Hello, I would like to derby please.


When I started playing derby, I would not have been brave enough to visit a practice with the #3 ranked league in the world, but last week, that’s just what I did. I was supposed to join Bay Area Derby Girls (BAD) for a skills practice on Tuesday, but travel complications resulted in me missing that. Having flown across the country with skate bag in tow, I wasn’t willing to fly home without using my gear, and that left me one option: Scrimmage with a bunch of skaters who are 100% capable of kicking my ass.

Let me tell you — I was terrified. I got dropped off at a warehouse in Oakland a little after dark. I saw some women who I guessed were skaters going into the building and called out for them to wait up so I wouldn’t have to wait outside to be buzzed in. Inside, although the space was completely new to me, the atmosphere felt right. Couches lined the outer apex of the track, and a couple of well loved Persian-style rugs provided a place to sit down and gear up. The usual derby conversations were happening — who’s here, who’s not, and the eternal question: What’s that smell?

I recognized a few faces of people I’d seen in WFTDA broadcasts or famous derby photos, yet I couldn’t remember their names. I tried to seem confident and to remember that these skaters are just like my league mates, but there’s one key difference: These were not my league mates. They were strangers. Very strong strangers.

A little small talk while gearing up was enough to settle my nerves for a minute, but then I set foot on the track. Unlike the dusty wood floor where we practice or the terrifyingly slick painted concrete at another local rink, the sport court at this facility felt hard and grippy, and I had no idea how to compensate for that. My stops felt jerky and clumsy. That was going to be a problem. I’m pretty sure my fear was written all over my face. Luckily, a really nice skater introduced herself, started chatting with me, and helped me remember that even if I performed terribly, these people are just fellow humans and would probably not eat me alive.

Soon, scrimmage started, and I tried to quickly learn the bench procedures of my temporary team, Berkley Resistance. I think I did it all wrong at first, but they were kind enough about clarifying. As with all scrimmages, this one went quickly, but this time I remembered a few key moments that were exciting and educational. Early on, I realized playing as though these were my own teammates wouldn’t work because BAD has a different play style than I’m used to. After a failed attempt at backwards bracing (not disastrous, but not super effective either), I let my pack know they could yell at me or push me in order to put me where I could be useful. I started asking questions when I had time and listening to the bench chat as much as possible. I plan to ask my teammates about a few specific scenarios and how I could have done better, but mostly, I keep replaying the mental reel from that night to absorb everything I experienced.

After scrimmage I was happy to join an off-skates workout, since traveling had thrown off my usual exercise schedule. I learned a lot about squat form and how to improve my core strength during this second hour. But the time flew by, and before I knew it, it was time to get going. I only stayed two hours, but I’ve been reliving them for the past several days.

After skating on Thursday night and flying home Friday, I was dying to play in our Saturday night bout back in my beloved Charm City, but snow and ice made the roads unsafe, and the game was cancelled. I didn’t even realize how much I was looking forward to the game until I felt the disappointment of cancellation. I got the news on my way to the arena and had to turn around and go back home. I stopped for groceries and fought the urge to hip check all the other shoppers.

Some of the best news out of this is that excitement about playing has now officially overshadowed the fear. That doesn’t mean I won’t feel the fear anymore, but it’ll be different.  I think skating with such a high level team and dealing with the nerves around that helped put the home season into perspective. Playing with my own team on a floor we literally built together in the city we call home is not scary at all in comparison. And in retrospect, even skating with strangers in a strange city wasn’t really anything to be scared of. It was fun, challenging, educational … all my favorite things. I don’t think I’ll ever travel without my skates again.

Thanks a million to the Bay Area Derby Girls for letting me join them for practice!

Bed Time Yoga

I know so many people who struggle to get a restful sleep. Many of us love our busy lives but can’t manage to settle down at bed time, resulting in a sense of being “tired but not sleepy.” We desperately want to sleep, but our chattering thoughts and never-ending to-do list keep us awake. But it doesn’t have to be like that! Here’s a short and sweet yoga practice to help you relax and settle down at the end of your day!

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    Check out my sweet derby number, still written in Sharpie from last night’s scrimmage. Go Junkyard Dolls! Think Pink!

    Sukasana (aka “easy pose”) with forward bend. Sit in a simple, cross-legged position. Take a deep inhale. As you exhale, hinge forward from the hip joint, letting your chest and belly come toward your legs. Your head can rest on the bed, or the backs of your hands. If your hips and back are tight, try placing a pillow or two under your head and chest. Rest here for as long as it’s comfortable, and allow your breathing to become gentle. Then, slowly sit up on an inhale. Change the cross of your legs, putting the opposite foot in front, then perform the stretch again. You may notice some differences from one side to the other, and that’s totally normal. While your forehead is resting on a supportive surface, imagine all those racing thoughts draining right out of you. Let go of excess energy and stress.

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    I love this pose because it’s so snuggly. For bonus relaxation points, ask your bedmate to lightly press down on your hips and low back. Use as many pillows as necessary to make this comfy!

