Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mt. Hood

Some time after 1 am Sunday morning, following a bouncing, turning ride on the giant red cat machine I stepped onto the snow. The full moon minus one day reflecting off the snow added to the glow of headlamps. My stomach tightened and I moved in slow motion. The other climbers were already sitting on their packs or against a small embankment of snow strapping crampons to their mountaineering boots. My limbs felt heavy and communication between my mind and body was delayed as if the signal was being forced through lines too crowded or restricted. I wasn’t cold but I felt frozen.
On Friday I met the first of the other 17 climbers when I picked her up for the drive up to Timberline Lodge. Like me she is a breast cancer survivor. Like me she is young, under 40. She flew out from Washington DC and we chatted about survivor friends we have in common, our diagnosis stats and about the challenge that was quickly unfolding before us. We stopped at a grocery store so she could get food for the climb and despite the fact that I had already packed enough food for a week of lunches and snacks, I compulsively bought a few more items. Time had run out for training and conditioning but I still had time to scour the itinerary and packing list and tweak the small and large items.
Friday was a fairly typical overcast day in Portland with Mt. Hood’s peak hidden by the gray sky. The closer we got to Timberline Lodge, the more miserable the weather. The lodge sits on the south slope of Mt. Hood at an elevation of 6,000 feet. While it is common for Mt. Hood’s iconic 10,250 foot peak to be under cloud cover and hidden for days and even weeks from those looking for it from sea level; from the lodge, the rest of the steep 5,250 feet to the summit is hard to miss.  Except when the weather is bad. And Friday, it was ugly. Icy rain fell and visibility was nil.
That night the climbers, organizers and lead guide gathered at the Ram’s Head Bar in the lodge for introductions and a rundown of Saturday’s itinerary. The group of climbers totaled 18 but some had wives and friends with them for support. As names and backgrounds and reasons for the climb were shared, I learned I was one of only four cancer survivors making the climb and in a small minority of first-time climbers. People came from all across the country and their ages and relationship with cancer varied but what impressed me was their dedication. Many of the climbers return year after year for the climb and to raise money for breast cancer research. A few raise tens of thousands of dollars each year. I was humbled. And intimidated.
As the lead guide spoke, I found myself getting nervous and expressed this rising emotion and everyone reassured me about the safety and accessibility of the climb. But what I did not say, because I hadn’t yet realized it, was that my fear was not of the mountain, the snow, the ice, the climb, the steepness, the weather or the cold. My fear stemmed from a fundamental mistrust of my own body – my body’s unpredictability and finicky sleep requirements. I feared the peripheral neuropathy that manifests in my feet with numbing and tingling turning to searing pain. I feared fatigue, that bastard of a side effect that I have slowly pushed away with time, coping mechanisms and a better balance of medications. Three years ago I knew what my body needed and how it responded to challenges. Now? I struggle to refrain from viewing my body as something foreign and unpredictable. Three years of being treated as a science project and fed chemicals, radiation and drug after drug combination in an attempt to return me to some state of post-cancer normalcy has left me detached from my physical body, often resenting the limitations and premature signs of age. On Friday, I battled the fear that all my focus and training was just not enough since building strength, balance and endurance have proven far more difficult than pre-cancer.
But that night I managed to push it all down, accept tips and advice from the more experienced and went to bed relatively early to give myself as much sleep as possible.
After a restless sleep and breakfast buffet at the lodge, I checked out of my room and headed to 8 am gear check with the guides. After all the rental gear was passed out, waivers signed and introductions were repeated for the benefit of the guides (and me), we divided into two groups of 9 with a couple of guides in each group and made our way to the snow. The sun came out resulting in a blue sky and brilliant views of the peak. But the sun also caused mushy snow and constant peeling off and swapping out of layers as we went from standing and observing to practicing new techniques up the hillside. It was challenging learning how to sidestep and duck walk up and down the hill with crampons, kicking snow to find the right purchase then adding an ice axe to the mix.
I was in good spirits all through snow school but it was harder than I expected and I had to keep settling my mind to avoid panicking about the climb. I was the last one back to the lodge after snow school and I could feel the weight of the coming challenge increasing each time the guides referred to “tonight”. The tentative trust in myself I had been nurturing over the last few was slipping.
At 3 pm we boarded the Cat machine and headed up the mountain to the Silcox Hut, about 1,000 vertical feet above the main lodge. I knew what I needed to do to pull myself together: calm my mind, pack my gear and rest. Unfortunately I only half-listened. After picking a bunk room to share, I re-packed my pack, filled my water bottles and set aside what I planned to wear for the climb. The bunk rooms were small and cramped which made it difficult to impossible to sort through everything in the room and the common area in the middle of the bunk rooms was overcrowded with other climbers doing the same sort and pack routine. But as I was waiting for a shower I discovered a little nook with shelves and hooks where I was able to stack and hang everything I would need in the middle of the night for quick layering. I overheard a guide advising someone to stash snacks in the pockets of their puffy jacket for easy access during rest breaks when the puffy would be pulled on over all other layers to stay warm when stationary. I put fresh batteries in my headlamp and attached it to my helmet.
My gear was set but my anxiety was still fluttering around in my stomach so I claimed a somewhat clear spot on the floor and focused on my breath. Despite the chaos of other climbers and guides checking gear and chatting and stepping over and around me, I turned myself over to pranayama. I inhaled my arms up over head and exhaled them back to the floor. I moved through a short series of easy stretches tied to long, steady breathing which brought me back into the moment and away from fearing what may or may not happen in the middle of the night.
I wanted a nap. I needed a nap. A voice in my head told me to lie down on my bunk and rest, even if I didn’t sleep. But I didn’t listen. I wanted to be part of the group so I went to the dining area and sat in front of the fire and listened to various conversations and tried to get to know a few more people. But the energy of excitement and anticipation was overwhelming and by the time everyone was eating dinner sometime after 6 pm I was paralyzed. I felt ostracized and alone, separate form everyone else. I knew the culprit was that mean girl Depression who whispers lies to make me feel less than but sitting alone at the table with conversations bouncing excitedly all around me, I could not shake off the loneliness. I was on the verge of being swamped by Anxiety and Depression as they teamed up to tell me not only was I unprepared and not fit enough but no one liked me or even cared if I did the climb or not. Lies, damn lies.
As the others waited for dessert I cleared my plate and returned to my bunk where I let tears spill. I voiced my fears briefly with one of the organizers but felt numb to her reassurances. I appreciated her kind words then and even more so now but what I needed was sleep. My half of the group was scheduled to be on the first Cat at 1 am, breakfast at midnight. It was after 7 pm so I took two xanax to settle my nerves and soothe me into rest. I put headphones in my ears and blocked out the light with an eye mask and before I knew it people were moving about readying for the climb.
I wasn’t hungry but I knew food was important. Nothing looked good and I was disappointed there wasn’t any oatmeal, my go to gentle breakfast. I made a waffle and piled berries and yogurt on top and ate a little more than half. By the time I pulled on all my gear, my group was loading into the Cat and I felt behind. I was waiting for adrenaline and excitement to kick in. It never came.
