When a yogi can’t sit still, she writes

Lisa Kirchner's anti-"Eat, Pray, Love" memoir comes out May 31.

Lisa Kirchner’s anti-Eat, Pray, Love memoir comes out May 31.

by Ann Votaw

Thank you to author Lisa Kirchner for her insightful interview with me in YogaCity NYC where she discusses her first memoir, Hello, American Lady Creature.

Instead of true love in Bali, she got divorced in Qatar, the small wealthy nation between Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Public drunkenness was prohibited. Dating was illegal, even to ex-patriots.

Yoga was one of her few constants.

Sleep meditation class at Studio Seva starts with “ah,” ends with “zzzzs”

This is me teaching iRest last year at the beautiful Studio Seva. Quick talk and then nap time.

This is me teaching iRest last year at the beautiful Studio Seva, 3511 N. Anthony Blvd. Quick talk and then nap time.

By Ann Votaw

Fort Wayne, Ind. – If you’re curious about yoga but can’t touch your toes, try 45-minutes of iRest® meditation 10:30 a.m., Saturday, April 19 at Studio Seva, 3511 N. Anthony Blvd.

This guided relaxation technique allows students to stay awake or fall asleep while having meaningful inquiries into life experiences.

What is iRest? Based on the ancient practice of yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, iRest is closely linked to the United States Military. In 2006, the Department of Defense researched this yoga nidra technique at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Renamed Integrative Restoration, or iRest for short, the protocol was developed and led by Richard Miller, PhD. The study was conducted with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Today, it is used in more than 30 VAs in the U.S. and continues to be researched in areas of compassion fatigue, pain management, and chemical dependency. “We’re trying to show the tools that soldiers can use inwardly before they become too overwhelmed with these civilian pressures,” Dr. Miller said.

But iRest is for everyone. Current applications include individuals living with cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, and day-to-day anxiety.

About the teacher: I’m a native of Fort Wayne and am a Level II iRest instructor living in Manhattan. I am a yoga teacher and recreational therapist who has taught iRest to Holocaust survivors, older adults, my own co-workers, and marathon runners wanting to speed up recovery. The first time I taught iRest at Studio Seva, my family members came to the class and found themselves asleep in a yoga studio.

Cost: $8, $4 for military veterans

What to wear? Comfortable clothing. Street clothes are fine. Socks or bare feet.

Get the funk out!

Vinegar saved my Lululemons! After awhile, these clothes need a good de-stinking. I put all my Lulus into my New York City kitchen let them soak in warm water and one cup of vinegar. No more stink!

Vinegar saved my Lululemons! After awhile, these clothes need a good de-stinking. I put all my Lulus into my New York City kitchen and let them soak in warm water and one cup of white vinegar. Then I washed them in the washing machine and air dried them at my window. No more stink!

by Ann Votaw

Lately, my Lululemons haven’t been smelling so good. After a run, I hang them in my shower to dry. Then I wash them. But I still sense the funk of Workouts Past.

This is a problem, considering the financial and emotional investments I made for each top, jacket, and pant that are supposed to last longer than Target knockoffs. As recreational therapist with a limited budget and closet space, my fancy workout-wear doubles as work wear that must look professional enough for staff meetings. I can’t be funky.

I consulted the Internet and learned that the fancy clothes I love — the ones that wick — are also the kind that build up sweat, lotion, and detergent in their porous fabric. Yesterday, I tried one of many solutions recommended by blackmold.awardspace.com. I put my Lulus in my New York City kitchen sink. Then I filled the sink with warm water, adding one cup of white vinegar. I set my timer for an hour and made periodic fabric checks to make sure the acid wasn’t eating through the material.

After an hour, my apartment smelled like a salad, but my clothes maintained their color and stretch. I dumped my wet clothes into the washer, adding a scoop of OxiClean directly on top of them. I poured a tiny bit of liquid Tide into the detergent compartment. Lastly, I air-dried everything by hanging each item on my drying rack in front of an open window on a sunny day.

The results? I’m wearing my favorite hot pink top to work today. So far, no funk.

 

All she rode: Crosstraining on the Upper West Side

Our brick workout crew from JackRabbit Sports attends SoulCycle on the Upper West Side.

Our brick workout crew from JackRabbit Sports attends SoulCycle on the Upper West Side. After a killer ride, we ran two easy miles in nearby Central Park.

by Ann Votaw

My legs and arms are still sore from Saturday’s SoulCycle ride.

