RSS Feed

Tag Archives: intense focus

Danger Zone

What’s going on?

Three times a week I drive a few miles north of my yoga studio to the financial branch of John Deere to teach class. There in the bamboo-floored group exercise room administrative assistants unroll their mats next to vice presidents and mid-level managers to stretch and strengthen, invert and relax. I walk in smiling one to three minutes before class begins and walk out, mat bag over my shoulder, within moments of the closing salute. I am Susie Sunshine Yoga Teacher, she who lives in a house lightly scented with lavender and patchouli, who never has a care in the world.

It is one of the ironies of what I do, but it’s not an act. My first yoga teacher trainer made it clear, “You’ve got three breaths to leave your sh!t behind and be in the room, with your students, centered and ready.” These are words I teach by.

Nonetheless, if I’m teaching fifteen hours this week and sleeping thirty-five or forty, there are still 113 hours during which I’m living, and some days are worse than others.

Recently, on a cool, spring Thursday, I had one of those days. There was nothing spectacularly wrong, but pretty much nothing was right, either. The requirements of the day included getting out the door by 5:30 am for an early class, heading to an overdue annual appointment with the gynecologist, racing back to the studio for a noon private session, cleaning the studio thoroughly, and picking up my daughter, Eleven, from school to deliver her to dance. Each week when we get home from dance there are precisely fifteen minutes to figure out dinner before I must light out for the studio again for my evening class.

To say I was blue that Thursday is putting it mildly. I couldn’t have a conversation about what kind of tea I wanted at the bagel shop without getting glassy eyed. The kind manager asked, “Long morning already?”

I just nodded because I didn’t want the tears to drip.

“Well,” he said, “here’s breakfast. Maybe it’ll start to improve now.”

Since it was still before the gynecologist and before I was late to meet my private student and before cleaning the studio toilets and scrubbing scuff marks off of the linoleum floor and before someone asked for yet another day off from teaching and before fifteen new email messages each with their own urgency arrived in my inbox and before there were three new voicemails requiring my attention, breakfast didn’t do the trick. Not that really any of those items was so terrible, but I was terrible. I was in an overwhelmed inconsolable place, wanting nothing more than to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head.

It happens, even to Susie Sunshine Yoga Teacher. And while some days I can just move through the miasma and come out smiling, that day little was budging my weepy blue mood.

Eleven parked at dance I took myself to Starbucks, my insane sometimes more than daily habit of last year curtailed to once or twice a week and only when I’m staying at the café. It was writing time. Whether or not it makes me feel better, writing is my favorite thing to do. I pulled up my book as I’ve determined this is the year something will become of it and started to read. That’s when the commotion started.

The opening salvo was a phone call from Eleven and Knocking-on-Fifteen’s father, an air traffic manager at Des Moines Tower. He was working a police plane flying low over 86th and Hickman, looking for an escaped convict. It was only a few minutes after we hung up that I saw the plane, right over my head, and the text messages began to fly. More information flowed from the tower, where they were receiving regular updates from the pilot. Details arrived from a friend, who was monitoring the news and had received an automated alert phone call at work. The convict, the story went, had escaped transport near Menards on Hickman Road, about two miles from my house. He had stolen a van (there was a report of a carjacking that turned out to be incorrect) and driven east, last seen in the vicinity of Hickman and 73rd, right about where my yoga studio is located.

It was time to go. I packed up to make sure I was in the ballet parking lot a few minutes early, collected Eleven safely, stopped for noodles for dinner, and deposited nourishment with a very happy home crew at the cusp of their three-day Easter weekend. I called Knocking-on-Fifteen aside:

“I need you to go around and make sure all the doors are locked tight. I’m sorry to do this to you, but there’s an escaped convict on the loose and if I didn’t say something to you I’d be worried the whole time I’m at class. Please don’t alarm Eighty-Nine and Eleven.”

“Okay,” he sprang to action. It’s reassuring to leave a second-degree black belt in charge.

