Sunday, September 27, 2009

Angles, Roundness and Laughter: My First Yoga Adventure

(Written Thursday September 24, 2009)

Today, I learned that I’m pretty much as flexible as I ever was during my track running high school days. (Except I can’t do the lotus position.) I also learned that no matter how flexible I am, my fat belly just plain gets in the way of me being able to do certain things (like grab my feet while I balance precariously on the flat part of my flat butt). I also learned that I need to work on strength training. And, the fourth thing I learned is that Yoga push-ups are far more complicated and physically demanding than any regular push up.

The class was an hour long and fifteen minutes into it, I was panting and sweating and staring at the clock, demanding that it go faster because I didn’t want to wimp out so early. I thought for sure I was in some movie-type of time warp where time had slowed, or, at least, the clock had broken. By the time sixty minutes rolled around I was relaxed and energized all at the same time. In my head I composed a Facebook blurb that I never posted, it went something like “just had my first yoga class. I was exhausted when it started and now I’m energized. How’s a girl to sleep?” I didn’t post it. I didn’t even get on the computer because I got home, peeled off my sweaty clothes, showered, talked to Deb for a minute, laid down, petted Biddy Kitty, told Jake the Little Booger Puppy to get his ding-a-ling off of my face and snuggled Indigo who seems to feel left out whenever we are dog sitting Serena and the Booger. Then I fell immediately and deeply asleep. I hit the snooze twice without waking and on the third time I was going to reset the alarm for fifteen minutes ago and realized I had to get my sore butt out of bed and quickly get ready for work because I was already a half hour later than what I expected.

Oddly enough, on some of the poses where the instructor counseled people that this one is really hard for a lot of people and for us to just do the best we can, I had no problem with, and the stretch felt really good (the triangle pose, standing, feet apart, leaning to the side, touching the floor with one hand and stretching the other to the ceiling). But some of the other poses that should have been easy (the aforementioned holding my feet in a crouch while balancing on my flat butt) were just plain funny when I though about getting this body there. During the butt balancing pose, I lay on the floor and laughed instead of grabbing my feet. (It is kind of like the old nuclear blast protection-grab your feet and kiss your behind goodbye-except instead of leaning down to protect your head, you are on your backside, kind of like a turtle who has been flipped upside-down.)

So, “they” say that if you are overweight and you lose ten percent of your body weight, you improve your chances of beating heart disease, diabetes, etc. (although my ten percent would be radically different than my 20 years ago ten percent, so I’m not sure where they get that figure). I wonder, if I were to lose ten percent of my body weight, would my yoga angles be able to be ten percent more acute? Would ten percent get me to the upside-down-butt-turtle pose? Would it get me back into the lotus position that was so easy for me as a kid? I wonder, would losing ten percent of my body weight push less on my diaphragm/lungs when I’m stretched so I am upside-down and touching the floor, sweating and gasping for air?

Being one of Kinsey’s ten percent, ten percent should be a lucky number for me, shouldn’t it? I’m going to try it, and I’m putting it her ein typing in order to try to make it more real and more of a commitment. If I make a public declaration of a thing, I am more likely to put it in to practice.

So, here it is: I am going to lose 28.48 pounds by the end of the year. That gives me 3 months-less than ten pounds per month. I can do that. Then comes the hard part- keeping it off.

Considering that today I got up and down more times in an hour than is required during a Catholic mass, I feel pretty good. My hips don’t hurt for the first time in months. And, although my shoulder is in a lot of pain, it’s a different type of gain than the senseless pain I’ve been having. Today’s pain is one of muscles well used, not of random violent bursts of agony. I’d say that’s an improvement. Oh yeah, despite laughing instead of doing the upside-down-turtle-but pose (I have no idea what the real name is), my butt muscles hurt. I feel like I am breathing deeper and freer than I have in a while, and my ribs don’t hurt as bad as they did yesterday. My radiated surgery scar hurts since that class. I think maybe it got stretched along with my muscles. Perhaps it will stretch enough to lose its rigid painful lumps. No expectations as far as that goes, but it would be a good side effect if it happened that way.

Thursdays are going to be a bit rough with Wednesday night being my Monday and having two academic classes on Thursday, and now Yoga after that. But, I think this is something good I can do for myself that is free (it is the official twice weekly meetings of the U of M Flint Yoga Club) and healthy and I get to entertain myself with the absurdity of trying to get this body into those positions. I’m running a comedy film in my brain.

