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.

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The Dairy Life, Yoga Withdrawal, and Writing Critiques

I’ve been on a deadline (per usual this time of year) so I haven’t been writing much. But today my next job is late so I am free…FREE I SAY! There are ton of things I’ve been wanting to put up here, but then time passed and I didn’t have time and blah, blah, anyway I’m putting it all right here in one little post so here ya go.

Declan can eat dairy! It’s such a bizarre concept. Monday morning at 9am my husband called me to say that the allergist’s office had called him and offered us a 10:00 appointment for Declan’s food challenge. Despite my begging my sitter to come when she wanted to cancel so that I could make my afternoon deadline, I said “Holy crap, I’ll be there!” I dropped everything, put some yogurt and milk in a cooler bag, grabbed the kid, and hopped in a cab to West Side.

Declan was seriously an angel and colored and played with his toys and barely even looked at the iPad for the nearly 3 hours we were at the office. He ate his yogurt and drank his milk with no argument. Halfway through his cheeks got red and we worried a bit, but some time in the waiting room where it was cooler solved the problem. He made it through the last waiting period and showed no reaction. I couldn’t believe it. The allergist said that if he tolerated a full serving of dairy the next morning, then he would be clear and have no restrictions. Declan is a dairy eater! I no longer have to worry about his grabbing Go-gurts or cheese puffs. He can have cheese sticks for a snack! I made chicken and dumplings this week because I hadn’t been able to make creamy soup in years. Other than a little tummy discomfort and his insisting for the first two days that he can only eat dairy, Declan’s been fine. It’s kind of amazing.

Playing so nicely.

Playing so nicely.

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Silly, dairy-eating boy.

Which brings me to yoga withdrawal. As of right now, I have not taken a yoga class in 13 days and it SUCKS. I do not do well without my yoga. My anxiety is left to fester and grow and take hold without my asana practice. It is not a good scene. But 13 days ago I took a very back-bendy class which left my lower back ridiculously tight. That night, like every night, Declan came into my room at 2am. I carried him back to his bed and as I lowered his 35lb body into the lower bunk, something really bad happened in my lower back. I could barely stand back up. I then endured several days of spasms and pain and stiffness and general awfulness and, of course, no yoga.

A week later it was finally feeling less painful and more mobile, but I wanted to give it time. The thought of doing a forward fold was kind of terrifying. Actually, it’s still pretty scary, but I’ll be in class tonight. It’s an instructor I know well and trust and I’ll be talking to her beforehand to make sure I don’t do anything to re-injure myself. Back pain is the WORST! I can honestly see how people with back problems get hooked on pain medication. You need your back for everything!

And the writing critiques. A few weeks ago I sent four of my poems to my husband’s aunt to read. She is pretty much one of my favorite people. She’s been a professional writer in many capacities and has also taught writing and she recently got her MFA in poetry. I respect her writing and her opinion so I asked her if she would read some of my stuff. I saw her at Thanksgiving and she told me she’d be sending me her thoughts and not to worry. But I worried.

A few days later I got her response and its’ several pages long. I read the first paragraph and realized I wouldn’t be able to finish. Due to the aforementioned deadline and back pain (and maybe just a tiny bit of fear), I wasn’t able to sit down to go through it. Today, I am free. I should read her thoughts. I should sit with my poems while I have the chance. But I am paralyzed. I am writing on my blog, but I am afraid to open that attachment and read her words. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve handed over my work to another writer and I don’t know if I’m ready. I get so married to my words that I find it hard to think about changing them. I have flashbacks to college writing workshops where I picked to pieces by vengeful English students. I am trying to get up the courage. It’s the next thing I’ll do…I swear.

What a Day!

Today was a doozy of a day. It started with it becoming arctic cold overnight, which I guess happened in most of the Northern Hemisphere since I kept reading that there were freezing temperatures in all 50 states. Here are some of the bad/annoying/irritating things that happened today:

– Declan’s slight, morning head-stuffiness morphed into an actual cold, no lie, en route to the allergist.

– We were sent home by the allergist with no food challenge and a hope of a cancellation in the near future.

– Despite not having the food challenge I still went all the way to the West Side in the freezing cold and spent $30 on cabs.

– Declan’s actual cold became a terrible cold.

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– TWO people walked right past me in the line at the grocery store as if I wasn’t there waiting too! (Cutting in line is my #1 pet peeve.)

