Vegetarians vs. delicious, delicious sausage

My favorite vacations are ones that combine food and yoga. My sister Ingrid and I made a trip to San Francisco a couple years ago to practice with our beloved Rusty Wells, eat what still may be the most amazing vegetarian meal I have ever encountered at restaurant/yoga studio Ubuntu in Napa Valley, dive into divine Italian in Noe Valley and eat raw, vegan food at Cafe Gratitude.

We liked our theme so much we're doing it again next month, this time in New York City. She lives there, but we are turning it into a yoga/food weekend, practicing yoga four times in three days and planning our meals well in advance. We have reservations at DBGB, Daniel Boulud's latest restaurant, and also are debating whether we'll eat ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar or at Ippudo. (I practice, partly, so I can eat. I highly recommend it.)

But yogis are in a bit of an uproar over a story that ran Wednesday in the New York Times called "When Chocolate and Chakras Collide," which debates the malleable way people interpret the yogic principle of ahimsa, or do no harm. Many yogis believe ahimsa applies to animals and thus become vegetarians or vegans.

Eating vegetarian can be extremely delicious. (Terzo Piano, Chicago)

But do I really have to give up my ragu?

Count me and my sister among the conflicted and inconsistent. We picked DBGB for the sausage. It's not just any sausage. Ingrid says it's delicious sausage. "Daniel Boulud is a genius."

I much prefer buying meat and eggs from happy cows, happy pigs and happy chickens at the Ballard Farmers Market. I cook vegetarian a lot and am ordering less meat at restaurants. I want to save the earth. At the same time, I can't imagine life without delicious, genius sausage. I guess I'm not that conflicted. I learned from the article that some studios won't accept you into teacher training unless you're vegan. No cheese? No thank you.


A bloody yoga Monday

If you are at all squeamish about blood or don't like feet, stop reading now.

I was perky when I woke up Monday morning for my 6:15 a.m. class. I think I'm getting used to both teaching and the early hour. I slept well, felt prepared and bounded into class on the dot. But when I got in, I saw the teacher mat was missing. I scooted out and ran upstairs to get mine. On my way back in, I held the door for a late student, propping it with my foot. As it closed, the corner of the door scraped my foot, but I didn't think much of it.

A few minutes later, I was standing at the front of the class leading them through the early standing poses. I folded forward, looked down and saw blood. And not just a little blood. The side of one big toe was covered and had smeared onto the other big toe when I pressed my feet together.

Hm. This was a new one.

I put the class into downward dog and tried to figure out what to do. I didn't have a towel, so I went to the props area, sprayed water onto a clean cloth used to wipe down mats and held it to my toe while occasionally calling out "Inhale...exhale." I cleaned off most of the blood and then walked around again, keeping the class going through the flow, but my toe kept bleeding. I refrained from assisting so my poor students wouldn't have to stare at a bloody foot in downward dog, while every few minutes I still surreptitiously tried to blot it clean. It was not elegant.

Here's the clean version of the injury:
It still hurts.

I told another teacher afterward, and she laughed and said, "I'm so sorry." She once had a spider bite during class that swelled up so badly she couldn't walk on it and had to sit down to teach. She said I could have had the class do sun salutations and leave to take care of the injury. But I was happy the injury didn't throw me off beyond the short period in downward dog, which is progress for me as a teacher. After the bleeding stopped, I got back to the practice and that was that. Thanks, bloody toe!


The methodical way and then my way

I might have exaggerated a little on Thursday's post. I had every intention of mapping out my yoga poses this week. I even bought new notebooks. But I hadn't gotten around to doing it, favoring shopping and the Internet over yoga nerd work. Today, I skipped going to yoga in favor of sleeping in and then trudged up the hill to my favorite coffeeshop, Lighthouse. I thought being away from the Internet might help.

