Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

I’ve seen the spinners at the gym. They’re the ones lined up a half hour before class starts, clutching two water bottles and a towel. They stand there patiently, shifting their water bottles from hand to hand, making quiet conversation. When the instructor arrives, they file into the room and proceed to pedal furiously on stationery bikes for the next 45 minutes while a slim young lady yells at them. LIKE A BUNCH OF LUNATICS.

Seriously, who does that?

Apparently, I do.

I recently joined the bike club here. In an effort to not embarrass myself on the first ride, I decided to try some spinning classes. While it’s not the same as riding my bike, it would at least get my leg muscles ready and add some much-needed cardio to my workout regimen.

It began easily enough. I shoved my feet into the pedal cages and tried a tentative revolution. Obediently, the beast sprang to life, whizzing the one non-fixed wheel with a satisfying mechanical purr. A knob at the base of the handle bars set the degree of difficulty.

The instructor, a perky brunette, cued up her music and climbed on her bike. “Hey guys, are we READY?” she yelled as a Lady Gaga song came crashing through the speakers at maximum volume. My fellow spinners whooped enthusiastically. I smiled nervously, wondering what kind of exercise class encourages battle cries prior to commencing. The instructor yelled out unintelligibly over Gaga. I caught snippets of what sounded like instructions, possibly important ones: “…then you…three positions….water…use your CORE…and then…stand UP…okay?”

“Okay!” we yelled back. I realized then I had passed the Point of No Return. There was no way of getting out of the class now without faking some kind of illness or injury. I hunkered down and grabbed the handle bars. “LET’S GO!” the teacher yelled.

We began spinning furiously. The first couple of minutes weren’t too bad, honestly. I spun happily along for the rest of the Lady Gaga tune. “HA! Who brings two water bottles to THIS kind of class?” I thought with very premature cockiness.

“Alright gang,” the instructor called out, “turn that knob a quarter up!” A quarter turn? No problem! I obliged, noting the slight increase in resistance. “Oh no! We’re hitting some wind!” she hollered, “Half turn up!” Some wind, you say? I laugh at you, wind! I cranked it up by a half turn. “Keep going,” she encouraged, “until it feels like you’re biking through wet sand!” The wet sand part was when I felt the smile evaporate from my face. My heart started to pound loudly and beads of sweat were forming on my forehead. I glanced down at my watch: Ten minutes had passed. TEN MINUTES ONLY.

“Keep it up, guys!” yelled the teacher. “Quarter up!” Again I complied, my thighs burning in protest.

“QUARTER UP!” the teacher screeched. “QUARTER UPPPPPP!!”

For the next ten minutes, I heaved my way though varying degrees of difficulty. Sometimes we were standing and pedaling. Other times she had us sitting. There was also this sadistic hybrid called “hovering” – not quite sitting but still, always, pedaling.

About halfway though the class, it dawned on me that no one was monitoring our bikes. WE set the difficulty. The instructor could sit up there yelling instructions at us all day long, but she couldn’t see how hard (or easy!) our bikes were set. Panting, thighs burning, I employed a life-saving technique I’ll call “the Phantom Turn”. When she screamed for us to turn the setting another “quarter up!”, I moved my hand, not the knob. Yes, it’s true, I was only cheating myself but I was okay with this.

By the end of the class, I noticed with a sense of rugged accomplishment that a few drops of sweat had accumulated under my bike. Looking around the room, though, I saw that most people (including and especially the instructor) had veritable pools of sweat under their bikes. I slid off the bike for the cool-down feeling fully humbled – just because I’m a fitness instructor I am by no means Master of the Gym Universe. In fact, if that class taught me anything, it was just how badly I need an ass-kicking cardio workout in my life.

I survived the class. I even felt pretty good afterwards. I still prefer riding an actual bike, outdoors, with no one yelling at me. But I WILL be there tomorrow, two water bottles and a towel in tow, ready to spin.

I recently purchased a car. This was a huge deal for me, as I didn’t have any payments with my old car. It hurts my feelings to think about this chunk of money leaving my bank account every month, but it had to be done. My old car was one breakdown away from sending me to the poorhouse. So! I have enacted some austerity measures in hopes of maintaining the extremely posh lifestyle to which I am accustomed (hahaha! Only joking about that last part – my goal here is to NOT live paycheck-to-paycheck. That’s it.).

