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.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A hurricane of change

So remember last week when I was all on about how I think change is a fabulous thing and I'm totally into it?

A HUGE part of me wants to take all of that back.

This past week with the precious twins was more life-changing and overwhelming than I could have ever possibly known, and there was just no way to prepare for it.  It was one of the best weeks of my entire life, and I haven't been so heartbroken as when I had to say goodbye to them in a very, very long time.  Not just feeling heartbroken that I had to leave, but heartbroken because I will never ever see them at that tiny size again.  They've already grown and changed so much in just nine little days on the planet.  When Marc and I go see them again, they'll be six weeks old and so much bigger.  They'll have hit tiny milestones I'll have missed.  When we leave, we won't see them again until December when they'll be over five months old.  It might seem silly or trivial, but it feels truly heartbreaking.

And now that I'm back, we are thrown head-first into moving and it feels like we have a billion things to do and haven't had a chance to start hardly any of it.

So - this blog will not be my best!  I am short on inspiration, high on joy and stress from the babies and moving, and ready to get this show on the road so we can be in our new beautiful place this time next week.  I leave you with, instead of anything inspiring, informative, or yogic, some beautiful baby pictures:


My sister is not only phenomenal for delivering twins without C-Section and being an amazing mother to these kids, but because only four days after doing that she was up for venturing out into the world!  Babies' first Target trip!
Second Storytime ever!  Atlas was mildly into it; Zoe slept through it.

Holding my Zoe-bug for the first time - she's
only about 13 hours old.
My last morning with my sweet one-week-old Atlas.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Constant of Change

Happy July!  The month has partly felt like it's crawling, but mostly just feels like it is sprinting recklessly ahead.  Three people I encountered today experienced massive shock over the fact that it's already the 11th?

Two huge life changes are coming up for us, and one admittedly is a much bigger life change for my sister and Jeremy than it is for Marc and I.  We thought they'd be here by now, but they will certainly be here by tomorrow - our first beautiful niece and nephew, Zoe and Atlas, will be making their debut any moment now.  (Not a moment too soon for any of us, especially their mama!)  I'm flying out next Wednesday to meet them, and I am exploding with excitement.  I cannot wait to spend a week completely immersed in them.

The second, the secretive one I eluded to last week, is finally official - Marc and I are moving!  We're staying in the beautiful Ditmars area of Astoria, and are taking over the gorgeous apartment of our very dear friends Billy and Ramsey who are moving to London after a fabulous job opportunity came knocking.  Marc and I had no plans at all to leave our humble little abode in which we've spent the last four years, but the timing of everything turned out to be perfect.  (With the obvious exception that we are truly devastated to have two amazing friends moving so far away.) It's financially scary, but the big positive is that it's finally gotten us on the same page about a budget (which probably counts as a third change, and could very well have its own entry.  Or entire blog)

It's gotten me thinking about change itself.  I used to be absolutely petrified of change - I hated the idea of it.  This is mainly back in high school and college, where I had amazing friends that I couldn't fathom the idea of leaving behind.  And leaving for college meant leaving the structured school/class system - I had no interest!  It's a wonder I didn't end up applying to grad schools.

The older I get, though, the more I've been able to embrace change and see it as a good thing.  Something like new babies being born or moving into a bigger apartment can obviously be seen as positive, but I feel like I've been able to take on that attitude toward changes that aren't so welcome.  I've learned that things I thought would be terrible or setbacks have turned out to be either wonderful or wonderful teachers.  After all, doesn't adversity grow character?

In yoga, nothing is static.  You're shifting from pose to pose, or even in the stillness of meditation you have the movement of the breath.  In a balance pose, you wobble, even if just slightly.  And in a kid's yoga class, forget it - we're changing animals and adventures and shapes every five seconds.  You go on a mini-journey in each class and strive to have the same balanced breath and meditative mind-state throughout each and every step.  From beginning Om to the hardest poses to savasana and every change in between, there's nothing but change.  The you who enters the classroom and the you who leaves are not the same person.  We shed and regenerate cells constantly.  We grow older every day.

