Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Magical Thinking

Easter is this weekend, and I just finished putting candy into plastic eggs and filling baskets with junky little toys. The kids are old enough now to start asking some serious questions. Such as, is the Easter Bunny tall and does he walk on 2 legs, or is he like a real bunny? Huh. I don't know! I think these questions will become more difficult in the next few years, and begin to topple all of our magical gift-bearing visitors.

DJ has had his doubts about Santa for a couple of years now. He is just like his father, and too logical to accept this for much longer. He points out inconsistencies, and asks if Santa is really real; sometimes out of nowhere, months away from Christmas. Interestingly, the tooth fairy idea doesn't seem to bother him too much. No questions asked. I think he recognizes the gift or money potential to be had from all of this, so he doesn't ever push it. We have also explained that he may never discuss any of this in front of Zee. She is questioning the Bunny this year, though. I mean, it is kind of ridiculous, isn't it? But, she is a staunch supporter of all things Santa. Do not even try to suggest Santa may not be real, or she gets angry and indignant. She let her brother have it the last time he brought it up at the dinner table.

Before we had kids, Al and I briefly discussed if we would tell the kids about Santa, if that was lying to them, or just tradition. If you celebrate these holidays, I think it's likely you remember when you first found out Santa or the bunny weren't real. I know my far more worldly friend Kristina (now a Facebook friend!) told me. Al said he presented his case full of logical talking points to disprove his mother's arguments when he was in first grade. Were we disappointed? Yes. Did I think my parents were lying liars who lie? Not really. But it did feel like the end of something really big for me at the time. I think a little whimsy and fantasy are good for everyone (especially the super-logically mathematically minded boy). I know we don't have much longer before the kids figure all this out, and I intend to make the most of it. The bunny will be heavy on Whoppers eggs this year. They're my favorite :)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Try a Little Kindness

Have you ever seen that bumper sticker that says "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty"? I have always loved that, for the play on words and the sentiment it expresses. Do good things for no reason. How simple and lovely! I have been trying to be kinder, more accepting, and less cynical. Some days that's easier than others, of course, but I think I'm making progress. I smile more at people, and make eye contact, instead of avoiding gazes when I'm out at the store. I even gave someone the benefit of the doubt today, when in the past I would've showed them the door.

Now, there's a fine line between kindness and being a doormat, and I am not putting out an invitation to walk on me. I am all about setting healthy limits and letting people know their boundaries. However, even bad news can be delivered in a kind manner. This avoids conflicts even when we don't get what we want. Think about the crabby cashier who tells you your coupon expired, or the smiling one who explains the same thing, but then offers you another coupon to use next time. Same news, but I go away with a completely different attitude.

Kindness can make another person feel good, but I benefit, too. I feel lighter, and when I reflect back on my day, I have less regret. I have also read some about the law of attraction. Now I have not read The Secret, and I do not believe that thinking about a Mercedes is going to put one into your garage. But I do believe that the kindness and good thoughts you transmit come back to you in other ways. Maybe someone holds the door for me when I approach with my heavy cart, or a seat at Starbucks is offered to me on a busy morning. It's really these small things that help foster a connection to others, and allow us to live in our true nature.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Learning Curve

My yoga teacher themed about challenges in class last week. At one point she said it's the tough situations in life that really teach us about ourselves. Of course, then I knew she planned to kick our tails with long holds and hard poses, but her statement got me thinking. We face challenges every day, from the mundane to the more intense. I think our reaction to them depends on our mindset that day, as well as the level of adversity. Some days, a very minor difficulty can seem insurmountable. Other times, we can combat any situation with super-human strength.

So is it the tough stuff that helps us learn about ourselves? In that class we held Warrior II for about 2 minutes. During that lengthy hold (2 minutes doesn't sound long, but try it for yourself if you doubt me!), my mind began several different patterns of thought: How long will we have to hold this? Am I a wimp if I straighten my leg for a breath? Who sings this song? Did the teacher forget that we're still holding this? I think my thigh may collapse any second. I may not get up my stairs later. And so on. I have learned to breathe through these thoughts, and try to re-focus and reframe them: No, I am not going to collapse on the floor, and I am certain this won't kill me. The longer the hold, the harder it gets to keep my breath even and my thoughts from doom and gloom. Just like real life stressors, eh? So from these challenges, I learn that my thoughts become anxious and focused on the negative. On the mat, a lengthy Warrior II pose teaches me to breathe through the sensation, that even when things get tough, the breath can keep me steady and strong. That I can take off the mat and into real life.

