For mother's day this year, my stepmother Carol sent me a stack of photos from my childhood. They had been given to my father (now deceased for many years) at some point by his parents, Eve and Jack, (known to me as Nana and Papa). Carol came upon them while cleaning the basement and shared the bounty with us kids. The photos reminded me how much time I spent at Nana and Papa's apartment. My parents divorced when I was pretty young and my sisters and I spent a lot of time at our paternal grandparents who lived on Chicago's North Side. We learned to take the bus, the Jeffery Express from Hyde Park (the South Side) where we lived. We'd transfer to the Sheridan 151 on Michigan Avenue which dropped us right in front of Nana and Papa's forty-story building on Lake Shore Drive.
Most of the photos were when I was very little, maybe 3 or 4 years old. There were photos of Nana in her trademark turtleneck sweater smoking a True cigarette, laughing at something, photos of Papa in his signature Ray Bans getting me into my jammies, looking surprisingly comfortable in the role. When my sisters and I visited our grandparents, we'd enter the modern glass lobby through the revolving door where we'd greet one of the doormen who knew us well. As the doorman buzzed us into the elevator room, we'd hear him calling Nana and Papa over the intercom, "Mr. Culberg, the girls are on their way up."
What I remember most is Nana standing in her front door as the elevator doors opened. She'd hold out her arms to us and smile. Then, whoever reached her first would be wrapped up in a hug at her bosom where she'd gently sway and hum. Nana always hummed. After Nana died my mom said that she probably hummed to help her manage her chronic back pain. It made sense. Nana hummed when she hugged us, but she hummed other times too-- watching TV, cutting carrots, shopping for clothes.
The other day in my yoga class the teacher talked about a really tough class she'd recently had as a student. She said she was really struggling, lying out in Savasana to get herself together when she realized she was humming. She shared that experience with us in class, "Notice how you manage your discomfort," she said. "For me, I was managing my discomfort by humming."
I've been thinking about this a lot since class that day. We all have tools that we don't even know we have. I wonder if Nana ever knew she hummed all the time. My back was hurting and I was stressing about it. It hurt to forward bend. It hurt to backward bend. But mostly, I was mentally struggling, trying to manage the idea that I too was being struck down with the dreaded Culberg Back Pain Affliction, that I'd struggle with it for the rest of my days, humming through life.
But I didn't hum like Nana. I'm surprised at my response to this struggle. I talked to myself as I rested out more postures than I completed. "This will pass Laura," I told myself. "This is a moment in time, and this too shall pass." I know I do this in other areas of my life too. My back feels good right now, but I know realistically that my back will hurt again at some point. Today I got through my mental anguish and fear in class and my body and mind are in a whole new place. If humming works, that's great. If creating your own mantra works, that's awesome. Everyone is different. Everyone's path to self-comfort is their own. The next time you practice yoga, see if you can notice what yours is.