Originally published on AccessTrips.com, January 2017
Fascinating. Beautiful. Mystifying. Cuba is all of these things. If you’ve been considering a visit to the enchanting island, the time to go is now. It’s no secret that Cuba is in the midst of an incredible amount of growth and change, yet no one quite knows or can predict what all this transformation will ultimately bring the country and its people. Cuba itself is a conundrum, and that’s part of the beauty of it.
This past December, my husband and I bucked our usual solo-travel style and booked an Access Trips eight-day culinary tour, which came highly recommended by the New York Times and Nat Geo Traveler. It was our first experience with a guided tour—a decision we were shaky on at first, but ultimately, glad we did it. Cuba is one of those destinations where having a guide to help you navigate the country’s murky infrastructure is not only helpful, it’s a downright necessity. Not only that, but we met cool, like-minded people with whom we shared some incredible (and delicious) experiences.
With a bit of preparation and setting a few expectations beforehand, you can make your eight days in Cuba even more enjoyable, comfortable and rewarding.
Enjoy your break from the internet
Feeling the urge to check your inbox? Sorry, Charlie—in Cuba, American cell service is next-to-nonexistent and wifi is a pricey commodity. If you’re really suffering from surges of FOMO, a few Havana hotels offer pay-as-you-go wifi. Be sure you’ve brought your patience along with you; even in the hotels, wifi can be painfully slow or altogether unreliable. Enjoy your time away from the internet—stay up late with your travel mates and a bottle of Havana Club, sharing stories from other international adventures or back home. The internet—along with your burgeoning inbox—will still be there when you return.
This is largely a road trip
I hope you love old cars as much as the Cubans do—because you’ll be spending a lot of time in one. You’ll cruise the streets of Havana in style and go on extended journeys through some of the lesser explored parts of the island—and because of that, you’ll be clocking up to eight-hour days in the car (with regular stops for bathrooms and cafecitos, of course). Do what you need to do to get comfortable: bring dramamine if you’re prone to queasiness or a small pillow if you’re prone to drowsiness. Cuba’s roads are in (mostly) good condition and the Access Trips drivers make your comfort and safety their priority. And remember: in-car singalongs are always welcome.
Bring appropriate footwear
When you’re not in the car, you’re on your feet. You’ll be walking on this trip—a lot. From the shady side streets of Old Havana to Trinidad’s cantaloupe-sized cobblestones, the daily itinerary involves a lot of time on the tootsies. Be sure to bring appropriate footwear for walking, and a blister kit if you’re prone to sore spots. Take extra care walking the streets Trinidad: the cobblestones are irregular, bulbous and slick—especially when they’re wet. If you’re out exploring its charming streets at night, use your phone’s flashlight or a camping headlamp for extra visibility.
You will eat—A LOT
Your guides, your hosts and the restaurants all know you’re on a food tour—and they feed you accordingly! There is no shortage of snackage on the trip’s itinerary, which could leave you feeling a little overdone, especially after a few days. On the nights when no meal was planned, some of us opted to stay in and chat over a bit of wine and cheese, which offered a nice, light alternative to yet another gigantic meal.
Bring a carry-on only
Legend has it that Havana’s airport eats checked baggage for lunch. Well, not exactly, but that’s not too far from the truth. Once you deplane in Havana, the Cuban bustle is palpable, and claiming your checked bags at the infrastructure-deprived airport can take upwards of an hour. Not only that, but you’ll be schlepping that bag with you for the next eight days as you trundle your way through the island. (Fair warning: at one point, it goes on top of the car for your drive to Trinidad.) Save checking your bag for your return flight, when it’s full of all the rum, honey, and cigars you’re bringing home.
Pack a toilet kit
Oh, hand sanitizer, how I love thee. As Access Trips recommends, bring a roll or two of your own toilet paper, along with other restroom-related items. Many of Cuba’s facilities are, ahem, sparse and don’t offer toilet paper. My husband and I each made our own restroom kit: a Ziplock bag packed with toilet paper, wipes and a travel-size hand sanitizer, which we took with us everywhere we went. It’s one thing you’ll never regret having in your bag.
