Writing in my Jeep Patriot

We built our house over twenty years ago, when summer evenings in the mountains generally required a sweatshirt or light sweater. Days that reached 90 degrees were not the norm, and if a day got really hot, we were off to the pool or the lake. So, we did not include air-conditioning into the building plan. We are regretting that now.

Now, July and August are mostly 90 degrees and above, more the average than not. So, while I sit waiting for September, here’s what I do to write.

My Jeep Patriot serves as my current office. I park it in front of the happiest perennial border at the moment. This means, no weeds, and at its blooming best. If there are weeds I will find myself weeding instead of working. If the border is declining in bloom, then I’ll study it, deciding what improvements are needed for next year. So, I pick the perfect spot in my yard, and I feel like the person in cubicle city who got the corner office with a view. Here’s my current view.

I sit in the back seat where I can stretch out, lap top in my lap (of course). Note: the Jeep has a 110 AC plug so the computer’s battery life is not an issue. And, my house has wi-fi which I can access from the car. Two big issues taken care of…cars, these days, are amazing, often more adaptable to technology than our houses. Big thanks to the car industries.

I take the house phone with me, and put it in a cup holder (cell phones have no service where we live). I pour a glass of half unsweetened tea, 1/4 sweet tea, and 1/4 lemonade, and put in the other cup holder, both easily accessible.

I turn the air conditioning on full blast, and start writing. I work straight for about four hours, with a break at the two hour mark for solitaire. I also answer emails and phone calls. This whole process begins about 10 a.m. (I am not an early morning person) and ends around 2. The teen sleeps until he gets hot, about 11 a.m., then he comes out to the car, and knocks on the window to say good-morning, or he crawls in the front seat to chat for a bit, having Kool-aid for his morning drink (we are not a healthy family).

After four hours of writing, the teen and I go to a movie in an attempt to stay cool, and sometimes out to eat, but mostly we just eat movie popcorn, a refillable large one.

When I first started writing, in my late 20s, I went to all kinds of trouble to do it. Believing I needed certain writing props, I spent more time preparing to write than writing. The right office in the right house would be the ticket, I thought. With that, I could write best sellers.  I now have that office, and that house, but am currently writing in my car.

The right retreat was always needed I thought, which is every writer’s dream. It’s a place where you can count on less interruption. For instance, no teens drinking their morning Kool-aid in the front seat of your car telling you all about the Transformer movie they saw last night, and how totally lame it was, while you’re working on a deadline.

Examples of perfect retreat places are typically the mountains if you live near the ocean, or the ocean if you live near the mountains. If you’re in the Piedmont, I suppose its whichever one you prefer. 

I spent more time picturing myself writing, and having romantic visions of writing, than actually writing. Now, in my 50s, I can and do write at soccer matches (surreptitiously, without anyone knowing–go team!), in the waiting rooms of dentists, various doctors, movie theaters, high school lobbies, parking lots (hours and hours in parking lots while waiting on soccer, baseball, football, piano, fencing, chess club, debate team, athletic clubs, Spanish clubs and on and on to finish), on car trips with crying babies and furious adolescents, during power outages, while cooking dinner, while doing laundry, while meditating sibling squabbles, and in the middle of tragedy or calm.

Once, I found myself in the perfect writing spot. See what you think.

It now serves as the wallpaper on my computer.

Here’s what I found out about my perfect writing spot. I did not write any better there than I do in my Jeep Patriot. Here’s what else I found out. I do like that spot a whole lot better than my Jeep Patriot.

And, here’s the conclusion. I can’t wait for the perfect spot, the perfect time, or lack of interruptions. I just need to write. So while, I’d prefer the above spot to the Jeep (most of the time), the primary thing is to write. Because, here’s my outcome. It pays. And, because it pays, I can buy Captain America tickets, and then spend 2 hours texting commentary with the teen about the movie (not lame), and that is the best spot of all.

Restless Leg Syndrome, a Yoga Fix

This is me doing Leg Up the Wall Pose

(my blankets are a little off, and Cindy, the yoga teacher is a little weird about her blankets, just sayin…)

I’ve been asked many times how I deal with my restless leg syndrome, which is fairly bad. People are always surprised when I say I do yoga and that the pose I do is actually quite simple. So, I’m posting it for anyone who has the same trouble and would like to try.