I'm not sure what my broader point here is today, except to say - change is inevitable.  Change is great.  Change is sometimes sad and scary.  Change can be overwhelming.  The key is to have the flexibility of mind and breath to go with the flow.  Overprepare...and then go with the flow.

I may or may not see you next week - if I do, it'll be a long distance blog from gorgeous South Carolina!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sports + Yoga = World Cup Success

Big Life News is coming up, but it's not in a place yet where I can put it up on a blog.  Call it superstition, or call it hippie paranoia over Mercury's Retrograde, call it what you will - hopefully by next week I can talk about the thing that will likely be inspiring most entries this summer (except for course for the entries inspired by my sister's upcoming twins!).

In the meantime, my most public Big Life News is THE WORLD CUP!  The US lost to Germany (inc case you're living under a rock and didn't know) but we're advancing to the next round!

In honor of that, an article on our intense new coach - including a tiny little mention of his introduction to yoga to the team.

Go Yoga - Go America.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mental Movies

Whenever I read a book, I have to cast all of the characters as either actors or people in my life.  I need a "mental movie" going in my head along with the story or I can't delve into it as deeply as I want.  For most of my favorite books, I could tell you exactly who plays what part.  (And chances are, Matthew McConoughey will be in it)  As a movie addict from the time I was a tiny tot, the language of "mental movie" is something I can easily connect to, and now that I work with kids and with adults for whom meditation is new, it's a really effective way to start introducing visualization techniques.

As so many of us do, I tend to worry.  At the moment, there are a lot of uncertainties going on in Marc's and my life and we've been playing the waiting game a lot in the last two or so months with regard to family, finances, and our apartment.  It's been a constant battle to quell the mental movie of disaster - the worry - and just try to stay focused on the present and the fact that most of this is out of our hands.

Last night, I attended an Inversion & Arm Balances Refresher Course at my good ol' Karma Kids Yoga.  The event was for KKY Trained teachers to help us refresh us on how we can better teach these challenging poses to the kids we work with and how to work with them in our own personal practice as well.

My boss, KKY Director Shari Vilchez-Blatt, is addicted to these poses!  She is always up for a new challenge and for working on seemingly impossible and crazy physical feats, including quite a few that either blow my mind or just scare the bejesus out of me.

Handstand fever at one of our KKY Playdates (aka a "Staff meeting")
from February.  I'm third from the left, Shari's last on the right.
For me, the big challenge lay in two particular poses - tripod headstand (a pose I've struggled with and hated forever!) and jumping into crow from downward dog (which she makes look so damn easy and impossible at the same time).

After reviewing some of the elements of jumping into crow for a bit, she had us stop and just sit for a minute to ground ourselves.  She guided us through a simple but powerful and effective "mental movie" meditation.  She had us sit, breathe, and watch a movie of ourselves doing the pose.  Gliding into it as if it took no effort, as if it were as easy as walking.

And for the first two minutes of this, my mind showed a very clear mental movie of me......breaking my wrists.  Falling on my face.  Breaking my arms.  Somehow, impossibly, even breaking my neck.  I had to stifle my laughter because it was just so ridiculous and so typical of my worrywort brain.  How revealing this was that I sit with a full intention of visualizing success and I visualize immediately violent failure.  After a few minutes I was able to shift the movie, and I got pretty darn close when we went back to trying the pose, but I've been thinking about that ever since.

I worked on positive visualization later on when she was helping me into my dreaded tripod headstand and was struck by how much of my struggle in that pose is mental and a result of all the mental movies of myself breaking my neck in that pose.  Instead of defaulting to an inspirational movie, I default into a horror movie!  As yoga so often does, it gave me a massive insight into how this mirrors my "off the mat" life.

Whether you practice yoga or not, this so-simple and so-powerful tool is a must for us to practice in life.  Visualizing yourself doing a challenging yoga pose or physical feat will be incredibly helpful toward reaching it, and more than that, visualizing a positive outcome for something in your life whether it's in your control or not is so good for your brain, your stress level, your emotional well-being.

We spend so much time and energy visualizing things going wrong, consciously and unconsciously.  If we work hard at visualizing the positive outcome, we might still wind up disappointed if it doesn't work out, but at least we haven't made ourselves suffer in the interim.  I can't remember who, but someone once said that when you worry about a problem, you experience it twice - once in the worried anticipation, and once when it actually comes to pass.

