I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: October, 2012


Devotional Meditation in Motion

“Have you ever done a 108?” Katherine asked, in response to my impulsive and enthusiastic acceptance of her invitation to participate in Operation Finding Peace – a day of yoga at Kaia Yoga benefitting the Give Back Yoga Foundation, a nonprofit that provides yoga to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

No, I have never done a 108.  I barely know what a 108 is.  All I knew was that I felt compelled to do it.  I was sure of very little, but I was sure I had to do this 108.

The familiar, superficial reason was because I am attracted to challenge.  The harder it is the better.  If it’s not hard, it’s not worth it.  A yoga marathon?  To prove I am a true yogini?  I am in. 

The outward facing reason was because it was for a good cause.  In my mid-life search for meaning, the cause aspect of the event was completely appealing.  I could tell people I was doing a yoga marathon to benefit a good cause which would make me look like a good person. 

Digging a little deeper, a subtler reason was because I like to be agreeable and inclusive.   And certainly this was an easy yes.  Katherine was a new yoga friend and my connection to a new yoga community.  I wanted to say yes to her.  I wanted to fit in to this new yoga community.  Being agreeable and inclusive serves me well, but only up to a point.  As a relationship evolves, whether it is personal or professional, you will reach a place of disagreement and it becomes important to put yourself out there with a clear point of view.  This statement of ME terrifies me.  I don’t do it well and have historically hidden from situations involving such a strong expression of ME, letting friendships wither and jeopardizing my professional development.  It is easier to begin new endeavors and new relationships then to work through the challenges of fighting for ME while fighting through the challenges of the relationship. 

But the real reason I said yes to the 108 was because yoga has saved my life, giving me the courage to create the life I want to live – a joyful loving authentic one, not the life I was living, a more duty-driven one filled with chores and work and a focus on responsibility.

When, at the auspicious “mid-life-crisis/enlightenment” age of 47, I was passed over for promotion, losing my team, and sidelined to a quieter job, I questioned everything.  On my daily commute to mid-town Manhattan, I cried every morning on the walk between Grand Central and the gleaming office tower, feeling humiliated and old and mourning the loss of my outward self that I had presented to the world all these years.  Athletic and trained as a ballet dancer in my teens, yoga became my refuge.  Some days, I just wanted to rest in child’s pose and breathe.  Other days, I wanted to work so hard I didn’t have enough breath to chant “om.”  And who was I to be chanting “om” anyway?  The only child of cerebral scientists, I jokingly referred to myself as a 3rd generation heathen.  Moreover, I was woefully disconnected from my body.  As a dancer, I had wonderful body discipline and body control, but I did not respect my body. 

I discovered Ashtanga yoga – the elixir for type A personalities that I proudly imagined myself to be.  I dutifully mastered the primary series and welcomed the intense assists, because it took a lot of pain for me to feel my body.  But then the neck pain became unbearable.  I had pushed myself too hard and was forced to feel my body.  I had to acknowledge that perhaps I had not mastered the primary series after all, at least not safely and wisely.  Perhaps my body had something to say to me.  I revisited trauma from my childhood and the resulting perfectionism, eating issues, difficulty with relationships, and more.  Back in talk therapy after a 20 year hiatus, I delved into meditation and slower forms of yoga, and began to awaken to ME.  I began to honor an intuitive understanding that I had to practice yoga and to share yoga.  It was helping me connect to my body and helping me to be honest, compassionate, and loving with my self and people I love.  All I know now is that loving my family and my deepening circle of friends is the only thing that matters to me, so I will listen to my yoga intuition and follow it. 

My yoga intuition brought me to the 108 at Kaia Yoga. 

What is a 108?

When you google it, you will get various explanations about why the number 108 is sacred.  I found I could not retain any of these explanations, other than Katherine’s:  “It’s a devotional meditation.”  Oh, and it’s a lot of sun salutations.  I was up for the physical challenge.  Was I up for the devotional meditation?

But first, what to wear?  When I have anxiety, it’s easy for me to fall back on a familiar neurosis – equating how I look with my worth.  I found myself madly – madly! – contemplating shopping for a new yoga outfit at the last minute the day before the event even though I spent the day at work and was hosting my best friend from my childhood for dinner that evening from out of town.  I talked myself out of the urgent but ridiculous desire to shop for and sport a new outfit.  (I succumbed to getting a haircut.)  For the record, I did choose comfortable leggings and a top that would require no undergarments.  The less clothing the better and who needs a t-shirt flopping over your head when you are upside down in Downward Dog a multiple of 108 times.

