Thursday, February 26, 2009

Notes from my weekend oasis at YMAA Boston

Last week was crazy with activity- good, bad, triumphant, heart-breaking. This week- which I had been fantasizing would include a visit to my beloved BPL, meditatively strolling down the beautiful, unpolluted streets of Boston and angels bursting from a cloudless sky to sing in perfect harmony- started with Simon throwing up three times between 5 and 7 AM. After the second time, I was pretty sure my week was shot.

In between the insanity, I took a workshop with my trainer/friend at the YMAA Studio right down the street. The workshop was Qigong Level 1 and was taught by Dr. Yang himself. He's only here once a year now, so a lot of people come to take advantage when he is in town. I wasn't in the mood to spend any more money on training, but one of my yoga students there kept encouraging me, and I'm so glad. Below are some of my notes. I hope I'm giving readers an idea of what it was like, but I'm confident that it won't be a substitute for the actual experience.

Dr. Yang spent quite a bit of time talking about qi to define it and explain how it's relevant to our modern world. In modern terms, it's bioelectricty, and our bodies work best when that energy is balanced throughout the body. In many if not all cases, we can tell when our energy is balanced, deficient or excessive through sensations or lack thereof. This was the tool traditional Chinese medical practitioners used for hundreds of years, in many cases "catching" problems before they became full-blown. An early model of early-detection, if you will. Along those lines, he cited that 5 out of 13 chemotherapy patients survive while 8/13 complementary medicine patients survive (after both have sought out treatment for their advanced stage cancer).

If qi is stagnant or excessive, the key to balancing it is movement. Other important factors involved in the balancing of the qi are breathing (naturally), nutrition, exposure to nature (and some spent quite a bit of time debating whether or not exposure to polluted nature was better than no exposure at all), artificial stimulation (massage, acupuncture, et al) and the original essence you were born with.

We talked about the concepts of yin and yang; we talked about the vessels of energy or qi versus reservoirs of qi and where both are. We talked about upper chi versus lower chi, and we talked about organ pairs. We talked about when you would rather use qigong movement and breathing and where you would be well served by acupuncture or massage. We talked about and briefly practiced some breathing and meditation techniques. Perhaps because of the number of people practicing the latter in the same room, my third eye was uncomfortably vibrating for a few minutes afterward. Then, after sitting on the floor for a few hours, we happily practiced some exercises.

So far, much of this doesn't sound very different from what you might get at anyone else's lecture on yoga and qigong. What distinguished Dr. Yang's approach was that he linked as much as he could to science. What couldn't he link? The existence of a spiritual, "yin", unseen side of the body, for obvious reasons. Everything else he offered a scientific, medical explanation for, including, most importantly, where the energy pathways in the body lay. That was the breakthrough, hallmark moment for me, because much of what I have read stemming from the yogic tradition has always said that these energy pathways exist over or almost externally to the body. Master Yang thinks there is a concrete physical location for all of them. I'm not going to tell you where- although I bet you could take a book out of the library and figure it out- but I will give you a hint: it's not the muscles, it's not the fasciae and it isn't fat.

Even the most casual students of yoga and Pilates have noticed that both disciplines put a special emphasis on the middle of the body, specifically cavity of the body that corresponds to the lower back- what I like to think of the great unskeletoned area. Many yogic traditions place the third chakra- or power center- in the area of the navel, and Pilates referred to this area as the Powerhouse (a term I've always preferred to "the core"). Those who have experienced either or both of these practices viscerally understands the veracity of those designations, but it wasn't until this weekend that I had an explanation that made sense. Again, I don't want to give too much away, and Doctor Yang explained it much better than I could anyway, but it all goes back to the earliest stages of life and our evolution.

There were more- the importance of the diaphragm for the division of the upper and lower body, a thorough discussion of the connections between the primary brain and the secondary brain, breathing techniques to enhance the collection of qi, his experiences treating people with "terminal" conditions, and of course the exercises, which is why people will initially go- but what made me respect the information so much was that he would say when something was (currently) beyond his experience. He was successful in using breathing and intentional exercise to treat just about everything he had come across- except for brain tumors. When asked about a breathing technique related to but different from those he had taught and what kind of energetic effect it would have, he thought for a moment and answered that he didn't know. His feeling seemed to be that many acupuncturists would be unable to handle certain serious mental health conditions, but he didn't argue when someone talked about their successes with one. He is an empiricist who is not only open to new ideas but also excited by them.

