Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pain and Gratitude

Today was such a good day.

It's World Kindness Day, for one thing. So I had a fantastic new play list for yoga this morning.

THEN, I got to spend an hour with a new student who came to me after having surgery a few years ago. She lives with chronic pain, although not as bad as before the surgery. She came just to see if there was anything for her in yoga.

I think you can imagine my answer.

We spent some time rolling around the floor of my studio, checking out the ways her body moves now and the limitations --some immoveable because of new hardware in her body and some that I think will disappear over time as her body gains strength and opens up. I'm designing a yoga practice just for her, based on Dharma Yoga. I got so excited, I forgot to offer her tea afterward! My head was already full of potential sequences.

And there it was, see: An answer to a question I'd been asking for a long time.

I always wonder why I had to endure those years of pain. How was anyone served by that? The indignity of it --why was that necessary?

But today, what I realized is that I had to endure those years so I could really get inside of that pain. So I could really feel what it feels like to inhabit a body that feels completely foreign. So that I could loathe myself, and then learn to love myself. So that I will never, ever forget what that felt like.

I remember how angry I was, how really deeply enraged I was at this betrayal by my body. I punished myself. I withheld things I loved from myself. Over time, though (and it took a lot of time,) something in my perspective shifted and I began to see how valiantly my body was trying to cope with this pain. And I began to nourish it in a different way, like I would a sick child.

When I stopped fighting myself and grieving over all the things I couldn't do, when I started to celebrate the things I COULD do and to feel grateful for those, it made space inside of me for joy to bloom again.

Which always makes me wonder if I had been able to release my emotional pain sooner, would my physical pain have dissipated sooner, too?

Anyway, because I had that experience with truly dreadful chronic pain, I am uniquely qualified to help others who come to me in the midst of their own pain.

Before every class I teach, I pray that I might be a channel through which healing and health comes for those who come to me. I am overwhelmed with gratitude at the thought that I might help someone in the same way I was helped.

So, I had this huge, enormous, heart-filling joy today.

AND...then I won a cool t-shirt from Yoga Inspiration, who had posted a question asking how yoga had changed its readers' lives.  I wrote, "After three years of excruciating chronic pain, I took my first yoga class. It triggered my healing and now, three years later, I'm a RYT and have opened a small studio. Yoga has been a miracle for me and I'm pretty sure when you get a miracle, you're supposed to share it!"

I'm pretty sure when you get a miracle, you're supposed to share it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mistakes and Gratitude

Yesterday was One Of Those Days.  I didn't post, because I was slogging through the muck of my own mind for much of the day. Normally, I would have taught two yoga classes, but events conspired and I ended up not doing any yoga at all and then beating myself up over it for much of the day instead of just getting on my mat.

I get in my own way.

The day was unsatisfactory in other ways, and I was deeply grateful when it was time for bed.  Grateful for new starts--every morning is a new chance to start over. To do better.

I had scheduled TODAY as a day with my Jane (13.)  For some reason, I thought she had today off from school, so I rearranged my schedule so that she and I could have a fun day together. Alas, it was not to be.  (I know what you're thinking--I could have kept her home anyway.  But we're in a new germ pool AGAIN and she's already missed some school due to a stomach virus and strep so she has to go as long as she's healthy.)

So, I have this day stretching out ahead of me with no appointments, no fixed schedule.  I can't remember the last time I had a day like that. 

Which kind of makes me wonder if today was a mistake at all.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Space to Listen and Gratitude.

I went to yoga this morning.  Sometimes I take this class on Sunday because two of my friends take it regularly, and I don't get to see them enough.

So anyway, I went this morning.  There was only one person working the check-in and a line developed.  But because this was a YOGA line, and in Austin, to boot, no one got testy. We just started chatting.  I was eavesdropping on the guys talking behind me and then said something and the one guy said, "Are you eavesdropping?" and I said, "Yes, I really am.  I'm sorry.  I'm a writer and it's kind of an occupational hazard."

And then we talked writing for a bit and he said if I quoted him, I had to use the name Ron Wonderful.  Which made me laugh.

