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Get Outta Your Head

By Energy, Mindfulness, Values, Vulnerability, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

I spend a lot of time in my head thinking, analyzing, overthinking, planning, dreaming, and creating. One of the reasons I was initially drawn to yoga is the freedom of getting out of my head and connecting with my breath and my body. I liked it so much that I became a yoga teacher, opened my own yoga studio, and started my own yoga business.

Instead of living in a stretchy bliss of ease and acceptance, I began to overthink and overanalyze all things yoga. I can tell after a class I taught if I was too in my head—the class didn’t feel right and I’m left dissatisfied.

When I take yoga classes or practice at home, I’m still in my head. “What a great cue,” I think, or “wow, I never thought of that sequence.” As much as I try to simply receive, I’m stuck in the mode of creating, learning, and trying to improve and evolve as a teacher. Have I lost yoga to my monkey mind?

I was recently invited to preview a Qi Gong Equine Therapy model a friend of mine created. She wanted to test things out before working with caregivers of hospice patients. Having no exposure to Qi Gong, I had no idea what to expect.

I grew up riding and raising horses, so I figured I had that part down. I was with a wonderful group of women and we were warned that emotions could arise. I trusted we would hold space for each other.

After a brief introduction, we did a few basic Qi Gong exercises. I was immediately blown away by how grounded, peaceful, open, centered, and calm I felt. I didn’t notice until later that I was actually out of my head for a bit. The purpose of these exercises was to get into our hearts to connect with the horses.

We went into the arena to find our equine partner. Some horses might choose us, we were told, or we might choose the horses. Entering the arena, I had butterflies. I had memories of walking into a middle school dance. The horse I was drawn to passed me by. Feeling like we were playing musical chairs, I quickly chose a handsome chestnut gelding named Doc. Doc looked completely disinterested in me.

I wondered if I made a bad choice. We all circled up. The horses came over and circled up with their human partners, too—except Doc. He turned away from us and took a nap.

My brief relationship with Doc felt a bit like my current relationship with my 14 year old son. Before transitioning to the next activity, I asked if I should pick another horse. I wasn’t sure Doc and I were a good fit.

I was assured that I absolutely had the right horse. I was skeptical but started the work of learning to connect by leading with my heart and getting out of my head. Without using verbal commands or touching the horses, we were to use our eyes, our heart energy, and some movement to invite the horse to walk with us. This is based in Qi Gong as the mind goes where the eyes go and energy goes where the mind goes.

It’s hard for me to put into words what this experience was like. Before I began, I was instructed to close my eyes, come into my breath, get out of my mind, and assess my energy level on a scale of 1-10. We were reminded that all relationships look different and we were encouraged to just be.

My energy level was a 7-8. I was nervous that Doc and I would fail. And if I failed to connect with Doc, then naturally I’d fail to connect with my son. Realizing how in my head I was, I started questioning my ability to teach yoga, berating myself until the big question finally reared its ugly head: am I enough?

I found my way out of my head, focusing my gaze and opening my heart. As Doc and I connected, I felt something I can only describe as a pleasant electric shock in my heart. My heart felt like it was bursting open. I could feel myself beaming and fighting back tears. The connection was immediately lost when my monkey mind kicked in, but we could re-establish connection when I came back to my center, my body, and my breath.

It was one of the most profound experiences I’ve had with a horse and I struggle to accurately describe it. For days afterwards I experienced euphoria while also feeling like I could burst into tears.

What did I learn? That I had more connection with a simple Qi Gong exercise than I’ve had recently with my yoga practice. That I’m in my head. That relationships that don’t look like you think they should can still evoke connection. I learned what pure, innocent connection feels like. And most importantly for me right now, I’ve become even more inspired to get out of my head and teach from my heart.

In light and love,

Sandy

 

Pushing Through Fear

By Goal Setting, Health, Yoga No Comments
Becky Kuhl
Becky Kuhl: strong and perfectly imperfect.

I love fitness. And now, I can officially call myself a fitness professional. I decided to change my career in my 40s which was super scary, but that’s not what I want to focus on right now. I eat, breathe, and dream about different exercises, programs, and playlists. I wake up in the morning and put on workout clothes. I’m 100% passionate about teaching Yoga Sculpt and training people one-on-one. What I do is important to me, and helping people through whatever they may be going through is where I want to be in life.

