Tag Archive: Yoga


Patterns


My good friend B has been helping me with my memoir.  She was telling me that I need to make it more personal in places, and suggested there needs to be a section where I talk about myself and how I deal with the world: what my patterns are that help me cope with things.

Well, I have a pattern of retreating when things get too intense.  I had too much input when I was growing up, and now I just can’t tolerate too much of it.  I don’t do well in large crowds unless it’s something I’m really into, like a Rush show or a fireworks display.  Even then I might need pharmaceutical assistance to deal with the intensity of it all.  If life in general is stressing me out, bed is my retreat.  I’ll head there as soon as I can to read or watch television, and have a hard time getting out of it in the morning.

Another part of retreating is getting angry, because it pushes people away, increasing the space around me.  Sometimes that’s the only way to get the space I need.  I suffer from the strange dichotomy of being a lovable hermit, which means people like me and want to be around me a lot, but I don’t necessarily reciprocate the feeling.  Not as often as they do, anyway.  I can tell my nine-year-old daughter that I need space to myself, but since she’s nine, she’s self-centered and doesn’t always listen.  Sometimes the only way I can get what I need is to get angry with her when she’s not respecting my boundaries.

Another pattern I have is being controlling of my environment.  I need things to be particular ways in order to feel comfortable and happy.  Things need to be in certain places.  Things need to be organized in specific ways.  Calendars have to be kept certain ways.  I have my systems, and they must be followed.  It’s the only way I feel like I have some sort of control over my world, even if that control is an illusion.

That’s another coping pattern: I’m totally willing to submit to a fantasy or an illusion to maintain my sanity.  I may know intellectually that what I’m doing is ridiculous or pointless, but if it’s serving some purpose in the moment and isn’t hurting anyone, I’m down with it.

Perhaps my biggest coping pattern, or tool, is music.  I would have gone insane long ago without music.  I cannot work in silence, and if forced to do so will quickly get wired up into a ball so tense I can’t do anything.  Every tiny tic of noise will stand out in my ears, distracting me from my work.  Music can distract me from any mood I’m in except for the very darkest, which nothing will quell.

There are other patterns I would like to instill into my life that would make me a happier person.  Exercise is one.  Exercise and sleep are the two things a bipolar sufferer can do that will do the most to mitigate their illness without the use of medication.  I’ll always need the latter, but it won’t be as effective without the first two things.  Fortunately, better exercise leads to better sleep, so I really only need to work on one of those things.  Like most people, though, I find it extraordinarily difficult to get any kind of exercise routine going.  I enjoy it (mostly) while I’m doing it, but making the time to do it seems to be a huge problem I can never get around.  If I knew why, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about it and would be making millions of dollars getting lazy Americans off their asses.

I have to figure out a way, though.  I’m at the end of where pharmaceuticals will help my disease.  If I want it to get any better, and it still needs help, I have to get it the rest of the way myself.

Meditation is another pattern that would do me a world of good, although the thought of sitting alone with my thoughts makes me want to crawl out of my skin.  That doesn’t sound peaceful or calming at all.  I keep getting it from all sides, though: meditate and you’ll feel better.  There must be some truth to it, too, because my mind resists meditating more than it resists exercising.  Anything I resist must be good for me, it seems.

The third pattern I’d like to instill is yoga.  It’s a combination of exercise and meditation, and I suppose if I were to pick just one thing to work on, it would be this since it encompasses everything.  Yoga doesn’t give me hard exercise, though, and that’s what I need: an hour or more of breathing hard and sweating hard.  There are types of yoga that will give me that, but I’m not balanced or coordinated enough for them yet.  Still, a good yoga practice would be awesome.  The times that I’ve managed to go to yoga even twice a week have been peaceful times in my life.  I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I went every day.

If I imagined my ideal life, it would be like this.  I’d get up at 6:30 every day with my family and get my daughter off to school, and then I’d spend the first part of the morning in meditation and enjoying tea.  Afterwards I’d either exercise or do yoga, then get myself cleaned up for the day.  The middle part of the day would be spent working, either at my job at the dojo, or at home on my book or other project.  In the afternoon, I’d pick up my daughter from school, then prep for dinner while she did her homework.

Here’s where the day gets tricky and always gets screwed up.  Both of our karate classes are in the late afternoon and early evening, but that’s smack in the middle of dinnertime.  The only way I can think of to work things is for me to prep dinner things, take us to class while my husband makes dinner, and then have him come to pick up our daughter from class so I can go to mine.  That means the two of us have to eat a snack or drink smoothies before our classes.  It also means they don’t eat until at least 7pm and I don’t eat until at least 8pm, which I suppose is fine as long as everyone has had a snack beforehand to prevent The Crankies, which will ruin a nice day faster than anything.

After dinner would have to be kitchen cleanup, which is another area where we always fail.  We both detest washing dishes, and we don’t have a dishwasher so it all has to be done by hand.  No one wants to do chores after dinner, either, so it sits there until the next day, ruining the next day’s dinnertime because we can’t cook in our tiny, dirty kitchen.  So we eat out, which ruins the budget.  All of these little things connect to one another to either make a well-run machine, or a freaking mess.  So far, we’re a freaking mess, and I can’t seem to get the well-run machine going.

I worry about this not just because of my own life, but because we’re teaching our daughter to be an undisciplined slob.  She has no routines of her own and I know it’s our fault: she has none to emulate.

I’m worried I’m too old to instill new patterns into my life.  I’m worried I’ll be stuck in these unsatisfying patterns for the rest of my life, or that it will take something potentially life-threatening to make me change them.  Of course, I worry about a lot of things these days.  That would probably be the best pattern of all to instill into my life: stop worrying so much.

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Starting Slow


I’m trying to get my yoga and karate practice going again after quite a long absence, around six months.  My hiatus was for a few reasons, not the least of which was I just wanted a break from everything.  I felt spread a bit thin between family, work, and other obligations and I just wanted some time to let everything settle before trying to get a routine going again.

I also wanted to let my body rest.  Since beginning karate in late 2009, I injured my shoulder between doing the karate and doing my day job, which was cleaning houses.  Cleaning your own house is one thing: cleaning several houses a week for a few hours a day is quite another, and my shoulder let me know it loud and clear.  Unfortunately, shoulders are some of the longest-healing joints in the body because they’re almost impossible to immobilize, being the joints with the greatest range of motion.  I had to quit cleaning houses, which didn’t bother me all that much, but it was still another year before my shoulder healed, and even after that year it wasn’t completely happy.  Hence the six-month break.

Well it’s all better now, and will stay that way as long as I’m careful with it and don’t go back to cleaning houses.  The break killed my fitness level, though.  So did a year of pharmaceutical issues stemming from last year’s bipolar diagnosis, which caused me to gain a lot of weight.  The combination of the two has made getting back into the swing of things difficult.  Fortunately, I’m not in as bad of shape as I feared I was, though I am way out of breath by the end of class.  That was a nice confidence boost: I was really afraid of being unable to keep up.  Remembering all of my karate moves: that’s a different story.  The mind seems to be rustier than the body, but I figure that will follow in due time.

I’ve also gone back to yoga class, which was made immeasurably easier by two things: not having to shell out $100 to renew my yoga pass due to a strange quirk of record keeping, and hooking up with a friend to support one another in going to yoga class.  I tried my first kundalini yoga class, which was very interesting!  It was very different from your standard yoga class and involved a lot of breathwork and energy movement.  I found it very cleansing, which was the purpose!  I’ll be going back to that one for sure.  I’ll also be going back to restorative and gentle yoga classes until I know I can handle a standard hatha class.  I know if I try one of those now I’ll just get frustrated because my balance and strength aren’t up to snuff.

