Friday, December 14, 2018

True Nature

This year at my family’s annual holiday party I was talking to my friend Heidi, a physical therapist/wise woman who has two teenage daughters and is herself in peri-menopause. “I’m totally in puberty” she said. “ The difference is that now I can see it. I can see from outside looking in what is happening to me and I have some clarity about it. Some perspective.” When girls are in puberty they don’t have perspective. They don’t have the years of experience to tell them that this is a moment in time, that this emotion, body change, or crush will change. They are flooded with the here and now of hormones and life experiences.

At fifty, I am just entering menopause and I can see what Heidi is talking about. The mood swings, the drama, the frustration at not being able to control the texture of my skin or my energy level are all here, just like in puberty. But I have wisdom and clarity. I am connected with my inner voice that tells me that I am driving this train. These changes that are happening to me do not define me. It took me years to come back to this true nature. I am still aware of times when I shush it, turn down the volume to accommodate someone or something else. As a fifty-year-old woman I can now reflect back on my own path. I can see where my inner voice was loud and clear. I can remember when I closed it down and boxed it up to make room for what I thought was expected of me. And I can feel now how it is showing back up, loud and clear, awake and aware.

Women share a hormonal and a historical connection that is powerful and illuminating. My mother’s story--- her strength and resilience as well as what she lost and sacrificed-- informed my own experiences as a girl and a woman. And what I’ve learned from my mother and my own experiences informs my own daughter’s path. What we all share is an inherent true nature. This is the thread that runs through us at all stages of life and connects us to our power. That's pretty awesome.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Guest Blog- Menopause Mentoring




Menopause Mentoring by Kate Poux
This is my grandma and her sisters in 1954,  when they were in their late 40s/early 50s. I admire their easy middle-aged glamour. I am the same age as they are in the photo.  I wish I could  be part of their midlife summer barbeques. What would they say to me about this time of life? What will I say to my daughters and nieces and grand daughters 30  years from now? What are they learning right now by watching me live it?

When my daughter was 3 she would watch me get out of the shower and get ready for the day, and ask for some of my lotion to rub on her legs like me. One day as she bent over, going through my same lotion motions she said, “I do what you do, Mommy.” I am struck  by how much she took in as a toddler watching me, and how much she must notice now as a teenager, sometimes seeking connection to me and many times doing the hard work of separating from me.

My dad died 28 years ago. I spend November remembering him, and every year I notice how much more I am like him. This year I dug through an old box  at my mom’s house and collected photos. He’s the guy at the block parties with a clipboard, putting up the flags, playing the “head on a table” in the haunted house, wearing make up for his part in the Kismet chorus, singing real loud in church, whistling, drinking coffee in the front yard, running with the dog. I live so much of my life like he did, mostly unaware of this deep subconscious connection. He doesn’t tell me to do all these things, I just do what he did.

The process of becoming like our parents and ancestors is deep. As parents and adults in families, we work so hard  to keep children safe, healthy, happy. We make conscious choices in every moment about what to say, do to help them grow, but all the while they are watching us and becoming like us, without either of us being really aware of it. I do what you do. How can I live through this time of menopause in a way that will help it be an easier, fuller time for my daughters and next generations?

I made a  friend on the Claws in your Pause retreat last year who told us that every day at work for her is a +5 on her energy meter. She made changes to her diet a few years ago and feels great, totally reconnected to her body. Being with her changed me. I want to do what she does. Not literally, of course, but I want to embrace opportunities, let go of the energy suckers and love my life like she does. And making it happen for me at this time in my life has an impact on how the young women around me will feel about menopause, now and maybe later.

It’s kind of a lot of pressure to figure it out. Especially on days like today when I pretend to be sick and hide in my bedroom so I don’t have to deal with anyone. This last photo is my daughter around the same age when she used to imitate my showering routine. She’s making a banana phone call. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if banana phones could call back and forth through time, connect past and future generations? She could just call present-me 30 years in the future and say WTF about all this menopause bullshit, Mom! Oona, if you’re still there…

...notice changes in energy, mood, confidence, hair falling out,  temper, libido, weight, heart palpitations in your 40s, open up a dialogue about it with your family, friends, doctor. Track your symptoms, write them down. Keep a timeline. You are not crazy.

