Lessons on grace, from Anne Lamott and Frank Zappa

Today, I remembered the great quote from Anne Lamott that says, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” We all do this from time to time, and perhaps now even more than ever. Imagine if we didn’t back our opinions with the self-righteousness of God?

Then, there’s this: my brother in law’s friend told me this story that his mom told him. One time, a crazed fan broke into Frank Zappa’s house, wielding a gun. Zappa had company over, but took it in stride. He offered the gun holder a beer, and a seat, and everyone sat down to talk. Then he said, my friends and I were just getting ready to do this ceremony in which we say goodbye to something. Can we do that?

They went to this pond in the backyard, and everyone started saying goodbye to their attachments, by throwing something into the water. Frank Zappa threw something in (a sandal? a book? The details have been lost). Then he looked expectantly at the guy. He looked at his gun, said *@!& it!, and threw the gun into the water, and left.

Imagine meeting your attacker with such smooth grace. There have been many stories like this circulated, although perhaps not with such a personage as Frank Zappa at the center. I don’t even know if it’s true, but I like to think it is.

What could be possible if we didn’t assume things about people? What if instead of reacting, we offered the proverbial olive branch (or beer) to someone that we perceive as an attacker? If you have a story about this, please leave it in the comments.

 

Yoga for Depression

I’m finishing up an excellent book, Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way by Nancy Liebler and Sandra Moss. I am not currently depressed, but I certainly have been in the past. Actually, I was first introduced to yoga about 20 years ago when I went through a severe clinical depression, which included a hefty dose of anxiety as well (as depression often does). Yoga is, and has been a touchstone, and a first line of defense when depression and/or anxiety looms.

A little more on that, because this is a topic near and dear to my heart. For many people who get out of control depression, anxiety may be the first sign. If you find yourself acting and thinking more intensely than normal, take care. The body and mind get so wound up, that eventually, the system shuts down and depression may result. Think of it as a car engine overheating. If you’ve ever driven a really crummy car, or series of (as I did for an entire decade of my life), you may have experienced this. First the gauge starts to show that you are getting too warm. If you are a reasonable driver, you may decide that you really need to get somewhere, and maybe you will see if driving slower will still get you there, or to a service station. You turn off the air, pray you hit no stoplights. Eventually, you either manage to fix the problem, or you break down. This process is very like the reality of unchecked anxiety. If you don’t slow down, and regroup, you may not make it to your service station. You may just break down, which is when anxiety turns to depression. Having a daily yoga practice is an excellent way to keep on top of how and what you are feeling.

In this book, the authors offered a great overview of the different types of depression, some Ayurveda informed practices to support the different types, lifestyle changes, and some sample case studies to use as examples. If you find that depression, sadness, or anxiety loom heavy on your heart, I encourage you to find human help. If depression is something you revisit periodically, try reading the book before you are in crisis. You may discover what your early signs are, and be able to minimize your next event. More people have experienced depression than you know. And when you make it through, I urge you to be a light for others who are caught out in the dark. Having made it through, I feel like it is my duty (and a welcome one) to look out for others who may be stumbling, or have succumbed.

If you have never experienced depression, don’t try to cheer your depressed friend up. Just sit with them. Honestly, the best thing you can do is to acknowledge their pain, in a spirit of empathy. There is a wonderful Brene Brown video on the difference between sympathy and empathy. Watch it. Being there means everything.

 

 

Like attracts like

Today, I gave a presentation at my church about some of the spiritual observances of yoga (primarily the Yamas and Niyamas) and led the group in a chair based yoga practice, incorporating breath awareness, and a little bit of breath control. Afterwards, I took questions, which is always fun. In that Q&A period, someone asked what kind of practice they should pursue. This is where discipline comes in.

If you are a fiery overachiever, you will be most attracted to a fiery, accomplishment-driven practice. If you are a couch potato, restorative may be the only yoga you really want to sign on for. However, since like attracts like, if you are fiery, and only do fiery, you are only making yourself more intense. One of the many wonderful purposes of yoga is to help to bring us into balance. If you are fiery, asking you to do a restorative may be too much of a leap, but could you find joy in a more contemplative practice that still offers some challenge? If you are sedentary, a fast-paced flow class may be excessive, but could you find some challenge in an Iyengar class? Over time, we can use this balancing of opposites to bring us to the practice that we need.

Seasons of our lives also impact what might be best for us. If you are a busy householder, finding an hour to carve out each day for a languorous practice may not be practical, but you could develop a shorter practice that offers the maximum benefit. If we are in ill health, perhaps our practice may focus on breath control and meditation, and less on the poses.

Whatever we choose, examine whether it is moving you toward a noble goal, or a superficial one. If yoga is bringing you more stability, insightfulness, and introspection, you are on the right track. How does yoga help you? Let me know in the comments.

We don’t just have fuzzy hearts

This weekend in school, I learned something kind of gnarly. Every night, when we go to sleep, in between our muscles we grow the equivalent of toe jam. It’s really connective tissue and fascia, but the comparison to toe jam popped into my head right away. If you have small children, you know what this is. If you don’t know, well, bless you. I think you will live with the disappointment. The video that illustrated this is called The Fuzz Speech, where a doctor is using cadavers (yes, dead bodies) to show it in detail. Watch it if you aren’t squeamish, otherwise, just read about it here.

