Tuesday, February 28, 2012



I'm currently participating in "Mind-Body Odyssey," the Chopra Center's 21-Day Meditation Challenge (a daily series of 15 to 20 minute guided meditations and questions to reflect on about your meditation experience...it's amazing, and something I will definitely be writing more about in a future post).  The other day, the mantra of our meditation was Sat-Chit-Ananda, a mantra that was simplified into meaning Truth (Sat), Knowledge (Chit) and Bliss (Ananda) for all of us newbie meditators participating in the challenge.

Truth-Knowledge-Bliss...this idea really intrigued me, so I wrote down the mantra on a post-it note and added it to my inspiration board as a reminder to do more research on the subject, and as a prompt to recite the mantra to myself throughout the day.  A few days later, I googled "satchitananda" hoping for some clarification on the meaning of the mantra and this is what I found:


"SATCHITANANDA is the living spirit-filled (spiritual) result of merging unlimited and subjective absolute beingness with objective absolute consciousness. Here, in the instant of integration, there manifests a complete and spontaneous expression of  non-dual integration of subjective and objective -- of beingness and consciousness. Instantaneously in the sacred moment an ever present  holotropic morphology or Great Perfection arises as our natural and authentic state (sahaj)."

So, obviously instead of getting clarification, my research led to a whole bunch of new questions.  A few hours and many websites later I've determined two things:

1) The real meaning of "satchitananda" is incredibly complicated, in some ways it describes the path to enlightenment, and it's a mantra I will probably be researching and exploring for the rest of my life....it's really powerful stuff.

2) I may not be close to fully understanding and being able to effectively use this mantra right now, but the simplification from the guided meditation - Truth-Knowledge-Bliss - can have a major impact on multiple aspects of my life.  For example:

I had to face a hard truth a few weeks ago...my caffeine addiction had gotten out of control.  I was drinking (no exaggeration here) at least one 14-cup pot of coffee a day, often more.  I was getting horrible caffeine withdrawal headaches (which often triggered migraines).  And I was beginning to suspect that my over-consumption of coffee was affecting my nursing baby Dylan's ability to sleep.

After some research on the effects of caffeine consumption on both migraine-sufferers and breast-fed babies, I realized that I needed to to cut back....seriously cut back.  It seemed daunting...I was convinced that I needed all of that coffee just to function, to push me through the chronic fatigued that accompanies my migraines.  Plus, let's be honest, I really freakin' love coffee and I had no desire to drink less of it.

I spent some time learning about how much caffeine is okay while nursing, and how to consume a very limited amount of caffeine on a strict schedule to help reduce the possibility of withdrawal causing a migraine.  This meant two small cups of coffee, and two cups of black tea a day...no more, no less, always consumed at the same time.  At first it was really difficult making the change...I was tired and cranky, my headaches were awful, and Dylan wasn't sleeping any better.  It seemed like a waste of effort, but I stuck with it.

After 3 or 4 days, things started to change.  I still feel as tired as I did when I was drinking a pot of coffee each day, but I don't feel MORE tired.  I'm still getting daily migraines, but they aren't being triggered by caffeine withdrawal anymore (and eliminating a trigger is a MAJOR accomplishment for a migraineur), I no longer feel like an addict, and the best part, Dylan has been sleeping through the night, every single night.

Now, this might not be transcendental, "I've become one with the universe," enlightenment-type bliss, but it's still a major improvement in my life...all it took was for me to accept the truth of the situation, gather knowledge on how to make things better, and then act on that knowledge.

Just think of how many things in your life can be improved with a little "Truth-Knowledge-Bliss"...health issues, relationship issues, financial issues...the possibilities are endless.

- Lori

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Choral Contemplations

Don't forget to breath deeply from your diaphragm, inhale into your stomach, your chest, the sides of your ribs, your back....exhale slowly...

Remember your alignment...plant your feet evenly on the ground, stack your spine, one vertebra on top of another, keep your shoulders down and back, your head steady and centered... 

Know your range...accept your current limitations, and remember that as you develop your practice, that range will grow...

