Wellness

More than Curious

365 days ago, I decided that it was hypocritical to teach about how to achieve clarity of mind.  Especially when I had been working hard fogging my mind every night with a glass or two of wine, and on weekends with my best friend the (incredibly dry) Cosmo.

Living without alcohol this year has been surprisingly easy. Yet, when I see this picture, taken of me at an Airbnb in Genoa, Italy, I am suckerpunched with nostalgia. We were there in April — Rose’ season.  We would have a bottle at lunch or dinner after a day of touring. The food was a revelation, made holy with the taste of wine. There was an Aperol Spritz for people-watching at sunset …an espresso and grappa after dinner. I look at this photo now and know that on April 21, 2019 I made a choice that has taken me away from this  place, hopefully forever. I didn’t know it then, and now the knowing brings about the suffering of the return, which is the etymology of “nostalgia.”

Nostaligia is a lie we tell ourselves about the past. It is rose (or in this case Rose’) colored glasses.

I didn’t make any big pronouncements when I left.  I said I’d be gone just a little while.  I wrote about my curiosity about sobriety and that I wanted clarity — that was the truth I shared here. But if I could have been honest with myself, I also wanted to step out of the putrid light of shame. Not only the shame of not exactly remembering what I said after the second or third Cosmo, but also the shame of wasting the time I’d been given to paddle furiously towards truth, freedom, compassion.

About four weeks after I stopped drinking, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am thankful for this turn of events. It would have been hard to navigate that experience in a fog, blinded by the cold comfort of Tito’s. Just another way that I know that the universe has my back.

Lots of stuff has come up in social media — some funny, some sad — about how alcohol is essential to what we are experiencing now. Here’s my experience that might resonate with you: Pain experienced in clarity has the ability to bring peace, even joy, as you find that you already have all the resources you need to move through challenging times. Celebration is all the more celebratory when you can really live into the moment, really be with people you love, rather than wondering if there is just one more glass of champagne left in the bottle.

This picture was taken by my love on our trip to Costa Rica in February, to celebrate our 32nd anniversary. Compared to the photo above, this pic is decidedly less glamorous.  It might be that my drink, a mango smoothie, matches my dress perfectly. I had one every night we were there in February, each one tasting like the sunset. Glamor-schmamor — it was experienced in the now, where everything is an elixir.

So this is a day for a mango smoothie! There will be other milestones on this journey, I know it. Many thanks to intrepid people who have inspired me on this path and who support me every step of the way — you know who you are.

Transfom. Further. Off the Mat.

I had chosen “surprise” as my word for 2020. When I say this to folks, I can tell that they are trying to figure out a polite way to ask me “haven’t you had enough surprises already?” And my answer would be, “No.  No I have not yet had enough surprise.”  I am thankful for the kind of surprise I received this summer.  I got an instant reset in beginner’s mind — there was nothing to do but breathe in the moment and be grateful.  I didn’t know what was next and I relinquished control.  I found my center, despite the chaos. And I am transformed by the experience.

 

In 2020, I expect further surprise (can you expect to be surprised? I say yes!) I want to be continuously awed by the world around me — from the two little foxes that live near our back yard to Great Falls; from the jungle of Costa Rica to the northern lights of Newfoundland.  I want to be delighted by the gifts that come from a relationship that has lasted 32 years and excitement that children who are grown and doing awesome things in the world bring to my life. For the way in which my teaching practice will continue to open my heart up to new studios, new clients, new teacher trainees and students, new capabilities, new things to learn.

I will get back on my mat this month. I guess I could spend some time feeling sorry for the muscular atrophy that awaits me after this second surgery. Instead, I’m prepping myself for the amazement that will come as I step off the mat into the world. As I did these small collages at the end of 2019, the universe was telling me that it will be a very juicy experience.

Surprising, Juicy New Year to you and all you love.

 

Weeds and Seeds

Cancer has been a summer weed for me, but I’m happy to report that the doctors plucked it out by the roots. My breast cancer was stage 1, no node involvement and I do not need additional treatment. Only a 5% chance that it returns somewhere else in my body. So I’m cancer free, and I feel so very fortunate and blessed. I will always keep a huge space in my heart for women and the people that love them who have not had this kind of prognosis.

As I return to the ordinary ways of my life (I start teaching at YogaWorks again tomorrow), I have some resolutions I’d like to plant in cancer’s place. One is to practice keeping my heart open at all times, not just special times. To remember the wounds every being I encounter has and perhaps hides. To be part of the healing rather than the hurting. (This is a big order for someone who can leave a yoga class completely blissed out and then be in a snit about a driver who refuses to use a blinker when turning.)

The second resolution I am making is to set aside time for intentional creativity. I was so happy teaching 12 classes a week — 3 of them were art classes for older adults through Iona. Each lesson was a flowering of my own creativity but it had an extrinsic purpose. I had to have the right materials, make sure that I could teach this lesson in an hour and a half and think through modifications for those with physical challenges so they had the resources they needed to create. The paintings I did these past four weeks were intrinsic — done just for the love of doing it — and in this way they were healing. Though I’ve shared some with you here, there are others I’ll never share.  They are just for me.

So: two resolutions grown during the summer of breast cancer.  As I’ve gotten better and I’m getting used to new limitations and new body parts (!), I’ve been aware of the healing energy that has shone down on me every step of the way. I’ve soaked up all this love and warmth and I’m ready to give back now. Thank you for helping me get to this place of harvest.

I’ll continue to post about how the practice of yoga can heal, sharing the way my practice as a yogi, teacher and creative shows up for me.  But for now, thank God, no more about cancer.

