Gotta Love How The Universe Works

I got up today, lit candles, pulled out my meditation cushion and immediately got annoyed.  I find that quieting my mind is easier if I’m been moving first or at least had some caffeine.  So I decided to jump on my treadmill and get cracking…

Naw.

I got on the Internet.  After reading a little about how the Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on the right way to reduce our deficit (shocker), discovering that Melissa, a Real Housewife from New Jersey, allegedly had a lesbian affair when she was a teenager (so what?) and that Charlie Sheen is admitting to steroid use not while he was a professional baseball player, but when he played one in a movie (you call this winning, Chuck?), I remembered that I wanted to look up something about MS.

It turns out that Shemar Moore, the sexy star of one of my favorite shows, Criminal Minds, bikes not only for MS in general but specifically for his mother who unfortunately suffers from the disease.  I did a quick Google search and found an article about how many of the cast members  (Mandy Patinkin, Thomas Gibson, and Paget Brewster) and crew have created a Criminal Minds team that participates in 100 mile Bike MS events to raise money each year.

Turns out Shemar’s mama and I have a lot in common.  Like not really dealing with the fact that we had this disease at first:

My mother’s been diagnosed for about 12 years now, and it’s been tough. It was tough on her physically and it was tough on both of us emotionally.  I think both of us were in denial in the beginning, so it took some time to kind of get out of the gate and really embrace that she had it. Then we could focus on what it was and how to combat it.

I’m guilty of this as well and will be happy to discuss this in a future blog post – just as soon as I figure out which of my neurotic buttons were so heavily pushed during the time of my diagnosis.  Hmm…Maybe someone from the BAU could analyze me?

Further along in the article it talks about how often times, folks with MS don’t go to their doctors because they just assume every ache and pain is MS related (I’m definitely guilty of that as well).  Moore mentioned that there was a time when they thought his mom, Marilyn, was on the verge of losing her mobility.  Turns out it wasn’t MS that was about to rob her of her gait, but hip degeneration that although may have been caused from the steroids she’d been taking to fight her MS, was easily remedied.  A hip replacement gave her her mobility back which freed her up to discover her love of yoga.

She loves yoga and swimming and visiting with friends…My mother used to go to a retreat called Kripalu, up in Lennox, Massachusetts. I think John Travolta and Woody Harrelson have been known to go there, where you spend a week, a month doing yoga.  My mother actually got her yoga teaching instructor’s license, so she’s fully committed and she loves it.  But physically, there are certain things she can and can’t do. Yoga really is a life-saver for her, though. It’s her meditation.  It’s her therapy. She’s got her mat at the house, and she sits with herself for an hour or two. Between that and swimming and being with her friends, that’s pretty much her routine.  She’s good.

Okay universe.  I got it.  Hitting the mat right now.

I’m not going swimming though.  One fear at a time, please.

Journey Back To Yoga

In the middle of my yoga teacher training course, when I got my multiple sclerosis diagnosis, it went something like this:

  • No reaction – leave exam room – make follow up appointment.
  • Fumble with keys get into car, begin to cry.
  • See that someone in the parking lot is staring at me, wipe away my tears and call my husband.

Driving while talking on a cell phone is a bad idea.  Driving while talking on a cell phone to tell your husband that you’re fucked is worse so it did force me to keep it together until I could get home.

  • Get home, stand in the middle of the kitchen and think: I need to seriously consider going back to work.

Crazy, right?  I should have went straight to my yoga mat.  I should have been praying, or meditating or freaking myself out by reading up on the most terrifying symptoms on Web MD.  But at the time of my diagnosis, health care reform was one of the biggest political topics folks were fighting about.  To come to the realization that I officially had a medical bankruptcy bullseye on my back, meant that I needed to guarantee I would ALWAYS have health insurance in the event that something happened to my husband.  I have kids and now that I had a progressive condition, I needed to be proactive about protecting everyone’s financial future.  In that moment I made a silent promise to myself that no matter what, my disease would not take down my family financially.

