Accepting Change

I was reared in a family that never scheduled routine check-ups and avoided seeing the doctor unless it was an emergency. I remember Dr. Yost being called out to our house for me three times in the ten years we lived in Lynnport. When I was seven I had a bad flu, when I was in fourth grade he pulled a large splinter from the back of my leg, and when I was in high school what started as a cold turned into something much worse. Each time my mother’s call to Dr. Yost was the last resort after all efforts by her to heal me failed. So I learned early on that you don’t call the doctor unless there are no other options. And a gazillion options are one click away. 

Following my families tradition I’ve avoided asking a doctor to examine my right hip and instead have designed my own treatment plan. What’s wrong with my right hip? What began as pain a few months ago has settled into unrelenting ache. It aches when I walk. When I climb stairs. When I sleep.

Instead I use heat. I use ice. I use over-the-counter NSAIDs and sleep with a pillow between my knees. My yoga practice is dialed down and until this week I shortened my long walks to brief strolls. I do core exercises to strengthen my back. I’ve added core exercises to support my back. But family traditions die hard and I’ve not seen a doctor. Although, to be fair, the physical therapist I work with ran some range of motion tests on my hip…so there’s that.

But with my medical degree from the University of Google, I assume it’s arthritis that’s plaguing my right hip. I don’t know that, of course, but I assume. And I don’t want to go to the doctor to have my assumptions confirmed and my current approach to treating the pain validated. While I’m blessed to have insurance it comes with a very high deductible which means a very high bill. So I am, for now, sticking to my ice and my heat, my NSAIDs, my mindful movement and my tummy crunches.

Here is the point of this long winded story:

While I continue to avoid seeking medical attention I’ve begun working on accepting change. Because isn’t that what’s really happening? My body is changing. This skin sack I live in, with all its bones and tendons and ligaments, nerves and muscles is aging. And my right hip is reminding me of that truth. 

I have nothing against growing old. I love watching my hair turn silver and I look forward to dispensing kitchen wisdom to any potential step-grandchildren that might show up in my dotage. I’m just not a fan of the baggage that comes along for the ride.

Like my achy hip. Which, by the way, is responding to my treatment plan.

Here’s some news you might use. Did you know yoga teachers have a higher than average incidence of hip replacement? I began teaching yoga almost thirty years ago. All those triangles and twists add up. Factor in the ego-driven yoga practice of youth and you might be looking at a titanium ball and socket joint before you collect social security.

For an interesting take, read this.


Truffles, Baseball Caps & Judgement

During the pandemic a friend of mine eschewed the sourdough bandwagon and instead  mastered chocolate truffle making. His truffles are exquisite. Velvety smooth, they’re indulgent but somehow never ‘too much’. Some of the truffles he makes are elegant and traditional – little spheres of creamy chocolate rolled in cocoa or hazelnut. Others are playful and wear coats of chocolate sprinkles or crystalized ginger. All are simply perfect. 

Sunflowers

I’m thinking about truffles, COVID and politics this morning. Is it just me or does it feel like we’ve figured out how to live with COVID? At least in the the San Francisco Bay Area where vaccination rates are high, infection rates are low and people lean toward wearing masks indoors. New variants don’t hold Omicron’s power to terrorize and we’ve figured out how to enjoy social occasions with groups larger than two again. We’ve even mastered Zoom.

But I’m still baffled by anti-vaxxers. Early on, when vaccines first became available, a friend explained why she would remain un-vaxed: “I take vitamins, I exercise and I’m in good health. And I did my own research.” In hindsight I wish I’d replied, “I bet a lot of people said that before they ended up on a ventilator” but I was too flummoxed. More recently – during the peak of Omicron – a friend invited me to lunch. They excused their lack of vaccination this way, “I’m not going to catch COVID and even if I did, I’m going to die anyway.” Sigh. 

This, believe it or not, brings me back to truffles. 

My truffle making buddy and I meet – vaxed, boosted and, now that mandates have softened, carrying a mask just in case – every few weeks for coffee. If his ganache hasn’t broken I’m presented with an elegant box purchased from Etsy and filled with little yummy bites of joy. 

