New Year’s Revelations

Massage therapists, we worry about burning out our hands. In school, we are greeted with a barrage of horror stories: tendonitis, carpal tunnel, ganglian cysts. And sure enough, the first six months I was in practice, I had tingling from my elbows all the way down to my wrists and a sense of dread – now that I had found a job I loved with all my heart and soul, would I be able to keep at it?

The tingling subsided once I got some strength in my arms, my body, my hands. But it took a while for me to really learn how to avoid tiring my hands and forearms out. In my continuing education, at the San Francisco School of Massage, I had the immense privilege of studying deep tissue with the superlative master Art Riggs, someone who wrote the book on deep tissue. Literally.

Here’s what Art taught me to do with my hands: Sink in – and wait. That’s it. That simple instruction has changed everything about the way I work. And it’s beginning to influence the way I’d like to live.

Usually, in massage school, you learn a lot of strokes: patterns you are supposed to move your hands in, shapes you are trying to make in the body. Art didn’t teach many of these. Instead, he suggested that by sinking, gently but decisively into tissue with no agenda, and simply waiting, the tissues will tell you which way they need to go.

This way, a massage session is not something I’m telling the body, but a question I am asking, over and over.

This method can occasionally be scary. At least once, at the beginning of each massage, as I sink in, I have a little butterfly flutter of worry: what if this time, my hands get no answer, and they just don’t know where to go? What if I get stuck in silence with no plan?

It hasn’t happened yet. I’m not saying I hear voices, or have visions, or could even tell you why my hands are moving in the direction that they are, but somehow they always start moving, and so far, this technique seems to be working out just fine.

Yesterday was the last day of 2011. To celebrate the transition, I moved into a new massage office. I have been working in the same space for exactly eight years. It’s been a cozy (read: tiny) space, but it has served me well. It’s been a place of refuge, for both myself and my clients. It’s where we go when we need a quiet cave. Within this cave, the massage table itself seems to be something of a tunnel – it leads somewhere.  I have had reports from clients that they go traveling a bit, or have visits, or visions. Sometimes, of course, they just go to sleep.

That portal will move with me. I’m ready for more space – a little more room to move and breathe. My new office has room for real chairs to sit and relax in, for example, room to do a yoga pose or two.

So yesterday, as twilight gathered, I finished vacuuming my empty old space until it looked as anonymous as it did on January 1st, 2004. I lay down smack dab in the middle of the room in corpse pose.  I thought about how days are long, but eight years can seem very quick. Massage still seems new to me, although now I have been doing it (and teaching yoga) longer than I have done any other sort of job. But when you let go of what you think you know, and you let every day be a question, the job always feels new, it always seems fresh and unexpected.

That tiny room has seen all sorts of suffering, both my client’s and my own. I’m pretty sure 2011 is a year a lot of us are grateful to put to bed. This time, the beginning of a new year, feeds our hunger for a fresh start, even though it’s not particularly any more fresh than any day, any moment.

Human beings, we worry about burning out our hearts.  When faced with suffering off the table, my own or others, my first instinct is to jump in and massage it, make it a known pattern, an understandable shape. Like my poor hands those first few months, the heart can buckle a bit under the load.

What if I could apply these lessons of the hands to the instincts of my heart? Rather than jumping in with a plan to fix, could I let my heart sink into the moment, and wait? Stop trying to have all the answers, and, as Rilke suggests, learn to “love the questions themselves?” I honestly don’t know, as I’ve yet to take this approach to one difficult moment of my life. But let this be the year, let this be the day, let it be now.

Posted in Kindness, Letting Go | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Yoga for Holiday Stress

I’m not sure when I fell out of love with the holidays, but if I had to pin it down, I’d say it was the year of the collage magnets. I was in my mid-twenties, living with friends in Seattle, and in spite of the fact I don’t have a crafty bone in my body, I became enamored of the idea that I would craft presents for all my friends and family that year. At that time, I worked at Archie McPhee, a toy store run amok that also sold odds and ends from various suppliers, so we had a lot of wide magnetic strips. Since we also had lots of colorful, glittery things, I thought I would glue all these together into some sort of spectacular collage magnet, with content tailored to the interests of each individual recipient.

I’m not sure if I finished even one. I do know that, by the time my house hosted our holiday party, the week before Christmas, I had given up on the project completely, and felt so deflated I could barely make an appearance. I spent most of the evening in my room, and I’m pretty sure I spent some of it in the closet, although in retrospect that was less out of necessity and more out of drama. I was just looking to be found. And to have my message heard: I was done with Christmas.

