Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Finding the afterglow.

Last weekend my daughter Lucia had her first soccer game with a new team she joined for the spring season. She's only had one practice with the team and she wouldn't recognize the coach if he sat next to her on the bus. Lucia is a solid left mid. That's her jam. She's left-footed, likes to score, and has been in that position for years.

During this first game with her new team, midway through the game she got subbed out and I noticed her on the sidelines putting on bright orange jersey (her team was wearing green). "She can't be playing goalie", I said out loud. Her team was losing by a point and Lucia hadn't played goalie since the early days of rotating goalie on her old rec team. She didn't even have goalie gloves!

I watched as Lucia ran downfield towards the goal, switching spots with her team mate. There were another fifteen minutes left in the game, plenty of time for the other team to score, especially on a completely unexperienced goalie.

So many things were racing through my mind. What was Lucia feeling? How would it feel to be a brand new player on a brand new team being in a position of such responsibility? I had a moment of extreme gratitude for all goalies in the world.

The ball stayed on her end of the field, and I watched as she watched. Shot on goal. Boom. She saved it.  Her team tried to move it upfield without success and again, shot on goal. A big jump and a swat batted the ball right out of the goal. This can't go on, I thought to myself, but it did. One more big shot on goal. Lucia blocked it.

Lucia did it. She played goalie, but only because her coach asked her to. She stepped into a place where she had no interest in going. I know it was scary and intimidating and stressful for Lucia to take this step, but she did it. The fact that she was able to prevent the other team from scoring was great, but it wasn't really the point. The afterglow of taking on an experience like that is part of what grows us as humans, what makes us feel alive and enriched, capable and competent.

Kids, because the don't have much control over their lives, are constantly put into positions where they have to feel scared, intimidated, stressed. They have opportunities to experience those glorious moments of doing something they were sure they could not do. As adults, we generally take comfort in the fact that we are in charge, that we don't have to do things we don't want to do. But what if we did? What if we made ourselves try a different sport? Travel to a country where we couldn't read or speak the language?  Try a different style of yoga maybe (wink wink)?  We'd get the same kind of afterglow, that feeling of doing something we were sure we could not do.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Resting in paradise.

Last month Nancy and I went to Panama for an island vacation. We took three planes, two different car rides, and a boat to get to a 600 acre island on the southwest corner of Panama. There were five cottages on this island, no stores, no TVs, no restaurants, no buildings other than the ones people stayed in. We were the only guests there for most of the time, so it was the two of us, lots of howler monkeys and iguanas and a few very helpful staff.

On the plane over, we both noticed that we were getting sort of sniffly. Before we left, Lucia had a cold and we had been worried we'd catch it. By the time we arrived at our island destination, we were both full blown sick. Nancy showed symptoms about one day in front of me, so the intensity of our colds staggered-- she was bad one day, and the next day I followed suit.

The result was that we each had to rest and isolate at different times. On the first day, Nancy rested in our room alone while I took a hike in the jungle and explored the tide pools and the next day, I hunkered down to rest while she felt well enough to do a lagoon hike.

We laughed a lot. Every morning we had to ask housekeeping for extra kleenex. Having no way to replenish our stock of medicines, we rationed our cough drops like lost campers with their last Clif bar.

But we were sick in paradise and it was wonderful. Bernie Clark, one of my teachers, told us that colds are important. Getting the common cold and sitting through it, letting it work through our systems, is a way of strengthening our immunity. It's not unlike the slow build of core strength that happens over the hundreds of times we hold plank or the eventual opening of our shoulders when we do day after day of Bikram Pranayama. The strengthening of our immune system takes time. Getting a cold and following the natural course helps.

So it was a blessing in disguise that we were sick in paradise with no amenities. We did exactly as we should have done. We rested. We sat with our symptoms and let them run through us. If we'd been back in Seattle, Nancy would would have been running around trying to make it to Saturday morning spin class, squeeze in a tennis game, and have long days at work. I would have been driving Lucia all over the county for soccer, doing as much yoga as possible, and trying to finish taxes.

