3 things you don’t need to pack for a yoga retreat

When you are packing for your yoga retreat, rejoice in the fact that you will not need any of the following items:

Thing #1–Makeup

Thing #2–High Heels

Thing #3–A bra

 

You are welcome.

 

This article originally published on www.groundingup.com

I do what I want (sometimes).

On Sunday, my friends from ThreeDogYoga and I are leaving for a yoga retreat at Haramara in Sayulita, Mexico.

Unlike a standard vacation, it seems a yogi needs to have “reasons” for going on a yoga retreat. And for every reason there is for going, there are at least three reasons for not going on a yoga retreat; believe me, I have been talking myself out of yoga retreats for YEARS.

Here is a sampling of some of my reasons for NOT going on a yoga retreat sooner
1–It seems like way too much yoga
2–I get incredibly homesick (yes, I know that I am a grown woman)
3–My work and family schedule just can’t accommodate it. How will everyone live without me for 5 whole days?
4–Yoga retreats are expensive and a luxury. It’s not fiscally responsible.
5–My husband can’t go with me and if I’m going on vacation I should probably go with him.

The Internet of Yoga is more than happy to provide lists and lists and lists of reasons for attending a yoga retreat. And while most of those reasons seem fairly legitimate, I have to say that none of those reasons are really MY reason for going. 

Some reasons the Internet says you should go on a yoga retreat
1–Take your yoga practice to the next level
2–Expand your meditation practice
3–Digitally & nutritionally detox
4–It is part of your yoga teacher certification
5–Because you really need a break

If you are a human being, it has probably been a really long time since you felt like you could do what you wanted to do when you wanted to do it.

If you honor your responsibilities and value your livelihood and relationships than there is an endless list of things that come before you and what you want to do. A yoga retreat in Mexico is probably not on that list.

That is life and it is the life we love and willingly created, blessed with rewarding careers, happy homes, sweet and loving spouses and kids, pets, friends and neighbors, and extended family. But, these blessings don’t maintain and nurture themselves. You have to be there to water all that green grass day in and day out. Who will water that grass if you are in Mexico?

Yes, I’m heading to Haramara to expand my yoga practice and to explore yoga teacher training, to detox, and do whatever else the Internet says goes on there.

But if I’m really being honest, I would have to say that going on this retreat is a way of proving to myself that I can still do what I want sometimes. Work will still be there, my husband will forgive me for leaving him alone for 5 days, and the kids will survive.

P.S.–I’m already homesick.

This article was originally published on www.groundingup.com

 

 

Sell the Goat!

Settle in everyone, I’m going to tell you a story.


A villager lived in a small house with his wife, mother-in-law, six children, a cow, and some chickens. The chaos was driving him crazy. So he went to the village rabbi for help. The rabbi said he could solve the problem: he advised the man to buy a goat. The man immediately went out and bought a goat. 

Now he had a wife, a mother-in-law, six children, a cow, some chickens, and a goat. The house was even more chaotic than before. The villager returned to the rabbi and described the increased confusion. Once again, the rabbi said he could solve the problem and he told the man to sell the goat. The villager went home and sold the goat. 

Suddenly, all he had in his small house were his wife, his mother-in-law, his six kids, a cow, and some chickens. Things were positively peaceful without the goat!

*Hanson Lasater, Judith, Ph.D., PT.Living Your Yoga. 2000. Print


I share this story with you because I like good stories about perspective and when Anna at ThreeDogYoga shared it with me, I knew that I was going to need to pass it along. It also gave me a great excuse to look at goat pictures (thank you, internet).

Most of the work we do in yoga really just boils down to shaping our own perspectives. Life is going to be what it is going to be; how we see that life is the part that we control. That is enlightenment and it is a life’s work.

So go out there and sell some goats.

 

This article originally published on www.groundingup.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because the chicken sees.