Be present, engage in the rhythm and flow of this practice...if your mind wanders, you risk losing your place...concentrate

These are directions I could easily imagine hearing from a yoga instructor, but this advise is just as applicable to singing as it is to an asana practice.

I sing in a lovely little choir at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Westchester.  As I was getting ready for rehearsal on Thursday evening I began to think about the similarities between the time I spend on my yoga mat, and the time I spend in choir rehearsal.

In singing, as in yoga, it's incredibly important to properly align your posture.  The singer's stance is much like tadasana (mountain pose), where aligning and vertically stretching your spine helps create more space in your body to be filled with your breath.

Breathing itself is equally important in both practices - in yoga, your breathing pattern is often dictated by movement between poses, in music, a singer breaths between musical phrases.  In both activities it's vital to breath at the proper moment, and to inhale deeply and exhale fully.  

Performing a vinyasa sequence is much like singing a song...in your yoga practice, there will be poses that will be easier or harder for you based on your natural strength and flexibility - in a song, there will be notes that are comfortably in your range, and others that are more difficult for you to hit as strongly.  Each pose or note is equally important as the next, and needs to be performed even if it is challenging.  With practice, both your vocal range and your yogic range of movement will grow.

A power yoga class might challenge you to move quickly through asanas without losing your form, some songs will have you singing runs of clearly articulated sixteenth notes...an alignment-focused yoga practice might have you holding a pose for a very long time, just as singers are often challenged to hold a single note for multiple measures without losing their breath.

And finally, in both singing and in yoga, it's incredibly important to focus intensely on your practice, to be completely in the moment, to devote all of your attention to your alignment and breath, and the movement between notes and poses.  This concentration will help keep you from hitting wrong notes and from moving your body in inappropriate and damaging ways.

I wonder what other parallels I can draw between my yoga practice and other areas of my life...

- Lori

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Moon Musings - February 2012 Edition

I've been trying to be pay more attention to the cycles of the moon for the past few months...and there's one thing I've realized...I seem to be "lunar powered" just as much as I've always been "solar powered."  On a sunny day I feel like a super-hero - I can accomplish astonishing things with the greatest of ease, I have limitless energy, and am completely in love with life.  On a cloudy/rainy/snowy day you can usually find me curled up on the couch with a cup of tea reading Proust, battling with a migraine while dirty dishes pile up, emails are left unanswered and task lists are completely abandoned. 

For a while I thought that my energy levels were solely linked to the amount of sunlight I was exposed to in a day, but my recent lunar-cycle studies have taught me that I'm equally effected by exposure to moonlight.  During the waxing gibbous/full moon/waning gibbous part of the lunar cycle I have a lot more spring in my step than during the waning crescent/new moon/waxing crescent portion.  Instead of trying to fight against nature, I've decided to embrace these fluctuations.

So, for the three evenings surrounding the new moon when the lack of lunar illumination tends to make me lethargic, especially after the sun goes down, I let myself relax - I meditate and take baths and go to bed early (if my ten-month-old son Dylan lets me)...and I create bulletin boards like this:

I call it my "Inspiration Board."  I collect magazine clippings and photos and mementos and all sorts of pretty little things.  During the new moon, I'll take down the previous Inspiration Board, look through my collection of images and select new ones to go up on the board.  Some of the clippings are merely decorative...like the flowers on this board...but most of the images I put up represent things I hope to manifest in my life during the course of the next moon cycle.

This may sound like new-age/hippie/granola nonsense to you, but there are numerous cultures throughout history that have believed that the period of the waxing moon is a nifty time to start new projects...that you can use the energy of the growing moon to help you grow things in your life.  I happen to be a new-age/hippie/granola-type person, and have really connected with this concept.  So, here's a peek at my current Inspiration Board...

My baby boy is growing up so fast...his first birthday will be on April 4th.  Soon he won't be a baby, he'll be a rambunctious toddler.  This picture is a reminder to cherish these moments of "baby-hood" before they're gone.

There'll probably always be at least one inspirational quote/picture from Yoga Journal on the board...it helps keep me committed to developing a serious home practice.

