the tortoise

Last Friday, I took a hot vinyasa class, and a lot of what the instructor said has stayed with me … especially this week as I began exploring  a new style of yoga that focuses much more exclusively on the physical aspects of practice.

The instructor – a very knowledgeable man – told us, as we held triangle pose for what felt like eternity, that so often we all focus on getting ‘there’ ~ as though ‘there’ was a place.  He emphasized that there is no ‘there’ ~ there’s only ‘here’ and if we push ourselves to take big strides our progress is often stalled or impeded … rather, one should focus on small improvements and adjustments.  Sort of like the tortoise and the hare ~ slow and steady wins the race.

I held on to that idea this morning.  My body was sore, and I felt overly exhausted (I’m learning this is pretty standard when I shake up my routine and try to incorporate something new).  But I got myself up and made it to class.  And once I was on my mat, in the heat of the studio, I reminded myself that my goal for this morning was to improve on my performance from yesterday’s class.  Which, much to my surprise and delight, I did.  Despite my fatigue and muscle sore-ness.

Hugely satisfying.  I knew I liked tortoises (and turtles!) for a reason.  We are of a like mind.

ups and downs

Sometimes I drink so much water during the day I feel as though I could float away.  This ended up being a blessing in disguise yesterday, when I embarked on my latest personal challenge.

Last fall, out of what felt like nowhere, the yoga studio I had been attending closed it’s doors..  I was dealing with the diagnosis process of MS, things with my mum and the ramp up into the holidays (our party, my birthday, the restaurant) so I didn’t go out of my way to find a new studio.  I’d practiced intermittently for years and even then was only prioritizing one class a week.

When I finally got back to class ~ after all the seriousness of January and chaos of February~ I’d found my old teacher, but I wasn’t completely in love with the studio.  And I also knew that my practice wasn’t going to progress going to class once a week.   I knew that I had to figure out what I wanted to accomplish, and make the choices necessary to get there. I knew I could, because I’d done it before.

Last year, I decided I wanted to run Broad Street.  And I did it.  I wasn’t able to do the half marathon in the fall (too many physical issues … which makes me feel like an old lady if I think too much about it!) but I will do it one day.  If ever the passion to run comes back.

So, after some discussions with the man (who is beginning his own journey this evening and I’m SO excited for him!) I chose a studio about five minutes from our abode, and am on day two of my 30 day unlimited class pass.  My goal is to go once a day (other that this Saturday and Sunday because I’m getting my hair done, and it needs 48 hours of no sweating ~ keratin is high maintenance but oh.so.worth.it.) I feel as though being dedicated will help my practice progress as well as help me stay strong and flexible even as my body does funny, weird and inexplicable things.

I decided last night, that since I was getting all kinds of crazy, I would try hot yoga. Aka Bikram.

Wow! Bikram is a whole new world.  After class last night, I was commended for what a great job I did, and for not getting sick.  Literally ~ the instructor actually told me as I was hobbling out of the studio that multiple people stopped to say how they were impressed with the new girl for not getting sick and making it all the way through class.  A huge compliment, but also, to me, hilarious.  By the end of class, I was giving myself an internal pep talk  … you can do this, hang in there, you can do this, breathe through it.  

When I first walked in the room, I was immediately shocked by the temperature.  I had never been in a studio that hot, and I realized there is a huge difference between hot vinyasa, and traditional hot yoga.  It’s a totally different atmosphere. It’s also interesting how the focus is different ~ the moves are done in a specific order, there’s no meditation or introspective thoughts ~ it’s breath, balance, heat and a lot of sweat.  All that water I mentioned above?  I sweated it all out!

This morning was an express class ~ in usual hot yoga or Bikram classes, each move is done twice, for a minute on each side, and then again for thirty seconds each.  Class lasts approximately ninety minutes.  It’s looong (or at least, it feels that way).  The express class does each move once, and I’m not sure if it’s because I had just done a class the night before, or if my body was just exhausted from Lucy and my morning walk.  Either way, this morning was rough.

