It has nothing to do with perky boobs or line-free faces: one man’s perspective

The recycled topic usually comes up before 7 AM. After I’ve taken my first glance in the mirror. Before rationality emerges from my morning yoga practice. After last night’s animal cookies reveal their damage on the bathroom scale.

My eyes are puffy. There’s a new sunspot on the left side of my forehead. If I ate the same way and practiced this hard ten years ago I swear I’d be five pounds leaner…

And on the why-aren’t-my-kale-smoothies-working-their-youth-magic rambling goes. As the words spill out, the patient man on the other end of the conversation is digging through his vault of reassurances to put a swift end to this nonsense. He’s been here before.

Why dbeauty jaro we do this? To ourselves and the men who love us? I could point my unmanicured finger in any number of directions: the cherub-cheeked prepubescent face touting the latest Perfectionist Wrinkle Lifting/Firming Serum; the 100 pt. font screaming Blast Belly Fat Now! on the cover of a ‘health’ magazine; the college photo albums in my mom’s basement – oh my God I had fabulous hair then. And thicker eyelashes.

But blaming and finger pointing is futile. A cop out, really. Because it’s up to me – and no one else – to accept and maybe even appreciate that I’m growing older, my looks are changing, and as my sweet man admonished: “cosmetic surgery and all that crap creates a whole new set of problems you don’t need.”

Fundamentally I know all this. Inner beauty, life experience, wisdom that comes with age, and all those nice-sounding catchphrases that are true, but sound so…I don’t know, cliche. But thankfully this morning, I got a new perspective on this recycled topic that just might kick the inner hag out of me once and for all. It’s one man’s perspective, and it goes something like this:

Women of your age look men in the eye and don’t fuss and fidget.”

Lessons in how to walk a runway without flailing my arms wildly or twirling my hair for a few modeling gigs in high school meant I rarely fidgeted (at least openly), but after hearing this statement, I recognize now that my twenty-something eyes probably spent more time dissecting what was happening down on dirty sidewalks and carpets than meeting anyone at eye level. Age and life experience have lifted my gaze big time. Eye to eye, skyward to God, savoring the preciousness of life.

You carry yourselves differently. There’s a confidence there. It’s really attractive and has nothing to do with perky boobs or line-free faces.”

Since moving to a town with a walking-score that’s off the charts, I’ve noticed that ladies in my decade of life and beyond move a little slower, with a knowing swagger, and without the need to hide behind a pair of ear buds or 5″ display in their palm. Hard lessons in my twenties and thirties have given me confidence, and it’s refreshing to know that you can’t get it through perky boobs or puffed up cheeks.

Of course she needs to take care of herself. And you my dear, do. I appreciate it.” 

What’s ironic is that before my 40s, I worked so hard at it. Quantifying numbers of miles, minutes, calories, pounds, clothing sizes, carbs. Lost in all that was self-care. I only cared about what showed up on the outside as I was wincing on the inside. My workouts today are really work ‘ins’. I move slower in yoga, considering every pose and transition carefully to best suit whatever is showing up in my body at that moment. I eat when I’m hungry, and sometimes when I’m not. And that’s OK – I know now that peeling off buttery layers of a croissant or sipping a glass of Sauvignon Blanc can be an essential part of taking care of myself vs. sins that need to be mollified by some crazy collard greens cleanse as long as I keep it within reason. I may not be as fast, lean, or nimble as I used to be, but I’m healthy, happy, and smile a helluva a lot more.

So ladies, if some version of this conversation wakes up with you, let it go. You’re growing older, and BETTER.

*image courtesy of radnatt at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Versatile Blogger Award: I’ve been nominated!

