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I feel so much lighter now.

I just delivered a bag of fabric scraps and a bag of scarves, both of which were FG’s, to members of my neighborhood Buy Nothing Group who understand how special FG was and promised to put her things to good use. Both of these women are without cars, so they were particularly grateful that I offered to deliver the bags, even though people usually pick up your Buy Nothing items when you post them on Facebook. I have been carrying these bags around in the trunk of my car for months. They are the last of many more bags of fabric, craft supplies, and assorted other treasures that FG sent home with me from her house over the past year.

Although FG was not a particularly sophisticated social media user (beyond lurking on Facebook and being aware at all times of what I was up to), I know she would have liked Buy Nothing. She and my mom inherited their parents’ habit of saving anything that might ever prove useful, as well as their generosity in sharing what they had with others. FG and my mom–and FG’s daughter, my cousin Melissa–have exemplified the adage, “one person’s trash in another person’s treasure.” Although none of them quite approached the collection and transformation of trash in the same way, all of them have always been creative.

I am usually trying to get rid of things and declutter our house, especially since there’s a steady flow of incoming items. And it is so much fun to see that the Buy Nothing community is thrilled to find new and creative uses for my unwanted stuff. I don’t personally know most of the people in the group, but I’ve gotten to know some of them simply through the exchange of goods and the stories behind them. And I have learned that these people are unfailingly kind and generous. One of my favorites–who I have actually had the pleasure of meeting in person–is a kindness activist who consistently goes above and beyond to help others. She had a kindness yard sale this summer–people (including me of course) donated all kinds of crazy junk and she “sold” it to customers for whatever price they wanted to pay. She raised $8000+ and she’s using every penny to spread kindness to others in our community. She and lots of other folks in our neighborhood helped this family build a rainbow schoolhouse for their daughter. How cool is that?


Last night my church held an (online) Remembrance Vespers service. You might not realize that you need a good opportunity to sit and cry about the people you love who are gone, but sometimes you do. So many people have told me to “take time to grieve” the loss of FG. Honestly I don’t know how that works. I think about her all the time. I struggle with impulses to do or make things that remind me of her, but of course I’m reminded of her anyway whether I do them or not. I really want to make chicken salad, but I always called her when I made it for a reminder of the family recipe or maybe just for moral support. I think I am afraid I will cry in the chicken salad and then everyone who eats it will cry, like in Like Water for Chocolate.


My lightness also comes from getting a haircut and highlights this afternoon. Why anxiety makes me want to get rid of all my hair, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s related to the idea of “I want to tear my hair out.” Which I don’t want to do, because that would hurt. Whereas getting a haircut feels wonderful. There was a new shampooer at my salon who gifted me with a fabulous head massage. I haven’t had highlights in ages because it’s expensive to maintain and just seems cumbersome. But I decided the world is such a disaster right now that I needed a lift that brightening my curls could offer.

While I was getting my shampoo, I did not think about politics for one second. I only thought about how that woman’s hands felt on my head and how lovely the shampoo smelled. While I was getting my highlights I started a novel that my minister recommended.

I did talk about the election with Adil, my stylist, because we always talk about what’s going on. We commiserated and tried to reassure each other that we’ll get through this and that our country has had enough madness and we’re going to turn things around. Right?


I can sense how everyone around me is holding their breath. Even though I wanted to turn over and go back to sleep when my alarm went off this morning, I turned on zoom and logged into my yoga class. And of course I was glad I did. Why as humans do we need to be reminded so often to take a deep breath? And another? And another? Or is that just me? Anyway I am thankful for the reminder. My friends and I remind each other that it’s perfectly fine to have a really low bar right now for what we can accomplish or deal with. We are all operating at considerably less than 100%. But that’s ok. We will ramp back up again someday. For now we can be satisfied with simply surviving and remembering to take another deep breath.

In my closet hang 21 summer dresses in shades of blue and red and pink with flowers and stripes and paisley patterns. I usually wear them to church on Sundays and to meetings with clients and to plays. I have several pairs of strappy sandals with wedge heels to wear with the dresses. I like the kind of sandals that show off my toes because usually my toenails are painted some vibrant color with an impossible delicate design of daisies or something similar on my big toes, courtesy of the artisans at Nails 2000.


I am so not a girly girl. I hardly wear makeup and I haven’t blow dried my hair in decades and my typical outfit is a t-shirt and jeans–or in recent months–yoga pants. But it’s easy to dress up in the summer and it’s literally cooler. I don’t envy men who feel compelled to wear jackets and ties when it’s 80 degrees.


