mission fit or suicide mission?: a month-long brooklyn bodyburn challenge

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I have this habit of falling off of machines. I’ve never been graceful or coordinated (the only exception is yoga, and even that’s a consistent, devoted practice toward an inner calm, an outward quiet). I was once booted out of step class because I couldn’t keep pace with the moves and the rhythm. So you can imagine how I felt when I took my first Brooklyn BodyBurn class last year. I was apoplectic, on the verge of frenzy. I wore my beat-up yoga pants frayed at the edgings while everyone else sported fancy leggings. I heard the rumors that this workout was the hardest in New York (one of the hardest), and that there are no breaks (oh, friends, this woman takes breaks. this woman comes down on her knees if she has to)–perhaps curiosity (read: masochism) lured me in. After I signed in, I remembered that everyone had this sheen, the women were practically phosphorescent with their hair dipped in gold and skin that never seemed to sweat.

And wouldn’t you know, right on cue, as soon as the music swelled and the class started I fell off the side of the machine. The teacher rushed over to me, the newbie, concerned, and I assured her that I was alive and this sort of thing (me falling off machines) is fairly routine.

After, I bought a class pack because I was optimistic that over time the class would somehow get easier or I’d no longer fear impalement by megaformer. While the workout has yet to deliver my untimely demise, let me tell you this woeful piece of information: IT HAS NOT GOTTEN EASIER. I’ve been doing Brooklyn BodyBurn for a year now, and if anything, it’s gotten HARDER. Think of BBB as Pilates riding high on an 8-ball (my review here). You’re working your entire body on a machine that moves constantly. You’re juggling balance, endurance, muscle strength and cardio in a series of slow, isometric moves that will sometimes make you cry instead of sweat. Luckily, everyone’s sweating (that sheen, the women who never sweat? OBVIOUSLY they’d been crying the whole time during mega-plank to pike) and holding on for dear life so no one will notice your own minor tragedy on your moving carriage.

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You’re probably wondering why I continue to return to a workout that gets harder with the passage of each day. Why not just sit on a spin bike and rock out? I love it because there is no defined end–once you master a shape there’s always another place you can take it. Like yoga, no two practices are ever alike, and the work is about turning inward, feeling the depth and movement of our bodies. Because the way you get around pain and stress and sorrow is by breathing through it, and I often find that 55 minutes on the megaformer or 90 minutes in a yoga class take my body and mind places that no other workout can go. On a physical level I have muscles on my arms and back I never knew existed.

Honestly, I feel strong.

I also love the community. From newbies to people like me who’ve been going for a while, we all share the common refrain: let’s just survive the class. People actually smile and talk to one another in the studio. I’m SO INSANELY SHY AROUND NEW PEOPLE (hence I’m always in the corner against the wall) and I’ve managed to make a few friends and more importantly, really admire the strength and the kindness of the teachers. If I want tough love, I know I’ll go to Abby. If I want more of a yogic flow I’ll go to Andrea or Luke. If I want a teddy bear cheerleader I’ll hit up Marcus or Eileen. There’s a teacher for every vibe, and all of them are passionate, experienced and really, really kind.

So…for the folks who have been following my mindful health journey, which is really about eating food that nourishes me and focuses on getting fit and strong, I’m taking on some challenges in 2015 that will keep me stimulated, inspired and challenged. For the next month, I plan to do the unthinkable: I’m taking FOUR Brooklyn BodyBurn classes for a week for a month. I normally take 1-2, so this should end me or inspire me, whichever comes first. I’ll be balancing the intense training with 90 minutes of yoga 1-2 a week, and noting my progress each week with a wrap post and before/after snaps and #s to see how I’m doing when it comes to muscle and health.

Pray for me. Send orange kittens, etc. Actually, wait. I plan on staring at this snap of Felix while I’m doing MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS.

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nine minutes of gratitude (a practice)

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The past month has been a trying one, to say the least. I coped with occupying a space with someone who had toxic energy, the kind of anger that leaves an indelible mark. The experience exhausted me, causing me to further retreat into solitude because I hadn’t the tools to deal with this kind of energy, which felt like an invasion. All the while, I’m in-between projects and feeling the sting of the constant refrain of you’re a brilliant and serious writer, but you’re too dark, too smart, too fill-in-the-blank-adjective-that-implies-your-reading-audience-will-be-small from publishers. As a result, I’ve been moody, introspective, quiet, and blue.

In yoga, there is a word in Sanskrit, spanda, which translates to vibration, heat, the sacred tremor of the heart. I’ve been practicing a form of Iyengar/Anusara yoga for well over a decade and have encountered this word repeatedly in my practice, but it’s only until this week that I feel as if I’ve finally understood its meaning. The notion of pulsation between two states of being (bear with me) between the shapes our bodies can take, whether it be expansion or contraction is something worthy of constant, studied observation. One cannot operate in the extremes. A yoga practice isn’t about rocking out in a handstand or lying supine in savasana, rather it’s about finding balance between feeling the need to retreat and to rock out.

It should be no shock to you that I sometimes operate in the extremes. Years ago I was more of my mother’s daughter and I would rage and scream at everyone in my wake. My words were a wielding knife that would cut and maim, and it took me years to realize that you find no peace by wounding others. However, I oscillated to the other extreme where someone’s hurtful words or actions would cause me to shut down, get cold, retreat. I would excise people as quickly as I’d warmly usher them in, and I’m finding that this extreme delivers little peace, as well.