But we had none of those pulls there. And our sickness took us to a even more quiet place. We just rested in paradise. In Chinese medicine, they don't use the terminology, "catch a cold." They say that your body is out of harmony, that it needs to get back in balance. I believe that. Too much running around, too much of anything, even good things, can take the body out of harmony. Our Panamanian Paradise was the balance shifter. We both needed quiet, rest, and recovery. I felt so grateful, lying in bed with kleenex floating around the sheets and floor, to look out the window and see the Pacific Ocean, watch the geckos scamper across the ceiling, and listen to the howler monkeys and variant birds creating music outside.

When we returned, we were both on the tail ends of the cold. "What a bummer!" our friends and family exclaimed when then heard we'd spent our vacation sick. But neither of us felt that way. We both loved our vacation resting in paradise.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

It's all there.

Last week my daughter Lucia had her sixth-grade "student led" conference. She told us about how she plans her homework time, how she takes a Meta moment when she gets frustrated or angry, and how she is developing a growth mindset in her studies so she'll continue to work hard.

I was so proud of her. I know she was coached by her teacher and had help preparing for this presentation to her parents, but she was so self-possessed, so clear and direct. There are moments when a parent's heart swells and this was one. After the conference, as we walked through the school corridor to the parking lot I said, "Lucia, I think you did a great job leading your conference. How was that for you?"

Lucia rolled her eyes and said, "Ugh Mom, I hated that, but I think I did fine. I just channeled you." We're at that stage of adolescence where I knew that that statement wasn't meant as a compliment, but I pretended it was and we carried on with our day.

The next morning we got a late start. If I got her to school without a tardy it would be a small miracle. As we turned the corner from our house onto Lake Washington Boulevard, Lucia looked over to me from tying her shoes and said, "Hey Mom, let's do gratitudes on the way to school today."

The backstory here is that I am the annoying parent who tries to get our family to have regular "Family Meetings." I like to start the meetings with appreciations and areas of improvement. We each have a time to share about the other family members what we appreciated and what we'd like to see change in the future. Lucia bristles at this activity every single time.

When she suggested doing gratitudes in the car I was pleasantly surprised. "I'm grateful for living near the lake," Lucia started. "I'm grateful for having a warm, dry house," I said. And back and forth we went for the twelve-minute drive to school. It was one of my favorite twelve-minutes of the year so far and another heart-swelling moment for sure.

Twice in two days I found myself in moments of learning from my daughter. What a refreshing, exciting experience. As a parent it's easy to fall into the trap of controlling the learning to try to ensure that the lessons we impart are fully understood and integrated into our children. But the learning process is not linear, it changes over the course of our lifespans, and it is not unilateral. Lucia has as much to teach me as I have to teach her.

The full-circle experience of seeing my daughter sharing concepts, ideas, attitudes that I've tried to teach was incredibly gratifying and affirming for me. But witnessing her do it in her own way, on her own time, in her own voice, offered me a lesson from her-- to loosen the reigns a little bit, to trust and have faith that, whether it seems immediately apparent or not, the lessons are all there. They really are.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Lessons of Our Teachers


My first grade teacher Ms. Koehler was my least favorite teacher and my second grade teacher Mrs. Fruchter was my most favorite, but I remember them both with equal detail. During first grade my parents got separated and I went a little crazy. Typically a pretty shy, reserved kid, that year I stood on the toilet seat in the girls' bathroom and peeked over the stall. After getting punished for that, I peed at my desk because I was afraid to ask to go to the bathroom. We had reading group EVERY day. Ms. Koehler, in my mind was a mean, ruler-wielding, scolding machine. Mrs. Fruchter, on the other hand, took us to the Jay's Potato Chip Factory and the Lincoln Park Zoo. We did tons of art in her class and I don't remember reading group. I loved Mrs. Fruchter.

In life, we gravitate towards teachers that feel good, loving, compassionate. It's easy to relate to these teachers. They energize us, inspire us, make us feel good about ourselves. The harder, less relatable teachers are ones we don't seek out, but they teach us just the same, maybe even more.

At The SweatBox, my home away from home, I am blessed with many wonderful teachers who nourish and inspire me. But this month, a new, uninvited teacher showed up. After a pretty good streak of no injuries, Voilà, I'm smacked with a shoulder injury that screams and yells at me all day long.

Yesterday I went to a physical therapist, a holistically minded healer who, after seeing me for about an hour said a few simple words that shone a big bright light on my situation. "Injuries are our best teachers," she said with a smile, "the teach us everything we need to know." My shoulder injury had rendered me helpless and filled with self-blame for doing something wrong, making a mis-step in my yoga practice, going down a road I shouldn't have. But when this healer reframed this for me, I was able to see things from a new point of view.