… notice what gives you energy, and what depletes it, and practice letting go of the things that don’t bring you joy or energy.  Observe how much more decisive you feel. Reconnect with your intuition.

… find the nearest chapter of Put Some Claws in Your Pause and tell them Mommy sent you. Bond with people about menopause. Say it out loud, often. It’s a comforting, inspiring connection, to find out how other women are handling it or not handling it, how we can learn from each other and shed the shame.




 Kate Poux is an elementary school teacher and co-facilitator of Put Some Claws in Your Pause, a Yoga & Writing Retreat in celebration of Menopause.
















Sunday, October 7, 2018

Listening for the birds

About ten years ago I was on a family nature walk in Seward Park. My daughter Lucia was about four-years-old at the time and the naturalist leading the hike was a young man who looked barely out of high school. I was a little disappointed. I wondered what I could learn from this young guy. The docent took us along the path pointing out the different barks on the trees, poison oak, variations of ferns and moss. Then he stopped suddenly and became completely silent. We all followed suit, even the kids. After about a minute he said, "No matter where you are in the world, if you stop, be still, and listen, you will hear birds. Even in New York City," he went on, "birds will be there. Birds are everywhere. You just have to stop, be still and listen."

I've followed that naturalist's words at least once a week for the last ten years. He's right. In New York, Chicago, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma..... the birds are always there.  Today I am completing the fifth day of a meditation training.* This particular training is about coming back to our true nature by welcoming all our experiences. We get to this, in part by opening all of our senses. The training is at a beautiful retreat center in Northern California.  There are deer everywhere, wild turkeys, snakes, lizards, jack rabbits, hawks, owls and so many other birds. For this training, most of the time we're sitting or lying down so every morning for the last five days I've gotten up at 6:30am to walk the hills to prepare my body for the long days of stillness. At 6:30am, when I leave my dorm, the sky is still dark and the sounds of the birds are loud and clear. They too might still be just waking up. In the dark I can't see any of the other creatures, but I can hear the birds.

As I walked the hills at sunrise these last few days, as the sun illuminated the golden grass of the hills, I have spotted deer and a few times, a lucky jack rabbit. I stepped on a snake yesterday and the squirrels, lizards and hawks have been everywhere. This morning I noticed that, as my visual senses came alive with the sunrise, I stopped hearing the sounds of the birds. So as I got to the top of a hill, I closed my eyes and stopped. I stood still. I heard the wind in the grass. I heard the highway in the distance. But I couldn't hear any birds. Just as I began to worry, I heard one.  Then I heard many. They were there. They always are.


*Integrative Restoration Yoga Nidra is a form of yoga and mediation. If you're interested in learning more, sign up for one of Laura's workshops at The SweatBox Loft.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Growth

People throw around the term ADD a lot. I hear many adults, myself included sometimes say, in reference to being distracted, "I'm so ADD" or "I probably have ADD." My nephew and many other people I know truly have ADD or ADHD and it's not a joke, so I've really tried to temper my use of that term. What I have, and what I think many people have, is a lack of focus. I believe this is exacerbated by the easy access to distraction via our smart phones, tablets and laptops. Yesterday I was writing my mom and email about coming to visit. As I was driving home I thought to myself, "What ever happened with that email?" A few hours later when I opened my laptop, I saw it, just sitting there half-written, abandoned mid-sentence.

About a year ago I felt strongly that I needed to move on from owning and running The SweatBox. I wasn't feeling inspired or motivated. I felt distracted and unsettled. Then my landlord called me to tell me that a new space was opening up in the building and did I want to look at it. It was the day before I was to leave for Chicago for a long family trip, but something made me say yes and I met her to look at the space. Of course I loved it. The building my yoga studio is in is old and filled with character. In this new space, there are original wood floors and brick walls. The ceilings are 13 feet high and the windows look towards a beautiful patinated church spire west of the studio.

