Sunday, July 26, 2015

Updated: Chutes and Ladders

Oh, peeps, this one is freakin' BAD. In case I didn't believe that knitting is a language and being rusty is dangerous, I have been disabused of my silly complacency. As Frances suggests in the comments, I should have just ripped it all out. Like back to the start. But of course, that's not how I roll - even when all the markers (no pun intended) point in a certain direction. I don't like to admit defeat. So here's what I did:
  • I realized there is no way in hell to ease in the excess yarn created by the addition of 12 increases (over 2 places on one side of the sweater) over 72 rows. Of course, I couldn't accept it till I'd spent 3 hours trying to fix the original ladder.
  • I then hedged my bets and did a mix up of both unpleasant solutions: I ripped back 50ish rows (who the hell can tell - I've spent hours trying to figure that out). But I also opted to try to ease in about 24 rows and 4 stitch increases over two sections on the sweater back - so as not to have to rip back everything. That amount of easing is doable but it has taken hours because there's so much extra yarn to work in that, in order to ensure even tension (never mind original gauge, that's a pipe-dream), I had to veritably (and painstakingly) rug hook along the entire width of the sweater.
  • Of course, because I removed a zillion markers, ripped back an unknown amount and made decreases on the basis of my original (incorrect) instructions - to say nothing of 3 hours of mind-numbing rug-hooking (see above),  it's taken hours to figure out how my new stitch counts align and where the fucking markers need to go. And I'm still not there. Seriously. I estimate it's going to take another hour and I can't even confirm I'll come to the right conclusion - though if there's a way, I will do it!
  • All told it will likely take me as long to fix this as it would have to reknit the whole body of the sweater, which is criminal. Of course, if I'd paid a modicum of attention I wouldn't be in this boat. I find it hard to be angry - despite the fact that my arms and hands HURT and I haven't even got anywhere (I've simply gone backwards.) But once I do fix this - and rewrite my instructions and get back to square 1, then I'm honour-bound to keep going because it's the only way I'll be able to maintain the momentum and my awareness of the project.
  • My friends - there's a reason that it's easier to make a sweater in a month (arm/hand happiness notwithstanding) than it is to dither over it during dozens of discontiguous sessions. Your brain has to stay on top of the nuance. Otherwise it's a lot of wasted time and, if you lose attention, tons of wasted effort. Oh well. Live and learn and try again. Can't say I'm loving this project though.

Fucking hell. You know, I've done very little knitting lately (out of practice much?) but I was making solid headway on my Custom Fit sweater till I realized, in rescoping the directions (to knit in the round up to the underarm), that I messed up. How? Well, I wrote my notes in such a way that I actually made the same increases on the back sweater as I did on the front - those devised to give the boob shaping.

It's only an addition of 12 stitches out of 100 (the current back width), but it's over 72 freakin' rows. Which is why I am now trying desperately to redistribute the laddered excess of yarn (having ripped back the relevant columns). This is a mere ONE of the 2 such ladders I'll have to contend with to avoid ripping back 200 stitches over 72 rows (with all kinds of markers in place that would make simply pulling out the stitches very tricky).

I've never done this before, as you can imagine. The only reason I've attempted it is because the idea of ripping back 72 rows of 200 stitches is worse than the idea of figuring out how to ease in this amount of extra yarn. But to perform this fix over 2 sections is really going to push it when it comes to retention of any semblance of my original gauge.
But wait, it gets worse. I went down one increase too many (which amounts to a TOTALLY UNNECESSARY additional 12 rows of extra yarn to ease back into the full sweater and an (albeit minimal) additional erroneous impact I daren't try to correct at this point).

And it gets worse still - before undertaking this insanity, I had to rip back 17 rows to get to this point (not in the round, thankfully) as I'd already started working the flat section (shoulder construction) above the underarms. That rip-back was going to have to happen one way or another cuz, last night, after working those 17 rows, I realized that I'd mistaken the front of the sweater for the back (the darting is different) even though I wrote myself clear notes about how to discern one from the other.

