shoveling snow

This winter, it seems like we’ve been hit by one storm after another. Snow days are the best as kids, but this year I’ve realized that as an adult who is still expected to drive to work, it can be a totally different story. Last night in yoga class, Alexis spoke to an interesting point – that getting stuck at home during a snowstorm can bring up just as much anxiety as having to endure the elements and get somewhere during a blizzard. Especially for some of us “doers”, accustomed to being constantly on the go, taking a whole day off from our busy lives and being stuck inside can leave us feeling terrified and overwhelmed.

That definitely used to be me. Constantly planning, I felt safest in my filled-to-the-brim schedule. Then something shifted. I started not only appreciating, but actually loving space. I no longer feel scared or bored spending a whole day by myself. I want to share my story with you, not to show you how far I’ve come or how zen I am, but because I know I’m not alone in my fear of slowing down. I also 100% believe that slowing down is exactly what our overstimulated, inbox-managing society needs. In a book I’m reading, Proof of Heaven, neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander writes, “A story — a true story — can heal as much as medicine can.” Now that I no longer fear giving myself space, I’ve noticed another, deeply-hidden fear of sharing my personal stories. So this is me facing that fear head-on, by putting my story into words and hitting that little blue “publish post” button at the bottom of this page. 

Sometime last fall, one weekend I was feeling kind of bummed. I had gone on a date with a guy who I really liked, and thought we had hit it off. Then he didn’t call. Deciding that feeling down over someone who wasn’t interested was a waste of my time, I turned to my go-to distraction – my friends. I sent around some texts, hoping to go out and take my mind off whatever I was feeling. That day no one was available. All of my friends were busy with their own lives. 

My initial reaction was self-pity. Thinking “I’ve got to get new friends,” like it was actually my friends’ fault that I didn’t know what to do with my free time. I got home from a hike with the dog I was sitting around 5, sat in my car for a minute or two, and realized that self-pity was a waste of energy. I changed my mindset from focusing on what in my life I wanted to change, and asked myself a new question: “what now?”

Suddenly I was hit with inspiration. To craft. It came out of nowhere – up till then, other than decorating my condo, I had never considered myself the artsy type. I google-searched an art supplies store (I didn’t even know where one was), and went to get materials. Walking around the store, more and more ideas kept popping into my mind. It was exciting and fun. I ended up crafting most of my Christmas presents this year, and discovered I get so much joy from sharing the things I’ve made with others. What started out a boring, lonely Saturday night actually allowed me to uncover something new that I love to do. 

Because my life off the mat tends to mirror my practice on it, I had a similar experience with yoga. So many people come to yoga because of some kind of an injury or situation that they’re hoping to “fix”. My story was a little different. I was already in yoga teacher training and had been practicing for years when I uncovered my “injury”. Every person’s makeup is so unique, and we never know how our individual little quirks and tendencies will show up. In my experience, yoga has a way of bringing the things I need to work through to the surface. 

Two years ago, I was immersed in teacher training, while also doing crossfit around 3x a week and training for a half marathon. I had recently started a full-time job, and kept an insane spreadsheet where I tracked my morning yoga practice, lunchtime runs, and evening WODs, on top of logging everything I ate. I was very nearly driving myself crazy with all the tracking. Despite all that I was doing, I still felt like it wasn’t enough. And then my knee started to hurt. Telling myself it wasn’t a big deal, that I should work through it, I kept moving, until my coach at CrossFit Tyson’s, John, finally convinced me to see a physical therapist. I am so grateful to him for that simple piece of advice. Dr. Morris told me that my spine is curved and one hip is lower than the other, thus causing me to put more pressure on my left knee. He instructed me to stop any high-impact activities while going through treatment. 

Now, I’m no doctor, but I have a feeling back issues like my own are relatively common. Having a perfect spine (if there even is such a thing) probably isn’t the norm – again, just my guess. At the time, though, I was in physical pain, so my situation seemed like a pretty big deal. Cutting out crossfit and giving up on the half (for the time being) really wasn’t easy. However, I saw it as an opportunity to fully commit to yoga practice. I began getting on my mat as often as I could, and have never looked back. 

For awhile, I had a tendency of hyper-fixating on my left hip/hamstring region while on my mat. My muscles on that side were incredibly tight, and all too often I struggled, trying to find some release. I remember feeling frustrated for months, believing that the pain would never go away. After over a year of frustration that my left side would never feel like my right, finally, there was a change. It didn’t happen all at once, and there isn’t any one moment that stands out in my memory as some kind of revelation. I do remember realizing that perfect symmetry does not exist, and so I shifted from wanting to “fix” my left hip, to accepting that it may never feel 100% better, and that was okay. I grew to appreciate the physical sensation – rather than a painful nuisance, my pesky left hip was like an old familiar friend. I would take half pigeon on the left side and think, “oh there you are again”. I learned to actually let go of my upper body and sink in, rather than trying to force myself down into a deeper pose because I craved a further release.

