Friday, April 29, 2016

Dear Readers Of This Blog,

I’ve thought a lot lately about this blog, and how different it looks now than it once did. I don’t maintain that it used to be better or worse, but you could certainly say it once was more active than it is now. You could also say it was once more full of fluff than it is now.

On very few occasions I’ve thought about closing it down or just walking away from posting altogether, mostly to have one less thing to maintain. One less thing to update. One less place to have to put my words that alternate between being my own lifeblood and the reminder that a lot of people don’t think they’re worth a damn thing.

But that would also be one less escape, one less place to place my busy mind, one less avenue to help me stay connected to people I care about, and one less platform to help me meet new people and learn new things.

Long ago, when I blogged ~ to be a writer ~ without knowing at all what it meant to maintain a blog with any degree of quality, I swore up and down that I would only put pieces of creative writing on there. I wouldn’t journal in a blog space, and I wouldn’t just talk about my life.

I think we’ve learned by now that I no longer adhere to that standard, and that this blog never has.

But even still, there have been times where I’ve wanted to open a draft and just kind of chit chat about something I’ve been turning over in my mind, or a piece of my world that’s been weighing on me, and I haven’t because it doesn’t feel very “lifestyle blogger-ish.”

But what I’ve always done with words is try to actually DO something with them. Make someone think, laugh, act, or care. Period, the end. That takes various forms and many shapes, and I’m more proud of some of my words than others. But what this train of thought has led me to is a place of wondering why I can’t just think out loud here, if that’s what I feel like doing on a given day.

The nice thing is that I *don’t* make any money on this blog. I don’t have sponsors to please or advertisers to shill for. And while I love when a new reader stumbles over here and I get to make a new internet friend, I do nothing to make my blog more accessible or available—so why should I worry about a personal brand or other some such that frankly doesn’t exist here?

Another thing I’ve done with my words a great deal—sometimes intentionally, sometimes regrettably—is unpack things I’m dealing with that I’m not sure how to process otherwise. And if you could be in my head lately, you would know that more of that is exactly what I need in my life right about now. And basically always.

So I guess my point of this post is two-fold: One, I love you and am glad you give a shit about anything I write here. And two, if I’m forcing upon myself (which I have, inadvertently, been doing for months) the choice between accepted “lifestyle blogger-ish” content and no content at all, it’s time to give myself a third option: whatever works on whatever day it is I open up the next draft page. Because no content at all is a place I’ve been, and not a place I like being.

I guess one day I should write that much-coveted “why I blog” post, but today’s not that day. Maybe tomorrow will be. But in the meantime, I want to be here more, and not slightly because I hope that writing more will just...help me. Be good for me. I need more "good for me" in my life, I think. My writing always has been, for better or for worse, whether it'd turned out eloquent or trite.

As another final note, I composed this post in my Notes app 9 minutes into an episode of One Tree Hill (which I paused, don’t worry) after 8 p.m. on a Friday night, wearing striped leggings and with no immediate plans that don't involve chardonnay and being braless. And I didn’t edit it, because sometimes typing it all out in one shot and throwing it onto the internet is the best strategy, and editing defeats the entire purpose of what you think—but aren’t sure—you’re trying to say. Consider this Realness with AGB, Lesson 1.

I’ll see you guys back here soon.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Landscaper's Pact and Other Wished Things


1. I wish all the landscapers the world over would get together and agree on one day a week that they do all the mowing, weed-whacking, and whatever else they do with very loud machines. Or at least all the landscapers and homeowners in my immediate area—I know, selfish. It would just be delightful to not have the shrill sound of weed-whackers floating into my (finally) open windows every single day or to not have to cough up cut grass dust every time I go outside.

2. I wish Apple would realize that no one likes their crappy weather app and that no, I do not need Stocks, a separate Contacts app, Compass, GAME CENTER, or any of their other useless, space-wasting, clutter-causing apps. It's digital storage space robbery, Apple.

3. I wish the Netflix interface would allow for folders in your queue. I'm a chronic rewatcher of sitcoms I love (Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Office, Parks & Rec, 30 Rock) and dramedy addict (Gilmore Girls, Parenthood, Friday Night Lights), but I also have a habit to be really aspirational as I scroll through Netflix. I add documentaries, important films, and cult classics to my list...but when I scroll through my queue thinking today might be a great day to finally watch that documentary I've been hearing about, more often than not I get distracted by HIMYM or something on the way there. Also, as an absolute devotee to organizing and folders as a way of life, I would just like make some order of this mess of a queue.

