Release Your Inner Bird with Aerial Yoga

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Marie doing a diaper wrap straddle back.

One of my favorite local newspaper columnists recently wrote an article that poked a bit of fun at the many alternative forms of yoga that seem to abound. He cited Laughter Yoga as a rather humorous practice, and made up his own Minnesota-inspired yoga names like Labrador Retriever Yoga or Walleye-Jigging Yoga, and Removing Built-Up Ice From Under Your Fenders Yoga. Another recent article appeared in the paper describing Adaptive Yoga for disabled people.

BUT what they’re all missing is Aerial Yoga.

A friend and I had a chance to try it last weekend at The Aviary  in the basement of an historic brick building in Minneapolis. One disclaimer: They don’t only teach Aerial Yoga. They also teach aerial fitness moves.aviary-trip-009

The room was festooned with blue silk sheaths, hung from the ceiling on rotating hooks. The introductory class we attended (you have to take an intro class before you can do a “regular” class) attracted about a dozen people of all shapes, sizes, and genders.

Jane, our instructor and member of the “flight crew,” was ebullient, strong, and fit – but not so unattainably fit as to cause immediate depression upon first glance. She was patient with her instructions, going through each move several times to ensure we all understood.

She first taught us how to sit in the silks, and by doing so, trust that they would hold us. I believe she said they could hold up to 250 pounds. Then she taught us how to do a backbend and grab our feet. I am not quite that flexible, but I did do the backbend part.

Another disclaimer: This class is not for people who cannot tolerate being upside down. And, as my friend discovered, it is not a good idea to eat raw fish and half a bottle of water beforehand. She felt nauseous the whole time after that first backbend.

Jane then led us through a series of other moves, stretches and some strength training. I was reminded how much work it can be just to lift the weight of your own body.

You may recall that I enjoy Hot Yoga. The moves I learned through that were helpful in feeling comfortable with this class, but with all the inversions and wrappings, Aerial Yoga is different – more like flying.

My favorite pose was the diaper wrap straddle back, where you lay back in the silks, and invert by lifting your legs, doing the splits, and then wrapping your legs around the silks for stability (pictured).

We ended class in a bat pose, which found us all hanging upside down like the poses’ namesake.

I would love to try another class. Even my nauseous friend wants to. But our hometown 150 miles away does not offer an Aerial Fitness facility. (Come on, Duluth – get one!) Next time I’m in Minneapolis, I will have to make a point to allow time for it.

I encourage you to try Aerial Yoga if you ever get the chance. Release your inner bird!

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Skiing (and Waxing) Nostalgic

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Marie at the start of her first cross-country ski race, waiting for Charlie Banks to signal the start.

Last weekend, a friend and I revisited the Korkki Nordic Ski Trail, where I competed in my first cross-country ski race forty years ago. The year was 1977 and I was in eighth grade, part of my junior high school’s ski team. My equipment included wooden skis and bamboo poles with black rubber baskets. Clad in bell-bottom jeans and a ‘fashionable’ down vest, my head protected from the cold by a knit hat with a huge ball atop it, I ended up winning the race and the city championship for my grade.

Winning the first race I ever entered – you would think it would be a good experience and I’d return to the same trail dozens of times to relive the glory. But I didn’t. Why did it take me four decades?

20170116_145524That’s what I was trying to figure out as I shooshed down the trail on my fiberglass skinny skis (waxable ones) last weekend.

Now, the thing you need to understand is that Korkki Nordic is Old School. Only one track winds its way through pines on land tucked in the highlands along Lake Superior’s North Shore. And the trees are close enough to lean over and kiss as you go by – not ten feet away on either side like most ski trails. Classic skiing only; none of that fancy-schmancy skate-skiing.

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My friend, on the trail.

The trail system is maintained by a nonprofit organization and was started by the very man who kept time during my first ski race. Charlie Banks is no longer with us, but his legacy lives on.

The trail is sort of out of the way. With so many good ones in Duluth, that could be one reason why I didn’t come out here. It wasn’t a place my parents usually skied, and they were the ones driving the car when I was young. But still, why didn’t I come here when I was older?

As my friend and I started skiing, I noticed the timekeeping house was still near the trailhead. After we traveled down the trail a ways, I recalled how clueless I was during my race. Our “coach” didn’t even ski himself, and he did little to prepare us. I only knew that racing meant going as fast as you could until you reached the finish line, so that was my strategy after the staggered start. This led to overtaxed lungs and leaden arms and legs. But I kept going, although I was alone and scared by this new experience and unfamiliar trail. Finally overcome, I paused a time or two to catch my breath on the uphills, terrified that another skier would pass me, but I never saw anyone.