Under the brightness of the nearly full moon, I fumbled my way into my crampons and extended my trekking poles to the length advised by the guides and before I had a chance to think about it we were off. One of the survivors, actually a three-time breast cancer survivor, is a superstar climber and fundraiser. I believe she does two climbs a year and has a running total of money raised in the six figures. During those first steps in the middle of the night I kept thinking about her words of advice “the first 30 minutes always feels terrible.” With my stomach in knots, I kept her words in my head and concentrated on one step at a time. The plan was to climb for 45 minutes at a time then rest for 10 minutes or so to refuel and hydrate. Before the first break I knew I was in trouble.
It did not take long for me to fall to the back of the group. My steps were slower and my breathing faster but it wasn’t the physical exertion that was causing this, it was something else. Something undefined. I had trained enough at altitude that the pace the guides set should not have been a challenge. I felt unsteady. Not dizzy but not firmly centered in my body. I knew it was the lack of sleep. Each step forward required my full concentration. I spoke with one of the guides and he stayed with me, setting a pattern of steps I could follow. Each time the group stopped, I was further behind. I sat on my pack, pulled my puffy coat on over everything and tried to eat but my stomach refused, threatening to reject everything if I added anything new to the mix. I sipped at my water and questioned myself.
Why do I insist on doing crazy things like this? Why did I think my body was ready for something this demanding? Shouldn’t I have given myself one more year of recovery before trying this? Why did I eat that waffle?
Then we were stuffing our coats and water bottles back into our packs, shouldering the burden and spreading out into a line zig zagging our way up the steep snowfield. I had no concept of time or space and dreaded the moment when I fell so far behind I would be left, abandoned, told to turn back. I remembered all those times when I was charging up a mountain at the front of the pack. I thought about how just three months after my last round of chemotherapy I was hiking in Patagonia battling neuropathy and fatigue but still keeping up with the group. I longed for that reserve I always took for granted, the one that kicked in when all other resources failed. I knew my reserve was still too shallow to compensate for whatever was weighing me down.
As we approached a steeper slope of snow and the blackness of night turned to pre-dawn navy then blue, one of the guides talked to me about how I was doing. He roped me to him and I followed him one slow step at a time as the temperature dropped, the wind picked up and the sun spread blue and pink beyond the peak above us. When we joined the rest of our group just below Hogsback, we were at an elevation over 10,000 feet sometime close to 5 am. A sea of clouds spread out below us with the moon growing dimmer in the early morning sky. The mountain kept us shadowed from the sun but the horizon beyond the clouds glowed pink. An exposed, steaming stretch of rock called Devil’s Kitchen stood as a reminder that we were standing on top of a volcano and though dormant, it still issued a foul sulfurous odor of geothermal activity.
I switched off my headlamp and struggled to make my fingers work to undo the locking carabiners that tethered me to the guide. The familiar ache in my joints – a side effect of one of my medications – inhibiting my dexterity. The wind blew colder despite the growing light and I shivered under all my layers knowing my climb was reaching an end. Had to reach an end. As other climbers talked and admired the view and reached for snacks, I watched the guides huddled a few feet away knowing I was being discussed. We had reached the point where the group would be broken down further into groups of three roped up to a guide for the beginning of the more technical part of the climb. A guide approached and asked how I was feeling and if I needed to go back. Tears slipped down my face as I told him I would do whatever he thought best knowing his answer before he confirmed that yes, he wanted me to go back down. He said he wanted me to be strong enough for a safe descent. I agreed.
In that moment I felt terrible. I could taste the bitter tinge of failure as I attempted to smile as the tears slid faster down my cheeks. I felt disappointment in myself as well as the crushing burden of having to confess to others that no, I did not summit. I felt weak.
And yet, there I was, after four plus hours of climbing approximately 2,000 vertical feet of one plodding step after another standing on Mt. Hood looking down at the clouds and up at the last set of cliffs before the summit. This peak I have admired from every which way since moving to Portland a year ago and I am standing on it. Yes, on the peak. Not at the summit, but pretty damn close. Other climbers congratulated me on getting that far and pointed out the times they had made it this close and were forced to turn around due to weather. The organizer told me I could come back next year. I should come back next year. I wanted to throw up when she suggested doing it again but by the time I got down, I knew I would be back.  I took photos of the view, photos of the group, photos of me, photos of me with the pink bandana I had tied to my pack with the goal of photographing it at the summit. The pink bandana my sister gave me during chemo when I decided to run the Red Rock Relay, the one I wore to the Komen 5k in NYC when I was three days post-chemo and walking around Central Park took every ounce of my strength. Thursday night I used a sharpie to write the names of my family, my donors and every cancer fighter/survivor I have met during this long three-year journey of post-cancer life. One of the other climbers offered to take it to the top for me but I needed my cancer family and supporters close. Next year I will take it to the top.
Despite the spreading light, standing around taking photos and waiting for further instructions got colder and colder. Other climbers roped up and took out their ice axes and forged onward and upward and I waited for a guide to take me down the mountain. Lucky for me, there was a guide from the same company was just above us and turning back with a private client so I didn’t have to take any of the climbers in my group back down before the summit.
Instead of waiting for my descent team, the guide suggested we start climbing the steep slope in front of us to warm up. I happily obliged for the warmth and also so I could use my ice axe. And half-way up the last slope to the Hogsback, I was taken off the ascending team’s rope and locked in with the descent crew. We didn’t talk much as we side-stepped our way down the mountain toward the shortening shadow of the peak behind us as the sun rose higher into the morning sky. I stayed tethered to the guide for most of the descent and focused less on each step than I had in the morning and kept my eyes on the goal – the ski lift. My eyes weren’t familiar enough with the mountain to pick out the Silcox Hut’s roof but I knew it was somewhere below the Palmer lift.
When we had finally hiked low enough to be in the sun we stopped for a break and were soon joined by others from my group who also had to turn back before the summit. To my great relief the guide informed us that we could ride the Palmer Lift down to Silcox. I tried to keep pace with them as they zeroed in on the top of the lift but found myself slipping further and further behind as my legs struggled to stay firm. At the lift we removed our crampons and collapsed our poles and despite my caution, I slipped on the slick icy snow packed hard by skiers coming off the lift. Once off the lift we had a short walk through soft snow to the lodge and without my poles I fell again. Rest was in sight so my body was giving out.
The Silcox host repeatedly informed us that the ride down on the lift was a one time deal and to never expect it again. When the guide said it was needed for all our injuries I told the host he had played the Cancer Card, it was warranted.
Another Cat ride down to the main lodge and I collapsed in a heap with my belongings in front of the lobby fire. I needed to return my rental gear, I wanted a hot drink, a hot shower. But mostly, I didn’t want to move. I took my time removing layers and sorting out what to return to the guide’s office in the lower lodge. Eventually I managed to see to all my needs and even got my gear out to my car and made my way back to the Ram’s Head Bar by 11 for the celebratory lunch. Some friends came up from Portland and greeted me with flowers. As summiting climbers returned I congratulated them but had little energy left for socializing.
However, before I left I made a point to hug and say goodbye to each climber and as I did so the magnitude of what each had done individually and what was accomplished as a group hit me. And when one climber softly said “until there’s a cure” as he hugged me, I knew he was right. Until there is a cure, I will continue to climb mountains.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Weekend Plans