But, do the good times offer no lessons? I think we can learn from them, too. When things are easy, some people may check-out, become bored or sloppy. Or when they feel happiness, immediately wonder when the other shoe is going to drop. These are also important things to recognize about oneself. If I notice myself focusing more on the end of the fun than enjoying the moment (a tendency I used to have on vacation), I can bring myself back to the present. Yes, both bad times and good must come to an end, but I don't have to be resentful or angry about either one. I can observe and learn a lot about myself in any situation, and choose to stay mindful through good and bad.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Opinions

In case you've been stranded on a desert island without your iPhone the last week, you're probably aware that our government has passed a healthcare reform bill. Now, I took government in summer school, so I learned next to nothing, and cannot actually tell you what happens next before we see any real changes. But, I have a Facebook page and "friends" from many different areas of the country and many different backgrounds. So what I do have is an excellent sampling of public opinion on this reform. I cannot believe how many people have a strong opinion about this issue, and feel it necessary to post it for all their contacts to read. I have counted and found that 90% of posts I've read have been whole-heartedly, and in some cases, extremely angrily, against this bill.


I admit that I haven't read a whole lot about healthcare reform, which may sound strange given my career. I am not in denial, I promise, I just didn't feel it was necessary to get all up in arms about something that was likely to change multiple times from its original form. Then, it would go through a process of implementation that would take many years. Eventually, somebody will tell me how all this is going to affect me, right? Well, according to my Facebook friends, the bill will allow "big government" to take over our medical rights, make it so senior citizens can't see the doctor they want, and provide health benefits for pedophiles on Indian reservations. In the news, I see stories about threats against democrats who voted for the bill, and images of crosshairs being put over maps of their districts.


I am not a politically active person. I vote, but I don't campaign or put bumper stickers on my car supporting one candidate over another. I will say I believe our healthcare system needs to be overhauled. I don't know if this new bill is the best way to do that, because I haven't read all 2400 pages of it, but I don't see anything in the summaries I've read to make me want to threaten any lawmakers. So I will come out against the anger and the clear division in our country between those who believe in this change and those who do not. I feel very sad that most people seem to be getting their information from, and therefore basing their opinions on, the 24 hour news media. You can find inflammatory statements on both the left- and right-wing news outlets, so no one is free from blame. I don't see many people looking for a healthy intellectual debate on this issue. They are looking for a fight. Since I am a pacifist, I will continue to keep my politics to myself, thank you very much.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Music

We went to DJs 2nd grade musical tonight. What a fabulous evening! These kids worked on songs, dance moves and lines for months. I feel so grateful that our district offers music education to every grade-schooler. We know music increases aptitude in math, it also fosters a sense of community that can help kids find a niche to fully express themselves.
I was in choir throughout middle school, high school and college. I went on choir tour every spring break in college, and I wouldn't have traded it for the world. I have life-long friends, and an appreciation for music of all kinds that helps me to be a more well-rounded person. I also have tons of memories about the choir tour bus, the crazy skits we put on, the jello salads with shredded carrots at the church potlucks, and the crazy families we stayed with on tour... Yes we stayed in peoples' homes!
Music is important, and I fear for music education in public schools. I don't want it to become available only to the wealthy, and only in private organizations. I listen to all kinds of music, and I encourage my kids to listen to more than just pop radio. I hope to foster a life-long love of music and that can only begin if it's learned at a young age. Support music education in public schools, and in your own families.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Self-care Isn't Selfish

I practice yoga. Every day (almost). Sometimes I have to do it while my kids are eating breakfast before school. Sometimes I go to class on a weekend morning before they're up, and I miss their breakfast time that day. I don't think they are psychologically damaged by my brief absence, and yoga is something that keeps me grounded emotionally and physically healthy. I recognize that I am a better mother (and person in general) if I take that time on the mat. But there's always that nagging guilty feeling in the back of mind that I should be sitting there with them for breakfast. Even if they're just fighting with each other.

