Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Am I in danger of becoming one of those mat-carying douche bags I see around town? Ugh. Screw it. Lets watch TV.

Last night, I was thinking about how many people end up on my massage table wishing that they felt better. They ask me, what can I do not to get these knots? Can I get better so I'm not in so much pain? Can I learn to sleep without sleep aids? What about my anxiety? Can I cure it?

I think you don't have to walk around with knots in your back. I think you can reduce your anxiety and your insomnia. But the answer to the question everyone asks (because its almost always the same question, just phrased differently) is that I don't have a pill for you to take to replace the one you are currently taking.

The ultimate in freedom or doucheyness? It depends on if you cary judgement or you make the compassionate choice for yourself. 

I can give you some relief on the table, but you have to be an active participant in your body work to get the best benefit. 

Healing your body and calming your mind is a life long process. People say "Its a life style change." And I think that's true, but I think its scary to people.

Because we are all ego-attached, our lifestyle to some extent defines our ability to desire change. If I now behave like the people that have THIS kind of lifestyle, am I going to end up being one of those mat-carrying douche bags who eat organic food and seem so superior? Can I still hold onto my conservative political views and get body work?

I think the first answer to this is that whether you carry a mat around or eat organic food does not define you as a person. We restrict what we are capable of SO OFTEN by worrying what other people will think. 
She can either be concerned about the world at large making assumptions about her carrying her mat, or she can just get her ass to class because it helps her health. She can also make assumptions about herself if she carries a mat around. Or she can just get her ass to class because that's where she heals her spine.

Before you assign yourself a regimen that is completely different from what you are doing now, and decide to turn yourself in to something you dislike because you've heard it might help; leading you to a half assed practice with one foot in the pool of a new direction and your old life holding on to your other leg... consider this.

What is the compassionate choice?

Yes, that may seem very rainbows and dolphins, but here's the thing. No one can tell what your internal life is. And if you ask yourself this question you may be surprised at the answer. Because the compassionate choice looks at the big picture. Its not "How do I feel right now?" or "I should" or "You suck if you don't" or "I can't commit to that"...leading you to slowly talking your way out of change today with the promise that once you get through your taxes and get your apartment clean you will look at options for your back pain, your lethargy, your anxiety, your insomnia.

Is it compassionate to continue doing what you are doing now? If you looked at it as other people: if you could take your decision making mind and personify it, sit it down next to you on the couch and watch it interact with the child like you that does what your Mind you tells it, it might look like this:

What would it be like if you found a place that felt like THIS when you chose not to eat another oreo, or not to drink that beer, or to go outside and walk, or to go to yoga where your back can heal?
Mind: "You are tired. You should sit here on the couch and eat chips. You can go for a walk tomorrow. Lets work up to the idea of yoga. You don't have to go today. That would be hard, and probably hot, and difficult. Maybe you should lift weights for a while to get in shape to go to yoga. That's a good idea. Drive by the gym tomorrow or the next day and see what they have."

Body: "Okay." munch munch.

Compassionate Mind: "WAIT! If you do that, you are hurting yourself! The choice you are making is ultimately painful! You will be angry that you didn't do any exercise, angry that you are incapable of making change! The anger will compound and will become a story that you begin to believe about yourself, that you just suck at this, that you have to be in pain."

Extrapolate it further. What if you could see the choice you make, the choice you allow yourself to be talked into, your Automatic Negative Thought is the same as letting yourself stay in an abusive relationship? You are being manipulated because change is scary. That which is familiar is known and therefore more welcome than the unknown of LIFESTYLE CHANGE.

Maybe that's too much of a nut to crack all at once. 

Maybe a compassionate choice is to have a little grace for the process, and let it unfold over time.

Maybe it starts with just learning to find your inner compassionate mind. The piece of you that can ask, is this the compassionate choice?