Driving on Hickman I could see that the events were very real and very recent. Blocking one lane were a wrecked car on a flatbed in front of a dented stationwagen and a police car, lights on, just where the convict apparently escaped and fled through traffic. I passed four more law enforcement cars as I drove three miles east on Hickman Road, and then I arrived at my studio driveway.

It is no exaggeration to say that fifteen law enforcement vehicles of various shapes and sizes were parked higgledy piggledy blocking the entrance to my

Behind the studio, the creek we call a ha-ha (a straight British moat) and a glimpse at the culvert the police were peering into.

Behind the studio, the creek we call a ha-ha (a straight British moat) and a glimpse at the culvert the police were peering into.

parking lot and filling the space in front of the building next door. One of my students was pulled right up into the mix, asking the officer how she was going to drive through to her yoga class. He was telling her she couldn’t go back to the studio because they hadn’t checked the building yet. I drove around the back way, across the rattily bridge, and parked in my usual spot.

For the next fifteen minutes, students trailed in, some wondering what was going on, while others already knew and added information to the story. We learned that the van had been discovered in the motel parking lot across the street. Men wearing bulletproof vests and leading search dogs were looking all around. The plane buzzed overhead. An all-terrain vehicle was dispatched into the creek to peer into the causeway that channels the water under Hickman. Text messages continued to pour into my phone.

What could we do? We practiced yoga.

Well, to be fair, my students practiced yoga. I practiced something else, vigilance. As I walked softly, circumnavigating the room at a pace that was a study in meandering, I was peering out the windows while I spoke in the voice of Tamra Twilight, Susie Sunshine’s alter ego. Whereas Susie is upbeat and delighted you’re arriving or departing the studio, Tamra is soothing, a respite from the chaotic world. I watched with alarm as the men with dogs and flak jackets walked up and down outside the studio and a crowd gathered on the bridge over the ravine in the back. I watched with increasing calm as the men put the dogs away, conferred in groups, then climbed in their clutter of cars and drove away, lights on but no sirens.

My formative years in big cities taught me how to be protective of myself. That early training translated, in a

The proximity of the motel across the street to the yoga studio.

The proximity of the motel across the street to the yoga studio.

way that surprises me, when I became a mother bear. Today I’m ever-watchful, perhaps overprotective, of my cubs, my home, the studio. The vigilance means that on a night like that Thursday in April, I took the very best care of everyone I could, right down to making sure that each of my students had someone to walk to her car with and no one got into her car without peering in first. It means that when I got home and told Eighty-Nine and Eleven what had happened, I did so carefully and folded Eleven into my arms to sleep that night. It means that I spent some time soothing Knocking-on-Fifteen, who let me know he had been jumpy the entire time I’d been away. And it means that because I had something else to do, something that felt meaningful and important, the blues chased away.

Twenty-four hours after the drama started, the escapee in question was captured some distance from the studio and my house. Less than twenty-four hours from now, my sweet boy turns Fifteen. A new moon and a solar eclipse seem auspicious starts to launch his new year. Happy early Birthday dearest son. Thanks to you, dear reader, as always, Rxo

Advertisements

Letting Go

How’s your week?

I am so lucky, I thought as I watched Vicki kick off her shoes near the coatrack, tossing her how ya doin’ question at me. Every day at the studio I see people walk through the door, happy to be headed for their yoga mats. We exchange greetings and inquire, really ask, how things are. Regulars I see two and three times in a week follow the events in my life as I follow theirs. “How’s your week?” might be followed by a catch-up question about one of my children, the status of my car repair, or a query about last weekend’s guest instructor at the studio. In return I hear details about vacations and irascible bosses and family drama. I ask practice-related questions, too, and so I learn about aches that are healing and check in with mommas-to-be as their bellies swell.

We head up the ramp into the studio and I routinely invite students to leave behind their distractions, their to-do lists, their worries, their lives. For the time on the mat we focus on the lift of the arch in the feet, the extension from fingertip to fingertip, the breath flowing easily in and out. The studio is designed to hold space for the practice with little to fixate upon and a wide-open ceiling. Practice is the time, I say over and over, to let go.