    Supported child’s pose. Sit on your knees on the bed with your knees wide and your toes coming together behind you (but not overlapping). Place a couple of pillows or folded blankets between your knees, then hinge forward so your entire upper body can rest on the support. Lay your arms alongside the pillows and turn your head to one side. After several rounds of breath, turn your head the opposite direction.

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    Take up ALL the space! If you have room, you can also extend your legs. See if you could take up an entire California king by yourself.

    Supine twist. Lying on your back, pull your knees in to the chest. Let your arms rest at your side. If you have room, bring your arms all the way out to a “T” position, with palms facing up. As you exhale, let the knees sink toward one side. Try to relax so that your legs can come all the way down on the bed. Turn your head the opposite direction to complete the spinal twist. Rest here as long as it’s comfortable, then switch sides.

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    Every time you exhale, relax and let go a little more.

    Simple restorative with systematic relaxation. The simplest restorative pose is savasana (aka corpse pose), but you can add pillows under the knees to help your lower back release and use an eye pillow if it helps you relax. Over several rounds of breath, observe if any part of your body is still holding or working. Try to breathe right into those places. Allow the breath to untie the knots, and as you exhale, let go. Allow the body to become heavy and totally effortless as you drift off to sleep. As you become relaxed, you may want to roll onto your side or whatever your normal sleeping position is.

To really help you unwind, remember to cut down on caffeine in the late afternoon, and build up an enjoyable self-care routine that helps you quiet your mind. Read a book before bed instead of looking at a screen, and finally, make sure you’re sleeping on a comfortable and supportive mattress.

About their mattresses, Casper says, “We’ve created a mattress with the perfect combination of support, latex and memory foam that is the perfect firmness for everyone.” But you don’t have to take their word for it — they offer a 100 day trial period. If you decide the mattress isn’t right for you, Casper will schedule pickup and donate it to local charity or recycle it. Bonus points for ingenuity: The Casper comes in a box about the size of a small cabinet and basically expands as you unpack it. Neat, right?
Sweet dreams!

On Throwing Tantrums in Yoga Class

"drama" by Francisco Carbajal

Did I ever tell you about the time I ran out of a yoga class crying?

I was 18 or 19 probably, living in Texas, and homesick for my yoga studio. My first teacher really changed my life, and I was very attached to the way she taught. I missed yoga, though, so I was checking out studios in the area and I went to my first ever vinyasa class. First of all, there was like no meditation. We didn’t stop to feel anything or to breathe, and the teacher never talked about alignment. And the chatturangas were endless.

I had a meltdown. I wanted to scream at this teacher that she was doing it wrong. She said something about ballerina arms, and I lost my shit. I rolled up my mat and left. Another student followed me out and tried to encourage me to come back. “You’ll get the hang of it,” she said sweetly.

“It’s not me!” I said on the verge of a sob. “It’s this class. It’s horrible.” Or something like that. I was emotional and inarticulate. I left that studio without asking for my class fee back. Once in my car, I kicked myself — I could’ve used that $10, but I couldn’t go back in to ask for it.

Looking back, I’m fascinated by that experience. It was clearly a confrontation with my ego. I believed there was a right way to do yoga, and this class flew in the face of my belief, therefore I had a strong emotional reaction to it. What if I had never done yoga before and this was my first time trying it? Then it couldn’t have been wrong in my mind. I only had that reaction because of my attachment to what I believed yoga was supposed to be. My suffering was created by my attachment.

It took me a very long time to see that.

Aparigraha. Non-attachment. What if I could let go of my presuppositions about what yoga is “supposed to be” and just do my practice? What if I could allow that another person’s yoga is their own, their path is their path, their choice is their choice? What if I could accept the certainty of loss, of being wrong, of dying, and go on living anyway? What if I didn’t latch on to every shiny object that came my way? What would life feel like if my hands were open to give and receive without clutching?

Now that I’ve matured a bit (not too much), I wish I could write an apology letter to that teacher, or maybe a thank-you note for the realization she gave me quite by accident. Of course, I’m still attached to a lot of things, including my ideas about yoga. That’s just part of being human.

Photo by Francisco Carbajal

Finally Rolling

Dolls Group HugThis past weekend, I realized a goal I’ve been dreaming of, working for, and yes — dreading — for a year or more. Those who have heard me talking about derby for the past year may be wondering why it took so long, but there’s a method to the madness. When I tried out for Charm City Roller Girls, passing the tryout just meant I was allowed to practice with the league. I was not yet cleared for contact (i.e. hitting/blocking), nor was I eligible to scrimmage, be drafted, or play in a bout. After months of training and several rounds of skills assessments, I became eligible for the draft and got onto the Junkyard Dolls. Getting there took eight months, a lot of patience, much ego checking, and countless hours of practice.

Finally, on January 24, 2015, I played my first roller derby game with the Junkyard Dolls.

I wanted to tell you what it’s like to play your first roller derby game, but truthfully, I remember very little. It was a blur of noise and wheels and bodies. Going into the game, I was convinced I’d forgotten everything I’ve ever known about derby. Coming out of the penalty box, I was afraid I’d do something wrong and frantically asked the people around me, “Where can I come in … behind the pack right? Behind everyone?” Yes, Dirt. Behind everyone. In theory, I know the rules. In a state of panic, not so much.