Through it all, Jessica, the leader of the club, kept saying “that’s perfect” no matter how awkward or totally wrong we (me) posed. In her philosophy, it’s the movement and the act of being intentional that count. The first time I met her, last week, she said that everyone does yoga every day when they do something nice for another person. She says yoga is more than exercise; it’s a way of life. I’m not sure I can jump into that one, but I can stretch and move and breathe and laugh at myself.

During the final meditation, she asked that today “you do something good for yourself, someihtg good for another, and something good for your community.” I did one of those three, I took an hour of Rock and Roll, and hour of contemplating death, and an hour of breathing life. Those were for me. I didn’t do anything for another or for my community today, but as an imperfect person in an imperfect world, I can try again tomorrow.

Now stretch. Now breathe. Now laugh at yourself.

(the following was written on Friday, the next day)

Ow. Ow owowowowwwwch.
(the following was written a few hours after that)

I did some of the yoga stretches that I remember from class and I don’t feel quite so sore. More like achy now.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Healthcare Throwdown!

(Roughly written on September 18, 2009. Posted today)

I had an encounter with a republican guy (Rick Wilson) who is running against Dale Kildee for the 5th Michigan Congressional District. He has invited/challenged Kildee to come to a town hall meeting on healthcare reform. I picked up a flier and I asked him what exactly did he see as needing to be done about healthcare reform. His sole changes would be to change the litigation laws to keep the lawsuits to a minimum, and to help the poorest of the poor, ignoring the middle class altogether.
He only ever mentioned the poorest, from what I can tell, as a sort of nod to political correctness. He looked me in the eye and said “I am not my brothers’ keeper.”

Wilson definitely knows his history in terms of when insurance abuses and such started, but he has no compassion for people. He did say something good in that people need to take an active roll in making their healthcare decisions. The flaw in his argument is that his sole reasoning for that is to save the insurance companies money. He said that people need higher medical co pays so that they can say “no” to expensive tests (and not necessary by his terms) that their doctor might want to order. This guy not only lacks compassion, but he over estimates the ability of the average person to understand the exact medical terminology and standards of care and purpose of various tests and treatments that doctors take years of training to understand.

When I said that primary care physicians need to be paid more, he skirted that issue and said that the ones who really manage their patients’ care should get paid better. He doesn’t seem to realize that if primary care physicians were paid better, they would be able to take the time to care for people properly instead of only allowing for 3-5 minutes of talking at them instead of taking the time to really listen to their circumstances. He seems to not understand that in order to cover education, insurance, personnel and other overhead costs, combined with the limited payouts of the insurance companies, primary care physicians have to over schedule their days at the expense of time with each patient. If they were paid what they are worth, they would be able to schedule fewer patients in a day and longer times with each patient.
This Wilson guy has everything backwards. If people had access to affordable preventative care and early screenings, that would greatly reduce the costs to insurance companies and individuals and any governmental agencies that help with medical expenses. If people had primary care physicians that they trust and who get paid a fair wage to spend the time it takes to properly diagnose their patients, emergency rooms wouldn’t be overtaxed with people going in for well baby checks and routine maintenance, not to mention all of the emergencies that are caused by waiting until it was a life or death situation when something as simple as blood pressure medication or a home nebulizer could have prevented it. Without affordable access to those things, ERs become the doctor of the day. Wilson said that Medicare and Medicaid take care of most of those who need help and that the working (very) poor are the only ones who need help still. He said basically that people who are middle class need to buy their own insurance and have higher co pays. He also said if they “choose” not to buy insurance, they should get no help from the government. (“People are willing to pay for their iPods and cell phones, so they need to set priorities and pay for their own healthcare.”)

I ran several different real-life health scenarios by him to find out how his politics would weigh in on each. The first scenario was the fact that I am a cancer survivor and because of that I can never change jobs for fear of losing health insurance for a preexisting condition. He did say that preexisting conditions should be covered, but only if you have had continuous previous health insurance, not if you were uninsured before being diagnosed, or if your insurance had lapsed after a diagnosis and/or remission, then been restarted. He said that my circumstances would allow a safety net because I have insurance already and have not let it lapse.

I also get the impression that this Wilson guy is homophobic because when I started to pose the second situation, I mentioned my domestic partner… he interrupted me there, tilting his head so far sideways I was thinking I should be looking for a hinge in his neck, “you said your PARTNER?” I said, “yes, my partner…”again he cut me off, “not your legal spouse, a husband…” I then interrupted him, ”right, my partner of fifteen years who I can’t even legally marry, but that is a whole different issue that has no part in this conversation.” I went on to say that due to Medicare and her insurance from the job she retired from, that the very expensive product that keeps her alive is covered. I said that it costs about $60,000 per year and that if her circumstances were different and she didn’t have Medicare or insurance to pick up the difference, but was still in a middle class income bracket, she would have no help under his plan. He looked me in the eye and said that someone in that situation “would have some hard decisions to make then”.

