Everything, Musings, The Blog

Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”


Today I overheard a child rattle this off in the grocery store and it struck a chord. I am curious — is it just an empty little limerick we parrot mindlessly? Or do we believe it? Or, maybe, do we say it as a mantra, willing it to be true?

In my experience, words hurt. I have been fortunate to have never broken any bones, although I have experienced a serious sprain, stress fractures, and other physical injuries. These experiences were challenging in how they impacted the way I conduct my daily life — for example, I developed the stress fractures when I was running 7 days a week…and obviously, they forced me to stop running for a time, to heal. Mentally giving up that daily habit (and admittedly, addiction) was hard — a lot harder than the actual pain.

But I rarely dwell or even think about that time. It was a short, acute “blip” in  my life. The injury healed, the pain receded and I was able to continue running. Although it was only 2 years ago last month, when I started writing this post just now, I had completely forgotten about it. I wrote “I have been fortunate to have never broken any bones” and fully intended to add a period, and move on with my point. Well, my point is this — these injuries do cause physical pain..for a defined period of time (I won’t be getting into chronic injuries and pain today because that is a whole different can of worms, with chronic effects on our psyche and mental state). They happen, and then they pass and we can move on.

I have never forgotten the time that I was 19, getting ready to attend a wedding. I was wearing a dress I loved, and feeling beautiful — and made an off-hand comment about how maybe one day I’d wear my Nana’s wedding dress for my wedding, as my Mom had. The person to whom I’d spoken replied that it was likely too small for me.

I was blindsided. I didn’t see myself as large — and I’d never felt large in comparison to my Mom’s body type (albeit, a couple inches taller…actually, woah. Maybe that is what was meant. My Nana is even shorter than my Mom. Maybe I have completely misunderstood all these years. But regardless–). Those words hurt. I have not forgotten them. I internalized them. I felt large and awkward, and imperfect. I felt…like I was doing something wrong, to be bigger than supposedly my Nana had been, to be clearly so off-the mark from what was “ideal.” I felt like was wrong.

“Words leave scars.”

Let me just say that I don’t blame anyone for this casual comment — we are all a product of our generation and of society, and we say things unthinkingly. I think too that we also believe some things unthinkingly (such as the notion that a 24-inch waist is “how a woman should be).” I once sat at a table with someone very dear to me — it was an antique with edges that came down very, very low such that I could not comfortably cross my legs under it. This person matter-of-factly told me that it was because of my big thighs, which were so much larger than his (he could cross). Just as with that wedding exchange, there was (and I know this for certain in my heart) no intent to harm. However, even those who love us, and with no malicious agenda, have the power to cause pain with a simple statement. I filed that moment away as a part of my identity, added it to my slowly growing fodder of self-dislike, and never forgot it.

I take issue with the “Sticks and stones” rhyme, not only because it is inherently untrue but because there is a connotation that words should not hurt us. That if they do, we are “too sensitive” (something I have been hearing my entire life), too weak. If words hurt us, we are doing something wrong and are to blame. In all honesty, since my first real exposure to sarcastic (and often vicious) humour in the 7th grade, developing an immunity to the power of words has been a necessary mechanism of survival — something I have managed, generally, to create the appearance of. Inside however, words have always pierced me. In society, it is a failing to react to something that is said to us…and so, if we are shamed by a comment, we then experience further shame for not being “strong” enough to be unaffected. I know firsthand the destructive effects that this cycle can have over the years.

I think it is time to put that tired, old adage to bed — and with that, to reclaim our sensitivity. “Sensitive” is not a dirty word. To feel emotions of any kind is not weakness. In fact, it is my believe that to allow ourselves to experience hurt and sadness is an act of courage. These sensations are not easy and the safer course often appears to be the one in which we build walls to shut them out, or to run away. It takes guts and practice to let discomfort in, to accept that as humans we are meant to feel. As humans, we are highly affected by the information and the world around us.

Hi. My name is Haven and I am vulnerable. I am sensitive.
My name is Haven, and I am human. 

