quiet your thinking brain…

If you’ve been in a yoga class, you might have heard some version of “quiet your thinking brain.”

Eliminate the monkey chatter.

Clear your head of thoughts.

Let go of anything not serving you.

Yeah, right… these prompts led me to ponder my grocery list or otherwise mentally fidget, wondering how much longer we’d have to recline (or worse—sit) in stillness before we could actually “do” yoga (i.e. move the body). Then in yoga teacher training, one of our assignments was daily meditation. Most days, I practiced the minimum recommended amount of five minutes. For six months I made time every day but never achieved stillness of mind, never felt the nirvana others raved about. Meditating was a chore, and after I graduated with my 200-hour certification, I stopped.

Last April, my sister was visiting and told me about her daily meditation practice and how it helped her cope with anxiety, emotions and stress. She recommend I download the app Insight Timer and while I’d once downloaded Headspace to no avail, I gave it a try. Skeptical and open at the same time, I started off easy, listening to a few guided meditations, recordings where people with soothing voices (British accents reel me in) taught me seven ways to welcome the new day or to visualize abundance pouring into my open head. Gradually, I traded these vocal guides for a timer.

Now I serve as my own guide.

To inspire a vibrant practice, I set up a meditation space in my office/yoga room, complete with candles and other personal items for inspiration. But just as often I greet (and/or close) the day from the comfort of my own bed. I might sit in front of the window if the sun or moonlight is shining in. When negative energy overcomes me, I try to take a time out. I’m not always able to redirect my thoughts, but at least the practice of conscious breathing and breaking from device-land soothes and grounds.

It isn’t always easy, but today marks 365 days in a row of meditating.

I get it, meditating isn’t for everybody. But honestly, I didn’t think it was for me, and now it’s such a part of my morning routine, I’d no sooner forget to meditate than to brush my teeth. On days I don’t do either, hell has really broken loose.

I don’t have time, I hear people say. But if you have time to scan social media feeds, you have time to put your phone down, close your eyes, and focus on the rise and fall of your breath. If you have time to read this post, you have time to sit in stillness. Who cares if you spend those initial minutes trying to remember what you forgot to buy at Target? Taking quiet time for yourself each day is the least you deserve.

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365 days of headstand

A previously little known fact I’m now sharing with the internet: I’m a yoga teacher who is scared of doing a headstand.

Oh, I don’t mind cuing students into sirsasana. I can look at a body moving toward inversion and give pointers on how to get those feet over the head and find steadiness. But when it comes to flipping myself upside down, I freeze like the proverbial deer.

When I was going through yoga teacher training in 2014, this headstand-phobia bothered me. I didn’t think I could possibly be a good yoga teacher if I was scared of a posture, especially one so central to the health of the crown chakra, one I enviously watched others assume with serenity and grace. I confided my angst to one teacher friend, and ion her class she would give me assists. Sometimes her gentle presence behind me worked. Sometimes I didn’t even try, instead opting for child’s pose.

Then in 2015, the torn rotator cuff put me on the sidelines, one I’m just coming off now.

Recently, I’ve been craving inversions. But that old fear got in the way, so much so that I didn’t even want to try. The other night, in a yoga class series I’m taking as part of my goal to get to 100 classes in 2018—experiencing other teachers’s classes helps me grow as a practitioner and instructor—we did partner handstands. And I realized how easy it was to hang out on my hands with the comfort of a spotter.

I came home, positioned myself a few feet from a wall, and got up into headstand. I gave the wall a little tap as I found balance. Then I rejoiced. And quickly fell down. Went up again. The second time was harder. Probably I was thinking too much.

Today is the fourth day in a row that I’ve gone upside down. I’m still keeping the training wheels nearby, but trying to distance myself from that wall a little more each day.

It’s hard to remember in our Type A, over achieving culture that no posture is mastered in a day. Yoga is about patience, time, breath, devotion, body awareness. If I commit to trying a headstand every day for 365 days, I can only imagine the progress I will make. A year from now, I just might be that person chilling out on the top of my head. After all, once upon a time, I never thought I’d write an entire novel, and now I’ve written three. In confronting those things that scare us, we often find they aren’t as insurmountable as they seem.

Namaste.