I suspect that this summer I won’t have any occasion to wear any of my dresses. I watched church this morning in my pajamas. All the concerts and plays have been canceled. All my meetings are online. And it doesn’t really matter what you wear online, as long as you’re clothed.
I recognize that none of this is a serious problem or anything worth complaining about when juxtaposed with the incomprehensible (and inexcusably somewhat preventable) suffering in the world right now. I understand that.
I only mention it because I spent hours cleaning out of closet yesterday and rearranging my clothes by season and seeing all my dresses reminded me all over again of what’s wrong with our world.


Seeing my dresses reminded me that the president told religious congregations to reopen their doors and return to services as usual, inviting their members to get sick and infect others or perhaps die. My church, like many others, has been holding services and offering programming online and will continue to do so indefinitely. In response to the president saying churches are essential, our newly called senior minister (who will join us in August) said to her current congregation, (I’m paraphrasing) you know who’s essential? Our people. That’s why we will not be gathering, because we want our people to stay healthy and alive. My dresses reminded me that the president does not care about people. While the New York Times ran a front page filled with the names of nearly 100,000 Americans who have died from coronavirus, on a weekend where we honor those who have died in military service, the president played golf.


Who knew my dresses were so fraught with meaning?

The mood swings are killing me. And not my 13-year-old’s mood swings, but mine.

The quasi-quarantine (I acknowledge, as a friend pointed out recently, that we are not actually in quarantine, which is more serious) feels a little to me like what I remember of being drunk. Admittedly it has been decades since I’ve experienced that. Now after having a bottle of hard cider with pizza for dinner I wake up in the middle of the night and have to eat crackers and take Tums. What I mean, though, is that every emotion seems to be magnified times a thousand. For a few days this week I felt like I was trying to swim through molasses. I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything. I was napping even more than usual. I wasn’t showering until 6pm. I was yelling at my kids. After reading news stories about the projected future of this virus and trying to wrap my head around the idea that our lives will never be the same, I was despondent.

Reading, which is usually my refuge, has been doing me a disservice. My default activity was scrolling through Facebook and clicking on articles about epidemiology, the current administration’s irresponsible and deadly response to the virus, the response of white vigilante terrorists to measures designed to save lives, the actions of white vigilante terrorists who killed a black man who was out for a jog, the number of people suffering because they have no jobs and therefore not much food, and the fact that my zip code has the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases in Arlington.

So during the 4am-6am period that I was awake last night, I deleted Facebook from my phone. This is a step I’ve taken many times before, and I always re-install it after a few days. But today was so much better.

Zeke and I made wonderful French toast with the delicious challah bread I picked up yesterday from Great Harvest Bread Company. I had more energy than I’ve had in several days–the molasses was gone–and I coerced my family into helping clean the house. We threw away so much stuff, and organized, and dusted. We have now–over the span of the quasi-quarantine–accumulated four large boxes of things to give away or sell. I am still not sure when I will be able to give these things away or sell them, but at least now they’re in boxes instead of scattered all over the house. We played Jackbox games over Zoom with friends who we used to have dinner with often and friends who live far away who we haven’t seen in a while and we all laughed and laughed and all our kids played too and it was pure joy.

Saying that taking the Facebook app off my phone immediately led to a state of bliss would be an oversimplification. But it helped for sure.


I have a stack of notes I need to write. These blank cards, addressed and stamped but not yet written, had been piling up on my desk since December. Since Randy is now using my desk to work, the notes are now cascading in piles of my stuff on the edge of the dining room table (where Randy’s papers used to live). If you are a member of my extended family and you have not received a Christmas card, Valentine, thank you note, or other expected correspondence from me over the past six months, I apologize. And I promise I will write the cards. But when I think about what I would say, I start to have that molasses feeling again. Looking back on what our lives were like back in December, and January, and even February, my heart hurts. I feel naive. I feel nostalgic. I feel overwhelmed, like I need to sit down because I’m going to faint. Despite the abundance of news and information, there is a distinct lack of clarity and certainty. I still can’t wrap my head around our existence right now. My Dad asked for Washington Nationals face masks and a donation to a food bank for his birthday. My sister and I debated at length how to make it as safe as possible to spend time with our Mom on Mother’s Day. Almost every ordinary activity takes on extraordinary meaning when you have to decide how much danger is inherent in each decision.

