Somehow, I’m terrible at shavasana.

This morning I went to yoga. I woke up feeling optimistic and fresh-headed, mostly because of the sunshine and a good night of sleep. I am still feeling like my body is made of rusted tin, so I figured yoga would either be the perfect or absolute worst way to spend my morning.

It turned out to be a mix of both. I took a few yoga classes when I lived in Milwaukee. The first one was taught by a ballet dancer who was obviously incredibly flexible and did each pose so accurately she could have been the model for a yoga coffee table book. Fortunately, she was also an excellent teacher who made sure to explain each pose very thoroughly, telling us which muscles to engage and which ones should be void of tension. I actually felt like a got a workout in her class. I was usually sore on the days that followed the class, realizing I could engage muscles I had never acknowledged. It was sort of like discovering my body and what it was capable of.

I also felt much more balanced. The I used to think that the whole body-spirit balance was for crazy new-agers who stink of patchouli and incense, surviving on jicamas and green tea, swearing that animal protein is full of evil. But I’ve realized over the last few months that it’s pretty important. I feel so much better when I’m active and taking care of myself. If I spend a few weeks with my butt on the couch, my whole outlook changes. The only thing that seems in the realm of possibility is continuing to watch Netflix and eating bowls of cereal. My outlook turns negative and I say no to everything because none of it seems worth the effort. Then somehow a switch is flipped and I get sick of the lethargy and go for a bike ride or something. That’s when things turn around – I’m more excited about life, days seem brighter and I get upset that there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything I want.

It comes down to something very simple that I don’t acknowledge as much as I should: physical activity like exercise, excitement, love, and sex raises endorphins. This makes a person feel good. It gives you a feeling of euphoria. Which might explain why Michelle Obama Arms continues to work out despite the fact that she looks amazing.

What I like about yoga is that it feels like an hour of stretching. You’re encouraged to turn inward, focusing on your breath and working at your own pace, coordinating the poses in sun salutations with your inhales and exhales. Today, I remembered the one thing I struggled with the most while I was in classes at Milwaukee: calming my mind in order to be fully engaged in the poses. The ballet dancer used to tell us that the goal of shavasana (the corpse pose at the end of a session, where the body recovers and your mind, body, and spirit are rejuvenated) was to have a completely blank mind. We worked during the class to breath deeply, imagining all the stresses and worries being expelled with each exhale. During shavasana, I was usually aware that my mind was noisy. I was distracted by the buses starting and stopping in front of the building, how if I moved my palm slightly on my mat, it made that soft sticky sound, and that my breath was much more shallow than I realized. There were only a few times when I felt truly at peace and clear-headed during shavasana. And when that happened, it was amazing. Those were the best classes.

I didn’t achieve a clear head during yoga today. I’m assuming it was because it’s been years since I’ve done a downward dog or a sun salutation. I don’t think I turned inward once. I think it was because it was a new situation. I was aware of the smallness of the fitness studio and began to wonder how they held classes in a such a small space. Then I noticed the trees outside and realized it was windier than I remebered. And the cars on the street – they were driving fast, offering a sharp contrast to the stillness of the bodies in the room. And the whispery flute music playing over the speakers was distracting since every other song seemed to be a variation on Pachelbel’s canon. At the end of the class, my body felt much better, but my head was still all over the place.

It was so unsatisfying. I had woken up with such a clear head, but as the morning had worn on, it had gotten cluttered by the day’s plans and things that needed to get done. I felt off balance in such a strange way – much like when your body is exhausted and your mind is racing or vice versa (which is worse in my opinion) – when you’re mentally exhausted but your body is awake.

I really did enjoy it though. I’d like to do this more regularly. Ideally I would like to do it daily, but I doubt that will happen. I’ll shoot for a couple times a week at least, then maybe it will just become a part of my day on it’s own.

Anyway, namaste from my couch to you, wherever you are.

If only I could kickbox while drinking wine…

I’ve been in the mood to try new things. The mood typically doesn’t last very long so I do my best to take advantage of it. I figure if I try new things, I’ll meet new people, learn something about myself, and maybe find a new hobby. Last week someone asked me what my hobbies were – other than reading and writing. I had hard time answering. It was sort of sad. I thought about what I do when I have free time and it basically amounted to a lot of wasted time – browsing the internet, shopping for new bedding without actually purchasing anything, reading, thinking about writing, painting my nails, and  if I’m ambitious, baking or cooking. So I’m on the hunt for a new hobby.

If you have any suggestions, please share. I really want to find something new to get excited about. I’ve tried a few things the last week. These are my observations.

Volunteering 

I was required to do 36 hours of community service to graduate high school. I graduated with honors and high community service honors, which meant I completed over 150 hours of community service. Sounds very altruistic, doesn’t it? It sounds great until you hear that to get my community service hours I managed the wrestling team. For four nights a week, I sat in the gym for two hours doing homework and watching the best looking guys in the school roll around and occasionally take their shirts off. On the weekends I helped score matches where I met and flirted with wrestlers from other schools.

I know. I’m practically Mother Theresa.

I was overtired and feeling sick when I saw a posting at work for the biannual environmental stewardship initiative at Riverview Gardens, so I’m not really sure why I decided to sign up, but I did. We would have a tour of the gardens, plant for a few hours, then end the morning with a Subway lunch. Since I had nothing planned, I decided to give it a go.