So I’m looking for the middle. The space that exists between here and there, the space where you can feel both the light and the dark, but not be shuttered by the extreme nature of either state. I’m trying to find love in existing in the middle of the day, the distance between the blue morning and the actinic dark, both spaces which are heartbreakingly familiar. I’m trying to not live out the painting I’ve made for myself where I exist only under the glare of the sun or the cold of the darkness.

This shift is really hard. Like, really hard.

Today I saw my nutritionist for the first time in a month, and I told her about the events of the past month and how they wore me down, how I allowed some bad habits to creep in (popcorn binge, anyone?), and she encouraged me to embark on a daily spiritual practice. I spoke of spanda, but also of svāhā, the art of releasing, of letting go. In fire ceremonies, you shed the superfluous, the darkness, the skin that bears so much weight on your body. And if I’m to embark on a deeply spiritual practice in an effort to use this as a tool for living, then I have to take in the good but also have to learn how to let things go. You find no peace holding on to your anger so hard.

So today starts my daily nine-minute meditation. Every morning I’ll wake to three minutes of movement to a soothing playlist (of which I’ll share shortly) composed of Indian and African rhythms. The next three minutes I’ll say aloud all the small and grand things from which I’m thankful. The final three minutes are for expressing gratitude now for that which has not come to pass. I’ll talk about how humbled I am for all of the future readers of this space. I’ll talk about how I’m excited to have given my heart so freely to someone in my life. I’ll talk about being grateful for have created art that breaks ranks, even if my readership amounts to a number of people I can count on two hands.

Nine minutes, every day, of allowing the light in. At the same time, I have to remind myself to let go. To stop speaking ill of those who have wounded me. To not be as angry that a particular outcome wasn’t what I had anticipated. To learn to play the hand as it lays. To be okay with the fact that extended side crow might not happen on a particular evening, but be grateful that I have a body that can move.

Make no mistake, this practice is intricately bound to what I eat and how I nourish my body. If I start off my day mindfully, I’ll make smart choices and treat my body as it were a house I so assiduously want to make a home. Nine minutes of spanda, of feeling the space between taking in and letting go.

Let’s see how this goes.

knowledge talks, wisdom listens

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Perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on. – Samuel Beckett

Yesterday, I fell. On the way to the train station I was fixated on reading an article on my phone and then suddenly I could see it–the trip, tumble and collapse–but I could do nothing to stop it. I tumbled a few feet and landed on the ground in the rain. I skinned my palms, my knee ached from the impact and a man helped me up and asked me if I was okay. I laughed and said, that hurt more than I thought it would.

Later on that day I read an article calling food sensitivities a myth, a product of our own psychosomatic invention, and I was angry not because the opinion was blatantly wrong, it was the fact that pretty, popular girls can publish un-researched, un-informed fiction under the guise of journalism and the masses will swarm at their manicured feet. I was angry, still, when a comment I’d posted–something I rarely do, comment on websites–calling into question the lack of research from both sides of the argument, the lack of interviews with trained medical professionals and those who actually struggle with food issues (because should we assume that since our food has been chemically and genetically modified more so in the past 40 years than the past 400 that our bodies would have a reaction of which science has yet to understand, much less concretely diagnose?), was deleted. I was angered over the ignorance and then the silencing. But the world presses on and they sell more branded gloss.

That night during my yoga class, in the dark, I kept thinking about night driving in California. How I hated being in cars at night because you couldn’t see the road ahead of you. But in California I didn’t mind not knowing, instead allowing the road to unravel ahead of me in degrees. I thought about a trip I took to Tacoma, Washington and being in car with a man who’d been drinking, and then drinking wine coolers in Manhasset, and I’m mixing it all up. All the memories are shards I can’t piece together and I’m angry that I can’t remember everything. That part of my life is gone and I won’t again feel what it’s like to be 24 in a car, sleeping while someone drives.

We tell stories in order to live, Joan Didion writes. What if the stories are all mixed up, silenced, deleted, not read, not told?

I met with my nutritionist yesterday and the weight loss slowed because I’d been, knowingly, adding more fat back into my diet. Bacon and candied pecans on salads, extra slices of sausage. I was worried, I said. About time. And I knew Dana wouldn’t understand what I was talking about, I didn’t, because I was acting like every meal was my last when another was three hours away. We tell stories in order to live, but what if time runs out? How could I explain that I worried about the time between now and then? How do I tell that story?

I met with an old friend and we talk about the business of books and I tell him I’m done with all of those people, all of that, and he shakes his head. Those people don’t matter. That history doesn’t matter. This thing about your introversion, he starts, and I talk over him, a thing I now rarely do, about how I was telling real stories on this space, on all the spaces I occupy, and he alluded to the fact that my letting people in isn’t a singular event. I have to to continue to leave the door open, even if it’s a crack. I have to keep telling stories, honest ones. I added my email to my About page, and you may think it’s not much but it’s huge, HUGE, for me. That’s the door opening, a little.

