Sweaty Sneakers

Unselfish or lack of self care?

Things have been busy in our household lately. The regular summer buzz of camps, swimming lessons, soccer practices, weddings, triathlon training combined with the flurry of activity present when opening a new business and the fact that my husband is entering year two of his MBA has left me feeling pretty dizzy. I’m not saying that I get everything done or that everything gets done perfectly, but for the most part, life has been trucking along at a mostly-manageable pace.

As my husband packed up his golf clubs and text books this morning, planning on four hours of studying followed by 18 holes of golf with good friends, he asked me to consider taking more time to do things for myself.

I was a little surprised, and realized that it’s true. It’s been a long time since I really considered taking time away from my life for myself. Unless you count exercise (which I squeeze in during early mornings, later evenings or when the kids are at day camp), there’s not a lot that I have been doing for myself.  I spend (what feels like) a lot of time packing lunches for summer camp and slathering on sunscreen and watching swimming lessons and soccer practice and teaching kids to ride bikes and focusing on being present with my children. I spend (what feels like) a lot of time working on building a schedule and finding yoga teachers and making sure wholesale orders are in place and making phone calls and chasing loose ends. I spend (what feels like) a lot of time swimming and running and biking and thinking about triathlons. I spend time on my yoga mat and in meditation. And most of the time, all of those things feel like enough for me. So when I thought about doing something for myself, I really couldn’t see what that might look like. 

When my children were babies, I missed the freedom to do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. Now that they’re older, things just seem to flow a little easier. Sure, there are still moments that being a mom feels overwhelming, but they don’t come as often, last as long and they aren’t nearly as intense as they used to be. I love my kids, and I really love being a mom. I love watching swimming lessons and soccer practice and even sitting in the cold rink for skating. I love reading them books and our conversations and listening to them play with each other.

I feel so fully immersed in this life we have going right now, that the thought of peeling away the layers that have become such a part of my identity and spending some time doing something else entirely, I just don’t know what that would look like. And to be honest, I’m not completely sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.

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Stepping Away from Fear

When I first began my 200hr yoga teacher certification, I had spent time on my yoga mat in a physical practice, but never in a spiritual practice.

During the very first class I took with Jenny, she guided us to wave forward from downward dog to high plank and as she walked past me, I felt an incredible surge of energy from the base of my spine flow to the centre of my heart. During the days following, I kept envisioning the stem of a lotus flower uncurling along my spine, blooming at my heart and shining out to face the world. 

I grew up going to church every Sunday. We said grace and bedtime prayers. I’ve held onto that faith during most of my life, with the occasional bought of healthy doubt. My husband and I hold similar beliefs. We were married by a Minister, we baptized our children, and now we say grace and bedtime prayers with them.

I came to my yoga mat with the notion that I had nothing left to learn. I already believed in God, I was already fit, I was even already a running coach. All I wanted was a certification that would allow me to teach yoga as a way to augment coaching runners.

The first time I stepped on my mat and was guided by a teacher who inspired me, my yoga experience deepened.

The first time I stepped on my mat and was guided by a teacher who inspired me, my relationship with the Universe deepened.

The countdown is on until the day that our new studio opens, and I find myself feeling calm, centered and confident. I feel ready to step into this role. I feel anticpation at walking to the front of that big, beautiful studio and leading people through a practice. I feel so excited to teach and to learn and to grow and to blossom.

Yet I also feel so afraid.

My fears are a combination of rational (the risk of a new business) and irrational (tripping in front of a studio full of people). As the walls of our studio are being hung, the walls of the box in which I live are coming down. I’ve never balanced work and home life before. I’ve never delved so deeply into a job before, and I certainly never expected that, at 32, I would finally branch out and make a career for myself.

I’ve decided to step away from my fear. To use to words “excitement,” “anticipation,” and “endless possibilities” instead. I decided to be confident and sure of myself. I’m not convinced that I won’t make mistakes. I’m willing to accept that I won’t get dinner on the table every night or make it to every skating practice, or even always have clean socks for the kids to wear to school.

I decided to create the life that I wanted to live. I decided to create the person that I am. I decided what type of wife, what type of mother, what type of human being I am. And I decided to be strong, and compassionate, and loving, and humble and vulnerable and happy. And today, I believe that I’ve made the right choices.

 

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Freedom through Satya

I’m participating in an Olympic distance triathlon in three days. The event consists of a 1.5km ocean swim, a 40km bike ride and a 10km run.

Two days ago, I wrote an email to my coach, asking to be talked down. I always get quite nervous before an important event. (This event is important solely because I have spent the last four months training very hard for it.)

