A Thousand Thanks

My mom and pops at my wedding.

My mom had a stroke on Monday night. She is fine, but has limited use of her left arm. The doctors say it should be as good as new with time. They ran a bunch of tests and found no cause. Apparently this is common in Stroke Land. They suspect it’s not caused by her cancer, but from the stress of having cancer. Fun, right? They’re discharging her from the hospital today and they cleared her to travel to Philadelphia tomorrow. She insists on still coming to Thanksgiving, even though we assured her we would go up there instead. I think she’s crazy, but I will honor her wishes. All I care about at this point is that she is ok. I’ll do whatever she wants and needs. Plus, when Rightwood says she’s doing something, it’s best not to mess with her.

I guess all I want to say to you guys is this: hug your loved ones extra tight tomorrow. Because every moment you have with them is a gift.

Happy Thanksgiving. I know I’m extremely thankful this year.

Why I Love Yoga

I’m not kidding. I loooooove yoga. If I was a polygamist I would so marry it.

When I think about it, I realize my journey to health began with yoga, although I didn’t know it at the time. A little over two years ago, I signed Tim and myself up for a beginner’s class at a studio up the street called Wake Up Yoga. (Fellow Phillyites, Wake Up has three studios througout the city and they’re all awesome.)

Quick backstory: I used to be a runner, but a neck injury from a car accident knocked me out of running commission indefinitely. So for two years prior to the date of my first yoga class, the only exercise I could manage, other than walking, was the eliptical machine. Satisfying? Not so much. I had heard that yoga was a healing exercise, so I figured why not? Couldn’t hurt to try it.

I still remember the day of our first class. Tim and I had very recently gotten engaged. I was elated, but also stressed. The budgetary concerns of a wedding were already in the forefront of our minds. As we walked to the studio, Tim and I were arguing and I got so upset that I started crying. I actually had to take a few minutes to collect myself before I opened the door. I remember wondering if it had been a mistake to sign up for the class. Why was I adding another thing to my plate when it was already so full?

Not only was my emotional stress level high at that time, but physically I wasn’t at my best. I wouldn’t say I was fat, but I definitely weighed on the heavier end of my lifetime weight spectrum. The last two years of limited mobility had taken its toll. I was in pain every day from my neck injury and completely out of shape.

For the first few classes, there were a lot of poses I couldn’t do. I was scared of tweaking my neck and I was completely inflexible. Also, the whole experience just felt awkward to me. There was gaggy incense in the room, hokey decorations everywhere and sometimes we chanted weird sanskrit phrases. Those things were for granola-loving hippies. Not me. Please.

But at the end of each class, the instructor always said, “Think about how you feel now. Do you feel different than in the beginning of class?” And no matter what poses I could or couldn’t do, or what variety of incense was burning, I always felt different. My body felt warm and stretched. It felt alive. And I felt calmer.

By the end of the series, I had mastered some of those poses I couldn’t do at the beginning. I lost weight. I felt my body working again like it hadn’t in years. There were times in every class when I sweated like crazy and my entire leg or arm or whatever was shaking. And I loved it. After class, I would go home and sleep like a baby. In just eight weeks, I was hooked.

Two years later, I am in love. Not only is yoga an amazing, full-body workout, but it focuses on the mind-body connection in a way that no other form of exercise (at least exercise that I’ve tried) does. Yoga makes me feel centered and quiet. It forces me to live in the present moment, to feel grateful for my body and the things it can do.

Throughout everything that has happened these last couple of years, yoga has been a mainstay. It is a safe haven for me, something I know I’ll always have in my back pocket when the rest of the world gets too stressful. Because of yoga, I have deepened my relationship to myself, as well as my relationship to others. I’ve become a more spiritual person. Yes, I’m sounding dramatic here, but I believe every word of what I’m writing.

For real: yoga changed my life.

And guess what? I don’t even mind the hokeyness anymore. Last Saturday I took a four-hour yoga class. At the beginning of the class, the instructor handed out bindis for everyone. You know, those decorative dot things that some people wear between their eyes? I didn’t even blink. I stuck one to my forehead and wore that thing with pride.

So, yeah, maybe I’m a granola-loving-hippie-yoga-freak now. But I really like the person I’ve become.

Who’s Afraid of Needles?

Not Me. Not anymore.

I get pricked with dozens of needles each week (willingly) at this place:

Philadelphia Community Acupuncture. It’s up the road from my house and it’s awesome.

But real quick, a little acupuncture 101. Here’s what goes down: an acupuncturist sticks super-thin (and I meanĀ thin, like hair thin) needles into various points in your skin. This is supposed to improve circulation, as well as release endorphins and serotonin into your brain. All of this allegedly makes you feel like a rock star and cures a variety of ailments.

In the US, acupuncture is usually performed in cubicles or other sectioned-off spaces, but this place treats everyone in the same room, in recliner chairs. They say this is more in line with traditional practices in Asia. Something about creating a collective energetic field and blah, blah, blah. You can choose to sit in a fancy modern mesh recliner or an old-school plush lazy boy with a blanket over it. I always go for the lazy boy.

Sound weird? It is, a little, at first. But the treatment room is in a huge old firehouse with brick walls and high ceilings. Light filters through big windows, making everything look warm and soft. There’s usually soothing music playing on low in the background and everyone talks in whispers. It’s very calming. Plus, the style of acupuncture they use only inserts needles on your arms up to your elbow, your legs up to you knees, and your head. So it’s not like you have to strip down or lift up your shirt or anything. Because that would be weird.

Does it hurt? Nah, not really. The needles are so thin and they don’t go very deep. Once in a while, they’ll put one in a tough spot, like the side of my foot or the web between my thumb and index finger, and that will hurt. But usually only for a second.

Here’s the cool part. After the acupuncturist finishes inserting the needles, covers me with blankets and tells me to have a good rest, something happens. I close my eyes and, bam, I get a rush. My body feels light and heavy at the same time. I feel instantly relaxed. After a few minutes, I find that I can’t really open my eyes, even if I wanted to. And, sometimes, I fall asleep.

I fall asleep.

I do not take naps. Ever. My mind is constantly humming with all sorts of anxious-making thoughts. I am mentally wired, always. So the fact that I can fall asleep in a room that is not my bedroom, surrounded by dozens of people, in the middle of the day, is a small miracle.

I originally started going to Philadelphia Community Acupuncture to treat carpal tunnel and irregular periods. My carpal tunnel, which had been bothering me for a couple of years, was gone within a month. Poof. The irregular periods? Well, that’s just taking a little longer, I suppose.

Regardless of what acupuncture cures or doesn’t cure for me, every time I get up from that recliner, I feel rested, relaxed and calm. To me, that is worth a million bucks. And then some.