A while ago, while in the middle of a Bikram yoga class, I experienced the oddest thing. It seemed a tiny foretaste of Heaven. I was almost entirely surrounded by men, which isn’t usual at my little yoga studio, where women quite significantly outnumber the men. This time, there were about seven men in class and they were all clustered together, coincidentally, as a group. We began our opening breathing exercise, where we are instructed to breathe in deeply, using the very backs of our throats for an entire six seconds at a time. When done properly, a buzzing sound comes from the back of one’s throat and closed mouth. A most surprising thing happened this time. All of the men around me took the instructor’s guidance to heart (I almost never do; I’m uncomfortable with the sound that breathing in like that makes and it also makes me feel like I’m about to cough) and dragged their unified breaths in deeply into the backs of their throats audibly. I felt like I was in the middle of a vast cathedral and a choir of monastic singers was chanting. It was surprisingly lovely. I’d never heard it before and I’ve never heard it since. It felt like a gift. Have you ever experienced this? This idea of a moment so lovely, it feels other-worldly?
Ah. My soapbox that is this blog delights me at times with its convenience. It is so utterly mine and though the egocentrism of blasting my opinions willy nilly through cyber-space is hard to deny, I love especially for the chance to air my grievances, uninterrupted.
You know by now that I’m a lover of Bikram yoga and that I practise it regularly for both fitness and for staying pain-free. I love it in a thousand different ways. However, because it is the silent place of the no-talking rule, etiquette can be a tricky thing to disseminate. I’ll help you, o Bikram Newbie. Let me show you the way to annoy those sweating beside you as little as is possible, shall I?
Rule # 1 Don’t talk in the studio. For real. Don’t do it, even when you see your friend and just need to whisper something quickly to her. Most of us cherish this silence in the middle of our busy and noisy lives and this silence is precious to us. This leads me to Rule # 2
… Do your very best to avoid the indelicate expulsion of dankly intestinal air. I assure you that each of us will hear it and will feel less than enchanted with you as we do. There’s something particularly nasty about farting in a humid room heated to 112 degrees. There’s no humor to be found here in this barren land, my gassy friends.
Rule # 3 Don’t grunt aloud. We all know it’s hard you see, because we’re here too. But you’ll hear the instructor’s melodic voice tell you over and over again to breathe both in and out with your nose. Huge gasping expulsions of air only mean you’ve been holding your breath in the postures, which isn’t good. Breathe slowly and consistently and focus on using only your nose to do so. Your breath is something you can control and your goal is to do it silently.
Rule # 4 Wash your towels and workout gear as soon as possible when you get home or they will mildew and stink once re-dampened. You’ll know when you haven’t been exercising your best laundress skills when you’ve begun to sweat and then smell this stink that I speak of. Once mildew has struck and reared its ugly head, bleach your white towels and soak your dark ones in vinegar before running them through a good, hot wash. Nothing else will counteract this stink until you do so. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that because when they’re dry and smelling nice, they’re all good. They’re not. They’ll stink once more once they’re damp and what’s more, you stink and I assure you that room is too hot for stink. See Rule # 2 for further elaboration if necessary.
Rule # 5 If you can’t continue on in a pose because it feels impossible or you feel dizzy or nauseated, know that it’s ok to lie down in the middle of it in Savasana, or Corpse Pose. We’ve all been there, even if no one is doing it in the class you’re currently in. No one thinks less of you when you do this; we understand and think that the coolest thing of all will be when we see you later in a subsequent class.
Rule # 6 Don’t wear your bra in class in lieu of fitness gear. I’m kind of amazed that I need to say so, but there we have it. It takes all sorts to make the world go around. We all know that it’s a bra and that’s distracting and weird.
Rule # 7 This one is courtesy of my dear friend who emphasizes that you really MUST keep your sweat to within the parameters of your own towel. No sweat flicks please.
