Monday, February 27, 2012

Why I Love Yoga

I have come to the point in my life where exercise is no longer an option, it is a requirement. I can't just associate exercise with weight loss anymore, which was one of the bigger mistakes of my youth. I only exercised regularly when I was dieting or attempting to "get in shape" for something special. Now regular movement and activity is essential for all kinds of reasons in my aging body, but the main reason is that I want to avoid knee surgery. 

I live in a town where there are a lot of "seniors," and many of them have gone through knee-replacement surgery. Some just breeze right through, while others suffer months of rehab and never quite get back to where they where before the surgery except that they don't have the constant pain. I want to avoid all that and try to keep my muscles strong and my body flexible, which is a challenge when, deep down, you hate exercise like I do. That is why it is so astonishing to me that I love yoga.

I've been attending yoga classes at a local studio for about three years now, which makes me qualified, in my own mind, to tell you what yoga is all about. And the answer is: I don't have a clue. All I know is that it makes me feel really good. 

I do know that yoga is an ancient practice developed in India and there are those who get completely wrapped up (aka lost) in the details. There are Sanskrit names for all the poses which are named after the things in nature that they resemble, such as cat, cow, tree, etc.  A good teacher will instruct you in the correct way to position yourself in each pose so that you are doing no harm to your body, but building core strength, flexibility and balance. You also practice slowing the mind down and breathing deeply so that your body can absorb the full effects of your time in the studio. 

That said, as with anything that attempts to link the wellness of your mind and body together, there are followers who go off into the deep end of the spiritual aspects. I don't get into the spiritual side of yoga at all, apart from the relaxation and slowing down of my mind, trying to concentrate on what's going on in the moment and not what I'm missing out on outside the studio. In that vein, I have classified three levels of yoga practitioners and put myself solidly in the first camp. 


Group 1: I'm just here for Savasana. Savasana is the "corpse pose" that you lie in for several minutes at the end of the yoga session. It is comfortable and quiet and the goal is for you to think about how good you feel right now, so that, as you leave the studio and get stressed in your daily life, you can take a moment to relive how wonderful it was to lie there like a corpse. This group of people comes to yoga because we need the exercise and we love the way yoga makes us feel - stronger and in control of our bodies. It's hard to get us to meditate, but we'll try for five or ten minutes, maybe. Don't even suggest chanting or anything else too woo-woo.

Group 2: Suckin' on the Pixie Sticks. Do you remember the straws filled with Kool-Aid we had when we were kids? Where I lived those were called Pixie Sticks. So in my yoga analogy, it's not quite "Drinkin' the Kool-Aid" (group 3,) but it's on the way. This group likes to chant, reads Yoga Journal, keeps up with everything going on in the "yoga world," knows the names of all the different types of yoga and dreams of having their own studio someday. They attend workshops and retreats and come home feeling good, fairly buzzing with goodness. I will admit that I have put my toe in the waters of this group a time or two, and it doesn't feel too bad. I kind of like the cherry Pixie Sticks, but I'm really more comfortable in Savasana.

Group 3: Drinkin' the Kool-Aid. These folks have wholly embraced both the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga. Chanting and meditation are second nature to them. They are probably certified instructors and use only the Sanskrit names for poses. They have studied the writings of all the great yoga gurus throughout history and dream of going to India. They are probably the happiest, healthiest, kindest and most accepting people you'll ever know. 

And THAT is why I love yoga. No matter what your physical shape or condition is, there is something in yoga for you. No matter what level you want to practice, no one makes fun of you or tries to make you feel guilty for not loving the Kool-Aid, at least not here in the Heart of Texas. Things might be different and more competitive in the big cities, but I gave that up years ago anyway. Yoga makes me feel graceful and in control of my body. I can do things today that I probably could not have done in my twenties. And best of all, I can go through a whole class and never break a sweat. (You know how I hate to sweat.) No one could ever say that about Jazzercise!

So if you've been thinking about trying yoga for a while, don't let the strangeness of it stop you. Based on my experiences, I feel sure you can fit right in. If you live near Wimberley, TX, stop by the Heart of Texas studio and talk to Becky or check the studio's website. You'll be glad you did.

Thanks for stopping by today; it feels good to be writing again.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Time Has Come

"The time has come," the Walrus said, 
"To talk of many things."
"Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing wax --
of cabbages and kings.
And why the sea is boiling hot --
and whether pigs have wings."

