Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Forgiveness & Closure. And questions.

There's been a lot of change this year.  I write about it almost every week.  A lot of birth, growth, new beginnings, endings, sickness, brushes with death, and recently for me, ending a relationship.  (Not Marc!)

An ongoing family drama lasting almost two years now has come to a pretty firm conclusion the last two days.  The details beyond that are private and not really important, but it's obviously got me asking all kinds of questions and wondering about all kinds of things.

What is closure?  How do you forgive someone?  What do those words and concepts even mean?

Over the past several years, I think the concept of forgiveness has changed in our culture from something involved in repairing a relationship with a person to being much more focused on doing it for yourself - a way to free yourself of past hurt.  There's the simpler level of having a fight with someone, forgiving them, and truly being able to move forward with that relationship.  That is a bit more cut and dry and easy to understand (though not necessarily easy to do!)

Easier said than done, dude.
That idea of forgiveness as being more "for yourself" is especially helpful, I imagine, if the person you're trying to forgive has passed away or is just no longer in your life.  It's not about them validating you or forgiving you in return - it's about you.  Or you also read about extraordinary people who have forgiven the murderer of a friend or family member, talking about a need to free themselves from living a life of bitterness and resentment.  It makes sense, and sounds amazing.  It also sounds deceptively easy - but of course there's no way it can be easy!  Can it?  I suppose it's different for everyone.  The quote on the right I think typifies this type of thinking about forgiveness and working to let go of anger, however justified.

Closure is an even more open-ended concept to try to get my brain around.  What gives something the power of being "closure?"  How can you measure it?  What does it feel like?  If we're talking about something on a relationship level, you're dealing with at least two parties - what if one has closure and one doesn't?

I know these are really abstract questions.  I think they're abstract mainly because I tend to be more literal and more tactile.  It's probably why I've been more drawn to a spiritual practice that has such a physical component as opposed to a more traditional religion.

I realized last night, talking this through with Marc, that I've never been able to "achieve" forgiveness with anything beyond the most basic kind of working something out with a friend and moving forward in that relationship.  I haven't been able to get to a point where I've just decided to forgive something I'd categorize as major in my life.  Part of why I haven't is because I don't know what it feels like.  I don't know what it means.  It almost certainly doesn't take away feelings of sadness and anger and a feeling of being wronged or hurt.  If it's "for me," what does that mean?

It's the same feeling of uncertainty that comes up when I address the question of God.  I'm an agnostic because while I don't believe in God, I also know that I don't know for sure that there isn't a God.  I just don't know, and I don't feel I can presume to commit fully to one side of the spectrum or the other.

Relating that to the concepts of forgiveness and closure, I know that they aren't magic buttons you can press to make anger and sadness go away.  So what are they?  What does it mean?  What does it take to get there?  How can forgiveness set you free if the pain is still there?  And am I just being too damn literal about all this?

Any and all ideas are welcome.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy Veteran's Day!

This Veteran's Day, I'd like to share my all-time favorite rendition of our national anthem.  Future star of stage & screen, Lisa Helmi Johanson, rocks it like no other.  Just cock your head to the left ;)

Namaste, y'all!


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I am a DOULA!

I can't believe that one week ago today, I was sitting in Birth Day Presence in the presence of one of the country's most established doulas soaking in her wisdom.  I wish so much I could go back and take that training again and again and again and again.  (Luckily for me, as a doula, I'm required a certain amount of continuing education credits each year so I may just get the chance!)

Debra Pascali-Bonaro, I'm so very proud to say, has made me a trained doula!  I still have a ways to go before my certification is complete, but this is the most significant part of the certification process to complete before I start attending births.  Debra was wonderful - there are not enough adjectives in the world.  She was warm, put us all immediately at ease, funny, unbelievably knowledgeable, and her heart is clearly in every single thing she says and does.  Her genuine love radiated through every word she spoke.

I'm gushing, I know, but I just don't know how else I'm going to write about this workshop!

