Pranayama

Twenty-five years ago, I took my first yoga class. I was a Sophomore at Loyola University in Chicago, had recently quit running (abandoning my athletic scholarship), and needed something physical to fill the sudden hole in my life.

Yoga was unfamiliar and uncomfortable for me. My body stretched in weird places. I felt vulnerable and exposed.

The semester ended, and so did my practice.

Ten years later, Crista mailed me Cyndi Lee’s “Yoga in a Box.” Crista was the first person I’d called after kicking my husband out of the house.

Crista had been my roommate at Loyola. We stood-up in one another’s weddings. I flew to Colorado with my seven-month-old (Josh) to sit with her after her marriage unraveled. She was the first friend to visit me after Xander was born, taking a 30-hour-train ride to arrive just as I was discharged from the hospital.

Concurrent to the arrival of Crista’s “Yoga Box,” my new therapist asked if I had a yoga practice. She felt that the alignment of breath and body would bring me back into my heart during that tumultuous time. Noting the coincidence, I bought a mat and practiced nightly after putting my babies to bed.

I wanted it to eradicate my suffering.

Grief caught in my body during asanas. Amplified. My chest felt tight in Fish Pose, a pose intended to cultivate resiliency. My throat constricted in Bridge Pose, meant to connect the pieces of my life. I collapsed in a puddle of tears during Corpse Pose, lying down to let go.

Gradually, life distracted me off the mat, and my practice diminished.

But then another divorce brought a renewed commitment. And those same tight spots resumed their discourse. Grief. Heartache. Anger. Anxiety.

I thought they might never let go.

Advanced physical poses never interested me. I just wanted to use yoga to heal my emotional wounds. I reasoned that if I could still feel deep aching in a simple spinal twist, there’s more work to be done at that basic level. So while I’ve taken some classes with teachers, mostly I’ve used the same at-home practice, thinking of Crista each time I roll out my mat: cat-cow, sun salutations, tree, staff.

Rinse. Repeat.

I notice how my body shifts when refining between postures. Lean into my thumbs…slide forward an inch more…feel each toe firmly on the ground. The micro-adjustments ripple into realignments

I notice the movement that isn’t captured in an Instagram snapshot.

I had once thought the point of yoga was to make each pose perfect before moving on. I thought of it as a thing to be accomplished, a check-mark on the to-do list. I thought if I could just get the asana “right,” then I would be “right” too. A tool to fix the places where I felt wrong.

But I’ve learned that yoga is not about doing…it’s about *being*.

Yoga is life.

I want to call Crista and thank her again for that long-ago gift, share with her how I finally understand that yoga isn’t about fixing something that’s broken. It’s about the grace of moving between messy moments and feeling a spectrum of emotions. Letting go of expectations and disappointments. Finding contentment with what is.

Yoga is about listening to the body’s conversation, instead of trying to silence it. Our bodies inform us of truths we’d readily set aside: that we are both strong and vulnerable. Always in need of kindness and compassion. We are wholly incomplete.

I wish I could tell Crista that feeling mired in a bottomless pit of despair is not an eternal failure…it’s just a moment.

But I can’t.

Four years ago today, my friend put a gun to her head.

I can’t share with her the insight that there is no arriving at a comfortably safe stasis. That life is lived – or slips by – between its peaks and valleys. Our years are amended with microadjustments.

Yogic breathing, pranayama, is for the spaces we can’t feel.

So in this moment, when memories and emotions float to the surface, I’ll simply sit and breathe.

That’s often all there really is to do.

Connection, Compersion, and an Aneurysm

Things I learned this weekend:

  • If you have a family cell phone plan, and one of your children dials 911, you will receive an alert about it…even if they are several states distant from you.
  • Sometimes, when our children are breaking the things we think of as “the rules,” they are actually doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, so that they can be exactly where they’re supposed to be, when something happens that demands their immediate attention.
  • Xander saved his grandpa’s life Friday night.

I would prefer that my boys not spend ALL OF THEIR TIME on electronic devices. And I would like my growing teenagers to get a *reasonable* amount of sleep…as much before midnight as possible.

Which is to say that Xander watching Netflix on his cell phone at 1:30 am defies both of my mandates.

But because he was doing exactly what he “shouldn’t have been doing,” he happened to be the only one awake to hear his grandpa collapse in the kitchen in the middle of the night. And when Xander entered the room to investigate, he realized he needed help. So he woke his dad, who groggily tried getting his grandpa into a seated position, thinking that this would solve the problem.

