It’s meditate, not medit-hate

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meditation primate small

Meditation” Photo by Rennett Stowe (Creative Commons license)

Legend has it that at the tender young age of two, I held a grudge for several months against some neighborhood teens who smashed my pumpkin at Halloween. I don’t remember it except as it was related to me by my parents, but this seems to be the earliest indicator of my penchant for “medit-hating.” (Did I just coin a term?) My apparently iron grip on bitterness and resentment have long been a subject of mental stress and strife in my life. But maybe, just maybe my tenacity and determination to focus all my thoughts and energy on inconsequential things I have no control over could be transformed and repurposed for good instead of evil.

Case in point: Recently, I was texting with my friend Lauren about how mind bogglingly great people can be at times. I’ve been collecting donations for a fundraising raffle and because this is the first time I have participated in this type of event, I have, on the whole, been completely blown away by how generous people have been.

I had just come from picking up a shockingly generous gift card donation from a local restaurant and should have been ecstatic. I mean, I was ecstatic, but then I let another business owner’s blunt refusal bring me down suck up more that a fair share of my joy.

I do not know why this woman, who owns a specialty tea shop, declined – maybe she had a legitimate reason, like that it’s her right to not give things away for free every time somebody comes asking. Who knows? Quite honestly, I have been overwhelmed and a little bewildered by the number of people who have said “yes!” with no questions asked. Ok, so they get a tax write-off, but still. I’m sure it’s easier to do nothing, and yet, most people say yes without hesitation.

So, I was explaining to Lauren via text message how inexplicably indignant I felt about being turned down:

Me: Oh, well. I should concentrate on the awesome people and stop feeling personally insulted, huh?

Lauren: Yeah, definitely don’t feel personally insulted. I would say the majority of businesses are very kind and generous, so focus on that…so where should we go next time we have a tea date?

Me: I’d go to Dunkin’ Donunts before I go back to (redacted)! It’s my thing to feel personally insulted by the slightest thing. I downloaded a meditation app. I think maybe I’m gonna give it a try.

Lauren: Lol. I don’t know if you meant that to be funny, but I thought it was…

See how self-aware I am?!? I know I need to let. it. go. I never even spoke to the owner of the aforementioned tea shop face to face about this fundraiser – though I have frequented her shop for several years and have met her in the past. As far as I know, she does not know who I am or have a reason to refuse me on personal grounds. She’s not even the only one who said “no.” She’s just the only one whose shop I patronized semi-regularly and whose product my son and I are both obsessed with – TEA! And now I can never go back there. Of course, I could, but I shan’t. Ever. I love to support local businesses, but, as I mentioned above…personally insulted, grudges, etc. Doesn’t have to be rational to be irrevocable! (That is not advice, by the way. I was born on the cusp of Scorpio…)

If I had just a couple more mental hang-ups than I do, I might have shot off a mean-spirited, negative review on Yelp or on my neighborhood list serve, but I pride myself on my restraint. Also, there’s laziness. And maybe mild paranoia about possible repercussions, such as being revenge-murdered.

Why is this funny, as Lauren put it? Mainly, because it’s sad. My own personal psychological tragicomedy. This is the incident that finally got me to download the app I’d heard about. It’s called Headspace, and it is, as far as I can tell, a free app that teaches meditation and helps you guilt your friends into meditating, too. Everything is about social networking now. Because that’s just what we all need, right? To know exactly how many of our friends are more mindful than we are! It’s meant to be encouraging, but we all instinctively know the real outcome of seeing our friends’ steady progress toward enlightenment…competitiveness, humble-bragging, and low self-esteem.

That said, I’ve been meaning to learn to meditate for years. Years. And from time to time, I take a few minutes to actually attempt it. But the app wants me to make it a habit. And habit making – at least the good kind, can be really hard. I guess that’s why we need encouragement.

After I did the first 10-minute session, I immediately invited my husband, Fab, and one of my sisters. If I need to take it down a notch, Fab, in spite of his cucumber cool exterior, may be simmering just below the surface. Turn up the heat ever so slightly and he just might boil over. He’s got the patience of a saint, until he doesn’t anymore.

I just sat down for my third session in as many days and guess who I invited to join me this time! Lauren! She was texting me about some nasty traffic she’d been stuck in, so I thought it was pretty much my duty to share. Also, today’s meditation actually used traffic as a metaphor for how we should relate to the teeming thoughts in our heads. I really had no choice.

