Category Archives: The Grace Plan

Hanging around with the elderly is enriching. Yes. And sometimes cringe-worthy. Just being honest. So I had the idea, I should start of list of things that make me cringe and of little bits of information that I gather from spending time with people who are indeed growing older with grace. Then when I get to be the age when it seems that I might start doing cringe-worthy things, I’ll check the list – regularly. Clearly the list will continue to grow. Hopefully I will heed it’s words….someday.

Growth Notes II

My new mantra.

I’ve come to understand that the answers to the following questions are largely the result of what I experienced as a child.  Not just how my parents interacted with me, but who was in my life.  The make-up of my family, where we lived, the resources at our disposal, that and every other detail of my youth has shaped me in ways that I cannot escape.  Not then, not now, not ever.

*Who am I attracted to?
*What do I find interesting?
*How do I take comfort?
*How do I respond to the external world?
*What feels like an impossible dream?
*What feels like a surmountable challenge?

It seems that this is more of a universal reality than an exception: that we are all here to grow.  The details of our growth process vary for each of us but we all happen upon feelings isolation when we are following that undeniable urge to advance and go beyond what we have known.  When we boldly step out beyond the bounds of where, how, why or who we are; we embark on a journey into the unknown.

In spite of what I began with, I have actually been able to build a life for myself that I dreamed up.  It hasn’t been easy and I would not say that I’ve reached the final version of my dream.  But when I look around, I must admit to myself that I’ve made notable progress.  Today I really must take a bit of time to reflect on that simple truth because it hasn’t been easy.  It’s been a stretch.  A twenty year stretch.  And right now feels like an impossibly big stretch.

It’s at times like this that I need to remind myself of some hard life facts:
Expansion is an integral part of growth.  Expansion can be painful and disorienting.

At any point in time we can only go so far from what we know and where we are.  If we believe The Impossible Dream (see painting) and attempt to make a huge jump, we can fool ourselves into thinking that we have truly skipped ahead until we realize that while some aspects of our situation have indeed changed, the fundamentals are actually the same – variations on a theme of where we have been before and desperately want to escape.

The good news is that we are all living The Real Spiral (see painting) and that with steady intention and supported efforts we can progress far from where we began.  But it is a gradual process that involves repetition and regression and it will probably be painful.

Either way, we bring the past with us into the future.  Either way, we die with some of what we started with still in the mix.

I had the idea for the paintings in this post as I pondered my mental state and the words of a client sharing her own memory of the moment that she realized she had duped herself into dreaming The Impossible Dream.  Every time I’ve rendered the two ideas and talked about them with someone else, I realize something new.  They feel like a wonderful reminder about the growth process that I experience as inherent to living.  It’s funny to me that something so simple could give me such a sense of mental relief, but I do believe that these two paintings will serve me for a good long while.  It was partly the act of drawing them that felt revelatory.  Perhaps you’d like to try it and see if some insight comes to you in the process?   All you need is a scrap of paper and something to mark it with.

A Question Worth Asking

I love it when a city gets behind its people.

I love it when a city gets behind its people – Go San Francisco PRIDE!

If you’re anything like me you have some voices way in the back of your head that are rather critical and have a tendency to question your choices.  I’m increasingly interested in quieting these voices as responding to them wastes my time and energy.  I’ve come with an idea which I  am inclined to share – maybe because I think that might help me along in my endeavor.

First off, I’m going to remember the mantra:
I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.
I have found it to be very helpful in resolving unproductive thoughts.

Secondly, I’m going read more of Mary Oliver’s poetry and think of her question often:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Somehow I think that question will help me keep things in perspective.

Stay Whole

Watch where you're pointing that arrow!

Watch where you’re pointing that arrow!

I’ve got a bunch of posts in my mental line up.  Unfortunately, I’ve got a lot of other stuff in there too.  Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I’m hoping to cash in a little writing time, but that’s a whole day away and I think that using our special days for following whims of the moment is the best possible way to go about celebrating ourselves.  So who knows when those posts will all get written?  No guarantees from me.  And yet, here I am writing.  Turns out that I’m following a whim today – and enjoying it.