For continuing education credits for my personal training certificate, I decided (with encouragement from a good friend) to take the Level 1 CrossFit Trainer course. I’ve wanted to do it for a while, but it’s expensive and quite honestly I was nervous and scared. I saved my pennies and mustered up the courage to do it.

I showed up the first day nervous but ready to go. The coaches were absolutely amazing and inspirational. We broke out into small groups to practice movements and fine tune them. Very quickly I realized that my ability to perform certain movements to perfection was extremely challenging, if not almost impossible. Now what I’m about to say is not an excuse, but rather a reality. I have mobility issues in my shoulders and thoracic spine. I also have a pronounced lumbar curve. I even have a partial knee replacement, but that wasn’t causing my issues in these particular movements.

I went through the day trying my best to achieve perfection, but to no avail. It just wasn’t happening. That evening I went back to my parents’ house where I was staying and bawled. How can I coach and instruct others to do movements that I can’t achieve to perfection? My confidence was shattered, and what I eat, breathe, and dream (my passion) was being challenged.

After I got all my tears out, I was able to think more sensibly. First I thought about body mechanics, and how achieving the perfect position in a few of the movements was not ideal for me. I decided that those positions are good goals to work toward by working on my mobility issues, but knowing in the end, although I may improve, it may not be the perfect standard. Then I thought about what is safe. My lower back was aching that evening, so I knew that something was out of whack. I realized that forcing myself into a few different positions was not necessarily good for my body. I believe that body mechanics and technique are very important for injury prevention, but that may look a little different for different people and different bodies.

My last thought was: how great is it that I can have a different perspective? Ultimately, it will make me a better coach and instructor because I understand that everyone has different issues to work on and not everyone has the perfect athletic body, including myself! So, by the second day I had my confidence back along with a new perspective. Sometimes it takes a few tears to be able to overcome difficulty.

My point of sharing this is to hopefully build up your confidence. When you walk into yoga class, whatever modality, remember that you’re on your own journey. It doesn’t matter what the yogi next to you is doing or looks like. What matters is that you showed up because you want to improve, whether physically or spiritually. You have strengths and weaknesses. So does that person next to you who looks absolutely perfect. So stop judging yourself. And definitely stop comparing yourself. It’s been said that, “The enemy of contentment is comparison.” Give yourself some grace and high five the yogi next to you because everyone has their stuff that they may be hiding. Physically and emotionally. Even in that person who looks perfect. Encourage each other, love extremely, and have confidence that you’re right where you’re suppose to be.

Although my weekend started off rough, I was able to turn it around and become more empowered. I’m so happy I pushed past my fear. You never know what you may miss if fear holds you back.

Stay strong.

Love, Becky

Do it for Drew

By Fundraiser, Yoga No Comments

21 years ago my (now) sister-in-law Dana took me to my first yoga class in Austin, Texas. “It will be fun!” she blurted.

45 minutes into the 90-minute class, I was flooded with doubt and a little bit of fear. Down dog felt like infinity. Was my blood sugar low? When I shampooed my hair the next day, muscles I’d never noticed before were sore.

Somewhere between the active aching and residual tenderness, I realized I felt great. In my very first yoga class, I struggled and strained and I fell in love with Savasana. I knew I would do yoga again.

More than two decades later, it’s easy to see how much yoga has changed my life. It took just one class and, of course, just one person.

A few years ago, Dana was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent surgery and reconstruction with grace and bravery that humbled me. Unfortunately, she has recently experienced a recurrence and is about to face another battle against cancer, this time with surgery and aggressive chemotherapy.

Now when I do yoga, I dedicate my practice to Dana. I send intentions for healing and health and I send prayers and positivity. I send her as much as I can as often as I can.

For the month of March, I’m encouraging all of us in the Rakta community to dedicate our practice to someone. Live like Sancy, Fight like Charlee, Do it for Drew. You can send strength to someone who needs it and love to someone who has passed. You can encourage someone to be bold or have faith. You can soothe someone’s anxiety or anger. You can send joy. Bring and keep a part of someone else with you as you move on your mat.

