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It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, and that absence has been driven by lack of motivation, lack of confidence, lack of inspiration, you name it. But a few days ago, while riding my bike to the yoga studio to go teach, I was struck with that back-to-school feeling of new beginnings that sometimes hits you in fall. Actually that’s a rarity for me, since for me fall tends to be all about mourning the end of summer and dreading the increasingly short and gray days ahead. But last weekend, I was riding my bike through colorful wet leaves (we’re having a particularly colorful fall in DC this year), watching the sun struggle to emerge from behind the clouds, and I was hit full on with the possibility that it’s never too late to start again or try something new. So here I am. Again.

Maybe part of my optimism came from a relatively un-hurty lower back that day. After about three years of chronic sacroiliac pain, I’ve learned to expect a stiff, painful back after any intense yoga or dance. Twists and backbends have been particularly problematic for me, and I’ve mostly avoided them for the last year or so. But in the last few weeks my back has been feeling relatively pain-free, even after twists (more about that in an upcoming post).

So I was feeling good on Saturday. On Sunday morning I took fellow teacher Caroline Weaver’s class. In the midst of a long held Salambasana, as my inner thighs were trembling with the effort to take them back and up (a nice Anusara cue that helps broaden the pelvis and keep the SI joint uncompressed), I suddenly felt…redeemed. Redeemed of what, I’ve no idea, but the word was there, hanging in the air. Maybe it was simply all the sweat pouring out of me and the resulting light-headedness, but my mood lightened and again I felt that back-to-school rush of energy and optimism.

And that’s why I’m finally back here. I originally started this blog simply as a writing project for myself, as a way to force myself to write something—anything—on a regular basis. I hoped that somewhere along the way, I would hone in on a consistent theme, rather than churning out random personal observations and rants. But that inspiration hasn’t come yet. Yoga? Yes, but to be honest, I don’t always want to write about yoga. Dance? Yes, but (and here’s where the lack of confidence comes in) I’m not critic, I don’t have a dance degree, and I’m just one of the many adult dance students in the area taking classes, participating in performances and going to concerts, many of whom are already writing about the local scene. Gardening? A growing (ha!) interest, but again, it’s not the only thing that grabs my fancy. Food. Of course. But Julie and Julia has already been done and so far I haven’t come up with a gimmick that’s better than that.

So we’ll see. While I have a few ideas for a new direction for this blog, for now I’ll continue to post whatever yoga/dance/disappointment/rant I happen to have up my sleeve, for whomever is out there to read it. I’m also thinking about applying at Demand Studios and signing up at FlexJobs as a way to try to connect with regular writing gigs. Has anyone out there had experience with either? I’m curious.

We’ve been enjoying the fruits of summer lately – literally. Berries and peaches from the farmers market. Tomatoes and herbs from our the potted plants in the back yard. And today, I went to check the progress of our raised garden bed and found this:

baby cucumber

A baby cucumber! It’s so satisfying after the last two months of work to know that there will be (tasty) results to reward our efforts. Yum.

We went to Eastern Market, picked up some blueberries and blackberries and whipped up this top crust only pie:

berry pie!

We paired it with this recipe, using our home-grown basil (no home-grown chickens – at least, not yet) for a truly luscious summer’s evening dining experience.

Sometimes, life is good.


Dear Victoria’s Secret,

I just wanted to say thanks for making me feel like crap about my body. Thanks for leaving me high and dry in my hour of need. Thanks for refusing to acknowledge that a woman can be a woman without having disproportionately large boobs. Thanks a lot, biyotch.

Yesterday I biked to work, and as I knew would inevitably happen one day, I got to work and realized that I had left an essential piece of my wardrobe at home. That’s right. I got to work and realized I didn’t have a bra.

Now I could have just worn my sweaty tank top with built-in shelf bra under my work shirt, but that didn’t seem very comfortable. And seeing as there is a Victoria’s Secret just down the road from my office, I thought I might as well go there and grab one of your soft, comfy Ipex bras that I got online a few years ago.

The first thing I noticed while waiting for the store to open was the huge poster of the latest t-shirt bra (modeled by someone who appeared to be barely over the age of menarche). The poster clearly stated that this particular bra is available for those in a C cup and up. Hmm, what about everyone else, I wondered?

Apparently, we don’t exist.

You see, I’m an A cup, and a small enough A cup that Victoria’s Secret doesn’t even bother carrying my size in store, fo or most of their styles. I was told repeatedly that I could get the Ipex bra online in my size. Never mind that I needed one right now. It was kind of a bramergency.

