Remind me that I like to move…

I know, it seems strange that I, the movement teacher needs reminding that I like to move, but there it is.

If I back up to my pre-parenting days I was a always a mover and I liked pushing myself – I ran 10Ks, worked out at the gym, challenged myself at yoga, skied and skated in the winter, played tennis and canoed in the summer. I never did any of it with any concern that I would injure myself. I might get sore for a few days but then I’d be fine.

More than the movement itself, was HOW THE MOVEMENT MADE ME FEEL. When I moved I felt strong, confident, capable and happy. The endorphins of exercise are very real my friends. It was also a place where I connected with other people, running with friends, seeing my community at yoga class…exercise was a part of my social network.

A little over 6 years ago my youngest was born. I emerged from that pregnancy and birth with some pretty significant, birth-related injuries. I suffered in a high level of pain for about a year before I began to get my body back on track.

It all began when I was was out for a walk at about 5 months pregnant. I felt something in the front, left side of my pelvis change, not in a good way, and every step I took was painful. Whenever I brought any of it up to my midwives they shrugged it off to the general aches and pains of pregnancy. In my heart I knew it was more than that, but I wasn’t one to push back against an expert (OH HOW THAT HAS CHANGED!) so I just kept soldiering along.

By the final month of the pregnancy, that went 7 days past my due date, I was barely able to walk. I’d stand up and wait for the shooting pains to pass through my left pelvis and then stagger walk where I needed to go, gritting my teeth with every step.

My alignment for most of the pregnancy was a mess and it showed up when I finally went to give birth, the baby was facing the wrong way. He was sunny side up. Fearing back labor for me, the midwives positioned me on my left side in the hospital bed.

The labor was fast, with me arriving at the hospital around midnight and him born around 6am. I was so focused on the labor that I didn’t really think about the fact that they had me lie on my left side, where my hurt pelvis was, with nothing but a thin hospital pillow under my head.

I went through the entire, labor and delivery with my head improperly aligned to the rest of my spine and given my history of a waterskiing accident that did a ton of damage to the soft tissue of my upper body as well as my cervical spine, that was the equivalent of a train wreck for my neck and back.

In the car ride home from the hospital, my entire back seized up. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t be upright without a crushing headache.  Something I’d never experienced before and hope never to again. I then suffered in my own cave of misery for 2 full weeks, on my back for most of them, because being upright in the car was not an option so I could not get back to see the midwives and I had a new primary care physician closer, but I’d never seen her because I hadn’t needed to go and a new patient appointment availability in that office was months away.

It took a solid 18 months of work on my part to rehab my body to the point where I didn’t end every day with an agonizing tension headache. I tried physical therapy, but they never seemed to look at the whole me, so I would leave those appointments feeling physically worse than when I went in. Chiropractic and massage each helped in the moment, but they couldn’t tell me what to do to hold onto the release they helped my body find. I tried a trainer at the gym, but she was young and ill-equipped to handle a body that was hurting, and I never returned after my first session because she seemed to ignore all I told her and I was in pain when I left.

It took me finally deciding I was going to take what I knew about the body and figure it out. I HUNTED online before I found Katy Bowman’s work and together with what I already knew, I put my  core back together, shrinking my 3 finger diastasis to under 1, built better balance in my pelvis and addressed the imbalances in my shoulder girdle. I built a small set of very limited, in my opinion, things that I could do that would not make me hurt. Walking, functional movement and some swimming.

That’s a very long story way of saying I gained function, but never strength like I had before, and the memories of that time linger. In the 4+  years since I’ve used the demands of two kids, a job, a house, a dog and a husband to ignore the fact that while I desperately missed moving, I was terrified to try anything for fear of hurting the way I hurt for so long.

It makes me tear up just to write that. Because that loss of movement has come with a loss of happiness, a loss of community, a loss of feeling strong and capable.

I’ve periodically tried moving how I used to. We’ve played tennis a few times, I’ve hopped on the elliptical, but it wasn’t until yesterday when I went XC-skiing with my husband that I realized I go into every single movement session harboring a major fear that I’m going to hurt myself. The impact of 6 years ago is still lingering in my brain.

I’ve kept movement minimal to keep me functional and not allowed myself to see how much fear was driving the bus.