This pose has a fancy name. It’s called: Legs Up The Wall. Yoga is nothing if not descriptive in naming the poses. If you want to know the sanskrit, it is Viparita Karani.

So, here’s what you do. Don’t be intimated. It is super easy, although yoga always requires a steady concentration, so don’t be slack in the pose. Do it as described and right before bedtime. For the more detailed person I have listed step-by-step procedures. For the person like myself who can never follow instructions, skip the instructions and read the summary below

I’m giving you Cindy’s instructions from her book. I’ll ask her later if that’s okay.
1. Place a bolster or two firm blankets at the wall.

2. Sit sideways on the edge of the bolster or blankets, with your left hip touching the wall.

3. Bend your legs and lay your right shoulder on the floor and your right hip on the support.

4. Roll your chest toward the ceiling and move your legs up the wall.

5. Adjust your body so both shoulders are touching the floor.

6. Balance your hips on the support. Relax your face (i.e. breath).

7. Rest, breathe, be.

8. If you can’t get your legs up the wall, move the blankets out away from the wall a bit and try again.

9. To come out of the pose, bend your knees and place your feet on the wall.

10. Gently push your body away from the wall until your hips are on the floor.

11. Bend your knees and roll to your side.

12. Wait for several breaths, then sit up.

If you’re not into details, I’ll shorten this for you.Grab two firm blankets or a bolster and place at the baseboard of the wall. Sit half your butt on the blankets, then roll yourself over into a position where you legs are straight up on the wall and your back is on the floor, butt supported by the blankets. If this hurts, back the whole procedure out from the wall somewhat until you’re comfortable. If your neck hurts, add a small pillow under your neck for support.

Stay in the pose a good five minutes and voila, no restless legs. At least it works for me. Good luck, and buy Cindy’s book, Yoga Your Way, you’ll love it.Cinthia

The Vote

I’m not sure what I expected from marriage counseling, but John, my husband seemed to expect that the counselor, Dr. Owens, would fix me right up and then he (John) would have the perfect marriage. In other words, then he (yes, John), would have sex as much as he wants (all the time), and it would be great sex (all the time).

So John wasted no time in telling Dr. Owens about my relationship with my sisters. He said, Savannah’s relationship with her sisters, like that would explain everything and all Dr. Owens needed to do was get to the root of that peculiar little alliance and all our problems (i.e. his sex life) would be history.

I could not figure out how examining my relationship with my sisters would get John a better sex life but Dr. Owens said I couldn’t talk while John was talking. “Each person has the right to be heard without the spouse interrupting,” Dr. Owens said.

“Ohhh…,” I said, shaking my head in this, well-of-course-type way, and thinking, why does he get to go first?

So since John, my generally quiet husband, was suddenly on a roll, I settled back into this big leather couch, the first time I had sat down all day actually, and wondered what to cook for supper, making a grocery list in my head. I especially liked the leather sofa and I was thinking how good it would look in my living room and since it was leather maybe my boys couldn’t destroy it.

After thirty minutes of list making (including a weekend birthday party for Lorne, my oldest–that was a relief). I started drumming my fingers rather loudly on the armrest. Was I ever going to get a turn? John gave me one of his indifferent looks, which translated means, “Would you stop acting like a child?” Oh all right, I stopped.

But I knew my sisters would be sitting by their phones waiting to hear how our first session went. I didn’t want to get their imaginations going anymore than I guessed they already were. Paula, who is married to Charles, the absolute sweetest man on earth, can’t understand the whole marriage counseling thing. She said, “What do you need marriage counseling for? Just be married.”

Abby, who is getting her doctorate degree in psychology said, “They have issues, Paula. Every couple has issues. I bet even you and Charles have issues.”

Carl Ann said, “What on earth are issues?”

“Anything that creates an obstacle to a couple’s intimacy,” Abby said, looking to me for confirmation, as if I were going to up and tell them, right then and there, what mine and John’s issues were. I did not.

“In counseling they will be able to reach a new level of intimacy,” Abby announced as if she were giving a lecture to her undergraduate students.

“Well, they’re married! My God, how much more intimate can you get than that?” Carl Ann asked.