I sat down at a table, opened my nice, new, blank notebook and promptly waged war with myself. I started off with great gusto. I came up with categories for each pose: alignment, drishti, modification, growth, and I quickly filled a page with thoughts on child's pose. But halfway through the next pose, downward facing dog, my leg started to jiggle. I glanced at my phone. I picked it up and read email. I took pictures and stared at other people working harder than me. It got so bad I timed my pathetic ADD self and noted just six minutes had passed since the last time I checked.

Here's my procrastination handiwork:

Hi Lighthouse!

I couldn't resist adding a single shot to that chai. I regretted it.

The problem is writing a page for each pose is a methodical way to do things. Of all the descriptions I can think of for me, methodical is not one of them. I'm efficient, and I'm thorough, but I like to do things fast. This was slooow, like molasses yoga. I persevered somewhat and made it to Warrior I, or about 12 poses into the series. It's not terrible. I think this new method of really working through the dynamics each pose is the start of something pretty cool for my teaching. But it will be cooler when it's done. Only 41 poses to go.


Paychecks, shoes and a video

I picked up my first yoga paycheck this week. Yes! I also might have just ordered some new shoes. No! I hope this is not a trend.

I've been on the night shift at work this week, which means I get into the office at 3:30 p.m. The best thing about the wacky schedule is I can practice every morning without interruption. Other things I do: make soup, blog, shop online. Oops. In my productive moments, I go into mega yoga nerd mode. I've started mapping out poses and writing down new and improved ways to explain what I want students to do in poses: hug, expand, grow, lift. I heart Thesaurus.com.

I also am trying to watch videos of master teachers to listen to how they explain postures, and stumbled on a video of an up-and-coming teacher posted on Yoga Dawg, a blog that lately has been mocking videos of Bikram yoga contests. The commentary that accompanied the video of Sarah Tomson Beyer was "The Next Shiva Rea" and "Woof Woof."  I've heard only rave reviews from friends who have practiced with Park City-based Sarah and adore her Flowmotion style, but no matter how far I go in my yoga teaching career, I don't imagine myself ever making a video like this one. Among the reasons: wind machine, flexibility, washboard abs, or lack thereof. I didn't learn any new yoga words, but was kind of riveted.


Musical anxiety and the Beatles

I thought putting together playlists for my classes would be fun. I love music and I was really excited to play interesting music that goes beyond yoga standards like Deva Premal and Krishna Das. I am always inspired when teachers play something I truly like. Then I started to cull choices from the 4,600 songs on my iTunes and began to realize I had a problem: my taste tends toward peppy music with really depressing lyrics. I didn't have a lot that would work in class. I couldn't very well play music where breakups or drugs was the theme. But I cobbled together a couple of lists that I thought were semi-reasonable, with good, driving tempos and non-offensive themes -- Arcade Fire, Rilo Kiley and Camera Obscura all have made it on.

But after class Saturday, my teacher mentioned during a feedback session that he didn't understand my use of music. There was Nicole and the class doing their thing, and then there was the music. He felt like he was at the Showbox, not in a yoga class. In case you were wondering, that was not the goal.

Passion Pit at the Moore, not the Showbox. You get the point.

Music should either aid the flow of the class, building to a power flow (which is more appropriate for an advanced class) or be atmospheric, especially with intro classes like my Saturday class, he said. What I like won't necessarily work for yoga. Practice to the songs, and see if they work for me.

I had sort of sensed the disconnect in class, but had not figured out a solution. Some friends protested his feedback and said they prefer good music in class like the bands named above. But I think there's value to intentional music. Some students might ignore it, but it might bother others. I know I get very judge-y in class about music. I used to always think "Here Comes the Sun" was a cheesy song to play, but then my friend Kip said what better song to start off the day? Now I get why Yoga Journal prints teachers' music playlists.

I'm back to constructing my own. The Beatles are definitely making a comeback. Sigur Ros is making a case for the atmospheric days, and I'm pretty sure "Takk" will be featured in tomorrow's class now that I have trashed my old lists. Do you have favorite yoga class songs? I'd love any and all suggestions, so comment away.


