Decisions and Down Days

I met a wise woman recently. She’s a former real estate agent, current addictions counselor. She understands human behaviour. She says:

“When you make a decision, you have to make that decision work for you.”

YOU make decisions work for YOU. I love how this puts me in the driver’s seat. Your decisions don’t run you, you run your decisions.

Tonight I was reading a list of recommended books for investing from the G&M. Thus far I’ve been a killer saver but a reluctant investor. I’ve got half the equation locked down, still working on the other half. Too many choices. One of the books wasn’t even about investing, it was about making decisions.

But I digress. The really interesting thing that happened today was having lunch with a friend and former colleague who had this to say about her summer:

“I’ve had more personal time than I’ve had since my last vacation and more fun than I’ve had since high school.”

By the way, she works at the company I left for many reasons, more personal time and more fun pretty high up among them.

Cue that anxious, self-doubting feeling… did I make the right decision?

Question: do we ever learn that comparing ourselves to others is futile?

 

When people ask me about my summer, I have two answers. The Good answer is that I’ve had a wonderful summer. The Coles notes version is pretty much summed up here.  The Bad answer is that I’ve been increasingly self conscious about my skin problems, haven’t spent much time outside of the city, have been feeling alienated from my friends, and haven’t enjoyed my job much.

Boo hoo. They’re both true.

Well, whether or not I was raised in a family that taught you to hide any negative feelings (for your own protection, but still), I can own this. It’s vulnerable but it’s real. Life isn’t perfect, but I am making my decisions work for me. And that means loving my revised life and choosing to see the good in it. All the good that is yoga, crochet, family time, health and incredible theatre.

I give people great advice, but sometimes I have trouble resisting the comfortable loop of negativity toward my own situation.

I know that life is good, that people are different and we’re all on our individual journeys, et cetera. Some days it just feels like a lot of energy to convince myself. On days like that, I take a long shower, clean my apartment and go to bed early.

Because tomorrow is a new day full of fierce, hard-working decisions that I haven’t even made yet.

 

 

Chest Openers for Early Fall

It’s starting to look like Fall.  A few leaves here and there, a different kind of light. In Toronto the seasons change so quickly it’s easy to miss it. I love the shoulder seasons because I love evolution. I like to take my change at a constant, subtle pace. Like a maple tree.

Life doesn’t work like that. Yesterday we put an offer on a home. This is not a gradual change. I didn’t know that when you sign the offer, it means you’re good for it. You don’t sign something else later that says you really mean it this time. If the offer is accepted, it’s final. On closing date, you better hand over the full purchase price or else you’ll be hearing from the seller’s lawyer.

After the stress of the offer and a long day of spreadsheet math, today was a day for chest openers. Your chest can hold a lot of stress, through your back, neck and shoulders. There’s a reason they call it a weight on your shoulders. There’s a physical reality to that feeling of mental burden. When I’m doing chest openers, I’m looking for three things:

1. A lifting, not a crunching. Similar to back bending, you want to focus on lifting your sternum, not crunching your spine. You want to imagine a cord attached to the centre of your chest that is suspending you from the sky.

Yoga should create space without creating tension.

2. An engaged core. I’m big on core engagement. I engage my core a lot – walking around, sitting on the streetcar, in pretty much every active yoga posture. When your opening up the front of your body, you want to make sure to engage through the core in order to protect your back from over-extending.

3. A feeling of lightness and freedom. Your chest houses your heart. And your heart is responsible for pumping blood through your body. It’s really the heart of the matter, the matter being your alive-ness, your vitality.

How we repeatedly hold our bodies explains a lot about how we feel about ourselves and the world. Your shoulders and arms are in a great location to protect your body and especially your heart and other organs, and often we hold them close to us, even hunched forward. By continuously hunching in a protective way, you are allowing your body to tell your brain that you are uncomfortable, and that the world is not safe.

When you open your chest your body tells your brain that you are comfortable, weightless and free.

Here are my favourite chest openers, and they’re simple:

1. Standing back bend, hands on lower back.

Here’s how:

Stand up straight, feet hip width apart, weight distributed evenly through both feet.

