Have yoga mat and running shoes, will travel*

img_0135

I was in Washington, D.C., earlier this week for AEJMC, a journalism educators’ conference. I found a way to squeeze in both a run and a visit to an Ashtanga yoga studio.

The run went well despite the 100-degree heat index! The 5K was loosely organized by a member of AEJMC. Whoever wanted to show up in the hotel lobby at 5 p.m. on Wednesday was welcome. We each paid $15, which went toward student scholarships. It wasn’t a big group, as you can see, but we stuck together and had a great time getting to know each other! I saw one of the women in the lobby later that night and she kindly invited me to hang out with her and some other people she knew, two of whom are living in Minnesota so I look forward to maintaining those connections.

img_0091

On Thursday evening, I took the Metro for a short ride up to Woodley Park. I went to the 7 p.m. led half primary series. Earlier in the day, I didn’t feel like going. I was completely exhausted from “conferencing” (those of you who have been to multi-day conferences know what I mean) as well as spending Thursday afternoon walking about 5 miles in between visiting the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the National Portrait Gallery.

I went back to the hotel room to change and it was so cool in there! The bed looked so comfortable! But even though I was exhausted, it was exhaustion that just felt gross. I knew that if I stayed in the room all evening and laid around, I would feel even worse and more gross.

Thankfully I’ve been practicing ashtanga long enough to know that the physical activity would give me a boost of energy. So I packed my travel yoga mat into my bag and walked (again!) a few blocks to the Metro.

I’m so glad I did! If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have experienced:

  • A part of DC I hadn’t been to before.
  • Seeing another beautiful ashtanga studio.
  • Mental clarity and a lift of my mood (which continued well into the next day).
  • Sharing my practice with welcoming, kind and gentle people.
  • A fabulous Lebanese restaurant down the street from the studio that nourished me after practice.
  • A gorgeous summer evening sitting outside in the city.

I’m still getting used to practicing yoga and running while traveling. The running thing has been working out well for about a year. Usually when I travel, I am busy and tired. In the past I have given myself a break while traveling. Traveling by itself is tiring with the flights and time changes and strange hotel rooms where you might not sleep well. But finally I have realized that squeezing in a quick run is the perfect antidote to that exhaustion. And honestly, after a day of sitting and taking in conference sessions, I want to move my body and not think anymore.

Yoga while traveling is really new to me. I found a yoga studio in Alnwick, England, when I was there in May, and now Woodley Park Yoga. I also did a morning practice in my hotel room on Wednesday, which I had never done before. So this is all part of my renewed commitment to Ashtanga.

Tell me about your workouts/yoga practice while traveling! Please share any tips you have. For example, I have a travel yoga mat and also some Yoga Paws gloves and socks. My travel mat is slippery so the gloves and socks work well, and you wouldn’t even need a mat with them because the grip is good.

* Title is in reference to this old TV show:

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 8.05.56 AM

Throw off the mask

Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 10.47.30 AM
Photo from MaxPixel: https://www.maxpixel.net/Venezia-Italy-Venice-Carnival-Venetian-Mask-Mask-1984724 

What does a yogi look like?

What does a writer look like?

What does a runner look like?

What does a mother look like?

Look in the mirror, and you will see.

We like to tell ourselves stories, don’t we? We strive for something and we think that means we have to be a certain way. If I’m a writer I should write XX minutes/hours a day. If I’m a runner I should run XX minutes/hours a day at XX pace. If I’m a mother, I need to do all the things other mothers are doing. And if I’m a yogi, I need to practice XX minutes/hours a day, I need to get into certain poses, I need to eat a certain way, I need to act a certain way, etc.

If you are living an authentic life, and striving to be your true self in your heart and not wearing any masks, then you are doing perfectly what you set out to do.

I’m in the process of letting go of what I think it means to be a yogi, a writer, a runner. I AM those things right now, in this moment, because I’m doing my best. Of course I need to hold myself accountable if I’m not trying to improve or learn more or am not being true to myself.

I just finished Perfectly Imperfect by Baron Baptiste, and I’ll leave you with his words:

“I see a real yogi as someone who is committed to growth and to being the best version of themselves, and, at the same time, is courageous enough to be fully present and authentic in each moment. Someone who is not afraid to get real about the whole mess of who they are — the good, the bad, and the ugly; someone who can be open and own that they get depressed, stressed out, pissed off; that they sometimes yell at their spouse; that they watch television, drink coffee, eat bacon.”

He goes on: “…hiding behind a mask costs us so much and leaves us with so little. On the surface, we may look polished and ‘perfect,’ but hiding our true self in all its dimensions saps our life energy and robs us of the freedom to express ourselves genuinely, from the heart.”

Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 10.43.51 AM
Baron Baptiste

My first Ashtanga workshop!

