Observation & Determination: a balancing act

I took last week off from my daily yoga practice. Why? I didn’t get out of bed in time. Simple as that. Did I need a week off? Did I need some extra sleep? Or maybe some extra snuggle time with my beloved?

This morning I returned to it feeling somehow emotionally and mentally refreshed from the break. It didn’t feel like a chore or a commitment that I had to live up to. It felt like a reunion. It was lovely.

On the DVD I was working with, the instructor (Colleen Saidman) said something that resonated with me and that I have been thinking about all morning. She said:

“have greater observation and less determination.”

She was talking about relaxing into the one-legged forward bend. She was talking about allowing the muscles to lengthen and the back to open. She was talking about not forcing yourself into the pose…rather, give in to it and observe how your body feels. She was talking about being mindful.

This pleased me, because this is also the “secret ingredient” in Middle Eastern dance. It’s the secret that I give to my students in their very first dance class, and then probably in just about every single dance class after that. Okay, everybody – in unison now, repeat after me! “relax the muscles that are not actively involved in creating the movement!” (can you hear me smiling?)

In a hip slide, I tell them to put their hands on their waists and feel (internally observe) the muscles working there. Which ones are actively engaged? Which ones are not? Students hear the words “opening”… “giving in”… “allowing”… “feeling.” They hear me tell them not to force the movement; but rather, give in to it and allow it to happen. Observe it. I ask them to pay attention in their bodies. I ask them, “where is your weight?” and “where is your center of gravity?” We do drills while being mindful of how our weight is placed over the heel or over the ball of the foot – being aware of the changes in our center of gravity and our core as it adjusts to different physical attitudes and levels. I ask them to be Mindful, pay Attention, Give In, be Aware, AND have to Purpose, Direction & Intention in their movements. Yes! All at the same time!

Observation & Determination: it’s quite the balancing act!

This led me to think about mindfulness and the difference between observation & determination in life in general. I thought about observation in regards to the absence of determination: passively allowing life to flow past without active participation. I then thought about determination in regards to the absence of observation: aggressively pushing ahead to the exclusion of all else. I thought about how balance between these two is key to a full and emotionally satisfying life. And how it can be so difficult! About how sometimes we need more of one and less of the other, and how we always have to pay attention to where our weight is balanced on that see-saw.

Observation vs Determination has played a role in my thoughts about where to go with the dance school. My life with Celebrations Bellydance had been unbalanced, with determination on the heavy end of the scale. I am thinking of the years where I worked full-time at the college and taught 6 & 7 dance classes per week on top of that. I was not mindful of my own health. I was aggressively determined to do it all – to have it all – at the exclusion of all else. Quitting dance would be equally out of balance. Dance is part of the make up of my soul. My work over the next little while is to find out what the balance between observation and determination with Celebrations Bellydance will look like.

It has also played a role in my weight-loss journey.

It all comes down to that little nutshell, doesn’t it – finding and maintaining balance between observation & determination. Mindfulness.

How has the balance of observation, determination and mindfulness played a role in your life? 



yoga & my crock pot

One of the things I learned in Weight Watchers was to pre-plan and prepare meals ahead of time. Now, while I always admired people who were organized enough to do that, it wasn’t something that I ever actually tried to do very often for myself. I was always too busy. Oh, sometimes I’d go through a phase but it never lasted beyond a week. But during the time that I was loosing that burdensome 60 pounds, it became an essential tool, and it worked very well. I was working 1/2 days and I had the afternoons to browse cook books and decide what I wanted to make. I would make big crock pots of stew or soup  I would get two suppers for us plus 5 lunches for me out of each crock-pot creation. Luckily, I am happy to eat the same thing several days in a row.  My crock pot soups were a staple in our diet. My weight loss journey, like my balance journey was moving forward, sometimes going gangbusters and sometimes wobbling a bit, but staying strong throughout – relying on new habits and tools – like crock pot chili and my new yoga practice.

If you’ll indulge me, I can relate this to my yoga practice.  Yes, I can! I think of this phase as being in Warrior II. Feet firmly rooted, legs strong. Arms long and reaching, chest open – powerful and grounded. Stable and steady. Knowing there was someplace to move forward towards. Moving forwards towards Warrior I. Hips square off to the front foot. Arms reach overhead. I’m a little wobbly at first, but soon begin to settle down and feel strong again. Relying on the strength of my core and my legs. Knowing that they were there for me because I had built the habit of my morning practice. Like the habit of pre-planning my meals, I could rely on that.

Then my 1/2 days ended and my job reverted to full-time. Okay – I knew that this was happening. I knew which day it was happening on. But somehow, I didn’t plan for it. The first day, Kelly and I looked at each other and said “what’s for supper?” Aaak! There was nothing pre-planned. So we had soup and sandwiches. And again the next day. And the next. We started to look at each other in panic every morning and I would say, “just take something out of the freezer and we’ll figure it out tonight.” I gained 8 of my lost discarded pounds back in what felt like over night. Because not pre-planning means more than settling for a hurried dinner, it means that when I walk through the door at the end of the day, I can’t rely on knowing that a nutritious, point-friendly meal is only minutes away. So I start to snack while I figure out what I’m going to cook for supper. That’s a meal-worth of snacking while I’m making dinner. It also means I don’t have lunches planned for the week. And that means dashing around in the morning, getting stressed because I don’t know what I’m taking for lunch. Making me late and grumpy.