Starting slow is really important to maintaining focus and stamina for me, otherwise I give up.  I was very tempted to jump back into my old routine with both feet because I remembered how nice it was to be in that old groove, but I knew that would be a bad move since it had been so long, I’m so overweight, and am so out of shape.  On the other hand, starting really slowly showed me where I did not need to go so slow, which was a nice confidence booster.  I was glad that I didn’t have to start back at square one in all aspects of my training, but I’m also glad I gave myself permission to take it easy.


It seems to me that there are probably as many ways to pray as there are people on the Earth.  We also seem to group together according to how similarly we pray, I’ve noticed.

When first I asked the question of myself, “How do I pray?”, the answer was, “I don’t.”  Immediately followed by, “Bullshit.”  I don’t think it’s possible for someone who proclaims to feel spiritual energy as readily as I claim to, not to pray.  There must be some way that I pray, however subconsciously.  I need to expand my definition of what “pray” means.

At its most basic, “praying” is whatever method I choose at that particular moment to try to speak to God.  I have used many methods of prayer over the years.  There’s the regular verbal kind that most people think of, of course, though I don’t see that as the most fulfilling, personally.  There’s the musical kind of prayer, with which I am the most familiar.  I can play saxophone, flute, and a variety of hand drums, and any of them has felt more like praying than any words than I have ever used.  There’s the artistic form of prayer, with which I was intimately familiar for several years until I tried to mix prayer with business and turn my art into a way of living.  That turned out badly on both fronts and I have only recently begun to use art as prayer again (due in no small part to Spiritual Nomad).

Gardening is a form of prayer to me, as well as a form of meditation (so is fishkeeping).  In fact, music and art are also forms of meditation to me.  Maybe that’s why I have found both meditation and prayer so difficult whenever I have tried to pursue each one individually.  I think something needs to serve both roles in order to be a truly fulfilling exercise.  In any case, yes to gardening and fishkeeping as forms of prayer and meditation.  They’re also the things that put me into closest touch with my primary aspect of God, which is Nature itself.

I also pray like a scientist, which is something of a paradoxical notion in our society.  Science and God seem to be mutually exclusive in America, and perhaps the Western World in general.  I see no difference between the two, though, and am constantly frustrated by the world’s attempts to keep the two separate.  We could do even more amazing things if we stopped trying to keep the two things apart.  To me, a tornado is not just a series of mathematical equations that describe atmospheric shear, turbulence, potential energy, and wind speed.  It’s one of the most powerful forces on the face of the planet and almost certainly ranks up there with the other great meteorological forces of the solar system.  Yes, it may just be an artifact of rising and sinking airmasses combined with the Coriolis effect, but that does not diminish its power or beauty nor the feeling in my heart when I see one (though to date I’ve never seen one in person: I’m not sure I need to to appreciate its grandeur).  If I had to call a single place on Earth my temple, it would be The Sky.

Two other forms of prayer and meditation: cooking and baking.  Each is slightly different.  Cooking is more intuitive and is open to the “dash of this, bit of that” method of kitchen things.  Baking is less forgiving and is more like chemistry to me (probably because it is).  Both demand healthy helpings of love for optimum taste.  If you can’t taste the love, I didn’t do it right (read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel for an excellent fictional treatise on the magic of food).  There’s a great deal of peace and calm that come from slowing down enough to really enjoy the processes of cooking and baking.  If they’re hurried and are done only for the purpose of physical nourishment, there’s not so much energy in that.  We don’t usually enjoy those meals very much.

A form of prayer and meditation that I am remiss in not mentioning yet is karate.  It’s difficult to describe the seemingly conflicting energies of force and calm, but there’s a push/pull kind of thing going on that is like waves lapping on a shore.  There’s a rhythm at work that will break me if I work against it, but propels me if I don’t.  Karate’s very much like yoga in that way, which is yet another form of meditation and prayer that I very much enjoy.  It even involves a bit of prostration, which feels a lot like bowing in karate and is calming to me.  It is enjoying these two very physical forms of prayer that makes me want to explore yet another physical way of praying and meditating: dancing.

Dancing scares me in much the same way that singing does, though even moreso.  If I am frozen into silence by the sound of my own voice, I am petrified to stone by the thought of moving my body in a rhythmic way.  I’m not sure what about dancing is different from karate and yoga, though I’m guessing the former is much more freeform and less rigid than yoga and karate forms.  And I do have trouble operating without guidelines, which is what dancing seems to demand.  Rules and dancing seem diametrically opposed, even though I don’t dance (yet).

So those are more hidden forms of prayer for me.  Dancing is also there, but I haven’t used it yet.  Unlike the form I am currently using: writing.  If writing is prayer, I pray at least every other day, if not more.  The more I write, the more I want to write, and the more I like what I write.  I use it so often that it now defies description, unlike other more obscure forms of prayer that aren’t hidden to me, but are less well-used: exercising and running.  When I do those things, I can feel the rusty bits fall off the cogs and can see down the path to where they can take me, but I do them so infrequently that they never gain any momentum.  That’s going to be one of my goals this year: practicing my more physical forms of prayer as often as I can.  Of all of them, I feel they’re the best for me in all aspects.

Other ways that I have prayed before are by using mudras in yoga and meditation.  Mudras are essentially meditative or prayerful hand gestures.  There are tomes filled with the different ways the Hindu deities as well as Buddha will hold their hands, each signifying something different.  I’ve also read Tarot cards, though that is another method that doesn’t get used very often and probably should.  It’s not such a hard thing to draw a card a day to meditate upon.  Along those lines, astrology can be a form of prayer for me if it’s done as a daily reading.  It’s a way of opening myself to whatever the energies of the day might bring.  Over time, it’s just a generally good method of keeping myself “open”.  Which is a good thing for someone who gets really rigid sometimes.  I also very much enjoy walking meditating/praying.  I can do this with or without a labyrinth.  It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other and nothing more.

Perhaps my most powerful method of prayer in the past, has been to do nothing.  Others would call it meditation, but either the descriptions I have read of meditation fall as short as my own do, or I’m getting to a place that neither meditation nor prayer can reach by themselves.  I have to be in the right space to do this, and when I am in that right space, it happens automatically.  I have experienced this in fleeting moments, all in Nature, but every one of them perfect wells of peace, calm, and oneness.  I have wished I could bottle those moments and take them with me, they are so perfect.  And they are why I yearn to travel to the distant and isolated corners of the world, because that is where those moments happen.  In a Texas field devoid of sound save for the blowing wind.  In a car bespying distant, purple-hued mountains for the first time.  On a plane to a new place and seeing a lightning bolt jag from the sky to a spot on the shore left blazing by the light.  Driving through ancient, wet, green forests, or the endless expanse of the desert.  They just happen, like striking the edge of a singing bowl and reverberating for days past their experience.

Perhaps I have not been as bad at praying as I thought I was.  🙂

Breathe


Breaaaaaathe.  Seems simple until you can’t.  About a week ago, I started having trouble taking a deep breath.  I could take one about every 15 breaths or so, but the rest of the time, forget it.  Coincidentally, it was the day after a great deal of smoke descended upon our fair city.  Suddenly a problem that was restricted to the nighttime hours began bothering me in the daytime and did not respond to my usual methods of relieving it.  Annoying does not cover it.

