TADASANA

Funny how some poses established themselves by their sanskrit name when most are widely known by their english name. In case of Tadasana, I presume it's mainly for two reasons: it's easy to pronounce, and it sounds better/more rhythmic than 'mountain pose'. And it has another name too! In astanga yoga, it is usually refered to as Samasthiti as a kind of call to attention... A whole other topic though.

Tadasana or mountain pose is one of those deceptive postures that seem like nothing at first sight, easy peasy.




Tadasana is the basic standing posture and, as such, one of the main building blocks of the practice. Mastering its principles means we can apply them to all the other postures that follow. Pretty useful then!

Here are basic Tadasana instructions:

  Stand with your feet parallel and hip-width apart, arms by the sides, palms facing forward
  Lift and spread the toes, press the four corners of the feet into the ground, lift the arches
  Engage leg muscles (imagine you are about to jump off the ground, but you don't), lift knee caps, roll thighs back and out
  Draw tailbone down and pelvis slightly up towards the belly
  Breathe into the middle back, open chest and shoulders wide
  Extend up through the top of you head, underside of the chin is parallel to the floor

Those are the basics, a lot of fine tuning left to be done!

First of all, HIP WIDTH APART can be easily misinterpreted. Feet are hip width apart when the heels are directly underneath the sitting bones. Sitting bones are not the outer borders of your hips but, yes you guessed :), the bones at the bottom of your bum cheeks, the ones you sit on. To get the FEET PARALLEL, imagine a line that runs from the front of your ankles between the second and third toe, this line needs to be parallel, not the inner line of your feet.

Next, let's talk about the FOUR CORNERS OF THE FEET. They are: big toe mound (or the big toe ball, what is the best way to call this?), little toe mound, inner heel and outer heel. Little toe mound and big toe mound are straightforward, I think, but inner and outer heel can be difficult to differentiate! To know if both inner and outer heel is pressing down, I find it helpful to check the ankles. For example, if the inner ankle feels passive, it probably means I am pressing down through the outer heel but not so much through the inner heel... It takes a bit of practice and observation but knowing how to operate your feet is key in yoga practice.

Now that the four corners of the feet are pressing down, it should be pretty easy to lift the arches. This is a really great exercise for anyone suffering from FLAT FEET because: it strengthens all the little foot muscles and cultivates an awareness of what exactly is happening in the foot and how it can be affected.

As you are working your way up the legs and torso, all the way to the crown of the head, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the detail and forget the alignment of the feet. But the whole body needs to be working at the same time. Not so easy peasy then! Tadasana is an active posture that strengthens the whole body and is a great exercise for improving balance (close your eyes and see).

Possibly the most significant benefit of tadasana though is an improved posture: practicing tadasana means that a good posture eventually becomes second nature. Tadasana is usually the starting point for other standing poses but it should also be practiced on its own. And it can be done anywhere: at home, in a queue, on a bus, in a bar... wherever you are at any given time, you can do tadasana!

^_^

P.S. For more info, go to yoga journal, which has a great asana library and it's all free!

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TO QUIT IS NOT AN OPTION


There are times when things become a little challenging (in running, in life, in...) and the idea of quitting just seems so tempting. But to quit is to fail, right? In this day and age of ambition and achievement, sheer determination sees us through to the end no matter what.

But what if the end goal turns out disappointing and getting there isn't much fun? Never mind, no time for reflection, moving on to the next goal... I am absolutely not advocating giving up but since when it has become acceptable, desirable even, to spend our lives running around like headless chickens chasing who knows what, no breaks allowed...

... and this is where yoga comes in for me. Everything seems to fall into place on the mat, conundrums get resolved, the mind gets a breather... An hour later I am ready to join the chase again, and crawl to the finish line if needs be!

^_^

WHY YOGA // THOM YORKE

thom yorke // photo: richard burnbridge // dazed & confused

There are as many reasons to practice yoga as there are people who do... and all are valid.