When I talk about self-care, especially exercise, I meet a lot of resistance from people. They never have time. Yet physically their body is exhausted, they are unhealthy, and irritable all the time. Taking time to replenish your own energy can only make you calmer and more able to cope with stress. My yoga teacher gives the analogy of the airplane: the flight video always says to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. You figure it out, if you put the mask on your kid while you are gasping for air, pretty soon you're going to be of no use to anyone! Yet how many of us live our lives constantly giving to everyone else before ourselves?

I will give another example. I'm almost embarrassed to write this one... I have started eating more fruits and vegetables, but it was hard for me at first because I felt that the good fruit (blueberries, nectarines, kiwis) needed to be saved for the kids. I cannot explain this feeling, it is ridiculous to see it here in print, but there it was in my delusional brain. I buy extra berries now, and have some myself, but I still feel guilty about it if I finish them and Zee asks for more (she really loves her berries). But fruits and vegetables are good for my health, too. We can get more fruit. Why on earth would I deprive myself?

I think women, in particular, have this mindset that if I am not doing everything all the time for everyone, I have failed. We multi-task to a ridiculous level, and never take time for a night out, or a bubble bath, or a yoga class. I am going to take the radical view that self-care is not selfish. In order for me to get the oxygen mask on Zee and DJ, I need to inhale some of that stuff for myself first. Then I will be clear-headed enough to get them to all their activities, prepare dinner, do the laundry and dishes and scoop the cat box. If I have taken care of some of my own needs first, I will be less likely to holler at them for a minor offense, or fall asleep in front of American Idol at 830pm. I am going to continue to do my yoga and eat my blueberries. I will acknowledge my guilty thoughts as irrational and continue to breathe through my own mask first.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Don't be a Hater

My kids love the show Phineas and Ferb (Disney Channel). The basic premise, if you've never had the pleasure of watching, is two boys making fantastic inventions to pass the time on their summer break. Their pet platypus (yes, platypus) is really a secret agent working to defeat the evil Dr. Doofenschmirtz. Dr. D is always creating evil machines to destroy things that annoy him. One of my favorite quotes: "Blinking traffic signals, ear hair, pelicans, musical instruments that start with the letter b, you get the idea. It's a long list. I've been working on it for a while." His antics are hilarious, of course, but he's a very bitter and angry man.

This character is completely over-the-top (it IS a cartoon, after all), but I think his attitude is not so far from real life. A lot of people are angry these days. You may have seen them posting on the internet, arguing on political talk shows, screaming at other drivers in traffic, and yelling at my office staff. We face a multitude of situations every day that may be irritating. Here's my short list: missing the green light because someone in front of me is on their phone; the guy before me at Starbucks gets the last pumpkin scone; the weather is lousy; the cat barfs in the closet and I don't find it until bedtime. Oooh, I'm getting so angry!! Ok, not really, but I could be. The next step toward the dark side is blaming other people or situations for my bad mood. In reality, we create our own suffering by choosing to be miserable when things don't turn out the way we want. I can think of quite a few days when one little annoyance led me straight to a pity party. The end result was a lousy day spent cataloguing the things keeping me down. Just like good old Dr. Doofenschmirtz! I could have plotted my revenge, created situations to perpetuate my anger, and drawn more and more people into my black mood...

Instead, I've been reading a lot about happiness. In a strange confluence of events, I started reading a book called Happiness Now. Then I received an email from the Daily Om about happiness, and a blogger I follow posted on the same subject. All of these had a similar message. We can choose to be happy. In every moment, I have the ability to observe, and decide how to react. I can become angry about bad traffic, or I can use it as more time to chat with Zee on the way to school. I can become angry when someone says hurtful things, or I can recognize that they are reacting from their own anger and despair, and that it's not about me. That can be really really hard. I am trying not to be a hater. I am working to choose happiness in this moment, because that's all we really have.

