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String Theory

String Theory

Did you sleep?

Cosmic theories befuddle my brain. My son, Sixteen, likes to think about time travel and the edges of the universe and life on other planets. And he likes to talk about them, too. Such considerations are my mental undoing. Even a concept like our national debt doesn’t truly resonate because I don’t have a clear way of imagining what that amount of money looks like.

But it is not these things that disturb my sleep. If there are concentric rings of thought, moving from the immediate to the theoretical, I’m most-often lodged in those inner rings, trying to figure out my own realities, fiscal and otherwise. Sure, I’ll look up to consider the news, wonder about the political race, or feel dismay about foreign affairs. I love to think about the meaning punctuation makes in a sentence and challenge myself to read thought-provoking books. I might tackle a new recipe with fearlessness or a toilet repair with considerably more trepidation, but generally speaking these aren’t the things that wake me either.

In spite of all of the yoga I practice and teach, I’m a worrier. And when I wake up in the wee hours, it’s to worry—did I make the right decision? Will there be enough money? Is my roof going to hold? What shall I do about the basement leak? What can I do about it? Will there be enough money? Why don’t my cats get along? If I get rid of the landline, what’s the best means to fax in my editing work? What’s not done for tomorrow? What do Sixteen and Thirteen need tomorrow? What day will tomorrow be? Will there be enough money? If I go back to sleep, will I be groggy in the morning?

That last one is rooted in solid experience. If there aren’t at least 90 minutes between the worry block and my alarm clock, I’m liable to go back to sleep and wake sluggish, hitting the snooze alarm more than once. If I hit it too many times on a school day morning, I’ve got two choices: stumble downstairs and get the morning going for everyone else, skipping my treadmill/Sun Salutation routine that invariably gets my brain on track for the day, or head to the treadmill in spite of the time and guarantee a morning that is at best hurry-hurry-hurry and at worse a dash for the first school bell.

It’s pretty much a given that I’m going to wake up sometime during the night. But when the timing works right or—in the best-case scenario—I’ve had a short afternoon nap, my brain doesn’t spin up and I turn over and get more comfortable. Deep sleep, then, takes me to a place where I remember my dreams.

And so it was the other morning that I woke from a dream that seemed to be a fuzzy memory of my mother’s last car, a sleek black Lincoln we called the “mafia staff car.” I didn’t know when I woke up why I was dreaming about the car—just woke up thinking about it and realized that I was relaxed, not worried, the sign of a good night’s sleep.

That very night, nearly asleep, curled up in my bed on the floor after a day when my activities flowed easily from one thing to another, it occurred to me that the stitch that lingers post-op in my hand had come out. I replayed the moment in my mind, my hand raw but opening up to release the string, a black suture I tugged out gently with my other hand. I woke up then and felt my left hand with my right. The hard spot was still there, the puffy, sore spot to the inside of my knuckle not obviously better. And I realized that while falling to sleep I had flashed back to the dream about the Lincoln, a dream in which the suture was poking right out of my hand and I had tugged on it, removing it. My dream was so real, but only a dream.

Once I had sorted out that the image was a dream memory, I found it could play over and again in my head. Living in a body with a track record of rejecting stitches, was I visualizing what may eventually come to pass? That was enough to wake me fully and bring on the slew of worries that accompany not having a completely functioning and comfortable hand.

Erma Bombeck is credited with the first version of the quote I learned as, Worry is like a rocking chair: both give you something to do and get you nowhere. My worry is a naughty magic carpet, rocking me out of sleep, skidding into dreams and occasionally settling me down gently. My yoga mat feels like a better magic carpet to me, a place where I find serenity and a break from the worry. And I wonder, as I often do, how it is I have so much cause to worry when I practice and teach so much yoga. I am invariably stopped by the enormity of the potential answer to the next question: how much would I worry if I didn’t practice yoga?

A mudra, or hand gesture, that inspires knowledge and concentration. This is one of my favorites, and I've just learned it's also good for insomnia. See you at 3:23am Gyan Mudra.

A mudra, or hand gesture, that inspires knowledge and concentration. This is one of my favorites, and I’ve just learned it’s also good for insomnia. See you at 3:23am Gyan Mudra.

With the New Moon of 9.13.15 and Mercury cruising into retrograde on 9.17.15, we’re in a period of taking great care. The best-laid plans may go awry, even as the urge to make them is strong. Whatever your practice, hang in there & thank you for witnessing mine. Namaste, Rxo

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Feet First

Whose footprints are those?

