Things Happen for a Reason, OHHMMMM

I was in the middle of a very detailed blog post about October and autumn and pumpkins and Halloween when, oops, I ran out of space in my Blogger account and was denied any more picture-uploading privileges until I paid a small fee and waited ever-so-patiently for my privileges to be restored.

So I muttered some choice words and went to take a yoga class.

My first yoga class since we moved to Long Island in early 2008, actually.

I think it may have changed my life.

If you follow this blog, you know that I've been trying to make some changes lately. I decided that I've been living with a victim's mindset for almost four years now since my reconstructive foot surgery and (oddly enough) nothing has gotten better. Maybe it was time to get off the dang couch and try something new.  So, I went off of my lobotomizing anti-depressants, I stopped drinking alcohol (mostly --still like a glass of wine with friends sometimes), I've been trying to start a meditation practice, and I've been adding some exercise daily.

I KNOW --what the heck?  I'm trying to embrace MODERATION-- a kinder, gentler way of living, rather than my usual "run head-on into a brick wall at full speed, get up and do it again" approach to life. What has gotten into me?

Enter the yoga class. I'd been thinking about taking a yoga class for a while, but I was sort of scared to walk into some place I didn't know, given my disabled foot and all the explaining that I have to do before I can undertake anything physical. (Seriously, if there was any justice in the world, people would either be disabled OR shy but not both.)  However, I knew and was already impressed with the man who was going to teach the class because, y'all, it's hard not to be impressed with a guy who can balance his entire body on one forearm.  It turns out that he's also really knowledgeable and really gentle about encouraging those of us with recalcitrant appendages that will NOT bend, thank you very much.  (Okay, maybe that's just me.) His name is Chris Gates and he's the founder of the place when my older daughter Ana (12) takes Tae Kwon Do.

I love this place. Seriously.  I'm not sure how they've built something so special in a strip mall in Greenlawn, New York, but it's remarkable. Out of all of the places we've sent our children for their various lessons and sports and music and other extracurricular classes, this one has the most unique vibe to it. It seems like a lot of places, particularly sports places, hire people who are good at the SPORT but not so great with the KIDS. 

But at Chris Gates' place, I love the emphasis on mutual respect and discipline, without being all militaristic and overly officious. (Y'all know how I usually have this negative knee-jerk reaction to that type of authority.) I love that there are enormously high expectations of the students, but that there is also enormous positive reinforcement.  I love the fierce loyalty that the instructors show to Chris and each other. I love that there is understanding of where each student is on the journey to health and strength and self power, and that the instructors manage to custom-fit the curriculum to match each student's needs. Somehow, they've created a very safe, nurturing atmosphere where, not only is it okay to ask for help, it's okay to OFFER it.  I think this is very unusual and Ana is truly thriving there. She's developed a lot of self confidence and I've seen her step outside of her Quiet to really reach out to other students --both child and adult.  This is powerful stuff.

I like to go there with Ana and sit while she does Tae Kwon Do, just to absorb that positive energy.  I would have liked to have signed up to take Tae Kwon Do myself (there's another mother-daughter team there) but the fact that I can't stand on my left foot, nor kick anything with it, seems to make that impossible.  The classes have a lot of strength training and calisthenics --squat thrusts and these kicking stance combination things that are beyond my physical limitations.

But I CAN, it turns out, do a very slightly modified form of the Dharma Mittra Yoga that Chris has just started offering at his studio. (If you click on that link, there are a few videos of Sri Dharma Mittra doing his yoga practice. I'd really like it if you could just envision ME doing yoga that way instead of picturing the reality, which from that. Thanks.)

Anyway, I made it through the class without doing anything REALLY embarrassing and I felt so GREAT afterward that I just had to marvel at the mind/body/spirit connection.  I'm not sure why yoga has this effect on me, but after every class I've ever taken, be it Hatha, Ashtanga, Bikram or now Dharma Mittra, I have had this amazing sense of calm and well-being.