Wow. Sure, much can go wrong by simply missing a couple of cues, symbolized by a 3 word acronym. But when it takes multiple knitting sessions to realize this, the blame is squarely on the knitter. What an unnecessary loss of hours and my body's labour. I am not impressed by myself right now.

Here's the thing, my gauge is already on the loose side (though not as loose as it once was). Yeah, Custom Fit accounts for that, that's its genius - but it can only account for it when I'm not trying to ease in masses of extra yarn (left over after pulling out those extra stitches to reveal those ladders). And it just gets harder to ease in the yarn as I approach the working row (the top / widest part) because there's that much more yarn slack at that point - and so much yarn has already been worked in from below.

Non-knitters, don't even try to contemplate this - just know that I may be fighting a losing battle because the idea of spending 2 - 3 hours fiddling is more palatable to my current knitting-self (she of sometimes pain issues) than ripping back half of the sweater I spent 4 hours putting together. And it's a cool experiment.

As is so often with knitting - it's a whack unknown that I might win or lose. I'm playing the odds.

So, knitter-readers, what's your take? I've been doing a pretty good job (spending TONS of time with the yarn redistribution - I'll show a photo when I finish the first section). That's why it's going to take me 2 - 3 hours, even with the quick fix. I also hope that blocking will correct a myriad of tension issues.  But if anyone's tried this before - with success or failure - please do tell. I need all the support I can get.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Blue Sky Thinking

I have officially descended into summer slug mode. Part of me prefers to think of this as ascension because, really, this is the the first quarter of the only 4 months of the year during which I'm in a good mood.

I'm sure I've said this every summer (once the weather gets good) for the almost-9 years I've been blogging, but I am inexorably affected by climate, and only moreso as I get older and wiser. It's really too bad that I live in a place with horrid weather much of the year because, honestly, I wake up every blue-skied, sunny, cloudless, warm/hot/humid day feeling so content.

Look, I'm pretty well allergic to full sun. I get welts and itchy and the direct heat gives me headaches. I'm also one of the more light-sensitive people you'll meet. I've been known to wear my sunglasses inside for days at a time.

But put me in the shade, meditating on a cotton-ball cloud that ambles by, and I am nothing short of transfixed. Add a great glass of wine, some olives and cheese and it makes me want to cry at the joy of being alive and truly relaxed. It's taken me many years to understand that I am most happy when I walk from beautiful locale and restorative meal to meal but I can finally own it. If you include friends and thoughtful conversation, all's right in the world for me.

You know I'm participating in this Conscious Cleanse right now - it lasts till the end of Monday - so I've been experiencing the world through a new prism. The food's been rather clean (though I haven't given up a fraction of what the cleanse directs). I have fallen off the booze-free wagon over the past couple of days because I've had occasion to dine with friends in town for a short while and to go to an amazing cocktail party wherein this was one of the treats:


I've seen many a phenomenal raspberry tart in my day, but this was the most beautiful ever. No, I didn't taste it. It contained gluten. (I would have happily forgotten about my commitment to eschew white sugar but I'm going hardcore with the gluten cuz, really, it's an easy cut in the scheme of things.) I preferred to drink some wine, which lasts longer. And I enjoyed the gleeful expressions of those who partook of its deliciousness. There were also macarons from Nadege, pretty hard to resist. And some gorgeous savoury things - a perfectly cooked steak which I tried a slice of, colourful salads, great cheese...

I have in no way been self-sacrificing while participating in this cleanse. I've had wine, meat, dairy. Mind you, knowing myself, I didn't commit to giving them up - only to eating them with consciousness. The things I've given up full-scale are gluten and processed food. And I've persisted with those commitments. I've also been very successful (if we can even refer to this as success) when it comes to drinking 70 oz of water per day, eating many more fruits and vegetables than usual, drinking a green smoothie daily and doing a daily, pre-determined yoga practice.