I could feel my body yesterday out on the trails, but I’m not in pain today. My pelvis is fine, my upper body is fine. My muscles feel used and I’m sure I’ll be sore, but in a good way, not in a close your eyes in a dark room and pray for the day to end kind of way. I want to make a big giant note of all that and remember that I LIKE TO MOVE.

2019 is my year of Community. I’ve scheduled in times into my calendar to go to the gym this winter. I’m working on owning that I not only have the tools to help others, I have them to help myself too so it’s ok to try things out. I know there’s community waiting for me when I re-enter into the world of moving the way I love.

I will need reminding that when I move the ways that I love, I feel happy, strong, capable, confident. That I can move and not hurt. So hold me to it, ok?

Waiting to Begin

Are you waiting until the right time to begin your practice?

The truth is there is no right time. At any given moment there are any number of things that can grab your attention. Waiting for it to be calm and clear means you could be waiting forever.

It is the ultimate yogic approach to simply accept the chaos and go for it anyway.

That is what my practice looked like today. This morning I settled down into my little yoga corner, a space that is just wider than my mat and not much longer either. My kids are on winter vacation and I knew it would be a day full of parenting so this was my shot at zen. I didn’t even bother to take my jammies off. I just got on my mat and began.

Usually it feels cozy to be in my yoga corner, tucked away from the rest of the house.

However, this morning, it ended up looking like this.

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My son brought his giant crane truck over and then my daughter joined him. And they argued over who would hook up what vehicle, how to wind the crane, where to turn it, where to dump it all while sitting about 6 inches away from me when they could have been in any other spot in the house.

Just out of the range of the camera was my 75 pound dog who wanted to be RIGHT next to me.

If I waited until the perfect circumstances presented themselves, I would never practice. That’s just reality. Today I knew I needed the practice and so I did it. For a full hour. An hour that was, in many ways, anything but peaceful, but was still filled with stillness. And I am the better for it.

Don’t wait to start. Just go do it.

On the chance to look again

The morning after I received the news that my father committed suicide, I went out to run errands to be ready to travel home for the funeral and it was as though the world I was living in had transformed from black and white to full, vibrant color. I recall stopping on my steps because I was struck by the intense green of the leaves and deep blue of the sky. It was an overwhelming contrast to the haze of grief I felt. Such a massive loss brought me jarringly into the present and gave me the opportunity to see the world again through a very different lens.

This fall I was reminded of this when I made the decision to just walk in the mornings without listening to podcasts or music. As a result I’ve stopped on the sidewalk many a morning while the dog pulls to get to the next spot to sniff, to just breathe and watch the sun appear on the horizon as a giant orange ball, casting its pinkish glow. With each street the color will change from pink to orange to deep lavender until the brilliantly blue sky appears. I’ve also found that almost every day I see a cardinal, my favorite bird. A bird that is said to be the sign of support and love from a loved one that has passed.

In the the past two weeks the leaves on the trees in our neighborhood have shifted from green to yellows, oranges and reds. There is one tree in particular that I love. It is a stately maple, the perfect tree for climbing really, in our neighbor’s yard. We stand across from it each morning as we wait for the bus to pick my daughter up.

 

Tree!

Watching the tree change from green to yellow and finally orange, I was reminded of my experience standing on my front steps fifteen years ago. Just as they did before, the colors I see outside appear more vivid; as though mother nature lit New England on fire.

The opportunity to see things again is one we can easily take for granted as we go about our days never really noticing the world around us. It took great loss for me to be brought to the present to the beauty of the world. However, the ability to be present is available to all of us, and I, for one, am so grateful I stopped to notice the beauty of nature this fall. Seeing a cardinal never fails to bring a smile to my face as I remember my dad. The leaves have moved past their peak now and are turning rust color as they fall to the ground. We’ll have a long winter of looking at bare tree limbs before mother nature graces us again with the vibrant greens of spring leaves. I know I’ll be watching for them, will you? #30daysgrateful

 

No Mud. No Lotus.

At the risk of indulging in drama, have you ever had an experience where you think, that’s it, my life is over, everything is ruined?

Maybe you blew an audition and didn’t get the part you were sure was a key turning point in your career. Or maybe you had a performance that got panned by the critics, or got your heart broken, or didn’t get into conservatory or lost a beloved pet.