Then I started chain smoking and called my best girl friends to give them the news.  Eventually I came up with a plan:

  • Tell the kids but stress that it’s no big deal.  I have a disease, I’ll take medicine.  Everything will be fine.
  • So as to not freak them out, tell jokes and don’t cry – act like nothing is wrong.
  • Actually believe that nothing is wrong and simply get on with my life, focusing on getting back to work,

This major shift in my thinking threw everything into flux.  My yoga teacher training took a back seat and instead of focusing on unifying my mind, body and spirit, I focused on all things monetary.  Specifically I spent all of my free time earning the continuing education credits I needed to be re-certified in my field of speech-language pathology and licensed by my state.

I still went to my yoga teacher weekends and classes, but honestly, the wind had left my sails.  I remember my first yoga class after my diagnosis. Luckily it was a hot one so no one realized that I crying through out most of it.  In fact, every time I got on my mat the MS I was trying to ignore was brought to the front and center of my consciousness.

As I teacher I tell my students to “notice the thoughts that you have without judging them”.  Simply acknowledge the thought, then gently push it aside and bring your consciousness back to the breath.  Unfortunately, when I got quiet it allowed all the thoughts that I was ignoring to bubble up to the surface. I found it was easier to avoid my mat as much as possible.

Eventually I graduated and the only smart thing I did as a newly certified, yoga teacher was to say “yes” every time I was asked to teach a class.  I officially started teaching on January 1st, 2010 and eventually got my own Thursday lunch class to helm.  Truthfully though, yoga had settled back in my head and wasn’t something I was truly experiencing.  It was something that I was planning, sequencing, memorizing and articulating.

Besides, I didn’t have time to give myself the gift of yoga.  I had to find a job.  One that paid well and had benefits.  So like a good teacher, I came to class prepared but as soon as the class ended, I spent all of my free time re-introducing myself to the world of speech therapy:  Diagnosis, Treatment, Documentation, Billing, as well as creating test and therapy materials.  Although I still took yoga classes and was always preparing for the ones that I taught, yoga yet again took the back seat to my life.  If I’m going to be honest, it didn’t even have the back seat.  I think it had the wheel-well in the back of a beat up pick up truck  if we’re going to stick to the vehicle analogy.  I was not only driving fast, but taking curvy back roads with lots of pot holes.  I’m surprise yoga didn’t fly out completely and suffer a traumatic head injury.  Maybe then I would’ve noticed it  – when it came in to see me for speech therapy.

Its been well over a year since I went back to my field.  I needed this time to slowly ease back after a 12-year hiatus.  But I’m grounded now and it’s time to switch my focus back to my yoga practice.  Not just from a teaching perspective, but from a student’s perspective, albeit a sick student’s perspective.

Its officially time to journey back to yoga.  If you don’t mind I’d like to share with you what I find along the way.

Yogis Interruptis

For thirteen years I’ve been a fan of yoga.  Not an addict.  Not a stalker.  A fan.  I’ve enjoy the practice and fit it into my life as was appropriate, meaning, sometimes it’s taken a back seat to other areas that needed my attention.  In theory, I wanted to be more committed to my practice, but activities like motherhood, moving, and volunteerism got in the way.  Looking back, I believe that was part of the problem.  My theoretical yoga practice had a bigger hold on me than my actual one.

Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root word yuj which means “to yoke”, or “unite” and many claim it’s specifically about the union between mind, body and spirit.  Because the word may also derive from the root “yujir samadhau,” which means “contemplation”, you can see how for some, yoga is more about the mind and/or spirit and less about the body.  Which is fine if you need a distraction from always focusing on the physical and hating yourself, like I’ve done most of my life.  But if your default setting is always set to “cerebral” as mine tends to be (because it’s a lot easier to ignore the body that you hate if you spend the majority of your time in your head) it was easier to focus on living my yoga than performing poses on a mat.

I had hoped that yoga would eventually bring balance to the body part of the equation.  I think sensing this innate need is what inspired me to sign up for yoga teacher training (YTT), but in the end it was my mind that made the decision because teacher training was also a way to make a living.  Since I was already volunteering at the studio and really liked the yogis I met there, it seemed like a smart idea to make money doing something I enjoyed.  Regardless I was going to FINALLY give my yoga practice the attention it deserved (while secretly hoping that yoga would give me the physical body I’ve always wanted).

