Good Morning, Sunshine!

My goodness, it is HARD to get out of bed on Monday morning! I just couldn’t get my eyes open. It was hot, so I woke up feeling loggy (is that actually a word?) and stuffed up and just could not motivate myself to get moving. However, in keeping to my commitment to maintaining my morning practice, I rolled out of the bed (better late than never), stiff-walked into the bathroom and then straight into the yellow room. Fired up the computer & fed the cats while it turned itself on. Put in a 20 minute yoga DVD and rolled out my mat & put on my shorts & t-shirt while it set up. I yawned through practically the entire thing, but I did it and I was glad. 🙂 Had my cereal & banana for breakfast, grabbed my lunch (chili – see yesterday’s post) and got on my bike.
Oh, my – what a beautiful morning for a bike ride! Not a cloud in the sky. Birds singing. Breeze wafting. Just lovely! I had decided to wear a skirt to work today since the weather is so hot. I think that may have been a mistake, though, as the ride was very …. refreshing…as my skirt kept riding up my legs. At least I gave local traffic something to smile at, eh? LOL!

yoga & my crock pot

One of the things I learned in Weight Watchers was to pre-plan and prepare meals ahead of time. Now, while I always admired people who were organized enough to do that, it wasn’t something that I ever actually tried to do very often for myself. I was always too busy. Oh, sometimes I’d go through a phase but it never lasted beyond a week. But during the time that I was loosing that burdensome 60 pounds, it became an essential tool, and it worked very well. I was working 1/2 days and I had the afternoons to browse cook books and decide what I wanted to make. I would make big crock pots of stew or soup  I would get two suppers for us plus 5 lunches for me out of each crock-pot creation. Luckily, I am happy to eat the same thing several days in a row.  My crock pot soups were a staple in our diet. My weight loss journey, like my balance journey was moving forward, sometimes going gangbusters and sometimes wobbling a bit, but staying strong throughout – relying on new habits and tools – like crock pot chili and my new yoga practice.

If you’ll indulge me, I can relate this to my yoga practice.  Yes, I can! I think of this phase as being in Warrior II. Feet firmly rooted, legs strong. Arms long and reaching, chest open – powerful and grounded. Stable and steady. Knowing there was someplace to move forward towards. Moving forwards towards Warrior I. Hips square off to the front foot. Arms reach overhead. I’m a little wobbly at first, but soon begin to settle down and feel strong again. Relying on the strength of my core and my legs. Knowing that they were there for me because I had built the habit of my morning practice. Like the habit of pre-planning my meals, I could rely on that.

Then my 1/2 days ended and my job reverted to full-time. Okay – I knew that this was happening. I knew which day it was happening on. But somehow, I didn’t plan for it. The first day, Kelly and I looked at each other and said “what’s for supper?” Aaak! There was nothing pre-planned. So we had soup and sandwiches. And again the next day. And the next. We started to look at each other in panic every morning and I would say, “just take something out of the freezer and we’ll figure it out tonight.” I gained 8 of my lost discarded pounds back in what felt like over night. Because not pre-planning means more than settling for a hurried dinner, it means that when I walk through the door at the end of the day, I can’t rely on knowing that a nutritious, point-friendly meal is only minutes away. So I start to snack while I figure out what I’m going to cook for supper. That’s a meal-worth of snacking while I’m making dinner. It also means I don’t have lunches planned for the week. And that means dashing around in the morning, getting stressed because I don’t know what I’m taking for lunch. Making me late and grumpy.

Yes, something was seriously out of balance in the meal department. It took me until this morning to figure out what it was. So, this morning, I stood in my nightgown in my sun-filled kitchen and started chopping vegetables. I filled my crock pot with whatever I could find in my fridge and cupboards and I made a chili. This will be 2 suppers and 5 lunches for the week plus some for the freezer. Later today I will look in the freezer and decide what I need from the store to make another meal that will do for 3 more suppers for the week. I put the knife down and stand in mountain pose for a moment, feeling balance flood through me. Feeling okay for the week ahead.