“Charles and I don’t breathe without each other,” Paula said. “Would that be called intimacy?”

Paula was pretty snippy when she said it. She did not go to college and although she acts like it doesn’t bother her, it does. She is jealous of Abby and her degrees. She secretly hates all that psychology stuff Abby is forever tossing around and thinks she’s a show-off. She is.

“No, that’s called joined at the hip,” Abby said. “You know they have successful surgery for that now. My guess is it’s sex,” she went on, “John has always been over-sexed.”

“Abigail Claire Lewis Rose you do not know that!” I said, hands on hips for emphasis.

That got their attention. We were painting Paula’s kitchen, except Carl Ann who was measuring for new window valances–she owns her own window treatment business and you can never get hold of her because evidently everyone needs their swags and jabots yesterday. Carl Ann is the only one of us who doesn’t live in Highlands (she lives in Atlanta with her surgeon-golf playing husband) and it kills her. She thinks she misses everything. She doesn’t. She’s here every weekend with her girls, Bernice and Lucy. Her husband, Tom, doesn’t mind because he spends his weekend driving up and down the mountains playing golf at one of the millions of courses we have here. My sisters began to circle around me like they did when we were little.

“Really?” Paula asked, looking as though she couldn’t quite picture that one. I mean honestly, even if she is married to the one man on the planet worth being married to for twenty years, sex still can’t be that good. That Sherwin Williams butterscotch yellow that I just love was dripping off her roller brush onto the drop cloth.

“Paula!” I said indignantly.

“Oh, come on now,” Carl Ann said. She was standing on her tip toes on the edge of the kitchen sink trying to measure the top of the window. “What man is not over-sexed, Abby? You could say that about any man on the planet. That is not exactly the psychological diagnosis of the year.”

“Exactly,” I said, looking at Paula, “I’ll bet even Charles wants to have sex all the time.”

Paula rolled her eyes as if to say don’t even get me started on that one, but then Abby jumped in and said, “See, I knew it. It is about sex isn’t it?”

“Oh for heaven’s sake, if you must know, yes it is.”

“Ha!,” Abby said triumphantly, but Paula and Carl Ann just said, “Oh,” evidently pretty disappointed that sex was all it was. I guess they were hoping for something more dramatic because they went back to painting. Mine and John’s issues weren’t that interesting, after all.

Honestly, I wanted to say to Dr. Owens, (but I could not say anything because John was talking) you try being the only female in a house with four males. Men just take up more room than women do and they leave more messes. I told my sisters (who all have girls) when I was pregnant with John Mark, my baby, that I was praying for a girl. I simply did not think could stand to look at one more penis.

Paula wanted to know if I was having any issues or was it all John and his sex life. “Honey,” she said, “Are you happy? Do you have issues?”

Paula can look at you as if she sees all the way through to your heart and there you stand, all exposed and everything. I wanted to cry. But then Paula has seven children (and her twins, Tulla and Mary are my favorites, I admit it) so she doesn’t have time to mess around with the details. When you have seven children you best get straight to the point and quickly, before the next one jumps in and needs something.

I didn’t say anything but I have to admit I am scared to death. I am scared I’m going to mess all this up. I’m scared of what’s happening to John and me. Seems like we never talk anymore and I remember, how we used to talk. We’d sit up all hours of the night talking. We weren’t hurried or walking sick children, or worried about work, or making lists. We told each other everything–things I’ve never even told my sisters.

I made my sisters vote fast on him. I didn’t want him to get away. We met in college in a biology class. He was a botanist getting his graduate degree, and I was in love. I hated biology but I acted like all those protozoa and Petri dishes were just so interesting. When I came into class John would do this grin thing. Without looking up from his desk he would grin when he heard someone say, “Hey Savannah,” but he wouldn’t look up. He just kept working away, head down and grinning. I came unglued whenever I saw him do it. And sex….. well, it was… it was a long time ago.

At night, lying in our king size bed (his idea) I want to wake him up and ask, “Aren’t you scared? Doesn’t it terrify you to think of raising these little boys and getting it right? Do you ever miss us in the middle of all this?”

I looked at the clock. It said 1:45. Dear heaven, what on earth had John been talking about? He hadn’t talked that much since I first met him and then I think he did it to trick me into marrying him because the minute we said I do, his lips went zip.