Which only motivates me more to go to class every single day until I can make it through and hold the poses.  It’s always scary — for me at least — to try something new.  But I’ve been proud of myself for going outside my comfort zone and being proactive.  It’s easy to talk about the things I want to do or accomplish ~ it’s much cooler when I actually do it.

sincere effort

So, I’m sitting here and I’m trying so hard to compose something about sincere effort ~ because I loved the idea during class tonight, and I think it really pushes you to be brutally honest with yourself.  It’s super easy to think you’re always sincere in your effort ~ in your actions.  Buuuuut … when you get right down to it, there are times when we all phone it in; when we go through the motions.

The past few days have been really tough for me.  All the really “fun” side effects of my new meds (which I’d sincerely hoped wouldn’t exist for me ) have reared their ugly heads, and even going through the motions has posed a challenge.

So having a moment to focus on my actions, and the motivations behind them was really helpful tonight.  I’ve been frustrated and angry by what I’ve felt is my body failing me.  My mind failing me.  Taking a step back and re-committing to positive thinking and sincerity in what I do was more necessary than I realized.

Even though MS teaches me something every day … about what I’m capable of, what I’ve taken for granted in the past, the daily lessons of patience & tolerance ~ there’s so much more to my life than MS.  There are a crazy amount of exciting and challenging things happening (not to mention the man and my wedding!) that it is easy to get distracted, run down and jaded.

And in the past few days, as I’ve fought my frustrations and set backs, I’ve lost track of myself and my commitment to being strong and upbeat; meeting the ‘road bumps’ of MS head on.  I’m tired tonight, and my body is exhausted.  I want to be able to write coherently about how comforting tonight’s class was ~ how much lighter I felt afterwards, thinking of class’s meditation.

But the truth is, I wouldn’t be putting sincere effort into this post.  And even though I’m going to hit publish at the end of my rambles, please do as I say, and not as I do.

When I do put my full effort into something, I feel much more fulfilled at the end of my day ~ as though I spent my time in a worthwhile way.  And I’m writing this post so I can remember today’s lesson in sincere effort.  Even when I’m doing a little bit of ‘phoning in.’

the other side of the coin

I tend to find time to share my thoughts when I’m feeling good, and positive and strong.  I’m feeling none of those things today, but in an effort to share my MS journey, I thought it would be fair to share a day like today.

Last night was my third injection and while in certain ways it’s getting … well, easier? … the dosage is also getting larger, and therefore, unlucky for me, the side effects are getting stronger.

Today I’m tired, and discouraged … and oddly, overwhelmingly sad.  Anyone who has struggled with depression will understand the feeling of … well, almost helplessness in controlling your own emotions.  Every part of my body hurts ~ like the pain of a good workout, but not good … like the flu has invaded every muscle, every joint … every sensitive nerve ending in my skin.  I’m hot, I’m cold, my jaw aches, my head aches, my eyes burn.

It has taken incredible effort to do normal, everyday things.  Getting up, making smoothies, taking Lucy out … showering, dressing.  All of it feels earth-shatteringly difficult and tiring.

That’s the thing ~ the exhaustion is all-consuming.  Even with proper sleep, and diet and exercise … I am constantly in a state of nearly debilitating fatigue.  It’s enough to make a person depressed even without all the other fun elements of MS.

So that’s today for you.

a little thought

“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”
― Pema Chödrön (** bold is my choice ~ I love the image of leaning in)

 

Just a little share today ~ Marissa (my amazing yoga teacher) read two quotes from Pema during class yesterday and they really stuck with me.  Unfortunately, my copy of the book won’t arrive for a few days, so I chose the quote above to share.  I will say that researching Ms. Chodron made me aware of how wise her words are.  I’m looking forward to further exploring her ideas when my copy of “The Pocket Pema Chodron” arrives.

Until then, here it is again ~ the idea of the strength of language.

I like it.

a new life

I’ve had this little seed of a thought in my mind for the past few days … and I’ve been working to figure out the essence of it, because while I understood what I wanted to share, I wasn’t sure how to do it.

I”m not sure I know now, either, but I figured I was ready to try.

