What high standards mean to me

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I often say I hold myself to my highest standards. To some, it might sound like I am disciplined in my approach to everything in life. For me, high standards mean living with certain rules, but making intuitive decisions.

It means that I’m:

Working to move away from rigidity, learning to soften. I create my own guidelines, and feel free to bend certain rules from time to time. Other rules are golden absolutes. Some days call for strict discipline. Other days invite me to be more playful and perhaps even somewhat rebellious.

Listening to my body, heart, and intuition, and following their lead. This is true with nutrition, exercise, and various other lifestyle choices (more on this below).

Enjoying dressing up. I particularly benefit from dressing up when it’s the last thing I feel like doing. When I think I look good, I tend to feel great.

Giving myself permission to lounge on the couch in my pajamas, reading a book. I never have a full day’s leisure to lounge, but I can always set aside an hour or so to do that. Often, it happens in the evenings, after the kids are in bed.

Giving myself permission to wear yoga leggings while running errands. I’m probably one of the very few yoga instructors who believe that yoga clothes should be saved exclusively for the yoga studio, a gym, or a festival. Yet, I feel most sexy and comfortable when I wear yoga clothes, so if I have just finished teaching or taking a class and need to run an errand, I’ll do so comfortably in my funkiest leggings.

Spending most Saturdays doing laundry, cleaning, cooking good food, etc. Then, I spend as much time as possible on Sundays doing what I want to do (in-between tending to my family, of course).

Reminding myself to be stern with the kids about making their beds, brushing their teeth, and tidying up. Then, I overlook the mess they make while we bake cupcakes in the kitchen.

Choosing to be serious and responsible when I need to be. At other times, I crank up an embarrassing song and have a wacky dance party in the living room. And sometimes, I dance on my own in my bedroom, wearing something scandalously inappropriate. I laugh loudly at myself. Then, I laugh some more.

Giving myself permission to cry if I’m having a lousy day. I don’t try to talk myself out of it. We all have lousy days when the last thing we want to hear is someone telling us to ‘snap out of it.’ When I feel overwhelmed or sad, I don’t want to snap out of it. I want to face it and deal with it. I acquiesce to whatever it is I’m feeling and I sit with it, honouring that feeling for what it is, breathing through the sometimes excruciating discomfort. Then, slowly, I watch myself get out of a funk while learning more about myself in the process, learning about what liberates me.

Sticking to a healthy, plant-based diet 80% of the time. I choose to eat intuitively, asking myself what foods serve me best at this time. Some days, I want to eat an extra square (or two) of dark chocolate and have a glass of wine. Some days, I enjoy cheese and crackers, and maybe even a slice of toast with generously spread Nutella. On other days, all I want to eat are vegan salads and to drink green smoothies.

Choosing exercise that challenges me, gets my heart rate up, makes me sweat and my muscles shake. On other days, I choose to soften with restorative yoga.

Realizing that I have been ‘Type A’ under the surface and although I don’t enjoy this shadow side, I am learning to accept it, to recognize it, and to let go of the wish to be in control. I remind myself to let go and enjoy all the spheres that life offers me.

Recognizing myself as a whole person and learning to embrace all aspects of myself. There are certain aspects of myself that I am continuing to work on improving and changing altogether, with complete honesty and compassion.

What do high standards mean to you? What are you doing to uphold them? Where do you need to learn to soften?

Mid-Year Update

Whoosh! Almost six months have flown since the start of 2015. If you’re like me, you might enjoy taking inventory at the start, the end of the year, its midway point, and on your birthday. The past Sunday’s Summer Solstice marks the year’s midway point, so here is a brief update on what we have been into:

Running

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I never thought I would enjoy running. Several years ago, I decided to embark on a training schedule akin to a typical 0 to 5K program. However, I quickly became bored, experienced joint issues, and probably came up with myriad other excuses that I can no longer recall. This summer, however, I found that I was becoming bored with my indoor HIIT cardio. I wanted to start moving out of doors, in the fresh air. I felt called to explore various routes in our neighbourhood. I have been spending the majority of my days in an office and have not had a chance to take daily walks with my kids to and from school. I miss being outside.

I’m still at the point of training that requires me to alternate running with walking, gradually increasing my running time, but I must say that I have fallen in love with running. Some days feel more challenging than others, but I am excited at the prospect of maybe, possibly, one day soon becoming a dedicated runner. Summer is a perfect time to reconnect to our passions and to try something new, like running. It’s still out of my comfort zone but continues to become increasingly familiar.

Reading

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Image courtesy of Starz.

At the recommendation of a good friend who knows all about my admiration of all-things Celtic (as in Ireland and Scotland, fairies, the Highlands, folk music, etc.), for Mother’s Day in May, Mr. Wanderlust gave me a box of the first four books of the Outlander series. I know the books may be dubbed literary candy, but I am shamelessly obsessed with the story and its characters. I am in awe of Diana Gabaldon’s brilliant character development and have joined the millions of readers who can’t get enough of the story of Jamie and Claire. I wrote recently that I do not watch television, making an exception for the rare good movie or short TV series. Having heard incredible reviews of the Outlander TV series, I borrowed the BluRay first half of the first season from my friend. Mr. Wanderlust was coaxed into watching the first two episodes of the show with me, after which he also was hooked. And now we both want to learn Gaelic. Maybe that’s a future project.

Writing

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Toasting marshmallows by the fire in the backyard. A summer favourite.

The memoir writing continues. Thank you to everyone who reached out to me last week with words of advice, as well as the reminder that there are others who second-guess their writing motives and plans. For now, I have decided to stop overthinking. I’m following my heart and curiously watching the story unfold from the tips of my fingers.

Knitting

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I am working on this delicious pair of watermelon-patterned socks, using Zauberwolle. Some knitters take a break from working with wool in the summer, but I’m not one of them. Besides, look at these colours! Do they not whisper ‘SUMMER’, in a giggly sing-song voice? Thus far, the summer weather in the Toronto area has been warm and breezy, and I happily spend my evenings with this yummy project.

Celtic Harp

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This picture is not recent, but we like it.

I’m currently learning to play Scotland the Brave. My favourite place to play in the summer is on our back patio. The wind carries the notes with it through the trees and I feel I can serenade along with the birds. Running and yoga at 5:30 a.m. provide me with the right jolt of energy, but reading, knitting and playing the Celtic harp allow me to slow down at 8 p.m.

Woodworking

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Double-dyed stabilized maple burl. We think it’s gorgeous.

Mr. Wanderlust has been at work on new goodies, to be revealed soon. He has also been experimenting with a laser etcher, which translates into wonderful possibilities.

Article Recommendation

I will leave you with this article: No Guilt Allowed! Why Parents Need Time for Themselves. As a working parent, I often find it challenging to be away from my children for long hours on weekdays. However, having also been a stay-at-home parent, I know how exhausting that role can be for an introvert. As an INFP, I cherish my quiet time, my alone time. With two very spirited young boys, that quiet time is often tough to come by. The noises at work tend of very different nature from the ones I hear at home. Both present their challenges and both leave me with the need to spend some time, every evening, alone, unwinding from the day that has passed. And that is why I make the time for reading, crafting, or playing a musical instrument. That’s why Pawel makes the time for woodworking. When we feel calmer, recharged and relaxed, we are better people, better parents.

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Your turn! What have you been reading, crafting, playing, learning, or exploring? Are you an introvert parent? How do you make time for yourself? 

Balancing act

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“What are the reasons for practising handstand?” the instructor asked on Saturday from the front of the spacious conference room at the Toronto Yoga Conference. Among the many answers provided, two reasons stood out for me:

To confront our fear of being upside down.

To allow ourselves to grow by meeting and coming closer to overcoming challenges.

We were asked to choose a partner with whom we would spend the next two hours practising the techniques to would lead us closer to moving into handstand away from the wall. Throughout that time, while practising my own handstand and learning by watching the man with whom I was partnered, as well as other yogis in the room, I was reminded of several interesting points:

When I allow myself to be intimidated, or when I feel physically fatigued, my form and technique suffer. When I follow the technical points closely and take my time to stay centred and calm, I move more gracefully and am able to float into a pose with ease. The opposite is true when I rush.