Book reference: Happiness Now! Timeless Wisdom for Feeling Good Fast by Robert Holden, Ph.D.
Website (one of my favorites, btw): http://www.dailyom.com

Saturday, March 20, 2010

First Day of Spring

The daffodils still look ready to blossom despite the conditions! DJ and I discussed how "obnoxious" the snow is today. I told him we can get angry and let it ruin our day and feel miserable. Or we can remember that snow looks beautiful on the tree branches, and this wet snow will be perfect for snowballs!


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fountain of Youth

I love the internet as a source of interesting, if fairly useless, knowledge. I just read an article on Yahoo about a species of jellyfish called Turritopsis nutricula. The headline caught my eye, proclaiming this animal can "live forever." Theoretically. I won't bore you with the details, you can Google the little critter yourself, but suffice it to say this jellyfish can go from a mature adult stage back to infancy again due to a cellular process called transdifferentiation. I don't know what triggers this, if the jellyfish just decides to be a kid again, or if some environmental conditions cause it to change, but what a cool concept.

If you had the option to turn back the clock and relive a younger stage of your life, would you do it? There is a lot of focus on youth in our society. People are trying to act and look younger than their age, some are even resorting to drastic measures such as plastic surgery. But imagine trading your 30-something body for a newer 18 year old model. What if you had to return to an 18 year old brain, too? I was half out of my mind as a late teenager. I don't think I'd want to return to that stage! But, a pre-pregnancy belly sure sounds nice.

We all know people who seem stuck in the past, constantly trying to relive their "glory days." They wistfully look back on how things used to be, and ignore the beauty of the present. Others seem stuck on mistakes they've made, or insults they've received and can't move on. I can think of times in my life where I'd choose to do things differently, but I have learned a lot since I was a teenager. Sure, I don't have the free time I did then, or the energy, maybe not even the memory (ok, this isn't sounding so great!), but I wouldn't trade the lessons I've learned and the life I've created in these last couple of decades. Happiness is in this moment. Unlike the jellyfish, we don't get a do-over.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spring has Sprung

It was 65 degrees today on St. Patrick's Day. That's unusual for the Chicago area. We are often still buried under snow at this point! But everyone is feeling the coming spring. People are going outside and I'm seeing the neighbors again. The kids can barely contain themselves and are outside the second they get home.
Animals know it's warmer, the geese are coming back, the squirrels are giddy, and my cats are desperate for an open window. We see the animals stirring, the daffodils starting to shoot up and we feel the long winter is over.
In this part of the country we know the weather will tease us and change back and forth many times before it actually stays warm. I always find it a challenge to stay positive when it sleets again after a 60 degree day. Some people see it as an excuse to return to gloom and doom, and take their irritability out on others. I prefer to stay hopeful and remind myself that complaining about it doesn't improve the weather, but it can sure bring me and everyone around me down!
I can try to emulate the daffodils. They pop up as soon as we have a few warm days. Most years they get frozen or even buried in snow before they bloom. But they don't turn brown and wither or turn black and suck the energy from the plants around them. They stay green and tall and keep growing, knowing spring always comes eventually.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beware the Ides of March

We sprang ahead an hour yesterday. I always get so thrown off by the time changes. I don't know why, it's just an hour, but my body and internal clock get really upset! I yawned all day long yesterday and couldn't fall asleep last night. The kids have also had some trouble adjusting. I went in to wake DJ up at 715 (I let him sleep in an extra 15 minutes) and he of course started whining until he'd worked himself into tears by the time he was dressed. I knew what he'd say if I asked, so I didn't. I didn't want to get up either!!

Zee woke up at 720 on her own. She started to cry for a different reason. She told me (with crocodile tears streaming down her cheeks) that when the grandparents are here, she misses them a lot when they leave again. She rallied quickly, thank goodness! Our timing was all off getting breakfast, and DJ and I went outside at the usual time to meet the bus. Only no one else was there. I found out later we had a substitute bus driver and she had arrived 10 minutes before our usual time. We missed the stinking bus! Zee decided to be an excellent listener, and I got everyone where they needed to be on time. Not sure how. Don't want to try it again.

