Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

So today I worked and did yoga, and now I'm sitting in my room stalking people on facebook... it doesn't so much feel like Christmas as it feels like a normal day.

Kripalu tries to pretend that Christmas isn't happening. I guess mostly because there are a bunch of people here trying to pretend the same thing? For some it's a retreat from hectic holidays, for some a retreat from a lonely time when you're not supposed to be lonely. Good ol' Kripalu, always the retreat center.

We did have a special meal, which was nice, but the only sign of Christmas is a tree for the volunteers that is relegated to the basement.

I'm not really bothered, I had a nice time with my mom and Grandma last week in Florida, and my Dad and Stepmom came to visit Kripalu for a couple nights, and left today.

But I did want to say Merry Christmas to those I love and am far away from

- there are too many of you to phone individually! (which I've realized will always be true -that's what happens when you travel around the world collecting friends and then go live in a place far away from all of them and your family... serves me right I suppose! but I do still love you)

Christmas Morning at Kripalu:

Sun Dogs in the icy sky:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Free, at Last!

I ate some honey today, it was quite sweet.

Free? well, not really. For me, freedom would be if I didn't care that today was December 8th because all my sugar cravings had ceased.

I must say, they have significantly dropped off in the last week. So that, on the first day in a month where I could have any sweet thing I wanted, I just had some honey and a couple pieces of chocolate, and didn't want much else.

But I did indeed care that today was the 8th. The other night I actually had a dream that I came across some really nice chocolate and took some ONLY to save for the 8th, and the next thing I knew, I was stuffing my face! I woke up feel ing all guilty and stressed out... Layered, I tell you. This sweets things in layered in my subconscious.

I learned some very interesting things in my month:

1) Sweets are Stealthy:

When you're not eating something, you begin to notice how often you would've eaten it on a normal day. In my month I noticed all the unnecessary sweets I would normally consume.

There are the obvious ones like cookies and cake, but I started noticing jam, granola, soymilk, every time I would've put honey in my tea, how many sauces for lunch and dinner have sugar in them, even soups... juice, crackers, bread, maltose, dextrose, maltrodextrin, sucrose, fructose... it's everywhere!

2) Sweets are like Crack:

Okay, maybe not that bad, but even a little bit makes you want more. I had a spoonful of cranberry sauce on thanksgiving, and for days my cravings were in full tilt! They had been abating a bit, but after that I thought about sugar all the time.

3) Sweets Numb Your Tastebuds:

This one isn't going to be popular, but the most interesting, least expected thing I noticed was that I tasted everything more.

One might expect that my sense of taste for sweetness would become more sensitive (which it definitely did), but what surprised me was that all the other flavors came through more clearly as well. I stopped putting salt on things, plain vegetables or brown rice were more delicious than ever.

Also, I desired lighter, healthier foods. It made all my other dietary goals easier. Bread, cheese and anything rich or heavy turned me off. I couldn't eat it. Give me steamed Kale! Bring on the Spinach! Collards here I come!

Last night I stopped eating the piece of bread I had thought would be so good, and got a second bowl of plain steamed collards... because my tastebuds wanted it. Who am I?

In conclusion, I would recommend this experiment to anyone interested in their health and their body (I also happened to lose about 10 lbs, if that's your thing).

Life is not always how we think it is, and doesn't have to be like it's always been.

In other news, this is what Kripalu looks like: (hurray!!)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Exploring the Yoga of Life

Before I came to Kripalu, my Dad asked me why I do yoga. My stock answer is "because everything in my life is better when I do yoga".

And it's true.

I feel better emotionally, physically, and spiritually, I'm calmer and more present, I enjoy things more, I eat better and have more energy. I make better decisions and my mind is clearer.

The other thing I really love about yoga though, is that it's a metaphor for life. On a very real level for me, yoga is life/life is yoga, because it's a way of looking at things, and a way of living.

