On Meditation: It Comes in Waves 

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Less of a Woman 

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Let’s Just See 

Seven weeks post double mastectomy, I thought it was about time I get my mushy sagging butt back to the yoga studio.

My car instinctively knew the way, so my mind wandered as I drove. Soon, I found myself just sitting there, in the parking lot, with my hand on the door handle. I was a mix of gleeful anticipation, doubt and anxiety. And a tiny bit of dread.

A couple of weeks ago when I started physical therapy I realized that I had been holding back from things because I was afraid I would open my incision. When the PT doctor assured me that would not/could not happen, I only half believed him.  My anxiety, fear, and instinct to self-protect almost outweighed his professional scientific knowledge. But I decided to trust him. I breathed deeply, and began to move, slowly and carefully. Science prevails!

But here I was again, hesitating, holding myself back. Was I really ready for this? What was about to happen? How would I feel when I walked through the door? When I saw people I haven’t seen since before the surgery? When hugs were offered? When I got on the mat? When I started to move? How would I feel and how would I react?

I took a deep breath as I opened the door. Come on, then. Let’s just see what happens. That’s all. Just see.

At the beginning of every yoga class, whether the instructor tells me to or not, I always set an intention. My intention is an idea that my mind will come back to over and over again. It isn’t a goal, or an expectation. It’s just an idea that flows with me through the practice.  

I have trained my brain, through years of repetition, to come back to my intention every single time I bring my hands to heart center. It’s a habit now. When my hands come to my heart, I think Intention? and then I repeat the mantra du jour.

Sitting here, on my mat, I could hear the low rumble of the what-ifs and the maybe-you-shouldn’ts. I brought my hands to my heart and I repeated the words that brought me out of the car. “Let’s just see”.

So I moved. I followed the teacher. I noticed that each time we moved on to a new pose, my mind would hesitate. Maybe I’m not ready for that one? Maybe I shouldn’t do that one yet? Maybe that one will hurt me?

All of the maybes want to protect me. But from what?

There is no clear and present danger. The maybes are still trying to protect me from past pain. From things that don’t even really exist in the here and now. My brain was trained to protect me by my recent trauma. And now, it’s time for me to train it again.
 
So each time my brain hesitated I took a deep breath and I thought ‘Let’s just see’. And I saw. Each time, I just saw. No goals, no expectations, no judgment. An absolute beginner.

How many things in our life do we say no to right away? Or hem and haw about until it’s too late? We sit around saying but maybe this will happen, or maybe that will happen. We keep ourselves up at night with what-if-this and why-didn’t-I-that?

We think we are protecting ourselves from harm by exploring all possible scenarios and rehashing past mistakes. But we are attempting to control the uncontrollable. We are trying to avoid all discomfort. Instead of identifying the anxiety, fear, and doubt so that we can work through it, we spend our time avoiding it all with fantastic fictional thoughts.

Our misguided sense of self-protection holds us back. Our past experiences, our false expectations hold us back. We miss out on so much opportunity and achievement. We miss out on the feeling of contentment and accomplishment. We miss out on actually living. 

I don’t want to miss out on any living. I want to do all of the living I can.

What’s gonna happen next? Let’s just see…

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I’m a Freakin’ Gladiator! (but if you hug me, I might cry)

Now that I no longer have boobs, I’m getting much closer to people when I hug them. I get right up in there, heart to heart. It’s powerful and real. These are the most intense hugs of my adult life. 

I realize now that since I was 10 years old I have been heading in to hugs with my shoulders first. I learned to go in that way to protect myself from the feeling that someone was trying to press up against my breasts. Over the years it became habit. 

But now I can go straight in. Like it or not, I am leading with my heart. It is a very new feeling for me, raw and emotional. Every hug I initiate or accept is an opportunity for a truly deep connection. When the incision completely heals up, I’ll have nothing stopping me! 

…Physically. But my mind’s old habits may try to bring my shoulders back into the lead. It will try to protect me, as it always has, from being vulnerable.

Vulner is the Latin word for wound. If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we risk being wounded. 