Cash is king
That rectangular plastic thing in your wallet—the one with the magnetic strip? It won’t do you any good here. In Cuba’s economy, cash is king—so bring enough for you entire trip. Access Trips’ estimation of how much you’ll need is spot-on. If you’re exchanging American dollars, it’s wise to exchange them into another currency—Euros or Canadian dollars are easy options—before departing for Cuba. Once you land at the airport, exchange your money there; waiting to do so until later in the trip costs everyone valuable time. And once you’ve got your CUCs in hand, be sure to keep plenty of small change for incidentals and restroom tips. (I was notoriously forgetful about keeping small change on hand, and got more than a few stink-eyes from restroom attendants for not tipping.)
Bring useful gifts
Along with the majority of our tour mates, we brought gifts of some kind and we quickly discovered that some were more useful than others. Stickers are nice for kids, but think practical when it comes to adult gifts. Peelers, whisks, bungee cords, Sharpies, batteries, hand sanitizer, lip balm and other useful items are hard to come by for Cubans, easy for you to stuff into a corner of your carry-on, and are always appreciated.
Most of all, be flexible. Be patient. Be kind. Cuba can be an overwhelming place, group dynamics can prove challenging, and travel can wear out even the most seasoned adventurer. For eight days, you’ll see, hear, smell and taste many new and intriguing things. Take your time and give yourself the space you need to make your Cuban adventure memorable and rewarding. Once you’re home, give yourself time to process all the experiences of your trip. You’ll have absorbed an incredible amount of (often confusing) information and made many new friends along the way. And just perhaps, you’ll leave the island with an urge to return to figure out the conundrum of Cuba once and for all. I know I did.
click image to enlarge
click image to enlarge
Originally published on Gaiam Life, April 2016
Next time you’re in a meeting at the office, listen closely to another woman in the room. What you’ll often hear is a struggle in her choice of words or her tone of voice—an urge to convey an idea while avoiding being misinterpreted as arrogant, pushy, or too assertive.
In Tara Mohr’s Playing Big, Mohr dedicates an entire chapter to empowering women to reclaim ownership of their words, making an eye-opening observation about women’s communication styles, especially in the workplace:
“Most women I know feel great pressure—sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious—to say what they really want to say, while also adhering to feminine norms of being nice, ever flexible, ever conciliatory, ever calm.”
This pressure is showcased by women hedging their ideas, disclaiming their opinions, or upspeaking their voices, all in an effort to reel in any sense of seeming overbearing. These speech patterns are partly due to a linguistic contagion—simply hearing other women speak and adopting the same habits with the notion that they’re appropriate. But perhaps, according to Mohr, the reasoning goes deeper: as women, we’ve been culturally shaped into thinking that women can either be competent or they can be likable—but they cannot be both. So by lessening our perceived competence, we can come across as more likable. Ouch.
But all hope isn’t lost. It’s time for us to take our communication off autopilot and actively listen to the ways we’re subtly undermining ourselves, shading our words with subordination and an inexplicable lack of confidence. Inspired by several of Mohr’s suggestions, as well as a few I’ve learned over the years, here are six ways women can become more confident communicators.
1. Take your time.
Have you ever been in a conversation or a meeting with someone who peppers her speech with “ums,” “likes,” and “y’knows,” or who interrupts her own train of thought with digressions and asides? When we feel nervous or unsure about ourselves, it’s often reflected in our speech with rushed sentences, frenetic trains of thought, and unnecessary words to fill the space. If you’re nervous, take your time; avoid piling statements or words on top of each other by pausing to take a breath and collect your thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with a pause.
But are we hardwired to rush? Perhaps. A recent linguistic theory hypothesizes that a woman is more likely to be interrupted when she pauses, so she develops the habit of rushing her words and filling the spaces to avoid the likelihood of interruption. Whether or not this theory has any weight, if you’re ever interrupted during a pause, don’t hesitate to politely note you’re not finished speaking.
2. Avoid hedging.
“Just,” “kind of,” “almost,” “sort of”—when we make a declarative statement or want to ask a forward question, or when we’re uncomfortable asserting our certainty, we tend to soften the blow. By diminishing our statements and questions, we assure our listener that we have no aggressive intentions, often to the point of sounding vaguely apologetic or conciliatory, as if we’re inconveniencing our listener. Take this request:
“I’m just curious when your report’s going to be done. I’m a little worried that we won’t have it for the 10:00 meeting. It’s kind of important to have it finished. I almost think you may want to ask Jane for help.”