Next, what to eat?  I have food issues. (Remember, how I look equates with my self-worth, so I better look good which, for me, means being thin.)  Eating the right amount of food to give me sufficient energy but not digestive gas was important to me.  And, you know, maybe I’ll lose some weight – always a good thing.  Isn’t that why we do yoga?  The event started at 3:00, so I knew I had to eat something around noon.  I chose a concoction of quinoa, black bean salad, and feta cheese.  I was a little worried about the beans, but it worked out.  No gas, phew. 

I arrive and there is purposeful energy in the place.  It feels both calming and exciting just to be there.  I don’t know very many people, and there is much buzzing amongst the people who do know each other.  I could go to a place of feeling like I don’t belong, but hey, it’s a yoga studio.  By definition, it’s a welcoming place.  I feel like I can belong if I choose to.  I survey the studio and it’s crowded with people, primarily women.  (Where are the men?)  I place my mat on the outskirts.  I have never practiced yoga with this large a quantity of people.  It could be overwhelming, but I choose not to let it.  I spy an open space right in the middle.  That is where I want to be, right in it.  I move my mat.  I make friendly connecting eye contact with a few of my neighbors, but I know this is going to be an internal experience.  I settle into child’s pose and breathe. 

Because I have tried to move beyond my type A approach to yoga, I begin talking to myself.  You don’t have to do all 108.  You don’t have to jump back.  You don’t have to do Chaturanga.  You don’t have to prove anything.  Just be here now. 

Stan is our leader for the 108.  There is a collective anticipation as we prepare to begin.  We chant the traditional opening Ashtanga prayer.  I hear my Ashtanga teacher Constanza’s voice and notice that Stan’s pronunciation is different.  The difference throws me off.  Even though I know the chant, I forget it in the excitement and decide to let it wash over me, joining in the opening and closing “om’s.”  The vibration of the om from all those people is intense.  It feels like we are going to take off!  I LOVE IT. 

We begin. 

Stan sets our intention for the first 10.  The purpose of yoga is to end suffering.  Yep, no problem.  No suffering for me!  The first 10 are easy for me.  Yay for me!  I shake out my jitters.  And then I remember that I do suffer.  A lot.  And then I remember it’s not about me anyway.  Stan calls to my mind the suffering of the veterans we are honoring and the global suffering of our world.  We are all together in this. 

Gratitude for the next 10.  We are so lucky to be in this beautiful place all together.  I am deeply grateful.  (When I remember to be grateful.)   

Peace for the next 10.  My mind begins to swirl and is anything but peaceful.  How does he keep count?  Did I step back with my left foot last time?  Should I step back with my right foot this time?  Wow, we’re at 20 – there are a lot more to go.  This is going to be boring.  How about that, my shoulders are more sore than I expected.  This is going to be hard.  I wonder what kind of food will be at the celebration tonight?  What if I am too shy to introduce myself to all these people tonight?  I am missing my daughter’s Spanish Honor Society induction ceremony tonight.  I am selfish and self-absorbed, a terrible mother. 

Unity for the next 10.  We are doing this together in unity, but now my pride separates me from being one with the group.  Look at ME!  (Too bad I don’t have a new outfit.)  I am better than everyone else.  Look, she’s sitting.  Look she’s standing.  I jump back to Chaturanga this time.  Oh yea, I’m good at yoga!  Oops, I am not as good at her.  Uh oh.

Clarity for the next 10.  $#@! Who cares. 

And then, the shift happens.  I stop thinking. 

The next four groups of ten are a blur.  I take one decade “off” – resting in child’s pose and breathing.  I rejoin the movement, feeling a sense of peace and determination.  The room has gotten very quiet; it is just Stan’s quiet leadership and our collective breathing.  A devotional meditation it is. 

The ninth decade is Family.  I love my family.  I will do anything for them.  They are the source of joy and meaning in my life.  I give each sun salutation special attention and a special prayer for Thom, Kiera, and Aidan.

Last, we devote our selves to Love.  What else is there?  Yoga is love. 

108 Sun Salutations later, we rest in Savasana together.  Unity, clarity, peace, gratitude, love.

Finding Joy in (Not) Apple-Picking

Green Applesauce

I became an expert at pureeing different foods when I had babies.  Because, of course, I made my own babyfood (while breastfeeding and pumping for as long as a working mother possibly could).  Providing them the healthiest homemade food was a manifestation of my love for them.  Even if it meant I spent more time preparing their food than actually interacting with them.  The freezer was full of ice-cube-sized morsels of carefully prepared pureed fruits and vegetables.  (Aren’t I the best mom ever?!)