I wrote all that for a reason.  Because what I have to share today is really a little sidebar note from a much more important, and terribly late, post on breast health.  Have I mentioned that I team up with Rupam Henry and Ollie Lobeck periodically to share strategies for supporting healthy breasts?  I might not have on account of my attempts to keep this space a little separate from the rest of my life.  But if there was anything worthy of breaking my self-imposed rules, it’s breast health.  The more workshops we hold, the more I realize how important breast health is to all of us – even the men and children if you can believe it.  So, stay tuned for more tidbits on that topic.  In the meanwhile, one of our participants reminded me of something that I’ve been meaning to add to The Grace Plan:  no elective surgery.  Ever.

Here’s what I already knew.  Surgery is risky, traumatic, costly, not-guaranteed to be successful hence requiring follow up procedures, and taxing on the body.  To me, this means that unless it is absolutely necessary to sustain my life, surgery is too expensive to undergo.  Here’s what one of our lovely participants pointed out:  surgery cuts stuff to get to other stuff.  Like your lymph system, your nerves, your fascia, and whatever else seems to be in the way.  I give too much credence to the integral importance of anything and everything in my body to be willing to cut any of it.

Depending on what they need to do, surgeons may also go digging around in your body for other materials, say a little bone or muscle.  They may very well do this without even telling you so that after the fog has cleared and you have some area other than the principle site of the surgery that is causing you discomfort that could be the reason.  All you can do is schedule a follow up appointment and ask.

In spite of all this, we seem to be getting more comfortable with surgery on a collective level.  While I can’t do much about that, apart from writing posts such as this, I can keep myself away from the operating room and that is precisely what I plan to do.  For as long as I’ve got a body, I intend to do my best to keep it in one perfectly complete piece.

Paula Scher Makes a Good Case for Being Serious

A while back my husband mentioned a TED talk that he thought might capture my interest.  He was correct.  One of the many pearls of wisdom that reading Joseph Hubertus Pilates:  The Biography left me with was the description of the atmosphere of the Pilates’s studio.  It was apparently a serious place with a singular focus:  exercising the body.  I believe that it was Joe and Clara’s passionate enthusiasm for their work that created this environment of intense and singular focus.  As I was considering this idea, I thought about Jay Grimes’s stories of trembling his way out of a lesson with Joe and / or Clara, and of my similar experience in working with Romana.  While I believe that much of our common experience can be attributed to the people involved, my recent read has me thinking that the environment is due some credit as well.  And so it seems that I’ve stumbled upon yet another reason to hold my tongue in my Pilates studio:  we can each put our best effort toward creating an environment infused with focus and passion in which to practice Pilates by refraining from speaking anything but the most essential information pertaining to the work at hand.  I’m pretty sure that we’ll make some interesting discoveries in doing so.  And I admit that it will be a big challenge for me, a person blessed with the gift of the gab.

There are some other aspects of Scher’s talk that I think bear mentioning.  Starting with some thoughts on the joy of work for work’s sake.  Back in my twenties, I had a brief stint of sewing for money.  I quickly discovered that I would never be adequately compensated for my efforts.  Sewing for me is a pleasure and I must preserve that aspect of my hobby by keeping money out of the equation.  (Back then I managed this by naming a price and not worrying about how that related to how much time I spent on any given project.)  There is something to be said for engaging in a creative endeavor for the pure joy that the work brings us.  For those of us that do something creative for money, I believe that it is all the more important to have some other creative outlet for its own sake.

Lastly, rolling around in my head is the notion that consistently cultivating serious engagement is something of a fountain of youth.  There is a particular benefit to ignorance and I believe that Scher has done a fine job of identifying it.  With a practice such as Pilates that only deepens with time and therefore requires years of investment to experience all the potential returns, I believe that her insight bears frequent consideration.  I’ve noticed that with Pilates and with teaching Pilates, remaining curious leaves me open to new possibilities.  The more sure I am of what I know, the less likely I am to be curious.  And so it would seem that cultivating a lifelong sense of being a student is a good strategy for remaining serious in what I do.  The alternative, being all-knowing and having no sense of my own ignorance, is nearly impossible anyway.  So I’ve got that going for me.