Tomorrow I will be making the 90 minute drive to the historic Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood for the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer. As I make my final preparations for this significant physical challenge, I am hoping you will take the time to read a little more about my journey and consider contributing to my fundraising efforts.

With the help of friends, family and strangers, I have surpassed my $3,000 fundraising goal for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center but there is still time to donate, every contribution counts! I have chosen this challenge as a way to step outside my comfort zone and push myself physically in a new way while also raising money for cancer research. My personal experience with breast cancer has taught me that while women are living longer, the long list of side effects from current treatments impact the quality of life for survivors in significant and often unexpected ways. As women like me are diagnosed younger, often with more aggressive forms of disease, we face a constant threat of recurrence or the spread of the initial cancer into the bones, lungs, liver or brain. Current treatments may cause debilitating fatigue, depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, joint and bone pain, peripheral neuropathy, weight gain, early menopause and osteoporosis, to a name a few. More research is needed to improve existing treatments and develop better treatments that not only improves survival rates but increases the quality of a survivor's life. Approximately 80% of your donation goes directly to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center without being filtered through multiple organizations. The Hutchinson Center researchers are reducing breast cancer incidence and death by identifying risk factors for the disease, developing new methods of detecting its presence and helping to predict health outcomes based on a woman’s genetics and other factors.

So now you know where the money is going, what is it that I am doing this weekend? In addition to my personal donation, I have been training to prep my mind and body for a technical ascent of Mt. Hood. Standing a magestic 11,240 feet above the Columbia River, Mt. Hood is Oregon's highest peak with 11 glaciers offering technical climbing routes that challenge aspiring alpinists like myself as well as more challenging routes for experienced climbers. An ascent of Mt. Hood is a technical climb which requires the use of an ice axe and crampons, a first for me. Therefore, Saturday will be spent at the Steep Snow Climbing Course near the Timberline Lodge for snow school. The guides will be teaching us footwork in mountain boots, crampon and ice axe techniques, rope systems and self-arrest.

Saturday night I will be staying with my fellow-climbers at the Silcox Hut, a bunkhouse above the Timberline Lodge at  7,000 feet. After a midnight wake-up call, the real climbing begins. The plan is to reach the summit by 7 or 8 am Sunday morning and return to the Timberline Lodge by noon.

Click here to donate.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dog Mountain

Yesterday afternoon I sat in a field of yellow balsamroot flowers with a large crow/raven/blackbird creature surfing the thermals less than 6 feet overhead. In front of me the primarily yellow field of wildflowers with bits of red Indian Paintbrush and unknown purples mixed in sloped gradually then steeply to the trail I just huffed myself up from. Beyond was a view of the Columbia River Gorge with the river flexing like a bicep, the slender forearm bent slightly under 90 degrees. I looked straight down at an unknown peak rising on my side of the river near the Columbia's elbow. My heavy leather hiking boots were kicked off to the side as I munched on snacks and my 2-year old mutt alternated between chasing the bird overhead and insistently barking at me to throw him a stick. Pausing only briefly to snarf up his mid-hike snack before returning to his antics, to the amusement of the other 3-4 mid-point hikers taking a break on the meadow nearby. 

I massaged my numb and tingling feet and inhaled long, relaxed breaths as my heart rate settled. I added a second long-sleeve shirt to guard against the wind and smiled. I smiled deep satisfaction into my heart, my lungs, my head, my soul. I made it to the top. A 2,800 foot elevation gain in about 3.5 miles. It took me three hours but I made it thanks to an interesting audiobook broadcast via headphones from my phone and a mantra of "slow and steady" each time I found myself charging forward too fast. I allowed myself brief rests when my breathing was too shallow and my heart rate too fast. Every hour I sat for a few minutes, snacked and released my feet from my boots for a brief reprieve. My dog Jethro ran up and down the trail, snuffled through leaves and moss and brambles and got better and better at heeding my "off trail" commands when descending hikers approached. For most of the hike I played leap frog with two other small groups but somewhere not too far from the summit I lost them and despite my 20-minute rest at the top I never saw them again since I took the looped path back to the parking lot where I saw  both of their cars were still in the parking lot when I returned. My competitive pride beamed. Maybe I will be ready for Mt. Hood.

A week ago I participated in a conference call with the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer organizers to get information on preparation, training, gear, etc. for the fast approaching Mt. Hood climb. I was overwhelmed. I hadn't hiked or really managed to exercise much in the two previous weeks since I was in New York City and then had friends in town. I feared I was running out of time. Hell, I shouldn't use past tense, I still fear I am running out of time. The list of gear, the challenge of raising the rest of my donation dollars, the cost of a room . . . I could go on but I don't want to succumb to another panic. 