Kripalu's slogan is "exploring the yoga of life" and I couldn't think of better words to describe why I'm here.

Yes, I'm here to live my yoga.

The yoga that most people are familiar with (asana: postures) is only one part of it, but it is where most people start and is a very important part of the path.

Asana is like practice for life:

We purposely put ourselves in stressful situations (postures that require strength and/or flexibility), to practice dealing with whatever comes up (discomfort, anger, fear, frustration). It brings into focus how we react to situations in daily life. It breaks down our patterns so they're easier to see.

How you are in yoga, is very likely how you are in life.

When your muscles start to quiver, do you immediately back out of the pose? or do you stay steady? Do you push you edge?

If you usually back out, can you stay in? If you usually push, can you back off without judging yourself?

If the teacher guides the class into a pose you've never done, do you sit back and say I can't do that? or do you try it out?

I think my favorite thing about yoga (and it shares this with outdoor adventure activities) is that it allows people to do things they thought they couldn't do.

Which hopefully prompts the question: what else in my life can I accomplish that I think I can't?

Through my experiences as a TRiP leader I saw many students climb a rock they thought was impossible or raft a whitewater river that scared the crap out of them. To see that look of surprised confidence on their faces was the most rewarding part of my job. I'm not a yoga teacher (yet) but I can imagine it's a similar experience.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tempting Fate

Week 4 of my 1-month fast from all things sweetly delicious.

Right now I work in Veggie Prep (VP) to earn my keep here at Kripalu.

As much as I love chopping Kale for hours on end (actually, I really do like my job), I'm moving on next semester to learn a thing or two about commercial baking! I got accepted to work in the bakery for next semester (only two volunteers get to do this awesome job).

I've been going into the bakery on my days off from VP to train and get a feel for the place so I'm not starting from scratch in January (pun intended).

I love baking so much, that when I'm done in there, it still feels like I had a day off.

It puts me in a bit of a situation for right now though...

Baking brownies and not eating any?
Throwing away the last little bit of cookie dough?
Washing off a perfectly lickable spatula full of icing?

One day last week, I found myself with fingers inches from my mouth, maple syrup dripping off them after a slight spill... years of tasting-while-I-cook habits propelling my movements... then slowly, deliberately, I brought my fingers down to my apron and wiped them off as tear slid down my cheek (okay, so it wasn't quite that dramatic, but it was a big step for me!)

December 8th, I have my eye on you.

ps. It's SNOWING!!! (after 8 years living in places that don't have winter, I'm actually excited that this is the view from my window)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sugar Update

I was a little delayed in writing the last post. I in fact stopped eating sweets on the 8th, and so today marks the beginning of my third week.

But lets rehash...

Week 1: easy peasy! I was full of resolve and also the support of my community here, as I made my intentions public (pride won't let me fail now!)

Early Week 2: Definitely a little withdrawal... I was grouchy one day and my co-worker said "Geez Ali, go eat some sugar or something!" but overall not too hard.

Really cool opportunity to observe my patterns:

While I have been quite aware of certain patterns (sweets as comfort, sweets as reward, sweets as distraction) I wasn't really aware of how much of my eating was quite impulsive and "under the radar"

how many times I almost just grabbed something and stuffed it in my mouth without being aware of whether or not I even wanted it (and realizing that my body pretty much never wants it, but my mind wants it a lot).

Late Week 2/Today: I just want something sweet! and NOT a fucking sweet potato! (but yes, they do taste sweeter than ever before)

The bakery is next door to veggie prep (where I work) and I swear they must be trying to make me fail.

The two days ago they put 3 (THREE!!) brownies on the drink table and I must've walked by them 18 times. Usually any bakery gifts are gone within minutes, but these sat there all. day. GAHHHH!

Then today, there was an entire pan on cranberry walnut muffins leftover from breakfast and the dining room staff just decided to give it to veggie prep... and, oh wait - the bakery gave us some cookies they messed up... AHHHH

I was told the day three would be hardest and cravings would subside after that, well apparently for me it's week 3.