My friend and I continued skiing and I recognized the feel of the trail – lots of small hills, nothing too scary — especially if you take the easy route options, which I did, having nothing left to prove. We skied four kilometers, which I suspect was the same distance as the race. The finish line banner we crossed under looked suspiciously like the exact same one from my stressful race.

Was that it? Even though I won the race, was the stress of it so unpleasant that I had no desire to return to the scene until forty years later? Could be. I recall that in subsequent ski races, somehow I learned more about pacing and didn’t get as burned out.

As I crossed under the banner last weekend, I realized that whatever kept me away for so long, I’m finally over it!

I’m gonna return soon to this little woodland ski trail gem.

Two other local writers have written about their memories of Korkki Nordic, read here for Eric’s and here for Eddy’s.

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Stalking the Wild Ceili

Dancing

I had heard the myth of the ceili dance for years. At the contra and barn dances I’d gone to, the ceili was spoken of in hushed tones. Held locally only once a year on St. Patrick’s Day, ceilis were said to be wild and more vigorous – full of revelry, sweat and shouts. Although intrigued and a bit daunted, the timing had never been right for me to join a ceili . . . until this St. Patrick’s Day.

That evening, more than fifty of us gathered in a large church basement on the hillside of the city. The event was a fundraiser for Loaves and Fishes, an organization that helps homeless people. I arrived early enough to hear instruction by the dance caller on the specialized (yet easy) dance steps, some of which are done in groups of sevens or threes. The first dance was a round dance (done in a large circle), the next was a long line dance.

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This chap won my unofficial vote for best ceili clothing.

Then things started blurring together, but I recall one dance that involved couples dipping up and under each other in waves. Yes, the dances had faster steps and more vigorous movements than the other dances I’d been to, but any reasonably coordinated person could handle them – no need to fear!

I lasted about an hour-and-a-half until my little toes started to scream with blisters. I left before any shouting started, but I can attest that some clapping was involved.

If you ever go to a ceili, don’t dress too heavily, because you will sweat. For women, I recommend a skirt because they are easier to move in and cooler than jeans/pants. Bring a water bottle. Wear comfortable shoes. Most important, bring your smile. You will want it handy for frequent use. 🙂

At a big social dance like this, no partner is necessary. Either someone will invite you to dance or you’ll get a partner accidentally through the formations of the lines or circles. It’s also common for women to dance with women and men with men. No big gender deal. All you need to want to do is dance.

If you’ve never gone to one, I recommend stalking a wild ceili near you.

Feeling Like an Egg – an Introduction to Thai Yoga

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Gary Anderson

I would like to share with you a new kind of yoga that I “discovered.” Devoted blog readers already know I like hot yoga. A book sale event was the setting for this particular yogic discovery.

I was sitting at my table trying to convince holiday shoppers to add some eco-mystic romance to their lives when Gary Anderson stopped by. He was at the sale with his partner, who was trying to convince shoppers they needed some poetry in their lives.

Gary asked me if I’d ever had any bodywork done. Automotive-savvy Minnesotan that I am, my thoughts immediately jumped to car bodywork. But no, that’s not what he meant. He was talking about work on my physical body. You know, the one that lugs my meandering brain around all day.

I divulged that I get massages every once in a while but had none recently. At his Bodywise Studio in Duluth, Gary practices Thai Yoga, as in yoga from Thailand. It’s a combination of yoga and massage, which sounded heavenly to me. So Gary and I bartered an introductory session at his studio in exchange for two of my novels.

I had my session today. I arrived at his studio wearing yoga clothes. After introductions and taking a short history of my health, Gary had me lie down on a heated mat. Over the next hour-and-a-half, he worked from my toes to my head.

If you can lie down and breathe, you can do Thai Yoga. The most challenging aspect was allowing myself to be passive as Gary manipulated by arms and legs. I must comment that the man cuts an impressive figure. Well over six feet tall and fit, Gary nevertheless knows how to manage his strength and use his stature to best advantage in his work.

Gary combined rhythmic motions, palming and thumbing along my body’s energy lines with gentle stretching and breathwork. In addition to his hands, Gary used his legs and feet sometimes for massages and to guide me into yoga postures.

The work reminded me of the problem areas where my muscle knots collect, and Gary worked out some of those kinks. Afterwards, he asked me how I felt. I told him I felt great, like there was this circle – this egg of energy pulsing around me. “And how is that?” he asked. “Eggs are good,” I said.