Warrior III –  my standing leg is rooted deep into the earth as place my hands on my hips, lean forward and lift my back leg straight out from the hip, my flexed foot reaching through the heel. My hands stretch out to the sides, then forward. I am a plane, flying. I tip and wobble. I touch the wall for balance, I touch my toe back down for balance. I try again. How long can I hold the pose each time? I practice and keep trying. I know that I will eventually hold it strong and true. I have the tools. I have prepared for this moment. My heel reaches strong to the back – to the past. My standing leg is strongly rooted into the ground – into the present. My hands reach forward to the future.

Today’s chili happens to be vegan:
black beans (1 can)
diced tomatoes (2 cans)
chopped carrots (approx. 2 cups)
1 medium chopped zucchini
1 double handful chopped mushrooms
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
4  “use-today-or-throw-away” tomatoes found in the back of the fridge
2 T chili powder (I like my chili mild)

Put everything into a 15-quart crock pot. Cook on low most of the day. Don’t make it too liquidy because the vegetables will cook down and make their own juice. You can pretty much throw in whatever vegetables you have in the fridge – especially ones that need to get used up quickly (like my tomatoes). Serve with rice. If fact, do like I do and make a big pot of rice and store it in the fridge – reheating portions as needed during the week.


My home yoga practice

Another part of my balance journey is recognizing that I need to create balance and health in my mind, body & spirit. Toward this end, I am very proud to say that I have started a home yoga practice over the past several weeks and I feel quite devoted to it. I have always enjoyed yoga, and some time a month or so ago I decided to practice every day. I have taken classes off and on for many years and I have a small collection of DVDs that I would put on now and again. I read, and I work with “live” teachers when I have questions. Also, I have a lot of training in dance and dance instruction, which has resulted in good self-awareness & body knowledge. I know when something feels safe and when something doesn’t, so I’ve always felt okay to work with my DVDs on my own.

When we re-did the flooring in the house this month, I took the opportunity to re-vamp my sewing room, which I have always called the “yellow” room since we painted it several years ago, into a multi-purpose room. I packed the sewing machine & portable table to a place where it’s accessible to set up when I need to use it but otherwise out of the way. I mean, I don’t sew everyday. Or even every week. Or every month! I sew in spurts. When I’m not sewing, the machine can live elsewhere. I then sorted my stash of fat quarters into clear plastic containers according to colour family and put them on a bookshelf along with all my treasured books and DVDs. It’s so nice to see all my things so clearly!

 I cleared out the entire room so the floor is bare of all but the necessary furniture, and it looks very nice with the wood laminate floors. I hung pretty sheer curtains in the window and hung my favourite prints on the walls. The walls are bright sunshine yellow. I kept my rocking chair, so that I could sit in there and have a place to be alone. I also set my laptop up on the sideboard that I use for storage so that I have something to play my yoga & Pilates DVDs on. It is a very tiny room, but there is just enough space to roll out my yoga mat in front of the computer screen and that’s all I need.

Every morning I grumble my way out of bed and make my way down the hall to my yellow room, roll out the mat, fire up the computer and choose from my small collection of DVDs. While the DVD is loading, I feed my two very hungry cats (who start protesting their hunger the moment my feet hit the floor). Misty is on the chest, watching, in this photo.

Then I begin. I am always stiff in the morning –who isn’t! But as the days have gone on, I find that the stiffness leaves my body sooner than it used to do. I am now putting my palms on the floor after only the third standing forward bend. A small victory, but important and one I am grateful for.

Some mornings I do only 20 minutes. Other mornings I do 40 – 60 minutes. I’ve begun noticing how much better I feel during the day. I start my day with more energy and purpose. My muscles are a little sore, but not terribly – just enough so I know I’ve worked them. I rotate my DVDs so the practice is slightly different every day. Sometimes I add a Pilates or other different workout to my practice. This morning I did a 20 minute Pilates workout followed by a 20 minute yoga session and then I rode my bike to work. What a great way to start the week!