There are a lot of stories and I want to tell them but I don’t know. About how I don’t know what’s next and that’s okay but not okay. About how I have this book that I love this much but what if no one buys it, and I know I’m not supposed to wrap up my worth in the business of books but knowing something and feeling something are two different things. About how hard it is to be present because when you’re not present you fall on the ground. About letting my anger go when I see silly articles written or just how many men hate women in this world for no reason. About being young and not loving it then when I was in it and making it all pretty and romantic now when I’ve traveled oceans away from it. About hearing people who are 30 complain about being old when all I want to do is stop the clocks and go back and get a do-over because maybe I would have done things differently.

We tell stories in order to live, and I realize I write and eat and sometimes live like time is running out.

I take this picture of me in yoga class and I immediately dissect everything that is wrong anatomically with the pose. I think about the ten pounds I’ve left to lose. I show this photograph to my yoga teacher and he smiles and doesn’t see everything I do. He says, you look strong.

I think about being awake in the car. I think about driving it.

my morning smoothie + the art of self-care

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When left to my own devices, I will get a scone (blueberry, if you please) or a muffin where the edges are crisp and the cake is yielding. When I’m flush, I’ll scarf down an almond croissant dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and when I’m low I’ll feast on a bagel, and feel as I’m carrying boulders for the rest of the day.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this concept of self-care–the art of listening to your body, feeling yourself in your own skin: the space between your fingers and toes and the like. The first steps are listening and feeling, being present, paying attention, and then we do the things that are right for ourselves as opposed to the things we think we ought to be doing. Perhaps it’s taking the shape of a yoga pose we took previously, or lifting the weights that were once so effortless. Or maybe it’s the need to stay home and rest when the world demands your velocity. A good friend once told me that on your deathbed, you’ll never say, I wish I spent more time in the office or I wish I had more money or fancy finery to hang in my closet. In the end, we wish we would have lived more, loved more, paid attention more. And it’s only when we take some time to take care of ourselves do we have the strength to be our best selves with others.

I’ve been thinking about self-care when it comes to food, and I often equated self-care to self-medication. I need that scone because I need armor, protection against the host of meetings ahead of me. I need, no, deserve, that bowl of macaroni and cheese because, can I just tell you about the day I had? But the feeling of comfort is always fleeting, it departs as quickly as the sheets have cooled, and you’re back to where you started. The busy morning. The day worth shredding.

Instead, I’m thinking more about self-care, fuel, rather than anesthesia. And while this smoothie may not look glamorous, it gets me off on the right foot, as it were. Gives me the energy to start my day, sharp and clear-headed. Because I need to be healthy, present and strong for myself in order to be present for others.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup almond milk
1 ½ scoops of XyMogen OptiMetaboliX™ powder*
Fruit Options (I mix up the ingredients in my smoothie, daily): 4 figs (my favorite!); 5 strawberries; handful of blueberries; 1 peach; 1/2 cup pineapple or watermelon; 1/3 cup blackberries
Veg: a handful of kale or spinach
5 ice cubes

*Note: Here’s the rub: you can only get this powder from licensed nutritionists or medical professionals. If that’s not possible, feel free to sub in your favorite protein powder. I’d opt for vegan protein or hemp rather than whey.

DIRECTIONS
Add all the ingredients to a high-powered blender (I start with the fruit + veg at the bottom to preserve my blades), and blitz until smooth.

reframe your thinking: the art of the visual food journal

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Last night I practiced yoga in front of a setting sun, and my teacher talked about the Ayurvedic notion of Prajnaparadha. Loosely translated from sanskrit it means, “crimes against wisdom”–how we willfully ignore our intuition, the base wisdom which guides us in living a mindful life. I’ll be honest: I’m not an Ayurvedic practitioner nor am I an avid follower of one kind of belief system, however, I’m in tune with myself and my flaws–an ego, when unchecked, can supersede common sense, and a sometimes quiet yearning for anesthesia, for the world to pale down to a dull, sustained drone. The former leads to injury and the latter leads to lack of presence.

Years ago, I fancied myself an advanced yogi, and I remember a class where my teacher, Elena Brower, warned me against going into bound triangle. I wasn’t warm, I wasn’t ready, but I ignored her because, who was she to tell me what my body can and cannot do? And then a snap, a collapse to the ground, a hamstring torn, which would take years to heal. To this day I’m reminded of my ego because I’m still tight on that one leg, still. I don’t imagine that Elena knows the indelible mark she left on me (but do we ever know the marks we leave on people? How a single sentence has the ability to transform, build and bind?), but I remember her taking me aside and talking to me about ambition. How our desire to nail a pose, arrive at a marker, a perception of a life, can be dangerous if we don’t consider the larger scope of things, namely, the importance of the journey and what lies after. So many years later I’m reminded of the crime I committed against a body that wasn’t ready for this shape with its cold limbs, a foot that wasn’t committed to the mat, and a knee that wobbled–and more importantly, how I didn’t exercise common sense.

It’s interesting how I’ve returned to the mat while simultaneously making a commitment to be present with regard to the food I put in my body.

Today I had my first check-in with my remarkable nutritionist, Dana James, which starts with a full-blown analysis of my weight, body fat percentages (by limb–who knew that one leg was heavier than the other?) and dovetails into a detailed analysis of my food journal and the week. Not only was I floored by the fact that I’d lost FIVE POUNDS, but I was more excited about the fact that while this journey has been HARD (people, living without gluten and dairy requires a strategy, a plan and back-up plan, not to mention cravings that are CRUEL), I’m actually FEELING this journey. I’m forcing myself to listen to my body. Why do I want that particular piece of food? Is it because I’m bored, tired, stressed, ambivalent, or is it because I love the contents of this bowl and I seek nourishment?

