Inspirare, Espirare

As my obsession with yoga continues to grow, I am always looking to try new branches of yoga and expand my horizons.

Dancer Pose in the ruins
Dancer Pose in the ruins

After practicing for five years, I tend to encounter more mental challenges in yoga than physical ones.

That’s why branches of yoga that I don’t particularly like, are my favorite classes to take.

Yoga has been receiving more attention recently, thanks to the fearless Bold & Naked Yoga in New York City that encourages students to leave inhibitions and insecurities at the door, with their clothes.

I think I would have to check with the roomies before branching out to this, so for now I am exploring ashtanga yoga.

A few days ago I took my first class at a studio, Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, conveniently located near the Colosseum.

I don’t have much experience with Ashtanga, or Italian, so why not combine the two together?

Even though I wasn’t sure what the instructor was saying for the first five minutes of meditation, I was able to fill the dialogue for myself, making the practice more personalized.

Eventually, I began figuring some words out. She kept repeating “Inspirare, espirare” which I soon realized was cues for the breath, “inhale, exhale.”

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 1.11.14 AMThe beautiful thing about an Ashtanga practice is that it is always the same. The sequence never changes, but your body does. This practice naturally shows one’s progression.

Throughout the class, I became more comfortable trusting my instincts and little memory of Ashtanga, rather than relying on cues. Om symbols were displayed throughout the room, matching the tattoo between my shoulders, which made me feel like I might be in the right place.

I am accustomed to practicing vinyasa flow yoga, which threads different poses together fluidly and is often faster paced. In Ashtanga, one holds each pose for five breaths. Like Italy, Ashtanga makes me slow down and appreciate each pose for what it is, rather than thinking of it as a transition to the next.

Everything about this semester is a work in progress, so it seems quite fitting. Hopefully by the end of the semester I will know the Ashtanga sequence well, understand the Italian cues, and most importantly, enjoy it.

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The Waiting Game

True to the lax Roman lifestyle, I have yet to be placed in my internship for the semester.

One of the courses I am enrolled in this semester sets students up with employers in their field of study, in order to receive class credit for a 10 hr/week internship. The internship interviews began shortly after we arrived, but are inconsistent throughout employers. Some employers are taking their time to set up meetings, which is why some students have yet to be placed.

Turns out, this limbo period is giving me a true Italian experience.

ImageAs a result of a lack of opportunities, corrupt labor laws and cultural norms, Italians are often taking as long as eight years to find full time employment after graduating from college. Italy’s current education system creates little room for internships or for students to gain any work experience before graduation.

Employers lacking the economic flexibility to create many internships or take risks with unexperienced workers lead to a never ending cycle of employment. Long-term opportunities are also very difficult to come by, making more and more grads hold numerous short-term, dead end jobs that are rarely related to their degree.

In the States, college grads are beginning to relate a bit more to this fate. Yet, the stage of post-graduation unemployment in the US still doesn’t compare to Italy’s, which explains the difference of incomes over lifetimes. We retire at the same age, but Americans have almost a decade more of work experience.

Cultural differences vary the causes and degree of desperation, yet high unemployment of young people is detrimental to any economy.

Work ethic in Italy seems to be stunted by the lack of urgency to leave the nest and overall social acceptance of avoiding independence. It is also not fiscally possible for most 20-something Italians to afford their own place when work is so difficult to find. This doesn’t have the same American stigma usually associated with moving back home.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for that 20-something Italian graduate to become a 40-something raising a family in their parent’s home.

Ultimately, my impatience towards receiving my internship placement is just my type-A tendencies coming out, rather than actual job instability- a tragic truth of Italy I have no intent to belittle. While I hope to soon begin my academic internship, I am far more anxious to see what strides Italy is able to make for the 40.1% youth unemployment rate.

One can only hope the young Italians’ patience pays off.

5 Reasons to Slow Down

I am the queen of taking on as much as I possibly can. A typical day for me in the US is jam-packed with productive activities, workouts, homework and seeing friends.

I remind my yoga students the value of being present, unplugging, and slowing down; yet I never fully take this on myself. Even though we have been here less than a week, I have found the pace of life in Rome to be easily the greatest difference between here and the US. Here’s why those Romans might be onto something-

1. Carpe Diem

Romans take their time to do everything. The internet is slower, everyone makes meals fresh rather than microwaving a frozen dinner and a repair man coming at 3 p.m. might mean 7 p.m.IMG_0023

However, this value of time is reflected in the beauty of the buildings, monuments and sculptures surrounding the city. You could spend hours in each must-see every week and still discover something new. Furthermore, you should.

This city was meant to be enjoyed and admired. The more present you are in every adventure and experience, the more there is to remember.