No talking allowed

Yoga has convinced me to consider a lot of things I've never wanted to do before, like cleanses, teaching and taking on a second job. The latest thing on my mind is a 10-day silent meditation retreat. I'm usually pretty cool with intensity, but no joke, the idea of this retreat scares the sh*t out of me.

I met with one of my main teachers last week to discuss meditation. I haven't sat with a lot of teachers, so I don't have much experience with the different styles. He gave me some suggestions on how to lead, but also recommended I take a beginning meditation series through the Seattle Insight Meditation Center. Then he suggested I consider a silent meditation retreat at a center south of Seattle, Northwest Vipassana Center.

What is a silent meditation retreat, you ask? I don't know much. But the main thing that leaps out at me is you do not talk for T-E-N D-A-Y-S. It sounds preposterous. Can't I start off easier? How about three days? Three days sounds perfecto.

But no. There are a lot of rules and I bet they do not look kindly upon lame yogis who want to bail three days in. (There's also some talk about 10 days just scratching the surface. Seriously?) But the retreat is donation based, and it's two hours from Seattle, which meets my vacation-taking criteria for this year: affordable and close. I am saving like mad for my next teacher training, so I am avoiding costly trips. The one thing I do have in abundance, for the first time in my life, is paid vacation. I get four weeks a year, plus we have to take five days of furlough by year's end. I have the time. But I also have this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I am contemplating it out loud here in the hopes it will stop me from freaking out about it. But my gut tells me the freak out is the very reason to do it. Am I the most perverse person on the planet? Magic 8 Ball: Without a doubt.


Lessons learned from a sandwich and Mt. Rainier

I was driving east on the I-90 bridge on Saturday in a very discombobulated state. I had just finished teaching my Saturday class, hustled to the store to grab salad fixings for a dinner party and a sandwich for lunch, and was eating in the car as I rushed to a yoga meeting in Bellevue. My sandwich was, regrettably, really good. As I drove, I wished I was eating the sandwich -- a tart mix of Mama Lil's peppers, salami, provolone, mustard and pesto on a pretzel roll -- like a normal person. A normal person would sit down to eat such a good sandwich instead of scarfing it down while driving a car.

As I rounded a curve, Mount Rainier suddenly loomed ahead of me in all her snowy, still beauty. I looked up and admired her. Then it hit me that I could neither appreciate my sandwich nor The Mountain in my flustered, frantic state. I already had edged out of a conversation with a teacher about  meditation post-class because I didn't want to be late to my meeting. And now here I was, so deep in my head I was missing all the good moments. There were some good moments to be had, even if they were all in transition from a yoga class to a yoga meeting.

On Sunday, I tried again.

I went for a walk in Discovery Park. Rainier peeked out from underneath the clouds.

I also had a real conversation with my friend Lauren while breathing fresh, salty air and sitting on driftwood on the beach. I returned to the real world today. It's quite lovely here.


Fruit, fruit and more fruit

For three days in February, my diet is going to look mostly like this.

My favorite Taiwanese fruit

I know a lot of people who have done a fruit cleanse, and it shouldn't be a big deal. I get to eat avocado and tomatoes, even. But I'm just not sure it'll be all that fun. There will be no pasta or rice or eggs or cheese. It will be strange to ban very sensible foods like leafy, delicious kale.

But I'm committed. Angie, my shopping, food and yoga buddy, was considering it and asked me if I ever had. A fruit cleanse sounds infinitely more pleasant than the Master Cleanse with its weird maple syrup lemon juice cayenne mixture. Why bother with a cleanse? To detoxify and get the bad stuff I love to ingest at work (coooookies) out of my system. When I eat clean, with whole grains, lots of vegetables and no refined sugar or fried food, I really feel better. I would love to eliminate cravings for crappy food. Stopping coffee was one thing, but I don't do so well with french fries.