In short, we develop this “fuzz” every night when we sleep. When we wake up, we are a little stiff, and the development of this tissue is why. The only way we can clear this tissue is from moving around, stretching, and working our bodies. If you are sedentary, that tissue builds up over time, eventually becoming very thick and more stiff, requiring deep massage and body work to clear it out over time.

Massages are wonderful (I personally recommend my friend Lisa, who is the best massage therapist I know and a warm-hearted, funny individual), but let’s also commit to joyful movement every day. Let’s keep our hearts warm and fuzzy, and clear out the rest.

We are the world

Listening to all the crazy rhetoric going around these days reminded me of an experience that I had nearly a decade ago. As a full time librarian, one of the best projects I ever got to do was a big outreach program to adult learners. These people were amazing. All of them worked hard, and jumped in with both feet. I remember meeting one Mexican immigrant to our country who worked cleaning offices from 10 pm until 4 in the morning, then went to his landscaping job from 5 am until noon. Then he went to school to get his GED and improve his English literacy skills, then got some sleep before returning to work. In this project, I met with people who were getting their GEDs, becoming medical assistants, were just learning adult literacy skills, English, dental assisting, all kinds of stuff. I got to present to about 500 adult learners over the course of this project.

It was the end of the term, and the Director of the organization invited me to the ELL (English Language Learners) and Citizenship end of year party and presentation. For their big finale, about 70 students crowded up on stage together to sing “We are the World” complete with waving arms that were meant to be synchronized, but really weren’t. Some arms waved overhead to the left, some right, some bumped into other arms. What was universal was that everyone on that stage, from Iran to China to Russia had the most glowing faces that were beaming with pride. All of a sudden, it was as if my vision shifted and I saw everyone with the love of perfect Creation, as if I was looking through the eyes of God, or the Maker, or Supreme Consciousness. My heart and my eyes sprang forth, one welling with love, the other with tears for the beauty of it all.

After the ceremony, everyone tromped off the stage, beaming with their shared experience, receiving their American flags. And they were proud. And I was overcome. That day, I felt like I saw into their hearts, and saw with God’s heart.

 

Two chances to practice on Thursdays!

I am pleased to announce that I have a new class that is good for beginners, or those who want to find more time to settle into their postures. I am doing a Hatha Yoga class, which means minimal flow work, lots of holds, incorporating props to find different ways to explore the pose. This class is on Thursday mornings, 9:15 at Willow Glen Yoga.

If Hatha isn’t your bag, directly afterwards, I am teaching a Chair Yoga class at 11 am at Almaden Yoga, Via Valiente location.

As ever, if you have any questions, please email me. I would love to hear from you.

 

My possible pasts

Recently, I caught up with a very old friend who I haven’t spoke to in well over a decade. Thank you, Facebook! Our boyfriends of the time were best friends, and we would all hang out once in a while. What was interesting was talking with her (aside from her being cool) but also realizing how much we had in parallel at that juncture of our lives, and neither of us had any idea about our similarities. Remember, our main connection was who we were dating.

The other interesting thing was to find out that she has stayed in touch, sort of, with my old boyfriend…and to find out after all these years what has happened to him. He has big health issues, and has been getting multiple surgeries to manage them, and he’s only in his early 40s, just like me.

Years and years went by of talking with people, and everything was just the “same old” thing, but now, in my 40s, people I hung out with in high school are dying and getting surgeries. People I dated, and otherwise. For some reason, Pink Floyd’s song Your Possible Pasts got stuck in my head, chiefly for the title. It just got me to thinking though, I’ve been so lucky. Pretty much every possible past I had was a pretty awful one.

When I was a teenager, I hitchhiked across America, which is a story for a different blog post altogether. The salient point here is that for a time, I traveled around with two other girls who were my same age. Both girls returned home a few months before I did, but headed back out on the road a short time later. One girl was eventually abducted and abused horribly, resulting in long term rehab therapy (she had to relearn to walk) and had sustained substantial brain damage. My other friend never could settle down again. She had a child, but abandoned him repeatedly to head back out on the road. How is it that I was in the lucky 33%?

My possible pasts. As a librarian, I loathe to give you any spoilers, so I won’t tell you what book it is (unless you email me, then I will), but once I read a book that had a parent and child one of the worst scenarios I can possibly imagine. At the end of the book, as the parent is breathing their [ha ha! Being tricky by not naming the gender here, so as to not set a spoiler trail] last, they say “we’ve always been lucky, haven’t we?” That line was so haunting to me, and it’s kind of a touchstone line I have for myself. I’ve always been lucky too. Not in the obvious ways, but in the grand scheme of things, what luck.

I hope you are all lucky too, in all the right ways.

 

 

Yoga Therapy Available Now!