I went to one of the many urgent care centers that have popped up to relieve pressure on the emergency rooms and had a chest x-ray, a nebulizer treatment, and many questions asked of me.  They said “reactive airway”.  No, really?  They also gave me a prescription for an albuterol inhaler, which does help, but only when I’m taking my usual anti-anxiety agent.  Three days later, I went to an actual emergency room and got another x-ray which was as perfect as the first one.  The doctor took note of my ease when taking an anti-anxiety agent and diagnosed dyspnea (shortness of breath: no, really?) and anxiety.  The anxiolytic I take isn’t really good to take on a constant basis so I called my usual doc to get something else.  All it does make it hard for me to work.  Today I went for my third doctor visit, which wasn’t much more productive than the others.  They did give me another albuterol prescription since the other one didn’t have any refills.

About $500 and none of them really had any answers.  The best I can do is take an addictive anxiolytic and walk around the house in as meditative a manner as possible.  That and use my inhaler.  I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of my anxiolytic.  I’ve missed 12 hours of work this week, important hours at that, which stresses me out.  Stress and anxiety really do worsen my breathing, but I’m not really sure what to do about that.

Is this my final ringing bell to alert me that I’m way more tense than I need to be?  It must be, because I want to burst into tears just thinking about these things.  Am I really way more stressed out than I think I am?  I must be, because my body is disrupting one of its primary functions.  Breathing’s kind of important, y’know.  We only get to live for about 5 minutes without air.

So I spent some time making a schedule of my regular life and then I added yoga classes to it, ones that are really close to my karate dojo.  Like *really* close: in the same building and across from it.  I can’t have any excuse for missing one now.

It’s more than yoga, though.  It has to be an internal change.  It doesn’t matter how much smoke is billowing out of Bastrop County (though that doesn’t do my lungs any good, that’s for sure).  If I’m all tight, then the air won’t get it.  This is a frightening process.  Have you ever been without air?  I want mine back.  Right now.

Hot Hot Hot


“I tried not to think about the words SEARING.FLESH.” – Fight Club

It has been blazingly hot lately.  On Tuesday, I measured a temperature of 110F on my back porch.  Some people get SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)  in the winter.  I get it in the summer.  After all, there’s not much going outside.  Not if you don’t want to spontaneously burst into flames.  And it’s depressing.  Everything is dead and brown.  I hate it.

Seriously though, I have taken up jogging with my friends.  We don’t go until the sun is nearly down, but I’m going.  This is remarkable for someone who used to laugh at joggers and runners for doing so without being chased.  And it does somehow make the heat more bearable, because it’s not going to rain for another month at least.  *cries*

On the plus side, my headmeat seems to have stabilized, but not until after a really unpleasant episode a couple of months ago during which I learned I really can’t fuck with my sleep.  That’s the trouble with having bipolar.  The only way to know your meds aren’t working is to feel like shit.  Ah well.  I have a small army of pharmacy bottles to take from each day, and a basket full of vitamins and supplements to counteract the side effects (mostly muscle twitches).  Two mood stabilizers, one antidepressant, one sleep aid, two antianxiety agents, and one thyroid med to counteract what one of the mood stabilizers does.

A calcium-magnesium-potassium supplement is crucial to stave off the muscle twitches, which aren’t nearly as bad as the ones trazodone gave me.  I don’t take that anymore, thank the gods: akathisia really, really sucks.  B-vitamins, fish oil, and a host of others.  Obviously, I found a headmeat doc (nurse, really) that does me a lot of good and is on tap via smartphone virtually any time.  Plus, he’s really funny.

Everything else I have allowed to sliiiiiiide.  I haven’t been to the Buddhist center in two months.  I haven’t done yoga in quite some time.  The only thing I’ve done is karate, which I will probably do more now that I know I don’t need that many more classes to get my next ranking.  I’ve gone to the gym more, though.  I have to adjust my diet, though, or those 20 pounds are never going to come off.

Obviously due to the heat wave, I’ve done no gardening.  It’s crispy out there.  I allowed my community garden plot to slide: who wants to put in community hours when it’s over 100 outside?  I hate the politics anyway.

Some things are good though, or at least better.  I’m enjoying things a little bit more.  I got the henna out for a friend last week and I was very pleased I haven’t lost my touch.  I haven’t had to lie to anyone about how I’m feeling, which also pleased me.  My memory is for shit, though, which my headmeat caretaker assures me will improve the happier I get.  I haven’t taken care of all that death paperwork to collect my grandmother’s ancient life insurance policy, but I actually want to, along with some remaining boxes that her friends in California were interested in.  I mean, it’s only been three years.  *sigh*

Other ways I know I’m better: I’m not murderously angry about the non-stop machinery I can hear from my house for the last, oh, year and a half?  I don’t feel like killing every asshat driver in South Austin (trust me, that’s remarkable, we have a high asshat density down here).  I’m a bit annoyed about the massive fence the neighbor behind us put up, but I haven’t thrown anything at it.  😀

There are other things that still need improving, but I’m hoping that they improve with more sleep and exercise and with an abatement of the heat.  It’s like a freakin’ blast furnace out there.

Anger


Anger and I are very, very old friends.  Anger came into my life when I was a baby.  I got to listen to anger through my father in what must have sounded like a monster as he drunkenly attacked my mother.  She told me I would stand up in my crib, holding the bars like a little jailee, screaming at the top of my lungs as my precious tiny ears were assaulted by the noises of her having the shit beaten out of her hard enough to send her to the hospital, more often than not.  My brother was introduced to anger at these times as well, though he was far too small to do much but lay there and cry, often in pain due to the problem he was born with: strangulated hernias.  Which is apparently a not uncommon problem for babies to deal with upon their introduction to life, but for him, it must have been especially grievous.

Anger became a fixture in my life again later, long after my father’s suicide, as the impact of that act slowly colored my mother’s behavior, as did the behavior, and lack thereof, of the man who married her following my father’s untimely death.  The man who I would be young enough to call “Dad” as I grew older and all memory of my father slipped from my young brain cells.  “Dad” was nothing more than a metal rectangle in the ground at Michigan Memorial Cemetery in Flat Rock, MI.  After a while I didn’t understand why we would go to visit him.  Thankfully I remembered as an adult, and the last time I visited his spare grave was ten years ago.  It was the first time anyone had visited his grave since we left Michigan in 1981.  Something about that just seems wrong.

Anger would never leave my life.  In fact, anger gained an ever-increasing presence as time went on and it became apparently that Richard, the stepfather, was nothing more than an abusive little boy, causing my mother to become increasingly bitter and angry herself.  She resorted to understandable coping mechanisms: drugs, drinking, and sex through casual relationships outside the marriage.  Which is not to say there’s anything inherently wrong with open relationships, but more than any other personal relationship we humans decide to pursue, those extracurricular relationships are the ones that must be undertaken with utmost care and precision.

Again, I got to bear witness to the fruits of anger between my now-parents: the drunkenness, the beatings, the shouting, and more and more frequently, the blood.  Slowly and deeply, those same seeds were planted inside me.  They would not bear fruit for many, many years, mostly because it just wasn’t safe for me, and deep down I knew it.  Anger and violence amongst adults is not just a game of seeing who can hurt the other the most.  It’s a game of control and power, and I knew only subconsciously that I was not old enough nor powerful enough to be able to engage in this game safely, let alone win it.  I continued to wear my mantle of anger hidden far beneath the much more palatable mantle of “good student”, which got me good attention at school, and at home it served as a buffer that kept much of the violence away from me.