Vairagya, the Sanskrit word for nonattachment, is one half of a pair of essential principles of yoga; the other is Abhyasa, or practice. Taken together, practice leads you in the right direction, while nonattachment keeps you from getting distracted by or stuck to pains and pleasures along the way. Persevere to let go; let go to persevere.

When Vicki asked me about my week, I was closing my laptop, giving up on finishing a message I was working to write before the first few people arrived for class. Maybe I sighed a little, and I said, “just can’t seem to get one thing good and finished this week.”

Vicki looked at me and replied, “They say that not finishing things is one of our biggest stress producers.”

“That explains a lot,” I laughed. Later I found myself thinking about what she said.

Not finishing things—a thought, a letter, an editing job, a household chore, a to-do list of errands—does stress me out. I can be deep in thought or trying to remember everything I need for the day and Eleven or Fourteen will launch into something very important to them and completely unrelated to whatever it is I’m thinking about. I try to be present for them, to bear witness, but sometimes they’re being goofy and utterly random. Friday morning, I was backing the car down the drive in something of a morning rush to drop Fourteen for before-school band practice, Eleven started to detail her Christmas shopping plan. Fourteen was talking about String Theory. I just wanted to know where my telephone was.

Fourteen deposited at school, Eleven and I went to Panera for breakfast. Settled in our usual booth, Eleven with a book and two muffies and me with an egg and cheese on a multi-grain bagel and my laptop open, I looked at Eleven and said, “I can’t put my mind on my phone.”

We joke in my household that I’m more of a teenager than either of my children because my phone is nearly always close to me. Texts, phone calls, social media postings, and email messages are all a part of my yoga studio world. I keep my phone next to my bed so my mother, Eighty-Nine, can phone me upstairs if she needs something. When I’m not home, Eleven or Fourteen can telephone to let me know they’ve reached home safely. And, too, my phone is a social outlet, connecting me to friends far and wide.

Complete with "Blue Dog" as painted by Eleven several years ago, my phone at hand as usual.

Complete with “Blue Dog” as painted by Eleven several years ago, my phone at hand as usual.

By the time we were back in the car and on the way to school, I was feeling alarmed that I had in fact left my phone at home. I don’t like being unreachable to my mother, my children, the Friday morning yoga teacher, the myriad of tiny matters that come up during any given day … Contemplating taking the time to return home for the phone, I found myself saying no thank you to Eleven’s generous offer to use her phone for the morning. “You can still text and make calls,” she assured me.

“Thank you, Sweetie, but it’s not the same. It won’t help if someone is trying to get in touch with me.” It’s not my phone is what I really meant. “I’ll email your grandmother and let her know I don’t have it with me today. I’ll be reconnected with it by twelve-thirty or so.” And when that happens, I thought but didn’t say to Eleven, I’ll be reattached to you by our electronic umbilical cord, a happy byproduct of giving both of my children cellular phones. “So,” I reassured us both, “I’ll be fine until then.”

After she got out of the car, I thought, how silly of me. I should have at least had her try calling my phone with hers to see if it’s in the car. She would have been helping me, and I would know if it was buried somewhere in my workbasket. As I drove along, I continued to try, without success, to remember where I had put the phone after unplugging it from the charger earlier that morning.

And then I remembered that my car would know if my phone was present. I hit the U-connect button on the steering wheel and there was the reassuring voice: “U-Connect Phone, Ready!” The phone was in the car! Happily I commanded the car to call Eleven, but I realized she’d had enough time already to stow her backpack, and with it her phone, deep in her locker. I settled for sending her a mental message to relax—she could reach me if she needed to.

At Starbucks, computer in front of me, phone and note pad to my right, I worked through my to-do list—balance the books for the studio, write a practice for Absolute Asana, an advanced class I teach once a month, make notes for a blog post I would write in the afternoon about nonattachment … how can I encourage nonattachment, I pondered, if I am ridiculously attached to my phone, my rolling phone booth of a car, my computer, my daughter?