My plan was to hike Dog Mountain on Tuesday. I couldn't do it. Here on Thursday, I can't tell you why. On the call Dog Mountain was named as the best training hike for Hood climbers in the Portland area. It was steep, good elevation gain and close. Monday I just didn't prepare so Tuesday I slept late and procrastinated another day to give me a chance to prep. 

The trailhead is about a 45 minute drive along I-84 east of Portland and into the Gorge, a scenic drive across the Columbia River on the Bridge of the Gods into Washington with a hunt for a trailhead parking lot. I was still afraid Wednesday standing in the parking lot unloading my dog, me, my pack and wrangling my trekking poles. I hadn't used my trekking poles in a few years so it took some fiddling for me to remember how to adjust the two periscoping extensions to the right height and to get them even. So grateful I broke them out for this trek, they helped me drag my weary self to the top and saved my wobbly knees on the descent.

Near the top of Dog Mountain I wasn't the only one admiring the field of wild flowers, Jethro was pouncing through the fields with his ears flapping in the brisk wind. At one point while I was standing to the side of the trail to make way for some descending trekkers, Jethro decided to take a joyous roll on his back among the flowers. On his back, head pointed in my direction,  gravity kicked in and dragged him back to the dusty, rocky trail at my feet while he frantically wiggled and squirmed in a failed attempt to right himself. Across the Gorge to the south Mt. Hood slowly rose as a tiny white triangle that grew the closer I got to the top of Dog Mountain. To the north, Mt Saint Helens, with its cratered summit, loomed under a clear blue sky marked with a few wispy clouds. 

There were two trails to the summit, one marked as "more difficult", the other "less difficult". My pre-hike googling revealed it was best to tackle the often straight-up more difficult trail and come down on the less difficult, more meandering but still rough trail. It was a good plan. My body was definitely tired and weary on the descent and longer switchbacks were preferable to long steeps that could easily turn into a long slide down. But the alternate trail was practically empty and there were a few times I feared I'd made some terrible mistake and taken the wrong trail. There were more rock fields to pick my over and around on the descent and I think it was a significant accomplishment that I only fell once when my trekking poles and Jethro nearly got entangled. I arrived back at the parking lot with little ceremony and after emptying the last of my water bottle into a bowl Jethro lapped up, I stripped off my boots and socks in favor of Birkenstocks and drove home. 

I'm sure my nerves will flair up again between now and June 14th but I still have three more weeks of training to go and I'm feeling like I might just be able to pull this off.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


I am currently training and fundraising for the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. In less than four weeks I will be embarking on a climb to summit Mt. Hood on a survivor climb. You can read more about the cause, the climb and why I'm doing it here.

I am just $500 shy of reaching the $3,000 fundraising goal and with barely over three weeks left to train for the ascent, I am excited, thrilled, nervous and fearful. I wrote the below post on my fundraising page to purge some of these fears and excuses so I can focus on the positive side of training.

I little over a year ago, while I was still living in NYC, a friend of mine convinced me to go to the climbing gym with him. We both did a significant amount of rock climbing in our college to mid-20s days but hadn't been much at all in recent memory. Once a week we met at the subway and on the train ride to Brooklyn we settled into a ritual of listing our excuses for the evening. These excuses ranged from a paper cut to a cold to peripheral neuropathy and ancient climbing shoes (our joke was that my shoes were older than many of the kids at the gym). It was kind of therapeutic to get it all out in the open at the beginning so we didn't get whiny once we were there.
In that spirit, I am going to make a list of all the excuses I have for the upcoming climb of Mt Hood now so they are out of my head and in the open so I can just focus on my training from here on out. Here goes:

  1. I'm out of shape and it doesn't seem to make much difference how much I exercise or what type of exercise I do, I feel stagnant in my progress. I blame medications, depression, laziness, fear and a metabolism bogged down by three years' worth of cancer fighting, body debilitating toxins.
  2. Peripheral neuropathy. This is a mysterious side effect to chemotherapy that has virtually no cure. I've been given physical therapy exercises that help. I've been advised to wear compression socks and wait for time to heal it. But it isn't going away. What is it? Peripheral neuropathy is a result of nerve damage from chemotherapy which causes weakness, numbness and pain, usually in the hands and feet. For me it is primarily in my feet but can manifest in my hands as well. It starts as a slight tingling in my right toes - for some reason the middle toes get it first. If I ignore it and keep hiking (when it usually kicks in) it will spread through my toes, into the ball of my foot and at some point spread across my left foot as well. It is a hot tingling sensation that precedes numbness similar to when your foot "falls asleep" but it doesn't spring back to wakefulness as easily. The best thing to do is stop, take off my shoes and socks and flex and point and massage the feet back to life. I don't always do this since it generally flares up near the end of a hike and I try to just push to the end. Somehow this makes me feet feel heavier and clumsier so I get a bit stumbley. Bottom line, it sucks. But the more I hike the longer I can go before it flares. 
  3. Pleurisy. In early March I started experiencing chest pain I couldn't pin to an injury or any specific cause. After an ultrasound to rule out cancer recurrence, a bone scan and xray to rule out bone metastasis or a broken rib, the doctors all shrugged their shoulders and said it was likely pleurisy. Pleurisy is swelling of the thin layers of tissue (pleura) covering the lungs and the chest wall. It started on the right side but moved to the left where I still feel some twinges of it. Again, no real treatment available, just time heals situation.
  4. Speaking of my lungs, I have asthma. Well controlled, rare flareups but spring brings allergies which means increased diligence with my asthma. Spring hiking means slightly impaired lungs. Never sure if I get out of breath quickly due to being out of shape, pleurisy or allergies
  5. Weight gain. Before I was diagnosed with cancer my image of a survivor was someone shrunken from all the drugs and puking. I had no idea that some cancers (or more accurately, chemotherapy and hormone therapy regimens) give the added gift of extra pounds. Lots of them that don't go away. Add depression (another side effect) and anti-depressant medications and the whole metabolism system get thrown off. It can sometimes feel that the go to combo of diet and exercise have virtually no impact. Aside from vanity, the challenge here is that it impacts balance, strength (it feels far more difficult to add muscle) and it is frustrating to not fit into clothing and gear that was upsized just one season ago. 
  6. Fatigue. This is more than just being tired and it is not being lazy. It is an inability to be perked up by sleep or caffeine, it is an overwhelming feeling of tiredness or exhaustion that feels like gravity is pulling extra hard on your body. I've been working on this for over two years and while time has helped, finding the right balance of medication has been the biggest boost along with implementing pacing and prioritizing strategies to increase my endurance.
  7. I'm terrible at pacing myself. Naturally, I am a charge forward type of person. At the bottom of a hill I am the one who will charge up. Slow and steady has never come easy to me. Given all of the above, I have to work more diligently at setting a slow and steady pace for myself and sticking with it.
  8. Failure. Over the last three years I have had to quit, alter, adapt, delay and completely change plans and goal both short and long term in every aspect of my life. It doesn't get easier the more I have to do it. Sometimes it just feels inevitable. Pushing past a fear of defeat, fear of failure, fear of coming up short is one of the hardest things I face each day. But I know if I stop trying then the fear has one. I'm sure there is a great quote or saying out there somewhere that more artfully states that it is better to try and fail than to not try at all . . . but I will leave it at that.