Years ago, when I first started yoga, I noticed that most of the “serious yogis” I met had some fairly specific diets. They were vegan or vegetarian and anti-GMO and pro-biotic. They did detoxes and cleanses and only ate natural unrefined sugars. But why? Was it because they were health and fitness enthusiasts or was there something about yoga that was doing this to them?

I had to do a lot of reading and research to get to an answer that made sense to me because there are a lot of elements involved in answering the question, “what is the yoga diet and, OMG, why?

I came across this story Ram Dass tells while I was researching the yoga diet as prescribed by the old traditional yogis. They believed that a sparse diet consisting of fruits and a few nuts was required to achieve spiritual enlightenment (or hunger hallucinations which may have been mistaken for the astral plane).

The story goes something like this:

A holy man gave two men each a chicken and said, “Go kill them where no one can see.” One guy went behind the fence and killed the chicken. The other guy walked around for two days and came back with the chicken. The holy man said, “You didn’t kill the chicken?” and the guys said, “well, everywhere I go, the chicken sees.”

There seem to be 5 straight forward rules when it comes to eating like a yogi.
1–Don’t eat too much.
2–Eat light, healthy, unadulterated foods which are easily digestible.
3–Eliminate foods with strong flavors and smells and reduce consumption of stimulants like caffeine and booze (um, okay).
4–Be aware of where your food comes from and how it is prepared. Avoid foods that involve violence in the sourcing. Obviously, meat requires some killing but this also applies to harvesting fruit or vegetables from a plant before it has fallen to the ground of its own accord.
5–Consecrate the food before you eat it.

The first three rules seem like what the American Heart Association has been telling us for decades–eat healthy portions of a balanced diet and you will be all set. But in yoga, it is more than that.

Those first three rules are about maintaining the physical body so it is ready and able to complete the eight limbs or stages of yoga in the quest for enlightenment. Inherent in those rules are directions for abstinence, austerity, discipline, generosity, and a breaking of bad habits with the idea being that a self-controlled person can better attain spiritual freedom.

The last two rules about awareness and consecration are clearly spiritual in nature. Most of us are good with consecrating our food before we eat it; in Christianity, that is the equivalent of saying grace at the dinner table. Amen. Done. Let’s eat.

However, remember the dudes with the chickens? Well this is where the vegetarians and vegans get on board. Yoga says that GOD is everyone and everything. He is you and me and the apple tree in the front yard–and that chicken.

In yoga, a violent act is a violent act against GOD, and the chicken sees.

This article originally published on www.groundingup.com.

 

 

What is 40, exactly?

Tomorrow, at approximately 3PM, I will be 40 years old. I feel like that should mean something specific. I keep telling people I’m almost 40, hoping someone will reply by telling me what I’m missing about this milestone. Because for me, 40 feels like 39 plus one day.

Will I be wiser tomorrow? Am I supposed to be taking stock of my accomplishments and failures and planning for my next 40 years? Do I need to take a deep dive into my psyche to check in on how I’m doing at the proverbial halfway point? Is it time for a midlife crisis?

My parents, both of them Baby Boomers, celebrated their 40th birthdays in 1987. I remember both of them having these big “over the hill” parties with black balloons and cemetery themes. Inexplicably, someone presented by dad with a cake featuring two naked breasts –I cannot unsee that boob cake.

Not long after their birthday’s my Mom decided to completely unwind her life. She demanded a do-over, suffered a “midlife crisis”, divorced our Dad and moved my sister and me from Colorado back to her hometown in Iowa.

In the 1980’s the midlife crisis was commonly accepted as a legitimate phase of life, like puberty, and everyone was doing it. Technically defined, a midlife crisis is a transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in early middle aged individuals.

However, I have noticed that my generation isn’t really doing the midlife meltdown anymore, or at least not defining it as such. There is a large body of psychological and sociological research that indicates the midlife crisis isn’t an actual “thing” after all.

