yoga

The Ponce de Leon Syndrome

Ignore the facial hair and focus on the balayage brilliance.

Grey? I don’t see no stinking grey.

“If I can challenge old ideas about aging, I will feel more and more invigorated. I want to represent this new way. I want to be a new version of the 70-year-old woman. Vital, strong, very physical, very agile. I think that the older I get, the more yoga I’m going to do.” ~Jamie Lee Curtis

I was sitting in the chair having my hair guru, Danielle, work the miracle of balayage on my way-too-quickly-greying tresses when I came across an article about a growing trend of women shaving their faces. One of my joys in going to see Danielle is that I get to check out all the latest copies of People, US, and In Style without actually having to buy any issues. It’s how I get to act like a typical female without having to admit to a grocery store clerk that I am typical. But I am going to have to stop reading these publications if articles like this continue to pop up. Why can’t I just read in peace about Bruce Jenner’s transformation to woman without realizing I’m failing as one when I already have all the right parts?

As I battle the march of Middle Age, a battle that becomes more arduous and gruesome as my forties pass, I can barely make time for whitening toothpaste, moisturizing sunscreen, and a daily appointment with my Clarisonic (which is really more of an every third or fourth day meeting if I am being honest). Now I’m supposed to add shaving to my already overtaxed routine? Apparently, this is the latest resurgence of an old exfoliation trend. The article claims that mens’ skin is much less wrinkly and smoother because they shave, thereby removing dead skin cells each time they drag a razor across their face. You can have this dermaplaning done at a dermatologist’s office or spa for between $85-150 a month or you can buy razors and attempt to master the technique yourself and repeat it every four weeks. The more I thought about it, the more it began to make some sort of sense. Most men age pretty darn well. But, still, are you kidding me? Is this what it’s coming to? It’s almost like there’s someone out there trying to see what wild things they can get American women to buy into. The beauty industry does quite well for itself.

I’m not thrilled about getting older. In a few months, I am slated to hit 47. Forty-freaking-seven. And as much as I am trying to be all zen about it, I am not even remotely there. Am I glad I’m still on this planet after nearly a half of a century? Absolutely. Living is much better than dying. But long life comes with aging and aging isn’t pretty. I struggle with the reflection in the mirror. I notice the wrinkles, the blossoming jowls, the dark circles, and the skin imperfections earned after too many days at high altitude without sunscreen because when I was a kid it was SPF 4 tanning lotion on my redheaded body at the pool. It freaks me out. Maybe I should skip the shaving? Honestly, I might be better off with a full beard, now that I’m thinking about it. A beard could hide all sorts of stuff. Wonder if I can grow enough chin hair for that?

I’ve tried all sorts of things to make myself feel like I don’t look my advancing age. My latest insanity is micro needling to improve skin texture, but even poking myself in the face to increase collagen production doesn’t seem to be helping. No matter what I do or how much I invest, time’s gonna keep right on marching across my face. And even if I enlist every treatment known, from Botox to fillers, from laser skin treatments to facelifts, I’m never going to look 20 again. I could spend the GDP of Lithuania on anti-aging treatments, but it won’t stop the inevitable. The years will take their toll.

So I am now trying to discern what aging gracefully might look like for me and how I might achieve it. I think every day about my friends who are on the backside of 50 and who assure me that all my insanity over my appearance will decrease. Eventually I will become more comfortable in my own skin and won’t care as much how I look. I won’t give a second thought to staying younger looking by adding a close shave to my routine. I’ll strive for good health. I’ll focus on drinking lots of water, eating my greens, getting restful sleep, practicing more yoga, and cultivating bigger smiles. And I’ll stop reading stupid articles about how shaving will make me look younger.

Truth is that I am much happier with myself now than I ever was at 20. Would it be nice to have my 46-year-old wisdom in my 20-year-old body? Sure it would. Just like someday I will wish for my 70-year-old wisdom in my 46-year-old body. But I’m not a Disney fan and I don’t live in Fantasyland. This idea we have as a nation about women staying and looking young into our 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond is a bit Ponce de Leon. If we’re smart enough to acknowledge that the Fountain of Youth doesn’t actually exist, we should be smart enough to know we can’t wish it into existence either.

