Tips For Adulthood: Five Life Lessons From My Yoga Teacher

November 24, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

It’s been awhile since I posted about yoga. And I think the reason is that just when I thought I’d found the right teacher – the one I *really* clicked with – she got pregnant and went away to have a baby. (How dare she!)

Like most things, yoga is all about the teacher. You can be doing the most amazing sun salutations on earth, but if you aren’t with a teacher who really speaks to you, it just isn’t going to work.

Fortunately for me, I’ve developed a new yoga teacher-crush. In fact, I’m so in love with this new person’s teaching method that I’ve completely upended my schedule so that I can take her class every Thursday morning from 9:45-11:15, which is normally when I’m sitting at my desk.

But it’s totally worth it. I come out of there feeling like I’ve taken a drug. In addition to the stretching, here are five things I’ve learned about yoga – and life! –  from working with her:

1. Be prepared. One of the reasons I knew that this lady was the one for me was when I noticed her note cards. Some yoga teachers come in with a few things scribbled on the back of a napkin. Others come in with absolutely nothing and wing it. But my yoga teacher comes in with about 5-7 incredibly detailed note cards upon which she’s written down precise instructions for exactly what she’ll teach that morning. And you know what? It shows. Her classes have a logic and – dare I say it? – a flow that is the product of strict preparation and hard work. I’m not exactly a slacker. But it’s nice to be reminded – outside of a work context – that there’s a pay off for working hard.

2. Push Yourself. In addition to her preparedness, what I really love about this new teacher is how she structures the class. She starts out really mellow and gets you thinking that it’s going to be a gentle class. But as you go on, you start repeating the poses over and over, each time with a bit more difficulty. And you realize that she’s actually extending you quite a bit from where you started. I think the reason she does this is to show us all that we can and should do more with our bodies (and ourselves). And sometimes, it’s that extra little push that really matters. Not just to really get the most out of a given stretch, but to have the confidence to know that you are capable of doing more.

3. Be Encouraging. At the same time, she’s hardly a drill sergeant. She’s incredibly supportive of the class and really goes out of her way to praise the students, as long as she sees that they are trying. As someone who’s currently struggling with how to motivate and encourage my kids to do their best without turning them into pressure cookers, this teaching method is highly instructive.

4. Be Self-Aware. Normally, I hate it when yoga teachers talk too much during class. If it’s not about the poses, I really don’t want to hear all the poetry and other gobbledy-gook about self-development, etc. It’s too distracting. But this lady won me over the time during Savasana (corpse pose) when she told a story about how she’d lost her temper with one of her kids. She narrated how she’d lashed out at her child for doing something silly with an art project because of the teacher’s issues with her own parents. It was the way that she told it – and the way your heart ached for both her and her child – that reminded me, once again, that the very first step towards fixing attitudes and behaviors in yourself that you don’t like is – per Alcoholics Anonymous – to recognize them. Which is so very, very key to parenting, among other things.

5. Breathe. I think it takes awhile when you’re doing yoga regularly to understand why the breathing is so important. At first blush, it would seem that doing the stretches correctly is way more important than remembering to breathe. I’ve been doing yoga for nearly four years and it was only a week ago that the breathing thing really sunk in. As my teacher noted, “Your breath is what centers you. It is what makes you present and anchors the entire pose.” And just like that, a light bulb went off. Focusing on the breathing helps you to really zoom in on the here and now, something which some of us (cough) struggle with at times.

Image: Hatha Yoga Video Lunge Pose – Hanurasana by myyogaonline via flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Five Reasons Standing In Line Can Be Fun

September 6, 2010

Well, I’m back from my staycation. I wasn’t sure how I’d get on running around London with both kids for seven days straight while my husband was out-of-town on a business trip. But we had a great time.

We visited Buckingham Palace (or as my daughter calls it “Bucklingham Palace.”) We took a tour of the Houses of Parliament.  We made a special trip up to the Roald Dahl Museum in Buckinghamshire to see the place where this great author did his magic. And we spent a day at the seaside out in East Anglia.

Each of those trips was a lot of fun. But in some ways, the most fun of all was the day we spent…standing in line. Yes, you heard that correctly. We spent the better part of one day just waiting in a long queue with nothing to do but wait.

The occasion was the opening of a new art store in my neighborhood. As a promotional offer, the store was giving out 50 pounds worth of free art supplies to the first 1,000 people who visited last Saturday. And all you had to do was spend 10 pounds at the store to collect the prize.

