Monthly Archives: January 2016

Lessons on the mat

Sometime during my mid to late forties, yoga became a part of my life. It was post double back surgery and in the midst of a self care wake up call. Contrary to the denial land I had lived in, staying healthy in mind, body and soul were going to require intentional effort. I found a nearby 6 am class and snuck into the back on the very first day. I entered the studio without one piece of knowledge about the mechanics of yoga and didn’t even know what downward facing dog meant. I was huffing and puffing all through this inaugural class, which in time I realized was directly counter to the essence of a yoga practice.

The class was led by a gentle and encouraging instructor, and he was a kind introduction to a practice that has truly changed my life. Aside from the fact that I don’t wake up stiff each morning, the benefits and lessons have been both surprising and multiple. Here are just a few.

Listen to your body. Many of us have an uncanny ability to ignore the physical signals pulsing through our bodies to give us clues and instructions on how to live in a more healthy space. Personally, I used to ignore the whisperings and even as my physical being desperately tried to speak louder, I didn’t pay attention until we were in full blown shouting mode. This approach led to several different health crises.

Yoga teaches me to listen for and respond to adaptations needed for the task before me which has led to greater respect and appreciation for my physical body. There are days when I need to pull back and respect limitations and others when it is appropriate to push harder. Ego must be checked and an awareness of exactly where I am on any given day must be respected.

Doing yoga with a friend can be more fun. For the first several years of my practice, I was self-conscious and felt most comfortable when I snuck into a class where I knew no one and could plant myself in the most unobtrusive location. Convinced that others were critiquing my form, flexibility and general personhood, way too much energy was directed toward the idea, mostly false I am sure, that others were interested in my yoga abilities. I now know that the inward aspect of the practice is much more important than the outward.

A few years ago, my friend Liisa started inviting me to go to class with her. This flew in the face of my yoga ways. At first, it was uncomfortable, especially since this friend is strong and flexible and has practiced a lot longer than me. But as I embraced the invitations, I realized that practicing with another adds a new dimension. It helps me to become a healthier type of self-conscious.

Be the healthy type of self focused. I remember touting the benefits of yoga to a young friend. She told me that when she tried it, she got so angry that others could do physical poses that caused struggle for her.

The other day I went to a class. I guess when you put the adjective “power” in front of the word yoga, you are inviting a different kind of experience. As I participated, I could feel it in the air. It was the female equivalent of a pissing contest. Maybe when youngish women wear spandex and are presented with great physical challenge, the female testosterone swells. Our teacher felt it too. She kept saying over and over, “close your eyes”.

The challenge in that situation is to completely focus on self, but in a healthy way. Looking around, comparing and measuring performance is highly detrimental to the goals of yoga. Closing eyes and focusing where my own mind and body are located is extremely beneficial. This is a lesson I can take off of the mat and out into the world.

Things learned as a child often come back in adulthood. When I was a girl, my best friend Tracy was a reasonably talented gymnast. She taught me how to do a headstand. I briefly served as coach in her short-lived quest for Olympic gold.

I remember when our daughters were young and I was in my early 40’s, I tried to do a headstand for them and failed miserably. After practicing yoga for several years, I decided to reassess my headstand ability. In my 50’s, I now regularly stand on my head. I guess an old dog can reclaim old tricks.

Mindfulness matters. As a long time denier of my own struggles with anxiety and depression, my mindless coping strategies became less and less sufficient for the task at hand. Meditation and yoga have proven to be of tremendous benefit in addressing these personal challenges.

Learning to breathe in and out each present moment sounds simple yet is deeply complex. An intentional soul posture of gratitude for each and every breath as well as a conscious practice of thankfulness for the abilities of my physical body on any given day are life changing. So many of our most profound gifts can be taken for granted.

Time on the mat has changed me for the better. I know that there is much more to learn and incorporate as I live each day, hour and moment. I look forward with anticipation to future lessons presented and accepted on the mat.

 

 

 

 

Christopher

This morning I had an agenda. It involved working on a long term writing project and making specific plans around the wedding of our middle son, Chris. As I sat down ready to forge ahead, this caught my eye:

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In my writer’s workshop, I keep some of my stuff in this old cardboard pencil box. Scissors, pens, post it notes and matches to light my candle currently fill it up. This is the first day that I have had it open long enough to notice the name that follows “This Box Belongs to:”. In case you can’t read it, it says Christopher, written in a rainbow of colors. It is amazing that with all of the purging that happened around our recent move, this box remains. There was nothing intentional about choosing it to hold my necessities. I think it just happened to be at the right place at the right time. I sure am glad.