But even without the research, we somehow came to the conclusion that age is arbitrary and that as individuals, we won’t likely all be in exactly the same place at exactly the same time in our lives. And that it is completely okay for that to be the case.It’s just life.

The clock will continue to go around and around regardless of where we are in our careers, where we live, what we look like, or what kind of car we drive.

Unless you are an atheist, you probably believe something comes after this life–heaven, reincarnation, hell, wherever Scientologists go when they die (note to atheists: your life expectancy is 78.9 years.).

So from my perspective 40 isn’t halfway to the end. And, I’m right here, right now, appreciating the blessings in my life and working through the challenges just like everyone else. I just happen to be 40.

La Russo 546 copy

Yoga and the Medical Never Event

My career in the medical malpractice insurance industry has made me a discriminating consumer of healthcare.

As I write this, I am sitting in room 4423 at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, CA, with my husband who is three days orthopedic post-op. The surgery went as planned and was successful, as most procedures in American healthcare are. But on Tuesday morning, as I sat near the fishtanks in the surgical waiting area, I could only think about the procedures that don’t go well.

And in my line of work, those kinds of thoughts aren’t general in nature. They are incredibly specific; like what if the anesthesia alarms aren’t turned on and his oxygen levels drop, or what if there is an operating room fire, or what if they perform surgery on the wrong leg, or leave something behind in the surgical site, or infuse with the wrong blood type?

I think about the Never Events, because that is often what you see. In healthcare, a Never Event, also known as a Sentinel Event is an unanticipated event in the healthcare setting that results in the death or serious physical or psychological injury of a patient, not related to the natural course of that patient’s illness. In other words, an accident.

YOGA SAYS: THERE ARE NO ACCIDENTS

I had decided to enhance my enlightenment by working my way through Be Here Now by Ram Dass while my husband was in surgery.

I thought I chose this book because a graphical account of a Harvard psychologist on LSD who follows holy men through India seemed like less work than another book by B.K.S. Iyengar or Patanjali (no offense guys). But Ram Dass would say that the book was chosen for me and it was predetermined that I would read this book on Tuesday, August 9, 2016.

 “If you could stand back far enough and watch the whole process you would see YOU ARE A TOTALLY DETERMINED BEING. . . There are no accidents in this business at all.”–Ram Dass

The mention of accidents brought me back to Never Events because what this said was that the results of my husband’s surgery were already determined. By what or whom? By the law of karma.

The idea that my life could be governed by a Hindu system of cause and effect, like karma, in which my past actions, even past lives, determine my future isn’t really that far off the mark from what I was taught as a Christian. We have been “reaping what we sow”, per the Bible for hundreds of years.

But did that mean that a prayer for my husband during surgery was pointless because my husband’s karma had already determined the result and we were just waiting for “thy will to be done?” I was starting to see why so many Christian leaders are less than excited about the expansion of yoga in the West. Not to mention the fact that in Christianity, the only way for a person to receive forgiveness is through the grace of God. Karma is more of a bank accounting system based on debits and credits. But isn’t God still the bank president?

The good news is that my husband’s karma account must be pretty good, because he is just fine. There were no accidents.

IMG_1718

This article was originally published on www.groundingup.com

Photo credit: Be Here Now; Ram Dass; From Bindu to Ojas; p.14

 

 

 

 

 

Aspiring minimalist with 56 chairs

We are a family of four and we own 56 chairs. I know this because we recently moved and consolidated our two houses into one, which gave me the opportunity to inventory all of our possessions.

It probably goes without saying that we do not have room for nor do we need 56 chairs. We live in a regular 3 bedroom house and we don’t host music or sporting events, so 56 chairs feels excessive.

Additionally, these 56 chairs are among the many many other things standing between me and the minimalist lifestyle to which I aspire.

Minimalism, in case you missed it, is trending as a tool to rid yourself of life’s excesses in favor of focusing on what’s important.  Minimalists search for happiness not through things, but through life itself–fewer possesions, less clutter, fewer distractions and things to clean and maintain and find space for. More time, more mind share for family, experiences and creative and strategic thinking.