The Versatile Blogger AwardHow about that – I’ve been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award! Wasn’t familiar with this little online pat on the back, but I’ll take it! With this lovely nomination comes some good pay-it-forward juju, so here it is…the Rules of the Versatile Blogger Award:

Ruled #1: Provide the link and name of the blogger who nominated you – and thank them: I have been nominated by jabrush (check her blog out here: jabrushblog), who I had the pleasure of meeting through a wordpress daily prompt challenge we both participated in. She covers a lot of cool territory from healthy habits (and a shared passion for yoga) to reflections on faith to re-purposed recipes and more. Thank you jabrush!

Rule #2: Share 7 facts about yourself:

  1. I have a lot of energy – my grandfather once put a splash of bourbon in my bottle to settle me down.
  2. I want to age like a French woman – I have a vivid memory observing a 60-something Parisian beauty stride gracefully across a wet, cobblestone paved street in the Marais District in 4″ red patent leather stilettos with the confidence of a tightrope walker.
  3. My last meal will be a slightly charred, butter-coated Dubliner cheddar cheese sandwich. Make that two sandwiches.
  4. Big, fat, bright peonies in full bloom make my heart sing.
  5. I write and practice yoga daily. Sometimes at the same time.
  6. Rescue dogs have taught me more about patience, unconditional love and presence than just about anyone or anything else.
  7. I’m still trying to love my soft curvy areas where muscles don’t pop. One day I will. It’s a process…

Rule #3: Nominate any number of fellow bloggers, adding a link to their blog:

Oneika’s Yoga Life – this woman truly lives her yoga. Read and get inspired.

Mark Rodgers Blog – “Irish opinion matters”. Get his take on all things Ireland.

Bali Info Blog – gorgeous photos, posts, and insight into life on Bali.

Sass & Balderdash– flat out hilarious. And honest.

SethSnap – capturing life through a lens so so beautifully. Check it out.

Rule #4: Share these rules with them.

Rule #5: Go and make yourself some coffee and/or write a nice letter to someone: off to Starbucks (yes I do love all the independents around my hood, but nothing compares to a Grande Pike Roast, free wifi, and a house full of fellow key tappers with ear buds writing for school, pleasure, work, or what have you) right now.

 

 

Well Said: a reminder to ‘lose the atmospheric smog of most grown-up vision’

Next to my bedside is a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, a book I pull off the shelf every few years to put some spark back into my fingers and get them onto the keyboard. The tattered paperback’s pages have yellowed, with nearly every page dogeared, asterisked, and marked up in highlighted technicolor, but each time I leaf through I find something new. Last night (or should I say this morning?) at 2 AM, this quote grabbed hold and hasn’t let go:

You take in all you can, without the atmospheric smog of most grown-up vision.”

Her advice is directed at writers, encouraging us to pay attention and learn to communicate what we see. But the wisdom in this brief quote runs so much deeper. As I read it I recognized that often I think I’m observing something – a young woman with an Aussie accent lamenting over a bum knee to a friend on the other end of her iPhone, a wall-sized mixed media work covered in Polaroid shots and chicken wire – when probably I’m succumbing to subconscious filters that keep me from appreciating the wonder of it all.

this book rarely stays on the shelf

this book rarely stays on the shelf

Anticipation, reflection, and judgment are always conspiring to yank us out of a pure moment in life. Whether good (anticipating a journey to Barcelona in a few weeks) or bad (reflecting, ruing, over an impulse purchase ‘all sales are final’ dress that fits like crap), isn’t what’s at issue here. What is, is this: when you’re there (fantasizing about another walk through the extraordinary Sagradia Familia; hoping you can repurpose the dress – a pillow slipcover perhaps?), you’re not taking in what’s in front of you.

Judgment is sneaky saboteur too. Before I noticed the youthful voice, mile-long eyelashes and special connection with a friend the lovely young Aussie expressed through her phone, I allowed the polluted clouds in my judging mind to get irritated over feeling distracted by her conversation. My immediate reaction to the artist’s expression on the studio wall was frustration over not figuring the thing out. My ten-year old self, free of the heavy burden of requiring answers, would have gaped in awe over the sheer size, various materials used, and crazy assemblage of pieces holding it all together. No description needed.