I'm sure I could go on and on listing reasons why I should not or maybe cannot climb Mt Hood in a few weeks. But I will stop because I have made the decision to climb because it is a cause I believe in and despite all my excuses, I know this is something that is achievable no matter my fears.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Journey Home

Over three weeks in Costa Rica and I am relieved to be on my way home back to "reality". I felt in the minority wishing my way home just as I had felt in the minority for much of my time in teacher training. The intensive program challenged the progress I've made in my depression, my physical stamina and endurance, my attention span and memory skills. The mean girl in my head got louder and louder as  the days marched slowly forward and my body wore down and the final tests drew ever closer.

By Wednesday of the third week, I was a wreck. I felt isolated and alone, physically exhausted and mentally and emotionally inadequate. I was fighting a constant battle in my head of re-examining perceived slights and rationally explaining to myself that all was well. It wasn't. 

During morning asana practice tears began to flow. A constant, seemingly endless stream spilled down my cheeks and forced me to spend most of the class curled up with my forehead on the mat in child's pose, my chest flat against my knees with feet and hands flopped behind me. I thought I could ignore it and continue with the day, even the week but the floodgates had opened and there was no way of holding it back. 

At breakfast I sought out the house dog, Dragon, a black Belgian shepherd 9-month old puppy. He rolled on his back and allowed me to sit on the floor rubbing his tummy in an effort to soothe whatever was spilling out of me. It was self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, a constant comparison not to the other students in the training but to my past body, my past mind. Depression is a balloon that creates a vast space of nothingness between the sufferer and others. There is no way of simply talking oneself out of such a deep funk. Likewise, it is hard for others to reach in and pull the depressed out of the bog. Each of my instructors took a turn sitting with me and giving me a pep talk and a hug. It helped but also made me feel so emotionally weak to be collapsing so openly. Other students offered hugs but what could they do or say? The mean girl would only twist it to ugliness or pity. 

I muddled through the morning practicum somehow but by the lunch break I felt the darkness suffocating me once again as others swapped yoga clothes for bathing suits and ran to the beach. I wanted to be a part of the group but felt isolated and impossibly distant. I no longer had a roommate as the girl who shared my "room" had been in the advanced program and had only attended for a couple of weeks as a teacher's assistant. This made it easier for me to go to bed early without the temptation of chatting late into the night but also felt like yet another thing that added distance between me and the other girls. 

The pace of the program was far more intense than I was prepared for. There was so much to study, homework to do, sanskrit poses and terminology to memorize. I couldn't sleep past 5:30 am so watching the sunrise each morning on the beach was my only real solitude. It was also my only study time. We had a two hour lunch break but that was barely enough time for a quick swim and lunch. And I needed that swim, or more accurately, float. The salty sea absorbed the aches and pains accumulating in my muscles and joints and settled my critical and overly-harsh mind. Floating on my back under the bright noon-day sun each day settled me briefly and gave me the strength to return for afternoon classes.

But that Wednesday I couldn't decide what I wanted or what I needed. When one of the girls asked me if I needed to talk or if there was anything she could do I just cried. I was unraveling and feared I wouldn't be able to finish. I was embarrassed by how emotionally weak I was. I am. Emotional break downs are troublesome enough when there is only you to witness, having near-strangers watching from the fringes can contribute to the paralysis, self-loathing and feelings of defeat. Sophie asked how to help and I wanted to cry and scream about how ostracized and other I felt, how frustrating it was to be trapped in a mind and body that did not work the same as it used to. I wanted to explain how much more interesting, funny and strong I once was. I wanted to find that part of me that easily found a role in the group dynamic. I wanted to be anyone but the depressed cancer survivor with all the complaints, excuses and delusions. 

Instead, I let her hug me and talk to me and offer ways to help. I continued to feel embarrassed, small and weak. I brushed away her offerings and carried the bitterness of a trip into the deep, dark hole of depression and self-loathing with me to the beach. I walked into the ocean, turned onto my back and floated. The heaviness ceased. My tears merged with the salty ocean and dried under the sun's rays. I remained emotionally fragile the rest of the teacher training - crying and needing frequent breaks from group time, arguing with myself and others over my own misperceived shortcomings. 

I feared I would fail the written exam and the mean girl in my head used up far too much energy criticizing my failure to memorize that could have gone toward actually memorizing. I forgot many things I knew backwards and forwards on the test. But I passed. Actually, I did better than that, I got an A. Even so, I spent the morning before, during and after the test sick to my stomach. Immediately after the Friday morning test we broke into our groups for final preparations for the practicum that had been moved from Sunday to Saturday morning. For the second day in a row I had to take a break from the group to sit on a log outside the yoga deck and talk myself out of crying. It was mortifying how raw and exposed my inner self had become. 

Friday night I skyped with my parents and my sweet puppy worked himself into a barking frenzy looking for me. He could hear my voice and see me on the tv and he demanded I come home immediately. I went to bed that night realizing I had to let it all go. There is time to improve and I am doing the best I am able at this time under these particular circumstances. Saturday morning at sunrise I reviewed my asana sequencing and posture cues and then meditated to calm my mind. Cramming wasn't going to change anything at this point so I made myself a small cheat sheet and reported to the yoga deck at 630, a half hour before my team's class was to commence. I focused on reviewing a teammates sequence and gave her the pep talk I was chanting inside my own head. 

Before I knew it, we were finished. We all passed. I knew the mistakes I had made but I also knew where I was strong. At breakfast we were given feedback and what stands out from mine is "you are too smart for your own good." Basically, I know the postures, I know how to intelligently sequence a class and break it down for various levels and to build from simple versions of a posture to more difficult. However, I need to open my heart more and allow myself to be more vulnerable instead of fighting to be strong all the time. This is true in so many ways. 

