What do you want for your birthday?
Honestly, I can’t imagine any better gift than this column, a gorgeous response to my July post entitled “Dear Abbie.”
With love and happy dances under the full August moon … see you when I’m 48. Namaste, Rxo
What do you want for your birthday?
Honestly, I can’t imagine any better gift than this column, a gorgeous response to my July post entitled “Dear Abbie.”
With love and happy dances under the full August moon … see you when I’m 48. Namaste, Rxo
So, you are now a yoga studio owner?
In Gayle’s 9 a.m. Thursday morning Vinyasa class the volume within and without was building. Gayle plays stirring music, some traditional yoga music, some surprises. I might find my fingers drumming along to Bobbi McFerrin singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in a hip-opener or interrupt the steady flow of inhale and exhale singing out loud to “Brighter than the Sun.” Plenty of the music isn’t so familiar; Gayle’s practice is guaranteed to pull me in, heat me up, and wring me out.
A Vinyasa practice links breath to movement and usually features any number of demanding poses, and repetitions of four-pointed staff pose (Chataranga Dandasana), upward-facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) and downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). These three poses work the shoulders in a way that until recently my shoulder had been unwilling to accommodate. For the last month or so, I’ve been moving into a more demanding flow and experiencing the rich rewards associated with hard work.
We were really warm Thursday morning and Gayle called for three-legged downward facing dog. Right legs lifted behind us all around the room and Gayle asked us to draw our right knees in tight to our chests, coiled like panthers about to spring. “Place your knee between your hands, back toes walk back, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, one-legged pigeon pose.” Pigeon is a hip-opening pose, the front leg traditionally bent so that the shin rests parallel to the front edge of the yoga mat, the back leg extending all the way back, toes untucked. If you melt your heart forward, it becomes almost restorative and certainly is easier to hold. I lifted my heart instead. Next I lifted my back foot, reaching back for it with my left hand. The foot nestled in the crook of my elbow and I breathed into the sweet quadriceps stretch. Then I surprised myself. I tried something I had never tried before. Releasing the handhold, I squeezed my foot in toward my back with my hamstring, I turned my hand over, found my foot again, and grasped the slippery big toe with my hand, rotating my elbow toward the ceiling. The next move was to lift up through my core, extend my heart upward and ease my head back toward my foot. For the first time ever, I could feel my hair with my foot. I squeezed everything a little more and grazed my head with my toe. It was awkward and wobbly, but I brought my head to my foot in full Eka Pada Rajakapotasana or Crown Pigeon. The experiment was similarly, inelegantly successful on the left side.
Some poses I work for and at forty-seven, I can move my body into positions that weren’t remotely possible at thirty-seven or even twenty-seven. But closing the energy circuit in pigeon, bringing that foot to my head—it’s not a pose I’ve been pondering, looking for or working toward. It’s not a bucket-list pose like handstand or crow; it wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye. And I was so surprised that I didn’t fully register what had happened until later in the day, teaching again, doing a fully propped version of pigeon with my restorative class. I tentatively drew my back leg up and regarded the miles of space between foot and head—it hardly seemed possible they had come together earlier that same day.
I’ve been talking about possibilities all week in class. Springtime, even our wet, cold, late spring this year, is a moment all about possibilities. But contrary to the new energy of spring around us, it’s our very human nature to set limits, lower expectations, and cut things out all together. One morning before class three different yoga students came by my desk and our separate conversations ended with the same mantra, “never say ‘never,’” I told each of them.
One woman is new to yoga, recently retired. She’s enjoying the practice and brings a delighted energy to the studio. In light of a question she asked about the body, I said, “you’ll learn all of that when you go through yoga teacher training.” It was a gentle nudge, not because I think she should teach yoga but because her question showed the kind of intense curiosity that makes a good teacher. She laughed, hard. “I’m never going to be a yoga instructor.”
The next conversation happened with a woman who worked hard for some time to get into headstand and now performs the pose regularly and easily. When I suggested handstand next, she said, “No way, never.”
The third woman stopped by the desk to tell me she had missed class the week before for a medical appointment. She’s old enough, now, that her doctor is telling her she no longer has to have certain tests—she’s had her last colonoscopy, her last pap test. With a sly wink she whispered, “unless I have sex again.” In her regular voice she quickly added, “but that’s not going to happen.”
