Saturday, May 30, 2015

Angel Wings & Heartache


Last night Lucia and and I had a "sleepover." Nancy's out of town and Lucia slept in bed with me.  The "sleepover" is a long tradition that usually involves going out to dinner and having some kind of treat. At the end, she always gets to sleep in my bed. Last night we ate shaved chow mien at Shanghai Garden, watched Pirates of the Caribbean on my laptop, shared a $100,000 Bar and stayed up till 10:30pm. This morning the birds woke me up at the crack and I carefully peeled Lucia's long clammy leg off of mine to get up without waking her. Lucia is only 10, but, as Nancy's Southern mom Gloria says, "she's a tall drink of water"--all arms and legs.  This morning when I stood above Lucia and saw her shoulder blades, "angel's wings," I've heard them called, I was hit with a combination of utter adoration, sheer love, and heartache. When did her chubby little arms became long, bony shoulders?

I've been struggling lately with getting older myself. I've had injuries I didn't used to have. I have far more responsibility than I ever believed I would take on. I find myself navigating emotional and relationship issues in a much different way than I did in my younger years. It feels like a continuous letting go and moving on.

But watching my child so early in her own growing up process, moving at what seems to me, breakneck speed, invokes feelings of seasickness mixed with being just a little bit stoned. I can see myself in her. I had the same gangly body, big feet, straight hair, and love of books. I can see myself in 4th grade, hanging on to the last vestiges of childhood.

I just gave Lucia permission to read The Hunger Games. She's been persistently begging for over six months. I finally conceded, with the caveat that I read it first. What an amazing story. The main character, Katniss, a capable, competent, fierce sixteen-year-old, is a fitting role model for a 10-year-old girl (even though she does have to kill a lot people). I'm grateful Lucia wants to read that and not Teen Vogue.

This morning as I looked at Lucia's angel wings, I felt gratified that she still wants to have sleepovers with me. And I felt sad that soon she would enter a time (like all girls do) when she will be self-conscious of her long arms, when she won't seek my permission to read certain books. I tell myself every day that, though we have similarities, Lucia is not me. Maybe she'll be like Katniss, much fiercer, more focused, and fascinating than I ever was. I don't know. I can't know.

It's another letting go for me, a big one. For now, I can appreciate Lucia's little angel wings, the space between child and other, where she currently exists. I can focus on the delight we share in talking about Katniss' adventures, having sleepovers, and eating candy together. I sometimes ask Lucia if she worries at all. About getting older? About things changing? These days, she says no. I guess that means she's still a kid. For now.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Healer Strikes Again!

My doctor told me last month after a four-minute office visit that I probably had a slight medial Meniscus tear in my right knee. Having no other information, and because she'd been my doctor for 23 years, I followed her instructions to lay off of running and other strenuous activity for a few weeks.

After almost a month with no real change on the horizon, and an increasingly agitated mental state, I went to see my acupuncturist. I've written about my acupuncturist before, many times. I call him "the healer" and he truly is. In a blog I wrote back in 2011, the healer told me that I needed to be mindful of how much I was asking of my body. That visit resulted in more morning meditation. A month later, he told me I had a blockage in my gallbladder channel that was affecting my decision making. After finally deciding what school my daughter would go to, my hip pain subsided.

And yesterday when I went to see him, limping my way in, carefully guarding my knee against any sudden movements, he laid hands on me and said, after about 20 minutes of "analysis",  "Laura, I don't think there is anything wrong with your knee. I believe you that it hurts, but it's not because your knee is injured....." and he continued on with what is going on with different parts of my body. My Peroneous Longus is insanely tight as are the adductors and the IT band in my right leg. But my knee, it's fine.

At first I felt kind of embarrassed. God, I'm such an incredible drama queen. Is there anyone in my life who has not heard about my traumatic knee injury? But the healer reassured me. "Your knee really does hurt. I believe you. But it's pain from being misaligned from the tightness in these other areas of your body."