Today I say thanks to Paula Scher for the reminder:  there’s a good case to be made for being serious.

Reclaiming the Youth that I Never Had With Pilates

As I’ve mentioned many times here, I have been navigating injuries since I was a teenager.  My mother, in a misguided attempt to be helpful, would often say that I was too young to be in such pain.  Yet pain was a daily reality for me, for over a decade.  Even now, the majority of my days include some degree of physical discomfort, but nothing compared to what I experienced in my twenties.   Because of this, it has taken me many years to realize just how uncommon my experience of pain and discomfort was vis a vis my age.  I’m grateful to Pilates because as I continue to build my Pilates Body, I see the layers of pain dissolve and the body that I never had as a young person is revealed.

Many people bemoan the loss of youth with the aging process.  I can never relate to such lamentations because as I get older, I get better, not worse.  Yes, I have Pilates to thank for that in two parts.  Firstly because it helps me manage and diminish my pain.  And secondly because it gives me a format for continual improvement.  Pilates is at once corrective, restorative, and enhancing.

When I was an apprentice with Romana’s Pilates, I benefited from many conversations with Pamela Pardi.  She is one of my favorite teachers because she is so thoughtful.  Pam brought home the point that Pilates minimizes age.  It means so much to hear things in-person and in-context.  I’ve taken what she said on the topic to heart.  Because now I that I am officially aging, and I don’t have a picture-perfect-pain-free youth about which to reminisce, I have something of a double imperative to remain young by the standards of Joe Pilates:  “If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old.  If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”

Since I’m reading the JHP biography right now, it bears mentioning that Joe himself enjoyed something of a renaissance in his life once he was firmly entrenched in adulthood because the “Golden Era” of Pilates was when he in his forties.  For many of us, this simple truth adds yet another layer of inspiration to the method that he developed.

Today for my small part, I’m grateful to enjoy the miracle of Pilates in my daily life and to be able to share its many wonders.  It is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month…

I’d like to share some things that I’ve done over the years to keep my breasts healthy.  It was my acupuncturist who first suggested breast massage to me.  He gave me links to two online sources which proved very helpful.  Here’s the first one.   And here’s the second one.  Back then regular massage alleviated the soreness that I experienced in conjunction with my menstrual cycle.

When I became pregnant I experienced what felt like extreme breast soreness.  I was not in any way inclined to touch my breasts during that time.  But when I did manage to grin and bear the initial discomfort of contact, the massage proved helpful once again.  Unfortunately for me, I was so exhausted and nauseated that I didn’t have the fortitude to do the massage regularly enough to experience complete relief.  But somehow I was glad to know that the possibility existed.

Once our bundle of joy joined us and I recovered from the early pain of breastfeeding (curse-worthy for at least a couple weeks), I was still indisposed to massage my breasts regularly.  Eventually, I found Lady Nada’s Breast Oil  and boy was I happy!  A quick nightly application yielded the same results as breast massage in far less time.

Someday when I’m not caring for a little one, I’ll go back to regular breast massages and I’ll use Rupam’s oil for a double benefit.  I’ll leave the cancer prevention portion of this topic to the experts (links above), but I do feel compelled to note what I consider to be the most significant benefits of breast massage (aside from the possibility of avoiding death).  Regular massage and application of Lady Nada’s Breast Oil both improve the shape and feel of my breasts by supporting the tissues of which they are composed.  Additionally, another of my acupuncturists recently explained to me that our liver channel runs through our breasts.  Since the liver influences our hormonal levels, regular breast massage also has a balancing effect on our hormones.  For anybody who has ever felt the effects of hormonal imbalance, I’m pretty confident that the simple act of regularly massaging one’s breasts would be a fair trade for avoiding such unpleasantness.

So here’s to healthy breasts and celebrating the simple things we can do to keep them healthy for a life time!

