Yesterday I revisited Down Dog Yoga -- the scene of my original yoga crimes -- to practice some more heated vinyasa flow. My legs are moaning about it today. But the rest of me feels good.
I've actually been taking classes at the Y a couple days a week, too. They're shorter, cooler and not quite as ... intense ... as the Down Dog variety, but have been a really fantastic introduction to Yoga. (The Y is also lacking one important element to yoga fun: My sister Sarah to giggle, grunt and oooooommmm with.)
I've already noticed changes. It's helped relieve the lower back pain that comes with toting a 20-pound person on my hip every day. I feel more balanced and limber.
But more noticeable than the physical benefits are the mental ones. We spend a large part of classes taking deep breaths and being conscious of how we're breathing and making strange breathing-related noises and using our breathing to move into different positions. I always thought that breathing was supposed to be, you know, easy. That one thing I do without thinking*.
As it turns it, thinking about breathing is actually really helpful in life. Especially if your life involves a 2 1/2 year old and an almost-1-year-old.
Breathing was instrumental in me maintaining composure as I tried to convince Lily to eat one (ONE!) carrot at dinner tonight. The standoff (which lasted at least 20 minutes) went something like this:
Me: Lily, you need to eat some of your dinner.
Lily: I want to watch cartoons!
Me: We're not watching cartoons right now, we're eating dinner.
Lily: NO! I'm sleepy!
Me: We'll go to bed after you eat some dinner.
Lily NO! I'm not tired! I want to watch cartoons.
Me: OK, you can watch cartoons if you eat one carrot.
Lily: NO! I don't like carrots.
Me: You just have to try one.
Lily: NO! I don't want to.
Me: Please try it. It's sweet like candy -- like nature's candy**!
Lily: NO! I'm sleepy.
Me: How bout this, if you eat one carrot, you can watch cartoons and have a piece of chocolate***.
Lily: I want chaw-cut! Yummm.
Me: OK, you can have it. Just try one carrot.
Lily: NO! I don't like it.
Me: OK. Then no cartoons and no chocolate.
Lily: Puts carrot on tongue.
Me: Yay! Good job! Now chew it up.
Lily: Spits carrot out on the floor.
Me: Lily, that's naughty. You have to chew it up and swallow.
Lily: Puts second carrot in her mouth and chews it up. Then spits it out on the floor.
Me: OK, dinner's over.
These interactions happen all day long. All day. But lately, when I find my blood pressure rising, I remember to mind my breathing. That is I take deep, meaningful, toddler-neutralizing breaths. And, like magic, I don't lose my temper. It's amazing. Seriously, all new parents should be given free yoga classes (or be required to watch videos on cleansing breaths ... the same way we had to watch videos on car seat safety and shaken baby syndrome).
Now, of course, I'm by no means even within the same continent of perfect. Especially when I'm overtired, stressed or generally pinchy (which happens frequently). When the situation is already out of control, it's difficult to then mind your breathing on top of everything else. Which it's why it's important to just be mindful of your breathing throughout the day, cuz then it's more of a second nature thing. You know, like breathing. But in this case, it's Breathing.
This week, I was thinking about other things that seem to becoming second nature to me. To all of us. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent made-for-TV-stranger-than-fiction manhunt and arrest, in the wake of Newtown, in the wake of Aurora, in the wake of Tucson, in the wake of Fort Hood, in the wake of Virginia Tech, in the wake of 9/11, in the wake of all of it -- all the ugliness -- grieving, rallying, moving on has become second nature to us.
I feel like I don't have the benefit of years and years and years on this Earth to know if all of this ugliness is just the natural order of things, or, if we as a society, we as humanity are just becoming more violent. This week, it feels like the latter.
I don't know how to solve the problem of world peace. But I'm learning how to Breathe, and I feel like there are answers somewhere in there. In yoga, you use your breath to help you reach farther, go deeper. With each breath you sink a little more into whatever stretch. You sink a little more into introspection, too.
While talking to my neighbors and others about Boston, I've heard the sentiment that nothing surprises us anymore. Almost as if we've come to expect these things to happen. Given the past decade or so, that's understandable. Sept. 11 set the stage for my generation. Or was it Columbine? Or Oklahoma City?
Rather then just accept this heartbreaking violence as a part of our existence though, I was wondering about how I could use that process of grieving, rallying and moving on in the same way you use Breathing in yoga. Can I Breathe in the sorrow and use the breath out to push me to joy? Can we do this as a country? as a planet?
Now, I know I'm talking some new agey shit that I don't even understand that probably doesn't even make sense to anyone but me and my own weedy brain. And, I feel like I'm also some how implying that we actually need the violence to reach a higher plane, which I don't believe is true. And don't want to believe is true.
I guess I'm just kind of tired of feeling powerless in all of this sorrow. I'm tired of feeling angry about it. I don't want to just grieve, rally and move on, I want things to actually be better. I want to lessen the likelihood that my girls will be having the same conversations with neighbors over and over again.
I recently found a poem I wrote almost 20 years ago (with apologies on behalf of my 12-year-old self for the forced rhyming):
"A Brighter Future'
One wish that I hold, one wish in my hand,One promise to keep in this wonderful land.
We don't have to fight, Please help find a light.
It takes all of us to find a better day,Let's join our hands and say ...
I don't want to live in this decay,I want to find a better way.
Then solving our problems in this manner, If we have to, let's fly a banner.
We must all unite as one nation, By working together in complete concentration.
To seek and find a way to stop this crime,That has tried to be solved since the beginning of time.
And will go on 'till the end unless we make it cease,We must find peace.Right now I'm embarrassed by the earnestness and naivety of my 12-year-old self. Of course, reading this post I guess I should feel and embarrassed by the earnestness and naivety of my 31-year-old self.
When I saw the picture of 8-year-old Martin, my heart broke because I was 8-year-old Martin. We all were at some point in our lives. Even, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan. And then at some point many of us lose that earnestness. And then a small number of us lose our hope, too -- I think that loss leads people down a darker path.
Plenty of people (like Leonard Pitts, Mike Argento and James Martin to name a few) have written wonderful pieces about how we cope, how the evil element is much smaller in number than the good and how in the end, we all need each other.
And we do. And that's another thing I like about yoga. It's a community of individuals who lift each other up.
At the end of class we all put our hands together over our hearts, close our eyes, bow and say "Namaste."
The divinity in me recognizes the divinity in you.
It's a simple gesture and it would be naive of me to say that it could fix all the world's problems.
But it's worth a try.
* OK, that's a lie. There are plenty of things I do without thinking. For instance, forgetting to turn off the oven. Or turning on one burner and putting the pot on another. Or, accidentally eating half a container of peanut butter cookies.
**The nature's candy trick worked one time -- when I was trying to get her to try sweet potatoes. It was a short-lived victory in the world of vegetable eating.
*** Yes, I realize the health benefits of one carrot are far outweighed by the health detractors of one piece of chocolate. I was desperate. Also, I was hoping if she just tried the carrot, she would realize how awesome they were and then eat more of them. Hahahahahahahahahahaha. And. Ha.