Zumba & me, not meant to be

Along with my weight-loss and balance journey, I have also been re-discovering my love of fitness classes. Like most people interested in a variety of fitness avenues, I like to try different things and will often sign up for a session of something new and interesting when it fits my schedule. Zumba has finally made its way to Whitehorse and is making a big splash up here. I was excited to see that a lunch-time session was going to be offered here at the College over the winter because it sounded like a lot of fun – it certainly has a lot of upbeat word-of-mouth advertising! I signed up and paid for the first 6-week session, marked the day in my calendar and waited with eager anticipation. On the first day, I brought my gym kit to work with me, and trooped off to the gym with 3 co-workers to try it out. I was stoked & ready to go!  Yah! The class started! It was great! And then…it started to go flat. I started to feel unhappy. Now, I love  aerobics classes. I love dance. I love trying new things. I should have loved Zumba.

One thing that bothered me was the absence of pointers or breakdowns. The leader did the movements at the front of the class and was very high energy & exuberant – yipping in joy and smiling big. She was certainly fun to watch! But she led the class with no instructions or corrections. Now, from what I have heard, this is standard practice in all Zumba classes.  I was told that if I couldn’t follow along, to just “do your own thing.”  Okay. Here’s my problem: while the “follow the bouncing butt” method has its place in dance classes where students who have already learned proper technique follow the teacher in a led improvisation,  I question the method in a fitness class where delicate lower backs and knees can easily be compromised by unfamiliar movements and where the teacher does not know what, if any, prior experience or body knowledge her students are bringing with them.  So, the Zumba participants followed & interpreted, each in her own way, what she thought the leader was doing, resulting in a dozen or so compromised lower backs. In fact, just the other day, a co-worker mentioned that she loved the energy of the Zumba class but had stopped going because it was bothering her back. I showed her how to use the lower abs to lift & drop the pelvis instead of throwing the hips backward with jerk from the lumbar spine. She tried out the movement with me in the staff room and I corrected her form. She thought she might give Zumba another try as that was the reason she had quit. I was happy because she did enjoy it so much.  In my opinion, this is something the Zumba leader should have been doing. Just take a couple of minutes at the start of the class to go over the proper way to do a pelvic drop so you don’t hurt yourself.  It doesn’t appear that the Zumba method includes this.

Another thing to be aware of is that if you have bad knees, you should wear dance shoes (such as athletic dance shoes) instead of regular (sticky grip) athletic shoes to avoid torque in your knees during the sliding & twisting movements.  Now, I have squirrelly knees and I protect them like mad from twisting movements. So, because I was not wearing a shoe that would allow me to slide, my knees quickly began to hurt. I switched to a small jump through all of the twists and turns side to side, but it didn’t really improve things much. It took the rest of the week for my knees to recover after each class. I went to three of the six classes and it never improved, so I decided not to return. 

Zumba was also a bit too frantic for me. I left each class feeling … jangly (if that’s a word!) But that’s okay. I’m really glad I tried it out. It just wasn’t a good fit for me – wasn’t my cup of tea.

If you try a Zumba class and don’t love it, though, be warned! Zumba aficionados are very passionate about their classes. Be prepared to get flamed if you say it out loud, because in my experience it is not acceptable to not enjoy Zumba. 

Anyway, Zumba classes are still being offered over the lunch hour here at the college and I think it is a fabulous thing to have exercise classes right on campus. I’m happy because the people who attend really enjoy it and that’s a good thing.

I have also done Bellyfit, which is similar to Zumba in some ways. Zumba uses movement from Latin America & West Africa. Bellyfit uses movements from Silk Road cultures (India, Middle East, North Africa).  A Bellyfit class consists of high energy aerobic dance movements for the first half of the class, followed by yoga-inspired stretch & meditation for the second half. I liked it. It had a nice balance of energies which is a better match for my personality.  In fact, I may take the Bellyfit training program so I can offer Bellyfit classes in Whitehorse someday. We’ll see. (wink wink!)

Finding Balance part 1: time management

Three years ago I started a Balance Quest. The journey has evolved gradually, and shows no sign of slowing down.  I have been learning a lot of lessons, and I thought that maybe I would share some of that story here in hopes that others might take some little lesson or thought away with them to put towards their own journey.