Do I want to be nourished or numb?

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Today I met with a friend who asked me about this space. Will you still bake? Don’t you miss it? I told her that I’m trying to apply the same minimalist thinking I’ve managed to exercise in my home and wardrobe to this space and my body. Take in only the things I love and need. Bake the best croissants and savor one. Eat when my body tells me to. Fill my body with food that gives me pleasure (the juxtaposition of texture! the vibrant colors!). Write only in this space when I have something meaningful and thoughtful to say.

I never thought I would enjoy documenting every meal I make until I realized that the reason I loathed food journals was because I had to be accountable, present, for what I put in my body. To that end, I’ve reframed the notion of writing down what I’m eating into creating a weekly visual diary, most of which I share with my nutritionist because it keeps me honest. Because I’m not carrying measuring cups in my bag when I go to restaurants. Because I want every meal to be a celebration, a fist pump, a victory lap, because out of the most brutal year I’ve had something wonderful has emerged.

I’m present and I’m listening to my body and my heart.

Note: I’m sharing my food journal + experiences as a means to inspire, not as a way to emulate. My program has been designed specifically for me, but I want to remove the stigma of carb addiction and share everything I’m doing and all the lessons learned along the way. While this week’s diary isn’t completely visual, I plan on creating a private photo feed for Dana so she can explore alongside my written entries.

journey to buff: uplift studios

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What lifts you up? What makes you bolt out of bed, jubilant for where the day will take you? Few things truly motivate me, however, the possibility of creating something new each day has been a constant, yet simple source, of inspiration. Consider that the word create need not be something tactile; it doesn’t have to be a photograph you take or a story you write or a deal you close, rather it can be ephemeral or emotional, because there is beauty in creating and cultivating a sense of abundance within yourself. There is power in cultivating presence, and I do this by committing to a journey to buff.

This morning I read a post where the author wrote about quieting the mind of chatter as a means of living your life, really living it, as it happens, in the moment it happens. There’s something powerful in that, in being a person who exists in the present tense rather than someone who continuously jettisons to a future state. The author notes,

Physical things only exist in the present. Keep your attention on something physical and that means you’re keeping it on something that is actually happening.

I’ve been talking a lot about my fitness journey, how it’s transformed my physical self, but it’s also had a profound impact on my sense of self. Gaining strength has made me more aware of my body, of its potential and possibility, and, as a result, I view my flaws as gifts worth celebrating. Failure isn’t an end destination, and I’ve adopted a state of imperfection as a means to further a journey to constantly return to thing that eludes me, challenges me. My life is a constant practice, and these imperfections, these I’m too weak to lift a 12-lb weight; my core is a bucket of fail, have become mantras that I take to each class in hopes of getting a little stronger every day. As a result, I’m calmer, self-aware, patient, and present, because committing myself to creating abundance within myself by the sheer act of a physical routine has ushered in a sort of bliss that I want to carry with me when class is over.

Case in point: yesterday’s visit to Uplift Studios for their Sculpt Fusion class. The buzz on Uplift is well-earned. The sun-drenched, ladies-only space in the Flatiron Fitness district is welcoming as soon as you step into the space. From the warm front-desk reception to the clean, minimal space adorned with weights, TRX bands, and books (!!!!), to the motivation axioms festooned on the walls, you want to get lost in the energy of the space: one of practiced abundance.

Class size is small, and the low-impact Sculpt class was a sweet fusion of yoga, strength training, Pilates and barre work. Each set of exercises ended with a burst of cardio {e.g. mountain climbers, curtsy lunges to side kicks}, and I immediately got my sweat on. The pace of the class only invites you to be in the present moment, as you’re coordinating upper and lower body movements {think resistance bands around your calves and thighs and you’re doing sumo squats to a chest press}. While I didn’t get a ton of hands-on adjustments from Madeline, my instructor, the moves were pretty easy to follow and my teacher executed meticulous demonstrations before we tackled each sequence. Madeline also offered modifications and motivation along the way. When class was over I felt calm. I felt I had created something new {namely, I didn’t drop my weights the moment I grew tired; I hung on a few breaths beyond my breaking point}.

What to Know: Uplift also offers high-intensity classes for those who love the Bootcamp vibe {Strength + HIIT are quite popular}. The space is equipped with towels, showers, a changing room and freshening-up amenities. Water is for sale, but the studio is also equipped with a fountain for bottle refills.

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journey to buff: a woman celebrates a minor triumph!

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For as long as I could remember, I’ve always been uncomfortable with having my photograph taken. The forced smile and frozen face gave me anxiety, and many of the photos of me as a child are of me deliberately turning away from the camera or looking down. When Marion Ettlinger took my author photo, I told her that I didn’t want to smile unless she made me laugh {I hate how folks are always trying to you smile!} and she laughed and told me that I could be as grim and serious as I wanted to be. And a few years ago I experimented with posting pictures of me wearing clothes only to feel incredibly silly every time I hit the publish button. I’d rather be behind the camera falling in love with my subject than feeling the gaze of a subjective lens.