Now, take out the hedging words:
“When’s your report going to be done? I’m worried we won’t have it for the 10:00 meeting. It’s important to have it finished. Do you need to ask Jane for help?”
Notice how the message changes from vaguely apologetic to direct, and is still well within the boundaries of courtesy and good manners.
3. Avoid upspeak.
You’ve no doubt heard it: the lifted pitch at the end of a statement, audibly veiling its message as tentative, undecided, or questioning. Upspeak (also known as “uptalk”) is the latest linguistic hot topic to sweep female (and some male) speech patterns, often being labeled as juvenile, Valley Girl, or outright unprofessional. The use of upspeak is heavily researched and deeply theorized. For speakers, it’s a way to make a statement without committing to authority. And for listeners, it indicates that the speaker is seeking affirmation, or appears unsure of the relevance and value of what she’s saying. Either way, it’s another method of undermining our authority on a topic, or discounting the validity of what we’re trying to say—and it’s definitely a habit to recognize and avoid.
4. Claim coherence.
Of course, we want our listener to understand what we’re saying. The real question is: do we understand what we’re saying? “Did that make sense?”, while a good-intentioned question, is a way for us to check in with our listener and make sure we’re being understood. But according to Mohr, research shows that women who use these self-questioning check-ins come across as less confident, less knowledgeable, and less influential on a topic. You can still keep your good intentions of a check-in, but try reframing your question to be about the listener: “How do you feel about that?”, “Do you have any questions?”, or “What are your thoughts?” are good alternatives.
5. Avoid unnecessary apology.
Listen closely to yourself for an entire day: do you have a “sorry” habit? “Sorry” has become an involuntary additive to many women’s speech patterns. We unconsciously apologize for having something to say, taking up space, and asking questions—none of which merit any sort of apology. Of course, there are times when a sincere “sorry” is appropriate and should be delivered—but don’t apologize for nonsensical reasons or use “sorry” as a default intro before speaking up.
6. Don’t disclaim your opinion.
“This may be way off, but…” “I’m no expert, but…” “I’m just thinking out loud, here…” Ever prefaced your opinion with one of these disclaimers? When we want to convey thoughts that haven’t fully congealed yet, we often introduce the idea or opinion with a disclaimer. These disclaimers automatically diminish whatever follows, if not set it up to be incompetent or outright wrong. With a simple tweak in our approach, we can turn a dismissive qualifier into a simple, neutral introduction like, “Here’s what I’m thinking” or “Here are my thoughts on this.”
If you know you’ve fallen prey to any of these undermining habits (Hi, join the club!), there are several ways you can change the way you communicate. Mohr suggests focusing on one habit at a time. Pick the one you want to get rid of first and start there, weeding them out one by one. She also suggests picking a speech buddy—a friend or colleague you can team up with to keep each other in check and accountable. And while it may sound unbearable at first, Mohr also suggests recording yourself; there’s no replacement for hearing (or seeing!) your undermining habits firsthand. Most important, though, is to remain yourself; you’re not trying to change your personality; you’re simply tweaking the way your (valid, novel, and well-formed) messages are received by your listeners.
Me, Myself, and I: 8 Tips for Enjoying Solo Travel
Originally published on Gaiam Life, March 2016
Disclaimer: I’m a hardwired introvert. As a child, my solitary tendencies were so severe that they led me to avoid school events, birthday parties, and especially (gulp) team sports. Fast forward 30 years, and my reserve has eroded into a softer, more socially acceptable version. I’ve still been called “distant,” “hard-to-know,” and—one of my personal favorites—“pleasantly reserved,” but I now traverse the meandering path between poised conversationalist and social escape artist.
One of the ways I satisfy my need for solitude is through solo travel. Traveling alone gives me the choice of being introverted or outgoing, and summons more magic moments—those chance conversations with strangers, enchanting experiences in nature, or long-awaited epiphanies. These moments resonate deep within, leaving me with a lingering feeling that I’ve experienced a cosmic alignment that transcends space, time, and coincidence. Back on earth, it refreshes my sense of self, replenishes a need for individuality, and solidifies my marriage even more. Here are eight takeaways I’ve collected through my experiences as a solo traveler.