At the opening ceremony for the teacher training we had a bonfire on the beach at the full moon and wrote something on a stick we wanted to leave behind. I wrote grief and sorrow. Yet, as fatigue gained the upper hand and my emotions grew raw, I slipped back into the comfortable bed of grief and sorrow and longed for my pre-cancer body and mind. I stopped looking at what I was accomplishing and instead complained about the 30 pounds cancer had caused me to gain, the loss of muscle, the loss of youth, the constant pain. I want to move forward and yet I get in my way more than anyone or anything else does. Grief isn't just an excuse, it is a comfort. Stepping away from grief means acceptance of who I am now and who I will become going forward. 

As a closing ceremony on Saturday afternoon, we hiked to a waterfall and pool of cool fresh water. Instead of sticks we selected rocks on which we wrote words we chose to manifest with the new moon. I wrote "Acceptance" but added "openness to love" at the last minute before throwing my manifestation rock into the pond with the others as more tears spilled down my cheeks. 

On Sunday when everyone lamented how fast the time had gone and how they wanted to stay, I concentrated on willing the time to pass so I could return home to my dog, my family and my simple life where I can manage my fatigue with pacing and sleep. While others hugged and took photo after photo I continued to feel separate and detached but recognized the detachment came from me, not a deliberate ostracizing from the group. 

Monday morning I had a massage before flying to San Jose. Two of the girls flew with me and shared my hotel room for a night. Alone with these two I felt the closeness I had deprived myself of for most of our three week training and was genuinely sad to send them off on their flights on Tuesday even as I wished for my flight to arrive faster.

I spent my time in San Jose exclusively at the hotel and primarily at the pool. I allowed myself to enjoy the last few days of sunshine without wishing the time away. I considered trying to take an earlier flight Wednesday morning to avoid arriving in Salt Lake at midnight but decided to avoid the hassle and stick with my scheduled flight. 

And happily on that flight from San Jose to Atlanta I was seated next to a tall, attractive man of about my same age. He kept making conversation and instead  of my usual plane persona, I joined in. We watched the movie playing on the screen in front of us with our separate headsets but he frequently leaned over to make comments or share laughter over something funny. As the flight quickly reached Atlanta I learned he is a frequent traveler, enjoys history and quirky, random information about places he visits, speaks Spanish and knows a surprising amount about Mormons. He is a doctor and lives in Ohio and the Ohio part was the biggest down side. We stuck together walking through customs and I even took him up on his offer to carry my way-too-heavy carry-on bag (I bought several books and chocolate souvenirs in the airport). We were both disappointed to part ways as our connecting flights were in separate terminals but he asked for my number and I gave it to him. We exchanged a couple of texts before his flight took off and I am now on my much longer flight replaying bits of conversation in my head . . . like how he complimented my "yoga legs" but seemed to become more interested when I mentioned I am a lawyer. Plus his text said something about meeting a "beautiful, intelligent lawyer." 

I can't imagine much coming of meeting a guy on a plane who lives on the other end of the country but it does feel like a good start toward my acceptance and openness manifestation. Plus, I am never sure which comes first - the confidence in oneself that attracts others or the attraction that boosts confidence. Whatever the order, it feels like a beautiful way to end my trip and possibly an excellent beginning of a new future of confidence without the mean girl in my head interfering. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Depression and the Mean Girl In My Head

Depression is such a liar. It can turn innocuous comments and twist them and turn them into offenses. It is like a fun house mirror that only reflects a wide, squatty body to counter a feeling of length and strength. The turn of a shoulder from a friend becomes a dismissive snub. Watching other people connect and enter focused conversation turns into a purposeful ostracizing. Depression is a mean junior high girl who hides in the deepest, darkest corner of your mind and criticizes every move you make to compensate for her own insecurities. She demeans you to the point of tears and ostracizes you to the lonely table of outcasts in the corner of the cafeteria.
I have spent the last two years wrestling with depression induced by hormone therapy I may be on for the rest of my life. Apparently estrogen was the key to calming the mean girl in my head. My cancer was fed by estrogen and within two months of starting on Tamoxifen, a drug that turns off the estrogen receptors that feed the breasts, I was shoved into a well of sadness. Actually sadness is too soft of a word. What I felt when I finally reached out and admitted I was not functioning was despair. A drowning despair that left me breathless. Gravity pulled at my feet with greater force and fear and fatigue reigned my life. Showering took more energy than I could muster most days. Tears came fast and hard without end. The mail, email and the phone became enemies that demanded more than I was able to give.
The mountain of mail and paperwork and list of phone calls and emails to return paralyzed me with fear. Leaving the house risked triggering a debilitating panic attack. Loud voices, animated conversations, crowded streets all swirled in a tornado of confusion that left my brain muddy and disheveled. All the strength and support I felt throughout chemotherapy and surgery vanished. Daily radiation treatments were the only reason I left the house. I was going through the motions of normalcy but each step I took was through molasses.
Depression whispered nasty lies into my ear - you are all alone, nobody cares about you, you should be stronger than this. Sleep escaped me. I tossed in a sweaty tangle of sheets as hot flashes burned inside me. I went to the office later and later and did less and less. I felt dull and uninterested in life, work, friends, family. Depression told me it was pointless to fight, I should just surrender.
I started seeing a psychiatrist and switched therapists after collapsing into uncontrollable tears of fatigue, fear and frustration at my weekly visit with my radiation oncologist. She responded with loving kindness and warmth and handled my emotional collapse as urgently as she would have a physical one. I started taking my first antidepressant. Some days I managed to push myself out the door to a weekly yoga class for breast cancer fighters and survivors where the guided breathing, the gentle but challenging practice and the room full of women who said "oh yes, I know that feeling, you can overcome it. You can shut that voice off with time." It gave me hope. But that hope was fleeting and getting to class involved a walk, the subway and Union Square pedestrian traffic. I started going twice a week, it was my group therapy.

Thursday, February 20, 2014



Today is the halfway point in my yoga teacher training and I can't help but feel a fire returning to my belly, twinges of sharpness sparking in my mind and a smoothing of the ragged edges of my spirit. The days swell large and full with air heavy with humidity and sunshine broadening the hibernating limbs into expansive openness. Joints are lubricated with continuous practice and the mind is active in an attempt to capture the feeling of this space so it can be packed up when I leave and carted home. 

