Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Setting boundaries

In case you haven't noticed - there's an election going on.

For people like me, who have tremendous interest in and anxiety over it, it's very, very easy to get unhealthily preoccupied.  It's one thing to be informed, and quite another to spend every free moment listening to or reading about it - even when there's no new-news from the last time one checked (even though in recent weeks it seems like there's a new development every five seconds).

There's a lot of talk among parents and teachers over a great "screen time" debate.  Parents worried (or decidedly not worried) about exposing their toddlers to the TV and iPad, parents trying (or not so much) to have family meals without phones at the table, the idea of having time limits vs. total freedom on video games - there are arguments to be made for every kid, family, and situation, and people spend a gigantic amount of time judging each other over it and judging themselves, often, over failing in their goals. (And for the record, I have no judgement or opinion on what anyone does - it is 100% not my place, and I don't even have kids so I'm not coming down on any particular side)

We spend so much time analyzing the effect that screen time has on kids, but it seems we don't even put one tenth of the same effort into analyzing the effect that it has on us as adults.  Sure, there's a flurry of recommendations about having TV in the bedroom or using electronic devices before bed, but how many of us let that permeate into the reality of how we live our lives?

I go through phases with this. Sometimes I'm great about avoiding my phone before bed...but most times I'm not.  Sometimes I resolutely delete Facebook from my phone, thus removing the ability to constantly check so I can post whatever article has most recently articulated my views.  Then inevitably something pops up (like a day full of air travel) where I feel I need / deserve to bring it back again.

The bottom line is, we all ought to honestly look at our intake of and exposure to media, and assess how it really affects us.  At what point might it just be reflexive, addictive?  At what point is it truly helpful?

And more importantly - what do you replace it with?  For me, that's usually diving deep into a novel.  I tend to be a happier person when I'm reading a book.  I'm able to get absorbed into one long narrative, rather from skipping and skimming article after article after article.  Also - hey, music still exists!

I think part of my issue with this is that I'm so much less mobile than I used to be while my foot is still healing, and obsessing about the election is an activity that requires zero movement.  If I were still able to go for a run three times a week and jump into a yoga class every so often, I'd also have a much better outlet to let the anxiety physically get the hell out of my body.

In the meantime, I just have to rely on good old self-discipline.  Usually not a problem for me, but there's something about an injury that makes you insanely permissive to yourself, usually at the eventual expense of health or sanity.

And therefore - boundaries.  Hiding the phone from myself.  Deleting apps. Creating boundaries of time when I'm on and when I'm off - and the kicker is, I'll probably pay even closer attention to and be more present with the news that I'm reading when I'm finally reading it.

I'll confess right now that, with the election three weeks away, I don't have the highest confidence in my ability to stick to these boundaries.  But at least they're there.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Music Share - Hipster Playlist

Lots going on this week, but not for blogging.  Instead I'd love to share one of my most used playlists that I bring out for my Prenatal / Mom & Baby classes.

A lot of this was taken from the Acoustic Covers playlist on Spotify, which is always full of hidden little treasures.  It's bookended with some gorgeous music by Dustin O'Halloran from one of my favorite albums chock full of beautiful instrumentals for savasana.

My favorite song on this, though, has to be Bells by The Bengsons.  I first heard it in savasana after one of Elizabeth Barnett's spectacular classes at The Giving Tree (check her out on Monday's at 7:45 and Friday's at 6:30!), and it absolutely floored me.  Astorians especially will like the shoutout to our neighborhood in the song.

There's a lot of poignancy in the song as well as throughout the playlist...it's one that makes me happier when I'm happy and heartens me when I'm sad.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Peg Leg & the Pool

Last week, I was dealt a setback to my foot's healing process that pretty well broke my spirit for a couple of days.  It's been hard for me to write about my emotional reaction and struggle with my injury because all I can keep thinking about is how much worse other people have it and how sort of inappropriate and gross it would feel to put that out into the world with so much else going on.  Because of that, I think I've been repressing my frustration and disappointment and heartbreak and anger in an effort to be as positive as possible.  As a result, when I had the setback (back to crutches instead of finally being able to walk again), I took it insanely hard.  Tears, pity party - the whole 9 yards.  (Shouldn't it be the whole 10 yards...?)

