Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pranayama, Or, Learning How to Breathe

We all know how to breathe, right? We do it without thinking, upwards of 20,000 times a day. How often do we slow down long enough to pay attention to what our breath is doing?

I've been immersing myself in the work of Krishnamacharya after being lent a copy of The Heart of Yoga by Debbie, my yoga teacher leading my training program down in Schroon Lake. I also took a 6-week class with my friend Emily, who is enrolled in another teacher training program following the traditions and teachings of Krishnamacharya down in New York City, and what I learned in her class about the breath was just astounding.

For those who aren't familiar with yoga, there are eight limbs to the practice of yoga. Yoga is more than just asana practice (poses). The eight limbs (as outlined in the sutras of Patanjali) are:

  1. Yama. The yamas can be described as how we interact with others. Basically, play nice with others.
  2. Niyama. The niyamas are about how to care for ourselves. Cleanliness, self-study, and surrender to God are all part of the niyamas.
  3. Asana. Asana is the physical practice of yoga poses that most of us are familiar with.
  4. Pranayama. Pranayama, the subject of this blog, is all about breath control. Pranayama is the study and practice of how to connect with your breath and your body and your mind. You'll see why I've suddenly become interested in pranayama in just a few minutes.
  5.  Pratyahara. This is the practice of turning inward, of detaching from our physical senses.
  6. Dharana. Once we have mastered the practice of detaching from our physical senses (not so easy), we are now prepared to tackle the complete detachment from our thoughts. (And you thought pratyahara was going to be difficult!)
  7. Dhyana. The next logical step in achieving our spiritual goal of enlightenment is to practice dhyana, which is the act of concentration without the production of thoughts. 
  8. Samadhi. This is the final stage, the stage of enlightenment and ecstasy, when you are able to transcend self and ego and understand the true nature of the divine.
You'll notice that most yoga classes don't spend a lot of time on the breath, or on the practice of pranayama. But the more I read about Krishnamacharya, the more I'm starting to think that the breath should be mastered BEFORE the study of asana. And here's why...

Krishnamacharya, like most other yoga teachers, instructs students that to be truly comfortable in a pose, they should be able to breathe comfortably.  What does that even mean? How many of us are even aware of when we are breathing comfortably?

Some of us are aware of how it feels when we are breathing uncomfortably. When you are exerting yourself, or you find yourself in a stressful situation with your heart pounding and your head spinning. (Which describes how I felt the first few weeks of the Thursday night vinyasa class. Krishnamacharya, in particular, taught that if you could felt your heart racing or pounding in a particular asana, then that asana was not for you - not yet, anyway.)

So, what does it feel like to breathe comfortably?

This is where the practice of pranayama comes in handy, and where I made my discoveries about breath and movement in my yoga classes with my friend Emily.

I discovered in her classes that even the simplest movements can have a profound affect on both my body and my mind, if I'm practicing them with full awareness of my breath. Raising and lowering my arms above my head can be as powerful a meditation to me as some of my favorite standing balancing poses like Eagle or Tree, if I'm paying attention to my breath.

The true meaning of vinyasa is the linking of breath and movement. But unless you know how to be aware of your breath, unless you can recognize the feeling of a smooth, full, even breath, how can you link your breath with your movement?

Think about it this way: you get into side angle pose. Your left leg is stretched out behind you, your right knee is bent directly over your right ankle. Your left arm is raised, either straight up into the air, or directly over your left ear. Your right arm is either lightly resting on your right knee, or your right palm has found its way down to the floor.

What's your breath doing?

For the first two or three months that I practiced that pose every day, my heart pounded. My breath was NOT smooth and even. It came in big gulps, it was ragged, it sounded like I had just tried to run a 6-minute mile.

After a few months of daily asana practice, I noticed that my breath came easier in side angle pose. (Most of the time.) It was smooth and deep and even. It almost felt like the breaths I take when I'm deeply relaxed, just before sleep.

But I had to practice some pranayama before I was really aware of what that felt like. It was a signal to me that my body and my mind and my breath were, indeed, connected in those few precious seconds.

Now, I'm practicing pranayama all the time. Even on the days when I can't do more than five or ten minutes of asana practice, I'm practicing pranayama at my desk, in the car, while I'm cooking. I'm switching my brain over into pranayama mode, picking one or two of the easier breathing exercises that I'm learning about, and trying to master them.

There are other reasons why I'm getting deeper into the practice of pranayama. I'm finding it intensely helpful during an anxiety attack or a panic attack. I'm also finding that it makes my asana practice more powerful, and allows me to go into a deeper state of meditation when I'm just sitting comfortably on my mat.

Pranayama is making me re-think my whole asana practice, and indeed, my entire practice of yoga. It's making me feel more connected with my body and mind, even on the tough days.

So, for anyone out there practicing yoga or thinking about practicing yoga: start with the basics. Before you dive into your asana practice, start with your breath.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ready to Get Spiritual? F**k It!**k+it
So, I was perusing through some books on Amazon, and after I downloaded the Buddhist Boot Camp book, this little gem popped up in my "You Might Like" list...

And it's called, "F**k It: The Ultimate Spiritual Way".

I know there are probably a lot of people that will be offended just by the title of this book, but you know what? F**k it.

That's how it works!

For a measly $5, I decided to take a chance and download this little gem to my Kindle. I got into a hot bath with a drink and my journal, and started to read.

Now, I'm only a few chapters into this book, but I can totally see how it makes sense.

The basic idea behind the F**k It philosophy is this: in order to achieve enlightenment, pretty much every belief system out there requires you to give up your attachments to things, to people, to outcomes, to whatever.

And sometimes, when we find our stress levels rising, and our tempers flaring, and our patience wearing thin, the best thing we can do to re-gain our perspective is to simply say - you guessed it - fuck it.

Worried about work? Money? Relationships? Fuck it.

Have a to-do list a mile long, and only 24 hours in a day? Fuck it.

Your alarm clock didn't go off this morning, you had a headache, your car wouldn't start, and your bank account was overdrawn? Fuck it.

You get the idea.

I have to admit, I'm inspired by the message in this book. It sort of reminds me of what my father would tell me when I was a kid and getting stressed out about things like school, grades, friends, and all that other stuff that goes into teenage angst. Fuck it!

So this morning, when I felt that little nagging behind my right ribcage that might signal another gallbladder attack, I just took a deep breath and said to myself, fuck it.

And you know, I haven't felt a twinge since.

There are lots more chapters for me to explore in this book, and more to read, and more to report back on, but for now, and especially during the holidays, my mantra is going to be...F**k It!

Monday, December 16, 2013


Woa. Almost an entire month since my last post here? What the hell?


To be fair, there was another round of illness (sore throat, congestion, nausea, fever, wicked bad spastic cough), loads of yoga homework for teacher training, Thanksgiving, and now, preparing for solstice and Christmas. This is also that time of year that is a huge reminder that I am actually part of a retail marketing team, because my work schedule just feels completely out of control.

So, yeah, sometimes in between everything else, the blogging gets put off.

After missing classes at the studio for 2 weeks because I was either taking care of husband and child, or because I didn't want to be "that" person who unnecessarily spreads her germs around by coughing and sneezing and being sick in public, I went back on Friday night for a special EmPOWERment yoga practice led by Robin, followed by a screening of the movie Yogawoman.

The practice was amazing. After 2 weeks of stress and sickness and ever-shortening days, I could feel the anxiety bubbling up again in my stomach.

But the studio was warm and dim and cozy, and my friends were there, and Robin led us in this amazing practice to music that made me bust out laughing. Imagine doing Warrior I to the tune of "I'm Every Woman" by Chaka Khan, or the theme from Flash Dance. I dare you to not let even a giggle escape - it's impossible!

At the end of the practice, we sat in easy pose, with hands in a simple mudra, and Robin said, "List all the things you love about yourself." And even with the smile on my face, I had a hard time getting into that list, but I did it.

Afterwards, a projector was set up, and food was brought out, and we feasted and sat with each other and watched Yogawoman. (Which was a good movie, but a subject for a different blog post later on, I promise.)

I couldn't help but feel so cozy in that studio, even though it was close to -14° F outside. My "balanced dinner" that night consisted of a handful of spinach and cheese bites, some sundried tomato dip with pita crackers, a handful of popcorn, grapes, and a chunk of fair trade dark chocolate with almonds. Yummy.

It was a fun evening. After the movie, we all chatted some more - I realized that one of my friends from yoga classes and I were wearing the EXACT same sweater. Same color and everything. We chatted about our kids, about the weather, about nothing in particular, and I was overcome with this sense of community that I haven't felt in a very long time.

Finally, before I said goodbye to Robin, we gave each other a hug. She thanked me for coming. I said to her, "Thank you for doing this," and to my surprise, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude bubbling up in me.

I'll be honest - the last few months, I have been struggling to feel a sense of gratitude about anything. It just hasn't come naturally to me. But this - this felt genuine. So genuine, that it took me completely off guard.

Because what I meant when I said, "Thank you for doing this", was, "Thank you for doing this - all of it. The yoga. The studio. Being you. All of it. Thank you."

I went home feeling tired, but good. I was tired all the next day at teacher training, and absolutely exhausted yesterday morning. But I felt good.

I also felt the tiniest bit of hope stirring in me now. There is gratitude in there, somewhere.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Stuff That Comes Up in Yoga Practice

Pigeon Pose - hip opener (Photo Credit: Yoga Journal)
It's funny, the stuff that comes out in yoga practice, sometimes.