I wondered if, by the end of the three(ish?) hours, I would feel the same level of fatigue and pain as I do in a marathon (his answer was “No”, thankfully). I wondered just how hard things would get. I wondered if my chain would come off my bike, if I would get kicked in the face during the swim, if I’ve trained enough, ate enough, ate too much, drank enough water this week. This, my friends, is a perfect example of pre-race nerves. 

I’m a competitive person. I suppose most people that train and compete in events where success is measurable are competitive by nature. I’m competitive against myself, and I’m competitive when I think of how fast/strong my friends are and I’m really competitive when I’m in the water, or my saddle or my sneakers and creeping up on another swimmer/biker/runner in front of me. That ignights a fire inside of me that exists solely in races. The problem with competition that I have found, is that it often evolves into something unhealthy.

I score a personal best in a race and that keeps me satisfied for a few weeks, maybe a month. Then I start thinking about how I could run faster. I run a 5k around my neighbourhood and feel great, until my friend tells me that she runs her 5k faster.

The problem with competition is that there’s never a stop line. It never ends.

There’s always someone faster, skinnier, stronger, prettier, younger than me. There’s always someone in a yoga class who hasn’t spent a decade running and can comfortably lean into triangle pose while I’m stuck with my hand resting on two blocks. There’s always someone at the beach who has visible abs, instead of the softness that hugs the edge of my bathing suit decorated with faint silver lines reminiscent of that 60lbs I gained during my first pregnancy. There’s always someone who runs faster and trains less.

The problem with comparing myself to other people is that I’m never enough.

Yoga has helped me to let go of a lot of those feelings, a lot of the time.  Allowing myself the compassion to practice on my mat the way in which my body needs has helped me understand that this is my body. My body has been good to me. My body has housed and birthed two great blessings. My body has travelled through this world. My body has helped me cross countless finish lines, sometimes strong, sometimes in tears. My body is wise and knows what I need, even though I don’t always listen.

This is a challenge that I will continue to face for the rest of my life, I believe. But I do face it, and I remind myself to be gentle, to be kind, to show the same compassion towards myself that I feel so easily for others.

So I head into this race on Sunday with the intention of practicing Satya (truth). I will push myself hard, I will push myself through the pain, I will give my all in the water, on my bike and in my sneakers, and then, no matter how long it takes me, I will be proud of myself for my hard work in the past four months and on Sunday.

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Svadhyaya: Self Reflection

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I started running for pleasure in 2008 after my second daughter was born. I had run occasionally before that, a half marathon or two, a handful of 10k’s. I would train for a couple of months, run a race and then not run again until the next training period came around.

Six weeks after my baby was born, I squeezed myself into a pair of my husband’s shorts, doubled up on sports bras and headed out to shuffle around my 1km block. I looped the block three times.

Five years later, I’m a run coach. I’ve completed half marathons, full marathons and triathlons. I used to run as a way to escape, as a way to feel centered, as a way to let go. My fuel for marathon training was anxiety. My training was a way to indulge in alcohol or unhealthy food without the risk of extra weight.

I’m not sure when that changed exactly, but I don’t feel that way about running anymore. After my last full marathon, in September 2012, my body hurt. Not in the “stiff for a couple of weeks because I ran a marathon” kind of way, but real pain. I decreased my running and increased the amount of time spent on my yoga mat, but all those forward bends only seemed to make my hips and hamstrings feel worse.

After many months of procrastination, I finally went to physio. Muscle imbalances in my hips; inflammation from prolonged and repetitive trauma, limited range of motion, you get the picture. I promised myself to treat my body right, to stick with physio, to be patient and to let myself heal.

It’s been about four months, and I have to say I feel much better. There are days when I wake up sore, there are workouts that leave me feeling tight, there are yoga poses that I am not currently able to do. I still try to be patient and kind to myself, especially when I see other runners casually bend down and touch their toes or fold themselves into lotus pose.

I’ve learned a lot on my yoga mat this year. I’ve become a yoga teacher, I’ve learned that it’s ok to back off a pose, to modify it to what my body needs, even if I’m the only one in the entire class not curled into pigeon . I’ve learned that I am strong and weak, flexible and stiff. I’ve let go of a lot of the perfectionism that drove me to train for marathons, craving the solitude of a 30km training run only to come home and collapse into bed for the rest of the day.

There were a few weeks when I stopped running altogether. I thought that “yogis” don’t need to run to find peace. Eventually, I stopped drooling over my sneakers tucked into the closet and concluded that regardless of what yogis should or should not need, what my body wants is a combination of time spent in my sneakers and time spent on my mat.