Then came adolescence, and I began to blossom into the full human being that I was rightfully entitled to be.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t safe to do so.  Not only was I prey to my stepfather, who only had lewd and horrible things on his wretched mind, I was also prey to my mother, who was hellbent on controlling my life in almost every way, shape, and form in an effort to keep me from repeating the perceived mistakes of her own youth.  Which weren’t her mistakes: they were her own mother’s.  I’ve always wondered if she realized she was doing the exact same things that she had so often said she never would.

Needless to say, bad things began to happen as I grew and stopped being an academic wallflower.  I was never beaten, but I was kept under a tight rein that was often suffocating in its ability to control a willful adolescent.  When things came to a head in 1988, rather than attempt to manage things in such a way that I could finish school and then go out into the world on my own, Mom felt I was a danger to myself and had me hospitalized for two months.  Really, I was a danger to her own mid-life crisis driven lifestyle, and I was a mirror that reflected back at her every sordid voice and behavior that she herself was spewing out into the Universe in the name of “having fun”.  She was the walking definition of irony.

Anger has followed me these long years since I was finally able to escape her direct influence, and I finally let out my own anger in 2001 when I let her know just how I felt about oh so many things.  Our relationship was never the same after that, but I was certainly a healthier person.  I was breaking free, finally!  It took me to the age of 29 to do it, but I was doing it.

I wish I could say anger slowly slid away from my life, but it didn’t.  It found a comfortable place to sit and hunkered down, reminding me of all of my parents’ transgressions and how badly I had been fucked over.  Anger was right, though I can’t say it was truly doing me any good.  Rather, I can say that anger was an outstanding protector.  Anger stood over me with a very sharp sword and would whack off the head of anyone who dared to transgress my borders without my permission ever again.  Anger made me feel safe.  I kept him around, though I was leery because I knew the power that he had.  For the moment, though, it was refreshing and empowering to have this newfound power to wield against anyone or anything that might try to put me down, take control of me, or do anything else to hurt me.

Slowly, though, anger himself took control of me, or tried to anyway.  I recognized what he was doing, and I knew that I had to rip out those claws no matter how tightly they were dug into my psyche or how much temporary good they had done me.  Anger became a very powerful tool to keep cleaned and sheathed in the corner, only to be pulled out when absolutely necessary.  He could not be a constant companion.

Fortunately, I had begun my path towards Buddhism and yoga, and it was relatively easy to put anger into a manageable corner that left me free to rebuild the rest of my life.  He reared his ugly head again, though, not long after Zoe was born.  In retrospect I realize that was the ever-present specter of bipolar illness rising up from time to time, in combination with a very real and justifiable anger that had finally achieved emotional awareness and really wanted to talk about all of the things over the course of my life that I was perfectly justified to be pissed off about.  I pushed him down each time and tried to move forward.  I had a child to raise, after all, and if I could help it, I did NOT want anger to be walking with her hand-in-hand as he had with me.

It was impossible, though, and I realized that my only recourse was to make sure that she wielded her sword with more skill than I had done thus far.  That all by itself made me angry.  I suddenly found my inner psyche pitted with volcanoes of anger that had always been there, yet had lain dormant, waiting for just this moment.  Some of them oozed their lava across my soul; others exploded without warning, generating tsunamis of emotion that wreaked havoc upon my inner shores wherever they landed.

It was incidents like this that finally drove me to the psychiatric emergency room.  Each time one of these volcanoes released its load, I could see the fear in the eyes of anyone around me.  More frightening, I could see the potential for them to take hold of my daughter.  I steadfastly refused to allow anger to wield the sword.  If anyone was going to be holding that sword, it would be me and my daughter.  Skillfully and patiently, we would both lay to rest that horrible specter that had caused so much damage for the last nearly 40 years in my family.  I refused to allow it to take hold in us the way it had in those who came before us.

And so here we are, students at the finest karate school in Texas, learning bit by bit how to be the master rather than the mastered.  I’m still angry, though.  Every time I think I’m done being pissed off, another volcano erupts for me to deal with, which makes me sad and angry all over again.  Perhaps I will not truly be done until having those volcanoes go off simply does not bother me.  Because that will mean they no longer control me: it is I who control them.  When that happens, nothing will ever be able to stop me.

Water


I’m learning something really damned annoying: I can’t drink anymore.  At all.  Not that it was a problem or anything like that for me, but I do enjoy a couple of margaritas or hard ciders every now and then.  Not to mention I have a patch of mint in my garden that produces 3″ mint leaves just perfect for making mojitos.  It was always something of a point of pride for me, coming from a family of alcoholics and being the only one who could drink and not lose my shit or become a raving lunatic (oh wait).  These last couple of months, while I was being cautious, I retained my happiness that I could still enjoy a couple of grownup beverages without any adverse effects due to my medication.

I’m sad to say that is no longer the case.  There are many things that will cause a rise in blood lithium levels, and booze is one of them for some folks.  Like me, apparently.  Really, the problem isn’t the booze.  It’s dehydration.  Every drug has an annoying Sisyphean side effect: lithium’s is dehydration.  Dehydration increases the concentration of the drug in the bloodstream, leading to fun things like hand tremors and muscle twitches.  I’m a karate student: I can’t have this.  Which means not only do I get to do battle with my own brain, I have to hyper-hydrate and avoid anything that dehydrates me, whenever possible.  Such as anything with caffeine or alcohol.  I’ve also learned recently that if I’m craving a drink, it’s because my brain’s gone manic.  Why I like to drink when I’m manic, I have no idea, but it’s a warning.

Now, the alcohol I can do without.  The caffeine, however, that’s going to suck to do without.  Plus, it feels like a kick in the shins after going through the trouble of quitting smoking a few months ago.  Is this your way of forcing me to be the perfectly healthy human being I’m supposed to be, Universe?  You could have just sent me a text, or an email.  No need for all this physical drama, really.

Then again, I can be incredibly clueless and resistant to change, and perhaps I really will look back on all of this after a few years and see the good that it’s done me.  I can envision the person I want to be and should be if I don’t want to suffer the same fate as my parents.  I have to be the sort of person I’ve always made fun of to a certain extent, the more-enlightened-than-thou types that my fair city is unfortunately saturated in.  Except if I want to tolerate myself, I have to leave out the self-righteousness and judgment that really has no place in that sort of lifestyle.

What does the healthy me look like?  She gets up early and drinks some water (not tea/coffee), takes her meds, and does some meditation and yoga.  Then she wakes up her daughter, and because she’s already been up for a while, she’s not instantly irritated by the normal stress of getting a child moving for the day.  Then she eats and takes her vitamins and such (which are just as important as the meds, really).  And drinks more water.  Repeatedly.  All day, every day.  And she’ll know if she hasn’t been when her fingers start twitching and her legs feel like they have to run or they’ll explode.  When she gets agitated, she has to sit her ass down and meditate.  Right then, if at all possible.  Or do more yoga.