The clerk ran around looking confused every time she pulled out another bra and suggested “what about something like this?” only to have me ask if they had it in my (apparently miniscule) size. Her brow would furrow and then she would say, “well this one starts at XX,” as though that would magically cause my breasts to grow. We both kept waiting for that, but it didn’t happen. I finally found one bra in the sale/out of stock bin that was my size. One.

Apparently, Victoria’s Secret can’t be bothered manufacturing and advertising bras for women like me. I know women who are solid B cups who say “well, I’m not very big,” or “I know I’m small.” Small? If you’re small I’m freakish. No. I’m small. You’re normal. You’re normal and healthy. How many women do you see out there who have those Victoria’s Secret bodies of slinky hips and thighs and enormous boobs anyway? In their natural habitat, most of those models are probably a B cup  or less. (Also, I have yet to see a single acquaintance sprout wings from her back).

Now, I know there are some naturally slim-yet-buxom women out there, but let’s face it — the majority of women whose cups floweth over are also overflowing their pants and skirts, because quite frankly, the whole country is fat. The tyranny of the D cup is partly a result of our overall chubbiness. But I digress.

One could argue that I don’t really need a bra. I can get by without the support. But I did need one yesterday, since walking around without one at work would have been kind of inappropriate, not to mention yucky.

But that’s not the point. Your company made me feel like I don’t deserve one. In one fell swoop, you took away my confidence and grace and made me feel ashamed about the natural state of my genetically (un)endowed appearance. And I had the pleasure of carrying that psychological bag of feces around with me all day long.

Body image is a funny thing. So much depends on context. Take ballet. I know that many people equate ballet with willowy, half-starved women who are obsessed with being ever thinner. I do know a few women who studied ballet when they were younger who developed some serious body image issues as adults (of course, they might have had those issues anyway). But my own experience with body image and dance has been much happier. The dance studio is the place where I developed a sense of body confidence. Ballet was the first place where someone said to me “you have a beautiful chest – don’t hide it!” I have had people tell me that I have a strong body, a beautiful back, nice legs and fluid, graceful arms. The poise that I’ve developed in classes has carried over to every day life. More than once I’ve had a stranger ask me if I dance. My fellow students during my yoga teacher training days always commented on my gracefulness.

Unfortunately, people outside the dance studio are not so complimentary. I’ve had more than one woman say to me “well, you have to be curvy to wear that,” or something to that effect. Never mind that I am curvy – I have a small waist and nice hips and a nice ass. Actually, a great ass. I am hardly a waif, as evidenced by the numerous times I’ve struggled to sausage myself into a pair of straight-leg jeans.

But none of that matters today, because I’m still feeling the sting of being reduced to a letter and a number – neither of which measure up, according to you. So thanks a lot, Victoria’s Secret. You suck. I’m never buying one of your bras again. Oh that’s right – you don’t make them in my size anyway.

I rarely, if ever, use words like enchanting or delightful. But there really is no better way to describe the Royal Ballet’s performance at the Kennedy Center last night. (Just thinking about it almost—almost—erases my intense irritation with a coworker right now.

We went to see the mixed repertory program: Chroma, choreographed by Wayne McGregor, Frederick Ashton’s A Month in the Country, and Christopher Weeldon’s Dance a Grande Vitesse (DGV).

First let me say that I adored (egad, did I just say adored?) Chroma and DGV. The music alone would have kept me in my seat for DGV. The curtain came up with a group of dancers upstage, shadowed, and quickly bobbing from foot to foot like a group of boxers getting ready to jump into the ring. One of my companions leaned over and said “I like it already!”—and I had to agree. The energy was palpable and many of our fellow ballet-goers were literally sitting on the edges of their seats. The set design with its large horizontal, metallic sculpture made me think of a Frank Gehry building. As it turns out, the set was meant to evoke a train, as the musical score for DGV was originally created to commemorate the inauguration of the TGV French train line — a fact I learned only this morning when a friend forwarded this to me. Knowing that now, the dancers’ intermittent jumping up and waving arms make sense –they were waving to the leaving passengers.

Both Chroma and DGV featured incredibly fluid, sensuous lifts with dancers alternately wrapping themselves around each other and unfurling. It was gorgeous. While I preferred Chroma and DGV, I have to say that I was surprised how much I liked the second piece, A Month in the Country. I originally got the tickets to the mixed rep program because I had a hunch I might see something interesting, and I wasn’t disappointed.

A month or so back there was an article by Sarah Kaufman in the Washington Post in which she called for an expansion of American ballet styles beyond that of Balanchine. I know a lot of people disagreed with her (fist fights nearly broke out on Ballet Talk over the article), but I found a lot of what she said interesting, since I’m not a fan of Balanchine. And because I’m not a fan, it was interesting to see dancers who were really acting on stage, rather then being vaguely emotive, as seems to be the case in his pieces.

