When I Think I Can’t…Yoga

I know that I’ve talked about it here a million times and I’m sure that people in my life are sick of hearing it, but yoga has changed my life in so many ways that it’s hard not to talk about it. Where once anxiety waited around every turn, preying on my weaknesses, telling me that I would never amount to anything and that each little task was a mountain to climb, I now have tools to keep it away and keep myself strong. Where I once saw the words “no,” “I can’t,” “never,” I now start to see “I can” and “I will.” Anxiety still lives down inside of me, sometimes bubbling up to take over, but now it is easier to push it back down and make it behave. Anxiety now lives largely in the background, leaving the rest to be filled with living life. Some of this is because I found a great psychiatrist. Some of it is because I’ve gotten older and more comfortable with myself. But a large part of the credit goes to yoga.

Because so much of my anxiety is centered around my body and health, yoga is an excellent counter to it. If I can control what my body does in so many ways, there is less room to find fault with it. Add a little meditation and breathing to interrupt those ruminations and yoga is the perfect recipe for my particular brand of anxiety.

I still find myself daunted by certain tasks, especially those that might interrupt the calm(ish) little life I’ve got going here. But it has come to a point where my life needs a shake-up. I need to push past the “I can’t” and into the “I will.” So again, I’m turning to yoga

7 years ago I couldn’t do this.

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5 years ago I couldn’t do this.

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1 year ago I couldn’t do this.

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If I can hold warrior II, balance on my arms, and freakin STAND on my HEAD, I can do anything right? At least, that’s what I tell myself when my mind is full of doubts. Yoga reminds me that I am strong, that I can overcome fear, and that I have control. With that on my side, the only thing left to do is to move forward.

Reminders

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There are times when signs pop up in your life and you can’t see how they might be related until it is pointed out to you. Perhaps they are never intended to make sense at all, but the meaning is nevertheless created by a common thread.

Last week a college friend posted a photo of a mutual friend of ours on Facebook; a face I hadn’t looked at in years, but that I picture so often in my mind. In the photo the two of them were tuxedo-clad and grinning ear to ear at a wedding. This friend passed away after being involved in a hit-and-run accident 11 years ago. He was 25 and had been married for 3 months. We were all recent graduates at the start of our lives and his was ripped away.

A few days ago, my sister called me and something was obviously bothering her. She had just found out that a friend’s sister had been diagnosed with a rare, debilitating, and always fatal disease. She will be dead within a year. She will leave behind a husband and two children. There is nothing that will change this.

Sunday afternoon I arrived early for my yoga class, eager to see my favorite instructor who had been away for a few weeks. I greeted her with a smile and asked about her trip. Her usually bright face was distracted as she told me that it was wonderful. As she began class she told us that if she became emotional it was because just before walking into the studio she had gotten an email telling her that a student of hers had passed away suddenly the night before. She was a young mother who had adopted a baby with her husband last year.

“And so,” she told us as we settled into a comfortable seat, “let’s remember today that life is fleeting.” At that moment it came together for me. These little reminders arranged themselves in my mind as a message. “Enjoy today. Remember that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.” Living with anxiety, I am often too focused on the future, constantly running through what might happen tomorrow, or next month, or in a year. Despite my constant recommitment to being present and mindful, I still fall into the “what if” trap and find myself missing beautiful moments.

I made good on this one yesterday by fighting through major anxiety to take my kids to the beach on the ferry. Although I was nearly paralyzed with worry and fear in the morning, I kept telling myself not to let it tear these happy experiences from me. Once we were out the door, I found myself able to breathe a little easier, and by the time we hit the sand all I could see were smiles and sun and splashing in the waves. It wasn’t perfect–there was a little whining, some impatience, and general toddlerness–but it was worth it. We came home sweaty, exhausted, and full of wonderful memories, which was exactly what I needed.

 

Yoga Mala – Finally

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So, it’s been nine days now and I’m afraid it’s fading from my memory, so I’d better get about it and write about the yoga mala already. Sorry, it’s been a little hectic around here. We’ve had potty training and work deadlines and forgotten homework and, well, you know how it goes.

