<24 Hours in Chattanooga

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If I write a relationship how-to book one day (this will never happen), chapter 1 will be entitled: How to Not Plan a Trip Well. At All.

The secret to successfully not planning a trip well is to book it without your significant other’s consent. This is an excellent way to ensure that your travel plans don’t align with either person’s schedule. At all.

This is how Adam and I found our way on the road to Chattanooga at 4 o’clock in the morning on Saturday.

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I booked us for an all-day Saturday acro yoga workshop with Scott Cooper without taking into account that Adam was already teaching his annual rooftop yoga charity event Friday night. (Want to use yoga in unique places as a fundraiser for your charity? Check out Big Horizon Yoga.)

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With complete disregard for geography (and perhaps our health, wellbeing and sanity), I shrugged it off and assured everyone who doubted my itinerary that Chattanooga was a quick and easy four hours away.

FALSE. Chattanooga is actually six hours away. Who am I, Magellan?

So after a late night tearing down the rooftop event and shoving vegetarian diner food into our faces at midnight, we woke up at 3am to hit the road to Tennessee so we could make it to the 11am class on time.

Once you’ve already ruined everyone’s lives by planning your trip on a terrible day, you should then definitely not get gas when you need to. This step is even more effective if you are driving on E in the middle of the Smokey Mountains with no exits on radar for miles around, all the while saying, “I live life on the edge, baby.”

When you finally roll into the podunk-est gas station on the planet on fumes and in seriously hot water, make sure you pick the pump with the broken credit card machine. This is very important because it ensures your significant other has to go inside and deal with the angry cashier whose backwoods Tennessee slang practically needs a translator.

If you survive the gas station escapade, it is best at this point to force your gluten-free, vegetarian significant other to eat at Cracker Barrel for the first time in his life. He will definitely not love it as much as you did as a kid.

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After tiptoeing around a meat-heavy menu, make sure you’ve allotted juuuuust enough time to park your car after your 6-hour drive and walk straight into the studio for 6 hours of acro yoga. No dilly dallying.

The workshop was actually amazing and worth the ridiculous trip to get there. I didn’t even get flustered and start yelling about my arms being too long to pike into an inversion on Adam’s knees until hour 5 of being tossed around in the air. I consider this a victory.

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As is true with basically every aspect of my existence (including this sentence), I am exaggerating the agony that was our horribly planned trip. We had a surprisingly delightful time despite a severe lack of sleep and excessive amount of time together in a vehicle.

As can be expected, we crashed hard in Chattanooga but not before eating a meal that on its own could have warranted such an excursion as absurd as ours.

We ate at Sluggo’s, a vegetarian cafe just over the bridge from downtown Chattanooga. We started with the vegan wings. (I know.) If I’d ever had a real wing in my life I would tell you if these were comparable, but I’ve never had the real deal so all I can say is these are too spicy for me.

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Adam had the sweet potato enchiladas, which would have been incredible on their own but they kind of dipped into the shadow of my mind-blowing plate of pecan-dusted seitan with garlic mashed potatoes, collard greens and corn muffins.

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We stocked up on candy at the gas station before bed only to hit the road home again at 6am.

I suspect Adam will be planning the next trip.

Seriously this trip was kind of awesome. I was surprised and impressed by our ability to make the best of it and am convinced that before you take one more step forward with your significant other, you need to force them into a sleep-deprived long-distance car ride that leads to a destination you’ll visit for less than 24 hours. If you can’t handle that together, I’m afraid you have no future.

I credit our success to the liberal use of the ridiculous safe word we created in case anyone started getting grumpy. It’s like a reset button you toss out when a situation is escalating unnecessarily. I can’t tell you what it is because then I’ll have to kill you. But before you take a trip like this with someone you need to create one of your own. You’re welcome.

Treat. Trust.

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I’m convinced you don’t know love until a two-legged cat you thought was perhaps pure evil hobbles up to your body heaped on the floor under the weight of life (or something like it) and lightly places a nub on your arm and a head in your hand.

Tilly seems to be making progress.

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I struggle to disconnect. I mean struggle. I can’t do it. I’ll answer emails and texts and comments and tweets and all other forms of communication all day and all night. When they make a pill that makes it no longer necessary to sleep, I will take it and type the night away. It’s sick, really.

So I’m working on that. When I’m with people I sometimes try to deliberately forget my phone, in my car or on the dresser–just far enough away to make checking it inconvenient but close enough that I don’t freak out.

I’m trying to take walks in the evening when the sun is still high enough that I feel like I won’t get jumped in my hood but low enough that it creates this perfect late-day golden glow and these long, early-evening shadows. It’s my favorite time of the day.