With a lot of upheaval going on lately at Karma Kids (I can't reveal our exciting news just yet, but stay tuned!) and my mind and energy focused on that, I've been saying over and over what "terrible timing" this workshop has been for my life - but like so many things, what I thought was going to be a massive disadvantage turned out to be a huge advantage.  I was so caught up in everything else going on I had nearly forgotten my passion which sparked my desire to become a doula in the first place - this pushed me right back into the deep end of it.

The first day was focused primarily on childbirth education, while the second two days focused on the role of a doula as well as anything and everything we'd need to know going forward as doulas, from pre and postnatal visits with clients, to providing emotional support, physical comfort measures, and the history of female support at birth, before it moved into the hospital in the early-mid 20th century.

Each day's lunch break we had the option to stay and watch one of Debra's many documentaries she had on hand, and we also were able to come early to watch them too.  There were so many inspiring stories - Guerilla Midwife featuring the unbelievable humanitarian work of Robin Lim in Indonesia and the Phillipinnes and various other areas natural disaster has struck (read more!), A Doula Story focusing on angel-in-human-form Loretha Weisinger is doing in Chicago for pregnant teens (read more!), and so much more.

None of us in the group wanted the training to end - we could have happily gone on like that for another week!  But we all feel so grateful for the time we were able to have with Debra and with each other and all look forward to coming back together whenever and however possible.

I'm so excited to keep moving forward in this direction with the help of my invaluable mentor, pre/postnatal expert and doula Juliana Secches.  I'm so ready to start attending births and, after all this talk and practice and theory, really start doing this work that I feel so called to do.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Laughter Yoga (but not)



I'm down for the count tonight - I've been fighting a cold all week long and I have a huge week coming up.  Big things coming up for Karma Kids and my three-day Doula Training is going to be right smack in the middle of it this Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  My plans with my beautiful friend Laura are cancelled (including my plan to take my first gentle yoga class since rehabbing my hip and hamstring) and I'm hoping that between all the prep work I have to do for doula training I can get enough rest to beat this thing.

In the meantime, this has totally made my day.  It has pretty much nothing to do with yoga in any way, but I guarantee it will make you laugh.  I love me some good bloopers and a good case of the giggles.  Enjoy a rush of mood-boosting endorphins, fire up your belly muscles, and boost your mood.  Late Night with Jimmy Fallon = Laughter Yoga (but not really).

Hope to be back next week with an exciting announcement about Karma Kids Yoga, an update on how my doula training went, and something I've been wanting to write about for a month now - my life-changing physical therapist!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Despair is the greatest sin

I was fully prepared to let myself off the hook again today.  My weekly-blogging has been once-every-two-or-three-weeks blogging lately.  There's a lot going on with work, and I've been desperate to spend every single second Marc and I both had free together - which unfortunately were not that many seconds.

He left today to go do another show at the beautiful People's Light & Theatre in Malvern, PA.  It's a beautiful theatre, a great company, and the show will be tons of fun with fantastic people.  I wish I were going with him.  I wish he were staying here.  I wish the contract wasn't so frigging long.

I have a lot on my plate today - things that I've been neglecting in favor of all else we've had going on - and especially since I'm not feeling terribly inspired or, honestly, terribly happy, I was going to give myself another pass.  Next week I'll be more "YoginiAnnie" like - not today.

However.

As I've written before, and as much wiser and more eloquent people than I have said, yoga isn't just about being shiny and happy and Instagramming yourself in a headstand.  It's accepting the present and yourself, no matter what.  Suffering isn't caused my the circumstances themselves (even when that's really hard to believe), it's caused by our inability to accept and integrate them into our present.

I have a ton of reasons to be grateful.  My overall health is good, and my health is being improved by a phenomenal physical therapist who will hopefully be getting me back to running (!) and taking yoga classes for myself in the next couple of months.  My husband's not going off to war or dying, he's going to Pennsylvania to do what he loves.