When John told Dr. Owens about the vote, Dr. Owens leaned way over toward me (I was thinking, good, I guess it is finally my turn to talk), rubbing his chin, and said very seriously, “Tell me about the vote.”

“There isn’t much to tell,” I said, shrugging my shoulders and wondering what this had to do with anything. “When one of my three sisters an myself, has a major life decision, we vote on it. You know, like when Carl Ann, that’s my sister who lives in Atlanta, married Tom, her husband, we all voted on it. It has to be a unanimous vote.”

“So, you voted she should marry him?” Dr. Owens asked.

“Yes, though we did recommend that she wait until June and not April. Recommendations are different than the vote. You can decide not to go with a recommendation, but the vote is absolute, no fudging on it. See, Carl Ann has got that priss in her and she has to have everything just right. We knew she would be happier with the whole wedding planning if she waited until June. But she had it in April and she was a complete basket case trying to get it all together.”

“Has anyone ever not followed the vote?” he asked.

“Just once. Abby. She married her husband, Jimmy, even though it was unanimous that she shouldn’t.”

“How was it unanimous if she married him?”

“You asked if anyone had not followed the vote. Abby voted but then she didn’t follow it.”

“Oh?”

Dr. Owens was obviously confused so I explained.

“See Abby is no dummy. She sometimes comes across that way, but don’t let that fool you. She’s smart as a whip, even John will hand you that (John nodded his head yes, here). She knew marrying Jimmy was totally the wrong thing to do. She was just too weak not too and Abby, well, she’s a little rebellious, hates being told what to do, even if she has a partial say in it. And well, we all admit Jimmy is one hunk of burning love–bad marriage material, but good looking as the day is long. There are days, Carl Ann says, she might have turned tail and married him too.”

“Has it turned out all right, Abby’s marriage that is?” Dr. Owens prodded.

John rolled his eyes. He did not want me to get into the subject of Abby and Jimmy. He wanted to get back to our sex life, I presumed. So I kept it short. “No,” I said, “She left him recently, and they have a little girl, Frankie, and we are all absolutely heart sick about it. We had to vote on the divorce too, and, of course, that was unanimous–though we refrained from saying if she had followed the first vote, she wouldn’t be following this one now.”

Dr. Owens sat looking sort of stumped. “Does this vote include smaller decisions?”

“You mean like what couch or dress or something like that to buy?” (I still had my mind on his leather couch.)

He nodded like, okay, yes.

“Oh no, not things like that. I mean we do discuss them. Lord knows we’ll discuss a couch or a dress for a month. So, we voted not to vote on things like that. It takes too long. We want to keep the vote down to an hour.”

“So serious things like marriage you don’t discuss for hours?”

“No, about an hour is all. We can decide on men pretty quick. Children take a little longer, furniture and clothes we gave up on.”

John jumps in at this point to say that the Lewis women (that would be my sisters and I) don’t like men and that’s why we’ll spend days on a couch and thirty minutes on a husband. (Dr. Owens, I noted, did not stop him from interrupting.)

Dr. Owens said, “Is that true?” You and your sisters don’t like men?”

“Oh we like men fine,” I said. “We just don’t particularly need men. There’s a difference.”

“I see,” said Dr. Owens, “why not?”

“Why not what?” I asked.

“Why don’t you need men?”

“Because we have each other,” I said.

Dr. Owens and John exchanged some knowing look. I was beginning to suspect what Abby had said was true.

“Savannah,” she said, “you are going into counseling with a man who wants more sex, to talk about how to get more sex with a man who probably wanted more sex but is now too old to get it. The cards, dear girl, are not stacked in your favor.” Too true.

“How did you come up with the vote?” Dr. Owens wanted to know.

This man was too full of questions. Why did John get to ramble on about what I did or did not do and all I got was a boatload of questions. Anyway, the conversation was getting way too personal.

“My mother only loved Daddy. It was one of those loves you read about in books, you know, all the romantic, gushy stuff. Kids weren’t her thing–more of an unpleasant, and she says, unavoidable outcome of her happy union with my Dad, if you know what I mean. She always said she could get pregnant using Daddy’s toothbrush and from the looks of it, that was true. So, if we had a question about anything, she would say, go figure it our for yourselves, you’re smart girls, you don’t need me. But really, she just didn’t want to be bothered by anyone but Dad. So we did. We figured it out. We voted.”