When they were in pre-school, each child had to bring in Snack for the class on a scheduled basis.  This got to be really arduous for a working mother when we were supposed to make the Snack coincide with whatever color they were learning at the time.  You know:  Orange Carrots;  Yellow Bananas;  Beige Twinkies.  Well, Twinkies weren’t encouraged and I certainly would not have been the mom to bring in Twinkies.  Sorry kids.  [Full disclosure:  I loved Twinkies as a child and became quite nostalgic for them when I heard about Hostess declaring bankruptcy – I am such a hypocrite!  For Hostess lovers, there is a new report that they have a plan to reorganize and emerge from bankruptcy.] 

It was our turn to bring Snack and the color was Green.  Hmmm.  Green Beans?  Yuck was the reaction.  Celery with peanut butter?  No peanut butter allowed.  And then I hit upon it.  I will make my homemade applesauce and use food coloring to make it green!  I was very excited – this was going to be fun!  My daughter was skeptical but too good a girl to fight me on this.  I dove headlong into my project.  I cooked the apples.  I pureed the apples.  I turned them green.  (Yuck mom, it doesn’t look like it tastes good.)  I carefully spooned them into individual containers.  I proudly transported them and my daughter to school the next day.  I couldn’t wait to hear how the class thought that my green applesauce was the best Snack ever!  So?  How was it?  I eagerly asked.  (Aren’t I the best mom ever?!)  Oh Mom, nobody wanted to eat green applesauce.  They were afraid it wouldn’t taste good.  Sigh.  Lesson learned.  It’s about them.  It’s not about me.  Listen.

The applesauce recipe has gotten a lot of use over the years.  It is easy to make and easy to improvise.  I would go to it in the Fall to make use of all the apples from our annual apple-picking outing.  Our annual apple-picking outing petered out a few years ago.  The orchards were a zoo.  (When did apple-picking become trendy?)  The families we went with were growing up and busy with activities and schoolwork.  And who had time to make homemade applesauce when there was perfectly good “storemade” applesauce at the neighborhood produce place I go to every weekend.  My daughter wanted to resurrect apple-picking this year.  She is the most joyful and determined holiday celebrator I know.  She has enthusiastically gotten out her cozy Fall sweaters and has already made Pumpkin Muffins and can’t wait for Thanksgiving.  My son is in the wings with Halloween decorations ready to go, eagerly following her lead.  Sadly, I tend to focus on the work involved with the holidays.  Besides, they were not really joyful occasions for me as a child.  But it’s about them, not about me.  Listen.  Maybe there is joy to be had. 

We jumped in the car and headed up the Merritt to Easton’s Silverman’s Farm.  It was a zoo.  Literally.  They had a petting zoo where a bunch of chickens were pecking the life out of the runt.  And the hayride had no hay.  The pumpkins were small and blemished.  And, unbelievably, there were no apples!  Apple-picking was over.  What?  It’s only the first weekend in October!  We bought some apples and some donuts and drove to a restaurant and had a lovely lunch out.  A very grown up outing with our very grown up children.  We had a great time, but I am wistful – watching them hang onto their dreams of what the holidays should be…and are.  They both have a deep desire to celebrate that I don’t want to joylessly crush.  Perhaps we will make applesauce this weekend.  Together.  (Aren’t they the best kids ever?!)


3 pounds of fruit:  approximately 8-10 tart apples or a combination of 6 apples and 3 pears, peeled and cut into pieces

2/3 cup of water

½ cup sugar

1 cup of dried apricots, cut (use a scissors) into small pieces – adds tang and appealing, natural color


1 cup of fresh cranberries.  Add them later in the cooking process – they don’t need to cook as long as the apples/pears.

Combine all ingredients in large saucepan.  Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.  Mash, blend, or process to desired consistency.  I like it lumpy.  Chill.

My Left Thumb


Healing My Left Thumb

My left thumb is healing.  Slowly. 

I pick at the cuticle. 

I pick compulsively at the cuticle even though I know I should stop.  Any rough edges of the cuticle become fodder for a picking session.  I will create a rough edge in order to have an excuse to pick at it.  The slightly painful sensation is a pleasurable distraction from anxiety. 

I pick when I am sitting at my desk looking at my computer wondering which project to tackle or which decision to make – the one that makes someone happy or the one I believe to be the right one for the business.  So, more to the point, I pick while postponing confronting a person or situation that makes my stomach lurch. 

I pick when I am driving.  Yikes!  Two hands on the wheel!  I stopped when the kids were in the car, mainly because my son would point it out:  “Mommy, stop picking!”  I started wearing gloves when I drove.  That was annoying.  Now I place two hands on the wheel and breathe – commanding myself to focus on driving and not the incessant chatter in my head.  It works for about a minute.  And then I try again.