Yoga encourages such behavior! Look at the yama aparigraha , or non-attachment! Before I bought this car, I had been thinking about doing a yogic Spring Cleaning anyway. I was going to purge my closet of things I hadn’t worn this winter, and started a purge of my Facebook friends list (for every person, I asked myself: if I saw them in the grocery store, would we both be delighted to see each other? If the answer was no for me, or I suspected it would be no for them, I un-friended them.).

So now I have to extend this principal to my finances. Lucky for me, one of my dear friends happens to be the amazing L Bee of L Bee and the Money Tree. Years ago, she dogged me to start a budget. “It’s fun!” She chirped. “You’ll get addicted!” I smiled and nodded, but tracking money has always seemed like a horrible drudgery to me, sort of like a micro version of doing my taxes. Every single day. So, I avoided it! I likely made some bonehead financial moves (ok, I definitely did), but it was fine! I wasn’t rich but I wasn’t poor. I was blissfully ignorant. Until now.

I finally started using Learnvest.com, years after L Bee’s urging. Know what? She was right! It IS addicting! They even have a nifty app I have on my phone! I also now religiously delete ALL the sale emails I get without opening them (I miss you, J. Crew!). I set a budget for myself and do my best to stick to it, regardless of the multitude of temptations that surround me (today’s temptation was a grey sweatshirt that says “I’m just here for the savasana” in sparkle letters).

It’s not perfect, but so far, this is going pretty well. If I come up with more money-saving tips (or steal them from L Bee), I will share!

I’ll close this with a wish for prosperity for all. (‘Cause wishes are still free!)

Today is my 35th birthday. I can’t say why exactly, but I’ve been really dreading this one. It just seems so…old.  

I don’t feel old. I don’t look old (or at least I don’t think I do!). I don’t act old.  So how did this happen?!? Soon I will be looking down the barrel at – gulp – forty!! I’ve struggled to maintain some sense of perspective on this (as well as a sense of humor). It’s been tough, as I don’t have many of the significant markers so many others my age have – 2.5 kids and a mortgage.  I’ve had to remind myself, over and over, that I’ve chosen a different path in life. I don’t feel SAD that I don’t have these things. I don’t feel any pressing desire for them. (I’m leaving the door open, mind you! Maybe someday I will want these things. Just not today.)  But then, how DO I measure my life? How DO I measure my success?  

Happiness, perhaps?  Health? Financial stability? I’m still not sure. It’s a weird, vaguely exhilarating sort of unease when you find yourself far afield from your peers. I’ve always known I wasn’t following a traditional path; I suppose this is the first time I’ve looked around and realized I was more or less by myself. There are no markers here because these are uncharted waters. That’s sort of scary! But also sort of freeing! I was wavering between finding this really scary and really liberating, and then I saw this video.

I’m going with liberating. 

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/81533752″>35 and Single</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/newyorktimes”>The New York Times – Video</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Happy birthday to me! 

Vancouver is such a great town! I had so much fun, I nearly forgot to make it to yoga class. I DID go, though, at lovely Bloom, which was located about a mile away from where I was staying.  I took a fun vinyasa class with Maria.  It is so refreshing to check out new studios! I always find SOMETHING inspiring when I take a new class with a new teacher.  In Maria’s class, she guided me through a new way to find a deeper Prasarita Padottanasana (head to the mat, knees bent, then slowly unbend the knees with breath! why is this the first time I’ve seen this?!), AND she gave great assists.

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This was my reward on the walk home from yoga class. PRETTY DANG NICE!

I didn’t make it to three classes, as I had hoped. I did come home feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, so I’m not going to beat myself up too much.  It’s going to be a busy few weeks, and I’m glad. I have another yoga trip coming up at the beginning of next month.  This falls under the “do something that scares you” category, as it’s an Ashtanga weekend with a famous yogi and I am really nervous. A) I’ve never done a workshop with a famous yogi before and B) I am pretty new to Ashtanga and fear I will be the crappiest student in the room and hold everyone else back from attaining Ashtanga perfection. I know that’s a very un-yoga-like thing to say, but HAVE YOU SEEN THESE PEOPLE?!  I mean, look for yourself:

(I would like to mention that this video was done by the fabulous Tiago D’Oliveira, who I completed YTT with in India.)

So, yeah. I’m scared. But hey, I’ll always have Vancouver!