On Thursday March 7th, Rakta will be honoring the memory of Drew Rushton. Dedicating our practice to his memory, all classes will be donation based with the donations going to the Steamboat Viking Youth Hockey Team. Wake up and flow, take a sculpt lunch, and get fire hot sweaty after work. Join us all day long. In community, we will love and remember Drew.

Sign up for classes or drop on in! #doitfordrew

Refining my List

By Goal Setting, Health, Mindfulness, Values, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

I just joined a book club and went to my first meeting. We discussed Brene Brown’s latest book Dare to Lead. I’m a huge fan of Brene’s work and Dare to Lead was especially timely for me.

One of the exercises from the book is to examine our values. Our group passed around a list of about 100 values. From the list, we each picked our top ten values and then the top two we thought defined us. This exercise was extremely challenging—all the values listed seemed to apply to me (trust, learning, achievement, financial security, faith, family, personal satisfaction). It was hard to find my top ten, then even harder to pick my top two.

We went around the group and discussed our selections. It didn’t take long before we noticed that I didn’t choose health as a value. How could I overlook health? I’ve dedicated more than 20 years of my life to studying health and working in the industry in various capacities.

I was baffled and honestly somewhat embarrassed.

Since the book club meeting, I’ve been asking myself questions:

  • What is health to me?
  • Is it absence of disease?
  • Is it a number on a scale?
  • Is it a set of laboratory values or how energized I’m feeling?

It’s easy to take health for granted until we get injured or sick. Our own community has experienced so many tragedies this year from cancer and suicide, infection and sepsis, to accidents and overdoses. The Winter Solstice is usually a powerful time for me for introspection and reflection. On the longest night of the year, I was able to reflect on what health means to me and where I can make changes to better support my health.

As we close the month of December and move into 2019, we can journal and contemplate shifts we would like to make in our lives. We can take inventory on exercise, personal and professional relationships, sleep, diet and nutrition, outlook on life, as well as habits, needs, and addictions. As a society, mental health and wellness are often overlooked, but chronic pain, anxiety, and depression can lead to substance abuse and suicidal ideation and they can decrease our immune systems, too. If you value adventure, curiosity, and learning but your partner values financial security, order, and routine, you can see how conflict can occur and how a survey might be an opportunity to create deeper connection. In the workplace, understanding how your core values differ from your co-workers’ may help explain sources of conflict and instill greater respect.

An honest survey of our values is such a beneficial exercise and a great way to kick off the new year. There are lots of online surveys available to take and download. Or dare to read Dare to Lead.

What does 2019 look like for your health?

In light and love,

Sandy

Christie Brinkley, Billy Blanks, and Me

By Health, Mindfulness, Nutrition, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

When I was 13, I received a copy of Christie Brinkley’s Outdoor Beauty and Fitness Book. I was set. In one book, I had the complete guide to everything I needed to know to be just as dazzling and breathtaking as Christie Brinkley. I followed her advice for cutting up bananas and freezing them as a snack to satisfy my sweet tooth. I did her exercises religiously and followed her beauty advice on how to lighten my hair with lemons. What could go wrong? I was totally sure that if I followed Christie’s advice, I would have all the tools I’d need to become a sexy, confident woman.

Fast forward a few years and moves, college and grad school, and I eventually lost track of my beauty bible. It was okay though because I found Billy Blanks and Tae Bo. I could kick and punch my way into total body fitness.

By my 30s, I wasn’t nearly as quick to fall for a quick fix, but I was influenced by yoga teachers, medical mentors, and people who seemed to me to have it all together. I was sure that if I could be more like them, I could be a better mom, wife, and friend. Looking back now, I realize I didn’t trust myself. I wasn’t connected to my physical body or my intuition. Being a mom to two young kids, I was completely focused on their needs, care, and wellbeing. I didn’t have time or energy to listen to and interpret the messages my body was sending me. It was easier to listen to people like Christie and Billy, people who knew the steps to success. I ignored symptoms of allergies, stress, and fatigue—signs my body was using to tell me it was out of balance.

It’s taken nearly a decade of my 40s (my favorite decade, by the way) to connect to myself. What changed? Why do I now listen to my own inner voice? I can’t point to just one thing, but I believe meditation, yoga trainings, health coaching, nutrition training, and not working all night shifts in the emergency department have supported me on this path.

