YogAudacious Feature

Grateful to have been featured by the very inspiring Gigi Yogini in her blog YogAudacious.

There are several premises behind YogAudacious, and behind Gigi’s work in general, that I identify with. The first is that yoga is for everyone and those of us who practice should be role models of that philosophy. The second is that yoga helps us be more courageous. I’ve always said yoga helps me create a safe place to practice dealing with some of the issues we may not be equipped to deal with in the “real world” quite yet.

Thanks in advance for reading – and please visit Gigi on her own site, as well as on Yoga Vibe.

Holding my breath

Gratuitous picture of me pensively looking at the water

Gratuitous picture of me pensively looking at the water

More often than I care to admit, throughout the day I’ll catch myself holding my breath. I don’t consciously do it, but suddenly I’ll feel light-headed and start to panic, and then I’ll realize it’s because I haven’t been breathing. And I breathe.

A couple of years ago, I had to have a duct excised from my breast. An ultrasound had shown that the duct was inflamed, and my specialist needed to remove it before she could take a biopsy. The biopsy was ultimately negative, but I had to go through surgery to discover that.

I was pretty anxious about the whole experience, but the thing I was most anxious about was having to go under for the ductectomy. Not the surgery itself, which was fairly simple, but the fact that I had to be anesthetized.

I hate mind-altering substances. They make me feel completely out of control. I like feeling in control of my body. It’s just about the only thing I can control in my life – why on earth would I want to relinquish that?

I was never one to get high, on legal drugs or illegal ones, and while I went through a period (just like most young people) where I went to parties and drank to get drunk (so I could do stupid things and blame it on the alcohol), I’m also not much of a drinker.

A viticultural favorite with a very fitting name for me

A viticultural favorite with a very fitting name

Sure, I’ll have a glass of wine or two on occasion, but it’s mostly for the ritual of it – just like I enjoy having my cup of coffee in the morning. It also doesn’t help that my metabolism is such that I go from two drinks to hung over, just like some fair-skinned people go from pink to sunburned, skipping the tan entirely.

Anyway, so I was nervous about the drugs. More so that the knife.

That morning, the nurses at the hospital gave me an anxiolytic before rolling me into the OR. They put in an IV, and the surgeon asked me what kind of music I liked to listen to.

It might have been the drugs speaking, but I requested Rihanna. I was thinking something along the lines of “Stay” or perhaps “Diamonds,” but the surgeon chose to play “S&M,” and the words “na na na na, come on!” are the last thing I remembered before I blinked and found myself in the recovery room, asking the nurse by my side what happened to Rihanna.

They had me hooked up to a heart monitor in that recovery room, and once I was awake and asking for food, the nurse called my husband in and let me know I’d have to be monitored for a few minutes before I could be released.

I was in the middle of telling my husband of my weird time-lapse experience with the drugs and Rihanna, when the monitor I was hooked up to started beeping loudly, both to my alarm and my nurse’s chagrin.

“Hang on,” he said skeptically, once he looked at the neon green-on-black lights on the screen. “Are you holding your breath??”

I was, of course. Subconsciously. And as soon as he pointed it out I took a deep one and the machine went back to normal for a few minutes.

“If you want to get out of here,” he said sternly, “you have to stop doing that!”

We repeated this process once or twice, to everyone’s annoyance, until I made a concerted effort to take full, even breaths, and finally got it together long enough to satisfy the hospital’s requirements for my discharge.

That was two years ago, and despite my consistent yoga practice (where I am CONSTANTLY being reminded that even in the hard poses I have to BREAAAATHE), I still catch myself randomly not breathing sometimes.

I don’t know, maybe I’m secretly waiting for something to happen in my life, or maybe it’s just the remnants of my anxiety – that part of my disorder that I can never fully live without. I don’t know whether this is something I need to fix, or just another one of my idiosyncrasies that I accept and forget about. But maybe breath work – which I have largely ignored in my two years of yoga practice – is the next frontier for me.

I’ll let you guys know how it goes.

