Take Care

Friday morning, 16-year-old Maren Sanchez was stabbed to death in her high school in Milford, Connecticut. My heart goes out to the whole community, especially my friends there with high school aged children. I cannot begin to imagine the pain you are feeling.

There are many articles about how to talk to your children at times of tragedy. This is instead about how to take care of your adult self at incomprehensible times like these. As flight attendants remind us, adults have to put their oxygen masks on first and then their children’s. So while you’re comforting your children, make time to soothe and comfort yourself so that you can continue to be there for them in the days and weeks to come.

What soothes you may vary but here are some ideas to start.

  • Move. Go for a walk, run, swim, dance, or spend some time on your yoga mat. Our issues are in our tissues so work them out, sweat them out, before they turn you to stone.
  • Talk. Share your fears, sorrows, and frustrations with another adult. Comfort each other.
  • Meditate. You are not your thoughts. Letting go of those thoughts for even a few minutes can give you a moment of peace.
  • Pray. Talk to God, in a whisper or a shout, and then listen for an answer. I heard recently that God is not in these awful events but in our response to them. How will you respond?
  • Journal. Pour your heart out onto the safety of the page. See if that lightens your load even a little.
  • Touch. Hug the people you love. Cuddle your pets. When words are not enough, touch can be the bridge.
  • Breathe. Deeply breathe in peace. Breathe out the stress and pain.

Know that you are not alone. We care about you, no matter how much distance separates us.

Be well.

 

 

 

Breathe

“Take a deep breath and count to 10.”

How many times have you been told to do that when you were angry and about to say something ill-advised? As with many common sayings, there is truth in this one, truth on and off the yoga mat.

One of the physical markers of stress is short, shallow breathing. Lengthening the breath, taking the proverbial deep breath, not only signals the brain that it’s okay to relax but also fuels the body with oxygen. Yes, you can be energized and relaxed at the same time. It’s a powerful way to be.

On the yoga mat, we link movement to breath. This accomplishes a couple of things. First, it increases your awareness of both your body and your movement, making it less likely that you’ll injure yourself. It also helps improve your focus by letting all those distractions drop away. It’s very hard to fret about an undone task on your desk when you’re consciously inhaling as you step into Warrior 1.

Off the mat, the breath can reduce stress, improve focus, protect against injury just like in yoga, and generally make us nicer to be around. All in favor, take a deep breath and count to 10!

What’s your favorite way to relax with your breath?

Face Time

I take the city bus from time to time. While I always feel really urban and green when I do, the best part for me is the people watching.

For example, I recently discovered the practice of tattooing names on your face or neck. One funkily dressed lady had names in script tattooed on her cheeks, forehead, and chin, as if someone with fine penmanship had inscribed “Joe” on her cheek. Another, more the jeans and tee shirt type, had a list of names tattooed around her neck, like a choker necklace. It was striking.

I came home and stared at myself in the mirror, wondering who I loved enough to tattoo their name on my face. And as I stared at the laugh lines and the worry lines, I realized that they’re all already memorialized on my face.

There, around my mouth, are all the times you made me laugh.

And there, around my eyes, are all the times I cried with you.

And there, right there between my eyes, is the line from furrowing my brow in worry over you.

I don’t need to tattoo your names on myself. You’re written all over my face.

What about you? How do you wear those you love?

The Power of Words

Last fall I attended a yoga workshop with the fabulous Grace Jull. She said something that really struck me, “Your words create your world.” As a writer and editor, I’m all about words. In this case, she was referring to those thoughts that are always running in the back of our minds, sometimes up front. On a good day it might be something like, “You’re on top of things” or “Great job.” On a bad day, well, on a bad day those words will hit all your hot buttons. “You’re fat and lazy,” You never finish anything,” or maybe even be the words of someone you used to know, like, “You’ll never amount to anything.” Ouch. We wouldn’t talk to someone we care about that way but we do it to ourselves all the time, often without even noticing.

And it’s not just yoga teachers who are on to this. A close friend of mine who is an attorney stopped me recently when I was bemoaning my forgetfulness and proclaiming that I was developing Alzheimer’s disease (I can be a little dramatic at times). She commanded, “Don’t say that. If you keep saying it, it will come true.”