The swelling of days is fluid like the waves of the ocean a constant undulation rising and falling like breath beneath the monkey calls, buzzing insects and caws of birds that ring with intensity to greet the sun and fall further into the background through the heat of the day only to hum and ring louder with the setting sun. 

The fullness of our intensive training schedule feeds layer upon layer of information swelling our minds with sanskrit, anatomy, asanas (postures), assists, history and philosophy of yoga which evoke deep questions of faith and spirit as our bodies are challenged to find the balance between effort and ease. Just as the ocean is undulating in the background, our breath is the soft marker of time within us. It grows stronger in the morning as our asana practice stretches and strengthens our bodies, we root within and connect to that breath, harnessing it to focus the mind and balance the body. The breath settles into the background with the ocean as we transition from student to teacher-in-training and our brains expand to accept more knowledge and our hands energize to help others into postures. Meals break up the day and time quickens at breaks so that eating, studying, showering, beach time and rest are taken in sips. 

Despite the fullness of days and heightened pace, I am not fatigued. Those frayed edges of myself are knitting back together. My mind is understanding and my body is strengthening. I arrived here with the goal of acceptance and I find that acceptance comes easier each day.

Friday, February 14, 2014


The last couple of days I have been a mix of struggle and beauty. I am finding it difficult to keep up with the physical pace, not simply the the morning practice but the long hours of the day. I am working so hard to be gentle with myself to allow breaks and to step away from the social aspect to get rest but I am feeling left behind in so many ways.

Bumping up against my personal physical limitations, whether it is a lack of strength in an asana pose or fatigue from the constant pace of our days is triggering a chain reaction of physical, mental and emotional break down. Sitting here at the half way point through the first short week of only 4 days I fear that I am slipping behind and I become overly self-conscious about falling too far behind.
In these short few days we have been reviewing the history of yoga, discussing the Yoga Sutras, which include memorizing Patanjali's eight limbs of classical yoga (Yamas [ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya & aparigraha], Niyamas [Saucha, Santosha, Tapas, Sadhyaya & Ishvarapranidhana], Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi), the Nadis, Pranayaa and meditation. Plus there is the sequencing of sun salutations A & B (the Surya Namaskar) which must be memorized not just the sequencing and breath (which I feel fairly comfortable with) but all the sanskrit names for the postures. And after lunch today we jump into anatomy! We only have a two hour break mid-day including lunch and dinner eats up most of our post-class time in the evening after which I barely have enough energy to read before falling asleep by 9 pm.

I am fighting myself as I bump up against these limits of my mind and body and I either start criticizing my own ineptness and failure to keep up or I harden toward the instructors for setting such a rigorous pace. I feel resentful that I can't spend my breaks at the beach or stay up late talking with the others. I am currently pushing through but I will not be able to keep this pace if I am carrying all of this negativity. I feel isolated and alone in this challenge and bristle at the prospect of being a slower student. That is my ego. That is the harsh voice that has always motivated me to excel.
This morning one of the teacher's singled out my struggle with the sanskrit in class and instructed me to specifically study and memorize with others tomorrow on our day off. This was my plan already and it just hurt to feel singled out as the one lagging. My defenses flew up and I wanted to cry out how hard it is for me, not just the physical practice but the endurance of such long days.
If I step away from that injured self who is projecting harshness onto others, I can learn from this. Learn empathy for others who are slow to pick up what I may feel is easy. I can learn gratitude for my own strengths - that the sequencing of the sun salultations come readily even when the sanskrit escapes my memory or gets twisted on my tongue.
But oh does this hurt. I cannot help but long for my pre-chemo brain that was quick to memorize and my pre-cancer body that had the energy to push and push and push for hours and days on little sleep. What a blessing it was to have that energy and quick mind.
I have to continually remind myself that my intention for coming to an intensive yoga teacher training in the jungle of Costa Rica was not to finish as the BEST yoga teacher ever, nor was my intention on coming down here to push my body into physical positions beyond my reach. I came here to teach myself acceptance. To breathe peace into my heart and mind and learn to love myself as I am - not as I once was, not as where I would like to be, but right here and now. I realize this is not an overnight process and will have a lot of bumps along the way and I need to accept those bumps for what they are, small hiccups on the path. I just wish I wasn't the oldest and largest person here, the most tired and among the slowest memorizers. . . .
On a more positive note, this morning I managed to rise into an assisted straddle hand stand!! It felt amazing! It also gave me hope that going forward I will be able to continually improve my physical practice as well as the mental.

Last night we walked down to the beach for our first guided meditation. Over the last few months, after the repeated advice from various therapists, I have been trying to integrate a daily meditation practice into my life. So far it has not been very structured other than with my therapist and it is often only a few minutes. I am enjoying learning more tools to deepen my own meditation and learn how to guide others to that peaceful lightness of the mind. We walked down to the beach and sat on the sand below the rising, nearly full moon. Our beach is in the gulf so the sun was setting far beyond the jungle trees behind us and over the Pacific Ocean. The teacher talked us quietly through various pranayama breathing and with the sound of the crashing waves I felt my mind settle and become more gentle. My muscles relaxed and I was not as sore. Despite the hermit crabs carting their homes along the sand and flies that flitted around and sweat that trickled down my face, I felt less fidgety the further we sank into the meditation. Near the end we opened our eyes and I felt the gaze of the moon shining as if just for me reflecting in a long beacon of light across the water straight to me sitting cross legged on the sand. Our eyes locked and I felt acceptance of myself for myself in that moment.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Day 2: Finding Daily Routine