The first thing to go was presents. For anyone. Then, I dropped the Christmas card list. Christmas lights, which I used to love so much I used them year round, went next. And on and on, until Christmas day was just a day where I didn’t work and I got to eat whatever I want and relax.

That seemed to work for a while, until I realized I wasn’t actually relaxed. Even though I was opting out of the activities that I thought were the problem, I still wasn’t enjoying myself very much.

I completely excused myself from the whole rigamarole for years. Doing so only left a vacuum and didn’t leave me satisfied, It was time to make a decision – what were the things I wanted to put back in? And, more importantly, what new things did I want to incorporate that would feed my soul instead of making my heart ache?

I like Christmas lights. I like biking home from teaching at night in the dark and watching more of them go up every night, illuminating my ride. They are up on our house again, the old-school painted bulb kind, glowing around my door when I get home. I like gingerbread lattes. I like day-after-Christmas dinners at Indian restaurants with friends, giving those who do spend the holidays with family an opportunity to do some hilarious re-gifting.

One thing I really like is yoga. And so, “Yoga for Holiday Stress” was born. (We teach what we need to learn the most.)

In this workshop, we realize we are not alone in our holiday ambivalence. We stretch, we breathe, we reflect and support one another as we each decide what to let go of, and what to usher in instead. Last year, we wrote ourselves holiday cards to remind us what really matters, and I sent them off to each student right when things would be the craziest.

I heard recently from a student who attended last year that she found that card in her holiday decorations as she was getting them out this year. Reading it reminded her, right at the outset, what was important to her, and was already altering how she approached the season. Messages like that are the best Christmas gift I could ever hope for.

There are only a few spots left, but if you sense that one of them is for you, go here: itsallyoga.com

May you have peace.

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Missing

When I was little, I made sure to sit next to my Uncle Jim at every holiday dinner. That way, we could play “Foot.” I can’t imagine any adult having the patience for such a game, but somehow he did. “Foot” consisted of me quietly sneaking my foot onto his knee at the table. Then I would wait, fairly bursting with the hilarity of this, for him to notice. “What?” he would cry, in feigned outrage. “What is this? Foot? Oh, god, not this again. I thought I had gotten rid of foot. Oh, foot. What am I going to do now? What will I do about this foot?” When I was satisfied with his reaction, I would slowly retract foot, only to repeat the game in about five minutes. This went on through the whole meal, and not once did he say: “Madeleine, I’m trying to have a conversation with the adults here. Can foot wait?

I wish we could have found a photo of him smiling for his missing poster.

On Monday, October 24th, my Uncle Jim set out from Las Vegas, NV, to visit my Mother in Vancouver, WA. On Wednesday, October 26th, he called her twice: once at ten in the morning, and once at noon. Both times he was calling from a pay phone, as he doesn’t have a cel. He said that he was lost, but he believed himself to be in the area of my Mom’s condo, and he would arrive there shortly.

But then he didn’t. When he didn’t turn up by Thursday, his sisters, my Mom and my Aunt Janet and my Aunt Ann, started notifying authorities. I didn’t hear a thing about it until Friday, after teaching my morning yoga class, when I had a text from my Cousin. I paced the circumference of the studio, making flustered calls to friends and family. I learned that Jim had been exhibiting signs of forgetfulness, and it amazed me that we had allowed him to make this journey. He doesn’t sleep in hotels, either, preferring to pull over to the side of the road and sleep at rest stops.

Those days of consistent family holidays are long gone. We are scattered now, to different states, to different problems. We forget to tell each other things. We also sometimes forget to take care of each other.

By Friday night, we were in full tilt search on the Internet. We also discovered that missing persons detectives don’t work weekends. So on Saturday, my spouse Joy and I decided to hit the road. Sunday found us flyering rest stops, talking to people, gazing out the window for a dark grey Honda off Interstate 5.

Through the sickened nauseous haze of those days, I became aware that something quite wonderful was happening. People were stepping in and picking up this burden with me. On Facebook, not just my friends, but friends of friends, and then their friends, posted the information, offered condolences and suggestions, and kept checking back for further news.

My spouse asked for an indefinite amount of time off from her job to help find him, with no real idea how much that might impact her being employed upon her return.