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THE WARRIORS - PART II


warrior two is my favourite warrior hands down, and it makes both the body and mind feel just great. as i mentioned in part one, the warriors feel victorious, empowering and uplifting, and they really do! read on to find out more about number two.


just like with warrior one, anyone with heart problems or high blood pressure should exercise caution and modify the pose to make it less strenuous (for example the bent leg can be supported by a chair). warrior two is a strong standing pose with a focus on the legs and pelvic area. it stretches, strengthens and tones the leg muscles, stretches the groins, stimulates the abdominal organs, opens chest, lungs and shoulders.

according to the yoga journal, it is also said to be therapeutic for a number of conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, flat feet, infertility, osteoporosis and sciatica. i am unable to provide scientific prove at this point but let’s have a look at this again at the end of this post.


basic instructions would go something like this (there are different ways to get there, this is an example of one):


  stand with your feet about a leg's length apart, feet parallel
  turn right foot out by 90 degrees
  keep left foot as it is
  align right heel with left foot arch (variations are available)
  hips and torso are at about 45 degrees from right foot
  raise arms parallel to the floor, reaching out to the sides with palms down
  look ahead over the front arm (neck issues = keep looking straight)
  bend right leg to 90 degrees, this means thigh becomes parallel to the floor

... and that’s it, warrior two!


once in position, it is good to do a quick checklist of the pose starting from the foundation (always starting from the foundation!), feet in this case. the
FEET are perpendicular (at 90 degrees) to each other, ideally the heel of the front foot is aligned with the arch of the back foot. if it is tricky to keep balanced in this position, align the front heel with the back heel instead. and if it still doesn’t feel well balanced, widen the stance even more to begin with. the ideal position to aim towards eventually is heel to arch, though it may not be feasible for everyone and that’s absolutely fine - yoga is flexible :) both feet are really strong, pressing with all four corners (big toe pad, little toe pad, inner heel, outer heel - i will talk about this soon, promise) into the ground, arches lifting.

again, as in warrior one, the FRONT KNEE alignment is very important as knees are famously (or infamously? what's the correct english?) injury prone: the knee is directly above the ankle and never further forward than that; the knee is pointing forward over the second and third toe. if bending the front leg all the way to 90 degrees is not quite happening at the moment that is fine but the knee still needs to stay behind the ankle and point over the second and third toe.

the
BACK KNEE also needs some attention here: it is easy to hyperextend it in this position, ie stretch it too far and lock the knee which leaves the tendons vulnerable. to protect the knee, microbend it slightly (ie bend it so little it is not even visible) and keep the muscles all around the leg strong, that means front, back, inner and outer sides of the lower and upper leg are all working hard. this actually happens almost automatically when the feet are strong (foundation!) as that's where the energy is coming from.

moving on up, warrior two can feel a little awkward in the
PELVIC AREA, partiularly for someone with tight hips (= most people, sporty or not). there are a few things to do to stop anything from jamming and pinching. first of all,  move the bum back a little to make space for thighs to roll in, back and out (in other words, stick the bum out, just like in the downward facing dog... still with me?). then, keeping the thihgs rolled back and out, move the tailbone down towards the floor to correct the overarching of the LOWER BACK, and at the same time the pelvis will lift up slightly towards the belly. now stretch up and out and feel the power :)

oops, i don’t seem to be able to keep the posture posts short and sweet... but there is a lot to say! and i promised to have a look at some of the less obvious benefits of the pose as listed in the yoga journal.


DISCLAIMER: please note that the below are my own personal observations based on my yoga studies and my own personal practice and experience. to be quite honest, it frustrates me when i find information like a list of benefits of a pose but no explanation because i want to understand the why, and so it makes me go and try to do just that through both research and practice. however, i am not a medical doctor and any scientific input and/or corrections are most welcome!

FLAT FEET: keeping feet strong and lifting the arches in standing postures helps tone the foot muscles. i think this one is self-evident...

INFERTILITY: the posture requires the body to get in a position where some pressure is applied to the abdominal organs which means that the organs get a gentle internal massage. this internal massage will increase the blood flow and, therefore, supply of oxygen and nutrients, and support the body’s inherent ability to regenerate and heal.

CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME: stretching the arms out to the side (turning palms up intensifies the stretch even more) stretches and releases the median nerve that runs from the neck in front of the shoulder, over the inner elbow and through the wrist to the hand (i found the handy illustration below here). this in turn might help relieve symptoms.





source: webmd.com

if you made it all the way here... wow, thanks for reading and have a beautiful weekend!


xo

p.s. you can find a great anatomical study of the pose 
here, scroll down to virabhadrasana II.