The doors opened at 10 am and we arrived at 9:50, fresh on the heels of a full English breakfast at our favorite cafe. By that time, the line to get into the store was already snaking around two full city blocks but I figured – meh – the kids don’t have a haircut until 11:00 a.m…what have we got to lose by just hanging out here for an hour and killing some time?

Four hours later, I had good reason to rethink that logic. But the truth is, we *did* have a good time. Here’s what I learned about why standing in lines – even long ones – can be fun:

1. You feel part of a community. One of the nicest parts of standing in a queue all day long in the middle of Hampstead Village was realizing just how many people I know in my neighborhood. I saw friends…neighbors…teachers…merchants. Those of us who formed part of the line saluted one another in solidarity. Those who were just passing by came up to say “hi.” It was such a lovely – an unexpected – reminder of the many different ways we all connect to our respective communities and how broad and diverse those communities are. (Hidden bonus? I have now confirmed my long-held suspicion that should I ever decide to run for mayor of this village, I’ve got it in the bag…)

2. You meet new people. Even more fun than running into old friends and acquaintances was the chance to meet new people. I stood next to a mother from an adjoining neighborhood and an administrator from her daughter’s school and chatted to them for the better part of four hours. By the end, we were already fast friends and had moved on from chit-chat about schools to lengthy discussions about our respective blogs (confirming my suspicion that everyone’s a blogger) and the perils of cell phones for your brain. When I had to say good-bye to them, I actually felt sad!

3. You rethink your surroundings. I’ve long been of the opinion that Brits just don’t get customer service. You have to chase down your waiter when you want your bill. Phone calls to customer service teams go unanswered. Brits also don’t get the whole concept of promotions – a sale here means something like 10% off on a rack of last year’s clothing. So to witness a store actually doing a proper giveaway – where you get something valuable (and four hours or not, the art supplies in that bag were truly something!) – is unheard of. And I’d never seen a line that long anywhere in London – even on the day the iPhone 4 was released! Friends tell me that there were still people there after 6 pm when the store closed. All of which made me realize that things really are changing around here.

4. You grasp group psychology. By the time we were well into the third hour of our wait, I’d forgotten what we were even waiting for. I’m sure I’m not alone. If you stand in front of a door long enough, after a while all you focus on is getting through that door. They could have handed me a toothpick by the time I made it to the front of the queue and I would have been delighted. I’m sure there’s some handy theorem in behavioral economics that can explain the psychology behind this. But there’s no question that the longer I waited, the less I cared about the loot that awaited us. I just wanted to get in.

5. You let go of schedules. This was perhaps the most valuable lesson of all. As a parent, I often have an irrational fear of down-time. I think that I need to schedule in every moment of the day lest…well, I don’t know what “lest.” I’m just driven to fill up their days, especially when my husband is out of town. But my stint standing in line that day taught me that sometimes just hanging out and doing nothing is just as much fun as tackling some major cultural outing. Which is another way of saying that sometimes you just need to throw away the outline.

Everyone who saw me in line that day keeps asking me: Was it worth it?

To which I’d have to say: yes.

Image: The line went around the block! by scary cow via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Adulthood Quiz: Do You Think Like A Man Or A Woman?

August 2, 2010

We interrupt our regular programming to bring you this gem from the BBC. It’s a quiz called Sex ID that generates a brain sex profile to help you figure out if you think more like a man or a woman.(Yeah, I know, I know. All that Left brain/Right brain stuff is soooooo yesterday’s news, but still…)

This thing’s been kicking around my inbox for ages under the category “Look At This” (which – as we all know – is a recipe for endless procrastination.)

But tonight – at the urging of my nine year-old son – I finally sat down and took the quiz. Actually, he took the quiz but I’m going to take it now.

And as I sat down to do this, I thought – this is so cool! So I’m sharing it with all of you as well.

Enjoy. And by all means, please do share the results!

Click here to take this quiz.

Image: Brain vs. Brawn by TangYauHoong via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Coping With Exes In Adulthood

July 29, 2010

Breaking up is hard to do. So said Neil Sedaka in that 1962 Billboard classic.

It was as true then as it is now, whether you’re in your teens or in your forties. So how do you actually move on after a broken heart?

Sometimes, time really does heal all wounds, and you’re capable – over time – of becoming friends with a former lover. I’m still close with one of my exes. So is my husband with one of his. These are people we exchange holiday cards with, make a point of visiting when we’re back in the States and even count their spouses as friends. In both cases, these exes form part of a larger social circle that helped to reinforce the transition to “friend.”