Today is March 15th. The Ides of March. I'm sure we all remember the line in Shakespeare's Julius Caesars "Beware the Ides of March." Oooh, creepy foreshadowing, he gets stabbed by his cronies a couple of scenes later. I don't think my day was quite as bad as Caesar's. But it can be hard to bounce back from a tough morning. I had to work to not let it set the tone for an anxious and irritable day. I had a great yoga class before work, with a lot of hip-opening to dispel my anger (thanks, Mary!), and I worked on breathing between patients and phone calls during my super busy day. I am not clenching my shoulders or my jaw, so I'm hopeful about falling asleep later, too. I am glad I'm learning about my response to stressful situations while I'm on the yoga mat, so in real life a missed bus doesn't have to ruin the entire day! A bunch of knives in the back, on the other hand...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Piles of Presents

Zee had her 6th birthday party yesterday, 2 weeks after her birthday, AND after we already celebrated in Disney World and went shopping at American Girl Place. I think I've outed myself as an overly indulgent parent here. Her party was at a little gymboree kind of place. Her BFFs were there, and that's all that mattered. That and the presents. She kept saying she couldn't wait to get more presents!

Zee opened her loot after we got home, and got an unbelievable load of gifts. Apparently I am the lamest gift-giver ever. I tend to spend $15 or so for a classmate's party. Zee got a couple of $25 gift cards, and a Barbie guitar that looked very expensive. It is a challenge to keep the kids grounded and not focused on the stuff. Yet we keep giving them more stuff! I am as guilty as the grandparents here, I admit it. I see a tiny plastic cat I know she'd love, and I pick it up, even thought we already bought all her presents.

I am trying to instill a sense of gratitude, and she will be sending thank you notes to everyone. But the kids are growing up in a material world (sorry to channel Madonna), and they compare and contrast who has more. At some point in the last couple of years, money has become a topic the kids discuss: who is "rich," who has the most toys, etc. Having too much doesn't seem to compute. I will continue to try to create generous and kind kids. I will keep having them help sort out things to donate to Goodwill, and keep talking about people and entire cultures that are less fortunate than we are. But I don't know how to decrease the influence of peers and their focus on wealth.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wellness

I was trained in so-called Western medicine. I took hours and hours of anatomy and physiology, infectious disease, pathology, and we had one very short class called preventive medicine. Hardly anyone went to lecture and there were no textbooks, just lame handouts. We really didn't learn anything of value. I think it wasn't considered important because Western medicine focuses more on disease, rather than on health.
There are many other systems of medicine, some ancient and some more recent, which focus more on wellness. I don't know a lot but have found it interesting to learn more about some of them. I have a lot of patients and friends who swear by chiropractic and naturopathy. I have learned a little about what acupuncture and Chinese medicine can do from a friend, and I'm reading about the Indian Ayurvedic system in yoga teacher training. The last 2 rely on physical or energetic systems that you can't see on an x-ray or cadaver dissection. You can't see the qi, and you can't do a blood test to determine your dosha. Does this make these traditions invalid or useless?
I don't think so. Why do we assume the body is only its physical components? Talk of energy healing, chakra cleansing and qi is enough to make most of our parents' generation tune out the "hippy talk." I think the scientific method has great usefulness, but I also think some things are beyond our current abilities to test or prove. This doesn't mean they don't exist.
I have started acupuncture and I've incorporated a few Ayurvedic principles into my routine to see what they can do for me. More studies of acupuncture are finding it useful for pain, depression, and many other conditions. Many people are drawn to the whole-health perspective of Ayurveda through books like Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra. I think we are seeking another system of healthcare. Rather than just treating what is wrong, we're trying to maintain what is right.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dreams

I have been having some strange dreams. I dream pretty often, and usually remember them shortly after I wake, then I forget as I get up. Sometimes it is easy to see the reason for a dream, it correlates so closely with what is going on in my life. Other times, I have to think about it more, and sometimes I don't have a clue.

Dreams have been described as a window to the soul. Freud, of course, wrote the classic "Interpretation of Dreams" and famously described dreams as the "royal road" to the unconscious. A lot of dreams can be interpreted by looking at emotional themes and what's going on in your real life. A common anxiety dream would be finding out there's an exam and you haven't studied, or being naked in public. My anxious dreams are usually a play or musical performance and I don't know my lines or music. Don't know why I get that instead of tests, maybe Dr. Freud would have an answer?