KEEP GOING


Easier said than done... particularly in this grey, wet and cold London winter... 
Not that I aspire to running every day, but I am trying really hard to not use the weather excuse, because finishing a run feels soooo good.

And the same goes for yoga. It doesn't matter how long the session is or how challenging, so much as it happens every day, even for just a few minutes. Keep going!

^_^

MIXTAPE 01


some of my favourite music this month... enjoy! xo

01. "another love" - tom odell
02. "waiting like a wolf" - alek fin
03. "the cigarette duet" - princess chelsea
04. "the here and after" - jun miyake
05. "play with fire" - the rolling stones
06. "honest" - band of sculls
07. "roses" - cherry ghost
08. "dayglo reflection" - bobby womack feat lana del rey
09. "sunset" - stevie wonder
10. "beat of the drum" - morcheeba

play with spotify

IT'S TODAY AGAIN



Stop and say hello to today, again. Because yesterday is gone and tomorrow never comes. Have a beautiful day! ^_^


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PATANJALI WHO?

So, as I said a couple of weeks ago, I have been studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Sutras are a collection of 195 aphorisms divided into four chapters. The first chapter instructs on meditation (the most important aspect of yoga according to Patanjali), the second chapter is about additional practices, the third chapter discusses supernatural abilities and the fourth chapter is about enlightenment. Nothing is really known about Patanjali and so he remains a kind of a mystical figure.

The Sutras got me thinking about their relevance in a wider sense and about yoga in general. How exclusive yoga can seem. How often people might just think: what Sutras, Patanjali who, what's the chanting all about? And what about speaking of Sutras and other texts in open classes, how/if to present them at all? Let's face it, the whole thing can appear a little religious/sect-ish when heard out of context and/or for the first time. I am rambling now so let's have a look at an example.





I went to a class recently where the teacher mentioned the sutra above which is from the second chapter... I am not quite that far in my reading. There was no introduction, no explanation, no insight. She simply read the text in sanskrit, then in english, then made us chant it. The exercise felt a bit contrived and a bit irritating and I felt that I gained or learned absolutely nothing from it. Was it me or was it the technique? Back in my newbie yogi days, I probably would have run and never come back...

I had been dipping in and out of yoga for years before finally embarking on a dedicated personal practice. The thing is, even though I always felt somehow attracted to yoga, every time I came to a class, something seemed to have gone wrong. A common thread through my early experiences was a general air of snobbery, superiority and exclusivity in the classes I attended, which I found so off putting that it always took me a long time afterwards to try again. I must have been really unlucky because I'd hate to think that this impression would be a norm. Or is it?

As I see it, one of the the challenges of the presentation of yoga (once you 'get in' and become acquainted with the terms) is how to stop yourself from becoming one of those types who speak in jargon and yoga shorthand, and as a result come across as snobby and alienating by default. How to present the ancient yoga wisdom in a modern, relevant and understandable way and without sounding like a new age weirdo? Yoga should be flexible and democratic. What do you think?

^_^

I'VE BEEN THINKING...


I have come across this article today. It talks about life in the 20s but feel free to substitute with any period of life. Are you making the most out of your life? What's the honest answer?

Happy weekend!


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COLOUR ME GOOD

every man and his dog seem to be designing and selling cards these days. don't get me wrong, there is a lot of good stuff around... but how did it ever become so expensive? we are talking minimum close to £5 a go for anything half decent!

well... i seem to have a lot of potential card making material lying around so i thought i'd give it a go! besides some old watercolours, i have lots of old photo prints and little cards that i picked up when travelling, leftover / incomplete card packs... the possibilities seem endless :)



i know i know, there is room for improvement. but hey, it is a start and i'll be definitely giving it a go again. i might even make this a year of handmade cards all round. do you make your own cards? what is your trick?

xo

TODAY

Today is tuesday. Nothing special about today apart from the fact that it is today. Not yesterday, not tomorrow. Today is all there is so let's make it a good one!