I've been SO impressed with the format of this cleanse - the way it's conceptualized and organized to be gradual and thoughtful. I will definitely do it again (even as I'm totally ready for it to be done), and I may well do it differently (more strictly) next time. I want to gradually come to understand my limitations. I feel that doing this 3 times per year would be really helpful and pretty workable. And I've decided to come out of it as I went in - gradually over 2 weeks. So I'll take 3 months of the year to eat notably cleanly. And then I can eat - should I choose to go in this direction - with conscious abandonment the rest of the time :-)

One of the more interesting elements - though really, this cleanse has been awareness-motivating in small but meaningful ways on many fronts - has been the yoga. It's been a long time since I've done 12 days in a row of "full" yoga practice (not merely poses here and there on some of those days) - never mind via classes which are not devised by me to meet my self-determined needs. I'm a yoga loner, seriously self-directed, so doing 14 classes devised by someone else, to suit the aims of a cleanse, is very strange.

For starters, I can't see what's going on without my glasses no matter what time of day (so usually I just practice while listening to the teacher). Then there's the fact that I've had to do some of these practices first thing in the am, due to scheduling conflicts. I am NOT a morning yogi, morning being when my brain is most disengaged and my body at its least accommodating. So I've had to really hone my inner-focus because these practices are cross-methodological (many different styles are employed, some of which I am less familiar with than others i.e. Kundalini) and my regular resources - vision, flexibility, wakefulness, knowledge of variations - have been removed. This is to say nothing of my connectedness to the teaching style of some of the teachers who've led these classes.

For all of this, the yoga has been the easiest part for me, in that it's been the most knowable. I'm sure that's because I've had many years to acclimate to "yoga challenges", for example Sadhana (a 40 day, daily practice I've undertaken a couple of times). Sadhana was horrid for me, fwiw, because I had to travel each morning to a 6 am hour-long practice (took me 30 minutes to get there) and one of these sadhanas was during the late fall. It was like waking up to do yoga in the middle of the night. Talk about self-awareness building. Furthermore, I've had a long time to adapt to what "daily-practice-as-cleanse" means. In these instances, it really is NOT about the poses, but about the intention, the breath (tremendously) and the kriya.

I most definitely subscribe to the perspective that regular practice is devised to develop, in addition to spiritual awareness, physical skill and precision through asana. But that's not the gist of a cleanse practice. Cleanse yoga is when you call on the skills you've developed to test your limits on all the levels.

My, this post has bounced around! I began with the intention of advising you about why there's very little creative activity going on in these parts, due to the excellent weather. I've finished it by wondering if that's true :-)

At any rate, how's it going with your summer? Have you turned off the computer in favour of a patio? Are you all the more structured in your creativity right now? Doing any cleanses while the food is fresh? Let's talk!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How It's Done

While this woman's life near-torments me with its perfection, I have never found anyone who so perfectly depicts my perspective on food and drink. Seriously, click on that link and read. (Savour the photos - the visual incarnation of perfect relaxation.) If you can't taste that wine and those tartlets, I wanna know. One of these days I'm going to France to attend one of Ms. Thorisson's cooking workshops - if only to sit in that kitchen and drink.

I seriously don't know how she has time to rebuild / decorate / manage a Chateau, run classes, write cookbooks, sit in fine restaurants for multiple hours and raise 7 children and 4 dogs. The youngest child is barely out of infancy?! This woman makes Gwyneth Paltrow look like she's phoning it in.

Just thinking about all those kids and dogs makes me want to curl up into a fetal ball - and yet you can tell she thrives on it. She loves everything she does, everything she has (to say nothing of how she too might be ready to curl up into her own fetal ball on occasion, given all of her responsibilities).