Another interesting observation is that mealtime has gotten a whole lot less exciting for me. I used to spend a very good portion of my day thinking about food

what I had just eaten, what was for the next meal, what I was cutting, what I wanted to eat that night, what I might eat on my break, what I hadn't eaten in a while and missed

but it's really gotten less interesting... good? maybe.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


doo doo doo doot doo doo ohhh honey honey....

It's over. We're breaking up. And just like any other relationship, we need to spend some time apart before we can try to be friends again.

So I've decided to give up sweets for one month. This will be hard, as I have a ravenous sweet tooth, and use sweet things to make myself feel better when I feel sad, reward myself when I feel good, give me energy when I have none and several situations in between.

I thought about just giving up sugar, but in a place like Kripalu where honey, agave and brown rice syrup are available at any given moment and most baked goods are made with other sweeteners like maple syrup or sucanat, I figured that would be too easy.

Besides, it's the pattern of eating sweet things I want to address more than simply taking sugar out of my diet.

I will also continue to avoid gluten and dairy as I have been doing since I found out during my elimination diet that they don't do good things for my body, but the main focus will be sweets, so if I want a piece of bread sometime this month, I'm just gonna go for it.

Why give up sweets? I'm doing it for several reasons


I want to see how my body feels and what my energy levels are like without sweets in my system.

Sweets depress the immune system and with winter coming for me for the first time in 9 years, I can use all the sickness fighting ability I can get.


Besides the challenge of disciplining myself not to eat something I love and have probably eaten just about every day of my life until now, I want to unravel my patterns.

I know that I eat emotionally sometimes, and also use food as a reward, but despite analyzing this issue for a while now, I haven't made much progress on understanding it, and can't seem to make changes in my behavior.


As part of the volunteer program, we have weekly classes about yoga called "Off the Mat". Two weeks ago, we had a lecture about the yamas and niyamas (guiding principles/practices of yoga such as non-violence and contentment). Our teacher asked us to choose one to work with for the next several weeks and I chose Brahmacharya (restraint, conservation of energy, recognition of the divine as omnipresent).

I found it hard to keep this in my mind and so I devised this 1-month sweet restraint practice because I knew it would consistently remind me to examine Brahmacharya in my life.

Also, in general, one of the practices of yoga (as in buddhist mindfulness) is to be aware of your cravings and aversions, rather than simply reacting to them (that brownie looks delicious - hmm I find myself eating a brownie, how did this happen?)

So I'll keep you all posted about any discoveries I make on this journey. Support in the form of blog comments or snail mail is highly appreciated.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Thank you for all the wonderful birthday calls, cards, e-mails and facebook wall posts. They sure make a girl feel special.

I had quite a nice birthday here at Kripalu. A community member was leaving and we had a combined "Farewell Troy and Happy Birthday to all the Scorpios" party in the volunteer common area complete with drumming, dancing and a snackluck (we get free meals here, so instead of a potluck we all brought our favorite snack).

The next day I went bouldering with some friends

So fun!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Addicted to Tension

Last week I did a program with Seane Corn called Detox Flow. We did a lot of intense postures, building heat and twisting and detoxing our bodies with yoga. What I wasn't expecting was her emphasis on emotional detox as well.

She said on the first night "We are addicted to our tension" and I thought: sure lots of people, but not me, I'm pretty flexible and get massages, I have an active job and I don't sit in front of the computer a lot. I thought of people with office jobs and long commutes, yeah it's fair to say that lots of people are addicted to their tension.

Oh wait - she meant beyond the physical body...

As she kept talking I realized that I am quite addicted to tension in my life.

Pay the bill at the last minute? tension
Start studying the night before the exam? tension
Minimally planned travel? tension
Leave thing unsaid in a relationship? tension

I may not have much muscle tension, but I have tons of emotional tension.