The gardens are located on what used to be a country club. The club house still stands, as does the pool house next to an empty pool. The golf course is overgrown enough to make men in plaid pants weep. A non-profit was able to get the land and is now using it as a venture to involve the community and deal with the root causes of poverty and homelessness with a market garden enterprise, park space, and job training. It’s just in the beginning stages, but they have some great people involved in the program and as I saw throughout the morning, it’s all extremely well planned out.

I spent the morning planting hazelnut trees. One group planted pecan trees, and another helped make garden beds. I planted seven trees, helping with about 50 trees that morning. These trees are going to serve as the top canopy that will eventually create areas in the garden. Apparently these trees will help regulate wind damage, temperature, and even humidity for the plants on the lowest level.

I walked away feeling pretty good about myself. I was covered in dirt, and even though I was wearing gloves, had dirt all over my hands and under my fingernails. It was pretty neat to be a part of something. It’s been a while since I’ve felt I’ve contributed to something bigger than myself. When I realized that, I suddenly felt very selfish. I’ve since signed up for a volunteer orientation this Saturday afternoon.

Kickboxing

Katie and I found a Groupon a few weeks ago – $20 for 30 fitness classes. We went to our first class on Monday night. We didn’t really have any idea what the class was going to consist of. The website said the class was a cardio and strength class. It said nothing about kickboxing. When we got there, we signed a few sheets, were handed a pair of gloves and told to take the five o’clock position by our bags. One of the instructors gave us a quick view of the basic moves – jab, cross, high block, and low block. She failed to show us the kick. So when that came, the cheerleader in me decided to make a return by insisting my kicks all be high and with pointed toes. Yeah. Rapists beware, I can kick above my head with an admirable velocity. If I’m able to kick your chin, I’m certain you’ll be injured or at least lose your balance.

We were the youngest people in the class. This was both great news and terrible news. Great because we didn’t have any peers to compare ourselves with (we would inevitably be left feeling inadequate). Terrible because we were shown proof that at least a dozen middle-aged women could kick our asses and were more coordinated than the two of us combined.

I found that it was an exercise in embarrassment more than anything else. At least for the first class. But I walked away feeling pretty badass. It was a great way to relieve aggression. I don’t think that there are many socially-sanctioned ways for women to blow off steam. Men are encouraged to play sports where they can be aggressive. I don’t know a ton about sport technique, but I imagine if you’re feeling angry, you’re going to throw a ball pretty hard and far or you’re going to hit that linebacker (right?) with as much force as possible. Basically, they have outlets for the tension that builds up from daily stresses. Women are encouraged to do the domestic things – baking, cleaning, cooking, reading, writing, exercises like walking or biking. No matter how vigorously you stir that muffin batter, it’s not going to make you less pissed off at your gossipy coworkers. Of course nobody is telling women not to participate in more aggressive activities, but it’s seen as a novelty when they actually do participate in them. “Oh, that woman shoots guns on the weekends? That’s badass!”

But here….here in kickboxing class, women beat punching bags. I don’t know anybody else’s motivation for each punch, but I certainly had a few faces in mind when I was flailing my limbs in the general direction of the bag. I say flail only because my kicks were so pathetic. I landed most of my punches, though I can’t say how much damage they would have done on a person.

Spinning

I don’t get this. I love biking so I thought I would really enjoy this. But it was awkward. A dozen or so women on stationary bikes, furiously pedaling toward nothing. Though it was an underwhelming experience, it was the fastest workout I’ve ever had. Also, it was the hardest bike ride I’ve had in a long time. We simulated hills by changing gears, did a time trial in which we were told to maintain a high wattage for three minutes, did “sprints” (5-second bursts with addition of a gear – trust me, it’s harder than it sounds), and then finished with a four-minute run (pedaling with your butt off the seat). It lasted 45 minutes, but when I got off the bike, I felt like I had been there for ten minutes. It was ridiculous.

Also, I was reminded that bike seats are incredibly uncomfortable.

Drinking Sauternes & Blogging 

This has been my favorite part of the week so far. A friend gave me a housewarming gift of two bottles of muscat, a 1999 sauternes, and non-Walmart wine glasses.  I’ve never had a sauternes before. I’ve read about it in Jean Feraca’s memoir where she romantically described noble rot, but I was constantly aware the fact that the woman has gigantic nose, so I was distracted. Anyway, despite knowing that this wine is made from grapes covered in fungus, I love it. It is sweet and honeyed tasting, the absolute perfect way to end a day. Pretty much the definition of dessert wine. Moscato doesn’t have anything on sauternes.

I’ve been sitting outside for the last hour or so and I’m feeling quite buzzed from the single glass. This might be because I haven’t had much to eat or drink this afternoon. There’s a heat advisory and I saw this as a challenge to either go for a run or further dehydrate myself by drinking a glass of wine. Obviously I chose the latter.

I have a few more things planned this week – strength and resistance on Thursday night which I’m sure will be a cruel reminder that I am incredibly weak – yoga on Saturday, followed by a crochet lesson in the evening. I’ll report back on these and let you know if I discover a new hobby.