When I was a new yoga teacher, I labeled myself alignment-oriented. I knew exactly how a posture should look and I would cue ad nauseam to get students to create that posture. After almost 10 years and many hours of teaching and observing different bodies with different injuries and stories, I’ve come to see alignment as what works in the body within reason on any given day.

I no longer hold on to rigid ideas that are tethered to the word “should.” I have a running joke with Becky Kuhl about burpees. After doing them for 15 years, burpees don’t feel so good in my body. In fact, I really don’t like them at all. So I modify when I need to and I take pride in that. At this time of year, I make many life modifications. I may go to bed at 8pm. If I’m not teaching a 6am class, I don’t go to yoga at 6am. I make sure my eating, self-care, and exercise are aligned with what supports me, even if someone I respect tells me to do something different.

As we head into late fall and winter, I can’t encourage people enough to listen to their bodies about sleep, food, movement, and even the company you keep and connections you make. It doesn’t matter what your most inspirational yoga teacher, health guru, accomplished outdoor athlete, or business person eats, drinks, or does to their body or puts in their hair for highlights. It’s wonderful to have teachers, mentors, and guides on our personal journeys, but we don’t have to take others’ words as scripture when our true or best selves may be compromised.

“We are always looking outward, listening to our teachers who come in with their own problems and limitations, and we ignore the most supreme teacher within ourselves. The only way to evolve, to progress, to truly practice, is to listen to our inner teacher.” ~ Prashant Iyengar

In light and love,

Sandy

Getting Old, Getting Connected

By Values, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

This week, I turned 49. Do I feel old? No. I feel like I’ve been blessed with one heck of a fun adventure I get to call life, a wild and unscripted road trip I couldn’t have planned if I tried.

As I see so much suffering, uncertainty, and unease around me, I often ask myself: why do I feel blessed when others seem to struggle? With physical health, emotional or spiritual health, or mental health? When I turned 40, I remember thinking how old 40 seemed. Entering my final year of my fourth decade, I truly believe these 10 years are ones of growth and maturation. I finally found my stride and figured out who I am. I followed dreams and made bold moves (like move to Steamboat and open a yoga and wellness studio).

Our lives and the people in them are to be celebrated everyday. I don’t view my daily responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, mucking stalls, and managing behind the scenes tasks at Rakta as chores. Maybe with the exception of after school pick-up at the middle school (truthfully, it gives me angina), they’re parts of my life that fulfill me.

Life is short. I’m almost half a century old already! And with everything I’ve experienced and lived through, all the old clichés make more sense, become obvious. Live every day like it could be your last takes on a different meaning when you’re suddenly faced with an ailing parent, the death of a friend or pet, or the reality of cancer as it spreads through your community. Over this past decade, I’ve learned to be truly grateful for parents, family, good friends to confide in, great food and wine, the joy of cooking, the serenity of a walk with my sweet dog, and the sound of my goats greeting me. All the little things that happen before and after the big events—that’s where the beauty is.

My vision for this year is to create more real and deep connections with others and to tune in to my own innate wisdom about what I need in my body and life at this moment. The yoga studio is a magical space where we can connect with others through intention and breath but also have a truly unique and individual experience. In yoga, being united and together doesn’t diminish the power of individuality. It’s taken me 18 years of yoga practice to own my body’s strengths, injuries, and weaknesses. I’m no longer defined by how long it takes me to skin to the gondola or run a 10K, or how open my hips are in Pigeon or Lizard Lunge Twist. I choose to define myself by how I treat all living creatures on this earth. That’s what it’s about.

Moving into fall and winter—seasons that are darker and colder, I recognize that many people can feel isolated or lonely, disinterested or disconnected. In our social media-driven society, it’s easy to get lost in virtual misinterpretations and unhealthy comparisons to unrealistic ideals or imagined realities.

But Rakta is real, and open, and welcoming! We’re here to provide connections through asana, community, health, and new experiences. There are so many things about yoga that I love, and there are so many benefits to regular practice. Look for Rakta’s next challenge, some social sweats, and happy hours. We’ll coordinate some social ski and skate-ski days in addition to our existing book clubs, teacher trainings, and wellness lectures.

We’re all better when we’re together, feeling connected to ourselves and each other.