It was also nice to see people use their arms so gracefully, instead of holding them in what I’ve come to think of as those straight cheerleader like arms with the splayed fingers—arms that I can only guess come from Balanchine, since they seem to be featured prominently in the Balanchine pieces I’ve seen. Despite some definite Balanchine moments in DGV and Chroma—flexed wrists, women being partnered through various contorted split positions as though demonstrating the rotational capabilities of the human hip socket, and lots of partnered turns (which frankly, I’ve never understood the appeal of – it makes the woman look like she’s too weak to turn by herself while the man appears to be there only to assist the woman)—the dancers didn’t seem confined to that style. And seeing them in the three pieces together highlighted their adaptability.

Truly a delightful evening—which was finished with ice cream. Can’t get any better than that.

A friend called me the other day to see if I would get a drink after dance class with her because she was feeling sad about something. The something? An acquaintance of hers from high school had just won a Tony Award, and she felt horribly jealous and sad. 

And I could relate. I could totally relate because I’ve been feeling the same sense of frustration at the ability of others to succeed in something while I keep looking around for something to succeed in. A few weeks ago my employer hosted its annual explorers symposium. A few of the researchers were still in town this last week for meetings and other events. Walking around the building has been like being surrounded by the over achievers’ club, and it was hard not to feel incredibly unaccomplished and unimportant in comparison. 

To make matters worse I arrived home the other night to find my alumni magazine in the mail. I sat down to page through it and as I flipped through the section where they list, by decade of graduation, the updates and special announcements of alumni, one of the pictures jumped out at me. I was trying to figure out why this person looked so familiar, and then I realized that she was one of the researchers that had been honored as an Emerging Explorer by my organization. Her picture has been up on the wall in our office for a few weeks and I must have walked by it 50 times. She received her bachelor’s degree the same year as me.

And I’m not sure why that bugged me so much. It’s not that I want to do what she’s doing, or that I specifically want to do what any of the scientists or explorers at our symposium are doing. I think I would just like to feel like I had discovered something that I really want to do, and that I had gone for it, instead of chipping away at a series of jobs that are jobs and nothing more.

The same issue of my alumni magazine featured an article of about “globally competent” students who are traveling the world in search of work experience and adventure. I couldn’t even read the article, because as it turns out, the one thing I always hoped I would have accomplished by this point in my life is to have lived abroad and the fact that I haven’t still makes me feel horribly insecure and uninteresting. Just before our explorers symposium at work a coworker celebrated her last day at work – she’s heading off to Paris in the fall to do a master’s degree there. I was so horribly jealous that I could barely choke down the chocolate croissant at her going away party (barely).

I’ve had the chance to travel a bit, and did do a semester abroad in college. But I always expected that at some point I would move to another country for at least a few years and become proficient in another language. From the time I was very young I had had vague aspirations of living in Europe. And then in college I briefly studied Swahili and dreamed of living in Africa. And more recently I managed to become reasonably proficient in Spanish. But there never seemed to be a specific vehicle for my dream – rather it was just that – a dream, instead of a specific goal with plans.

My friend and I have been talking lately about the difference between someone who succeeds and someone who doesn’t. Does talent play a significant role, or is it simply that one person has a enough self confidence to keep pushing, to keep demanding attention, to keep asking for opportunities, and others don’t? Are they just better at setting goals and sticking to them, even if their talent and competence are no better than anyone else’s? 

Am I just as talented and smart as the dancer I know who, while extremely flexible, does not have particularly good technique, yet gets cast despite her relative inexperience and technique simply because of her confidence? (and her amazing legs)? Could I have gone off to Paris to do a masters degree like my coworker?

Why do some people have the resilience to keep trying in the face of either a perceived setback or a lack of encouragement by others, while some of us assume that it’s a sign of or inherent lack of ability?

I’ve been curious about Feldenkrais exercises for a long time and I finally tried a few sessions this spring with local practitioner Daniel Burkholder. The exercises remind me of very slow, uber-gentle physical therapy or some of the slow yoga practices that Susie Hately Aldous teaches. I’ve been incorporating a few of the exercises Daniel taught me into my dance warm ups and yoga practice and I’ve found that doing just a few of them can really make a difference in how warmed up and supple my hips feel – the difference between a grand plie in second before and after doing the series below can be very dramatic. Last night I included these exercises in my yoga class and a few of my students told me that they also felt a remarkable shift in the openness of their hips after doing the exercises.