And the newest thing is just laying flat on my back, arms and legs splayed, eyes closed, doing nothing. Savasana, basically (for all you yogis), but with no yoga class preceding it.

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Savasana is, sadly, among the least respected but most important (and in my opinion, challenging) yoga poses out there. It’s the reason we practice at all. It’s the reset button. Those few minutes at the end of class (or at the end of the day for me lately) are precious. A rare chance to turn off and turn in.

I use the analogy of a snow globe when explaining the importance of savasana in class. The class leading up to it is the shaking of the snow globe. It brings up all this stuff–emotions and physical sensations and fears–and it all just swirls around. Savasana, then, is the settling. It’s the time when everything we shook up settles back down, landing us in our new normal–calmer, stronger, quieter.

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So that’s where I was this afternoon: Head spinning, mind racing, I just collapsed on my floor. And in an act of that kind of pure animalistic intuition that never ceases to amaze me, Tilly (“the Terrible,” as we’ve not-so-kindly dubbed her) hobbled on over and dropped her little head into my hand.

My dad had a little business advice for me today as I rambled on and on about where I am and what I’m doing and what I’m trying to figure out (and, admittedly, make up as I go): “Don’t trust every damn person that walks through the door, Tater.”

Duly noted.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Tilly is not a bad cat. She’s just in a vulnerable position and doesn’t trust every damn person that walks through the door. Not right away, anyway. Just give her a little time.

Give me a little time.

The point? Treat yo’self. To peanut butter cups and afternoon walks and (veggie) chili dogs and savasana and grace and banana pudding and the benefit of the doubt.

Lessons from Teaching Yoga

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A year ago today I was gearing up to teach my first yoga class. It feels so strange to read the post I wrote 365 days ago for several reasons: A year ago I was still in grad school and thought I would be a dietitian right about now. A year ago I thought Adam would never want to be with me so I let another boy take me out on a date the night before. A year ago I was in love with the idea of teaching yoga full time, of making such an important part of my life my career.

Today I’m not a dietitian and don’t have a plan to complete the dietetic internship (yet) because life has pulled me in other exciting directions. Today I have a date with Adam, my boyfriend… finally. And I love him. Today, as has been the case for many other days several months back, I continue to wrestle with the idea of continuing to teach yoga at all. But much in the same way I assume wedding anniversaries remind couples of their love and passion and all the possibility on day one, my one-year yoga anniversary has reignited the (arguably disillusioned) enthusiasm and eagerness I felt after teaching my first class.

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Gregor Maehle, author of Ashtanga Yoga Practice & Philosophy, matter-of-factly describes a year in yoga study in his commentary on Sutra 1.14:

Yoga Sutra 1.14 One becomes firmly established in practice only after attending to it for a long time, without interruption and with an attitude of devotion.

“What does a long time mean?” asks Maehle. “A year is not a long time. A decade is more to the point. Several decades would be more realistic.”

So I haven’t been teaching for a long time. But I like to think I’ve learned a few things along the way this year, about teaching yoga and about life and about myself.

Things I Learned Teaching Yoga

No One Is Watching You – A lot of beginner yogis are concerned that everyone in the room is watching them as they stumble and fall and struggle. If the other students are really in their own practice (and I’d say most of the time they are), no one else is watching you. It’s an odd phenomenon that we allow our insecurities, the things that make us want to disappear in a crowded room, to pull us into the spotlight, at least in our own minds. I never worried much about people seeing me practice, but when I first started teaching yoga, out of insecurity I was suddenly convinced that everyone in the room was staring at me the whole time. They’re not. They’re practicing the yoga that I’m teaching. I had this self absorbed assumption that all eyes were on me when I first started teaching, not because I was great but because I wasn’t. My first lesson in teaching yoga was to remove myself from the equation, to pluck myself from center of the spotlight of insecurity so that I could focus on giving rather than receiving. This is a tough lesson for a young, eager, achievement-oriented, approval-seeking millienial to learn because it’s a lesson in quiet self assurance and confidence without input from anyone else. Learning to stand in our own power and be ourselves regardless of who is watching (or not) is, I think, one of the most valuable skills a human can possess and perhaps the most freeing.

It’s About Quality Not Quantity – Yoga is a business just like any other. Dollars in, dollars out, and hopefully you land in the green. Being that I was on the management team at the studio when I started teaching, I immediately fell into the trap of making sure I was an asset to the studio, that I was earning my keep and keeping my numbers up. I started to judge the quality of my class on the quantitative measure of attendance. Big classes were good classes. Small classes were bad classes. This is a twisted way to look at it because as it turns out yoga is a business just like any other and it’s not. We have to generate revenue to keep our doors open, yes, and we have to look at ROI and bottom dollar, but at some point the numbers game gives under the hefty weight of a measure far more important than attendance: the impact of the class on an individual student. I’ve learned in diving into the world of hunger relief this year that an impact on one person is no less valuable than an impact on 100. And so the story is the same in the yoga studio. My roommate (who teaches as well and credits her personal practice for saving her life) has always said that if she can convince just one person in a class to love yoga and come back, her job is done. I learned from her that teaching yoga is a lesson in valuing quality, not quantity.

You’re Never Ready – I decided to sign up for teacher training after my long list of excuses about why I couldn’t was met with the simplest, most profound response from my teacher, “You’re never ready and it’s never a good time.” Oof. She’s right. I made the leap and signed up and, wouldn’t you know it, I wasn’t ready and the timing sucked. I was in my last year of grad school, I was broke, and I was still shattered from my life transitions the year prior. But you know what? Teacher training was exactly what I needed in my life to break me down and build me up and ground me firmly in who I am at that inopportune time. Later, I was thrown into my first teaching experience before I was even done with my training. (I had one more weekend to go.) I was not ready. I stayed up all night writing my sequence and rehearsing my cues and rearranging my music. Still, I was not ready. The class undoubtedly sucked, but I did it, ready or not. And here’s the thing: Had I waited a week until I was done training, I wouldn’t have been ready then either. Had I waited another year until I had more money or less on my plate before being ready to sign up for teacher training, I still wouldn’t have been ready then. You’re never ready for the big stuff–falling in love and figuring out who you are and taking risks. So stop over-thinking, stop making excuses, stop finding a reason to remain where you are. Give yourself permission to be more. Give yourself permission to fail. Because here’s the beautiful part: You’ll figure it out.

Despite these powerful learning experiences and the deep gratitude I feel for my teachers for imparting their knowledge and the studio for giving me an incredible opportunity and the students for sharing their practice with me, I have still found myself struggling with whether or not teaching is right for me right now. (It’s never the right time, right?)

So I’m glad that my one-year yoga anniversary fell when it did because it hit me at a time when I most need to remember why I started doing this in the first place, everything I’ve learned since then, and all I have to explore in the years to come.

Yoga is a force in my life that I can’t even put into words (though apparently I try with incredibly long posts like this). My practice makes me feel safe and empowered and restored but at the same time it can be scary and exhausting and difficult. And that’s the beauty of yoga. It teaches us about effort and ease, hard and soft, strength and vulnerability so that we can gracefully move from one to the other. It teaches us to be present and to be comfortable with who we are, where we are, how we look and what we’re doing.

Yoga, I think, amplifies our humanity allowing us to be more and love more and give more with less. Yoga is a gift. Teaching yoga is an honor.

Again, Gregor Maehle nails it on the head:

“Especially as we start to succeed with yoga, we often tend to lose our intention. We might be happy to stick with asana or pranayama after we get comfortable with it. We might lose interest in yoga because we notice that our teacher and those around us are not sincere. We might get dejected because we did not get an experience of true yoga. In all of these cases, it is important to remember ourselves, our purpose, our goal, and the correct method. This remembrance will make sure that we stay on course.”

Here’s to staying the course.

24 Hours of Charlottesville

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If someone had told me that Charlottesville was some kind of Pleasantville-esque utopian community with lots of good food, I would’ve probably stayed longer than 24 hours.

Except, oh wait, someone did tell me that Charlottesville is a Pleasantville-esque utopian community. And that someone is (are) my friend(s) Val and Dar who convinced Adam and me to come teach a workshop up there and see for ourselves.

So that’s what we did. But we only allotted 24 hours…

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We breezed in Friday evening and were promptly whisked away for live music in the amphitheater downtown. As I understand it, this event is dubbed simply: Fridays. Easy enough. I think the entire city of Charlottesville was there and I think they all know Val and Dar because we couldn’t walk five feet without someone jumping out to chat with them. Small-town charm and/or curse.

We had dinner at The Local, a restaurant that serves (you guessed it) local food. (Charlottesville is very straightforward.) Adam and I both got the zucchini stuffed with quinoa, goat cheese, dried cherries and almonds and served over braised greens with tomato sauce. Stop it. I can’t even. Maybe I also had a margarita.

The next morning was workshop day so Adam and I rolled downtown to catch class before we had to teach. Four and a half hours in a car do not make for a limber yoga teacher. We grabbed a smoothie and an egg sandwich at Calvino. And by egg sandwich I mean a sandwich literally made out of eggs. No bread. Just spinach and feta between eggs.

After class we were supposed to meet Val “at the market,” but little did we know there are several markets in Charlottesville and we went to the wrong one. This wouldn’t have been a problem had I remembered to bring my phone with me but I remember to bring my phone with me never so it was kind of a problem. While sorting out the miscommunication (or utter lack of communication), we grabbed lunch at Feast: hummus sandwiches, curried lentil soup, and a truffle-stuffed dark-chocolate-coated fig. WHAT.

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Our workshop was at Opal Yoga, a seriously adorable second-floor studio that recently opened on Main Street.

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It was all high ceilings and open windows and flowy drapes and PBR cans turned into vases for flowers. I can’t even handle how cute this space is. Adam said it perfectly: It’s like home. (Except that my home is full of cat hair. I digress…)

We teamed up to teach Against Gravity: The Art of Weightless Inversions and Backbends.

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Adam is a handstand junkie and I can get down with some unnatural spinal contortions so we felt like this was a logical complementary focal topic.

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We had a great group of yogis who showed up big–open-minded and eager to play. We’re so grateful to them for bringing their energy and flipping around with us for two and a half hours. Even my dear, wonderful BFF from college came down from Maryland to practice. Made my day.

You can see all the pictures from the workshop here, but these are some of my favorites:

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We had to head back that evening so post-workshop shenanigans included (very quick) pho and Vietnamese coffee at Moto Pho Co., vegan meatballs at One Meatball Place (this is a thing), buckeyes at Paradox Pastry, and a sneak peak at Val and Dar’s top-secret new Fight Gone Mad location.

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Charlottesville is pretty damn delightful. We’ll be back.

Booking Workshops

In the meantime, if you want Adam and/or me to swing by your studio (cool city with good food not required but appreciated) we’re filling up our summer and fall travel schedule now. Shoot me an email at katierlevans@gmail.com for more booking info. We’ll stay longer than 24 hours (and even if we don’t we will still EAT ALL THE THINGS).

Yoga Reading

I’ve gotten a few requests for posts about my favorite yoga books.

While I love books that take me deeper into my practice, I’ve found that the books that do this aren’t always necessarily of the “yoga” genre.

At any rate, this list is in no way comprehensive, but here are some of my favorite life-changers:

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How Yoga Works – This book (from my teacher training curriculum) rocks my world. It’s a fictional narrative about how a prisoner changes her world and those of her captors by teaching them yoga. You can read one of my favorite excerpts (and an intense Katie-rant) in my post: Flesh or Light. I think about this concept every single day.

Meditations from the Mat – This book was on the floor in the first studio I started practicing in six years ago, and I used to pick it up and flip through before and after class. It’s written by Rolf Gates, an addict turned global yoga celebrity, and features 365 short (in length) but deep (in meaning) passages to be read once a day for one year. I’ve written about it here and here and probably a million other times in my Yoga Archives.

Peace is Every Step – I want to read every Thich Nhat Hanh book ever written. This book was part of a teacher training curriculum I signed up for and then bailed on when I suddenly decided to quit my job and move to Charlotte. In the end, the program I ended up in here was exactly where I was supposed to be. Life works like that. Anyway, it’s a collection of thoughtful little nuggets from a Zen master. We could all use a little of that, couldn’t we? I’ve written about one passage here: Breathe! You Are Alive.

Gregor Maehle’s Ashtanga Yoga – This book is everything because it’s the only copy of the Yoga Sutras I have. The bulk of it is a pose-by-pose breakdown of the Ashtanga primary series, but they threw in the sutras plus commentary at the end, and this was largely our textbook during teacher training. You can get the Sutras just about anywhere, but I think that Maehle’s concise commentary makes them relevant in a very powerful way.

Yoga Anatomy – Sometimes when people talk about wanting to “deepen their practice,” they’re talking about things addressed in the books I listed above. Other times they mean they want to better align their physical practice. And neither one is a more noble venture than the other. If you’re looking for a thorough explanation of the anatomy of primary yoga poses, this is a great read. I wrote about Kaminoff’s breakdown of how inhalation works (because it blew my mind) here: Right Nice.

When it comes to non-yoga-specific reads, the following books have flipped my world (yoga practice included) upside down, burned my conditioned existence to the ground, and built me up as a calmer, kinder, more inquisitive person.

A Course in Miracles

The Fire Starter Sessions

The Desire Map

Let me know your favorites and I’ll drain all my funds into Amazon tonight…