So you can imagine the TORMENT I feel about posting this picture. Even now, even as I type this, I keep flipping tabs and staring at the photo, wondering if there’s a way I can share a minor triumph I experienced without photographing it. But there’s no other way.

Since January, I’ve embarked on a strength journey. I’m not interested in being skinny or fitting into a specific size, rather I want to feel alignment in my spine; I want to feel muscle. In short, I want to be able to punch people when I’m 90 with little effort. The journey has been a humbling one, as I’ve taken classes that are continents away from my comfort zone. From swinging kettlebells to spinning to falling off machines, which resemble instruments of torture with their intricate pulleys and levers, every class is simultaneously a destruction and a rebirth. This chrysalis has been an awakening, and there are days when I feel like I’m failing and there are days where I leave triumphant. In the spaces in between, I keep reminding myself that there is honor in showing up. There is beauty in every attempt.

I’ve also had to confront and work around a physical impairment {one of my arms is demonstrably longer than the other due to a car accident when I was a child and a shattered collarbone that never healed just right}. This has been easy when it comes to yoga as I know what my body is capable of doing, and I’ve the accoutrements I need to get me deeper into poses, however, every new class has been an re-education, which has tested the limits of my Type-A controlling personality.

This auspicious journey has made me comfortable with uncertainty and relinquishing control. Naturally, this dovetails into other aspects of my life {the freelance life!}

Yesterday, before I took a megaformer class at Brooklyn BodyBurn, I caught my image in the mirror and I had to do a double-take because I noticed a demonstrable shift in my appearance. I’m starting to notice that I look stronger. And more importantly, I feel stronger. So I took this picture to remind me that there are days when you should celebrate minor triumphs, regardless of how small.

There is beauty in every single attempt.

P.S. If you’re wondering what my week looks like, I tend to patron Brooklyn BodyBurn, City Row, Yogamaya, Chaise Fitness, Core Fusion, and Xtend Barre. I’ve plans to sample Uplift, SLT, Flex Studios, and Elements Fitness Studio in the coming weeks.

don’t be a hero: yoga + ego

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I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it. ― Joan Didion

When you have nothing, when the accumulation of happiness in your life amounts to little more than zero, sometimes the ego has the propensity to save. Cultivating an ego makes you believe that you are greater than the some of your parts. It cradles you when your high school AP biology teacher tells you that you won’t amount to very much. Here is a dunce cap. Sit over there, and wait for all the community college acceptance letters to trickle in. Years later, your ego will make you walk in that building with a diploma in your hand and an offer from one of the most prestigious investment banks in the world because you amounted to much. But that man has grown old and doesn’t really remember you. You stand there in your wool suit, fists clenched, because your ego made you believe in yourself when no one else did, and you stand over this man whose hair has grown white, and something in you pauses. You don’t tell him about dunce caps and community colleges. Instead, something in you seizes, knows this isn’t quite right, and you leave and take off your suit jacket and sit in front of the high school and wonder about the woman you’ve become.

You are 21.

Time passes and you are desperate to lose weight, shade frame. You have recently lost your mother — not lost in the sense of a library book gone missing or a fistful of dirt thrown on top of a grave, this is a deeper loss, a constant hurt, a knowing that there are divisions that are not purely mathematical — and after the relief comes the sadness, like a torrent, and the sadness surprises you. You do the maths and you surmise that you could lose her by degrees, by inches from your legs and your hips. A shrinking of skin as it were. You run 35 miles a week, and suddenly your body catches up to your heart.

You feel old. But you are small, like sonnets, and you believe this to be a good thing. A woman as an integer. Your ego doesn’t clue you into the irony that you are suddenly less than the sum of your parts. But it delivers arrogance when you step into your first yoga class.

Back then, you were kind of an asshole.

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And this asshole couldn’t even do one chaturanga. But the ego made you stick with it because yoga wasn’t a union of body and mind, no, it was something that you sought to conquer. You could see the beginning of things and assumed that there is always an end.

You are twenty-eight when your teacher comes over to you and says very calmly and very quietly, your ego will get you hurt. Six words that were seemingly meaningless, even as you configured myself into a bound triangle, snapped your hamstring — an injury from which it took three years to recover. But you still couldn’t see. It would take you a full decade for your eyes to finally open. For the light to filter in through the cracks. All this time, all this practice, all this ego.

An armor you once wore proudly became a Gogol’s overcoat you wanted to shed. Ego only brings you so far, and the blind pursuit of it, the hunger to sustain it, will only be your undoing. The ego likens our life to a war, a battle that must be overcome and conquered, rather than understanding that this is a life that is meant to be lived. The only true end, the only final defeat is our last breath shuddering out. Having an ego is about being myopic and singular in your vision.

I have an ego, still {ah, that final migration to first person!}, but I check it and often. This week I found myself in a lot of challenging shapes, on and off the mat, and I tried to seek out the humility in the smallest of things. That each time the work gets easier, never easy, just easier. This week I found myself saying, Don’t be a hero, and although that refrain elicited a few laughs, I was actually quite serious. If there is a shape I can’t quite make in yoga, I use blocks to bring the ground up. I use a belt in bound poses. I come down to my knees when I need to rest. I stop when everyone around me is pushing their way through.