My family pulled together, too. I communicated more with my cousins those five days than I have in all the family holidays put together. We all found our strengths and shared them with each other, falling into natural rhythms and roles. For once, we really took care of each other.

I found out that more people have had a loved one go missing than you might think. People started writing to me with their stories. Most of these did not end well. A woman I didn’t know wrote to tell me her Brother-in-law was missing for three weeks before a helicopter spotted his car, with his body inside, off the side of a road. When Joy and I were on our search, a waitress asked where we were headed. When I told her, she put her hand on her heart and sank into a chair. Her Grandpa had gone missing while hunting. They had searched for him for 14 days, before another hunter found his body, curled up in a tree, one day before the snows would have buried him completely. “My heart breaks for you,” she said. “I’ll pray for you and for Jim.”

These sad stories, somehow, didn’t make me sadder. They reminded me that I was not the first person to have a loved one go missing, and I wouldn’t be the last. That night, in the motel, I finally had the courage to open my dog-eared copy of Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart,” and the chapter it naturally opened to was about the practice of Tonglen. I usually think of it as a formal meditation practice, but she was speaking of it more as a way of moving through the world. In Tonglen, we reverse our tendency to push away suffering. Instead, we breathe it in, with the sincere wish that all others sharing this same pain could be free of it. When we breathe out, we offer space, ease, freedom for everyone in the same circumstances. I’ve read this chapter many times, but it’s never had the same immediacy. “When we don’t close off, and we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings.”

So I closed my eyes and I let my heart break. I quietly cried and cried. I wasn’t just crying for Jim, but for Halee’s Grandpa, and Yvonne’s Brother-in -law, and the many faces on the other posters at the rest stops. Sometimes, people set out to get somewhere, and they just don’t arrive.

Then, I rolled off the bed onto the floor and took a knee to chest. I did a figure four stretch and then a lunge. It was the first time I’d done yoga since I’d heard the news, and it felt simple and really good. With my body somewhat soothed, I crawled back into bed, put a hand on my heart and let my breath guide me to sleep.

That same night, at 12:40am on Halloween morning, West Seattle Police Officer Patrick Chang found my Uncle Jim in a Seattle park, disoriented, but alive. He was sleeping in his car, wearing a lot of layers on top but shorts on the bottom, with the heat all the way on but the windows down. He seemed to have no idea five days had passed, that he was lost, and that people were worried about him.

I will be forever grateful for the thoughts and prayers that I believe shone like a spotlight on my Uncle the night he was found. I’m also grateful for Officer Chang’s thoroughness, kindness, and sense of humor. When he called my Mother to tell her he had found her Brother, he assured her that he was safe and well. Then he said: “I must say, he has a beautiful view of the city right here. Would you like to speak with him?”

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Happy Accidents in the Twitter Mandala

I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by how much I like Twitter. I’ve met the nicest people, and learned so much. After initial resistance, I got it right away: somehow, the constraints of the form – 140 characters, forcing an almost surgical shaving down of whatever it was you thought you needed to say – produce an immediacy that can encourage honesty, active communication, and swift action. Of course, to have this experience, you need to be finding and following the right people, which I clearly am.

One of the things that most surprised me is the generosity Twitter seems to inspire. It tickles me when people follow me out of the blue for no discernible reason other than shared interests. And when they respond thoughtfully to something I’ve posted, or say something nice about my blog, well, it’s still pretty magical.

That’s how I “met” Priscilla Warner, New York Times bestselling author of “The Faith Club.” Although I didn’t know that at the time – at first she was just @PrisWarner. A quick leap to her Website informed me that she wasn’t just a very cool person, but an incredibly accomplished one as well.

When she graciously offered to send me a copy of her new book to read I leapt at the chance. “Learning to Breathe” is her lively, engaging account of a year spent exploring meditation practice as a tool to manage, and ultimately change the course of her lifetime experience of panic disorder. As someone interested in all “complementary” means of working with mental health challenges, I knew I would enjoy the topic. And from the first page, I knew I would enjoy the book. Her writing is as warm and funny, generous and compelling.

I didn’t expect to cry as many times as I did, but then again I had no idea the things we would have in common. For instance, like Priscilla, I was struck when I was little with epiglottitis, a life-threatening inflammation of tissue at the back of the throat.This caused us both to have perilous, frightening stays in the ICU, and to hear a lifetime of stories of how much fear we caused our families. I had never considered how much this early childhood experience might affect me now as an adult, until I watched her draw that line of understanding. Who knows how long I would have taken to have that epiphany (if ever) if I we had not stumbled upon one another in the Twitterverse For this, and for many other recognitions and realizations, I am so grateful to have read this book.