Of course, the experience affects everyone differently, but if you’d like the opportunity to feel like an egg — a relaxed egg at that — I recommend Thai Yoga.

Someone Shat Upon My Fantasy Room

The culprit.

The culprit.

 

Inquiring minds have been asking how my new exercise room is going. I am happy to report that I’ve actually used it for its intended purpose, but not without a challenge. As with many of my fantasies, somebody shat upon it first. That somebody was my dog, Buddy, who was having a bout of gastric distress. It’s the only time he’s ever done something like that in the house, and of course, he chose the exercise room.

Although it’s not decorated yet, after a thorough cleaning, a few days, and several shots of Febreze, the smell dissipated and the room was ready to roll. Now the trick will be to keep my exercise rolling. Buddy even “exercised” with me. I had to install a sleeping pad that I use for camping so that he could have his own yoga mat in the room. Otherwise, he was going to take over mine!

Hope you are all having a great Labor Day Weekend, and that you are not laboring too hard.

The Fantasy Suite (er . . . Room)

Hmmmm. What to do with an empty room?

Hmmmm. What to do with an empty room?

Have you ever had an empty room in your house? I do, and it’s wonderful! Remember my temporary roommate? Although she moved out over seven months ago, I am still housing her furniture in my spare bedroom. She wasn’t making any concrete progress to find her own apartment (she’s still living with someone else who doesn’t have room for her furniture), so I decided to move her stuff to my garage. [Thank you friend who helped me move it!]

And now I have this echo-y empty room. What to do, what to do? . . . The possibilities are limitless. I don’t need to make it into a bedroom at this point, so I’ve decided to make it into an exercise and yoga room. Why? Because these lyrics of Paul Simon’s song, “You Can Call Me Al” resonate a bit too much with me: “Why am I so soft in the middle / The rest of my life is so hard.”

I’ve already got my yoga mat, hand weights, and stepping stair in there. Now I just need to drag the elliptical strider up from the basement. I figure there’s a greater chance I’ll actually use it if I see it every day. Sure, I could join a fitness center, but as a single mom with aging parents and a needy dog, the demands on my time are varied and great. My fantasy is that now, I’ll be able to just pop into my exercise room instead of making a big production of things by driving somewhere else.

It’s not like I need to lose weight (although dropping ten pounds would not be bad), I just need to get fit again. I sit almost all day at a desk job, which is the hardest thing a person can do to their body. And in the evenings, I often sit some more blogging and writing novels. Unless a person has some form of exercise, the sitting will catch up to them. I have already learned this the hard way in the past, and I’d rather not have those back problems back, thank you.

Maybe I can wire the room with a sound system for exercise-inducing rhythms or New Age yoga music. Add some mood lighting. Put some art on the wall. Here we go. Wish me motivation!

Why I am a Zumba Failure

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For my birthday last week, I went to a free Zumba class and dinner with some girlfriends. A new Zumba studio had opened downtown and they wanted to check it out. I had taken a six-week beginners’ class a few years ago through a community education program, so I was game, even though I had some misgivings.

The instructor of the community education class was a belly dancer, and all her Zumba instruction seemed to devolve into belly dancing, with the requisite swaying of hips and jiggling of key feminine body parts.

Introverted me doesn’t feel all that comfortable swaying anything in front of anyone. I figured that was just the way she taught Zumba because of her background. I hoped this new class would be different.

We entered the studio, which was filled with women, blinking lights, and pounding music. It didn’t take long for me to discover that the community education class music and movements had been slow-motion compared to a regular Zumba class. There was also the requisite jiggling of the “girls” and gyrating of the hips.

Now, I have no problem gyrating my hips when required during certain intimate acts performed between two consenting adults, but that’s different than doing it in a room full of people. And it also goes against my genetic make-up. My hips are German, English, Irish, Scottish and some rumored Native American. When is the last time you saw an ethnic Irish dancer gyrate their hips? Try never. How about a German folk dancer? I daresay NO. Those hips remain straight and true with nary a come-hither twitch.

It might be different if I had some Latin, Italian, Spanish or other hot-blooded ethnicity inside me. But I don’t. And it shows. Even from the back row of the Zumba studio.

I also realized I’m too used to endurance sports where the goal is to move as gracefully and efficiently as possible — sports like swimming, x-c skiing, bicycling, and yoga. With Zumba, it seems the whole point is to be as inefficient as possible. There’s lots of jumping and prancing and pointless arm waving.

I’m sorry, Zumba. I suppose with enough time and motivation, I could adapt to you. The music is fun, after all. But I don’t want to. There are too many other forms of fitness better suited to my inhibited hips.