Luckily, I have the world's best physical therapist who gave me the best advice: get back in a pool.

Because I was in such a negative headspace last week, I kept focusing on the obstacles.  Figuring out how to join, how I should get there, when I should go, the pool schedule, what a pain in the ass it is to get around a wet locker room on a crutch and to change with the use of one leg, getting in and out, dealing with a wet towel and suit and goggles and swim cap when I have to go to work right after and have a hard time carrying a lot around...little things.  Petty annoyances that I let myself get caught up in and complain about.

And then - just like this summer, when getting to the pool was such an ordeal on the crutches - as soon as I got in the water, it all melted away.  The freedom that I've always felt anytime I get in the water is that much more healing and necessary and soothing with this injury.  When I swim, I can use my entire body, I can use my left AND right side at the same time in the same way!  I have freedom and symmetry in the water in a way that I just don't on dry land right now, and won't for a while, even once I get walking again.

My main homework in the water is to do some practice walking, in water up to my chin so I'm as weightless as I can manage to be.  As you can imagine, it's very slow work.  No other distractions - no headphones, no phone, no nothing except paying attention to how my body moves, how it feels, and the space around me.  It's the most meditative thing I've experienced in quite a long time, and it's so important that my brain be given that space where it's not engaged in anything else except what I'm doing at that moment.  No news.  No podcasts.  No Facebook. No reading.  No work.  Just my own brain and my own body.  It's the most yoga I've practiced since even before my injury, I think.

I honestly don't know if it was the feeling of walking, the freedom of swimming, or the forced mental freedom that's been the most impactful.  I've been mourning the loss of running lately for a variety of reasons - the primary one being what a huge outlet for stress relief it is.  The pool is helping me to fill that void in a totally new and totally needed way.

I've got another appointment with the doctor tomorrow.  I think the days of getting off my foot and back into the crutches coupled with the weightless practice-walking have paid off.  This process is still painfully, frustratingly, infuriatingly slow, but - I have my perspective back.  We'll just see what the next slow step is.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Breathing through anxiety

I'm hoping that every single person who is reading this watched last night's debate. This is the most consequential election in our country's history and it demands our very careful consideration and every possible vote.

It also demands, for me at least, that I constantly check the news, Facebook, political podcasts, and every other morsel of information until I'm a useless, jelly-like puddle of horrified anxiety, convinced that this time next year it won't be global warming that's the biggest threat to humanity, but nuclear winter.

What's a little meditation or breath in the face of this overwhelming existential anxiety?

Pretty damn effective, actually.

If you've been anxious like I have lately, even if it's unrelated to politics or injury, I've found this to be a very helpful grounding technique:

Take a comfortable seat, either cross-legged on padding or with two blocks between the ankles in supported hero's pose.

Align your spine - shoulders down and back aligned over the hips, chin slightly tucked and back of the head pulled back in space so the earlobes align over the shoulders.  The crown of the head is aligned over the center of the pelvis.

Imagine a long line, or a long column of light, running from the center of the pelvis up and out through the crown of the head.  With each breath in, that line grows longer in both directions.  With each breath out, soften your body around your tall spine.

Inhale as everything from the navel up grows longer, lighter, taller, more lifted.  Exhale to soften the expression on the face, the jaw, the neck, the shoulders.  Inhale as the crown of the head lengthens toward the ceiling.  Exhale to soften tension in the chest, belly, back, and to release any gripping in the hips or legs.

Imagine everything from the navel up grows taller and lighter, while everything from the navel down becomes heavier, more rooted, more grounded.

Allow the inhalations and the exhalations to be even - inhaling and exhaling for a count of 4 or any length of time that will keep it a calming, easy breath.

Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

And then go vote.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Yoga Flow In A Cast

Better late than never...

My cast came off on Thursday (yay!  but whose skinny, dough-y calf is that underneath!?!?) but with the help of my magician husband, I've finally been able to upload my yoga class that I made it my goal to create during my weeks in the cast.

This can be done without being in a cast, of course - just don't take any of the necessary protective modifications.  If you're feeling like a challenging class that skips out on Warrior I and Warrior II, and standing in general, please check it out!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Reasons to be Happy

(With apologies to Neil LaBute)

I've been thinking about this quote a lot the past few days.  My moods have been a bit up and down - I can go from cool, self-assured calm about the whole injury situation one minute, to a flurry of worry and anxiety and self pity the other, as the uncertainty about how the healing process will go after the cast comes off weighs on me.

If you ask me the things I'm grateful for, the things I really value and treasure in my life, one of them would be my physical fitness.  My health, my (relative, at this point) youth.  My energy.  My New York paced walk.  My ability to run.  I still have some of those things, of course, but in this temporary situation, I feel more like an ancient slug, with an aching lower back and pain all through my right hip and foot as it bears my weight.

So, how do you avoid the self-pity trap?  It's normal to feel sad and frustrated, and I don't think it would be wise or healthy to suppress those emotions when they come up, but you can't let them drive and you can't let them settle in.

There's got to be a deeper reason for joy, or even just a deeper sense of peace and equanimity that surpasses your life circumstances.  Your relationships, your job, even your health.  Life is nothing but change, as my mom reminded me recently.  This too, shall pass, applies to everything in life - the good, the bad, the indifferent.

The concepts of impermanence and non-attachment are important ones in the practice of yoga.  The idea of practicing, of having a meditative practice, is to hold to that center at your very core, to have a certain amount of equanimity to keep you from getting swept up in the waves of good and bad that live washes over you.

The best example of this, of course, is the tradition of the Sand Mandala among Tibetan Buddhist monks.  Pouring your attention, work, and presumably your heart into making something painstakingly beautiful...and then gently destroying it.  I don't think a lot of us would be capable of that.  (Though I have destroyed some rather ugly creations in my adventures in knitting that I've felt quite attached to...)

Then do we achieve the equanimity just to go around being robots?  Or do we detach emotionally from the circumstances and find joy anyway?  I don't know if equanimity really is achievable, though I'm sure some spiritual masters have probably claimed to have it.  Enlightenment, equanimity - they're cousins, I think, in the spiritual family.

I had a hard time, as a lot of Western yogis do, wrapping my brain around the benefits of detachment.  It's hard not to view it as something that means you love less, care less, feel less.  But it's really just about not letting these changeable, impermanent, outside circumstances so deeply penetrate the core of your being to the point that they can overtake and overwhelm you - for good or for bad.

I'm nowhere near the level of having achieved any sort of high-level equanimity or enlightenment, but I am working very hard to be in the circumstances I'm in and to find some happiness anyway.  Suffering is caused by not accepting the present circumstances.  It doesn't mean by accepting you just roll over and give up - you can still work to change your circumstances.  But until you accept things as they are, you'll never know peace.  So why not be happy on the lifelong journey?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Get some Headspace

Happy Friday, world!  Even though tonight is the eve of the busiest day of work I'll have all week - three classes!  Despite the frustrating limitations and challenges of teaching in the cast, it'll feel good to have so many students' positive energy in one day.

I'm not feeling terribly motivated to write this week for some reason, so I'm going to mainly use this week's entry to praise and recommend Headspace, an excellent meditation app.  It's not free (nor is it cheap, fair warning) but it does offer a free trial, and I am surprised to find that I think it's worth every penny.