And then we went to class, and the room was overheated, which gave me a headache and reminded me why I don't go to this class EVERY Sunday.


See what I did up there, though?

I introduced myself as a writer.

But the TRUTH is that I don't know if that's the case anymore. I'm not really writing much right now.

I don't introduce myself as a yoga teacher all that often either, for reasons I am not in touch with. Seriously, I need to meditate on that.  I remember how long it took me to introduce myself as a writer.  I think I already had a book out before I could do it without qualifying it in some way. Maybe after I do my 500 hour training, I'll feel legit.

(My brain...I don't understand it either.)

Really, though, I think what I am right now is a Listener.

I'm listening for what it is I'm supposed to be doing.  Am I supposed to be writing my story?  Am I supposed to be deepening my practice? I'm clearly transitioning into a very different stage as a mother.  (From Keeper of the Fingerpaints to Keeper of the Car Keys.) It's a time of huge flux, but very slow.

I'm so grateful for the space just to listen and see what's next. I'm so grateful to be at a time in my life when I'm content to let that unfold as it should --to reveal itself to me when I'm receptive and open. I'm sitting in this gratitude and I'm really patiently listening.

After class, Ron said, "Come with me.  I have something to show you." So, I went, thinking that because we'd been talking about polar dinosaurs,  he was going to show me a fossil or something. It turns out he wanted me to meet his dogs, Ruby and Lucy Lisa.

They were adorable.

When I'm in listening mode, life tends to give me Valentines like that.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Gratitude and Sobriety

I've been wanting to write about sobriety for a while now, but I haven't done it. It's a hard subject  --it tends to polarize people and I'm not really about that. I like to write about inclusive things.

I'm a firm believer in this:

I've never really spoken about getting sober much, but of all the changes I've made, it's possible that this one affected the quality of my life more than any other. It's a hard subject, though, because again, people feel judged when I say I don't drink --as if my very existence as a non-drinker means I'm judging them. Note that I'm not suggesting THEY stop drinking --everyone has to find his or her own path --but people start apologizing to me for their own alcohol consumption. I try to say that people have to live their own truths; this is mine.

So, anyway, I stopped drinking about three years ago. I've detailed before how I was going through a period of time when I made a lot of changes in order to align the way I was living with my value system. One of the those changes was getting sober.

I stopped drinking for a lot of reasons.  For one thing, once I was free of pain, I didn't want anything to take the edge off of my joy. Alcohol is a depressant. I've fought depression on and off for most of my adult life. I've always known that it was a depressant --even when I was drinking and taking anti-depressants.  (Yes.  I did that.)

But at any rate, I stopped wanting anything to tamp down or filter my emotions. It's that whole thing that we've talked about before: you can't selectively numb your emotions. I didn't want to live anesthetized in any way. Even if it means that I have to feel the lows, I don't want to miss out on any part of the highs.

I used to think I had to be drinking to be any fun.  Because I'm shy, I bought into the whole idea of alcohol as social lubrication.  In my case, though, I just FELT more uninhibited --but I wasn't more witty or gregarious.  I know this because I have spent a lot of time now as the only sober person in a room full of drinkers and y'all, NO ONE is more fun when they are drinking.  It's an illusion. Alcohol just magnifies who a person already is. If a person is fun when they're not drinking, they're fun when they're drinking.  And if a person is NOT fun sober, chances are that they are obnoxious when drunk.

It's taken me a long time to work through the issues I have associated with drinking. I think I thought that because giving up drinking was so easy for me, it meant I didn't have a dependence on alcohol. But it wasn't always that way. I had tried to give up drinking before, and with the exception of pregnancy, I'd never been successful. I may not have had a physical dependency of alcohol, but that habit was deeply ingrained. And I had other issues --I felt awful most mornings, I had migraine headaches, my depressions were worse, I was bloated and unhappy --that I can relate directly back to drinking.  Not to mention that every bad decision I've ever made in my life can pretty much be traced back to alcohol.