Yoga gone…. right?

I went to a new yoga studio yesterday and I didn’t want the class to end. After it was over, all I wanted to do was talk to my cousin – who had invited me to come to his regular studio with him – about how it had gone.

That’s the sign of a good class right there.

I loved the space, and while the difficulty was well within my reach, I still got a lot out of the hour and fifteen minutes we were there. Looking around me (not judging, I promise) I saw a handful of people that reminded me of what I must have been like when I first started going to mixed level classes a little over a year ago. Cringing, hunching over, refusing to use blocks or straps when blocks AND straps were clearly necessary.

My regular instructor Rebecca gets frustrated at me for always aiming for the most difficult variation of the pose, even if I don’t have easier variations down pat yet.

Feet splayed out, head not centered between my biceps, 40 lb monkey on my abs... This is a pretty DON'T as far as Wheel Pose goes.

Feet splayed out, head not centered between my biceps, 40 lb monkey on my abs… This is a pretty big DON’T as far as Wheel Pose goes.

And can I be honest? Looking at recent pictures of myself, I can see why! The one on the right in Wheel, for example, helped me see just much I was improperly compensating with my body just to get myself up there. The kid on my stomach is another story.

Those of you who don’t practice yoga will probably scratch your heads at this one. Those of you who do will recognize what I mean when I say I was one of those people who HAVE to touch their toes – no matter how much back-rounding it took to get there. I’ve slowly been weaning myself off the habit, but occasionally I still find myself “cheating” to get into some bind.

At the beginning of each class, most instructors ask you to set an intention. My intention recently has been to recognize when I’m pushing myself constructively and when I’m just trying to show off for everyone else in the room.

Yoga’s taught me I’m a lot more Alpha than I care to admit. But I’m working on it.

And I managed to stay true to my intention yesterday… for the most part. I also managed to nail a good Wheel or two.

Ok fine, maybe just one decent one, but I’m improving! 🙂

Not perfect... but better!

Not perfect… but better!

Love in the Time of Ebolapalooza

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Of course, as an anxiety sufferer the news on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has affected me (mentally).

I’ve begun scanning the online papers every day – mostly CNN and The Washington Post – for bits and pieces of information on the spread of Ebola in the United States and other countries outside of West Africa.

Every day I check on the condition of the three people currently infected – the NBC cameraman and the two nurses – and send them positive vibes, hoping to bend and shape the Universe toward an outcome that works in their favor.

But if I’m being honest, while I feel terrible for these three people (and everyone affected by the crisis in West Africa), I question my own motives for so fervently wishing them well.

So far, “only” a handful of people have had Ebola in the United States. And so far, “only” one of them has died. Those are significantly better survival odds than we’re seeing in West Africa, and I’m pushing my diseased mind to cling on to the two facts that have so far brought me comfort:

1) Putting aside the well-publicized blunders of the Texas hospital where Thomas Duncan (the first Ebola patient to be diagnosed in the US) died a couple of weeks ago, most people who are treated in this country actually recover. Perhaps the level of immunity, living conditions and medical advances available in the US make the disease less deadly here than in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Or perhaps the experimental medication these people have been taking is weakening the virus enough to tip the battle in their favor. Either way, the odds don’t look quite as horrible by my count within this small sample size of six (seven if you include the Spanish nurse in Madrid).

2) Four members of Thomas Duncan’s family stayed in close quarters with him for days while he was symptomatic. They were quarantined for 21 days after he was diagnosed, and have not shown any symptoms of the disease since then. This tells me despite all the “Outbreak” scenarios the media would like to throw at us, the disease is not that contagious.

Why am I telling you all this?

He is fearless. I am not!

He is fearless. I am not!

It’s because the night the first nurse from Texas was diagnosed with Ebola, I had one of the worst episodes of anxiety I’ve had in the last eight years. So I’ve had many days to ruminate on this, using my coping tools not to let it affect me.

This time, though, my anxiety has been different. In that, it’s actually not directed at me.