THE WARRIORS - PART I

yoga wouldn't be the same for me without the warrior postures. the warriors feel victorious, empowering and uplifting. warrior two was a love at first sight, warrior one was not ... but it has grown on me over time, slowly but surely. now when i put everything into this pose, i get my money's worth (figuratively speaking of course). read on to find out how.



fairly strenuous, it is not a posture for the faint of heart (literally, it is not great for anyone with heart problems or high blood pressure) but is a great all rounder for the body: standing, backward bending, balancing. the warrior tones the ankles and knees, stretches the front hip and thigh and opens up the chest and lungs.

basic instructions would go something like this (there are many ways to get there, this is an example of one):

  stand with your feet about a leg's length apart, feet parallel
  turn right foot out by 90 degrees
  turn left foot in by 45 degrees
  square hips in the direction of the right foot
  bend right leg to 90 degrees
  inhale arms up over your head

... et voila, warrior one!

but, of course, this is just the beginning, there is quite a bit of fine tuning of the pose to be done. first of all, what does it really mean to SQUARE YOUR HIPS? the hips are square when they are symmetrical, both horizontally and vertically. (that's right, i thought i'd throw in a bit of geometry.) in other words, one hip should not be lower or higher than the other (horizontal symmetry), and it should not be in front or behind the other either (vertical symmetry). this is the ideal to work towards.

in warrior one, squaring the hips means that (based on the above instructions) the left hip is moving subtly forward and the right hip backwards. this might affect the position of the BACK FOOT if the hips are not very open.

if the hips are not very open, square hips and back foot at 45 degrees with the heel on the ground may be tricky. the good news is that there are some variations available (there are always variations available!): you can either place a support under the heel or lift the heel completely and point foot forward as in a high lunge. the second option also makes the hip squaring exercise easier.

quite possibly the most important alignment to watch in this pose is the FRONT KNEE: it has a tendency to roll inwards and, as a result, all sorts of bits and bobs in the knee get thrown off balance and exposed to injury. so there are two things to bear in mind: first, the knee should be directly above the ankle and never further forward than that. second, the knee should be pointing forward over the second and third toe. stick with these two principles and your knees will be fine.

this is getting a little bit long now, sorry, but i can't skip a final point on the LOWER BACK. with the front knee bent and the other leg extended back, the pelvis likes to tilt forward and in turn cause compression the lower back (painful and generally bad for the back), particularly if the front hip of the back leg is tight (hello runners, cyclists, everyone). the action required here is to lift the pelvis forward and up and lengthen the tail bone down towards the floor. a common move in yoga and an incredibly useful one.

ok, all tweaks in place, it is time to stretch up, open the chest wide and feel the power of the warrior (and yourself)!

xo

p.s. you can find a brilliant anatomical study of the pose here, scroll down to virabhadrasana I.

NEW BEGINNINGS



Today is new moon. New moon marks the beginning of the month in many cultures: muslim, hebrew, native american, hindu, buddhist, to name a few. New moon is also significant in, for example, bio-dynamic agriculture (not a new age invention but really a return to how things used to be done back in the day).

Traditionally, in most ancient cultures, new moon marked the beginning of a new cycle and in some modern cultures still does. But mostly, we have become pretty disconnected from the universal cycles as if they had no impact on us (er, what moves the oceans and causes tides? And if it moves the oceans what does it do to us?). Instead, we go by the civil calendar and as for new beginnings, we go a bit bonkers making never-ending lists of futile resolutions once a year, on the new year’s day. 

I have never really done the new-year-resolution-making thing, but it always amazes me how much enthusiasm people can work up for the first few days or weeks of the year becoming their new improved selves... until they slip back into old habits and beat themselves up about failing miserably, again. The last thing you need in the middle of January!

So how about making this whole exercise a little more realistic and achievable? How about breaking it down to monthly cycles where the end is in sight and the motivation to carry on doesn’t wane purely because of the vast expanse of time ahead? Could working with the lunar cycles be the magic ingredient to sticking at it (whatever IT may be)? I am making this my personal challenge.

Going by the calendar months might be more practical but I have always had a thing about the moon, AND it will be really very yogic of me to set my intentions for the following month at the time of new moon. ^_^

So on this new moon, I will take a minute to sit down and write down what I plan to create and achieve in the next month; a few things or many, big or small, tangible or not. And then I’ll do it all over again on the next new moon, and the following new moon, and again... you get the gist. Wish me luck! To be continued...