Grown-up vision can be rife with cataracts, clouding over new perspectives, possibilities, giddy joy at simply being alive. Lamott’s quote woke me up. Literally (at 2 AM) and figuratively. So far today my ten-year old self emerged and caught the vision of a dog/parent/child playgroup in action outside my window; the sound of rustling spring leaves canopied over the bike trail; the smell of curry emanating from the Thai restaurant on Elm St.; the taste of fresh ginger in my morning smoothie. No time wasted ruing the past, planning the future, or judging life as it was unfolding right in front of me: clear as day. Free of any needless grown-up haze.

 

 

Staying on track: why I chose a Brooklyn getaway over fear

“You’ve ridden that train hundreds of times…” my Dad bemoaned through the phone as we discussed the recent derailment of the Amtrak NE Regional train in Philly. A tragic loss that’s still making the hair on my arms rise each time I reflect on it.

Yes, I rode that train from Philly to NY several times last year before moving to Boston in January. Three hours enjoying extra leg room I’d never find on a cramped US Air middle seat. Three hours scrolling through playlists, writing in my journal, admiring the shifts from pastoral countryside to urban graffiti, and leg stretches up to the food car.

No security lines, no toothpaste confiscating, no awkward pat downs or pressurized cabin inner ear torture episodes. I’ve always loved train travel, despite the extra time it takes to get there.

But with any mode of travel, including riding your bike alongside a row of parked cars three blocks to the coffee shop, there is an inherent risk. Travel is risky. You can get unlucky. You can die. So as my Dad and I continued swapping the most recently reported details on what the hell happened with Amtrak’s NE Regional route that inauspicious day, I wavered on how exactly I would explain my upcoming plans to him:

I’m taking a train to NY. In two days. Not from Philly, but still…

“You’re gonna do what??”

a misty morning in Brooklyn

a misty morning in Brooklyn

 

Yeah, Dad. I’m taking the train from Boston to NY to spend a couple days catching up with my girlfriend.

Here’s the thing. We need to get the hell out of where we are. How long, how often, and how far depends on so many factors that are individual to each of us, but travel keeps us alive. Even if it’s just a zip code away. As long as it’s new and at least somewhat uncomfortable (this is key), it’s part of being alive and in the moment.

Reflecting on my recent trip to see my pal Julee, here’s why making the trip three days after a horrific derailment was worth it:

  • Fate gave me a terrific seat mate who I enjoyed sharing the deeper perspectives on what matters most at this stage of life vs. our thirties (he’s 44, I’m 46). Why he went from lawyer to trader, moved from LA back to Boston, believes God has a mysterious way of only giving us what we can handle – in his case – a son, now 14, who is naturally easygoing and extraordinarily likable. I didn’t get his name. Will never see him again. But we made an authentic, in the moment, one human to another connection. This kind of thing only happens on a train. Any good, nostalgic novel typically has a scene like this. Not on a JetBlue shuttle in seat 16E to JFK.
  • A local’s perspective of NY vs. my own know-it-all-been-here-a-thousand-times one. In a word: Brooklyn. My pal took me through the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, into her corner bodega for toilet paper and smiles from fellow neighborhood shoppers, a donation-based yoga studio around the other corner, and a delightful zig zagging route through multiple neighborhoods concluding with sweeping views of the Brooklyn bridge and the tip of Manhattan.
  • The opportunity to experience being the only white girl on a train for the first few stops on Subway #3 toward Penn Station. An experience I treasure to better understand what it must feel like to be a minority, and can’t be read in a book or watched on a screen. Travel does this. It takes you out of your norm, rote, blank life. Even if it is a little uncomfortable.

My few days in Prospect Heights and other areas around Brooklyn opened my eyes and ears to a wonderful gumbo of dialects, origins, and colors that I would not have experienced had I caved in to fear, stuck to the familiar, and avoided that train.