I would not have motivated if Angie hadn't mentioned it, and I'm assuming it will be easier to have a partner-in-cleanse. But Angie and me being the hungry, hungry girls we are, decided to wait until after Chinese New Year on Feb. 14. We'll need to cleanse after this:

Mmm, Richmond dim sum.

But it's more than a month away, and this post is mainly for accountability. Angie, I'm talking to you.

UPDATE: My mom reminded me of the Chinese name for the fruit pictured above: lianwu.


Teaching thoughts, caffeine, authenticity

I love good, rich, dark, black coffee goodness. It pains me that I have given it up. But we were denied caffeine at my teacher training. In Mexico, I learned some powerful lessons about energy flow and how much we can control our energy day-to-day. I thought maybe I was too dependent on coffee. So when I came back to Seattle, I gave it up, with occasional forays into  *gasp* decaf.

Coffee tastes sooo good with cookies.

Living in Seattle, it's beyond blasphemy. But I've been a dedicated morning green tea drinker ever since. I can function at work when I arrive, instead of waiting 45 minutes for the caffeine to say hello to my brain. I don't crash as hard mid-day. And the coolest thing? When I drink coffee now, it's smacks me upside the head. I'm coming to realize I need that jumpstart on Mondays. I may have to make a weekly exception. I am struggling with the 5:30 a.m. wakeup call for 6:15 a.m. class. Positive energy is not doing the work for me. Coffffeeeee.
This morning was my fourth class. A teacher practiced today, and I was thrilled to get feedback. She said I was confident, had a good command of the room and the flow, and taught a solid class. I possess the unteachable qualities, so now that's two who have said so, and that is awesome. But she said I sometimes used words she knows I would never use and saying it in a weird voice. Her example was "thighs." Do I never say "thighs"?

She said the emptier I am when I come to the classroom, the more present I will be. I know what she means: don't be nervous, don't be anxious, don't worry about what people think. If I come to class clear, I will be authentically myself. I won't get thrown off when a teacher shows up. Ahem. Sometimes I feel really good calling the flow, not thinking about what to say or do, just letting it come naturally. But then I will stumble over where I'm taking them and I start to make some weird stuff up. If I trip over words, I get nervous and I apparently say "thighs."

But in just four short classes, I also have figured out what kind of teacher I want to be. I want teach my ideal class: one where I laugh a lot, where I am inspired to grow spiritually into a more peaceful place, and one where I get my butt kicked big-time. I'll let you know when I get there.


Lightness, laughter and blue moons

A gorgeous blue moon greeted the New Decade Thursday night.

I had just gotten home from a couple of raucous New Year's Eve parties. I always sort of loathe New Year's Eve and all the effort that goes into having the best night ever! But then I still, despite myself, have fun greeting the new year and toasting with friends. I was done with the evening and about to say goodnight to the first night of 2010 when Maria texted me a picture of that very moon. She ordered me to go outside, look up and make a wish to carry to the next decade.

I bundled up in a down jacket and snow boots for the short trip outside. I didn't make a wish, but as I looked at that blue-tinted moon, I thought of what I want from life for the New Decade: lightness, brightness and laughter.

In so many ways, that's so easy right now. I feel it all the time teaching. I'm lucky because I'm starting out 2010 in love. I'm in love with showing up to teach and being greeted at the New Studio by a teacher who pumps her fist and asks, "Are you so excited to teach?!?" (Can you even imagine your boss saying that when you show up for work?) I'm in love with students who thank me and want to know when else I teach. I'm in love with the woman who told me after class the way I explained poses helped her understand them in a new way.

I'm not saying teaching is total utopia. Today's class with beginners was tough. I had trouble pacing the class with at least one person completely new to yoga and I stumbled over ordinary explanations. I felt frazzled trying to cram it all in to an hour. I need to work on adjusting my teaching to the class level.

But then they were still grateful afterward. I felt a little foolish and stopped beating myself up. I am grateful too.
Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr