I started doing yoga at a climbing gym because my doctor said I needed to do something to decrease my blood pressure (and classes were free with a membership). I was 24 years old and on medication for hypertension that doubled as a mild anti-anxiety pill. I was fresh out of college living teeny paycheck to teeny paycheck in one of the most expensive cities in the US and my family was a 6 hour plane ride away, which didn't really matter because they couldn't have helped me (financially at least) in case of an emergency. My biggest fear was that I would have an emergency and end up hungry or homeless.
Turns out I really enjoyed yoga. Some of it has to do with my anatomy. I am naturally flexible, so it was easy. But as time went on and one class a week turned into three classes a week. I noticed a shift in my anxiety and at 26 years old, my doctor took me off medicine for high blood pressure. I wasn't part of a scientific study, so it's not factually proven, but I'd like to think the yoga had something to do with it.
My life became significantly more stable once I met my husband. Then came the move to France, a bit stressful with the broken arm, new language, new social customs, etc, but I managed to stay (mostly) sane and off medicine. They don't always do emergencies well here, customer service is non-existent, but they do preventative care like nobody's business and my doctors followed my hypertension (high blood pressure) issues closely, and though borderline, decided I didn't need medicine.
Baby one came and I needed a bit of medicinal help for a post birth hypertensive crisis, but things went back to normal quickly after. Baby two came, and who has time to do yoga every day while taking care of a toddler and napping because growing a human is exhausting, and the hypertensive issues showed up a towards the end of pregnancy. My midwife was amazing and followed me closely with blood pressure and fetal heartbeat monitoring every other day towards the end, and when my symptoms started to look like eclampsia, we decided that # 2 needed to come out a bit earlier than nature intended. Labor is rough when it's induced and this was no exception, but I was determined and my little one made it out with a few gentle pushes despite popping back in a few times - she had the cord wrapped around her neck and arm! It was the most gentle birth, and I knew I wouldn't have the perineal issues I had after baby #1. I had taken an excellent prenatal/postnatal training between babies, and my midwife had taken the same one, so we understood each other even without words. After a rough labor, I was done, or so I thought. My baby was here, we had sent out that first note, "Babe is born, they are both doing well." and photo to immediate family and we were cuddling. Little did we know, it was a bit too early for that note.
A postpartum hemorrhage, 2 pints of blood, near kidney failure, and uncontrollable hypertension at the birth clinic was followed by a 5 night stay in the basement ICU of the local hospital, where they tried and failed too many times to recall, to find the right cocktail of medicines. All without my newborn baby. I was eventually sent home after 10 days bedridden with some seriously strong doses of 3 different medicines 3 times a day. After 10 days in a bed and way too much medicine, I could barely make it across the street to get a baguette. By day 5 at home, I had made it to the grocery store, but a trip that normally takes 5 minutes took 15.
All that to say, it's been a long road to recovery and I am in terrible shape. I'm still on a crazy cocktail of medicines and although I take them less frequently, somedays they make my blood pressure drop so low that I get really dizzy, especially when going from seated/crouched position to upright. Which means downdog, forward fold, etc are difficult, and some days even dangerous. But I've been doing this yoga thing for 15 years now, so my body and mind know it by heart and as many of my students saw when I was pregnant, I am able to teach even though I can't do it all, so I hope I'll be forgiven for my mom bod even if it has been 5 months!
I am forever grateful to the people who saved my life. Twice. And to the French health care system that certainly has its flaws but kept me alive for FREE. I am so grateful that I was hungry only once, and was never homeless, I know that's not the reality for so many people around the world. And I am forever grateful for my two beautiful children. My biggest fear now, is that I won't be around long enough to see them grow into adults. So I guess it's time to commit to being on the mat every damn day dizziness or not. Wish me luck.
For bouts of insomnia a low dose of melatonin, the hormone normally produced by your body when it's time for sleep can be helpful, but don't use it permanently, lest your body stop producing its own stores. I especially rely on this one when I have terrible jet-lag.
