The Requisite Holiday Survival Guide (Because of Course we will be Running from Hordes of Zombie Twinkies) with a Twist (Yoga Joke)


Flexibility is about more than Hamstrings


This does not mean that one can never be too flexible. The human form is beautifully balanced between strength and flexibility. If a joint becomes too mobile it can be more easily injured. If it becomes too tight it can be more easily injured. Moreover, as a whole the form exists in balance …. each joint works in combination with the others within a complex balanced system. The same thing can be said of the mind. Someone who believes and follows the last person with whom they spoke is going to get into as much trouble as the person who never changes their position even in the face of absolute proof of their incorrectness.


With holidays this means that it is important to meet changes to the expected with an eye to what matters, and the ability to bend. Will your holiday really be ruined if you do not get the window seat? (I used to really covet that seat, but generally was placed between my two younger brothers in an effort to curb battles).


Flexibility also balances habit. Habit is a powerful thing. One of the most frustrating things for me as a teacher is going to a class with someone who does movements almost like mine with small differences. My body wants to go into the same groove it is used to. But to move out of the comfortable groove requires seeing where the groove takes you and that requires svadhyaya.


Become the Self that Observes without Judgement


I know people who come to the mat as though they are on one side of a sparring mat and their legs (somehow as a separate entity) are on the other and they are doing battle. I think it can be helpful, even before practicing ahimsa to practice observation.


The same is true in life. Non judging observation is one of the best tools to begin to work on habit. Like keeping a food diary lets us see exactly how we eat. (Assuming we log everything in, which is hard). So just as you notice as you step on the mat if you are lifting your shoulders again, or leaning on one leg, and make small changes, it can help to notice a pattern of action or reaction with events and people. A child whines, you yell. Perhaps one could offer a sandwich. Or a game of fish. (Actually I found that I would be halfway through saying I was taking a toy away and realized I was reacting angrily where it was just making things worse and would add I would take it for 7 million years. We all knew it was a joke and tended to decrease the tension. At least when the kids were six or so.)


Of course, what do you do with what you observe? Is it “Wow, I am weak in my shoulders, I am going into headstand RIGHT NOW!”


Headstand is not for Everyone or Every class and Hard Postures need Preparation


Not every pose in yoga is about bending. Some are about grounding. Some are about strength. One things you try to do in a yoga practice is decide what postures you need. And you cannot write a list one day and that is it for every day for the rest of your life. Figuring out when and in what order is as important as what. Some people need to practice forward bends, and some need to practice plank. And the same person may need different things different days. Also, you cannot tackle a posture like eka pada koundiyanasana (look it up if you don't know it) the first time you come to the mat.


There are times where you do need to stand firm. On the other hand if you never met an issue where you do not believe you are absolutely right and anyone who disagrees with you is an idiot you need to practice flexibility (and humility). But if you give in on everything, if you never see yourself as capable and strong that is just as much as a problem. The important thing is to pick your battles. Fight for the ones that really matter. And have the patience to wait till the time is right. Thanksgiving might not be the best time of year to go on a fast. That does not mean you cannot moderate your pleasures (remember the black and white thing? Rather than “I am going to eat every pie I see until I am completely stuffed for the next month” You might try “I am going to eat and enjoy some homemade treats during the season.... one a day, but not eat the prepackaged store made junk that is full of trans fat, food coloring, and chemicals.) It might also be not the best time to have a conversation about your child's grades in French. Such conversations do well when there is lower stress level, and less distractions. I believe most people can master headstand. Most. But not everyone will want to, and that needs to be honored. And advanced difficult postures need to be approached with caution and preparation.


Despite what the Ancient Texts Say You are Probably not going to cure every Disease with Just Yoga and it is a good idea to take advantage of Modern Medicine


This is a serious one. Ever since I was old enough to read fashion magazines I have seen articles suggesting bubble baths and candles and alone time as a cure for a stressful day. I agree with the principle, though I do not like bubble baths (massage therapy on the other hand...). However, if stress, and worry moves into anxiety or depression.... if you are dealing with more than the normal variation in mood all humans have, … if things seem unbearable or unyielding, … if life seems like walking through oatmeal.... talk to someone: your physician, a school health counsellor, your spiritual leader, or contact the NAMI help line:


If you do not Step on the Mat you will not have a Practice


It can seem easier sometimes to sit difficult things out. The age of the internet makes it easy to avoid messy human interaction. But engagement is key to living. Do remember the balance principle: If you are attending events like attending to an 150 item to do list it is like doing yoga at 140 beats per minute. None of the poses are going to have a chance to do much, and you are likely to end up injured. Balance rest and play. Choose events and people you believe will enrich your spirit and give you joy. Do not bring what is harmful to the body or mind or spirit to your mat. But turn your face to the sunlight, and open your heart to possibility. Remember what Mother Theresa said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness....”