I spent the week in Chicago meditating over the idea of expanding. How could I go from uninspired to excited in such a short time? What did this mean? I tried to process this and figure out if this was just my lack of focus taking over or if there was something bigger. I told my landlord that I was unsure but to tell me right away if anyone else showed serious interest. I hemmed and hawed for a few more weeks until one day I talked to my friend Vanessa in New York. Vanessa is an old friend. I've known her more than twenty years. She's also a therapist and we've had many conversations dissecting both of our psyches. I told Vanessa of my challenge making this decision. I shared my concern that I had flip-flopped from being ready to sell my business to wanting to expand in such a short time. Was I being impulsive? Was I losing my mind?

Vanessa listened. And listened. And listened. And then she said, "Laura, for as long as I've known you, you've craved risk. You've always needed some element of risk in your life. It's okay. It's part of who you are." The MOMENT I heard these words it was as if the final piece of the puzzle had been placed. She was right. My lack of motivation was not for lack of passion, it was that there was something missing. Adding this element of risk and creativity, was what I needed. So I said yes to my landlord and The SweatBox Loft was born.

Opening The SweatBox Loft has been challenging, stressful and chaotic. It's definitely adding an element of risk to my life! But it's also made me feel complete, like all the parts of my brain are being attended to. I'm excited and motivated for this new adventure. Mostly I'm relieved to have this clarity. Sometimes my lack of focus and distraction is poor technology hygiene and bad habits. This time though, it was something else. It was that neglected part of my brain asking for some attention. I'm grateful to Vanessa for helping me shine a light on it.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Puzzle Time

I'm in a constant battle with technology in my life. I live everyday trying to be more conscious of when I'm using it, how I'm using it, the number of minutes I'm using it. I even have an app that keeps track of all of this and reports back to me. Technology feels like a vortex that I will fall into and never emerge from if I am not constantly vigilant.

To watch a young person experience this is frightening. As a parent, I have to toggle the line between being a full-time anti-screen-time nag and having a good relationship with my daughter. I can only lecture and lay down the line so much. I have to find other ways to connect and be together as a family, to make being off the screen engaging and fun. Going out of town to remote places together, with lack of wifi is always a good way to decrease technology's grip on our brains. Swimming for long periods of time works too. And of course, doing yoga is a solid solution to reclaiming a technology free hour for our bodies and brains.

At the beginning of the summer I had the idea to bring home a puzzle to engage my family in a non-competitive, technology-free activity. The puzzle home is our dining room table. During the summer this hasn't been a problem because mostly we eat outside, but as I look outside today at the grey sky and clouds I realize those days are over. And the 2000 piece puzzle, only 75% complete, has been on our dining room for five weeks.  I'll need to find another home for future puzzles if we're going to eat meals sitting down.

The first puzzle we did as a family was 500 pieces. It had a lot of color and writing, things I now know make puzzle-making easier. It was mostly my daughter Lucia and I that did it. My partner Nancy hadn't quite embraced the passion for puzzles but she'd hang around chatting, cooking, puttering while Lu and I did the puzzle. That first one was easy. We did in in a day.  The second one was 1000 pieces and was a bit more challenging but we finished that one as well. My plan was working. We were spending time together, slowing down, engaging and connecting without the distractions of screens.

This most recent puzzle is 2000 pieces. The image is of three hot air balloons floating above a lake with trees and mountains in the background. Each of the balloons has a reflection in the lake and their are vast swaths of solid green and blue. This puzzle is a beast. One night Nancy and I were home alone and I was working on the puzzle. "Do you want to try this with me?" I asked her.

"Sure. I'll try it" she said, surprising me. I was so excited to have her on board.  We spent a couple of hours and managed to finished to frame of the puzzle. We felt like geniuses, puzzle masters,  incredibly psyched and proud of our accomplishment. The next day we went out of town and our friends Simon and Nadine came from New Orleans to stay at our house. We left a note, "Work on me" sitting on top of the puzzle with the hope that they would know to at least not put the puzzle away. When we got home, there was significant progress on the puzzle. They shared that, every night for the four nights in Seattle, after eating at a great restaurant, instead of going out to hear music or have a drink at a bar, they'd come home and work on the puzzle. When they left, they laughed, pointing out the huge piles of solid green and blue that they'd avoided during their puzzle-time.