Too many of us learn that we are wound-able at a very young age. So we spend the rest of our lives trying to protect ourselves, in so many subtle, habitual ways. 

We go in to situations shoulders first, ready to defend and deflect. We go in clenched and braced and ready to keep ourselves from being wounded again. 

We cover up the old wounds with bravado and intellect, with humor and apathy. We try to mask the fear and guilt and shame with all sorts of defenses, instead of releasing them all out into the world. 

If we put them out there, if we start releasing them into the world, all of those things can slowly be gone. At first, when we tell our stories, we open up the old wounds. But each time we tell them the wound gets less raw, the words come more and more easily. Eventually, they are simply sentences that we speak.  

The more exposed we become, the more we allow ourselves to be completely vulnerable, the less wound-able we are. Impervious to the judgment of others, until we are no longer wound-able at all.  

So I continue to put myself out there, into the world, onto the battlefield! I stand in the midst of it with less and less armor each day. Breathing slowly and deeply as the battle wages on all around me. 

Come at me, world! Judge me. Good or bad. I cannot be harmed by your opinions or your intentions. 

I will stand tall and throw my shoulders back. I will continue to put more of myself out there, completely open to whatever comes my way. Breath by breath, stripping away the armor. Releasing fear, shame, guilt, anxiety. Releasing bravery, confidence, desire, ego. 

Getting down to the center of it. To the humanity of it all. To the place where we can connect with each other, heart to heart. 

……….

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May Cause Side Effects

In an effort to keep cancer from returning to my body, I recently started taking a chemo-prevention pill. My only real concern is staving off the major side effect, which is my own anxiety about side effects.

One of the best anxiety treatments I know is daily movement on my mat. So today, I stepped back on it.

Sitting with my legs crossed I inhaled deeply as I reached my arms out to the sides and then up slightly over head. Bent elbows, I exhaled my hands together and down to a prayer at my heart. My thumbs pressed into my chest, and I was acutely aware of the lack of fleshy tissue around them, the missing pieces. 

I sat silently searching for today’s intention. And then it came to me: ‘Honor your current body. Let it teach you.’

I began to move into different poses. Flowing slowly with my breath. Every single pose needed to be modified or propped up. From the outside, I’m sure the poses were unrecognizable. I imagined a fellow yogi walking in and saying, ‘Nice to see you on the mat, but what pose is that actually supposed to be?’ There were moments though, in each pose, when my muscle memory kicked in, and I imagined myself in the deepest expression of the pose. 

Whatever expression of the pose I can currently achieve IS the fullest, deepest expression of the pose.

Sitting on the the floor with my legs outstretched, I pressed the backs of my knees down into the floor. I was about to fold over and reach for my toes. While teaching, I often say ‘Reach for your whatever-you-can-get today, knees, shins, ankles, toes.’ 

Today, keeping my spine straight and folding forward proved to be a great challenge. So I grabbed my strap, one end in each hand, wrapped it around my feet, and settled for just trying to press my legs straight and lean my torso forward. I wasn’t leaning very far forward. I was practically upright, and I thought about how on a really good day I could fold over and lay my torso on my thighs. But, isn’t today a really good day too?

There are no good days or bad days. No good practice or bad practice. No good body or bad body. There is only this day, this practice, this body and the lessons it holds. 

Then I flowed. I did 3 cat cows! Breathing so slowly, savoring each micro-movement. My body wanted to press back into child’s pose, so I listened. But there was too much discomfort to stretch my arms out, so I modified with very very bent arms. I was content to be there, releasing into each breath. My arms were a bit uncomfortable but I could feel the stretching and softening. Then I realized that I could straighten one arm at a time. So I did.

I don’t have to avoid discomfort. I can sit with it, breathe through it, and wait for it to soften.

I decided to challenge myself and press up into downward facing dog. I was nervous. I didn’t know if I’d be able to hold it for more than a breath. I really wish I had filmed this part of the practice. The playback would’ve been hilarious. My down-dog was a hot-holy-mess. But it felt glorious! Glorious! For TWO whole breaths! 

It doesn’t matter what it looks like on the outside. It only matters how it feels to you. On the inside. 