Baffled by my own query, I flipped over to Facebook to post a message on the studio page. My attention was arrested by a status update: RIP William Weaver, Bard College. My brain derailed. The William Weaver? Did my mother know? How’d it happen? When? Well, I thought, it had to be, but it took quite a bit of searching on the Internet to confirm that the man who had died earlier in the week at the age of 90 was the man my father served with in the British Field Service in the early 1940s. Twice my family visited him in Italy and over the years we saw him in New York City. Most famously the only translator Umberto Eco would allow to touch his work, William Weaver was a man my brother and I called “Uncle.”

When I regained my equilibrium, I’d forgotten what I was doing. I felt that edge of discomfort—something left unfinished. It was time to go and my progress had been waylaid. I walked my brain back along through my list, posted the status report, finished the blog note I was making, and packed up to leave for a class. On the way to my next gig, I phoned my mother to break the news to her—preferring for her to hear it from me than discover the obituary online.

We passed the news back and forth, inspecting it, testing our memories of the man’s details, saying some of the things we always say about the literary men and women of the twentieth century that were a part of our shared past. By the end of the phone call, we were gently laughing. She asked me where I was and I told her I was passing a sushi restaurant she likes. We said goodbye and my car announced: “Phone call completed.” I smiled at the closure—together we detached from William Weaver even as we warmed to his memory. My electronics allowed us to connect to one another.

And with that it arrives: Attachment is one directional, like a one-way street. Connection moves between and among. I am attached to my phone and my car, sure, but it’s because they are the connective media between me and the stars in my universe. It’s okay to talk about and encourage nonattachment on and off the mat because we don’t have to give up connection. And when we shape time to connect to the beings and the practices we love, life is  sweeter and it becomes easier to detach from all that no longer serves.

In memory of William Weaver, and with gratitude for all of you under the full November moon. Thanks for sharing my journey, Rxo

Time Traveling Warriors

Time Traveling Warriors

Excuse me, do you have the time?

“Oh,” quipped the woman slipping her arm around her husband’s bicep, “he has the time, but I won’t let him.”

My friend Gretchen and I fell apart, giggling uncontrollably. We laughed because it was funny. We laughed because the woman was quick and sassy. We laughed because these people looked so old and the very idea that my fifteen-year-old self might be propositioning the man was beyond our imagination. Our laughter carried over into our post-basketball game sleepover and the story still makes us giggle more than thirty years later.

Before the woman’s response, I had thought it a simple, polite request. My father would be picking us up at a specified time. The game was over and we weren’t sure how much time we had to linger. It was eleven years before I would even see my first mobile phone, a bag phone the size of my son’s backpack and nearly as heavy. Gretchen and I were enjoying the freedom of a college basketball game without parental chaperones and we were motivated to hang on to each magical moment.

Without a wristwatch, I generally have a reasonably accurate sense of time. Still, I am very often appalled by how long things take to accomplish and how little time I have left before the next item on my agenda. Time as it is measured occasionally seems to slow down, but more often speeds up and I look at its passage and wonder, “how did that happen? Where did time go?”

On the yoga mat, paying attention to time means staying present. Still, we use time to try to create logic in the practice. I reference the numbers on the clock for limb placement and toe direction. Time also serves as metaphor. In Virabhadrasana II, Warrior Two, the feet are stepped far apart, the front knee bent deeply, the back leg straight. The hands reach out from the shoulders, front and back. Ideally, the torso is straight up and down and the eyes gaze softly just beyond the middle finger. Like more than one yoga instructor, I attempt to coax students standing in Virabhadrasana II to be more upright by suggesting that the back hand is in the past and the front hand in the future.

Riffing beyond the notion of staying present in the body of the pose one day, I heard myself saying that the body is in the present, the breath is in the present, and only the mind can travel backward and forward in time. I was enamored of the concept, but it needed refinement. There’s cellular memory in the body, where it stores hurts, emotions, experiences, and physical action. I think, too, we physically anticipate, whether future events are exhilarating or dreadful, and of course tensions we manifest and carry from moment to moment. And then there are memories, like the surprised delighted laughter I shared with my friend that I can still feel tingling against the bright lights and sounds of the clearing crowds exiting the basketball arena. When I remember that instant, I feel as much fifteen as forty-eight.