Simon and Nadine left over a week ago and we are now finally inching our way through the solid greens and blues. Yesterday, home alone, I spent three hours on the puzzle. Three hours I could have been planting bulbs, taking a walk, riding my bike, doing yoga, having coffee with a friend, cleaning my desk, binge watching Shameless. Several times, I really wanted to abandon the puzzle, to storm away from the table and yell in frustration, but no one was home and my dramatic outcry would just echo back to me, amplifying my angst.

So I stayed seated, tethered to the puzzle by some invisible, unbreakable puzzle force. I sat in front of the spread out pieces-- solid blues on one side, solid greens on the other. And as I looked at the pieces, minute after minute, I slowly began to notice the details that I hadn't noticed before. The tiny spot of red on the corner of an otherwise totally green piece. The unusual jagged cut out of another piece. The thin, almost undetectable white strip in the center of a blue piece. I sat there, moving only my arms and my eyes for three hours. When I finally got up it looked like I'd made no progress at all. But it didn't matter. I felt like the static on on my mental TV had finally been tuned. My mind felt dialed in, focused, and clear. The app on my phone that I use to record my screen time said I'd used 7 minutes for the day.



Friday, August 17, 2018

Forgiveness

Last week I was talking to a student at the front desk, something I do everyday when I teach. Sometimes we talk about the weather. Sometimes it's relationships. Sometimes it's even about yoga. On this day, this student, who's been practicing at The SweatBox for close to twelve years, said to me, "You know, I was really mad at you guys a few years ago when you kept talking about gratitude."

This was a compelling thought in itself, but even more so because I have been thinking about the overuse of the concept of gratitude in social media, in mainstream advertising, on t-shirts.  "Tell me more," I said to the student. "Well, " she explained, "it seemed for a while that teachers were just talking on and on about gratitude, but what about forgiveness?"

Forgiveness. The act of letting something go, of absolving, granting mercy, releasing, allowing. I got it. To forgive is to be able to make space for gratitude. If we are mired in the anger or holding on, being unforgiving, it is virtually impossible to have gratitude for what is there. The things to be grateful for are blurred by the static that comes from the energy it takes to hold on to anger or judgement or pain or whatever is in the way of forgiveness.

For the last several years, in my little village of Capitol Hill, I have watched the housing prices sky rocket. I have witnessed countless people-- customers, colleagues, friends--- being displaced into neighborhoods further north and south. I have seen everyday the proliferation of people literally sleeping on the streets. The same young man sleeps in front of our studio every night. We walk by him to get to our yoga mats. When we leave class, we walk by him, wondering what we can do. I've called the social service agencies the city tells me to call, but alas, the man still sleeps on the sidewalk night after night. I worry about the summer ending. Where will he go? How will he stay warm?

As a result, I have been really PISSED off at the City of Seattle. I am mad. How has a city so rich  and so smart allowed for our housing crisis to reach such a catastrophically shameful state? I am judgemental, frustrated, and ashamed. Last week the Seattle was electric with the buzz of Pearl Jam's two concerts- The Home Shows. I'm not in that scene. I'm a lifelong nerd.  I like quiet music. Big concerts give me anxiety. Then I started hearing about how twelve million dollars was raised from two concerts. At first I felt cynical. "Oooh. Great marketing for them." I thought to myself. "Seattle shouldn't be depending on concerts to house our homeless."

And then my wise student came into my mind. "What about forgiveness?" I thought to myself. And I tried it. I made an earnest attempt to forgive the City of Seattle. I talked myself through it. Bureaucracy is a bitch. Durkan is a brand new mayor. Amazon is a megaforce. Our city is growing  really fast. I let go of some of my anger and judgement and I forgave the City of Seattle. It worked. I was able to truly celebrate the gift of Pearl Jam, the gift of raising twelve million dollars to help people who need homes, rent subsidies, utility assistance, mental health care. Twelve million dollars isn't enough, but it's a damn good start. Thank you Pearl Jam and everyone who supported the Home Shows.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Man with The Duffels

There’s a man who lives in Seward Park. I’ve seen him for years. He’s very quiet. He walks very slowly and he always carries two duffel bags. He wears a dark parka all year long that looks navy but is shiny with grime and age so it's hard to tell the actual color. I often see him walking the south end of Lake Washington. I've seen him as far as Leschi but mostly I see him around Seward Park and inside the park. I often run the inner trails with my friend Kate and her dog Tucker and we've crossed this mans path multiple times.