I’d like to propose that we all perform a mini self-experiment. First ask — what words have stuck with you throughout your life? Perhaps it was a comment about your body/appearance, as with my two examples. Perhaps, when you were about to get on a stage to claim an award for the highest overall average in your grade for the second year in a row, your Physics teacher told you that you were clearly in the wrong spot…and you felt shame, and embarrassment. Perhaps, although you joke about it now, you have never quite let go of how it made you feel, and every time since that you did not perform to your highest academic standards (hello 1st year University)!, those words taunted you: “he was right about you.”

Recognize these experiences. Start to unravel the impact that they have had in your life. Understand that we are all right there with you. Accept: words leave scars. 

My second experiment is to be more thoughtful with our language. Very few of the life-altering and hurtful comments I have held onto in my life were anything more than an offhand remark. “You have little gremlin hands” (yes I spent years ashamed of my hands. Hands)! “He’s so cool…Wait, you’re his sister? You don’t seem anything like him…” (My brother was kind of a big deal in high school. At the time, 6 years younger, I was apparently not). Practice pausing, even just a moment longer than usual, to make sure that you do want to say what you are about to say. We have all felt the effects of words — so let us begin to be mindful in not perpetuating their damage in others. Let’s practice making the choice not to set the foundation for our peers and loved ones to construct destructive stories about themselves.

Sticks and stones can break my bones…but words? Words have done so, so much worse than that.






crossfit, Everything, The Blog

Confirmed: The Open Really IS For Everyone. And so is Crossfit.

Ultimately, the Open broadened my community so much, and literally opened (pun intended) my eyes to what is possible and what I might be able to do, with enough effort and work. It is May now, and I am still learning, still working slowly up in weight…but things are coming. The Open lit a fire under me.

With the 2017 Crossfit Open well in our rearview, and Regionals just days away, I have(embarrassing typo haha)! been feeling an itch to write about my first Open experience — which I did about as fresh to Crossfit as a girl can be.

First though, I’m going to skip right to the punchline: The Crossfit Open really IS for everyone. Everyone and anyone.

Now that that is out of the way, let me share a bit about my experience–with the Open and with just getting started with Crossfit. And, hopefully, I will also convince you of my point here!

Starting Crossfit…

I walked into my first crossfit box over the Christmas holidays (December 2016) when I was home visiting family for a couple of weeks. It was a free introductory, drop-in session where we got the “low-down” on what Crossfit was, practiced deadlifting a PVC pipe, received some rowing tips and hammered out some box  jumps. Not the insane, knock-you-off-your-feet, make-you-think-you’re-about-to-die first taste of Crossfit that so many people rave about and what really hooks in these tough-as-nails athletes. It didn’t really matter though — crossfit had been on my radar for awhile (shout-out to my two badass, strong step-sisters right now) and after becoming obsessed with the Girls Gone WOD Podcast last fall, I was pretty damn committed to trying out the sport…And I couldn’t wait another day. (Which I suppose is why I did that drop-in intro. class in my hometown instead of waiting until I was back here on the beautiful coast)!

Fast-forward a couple of weeks to early January 2016. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (per se) I showed up at Crossfit Zone, the nearest affiliate to where I live for my first 1-on-1 session with my soon-to-be coach, Garrett. The Zone is pretty damn awesome in how they structure their on-ramp program — 12 individual sessions with a coach that becomes your coach for the remainder of your crossfit career (at least at that box). The sessions can be tweaked and tailored based on the athlete’s needs and “starting place,” and more sessions added as needed. As a stereotypically poor graduate student the cost of these sessions was a bit daunting, but Garrett managed to cram all that training into fewer sessions for me — although I had never laid a finger on a barbell before and kept forgetting what a snatch vs. a thruster vs. a clean vs. a power clean (lol) was, I had pretty decent mobility from my last year of practicing yoga, could do a pistol and a strict pull-up, and, if I say myself, had a pretty good starting level of fitness overall. (Okay mini self-plug: I had been training my pull-ups all fall and I actually got my first one (2! linked)! in that first session with Garrett. It’s pretty darn cool what a coach’s encouragement can do)!

