very high-level training in this regard and I look forward to taking it with me to future yoga teacher training weekends, and to my mat. I left that weekend with a head full of knowledge…and then eventually a tummy full of gelato.

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Yogi friends and gelato pops: an excellent end to the weekend!

Chocolate Banana Berry Protein Smoothie

I loooove me some smoothies! I frequently whip them up on the weekends as either a light breakfast or healthy mid-day snack. I enjoy changing up my ingredients to make different flavors, but one ingredient that’s been a mainstay is cocoa powder. I’m a big chocolate fan, so including this in my smoothie always gives me the fix I need. The fruit (especially banana) is always sweet enough so that no other sweeteners are needed, and I like to add spinach and protein powder to add some good, subtle nutrients. This one happens to taste just like a chocolate-covered strawberry…mmmm

*I use Nutiva hemp protein powder, but you can use any kind you want. If you use a chocolate protein powder, you may not need the cocoa powder.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1/2 cup mixed berries
  • 1/2 cup raw spinach
  • 1 Tbsp. hemp protein powder
  • 1 Tbsp. raw cocoa powder
  • 1 cup almond milk

Directions:

  1. Blend until smooth and enjoy!

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Cucumber, Lemon & Green Tea Infused Water

I’ve had an issue with drinking enough water since I was a kid. It’s not that I don’t like water, I just never seem to be very thirsty. But because I know I need to be drinking a certain amount each day for my health, I pretty much force myself to drink it. And I’ve found that having a little bit of flavor in my water always makes me want to drink more than I normally would.

 

I’m not one to buy pre-flavored water from the store, as they always have an artificial taste to me (and sometimes that’s exactly what the flavoring is). Instead, I prefer to infuse my own water. I bought a water infuser pitcher on amazon about a year ago and it has become one of my favorite kitchen items. It’s so much cheaper in the long run than buying infused water and it’s fun trying different flavors that you can make yourself. I’ve tried tons of different combinations, but one of my favorites that I keep going back to is cucumber, lemon and green tea. I make a big pitcher early in the week and it’ll last me the whole week (since I’m only home mornings and evenings to enjoy it).

 

If you don’t yet have an infuser pitcher, I highly recommend this one. The infuser basket is super easy to remove and clean, and it holds a lot more water than some other pitchers on the market. The recipe below can be used with any infuser pitcher though. Or you can half/quarter it if you have one of the smaller infuser water bottles to take on the go.

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cucumber, chopped
  • 1/2 lemon, cut into 4 slices
  • 1 green tea bag
  • Filtered water

 

Directions:

  1. Add all of the chopped cucumber to the infuser basket first. Then add the tea bag.
  2. Squeeze each lemon slice into the pitcher itself, then add the lemon slice into the infuser basket. This way you get more of a lemon flavor in your water.
  3. Fill your pitcher with filtered water.
  4. Assemble your pitcher and let the water infuse overnight, or for about 8 hours.

 

 

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*Another way to easily flavor your water on the go is to buy True Lemon packets. This is the only store-bought water flavoring I’ve found to actually be healthy and not full of artificial stuff. It’s just crystallized lemon with no preservatives or sugar. I use these in my water while I’m at work, and a little bit goes a very long way to add a nice tangy lemon flavor.

 

What are your favorite ways to infuse your water? I’d love to hear some of your flavor combinations!

Yoga Teacher Training: Weekend 1

This past weekend was one I had been waiting for since last summer. One that seemed so far away for so long, until it was finally here. One that I was both excited and nervous for. To say that my first Bella Vita yoga teacher training weekend was incredible would be an understatement. I didn’t expect how much we would learn, grow and come together as a group in only three days. And I didn’t expect to leave Sunday evening feeling like I was on cloud nine and immediately wanting more.

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Got me a fancy new yoga bag!

FRIDAY

The YTT weekend officially began Friday night at the NoDa Yoga studio. I showed up and saw the 13 faces of the fellow students I’d be spending the next 8 months with. I was pretty anxious at that point, as I am in most new situations with people I’ve never met. Our instructors, Carrie and Jillian, invited us into a candlelit room they had beautifully set up. I found my name in the circle and took a seat on my assigned bolster. From there Carrie led us through a meditation, which I was grateful for since I was still quite nervous. We were then asked to write down one of our fears on a piece of paper so that we could burn it, as a sign of letting it go. I have a lot of fears, but I wrote “death” on my paper, since that’s the fear I’ve held onto for so long. I shared my fear with the group and then gently let it burn away.

 

We all went around the room introducing ourselves, describing how we felt in a word or two, and stating our intentions for both the weekend and the entire program. My intention was to be open to learning through the weekend, and overall to find a part of myself that had been lost or suppressed. We ended the night with our first of many yoga practices led by Carrie. It was really nice practicing in a candlelit room surrounded by others who were there for the same purpose. I left that night already feeling ready for the next day.

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Our first group yoga practice (photo courtesy of Jillian Longsworth)

 

SATURDAY

On Saturday we met bright and early with Jillian to talk about the different types of Pranayama breathing techniques. But first, we had more of an in-depth sharing experience about what brought each of us to yoga and to the training program. And I must say, I was completely inspired by the group. The honesty and vulnerability presented was amazing, and I really appreciated hearing all about each person’s life path up until that point. I ended up telling my whole story, which included my mental health issues, divorce, blog writing and yoga journey. I felt that my story was well-received and respected by the group, and I could tell that we all had a closer connection with each other after everyone had shared.

