Saturday, July 11, 2015

7 Things You Need To Know Before You Start Yoga

Yoga is a mystical, life-changing practice that is thousands of years old. It is also decidedly non-Western, which means that many of the common practices in a typical yoga class can be confusing. Keeping up with the Sanskrit, sutras, and chanting can be challenging enough. Here are 7 things you need to know before you start yoga.

1. Yoga pants are notoriously see-through.

If you choose to wear yoga pants, bend way over in the dressing room and take a good, long look. That unflattering dressing room light will highlight any light shining through where the sun don't shine. Better in the dressing room than on the mat in front of the rest of the class. Yoga pants are not a requirement, though. Generally, pants that allow you to move are good for yoga, with bonus point if they are slightly fitted so the teacher can see your knees to help you with alignment.

2. The only way around VPL is a thong.

I have been doing yoga off and on for at least 15 years but seriously for the last two. Just last week, I finally asked a yoga teacher how she got around VPL (visible panty line): no undies? Thong? Thong it is, especially if you are not 100% sure that your yoga pants aren't see through (hello!). In addition to eliminating the VPL issue, the butt floss action of the thong can really highlight the separate actions of each side of the pelvis in, say, Warrior I.

3. Gentlemen, peekaboo is no good.

When the weather gets warm, dudes in yoga class feel the need for a little free ballin'. Resist this urge or risk giving your yoga teacher (and the rest of the class) a sneaky flash of your down below. As the thong-answering yoga teacher above said, "That cannot be unseen." Throw those balls into a jockstrap or running shorts that will properly contain them. No one but your significant other needs a view of THAT.

4. Not everyone cleans their mat.

Many studios offer mats for your use during class. This is great because if you are just starting out you don't need to buy your own mat. However, not everyone who uses the mat uses the mat cleaner that is usually strategically placed by the mat storage. This can not only be amazingly smelly, but these mats can also harbor foot fungus, sweaty balls, and other things you wouldn't want on your face. Do yourself a favor and go to class early so you can clean your borrowed mat and give it time to dry before class begins.

5. Come to class early to shift gears.

Nothing is worse than rushing around and trying to squeeze yourself into the front row because you are late to class. Give yourself enough time so you have at least five minutes to settle into the class. For popular classes, you may need to allow more time if you don't want to be in the front row or sandwiched in a hastily-created third row. Plus, when you are late to class, you interrupt the teacher's flow, and it's rude as hell to make others move for you. Don't be rude as hell.

6. Yoga people can be assholes.

Yes, it's true. For some reason, people expect all of those who do yoga to be peaceful and nice. Not very yogic, but as with anything, there are assholes in yoga, like the jerks that eyeball your clothes or don't acknowledge your presence when you sit down next to them. Popular classes can seem clique-y, but don't sweat it. In some cases, the yoga people aren't actually being assholes; they may just be trying to center themselves before class, or they may be having a bad day. You will be able to recognize the jerks with the fancy clothes soon enough. They are the ones who wear Lululemon everywhere even when they only go to class just once a week and don't practice at home. They are on their own path, and you don't need to be near it. Namaste, bitches.

7. Seriously, child's pose or taking a break is 100% okay.

I have hurt myself muscling through a class that was too challenging for me. I have become dizzy and nearly fainted, refusing to stop in an ashtanga class that completed the entire primary series in 90 minutes. This is not only dumb, but it is also dangerous. Taking a break in child's pose is probably the purest form of yoga you can do: you are actually listening to your body and doing what works for you. You are allowing yourself to be your best teacher. This is yoga, more than the handstand and the fancy backbend.

Bonus #8. Yoga is a practice, not a perfect.

Even though Instagram would have you believe otherwise, not every day in yoga class is a flexible, strong wonderland of beauty. Sometimes your mind yells at you the entire time you are on the mat about how stiff you are and why can't you bend like the lady next to you and who do you think you are to even start this practice? Everyone, and I mean everyone, has days like this. It is part of the path of yoga. On these days, don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to a friend who was struggling in the same way. The most beautiful part of yoga can also be the hardest thing to keep in mind: everyone is a beginner.

If you've done yoga before, what would you add to the list?

Friday, July 3, 2015

8 Reasons Why Naps Are Good For You

I took a nap today. Not the kind where you accidentally fall asleep on the couch and wake up 45 minutes later, stiff in the neck and crusty in the temperament, unrested and more tired than you were when you started.

I planned this nap.

I took off my bra. It was pantsless. I went to bed. There may have been drooling, and there was absolutely dreaming. This nap was no accident, and it was glorious.

I recognize that even writing this may perpetuate the notion of the lazy freelance writer, but exactly the opposite. I had been up since six, meeting deadlines, working on my food blog, researching gluten-free bread, and editing seven blogs for submission. Then I walked the dogs, cleaned out the 'fridge, and did the dishes by hand. Right around one I went to bed with a book and let nature take its course.

I earned my nap. And even if I hadn't, guess what? Turns out, naps are actually good for you. Here are 8 reasons why.

1. Naps can counteract a bad night's sleep. Researchers found that even a 30-minute nap can mediate the stress hormones activated by a poor night of sleep.

2. Naps make you smarter. A brief nap after a lesson can help students retain the information they have just learned. Thousands of adolescents can definitely get behind this research.

3. Naps make you more alert. NASA studies prove this to be true, and who wants a sleepy astronaut?

4. Naps make you less of an asshole. Let's face it: when you're tired, you're cranky. A short nap can refresh you just enough to keep it together until cocktail hour, when you can allow alcohol to work its magic. There's no research for this. It's just true.

5. Naps are our biological imperative. Eight-five percent of mammals are polyphasic sleepers. This means that it is downright unnatural to sleep all at once. Nap like our other hairy animal friends (or Spaniards, who typically rise early, have a huge lunch, nap or rest for several hours in the afternoon, then stay up late).

6. Naps make you more creative. This may explain why so many of the artists in the American Visionary Art Museum's current exhibit are fond of naps, and also why Einstein favored an afternoon snooze. As a writer, I am merely recharging my creative batteries.

7. Naps increase productivity. Seriously. If they are good enough for Google, who invests in napping rooms and strange-looking pods that can be closed so you can ostensibly nap in the middle of a crowded room, then it's good enough for me.

8. Naps release stress. Even if you don't actually sleep, the simple act of escaping to rest relieves stress. Ask parents of toddlers; if you can get them into the bed, even without sleeping, that's a huge relief!

So maybe my nap was a little excessive today, but all you really need is 20-30 minutes. Drinking a cup of coffee before you nap can actually boost the positive effects of napping; called a "coffee nap," this is to the second decade of the 21st century what the power nap was to the 1980s. Sometimes a guided meditation or session of yoga nidra can help you to relax, even if you cannot actually sleep.

What say you? When is the last time you gave in to your baser urges and napped gloriously?