The countdown has begun. Actually, it began the day after the summer solstice when sun worshipers like me celebrated the longest day of the year and then, with a gut punch, realized that it was all downhill from there.
Now, I’m not talking about the Miami Beach-style sun worshiper who slathers her body with sun lotion, lugs her beach chair next to the pool, and sizzles like bacon until the sun dives down behind the high-rise apartments that line Collins Avenue.
No, I’m talking about the worshiper who wakes up in the morning as the sun begins to burn a slice of empty space under a closed bedroom window shade—who revels in the promise of unlimited possibilities and the boundless energy to follow one’s fancy wherever it may lead.
There are “only” nineteen shopping days until Christmas and FIFTEEN days left until the winter solstice— the shortest, often darkest day of the year.
Okay, I can hear some of you out there mumbling about how I shouldn’t be so focused on the outer world at a time ready-made for exploring the depths of my inner world—a world rumored to be rich with golden nuggets waiting to be mined. (In fact, my yoga teacher basically pitched me this line last night. I patted her on the back, said I expected said response but that, as far as I was concerned, it was a bunch of bull—-.) I have plenty of time on my hands when the sun shines to dive into my thoughts.
I don’t know where you live but, here in the Chicago area, we haven’t seen the sun for more than a total of twenty minutes in over a week. I wilt a bit more each day. With a modicum of hope, I check the weather on my iPad every morning and, to date, all I see are symbols for clouds, maybe even little snowflake icons. And it’s only the beginning of December!
Hence, the countdown until the winter solstice and the subsequent increase in daytime hours. Apparently, I’m not the only one who celebrates the Big Day. Check out the Time article. It’s a stitch. People do some crazy stuff that day. “In Japan, people traditionally soak in hot baths with the yuzu citrus fruit to welcome the winter solstice and protect their bodies from the common cold.” Thousands visit England’s famous Stonehenge to “sing, dance, play instruments, kiss the stones and do yoga as they wait for the sun to rise.”
Maybe I’ll reenact my own Stonehenge. Dance around the frozen grass and crumpled leaves in what was only two months ago a bouquet of fall colors. Bundle up and head to Lake Michigan, stand on the rocks and do a few sun salutations. Sneak over to my neighbor’s hot tub, pull off the cover and jump in.
Hail to the end of the descent and the beginning, albeit a crawl, of longer, sunnier days.
Sunday morning. Getting ready for my dance class. Bent over to slip my foot into the right pant leg when my back seemed to break in two. I dropped to the floor with my head touching, my legs folded under me, my back rounded. Child’s pose. Resting pose, my ass. The pain was excruciating.
No dance class that day or for the next six weeks. No yoga, either. Just visits to the chiropractor who, in the past, cracked a little here, a little there and, within a few days, got me up to speed.
Not this time. After a dozen visits, I still had trouble getting in and out of a car, in and out of a chair. Bending for any reason sent my back into spasms. Carrying anything heavier than a bottle of milk or a handful of tomatoes required my husband’s assistance.
“Can you carry the laundry for me, please?” “The garbage. I can’t take it out to the alley.” “The litter tray. I can’t lift the box of litter.”
On and on it went. I owe my husband big time.
“Moving backward is your best friend,” my chiropractor advised. “No bending forward.” I hit the ground face down multiple times a day and did my best imitation of a cobra or a sphinx. The poses sent my back into more spasms, but I trusted this guy’s recommendations.
“Oh, and walking fast is good, too.”
Okay, I’ll walk. And fast. Fast until my back told me in no uncertain terms that what I’d done was foolish and that I should call an Uber or an ambulance.
It took me two days to recover, and I didn’t take another walk.
Now, I gotta’ move. If not, I get real cranky, my core turns to mush, the loose skin gets even looser. Creative movement is my drug of choice: it energizes me, helps me forget the fight I’ve had with my husband, the worries about my son, the writing that isn’t going well . . . or not going at all.
Without movement, I’m a dead woman.
Six weeks in to this back thing, I started daydreaming about Jack Kevorkian. I couldn’t remember if he was in jail or even alive. But I was sure that his recipe for a painless death could be found on the internet.
Then I just decided to screw it: I was going to take a dance class, no matter what. If the movement disabled me for life, at least I’d have gone down with a fight. And maybe some genius had come up with a wheel chair that simulated one of my dance combinations.
Surprise. Surprise. I survived my dance class and, in truth, felt better than I’d felt in weeks. Okay, I didn’t dance full out and, when it got to the section of serious hip rolls, I did my best John Travolta imitation minus the gyrations.
Two days later, I showed up at yoga. I listened to my body, avoided the cobras, sphinxes, back bends, and mentally wrote a note to my chiropractor in which I told him to take his instructions and put them where the sun doesn’t shine.
I’m still not 100 percent and I’m told it’s probably arthritis. “At your age, everyone has arthritis.”
Let the “experts” carry on as they like. As for me, I plan to use it until I’m too damn old to care if I lose it.
Every Friday morning, my yoga teacher sits cross legged on her perch in front of her students and says, “Lately, I’ve been thinking about . . .”
Usually, her thoughts run to life’s stresses and how yoga can help alleviate them or, at least, tamp them down.
But she’s a woman in her 30s, the mother of a two-year-old son, co-owner with her husband of said yoga studio. While I’m sure she wishes yoga could be the cure all for all of her daily challenges, her practice is clearly not one of those magic wands.
Don’t get me wrong: I like yoga and do think those downward dogs, pigeons, cobras and various and sundry other animal poses help calm the nerves. But not all of us are limber babes who can stand on one leg like a tree with the other leg bent 90 degrees and stuck up to our pubes. Just thinking of that pose and Warrior 3 raises my heart rate to dangerous levels.
So much for decreasing stress.
Years ago, I went into therapy to help save my first marriage. Instead, all that talking and digging and remembering made me realize that I didn’t love the guy and wanted out. I asked for and was granted a divorce.
Would yoga have brought me to the same outcome while saving me thousands of bucks? Hard to say.
“Close your eyes. Inhale through your nose. Exhale through your nose.” How many of you have tried that? The inhale part is easy enough. But that exhale . . . I always want to blow it out my mouth. (I mean, that’s what I did when I was giving birth, squatting on the delivery room floor, staring at my focal point on the wall. I think I told the aforementioned husband to “Shut up!” several times, but the exhaling through the mouth made the whole birthing thing somewhat bearable.)
And maybe yoga would have helped tamp down my hysteria when, just months after getting his driver’s license, my son drove the aforementioned ex husband’s new car off of Lake Shore Drive, smashed into a tree and ended up upside down. He broke his back and just missed severing his spinal cord. His friend in the passenger seat walked away with nary a scratch. (He now lives in Texas, has been through a couple of wives, and has a bunch of kids spread out around the state. Maybe he could have benefited from a few yoga classes.)
And maybe yoga would have helped after I had a grand mal seizure. But I was convinced yoga was for old folks who couldn’t do much else. Instead of inhaling and exhaling, I wobbled off to a transcendental meditation workshop and spent several weeks trying to get the hang of it before I was given my “only-for-you” mantra that I’ve bastardized multiple times since then. I guess that doesn’t really matter, as long as I repeat something that takes me away from those intrusive thoughts and brings my mind back to the empty space in between.
So, yes, lately I’ve been thinking . . . about all those bumps (often pot holes) along life’s journey and whether or not yoga could have pulled me through. Maybe this Friday I will sit cross legged in front of my yoga class and muse about my life, pretending that I have found the answer to my stress and can, by the way, do a noteworthy downward dog.