I was in tenth grade that year, the same grade Fourteen now navigates, just days in to his new school year. Like my son, I was in a new school building; unlike my son, it was a high school fifteen hundred miles from home, a year in Arizona that would end up being magical for me from beginning to end. Nonetheless I can identify with his post-junior high world, where the halls are crowded with enormous strangers and there’s an expectation of embedded knowledge about such things as college entrance exams, scholarships, and future life plans. We talk about it every afternoon when he gets home, teasing apart the solid information from everything else, and I hear the tensions in his voice brought on by the school’s cultural assumption that everyone should know what comes next. There is just one straight path to follow.

I want to assure him that there’s no straight narrative line to follow. We can pick a path, we can sight down the future arm and gaze into the distance, but not only can we not speed into and through the next moment, we can’t truly predict it either. He’s learned this a little—opting this year to make some academic choices based on what he needs to learn rather than following the requisite path. But saying all of that out loud would earn me a cringe and a hippy dippy yoga mama label. He’s a young man in a hurry, and current enrollment notwithstanding, he tends to run ramrod into the next thing and then the next.

Instead we talk about all of the people we know who majored in one discipline and earn a living doing something completely different. There’s the IT executive who was a philosophy major and the marketing VP who studied history. There’s Fourteen’s uncle, who majored in art history and now writes for outdoor magazines. There’s even his mother, currently on my third or fourth professional incarnation. What, I ask him, does being an English major have to do with running a yoga studio?

Fourteen, striking the pose before school Friday morning.

Fourteen, striking the pose before school Friday morning.

We shrug then, and laugh, and tend to after school snacks, homework and practicing. In a more contemplative moment, though, we both know that there is lots I learned in college that I use now—creativity, critical thinking, research, and the ability to navigate a variety of personalities and situations. The more I learn in each of my iterations and in my life, the more I grow, and the more I connect the new material back into what I already know. So I think about those hands, forward and back, in the future and the past. And I think how good it is when we bring them together—at heart center, overhead, behind our backs—and travel not through time but breathe into it, warriors in the most peaceful sense of the word, finding our paths but never being surprised when they circle back around on themselves, crossing over, lining up, looping the loop.

The new moon dawned on 9.5 and brings with it the energy of gathering what we need, growing into the person we’ve been planting the seeds toward becoming, and letting go of the past. Fall and its routines and bountiful harvest are welcome arrivals. Wishing you the very best the fall has to offer, with gratitude and love, Rxo

Overneath It All 2012

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.

"Writing," my foundation and what I reach for. It, too, is overneath it all.

“Writing,” my foundation and what I reach for. It, too, is overneath it all.

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

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

What to feed the baby next?

Maybe I was a little ahead of the throngs, but when I strolled into his high school one morning recently, based on Thirteen’s reports, I expected to push through knuckle-dragging linebackers and towering hair-obsessed damsels. These larger-than-life characters populate Thirteen’s subconscious and often come visiting in the middle of the night, when he has a bad dream. And just as we did when he was younger, he tells me what happened in the dream and then we put it in a bubble and blow it away.

Walking through the hallway I saw, simply, teenagers: teenagers with backpacks; teenagers eating the last of their breakfasts; sleepy teenagers; teenagers with dyed hair trying to figure out who they are. I arrived at my son’s classroom where he was calculating problems on a worksheet just behind two of these behemoths; they were greeting him warmly. I presented Thirteen with his forgotten lunch. He played it cool: “Oh, yeah, I guess I might need that.” And then I saw what he sees—mini adults with iPhones and swagger, a foot or more taller than he is, shouldering their overweight backpacks and the world with apparent ease. And then he did what he often does and leaned the top of his head toward me for a kiss. The peck and the lunch delivered, I left him to his work.