Remember in School when they Asked “For what are You Thankful?”


Exercise, especially aerobic exercise can be a really important part of maintaining health and wellness of body, mind, and spirit. The yoga mat is a place at its best for that journey toward peace and joy, health and wellness.


I would say, for me as a teacher, the greatest honor over the years has been to welcome students whose bodies or spirits are not perfectly fit and flexible and strong, but who seek those things. Years ago I was working as a trainer at a small gym, and a woman walked up the stairs into the club: middle aged, a little plump, a bit out of shape, never having been in a gym before. Twenty years almost later I still remember her. What courage it took to walk into a place so foreign to her, to risk opening herself to possible criticism and judgement. (She actually chose well. This place was welcoming to the non fit). Her trust and the trust of others like her have been among the greatest gifts I have been given.


"I Hope You Dance"


I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,

You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger,

May you never take one single breath for granted,

GOD forbid love ever leave you empty handed,

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,

Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,

Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance,

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.


I hope you dance....I hope you dance.


I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,

Never settle for the path of least resistance

Livin' might mean takin' chances but they're worth takin',

Lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth makin',

Don't let some hell bent heart leave you bitter,

When you come close to sellin' out reconsider,

Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance,

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.


I hope you dance....I hope you dance.

I hope you dance....I hope you dance.

(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along,

Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone.)


I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,

Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,

Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance,

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.


Dance....I hope you dance.

I hope you dance....I hope you dance.

I hope you dance....I hope you dance..


Lee Ann Womack “I Hope You Dance”



Ten Tips to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

While I'm not sure that I will be able to give you anything as good as last year's holiday/end of year 'zombie twinkie' blog ( ) I found a couple of handout s(while I was doing some end of year cleaning) that I had written almost 20 years ago, and I thought they still stand pretty well. (Except for some outdated technology references, and I think though I am less fit than 20 years ago I am probably care more about kindness than muscles)


Today I am going to share my 'Ten Tips to Reduce Stress and Anxiety'. Next time I might offer the '5 Obsticles to Exercise, and How to Get Around Them'. Please keep in mind that not every tip is for every person. One or two on this list speak clearly to me, while others do not. As with my advice on yoga, and fitness... remember that we are all unique. Learn to look at yourself with kindness and truth, and take what you need and what calls to you from whatever sources you find.


Get enough Sleep


While you can go without a full night's sleep occasionally, regular lack of sleep can make one irritable, affect concentration, and cause you to ingest more caffeine and gain more weight. If you try to put your work down and let yourself have even an extra half hour or hour's sleep you may find that it is easier to get up a few minutes earlier for breakfast, and not have to rush to work, swearing at backed up traffic the whole way to work.


Eat Breakfast


If you put some food in your stomach in the morning you will be less tempted by the jelly donuts and snack machines. Sugar is a strong physical stressor. Try some actual food in the morning, rather than just sugar and caffeine. (Note from my current self. I love strong tea with sugar in the morning, but I do feel much better when I have my Irish oatmeal, or a scrambled egg with some avocado.) Whole grains, lean protein, fresh fruit, yoghurt (read the label as some yoghurt has a ton of additives and sugar), beans, and smoothies are all good breakfast options.


Decrease Caffeine Intake


You wake up tired and dragged out: you have coffee. You drink a coke or two while working, hav ea chocolate bar for lunch, more coffee when the afternoon dumps hit... Our caffeine intake can add up quickly. It can add to dehydration, jangle our nerves, and make us more anxious. In large doses it can exacerbate heart arrhythmias. One study suggests that a third of anxiety ailments may be relieved by cutting out caffeine intake. One word of warning though: don't go cold turkey. You can have withdrawal symptoms, such as excruciating headaches. Gently tapering down intake is usually best. (Note from my current self: I knew someone who decided to go cold turkey on her honeymoon. It did not go well). In this as in all things, moderation is key. Caffeine can definitely be an ergogenic aid, and it does not bother everyone. But if you are overstressed and / or anxious this is something to consider.