I feel like getting sober was one of the best things I did for my quality of life and my mental health. That's not to say it's a universal truism --I'm sure a lot of people can use alcohol moderately and remain happy and engaged in their lives.  That's not the case for me --moderation is not what I do best.

If you're wondering about the role of alcohol in your own life, try giving it up for a month.  It doesn't have to be a major event --you can say you're doing it for health reasons --and just see how it feels. Do you feel better or worse or the same? Is it hard? Do you feel like you're thinking about it all the time, taking up valuable bandwidth in your brain that you could be using for creative endeavors? At the end of the month, you'll know whether or not alcohol is an issue for you.  And then you can take steps to deal with it, or not.

I also feel that I want to model a different choice for my daughters. We've moved back to Texas, which is a hard drinking culture.  I want them to know that they have a choice in that regard. Studies say that the earlier an adolescent begins drinking, the more likely it is that he or she will be unable to enjoy themselves without drinking later in life.  I know from watching the people around me that this is true. And my girls have alcoholism on both sides of their family --I want them to know they run a higher risk of having issues with alcohol, but that they are in control of what they put in their bodies. I feel so strongly about giving them all the information they need so that they can make conscious, mindful decisions for themselves.

I guess that's what it all comes down to for me.  Being mindful. Being present. Cultivating awareness of why I do the things I do and whether or not that increases my joy. What choices have you made that increased your joy?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Here, Look at This

So, it was a crazy day today at the Cooper's and I ran out of time to write the post I was going to write. So, here are my two new favorite songs and some baby platypuses in fedoras.  You're welcome.

The Wood Brothers - Luckiest Man from Mason Jar Music on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Habits, Discipline and Thankfulness

Today I'm very grateful for discipline and sacrifice.

Lately, I've slipped up in living in true alignment with my best health.  I've gained a little weight by not being mindful of how I eat, and I have developed some bad habits.  My coffee consumption is creeping up. The number of yoga practices I do in a week is less than it was. I've been grazing (snacking) all day instead of mindfully planning out my meals.  I've been eating chocolate after every meal, rationalizing it by saying that I deserved it because there are hard things in my life.

But here's the thing, though: all of those things make me feel bad, physically. What I actually deserve is to feel GOOD in my body.

So, on my Yogaversary, I gave up candy and chocolate, because I really want to live feeling the best I can possibly feel inside this body. (Note that I had to make a distinction between candy AND chocolate, because I know myself and if I just gave up candy, that left the door open for chocolate cake, chocolate sorbet, etc..  My brain is clearly a litigator.)  (But I'm on to me.) Giving up candy and chocolate turned out to be surprisingly hard because I had developed a HABIT of having a tiny piece of vegan chocolate every time I ate.

It turns out that I must have done this quite a lot, because now I walk into the pantry about thirty times per day and I stand there, staring blankly at the shelves, until I turn around and leave. (Sometimes, I help myself to a raisin.) Repeat throughout the day.

It's only been three days, and each day has gotten easier. It doesn't really take a super-human effort to break a bad habit--but it does take persistence.

Now I'm trying to throttle back on my coffee consumption.  I'm up to two cups (mugs) per day and I'm going to cut back to one. Not today, though.  I tried to have a cup of decaf last night while out to hear some music and whatever I drank, it WASN'T decaffeinated. I got to lie awake, counting my blessings, as I watched the hours tick by.  Counting my blessings is an awesome exercise, but not so good for functioning the next day. Maybe I can cut back on the coffee slowly enough to avoid some of the more dangerous parts of the withdrawal this time.

Because I eat a fairly clean diet, I also had a realization that every time I eat wheat, I have inflammation issues in my body.  So, today, I began a trial period of living wheat/gluten-free.  I'll keep you posted on that one.

Anyway, I'm grateful for the discipline I need in order to maintain my health.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Gratitude and Daryl Hall

Back in the 80's, I went through a huge Hall & Oates phase. The guy I was dating had all of their records and I just loved them.

Until, that is, the 1985 Rolling Stone interview with Daryl Hall that revealed him to be a narcissistic arse-hat.