1. Love Your Own Company
It’s important to always travel with someone you love—and in this case, that means you. When traveling solo, you’ll quickly discover how much fun it is to let your inhibitions go and just be yourself. You play many roles in your life—spouse, parent, child, friend—but when you step back from those responsibilities of being someone to somebody, you catch a glimpse at yourself, untethered and free from labels. “From midday to dusk I have been roaming the streets,” Henry James once wrote in a letter to his brother William from Rome. “At last—for the first time—I live!”
2. Plan, Plan, Plan
I’m a planner by nature, and this trait makes everything go smoothly when I’m traveling solo. It’s important to know your destination (and how you’re getting there), and know where you’re staying once you’ve arrived. Book your plane ticket, rental car, and lodging well in advance, and start planning the highlights of your trip. Think of your schedule as a series of slots that need to be filled. If you want to book a special event—a day cruise, a hard-to-nab table at a popular restaurant, a spa treatment—always book it ahead of time.
3. But Don’t Plan Too Much
I just told you how imperative planning is, but here’s the catch: don’t over-plan your trip. If you have micromanaging tendencies, shush them with the reminder that unscheduled time can be the most magical time. Don’t bog yourself down with an over-scheduled itinerary. Lodging, transport, must-dos, and highlights are great for pre-scheduling, but remember to keep time open for exploring.
4. Take Your Time
While traveling with a companion has its perks, it also has its drawbacks. I often feel rushed or impatient when I’m traveling with someone else, hyper-focusing on how my pace and needs are meshing with theirs. When I’m alone, that worry is nonexistent; I grant myself the time to slow down and take it all in. Whether I want to spend 30 minutes at a museum or two hours people-watching on a park bench, I’m only concerned with one itinerary: mine.
5. Keep in Touch
Traveling alone doesn’t mean you’ve cut all ties with your regular life. Because solo travel can be eyebrow-raising or downright worrisome to loved ones, keep them updated on your whereabouts, your arrivals at your destination, and where you’re headed next. They’ll appreciate your communication.
6. Ooze Confidence
First, I want to dispel the myth that traveling alone is dangerous; it’s not. What’s dangerous is poor judgment and bad decisions. By appearing confident and alert, you’re exuding an air of “don’t even think about it” to unlikely deviants. Walk tall, look ahead, be aware, and look like you know where you’re going. Need assistance? Seek help in shops or well-populated public places. Need a moment to fumble with your map? Rest your feet and get your bearings inside a big city church; they’re quiet, cool, and most importantly, safe.
7. Take Yourself to Dinner
Don’t give into your grab-n-go tendencies because you’re alone—this is a crime against cuisines everywhere. Heed the Take Your Time tidbit above and treat yourself to a nice meal. By enjoying your own company and the flavors on your plate, you’re creating memories that are unique to you.
Itching for interaction? Sit at the bar—you’ll likely strike up a conversation with the person next to you. At Nobu in Malibu, I chatted with a real estate broker on my left and a financial advisor on my right. By the end of the night, I’d heard a CSI-inspired story about a mission to retrieve a stolen iPhone, and learned where’s the best table at the Calabasas Starbucks to spy on the Kardashians.
8. Indulge in Self-Care
Solo travel is fun, but it can also be tough—living out of a suitcase and a toiletry bag can get tedious and stale. Be sure to take care of yourself while you’re traveling. Seek out the city’s best yoga studio, book a relaxing facial, or find a quiet spot in your hotel room where you can sit quietly for ten minutes. These moments of indulgence can recharge your batteries when you’re feeling weary.
