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Monday, April 20, 2015

The Magic of Music and Mindfulness

It had been a few years since I last saw the symphony.  I have always love going to the symphony.. in fact, I love almost any kind of arts and culture and theatre.  But music and dance are... my thing.  So, when I go to the symphony, I realllly love it.

My husband and I went to the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra a couple of nights ago and something magical happened.

I have been purposely practicing mindfulness and meditation now for several years.  As the years go by, I get even more committed.  Changes are definitely occurring.  They are often quite subtle, and one might not even notice unless they compare how different a reaction might have been in a similar situation five years ago.  But every now and again, you feel the difference.  You know you have created new pathways in your brain.  Your old conditioning is falling away.  

The evening began with a reception.  I was underdressed for the reception - most of the ladies wore dresses and gowns, while I wore pants, blouse, and shawl - at least I had heels and bright red lipstick on:)  I was there for the music, though, and it really didn't bother me.  Once we were seated in the auditorium, the orchestra played 'Oh Canada'. The audience stood in pride... and that was the beginning.  I got goosebumps. 

Whenever I hear 'Oh Canada', I feel a sense of community.  I am reminded of our great country and how privileged I am to live here.  So to get goosebumps was not unexpected.  But what happened next was.

Cory Tetford joined the NSO that night.  His first set was mostly gospel music, and his first song was 'Amazing Grace'.  It touched my soul.  Goosebumps times 10.  I closed my eyes momentarily so I could absorb the music without visual distractions.  Ever do that?  It can be truly amazing and full of grace.

So wow.  Big applause.  Feeling good.... and the next few songs made me smile.  I smiled out of appreciation and wow.  I watched a guy be completely in tune with his cello and a drummer become part of the rhythm.  I could hear each instrument as it chimed in, and each one struck me like I'd never heard it before and it was the most outstanding sound I'd ever heard.

Then Shelly Neville came on stage and joined Cory and the NSO.  She's a local celebrity.  We all know how beautiful her voice is.  That's when I realized I am in the middle of magic.  My eyes welled up and the tears began to flow.  I was in a state of awe.  The fullness of the orchestra, the harmony of the voices, and the energy... the magic... enveloped me.  And I didn't care what anyone thought.  I was just in that moment.  And it was perfect.

The remainder of the evening saw more amazing talent with Barney Bentall and Mark Critch (comedian).  A new (beautiful, heart-warming, touching) song written by Cory and Alan Doyle was performed for the first time in public.  I cried a few more times.  The lyrics were brilliant.  The music was phenomenal.  The talent was outstanding.

But most of all, I took it all in.  I allowed myself to close my eyes and feel the music... the energy... the vibrations.  I experienced it.  I opened to it... and not only did it flow in, but it burst out too.  

Music really is good for the soul.  When you are mindful, you take it all in and it fills you up.  My husband and I both had a similar experience that night.  We carried on our night talking about how important it is to allow those moments in.  Life is short and full... and taking the time and allowing yourself to really fill up your soul with music is no different than filling your car with gas.  

It was magic.  We were both incredibly mindful of that.  Maybe we will purchase seasonal tickets next year.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Metamorphosis: It was the best of runs, it was the worst of runs

I can count on my two hands the number of times I have run in the past 2 1/2 years.  After an injury in a half marathon, another injury three weeks later in the famous local 20k hilly run - Cape to Cabot, and the onset of chronic pain and fatigue, every run put me out for days.  And I had a toddler to care for.

So I essentially gave up running (among other things).

Last week, I participated in some more Mindfulness training (which was awesome... more on that later).  Another participant mentioned that she was in excruciating pain when she ran; however, she read a book in which the author spoke about being mindful of the pain as something separate from you.  She now says to herself, "Something inside me is experiencing pain." And she runs.  Three times a week.  She said every step is painful, but she does it.

I figured, if she can do it, so can I.

Soooo... yesterday, I tried.  I picked one of the the easiest routes in town.  A 3.8k flat trail around a lake, half with a boardwalk, half with crushed stone.  Indeed, for a runner, this seems pretty easy. And for a non-runner, it seems like a wonderful run.  For me, I just wanted to finish it.  And then not have pain afterwards.

I started very slow and easy.  It felt good.  But, I really felt like I was holding back.  I wanted to go faster, let it flow.. but I wouldn't, in fear I wouldn't last or I'd hurt myself.

Then something different happened.  I have had some issues with my knees, but they haven't caused me to not run.  One time a lady who performed healing touch on me said I need to take care of my right knee.  I was surprised because I'd had some minor issues with my left knee but never any problems with my right knee.  Until yesterday.

My knee began popping.  Every time my heel hit the ground it popped.  The longer I went, the more it popped... and it began to hurt each time.  I shook it out.  I stopped and stretched.  I swore.  I even texted my husband and told him how frustrated I was.  He lovingly asked if walking might help.