4. I wish people would stop asking me about farting in yoga. I'm serious. I don't know who started this rumor, but someone must have spread it around that everyone is musical in yoga class. No joke, 99% of the people who find out I teach or practice ask me about that before anything else: "Do people fart in your class?" "Has anyone ever farted during yoga?" "I'm too nervous to take a class because I'm worried I'll let one slip." YOU GUYS. It is seriously not even REMOTELY as big a concern as people are making it out to be. Relax.

5. I wish I could read more than four pages of my book at night without getting to the point where my eyelids are so heavy, I feel like I'm in high school second-period algebra all over again.

6. As I watch One Tree Hill for the first time ever, I wish Dan Scott would do everyone a favor and just jump off a bridge. (Middle of season three currently. No spoilers.)

7. I wish someone would give me a Cliff's Notes of Lemonade because I basically don't know what anyone has been talking about for the last week. I also don't even know how to access Lemonade if I wanted to—is it a movie or an album? I've heard something about Tidal, but nah. Help?

8. I wish I had a money tree.

9. I wish avocados were always in season, inexpensive in NJ as they are in California, and in endless supply at the perfect ripeness directly in my apartment.

10. I wish my neighbor would understand that loudly complaining out in the echo-ey hallway about the loudness of his downstairs neighbor doesn't make him any better a neighbor than the guy below him. Follow thoughts to their logical conclusions, people.

What do you wish for?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Season of Smash

alyssagoesbang

This Sunday I'll be running the New Jersey Half Marathon, half marathon number four, and hopefully—if all goes according to plan—a new personal record at the 13.1 distance.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mind, Mala, and Spirit


I was born a Christian without any say in the matter. And by that, I mean I was born to two parents who had been raised in the traditions (if not the strict teachings) of Christianity, to two families who regarded themselves Christians. I was baptized in the Catholic church because "that's just what you did," and made my first holy communion as a child because "that's just what you did," and became a 12-year-old confirmation school dropout when "that's just what we do" stopped being good enough reason for me to do, well, anything.

It's safe to say that I never felt a sense of belonging in religion. In any one—though believe me, I tried. I could see religion as something meaningful to people I loved, and I tried for their sake. I tried to find comfort in church, but I didn't. I tried to find faith in Judaism when I dated a Jewish guy for several years and loved celebrating holidays with his devout family, but it wasn't there. I read The Tao of Pooh in high school, studied ancient cultures and Eastern religions in college, and while I found respectable things and meaningful things in each, I could never find myself fully surrendering to a religion. But unwilling to label myself an athiest or agnostic, I fell back on the old cliche—I'm not religious, but I am spiritual. I found myself trying and failing to find faith in God (of any sort) but feeling an unwavering trust in the universe.

For those who object and say these are one and the same, or that "universe" is just a secular "god," that's fine. We needn't mince words or convince each other of anything.

I've been exposed to a fair amount of religions, through personal experiences, books and media, personal study and research, and most recently, yoga. Here's the thing: Yoga is not a religion. But it is as old as the world, and as things that are as old as the world tend to be, it is inextricably intertwined with the religion(s) of its oldest practitioners. Now, I know there are some people who will call my superficial understanding of and relationship with Hinduism and Buddhism cultural appropriation. There are even people who will say the simple fact that I practice and teach yoga in a studio in New Jersey is cultural appropriation. That I sometimes speak Sanskrit and always close my class with Namaste is an affront to yoga and ancient Indian culture. They're entitled to their opinion, and I disagree. I can't practice or teach my class without referencing Hindu gods—the full split pose is called Hanumanasana, for the Hindu Hanuman. I teach poses like Garudasana (eagle pose), Dancing Shiva, Natarajasana (dancer pose), all of which are named for Hindu figures. Should I rather be ignorant of these names I'm using, or make a concerted effort to understand why we practice these poses?

Before my long-winded intro gets any more long-winded, I'll say this: I don't need anyone else to be comfortable with my spirituality or beliefs, and I don't need to be comfortable with anyone else's, as long as they remain personal and do not inflict harm on another person. Period, the end.