That has to be my life now, as much as possible.  Yoga.  Meditation.  Exercise.  Meds.  Vitamins.  Water.  Water.  Water.  I have to take care of myself in a way that no one else ever really has, even when they were supposed to, so as stupid as it sounds, I really don’t know how.  Which is what makes this so hard.  There’s still a sullen teenager parked on her butt with her arms crossed in the corner of my mind saying, “Fuck you.  You want me to do what other people were supposed to do but were too fucked up to?  You want me to do their job?  Fuck you.”  And I know I just need to fucking get over it, but I have to at least acknowledge her presence and tell her, “You’re right.  It sucks and it’s not fair, but if you want to live, here’s what has to happen.”  And hope she’s not too busy feeling bitter to do the right thing.  And drink lots of water.

Starting Over


I’ve learned an awful lot about myself and my new chronic illness over the last couple of weeks.  It feels much longer than that.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned.

1. I have a disease that has a 1 in 5 chance of killing me.  Rather, a disease that gives me a 1 in 5 chance of killing myself.  I’m not an expert on chronic illness, but something tells me those odds are kind of high, whether death is self-induced or not.  Good thing I made a pact with myself a long time ago not to do that.  I know what it does to everyone else left behind.  It certainly explains some of my thought patterns, though.

2. The medicine I’m taking (lithium carbonate) may only be good for 3-5 years, depending on what it does to my kidney function.  Though if my kidneys aren’t unhappy, I may be able to take it for the rest of my life.  I hope so.  Lithium is still the best treatment for bipolar illness, not to mention the simplest and cheapest.  In the meantime, it makes me ravenously hungry 4-5 times a day, particularly for protein.  Something tells me I’ll have to up my exercise.  For now, I’m tolerating what is in essence a poison salt fairly well.  Aside from the odd hand tremor, everything’s good.

3. The hunger: if I don’t pay attention to it, bad things happen to my brainpan.  Low blood sugar seems to be one of the absolute worst things I can do to myself.  I’m finding this to be the most annoying aspect of my journey so far.  I’m terrible at paying attention to my diet, which seems to be something I have to change immediately, particularly if I don’t want to completely pork out.  I’m already twenty pounds heavier than I was a month ago, something that all by itself just about makes me suicidal.  I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life, and to be where I am now makes me incredibly sad.  A year and a half of work, completely ruined.  😦

4. Sleep is the other thing that, if unbalanced, will send me spinning very quickly.  If it was just depression, or just mania, that would be one thing, but since I get mixed episodes, I have to stave that shit off as best I can.  Mixed episodes are a peculiarly nutty generation of the human mind that makes someone depressed and manic at the same time.  That’s all kinds of fun, lemme tellya.

5. People are going to be insensitive and rude on occasion when they find out I’m bipolar (which means I’m probably just going to keep that to myself for the most part).  It’s only been two weeks and it’s already happened once.  They probably didn’t even realize they were being rude.  I imagine it’s something that anyone with a chronic illness has to deal with sometimes.  I just have to get really good at identifying such people and saying, “You’re bad for me, go away.”

6. Waiting for my meds to settle in and even out is not fun.  I’ve missed several hours of work because of it, but if I can’t think, then I can’t work (or worse, I can’t work if I’m sitting sobbing at my desk).  I won’t be done with this dance for at least a couple of months and not until after several blood tests and possibly dosage changes.  I have to tell myself it’s all temporary and that better things will be on the other side.

7. Apparently I have to be hypervigilant about staying hydrated.  Lithium is one row above sodium in the periodic table and as such can screw with the body’s sodium and water levels because it has the same valence (aka charge: gosh I’m glad I was paying attention in chemistry class).  Which means if I’m exercising and get dehydrated, my serum lithium levels can get too high, aka TOXIC.  Which means a trip to the ER, two days of no lithium, and treatment with a lot of salt and water.  No thank you.

8. Caffeine is no longer my friend, mostly because of #7.  Caffeine is a diuretic, and its stimulant properties can bring on mania, in sufficient amounts of course.  It doesn’t meant I can’t ever drink caffeine again, but I have to do so in moderation.

It’s hard not to be discouraged by the list of things I can’t or shouldn’t do anymore.  On the other hand, there are a lot of things that are better now that I’m taking proper medication, and have stopped taking birth control pills.  My skin is clear again, I sleep relatively well and regularly, violent/suicidal thoughts came to a screeching halt, mood is about 60% stabilized, anger is down about 40-50%, I’m getting more done, taking much better care of myself, I’m less anxious/more calm, more in tune with mental boundaries (i.e. what I can and can’t do without “triggering”), more thirsty, and more hungry.

Then there are the more nebulous effects.  The ones that make me think I may have had this disease since my late teens, because that was the last time I remember experiencing life with the vividness that I have lately.  Colors and sounds are just a bit MORE, feelings are sharper, my brain seems more HERE.  At first I thought I was feeling nostalgia, but it’s not that: it’s just been that long since I felt life this way.  I do think of things that I haven’t thought of for a long time, but they’re neither good nor bad.  Just experiential, like the way my mother’s apartment looked, or the way Lucia’s Garden, a store in Houston, smells.

I wonder how long I’ve been “asleep”.

Then there are the philosophical implications of it all.  Where do I stop?  Where does the illness begin?  Is there a difference?  If not, how do we judge which of my behaviors are “normal” and which ones are not?  Psychiatry has been asking these questions for over a century, and there are some who believe that all psychiatric “illness” is created as a way to pathologize anyone not conforming to the current standards of “normal”.  I disagree.  I believe someone goes from being eccentric to being diseased when they can no longer function in life, or they become a danger to themselves or someone else.

I’m sure I’ll be asking myself these questions for a looooooong time to come along with a lot of others.  In the meantime, I keep trying to Zen-ify my life.  It really does need to be as simple as getting good sleep, eating good food, getting a lot of exercise, doing things that make me happy (gardening, karate, yoga, cooking), and staying as stress-free as possible.  I imagine that means some things and perhaps people will have to be pared away, but perhaps for the first time in my life, I am the most important person in my life, and when I am done taking care of myself, then and only then will I make room for others.  Obviously there has to be some leniency when it comes to the husband and daughter, and we’ll all need help through this transition, but after 39 years, I’m done being second fiddle to anyone.  It’s a pity that it took a near mental breakdown to get here, but I’m finding an awful lot of silver linings in this black cloud, and I feel as though the Universe is watching over me for the moment.


I took care of a very, very old problem last week.  One that I had been avoiding for about 15 years.  I finally went to a psychiatrist after spending what must have been nearly two months trying to keep a lid on rising, chronic anxiety and agitation that I am fully convinced is related to having quit smoking (nicotine is a seriously deviant neurochemical).  Really, it’s been years that I’ve kept a lid on those things, but this time they were lasting longer than they had before and I was starting to frighten myself a bit, so I went to get some help.

I had avoided doing so for so long for a lot of reasons.  I had a fear and distrust of the psychiatric community in general after spending the first seventeen years of my life watching my mother go in and out of hospitals and take virtually every type of medication available, to no avail.  That probably wasn’t psychiatry’s fault, it was probably Mom’s.  Drugs don’t make psychiatric disorders disappear, they just make them easier to manage and if someone wants to be truly better, they still have to do a lot of personal work.  Personal work that Mom was never willing to do.  She was just too selfish, or too deep in her own denial, or something.

I also had a fear of the medication dance that so many who suffer from psychiatric disorders seem to have to do, as well as the myriad side effects that those medications often saddle their takers with.  Weight gain is often a primary side effect of many psychiatric drugs for some reason, and as someone who has always struggled with their weight, I was reluctant to even entertain taking something that would make me even heavier potentially.  Also, for many years I feared the sexual side effects that often come with psychiatric medications, but over the years, my illness itself along with leftover trauma from childhood sexual abuse has conspired to essentially make me mostly dead from the waist down anyway, so I didn’t really have anything to lose in that department.

