Category Archives: on life and yoga

On Re-Thinking

I’ve been working on a writing assignment that, on the surface, sounded fairly straight-forward. But by the time my terrified perfectionist and inner critic got done tag-teaming me, I started re-thinking this whole Writing As A Thing That I Do business.

All the while, in a very significant part of my life right now I’m feeling like I’m being pushed forward and dragged back simultaneously. Nothing in particular has been coming up in meditation, but my dreams keep playing themes of healing.

And then this evening’s yoga practice started to take a bit of a bad turn. Despite my effort to buy their cooperation with food, the cats were being just disruptive enough to distract me from my flow (because Sun Salutations aren’t challenging enough for me). Then came my balance poses. I have been so strong and steady in my balance poses over the last several days, but tonight? I could not balance on my right leg if my life depended on it. My Tree Pose uprooted after a couple of breaths. And as I fell out of Dancer’s Pose on the third try, I felt my frustration envelop me. I clapped my hands hard and stifled a scream as tears started running down my face. The old stories were trying to spin up again: No one is interested in your aspirations and they’re too busy to offer any support, anyway, and you’re going to have to go this alone like you thought you might. And this writing thing? Are you kidding? You’re falling apart over a few paragraphs, just like you’re falling apart here!

But this time I was able to stop those stories from gaining traction. I paused and observed them and took note of how I was physically reacting (pulling myself in, like a turtle). I reminded myself that I’m consciously choosing flow over frustration and love over judgement. I also reminded myself that I came home from work this evening and held my handstand longer than I’ve ever held it before. So balancing on my right leg is a non-starter tonight? Try something else! I don’t need to scrap the entire practice over a wobbly leg, I just need to get back into my flow!

I settled myself in Hero’s Pose for a few breaths, then did Child’s Pose and some flowing poses from my knees, to reset the link between my movement and my breath, before I worked my way back to standing. I went through my series of Warrior poses and came back for one last balance (Half Moon) pose. It was shaky AF, but I managed it on both sides! Forty-five minutes later, I enjoyed a peaceful Savasana.

After a brief meditation, I made myself a bowl of oatmeal for supper and took another swing at the writing assignment. I cut some sentences here, swapped some words there and finally decided to just post it, remembering one of my favorite painting quotes:

A painting is never really finished. It just stops in an interesting place.

Is it perfect? Well, if I wait for perfect, I’ll never post or publish anything! And the Universal Lesson was about finding my way through the sticky parts, moreso than writing flawless prose.

As for the other parts of my life that have me stymied right now? I’ll find my way, and I know I won’t do it alone. Instead of my default Shut-Everyone-Out Mode, I’ll keep my heart open to those who do care about what I’m doing and are willing and able to support my efforts.

The Year That Was 2016: Part Two (a.k.a. You Look Familiar; Have We Met Before?)

So, a while back, I published The Year That Was 2016: Part One. That would indicate that there would, at least, be a Part Two, right? So, a few weeks later, here we go.

I’ve determined that 2016’s raison d’être was to help us figure out what we are made of. Because 2017 and beyond will demand that we have a clear idea of who we are and what we will and will not accept and we are going to have to defend these boundaries with every part of our being. For me to get to that, though, required taking that first step back to figuring out who I am and what I’m made of.

By the end of 2015 I was unrecognizable. I had made one significant accomplishment that year, something that neither my mother, nor her mother had achieved: I turned 50. And…now what?

In an earlier version of this post, I spent at least a thousand words describing how sick I had become, without even realizing I was sick. How disconnected from my life I was. How badly I needed to disconnect from the outside world by the time Friday afternoon rolled around (well, I needed that by the time Monday lunchtime rolled around, truth be told). What it comes down to, though, is a concept from Julia Cameron’s book, Transitions:

I had abandoned myself.

I know exactly when and how it began. And, by the end of 2015, it was literally killing me. I was in constant pain, emotionally and physically. Outwardly, I was living an active, “healthy” life: I was riding my bicycle between home and the ferry terminal, I walked from the Ferry Building to my office next to the Dragon’s Gate entrance to Chinatown in San Francisco. I had been vegetarian for about 18 months.

