February Resolutions

This year I’m setting February resolutions because (A) I’ve been running late since I became a parent, and (B) gyms are ridiculously overcrowded in January.

Having a baby thrust me into survival mode for several months and everything except keeping my family clean, clothed, and fed got pushed to the back burner (which has been broken since we bought our house; getting it repaired is yet another deferred task). 2015 was the year of the baby. 2016 is the year of reestablishing the healthy, conscious, ambitious habits that I strayed from for the baby’s sake. I do not regret the choices I made in 2015—I gave the fleeting phase of new motherhood my everything, which was beautiful, joyful, challenging, purposeful, and all-consuming. 2016 is not about neglecting baby care, it’s about embracing my little one’s growing independence and taking ownership of the space it offers me to do and be more.

Here the habits I am forming over the next year:

  1. Eat as well as the baby eats. It is too regular an occurrence that I am feeding the baby freshly prepared organic yam, kale, chicken, and olive oil with one hand and myself Dijiorno pizza with the other. Now, going head-to-head with the baby, matching her  for fruits, veggies, high-protein foods, and healthy fats. I’m on the hunt for meals we can both eat. Yesterday I made mini veggie patties her her and grown-up sized ones for my husband and myself, and it felt great to have a family meal we could all enjoy. I’m on the hunt for family recipes; please post any leads in the comments! In an infant nutrition class I took, the teacher reported that the most significant predictor of how kids end up eating is not what their parents feed them, what what parents eat themselves, so in the long run my eating habits are healthy for the baby too!
  2. Exercise every single day. I dropped down to my pre-pregnancy weight quickly, so the effects of pregnancy and childbirth on my body aren’t outwardly apparent. However, they persist. Last year, I blogged about my challenge with hypermobile joints during pregnancy. The effects have been lasting and uncomfortable (especially since breastfeeding continues to produce hormones that keep my joints lax). Daily exercise is no longer Monday: Step class, Tuesday: Vinyasa yoga, Wednesday: six mile run (and so on…) as it was five years ago. For now, doing fifteen minutes of simple physical therapy exercises before bed counts. To give me the time, space, and community to develop this goal, the baby and I have joined a gym with childcare. The other day, a friend who joined the same gym texted me: “I’m excited to get this baby weight off” and, embarrassingly, I initially interpreted her statement to mean drop the baby off at the daycare. Fitness has long been a haven for me, so along getting stronger and more stable, I’m excited for some real me time (getting out the house to do errands like getting my hair cut and legs waxed doesn’t seem like it should count).
  3. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Before the baby was born, I set an intention to harness my powerful love for her and extend it to all beings. This is hard to do during the tumultuous newborn stage. The baby took up all my love and energy, and I quickly became dependent on the convenience of overly-packaged takeout meals and Amazon Prime deliveries—environment be damned. I got lazy about recycling anything that needed to be washed and frequently disposed of green waste via the garbage disposal rather than dealing with the overflowing food scraps bin. Other than getting over my apathy, my first action item is to get recycling and green waste bins in every room of the house so that there is no excuse to throw junk mail or a used tissue into the trash. My second step is to reduce use of waste-producing items (paper towels are a big opportunity). Once these changes are in place, I’m committed to continuing to look for ways we can increase our contribution to a healthy environment.
  4. Take ownership of home ownership. When we bought our house, I saw so much potential in it! I was going to plant a vegetable garden, convert the patio into a zen oasis, re-landscape the front lawn into a drought-resistent bee-friendly labyrinth, plan and budget for a kitchen remodel down the line, and set up a garage organization system so that it wouldn’t get stacked to the rafters with empty Amazon packaging (as it is now). Two weeks after we closed on the house, we found out I was pregnant, and between the nausea and difficulty moving most of that went out the window. A year-and-a-half later I’m a long way from achieving that vision, and I keep using the baby as a less and less convincing excuse. It’s time to make an action items list and start checking things off.
  5. Dress like a grown-up. When I recently came across the hilarious image below, and it made me think twice about setting this goal, but I’m sticking with it. The timeframe in which it’s still acceptable to wear maternity jeans and yoga pants all the time expired months ago. The last two years have been transformational: I bought a house, I moved to the suburbs, I went through pregnancy, I became a mother, I got older, I stopped teaching yoga… My lifestyle has drastically changed and many of my old clothes are no longer comfortable, practical, or expressive of who I am now. I hate shopping, so I signed up for Stitch Fix, and am hoping to slowly piece together a more suitable wardrobe, month-by-month.
Top 20 Things No Woman Should Wear After 30

I guess it’s time to retire my shirt made of wasps…

What are your New Years Resolutions, and how are they going? Please share in the comments below!