I am well into my first year as a Yoga Therapist in training, and am free to see clients! I have already been seeing a number of people, with some good results so far. I love this work, since it is where my librarian brain and my yoga brain meet. When you do reference interviews with people at the library, you listen and take in all the information; what they need, what they think they need, what they want, how the  information will be of service. Then, you have to figure out how to get that information. Sometimes, the obvious search terms, engines, or resources don’t work. After that comes the fun part (or the “hunt”, as I like to think of it).

Similarly, in working with people who would like to build more yoga into their lives, I have to take into consideration the goals of their hearts, their emotional state, the consideration of their bodies and current capabilities. I also have to think about where, how and how much they can realistically do, while working towards the goal. The person may have a restriction or special consideration such as joint instability, recovery from a major illness, muscle weakness, chronic pain, or multiple medications.

Now that you know why I like doing yoga therapy, maybe you’d like to know what it is. Yoga therapy applies movement, breathwork, and meditation to work towards optimal health and well-being. It can be directed to address ordinary special conditions (pre-natal or cardiovascular), more unique conditions (cancer recovery, chronic pain) or in just finding a way to bring more balance into daily life, changing to meet the client’s current condition as required. I personally use this practice in my life to moderate/neutralize my predisposition to migraines, modulate my personal tendency toward stress and anxiety, and if I have an injury, working more conscientiously to support and heal that area.

In working with me, it is a partnership. I get a snapshot of daily life from the client, along with their concerns, goals, and any potential issues, seeing if we can get an idea of where there may be any imbalances that are counterproductive. Then we work together through a selection of asanas (poses), weaving breathwork (pranayama) and meditation throughout to develop a 15 minute sequence that the client will do everyday. After a few weeks, we will meet again, and refine/change/adapt the sequence to keep progress moving forward, and perhaps even a little more deeply. Yoga Therapy is transformative because you develop increased body awareness, you are fully in charge of your experience, and the therapist (me) works closely with you to help you find your edge and keep your goal in mind.

Yoga Therapy generally costs upwards of $100 per session, but as a first year intern, I am seeing people on a need-based sliding scale of $25-$50 per session. I will finish my 500 hour training at the end of the year. My rates will go up January 1st, 2018. So, if this is something you are interested in, come see me at the low price! (And then come see me again at the higher price)!

If you’ve already seen me, I’d love for you to leave your thoughts in the comments.

One More Time with Acute Focus

I’ve told you all of my friend and teacher, Kyczy Hawk before. She says so many wise and funny things that I think I could probably publish my own book called The Kyczy Compendium, but as she is a published author with multiple useful and readable books under her belt with another on the way, she may take umbrage at me mining her sayings for my own gain. Luckily for her, she has little to worry about on that front, as posting here on my blog every couple of weeks is about as disciplined as I can be at this point in my life.

I have the great privilege of assisting Kyczy at her Somatics class at Willow Glen Yoga every week, where we both work. Somatics is made up of a different series of movements which may build on each other in a class. Each movement set is carried out slowly and conscientiously in repetition of approximately 6-8 times. It’s a wonderful practice, that I highly recommend. Click here for more on Somatics. A few weeks ago, we had finished most of a set of Somatics exercises and she said, “One more time with acute focus, in case this was becoming ordinary”.

For whatever reason, this struck me. First off, it enriched my mind/body experience of my class that day. But also, our days are made of routines, and even when something isn’t routine, our brains try to make them so as quickly as possible. How much in a day do we perform unconsciously? As a matter of surety, I will die someday, and so will you. Why don’t we do our best to see the ordinary as extraordinary? With all of the random chance everywhere, with all of the systems in our body just pumping away, with all the crazy random chance that makes life suddenly go from one direction into another one altogether, I challenge us to try to bring that attention, that acute focus into our daily lives, or maybe just even a part of our lives. Let me know if you try it.

 

 

Sometimes, just when you need it…

Friends, I have not been enjoying anything approaching good health. For three days, I ran a fever, compounded by chills, severe, bone-crushing body aches, and nausea. It also felt like an elephant sat on my chest.

Generally, I get asthma like symptoms after a severe cold and have special medicine I take to get through it and enjoy happy and healthy lungs the rest of the year. Because of our incredible blessing of an overabundance of rain this year in California, all those long-dormant seeds came blooming into glorious life all at once, and I am wheezing and out of breath. I couldn’t even teach my class this morning, I’ve been whistling and rattling so much from my chest.

I hate the sensation of not being able to breathe. It makes me feel like I am going to panic, or cry, or freak out and die. (Literally…I imagine freaking out, running out of breath, falling over and hitting my head on the sharp corners of our coffee table and bleeding out before the kids get home from school).

So, there I am sitting on the couch, listening to my rattling and laboring breath, trying to meditate, but spazzing myself out instead. I feel demoralized after so much illness this week, totally out of it and anxious. So, I got online to try to give myself something else, anything else to think about it since even focusing on a book was beyond my reach. And there it was, from the wonderful and erudite B.K.S. Iyengar. I almost cried.

Do not think of yourself as a small, compressed, suffering thing. Think of yourself as graceful and expanding, no matter how unlikely it may seem at the time.

Then I got rewarded with one full breath. It will have to be enough for now. I am thankful.