As a coordinated event with JackRabbit Sports, the ride was free, when it would normally cost $20 for a first class and $34 for a single session.

The 77th Street class was great.

Here’s why:

  1. Our fabulous teacher, Katie, played fantastic music, including Aerosmith’s “Pink.” As a group fitness instructor myself, I was amazed at how she kept everyone on beat, not an easy thing in the dark and on a bike. When students fell behind the allotted beats per minute, she asked them to dial down their resistance to make their legs go faster.
  2. Katie didn’t mess around. Within minutes, we were sweating and working quads and abs in an insane up/down combination that also utilized shoulders, chest, and triceps. The weights and stretch portions were well planned, a good use of time and a great sample of the SoulCycle brand.
  3. Equipment can be confusing, but staff was helpful. I loved how an employee showed us how to adjust the bikes before we started. During the warm-up, Katie explained how to find small weights stored near the back wheel.

As much as I loved Katie’s class – and the SoulCycle format – I’m not a spin fanatic.

Here’s why: I hate exercising in rooms that are louder and more crowded than flights to my hometown in Indiana. The dark environments remind me of a roller dome, foot and adolescent smell included. Finally, I can’t stand the lobbies of most spin studios, including SoulCycle, which is beautiful but anxiety inducing. Too much happens near that front desk area: sign-in, locker rental, changing, shoe tying, and sorting of towels and used water bottles. (I had a similar feeling at their Crosby Street location.)

But that being said, I’m so doing this again if it appears on the JackRabbit calendar. Courtney, from  the 72nd Street JackRabbit store, ended our class with a slow two-mile run in Central Park. What a great way to combine workouts and Upper West Side businesses.

Brimming with health: Could hats be the newest addition to Obamacare?

"Life is like a new hat. You don't know if it suits you if you keep trying it on in front of your own mirror." Shirley McLaine

“Life is like a new hat. You don’t know if it suits you if you keep trying it on in front of your own mirror.” Shirley MacLaine

by Ann Votaw

During a mid-winter upper respiratory infection, I bought something I needed like a hole in the head: a hat.

But not just any kind of hat. I bought a fascinator – here – in the U.S., where John F. Kennedy bore his naked crown and killed the chapèu.

Nestled in hot pink tissue paper, my fascinator scoffed at Kennedy and Duchess Kate alike. It threatened to jump off my chest of drawers and into my dreams. It was naughty.

Between coughing fits, I examined this bejeweled confection of turquoise felt and whimsy, this newest ridiculous addition to my ironing-free wardrobe. A hat like this would fly like a Kleenex in the draft of a rotating fan, freeze in mid-air in the polar vortex.

This creation by Katherine Carey served no purpose. Other than to make me more like myself, only amplified and less grounded in reality.

I first wore it to church. Then on Christmas Eve. Then to work on New Year’s Eve. I named it Duchess and enjoyed pretending like I weren’t wearing it at all. I assumed an attitude of: “Oh, you mean this old thing?” or “You surprised me!” or “This is sooo boring.” Meanwhile, I received signals from other planets and times.

943064_10151884142035897_577332357_n

Here, in the office, I assume the character of a game show host.

HatsinChurch

At church, my hat makes me project a look of surprise.

I feel great with my new hat, even when I’m not wearing it. I propose hats be a medicinal component to the Affordable Health Care Act, but where do you stop? Once you commit to such a fashion statement, you must have a place to display it.

Last week, I bought a fiberglass head on Amazon. The noggin arrived at my doorstep and now dominates my bedroom as a spot to hang my hat.

Now I need a way to tame down the head.

 

 

 

In a season of change, an altar provides individualized roots

My home altar includes a St. Joseph candle holder, a Buddha, a Ganesh card, a pine cone, and my journal.

My home altar includes a St. Joseph candle holder, a Buddha, a Ganesh card, a pine cone, and my journal.

by Ann Votaw

Having come from a Methodist background, where spiritual art was simple and sparse, I rolled my eyes when a yoga teacher suggested I start my own altar.

A home temple felt way too New Age. But when I went back to Indiana for the holidays, I saw my parents’ Christmas tree and Nativity scene for what they were. They were shrines. My life was lousy with them.

The goal was to find mine.