If I eat this whole pizza, momentarily satisfying my craving, or my obsession, or my compulsion, I am handing the reigns of control over to immediate gratification. And if I deny myself by saying, "THATS NOT GOOD DON'T DO IT." I will have about as much luck as my mom did trying to keep me inside my house when I was fifteen. None.
So often the part of our mind that keeps us making the same choices is a piece of our mind that asks us to be willing to be treated like this. Is this the compassionate choice? 

When we come down hard on ourselves, there is an element of judgement that keeps the gift of the new choice from feeling like a gift. We hear thoughts like "Better people can do this. This is too hard for me. If I really cared to get to my goal of not binge eating, not sitting on the couch all day, getting active, I would JUST STOP."

But we can't JUST STOP. We become attached to that which makes us feel good in the short term. And I'm talking about all of us. I'm talking about the guy with the chronic low back pain, not just the addicted eater or the chronic depressive. 

So when you allow yourself to develop that compassionate mind, you can change. You can say, I know that if I eat this whole pizza I will hate myself tomorrow. I will be angry and feel fat and know that now I have to go undo it all in the gym when I could be moving forward. I will cary guilt and shame at my lack of discipline. I will see all the fit bodies walking around who are able to control themselves, and each one of them will serve as a judgement against my ability to succeed. 

It is so much more compassionate for me to make a different choice right now. To stop wherever I am, and be grateful that I was able to listen to that compassionate mind. To listen with gratitude to the me that says, it is kinder not to eat this. 

Now, you can look at other compassionate choices. And different things work for different people. You  might start just by walking. Go outside and look around. Do you need to buy a whole yoga wardrobe and sign up for monthly unlimited and go every day?

No. You'll probably hurt yourself. That's not balanced, either. And the middle path is the compassionate path. And what the middle path looks like, the balanced path, will change as your ability to be compassionate to yourself changes. As your body changes. As what is truly important to you changes. 

It becomes easy to make the compassionate choice, even though it may lead to a difficult activity, because it feels like you caring for yourself. And a bonus of this kind of living, when you treat yourself with grace and compassion, and begin living from that place, you fill up like a vessel. And then you overflow. And THEN, you can help others make the compassionate choice, because you have energy to give. 

You are not giving from an empty, over-taxed place. You can ask, do I have this to give? Because that's the compassionate choice. Not the selfish choice. There is a difference. 

So yes. You don't have to live in pain. You don't have to be scared, and anxious, and a victim of your story. You can become whoever you were meant to become, regardless of your history, your past, your fears. 

If you really want this for yourself, starting from developing a compassionate mind will help you build a set of guidelines that make it easy for you to grow your wings and leave behind that which no longer serves you!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

You are hereby UNGROUNDED.

Ethan, my 10 year old, has given me permission to talk about his experience starting a Bikram Yoga practice. Thanks, Ethan!

At the end of the school year, we were all kind of at our wit's end. I had been training my brains out and hadn't been around my kids enough. They were ready for summer, and ready for mom to be home. They both started acting out in their own way, as we do when we aren't quite happy with the status quo.

Ethan started getting in trouble, and he started getting grounded. The trouble was, he couldn't make it through one grounding before the next one started. I was frustrated, he felt like a failure, and the whole system was broken.

The trouble he was getting in was "little" trouble, but it started growing. There were small matters of integrity which started leading to larger matters of integrity. White lies snowballing. Sneaky behavior.

When I caught him yet again, we had another one of our fantastic, in depth talks which seem to lead no where and do nothing. I had already taken away his legos, his books, he'd been banned from the computer. There was nothing left to take. He was living in a jail state. And learning nothing.

I asked him, "E, how do we get you to learn to make the difficult decision because its the right decision?"

He answered me honestly. "I don't know."

Intellectually, he understood that it was important to have integrity. He understood that the desire to make the right choice needed to come from within him, rather than from fear of getting in trouble.

He was sad and frustrated and so was I. There was a rift in our trust, there was a crack in our relationship. Neither one of us wanted that break, and neither one of us knew how to fix it.