 

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that basically translates to “controlled breathing.” The breath is the most important aspect of yoga, because it’s what sustains us and allows us to live. Even if we’re not practicing yoga poses, as long as we’re mindfully breathing we’re still practicing yoga. So it makes sense that our yoga education would start here. Jillian led us through a thorough discussion of the different types of breath, from the well-known Ujjayi (ocean breath) to the lesser-known Sitali (cooling breath), Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breath), Dirgha (3-part breath) and Kapalabhati (breath of fire). We practiced all of the techniques together and then paired up to do more of a breath observation in each other. We focused on aspects like frequency, quality and depth. It was interesting to compare how I perceived my normal breathing and how someone else physically viewed my breathing.

 

Later on that day, Carrie guided us through a break-down of the more fundamental yoga poses in sun salutations, including upward and downward dog, cobra, plank, mountain and folds. We discussed limitations in our own bodies in these poses, and debunked some of the often-heard cues for these poses that may not actually help when it comes to proper alignment. She also conveyed the importance of good verbal and non-verbal communication as a yoga teacher, as that can make all the difference in successfully leading a class.

 

We then put our discussion into practice by learning proper yoga pose assists. We once again partnered up, this time as “student and teacher.” I’ve received assists frequently in classes, and it was funny to me to see what you actually do with your hands and body when assisting versus what I thought the teacher was doing this whole time. It turns out you can put most of your body weight into some assists. I was hesitant at first, because I didn’t want to press too hard and cause pain, but I learned I was often not using enough pressure in my assists. I eventually got the hang of it, and my partner was able to easily flow through poses as I assisted, and vice versa. It was quite fun, but boy were we sore and tired at the end! And thus concluded day two.

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SUNDAY

Day three began with a journaling exercise led by Carrie about what yoga means to each of us. Me being the structured list-maker that I am, I bullet-pointed my thoughts, which I’ve shared below:

  • A connection of the mind, body and spirit
  • Getting in touch with your inner-self to create self-awareness
  • Mental and physical exploration
  • Connecting with others
  • Understanding your limits, but also challenging yourself to go further
  • Growth and constant learning
  • Finding a life balance

There were no right or wrong answers, and it was interesting to hear everyone’s individual take on it. Carrie then asked us to choose one or two words that encompassed what yoga means to us. We passed around her phone as she recorded each of us saying our word, which I thought was really cool, as it’s something that is totally unique to our yoga group. The word I chose was “self-love.”

 

We continued with our yoga pose assists from Saturday, this time adding warrior 1, chair, and, my personal favorite, Savasana. While assists in other yoga poses are meant to either take a pose deeper or subtly correct alignment, an assist in Savasana is usually meant to provide comfort and relaxation. It often incorporates some kind of massage or pressure, which we practiced on our partners. Carrie ended the morning by asking us what we wanted to be acknowledged for that weekend. I said I wanted to be acknowledged for my growth over those three days, as I felt really proud of my progress so far.

 

After lunch, Jillian led us through a gentle and restorative yoga practice, which was simply wonderful. I had never taken a restorative yoga class before, so I enjoyed learning some new poses that utilized bolsters and blocks. Then came one of the bigger challenges of the weekend: teaching yoga! Yes, in our very first weekend we were already learning to teach. We broke off into small groups, which we rotated a few times, and each person in the group took turns teaching the others. We started by choosing a Pranayama breath from the day before to teach to the group (I chose a combination of ujjayi and Sitali). Then Jillian handed us each an index card with a pose name on it that we had to keep secret from the group. The goal was to get our group into this pose without saying the name of the pose or the names of any other poses we’d normally use to get there. We also could not demonstrate the pose. Needless to say, this was quite tricky.

 

In the first round, the group was blindfolded as we taught a more basic, grounded pose. My pose to teach was splits prep. Luckily it required only a few verbal cues to get into, so I was fairly confident in how I instructed that one. But the next pose we had to teach required us to use both directive and suggestive language. Directive language is more straight and precise, while suggestive language adds a little more comfort (e.g. “when you’re ready”, “I invite you to”). My pose to teach was warrior 1. I found directive language to be easier to use than suggestive, but they both have their uses in different yoga styles and situations, so I’m glad we learned how to use both. And that wrapped up our final day!

 

I drove home from the studio that afternoon in total bliss and thought the day could not possibly get any better. Then I came home to a sweet congratulatory card from my hunny, and a couple of special treats.

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What can I say? The man gets me.

 

I’ve told people who have asked me how the first weekend went that it’s hard to put into words the feelings that I have right now. Shane and I went to dinner Saturday night, and at one point he said to me that I had this radiant glow about me that he’d never seen before. I completely attribute that to my experience this weekend, and it’s probably the best way to sum it all up. I expressed Friday night that my intention for the program is to find a part of myself that has been lost or suppressed. In just three days, I feel like the ability to find that part of me is now very real, and I have already opened the door and let a little bit of myself out. And it feels really good. Everything about this weekend felt genuine, light and uplifting. I feel like I’ve known everyone in the group for much longer than I have because we all connected with each other so well. And all of this made me realize that I am exactly where I need to be right now.

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One big happy yoga family (photo courtesy of Jillian Longsworth)