Now I'm trying to decide if I can go back for more this weekend. I'll let you know,
Deb in the City

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

I am a bit of an overachiever. By the time I was 25, I had my bachelors, husband, first child, real job and owned my home. Everything was at least a few years ahead of most people's schedule.

I am not entirely lacking in judgment. I had acceptances to both law and business schools when I graduated from college and began law school when I was 19. Because that's what I was supposed to do. But of course it wasn't. It took one tepid cautionary tale to make me realize two months into the program that it just wasn't my path- or passion.

I don't miss the things I didn't "get" to do, like drinking, drugging or partying hard. Well, maybe a little more dancing, that might have been fun. I must have been the one person who took "just say no" seriously- probably more to do with my parents, particularly my father, than anything else. I see my body as a bit of temple, and while I may not always have respected it, putting substances into it seemed to be beyond the pale.

I have, however, craved rewards. In the back of my mind, I've always thought that if I barreled through something, I would deserve to be rewarded. Let's say that high school was one big trial, and I felt entitled after that. I think many people do, which might explain the first few months of college. As for me, I worked pretty hard for two years- no semesters off, almost always overloading on classes- while being with the wrong guy. Of course.

Free of the guy, then free of law school, I decided that I was going to reward myself. I went on a trip with a good friend to the Bahamas in the middle of January. The most relaxing three days of my life. The last six years had been worth it. Except that I came back to find that my sister had given my room over to a girl from work who was having roommate problems, and then about a week later that development precipitated a blowout with my sister's boyfriend, our other roommate. At least I remembered what relaxation felt like.

As lives go, I've had less to whine about than others. I've had my share of tragedies- my childhood- but I've also had a bunch of lucky breaks that I was able to hop on quickly. I've been stressed out- oh well. There are worse things. I've learned to stop looking for fairy tale respites, because those usually turn out badly. (Mental note: the story about my trip to New York in late August/early September- of 2001.) I've been deeply dissatisfied and disappointed, but I still have my family and I've weathered this downturn better than many others.

In fact, as scheduled, the next few days are supposed to be great. I'll be done with my apprenticeship hours in two days, maybe one. I don't think I'll be charging out immediately, but at least a large amount of time will be freed up. So I can finally return to writing- yay :-). As a bonus, I'm taking a workshop on qigong that I'm looking forward to and that will help all of my classes. Best of all, I'll be celebrating my oldest child's fifteenth birthday, which is as wonderful for me as it is for her.

Great on paper.

I found out on Monday that the child of two of my friends died. I am not too close to these two, and I regret that. However, they generously helped me get a job teaching yoga at the studio right down the street from me, and I am in their debt. And they're just very nice people.

It is only in the last few days that I learned that the child died of the flu. The flu. Not an accident, not an accidental or intentional overdose, but the flu. And I am reminded of the other senseless deaths I have marked with my friends: my friend's younger brother, handsome and a freshly minted lawyer, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in his sleep in the house that his father had bought for him and his siblings to vacation in; and then the younger sister of my friend who died of an asthma attack despite the fact that her roommates immediately called 911.

All of this falls into the category of senseless because there is no logical progression. You take a risk on something dangerous- pick your poison- and while the odds are good that you'll survive most things (and I'm glad), it's understood you might not. But what is the risk in sleep? Inhalation? Being with your family and friends? It's beyond unfair- it's unfathomable.

All of that isn't what compelled me to stay up writing into my Blackberry on my couch past midnight. I was looking at an old friends old pictures and I saw one with an old classmate of ours. Her tag was RIP. But that couldn't be, because I remembered seeing her in one of my classes five years ago. I remember talking to her and laughing about old times. And there she was, smiling in this picture eighteen years ago. Then I remembered talking to her by the lockers, then later in a friend's bedroom. It couldn't be true, but an internet search confirmed that this person had indeed died over a year ago, outlived by her parents, her child, her siblings and friends. And me.