There are all kinds of “minimalist gurus” in the media and on the Internet proselytizing this trend through their books, websites, podcasts and documentaries. They offer tips and tricks for consuming less and case studies of families who have reduced their possessions by 91% and now live in “tiny houses,” with less than 500 square feet for 6 people and the family pets.

But let’s get back to my 56 chairs. Minimalism only works if everyone in the house is on board and since each person values items differently, it is extremely difficult to reach consensus around what goes and what stays.  Each of our 56 chairs has a purpose and a value, be it present, past, or future, for someone in the family, myself included.

Fortunately, I am married to a kind and rationale human being who is open to reducing our chair inventory (right, honey?).  However, it will require a lot of negotiation and discussion to determine which chairs make the cut. And for the chairs that don’t make the cut, we must determine what to do with them and then actually do it.

Finding homes for a dozen mismatched chairs will take some time and energy that should be spent doing something else. And this is, I believe, the real reason American’s make terrible minimalists. Most of us are not up to the monumental task of clearing out what we have already amassed.

Some of our chairs:

IMG_1741
For our current dining room

IMG_1739 A cool chair my husband loves; 1 of 2

IMG_1742 1 of 3 barstools on standby
IMG_1737 3 of 6 chairs from our old kitchen dining set
IMG_1744 Outdoor patio chair; 1 of 6
IMG_1745

A vegetarian raised by wolves

Full disclosure, I was not raised by actual wolves. I was raised by “The Wulfs”, a large German-American family in Clinton County, Iowa.

Like many midwestern families, or those of German heritage, the “Wulf Pack” eats a diet heavy in meat and dairy.  A meal doesn’t feel like a meal unless it featured a serving of meat; breakfast sausage, lunch meat, steak or pork tenderloin, etc. And all my life, I was right there in the middle of the pack three times a day.

Flash forward to right now. Nearly 20 years in liberal Northern California and more than 6 years of yoga practice have rendered me a vegetarian.

So what? Well, in California, being a vegetarian in extremely easy because 1) nobody cares and 2) the regional cuisine offers a wide variety of vegetarian- friendly options. But at the end of July I’ll join the Wulf Pack at the family cabin in Northern Minnesota for our annual pack gathering where we will drink beer and wine, grill stuff, and have a really fabulous time doing it.

This is anxiety inducing for me because my move to committed vegetarianism is relatively new and I feel I’ll have to defend my rationale to the pack leaders (my mom, her siblings, and my cousins). I also don’t want to be considered “high maintenance” because I now have a “special diet.” So I had better hone my answer for just exactly why I would make such a choice and do some strategic thinking about what I’m going to eat that week.

Vegetarianism, technically veganism, is prescribed in a yoga practice because it supports the ideas of equality, compassion, and nonviolence, which are central to the yoga philosophy and required to attain enlightenment.

All of those things are great, but yoga is not the reason I became a vegetarian; I strongly suspect I would have found my way there regardless of my spiritual path. I have never felt great about where our meat comes from and what animal farming (on any scale) does to animals and the environment. I have also come to believe that a meat-centric diet isn’t that healthy for a person. When you live in a farming community, it is hard to own those thoughts.

Now I am all grown up and I live in suburban Santa Rosa, California. My meat comes from the grocery store, processed and packaged, with all the dirty work taken care of for me. But  my life experience and the media remind me on a daily basis what is required to put a steak or a pork chop on my grill or a chicken in the oven. And for right now, I’ll pass the tofu please.

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The Wulf Pack 2015

 

This article was first published on www.groundingup.com.

Between over and next

On the Fourth of July my husband and I were driving home to Santa Rosa from a four-day backpacking trip in the Yosemite Valley.