Perhaps most importantly, I had to get over my own pride and individuality.  Everyone tells themselves they want to be different from their parents.  It’s how progress is made over the generations.  In a healthy family, people are different in action but not in fundamentals, because they had loving families that bonded together.  Unhealthy families don’t bond like that because there’s nothing desirable to mimic.  Over the years, in my efforts to be different from people who were unhealthy, I set myself up for a game of denial when it came to my own mental health.  Sure, there are some aspects of it that are the result of the environment that I grew up in and can be corrected with therapy.  The rest, though, that’s all genetics.  I can escape that no more than I can escape my family’s cardiovascular health history.

Hopefully it’s easy to see how something no less medical in nature than, say, diabetes can easily become horribly stigmatized if you’ve made a lifelong effort not to be that way.  I told myself that it was something I could deal with on my own.  That combined with my distrust of Western medicine in general led to fifteen years of essentially self-treatment using herbs, meditation, yoga, exercise, and karate.  Which actually are fairly effective, but they require hypermanagement of one’s lifestyle that is nearly untenable in modern society if you’re doing anything more than going to school or holding down a stress-free job (is there any such thing?).

Fortunately, I was going to school for a while, and when I wasn’t, I didn’t have to work, so it was easy for me to live a life that avoided triggering unpleasant episodes or allowed me to hermit when they did.  Then I had a baby and whatever control I had over my life disappeared.  I hadn’t realized how carefully managed my life was until my daughter was born and I could no longer do things the way I had been.  I quickly slipped into a deep postpartum depression, one that was practically prepared for me by a nearly 48-hour labor and delivery that ended in a C-section and failed anesthesia.

About a year and a half after Zoe was born, I had a serious mental crash when we had too many stressors all at once in the form of unrelated medical issues and a car wreck that very easily could have killed both my husband as well as Zoe.  At that point I was put on Zoloft, Buspar, and Ambien.  I was in a depressed state so it was assumed antidepressants would help me.  They didn’t and I wound up on two more drugs, Seroquel and Valium, to try and address untreated symptoms.  I did that for about a year and a half and then stopped.  I’m glad I have pictures of that period of time or else I wouldn’t really remember it.

Finally, I stopped breastfeeding Zoe when she was about 3 and miraculously my mental health as well as my metabolism improved greatly.  I felt better and started losing that baby weight, finally!  I hear that breastfeeding is supposed to make mothers feel happy and help them lose weight, but in retrospect, for my own health, I should have stopped nursing Zoe when she was no more than a year old.  It obviously did bad things for my neurochemistry, for whatever reason.

So did bad life stressors.  That year I let my brother and his wife stay here while they had their baby and found a place to live.  I’ll spare you the gory details, but it turned out very badly.  What was supposed to be three months turned into eight.  It was miserably hot that summer, everyone was out of work, and there were four adults and two children living in a house of less than a thousand square feet.  In a strange quirk of fate, my brother and his family moved out and my husband got a job all within five days of each other.  Suddenly, for the first time since my daughter had been born, it was just the two of us.  My husband had worked from home for her entire life to date, and now he had to take a job out of the house.  Not long after everyone left the house, I had myself a little breakdown.

I tried to get help, but by then the health insurance industry had made it nearly impossible to get treated for anything mental unless you were actively suicidal, and then they would only pay for whatever the bare minimum was to get you back at home.  So unless I wanted to kill myself, my insurance wouldn’t cover a psychiatrist or even a GP visit if it was mentally related.  It was going to be cheaper to make the four hour drive to Mexico and buy drugs there than it was going to be to actually get the help that I needed.  I decided it was easier to just hunker down and wait until the mental storm had passed.  It was a crime that I had to do that.  I and my entire family suffered needlessly because of it.

It was then that I decided that I was probably bipolar and not just depressive.  I had checked out some books from the library about women, anger, mental illness, and other topics, including a couple of books by Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind.  She’s a psychologist and she details her own experiences with bipolar illness.  Her descriptions of her own mental states resonated strongly with me.  Still, I was too traumatized by trying to get help and by the possibility of it taking a long time to figure out what was wrong and how to treat it, so I continued to just wait.

I got better, that time anyway, and tried to manage my moods as best as I could.  Yoga helped in that regard immensely, and yoga will remain a part of what I do to make myself feel better, even if I do require medication for the rest of my life.  Karate also helped a great deal.  It requires a focus that is soothing, calming, and quieting to my mind.  I tried meditation, but I found it to be even more agitating than just my normal mindset.  I would figure out why later.

Last year I had to go mucking with my hormones, and I immediately began to feel worse than I had in several years.  I had always had trouble with bad PMS, and it was returning, despite my doctor’s insistence that the pills I was on were essentially identical to what I had been doing.  A couple of months after that, I quit smoking, which meant that I could try other kinds of pills (birth control pills are dangerous for smokers over thirty-five) to try and alleviate the PMS and other symptoms I was experiencing.

That was three weeks ago.  Over the next two weeks, while I felt better in some ways, I felt much, much worse in others.  I hadn’t felt this unstable since I found myself with an empty house save for a 3-year-old a few years before.  A week and a half ago, I tried to get a doctor’s appointment because I was feeling dangerously agitated, but the office I had gotten my new pills from wouldn’t let me speak to the doctor: they just made an appointment for the following Monday, four days later.  O_o  I was too agitated to sit in an ER: that would have made me worse.  So I called upon the people who never fail to come to my aid: my friends.  They brought me what I needed to get through the weekend, which included a summer camp fair for work which I doubt I could have tolerated, given the size and noise level of the room I was in.

I avoided as much stimulus as possible over the weekend, and stopped taking the offending pills.  On Monday, after taking my aging cat to the vet, I went back to the doctor and began a day that involved a lot of kleenex, two doctor’s offices, and at least four different healthcare workers of varying flavors.  Not to mention a busted car fender due to an elderly neighbor who shouldn’t be driving anymore.  I will spare you the day’s details, but suffice it to say that the fine people at Austin’s emergency psychiatric office must have agreed that I needed assistance because I made it through all of their hurdles in less than four hours.  In case you didn’t know, that’s nearly unheard of.

To make an already long story a little shorter, I have been indeed diagnosed as bipolar, type I.  The nice Indian doctor prescribed me some lithium to stabilize my moods and some trazodone so I can sleep.  He told me to read up about bipolar disorder, which I didn’t really have to after so long of trying to convince myself I didn’t have it.

“I’m not listening, I’m not listening!” – Gollum, The Two Towers

Near as I can tell, I’m one of those unlucky people who gets to enjoy mixed episodes: up and down at the same time.  It’s about as crazy as it sounds and feels worse.  I also suspect I’m a rapid cycler, or even ultra-rapid: more than one cycle a year, perhaps more than one in a day.  I try to avoid contact with humans on those days.  Not much has really changed.  I just have names and labels for what’s wrong sometimes, and I don’t have to beat myself up over feeling or behaving a certain way.  I can just identify it, remedy it, and move on, or stay in my room if that’s necessary.  I’m sure I have more than a few friends whom upon hearing my diagnosis have gone, “Aaahh, so that’s what’s wrong with her sometimes.”