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WINTER BLUES


winter can be a toughie in good old england... rain and grey skies descend and stay for what seems like forever. people from sunnier parts of the world always ask, how do you manage in that crazy weather? well, london has a lot to offer to forget the weather (or to forget anything really) but that is another story. 

out of town, the north sea beaches can be the most beautiful thing, even in the middle of january. and if you are lucky, the sun might come out for a few minutes, although the coastal mist definitely has its own mysterious kind of beauty and can actually feel quite cosy too. so let's get out there and banish those winter blues :)

the photos below were taken by me in holkham, norfolk. if you fancy seeing more of the area, check out bringing the outside in, a local gallery specialising in landscape photography and coastal artefacts.







xo

I WILL GO FOR THAT RUN...

... as soon as I have reorganised my wardrobe, repainted that wall, watered all the flowers, replied to all my emails... aaarrrggghhh! Procrastination is here, must be banished.

I meditate and do yoga every day, no problem (quite the opposite). In an attempt to include some cardio exercise in my routine, I have decided to run at least once, ideally three times a week. Nothing major, 5k at a time will do.

I am a sporadic runner; not that I wouldn't enjoy the activity --  because I do -- but it does take some coaxing me out of the house and into the cold dark winter outside. It's hard to explain but sometimes getting out to run feels like the biggest task in the entire world.

Apparently, the answer is: Just do it. Don't give yourself any space to think about it. Hmm.

In the meantime, I am reading up on some running inspiration. A friend of mine recently recommended a Haruki Murakami's memoir called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Favourite quote so far:


























Do you run? How do you KEEP running? I'd love to hear form you!

^_^

IT'S IN THE NAME


Why serendipity, you might ask... I discovered this beautiful word a few years ago and it was a love at first sight. At the time, I was looking for a word or a phrase (to get tattooed) that would encapsulate my outlook on life. I wanted to express the randomness and unpredictability of life and how that was a good thing. It took a while, the right thing just wasn't coming up... Until I came across Freja's arm tattoo. Life has always been serendipitous and now I had a name for it too!



















The dictionaries offer a number of definitions, some of which roll off the tongue a lot better than others. My two favourites are:



The term serendipity was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754 but its usage was rare before the 20th century. Walpole was inspired by the Persian tale 'The Three Princes of Serendip*' in which the heroes 'were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of'.

Serendipity is not a passive concept though, it is not just going to happen, we need to put one and one together and then act upon it. All the great stuff in life would most likely be missed without attention, intellect and a readiness to adopt and change. So I will keep working on my life design, have my eyes open for whatever might be coming my way and, all along, allow for plenty of flexibility. Because in life, like in architecture or yoga, solid foundation is weak without flexibility.


*Serendip is an old name for sri lanka derived from arabic Sarandib


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DOWNWARD FACING DOG

‘This will be your resting pose’, you hear all over yoga studios. Usually at a time when the downward facing dog does not feel very restful at all. But a few planks, warriors and half moons later, it becomes a refuge. You happily come back to downward facing dog to catch you breath. Finally I understand what B.K.S. Iyengar meant when he wrote in Light on Yoga: ‘When one is exhausted, a longer stay in this pose removes fatigue and brings back the lost energy’. There we go, confirmed by THE authority on yoga.

As a beginner, I used to dislike the downward facing dog quite a bit. It hurt everything, particularly my wrists and my shoulders. Then it turned out I was doing it all wrong and, with a few simple alignment fixes, the dog suddenly became a joy to behold. Read on to find out how.






Let's get into position:

 Come onto all fours, place hips over knees and hands slightly forward of shoulders
 Make sure the wrist creases are parallel with each other and facing forward (I will elaborate on this at a later stage)
 Next, tuck the toes under and, with exhalation, slowly lift the knees off the ground
 Don't go all the way for now: keep the knees slightly bent and the heels off the ground

Solid FOUNDATION, hands and arms in this case, is the first element to focus on. Every single hand and arm muscle needs to be engaged: fingers, palms, forearms, upper arms, the whole lot. Otherwise the whole body weight presses down on the wrist joint = not good. With the hands strong and finger pads pressing towards the ground, the weight will be instead distributed throughout the palms and fingers.