So do it. Go somewhere and experience someplace new. Even if it is a little bit scary.

 

Roll around in the crumbs? How about just telling me where to put my foot..

roll around in the crumbsYoga teachers use a lot of basic cues to get a point across: reach your right hand toward the ceiling, step your left foot to the top of the mat. Un-grip your toes. Straightforward, simple cues. All great, but after a while autopilot can set in. Hand goes up, foot goes forward, toes relax, all without the need for a teacher’s cue.

Practice long enough, often enough, doggedly enough, and the inner autopilot gets so efficient the other thoughts having nothing to do with what’s happening right now on the mat can quickly take over: right foot goes here. I forgot to feed the cat. Belly draws in and up. The brake on my bike keeps squeaking…

So when a teacher throws out a crazy cue like “roll around in the crumbs,” even though it initially makes no sense at all, at least it gets my attention. What the heck is she saying?

Herein lies the magic. Her cue made me stop, pause, and think about what the hell I was doing in the moment. Rolling side to side on my back, yes, but essentially just revisiting the same way I always moved in Happy Baby pose. Rolling around in the crumbs required me to seek something new. To discover a different area in my body. Turns out my right hip flexor popped a little if I moved my knee this way. My left lower back extensor felt amazing when I rolled onto it that way. Little nuances that made all the difference.

Rolling around in the crumbs is just what I needed to hear to keep my practice interesting that morning. But the cool thing is, I thought about it all day. What other small, forgotten crumbs in my life had I been ignoring? Small clues into the soul of my new hometown of Somerville are beginning to emerge after a wicked long winter. Crumbs of character lurk everywhere – the skateboarder and his giant black aging Goldendoodle Apollo, the former textile mill turned home to over 60 working artists, the plethora of kale and quinoa power bowl options bringing out the health geek in me – it’s all here in the crumbs. And providing inspiration to a second blog I have in the works.

And really, it’s the crumbs at the bottom of my cereal box or the remaining flecks of chocolate on the foil wrapper that I savor the most.

Do you have a ‘well said’ to share? Something you heard today that made a difference? I’d love to hear it.

 

 

My most prized possession? A beat up blue yoga mat. Here’s why…

*Note: this post is part of a 20-day writing prompt 101 program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: “Tell us the story of your most prized-possession.”

My most prized possession is something I doubt you’d want to go near. It’s not pretty. It stinks a little. And the varying shades of blue on its surface are not some artistic mosaic of creative intuit, but rather the cumulative sum of sweat, tears, and a little blood. On one end of it, there’s a few nicks. On the other, a trace of stubborn sticky name tag residue from a recent 6-day teacher training in a remote region of the Arizona desert I endured.

It’s my yoga mat: a six-pound, 71″ x 26″ beast that’s followed me to Seattle, San Francisco, that arid desert in Arizona, an old textile mill-turned studio in the Berkshires, a Miami beach, countless airplane overhead bins, and on the back of my bicycle en route to the studio in Cambridge, MA, I’m currently practicing at. For the most part, where I go, it goes.

I have other mats of different sizes, textures, and colors, but always come back to this one: my beat up blue mat. Maybe it’s the visible scars that draw me to it – as though every discoloration and marring were evidence of the effort I’ve put into the often times ugly process of better understanding myself through years of ninety-minute stretches on its sturdy surface. Or perhaps it’s simpler than that: I know it, it knows me.