It does mean that I now have the label of “chronic illness”.  I must take my medication: there is no alternative, just as a diabetic has to take their insulin or they can die.  Diabetes is actually my favorite non-mental chronic illness to compare to, because diabetics can exhibit some seriously aberrant and even violent behavior if their insulin and blood sugar levels get too wonky.  No one thinks diabetics are “crazy”: they just have to maintain their blood sugar properly.  I feel the same way about most mental illness that can be treated with medication.  Mother Nature forgot to wire our brains quite right so humankind has to fill in.  The only thing to be ashamed about is when I fail to do what I need to do to stay healthy, which is a lot.

It is now super-important for me to keep regular, healthy routines.  Now is the time that I should make a super effort to get that meditation practice going, especially now that I’m taking something that will shut off the hamsterwheel in my head that has always made meditation so frustrating for me.  Everyone gets the hamsterwheel when they meditate, but mine never, ever goes away.  Consequently, I just don’t meditate, or I haven’t been anyway.  Now it will be easier and that will help more than anything else in alleviating what is still an ongoing anxiety and inability to truly relax.  It’s getting better, I can tell, even after only a week on a relatively low dose of lithium.  I hope it continues to improve, because I would give anything to just be able to sit and relax and not feel like I have to get up and do something.  Yay, mania.  *sigh*  I also have to make sure I eat and not let my blood sugar get too low, which will also disaffect my mood.  Same with sleep.  Everything has to be kept in equilibrium, an ironic task for someone medically diagnosed as being out of equilibrium.

I’m trying to take an attitude of permissiveness rather than dictatorship.  After all, I’ve essentially been given permission to do as much yoga, karate, and meditation and communing with nature as I can possibly get.  Doctor’s orders!  😀  This is also a huge red flag for me to really work on incorporating Buddhism into as much of my life as possible.  Only a whole lot of acceptance, love, compassion, understanding, and metta is going to get me through the rest of my life.  I do admit, and had to admit to the doctors, that while I am not actively suicidal, I am sometimes filled with the sense that I shouldn’t be here, that I’m a mistake, that I shouldn’t have been born, and I don’t know if that’s the result of my disease or the result of the terrible environment that I had to grow up in.  Whatever the case, I’m going to have to make friends with those thoughts and figure out how to banish them, or make them ineffective, because they get worse the older I get.  Seems like a lot of love is the way to go on that one, and the only place I feel that love from is my family, and my friends, and the Buddha.

I was so grateful for my friends and family the day I was at the doctor all day.  Thanks to modern technology, I had my Android phone with me so I was able to stay in touch via Facebook and Twitter and email all day long, which was incredibly helpful to me.  All day long, I had little messages of love and support from everyone and it meant so much to me.  I have something that my mother never had, which is unconditional acceptance and support from a fairly large circle of friends and a husband who really loves and cares about me.  I would be just as lost and crazy as she was without these people in my life.  That’s far more powerful than any bottle of medication.

Opening to Dharma


I went to a series of yoga workshops this past weekend at my favorite yoga studio in Austin, Dharma Yoga.  It’s an amazing place with amazing people.  This time, they were hosting Katchie Ananda, an Anusara yoga practitioner and apparently a highly influential yoga teacher around the world.  Anusara is a highly codified system of alignment involving invisible loops and spirals in the body that is extremely revealing in the tiny ways that we hold our bodies in both good and bad ways.  I’d had limited experience with it at other studios but really enjoyed the way it was so organized.  I love a good system that has very clear ways of defining things, and this definitely fit the bill, as did the particular focus of each workshop.

The first day we spent working on how to keep our back body open.  It’s very common to collapse the back when leaning backwards or when doing backbends.  Even the word “backbend” can lead one to think that’s what’s called for when it’s really not.  Camel pose doesn’t come from the back, it comes from the front.  Crunching the back muscles in an effort to bend actually negates the positive benefits of a pose.  One of the reasons for that is the placement of the kidneys and the adrenal glands, which rest atop the kidneys.  The adrenals are responsible for helping us run away when we’re in danger.  In a more modern context, they are what help make us aggressive or angry when in a confrontation.  They’re also what make people often feel angry after doing backbends (raises hand), because the adrenals are literally being squeezed by the action of the pose.  Staying open in the back and doing all of the work from the front helps prevent that.

More metaphysically speaking, the back body represents everything that is not the ego, which manifests itself in the front.  That made a lot of sense to me.  Egotistically, we pay attention to what’s right in front of us, and the stereotypical image of someone very ego-filled is someone strutting with their chest poking out in self-importance.  If we crunch the back in an effort to bend backwards, we’re paradoxically ignoring the more universal side of things while emphasizing the ego, which is what yoga tries to diminish.

So we spent three hours talking about how to simultaneously bend backwards while keeping the back open to a more universal energy flow, rather than crunching it down and making it all about ourselves and how far we can bend, so on and so forth.  It was wonderful.  We worked on many poses, such as the warrior poses, that usually made me feel uptight and angry afterwards because I had been crunching my back.  Now I can do those without the crunching, and they’re much more satisfying, less painful, and more beneficial to the parts of my body they’re designed to help.  That seems to be the special magic of Anusara yoga: to change a single muscle group, even a small one, and notice how it affects the entire body.

The second day, we talked about dharma.  Dharma is your path, the place in life that you are supposed to go, or the journey you’re supposed to take.  Most Westerners have heard the term karma, but not dharma.  In fact, most Westerners have the concept of karma all wrong.  There is no good or bad karma.  Karma just IS, and it’s whatever is keeping you from your dharma.  She spoke of one’s dharma as being a combination of the things that you love and the things in life that have wounded your core.  It was hard not to cry in front of everyone as she spoke of these things.  Put into that very clear context of love and wounding, my own dharma was suddenly much clearer to me and I was flooded with a combination of relief and satisfaction that indeed, I am largely headed in the right direction.  I think I’ll start calling myself “the weeping yogini”, because every time I hear things like that that resonate with me, I begin to cry.  In fact, I cry at nearly every yoga class I go to.  I never know why, but the third day’s session would help me understand that better.  I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

She also spoke that day about metta, or “loving-kindness”, and how to apply that to our lives as well as our yoga practice.  Metta is pretty much the opposite of the internal judgment that I often feel not only in yoga but the rest of life as well.  The metta meditation basically started with the self and then went outwards.  We were to fill ourselves with compassion for ourselves, and then for the people closest to us, and then for the more peripheral people in our lives, and then for everyone, everywhere.  I wish I could remember the exact mantra she had us say, but there is no shortage of metta meditations on the internet.  What it meant for me was to remind me that I cannot fulfill my dharma without a hefty dose of metta, particularly towards myself.  I’m very good at having metta for everyone else in the world, but terrible at having it for myself.  There’s something amiss with that.  Backwards.  Upside down.

Enter the third day.  I began the day very tired, despite having slept extremely late that morning.  I was already somewhat depleted by the previous two days of workshops, which involved doing a lot of downward facing dog pose (basically turning your body into the shape of the letter ‘A’: hands and feet on the floor, butt in the air).  Apparently this is a “resting” pose in Anusara, and if my upper back were not the weakest part of my body, it would have also been so for me.  As it is, though, a lifetime of hunching over keyboards and hunching to hide my body from others left me with tight pectoral muscles and very loose, weak traps, rhomboids, and lats: basically my entire upper back.  Which means that downward facing dog is actually the pose I should do the most of, because those are the muscles that it strengthens.