Grace offered an alternative. Whenever you notice negative words running through your head, replace them with something positive or even neutral. A mantra or affirmation will work. You don’t even have to know what the words mean. For example, the mantra “So hum” is Sanskrit. You can use it as a focus for your meditation. Or you can use it to replace the voice over in your head. (If you’re wondering, it means “I am.” ) Sometimes for me the advantage of using something like Sanskrit is that I don’t embellish it. For example, if I was using “I am” I might be tempted to tack something unflattering on to the end and then boom, I’m back in the craziness.

It’s a work in progress for me. What about you? What kind of world have your words created for you?

The Gift of Fear

Or How Something Can Be Nothing And Still Change Everything

I had a health scare recently, the sort of thing that starts with a routine check up and ends with a biopsy. It was two weeks from the time I got the call that I needed the test to getting the all clear, the longest two weeks of my life. I went from, “I’m sure it’s nothing,” to “Who will take care of the dog if I’m gone?” and back again. Over and over.

I did a lot of thinking during those two weeks.

I thought about what I’ve done in life and what I haven’t gotten around to. I still haven’t written the great American novel. Being a writer has always been a big part of my identity so I was a little surprised about how little that mattered.

I thought about the stuff I have and don’t have. You know what? I have enough.

I thought about places I’ve been and people I love. And my dog. It’s good to have a dog to pet at times like these.

I made a few decisions, most before I knew the results. I decided to:

  • Spend more face time with the people I care about and less time clicking Like on Facebook.
  • Make real plans to go to Hawaii in the next year and stop waiting for someday. Let’s face it–someday is never.
  • Start taking piano lessons again. No more putting off something I enjoy. It’s been years already!
  • Focus more on meaningful work and less on busy work. If that makes space for writing that novel, that’s fine. If it leads in another direction, that’s fine too.

I’m pretty sure that my life still looks the same from the outside. That’s okay. It’s a good life. Now, with more connection, meaning, and joy, it’s going to be a great life on the inside too.

I’ve Had a Few

Regrets, that is. I’ve long marveled at those individuals who proudly proclaim that they have no regrets, that they wouldn’t change a single thing in their lives.

I would. There are decisions I would change, words I would say or un-say, places I would go, times I would stay home instead. Each time I heard someone say that they had no regrets, I thought there must be something wrong with me or the way I lived my live. Was I too timid? Did I not make the hard choices? Then I read something that changed my perspective:

The irony of these feelings [of regret] is that we can only experience them because we have grown and changed. Our perspective shifts as we age, and we look back through the eyes of experience, wisdom, compassion, and a deeper understanding about human difficulties.

Amy S. D’Aprix, From Surviving to Thriving: Transforming Your Caregiving Journey

Yes, yes, yes! The adult me would make different choices than the teenaged me. That doesn’t make the teenaged me anything but human. And maybe today I would do things differently than I would a month or a year ago because today I see the situation differently or understand it more deeply.

I’ve been more at peace since I read those words. I’ve made mistakes and learned from them and grown over the years. No regrets about that!

What about you? Where do you fall on the regrets continuum?

The Flip Side of Wellness

I haven’t posted much recently because I’ve been sick and I somehow convinced myself that a blog about wellness and compassion couldn’t include references to my own illness. That’s like saying a blog about soap can’t include references to dirt. Insert head slap here.

While I’ve been sick and hiding out electronically, I’ve continued to teach yoga and meditation and give wellness presentations. (The irony is not lost on me!) I have to address my joint pain and lack of energy directly with my yoga students because there is absolutely no way to fake fluid movement. And you know what? It’s a wonderful teaching tool. As we all sit cross legged at the beginning and end of class, they see that I have to adjust my posture and use cushions to support my knees. There are certain movements that are painful, postures that I can’t hold some days. So I tell my students that. For years, I’ve lectured them about taking care of their bodies and not forcing themselves to do things that their bodies can’t do or aren’t ready to do. Now, I’m modeling it. It’s much more powerful to see someone take care of herself than to just hear it.

That’s why I’m going to share more of my journey back to wellness here. There are some things I’m not ready to write about yet but I’m getting there. And it won’t be all about my knees all the time! There are so many other aspects of wellness, of compassion that starts in our own bodies, to talk about. Things like wisdom, peace, breathing.