Tension between the known and the unknown, between desires and fears.

Not all bad of course; some tension in life is what keeps it exciting and as a lover of adventure, I cherish that.

What Seane's workshop made me realize though, is that I have to own that tension because much of it I choose for myself, and if I realize that it's not serving me, I can choose to let go of it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


It's been really nice to settle into Kripalu.

Beginning March of this year, I've packed and unpacked my bags a ridiculous number of times:

Starting with packing up all my stuff in Chiang Mai, then staying in about 15 different places while traveling Bali, Malaysia & Southern Thailand, then living out of my suitcase back in Chiang Mai for a few weeks, lugging everything back to Florida, visiting Gainesville, packing for Canada while unsure whether I would be following that with a stay at Kripalu, visiting Padg in Toronto, going to Guelph, up to Muskoka, right back to Guelph again, a couple trips to Ottawa... in sum, I haven't felt able to unpack literally or metahporically for a while.

Almost immediately upon arriving at Kripalu though, I felt at home. I unpacked all my possessions the first night, and have since been unpacking emotionally.

I had planned to stay at Kripalu for the minimum 4 months, but have since decided to stay for at least another 4 (till May). The program here is one of deep self-inquiry and personal growth and in order to really "unpack" some of the issues I'd like to delve into, I need to know I'll be here for a while.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Apple Cider & Pumpkin Pie

If you've been reading since I started blogging, you might remember how much I missed Fall last year (to the slightly desperate degree of downloading desktop wallpaper pictures from google...)

But this year is completely making up for it. Yeah, Fall in New England is pretty incredible.

I've been hiking around the property, smelling that decomposing-leafy smell and stopping ridiculously often to bend down and say "This one! This one is so beautiful!"

I've been having fun getting crafty too

and every weekend Kripalu gets a big delivery of fresh apple cider... and the new fall menu is replete with squash and pumpkin and apple and parsnip dishes including butternut squash lasagna - amazing (totally worth the post-consumption gluten/dairy stomachache).

I'm making the most of it while it lasts, because whispers of winter are already in the air...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Living at a Yoga Retreat Center

So it turns out that Kripalu is kind of a big deal.

Last week CBS came and filmed a yoga class I was in for a piece they did on contemporary American spirituality (funny to see yourself on TV...)

The week before, superstar self-help author Byron Katie was here lecturing and before that, Deepak Chopra packed in about 600 people.

The other day, I was in the sauna with Shiva Rea (pretty famous yoga teacher).

While I'm not really one to get starstruck, it is kind of cool having some of the big names around because they often open up their programs to staff & volunteers. I've already become a bit spoiled:

Hmm, should I go to Shiva Rea's Trance Dance class or just walk under the full moon? (I opted for moon...)

There is definitely a downside to having celebrities in the house though, and not just that I have to cut twice as many vegetables. When a famous person is doing a program here, that person draws groupies - lots of them.

So for that weekend, my home is overrun.

It feels kind of like on the holidays when all your relatives come over and you don't know everyone that well, but you have to be polite and the house is a little too full and all you want to do is go about your business. ("I live here, okay?!")

But really? who am I to complain? I get to live where people come for retreat.

The entire energy of this place is dedicated to feeling good.

Sure, I work, but really not that much, and veggie prep is actually quite fun.

Hmm, this yoga class looks a little full, I guess I'll just go down to the whirlpool...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Getting a Feel for Kripalu

To give you an idea of the kind of place Kripalu is, let me describe the "All Staff Meeting" I attended yesterday:

As I mentioned before, Kripalu is kind of like a giant beached yogic cruise ship, and so a meeting with all the staff involved around 200 people. From kitchen, to registration, to front desk, to marketing, household, finance, etc... it's technically a non-profit, but the meeting felt quite corporate as the CEO displayed a powerpoint with a financial slide showing revenues of $27 million and "guest nights" of almost 90,000.