But I refuse to let this pass by without documenting it. To refresh, a yoga mala is 108 sun salutations and this event was done to raise money for charity:water. I wrote about it here. Sadly, there were only four people there – two participants and two instructors. Amazingly, we were able to raise $925 for charity:water together! While I really wish that more people had come for the cause, it was nice to have just four. We all did it together, with Dayle, who organized the event, leading us through the first 8-10. Dayle gave us each 108 black beans, each of which had been blessed with a mantra by her teenaged students, to count each round with by moving them from one side of the mat to the other.

Each sun salutation is the same, alternating which foot you start with. We began in tadasana, moved into urdhva hastasana and then dived down into standing forward fold. From there we stepped back into a low lunge and then to downward facing dog, rolling forward into plank and then taking a vinyasa – either chatarunga followed by upward facing dog or knees-chest-chin followed by baby cobra. After the vinyasa, push back to downward facing dog and then step forward into a low lunge, with the other foot following into standing forward fold. All of it done one breath-one movement, If you don’t do yoga, I’m sure none of that made any sense. Very simply, you do a series of movements and then repeat the whole thing over again.

After Dayle stopped calling out the poses, I felt a little lost for a few rounds. I couldn’t remember which foot I had stepped back with, I was afraid I had forgotten to move my bean or that I would forget or that I would move an extra one. But I found a rhythm and began repeating “left” or “right” in my head through each round, at first to remind myself which foot to step with and then just as a comforting mantra.

At first it felt easy and then it felt hard and then it felt really hard. I was sweating and incredibly knees-chest-chin felt just as difficult to complete as chataranga, sometimes even more so. I stood at the front of my mat and took a sip of water and gathered my breath and my energy and then it was easier again. I reminded myself to take child’s pose and to breathe and that it was ok to wipe my face and arms with the towel sometimes. About halfway through I looked at the original pile of beans and the new pile of beans and felt like the new pile looked impossibly small. For a second I wanted to scatter it all over the room and say “forget it!” Then a good song came on and gave me more strength and I keep going.

Sometimes all four of us were in sync and sometimes we were each in a different pose at a different time. Sometimes I almost forgot there were other people there. Sometimes the sound of their breath kept me going. Finally I looked at my pile of beans and could easily count how many were left – nine. I decided that I wouldn’t try to get through them all. I ended up taking a little break when there were four. That dwindling pile on the left side of my mat and the growing pile on the right moved me on and on and then, it was done. I stretched out and laid back and breathed deep. I did pigeon to release my poor legs.

When we had all finished and done what we needed we moved into a wonderful supported savasana and then into a long, relaxing, blissful savanasa on the floor. I felt sort of giddy, like at the end of a long run, as my heart finally found it’s beat again and my body melted into the floor. At the end we took some photos and chatted a bit. It was worth ever effort, both in raising donations and in the physical work.

My charity:water campaign is still going for another 78 days and it would be wonderful to reach my goal, even though the event has already passed. I am so blessed to have been a part of this. It’s a wonderful cause and such an amazing way to help people. I said to a lot of people that many of us raise money for great causes and most do it because they know someone who has been personally affected – but how many of us know someone who doesn’t have access to clean water? For that reason, I’m glad I learned about charity:water and was able to help spread the word.

Yoga for Water

Although I was aware of the need for clean water in much of the world, it wasn’t a cause I had ever thought of getting involved in. Then, one of my favorite yoga instructors, the lovely and amazing Dayle Pivetta organized a yoga for charity event at the studio I belong to. I will be participating in a Yoga Mala this Friday night to raise money for charity:water.

Basically, a yoga mala is 108 sun salutations. You can learn a little more about it here. I was very intimidated and I’m still a little scared of 2 straight hours of Surya Namaskar. But Dayle convinced me by telling me that as she practiced it, she tried to think of the women in Africa who walk 8 hours a day just to bring clean water to their families. A very good point. If they can do that, I can do 2 hours of yoga. Plus it feels good to do good. I participated in a yoga charity event once before and I was astounded by how wonderful it felt to come together with other people to do something physical in the name of a good cause.

