I’ll be in badass company. And 22 other lessons I learned from taking on the 22 pushups for 22 days challenge

Mercifully, I somehow managed to escape that ice bucket challenge clogging my Facebook scroll a couple years back. But now there’s a pushup challenge going round. And this time I got tagged: 22 pushups, 22 days, 22 pals to pick (and in some cases piss off) to do the same. The purpose, I learned, is to bring awareness to the sobering statistic that 22 soldiers commit suicide every day because they aren’t getting the support they need.

Day 11 of #22KILL pushup challenge

Day 11 of #22KILL pushup challenge

I don’t like pushups. And the guy who tagged me, God love him, makes pushups look obnoxiously easy. No huffing and grunting in his videos. And why limit oneself to plain old pushups when you can throw in a hand clap or leg lift? Sigh. But hell, how could I say no? It’s a critically important cause, and I actually like a good challenge. Especially when it pulls me away from eating another fistful of animal cookies whilst viewing other friends’  pushup challenge posts. And since posting my first video sporting  a “Do The Work” slogan muscle tank (actual muscles to come by day 22), I’ve picked up some pretty cool lessons along the way.

In the event you get tagged:

22. Count backwards. It makes a difference, I swear.

21. You’ll realize how pathologically quick you are at making excuses. My arms are too long. I did multiple chatturangas in class already. I don’t want to mess up my just-coiffed hair. I don’t have time. For 22 pushups? It takes roughly 30 seconds. I can’t eat 5 animal cookies that fast.

20. Do your version. Knees down, hands against the wall, flat-sided dumbbells to support your wrists. You CAN do 22 pushups. Let ’em be ugly.

19. Do it. Do it NOW. Procrastinating means staring at your bed at 10 PM, knowing your dreams will end up in Loser-ville unless you crank out 22. Like I did in my pajamas before allowing myself to crawl in. Do them in the morning. It’s so much easier.

18. You’ll start carrying heavier shit. 20-Lb. bucket of laundry detergent in one hand, four bags of groceries on the other shoulder. Carts are for sissies.

17. Go to yoga. Not just to counterbalance all that muscle contraction, but to work all the elements that will make your daily 22, well, at least tolerable: breath, mental focus, core integration, and a massive degree of gratitude for the amazing body God gave you.

16. Your un-messable factor will go up a notch. I sit taller now. Especially behind the wheel of my pickup truck.

15. Know you’re in Badass company. You can share with all honesty that you do the same exercises as Navy Seals and firefighter calendar boys.

14. Broadcast your progress. We’re in the Instagram-era. Go ahead, be a narcissist. You’re bringing awareness to our soldiers who need our support.

13. TuPac will get you through. Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, Beck…crank up the volume and you’ll be done before realizing you didn’t stop until you got enough.

12. You’ll be stronger than you were at 22. At 22, I couldn’t do 2 pushups.

11. You’ll get to see your brother’s new carpet 3000 miles away. While he’s cranking out 22 in his living room in Seattle, I’m smiling at his FB video and missing his giant heart in Boston.

10. Log it somewhere. On your iPhone, tablet, or go old school like I did with a pen and journal. Don’t just record “22”, add the details: time of day, what you were wearing, how it felt, any colorful dialogue that came up in the process.

9. You’ll get a bonus six-pack. Because pushups work the abs too. As long as you avoid the other six-pack in the cooler.

8. Manage Felix and Fido. Naturally your pet’s gonna want in on the action. But that can be a good thing. My cat’s purring back under my belly forced me to improve my form.

7. You’ll see and feel measurable progress. I put that muscle tank back on halfway through the challenge, and my husband asked where the guns came from.

6. Make your husband drop and do 22. Now his guns are getting bigger too.

5. You’ll spice up your dreaded Stairmaster-to-hell-while-watching-a-Law&Order-rerun routine. Because pushups will also get your heart rate up. In a fraction of the time. With a whole lot better result.

4. Do it for someone else. Because a lot of people would love to move their bodies but can’t. You CAN. Therefore you must.

3. Don’t stop at 22. Taking on one challenge can lead to bigger challenges. I’m up to 47 a day to match my age. Not all at once, but that’s the next challenge.

2. Temporary discomfort is good. Daily bouts of discomfort are doorways toward building mental and emotional strength. Get through 22, and you’ll deal with whatever other life shit is cluttering your path more effectively.