Yesterday on Live with Kelly & Michael they honored one of their “Unstoppable Mom” finalists.  I had to stop and watch because the woman is from the town in which my parents now live.  Just watching her daily life made me feel both tired and super lazy.  By the end, I had goosebumps and tears in my eyes.  People are amazing, everywhere, and so often their incredible-ness is known only to those in their immediate circle.  I was inspired by the life that woman leads, and it made my accomplishments and obstacles feel small in comparison.

And then I took a step back, and told myself to stop being such a downer.  Yes, her life is inspiring, and I am so glad I was able to witness it, albeit briefly, but I decided I wasn’t going to allow myself to diminish the journey I’ve been on these past few months.  (Although I know for a fact that if I woke up daily at 4.30a and went to bed at midnight I would be a very cranky person ~ sleep is my friend, and in a lot of ways, my savior).  Everyone walks in their own moccasins, and everyone’s path is both challenging and rewarding on epic levels for each individual.  That’s the truth.  Comparisons are silly and not constructive or helpful in any way.

I’d always been that person who wanted to be healthy, active and a contributor to society. But even though I admired those people focused on recycling and the environment, clean eating and soulful exercise, etc, I never seemed to find the motivation within myself to sustain that type of lifestyle.  Last July, when I sat down with my nutritionist/friend to discuss health options for people with MS, I felt myself tense up and dig in my heels in utter resistance.  I had a million excuses … and I felt they were all very stong, very valid points.

And yet, here I sit with my green smoothie, my yoga bag tucked in the corner of my office ready for class tonight, and the man and I have converted our kitchen from a den of delicious comfort food to a veritable vegetable patch and whole foods haven.  And even weirder ~ I crave veggies.  I don’t feel okay unless I’ve loaded up with all kinds during pretty much every meal, every day.  I like them blended, stuffed, grilled, dunked in hummus, chopped … you name it.  And listen, I never even imagined it would be possible, let alone a reality.  It’s amazing what a person can accomplish with a little motivation.

We started small, because I was pretty averse to all the changes that my nutritionist said were necessary.  And I will admit that while we’ve cut back on our dairy intake, I probably won’t ever give it up completely.  No matter what evil pieces of information come my way to encourage it.  As I type this, I’m salivating thinking of the stuffed pepper I have in the fridge for lunch.  The man did dinner last night, because I was at the office until nearly seven (gasp!) and it was soooo good.  Even better, he made enough for lunch today, which was smart, because having anything else with that memory on my taste buds would have been disappointing.

So all these thoughts have been floating in my mind and I also realized that we are nearly halfway through March (a month that, historically, is not my friend) and I’m not feeling like I normally do ~ lethargic, sad, disinterested in life … overwhelmingly apathetic.  And it has made me consider one of my favorite quotes (which hung on my mother’s beside wall in most of our homes through the years) ~

Change your thoughts and you will change your world.  

I haven’t just changed my thoughts ~ but in this new year, I have focused very hard on staying strong and upbeat and positive about all that life has thrown my way. It doesn’t help anyone to cry woefully about one’s lot in life ~ it’s better to get up, dust oneself off, and get on with things (which as I type sounds so British in my head). I’m not sure if it’s the new diet, the cleaner living, the dedication to exercise, the lack of alcohol (a known depressant) or my concerted effort to stay positive, but I do definitely feel different.  I have spent large chunks of my life battling what I’ve always referred to as ‘the darkness’ and right now, it feels very far away.  Even though things are tough, and unknown and scary things seem to be around every corner, and one of the largest side effects of my new medicine is depression.  So in a way, I’m walking proof of the power of the mind.

In so many ways, big and small, 2013 has been the start of a new life for the man and I.  Yes, we will be making it legal in June (!!), but it’s so much more than that.  I think back to four and half years ago and am amazed at how far we’ve come together ~ the accomplishments, the lessons learned, the chances taken.  I think I’m a pretty tough chick, but he is my partner in every sense of the word, and when I’ve been weak, he’s been strong.  I couldn’t and wouldn’t be where I am without his support and teamwork.  I feel so incredibly blessed for all that I have in terms of family and friendship.  I think that has helped buoy me through all this craziness as well.  I won’t allow myself to be beaten.  (I’m a little bit competitive … and that may or may not be an understatement!).