The Breath That Binds Us

I’ve been meaning to write a reflection of my gratitude upon meeting Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen last month, but only now am I completing the task.  She generously offered a workshop in support of an inspiring community project a little north of where I live in El Cerrito.  I should have known that a  luminary such as Bonnie would be associated with The Fountain Project but it wasn’t until I arrived at the Wen Wu School that it dawned on me that after thirteen years I was once again in the arena of Chinese martial arts and movement training.  The most enduring reason for my moving to California upon graduating from College was to study with a woman who I found entirely inspiring.  I loved my nearly two years of t’ai chi chuan study with her.  It was my version of church.  But my professional aspirations led me in other directions and I’ve always promised myself that I’d return to the movement study of the I ching.  (I’ve reasoned that it’s the sort of physical practice that lends itself to the aging body and so it seems okay to let that study rest for now while I occupy myself with back-bends and headstands.)  For all that and more, I was immediately contented to have arrived at the threshold of Body Mind Centering.

In what I hope to be the first of many workshops that I took with Bonnie, she gave us the story of our breath which stayed with me and deepened with time.  Bonnie strikes me as someone who has an extensive knowledge of the scientific understanding of our bodies.  She applies that knowledge to her experience.  She has a gentleness with which she seems to approach all endeavors.  She manages to humanize science for the very practical purpose of enhancing our physical experience.  Her work ends up being a beautiful and perfect blend of knowledge and experience, body and mind.  Working with her solidified an idea for me:  where body and mind line up, spirit is present.

What Bonnie said about the breath had to do with how it enters our body and is dispersed throughout our cells, and then how it exits our body.  She was making a point, if I remember correctly, about the flow that defines life.  How trees produce oxygen which flows in to our bodies, how we distribute it and make use of it internally, and how carbon dioxide flows out of our bodies to serve the trees.  The cycle is completed, not derailed, by us.  We are part of the cycle.  She made the point that while we think of the trees as providing something useful to us, we don’t think of us as providing something useful to the trees.  This seemed important to me because our minds, and our social nature tend to hold us separate from the natural world.  Given our inextricable participation in the natural world, this illusion of separateness is problematic.

But it was during a bought of insomnia that it occurred to me that this important connection is in every breath that we take.  It just proves how fundamental our connection to our world is, so much that we take it for granted.  Every breath that we take, links us to our very natural place in this very natural world.  It is nothing more than our minds that hold us separate from this reality.

While I often entertain ideas of spending more time in nature, following the pastoral dream, or any number of earthy fantasies, I have always led an urban existence.  And while we may someday retreat to a more rural setting, I must confess that I really am a city mouse at heart.  That’s why my nocturnal revelation was so important to me.  Like Bonnie’s class it wiped away so much of my self-criticism.  Where ever I am, I am part of nature, I cannot change that.  I can ignore it, or deny it, but those are purely mental exercises.  The reality remains the same, I am part of the natural world, within and without.  Even if I live in a concrete jungle.

We spent the majority of our three hours together exploring our lungs.  This was an initiation into my nocturnal revelation that followed a week or so later, because just sensing my lungs in action was tremendously healing for me.  Completely unintentionally and in spite of so much effort to the contrary, I’ve managed to implant a lot of negative ideas about my body in my habitual thought patterns.  It probably has to do with the persistent pain and discomfort that I’ve experienced for nearly twenty three years.  Or maybe it has to do with being a Pilates instructor.  As much as I love Pilates, and as much as I endeavor to act from a place apart from right and wrong;  Pilates has a definite form.   And that form is the key to unlocking so much of what the system has to offer.  Or maybe it just has to do with being human.  We can be a rather negative lot.  Somehow, feeling my body move just as it does felt so good and reassuring to me.

This new sense of awareness of my lungs and my heart has opened up a new avenue of exploration.  In the coming months I’m eager to look into the deeper layers of my body.  I have the idea that Pilates provides an excellent platform for such investigations and I’m looking forward to seeing how my Pilates practice permeates through all the layers of my body.  For now though, I’m so grateful to have met Bonnie and to have experienced a little bit of her work.  It was at once a salve and an initiation.