Anyway, all of this is an introduction to my saying I've managed to find a way to support my spiritual beliefs by finding what I need when I need it, from whatever place is best able to give it. When I lose something, I say the prayer of Saint Anthony to help me find it. When I miss my grandmother, I picture her being welcomed into the arms of the Virgin Mother. When I need to call on Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, I do. When I need to engage Kali mudra for the destroyer, I do. When I need to turn toward myself and find what I'm seeking within, I do.

Back to the point.... My yoga journey has been about much more than asana (postures), and meditation specifically is something I advocate for in myself and others. I believe finding a meditation practice that is meaningful and useful can really change a person's life. A mala is a string of beads used by Hindus, Buddhists, and others in meditation. I've wanted one for some time, and finally remembered to ask my friend and YTT classmate a few months ago where she'd found hers. Long story short, last weekend we had a workshop with the same woman who had made her mala, where we each got to make our own.

Making a Mala (If you were skimming in search of the mala portion of this post, here it is!)

A mala is a string of beads, usually 108 but also found in derivatives (54 or 27, mostly) that is used for meditation. Or for jewelry. They're also called "worry beads" sometimes, in the sense that the fingering of the beads is a movement often attached with worrying, stressing, contemplating. But generally, the purpose of a mala is to begin reciting your chant or your mantra or your meditation phrase at the first anchor stone, repeat it 27 times (once at each bead) until coming to a semi-precious stone where you might pause for reflection. Repeat, repeat, repeat, touching each bead or stone to keep count, until you reach the anchor stone once again, completing 108 repetitions of your mantra. Yes, it's very similar to a rosary.

Why 108? There's a LOT of literature to be found on that around the web if you're interested in numerology. It is a significant number in Hindusm and Buddhism specifically, but for numerology in general, as is the number 9 (1+0+8=9; 27/3=9 (3 is significant also and a derivative of 9), 2+7=9).
When making our malas, Krista showed us bowls and jars of beautiful wooden beads of several different colors, as well as numerous semi-precious stones in various colors. She had us pick our beads (we'd end up with 108 total), our two anchor stones (the same stone twice), and our three reflection stones (which could be the same as our anchor, or up to 3 totally different picks), as well as up to 3 charms for the anchor. Most importantly, she encouraged us to follow our gut here. She wouldn't explain the significance of our stones or charms until we had completed stringing our malas. Trust, she implored.

Before we began, Krista had us create an intention for our mala. In yoga, often we begin practice by setting an intention. When I guide my class, I ask them to do this within the first few minutes, just shortly after bringing them to their pranayama (breath practice), and encourage them to create a purpose for the energy they're about to create in their practice. It can be for themselves or for another person they know. When I practice, I alternate between choosing a personal intention for how I want to feel at the end of my practice (I am strong; I am peaceful; I am making progress; I am okay; I am worthy) and choosing to send my energy toward someone whom I know needs healing in some way. If you prefer religious terms, setting an intention is often much like a prayer.

In my life and very, very often in my practice, I am seeking balance in all things. I gave my mala the intention of balance before I even began stringing it.

Only once my mala was knotted and complete did I learn the significance of it all. And it was a validating and awe-inspiring learning experience.

I reached for the darker beads right away, and added some blue wooden beads for a few reasons: one, for color; two, because I need to balance out the red of my pitta dosha, my second most active dosha (which I won't even go into right now, but here you go); and three, I'm constantly drawn to earth tones in all things—deep and rich browns and elemental colors of wood, the colors of water, fire, and greens of natural life. When it came to the stones, I reached immediately for the deep indigo-blue ones—they had to be my anchors. I carefully looked over the rest but happily chose the almost jade-like green stones to complete my mala as reflection stones. The charms I selected are the two I am always drawn to, the elephant and the Tree of Life. I layered them, partly to mimic a necklace I have and love which has the Tree of Life nestled into the belly of the elephant. If you know me, you're probably not the least surprised by these two picks.

So what does all this mean? My friends and I literally gasped when we learned of our malas' significance.

My anchor stones are dark blue sodalite, whose spiritual properties are harmony and interdependence, endurance, and "good for writers."
My reflection stones are light green aventurine, whose spiritual properties are prosperity and taking action on decisions.