In light and love,

Sandy

Motivation

By Death, Mindfulness, Values, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

Recently I’ve been thinking about the underlying motivation in different areas of my life. As much I hate to admit it, my interest in fitness first started by reading Cosmopolitan and Glamour magazine articles in high school and college. Thankfully, I evolved beyond that and found running and hiking to be great stress relievers for all of the pressures of Physician Assistant school. If I saw a hill, I couldn’t wait to run up it and clear my mind. Rollerblading, another trend of the times, also gave me a feeling of freedom.

With so much running and no time allocated for stretching, I found yoga as a way to relieve my back pain. My first yoga classes were with a wonderful man at Bally’s Total Fitness in Denver. His yoga was a fusion of Tai Chi and gentle yoga, and I felt so much better on a physical and emotional level. Eventually, I found a yoga studio in Cherry Creek and it became my yoga home. I entered what I like to refer to as my “posture collecting phase.” I was obsessed with inversions, arm balances, and backbends to the point that I ultimately sustained injuries (which have changed the way I now practice yoga). When my kids were babies, then toddlers, yoga was my anchor as I navigated my work-mom balance. I didn’t yet know how to apply yoga off my mat, so I needed classes to create space in my mind.

When I turned 40, things changed. My kids were in school, we sold our business, and I was questioning lots of areas of my life. In addition to doing yoga, I started going to a Lagree Pilates studio and kickboxing gym. I was addicted. Both places provided great physical release, and I became more fit than I ever imagined I would. As I started my journey into teaching yoga, pilates, kickboxing, and personal training, my workouts were an escape for me. With exercise, I was shutting out issues in my marriage, frustrations around parenting, and nagging questions about my career satisfaction and my overall identity. On the outside I looked healthy, but psychologically I was obsessed and borderline panicked by the threat of missing a workout.

As I enter the last bit of my 40s, nutrition, meditation, spending time with my kids, and running a business keep me busy. I still have time to be active, but it’s a healthier mix. I no longer feel the need to do certain things just because I can or should.

The passing of Herald Stout last week has been on my mind. He was a gifted yogi, yoga teacher, and father. I keep asking myself why—he lived a healthy lifestyle and yet was taken way too soon. It’s a reminder that nothing in this world is certain. Harold’s passing inspires me to hone in on my motivation. What are my real priorities and passions? A speaker at the Feel Good Summit I attended in June suggested ditching the Bucket List for a F**k it List—for all those things we know we don’t want to do even though somehow we feel like we should. It’s a list of things we can let go of. This can help when we consider fitness. Do we exercise and do yoga to support our health, to exert control over some aspect of our life, to escape, or to connect with what truly serves us?

In light and love,

Sandy

Wellness Challenge, Change & What About my Wine

By Gut Health, Health, Inflammation, Nutrition, Transition, Wellness, Wellness Challenge, Yoga No Comments

I’m so excited about our spring Wellness Challenge focusing on gut health. I like to offer challenges in the spring and fall because these are powerful times for change. In the winter, I’m super busy with parties, out of town guests, holiday feasts, après-ski events, and what seems like a million birthday celebrations. In the summer, I want to play. I’m enjoying the green grass under my feet and the sun on my face. I’m losing myself in the long days and the ripe watermelon. I’m watching my goats be goats. I’m not thinking about nutrition, meditation, journaling, and deep introspection.

The premise of this challenge is to cultivate a healthy microbiome by increasing the good bacteria in our gut. Over the course of a brutal flu season marked by respiratory and secondary infections, many of us have taken antibiotics, Advil, Prilosec, and other medications that deplete our healthy bacteria. Being busy and under the weather can put us into food ruts where we’re choosing foods that don’t serve us best. Putting in long hours at work or taking work home with us can send us to bed reading emails or perseverating about projects, decisions, or discussions with coworkers.

We know that many disease processes begin with low-level inflammation in the body and a leaky gut, or deranged microbiome. Anxiety and depression along with autoimmune, heart, and inflammatory bowel disease all have this origin in common.