A lot of other cultures believe dreams have special meaning, and look for symbols that give clues as to what the dream is about. There are even dream dictionaries to guide your interpretation. I don't think this necessarily goes against Freud's theories, because they also base the interpretations on life context, emotions, etc. Same basic theory, different background.

I have had to look at both of these methods to try to explain my dreams lately. In the first one, I was pregnant (no, I'm not really!), and searching and searching for the right place and right time to give birth. So pregnancy or birth mean something new, a change, in the future. A dream dictionary also says it can mean a transformation. The next one was much stranger... I dreamt of a brown snake. A big one. First I saw it swimming in the water, and was worried it would come near me. Then it was on land, and my cats were attacking it. I was afraid they would be hurt, but the snake was not fighting, not aggressive, not harmful. So the dream dictionary says snakes can again mean a transformation (shedding skin and all). I also think this particular dream could mean that something I perceive as negative or a threat is actually no big deal.

So what any of this means for my real life, I have no clue. I do think dreams can give you clues about your life, I even believe some people have premonitions in dreams. I have had the experience of dreaming about someone I haven't thought of in years, then the next day that person sent me a friend request on Facebook ... spooky. I'm interested to find out what big transformation or opportunity is coming. Maybe I'll win the lottery?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Procrastination

I used to be a great student. I was focused, would study diligently and complete my assignments with plenty of time to spare. I seem to have lost some of those skills somewhere! I should be doing my yoga teacher-training homework. I even like the homework, and enjoy reading and learning about the asanas. But somehow, I've managed to watch American Idol, go on Facebook 4 different times, order a gift for someone online, look for something I want on Amazon, and now I'm blogging. I have done exactly one asana sheet tonight. I intended to do 4 or 5.

So where has my attention gone? I do evaluations for adults who think they have ADHD on at least a weekly basis. Some of them do have it, and have their whole lives. A lot of them are over-stressed parents with too many commitments, and a lot of them are like me, a product of our multi-tasking society. We rarely do one thing at a time anymore. I read while eating lunch, I just ordered a continuing medical education MP3 that I'm supposed to listen to while driving, and I can't remember the last time I just watched a TV show. I play Scrabble, read a magazine, try to do my asana sheets... My computer allows me to open up a bunch of windows at once, and I can go back and forth between them. So if it suddenly pops into my head that I need to check the weather report (morning rain and high of 54) I can do it and return immediately to my project.

I think procrastination develops because of too many other distractions. If I had no internet (oh, I shudder to think) or no iPhone (I just scared myself!) I think I would be well on my way to completing my homework. I blame it on work, the kids, etc, but I have seriously wasted 2 hours tonight with very little to show for it. I think it's time to turn off the distractions and get to it. I just need to check my email one more time before I start.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sleep

I am not a great sleeper. I never have been. I think too much, worry, make lists, toss and turn and wake during the night several times. It has gotten better in the last couple of years, but I am no champion snoozer and never will be. Al, on the other hand, can fall asleep with the lights on in the 5 minutes it takes me to brush my teeth and come to bed. I have never understood that, and sometimes it makes me so mad...

In my experience, a lot of women have trouble sleeping. I think we are by nature planners and worriers, and the quiet time we get to ourselves is, unfortunately, the time we should be shutting down and trying to relax. A lot of exhausted women tell me they purposely stay up late so they can have some time to themselves, after the kids are in bed. This may mean going to bed at midnight or later, after being on Facebook for an hour and watching a grown-up show on the DVR. I have read studies that computer, cell phone and TV screens emit a kind of light that inhibits the release of melatonin, the chemical that helps promote sleepiness. I am a definite breaker of this rule, I can't go to bed without checking my email one last time! But I feel the difference if I do shut down the electronics earlier.

I think my sleep has gotten better in the last couple of years because I've changed my habits. I have a more regular schedule, waking up early even on the weekends (unfortunately this is more because I can't seem to sleep in, not because I don't want to!). I also journal most nights before bed to try to get a bunch of worries out of my head and onto paper. Then I can close the book and hopefully shut the drawer on the racing thoughts. I also like to do a gratitude practice, and a lovingkindness meditation. I admit this sounds cheesy, but it really helps me keep things in a more positive perspective, especially if I've had a lousy day!