My most prized possession is not intended to sit pretty on a shelf somewhere. No, the beauty of my beat up blue mat lies within its flaws. And unlike the Honda CRV I’m told is losing value each month I put off selling the damn thing, my mat’s value continues to rise. Neither time nor wear and tear could ever diminish it’s worth. To me anyway. Every time I roll it out, balance on it, stumble on it, cry on it, even curse at it, it delivers:

The way that we see things today does not have to be the way we saw them yesterday. That is because the situations, our relationships to them, and we ourselves have changed in the interim. This notion of constant change suggests that we do not have to be discouraged. – T.K.V. Desikachar

Vasistasana variation

Vasistasana variation

My beat up blue mat kicked midlife blues in the ass. In many ways, it acted as my GPS through a series of changes that began at age 40. Some might call that a midlife crisis, and I very well could have, but dragging my mat into a hot studio every morning at 6 AM in the throes of a painful divorce and financial tailspin shifted my point of view. Instead of staring helplessly down the back nine, I chose to tee off for the first time. Rolling out my mat, day in and day out, despite the wild fluctuations of emotions I was experiencing at the time, enabled me to approach life as a brand new beginning and opportunity to reinvent myself – physically, emotionally, spiritually.

It absorbed the sweat as I gritted through pose after pose, helping me rebuild my semi-starved, former runner’s weak frame into something more powerful than I thought my DNA would allow. It collected tears of frustration and anger and reminded me to keep moving through the inevitable discomforts that arise with change. It hugged my fatigued bones in Svasana at the end of every practice – shortening the distance between some Greater Force looking out for me and whatever earthly nuisances were conspiring to pin me down. My Svasanas on my beat up blue mat, even today, in better times, give me a glimpse of God.

When you inhale, you are taking the strength from God. When you exhale, it represents the service you are giving to the world. – B.K.S. Iyengar

Egypt - one of my favorite girls

Egypt – one of my favorite girls

My beat up blue mat taught me how to play with pit bulls. Time on my mat has cultivated a diorama of courage and grace that has led to some interesting revelations – most notably that I adore animal rescue work (read more here: I’m Going Home!). Courage gained from Handstands, agonizingly long held Warriors and Plank poses made locking myself in a glass-enclosed dog run with two spry, pent-up pitties seem entirely doable – if somewhat insane – last summer at Main Line Animal Rescue. Grace from balancing in Tree pose, eyes skyward toward God, followed me into the fields with the many distressed doggies I worked with trying their best to acclimate to human beings after being abused and neglected their entire lives.

My mat continues to nudge me toward giving at every opportunity. Toward the hard-working student in front of me in line at the grocery who didn’t have enough cash. Buy her yogurt and granola. To the volunteer application I just submitted to the Boston Animal Shelter. Orientation is this month. The more I receive on my mat, the more I want to give back. The more I want to serve.

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play. – Heraclitus

Handstand

Handstand

My beat up blue mat thinks I’m Peter Pan. I don’t know if there is a giddier feeling, at age 46, than floating upside down on my hands for five, or, on a good day, ten seconds. The strength, focus, balance, and elasticity that comes with a daily yoga practice to me is youth defined. The period of time in my thirties when I quit practicing yoga, and ran marathons, bicycled centuries, swam miles, and disciplined myself with military precision down to a certain weight, I now realize, made me older. I may have looked younger, and tighter, but I was tenser. My body and spirit felt clenched, as though every goal reached was just short of something higher, harder, that I had yet to attain. My beat up blue mat talks back to me when old feelings of inadequacy show up in a pose. I fall out, and it collects me, reminding me that I’ve crossed a dangerous threshold reserved for unhappy adults. Yes I take my practice seriously, but with the playful quality of a child exploring Neverland.

My beat up blue mat inspires me to talk to strangers, like I did as a kid before worrying about imposing on other people’s space. It has led me into studios all over the country, and now New England after living most of my life in Seattle. I chat up fellow yogis, teachers, post-practice baristas, anyone walking a dog, construction guys who sometimes whistle (if I smile big enough), in a way I was too afraid to before entering this spectacular relationship with my beat up blue mat.

The moment I begin to feel old or defeated is when I know it’s time to roll out my beat up blue mat.

*If you want to find more of the quotes I’ve shared in this post, consider this gem of a book: 1,001 Pearls of Wisdom – Take Your Practice Beyond The Mat