Handstand365: Days 114-227

Another hundred plus handstands, and many more life lessons learned since my last post about my progress. I’m almost two-thirds the way done with the #handstand365 challenge, and I am learning more and more every day with this fun practice.

I learned a whole lot about technique when I went to Aruba for a week in August and did a yoga retreat with yoga girl Rachel Brathen. I learned to exhale when I kick up (sometimes I would hold my breath in the past). I learned to make sure my shoulders are directly above my wrists. I learned to put most of the pressure in my hands on the thumb knuckle and first two finger knuckles. Doing this is difficult, but it makes a difference in doing handstands as well as in other yoga poses that use your hands on the ground. I learned to squeeze my legs together and to squeeze in my core. It’s hard to keep track of all these things and to perform a handstand, but I practice almost every day, and I think I am improving little by little.

I have an amazing boyfriend who does handstands with me, and together we’ve learned how to balance together and share fun times doing yoga! We’ve tried back to back handstands as well as front to front kissing handstands. We want to pursue some acro-yoga where we can do other poses together too. It’s so fun to share yoga with someone you love.

I’ve literally learned to find my plumb-line when upside down. I’ve started to be able to hold my handstands for a bit longer than a split second, and it’s a weird feeling, something that is hard to describe. But I get a balanced feeling. And then I have to focus on my core and squeezing my legs together and then usually I have to come down. I look forward to the day when I can hold it longer with complete control.

Also, I’ve learned the importance of symmetry. Whatever I do on one side of my body, I do on the other side of my body. For the first hundred or so handstands I mainly led with one leg. Once I spent time in Aruba, I learned to try it on both sides. Surprisingly I was able to balance pretty well right away on the other side. So, every time I do a handstand, I make sure to practice it on both sides now.

I’ve experimented with some other forms of handstands also like hollow-back handstands, forearm handstands, and handstand scorpion. These poses build on the basic foundations with more difficult variations.

I’ve learned to incorporate this sense of balance, challenge, and persistence in my personal life as well. When upsetting things happen, I try not to take it personally, feel whatever I am feeling, let go of the negative and return to a centered place mentally. I’ve learned to keep trying when things are difficult because that’s when the change takes place. We don’t get stronger when things are easy. So if I fail at something, I try again. I don’t let setbacks set me back. I keep going with a smile and face the challenge again and again….with a sense of calm confidence that all I can do is do my best and that is enough in every situation. I gave up on caring what other people think of me and I focus on me and what I want to do regardless of others’ opinions. (Think what it’s like to do handstands in public places…it really does teach you not to care what people think). I’m self assured and look for joy in every day. I laugh every time I’m done doing a handstand!

My sense of inner peace is strong. My sense of self is strong. My sense of adventure is strong. I am ready for what each day has to offer and I appreciate each day because I know that’s all we really have. I have confidence and a zest for life that was missing for a long time.

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!

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21 Day Yoga Girl Challenge Day 20: Something New #yogagirlchallenge

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Took my dogs, Marley and Daisy, to the new dog park in town. We’ve never been there before. They met new doggies and people, and I even incorporated a couple of the other days of the challenge by sweating outside enjoying Mother Nature, being grateful for the time to do it and for the beautiful day and for my two dogs, and I also did some yoga handstands and reclined on a bench and meditated for about five minutes. After the dog park, we took a walk and then came home to cool off. It was a fun little adventure, and I am interested in finding some other new things to do.

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Here is the handstand I did at the dog park and posted in the #handstand365 challenge.

If you could do something new, what would it be? I was surprised by how few ideas I had.

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!

Yoga Retreat in Aruba with Yoga Girl Rachel Brathen

Susanne’s World has been under construction for the past nine months or so. My life turned upside down within the past year as I’ve been turning upside down, literally, advancing my yoga practice by doing handstands. The more work I did on myself, the more I realized I wasn’t truly happy. Today I am grateful I had the courage and the strength to recognize that and make the changes that needed to be made. I got divorced, sold and moved out of my house, and started crossing things off my bucket list. I spent last week in Aruba doing a yoga retreat with Yoga Girl Rachel Brathen, connecting with a beautiful new place on the earth, deepening my yoga practice and truly spending every day exactly how I wanted to. I have a new love in my life (an old friend since seventh grade) and couldn’t be happier. He joined me on the yoga retreat, and we had an amazing time together!