One of the things on our to-do-before-PA list was to finish the series Masters of Sex, which we both absolutely love and which featured our beautiful friend, the insanely talented up-and-coming actress Katie Parker in the last two episodes.  There's a beautiful scene between two characters - one a Christian and one an atheist - who are both struggling deeply with emotional issues.  Barbara, the Christan, says at one point that, "Despair is the greatest sin."  To my Christian readers, this probably isn't a big revelation (ha) to you, but I had never heard that before.  You mainly just hear about murder, adultery - the more obvious stuff.  But despair?

It seems like a really bold statement to me.  Similar to the idea that suffering isn't caused by the world or external circumstances - it's caused by how we react to those circumstances.  We have the ability to accept, make peace with, and maybe even find joy in everything - to indirectly quote Angels in America, in every awful thing.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Just Doula-ing It

Yep, I just made that pun.

I realized today I haven't really written that much about this next chapter of my education/career/passion/life that I'm entering into, and that a lot of my friends might not know a whole lot about what this new position really means.

In late October, I'll be attending a childbirth class and doula training program under Debra Pascali-Bonaro, author and director of Orgasmic Birth (both a birthing book and an eye-opening documentary) and experienced childbirth educator and doula.  I've already started the process of reading everything both on and off my reading list, and I have quite a few more hurdles to climb before I'm an officially certified doula, but I'm jumping in with both feet.

Super exciting, right?  But what's a doula?

The word Doula comes from ancient Greek meaning a female servant.  It is a woman who is literally there before, during, and after labor and birth to support the mother and partner through the process.  Most women in this country give birth in a hospital where the staff is almost certainly overworked and overseeing multiple patients at a time.  For a lot of couples, this can breed a lot of anxiety and uncertainty - even when the staff is excellent.  Most women wind up being hooked up to some kind of fetal heartrate monitor and staff (and partners!) can run the risk of paying much closer attention to the printout of the monitor than the actual mother in labor, leaving her feeling isolated and ignored.

Having a doula as a constant, attentive, knowledgeable, comforting presence, whether in a hospital, birth center, or home birth, can make the couple feel more at ease, can make the partner more confident in how he is helping the mother, and provides the couple with a whole host of nonmedical techniques to alleviate pain.

Nowhere is the mind-body connection more potent and powerful during childbirth.  If you have someone supporting you and your choices (whatever they may be, as it is not a doula's job to judge or push an agenda) and helping to guide you through this most intense and overwhelming physiological event the human body can experience where emotions are inevitably running high, you are going to come out the other side having had a more positive experience.

My sister laboring in the tub with the support of one of her
two fantastic doulas, Maggie Gentilini
My sister and brother-in-law experienced that first-hand after having two excellent doulas attend them during the birth of the twins this past summer.  They cannot sing their praises high enough, and I know it absolutely made all the difference in the world in making the birth experience a positive one for them.  Not to mention, the second doula took some phenomenal pictures that we'll treasure forever!

So what does a doula actually do?  The short answer is, whatever the mother and/or partner wants or needs.  Helping inform and educate the couple on normal birth processes before or during, sneaking a turkey sandwich into the hospital, showing the partner how to perform helpful massage techniques, giving the nurse the birth plan, remaining a steady face of calm in high intensity situations - you name it.  Doulas are not medical professionals, however.  Unlike a doctor, nurse, or midwife, they do not perform medical procedures or give medical opinions.  Their job is to be the stalwart support system for the couple.

Why pay money to a stranger to support you when you could get your mom or your friend in there for free?  There are lots of potential answers to this one, but two that pop up are - 1. Your doula is going to be trained and experienced, so when she says what you're experiencing is normal, you may put more stock into her answer than someone else's.  2. Your doula has practical techniques at her fingertips to help birth proceed smoothly.  3. There aren't years of potential emotional baggage with the doula, which there almost certainly is with other family and friends.  This doesn't mean you don't love your mother, sister, or friend, but it's kind of like seeking a therapist's advi
ce for your problem's rather than your friend's.  The therapist is an impartial party whose only job is to do what's best for you - not necessarily what you're going to want him or her to say or do, and not anything guided by his or her own personal preference.