I thought about my teacher, Elena Brower, who once told me that my ego will undo me. I wonder if she knows how much of a profound impact she’s had on me. I think about Biggie, who said,

I’m just, tryin to stay above water y’know
Just stay busy, stay workin
Puff told me like, the key to this joint
The key to staying, on top of things
is treat everything like it’s your first project, knahmsayin?
Like it’s your first day like back when you was an intern
Like, that’s how you try to treat things like, just stay hungry

I think about Joan Didion and how she believes that life must be seized, loved, and lived. And ego has the propensity to ruin all of that because it turns on itself, it feeds on itself, until there’s no hunger left. You’re sated by all the wrong things.

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No doubt you realized that I’ve made my health and wellness a big part of my life. And while I’m jetting around the city taking classes, I always come back to yoga. I always return to the very personal relationship between me and the mat, the internal introspection and how that connects with outward movement. Today I took an Intermediate/Advanced class at Yogamaya, and it was finally the class I’ve been waiting to take. Ninety minutes of breath and mindful movement rather than a chaturanga cardio race to savasana. And while I found my initial front desk experience a bit chilly, Deborah Bagg’s very precise alignment instruction coupled with her playful energy and affection for poetry reminded me why I need to have yoga in my life. Yoga humbles me, keeps me hungry, because there is never a final shape of a pose. There is no end, there is only the journey and how we live in and through it.

If you’re taking yoga for the first time, please do all the things I wish I did when I started my practice:

1. Use props. Props are your friend. They allow you to feel an aspect of a pose before your body is truly ready to receive it. I see people resisting props and hurting themselves. Don’t be a hero. Be honest about what your body can do.

2. Talk to your teacher. I’ve been practicing yoga and on off for about a decade, and I always arrive early to class to talk to my teacher. I explain any injuries and impairments. Communicate honestly about what’s going on with your body so the teacher can offer modifications so that your practice makes you stronger rather than exacerbating an injury.

3. Stop looking at everyone else. While it’s natural to stare at the ladies who fly up into handstand after slapping their mat down, or feeling small because the yogi next to you can assume a shape you can’t fathom doing, it’s not healthy. Trust me on this. They could be Gumby, a gymnast, or someone who’s been practicing yoga for twenty years. Yoga is your practice. Look around to get inspired or to see how a shape is being formed, but don’t observe as a means to fuel your ego, as a means to tear down your practice. As my friend Julia says, it’s a yoga practice, not yoga perfect.

4. Don’t jet out right before savasana. Tadasana and savasana are actually the most difficult poses in yoga because they are a standing and supine meditation. Don’t dismiss the benefits of a mindful rest. Allowing yourself to feel the effects of your practice are powerful.

5. Try different studios, styles and teachers. For nearly seven years I was OBSESSED with anusara yoga because the principles took my yoga practice to the next level. However, I was only exposed to one kind of philosophy, a singular perspective. Since anusara has become (and sadly so) a dirty word in the yoga community, not many studios advertise this style of practice, so I’ve had to sample a TON of studios and teachers to find my match, and how varying styles complement one another.

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barre buff: core fusion, physique 57, bar method

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I remember my first Physique 57 class, and my friend Amber agonizing that the space was little more than a torture chamber, a place where one does every exercise 57 times. The next morning I performed a very inelegant stop, drop and roll out of bed, and some of my friends inquired whether I’d been in an accident because my limp was that pronounced. In response, I shook my head and lamented about a little ball that was a predator posing as a house pet, a pulse, another 57 pulses, and an exercise called a “pretzel.” Because I’m a masochist, I casually took barre classes for a few months until my interest wanned, until I found spinning and returned to yoga, and I left that little ball behind.

Until this year. I blame my getting older and having a near maniacal obsession with posture and core strength, because I found myself returning to the barre and pulsing with renewed vigor. For those who are unfamiliar with barre classes (bless you), barre combines Pilates, yoga and ballet moves to deliver lean muscles. Classes run for about 60 minutes, and instructors focus on four sequences: arms (light free weights, push-ups and plank), thighs, seat, and core, focusing on repetitive, minute movements that drive you to exhaustion. Stretching follows each sequence and upbeat music serves as a motivator, or in my opinion, a necessary diversion tactic.

Over the past few months, I’ve taken classes at Core Fusion, Physique 57, and Bar Method, and while the class format is fairly similar, the spaces (and energy) couldn’t be more different. And luckily I’ve stopped limping.

Core Fusion, at least for me, is certainly the hardest of the lot. The spaces in New York are vastly different (we can all agree that the Soho location leaves much to be desired, while Gramercy and CPW are an oasis of calm), but lately I’ve focused less on the cosmetics of a space and more on the efficacy of the workout. When it comes to Core Fusion my mantra is that if I survive the first 20 minutes, I’m golden. Core instructors are patient, methodical, and constantly upbeat. Form is tantamount, and know that you will constantly get hands-on adjustments. Core work at Core often involves mountain climbers, side planks and oblique lifts and Odyssean-long planks, and you leave class sweaty and strong. And while I fervently believe that the classes will never be easy, they’re at least getting easier, or less horrifying.