In the last 10 years, I have collected religious art because my eye liked the lines and colors of artifacts I didn’t fully understand. I have a Buddha, prayer beads, and an iron cross. My favorite is a Chalkware shrine of St. Joseph, a funky candle holder I got at a flea market. ”It’s from Canada,” the antique dealer said, which cracked me up and guaranteed my purchase.

I arranged my favorite pieces on an old foot stool with a roll-out step, like my Granny Holloway had in her kitchen. Occasionally, I add stones or pine cones, whatever feels relevant to me. Currently, I am displaying a picture of Ganesh, the Hindu god who removes (and provides) obstacles.

The result is a shrine so authentic that I can’t help but sit in front of it, a few minutes before bed and a few minutes after I wake up.

I love my altar. A quick Google search reveals that lots of people — past and present — have liked them too.

Pinterest shows Medieval Christian Triptychs, three-paneled altars, that close and open for portability. Other pins reveal cute shelves or reliquaries made from print-making drawers.

For more inspiration, I read the Yoga Journal article about the home shrines of famous yoga teachers, surprisingly intimate.

Many religious traditions embrace altars, including Wicca, Buddhism, and Norse mythology. Non-believers also like sacred spaces which can hold anything from photographs to bird feathers.

The word “altar” derives from the Latin word “adolēre,” which means to burn up. Certainly, the word conjures images of transformation. According to Merriam-Webster, an altar is: “a usually raised structure or place on which sacrifices are offered or incense is burned in worship — often used figuratively to describe a thing given great or undue precedence or value especially at the cost of something else.”

My altar draws me into quiet moments, where sacrifice co-exists with gratitude. During the delightful chaos of the holidays, my home shrine reminds me to honor the real stuff.

Here are some other alters I liked on Pinterest:

A Mexican-inspired altar found on Pinterest. I love the little milagros.

A Mexican-inspired altar. I love the little milagros, healing charms.

A Cornish altar.

A Cornish altar.

Washington Heights resident has personal connection to Kristallnacht and Veterans Day

Eric Rosenbaum, 93, survived the Night of Broken Glass and World War II as a U.S. soldier.

Eric Rosenbaum, 93, survived the Night of Broken Glass and World War II as a U.S. soldier.

by Ann Votaw

Before his 1938 arrest in Hamburg, Eric Rosenbaum, 93, spelled his name the German way, “Erich.”  

This week, Rosenbaum, New York City resident and former U.S. soldier, examined his relationship with Kristallnacht and World War II.

“I lived through both times,” he said, “by the grace of God.”

The Rosenbaums were German, having lived in the country for generations. His father, who ran an import/export business, served in World War I against the United States. But he knew Hitler was dangerous.

“I was supposed to become a doctor, but the Nazis didn’t want Jews to go to school past a certain point,” Rosenbaum said. “My father was very smart. He said, ‘You have to work with your hands and not your mind.’”

As a result, Rosenbaum studied tools and dyes, and the family arranged passage to the United States. Shortly before their voyage, paramilitary forces and non-Jewish civilians broke into Jewish-owned buildings. It was Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. Rosenbaum was 18.

“On Nov. 9, 1938, I happened to be in the business with my father, and in came two civilians who identified themselves as secret servicemen. They asked my name, my father’s name. They said, ‘You’re arrested. For what? Shut up.’”

Rosenbaum was taken to a Hamburg police station with his father and other adult Jewish men. “We asked questions,” he said. “They told us to shut up.” After three hours, a bus came and took the men outside of the city where they were loaded into trains with armed guards.

“We didn’t know where we were, what we were doing,” he said. “In the middle of the night, we arrived in Sachenhausen Concentration Camp. I learned that later. They walked us in line to shave our hair and took our clothing for disinfecting. They put us on the floor of barracks with no beds. The next morning, they got us out and said, ‘If you can’t stand this anymore, we’ll finish you off.’”

Rosenbaum worried about his father’s safety. He thought they were going to miss the boat to America.

After three days at Sachenhausen, his father’s Christian friends and associates spoke to the Gestapo and were able to get them released. Rosenbaum never learned the details, but because of their bravery, he and his father, mother, and younger brother boarded the ship to America.

“They risked their very lives, you understand,” Rosenbaum said. “There are German Christians who risked their lives to protect Jews, save Jews, and do the best they could. By the grace of God, we got out in time to get on the boat to America.”