Asking the women to sit tall at the start of our practice together, I made them laugh when I mentioned the impossible trio: becoming a yoga instructor as a post-retirement job, handstand, and sex after 70. And then I asked them to close their eyes and ask why those seem like funny ideas instead of real possibilities.
Sixteen years ago I left my first professional full time job at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island. I reconnected recently with one of my former office mates, and it was he who asked, with some surprise, about my status as a yoga studio owner. “It surprises me, too,” I told him. Then again, ten years ago putting my foot on my head in pigeon, living in Des Moines, IA, owning a yoga studio, and keeping a blog weren’t even remote inklings in my imagination.
What about ten years from now? I might imagine what I think I’ll be doing; I can set and act upon long-term goals; I can count on certain realities. What I can’t do, what none of us can do, is truly see the future. Nor can we predict the full range of possibilities in that future—the delights, disappointments, frustrations, and surprises, the spontaneous performance of stunts we weren’t even trying for, the relief we’ll feel when efforts toward something we thought we wanted don’t pan out. But if we sit with life knowing that it IS limitless, if we truly excise never from our vocabulary, then we get to live fully and openly in possibility.
The new moon has given way to the full pink moon, brightening the sky overnight. The cold spring seems finally to be opening to the possibilities of warmer temperatures, budding trees and blooming flowers. May the loveliness of spring open each of us a little more. xoR
What can you do to have a good, happy, fulfilling, and meaningful life?
Usually, I navigate my way toward answers in prose, and often poses, but this question is both asked and answered by the talented and brilliant Jonathan Haidt in his book, in which I have been dwelling for nearly three months, The Happiness Hypothesis. Haidt explains: …happiness comes from between. Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait.
Haidt’s selling, and I’m buying. Here’s why.
My mother, Eighty-eight, is an irrepressible gift-giver. Do something nice for her, she’ll send you a present. Christmas is in ten months? She’s starting to consider her gift list now. My children’s birthdays approach? What’s her shopping budget? Giving the right gift makes her very happy, and she thinks long and hard about presents and their recipients.
She’s also not good at waiting, once the gift is in hand. Thus, I got my Christmas present, purchased in early October, a few weeks later when I was skidding on a rough patch and she felt I needed cheering up. She wasn’t wrong and I loved wearing the garnet necklace right up to and on Christmas.
Christmas Eve 2012 will be remembered in my family as the year Eighty-eight was in the hospital. She had been in the cardiac unit at the hospital for nearly a week, she was rounding the bend toward recovery, but the doctors still weren’t satisfied with her numbers, so we learned she wouldn’t be released until after Christmas. Ten, Thirteen and I took Christmas to her: a tiny tree, a lit sign that reads “joy,” a stocking hastily assembled at Walgreens. Under her direction, I also wrapped and ferried over all of the gifts she had for our extended family.
Scribbling my instructions on a scrap of paper, I looked up surprised when she said, “And don’t forget yours—I’m sure you’ve guessed it by now—it’s around the corner in my closet. It’s already wrapped.”
“Um, Mom, you gave me my Christmas present.” I fingered the garnets at my throat, “Remember?”
She smiled. “Yes, I remember. Don’t forget to bring the bag from my closet. I’m sorry it’s so heavy.”
Like a kid on Christmas does only an adequate job of describing how I felt when I peeked around the corner in her closet and saw a large shopping bag from Williams-Sonoma. It took me a while to work out that she had gone there in November with my brother. I tried very hard not to think about what could be inside.
In my mind, a perfect Christmas present is something you would never purchase for yourself, is a little bit lavish, and when it comes right down to it you can’t understand how you ever lived without it. When I tore the paper off the box in my lap at the hospital, my mother had scored on my behalf the most essential, lavish purpose-based tool I have ever owned. It brews tea—just that—the perfect cup of tea every single time.
Now, every morning, I fill the magnetically propelled basket with organic Darjeeling. I add 1000 ml of water and set the pot on its electric base. Black tea, 212-degree water, 3.5 minutes brewing time. The machine takes tea seriously. Two months out from Christmas, it’s still a delight when I push the shiny silver button labeled “tea.” Boiling time plus 3.5 minutes later, Eighty-eight, Thirteen and I enjoy perfectly brewed tea.