Around the same time, I met @heartfulmindful, a meditation teacher in New Zealand. It only took a moment scanning his Website to determine that he was also Peter Fernando, and we had, amazingly, almost bumped in to one another previously in the real world. Peter spent much of his twenties living as a monk at Abhayagiri, a Buddhist monastery in the Thai Forest tradition that just happens to be in the beautiful hills of Mendocino, a couple hours from my house. Field trips to sit with the monks were a treasured and key ingredient in my teacher training studies at Yoga Mendocino. We quickly became quite certain that we had sat mere zafus away from one another, years ago.

Peter has developed an online course called “A Month of Mindfulness”, for those not fortunate enough to work with him in person in New Zealand. It is extensive, heartfelt online support for those either looking to begin or deepen an existing meditation practice. Written materials, emails, audio guided meditations and even videos are clearly crafted so lovingly, and provide such thoughtful discourse on all the very real, painful pitfalls – distraction, doubt, despair – that can assail anyone who attempts to sit and be still.

The video talks are real gems. They remind me so much of his teacher, Ven. Ajahn Amaro, for many years abbot of Abhayagiri, but sadly for me, recently called to work back in his native England (I wonder if I’ll find him on Twitter someday?) Watching Peter, I was reminded that people who spend a lot of time working with meditation and mindfulness don’t become dour and reserved, but delightful, open, and very, very funny. He is clearly having a great time, and it inspires one to have some of whatever he’s having.

I am deeply grateful to have encountered both these teachers through the Twitter mandala. And for all the little lessons I’ve been offered there, 140 characters at a time.

Click here for more on Priscilla Warner.

Click here for more on Peter Fernando.

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A Stress Free Manifesto

Manifestos like the ones pictured here make me so tired. I feel like they’re yelling at me.  “Hey you!” they cry. “Stop whatever it is you’re doing right now and start LIVING YOUR LIFE, for goodness sake! Carpe Diem! Seize the Moment! LIFE IS SHORT, so live it UP!” It feels less like inspiration and more like an indictment.

They want me to “stop what I’m doing and TRAVEL” while “DOING ONE THING A DAY THAT SCARES ME!”  But most importantly, they want to make sure I get the message that time’s a wastin’.  Do. It. Now. Now. NOW!

 

The thing is, I am living the life that I want. But even a life we love is filled with banal bits and bobs that don’t particularly look or feel inspirational.

Even Mary Oliver, bless her heart, makes me anxious when she asks me – “What is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?” Every time I read that, I feel like I should drop everything and find a field of wildflowers to be running through – preferably nude.

So, largely in self-defense, I’ve created my own manifesto, one that actually makes me feel more relaxed when I read it, not less. Now, when I run into one of these posters on the Internet (most of which are, I should point out, advertising, which may also be why they rub me the wrong way) I can pull out my own and remind myself I don’t have to tear off my clothes and buy a plane ticket around the world to be living a full life.

 

MY (MOSTLY) STRESS-FREE MANIFESTO

1.)  Everything is already okay. It’s also okay that you don’t believe this most of the time.

2.)  Kindness begins with yourself.

3.)  Forgiveness begins with yourself, too, including forgiveness for the myriad ways you’ve failed to be kind to yourself.

4.)  Checking a New Yorker magazine out at the library is a triple win: It gets you into a library, which soothes your soul, it keeps back issues from piling up, which serves the Earth, and it makes sure you’re reading something, which stimulates your intellect. Bonus: it’s free.

5.)  Look at your dog. No matter what, he still loves you.

6.)  There are very few moments that cannot be made at least slightly better by taking a deep breath. Or drinking a glass of water. Or lighting a candle.

7.)  You don’t have to apologize for liking television. The fact that entertaining and occasionally intelligent content is beamed directly into your home is nothing short of a miracle. Television is wonderful.

8.)  As soon as you lose a pound, you gain it. As soon as your house is clean, it gets messy again. As soon as your bank balance goes up, it goes down. You can let it go.

9.)  You may not always be able to travel somewhere new, but you can always look at your world through traveller’s eyes.