I admire people who inhabit their lives - who suck every last morsel from the shell. Life is as much about its brevity as anything else and we are, frankly, foolish not to sit in the bistro (metaphoric or no), for just a little bit longer, nursing that cortado and watching the world drift by.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Place To Stand, A Place To Grow...

Y'all know I'm not a "go out on Saturday night" kind of person, but the weather has been truly spectacular and we've got the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games going on in TO at the moment (aka the impetus for much new infrastructure and fun free entertainment). The fact that I couldn't find one sustainable objection to walking over to Nathan Phillips Square on a gorgeous evening, to see a free concert, put me on an interesting - and spontaneous - trajectory. Usually my husband relies on me to come up with some excuse for staying in, especially after dinner at home. But I was all: Let's get our adventure spirit on (and go to see that act you like). That act was Amon Tobin, a Brazilian electronic musician who's lived and worked practically everywhere in the world. As I understand it, he lives in Mtl. now.

At any rate, while I definitely dislike crowds and noise, I was encouraged by the set up. We arrived at the tail end of a concert by a Venezuelan pop band that was mega-cheesy in a way that totally appealed to the very happy audience. Said audience was predominantly Spanish-speaking (let's just say I never before knew what a robust Latin American community we have in Toronto) and it responded to the predominantly Spanish-speaking lead singer with much enthusiasm. The energy was lively and cheerful and strangely welcoming to a non-crowd / non-noise kind of person.

Here are a few shots of the venue and general environs:


That's Old City Hall in the background (the clock tower) and the arches denote the position of the venerable, wintertime skating rink. That TORONTO sign is surprisingly chic. Money well-spent, IMO.

Look at that gorgeous sky!!

I couldn't resist the buildings reflected in the building...
And finally, a sense of the main event:


The reason I have access to a shot of this caliber is that my husband bamboozled me into moving to the front of the stage. Have I mentioned that I don't like crowds and noise? Have I mentioned that the subwoofers were 6 feet from me, infusing me with the kind of all-encompassing bass-thud that aims to divest one of her identity, like, existentially?

Here's what happened: The Venezuelan band finished and about 2000 concert-goers made a quick departure. Scott convinced me that no one was going to be there to see his little electronic music crush. (Ahem. Doesn't it strike you, if the City schedules the musician as the last act on a Saturday evening, they expect him to bring a crowd?) I resisted but you know how that's futile and all.

Hilariously, the original crowd was replaced almost instantaneously by one that made me feel SO utterly stereotypical that I actually laughed out loud. Strollers, brightly-coloured outfits and multi-generational families were exchanged for an audience of seriously white people between the ages of 35 and 55. Extra points went to the couples wherein the woman was @45 and the man @51 (with a 15 year old daughter in tow, of which there were a statistical number). Natch, beards, tattoos, plaid clothing and rimless glasses were on overdrive and weed was de rigeur. At one point, I looked over at a short blond woman wearing the same shoes as me, who said with a smile: Is it me, or did the demographic just shift? If hell were a hipster-fest, this would have been my Huis Clos.

I love to think of myself as a vaguely unique, progressive urbanite who blogs about her interesting life (albeit with a small L). People, I'm a cardboard cutout.

My biggest fear was that I would be crushed by thousands of fans. Scott pointed out (and to his credit, he appears to have been correct) that it would take 3 minutes, max, to get out of the throng and that there were unconcerned children in our midst. How many parents, he asserted, would put children in harm's way? He then proceeded to draw my attention to the fact that we were free-concerting so TO-style that there were messages, posted regularly on a big screen, reminding attendees to hydrate due to extreme weather conditions and please not to smoke (which is against the law in public places). Note: They weren't referring to marijuana, be assured. They meant cigarettes - which are considered to be ultimately declasse around here, these days.

After 30 minutes of keeping my sanity, barely, in the wake of crazy lights / insane noise / zillions of fans, I advised Scott that I was done. We briskly made our way to University Ave. and decided which way to walk home. Dundas was the preferred route. I had a hankering for some sashimi (yeah, @11 pm) and a glass of wine. Alas, our fave place closes at 11 so we decided to walk and see what we might find.