Yeah, I used to get in a lot of trouble, too.
I was in yoga one day, and I was laying in Savassana, and I thought of his little face. I remember being ten years old. I remember being in so much trouble so much of the time. I remember just waiting for my grounding to end so that I could get in more trouble for some other stupid reason like forgetting to put the toothpaste cap on.

I couldn't differentiate between the scale of the mistakes I was making because I was in so much trouble so much of the time, that trying at all seemed pointless. I remember deciding that I'd just stop climbing out my window and sneaking around and just start walking out the front door because, fuck it, I was already in trouble, what more could they do?

Obviously, by the time I came to that conclusion, I was about 13 years old and had years of never making it through a grounding or winning my parent's trust back under my belt.

I didn't want this for Ethan.

The teacher in the Bikram class I was in called for us to change, to turn around and lay on our bellies to prepare for the spine strengthening series. I was hot, tired, soggy and sad about Ethan. But I heard the instruction, and I rolled over on my tummy and prepared.

I did not show the drama on my face, I did not sigh, or grunt, or breathe. I kept an expression of calm on my face because that's what you do in yoga.

And then it hit me. All the lessons I was hoping that Ethan would learn by punishing him, he could learn right here in the yoga room.

I rushed home from class and asked him, "Hey. What if we completely unground you, give you back all of your privileges, all my trust, lets just DO OVER. But you have to come to Bikram for a month, and you have to do what the teacher says."

He looked at me. Anything was better than being grounded.

"Okay." He said.

I was worried, I was concerned that he would pull other people off of their mats with kid drama, with worry for how he was doing, if he could survive the heat, I was worried for my own practice that it would suffer because I'd be parenting him the whole time.

Yoga is part of every day for Ethan, now.
We got there early. We set up by the door. I talked to Caroline, the owner of Arjuna Yoga, who was teaching the class. She gave Ethan a camping chair to rest his back agains, I gave him my Bikram's Beginning Yoga Series Book and off we went.

Our first goal was to minimize the drama. So when it got hard, he was not to show it on his face. The tougher decision, which was the right decision, was to take care of himself. To decide if he could push through the feeling of it being hot, or hard, and either continue to try or sit in childs pose. No sighing, no calling attention. Could he be accountable for his own practice.

This turned out to be his whole practice. He came to nine classes, and after the fourth one, he was welcoming the heat. He reads the Bikram book during most of the standing series, and then joins in for as much of the floor series as he can.

He stays in the room. He takes care of his own practice. I don't practice near him, Caroline wisely asked me to let her be his teacher, since that's what I'm paying her for anyway. Ethan has come to class when I'm not there, even. He's the only 10 year old in a room full of adults, many of whom can't contain their drama. Finding equanimity when he has the desire for attention has been an incredibly powerful tool for Ethan.

After class one his behavior changed.

He continued to read the book, and started calling me in to look at passages. "Mom, here's a good example of integrity."

Ethan after his fifth class
A month later, I have to say, our experiment was a complete success. Ethan changed his behavior for and by himself through the discipline of yoga. He found freedom in the discipline. He found accountability. He found integrity. And he found the desire to let these things be driving traits on his own. The impetus is coming from the inside.

Being able to share this practice with him was incredibly powerful for me as well. I had to let him be taught by others, I had to let go of my worries and fears about the other people in the room. He was a paying member of the yoga studio, I had to let him be his own autonomous creature going through his own journey.

Ethan learned, all on his own, that he wanted to be trusted and respected for himself. He learned all on his own that life is hard, and sometimes the way through is not in taking the easy path, but in taking the right path. Not the path that looks right because its what everyone else is doing. The path that resonates internally as right because it is in line with your values, the things you strive for in your life. What an amazing lesson, what a gift to watch my own kid begin to wrap his mind around that concept.

I'm happy to say that Ethan seems to have found strength and peace of mind, we don't have any behavior issues right now since we started this crazy experiment, and our rift... well it was mended the day I asked if he wanted to go to yoga. We are closer than we've ever been, and thats because he chose to ask more of himself and I chose to let him walk that path, extending him trust even though I had thought it had been exhausted.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


About six weeks before tryouts happened, I was cooked. I had been training for six years, I was as strong as I was going to get. I was tired of not eating sugar and bread, and I really wanted a beer. I wanted to not go to yoga twice a day, I wanted to be done training, thinking, watching ski videos, focusing so hard.  After all, I had put in so much time. It was as good as it was going to get, right?