“So your relationship with your sisters is, like John mentioned, very important to you?”

John turned around to look at me and I gave him the Savannah look, which needs no translating at all. What did these two want from me? Of course, my sisters are important to me. I cannot imagine a world where they are not. The space between us is impenetrable, a sliver of light, a shard of space too small for more than a quick breath of air. Anxiety attacks, Lamaze, marriage, divorce, children, overwhelming work loads, disappointments, memories that bring only pain, breath we whisper to each other, breath and we breath together.

“They’re my sisters,” I said.

Dr. Owens made a couple more notes, and John turned back around and stared out the window. Then Dr. Owens made our next appointment, though truly I can’t see the reason for going. If all John wants is great sex, I can tell him how to get that. As if that’s a big mystery!

Listen up, guys! Be nice. Do not expect her (the wife) to work forty hours a week, come home and cook and clean for five people, do the dishes, bath three little boys, get them in bed (kisses, prayers, monster checks and all), do the laundry, and get three little bags ready for the next day, while you (the husband) sit on your butt surfing channels. If she (the wife) has help, you (the husband) has sex. If she doesn’t, forget it bud. I mean we paid 150 bucks an hour for that it ain’t no big mystery. A nice bed and breakfast for the weekend works wonders too.

I’m just hoping the next session goes better and we actually get to discuss something important. Dr. Owens said we should bring in two lists. One that has ten things we wish we could change in the other person, (good, now maybe Dr. Owens will tell John that he can do dishes and laundry too) and one list with ten things we actually like about the person (I’ll worry about that one later).

Anyway, it wasn’t a total loss. I did find out where Dr. Owens got that great leather couch. His secretary, Francis, told me. (She has a boy at Chapel Hill and one at State. Who do they root for?) Turns out, she picked it out for Dr. Owens (of course) at a store about five minutes from Carl Ann’s house. Road trip!

Abby needs a little break with all she’s been through lately and Paula will be in the car before you can say jackrabbit. Remember the seven kids?

And me, well after this hour and a half (I wonder if insurance will cover the extra 1/2 hour–probably not would be my guess and John will croak when he gets the bill), I’m thinking lunch at the Puffy Muffin and a pedicure.

Paula said to look on the bright side. The session wasn’t a complete waste. How many women get to sit down for one hour, undisturbed? She’d kill for that. Abby and Carl Ann completely agreed. Well, that is true and it got us to thinking, you know maybe we need a spa week-end. Grove Park Inn?

Old Woman with Her Butt in the Air = Dog Pose

I glanced in the mirror to see how I looked doing dog pose. Well, let’s just say that Mariel Hemingway can keep her job as poster girl for yoga. But I felt like I was SO IN THE POSE. You know how you’re walking down the street and you’re thinking, wow, I look good today. You’ve got on your adorable, new brown sandals (they are brown in this scenario because I did just buy a cute, new, brown pair–picture to come), and you’re wearing your skinny jeans and then, bam, you see yourself in the window of a building and you’re kinda shocked because, when the heck did you get that old?? Or that fat?? And, then you want to run home? That ever happen to you?

After glancing at myself in the mirror at Cindy’s studio–which, correct me if I’m wrong, but I swear the place is all mirrors–I wanted to crawl under a rock. I know Cindy, my yoga teacher, would say to thank my body for supporting me in the pose, heck, for supporting me period. She’d say to do the pose my body will do. That it isn’t a competition, and so forth. She’s fairly guru about the whole yoga thing–and I’m fairly North Carolina and Southern–but she is sincere, so I stay and try to focus, and try not think about how I look like an old woman with her butt in the air.

The rest of the class didn’t go well. What’d you expect? I’m 52 this year and I am just not getting the hang of getting old.

Anyway, I drove home determined never to do yoga again, never to go to a yoga class again, and to become an old lady who lives in her garden clothes and never cleans the dirt out from under her fingernails (okay so that is actually me already–I was going to embrace me, how’s that?).