– My two pairs of warm boots arrived from Zappos and NEITHER fit me and it promises to be just as cold again tomorrow.

– I had to drag my children into the cold and dark to volunteer for the last CSA shift to make my volunteer quota for the season.

– Declan created this masterpiece on the wall in the hallway.

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– I got my period. (Sorry for the TMI, but seriously, it’s the day that just won’t stop giving.)

But, all day my yogi-self kept telling me to step back and take a breath, to look at what was happening and see the positive. So, because of that, and because looking at the list above I seriously look like a whiny baby, I will oblige my yogi-self and see the positives.  So here are some of the good/nice/not annoying things that happened today:

– Declan and I stopped at the bookstore and it was story time and he LOVED it! That kids loves songs with hand gestures and being read stories.

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– Since Declan didn’t feel good he snuggled me all day. (I didn’t mind the snot that came with it too much.)

– I somehow got in some freelance work.

– Zappos has free shipping and returns.

– The other lovely people who were volunteering saw that I had my kids with me and that it was cold and let me sign in and go home! Yay for nice people! I did do a little restocking of veggies for good measure while we were there.

– Magic Eraser removes pencil on a wall like, well, magic.

– Declan fell immediately asleep and I got to snuggle with Brady a little. He told me about the stories he makes up while he’s falling asleep and it was incredible! It involves him making a legendary basketball shot, being sent to a special middle school in California to play basketball, coming back to New York for high school and leaving basketball to play football and perfecting the “rocket throw.” How cool is this kid?

How’s that for balance? I’m working on it. I really am.

A Little Motivation

Aside from the walk, I’ve been feeling kind of stagnant in my life. I’m doing the same old work. This blog seems to have stalled out. I spend half my day dropping off and picking up children from various places. Even yoga was feeling stale. For nearly two years of a more-intense yoga practice, I was still excited to go to class and rejuvenated afterward…until I wasn’t. I started holding onto anxiety during my practice and feeling stuck. With life being busier, it seemed easier to just stay home and get a little work done or have that extra time to clean up or do whatever other task inevitably was left undone during the day.

This left me feeling depressed. Yoga had been my safe haven, my relaxation, my energy, my love for so long. Was it over? Would I have to search for some new passion? I didn’t want it to be the end. Plus, I have an annual membership to my studio that doesn’t end until August so I HAVE to go. That shit is expensive! So I continued to go and I enjoyed it, but didn’t feel passionate the way I used to.

Then last week I went to my usual class with one of my favorite instructors–the instructor who helped ignite my passion with an arm balance years ago. We had been working on astavakrasana or eight angle pose and this day I just GOT it. I held it so well that she tried to get me to transition into eka pada koundinayasana II, but that didn’t work out because of a sensitive shoulder (and it’s REALLY hard!). But that didn’t matter, in holding that pose I felt it again; that spark, that love, that excitement. When I got home I showed the pose to my husband and kids, who said it was a “cool trick.” Well, it IS a cool trick.

Holding that one pose brought me back into myself and into the moment. It helped me to remember why I love yoga in the first place. The answer is most definitely NOT advanced poses, although it was for me this time. The answer is finding something in yourself that you didn’t know was there. In the past it’s been exciting advanced poses, mantras that touched something inside of me, classes that made me feel like a part of something larger than myself, and even watching a fellow student discover a new pose for themselves. It seems that I am not done with yoga yet and yoga is most certainly not done with me. In the words of every yoga teacher ever, “it is a practice.”

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Oh yeah! Astavakrasana baby!

Also, notice how my home practice inevitably involves children…

Vineyard Life

We spent last week in Martha’s Vineyard with my husband’s parents, sister, brother-in-law, and 7-month-old niece, in a rented house with a pool in the back. Life there was a stark contrast from the city. Instead of rushing from place to place along crowded sidewalks meeting people here and there, we took things slowly, immersed in a landscape that went from woods full of song birds to sandy beaches and blue waters, as a family. It was exactly what we needed.  

We swam here.

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And walked here.

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I did yoga here.

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And basically, this was our life.

With all of that fun and beauty, I was totally relaxed, even while living in a house with my father-in-law! Now we’re back in the city and Brady is off to camp during the day for the next two weeks and Declan and I are fending for ourselves. I’m just trying to hold onto a little bit of the slow pace as I make my way through summer.

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!