My triceps were very tired, though.  They had been taking up the slack of my upper back, and while the triceps are certainly an important part of that pose, they had done more than their fair share that weekend and they really let me know.  I spent a lot more time in child’s pose the third day than the previous two.  I also spent a lot more time judging myself because of that than I should have, further indication that I really need to work on that whole metta thing.  The third day’s lesson was about the elements: air, earth, fire, water, and space (not the same as air).  She spoke about how each of the elements can manifest in our lives and our practices, and also about how each person tends to favor a particular element.

Space manifests in yoga practice as a kind of distance or separation from the people you’re practicing with, or from your actual yoga practice.  I know sometimes I’ve gone to do yoga and it’s like I’m really not present: that’s ‘space’ manifesting in my practice.  Fire manifests as anger, aggression, or competition.  I know all about fire on the mat: it makes me scrunch up my face and judge myself with a terrible harshness.  No sir, I don’t like it.  Water often manifests on the mat as weeping, and I know all about that one.  I try to keep myself in the corner so my crying doesn’t upset anyone else in the room.  I’ve come to accept that it will likely be some time before I am no longer a “weeping yogini”, and that I may always be.  I am a Scorpio after all: Fixed Water.  Earth manifests in yoga as a heaviness, an unwillingness to exert the effort.  I’ve certainly had my days where I feel like I’m made of lead and everything feels like it takes way more effort than usual.  Air is apparently the most desirous of the elements on the mat.  It’s the one that allows us to hold a paradox in acceptance, such as being able to bend backwards without collapsing the back, or turn to the right by engaging the left side.  When you hear it, you’re like, “Huh?”  But if you can hold the paradox without judgment and just try it, that’s air.

Regardless of the element, sometimes a yogini just has to dwell in that element as it’s happening.  Just look at it, say hello, and let it just be.  I think I experienced all five elements on the mat yesterday.  I started as earth, sitting there waiting for the workshop to start, feeling very heavy, like I just wanted to lay in savasana the whole time.  Then I moved to space, feeling distant and separated from everyone else in the room.  Then I moved to fire as I began to judge myself for my earthiness and spaciness and inability to stay in the poses as long as I wanted to or had been able to the previous two days.  Fire gave way to water as I became saddened by my perceived lack of strength and succumbing to the judgment I have been trying so hard to escape.  Blowing through the other four was air.  Even as I dwelled in the other elements, I could still stay outside of myself a little bit and hold all of those opposing thoughts and feelings in the same space and just let them orbit around me like protons.

Then we moved on to handstands.  O_O  I had never done a handstand.  As a woman who has weighed over 200 pounds for the better part of the last decade, I have an automatic tendency to reject things like handstands as a possibility since I doubt my body’s ability to hold all that weight up while upside down.  It’s just a lie my ego tells me, and I tried to let the automatic anxiety I was beginning to feel just roll away.  I really wanted to try this, and I was fairly sure that I could do it.  I’m much, much stronger than I was the last time I dove into the yoga pool seriously back in 2007.  I have a year of Seido karate under my belt and a much firmer core.

She started us off in preparatory poses.  First, face away from the wall, fold forward, and place the feet against the baseboards, much like a down dog but with the hips still over the feet.  Then put the feet on the wall and walk up until your body is bent 90 degrees, hands on the floor, feet on the wall.  I could not do this, and the fire flared in my heart.  The others encouraged me, telling me to really push my heels into the wall, which always slid back to the floor.  After trying this three times, I realized it wasn’t my legs that were the problem: it was my upper back, which was not strong enough to push in the opposite direction to counteract my feet.  I narrowly avoided bursting into tears in front of everyone and let my partner try.

The next preparatory pose was better.  Facing the wall this time, we did a similar folding, only this time, a foot was placed in the belly of our partner, who braced against us as we lifted the other leg up into the air.  I did it! I was mostly doing my first handstand and it was really elating.  I had a big smile on my face and I laughed joyfully.  My partner congratulated me and then asked if I could do it again, this time with my shoulders planted a little more directly over my hands.  Unfortunately, as with the first preparatory exercise, my upper back couldn’t handle it and almost completely collapsed.  If I hadn’t been paying attention, I might have really hurt myself, but I half expected it to happen so I was ready.  I came back down, somewhat discouraged, but still happy that I had been able to do it at least partially, if not completely correctly.  I was ignoring a deep sadness bubbling away in my belly, though: water again.

It was the end of the workshop, and I happily engaged in the end of class meditation and chanting.  I gathered up my stuff and got in the car to head home.  I was hungry because I hadn’t eaten enough beforehand (not purposefully: it was just one of those lessons I had to learn about how much to put into my body before exerting that much energy), I was very tired from that day’s and the previous days’ workshops, and I was slowly becoming filled with a combination of fire, water, and earth that was turning into a burning emotional mud.  By the time I got home, I was in a terrible mood, and I couldn’t figure out why.  I tried to do what I was supposed to do and just sit there and be with my feelings, while my husband went out and got us some food.  I had a massive craving for protein.

I had a good long cry, then I ate my fajitas, then I took a really long, hot shower and cried some more.  Then I looked up the emotional effects of yoga on the body.  This was all very normal.  Not only had I spent the entire weekend essentially reversing my normal protective modes by working hard to keep my chest open and my shoulders back, I had done my first serious total inversion.  I had literally turned my world upside down after a weekend of making myself be more open to the world.  It was like trying to turn a purse inside out and upside down while expecting nothing to fall out.  It just wasn’t going to happen.  I had stood in the hot shower sobbing, looking at my “baggage” laying on the floor.  I had wanted to finish that handstand so badly, and I couldn’t do it, and I struggled mightily with my mind’s desire to blame me for it, to say I wasn’t good enough or strong enough or skinny enough while ignoring what a major accomplishment it was to have trusted another human being enough to help me get as far as I did, which was pretty far.  Like, 90% there.  A month of downward facing dogs for five minutes a day and I’ll be there.

Today I feel raw and naked, like my skin is missing.  I suppose it would be more accurate to say I’m like a pecan that has had its outer green shell taken off.  I’m still here and nothing’s wrong, but I’m missing a protective mechanism that I’ve had for a long time and my ego is screaming for it to come back.  It can’t have it, though: it’s bad for me.  And I’m not going to let it put all that baggage back into my “purse” either.  Maybe part of why it’s upset is because of all that exposed baggage sitting there on the floor.  It’s impossible to ignore its ugliness, even though it was useful from time to time.  Kind of like leeches.  I just have to acknowledge it all, give it some metta, and let it know it’s not needed anymore while thanking it for its service.  Job well done.  I have other uses for you now.

As difficult as this weekend was, both internally and externally, I needed that.  In fact, I need a lot more of it if I have any hope of really fulfilling my own dharma, which I have a much better bead on now (I would hope so, having been at Dharma Yoga all weekend!).  My mind needed it, and my body needed it.  I know exactly and precisely where my shoulder problems come from and how to fix them, and it has more to do with what’s upstairs than it does with my body.  Everything is connected, and if I want my body to behave in certain ways, I must tame my mind, or at least give it better direction.  Even right now, I can feel the difference after only three days of realigning myself.  When I walk, I feel ‘crooked’ but only because ‘straight’ feels odd to me after so long being actually ‘crooked’.

I’m sure I will be processing this weekend much more as time goes on, but so far, that’s what I got out of it.  No wonder I’m still tired.  *thud*

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