I lie in a relaxing pose (usually supta baddah konasana is my favorite, but legs up the wall would be great, too) and simply think of things I'm grateful for, like fuzzy kittens, not having to make dinner, healthy kids, whatever. Then the meditation. There are many versions of this you can find, and I've incorporated the phrases I like best from several versions. "May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful. May I be safe. May I be loved." Then I repeat it once for someone I love, then once for someone I feel neutral about (the guy at Starbucks, the woman in the elevator), then once for someone who isn't getting my love at the moment (the guy that cut me off in traffic, the kid that bullied my kid). Lastly I repeat it for All Beings. Try it. I find it very peaceful and I do think it has made me kinder and more tolerant.

So it still takes me a long time to fall asleep, and I may be awake at night ruminating or singing another damn Lady Gaga song in my head at 3am, but that's not as often anymore. I get concerned about the epidemic of insomnia I see at work, and the number of people that want a sleeping pill. I hope some of these behavioural techniques can help others since they've helped me, even though I am still trying to improve myself. Maybe they carry more weight because I do struggle with insomnia, than if I had perfected the instant drop off like my dear husband!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Why Yoga?

Someone asked me a couple of weeks ago about yoga, if I thought it could help her back pain, if it's good exercise. Then she asked "But how is yoga different from Jazzercise?" Before I started learning about yoga, I wouldn't have understood much of a difference. Yoga is exercise, right? It helps you stretch and a lot of gyms offer it along with kick-boxing classes. I have also been asked many times why the yoga teacher-training course is so long and involved. "Aren't you just learning to teach poses?"

In one of our first teacher-training classes, we talked about our yoga "elevator speech." What is your brief yet informative description that can get someone interested to learn more for themselves? I have found this challenging, because it's hard to put into words what yoga is, and what it has done for me. I also don't want to sound all "new-agey" because that will turn people off quickly! Most people come to yoga for the physical benefits. It is great exercise, good for strength and range of motion, good for all levels of conditioning and all body types. It can give you a great butt, and help you lose weight. That's all true!

But yoga is more about the mind than the body. It is a system based on ancient philosophies that shows us a path to enlightenment. (See, I lost a bunch of you, now didn't I?) Yoga poses, along with the spiritual teachings, help us to calm and focus the mind, to be kinder and more loving, to remain calm in the face of adversity, and to aspire to see the connections between every being. Let me try again. Yoga helps calm and focus the mind, reduces anger and irritability, AND has the added benefit of being a great physical practice. Now THAT could be related on an elevator ride to the 10th floor!

The more I study, the more I realize that what I'm learning is the tip of a gigantic ancient iceberg. The Yoga Sutras are the main text about yoga, written thousands of years ago in an ancient, now mostly dead language called Sanskrit. Yeah, Sanskrit. So what can that have to do with modern life? Well, the very first sutras tell us that yoga calms the mind to allow us to realize our true nature: joy. Happiness. Divinity. They go on to tell us how to deal with difficulties, how to be kinder and ultimately, how to live a meaningful life. Isn't that what we're all looking for in the end?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Animals

We were at Disney World last week, and spent a day at the Animal Kingdom park. It was one of my favorite days. I loved the safari and seeing a lot of exotic animals in an open setting. I understand these animals are captive, that they have been put into an unnatural environment for my viewing pleasure. I admit to a lot of difficulty with this idea, but have to deal with my ambivalence in order to see these creatures in real life.

I always believed zoos and other animal "businesses" generally had conservation and animal welfare as part of their mission (clearly circuses are excepted). But, I have recently been told of a movie called "The Cove" that shows how dolphins are slaughtered in the attempt to find performance animals for places like SeaWorld. We intended to go to SeaWorld on our trip to Florida until that information (along with the death of a trainer) made us scratch that off the itinerary. Now I wonder if aquariums are suspect, or even well-known zoos.