Life rarely goes how we think it will. Sometimes you just feel like you are covered in mud, stuck at the bottom and struggling.

And yet.

Time passes, wounds heal, other opportunities arise. You find yourself at another audition that goes well and you get the part, you have a performance that is reviewed well, you meet someone new, find the school you go to is actually a better place for you and you adopt a new dog.

Thich Nhat Hanh has a saying, “No Mud. No Lotus.” The lotus flower only grows in watery environments where the roots dwell in mud and the water is murky at best. The flower is gorgeous and considered sacred in many cultures, but it couldn’t exist if the mud weren’t also there.

927667_76264679-001photo courtesy of freeimages.com

My path into singing wasn’t a traditional one. Though I sang in high school I didn’t pursue music much in college. It wasn’t until after I’d graduated and was working at a University that I began to think what if ? I took classes in song literature and other music related areas to explore and loved every minute of them. I took voice lessons in earnest, gave recitals, and even did a few auditions here and there. But, the reality was, I still wasn’t ready to pursue singing. I thought my path was different.

The path I thought I was supposed to take involved, moving south for my then boyfriend who I thought was going to become my husband, for him to pursue his passion and get a doctorate, and start a family. I sorta thought I’d figure me out later and willingly put myself and my interests on the back burner.

That was all well and good until he abruptly ended our relationship and said he was moving on his own. Huh. I was 24 and seriously heartbroken and lost. If you were around me then you would agree it was a dark time.

But, it was that breakup that opened the door for me to pursue singing. I got serious about what I wanted and in time was willing to admit to myself that I hadn’t been all that happy in the relationship either. By a stroke of grace from the Universe and my wonderful Uncle Dick, I was granted the opportunity to study at Chautauqua just a few months after the breakup. The time spent there immersed in music and singing healed my soul and gave me the chance to see what I could do vocally when I put my mind to it. What I discovered was it was okay to put my passion first. I came home from the summer, decided where to apply to graduate schools for singing and set off.

It is easy to look back at that time with the hindsight of nearly 20 years and know there was a lotus growing amidst the mud. I pursued my passion and actually got two master’s degrees related to singing, sang as much as I could before marrying someone who is a far better match than my boyfriend at 24 would ever have been and now have 2 wonderful children. At the time I would never have believed you if you’d told me that was all going to happen.

It has taken time and practice for me to be able to remind myself that even when the situation seems darkest, all is not lost. That, in fact, my only job when things are feeling muddy is to continue on with life and stay open to the possibilities of what will be.

For, in those moments, when you aren’t looking, a lotus bud just might appear and bloom right before your eyes.

 

 

 

 

Boulders of Resistance

It is always interesting and humbling to make a realization about one’s self. My most recent one is my ability to resist anything and everything. Though a kindly acupuncturist had said to me at one point, stop resisting your life, it wasn’t until I read an article recently that I had this epiphany over my resistance and just how deep it can go.

I know I’m not alone in this, we all resist and more often than not, we resist things that actually make us feel good emotionally, physically and spiritually. These are the things that help us actualize our life’s purpose and elevate our being. Eat better….exercise…practice yoga….practice your craft…go after what you really want…accept what you need to do on a daily basis to make your life work. Do you come up with reasons not to do these things or resent having to do them sometimes (ALL THE TIME?)?

As I sat with the article I realized my resistance is like a wall of giant boulders, stacked as high as the Hoover Dam. Each boulder is some other element of life that I can choose to resist. The upshot is I spend an excessive amount of time suffering because I’m so busy keeping these boulders stacked up, thinking life should be some other way or trying to avoid the things that would help me. On the far side of the boulders is my actual life, a giant pool of water that so desperately wants to move and flow.

Our bodies and minds find ways to notify us of our resistance. Mine recently came up with a low back that went kablooey (is that a word? Whatever, it is now.) the week after Christmas. All fall I’d been holding the boulders up against a busy work schedule, children’s illnesses and injuries, familial demands, holiday prep and a household that feels like it is a war-zone of toys and clutter. My self care practices of yoga, exercise and singing weren’t happening because I was so busy wanting my life to be different and holding my boulders.