Winter Wisdom

It’s been a busy winter between joyful visits with friends and family, near-and-far, and weathering my first cold and flu season with an infant (I don’t think I’ve ever been sick this frequently in my life). It’s given me lots to write about over at Inner Fire!

Each member of my extended family has different desires and expectations around gifts, which inspired a festive article: How To Give Presence During The Holidays. When my husband asked me years ago what the most important, defining part of Christmas was, my knee jerk response was, “The cheese ball my mom makes” (Whoops, I meant, spending time with family and friends. He still hasn’t let me live this down). Needless to say, this is my favorite alternative to gift-giving during the holidays:

Hungry belly. Humans bond over food, and this is truer than ever over the holidays. If your diet differs from your loved ones’, consider ways to participate in meals without compromising on your needs. Maybe make a hearty quinoa and beet salad to share, and pair it with parts of the group meal that are within your diet. Maybe throw your ideals out the window for a day and dig in. Make a choice that works for your situation.

Whether I’m visiting frosty Canada or in chilly Northern California, there’s one constant: I’m always cold. For other yogis who cannot bundle up enough in the winter, I wrote 10 Fiery Yogic Practices To Get You Through The Winter Months. My method of choice it to warm up from the inside by combining two of the ideas I listed: spice and hot tea:

Try antioxidant-packed turmeric tea.

Having a baby last year threw me into survival mode for a bit, and I’m just getting back to setting goals that extend beyond keeping my family clean, clothed, and fed. Here’s an article about how to power up your 2016 goals: The Secret To Making Your New Years Resolutions Stick. I’ll give it away; the secret is defining your sankalpa:

Well-formulated New Years resolutions are specific, measurable, realistic goals broken down into steps with deadlines. Your sankalpa is the fire that ignites these goals.

This year, I didn’t get around to setting my New Years resolutions until February, but I’m okay with that. Instead of getting started exhausted from the holidays and getting over a cold, I’m beginning rested, healthy, and focused. Join me! It’s better to be a month late than to wait twelve months until 2017.

Why Yoga Bootcamp?

After ten years teaching fitness and yoga and seven years studying Kinesiology and Cognitive Science I’m finally putting it all together: In January, I’m teaching Yoga EMPOWER Bootcamp at Thriveability in San Francisco. This four-week transformational series combines yoga and meditation with fitness and goal-setting to provide students safe, fun, and motivating, complete mental, physical, and spiritual workout. Here’s why I’m so hyped up about it:

Why Yoga?

Side Plank with Tree

Side Plank with Tree (Photo Credit: Faye Chao)

Yoga is the foundation. It is the ultimate system for letting go of what no longer serves us, coming into acceptance of who we truly are, and realizing our divine purpose. Without the work we do in yoga (or other systems that guide us to develop in the same way), any action we take or goal we set is directionless and purposeless. The present moment awareness that yoga cultivates provides us a springboard from which we can take mindful, intentional action. Also, yoga helps us develop body awareness and flexibility, feels amazing, and is just plain fun.

Why Not Just Yoga?

As with any other type of paradigm that involves physical activity, there are common patterns of muscle imbalance that can arise when yoga is our only form of regimented movement (these imbalances often aren’t from the yoga, we come in with them and can reinforce them in yoga if we’re not careful). Even if we have yoga teachers who enforce alignment meticulously, it doesn’t mean we will rehabilitate these imbalances; often, it means we are discouraged from going into positions where our body shows signs of that imbalance. Yoga is not supposed to be about ego or goals, so we should be content with backing off and taking it easy, right? This is great for avoiding injuries on the mat, but it avoids problems rather than addressing them, so it allows us to retain imbalances that may lead to injury off the mat during our day-to-day movements.

It’s so amazing and healing to be able to think to yourself, it’s okay that I can’t do handstand. I’m perfect the way I am. But, without losing touch with that thought, it’s also worthwhile to question, why can’t I do handstand? Where am I losing the energy that is supposed to be holding me up? If the energetic bottleneck is something physical, it’s doesn’t really make sense to address it only with the spiritual practice of yoga (especially if you’ve been doing yoga for years and nothings changed). Drawing on the extensive knowledge of kinesiologists, exercise specialists, fitness instructors, and physical therapists would be much more directed and intentional.

Why Fitness?