This morning as I was walking around the Seward Park outer loop, I saw him walking in front of me. He was about 100 yards ahead and I could tell it was him from his distinctive gate and the two duffels. I’ve always assumed that this man lives in the inner sanctum of the park. There are arterials all around the loop that feed into the park. It's easy to get lost among the arterial paths. The inner sanctum is a wonderful, peaceful sanctuary from the chaos of the city. The old growth forest is magical and lush with centuries-old Douglas Firs, nurse logs and ferns. I never go on the inner trails on my own because I worry about getting lost. I also fear the mystery of the vast, beautiful, unknown park.

This morning, the man with duffels turned off to go up one of the trails. I was still about 50 yards behind and as I approached the trailhead I could no longer see him, but I heard screaming inside of the forest. It was angry, aggressive. The voice was swearing. I stopped. I took out my earbuds so I could hear more clearly.  It was early, not even 7am and there was no one else around. I walked to the other side of the path, away from the lake so I could hear better. I heard the voice again, "Fuck you!" and then something unintelligible. There was only one voice. No one was responding to the angry outbursts.  I felt stuck, unwilling to go into the park to investigate and no one around to help me discern the origin or meaning of the yelling.

Finally, I yelled into the tree line of the inner sanctum, "Are you okay in there?" I waited. I heard nothing. I waited a few more minutes and a woman on bike came by. "Did you hear yelling?" I asked. "Yes" she said,  "I think he was yelling for his dog. There's a lot of bunnies in there and it's easy to lose your dog to the chase."

I knew there was no dog. I had seen the man turn in and I was pretty sure it was this quiet man's voice I'd heard. But I didn't say anything to the woman. I just nodded and she continued riding. After the woman rode on I waited a few minutes more and when I heard nothing else from the woods, I continued on my own loop. I kept my earbuds out so I could hear if there were any more voices.

What was this man's story? Maybe he was a person with demons who found solace in the woods. Did I interrupt his private experience by yelling into the trees. Maybe the woods is his home, his sanctuary and I witnessed a private moment that was supposed to be his alone.

We never really know a person's story, their emotional experiences, their inner demons. I wonder what kind of home the man with the duffels has made inside the park. Has he found a way to create a place where he can be who he truly is, sometimes quiet, and sometimes angry and loud.

As I walked on, I thought about my decision to not follow those yells this morning, to stay on my safe, paved path on the outskirts of the forest. I'm a city kid. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. My mom warned us about which train stations were safe. I knew what bus stop I should get off to avoid danger.  When my little sister was held up at gun point while sitting in a car a block from our house, I waited with my parents and sisters for the all-night locksmith to come change our locks. Sometimes when I'm walking and I'm alone on the path and I feel unsafe for some reason, I know it's my city dweller voice resurfacing. When I'm walking around the park and there's no one around or I get a weird vibe off of someone I pass, I think to myself, "I can always run into the water. I'm a great swimmer. Most people wouldn't follow me into the water. That will be my escape."

But I don't feel that way in the forest. For me going into the woods is not an escape. I'm scared of it. It's dark and closed. There are secret hiding places for the boogie man all over the forest. But maybe for the man with the duffels, the forest is a safe place. The darkness, the canopy cover, the mystery and the hiding places are his comfort. I'll never know what made the man with the duffels angry or if his yelling was even out of anger. I hope I didn't interrupt something that made him feel less safe in his home. I feel a little bit like I invaded his privacy, his safety zone.

When I think of the man with the duffels, I feel a sense of reverence for him, for his life in the forest. I love the beauty of the woods, the smells, the sounds of the birds, the variant greens, but he is a part of the forest. When I heard him yelling, I knew somehow that he had entered his home. In his yelling, he was letting something out that he doesn't when he's outside of the woods. We all need a place where we can feel safe and at peace. I often find that place near the water, on the periphery of the trees. I hope the man with the duffels finds his peace in the forest.