Yoga Practice

What to Expect

Rose

My breast cancer story has come to a conclusion, with my reconstruction surgery last Wednesday.  Now it is time to be there for others who are just starting their breast cancer journeys.  I feel a bit like an imposter since I had stage 1 and didn’t require chemo or radiation, but I have already been pressed into duty by the sisterhood. Like those wonderful strangers I spoke to on the phone after my diagnosis, I will be there to support anyone who needs it.

What can you expect?

Expect grace and actively seek it out. Open up to its descent. Practice staying awake, just like you did as a child before a big, beautiful day. It is there. You feel it healing. Then you will see it everywhere.

 Hmmm…I don’t think I’m going to be very good at this.

You are a warrior, though this is not a fight or a war. You love your body. It didn’t betray you, it is just doing what bodies do.  You are armed with the righteous power of the present moment. You aren’t to kill, but to heal. You aren’t to fight, but to strip your armor and open wide to this experience so that you can heal. 

I think back to the women I spoke with — friends of friends, who were strangers when I called them and sisters when I hung up. I am thankful for their advice, for their willingness to speak about their experience.

The practical advice I received from these women was comforting and helpful. Their lives, their health, their resilience were inspiring. It reminded me of hearing friends’ birth stories when I was pregnant.  The stories were unique, cathartic, mesmerizing and real. They made me brave, but now I know those stories were nothing like mine would be.

The word “grace” in Sanskrit means “that which follows the grasping.”  When I first read this, I thought that grace came after the understanding that I couldn’t control the outcome of my journey.  But the ancients meant the “grasping” of the truth:  that the body is expendable.  It has a time limit.  But the spirit doesn’t.  It is light. Timeless, eternal light that is everything, everywhere.  It is the light that heals.  Pay attention to the light.

See?  I’m really not too sure about this advice thing. Little heavy handed that.  But on the lighter side, I called my tissue expanders my “coke bottle boobs.”  The magnet ports reminded me of the screw off tops, the wrinkles in my breast mounds like the as hard and shiny as the creases on old glass bottles of Coke. Tom and I joked about it because laughter is the best medicine in our family, but there are others who can’t laugh because of what will come after the expanders are placed — months of chemo, worry, exhaustion, surrender.

I am blessed to be me exactly as I am even if my body is cancering. I am also blessed to be exactly as you are, since we are both the same light, reflecting back on itself in a playful, joyful act of love.  No, cancer isn’t a gift, it is just part of this beautiful, terrible life.  It is as mundane and regular as cold, gloomy afternoons and boring business meetings.  All is well if you can be here right now in this present moment, if you can see the light and open to healing no matter what is happening in your body.

I have absolutely no advice on bras.  Still looking for the right one, though my bud Grace told me I would be back in my old worn and comfy ones soon.  I shopped in consignment stores for button downs that covered up my Ursula Andress surgical vest.  I never paid much mind to my breasts, but I had to grieve them when the time came to say goodbye. My dear friend Corinne was there when this realization hit me hard and let me cry a good long time. We will all grieve the physical someday.  Those of us with cancer just get a preview.

I am here to listen, support, encourage and share with you the fruits of grace. Namaste, sister.

1 by three

 

 

 

All Saints Arrived Early This Year

Mom and me

As I’ve recovered from surgery, I’ve found my way back to teaching art to my beloved friends at Thomas Circle Retirement Community. I decided to teach the technique of assemblage. So I set out to make a piece as an example and document the thinking and the process I took along the way.

I didn’t intend it to be personal. I must have forgotten that art is healing and healing is always personal.

I’d asked participants to bring a photo of themselves in their youth and a box to the first class. In the example that I started to create for them, I chose a picture of myself and my mother taken in 1967 that I’ve always loved.  The flash above my head, the light that creates bars across our bodies, the iridescence of the shiny pattern in the old couch — such a beautifully bad photo my father took one morning in Baltimore.  The flash above my head, the light bands across our bodies and the reflective fabric details initially brought to my mind the miracle of genetic code that is inherited from our parents.

A chemistry textbook written in 1941 and downloaded genetic sequences took way too much of my time as I tried hard to make a statement about my inheritance.  I rejected the result as too heavy-handed. I also spent a long time with micro twinkle lights that made the piece a gimmick. I was relaying the surface, the concept, but not the real meaty stuff of legacy.