We spend our youth looking forward to being older and our adulthood wishing we were younger. It’s a horrible paradox. I’m working on becoming more zen about aging, but I have a feeling I’ll be working on it until the day I die.

These Weirdos Are My Tribe

These weirdos are your tribe.

Weirdos preparing for the polar plunge on a 4 degree day.

“When you find people who not only tolerate your quirks but celebrate them with glad cries of ‘Me too!’ be sure to cherish them because those weirdos are your tribe.” ~Anonymous

I am a writer. I am also socially inept. I’m not sure if the social ineptitude is a result of the writing or if I write because I want to appear less socially inept. Either way works, I guess. Let’s just go with the notion that I’m awkward. I’m not in tune with other people’s feelings. Blame it on my being INTJ. Blame it on my ill breeding. Blame it on the aliens who abducted me as a child and conducted sloppy experiments on my brain. All I know is it is what it is. In forty-six years, I haven’t been able to outgrow it.

Every August, our sons’ school holds their annual Back to School Night. They host a tastefully catered meal for parents to enjoy while they go over school policy minutiae before sending us off to our children’s classrooms to receive more information that we of course will promptly forget. I’m sure many people look forward to these type of social events, a chance to get together again with friends from last year and to meet new people. Frankly, I’d rather have my spleen removed by a 10-year-old surgeon wielding a teaspoon as a his primary implement. I have to drink two glasses of wine before I go simply so I will be somewhat comfortable making small talk. Small talk stresses me out. Small talk is never small talk. The amount of effort small talk takes makes it big talk.

This year, we arrived at the dinner and found out that it was not going to be out on the lawn because of the threat of rain. They had the dinner set up inside the gym. I prefer the outdoor setting because it’s easier to flake out when you are in open surroundings. Still, we went inside, like socially weird teenagers, praying we’d get in and get out without being guilted into signing up for any random committees we’d rather die than be on.

We weren’t in there long before a couple we remembered as the parents of one of Luke’s friends from the previous year approached us. We didn’t know them very well, but I sensed they wanted to be there about as much as we did. We exchanged some pleasantries and they asked us to come join them at their table. Having fairly successfully avoid social interaction at the school during the previous year, we had no one else to sit with so we dragged our paper plates to their table. I tried my best to be cordial, but holy cheeses that is hard for me. At some point, I notice how weird that thing I just uttered was and then I begin to spiral clockwise in a whirling toilet flush of social doom. One way or another we got through the dinner, and Steve went with them to Luke’s class while I ducked out to sit in Joe’s classroom in my girl-in-the-plastic-bubble-of-pitiful-but-comfortable-silence sort of way.

On the way home, Steve and I had our usual debriefing about the night’s events.

“I think Lynne is trying to make friends with you,” he said.

“No. I don’t think so. They just didn’t want to sit alone. You know you’re always looking for someone you sort of know so you don’t end up with the new crazies you don’t know at all. Lesser of two evils,” I retorted.

“She came right over to you,” he replied. “Maybe she likes you.” What is this? Third grade? I started wondering if he thought she was trying to pass me a note. I played it off.

“Only because she doesn’t know me,” I said. “There’s a reason I don’t make friends easily.”

“Yes. It’s because you don’t know when people are reaching out.”

It’s true. I’m obtuse. I have never been successful at discerning when people are being nice because they feel they have to be nice or when they are being nice because they truly want to. I’m simultaneously suspicious, pragmatic, and cautiously optimistic. I tend to assume the worst, expect the mediocre, but subconsciously hope for the best. I’m complicated. It’s no wonder I don’t make friends easily.

Over the past few months, Lynne made a concerted effort to set up a couple of opportunities for our boys to get together. Her initial efforts made it much easier for me to insinuate myself into her life like a fungus. And it turns out we have a lot in common, like introversion, yoga, a penchant for expletives, a taste for fine vodka and any kind of wine, a troubling addiction to internet memes, and a gift for dry sarcasm. In other words, we’re awesome, something she was intuitive enough to ascertain before I did.