The charity:water website is very informative. It’s amazing the amount of suffering caused by the lack of something so essential to human existence. Something that most of us take completely for granted. Lack of clean water leads to a multitude of problems, most of which especially affect women and children. From water-borne disease, to the time and energy spent getting clean water, to the inability to keep hands clean, the lack of clean water is a huge burden on a significant portion of the world’s population.

Charity:water uses 100% of donations to fund water projects including building wells and filtration systems, building latrines, and teaching sanitation, freeing women and children to spend time in other important things, like fueling the local economy and getting an education and saving thousands of lives.

To donate to charity:water, please visit my page at http://my.charitywater.org/p/profile. It’s a wonderful cause, a wonderful event, and it would also mean a lot to me.

 

A New Poem

I have not kept my promise of poetry. I think I set the bar too high with my little project. Sadly, my schedule did not allow time for form poetry this month. But I have a few days of National Poetry Month left and I intend to post a few. Not surprisingly, this one came to me in savasana.

The Corpse

Still.
Eyes closed softly,
Shoulders spread,
Back pressed against the floor.
Still, still, still.
Breath in.
Breath out.
Slack.
Smooth.
Gone.

I invite the Lord in.
My heart is afire;
Shot through with the Holy Spirit;
Filled with life,
Peace,
Longing.

The light in me sees the light in you.
In all of you.
All of you.

Om bolo shri
sat guru
bhagavan ki
Jai
Jai
Jai!

My prayer rises
On to the sky
Past me
To all the teachers
Past and present.

Jai!
And still…
Still.

Timely Words

Start Where You Are

I know I’ve written about this before, and clearly this is one of the reasons I go to yoga classes, but sometimes I hear exactly what I needed to hear at exactly the right time. I’m not sure why this happens more often in yoga. I think it must at least partly be because I allow my mind to be more open during my practice and I’m less focused on other things. I also think it’s because I have wonderful teachers who share true ideas with their students and it’s not surprising that many of these resonate with me.

Last night I headed to class after a long day, full of anticipation because an instructor I love, but can’t take often, was subbing. Her classes are physically difficult, spiritually enlightening, and have a kick-ass playlist. She did not disappoint yesterday. While the poses and sequences are challenging, I don’t seem to notice it much in the moment because the music is what my mind is focusing on, rather than how exhausted my abs are.

At the beginning of class last night the teacher shared with us a quote that she likes to keep in mind during her practice and in life. “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” As she said it, it was as if she had a line directly into my heart. I have been feeling so overwhelmed and bogged down recently. I’ve been unable to put my energy where I’d like to because other tasks are taking precedence. I had gotten to place where I felt nearly paralyzed trying to figure out what to do next because there was just so much to do. But those words cleared that feeling and gave me a sense of peace. All I have to do is start where I am, use what I have, and do what I can.

So today I tackled my work with a lighter heart and a refreshed outlook. I was able to take one thing at a time because, after all, what else can I do? Climbing the mountain is so much easier when I’m just putting one hand over the other at the bottom, rather than staring at my tiny shadow against the entire expanse of it. When you’re feeling like the impossible is sitting in front of you, whether it’s potty training, a new responsibility at work, a pose you haven’t been able to master, or all of those combined just remember–start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. It can’t be more complicated than that.

Oh and in the spirit of starting new things, could you just click that little Top Mommy Blogs icon over there on the right or when you scroll down? It would be seriously awesome! Thanks! 

Feelin It!

INSPIRATION (3)

So yes, the cold is back in a big way and this latest freelance project is more than I bargained for. Yes, it’s Monday and the week is stretching out before me like a cold, unending arctic tundra. Yes, I am sitting in Starbucks right now adding tags to a 300 page document which basically amounts to hitting alt + c and alt + v like eight thousand times. But you know what? I’m feelin it anyway!

Maybe it’s because my kids were rolling down a muddy hill and finding worms and climbing tree stumps on Saturday afternoon. Maybe it’s because I watched a bunch of 2-to-4 year-olds dance to Let It Go in my neighbors’ living room yesterday, complete with hand-holding and twirling like little revelers at a ball. Maybe it’s because I took my very favorite yoga class yesterday and rocked a kick-ass headstand (with some spotting, of course). Maybe it’s because, after years and years, I wrote a new poem and showed it to other people.