That was the plan, until my head took center stage because besides going to numerous yoga classes, YTT meant reading books about yoga, taking notes from lectures about yoga, conversing about yoga and and thinking various thoughts about yoga.  This of course was my favorite part of the training because it kept yoga between my ears where it truly liked to be.

After paying my first deposit and receiving my book list, I got cracking.  Instead of going to class I read Power Yoga and Moving Into Stillness.  Rather than doing asanas, I memorized their sanskrit names.   The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali?  Something I discussed with my classmates in lieu of actually experiencing them.

Training to be a yoga teacher quenched my thirst for yogic knowledge.  It meant understanding anatomy, physiology and contra-indications for poses.  I learned facts about properly sequencing a class and was taught the best way to verbalize alignment cues.  Because I intellectualized yoga so much, I spent most of my physical practices analyzing the teaching styles of the instructor and stealing ideas to use for future classes.  Thus yoga, even when training to be a teacher, continued to be a cerebral endeavor.

But then an interesting thing happened.  By the third weekend of training I was hitting the studio every couple of days attending vinyasa flow and even some hot yoga classes.  Besides simply doing more yoga, I was also walking daily and eating healthy.  Finally and perhaps for the first time in my life I was allowing my consciousness the luxury of settling within my body and staying present in it for more than a few seconds, here and there.  Yoga was slowly (and without a lot of fanfare I might add), doing it’s job.

Then, halfway through teacher training as I was FINALLY on my way to unifying my mind, body and spirit, a freak accident occurred.  I hit my head.  Hard.  The dizziness that made practicing more difficult was no where near as problematic as the results from my MRI.  It seems that yet again, my head was getting in the way of my performing the asanas.  Not my mind per say, but my brain itself.  The physical body that I’d become expert at ignoring must have finally had it, so to get my attention, it moved north to officially compete with my mind.

Turns out,  I wasn’t just a yogi with a concussion or an inability to yoke her mind to her body.

I was a yogi with 9 brain lesions.

I was a yogi with Multiple Sclerosis.

Yes, that’s correct.  A yogi lousy at living in her body got the disease that affects the body with an alarming level of inconsistency.  The disease that constantly brings your attention back to your body due to the ever changing plethora of physical symptoms it creates.

Did you hear that?

That was the sound of my personal yoga practice crashing into a brick wall.

I know what you’re thinking.  A progressive neurological diagnosis?  Or course she turned to her yoga practice to create health and wellness.

Naw.  I didn’t have time for that.  I had to go get a job.

It’s Not You Yoga, It’s Me

If yoga and I were in a relationship – the following is what I imagine a recent conversation with yoga would be like.

Yoga: No offense, Linda, but for a while now you’ve sucked at this relationship. Don’t give me the “It’s not you it’s me” line.  I’ve been around long enough to know when I’m being played.

Linda: Okay fine.  I’ll say it.   I’m just not that into you.  That’s why I haven’t been around on a regular basis these last 2 years.

Yoga: So you’re afraid of commitment.

Linda:  Please.  Don’t insult me. I been married to the same man for almost 20 years.  Commitments aren’t my problem.  I just had other things to do.  Like laundry.  Kids to cart around.  Softball and lacrosse games to attend.  A career to relaunch after a 12-year hiatus.  Sorry.  You weren’t that important to me.  Deal with it.

Yoga: I don’t believe that.  Did you lose the address?  Forget where the studio was located?

Linda:  I drive by the studio all the time.  You have giant blue and yellow letters that spell out SOL YOGA in the window.  I know where to find you.  I work there, remember?  Face it.  I just haven’t been that into you.

Yoga:  But I’m perfect for you.  I’m kind and patient and wont hurt you like the others have.  You’re just scared.

Linda: What are you talking about?

Yoga: Two words.  Jane Fonda.  Or leg warmers.  Take your pick.