In so many ways, I remain the dorky kid who walked to my first day at a new school in third grade in handmade clothes feeling like an anomaly in a sea of popular and normal. The friends I’ve made over the past few years have all reached out to me first, which is a good thing because otherwise I’d still be standing stiffly in the corner, gazing at my feet, wondering why no one likes me. Every day I cherish these friends who made the effort and who have been able to recognize that my crazy is simpatico with their crazy. These weirdos are my tribe.

 

Zen and the Art of Bunniness

In the Galapagos, Luke and a Nazca booby enter into each other's inherent bunniness.

In the Galapagos, Luke and a Nazca booby take a moment to appreciate each others’ unique and meaningful existence.

Like many people these days, I practice yoga. My journey began a little over four years ago and, even in the times that I don’t practice regularly, I find it is always with me. Yoga is a hard thing to explain to those who haven’t yet experienced it. Before I practiced, people who knew me well would tell me that I needed it. I resented that statement, but mostly I resembled it. I moved from one thing to the next without stopping to be present in my own life. I didn’t know how to sit in stillness or look around in awareness. A hamster on a perpetual wheel, I rarely paused to notice or enjoy anything. I was too busy looking ahead to see the little moments slipping by in my peripheral vision.

In vinyasa yoga, you flow through the different postures syncing one breath to one movement in a moving meditation. You breathe in to settle into one pose and breathe out to transition into another, consciously aware of each inhalation and exhalation. So when I found this quote in my Bunny Buddhism book, I knew exactly what it was for. It is a mantra for meditation.

Breathing in, I know I am a bunny. Breathing out, I know a bunny is all I have to be.

In my late thirties, I was somewhat depressed. Not in that can’t-get-out-of-bed-and-need-Zoloft way, but in the way that I was unhappy without being awake enough to realize it. I had young children who had boundless energy and myriad personal struggles and I didn’t have a clue how to help them settle and grow. I was continually exhausted, surviving on caffeine and mindless, reality television. I was stalled out. When my early forties hit, midlife began urging me to shake off my slump and make something out of my life. This was both a good thing (because I began to wake up and seek out life-affirming events, which made me buck up a little) and a bad thing (because in seeking out new experiences I managed to remain too busy to truly enjoy anything).

That was when yoga found me. I began to understand that I didn’t have to become anything to prove anything. Through yoga, I began accepting that there are things that I am good at and things that I will never be good at. It doesn’t matter. It’s part of the uniqueness that is me, and it is enough. That thought continues to blow my mind. I am enough. Period. If I finish the book I’ve been writing in my head for years, great. If not, that’s fine too. I’m exactly where I need to be, being the person I am becoming. At the end of my life, a full and well-rounded curriculum vitae will say everything about what I accomplished but nothing about who I was because we are not the sum total of what we do. Good thing too because on most days what I do is laundry.

Breathing in. I know I am a bunny. Breathing out. I know a bunny is all I have to be.

Can you let go of what you think you need to do to be important and accept that you already are?

 

Mondays Are For Practicing Grace

I think I should start every Monday in a garden like this one.

I think I should start every Monday in a garden like this one.

Monday. Not my favorite word. Not my favorite day of the week. At 6:40 a.m., before my alarm had the opportunity to interrupt my sleep, youngest son busts into my room ready to beat his brother to the first shower of the day. I knew this was trouble because the first shower has traditionally gone to our unusually early-rising Joe, but honestly I was in denial that the weekend was over and not quite awake enough yet to deal with him so I let it slide. I remained in bed, trying to savor the last few minutes of relative peace before my week had to begin in an official capacity. After about five minutes, Luke exited the shower still giddy about his triumph.

“I can’t believe I beat Joe to the first shower. I’m going to hurry and get dressed before he gets in here. I want to beat him downstairs,” he announced to me from the bathroom.

“It’s not a race,” I reminded him.

