Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Perspective and Importance of A Moment

Today I gained the perspective of a forty-two year old. Because I now AM a forty-two year old. It is funny to look back on my late thirties when I started to refuse to acknowledge birthdays and dread that the age number kept getting bigger and what it all meant that I was 'getting old'. Everything shifted when faced with my own mortality but nothing quite so much as this little thing. When the alternative to getting older is being dead, you start to wonder which is really the worst thing that could happen.

An old friend I haven't seen in years - but thanks to the wonders of Facebook get to talk to and interact with - said today that my face hadn't changed since we worked together twenty years ago. It was the nicest thing and proves that aging doesn't have to be a horrible process. Could it be that happiness and joy are the magical facial cream everyone has been looking for to achieve younger looking skin? Could embracing your life and appreciating everything and everyone in it with open arms and without judgement lead to a younger and glowing countenance? Or was he just flattering me?

I've been internalizing a lot these last couple of weeks of yoga training, thinking a lot about being present in every moment and every situation. Things like noticing when Baby Sister gets whiny and I get frustrated and realize I have my focus so fractured between multiple things that I 'think' need my attention. The reality is that she is the one thing that needs my attention (usually) the very most in that moment. Thirty seconds of eye contact and direct engaged conversation are usually enough for her to restore harmony in herself and run off to sing and play with her babies leaving me to finish all the other unimportant but pressing things I've got going on. What if that's what everyone needs once in a while? What if life were really that easy? What if it is more about being fully present with someone rather than posing for a selfie over and over until you get it just right?

Have you noticed that there are no longer any bad candid pictures out there? Thanks to the wonders of technology you can immediately see what that "snapshot" is going to look like and decide to accept or re-do until you get it just right. And once you capture it just right, there's always editing software to remove blemishes and brighten the colors and whatever else you think wasn't perfect about the authentic moment the lens captured. What kind of a legacy are we leaving for our children when they look back and only get to see what we deemed were the 'best' photos of us instead of the 'real' photos of us? Are we all taking life way too seriously or taking ourselves out of the real moments to capture the perfect portrayal of the same moment for the benefit of everyone else? What if all that matters is being happy and not all the stuff we surround ourselves with?

These are the things I'm thinking about on the second birthday that I might not have ever had. Ultimately I hope I can be the kind of person that ages gracefully and who people look at and wonder "why is she so happy?" regardless of how many wrinkles are on my face or how high the number next to my age gets. I'll tell you, forty two never felt so wonderful!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Big Joy in a Small Package

It's no secret I'm obsessed with yoga. And as is my standard operating procedure when it comes to addictions, I have jumped full in. Teaching yoga once a week at work was not enough - just like running wasn't enough and I had to run a half marathon six months after I started running. I've added a second class every week now. For Christmas, Hubby asked me what I wanted. Sheepishly I told him that I really only wanted one thing - to selfishly spend more than my fair share of our extra money to get certified as a yoga instructor. Because he is an amazing man, he agreed.

So, January first I embarked on the next big adventure and started an online course. I had insane expectations that just because it was an affordable and self-paced option that it would be easy. I was wrong. I thought it would take me a few days - weeks at most - to read through the course material and then easily pass a test. Guess what, it is hard core with Sanskrit names instead of the "common" English names I am used to using for all the poses. On top of that, because you can use this certification to get hired to teach yoga in a gym environment, it also comes with lots of things like how to calculate fitness stuff - some of which I had never even heard of more than in passing and certainly never used. Arterio-venous oxygen difference? Calculating heart rate ranges? I'm studying muscles and bones and parts of the body I never considered important to my yoga practice that are hugely important as an instructor when you're responsible for other people's yoga practice. The part of me that wanted to skip ahead through the fitness stuff and the muscle stuff to "the good yoga stuff" was getting frustrated... until yesterday.

First some background...

Most of the people who attend my classes at work regularly are new to yoga and have only taken my class. But there are a couple of exceptions. One of which is a cute lady who does Bikram yoga. Bikram yoga is an entirely crazy (to me anyway) form of yoga. They do the exact same sequence of twenty six poses in a room heated to one hundred nine degrees and it lasts an hour and a half. It is like hot yoga at my gym on steroids. My Bikram Girl (as I thought of her in my head until I cemented her name in my brain) was doing her form of yoga multiple times a week for years. Of course I felt intimidated because she knew what she was doing and would definitely know how unprofessional and not like a "real" yoga instructor I was merely by comparison. After a few weeks I got over that and we are friends now who chat about yoga all the time. She is a prime example of my favorite yoga saying that "everyone does yoga with the body they brought, not the body they want". Everyone has their own things they are good at. Some people (like me) have super stretchy hamstrings and have no problem touching their toes. Others have super stretchy backs and shoulders, others hips, others have great cores and others have great upper body. The point being that there is never a pose that someone doesn't either love or hate when we do it based on what things come easy to everyone. My Bikram Girl is tiny and lean but struggles with her hips that are not flexible and thus can't touch her toes.