1. To bring awareness to our military, who desperately need our support. You can find out more here: #22KILL.

 

A tension buster that doesn’t require fists or tears. Well, maybe just a few tears..

Stuffed in my purse is a tattered notebook titled “300 Writing Prompts”. It’s got coffee stains, a couple of rogue croissant flakes wedged between the pages, and a few fountain pens worth of ink capturing whatever was occupying my thoughts in response to the prompt I landed on.

Today’s Prompt: Periodically we have tension build up in our lives that requires a release of some kind. Some people cry; others punch; some find a creative outlet. What is your release?”

Of course I cry. Hell I cry over just about anything…the squirrel scurrying across the busy street in front of my house (is the little guy gonna make it? Can he outrun the asshole texting behind the steering wheel?). Punching is useless. Just ask an old black belt pal of mine who tried to teach me the finer points of nailing an impactful karate chop. Natch, my fist rarely made contact with his blocking mitt.

Frog Lotus Training, 2012

Frog Lotus Training, 2012

No,  the quickest route to release for me has never come through a punch or kick. A permanently purple pinkie toe from stubbing too many bed corners reflects as much. I get my release through a deep, predominantly-physical (with ample sweat) yoga practice. This may or may not include tears, but as long as I give my practice 100 percent attention through breath, focus, right effort (neither teeth-clenching angry Warriors nor half-assed hip circles for 90 minutes…there’s a balance to strike), and purpose then whatever heavy-hearted crap is clogging my thoughts will find its way out of my head. At least temporarily until it brews up again. Because I’m human, you see.

There’s an umbrella in here.”

Prior to rediscovering yoga, (I say rediscover because I first discovered yoga at age 23, and it took me two decades to learn that yoga involved much more than showing off headstands on Dad’s living room carpet before Christmas dinner. No one gave a shit. Except perhaps his dog Reggie, who out-posed me in his impressive Downward Facing Dog) I retreated when life got dicey. Self-sequestering seems to be my instinctive tactic in dealing with whatever woes creep in, but I’ve learned through several moves, a painful divorce, newfound love and all the joy and fears that can accompany it that the way out of woe is into connection. And a practice surrounded by others working through their own woes under the guidance of a loving teacher in a peaceful space is where I get the most release.

Room 403 Casa Fuster

Room 403 Casa Fuster

As I scribbled through the prompt in my notebook I conjured memories of the many extraordinary spaces I’ve been privileged to practice in. An old textile mill in the Berkshire Mountains. A NYC loft with bright pink graffitied walls and crystal chandeliers. The studios, parks, beaches, basements, and lofts I’ve practiced in have left positive imprints on my heart that keep me coming back every time I feel tension or woe building. A sampling:

  • Is that an umbrella in the corner? I completed my first teacher training at Frog Lotus Yoga in North Adams, MA. The studio is housed in what was once an industrial mill that dates back to 1833, and overlooks Natural Bridge State Park. There’s an altar in the corner of this spacious sanctuary with a white parasol, which I later learned was a gift from Amma, the Hugging Saint who spends her life fully embodying selfless love and compassion toward all beings. Gorgeous murals canvas the walls and when it rains you see, hear, and smell the miracle on the trees just beyond the giant windows. Tears on your mat by Svasana guaranteed.
  • A yoga class sounded great amidst an ultra leisurely ten-day stretch of poolside mojitos, cobblestoned window shopping, gelato cones and yes, I’ll have another plate of octopus tapas. Alas, this girl doesn’t speak Spanish. Contorting my neck to try and lipread a Barcelona lovely’s sequence directions for an hour just wouldn’t do. But my hotel floor would. Snuggling my mat up next to the half-opened French doors in my Hotel Casa Fuster room allowed me to flow in step with the sounds of school children in the courtyard below and catch glimpses of the Sagrada de Familia in the distance. Bliss.
  • So what if my Eagle pose teetered. At this studio, I could actually blame the floor. The upstairs of an old building across from the Princeton, NJ, campus served as the ultimate oasis for a girl living on the east coast for the first time six years ago. Chanting, incense, precision and homage to the Ashtanga roots took me out of my loneliness and into an entirely new world of new friends, new accents, and new love I won’t soon forget. The studio has since closed, but the teacher and his embodiment of what it means to teach, practice, and live his yoga remains in my heart forever.

These days I find release at Baptiste Yoga Boston, where I am blessed to teach and practice. It may not be forever, but as long as I’ve got my mat, and a willingness to step into a new space I know I’ll find release. Maybe even with a few tears.