Rule # 8 Save your garlic and onion laden meals for AFTER yoga. Or for after any public exchanges you may have scheduled. Mysteriously or perhaps not so much, you’ll find your friends invite you to more and more things once you’ve incorporated this habit change. There is something particularly noxious about garlic Bikram. And sick Bikram. Which leads me to my final Rule.
Rule # 9 Stay home if you’re sick. My insightful (and very attractive) friend says this: If your body is harboring a virus, coughing and sneezing in a sealed off room is just mean to the 25 people in there with you who cannot escape breathing in your germs. Every time someone coughs, I think of the humidity in the air carrying little germ particles until I breathe it in! Ick!
Am I forgetting anything, Bikram devotees? Please chime in with your comments. And please feel free to pass this link along to whoever you feel may benefit from it. I’m not a passionate copyright-er and if this post makes your Bikram experience more pleasant or less malodorous in your little corner of the world, then by all means hit share. And if you haven’t tried Bikram yet, what on earth are you waiting for?!
They do! I’ve discovered it first hand. I don’t know what I expected, but somehow my now aging memories of my own Grandmothers have blurred together and grown rosy, so that I’ve forgotten the sin components of our relationships. I remember only that my dear Grandma would ask me when I walked happily through her front door if I was a blue bird that day, since I was wearing blue. Though the variations only came with a changed shirt of a different color for the next visit, I delighted in her birdie comments, and even anticipated them as I walked up the cracked sidewalk to her front door. My Grandma’s house always felt so safe to me and the unvarying nature of the birdie greetings lodged deep inside of me to help define what I would come to think of as security.
My Grandma – in the stories remaining in my admittedly selective memory – saved up all her junk mail for me to play ‘business’ with. She even got my sisters and I special triplicate invoicing pads where we could transact very serious trade with one another, using her old purses, saved I think, specially for this purpose. She carefully set aside all her tiny plastic pill bottles for us, too, because she knew that once summer came along, we loved nothing more than to ransack her rose bushes to make specially concocted perfume in them. We messed up her bedroom closet almost every visit and she never once led me to believe that it was a bother to her. We played in there, you see, and not once did she show her sinful self to me. Ten-year-olds are very forgiving creatures, I’ve found and they generally think the adults in their lives are well-nigh perfect, barring some pretty overt evidence to the contrary. A little kindness to these young ones is a powerful thing.
And so it went that in my early days of volunteering at the senior’s home, I was a little surprised to see senior sin rearing its’ ugly head at times. I suppose I thought they’d all be perfectly blameless and perfectly loving, since of course they were perfectly white-haired. I think perhaps I thought the term ‘senior sin’ was oxymoronic, if it existed at all.
I remember on one early visit, listening to one of these white-headed little ladies ordering all the surrounding ladies around as though they were her eager minions with nothing better to do that to obey her exacting whims. One exchange I remember sounded something like this:
Queen Bee: Let’s go down to the chapel now. The woman says that there are going to be some people singing there.
Minion: But they aren’t scheduled to start for 30 more minutes, Dorothy.
Queen Bee, not pleased at being questioned on her judgement in this matter: It doesn’t matter! We should get there early.
The end result was a group consisting of Queen Bee and her very compliant friends shuffling off en masse with their walkers in the direction of the chapel.
Another eye-opening experience I had while visiting my friends there took place on the day my friend Dora asked if I would wheel her down to the cafe, which was several buildings over. Granting her request was really, quite a commitment, especially when one factored in the extensive wheelchair navigation that would be necessary in order to get her there. However, it’s a rare thing for a lady there to desire freedom and novelty and so I agreed. When we eventually got to the cafe, she wheeled up to the counter, and chose several noteably unhealthy things to eat and to drink as I looked on ignorantly. Quite indelicately, I thought, she feasted on her treats. I noticed that she didn’t offer me one sliver of anything, not that I was finding any of it all that appetizing in that moment. She ate chips and she ate chocolate. And she drank Coke after Coke. When finally she was done, I pushed her at great effort back to her room, where I noticed a sign had been posted notifying all of her care givers with the wherewithal to read it, that she was under no circumstances to have any food outside of the cafeteria as she had begun recently to choke quite seriously and that it had progressed to become a health hazard to her. When I questioned her about it, it became clear that not only did she know about her new eating rules, she had deliberately hoodwinked me into taking her for her clandestine feast. I was so angry as I listened to her prevaricate and make her feeble excuses. I realized as she talked that she didn’t care about me in this matter. I realized that she wanted a Caramilk bar and putting me in the place of putting her in the place of danger was irrelevant to her thought processes. Her selfishness stunned me then and it still stuns me a bit now.