And so, after completing my “Fight Gone Bad” (scaled) initiation workout, I entered “real classes” at the start of February (February 6th —  my birthday, as a matter of fact)! All I remember about that first workout was that it had a ton of thrusters…which, as my weights have increased, I have recently developed a keen dislike for (we all have that one thing)!

Crossfit was 983924839883838x better than I ever imagined. Better than even Joy and Claire of the aforesaid podcast made it out to be (and they love it so much they’ve recorded over 200 weeks of episodes on the topic)! …How can I describe it?

How about…a mix of team sports (I played rep volleyball all through my teens) and elementary (maaaybe high) school gym class? Hm, that doesn’t quite right. But picture: FUN. So much damn fun. Crossfit is social (at least at the Zone). Everyone shows up for the class and chats and joke around while we warm up. Each class is a mixture of mobility, skill-work, strength-work and a conditioning “WOD” (Workout of the Day)…and everyone supports everyone else. We cheer each other other on. That tantalizing phrase circulating the internet — “Crossfit community” — that’s a real thing, guys. Now, doesn’t that sound better than an hour sweating it out alone on a treadmill watching a poker tournament on a mini television? Way better than doing the abductor machine in a dark corner of a Globo gym? It’s friendly, it’s competitive, everyone is doing the same work, you incorporate fun new skills and gymnastics, you bond over the same brutal WOD…

Anyway – wasn’t I supposed to be talking about the Open or something?

The Crossfit Open 2017…

(Photo by Nella Maura of @thiscoastphotography)

As a keen observer may have noticed, I started joining in on “regular” crossfit classes (vs. my 1-on-1 teaching sessions) and doing actual WODs (albeit, quite modified) February 6th…and the first Open workout, 17.1, went live February 23rd… So I was pretty damn spankin’ new. I hadn’t been taught how to kip, along with a slew of other movements, and half my lifts I’d only performed once, with an empty bar, the day I learned them. I had no 1 rep maxes. I was in no way, shape or form prepared or “qualified” to compete in the Open.

Except I was.

Having heard so much about the Open, I was keen to try out the workouts if our gym was  programming them into our regular Friday classes — but I had no intentions to sign up to join in on our gym’s “Friday Night Lights” Friday night Open workout jams. Definitely, no desire to be placed on an intramural team within our gym and have my poor team members weighed down by my total lack of skill!

Yet somehow that is exactly what happened. (Except the weighing down part — no one gives a hoot about that sort of garbage)! Simply, someone asked me if I was signing up (“Me?!” I asked in disbelief. “I’m so new!”)…and then over the next few classes they persisted in encouraging me to do it. Others joined in. I appealed to our coaches, presuming they would tell me to stay far away, and “how about next year, Grasshopper.” They didn’t. The seed was planted…and I realized that I wanted to do it. All that held me back was the worry that I’d look like a total idiot — something that has often held me back. But not this time. Crossfit is one area of my life that I give myself zero leeway for not giving it my 150%, regardless of “what others might think.”

Enter 17.1.

It’s Friday night. I show up, rather nervous to the gym. No one from my 9:30 AM WODs is doing the Open and I know no one. The workout is: dumbbell snatches and burpee-box-jump-overs. A whole spankin’ lot of them, to be scientific (can you tell I’m avoiding expletives)? I am picturing doing a burpee and then having to jump all the way over a box and land on the other side. I am picturing myself standing there, clearly unable to perform a single rep.

Well, the short story is, I had a blast. I am a self-proclaimed Burpee Queen (I could do those bad boys all day), and I only had to jump ONTO the box, and then step off the other side. No problem. The scaled dumbbell weights were also appropriate for me–perfect. I finished well within time and felt…pretty good. Almost…cocky. Oh, Haven. So naive. Also, equally if not more importantly — everyone was so damn nice and friendly. Score.

