A Resolution I Can Keep

Mama Kat ButtonA couple of years ago I was really struggling with a mix of changing hormones and over all stinkin’ thinking. I allowed turning 40 to be a burden rather than a time to celebrate. Whenever frustration or disappointment crept in my soul, I foolishly gave it a place to hibernate. The heaviness sat there day in and day out.

At the end of 2012 I started going to a yoga studio, mostly out of peer pressure. My best friend was studying to be a certified yoga instructor and there was a new-found peace about her that I had not seen in many years. She seemed more centered and more in control of her emotions. She just seemed more present. So I went to yoga, off and on, for months. More off than on to be honest. I’d buy a block of time since it was less expensive per session that way, and because I thought maybe by prepaying for something I would be more apt to follow through.

Not so much.

But then one Sunday morning in January of 2013, I dragged myself out and showed up at the studio in all my bed head and morning breath glory. I can still picture myself staring at chipped toe nail polish and feeling very far away. Electric heaters carefully placed around the room helped block out the bitter cold of our Michigan winter, slowly bringing my body to a more comfortable temperature. I began to settle in to the space.

I remembered why I came.

I remembered why I should always come.

With it being the first classes of the new year, our instructor was focused on helping us concentrate on finding a purpose or mantra to carry us through each day. I had never thought to do this before. I  had always given in to the socially acceptable, perhaps socially driven, idea of setting New Year’s Resolutions. Mine was typical: lose weight, be more organized, volunteer, write more. Unfortunately, most of these resolutions would either be abandoned early on or just cause anxiety. But the idea of a one word or phrase to focus on all year seemed possible. A resolution I could actually keep.

I chose the word Joy.

wpid-20150115_125100-1.jpgAnd from that moment on, instead of worrying about the how or why of anything, I just focused on finding the joy in each moment. I even had a leather bracelet made with the word JOY and wore it every day so I could remind myself constantly to find joy. It worked too. I found joy more easily each day and by the end of the year my heart and head was overflowing with joyful memories. It changed the way I looked at everything. The next year I chose the word patience, although I did not make sure to put it in my line of site every day. I realize now that I need a very visual and tangible reminder. I am a list maker, a poster printer, and a task oriented nerd. There were far too many times last year that I lost my patience, perhaps didn’t even look for it in the heat of a moment and got distracted. By the end of last year, I started wearing my joy bracelet and suddenly, I was at peace again.

So this year, I chose the word and phrase Be Present and yes, I just ordered my mantra bracelet to remind me everyday to be the person I know I can be.

Sometimes I purposely make messes to clean up messes

DW walked into our downstairs office a couple of weeks ago and unexpectedly found me rearranging furniture, bookshelves, and supplies.

Again.

“There is something seriously wrong with you,” he said without a smirk, climbing over the piles of debris and around misplaced furniture, “it’s like you have an illness or something.”

I have a plan, I thought to myself, one even better than the last time.

And the last time.

Some mornings I wake up and think, “why bother?”

Maybe it is a problem. A control problem. I never really thought about it as being something I did methodically. Until recently. When things seem overwhelming or chaotic,  I usually make changes. And they are almost always drastic changes. Instead of tackling the real issues, I tackle a drawer, a closet or a room. I cut my hair. I start a new diet or exercise routine. Those things I can control from start to finish. I can stand back after the dust settles and see real results, tangible accomplishments that feel satisfying.

On Sunday I was fortunate enough to run my second 10k race with one of my dearest friends. I’ve been silently mourning my lack of motivation and discipline to train this year. (OK, maybe not completely silently) Instead of taking spare moments to run, I’ve been reorganizing my craft room. There was a split second I thought about completely bailing on the run, but I knew my friend had been training and was counting on me for company. By mile three two I already knew I was in trouble and there were four miles ahead. My compassionate partner let me walk a few steps to catch my breath before running again, and then we set a new goal. Make it to the next cone. The next bend. The next road sign. I was tired, sore, hot and embarrassed, but I kept going. I put one foot in front of the other and stopped worrying about the next mile and just focused on the task at hand. We talked and joked the whole way without the distraction of kids, spouses, laundry, bills to pay and groceries to buy. We focused on breathing. We focused on reaching that next goal, and before I knew it, I could see the finish line.

But then I stopped.