Place palms on lower back, with fingers pointing down. Press hands into lower back, releasing shoulders.

Engage core. Lift your chest toward the ceiling and allow your head to gently roll back. Look at the top of the opposite wall or the ceiling.

Relax and breathe into your chest. 10 inhales and exhales.

2. Fish.

Here’s how:

Lie on your back and snuggle your straight arms in close to your body, palms down.

Point your toes and engage your core as you lift your chest toward the sky, bending your elbows.

Take the weight of your upper body in your elbows and allow your head to gently roll back.

You may place the top of your head on the floor, but keep all of your weight in your elbows (not your head).

Relax and breathe into your chest. 10 inhales and exhales.

You can alternate these great chest openers as many times as you like. I like to use mantras in my practice. Something like this:

“I am safe and comfortable to be me. I am light and free.” Say this to yourself with every exhale.

By the way, the part about being safe also lines up with Louise Hay’s suggested mantra for healing skin problems (for anyone out there on that journey with me).

Getting back to the house, we didn’t get it. Someone else put in an offer for 30% over the asking price. Welcome to Toronto real estate. If you want an unvarnished negative opinion, read this blog.

If you’re looking for a more balanced view, do the chest openers. They’re good for your heart, your body, your mind and your evolution. And they’re good for Fall.

On Turning 30

I turned 30 five months ago. I am a person who cares about birthdays. Not celebrating them publicly, as in having parties, but reflecting on them privately. Birthdays for me are a time to take stock. I’m a little late, but I’m taking stock now.

On my birthday I was three weeks shy of the wedding that I was responsible for (my wedding). I was three months into a new job (I now realize it was – and is – a new career). Since my birthday, I’ve executed the wedding (great success!), took an indulgent honeymoon in Barbados, had my annual girls’ May 24 weekend, went on several epic bike rides with my new husband, toured at least ten homes in hopes of finding one worth investing most of our life savings into (no luck yet), took a gorgeous day trip to Niagara, a camping overnight (not quite a trip) with my book club and just returned from a beautiful culture-packed extended weekend in New York City. I also started seeing a Naturopath, reading about the diet and skin connection, kicked my coffee habit completely, and have been practicing yoga about three times a week.

Oh, I also learned how to crochet. I have big plans for crocheting this Fall/Winter.

Generally speaking, I don’t think I’m very interesting. But all that stuff I just listed is pretty interesting! 

And now, standing on the other side of Summer 2014 I think: all good so far for 30.

Today at the bookstore I felt like I was 30. I’m in it and I’m into it. I forgot how much I like bookstores. As a converted e-reader for over a year now, I forgot about the warm chumminess that invites glacial browsing. The bookstore is a great place for all ages, but especially nice at 30.

What does it mean to be 30? Well, I can still break down in tears in the dermatologist’s office, despite being 30 (that happened today). I can also haggle my way into airport cabs, spin a resume into anything, take care of my husband’s cold, practice crow.  I cannot stand on my head, not yet.

In yoga yesterday we focused on the side body. The side body represents the knitting together of the front body (the Self) and the back body (the Divine). Stretching and breathing into the side body strengthens the bond between the internal and external worlds, inviting a great, positive power to transpose and subdue the Ego.

This morning, with all that great yoga in my body, I had this vision:

Two footprints in clay, large footprints: “My place to stand”, in other words “Where I belong”, in other words “My true Self”. 

And my little feet, hopping and fleeting around the footprints, afraid of their size, their truth. Sticking a toe in here and there. Still afraid to be stable and steady and settled into That Which I Am. And they were beautiful foot prints, large and noble. Do I think I’m not worthy of them?

So I set out to remedy all of that, standing tall and safe and comfortable in myself. And then I went to the dermatologist’s office and my eyes welled up and then I burst into tears when she told me the only way I will have clear skin is by taking Accutane. I’m just not ready for that, for so many reasons. And I felt like an unsophisticated, out of control 30 year old who isn’t standing in her own footprints. I thought that for about 20 minutes.