Maybe it’s because, despite the frigid temperatures, the sun is shining and the flowers insist on sprouting anyway. Maybe it’s because Florence and the Machine keeps coming up on my playlist as I sit here or because I’m getting paid by the hour to cut and paste over and over again. It’s definitely partly due to the fact that, after having a stomach bug Thursday, I finally was able to drink my full allotment of coffee this morning. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because I was able to recognize and hold onto all of those good things today.

I couldn’t help but share my sunny outlook today. So go find your yoga and poetry and coffee combo. Watch some cute kids dance. Look at the sun. Find a little bit of happy today. I’m feelin it and I hope you are too. If you don’t have any of your own, here’s a little of mine to share.

And if that didn’t work. Go listen to and watch this. Makes me happy every time.

So, That Was Cool

After a long, and very trying week including family health scares, work deadlines with no childcare, preschool drama bombs, and more friggin cold weather I was more than ready for the weekend. By some miracle I managed to actually do enough before Saturday that I made my deadlines and didn’t have to work. We were heading up to the in-laws’ house to get out of the city for a bit and stopped at Starbucks before we went to get the car. As we were walking in a man was ahead of me and saw that I was carrying Declan so he stepped aside and held the door for me. I looked over at him to say “thanks” and lo and behold it was Geoffrey Zakarian! If you don’t watch Chopped or Iron Chef America he is a chef and restauranteur. He is often a judge on Chopped and I am more than a little addicted to that show. I was psyched. I was a good little New Yorker and went on about my business. But after we left I tweeted him a thank you and he favorited it! That was pretty damn cool.

We had a very nice day up at the husband’s parents’ house and even stopped quickly at the mall where I got an awesome dress that I can wear for Easter and the Spring school auction. Score! We had a nice dinner out and a relaxed evening. I really didn’t think today could add much to what was already a pretty sweet weekend. Then I went to yoga.

The instructor who first got me into tittibhasana at Lululemon recently started teaching Sunday afternoons at the studio I belong to. She is seriously the bomb. I’ve done way more cool poses in the last few months. But there is one that I have been dying to achieve. Today, as my head dangled about an inch from the floor in prasarita padottanasana (wide leg forward fold) my instructor came over to me as she explained how to come up into a tripod headstand (sirsasana II). She put her arms out and motioned for me to lift my legs. My head wasn’t down and I said so and she told me to move my feet a bit further apart. I did, my head easily hit the ground, and I then lifted my legs into the air until…I WAS STANDING ON MY HEAD! I did a tripod headstand! I was wobbly and very happy that my instructor’s arms were there to steady me, but I held myself upside down on my head! I am still so giddy I feel like I’m floating. I basically fell to the ground when I came out of it. My core was a little spent and I could see part of myself in the mirror which was kind of disorienting. I have informed the husband that he will now be spotting me in practice until I’ve got it down.

I know yoga isn’t about “winning” and it isn’t a competition. But today I feel like I won. I beat my fear of falling, my fear of not being strong enough, my fear of people seeing me try and fail. Plus it just feels really good to stand upside down! So how’s that for a good weekend? Family time…check. Good food…check. Celeb encounter…check. Super sweet yoga moves…super check.

Keeping It With You

The holidays are over. The weather is cold. The days are still too short and the sky too gray. The long stretch from January 2nd to the first nice day in March is often a dreary one. Living in the city I often feel trapped in the winter. I used to think it should be the other way around since there is so much within walking distance, but somehow it hasn’t worked out that way for me. The sidewalk and buildings and sky seem to blend together into a bleary smudge and I can’t help but become a part of it. 

I’ve been struggling with anxiety and feeling a bit lost. I’ve sat down to write so many times and been unable to form a thought to put into words. Yesterday, Brady had pinkeye (yuck) and his first sick day of the school year (not bad). Having both boys at home all day was fun for the first few hours, then it started to wear thin. Since Brady wasn’t really feeling sick, he was bored. Since Brady was home, Declan wouldn’t nap and wanted him to play. But Brady didn’t want to play with Declan, he wanted to play with me, but only if I played the games he wanted to play. And so it goes. By the time the husband arrived home from work I was “mommy, mommy, mommy-ed out” and bolted out the door to the yoga studio.