I think about this machine as I work my healing shoulder back into handstand. Adho Mukha Vrksasana, downward facing tree pose, is never easy for me. The first time I stood on my hands without assistance was in my basement, January 2007. I had been practicing yoga for eight years. I was so excited that I did it again. But ever after it’s a pose that takes determination and preparation—it takes the right conditions. If I’m too tired, it’s not going to happen. If I’m being watched, it’s questionable. If I weigh more than I do right now, it’s too hard to kick up. If my shoulder is injured, I don’t risk it.
So it was with some surprise a week or so ago that I found myself in my favorite handstand spot in my basement, fingertips four inches from the wall, lifting my hips into downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Getting ready for handstand I spend a lot of time measuring—the distance between my hands, the distance from my head to the wall, the sense of lift as I come off of my knees and into dog. Walk forward—one leg long and ready to swing, one leg drawn in close and coiled, ready to spring. I adjust my hands and focus on breathing—a deep inhale and an exhale that will help with the lift. Adjust the hands, press into the first finger mounds, check the distance from head to wall again. The first hop is another measure—how’s my kick today? Does it have any umph? The second comes directly after, more force and I try to connect my heel to the wall above my head. Now I’m closing in on ready, more breath, more adjusting of hands, more coiling and lifting, then—sometimes—conditions are right and I lift off and stick the pose.
And it makes me so happy.
I never have any doubt when I’m upside down—headstand, handstand, elbow balance—that our bodies are designed to invert. Working through the
preparation for handstand, and my own particular shifting, breathing, and kicking ritual, I feel the rightness of it all. Our bodies are purpose-built tools, like the most incredible tea-maker that glistens on the kitchen counter, and yoga poses create purpose. When we find our purpose—be it pose, vocation, avocation, parenthood, creative milieu—and pursue the conditions that maximize our abilities, and strive to get better at what we do, we kick and lift off. We soar.
Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, Haidt writes, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.
I know what he means: Cradled in purpose and meaning, we find our way to happy.
The full February moon—the appropriately named Snow Moon—is in Virgo. Someone who knows astrology tells me that this moon, for me with a double Virgo in my chart, creates particularly large energy centered around releasing, letting go, and balancing in order to move forward. Sounds like a handstand to me. May the light shine on you and yours, Rxo
What happens when a robin breaks her wing?
The chiropractor told me on my first visit that my shoulder is “acute.” The tightness and stress in my neck, rhomboids, and all manner of tiny muscles that feed into the inners workings of my shoulder plus overuse just before Thanksgiving caused tear-inducing pain. I think of myself as a pain wimp, but according to my doc the shoulder pain I’ve been living with on and off since February would have sent a lot of people over the edge long ago.
Maybe it’s my yoga practice. A couple of years ago I was in a workshop with Doug Swenson and he was answering a question from a participant. She said something like, “I can’t do it on that side, that’s my bad leg.” Doug, small, wiry and strong, shot back, “Then, that’s your teacher leg.”
Our aches and pains do teach us volumes, about what it is to be human and fragile and temporary. That they are object lessons in the making doesn’t make them easier to bear. The pain is one thing; the blues that go with them are quite another.
It’s been a year of aches and pains for me, most of them emotional or energetic. This current shoulder pain aside, my problems are first world problems. In the plus column, I am fed and clothed, I have a roof and a job (well, several), my children are happy, learning and thriving.
Still, pondering the year here at Overneath It All and thinking about writing a review post that might just sound a little like a holiday letter, I sat one recent morning and considered the highs and lows of the year. My word cloud of the 100 most-repeated words in my blog is revealing. I’ve written a lot about my children, about writing, about yoga. No surprise there. I’ve written, apparently, the word “like” many, many times, although I wonder about this because I’m not, like, you know, given to Valley-girl speak. That the word “writing” sits at the foot of it all, a solid foundation, makes my eyes grow wide and I smile. I’ve also written quite a bit about Menards, apparently, and my bank statements confirm I go there to spend money second only to Trader Joe’s on Tuesday mornings.