As soon as I accepted my left hip and gave up the constant effort, something miraculous happened. It opened up! I can’t tell you exactly when or how. It was a gradual shift.  All I know is now my left side no longer feels continuous pain. Just like when I discovered my crafting passion, all it took was me giving up the desire for things to be different and deciding to flow with the moment to enable myself to open up in ways I never imagined possible.

I’m not saying that if you’re injured, you have to be like me and get on your yoga mat every day for the practice to work. I’m also not offering any guarantees. I just want to share my experience, so that you know that if there is something you’re working through, either physical or not, you are not alone. I get that it can take a really long time for freedom from pain to occur. It requires a lot of patience and trust, of which I do not always realize that I have. When things start to feel hard or unbearable for me, it’s usually a good indication that I need to return to a place of recognizing faith in the process. 

A few weeks ago, I ran into that guy who never asked me out on a second date. I really wanted to thank him. By not calling, he gave me the space I needed to discover my creative side.

Today, it may feel as though the snow outside is a major inconvenience, and that this winter is dragging on for way too long. After we do get through it and the snow clears away, who knows what might pop up? I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to find out. 

yoga high

I just finished day 31 of the 30 day throwdown. Going into it, it was logistically impossible for me to finish successfully. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, the throwdown is a challenge at Down Dog – we sign up to do yoga at the studio every day for 30 days. There were a few days I would have to miss because of work, and so I had some doubts about signing up in the first place. I wondered if I was setting myself up for failure, by committing to something I knew I wouldn’t be able to complete without compromising my job. But then I decided logistics are boring and I really wanted to do it, so I signed myself up and convinced my friend Bridget to sign up too.

For me, that’s one of the best parts of doing the throwdown – you do it with a group of people who have all pledged to the same thing: 30 days of yoga. That is the #1 reason I didn’t want to miss out on this throwdown. Even though everyone’s experiences are way different, just knowing that we’re there together every day no matter what, and hearing about my fellow throwdowners’ triumphs, trials, lessons given and received inspires me.

Going into it, I decided to let it be easy. I didn’t want to muscle through it this time, so I told myself that if I could not make it to all 30 days for whatever reason, so be it. Rather than plan like crazy and try to control the outcome, I chose to just show up and see what happened. And guess what? It worked. I can honestly say there wasn’t a single practice in the past 31 days where I didn’t want to be on my mat. I’m not saying it was a complete fairytale. In the middle of some poses, I definitely wanted out. I think I would actually be concerned if I went through an entire practice without wanting it to be over at some point. That’s probably a sign that I’m not 100% there, not really working.

Over the course of a personal challenge like the 30 day, I usually find that there is some kind of breakthrough. This time I had a bunch of sort of “mini” breakthroughs along the way. I remember one moment during an early morning power hour somewhere in the middle of the month, when I suddenly wondered why it hadn’t felt difficult for me yet. Why hadn’t I reached a point where I wanted to give up but had to keep going (for the throwdown’s sake, obviously), and then, boom – suddenly not only did I reach my edge but I sailed right past it and realized all of the things that had been holding me back in yoga and life?

And then it hit me. As I was moving through Sun Salutations B, somewhere in between chaturanga and up dog, I realized. This is it.

Life isn’t about the breakthroughs. It’s about staying in the practice, even when it feels like nothing happens. I practice yoga every day. If I have to miss yoga in the studio for more than say 2 days in a row because of vacation or whatever, I start to feel off. If I did this practice just for the breakthroughs, I would have quit ages ago.

Yet when you do reach a breakthrough, be it in your first class or your 500th class, it feels pretty darn awesome. It feels like I could just float on clouds the rest of the way home. I’m not even kidding: after one of the first classes I taught where I really felt a breakthrough moment with some of my students, I popped a tire on my way home. At the time it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Another night after a really awesome class with my teacher Patty, I ran out of gas not even a mile from my house. I had to stand outside in tights (yeah, I also forgot extra pants that night, too) and an oversized sweatshirt, hair dripping wet, on one of the most polar vortex nights ever and figure out how to get my car running. Not a drip of sarcasm when I say that it was awesome.

I don’t know how to describe the breakthrough feeling other than what I like to call my “yoga high”. It feels like nothing can bring me down. No kind of car trouble, financial burden, work stress. Life feels amazing.

So now I imagine you’re probably making a mental note to keep me away from your cars after yoga. Secondly, it sounds like these breakthroughs are pretty incredible right? How do they even happen to begin with? To answer the first question: yes they are. To answer the second: I have no idea. The only answer I know to be true for me is just to keep on getting on my mat.