That's not to say you'd have a doula at the expense of another friend - but it is an invaluable option that statistically is shown to reduce medical interventions and increase a feeling of satisfaction in one's birth experience.  (This study is just one of many that support this statement)

I could easily write about this all day, but instead I'll close by promoting an amazing event I'll be attending tonight.  If you're expecting or know a couple who is, please send them this information!

We are having our popular Doula Speed Dating Event tonight at Karma Kids Yoga, where couples can meet doulas who work in the tri-state area and possibly find the right one for them.  You can interview them, learn more about what they do, and maybe win a prize in our raffle.  It's incredibly fun and for the first time I'm excited to attend not just as a birth junkie but as a potential doula.  Call 646-638-1444 to register!  It's so fun and could change the way you bring your baby into the world.  What's not to love about that?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mesothelioma Awareness Day

September has been a really trying month in a lot of different ways.  It's contained a lot of fun and fabulousness too - getting to visit with my parents and in-laws is always amazing - but there's a lot going on in our lives right now and sometimes I just feel tremendous stress.

To take myself out of self-pity (which is something I fall into much more easily than I'd care to admit), I think about those enduring hardships much worse than I've ever had to face - and doing it with more grace than I can imagine.  My friend Lu is one; I have some family members who I look to as well.

For today's post, however, I'm writing about someone I've never met and about a disease I've never been touched by.  Given that it's such a small world, however, I'm sure at least one person who reads this will have had some kind of personal experience with this preventable yet deadly disease.

I was contacted by a man asking me to share his wife's story and some facts about Mesothelioma.  This Friday, September 26th, is Mesothelioma Awareness Day, and we are hoping other bloggers will join in spreading the word about this disease.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that is directly linked to exposure to asbestos.  Asbestos was once widely used (and is still present in many of buildings today) for everything from insulation to fire proof vests - even being mixed in with cement.  It's a naturally occurring mineral - yet it is a toxic carcinogen that many developed countries (including Canada and Russia) still use.  Although the EPA banned the use of most asbestos in the USA in 1989, that regulation was overturned in 1991.  Now only a very few asbestos-related products are banned in the US - this means that a known cause of cancer is being used in our homes, workplaces, and who knows what else.  Why?  Convenience?
Cameron, Lily, and Heather

Between 2,500 and 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year and on average, the patient is given only 10 months to live.

Cameron Von St James's wife, Heather, was diagnosed with mesothelioma eight years ago.  Three months after giving birth to their daughter Lily, she was told she had only fifteen months to live.  Amazingly, after a life-saving surgery that included removal of her left lung, she has survived and thrived.
Lily and Heather

Heather and her family are just a few of the many voices who are speaking out to raise awareness about this preventable, deadly disease.  Friday is the 10th Annual Mesothelioma Awareness Day.  Give this post a share, write to your representatives, and help start a national conversation about preventing anyone else from having to endure what this family and thousands of others are enduring.

Follow Heather on social media via Facebook and Twitter, and check out her Mesothelioma Awareness page here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Change - again.

I realize this is the third entry out of five that focuses on change, but, well, that's obviously where I am at the moment and all I can do is go with it!

I'm hoping now that as fall has begun and something resembling a normal schedule is starting to set in that I'll be back to my once-a-week pace of writing.  It's been very hard to get consistency with everything going on this summer, and I mostly blame those dang babies.  Not to mention Baby LeVasseur, our new nephew coming this November!  Days after getting back from seeing the twins (and them getting to meet their Uncle Marc!), we had a whirlwind trip to Boston to celebrate Marc's brother, Paul, and his lovely wife Sharon and their little bundle o' joy.

I scratched down a couple of Baby Thoughts a week ago, my last full day with Atlas and Zoe, knowing that I'd want to write about them.  What I wanted to muse over today was not the big, obvious kind of change - a change in job, schedule, a big change like a baby learning to walk - but the kind of change you have to search a little harder for.