And so the next 4 weeks passed quickly, and after that first day, I began to look forward to my Friday nights. It wasn’t always pretty. For 17.2 I ground out all strict pull-ups having no real concept of what a kip was. Slowly. 1 at a time. I think I only got to 14 and didn’t finish a round. I’m sure I submitted the worst score for my gym on that workout. ..Minutes before 17.3 I had to be shown how to snatch–and then surprised myself by getting the 55# overhead, and even making it to the 65# round (where I did not get the bar overhead and had to concede). 17.4 was 16.4 and didn’t involve any tricky olympic lifts or pull-ups and I felt in my element again, as with 17.5. 17.5 was single skips for scaled (NOTE THAT I DID EVERY WORKOUT SCALED. I’m not some mythical superhero destined from birth to go to the games. Scaled, scaled and more scaled)! instead of double-unders and I had a blast with those as well. Really though, above all, it was an opportunity to delve more into “Crossfitland,” see a different side of the sport and to meet a ton of damn cool people. For me, I had no expectation to score high — but I learned a ton, did things I might otherwise not have tried for another 1, 2, 5 months, challenged myself and made a bunch of friends. The community in a crossfit gym can be pretty damn awesome, but if we all tend to go to the same classes each week, we might only get to know a small handful of people.

Ultimately, the Open broadened my community so much, and literally opened (pun intended) my eyes to what is possible and what I might be able to do, with enough effort and work. It is May now, and I am still learning, still working slowly up in weight…but things are coming. The Open lit a fire under me. 

I don’t think my experience with the Open is unique. The scaled options for each workout are extremely approachable to anyone and even if you do find a movement out of reach — do the workout, and make it your own! Modify. Approach the Open as a fun experience. An opportunity to have a blast and to challenge yourself. Forget the leaderboards if that isn’t your thing, and just enjoy being a part of this broader, global tribe.

Maybe that is part of why I love Crossfit — I feel connected to this bad-ass, infinite tribe of humans.

Photo by Nella Mauro of @thiscoastphotography


Everything, The Blog, Yoga

How I Started My Yoga Practice (And Why You Should Too)

…Yoga taught me to be tender toward myself and to connect with, and cherish my body. Ashtanga taught me the rewards of persistence and consistency and to believe that with these tools, anything is possible.”

At the start of 2016 I was perusing Instagram (where I had previously only followed close friends and vice versa) and I stumbled across a series of yogis performing seemingly effortless handstands, the splits and better yet — handstands and the splits, all rolled into one. That, my brain said. I want that.

That very day I began to practice yoga — just in my bedroom, alone, a few minutes a night. Basic stretches, short flows streamed from the Yoga by Candace website or the Yoga with Adriene Youtube channel. I quickly learned that yoga was not the boring, lazy “fad” I had perceived it to be during my time at University…yoga was hard. I had not the strength to lift and jump back into chaturanga nor the balance to perform a simple headstand…and let’s not even talk about handstands! I also did not have the patience or the courage to lie still in savasana, with nothing but my breath to shield me from my roaming thoughts.

…I persevered. I followed a “yoga for strength” video series by Candace, every day for a month and I saw my crow pose (bakasana) evolve and strengthen. The changes and the improvements felt huge…and before I even realized it, I was hooked.


After that first month I decided it was time to start attending classes in order to receive the benefits of real live teachers. Usually notorious for indecision (born of a fear of making “the wrong choice”) I promptly bought a membership to a local hot and room-temperature “fusion-style” studio that offered vinyasa, power, yin, hatha, restorative and even a led hot Ashtanga class. I also participated in my first Instagram #yogachallenge…

In a nutshell, that is how my love affair with yoga first began. And oh, but how it has evolved.

At my studio I gained an appreciation for slow. Soft. A respect for the patience and the strength that is required for Yin yoga, for remaining in a posture for one, two, for five minutes. For allowing the emotions and sensations that arise to rise, for seeing them without making a story of them and then simply letting them pass. I learned about the meaning of “yoga,” the yoke between our mind and our physical body. How to nourish one, we must nourish the other. And for the first time, I gave consideration to the idea that perhaps my body was not my enemy to be conquered…but a friend, seeking love.