This “town hall meeting” that he has invited/challenged Representative Kildee to is also open to the constituents of the 5th Michigan congressional district. It will be on Wednesday October 7 from 7pm-9pm at U of M Flint in the William S. White building- Tuscola rooms A and B.

I would like to see a good showing of people who support MEANINGFUL healthcare reform come to this meeting. I don’t want it to end up being an attack of zealots against Kildee the way the “town hall meeting” that my dad attended did. (I wrote about that in an earlier post.) I would like to see this be a meaningful, thoughtful and balanced discussion of the issue. And, while we are at it, should we think about thinking about healthcare reform separate from health insurance reform, or is it all one issue? I have no answer to that question, I am just throwing it out there for ponderation (I know, I’m channeling W again in my language, it’s like a big huge mental burp-I can’t help myself.).

I’m debating on whether or not to ask Wilson, who thinks the middle class should fend for themselves, “If elected, will you opt out of congressional medical insurance and your current GM retiree insurance in order to show that a middle class income is enough to cover private medical insurance and medical bills?”

When I called Representative Kildee’s office to voice support for meaningful healthcare reform, the young woman on the phone said that more voices of support need to be heard because those shouting the loudest and the most are mainly those who only want superficial reform.

If you support meaningful healthcare reform, I encourage you to call your representative and let your voice be heard. If you are a supporter of the public option, make sure that your representatives, senators and president know that this is an important part of any healthcare bill in order to level the playing field and make healthcare affordable to everyone. Also, if you live in the 5th Michigan congressional district (all of Genesee County, Tuscola County, The Eastern part of Saginaw County, including the city of Saginaw, and the Southeastern part of Bay County, including Bay City), I encourage you to take two hours out of your evening on October 7 and make your voice heard to our Representative, Dale Kildee, and his republican opponent, Rick Wilson.

Monday, September 7, 2009

I came to a realization recently that I have imposed a type of silence upon myself since getting my cancer diagnosis. My silence is obviously not one of the mouth or the pen or the keyboard.
My silence is one of the body. I have put my mind and mouth in one compartment and left my body (at least the root chakra) in a dark and silent tomb somewhere else.

I recently read a very powerful and moving book called Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence. The author, Matthew Sanford, chronicles his life as a paraplegic, beginning with the car accident that severed his spinal cord when he was 13 years old, an age when kids are just learning about their bodies. Sanford was coerced by the medical establishment to silence his “phantom pains” and emotionally distance himself from the bottom 2/3 of his body. Once he accepted their directives, he felt like just a head and shoulders person. He was this disembodied person for many years, living with a silence of body that only few can understand.

Eventually, he made peace with the living, unmoving body that is a part of himself. He found yoga and re-introduced his body to his mind and visa versa. He now teaches yoga even though he is still paraplegic.
Toward the end of this book, as he was describing how it felt when yoga opened him up to his whole body’s energy, I remembered that feeling of a kundalini rush while meditating or doing energy work and I cried. (What is it with menopause anyway? I seem more emotional than I ever was before.) I was crying in joy and relief for Sanford, but also in grief and anger at myself.
I realized that it has been over two years since I really felt alive throughout my whole body. I’m not sure if the disconnect started when I first got my cancer diagnosis, I don’t think so because I was still meditating and doing Reiki at first.

The disconnect likely happened when Dr. B went out of his way to verbally intimidate and mostly castigate me before doing my vaginal exam which left me feeling unclean and ashamed of having cancer. He said I was too fat to do surgery on and the radiation that he ordered had a possibility of rendering sex so painful as to be impossible, or at least unenjoyable, for the rest of my life. And, he said that because I do not sleep with men, that doesn’t matter anyway.

The disconnect could have happened as I went on the internet and sought out the worst case scenarios for the treatments I was to get.
The disconnect could have happened during the radiation process (you can read about the gory details in some of my earlier posts) and with a radiation doctor that only sees women as property and without physical or emotional considerations.

The disconnect could have happened after my surgery, with the painful recovery (even now, the scar is often a bit painful and there is a hard lump of tissue that healed wrong because of the previous radiation damage).