And, frankly, it's been missing in my life lately because the chronic pain from my foot seems to have ratcheted up a notch.  Ana asked me last night, "I don't understand.  You had the surgery to fix your foot.  Why does it still hurt?" Which is a good question, even if the answer to it isn't one that very many people can accept, me included.

The answer is that Western medicine, as amazing and miraculous as it is, simply can't fix everything.  I think there is this pervasive idea that if things go wrong with us mechanically, a doctor can fix them --that's how things are supposed to work.  Unfortunately, it's just not true.  In my case, the doctor restored my ability to walk but was unable to remove the pain I have with every step. In fact, every doctor I have seen so far has told me, in various words, that this may just be as good as it gets.  I get a lot of suggestions for new doctors from people after I tell them this and I guess I should try to find the energy to get yet another opinion, another MRI, another perspective. It's just exhausting, though, to get my hopes up again and go through the rounds and rounds of appointments.  I feel like I could better use that energy to explore some alternative pain management strategies.  (Well, I did ask about just cutting the damn foot off, but my doctor said that elective amputation wasn't an option.)

In the meanwhile, I keep thinking that part of what I'm supposed to be learning from this adventure with chronic pain is how to dwell in another sort of...head space, somewhere above the extreme noise level that is unbroken pain. I want to explore how to find the discipline to go there when the pain gets bad. (Okay, I probably shouldn't post this because it sounds so...hippy-dippy, free-love and pot brownies.  People.  I'm NOT going to shave my head and start handing out leaflets at the airport, nor am I going to begin every dinner party with a rousing version of Kumbaya or anything.) I'm just trying to find a way to live with this pain without it becoming my whole life, if that makes sense. And yes, I wish someone had an answer to my foot effed-uppedness, too, so that I could continue with my formerly happy, if more shallow, life withOUT chronic pain. But there ya go.

I'd also like to win the lottery.

Anyway, that's my story of how blog failure can change your life and how you can find meaning even in the most minuscule of technology failures. 


PS: I seem to be spending a lot of time on Facebook these days.  If you are similarly addicted and would like to find me, here's a link: Barb Cooper


hollygee said…
You are very brave, Barb. You are moving on and trying to move the emphasis of your life from the pain to life itself -- that takes courage and discipline.
Lisa said…
Yoga makes my body feel younger. I love that it's relaxation and exercise at the same time. I love feeling a stretch on every part of my body which makes me more sensitive to it's needs... it helps me with moderation because I want to please my body and give it what it needs... the key is finding time to go on a regular basis... i wish I could go with you and we could drink warm tea afterwards... ohm.
Unknown said…
i hope it helps. although ya know some special brownies might help too ;)

does swimming hurt? because that is a great full-body exercise that does not require standing and can be very meditative
Marion Gropen said…
I hope that things do improve for you. I am glad that you're finding a combination of disciplines that you're comfortable with. Don't get discouraged if this mix of activities, meds and life philosophy isn't the final one. It's an evolutionary process, and each time you find that something isn't right, you're one step closer to the set that works best for you!

I know that you've tried everything that might FIX the foot, but have you tried a pain management specialist? There aren't very many. It is an emerging discipline, because you are right. Doctors can't fix everything. But sometimes they can help you find ways to deal with the residual.

And last, but not least, do please finish your books. Keep writing, because you have a special voice.
Barb Matijevich said…
I can't swim in chlorinated pools because the chlorine gives me migraines. Wah. Plus, it's not quite the same Zen feeling I get with yoga. Plus and this may be TMI, I have this huge scar on my foot and when I kick in water, the drag of the water pulls on the scar and makes me feel like something is SUCKING on my foot. It's a little unnerving and not pleasant...

Lisa, at the yoga studio I went to in Austin, they handed around chai tea after class. More than once, it was the real reason I went!

thanks, Holly. I don't feel very brave, but I do feel a lot of support so that helps.
Barb Matijevich said…
Marion, I want to start with a pain management clinic next. Do you have any recommendations in these here parts?