In another case, an old boyfriend contacted me out of the blue last year to give him some marital advice. Miraculously, it worked. He now credits me with playing a key role in keeping his marriage together. Somehow the act of helping him out in an impartial way enabled us – many years after the fact – to reunite as friends.

Of course, it’s not always that easy to make the jump to being friends. One friend of mine has solved this problem by continuing to sleep with his ex-girlfriend of 20 years ago well into his forties. In keeping with that old college adage that “It doesn’t count if it’s an ex” (Oh, to be 21 again!), he simply hasn’t moved on. For what it’s worth, this is also the strategy employed by business partners/sometime lovers Mikhael Blomkvist and Erika Berger of Dragon Tattoo fame. In the Stieg Larsson trilogy, Berger’s husband knows all about it and doesn’t mind either. (It is Sweden, after all.)

Alternatively, you can go the route of writing a letter to your ex. By expressing – longhand – all the things you still feel towards him or her, you can sometimes expunge any last traces of desire or remorse still swirling around inside your belly. This was the tactic adopted by my Politics Daily colleague Andrew Cohen, in a much-trafficked love letter to his ex earlier this week entitled “On Her Wedding Day: Saying Things Left Unsaid.” Whether you should go public with such a letter – or, as my colleague Suzi Parker suggests, “put it in a box and set it afire in the bathtub” – is ultimately your call. (If you want a quick primer on why you might want to think twice before publishing said missive, click here, here and here in that order, and then run for cover.)

You can also cyber-stalk your ex by “friending” them on Facebook to keep tabs on them from a safe distance.  My colleague Sarah Wildman has a terrific piece on why that’s quite possibly not the best idea either, despite the appeal on some emotional level. It’s not just because casual On-line relationships can easily lead to the real thing. Rather, it’s because, as Sarah concludes, “some doors, however easily unlocked, are meant to remain closed.”

So where does that leave us?

I’ve often found that music works well if you want to “go there” without really “going there,” if you get my drift. At different points in my life, I’ve listened to Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me, The Grateful Dead’s Looks Like Rain and Silvio Rodriguez’ Mi Unicornio Azul when I wanted to cry into my beer.

At the end of the day, as I’ve written before, acknowledging the road not taken is just one of those bitter truths of adulthood. Sometimes you end up loving the wrong person. Or maybe – to quote that curl-up-in-a-fetal-position Dire Straits classic, Romeo and Juliet –  “it was just that the time was wrong.”

Either way, life goes on.

How have you coped with a love that wasn’t meant to be?

Image: Love Letter by Wolfsoul via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Stress Management: Can I Rent A Wife?

July 23, 2010

My colleague Joann Weiner recently wrote a post on Politics Daily in which she described the blissful, stress-free summer week she just enjoyed in Washington, D.C., while her family was out of town. She exercised . . . she went out to dinner . . . she tried beer ice cream . . . she even — gasp — took time to smell the proverbial flowers.

I’m happy for Jo. Truly I am. It’s just that after I read her post, I took one look at the way I’ve spent the last seven days and thought: What’s wrong with this picture?

You see, I’m having a different sort of week. I call it a “Calgon” week.

Don’t remember Calgon? Among other things, it’s a line of bath and beauty products. When I was a kid, there was this marvelous commercial in which this harried housewife in a pink bathrobe stood in the middle of her kitchen overwhelmed by various demands: the kids . . . the dishes . . . the dinner . . . the telephone. She’d throw up her hands and shriek: “Calgon! Take Me Away!” and, presto! She was magically whisked into a soothing bubble bath.

Pink bathrobe notwithstanding, that shrieking lady in the kitchen pretty much captures how I’ve felt this past week. It’s a week that’s featured, in no particular order: a major schlep to and from son’s camp located in absurdly difficult-to-access section of North London (Remind me, again, why we decided not to get a car?), reduced work time due to said schlep, husband on deadline whose frazzled hair increasingly resembles Albert Einstein’s, acute case of hostess anxiety brought on by not having entertained in four years because we lived in a closet, but somehow managing to schedule two events at my new apartment in one week (Should we do Red? White? Fizzy? And what is a tapanade, anyway?). Oh yeah. And did I mention the pink eye that’s now making its way through the house?

Read the rest of this post on www.PoliticsDaily.com

*****

I’m was also over on Politics Daily this week talking about David Cameron’s revolutionary approach to ending big government in the U.K.

Image: Calgon, take me away! by yourFAVORITEmartian via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Living With Mess: Radical Acceptance

May 18, 2010

Christina Katz has a great post over on her Prosperous Writer E-zine this week about what she calls “clarity.” She defines clarity as “lucidity…exactness…simplicity.”

