Haydn & my Best Running Doula (to date)

Aisslinn Nosky and the Handel and Haydn Society performed this weekend and I was overwhelmed!

IMG_7371I took a quick demographic survey of the audience and clearly, classical music performances are not most of my peers idea of a good time; I think they’re missing out.  This ensemble is brilliant! I saw the group perform for a holiday concert in December and the concertmaster of that performance, Susanna Ogata won my heart.  She is a spirited and involved musician. Apart from the mastery, technique and precise interpretation of the orchestra, what I loved most about watching her play, was that I was watching her with the rest of the orchestra celebrate a love affair.

So, I came back for more this month only to have a new beau. The principal bass player models this same finesse.  Anthony Manzo expressively sang his solo and smartly  complimented the melodious refrain for the violins. The performance of the overture to Lo Speziale<–listen! made me dance in my seat.  What exactitude! Moreover, what joy!  When Nosky lead the Violin Concerto in C Major, Hob. vila:1, I wanted to be invited to the party.  Her leadership, her smiles, the pensive glances between her and Ogata made me want in on the party.  There were smiles, furrowed eyebrows of intense concentration, and more smiles.  There was intensity.  At times there were supportive roles, a bystander approach and other times center stage with fireworks.

Watching this group perform was a great honor.  Hearing them play a gift, but watch the dialogue, the interaction and the commitment of each musician to the totality of this theater of performance won my heart.  They had fun playing and also terrific respect for their leaders. How could you not, Nosky has loud  hair and a punk fashion sense.  Take that #cashmereandpearls! (read Carol Christ’s response to the movement)  There was bow waiving and feet stamping and gratitude in the faces of the performers.  Appreciation for their hours of practice and their mutual commitment to such exactitude.

And of course, it was me watching them perform and so I thought of birth.  (you knew that was coming, right?!)  But I also thought of training.

Another recent night, someone offered to run part of an upcoming marathon with me to keep me company.  If you know me, you know this is exactly what I don’t want. My husband tried to “run me in” my first marathon and I just wanted to trip him for having the energy at mile 23 that I did not have.  I didn’t trip him and I tried to remain gracious but really, I wanted to be in my own space.  My husband did run our friend in the last miles of her marathon and she loved it. She said she couldn’t do it without knowing someone had her back until the end.

To that end, we’re all different, we all need different things.  When I trained for my first half-marathon, my friend and I did it together. Together, remotely.  She was in Wisconsin and I was in Massachusetts.  We checked in during training and then took off from the start together 8-weeks later.  Two years later, when we trained for our first marathon, Millie ran one in WI and I did one around the same time at home.  She is an awesome training partner.  I had another running friend, who we’ll call Katie (because that’s her name). She was my rock. We actually did our long runs together on the same morning, in the same city.  We were training for different races but we supported each other, pushed each other further and laughed. We really laughed!  Even when I didn’t think we could do another mile, it was so easy for Katie to talk me into it. She never pushed the pace, she never let me overtake her.  We were truly always in stride on the asphalt.  We talked or didn’t talk. I said I need a break. We took a break. I said let’s push the pace. We did. We said, let’s do a tempo run on Tuesday and we did.  We added hills to our route and we roared at the top. #xcHabitsDieHard

I love my husband and I realize he had the best intentions of supporting me during that run.  He wanted the best race experience for me.  But, what would have helped him in a race, did not help me.  He’s my best friend and I don’t hold this against him. He did his best and I was doing mine. What I really needed, was a doula for that race.  I needed Katie to just show up and be there and not explicitly ask anything of me. Its AN ART to be present in intense silent, pacing, inter-conversation.  As a support person, (an orchestra to the soloist), (or a training buddy), there’s respect, support, moving toward and backing away.  We do that during parts of a marathon course and we do that during a labor and the first days of motherhood.

In Sum, support the H+H Society (tickets are cheap!). Find a doula you like.  Find a running buddy, remotely or nearby.  And then express yo’ self!

This post is for Millie, Hans, Annalee, Katie and all the new Moms and Dads, especially those who have adopted recently (go Kristin! Yah Smithies!), and in memory of Mr. Hofreiter (best conductor ever) who gave me confidence and Nneka who inspires still.  

Love and Peace, Yogis.

IMG_7365                                         IMG_7347                                IMG_7381


My Running Story: the marriage of stretch & sprint

Many of you know my yoga story.  This is my running story.