For me, solo travel is a way to connect with aspects of myself that don’t get enough attention in the day-to-day grind. It’s as if these ephemeral glimpses at my many layers give me a view into another life. I’ve often referred to solo travel as the pursuit of my sister life. Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild and advice columnist for Dear Sugar, gave this advice to an inquirer once, and it latched onto me:
“I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
Into the Pool
Originally published on Gaiam Life, February 2016
It’s mid-morning and I’ve just finished a client’s photo edits. Light pours into our living room through south-facing windows, tiny dust particles dancing and defying gravity in the rays. I place my meditation cushion in the center of the rug, my brass singing bowl sitting off to the side. I turn my phone’s ringer off and set my timer for 20 minutes. With one swift tap of the velvet-covered stick, the singing bowl chimes a long, unwavering sound that slowly fades. I close my eyes, inhale through my nose, and exhale through my mouth. “Hello,” I say.
I’ve been meditating regularly for over a year now, a practice adopted after the urging of a trusted and respected colleague. “When we quiet our mind’s prattling, we see the roots of our unease more clearly,” she said over coffee last winter. “Whatever comes up, you simply face it.” This advice came on the eve of the last day at my job; one that I had worked hard to get, and worked even harder to love. After three years, I’d made the choice to move on, and I was terrified of the unknown.
My mind has always been a loud and agitated place, firing from one subject to the next, constantly refreshing, idling and ready for its next assignment even while I sleep. As I grew older, my mind’s restlessness veered into full-blown anxiety. A master of self-sabotage, it can easily lead me down a rabbit hole of fear, unease, and panic, often paired with a tight neck, pounding heart, and a numb right hand. My dad has long suffered the same condition, only ever seeking help through rolling bong hits. Convinced that I’m not held hostage by my genetic predispositions, I set out to take back control.
Meditation didn’t start easily. I began with just three minutes, battling urges to check my email, shoving off reminders of the next day’s schedule, stifling questions about whether the chicken for dinner is already thawing. Over time, three minutes turned into five minutes, and five minutes turned into ten minutes. I began visualizing dumping the chatter’s contents into a bottomless pool, watching as it faded deeper and deeper into oblivion. And what happened when it disappeared completely?
Nothing. And it was glorious.
Slowly, I began to realize that I don’t have to be at the mercy of my thoughts. I don’t have to be controlled by a racing mind and a growing to-do list. I am not those feelings. I am not those uncompleted tasks. I am not that creeping swell of panic. I am separate from all of those things. This realization was both liberating and empowering, granting me the captain’s seat at the helm of my own mind.
These days, I meditate for 20 minutes most days of the week. The chatter still has its place during the first few minutes of my practice, the thoughts shuffling single file into the bottomless pool. What I’m left with is mine to choose. Some days, I see nothing but color. Other days, I see the solution to a current problem with crystal clarity. And on other days, I see an older version of myself, ready to counsel me on what nags with polished wisdom and grace. This time and space is sacred, and it’s mine.
Many people think meditation is too new-agey, too undefined, or too time-consuming. But when you strip away the preconceived notions and the stereotypes, you’re left with a quiet time to reflect, to process, and to simply breathe. That’s something we can all get behind.
Originally published on Gaiam.com, January 2016
It’s a rainy afternoon at Yoga Junction, a small-town Colorado studio on Main Street in Louisville, nestled between a barber shop and a florist. With the kids seated on their mats, Laura rings the tingsha, two small brass cymbals strung together, their delicate chime slowly fading away. “We’re going to start with three oms,” Laura says to the kids, their eyes glued to her. “Om is a really beautiful sound that makes you feel peaceful,” she adds, before leading them through a sing-songy version of yoga’s classic tenor. The kids join in with confidence and a soft sense of pride. “I like to put my hands at my heart when I do it, too,” a blonde girl beams.
Through the class, the kids sing songs about reaching the sky, teeter through poses, play games, and find self-expression. “With kids, it’s important for their self-confidence to be expressive in their bodies,” Laura says after class.
A yoga practitioner for 14 years and a teacher for five years, Laura Zeigler discovered yoga at 17, when a martial arts injury led her to seek more flexibility. A graduate of Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, Laura began teaching kids yoga after an 11-year career as a preschool teacher. Her goal in teaching kids yoga? “To allow them to bring more awareness to their thoughts and their emotions—it’s revolutionary for kids to learn that they have control over how they feel.”
Laura’s kids yoga class doesn’t look like your normal yoga class. The mats are arranged in a circle, facing each other,“Like flower petals,” five-year-old Imara smiles shyly, adding that the flower shape is one of her favorite things about Laura’s class.