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Always up for a new “experiment”, I got excited when a friend of mine (who happens to be an extremely knowledgable and awesome wellness coach) offered to send me a sample of coffee and tea. On Facebook, she’d been posting about the wonders of mushrooms for quite some time. Sadly, mushrooms are one of those “vegetarian’s best friend” items that I just can’t get behind, taste-wise. However, I am always curious when someone I respect gets excited about something. She’s been really jazzed about the medicinal and healing properties of mushrooms for a while. I have to report, the coffee (I think it was part instant coffee and part mushroom powder, doesn’t sound very good but the taste was okay) was awesome! I drank a cup and I felt very alert, but in a very clean way (if that makes sense). Not jittery at all. I might be sold on this product:

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I’m interested in learning more about these magical mushrooms (not the “I’ve been following Phish since ’94, man” kind). Supposedly they are the next “big thing” on the wellness horizon. You heard it here first!

Another experiment I am conducting has to do with essential oils. Basically everyone at the yoga studio where I teach has been going on about these damn oils for months. I was extremely skeptical and hesitant, but I finally, tentatively, jumped on the bandwagon. I teach a restorative yoga class and I think I will be able to use some aromatherapy for some of my students who really struggle with stress and anxiety. I still have some doubts, but I will be sure to report back on my success or failure!

As the title of this blog would suggest, I am a born skeptic. Although I have an adventurous streak that leads me to try just about anything, I remain firmly planted in reality and sometimes wonder if I’ve gone off the deep end when I try these things (I get especially nervous when I catch a whiff of a pyramid scheme). The wellness world gets weird very quickly. I’m trying to stay out of the deep end, but the nature of teaching yoga lends itself naturally to homeopathic and holistic health. Lately I’ve been struggling to strike a balance. I’m off to Vancouver for vacation later this week, that should keep my inner scientist/skeptic busy for bit.

Check out my article at Doyouyoga.com!

Aw shucks, the nice folks over at Doyouyoga.com posted an article I wrote about yoga retreats vs. yoga vacations.  Check it out! 🙂

That’s what the label on my new jar of “Aztec Secret” Indian Healing Clay (“The World’s Most Powerful Facial”) says. Sort of intense for a label, no? So while I decide if today is the day I experience this pulsating facial (seriously?! Could they have picked a word that maybe doesn’t conjure “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” flashbacks?), here’s a nice little recipe. If I don’t post again by next week, please send for help.

A while back, after I made The Loaf, I was rooting though my cabinets one afternoon in search of a snack. My search turned up some nuts, some dried fruit, and some leftover seeds from The Loaf experiment. In other words, nothing terribly exciting when regarded individually. However, together:

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Why, that’s granola!
I poked around the internet a bit for some recipe inspiration. My search turned up the following basic outline for a recipe:
Preheat oven to 250 or 300
2 cups (or thereabouts) of a base – I went the traditional route and used oats.
1/2 cup each of a couple different kinds of nuts – I had slivered almonds and cashews.
Additional fun items like a handful of coconut flakes, a tablespoon of flax or hemp seeds, you get the idea.
An oil – I used about a 1/4 cup of coconut oil, heated up.
A sweetener – I mixed about 1/4 cup maple syrup into the coconut oil. Also you can add vanilla extract into this if you like!
Some spices – I love cinnamon so I added about a tablespoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of nutmeg. I’m interested in experimenting with this, though. I think cardamom, clove, ginger, even fennel could give this a unique kick.
A bit of salt
I baked this for about 30 minutes total at 300 degrees, stirring it halfway through. After I took it out, I added dried berries.
It turned out pretty awesome! It made enough to last me through the work week. This is a really forgiving recipe, and a fun way to use up leftovers from a baking spree!

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I have been burning the candle at both ends lately. I’ve been subbing a lot at the yoga studio, and my day job has been extra demanding. On top of this, I’m trying to do as much reading and writing as I can.

I learned an easy, very FUN shortcut for making my new favorite “candy” smoothie. These little life hacks cut off a minute of prep here and there, and also make you feel like a frickin’ genius (even though, if you’re like me, you read it on Buzzfeed or something but happily preach to every willing ear – “oh I saw this thing on the Internet, you have to try this!”).