Despite all my ruminating, trying to pinpoint a moment where I disengaged from my body, ultimately just gives me an excuse to stay in my mind where I feel safer, more in control. (Okay, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, that last sentence sounds unlikely. But, believe it or not, that mental chaos feels safe compared to the idea of reconnecting with my root chakra or physical body.)

Another thing I realized from reading Waking, is that I totally take my body for granted. I have aches and pains and crackles and creaks, and I notice those, but it has been a long time since I just sat or did some activity and felt proud of my muscles, my strong legs, my feet that support twice the weight they did when I was young and fit. I have felt more embarrassed of my body than grateful, or even present.

So, I am trying to get back into this shell of mine by breathing deep (as deep as an ex-smoker with pneumonia can), walking, biking, stretching, touching my toes, meditating and paying attention to what my body feels- not just how my mind interprets parts of what I feel.

Reaching back in my memory, I’ll try to describe what I had forgotten that I lost- or, rather, what I actively blocked until the blocking felt more “normal” than being unblocked:

I remember sitting on the ground at the base of an old oak tree. My butt was nestled between two big roots and my back- the whole of my back from sacrum to lumbar to thoracic to cervical spine- was leaning completely against the bark. I closed my eyes and breathed deep, paying attention to what my breath felt like. The more focused I became, the less I noticed the people walking past me to and from the mess hall, to and from rehearsals for the big concert coming up, to and from their dorms or temporary apartments (I was at the University of Kentucky for a Sister Singers’ conference). As others faded, my heartbeat and my breath blended and created a quiet music of their own. Then, I felt energy, almost like my spiral fluid flowing from my root up through each vertebra, around the back of my head to the crown, up through the branches and leaves, then circulating back down through me into the Earth through my pelvis. I don’t know how long I sat like that before I felt something that really startled me. The bark touching my spine, that channel of energy that was so palpable, began to buzz in relation to the buzzing inside of me. It was like the tree’s sap and my spinal fluid were one in the same. I became high from the joy of the moment. I was high without drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or anything else polluting my body. That remarkable moment had to have been 18 or so years ago.

Before the silence, I regularly became a tree, firmly planting my roots in the loamy Earth to stay grounded. I’ve only been a sickly sapling for the past couple of years, whereas before I was a great oak, willow or birch, depending upon the moment.

I also remember the joy and amazement the first time I felt the coiled-snake energy begin to dance: Kundalini. The red snake wound its body up in my womb to sleep and when it woke, it woke my whole body. That fire snake introduced me to the Phoenix, which is the spirit animal born to me again and again, rising out of the ashes I make of myself every now and then.
The other day, a day or two after finishing Waking, I woke up naturally, without the alarm. (It was Tuesday or Wednesday morning, so I had slept the night before since I have Mondays off work.) I sat up on the edge of the bed. (Deb and the three girls staying with us were all still asleep.). I quietly but securely placed both bare feet flat on the bare wooden floor. I straightened my spine from the bottom up and unrolled my shoulders. I put my hands to either side of me, palm sides down. I breathed slowly, deeply, deliberately. I felt myself settle into my body, like an old farmhouse settling, except without the creaking sounds or cracking foundation. As a matter of fact, my foundation felt more solid than it had in a while. More solid than it has for two years. I felt the tree that the settling farmhouse was made of inside my body, sending grounding roots thirstily into the Earth, tentatively as if not wanting to over drink like a dehydrated person might. It felt good for that moment. I felt solid. For that moment, I felt at home again in me.

Did I mention that I highly recommend the book, Waking, by Matthew Sanford for everyone who has ever felt silence: adolescents, differently abled people, women, transgendered people, people of color, arthritic people, diabetics, anyone who has ever had a car accident or a major surgery, menopausal women, men with ED, anyone who has wanted to be a parent but couldn’t, alcoholics, yoga instructors, massage therapists, overweight people, anorexics, ministers, teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, body workers, body builders, home builders, amputees, veterans, the elderly, people of all faiths, humanists, and you.