A while (and many conversations about the potential state of my eardrums) later, we happened upon a place I'd never noticed before. We opted to stop in because of its glorious patio. I am a patio slut. Give me some good flowers and street-privacy on a warm summer evening and I'll pay practically anything for a glass of wine. Turns out we had one of our servers from another resto who had recently joined this one and we spoke about old times in the 'hood. He convinced me to order this slaw salad that isn't on the menu. I was so impressed by how he reeled off the 19 ingredients that I could scarcely say no.

Again, and on the subject of my warped self-perception: "that in-the-know, urban lady who eats the good food", I discovered the next day - and only because one of my friends advised that it's "totally famous" - that we'd been at Bent, one of Susur Lee's restaurants. If you click on the links, you'll see that it's been on the scene lo these last 3 years and I've never so much as noticed it. (I guess that's the mark of a city with stupendous food everywhere. Or perhaps, of my being very out of touch.)

Look, I like Susur Lee as much as the next person. I went to Lotus in the 90s (not that I could afford it). I've had many a Saturday brunch at Terroni on Queen West, accidentally sitting next to him and his family. You can't hit a sidewalk crack, in this town, without invoking a Susur Lee anecdote. And yet, I'm not a fan. Truth is, I don't much like Asian fusion. And I certainly don't like it enough to pay 300 bucks for it.

But while the irony flowed (like the Rioja), we managed to spend 78 bucks on a salad and two glasses of wine. Ha! (More dubious still, the place was in the dying throes of Summerlicious, a "culinary festival" wherein popular or pricey restaurants offer a prix fixe by way of enticing suburbanites to stop on in. Servers hate it. Locals hate it. The menu is the food equivalent of elevator music.)

I'm not doing a good job of recounting that this drink and snack stop was actually very pleasant because the serving was more or less over for the evening by the time we arrived, the night was perfection, we knew and liked the waiter, the patio was grand and the food was very well-prepared (if not my thing). Did I mention that the wine was excellent?

We stayed for an hour and then walked home. And that's the only time in recent memory that I've been outside till midnight - like in the world at large!

My aim is to invest in the many experiences I have at my fingertips here, because they're frankly, stupidly omnipresent. With a blue sky and warmth, Toronto is a gem - a place where you can have a conversation with a stranger (albeit a reserved one), where the open-air concerts are respectful - but badass, where the food is legendary, but down the block.

So that's my Saturday night. Thoughts or feelings? Have you checked out the Games or Panamania? Let's talk!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Intended

When I moved into my home, 15 years ago, let's just say the greenspace was lacking. Those first years, which were financially restrictive (new kid, bigger mortgage, early career), left few resources to improve things. I had no innate or family perspective on how to create a beautiful outdoor space. (Growing up, there were people for that and, really, you know how I feel about the bugs.) But over the course of time, I found a landscape designer who spoke my plant language. I told her what I wanted to see and she created drawings that were - happily - a perfect expression of my vision: natural but not too natural, a greenspace of order (that seems a little bit wild). I wanted a few flowers at all times - but never too many. I needed easy-maintenance - have you seen my schedule lately??

It only took a week to plant and hardscape these gardens (and, for the front, only a day) but they have changed, waxed and waned, in ways that a home interior never will:

I know it's tough to see what's going on in this shot, but this is as much about the feeling of a sunny haven as about what your eyes can lock on...