In practicing yoga I also began to work through my pervasive fear of failure and my drive to be “the best.” Each class would be filled with yogi’s of all levels, abilities, ages. Everyone modified based on their own needs. On occasion, I began to practice stepping back into chaturanga, challenging myself to sit with the uncomfortable feeling of “doing less”, even as the person next to me jumped back. “I can do that too!” I’d want to yell. But I forced myself to step back. My purpose was to challenge myself — to practice doing less than my best, to practice coping with being “less skilled” in my mind than the others around me. To learn to compare less. To learn to give myself grace.

…Meanwhile of course, on Instagram: #yogaeverydamnday. Although seeing these advanced, lithe yogis contort themselves into complicated postures may have initally skewed my perception of what it means to “be a yogi” (tip — you don’t have to be able to perform any particular posture), these accounts motivated me and expanded my repertoire of what was possible. At the studio, every class had to be catered to accommodate the fresh-to-yoga yogi, which eliminated a large variety of postures that required practice and persistence to perform. By following these challenges, in which I would post a photo of “that day’s” posture (or my best attempt at it) my knowledge of the asanas grew exponentially and I was encouraged to practice more, and different and more difficult poses…and by maintaining my “at-home practice” I was able to dedicate the necessary time to improving a given posture or to reaching a certain goal. And so my muscles grew and strengthened, my balance stabilized and I felt my enticing front splits come slowly, slowly within reach.


At this point (although I’ve rambled long enough, I’m sure) I’d like to introduce you to my dearest love: Ashtanga yoga. As I said, there was one teacher (my beloved, feisty, Star Wars-loving friend, Frederique) who was an Ashtangi and who taught a couple of led Primary or half-Primary Ashtanga classes a week. Something about the primary series, the postures (Aside: Ashtanga is a set series of postures that grows as you advance as a practitioner — it is also typically taught Mysore style (more on that here)) felt so incredibly right to me, that I soon never missed an Ashtanga class. I loved the memorization of the postures that came, how I could lose myself in my Teacher’s count and in my breath (5 inhales, 5 exhales) and quite nearly shut-off my ever-whirring brain. I loved the natural transition from the standing postures into the seated sequence, how a series of hip-openers gave way to cleansing twists, then to backbends and inversions. I loved the energy that built in the room as we sang the opening and closing chants. I loved (and still love) the repetition of the same postures every practice, how I was forced to remain humble as my body taught me how different it would choose to be and feel every day — for example, some days a previously “simple” pose would feel impossible. Yet even with the fickleness of the human body, I loved how clearly progress could be marked. When you practice the same postures day in and day out the changes that come are unmistakable.

…I’ve since transitioned to the traditional Mysore style of teaching, travelled to Ubud, Bali, the sometimes proclaimed “yoga capital of the world,” and moved cities where I now practice 6 mornings a week at an Ashtanga yoga shala. I have worked hard, backed off during injury, and achieved things I never thought possible. I can grab my heels unassisted in kapotasa. I can drop back into wheel pose from standing, and stand back up in a single breath. I can do the splits (front…don’t get me started on transverse)! Yoga taught me to be tender toward myself and to connect with, and cherish my body. Ashtanga taught me the rewards of persistence and consistency and to believe that with these tools, anything is possible.

I cannot sell yoga hard enough. Yoga is for everyone, whether it is yin or restorative, vinyasa, Bikram or Ashtanga. Hot power yoga to a Beyoncé soundtrack. Classical Iyengar (although I must here admit that I have never experienced this style, or Kundalini). Find a studio with teachers and a philosophy that vibe with you. Find a teacher that vibes with you. Unroll your mat at home with Candace or Adriene for free and just…get started. Roll out that spine and flex your wrists. Focus on breathing, on how it feels to fill your lungs and then slowly release the balloon of air. Maybe you are a hard-charging high-intensity athlete — well don’t kid yourself that yoga cannot be intense. I have seen professional athletes absolutely kicked after an Ashtanga practice. But more importantly, open your mind to the meditation in movement, in breath that is yoga. Give yourself that chance to tune into your body and your mind, to move in ways that feel good. Whatever it is you need or are missing–I believe that you can find it in a yoga practice. Just find the practice that is right for you.