I feel as though the cloud is incomplete. It doesn’t include the amazing friendships I’ve forged and deepened this year. It doesn’t make mention of a single martini, although I’ve enjoyed more than a few. It doesn’t update the ongoing stories blog posts have touched upon, nor does it project harbingers of what comes next. But it’s a picture of some of it, a snapshot, a place to begin.
At the end of December 2011, I wrote about my visualizations for 2012: This year I’ll be visualizing that published book, more yoga, more writing, happy, growing, engaged children, and yes, more martinis or cups of tea or delicious bites of chocolate, so long as there are friends to enjoy them with. I realized a part or all of these visualizations, although I’ve made less progress on my book than I’d like. And the “growing” part, if you read my last post about Thirteen you already know, has hit a bit of a roadblock. But excellent doctors are working on that. In April I wrote about wishes, specifically the wish for more time. In May I mentioned the garden, rich with sweet snap pea plants. That garden delivered many peas but little else as first weeds and then unbelievable heat took over this summer. I wrote more than once about my car—somehow it continues to chug forward and hold together in spite of itself (knock wood). I mentioned a list of things to do, written when I was five years younger than I am now. One of the undone items I took to heart this fall, and I’m 17 pounds lighter than I was when I wrote that entry. I wrote about the new kittens who are thriving and keep the house alive well past bedtime. For the full blue moon in August, I wrote a line that—and this was a first—a reader actually, kindly, quoted back to me: Breath by breath I rescue myself.
That’s some of what I’ve done this year. I’ve also cried, screamed to release pent-up frustrations while driving, downloaded an inordinate amount of emotional crap to friends who were kind enough to listen, and thumped my pillow more than a few times. I’ve dovetailed alternately between feeling like I was failing whatever test the Universe was hurling my way and feeling like I couldn’t get a break.
And then, the same week that Ten was on stage dancing the Nutcracker role she was destined for, the Party Girl wearing a green dress, I found myself with a sick child (Thirteen), a broken wing and jury duty.
But instead of making everything worse, somehow sitting in a room with a group of randomly selected strangers offered the onset of healing. Like a lingering body pain that teaches us to surrender, rest, and release superhuman expectations of ourselves, jury duty—where this time I did not serve—reminded me to let go, accept what is, and be a little more patient. My reward included completing my civic duty with little overall interruption to my parenting duties and clarity.
The metaphor isn’t hard. We shoulder the world, stand shoulder to shoulder with friends, cry on someone’s shoulder. Shoulder pain refers emotional stresses, burdens in our lives we somehow can’t address or resolve. My shoulder has hurt all through this year and its challenges. It got precipitously worse when I overused it physically, but that corresponded with a particularly heavy moment in my heart. It’s getting better, slowly, with physical care from my talented chiropractor. But I won’t pretend for a moment that it isn’t getting better because when I walked out of jury duty after the second day, I recognized the gift of space—I have space to move, space to manage my own schedule and thoughts, space to parent in, space in my heart, and progressively more space in my shoulder joint. My studio is a welcoming space where I love to work and people arrive every day to further their practice. My home is an evolving space that offers shelter and solace. My yoga creates interior space, my words connective space, my friendships loving space. And 2013? It’s the space of a whole new year, one where I shift beyond the need for rescue and into a larger frontier.
Happy Holidays and thank you for spending this year with Thirteen & Ten & poses & prose & me—I’m giving myself a mini-break from posting. See you around the new moon in January 2013. Much, much, much, much love, Rxo
What time is it?
The five—six if the rice maker is plugged in—clocks in my kitchen don’t agree. The one by which we leave for scheduled activities is two or three minutes faster than the others. Upstairs, I have three clocks in my room and bathroom. The one on the back of the toilet is a full twelve minutes faster than the one on the bathroom counter. That one is two or three minutes slower than the clock by my bed that I can’t really see from anywhere else in the room. I stopped wearing a watch years ago.
It’s no better at the studio where the credit card reader doesn’t agree with the weather clock or any of the three thermostats. There I start and end time by a Timex wristwatch that has never known a wrist, but is small enough to set alongside my yoga mat.
Soon, it’ll be time to fall back, and I will consult my cell phone to sync all of the clocks. For a few days there will only be one time zone. It’s never long before the ones in my bathroom slow down (counter) and speed up (toilet back), entirely on their own. It takes a fair amount of mental gymnastics to remember which one is how wrong.