Thirteen’s lunch contains the same thing every day of the week: half a turkey, lettuce and cheese sandwich; an apple and a full-sized carrot; something crunchy like pretzels or popcorn; a water bottle and a tiny treat. With little variation I’ve been making this lunch for him since second grade when he decided he really couldn’t abide school cafeteria food. Ten takes her lunch too: a mini whole-wheat bagel with cream cheese, applesauce, popcorn or goldfish, a clementine, a carrot and a treat. With so much predictability and so little variation in menu, you would think making these lunches would be automatic. Instead, it’s ten minutes of my morning when I can’t really think about anything else—just get those lunches made, packed into their insulated lunch sacks, the water bottles filled, and don’t forget the ice blocks. Too often I don’t get started until there are just a few minutes before the arrival of the first bus, so I rush and risk switching the items between lunch packs or leaving out the ice blocks completely.

I’ve said it so many times that I’ve worn a groove in the record, but from the second they were born, feeding my children has been the most stressful part of being their mother. I’ve been a tyrant about sugar, insisted on whole grains, and won’t let them drink soda except as a special treat. Hard candy has been virtually outlawed, they don’t chew gum, and their approved sweets are rationed. If a fruit or vegetable can replace a crunchy snack, we go that route.

“But Mommy,” Thirteen will remind me, only half joking, “my friends all drink Mountain Dew and they’re enormous.”

He’s right. They are. This is the year that boys begin to grow and reach towering heights. Thirteen’s friends over the summer bypassed their parents in height, and they weigh, in some cases, nearly twice his 78 pounds. How can I not second-guess what I feed him? Whether I feed him enough? What to make for dinner?

This summer the chorus of questioners became larger. My reassurances that his growth spurt was bound to happen trailed off in favor of

It was a long morning …

consulting with the pediatrician, an endocrinologist, and his geneticist. And so we found ourselves in a clinic room, Thirteen plugged into an IV, for a series of blood tests to determine whether his body is making appropriate amounts of the hormones he needs. The test took four and a half hours, from start to finish, and involved medications, needles, ten timed blood draws, and a frightening injection of insulin during which he became dopey, sweaty, and limp. We will wait three weeks before we have results.

While we wait (and wait and wait), I remain grateful to the geneticist who assures me that just like Thirteen’s array of early-childhood issues, his health now is related to his own body chemistry, not something I may or may not have done as his mother. I am grateful, too, to another mother who reminds me that eating healthily builds a disease-proof body. I am grateful that I have two children who eat well when they’re hungry and don’t overeat.

I have always known that Thirteen would not be an overly large man, but walking back through the high school hallway on my way to my car, I was arrested by MEN and WOMEN in black and white tiles announcing the student restrooms. I didn’t see men and women when I looked around; Thirteen, waiting for those hormones to kick in whether spontaneously or with medical intervention, must see them everywhere he looks.

The full frosty moon shines on us all at the end of November. Wishing you a lively month ahead filled with the sweetest of delights. Thanks, as always, for sharing my journey, Rxo

Ten-thousand Things

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 …

Thirteen & Ten waiting for their buses on the first day of school.

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

Unfolding the Heart

Why Isn’t Yoga the Same Thing as Exercise?

Yoga is human origami. You fold and unfold, twist and bend the body. You aim at a new shape, arrive somewhere close, and from there, you’re off to chase another one. Whether straightforward or challenging, yoga’s Asana (poses) call for a blend of lightness and strength, balance, intense focus, and the ability to let go, all the while maintaining the breath. You have to want your yoga, even if you don’t always know what specifically it is you want from it or for it. You have to be ready, because so often, the gifts yoga brings are quite different than the course you set.

On the three-year journey to Handstand, Adho Mukha Vrksasana, I learned to press into the mounds of my first fingers and thumbs in Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward Facing Dog. It’s a tiny, magnificent adjustment that brings the base of the pose into the hands where it belongs. My teachers had been cuing it for years. One day, there it was. When I made it into my first handstand, several years later, it was a direct result of the unintended but exceptionally important rooting power in my hands.

When the big poses come, it’s magic. In a wide-open Ardha Chandrasana, Half-moon Pose, for the first time, I felt like I might float right off the ground. Balancing Sirsasana, my headstand, in the middle of the room let my feet tickle the clouds. My all-time favorite pose, Parivrrta Surya Yantrasana, Compass, every time turns my body into a human ampersand. Such accomplishments make me aim higher, reach for more. I’m not beyond ignoring more seemingly straightforward poses as a result.

