Flow Yoga, D.C.; Becoming “Real”

by Gena on May 6, 2012

Flow Yoga Studio

At the end of this month, it will officially be a year since I moved from NYC to Washington, DC. In the year I’ve been here, one of my favorite activities has been to explore the city’s wonderful and varied yoga scene.

Like many yogis, I call one studio “home”: that’s Laughing Lotus in NYC, mostly because it’s where I learned—in fits and starts—to appreciate yoga. No trip to NYC is complete without many, many early subway rides to 19th street, where I’m welcomed back to Laughing Lotus with the familiar smell of Bengal Spice tea and the sight of electric pink walls. I have, however, been pleasantly surprised by how varied and excellent the yoga studios in DC are. I have a “home” studio here, too, which is Down Dog in Georgetown (full review here), but I’ve also tried classes at Tranquil Space and Yoga District. This week, I made my first trip to Flow Yoga in Logan Circle.

Last summer, as you surely gathered, was bumpy. The combined stress of moving, changing careers dramatically, and being put through the ringer of 2 semesters of general chemistry in 10 weeks was a little more than I could handle, and the result was a lot of tears, both private and public. I cried on the D6 bus, in various Georgetown University restrooms, and—most often—in yoga classes. I’ve always thought that the yoga studio is a good place to allow oneself to feel things, but I had never before spent so much time getting verklempt on the mat.

On one particularly tearful day, I decided to lift my spirits by wandering into a 90 minute class at Down Dog with Shawn Parrell. I was grateful to be at Down Dog that day, where sweat runs down one’s body so profusely that no one would ever notice a few tears. At some point during dancer pose, though, I got the feeling that Shawn sensed my glum mood. She walked over to me and pressed her palm against the palm of my extended hand, and she held it there as she glanced at me compassionately for the remainder of the pose.

Yoga teachers touch so many lives each and every day that they often must forget about the impact of a single glance, adjustment, or kind word. I, however, have not forgotten what a little empathy, communicated only through eye contact and touch, meant to me that day. So it was with great excitement that I decided to check out Shawn’s class again this week with my good friend Dasha—only this time, it was at Flow Yoga, and not at Down Dog. (Shawn teaches at both studios, but more regularly at Flow.)

I’ve heard Flow Yoga compared to Laughing Lotus in terms of style and variety, so I was of course very excited to experience it. Now that I’ve been, I’d actually maintain that the DC studio most like Laughing Lotus is probably Tranquil Space (which I love). That said, Flow is lovely in its own right: it’s one of the most “zen” feeling studios I’ve ever been to. The interior of the entrance area features cozy window seats and fresh tea brewing. The studio is tucked into a townhouse, so you feel as though you’re entering a private, secluded space. And the staff members are insanely friendly: as soon as I entered, they coached me painlessly and enthusiastically through the sign up process.

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One of Flow’s strength’s is the variety and volume of its class offerings—85 classes or so per week. Many of them are early classes, which I love. I’m always bummed out when a yoga studio doesn’t offer classes until 9 or 10 AM, which is well past my my preferred (and logistically possible) morning exercise hours. The classes themselves are also varied: everything from astanga to restorative yoga to vinyasa flow. A vinyasa lover myself, I checked out the hour long vinyasa flow class, level 1.5. I’m usually a level 2 person, but I like taking levels 1 and 1.5, too, because they force me to work on alignment and posture (rather than a speedy flow and lots of inversion work).

Our studio was calm and quiet, and a slight breeze from an open window was welcome. If I have any criticism of the studio, it’s that we were set up with mats facing each other (in other words, both halves of the room were facing toward the center of the room, so half of us looked at the other half); this was a little new to me. But I liked the “feel” of the studio, and I loved Shawn’s selection of music. After practicing at a no music studio for a year, the music was very welcome!

