Archive for the ‘Balance’ Category

Blessed Are The Flexible For They Shall Never Be Bent Out of Shape.

My whole life is based on movement.

I crisscross the country as a sports producer for ESPN,  joining my merry band of tv misfits along the road to creative brilliance.

I also co-own a yoga studio in East Greenwich, RI, a way station for souls who come for the physical  and stay for the spiritual and community acceptance.

So what happens when that movement comes to a grinding halt? When you have to find other ways to be flexible?

In March 2014 I was slowly coming off the road and got sick. Like strep throat and mono sick. Like I’m so sick and tired I can’t move sick. And then I couldn’t raise my left arm.  Countless tests, doctors appointments, PT appointments later and no one could figure out what was wrong with me. Until I went to the neurologist, who diagnosed a brachioplexus injury brought on by the mono. Apparently mono, an autoimmune illness, can attack nerves. Recovery time?  Two years. Two. Years. Try lugging a bag of heavy tapes cross country with the use of one arm. Or try to chattarunga when you have no feeling in your left arm and you collapse on the way down. My best friend is an amazing yogi and my favorite teacher, and she listened and lovingly argued with me as I struggled with not being…enough.

What. The. Freak.

I was mortified when I was asked to be a Lululemon ambassador; crap, I couldn’t do anything; how could I represent!  I hid when I went to the NYC Yoga Journal Conference and took Seane Corn’s class.  I love this woman and was embarrassed by my clumsiness.  I would fall off my bike…ALOT…  because I couldn’t hold onto the handle bars tightly and it would throw off my balance.  I refused to give in to any of it.  I would lie on my mat every Tuesday night in my friend Sharon’s class. I would do some sun salutations and then, exhausted, lay down and silently cry. Rivers of tears. God love my friend who was so encouraging and let me just soak it all in from corpse pose, appropriate because I felt like death most of the time. I did this for months. And over time, I slowly gave in. I put my beloved bike away, rolled out my mat, and leaned into the stiffness, stillness, numbness, the quiet, and the not knowing.

And that’s where the magic began.  The tiredness started to ease, and while my arm remained numb and wouldn’t move, my lower body could. When I realized I didn’t have to be perfect, I could be good. Enough. And it was enough. So I modified. And modified. And modified. My legs got strong and by focusing on the things I could do as opposed to the things I couldn’t, I became more flexible. Also, within the movement, I prayed. Really hard. I dove into my reliable Catholic standards of Hail Mary’s, Our Father’s and Acts of Contritions. And I threw in my favorite Hindu chant for good measure: Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha. Ganesha, my hOMe boy, is the remover of obstacles and the bringer of new beginnings. I used it all. It became a body prayer. I started to peel away the layers and removed those things that no longer served me. And I became me again. I realized it was okay to be vulnerable and to rely on others. And I didn’t always have to live up to the ESPN producer/yoga studio owner/yoga teacher persona.  I became strong again, in different ways.  I didn’t have to be perfect. I could be good. And it was enough.

Almost two years later, I have regained 85% of the movement in my arm, but it’s still numb.  It’s also a reminder of how far I’ve come.

When there is no struggle, there is no strength. Amen.

Yoga and the OR

A blog entry from one of my favorite yoginis, a surgeon, who was coerced into writing under the promise of anonymity:

Lori asked me to write about my professional life and the correlation between my professional life and yoga. But as I started to think about this, it seemed that there were two versions:  one for surgeons about yoga, and one for yogis about surgery.   Since this is a yoga blog, I figured I’d better stick to the latter.

To be clear, I don’t speak for all surgeons, just for myself.  I happen to be both a surgeon and a yogi, and frequently feel like I inhabit two worlds that seem so drastically different that they can’t possibly exist at the same time.

Yet, there is inevitably a common thread. . . . .

A few days ago the hospital chaplain emailed this quote from an unknown author that struck me as a perfect synopsis of why I love both the OR and the yoga mat:

“Peace.  It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.  It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

Yogis know this well.

And the best surgeons do too.

Asana is just one limb of the practice of yoga, but for many yogis it is the most fun limb.  The same can be said for time spent in the OR; it is just one aspect of a surgeon’s work and is the most fun part.

Non-surgeons often have a hard time understanding the idea that we love the OR.  They think we must love the end result, the helping people, the product . . . anything but actually loving the process, the real moment to moment of operating.  I do love all those other things, but when I say I love the OR I am referring to the act of operating, the actual doing.