Day 2 Yoga Teacher Training
Today was a harder day for me. I woke up tired and I don't mean the sleepy kind of tired, I mean the fatigue kind of tired where my eyelids felt glued to my eyeballs and my muscles all go limp and my entire skeleton feels like a tremendous weight that is fighting the magnetic pull of gravity just to sit up. Before cancer I do not believe I ever experienced this type of fatigue where you have to move in slow motion when you move at all. In my typical post-cancer, mid-depression life this drooping malaise comes predictably when I have over exerted myself or pushed a little harder than before but it can also sneak up on me on a delayed timer after I have followed my pacing and taken breaks and incorporated rest to sink me deep into my bed for hours.
Fatigue will be one of my toughest opponents throughout this month of teacher training. Fatigue means I stay in bed a bit longer in the morning, take more child poses during asana practice and take a nap for most of the two hour mid-day break instead of trailing my fellow students to the beach. Fatigue means withdrawing from fascinating post-dinner conversations to settle down into bed earlier than I would like - meaning 8 pm rather than 9.
Our mornings start early as the jungle calls for the rising of the sun - monkeys howl a ferocious cry, birds sing their greetings and the sounds of other students rising into their morning routines to gather for pre-asana fruit, yogurt, coffee, juice or tea in the kitchen area, just below the open decking of room clusters separated in the evening by curtains drawn around double and triple bed rooms. The energy of the morning rises from the shift change of insects buzzing from the ground, smells of bread baking, garlic and onions simmering waft up the stairs as the sun sneaks its rays between the trees and through the open railings into the beds.
By 7 am we have gathered on the yoga deck a short walk across the property and over a bridge that likely spans a running river in the rainy season. Like the lodge the yoga deck is a planked decking of a gleaming wood with a railing separating it from the jungle it inhabits. We are led through our asana practice and finish sweaty and hungry to wander back to the kitchen for the real breakfast. The breakfast of rice and beans and homemade yogurt with fresh picked fruit. The breakfast with a surprise of perfectly cooked oatmeal sprinkled with aromatic cinnamon. The breakfast of a tortilla topped with an egg and mushrooms. A breakfast that fills and satisfies.
Immediately after breakfast (by 930) we return to the yoga deck for morning lecture until noon. Lunch is another abundance served at 1 pm with more rice and beans mixed with avocado, fresh salsas and we eat as if we haven't been fed twice already!
By 2 pm we are back on our mats for the longer lecture of the day until the sun deprives us of light and the spider monkeys have crept close enough to be a distraction swinging branch to branch just outside the studio even before the howlers have started their ferocious calling of dusk. By 5 we are as restless as the animals and are released back to our own time to shower, swim, write or rest before dinner at 630. Once again, I am surprised at my appetite and the freshness of the food.
Today's afternoon lecture on pranayama (the lengthening or directing of the breath) struck me deeply. As I have flailed about for help and support from doctors and therapists and various specialists on how to pull myself out of the depths of depression my hormone therapy has left me in, harnessing of the breath has been a consistent message and ultimately (with the right medications), has helped me cope with and soothe so many lingering side effects from chemotherapy and the various hormone and antidepressant medications I am taking. I am sure I will write more about this but for now I will just say that more than anything, pranayama is why I am here - to understand this practice and use it for my benefit so I might be qualified to share it with others.
But for now, the salsa music from the deck below me and the sounds of dinner approaching and my growling stomach, leave me to put that topic for another day.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I'm in Costa Rica, Day 1

Day 1 Yoga Teacher Training
The jungle is humming and thrumming with the life voices of birds, insects, frogs, monkeys and other unknown creatures as the sun slips away beyond the horizon obscured by thick trees and all manner of flora and fauna as the sky remains light and blue for a few moments longer punctuated by a half-risen, nearly full moon and the silhouette of a bat flitting by.
I am in Costa Rica, on the Oso peninsula between the gulf and the Pacific Ocean. I am here to practice acceptance of my new post-cancer body, mind and spirit as I study to become a yoga instructor.
Ever since the small plane I took from San Jose touched down in Puerto Jiminez I have felt the peace of a return and arrival. The winding, bumping taxi ride along a rutted, winding road to the lodge I will call home for three weeks felt familiar despite its newness. I reflected upon the energy, vigor and fear I experienced my first (and the last) time I was in Costa Rica ten years, almost to the day, in my past. How I spent my first day lost and bewildered with my lack of Spanish speaking skills and the cancellation of a flight that landed me on a local 6-hour bus ride that has left me with a great love for the people of this country. I recalled my time more recently in Panama, just down the Pacific coast line where I spent 6 challenging yet happy days living in a tent where the jungle meets the ocean on a strip of beach with a new friend who became a sister and 4 strangers who became friends. I smiled at the memory of that time Erin and I were in Guatemala and were stuck on a chicken bus for hours that left us bruised and cranky but filled with a memory to last all of our lives. I have been privileged to experience various jungles in my life in Central and South America so I was prepared for the open air layout of our lodge with single beds beneath mosquito netting with open walls to the jungle similar to the place Erin and I stayed in the Peruvian Amazon jungle.
I accepted the day without skipping ahead in my mind or dwelling on the oppressive feel of thick humidity in February. One by one I met my fellow students as each arrived at the lodge with a name followed by an embrace. I allowed myself to listen more than I spoke, to let others share themselves before I rushed to spell out my story. I went to bed happy with wet hair from a cold shower to prepare me for my first jungle sleep with a fan buzzing above my head.
I listened to the howler monkeys throwing their deep throaty call into the darkness at dawn and accepted that sleep was coming to a close even as I closed my eyes for another 30 minutes before rising. I cannot believe how lucky I am to be here.
At 7 am I joined my fellow students in the yoga deck a short path across the property to unfurl my mat for our first practice. I paced myself and surprised myself with my own stamina even as sweat dripped from the top of my head and down my nose and in streams off my arms and pooling in my shirt. I stepped away from poses when they were too much but challenged myself to hold on when I knew it was in me.
We were fed a delicious and hearty breakfast before applying sunscreen and swimming suits and a walk to the beach down the road. We sat in a circle around one of our teachers as she conducted a ceremony to open our studies. At the end of the ceremony we walked in pairs to another beach with still blue water. I walked into the ocean with the intention for myself of acceptance. I have spent the last two years battling the changes cancer and depression have wrought upon my body, my mind, my spirit and now I am shifting that focus to acceptance. I do not want to spend more time fighting and resisting the change.
I floated on my back in the salty sea and felt light and buoyant. I need to carry that buoyancy with me, that easiness is what I want to internalize. The gentleness. The mantra that came to me just a few short days ago before I flew south and was gliding through snow on a snowboard was "open heart and gentle mind". If I speak to myself as I would speak to a dear friend, I will be better equipped to accept who am I today rather than who I once was or who I would like to become.
The afternoon was spent discussing the yoga sutras and the religious and philosophical history of yoga as it evolved into a western practice. I appreciate the history and the challenge of considering the philosophies as I contemplate what type of yoga teacher I want to be.
The sky has completely darkened to black and the fireflies that flitted around me at dusk were replaced by mosquitos nipping at my feet. As this first day closes I keep reminding myself this is only day one, there are 20 more to come.
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