Cat From The Mat

Mourning Has Broken

And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive.  And you may not even be sure, whether the storm is really over.  But one thing is certain.  When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm is all about.

- Haruki Murakami

My past nine months have been tumultuous.  As the shock of the stormy year begins to wear off, I am left with humble gratitude along with the stirrings of acceptance.  I share this personal information out of my appreciation for my yoga and empathy skills.  When the rubber needs to meet the road, my long-standing  on/off the mat practice has proven to be effective in finding ease.  

In August of 2017, my mother Tish was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer. It came out of left field, as she was an unlikely candidate.  However, it did explain why she was feeling exhausted for most of the year, not to mention the ten pounds of liquid stored in right her lung, making breathing quite arduous.  After hospital visits, specialist research, and a couple of hurricanes, she had surgery in September to remove the lining of her lung.  

Soon after in October, I was then diagnosed with breast cancer.  While still in disbelief, I had a rapid learning curve to understand my options for treatment.  In receiving guidance from all sorts of women who had already been down this path, I was inducted into a not-so-secret society of strong cancer-surviving women. I had a double mastectomy in November, which was to be followed by months of convalescence.  However, two weeks after my first operation, my mother found out that her cancer had spread and unfortunately went into hospice.  I flew down to my hometown New Orleans (NOLA) to spend time with Tish as we all were trying to wrap our minds around the unbelievable concept of her dying.

The holidays with home hospice were bittersweet.  Normally, we celebrate a clustering of birthdays, my folk’s anniversary, and Christmas, days in a row.  And this year, these normally joyous events were overshadowed by a grim reality.  We luckily had time to discuss funeral plans as well as the chance to truly say goodbye.  After a quick fight with cancer, Tish slipped away on Dec 28, with her hand in mine.  What a gift to bear witness to such vulnerability.  I had the intimate honor to be present with my mum’s last breath, as she was there for my first at birth. 

Somehow I had the calm capacity to take this emotional rollercoaster ride, amidst the physical limitations of my many new normals. I found a strength and presence to support my mother while processing these unfolding events surprisingly well.  By taking time off from work and rescheduling teachings gigs, I was able to slow down and find that desired balance between self-care and care for others.

In January, we arranged Tish’s memorial service in NOLA, which was a celebration of her love of music, British humor, and her gift of gab.  My second surgery followed in February, after which I finally had some down time to focus on my own recovery.  It’s odd to physically lack sensation in my chest while my aching heart is anything but numb.  

At end of March, we flew to London to memorialize Tish’s life with our UK relatives.  In April, I slowly returned back to work.  In between European gigs and domestic trainings, I found the emotional time and space to clear out my mother’s closet and art studio.  With teary fortitude, I found some peace in the catharsis.  

I share this experience as a fellow human, yoga educator, empathy coach, because my twenty-five years of awareness training prepared me for this particular storm as well as ongoing inclement weather. To hold the space for my dying mother as she struggled to surrender was devastating, profound, and beautiful.  There isn’t a day that goes by when I do not think of Tish or when I do not appreciate my own health.  Asana integrates a strong body, open heart, and flexible mind.  Embodiment might begin to break down, but one’s spirit is the fuel that keeps going.

I am starting to pick up the pieces of my disintegrated foundation and am transforming daily into the latest version of myself.  As I continue to go through the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), I am reminded of the need to mourn.  What if mourning is the ability to appreciate what you value in its absence? If so, then the people and pets that we love may go away, but the loving relationship remains. 

Yoga is a practice of relationship and adaptability to change, from which you may learn and grow.  Whether a loss of a loved one, a marriage, a body part, or closing a chapter in your life, death is not easy.   However, endings mark beginnings.   How you choose to participate with loss might determine how you embark upon your next journey.  I am not the same person I was nine months ago, and yet my essence is more powerful and clearer than ever before, with a new Catitude.  As you weather your own storms, I encourage you to not only survive but to thrive. 

Happy Mother's Day month!


Cheers,

Cat From The Mat

May 2018

Mind the Body Gap

“Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.”  This saying implies a choice.  It also speaks to the mind/body relationship and the possible disconnect between the heart and the head.  When I am emotionally in one place and telling myself that I should be in another, I can feel pain, which is real. But what if the suffering is just my own resistance to reality? 

We live in a culture of chronic pain management, an industry that has grown since the 1970’s.  Having surgery, popping a pill, or numbing ourselves with alcohol can be short-term strategies to help alleviate acute symptoms.  However, the pain may come back in another form, since the origin of the discomfort may not be fully addressed.  Our bodies will speak to us until we listen.