“I know,” came the rejoinder. “I just never get to be first.”

This is true. He’s the youngest. He’s acutely aware that he is forever behind the curve of his older brother. He’s been in second place his entire life. He gets the hand-me-downs. He has to wait until he’s bigger to do things his brother is already allowed to do. Any chance to be first is a treat. I get that. I also knew Joe would be annoyed because the first shower of the day is a big deal to him for some reason. Sure enough I was right. Just a minute later, Joe burst into my room, saw Luke fully dressed with wet hair, and started yelling.

I get first shower of the day. I always get first shower, Luke! Why did you do that?”

At this point, the boys began bickering loudly and I began slowly coming into reality. Lovely way to start a week. I rolled out of bed, hoping to minimize the damage to the morning. I told Luke to get downstairs and out of the way and snapped at Joe to get over it and get into the shower, which he did. Less than 30 seconds later, I heard the water shut off. Was he kidding me? All that fuss for a 30-second shower? There’s no way he actually used soap. The kid barely had time to get wet.

“What are you doing?” I asked, striding into the room in full-on, overtired annoyance.

“I’m done,” he replied.

“Oh no you’re not. No way. You didn’t wash your hair.”

“Yes, I did,” he retorted.

“That’s not possible,” I said, raising my voice and upping the ante.

“I did, Mom,” he insisted.

“You threw a complete fit because you didn’t get the first shower. You started my morning with screaming, and now you take a 30-second shower after all that commotion? Nuh uh. Get back in there.”

From there, things rapidly shot downhill like an Olympic bobsled team gaining momentum. Joe was mad I thought he was lying about washing his hair. I was mad that he had made such a huge issue out of his shower time and then didn’t even bother to take it. He began crying and I was beyond irritated that this was the inauspicious beginning to my week. I sent him downstairs while I worked on my frustration by stomping and banging around upstairs. Childish, I know, but I was exhausted. I thought everyone in my house understood that you don’t wake this sleeping dragon beast by screaming in my lair.

When I had finally chilled enough to arrive downstairs, Luke was busily getting water bottles and lunches ready (feeling a bit guilty, I suppose, for knowingly starting a war for the sake of being first). Joe was sitting on the living room sofa crying. I tried to pull myself together and regain control of the situation. I could not understand why he was making such a big deal out of missing the first shower. Then I started to wonder why I was making an even bigger deal about his big deal. I certainly wasn’t helping anything with my histrionics. I stopped, took a long, deep, yoga breath to the count of ten, and went over to hug Joe. I told him I was sorry for yelling at him and for not believing he’d washed his hair. He hugged back and told me he was sorry for starting our day with a fight. He was starting to calm down. I looked at the clock and realized we had 15 minutes before we had to leave. I went off to fix him some breakfast, satisfied that once he had some food we’d get beyond the ugliness. Quietly I berated myself for acting like such a brat.

When breakfast was ready, I called Joe into the kitchen. He came to the counter, sat down to the gluten-free waffle in front of him, looked up at me with a smile and pleasantly said, “Good morning, Mom.”

My 12 year old was schooling me in how to deal with setbacks. He’d decided to leave the mistakes of the morning behind. Yes. Monday had started out badly, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t change it. We could simply declare a do-over and move on. So, we did. I decided right then that do-overs should be my theme for the week. This came in handy a bit later in my Monday morning when I got to the Corepower studio for my flow-yoga class only to discover I’d gone to the wrong studio. Oops. Guess I’d be attending afternoon yoga instead.

Of all the days of the week, Mondays rejoice the most in providing me with multiple opportunities to practice grace.

George Of The Jungle Gym

Never too old for the playground!

Never too old for the playground!

