Friday, May 20, 2011

Comfortably Uncomfortable


Tonight I had the profoundly elevating experience of dancing The Electric Slide with 60 fifth graders (and a smattering of younger kids and brave adults) at my kindergarten daughter's sock hop. Lucia, exhausted and already up well past her 6-year-old bed time, was tweaked out from the excitement of her first big social and begged me to dance one last time before leaving. How could I say no? And so there I was, flanked by preteens doing their thang, struggling to keep a rhythm and a pace to a dance I haven't done in twenty-five years.

My daughter's school is wildly diverse--socially, culturally, ethnically-- and the mosh pit of puberty I stepped into for this last dance was riddled with awkwardness, disorganization, grimacing and confusion. But it was also electrically inspiring. They were all doing their best. I remember those times, thirteen-year-old times, uncomfortably uncomfortable, pretty much all the time. But here these kids were, doing the Electric Slide, carrying each other through the discomfort. I loved it.

When I teach yoga, I often instruct people to find a place of being "comfortably uncomfortable." In other words, I tell them, "Go somewhere different, somewhere deeper, somewhere unfamiliar." Not to the point where you might injure yourself or have a panic attack, but somewhere where you are a little bit uncomfortable--"comfortably uncomfortable."

Lucia has started to tell me that I embarrass her when I break into song while we are walking to our car from school. Tonight when I stepped into the gym and started to do the twist, she tugged at my arm, desperate for me to stop. Poor thing. Mothers are embarrassing. There's just no way around it.

Lucia's embarrassment is not unfamiliar to me. When I was a teenager, I wasn't one of those kids who joined forces to do a group dance. I was the shy one who stood with the other shy ones. When did it happen that I lost that feeling of discomfort? I think part of it is my self-defined parental responsibility. I must do the things I was afraid or embarrassed to do in childhood and adolescence. It is my charge as a parent to show my child that being uncomfortable isn't really that bad.

I'm sure though, that what's helped me the most in getting through discomfort comes from being a student of yoga. How many days a week do I feel like a disaster? Rarely able to get my leg up to the perfect height in Balancing Stick Pose, falling out of Toe Stand for the 700,847th time. I'm constantly reminded that I'm not perfect, that I'll likely never be.

So, like those brave brave 13-year-old dancers, collectively leaning into each other to carry them through The Electric Slide, I do the same thing with my fellow yoga students. We fall in and out of postures, embarrassed, frustrated, awkward, but doing our best, together. Comfortably uncomfortable.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dandelions

My mother told me that her friend Claire used to say, "If dandelions were on a hill in Switzerland, they wouldn't bother you." Maybe that's true. Maybe in Switzerland they'd be beautiful, but through my eyes, in Seattle, they are a visual plague. My backyard is 8000 square feet, a massive field of green dotted with yellow DANDELIONS. Thanks to my prolific crop, and my inability to manage the weeds going to seed, my neighbors also have a dandelion issue to control. And they do....my immediate neighbors to the north and south both have immaculate yards, dandelion-free yards. Steve, my neighbor to the north, uses Round Up to control his infestation. George, my neighbor to the south uses a detailed technique involving a dandelion plucking tool, vinegar, and squirts of WD-40.

I can't count the number of times Steve has tried to convince me to use Round Up. "I can't." I tell him over and over. "I have chickens. I have a child. I have carrots." So far this year, he's spared me the offering of Round Up, but has mentioned the services of his teenage son and his buddies to "clean up the place." A few years ago, George, my south-side neighbor, gave me his dandelion plucker. It's antique, a beautiful old rusted relic. The way it works is by placing the plucker at the center of the dandelion, clamping the weed and then, holding the tool down with your foot, pulling out the plant. It might be operator error, but I think the root comes out about 40 percent of the time I use the plucker. But George swears by it, and his grass is yellow-free, so I persevere with the plucker. George's next step in maintaining his impeccable yard is vinegar. He sprays vinegar on any dandelions that do manage to grow. They die and he weeds them out. The final part of George's yard protocol is WD-40. When a dandelion starts to show (and George can tell), he squirts a little squirt of WD-40 on it and it stops its growth.

I love these guys. They are both about twenty years my senior and take good care of me. Steve regularly brings my garbage and recycle in and out and George and his wife JoJo ply Lucia with treats (she calls them her Seattle grandparents). They both have pristine, well-kept homes. They are both engaged community members. They both smile all the time. But there's something about George's energy. He's just calm. While he doesn't have a southern accent, you almost feel as if he does when he sings over the fence,"Hey there Laura, those chickens sure are cute."

I thought about George and Steve and the dandelions yesterday when I was practicing, and then again later in the day while teaching. During hard classes, whether I'm the student or the teacher, I have to remember that yoga, like life, is a process. My life issues--- fear of commitment, for example--- rear up and I have to deal. AGAIN. Or in yoga--- the persistent extreme light-headedness that plagues me in toe stand might go away, but then it comes back again. Just like the damn dandelions.

There are ways to deal with the issues, the poses, the weeds. There's Steve's way, to bitch-slap the dandelions with Round Up. One shot. "Boom. You're down dandelion." And there's George's way, a kinder, more compassionate way. "Pluck, spray, squirt." Little by little, step by step. Life is a process. Yoga is a process. Good, bad, hard, easy. I still desperately want to get rid of my dandelions, and maybe someday I will. Little by little, step by step.