This quote totally resonated with me and my current struggle with chronic migraines...too often I neglect to give myself the things I need to get better - adequate sleep, regular exercise, avoidance of trigger foods, taking my vitamins and supplements.  I don't have a way to completely eliminate my migraines, but I have enough tools to make things more manageable...I just need to remember to use them.

I'm a terrible sleeper...always have been.  Now that Dylan's sleeping through the night on a regular basis I need to work on learning how to sleep through the night myself.

I literally dream about running on a regular basis.  I haven't been running since before I was pregnant and I miss it terribly.  I'm really looking forward springtime, to buying a jogging stroller and taking Dylan out for runs around town.

I also haven't played my guitar since before Dylan was born...I think it's about time to dust it off and tune it up...

I'll probably always have a picture of delicious looking food on my board...I hope to spend more time this month cooking things from scratch, finding new healthy non-migraine-triggering recipes for my family, and baking terribly decadent things to share with the people I love.

And finally my main focus for this moon cycle...I like to pick one thing to pour most of my energy into, and this time it's my art.  I pinned up an old photocopy of a drawing I'm working on as a reminder that I'm an artist, and that I should be working on art every day.

Now that the images are on the board, and the moon is starting to wax I'll spend the next few days planning and organizing, devising a way to turn inspiration into action.

- Lori

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Beethoven and Balance

I've played the piano for almost as long as I can remember.   My mother often fondly tells the story of how my love affair with the piano began.  She had signed my brother, Bryce, (who's four years older than me) up for lessons, but every time he would try to sit and play the piano in our living room I would have a total meltdown because he was playing MY piano.  He wasn't nearly as interested in the instrument as I was so my parents had the piano teacher work with me instead.

Also for almost as long as I can remember, my favorite composer has been Ludwig van Beethoven.  Being a bit of a dramatic person, I've always been drawn to the theatrical nature of many of his compositions.  I love how he can create a huge array of emotions within a few measures of music...changing tempos and harmonies and dynamics and time signatures in the most unexpected ways, forcing you to play his music not just with your hands, but with your whole body.

But there's one piece by Beethoven that I simply could never appreciate...the first movement of the "Moonlight Sonata."  Yes, it's beautiful, dramatic, haunting and incredibly popular, but it was always too darn slow and steady for me to listen to or want to play it myself.  I prefer playing pieces where my fingers are sent dancing across the keyboard, where I can play bold magnificent chords one minute, and delicate 32nd notes the next...I'm drawn towards physically difficult compositions.

I've always had similar attitudes about the music I like to play and the types of yoga practices I participate in.  I love vigorous vinyasa classes that ask me to move quickly from one asana to another...I love the feeling of rhythm and movement as I move through the poses of Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation), lengthening and folding along with my respiratory metronome.  During the few years when I attended yoga classes at a studio on an almost daily basis, I don't believe I went to a single "Restorative" or "Gentle Flow" class...I simply wasn't interested in yoga unless I left the class soaked with sweat, my arms and abs burning from intense plank sequences, my legs quivering from numerous lunges.

Lately I've started to reevaluate my views towards yoga and music and life in general.  A few days ago I very badly wanted to spend some time on the mat, but was having a difficult migraine day...normally I would have given up on the idea of an asana practice, telling myself that I couldn't do "real yoga" when I felt so ill.  For some reason, I didn't give up this time.  Instead, I actually participated in and greatly enjoyed my first ever restorative yoga session.  Ninety minutes of slow-paced Chandra Namaskara (Moon Salutation), seated twists and forward bends, supine poses, pranayama, soham mantra meditation and shavasana.  It was absolutely heavenly.

This hour and a half on the mat made me realize just how much I've been missing by ignoring the more gentle, restorative side of Hatha yoga.  The word "hatha" has many translations, but one popular translation is Sun (ha) Moon (tha).  The goal of a Hatha yoga practice is to find the balance between the solar and lunar aspects, power and flexibility, strength and balance, effort and surrender.  By focusing so strongly on the solar aspect of my practice and ignoring the lunar side, I had become completely imbalanced.

Inspired by my new-found appreciation for the lunar aspect of my yoga practice, I decided to give Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" another chance, this time listening to all three movements instead of giving up halfway through the first one.  Not only did I actually enjoy the first movement, I was delightfully surprised by the third movement...it's lively and dramatic and deliciously complicated, just what I look for in a piano composition.  It turns out, Beethoven might have just as much to teach me about balance as my yoga practice does.