For the last couple of months, I've been feeling sort of plagued with worry over things. Things that are only somewhat in my control. I've been dealing with some sort of anger issues (as evidenced by that last amazingly bad gallbladder blowout).

Don't ever let anyone tell you that your body doesn't store unexpressed emotions, because it DOES. Living proof of that: the pain that I've been living with in my lower back and hips and thighs for the last couple of months, all the while I've been worrying about (but not talking about) these issues in my life.

Sunday was our workshop day in yoga teacher training down at True North Yoga. We begin our Sundays with the 8:30 Gentle Yoga class, taught by Debbie, who leads the teacher training program. This particular Sunday, I was feeling intensely stressed out - Tom was away, I was on my own with Colden, and Colden had to go to his grandparents' house for another day, after spending pretty much all of last week there while dealing with the gastrointestinal side effects of the antibiotics for his double ear infection. (Just typing that makes me feel stressed out again.)

At any rate, this gentle yoga practice was all hip openers. Debbie has told us that we store anger in our hips - maybe that's why the gallbladder meridians run down from the hips along the outside of the thighs for a bit. I was having a hard time relaxing in this practice, but the stretching certainly felt good, and even though it was supposed to be a gentle class, I pushed myself right to my edge and a little beyond because it felt right for me.


The next practice at 10:00 was a Hatha class with Michelle, another teacher that I adore. Michelle's Hatha classes leave me feeling like someone has wrapped a big, wooly, cozy blanket around my mind. Usually.

In this particular practice, however, I started to get mad. Really mad. Pissed off mad. Finally, at one point, I just couldn't take it anymore, and I dropped down into child's pose for a bit. I got back up and tried to join the class again, but I felt more anger bubbling up from out of somewhere, and back down into child's pose I went.

I was seething.

I kept thinking to myself, this is ANGRY child's pose.

I just let the anger bubble up out of me and wash over me. I had no idea what I was angry about, really. Sure, I was stressed out, but I wasn't conscious of being angry.

So, I just let it go.

After a few minutes, I felt better, and I got back into the practice and had a very lovely Savasana at the end.

During lunch break, I was talking to some of my fellow trainees about the anger I felt in the second practice. From beyond the screen on the other side of the room, Debbie reminded me, "You know, we did hip openers this morning."

Oh, d-uh.

It was just another one of those eye-opening moments for me that we really do store our emotions in our body. It's another clear example of that whole mind-body connection.

When I told this story to my teacher in my Monday morning vinyasa class, we had a good laugh about it, and she said, "It's amazing, the things that happen in your yoga practice."

She's right. It is pretty amazing.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


The other morning, I dropped Colden off at school, and made my way back to the studio for the Friday morning open studio before the Ashtanga Basics class.

It was cold and quiet outside, but the studio was a little warmer. I entered quietly - there were already 3 people there ahead of me - and put my bag down, went over into the apartment next door and changed into my yoga clothes.

The studio was all gentle light, warmth, and the slight smell of incense. I rolled out my mat, gently opened my journal and my notebook, and started scribbling my thoughts.

No one really spoke, unless we whispered. It was a nice feeling.

More people drifted in for the Ashtanga class, most of them were beginners, and some of them I recognized from my favorite natural foods store in Lake Placid.

And it was a wonderful class, and I stayed in the back and practiced along with everybody, taking care not to aggravate the pain in my left hip.

And I felt safe. And strong. At one point, it felt like I was moving so effortlessly, I thought I must have been doing something wrong.

It's why I love going to the studio for a practice, even if I'm in there by myself. I'm there, I'm present, and I'm breathing.

There's a sweetness in that sense of belonging.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thoughts On a Mindful Life

I just want to clarify something about my last post about's founder, Waylon Lewis. I may have been a bit - harsh? - regarding my assessment of his character, but this comes from a place that feels true to me, and if anything, my yoga practice has taught me how to trust my gut.

In his bio, Waylon describes himself as a "first generation Buddhist Dharma brat". He also appears to not know the function of the buttons on his shirts, or maybe he doesn't know how to work the buttons on his shirt. He appears to be pouty and edgy, all the while touting his great success and commanding speaking fees that range right up there with what I imagine Bikram Choudry charges for a 60 minute yoga class.

He seems to make it cool, make it "hip", to live the mindful life. Like it's just something else that can be packaged and bought and sold (ironically) without much thought.

But I'm here to say this: living the mindful life is difficult. It's hard. It's scary. I can see why not a lot of people would want to do it, because it hurts sometimes, as you watch yourself grow and change.

Waylon, I get the feeling that you wouldn't know what a mindful life looks like if it bit you in the ass.

Living the mindful life means selfless service. It means living with gratitude. It means staying open, letting go of everything that you think is important, and most of all, learning how to live a life of surrender.

I don't know where $2,000 a day speaking fees enter into that whole formula.

I don't begrudge you your success, Waylon. But I wonder...

Wanted: Suckers Who Know How to Write

What have I been up to for the last month? Well, not blogging, obviously.

No, I've been making time for a daily yoga practice, doing homework for my yoga teacher training, keeping up with work, finding time to bead, hosting house guests, spending time with my son and husband, and trying to keep all of us warm and well-fed.

Which leads me to...

On occasion, I frequent the website elephant: dedicated to the mindful life. The articles on there are fascinating and ring true to me, but the founder of the website, Waylon Lewis, comes across as some kind of self-important misogynistic prig. (Did that sound mean?) Indeed, if you look at his bio page, he describes himself as this edgy "Dhama brat" who seems to think that the 70s open-shirt fashion trend is hot once again. (Did that sound mean?)

I had been tossing around the idea of submitting a few articles to elephant to see what would happen, when my sister came across this: the Apprenticeship program.

For four months, you commit to spending about 10-15 hours a week learning from the staff (including the illustrious Wayne himself) about mindful blogging, social media, and other journalism skills for the electronic age.

In return, you get no financial compensation, and you must pay a $100 deposit, which they can keep at their discretion if at any time they decide that THEIR investment in you is "not worthwhile".

Woa, back up - the writer has to pay the publisher? Are we living in Opposite World or something?

I wasn't so outraged at first, but the more I thought about it, the more angry I became.

Sure, this would probably be a great way to learn more about social media, blogging, and how to use WordPress, which seems to be the current hot blogging/epublishing platform.

But just to make sure that you're really serious about it, YOU have to pay THEM?

Something just seems so wrong about this. It would be like if the publishers of Beadwork magazine, my favorite beading magazine, suddenly said to their contributors, "Hey, we really love your project and all the work you put into it, but if you want us to publish it, you'll need to pay us $180 to cover the costs of editing and photographing your project."


And if you are lucky enough to be able to survive Waylon's sarcastic tone and self-important chest pounding, then you MIGHT be lucky enough to earn a few dollars every month.

But, as he said, it's "highly unlikely".

I did notice a few of the posts where they list the writers who did manage to earn a few dollars a month in compensation for their work. One of the highest-paid writers contributed a total of 28 blogs/articles in a single month, and she was compensated $500.

That seems pretty good, right? $500 for 28 articles?

Not really.

When you think about the taxes that must be paid on income from self employment (around 50%), that means she earned a whopping $8.92 (approximately) per article.

This writer had tens of thousands of page views - which translates to clicks on the advertiser's links, increased readership, and maybe even a few dollars in donations to

And she got less than $9 per article.

If you think that maybe it took her two hours to write each article, that's a net of $4.50 per hour.

She'd earn more money as a waitress, probably, than she would spending her time writing for elephantjournal.

So, if you're a glutton for punishment and enjoy being made to feel worthless while baring your spiritual soul to the world, the Apprenticeship program might be just the thing for you.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


These last 2 1/2 weeks have been hard for me. It all started with what I thought was a gallbladder attack. I got up, got dressed, and got in the car to take Colden and some friends of ours to the Adirondack Carousel in Saranac Lake on a gorgeous late September Saturday morning. Halfway to Lake Placid, I realized that it felt like there was a rock stuffed up under my lower right ribcage, and I was so queasy, I had to keep taking nibbles from the Saltines tucked into my handbag.

I wasn't sure I was going to last the whole time at the carousel. Colden enjoyed it (7 rides around on Thunder, the white Adirondack draft horse), but I was just feeling sick, sick, sick.

It didn't get any better the next day. I was supposed to be teaching my first yoga class at the studio. I thought I was better in the morning, and we went for a road trip down to Oscar's Smokehouse. But when we got back home, I was weak, and in pain, and nauseous. There was no way I was fit to lead a class in that condition, and I was angry at myself for getting sick less than 48 hours after I promised to fill in for Robin.

As the week went on, I felt sicker and sicker. I had muscle aches, pain shooting down my legs from my hips, chills (although no fever), and I was just weak and lightheaded and dizzy. I finally caved and let Tom take me to the doctor in the middle of the week (even though I was stressed out about how we were going to pay for it), and all my vitals and my labs were perfectly normal.

So, what was up?

I have no idea.

I went for a massage that day, as well, and my massage therapist summed it up  nicely: my body just felt plain toxic.

As the week went on, I started to stress more about my plans for the weekend - I was supposed to start my yoga teacher training on Saturday, two 10-hour days of practice and workshops.

I didn't feel great on Saturday morning, but I went, anyway. I didn't want to miss the first day.

Looking back, it was a mistake. My body was telling me to stay home, but I went, anyway.