Babies change every single moment of every single day.  You can put a baby to bed, and come get them the next morning and their cheeks are a little chubbier, or maybe they give you a smile they couldn't give you the day before.  They crawl, walk, run, talk, and lord do they every grow a mile a minute.  It's obvious, and it's rapid-fire.  Each week is a time capsule and you know you're on a rollercoaster that will never, ever stop.

When I saw Atlas and Zoe the first time, seeing them at six weeks after last seeing them at one week, I was staggered.  Atlas was unrecognizable.  Zoe still looked like Zoe, just bigger.  It's one of the reasons I hate leaving them so much - I know I'm never going to see them this size again.  The next time I visit won't be until December and they'll be totally different creatures then - and huge!  Especially if they keep growing at this rate.

They're different kids every time.

Do adults change that much?  It's not as obvious in terms of physical milestones or physical changes, unless you get a haircut or something.  When we gain and lose weight it's usually on the gradual side.  We're done growing - and if we're going to shrink, taht usually happens gradually too.  If you haven't seen a friend for a month, you can expect they're still basically your same friend.

We still live and grow and learn every day, though.  There's still got to be some kind of internal change.  Is your friend the same person now as they were a month ago?  Are your parents?  It's an interesting question.  I don't know the answer to it, so there's not really going to be a wise conclusion, but the more I spent time with little A&Z, marveling at how time flies and how unfair it is that they won't be my tiny little bugs forever, the more it opened me up to wondering about how this change applies to everybody.  It's the only constant in life - yet I feel like there's a constant narrative in our culture about how, "People don't change."  Or worse, can't change.  Men get stuck with that more often than women, I think.

What do you think, friends?  Do we change that much as adults?  Is our outward lack of rapid development and change reflective of our inward selves?  Or does it just depend on the person?  Is it better or worse to change?

Big thoughts inspired from tiny little creatures.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Yoga and Cancer

This post, with the above title, and absolutely nothing written in the body where the brilliant blog is supposed to go, has been sitting in my Drafts for about three weeks.  I've been wanting to write about this for awhile.  Earlier this year, a very close and beloved family member was diagnosed with cancer.  A few weeks ago, I humbly accepted the opportunity to sub a Yoga for Cancer Survivors class at the beautiful Giving Tree Yoga Studio.  And most recently, a friend, who although is a new presence in my life honestly feels like family, was diagnosed with leukemia.

This blank post has been sitting here collecting metaphorical dust for a lot of reasons, and I think the main one is that I am intimidated.  I don't feel qualified to speak to this.  I'm not certified to teach yoga to cancer patients or counsel them or do anything of the kind.  I haven't gone through it myself.  I haven't done any research myself and haven't researched the effects in any deep way - not in anyway that someone with a free afternoon and Google couldn't do just as well.

I'm also intimidated because I want to promote yoga as a way to cope with the physical and emotional challenges cancer brings, but lately I've had trouble engaging in my own yoga practice and using it as a tool to help me in my issues lately - none of which hold a candle to the challenge of cancer.

So, I won't pretend to have wisdom and experience that I don't have.  I'll only say that study after study shows that it can provide wonderful benefits to patients and their friends and family.  That there are plenty of resources, online and in person, for those seeking yoga for cancer patients. (In NYC: The Giving Tree, Sacred Sounds, and World Yoga Center)

And finally, that this girl who I've only met this summer is now a personal hero.  She is the forever-love of my first love Aaron.  His parents have remained a constant and loving presence in my life, even visiting with Marc and I early on in our relationship and forming a friendship with him.  Aaron and I recently reconnected after so very many years, and are both so thrilled with the different paths our lives have taken, for ourselves and each other.  Lu couldn't be more perfect for him; Marc couldn't be more perfect for me.