I used to be a person who possessed a lot of energy. While I am not quite a sack of potatoes yet, my motor operates at a much slower speed than before. I know this happens to people in their 40s, but I don’t like it. The precipitous decline for me came after Zeke was born. No matter what anyone tells you, having two kids is way harder than having just one. And Zeke’s sleeplessness for the first two years of his life is probably what led to my sleep disorder. Not that I blame him. He’s worth it. 🙂 But this quasi-quarantine is squeezing what energy I have left. Of course there are moments–even hours!–of fun and diversion and creativity and relaxation. But they seem to be bracketed by confusion, doubt, and exhaustion. There’s a heaviness that lingers, a longing for freedom.


Since tomorrow is Mother’s Day, my family decided it would be just like my birthday in that I could make the plan for the day. My aspiration for tomorrow morning is to get myself out of bed and do yoga. I have many yoga teacher friends and so many sources for online classes, but I have not done a single one of them since we’ve been staying home. Partly because there always seems to be something more urgent demanding my attention, and partly because my house bears no resemblance to the clean, peaceful emptiness of a yoga studio. I have never once regretted going to a yoga class, but I have also never succeeded in sticking to a practice at home. I struggle to stick to much of anything sometimes. I know, however, that if I’m going to survive this thing, I need to take better care of myself. Making myself a priority has always been anathema to me. It seems selfish, and to me selfishness is a serious character flaw. Of course I’ve been told by friends, therapists, and many people who love me that I need to put on my own oxygen mask first. I know this is true. It’s just so much easier to do when everyone else is out of the house. I can take fabulous care of myself when I have plenty of time and resources. Learning so many new ways to be is a lot of work. No wonder I’m so moody.

bodydiagram

This is where my organs would ordinarily be, if they weren’t displaced by my all-consuming anxiety. 

I am so filled with anxiety that I am certain there is no room left inside me for my internal organs. They have been squeezed together in some tiny crevice so my anxiety has ample room to luxuriously expand. The knots in my stomach have all but filled my stomach so there is little space left for such old-fashioned things as digestion to occur.

I have spent a lot of this summer reminding myself to breathe. Taking deep breaths that require much more effort than seems normal, but then again when was the last time I was normal? I suppose the breathing has helped, as the threatening panic attack remains hovering at the edge of my consciousness, ready to jump in at any time an opening presents itself. The panic attack is like a first responder, but not the helpful kind.

Chief among the myriad reasons for this anxiety (although really, who needs reasons?) are two new schools. Tomorrow my kids will get on their respective school buses–they have never ridden buses to school before–and be delivered to elementary school and middle school for the first time. They will have new buildings to navigate, new teachers to get to know, new classmates who speak different languages, new assignments to remember, new school cultures to learn.

Of course I realize that kids start new schools all the time. This is the way of the world. But all those other kids aren’t mine. And my kids, unfortunately or inevitably or just because of good old genetics, share with me just a bit of that predisposition toward anxiety. We are a sensitive people. I remember years ago hearing the adage that having kids is like letting your heart walk around outside your body, and so it is. Starting new schools is like your heart has developed some confidence, a sense of style, a few signature jokes, and then suddenly it’s stripped bare all over again, completely vulnerable in a new environment. And now my heart is split into two, wandering through two new schools, looking around desperately for other hearts that will be kind.

This year for the first time I have a number of friends who are sending kids to college. Zeke’s previous preschool teacher and preschool director, friends from church, friends from high school and elementary school, and my yoga teacher all delivered offspring to college for the first time in August. (All to excellent Virginia schools, as it happens). When I think of them, even when I see the pictures on Facebook of their smiling kids in freshly decorated dorm rooms, I feel like my heart is not simply walking around outside my chest, but has been forcibly ripped from my body and flung hundreds of miles away, where it may be lying in a ditch, attempting to struggle to its feet. College! Thinking about this literally makes my chest hurt. My daughter is only seven years away from this prospect. When I ran into our wise preschool director the other day and mentioned this, she said not to think about it yet, just to concentrate on kindergarten and sixth grade right now. Which is good, because that is all I am capable of at the moment.