A nice class focusing on the basics with candles burning, culminating in a long, guided meditation and a savasana where somehow, someway my mind actually got quiet had me ready to face bedtime. I walked home in the cold feeling refreshed, renewed, and stronger. But I stepped through that door and the calm blew right off me. The kids were being wild, their room was a mess, they were begging for snacks when their teeth should have been brushed and all of my meditation and quiet mind were forgotten. Anxiety rushed in and I felt a mess all over again.

So how do I keep it with me? I try to get back to the breath. I sometimes do left-nostril breathing and it does have a calming effect. I tell myself to remember the quiet moments that I’ve had and to put myself back into that mindset. This is nothing new. In the years I have been practicing yoga I have found that it has an amazing ability to calm my anxiety and to hold the depression that follows it at bay. Clearly, I am keeping something of my time on the mat with me as I go through my day-to-day. But I want a way to preserve the wonderful feelings I leave class with, even if life outside of the studio is chaotic. I don’t want that falling apart feeling that I get when it all hits me again.

I remind myself of my intentions from my practice: calm, acceptance, love, understanding. I breathe deep and recite mantras in my head. I remind myself to be present and to look around and find the thing that can make me happy. It isn’t easy. It’s a process. 

How do you get back to the calm when life is anything but? Do you find it more difficult to cope in this long stretch of winter?

I AM Thankful

I decided not to do 30 days of thankfulness on my Facebook this year and I haven’t put up a gratitude post here either. It’s not that I don’t feel thankful or that I don’t want to share it. It’s just that I don’t really update my Facebook status much and it felt disingenuous to start doing it just for November. I didn’t want to feel bad if I forgot to update one day or if I forgot someone or something that I was really grateful for.

Last week the same yoga instructor whose blog post I shared before based her class on the idea of focusing on what we do have, rather than what we do not. Here’s her post on the subject. The basic idea is that the universe reflects back to you whatever you present, so if you are thinking only of what you don’t have, you will only get back more emptiness. During the class I wasn’t so keen on her premise. Why would the universe be so vindictive as to only give us back what we reflect? Clearly if you are depressed you are presenting that feeling to the universe and what if that was all that you got back? How would anyone dig themselves out of that hole? But somehow her words and ideas still stuck with me.

Yesterday morning I went out to get coffee for the husband and I after our coffee maker went all nutso with our daily brew. The kids and I had just been Facetiming on the phone with my sister and my niece. My little ball of joy is 9 months old now and she was having a great time waving to Brady when he waved and clapping when he clapped. I was lamenting the fact that I would be spending the day with my in-laws instead of my own family. I was sad that my niece is growing up so far away and that I’ve missed her sitting up and crawling and clapping and waving. The words of my instructor came back to me and I thought to myself, instead of thinking of what I’m missing I should think of how lucky I am. 

So instead of focusing on the things I don’t have I decided to be grateful for the fact that we can Facetime. I can see my niece doing all those amazing things in real time. My mom and my sister can talk face-to-face with my boys several times a week. I decided to be thankful that I have a loving family to share the holiday with, even if it isn’t my family of origin. And it changed my whole outlook. The real meaning of the words became clear to me when I was faced with a real situation.

So today, the day after Thanksgiving, I decided to share the fact that I am blessed and I am grateful for it. I am thankful for so very many things that I could never list them all. My life is filled with amazing people. I am lucky to such an awesome family – a husband who is the best friend anyone could ask for and two bright, beautiful, amazing little boys. I am lucky to have a mother who is always, always there for me and who sets the bar so high for being a parent. I am blessed to have a sister with whom I have an amazing relationship and who has built an amazing family herself. I am thankful for my niece, whom I love with all my heart even thought she is far away. I am so lucky to have in-laws who love me as if I was always a part of their family. I have friends who are so loving and helpful and supportive and funny that I don’t know what I did to deserve them. And I’m grateful for everyone who reads this blog, it blows me away that people regularly read the words that I put down.

So, yes, I AM thankful, even if I don’t say it all the time. I hope that, even if I don’t share it in words, I am reflecting it in my actions everyday.

How could I not be grateful for these two?