Linda: Are you serious?  You’re going to bring up the Jane Fonda tapes I hung out with in 80’s?  That was waaaaay before I met you! Before I even heard of you!  Why do you gotta throw my past in my face?  Geeze.  For someone that claims to be all about the now that’s a little below the belt, don’t you think?

Yoga: I’m just saying.  You get around.  Truth be told, you’ve got a reputation.  There was step aerobics (low impact AND high impact), countless gym memberships, pilates, and karate.  Oh, remember that Joyce Ellis Dance Class you drug your poor mother to?  You about killed her that night.  And that was back during your teen and early adult years.  I haven’t even mentioned the flings you’ve had since giving birth. Mall walking. Rollerblading. Nia.

Linda:  So sue me for having an experimental, bi-physical stage.

Yoga:  I’ve got no problem with experimentation.  I’ve told you many times that I’m all for us having an open relationship.  I can handle sharing you with P90X for example, but I need a little attention.  I’m not going to be ignored and then expected to be here waiting for you when you get bored with your little conquests.  (P.S. I picture yoga saying the above like:)

Linda:  What are you saying? That I’m some kind of exercise slut?  I just didn’t want to get serious with anyone.  That’s it. There’s no law against that.

Yoga:  I’m sure that’s it.  I’m sure it has nothing to do with a little commitment problem that you have.  Hey, what about your triathlon summer when you got all cross trainer on me?

Linda: Yoga, I was very up front with you when I trained for the triathlon.  What kind of control freak are you anyway?  It was a goal!   You’re not big on goals, remember?  Did you ever think maybe that’s why I dated Mr. Triathlon that summer?

Yoga: He was a great guy.  Until you couldn’t learn how to swim, then he dropped you faster than you can say, wetsuit.

Linda:  Thank you for bringing that up.  Like you could ujjayi breathe under water.  Whatever.

Yoga: And while we’re on the subject don’t insult my intelligence and pretend that you and running had anything in common. At least respect me enough to tell the truth about that.

Linda:  You’re right, running did suck.  You got me there, yoga.  But his older brother, walking?  He’s very nice and unlike you doesn’t demand my undivided attention.  I can hang out with walking AND talk on the phone.  You know multitask and get some other shit done!  You couldn’t multitask if someone paid you AND he lets my dog tag along.

Yoga:  Are you kidding me?  I absolutely love dogs!

Linda: Saying downward dog over and over and inviting my dog to come inside are not the same thing.  I still have to find more time in my day to walk him later.  Walking realizes this and appreciates my schedule.  He respects it.  You on the other hand think you’re so fabulous that I should work my schedule around you.

Yoga: You seriously expect me to believe that you can’t find 60 minutes a few times a week to spend time with me?  After all I’ve done for you? Come on.  What’s the really all about?

Linda: Fine. You want to know why I don’t come around more often?  You’re too demanding.  I’ve got to come see you at very specific times.  I can’t eat before our dates and when we’re together, you’re all, “Breathe.  Focus.  Don’t judge just experience.  Be open.  Accept yourself.  Like yourself.”  It’s annoying.  You’re annoying.

The others just want my body.  My mind and spirit can do their own thing.  But you?  You’re so damn needy.  You want all three!  Do you know how hard it is to get my mind, body and spirit to show up at the same time?  Do you even know the amount of coordination that takes?

Yoga: I do it all the time.

Linda: But you’re 5,000 years old!  I’m 42.  Excuse me for not being as balanced as you are!

Yoga: You’d be more balanced if you came to see me more often –  but you already know that.  So what is it? What aren’t you telling me?  You can trust me.

Linda: I’ve been dealing with some serious shit and frankly, I just wanted to forget for a while.  The problem is, I can’t forget when I’m on my mat.  You won’t let me.

Yoga:  I just ask for your presence.  I’m not attached to the outcome.  I don’t care what happens once you’re on your mat.  I’ll love and accept you no matter what.  You just have to try.