The class was exactly what I needed: it was elegant, with lots of “slow flow” moments, which is a welcome change from the breakneck pace and crazy heat of Down Dog. That said, the class was often challenging: Shawn had us hold several poses for a long time (including several whole minutes in a low shiva squat—yikes! feel the burn!), and she had us do some very effective ab work at the end of class. I felt it the next day, for sure. It was also nice to experience a different sequence of poses than what I’m used to; trying new studios is always healthy for that reason.

As usual, Shawn was a soothing, insightful, challenging-yet-warm instructor. Toward the end of class, she decided to tug at everyone’s heart strings by reading from Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit: not your usual Sanskrit or Mahabharata, but incredibly relevant and poignant nonetheless.

“What is REAL?" asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day…"Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn’t how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It’s a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn’t happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand… once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

This quote got me thinking about relationships and imperfection. It reminded me of a quote I recently discovered from the lovely Victoria Moran, whose book, Main Street Vegan, will be reviewed very soon on the blog. She says:

"To the people who love you, you are beautiful already. This is not because they’re blind to your shortcomings but because they so clearly see your soul. Your shortcomings then dim by comparison. The people who care about you are willing to let you be imperfect and beautiful, too."

Like many people, I spent the early years of my love/dating life trying to make myself more loveable, which to me meant trying to eliminate flaws. No matter how many times we’re told that people who really love you love the flaws and imperfections, too, it is not a lesson that comes easily, least of all to us perfectionist type like me. And love—be it familial, platonic, or romantic—entails confronting one’s own imperfections very often. To quote Jonathan Franzen (whose anti-technology tirades annoy me lately, but I still appreciate much of what he has to say):

The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. Sooner or later, for example, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person. Something realer than likability has come out in you, and suddenly you’re having an actual life.

This “actual life” sounds a lot like some of what Williams is talking about when she talks about “becoming real”—in her story, being threadbare and “ugly” may be a metaphor for the foibles that Franzen is talking about when he talks about showing one’s own true (and flawed) self to another person. But in both cases, the upshot—to allow yourself to be fully known and appreciated—makes the risks and discomfort worth it.

OK, so this may feel like a slightly oblique topic for Choosing Raw. But I don’t think it is, at least not insofar as many of my readers are perfectionists too, if in no other arena than in trying to eat “perfectly” and have the “perfect” body. Two weeks ago, we had a very good conversation here about the danger of body molds, be they fitness-oriented or size-oriented. Today, I thought it would be good to remind everyone (myself included) that self-acceptance is not only a matter of shape, which is the usual focus of food/fitness blogs. It’s also a matter of appreciating one’s own character, weaknesses, faults, and mistakes included; it’s a matter of learning to recognize, but quickly move on from, regret. That’s being “real.”

If you’re a DC resident, do give Flow Yoga a visit. You’ll enjoy the peaceful environment, the compassionate instruction, and the practical advantages of a huge range of class offerings.

And the complimentary tea is pretty great, too.

Speaking of imperfection: I am a very imperfect organic chemistry student. I am, in fact, failing the class. The final is tomorrow at 12:30 pm; I’d be super grateful if you guys could send some good luck—or rather, “hope there’s a curve”—wishes my way!

xo

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Marissa May 6, 2012 at 10:06 am

Good luck with O-Chem! I have faith in you!

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katie May 6, 2012 at 10:44 am

Excellent post! The three quotes/passages you included touched on something I really needed to hear today. Thank you.

And good luck with with o chem. Your decision to switch careers is inspiring. Hang in there!

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Amanda May 6, 2012 at 10:54 am

Hey Gena,

This is Amanda, the med student from Texas who randomly left you a comment a while back. I understand your situation all too well and I want to encourage you to give everything you have in these final hours before this exam. My best advice is to stop focusing on the potential result, but on the process of maximizing your performance tomorrow. The bottom line is that it’s not over. Amazing things can happen at the last minute. I’m not sure what your exact class is like, but for every course you can usually triage the situation and emphasize what you suspect will be highly likely to be tested. I am rooting for you and firmly believe you can still do this.