I stopped listening.

Just like that, my one-woman boycott of Hall & Oates was ON, y'all.

Until recently, when I was reminded of a song and ended up buying an entire Hall & Oates retrospective.  I mean, it's been 28 years.  (Lordy, I can hold a grudge.)

Their music hasn't really stood the test of time, for the most part. Bad 80's synthesizers and production, and some schlocky, cliched writing makes much of it unlistenable for me.

Except for this song, which is authentic and from the heart and still (I think) the best version of it going.

I've been driving along, happily belting this song out into the Universe.

This little shift in perspective started me thinking about aging and the passing of time.  It made me really grateful for the wisdom that comes with age.  The kind of wisdom that softens the hard edges and opens the heart to compassion. The wisdom that creeps in, questioning the hard and fast damning judgment of a person's character based on an article in a magazine.  The wisdom that says people learn and grow and change, just as *I* have. The wisdom that reminds me that people make mistakes, and those mistakes shouldn't define us. The wisdom that looks for reasons to keep people in my life, rather than looking for reasons to push people away.

So, yeah, Daryl, we're good now.

(Seriously, though, lay off with the comparing yourself to the Beatles. Just... Just don't go there.)

Monday, November 04, 2013

Gratitude and Sourdough

We synchronized our watches.

We arranged our schedules, double-checked the details and then dialed in the plan.

I was to meet her after teaching my morning class.  She was coming from another appointment.

I managed to move my class up 15 minutes so we arrived at the meeting place at the same time. She recognized me.

She looked around carefully and then handed me the item in a brown paper bag.

Yes, it's exactly what you're thinking: A sourdough starter from the 1700's. (Seriously.  How cool is that?)

Well, WHAT?  What were YOU thinking?

Long time reader and Facebook friend, Stacy offered up some of her legendary sourdough starter and I jumped at the chance.  It's kind of like having another pet, but this one you only feed once per week and you keep it in the refrigerator. (IT doesn't stand and yowl at the back door all freaking, freaking day without cease until you're ready to go smack OUT OF YOUR MIND, not that I'm bitter, THOMAS.) I'm stoked to try making English muffins and bread with it, and if that doesn't happen, I'm going to give it to my mother, who has been on the quest for a sourdough starter for as long as I've known her.

Anyway, I got to meet someone I really connect with online IN REAL LIFE.  And we ended up sitting and talking for, like, more than two hours without even noticing how fast the time went.  (I know you're concerned, but the starter was fine.  I was late to everything for the rest of my day, but it was totally worth it. All good here.)
Yes, that's what I look like after yoga.  And BEFORE yoga.  Pretty much all the time, actually.  WHAT? (Also?  I have no idea why it looks like I only have three fingers.  I just counted--there are four and a thumb on each hand.)
So then, despite the fact that it was a drizzly grey day, as I was driving around, I got that...kind of expansive feeling I get when I'm feeling all blessed and happy.  You know that feeling? And I realized that I'm starting to meet my people --people who totally understand the need to adjust the yoga schedule so I can adopt some sourdough, and people who turn out to be EXACTLY AS YOU HOPED THEY WOULD.

Good day today.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Yoga and Gratitude as Big as All the World

At the Dharma Yoga Center in New York City.

It turns out that three years is both a very short time, and an entire lifetime.

Today is my Yogaversary.

Three short years, and an entire lifetime, ago, I took my very first yoga class at the martial arts studio where my older daughter took Tae Kwon Do. I'd spent the previous three years in a lot of pain, some of it excruciating, that was the result of surgery I had in 2007 to reconstruct my left foot.

I'd been to many doctors, but no one was able to figure out the source of my pain. I'd gained a lot of weight.  I was lobotomized on anti-depressants and drinking far too much --anything to dull that ceaseless, horrible pain.  Some days I lived fifteen minutes at a time.  "I can make it the next fifteen minutes."  I looked into elective amputation.  (We don't do that in this country.)