I pick when I am sitting still, because I can’t sit still.  My mind races through my to-do/to-worry list as my hands fidget and pick. 

I pick when I am standing in the kitchen, ostensibly preparing a meal, felled by some anxious thought until I shake myself back into the task at hand.

When my cuticles are smooth, I will find a rough spot somewhere else on my skin to pick at.  Usually around my right ear.  My hair covers my ear so you can’t see the damage.  It is better than it was.  The cuticle of my right middle finger is also a target.  At its worst, my left thumbnail was so damaged and ridged that it throbbed in the middle of the night and I was afraid it would get seriously infected.  I wore band-aids.  This was effective if I didn’t use my hands or wash my hands.  The best bandage was Band-Aid Ultra-Strips.  They stayed put – so well that it hurt to remove them from the nail.  Keeping my cuticles and rough skin patches moisturized helps.  The best moisturizer for this task is ChapStick, neither too light nor too greasy.  I got manicures.  The manicurist would tut-tut and scold me for picking and try to fill my left thumbnail with ridge-filler.  Manicures helped for the first few days after I got my nails done and are a recurring tactic for weaning myself from this ocd, addictive, self-injurious behavior, which apparently has a name:  Dermatillomania.  I made this discovery after reading Alexandra Heather Foss’ post about Trichotillomania in the NYT superb anxiety blog.

But manicures don’t fix the underlying cause of obsessive, ruminative, anxious thought and behavior patterns.  Is it genetic?  Definitely.  I do not need any scientific proof to know this is true at the core of my being.  My parents are anxious, risk-averse, cerebral introverts.  My mother rubs her cuticles and cuts them with cuticle nippers all the time, resulting in thick, ridged 90-year-old nails.  My father, who is arguably borderline Asperger’s, has a ritual for many activities and a well-thought-out explanation for each routine.  My son picks his nails and my daughter likes the sound and feeling of her hair ends pricking her skin.  What have I done to my children!  How can I help them?!  The tendency toward anxiety is genetic and the response to the anxiety in the form of nail-picking is modeled in the family. 

Nail-picking must correlate with thumb-sucking.  I was a thumb-sucker until age 11.  My daughter was a thumb-sucker until the orthodontist forced her to quit cold turkey at 7.  My son sucked a pacifier until he started biting them and they became a choke hazard.  When I called to order a case of pacifiers, the telephone customer service rep asked me why I needed a case of them.  I told her.  She refused to sell them to me.  Kudos to her.  Cold turkey for him at age 2.  One year, I created a chart and goals for us.  After all, I optimistically announced, it only takes 21 days to change a behavior, to break a bad habit.  We decided on what incentive we wanted when we achieved our goal of unpicked healthy nails:  A Playstation for my son; a bed frame for my daughter; a Prada bag for me.  They got their prizes.  That was about 4 or 5 years ago.  I am still waiting for my Prada bag.  I don’t need the bag.  I would be happy with unpicked healthy nails. 

Yoga for Anxiety

I don’t pick at yoga.  It is perhaps the only place where I am able to still my mind and my picking.  Here is how yoga works for me:

    • I move inward, closing my eyes, paying attention to how my body feels.  Usually, I tell my body what it should feel.  With yoga, I listen to what my body tells me.
    • I breathe.  Slowly counting my breath gives my mind something to do besides dither, helping me to relax and to focus.  Breathing and meditation have helped my perimenopausal insomnia, a profound relief. 
    • I enjoy being in a yoga community with other people who are contemplative and supportive.  I have friends!  (A big deal for an only child.)
    • I listen to the teacher and her many directions.  Concentrating on the poses and her voice gives my mind and my body something to do besides think and fidget.
    • I learn that I am not my mind’s obsessive thoughts.  I can observe my thoughts and begin to change them.  I can observe my anxiety and choose a different, happier and more optimistic way of being. 
    • I become aware of habitual ways that I hold my body.  I question why my right shoulder rolls forward chronically to protect my right breast and the tense pain in my neck that results.  I stand straighter, more sure of who I am and that I am all right.
    • I realize that I am not what I wear.  I stop shopping compulsively.
    • I savor the taste of food and eat mindfully.  I eat less and enjoy food more.
    • I learn that every step in the process is crucial and can’t be skipped.  I slow down and stop grasping at achievement.  The pose never ends.  
    • I make an intention on the mat to be more loving, honest and authentic off the mat.  I do it. 
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