From March 5th through April 20th, we’ll focus on the following: practicing yoga four days a week; putting away electronics two hours before bed; getting eight hours of sleep each night; getting outside three days a week; meditating; avoiding sugar, processed foods, dairy, wheat, and soy; and cooking at home six days a week. Anyone who has done a challenge with me knows that it’s about exploration and learning, not hard-and-fast rules. Challenges are just like yoga: they vary and change depending on where you are in your life. Sometimes yoga is about more about the breath or learning advanced postures, while other times it’s about creating space for your monkey mind. Challenges can be reflections of our lives and they can inspire revelations, too.

The point of this challenge is not to be perfect. Don’t focus on doing it all. Some people will soak up the dietary information, some will be cultivating meditation for the first time, and some will be new to doing yoga four days a week. Others may not skip a beat and remember just one or two pearls of self-care tips. Even if you’ve done challenges before, something will resonate this time and stick. It’s just like yoga—every day is different and you never know when your crow might fly. Was it the cue? Was it your perspective? Was it the flow? Every breath, class, day, challenge is different.

Creating a healthy life is a journey. It’s not a sprint. It’s not about suffering through seven weeks, proving you can avoid Swiss cheese and a Fat Tire, and returning to “regular life” when it’s over. The challenge is about looking at areas in your life that work really well and shining a light on the dark corners you avoid. I learn so much every time I guide people through challenges, and I truly love these experiences.

If you seek self-improvement and you’re committed to self-care, sign up. If you’re traveling, have a tight work schedule, or not sure you’re ready for all the components, sign up. It’s free and fun to be part of a group working towards better health.

I can’t wait to get started!

In light and love,

Sandy

6 Hours on a 30-Day Ketogenic Diet

By Alcohol, Health, Inflammation, Nutrition, Sugar, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

I had a great holiday season full of friends, dinners, wine(s), and Ghirardelli chocolate squares. Sitting in front of my Christmas lights on New Year’s Eve, I vowed to get back on track. I was feeling depleted and sluggish from repetitive overindulging.

The romance of the holidays ended and the lights got packed away. The holidays were behind me along with my inspiration. So I did something I never do—I jumped on a diet. I believe in the principles and eating plan that guide this ketogenic diet, but I set myself up for failure. I was ignoring my true self—my physical and emotional feelings as well as my knowledge and core beliefs.

As if I needed more proof, I was actually excited about having to wait for my supplements to arrive. I had more time to eat, drink, and be merry before restriction reined me in. As I unpacked my chocolate and vanilla bone broth protein formulas, ketone tablets, meal plans, and shopping lists, I became uneasy. In my heart, I knew this wasn’t what I needed.

I choked down my chocolate bone broth with ghee and trotted off to teach my 6am Fire Series. Denial gave way to survival as I realized once again that, for things that truly matter, you can’t just “pop a pill” and experience immediate results. I also learned that it’s better to wait until after teaching in 105 degrees to put something new, different, or out of the ordinary in your body.

The issue, of course, was not the diet.

It was me.

Over my lifetime, I have come to recognize my pattern of thinking I’m not enough, of not trusting myself. Within six hours, I knew I didn’t need to radically change, add supplements, or pee on a stick to measure my ketones. I needed to go back to what I’ve learned in three years of nutrition and health coach training. I needed to believe in myself. I needed to center, dig in, and get back to my roots. With the trials of my first year as a yoga studio owner on top of my commitment to my crazy, active family, I lost my personal focus.

This incident, or kink in my journey, has inspired me to get back to what I know and to share it with folks at Rakta. February is Heart Health Month. To take care of our hearts, we need to reduce inflammation. In my Wellness Challenge, we’ll start with the two big culprits: SUGAR and ALCOHOL!

Are you still there? Do you need a minute to process? I know, I understand….

During the month of love and wine, chocolate and champagne, we’ll make choices to support our immune systems, break our sugar addictions, and examine our individual patterns around these prevalent inflammation offenders. By boosting our immune systems and reducing inflammation, we’ll create anti-cancer environments and make feeling good (even great!) the new norm. Fight Inflammation February—will you be mine?

In March, we’ll move deeper into gut health and supporting our microbiomes through other dietary changes. March 18th-April 20th is Rakta’s 30 (+2) Day Yoga Challenge with great locals deals to step into spring with new energy, strength, and balance. Look for more information about Fight Inflammation February and our Yoga Challenge at the studio and on Facebook and Instagram.

In light and love,

Sandy