- Lori

P.S.  You should try listening to the first movement of the "Moonlight Sonata" during Shavasana sometime....it's amazing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why Yoga?

I'm going to get a little serious here...if you want to read one of my super happy blog posts where I talk about how much I love rainbows and butterflies and puppies, I suggest you skip this one and maybe reread "Seasonal Santosha" (which will definitely make you feel better on this gloomy winter day).

I usually like to be a Polly-Positive (as opposed to a Debbie-Downer), but sometimes life is hard, and ignoring those times in this blog just doesn't feel like the honest thing to do.  So, I'm going to write this post about a topic I try not to talk about too much...about my struggle with living with a chronic illness, and how yoga has helped me along the way.

I have chronic migraines.  What does that mean?  While there are some people who get migraines a few times a year, or for many women once a month based on hormonal changes, I rarely experience a completely symptom-free day.  That's right....I get migraines pretty much every day. 

So what are these migraines like?  First there's the prodrome - I can always tell a migraine's coming when I get really exhausted and angry for no reason.  Also, I'll have issues speaking, to the point where I'll sometimes stop using words and start pantomiming without realizing that I'm doing it.  And I often get a terrible stomach ache too...no fun at all.

Then there's the aura - I get blank spots in my vision like someone smudged things with an eraser, and little floating amoeba shapes in my vision too.  And things look distorted, sort of like I'm looking at the world through really old handmade window glass...this can make driving pretty difficult, and working on my art downright impossible.  I'll also smell imaginary smells (usually onions which is kind of weird) and my hands will go numb - I'll drop things left and right and sometimes can't even hold a fork right to eat (or a pencil to draw).  

Then the fun begins with the headache phase - the pain is hard to describe.  It usually starts behind my left eye and spreads outward until it feels like I have a headache/ear infection/sinus infection/toothache.  The pain can be dull and throbbing at it's best...at it's worst it feels like someone's trying to pull my left eye out of my skull.  And then there's the "ice pick headaches" - random jolts of pain where it feels like someone's trying to drive an ice pick through part of my skull.  

The headache pain is usually accompanied by extreme sensitivity to light and sound (to the point where I wish I could wear sunglasses and earplugs inside in a dark quiet room), nasal congestion, major dehydration, and a complete inability to regulate my body temperature....one minute I'll be so cold I have goosebumps, the next I'll be sweating.  

Finally, there's the postdrome - during the "migraine hangover" phase I feel slow and tired and dumb...the simplest task can seem impossible.  I unfortunately have a huge number of migraine triggers, which means that by the time I hit the postdrome phase I'm usually already transitioning into the prodrome of the next migraine.  

I know what some of you must be thinking - "But you don't look sick...if this is really what you're going through all the time, why haven't we seen it?"  The answer is simple...I try really freaking hard to keep my act together and at least appear to go through life like a normal healthy human being.  There are some people with chronic illnesses who act like complete victims...I choose not to be a complainy-pants.  It's bad enough that I'm suffering on a regular basis, I don't want to make my friends and family suffer too.

Where does my yoga practice fit into all of this?  In my first ever blog post, I wrote about a period in my life when I spent 6 or more hours a week attending classes at an amazing yoga studio, and how much I miss those days.  One of the things I miss most is that during that period my migraines got a heck of a lot better.  It astounded me that pranayama and asana and meditation could alleviate my suffering when multiple neurologists and dozens of prescription drugs were unable to help me.  

So that's why yoga is so important to me, why I'm trying so hard to develop a regular home practice.  Someday I hope to return to attending several yoga classes a week, but in the mean time, I need to focus on healing myself at home.

- Lori

P.S.  If you read this far, thank you...it means the world to me.  I promise my next post will be astonishingly cheerful :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Homemade Yogini Valentine's Day

I'm completely willing to admit that I love Valentine's Day...I love the thought of there being one special day in the year that's dedicated to showing the people in your life just how much you adore them.  I love the fancy chocolates and fragrant flowers and candlelit dinners and sparkly greeting cards.  But there's one thing I really dislike about February 14th....the Valentine's Day haters.