Increase Activity


The human stress response was originally adapted to physical stress. If a giant animal races from the bushes, mouth open, toward you, it is good to have a body which can immediately run up a tree, or grab a large stick to defend itself. Today our bodies have much the same physical response to mental stress (aggravating bosses, aggravating employees, aggravating customers, aggravating clients, aggravating traffic, etc....) as we used to need for instant battle. This is the “fight or flight” response. Physical exercise helps to restore the body's homeostasis by using what the hormonal and nervous systems have dumped in the body during stressful episodes. Aerobic exercise especially has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, as well as to increase a feeling of well being.


Reduce the Noise Level


If you have noisy appliances or office machinery, try to find a place away from the noise where you can go for a few minutes, just to let the head and ears rest. Such noise can increase stress levels, and make it harder to concentrate, which can also increase stress levels. Also try turning off the TV, Radio, (note from current self.... and I pod and all the myriad new ways we have to produce constant sound these days) just for a short time each day. Music can soothe us, and decrease stress levels, but again, balance is key. Sometimes one needs to turn it down, turn it off, and reset.


Meditate (or for beginners you can try the 1 minute vacation)


(Note from current self: research on the benefits of meditation has been ongoing, and only continues to point out the many benefits to reduction of stress. It is encouraging to me that while I clearly felt that for the audience I had for the original handout I couldn't talk as directly about meditation, today it is very mainstream) Here are instructions for the 1 minute vacation: Lean back in your chair, close your eyes, focusing only on feeling the breath, inhale as you slowly count to five, exhale as you slowly count to five, then open your eyes. Try to let the breath begin in the belly, rather than in the ribs, as though you have an empty sack just behind the navel which you are filling with air. This takes about 10 seconds (about the same amount of time as to swear internally at someone in the express line with twenty items, or to sharpen a pencil); 6 times a day is one minute


Go Outside


Look at a tree. Touch its bark. Smell the soil in which things grow. Look up at the clouds moving across the sky. Listen to the sounds of the birds, and see if you can recognize the different calls of different birds. Give yourself a few moments to connect with the larger world in which we live. Time moves in a different way for a redwood than for a corporation. You don't have to give up the latter to appreciate the serenity of the former.


Cut back on Alcohol


Drugs, such as alcochol, do not cure stress or take away what is causing it. What they can do is temporarily relieve stress symptoms, but can themselves stress the body, and may for some be habit forming. We are back to the 'moderation in all things' again. The occasional wine with dinner, or drink out with friends (unless one has an addictive personality or is going to be driving) is not an issue, and may carry some benefits. But if you find yourself regularly needing rather than wanting a drink, frequently drinking too much, blacking out after drinking... you would do well to talk to your doctor or other health care provider, as there may be serious health consequences beyone simply a raised stress level.


Learn to Say No


Are you superman/woman” Do you help everbody with everything? Do you stay up till midnight baking ten dozen cookies for a school project and get up at dawn to drive the car pool, before helping one coworker edit his manuscript, and another to polish her resume, while our own work piles up and comes home with you at night? Do you worry that people will not continue to like you if you turn down even one request? Sometimes not being able to say no can make you resent the people asking. People naturally support each other and turn to each other for support. And if someone is only going to interact you for what you can do for them you need to ask yourself whether this is a connection that was worth buying at that price? It is important ot recognize that it is great to help others as much as you can, but tha tsometimes it is ok to let someone else help them too. Sometimes it is even ok for you to ask for help. And if you are on a deadline for a big project it is good to be able to say “I can't do it this time, I'm too swamped.” Which leads us to:


Learn to Ask for Help


Sometimes this just means giving up being superman/woman enough to ask someone to help you with a big job. Sometimes it means, if things seem like they are just too much, considering seeing a doctor or other health provider. Please remember that compassion is not true compassion that does not reach inward as well as outward. Please treat yourself with kindness. Please remember that despite the despicable things some do, for most people compassion is at the human center. And when it moves beyond simple stress and normal anxiety it becomes so much more vital to ask. Admitting to depression, anxiety, and other conditions can be difficult. Some find it mortifying to ask for help, or to admit to oneself that one is not completely in control. But truly it is not more moral or praiseworthy to suffer needlessly in silence for something which is a human condition, and medically treatable.


I hope you all find yourselves in a place of health, hope, and kindness shining in and out as we reach the end of the year, and prepare for a new one. Namaste.