But years of stress had left my system in constant fight-or-flight mode, which was made worse with the onset of perimenopause. Heel and knee pain made walking and cycling extremely painful, and, psychologically, I could no longer have the television on or even listen to music in my free time, because I couldn’t stand to hear human voices after the work week.

I put off seeing a doctor about the heel and knee issues because the doctor I had been seeing could never resist the urge to fat-shame me. I could have walked into her office with a sword sticking out of my ribs and she’d tell me I’d be just fine, if I’d just lose 80 pounds. I had received notification that she had moved on, and I had been in pain for a year, so I decided to give the new doctor Kaiser assigned to me a try.

He listened to my issue with the heel, and to the sounds my knee makes when it flexes (a sort of mash-up of bubble wrap popping and a paper bag being wadded up). He printed out stretching exercises from the physical therapy section of the website, to alleviate the heel and knee issues. He did not mention my weight at all.

Stretching the heel and my quadriceps (to help the knee) led me to try yoga again. (I had started a semi-regular practice in the summer of 2014, but stopped when Simon got sick and I put every spare ounce of energy I had into his care for the last few months we had together. I did not go back to yoga after he died, though hindsight indicates it would have helped me deal with the grief that consumed me.)

I began a home yoga practice, piecing together sequences I found in Yoga Journal, and after a couple of weeks, I thought I might like to try yoga classes.

*record scratch*

Classes? With PEOPLE? ARE YOU STUPID? Every time I thought about it, my brain invented all kinds of reasons not to try classes. You’re too fat to do yoga in public! You don’t know the names of all the poses! You’ll fall over all the time! Yet it felt like something I needed.

I looked at yoga studios in Alameda. Most of them looked nice, but when I saw the page for Leela Yoga, I saw photos of people who had bodies that looked like my body. So there went the “you’re too fat” argument, because people with my shape are doing yoga. And they look happy! The studio held a Yoga 101 workshop the following weekend, led by Beth, the lovely and amazing owner of Leela. Thanks to Beth’s lighthearted and welcoming approach to yoga, not only did I learn the names of the ubiquitous yoga poses, I learned that it’s totally all right to fall over! (Even experienced yogis fall over.) Now, instead of hearing all of the negative feedback and fear in my brain, I was hearing a message that maybe I had found a safe place. A sanctuary, that wasn’t my apartment. And Beth not only led a wonderful workshop, she stayed after and went over the class schedules with us, pointing out classes that were best suited to our needs (for me that was, slow pace and not crowded*).

I began adding Tuesday night Gentle Yoga classes to my schedule. I was finding all of the kinks that I needed to work out, physically and emotionally, but I was in a safe space to explore these issues, surrounded by supportive and intelligent people. It was in Gentle Yoga class that I found the strength to do the impossible!

Healing was taking place, but by early summer I had healed just enough to realize how sick I had been. I knew I still needed to make some major changes to my life, but still felt stuck and terrified of jumping into the unknown. I attended a couple of workshops led by Nicole Smith Levay and signed up to explore life coaching with her.

For the last half of 2016 I worked with Nicole, unwinding decades of negative messaging, helping to find my voice again, and envisioning, describing, and committing to a life that I actually want to live. A life that I don’t need a vacation from or want to retire from. And there were parts of that life vision that I began living in immediately (writing and restarting my blog being one of those things), not just dreaming of living it “someday”. It was—-and continues to be-—a lot of hard work, as anything worthwhile is. But, with Nicole’s steadying guidance, and the physical and emotional awareness that I had picked up from my yoga practice, I had finally reconnected with my life and all of its potential.

Which set me up well for what happened on 8 November. As the full horror of the election result dawned, I realized that my part to play in saving my country, in saving our democracy, made my life vision a hell of a lot bigger than I had originally penciled out. A new life began taking shape during the last six weeks of 2016. The plans I began making are exciting and terrifying, but I have created such a solid foundation in faith and strength that I know that I can handle anything that 2017 throws at me.