Twenty minutes into the first practice, I had to drop down into child's pose. Then I laid on my back in a resting pose until it was time for Savasana.

I felt like I had failed.

We had a short break before the next class, and I wondered if I should just go out to the car and cry and burn off some of the negative energy and sickness that I felt. But I stayed, and then got ready for the second yoga practice, a Hatha class with one of last year's teacher training graduates.

It was a great practice, and I made it all the way through, but I spent the first half of the practice crying because my body felt so BAD. I felt like panicking.

I know that the whole point of practicing yoga is to stay in the present moment - but what happens if you feel like you're dying in the present moment? What if you feel so physically bad in the present moment that you want to scream or cry and run away in front of a room full of people?

I could not stay present in the rest of that day at teacher training. I felt sick, and all I could think about was getting home to my pajamas and some warm dinner that wouldn't upset my stomach.

Debbie, the instructor for the teacher training, wasn't surprised when I texted her the next morning to let her know that I would not be able to attend that day's training. I was sick, and weak, and in pain, and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball under the blankets and watch old sitcoms in between bouts of crying. She said that she had been watching me the day before, and that I had just gotten paler and paler as the day went on. She said that she was surprised that I had actually made it through the entire day.

Well, I thought, I'm tougher than I think. Or stupider.

One thing I wrote in my journal after that second practice was how I noticed the way I was beating myself up in my head. HOW could I have let myself get sick like this? If it was my gallbladder or my IBS or whatever stress-induced gastric disorder du jous that was wrecking me, how could I have let this happen to me? Why can't I take better care of myself?

Ironic, isn't it? Beating yourself up for beating yourself up?

I realized that self-compassion is very, very hard for me. It's not easy for me to stop and rest when I'm sick because I don't want to be sick. I don't want to acknowledge the inherent weakness of my body, of being human. Even when I feel strong, I have to start realizing that my body is not made of iron. I am flesh and blood and bones, and those things will, from time to time, fail.

Like I had failed.

Now that I'm feeling a little better mentally and physically, I'm feeling like this whole 2 1/2 weeks was a giant test for me, to see how well I can stay in the present moment. And I feel like a huge failure.

I could NOT stay in the present moment. I could not enjoy my first day of teacher training. I failed.

On the other hand...

I have learned a few things from this latest flare up of whatever the hell this is that has been plaguing me for the last 2+ years. I've learned a little more about the whole mind-body connection. I've learned that I need to listen to my body. I've learned that I shouldn't be pushing myself so hard on the days when I just don't feel "right". I've learned that it's okay to be nice to myself when my body is begging me to stay in bed and watch old movies with Colden and my beads for a day or two.

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting to hear from the doctor on what my ultrasound looks like, and what she thinks we ought to do next...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What Should a Yogi Look Like?

I've got some updates on my recent gallbladder thing, but first, just a check-in on some thoughts that I've been having about the whole yoga-wear thing.

To begin, I'll mention briefly that I started my yoga teacher training last Saturday. Unfortunately, I felt way too sick to really enjoy it, and instead of being present during the whole first day, I was looking for ways to escape the physical misery I felt. Achy muscles, achy bones, shivers, abdominal pain - it was neither pretty nor pleasant. Debbie, our instructor, told me she wasn't surprised the next morning when I sent her a message that I wouldn't be making the training that day - she told me that I had looked paler and paler as the day went on, and she was surprised that I had made it through the entire day.

BUT. One of the things I noticed during our lunch break as I looked around at the group...

There are six of us in this particular training. None of us were wearing Lululemon or Prana or any of those "big name" yoga clothes. (Although, to be fair, I do LOVE the Prana top that Robin gave me as a thank you for working on The Yoga Tree's social media stuff.) We were dressed in comfy clothes - leggings, hoodies, t-shirts, sweaters... Nothing terribly glamorous.

Now, go to Google and just type in "yoga clothes". BOOM! You'll be overwhelmed with a barrage of websites selling everything from performance wear a la Ellie to the real hippy-dippy deal of Soul Flower. And I gotta wonder: just what should a yogi look like?

Personally, I've tried out some of that performance wear from Ellie, and to be quite frank, it makes me feel like an idiot. I am not running a marathon or working out at a gym. I'm just trying to find some stillness and some stretches.

On the other hand, some of the real hippy stuff, while visually pleasing to me, makes me feel like I ought to be practicing out in the desert at Burning Man or something. It doesn't feel like who I really am. (And that's the whole point of yoga, right? To figure out who we are?)

Look through any issue of Yoga Journal, too. Aside from the naked Kathryn Budig ads (which is a whole other rant for another time), you'll see ads from places like Hard Tail, Be Up, Inner Waves Organics, Me Sheeky, and Om Shanti Clothing. All the models are white, young, slender, and amazingly flexible.They wear "earthy" and organic clothing, and like all models, they exhibit perfect skin, perfect features.

Is that really what a yogi should look like?

I happen to be lucky enough to be friends with a group of pretty amazing ladies who all have, as one of them likes to put it, fluffy bodies. They do not fit into a size 6, or even a size 16. They are beautiful, they have curves, and they all love to do yoga.

I do NOT see anyone like them in the pages of Yoga Journal. I do NOT see anyone like them on most of the yoga websites I visit.

I long for the day when I see a magazine full of pictures of "ordinary" people doing yoga - overweight, middle aged, and maybe someone other than a Caucasian?

Yoga has taught me that everyone is my teacher. What you wear and what you look like shouldn't matter.

For me, though, it feels like a constant battle in my brain: I love the look of those pretty tops and yoga pants, but on the other hand, there's a part of me that wants to rebel and say, hey, what did people wear to do yoga in before Prana and Gaiam were incorporated?

Personally, I want my yoga clothes to be things that I can wear going about my every day life: a comfy pair of cotton pants or leggings, shirts and sweaters that are roomy and allow me to move. No need to change my clothes if I want to go to class at the studio or just drop down my mat in the living room and have a spontaneous mid-afternoon practice - in my comfy clothes, I'm all ready to go.

On another level, seeing all those model-perfect models online and in magazines is an easy path for us to judge ourselves. "Oh, well, if I don't look like THAT or if I can't do THAT pose, I must not be a real yogi." We're all human, and it's easy to get sucked into the kind of self-judgement that we're trying to escape by practicing yoga.

Of course, it's perfectly okay if you're slender and flexible and like to wear athletic wear to do yoga. The practice is all about acceptance, and non-harming, and contentment.

But do you still want to know what a real yogi should look like?

Use a mirror.

Monday, September 30, 2013


So, yep, with all the anger swirling around in me, I should have seen it coming. I should have.

I should have thought that something was up when it felt like there was a sock stuffed behind my right ribcage. When I felt the dull ache in my left hip, felt the slicing pain running down the outside of my legs, I should have taken better care of myself.

I should have.

But on Saturday morning, I ate my usual breakfast (eggs and potatoes), and the sock behind my right ribs threatened to explode out of me. I was queasy, bloated, and just downright miserable.

It appears that my gallbladder and/or my IBS has flared back up. I was miserable most of the day on Saturday, and did whatever I could to rest and let my body heal.

Yesterday, we went on a road trip down to Oscar's Smokehouse. When we got home, I felt terrible. More muscle pains, aches, bloating, gas. (Sorry for the details.) I was supposed to lead a yoga class at the studio, but that wasn't going to happen. I couldn't move without feeling miserable, so I made the decision to cancel class, took a hot shower, and tried to eat.

I debated going back to the doctor this morning, but then hesitated. I know what this is, and it's not like it's an emergency situation right now. I am not jaundiced. I am not in excruciating pain. I do not have a fever. I simply have an attack of gallbladder/IBS that is trying to tell me something, and I need to slow down, pay attention, and listen.

There are two reasons I'm hesitant to rush off to the doctor now: the first is that since I don't have any of those severe symptoms, I'm probably okay. It's not an emergency. The doctor would probably just ask me if I wanted anything for the pain (no) and if I wanted to try some acid-reducing drugs again (definitely not). She might offer to do another ultrasound and maybe another function test on my gallbladder, but since everything seems to have been humming along nicely for the last 18 months, and this is the first time I've been this uncomfortable since then, I doubt she'd find anything earth-shattering.

The other reason? Our health insurance. We have been paying through the nose for this new plan that Tom's employer switched to, and we still have another $1,500 to go on our deductible. I'm still trying to pay off an emergency room visit from earlier this year, plus some bills from the psychiatrist and the retina specialist that I've seen a couple of times this year. If it were an emergency, I'd say, okay, we just have to figure it out. But since I'm still relatively functional and not in excruciating pain, I'm just going to suck it up and see what happens.

Mornings and evenings are hard. It takes me a little longer to start moving in the early mornings, and by 7:30, I'm so exhausted that all I can do is curl up under the blankets and watch old episodes of "Benson".

Lately, I've been a yoga book junkie. Which is a good thing and a bad thing - bad for my bank account, but good for my practice. I read these books and then try to use what I read in my practice. ('Cause, really, you can read all you want, but unless you get your butt on the mat and practice, it's all worthless, right?)

Two books in my new yoga library are Insight Yoga by Sarah Powers, and a little $2 diddy I downloaded from Amazon about yoga for the gallbladder and liver meridians. Insight Yoga is broken down with yin poses based on the different meridians in the body, as well, based on Traditional Chinese Medicine. So this morning after I got Colden to school and ate some breakfast and got some work done, I rolled out my mat and put on some music for a little gallbladder/liver meridian yoga.