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arrival day

I was starstruck when I first saw Rachel and Dennis. She is an internet celebrity, someone who inspires me daily with her pictures, videos, and words. Seeing her in person at the welcome dinner was amazing. I was giddy, hugging her saying, “I love you!” She was so cool and down to earth with a friendly smile. She shares highlights and lowlights from her life on social media, so it was like meeting someone I already knew a little about. We talked a little about her wedding and honeymoon as well as the recent passing of one of her dogs. Out on the beach, there were baby sea turtles in protected areas hatching and making their way to the sea. I wasn’t lucky enough to see one of them, but some other people in our group did and posted videos and pictures. We had a lovely dinner and met new friends, enjoyed the sunset and starry night sky.

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with Rachel and Dennis

This is a typical view from the beach chairs in front of Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa, where we stayed. We did our daily handstand in front of our spot that day.  Instead of beach umbrellas, there were beach tiki huts, and the kind staff at the resort set up the chairs and brought drinks.   Eagle Beach is the widest beach on the island of Aruba, and our resort didn’t have any kids activities, so it was peaceful and serene.   There was a relatively long walk on the white sands until you hit the turquoise waters due to the wideness of the beach.  The sand was white and didn’t get too hot.  The color of the water was something I’ve never seen before.  Bright turquoise is the best description I can muster.  There were gentle waves and plenty of room to swim and float around.  A line of buoys contained the swimming area.  I swam out there and back a few times. The water got too deep to stand right away so it was fun to take a little swim.

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handstands on the beach

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typical view from my beach chair

We had two Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) yoga lessons on Palm Beach near the high rise hotels. It was the more touristy and more crowded part of the island, but the water was still amazing! It was waist deep and calm. We used special boards made for doing yoga (Boga boards). They were wide and rounded on the ends and had a sticky yoga mat on the top. Doing yoga on the water is especially challenging because the stability of the floor is no longer there. You must release control to your surroundings and adjust accordingly. It works all the small muscles of your core and other places in your body in ways you normally don’t use them. The warrior series was the hardest of all the poses we did. Once one person fell, it was like a domino effect because the boards were so close together. Everybody fell in the water at some point or another, and I loved the metaphor with real life. When you have difficulty and fall down, laugh, smile, fall, and get back on the board.  The other life skill it helps develop is focusing on the moment.  If you let your mind wander and lose your focus, it’s pretty easy to fall off the board, so it really required being in the present moment.

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Rachel teaching SUP yoga class #1

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beautiful ocean

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excited to try SUP yoga for the first time

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SUP yoga class #1 in Palm Beach, Aruba

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headstands on the Boga boards

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Our group to an exciting hike on the north shore of Aruba to a natural pool.  It was located in the Arikok National Park, a large undeveloped area with a desert landscape, rocky trails to hike, bike, ride horses and four wheel drive vehicles.   There were beautiful ocotillo and other kinds of cactii, wild goats, and a varied terrain much different than the beachy areas.   Along the hike, we stopped to play at a beach where the waves are forced between rocky outcroppings.  Rachel said we had about ten minutes to play, so I jumped right in!   Unlike the waters in Eagle and Palm Beaches, these waters were rough. The waves were big, and I enjoyed body surfing in the crashing water.  The water took my hair tie and one of my earrings; I threw the other earring into the ocean as an offering.  I was exhilerated and felt that I could have stayed there longer to play!

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The natural pool had rocky outcroppings, and the water from the waves crashed over and formed the pool.  It was so cool.  There was another smaller pool up a little higher than this one. It felt like a hot tub.  Saw lots of little crabs camoflauged on some vegetation growing on the rocks.  I brought my goggles and dived under the water to see many tropical fish teeming in the waters. You can see a wind farm in the distance.    I climbed up and sat to watch the ocean for a bit, contemplating its vastness and its incredible power.  The sun was shining, and the wind was blowing.  What an amazing place and an amazing moment!

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My man taking it all in..