More info in French.
2. Essential Oils**
My favorite mixture is:
6 drops Lavender essential oil (I use officinalis)
1 drop Sauge Sclarée (Clary Sage)
It can be used in a diffuser, or, if you'd like to save yourself the expense, mix it and put a drop on your pillowcase (may leave a stain) or on a tissue between your pillowcase and pillow.
It is also relatively easy to find lavender eye pillows. The added gentle pressure on the eyes feels pretty good, but it doesn't have the sage. Parisians can find nice ones at Yoga Concept.
3. Reduce Screen Time at Night
There are new scientific studies that show that using a screen right before bed/in bed can seriously mess with your ability to fall asleep and to have deep sleep, so I now plug my phone, take a hot bath/shower, then go straight to bed. That way, there's at least a small window between when I last look at a bright screen and I go to sleep. If you must check your phone/computer in the evening, try to have the brightness set on the lowest setting for your phone and there's a free computer app called flux that adjusts the screen brightness for you with the changing ambient light.
I sometimes find that I don't sleep well if I haven't had any exercise. So try to get some exercise in every day! Yoga, a brisk walk, etc. Here's a study that supports that.
5. Mindful Relaxation
If none of the above seems to have worked, try 'savasana' or a guided mindful meditation. It also works well to get back to sleep if you wake in the middle of the night.
I hope you get some good restful sleep!
*Please consult your doctor before taking any medications.
**Use essential oils sparingly and cautiously.
My husband and I had planned a couples weekend in London. Our little one got sick on Wednesday, I got sick on Thursday evening. Stomach flu, or 'un gastro' as they call it in France. My husband spent his Friday morning hoping I would get better, and his Friday afternoon trying to get reimbursed for the train we didn't take, the hotel we didn't use, and the event we didn't attend. I was in bed by 8pm exhausted and finally able to sleep after being awake all of the previous night. I woke up Saturday morning to a slew of texts and facebook messages. I replied to each and every one of them without knowing yet what had happened. 'Yes, we were fine, sorry, I was sick and didn't see the message.' Then I read the news.
Everyone I knew had checked in, they were all fine, it didn't happen in my neighborhood. As my husband says, it's unlikely to be a targeted neighborhood, it's too colorful here. But still, I find (not found, because it's still happening) myself going through the stages of grief. Buy why am I grieving, what right do I have to grieve, I asked myself? This isn't 9/11, I haven't lost anyone, I don't even know that many people in Paris. Shock and disbelief were quickly followed by blame. Why the hell didn't someone, somewhere know this was going to happen, I said to my husband and mother-in-law. Why aren't known radicalized individuals' activities being followed? How could 'they' let this happen?
Now, I'm just sad. Sad that the world can be so mean. Sad that such hateful humans exist. Sad that I no longer feel safe in my Paris, the place where, just a few months ago when debating about gun control, I used to exemplify how safe one can feel, even in a shitty neighborhood, because guns are so hard to get. I'm sad that I'm afraid. Sad that I now want to know how many mosques exist in my neighborhood that are known for having radicalized imams. Sad that I don't trust people on the streets anymore. Sad that I don't want to take the metro. Sad that as I was having a hot chocolate with my family in a cafe yesterday, I kept wondering if someone was going to drive by with machine guns. What right do I have to be so upset about all of this when people all over the world live with the same fear every. single. day.? I don't know. I am still processing.
I'm teaching a yoga class tonight. I don't know if I'll get through it without crying. I don't know what I'm going to teach, or what I'm going to say about the events this weekend. I do not have a message of love and light and happiness. I am no where near as positive as this amazing young woman.
I am not evolved.
What I will do tonight, is welcome everyone, in whatever state of grief they are in and give them the space to experience it. I will give and receive hugs from anyone who needs to give or get a hug. I will get there early and stay late. I will listen to anyone who needs to be heard. I will give everything I can muster so they feel a little safer or a bit lighter than when they stepped onto the mat. I will try to invoke the humanity that links us all together. I will chant Shanti Ommmm and truly hope for peace on earth. I am not evolved, but I am doing my best to get there.
I know, I know, you've heard it before, but this is my soapbox. This is what I'm teaching right now. This is the biggest lesson I learned in my 2 week training with Jason Crandell. You can be content and still envision more.
While in London, I had the pleasure of having dinner with a great friend whom I don't see near as often as I'd like. It happens that way when you live in different countries. We talked about our lives. I said how much I enjoy my family and spending time with my kid and my husband. I explained how I thoroughly enjoy teaching yoga and having only a handful of classes a week, and that I don't ever want to become a yoga 'celebrity'. I don't have that drive, I want to get people to love yoga, to be happy with themselves, and to be kind and empathetic humans. I also mentioned that besides being a good mother, wife, and yoga teacher, I didn't have much else on the horizon. And despite once having a promising career in science, I had no grand plans for saving the world or inventing the next wheel.
She then asked what I was learning in my training, and I over-enthusiastically talked about all the alignment and anatomy we were learning and the multitude of things that had changed since my teacher training back in 2009.
Despite not seeing her often, and not being in touch between visits, she says to me, matter of factly, <<You should study more anatomy, physiology and how the muscles and bones work. What about physical therapy?>> Of course, why didn't I think of that. I have a degree in science and seriously considered being a medical doctor, but I get a bit squeamish around bodily fluids and needles, so that was out. I didn't want a PhD in science, it made the possibilities too narrow. But with a PT degree, I could teach yoga with an intimate understanding of how the body works. I could really teach yoga to every body.
I'm not yet carving in stone a 5 year plan with physical therapist degree on the list, but it's certainly penciled in. And there's a lot more to this story, but I realized that being truly content where I am in my life (and my practice) -right now- doesn't mean that I can't or shouldn't accept challenges and -expand my vision of what is possible.
If you follow my facebook, I posted a few weeks ago that I feel extremely lucky to have so many good friends in so many places. This is what I was talking about. How fortunate I am to have such a wise, intelligent, motivating and engaging friend. Thank you universe!
Also, I found this quote, which is, well, awsomesauce (yes, that is now officially a word).
"Life is a journey. It is about change, growth, discovery, movement, transformation, continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, taking courageous challenges at every step along the way. You are on the path... exactly where you are meant to be right now... And from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing, of courage, of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of dignity, and of love." -Caroline Adams
I will be teaching a Vinyasa yoga class, outside, this Sunday July 19 at 11:00am in the Jardin de Tuileries in Paris --weather permitting. The class is donation based, so you are welcome to pay whatever your budget allows. Bring your mat or giant towel (or both) and your smiles and I'll see you under the shade of the trees!
I recently came across this article about a beautiful, though not what one would call a 'typical' yogi. Being 10 months post baby, I still haven't gotten rid of all the extra belly jiggles, and lets face it, the hips and bootie haven't thinned down like I've told them to. It has nothing to do with the amount of chocolate I've been eating, or the amount of running I haven't been doing. Ha. But on the rare occasion that I go to a public yoga class here in Paris, I certainly feel eyes on the large girl (erm- me) in the room. Especially when I go to a level 2 class and the teacher asks me, in that tone, if s/he's seen me before... and I'm not -that- big. I'm always thankful that my 13 years of practice allow me to block out everything around me but the voice telling me what to do.
I took a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) called "The Body Matters" about exercise and the one thing they stressed - a million times over- was that being medically healthy doesn't matter how much you weigh, it only matters how fit you are. Which (to me) means you can eat all the chocolate you want, you just have to get up off your butt and do moderate activity for at least 150 minutes a week. All the research says that this reduces your chances of everything from breast cancer to blood pressure to heart disease to depression. With the massive amount of walking I do here in Paris, the classes I teach, the prep for those classes aka my daily (mostly) practice, I think I fall into that category.
The 'normal' here in Paris is much smaller than in any city I've been in the US, and not just by weight. At 5 feet 7 inches or 1.7 meters, I'm often the tallest woman in the room. Smaller being normal is a good thing, people walk more, and a bad thing, I've never seen so many walking skeletons in the developed world and I think it's so sad that so many women look hungry. As I told a friend of mine who was lamenting about eating an entire bag of chocolate, don't worry too much about it, just make sure you get up off your butt and walk for at least 150 minutes a week. So, shall we all make a pact to judge less, move more, and eat as much chocolate as we like? I'm in.
And here's some pop goodness to get your daily dose of moderate exercise started for the day.
I was trolling the world wide web, that amazing, vast, neverending fountain of information and found this lovely quote and had to share. Perhaps I should get a tumblr account.
There is one thing that when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body. (Anguttara Nikaya 1.43)
If you're really hankering for a studio yoga class this summer, I've compiled a handy list of some of my favorite studios and their summer schedules. Even if you find a class through this list, it's probably best to call to make sure your chosen class is happening that day. After all, it is still August in Paris people! If you don't know what I mean by that, here's one of many articles chronicling the phenomenon.
Rasa Yoga (rive gauche) Open all summer with a reduced schedule of 4 classes a day which can be found here.
21 rue Saint Jacques
+33 (0)1 43 54 14 59
Metro: St Michel (Ligne 4) or Cluny La Sorbonne (Ligne 10)
BeYoga Open all of August with a reduced schedule of 3 classes a day can be found here.
17 rue Campagne Première
+33 (0)9 65 31 60 11
Metro: Raspail (Ligne 4, 6)
Centre de Yoga du Marais Open all summer with a reduced schedule of one class per evening can be found here.
72 rue du Vertbois
+33 (0)1 42 74 24 92
Metro: Réamur-Sébastopol (Ligne 3, 4) or Strasbourg Saint Denis (Ligne 4, 8, 9) or Arts et Métiers (Ligne 3) or Arts et Métiers (Ligne 11)
Trini Yoga Closed August 15-August 22, reduced schedule for the remainder of August here.
24 rue d'Enghien
Enter at 24, 2e cour à gauche
+33 (0)6 03 53 08 42
Metro: Bonne-Nouvelle (Ligne 8, 9) or Strasbourg St. Denis (Ligne 4, 8, 9)
Big Apple Yoga Closed August 1-August 20. Their online schedule is normally up to date.
20 Rue Dussoubs
+33 (0)1 42 36 76 11
Metro: Réamur-Sébastopol (Ligne 3, 4) or Etienne Marcel (Ligne 4) or Sentier (Ligne 3)
Yoga Village Closed August 8-September 1
39 Boulevard des Capucines
escalier B, 1 er étage
+33 (0)1 72 34 58 47
Metro: Madeleine (Ligne 8, 12, 14) or Opera (Ligne 3, 7, 8)
My first summer in Paris, I was awed and flabbergasted with the number of restaurants, bakeries, butchers, cheese shops and liquor shops closed the entire month of August. I even wrote a blog post about it back when I was blogging about food and traveling and back when my wrist was still broken and I couldn't do yoga. I've since realized that in addition to having to walk a few extra blocks for a good baguette, you really have to search for yoga classes in the summertime in Paris. If you eventually find a class, you might show up to find it has been cancelled last minute. It has happened to me, in July! Since many of my friends are out of town during vacation time, I often find myself idle, and need of some human interaction and what better way to get that than a great yoga class. Unfortunately, I often find myself S.O.L. (look it up) because like everyone else in Paris, my favorite teachers are also on vacation or having retreats in some sunny beautiful lush local. I have the option to teach myself a yoga class, but many of you aren't quite familiar enough to do so for yourselves, and I often get requests around this time from students for online classes they can take. Usually, it's to get them through a week or two, so I've compiled a couple of recommended links for all you Paris yogis who will be around in dire need of yoga this summer, or just anytime you're looking to do some yoga at home. If you have a favorite online home for yoga classes, free or not, let me know. I'll check it out and perhaps add it to the list!
Updated: I had a couple of websites for free yoga, but they are no longer useable.
Subscription services (monthly) that are low cost compared to Paris yoga classes and have free trial periods (as of last check):
Has an almost overwhelming selection of well curated well filmed classes in all genres and styles. I've taken classes with a few of these teachers in real life, and they're quite good. Jason Crandell is one of my favorites.
Also has a good selection of well filmed classes. I've taken many a classes with Pete Guinosso in San Francisco in real life, and he has a few here that are very good. I also saw a press release that they were now offering prenatal/postnatal classes too. And it looks like Yoga Journal has snatched them up recently. They do have a few very short free classes (5 minutes).
I've never taken a full class with Aiofe, but she's a fantastic spark of a woman, and a kick ass yogi. And I recognize quite a few of the names of the teachers, so let me know if you enjoy it.
This website is pretty geeky, but they have a good selection of all different kinds of yoga for all different kinds of people.
Looking back at the last blog post I wrote about yoga in the first trimester, I mentioned how drastically my practice had changed, and it had drastically changed, but I was able to do a simple flow class and from one day to the next know which poses I was still capable of doing. Not so much the case these days at 8 months along...
At the beginning of my second trimester (12weeks - 3 months), despite not yet being visibly pregnant, I did start to feel the increasing size of the uterus, both from the inside and the outside. For about a month there was an occasional feeling of considerable pressure way down low, and I was a bit afraid that the little Mr. didn't know that he had another 6 months to incubate. My doctor said it was normal to feel the uterus so low down. It was small and gravity dictates that it stays relatively low. I fortunately figured out early on that I could move it up easily with a few modified bridge poses and I felt so much better. Instead of focusing on the backbending part of the bridge pose, I focused on straightening my lower back by engaging the lower core and lifting the tailbone up to flatten the small of the back then gently lifting the hips with the lower core engaged and the lower back flat, making the spine long and straight and the lower part of the pubis point up. Once my hips were lifted, I took a few deep belly inhales and exhales. Then lowered the hips starting with the top of the back getting the small of the back on the ground then gently lowering my tailbone until the (now smaller) natural curve of my lower back returned. A bonus for this pose is that it also happens to help with any swayback you might develop as your belly grows, and keeps your lower transverse and oblique abdominals in shape, which are oh so necessary and useful later in pregnancy and childbirth! Lifting the heels later (photo @ 6 months) helps to engage the thighs and keep the spine long. After 16 weeks, lying on your back for long periods isn't recommended, so I didn't stay in the pose for a long time, just long enough to move the uterus up a little. If my breathing was steady and long I did the pose a few times before coming back to seated position.
I also started feeling the little bump quite prominently from the outside. And by that I mean that when I was bringing my knee to my nose to place one foot between the hands from plank to prep for any standing pose, I kept feeling like I was mushing the little Mr. My simple remedy was to bring my knee to the outside of the same hand as knee, no longer squishing the lower belly, but still being able to gracefully (enough) transition from vinyasas to standing poses. Additionally, the moment I felt a bump in my belly, I no longer did any poses on my stomach to give the little Mr. all the space he needed.
Every person is uniquely different, and every pregnancy has its own challenges, so please ask your doctor before doing any new exercises. Mine told me to keep doing whatever I was doing, so I listened to my body and figured out how to keep doing my yoga. I hope you keep doing your thing and if you have any questions about my experiences, please don't hesitate to ask. It's an awesome journey!
Former San Francisco DNA wrangler and current Paris pretzel. Musings, reviews and general information on Paris Yoga.