It felt like the hour rushed by, even when I was holding in poses like lizard and pigeon. It felt good to really stretch out the ache in my left hip. It felt good to lay down in Savasana and just let it all go.

And then when I got up, I cried.

And cried, and cried, and cried some more.

Obviously, this little yoga practice for my gallbladder meridians not only released tension in my body, it released something in my emotions. (Gallbladder and liver meridians are related to feelings of anger in the body.)

I cried until I thought I was going to be sick, and then I managed to calm myself down, focus on the tasks that I needed to finish this morning, and got a cup of yogurt and some crackers.

I can't say that I feel a whole lot better. But a little bit. It's a start. More yoga tonight. We'll see how I feel.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Bag of Cement

So, there was this 80 pound bag of dry cement in the back of the van for the last two weeks. Tom bought it to repair our fireplace and to repair the fireplace at his parents' house. For some reason, Tom slit open one side of it, so that the wrapped folded open like a book. (Which I was clever enough to discover when a bunch of it went flying through the van as I drove with all four windows open on a nice day earlier in the week.)

Well, this morning, we were trying to get out the door at a reasonable hour to pick up some friends and spend the day at the Wild Center. I needed to haul this 80 lb open bag of dry cement mix out of the back of the van and into the wheelbarrow that was sitting alongside the garage before I could pop the back seats up and get us on the road.

I grabbed the little bag (it couldn't have been more than 15 inches long - and, yes, it really did weigh 80 pounds) and tried to pull it towards the back of the van. It budged about half an inch. This thing was heavy. I probably would have had better luck trying to haul an entire dead deer out of the back of that van - at least I would have something to grab on to.

Little by little, I nudged it towards the back of the van. I had sorely underestimated just how heavy 80 pounds of dry cement is, when it's crammed into a tiny little package like that. Every time I budged it another quarter of an inch, the bag tore a little more. And every time I budged it another quarter of an inch, I got angrier and angrier that I couldn't pick the damn thing up and just slug it into the wheelbarrow and get on with it.

The cement started spilling out all over the place. I tried to pick it up, the bag tore a little more, and I got angrier, and I tried to yank on it.

Mind you, my arms were still a little sore from the intense AcroYoga class I'd been in the day before, so I wasn't really at my best to begin with.

But I was getting damn angry.

Colden was on the back porch, yelling about wanting me to put on his shoes for him.

The cement was spilling everywhere.

I was getting angrier.

Finally, I somehow managed to drag the bag, half into the wheelbarrow, half balanced on the back of the van. It continued to tear, slowly, spilling cement everywhere. I could feel my heart going into palpitations, I was so damn angry. I wondered if I was about to have a panic attack or a heart attack.

Colden was still yelling about his shoes.

And that was when I lost it.

Fuck it, I thought. Cursing as loudly as I could, I got into the van, turned the ignition, and drove forward until I felt the thud of the bag of cement hitting the driveway.

When I got out of the van, I saw that the bag had torn completely in half. Tom had suggested to me on the phone that I get out the shop vac and try to vacuum up whatever cement had spilled so that we didn't get a little concrete ball on the driveway. I dragged the damn shop vac all the way into the driveway, plugged it in, and started to vacuum.

Then I realized that all I was going to be doing was vacuuming up dirt - and what the fuck did I want to do that for, anyway?

I went back inside. Colden was still screaming about his shoes. And I yelled, at the top of my lungs, for him to put on his own damn shoes or we would not be going anywhere.

I was covered from the waist down in dry cement. My comfortable pants, my comfortable shirt, my shoes - covered. I was sure that I'd inhaled a good amount of it, too, judging from the coughing I was doing.

And as I started stripping off my cement-covered clothes, I suddenly started to cry. I mean, really cry. Big, fat, hot tears, the kind that come out in yoga sometimes. And it hit me - my entire life, I've felt as though people have been asking me to do things of which I am just not capable of doing.

Dealing with an anorexic/bulimic/agoraphobic/mentally ill mother like a grown-up. At 11 years old, I was not capable of doing it, yet I had to. There were times, I realized, that dealing with my mother's mental illness felt a hell of a lot like trying to move that damn 80 pound bag of cement. Impossible, yet I somehow had to do it.

Trying to get my own apartment at age 18 because I just couldn't live with my mother anymore. I was far from capable, yet I had to do it.

These things made me angry. So angry, and yet I felt like I wasn't allowed to be angry, because what good would it have done me?

Angry that my mother refused to eat, even when she thought she was starving to death. Angry that she was so afraid of, well, everything that she refused to let my sister and I just be normal kids, or normal teenagers. Angry that she finally said to me in the hospital, the week before she died, how sorry she was that she "screwed up all our lives".

That's how angry I was.

I went back out onto the porch and saw that Colden, now in tears as well, had put on his own sneakers. I gave him a big hug, and he snuggled down into my lap, and we cried together. I apologized for getting angry. He gave me a kiss on the nose and said, "Mommy, what would make you feel better? Some Starbucks?"

This is what makes me think that I'm a terrible mother, but at the same time, maybe I'm doing something right.

I cried pretty much all the way into town to pick up our friends, and even though it was a nice day to be at the Wild Center, I just felt sort of off the whole day.

But the cement bag, it really brought something out of me. It brought out all the anger and the frustration I've felt for most of my life, anger that I've always just ignored or held back or squashed because I was afraid to let myself feel it.

It's something that I feel during yoga practice a lot lately. Anger. Anger that I can't do a forward bend. Anger that I can't do a crazy backbend or a shoulder stand. When it comes to a pose that I can't do, I get angry that I'm not like the other students in class who can do that pose. And it's not one particular pose that makes me angry, it's any pose that I can't do in its full expression.

I just get mad.

So, I have no idea what to do now, except to do more yoga. I've been crying on and off for two days now, trying to figure out what I do next. I feel as though I have no idea what I'm capable of, and I sort of feel like I'm not capable of doing anything.

The only path ahead me that I can see right now is...more yoga. Maybe the answer will come there.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Writing is Like Yoga

Yep, it sure is. Sometimes it ebbs, sometimes it flows. Sometimes, I just have to force myself to sit down at the damn computer and write. Sometimes, I find myself awake at 3 a.m. and writing like a crazy woman. (Of course, those 3 a.m. days usually mean that I'm a zombie for the rest of the morning until I drop Colden off at kindergarten, but, whatever...)

So, what have I been doing this last week?

I've discovered that my home practice is most definitely developing nicely. We had a couple of very warm, sunny, sweaty days where I chucked a couple of yoga mats out under the box elder tree in the backyard (two mats, because I live in fear that another ginormous earthworm will crawl its way up onto me as happened once while practicing some impromptu sun salutations on the freshly-mowed grass one afternoon - I am positively terrified of worms, and the bigger, the more terrifying) and did a good one-hour practice all on my own. There were even a couple of days when I actually didn't want to go to the studio to practice because I wanted to practice at home! (Of course, part of treating the anxiety with me is getting myself actually OUT of the house and interacting with other people, so, going to the studio can be important for me.

And speaking of the studio...

This past weekend, I participated in a 2-hour workshop where we went through the entire Ashtanga primary series. I went right along with it, doing what I could, modifying where the poses weren't accessible to me, and inserting my vinyasas in all the right places. At the end of the practice, I was exhausted, elated, and felt just a little bit "high". I had my Ashtanga practice manual by David Swenson in front of me so that I could follow along and find the right modifications for the poses as we went through the flow.

It was an amazing experience: there were probably 14 of us, all different ages, one man and the rest women, all different body types, different levels of flexibility and strength, but we moved together, we breathed together, and we rested together.

I'm also counting down the days until my advanced yoga studies/teacher training begins on October 5. To say that I am giddy with excitement is an understatement. The more I practice, the more I want to know...

But, the whole thing about yoga is like writing? Yeah. I need to do it every day. Which means I need to finish up this little "warm up" and get down to the nitty-gritty. Later!

Sunday, September 8, 2013


"Everything around you is your teacher."


So, I got home from yoga class tonight, but something just didn't feel right. I've had little snitches of time over this weekend where I started to feel very negative about things - stressing out about how I'm going to follow through on my commitment to yoga teacher training, stressing out about getting our new kindergarten routine down, stressing out about where I'm going to find the time to get all my work done if I have to be running back and forth to Keene three times a day, stressing out about money. All the usual stuff.

When I walked in the door, Colden was sitting at the table watching cartoons, and he hadn't had dinner yet. Bedtime on school nights now is around 7:30, and it was 6:45.

And I. Freaked. Out.

I was pissed. I frantically started to rummage through the fridge for something - anything - that my kid would eat for dinner. I was pissed at Tom for letting dinner go this late. I was pissed at myself for going to yoga. Didn't anything get done when I walked out of the house? How was I going to get this kid fed and bathed and into bed on time so that he didn't have a meltdown in the middle of the afternoon at kindergarten?

I was throwing curse words around in my head at an impressive rate.

It was most definitely a very un-yogic moment.

I swore up and down at the thought that I was going to have to stop going to the studio for yoga practice and instead stay home and make sure that things got done around here.

I was pissed that I wouldn't be able to get to the morning classes, and now I wouldn't be able to get to the evening classes, either. Too many logistics to work out. So much stuff to do! We're not just in pre-school anymore, we're in kindergarten now, and now we have to get SERIOUS.