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sunset in Aruba

That night, we had a restorative yin yoga session.  This was the magical view as I walked into class.  Everybody was tired from an active day.  Yin yoga is calming and relaxing.  We hold poses for longer (up to five or six minutes) deepening the stretch to the connective tissues.  In contrast to vinyasa flow where movements are tied to each breath and we generate heat in the body, a yin practice is cooling and still.  The hardest pose we did (for me) was frog pose, and we held it for a while.  Rachel talked about how we hold of lot of tension in our hips and frog pose helps to release it.  We did heart openers after that to release whatever emotional tension arised.  It’s a soft practice that feels like a whole other place when it’s over.  Holding hands with my man during savasana made the experience even more magical.

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Yin Yoga class

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handstand technique help from Rachel

Rachel taught us a lot about yoga including workshops on handstands, headstands, forearm stands, arm balances, and paid special attention to teaching us proper technique and alignment for chatarunga to upward facing dog to downward facing dog.  There were two yin yoga sessions, and the rest of them were intense and challenging. Dennis taught a class too, and it was the hardest class I’ve done in a long time!  We worked hard on our core strength as it’s a fundamental for many advanced skills.  I was thrilled to get some personal attention from her and am working on the pointers she gave me.  For example, when we have hands down on the ground they should be firmly planted with the most pressure on the thumb knuckle and first two finger knuckles.  When we get tired, we tend to shift weight to the outsides of our hands causing the thumbs to curl instead of remain intact on the mat.  I never  noticed I did that before. She said it’s a common mistake. It’s something I really pay attention to now.  I also learned alot about how to do chatarunga and upward facing dog properly.  I didn’t know to shift forwards a bit from plank so when you drop into chatarunga your elbows can stay above the wrists and make a ninety degree angle.  Then, shifting backwards before going into upward facing dog allows the shoulders to stay above the wrists.  I think I’ve been doing those two poses slightly wrong all along.   I tried a forearm stand for the first time ever.  It was not solid at all, so I think I will follow Rachel’s advice to continue strengthening and preparing for the pose by practicing dolphin (downward facing dog on the forearms)  more often.  The arm balance workshop was my favorite because I’ve been wondering how to get into those poses for a while now, and Rachel gave us clear instructions and demonstrations.  Now they make sense to me, and I can work them into my practice more often.  I got a footprint sized bruise on my upper arm from working so hard in class!  I was able to try all the arm balances she taught us but still have a lot of work to do.

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bruise from arm balance workshop

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handstand workshop with partner work

Below are three links to videos from the handstand workshop.



 

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Rachel and Ringo teaching class

 

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Rachel and Ringo

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handstands at the go kart track

We met a lovely couple from Norway and enjoyed many good times eating, drinking, and laughing during our retreat.  They had an awesome idea to go to the go kart track for racing.  It’s something I probably wouldn’t have thought of doing, but I am so glad we went!  My man won the race, lapping me three times, as he is a seasoned motorcycle racer.  I didn’t mind coming in last place as I know racing is not my forte, but it sure was fun to do.  Despite the hot sun and the sweaty helmet, I was smiling and laughing my way around the track.  After we were done we thought it was a good spot for a handstand picture.

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go karting with our new friends from Norway

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al fresco dining at Machebo Beach Resort & Spa, Aruba

We took advantage of the all-inclusive meal option at the resort and enjoyed al fresco dining every day. Breakfast and dinner were at this restaurant by the pool, and lunches were at the cafe in the forefront of the picture. The views and the service were outstanding. Birds and iguanas joined us for breakfast every day, and the moon and stars twinkled over head during poolside dinners at night. The staff at the resort were incredibly warm and friendly. It’s a smaller, two story, hotel and I really enjoyed the personal attention we got during our stay. I have lots of food allergies, and I was impressed by their ability to accomodate my needs. In addition there were healthy fruit and vegetable based smoothies available every morning. Yum! We went out to dinner with the group once, visiting Rachel and Dennis’s favorite restaurant in town called Yemanja. It was a wood fired grill featuring delicious seafood, steaks, and vegetarian/vegan food. I got a superfood salad packed with greens, veggies, berries, and seeds and a ribeye steak with scallops on top.