Lu is doing great, but still fighting and she can use our help.  Please consider donating so that she and Aaron can deal with this head-on, and then put their focus on the long and happy life they have ahead of them here in the one and only NYC.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Meditations at the Laundromat

These last three and a half weeks have been crazy.  After spending a week in absolute heaven with my family welcoming the precious Atlas & Zoe, I came back and, as I mentioned last week, was thrown into moving madness.  Marc has been working his butt off taking catering jobs left and right to help us through the move, and between his work schedule and mine, we were almost never home together at the same time - until the night before the move.

Emotionally, it was an insanely hard week.  I was missing the babies more than I could have ever imagined and felt heartbroken beyond the telling of it.  On one hand, having to get my butt into gear on moving helped me from wallowing too much, but on the other hand...oy.  Moving, even when it goes well overall like ours thankfully did, is stressful.

We said goodbye to absolutely spectacular friends as they made their way to London on Tuesday, July 29th, and on Thursday, July 31st we said goodbye to our very first home together - of four years! - and then hello to our gorgeous new place which was already filled so very much with love (and incredible style and furniture) by Billy & Ramsey.

After seven days of hard work, we became completely box-free in our beloved new apartment - and now the work that lies ahead of us is organization, putting up our art and pictures, and laundry.

So.  Much.  Laundry.

It turns out when you use your clothing to pack all of your valuables, those clothes should probably be washed.  I did a massive load last Sunday, and it's how I've been spending the last two plus hours of this Sunday morning as well.

Laundry has never been such a nuisance to me as it is as a New Yorker.  Down home in the South, your washer and dryer (that only you and your family use!!!) live in your house or apartment with you.  Even as a college kid, I was deeply spoiled by Christopher Newport University's kickass dorms and with the exception of the laundry room freshman year (and maybe sophomore?), we had washers and dryers in our apartments.

Here in New York, large loads are the order of the day.  Colors, textures, instructions on the tag be damned - you fit 10 pounds of clothes in a 5 pound bag in a 2 pound washer and call it a day.  Hauling stuff back and forth from the apartment in lord knows what kind of weather...yes, I'm aware that it is a massively first world problem, but when you have an overflowing to-do list, laundry sometimes just feels like a damn expensive waste of time.

Which is why I am always baffled whenever I go to laundromats and see people just...sitting there.  Just sitting there!  Not at home vacuuming or working, not at the grocery store, not doing anything useful with themselves - just sitting!  It always strikes me as a monumental waste of time.  They might as well be staring at the clothes as they go through the spin cycle - or watching it dry (at least it would be more interesting than watching paint dry).

This morning, as I struggled with my four extra large loads and figuring out the timing and the hauling-back-and-forth of it all, I was stressing about having to write this blog and that I hadn't yet done my meditation practice for the day, and I finally realized I was being ridiculous.  I've been caught up in this constant go-go-go pace - slightly different from my usual go-go-go pace.  Between spending a week helping my sister keep two tiny infants alive (which didn't feel like work for one single second, but which did involved a lot of running around and multitasking), a week packing up everything I owned, and a week unpacking everything I owned with a lot of cleaning and teaching and working along the way...I have anxiety about the empty, unscheduled, unstructured space.  I feel guilty if I'm not doing something useful, something to push our place towards being done.

The truth is, there won't be any kind of finish line for the apartment.  Even after we organize it all and hang up our art...we'll always be making dirty laundry.  We'll acquire new things that need homes.  We'll make messes and break things and sometimes the place will be a disaster area.

I decided to take advantage of an awkward 15-minute gap between my loads of wash being done and sit on one of the plastic chairs outside of the laundromat, and just sit.  Enjoy the uncharacteristically mild August weather.  Enjoy the sights and sounds of the new trees, the new mildly obnoxious guys on the street, the new families walking by.  The late summer sun and leaves and the joy of being fortunate enough to sit in that chair on that street on a lovely Sunday morning.

We are so happy to be here.  Now the next thing on the to-do list is to relax into being home.

After I fold all this laundry.