In December 1983 I bought a pair of high heels in a tiny alcove of a store on Wisconsin Avenue, the Georgetown shopping district steps from my university. I was a freshman, out selecting Christmas gifts with money I had earned in my work-study job driving a bus to take home to my family. The shoes, grey and navy blue, incidentally my school colors, were not leather—I couldn’t afford leather—but they were the highest heels I had ever owned. I paired them with a grey wool skirt, a cream silk shirt, stockings, my dark blue wool dress coat, the cashmere muffler I swiped from my father, and mirrored aviator sunglasses—it was the eighties after all.

I felt remarkably grown up flying home and perhaps was disproportionately ridiculous wobbling off the plane in Iowa, where we still walked down stairs and across the tarmac, in those heels on two inches of ice in temperatures sixteen below before the wind chill. But of course, the airline misdirected my luggage for several days. To stay warm, my brother loaned me a V-neck sweater and I wore my mother’s boots.

The most amazing part of that memory to me, all these years later, is that I stayed upright in a pair of shoes that were nothing like the shape of my feet and pinching horribly. I have wide, flat feet—the feet of a platypus. For years I bemoaned my feet—without arches I couldn’t run fast or comfortably or jump well at all. Most shoes were not designed to fit me. Dress shoes were even less available. I was never able to be a shoe girl—generally speaking I’ve owned at any one time: a pair of sneakers, perhaps some boot for staying warm, a pair of flats, and a pair of impractical shoes that seemed like just maybe they fit in the store.

When I started practicing yoga it was a toss-up whether my teachers would zero in on my feet or my knees first (they hyperextend). Iyengar yoga teachers are renown for their observations of their students’ body parts and not necessarily in a way that makes the student feel blessed. What they will do is help you overcome your irregular parts, propping you this way and that way, cautioning you to lift your inner ankles or otherwise adjust the realities of your body for comfort and integration in yoga poses.

Most types of yoga teachers will talk about the four corners of your feet, the inner and outer heel, the big toe mound and the little toe mound. They may talk about three bindi, or light points, a triumvirate from which we lift upwards. They may remind practicing yogis that there are 26 bones in each foot, 250,000 sweat glands, and toes that take half the body’s weight when we step forward. They will—or at least I will—invariably remind you to lift those toes, root down through the four corners of your feet, even when the feet or foot may not be on solid ground, and spread the toes wide and enthusiastically.

I had been studying yoga for about four years when a family vacation took us to the Delaware shore. While everyone slept, I tiptoed out for a sunrise walk on the beach. I walked along the deserted shoreline, the waves curling at my toes, the sun glinting up over the horizon. When I had walked as far down the beach as I dared, I turned around and started back, crisscrossing footprints headed in the other direction. The footprints puzzled me because I was alone on the beach and yet they didn’t look like mine. These footprints reflected feet that had shape and an arch even, not the ovals my feet marked in the sand. And then I looked behind me: to my astonishment the footprints that lead right up to my feet were the same. For the first time I could remember, I had made foot-shaped prints. They were mine!

One of my early teachers had sparked fear in me when she opined: Will yoga make your feet wider? Yes, but you’ll also learn to wear more comfortable shoes. When I heard that, I worried. I didn’t want wider feet. To be fair, in my case I don’t know that yoga has made my feet any larger than, say, two pregnancies did, but yoga has given my feet two things: arches and love. Sixteen years of practice have taught me to love my improbable feet.

I still have, in my closet, one pair of ridiculously high heels that “fit” in the store. They were five dollars. I have two pair with more realistic heels that I wear for dressy occasions, one pair of professional clogs, one pair of winter Merrills, and a pair of fancy ergonomic flip-flops. I keep my sneakers in the basement next to the treadmill, and I have a pair of winter boots I wear for shoveling snow. I’m not a fan of socks because I end up peeling them off all day long, but I like legwarmers. And now I look forward during yoga practice to seeing my feet.

My toes lift and move in many directions, somewhat independently from one another. My feet are still technically flat, but I can draw arches into them at will and propel myself forward reliably. I can stand on one foot more easily than the other, but my balance continues to get steadier, not worse. My feet are capable and I connect easily to both the four grounding corners and three lift-off points of light. They rarely hurt and tire long after my brain is begging for sleep. Yoga offers many gifts, not the least of which is how it changes your relationship with your body. I haven’t learned unequivocal love for all of my body’s quirky parts, but those platypus feet are two of my all-time favorites.

My feet, toes spread enthusiastically, on one of my favorite yoga mats.

My feet, toes spread enthusiastically, on one of my favorite yoga mats.

The new moon ushers in the Chinese New Year of the Wood Sheep. It’s another super moon, too, close to the earth in its orbit. The universe keeps offering us opportunities to get clear and ride the energy to whatever’s next. Feeling grounded by these feet of mine and flying high on the sales of my book (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/516628), I’m excited for whatever the next chapter might be. Thank you for traveling along with me, Rxo

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