Ten Yoga Thoughts

I do restorative yoga, which is a mix of meditation and yoga, because it is phenomenal for my mental well being.  Also because it involves lying down a lot, which I find attainable.

During our mindfulness sessions, we practice being mindful of our thoughts.  Here are mine:

  1. If we always have to do yoga on a mat, why don’t they just make the floor out of yoga mats?
  2. Is there cursing in Sanskrit?
  3. Holding in the fart.  Holding in the fart. Holding in the fart.
  4. It’s a small, small, world [because I went to Disneyworld in January and YOU CAN NEVER GET THAT SONG OUT OF YOUR HEAD].
  5. Is all-male yoga called bro-ga?
  6. Why does the Buddha’s head look like an acorn?
  7. Shake Ey, Ey, Ey, Ey Shake, Ta Ta And do the Harlem Shake [It was funny the first seventy times. No. More. Please.]
  8. Finally figured out that Mitt Romney looks like the Mayor of Whoville.
  9. Is the song “Brown Girl in the Ring” a little bit racist?  How about the song “Everybody’s a Little Racist?”
  10. What this place needs is more windchime!

I have to add that my truly wonderful yoga instructor has told us that in India, you’re supposed to fart during yoga class, but that has not caught on here.

More Cowbell, baby!


I’ve had a bit of the doldrums lately.  I’ve got lots of work to do, lots of work that I need to make progress on, and I’ve had enormous difficulty getting started.  I read an apt description of my current state of mind in an essay by Tracy Kidder called “Courting the Approval of the Dead.”  He’s recalling his experience researching for Old Friends, his book on nursing homes, and coming to the realization that a fate worse than a painful death would be to spend one’s final days “bored and inert”:

What  meaning could life have, I’d find myself wondering, if the best of the last things people get to do on earth is play Bingo?

I’m certainly far removed from nursing-home existence, but “bored and inert” seems to be the curtain that has been drawn over my window recently.

A couple of weeks back, I hurt my back.  Kneeling on the floor putting my son’s shoes on as he readied for the bus to take him to kindergarten, I felt a strange twinge in my back, just above the crest of my pelvis on the left side.  That’s odd, I thought.  I stood up, felt a little pain,  not too much, and sat on the couch with my son.  We played with Talking Larry on my iPod until the bus came.

When I heard the bus rumbling up the hill, Alec stood up and I bent over him to put on his backpack.  I found, though, that I couldn’t straighten to an upright position, so I limped bent over to the door to let him outside.  I told him goodbye, watched him climb the stairs on the bus, and then collapsed to the floor.  I’ve fallen and I can’t get up, I thought.

I stayed on the floor a good twenty minutes.  I didn’t feel pain as long as I laid there, but trying to get to a standing position caused deep pain in my lumbar area; if I tensed my hamstring in any way, my back hurt. I used every yoga trick I knew, rolling, using my hands to assist, to eventually get to a standing position.  Standing was fine; walking was the next trick.  Any forward motion of my leg on the left side caused the pain to return, so in a sort of zombie shuffle, dragging my left leg, I made my way to the couch in the family room.

I knew that getting up would be hard after I sat down again, so I made sure to visit the bathroom and then gather my laptop and the phone and TV remote and a glass of water before I sat down.  I put all the items within reach and then carefully sat down and set about the business of cancelling my classes and conferences for the day.

The pain started to subside in a couple of days, and actually moved to my knee and shoulder blades as I compensated for my back.  Today I feel nearly fixed, more of a tightness in the region than anything else.  But this injury interrupted my practices and I am now feeling the results.

I had been riding my bicycle regularly for exercise, going to a yoga class once a week, and holding conferences with my students to keep up with grading papers.  All of those things got disrupted.  I’m not high energy kind of person (unless it’s something I’m really into like a video game) and all the painkillers I took were sapping my reserves.  Even the over-the-counter stuff I take gives me side effects; I couldn’t imagine doing anything prescription.  Needless to say, the bike and yoga class weren’t happening.

Putting things off is nothing new to me.  The things I am putting off today I put off when I felt better and more energetic.  It’s just now they are ganging up on me.  And even the pleasurable things have started to lose their luster.

Like this blog.  I feel like it’s been successful.  I’ve had as many as 65 hits on a single day, and a number of comments and a few subscribers.  In the two months I’ve been working at it, I’ve made 30 posts, and half of those are considerable, more than 1,000 words.  It’s been a fun project, and I feel like at least someone is reading my work, which makes me feel like some kind of writer.  I’ve felt as though I’ve had a couple of really good moments of discovery in my writing as well.

But now my blogging is starting to feel, for lack of a better word, “tainted.”  A project for me gets tainted when some kind of negativity or problem gets attached for it that I can’t seem to resolve.  When I get going on a novel manuscript, everything is new and shiny and exciting, and I really believe that I might finish it this time.  Then I run into some barrier, such as a scene that I am not happy with that I know needs to be different, but I’m not sure how, and then I stall.  After a couple days, I start to lose the thread of the story, and have to backtrack and re-read in order to refresh my memory.  It’s difficult to come back to and the longer I am away from a manuscript, the stupider the whole enterprise seems to me in the first place.  Similarly, I fall in and out of love with my poems.