What do I hope to get out of meditation and mindfulness? I want to convince myself that there is no “hate” in “meditate.” The impetus for finally getting started on this much procrastinated journey was my intense, but senseless focus on one tiny and fleeting grey cloud on an otherwise crystal clear, sunshiny day of positive experiences. I need some perspective. I want to learn to de-escalate the hate so it can’t make me miserable for no good reason. I think I just found my mantra…

Here I go!

What helps you de-escalate the hate?

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A body in motion

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“Escape to the Unknown” Photo copyright Andre Bohrer 2009.

It’s a new year! Well, January is admittedly almost at an end, already! That’s how rough starting over is – even figuratively. I just finished working on a post for the other blog I write for and I started that post in early December! We were on vacation in France at the time and then it was the holidays and traveling, a quick, horrible bout of projectile vomiting, more traveling, recovering from jet lag, taking care of a sick toddler, early to bed, early to rise, and finally, somehow getting back to a kind of normal, even keel.

In no time at all, the reassuringly regular patters of daily life are forgotten and new, totally unstructured and unpredictable activities take their place. These activities may include, but are not limited to: visiting every relative and friend within a 150-mile radius, eating a lot of large meals at highly variable times of day, light tourism, lots of driving and/or other modes of transportation, and very little time/opportunity for exercise.

Circumstances such as these can make it really hard to stuff ourselves back into the old habits and routines. We were gone for a long time, but even a week at the beach can require as much recovery time. Even though I adore seeing friends and family in my adopted homeland, being away just takes its toll after awhile. I missed being able to go to Zumba and see my Zumba friends for the entire three and a half weeks we were gone and couldn’t wait to get my groove back. Still, it wasn’t easy.

Our odyssey home went like this: a 45-minute car ride to the train station, a 2-hour choo-choo ride to the airport, the loooooong transatlantic flight against stubborn headwinds, the dismal abyss that is US Customs, the shuttle from the international terminal to the train station, the train from the airport to the waiting car of a friend (thank goodness for friends!) who drove us home, we were all totally done in.

Ulysse, poor thing, had been falling asleep in any available position for the last several hours (in airport security, lying across our laps and arm rests, in the baby carrier, on the train,) and after a quick bath, happily fell into a deep sleep. The next morning, a Zumba day, even if my body had not physically scoffed at the idea of moving around continuously and rhythmically for an entire hour, I would have had to take a raincheck because my little toddler traveler extraordinaire was not feeling well. He’s almost never sick, but the cold Ulysse had been resisting for a few days grabbed hold of him with all its might when his guard was down, leaving him feverish and fragile for the rest of the week. We were very lucky to be able to take our time getting reacclimated to real life. Classes weren’t starting back up for me just yet, Ulysse slept a lot, and Fab and I went to bed as soon as we got Ulysse settled for several days.

When I went to Zumba for the first time this year, it was quite a momentous occasion. That particular day was our first class in the new group fitness studio, which had been in the works for months. Typical of construction projects, it had run late – the room was supposed to be open in December. It was a new year, everything was bright and shiny, bigger and better than before, and it was time to get moving again.

But the inertia…oh, the inertia! Newton may not have imagined such an application for his first law of motion, but I doubt I am the first to observe that a human body at rest (for almost a month) will remain at rest, unless acted upon by an external force. In that case, does will power count as internal or external? Either way, it is barely sufficient to get this body back in motion – even when that’s what I really and truly want. My mind can’t compute the loud, fast music, let alone the choreography, and only sends jumbled signals to my feet. It’s a discouraging sensation, but a hilarious sight to see…

Now, at the tail end of January, we are all back in the swing of things. Green smoothies for breakfast! Ulysse is back at school two days a week so I can teach my class. We go to Zumba and play dates the other days. Grocery shopping and cooking and laundry and cats everywhere. Fab and I watch “an episode” of whatever Netflix show we are digging at the moment just before bed, if we can keep our eyes open, and sometimes I even do my pt exercises as we watch.

Before we drift off to sleep, we inevitably curse as we remember 49-50 things we forgot or neglected to do today and absolutely must do tomorrow, or the day after… It’s not new – it’s same old same old. But it’s good. We are creatures of habit and once you’ve carefully crafted your own personal habits, you feel compelled to enact them.