Here’s the trick:
If you have a blender with a screw-off bottom (mine is a Hamilton Beach), you MIGHT be able to attach it to a wide-mouthed mason jar and make your smoothie right inside the jar!!! Even if you’ve heard this and do this every day, please just pretend to be impressed right now!! This blew me away! When I tried it the first time, I was (very) afraid that the Internet lied to me and I’d soon be picking glass shards out of the kitchen wall and maybe my face. Nope! The Internet came through, as it always does, with 100% accurate information (to my intense relief, let’s be honest, I was really expecting the glass shards).

Here’s my recipe and below that, photographic proof of this awesome life hack:
The “Candy” Smoothie
1 banana, cut into pieces and frozen
1 cup (ish) of coconut or almond milk
1 or 2 dates because I get the unsweetened almond milk
2 tablespoons of cacao nibs
Shake of cinnamon or nutmeg if I feel spicy
Scoop of almond butter if I want more protein
Sprinkle of chia seeds or flax seeds if I remember

Stuff it all into a mason jar, then screw in the blending attachment and hook it up to your blender (if you’re feeling brave! Also fine to regular blend; I may not be totally over the fear of this going horribly, horribly awry). Here’s how mine turned out:

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Ugh! The winter blahs have me firmly in their grip. As I write this, snow falls gently outside my window (AGAIN), and temperatures discourage anything but staying inside. I have been working a lot, which is probably the only thing keeping me sane.

Last week, I made a really wonderful, bright kiwi salsa that will be added to my permanent collection. It’s simple, lovely, and the fresh flavors hint at warmer days, something I desperately needed.

In yoga news, last month I completed a Restorative Yoga training with Stephanie Keach at the Asheville Yoga Center. Besides being a wonderful teacher, Stephanie has created something really special at AYC. It encouraged me to commit to pursuing my 500 hour YA certification. I have a very, very long way to go, but making the commitment is the first step. The more I teach yoga, the more I learn there is to learn. I’m taking a second training in Charlotte in April. In the meantime, I will continue to teach and study here in Charleston.

I am taking a vacation to Vancouver next month! I look forward to exploring the food and yoga scenes, both of which, I understand, are top notch.

Imagine, if you would, a dystopian future where cheap, careless corporations pollute the water source for hundreds of thousands of people. These people first, of course, turn to government authorities for assistance. However, these authorities also prove to be cheap and careless and massively bungle aid efforts. This leaves these people quite without recourse and trust, but more importantly, without water.

Sadly, this is not the plot of my sci-if graphic novel, but my actual life. My life, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of neighbors, friends, co-workers, and fellow humans who inhabit the part of West Virginia that is fondly referred to as “Chemical Valley”. Even though we were given the go-ahead to use the water normally last week, the water company quickly amended their statement to say that pregnant women should NOT drink or bathe in the water. Then a spokesperson for the statewide pediatrics association spoke up and added that small children should also stay away from the water.

Even though I, like most of my neighbors, gratefully rushed into the shower the moment we were given the go-ahead (the “pioneer days” novelty of bathing out of a bucket of cold water quickly loses its charm), I couldn’t deny that the water did not smell right. Even after flushing the system as recommended by the water company, it does not smell right. Everyone I’ve spoken to since we’ve been given the green light to use the water normally agrees that something is still not right about our water supply. People vary in their degree of reticence to use the water – some people are taking showers, others still don’t trust it enough to even bathe. I don’t know anyone who is drinking it.

That said, I’m certainly not going to cook with it. However, a person can only eat so many Amy’s frozen burritos before yearning for something homemade. I miss my green smoothies in the morning. Yesterday, determined not to live another day on burritos, I made my first foray to the grocery store since the spill. I was ready to cook, dammit.

But even cooking uses water in more ways than you’d think – simply rinsing vegetables takes on a new level of challenge. For this reason, I decided to stick with a couple old standby recipes that were quick, used few ingredients, and required minimal cleanup. Improbably, both of these recipes are for soup. I’m using bottled water! The combined eight cups of water the recipes call for will use only half a gallon of water, and will make enough food to feed the boyfriend and me for the week.

This black bean soup recipe is tried-and-true. The boyfriend loves it and it freezes very well. It’s vegan but a sprinkle of cheese on top is nice!

This cauliflower soup is excellent. Since basil is out of season, I use the blended cauliflower base to make a creamy, hearty potato soup. It’s a very fun recipe to play with.

The lack of potable water has been a very unsettling glimpse into what life is like for people around the world who don’t have regular access to clean water. While it sucks, it does make me appreciate how much we take for granted!

Wishing you all a fun, chemical-free weekend!

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