We love going to Brookfield Zoo, and are even members. We receive a magazine quarterly that tells of their exhibits, but also about animals, their habitats, and their preservation efforts. I know zoo animals are kept in confines that are much smaller than their natural spaces, and their entire life cycle is altered to fit the environment. I do believe the keepers treat the animals well and keep them healthy. I also believe it's important for children to understand about biodiversity and conservation, and zoos can provide a lot of education. Plus it's amazing to see a lion or a gorilla or an elephant standing right there in front of you!

So back to my ambivalence. I don't think I'm going to be able to resolve it in this one entry! I am a vegetarian, I love my pets and animals of all kinds. I won't go to the circus, or now to dolphin shows. But I think the zoo is humane, if not natural or ideal. Maybe my thoughts will change with more information. I read The Omnivore's Dilemma, and thought I could eat meat or seafood that was "humane." More education changed that idea drastically. I will keep an open eye and ear to learn more so I can continue to make the most compassionate decisions.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Heartache

I just found out one of my friend's children committed suicide last night. That is not my story to tell. I know her child suffered from depression, and was receiving treatment. It can be easy to forget that depression is an often fatal illness, even when treated. As humans we are affected by so many external influences, things beyond our control, events we can't change, personal attributes we can't choose. Brain chemistry is only a part of depression, and medications cannot make a person happy. Unfortunately, not every illness is curable, and suicide is not always preventable, even in a wonderful loving family.

When someone loses a loved one, people have a hard time knowing what to say or do. In the case of a suicide, I think this is doubly true. The emotions are much more complicated than other types of death. There is often a lot of anger involved, along with the intense sadness. The survivors may need a hand to hold, someone to listen, or just to know others are thinking of or praying for them. Don't withdraw from a grieving family because it's hard to face emotion. Even just saying "I'm sorry" can be a real comfort.

My heart aches for my friend and her family. I wish I could take away their pain. It will be a tough challenge to come back stronger from such a loss, but I know they will stick together. I plan to hold my kids a lot more tightly tonight, and pray for peace for those who suffer emotional pain of all kinds.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Home Again

We got back to Illinois today, and are glad to be home. Now we have to re-establish our routines and make our way through a mountain of laundry! I love routines. The kids thrive on them, actually I think we all do. I have a morning routine, we have a bedtime ritual, and everyone has their daily chores. We have been off this schedule completely, with the kids sharing a room in the condo and going to bed at the same time. That would NEVER fly at home! I am expecting some hiccups as we try to get back on track.

Zee's bedtime ritual includes stories, several drinks of water, a song, and usually retrieving a cat from her bed. I have to be very careful what gets added into the routine at night because it will forever be a part of her bedtime plan. DJ is easier, he reads before bed then we walk him up and say goodnight. He has bear again, and I know he's excited to spend some alone time with him. I am getting back into my blog routine and hoping to continue the good habit of some japa meditation before bed. I'm sure Al is itching to get onto World of Warcraft to see what he's missed while we've been away (oh, that game is a blog entry waiting to happen...).

Tomorrow will be a challenge, as the kids are going back to school. I hope to get to yoga and work some post-travel kinks out of my spine and hips, and Friday is one of my usual yoga class days. I'm looking forward to all the day to day boring stuff we've missed doing while on vacation. Even laundry.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Vacation

When you vacation as an adult couple, you sleep in late, read quietly by the pool, eat leisurely dinners and have a cocktail brought by a waiter. When you vacation with kids you get up at the same time as a work day, eat at the same types of restaurants you would normally frequent, and maybe order a drink at dinner. You will not go to the toilet by yourself. Ever.
If you can't tell, we're bearing the end of our family vacation, and 6 days at Disney World may have been a bit much...
We went to Epcot today and I envisioned bored kids as we leisurely walked around the nations. What actually happened: 4 hours of rides followed by the countries on a run (8 countries in 90 minutes), the last 2 with a sobbing child on one hip and dreams of a second Bellini in Italy out the window.
In spite of all that, we have had a lovely vacation. It's been fun, and the kids really get the magic of Disney. Even DJ, a totally cool 8 year old dude, loves those giant characters. Tomorrow is our last day of park passes. I will likely ride rollercoasters all day and eat somewhere that serves chicken nuggets and has no champagne on the menu, but this hasn't been about me. The kids will remember this trip forever.


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