In the spirit of feeling good about me, here's a photo in my new caftan. (What?! I'm 45 - I can do caftans and gardens with abandon, thank you very much!!)
That's the lilac (post-bloom) in the background. The mid-ground green is my insanely happy, post-bloom phlox. Those rose bushes are 1 year old and they've expanded in size by at least 10 times. You're seeing them after I cut them back substantially.
Honey locust and pergola. The pergola's shot after ground heave of the past 2 winters. We're going to need to rehardscape - but when, who can say. Remember, we've got to pull off the back of the house (2 floors) pretty darned soon. Let's not think about it.
I debated showing off the delightful bicycle parking garage that is my front porch but, whatevs. It's not like everyone who walks by doesn't see it... That tall cedar in the background was planted by Scott the year we moved in. Unfortunately, dogs have taken hold of the short round cedar in the foreground. I hope they don't kill it... There's a rock garden (always in a state of flux as delicate perennials do tend to die over the winter). But the sedum is happy.
Don't ask me the names of any of these things. Those are post-bloom irises in the background. The euonymous by the fence has been replanted 4 times in its 15 year (so far) life. It was unhappy everywhere else (its siblings died). The constant traffic of bees I've got hovering (in front) and butterflies (in back) is heartening. Note: Flying bugs don't bother me.
Very happy tall grass in the side bed with some of my neigbour's new plantings behind. I've been waiting 15 years for them to landscape and it finally happened this summer. They created a butterfly garden.
I have lost many plants over the years - the perfect flowering almond that blew its brains out on blooms that were unsustainable, the euonymous that couldn't stand the soil, the first honey locust - it just failed to thrive. The last two winters, particularly, have been very hard for this haven. But having gardens has taught me, viscerally, about the fleetingness of all things. One of the reasons why I love them...

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Mid-Summer Cleanse

Yesterday I wrote about MyYoga.com and about how it's working for me at this point in my life. In addition to being a useful resource when I'm tired or feeling uncreative, it's also mercifully convenient. I have a yoga room (well, technically it's a sewga room) with all the bells and whistles so it's very easy to grab my laptop, shut the door and practice. I find it difficult to conform to studio class times because they aren't necessarily aligned with my schedule and I hate waiting around for a late class. I'm pretty-well couch-bound by 7:30 pm and I have to eat something before (light) and immediately after I practice, especially if it's moving into the dinner hour. Futhermore, and I can only speak for downtown studios in TO, but I'm fairly horrified by how they consistently overfill classes - with latecomers, no less. I do not like crowds and I particularly hate being shoved into an over-crowded corner because I am respectful enough to arrive at a class before it starts. Finally, as mentioned yesterday, I'm enjoying shorter, frequent practices lately. 90 minutes of hardcore vinyasa, starting at 7 pm, is just not doing it for me.

No doubt there are detractors to online yoga platforms: If you don't know what you're doing, you're not really going to learn the way you would in a class environment. There's not much teaching going on - it's more about class leading. This increases the opportunity for injury. MyYoga, specifically, under-represents certain methodologies (Iyengar), and over-represents others (Ashtanga). The teachers are not exactly relatable. They're generally buff and excessively photogenic - which may inspire or irritate. There's no class-energy to benefit from. It's an isolated medium.

I've been asked how I've continued to practice yoga regularly lo these many years. The answer is that I've adapted it to the life I'm living and I prioritize the activity. Mr. Iyengar used to say that you don't live to do yoga, you do yoga to live. Life comes first and yoga facilitates it. But that doesn't mean that I haven't had to draw some deep lines in the sand. When my kid was young, I'd pick her up from daycare, we'd walk home - I'd change and make her something to eat (or my husband would) and then I'd go straight to my mat. I couldn't wait till 9 pm (at which point I was effectively comatose from fatigue). I'm sure that one of M's enduring memories will be of me saying: Could you turn down that sound?? Mummy's practicing. (She's always listening to something on the computer / radio / TV.) I cannot allow myself to settle in before I do yoga or it doesn't happen. Sure, I've been known to bring my props to the living room, at 9:30 pm, while my husband watches TV - especially if I'm in a pain loop. But I don't really consider that yoga. (Mind you - it's better than nothing and it reinforces my commitment to my practice, even when things conspire to keep me out of the yoga room proper. BTW, there is nothing in my house that I haven't used as a prop :-))

I've also gone through phases when, frankly, yoga has taken a back seat. 25 years is a long time. I've rarely gone more than 2 weeks without it, but there have been times (when my kid was an infant, when I became apathetic in my early 30s) where I'd go through a couple of months without yoga (and even when I did practice, my head wasn't in it). Whatcha gonna do?

