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Perseverance

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Three years ago when I created my Rakta tagline of Passion, Precision, Perseverance, I didn’t realize how often and how much perseverance factored into my life. The definition of perseverance is steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. In advertisements, we see perseverance in a glistening, sweaty hardbody striving to achieve a goal—it looks glamorous and sexy. In my reality, perseverance looks messy and is usually accompanied by feelings of depression and low level nausea.

The first time I really had to persevere was when I started my PA surgery residency. I had recently moved across the US from Colorado to Connecticut and was still adjusting to grey skies, grey snow, and grey landscape. I wasn’t certain I even liked surgery, but there I was.

Our days began with ICU rounds at 4:30am followed by lectures at 5:30am. I was homesick and adapting to a new East Coast culture. I tried desperately to learn laparoscopic surgery assisting by practicing with instruments in a box. I tried and failed to grab things and tie knots. I felt incompetent, inexperienced, and uncoordinated.

We spent full days in surgery and rounds and followed them up with hours of studying for the next day’s case. We were on call every third night. I had no idea what I was doing and I wanted to go home to Colorado blue skies. I felt shell shocked from every angle.

After four months, though, I had begun to settle in. Even my box laparoscopic skills had improved. By graduation, I was hooked. I was in love with surgery and stayed for two more years to work.

Oddly enough, I had a similar experience when I decided to move back to Colorado and switch from the now familiar world of surgery to emergency medicine. Once again, the learning curve was steep. I was so far out of my comfort zone that I had no idea how to get back to anything familiar. Fighting for traction, that same gnawing feeling, low level nausea, and fear of failure accompanied me for months and I tried to convince myself that leaving Connecticut wasn’t a good idea.

I am reminded of the power of perseverance when multiple things aren’t working well and I start to feel overwhelmed and stressed. These are the moments when I want to quit and walk away. When I was opening Rakta, my life was full of these moments. Permits were delayed, construction issues occurred one after another, and the heat and humidity didn’t work. The only thing I felt was the pit in my stomach as I questioned what I was doing and why.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve felt COVID weariness as a business owner. We were experiencing multiple issues around delivery of online classes. I was frustrated, teachers were frustrated, and clients were frustrated. Working with no firm reopening date or sustainable business plan was taking its toll.

Fortunately, my past experiences have taught me to take a breath and regroup. There is always a light. There is always an answer. More often than not, I’ve had to get out of my own way to find it. When I let the passion for yoga and health guide me, when I lean in to perseverance, I can focus on precision.

Keep persevering—and I can’t wait to see you in the studio!

In light and love,

Sandy

Length Matters

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Now that I have your attention, let’s explore the concept of the size of your torso and the length of your limbs in navigating yoga postures. You may struggle in binds like extended side angle pose or hip openers like double pigeon. You may feel strong in dolphin pose but hesitant to kick up into a forearm balance. You may not understand why, after decades of diligent stretching, your hamstrings are so tight.

Have you ever considered that the underlying obstacle to your bind, hip opener, or arm balance is related to the unique architecture of your beautiful body? The length of your humerus (from your elbow to shoulder) can dictate success in a forearm balance. If you have a short humerus, you may not be able to clear your head from the mat.

What about long legs and a short torso? Or short arms? If you have shorter arms, attempting to interlace your hands in bound side angle pose creates a hunched and collapsed torso rather than a twist and heart opening. Using a strap might allow the bind with the desired opening. Based on the length of your arms, you may never be able to achieve the bind without the use of a prop no matter how determined you are to successfully persevere.

Yogis with long arms might effortlessly bind behind their back and grasp the opposite wrist with ease. Shorter arms make it more difficult to balance in toe stand if your fingers don’t touch the floor as you try to find your sweet spot of balance before floating your hands to heart center. If you have shorter arms, you may not be able to place the palms of the hands on the floor in low lunge postures. These examples reflect anatomical differences and have nothing to do with motivation, talent, or “yoginess.”