In high school, I remember hyperventilating at every indoor track meet. Could I win? probably not. But if I worked hard enough, I probably could earn points for my team.  Would I earn enough points? I was scared to fail. And it felt terrible to come in 2nd or 3rd each time. I never won.  And, my high school’s track was in the center of the gymnasium.  If you watched the swim meet, the viewing deck opened out onto the track.  Watching wrestling, fencing or squash?  Just turn around and see us running. It seemed the 400, my better race, sometimes had a big crowd. But the 50m dash ALWAYS happened during the other sports’ halftime.

During the spring season, I could figure out how to use the blocks to my advantage. They slowed me down. But I still had to use them.  I pulled my groin once pushing off too hard. I remember I loved track workouts but the meets were dreadful.   I despised being the last one in during cross country but loved that out of body experiences where it felt as though my skin was trying to keep up. My mind was trying to keep up with legs that kept propelling me forward.  I remember the NCISWAA (or whatever) champions of the year trophy. I remember being written about with the star Ashley Brennan as a freshman phenom.  The reporters were just being nice about me.

I loved running. But in the evenings, after study hall and before going to bed, I would flip out and try yoga poses from a book I bought. It was an Iyengar book. Then I got an Astanga book without knowing the two traditions had a history.  My favorite pose was karnapidasana and janusirsasana. I loved hamstring stretches and eventually pulled my hamstrings only I didn’t know it.

I got injured running. I got injured stretching. But I never stopped doing either.

In college, I did sit ups over what I would now, in my new life, call a birthing ball.  The house thought I was athletic but because I’d never won anything, I didn’t believe them.  Housemates told me I should join the XC team. I thought I was too slow despite training 3x week with a winning team member.  One fall, I witnessed my only collegiate track meet in Ainsworth Gymnasium. And stayed away. I still did yoga in my room.

On most weekends after college I would drive up Rt. 2 to watch my sister and her team compete in field hockey. I would run the back roads in the happy valley and then sit in the car for 2 hours. If I missed my run, I would jog through Williamstown and into NY (that happened just once -thank goodness). At the old age of 25, I took home a trophy with my own name on it.  I’d only ever received a medal for placing.

I moved to Boston and a friend in Law School suggested that the only way we’d see each other now that she lived in Wisconsin was if we trained for a race and then saw our other friend in California. I ran 9 miles a few times and then ran my first ½ marathon with an awful hamstring injury and couldn’t walk for a week.

The following year, I enrolled in yoga teacher training and ran the Boston Marathon.

People who I run with don’t understand the allure of yoga: “slow and just stretching=boring.”The yogis “’ think running is unhealthy for the body. Too much stress. Cant’ be good for you”  Both ignore science that confirms stressing the body in long holds makes you more flexible. Stressing the body through strength work makes you stronger. Probably applies to breathing and VO2 max- something runners and yogis care alot about.

I’ve been injured running (1998 groin so bad I slid down the stairs in my dormitory, unable to hold myself up). I’ve been injured practicing yoga (hamstring attachment strain in 2007 that still haunts me). And still, both ways of being are essential to my knowledge of self.

I consider living in an average body. Apart from my chocolate addition, I take care of it, but I’m not a contortionist nor am I a world record holder. Sometimes my flexibility in yoga is curbed by a PR on the road. But, my flexibility has gotten me into trouble. Other times, when running, focused on breathing, I’ve gotten from mile 5 to 18 without knowing how because I’ve just been with myself and only myself for hours. Runners would call that being in the zone, yogis call being present. It is not autopilot, It is clarity that cannot be anticipated or forced.

For me, Running and Yoga augment one to the other. They are similar in that reflection is always relative to your personal best or what your body did last time. Sometimes tempo runs are on the agenda and sometimes holding back to maintain a steady cadence is key.


Yoga Retreat Recap

More snow?! Le sigh. Here’s some sun for you.


A month ago, I left for a fantastic opportunity to teach abroad at a yoga retreat.  Mimi Loureiro included me as one of her senior teachers on this amazing trip.  So, this year, my teaching and my learning  began with some dynamite asana on the Maya Riveria in Tulum, Mexico where O2 Yoga holds their annual retreat.

This was the studio’s 14th trip.  I was invited by the founder/owner Mimi to co-teach at this seven day yoga reset.  It was better than I could have imagined. It was an honor to teach alongside my root teacher (Mimi’s teacher training was the first training I took and when I realized I wanted to be a teacher).  The bonus of being invited was that I got  to soak up the sun!

yoga teachers tulum uttita hasta

Being away kept me fresh and constantly thinking how to use that energy back in my weekly classes. Come to class and check out the adventure.  Tonight, after I taught, a student commented, “that was so interesting! We did so many things I’ve never seen before!”  Another student, added “Your classes are always creative, experimental and fun. Thanks for a great class.”  I do experiment but I think he meant exploratory. I strive to practice all the classes I teach and I am constantly asking myself: Why did I choose this order of postures? How else can we approach this asana? If I move this way does the pose feel more integrated?  How can I get this same posture with less force/effort?  Am I learning something?  And, when I ask myself those questions, I have to change it up, I have to keep evolving.