Fast forward to yesterday in class. I had thrown together kind of an intense class full of hamstring opening and stretching and lots of leg work. We were cooling down and stretching and suddenly she exclaims from the back of the room "I can touch my toes!" You could feel the excitement in her voice and I looked up to see her looking wildly from one neighbor to the next showing them that she could touch her toes and saying it had been years since she could do that. The joy radiated from her like a ray of sunshine. It was so awesome that I almost started crying and had to drop my head back down to my knee to compose myself.

I did that - not her Bikram yoga, me. You could argue that it might have been a combination but really, if she was going to make a breakthrough like that with Bikram alone it would have happened a year ago when she was practicing three to five times a week. The difference now is that she only occasionally gets to Bikram and is *also* taking my class doing poses they don't do in Bikram. See, me!

Is it any wonder that as I left work yesterday I found myself thinking that the vision of my perfect life was not a nine to five job but rather teaching yoga and writing full time? Someday maybe that will be my reality. But first I have to drag myself through my yoga certification. If you need me, I'll be studying, because that one little moment of joy, which I might have missed if I hadn't been paying attention, was worth all the anatomy, fitness jargon and Sanskrit I never thought I was going to have to learn.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2013 In a Nutshell

I'm reading a book called "The Happiness Advantage" with my work book club. I'm not a huge fan of the self-help genre (and for some reason these are the kinds of books that always get picked by the group) so it is taking me months (and hopefully not countless library fines) to finish this one even though it is a fabulous book. What I'm learning is that success, performance at work, and general happiness are all a product of your positive outlook on life and not the other way around. As I am wont to do with every book I read, I've been internalizing all the different points the author makes and realize that somehow intuitively I've been applying some of these principles in my life already. Mostly because 2013 was by far the most roller-coaster of a year to date in my life.

Here's a recap of the year:
  • I'm so glad to be alive since I didn't die from the pulmonary embolism
  • Happy birthday, I'm done taking Coumadin! Let's celebrate with leafy green vegetables!
  • I finished my first novel - finally!
  • Just kidding, back on Coumadin
  • Wait, why did I just gain thirty pounds in a couple of weeks? 
  • Good news, mammograms don't hurt and I have medical proof I have a great rack
  • Wow, biopsy of the kidney really hurts but not as much as finding out I have a chronic kidney disease that I will never get rid of.
  • I'm officially more of a yogi than a runner but that's okay
  • Treatment of kidney disease commences and I am feeling better
  • Started teaching yoga at work since no one else would get the ball rolling
  • Treatment isn't working, how 'bout chemotherapy? We settled for vegetarianism and immunosuppression after I argued with my doctor for a plan that didn't come with cancer side effects later.
  • Immunosuppression sucks ass! Time for a pity party from hell
  • Just kidding, I'm over the pity party and ready to BE healthy instead of wallow
  • When the dose is finally right, immunosuppression is actually great since I feel fabulous now!
  • Focus turns back to fitness and surprise - yoga is keeping me from being any worse off than I was before this whole mess.
  • Everyday yoga practice commences - I'm addicted
  • I finished my second novel - in a month!
  • Christmas in California's warm weather - although the Californians think it is winter we know they are crazy.
The book is full of examples of positive psychology and proof that you are more productive and successful if you first start with a positive outlook rather than saying that once you get {fill in the blank} I'll be happy. The one that struck me the hardest was talking about how there is a small subset of people who are more successful and happier because they can more successfully pick themselves up off the mat after failures or setbacks. They are the people who define themselves not by what has happened to them but instead by what they can make out of what has happened.