I determined a little over a week ago that I would participate in a promotion at the yoga studio I belong to. The challenge is to attend 20 classes in 30 days. If you complete the challenge, you get $20 in retail credit toward yoga clothes. Now, my local studio has issued similar challenges over the three years I’ve been a member. I’ve never been able to convince myself to complete one, though. The reason is simple. I’ve always thought yoga was a few times a week proposition at most. Even though I know there are people who practice every day or nearly every day, I was certain I was not meant to be one of those people. I think it’s important to take days off from exercise (especially when you’re not 20 anymore) to give your body a chance to recuperate, regroup, and come back stronger. I’ve often found that when I don’t take breaks, I’m more prone to wimp out by my fourth of fifth workout. And, as you might have guessed, I’m an all-or-nothing sort of gal so this does not work for me.

But, it’s a new year and I was up for a challenge. So, right after I signed up for a 7k run and a 5k snowshoe event and the MS150 ride, I decided what the hell? I mean, there are people far older than me doing yoga every day of the week. I can handle it, right? What have I got to lose? (Well, for starters, there’s the inch I put on in my waistline after eating cookies and sitting on my butt for the entire month of December, I guess.) What’s the worst that could happen? Well, I’m 7 days into the challenge, which is on its 9th day, and I know now what doing so much yoga will do to a person when they haven’t exercised for a month. I am sore. Really sore. My abs are so sore that it hurts to sneeze or laugh. My triceps are killing me from lowing from plank to the floor repeatedly. And, even my usually strong and quiet quads are a little squeaky. The one reason I continue to practice yoga is because it’s what keeps me from getting sore when I cross train. Yoga makes it so that I can bike one day, ski the next, and skate the day after that without ever feeling sore. So, this is new. I’m not so sure I like it.

Tonight, I went to a beginner class. It’s so-called because it’s a foundational class. The heat is lower and the instructor breaks down the poses to ensure everyone is holding the postures correctly. Consequently, you spend much longer in a pose than you might in a more advanced class. So, you’re in a lunge and you’re holding it while she talks. And you’re holding it. And you’re thinking oh good God shut up already, but she keeps talking so that 55 seconds into holding this wretched lunge your legs are quivering and you’re certain you will topple over and start a domino effect of destruction down the entire length of the room. You don’t, but you’re envisioning it and at the same time mentally strangling the instructor. I go to the beginner classes because I always learn something new there and that’s what yoga is about. It’s a practice, not a destination.

So, as she’s got us holding a position, Maria instructs us to repeat this mantra: “My practice is like the monkey bars. I have to let go to move forward.” We repeat it three times. I’m wondering, at this point, if she’s been reading my mind. Ever since I started this challenge, I’ve been resistant to it. I’m not entirely sure I will be able to complete it. I suspect I might have bitten off more than I can chew here. But then, as I’m repeating the phrase about the monkey bars, it hits me. This is what I have to let go of to move forward. I have to let go of the notion that yoga is a few times a week endeavor. To move forward in my practice, I have to let go of my preconceived idea about what my practice should be so I can see what it might become. That Maria is brilliant!

And, this is why I go to yoga and take different classes with different instructors. This way, I learn something new every single time I go. Sometimes it’s about yoga. Sometimes it’s about life. Sometimes it’s about me. I never know what I’m going to get. Tonight, one-third of the way through my challenge, I got some validation that I’m doing the right thing. I may not be thoroughly enjoying the soreness of the situation, but I’m letting go and moving forward. Maybe I’ll go a little wild tomorrow morning and toss some banana into my oatmeal.

Ten Things Yoga Teaches Me About Life

Life, like yoga, is all about the here and now.

Another night and the clock is rapidly approaching 10:30. Nearly a year ago when I started this blog, I promised myself one entry per day, sometime between midnight and 11:59 p.m. The minutes on the clock are dwindling down to my self-imposed deadline, and I sit here with an empty brain. An empty brain is good when you’re trying to fall asleep, which is what I should be doing. An empty brain is a bad thing, however, when you’re 1.5 hours from your writing deadline and no inspiration has arrived all day. Some days, it’s simply a struggle to get through. On those days, when I should be writing, I want nothing more than sleep. Today is one of those days.