Because of kids’ increased energy and shorter attention spans, Laura moves away from the usual all-eyes-on-the-teacher approach and toward one of interaction and playfulness. “We focus more on songs, games, and making things applicable to them,” she adds. Because kids don’t have the same spatial awareness that adults do, Laura thinks of the class as a “moving meditation,” incorporating breath, flexibility, strength—and, of course, fun.
For Laura, teaching yoga to children is deeply rewarding. “Yoga is a journey for everyone,” Laura says, “Even for kids, it can be a potent practice. It helps them to find their creativity and their voice.”
Laura isn’t alone in this assessment; the popularity of kids yoga has been steadily on the rise. More and more classes are popping up in schools, daycares, and even yoga studios around the country. Yoga Alliance—the governing body of yoga in the U.S.—now requires 95 hours of training in order to be registered as a kids yoga teacher.
As for the kids, they definitely notice the effects. Sam, who’s ten, says Laura’s yoga class helps calm him down, and not feel like he’s going to “burst into flames” when he’s angry. Nora, a seven-year-old girl with long dark hair and bright blue eyes, says yoga “makes me feel strong.” Lexi, who’s six years old and pink-cheeked, loves balancing poses the most. “Sometimes I wobble a little bit, but I don’t usually fall,” she smiles.
At the end of class, the students sit in a circle with their hands at their hearts, and Laura leads them through a song about friendship and connection, their hands gesturing to each other with each salutation. When the song’s over, they roll up their mats and rejoin their parents, taking their newfound confidence and awareness off the mat and into the world.
Yoga Etiquette: 10 Tips for the Studio
Originally published on Gaiam Life, November 2015
There’s no doubt: yoga culture can be daunting. Whether you’re new to a yoga studio or you need a refresher on the rules, here are ten general tips and tricks for making your practice a pleasant one for you and your classmates.
1. Arrive on time
Being in a hurry is already a tizzy-inducing situation, but rushing into a yoga class is stressful for both you and your classmates. Scurrying into a class after it’s begun is embarrassing, and it’s distracting for your fellow yogis. Be sure to arrive on time, giving yourself the minutes you need to check in, put away your items, roll out your mat, and gather any props you’ll need for class.
Got a few extra minutes before class begins? Sit quietly and focus on your breath, or do a few gentle stretches to warm up. And please, avoid picking your toes. (I wish I were kidding.)
2. Remove your shoes
Yoga is practiced with bare feet, and most yoga studios prefer shoes to be kept in the lobby or in an area close to the studio entrance. While going barefoot is courteous year-round—even during flip-flop weather—it’s especially important during rainy months and snowy seasons, when mud and slush are common. By removing your shoes, you’re not only helping with studio cleanliness, but you’re respecting a space that’s revered and cherished by others.
3. Check your ego at the door
Looking for a hardcore workout, complete with grunting, straining, and popping veins? Please look elsewhere. The yoga studio is not the space for showing off your superhuman strength or your competitive edge. If anything, you’ll garner a few eye-rolls and alienate those around you. Remember, you’re here for yourself—not anyone else.
Beyond the competition and showing off, mind your mood. Gossip, complaining, and negative attitudes are better suited for the local watering hole or the communal kitchen at work. Be gentle and respectful in your communication. Like the saying says, everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind and respect others.
4. Tell your teacher about any injuries
Many teachers like to give gentle (or sometimes more intense) assists in class, like guiding you deeper into a pose or shifting your position to correct misalignment. If you’re sore, injured or just don’t feel like being touched, tell your teacher before class begins.
5. Mind your personal hygiene
This advice swings to both ends of the spectrum. First, please bathe, brush your teeth, wash your hair, and use a clean mat and a clean towel. Second, mind heavy perfumes, oils, and colognes, as strong scents travel easily during class. Regardless of which end of the spectrum you’re on, you’re subjecting those around you to your personal biome. Please make it a tidy and pleasant one.
6. Devices are a no-no
Want to get the stink-eye from classmates? Just bring your iWhatever to class. Whistles, dings, and blips are incredibly distracting and, frankly, downright rude. For many studios, this behavior borders on unforgivable, and could get your device—or you—kicked out of class.