But the youngest person in the family recognized the futility of his elder’s gesture and took control of the situation: he called 911.

Those precious few minutes gave his grandpa the urgent medical attention needed to see him safely through a cerebrovascular accident.

And while the rest of the family slowly woke from deep sleep as the paramedics announced their presence with noise and commotion, Xander climbed into the ambulance to accompany his grandfather to the hospital.

My marriage with Josh and Xander’s dad ended in 2003, but the relationship with my ex’s dad (Grumps) has continued long beyond that shift. Grumps has driven out to Maryland from the Midwest to spend time with his grandchildren in my home, and he has hosted them in his home over long summer vacations. In the past 14 years, he has never forgotten my birthday, follows my Facebook posts about the boys, and has always maintained a non-judgmental stance of unconditional love in my life. Grumps has remained connected to me over time and distance and emotional turmoil.

“Connection” is a curious thing.

I recently talked with my mentor about attachment and connection and shifting dynamics. About the stories we tell around abandonment, estrangement, and isolation. How relationships ebb and flow. How we can remain connected on this side of the veil, or with it floating gauzy between us. Maybe there isn’t an on-off switch to beginnings and endings, but rather a dancing closer and then further apart from one another. Perhaps we’re all on the same dance floor, whirling like Sufi dervishes, sometimes to shared music and other times to our own…maybe even to someone else’s.

Last week over dinner, a friend shared with me how he feels about his long-time, domestic partner having experiences without him. He talked about how she returns changed, and then he has the chance to rediscover her. Where some might feel jealous at being left out or sad that things are suddenly different, he is delighted to fall in love with her all over again. Seeing her anew in each moment brings him joy, keeps him present, unattached. Compersion.

On the heels of that conversation, I was prepared to discover my boys having changed ever-so-slightly from their month in the Midwest without me….but finding their Grumps lifeless on the kitchen floor is a life-altering experience.

I was Xander’s age when one of my young track coaches was killed in a car accident, and I was Josh’s age when one of my classmates suffered a fatal aneurism. Each event rocked my world, altered my trajectory. The piercing awareness that our lives are time-limited shocked me awake. Into presence. (For a heartbeat, at least.)

These teenagers are not the same people I drove through cornfields with a few weeks ago.

And maybe it’s important to remember that we are ALL never the same person we were a few weeks ago. Or even the same person as yesterday. Each *breath* is a rebirth.

Each breath is one of a finite supply.

I’m eager to hold these beings close again. Rediscover who they are. Fall back in love with their tender, courageous, broken-open selves. Maybe my distant teenagers will even dance near me.

(For a heartbeat, at least.)

9 Things

Nine things you probably don’t know about me:

  1. I was an extra in the movie “Major League.”
  2. The week before my senior portraits were to be taken, I thought it would be a good idea to bleach my hair for the very first time using an at-home kit. It wasn’t.
  3. I have attended a Tantra class (not the kind about sex – get your minds outta the gutters) on and off for the past decade. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself, and has enriched my life in immeasurable ways.
  4. I was almost held back for missing nearly 80 days of school in kindergarten and again in first grade. Perhaps in part b/c I missed so much early schooling, I had a very lonely childhood.  I can count on one hand the number of friends’ homes that I played at while in elementary school.  Middle school was even worse.  So it’s no surprise that I can still be pretty shy, but is perhaps ironic that I now find myself in the midst of a high-volume service business.
  5. I carry needles everywhere. Getting hundreds of them past airport security is not a problem…but TSA will confiscate my hair products.  Every.  Damn.  Time.
  6. My senior year at UW-Madison, I entered my apartment and turned on the radio in time to hear the words “Caller Number Nine at xxx-xxxx.” Feeling lucky (but not knowing what kind of contest I was entering), I dialed and was it.  Hundreds more listeners were entered over the next month before we were all to meet at a pub for a single winner’s name to be drawn.  The night of the event was an icy, bitter, windy, Wisconsin blizzard.  I did NOT want to go out…but I changed my mind at the very last possible minute.  I won.  I scored a trip to San Francisco for New Year’s weekend; a year’s worth of groceries, gas, and Sam Adams beer; a CD a month for a year; and gift certificates to dozens of local businesses.
  7. I was married and divorced twice before my 40th (Because I’m such an overachiever.)
  8. I was one of the first girls to play soccer in our little farm town of Slinger. I use the word “play” loosely, because mostly I hoped that no one would kick the ball towards me. I know my coaches wished the same.
  9. Becoming an acupuncturist required a leap of faith. I had never received acupuncture.  I didn’t know any acupuncturists.  I knew that the boutique model (high prices/low volume) wasn’t practical, but I had no other conception of how else I would structure my business.  However, I knew in a way that I’ve never known anything else: if I simply started down the path, everything would be made clear in due time.  And it was.

