Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

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Normally a 5 degree day would have been cause for grumbling and outright complaining. But after being polar vortexed twice in one month, the kids and I jumped up and down, tossing gloves, balaclavas, snowpants to each other, shouting, “It’s 5 degrees outside!”

Perspective is a funny thing. From the outside, depending on the angle from which you catch it, it can seem like blissful ignorance, delusion, or Pollyannaish optimism. But from within, from the viewpoint of the person who has emerged from not one, but two polar vortices or suffered a devastating illness, there’s a natural and undeniably sweet shift in understanding that comes from adversity.

Perhaps it seems crass to be grateful for what you have because you’re comparing it to how much worse it could be, like when you leave a funeral service feeling inspired to “live better.” But it’s also just a beautiful function of our humanness: we pay more attention when we realize just how much we have to lose: health, loved ones, a warm home.

Yoga is an exploration of perspective. On a literal level, you are consciously placing your body in different positions than you are accustomed to, looking at the room, the world from a different vantage point, seeing what life feels like with your heels over your head rather than the other way around.b2ap3_thumbnail_Kerry-Maiorca-in-Savasana.jpg

But you shift your perspective on another level, in a quiet reflective way, every time you come to your mat. Even if you were to just sit there, or do one restorative pose, or take a savasanap, the act of choosing something as slow, single-tasky, and low-tech as yoga is bound to be a counterpoint to whatever the rest of your day looks like.

Yes 5 degrees is still cold. Yes, it’s annoying that I still have a lingering sniffle from the cold our family contracted two weeks ago, but when I get on my mat to be still, then breathe, then move, then blow my nose, then be still again, a little voice in my head chimes in: “At least you are well enough to do this.”

This perspective voice is your friend. It does not intend to demean your life or its importance, but rather it serves to remind you that your life is so important  that maybe you forgot because you were so distracted with work, your marital spat, a demanding pet, or children who alternately profess their love for each other, then kick each other in the shins.

The kids and I bundled up dutifully, even joyfully, having been sidelined from our daily outdoor time because of cold that froze my eyelashes in a matter of minutes. My son patiently asked for help with his boot rather than flailing and screaming that he was dying because his pant leg had bunched up to his thigh. With the perspective of what -15 degrees felt like, what -15 degrees meant to our normal existence, we laughed and shoveled, and spent a bundled up hour outside in the 5 degrees making the best darn backyard sledding hill around. When we got cold, we went inside and put our wet gear on the radiator, then we lay down on the basement floor with our feet cozied up to the furnace.

I’d like to believe we’re cured of our winter complaining, just like after I’ve attended an inspiring memorial service I want to believe I’ll never waste another moment watching old reruns because I’ll be too busy knitting or volunteering or creating spontaneous poetry and finger-paintings with my kids.

But that’s not really how perspective works. Heels can’t perpetually stay over head, putting on snow pants and boots will sometimes make a small child feel like (and proclaim that) he’s dying. Perspective relies on the existence of the normal, the mundane, the overlooked, the underappreciated. It is defined by our base state of being ungrateful and unaware.

Despite how it has seemed here in Chicago these past few weeks, it will warm up again, the snow will melt, and our awesome backyard sledding hill will fade, as will our joy at the “warmth” of 5 degrees. Come February, we will surely grumble, flail, and claim we are dying from all this oppressive snowgear as we overheat on our way out the door into the cold. But that’s okay. There will be something else to remind us each time we forget.

Perspective can’t be bullied or faked, but fortunately it doesn’t take a -15 degree day or a terminal illness to access it. You need not channel your inner Debbie Downer. Perspective is just as sweet for the little things, just as uplifting when taken in small, consistent doses as when heaped upon you like a pile of snow.

Yoga is my sweet daily dose of perspective, the reminder that sometimes your quads burn in chair pose, but it’s okay. It ends. We breathe in, we breathe out. Snow comes, and eventually melts. It’s okay.