When I stood in mountain pose I felt strong and straight, engaged and present. Hands at my heart I repeated my intention. 

I wanted to flow through some sun breaths. Big sweeping movements, long slow deep breaths.  I inhaled and reached my arms up overhead, as high as they could go, and then began the slow dive into forward fold. But I couldn’t fold. I thought I might be able to, but it wasn’t happening today.

Release expectations and accept what is. 

Inhaling and exhaling I ‘flowed’ through one of the most modified Sun Salutations of all time. I had to move so slowly. Mindfulness while transitioning from pose to pose became more crucial than the poses themselves. Each moment just as important as the last.

Each moment of transition is in itself a pose

We can find true contentment on the mat if we are present in each moment, if we let go of our expectations, our anxieties, our hopes, our fears.

Off the mat, we hold on to the moments and things we think are truly important, but we have to hold on so loosely that it won’t be difficult if and when we have to let them go.   

Mindfulness is here in this moment

If we can continually let go of all other moments and be truly present in THIS one, we can stave off all of life’s adverse side effects.

…….

…….

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Life Story 

It has been four weeks since my double mastectomy. Twenty eight long slow days of not much more than resting and recovering.  I’ve spent most of my energy on healing and didn’t have much left over for other, less important things. Healing, and thinking…

Those long, slow, painful days have all combined into one month. Soon enough, these months will be far behind me. Just a blip on the radar. Like the entire last year of my life, from April to April.  

I found out I had cancer. There were tests. Consultations. Patience. Tests. Surgery. The cancer is gone now. Next chapter. 

The chapter of my story entitled Breast Cancer will be edited over the years, by time and distance, until it is nothing more than a sentence. Just one sentence in my entire life story. 

I had breast cancer

It will be added to all of the other sentences that used to be full chapters. I grew up in Newark, NJ. There are 20 years in that sentence. I went to college and grad school. 7 years in that one. I had a career– 10 years. I got married. So far that’s a 24 year sentence! 

I bought a house. I had kids. I became a yoga teacher. I had breast cancer… Years in each sentence. Stories behind each word.

We all have them. When we’re in each chapter it seems so important. So all encompassing. 

And we are in it. Every day. The struggles, the stresses, the things that we choose to argue about, obsess over, worry ourselves with, complain about, pass judgment on, hold passionately on to, build into resentments, cling to with pride, cry over, brag about, turn into a crisis, expend our precious energy on… We are all in it.

Imagine for just a moment that you are projected into the future. Imagine that you are on your last day of life. Imagine that you know it is your last day, and you are going to write down your life story. What will you say? What will make it to the page?

About 30 years ago, Stephen Wright told a joke:
‘Two babies were born on the same day at the same hospital. They lay there and looked at each other. Their families came and took them away. Eighty years later, by a bizarre coincidence, they lay in the same hospital, on their deathbeds, next to each other. One of them looked at the other and said, ‘So, what did you think?’

So… What do you think so far? What part of the story are you writing now? What did you spend your time and energy on today? 

Will those things become a chapter? A full page? A paragraph? A sentence? Will they even make it in to the story? 

It’s your story. Your very own. Concern yourself with the stuff of chapters! Make it epic! 

Time and distance will punctuate. 

…..

…..

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Changeable

Today is windy, crisp, and clear. 

It rained. For forty days. It seemed
a chilly, eerie, gothic dream.
So hard to bear.

The whole wide world was gray and brown.
The dust was falling all around.
It felt like years.

It dulled the edges and the lines.
I thought that I might lose my mind.
So many tears.

But then I heard the newsman say,
‘We’re in for a sunny, blustery day,
Tie down your chairs!’

I braced myself for the changing weather.
I tied my furniture together
with twine, haste and care.

Then the wind blew all the dust away…
The world is sharp and crisp today  
and things are crystal clear.

It’s such a glorious apparition.
I’m living in high definition.
It would appear.

So, I’ll sit here looking toward the skies,
and trace the edges with my eyes.
I’ll stay right here

all day. All day until I get my fill.
Because tomorrow could be still. 
It could, I fear.

But today, today is crisp and clear.

——-

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