This teacher, my shoulder, is telling me to slow down. A lot. Not only should I just move more slowly, but this injury reminds me to pay attention to other aspects of my life that are out of balance.  I don't like this teacher. It is causing me discomfort, pain and confusion. But I am learning from it. For example, after doing a few hours of work at the studio today, I left to finish up at home because another class would be starting and the temptation to practice was too great. On the way home from the studio as I felt sorry for myself, I thought, "Laura, you've not been writing. Take advantage of having time off of your yoga practice to write!"

Today happens to be inauguration day as well, a day filled with fear, sadness, and hopelessness for many. This morning at the studio as a few of my teachers and I bemoaned the state of our nation, I couldn't help but think of the parallels with my shoulder. I don't want to have a shoulder injury. Who would? But what can I learn from it? I don't want Donald Trump to be president, but he is.

Some people have speculated that now that we are in this profoundly despairing and frightening political climate, maybe we can step into a greater place of action. This uncomfortable, unfamiliar experience of shifting leadership can now be our teacher. What can we learn? What changes in our own lives can we make to bring things back into balance? Back to a place where we (and our communities) feel healthy and whole again? That's a much longer blog and a very personal journey for each of us, but it is a worthwhile thought. Who are your teachers? In what forms do your teachers show up in your life?  Teachers are not all good or perfect or loving, but truth be told, Ms. Koehler's the one who taught me to read.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Best is Yet to Come

When 2017 rolled around last week, one of the first things I thought was, "I am going to be 49 years old this year." Forty-Nine. That's not young. Strangely though, the older I get, the more permission I feel to be me. When I was 47, I was closer to 45 which is closer to 40. Now I am firmly on the far-side of 40 and practically spooning 50. I'm further away from the land of "shoulds."

On Friday, one of my teachers, Emily had a birthday. She turned 36 and said that she'd spent the last year of her life really "adult-ing." Emily has a way with words and her use of "adult" as a verb was the first time I'd ever heard it played that way. "Adult-ing." It's a thing. It really happens.

In my late thirties and early forties, I was definitely concerned with where I should be-- in my career, in my relationship, in my status as parent, in my financial stability. I was in the process of "adult-ing." But that feels less significant for me now. I'm fully in acceptance mode that I am pretty much where I will be and where I want to be. I do not take for granted my good fortune to have a job and community that nourish my soul, a partner whom I love, a daughter I adore and am honored and delighted to parent, and a warm roof over my head.  I'm an adult and it feels good. Of course there are the very clear physical markers that come with age--less flexibility (even with a daily YOGA PRACTICE), more wrinkles and gray hair, the revisiting of mood swings reminiscent of adolescence.  But I also have a level of comfort and security internally that hums through me all the time. It's a good feeling-- I am what I am.

In every life cycle, yoga provides a metaphor for the process we are going through. For aging, I would say the metaphor can be found in Yin Yoga.  In my Yin class last week, I opened with a Maya Angelou poem called "On Aging." I interpret this poem as a message to honor that aging process, rather than pitying it. I opened with this poem as a way to encourage the class to honor the hardness of the practice they were doing, to respect all of the physical and emotional experiences that accompany each class.

Getting through the "adult-ing" phase is a good feeling, not unlike that feeling I get at the end of a Yin practice. After the long holds, the internal struggles that accompany Yin practice, when I come out of a Yin class, I leave with a feeling of wholeness. It's a feeling of integration of my different layers, much like this feeling I have as I transition toward the milestone of living for a half-century.

I didn't know, couldn't have known, ten years ago, that I would feel this way. It wouldn't have even made sense at the time, back then when I was striving to "become." I'm not saying that I have no future goals or dreams. I fantasize about writing a book or becoming an expert in (fill in one of 15-20 blanks on any given day), living in Spain, running a marathon. I have not given up those dreams, but I find that I conceive of them differently. It's more of a calm contemplation than a panicking reaction that I will "miss out" on something if I don't keep these unfinished dreams at the fore of my mind. For all of you folks in the "adult-ing" phase, the news is good. The future is bright. The best is yet to come.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bravery in a different package.