When I thought about the possibility of contracting Ebola and dying in some scene out of the zombie apocalypse of the imaginary near future, it was pretty easy for me to shrug it off and say – “eh, I’m going to die eventually, if it’s not this it will be something else.” But when I thought about my son contracting Ebola and being taken away to some place where I couldn’t hold his hand, calm his fears and say to him – as I usually do – “it’s OK to be afraid” or “I love you” – I came close to losing my mind.

Yoga has helped. And exercise has helped. The difference in my mood when I do something physical and get the adrenaline going is palpable. Pretty soon I will force myself to stop checking the papers in the morning. And I’ll start working on accepting that just like I can’t control my own fate, I also can’t fully control my son’s.

Such is life in the time of Ebolapalooza. Now I’m off to yoga.

A Tao of Me

This post was written in response to a series of questions posed by my friend at 1874 First Impressionist Exhibition. Go visit her blog!

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Me me me me me

1. What’s the best piece of advice on writing you’ve received?

Hmm. I’m not sure anyone’s ever directly given me writing advice – except for perhaps my 12th grade English teacher. When I graduated from high school I wrote her a book of short stories as a thank you gift. I had it bound and everything. I think mostly I just wanted the thrill of having published my own book.

Oh, but I digress….

2. How often do you write or work on writing (e.g. researching)?

If we’re talking about my own personal writing, probably 4 or 5 times a week since I began blogging again.

I try to keep my research to a minimum, so I only write about things I know about (which is why you see me write so much about me).

3. Are you an atheist, agnostic or a believer or something else?

Believer. I was brought up Catholic and still picture a guy in a toga and a white beard when I pray.

Interestingly enough I’ve had several experiences where I felt like I was being sent a message from a higher power. The one that stands out the most was on Christmas Eve of 2000. I was heartbroken over a guy who had been using me (although in retrospect I was more than complicit in that experience), and tired of hurting that evening I was well on my way to crying myself to sleep, wishing I knew how to let go of a relationship that was clearly keeping me from being happy.

In my head I was half praying, half indulging in a self pity-party when suddenly a prayer popped into my head. I’d heard it a million times – the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi – but it was not one that I’d recited or thought about very often. It floated around in my head for a while, until I eventually drifted off to sleep.

The next day I dragged my puffy-eyed self out of bed, probably closer to noon than to morning, and found one last unopened present for me under the Christmas tree. It was from my grandmother, who is now 95 but used to be quite adept at working with ceramics when she was in her 70’s and 80’s. She had made me a ceramic plaque as a gift, and on it she had handwritten the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Conclusion – either there is a God who was telling me everything would be OK, or I have psychic powers.

4. Do you think this affects your writing?

Indirectly. It affects my being, which affects my writing. Ultimately my writing is a reflection of what I’m experiencing, and much of my point of view is driven by the belief that there is an ultimate purpose propelling us forward.

5. What’s your favorite book?

Ack. Tough one. I used to be an avid reader, but not so much anymore. Most recently Eat Pray Love touched me, mostly because I see a lot of myself in the author and what she chose to do with her life. She wasn’t happy, so she had the balls to change something.

People who have read the book criticize Elizabeth Gilbert for leaving a perfectly wonderful life for petty reasons, but her reasons are HERS and you can’t judge someone else’s existence through the lens of your own values. She was unhappy. And she chose to do something about it. Period.

6. Who is your favorite author?

I have such a hard time picking favorite stuff. I have several favorites: Paulo Coelho, Elizabeth Gilbert, JRR Tolkien are three that come to mind just off the top of my head.

7. What’s your favorite movie?

Again I’m going to cheat and list several. The Lord of the Rings trilogy. American Beauty. Amelie. Jerry Maguire.

There is just something about people who take the bull by the horns and do things that make them happy as opposed to doing what others expect them to do that is really appealing to me.

8. Who is the awesomest person you know (or know of) dead or alive?

My son. Hands down.

I may be a little prejudiced but he’s so kind and thoughtful (for a six-year-old) that I can’t help but smile when he’s around. Even when he’s having a temper tantrum or being a brat.