Students with longer torsos and shorter legs have an advantage in boat pose as well as floating into handstand from downward facing dog. These postures aren’t inaccessible to long-legged students, but they might be more challenging.

The bony structure of the hip also affects our yoga practice. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we need to continue vigorous hip stretching because we don’t look like Instagram images. The shapes of the bones in the pelvis, like the shallowness or depth of the acetabulum (hip joint) and the length and angle of the head of the femur, are factors that won’t change no matter how many hip-opening postures we do. The challenge with the pelvis is that, unlike the length of arms, we can’t see what the bony structure looks like. For this reason, it’s easy to assume we need a lot more stretching which ultimately may not be appropriate for our bodies.

So aside from the pose, why does length matter? It has to do with why you’re stepping on your mat in the first place. In a social media world with perfect yoga postures streaming through our feeds, it’s easy to compare ourselves and our practices to others and their practices.

Each one of us has our own unique and beautiful practice. The power of yoga lies in its simplicity. Yoga is connecting to our center through movement and stillness, using the breath as a vehicle for grounding. Just as there is no perfect song or perfect food, there is no perfect yoga or perfect pose. Yoga is a reflection of our own anatomy, our own individuality, and our own journey.

In light and love,

Sandy

Breaking up with #facebook

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Preparing for the connection component of our upcoming Rakta Fall Challenge, I decided to experiment with a social media break. It would be a pre-determined short-term break-up. I was testing the hypothesis that so many of my parent-friends allude to: if I removed Facebook from my phone and stopped habitually scrolling, then I would: 1) increase my productivity; 2) improve my mental health; and 3) re-establish my sense of self.

I’ve been in a 10 year relationship with Facebook. I love the cute animal pictures, the funny and heroic animal videos, and keeping up with friends and family (especially those far away). But the connection to others is an empty or pseudo connection. I feel more like a voyeur in others’ lives, sometimes liking posts and pictures or commenting on them, but mostly just peeking without really committing. I don’t have time to reach out to all my friends sharing pictures of their trips, kids, and funny or special moments, and it makes me sad to realize how disconnected I’ve become.

Starting a business is an incredibly vulnerable experience. Since I opened Rakta, I felt a shift and a need for more personal privacy. I no longer wanted to share many pictures of my personal life and decided to use social media primarily for business. As much as I love smiling faces of my friends enjoying the outdoors and going on adventures together, I found myself feeling sad after scrolling through Facebook. I didn’t realize how much these feelings stayed with me during my day, sometimes impacting my general perspective and overall satisfaction for hours.

Day one of taking the app off my phone, I felt relieved. I didn’t miss it at all. A burden had been lifted, I immediately felt free, and my productivity went up. If I wanted to see friends’ smiling faces, I made a point to meet up with them in person. If I wanted to hear their voices and talk about something in particular, I called them. The pictures I took of my friends and family stayed private. They were just for me.

After being off social media for over a week, I decided to check in and see how I was doing, what kind of progress I made, and what I missed. Right away, I fell hard into the casual scrolling trap. I wasn’t getting as much done and I was losing my focus. I quickly determined that keeping social media off my phone was a better way to go—for me.

In our fall challenge, I’ll ask people to check in with their electronic relationships, especially their relationships with social media. Why and how do you engage? What does it do for you? How much is necessary and how much is too much? Just as I encourage curiosity and observation with movement and food in our bodies, I encourage you to take an intense look at social media and the effect digital platforms may have in your lives. Is hyper-connection creating more positive opportunities? How do we hold space where there is no real privacy or safe place? Depending on how we use digital apps, are our thoughts, opinions, and values changing?

For our Rakta Fall Challenge, let’s “yoga” the digital world. Let’s watch how we react to social media and technology, understand why we crave it, and figure out who we are when it’s in front of us and who we are when it’s not.

In light and love,

@fallonsandy

Keep Your Cool

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As summer approaches and the temperatures rise, we’ve got you covered at Rakta. In Ayurveda, summertime is pitta season. Pitta is the fire element. When it’s in balance, it gives us drive, motivation, and ambition. The summer heat can produce too much fire element in us, which can manifest as anger, GI upset, heartburn, joint pain, and skin rashes.