The further you get from the -15 degrees, the harder it is to appreciate the 5. But every time you come to your mat you have the opportunity to experience that state of grace called perspective. The stillness, the quietness the intimacy of breathing deeply with other human beings gives me the perspective to remember that despite all the details, hiccups, logistics, challenges, and irritations of putting on snow boots with bunched up pants, I am alive, I am healthy, I am okay.

And I don’t need -15 degrees to feel that kind of joy. Thank goodness. Brrrr.

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Can you imagine what your day would look like if you paid as much attention to your own battery levels as you did your phone’s?

Two weeks ago when my kids were home and our family was living in the limbo between summer activities and the start of school, I’d play outside with them for much of the day, compensating by shifting my workday to the post-bedtime hours. After a few late nights I was feeling run down and somewhat Mean Mommy-ish, but every evening I’d still find myself at my desk as the clock ticked past midnight. No matter how late I had stayed up, before I shut off the light and called it quits for the day I’d always double check that my phone was plugged in.

The battery on my phone predictably dies within a day, even when I haven’t used it. It’s been this way since I got the new phone six months ago, so after it died on me once or twice I noted the issue and have remained vigilant about checking my battery and recharging as needed. (Another approach would have been to just buy another battery, but that’s the subject of another post.)

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The sight of my fully charged phone – that proud green bar with a powerful little lightning bolt – makes me feel ready for anything that life throws at me. As the hours wear on and the battery level goes down, I check the battery display obsessively, worried about getting to the piddly yellow band or (gasp!) the dreaded red stripe accompanied by that terrible beep that signals the near-end of my phone battery’s life.

Without consciously setting rules, over the past few months I’ve adopted an unspoken method for keeping my phone juiced up. If my battery is more than halfway charged, I leave it alone for the day knowing it’ll be okay until I can charge it up overnight. If it’s less than halfway charged I strategize, no matter where I am, to figure out when and where I can plug it in. In extreme cases if I know there won’t be a recharging opportunity for a while, I’ll often just shut the phone off to conserve its precious energy.

When I consider the gymnastics I put myself through for this device (particularly considering that I’m anything but phone-obsessed), it seems laughable. I rationalize it because as a mom with young children and a business owner I rely on my phone, and these are the hard-and-fast rules it presents me. There’s no bargaining for just a few more minutes so I can finish a text message to let my husband know my phone is dying and we’ll be staying at the park for a while longer, or to call back a client who wants to know more about bringing yoga to her workplace.

I really never thought much about this recharging craziness until my friend and colleague Lisa Sandquist mentioned the idea in the context of restorative yoga, noting the irony of how vigilant we are about phone and device recharging, when it never even occurs to most of us (even the yoga teachers among us – ahem!) to apply the same concept to our own energy levels.  I’ve unfortunately become an expert at taking myself beyond the red bar, deaf to my own terrible version of the beep that comes when I’m overtired and grouchy.

Since Lisa planted the seed, I’ve been pretending that I’m a device that must be adequately charged in order to function. On nights when I’m super tired, even if I have work to do I pretend that my battery doesn’t have an override setting. I pretend that there’s no dark chocolate waiting for me in the pantry to give me that boost to work till 2AM. Instead I lie down on the floor and throw my legs up the wall for 10 minutes.  I breathe deeply and acknowledge my tiredness rather than trying to push through or beyond it.

When I emerge from that 10-minute plug-in, I feel different. Not fully recharged (that only comes with a few nights of consistent good sleep), but nowhere near the yellow or red. I’m solidly in the green, and I approach everything that comes after that in my day differently. Some of the softness of my restorative yoga break comes with me as I decide how to spend my time, how to move, how to speak.

This calls for svadyaya, self-study!

If I can modify my phone plug-in behavior based on hourly checks of a quarter-inch green bar, I can certainly learn to look inward once or twice a day to determine whether my body/mind may be in need of a recharge for a few minutes.

Humans don’t come equipped with bright, shiny, LED screens or that terrifying low battery sound. But with the conscious practice of yoga and self-awareness, we can learn to see the signals almost as clearly as if they were green, yellow, or red bars. 

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