To ensure that I get some sleep tonight, I’m going to go back to my mindset 1.5 hours when I was in yoga class. At the end of this coming January, I will have completed my fourth year as a practicing yogi. Hard to believe that four years ago I was so afraid to attempt yoga that I made my sister come with me to my first class. True story. Now, I can’t imagine going through the rest of my days without it. It’s not just exercise. It’s a metaphor for my life. I’m flexible and can bend over backwards, but I’m still not open. I’m strong and can stand on my head if I set my mind to it, but some days I am incredibly off balance. Yoga helps me find the peace I lack.

As I was cleaning up after class tonight, my mind was racing through the valuable life lessons yoga has taught me. So, I think I will share those tidbits here because…well, I need something to write about.

Ten Things Yoga Continues To Teach Me About Life (and trust me…I need the frequent reminders)

  1. The most important thing is to show up.
  2. When something doesn’t feel quite right, don’t force it. You’ll only end up hurt.
  3. Everyone is wrapped up in their own world. No one is paying attention to you, so let go and be free of ego.
  4. When things get tough, just breathe.
  5. We all have our struggles and our gifts. Mind your own.
  6. Try something new. It might not be your thing or it could be your new favorite thing. You’ll never know until you try.
  7. If something doesn’t serve you, let it go. No sense in lugging around worthless baggage.
  8. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Instead of criticizing yourself for what you can’t do, be grateful for all that you can.
  9. Discomfort is okay. Acknowledge it and let it go. It’s in discomfort that you find opportunity for growth.
  10. Wherever you are, be there.

Namasté.

How To Find Your Zen

One of my happy places

For the past two nights, I’ve barely won a battle with myself regarding my attendance at yoga class. Both nights, I wanted to stay home and curl up in bed and just forget it. Both nights, my husband and kids told me I should go. I’m not sure if their wanting me to go relates directly to the apparently witchy behavior Facebook keeps accusing me of or if they’re simply acknowledging my stress level and hoping I will find some peace. If I had to guess, though, I’d say it’s probably 90/10 in favor of the first option. When I’m overwhelmed, I’m not the easiest person to be around.

I love yoga. I don’t love it enough to want to become an instructor or anything, but I do love that for an entire hour I can turn off the incessant monkey chatter that goes on inside my skull and focus on just one thing…tying myself into a pretzel. I try to practice during the day when my boys are at school because I like to spend the evenings with them, but this week has been crazy busy and I haven’t been able to get there. Getting to class at night is difficult for me, but I’ve made it and I’m grateful to myself for doing the hard work to get there.

Yoga is not simply about exercise for me. It’s a transformational event. It’s about giving myself the space to be exactly who I am in this moment rather than who I want to be or, worse, who I think I should be. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. While I try to schedule numerous appointments for my boys with psychologists for testing and evaluation and while I continue to receive and fill out packet after packet of information, I’ve been feeling myself slip away. Sometimes it seems there aren’t enough hours in the day to carve out time to be the person I am rather than the person I need to be for someone else. Yoga offers me that space.

Last night, our beautiful instructor, Sybil, asked us to reflect on how often we think too much about the future or reflect too long on the past. Indeed, I am guilty of such sins. Then, she gently reminded us that the only thing that matters is now. What can I fix about this moment became the mantra for class. I’ve been turning that thought over and over in my head since last night. Yes. I have a lot to do to figure out how to help out our boys. I have stacks of paperwork to fill out, bunches of phone calls to make, and a 400-page book on dyslexia that I need to read judging me from its spot on my nightstand. I may get through it all. I may not. I don’t know. But, if I take my head out of what might happen for us in the future (how will the testing go, will we need to put the boys in a special school, will we need to move, what is the best place for them), the present seems a lot less complicated.

I do it to myself, I know. I think too much about things I cannot control, things I might not even be given the chance to live through. All I have is this moment and all I can do is my best right now. So, I’m going to relax a bit, set a list of priorities, and knock them down one at a time in the moment until the decision about what is right for our boys and our family becomes apparent.

Tonight I’m grateful for the reminder that the only thing I need to concern myself with is this moment. I can take care of all the other stuff when the next moment arrives. No need to rush from the now. The future will be the present soon enough.