Marc discovered this app a few months ago and immediately started singing its praises.  I let my arrogance get the better of me - I'm a yoga teacher, I've been learning and practicing meditation for over seven years, I don't need an app to tell me what to do, blah blah blah.  But the truth is, despite my fairly consistent practice, I had absolutely no consistency with what I was doing with my practice.  Sure, I'd sit every day - for 5, 7, maybe 10 minutes on a motivate day.  But I didn't have a consistent technique and it's a lot easier to get completely lost on trains of thought without ever coming back when you don't have a teacher, a guide to help you.

Those two things - consistency and a guide - are 100% what make the difference since I've been practicing regularly with Headspace.  Lovely, British, friendly Andy leads series that are just basic or focused on any wide variety of things - Kindness, Patience (which was my first pick when Marc let me choose the series), Anxiety (our current series), Depression, Competition, Focus, you name it.  Oh, and let's not forget - SLEEP.  Rather than a series, this one-off meditation has almost never failed to put me out like a light before the exercise is even finish.

I've gotten so many day-to-day benefits of Headspace, and I've enjoyed even more seeing how much Marc has benefitted and how incredibly devoted he is to his daily practice now.  Especially these days when the simplest of actions I'd have previously taken for granted take foreverrrrrr because of my cast situation.  The presence and patience I've gained has definitely kept me from having a meltdown.

This has been not just an invaluable tool for us, but also a reminder that as much as I resist being a beginner and love being an "expert," as people we can never stop learning.  And that means having an open, receptive, humble beginner's mind.  How ridiculous to assume I couldn't benefit from this!  It's not as though I've found enlightenment, for God's sake.

Check Headspace out.  They have a great free trial offer, and absolutely everyone, from the meditation novice to the meditation expert (if there even is such a thing) will reap great benefits.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Casting On

This morning marks the beginning of Day 2 of the 20 days my foot (and lower leg) will be in a hard cast.  Just shy of three weeks - which is seriously not bad at all.  So many friends and friends-of-friends have told me far worse injury horror stories, and I am counting my blessings.  My left foot desperately wants to point and rotate at the ankle joint and wiggle and be free, and it's a very strange feeling for it to be restricted!

But, marvels of modern medicine - it's not an old-fashioned, heavy plaster cast.  It's thin fiberglass, rolled around like gauze.  Inside my foot is cushioned in soft pillow-y wrapping.  Having never had a hard cast before and imagining the worst sort of immobile misery and torture, this is not half bad!

As I'm wont to do, I've set myself some goals for this time where I can't pursue all my usual goals.  I plan on recording a yoga video demonstrating and teaching a Yoga with a Cast Sequence.  It'll be the first time I'll ever have done that, aside from being featured for Karma Kids Yoga's Peace In studio (check out Prenatal Yoga/Pilates here!).  There are a few cast sequences out there on YouTube, but for the most part they're in the 5 minute or so range.  I'm going to see what I can do to come up with a more substantive, 20-30 minute class with a little strength work mixed in.

My main goal, or my main skill that I've acquired that I want to master - is knitting.  Last week, my incredibly loving friend Laura Frye came over to help escort me to the pool (ah, the pool!), have dinner with me, and teach my clumsy hands the art of knitting.  I am completely hooked.  It took me about four days to be able to do a slipknot without having to watch the video she made for me a dozen times and failing two dozen times each attempt, and I spent an entire Sunday unable to get past the first row without a gigantic loop at the end, but casting on is the one knitting skill that I took to right away.  I find the semantics of that pretty funny.

Knitting has been a funny combination of soothing and infuriating so far.  I really struggle at being a beginner at something - I take the inevitable mistakes and failures that are a part of learning a new skill entirely too seriously and it sets off a frustrated temper that I'm pretty sure I came by honestly from my mom and granddaddy.  But it's good for me to be humbled by new things.  It's good for me to be a beginner instead of an expert.  And when I do find myself in a good groove, getting it, my muscles starting to make it a memory, then I find that soothing zen extolled by so many knitters.