I was in some space beyond misery, beyond seeing what possible contribution I was making to my family, to the world, to the collective consciousness.

Still, I don't know why, I got up off the couch and I went to this one class.

I couldn't touch my toes, nor lift up into a back bend.

But something happened to me.  I knew it even then.  Something PROFOUND had happened.

Some sort of mindfulness had been ignited in me.

I remember standing in the kitchen that night, cooking dinner, and reaching for the wine and then putting it back. I reached my arms up over my head, inhaled, lengthened through my ribcage and then gently arched backward. Exhaled my hands back to the center of my chest. Closed my eyes and stood there, just filling my body mindfully with my breath.

Y'all, I was SO HOOKED.

The next time I went to class, I had another really earth-shattering experience. As I lifted my hands up into Warrior I, I felt like I had LIGHT shooting out of my fingertips.

I know how that sounds.  I really do.

I looked all around, wondering if anyone else had suddenly turned into a creature from a sci-fi movie.  Everyone else looked pretty normal, doing the pose, concentrating. I dropped my arms, and lifted them back up again.

Same thing.  Light shooting out of my fingertips. Joy flooding throughout my body.

Weh-heh-heh-heh-elll, now!

After that, I went to every class I could find.  I was the first person to sign up for an unlimited yoga pass at the studio and I just...I never missed class. But Chris Gates, my instructor, ran a thriving martial arts center and wasn't able to offer classes more than about three or four times per week.  I went to all of them, but still felt that I needed more.  I was so smitten.

I tried another studio in the neighborhood, but it wasn't a fit for me.  The yoga that spoke to me the most was Dharma Yoga, based on the teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra. Chris had completed his 200 hour training with Sri Dharma.

During this time, I also went to acupuncture, and that, along with the yoga, triggered the healing of my foot. It became a rarity for me to have days on the couch as long as I was practicing yoga and going to acupuncture.

After almost a year, recognizing that I had moved beyond what he was able to offer me, Chris took me to another studio, YSL Power Yoga.  The owner of that studio, Yvonne, was also trained by Sri Dharma Mittra. I can't say enough about the generosity of Chris that he would take me to another studio--at no profit to himself at all--simply because he saw I needed more.  This one act epitomizes the spirit I've found among the people trained by Sri Dharma.

At YSL Power Yoga, I found my yoga home. Under the guidance/mentorship of Yvonne, I became strong physically and began the spiritual awakening that is (big Y) Yoga.

I lost a lot of weight.  I became vegan and remained sober --I just didn't want to do anything that would take the edge off of my joy.  I met an entire community of like-minded people, whose support eventually led me to attend the Life of a Yogi teacher training with Sri Dharma Mittra in February of 2013, and in June, I graduated from the program.

We moved back to Texas and I opened my own small studio, and here I am, three years after that first class, hoping to bring Dharma Yoga to anyone who needs it.  To anyone who is struggling to live fifteen minutes at a time. To anyone who might find something more than just the physical healing of yoga.

I still have moments when I feel filled with light.

I can take steps now without consciously thinking about them, but I never take my mobility for granted. Not ever.

I also have a very heightened awareness that every day, people are living lives of quiet desperation, in chronic pain, in suffering beyond imagination.

As I wend my way through this joyous day, I'll be dedicating all of my steps and energy to those people.

Namaste, y'all.  I hope you do something today that fills you with gratitude and light and a joy bigger than the whole world.


Saturday, November 02, 2013

Thank You and Yoga

Thank you.

Thank you for the outpouring of support after yesterday's post about depression.  It just means the world to me --knowing that I've been heard, that you've been there, that you understand where I'm walking right now. I've kept the emails and the comments and reread them all again and again. Thank you.

Somehow, I'd forgotten what an amazing group you are.  Such a smart, loving, non-judgmental, positive group of people. I'm not sure how I got so lucky to have you as participants in this blog. Throughout the years, I have, at various times, felt your collective good wishes/energy and I've often remarked to my kids that they have an entire audience of people who are invested in watching them grow up --but I just forgot that I could come to you when I was down and you'd feel me. Thank you.