More importantly, though, I’ve realized I need to actually notice the little moments for these breakthroughs to happen. Each and every moment is just as much a part of my life as a breakthrough moment. It’s easy to fall in the trap of placing greater emphasis on the latter. But living from breakthrough to breakthrough is enough to drive me crazy. Sometimes I need a little wake-up call to remind me how much I might be missing while I am stuck waiting for the next breakthrough to occur. And there is nothing wrong with that. Life isn’t about the first time I did headstand without toppling over, or stood up from wheel. It’s about the time I forgot my yoga shirt and Joyce let me borrow one of hers, or all of the nights I stayed late at the studio to talk with Bridget, Claudia, and Molly. It’s about noticing each and every inhale and exhale. Each one has just as much potential, if we pay close enough attention.

up your up dog

up dog 1Right now I love upward-facing dog. I spend way more time than I want to in a shoulders-forward position. Whether sitting at my desk typing, driving the northern Virginia commute (gotta love Tyson’s Corner), or even walking outside in the cold, most days it feels like my upper back/chest region just craves an opposite movement to reverse the effects of the desk-job lifestyle. Which is exactly where up-dog comes in. This pose opens the chest and lungs, helping to access deeper breathing capacity (among many other benefits). There is also a great spine-strengthening component. Up dog is after all, a back bend, which means it can improve posture and helps you work toward other back bends like full wheel.

The thing I’ve learned about favorite yoga poses is that the pose I’m in love with one day could very well be my least favorite the next time I’m on my mat. It’s always changing. Sometimes taking upward-facing dog, my body feels like it wants to shout “up dog, wahoo!” Other days, it’s more along the lines of a grimace, groan, all while thinking, “not this one again”. Whether I love or hate the pose each time I’m on my mat doesn’t actually matter. What does matter is waking up to whatever I am physically feeling. Up dog is kind of a tricky pose in that it seems relatively simple since it’s done over and over again in a vinyasa flow. There is a tendency to sort of gloss over it as a transition to down dog. In actuality, this pose has several alignment intricacies that make it something you really want to pay attention to. I want to share a couple pointers that I’ve learned really help make a difference in tuning in and opening up in upward-facing dog.

***Feet: I cannot emphasize how important your feet are! This pose especially is one of the ones where it’s easy to lose and/or downplay the connection of your feet with the ground. How you press your feet into the earth determines the position of your legs, which ultimately works to create a healthy spinal curvature.

  1. Stretch your legs straight back behind you, keeping your feet parallel and about hip-width distance apart.
  2. Press down evenly into the tops of every toenail. Don’t ignore your pinkie toenails! Pressing into these little guys will help your thighs rotate inward, giving your lower spine room to lengthen.
  3. There’s a tendency to roll the outer ankles out to the sides (with toes pointing in), which increases pressure on the lower back. Check your feet out and make sure they’re parallel and pointing straight back to keep your lower spine happy.

**Hands: also super important!

  1. Flatten your hands; press your entire palm into the ground to lift your heart high.up dog
  2. Straighten your arms but avoid locking your elbows.
  3. Your arms are straight and pressing down. There’s a cool arm/shoulder alignment trick that involves keeping your hands steady (index fingers facing 12 o’clock), while externally rotating your upper arm muscles to create more openness in your shoulders and soften through your upper traps. Whoa, sounds pretty complicated right? Don’t worry it’s totally doable! All you need to think about is pressing into the meaty part of your hand between your index finger and thumb knuckles, hugging your elbows in to your rib cage, and rotating your arms so that the insides of your elbows face forward. If you want to read more about this here’s a great article from elephant journal.


  1. Engage your quads, glutes, and abdomen to lift your thighs off of the mat.
  2. Spin your inner thighs up.
  3. Slightly tuck your tailbone – envision lengthening through your lower spine by engaging your lower abs.


  1. Square your shoulders back so they are stacked directly over your elbows and wrists in one vertical line.
  2. Draw your shoulders down your back to increase the space between your shoulders and ears.

I love this description from Baron Baptiste’s Journey Into Power: “The shoulder blades are like hands pushing your chest forward from behind.”


  1. Keep your neck neutral –the back of your neck is long and wrinkle-free.
  2. Notice if your chin juts forward, and if so bring it back so your neck is in line with your spine.

Also from JIP: “Gaze forward and shine!”

Note: if you’re still building strength or working through an injury, you can always modify by taking cobra instead.

For a laugh:

could not stop laughing - momographer made a joke about how I was trying to teach dixie up dog, but she just kept going back to her old fave pose. in our family we call this "porn dog".
could not stop laughing – momographer made a joke about how I was trying to teach dixie up dog, but she just kept going back to her old fave pose. in our family we call this “porn dog”.

still laughing about porn dog. ps nobody ever said yoga needs to be serious!
still laughing about porn dog. ps nobody ever said yoga needs to be serious!