And so my journey of living life alongside seniors continues to unfold. They are lovely and they are awful, depending on the moment and how desperate they’re feeling just then. They are positive and they are depressed. They are inspirational examples of faith and hope and deep beauty and they are striking examples of how I do not want to be when it’s my turn to live out the life stage. Their mouths are chock full of words of encouragement and love and they fill these mouths sometimes with lying words that demonstrate their lack of concern for others around them. They are people. Why that comes as a surprise to me is a mystery as I reflect upon it. Why ever would I have expected otherwise?
Every family has their representative Baby. This lovely creature is ours.
As elder sisters, we’ve never resented her for her Baby qualities; we know better than anyone that she fully deserves preferential treatment through life and from young ages, did our part to perpetuate this truth. I remember that when she was a chubby, pink-cheeked, perpetually smiling baby, one of her very favorite baby activities was reaching high to a built-in planter there was in our living room. You see, she had figured out early on that there were thousands – nay billions – of little white rocks in there, presumably meant to provide a fashionable backdrop to any plants my mother intended to someday place in it. In the meantime, though – o the glorious meantime – my baby sister would arch her little back with the strain of reaching for these precious rocks and pull handful after handful of them to fling delightedly over our living room carpet, splaying them delightedly as far as her little baby hands could scatter them. I also remember that it was my other sister and I to whom the task of picking up those billion white rocks fell. We did it and we griped and were mad, but we also never questioned that it was right that the task not fall to our Baby. Our Baby was ours and she was far too sweet for something so mundane as that.
She is the sort of person who you want to throw rose petals in front of, to soften her deservedly aromatic path, she’s so nice. Her husband, a wise and sensible man, knows this too. From my vantage point, it looks to bring him joy the concept of beautifying and easifying her life for her. You’d do it too, if you knew her.
She’s generous, easy-going, fun-loving and always, always, always up for a good time. Whenever there is laughing, there she is drawn. She has – my whole sentient life – reminded me of Mary, sister to Martha, both of whom were friends of Jesus. Mary didn’t bog herself down with the stress of ensuring that everything was perfect for the sake of perfection. Instead, she prioritized relationship and spent whatever time she had at Jesus’ feet, listening to him and loving him. Martha, on the stark other hand, has always reminded me somewhat painfully of me. She stormed around the kitchen (I imagine) working her tail feathers off, angrily wondering why no one bothered to help her. She then griped aloud to Christ about her self-imposed work load (it’s nearly always self-imposed, I find) and he responded in Luke 10:41-42 in His ever-perfect wisdom,“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Mary is my sister’s Biblical counterpart. She has a wisdom about her that informs her of what is the most important and I would be so much wiser to copy her way of doing relationships through life.
My sister uses true artistry to beautify herself. I’m not just saying that to elevate things like hair and makeup to a higher realm; she really does. She has artistic instincts in these things. When she does my makeup, I look prettier than I know how to make me. She understands shading and angles and the geometry and physics of beauty. Like another friend I have, my sister uses her body and the clothes she drapes it with as an art form, as a means of expressing the creativity inside of her, aching for outward expression. I have never seen her look not stunning, even disguised as a male and moustachioed butler!
I adore this girl and wish for you to meet her someday. You’ll probably hate her a little at first for all the outward beauty, but then as you chat, you’ll soon find that hate turn to an enthusiastic love as you see the insides of this woman competing with her outsides, to see which can be the more beautiful.
I’ve got this amazing sister. She’s of the calibre that if you knew her, you’d be jealous of me. I’ve got another, too, but we’re not going there today because if you knew about HER and the attendant sisterly glories, you’d have no choice but to hate me for the strength of your feverish jealousy. Today is the first sister’s birthday and so it is she I limit myself to describing.
She is the cleanest person I’ve ever known. When I’m at her house, I let myself sink deep into the couch cushions because I know that they, despite the fact that they are made of upholstery, house perhaps not even a single dust mote. You know you can relax there, in her home, because yucky things don’t lurk in between couch cushions to threaten to snag on to your leg. It is clean there, and I know this for lots of reasons. Recently this hygenically exemplary person had a baby. This baby didn’t come easily and so a caesarian was resorted to. I wanted to help my poor, scarred-up but joy-filled sister and so while I visited her, I made it my plan to seek out dust in every way I knew how. I hunted and I skimmed all surfaces, aggressively, with my antibacterial cloth. But most of my hunt was disappointingly fruitless. I found a very few dust stashes, even though she had just been through major surgery and had before that, spent her days being sickly, sickly, endlessly pregnant. Even her baseboards were pristine. When I first discovered this oddity, my head sagged a bit in shame and I couldn’t help but think of my own dusty ones filling my infantless, toddlerless home. But then I comforted myself quickly with the dignity-saving realization that one shouldn’t compare oneself to others. Only the buoyancy coming from a false superiority or a false discouragement can come of that, right?
My sister is sunny. And uber organized. Since she vacated the notoriously mood affecting teen years, she’s never once spoken to me in anger or anything resembling it. She pinpoints that elusive line in dressing which unites comfort and style. Her taste is second to none and if you saw her kitchen you’d probably hate her just a little. It’s the nicest non-magazine layout one I’ve ever seen. One image to leave you with on that topic: massive turquoise island topped with a thick slab of rough wood. I’m not even going to get started on what her light fixtures in this fairytale room look like. Mere kitchen mortals like you and I can’t be expected to stay envy-free in the face of those.
She is a great laugher. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve met one. They are the people you hear every now and then, clear, unselfconscious laughs ringing out in public and before you know you’ve done so, you find that you’ve already begun to smile in a union of happiness, though you don’t know (or necessarily care to know) the source of her laughter. You can’t help but like her when you hear her whole-self-laugh. She’s not a partial-self laugher.
You know that cliche that says you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family? I would choose my sister every time. I would love for you to meet her so you can smile with me at her wonderful laugh.
I hesitate to post this one, but honestly hearing it myself brought me so much mirth, I’m going for it anyway. Oliver is our lastborn as many of you know by now. He’s nine and a very clever little chap, so sadly, those sweet little mispronunciations that pepper one’s childhood are now few and far between. This one is most surely a mispronunciation, but the sweet component? Well judge for yourself. He told us this joke the other day:
O: What do you get when you get a whole bunch of cheetahs in a hot tub?
O (in a tone of great triumph): PORRIDGE!!!!
(LONG PAUSE WHICH FINDS ALL THE REST OF US TRYING TO FIGURE OUT THE JOKE AND SUBSEQUENTLY, HOW TO RESPOND)
O: Actually I think that’s supposed to be LEOPARDS. Leopards in the hot tub.
O. My. Goodness. Do you get it?
I’ve been cleaning up after a lot of Sloshies of late. Mere moments ago, I dragged a high stool over to the cupboard fronts above the fridge so that I could wipe away the tell-tale white remnants that announced that a Sloshie had been there. Sloshies have made appearances many places here in my house of late, for you see, my littlest Little has discovered a new favorite book so aptly entitled The Encyclopedia of Immaturity. In it, he’s discovered – among many other truly thrilling things – the fine art of Sloshie making.
The perfect Sloshie – I’m told – involves just the right ratio of toilet paper and water; it’s the poor man’s version of a snowball. Here in BC, when it comes to snow and it’s attendant glories, we are most emphatically the proverbial poor man. My kids lament this poverty of ours regularly. But pity us not, as we now have the Sloshie and the satisfying splat the Sloshie makes once it makes contact with a flat surface, ideally near someone’s unsuspecting head, is delightful. Even when it’s my head that’s very nearly been soaked and splatted, I have to laugh at the sound it makes. But the best part comes of watching my Little laugh and laugh at the splat and his near-soaked prey – most frequently his mother – and you can’t look at him and not laugh and love every fibre of the little man’s being.
His eyes crinkle with the mirth that overtakes him. He enters in so fully to his joy. I have thought a thousand times as I watch him in moments like these – marveling that God saw fit to bring him forth from me and from my genes – that I’d be a better person if I entered into my joy the way he does his. This little guy lives life to its fullest and isn’t half-hearted about anything and sometimes, if he’s really excited about something, he vibrates with it, this joy. Isn’t it time you and I did a little more vibrating with joy? It’s messy, this Sloshie making, this vibrating with joy, but we can always clean up in the morning, can’t we?
I love Bikam yoga. I love coming in off the gum-speckled street to the set of narrow stairs that leads up, up, up to that place of warmth and peace. I love sitting down at the bench in the foyer to take off my street shoes. I love the signs cautioning us to turn off our cellphones and to stay silent in the hot room. I love that the studio is not a place for chit-chat or for socializing. I love walking silently on my now-bare feet first to the hot room to stake out my spot – always near a window, if I have my druthers – and then to the change rooms where I perform all the last-minute ministrations before I depart from the land of the normal temperatures for at least 90 lovely minutes.
I go to the hot room for at least five minutes before the start of class, ten, if I’ve been uber-organized that morning. I lay down on my back in savasana, or dead body pose, and feel my toes uncurl in the warmth. I imagine this is how it must have felt in my mother’s womb. Hot and damp and silent. I find that the more I come here, the more my body craves for me to come here. I breathe in deeply the peppermint oil that I’ve rolled on my neck and feel my sinuses clear. I love the sensation of hearing new people come in, settling around me. I love it especially when some clean, dear woman fluffs her freshly laundered towel right next to me and a puff of fabric softener poofs in my face. Those conscientious laundresses are my favorite ones to work out next to. The garlic-for-breakfast types are my least. I love zoning out and then opening my eyes long minutes later when our teacher comes into the room, greeting us, to discover that the room has filled in the duration. I like the surprise of not knowing who’s near me. I especially like the surprise of discovering that a friend is near me, and that all this silent while, I had no idea.
I love that the longer I come here, the faster the 90 minute classes zoom by. I love the slightly dazed sensation I feel when the melodic instructor tells us that there are only one pose and one breathing exercise left to complete. I love – so much – the way my body bends deeper into the poses over time and that celebratory moment where I find my body finally and at long last doing some position that has eluded me for so very long. There is great and quiet triumph in these moments.
But the thing I’ve been loving most about Bikram yoga these days is what it’s been doing for my back. Though I haven’t been careful in my day-counting, I’ve been living in near chronic pain for about a year and a half or perhaps two years now. My good days have been sixes. My uncooperative back has been cramping my style in no uncertain terms. But for about a month and a half now, I’ve upped my practice to four times per week and I feel like a new woman as a result. This quiet place has done for me what a series of chiropractors, doctors and physiotherapists have been unable to. Have I mentioned that I love it?
I’m not the only one who reads cookbooks in bed at night, right? Nope, I’m pretty sure I’m not, as I’ve spied out my fifteen-year-old daughter doing the same thing on more than one occasion.
One of our favorite cookbooks is a bizarre one, chock-a-block full of mostly things we’d never dream of actually eating. Things like Yak’s Penis and Cane Rat and Palm Weevils, I kid you not. It’s one of the best books I own; ask me to borrow it at your peril. It’s called 101 Dishes to Eat Before You Die, by Stefan Gates. You can find his ever-interesting website here.
For my lunch today, I made one of his more orthodox recipes. I use the term ‘orthodox’ rather loosely. Today I made myself a delicious bowl of Thai Tom Yum Soup with Fish. For those more adventurous eaters among you, here you go, with my hearty compliments. It’s fantastic.
5 1/2 cups light chicken stock
6 lemongrass stalks, crushed to release their flavor
3 T very finely chopped cilantro roots
10 kaffir lime leaves, central stalks torn off
1 red chilie, seeded and finely chopped
1 inch piece of galangal or fresh ginger
3 T nam pla (I substituted fish sauce, which did very nicely, I thought)
1 T sugar
1 lb shrimp
1 lb firm white fish, chopped into bite-sized pieces (I used Basa, and it was perfect)
8 oz can of either bamboo shoots or water chestnuts
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
the juice of two limes
a handful of fresh cilantro and a handful of either fresh basil leaves or even better, Thai basil if you can find it
Method: Pour the stock into a large saucepan and add the lemongrass, cilantro roots, chile, galangal, nam pla and sugar. Cover the saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the shrimp, fish and bamboo shoots and simmer for an additional 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and lime juice and check the seasoning, adding more fish sauce and/or sugar if necessary. Remove and discard the lemongrass stalks and enjoy your solitary lunch with no kids around to tell you how gross it is!
Yesterday was my 40th birthday. That black and white sentence I’ve just typed looks foreign and surreal to me. It doesn’t strike fear or insecurity into my heart. It only looks so utterly strange. 40 is an epitaph that surely belongs in the descriptions of other people. 40 is how old my friends’ parents are – or were, ages ago, I suppose. I’ve become that person and the oddity of it is what strikes me most just now.
There are freedoms accompanying 40. A gentle release of sorts has taken place over time. One doesn’t have to worry so much about what others are thinking of her. One realizes, instead, that others actually spend very little time out of their busy lives worrying about her and her middle-aged shenanigans. I’m vastly freer to just be myself and to lean back and enjoy the process.
Were it not for the fact that my back aches now, I’d have to say I wholeheartedly prefer being 40 over any other age I’ve been so far. Even with the troublesome back, it’s pretty lovely here, at 40.
I like being surrounded by my now-older offspring. I like not having to tote a diaper bag around with me everywhere I go, being sure to not forget the nutritious snack times four. I like the interactions I have with my noisy, talkative older offspring, who by and large are now fairly competent with preparing their own snack. I like reading in bed with them, surreptitiously watching them read their Calvin and Hobbes books, delighting as they giggle to themselves, not realizing I am watching. Older kids are fun.
I like the gentle, established love that being married to the same man for eighteen years has brought in its wake. I love the way we are quicker in this later stage in the game to be kind to one another, no longer needing to correct one another in our public story-telling exaggerations. I like how we just like each other now and don’t need to prove that like to anyone anymore. I like setting his vitamins out every day for him, knowing that without me, he would never remember to take them. I like that he scolded me this morning when I groggily made my way out to the kitchen at nearly nine o’clock to fetch that all-important first coffee of the day with, why didn’t you just turn on your nightstand lamp? I was watching for it so I could bring you your coffee!
I like feeling comfortable inside my own skin. I like liking my own skin, at long last. It’s ironic that my body is saggier and older than it’s ever been, and that I like it more than I ever have. It makes me want to beller to young girls from the rooftops, Love your bodies while they’re still so beautiful, Girls! And yet I know that even if I did, and even if they heard me without assuming that I was certifiable, they wouldn’t. They’d still be their own worst critic and wouldn’t understand how fearfully and wonderfully made they really were. I want to touch their soft, unlined cheeks and tell them how lovely they are.
Just know that you have something lovely to look forward to when you turn 40. I look forward to the company. Chime in all ye 50′s, too, to tell us all about how they - the 50′s - are even better than these 40′s I rave of.