Friday, January 20, 2017

The Lessons of Our Teachers


My first grade teacher Ms. Koehler was my least favorite teacher and my second grade teacher Mrs. Fruchter was my most favorite, but I remember them both with equal detail. During first grade my parents got separated and I went a little crazy. Typically a pretty shy, reserved kid, that year I stood on the toilet seat in the girls' bathroom and peeked over the stall. After getting punished for that, I peed at my desk because I was afraid to ask to go to the bathroom. We had reading group EVERY day. Ms. Koehler, in my mind was a mean, ruler-wielding, scolding machine. Mrs. Fruchter, on the other hand, took us to the Jay's Potato Chip Factory and the Lincoln Park Zoo. We did tons of art in her class and I don't remember reading group. I loved Mrs. Fruchter.

In life, we gravitate towards teachers that feel good, loving, compassionate. It's easy to relate to these teachers. They energize us, inspire us, make us feel good about ourselves. The harder, less relatable teachers are ones we don't seek out, but they teach us just the same, maybe even more.

At The SweatBox, my home away from home, I am blessed with many wonderful teachers who nourish and inspire me. But this month, a new, uninvited teacher showed up. After a pretty good streak of no injuries, VoilĂ , I'm smacked with a shoulder injury that screams and yells at me all day long.

Yesterday I went to a physical therapist, a holistically minded healer who, after seeing me for about an hour said a few simple words that shone a big bright light on my situation. "Injuries are our best teachers," she said with a smile, "the teach us everything we need to know." My shoulder injury had rendered me helpless and filled with self-blame for doing something wrong, making a mis-step in my yoga practice, going down a road I shouldn't have. But when this healer reframed this for me, I was able to see things from a new point of view.

This teacher, my shoulder, is telling me to slow down. A lot. Not only should I just move more slowly, but this injury reminds me to pay attention to other aspects of my life that are out of balance.  I don't like this teacher. It is causing me discomfort, pain and confusion. But I am learning from it. For example, after doing a few hours of work at the studio today, I left to finish up at home because another class would be starting and the temptation to practice was too great. On the way home from the studio as I felt sorry for myself, I thought, "Laura, you've not been writing. Take advantage of having time off of your yoga practice to write!"

Today happens to be inauguration day as well, a day filled with fear, sadness, and hopelessness for many. This morning at the studio as a few of my teachers and I bemoaned the state of our nation, I couldn't help but think of the parallels with my shoulder. I don't want to have a shoulder injury. Who would? But what can I learn from it? I don't want Donald Trump to be president, but he is.

Some people have speculated that now that we are in this profoundly despairing and frightening political climate, maybe we can step into a greater place of action. This uncomfortable, unfamiliar experience of shifting leadership can now be our teacher. What can we learn? What changes in our own lives can we make to bring things back into balance? Back to a place where we (and our communities) feel healthy and whole again? That's a much longer blog and a very personal journey for each of us, but it is a worthwhile thought. Who are your teachers? In what forms do your teachers show up in your life?  Teachers are not all good or perfect or loving, but truth be told, Ms. Koehler's the one who taught me to read.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Best is Yet to Come

When 2017 rolled around last week, one of the first things I thought was, "I am going to be 49 years old this year." Forty-Nine. That's not young. Strangely though, the older I get, the more permission I feel to be me. When I was 47, I was closer to 45 which is closer to 40. Now I am firmly on the far-side of 40 and practically spooning 50. I'm further away from the land of "shoulds."

On Friday, one of my teachers, Emily had a birthday. She turned 36 and said that she'd spent the last year of her life really "adult-ing." Emily has a way with words and her use of "adult" as a verb was the first time I'd ever heard it played that way. "Adult-ing." It's a thing. It really happens.

In my late thirties and early forties, I was definitely concerned with where I should be-- in my career, in my relationship, in my status as parent, in my financial stability. I was in the process of "adult-ing." But that feels less significant for me now. I'm fully in acceptance mode that I am pretty much where I will be and where I want to be. I do not take for granted my good fortune to have a job and community that nourish my soul, a partner whom I love, a daughter I adore and am honored and delighted to parent, and a warm roof over my head.  I'm an adult and it feels good. Of course there are the very clear physical markers that come with age--less flexibility (even with a daily YOGA PRACTICE), more wrinkles and gray hair, the revisiting of mood swings reminiscent of adolescence.  But I also have a level of comfort and security internally that hums through me all the time. It's a good feeling-- I am what I am.

In every life cycle, yoga provides a metaphor for the process we are going through. For aging, I would say the metaphor can be found in Yin Yoga.  In my Yin class last week, I opened with a Maya Angelou poem called "On Aging." I interpret this poem as a message to honor that aging process, rather than pitying it. I opened with this poem as a way to encourage the class to honor the hardness of the practice they were doing, to respect all of the physical and emotional experiences that accompany each class.

Getting through the "adult-ing" phase is a good feeling, not unlike that feeling I get at the end of a Yin practice. After the long holds, the internal struggles that accompany Yin practice, when I come out of a Yin class, I leave with a feeling of wholeness. It's a feeling of integration of my different layers, much like this feeling I have as I transition toward the milestone of living for a half-century.

I didn't know, couldn't have known, ten years ago, that I would feel this way. It wouldn't have even made sense at the time, back then when I was striving to "become." I'm not saying that I have no future goals or dreams. I fantasize about writing a book or becoming an expert in (fill in one of 15-20 blanks on any given day), living in Spain, running a marathon. I have not given up those dreams, but I find that I conceive of them differently. It's more of a calm contemplation than a panicking reaction that I will "miss out" on something if I don't keep these unfinished dreams at the fore of my mind. For all of you folks in the "adult-ing" phase, the news is good. The future is bright. The best is yet to come.