Three years ago I came to the realization that my life was out of balance. I felt busy to the point of compulsion. I felt trapped into being the person that everyone around me perceived me to be. When I would just sit still and do “nothing”, I felt I was being lazy. I didn’t know if it was okay for me to be lazy, so I would experiment and say “I’m so lazy” out loud to someone.  The rejoinder was always “you are the least lazy person I know!” Whenever I would hear that, the feeling I would get around my heart was one of disappointment – of not being validated. It was not okay for me to be lazy. I was not allowed to be lazy because “everyone” knows me to be a busy person. But I was always tired. I would fantasize about being in an accident (a minor one!) or of getting sick and having to go to the hospital where I could lay in bed and nurses would take care of me. Maybe read to me or rub my hands and feet until I felt like being whole again.  I realized I was burning out.  I was burning out because I was out of balance.

And so I began a journey towards finding balance. Towards becoming a balanced person. Towards having whole and fulfilled heart, filled by me, not alternately filled & depleted by other people. So of course, the first thing I realized was that I needed to stop defining myself by what others expected of me. This is very difficult! I still feel today that I have only made baby steps in this direction. But baby steps are better than no steps.

The very first thing I looked at three years ago was time management. I was working a full-time day job, teaching 6 bellydance classes & two troupe rehearsals each week & playing in the band on Monday nights. I was also choreographing & producing an annual stage show at the Arts Centre and organizing annual workshops with outside master instructors. It was great, but eventually something had to give out. What “gave out” was me. Literally! So I cut everything in half. I cut both my day job and my dance job in half by requesting a re- assignment into a temporary ½ time position at work and cutting my dance class offerings down to 3 per week.

That first year off, I choreographed & produced Raqs Farrah, the dance of happiness with Saba, Saqra and the Mediterranean Raqs Band. That was a fabulous show and I am very proud of my dancers. But, I did it from a place of absolute and total exhaustion. I could not have done it if I had been working full time. However, I did not feel that I had taken any great strides in my balance quest. I was still tired.

My second year working part-time, I did not produce a show. I did, however, work with the Yukon Arts Centre to bring Yasmina Ramzy and her Arabesque Dance Company & Orchestra to Whitehorse to perform OUM and to give a workshop. That was wonderful. It was also all the stress that I could manage. I came home every day at noon and fell asleep on the couch or zoned out in-front-of the television that year. It was hard, but I let myself be okay with that.  

My third year working part-time was full of creative energy. I choreographed a full show of brand new works for Saba and we did Rockin’ the Casbah at the Arts Centre. You can read those blogs under the Rockin’ the Casbah categories. I did this show from a place of relaxed and youthful energy, and I think it showed. I think my dancers felt it, too.  

Last month my stint of working part-time ended and I am now working full-time Monday-Thursday. I will  have Friday’s off for just a little while longer. I am so grateful to have had this time. I feel rested and clear headed.

I have learned that the next step in the time management aspect of my Balance Quest will be to re-invent Celebrations Bellydance. I know that I cannot return to the way I was before because my candle no longer has two ends. And I want my weekends back. I want to spend Sunday’s with my husband or take a quilting seminar or do whatever normal people do on Sunday. I still don’t know exactly what the changes will look like, but I have some ideas of things I would like to do that will feed my own creative soul. I want to continue sharing Arabic dance with my students and with the public. I want to continue creating stage shows. I talked a bit about it in an earlier blog post here.

Anyway, that’s how my journey started. I’d like to write about it now and again. Stay tuned!

No more grumps today

I was grumpy when I got up this morning. No reason. Just grumpy. Then I decided to ride my bike to work. Why? I wasn’t going to. I even had an excuse! I have a physio appointment after work for my sore shoulder. So I needed the car. But then honesty kicked in and I remembered I wasn’t playing games with my weight loss journey anymore. What did I have to be honest about? Well…the fact that I have to ride right past the physio clinic on my way home. So really, I don’t need the car at all. I just have to leave work an extra 10 minutes early to get there in time. So I rode my bike. I grumped right out the door. I couldn’t get the kick stand up. I grumped back into the house to grumble at my husband, who came outside and put the kick stand up for me. I grumbled right out the driveway and for about half a block. And then I started to smile. God, I love riding my bike to work. I truly and honestly do. By the time I got there I was all smiles and ready for the day. No more grumps for me today!