So just put it on silent, right? Not so fast. For many (if not all), yoga class is a chance to escape the digital addictions and distractions we face in everyday life, offering you a rare chance to be fully present. By bringing your phone to class (even on silent!), you’re distracting yourself and those around you. Expecting an important call or a do-or-die text? Consider skipping class altogether, and returning when you can fully focus.
7. Be aware of your space
Yoga classes can get packed; when the last-minute stragglers file in, you’ll often see them scanning the room for a strategic spot to roll out their mat. Be neighborly by making room for them, if it’s available.
In a less-packed class, it’s common courtesy to stagger your mats so that the person behind you has a clear view of the teacher and the mirror. And unless you’re practicing with your bestie or your sweetie, give your neighbor some breathing room.
Lastly, mind your steps: it’s polite to avoid walking on a fellow yogi’s mat.
8. Minimize conversation
Many studios are considered a space for reflection, self-study, and focus, and maintaining a quiet atmosphere (if not an altogether silent one) supports this frame of mind. Granted, there are studios that have an air of social happy hour before class begins, and you’ll know this immediately upon walking in. But if the studio is quiet and meditative, keep it that way by refraining from chitchat. It’s not only polite, but it’s beneficial to your own state of mind.
9. Can’t stay for savasana? Leave before.
We all get it. Time is short, your schedule is tight, and your day is packed with need-tos and to-dos. But many of your classmates live for savasana, and by packing up and shuffling out during the most meditative and restful stage of the entire class, you’re disrupting everyone else and denying yourself the benefits.
The traditional benefits of savasana claim to restore your nervous system to its default settings and offer your mind a chance to sink into meditation. But above all, it’s a rare chance for you to do nothing for a few minutes. Close your eyes, focus on your breath, and feel the weight of your body against the floor. It’s your own little R&R opportunity. Take it.
Absolutely, positively have to leave class early? Let your teacher know before class, position yourself close to the door, and be sure to leave before savasanabegins. When it’s time to leave, pack up and scoot out as quietly as you can.
10. Clean up
Bolsters, blankets, blocks, straps—yoga is a prop-happy practice. If you’re borrowing the studio’s props, be sure to return them to their rightful place upon leaving. If you’re borrowing one of the studio’s mats, be sure to hang it up at their mat-cleaning station. Leaving your space as clean as you found it is respectful to the studio and students in later classes.
Column originally published on FayettevilleFlyer.com
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Roundhouse Spirits: A Leader in the Micro-Distillery Movement
Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle Magazine, May 2013
The craft beer movement abounds in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and there’s no shortage of local breweries concocting plenty of tasty, effervescent beverages—but what if you’re in the mood for something, ahem, stronger? In 2008, entrepreneur Alex Nelson asked himself, “If Boulder County supports more than a dozen breweries and brew pubs, and a handful of wineries, why isn’t there a micro-distillery here yet?” Only a short time later, Roundhouse Spirits was born.
A leader in the micro-distillery movement, Boulder’s Roundhouse Spirits hand-makes and bottles its award-winning spirits in incredibly small batches, using only the finest raw botanicals it can find. Roundhouse Distiller Ted Palmer leverages his 20 years of brewing and distilling experience to bend those ingredients to his will using a hand grinder, a Spanish copper still, American oak barrels, and old-fashioned creativity.
Gin Is In
Roundhouse’s Imperial Barrel Aged Gin, for instance, takes the distillery’s namesake gin and ages it for at least 10 months in oak casks. This unique process creates a one-of-a-kind libation that falls somewhere between gin and whiskey, which Roundhouse fans have cleverly nicknamed “ginskey.” Featuring notes of caramel, cinnamon, peppery spices and vanilla, distiller Palmer prefers it simply on the rocks.
“I decided to start making gin not only because it’s one of my favorites, but also because gins have tremendously complex flavors and still manage to be extremely versatile in mixology. Most gin contains spices and herbs from around the world, so it’s a truly modern spirit for a global age,” says Nelson.