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iguanas by the pool

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Rachel and Dennis

Our group took a sailing and snorkeling trip on a party catamaran from Palm Beach. What a fun activity! I don’t drink liquor except for (good) tequila, so it wasn’t a drinking day for me but for everybody else it was. We sailed up the shore and then stopped to snorkle first at a place right off the beach, not too deep. I snorkeled to the thore then right then left and back to the boat. It was amazing! I think I saw a baraccuda. I swam back toward the shore and then noticed the boat was raising the ladder. I guess I didn’t hear them blow the horn, so I swam back to the boat knowing they wouldn’t leave without me and rejoined the group. Others stayed on the boat to play on the water slide and jump off the side.

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sailing and snorkeling trip

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loving the view

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loving the view

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all smiles swith Dennis on the catamaran

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happy people

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the view off the back of the boat

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Rachel and some of the ladies in our group

We sailed some more and then stopped to snorkle in sixty foot deep waters. There were different kinds of fish in that deeper water, and I thought it was interesting there were layers of different schools of fish in the waters. Some of them stayed low while others were higher up. I dived down a few times as far as I could (holding my ears so the pressure didn’t hurt) and then floated for a few seconds in awe as I was surrounded by schools of bright and beautiful fish. How cool to be in their world just for a few seconds. I ventured out a litte farther and then lost sight of any fish, so I came back toward the boat more this time.

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our group after sailing/snorkeling trip

Here we all are, happy and high on life after the fun outing.

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our group after the sail/snorkel trip

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On the second day of SUP yoga, I wasn’t feeling too well. I was a little seasick after not having enough sleep and having a little too much fun the night before. To make things more challenging, I also got the orange board…the board that whoever is last and needs a board uses. The orange board is narrower and pointier than the other blue Boga boards. I took a “I’m a rock star. I can do this.” attitude and did my best. It sure was harder than the blue board I used during the first class!

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planking on the Boga board

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downward facing dog with hip opener

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IMG_4499.JPGSUP yoga class #2 in Palm Beach, Aruba

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heart/chest opener

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side plank

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finding balance

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chair pose

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had so many laughs with our Norweigan friends

We made new friends with people from all over the world. In addition to meeting other americans (Texas, Virginia, California, Washington, Arkansas, North Carolina, Colorado, New Jersey), we met people from Norway, Sweden, Canada, Brazil,and Aruba. Our new friends from Sweden even brought their teenage daughter along.

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new friend from Sweden

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until next time

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thank you Rachel!

Since I wasn’t feeling well after SUP yoga class #2, I had to say goodbye to Rachel there on the beach. The whole group was walking down to a beach bar to continue the fun, and my flight was early the next morning. I thanked her for everything she taught me that week and for inspiring me. I couldn’t stop hugging her, just one more! My heart was full of love and gratitude. Just for fun, I asked if we could take the moment to get a handstand picture together. It was my last chance until who knows when. She happily obliged and went upside down waiting patiently for me to try and try again to join her long enough for a picture. She was so patient, hanging out in a beautiful handstand encouraging me saying, “you got it Susanne.” She right, I got it. Thank you Rachel!

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in the presence of greatness

 

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sunrise at the airport – departure day

This is a pictue of the sunrise at the airport when I was leaving. No filter, no hi definition enhancement. Just pure Aruba bliss. I am so grateful for my time there and can’t wait until the next time I can visit. Will have to stay for two weeks next time!

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!

 

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#Handstand365 Challenge

day1

Day 1

This picture (above) was taken a few days before mother’s day in May 2013.  I was messing around in the front yard and decided to do a handstand for no reason. I also did a cartwheel on the sidewalk.  Seven years ago when we first moved to Texas, I could still do an aerial in our front yard. Not any more.

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day 2

Then I saw that my friend on Facebook started doing a challenge called #handstand365.  Lauren Rudick started it. She’s a yoga instructor who is popular on social media sites like Instagram and Facebook.  Here is her website and a link to the #handstand365 challenge:

http://www.avignayoga.com/

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-8936/the-365-day-handstand-challenge.html

 

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Day 3

I started doing a handstand every day, knowing I probably wouldn’t do one every single day for a year, but I wanted to try to do 365 of them nonetheless.  I started handstanding in the different places I went like the Dallas World Aquarium.  Yes, people looked at me, but I didn’t care!