So now that I’ve waxed lyrical for a while, I’ll close out with this ~ it’s a much more beautiful world when you’re smiling all the time.  Even if you’re faking it, eventually you might even fool yourself.

 

strong women

Yesterday I was at my doctor’s office for a small procedure, and instead of seeing the person I normally see, I saw the head doctor, who also happens to be one of my mother’s old and dear friends.  (Which would also explain why I have been driving to Wyomissing to see her and her staff since I was sixteen, no matter where I was living ~ clearly still the case, as I drive from Philadelphia now and have not once considered changing doctors).

Whenever I end up seeing my mother’s friends I am almost instantly transported back to our first kitchen in Reading, with white blue and pink flowered wallpaper and all the women from her club ~ the Berks Women’s Network ~ gathered around the table coallating the pink pages of their newsletters.  At the time, I am one hundred percent certain that I had no idea the significance of this to me, and how it would help shape my ideals, my morals, my world view.

I have to take a step back, and say that my mother is the strongest, smartest, most resilient, incredible, charming, capable woman I have ever met. Or, I truly believe, ever will meet.  She has faced down lions and demons in her life, and she always manages to emerge on the other side completely unphased, totally together, classy and composed.  I’m sure she has had dark times ~ she’s human, and no one could have emerged from the hells she’s walked through unchanged.  But she does it with such style, such self-possession.  I am absolutely certain that if I am ever half the woman my mother is, that will be quite an accomplishment.

We moved a lot as I grew up and I am sure that took a toll on my mum ~ always having to uproot, change jobs, meet new friends.  When I was about five, we moved to Reading for th first time, Jennie J moved in with us, and my mother went back to work.  She’d done stay-at-home-motherhood and it just wasn’t her thing.  Luckily (in some ways) my grandmother was able to move in with us.  In a lot of ways, she was our (Dave & my) second mother.

I was young when all this happened, so my memories are hazy, but I remember going shopping with my mum for new work clothes ~ I remember some of the women from the Berks Women’s Network ~ I remember when my mother was given the opportunity to head up the at-the-time revolutionary Women’s Center at the Reading Hospital and Medical Center.  I remember her office, too, and the waiting room with its dark plexiglass playhouse and the educational rooms with fake breasts to help women feel what breast cancer tumors would be like.  I remember my mother’s boss, Jeannette, who was in so many ways a hero to me, and, I believe, a hero to my mother.  Jeannette gave my mother that opportunity at the Women’s Center, and since then, my mum has never looked back.  She has had a very successful career in spite of the relocations and all the obstacles associated with them.

The women from those days stayed in my mother’s life even as we moved to New Jersey, and then to Pittsburgh.  And then, just after I turned sixteen, we headed back to Reading.  Things had changed ~ obviously. Everything does with time.  It was the nineties then, not the eighties, and women’s place in the workforce was evolving.  Back in the early days (as I remember it) I was surrounded by strong professional women, but I really had no idea how hard they had worked to get there.  Jeannette had been the President of the Reading Hospital — the first female president ever.  And she’d made huge personal sacrifices to achieve her success.  I didn’t understand that when I was five, and I could only partially grasp it when I was sixteen.  But I fully appreciate it now.

I mention her because she died a few years ago, and when I found out, it felt as though my heart had been ripped from my body.  I hadn’t realized it until she was no longer around to tell, but she had been my role model, a woman who believed in helping other women, in promoting the careers of women in a positive way and being a strong example of a professional woman.  When she’d had her first and only child – a daughter- at the age of forty (I believe), she’d said with confidence that her baby girl would be the first female President of the United States.  I still remember things about her with crystal clarity, and I wish I could have told her what she meant to me.