My performance was what you could expect from a newbie: not glamorous, but I showed up.

My teammates, on the other hand, were better than I could’ve asked for. They were tough. They gave me instructions. The pushed me where I needed to go. They high-fived me when I did well. They forgave me when I fucked up. In general, they rocked. The Junkyard Dolls won. By a lot.

My biggest fear going into the game was that if we lost it would be due to my personal failure. By the second half, I realized it wasn’t possible for me to be the sole cause of our failure if we did lose.

As for what made us win, that’s a more complicated story. We played against the Night Terrors, and I think of them as being a great team because they have quite a few skaters I admire. However, they also got the most new recruits during the November draft, so for the moment at least, they seem to be in a rebuilding phase. This being the first game of the 2015 season, lots of people on all the teams struggled to get enough practice hours to qualify for Saturday’s game. The Junkyard Dolls were apparently the only team whose skaters all met the requirement, therefore we were the only team with a full roster of our own players. That’s a pretty obvious advantage.

At half time, we talked about what was working and what wasn’t. Holly thanked everyone for making their practice requirements because preparation really was our greatest advantage. That moment made me realize even good teams with great skaters can’t succeed if all their players aren’t engaged, not just on game day but for the month leading up to it.

In an interview on the CCRG blog a while back, Fed mentioned that the Dolls all have a ton of heart and really leave it all on the track. I think that’s another way of expressing the same thing — the Junkyard Dolls don’t just show up and expect to be great. They keep showing up until they get great … and then they do it some more because being great for one game isn’t enough.

As for me, greatness was not on my agenda this weekend. My primary emotion during this first game was fear, and my goal was to face it. I did that. Box checked. Now I get to work on the next thing, whatever that turns out to be. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Five Thoughts to Deepen Your Yoga Practice


What becomes of your yoga when you leave the mat? If you’ve begun to feel the positive effects of practice, it’s only natural to want that sense joy and well-being to carry through to the rest of your life. The physical and mental training that happen during a yoga class help us develop the focus, self-control, and physical health required to begin pursuing true yoga — or union — across the breadth of our lives. Here are five concepts that will help you deepen your experience of yoga and allow the effects of your practice to reverberate throughout your life.

Humility: Know that you are imperfect. Embrace it. If we’re being honest, we know what it would take to be the “perfect” person we think we’re supposed to be, and it’s just not happening. Why? Because being perfect sounds awful. Instead, accept your imperfections, be honest about who you are, and let go of the need to prove something.

How it deepens your yoga: Instead of comparing ourselves with everyone around us, trying to be the best and berating ourselves for our flaws, we start to focus on doing the best we can with where we are right here and now. We lose perspective for whether we are ahead of or behind others and instead start to view ourselves in terms of our quality of life and general happiness. And frankly, you’re less likely to get hurt this way.

Self-Study: In Sanskrit, it’s svadhyaya. Take a sincere look at your lovely, imperfect self. This applies physically, mentally, emotionally, and even socially. Observe yourself in your yoga practice, in your meditation, in your interactions with others, and in your time alone. Always be learning. Life is a learning experience, and you are your own school.

How it deepens your yoga: The more we learn about ourselves, the more we eliminate what is false. Our practice and our lives can be about the True Self instead of about the ego. This is hard because it requires us to face uncomfortable realities, but choosing to be present even in those difficult moments proves priceless.

Tapas: Heat. Drive. Find your fire, and fuel it. What’s moving you forward? Your heart keeps beating because it wants something. What is it?

How it deepens your yoga: Being in touch with what drives your practice is essential because there will come a time when you just don’t feel like doing it. What will keep you going even on those days? You can be driven to get healthy, cope with your depression, or find spiritual peace. You can dedicate 108 Sun Salutations, a month of meditation, or your morning run to any person or cause you’re passionate about. You can dedicate your entire life to something if you really believe in it, and that drive will make you unstoppable.

The Guru: Not some guy in robes. The truth we know without knowing. The teacher that taught the first teacher. The spark. That which brings light. It lives in all things, including you. Seek it.

How it deepens your yoga: Learning to listen to your own inner teacher gives you the ability to step out on your own, to question authority, and to seek knowledge through experience. There is great value in the teachers you will find on your path, but without the guidance of your own wisdom, you can be lead astray too easily! Listening to your guru can start on the mat, but once you learn to recognize that inner wisdom, you can consult it in any area of your life.

Ishvara: Some people call it God. That which is beyond comprehension. The fact that we exist. Intelligence. The infinite animal in which we are cells.

How it deepens your yoga: While the Guru is an internal and personal experience, Ishvara is external and universal. We can barely see beyond our noses and often lose sight of the vastness of the universe, which extends apparently infinitely in all directions. It is beautiful and divine, and in it keeps our drama in perspective. Remember to look outside yourself occasionally. The universe will remind you that you are very small, yet you have value because you are part of something much bigger than yourself.

photo credit: asteegabo via photopin cc