As my wise healer continued to work on me, I felt a huge wave of relief overtake me. I wasn't surgery bound. I wouldn't have to live the life of a middle aged woman with "bad knees." I experienced, for the first time in a month, the pure joy of being more than my knees. And with this joy came the great reminder that permanence and attachment are easy and dangerous traps to fall into. When I received the initial meniscus tear diagnosis from my primary care doc, I dove headlong into the idea that I was never going to be able to run again. I visualized painful knee replacement surgery in twenty years. I stopped doing the physical activities that I love the most because I honed in on one perspective; I limited my own possibilities for healing.

As soon as I left my healer's office, I walked differently. When I got back to the studio that afternoon to teach, I sat in Vajrasana, my favorite teaching position, and it actually felt good. I could tell my knee was tight (because I've barely moved in a month!), but my perspective on this pain was all new. Hours before, my thoughts would have gone to, "Laura, you can't do this. You're going to do more damage to your knee!" But now I could let that go. I had new exercises that would help stretch my other tight muscles, and I knew this would lead to less pain in my knee.

The body is complicated. It's so easy to isolate, blame different activities or specific weaknesses for injuries. But we are complex beings. Pain and discomfort are our body's way of saying "wake up and listen." It's easy to do what I did-- to hear the body's message as a scream; to go into crisis mode. But sometimes the message is just a whisper, a gentle reminder to pay attention to the whole system. We are all so much more than our knees.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Get Conscious with Yoga

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." Carl Jung

I read that quote the other day and I haven't been able to get it out of my mind. The first question I have is the obvious one: How does one make the unconscious conscious? Therapy is an obvious answer, but that's a tricky path. Don't get me wrong, I'm on the path; a big fan of the path, but it's no guarantee. There are things in life, even with lots of therapy, that never get discovered. It's not good or bad, better or worse, it just is. The brain is a mysterious organ and uncovering the layers is a lifetime of work, infinite hours of consciousness.

Consciousness, though, as I think of it in everyday life, especially as it pertains to my own behaviors and thoughts, can be wholly exhausting. It involves noticing, analyzing, processing, and then possibly putting that knowledge into action. Over time, that's how we become closer to the people we want to be. Habits are unconscious. Unchecked, our brain will keep going back to those pathways and nothing will change, unless we bring deeper awareness to the behavior.

I will always be working on bringing a higher level consciousness to my daily life. I have deeply engrained habits that I must challenge every single day-- nagging my family about things that don't need nagging, leaving my shoes in random places around the house, worrying obsessively that everyone will like me, dropping my stinky yoga clothes in a ball at the top of the stairs, skipping lunch. But in my 46 years, I have managed to overcome many of my bad habits by bringing a deeper level of consciousness to them-- an eating disorder in high school, a smoking habit I picked up when I lived in Spain, using plastic water bottles, compulsively revisiting relationships that make me feel bad, shopping at garage sales. 

Staying connected, conscious, can feel like a lot of work. Enter Yoga. Yoga, for me, is a two-for-one. I can practice being conscious on a different level, and the very process unhinges something deeper, often bringing to light thoughts and feelings that have been living in my unconscious. When I practiced Yoga on Sunday, I had to skip several postures because of an injury. The havoc that skipping postures wreaks on my ego could have me reeling for hours, but I know from years of Yoga practice what I need to do. I acknowledge that I'm being highjacked by my ego; I do my best to release that thought; and I move on. The gift of Yoga is that I can skip the analyzing and processing steps that I tend to engage in when I'm not in the Yoga room. 

The difference is, of course, that when we do Yoga, we use our bodies and our brains together. This very act gives our brains a break. There is balance because we are no longer fully dependent on our brains to do all of the processing. Moving, stretching, compressing, moving blood to different parts of our bodies (especially the brain) brings us feelings of unparalleled goodness. Yoga keeps our bodies healthy and vital. And yet without even thinking about it, willing it, working on it, the physical release in Yoga also unveils things in our unconscious that, outside of the Yoga room, would have taken much longer and been more painstaking to reveal. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Figure it out Culberg!