I bonded with my yoga teacher, who is wise and vulnerable. I found myself a triathlon coach, who is energetic and demanding. My yoga teacher encourages kindness to the body, though she is filled with pitta fire. My triathlon coach pushes me outside of my comfort zone, though he views meditation as an important part of my training. The space that exists between these two people and their philosophies is the space where I sit most comfortably.

In the yogic tradition, self-study is called svadhyaya. We can learn an incredible amount about ourselves when we become devoted to an activity that inspires us. That could be chanting, reading spiritual texts, or a physical yoga practice. For me, it came through a combination of endurance training, asanas and meditation/prayer.

I’m going to be completing (I hesitate to use the word “race”, because I won’t be coming in first, and I’m not comfortable using the word “competing”, because I’m not really competing against anyone) an Olympic triathlon in 13 days. The event consists of a 1500 metre swim, 40km bike ride and a 10km run. The training has been rewarding and exhausting (showing me once again that I am both weak and strong). I crave the adrenaline that surges inside of me during a race as much as I crave the warm peace that flows over me when I’m alone on my mat. Both are good, both are healthy. Both are a part of who I am.

Once we become aware of what our body is asking, we are better able to achieve balanced health. I’m not insinuating that running or triathlons are required for balance, nor do I believe that the only way to peace is on a yoga mat. As a society, we are trained to look for a quick fix. Diet pills, losing two pants sizes in ten days, flat stomach fast, best yoga poses to firm your buns… none of these things will work for the simple reason that change doesn’t happen quickly.

Change requires devotion; devotion requires svadhyaya. Svadhyaya provides a mirror that shows us our true reflection.

 

 

Atma: Existence, awareness, pure consciousness

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A dear friend of my family passed away last week. She was admitted to the hospital Thursday afternoon and passed away very early Friday morning. My mother told me that eight hours before she died, she woke with a smile on her face.

I had the most wonderful dream. I had the kindest nurse taking care of me, and he had the most beautiful wings.

As I sat on her couch Wednesday afternoon, a dram of whisky in my raised glass, friends and family toasted her adventurous spirit, the way she lived life fearlessly, and her deep respect and love for her husband.

The next morning, I left my parents’ home and headed back to my own. I instinctively picked up The Bhagavad Gita and started reading: 

“There has never been a time when I, or you, or any of these kings and soldiers here did not exist – and there will never be a time when we cease to exist. Physical bodies appear and disappear, but not the Atma (the soul, the life force) that lives within them.

This life force comes and dwells in a body for a while. While therein, it experiences infancy, childhood, youth, and old age, and then, upon death, passes eventually to a new body. Changes such as death pertain to the body, not the Atma. The wise person does not get caught up in the delusion that he or she is this body.” (Hawley,2001)

A few days before she died, as my mother sat with her, she said that she wasn’t afraid of death. And when the time came, she returned her borrowed breath and left her physical body.

We here on earth, mourn when the Atma leaves a physical body. Young or old, fast or slow, we are left with questions and grief and often feelings of anger. Grief is a natural human condition, and it is healthy. Like many emotions, we often suppress the intensity of our grief, putting on a good face.

By giving ourselves permission to weep, to feel pain, to grieve in an emotionally healthy way, we are better able to find peace in the knowledge that the Atma is eternal.

Of course, the loss of a loved one leaves an imprint on us. The memory often generates an immense amount of pain for a very long time.  Here in the land of the samscara, we work through this pain until we are able to let it go. Not of the memory, not of the love and tenderness, but of the pain.

It is difficult work, learning how to let ourselves heal.

The Moment to Moment Transition

Sticky and tired, my girls and I sat staring at each other after lunch. Our friends had just left, after a full 24 hours of Canada Day celebrations. We were all tired, my husband had left for the afternoon and the skies were threatening rain.

What am I going to do with these kids all afternoon? I thought to myself, knowing that I had two goals: Not to spend any money, and not to stay home.

I thought of the breezy beach twenty minutes down the road, threw together a lunch bag, grabbed a towel and the three of us climbed into the car.

As soon as we stepped out of the car, the kids’ energy picked up. We dug in the sand, filled buckets with water, ran on the beach, watched people swim, shrieking with delight as a cold waves splashed up against their backs for the first time.