I'm not one of those people that wishes I could be younger. I had parents like that, and it seemed undignified and immature. Plus adulthood and maturity are so much safer and stabler than my youth. I'm happy to be at this stage in my life. I don't feel mortality upon me. But I just feel so sad and lonely now, even though all of the dead I've mentioned are people I didn't really know. Why? Why so young? Why when they were loved and cared for? Why when they all wanted to do more and should have had the time?

I don't know why this bothers me so much. Perhaps because I have not always been loved and cared for, but here I am. (Where is that again?) Perhaps because there are people whom I love, but I am now reminded that that won't protect them. Perhaps because all of this seems bundled into a question that I want to answer. I don't think I know what the question is, but it's something like: What do we do now, with those people with whom we may only have today, towards those goals we may not have long to accomplish? Should our lives be our goals that we've predetermined, or should it be the journey we let unfold? Maybe what frightens me, what's keeping me up, is that at this point I still have to ask. I don't crave youth, I crave wisdom- I want the answers, and I am tormented by the thought that there are none.

Deb in the City

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Adding values, even now

As I may have mentioned before, the economic downturn has finally made me feel like I'm not a jerk. I had to take a cut in our standard of living back in 2002, and even though I don't think the economy has improved significantly during that time- unless you happened to be in the top 1/4 of the income bracket already- people have still been spending money as if it had and I've felt left out. Actually, sometimes I've succumbed, but then I've regretted it. Well, now no one can pretend that they can afford it, because the months since September have been one constant reminder of what happens when we as individuals and institutions live beyond our means.

I don't feel like I'm "saving" a lot- my husband's job has great benefits, but the salary is low; also, I've been working a lot but not charging for much of it- but I think I still fall into that category of people that isn't spending enough, or so the pundits say. And I just shake my head. The problem isn't that we're not spending as much now- the problem is that we were spending too much on the wrong things before. Surely I'm not the only one who sees that?

When I was in American History 1960-Present in 1991, Professor McShane told the class that Americans were now eating half of their meals outside the home, in a restaurant (I assume that he wasn't talking about people bringing a bagged lunch from home). I know that that figure went up in the ensuing years and that the majority of people's meals were prepared outside of their house. When I worked on Boylston Street in the earlier part of the decade, I patronized my share (well, maybe a little less than my share) of some medium eating establishments. But not as often as my peers, because 1) I'm sort of cheap and 2) a lot of the hipper establishments just weren't that good. However, I know that the majority of people aren't even going to those establishments. They're going to McDonald's, Burger King, maybe the neighborhood diner, and maybe Starbucks and its clones.

I'm not going to start in now on the nutritional values or lack thereof of the food you find in these establishments. I think most people know now that they can do better there. I get why people would want to go these places- it's cheap (sort of, but that's another post), filling and it means you don't have to cook. And from an economists point of view, this is a good thing to do- we're spending money in the economy. (And still spending, at least at McDonald's- their sales are up.)

But is this, as a civilization, where we want our dollars to go? How does that work? We spend money, which goes to the wages of the employees, the profits of the business owner and the sales of their supplies. We're keeping a bunch of people employed. Except that I know from experience how much people aren't making in those jobs. If you're making $10/hr, you must be some kind of supervisor- and that won't be everyone. Try living on $10/hr. You can't. You're either working another job, or you have a spouse and he/she is. Bottom line for the owner? Not much, unless they're hypersuccessful. And while the prices of the produce and other goods the restaurant has to buy may seem expensive (especially to the above owner), between shipping, salaries and production and acquisition costs, they're not making a lot either. People are squeaking by in this kind of economy (in case you didn't notice).

I have two computers in my home- which is a lot, except that I have four children and all of them want to be on at the same time. That pretty much leaves me without access unless I wake up early. Fine. So I want a netbook- internet-accessible, but primarily for word-processing. I can use it at home, I can go to the library or I can go to another site with wifi. (You have no idea how much I've been fantasizing about the Boston Public Library recently.) Right now, they're about $350. When my interest in one solidified, my husband offered to buy me one. I said no, and I'm glad, because that was before the plumbing fiasco that cost $1500, and we're still recovering (almost done though). But I still want one. What to do?