10.)  Remember -no one else has it figured out either (even the ones writing loud manifestos). We’re all in the same boat, headed in the same direction.

 

 

 

Posted in Kindness, Letting Go, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 19 Comments

How to Get Yourself on Your To-Do List

Last weekend, I went to Forever 21 and bought a necklace (never mind that it’s closer to Forever 41 in my case…) It was less than five dollars, and it’s made of shimmery silver leaves that jingle when I walk, which makes me feel like a belly dancer and also makes me feel like a million bucks. And I never would have bought it if I hadn’t made accessorizing an assignment in my Manual.

As I have written here before, I have a three ring binder with Madeleine Michele Lohman – The Manual on the cover. It’s a place where I attempt to keep record of who I truly am, and where I would like to be, and what my most authentic self might like to accomplish.

What does authenticity have to do with me and a mall and a cheap necklace? Bear with me for a moment.

When we really stop and consider what we want out of life, the ideas can come back a bit…lofty. Happiness, contentment, self-empowerment, authenticity. These all sound lovely, but it’s hard to know what they would actually look like in our lives.

So, once I have an inkling of what I want, (what I really, really want) I start breaking it down. And then I keep on breaking it down.

Let me break it down:

Wednesday lunchtime is my weekly Manual Check-in. I sit down and open my binder and reflect. This week, for instance, I sat on the kitchen floor, in front of the oven. October just got cold. I sat for a moment with the question: “What do I really want my life to look like?” I rarely get any sort of articulate answer to questions like these, but I trust there is an inherent value to taking a moment to ask the question anyway.

The first page of the binder is called Seasonal Principles. These are the biggies – the sometimes overwhelming and elusive Things I Want out of Life. For me, it’s helpful to at least break this down into seasons. I don’t have to think about my whole lifetime, or even this year. Just what I want for autumn.

Following this page is daily practices and monthly projects. Three things to be aware of daily, and a handful of multi-step projects, that hopefully in some way relate back to the essence of the Seasonal Principles. Each monthly project has a list of actions, bite size pieces of how I will get from here to there.

Here’s my favorite part of my Wednesday check in: I take a pen and I write the next actions and daily practices on individual Post-it notes. I then place those notes on my calendar. (Yes, I still use a paper and pencil calendar. I like seeing the days of my life take up room in space so they feel more real. The last time I had a virtual calendar was a “Palm Pilot” – remember those? It was stolen from my car and I never replaced it.)

This system reminds me of rainfall – the Manual and the papers within it are pregnant clouds hovering over my life, and the Post-its rain down into each day.

By the time something makes it to a Post-it note, I make sure it’s so banal it couldn’t be remotely frightening to me.

So here’s how we get to the shiny necklace:

One of my fall goals is “Recognize My Power”. In the binder, I’ve actually written it as a mantra: “I am powerful.” It’s nice to have something you can say whether you believe it or not.

One of my daily practices in support of this goal is: “Accessorize.” Let me explain: I schedule the living heck out of my day (letting go of that would be another great goal…for another season) but generally one thing I never schedule enough time for is getting ready. I am too busy considering everything else and everyone else’s needs to remember that I might need time to transition from my private to my public life.

Which means that I generally start getting ready for, say a party, about five minutes before we’re supposed to leave. My spouse can tell you, that on almost any car ride, I have the sun-shield mirror down, and I’m trying not to poke myself in the eye as I scribble eyeliner on. And frankly, in 38 years, I’ve very rarely considered that an outfit can go beyond just the parts that are necessary to avoid public indecency.

So buying an item whose purpose is nothing other than to be shiny was pretty decadent. But the effect has been palpable. Taking that teency extra moment to put on a necklace made me feel different, even just sashaying the aisles of a Trader Joe’s. By accessorizing, I elevated preparing myself to meet my day to the level of all the other preparations I do, for class, for a massage, for dinner.  Those are the things that usually take up all the room in my To-Do list. This system is the best thing I’ve found to make sure that an equal amount of space on my To-Do list is dedicated to what feeds my spirit and my soul.

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The Other Closet

Having a mental health diagnosis and not talking about it is a lot like being gay and not coming out of the closet. It’s lonely and frightening. You also hear all the conversations and slurs that, otherwise, people would have the good sense to utter behind your back.

Admitting to a disease of the mind is still completely different territory than admitting to a disease of the body. There is a fear, often self-inflicted, that what is occurring is not an illness, but a weakness, a consistent failure of will.