I haven’t made a New Year’s resolution in years. I guess I figured I’d stop while I was ahead with my circa 2003 resolution to floss my teeth everyday. Now, 12 years later, I’m still going strong! Not that I have been lacking in things to improve upon about myself and my lifestyle. If I were going to make a resolution, or a dozen, I would resolve to get rid of junk (about half of what we own) and live with less, stop buying and collecting junk to begin with, waste less of everything, write more and be lazy and tired less, stop being afraid of so many things and people for no good reason, choose a cause to put my time and energy into instead of idly admiring those who do, be thankful, be thoughtful, be a better person, etc…

It’s not that I’ve resolved not to resolve, more like I resolve myself to these things continuously. Once a year isn’t enough.

A body in motion will remain in motion…

Pelvic floor/Trap door

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Image from page 539 of %22The American text-book of obstetrics for practitioners and students%22 (1903)

Image from page 539 of “The American text-book of obstetrics for practitioners and students” (1903)

Childbirth is so much more than the beautiful, idyllic, dream come true wonderland of perfection and sweetness everyone tells you it will be. When all goes well, after nine months and a grueling labor you get a beautiful bundle of amazing and a body that feels like it’s trying to revenge murder you for doing such unspeakable things to it.

Any woman who alleges that the postpartum period is breezy and beautiful, even in the best of circumstances, is probably a compulsive liar or a movie star with four personal assistants and a full time nanny and housekeeper. This great article about postpartum practices in the United States covers that subject very well. My real troubles began to surface well after the first couple of months postpartum.

I was counting the hours until I was allowed to head back to Zumba classes. It was great to get back out in the world. I took things slow at first and thought I would gradually build my strength and endurance back up to where it was before. As I wrote in a previous post, I was yawning a lot more, sometimes all the way through class, but fatigue is par for the course with a newborn.

Four months after my son Ulysse was born, I probably would have been back to my old self if it weren’t for the constant nagging feeling that if I even thought about jumping one more time I was gonna pee myself. I always wore black pants just in case and continued to have to use the restroom in the middle of class like when I was eight and a half months pregnant. Something had to be wrong.

Meanwhile, back at physical therapy, Carl couldn’t find anything else apparent to do to resolve the low back pain I’d been whining about for weeks. He suggested blood work to rule out vitamin and mineral deficiencies that might be the culprits. I immediately whipped out the recent lab results from the blood work I’d had done after an unfortunate episode in which I had fainted and bashed my face on the edge of the crib. Nothing suspicious. That’s when Carl got a slightly pained look and, for a guy who is not shy about much, hesitantly inquired about any “other” symptoms I might be having, such as, say…urinary incontinence?

Is there anything more embarrassing to discuss in polite company than urinary incontinence? I mean, I don’t have statistics or anything, but I feel like genital warts are probably less stigmatizing and anxiety producing. No one will ever find out you have genital warts if you sneeze, cough or laugh too hard without crossing your legs. But with this terrible, and yet highly curable affliction, ANY sudden, wrong move could result in social tragedy.

Let’s just agree to call this wretched malady by its less threatening, fancy medical name, “pelvic floor dysfunction,” so I can stop sweating and avoiding eye contact with my screen as I type this confessional.

Below is a helpful, if incomprehensible diagram of all the muscles hiding in your pelvic floor. I imagine my pelvic floor looked a lot like this, but bumpy with big angry knots, flashing red lights and a sign that reads: OUT OF ORDER!!!

Figure. The muscles of the female pelvic floor: (A) inferior view, (B) superior view

Figure. The multiple and sundry muscles of the female pelvic floor: (A) inferior view, (B) superior view. Image taken from http://body-disease.com/coccygeus/

According to this terrifying, yet informative article, “pelvic floor dysfunction affects almost 50% of women following childbirth.” What?!? So, why don’t we hear more about it? Like in conversation? With other women. Or OB/GYNs at annual checkups? I brought the subject up at mine and was applauded for my initiative, but no one had ever thought to ask me if I felt comfortable walking briskly down a hill or doing jumping jacks without fear of the dribbles. I’ve heard the occasional joke here and there, but it’s almost always the fatalistic “well, that’s just the way it is now that childbirth has destroyed my body forever…I shall never frolic again.” But it doesn’t have to be like that! As the article mentions, there are varying degrees of PFD and also varying causes, most of which are entirely treatable. The author, a doctor, naturally suggests doing the eternally beloved Kegel exercises and gives directives for OBs (such as performing C-sections?!?!!!!,) but surgery is the only other solution listed that can sometimes work. Sometimes.