This ebb and flow is not unusual, from what I’ve read of writers on their own writing.  Tom Perrotta, for example:

I have to send the kids out to daycare and then drink a pot of coffee and play my guitar until I get so disgusted with myself that I have to write.

But the point for him is that eventually he does write, and has experienced success.

Anyway, this blog project became tainted in several ways.  First, I started out way less than serious about blog writing, but now do take it seriously, and am reading my reference books on memoir, and am now starting to apply a higher standard (and more pressure) to myself.  Second, I started out in a David Sedaris writing mode, having just finished reading a couple of his books, but am now rereading The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon, and am feeling more serious and less silly about my condition and don’t want to be pegged as a funny writer anymore (at least today).  I often get seduced by what I read in the sense that if it moves me I want to emulate it.  I read a lot of things and can’t decide who I want to be.  I have a hard time saying, “that’s really great writing, but I’m not that kind of writer,” unless it is something extraordinarily erudite.

Finally, and this is the hardest hurdle, is that I feel like I’ve been investing time in this blog at the expense of The Things I’m Supposed To Be Doing, and therefore it is an instrument of avoidance.  That’s the humdinger.  The whole enterprise seems a waste of time, then, a deliberate waste of time, the wost kind.  I developed this kind of Protestant work ethic idea of what a good person ought to be, and though I cannot live up to it, I nevertheless constantly compare myself to it.  Good people are dependent and reliable and productive and hard working, like Boxer in Animal Farm.

“Why are you writing?” you may ask.

I had a good chat with my wife over this state of blah I’m in and mentioned feeling like this blog was a waste of time.  She disagreed.  “If you want to be a writer,” she said, “you have to practice.”  She’s right, as usual.  One makes time for the important work, and finds some way to do the rest.  I am grateful for the insight, and it helped me get started on this post today.

I can almost forgive her for sleeping through my back injury.

Session One

I had my first meeting with the diagnostic team this week. The kids were in school so my wife and I drove the hour down to the BRAINS Foundation in Grand Rapids together. The office was in the building at the back of a professional park. The building had a craftsman style exterior, but a sort of wood-panel art deco interior. It felt expensive inside, confirmed by the rate sheet the receptionist handed me. Glad I have good insurance.

The thing about going to mental health facilities is you never know what kind of crazy is inside. In the few I’ve been to, I can’t help look around and say I wonder what’s wrong with these people? (Though I should probably look in the mirror first.) Indeed, my wife went to find the bathroom and a woman talked her ear off while they were waiting in line. We were directed to a narrow staircase and I kept flashing on the hospital scene from Jacob’s Ladder: going down, down, down. In a Kafkaesque moment, an institutional metal fire door opened to what felt like a hotel lobby with another waiting area. After a few minutes, my doctor found me in the waiting area and led me to her spacious office.

The doctor turned out to be the smart/warm/receptive type. She began to take a history. She asked me “What seems to be getting you caught up?” and I let fly. I’ve had lots of practice in the therapy game, so I did the stream-of-consciousness download for her. I was eager to talk, probably too eager, and at times started to give too-complicated answers.

She asked me if I had migranes or headaches, for example, and I said something like,

Well, yes and no. I used to. Sometimes I would get, I would call it the “perfect storm” headache, you know, a combination of neck strain and sinus pressure and yeah, I would have that can’t-stand-light kind of headache, but I haven’t been getting them since I started doing yoga, even though I don’t do that too regularly I do try to do yoga at least once a week (I take a class) and since then, yes I do get headaches, but not bad ones because yoga has fixed my neck strain, which was due to my bad posture because of the way my back is put together.

Probably something like “I used to, but not since I started yoga” would have sufficed. The doctor was kind, however, and let me talk. She asked good questions too, for example, about the difficulty I have managing finances and the pressure being, for the most part, the sole income earner for the family. She also asked about what sort of consequences I had experienced from having trouble with work in the past.

She asked me about medication, and I said, “Load me up!” I had taken antidepressants for several years to good effect. The problems that continue pale in comparison to the bad old days of a decade ago.

So what we set up was the possibility that I have ADD (she used the old term) and that in two weeks I would return for two and a half hours of testing, as she said, “to figure out what’s going on in the way your brain processes things that will help us decide if you do have ADD.” Two more weeks of waiting for my tests, and then another follow-up appointment to figure out where to go next.

Back in the car, my wife was happy to hear that the doctor thought the B-12 and krill oil supplements were a good idea (because they were her idea). I felt relieved that the appointment was over and that it went well and we went for a great lunch at a Chinese restaurant we used to go to when we lived down in GR. Awesome rangoons!

Later that night, after dinner, we were talking about the day again and my attention started to drift and some worry surfaced. My wife, used to the drill, asked, “what’s the matter?”

“I’m worried that I was supposed to pay the co-pay on the way out. I mean, no one said anything about it.” The doctor said I could set my final follow-up appointment on the way out, but I got a bad vibe from the upstairs desk and there was a line of people and I just wanted some air so we left.

“No, they always have to work out the insurance,” she said. I didn’t look relieved. “What are you worried about?”

I smiled at my foolishness. “I want to make a good impression. You know, be a good patient?”

She laughed. “You went to the looney bin today, and you’re worried about your manners?”