So, here I am.  Instead of up in Cold Spring, enjoying my first married getaway since our honeymoon hiking with my love, we're here in Astoria.  The husband is sleeping in.  (I slept in til almost 8!  A big accomplishment)  We're already having a wonderful Staycation together, which we plan to stuff with movies, delicious food, games, reading, knitting (for me, not him!) and some time with beloved friends.

The cast is on.  It's helping my torn ligaments and other soft tissues mend back together.  I might as well love it, and use it as a chance to dive into my new practice - slipknot, cast on, and knit.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

AromaYIN at The Giving Tree Yoga Studio

Forty-five minutes after the end of yoga class and I have finally crutched all the way back home, sitting at the computer, ready to write my blog.  Had I left after my prenatal class, I could've been done for the day (and the week) and at home by probably about 6:00, given my speed on the street these days.

What kind of class was worth taking, and worth keeping me out of the house an extra 90 minutes worth of class time and seemingly endless amount of getting-ready and crutch-commute time?  That would be the outstanding AromaYIN class at The Giving Tree Yoga Studio.

Yin, similar to restorative, yoga involves holding poses for much longer than in a typical hatha or vinyasa class - 5-10 minutes.  Like restorative, props are utilized for comfort, but in yin yoga there is a greater emphasis on therapeutic stretching of muscles and the connective tissues as well as resting comfortably in the poses.  You're changing your body more with yin than with restorative.

I have always been a huge fan of restorative - and now also, yin - yoga.  (For one thing, it's basically the only way I can really take a good nap.)  With both of these wonderful practices, you can take most any pose that comes to mind, add enough props and creativity, and you can allow your body to open, backward bend, forward fold, twist, laterally stretch, and rest with a minimum of effort and a maximum of results that make you feel completely refreshed.

The Giving Tree has been my neighborhood yoga studio since Ditmars has been my neighborhood - six years now.  There used to be just one or two restorative classes on the schedule, but as time has gone on and teachers have come and go, and as owners Anne-Margaret and Anthony have continued to evolve as phenomenal teachers, teacher training facilitators, and givers to their community, they developed a class based on a two and a half hour workshop they offer - which also adds massage and reiki to the mix.

Now AromaYIN is offered four times a week, with four different teachers.  I can most often be spotted in Iris's class, where her warm hands offer such comforting hands-on assists or in Clay's, where his soothing voice helps lull me into relaxation at the end of a long week.  I've had the pleasure of also taking Donna and Kim's classes, which are also lovely.

Having this class right in my neighborhood is so helpful whenever I'm on call for a doula client.  I often get too in my head and have a hard time sleeping when I ought to be logging as many solid hours of sleep at night as I can, or perhaps my client is in days-long early labor where I know I need to be ready at any moment.  Just getting into my bed for the purpose of napping usually just involves me tossing and turning fitfully while having insane conversations with myself - but in the context of yoga poses, guided by a teacher - and not to mention the wonderful aromatherapy - it completely turns off my anxious mind and helps rest my body.

Now I'm no longer on call, but my torn plantar fascia has my mobility and activity severely limited.  I find myself constantly exhausted now, either from the exertion it takes just to get from Point A to Point B, or because I'm also paradoxically nowhere near as active as I normally am on a day-to-day basis and I feel like inertia is pulling me under and sucking the energy out of me.  It'll be a long time before I can take a regular class and actually practice along with everyone else, but AromaYIN has been such an unbelievable comfort.  It helps me to rest, helps me to soothe my sore and imbalanced body, and probably most importantly, has helped me to feel supported and keep my spirits up.  My practice is different for the near future, but I still have one, and it's still powerful and profound.

Whether you're struggling with an injury or healthy as a horse, whether you have a type-A anxious New York mind that has a hard time being still or are just curious about trying something new, I cannot recommend the AromaYIN class highly enough.