In New York, Rosenbaum found work in a machine shop for $10 a week. Even though he was an illegal alien, the army needed his skills and deferred him three times, filling out special paper work every time he had to travel more than 50 miles. Eventually, the army drafted him and sent him to training at Camp McClellan in Alabama. He encountered familiar racism. “There were signs that said, ‘Rooms for rent. No Jews or n***ers apply.’”

Rosenbaum served in Europe in the 80th Infantry under General George Patton. He was wounded in the shoulder and the arm and received the Purple Heart. Later, he became a First Sergeant after serving in other units. He said he never felt conflicted fighting against Germany because he knew what the Nazis were doing to Jews.

After the war, Rosenbaum moved to the New York neighborhood of Washington Heights. In his 30s, he got married and bought a furniture store on 72nd Street.

“I was very proud that America trusted in me to let me fight for the freedom it gave me, and I appreciate everything that America has given me, which is a lot, being from an enemy country, in the beginning,” he said. “I want to thank America for doing what it did, for helping me to survive. I will be grateful forever. Our families will be grateful forever.”

He has a daughter who lives in Long Island and a son in New Jersey.

 

Mission Accepted: Yoga Military Style

by Ann Votaw

This Veterans Day, I’m reminded that a small percentage of Americans have been on active duty at any given time during the past decade, according to the Pew Research Center.

My regret is that — in this country’s longest sustained period of war – I don’t know many service members personally.

Me and Terry near Austin, Texas, where I challenged him to a Yoga Sprint run, the kind he did in the Army.

Me and Terry near Austin, Texas, where I challenged him to a Yoga Sprint run, the kind he did in the Army.

Then I met Terry McDowell, 44, a yoga teacher and former Army Staff Sergeant whose mat was near mine at a meditation training in Austin, Texas.

During lunch, he impressed me with a passionate speech about his brothers and sisters in arms. “We don’t teach them meditation or how to get out of their heads or how to deal with anxiety,” he said. “Or about death and dying and destruction. It takes a toll on your soul. Your soul isn’t going to be repaired by prescriptions.”

McDowell introduced another concept, that ancient tribes knew how to re-integrate warriors by endorsing “softer” arts like poetry and music. “Look at the Greeks. Look at the North American Indians,” he said. “They knew how to reintegrate their sons and daughters into society, so they could be investments and elders.”

“Did you ever do yoga with your guys?” I asked.

“In the Army, I led yoga sprints,” he said.

“Yoga what?”

“Yoga sprints. I was trying to be creative in my physical training in preparation for deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. I developed a lot of balancing yoga moves in between my sprints instead of pushups we do in the service.”

I aimed my spoon at the tip of his nose. “Show me what you did in the Army.”

McDowell sat tall and agreed to meet me the next day at noon, when he outlined a gentler version of what he offered his men in Iraq (2006-2007) and in preparation for Afghanistan (2008-2009). “This is your safety brief,” McDowell said, projecting his voice at a trailhead on the property. “I don’t know your injuries. You do. I’m going to ask that you challenge yourself but with love and compassion.”

He then tugged his moustache and dashed off through the Texas hill country. A deer sprung from the low bushes. McDowell kept going, dropping down for crow pose, an arm balance with his knees resting on the backs of his arms and feet off the ground. I followed his lead. It had rained earlier in the day. Heat seeped from the earth into my hands, and I felt myself melting into an asymmetric blob. I couldn’t wait for the running interval that followed, but after a few minutes of sprinting, I fantasized about the next yoga move, a plank held for 60 seconds that lit my shoulders, lungs, and stomach on fire. Relentless, McDowell pushed through 10 more intervals that included uphill runs and sustained lunges on each leg.

Somehow, I found the energy to imitate him as he whooped and leaped over a sandy hole. “Don’t forget to look at the clouds,” he said while we stood on one leg in tree pose. “Look at those birds. Hawks. SMELL THAT SAGE!”

We ended with a cool-down walk toward our cabins. My arms hung limply at my sides. I wheezed. My mouth formed two words: “Oh, God.”

McDowell had just warmed up. He explained that the workout was more compelling than the gym because it cultivated evenness in the midst of chaos. If I had the strength, I would have hugged him for being so cool.

You’ve finished the marathon; now what?

An inspiring scene from the New York City Marathon on Nov. 3. Participants train for months and may experience a let down or that fuzzy question of: What now?

An inspiring scene from the New York City Marathon shows that running is a mental game. Participants train for months to complete 26.2 miles. After finishing, they may experience let down or that fuzzy question of: What now? The Nov. 19 Mindful Mileage workshop at JackRabbit Sports uses meditation to explore future goals in running and life. -Photo by marathonfoto

by Ann Votaw

Congrats! You ran the marathon, (had a baby, started a new job, finished college, INSERT YOUR COMPLETED GOAL).

Regardless of your personal finish line, it’s normal to feel confused as you transition from preparation to: What comes next?

Explore the question with me, a Level II iRest® meditation teacher and practitioner, at Mindful Mileage: Meditations for the Post-Race Runner. Researched by the Department of Defense and used at several VAs and hospitals around the country, iRest allows people to relax and have moments of insight, similar to those of a power nap.

I will start the hour-long class by interviewing participants, mining meaningful language to use during the half-hour meditation. This dialogue can motivate future runs or inspire daily life.

Major concepts include:

  • Heartfelt Desire (What do you want most in your life?)
  • Inner Resource (What real or imagined place gives you strength and courage?)
  • Intention (How do you want to feel during and after this half-hour session?)

From this quick conversation, we have choices. iRest can be done standing or sitting — practicing the sensation of being okay while alert and active. Most people, including myself, prefer to lie down and snooze while listening to this guided meditation based on ancient yoga nidra, or yogic sleep.

Whether you’re an accomplished marathoner or every-day pedestrian, train your brain and be a mental warrior in this first-ever JackRabbit meditation class!

Where: JackRabbit Sports, 140 West 72nd St (Between Broadway and Columbus)
(212) 727-2982

When: Tuesday, November 19, 6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

“Just a bit of a hill”

SI-Half13_SightsofSI_02

Runners admire New York Harbor from the Staten Island Ferry. -Photo by marathonfoto.

SI-Half13_InItTogether_05

Firefighters boost spirits on those painful final moments. -Photo by marathonfoto.

StatenIslandHalf2013

This is me around Mile 6, about to throw away my long-sleeved T-shirt. It was a cool morning, but I got too warm. The Verazzano-Narrows Bridge is in the background. -Photo by marathonfoto.

FinishStatenIslandHalf2013

At the finish, I felt sort of sick from all the GU and Gatorade. Hours and a week later, I walked around pain free. I think the meditation helped keep me relaxed and efficient. -Photo by marathonfoto.

by Ann Votaw

In the corrals of the inaugural Staten Island Half Marathon, I chatted with a local couple who didn’t talk to each other all week; they saved their words for the 13.1 mile course.

“It’ll be a fast race,” the wife told me. “It’s a flat route.”

“Good,” I said. “I did Grete’s Gallop in Central Park last year and hated doing the Harlem Hill twice.”

“It’ll be a good time for you then,” she said. “There is one hill, around Mile 8, but you’ll be alright.”

The husband nodded his head, saving conversation for the actual race. I told them I had recently been on a meditation retreat and planned to talk to my own brain, the same way I did last year in Grete’s Half. I told them my mind was already speaking to me. It had to pee. Having traveled 50 minutes from Northern Manhattan, I did sneak in one bathroom break in the ferry terminal, but I waited almost 20 minutes in one of the long Port-o-John lines on the Staten Island side. I gave up, assuming I would find something on the run.

At the “go” cue, I took in the last early morning view of Manhattan. One of 6,800 runners, I waved to the grand stand. I was Zen, but my bladder was full.

Around Mile 2, I queued with about 15 runners at the four Port-O-Johns on Bay Street. I hit the pavement 10 minutes later, enjoying the pretty day, the band under the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge, and residents who cheered us on. I was going through my iRest® meditation training of body scanning and acknowledging colors, shapes, and emotions.

The race got exciting when lead runners passed on the opposite side of the road. It dawned on me that the reason I was enjoying myself was that I was going downhill, while the elite runners were going uphill. When we backtracked at Mile 7, I felt good, but I noticed tightness in my Achilles tendons. Like elites we saw earlier, I was on the gradual hill up to Mile 11. Against wind, the ascension was worse than Harlem Hill; it kept going. At Mile 12, I fantasized about punching spectators who said, “You’re almost there,” but firefighters gave us high fives and elevated our spirits enough to cross the Finish Line.

Wrap Up: This was a challenging but meaningful race. A minimum of $100,000 will be donated to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. My recommendation is to get on one of the early ferries, either the 6:30 or 7 a.m. It takes about a half hour to get across, and you need plenty of time to check your bag and find a toilet by the 8:30 start.