Excerpt - The Walrus and The Carpenter
Lewis Carroll
from "Through the Looking Glass"

July 3, 2005, our youngest son, James Stephen Brown, was killed in an auto accident; he was 12 years old. In many ways, my life stopped that day and I've spent the years since trying to pull together the parts of me that are left and move forward. I've never written about J.S. or my feelings of grief and loss and it has become clear to me that at some point, I must. So friends, the time has come.

I have faced grief before, having lost both of my parents. But the loss of your child is different. It's against the natural order of things and nothing prepares you deal with it. No one 's last look at their child should be of him in a body bag, partially unzipped for your private farewell. Some images never leave you.

Other memories of the early days surrounding his death span a broad spectrum. Some are muddled, fuzzy or completely lost, while others are as clear and sharp as if they just happened. Especially the ones that are particularly painful. Pain charges memories with energy and keeps them bright and vivid in your mind, hard to escape, impossible to let go. 

I remember the look on the faces of the mothers of J.S.'s friends. Amid the expressions of sympathy and platitudes that came from everyone around me, it was clear that they, these mothers, were the only ones who understood. Our eyes locked in something akin to panic. No words were exchanged or necessary; every beat of their hearts screamed, "Please don't let this happen to me."

All our friends and family members scrambled to find some way to be with us through the crisis. Food and help appeared from everywhere, people struggling to know what to do. Little things made a big difference. My sister stayed at our house, answering the phone so that we would not have to, dutifully noting each caller and message. I learned that nothing anyone says brings relief or comfort. "I am sorry for your loss," is about the best one can do. "He's in a better place," or "God works in mysterious ways," were enough to make me want to shoot the messenger. If I thought this were anything other than a tragic accident, if somehow some god said, "Kill this boy," I would have lost my sanity. If this is ever what you want to say to a grieving mother, keep your mouth shut.

The rest of 2005, 2006 and 2007 are still mostly a blur. I continued to work, bolstered by my co-workers at The University of Texas, who looked after me, covered my mistakes and led me around when I was pretty much a zombie. I remember that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 but I can't tell you much about anything else that happened in the world during those years. In 2007 we sold our family home, our dream house on the hill of our 120 acre ranch that we had designed and built when the boys were young. There was just too much pain there. My world had shrunk to our bedroom, the kitchen and my office at work. I think my husband was afraid I would finally slip too far away to come back. Ben had graduated from high school by then and was away at college, so Scott and our good friend, Ardis, searched for a home they thought I would like that would not remind me of the one I was leaving. We have a lovely home now, but that is its main attraction -- the fact that it is so different than the ranch. 

At some point, somewhere in 2009, I decided that I needed to rejoin my life. It was a struggle, but I think that what finally "did me in" was exhaustion. Up to then, with the help of anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, sleeping and help for digestion medications, I kept working at an accelerated pace. After leaving UT,  I became president of our local Chamber of Commerce and found myself involved in everything in town. I worked or volunteered constantly, knowing that if I just stayed really busy, I wouldn't have time to think about James Stephen. But he was always there. It took complete exhaustion and a four month illness for me to stop frantically avoiding him. 

So this is where I sit now. The last six months of 2011 were pretty hard. In May his classmates graduated from high school. All around me, there they were - sacking at the grocery store, waitressing at the cafe - saving money for their college accounts, full of energy and anticipation for the next stage of their lives. But he's not here. November 23 was his birthday, Thanksgiving time (ha!) He would have been 19, but he's not here. His brother got married, Christmas rolled around, life goes on. But he's not here. Most days I am alright, but some I'm not. I know that I'll never be whole again and that my life will forever be divided into "before" and "after" his death.

I made a conscious choice to rejoin the living and get involved in my life again. I quit my job and most of my volunteer work. I now do only the things that make me feel like I'm contributing something good to the world. I started this blog and the writing really helps. When I finish my infamous novel, that will help, too. I guess that is the biggest goal looming ahead of me. One of the main characters is a woman who lost both her husband and her son in an accident, so the writing of those sections is very cathartic for me. This month I will finally be off my prescriptions for anti-depression and sleeping. I had to go through a slow, weaning-off process, but it is time. 

You may hear more from me than you have in the last few months. Needing to write this column has kept me from writing anything else; every time I tried a lighter subject it just seemed trivial and mocking. But now that I've taken the leap I feel better. You may read something funny about the dogs again soon. 

Thanks for stopping by. It really helps to know you're out there.