2. More Patience & Compassion

Normally, tentative start times would drive me up the wall. In the US, class starting at 10 a.m. means most students will be there by 9:45 a.m. Let’s just say that habit doesn’t translate.

However, professors not responding to emails instantaneously and stores being closed more frequently is a humbling reminder that people have lives outside of yours. Here, there is a point where work stops and life begins.

While waiting for friends at the metro, I discovered more room for understanding. Instead of thinking they’re late, I bet they overslept, that’s so like them, I found myself not even thinking of optimistic excuses for why they were late. Rather just admiring the city, enjoying a cappuccino and truly waiting patiently.

3. Real Conversations

IMG_0079In the US we are accustomed to fast food, hour-long sit down dinners, and wait staff politely hinting at the exit. Here, fast food is still made fresh, dinners last for many hours and the bill only comes upon request.

Throughout these “long” dinners, I have found the conversation never dulls and the question of what time is it? becomes irrelevant. Italians will stay for hours after eating, conversing on a level that goes past the superficial.

The other day when overwhelmed with the understandable need for a crepe, instead of getting it to-go, I stood at the counter and ate. This is very common in cafes, regardless of who you are with.

So as I stood by myself, iPhone out of sight, I realized how much more present I was. I began practicing my Italian with the barista. Holding up my knife and fork, I asked “Come si dice?” He taught me the new vocab and laughed as I attempted the Italian accent.

Taking the opportunity to slow down allows you to meet new people in places you would normally never look.

4. Routines Filled With Simple Pleasures

As Romans commute to work each morning, there is not the same chaos we associate with rush hour. These tentative start times allow them the luxury of going into their favorite cafe and sitting down for a cappuccino.Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 9.52.56 AM

While that may sound expensive, the 90 cents I’ve spent at Cafe Amore each morning before class has created one of my favorite traditions. The owner, Fabio, greets us every morning and helps us learn Italian as he repeats the name of pastries and corrects my french pronunciation.

It’s the little things.

5. Because You Can

Maybe all the yoga gives me an advantage, but somehow my Type-A tendencies make me think if I can embrace this lifestyle, anyone can.

I’m sure you found that finding the time to Skype with a friend, enjoy a book or try something out of your comfort zone always seems impossible at first, but is always worth the effort. Making time for what you enjoy and what energizes you makes faulty wi-fi’s, late friends and unpredictable bus schedules much easier to cope with.

There will never be enough time or money for anything, unless we begin to see more value in experiences, memories and truly living in the moment.

Via Baccina Anyone?

Well, I survived my first day of doing as the Romans do- except I kind of skipped that whole fitting in part more than I intended.

Once we arrived at the airport in Rome, shuttles took each group of roommates in the program to their respective apartments. After unpacking a bit, I decided to go running while most of my roommates slept.

Getting lost is always part of the plan for running- whether it’s in my thoughts or exploring my surroundings aimlessly. However, in attempt to avoid the busy cobblestone streets that afternoon, I ran down many random alleys and onto isolated streets to find less chaos.

Normally, I run towards familiar landmarks and find my way back to my starting point. Yesterday this was not the case. Somehow I was always going farther from where I should be.

As I mentioned, I have yet to fit in. I could see and hear the bewilderment of the Romans as I passed them. People don’t really run here, and if they do it’s not on busy sidewalks and streets. It was like all residents were thinking, “Why is this American girl running and why is it happening here?”

After being lost for over an hour, I saw their point.

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Our apartment is on Via Baccina and is near the Colosseum. That’s about all the information I had seeing as it was our first day there. I asked for directions from about 7 different people. The police meant well, but the directions in Italian didn’t quite translate. Speaking of, my improper pronunciation of our street name didn’t help.

Eventually, I found a map through a tourist kiosk. Don’t worry the irony of being finding my way around by getting lost running was not lost on them.

I realized storeowners must speak English to communicate with tourists, and started going to them for directions. They were the most helpful by far. One wonderful woman working at a bakery came outside with me to show me which direction to go. I plan on going back to the bakery to thank her and buy everything.

After two hours of being lost, I couldn’t have been happier to see Via Baccina and sprinted up the stairs to my apartment, so happy to be back. Three out of my four roommates were sleeping (clearly missed me), so I detailed my troubles to my roommate Emily.

Although stressful, this experience allowed me to see more parts of Rome than any other student sees on their first day, practice releasing my ego by asking for help, and develop a determination to learn the Italian language. In the US, someone would never walk into a store speaking Italian, and expect to be understood. So why should I expect Italian policeman to speak English? I hope learning Italian will allow me to become more integrated and confident in the Roman culture; or at the least, help me in my future running endeavors.

This morning, I decided to opt out of another running adventure for sunrise yoga in our living room. I haven’t gotten lost since, so clearly I’m making progress.