Today’s truffle was rolled in finely crushed Oreo biscuit and black salt.  The addition of salt added an unexpected and nuanced sophistication to the cookie crumble.  I enjoyed it with a cup of Earl Grey. The morning was pretty much like the truffle – delightful. The sun was shining and people were happily filling bags with produce from the nearby farmer’s market or standing in a long, chatty queue at the dim sum market stall across the street. Even the cafe’s usually grumpy owner was wearing his frown upside down. A few tables away sat a group of four middle-aged friends and a dog. One of the men – slightly older with a thick, grey beard – was wearing a light brown baseball cap with the message ‘Biden Failed Us’ embroidered in gold on the crown.  

To say I found it triggering is an understatement. But not for the reasons you think. Free speech, after all, is a human right.

But in today’s political atmosphere wearing a hat that is guaranteed to provoke feels unnecessary to me. It feels ugly. Selfish in the same way that, unless you are exempt for health or religious reasons, not being vaccinated is selfish. It’s an easy way to be loud without opening your mouth. To look like you are well informed when really you’re more like the Great Oz when he’s revealed to be less of a wizard and more of a fraud. 

I know nothing about the man with the hat and maybe, if I’d asked him, he would have explained with clarity his position. Yet I let his silly hat drag me kicking toward a mental space I find myself locked in more often than I would like. 

Judgement. 

It’s been a messy two years. An exhausting two years. And just when we thought we could see daylight again the world has fallen into a frightening state of chaos. 

I’ve been accused of being a Pollyanna and the accusations are true. I am a card carrying, dyed-in-the-wool Pollyanna. But I believe with all my heart that we have a light within us and this is the time to shine. We shine our light by thinking about how our decisions impact the lives of others. We need to consider how our choices – down to the hat we choose to wear – should lift people up rather than tear them down.  We need to speak with care. We need to own our beliefs but share them with compassion, not vitriol. 

We need to stop being mean.

And above all else, we need more truffles.


Do More! Bend More! Twist More!

I facilitate yoga classes for people in chronic pain. In the decade that I’ve been doing this work my teaching has changed, my attitude has changed and my body has changed. I love this work. It’s beyond rewarding to witness the transformation in people as they discover their capacity for movement and learn to trust their bodies again.

Some aspects of the work, however, are challenging. For instance, it’s difficult sometimes to convince students to ‘start where you are’. To lean into the present moment experience, to feel what they are feeling right now and to allow those feelings to lead the practice. But this challenge is not unique to students in chronic pain.

At times we’ve all abandoned what our bodies need in the moment in favor of our deep rooted goal-oriented mindset. Who hasn’t, at some point, embraced an ego-driven yoga practice? Who hasn’t attempted to show off in front of their instructor or maybe the person on their left, the one with the fancy Manduka mat, struggling with ardha chandrasana? Who among us hasn’t judged their practice through the lens of ‘I have to do more, bend more, twist more, achieve more?’ 

The Sutras remind us that we practice in order to ‘still the fluctuations of the mind’. And in order to still those fluctuation – in order to self-regulate – we must maintain a dedicated practice with no attachment to the outcome. So there is no room for pushing ourselves beyond our limits, no room for unreasonable expectations. There is no room for competition with others and no room for competition with ourselves.

We know that our physical practice is just one limb of this beautiful thing we call ‘yoga’ and that together, all eight limbs of yoga create the yoke that unites the body, mind and spirit. In other words, the dedicated practice called for in the Sutras is not limited to perfecting trikonasana. The forms we create with our bodies, the poses we flow through in alignment with our breath, will build stamina and flexibility. But their true intention is to build the strength we need to find stillness in meditation. An asana practice does not refine our physical body through exercise so that it is capable of doing more. It refines our body so that it might do less.

In your practice this week, what can you do to remain present with your body in this moment? What shift in thinking do you need to make in order to do less?