When Thirteen was Four, he already had a well-developed sense of time. I was helping out one day, watching the class run around when his preschool teacher gave a five-minute warning on the playground. Four ran up, out of breath, to confirm, “Five minutes more?” Miss Heidi said, “Yes.” “Okay,” he called, tearing off to take a few more rounds of his circuit. She turned to me, “You know, five minutes means little to the rest of them. Your child actually knows.” I nodded, and neither of us was surprised when he zoomed over to line up ahead of his teacher’s call. He remains on time or early for most events.
By contrast, Ten gets lost in time. Given twenty minutes to complete a task, she might get it done in half the time or she might get distracted by a book, a cat, or a doodle and not look up before thirty minutes have gone by. Perfectly capable of marching easily through her homework or other chores, she can drag her feet and take hours without gentle and, more times than I’m proud of, nagging reminders.
I’m in the middle—generally on time or finished with things that have deadlines, work, children’s activities, generally a little bit late for social engagements. So long as I know the clock in my car is two minutes fast, I am more or less punctual without (too much) rushing.
Recently I read an article about changing your relationship with time. The most compelling suggested was to work on arriving to everything ten minutes early. But on the off chance I get somewhere early, my first thought is not, “Ahh, I can relax for a few minutes.” Instead, I immediately wonder what I should do to fill whatever small window of idyll I have. I can even start to feel slightly panicked, for there is a never-ending list of things I know I need to do. If none of them is available to me, what can I do with those precious minutes? Surely I must not waste them doing nothing?
Look in any line of people and most of them will be head down, checking an electronic gadget. I’m not immune. A short wait at the coffee shop drive-up window? I’ll check my email or quick text a friend. Mom’s not yet free from the dentist’s chair? I can flip open my laptop and tend to some copyediting for one of my clients. Twenty-five minutes left in Thirteen’s TaeKwonDo class? Perfect. I’ve got an email message I have been wanting to write.
All of that feels productive. But what about the times when I press the key on my phone to check my mail and there’s nothing that needs attention there? What about incessant checking of Facebook? In so many instances it’s electronic noise and it serves to masquerade as focus so I don’t get overwhelmed.
I am prone to feeling overwhelmed—overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. The house, the yard, the studio, my desk, correspondence, finances, writing, childcare … my list, like everyone’s, goes on and on and on. When I’m in those crunch moments, those times when there isn’t much time, that’s where my mind begins to spiral, my energy getting spun out fast until everything seems impossible.
School started for Ten and Thirteen about two weeks ago. The morning feels like a shuttle run, their buses arriving a few minutes apart. On the walk back from the second bus, I never fail to notice my neighbors’ manicured lawns, the many new roofs, some just installed this summer, the clean windows and the driveways with no weeds growing up through the cracks. Then there’s my house—that list doesn’t begin to cover what it needs. I could start just by sweeping the spider webs away from the front door. But it’s not just the exterior; the interior needs paint and the floors need attention and the basement needs to be cleaned and the garage needs new shelves … and … and … and …
I stem the spiral with my current favorite fantasy—a crew of dancing workers clad in pristine white jumpsuit is flowing over lawn, house, garden and interior, rescuing me from all of the ten-thousand things. They’re singing a happy working song and smiling. In no time the house and garden are scrubbed, repaired, and gorgeous, and they whirl off, leaving quiet sparkle in their wake.
A girl can dream, but I do know that my life isn’t like a musical. What will happen is that one thing will get done at a time. Some days it might be something tiny, like changing a light bulb that’s burnt out in the basement. Still, each time I do get something done, whether it’s cleaning a screen or figuring out what to do with the tree that came down in a July storm, it’ll be right, maybe not easy but also not insurmountable. I’ll be able to focus, get it done, and move on. It’ll happen in divine right time.
It’s a life lesson I seem to have to keep learning: how to navigate through the ten-thousand, one-hundred thousand, one-million things that distract my attention to focus on the one, the moment I’m in. It’s all I can do. It’s all any of us can hope to do, breathe into the moment and trust that another one will follow this one. Breath by breath, I come to my own rescue.
Once in a blue moon—what could happen this week in the waning light of August’s second full moon. May it be something magical … Rxo