If you are interested in hearing a fantastic interview with Matthew Sanford, you can go to .  If you are not convinced to read this book yet, listen to him as he tells his story.  Even if you choose not to read the book, the interview alone is inspiring.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I Love My Bathroom

Even though we are still paying off the loan to redo the bathroom, I have discovered several advantages to the total redesign:
1) The bench is good to put my foot up on while I shave.
2) The built in nook is pretty and perfect for holding shampoo, etc.
3) The bench is good to sit down on if one isn't up to standing.
4) The glass door shows off all of the beautiful tile work.
5) Even though I miss having a bathtub, it's easy to get in and out of the shower without having to step over the side of a tub with sore muscles or fake joints.
6) The tile is not nearly as slippery as a tub, so I don't have to look at an ugly rubber mat.
7) I no longer feel like I am a genie in a Pepto Bismol bottle while sitting on the toilet.
8) When the dog rolls in poop, I don't have to do a full body hug to lift her over the edge of a tub as she struggles and wiggles. Instead, I can just drag her stinky but to the door of the shower, lift her front paws, push then lift her butt, carefully avoiding the huge smear of freshly squashed poop slathering her back.
9) Turning on both showerheads at once doesn't give her anywhere to go to get away from the cleansing water.
10) The handheld showerhead has a nice long hose so that I can rinse her whole stinky poop body even when she is totally pressed up against the shower bench.

11) Did I mention that I no longer have to do a full body grab on a stinky, soapy dog jumping out of the tub in the middle of bathing?  The Shower door keeps her from having anywhere to escape.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Borrowed Time is Eternal Life

(written August 30, 2009)

“Living on borrowed time.” What does that mean? Spiritual teachings of many sorts and (if I remember correctly) science tell us that when something dies, the energy doesn’t just disappear, it manifests itself in some other way: reincarnation, decomposition, heavenly ascension, fossil fuels, ghosts, supernovas, food.

Each person, tree, animal, plant and planet is made up of atoms which are essentially embodied energy. Solidity is an illusion.

There is an ongoing global dialogue about planting trees to capture CO2 to help save the planet that we humans have quickly begun to destroy by cutting trees and by burning fossil fuels which are decomposed trees and other lives. Each time we plant a tree, carbon is collected and stored in its beautiful form, within the cells of its leaves or needles, the cells of its strong core and protective bark. Eventually, in the years, or in two thousand years, each tree will die and that CO2 does not just stay in the tree. As it decays and feeds the worms or feeds the fire, all that stored carbon- that embodied energy is released back into the air from which it was tree-vacuumed up in the first place. “Borrowed Time” for trees may simply mean that the tree borrowed carbon from the air in order to live for the limited time of its beautiful life. Its life-force lives on as it is drawn into the cells of other trees, insects, worms and bacteria through digestion or respiration. In that way, each tree borrows its energy from the trees that came before and lends that energy in turn to all that grows after. In that way, the ethereal carbon gas that once sustained the tree could, perhaps, be known as the “spirit” of the tree. When the tree dies, that once embodied energy, tree spirit becomes ethereal, a ghost-like invisibility that lives in and around those things that still maintain the illusion of solidity. In this way, the tree, the tree’s spirit is one of the tightrope strands on the web of life to which we are all connected.

When someone, say, a person, lives its (our) life with the illusion of solidity, deep down, at a molecular and spiritual level, we are embodied energy- much like our tree. We think and talk and move and laugh and cry and we use language to call that living. When we say someone is “living on borrowed time,” generally we mean that their bodies are staying animated against the odds. But really-aren’t we all simply “living on borrowed time”?

We, (the we that we know ourselves to be) were created from an unlikely union between two single cells with only half the required DNA to grow. Beyond reasonable expectation these half DNA cells merged together to form a single, and complete strand of DNA. They split and merged again and again until each split became beyond all odds, an ear here, a toenail there, a mucus membrane there, a heart here. The energy for all of this embodiment taking place came and still comes from the energy of those that came and died before: our mothers and fathers, beef, carbon exhaled and from decomposing things, oxygen exhaled by plants, lettuce, nuts, fruit, dandelion greens and bacon. In order for each of our cells to thrive, we take in and embody the energy of those other beings that we encounter. This energy brings us life as we know it. We are embodied energy, spirit, ethereal unknowns on an atomic and global level.

In this respect, aren’t we all “living on borrowed time”? Or, should we more aptly say that we are “living on borrowed spirit/enerty/molecules” or, should we say we are “living with shared energy, mixing time up because energy is timeless and we are simply energy embedded”?

As someone who believes in science, spirit, and in the unknowable unknown, it help s me to meld those beliefs into stories or explanations that make sense to me. Intellectually, I celebrate with joy the changing of the seasons and the miraculous circle of lives. But I still feel a sense of loss as I watch the trees lose a bit of that lifeforce each fall when they give up their green leaves for red, yellow and brown. Eventually, even those leaves that have transformed still die and fall to feed the Earth as compost- transference of embedded energy one leaf, one cell at a time. Going, going, going, gone but not gone at all.