Last night I fell asleep in my daughter Lucia's bed at 8:45pm. It's a pretty common Wednesday night ritual in our house. Every Wednesday for the last six or seven years I have woken up between 4:00am-4:30am to be able to get coffee and still have time to get the studio ready for the 6:00am Yoga class.  On Wednesday nights, our reading ritual is always cut short because my eyes involuntarily close. I love that my 10 year old will still have me; I know it won't be long before she thinks I'm a total goober 24/7.

At midnight, a sharp pain in my knee woke me up. It was the familiar yank that I felt right after I injured it more than three weeks ago in Mexico. I thought it was getting better. I've tried to stay off of it as much as possible. Swimming has been my most strenuous activity. I'm not even walking to the grocery store or to the lake. How sedentary can I get without losing my mind? I'm an endorphin junkie. I need to move. I am not myself if I cannot sweat, breathe hard, ache a little bit.

But that pain last night wasn't good. I don't want to feel that again. I am committed to getting on the road to recovery, not staying on this tenuous path of moderate activity. So today I am resting. Completely. I drove three blocks to the hardware store on Capitol Hill this morning. I parked close to the bank. When I got home I had so much extra time! No Yoga. No running. Not even a walk!

I made a list for myself. There's studio business to take care of. I have house bills to pay. I'm still hashing out Lucia's summer schedule and getting everyone's SweatBox vacation schedules dealt with.  I baked 800 bran muffins to freeze and 40 pounds of granola that I'll now have to figure out what to do with. I have a bunch of sewing I want to do. But it's not the same. The weather outside is the perfect temperature for running. It's overcast and the sun is intermittently peeking out. I can see the lake. I can smell it.

My sister, a non-exerciser, asked me what I could do instead of exercising. What the hell does that mean? My answer was "meditate." But honestly, that's not helping. Well, maybe it's helping a little bit....

The timing of this injury is not great. My partner Nancy, also a daily exerciser, has been unable to do yoga, run, spin for over a month due to a car-accident induced concussion. In addition to the effects from the concussion (headache, sound sensitivity, irritability), Nancy has been LOSING her mind from not exercising. When it first happened to her I felt bad. I thought I had empathy for her situation. But now I really get it.  Limited physical activity really challenges people who have an endorphin habit.

Watching Nancy and now, noticing my own sedentary-induced angst, makes me dig a little deeper about how to get what I need. Is it possible? I know people do it. Look at Stephen Hawking!  I'm still hashing out how to get from my mind what I am accustomed to getting from my body. It's frustrating, but I admit that it is a worthwhile exercise. I know my current physical state is temporary, and for that I am grateful. But, there will come a day, maybe far in the future, maybe sooner, when I might be faced with even more limits, and a gal can only bake so many bran muffins.




Monday, May 11, 2015

Cleaning your hard drive

For Christmas Nancy gave me a MacBook Air. It's made my life so much easier, lighter, more organized. I learned on a Mac in 1986 when the Macintosh looked like a little robot head. I've used a PC for years; somehow I never went back to the Mac after I left for college. But coming back to it now, almost 30 years later has been amazing. I take for granted that my MacBook Air is fallible; it seems so competent, capable of anything, never forgetting or deleting any of our interactions.  Sometimes I forget that it's just a computer.

Last week I noticed that the little battery icon on the right hand corner of my screen was not charging.  I imagined it was just a setting that I didn't understand and I took it to the Apple store to have one of the blue shirts reset it. I brought it in and talked to a high-energy red head with 1/4 inch gauges plugged into his ears and a tattoo peeking out of his shirt sleeve. The Mac store people always seem to be just a tiny bit cool, a little bit smart, and so so friendly!

While my computer booted up, my helper coached me through a different issue, a memory problem, I was having on my iPhone. When no solution on my laptop was immediately evident, he took the computer to the back room to "look inside." When he came back he was holding his phone open to a photo to demonstrate to me that my computer was swimming with coffee (on the inside). "There's coffee (or something) brown all over the inside of your computer" he said, smiling and weirdly enthusiastic.

"What?" I replied, genuinely confused. "I spilled some water last week, but I can't remember any coffee...."