Summertime in Steamboat is full of heat. Many of us don’t use air conditioning. We enjoy being outside to hike and bike in the sun at high elevation. When we add in a hot yoga practice, we can end up with a lot of heat in the body and start to not feel so good.

Many hot areas of the country have busy hot yoga studios during the summertime. These communities usually have air conditioning and don’t recreate outside as much as we do in Steamboat. So how do we keep our cool and continue our practice?

If possible, practice heated yoga early in the day. The temperature inside the studio will be lowered slightly. Yoga postures change seasonally as well. During the summer, it’s important to keep the energy and breath moving in order to avoid creating too much heat around the heart or in the head. Summer may not be the best time to bust out a ton of headstands, arm balances, and other high exertion postures which can often induce breath holding. Instead, a slow, steady vinyasa practice may be a better idea.

Breath techniques such as sitali breath, curling your tongue like a straw or pursing the lips and inhaling, helps cool the body. What you eat after yoga is also important. Meeting up for margaritas, spicy salsa, and chili rich food right after a hot class may sound like fun, but adding more heat in the form of alcohol, chili peppers, and seasonings can increase pitta and leave you with heartburn and an stomach upset.

The body’s digestive fire is not as strong in the summer. Integrate cooling foods like watermelon, cherries, grapes, pineapple, cucumber, zucchini, asparagus, ghee, milk, and rice as well as spices like fennel, mint, and coriander. Avoid spicy foods and foods with heating properties (tomatoes, radishes, onions, ginger, and mustard). Beverages shouldn’t be ice cold as that can disrupt the digestive fire. Carbonated beverages should be avoided.

The most important guide to pitta and hot yoga in the summer is to be aware of how you feel. If you don’t have any issues, that’s great! If you find yourself getting angry at your houseplants, consider looking at your diet, the times of day you’re outside, the time of day you practice yoga, and the temperature of your showers.

In light and love,

Sandy

Meditate for Heart Health

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Happy February! In addition to Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day, Presidents’ Day, National Heart Health Month, I just learned it is indeed National Bird-Feeding Month. In Steamboat, we’ve also got Winter Carnival and Blues Break—it’s amazing we can fit all of this into 28 days.

This year, I want to take a different approach to Heart Health. What does Heart Health Month entail? Usually, it’s a month of reducing heart disease by smoking cessation, eating heart healthy foods, getting exercise, and reducing stress. I want to focus on meditation.

Meditation has been shown to decrease blood pressure, decrease depression and anxiety, improve sleep, reduce stress, improve focus and concentration, help with cravings and addictions, and according to a recent study in the American Heart Association Journal Circulation, improve blood flow to the heart and reduce mortality risk from heart disease.

We’ve had some great wellness speakers at Rakta this year including Jennifer Meister and Dr. Kristen Race. Dr. Race introduced a very simple and effective breath-based meditation technique that only takes 3-5 minutes a day. This breath-based technique was part of a lecture on overcoming obstacles in breaking and creating habits. During any meditation, we improve the function of our prefrontal cortex in the brain. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for planning, decision-making, moderating social behavior, and keeping our reptilian (impulsive) brain in check.

Studies support meditating during the day if you’re having a hard time sleeping at night. Just as one style of yoga doesn’t appeal to everyone, there are also lots of ways to meditate. Some people like going to a community guided meditation, others prefer an app on their phone. Some people choose a specific seated position and incorporate chanting, mantras, or certain hand gestures (mudras). It really doesn’t matter how you meditate, just that you do it.

What are the obstacles that prevent us from meditating? Most often, I hear people say: “I don’t have time.” If you fall into that category, try replacing one time a day that you typically spend scrolling through Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, or emails with 3-5 minutes of meditation. Often I turn to social media as an escape—I’m overwhelmed and just want to check out for a few minutes. Meditation is a great way to improve energy, clarity, and focus, and even though funny animal videos and cute animal pictures are so super funny and cute, they can wait.