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Day 5

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Day 6

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Day 7

Day 8

Day 8

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Day 9

I practiced at home a lot, including putting my feet up against the wall for support.  I usually do yoga daily at home, so I incorporated handstands into my practice just for fun and balance and practice being in the moment.

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Day 10

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Day 11

I went out with friends and did handstands in the hallway of the hotel we stayed at for July 4th.  I had a few drinks before this picture.  I fell down and crashed my leg pretty hard.

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Day 12-at the pool

Yes, I asked a lifeguard to take my picture doing a handstand at the pool.  Looking back, I can tell I was still suffering from bloating from gluten allergy.  I got off gluten in May 2012.

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Day 13

This is my spot where I exercise in front of the television at our house. I keep a yoga mat, physio ball, foam roller, strap, and weights in our living room so I can stretch and strengthen while we watch tv at night.

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Day 14

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Day 15

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Day 16

This picture was taken at Texas Rangers’ Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.  My husband coaches my son’s baseball team, and we had the end of the year party at a Rangers’ game.  Fun times!

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Day 17

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Day 18

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Day 19-at the baseball ballpark

Took this picture after one of my son’s baseball games.

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Day 20 at the gym

I love doing handstands in the pool!

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Day 21 – at Texas Tech Rec. Center

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Day 22 – Texas Tech University

I went to see my daughter at Texas Tech this summer and got in a few handstands while I was there.

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day 23

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Day 24 – at the Omni Las Colinas

Another hotel hallway handstand. Yes, my friends did them too, but we didn’t get pictures!

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Day 25 – at the Hickey’s house

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Day 26 – Destin, FL

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Day 27 – at Pelagic Surf Shop in Destin, FL

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Day 28 – Destin, FL

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Day 29-Destin, FL

The pictures from Destin were the last ones from the summer. My back pain flared up really badly, and I realized I wasn’t doing the hanstands yoga style. So I took a little break to learn to do them right. I wrote about it here.

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Day 30-at the gym

The other day, I decided to start again. Now I do them correctly (yoga style). I start in downward-facing dog, kick up with one leg and then bring up the other leg until I balance.  I’m going to keep trying until I get to 365.

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Day 31

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Day 32-at the gym

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!

Intuition: Listening to my body

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Sometimes in life, we have to stop listening to what other people say and listen to ourselves. In most cases, our intuition leads us in the right direction. But sometimes, society or even our own sense of adventure tells us otherwise, leading to internal conflicts.

I’ve noticed messages from my body in two main ways lately and am trying to take heed of their warnings: pain and food allergies/intolerance (digestive issues leading to eczema, hives, and other physical issues).

This is not the first time I’ve written about chronic pain. I never experienced daily pain until my NOLS Semester in the Rockies (1989), and I’ve never gone a day without pain ssince then. Perhaps I strained muscles and other soft tissues on my 95 day exploration and adventures in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. CT scans show some arthritis and bulging discs in the neck and low back, a hemangioma on T5, and signs of old compression fractures on T8 and T9, but they say nothing that should cause daily pain. In 1997, I had an osteochondroma removed from underneath my right scapula, and the doctors thought that would relieve most if not all of my thorascic pain. After five abdominal surgeries (two ovarian cysts and a dermoid tumor, appendix, and two umbilical hernia repairs) and seven surgeries on my right leg (five on the knee for torn meniscus, and two on the ankle for torn ATFL and tendons on both sides in the back) my body is not quite what it used to be. I’ve become accustomed to feeling stiff, sore, and achy and have changed my exercise regimen to include more physical therapy, yoga, biking, swimming, and other low-impact activities. Yet, I still have pain day to day. I seek the fine line between strengthening and conditioning and injury.

Yet, my spirit longs for more, so occasionally I get tempted to push my limits and challenge myself. The most recent example of this is back in May when I decided to join in the #handstand365 challenge. While I knew I couldn’t do a handstand every single day for a year, I thought I’d try doing them when I felt I could and still try to get to 365 of them. I made it to 29 so far. And now my neck hurts more than it used to, so I’ve been taking a break from it for a couple of weeks. I remember doctors and physical therapists telling me that becaues I have three bulging discs in my neck (C3/4, 4/5, and 5/6) that I should avoid lifting weights over my head. In fact, my physical therapist also told me to stop doing shoulder shrugs with weights and to start pulling resistance bands DOWN toward the floor to encourage those muscles (the levator scapulae?) to lengthen. I thought doing handstands would be ok since they are considered “yoga” moves and ignored earlier warnings not to do inversion exercises like headstands, handstands, and shoulder stands because of neck issues.