 

 

my five-day fling with FitBit

Disclaimer: I know millions of Americans, a few whom I dearly love, enthusiastically rely on FitBit to count steps and monitor activity in the spirit of accountability. While [spoiler alert] this method didn’t work for me personally, my intent is not to disparage anyone’s efforts, merely to share my own experience.

As the clock ticked in the new year, I decided to change how I quantify fitness goals. Two years out from a devastating ankle break that still leaves me stiff in the mornings, with shooting pain up the inner leg on cold days or if I happen to step funny, the time feels right to get back into the routine I had before black ice pulled me down. My best friend had just bought a new FitBit and talked me into doing the same.

The piece arrived on January 4th, a day I spent in bed with a killer cold. The 127 steps I took consisted primarily of dragging my body from bed to kitchen to bathroom to bed. But I didn’t fret over failure, filled with confidence I’d move my body more the next day.

And I did.

For the next five days, I wore that FitBit religiously as I set about meeting my real 2018 goals that have nothing to do with steps: 100 yoga, fifty barre, and 40 spin classes. (Note: 2014 Chelsea would have been able to hit the spin goal in a month but 40 classes is 37 more than 2017 Chelsea accomplished.)

At first it was fun to watch the steps add up. Given I work from home, I appreciated the hourly reminder to get up and move. But I got frustrated when steps didn’t sync with the corresponding app I constantly monitored on my phone. One night, I marched in my kitchen at 10pm; earlier in the evening, I’d done a barre-bike double. Seriously, I took an hour-long barre class and a 45-minute indoor cycling class but still felt compelled to walk in place before bed to make an arbitrary step goal.

The kicker came when after an intensive hot yoga class, sweat dripping in my eyes, I checked the FitBit app and realized I didn’t get credit for an activity hour. But driving home in the car, swinging my FitBit wearing arm up and down as I sat in bumper to bumper traffic, I managed to cheat meet that hour’s goal.

Swipe left.

Here’s the thing: FitBit increased my screen time. FitBit messed with my head. For example, I learned that I burn more calories teaching a barre class than taking one. So should I take more classes or teach more classes? But then again, I’m not a calorie counter either and I never will be. And steps? How is marching in my kitchen or swinging my arm better than barre or hot yoga? Who decided 10,000 steps was the gold standard? (This article was particularly illuminating.) FitBit made me competitive in an unhelpful (bordering  on unhealthy) way.

If it works for you, bravo. But I packed mine up and returned to sender. With the Amazon credit back on my birthday gift card, I bought books, which rarely make me feel bad about myself.

 

on “doing” yoga

 

“I guess you aren’t doing yoga for awhile,” I frequently hear.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Now is when I need yoga the most.

While a physical yoga practice eludes me for the time being, I would not have survived the hard times at the hospital and since my discharge if it weren’t for the other seven limbs of yoga, the ones we westerners often ignore when worrying about the right Lululemon outfit to wear or complaining about a class that didn’t leave us sweaty enough.

Not that I’m so highly evolved. I own a ridiculous number of expensive yoga pants. I have been known to pass judgement on group classes I like or don’t like and am often reluctant to try new instructors even though I am a new instructor. I choose sleep over meditation on cold mornings when it’s hard to get out of bed. Since shoulder surgery, I’ve had a relentless (yet obviously unachievable) urge to stand on my head. While I hate that I can’t walk/hop/scoot up or down the stairs, I’ve spent equal time despairing over the lost progress I had been making toward hanumanasana (otherwise known as the splits) before a sheet of ice sent me flying. Every bite of food irrationally represents a pound I worry I will have to lose when I get out of the wheelchair. I get angry and frustrated at my current limitations.

Yes, I have the woe is me moments. But my intention is to use my time on the DL to transcend the fixations with my physical body.

I’m still working out exactly how to achieve this…

In my better moments, I close my eyes. I breathe deeply. I direct that breath to the parts of the body that need love: ankle, shoulder, almighty/overworked left side. Inhale love. Exhale angst. When I teach, I constantly remind my students to let go of thoughts, tension, energy that doesn’t serve, but true release is easier said than done. These last few weeks, I’ve had to peel back the layers, protective sheaths that keep me from asking for help, showing vulnerability, accepting unsolicited offers of help, coming to terms with what I can and can’t do.

I have the semblance of a plan. I want to reread the Yamas and the Niyamas, the ethical guide to yoga. During yoga teacher training, a wise soul recommended picking one yama or niyama and dedicating ourselves fully toward it. I focused on practicing ahimsa —or, nonviolence. Now I recognize that what I need in my life is the hardest for me to contemplate achieving: ishvara pranidhana —surrender. I do not control the universe.