How do you release tension? Where do you roll out your mat?

how pig tails and lipstick are pulling me out of a yoga teaching rut

working toward cute again

on the road to cute again

Cotton balls and a prescription. That’s all. I’d planned to get in and outta there before the rows of eye-squinting fluorescent lights overhead at the corner CVS could have a chance to deepen the fine lines forming on my 47-year old face.

Ninety minutes later I made it out, thanks to a wall of Loreal Colour Riche lipsticks daring me to step in closer. I did, and to my total astonishment walked out with a lovely little brushed gold tube of Divine Wine lipstick. I haven’t worn lipstick in years. I work in a 95 degree room wiping sweat off my face between calling out Sun Salutations. What was I thinking?

Don’t let what you do define you.”

A family friend who has since passed away implored me to not let whatever current line of work I was in precede how I describe myself to others. I was in my 20s at the time, working as a concierge in hospitality and totally unclear on who I was or where I was going. We were in the library of my parents’ home, with several guests, glasses of wine, and what do YOU do? inquiries flying around. He caught me stuttering aimlessly for a valid description of myself during an interaction with a guest, and pulled me aside. I am many things, he knew and highlighted: a writer, a dancer, an athlete, a daughter, a traveler, a lover of fashion and self-expression. To name just a few, he emphasized, complimenting me on the out-of-my-typical-character coral shade of lipstick I’d chosen for the occasion. This late friend of mine, a talented artist and photographer with an incredible portfolio helped me realize in that moment that he, me, and everyone in the room could, and should, be defined far beyond the boundaries of how they earned a paycheck. How we present ourselves, he added, should be an expression of whatever tiles on the vast mosaic of our being is calling our attention.

That conversation came to me now, in the fluorescent-lit aisle of CVS. Because right now, I wanted the world to see a girl rocking a bold shade of Divine Wine lipstick. So what if I hadn’t washed my hair in three days. So what if I have to wipe it all off in an hour as I head to the studio in my lycra uniform of tights and t-back tank.

You’re a proper lady. You need to wear pig tails once in a while.”

Times used to be different. When I quit my corporate job in Seattle six years ago I couldn’t wait to consign away the Stuart Weizman stilettos and don’t-eat-that-extra-croissant pencil skirt collection gracing my closet. Yoga tights? Bare feet? Strappy little camisole bras and matching head bands? Woo hoo bring it on! But somewhere along the way, after a few years of teaching I let my hair get scraggly, gave up on mascara (it’ll end up looking like the anti-glare eye chalk favored by linebackers by the end of class anyway…), allowed my neon green Nike Airs to pass as stylish, and forgot the joy of expressing myself to the world as someone other than a yoga teacher.

The other extreme, of course, is reflected in photos from my corporate days: buttoned-up, hair blown straight to perfection, don’t-you-dare-ask-me-to-smile woman in dire need of discovering her inner bohemian.

There’s a balance to strike here I’m finally discovering. And after being referred to the hairdresser of a pal who’s side career could easily be modeling four-figure shampoo products, I got an honest assessment of how to find the balance. “Honey, you’re a very proper lady. And that’s all good but you need bring out your fun side,” he shared, having no idea how spot on he was with the crossroads I’d found myself in of late. “Pig tails! Or a barette! Or a tuck of a strand behind the ears!” I walked out with an entirely new look and re-ignited passion for looking cute again. No matter my age. No matter what I do for a living. No matter what anyone else thinks of me.

5 Must-Haves For A Kentucky Derby Party!”

Never been to such a party. And definitely don’t find favor with the requisite pizza-platter sized hats that go along with Derby-dom. I just spent a half-month’s mortgage on the aforementioned hair transformation after all, why hide under a hat? But the headline from an online fashion consultation site caught my eye. Could a few sassy millennials actually put together a hip ensemble based on my ten-minute personal style survey?

One of the side effects of getting older, and losing the ability to distinguish between workout wear and real clothes (another hoodie sweetie? don’t you have enough of those?? my poor husband regularly laments), is that shopping fashion trends is rife with land mines. My own initial attempt ended with a three shopping bag assortment of variations on a singular theme: gray, loose, conservative. So I gave the site (StitchFix) a whirl and received a few things that have since contributed to my journey back to expressing myself as I am right now: grateful, joyful, goofy, fashionable, and addicted to an eye-catching turquoise tote bag to liven up a closet full of gray.