While Ron drove, I was busy in the passenger seat stewing in my anxiety about the fact that we would be getting home a lot later than we had planned and what that meant for everything else that had to happen after we got there–laundry, and packing lunches for kids, and getting ready for work the next day. And those thoughts were just a gateway into anxiety about the rest of the summer where two surgeries, a move, and another vacation awaited us. And then it would be the first week of school, and on and on it went.

My beloved on the other hand was having no such thoughts. He was listening to “wait wait…don’t tell me!”, an NPR quiz show. The guest was Norman Lear, a 93-year old television writer and producer. You may know him from All in the Family, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Maude.

Just as I was tuning in, the host, Peter Sagal, asked Norman Lear if he had any tips for those of us who would like to arrive at 93 as spry and happy as he is, and this is what Mr. Lear said:

“What occurs to me first are two simple words…over and next…When something is over it is over and we are on to next and if there was a hammock in the middle between over and next that would be what is meant by living in the moment.” 

And just like that, I realized that our backpacking trip was over and what was next would come later. The bit in the middle was the right now; 5 hours of alone time with my sweet husband, drinking my Starbucks, and staring out the window where I could see firework displays for three different cities all simultaneously, in a country that is free.

“Between over and next” was first published on www.groundingup.com.

 

 

No, I Don’t Want To Be A Yoga Teacher

I have worried about posting this article because I don’t want readers or my yoga community to think that I am against teacher training programs, because I’m not.

I just wish there was more available for those of us who want to expand our practice and knowledge with programs on par with teacher trainings, that aren’t you know, teacher trainings.

See, a while back, I registered for a  one-day yoga intensive program at another studio and among the standard-issue registration questions were three designed to gauge my interest in becoming a certified yoga instructor. Immediately, I thought, “Still with the teacher training? Come on now! Aren’t we all trained already? Can’t we come up with something new?”

It would seem that the yoga industry is out of ideas when it comes to developing new revenue streams. I’m sure that in the beginning, offering teacher training programs was a great way to increase profit margin in an increasingly commodified market. But now, in true western yogi fashion, the industry is way overdoing it.

It is no longer a secret that the yoga business model is not exactly rock solid and achieving and maintaining profitability in an extremely saturated industry without losing your mind is nearly impossible. And, this model of discounted sessions and packages to get people in the door only to have to upsell them to teacher training programs is not really sustainable; not to mention what it is doing to the experience of yoga.

In 2014, nearly 15,000 new teachers registered with YogaAlliance, a yoga industry association and the largest yoga teacher registry. Some industry sources believe that just as many yogis completed teacher training but didn’t register to teach.

I choose to assume that the 15,000 who completed a training course but didn’t end up teaching are like me–yoga nerds with non-yoga day jobs just looking for a way to expand their knowledge of yoga and strengthen a practice that may be getting stale. Those people already know that yoga as a business is brutal and requires the right “personality” to attract and maintain a steady stream of clients. They recognize that a great yoga instructor is extremely rare and that the magical combination of spiritualist, nutritionist, therapist, educator, personal trainer and entrepreuneur can’t be mass produced.

So now what? The yoga industry is so deep into this teacher training model that they can’t seem to see past it. Mostly because conducting certified teacher trainings on top of their regular daily yoga business is so labor intensive there isn’t time to formulate and promote anything new to replace the teacher training revenue.

How about this? Let’s modify the teacher training programs into a yoga intensive program instead? You know, give us all the yoga and none of the “you too can be a teacher” priming?

There are plenty of yoga retreats doing that now already and some of the more prominent yoga methodology founders offer them through their affiliate studios (you have to wade through the teacher training programs to find them though). Yoga Journal has a whole host of events and conferences along these lines.

I would much rather go on a retreat led by my personal instructor (I’m looking at you, Three Dog Yoga) than attend an intensive led by a teacher I don’t know, which is risky. And I’d happily pay the $2,000-$5,000 I would otherwise have to pay for a teacher training to take my practice to the next level without hearing about teacher training.

This article was originally published on www.groundingup.com.