One of my vices is a soy steamer with flavor shot from Starbucks or something like it. Lately they've come out with steamers that have tea flavoring (sheesh, what took you so long? I was doing that in my rinky-dink little cafe last year). Between the soy add-on and the flavoring, we were usually talking about $3.50. That's a lot everyday, I think. And they're not that good.

For a hundred days, I'm going to forgo those soy steamers. My hundred day project will end on May 2nd, and I fully intend on that day to buy myself an Acer Netbook. And then maybe I'll get myself a steamer to celebrate. Maybe.

Am I wrong for depriving Starbucks of my $350 for three months? Or am I right for saving- egads, not that!- for a big ticket purchase?

Obviously, I think I'm making the right decision. I like the idea of accumulating wealth, but I also like the idea of spending money on things I really need and want. What if I saved more money and instead of buying (vegan) chocolate a couple of times a week I saved up and got myself a massage? Or saw an acupuncturist? Or what if I bought less food- too much of my food goes to waste because I don't get to cook- for a few months and took a class or workshop? Or what if I traveled? What if I could save even more money for a year or two and bought myself a hybrid car? Is that kind of saving wrong? The massage therapist and acupuncturist are better paid than the McDonald's or Starbucks employee- my dollars will be more meaningul to the former than the latter, and will give them more buying power. My purchases of technology make it possible for those companies to continue to exist and innovate. My participation in educational activities will make it possible for my instructors to continue instructing and for their knowledge to continue to spread. And if I could purchase a hybrid car, I'm doing a more significant bit to reduce greenhouse emissions and I make it possible for more dollars to be sent to research and development which will allow those cars to eventually be made more cheaply. My support of products and services that require people to have more of an education will, combined with similar efforts from other people, encourage more people to pursue skills and skilled jobs.

Do I think we should save more? I absolutely do, but I think we should also continue to spend money. This time around though, let's try and spend money on things we value rather than things we just want.

Deb in the City

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Eh- Happy Valentine's Day

I'm not a very sentimental person about holidays, not because I'm not a sentimental person- it's easy to pull at my heart-strings actually- but more, I think, because I have a really quick gag reflex when something is shoved down my throat. I love NPR and I appreciate their need to fundraise, but Jesus, they went overboard selling their flowers and candy this year. Pretty much every little interruption went along the lines of "get these beautiful and expensive things for your loved one- that's how they'll know you care." Really?

Yesterday my sons had Friendship Day in their classes. Because we can't call it Valentine's Day and get into the sticky wicket of romantic entanglements at the tender age of four. Fair enough. But you know what they did keep: the candy.

I'm in a unique position to be irritated by this. First, I'm in the business of wellness. Second, I'm on our school's wellness committee. Third and most importantly, I have three children at the same school. The amount of candy they brought home made me shake my head. To top it off, the amount of time that it took to exchange little valentines and candies seems to have precluded them from finishing their lunch- but didn't stop them from eating the cupcakes someone brought in. I spent quite a bit of time yesterday making their lunch (farfalle with a little cheese sauce and vegan ham and turkey). I want them to eat healthfully in school, but they didn't.

I let them eat the candy. I'm waiting for someone to tell me that if I didn't feel like they should have it I should have stopped them, because I'm the parent. I'd like to tell this hypothetical critic how much fun it is to tackle three children to the floor to take their candy away from them. You should have seen what I had to do just to get them to finish their lunch. Yes, I'm the parent and I have ultimate control- but why should other people make my job harder? It was enough candy that my nine-year-old said about half an hour later, "Okay, that's enough." *That* is how much candy they got.

My friend who is the chair of the wellness committee sent around a draft offering criticisms of the food for celebration system and then offering alternatives, including a party that includes healthy foods as well as "treats". When I read it yesterday morning before everyone went to school, I sent it back with my approval, but wondered how well that would go over with the other parents. By the time the kids had finished their candy, I didn't care. Next year I insist that the school either hold a school-wide Valentine's Day (or whatever they want to call it) party or that each class sponsors one. Kids can have salad, cut up fruits and vegetables, pizza and/or pasta and a treat like small cupcakes or something else that's a little more wholesome than candy hearts. I think it will fly, but I don't care. If it doesn't, I'll just keep them home- they won't be missing anything worth having.

Deb in the City

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Yet more...