Pilates for Every Day Exercise

WEEKLY STATS  Weight: 150   Waist:  32.5″  Hips:  40.5″  Thighs:  23″

This past week has been full of “every days.”  One after another, in fact.  Days when there is barely time to cook dinner let alone wash the dishes, days when the work of running my business feel rather overwhelming and barely manageable, days with temper tantrums and muscle spasms.  That sort of every-day-hum-drum.

I am continuing to make progress with my tailbone issues which has required a fair amount of tender loving care.  Saturday I woke up with a gnarly back spasm and today I had a migraine  but kept on teaching.  So.  My practice has suffered a bit.  The photos didn’t happen.  But I’m still in the game.

Amidst all of this, I’ve done Pilates every day.  It has become a habit now.  And that’s great.  I had to lighten my workouts to accommodate my physical ailments, but that only stopped me from doing a few exercises overall.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much I could still do even with severely restricted motion of my neck (from the muscle spasm).  All I had to do was move with more lightness and less emphasis on really making my muscles work through each stretch.  The reward was a sense of accomplishment and feeling better overall in spite of my acute issue.

There’s another point that I wanted to raise about the every day and I believe that it means a slight addition to the grace plan.  In my practice I’ve know many people who “woke up one day” to find twenty extra pounds that were surprisingly difficult to shed.  I’ve already made the point that caloric intake has something to do with this.  Now that I’m testing out the effects of exercise alone on my outward form, I realized that I really ought to add that to the list.

Those pounds really do go on one at a time, a little bit every day.  So paying a little more attention on a regular basis, and exercising regularly – for all sorts of good reasons – are two good ways to keep the calories-in and the calories-out in balance.

I’ve learned that my clothing is the best indicator of what my shape is.  And that it does not do me much good to get down when my clothes get tight.  Better to get moving.  Often when I’ve lamented my expanded self, people have encouraged me to accept myself as I am.  That’s great.  And when I face up to my tight clothes by making a plan to slim back down, that is precisely what I’m doing.  Self acceptance is not synonymous with self denial or neglect.  If the pants are tight, the body is bigger and unless a change is made it’s probably going to keep going in the same direction.  There are all sorts of good reasons to be careful about weight gain.  It’s different for each of us but an important life skill to practice for a lifetime of good health.

Here’s to good health every day, starting with today.  Now I’m off for a workout!

Learning for a Lifetime

Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time. –Hebrew Proverb

 And it goes along that this means, sooner or later our children are going to teach us something. While I have approached parenting in this way since the moment my pregnancy began, I’m not particularly worried about heeding the wisdom of this proverb while my kid lives under my roof. But as the years wear on and I become more entrenched in my own ways of being, I may find it difficult to remember that my kid may very well know better than me on all sorts of topics. And so it seems that a reminder to listen to my kid (once he is an adult), and try to do what he says, should be on my list for growing old gracefully.

Matters of Relativity

I have a particular inner dialogue that occurs when I’m out and about.  There are a few guiding principles to my reasoning.  Here they are.

1).  Compassion for myself and others, first and foremost.  How am I doing?  How are others doing?  Somebody cuts me off, they must be in a dreadful hurry and feeling stressed out.  Maybe they are rushing to the hospital to check on a loved one, so many things are possible.  I get annoyed at someone’s behavior, I must be considerate of the feelings of anybody around me when I express my upset.  (But, clearly there must be an outlet for my feelings because random acts of strangers mustn’t ruin my day).

2).  Whoever seems to be suffering the most gets the right-of-way.  If it’s raining, pedestrians get to go first.  Same for bikers.  If somebody’s carrying a heavy load, same story.

3).  Everybody gets the benefit of the doubt.

Which leads me to my newest addition to The Grace Plan:

Since we inevitably go slower as we age, let the faster folks go on ahead.  Enjoy taking it easy.

Which is to say that while I am fine with doing my civic duty and waiting patiently for the lady with the walker to cross the bumpy-in-need-of-a-resurfacing-crosswalk while I practice the above listed principles of my personal inner dialogue, I sure would be grateful if she’d look up and realize that by the time she gets across the street I could be two intersections further along my way.  And given that I’ve got one half an hour to run two errands before I must be back home to relieve my child-care provider, I really can use every moment that I’ve got.

Speed, like so many other things, is relative.