Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Savasana for the Average Unenlightened Barb

At the end of every yoga practice, there is a brief period of time spent lying still in Savasana, or the "corpse pose."  The idea is that after you've done the physical practice, the body needs a chance to regroup or reset itself, so we spend some time (just a short period of time.  Maybe five minutes or so in my particular class) turning our attention inward.

Here's a typical inner dialogue for me:

Instructor: Scan your body, beginning with your toes.  Anywhere you feel tension, release it.  Focus on your breath moving in and moving out.  As thoughts come in, let them come and let them pass.  Do not engage with any one thought.

Barb: I'm breathing in and breathing out.  I'm focusing on my third eye.  I'm breathing... that was kind of funny earlier when someone described Ujjayi breathing as Darth Vader breathing. It sounds just like that. Except Darth Vader isn't very yogic. Plus, I think he needed some sort of apparatus and that's why he breathed like that in the first place. I love how Star Wars is such a great tale of redemption and that, in the end, a father's love triumphed over all. Except it could have been stronger if George Lucas had made good on the opportunity to make Leia a stronger character --like when Yoda says, "There is another..."  But I guess it was really sort of a product of the time it was made. Leia didn't do much more than flail about helplessly. If Lucas had made her like that Linda woman in The Terminator or Siqourney Weaver in those Alien movies, that would have been cool. It might have scared the kids, though, and it's definitely a kids' movie series. How else would you explain Jar Jar Binks? Gosh, I HATE that guy!  Nothing more annoying than THAT guy. Really, if I never see the movie with Jar Jar in it ever again, I'll be totally FINE with that.

Instructor: Prepare to come out of Savasana...

Barb: Dang it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Devil Wants Me Fat

Okay, so I took the title of this blog post directly from a book I saw at Half Price Books once. I was a teenager and my friend and I were just convulsed over the idea that there was this giant CONSPIRACY by the dark side to make us fat. (When you're a nerdy fourteen-year-old, that's the kind of thing you find funny. Blaming the devil --bwahahaha.)  (Oh, just hush.)

Anyway, what made me think of it is that I've been losing weight. I haven't been focused on it because I was more concerned with becoming healthy. But I've lost almost 30 pounds now, and, most important to me, I've gone down four sizes in clothing. I've been having flashes of feeling really strong and fit --when you think of where I was a mere two years ago, this just seems like the most incredible blessing. It feels like a miracle.

I was trying to find a photo of me when I was at my heaviest but I think I've deleted them all. This was the only one I could find and...well, I also look like maybe I have some mental issues. Y'all, I probably DID. Chronic pain will make you crazy. Anyway, here it is:

August 29, 2010
Something has shifted in my attitude, though. I look at this picture and I feel so bad for that woman.  I remember how unhappy she was, how pain robbed her of everything she prized.  I think of how filled she was with self-loathing and how every step was a reminder of how much she'd lost. I think about how she used food and alcohol to try to dull that pain.

I feel terrible for her.  And I feel so unbelievably blessed to be where I am today, speaking of her in the past tense.

It's an interesting thing, though, how much our brains hate change.  Someone told me that the part of our brain that processes change is located in the same area that perceives pain.  We perceive change--even GOOD change-- as pain.  I really believe that.

I think it's part of the reason people can't make themselves take the first step toward reclaiming their bodies and lives. I know that was the case with me. My mother tried to get me to go to yoga back in Texas, before we ever moved. My good friend Donna tried to get me to go to her acupuncturist for at least two years before I finally went.

I keep trying to figure out  what was it that made me take the first step. What made me go to that yoga class?  I don't know. I wish I did because if I could figure it out and share it with people, maybe it would help other people take that first step. I know I took action when I absolutely couldn't bear the pain of going on as I had been. Maybe there's a way not to have to sink to that depth. I don't know.

A long time ago, I read this book called "Bird By Bird" by Anne Lamott.  It's a book about writing, but I took away an important life lesson from it.

"...thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out in our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder papers and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird."

Take control over one tiny thing. One bird. That's all we have to do today. One bird.

Anyway, here I am, getting healthy and strong and almost pain free. I'm doing things with my body that I KNOW I couldn't do when I was young. It's fantastic!

Still, there's this part of my brain that's worried about all of this change. Yesterday, for example, I accidentally bought a pie. I'm normally very disciplined about what I eat, especially after seeing that video by Dr. Terry Wahls. (You didn't watch that video yet, did you? You should go watch it --you know what a bulldog I can be. Yes, I know it's almost 18 minutes. I KNOW. You deserve to spend 18 minutes watching a video that may change your life.)


So, yesterday, I bought a pie.

I ate a tiny piece of it.

I liked it.

But something was very different. I didn't feel guilt. I didn't feel satisfied. I noticed that it tasted good but it wasn't, like, the best thing I've ever had. I'm over it. Maybe there's some key thing here that I've been missing about not attaching blame or joy to food. I noticed it, but I didn't really engage on an emotional level at all. I think "comfort food" is no longer a phrase I can use.

And then my husband came home and saw the pie. In all of the years we've been together, this may be the very first pie I've ever bought. We're just not a pie family --my kids don't like it. Anyway, he started to laugh. "SOMEONE around here is losing weight and it's making her body really nervous."

He was completely right. At first I didn't believe him but this morning, after I ate my very balanced, healthy breakfast, I got ready to leave for an appointment. "Maybe you need a few pita chips for the road, " said my unconscious. (I didn't have them.  I wasn't hungry.) Some part of me is NERVOUS.