There is no doubt about it that I am a changed person because of the last year. I have always lived life with a touch of spontaneity but now I'm even more apt to jump first and ask questions later. I also cherish my relationships with people - not just those closest to me but everyone I know - differently and more deeply. I know more than most how tenuous life is and how today just might be your last. If you know me in real life and I tell you that I love you, rest assured that I mean it. But that isn't where I stopped. Back in October when I was deep in my pity party, I could easily have stayed there dwelling on how bad my life was and how I had been forced to turn vegetarian and how I will never be cured and blah blah blah. But instead, I switched my focus to all the things that could have been worse. I've never been hospitalized with all this insanity of health issues, I only had a couple of weeks that I couldn't do yoga to the fullest, and I am able to do whatever I want now in terms of fitness - although running is again something I have to build up to since it has been so long since I did it. I learned last month that the six months I thought I had of immunosuppression treatment is actually a two year gig but I'm rolling with it. It isn't chemo after all. Sure, I'll have to be far more diligent with my facial waxing since one of the side effects apparently is increased hair growth but there are worse things, right?

If I'm recapping 2013 in a nutshell, I'd say it gave me a far greater perspective on how I want to live my life. I am still grieving in many ways about the loss of my perfect vitality but I'm also taking steps to get past that loss. I didn't lose a husband, and I didn't get a terminal illness (chronic doesn't directly translate to terminal after all) but I did suffer a loss in the form of seeing the end of my life as I had previously defined it. Instead of wallowing in the grief, I'm redefining my life and living that new life fully. I'm not one to make resolutions with the New Year but I'm far more prone to reflecting this year. As I look ahead to 2014 and all the craziness I'm certain is in store for me and my little family, above all I am happy and hopeful. May your 2014 be the same whoever you are and wherever your circumstances find you. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book List Archive 2013

Time for out with the old and in with the new posts recapping the major accomplishments of the past year (and cleaning off the side bar to make room for tracking this year's list). I thought 2013 was going to see far more books under my belt since last year was truly an overachiever one when it came to reading. However, I've had far more energy to be off my couch in recent months and you can't listen to audible while doing yoga like you can while running.

  • The Winter of Our Disconnect, Susan Maushart (book club) - this book changed my children's lives and is well worth reading
  • A Memory of Light, Wheel of Time #14, Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson - so much better than I ever hoped for and well worth the 15 years it took to wait for the end of this series.
  • Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, Rachel Maddow - disturbing and eye-opening
  • Firefly Lane, Kristin Hannah
  • Still Alice, Lisa Genova (book club) - frightening look at Alzheimer's
  • The Reservoir, John Miliken Thompson
  • Mistborn: The Final Empire, Brandon Sanderson 
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo
  • Dark Places, Gillian Flynn
  • 14, Peter Clines - best scifi read this year
  • And I Don't Want to Live this Life, Deborah Spungen (book club)
  • The Dog Stars, Peter Heller
  • Mistorn #2: The Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson
  • Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn (book club) - this time I read it instead of listened and loved it even more
  • The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grissom (book club)
  • Mistborn #3: The Hero of Ages, Brandon Sanderson - the ending of this series cemented Sanderson's place as my new favorite fantasy author
  • Old Man's War, John Scalzi
  • A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness - this was a haunting read that stuck with me a long while
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck (work book club)
  • Horns, Joe Hill - one of my very favorite reads this year
  • The Rent Collector, Camron Wright (book club)
  • Joyland, Stephen King
  • Hounded, Kevin Hearne
  • The Dog Stars, Peter Heller (my pick for book club so I re-read it in print instead of listening). This is a far different book in print than in audible and I liked the audible far better.
  • Hexed, Kevin Hearne
  • The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman (book club)
  • Rainbows End, Vernor Vinge - not my favorite scifi and proof that if you put something down twice it probably doesn't deserve getting finished
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman - also one of my favorite reads this year - such a great one!
  • Mistborn #4: The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson
  • Happy Money, Elizabeth Dunn (work book club)
  • Slim for Life, Jillian Michaels
  • Immortal Instruments: City of Bones, Cassandra Clare - I hope the movies are better than the books
  • The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (book club) - I'm now officially a huge Gaiman fan, too
  • Mothers & Other Liars, Amy Bourret (book club)
  • No Plot? No Problem!, Chris Baty - oh how I wish I'd read this years ago to make NaNoWriMo easier!
  • Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson - read aloud with hubby on our road trip
  • The Name of the Wind: The King Killer Chronicles Day One, Patrick Rothfuss - also read aloud for hubby on our road trip after I filled him in on the first half; and yet another epic fantasy series I want to grab the next one immediately.
That's thirty seven books this year. A far cry from the goal I set of fifty but still impressive since the theme this year was apparently fantasy. I read some major tomes that in terms of sheer number of pages alone could count as several books. I set the goal of forty books in 2014. Whether I hit that goal or not, you can be certain I'll be reading every chance I get!