I look back on my life before he was born and I wonder how on earth I could have existed without him. Sometimes people ask me whether I would change anything about my past and my answer is always that I’d leave every moment – good or painful – exactly as it is. I wouldn’t want to risk creating any sort of alternate future that doesn’t have D in it.

9. How would you define creativity?

Creativity is taking random creative elements – words, thoughts, ideas, textures, materials, colors – and putting them together in a counter-intuitive way. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, it just has to be different.

10. How long have you been on WordPress?

Two months. I had another blog for about a year (about eBay if you can believe that), but it was on a different platform.

11. Do you write for a living?

Not yet. 🙂

My emotional deck of cards

New Dawn. Photo Courtesy of Valeria Vannini.

New Dawn. Photo Courtesy of Valeria Vannini.

I woke up feeling refreshed this morning, having slept 11 hours straight without the sting of little feet in my ribs nudging me out of deep sleep at all hours of the night.

My husband and son had a “sleepover” downstairs in the basement, so I had my bed all to myself for once.

It was my own hunger, rather than my boy’s “gentle” requests for his breakfast that awoke me at around 8 AM today.

While I made my breakfast I got to thinking about a conversation I was having with a friend yesterday that was a repeat of something I’ve discussed many, many times with my sister. I don’t know why I woke up thinking about this, but I thought it would be worthwhile to write it down.

I’ve found in looking around me that we don’t all use the same feelings equally. I remember first noticing this when my son was a baby. Other new moms would talk about their feelings of guilt at not being able to breast-feed exclusively, or not giving their babies organic food, or for the working moms, not spending enough time with their babies. Their guilt would push them to do things that ultimately made their lives SO much more complicated. And I would scratch my head and go, huh??

At the time, I thought I was just a more evolved being (yes, I do have a bit of a superiority complex that rears its ugly head sometimes). Recently, though, I’ve discovered that I just don’t “do” guilt. It doesn’t occur to me to feel guilty about things most of the time. It’s not in my emotional deck of cards.

I also don’t have guilt’s ugly cousin “shame”. I don’t know, I just don’t do things I’m ashamed of. Or maybe I do things I SHOULD be ashamed of, but I don’t have the gene.

That’s not to say, though, that I don’t suffer from my own set of negative emotions that push me to do things that rob me of my happiness. It’s just that they’re Spades, not Clubs. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve managed to toss some of these cards from my deck, slowly replacing them with better cards.

Here’s what my hand currently looks like:

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Oldest of four.

Obligation. I’ve always attributed this one to being the first of four children in my family, but it is RIDICULOUS how much this feeling drives me. The level of obligation I feel to people like retail employees and other random strangers is aberrant.

Unlike guilt, there’s no feeling of wrongdoing per se, and it’s forward-looking rather than retroactive. I am beholden to people, not concepts. I don’t think I’m a bad person for not doing things a certain way, but I do feel a sense of responsibility for making things easier for other people.

So for instance, if I tell someone I’m going to do something, I will do it exactly as and when I said I would – unless I excuse myself from my obligation (in which case, I am done with it and don’t think about it again).

Angst. If you need me to expand on this one you’d probably be better served going back and reading up on my blog. Or better yet, here’s a primer.

Self-Doubt. This mostly manifests itself in email form.

Did I say thaaaat?

Did I say thaaaat?

The main question I ask myself is – “Am I saying the right thing?” and its corollary “Will people think this is weird?” as well as “Is this email appropriate?” If you knew me growing up, you’d know that I was quite well known for putting my foot in my mouth. As I’ve gotten older and my executive functioning has improved, this has stopped being as much of an issue, but I’m also constantly making a conscious effort NOT to say the wrong thing.

Gratitude. I’m not sure how I got to be this lucky, but I’ll take it!

Compassion. This is probably the single most powerful tool I have in navigating my relationships with other people.