In September my daughter Lucia started sixth grade at a huge public middle school with over 1200 kids. Lucia is a natural at school. It comes easy to her and she loves it. The transition to this new environment went well too, with the exception of one seventh grade girl who consistently bugged Lucia. The bugging turned to teasing and after a few months, it was just downright bullying.

Lucia wanted to handle it on her own. She didn't want her parents to talk to the teachers or the school counselor or the other girl's parents. We coached her as well as we could, role playing things to say, brainstorming what, if anything, might be provoking the behavior. My partner Nancy even gave her a boxing lesson one night after dinner.

A few days before winter vacation, the bullying behavior peaked. This was the same day that Lucia had told the girl face-to-face, in a serious tone, that she did not appreciate or like her behavior and she wanted her, in no uncertain terms, to STOP.

The final straw was when the girl stole Lucia's lunch box out of her locker, took it onto her bus and taunted Lucia from a bus full of other kids. Somehow Lucia got the lunchbox back. When she finally made it to my car, she said, "I'm done Mom. I want you to call her parents."

The rest is really history. I called her mom. She was incredibly gracious, and the next day at school was great. Lucia reported that things felt really different (and good).

Lucia tried. She tried really hard. She asked for advice, for guidance, for support. But in the end, she just needed a break, some help. Asking for help is one of the hardest things to do. To say, "I can't do it alone" takes courage. I'm certain that Lucia's experience this year won't be her last battle in middle school. She'll have other opportunities to stand up against bullies, to find her strength and fight back. But I'm proud of her for asking for help, for listening to what she needed.

In the yoga room when I'm practicing, I push myself. I get a lot from trying hard. I like the challenge. I like the way it makes me feel, the endorphin rush I get, the pride that comes from the struggle. There are times though that I need a break. I can't stand on one leg any longer. My body needs a rest. Sometimes I ignore that message and I keep fighting. That's the moment when my yoga practice goes out the window. I'm no longer listening to what I need, I'm just pushing myself to stay in the fight. When I do listen, when I rest in Savasana or Child's Pose, that's when I'm still doing my yoga. I'm listening to myself and truly hearing the internal messages.

How we are in our yoga practice is a microcosm of how we are in life. For many of us, asking for help is hard to do. We often ignore that message when we hear it, choosing instead to stand in a place of pride from doing it on our own. A daily yoga practice that offers us challenges is a great place to start listening more deeply to ourselves. Work hard on your mat, fight the good fight, and practice listening to what you need.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Failure is not a dirty word

Last week I took Aimée's Vinyasa class. About halfway through the class, she stopped us and gave a little introduction about the next posture we would do. She said, "a lot of this sequence is built around failure. When we do this next pose, be open to failing."

As we set up and attempted Firefly pose, most of us did fail, even the teacher. After class, I told Aimée how fun the sequence was. She looked relieved and said, "I taught that earlier this week and it was a total bust."

"Why?" I asked her.

"Because I didn't tell the students they could fail," she replied with the clarity only someone who'd seen both sides could offer.

For some reason, failure is a dirty word in our culture. But why?  Failure is the only way to get to where we want to go. How can we learn what we need to learn without failure. I will need way stronger arms and core to do Firefly. If I just popped into it when Aimée offered us the posture, that would be a bore.

As a parent, I often think about what "failure" means to my daughter. I see her, even at age 12, resistant to trying new things for fear that she'll fail. When does this message start and how do we counter it, make failure something to expect instead of something to avoid?

Maybe it is the overt invitation to fail, an explicit offering that unifies us in the experience instead of divides us. Some people are naturally more pliable in certain directions, born with openly rotated hips and short arms and punching biceps. Other people, like me, have hips that naturally rotate more internally and long, Olive-Oilesque arms. I'll fail more times at doing arm balances that require deep, open hips and others will struggle more to do binding poses with their arms and legs like eagle.

It's okay to fail. It's important to fail. I invite you, me, all of us to fail. Next time you come into the yoga room, give yourself a strong, clear invitation to flounder a little bit, to teeter, to fall out, to fail. Let this be the starting point for the rest of your life. What have you wanted to do but avoided because you were afraid to fail? Notice what you've been avoiding and step into those places. Reclaim it, rename it if you want to. Failure is not a dirty word. Thanks Aimée.