 

 

Heart Dagger

 

Sternum

Consistently walking is the best thing for my healing. (10,000 steps a day most days this past week!) Another important practice for me right now is living on our screened-in porch from breakfast to past dinner — eating, reading, art-making, and doing sudoku puzzles. The weather this past week has been another amazing gift.

Planting myself in the green has allowed my energy to flow up and around my heart center. I feel joy and gratitude which flows out in my “hellos” and “good mornings” to people I encounter on my walk. Surprisingly, a few have frowned and turned their gaze down after my interaction. And I think, how crusty does a heart have to be impenetrable to this day, this velvet green? Then I remember something my teacher Todd said as I was just beginning my yoga practice. As he cued a heart opener he made an observation that these particular asanas place us in a vulnerable place — where  we aren’t protecting our heart. I try to remember to open, to give, to practice gratitude and compassion, regardless of what I encounter along the way.

Happy girl and her sternumThis is a picture of me when I was in the recovery room. I don’t remember a thing about this part of my surgery, but Tom has told me about it. First, that I insisted that he take this picture (!) Also that I told him that I could feel my sternum so many times it made him and some of the nurses chuckle. Each time the nurses would explain something to me about this feeling I was having. But after hearing this story, I think it was a habit of my mind.

Anyone who has been in my class, knows that I like to cue heart-openers with  an awareness to the sternum. Lots of us with a bit more give in our backs will focus on the curling (and usually dumping) in the spine. But if in preparation, we instead bring our awareness to the strength of the abdominals and the lift of the sternum, we lengthen the back body and our heart lifts up and out rather than down or in.

The sternum protects the heart and the lungs. It is shaped like a dagger. Its three parts– the manubrium, gladiolus and xiphoid process — are Latin words for handle, sword and “sword shaped.”  When we are young, the low tip, the xiphoid process, is soft cartilage.  By the time we are 40, this part of the sternum has ossified into bone.  Perhaps this process is a reason why someone would frown when a stranger smiles and says “morning!”  It is hard to unsheathe the dagger to expose and offer the soft heart underneath.

As I heal from bilateral mastectomy and get ready for the final phase of my reconstruction, I can’t place my body in shapes that open the heart for a while. But no matter. I can place my attention and awareness on my heart and how it shows up in the world. I can choose to remove the dagger. And so on my walks I look at someone, smile, say good morning and mean it.

Grace Comes in a Surgical Vest

Flak Jacket

My new uniform for a few weeks

At the beginning of this week, I explained to my classes that I was going on medical leave. I kept it as La Di Da as I could.

In each class, there was a person who waited until all the other students left so that he or she could ask about my diagnosis. I was honest about breast cancer and my need for a bilateral mastectomy. The reason I didn’t announce this diagnosis and treatment as I sent around the healing stone at those final classes is that I didn’t want to trigger someone with my news. So many women have had breast cancer. Someone in my class has either had a scare, had it, or had a close relative or friend who had it or died from it. In my classes over the years, I have had students who have shown up in their compression sleeves having conquered it or in their head scarves as they lived with its treatment. Soon, I’ll join their ranks as I return to community practice.  (Can’t wait!)

La Di Da doesn’t mean repressing hard feelings. Getting to this surgery wasn’t a breeze. I grieved by painting watercolor portraits of my breasts (yup, never sharing). As I painted the line, the form, the shape I allowed myself to reminisce about how I felt about them as a early teen, how they served me well as I fed my infant children, or of beautiful garments that showed them off. I thought about the meaning of breasts in our culture and in others, about sexuality and objectification. As I finished the last painting I thought about how much space I had created for healing by honoring and packing these old breasts away.

Today, as the grace of healing is just pouring down on me, I’m glad I made some room for it through grief. I have been treated by excellent doctors and compassionate nurses. I have a family and a community of people who call, write, text, and show their love and support in so many ways. Tom has emptied my drains, kept up with my meds and has been a constant companion through all of the prep for the surgery and will be there as we await a call about the pathology, next treatment steps and final surgery to complete reconstruction.

UrsulaI’m even grateful for this white surgical vest with its exaggerated cups and industrial zipper — it looks like something Madonna wore on the “Virgin” tour — and my handy-dandy drain belt in matching white Velcro. The first time I undressed in front of a mirror, I said, “Hey!  Don’t I look like Ursula Andress in that Bond movie?”  And Tom, because he is a beautiful soul, agreed enthusiastically as he prepared my shower.

 

 

Healing Stone

Stone

This is my healing stone, given to me by friends and Iona, who invited me to a lunch last month.  As we parted, Deb invited each person to share healing energy with me by holding the stone in their hands for a brief moment. This past week, I’ve told my students that I’ll be on medical leave for at least four weeks.  This is the longest I’ve been away in 7 and 1/2 years.  I’ve brought this healing stone with me and have had students share their energy with me after a juicy practice.  I will ask Tom to bring it to the hospital room with him when I am in recovery mode so that I can feel the love and light of my friends in the palm of my hand.

This past three weeks, I’ve taught from Yoga Sutra II:16:  Prevent the suffering that is yet to come. How? Find equanimity.  We can use our bodies to find balance. Working to step on the earth in such a way that there is equal weight in each foot. Shaping the breath in equal inhales and exhales. Using the body and breath to step back from your thoughts and be the witness rather than the participant. From this place of equanimity the present moment holds peace, spaciousness, joy. In the beginning of our practice, the glimpse of this space is so fleeting, but with time it grows big enough to hold our suffering and to know that suffering will end.

This is grace.  We’ve got all the  we gifts we need to receive it: body, breath, mind, heart and spirit.

Thank you for your healing thoughts and prayers.