I walked a bit.  Ran a few steps... pop, pop, pop.  F**k.  I said it out loud, and I think someone heard me.  Then my mind spiral kicked in...

Seriously?  I can't even run 2k now?  Really?  No wonder I've gained weight.  No wonder I'm tired all the time.  I can't exercise because I'm going to hurt something.  And if I put my knee out, how will I care for my family and practice yoga and hike - the only physical things I can do at this time - without hurting myself?  I will gain even more weight.  I will be even more tired.

Really?  Am I seriously going down this path of thought because I have a popping knee?  !!!

Then I remembered what the lady in Mindfulness class told me.  And I said to myself, "There is something inside me experiencing pain and telling me I have pain."  I realized how much fear I had about this.  I didn't want to hurt my knee.  But I also knew this was a bit of an irrational fear.  I'd never had a knee problem before.  What are the chances my knee is going to totally give out?

I changed how I ran.  I began engaging my quad muscles as I landed and this was working.  My knee wouldn't pop.  Then my left hip hurt.  Then I walked a bit more.

At some point, I decided to run faster and stronger, rather than gentle and easy.  And it worked.  My knee stopped popping.  I ran the rest of the way around the lake.  I splashed in the mud while other walkers and runners gingerly stepped around the mud puddles.  I felt strong.

I finished my run. I wanted to go further, but I knew that was not the answer.  Like I tell my clients... baby steps.  I decided to just be with what it was.  It was a horrible run in so many ways.  But it was a run.  I did it. And I felt OK at the end.  My heart rate hardly went up, but my muscles felt it (oh, how quickly our muscles can deteriorate!).  And I trained my mind a little more.  So it was a great run too.

What is fabulous is that I began my run wondering if I could do it.  I ended it knowing I can.  I need to take a different approach than I ever did before.  But I can do this.  Maybe not every day.  Maybe not long distance.  Maybe not fast.  Maybe with more self care than needed in the past.  But I'm transitioning, and my running is proof of it.

And today, I have slightly sore quad muscles.  Yes, after about only 3k of running.  What a great feeling! :)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Breaking the Chains that Bind Us

I learned to snowboard about eight years ago.  I fell down a lot at first, but when I learned how to transition from side to side, it was magical.  I flowed down the hills with snow sprinkling in my face.  I even managed to learn how to jump...  a little bit.  It was like a ride of freedom.  I thought I'd never return to a pair of skis.

Fast forward to two years ago.  My family and I went on a ski/snowboard vacation in New Hampshire.  We'd been there before and loved it.  We typically spent about 4-5 consecutive days on the hills of two different resorts.  It was magnificent.  We really found a special kind of joy in these experiences.  Until that year.

If you follow me, you know I experience chronic pain.  About three years ago, it started to get worse. I managed to get through life in dull pain but never having to negotiate any of my physical activities. Until that year.

After my first day boarding, I thought I was done.  I managed a 1/2 day the following couple of days. I think I took a day off.  And on my final day, I changed to skis.  I was falling and my neck was in so much pain that I succumbed to taking pain killers (something I rarely do... except when boarding).  I just couldn't do it anymore.  The magic was gone.  So I hopped on a pair of skis.

Skiing was dreadful.  I couldn't find my ski legs.  It had been several years since I'd been on them. Fear of hurting myself built up inside me.  I had never been afraid of a ski hill... until then.

It was my last time on a ski hill until this past weekend.  I just couldn't bring myself to go last year. As my husband and I glided along in the ski lift, my heart actually started to pound.  I was nervous!?!? I'd been excited in the past.  But this was different.  I was full of fear that I wasn't going to make it down the hill.

The first ride was a bit tough.  I had to stop several times.  I went slow.  I felt like a beginner (although I wasn't falling so all was well).

The second ride was better.  The third ride was joyful.  I turned on my tunes and flowed down the hill in harmony with the snow and music.  I rested when I needed to, maybe once.  And I stopped comparing myself to how I once was.  I stopped trying to be a great snowboarder and started just being the snowboarder enjoying the slow transcendence down the hill.  The remainder of the day was more of the same.

I was beginning to break the chains that were binding me for two years.  I was enjoying the moment. I was managing my body.  I was doing what I could and not forcing it to be different.  And I wasn't afraid anymore.

I had a 1/2 day on the hill.  That was it.  I was wiped afterwards.  The next day I was sore and tired. But it was a breakthrough!  It was worth it.

I reminded myself that I need to be where I am... but I also need to find the cracks and break the chains.  I felt like I was learning a lesson on the hill from my mat (yoga mat).  Stirum sukum - steady and easy.  A yoga pose is best when steady and easy.  My boarding was best when it was steady and easy.  I couldn't force anything more than what I could do, but I could push just to the limit.

At the end of the day, I had forgotten I was fearful of the hill earlier that day.  I felt like I had overcome a huge hurdle.  It was just the beginning, but that's how the chains that bind us are broken.  One clasp at a time.