A trip to the chiropractor and a few x-rays later I discovered that the neck injury I knew I’d had for years and once upon a time had managed well through yoga has lead to decreased disc space and no natural curve in my neck. In addition my 5th lumbar is compressed, sacrum rotated forward, right hip raised, left hip lowered and the muscles in that area all in spasm. In the words of the chiropractor, you have a lot going on.

That is true on so many levels. Once I got over being freaked out and angry and, well, resistant to my current state, I remembered the words my husband once said to me (see, I’m surrounded by these sage people once I actually pay attention): Don’t get mad, get curious. His context for saying it was to get me to try and respond differently to my then 2 year old daughter who had me at the end of my rope, but I still think about that phrase (especially when dealing with my children, but other times too).

When I decided to stop suffering about it, I was able to see that I possess the tools to take a look at my back and in conjunction with the work I’m doing with the chiropractor, make it better. Out came my book of yoga therapy (thank you Doug Keller for the work you do) and I delved in. Not surprisingly, my psoas muscle is a key player in the ills of my back. Though I am quite familiar with this muscle, I saw things in a new way as I researched it in terms of my own body. The muscle shares connective tissue with the diaphragm and is connected therefore, to our breath and fear. DING, DING, DING, we have a winner. I have no doubt that over the years, my resistance (fear) over accepting the things I must do and not doing the things I should do to help me be my best self, finally caught up with me.

So, here’s my commitment to myself. I shall do the psoas lengthening, hip releasing exercises that take me to point of being nearly pain free immediately, every day even though I know they call up emotional stuff that I will work to just observe and not indulge in. And, I shall begin to pull the boulders down from my wall, lessen my resistance to what is and commit to things that help me self actualize. The boulders won’t go away, but I can learn to observe them, acknowledge their existence and then let the river of my life flow around them, making different choices and accepting what is.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go spend a little time warming my voice up and not resisting the fourth snow day in a week that I’m having with my kids.

Are you waiting to be PERFECT???

Looking back I realize I wasted a lot of time and energy as a young performer being controlled by fear. No, it wasn’t paralyzing and it didn’t keep me off stage, but it dictated a lot of what I did and how comfortable I was doing it. I would think, “if I just _______, then I’ll be ready to ______.” I was waiting to be perfect. And, because I was never perfect it kept me from enjoying the amazing performing opportunities I had and not going after some I wanted. Really, I did it with my entire life but since you aren’t therapists and this blog is about singing and yoga, we’ll keep it to my life as a performer.

These days, I can’t tell you the number of times I hear singers say to me, “I’d come to yoga, but I’m waiting until I’m _________”, or, “I’m waiting to audition for my dream choir/roll/company until I’m ______________”, or even, “I’m going to schedule this recital when I’ve ____________. They are all waiting to be perfect.

Perfection will hold you back. It will force you to live from a place of fear that reminds you of your limitations rather than realizing your potential. Probably everyone around you is befuddled because in general we have an easier time seeing the potential of others. If only we could apply that to ourselves.

Obviously you need to be well practiced to perform and audition. I’m not advocated walking out on stage and half-assing it because you haven’t bothered to prepare. I’m talking about recognizing how capable you are, embracing your skills and abilities and loving the richness of life that comes when you are imperfect.

Will you fail? Maybe, but I bet you will learn more and reap greater rewards by trying and failing than not trying at all. I often tell my daughter, “perfect is boring, failure is interesting.” You might even discover that failure isn’t really failure and the world doesn’t come crashing to an end.

Don’t wait to be perfect or life will pass you by. Here are some steps you can take to let go of your perfectionist tendencies:

Raise your awareness: Notice when your inner perfectionist starts to intervene.

Give her a name: When your inner perfectionist starts up you can say, Thank you Perfect Karen, but I don’t need you to talk right now. I need you to sit down and shut up. If you really want to you can flesh her out, give her a name, the type of home she lives in, what type of performer she is and how she is always perfectly dressed (usually this means the total opposite of how you live, dress and perform because, you know, you aren’t perfect).

Change your inner monologue: Create a mantra for yourself. “I am enough”, or “I’ve got this”. Say these over and over and over again.

Meditate: Visualize your performance going well and you have a better chance of finding success without standing on stage trying to be perfect.

Go for it: Live and perform fearlessly.