The Painful Side of Bending Back

Just because you can bend back, does that mean that you should?

One of my regular yoga students has a gorgeous asana practice (referring to the physical postures) – she flows from posture to posture seamlessly, floating with grace and ease. Some of her most beautiful and deepest expressions of postures are her backbends…she seems almost limitless in how fully she can enter each bend. I remember one of the first times she came to my class I felt somewhat jealous that my body is not as lithe, lean, bendy as hers. I felt nervous to approach her to give adjustments or tips – what could I teach someone with such a beautiful practice?

At the end of class, she approached me. She said that she had been dealing with intense back pain and wondered what she should do about it. We talked about her practice and quickly came to realize that while she was so flexible, she was missing strength and stability. Pushing her backbends to the limit, working to achieve a deeper expression of each posture, she was left with the pain of too much. Too much flexibility, too much bending back, not enough limit setting, not enough strength.

You know how to stay safe when bending back? You know when to STOP. You get STRONGER. You think about how bending back isn’t just about your back – all pieces of you are connected and will impact one another in ways both helpful and harmful.

It might look incredible right now to get your foot to your head in pigeon, you might not want to be the only person in class choosing bridge over wheel, you might get a thrill or a congratulations by finding a fuller expression in dancer. It’s fun, I’ve been there! And there is nothing wrong with that. Yoga helps people gain flexibility, and it is cool to see progress.

But…sometimes we don’t need to be more flexible, we are flexible enough. What we need is strength, boundaries, a limit to say “sure, I can, but I’m not going to.” It’s not about the thrill of right now or bending a little further, it’s about taking care of myself and staying balanced…the impact of bending too far builds up over time.

Insert obvious parallel to life.

Find your limit to bending back or you will eventually find yourself in pain.

…And don’t think that just because you say yes out of interest or because you LIKE doing things for others and not because of guilt that I’m not talking to you. It doesn’t matter WHY we are always bending back, there is always a limit. It can be very tempting to bend back a little further. The short term ramifications are often positive, even enviable. In the short-term, what can seem like incredible drive, incredible kindness, incredible support for others can leave us in pain, weak, and having a hard time coming back to upright if we aren’t careful about observing our own limits. No matter if it’s at work, in your relationship with your yourself, your partner, or your kids, find a limit. Build strength to complement that flexibility.

At 27, I already learned this the hard way. A couple of years ago, I had an older, wiser friend of mine sit in on an interview I was in (strange circumstance, yes). The interview went well, I got the job, and afterwards my friend congratulated me on how well I had interviewed…although suggested that when they were discussing my afterwards, the con they came up with was that I may have “trouble saying no.” I smiled and agreed outwardly but on the inside was scoffing. Please, I thought, I’m motivated and have a lot of interests, nothing wrong with that. I’m not weak or afraid to say no, I thought. She’s mistaken.

Two years later, I’m plotting big life changes, running away from stress, sick more often than I want, procrastinating (a very new thing for me), and feeling tired. I found my limit. I sprinted past it a long time ago. I’m trying to find my way back.

I’m not saying that your balance is mine. You might not even need to work on setting a limit. Some people need to take the risk of bending a little further, opening up, realizing that muscling your way through everything in life will leave you rigid and inflexible. Conversely, some people are truly content saying yes a little more, giving to others, finding true satisfaction through flexibility and openness. Don’t let me set your limit; practice listening to your own intuition. Fine-tune your own gauge.

The beauty is that when we find the balance of strength and flexibility, bending back just enough while still respecting the intricate balance of many moving parts, that is when our heart opens, we find bliss, and we are able to, over time, bend a little deeper when we really need to.

And maybe one day, after enough careful practice, your foot will touch your head.

And maybe not. The nice thing is, it doesn’t matter. 🙂

(for tips on safe backbends, check out this article).

listen to your heart

With all the change in my life lately and dreams for my future swirling in my head, it can be easy to feel a little overwhelmed or unsure…doubt creeping in, urges to just settle become strong. It can be hard not to be afraid. That’s why I need courage. Courage, it’s Latin root “cur” meaning not brave, but meaning whole heart.

What would I do if I listened to my heart?

What would you do if you listened to yours?

IMG_0301May you, too, find some courage today to just give it a try…whatever that means for you.

Fall Recipes

Fall!

It’s simply the best.

Crisp mornings. Crunching leaves. Football (er, tailgating and wearing Michigan gear or complaining about my Fantasy team). Cider. Scents of cinnamon, pumpkin, campfires. Sweaters. Boots! Amber ales. Long walks outside.

PUMPKIN FLAVORED EVERYTHING.

One of my favorite things about fall is fall cooking. Roasting veggies, simmering soups, dragging out the slow cooker to make warming, good-for-you meals…heaven.

I love eating. I love cooking.

Here are some of my favorite fall recipes from around to internet to cook and eat. All vegetarian, many vegan and gluten free, and all realllllllllllllllly delicious. Most of what I cook is healthy but I fiercely believe that everyone needs a healthy dose of treats.

Enjoy!