After a half a dozen trips down to the waters’ edge to collect wet sand for castles, I noticed my five year old, Alena, lingering in the ankle deep water. I thought about calling her back, I thought about the wet shorts that would ensue, the sandy underwear, the mess she would leave in my husband’s car. Then I thought about her passionate love of the beach. Each summer, she gasps in delight at the sand between her toes, as if it is the most enjoyable sensation she has ever felt. 

Instead of calling her back, I watched her play. She stepped, then hopped in the shallow waves. She pushed her hands through the wet sand, and eventually she sat down, in her shorts, engrossed in the present moment.

In Sanscrit, the word “now” is translated as “atha”. The meaning is more encompassing than the context in which we use it, though. Atha is a moment to moment transition. It is the cumulative moments that have lead you to be exactly where you are, exactly as you are in this moment. How much we can grow if we take time to exist mindfully in the present moment. 

I let Alena play, She ran back and forth between the water’s edge and myself, updating me on her wet clothes, her sandy feet, that she fell into the water. I noticed an older couple watching her, taking in her joy with smiles.

Eventually, Leila, my older daughter, left her buckets behind to run beside her sister. As they ran farther and farther down the beach, I followed, letting the waves push themselves up over my ankles. The girls ran, getting soaked, screaming at waves, falling over with laughter. I soaked it all in, snapping pictures in my mind that I hope to keep forever.

Atha. Now. Mindfulness. Presence.

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Weeds

When my husband and I moved our two very young daughters from New Brunswick to Halifax four years ago, we bought a house that had lacked love.

I’m sure there was a time when the previous family had laughed and chased each other in the big yard, when children had squealed with glee on the swing set, when the owners had sat on the front porch in August, listening to the evening song. If those days existed, they were gone long before we moved in. We bought a house with broken windows, holes in the walls and a yard full of weeds. 

After some fresh coats of paint, a few good scrubbings and the presence of positive energy, the house quickly became home. We love it here, and are blessed with children running, bumblebees investigating our gardens and evenings enjoying the breeze on our front porch. Why, even the raccoons are happy we’re here to provide them with a big compost bin of fine dining!

One part of our yard was once a loved garden, but it has been overgrown with weeds. One plant inparticular. This particular garden was in trouble four years ago when we bought the house. There were moments when I tried pulling, digging, spraying this plant. My dad calls it a “You’ll Be Sorry” (because once it takes over your garden, you’ll be sorry you ever planted it). Eventually, after a few half-hearted attempts, I gave up on it. I gave up on the entire side yard. I felt that it was a lost cause and I just kind of hoped that it would… take care of itself. Maybe a mysterious blight would kill that one particular plant! Maybe it would just… go away… somehow.

 Today, as I worked in my other gardens, I pulled some weeds that had sprouted around my peonies. Small green leaves. I crouched closer to see half a dozen of them popped up around my plants that I so lovingly care for. It was the You’ll Be Sorry! It has somehow jumped beds. At first I was angry (yes, at the plant), and then I was worried about what will happen to my garden (will it take over again?). Finally, I looked to my left, towards the other flower bed. I picked up my shears and I lifted up my rake and I went to town on that You’ll Be Sorry. I pulled and dug and put it all into the wheelbarrow. I ripped and grabbed and hauled. By the end of it, I was dripping with sweat and covered in dirt. I filled the wheelbarrow three times, and I haven’t even come close to being finished.

 I felt a lot better afterwards. I’m still not sure what the best way to get rid of this nagging plant is, but at least I did something. Previously, I had been avoiding looking at the left side of my yard. Previously, I had known that there was an issue I was going to have to deal with, but, as I so often do, I pretended that it didn’t exist. I wished it would just take care of itself.

Like all problems, ignoring it only made the situation worse. Once I accepted that some course of action was going to be required to change the state of my flowerbed, I felt better. I hadn’t realized how much that garden bed was bothering me until I stood and faced it instead of hiding.

Of course, this is relevant to so much more than gardening, isn’t it?

We all have weeds hanging around. Maybe it’s negative thoughts about the self, a distorted body image, or a reliance on your nightcap. Maybe it’s wounds from past relationships or something else entirely. Sometimes facing our demons head on is terrifying. In my own journey, when I looked my anxiety in the eye, it opened up another layer of pain that I had been holding onto. Past wounds, feelings, grudges that no longer served me were taking up space in my mind and body and I hadn’t even known they were there.

It is a messy and painful and terrifying task to uncover these things about ourselves and to address them.

We are unable to truly move forward until we do.

I’ve learned, and work on continually reminding myself, that pushing through the place of discomfort will lead us to a lighter, happier life.

What are you hanging onto? What weeds are crowding out your beautiful summer garden?