After the first few times on the mat, any practitioner will note routine poses in the practice. These ably offer a stretch, but on the surface little more. Such poses are often used as transitions from one orientation on the mat to another. Uttanasana, most commonly translated as Standing Forward Fold, is a part of nearly every practice. If you’re standing in Mountain Pose, Tadasana, and you reach your arms overhead and fold at the hip creases, your next stop is Uttanasana. The hands might reach the floor; they might not. Head and neck release, shoulders stay engaged on the back body, and the hamstrings sing, zing and stretch. You’ll stop in or move through Uttanasana every time you go from standing to another orientation, another challenge.

As it turns out, like every yoga Asana, Uttanasana—a pose I recently saw glossed as “reach-out pose”—is full of hidden agenda items. It isn’t merely a hamstring stretch, but a stretch that un-creases the entire back body, from underneath the soles of the feet to the base of the neck, up into the hair, along the part, and right down to the space between the eyebrows. What I didn’t know until a few days ago, was that it’s also a heart opener.

From my very first “Om,” I’ve been hooked on yoga. Here, finally, was a practice for my body that fascinated my mind. In the beginning I was mentally absorbed, sometimes overwhelmed even, thinking about where to put my little toe and how to turn my face up under my arm. I walked away from class feeling both exhausted and restored. But shortly it was the language itself that made sense to me—not merely the draw of the Sanskrit pose names, so foreign on my tongue, but the language of energy centers and practice and a philosophy that offers an approach to living a better life. We talk about opening the body, the energy centers specifically. Anahata, the heart center, is the focus of backbends and poses with the arms—the wings of the heart—extended. There are many poses that manifest openness and release in the heart. Most yogis would agree: Uttanasana is not one of them.

Today, yoga teacher and studio owner, it’s a gift to take someone else’s class. A few days ago I walked into Gayle’s slow-flow Vinyasa class, a practice in which the poses are linked together and once you know the day’s sequence, you move through it breath-by-breath. We came to a stopping point and Gayle put us in an extra-restful variation of Uttanasana, against the wall. Using the wall to prop up the pose both eases and deepens the forward fold, the heels twelve inches or so from the baseboard, the sits bones climbing the wall, the hip crease deep. The stretch I felt in my hamstrings and low back was brilliant, but what happened next was blinding. Directly behind my heart, mid-back, I felt a crackle, a sizzle, a stirring, heat. It started at back-heart center and grew, flickering and strengthening as I hung in the pose. It was a shedding of caked-over energy, a bursting forth of release—my heart more open than it has ever, ever been.

Reach-out and feel the joy when the back of the heart opens and opens and opens pose.

I stayed in the pose long after Gayle released us, feeling starburst after starburst of back-body release. It is not a part of my body that is ever tight or painful—this shedding had nothing to do with the physical plains of my body.

It’s no accident that my heart unveiling happened at the height of personal shifts in my life, the change in seasons, the marking of a new year, the nearly imperceptible growth from infancy to babyhood of my studio, now open three months. It’s no accident that Gayle taught that supported Uttanasana, a pose I invited my own students to experience not twenty-four hours prior in the same room. That I was able to recognize the experience and move into rather than shy away from it? That was the yoga working.

Do I understand exactly what happened and can I reproduce it? Nope. Will I follow my yoga journey to the next surprising release? Even though there are no guarantees when or even if such a shift will happen? With relish. I teach and practice yoga at a minimum sixteen hours a week. I walk out of the studio more flexible and stronger than I have ever been; my sights this year are set on cultivating the unique combination of lightness and strength that will make my handstand still easier and allow for other arm balances and more daring postures. But when I walk into my studio, I am not there to exercise. I am there because the journey I am on in this practice supports a happier, freer, better version of myself on and off my mat than I have ever been.

This morning I bounced down to my treadmill—which I love; exercise is awesome!—the house lit by an extraordinary January Full Wolf Moon. I hope you’re seeing it too … Happiest of Happy New Years, Rxo

%d bloggers like this: