50 Shades of ……..

It was a month ago today that I turned 46.  Admittedly not too exciting (maybe that’s why it’s taken a month to write about it:-).  I awoke as I would on any other day of the week and entered the bathroom to brush my teeth, wash my face, you know the routine…..

Staring at me in the mirror were three grey hairs sprouting up from my mid-scalp like fresh asparagus waiting to be harvested.  They were shouting for attention!  First I laughed and wished myself a happy damn birthday under my breath. Seriously, I could care less about my age and am never shy about admitting how old I am.  Most people tell me I don’t look my age, maybe that’s because I don’t act like I’m 46 nor do I dress like I’m 46.   For some reason though, I was not as jazzed about this particular birthday since 46 is just not a “sexy” number to be if you know what I mean.

I haven’t read any of the 50 Shades books, nor do I know too much about them other than the fact that they are being read by every woman my age now living and breathing on the planet.  They are supposed to be sexy, steamy and exciting.  Maybe, like me, the whips and chains have long been retired and are covered with cobwebs in lieu of the sweatpants, old but comfy tee shirts and an occasional “headache”.

I’m not here to write about being old, my sex life or even my grey hair.  I am hear to express more the celebration of who I have become at the ripe young age of 46.  What used to matter doesn’t so much anymore.  That which I used to conceal is now aired freely, like my dirty laundry.  For this I am most proud as I have learned life’s lessons along the way.  I am happy to share my wisdom and “experience” with others.  I no longer search for the perfect answer, recipe for success, eating plan or exercise routine so that I can remain to myself and others a facade of who and what I really am, both physically and emotionally.  Currently, I am more proud of admitting that I don’t know and don’t care about the trivial components of success (as some define it) and am concentrating on sharing the nuggets of information that I have cherished, learned, conquered and explored along my way.

I have always enjoyed teaching, for I was an aerobics instructor for over 15 years.  I used to compete in races to prove that I was “something” or “someone” to myself, not to others.  I needed reassurance that I WAS good, no matter what anyone else had to say…….it was ALL ABOUT ME.  Convincing myself of something other than what my mind was telling me:  that I was inadequate in some way, not “perfect”.

Why is it we are always trying to become someone else, some figment or form of ourselves that we are not living with in the present?  We are always attempting to fix our faults but never celebrating our successes.  I joke about my skinny, flat ass and wanting a more rounded bum a la Jennifer Lopez while friends grab their asses and tell me they are more than willing to share some of theirs!

My hope and desire for my 46 year young self is to continue to recognize, realize and appreciate my uniqueness, who I have become as an adult and woman and share that love with myself and others in an attempt to introduce them to those possibilities as well.

Life is to be lived and loved.  To teach others your mistakes and not worry so much about what it looks like to be an imperfect human being.  We should celebrate our imperfections as an expression of our own individuality and love ourselves for the accomplishments we have achieved, fueling our passion to reach for bigger and more exciting opportunities in our future.  No matter what our number in years.

Whether you are twenty-six or sixty-six or wherever you are in life, take a breath in this moment and appreciate yourself for your life’s unique journey.  You are the only one IN THE WORLD who will experience life in this way.  Share your achievements, successes and failures with others as you have plenty to teach.  You are worthy.  Please accept this as my birthday gift to you and take it along as you celebrate your successes big and small.

Now excuse me as I have an appointment to get my hair highlighted;-)

At twenty we worry about what others think of us; at forty we don’t care about what others think of us; at sixty we discover they haven’t been thinking about us at all.  — Author Unknown

“For the unlearned, old age is winter; for the learned, it is the season of the harvest.”  –Hasidic saying



Back to Life, Back to Reality-A Return to Yoga

I decided I needed a yoga fix yesterday. I don’t know why? Or, maybe I do. There has been tension in my house lately, shit with kids, if you know what I mean!  If you don’t, well, I’m happy for you (smirk, smirk;-)!

It was about 11:00 PM.  I was mentally exhausted from being pulled in all directions. From all the high school application letters going out; the anxiety of “waiting”, the feeling of anger and culminating with a deep sense of frustration after reading an e-mail from a teacher about one child’s academic performance in class.  Another wave came during the writing of a “contractual agreement” for my other child- a signed promise to focus more on her school work and not Justin Beiber. All the while, feeling secretly proud after watching her hustle on the basketball court, fighting with every last ounce of determination and energy she had left to win the championship game.

At the end of the day, in my minds eye, the webpage/logo for a yoga studio where I used to take classes appeared. It was a message.  I listened, and went to my computer and pulled up the class schedule.  I found a class that I could attend the next morning.

Prior to heading out the door I attacked the laundry basket. One of my most un-favorite morning duties. I decided to go and make the “clean sweep” in both of the kids’ rooms.  They will inevitably have a mound (if they manage to get it into such a pristine pile) of clothes piled on the floor. The trail of clothing in my daughter’s room led me into her closet.  There, I saw scattered everywhere, the old Valentine cards and candy wrappers from the holiday we celebrated over a week prior. I smelled a strange, putrid smell.  I glanced up on her shelf and noticed a lunch box buried under a pile of papers and the arm of a sweater. I picked up the lunch box, felt the weight and realized I would have to carry this offending item out of the room and clean it myself.   I left with one arm carrying the mound of laundry and the other outstretched in front of me, trying to keep any toxins from the impending contents of the lunch box at bay.

I deposited the laundry on the floor of the laundry room and proceed to the kitchen.  I carefully unzipped the lunchbox and discovered a bag of pistachios along with an unrecognizable piece of fruit covered with multi-colored dots in varying patterns. I opted not to touch it for fear of another viral infection.  There was also something wrapped up in foil. Not wanting to know exactly what it was, I just left it all there; continuing it’s progression to putrid-ville. I was now running late as this entire escapade put me back several minutes later than I had expected.  I grabbed my purse and keys and flew out the door. A great state of mind to head to yoga.

Approaching the highway (otherwise known as Mopac which I have renamed Slopac;-), I hit the traffic wall! Obscenities clouded my thoughts.  I knew there was likely NO WAY to get to the class on time. I almost turned the car around but decided to roll the dice.

I actually arrived at the studio two minutes before class began! I ran through the doors and introduced myself to the teacher explaining that I had been on an extended hiatus but was ready to get “back in the game”. She smiled and welcomed me to take it at my own pace. Hmmmm, I felt like shavasanna was about my pace at the moment….either that or kick-boxing.

She began with some simple breathing exercises which, I do admit, centered me. It took my head out of the game. I was present, listening and watching her every move.

We started the class opening up the spine, back bending over a block right between our shoulder blades. A heart opener, how appropriate. I think G-d gave her some Cliff’s notes on me and my life from the last few days. I admit, it was a weird sensation at first and I did push myself to get into the pose.  And, after a while, it felt good.

She spoke of “surrendering”. I thought a lot about that word:  Surrender. Who was I supposed to surrender to? No one was holding me up at gunpoint, were they? Well, after second thought……

What was I surrendering to? My body? My mind? Both?  “Let go Ellen. Let go”. When my mind becomes fixed on something, literally I wan to “fix” whatever is wrong. That’s my job, right? I read it in the Mom’s instruction manual about 14 years ago. Fix whatever is wrong and then make it right. Sometimes you realize that you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him (or her) drink. I have been struggling with this notion for some time now. There are the “right” and “wrong” foods, clothes, choice of words, behaviors, etc. ALL of which we SHOULD and NEED to impose on our angelic children because if we don’t, who will they grow up to be? No child of mine would ever…..right?!?!?

Now, it was time to realize that  I was hearing this all for a reason.  Surrender not only your body, not only your mind but your entire soul. Search for that place of calm. Share with your children the virtue of calming the mind and then they can be set free. Free to grapple with what is right and what is wrong. Free to make good choices not bad.  Free to engage in positive behaviors.  This is what I came here for today, to hear those words and listen.  I am re-centered, refreshed and realigned with what is truly real.  Reality bites but surrender is sweet.

It’s Not About The Bike

I am struggling with my emotions surrounding the Lance Armstrong interviews I watched last week.

I live in Austin; I used to compete in triathlon and running races; I know folks that currently or have worked at Livestrong; I am acquaintances with Kristen; I have biked on the Lance Armstrong bikeway and have two kids that are exactly the same ages as Lance’s eldest son and twin daughters.

I too had a health intervention about three years ago which really changed me, on several levels.  It was not the big “C” but was severe enough to require emergency surgery to save my life.  When I heard that my colon was about to burst and the toxicity could be fatal, I loosened the reigns on my personal agenda and gave into doing “whatever it took” to survive.  Luckily, I had a successful surgery and am, three years later, in a much better place than I was going into it.  Did I take that mantra of “whatever it takes” with me after the surgery?  Positively!

It’s taken me this long to “digest” all that occurred. Watching Lance I see a human who is being forced to change patterns that he has expressed and believed for over ten years (and I thought my patterns were heard to break;-)!

I began to feel like the walls were closing in on me about a year or two before my surgery.  I was using exercise as a vice. I had digestive problems which caused me to analyze every morsel of food I put in my mouth.  Both of these turned into addictions without my realization on how far I was taking them.  One fed the other.  I was defined by who I was suppose to be to others, my performance, my appearance.  I was and had always been an athlete, a competitor, an exercise instructor, a personal trainer.  If I didn’t play the part, then I wasn’t credible.  If I didn’t perform, I was a failure, at least to myself.

My physical body was giving me the signals to slow down and to eat animal protein.  It took more effort to perform at the same level and my digestion and absorption were completely off (especially during intense exercise).   I have  always been “bigger” than my thoughts and feelings, able to squash them like a rotten tomato, believing that physically I can overcome whatever my mind was trying to communicate.

I started studying Ayurveda about a year or so before my surgery and learned all about my “Dosha” or constitution.  I was very unbalanced, overly Vata, having a constant need to reman in motion.  I was always involved in something:  exercise, teaching, training, volunteering.   I am also very stubborn, hardheaded and driven. These are typical qualities of the Pitta Dosha that can either be assets or detriments depending on how they are applied.  I learned about the foods that I should be eating (cooked foods, warm foods) and that grounding exercises like yoga and meditation were going to help me more than running and biking.  I was eating a mainly raw, cold, plant based diet and regarded any yoga/meditation type exercise that didn’t leave me doused in sweat as something I might consider on an “off day” as it didn’t count as “real” exercise to me.

I continue to compare myself with Lance when I hear some of what he is struggling with.  While our stories have nothing in common, our brains do.  I can relate to his phrases “I would do anything it took to survive”, “I wanted to win” and can also relate to the fact that the longer you engage in something (a habit), the harder it is to break.  You are repatterning the neurotransmitters in the brain.  The  more you lie to yourself and others, the more you begin to believe that lie.  I lied to myself (and others) about the amount of exercise I was doing.  I wasn’t sure if I was denying myself food for the purpose of looking good or feeling good or both.  I was being “accused” of eating disorders, anorexia, etc.  I couldn’t admit my eating behaviors to others because the reasons were stemming from an inability to digest and absorb nutrients in my food which I later found to be related to a cacophony of other issues in my gut:  candida overgrowth, parasites, giardia, and an overall need to heal what was compromised from the surgery.  I get how “believable” lies can be when you repeat them to yourself and others on a daily basis……for years.  There is no line between fact and fiction, it’s all a blur.

I see that Lance is now realizing some of the truths (or lies) that will determine his future.  He can chose to be completely humbled or continue to “push” through this intervention as he did when he received the diagnosis.  This is much more than an admission to an accusation.  It goes much deeper than a confession to doping.  It will take time, likely years, if Lance is willing, to actually “hit rock bottom”.

We, in a sense, are woven from the same cloth.  I wanted to “rise again” proving to myself and others that “I could overcome anything”.  Each time I tried and didn’t listen, I  moved further from my destination.  It was resistance to that unfamiliar territory that was my eventual demise.  Once I began to read signs and signals from The Universe, I could steer myself on the eventual right path.  I realized that when I followed that intuition without resistance, but more trepidation, that the outcome catapulted me to a better, healthier place for my body and psyche.

At some point, something clicked for me.  That’s why I say its taken three years.  I slowly returned to running after the surgery.  In the hospital I wasn’t sure I would ever run a step again and “promised” myself that I would never “go back to that obsessive place”.  Slowly, steadily it happened.  If I would have just listened, slowed down, stopped “forcing” myself to run (both on pavement and away from the fear of the unknown), I would have been much healthier, MUCH sooner.  Every time I “hit bottom”, I was certain that there was no further I could fall.  I continued to push and the downward spiral continued.

Lance, I don’t believe, has visited the depths of his emotional Hell quite yet.  He was stripped of his titles, he is banned from all competition, he was forced to resign from Livestrong, the list will continue, until……

He was not convincing enough to me either night to make me believe he is, genuinely, sorry for all the pain and strife that he has caused others.  He’s still in shock and took the only action he could.  This will be a process.  A LONG process.  The longer he resists, the harder it will be to overcome.  I do believe that deep in his soul us a true, authentic man who wants to make amends.  He wants to be the “light” for people experiencing suffering and pain either from cancer or athletic competition or both.  He has had tremendous experience in his life that he can share with others, helping them to overcome  their deepest fears.  Lance, let it go.  Let it all go:  the ego, the defensiveness, the anger, the emotion.  Just be.  Sit with this.  Retreat, journal, seek therapy.  I did.  I tried meditation, yoga, reading, listening to podcasts, self-help lectures, I studied the chemistry behind the neurotransmitters in the brain and the gut, the list goes on…..

I learned that it is all about being, not doing.  Listening to the body without the intervention of the mind and visa-versa.  Breaking the monotony of old habits and exploring uncharted territory.  Resting, reflecting, crying.  Being at peace with life as it is and learning to accept life, in that moment.  Expressing your true, authentic self.

Hopefully Nike will continue to sponsor Lance.  They can maintain Livestrong’s brand image which is so meaningful to so many survivors and their families.  They could also develop a new slogan for Lance in his new phase of life:  instead of Just Do It…..Just Be It.