Angela
Me and Angela Jamison. Angela, what a beautiful soul. I’m so grateful that she represented my first Ashtanga workshop. 

I finished my 200-hour RYT training in June. As the training wrapped up, I knew my next move was to devote more of myself to Ashtanga. To me, this involves four aspects:

* Cultivating a home practice, seeing as the nearest shala is a 90-minute drive away.

* Self-study of Ashtanga and yogic principles through reading of classic and modern texts.

* Continued self-evaluation and self-improvement. In the words of Angela Jamison (see below), what’s my stuff?

* Learning through face-to-face transmission through workshops and teachers.

I’ve been working on the first one and second one since June. I’ve been working on the third one for almost two years, but seriously and consistently for about a year. And the last one is very new — I’m coming off a weekend workshop with Angela Jamison, hosted by Ellie of Ashtanga Yoga Minneapolis.

I took pages of notes, practiced alongside 15 other ashtangis, and in general had a transformative and uplifting experience over the 10 hours. Plenty of blog posts will come from this experience! But for now, let me list some quick impressions:

* Angela Jamison is a beautiful soul. She is warm and empathic and encouraging.

* I just finished teaching a five-week summer session class at MSU-Mankato. That was an intense experience like none other, giving instruction day after day. How great it felt to sit quietly and absorb instruction, to be on the other side of the desk, so to speak!

* Ellie at AYM has a great shala space. The building is a former convent, and I could feel the sacred power of sanctuary lingering in the room. From where I sat, I could see the church across the street, which offered a symbol for quiet contemplation.

Church

Chapel

* I soaked up the “tribe” aspect of Ashtanga. Back when I was practicing at Sun Moon, back when I thought it was only a physical practice, I still felt the power of the tribe and it was that I missed the most when Mona stopped offering Ashtanga. So to be back in a group of people committed to this practice felt like I was at “home.”

* I’ve been on this path for far longer than I had imagined. Angela said something about figuring out your stuff before you could fully embrace the practice. I have been drawn to self-study for the past year, for reasons that weren’t quite clear to me (or for reasons that seemed clear at the time, but now I see those weren’t the real reasons). The real reason was to prepare a clean heart for a commitment to the Ashtanga practice.

Have you attended yoga workshops? What has your experience been like?

A new marathon training plan

The dogs visited me at the end of my long run on July 4. Yes, that’s a hydration pack. The dew point was around 70, with temps in the upper 70s.

Between June 30 and July 4 I put in a couple of long runs, two in five days. I couldn’t avoid it from a scheduling perspective, but it actually worked out OK.

I’m using a new marathon training plan this time around. I’m using the Galloway run/walk method. I’ve known about it and known friends who have done it, but I’d never taken the time to investigate it further until this year.

I’m doing 3 minutes of running and 1 minute of walking. The whole point behind this method is that over the course of a marathon (or even a half marathon), you are saving your legs and therefore feeling fresh (or relatively fresh) toward the end. My problem in previous marathons is that I’m pretty much tapped out by mile 20 and I have to mostly walk. If this method allows me to keep running in those last miles, that will be a vast improvement.

I am loving this method so far! It has allowed me to bump up the long-run mileage fairly quickly. By the time I started training in early June, I realized I was a few weeks behind in the training already (it’s six-month training program). So I did a quick build up each week to catch up — a couple of 8s, then a 10, 13 miles on June 30 and on July 4 a 15. This method is allowing me to save my legs. In previous trainings, no way could I have run 13 miles and then five days later run 15 miles. And I’ve completed the long runs feeling good for the rest of the day and the next day. I can move around and function and do yoga without almost any soreness.

The walk breaks also allow me some much-needed mental rest. In previous trainings, I would take a short walk break every two miles on long runs. But two miles is a long way, especially when you get further into the run and you want a break sooner than that. But with a 3-1 pattern, even when I’m tired toward the end of a run, I tell myself, it’s only three minutes. You can run for three minutes and then you get a break.

You might think it’s boring to run/walk that far. On July 4 I was out there for three hours, counting by 3-1 the whole time. But actually, it gives me something to think about and makes the time go by faster. I find myself focusing only on the next three minutes, then the next minute. I think it’s keeping me more in the moment — which is such a yoga thing to do!

The newness of this approach and the focus it gives me on runs is actually making me look forward to the long training runs. That has never been the case before!

But I can’t say that training for a marathon is easy for me. Though I’m feeling better on my runs and after, some challenges remain:

* I’m kind of always tired. Some days are better than others, but by evenings I’m usually wiped out.

* As always, I’m squeezed for time. There’s work, and there’s running, and if I can fit in some other things, that’s great, but it doesn’t always happen. Right now I’m also trying to focus on my writing and my yoga practice, so when I do that there’s really not a lot of time for anything else.