There are the singletons who are bitter about having no romantic prospects on Valentine's Day.  I'd argue that this holiday isn't just about romance...it's also about platonic and familial love.  To them I'd say "send some flowers to your mom, go out for a fancy-pants dinner with your friends, heck, buy yourself some amazing candy and a sappy card and realize how blessed you are to be loved by so many people."

There are the anti-consumerism non-conformists that argue against the superficial materialistic displays of affection that abound this time of year.  My feelings are, if you don't want to buy roses and diamonds and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, then don't (and if you're in a relationship with someone who wants these things which you so strongly disapprove of it might be time to reevaluate things).

There are the idealists who claim that you don't need a special day devoted to love, that you should "treat every day like Valentine's Day."  Let's all be honest here....NOBODY does this.  Life is busy and complicated and sometimes you forget to take the time to say "I love you" to the people you care about most.  It's nice to have an annual reminder.

So how did I celebrate Valentine's day?  I started the day with heart-shaped pancakes with homemade strawberry syrup (a family tradition that I hope to continue for years to come).  I read through every Valentine's Day card Ed and I ever exchanged (which was an amazing trip down memory lane).  I cried a little while writing out my baby boy's first Valentine.  Ed gave me pink carnations and I put them in a red vase in my hallway and I stop and smile at them every time I walk past. I wrote out cards for Dylan to send to his extended family and all the babies and little kids we know.  Inspired by a Yoga Journal blog post, I meditated on the different times in my life when I felt truly loved.

And I ended the day with a four-course gourmet meal at the best restaurant in town...my apartment.  I made thinly sliced melon drizzled with honey, a salad with strawberries, toasted pecans, goat cheese and homemade honey-balsamic vinaigrette, roasted sage butternut squash risotto and roasted garlic asparagus, and finally dark chocolate mocha mousse.  As I cooked I thought about how much I love my husband and how the food I was making was an expression of that love.  Ed and I ate by candlelight, listening to the music of Jack Johnson and the sounds of Dylan happily playing in his playpen a few feet away from us.

It wasn't what everyone would want for Valentine's Day, but it was exactly what I wanted.  My hope is that everyone, including the haters, can find a way to celebrate the love in their lives in a way that is personal and meaningful for them.

- Lori

Monday, January 2, 2012

Seasonal Santosha

Now that the holidays are officially over, I've noticed more and more people grumbling about the long winter ahead of them, wishing they could hasten the arrival of springtime and skip the cold winter months altogether.  I try my best not to join in on the complaining, but sometimes I get frustrated by the inadequate central heat in our apartment and the limited hours of winter daylight and I find myself longing for the warm sunny days of summer.

This winter, instead of grumbling about the cold and the dark, I hope to develop a sense of "seasonal santosha" or "climate contentment."  I want to focus on appreciating the wonderful things that make this time of year so special and unique.

I love the visual delights of winter - a perfect 6-sided snowflake caught in the palm of my gloved hand, the brilliant red of a cardinal perched on a bare tree limb, the imprint of a freshly-made snow angel.

I love the music of winter - the rhythmic crunch of my boots in the snow, the melodic laughter of children sledding in my neighbors' yard, the haunting voice of the winter wind breaking up the silence of a long dark night.

I love the tangible pleasures of winter - the softness of my son's fleece footie-pajamas, the weight of my down comforter wrapping me in warmth as I sleep, the blazing heat of a hearth-fire.

I love the intoxicating smells of winter - freshly-baked cookies cooling on metal racks, long hot baths infused with scented oils, the mix of musky chimney smoke and crisp cold winter air.

I love the luxurious tastes of winter - the pots of spiced tea I share with my husband in the evenings, freshly-baked bread soaked in homemade soup, my favorite chocolates that I get once a year on Valentines Day.

So, the next time I find myself fantasizing about spring flowers and sandals and sundresses, I'll remind myself that the winter has its own joys...that without these cold dark months we wouldn't have icicles and snowmen and big cozy sweaters and steaming cups of hot cocoa and so many other wonderful things.

- Lori