Jeannette was just one of the women I was exposed to at a young age ~a tender, impressionable age ~ and they all left their mark.  A doctor, a business entrepreneur, a hospital President ….  I never knew any other world than the world my mother showed me, with strong, smart, independent, savvy women.  I know now that not all women are built like that ~ not all small girls are given the gift of those magnificent role models.  As I chatted with my doctor yesterday, all my memories came rushing back, and I suddenly understood the significance of the kind of mother my mother chose to be, and how she chose to raise me.  I believe it must be a huge and terrifying burden as the mother of a daughter to teach her the joys and drawbacks of life without cynicism, and give her the tools to succeed without utter pessimism.  I applaud all the mothers out there doing their best to teach and shape and mold and support and then release their daughters.  I can’t even imagine what a job it must be.

What I do know is that my mother will freely admit she probably wasn’t cut out to be a mother.  She has no qualms admitting it was tough.  She loves us ~ there is no doubting that.  But she’s not afraid to be honest and admit her short-comings (even if I think she’s bananas because she did a great job).  That, to me, makes her even more remarkable, because she does it without the undercurrent of self-pity or self-loathing.  She is, was and continues to be incredible, amazing, inspiring. To me (and in the words of Mary Poppins) she is practically perfect in every way.  She is my friend, my confidant, my sounding board, my gauge of reason … my mother. I can’t imagine being the person I am today without her and without the gifts she gave me as I grew up.

So thank you, Mama.  If there were better, stronger words, I wish I knew them.

joy

For the first time in I-don’t-even-want-to-admit how long, I found myself on my mat tonight.  I’d been meaning to get back into my Tuesday yoga ritual since January, but I hit a few road bumps.  And yes, I realize that most road bumps are navigable, it all just depends on one’s determination ~ but I’m going to use the excuse anyway.

I’ve taken my fair share of yoga classes, and as I may have mentioned, I found a teacher at my old studio who just made sense to me.  I rarely, if ever, missed her class.  Unfortunately, the yoga studio closed at the beginning of December and for a while, my teacher didn’t have a regular class.  But now, not only does she have one, but I’ve finally gotten my booty in order to attend.

It was blissful.  I mean that ~ even though my body feels like jelly right now, and I had a sad moment of truth about ten minutes into class when I knew that I might not be completely out of shape, but I’m completely out of yoga shape.

Appropriately (and timely) enough, meditation was about joy.  The opening quote was from August Strindberg (ah, flash backs to college Drama Lit classes, and “Miss Julie”) …

People are constantly clamoring for the joy of life.  As for me, I find the joy of life in the hard and cruel battle of life – to learn something is a joy to me. 

Let me tell you, there are many ways to find meaning in that quote.  As class began, our teacher reminded us that often, we get bogged down in life, and we forget to find the joy.  We instead focus on the endless repetitive parts of our day that wear on us.  Instead, we should make an effort to find the joy.  Find the joy in class, find the joy in folding socks, etc.   At one point, another quote included the phrase “cause-less joy” which for me was the essence of what she was saying. Find the joy, feel the joy, for no reason other than joy.

As I struggled through class, I could think of a lot of things not to be joyful about.  My shaking legs, my inability to do basic things that back in the fall felt like second nature, my frustration at my numb legs and feet …. The list could go on.  And then I re-focused on what I could be joyful about.  And there were just as many — if not more.  I was joyful to be on the mat again, even if things were challenging.  I was joyful to have the ability to still be active, even after losing feeling in my lower limbs in late December.  I felt joyful that I wasn’t allowing MS to define me, I was defining myself.  I was joyful to be back in my teacher’s class, and to be inspired by her thoughts and guidance.  I felt joyful that I’d made the effort to be there, even though new situations usually terrify me and leave me paralyzed in inaction.  I’ve grown up a lot over the past few years ~ part of it is adult-hood, part of it is John, and a lot of it is me finding my balance and creating my own stability and support system.  I was tremendously joyful about that … in fact, I still am.

And even now, snuggled on the couch with my man and my Lucy, I can feel joy.  And I can’t quite define it, or qualify it.  It’s just there.  And that’s pretty cool.

pick me ups

Sometimes, in the middle of my day, I need a little boost ~ something positive to help motivate me, and keep me upbeat.  Twitter is great for this, and because my brain is feeling a bit beat today (work was a doozy!), I thought I’d share some of my recent favorites.