Then, with a little help from my wise mother, I thought of this: crying is a natural process. Sometimes we tear up when we are emotional – and acne and hospital specialists and medications and healing are all fertile breeding ground for emotion. So is awakening and strengthening the connection between the inner self and the divine, like I did last night. Yoga doesn’t start and end on the mat, it’s a garment we are wearing all the time. Sometimes we forget that.

Our worlds are delicate ecosystems that crave balance, despite our vain attempts to compartmentalize.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not planning to take Accutane in the short term and probably not ever. Right now my skin plan includes gut health, clean eating, supplements and stress management. For the rest of my thirtieth year my plans are to focus on my work and my health, including my skin, teach more yoga, help take my choir to the next level with my new board seat, create homemade Christmas gifts for my family and generally enjoy life.

I will spend more time both on the mat and in bookstores – two great places for this 30 year old. And I will nudge my feet into the grooves of those clay footprints, where I belong. 

 

 

 

 

 

Listening to the Mind

When I was a vocal student, I had this effervescent choral conductor who would say things like:

I am so excited for the Spring Concert, I want it to be here today. But the preparation is such a delight that I’m being careful not to wish this time away.

This woman loved what she did. Somewhere along the way, she made a series of decisions that brought her to that place. Thinking about that even now makes me optimistic about life.

Today was mostly spent reading a very long book that I want to finish by next weekend, because that’s when my book club meets, and when I don’t finish the book before book club, I always feel unworthy. My book club is, really, a privilege. It’s full of art therapists and film makers and actors and youth counselors – psychology buffs who understand the arc of a story, are sympathetic to artistic nuance and the human condition and, above all, are fun to hang out with. All in all, it’s a cracker jack book club.

So I’ve been reading, almost non-stop, for three days. That, and starting an (aggressive? can we call it that?) cleansing program that my Naturopath has recommended to detoxify my system and – we hope – clear my skin. The cleanse involves this anti oxidant powder that is supposed to be a tasteless addition to a smoothie, but isn’t. tasteless. at. all. It’s chalky and a bit sour. It’s taken me three days to finally land on a recipe that makes it palatable for me: it involves almond butter and plenty of cinnamon.

So for three days I’ve been reading, drinking smoothies, and not missing coffee too much. But the book (The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt) has taken me on some unexpected ups – and downs. There are lovely parts, for sure, but at the heart of the story is a tragic accident, and plenty more illicit drug use and self destructive delinquency than, a, I expected, and b, I normally choose to tolerate. 

Needless to say, I will still be finishing the book, for reasons already noted above regarding my book club.

But taking a step back from all of this reminds me how sensitive we can be (I assume it’s not just me?) to the stories we’re exposed to, the things around us, the ideas we invite in to our minds.

And I don’t know why my mind went back to my choral conductor when I put down my tablet after another chapter of watching my likeable hero take still more harrowing life risks, but I’m glad it did. I only think about her now and then, and with the strangest triggers. Maybe that fallback memory is my mind’s way of letting some light in when things get too dark.

And here we come to the wisdom of the mind, and of yoga. Deep inside, we know what we need. Sometimes we just have to let it happen without requiring an explanation. And practicing yoga tunes us into that, even on days when we’re reading instead.

Skin Deep: Take the Animal Test

Tonight it was yoga or groceries. I chose groceries. I swear there were four hundred people in the Loblaws at Queen and Portland in downtown Toronto at 8pm tonight. Monday and Tuesday evenings are big in the summer for groceries and laundry – on the weekends people have better things to do.

It was a diverse crowd at Loblaws. And the walk home was an adventure, like usual. I thought of the people who don’t live in big cities, some whose grocery stores are even closed at that time. I thought of how we humans are evolving at what feels like an unmanageable pace. Well, in some parts.

I recently read an article about pace, which asserted that our culture values speed. You can see take a look for yourself by clicking here. When I visit my aunt and uncle on their cattle farm outside of Orangeville though, they don’t value speed. There, we value good food and conversation, and we sit among my aunt’s paintings and gradually unknot the day’s hours, like working on a nice little puzzle. We have a lingering lunch and then harvest their plentiful rhubarb with kitchen knives. In other words, life on the farm points to clear healthy, skin and a big smile. Really, it’s our URBAN culture that values speed – all two thirds of us Canadians, plus the global (and plentiful) urbanites outside our borders.