* Oh, and the heat! I love, love, love fall marathons. But that means you’re doing the bulk of your training in the summer. I used to be really resistant to the heat but I am learning to embrace it, so actually training this summer hasn’t been as bad as other summers.

Overall, knowing that I’m running for a cause this time around casts a whole new, exciting light on this adventure!

Trust yourself. Question your habits. Find the reward in trying something new.

For about 13 years, I had taken Ashtanga classes at only one place — Sun Moon Yoga in Mankato. That changed on Thursday when I drove to Minneapolis to take a Mysore-style class at Minneapolis Yoga.

When Mona took Ashtanga off the schedule at Sun Moon, I really missed it, though I understand that it was hard for her to find qualified teachers. It’s true that I didn’t practice regularly at the studio, but there were times when I attended nearly weekly for 3-4 month stretches. So when it completely disappeared from the schedule, I missed it more than I thought I would.

The absence of an Ashtanga class, combined with my resistance to cultivating a home practice, meant that Ashtanga was absent from my life for the last couple of years save for a shortened practice every once in a while at home. But during my yoga teacher training, I felt strongly pulled to taking up Ashtanga again.

So if I was going to be serious about this, I knew I would have to make a commitment to attending a class. Ashtanga is a very specialized style of yoga, so classes aren’t easy to find. In addition, you want to put yourself in the hands of a capable teacher with whom you’re compatible.

I had some reservations going into Thursday. Mostly, would I be doing it right? What would this teacher think of my practice? David Rogers looked nice and kind when I did my research about him, but what if he was going to be one of those hard and critical teachers you sometimes hear about?

But in general I looked forward to the adventure. If things didn’t go well, then I just wouldn’t go back. But if things did go well, this had the potential for cracking something open for me.

In short, it went very well. Two days later, my mind is still spinning. I gained an entirely new perspective on Ashtanga and I feel newly motivated to practice.

Some of my main takeaways:

* Wow, it was warm in the studio! The class before mine was a Bikram class. David opened the doors and windows, but it didn’t really cool off. So there’s me, the yoga practitioner who had always been resistant to a hot practice, on my mat with sweat rolling off my face, down my back, my arms, my legs, etc. And I loved it. In all those years of practicing Ashtanga in relative coolness and comfort, I realized I was not getting the maximum detoxifying benefits. Let the sweat drip!

* I have some habits to break. David pointed out a couple of things with a gentle, “Why are you doing it like that?” One thing that will take a lot of work is doing a chaturanga with my elbows slightly out instead of squeezed into my ribs. He also showed me some poses in which a flat back was not the primary goal — lengthening the spine could come later.

* This was my first true Mysore experience. In traditional Mysore, a teacher will stop you when he or she feels you have had enough. I didn’t quite get through all the forward folds when David stopped me from progressing further into the sequence. I was grateful — I had so much new information to digest and I was getting tired.

* I had the confidence to do things I had never done before. I explained to David that I didn’t do jump backs. He simply said, “Why not?” And I realized that I didn’t have a good answer. So I gave a weak excuse about worrying that I wouldn’t do them correctly or that I would lose form. He went into a speech about how much we worry about something “looking right” that we don’t even want to try. Mind. Blown. I couldn’t see something so simple for myself.

* I also got the feel for chakrasana (the backward roll in Ashtanga to get from one pose to another in the seated sequence). David helped me — I will need some work to get it on my own — but it felt great to go through the motion. Again — Mind. Blown.

* I had a chance to explain Ashtanga to a group of people unfamiliar with it. As I was waiting for class to start, the sweaty Bikram students came out to join me on the patio. Since Ashtanga is fairly new to Minneapolis Yoga, a lot of them didn’t know about it so they were asking me all sorts of questions. They also liked my dedication to the class for driving a total of three hours for one hour of class 🙂 The three hours in the car offered a wonderful opportunity to listen to books!

* I love the built-in community at a yoga studio. That community is evident at Sun Moon, but it’s also a community where I know a lot of people. Even though I didn’t know anyone at Minneapolis Yoga, we all sat around the patio for a few minutes smiling and talking and sharing our experiences.

There’s so much I’m forgetting. Each moment during class was a special one where my brain was working overtime in digesting the information and also soaking in the experience. I look forward to going back! In the meantime, you will find me on my mat practicing chaturangas and chakrasana at home or in the Fitness for 10 studio after teaching my Tuesday/Thursday classes.

That special yoga glow, lol!

Running for a cause

Rachael_marathon_RR
Me during the inaugural year of Mankato Marathon, 2010. This was around Mile 20. My colleague Rick Robbins yelled at me and then snapped the photo. 