Yes, something was seriously out of balance in the meal department. It took me until this morning to figure out what it was. So, this morning, I stood in my nightgown in my sun-filled kitchen and started chopping vegetables. I filled my crock pot with whatever I could find in my fridge and cupboards and I made a chili. This will be 2 suppers and 5 lunches for the week plus some for the freezer. Later today I will look in the freezer and decide what I need from the store to make another meal that will do for 3 more suppers for the week. I put the knife down and stand in mountain pose for a moment, feeling balance flood through me. Feeling okay for the week ahead.

Warrior III –  my standing leg is rooted deep into the earth as place my hands on my hips, lean forward and lift my back leg straight out from the hip, my flexed foot reaching through the heel. My hands stretch out to the sides, then forward. I am a plane, flying. I tip and wobble. I touch the wall for balance, I touch my toe back down for balance. I try again. How long can I hold the pose each time? I practice and keep trying. I know that I will eventually hold it strong and true. I have the tools. I have prepared for this moment. My heel reaches strong to the back – to the past. My standing leg is strongly rooted into the ground – into the present. My hands reach forward to the future.

Today’s chili happens to be vegan:
black beans (1 can)
diced tomatoes (2 cans)
chopped carrots (approx. 2 cups)
1 medium chopped zucchini
1 double handful chopped mushrooms
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
4  “use-today-or-throw-away” tomatoes found in the back of the fridge
2 T chili powder (I like my chili mild)

Put everything into a 15-quart crock pot. Cook on low most of the day. Don’t make it too liquidy because the vegetables will cook down and make their own juice. You can pretty much throw in whatever vegetables you have in the fridge – especially ones that need to get used up quickly (like my tomatoes). Serve with rice. If fact, do like I do and make a big pot of rice and store it in the fridge – reheating portions as needed during the week.


My home yoga practice

Another part of my balance journey is recognizing that I need to create balance and health in my mind, body & spirit. Toward this end, I am very proud to say that I have started a home yoga practice over the past several weeks and I feel quite devoted to it. I have always enjoyed yoga, and some time a month or so ago I decided to practice every day. I have taken classes off and on for many years and I have a small collection of DVDs that I would put on now and again. I read, and I work with “live” teachers when I have questions. Also, I have a lot of training in dance and dance instruction, which has resulted in good self-awareness & body knowledge. I know when something feels safe and when something doesn’t, so I’ve always felt okay to work with my DVDs on my own.

When we re-did the flooring in the house this month, I took the opportunity to re-vamp my sewing room, which I have always called the “yellow” room since we painted it several years ago, into a multi-purpose room. I packed the sewing machine & portable table to a place where it’s accessible to set up when I need to use it but otherwise out of the way. I mean, I don’t sew everyday. Or even every week. Or every month! I sew in spurts. When I’m not sewing, the machine can live elsewhere. I then sorted my stash of fat quarters into clear plastic containers according to colour family and put them on a bookshelf along with all my treasured books and DVDs. It’s so nice to see all my things so clearly!

 I cleared out the entire room so the floor is bare of all but the necessary furniture, and it looks very nice with the wood laminate floors. I hung pretty sheer curtains in the window and hung my favourite prints on the walls. The walls are bright sunshine yellow. I kept my rocking chair, so that I could sit in there and have a place to be alone. I also set my laptop up on the sideboard that I use for storage so that I have something to play my yoga & Pilates DVDs on. It is a very tiny room, but there is just enough space to roll out my yoga mat in front of the computer screen and that’s all I need.

Every morning I grumble my way out of bed and make my way down the hall to my yellow room, roll out the mat, fire up the computer and choose from my small collection of DVDs. While the DVD is loading, I feed my two very hungry cats (who start protesting their hunger the moment my feet hit the floor). Misty is on the chest, watching, in this photo.

Then I begin. I am always stiff in the morning –who isn’t! But as the days have gone on, I find that the stiffness leaves my body sooner than it used to do. I am now putting my palms on the floor after only the third standing forward bend. A small victory, but important and one I am grateful for.

Some mornings I do only 20 minutes. Other mornings I do 40 – 60 minutes. I’ve begun noticing how much better I feel during the day. I start my day with more energy and purpose. My muscles are a little sore, but not terribly – just enough so I know I’ve worked them. I rotate my DVDs so the practice is slightly different every day. Sometimes I add a Pilates or other different workout to my practice. This morning I did a 20 minute Pilates workout followed by a 20 minute yoga session and then I rode my bike to work. What a great way to start the week!