There's enough in the world to worry about, but we have the power to choose a positive thought and shift our energy in the other direction.  With time, with practice, with consistency...who knows what kind of seemingly impossible feats will suddenly become possible.  I'm working on switching my mental movie from horror to inspirational, and plan to keep chasing that jump into crow.  I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Three Minutes

If you "Like" Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebok, then you probably don't need to read any further.  If you don't...start!  Her short essays, musings, whatever you want to call them on almost a daily basis are so inspiring and somehow so grounded.  In honor of "throwback Thursday," she has shared a brief interview (barely 3 minutes of your precious time) about integrating spiritual lessons she learned after four months in an Indian Ashram into her daily life.

Inspiring + Grounded = Elizabeth Gilbert.  I don't have anything that could hold a candle to this in me today, so enjoy!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Attitude Schmattitude

I remember as a kid that nearly every single classroom would have some variation of a cheesy laminated poster that would invariably have a slogan about Attitude!  Attitude is everything!  It's all about Attitude!  Have a Positive Attitude Today!

And because as a kid I so very often prided myself on being, as they say, too cool for school, I always found them embarrassing and dumb.  For no particular reason, of course - it's just that I was a kid and found most everything that could be put into cheerful poster form at school to be terribly cheesy.  Attitude schmattitude.  Bo-ring.

It's very strange how in some ways, kids are the big cynics and adults are the big open-hearted softies, and it others it's exactly the opposite.  Understanding, valuing, and respecting the massive importance and power of a positive attitude is something I have only come to understand as an adult.  It's also only as an adult how much I've come to understand that attitude is 100% a choice.  It's not always an easy choice, especially when your mind is in a continual habit of having a negative attitude or simply not exercising any power of altering your attitude, but it is a choice, every single damn time.

One of the many benefits of yoga is that as you practice watching your thoughts and detaching yourself from identifying solely with your thoughts and emotions (which change with the breeze), you start to gain an understanding of that choice.  With practice, it gets easier and easier.

It's a continual challenge for me, and some days go better than others, but I always appreciate reminders that it truly is all about attitude - attitude is everything.

I'll close with a quote from one of the many birth stories that has been reminding me of this fact.  In anticipation of the newest members of my family being born soon (but not soon enough for me!), I've been reading bits and pieces of the birth stories at the beginning of Ina May Gaskin's masterpiece, Spiritual Midwifery.

It's amazing for so many reasons - for one, the hippie lingo of the era is truly something to behold - but one of the most common threads I find in these stories and in the philosophies Gaskin and her team of midwives espouse, is that you can choose to have a good experience or a bad experience.  You can choose to identify as pain or sensation.  The mind is more profoundly powerful than any of us know, and so many of these stories are proof of that.  Obviously they deal exclusively with childbirth, but if they can apply these principles to childbirth - how much more easily can we apply the lesson to every other trial and tribulation life throws our way?

This is an excerpt from a woman named Linda's birth story, "Rear Entry," describing the first breech birth performed at The Farm (as opposed to the local hospital).  Dr. Williams, local OB and great partner to the midwives at The Farm, was skeptical about the possibility of a drug-free breech and was attending the birth to be on hand in case of emergency.  Here, Linda is talking about the pressure she felt leading up to the birth.

"I got emotional and teary again, and later Ina May and Margaret came over and said they wanted to know where I was at, because both times Ina May had seen me I had been upset and crying.  Ina May said that The Farm women had a really good reputation with the local hospital because of how they had their babies, and if I started blubbering at everything, how was I going to have a baby without anesthesia?  I realized right then that I had to stop being self-indulgent and straighten up.  I promised them right there that I was going to do it right and they trusted me.  I really believe that any woman has the option to chicken out or not.  I felt like I had made a vow to have a good time at my birthing, and I knew a month ahead of time I was going to have fun.  That left the rest of my pregnancy to look forward to it."

Spoiler alert:  She does indeed have fun.

How amazing is that attitude?  How many people these days do you ever think stop to check themselves and stop being self-indulgent and "straighten up?"  I love it and look at it as a challenge to live up to.