What made it Kripalu though was that all this started with a centering meditation and an "OM"

Totally awesome.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Contacting Ali at Kripalu

I don't currently have a phone (it's actually really nice not have one), but you can call me and leave a message on my skype number:


If I happen to be on skype at the time, I will answer, otherwise just leave a message and I'll call you back.

Also, if you feel like sending some snail mail (have I mentioned how much I love handwritten letters?) my address is:

Alison Mills
Kripalu Center c/o PATH
PO Box 309
57 Interlaken Rd.
Stockbridge, MA

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Kripalu Volunteer Program

The Gist:

I am currently living in Western Massachusetts at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. I am part of a 4-month live-in volunteer program in yoga and self-inquiry. I work 35 hours/week in exchange for room, food, yoga, workshops, and a few other perks.

I love it and am so happy right now.

A Little More:

*Kripalu Center:

Kripalu used to be an ashram and is now a non-profit education yoga center (the largest in North America). It has a "Retreat & Renewal" program that includes yoga classes and other workshops taught by Kripalu faculty. The center also hosts outside presenters who lead weekend or week-long workshops in yoga, health, self-development, outdoor activities, creativity and lots more.

It is located in the Berkshire Hills (close to the border of New York) and the surroundings are really beautiful. Lots of hiking trails that I am loving.

(The main building is like a beached cruise ship - it's gigantic - 4 acres of floor space!)

*The Volunteer Program:

A crew of 60 volunteers helps to run Kripalu and we work for 4 months at a time. In addition to living and working at the center, volunteers take part in weekly classes in yoga philosophy and pyschology, peer mentoring groups, and are free to attend any yoga classes, other workshops or events (see perks below) when they're not working.

A big part of the program is simply living in community and being part of each other's lives. I live in a room with two other women in a big building with lots of other people. A lot of emotional, personal things come up while in the program and there is a lot of space held and support provided for doing personal work and self-exploration.

The people here are wonderful.

*My Seva:

The program is considered karma yoga: the yoga of action, and a big part of this is our work. Our "seva" is our selfless service to the community and mine is veggie prep and I LOVE IT.

We prepare all the vegetables for the kitchen, which means we chop veggies for 7 hours/day.

We work in the basement kitchen and we have a great time. We listen to music and chat and dance and sing and haul around giant boxes of kale and sweet potatotes and carrots, cutting and washing and putting all our love into the food.

We feed 200-600 people 3 meals every day and so the quantities are incredible. The other day I chopped 98 gallons of kale. It took me ALL DAY.

Because it's such a big kitchen, we have all sort of fun machines to help with the big quantities, like a Robot Coupe and a Halde (big chopper-dicers) and a fancy big scrubber (we drop in big bins of carrots or beets and it spins them around with big rolling brushes and water - way cool). Another thing I think it just great fun is that we get to power wash the floors at the end of the day. I mean, when do you get to dump soapy water on the floor, spray it with a giant hose and then squeegee it? Okay, I'm sure the novelty will wear off eventually, but right now I'm having so much fun with it.

*The Food:

Kripalu has AMAZING food. If you know me, you know what an important factor that is in my satisfaction with the place. It's really healthy, mostly vegetarian, lots of gluten-free stuff (even decent gluten-free bread!) and most of it is organic and local. It's beautiful and fantastic.

*Perks of the Program:

I am really impressed with how awesome they make it to be a volunteer. In addition to yoga and other workshops, there are nightly events like concerts, drum circles, kirtan (traditional Indian devotional chanting), speakers, and movies.

There is also a whirlpool and sauna we have free access to, we get discounts on massages and other healing arts, several free guest passes for friends and family, and two free programs (weekend workshops by outside presenters, normally $200-$400).

a) if you are in the area, come by; I can get you in free!
b) I'm extremely happy here and know I'm in the right place in my life right now