Christopher is now mostly called Chris and in less than ten weeks will be a married man. He lived most of his childhood smack in the middle of two brothers and had a temperament and personality that could sometimes be overlooked. I hear that happens to many a middle child.

With the exception of a few bumps in the midst of middle school, he was an almost constant joy and delight. Just like the rainbow colored Christopher above, he brought different colors and ways of thinking and experiencing life into our family. His broad spectrum of interests from dolphins to Harry Potter to the outdoors spiced up our lives and kept us from being too mundane.

A few years ago, we ran into one of Chris’s all time favorite teachers, then known as Ms. Watts, now Ms. S. Christopher had a very difficult 3rd grade year and needed nurturing and to know that he was a loved and valued child. Fourth grade teacher Ms. Watts delivered in every way. At this serendipitous reunion, Ms. S told Chris that she had saved a special project he had done when in her class. It was well over ten years ago, and she wanted him to have it.

About a year later, I was running in and out of a store, and as I approached my car, Ms. S came up to me. She expressed how happy she was to run into me and that in the trunk of her car was the promised project. It was a little tattered and torn, but she was so delighted to pass this back to our son. Wow. The power of a devoted and caring teacher… After sharing it with Chris, I saved it and moved it from place to place with the intention of putting it back together and gifting it back to Christopher. This is how it looks today:

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Some days, the pathway of how to best spend our time just rolls out before us. In fact, I believe that every day this is a possibility if we open our heart eyes and take in the whispering invitations all around. Today, I accept the invitation to fully enjoy and take in the experience of remembering and celebrating the gift to our family of Chris/Christopher. It is time to put “Ten Years of Christopher” back together. The next several hours will be spent soaking in the memories as well as hopes for this artistic and creative soul that was sent to our family over 26 years ago. And then onto planning celebrations as you create your very own family. It is such a privilege to be your mom, Christopher. I love you dearly.

Light more candles

In mid-December, our home was part of an annual neighborhood Christmas tour. Over two days and 12 hours, several thousand people meandered through our home. The days leading up to this event were filled with scrubbing and straightening and shoving, with a serious concern that no one would have the nerve to open any of our closets during their holiday trek.

Putting on our shiniest image for the crowd of people who would stroll through our house involved pulling out and lighting a number of candles. Our home looked beautiful and the candles added a glow and serenity to the ambiance. Many of these candles had been hidden in a drawer, moved from home to home, yet never been lit. They waited in a dark place inexplicably saved for some future special event.

After the home tour, the delight and exhaustion of Christmas and the welcoming of a new year, my thoughts moved toward a 2016 focus. My son called yesterday and during the conversation asked, “Mom, do you have any new year’s resolutions?”. My reply was “light more candles”.

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Yes, I already have and plan to continue to physically light more candles. But the symbolism of this act echoes a deeper more constant struggle within. As I light each candle, the desire to be more fully present in each moment along with a yearning to embrace the simple joys in life is illustrated. In January 2013, I wrote of my wish to spend more time in the practice of presence. Three years down the road, I have made progress but still aspire to live in this space more regularly.

Four days into this new year, there have already been several invitations to live in and enjoy the moments. On January 1, we were invited to a delicious meal in the dining room of my parent’s new retirement community. It was a joy and delight to watch our daughters interact with a different generation. From smiles to hand shakes to chatting up while waiting in line, they shared their youthful enthusiasm all around. Their resolutions joined alongside those of residents and guests, and l imagine that their specific 2016 wishes have made some senior residents as well as their grandmom smile (see bottom two on the left hand side below).

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In case you can’t read them…”get my double back handspring” and “make my gmom ride a Harley”.

This morning as I walked out my front door, three neighbors living out their 7th and 8th decades invited me to walk with them. I almost said no as the “to do” list for the week is long. Thankfully, I went along and was inspired and encouraged by their collective wisdom, life experience and joie de vivre. I received a standing invitation to join them in days to come.

I don’t want to wait for some glittering image home tour to light candles. As I write, as I cook and as our family sits down to break bread, the candle will often be a part. “Light” will be the focus of my meditation practice this year. The flame is a reminder and invitation to calm, intimacy, beauty, hope and God’s presence. I wish for more of that in 2016. I would love to know what your 2016 focus will be. Please share.