-Amanda

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Alex May 6, 2012 at 11:01 am

So incredibly inspiring! This was a much needed reminder that you live life to the fullest when you are ‘real’. Good luck on your finals- prayers are sent your way!

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Averie @ Averie Cooks May 6, 2012 at 11:14 am

What an awesome post and so grateful that you found community, a great studio and teachers, other students and that yoga helped give you what you wanted and needed, at the right time, both on and off the mat. When I was actively teaching yoga, it was my biggest goal to try to touch my students in some way like what you described, even just one percent of that, I’d consider that a success.

You should send this post to your yoga teacher; she will seriously be so elated to read it and it will make her day and month I bet! :)

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Christine (The Raw Project) May 6, 2012 at 11:19 am

Great post with wonderful quotes, thanks! Very inspiring and reminds me that I want to get into yoga again soon!

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Ali May 6, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Sending tons of good luck and wishes for your final! Also you are a beautiful, strong, inspiring person no matter what, and that can in no way be changed by how you do in a class!

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Karen May 6, 2012 at 1:17 pm

What a beautifully written yoga studio review/post filled w/ lovely thoughts for this rainy Chicago Sunday! Your wise and eloquent words re. the power of yoga, the reality of relationships and the “P” word warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes!

I so wish I could spare you from the pain of your impending exam in this troublesome course, but alas, I send you my very best wishes that some grace will be bestowed upon you. Hang in there sweetie….do the best you can and then, move on. Any residual obstacles can be overcome and there are always multiple paths for fulfilling your passion.

xo

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Casi Leigh May 6, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Sweet Gena,

Haven’t dropped you a reply to a post in so long and so sorry for that but I know you understand, from one orgo student to another. :) You always seem to connect to me with a piece just when I need it the most. And you never fail to make it feel as though we are just having a conversation between the two of us. Thanks so much for that, truly.

We are with you no matter what. Think of us during the long hours tonight and the test itself tomorrow. We will be thinking of you, too, and sending love, good karma, rays of hope and positive energy toward you. Keep your chin up and just remember, whatever happens, you’ll be just fine. You are one of the most sincere, savvy, and inspired individuals I know. You’ll keep your balance even as the path gets bumpy. Take care of yourself!

<3
Casi

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Laura@keepinghealthy May 6, 2012 at 2:11 pm

What a beautiful post! I really wish I had a yoga studio near me, I have a few classes but they are all hatha or Ivengar yoga – thank goodness for vinyasa podcasts! Just wanted to wish you good luck for your exam, I’ll send you positive vibes!

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Amanda May 6, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I was lucky to meet Victoria Moran a few nights ago at her book launch party held by MFA. She was such a warm and kind person! She sent me a copy of her book “The Love-Powered Diet” and “Main Street Vegan.” I haven’t started reading either yet because I’m in the midst of final papers but the passage you quoted from “Main Street Vegan” is so fabulous. I can’t wait to read it now!

Also, sending you lots of positive vibes for your organic chem final!

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Claire May 6, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Hi Gena, I’ve never commented before, but I have been reading your blog and enjoying your recipes and discussions for awhile now. I’m a Peace Corps volunteer, serving in Ecuador, and it is a real challenge to maintain a vegan diet here. Some of your more simple recipes have become new staples for me; I even taught some ladies in my village to make your quinoa breakfast porridge… quinoa is native to Ecuador, but they never thought about cooking it that way. I just wanted to say thank you! Also, I’m moving to DC in the fall for grad school, so I am getting excited about visiting the places you mention on the blog. Good luck with school and everything else.

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Rachel @ Eat, Learn, Discover! May 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm

amazing post (as usual), Gena! The velveteen rabbit has been one of my favorite stories for years, thank you for reminding me of the wonderful life lessons we can learn from it :-) I would love to be in a yoga class like that one. I’ve only gotten into yoga during my current semester abroad in Sweden, so it’s been a bit difficult to connect with any one class for real. I’m hoping that when I return to nyc I can find my ‘home’.