Physical therapy is not even mentioned in the article! Nor are apparatuses such as the InTone or Apex pelvic floor exercisers (kind of reminiscent of the abdominal muscle stimulators you wear while you watch TV and magically get abs of steel.) But seriously, all of my friends in France go to postpartum pelvic floor rehab sessions to get back in shape with the help of a trained professional – and it’s all part of routine postpartum care that is covered by their legendary socialized healthcare system! It’s as if they somehow know that most women will have problems with pelvic floor muscle weakness at some time in their lives. Huh.

So, my pelvic floor was a little saggy. Not a surprise after the long labor and 90 minute pushing extravaganza that resulted in a 9 lb. 6 oz. baby with an enormous and perfectly spherical head. Carl happily referred me to another PT specializing in women’s health and let out a sigh of relief that he would not have to go there with me. He’s trained to do it, but neither one of us wanted to take our therapist/patient relationship to that level after six lovely years of playful banter interspersed with excruciating pointy elbow and thumb jabs to my other dysfunctional (non-private) parts.

Image from page 143 of %22Die Heilgymnastik in der Gynaekologie - und die mechanische Behandlung von Erkrankungen des Uterus und seiner Adnexe nach Thure Brandt%22 (1895)

No! Please, no. Not with Carl. Image from page 143 of Die Heilgymnastik in der Gynaekologie – und die mechanische Behandlung von Erkrankungen des Uterus und seiner Adnexe nach Thure Brandt (1895)

Enter Laura, a PT specializing in women’s health. She confirmed Carl’s suspicions and began working to ease the tension in the tightly wound trigger points I’d been nurturing for months in what was left of my pelvic floor muscles. Begin the Kegels! But this time with muscles that were re-learning to obey my commands, such as: “No, I do not want to pee now! I’m at Zumba!”

In case you haven’t figured out from my veiled references to what this kind of therapy entails exactly…well, it happens on the inside. Good thing Laura is such a pleasant conversationalist. I am always very curious about the little known facts of different professions and I have never specifically asked her, but I suspect that if she wasn’t already a naturally talkative person, her job has forced her to develop diversion tactics for taking patients’ minds off the bizarre nature of their interaction. How often do you lie in a small, poorly lit room with someone for 45 minutes, naked from the waist down (except for a sheet) while another person probes and massages your nether regions? I bet if you said: “Very often, as a matter of fact!” chances are you weren’t talking about a medical/therapeutic procedure.

There are a growing number of PTs specializing in women’s health out there, but not enough. Laura is in high demand and that’s just for the people who are lucky enough to find out that she just might be able to help solve their problems (men can have PFD too).

In a sad and improbable turn of events, I have recently returned to see Laura again because an ankle injury, of all things, seems to have led my pelvic floor to get bent out of shape again. Things just weren’t quite right and I hoped against hope that it wasn’t because the 40,000 Kegels I was doing everyday somehow weren’t enough. The trigger points were back, but now they are fading once more into obscurity, at least that is my plan for them.

All that to say that yes, childbirth is about as close to a miracle as you can get. But this is one of those “nobody told me” things that can and does happen to lots and lots of women, too.

The human body is a strange and wondrous organism. It can form brand new human bodies and, when injured, it finds ingenious new ways to keep going anyway. There are limits, however, to what our bodies will tolerate before the pain kicks in. That’s when I run, or limp, to the nearest PT. Calming the grumpy fascia in my calves can make my neck feel better and unjamming my ankle can relieve the opposite hip, too. I seem to be especially prone to frequent inexplicable injury, but the upshot is that as the kinks get worked out one by one, I get a glimpse of how everything really is connected in this incredible microcosm of the universe – my body.

When your Zumba instructor dances on Live! with Kelly & Michael…

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live with kelly and michael

Yep. You read that right.