Next, a bit of ROLLING IN AND OUT action to keep the shoulders and upper back wide: forearms are rolling in = towards each other; upper arms are rolling out = away from each other. This helps the shoulder blades to widen, flatten on the back and move down the towards the tailbone. It's like a domino effect up and down the body.

UPDATE: An important note on the sequence of actions of the arms. First of all, the top of the armbones need to pull back into the shoulder sockets to fully integrate (armpits should feel hollow as a result). Next, the biceps (upper arms) roll out to widen the shoulders. And finally, the forearms roll in a little bit to balance the action of the upper arms.

With the foundation sorted, lengthen your tailbone and lift the sitting bones towards the ceiling, in other words: STICK YOUR BUM UP IN THE AIR. Yes, that's a technical term :) If the bum is not sticking out, the lower back gets strained. This is one of the key alignments of this pose and the best way to achieve it is the following. With the knees still slightly bent, roll the inner thighs back and out (hope this makes sense!). Keeping this, it is then safe to start straightening the legs without hurting the lower back. And finally, extend the heels towards the ground.

Completely straight legs (without locked knees) and heels all the way down on the floor is the ideal (don't confuse with optimal) version of the pose. But, with tight hamstrings being quite the norm these days, it is absolutely enough and ok to IMAGINE the knees straightening and the heels moving towards the ground rather than actually touching it. SAFETY FIRST, you don't want a sore lower back or any other part of you. 

Enjoy the resting pose!

^_^

P.S. You can find a brilliant anatomical study of the pose here, scroll down to Adho Mukha Svanasana.

P.P.S. If you made it all the way down here and liked what you read, why not sign up for my newsletter to get your weekly serendipity (and more) straight to your inbox!

A LIFE TO LOVE

it's no secret that it's all really in the mind: relationships, work, money, happiness, everything...

or is it? not everyone might agree. i do. the tricky part is putting it into practice. i know that when my confidence in something is unshakeable, there is no stopping me. but i also know that when i believe something might go wrong, it most likely will even though i really really want it to go right. the culprits here are doubt and fear.

in my case, doubt and fear creep in when i don't really have a plan, or when the plan is quite vague... the more detailed the picture of what i want to achieve, the less room for doubt and fear there is to set in. so maybe it's not all in the mind after all, maybe the mind is all lost without a good solid design?

i know this in theory but don't always make time for good detailed planning in reality. another new habit to work on then!

xo

ONE SUTRA AT A TIME


Like every good yoga student, I have been delving in and out of the yoga sutras, a core yogic text written many moons ago by the ancient sage Patanjali. I have decided that this year, I will do this great work proper justice and study it in depth. The whole thing, one sutra at a time.

Now, if I spend one day on one sutra I should be done sometime in mid-july... but, that’s not really the point (I might be slower or I might be quicker). The point of this exercise is to dedicate some time each day, besides asana and meditation, to the study of yogic philosophy, its origins and history. The point of this exercise is to work on good habits. As Patanjali says quite early on (sutra I.14), continuity and regularity is more important than how long we spend on practice at a time - so, here we go! 

There are many different translations of the sutras available on the market which can, no doubt, be confusing and/or overwhelming (or both, as in my case). I got my copy (the one in the photo) from the legendary Carlos Pomeda during my teacher training and since Carlos is a real authority, I am sticking with this one.

^_^

2013... LET’S DO THIS!

it's a time of big changes for me: new full time career (teaching yoga), a total lifestyle overhaul (no more practically living at airports and spending half my life up in the air), new blog (yep, i am joining the rest of the world and jumping on the blogging bandwagon) and who knows what else new is in store!

i have set up this little blog primarily to have a place for keeping track of myself and making sense of it all. it will be a lot of yoga, interspersed with some food, style and design (the designer in me is not going anywhere). that’s the plan anyway...

all these changes and new challenges make my head spin a little, so even though not one to usually make new year’s resolutions, i thought the time had come for some new habits and sat down to write my list of resolutions. the list started of pretty long and detailed but the more i thought about it the more it became obvious that the whole thing really just boils down to one single resolution:

GET OVER MY FEARS AND MY LAZINESS AND JUST DO IT. fewer excuses, less hesitation, less procrastination, less planning and MORE DOING is what i am intending for 2013.

they say start as you mean to go on so... i’m off to DO. 

H A P P Y   N E W   Y E A R  !!!