Practicing yoga adds an unfortunate layer to this cycle of self-judgement. If yoga is a practice of mental and physical discipline, then surely our mental health suffering is a failure of our practice. We just haven’t found the right pose, the right sequence, the right meditation instruction.

I speak very rarely of my mental health, and with a carefully chosen select few. It is a sort of second coming out, and for me it has been more fraught than the first one.

I dipped a toe in the pool of becoming more public while attending a series of classes in Chi Gong for Healing. I was there to support a dear friend diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. A half hour of exercises was followed by two hours of sitting. Practitioners of this particular school of Chi Gong would sit like an orchestra facing its audience, each holding an acupuncture model about the size of a Barbie doll and a hammer. Standing in front of them was their conductor, the main healer, an unassuming middle-aged man in sneakers.

This class was intended for those struggling with illness or pain, so my friend suggested I might want to have something ready. So, when the leader asked new people to raise their hands, and asked me why I was there, I took a shaky breath and answered “depression.” (This is only the partial truth. The reality is a touch more complex, but I was trying to be nice. I figured one word would help move things along more quickly – there were about 80 people with their own maladies to get through, after all.)

The healing for each condition would take about two to three minutes. The disorders were approached from the top of the body to the bottom. It would sound like this:

“Okay, Parkinson’s…anyone have Parkinson’s? Okay, you, how you been, better? Good. Okay, ready?” Here he would turn around to his crew and give a few acupuncture points which they would then commence to hammer on their doll for two or three minutes while we all meditated on receiving the energy, guided especially to those with Parkinson’s. The lead healer called my friend MS Lady, as in: “Where’s MS Lady? How you been, better?”

The whole evening was this mix of high and low, of serious and comical. There was clearly some serious mojo happening in that room, and some terrible suffering, but there was also an offhand, fluorescent-light casualness to the atmosphere. The list of diseases lost the ability to shock, and took on a banal sort of normalcy. Old women dozed in the folding chairs lining the wall. I spent a whole evening once watching one of them almost fall off her chair a dozen times, catching herself with a snort just in time.

My self-perceived status as an interloper had two aspects – one of very few white people in a room of folks of Japanese descent who all seemed to know each other, and the only person seeking help for a mental, rather than a physical condition. I had a fear that when the leader heard my request he would laugh me out of the room. But he promptly turned to his orchestra, and they commenced to hammering with the exact same casual concentration they did for stage 4 cancer. And he turned to me afterwards with the same question: “How about now? Better?”

After class one night, a gentleman approached me. “I want you to know I came initially for depression too,” he said. “After my brother died, I sunk into it and couldn’t get out. This really helped me, I hope it helps you.”

The risk of exposure has its reward: knowing you are not alone.

In my second opportunity to expose myself, I was less successful. In one of my  teacher training programs, the subject of Bipolar Disorder arose. It was in a discussion of a candidate for a meditation program, not present in the room, who was rejected from the program, sight unseen, for having this diagnosis. No other information was provided regarding this person, yet across the room, heads nodded in agreement, all experienced yogis and teachers. ““Meditation wouldn’t be the best practice for them. Could be too destabilizing, they would disrupt the group,” they said. And: “people with serious mental health issues like that are best off practicing not Hatha Yoga but an alternate path, like Karma Yoga instead.”

I deeply regret that I did not have the courage speak up in that moment. I was paralyzed with mortification.  My worst fears about how my colleagues would react to my coming out of the mental health closet seemed to be coming true.

I did not have the courage to speak then, but I do now.

I have Bipolar 2 Disorder and PMDD*. This represents neither a failure of my personal will nor a failure of my yoga practice. It does not define me, but I can no longer distance myself from it as I have in the past. It has not impeded my ability to benefit from yoga. In fact, I believe the process of facing, and, bit by bit, accepting the darker aspects of my mental health has made me a better, more compassionate yoga teacher.

I’m saying this now because I know it will matter to someone, the way it mattered to me when a stranger and I recognized each other in that Chi Gong class.  How many more people, that night, were surreptitiously soaking up the minutes of Chi sent out for mental suffering? All of us, tragically, thinking we were the only one?

(* Bipolar 2 Disorder is characterized by periods of depression, but lacking the full-blown manic episodes typical of Bipolar 1. PMDD – Pre Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder – is, in my case, what happens when hormonal fluctuations meet an underlying mood disorder, which is nothing good.)

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