You are right about the mix of exercise, meds and life not being the last one. I know I desperately needed those meds when I went on them before, and it wasn't the first time. Depression is just part of my make-up --like having brown hair or something. Maybe by talking about it, it will help someone else.

And thank you so much for your support of my writing. It's taken a backseat for a long time but I think maybe I'm ready now to give it some priority. I realize I've said this before. Just like I've started health kicks before. Maybe I should shut up and do it for once, huh?
Mama Ava said…
I am the first to admit I would reach for a drug over an herb any day. Drugs first, baby. But I live in China now and there is seriously something to be said for TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) that involves breathing, relaxation, accupuncture/pressure, and herbal combos. I have several friends who are working on physical injuries, who are under the care of Western docs and PTs and have found increased relief and progress from accupuncture, massage, and other non-Western remedies. I don't think one is better than the other, but in combination, really good things have happened. You have to wade through some superstitious stuff (don't drink cold water on Wednesdays in January because your kidneys will fall out of favor with your liver, or something like that) but there is a definite value in their traditions!
It makes me so sad to think you are still in all that pain. I thought that one doctor in Queens had found a solution a while back? I must have misread.

I, too, love yoga. It is very beneficial and will help keep the rest of you from falling apart, even if you do have to limp around on that foot!
Jen said…
I love yoga, and I forget that in the heat of day to day living. It has done so much for me, but I have such a hard time turning off my mind to practice, and it's so painful returning to reality. I think I need to work on bringing the whole yoga thing INTO my life, eh? ;)
And Western medicine has immense limitations. I was told time and time again that there was nothing wrong with me, that a healthy diet and exercise and sleep would help me. Turns out I had extreme adrenal fatigue; found this out from an acupuncturist. I swear by acupuncture. I'm so much healthier now, I can't believe the difference. Perhaps non-Western medicine could help with the chronic pain?
So glad you found a good yoga studio. :)
ToyLady said…
Barb, I've watched my mother suffer with some serious pain, mainly in her foot, caused by a car accident back when I was about 14, which would be, oh, um, *mumble-thirty-mumble-ahem-something* years ago.

It truly is something life-altering - and it does take time to come to terms with it. I cannot imagine being in that kind of pain - day in and day out - and not struggling with it, at least for a while.

You'll be fine. :)


PS - I'm kind of new on the whole FaceBook thingy - I sent you a friend request, if it's OK. :)
Anonymous said…
Barb - I can sympathize with your frustration with the pain. I have a quirky lower back that has sabotaged more trips to Disney than I'd like to think about. Hope you find the yoga to be VERY beneficial. I asked to be your friend on FB, too. I'm fairly new to FB but I'd love to have you as a friend to keep up with you, Coop, Ana, Jane (and of course, the furry kids). MamaBeth from Shreveport (still waiting for your next book)
Lomagirl said…
I really hope you find a way to manage your pain. But really? Amputation isn't an option? My sister doesn't have a foot, and, while there are certain things she has to deal with every day and problems that arise at times, she isn't in constant pain. It's kind of frustrating that 50 or so years ago, losing your foot was probably the only option, but now they can keep it on but not alleviate the pain. Anyway, wierd prioritization of things. I guess the drs. are hoping they'll find a way to help with the pain.- Hope someone does.
Lomagirl said…
I should have added- I like Yoga because you don't do the same thing over and over again, but you still get a workout.
Also, I like your super polite but very effective comments rec.
Anonymous said…
I have been wanting to tell you to go to yoga for so long, but am a silent reader (lurker) and one who knows that people find yoga when they are ready for it. I am a yoga teacher and student and it will change your life. Totally change it. All for the better. Best wishes. Know that you can embrace the yoga (and if you choose, ignore the insistent Dharma Mittra vegetarian message) and if is should be that the class you take is not working for you, there is so much to find. (and remember that it is not all about the workout!) Love to you!