Re the test – I have faith in you! Also i’m pretty sure that more than 80% of people I know who took orgo were failing before the final exam. And most of them passed the class. Meanwhile, I have incredible respect for anyone who takes any kind of chemistry. Chem classes are the reason why I’ll be graduating with a bachelor of *arts* (not a b.science) in physics.
Good luck!

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Ela May 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Sending you tons of good, curvaceous luck. I’m here for you, such as I am.

Love the obliquity of this topic, and I do think it is germane. You certainly made it so.

Not much more to say right now–just lots of love
Ela

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Hannah May 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm

A wonderful post which brought tears to my eyes. However hard you find chemistry, do try to remember all your many many other strengths – such as touching so many people through this wonderful blog. Best of luck, you can only ever do your best. And I hope you have a big bowl of chocomole waiting for you when you get through the door after the exam tomorrow!
Hannah xxxxx

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Ilana May 6, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Gena, love, you have done it again. I’m freshly out of Dana’s 12 pm insane flow, also freshly working through the very recent shattering end of a four and a half year relationship….I return to the practice again and again because I feel safe with my feelings on the mat, and I feel stronger to face them off the mat. This lovely post of yours reminded me that my students experience the same emotional rollercoasters I do and they come face to face with that whilst following my directions … While I’m teaching, I can’t know know what they’re experiencing but I can guess that it ranges the gamut from body image issues to relationships to battling some kind of deep darkness to family troubles (one student recently confided to me about her son’s death eight years ago…), and everything between and beyond, and I know from my experience that often these problems can become compounded by the brain and then everything seems to feed into everything else, so I try to make my class a safe space for simply being with yourself, if only for that time. I recently had to teach after spending the entire night keeping myself awake sobbing (I know, cool, right?) and was struggling with how to offer something meaningful to my students when I was feeling so lost and down – when it hit me that I needed to teach from exactly where I was, lost and down, because pain is a universal experience.
Thanks for a lovely post and a lovely reminder of why I do what I do.

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Sana May 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm

I know you can do this! Sending positive thoughts your way :)

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zosia May 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm

beautiful post.

good luck on your exam – but remember, as well, that failing a test or class doesn’t mean YOU are a failure.

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Elizabeth May 6, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Hi Gena!
A few weeks ago I came across this sign while walking along Bedford Ave. in Brooklyn. It said: “Even if you fall on your face, you are still moving forward”. As someone who is always hard on myself, I’ve been dealing with fear of failure-but I’ve been reminding myself that failure is not something to fear. It is a way to grow and learn, as long as you keep going. We’ve only ever spoken briefly, but I can tell that you are a very intelligent and determined woman, and I totally believe in you-whether or not you fail this class. I know you will get there. =)

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Simone May 6, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Hey Gena, this was such a lovely post to read! Thank you. And good luck with your chem exam, sending positive vibes your way!

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The Delicate Place May 6, 2012 at 6:49 pm

where there’s a will theres a way or.. {whalebone} i have faith in your ochem class! everything is crossed that you pass :) i have never taken a formal yoga class…i’m a bit timid about my practice and usually do a flow at home from a dvd or yogadownload 20min podcasts. your post is quite inspiring though to give the group setting a chance. i have actually heard of several people now that have become a little bit emotional in practice and i hope that it helped ease your mind & spirit a bit during this stressful time!

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Alex @ Raw Recovery May 6, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Wow, I had a very similar yoga class this morning that I just wrote about on my blog. I didn’t mention the smallest gesture or comment from a teacher and how that can really bring depth to the practice. To feel a physical connection like hands touching or a pat on the back bringing the body into alignment can be really healing, in my opinion.

Sending you lots of orgo love and best wishes! Remember though, you are good enough already!!