Intriguingly, at the moment, MyYoga is conspiring to facilitate a summer goal - and just by dumb luck. See, it semi-regularly hosts these things called "challenges" which are like mini-programs you can sign up for to learn, for example, how to develop elements of your practice. A new one started 3 days ago (though I believe anyone who's a member can start doing it at any time), called "Conscious Cleanse". Two of the MyYoga teachers have written a book by the same name and this challenge is pure cross-promotion. The format and hosts are a definitely plastic but there are very good resource materials and it's organized to bring one gradually into cleanse-mode over 2 weeks. There's nothing abrupt about it and one eats daily. This isn't a juice fast.

Basically, the program indicates that one does a pre-determined, cleanse-oriented yoga class daily, drinks a 32 oz green smoothie (ingredients and recipes suggested) and removes all the processed foods, gluten and refined sugar from the diet. One is also advised to drink water at the number of ounces equivalent to at least half of one's body-weight, daily. There's a heavy emphasis on overcoming functional dehydration which, as I like to harp, has really negative long-term implications.

Natch, I am modifying the rules to suit myself because there's no way I'm living without eggs, meat, dairy and caffeine (in the form of 2 shots of espresso per day). I also reserve the right to drink a glass of wine if I feel like it - but I haven't much felt like it cuz I'm drinking so much freakin' water (and smoothies) that I have no more space left for booze. Plus I eat dark chocolate as often as I like because really, if you don't, you're doing it wrong.

For me this is more of a state of mind than a hard reboot. And, because the challenge is heavily yoga-oriented, of course it's big on "intention setting". Gist is that participants are urged to determine their conscious or unconscious motivations before they undertake the cleanse. I can do that.

For what it's worth, my intention is two-fold: Improvement of my health to continue to reduce pain (my omnipresent goal, which is going pretty well, btw) and using optimal health as a means by which I can reframe my current body-image. I will not continue to reinforce body-criticism simply because I don't look as I did 2 years ago. That's such a waste of time and energy - not to mention that I have a very palatable figure, even if it isn't the one of my youth. One of my biggest struggles for the past year has been with bloating (nature's perfect way to make you feel fat!), partly because my digestive system is in a really strange place, partly because of overindulgence in sugar and salt and partly because of stress (predominantly of the work variety but life's thrown some curveballs).

The best way to feel good about how I look is to know that it's the product of my healthiest, sustainable lifestyle. This cleanse lasts only 2 weeks but that's long enough to modify some deleterious habits. Most certainly, part of my best lifestyle is indulging my well-developed hedonism so I won't be fucking with that. But it's once again time to refine things (ain't it always?), and I'm hopeful that this challenge will motivate moderate change.

Today's questions: What are your thoughts on fitness challenges or cleanses? Have you done an online challenge such as this or something similar? What were your intentions in taking it on? Let's talk!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Form Factor

Y'all know I use MyYoga.com (now part of GaiamTV). It's an online yoga platform that I recommend for a wide variety of online yoga classes (of all levels and durations) taught by numerous teachers of numerous schools (though not so much Iyengar). It's one of the ways I motivate myself to engage on days when I'm either very tired or feeling uncreative. (More on My Yoga - with which I am in no way affliliated btw, except as a paying client, next post...)

One of the things I've realized lately (and trust me, it's taken 25 years to decide to stop hitting my head against the wall when it comes to this) is that you don't need to do yoga for 2 hours (or 90 minutes or even 60 minutes) every time you step on your mat. My nature predisposes me to feel that 30 minutes is the practical minimum, at least for myself - but I've always recommended to newbies, who struggle to develop a practice, that the three-pose rule* is where it's at. FWIW, there are those who will tell you that any amount of yoga is a practice.