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Bar Method is my favorite, and I attribute that to the fact that the space is designed for ambiverts like me who abhor crowds and need our evenings to close with a healthy dose of calm. While the upbeat music and instructor demeanor are ubiquitous, Bar is somehow the most serene. From the warm lighting and neutral tones to classes that don’t feel as sardine-packed, I normally go to Bar Method when I need to take down the day and come within. Out of the three, Bar Method feels most yogic and most focused on core work, and when I recently introduced one of my best friends to the space she completely agreed.

While Physique 57 class will always hold a warm place in my heart as my first barre experience, it’s probably my least preferred of the three and I’d rather rock the online videos than the actual space. Granted, I’ve only visited the Soho location, but I found the space a bit dark, too loud, and too frenetic for my taste. For those of you who have ever taken a SoulCycle class, Physique 57 is the barre version of Soul — down to the energy of the Lulu-clad women who patron the space, with Physique being their third workout of the day. Don’t get me wrong, Physique is fantastic and the teachers are on-point, however, I’m evangelical about how the energy of space can truly shape your workout, and Physique simply isn’t for me.

Over the next few weeks I’ll continue with my barre obsession, booking classes at Pure Barre + Xtend Barre, knowing that this work is making me strong while complementing my long-standing yoga practice.

Top image photo credit: Beauty Balance Barre.

getting buff on the cheap: a comprehensive list of apps, streaming videos + tips to get you buff

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If you haven’t noticed it yet, I’ve got class fever. Ever since I cancelled my Equinox membership, having grown tired of crowded classes, broken elevators + green juice-induced attitude, I’ve found solace in flittering about the city, panting in TRX classes and lying supine in yoga studios. However, I’m acutely aware of my privilege, the fact that I can afford the abundance of fancy-pants fitness classes New York offers (having a ClassPass helps). I’m also aware that sometimes the idea of trekking to a space after work gives one vertigo, and it’s hard getting buff in miniscule hotel gyms while traveling. I’ve been there, done that, and have ordered room service instead. That having been said, I decided to research online classes that give you the fancy without removing the wallet from your pants. Here are my picks!

Yoga
Laughing Lotus: Truth be told, I took my first LL class today at their Flatiron location, and I wasn’t impressed. However, my one encounter with an instructor, who didn’t exercise a focus on alignment principles, is certainly not indicative of a whole studio’s philosophy. Many people whom I respect love LL, and a few friends have sung the praises of the studio’s videos.
YogaGlo: I am evangelical about my affection for YogaGlo. To be honest, I truly think these classes set the standard. Some of my revered teachers (e.g. Elena Brower) offer classes in various styles, and sometimes I used to listen to the classes (without practicing the poses) just to calm me down.
Dirty Yoga: Free of pretension and accessible to all levels and incomes ($20 membership/month isn’t bad), Dirty Yoga is serious about yoga, yet doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Barre/Ballet
Barre3: My friend, India Jewel-Jackson loves the videos + has seen results, and I couldn’t agree with her more. A dear friend of mine was kind enough to share her login so I can sample the workouts without risk (although, for $15 a month, the risk is fairly minimal). All you need is a chair, mat, and light weights for the majority of the sessions. The instructors motivate as they’re performing the moves right alongside you, and classes are offered for all fitness levels. So if you seek a quick 10-minute ab blast to a 60-minute scorcher, Barre3 has got you covered.
Physique 57: Words cannot express how much I adore Physique57’s workouts, however, their classes are pretty pricey. While I may not the hands-on adjustment at home, $5-$10 classes are pretty palatable.
Booya Fitness: As soon as I learned that Booya launched, I was JUBILANT. Bootcamp, cardio, yoga and strength-training classes are on the docket from some of my favorite studios in the city. You guys know how I’m preaching the word that is Chaise Fitness? Well, you can save the cash and the plane tickets and for $10 get fit in front of your television. Also, there’s a few class streaming for newbies daily, so definitely try before you buy.

Strength Training + Misc.
Crunch Live: Tired of waiting for sweat-slicked treadmills and jockeying your way into a packed spin class? Crunch has a ton of classes available online for $9.99/month.
7-Minute Workout: I own this app and it is everything. I use it when I travel as a way to tone up in my hotel room. Planks, squats, curtsy and reverse lunges, you don’t need a gym and 45 minutes of tears to reap the benefits of an intense quick circuit.
iTrain Fitness classes that range from rowing to ballet workouts, this app offers you a gym in your pocket.
BeFit: While many fitness videos tend to grate, freebies from Jillian Michaels and other superstars are a pretty solid deal if you’re looking to get fit on the dirt cheap.
Tone it Up: I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about working out without nodding to the Tone it Up duo. While many (including myself) sometimes play the videos on mute, these ladies will kick you all over the joint.

Personal Training
Wello: Wello is an innovative online fitness platform that provides live training over two-way video. Think Skype, with a lot more sweat involved.
MyBOD Wellness: Whether you’re in your livingroom or hotel room, the team offers offers LIVE personal Pilates and Yoga instructors via Skype or Google+.
Gain Fitness: From classic strength to yoga, sport-specific to bodyweight training, this personalized fitness app will motivate you to push through plateaus.