Creating as a Contemplative Practice

As a young girl I spent weekends at my grandmother’s narrow red brick row home, the one at the end of Poplar Street in Allentown, Pennsylvania, while my mom and step-dad went on the road with their country and western band. To cure my boredom, on Saturday afternoons my grandma would take a small bottle of Elmer’s Glue, some colored construction paper and a pair of child’s safety scissors from the metal cabinet tucked in a corner near the back door and put them down in front of me while I watched at the kitchen table.

Sometimes she poured all the dots left in the bottom of my grandpa’s hole punch into a bowl. Even better was when she gave me the hole punch so that I could make my own dots from the pages of a well read McCall’s magazine. Sometimes my grandma crushed the egg shells she’d saved from breakfasts that week, separated them into three or four Dixie cups and adding a few drops of McCormack’s food coloring to each one.

And then she left me to my own devices. I was free to create textured mosaics with the egg shells or to follow the outline of a pencil drawing with my pile of dots in all shades of color and tone. I sat at that table for hours while my grandma worked around me, grilling sliced onions, mixing horseradish with catsup and frying my beloved Minute Steaks while rolls toasted in the oven for my favorite Saturday dinner. 

The act of creating – whether it’s an egg shell mosaic or an egg filled soufflé, a loom knitted beanie or a black bean burrito – can be a balm that shifts our focus from ruminating on the past or worrying about the future to the moment in which we are living. This moment. The present. There is, however, one caveat. While our intent when we’re creating may be to produce something that we’ll gift to others, the act of creating must be something we gift ourselves. Because creating is a mind-freeing act of self-care.

It took me half a century and a global pandemic to figure that out. 

I think what catches us up when we consider creating something out of nothing is our predilection for wanting to make something perfect. Wanting to create precisely what we see in our mind’s eye. The perfect portrait. The perfect flower arrangement. The perfect layered cake. The perfect dance. When we abandon those ideas of perfection and decide instead to lean into the question ‘I wonder what would happen if…’ creating becomes contemplative play. As the chaos we’re living through continues to storm around us, creating as contemplative play becomes a gift of self-care that reduces anxiety, changes perspective and sparks joy.

Right now I’m spending my ‘creativity time’ playing with needle and thread, fabric and photographs. I’m learning new skills like felting and sashiko and boro and remembering old skills that I loved as a child like embroidery. 

When was the last time you dug out that set of colored pencils you keep stashed at the back of your desk? Or finished the blanket you began knitting two years ago? Or made your grandmother’s lemon bar recipe? Or dusted off that guitar? Or done any activity that lights up a different part of your brain and moves you from the routine to the sublime?

It’s time.


Pandemic Poundage and the Mystery of Self-Care

I’ve joined Noom, the diet app that changes our relationship with food. For the uninitiated, Noom is an online health and wellness coaching app focused on weight loss. It includes all the typical elements of a healthy eating plan: tracking food and weighing in. But it also includes daily lessons that teach me about my triggers, how to maintain motivation and the benefits of positive reinforcement. Noom also provides an online coach who checks in daily. I’ve yet to determine whether my coach Jessye is a real human or a bot but given the specificity of our conversations I’m leaning toward human. 

For the past two years my body has been gently expanding and the pandemic has accelerated this loathsome process. Given that I’m at the beginning of life’s ‘chapter three’ I know that in order to enjoy the rest of my life story I need to be the best version of me I can muster. What’s the best version of me? The best version of me is:

  • an advocate for her yoga students and coaching clients
  • a woman who demonstrates compassion and caring
  • someone who is not afraid to laugh with gusto at bad jokes and loves fearlessly
  • a person who takes time to nurture the parts of her that makes the heart sing: writing, creating and simple stillness

If I want those visions of who I am to shine, then the best version of me must also be this: 

A strong and healthy woman.

And so, a day after my 62nd birthday and two days before the start of the American Food Fest that we call the ‘holiday season’ I joined Noom. Timing is not my strong suit.

It’s too early to tell if I’ll shift my Pandemic Poundage and while that’s a priority it’s not the priority. The priority for me is not shifting the weight, it’s shifting my attitude about how I choose to take care of myself. 

What is Self-Care?

