Monday, July 7, 2014

Changing Your Inner Dialogue

When I was a kid, I had urinary tract infections all. the. time. Really - like one a month. My parents dragged me around from doctor to doctor to try to figure out why I was getting them. I underwent a painful and, as it turned out, useless surgical procedure when I was around 5 years old. I had test after test after test after test...and nothing. It felt like my whole life growing up was spent being treated for a urinary tract infection, and then around the time I turned 16, they turned into spectacularly painful kidney infections.

Thankfully, I finally discovered the reason for these infections (not until I was 26), and I'm happy to say that I've had exactly two of them in the last 14 years.

But growing up, there was always this voice in my head that said, "Oh, you've got a fever? You're probably sick again. You're always sick. You've got these things wrong with you all the time."

And then there were the migraine headaches that started when I was about 6. I can still remember the first one - there's a picture somewhere of me and my sister sitting in a chair reading a book together, and all I can remember about that day was the incredible amount of pain I was in from this headache. 

And add to that watching my mother with her constant running dialogue in her head telling her that she was dying, every single day...and, well, you probably understand where this is going.

Half of my battle with the anxiety is trying to convince myself that there's actually nothing wrong with my health. I can remember in my first yoga class with Robin, we were somewhere between extended side angle pose and exalted warrior, and I couldn't help but cry at the thought that if my body was capable of feeling so strong in these movements and these poses that there really wasn't anything wrong with me at all.

So maybe that's why I do yoga every day. As a reminder. If I can float through a dozen sun salutations, there's probably nothing physically wrong with me.

I need to shut off that inner dialogue that says to me, "Oh no, a headache? Brain tumor. Nausea? Pancreatic cancer. Twinge in your jaw? Heart attack."

And I'm sure there are other people out there who think the same thing, but when some of that inner dialogue comes into my head while I'm in the throes of a bout of anxiety, it's a total disaster, usually involving a visit to the urgent care clinic (or the emergency room if it's particularly bad), and costing us a small fortune with our crappy high-deductible insurance plan.

It's just like the mantra workshop I took back at Kripalu in April: we all have a mantra practice already, whether we realize it or not. The things we tell ourselves are the things that we become. If I continue to tell myself that I'm sick all the time, well, I'm probably going to get sick. At the very least, I'm not going to feel very good, physically or mentally.

My mantra for this week while I'm on my yoga mat will be: I am strong. I am healthy. I am whole.

What kinds of things do you tell yourself that you wish you could change? Are you even aware of them?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Ashtanga Standing Series, Day 6

Last week, my friend and teacher Debbie Philp told me that she had decided to do the standing series of poses from the Ashtanga Primary Series every day for 30 days.

I've been finding myself drawn to the Ashtanga practice lately, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the warmer weather. Maybe it's because I feel like I have more energy these days when I'm not so worried about stacking wood and keeping the fire going and just trying to stay warm. Maybe it's the rhythm of the series, the predictability, the routine.

Whatever the reason, I figured I would join her, and today was Day 6.

I decided to make it a little mini-Ashtanga practice, beginning with 3 Surya Namuskara A and 3 Surya Namaskara B. Those alone get my heart pumping some days, and I don't feel bashful about dropping down into child's pose instead of downward facing dog towards the end of those Sun Salutations.

I didn't get up early enough this morning to do my practice before I went off to teach at the studio, so after I came home, had lunch, flew a kite with Colden, went swimming with Colden, and walked around the backyard a few times, I decided it was time to do a little yoga.

It was around 4 in the afternoon, and it was hot. The temperature on the back porch was probably close to 90. And something...happened.

Because it was so hot, I decided to take off my tank top and just practice in my shorts and sports bra. For the first time, probably ever, I wasn't ashamed of my body. I didn't feel fat. I didn't feel chunky. When I looked down at my legs and my knees in downward facing dog, I didn't see "chubby" - I saw strong, legs like tree trunks that rooted me down into the Earth.

When I gazed down at my stomach, I didn't cringe at the stretch marks or the bulge of my belly. I thought, geez, how the hell did I squeeze an 11 lb. baby in there?

I may not have felt terribly flexible, but I certainly felt strong and light as I moved through each asana. THIS, I thought, is a real yoga body. I was nearly perfectly content with my body and what it could do and how it felt in that brief 55 minutes of practice.

At the end of my practice, I gave myself a nice long break in a supported shoulderstand; then a restorative fish pose; and finally, a good 15 minutes in savasana.

24 more days to go. I wonder what else I'll discover along the way...

Thursday, July 3, 2014


This jade pendant came to me in the jewelry that I inherited after my mom passed away 6 years ago this month. I know nothing about it, but it spoke to me for some reason, so I wore it down to the funeral a few weeks ago.

You should know that the friends I was with during my trip to New Jersey for the funeral are Chinese, and I've known them since 8th grade. Pretty much their entire family knows my sister and me, we've been friends for so long. So when I walked in the door wearing this, all of the Chinese aunties started telling me what a beautiful piece of jade it was and asked me where I got it.

The day I left to come home was the day of the funeral. After the funeral, we all went to an enormous all-you-can-eat buffet. As we sat and ate and enjoyed being with each other, I mentioned to my friends that I had no idea what the Chinese character on this pendant meant, and asked them if they knew. No, they said, but they motioned towards one of the aunties sitting a few tables away and told me ask her, because she would know for sure.

So I went over and asked her, and she told me that it means "fortune".

"But not just the money kind of fortune," she said. "It means money, family, health, happiness, everything!"

The other aunties agreed, and one said, "You can also interpret it to mean, 'blessings'."

I felt my heart melting as I walked back over to the table where I was sitting with my friends. I felt like I wanted to cry, but I tried not to, seeing as how I had just stuffed myself full of sushi and sesame balls filled with sweet bean paste and carrot salad and miso soup.

It was a long drive back to New York through pouring rain for pretty much the entire 5-hour ride. But the whole time, I kept thinking about that pendant around my neck, the meaning of it, and where it had come from.

It took me a few days more to process it. When I told my friend about it later that week, she said to me, "How beautiful! Your mother left you these blessings!"

The irony of it all is that I wonder if my mother ever knew what the character on this pendant means, or if she ever really understood the blessings she had in her life.

Looking back on things, I feel as though my mother was never actually present in her life during the time that I knew her. She was always worrying about something, or distracting herself from things with work or television or crossword puzzles. Even when she was sitting with us at the table or when we were sitting with her in her room, she was busy doing something else.

Part of why I want to work on being more mindful in my everyday life is so that I make sure that I never, ever take for granted all of the blessings that surround me.