Courage inspires exhilarating growth, leading us into wisdom.

Inversions are fun. That is why I enjoy playing with handstand and forearm balance. However, inversions require Presence. The constant attention is necessary to keep the balance. If, for just a split second, we allow ourselves to become distracted or allow ourselves to think of how hard we are working to stay balancing upside-down, we immediately start to wobble.

Life is a careful balance between work and play, hopefully at the same time! And that is what keeps me coming back to the mat.

I am reminded every day of why I continue to practise. The subtle lessons I learn about myself on the mat provide me with countless opportunities to see myself with honesty as I examine my approach to life. When I approach my practice from a mindset focused entirely on hard work, I end up struggling. If, however, I remain confident and move with ease, my breath and body move with the same ease and grace.

When I remind myself to move from a place of Mindfulness, to approach every event with Presence, allowing life to unfold and intuitively choosing each response, the pieces of the puzzle settle naturally into the correct places. Moving with ease and mindfulness in life does not mean that I stop working; it doesn’t mean I simply sit there and life takes care of itself. The opposite is true: I am able to get more done when I remind myself to be present. I feel more joy when I am present.

When we start to feel all the pieces of life become scattered, when we allow ourselves to feel overwhelmed, we can always remind ourselves to simply be with what is. To me, this is the equivalent of facing our fear of being turned upside down. If we don’t feel grounded through our feet, we can press more firmly through the hands that are touching the earth. In any inversion in yoga, we are reminded to press down and aim higher while staying strong through the core and the centre of gravity. We can always work with what is happening to us, provided that we remember to stay present.

By meeting these challenges head-on, we allow ourselves to grow and become stronger. Perhaps, one day, these challenges will not feel as big and scary. For a beginner yoga practitioner, to hold tree pose for 5-10 breaths might feel like an enormous challenge. Yet, after we have been practising for a while, tree pose feels easy, so we move on to more advanced poses to keep us curious.

I used to think of stress as scary. I still sometimes just want to hide away in my comfort zone to avoid doing anything unusual. Yet, the times when I allow myself to stretch out of my shell and tread into deeper waters are also the times when I open myself up to new enlightening experiences.

Growth can be scary. Even the idea of success can be scary, because we tend to resist any change, whether we perceive it as positive or negative. At the end of the day, it enriches our experience. Balance in life doesn’t mean that everything stops moving and we spend our entire days in stillness and peace. Stillness and peace come from within as we continue to learn to negotiate and adapt to fluctuations.

So, I’m inviting myself to play with balance and keep my Savasana face on at all times, even when — especially when — I start to notice the pieces of the puzzle start to come apart. I know that everything will settle into its rightful place, as long as we continue to approach life with curiosity, love, courage and grace.

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How do you approach the idea of balance in your life? Feel free to leave us a comment to share your experience.

Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend!

Step-by-Step Guide to Chaturanga Dandasana

Call me strange, but I have always enjoyed doing push-ups. Even in elementary school’s gym class, I was the girl who would lift her knees up off the floor to attempt the full push-up variation. No, it didn’t look pretty or impressive in any way, but I suppose I was a bit Type-A with my fitness goals.

When I was first introduced to Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga in 1998, Sun Salutations intrigued me with their smooth flow. I relished the fast-paced but graceful movements that released tension from my body. Yet, Chaturanga Dandasana (four-limbed staff pose) was a confusing transition pose for me. I remember thinking, “Aha! Lowering down into a low push-up position from high plank is so much easier than having to press back up!” Of course, a few years later, I realized that the reason it felt easy to me was because I was cheating! I didn’t lower into the pose with control. My hips drooped low, my belly sagged, and my elbows splayed out to the sides as I tried to get Chaturanga and Upward-Facing Dog over with in order to make it to the place where I really wanted to be: Downward-Facing Dog, taking a delicious break for a few breaths. The power of confession!

Chaturanga Dandasana is a pose that is often approached as a quick transition pose in the Sun Salutations portion of a Vinyasa / Ashtanga practice. However, it’s important to maintain focus, integrity, and strength in this pose as it can be incredibly informative for the physical and emotional aspects of our yoga practice.