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Sonia S Braga May 6, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Good luck, Gena! Sending lots of love and positive thoughts!

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Merrill May 6, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Beautiful post Gena. It definitely touched me. I am a frequent reader but infrequent commenter, but this post had me on the verge of tears. I felt like I had to tell you. I’ll be thinking about you tomorrow for your o-chem final– I’ve been there and I know the mental stamina and strength it takes to get through that exam but I know that you have it in you!

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Hannah May 6, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Hang in there, Gena! Remember your intentions for changing careers to help you pull through! We all experience failing classes or not doing as well as we’d like at one point or another. And I love what Alex says above – you are good enough already – don’t forget that.

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Fiona Schmidt May 6, 2012 at 9:04 pm

I spent a minute focusing on sending love and good energy your way! Thank you for being so open and honest. It’s so refreshing and gives me that wonderful feeling that I’m ok, you’re ok, we’re all ok. You may be failing organic chemistry, but you are excelling with this blog and inspiring readers with such thoughtful posts.

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janet @ the taste space May 6, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Hey Gena, Loved your post. I am so lucky to have a wonderful SO who loves me unconditionally… He constantly remins me how great a person I am when I don’t see it myself. I have to remember to really listen to him, because he sees things in myself that sometimes I don’t.

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Christina @ HealthyCosmos May 6, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Beautiful post, Gena. Good luck on your exam! If you’re even an iota of as brilliant a chemist as you are a writer, I have tremendous faith you’ll do great.

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Andi May 6, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Good luck with chem! I’ll be right there with you – I have a 3:30 electricity and magnetism final that I cannot get studying for… I would send good thoughts your way, but I’ve been told that they can make people gassy, so I’ll spare you that. :-)

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Loraine May 7, 2012 at 12:20 am

Dear Gena, I’ve never commented before, but this post really touched me. I will be thinking of you tomorrow. What I wish for you is that you find a way to enjoy the process of the exam itself, no matter how challenging it is — and perhaps learn something in the middle of it (whether about chemistry or about life!).

Though some find it hard to believe, I can tell you as a physics professor that many profs yearn to connect with and support their students in the same way that your amazing yoga teacher did. I hope I’m not being insensitive to your predicament here if I say that I truly believe that science can open us and inspire us in downright spiritual ways every bit as much as yoga and the arts (like great literature or cooking!) do.

I wish you all the best in your studying and exam-taking.

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Monica May 7, 2012 at 1:59 am

Some lovely writing as always. Best of luck with your exam, and congratulations that it will over and done soon :)

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Laura C May 7, 2012 at 2:20 am

I believe in you, Gena. (Psst- organic chemistry score =/= you). I know your greatness is going to find awesome expressions. Visualize success! And thanks for being real. This downtrodden phd student appreciates it :P

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Hannah May 7, 2012 at 4:33 am

That you Gena. I’ve been feeling all jagged edges and breathlessness and wavering horizons lately. I needed this.

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Rebecca May 7, 2012 at 6:24 am

This post actually brought tears to my eyes! (It probably made you cry too since you were thinking about your final ;) But sending you lots of luck – as they say here in France, “merde!” It’s actually the word for “shit” which is likely how you are feeling now, but the French think shit is good luck so voilà, I predict you will ace your exam! Or at least PASS, no need to ace, as you say, no need to seek perfection ! I love your posts – this one really felt like I was reading something that I wrote, and seeing the other comments, you have a way of making everyone all over the world feel like they’re not alone and can relate. So bravo on your amazing work. I am currently in one of the most stressful times for me as I get ready for the cannes film festival and I will remember your quote and words of wisdom about not always trying to be perfect and, especially, surrounded by one of the most materialistic, superficial events in the world, staying “real” despite it all. I might take that excerpt in my pocket on the red carpet! ;) Now get that final over with so you can feed us with some more delicious recipes ok?