“The best way to avoid criticism is never do anything ever.  Or, do what you love, have a great life & let others spend their time criticizing.”  ~Ricky Gervais

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” ~Theodore Roosevelt

“Everyday holds the possibility of a miracle.” ~Elizabeth David

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” ~George Bernard Shaw

The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” ~ Confucius

When you feel the world pushing against you, drop your head, lower your shoulder, dig in deep and push back.” ~Dwayne Johnson

And I’ll finish my list of quotes with one from my childhood hero, and still a woman whose career I admire greatly.

Perseverance is failing nineteen times and succeeding the twentieth.” ~ Julie Andrews

I know it probably seems silly, but reading uplifting quotes just makes me feel so much better.  Even now, revisiting them, I smiled and felt more inspired about life.  Words are powerful things!

have a little faith

So, this post is going to be a little bit of a veer off the track of MS and cooking and all that jazz.  And I deeply apologize for the self-indulgence of what follows, but it’s been haunting my thoughts all day.

As one may or may not know about me, I have fairly … um, clear and personal feelings about faith.  I deeply believe it is personal, and everyone’s choices are their own and should be respected.  Just as none of us are the same, neither should our relationship with God (or whomever/whatever one believes in) be.  I believe that sometimes, the individuality of our relationships gets lost in mass organized religion.  We believe that following man’s rules of the church are the measuring sticks of faith and spirituality, and we judge others for their differences or assumed short-comings.  It’s a disappointing and discouraging thing.

I’ve spent time searching for something that made sense to me ~ a teacher, a leader ~ a person whose voice spoke the words of the God I believe in.  I found that person in a sort of funny, ironic way.  The man and I had very long discussions about our wedding, and the things that were important to us.  FInding a man of faith to marry us wasn’t a huge top priority, but as the planning progressed, we realized that it was a top priority for my mother-in-law. So, as a diligent researcher, I started to look into options for an officiant.  And surprisingly, I found a priest who performed wedding ceremonies.  After scheduling a time to meet with him, I wrangled the man into going to Mass at the parish and it was eye-opening to both of us.  In fact, in the spirit of full disclosure, it was both eye-opening and slightly uncomfortable.

Today marked our second time in attendance and –for me, at least– it reaffirmed what I’d found so uplifting the first time.  Here’s the thing ~ Mass at this church begins with the Sign of Peace, and instead of just turning around in your pew and quietly mumbling “Peace be with You, ” you actually walk around and shake hands and hug and offer the whole congregation peace.

Let me tell you, during our first Mass, we both looked at each other and fumbled through it, as basically every person came up to us and welcomed us to church, and offered us a warm and confident sign of peace.  There is an anonymity of going to a large Catholic church that certainly didn’t exist that day (or today, for that matter) that serves as something of a security blanket.  It’s one thing to go to Mass and slip right through, unnoticed.  It’s another thing to stand up and be seen and counted.  That was completely unexpected for both of us.

Today, I was much more prepared.  As Mass began, I took a deep breath.  We’d chosen to return so I wanted to be respectful of the parish and their Mass.  I walked amongst everyone, and it was truly an incredible feeling.  We shook hands, we hugged, we smiled ~ my heart felt light and full of positive energy.  It’s hard to describe, and I am fairly certain it sounds hokey, but as I returned to my seat, I thought what a great way to start a Sunday ~ what a great and powerful way to begin a worship.  For just that small moment, life was distilled into giving and receiving peace with a room full of like-minded people.

LIfe is a funny journey ~ we’re all sort of figuring it out as we go along ~ learning and growing and choosing what defines us; what matters to us.  As I mentioned at the beginning of all this, faith is and has always been an important journey for me, but also a very personal one.  Today, I couldn’t get the feeling of pure community out of my mind all day.  And the message of the homily was just as powerful (I promise not to bore anyone who is reading this with the ins and outs).

I guess my point ~ if there even is one in all this rambling ~ is the power of community, the power of belief in a group of people … it’s sort of amazing.  Things have been challenging lately, and every now and then, it’s refreshing (and necessary) to take a step back and appreciate the good stuff.  I find great comfort in having faith.  And I am grateful for that today.