It turned out that Colden refused to eat because he wanted to wait for me to get home from yoga. (Oh, my little man!) And Tom had been planning on doing bath time and bedtime.

So Colden and I sat at the table and ate a sandwich and some fruit, and then Tom got him in the bath tub while I wrote out the six zillion notes that Colden needs to take to school with him tomorrow, and then Colden came to give me a sweet-smelling hug and kiss goodnight.

And that's when it hit me: Tom was right. I can keep going to yoga practice at the studio. I can go on and do all these things that I need to and want to.

I just need to let go.

I've been so worried about the new routine, the new schedule, that I made it into a problem before it actually became a problem.

So what am I going to do?

Let go.

Things will either get done, or they won't. And I need to stop feeling guilty for going to practice at the studio. I need to stop feeling guilty for committing myself to a teacher training.

When things are ready to happen, they'll happen. And I just need to accept that. Santosha, right?

Yes, I'm still going to have to haul my ass out of bed at 5 a.m. every morning for the next 9 months. But, whatever. Things will still get done. The sun will still rise and set, the leaves will change, the snows will come, and life will go on.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

To Prop Or Not To Prop?

Tuesday morning, there were only two of us in yoga class at the studio, and since both of students are also looking into advanced yoga studies and becoming teachers, Robin gave us a nice little impromptu workshop where we picked apart a few select poses and worked on ways to verbalize corrections.

It was an interesting session. The other student had way more flexibility than me, and where she could easily reach down and grab her toes in a pose like Triangle or bend all the way forward and touch her forehead to her shin in Pyramid, I required the use of blocks.

Which leads me to an interesting question for yoga students and teachers: to prop, or not to prop?

When it comes to using props, the first thing I think of is Iyengar, where props are used extensively to ensure precise alignment in the asanas. Sure, it's important to have proper alignment so that everything functions well, but at the same time, it seems to me that having to worry about all those props just takes some of the joy out of yoga. At least, for me, it does.

On the other hand, I know that when I use a block or a strap or even a bolster for certain asanas, I'm getting the most out of the pose because my body isn't able to go into the full expression.

And then on yet another hand (because some Hindu deities have four or six hands and several heads, dontcha know), there are practices like Ashtanga that don't allow the use of ANY props whatsoever!

What's a yogi Momma with tight hamstrings to do?

Well, like all things in yoga, the use of props is a highly personal choice, depending on your preferred style of yoga, your abilities, and even just how your body feels on any given day. That said, I don't think there's anything wrong with using a prop like a block or a blanket or a bolster in order to get the maximum benefit out of each asana. Or, if you prefer Ashtanga, use one of the variations of the pose in order to work your body and calm your mind.

For an effective practice, the goal should not be to reach your toes without bending your knees, but to become comfortable with your limitations and to learn how to practice kindness.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Being Able to Balance

When I was a kid, I can remember going to the Pathmark grocery store with my father, and standing there at the end of the checkout lane, bagging groceries while standing on one foot. It was just something that I did. Instinctively, I would tuck one leg up under me, foot pressing against the thigh of the standing leg, and bag groceries like that. Sometimes, I would switch it up between bags of groceries.

It never occurred to me until just recently that most people have kind of a hard time with balance in yoga class. When Robin starts demonstrating something like Tree, or Standing Figure 4, Eagle, or King Dancer, I move into easily, because for me, it feels like a natural thing to do.

Of course, the first time she suggested closing my eyes, I bust out laughing. Yeah, I can balance on one leg, but with my eyes closed? Not!

Then during one class, she suggested that we look at balancing poses as a sort of standing meditation. Woa-ho! For some reason, that suggestion clicked with me. I close my eyes when I meditate (most of the time), so why  not close my eyes when it's time to standing in a balancing pose, right?

One afternoon while trying to keep my balance in Tree amidst my wobbling classmates, I thought, yes, this will be less distracting if I close my eyes.

And what do you know? I did it. I didn't wobble. (Much.) I didn't fall.

If I'm having a terrible practice, and I can't stand straight in Warrior or Triangle or any of the standing poses, I can almost always find some stability and some stillness in a balancing pose.

Ironic, since it feels like I spend most of my life chasing after some kind of balance. If I'm working, I worry about what has to be done around the house. If I'm cleaning up the house, I'm worrying about the work that's piling up. If I'm spending quality time with the boys, I'm worrying about work AND the chores that need to be done. You see where I'm going with this?

It's a small comfort that when I step on my mat, I know that I'll at least be able to find a few minutes of balance, no matter what else is going on in my life.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Early Mornings

I don't often get the chance to do an early morning class. (When I say early, I'm talking about the 7:30 a.m. classes at my local studio.) But this week, Tom is off from work all week, so while he's at home sleeping in with Colden, I get to start my day with a yoga class.

This morning was beautiful. Very humid, overcast, foggy, little bit of drizzle in some places. It's the kind of mornings that you don't really get in the city, or even the suburbs. Almost no cars on the road, and I haven't had a reason to be on the road so early in years. I felt like I was sneaking around while the rest of the world slept...

And, yes, I yawned my way through pretty much the entire class. It probably didn't help that Colden was up every hour or two all night, crying for me. It's either this crazy weather, or the moon (new moon coming up), or the impending first day of kindergarten this week, but that poor kid could not get to sleep, and when he did, he tossed and turned and was just generally miserable.

So, there I was, and every time Robin said, "Take a deep inhale through your nose," I found myself taking a big yawn in and out of my mouth. Yawn, yawn, yawn. Savasana was a blissful rest at the end of practice, and I came home feeling calm and quiet, and really, really hungry for some scrambled eggs and cheese.

I'm in the countdown to start my yoga teacher training. First weekend of October is my first session. And as I've been swinging back and forth between thinking, "I really don't want to do this," and, "I can't wait to do this," I find myself thinking, "Yes, this is what I want." 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why I Practice Yoga: I can't, I can't, I can't, I can...

So, the last ten days have been a little rough around here. First of all, I was sick as a dog for most of the last two weeks. Muscle aches, low fever, and just general fatigue all left me feeling like a limp noodle at the end of the day, so, no yoga classes for me because my body was just begging for rest.

Tonight was my first yoga class back at the studio in over two weeks. I couldn't wait to get back there, couldn't wait to smell the familiar smells and just be in the calm of that place.

But there was also a little part of me that was afraid. Again, with the fear and the anxiety. (Because that's what happens to me after not being able to practice yoga for almost 10 days. The anxiety comes back, and it's pretty ugly.)

I was actually a little nervous before class. My brain was saying, "I can't, I can't, I can't..." But a few minutes into asana practice, my body was saying to me, gently, "Yes, you can."

And, well, I did.

Sure, my muscles shook a little bit when we got into Boat pose. Yes, my heart pounded a little when we were doing our vinyasas down to the floor and all the forward bends.

But, I did.

One of the reasons I started practicing yoga again was because I was initially overjoyed at the realization that there were all these things that my body COULD do. After nearly two years of just feeling sick every day, worrying about what the doctor's weren't finding, and having my anxiety running rampant over every reasonable, logical thought about my health, getting into Robin's yoga classes on Sunday afternoons and Tuesday evenings showed me that, yes, indeed, when my brain says "NO", my body will say, "YES".

And another thing...

I was chatting about the fall schedule with Robin tonight. She didn't have the Sunday class on the schedule anymore, and I was feeling a little devastated about that. Those Sunday community classes were where I fell in love with yoga, where I realized that this could be the way out from under the anxiety. So, I did what any completely insane budding yogi would do: I offered to teach them.

Maybe not every single one, mind you, but I offered to do a few, just to keep the classes going.

Am I ready to lead a class? I think so. I've been leading my husband for a few weeks, and if I can get him into yoga, I figure, I can get anyone into yoga...

Friday, August 16, 2013

When Yogis Get Sick...

Ugh, this has been a week of torture for me, mentally and physically. Sunday morning, I came down with muscle aches that made me want to cry. I sucked it up, though, and went on a canoe paddle with Tom and Colden, because it was a beautiful morning, one of the last summer Sundays we'll get to enjoy for a while.

Monday night, I thought I would go to yoga, that maybe it would make me feel better. I got to the studio, then realized that my arms and legs hurt too much to get out of the car. I turned around, got into bed, and cried for 20 minutes because I felt so bad, I thought I was coming down with the flu.

The rest of the week, I've been struggling with congestion, cough, sore throat, and more muscle aches and pains. This "little" infection in my gums under one of my molars was driving me crazy, and even though the dentist said not to take the antibiotics right away, I cracked and started up with the Amoxicillin last night when I just couldn't take it any more. (For the record: I tried salt water rinses and baking soda scrubs for two weeks, and while they've worked in the past on other dental issues, this time, they were pretty much useless.)

Yesterday morning, I found myself thinking about my little boy, and how he's growing up so fast, and starting kindergarten in just a few weeks. It makes me sad to think that the baby stage is over, but excited to be able to keep watching him grow up into an amazing little man. However. Given my physical and emotional state over being frustrated at this illness all week, I just sat down in front of the computer before work and cried for a good half hour.

This morning, my muscles still ache. I'm still tired. I'm still congested, although it's not nearly as bad as it was the other day. I'm frustrated that I haven't been able to do yoga at all this week, because just the thought of working through a single Sun Salutation with these muscle aches is enough to bring me to tears.

And, of course, there's always that little battle with that annoyingly loud part of my brain that says to me, "OhmygodwhatifitsleukemiaorcancerorsomethingreallyawfulandyoujustignoreituntilyouDIE?"