Marathons are hard for me. Training for marathons are hard and time-consuming. Some days (most days) I dreaded the long training runs.

I’ve done five marathons over the past 18 years. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment when the marathon is completed, but the time commitment and mental/physical energy it takes to train is always what prevented me from doing more marathons.

Honestly, doing one marathon (in 2000) was enough of a personal fulfillment for me. It was kind of a bucket list thing — all right, I did that, now I can move on to the next thing. I guess I did my second marathon (in 2005) just to see if I had it in me to do more than one. I did my third marathon (2008) with a friend. My fourth, in 2010, because it was the first year of the Mankato Marathon. My fifth, six years later, because I was newly inspired after watching friends complete a grueling, hot Grandma’s Marathon.

After that, I knew I was done doing marathons for personal reasons. I didn’t have anything to prove to myself. I told myself the only reason I would do another one is if it went beyond me. I could imaginemyself running for someone else or for a cause.

Now 2018 has presented that opportunity. A friend asked me to be a Champion Runner for the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota. This was a cause that would inspire me to train, to go beyond myself.

So the funny thing is, I don’t have kids. At the surface, maybe I don’t seem to be a natural champion of the Children’s Museum. But the entire community benefits when our kids are well-served. The well-being and education of children is a big part of what makes this community great. I work at a place (MSU-Mankato) that needs to recruit talent from across the country, and being a community that is supportive of families and children is one way to entice people to live and work here. Mankato is home to many employers who know the value of being in a family-oriented community.

I support the Children’s Museum because small people who learn to love learning grow into big people who love to love learning. I get the “big people” in my classrooms at MSU-Mankato. In an instant, I can pick out the young adults who were exposed to learning and curiosity at a young age. They are the students who are still curious, outgoing, and love to learn. The more of them, the better! I am happy to support the education of children at these very young ages, and Children’s Museum does a great job of that.

So when I go out for those long runs this summer, when the temperature and humidity make the outdoors feel like a greenhouse, I will be thinking of how the Children’s Museum supports the kids of our community and I’ll have a reason to run that goes beyond myself.

I humbly thank you for the consideration of a donation to my Champion Runner cause. If you’re not on Facebook but would like to donate, please leave a comment.

 

My friend, the 24-Hour Bicycle Challenge champion!

Screen Shot 2018-06-17 at 4.23.35 PM
Becky Fjelland Brooks. Photo by Jackson Forderer, Mankato Free Pres. 

Do you want to be inspired? Read on! Otherwise, just skip this.

I’ve known Becky Fjelland (Davis) Brooks for I don’t know…13, 14 years? She’s that type of friend who you don’t even remember first meeting…you just feel like you’ve been friends from birth. I DO know that I started biking with her in 2007 and in that year, she invited me to join her writing group, which had already been meeting for about three years.

This is a woman a generation older than me (she technically could be my mom, though she would have been a very young mom, lol!). However, she could always kick my butt on the bike! Which from Day 1 earned my respect and admiration. Even though she could kick my butt, she didn’t act like it. Becky is a woman that wants ALL women to bike and be active and is the hugest supporter of women and fitness — ZERO competition! I can’t tell you how many times she’s ridden with me WAY more slowly than she could have — but she just wanted to be supportive and have social time!

On Sunday, June 17, this woman won her age group at the National 24-Hour Challenge bike race in Caledonia, Michigan! Did I mention that her age group is 60-64?! Becky rode her bike for 24 hours, only stopping briefly for bathroom breaks and snacks. She completed 349.5 miles during that time to set the age-group record.

Less than three years ago, Becky suffered a brain aneurysm as she was preparing to go out for a December ride. This 24-hour challenge was her goal as she recovered.

“My son and I were kind of joking, ‘In two years, we’ll go back to the 24-hour race.’ It was a joke — but also a carrot,” she told the Mankato Free Press in the June 15 edition.

The one and only time I could keep up with Becky was when I went out with her on her first rides after her aneurysm, in the summer of 2016. I told her, “The only time I can keep up with you is when you’re recovering from a brain explosion!” LOL!

Becky is the ultimate role model. This is precisely what I love about her:

“People write things off when they get to 50, 60 years old and think they’re not going to get back,” she said. “But we can. We can do more than we give ourselves credit for. I made training a priority. I made getting in shape a priority. And it worked.”

I’m training for a fall marathon and Becky is a major inspiration. If she can get on her bike for 24 hours at the age of 61, surely I can run for 5 hours at the age of 43. If she trained hard during a harsh Minnesota winter, I can get out there for training runs during a Minnesota summer.

No excuses. We all have the power to change our lives, to change our level of fitness.

Let Becky lead the way!

Becky is also a super impressive middle-grade/young-adult/essay writer. Read more of her writing here.