I try hard not to be a helicopter parent. My philosophy is much more free range, although it’s challenging in a culture of helicopters. I do believe in giving my children the opportunity to be independent, and learn things, and grow on their own. But what if kids are mean to them? What happens when kids are mean to them? Because it’s bound to happen and it’s already happened and it’s so hard. Did I mention we are sensitive people? This summer at a couple of camps some little boys said mean things to Zeke. I don’t know what all of the words were. Some of them, as I recall, were, “I don’t like you.” No one wants to hear that, but when you’re 44 it’s easier to give someone the side eye and walk away. Of course, when “I don’t like you” is accompanied by being punched in the back while you’re trying to make art, it’s harder to let it slide. Especially when you’re five. The day after this happened, Zeke was desperately and theatrically upset when I tried to drop him off at camp. It took 30 minutes for me to get to the bottom of the problem, but I did. I talked with the teacher and reassured Zeke that she would keep an eye on things and make sure the boys didn’t bother him. She moved him to a different team, and he was calm and everything was fine. By the end of the week he was playing with the same boys. Sometimes I don’t understand how life works at all.

With girls it’s different, of course. I’ve been hearing a lot from fellow parents of tweens that we should brace ourselves for the mean girls of middle school years. Optimistically I feel like we can bypass this particular trauma because we’ve been dealing with mean girls since Zoe was in kindergarten. While she had an overall excellent experience in elementary school and has always had lots of friends, there was rarely a time in which she didn’t have at least one “friend” who was trying to manipulate and control her. There was the girl who, in kindergarten, insisted that Zoe play Justin Bieber (Zoe didn’t even know who he was, but cried about it nonetheless), and later threw rocks at Zoe because she was trying to meditate when the girl wanted to play. And there were other girls for the following five years who tried to take advantage of Zoe, who threatened to abandon her if she played with other friends, who attempted to enlist her as a personal assistant. There was so much drama. And it wasn’t even middle school yet. So the good thing, I keep reminding myself, is that Zoe has so much experience dealing with this behavior and has learned how to stand up for herself and take care of herself in ways that it took me many more decades to learn myself, that maybe she’ll be ok in middle school. I hope.

At her school open house, she was not the only kid to be walking around in a daze, clinging to a parent’s arm, wondering how she would figure all this out on her own. I know she won’t really be on her own. There will be 899 other kids there! I know she’ll be ok. But I also know it’s a little terrifying, and no amount of reassurance from her parents will take that away until she does figure it out for herself.

Less than 24 hours from now, my kids will be at school. I’ll be on my way to a new yoga class I signed up for, which will be an excellent way for me to not sit home and cry or give in to that panic attack. Then after yoga I’ll come home and attack the million work assignments I’ve been neglecting during the last week of summer when I’ve been trying to squeeze in the maximum amount of fun experiences with my family so they can have happy memories to hang onto during their own moments of encroaching anxiety. And I’ll try my best to focus on getting my work done while I count the minutes until those school buses pull up to our bus stop and I not very casually envelop my children in gigantic hugs and try not to pepper them with all my questions about how the first day of school went. I will exhale. And the next day at least it won’t be quite so new.

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  1. If you could switch places with someone for a day, who would it be and why?
  2. What’s the most significant way you’ve changed over time?
  3. What can’t you live without?
  4. If you could replace any part of your body with an artificial part guaranteed to never fail, what would you choose?
  5. If you wrote a book, what would it be about?

    Listen here:
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I have never giggled so much at having my face smeared with drool.

Today was Zeke’s and my last baby yoga class and it was comical. I realized we’ve been doing mommy-baby yoga for six months now, and it’s kind of amazing to think we’ve been doing anything together for six months. Zeke is like the wise elder of the class, filled with babies who are still counting their age in weeks. I’ve loved this class, and so has Zeke. Most of the time during class he is delighted, except when he is hungry and we have to pause our poses for a snack. Zeke especially loves the teacher, Kathy, who is very attentive to the babies. His face lights up when she approaches and he is mesmerized. Unfortunately Kathy wasn’t there today and there was a substitute, who didn’t really care much about the babies. She also taught the class completely differently, making it basically moms attempt to do yoga in the presence of their babies, or holding their babies, without any baby yoga involved or any poses specifically chosen for baby interaction purposes. So Zeke and I will have to do our toes to nose and kissy feet and I love yous on our own. Anyway, mostly what happened today was that I did a few poses, Zeke drank a lot of milk, and then Zeke scooted on and over and under me while I did a few poses. And, because Zeke is a fountain of drool at all times, Zeke drooled on my neck and chest and, for a few shining moments of intimacy, nuzzled his drooly face up against mine, completely soaking my cheek while I tried to do a bridge pose. It was hard not to laugh.

I am sad that we’re done with yoga, but Zeke just won’t be still enough for it to work. Next we will go in search of a toddler yoga class, as soon as he’s toddling, which won’t be long now.

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