It’s about figuring out what you need and what you want as a writer and paring down your obligations and responsibilities so that you can really zero in on what’s important. (Note: you must subscribe to her free e-zine to read this post, which I heartily recommend.)

This is great advice for both writing and life, and something I continually have to remind myself to do when I start feeling overwhelmed. “Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity,” as the man said.

The problem is that isn’t always that…well…simple. Sometimes you can’t achieve clarity because there are too many loose ends in your life and you have to accept that some of these just aren’t going to get tied up in short order.

Which is where I’m at right now with – oh – just about everything in my life. You see, I’ve just moved house. So everywhere I look I see unopened boxes.

There are the real boxes, those last stubborn few that simply refuse to empty themselves because – if you cared to tackle them – they’d require you to scratch your head and say: Now where does that plug go? Which cannister is that the top to? And why, again, did we decide to save that yarmulke from that bar mitzvah five years ago?

Then there are the metaphorical boxes:  The stack of New Yorkers that lie unread. The emails that began to pile up the day of the move and some of which sit still – unopened – in the dark recesses of my inbox. Those last few changes of address that haven’t yet happened because it turns out that you actually need to call the pension fund in the U.S. where you still have some pocket of retirement savings during (its) business hours because they can’t process an overseas address on-line.

And then there are all those technological boxes that can’t be opened because this is the U.K. where the customer comes last. So the internet provider lost track of your account and now you have to wait another 10 days for them to come to your neighborhood to set it up. Or the bank forgot to update your address so your credit card keeps getting rejected. Or – my personal favorite – the satellite dish for the TV can’t be installed because you live on the third floor and their ladders don’t go that high. (Um…no offense, but isn’t this what you do for a living?)

It drives me insane, all this mess. Because I hate things that are un-finished. I’m the lady who sometimes adds things to my to-do list *after* I’ve done them just to feel the satisfaction of crossing them off, remember?

So I’ve been feeling really unsettled lately. (It didn’t help that for the first five days of my move the U.K. didn’t have a government. I was like “C’mon, guys! Just make up your minds, would ya?“)

And then, something weird happened. Yesterday night was my monthly book group meeting. And, on top of everything, I hadn’t finished the book. This has never happened to me before. I’m one of those hard-core, unsympathetic book group types who *always* finishes the book. But this time, I just couldn’t.

But because I love my book club, I went anyway. Even though I hadn’t finished and felt wretched about that. (It helps that we were reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s marvelous Half of A Yellow Sun about the Biafran War. Speaking of learning how to live with mess…)

And you know what? It felt OK to be there, even half-read. Because it was the best I could do.

My life coach has a great phrase for moments like this. She calls it “radical acceptance.” It’s for situations where things are exactly how you’d like them *not* to be  – where you can’t, yet, achieve “clarity.”

So you force yourself to extend the parameters of what you’d normally find acceptable. And you decide to  just roll with it. Because you know that you are on the road to clarity.

And that’s O.K.

Radical Acceptance.

Image: Unopened Boxes by CDaisyM via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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What The Birth Control Pill Meant For My Mother…And Me

May 7, 2010

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill. A number of writers over on http://www.PoliticsDaily.com were asked to reflect on the pill and what it’s meant to them. Here’s my entry, perfectly timed for Mother’s Day:

*****

My father once told me that I was a “mistake.” Not a mistake in the sense of: “We wish you’d never been born.” But a mistake as in: “We didn’t plan on having you.”

There were probably better ways to have conveyed this message to a child. But my father grew up in mid-century Newark, N.J., the son of an Irish barkeep. He hailed from deep in the heart of Philip Roth territory and they didn’t mince words back then.

Whenever I asked my mother if I was an “accident” — as I did from time to time — she’d fob the question off awkwardly. “You were a planned accident” she’d say with a chuckle, trying to reassure me. But her laughter belied the truth.

I remember once asking my mother when I was still fairly young what was the most important invention that had happened in her lifetime. I was expecting to hear something like penicillin or the atom bomb. Instead, the answer she gave surprised me. She said that it was the invention of the birth control pill.

Read the rest of this story at http://www.PoliticsDaily.com…

*****

Because of my move and the unprecedented nature of the British elections, I will not be posting my Friday Pix this week. But I’m over on Twitter all week long posting my faves. Come visit @realdelia. See you next week!

Image: Here’s To A Shrunken Cyst by Phoney Nickel via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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