What would you like to talk about?

Keep Going

I posted recently on the beauty of starting. The truth is, I’m better at starting than finishing. So often something happens in the middle and I get distracted and go off on a tangent. But this time I’m doing pretty well, not perfectly but pretty well, with my daily knitting. Soon I’ll have a shawl to show for it.

But it wasn’t so easy to get into the routine and this time it had nothing to do with me getting distracted. This time it came in the form of push back from a small gray doggie. My dog, Henry, did not know what to make of the appearance of knitting needles and yarn. What could this fuzzy stuff be that I was cuddling instead of him? (It says something about how neglected my knitting has been that the dog I’ve had for more than two years was stumped by it.) There were varied attempts to bring my attention back to him, most notably repeated bouts of standing on my lap. Standing. It’s a good thing that he’s in the 20 pound range and not 100!

When this happened, I would set the knitting aside and pet the dog. We’d cuddle a bit as I told how handsome he is and what a good boy he is. Then he’d jump down and go about his business. And I’d pick my knitting back up. Now when I pull out my knitting, he might come to sit by my feet but rarely does he feel the need to scale me like a mountain.

I confess that when it comes to responding to resistance, I’m far sweeter to the dog and little kids than to adult humans. They’re supposed to know what’s going on, right? And yet how hard would it be for me to set the knitting or whatever aside for a moment and give them my undivided attention? As long as I pick the knitting back up and keep going, it’s all good. Maybe even better than good because, let’s face it, getting anyone’s undivided attention is divine, isn’t it?

How many times have you been confronted with resistance from those around you when you made a change, however small, in your life? How did you respond?

Start Now

“Six months from now, you’ll wish you started today.” A friend has that quote hanging over her desk. To illustrate it, she showed me before and after pictures from her first six months of weight training. “Because the changes are too small to see from day to day.”

What a timely message. Fall, back-to-school time, has always been a time of new beginnings for me. Almost halfway through August, with school right around the corner, I’m ready to start something new. That something could be a project or a practice, big or small. Like my friend, the changes and progress will be slow. Possibly even invisible at times. And that’s okay. Change doesn’t have to look huge to be meaningful. As long as there’s movement, one step at a time, in the direction of your goal, you can be confident that you will get there.

One step at a time is the key because it implies that the steps keep happening. I like to say that I work to deadlines. That’s procrastinator-speak for waiting until the last moment and doing it in a rush. But not everything can be done in a rush. Even with help, some things take as long as they take. An old boss of mine used to say that three women can’t have a baby in three months. So give yourself enough time. Make an appointment with yourself. Then show up and do it. Every day. A little at a time.

In the spirit of fall, I’m pulling out the knitting needles and yarn for twenty minutes every evening. I won’t need the before and after photos because if all goes well, in six months I’ll have a shawl. What about you? What are you starting?


Thanks Receiving

You’ve seen them. The articles about gratitude, about how thanking people, the universe, God, can strengthen your connection with the flow of love and light. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking it. If anything, I think we should give thanks even more.

But when was the last time you let someone thank you?

If you’re like me, it can be hard. It seems odd to me when someone thanks me for doing something I love, something that brings me joy. And sometimes, it’s hard to accept thanks for something I’ve done imperfectly or not as well as I had hoped.

One of my students set me straight. Recently, a lovely woman who regularly attends my yoga class stopped to thank me. Embarrassed, I tried to brush it off but she wouldn’t let me. “You don’t know what you do,” she insisted. She’s right. I don’t know how anyone else perceives what I do. So I stopped protesting and she thanked me for the things I do that she appreciates. It was wonderfully specific feedback. But instead of thanking her for the feedback, I acknowledged her thanks with a heartfelt, “You’re welcome.” Her face showed that she felt heard. It made me realize that all the times I’ve tried to dodge another’s thanks, I’ve denied them a true hearing. No more. From now on, I resolve to not only shower the universe and its inhabitants with my gratitude, but also to hear and acknowledge the thanks of others. And to graciously say, “You’re welcome.”

What about you? When was the last time you said, “You’re welcome”?