Compassion is a combination of empathy and forgiveness. It is having the self-assurance to understand that other people’s behavior is more reflective of them and their struggles than it is of you and your worth.

Hurt people hurt. Ego, attitude, rudeness, hubris and thoughtlessness are all defense mechanisms. Anger is a defensive emotion. More often than not people who set out to get one up on others do it because at some point they felt like victims themselves – and want to avoid feeling that way in the future.

And in my “discard” pile I’ve got:

Bitterness. I used to get SO upset when things didn’t go my way. I would compare myself constantly to the people around me and feel like a victim for not having what they had. In college I would hide out in my room feeling sorry for myself because my high school friends had gone to schools that put them close to each other and I was on the other side of the world from them. I was despondent that the boys I liked never liked me back. I want to kick myself when I think about all the wasted opportunities – all that time I could have been taking advantage of the here and now rather than wishing things were different.

I can’t put my finger on when this one started to fade away. It may have been after my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage when we were still living in Barcelona. We were incredibly saddened by the loss of that baby, but in retrospect it brought us so many good things – such as my son – that I thank the Universe for unfolding exactly as it does, perfectly every time.

Resentment. Just like everybody else, I have people in my life who have hurt me. For a very long time, I held grudges. And then somehow I started to realize that resentment weakened me. It did nothing to the people who had slighted me, but it weakened ME. So I did three things: 1) I forgave and then culled from my life people who didn’t deserve to be in it, 2) I used my compassion lens to humanize people important people I needed to forgive, 3) I made it my mission to try to put myself in other people’s shoes when their behavior offends to prevent me from feeling hurt. It doesn’t always work, but when it doesn’t I can just go back to culling and forgiving.

What about you guys? What’s in your deck of cards?

Drinking from a firehose

I’ve been on this whirlwind of activity, trying new things, testing new ground. Filling my life with so many meaningful experiences…

Folks, I’m exhausted. It’s not even 9 PM, but right now I just want to turn off the light, roll over and go to sleep.

I have a new yoga class to look forward to in the morning, but for now, I think I’ll go do something mindless and trite and not get out of bed until my six year old sits on my head tomorrow morning, demanding to be fed.

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The Loch Ness Monster, ready to attack.

It’s Happy Hour

The talented Diana from A Holistic Journey put out a call to action to her readers to describe their happiest moment in 50 words or less.

I’ve had my share of them, of course, not least of which was the birth of my son (which was a production onto itself). But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the constant, low key, underlying happiness I’ve been feeling over the last year or so, and wanted to convey a concept I’ve flirted with on my own blog but haven’t fully developed.

I’ve been toying with the idea that when you’re happy, truly happy, even the little things like the crisp air on a clear spring night or the thought of having dinner with your family can bring you to tears. Happiness doesn’t always have to be a major event – it can be a collection of little ones (day in, day out), fueled by the gratitude of knowing that our time here is brief and that while we may have obstacles to overcome, wonderful things always surround us despite our circumstances.

Much easier said than done, and much easier said in 200 words than in 50, but please find Diana’s happiness collection below. I hope you enjoy reading, and that you’ll visit her blog (as well as the others)!

PS: Those of you who know me may be surprised that it was actually one of the other readers who wrote about a moment in Nicaragua. How did that happen, you ask? The Universe, I tell you!

A Holistic Journey

It happened after yoga one night. The April air was crisp as we hadn’t fully settled into spring. My family waited for me at home, dinner on the table. My eyes filled with tears of contentment. I had come through years of debilitating anxiety and was fortunate to be alive.

Average Yogini

So here are my picks to the prompt: Tell me about a moment when you were happy, so happy you could hardly see straight. You couldn’t have been happier if you’d won the Lottery. Go ahead and visit one another, make friends. Enjoy.

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Tough choice: Is it the day I completed a 10,000-mile bicycle ride and met Peggy; or the night California voters approved an effort I had initiated to reduce tobacco use? One led to happiness; the other has saved an estimated one million lives. I’ll go with love.