In the OR you lose yourself in your case.  Hours pass, sometimes it feels like minutes (and sometimes like years). It’s not that there aren’t interruptions, there are.  But everything that threatens to interrupt you, important or not, can wait.   You can pick it up when you’re done with your case.   Nothing can pull you away from your first responsibility, the patient on the table.  Nothing can pull you away from the surgery.  You can’t think about all the other things on your to-do list.  You’re completely and entirely in the moment, immersed, protected and, in a sense, free.

The only other place I lose myself like that is on my yoga mat.  Coming into a practice with my head swimming in all the day’s events, the things to do, chastising myself for all the mistakes I made that day and all the things I didn’t get done or overdid, or said or didn’t say.  But a few downward dogs later, all that is gone, at least for a moment.  And can be resumed, if still necessary, after savasana.

Sometimes my yoga friends say, “that’s a stressful job, you really need yoga!”

This can be true.

But the other truth is that yoga makes me a better surgeon.

Much of what happens in an OR is very routine . . . . expected.  The anatomy is predictable, the organ is removed, the patient goes home.

But sometimes, you get surprised.  What you thought was going to be simple, in and out, turns into an abdomen full of tumors and a 13 hour complex surgery.

And you forgot to eat breakfast.

In asana, we practice getting turned inside and out, upside down, twisted in knots and, finally, land back on our feet.  We practice righting ourselves from the unexpected.  We may even enjoy that ride.

If only yoga could teach us to eat breakfast.

While things in the OR usually turn out okay, they certainly don’t always go well.  There is sometimes a struggle, frustration, fear, terror, panic, or anger.  With that often comes an adrenaline rush – that flight or fight response that tells you to run .

Yoga teaches us about the practice of abhyasa (strength, steadiness) and vairagya (non-reaction).  In other words, it teaches us to take an extra breath before we have to come out of an uncomfortable pose, before we react.

A colleague once said to me, in the middle of a very challenging surgery “oh, you practice yoga, that’s why you’re always so calm and composed when the shit hits the fan.”  I found this hilarious at that moment as I was soaked in sweat from the effort of the case we were working on.

But she was on to something.  When you get into real trouble in the OR, just like after 5 minutes in frog pose, there is always time to take one more breath before you have to act.  The pause of a single inhale and exhale — to think, to plan, to stay for just a moment longer until you can make a move that isn’t a desperate escape.

 

Peace

Be Present

You know when an idea gets in your head and you can’t quite shake it? And the Universe keeps hitting you over the head with that idea until you have an ‘aha’ moment?

That’s what happened to me this week with this idea: Be Present.

The concept has been needling me for weeks, and I thought I was being present. Ha. Not even close.

I had just gotten off the road after a long and difficult tv weekend and was exhausted.  I was  talking to Nuggs when I mentioned how hard it was to ‘just be’ and said that I had mind clutter. That wise old soul informed me that I wasn’t quite grasping the concept.  It meant truly being in the moment: stopping to not only smell the flowers, but to actually see them. Investigating what is flopping around in the surf (in Debbie’s case a sand shark!). Truly listening to a friend when she says she feels neglected.

Two days later our new yoga pants came in, from the fabulous company Be Present. On their tag was this definition: to exist in the current moment. to be inspired by life. (Amy, who owns this Colorado company, you are brilliant).

I realized I hadn’t gotten it at all. That I  had been wishing time away, glued to my phone, or computer, and telling myself if I can just get through this week. I was the road runner who suddenly came to a stop and was still vibrating. I wasn’t seeing what was in front of me and suddenly feeling like I had missed out on a whole lot. I needed to switch gears and slow down. So I got on my mat and moved. I engaged with our community, walked the dog at the dog park, and went to the yarn shop because I needed to feel more like a girl . I took the time to meet  Nuggs, SOA, and Sharon at Meritage, where we laughed into our drinks.

We all have moments of being too busy…being too hurt…being too sensitive…not being sensitive enough.  Never feeling like you are good enough . That one thought can take us out of our daily rhythm and  sour a day.  At that point we usually become our harshest critics. Stop. When you feel like you are falling, realize it’s okay, you have fallen before. Now GET THE HELL UP. Find compassion for yourself. Show up. Every day, every hour. For every moment is a new beginning,  an awakening and a blessing. My friend Dave says we find our blessings all around us when we grant ourselves the space to see, share, and reap them. Remember them. Honor them. And revel in them.   Be Present.