I'm sure it doesn't surprise you to know that I'm pedantic and goal-driven. I'm a freakin' civil servant, after all. I came by the Iyengar method honestly, while searching for fitness in my teens, because it's utterly akin to my personality: driving, specific, practical and intensely technical. Partly I'm this way because peeps be who they are, and all that. Partly, I'm this way because I've spent my entire life managing clinical anxiety and obsessive compulsiveness and the imposition of order is the way I come to terms with the vast amount of sensory input to which I am excessively sensitive.

Here's the thing, spending 2 hours per session, doing yoga 3 times a week, doesn't work for me right now. (There's an argument to be made that it doesn't work optimally, physically, for lots of people. But let's not dwell on them - this is about me.) Right now, I feel best on every level when I do 30-45 minutes of yoga 5 times a week. That's about half the amount that my old-school, orderly self feels is "doing real yoga". These days I also often feel better when someone else is telling me what to do because it's easy for me to ruminate on my (in)abilities - on my level of asana "consciousness" - when I'm directing myself.

I've been doing the same poses for decades. I've come up against the same physical (to say nothing of mental) sensations and challenges thousands and thousands of times. And nearly every time I've come up against them - last year or two notwithstanding - I've fought them. I've fought my perceived inabilities, my competitive (with myself) strain, my urge for improvement (which never became my joy of refinement). Certainly, I've experienced tremendous pleasure in yoga or, trust me, I wouldn't do it. But when one actions a pose it's always the same: The only barrier one ever encounters is oneself.

Teachers spend a lot of time telling students that, if they want to change themselves, they need to take the journey in the practice. I'm here to tell you, if you want to change your practice (how you live within it, how you benefit from it), you also have to change yourself.

And that's why I'm doing it all differently. My urge for perfection (which isn't abstract perfectionism, btw, it's an actual drive for order in the physical form) is painful. It has actually contributed to my experience of physical pain. Yin yoga recently helped me to take the edge off my form-centred, Iyengar-sensibility. MELT and other forms of myofascial bodywork have reinforced for me - outside of the spectrum of yoga - that it's really not about how it looks while you're doing it but how it feels when you're done.

On that rabbit-holey topic - let me clarify my perspective: The impact of yoga is never about how it looks and always about how it feels (in the context of physically safe asana). That's not to say that beautifully executed poses (in that Yoga Journal fashion) aren't a concurrent aim for many yogis. In fact, for most long-standing practitioners I've come across, I sense it's equally important. Not that anyone talks about this.

I do yoga, in part, because it brings me health, self-awareness and vibrancy. I also do it because it's a way for me to express my physical ability and my perceived beauty in that ability. Is that yoga? No way. Is it egotism? Sort of. Is it harmful? Well, when it gets out of hand it is.

I'm ageing, as are we all, and I'm moving through a physically challenging phase of life at the moment. How long this phase will last is unknown. How it will end is unknown. Arguably the purview of yoga is in age because, while I cannot satisfy my ego through my practice at this moment, I should never have been trying to do so in the first place. Nothing like a period to end a sentence.

At any rate, that's my deep thought for Wednesday. Fellow yogis (or runners or rowers or cross-fitters), what's your take on this? Do you express your ego in your activity? (Think twice before you answer.) And if you're a yoga-doer with a long-standing practice, how has it changed as you've gone from one life phase to the next? Let's talk!

*The three pose rule is just that: Get on your mat and do 3 poses in the style of practice you'd optimally like to accomplish (i.e. active, supported or pose-family focused). If at the end of doing those 3 poses, you're still feeling utterly disinterested, just put that mat away and move on with your day. If, however, you find even a glimmer of engagement having done those first 3 poses, do 3 more. If you're still there after 6 poses, chances are, you're in it for a full practice (however you define that).