So go ahead, yogis, ditch the tights and paint on some fun lipstick every now and then. Bonus points for pig tails.

my how-to on busting out of the ‘aging can only suck’ mindset

stairway to appreciation

stairway to appreciation

Descending the two flights of stairs to reach the Keurig machine each morning has become a daily wakeup call. Literally. The first thing I notice are the creaky sounds accompanying each step. Not from the lovely oak floors below my bare feet, but the lack of cartilage in my aging knees. The second morning revelation comes via an unwelcome internal dialogue sent from my knees directly to my brain: Does this mean I’m done running? Is this another indicator that I’m getting older, slower, fatter, saggier, and invisible to all the young lovelies riding their hipster-basket-on-handlebars-bicycles clad in helmets and floral dresses surrounding me in the 30-something town my husband and I landed in last year? Is my brain disintegrating along with the remaining cartilage left in my joints?

So much for a cup of Joe with gratitude. But here’s the thing. I can – and you can too – make an immediate shift within the very moment the aging-can-only-suck mindset kicks in. For me, the shift begins with my yoga practice. And no, that doesn’t mean busting out into an Instagram-worthy rendition of Half Moon pose on a dark set of stairs.

No, it begins with what must be cultivated in every yoga practice: Awareness.

Aware that I’m succumbing to a fear of aging: inevitable future ailments, stories passed down from others who make it a habit of discussing bum knees; menopause-means-guaranteed-spare-tire; wait’ll you get to my age woes. But once awareness emerges, I stop. Pause. Breathe. And recognize that right now, I’m simply standing on a stair. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just standing on a stair at 47 years old en route to brew a cup of coffee. And with that coffee I can, if I’m open to shifting my attitude, see the value in being, and growing, yes: older.

Two pen pals meet after 56 years.

This morning I landed on a story in the Boston Globe about two women who’ve been writing each other for 56 years. Not via text, or email, or snapchat. But handwritten letters to and from the U.S. and Australia in their own penmanship. I had a few pen pals growing up, one in Texas who shared the joys of riding horses (with polaroids of her chestnut mare included) to this city girl who’d only see the occasional cop atop a horse in a public park variety; another an east coast girl with big bubbly cursive writing embellished by sparkly pens and myriad stickers. Getting a sealed letter in my mailbox from a pen pal to open, read, and store in a special box on my dresser was a massive joy amidst braces, puberty and other preteen angst. I’m grateful I’m old enough to remember such times – that likely seem archaic to kids today.

I can relax in the effort.

In class this morning I knew handstand wouldn’t come unless I softened my jaw, lightly floated one foot, then the other, up into the air while maintaining a soft gaze at the center of my mat. Experience and years of gritting my teeth, obsessing over the result, and self-loathing with every fallout have taught me there is no other way to hover in handstand than to relax and enjoy it. Paradoxical but true. This morning at the end of class as students were filing out of the room I played around with handstand. Nailed a few, fell out of more than a few, and loved myself all the more for the many years it’s taken to learn this valuable lesson. And that doesn’t come with youth. That comes with aging.

‘The food was disgusting..I’m not recommending..don’t go..you’ll get food poisoning..’

I chalk my age up to cultivating compassion and accountability. Especially in our hyper-plugged in world. And recognizing the pain our precious local proprietors – restaurants, salons, retail shops – any business shoved unwittingly in front of the cyber firing squad of reviewers on Yelp, TripAdvisor and their cadre in today’s unidirectional assault epidemic. I learned early on, in Journalism classes, dinner table daily recaps (“now what did we learn today, Shannon? my late papa would inquire), and do-unto-others reminders at church to opine responsibly.

Opining responsibly, to me, and perhaps others in my generation or older, means availing yourself to open dialogue with whomever is on the receiving end of your feedback. As in, face to face. Not hiding behind an Avatar cursing through a keyboard to the entire community. The venomous review above actually prompted my aging self to give this restaurant a shot. And as you might imagine, the food, atmosphere, service, and margaritas were fabulous. And yes, I Yelped as much afterward, knowing that had I had a different experience, I would have chosen to speak to the manager directly instead. Face to face without an audience.

I can’t wait for tomorrow’s descent down the stairs. Because after a moment or two of lamenting my aging knees and frown lines, I’m certain I’ll find more to love about my journey. Here’s hoping you can too.