So, what if we slowed down?

One way to do it would be to move out of an urban area. Penelope Trunk did that after she studied happiness research. Now she runs her empire including this great blog from a farm in Wisconsin while homeschooling her children. I think I can understand that.

Meanwhile, back in the heart of Toronto, I’ve been reading the book my naturopath recommended for skin health. It’s about the link between psychological patterns and skin problems. Of course I’m on board to at least consider it, as a loyal fan of Louise Hay and her work.

So far it’s been an interesting journey. We covered a powerful and simple animal test – which three do you most want to be and which three do you least want to be? Any why? The answers reveal themes. For example, I want to be an eagle and I don’t want to be an amoeba. My themes: I want the freedom of flight and the fearlessness of a predator. As a disclaimer, that example is part of my real answer and interpretation, who knows what Dr. Grossbart would say about it?

The book also covers stress levels associated with life events. For example, death of a spouse is 100 stress points, moving to a new house might be 20. Major life events can have a cumulative effect on the body, and in this case, potentially the skin.

Today I was thinking about another part of the book: the timeline. Dr. Grossbart asks readers to set out their personal timelines from the moment they were literally conceived to the present, including major life events, and of course skin issues along the way. He says sexual and relationship events are particularly insightful, as are major accomplishments and setbacks. Then came the micro timeline: the fact that (if studied), you may find that your skin acts up in a completely predictable way, by lagging the same stressful trigger events occuring over and over again in your life.It is amazing to me that most people would never track their patterns and the toll they are taking on their physical and mental health.

This morning my skin looked clear but tonight, not so much. What micro event occurred during the last 24 or 48 hours could have caused this step backwards? I can see that such thinking could easily bypass the road to helpful and land on the road to insanity.

So I am slowing down the pace and focusing on thinking positive thoughts, and practicing good skin care and a healthy skin diet. I may not be on a farm right now, but today the art college across the street is my barn and I will gaze up over it at the gaping, starless, urban night sky. And I will feel both free and fearless.

If you’re interested in the free e-book Skin Deep by Dr. Grossbart, you can find it here.

 

Following the Good for Clear Skin

Today my yoga is taking a break from yoga. Union today means spending time with my mother and with my doctor – separately. And taking a more proactive approach to some problems that have been on my back for years – my old friends acne and eczema.
In watching The Conjuring – mostly from behind a blanket – this weekend, I got to thinking about good and evil. Not too long ago my secular choir was singing in a non secular church service and the minister mentioned good and evil – and how evil and the devil and hell had pretty much fallen out of style in the church over the last century or so. The United Church, that is, where matters of scripture can go in and out of fashion, unlike some other religions.
Religions after all – like art and hobbies – are a reflection of societies.
I’m writing this on my smartphone and even it doesn’t recognize that I’m writing “hell” and not “he’ll”.
In The Conjuring – a TRUE story I might add – there’s a quote at the end: “The devil exists. God exists. And for us, as people, our very destiny hinges on which we decide to follow”.
So, for some light Wednesday thinking, are you following good or evil? Well, let’s see. What do you think about first in the morning? Last at night? What are you thinking about most of the day?
Good:
Solving problems through spreadsheets (common thought for corporate types)
How great your colleagues are (ditto)
Everything related to Love and Gratitude
What to bake later
Evil:
Gossip
How fat / pimply / pale / dark you are
Emotional binge eating
Bad things that have happened to you
Well, that was easy. Forget whether or not we’re going to end up in heaven or hell – and face this: If you’re being negative you’re in hell and that is up to you.
While watching The Conjuring, I was enjoying the company of my new siblings (through marriage). Because happy thoughts pave the road to Good. And to God. And thanks to health visionary Louise Hay I am reminded to repeat my mantra for skin health: I feel safe to be me.
And today missing yoga on the mat doesn’t mean missing yoga. It means joyful union with something different. A change.. a positive change and a step toward improving my health. I follow the Good and I feel safe to be me.