When I paused in frustration and concentrated on the few things I can remember about this time in my life, the year before my brother was born, I had a breakthrough.  There was an old chest with tall Queen Anne legs,  the bottoms of which were claw and ball.  Mom had painted it a cheery yellow. The two doors of the cabinet had brass lion pulls — the rings were in their mouths.  Perhaps these were memorable because they were right at shoulder level for me.  When opened, the cabinet revealed a red velvet flocked wallpaper — shocking even to a 4 year old in its ironic juxtaposition of school-bus paint and musty Victorian interior.  On many occasions I bent into the cabinet, my belly on the nubby paper and the smell of chemical glue in my nose.

Top of boxThis memory led to my choice to use the box top painted bright yellow to involve the viewer in the reveal of cool darkness inside. I have an old circle pin with Mom’s married initials on it that I’ve attached to the brass pull — making this more of a memorial to her in my mind.

 

Inside of boxThe inside of the box top is part of an old housecoat (I guess I got this from her  –I can’t imagine who else would have given me a housecoat!) memorializing a time and place that embraced the aesthetic of monogrammed circle pins, this piece of furniture, avocado colored kitchens, sculptured wall to wall carpets, bouffant hair dos and brightly colored housecoats.

As I worked with this piece, I laid down, once again, in that cool dark interior and allowed my vision to adjust, something I couldn’t allow myself to do this summer as I went through surgery for stage 1 breast cancer. I couldn’t add another heartbreak to my losses. There in the darkness I remembered a conversation I had with Mom in the Weinberg Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins after her surgery for pancreatic cancer. She took my hand, squeezed it and thanked me for coming every day to see her. I love you mom, I said. “If it were you in this bed, I’d sleep on the floor,” was her reply. The love she had for her family was so bright it still shines on me; it was so bright it was captured in the flash above my head in 1967.

Inside of box 2Her parents loved her as fiercely as she loved my brother and me. As people who were born, raised and are buried in the Appalachian mountains of Eastern Kentucky, they are most likely responsible for the lyrics of the old Carter Family song that came to me as I painted and glued the final parts of the box:

Well, there’s a dark and a troubled side of life,/There’s a bright and a sunny side too…/Keep on the sunny-side, always on the sunny-side/Keep on the sunny-side of life…

The song brought me back to summer mornings in the kitchen in Harlan, KY listening to my Mom and her mother talk and laugh as they put up vegetables from the garden for the winter in their brightly colored housecoats.

My intention was to demonstrate a process of collecting, assembling and evoking a memory, dream or concept for my class. The universe reminded me of my legacy, the darkness and salty taste of grief, and the comfort and warmth of the light of love.  I am so grateful for the healing that comes from the yoga of art-making.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Cooperative — more a way of life than a business model

Yoga Equals

Big news.  We’ve had our first official Board Meeting and we’ve drafted our Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws.  From a foundation of compassion and inclusion, we will offer quality teaching and support to professional yoga teachers through transformative programs including continuing education.

As we take this step, we will change our name.  We are no longer the DC Yoga Co-op.

Why abandon this name?  First, we want to avoid confusion with two wonderful online communities of yoga teachers in the region.  The Yoga Co-op DC and the DC Yoga Teachers Collaborative are doing great work getting the practice out to people in the community, communicating workshops and classes and offering a forum for teachers to pose important questions and receive answers from peers.

Secondly, a cooperative is a very specific business model and as we have worked with teachers in the community, we see that our aims and purposes as an organization are much more charitable and educational than profit or benefit sharing.  There is so much more we can do together to bring quality yoga teaching and transformative education to local communities.

Finally, we’re here to serve communities and teachers from around the region — not just the city. (And maybe even farther beyond? Dream big, we say.)

We chose a name that reflects the passion we have for in-person community and the connection we have through this practice.  We wanted to reflect the fact that the word yoga comes from the Sanskrit seed word “yuj” meaning “yoke.”  Right in the middle of our name, we placed a symbol of what excites us mostan equals sign that is a constant reminder to break down barriers that divide us as yogis, yoga teachers and as people on this earth.

Dear friends and colleagues: I introduce you to Yoga=Union, for short in conversation: Yoga Union.

Yoga Teachers: want to be part of Yoga=Union?  Sign up here for news and information you need as a teacher, like debriefs of educational events – you have our promise that we won’t spam and we won’t share your information.  And follow us on Facebook and Instagram for information on upcoming social and educational events.

Next:  More Norma…Ray of Light. What Yoga=Union will do for local communities and yoga teachers.

On Insta soon:  Meet our Board and hear their thoughts and aspirations.