Another comment I often hear is: “I can’t meditate, my mind is too busy.” Thanks to modern society, we ALL have monkey minds that are continually bombarded by everyday responsibilities as well as the pressure to multi-task and achieve. Allowing your mind to free form wander with gentle reminders to come back to the breath or a certain word (mantra) starts to create space between thoughts.

At a wellness conference I attended last June, I took meditation classes by Light Watkins, author of Bliss More: How to Succeed in Meditation Without Really Trying. He presented a great analogy for the brain during meditation. Imagine your brain is a toddler let loose in your kitchen. All the drawers and closets have been opened and explored, and maybe things are pulled out and moved around. That’s the brain during meditation. Let it wander and explore without expectation or judgment of the experience.

We’ll be kicking off our February 10th through May 1st Meditation Challenge during our only Sunday Free Wellness meeting this month on February 10th at 3pm. Come learn more about the power of meditation, connect with an accountability partner, pick up easy meditation techniques to use at home, and take care of your heart!

In light and love,

Sandy

Mindfulness: Be Present

By Health, Uncategorized, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

Mindfulness is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” We see the word everywhere these days—in books, advertising, and other media. One of my favorite athletic clothing brands recently launched a mindfulness line “for the days you want to be mindful.”

Most people agree that being mindful is a good thing, but many of us aren’t sure how to be mindful, what being mindful really means, and why it’s so important.

Not too long ago, our society viewed multitasking as a skill to be admired. Women were proud of their ability to drive a car and simultaneously apply makeup, eat breakfast, referee a back seat fight, rehearse a work presentation, and compose a mental grocery list for dinner. Now we have smartphones with texts, emails, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and other sources constantly beckoning our attention.

Distraction and over stimulation do not help our brains function. We’ve learned that multitasking doesn’t work—people actually get less done (with less quality) even though they think they’re doing more. Multitasking has even been compared to cocaine; both activate the reward pathway by increasing dopamine. This constant bombardment of distractions—a neural addiction—increases our underlying stress and corrodes our minds and health.

Being in a constant state of distraction is a safety risk as real as texting while driving: it can steal our lives. We scan through Facebook posts or Snapchat pictures instead of talking with family and friends at a restaurant. We immediately interrupt our regular activities to reply to daily emails. By not being present, we miss the simplicity of each moment. When we’re engaged and present, we don’t have to wonder where our time has gone. We lived it and can remember it, or maybe even feel it. Focusing on the past or the future, or indulging in other distractions, means we relinquish the beauty of simplicity.

So, how do we become more mindful? We all practice mindfulness when we’re fully engaged with someone—not checking our cell phones or making mental to-do lists while partially listening and investing. For some people, mindfulness is in prayer. For me, it’s in nature with my family and dog, playing with my goats, or doing yoga. These are times when my mind is focused on each present moment and I feel peaceful, whole, and aware.

Mindfulness is a skill to be practiced several times throughout your day as you train your mind to stay focused and be present. One of my favorite quotes about mindfulness is from Geneen Roth, author of Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything.

“It’s like washing the dishes. If you focus on getting the dishes done so that your kitchen will be clean, you miss everything that happens between dirty and clean. The warmth of the water, the pop of the bubbles, the movements of your hand. You miss the life that happens in the middle zone between now and what you think your life should be like. And when you miss those moments because you would rather be doing something else, you are missing your own life. Those moments are gone, you will never get them back.”

As a lifelong student of health and nutrition, I know how important it is to cultivate mindfulness when we’re trying to change our relationships with food. Eating lunch at your computer, for example, while scrolling through social media images can increase anxiety and lower self-esteem, which can then lead to emotional eating.

I am so excited to have Dr. Kristen Race lead our wellness series this next Sunday. I am a huge fan of her work. Not only is she incredibly knowledgeable, Dr. Race is also engaging and funny. I took her Mindfulness in the Workplace series and it changed the way I organize my day, significantly reducing my stress. I hope you’ll join us.

In light and love,Sandy