The documentary film “All the Rage” (http://alltheragedoc.com/) explores this topic via the unconventional work John Sarno, MD.  Recently deceased, Dr. Sarno originally focused on how back pain could be an expression of repressed rage as well as other unresolved feelings.  Emotional memories stored in the body manifest as physical symptoms when oxygen is cut off from muscular tissue.  Over time, this O2 deprivation might create dis-ease, turning a local problem into a systemic issue.  

Muscle memory lives in the correspondence between muscles and the Central Nervous System.  Sensory nerves send messages from the muscle spindles to the brain giving feedback.  Then the motor nerves respond from the brain back to the muscles to complete the ongoing communication loop.  This happens so quickly, like a mere reflex.  There is though a moment before and after the nerves enter and exit the brain, known as the synaptic gap.  This is where choice occurs.  If this happens on a micro level, why would we not practice this on a macro scale?

When I get frustrated, I notice that certain muscles contract.  It’s as if I react without thinking.  This contraction creates a holding pattern.  And overtime, when under stress, this tensing has lead to back discomfort. Rather than a nuisance, this physical limitation indicates that my cells are not getting the nourishment that they need.  In that moment, I can recognize this tightening and choose to feel the emotional message before I can address it.  

Slowing down to pause offers agency in how to respond. Trying to control my external environment, as well as other people’s behavior, leads me down a path of increased frustration and mental contraction.  Pain comes from the incongruence between what I want to have happen and what actually is occurring.  I feel relief in knowing that I have the awareness to manage my inner terrain, so that I may find ease.

Yoga is defined as skill in action.  It’s a practice of minding the gap: between the origin and destination of nerves, between inhales and exhales, or pausing before a knee-jerk reaction.  Beneath anger often resides sadness and fear.  Until those emotions are embraced, the root of the issue might never go away.

The next time you get enraged, I encourage you to not try to fix anything; rather, feel the surge of energy in your body and breath into it.  The holding pattern might just pass quicker without leaving any emotional receipts that your muscles have to file away.  This might also alleviate the urge to blame others as well as yourself.  Suffering might be optional, while self-regulation is all the rage!

 

Cat From the Mat

September 2017

Let Freedom Be

It’s the first day of attending a Living Compassion seminar with my local Nonviolent Communication cohorts. I’m sitting front row and center, excited to learn about what I don’t know that I don’t know.  I want to get the “it” there is to get.  

As the session begins, I notice that there are two ongoing loud sounds from the back of the room.   My judgmental mind immediately jumps into the all too familiar terrain of “something’s wrong,” wanting to do change it.  The culprits: two struggling air conditioners. My thinking is that by fixing the issue at hand, I am honoring my need for self-care as well as care for others, since I believe that this racket is distracting to the whole room.  But no one else seems to be as bothered as I am.  The reality is that there’s nothing to be done, but to sit with my discomfort.

Cut to…Day Three.  I am in the same chilly room, with noisy ACs going on and off at whim.  And I no longer hear the relentless din.  When I do focus on it, I am now amused.  I imagine that there are two distinct birds singing back and forth to one another.  So what has happened?  How is it that I am finding ease in the previous annoyance?  What immeasurable steps brought me peace of mind?

My brain is quick to try to figure out every experience that I encounter.  I’m well versed in connecting my feelings to their associated deeper needs.  However, I’m not so patient pausing in that space between experiencing feelings/needs and naming them.  I tend to quickly define my experience then leap into the next stage of taking subsequent action.  This process of slowing down is one way to connect my human being to my human doing.  It’s so simple, yet not easy. 

The ‘it” that I ended up receiving in the weekend intensive was an unexpected inner calmness.  Since then, I have been enjoying ease within my immediate, habitual doer-ship.  When I think that I am stuck behind the slowest person at the grocery store, I first acknowledge and feel my frustration without making it wrong.  I then practice agency…whether to be okay with the leisurely pace or to change to another queue.  If I skip over the preliminary step of pausing to first feel, then I might not shift my relationship to the experience.   There’s no expansion when I get stuck in the contraction of my judgments.

What if I could make room for everything to be as is, without having to edit it?  What if the obstacle was the path itself?  Welcome any irritant as an invitation.  This endeavor is anything but complacent.   This is also my current inner approach to self-care. 

Self-sovereignty, not anxious tyranny, is where the rubber meets the road.  May your month of July be full of hosting moments to observe acceptance of self.  Inner freedom might be most liberating event you’ll ever celebrate!

 

 

Cat From The Mat

July 2017 Blog