soccer pp

 

Love, Drugs, and Rock’n Roll

This weekend, I dropped-off my 17-yr-old at Merriweather for a progressive electronica show that he’d excitedly bought a ticket for…the very first ticket he’s ever purchased using his very own money (from last year’s summer job).

He went to the show alone, because no one he knows listens to the same music as he. (I offered to join him, but he was unenthused about his 43-year-old mom hanging with him on a Sat night. Whatev.)

Unlike the drug & alcohol talk which I *received* in the late 80’s, the one which I *gave* to Josh wasn’t so much, “just say no” as it was: “there’ll probably be some pot or psychedelics being passed around; don’t be (too) surprised by that. But if something makes you feel uncomfortable, talk to a security person. Since you’ll be alone, this is probably not the best time to experiment…but if anything goes sideways, just text me. We’ll figure it out together.”

Saying that scared the hell out of me.

But thinking about him having a problem, feeling isolated and fearful of a judgmental reaction from me…well, that scared me even more.

Which reminded me of the driving talk we had recently (or rather, that I lectured at him): “Listen. You’re going to have an accident at some point, some day. I have insurance to put the car back together. I have insurance to put you back together. I sometimes get anxious about what *might* happen, but I won’t be surprised when it *does* happen…because I was once a teenager, too. Whatever you do: don’t flee the scene. Stay present. And talk to me about it. We’ll figure it out together.”

I’m learning that parenting is more about acknowledging that our kids are going to fuck up — repeatedly — than it is about expecting them to have an unscathed journey. Our task isn’t to prop them up, but to teach them how to get back up. How to fall down, without falling apart. To show how much we love them, when they show us their scars.

(And also to be gentle with myself when I fuck up, fall down, and get hurt from my own imperfect parenting.)

I think maybe our task is simply to stay present. To them. To ourselves.

To love as is.

Earth Angels

In yesterday’s episode of Earth Angels:

For the first time in my life, I miscalculated my car’s fuel & drove her tank to empty. Barely. She ran out of gas just as I pulled into the station, and then coasted to the diesel pump without even needing a push.

But (as I soon learned) the problem with (accidentally) running a diesel to empty, is that the fuel line goes dry. And I couldn’t get her primed to restart. Which left me & the boys stranded over 500 miles from home. Not knowing a soul in town. At 7:30 on a Saturday night.

I didn’t have AAA. The gas station didn’t have mechanics on site. The tow truck would have been happy to tow her to an auto shop, but she’d sit there until Monday morning. And I had busy, important things to do in Maryland on Monday! In desperation, I started googling “mobile mechanics Indianapolis” and leaving voice messages.

Someone called me back: “I just got the strangest voicemail,” he began in a slow Midwest drawl. “I don’t know how you found this number, cuz I’m not a mechanic, but I know a thing or two about cars. Tell me what’s going on. Maybe I can help.”

I explained & texted him a photo of my engine. He thought about it, asked if the gas station sold starter fluid (they did), then explained how to get at the engine intake so I could spray some near the air filter.

“Are you sure I’m not interrupting your night? Maybe I should let you go & try it on my own first…” (Nonsense. Stay on the phone. Let me help you.)

“There are a lot of black boxes under my hood! Which one did you say I need??” (*chuckling* I bet there are. I’ll talk you thru it.)

“I don’t think I can get it out — I’m afraid I’ll break it!” (Relax. You won’t.)

When the engine finally turned over, I whooped with joy.

“That would have cost me a pretty penny to have had towed & serviced…you spent all of this time on a Saturday night patiently helping me. There must be something I can do — how can I thank you?!”

“You just did,” he gently answered. “Have a safe trip home,” and then he hung up the phone.

I read somewhere that the miracle itself isn’t about something amazing happening…the miracle is when we stop being surprised that it did.

Ever grateful for the reminder.