What is the word for someone who is all or nothing with an activity? Too tired to think right now, but whatever it is, that's me today with this blog. Again, I've got a little bit of hypergraphia, I think, and this is my venue of choice right now. I think that's part of what I'm not loving about Facebook- you can write nice long emails to friends as the opportunities occur, but it's sporadic. I love to post on VF, but right now I'd rather be here.

Early day, made earlier by the fact that Jacob (I guess I can use names now) woke up at 4:15 to throw up a little bit. Michael took on most of that, but it still woke me up. I did not want to rise at 6 so I waited an extra fifteen minutes. By 8:15 I was out the door delivering cupcakes and on my way to the first of three classes I taught today. In between, I managed to get in both some practice and observation on the Pilates apparatus. Today felt good. I was apprehensive about the new 1 PM class I started at YMAA because it was small and I regretted not being able to distribute flyers. But I really liked these two, and considering that they had to get their first session while people were almost practicing tai chi on top of their head, I felt like small was good.

Quarters were even more cramped for the 2:30 class, but they were my old standbys, so it was fine. And then an old student from another studio (which shall remain nameless) came in and brought his wife. I was happy to see them but nervous about making them fit. However, it worked out well. So I'm feeling good about the YMAA gig, and for the next five week cycle I'll plaster JP with flyers- I'll have more time- and maybe get some more students to the classes. But not too many.

Tomorrow I have a session with a client I really like as well as some practice. Which sounds to me like I can get in some editing time. Yeah!

Deb in the City
I'm back! What was keeping me for over three weeks? Too many things to name, but getting my Pilates apprenticeship hours completed was first and foremost. As I have it planned out now, I should be done by 2/20- the Friday before I take a Qigong workshop I have been dying to take at YMAA Boston. That Sunday is Sam's birthday, so hopefully that weekend will go well and not too stressfully.

I am actually enjoying this process and combined with my focus on slower, more meditative/restorative yoga for the last month and a half is finding me ask myself, "what's the rush?" The money thing, of course- I will actually be able to get paid for my teaching- and the extra hours to myself- I'll still have to teach and practice, but I won't have to observe- but those things aren't so onerous that I'm gritting my teeth like I would have in college. Then I remember that the reasons underpinning the urgency: I still have to get the ACE fitness certification. I still have to get certified to teach Classical Stretch. I still have to decide my direction for this vegan baking endeavor of mine. And, oh yeah, now I'll actually have time to edit, which I've resentfully put off for the last year plus.

And yet... the one thing I know I still want to do is edit (and eventually publish). I am just not that sure about the rest. I'll re-up with Yoga Alliance on Monday- I was just waiting for funds. Not a problem. Someday (or weekend!) I'd love to be able to take a workshop and get some more training under my belt. But do I want to be a personal trainer? Do I believe in this Classical Stretch stuff? Do I really want to take on more baking clients, given how much work even my one client is and how much space I have to store my ingredients and work in? I don't ever, ever, ever see myself opening up my own shop- my husband's horror stories about the restaurant business combined with my cafe experience last year negated that fantasy. And really, with four children, two of whom are still small, I am not fantasizing about waking up at three in the morning anymore. On the other hand, most clients I would take on would probably want smaller orders that my current client (last order was 90 cupcakes deep). So maybe I'm still up in the air- but I'm not sure I want to do enough business to justify a website or even business cards.

As for the ACE exam, do I want to spend $250 plus for something that I don't know how often I'll use? I see myself working at this gym and providing hybrid personal training- a little bit of cardio on the machines- even though I hate the machines- and then working on the apparatus. But to my thinking, Pilates- apparatus or no- can still give you everything you need, and I just don't *believe* in the standard equipment.

And as for Classical Stretch, I just don't know if I believe in the philosophy. There are many things I like about it, but the story about how the creator got to it, and some of the things she instructs... I'm just not sure how anatomically sound it is. There, I said it.

What do I want? I want to work about 20 hours per week between fitness classes and private training, with maybe three or four classes. I want to teach more in the Boston Public Schools. I want to be the go-to mind-body trainer in Boston. I want to sell about 50 cupcakes per week. I want to have three hours per day in which I can work on my writing, preferably in a continuous block, but I'll take what I can get. Yeah. Is that too much to ask?

I'll keep you posted,
Deb in the City