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Marisa @ DishingNatural May 7, 2012 at 6:57 am

What a beautiful post. I’ve been working a lot lately on loving myself exactly the way I am so it came at a nice time. And I would love to start a yoga practice. I’ve been to a few classes and felt so relaxed after. Need to go more often. Good luck on your exam!

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Lauren May 7, 2012 at 10:33 am

I feel your pain! I’m studying currently for the MCAT- the orgo section is up next on my list. Not looking forward to reviewing that material. You can do it! And as always, thank you so much for giving me inspiration everyday to fight my ED and love me :)

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Ashley May 7, 2012 at 10:53 am

That was probably one of my favorite posts I have read in quite some time. I think such insightful writing is not only welcome, but appreciated in this community. Thanks for such a wonderful post, I really enjoyed it!

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Amanda @ AmandaRunsNY May 7, 2012 at 11:16 am

This is an AMAZING post. I love that your yoga teacher quoted the Velveteen Rabbit, it’s just such a perfect story.

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Andrea May 7, 2012 at 11:29 am

I read this at 12:28 on Monday. Made me tear up a little. Currently sending good wishes your way!

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Eileen May 7, 2012 at 12:33 pm

I can definitely relate–I spent many a yoga class in tears at Inward Bound in Ann Arbor. Although kind of embarrassing, it also usually felt like more of a relief than anything else. Physical release leads to mental release, right?

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Stephanie May 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm

I hope the test went well! Hang in there. One class will not make or break your career. I have to remind myself of that constantly as a graduate student. I am a perfectionist who channels that energy into paralyzing self doubt when I’ve got assignments due. I know what you must be feeling, but you’re decision to switch careers is inspiring. And, more importantly, the world needs someone like you in the medical profession. You’ll make it through this, and you’ll be more beautiful because of it :) Wonderful post. So touching. That you had time to write that during the last few days when you’ve surely been busy studying is a testament to your unbreakable spirit. Sending you love, pre and post exam!

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rose May 7, 2012 at 3:04 pm

i really needed this post today. i so admire and respect you, gena, and if orgo’s not your forte… your readers love you anyway :)

(but i still hope there’s a curve. fingers crossed!!!)

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Alexia @ NamasteYoga May 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm

flow yoga is my passion- i would love to check it out in the US! looks like a great place- enjoy some more time there if u are in need of good energy. I am sure ur spirit and energy will be back fully in a couple of days!

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Cassandra May 7, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Great post. You do good work, Gena, even if organic chem is trying with all its might to bring you down. Good luck!

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Skye May 7, 2012 at 4:30 pm

It looks like you’ve received some helpful comments from other orgo students – I don’t have any advice other than trying your hardest not to be stressed out and to just do the best you can in the moment. That’s much easier said than done, I know. I’ll be sending positive orgo thoughts your way tomorrow!

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Jami May 7, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Gena, I love your blog and your posts always speak to my interests and concerns. That said, this post has resonated with me like no other! I, too, am a perfectionist and as you have mentioned here before, I find that it allows me to do many things well and I very much respect that part of me – or at least I’m learning to! At the same time, my perfectionism is sometimes paralyzing and exhausting. It is a great burden to try to please everyone, all the time. How much better to be real and surrounded by people who really like you. Of course, as Williams’ Skin Horse tells us, that is a very much a bit-by-bit “becoming.” Thank you so much for this wonderful post, and BEST OF LUCK!!!!

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Anastasia@healthymamainfo.com May 7, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Beautiful post! Yoga’s been my passion for many years, I practice it every single day, and I don’t think it can be any better source of energy!

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Becky May 10, 2012 at 4:25 pm

I love “discovering” new yoga studios! When I lived in Vancouver, BC I went to almost every studio before I found one that fit. Now that I’m moving to Seattle (where I’ll also be doing a post-bacc) I’ll have the chance to do the same. Hope you did well on your exam!

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