May 10, 2012

I noted the impulse, though.  Clearly, the devil wants me fat.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Finding My Plumb Line

I went to a yoga workshop with Andrei Ram last month.  I've been processing it ever since. It was a four-hour workshop, and it included a physical yoga practice, along with meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises) and a talk about self realization.  It was a lot to process at once, actually.  I'd like to go to another one. 

The first thing I noticed about Andrei Ram is his posture. Now, granted, I had just spent some time in Texas with my thirteen-month-old niece (by marriage--my brother-in-law and his wife have a new gorgeous daughter) so I was in a posture-noticing mode.  You know how babies sit with absolutely perfect posture?  I always think it's because their plumb-line to God is still intact.

Here, look:
Jane and her friend Evan were totally smitten by Baby Lola.  It wasn't just me.

Andrei Ram has the same posture as our niece. 

He's a very interesting person, because he lives fully in this world.  He's not sitting in an ashram on a mountaintop somewhere, living the life of a monk and meditating and fasting for months on end.  He lives in this world, with all of its chaos and travel arrangements and noise. He's married. He has a smart phone.

But he has a very different way of BEING in this world.  A very different way of ENGAGING with this world. It's absolutely, completely peaceful.  Picture a giant body of water, completely undisturbed.   There are ripples occasionally along the edges, but the deep stillness at the core is unchanging. He's like that. His way of living seems perfectly aligned with who he is.

It's very attractive --people gravitate to him.  He's a very humble, gentle man, but he has this...essence of something much larger, of a purpose bigger than he is. People want that.

I want that.

I've been thinking a lot about that, actually.  About what it would take to get to a place where that kind of inner peace was just the default way of being.

In yoga, we talk a LOT about alignment.  I've noticed that when I focus on the proper alignment of my body versus achieving the pose, the pose becomes effortless.  (Well, if I can get into proper alignment, I mean.  The getting there can take some serious effort.)

For me, finding yoga was the beginning of a quest to find my alignment, not only in my physical practice, but also in my life.

Among some other things like meditation and a concerted effort at being wholly present in whatever I am doing, I've been experimenting with some dietary changes lately.  (By lately, I mean over the last year and a half since I stopped being in such excruciating pain.) Making these changes seemed like a logical first step to me --I didn't feel that I could seek a different way of being in the world if I was still eating and drinking in a way that made me feel physically ill.

The first change I made was giving up alcohol. This was actually really easy because once I found my joy again, I didn't want ANYTHING to take the edge off of it. I've been tempted to have a glass of wine every now and again, and I've always said that if I want one badly enough, I'll have one, but I just keep coming back to the idea that alcohol, for me, interrupts my joy.  It's been more than a year and a half now, and I'm still sober.

One of the surprising and incredibly welcome benefits of giving up alcohol for me is that I also gave up migraines.  I've had one migraine in 18 months, versus the 5-6 per month that I used to have.  It's like I got handed an extra week every month! My working theory is that I have some sort of latent allergy/intolerance to alcohol.  Let me just say that not having migraines is enough to keep me sober, even if all of the other benefits I've experienced weren't there.  I find I'm also more loving and more patient when alcohol-free. For me, it's been a huge shift in my quality of life.

Next, I gave up meat officially.  This was a barely noticeable since I never ate much meat anyway. (It doesn't really agree with me.)  Initially, I gave up fish, too, but I added it back in because it was just too hard to try to manage my dietary desires with those of everyone else in my family. I already cook more meals than I should due to food preferences and I found that after I cooked for everyone else, I'd just grab a handful of crackers or something, rather than cook yet another meal.  Left to my own devices, I still prefer to be totally vegetarian, but it just didn't work within the context of our family as it is now. That's okay. When the time is right, I'll make that shift officially again.

Then I gave up caffeine. This was the hardest change I made by far.  I guess it makes sense --I was a caffeine drinker for many decades.  But WOW, I underestimated just how potent a drug it is.  (Except when I was sailing through that red light (oops) when it occurred to me that I might need to drink coffee just to stay alive.)  I stuck with it, though, and I feel better. Interestingly enough, once I stopped hyping myself up on caffeine, I started to be more attuned with what my body needs. I started making rest a bigger priority. I started listening to what my body needs when I injure myself at yoga.  (Which I inevitably do, because I still haven't learned how to not try my hardest at every single pose in every single practice. I'm working on it.)

The other big changes I've made, I made after seeing this video.

It's long, almost 18 minutes, but it is AMAZING. I've been slowly incorporating the three cups of leafy greens, three cups of sulphur rich veggies, three cups of color into my daily diet.  It takes work and I'm not to the point of managing it every day yet, but I am committed to adopting a way of eating that makes the most sense for my brain and my body.  For me, that's part of living in alignment with my true self.

Next on my horizon, I've almost given up dairy (which is starting to make me sick so that's kind of a no brainer) and I MIGHT try going gluten-free. Just to give it a try to see if that's part of my true alignment.

I know what y'all are thinking, though.  You're thinking, "I am NEVER going to dinner at Barb's house!" I want to be really clear: I'm not saying it's for everyone. I'm also not saying that if you come to my house you can't have a drink or that there will only be straw for you to eat.  I'm just talking about what works for me. It's about living in the way that is most in tune with my true self. What works for me might be a total bust for you. I'm not passing judgment on anybody--I honestly have no feeling at all about what you eat or drink, except a true wish that I could give you this feeling of peace, this deep stillness and sense of health that I'm beginning to have. I'm just trying to find my path to the way of living that makes me feel the most whole and healthy, and seeing how that affects my way of engaging with the world.

For me, it's taking some discipline, especially in a world that promotes fast, cheap and unhealthy over everything else, but I'm convinced it's the path to get to where I want to be. It doesn't feel like sacrifice.  It feels natural. It feels like an offering.

And *I* feel fantastic.