I prepared this step-by-step guide to help you find this focus, integrity and strength in your own practice. I recommend working on these steps with a qualified yoga instructor and using my tips only as a supplement for your personal home practice.

1. To prepare for Chaturanga, come to rest on your hands and knees, positioning a block on the mat at the medium height directly underneath your chest. Align the elbows and shoulders directly over the wrists and the hips directly over the knees. Inhale and allow the belly to soften. On the exhale, lift the pelvic floor and the belly. Keep this core connection as you inhale and allow your elbows to open out to the sides, keeping your hands firmly planted on the mat, pressing down through the thumb and index finger parts of the hands. Exhale, and hug the triceps in toward the midline. Now, your arms and core are firmly engaged. Stay here for up to five full breaths.

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Take rest in child’s pose for five or more breaths. Then, if you feel ready for the next step, proceed as follows.

2. Continue to keep the engagement of the upper body and core as you inhale and stretch one leg back, pressing the ball of the foot firmly into the mat. Exhale and repeat the same motion with the other leg, planting the balls of both feet into the mat. Continue to breathe deeply as you keep the arms strong, the triceps hugging in, keeping the elbows soft, reaching the heart forward toward the top of your mat and keeping your gaze forward without straining your neck. Keep your core strong by continue to lift the pelvic floor and belly upward. Spin the inner thighs up toward the ceiling to broaden through the lower back while pressing the heels toward an imaginary wall behind you. Broaden through the scapula. Continue to breathe deeply and hold plank pose for up to five full breaths.

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Lower the knees down to the mat and rest in child’s pose for five or more breaths. If you feel strong after holding plank, continue to step 3.

3. Repeat the steps outlined above to make your way back into plank pose. Ensure that the block is at the medium height on the mat directly underneath your chest. Inhale and lower your knees down to the mat. Exhale and continue to hug the triceps in toward the midline as you bend the elbows toward a 90-degree angle, coming to rest your chest on the block. Inhale to press back up to your hands and knees and take rest in child’s pose for five or more breaths. If this Chaturanga prep felt good and you continue to feel strong, repeat it again, this time hovering the chest an inch or two above the block. To challenge yourself further, practise staying in this pose for an extra breath or two.

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Continue to practise Chaturanga with your knees down on the mat until you feel strong enough to proceed. Remember that you might even need to stay with this variation for a few months before you feel ready to move on to practice the same move with straight legs. Be honest with yourself and never rush into anything that does not feel right.

4. To try the straight-leg variation with the block underneath the chest, repeat step 2. Inhale to prepare. On the exhale, with the legs strong and inner thighs firmly pressing up toward the ceiling, start to bend your elbows toward a 90-degree angle, with the arms hugging in toward the midline. Continue to lift up through the core as you work to gently lengthen the tailbone toward your feet. Hover the chest above the block and if it feels good, hold the pose for an extra breath or two. To come out, either press up to high plank, with the entire body engaged (see step 2), or simply press back to the hands and knees. Rest in child’s pose for five or more breaths.

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Repeat this until you start to feel stronger. Again, you may need to continue practising with a block for a while. Honour your body and the work will pay off.

5. To move into the full version of Chaturanga, start in high plank. On an inhale, bring the heart forward, keeping the shoulders and elbows over the wrists. With a strong core and legs to support you in the pose, leading with the heart and gazing toward the front of the mat, start to hug in the elbows toward the midline of the body as you exhale and bend the elbows toward a 90-degree angle. Hover here as you inhale, imagining the block positioned under your chest. Do not allow your shoulders to lower past the elbows!!! On an exhale, still keeping the core and legs in the same position, straighten the arms to return to high plank. Bring the knees down and press back to Child’s Pose to rest for five or more breaths. To challenge yourself further, hover in Chaturanga for an extra breath or two before pressing back up to high plank.

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Here is a video of a slower transition from plank to Chaturanga, and back up to high plank.

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, keep practising and always honour your amazing body!

Namaste.

Katia

Dharma Wanderlust