So, if you’re like me and get frustrated by your tight hips, you might want to try the following exercises. The point is to do everything very slowly and gently. The movements don’t need to be large at all, and in fact, sometimes smaller movement is better, since it allows you to focus on the sensations in your joints and muscles. Try to do the movements with as little effort as possible, using only the muscles necessary to actually create the movement, without recruiting any other areas of your body that might want to get involved (like your upper abs, your quads, your jaw…).

Here it is:

First, lie on your back with knees bent, feet standing on the floor. Relax your arms at your sides:

  • Slowly “dog tilt” your pelvis, that is, move the front of hips forward toward your knees and the bones and tailbone down toward the floor (you are gently increasing the curve in your lumbar spine here). Repeat the tilt/return to neutral four or five times and pause. Remember to take it slowly and make it small.
  • Now do a “cat tilt” with your pelvis – this time you’re moving your sacrum and lower back closer to the floor while the tail bone scoops under and forward. You may feel your lower back pressing against the floor. Return to neutral. Repeat four or five times and pause.
  • Now roll your pelvis gently and slowly to the right four or five times, then pause.
  • Roll the pelvis gently and slowly to the left four or five times, and then pause.

Rest for a few breaths in constructive rest position (feet about a foot apart, knees knocking together so that they support each other).

  • Now combine all four movements by imagining a clock face on your lower back/pelvis. You will try to touch each number of the clock face to the floor by slowly rolling your pelvis up (dog tilt), to the side, down (cat tilt) and to the other side. Repeat it slowly in one direction four or five times, pause, and then take it in the other direction.

Come back to the constructive rest position.

  • Now bring your feet into supta baddha konasana, or frog stretch by bringing the soles of the feet together and letting the knees splay out to the sides (if you’re like me and this is hard on your hips, you can tuck a pillows or something else under each thigh to support the weight of your legs).  Repeat all of the above exercises from this position (dog tilt, cat tilt, right, left and full circle in both directions).

Enjoy, and let me know if it works for you.

Yesterday I happened to come across this article on yoga for people who are bigger or overweight. (Actually, I didn’t just stumble across it, since I tend to read the NYT health section almost obsessively). What interested me more than the article were the comments, pro and con, of having specialized yoga classes for a group of people who don’t feel comfortable taking open classes.

Now, let me say, I’m not completely opposed to the idea of focused classes for different groups of people, nor am I unsympathetic to heavier people who may feel intimidated by a class full of slim, limber individuals. I have been intimidated many times by the super bendy contortions and feats of strength of my fellow yogis, and I can understand how that could be even more daunting for someone who is feeling out of shape or like they’re not at their best.

However, what did start to get to me as I read the comments was that so many people feel bad when they can’t do everything they way other people are doing it or when the teacher doesn’t seem to know how to adjust the pose for a larger person. They would be more comfortable in a class that was designed especially for their issues.

I don’t want to deny anyone’s discomfort – and I’ve no doubt that that many people out there feel uncomfortable in a class setting that can definitely get competitive. But it kind of bothers me that there’s an assumption that there’s a correct way or an ideal form that everyone should be striving for in the first place.

The larger issue that didn’t seem to be addressed in the article is that yoga was meant to be a practice that is adjusted to the individual, rather than the individual adjusting to fit the asana, or posture (asana being only one part of yoga, of course). Unfortunately, group classes in the U.S. tend to breed an environment where there isn’t a lot of room for individuality (and of course, the emphasis tends to be on the physical aspects of yoga).

Unfortunately, most of us can’t afford to take private classes, and so we don’t have someone prescribing an individualized practice to us. However, studios can certainly do a better job of promoting the idea that there is no “ideal” form for an asana – no one’s version of a pose is better than someone else’s. If the person next to me is doing parsvakonasana (side angle) with their hand on the floor, and I have to put my hand on a block, and someone else is doing the pose on a chair, no one is doing it “better” or getting more benefits from the pose.

There also seems to be an equating of slim with fit and bendy on the part of those who made comments. I suspect I would be lumped into the category of “the skinny people” that so many people included in their comments. And yet, I am far from the most flexible person in the room when I take or teach yoga classes. And plenty of the people who are more limber than me are also larger than me.

We make so many assumptions about so many things. Assumptions about what the person across the room is thinking about us. Assumptions about the level of fitness or limberness of the person next to us based on their shape and size. Assumptions about what an asana should look like or what we should look like when we’re doing the pose. About “skinny” people and “fat” people. About what yoga is or isn’t. And none of it has anything to do with helping us practice yoga.