Whether I can do a headstand or a split is irrelevant. My right side body is down but the left side remains strong. I can breathe, think, love, and appreciate. Kitchen items are going to be out of place, but why? Because kind and generous caretakers prepare my every meal. I’m mostly confined to my house, but I get to avoid cold (icy) winter days. I feel alone deep inside, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

A yoga practice represent more than a series of poses on the mat. It’s a journey toward peace. I will bumble and fall (hopefully only figuratively) on the way to learning to let go. I’m ready to offer myself up to this time and experience.

In all these ways and more I can’t foresee, recovery from my injuries represents the hardest yoga I’ve ever “done.”

Namaste.

The Great Ankle Break of 2016

Three days before Christmas, I underwent shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff muscle and degenerating tendons.

“I thought this was a story about an ankle break?” I hear you ask…

Hold on, I’m getting there.

Confined to an immobilizer —the sling version of the back brace I donned five years ago after my herniated disc repair— I was limited in what I could do and learning how to perform daily activities with my left hand.

When a record busting 36-hour snowstorm enveloped the DC metro area, I cheered. I baked. The kids shoveled. I drank wine. We watched ten movies, and I completed a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.  But then school was canceled for a gazillion days. The pretty white snow started to gray, and the unmelted volume interfered with life returning to normal.

On January 28th, one week after the region collectively buckled down for the storm, I dressed to leave my house. I had a physical therapy appointment for my shoulder, which I was looking forward to after a week of confinement. Metro was still unpredictable, but my ex-husband was venturing to work that morning, and his office is conveniently located across the street from my PT. I begged for a ride.

Traffic was ghastly. After an hour in the car, sitting in gridlock four blocks from my destination, I made a tactical error. “I can walk faster,” I insisted, not wanting to be late. My ex agreed. I hopped out of the car, climbed a snowbank, landed on the sidewalk. Literally. Splat.

I was in shock for a lot of what happened next. I remember hearing screams as if they were coming from elsewhere. My vision went a cloudy white. Excruciating pain radiated from the ankle, which I’d seen contort on my way down. The shoulder was fine, but I knew without trying that I couldn’t stand on my right foot. A homeless woman asked if she should call someone for me. I grasped for my phone, but like in a dream when you can’t ever dial a phone number correctly, I couldn’t remember how to work it. After several bumbles, I managed to call my ex, who had only advanced a few car lengths up the street. He pulled into a snowbank and ran to scene of the fall.

He tried to help me up. I wailed. Cautiously, he got me standing on my left foot. Since I couldn’t drape my right arm over his shoulder three-legged race style, our center of balance was off as we hopped a few tentative steps.

“I’ll drive you to the ER,” he reassured me, until we reached the street corner and realized his car sat on the other side of an impassable patch of ice and snow. We called 911.

The ambulance led to the emergency room. The emergency room led to three sets of x-rays and two ankle reductions —a process by which two-to-three doctors push and pull on your ankle to “set” the broken bones. (Yes, there was morphine.) Those procedures led to four hours of reconstructive surgery the next day. Overall, I spent five days in the hospital.

I’m home now, completely non-weight bearing on the right side of my body. I can’t use crutches because of the healing rotator cuff, so a wheelchair is my mode of transport. I’m confined to the first floor of my house since I have no way to go up or down the stairs. My living room has been converted to part bedroom/bathroom, as ADA compliant as possible.

A side note: never buy a house without a first floor bathroom.

From the moment of my accident, friends and family jumped to action. While I was still in the hospital, my sister friends set up my house, organized around the clock care, bought me books and wide-legged yoga pants, stocked my refrigerator, fed my cats, and created a meal calendar. My beloved Weekend Warriors scheduled an impromptu visit to complete tasks around the house to make my life easier. My dad arranged transportation to follow up doctor visits and rented wheelchair ramps to get me in and out of the house.

The prognosis is to be determined. The rotator cuff repair requires four-to-six months, minimum, before I’m back to normal. My ankle surgeon said I have at least two more months to go before I can put weight on my foot. (I thank yoga and barre for giving me a strong core; the left side of my body is doing all the heavy lifting these days.) I learned to transition with ease from bed to wheelchair and back. I’m putting the lap in laptop because there’s no FMLA when you work for yourself. Like it or not, sponge baths have to be my jam for the time being. For all who have offered advice on pain management, I thank you. With the consult of my doctor, I have figured out a regiment that works.