Linda: I did try.  If you remember I was the first person to sign up for the 21 Day Yoga Challenge back in January?  You said, “Do More Yoga and See What Happens”.  You made it sound so damn easy.

Yoga: It was easy. I didn’t say, “You’d better master it every pose or else”.  I gave you all the space you needed to see what happens and react to it.

Linda: You want to know what happened?  I spent 21 days watching my body fall apart right before my eyes?  What the hell am I supposed to do with that information?  I didn’t get better.  I got worse.  You didn’t just kick my ass, yoga.  You kicked me when I was down. You stirred up all this shit and expected me to what, just sit and meditate on it!?  Are you serious?  You bring every physical failing that I’ve buried in the back of my mind to the forefront and I’m supposed to simply sit there quietly and contemplate my naval?

It’s not cool, yoga.  Not cool at all.  So I bolted.

Yoga:  You’re being too hard on yourself.  You weren’t supposed to master yoga in 21 days.

Linda: I wasn’t trying to master it. You think this is about me not being able to do crow?  Or lotus?  This is about me not being able to stand on one foot.

Yoga: Bullshit!  Don’t lie to my face.  I’ve seen you stand on one foot a million times.

Linda:  Yea?  When’s the last time you’ve seen me stand on my left foot without a using a wall or a block for balance?

Yoga: What are you saying?

Linda: I’m saying there are some things you don’t know about me.  My body has definitely changed since we met and honestly, it’s affected my mind and spirit as well.  So if you’re serious about getting back together, serious about unifying the three – I’ve got some serious baggage that you’re going to need to sort through first.

Yoga: I can handle it.

Linda: Okay.  Then take a comfortable seat.  This is going to take awhile.

Ode To Oprah

I received an offer from O, The Oprah Magazine for a $12 yearly subscription.  I haven’t been a subscriber in a while but since the show is ending and a $1 per month price is crazy, good, I decided to send in a check.  Besides getting a free O totebag and a chance to win a Kindle loaded with every Oprah book pick ever featured, I also got a leaflet that noted Oprah’s all time, top 10 “What I know For Sure” tenets.

In honor of the final Oprah show airing tomorrow and all that we’ve learned from her many guests, I’d like to give a shout out to Ms. Winfrey as these tenets definitely have stood and will continue to stand the test of time.  Some I’ve used. Other’s I’m still working on.  All I’ll try to pass down to my daughters.

  1. What you put out comes back to you.
  2. You define your own life.
  3. The past has no power over the present.
  4. When people show you who they are, believe them.
  5. Worrying is a waste of time.
  6. You become what you believe.
  7. The only prayer you ever need to say is Thank You.
  8. Your happiness is directly proportional to the amount of love that you give.
  9. Failure is an opportunity to go in an different direction.
  10. If your thoughts and choices are different from others the world will not fall apart.

Number 4 is the tenet that has helped me the most.  I’ve ended friendships, kept my distance from people, made important life decisions – all to my advantage by  following that nugget of wisdom.  I use it at work, at home, in my neighborhood and even at dinner parties.  I used to make excuses for people’s behavior.  I now see bad behavior as information that I need to have.

Other Oprah life lessons that I’ve benefitted from are:

  1. To get your attention, the universe will drop a pebble on your head.  If that doesn’t work, it’ll drop a rock, then a brick, etc.  I’ve found that over the years, I’m better at reacting to the pebble and not needing a piano to drop on me.  Thank you, Oprah.
  2. When you see crazy coming – Cross the street! Iyanla Vanzant  taught us that one and it’s very similar to the when people show you who they are, believe them philosophy from the above list.  It also works with when you see bitterness, laziness, judgement, I’m going to take advantage of you, or I’m going to be a pain in your ass, coming – cross the street as well.
  3. Knowing when you’re trying to be right versus trying to solve a problem.  (A Dr. Philism from his early days pre-his own show). This has assisted me when having discussions with my husband as well as shaped many an argument with my teenage daughters. I’ve definitely not mastered it, but at least it’s in my consciousness.
  4. Truly tapping into and trusting your intuition is one of the most powerful things that you can do for yourself.  I’ve had the opportunity to be in situations where I knew no one, had no background information and only had my intuition to guide me.  My internal guidance system was eerily accurate during those times. Thank you Gary Zukav for sharing this with your readers and the Oprah show audience
  5. Seeing fear as a gift that keeps you safe.  Security expert Gavin de Becker’s idea that you should ALWAYS listen to that voice in your head and never out logic yourself when it comes to your safety.  Who knows if it’s worked as I’ve never been a victim of anything violent, which could in fact be proof in and of itself.