Here's something interesting to know: I've made mention of a project I'm working on (not trying to vague-blog, I swear—I'm just being a perfectionist and don't want to spoil the reveal too early) that is completely revolved around balance. It has to do with prosperity in a sense, for myself and for others, and is something I've decided on but have failed to fully commit myself to taking every action on.

My charms. Now I know these two are rich in symbolism, and I can always turn around and discuss why there is significance to be found in both the elephant and the Tree of Life. But I don't specifically think about it a lot, nor was I thinking in full sentences about elephants or the Tree of Life when I unflinchingly pulled both of those charms out and laid them alongside my beads.

Elephants are symbols of strength, wisdom, and courage, and invoke imagery of Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. The Tree of Life represents family, balance, and a strong foundation. It is only by being firmly and strongly rooted that we can extend our branches, and we must seek balance when we do, pulling back to center. We root to rise.

I am not exaggerating in the least when I say the full reading of my mala was both spiritually perfect and organic. I didn't choose my stones or charms thinking of balance specifically, or try to "cheat" my way to an ultra-significant beading. And if you ever asked, I'd tell you THAT is why I believe in the universe, and why I am spiritual, and why I make time and space for these kinds of things in my life.
To tie it all together, we cleansed our malas and learned how to instill our intentions within them, which I did when I got home. I don't anticipate leaving home without it for a good, long while. This was such an interesting and fun (when I'm with my YTT gals, everything is fun) night and I'm so glad I finally have my mala! (Although, I did learn the very next morning that teaching or practicing with a mala on means wrist sweat like you wouldn't believe.)

If you're interested in malas, I cannot recommend Krista highly enough. She traveled from Central Jersey for our workshop, but she also is an Etsy seller with beautiful pre-made malas, mala kits to string your own, and customizable options as well. She is kind and incredibly knowledgeable, and if you're in the market for a mala of your own or as a gift for someone, please check out her shop.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Few New Things

I know the time for "currently" posts was last week, but it's amazing the difference a weekend can make. Some fun and new things have gone on lately, one in particular being an event I'm really proud of, so I thought I'd share...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Currently: Springing Forward

I was hoping that by the time the April edition of Kristin & Gretchen's linkup came around I'd have some very springy updates to share. But as I write this it's in the low 40ºs and that's warm for this week. But what can you do? Onward.
What's New With You

[writing] blogs for Bad Yogi, like this one. A business plan, website copy, and a product sample. You guys, I cannot wait to share this project with you in a few weeks! I really think you're going to love it. (At least I hope you will.)

[eating] Blue Apron. Remind me to write a post about my experience with Blue Apron one of these days, would ya? Also, I'm weirdly obsessed with this Utz Snack Mix. It's your basic party mix: cheese doodles, pretzels, tortilla chips, Doritos, and something sort of like Fritos. I'm addicted.

[burning] a lovely chamomile and honey candle I received as a birthday gift from Tracy.

[watching] nothing specific. I started rewatching LOST, but I couldn't focus.

[wearing] nothing but yoga pants, pretty much every single day of my life. (This is 100% not even remotely a complaint.)

[reading] Life of Pi. I've been an incredibly slow reader for the past few months; mostly because I've been working late nights and crashing into bed too late to spend any time with my book. But in other birthday generosity, Dani gifted me a book set I've been wanting to re-read for YEARS, so I'm hoping to finish Pi soon and get started on The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet. The Casual Vacancy is on hold, because I just can't. 

[planning] my cousin's bridal shower this weekend! I'm, well, honored to be her maid of honor and can't wait to see this shower I've been planning for months come together. Not gonna lie though, I really can't wait for it to be over and have this off my plate too. Also planning yoga classes, dharma talks, and my new creation.

[hoping] the shower goes off without a hitch. It starts to feel like spring (again, I mean—it was 80º one day last week...) around here soon. 

Linking up with Kristen & Gretchen. What's new with you?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

On Capitol Hill: Cherry Blossom 10-Miler

This weekend, I ran the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in Washington, D.C. This was my first time running the race, and it runs on a lottery system, so I was shocked and thrilled when we found out in December that Tracy, Lisa, Brian (Lisa's guy), and I had been awarded admittance to the race. Unfortunately/fortunately, the race photographers didn't manage to grab any photos of me (not entirely sure how—I swear, I was there!) so there aren't any terrible race photos for you to cringe along with me at while reading this recap.