The concept of self-care has always been, for me, a bit of a mystery. Is it a quick mani/pedi or a long soak in the bathtub? Maybe it’s a glass of Pinot at the end of a long, hard day or a new pair of shoes worn once and then donated to charity. In the Before Times self-care fell under the category of ‘unnecessary gift’ – a small and perhaps selfish indulgence to soothe a bad day. I didn’t see the connection between self-care and good health. 

But during a coaching session a few weeks ago my client arrived at an awareness that is changing both our lives:

My body is my friend. Would I treat a friend the same way I treat my body?

When I heard that simple truth and all the best versions of me that I envision aligned. They challenged me to reflect on my somewhat debauched pandemic behavior and re-affirmed the importance of self-care.

Self-care, it turns out, is more than a new pair of blue suede shoes. Self-care is a deliberate act of nurturing that supports our mental, emotional and physical health. A good self-care practice improves our outlook on life. It reduces anxiety. It improves our relationships. Placing a priority on self-care is like putting the oxygen mask on first. Once we can breathe we can help others to do the same.

What Does My Self-Care Practice Look Like?

  • It has it’s own rhythm and flow that moves with my needs and instincts
  • At the same time, it’s a practice that needs to be planned
  • A self-care plan adds and subtracts: I might add more exercise and subtract my habit of checking emails first thing in the morning. I’ll add cut flowers to my environment and put my phone in another room at dinner.
  • My self-care practice includes Noom, which is reminding me to make good (not perfect) nutritional choices.
  • It also includes good sleep hygiene. Like Ben Franklin, I’m early to bed and early to rise. While it might make me healthy, there’s no guarantee it will make me wealthy or wise. One can always hope, I suppose.
  • A self-care plan includes movement. When life pressed ‘pause’ in March I began a walking program that, until a nasty fall, had transitioned to jogging. I’ve now settled on brisk walking. My walks – typically an hour – bring clarity and focus. Even at a brisk pace they relax and unwind me.
  • Most importantly, my self-care plan includes spending quality time with the man I love. With the pandemic keeping us working from home you would think that would be easy. It’s not. Ben and I make certain to eat at least one meal together and to take longs walks together on the weekends. 

Self-care plans are as unique as the individual.

What does your self-care plan look like? What habits no longer serve you? What new habit will bring you closer to the best version of you?


Election Day

Four years ago I didn’t realize how much I needed to see a woman in the White House until it didn’t happen.  And when it didn’t happen I was bereft. I was also afraid for the future of our country. I had taken the election for granted and was too ill-informed to understand how it could have possibly happened that we elected our current President. I remember feeling dazed and finally falling asleep, well past midnight, on the couch of the house where I happened to be cat sitting.

The following morning I headed to Samyama Yoga Center to teach my 8:15 AM class.  I wasn’t convinced that, under the circumstances, anyone would arrive ready to unroll their mat. But they did. Shell-shocked and slack jawed, their eyes swollen from crying too much the night before. 

I hope that tomorrow, when I open my Zoom class, that we are all crying again. This time for joy.

We are so close. So close. But I still have some left over sorrow from 2016 so I’m not going to raise my hopes. I’m going to be patient. And whether it takes a day or a week or a month I’ll be ready to celebrate and ready to thank all the women who came before me. The women who fought for the right to vote and the women who fought – and still fight – for equality.

Today is a very big deal and I’m trying my best to stay calm.

Cooking keeps me calm. I’ve been cooking. Alot.

On Sunday morning I filled the refrigerator with food for the week: rice and lentils, quinoa salad with toasted hazelnuts, congee and sweet potato chili. I filled the freezer, too. On Sunday afternoon I finally took a chance with the ‘yogurt’ button on my Instant Pot Duo and made the cottage cheese we ate with slices of fresh off the vine tomatoes we nurtured on our porch through the summer. Yesterday I made yogurt. This morning I spooned its creamy whiteness into cheesecloth bags and set them up to drain through the day. By this afternoon it will be labneh thick and ready to spoon over berries or baked potatoes. Right now, not even 9:00 AM, I’m caramelizing onions in my cast iron pan. I can freeze some to use later but I have a feeling they won’t last long enough. Most of them are going to grace the caramelized onion and mushroom pizza I’m making for dinner tonight.