This morning, I realized that the world was pissing me off. People rushing to judge each other in the meanest way possible, violence, ignorance... What's a yogi to do?

Breathe, of course, but sometimes, it just feels to me like if I take one. more. deep. breath. my head is going to explode.

And then I take another breath.

And another.

And you know what? Sometimes, it's okay to get mad. Part of being true to ourselves is allowing ourselves the freedom to express our emotions, isn't it? So if you get mad, get mad. Scream, cry, holler, hit something (soft, like a pillow, maybe), and get motivated to do something about whatever is making you mad. If you can't do anything about whatever is making you mad, maybe meditate on it to see how you can allow yourself to accept it. (If you can't do anything about it, then there's no sense in getting mad, right? And if you can do something about it, do it.)

It's okay if you're not in a Zen-like state of pure bliss every second of every hour of every day. We're human. We get mad, and we get sad, and we get happy, but the thing about the yoga is that it brings me back to some sort of equilibrium, time after time.

As for practicing when you're sick, it's all about listening to your body. All this week, my body was telling me to do restorative poses where I would prop myself up in bed with some nice music or a movie and my eye pillow and just REST. My body needed some help in healing (still does, apparently), and a vigorous vinyasa or Ashtanga class wasn't really going to do the trick this week.

Meanwhile, my plan for today is to have a delicious lunch with a wonderful friend and her two kids, get the rest of my writing done, do a little grocery shopping, make a yummy dinner for us all, and try to do a little yoga. Yes, my muscles still hurt, and my mind is still screaming, but today I am going to try to remember that after all, I'm only human.

Four more days of antibiotics to go...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Using Yoga to Be Your Authentic Self

Some days, the deeper I get into yoga, the more confusing it gets.

Robin tells me that I'm just "soaking it all up", and she's right: the more I learn about yoga, the more I realize that there's a lot I don't know. Yoga goes so much deeper than just the asanas (poses), and when I start thinking about everything else that goes along with the practice, I start to see yoga as a metaphor for, well, life.

So, here's what I'm thinking: Yoga has become big business in the United States. Look around: there are magazines (to which I subscribe), conferences (which I attend now and then), and yoga clothes out there that cost more than my kid's school tuition payments. There are teachers out there who are, undoubtedly good teachers, but who are, at the end of the day, still looking to sell their books, DVDs, audio downloads, etc.

I went through a little bit of an identity crisis when I started going to yoga class four days a week. Everyone around me was wearing these expensive pieces of athletic apparel. They "looked" the part. Oh, I thought, in order to do yoga, I have to buy these really expensive, shiny clothes with a lotus on the butt of my pants. Because, really, I wanted to look just like everyone else in class.

But then I was shopping at the farmer's market a few weeks ago, and I came across this vendor selling the coolest upcycled clothing that I've seen in a long time. It went along with everything that I believe in: small business, recycling clothing, supporting an artist with fair prices. So, I bought a tank top and a hoodie.

And then I realized that, wow, I can do yoga in these clothes! They were comfortable. They fit. So what if they weren't Prana or Lululemon or whatever? They were made by hand, and by purchasing them, I put my money where my beliefs are: in the small business owner who earns her money doing what she loves.

For me, I've started to realize that yoga is a way for me to slow down and think about who I am and how I want to live my life. There's so much more to yoga than just the poses - I mean, anybody can put on a pair of skimpy yoga shorts and push back into Downward Dog and breathe. But does everybody really understand that there's so much more going on when you do that simple asana?

Yoga is all about authenticity. If you want to just do yoga for a physical workout, that's great, but that's all you're going to get from it. But if you start to apply the teachings of yoga and the discipline of yoga to the rest of your life...what might happen?

I'm discovering that instead of spending my money on mail-order clothes that "look" like yoga clothes, I'm frequenting my local thrift shop and resale shop. The money I spend at the thrift shop goes to support the local food pantry for needy families. The resale shop is owned by a friend who is a small business owner. Both are causes that I care about deeply.

And THAT is what yoga is about. It's not about just the poses. It's about being mindful of your body, being mindful of your life, and about living with purpose.

As I begin my yoga teacher training in October, I'm going to be holding on to these ideas, and using them to shape what kind of yoga teacher I will be.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Yoga Toys: Gaiam Audio Yoga Mat

Yes, even yogis enjoying playing with toys now and then. When I was browsing the sale section of the Gaiam website, I saw this interesting mat described as an "audio" yoga mat. Well, isn't that interesting, I thought. (Back when I was in high school and aspiring to be a writer or musician or whatever, I had always thought that books should come with a soundtrack that you could play while you were reading it. So I've always been conscious of the "soundtrack" for my life.)

The Gaiam audio yoga mat has a speaker built in to one corner with a little cord for hooking it up to your iPod or iPhone or MP3 player so that you can take your tunes anywhere you take your yoga. Sounds like a great idea, right?

Anyway, I tried to buy one from the Gaiam website (at $14.99, it seemed like a good deal for what might be a fun toy), but it turned out that there were no more available. Bummer. Still intrigued with the idea of an audio yoga mat, I checked over on Amazon and found one for around $12. Okay, now we were talking.

Overall, I think this is a fun mat to have in your collection, but be aware of the following pros and cons:

1. The speaker. Yep, this is a yoga mat that you can use to listen to your iPod, iPhone, or MP3 player anywhere, anytime. The speaker doesn't require batteries, so you just have to make sure your music player is all charged up and ready to go. The speaker quality isn't superb, but for the price, I'll take it.

2. The thickness. Now, this could be a pro or a con. The mat is made from your typical sticky-mat material, but a little thinner than my first 4mm thick mat. It's about the same thickness as my beloved Jade Harmony mat, but I slip around a little more on this one.

That said, this mat folds up very easily to tuck into a suitcase for travel. But I'd be careful about that speaker - you know how luggage gets thrown around during air travel, and I don't know how the speaker would hold up.

3. The price. I believe that this item is no longer available directing from Gaiam, but if you check on Amazon (or maybe eBay?), you'll find several options, ranging from about $12 - $23, + shipping. For around $20, it's not a bad deal for this fun yoga toy.

1. The speaker. If you were expecting Bose-quality sound from a yoga mat/speaker combination for less than $20, yeah, you're gonna be disappointed. On the other hand, I tossed this mat out on my back porch, in the living room, and out in the backyard under the box elder tree, and with a little adjustment of volume on my iPhone, I could hear my music perfectly while I practiced. Not bad!

2. The thickness. Again, this is a thinner mat than the usual sticky mat, and it only comes in one color - green with a koi fish design. However, I did chuck it on top of my Jade mat, and it made a nice, spongy surface for practicing. But...

3. The length. I like my yoga mats long. I know, I'm only 5' 3", so I shouldn't take up that much space, but I like my nice, 74" long yoga mats so that I can scootch back into Downward Dog or whatever without feeling like I'm gonna fall off the back edge. I like to be able to dance around, forward and back, during my Sun Salutations, but with this is a more typical 68" yoga mat. So, if you like 'em long, you might feel a little limited using this mat during practice.

The Last Word
If you love practicing yoga to music or even to an audio guide, this is a great mat to have handy. I can see myself using it in hotel rooms when there's no music available, or out in the backyard, or anywhere that there isn't a handy place to plug in my iPod. The Gaiam audio yoga mat is a fun way to motivate yourself to practice, and if it gets you on the mat, it can't be all bad.

Monday, August 5, 2013

7 Things I Learned About Treating Anxiety with Yoga and Meditation

My last morning at Kripalu, I made it to the 6:00 a.m. yoga practice. I was nervous, but I made it through the practice just fine. I used all of the microadjustments that we had practiced the previous day, and truly, by the end of the practice, I felt all that good energy flowing through me.

I was nervous, however, about driving home. For some reason, I always seem to get the nerves and anxiety when it comes time to leave and go back home. But I went and had another filling, light breakfast, chatting with another classmate, and then I went back to my room to pack so that I could check out at noon.

We did some movement in that last morning of class, but we also did a review of what we had learned, and a review of the tools we now had to help us deal with our anxiety and depression. I had a journal full of insight and things to work on, and if you're curious as to what I learned that weekend, here it is:

1. There is no quick-fix for healing anxiety and depression. You didn't develop anxiety and depression overnight, and you won't cure it overnight. But with steady, thoughtful work, you can heal yourself and live the life you love. You might think that prescription pharmaceuticals are the way to go for your quick fix, but...

2. Medications don't work. If you don't believe me, read any major study of pharmaceutical antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications: they work for approximately 1/3 of the patients that take them. Of the remaining 2/3, half of those see no improvement, and half of them worsen.

Even the psychiatrist I saw earlier this year agreed with me: medication should only be a long-term solution for very serious cases. Medication does nothing to solve the underlying problems that are causing the anxiety and depression - it's just covering up the symptoms without doing anything to address the cause - and it can create a host of new problems, mostly side effects. Medication doesn't teach you how to cope with the anxiety and depression when it arises, and the psychiatrist that I saw told me that he believed the real way to cure anxiety was to learn how to recognize the symptoms for what they are, and learn how to deal with them in a healthy way.

The last time I saw that psychiatrist, we were discussing how I am now able to recognize when an anxiety attack is imminent. Sometimes it's hard to be able to pull back and say to myself, hey, this is just my anxiety-brain kicking in, and here's what I need to do about it. But after practicing yoga daily for 7+ months now, I can recognize an anxiety attack for what it is 99% of the time, and I know how to get through it.