Wandering Through Time and Place

One year…

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Anxiety and ego (and yoga, of course)

My husband and I take turns with our “yogas” over the weekend, since we can’t leave the six-year-old alone and also can’t bring him with us (although I’ve been tempted to bring him to my small Sunday yoga class to freak out the teacher).

The hubby’s been playing golf a lot recently, and I know it makes him happy, so I encourage it. Living where we live is not exactly his first choice, but the more he’s got his own thing going on here, the more he’ll feel at home.

But anyway, I digress. So yesterday he went to play an early round of golf, and I found a class at a different studio that matched his schedule.

I’d been to this studio before, and I was a tiny bit hesitant to go back. One of the teachers at Edge, my regular studio, had recommended Rocket Yoga to me. She knew I liked arms balances and inversions and thought I would have fun with it.

Tap, tap, tapping my wall.

Tap, tap, tapping my wall.

The first time I went to this place I chose an “advanced” Rocket class because it was the only one I could fit into my schedule. I figured I’d do my best with the poses I hadn’t mastered yet and still get good practice in with the poses I have mastered.

I don’t know that I’ve really fully described my level in yoga, but despite my practice being fairly sloppy (or perhaps because of it), I’m pretty comfortable with some advanced poses. I’m particularly good at arm balances, and I have a couple of inversions I can do out in the middle of the room (without a spotter or the wall). I can also easily do a handstand against the wall, as well as a forearm stand.

Everyone has their own version of yoga, and I’m more comfortable with these poses than I am with some of the fundamentals, like Chair or Tree.

So, you know, while I haven’t nailed most poses perfectly, I’m adventurous, I’ve developed some upper body strength, and my interest in these kinds of poses has led me to get a few of them in my practice that I wasn’t even close to doing when I started.

Now. To say that I was the least advanced person in that Advanced Rocket class would be a GROSS understatement. Let me show you a video of what every other student in the room could pull off with ease:

Don’t get me wrong, I had a phenomenal time watching the others do amazing things with their bodies. I’ve been practicing long enough to realize, of course, that everyone there had spent more time and invested more effort into mastering these moves than me. If yoga has taught me anything it’s that you can accomplish just about everything with practice. But I knew I was in above my head, and because I spent the majority of the time watching people rather than practicing, I didn’t get a ton out of the experience (other than sheer admiration at the things I will eventually be able to do, if I’m interested enough to pursue it).

Needless to say, I never went back to that specific class. But yesterday I went to another Rocket class at the same studio, and this one was much more commensurate with my level. I was, again, probably one of the least advanced students there, but not so far behind everyone else that I couldn’t challenge myself and get a few good tries in at things I’d never attempted before.

I’ll be honest. I pride myself on not being easily intimidated, and on not getting hung up on the “who’s better than me” game. I genuinely enjoyed watching the more advanced students when I was there the first time. It wasn’t discouraging or frustrating at the time, and it didn’t make me feel any worse about myself. They’d had more practice and had built up more strength and balance. That’s all.

But when I walked in the door again yesterday, I felt more nervous than I expected. I had a lot of anxiety about whether the class would be appropriate for me this time around, even though in yoga there is very little risk to going to a class that’s too advanced – you just do what you can that’s that!

I got on my mat and felt insecure. As the class progressed, and I realized I wasn’t hugely out of place among the other students, my insecurity eased. It was a wonderful class in the end, but the physical symptoms of my anxiety hung around me all day (and as usual, I went about my business and did my best to ignore them).

A very dear friend of mine said to me yesterday – when you take ego out of any situation it usually brings the picture fully into perspective. I guess my ego reared its ugly head yesterday as I walked in that door. I guess my ego made me feel less worthy, which fueled my anxiety. I’m working on defeating that ego, but I guess I still have a little ways to go.

I’m putting that Rocket class in my regular rotation, by the way. With a little bit of practice, I’ll be pressing up to a handstand in NO time. In the meantime, I’ll keep using my trusty wall to help me practice. 🙂

Ready, set, PRESS!

Ready, set, PRESS!