Most of my typical Tuesday schedule has been canceled. Peer coaches I had arranged to meet pressed pause for the day and my mentor canceled class today in order to fight the good electoral fight on the streets of New York. I’m teaching a class this afternoon for the pain group in San Mateo and have a meeting with my trauma study group at about the same time as Brian, Rachel, Nicole and Joy begin to report early results. After that you’ll find me eating pizza and streaming MSNBC.

The onions are, at last, caramelized (it took an hour!) and now I’m headed out for a very, very long walk. I might head down to Shoreline but it’s more likely that I’ll speed walk my way around the neighborhood. 

What are you doing today?


The Joy of Small Comforts

So. How’re you doing? It’s been awhile.

We’ve a big couple of weeks ahead of us. You holding up? Yeah. I thought so.

Let me ask you this: what brings you comfort? And you don’t have to say your yoga practice. What brings you to a place where the sharp edges soften and you can feel your jaw unclench?

It depends, doesn’t it? This week for me it seems to be copious amounts of carbohydrates delivered by way of fettuccini. And wine. Lots and lots of wine. Admittedly not the two best choices.

Bruce finding joy in the comfort of recyclable packaging paper.

Thankfully I also find comfort in my morning shuffles. If I start early enough I see Venus in the East and Mars setting in the West. Lately, in the evening, Jupiter and Saturn have been dancing around the moon. I take comfort from the display because these celestial events remind me that I am an infinitesimally small speck spinning through space.The upheavals we endure on our ‘big blue marble’ mean nothing compared to the beauty of the universe.

Ben and I grew container tomatoes and herbs this year and we both find comfort in our small but delicious harvest. There’s something miraculous about dropping a seed into soil and watching it sprout and grow. Even though our ‘garden’ is a slab of cement three floors up it is still a place where we can both connect with the earth.

Bruce the Cat’s demands bring me comfort, too. His bossy meows distract me. They slowly bend my laser focus away from whatever task has me obsessed until he’s on my lap and content to transform his demands into purrs. Other cat people will agree, there is nothing so comforting as a purring cat.

When Ben and I decided to get Bruce a cat tree so that he could gaze out the window and watch the world go by, we made certain there was something for him to look at by installing a bird feeder. Little did we know Bruce had very little interest in ornithology. He could care less there’s a gaggle of birds celebrating the mother lode of seed available at our door all day. But Ben and I find comfort in watching them. And I know my yoga zoom community loves to hear them sing when we’re in practice.

The road ahead is going to stay bumpy a little while longer. Embrace the comfort found in small joys. But take it easy with the fettuccini and wine.


Zoom Zoom Zoom

By the time we’re allowed to resume our ‘old normal’ we’ll be so efficient and comfortable with online gatherings that we may not want to. That being said, my technological prowess is, at times, limited. Hence the Great Zoom Snafu this week. To avoid it happening again (and if you weren’t there you didn’t miss too much) I’ve created a new meeting ID and passcode for Morning Flow, our Monday, Wednesday and Friday class that meets at 8:00 AM PST:

Morning Flow_ Yoga with Mimm

I’ve had several requests to add a more gentle class that meets a little later in the morning. My new class, Movement & Breath, begins on Monday, August 3rd at 9:30 AM PST. This class is a good choice for anyone who has limited mobility, has chronic pain or is recovering from illness or injury. Modifications and variations of poses will always be offered to keep everyone comfortable and safe:

New Class!

 

All of my classes are donation based – please feel free to join any class I offer no matter your current situation.

 


Still Shuffling, but is it Self-Care?

imagesYou might be thinking, “How’s the shuffling going?”

Not bad. Thanks for asking.

Our cat Bruce rises with the birds. These days that’s around 5AM. And if Bruce is up, I’m up. I’ve no complaints. To be truthful, it’s quite nice. At 5AM it’s dark and peaceful but there’s evidence of a patient dawn waiting to break on the horizon. The birds are stretching their wings and calling good morning to one another across the leafy branches but haven’t yet attacked the feeder on our porch. There’s a calm to this time of day that I love.