Last week in class I tried a new cue I polled the class to see if they liked it.  I saw the students bodies respond but when I polled them, the success rate was 50%.  There’s a disconnect between the teaching, the practice and their awareness. So, I go back to the drawing board.  I practiced the sequence more this week and changed it a bit and changed my words. Practice is an opportunity for awareness and realization.  It is not abstract.  Moreover, for me, teaching is so much about learning. I am forever a student.  And I am so grateful for the opportunity Mimi gave me to go Mexico. It’s was a difficult year and I was confronted with new challenges right before I jet set. I am just so humbled by my community of teachers and the generosity of small actions. And my students, you, are more inspiring than you know! Thank you!

Ham Sah – Prenatal Yoga

I had the great pleasure of spending last week doing a teacher training to learn about the specific asana (poses) that benefit and alleviate the symptoms of pregnancy. Certainly an art! Imagine 30 new moms staring at you, hanging on your every word.  Some women have taken yoga classes before and some have only recently heard from a physician or friend that it might be good for them.  Humor me. Imagine the energy of 30 loving moms who want to do the right thing for themselves and their new child.  wow. Ham Sah.

That’s how my first prenatal yoga class began.

I took my training with Barrett Reinhorn who is an extraordinary local yogini and prenatal yoga specialist.  (you can check our her website at fivepointsyoga.com)  Barrett’s taught in the region for more than a decade and as such has built  a community for mother’s who need to relax and reset their ever-changing bodies. Likewise she has perfected a sequence and variation of asana that is empowering, functional and restorative for the pregnant woman.  I learned so much!

The first day of training, we student-teachers watched Barrett teach a room filled with mothers in all weeks of pregnancy.  As the training progressed, we each taught sections of the practice.  As a grand culmination of my training, on Sunday I had the honor of subbing Barrett’s weekly class in Somerville. Like I said, 30 women looking to me. Ham Sah.

The class was packed with 30 women who needed to move.  It went well which is not to say that I didn’t learn from the experience; I certainly have several ideas of how I could have sequenced the class better and even incorporated another standing series.  Given that I couldn’t get the music to work and there was a line out the door waiting to register for class, and I felt frazzled, I began class confident enough that I felt (and conclude) that I offered something to the students.

Teaching is about practice and preparation.  You can’t stand in front of a group and fumble through notes if you want to do it well.  You can’t go spontaneously. You have to practice the yoga, practice speaking, practice directing and practice getting feedback.  And once you’ve perfected it you have to go back and refine.  It’s like a music piece with a typo.  At the end of the section you are to repeat, you keep repeating.  But don’t get careless or you’ll have to begin again!  Practicing for teaching is like practicing for a presentation.  You say it before you go to bed, in front of the mirror and while driving.  At least, I do anyway, I review the sequence.

So I practiced, in training, at home, I wrote out my class. I practiced my class and then.  Deer in headlights! Ham Sah!

There’s a bagful of humbleness needed to teach any group.  Like the little child that enjoys bossing people around to always get her way, she doesn’t realize until much later that it is better to led with fewer commands and more from inspiration, compassion and experience, which at best informs that we are not always right.  Like my Violin teacher always said- slower is faster. In yoga sometimes less is more.  As a yoga teacher, I’m not trying to create following like a church bishop or a politician.  Make your own decisions, find your own yoga. I have no absolute doctrine to promote.  I know some stuff. It works for some people.  But you can’t memorize the yoga exactly because the yoga changes. No fundamentalists here.  I’m a knowledgeable, thoughtful teacher and I teach because watching students learn and delight in the postures and their own experience is a way I feel I can give back.  There are of course moments like last night where I stand in front of a crowd and think about the my second form high school public speaking class where there were also senior boys!!  Last nights class began with some butterflies but ended, I hope, as inspiring and renewing for the students as it was for me and my teaching practice. I am certainly eager to teach more prenatal classes (in the works by October- stay tuned).

I have not experienced stage fright, since I first began teaching yoga.  Last night I was reminded that every word matters and that the breath foremost carries and gives us the yoga: Ham Sah.  Breathe in: Ham; Breathe out: SahHam. Sah. I am that. I am here now.