My legs were trembling. My breath was shallow and I felt nauseous. I remembered how poor my race time was and wanted to just quit. I started thinking about the mess I had made in my craft room, my office and my kitchen. My hands were itching to organize, rearrange and clean something. Walk away from what felt like failure and create something I could be proud of instead.

“Just go on without me,” I gasped, “I’ll meet you at the finish.”

“There is no way I’m crossing without you!” my friend said.

She grabbed my hand and pulled me forward. We picked up the pace as finished runners lining the course cheered and shouted, “You’ve got this! Keep going!”

970580_612150448796317_1615874563_nWe crossed together, our names announced almost in unison, with a finish time of 1:18 (actually only 9 minutes slower than my race time last year surprisingly). It was hard not to feel proud in that moment, but it was also hard not to feel completely loved by my friend. She saw through my fear and frustration and made me keep going. She made me face myself and embrace whatever I had to give, flaws and all.

Hopefully I can keep this emotional momentum going for a while, set smaller, more manageable goals when things start to feel overwhelming rather than stop in my tracks and take apart something that doesn’t really need to be dismantled.

However, today, I do have to put my craft room back together.

pouryourheart1

Giving up the balancing act for real balance

English: Vrksasana, the tree position, a Yoga ...
English: Vrksasana, the tree position, a Yoga posture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My first two yoga sessions were humbling. My impression of yoga was that it was all about stretching and flexibility. I also had a negative opinion that the so-called “spiritual” aspect of the practice was silly and unnecessary. So when I found myself struggling with steadiness, strength and silence it was clear that I had completely misjudged this type of physical activity and its mental benefits.

During an evening class, my body wavered as it fought to stay still in a Warrior II pose. With arms stretched, and feet apart, I could feel my toes grip and my hips sway. I felt anxious to move to the next pose, fearful that I would falter completely, stepping out of the pose altogether. But then I heard the teacher softly say, “Feel your heels grounded to the earth”.

I immediately shifted my weight more center, taking the pressure off of my toes, sinking into the floor as if my heels were nailed down. My arms stopped feeling like a scale trying to balance reaching ahead with stretching behind. It was as if my body was a tree, deeply rooted and my arms were merely branches growing out in to the room. I no longer felt like I was in a hurry to get to the next pose, but instead took a few breaths to enjoy this pose.

This moment.

It’s amazing how quickly our mind can scan through our life so unexpectedly. I started thinking about how many years I have been feeling pulled in every direction, struggling to balance tomorrow with yesterday. Many times I have caught myself saying, “this is just a busy season of my life” or “things will slow down when …” but the truth is, life will always be busy and things will never slow down unless we make a choice to change our focus. My family is active. We all have activities and commitments woven together, dictating our schedules. So how do I balance it all without giving up the things we love?

Simplicity.

I think simplicity is the answer. Gymnastics, swimming, music, friends, writing, golf, racquetball, and of course education, are all part of what makes my family happy. I don’t think that giving up those activities would make life more balanced, but I do think that bringing everyone closer to home would be a better solution. I no longer think our focus should be about being in the perceived “best” community, but being the best we can be in the community we are already a part of today.

Be more grounded.

My Yoga experience surprised me

Peace Sign 2
Peace Sign 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My best friend E is part of the Mind Body Heart Yoga Studio and family. She has been practicing yoga for many years, but recently started becoming more involved in the teaching aspect. I tried it once many years ago – well, sort of tried it. I believe it was a Hatha Yoga class, which is probably one of the slower paced practices. As a cardio-junkie, it was not my cup of tea. It also was not a good idea to go right after eating a bean burger for dinner. I didn’t make it more than 15 minutes before my silent, but deadly, toxins erupted, causing me to burst into fits of embarrassment sparked giggles, which of course, caused the instructor to glare at me until I left.

Needless to say, I never went back, or gave it another thought. Until recently.

It was clear in just a few days of E’s visit that she seemed slightly different. We weren’t opening multiple bottles of wine or stuffing our faces with rich foods. Our conversations were more focused on family, goals and dreams. And most of our time was spent cleaning my house, gardening, cooking or taking walks. She seemed more centered, gentler.

And, the only thing she contributed to her new sense of self, was yoga.