Around 6:15 I’ll head out for the shuffle. I’ll be honest, until my bones are warm it’s not far removed from plain misery. But after that, after I fall into the rhythm it’s…well…it alternates between misery and torment. Let’s be honest here – if you know me you know I’m not a gazelle. This is a real, fourteen minute shuffle I’m talking about. I’m moving fast enough for my steps to no longer qualify as brisk walking but too slow to be considered running. In fact, calling it jogging is generous. So why would I subject myself to misery and torment so early in the morning? Good question. 

Because it makes me feel good. That’s right. It feels good. I love the challenge, the fresh air, the improvement I can see from day to day. On my first shuffle about six weeks ago I made it one length of a block. What is that? Three hundred feet? And now I can shuffle a full mile before taking a walking break. My morning shuffle is a gift I give my body. It’s a gift I give my psyche.

But I wonder. Is my shuffle self-care? It depends. If by self-care we mean taking time to keep the body healthy and the heart ticking then yes, it’s self-care. If by self-care we mean engaging in an activity from which we derive some pleasure then yes, it’s self-care. But what if by self-care we mean taking time to find solace in the waking dawn?

In that case, listening to the birds sing at 5AM wins every time.

What does self-care mean to you? A warm bath? A long walk? A glass of merlot? More than ever, dedicating some time to self-care each day is important. It’s not selfish nor is it self-indulgent. It’s necessary. Especially now. The way our world has changed in just eight weeks is giving rise to a second pandemic of mental health issues. So, yes, self-care is necessary.

How will you define self-care and how will you bring it into your life?


Three Weeks From Now

I’m watching Brian Stelter on CNN this morning. He makes an important point: it’s not SOCIAL distancing, it’s PHYSICAL distancing we’re meant to practice. And then he asks, “Three weeks ago, what did you think you’d be doing today?”

Three weeks ago I thought today would be the day Ben and I celebrate his birthday a few days late. I imagined a sunny drive to Half Moon Bay and a walk along the bluffs. I imagined a wonderful lunch – maybe at Duarte’s in Pescardero. I imagined a stop at Harley Farms to pet the goats and to stock up on hand salve and habanero jam. Instead, he’s in Ohio helping his son move from his dorm and back home. The campus is closed and for the foreseeable future his classes will be online.

Three weeks ago I thought that later today, after the birthday celebrations, I’d be planning my week, scheduling meetings, thinking about lesson plans, thinking about my first class of the week at Subud House and preparing practices for my individual clients. Instead, I’m filling an empty schedule with the theory classes I need to complete via Zoom as part of the requirements of the 18-month program in coaching through ICA that I enrolled in at the start of the year. I’m thinking about how I can remain physically distant from students and yet still hold on to the continuity of a regular group practice. And of course I’m thinking about all the goals I set for myself at the start of the year that I let go of as life became too full.

But now life isn’t full. Samyama Yoga Center has closed through April. Clients I see in their own homes have pressed ‘pause’ and the pain management programs I’m part of are hanging on by tenterhooks and I would not be surprised if they, too, shuttered for a few weeks.  

I have the mental space I’ve been craving but it does not make me happy. It makes me feel unmoored.  I’m filled with an unnerving mix of acceptance and anxiety.  I peeled myself away from the news just long enough to watch the movie Contagion.

Three weeks ago it was easy to think about what I’d be doing today. Ask me what I’ll be doing three weeks from now and I don’t have an answer.

This brings home the truth that our only constant is change and the most important thing we can do to feel safe in an uncertain world is to remain rooted in our practice.

As Seltzer ended his segment he suggested social media can be a force for good. And why not? It doesn’t matter if it’s filled with saccharine quotes, fake news and cute cat videos. It can also be a place where we can still be together. 

Hang in there. Stay healthy and in cyber-touch.  Wash your hands, moisturize and don’t hoard toilet paper.