My friend Peter was in town, and we talked about this pre event slump. Ive experienced it before, and I know other athletes struggle with it as well. There is this strange time where you want to sit down and stop working so hard because you've been working so hard. It exists in the time when your schedule is about to change, but it hasn't yet. 

You are anticipating the event, and you know that the week before the event is going to include all kinds of changes, packing, arranging travel, your focus has shifted from long term prep to short term logistics. When you are six or four weeks out, you know that time is coming, but it hasn't come yet. You still need to be working.

Peter and I decided to go down valley and get tattooed. I chose the word FINISH. I wanted to do something that would motivate me when I saw it in the mirror. A long time ago, when I was a student at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, studying acting with Jeffrey Tambour, he gave me a one-word note for the whole season. "Finish." what he meant was to find every thread of each piece of the scene, and really finish each piece. 

Twenty years later, I'm still using this note. This time, it meant follow through on the promise you have made to yourself. I said that I was going to do everything I could to be a viable candidate at the tryouts, easing off with six weeks to go was not in alignment with that goal. 

Finish, to me, meant to follow through with each aspect of the promise, from training, to nutrition to sleep, to warm up, to rolling out, to yoga, to no alcohol. (Im allergic to alcohol, so when I have a beer, I get a really upset stomach the next day. The cumulative effect is not a peak performance situation for me.)  

Finish meant don't say that you want to go to the top and then not do every single thing in your control to get there well. Not just to show up, but to show up knowing that you aren't leaving anything undone. 

I would see that tattoo in the mirror, and it would remind me that I had made this promise, and that even if I was tired, or wished I didn't have to do this, I had said that I would, and it was time to man up and get it done as well as it could be. 

It encouraged me to stay in each posture with good form no matter how tired or sore I was until the teacher said, "Change". It encouraged me to order Kale and ask for no bread. It made it easy to stick to my guns about not drinking alcohol, even though lots of people would tell me, "Kate, you aren't any fun when you do this, skiing is supposed to be fun. We should party."

I definitely got called a party popper more than once. But I know myself. I know that my biggest challenge is getting my feet to perform as well as they need to. Skiing is the easy part for a lot of the people I was trying out against, they've been doing it long enough that they can have a little hang over or be a little tired and still pull it off. For me, if I wanted to keep my word to myself, to my first coach, Mike, to my school, Aspen, to all the sponsors who had been there for me, to my family who had supported me, to my benefactors who made it possible for me to eat good food and train hard and rehab properly from surgery, I needed to focus on what I needed to do, regardless of whether it seemed "fun" to my friends or not. 

It was a huge commitment. I missed my friends, I missed my kids. Kurt and I were working hard. And I kept my part of the bargain. Finish got me to Utah, through academy, and into our own little condo with no distractions. Finish made me run the stairs every morning even though I knew I had blown the first day of skiing. Finish made me focus on bringing my skiing up every day so that the selectors could see that under tough circumstances I could continually improve. 

Finish made me feel incredibly successful even though I wasn't selected for the team. Because I was so proud of what I had done, of what we had done, as a community, as friends. 

When I got the tattoo, it didn't even occur to me to consider how I might feel having it on my arm if I didn't get selected. I suppose it could have been a bit distressing, to see it every day and have it be a reminder that I didn't make it. But that's not how I feel when I see it. I look at it and I see six years of hard work, I see all the amazing lessons I learned along the way, the friendships I made, the support I gave and received. I see who this journey has helped me become, and I could not have become that unless I had bumped up against the wall of what was possible, wondered if I could finish, and proved to myself that I do have what it takes to go all in and push hard. 

I came out the other end a victor, even though I'm not a team member. Because I learned to Finish.