My two favorite chili recipes are Joy the Baker’s Spicy Vegetarian Chili and Cookie & Kate’s Sweet Potato Chili. Both staples in our home. If you’re really feeling it, go ahead and make Joy’s Jalapeno scones to go with the chili. I dare you.

Another great and easy soup is Two Peas and Pod’s Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Soup. Maple roasted chickpeas on top. Nuff said.

Fall always makes me eat tons of sweet potatoes and squash. Here are a few delicious options:

Quinoa with Caramelized Butternut Squash and Roasted Brussels Sprouts – incredible as a side or main dish   (btw, can we talk about how it’s “brussels” sprouts and not “brussel” sprouts? I never knew that until today…mind blown).

This warm kale and squash salad has a delicious maple syrup dressing to go with it. Speaking of kale, if you’ve never had kale chips, make them now. NOW. NOW!!!!!

Easy sweet potato burritos are an easy venture into vegetarian food.

If you’re not afraid of butter, eat this Sweet Potato Gnocchi immediately. Or if you are afraid of butter, consider this the perfect time for exposure therapy. My favorite way to have it prepared is by my husband 😉

And, if you’re REALLY not afraid of butter, try these decadent twice-baked sweet potatoes.

And I definitely won’t forget about breakfast.

Make yourself some Pumpkin Granola or Nourishing Muesli (both vegan and gluten free). Or just add some apple butter or pumpkin butter to your overnight oatmeal. Or even just apples. Or cinnamon.

Or just buy a donut.

Happy eating!

P.S. Favorite healthy fall recipe of yours? Please post below in comments – I’m always looking for great new eats 🙂

Lessons from Snot

I’m home from work with a cold today.

And it’s taught me something.

I’m snuggled in a blanket, tea in hand, just up from a nap, and through my foggy head things are seeming somehow a little clearer.

I often…very often…have this nagging sense that I am not doing all I could to spend my energy on that which is beautiful in my life. I work to make my life very full, but is it complete? There are many, many things in my life that I love, I cherish, that bring me joy and grow compassion and connection. But as a self-admitted Recovering Type A, I often spend my time doing other things… preparing for a presentation, thinking of a way to be a better friend, make more money, have a cuter apartment. I fill my life from top to bottom with plans, lists, and dreams, and my mind ends up filled from top to bottom as well.

No space to breathe, move, think, reset.

And then I get sick.

Shocker, right?

I was sick at my wedding (like, really sick), I had intense fatigue a year ago that led to two days straight of sleeping and a week of convincing myself I had mono, I got a fever in the middle of this summer. I do tons of yoga, eat a healthy plant-based diet, keep a regular sleep schedule, but yet I often find myself down and out…not feeling as great as I might. I can check off every box in the healthy person checklist, but yet I’m not feeling great. And I think I know what’s happening here.

My body is slowing my down because I won’t do it on my own.

I have a choice. I can choose to shove myself full of Dayquil and caffeine and head in to work. I’ll avoid feeling guilty, inferior, weak.

Or I can choose to listen to what my intuition is telling me about this sickness.

My life is full but I’m only flirting with making it feel complete as well, and that’s something I am going to keep working on. When I’m still for a day, the movement I miss is not the hectic pace of work but the movement of my body. Not my identity as an employee but my identity as a friend, wife, sibling, daughter. connection with loved ones. You know what happened yesterday? (SHOCKER COMING) The world didn’t explode nor did I melt into a puddle of water because George and I watched American Hustle on Sunday afternoon instead of checking our progress on sticking with our budget or running errands or cooking.

It’s okay to be still.

That is something I am going to keep telling myself until I believe it, feel it in my bones, and live a life that reflects that. This stillness, this silence, it’s very loud. There’s a very loud message of slowing down going on.

And I just might do it.

And until then, I’m going to use this sick day as a lovely justification to eat ice cream and watch Sex and the City for the millionth time.

Pear Oatmeal Breakfast Smoothie

Sick of smoothies?

Neither am I. Ever!

This smoothie is a good on-the-go breakfast and is filling with oatmeal thrown into it. It’s sweet and frothy and has veggies, fruits, calcium, protein, and grains! Plus it’s green, so you can hit the hipster fad right on the mark by putting this in a mason jar and walking your dog (cough, cough Sara!).

 

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Pear Oatmeal Breakfast Smoothie (makes enough for 2)

2 handfuls of spinach

1 cup of almond milk (sweetened or unsweetened is fine)

1 frozen banana

1 pear, washed and cored

1 handful oatmeal (about 3/4 cup)

water as needed

 

Directions: Blend and enjoy!

Tips: Blend your spinach and almond milk together first for a smoother consistency from the spinach. Also, let’s talk frozen bananas. Life-changing. George and I have a huge stock of frozen bananas on hand at any given time. My method is this: peel all of your bananas and put them on a cooling rack (such as one for baking) overnight (or at least for 3 hours). Then, I break them all in half (maybe just a weird habit…) and store them in a gallon ziplock in a freezer. Be sure that you peel before freezing, otherwise they really will be useless to you 🙂