One of our illustrious Zumba instructors, the amazing, talented, and charismatic Jae, who happened to be in NYC celebrating an important birthday milestone (I’m pretty sure she was turning 29,) was chosen to be the Trivia dancer on Live! With Kelly and Michael on October 24.

In all honesty, I never get to watch morning shows, so I was unaware of the fact that Regis had retired, or that he had been replaced by Michael, or that “Trivia dancer” was a thing, but I am beyond excited that one of my favorite Zumba teachers and a generally pretty top-notch kind of individual got the opportunity to show the world what she can do. This is what it’s like to touch greatness, people!

Have a look for yourself! ( Jae appears several times between 16:00 and 20:25):

How cool is that?

Jae commented about her unexpected, (but well deserved) success: “You off-handedly mention being in the studio audience in a lecture on Wednesday and then on Friday morning, you’re making a dork of yourself in a yellow smiley face shirt for all the world to see.”

I think by “dork,” what she really meant was STAR!

After all, Michael does astutely remark, “You are a party starter, girl…I love it, I love it!” Can’t argue with that.

So, what does this mean for the rest of us regular folk who love her classes so much? Not to cause any undue panic, but this could be the beginning of the end for us! Soon, recruiters and reporters will be calling her up. They will want to schedule endless auditions and interviews, more tv appearances. One day, a sub will show up on Thursday morning and we won’t think much of it, but then on Sunday and the next week, too… Jae will be overbooked, brunching with Beto himself because he will want to sponsor the launch of her own Zumba line of apparel and to make her the spokesperson for an exciting new branch of the Zumba fitness enterprise.

That’s what I assume anyway. Not to worry, though! I know she’ll always find time to stop in occasionally and dance with us for old time’s sake. Jae is not the type to forget the people who knew her when. And naturally, we will all be invited to be in the studio audience of her first Zumba workout video.

We can’t keep her all to ourselves forever, now can we?

So sorry I yawned through your Zumba class…

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Corsac Fox (Vulpes Corsac) Yawning, Hamerton Zoo. Photo courtesy of Spencer Wright, https://www.flickr.com/photos/spencer77/

Have I mentioned how much I love Zumba? I love it I love it I love it I LOVE it! But for some embarrassing reason, I sometimes, often, almost always, yawn uncontrollably through class. I don’t have to force myself or talk myself into going because I “should.” If I’m there, it’s because I want to be. Zumba is one of the things I look forward to the most in my routine. Sometimes I’m tired, yeah…but not that tired!

Do I have a problem with my lung capacity? Not that I know of.

Am I breathing wrong? Do I not understand how lungs are supposed to work? Perhaps. Wouldn’t be the first time I was doing something totally wrong that is supposed to be automatic. I became a shallow mouth breather while I was pregnant and I suspect I have not totally reverted to breathing like a non-pregnant person. That could have something to do with it.

Am I getting enough sleep? I think so, usually… Insomnia and I are not strangers to each other, but oddly, I seem to yawn less on mornings after I’ve been up reading at 3am because I couldn’t sleep.

Do I have a sleep disorder, like maybe a mild form narcolepsy that allows me to briefly nod off while performing complicated dance moves like a total pro? I should probably look into that possibility…

Am I really a slow moving loris stuck in a human body? This seems like the most likely explanation. But what is a loris? (See below.)

Here’s what I look like in Zumba, but with more yawning:

I would like to blame my toddler for my apparent fatigue and constant yawning, but I’ve been yawning through my workouts for years. I used to yawn a lot in Pilates classes, but Pilates happens on a mat, which is a place one might conceivably fall asleep and take a lovely nap, so it’s understandable. How is it even possible to yawn during a cardio workout? I’m in constant motion, having fun and goofing around with my friends! How can I mambo and salsa and be having a great time and still give the impression that I am either bored to death or about to pass out?

Until this mystery can be solved, I just want to say to all my group fitness instructors, past, present and future: It’s not you! It’s me. I love your class and everything you do (even if I am loud and snarky and always complaining about the misogynist lyrics of the songs and that one step that must be against the laws of physics because I just can’t get it right..) Please, just ignore me. I teach college students and they can be a tough crowd – I know what it’s like to be stared at by a sea of faces who simply will not, under any circumstances, be amused or play along.

I am absolutely, 100% amused. I only look like I might lie down and have a snooze.

Anyone else out there have this problem?