Core Twist

Core Twist (Photo Credit: Faye Chao)

Fitness helps us fill in the gaps of our yoga practice so we can maintain strong, healthy, functional, injury-free bodies. Developing body awareness, stability, strength, endurance, and power using fitness allows us to practice a broader range of poses safely. Often, the physically challenging poses offered as options in yoga classes will only ever be available to those who already have the fitness to do them (or who gain that fitness outside of yoga). Regular yoga classes often don’t provide the frequency, intensity, and type of movements to elicit the significant training effects needed to build the strength for a challenging pose like handstand.

For example, in yoga we do moderate-intensity core work as part of our warm-up or prep-work to bring awareness and circulation into the core and prime these vital muscles for the rest of class. It makes the core more able to contract properly in the short term. In fitness, we do high-intensity core work toward the end of class. The goal in this case is to fatigue the muscles, which is essential for improving strength and endurance over time. However, it makes the core less able to contract in the moment, which is why it’s safer to do at the end of class.

Personal Experience: After doing both yoga and fitness for years, I cancelled my gym membership and started doing vinyasa yoga almost exclusively. It only took a year of this for me to developed some painful imbalances and hypermobilities in my body that kept getting worse the more I practiced yoga. Everyone told me to stick to gentle classes, but the gentle poses made me feel worse than anything else. It wasn’t until I started doing Pilates and rehabilitative exercises that my body finally started recovering. Not only was I in less pain, as I strengthened my glutes, my hip flexibility increased instead of decreasing. Once my body was more stable it was safer for it to open up. As I strengthened my core to support my aching spine, a side effect was that poses that had never been accessible to me before started showing up. All of a sudden I could stick a handstand–if only for a couple seconds. I began to see poses like handstand not as an end goal, but as a check-in on stability, integrity, balance, and body awareness.

Doing fitness is not only about the physical benefits, there’s a philosophical aspect to it, too. It’s one thing to have a vision and a purpose, and even to clearly see your path (yoga and meditation are phenomenal forms of self-study that allow you to establish these things). It’s another thing to have the drive and know-how to follow the path toward your intention. In one of my college classes, we learned that will power is like a muscle: if you overuse it, it becomes burnt out; but if you practice it regularly without exhausting it, you’ll slowly build its strength and endurance. By adding fitness into our weekly practice, which–unlike yoga–is goal-oriented, we develop our tenacity, our determination, our perseverance, and our will. When we experience ourselves achieving our what we said we would achieve (especially if the goal was audacious), we begin to trust our own words, and our intentions become more powerful.

Why Inversions and Arm Balances?

Eka Pada Galavasana

Eka Pada Galavasana (Photo Credit: Faye Chao)

1. They’re fun.

2. They are informative. If you wanted know where you tend to collapse in your body, do handstand and you’ll find out immediately. While many other poses whisper bits and pieces of feedback that are easy to miss, arm balances and, even more so, inversions give you a full presentation on a loudspeaker with PowerPoint slides.

3. They are empowering. The first time we see an inversion or an arm balance, our immediate reaction is, I can’t. But then (after a little work, perseverence, and guidance), it turns out we can, it helps us re-evaluate other possibilities in your life we’ve dismissed. Very few things are impossible. It just takes practice to identify and diligently follow the path to your wildest dreams.

Why So Often? Why so long? Why so early?

I want Yoga EMPOWER Bootcamp to remind you how powerful you and inspire you to tap into that power to achieve your divine purpose. The program is 5-days-a-week (Monday to Friday) at 6am for 4 weeks. To make radical changes in our lives, we must practice new habits regularly and for a sustained period. We alternate what we do everyday so we never end up with overworked or fatigued, and we take weekends off to we can recharge our will power and maintain balance in our lives. As with any program for improving fitness, it takes six weeks to see significant results, and I wouldn’t want you to miss out on experiencing what your capable of by cutting the program any shorter. However, for now, we’re offering a trial version of the program that’s only four weeks long, which is a little easier to commit to. Stay tuned for the full six-week version.

Down dog on the Wall with Leg Lift

Down dog on the Wall with Leg Lift (Photo Credit: Faye Chao)

6am is earlier than most of us have anything planned, so there aren’t many excuses for not showing up. It’s hard to get up that early for six whole weeks, but each of us knows we’re capable of it–it’s another way we will develop will power. Also, when we’re waking up that early every day, we start to feel the effects of our lifestyles. They’re amplified. If we pay a even an iota of attention to our energy levels, it will become painfully apparent which lifestyle choices allow us to get out of bed and do an intense workout first thing in the morning, and which leave us running late, groggy, and unable to harness our power.

See you bright and early on January 6th at Thriveability!

I am so excited to share this program with you. I truly, wholeheartedly believe it will help you realize your purpose, develop the skills to achieve it, and learn some fun poses along the way.