Motivation
BurnThis: Socialize your sweat with this awesome app, which allows you to book local fitness classes and check out when your friends are working out. h/t Grace Atwood

Sage Tips from my Friends
Laurel adores My Fitness Pal, which has helped her kept track of everything from meals to workouts, and she’s lost 20 pounds as a result. | Hitha’s go to app is Power20 and she hits up Doonya YouTube videos for when she wants to dance her butt off! | Annalise, a workout buff who always doles out sage fitness advice recommends Endomondo. “I used the free version until I knew I liked it. Syncs with my Fitbit, tracks a lot more than running, and the premium has training plans. [I’m] using it to train for my half marathon.” She also recommends the Workout Playlists on Spotify (so streaming this!), with Indie Workout being her fave.

Keith uses Map My Fitness (Walk + Ride), and he’s the one who convinced me to get a FitBit Force. Keith also uses the Lose It! app to moderate his calorie intake. | The always-inspiring Patrice clues me into the C25K (Couch to 5K) app, which is perfect for work-out newbies, and while she hasn’t road-tested the Daily Yoga and the Livestrong apps, they’re on her horizon. | Leslie, Sherry, + Chelsea swear by the Nike Training App. | Sharlene + Amy recommend RunKeeper for you avid runners.

What’s getting you buff + motivated? I’d love to know.

Photo Credit: Confused Hair on Flickr

journey to buff: the gear

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As I type this, I’m eating a steak taco and recovering from a rage blackout. Traveling for over two hours on New Jersey Transit, the king of commuting failure, will do that to you. While I was trapped in a tunnel, an unintelligible, garbled voice shouted what I believed to be the cause of our transportational demise, and there was a real moment of blind rage. I had missed yet another expensive class because New Jersey Transit is incapable of arriving into Penn Station on time.

Over the past few years I’ve managed to breathe it out, to realize that I can’t control mass transit and I can’t will the trains to move forward like I’m Carrie in Carrie, circa 1976. However, after five hours of disturbed sleep last night, I’m fairly certain any modicum of rationality is clearly off the menu.

This is precisely why I need to work out. To get into a meditative headspace where it’s just me breathing through dark spaces. Where it’s just me breaking through something physical to get to something emotional. When the whole of my world — the commute, the emails, the bills, the whole mess of it — is reduced to a lull, a sustained quiet beep.

Lately, something’s shifted. It’s been a shift imperceivable to everyone, including me, but I’ve been getting really excited about working out. I’ve been hitting different spaces five times a week and I’m starting to feel sublime. It’s as if my work on a machine has morphed into all aspects of my life, owning the hours, and I’m calmer (save today) than I’ve ever been. Boxing, bootcamp, cycling, barre, yoga, pilates, rowing — you name it, I’m taking it. And I’m working hard.

That being said, I invested {read: I paid for every single item you see in this post} in a small suite of tools that have made my workouts easier, and dare I say, enjoyable.

First off, I’m going to lay my hand on the table and reveal that I tend to sweat A LOT in classes. Even with the tightest of wound buns, the sweat-in-eye situation has been downright diabolical. During my recent sneaker spree {I invested in a pair of Nike Fitsole 4s, which have amazing arch support}, I purchased a Sweatyband, and believe me when I say that not only have I avoided the situation, my hair is in-tact, post workout.

Folks who know me well know that I’ve been singing the praises of Chaise Fitness from the rafters. Since I’ve been taking Chaise {as well as a host of rowing classes}, I’ve realized that getting a pair of workout gloves really helps prevent blisters, chafing or any sort of redness/irritation. They deliver a great grip, and I’ve even seen fellow yogis practice with their gloves to prevent slippage.

And speaking of yoga, can we talk about the Aurorae “Synergy” Yoga Mat/Towel, please? Although the mat was designed for hot yoga classes, the combination of vigorous vinyasa, my sweating, and having to use a block to even out my arm imbalance {long story}, this mat performs like no other. Believe me when I say that this is the best $60 I’ve spent in quite some time. Unlike other mats which require a fair amount of use in avoid falling on your face in downward-facing dog, the first time I used the Synergy mat, it performed.

While I’m sweating and weeping and getting all cathartic with myself, I want to feel comfortable. I want my clothes to have movement, without costing a million dollars. Although I own a fair amount of Lululemon, I actually loathe the fit and quality of the gear. Tops don’t absorb sweat as much as I’d like {considering the cost} and I do feel the clothes are designed for lithe, hipless ladies. I feel confined in my gear in yoga, when all I want my clothes to do is move with me, not impede my flow. As a result, I buy all of my workout gear from Gap Body, notably the Gap Fit line. I love the fit, feel and the fact that the clothes ALWAYS GO ON SALE. I’ve scores of tanks, pants, tops, tees, and most recently, I’ve acquired this sweat-absorbing warm hoodie, which is the gift that keeps on giving.

Finally, I’m buying into the hype of the FitBit Force. A lot of my close friends have talked about how the wearable device gives them a clear view of how fit they are, but it also motivates them to move. My friends are a demonstrably tough crowd, and when I asked them whether the FitBit is worth it, I got an unanimous HELL YES, BUY IT ALREADY. Luckily, a friend of mine is snagging one for me with his corporate discount, and I’ll definitely give you the score as soon as I get it.

Right now, this is the gear that’s getting me going, but I would absolutely love to hear what you’re using in your routine. Also, would love to know if you guys have a FitBit. Tell me EVERYTHING.COM.