I have other blogger friends who are routinely savaged in the comments of their blogs. Do you know that I have NEVER experienced that? You've created such an amazing environment here! Thank you.

Thank you.

So, one thing I forgot to say yesterday was that I'm coming out of my slump.  Also, that I'm not clinically, horribly depressed --I'm just kind of flat. I'm in that place where everything feels like a huge, hard chore. I'm doing all the things I know to do that make me feel better--random acts of kindness, gardening, connecting with friends, and, of course, yoga.

Yoga makes everything better.

One of the great blessings of my new house is that it has space for a yoga studio, and I've opened that space up for classes.
Rasna Yoga

I've started very small. I'm currently teaching  on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10:00AM and Monday evening at 6:00PM (because, you know, MONDAY) --a Dharma Yoga inspired vinyasa flow class.  I wanted to offer Power Yoga, too, but I don't have a lot of Power Yogis yet, so, I'm, well, MAKING MY OWN. Seriously, my advanced beginners are coming along like freight trains.  It's simply amazing to see them grow and stretch and get stronger. I'm so grateful to get to be a part of that.

The studio is called Rasna Yoga. Rasna means "sweet-voiced, " which is pretty fitting if you've ever heard me speak --at least judging by the number of callers I get who ask if my mommy is home (not that I'm bitter.) The name was chosen by my New York yoga community, so I feel like they're here with me--isn't that nice? The website is under very slow development (see: "everything feels like a huge chore" above,) but you can like the Facebook page for it if you want to follow our progress.

AND, I've finally started on a quest to find a yoga community here to support my own growth.  So far, I've been taking classes at various yoga studios around Austin, but haven't found my people quite yet. There are so many different styles of yoga! I'm trying to be receptive to different styles of teaching, but I do have a serious preference for the teachings of people trained by Sri Dharma Mittra. All of my teachers in New York were trained by him, and I was lucky enough to have done my teacher training with Sri Dharma himself.  As far as I can tell, I'm the only Dharma Yogi in Austin, but I feel certain I can still find an asana class that speaks to me, and I will just continue to train in the other limbs of Yoga online with the Dharma Yoga Center and through self study.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Cardinals and Mental Health

We have a deranged cardinal.

He came with the new house in Austin.

He spends a significant amount of time each week fighting his own reflection in our windows and nothing we have done can dissuade him.  I've researched the issue--we've put up reflective decals, we've lowered the blinds, I've explained to him that this behavior is not even SEASONAL --but nothing works. (Here's a great article about the issue.  We haven't covered all of our windows, but we've tried most of the other things.)

Maybe it's just a habit of self-destruction, but I'm worried he's going to do himself some serious harm. I think he's been fighting himself so long that there's a chance he's done himself permanent damage.

Which is pretty much the perfect metaphor for my own mental health issues.

I've been depressed recently.

I think there are some extenuating circumstances --like the move away from my healing yoga community in New York, away from the ocean and the seasons that match the cycles in my heart. But, you know, depression doesn't actually need a reason.  I tried giving myself hundreds of examples of good things in my life right now, but you just can't reason with depression.

And, you know, part of me is so dismayed to find that I'm still susceptible to depression after all the yogic work I've done on being present, unfiltered, unattached, etc.. On not letting other people affect my own path. (If you're new to the blog, here is my story in a nutshell.)

I'm still such a work in progress.  I think I thought I had moved beyond certain struggles and then here they are again.  I haven't even been able to write. I've just been creeping around my house, feeling invisible. Change is hard, and not just on the teenagers among us.

It's just hard.

I was so focused on making my family's transition as smooth as possible that I forgot to take care of myself. But I did find a new acupuncturist, who is BRILLIANT, and slowly, I'm building a community of Love Ninjas.  It takes time--I'm trying to give myself time.

I'm going to try to blog every day during the month of November, focusing on gratitude.  Today, November 1, I'm grateful for that time --time to heal, time to recharge, time to adjust to a new environment, time with my kids, time to grow and stretch and change.