Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It's true. I'm not a doctor.

When I was in fourth grade my sisters and I were talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I knew right away. My super cool aunt who lived with us during medical school was (and is) a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic. She also loved board games, had really great hair and was married to my super-crafty, musical uncle, who I adored. "I want to be a pediatrician," I said. My mom overheard us talking and said, "Laura, if you want to be a doctor when you grow up, you're going to need to get much better grades." Of course she was right. Doctors have a rigorous school path to manage and they need to be smart and capable. But as a fourth grader in my fifth year of a really crappy Chicago Public School education, I hadn't ever been exposed to any kind of academic rigor. I had no idea if I was smart or not.

I don't blame my mother for the fact that I'm not a doctor. I am sure she barely remembers that comment and she was likely just trying to steer me in the right direction for my future. But I think about that defining moment ALL THE TIME. What if I had never made that decision to not follow the doctor dream in fourth grade? What if I hadn't absorbed that message? Maybe I would have taken a wholly different path. And maybe I would still have ended up being a yoga teacher (a job that I wouldn't change for anything, by the way.)

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a yoga student about running. She told me that she'd never been a runner but had recently been inspired to run a half-marathon. "That's way out of my league," I told her "My max is six miles. I could never do a half-marathon."

Two weeks later the same student came in with a copy of her training sheet for me. "I was so shocked to hear you say you could never do a half-marathon," the student said, handing me the 10-weeks to 13.1 miles training sheet. "You of all people who tell us all the time what we can do." And she's right. I tell students every day to be open to new things their bodies can do, that just this simple act in Yoga will open up other paths too. It can be big or small-- touching your forehead in standing head-to-knee pose or just breathing calmly in Savasana. It can be telling your boss how you really feel or just asking for a new cubby at work.

It's so insidious-- the self-doubt that surrounds us, lives within us. It's a constant effort to stay open to new ideas about ourselves. I went home last night and ran 3 miles, the shortest run on the training sheet, and today I woke up and ran 3 miles again. Tomorrow, according to the sheet, I get a break. This weekend I have to run 5 miles I think. I don't know if I'll actually run an official race in ten weeks, but I'm going to do the training. It's true. I'm not a doctor but maybe I'll run a half-marathon.

Friday, May 9, 2014

What am I doing?

I've noticed my daughter Lucia recently being a complete scatter brain. When my partner Nancy or I ask her to make her bed or set the table or let out the chickens, she starts her chore and, en route or mid-way she says, "Wait. What was I doing?" Jeez, what's wrong with her? The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and of course parents teach their kids thousands of not-so-great habits every day just by unconcious modeling.

Lucia's newfound vocalization of, "what am I doing?" is maybe the result of a higher responsibility of chores now that she's nine or perhaps, like most adults in the world, her brain is getting too full of crap. For kids, playing is the perfect place to let go. Run outside, play tether ball, dress up like a matador and play baby bull. Like many parents, I am anti-screen-- no video games, minimal special movie time, no iPad babysitting. All that stuff just clutters the brain. There's plenty of time for that in adulthood.

Adults need play time too. Of course there's the old standby-- cocktails and letting our hair down. This can be a decent antidote to the overly-full brain, but it's not really doing anything except pausing the mental chatter with chemicals, and sometimes it doesn't even do that. Don't get me wrong. It can be incredibly enjoyable and relaxing, but it's time-limited and it's not sustainable as an every day practice.

When I first stared practicing yoga twenty years ago, I got addicted to the physicality of it. As a lifelong athlete, I had found something that got my blood going in a way that felt familiar and fantastic. In those pre-teaching years, I was a social worker working with incarcerated youth and families involved in the criminal justice system. I carried an overload of emotional baggage of my own, my clients, and the Department of Youth Services. Without ever naming it, my practice in those years, was my one true place to put that stuff aside. My yoga practice grew because I always wanted to get back into the room, knowing that when I walked out, I would be clear headed for a few hours, maybe even a few days.

In the years since I have been a teacher, I have spent thousands of hours helping other students get themselves into the asanas. I have spent an equal number of hours guiding students into a mental state that is different from their digitized every day. Like me, most people find oga because they are drawn to the specific physical practice. Moving beyond the physical, into the mental, is truly a challenge. Exploring this challenge is, in part, why I started this blog. Sometimes when I am standing in front of the class, imagining all of the thoughts swimming around people's heads, I think, "What can I tell them? How can I help them?" Different words, different postures, different combinations of words and movements-- there's no one thing that quiets everyone's mind.

What I do know is that, like Lucia, I ask myself at least fives times a day, "What am I doing?". And it's never when I'm practicing yoga.