I can honestly say that over the last 25 years, I’ve learned quite a bit from Oprah’s show, her magazine and all of the experts she’s featured.  Of course not everyone agrees.  Joan Rivers was once quoted by The National Enquirer as saying that “She feels Oprah’s real gift is exploiting people’s suffering and emotions and turning them into TV ratings.”  I don’t think she exploited people’s suffering as much as she’s wanted her audience to learn from it.  Many of her viewers featured these last few weeks have illustrated that point by coming forward to share how the show has changed them, or even saved them.

One woman said that a show about safety made her fight an attacker to avoid being taken to second location and thus saved her life as her attacker as she later discovered that her attacker had killed people in this manner.

Another viewer said that show about a stressed out mom who’s baby died when she forgot and left her in a hot car made her a more mindful parent.  When her own baby’s cries that she normally ignored as fussiness seemed different one afternoon, she remembered the mom that had been featured, walked into the nursery only to find her infant being strangled by the cord of her window blinds. She believes that being inspired to be more present saved her child’s life.

One mom said that advice given to a grieving mom on Oprah was her only “anchor” as she dealt with the overwhelming grief that she was experiencing when her own child died.

That’s powerful and important television.  How many talk show hosts even come close to that?

Oprah isn’t perfect.  Not every guest was phenomenal.  In fact, I’m still a little confused as to why she gave so much airtime to celebrities without medical training spouting medical advice?  But in the end, even the gaffes are okay because I also believe that…

  1. The universe honors intentions not necessarily outcomes

and I believe that her’s were good.  She never guaranteed results as much as she simply gave us more options.

I think the Season 25: Oprah Behind The Scenes show that’s been airing on OWN really drove home how the “Oprah Way” of doing things is not a bad way to live. Each week you get a behind the scenes look at Oprah and her team pulling together two shows.  Many of these hard working producers (that are clearly working long, stressful hours) are at their core, very centered and present people.  When something goes wrong, they are surprisingly calm, compassionate and gracious, even.  They, along with Oprah, seem to really live this “Oprahic lifestyle”, if you will.  Yes they get angry and disappointed and flustered, because they’re human – but they stay centered in a way that you don’t see illustrated in most reality shows. It makes you wonder what it would be like to work in an environment like that every day?  Or better yet, be the type of person that brings that energy to a work environment each day.  Maybe that’s why the show has been so successful – because it’s not only been hosted by Oprah, but produced by people that are very “Oprah-like”.  People with good intentions that are mindfully attempting to do their jobs well.

I’m definitely going to miss Oprah.  I think women over 50 are just beginning to settle into their power so imagine what else she could’ve taught us had her show stayed on the air?  I look forward to seeing what she’ll do with an entire network.  I’m guessing that it’ll be pretty spectacular.

Thank You Oprah.  Wishing you all the best.

Yoga Over The Past Ten Years

It’s been ten years since Christy Turlington graced the cover of Time Magazine in a kukkutasana, a very difficult post that not only requires core strength but very open hips and knees.

Yoga was the spotlight in April of 2001

What were the predictions for yoga back before 9/11?  How has yoga evolved?  I wrote about this for my yoga studio – Check out the post and if you’re into yoga, let me know your thoughts.  How has yoga changed over the past decade?

Some Yoga Posts

I was the administrator for my yoga studio’s blog during our 21 Day Yoga Challenge, which piss poor excuse or not, is why I’ve been neglecting my own.

Here are 2 posts that I placed on their blog, Shine, this past month:

Falling Down and Beyond The 21 Day Challenge.  Enjoy!