I learned how to do handstands as a child when I was a gymnast. I didn’t realize that doing them “yoga” style was different, but I finally figured that out when one of the #handstand365 teacher posted a video of her handstand instead of just a still picture. I noticed she went into it from downward-facing dog. I was going into them from a standing position. I noticed the yoga handstand was more fluid, slow, and easy on the body. When I tried to do them that way, it was much harder for me. I wasn’t even doing them right, duh! And I wasn’t always doing them as part of a yoga practice. handstands here and there in cool places and sometimes after having drinks with friends (not very yoga-like). I started noticing from the pictures that in almost every one, my body leaned to the left (my left leg is shorter than my right, maybe that’s why? I don’t know but check out the pictures). And what the pictures don’t show is that I land on my right leg every time (and that’s the one that’s had seven surgeries). My leg is getting more sore, and my neck is hurting more these days, so I hate to say it but I must listen to what my body is telling me and put my #handstand365 challenge on the back burner for a while. Maybe one day I will get stronger and be able to do them better, but I’m worried that putting my body weight on my hands like that is just as bad if not worse than lifting weights over my head. After so many surgeries in my past, I know that the consequences of getting hurt again are serious!

Since May, I’ve removed gluten from my diet again. A couple weeks ago, I also started eating a paleo diet. That means no grains, dairy, refined sugars and oils, and legumes (including peanut). I wrote another entry about getting diagnosed with gluten sensitivity. My dietician told me to go ahead and experiment with gluten-free products that include corn, hoping to open up more options for me. Based on past results, corn and sugar (they are in the same family) do not agree with me. I react and get sick every time I have them. I tried to tell her that, but she urged me to try it and see. So I did. And I got really sick; I call it ‘corn poisoning’ because that’s how it feels. After following up with my chiropractor at a natural wellness center, I took his advice to completely eliminate grains from my diet for a month and also try the paleo diet to give my digestive system a break. Apparently, my small intestine was spasming, and my stomach was irritated. For weeks, I’ve had a bad stomach and back ache, so I can tell something is very wrong. Having a diagnosis helps me keep a strict gluten-free diet, and hearing that my guts are as bad as they feel is enough to give me the self-discipline it takes to eat a paleo diet. I need to listen to my gut, literally, and eat the foods that make me feel healthy not sick. Apparently, the proteins in grains are difficult to digest, and dairy products are also inflammatory. Although it’s very difficult to eat paleo, after a month I will reassess and hopefully be able to introduce some brown rice and cheese at the very minimum. I really miss those two things! I’m definitely not going to reintroduce corn again. This is the second time I’ve eliminated it from my diet, and the cause/effect relationship is clear, so I am going to trust my instinct and away from it altogether. I don’t really feel the need to get a corn allergy test because I definitely react when I eat it.

Over the next months and years, I look forward to feeling healthier with less pain, and will focus on taking one day at a time.

30 Day Photo Challenge: Day 17 Action

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I was about to do a handstand in this picture. My husband took the picture. He never counts, just starts snapping pictures and then I can scroll through them when he is done and pick which one I like the best. Not sure why, but that’s how he rolls! I started participating in a #handstand365 challenge and have been having fun incorporating this skill into my days. Since handstands are also part of a yoga practice, I’m justifying doing them and hoping I don’t hurt myself! There have a been a few days when I feel too sore to do one, so I just give myself a break. To read more about the challenge, visit Avigna Yoga

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!

30 Day Photo Challenge: Day 2 Personality

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A friend inspired me to join the #handstand365 challenge of doing a handstand every day for a year. I haven’t quite kept up with a handstand every day, but I’ve done eight of them so far and am going to keep going until I get to 365 just for fun. I learned how to do handstands when I was a kid doing gymnastics. Now, I practice yoga, and although I haven’t done a handstand in years, it came back pretty easily.

I chose this as my personality picture because it shows that I’m up for a challenge, that I love yoga, and that I’m different from the rest of the crowd.

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!