Infusing the wisdom of the chakras with the balancing properties of aromatherapy, AromaYIN
offers a yin-like, feminine practice, exclusively on the floor, that restores the body, mind, and spirit. Each restorative and yin pose is enhanced with the inhalation of therapeutic-grade essential oils, chakra meditations, and hands-on adjustments to melt the body into sweet surrender. Created by Anne-Margaret Redding, AromaYIN is featured at The Giving Tree Yoga Studio in Astoria, NY.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Love & Obstacles

My original subject from this post was going to be all about responding with love to adversities and adversaries.  I was inspired by Corey Booker's response to a standard-issue negative tweet from the Republican nominee - answering the hatefulness with love, compassion, and rising above the negativity.  It's a truly admirable example, and one that everyone should follow, regardless of your party affiliation, if we actually want to make the country and the world a better place.

Little did I know that the obstacle put in my way this week would quite be to this level.

After trying to self-manage mild but ever-present pain in my left foot this summer, which I self-diagnosed as plantar fasciitis, my first run in a few weeks sent the pain level up a few notches and finally got my stubborn, prideful self to the podiatrist.  I expected to leave with admonitions about better shoes and not being barefoot in hardwood and maybe a cortisone shot to get me through.

Instead, I was told what no active New Yorker - or anyone, for that matter - wants to hear:  Crutches.  For at least 4 weeks, if not 8.   God save me from any more than that.  A tear in my plantar fascia.

So, yes.  My left foot is now my not-quite-literal flat tire - my obstacle.

I'll be put in a cast after Labor Day - wearing a boot until then, because I will be damned if I miss out on my last two weeks of swimming.  Crutching my way down to the pool took forever (and good GOD I forgot how painful it is to crutch around the city...my hands and my armpits are 20 billion times more painful than my foot) but hitting the water made it so very worth it.  Watching the sun set over the East River as I glided through the water was the absolute best thing for my body and soul.

So, now is where all my platitudes get put to the test.  The purpose of life is to enjoy every moment is my life philosophy, and I intend to enjoy this adventure as much as I can, despite the disappointments.  No more Labor Day getaway filled with hiking and exploring Cold Spring with my love.  No 10-mile Bronx race in September or 8K Run for France on Sunday.  No taking for granted going up and down stairs, making dinner, setting up mats for my yoga classes, dashing across the room to get the phone or the door, speedwalking from my apartment to the subway in 5 minutes.  As a very active, very self-sufficient, very spry (for lack of a better word) person, not being able to do these big and little things can set me off in anger and frustration like nobody's business.


Silver linings.

Acts of kindness are never more on display, from my friends and from strangers, than when I'm injured.  My husband, thank the sweet lord, is not out of town doing a show like he was the last time I was confined to crutches, and takes incredible care of me in sickness and in health.  And despite being unable to run, I got to swim into the Astoria sunset tonight.


A torn plantar fascia is not a broken foot, or a broken leg, or cancer.  I'm young and in great shape.  Despite the considerable expense, I'm able to get good health care and have the resources to get the shoes and myriad of accessories needed for recovery and rehabilitation.  I am blessed with a roof over my head and stability & love in my life.  I have a job I love so much that it brings tears to my eyes when I think of not being able to do it.  I acknowledge that this is a first-world problem.

I am an optimist at heart.  I do have an excellent ability to be cynical and negative, to complain and to burrow myself into being a victim, but I truly am an optimist at heart.  And in the end, I know I will learn valuable lessons from this.  (The first being - stop trying to tough out pain, because the only medal you will be rewarded is crutches!  For some reason that one takes awhile to stick...)

They say comedy is tragedy plus time, which is completely true.  This doesn't qualify as major tragedy, not by a long shot, but it is a big physical, emotional, and mental obstacle.  So I'm just going to try to love it.  I'm going to try to love doing everything incredibly slowly.  I'm going to love the flights of stairs awaiting me in these next weeks.  I'm going to love my foot instead of reacting how I normally do to injury - with anger and resentment of my body.

Mainly, I'm going to try to find the humor and perspective in the moment that normally comes with time.  I will need lots of help and encouragement, but I know my fellow New Yorkers and loved ones are up for the job.