Cool-Happy-Redheaded guy explained to me that I'd have to have the battery and some other panel replaced, to the tune of $755. Ouch. But I really had not choice. I have a deep love and affection for my MacBook Air and I was not going to let her go, not even for $755.

"Okay," I said, "Let's do it. How long will you keep the machine?"

Cool-Happy Redheaded Guy then got very serious. "Before you leave the computer, I need to ask you ---is there anything you can't live without on this computer."

I had a moment of panic. What would I lose on my computer? What would I die without? And then I had a Hallelujah moment, a clear split second of truth. As much as I love my computer, as much as I depend on the ease it brings to my life, there is nothing that lives within it that I can't live without. In fact, obliterating the hard drive might even be a good thing. There's probably a bunch of crap on there that, if I got rid of, would probably improve my life.

What a crazy question! What a bizarre world we live in that we use that language. Would anyone really DIE if their hard drive was expunged? The conversation begged the question-- What can't I live without?  Lots of things: love, food, exercise, family, water.

I told the Apple store guy to delete it all.

As most of my close friends, family and yoga students know, I'm physically out of commission because of a knee injury I sustained surfing a few weeks ago.  The doctor's orders are clear-- rest your knee or have surgery. I'm a big whiner, kind of a baby, and I'm not doing well with the physical limits I have to endure while my knee tries to heal. I miss yoga. I miss running. I miss biking.

Running is definitely out, but a few times I've tried a modified Yoga practice. Since my injury and my computer's brain damage diagnosis, I have practiced with a new gratitude, a recognition that Yoga, a place where I can clear my mental hard drive, is something I absolutely cannot live without. I've had my laptop back for five days. I'm typing this right now on my beloved, new hard-drive MacBook Air. I'm so happy to have it back, but I was also really fine, even happy without it.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Take it to the limit....

I love harmony. I impose it on every song I sing, regardless if my addition makes the song more harmonious or more hideous. Singing is my church. I do it every week in my not-church choir and, next to Yoga, it is one of the true things that heals my soul. If I could, I would sing when I teach, but, unlike our gifted teacher Katy, who can sing solo and melt a room, I need other voices. I’m much more audibly palatable with a group.

My sisters Katherine and Amy and I, achieved relative kitchen fame in high school singing Ebony and Ivory by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney. Later, in college, we hit the big time with Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls.

After college, my twin sister Katherine and I left our little sister Amy behind in Chicago and fled to Seattle to make it big, doing something, anything. One of the instigators for choosing Seattle was that my best friend from college, Allegra, had moved there. Allegra was a real singer. She grew up in New York, daughter of a jazz musician who played saxophone with Tito Puentes. Allegra went to the School for Performing Arts as a music major and she had a truly beautiful voice. She also actually knew how to make harmony.

During college, Allegra and I spent countless hours in the quad practicing harmonious renditions of songs Allegra deemed appropriate for our voice combo. After college, once we were both in Seattle, we started harmonizing the Eagles. Boom! As soon as Allegra launched into Take it to the Limit,  I knew that’s why Kat and I had come to Seattle. We were going to work with Allegra and master that song. We would win a Grammy with our twin-sis duo of Take it to the Limit. We studied that song. We practiced that song. We even choreographed moves to that song. There were opportunities to make harmony everywhere and we loved it.

“All alone, at the end of the evening….” On “alone”, Kat would go low and I would go high. Oooohhhhh. Yeahhhh. Incredible….. Amazing. Then, we’d hit that  A cappella madness again on “evening.” The song continued on like that until the end, with the sisters splitting those notes like two hands opening a closing from a prayer. We would move people, bring them to tears. “Where have these two been?” fans would say.  

We didn’t hit it big. Take it to the Limit never made it out of our apartment. I mostly sing Eagles alone now, or with the radio, but I can still hear Katherine’s voice every time I sing. Her low to my high. Even when I’m singing alone, there will always be that harmony. And, though it will be a very rare day that I ever sing alone in the yoga room, I know Katy takes requests. If I hear her singing Take it to The Limit I won't be able to help myself.  The harmony will grab me and I'll jump right in!