There is a yoga studio above my favorite coffee shop just down the road from us. I’ve driven past it thousands of times over the last five years. I finally got the nerve to give yoga a second try, only this time I researched the different type of classes and picked one that seemed better suited to my type of exercise tastes.

As I climbed the stairs to the studio, I was immediately struck with silence and a sweet earthy aroma. In usual Emily form, I talked too much when I introduced myself, smiling nervously at everyone I met. The studio felt warm and inviting, a polar opposite environment of my first yoga experience which was held in a fluorescent lit, sweaty gym. I placed my mat at the very back of the room, near the door. Apparently I was planning my escape route already. Before I knew it, the whole room was filled with quiet bodies. Their mats only an arm’s length away from each other, shadows cast from the natural light flooding the room danced together.

The class started and people quickly moved into forms, their bodies falling effortlessly into place. Many had their eyes closed. They knew the names and flow of each progression, whereas I had to keep my eyes open, watching, trying to understand what to do next. This class, Vinyasa Yoga, was more challenging than I anticipated. My breath was deep, my brow was wet. I could feel every muscle in my body as it was pushed out of its comfort zones. At the end of class, there was a moment I could finally close my eyes and sink into the pose. With my eyes closed, I had no distractions. I could hear my heart beat. I could feel the heat from my core. And suddenly, I felt like I was in fellowship with every breath in the room.

I felt a drop of fluid trickle down my cheek, only instead of generating from my sweaty forehead, it came from my closed eyes. Just one small tear fell, like a sigh of relief, I finally understood why my best friend loved Yoga so much. It was physically challenging. It required focus and patience, but most of all, it demanded your spirit to listen more and talk less. It surprised me how much I needed that silence to really hear myself think.

Define your beauty

The Victoria’s Secret bag lay unopened on my bed. It was full of bathing suit options for our two upcoming summer trips, both of which involved beaches and water.  I didn’t dare try on suits in the store, under the watch of a perky twenty-something-year-old that will lie and say, “Oh, that looks great on you” when I know damn well my stretch marks, knobby knees and spider veins are highly visible.

At least in the privacy of my own bedroom, I can cry without public embarrassment.

Me last August in my cousin’s wedding

This time last year I was preparing for my cousin’s wedding. A combination of things detracted from my joy of standing up as a bridesmaid: sleep deprivation, mood swings, panic attacks and depression for starters. I also weighed 125 lbs, which on my just under  5ft frame is a lot, and about as much as I had weighed pregnant with my second child. Purchasing a bridesmaid dress, or a bathing suit, was not high on my list of fun things to do. There was a little bit of grieving after the initial shock of accepting a more round body.

Thus began my healthy and more active journey over this past year.

Although it has been a year of progress, I still had apprehension about seeing myself in a bathing suit. Each suit I slipped on felt binding and uncomfortable, the sizes now unfamiliar again. And when I stood in front of the mirror, all I could see were pasty thighs touching, hips that still seemed too soft and a belly begging for more sit-ups. I couldn’t see all the hard work or the missing 15 pounds. So I stuffed all the suits back in the bag and buried them in my closet.

This past Saturday I ran 8 miles with a friend through a very wooded and hilly park. We chatted the whole time about our kids, husbands and desires. Sweat was pouring down my body, my muscles working hard.

“It’s hard to believe that this time last year you could hardly run a mile,” my friend stated emphatically, “and now look at you!”

I tried those suits on again that afternoon, and took a look.

A good look.

Me this morning trying on that same bridesmaid dress – without hair and makeup, of course.

For years I defined my beauty by my fashion sense, a new hairstyle or color, perfectly manicured nails and make-up. I hid behind  my youth, small frame and high metabolism. My perceived personal strengths were superficial and, to be honest, vain. So when age and hormones disruptive my beauty, I felt lost and worthless. I felt ugly and out of control. But when I took a good look at myself, in those brightly colored bathing suits, I saw a different beauty.

I saw legs that have worked hard to carry me not just in miles but in years. I saw arms that have toiled over weights and carrying children. I also recognized that those stretch marks weren’t just from frivolous bowls of ice-cream or pizza, but from growing a life inside my belly.

I saw physical and emotional strength.

I saw courage and self-motivation.

I saw more success than failure.

Today’s post was inspired by Shell at Things I Can’t Say and her weekly Pour Your Heart out Wednesday blog carnival.

Click if you want to find out more about Pour Your Heart Out.