Love the relaxing effects of gin, but need a pick-me-up? For their Corretto Coffee Liqueur, Roundhouse starts each hand-bottled batch with organic, fair-trade beans, which are hand-culled just down the road at Unseen Bean by blind roaster Gerry Leary.
For south-of-the-border fans, Roundhouse produced and sold an agave spirit at one time and intends to do it again soon. This spirit is a close cousin of tequila (although a spirit can only be deemed true tequila if it’s made in Mexico), and was produced specifically for a Boulder restaurant. Patrons there raved about it until the place closed down. Roundhouse is currently looking for a new source of agave and intends to produce the spirit again when quality and taste can be assured.
Roundhouse is also experimenting with a pumpkin liqueur that’s made with organic Baby Bear pumpkins grown just a few miles away in rural Boulder County. This autumn-inspired tipple should hit the shelves of local liquor stores this fall. It’s a popular drink—and one you can only enjoy at the distillery for now.
Drinking in the Praises
Roundhouse’s artisanal efforts certainly aren't going unnoticed. Winner of the Double Gold medal at Denver’s 2013 International Spirits Competition, Roundhouse’s gin stood proudly as Colorado’s only representative at the top of the ticket. The venerable Beverage Tasting Institute (known to insiders as BTI) holds Roundhouse gins at the very top of their ratings. The Roundhouse reputation is getting national attention as evidenced by its first shipments to Chicago and New York in the last two months. What’s more? Governor Hickenlooper just took two bottles of each Roundhouse gin on his trade mission to Canada as gifts for our neighbors to the north.
In addition to supporting the local libation ecosystem, Roundhouse also supports a myriad of charities. In many ways, Roundhouse sees non-profits as kindred spirits. Charities and non-profits generally focus on a particular slice of societal improvement, with dedicated workers toiling away and dedicated donors being fans of the cause. Roundhouse is a micro-distillery toiling away on its products, and depends on the patrons who develop a passion for them. Roundhouse’s donations typically come in the form of being a liquor sponsor for an event or donating products for silent auctions.
Want to see all the magic for yourself? Thursday through Saturday, the Roundhouse team offers an inside look at the goings-on of a working micro-distillery, with complimentary tours and tastes. Visitors can also knock back a few drinks at the onsite bar, or shimmy up to a free game of shuffleboard or foosball.
Roundhouse Spirits is located at 5311 Western Avenue, Suite 180 in Boulder.
Ritual de lo Habitual
Originally published on PranaAndPie.com, September 2011
I’m loving Yoga Bitch. Suzanne’s blunt humor about the seemingly-mystical world of yoga makes me guffaw out loud, and her experiences at the yoga-retreat-cum-piss-drinking-party-slash-fart-fest has me knee-slapping my Lululemons. She is self-deprecating, outspoken and brutally honest – a welcome respite for the usual pretentious droll of yoga books (Elizabeth Gilbert, I’m not talking to you. Put down the gong.)
One of Suzanne’s chapters begins with her waxing nostalgic about her love of rituals, which immediately spoke to me. Suzanne says:
“...I love rituals, even toasts at weddings. I love them for the way they bookmark time, for the way they enable us to say, out loud, that this moment means something. That we must remember this. These words and choreographed gestures pull us back from oblivion to insist that life matters, all of it.”
This spoke to me because I feel exactly the same way. Throughout my life, I have sought the ritual in many things, and when the ritual isn’t there, I make one up. By placing a ritual on a daily practice, you add meaning and significance to it, thereby emphasizing the importance in even the smallest of things.
I have my daily rituals, like the way I stretch before I get out of bed in the morning, they way I splash my face with cold water seven times, the way I lay out my teacup, tea bag, spoon and honey before pouring the hot water, they way I lay out my yoga mat, fold my towel at the top left corner and place my watch and wedding band on top, the way I have to make a small toast about the day before dinner every night.
To the outside eye, my “rituals” may seem like more of an obsessive-compulsive behavior and less like a ritualistic observance, but I have to disagree. You don’t have to witness a baptism or an exorcism to have seen something ritualistic; ritual can lie in the most mundane of acts, as long as the intention is there. Like Suzanne so eloquently said, it adds importance to the moment, and draws us back from the incessant drone of life to “insist that life matters, all of it.”