A huge part of successfully treating anxiety and depression, he said, was also major lifestyle changes. If you keep doing the same things over and over, repeating the same patterns, thinking the same thoughts, would you really expect anything to change?

3. Your brain can change for the better through yoga and meditation. Yes, neuroplasticity is a big word, but it's important to understand. You CAN change the way your brain works through simple yoga, pranayama (breathing), and meditation. These practices basically hit the "reset" button on your nervous system, and allow you to feel a state of relaxed awareness. Once your brain has that experience, it remembers it, and can create new neural pathways to relieve your symptoms of anxiety and depression.

It really works - remember, back in February, I couldn't leave the house to go grocery shopping or get my hair cut without getting nauseous and getting the dry heaves.

But as I followed my therapist's advice and got myself out of the house every single day, I created those new neural pathways that told me brain it was okay to get my hair cut. Going to the grocery store wasn't a threatening experience. My brain changed - it didn't react to these situations as a flight-or-flight experience after a while. And now, I'm working on being able to get out and travel in the bigger world, too.

4. A little yoga every day is better than nothing at all. We're all busy. We have jobs, kids, friends, responsibilities. We can't always make the time for a 90-minute vinyasa or restorative practice every single day. But even taking just 10 minutes a day to rest in a supported restorative pose or to do 5 Sun Salutations with a few minutes of Savasana can go a long way towards creating those new neural pathways that can help relieve your anxiety.

Finding those ten minutes is another important way to treat anxiety and depression: self-care. Very often, we put off finding time for ourselves because someone else needs us, or we feel obligated to our jobs or other responsibilities. One of the most important things I've learned from my battles with anxiety is that taking the time for self-care (things like yoga, massage therapy, relaxation, meditation) actually makes us stronger and better able to cope with whatever life throws at you every day.

5.  Slower is better. Sure, when I'm feeling really anxious some days, I love a good, long Ashtanga or vinyasa class to help me burn off some extra energy. But a nice, slow-paced Hatha class or even a good session of restorative yoga also give me the same feeling of well-being and peace at the end of the day. They can even leave me feeling energized!

It might seem counterintuitive, but slowing down is probably the best thing someone with anxiety and depression can do to relieve their symptoms. When you slow down, you become more aware. You can sense what's going on in your body, and you can take steps to help yourself. When you allow yourself to slow down, you give yourself a chance to acknowledge the thoughts going through your head and to approach them with a more rational, relaxed mind.

Think about it: You're highly agitated. You walk into your favorite coffee shop and are informed that they are completely out of your favorite kind of coffee. If your anxiety and depression has kicked in, you might freak out, yell at someone, and storm out of there feeling like your whole day is ruined. You might even get angry thinking that you won't have any of your favorite coffee to drink the next morning.

But if you give yourself a chance to step back and look at the situation calmly, you'll just say, oh well, and move on with your day.

My father used to tell me: Don't sweat the small stuff - and it's all small stuff.

6. The mind-body connection is real. For years and years and years, physicians and mental health practitioners have been taught to separate the body from the mind. Physicians can only treat the body. Psychiatrists and therapists can only treat the mind.

But, really, that makes no sense when you're trying to heal the whole patient. Your mind is just as much a part of your body as your heart, your lungs, your liver... Your brain is where emotions, sensations, and feelings originate, so why should we ignore it when we're treating an illness that shows up somewhere else in the body? And for that matter, why do we ignore the rest of the body when we're treating anxiety and depression?

Not to be too crude, but the easiest way to prove the mind-body connection is sexual arousal. Thinking a certain way can cause physical sensations and reactions in the body - right? So why should that not be true with other thoughts and sensations?

Another example is something that I learned during my hypnobirthing class. The instructor had us all lay down and relax and did a visualization exercise with us. She told us to picture a lemon. Think about the color of that lemon - bright yellow. Think about what the thick skin of a lemon feels like. Picture yourself putting that lemon right under your nose, and inhale deeply. Next, picture yourself cutting that lemon into wedges. Pick up one of the wedges and squeeze it gently on your tongue. What does it taste like?

By the time you got to the end of that last paragraph, your mouth was salivating a bit, wasn't it? THAT'S the power of the mind-body connection. And yoga, so far, is one of the best ways I've found to address what happens to me during an anxiety attack. Calm the mind, and you heal the body.

7. Learn to listen to your body. Now, this one ain't so easy. I don't know where we learned it, but for most of us, the only time we really listen to our body is when we have to use the bathroom, or get hungry, or get tired. And even then, we push ourselves beyond our limits - we work when we should be sleeping, we skip meals because we don't have "time" to eat, we make ourselves wait for a toilet break. This makes it really hard for us to know what our body wants so that it can function optimally, and probably a huge part of what causes the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

As I went through this weekend at Kripalu, I realized that most of the time, I have absolutely no idea what my body wants. I've learned somewhere that my body is not to be trusted, that it will betray me, that it will make me feel bad - none of which is true, of course.

For me, a big part of this is being able to tell the difference between self-care and laziness. Sure, it might feel GREAT, or at least, I would think it would feel great, to stay in bed until 10 a.m. every day. But that's not necessarily what I need. Part of self-care means self-discipline, which for me, means getting myself to the yoga studio at the end of a busy day, or taking the time for a healthy lunch after a crazy morning.

One of the things that we practiced during the weekend program at Kripalu was listening to our body to see what it was asking for. It's not easy. It takes practice to recognize what we need. But that's how you heal anxiety and depression - by treating yourself carefully and compassionately, and learning to give your body what it wants.

So...what now?

Now, with all this knowledge and experience in the yoga "practice lab" at Kripalu, I'm ready to move forward. I continue to do my daily yoga practice, I'm working on doing more restorative yoga (at least once a week, either in class or at home), and I'm preparing for my yoga teacher training that begins in October.

I continue to explore different styles of yoga with different teachers at different studios, and I continue to practice self-compassion and self-care whenever appropriate.

What would you do if you knew that you could not fail?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Kripalu: Yoga for Healing Anxiety and Depression Day 2

I woke up the next morning after about four and a half hours of sleep. There was a 6:00 a.m. yoga practice scheduled as part of this workshop, but between the heat and the lack of sleep, there was just no way that I was going to be functional enough to participate. So after my roommate left (she was in the same program as me), I went back to sleep and slept until about 8:00 a.m.

The cafeteria was just one floor down from my room, so I went down there, still feeling a little shaky and a little nervous about eating breakfast. As I walked up and down the lines, I realized that there were plenty of options for me to have a light, nourishing breakfast before heading into the day's sessions.

I wound up filling a cereal bowl with organic raspberry yogurt and topping it with a healthy handful of crispy quinoa cereal. I grabbed a piece of fruit, and then spread some peanut butter and jelly on two rice cakes. I couldn't finish all of it, but my stomach was surprisingly cooperative, and I felt pretty good, if not still a little tired, as I headed back down to the session.

I set myself up in the back of the room and listened carefully as the instructor presented her material. When she started talking about the mind/body connection and how anxiety manifests itself through physical symptoms, particularly in the enteric nervous system (the stomach, intestines, gallbladder, etc.), I was hooked. Of COURSE it all made sense! All those years that doctors have just been trying to treat either the mind or the body were just setting me up for failure - I'm one of those people that needs to address both equally.

As I listened and participated in the day's activities, I found myself frequenting the ice stations set up around the room to help us deal with the insane heat. Unfortunately, the ice cold wash cloths didn't last too long - after about five minutes, they were hot and useless.

I found myself journaling through most of the day. Whenever the instructor would say something that was particularly interesting or that resonated with me, I wrote something else down in my journal. I wrote and wrote and wrote - and in the process, I felt as though I were releasing my demons. I got everything down on paper, and then it was just gone.

Late in the morning after our first break, I looked up to the windows high at the top of the walls. They were open, and a breeze was coming in, blowing the curtains around. My gaze found the top of the ceiling, and I suddenly realized that the giant room we were gathered in was formerly the chapel or sanctuary at this former Jesuit compound.

Excitedly, my eyes found all of the typical characteristics of a Catholic sanctuary: the high ceilings, the windows, the altar - the altar! I realized with a shock and a thrill that the former altar had been covered with a beautiful, brown, sparkling cloth, and sitting right on it was a larger-than-life brass statue of Shiva, dancing on the head of ignorance. Whatever stained glass design had been in the doors at the rear of the room had been replaced with beautiful bright red Ohm symbols.

I was looking forward to lunch, and I filled up a tray with curried vegetables, quinoa with cilantro and lime, a giant piece of cornbread, a salad, and another piece of fruit.

Since the temperatures had cooled off a bit, I decided to go sit outside at one of the picnic tables under a canopy. There was a table where two older women were sitting, and I asked if they minded if I took up a seat at the opposite end. They invited me to sit with them, and we started chatting. After a few minutes, several of my workshop-mates arrived at the table, and we all began talking openly about our experiences with anxiety and our symptoms and what we hoped to take away from this weekend at Kripalu.

One woman in particular struck me as being a kindred spirit - she suffered from nearly the exact same kind of food anxiety that I've been dealing with, and she had a wonderful quality to her laugh that made me feel at ease with her.

When we had all finished lunch, I took my tray back inside, and since the rumor was that the gift shop was nicely air conditioned, I decided to check it out.