Healing is my focus. I won’t jeopardize recovery of the ankle or the shoulder by rushing the process. As deductibles, co-pays and other medical expenses mount, I won’t panic; top medical care is not worth skimping on, as I now realize after bumping down from a gold health plan to silver, effective 01/01/16.

Thanks to all who have sent healing vibes, prayers, meals, hugs and other forms of support. My heart overflows with your love and warm thoughts. I’m mostly in good spirits, but I slip into inevitable moments of self pity. There are lessons to be gleaned from all of this, lessons I will take to heart.

And when it’s all over, maybe I’ll commemorate the Great Fall of 2016 with a tattoo over the scars that will forever remind me wedge boots are never a good idea in the snow and ice.

 

bendy, stretchy, zen

I’m not the most flexible person I know. Not even close. I can touch my toes but can I do a split? Gimme a break. Too many years of running and not stretching before or after have left a legacy of tight hips and hamstrings. Not to mention the whole lower back problem.

I can’t do a handstand without the assistance of a wall. Forearm stand is not in my practice either. In fact, I don’t particularly like dolphin pose or any posture that requires me to be on my forearms because it causes pain in my outer wrists.

I’m getting better at arm balances, headstand, standing balance poses, etc. but my level of success really depends on the day. Some days I can float from one-legged pose to one-legged pose to one-legged pose without a bobble and others I’m a wildly swaying tree. I’ve taken my fair share of tumbles on the mat.

But yoga is not about how many hard poses you can do or not do. It’s not about getting it “right” each time, which is maybe why I love it so much. Living in a city and working in a profession that thrives on picking on the carcass of failure, it’s refreshing to have a sanctuary on the yoga mat, even if the physical aspect of yoga is really just a small part of the overall practice.

At the beginning of each yoga class, I set an intention and it’s usually a variation on a theme. Be playful, open-minded, graceful. Don’t be afraid. Just try. I don’t check these intentions at the door when class is over, but carry them with me long after the mat is rolled up and put away.
All of this is a long-winded way of telling you that this weekend I started a six-month, 200-hour yoga teacher training course at Mind the Mat. After two days I’m exhausted but also exhilarated and eager to get back to class today. I credit yoga with leading me to writing, my dharma, and while I don’t know where the next six months will take me, I feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment in setting off on this journey.

Namaste.

yoga pants: the gateway drug to mom jeans

I love my yoga pants, though I have to admit I don’t do much downward facing dog in them. For yoga, I prefer tight crops especially when practicing in rooms with temperatures 95 degree plus. But for almost every other activity, yoga pants are fair play. Now that I work from home, there are days I never get out of them. Yoga pants are a critical component of this aspiring novelist’s wardrobe.

If I do have to dress up for a meeting, the first thing I do when I get home is change back into my yoga pants. When a friend invites me over, I ask myself: are yoga pants appropriate for this social interaction? More and more, I want to wear them outside the confines of my home office. I try to dress them up, of course, with a sweater and maybe a cute pair of flats or a t-shirt and jean jacket in warmer temps. I had a version of this outfit on over the weekend visiting my college roommate.

Chris: “I wouldn’t have thought to wear my yoga pants with tiger print flats.”

Yep, that’s me. I’ll do anything to justify wearing these most comfortable and flattering of pants.

Because let’s be honest about jeans. They aren’t comfortable. I recently had dinner with a friend (who shall remain nameless) who after our meal, pushed back her chair, unbuttoned the jeans that were digging into her waist, and let me feel the lump of scar tissue in her belly where the button of her jeans typically hit. I mean, ouch.

Nameless friend: “Wouldn’t it be nice if they made jeans with the same stretch as yoga pants?”

Me: “They do. They’re called mom jeans.”

Yes, our love for the comfort of yoga pants makes us yearn for elastic waistbands. I don’t even like my formerly beloved Minnie pants anymore. It’s yoga pants or bust. So please, someone, make yoga pants in workplace appropriate fabrics. Or make denim more comfortable without the stigma of a stretchy waistband. In the meantime, I’m going to go debate with myself whether I can get away with yoga pants for my meeting this afternoon.