I walked into the gift shop thinking that I would look for a small statue of Tara to take home with me, after my last experience with her just before I went to Cleveland in June. But Tara didn't speak to me that day. Instead, it was Lakshmi who was looking for my attention.

If you're unfamiliar with the Hindu deities, Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth, prosperity, fortune, and the embodiment of beauty. The little information card behind this tiny green resin Lakshmi said that she would help me cleanse the heart and spirit of hatred, ignorance, and desires, and that it was appropriate to place her on my altar or office desk to overcome any negative mental tendencies. I mean, hey, what else is anxiety, if not a whole bunch of negative mental tendencies?

The woman I had connected with at lunch also turned up in the gift shop, and we found ourselves planted in front of an entire huge shelf of books about yoga practice, including volumes about how to use yoga to heal the mental and physical bodies. I enjoyed myself so much, looking through books, picking out a small stack to take home with me, chatting with her. I started to feel like my old self again, sitting in front of a giant book shelf at Barnes & Noble for hours and losing myself in the pages of a book...

The afternoon session was more practice, which was great, and went by pretty quickly. I alternated between looking through my new books and listening to the instructor, continuing my journal entries when something struck me as being important.

The air now definitely felt much cooler than it had that morning, and dinner outside was beautiful. I filled up a plate full of mushroom risotto, more salad, roasted vegetables, and a lovely piece of vegan vanilla cake with strawberries and homemade cashew cream. No stomach problems or anxiety now - I ate heartily and chatted with a few more people. Complete strangers, but we all enjoyed each others company, and pretty soon, I found myself thinking about changing clothes and going for a little walk.

Now, one of the things we learned in this workshop was that it's very important to listen to your body to see what it wants. Especially for those of us with anxiety, healing that anxiety requires that we be able to recognize what the anxiety feels like in our bodies. In one of my favorite books, Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, yogi Brian Leaf talks about how we need to learn to trust our bodies and our instincts.

That's not as easy as it sounds. Yes, you can pretty much tell when you need to eat and sleep and use the bathroom, but listening to your body's innate wisdom and needs can be tricky. So, I decided to try an experiment that evening, and I decided to "go with my gut".

The first thing my gut told me was that I was to head back down to the gift shop and see if I could find a book about Ayurveda, the ancient art of healing that is considered the sister science to yoga.

Okay, easy enough, and I was enjoying the cool air of the gift shop. I found my book, paid for it just as the shop was closing, and tried to figure out what to do next.

I walked out of the gift shop, and right out the back door through which I had entered the day before. There was a concert going on in the yoga room, and the doors were open so that the music floated out into the warm summer evening. I stood for a second, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath, feeling the music floating in and out of me.

I walked around the building, coming to the impressive front lawn, and saw that there were benches under some of the trees. I followed myself down the lawn, searching for an empty bench where I could park myself for a little while and read my new book.

And then...

I walked right down the huge, sloping front lawn. I crossed the driveway, and spying a bench under some kind of arbor, I headed in that direction.

There were people sprawled on blankets on the lawn. A group of students training to be yoga teachers were practicing handstands.

I walked past them all towards the bench, and then...

I saw another, smaller arbor. There were two Ohm symbols carved into the sides, and a huge clump of my favorite day lilies right next to it. Beneath the lilies was a heavy, brass zodiac sundial. It appeared to be the entrance to a labyrinth.

Okay, still following my gut, I entered the labyrinth, clutching my book.

The path was much narrower than I had expected - barely wider than my foot. And it was heavily vegetated, so heavily, in fact, that there were places where I had to literally raise my arms and push through clumps of grass taller than me. There were patches of dried lupines that rattled when I brushed them with my leg.

After a few feet, I caught a glimpse of some kind of shrine at the center of the labyrinth, and a woman standing there.

I kept walking. I walked around, then doubled back, then walked around some more.

As I walked, I found myself doubting the path I was on. But something said to me: trust the path; follow the path; trust the path.

So, I kept walking.

Eventually, the woman left and started her way back out of the labyrinth, and she and I passed each other on the narrow path.

Finally, I came to the center of the labyrinth, and sitting there was a ceramic Buddha. The same Buddha, as a matter of fact, as one that was given to me 13 years ago when I left my job working at the pharmacy in northern New Jersey before I moved here to the Adirondacks. But this Buddha had been exposed to the elements, and the copper finish had worn off. But it still looked like a happy Buddha.

There were large dishes full of water and coins near this Buddha; people had left rings, jewelry, and scarves. Someone had put a large, beautiful chunk of turquoise between two Bali silver beads, strung it on leather, and placed it lovingly around the Buddha's neck.

Behind the Buddha was a large, square wooden stake that had prayer flags wrapped around it, and prayers and words of prayer from all faiths written on it.

I walked around that little shrine, absorbing it from all angles, and then finally settled myself down in front of the Buddha. I got down into my yogi squat, a yoga pose where you squat down sort of like a frog, and place your hands in prayer at your heart's center. It just felt like the right thing to do.

Little Buddha, I thought, I have no idea why you brought me here, but I will trust this path, and I will find out.

Then I chanted a brief Ohm, stood up, and walked out of the labyrinth, and back up across the front lawn.

As I walked up the hill towards the building, I looked to my left and saw a bright orange and blue sunset blazing across the sky. I heard the music. I felt my breath, and smelled the summer evening as the moon and the stars began to appear in the sky.

Back in my room, I chatted with my roommate, who was also completely worn out from the heat and the stress, and then started to read my new books. I finally made myself lay down to sleep around 10:30, being determined to make the 6:00 a.m. yoga practice the next morning...

Monday, July 29, 2013

Yoga for Anxiety and Depression at Kripalu: Day One

So, considering that it's been ten days since my experience at Kripalu and a really long time since I updated this blog, I've decided that I need to start sharing here tonight before I try to get some sleep.

First off, let me just say that the day I left for Kripalu, I was a big ball o' nerves. Someone had posted something on my Facebook page about her experience at Kripalu, which apparently wasn't a very good one, and after looking up a couple of reviews of the place online, I set myself up for a major freakout. A few of the reviews talked about rooms that were full of overpowering body odor, filthy lobby restrooms, and just a generally unkempt place. So, of course, I started wondering if I wasn't about to make a $500 mistake.

As I drove up the drive to Kripalu, I had to fight down the nausea. It was about 96 degrees, and thankfully, I had driven the whole way down to the Berkshires in the relatively luxurious comfort of the air conditioned minivan. But as soon as I stepped out of the van, that hot air hit me like a ton of bricks. Between that and the nerves, I felt like a cat in a Chinese restaurant.

The other thing that made me nervous was a review I had read complaining about the lack of air conditioning. I don't do well in the heat. If it gets warmer than 80 degrees, I'm in the pool with a cold cloth across the back of my neck. HOW was I going to survive two nights in a room without air conditioning?! (To clarify: the newer Annex building at Kripalu does have air conditioning. The main building, however, does not. I was staying in the main building.)

I got myself checked in, and, fighting off the feeling of being faint from the heat and the anxiety, I hauled my bags up to my room.

Before I got my bags from my car, I had to pop into the ladies' room. I was thrilled to see that it was pretty much spotless - so that gave me my first indication that things had changed significantly at Kripalu since those online reviews were written.

Once I got into my room, I was happy to see that at least there was a sink in the room. I spent the next two hours alternating between standing with my head in that sink, dousing myself with water as cold as I could stand it, and lying on the bed in savasana with cold, wet washcloths on every part of my body I could reach.

I was nervous about my roommate. I was nervous about the program. How was I going to do yoga in 96 degrees without air conditioning? My room was on the 3rd floor - would I be able to sleep in this heat? Would I get sick from the heat? (Which has happened to me before.)

Since I had a sandwich with me, I decided to skip dinner. Yes, my food anxiety was hitting me hard, probably because of the insane heat. At one point, I put on a light coverup over my tank top and shorts, grabbed my journal, and went out in search of a room that was air conditioned. I walked all over the third floor and found nothing, but as I walked past certain banks of offices, I could feel ice cold air blowing against my feet from underneath the door. I resisted the temptation to lay down on the floor so that I could feel that cold air blowing on my face, too.

My program, Yoga for Emotional Balance: Healing Anxiety and Depression, had a 7:30 p.m. session, so I trudged down one floor at 7:25 to the Main Hall.

I was in good company: there were around 75 people in this class. Apparently, a lot of us wanted help using yoga to heal our anxiety and depression.

The air in the room was stifling. It was almost unbearable. There were stations set up around the huge room with ice water and large tubs of washcloths submerged in ice water. But it was so hot that the washcloths only really stayed cool for a few minutes before they were just hot and wet.

We did a couple of breathing exercises, and then did what the instructor called an "ice savasana" where we laid in a very supported savasana with ice cold washcloths on the head or neck.

I could not relax in that heat. Even with the cold washcloth. I was suffering. I was nervous. I was anxious. As soon as we started to come out of savasana, I popped up, ditched my washcloth in the basket with the rest of the used cloths, and went back to my room.

I took a shower as cold as I could stand it in an effort to just lower my body temperature. I was panicked by the heat. Since there was no one else in the bathroom, I let myself cry. I was scared, but at the same time, I felt as though this was a therapeutic release of some kind - the more I cried, the better I felt. It felt as though I was letting go of 30 years of fear and anxiety.

I had a chat with my roommate, and then we tried to sleep.

It was hard. I laid awake, reading on my iPad in an effort to distract myself from my discomfort in the heat, my pounding heart, and my fear, bubbling just below the surface.