But then my dog, Platypus (Platy for short) got up to greet me, doing his dog pose first to get the kinks out. I watched him stretching his front paws out, his butt up in the air, and he looked so happy, and because he’s two feet tall and four feet long, his dog pose is a looooonnnnngggg pose.

So, I kicked off my new brown sandals and did dog pose on my kitchen porch. Here’s what I have to say about dog pose when you’re not glancing in a mirror to see if you’re Mariel Hemingway’s new buddy, DANG I LOVE DOG POSE. It feels so darn good. I pushed up through my arms, stretching my back upward–really getting my butt up there–standing on my tip toes and then, when I had stretched up as far as I could go, I put my heels down. It was amazing. I stayed there for almost five minutes playing with the pose while Platy ran under me, sniffed my nose, licked my ankles and generally went nuts because he wanted petting.

I told him, “Give me a minute Plat dog, I’m doing dog pose, buddy.”

I know if I had glanced in a mirror again I would have seen an old lady with her butt up in the air, but finally, I didn’t care. My body was supporting me and I was treating it with care. I’m getting a little weepy thinking about it so I’ll end here.

The Mindfulness of Yoga, and Sprained Ankles

This is absurd. Busted toes and now a blue, black, yellow, green and very swollen sprained ankle. Seriously? Seriously? Really? Ridiculous. Oh, I need Cindy’s Zen stuff now. Anything to center—and perhaps balance—this ever aging brain and body.

Okay, so here’s what I can do today–Bound Angle Pose or Baddha Konasana. One of my girlfriend bffs says these yoga poses have names that sound like STDs. Trikonasana, anyone? Hey, I live in the South. India meets North Carolina. It has the makings of a good movie.

So Bound Angle Pose is actually a pose I like, a lot, because I have hips that will haunt me when I’m old. I am sure of it. I used to work as a house host at the Biltmore House. And yes, before you ask, it was fun. And yes, before you ask, I got to go in all the rooms–all 250 of them. Anyway, every older person that came to the house had to use the elevator (original) because they’d just had a hip replacement. The house hosts rotate through-out the house all day and everybody gets a turn to run the elevator. I can’t tell you the stories I heard about hip replacements between the first and second floor of Biltmore House and every person said the same thing, “I always had the tightest hips, and then I had hip surgery.”

I am terrified that will be me, because as hard as Cindy tries to get my hips open, they don’t budge. Still, I love BAP and while described as releasing the thigh and groin area, for me…. it works on the hips. Like getting your teeth cleaned, it hurts so good. And, I can lay my ankle to the side and flat, which is required in this pose, so that’s the primary reason for it today.

So, you start in staff pose and no you don’t need a staff–haha. You begin sitting on the floor, legs stretched outward in front of you and your back ramrod straight, with shoulder blades descending down, your buttocks grounded, pressing your thighs to the floor, lengtening your sides and lifting your chest.

Then you bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together, holding your toes with your index and middle fingers and your thumbs. I know all this sounds tedious, but the tedium is necessary or you’d just sit there with your legs pulled up and not paying attention. Paying attention is important in yoga because it is what keeps you mindful.

Most of us aren’t mindful. We’re busy. I think that’s why we get busted toes and ankles. We’re so ridculously busy, always telling ourselves we’re going to take a break when…. and then, in some cosmic way (Lord, I sound like Cindy) our own bodies slow us down. Cindy reminds her students, frequently, to be mindful and to accept “what is.” Today, my “what is” is a swollen ankle and blue-black toe, which inhibits me from doing much more than Baddha Konasana. Today, my body is giving me a time out from my busyness, painful as it might be, and honestly, I am quite relieved.

E-x-t-e-n-d a Little

Today’s pose, extension.

I need e-x-t-e-n-s-i-o-n. The word sounds good, doesn’t it? Cindy Dollar, my yoga teacher, says it is crucial for creating space between one body part and another. At fifty I am having a harder and harder time separating body parts so yeah, today it is all about extension.

Extension is a forward bend. It can be standing poses or sitting poses. I’m pooped after a night out and a day of work, so I’m opting for the sitting pose of Janu Sirsasana or Head to Knee Pose.

Head to Knee Pose is number fourteen in Cindy’s book (she wrote a book called Yoga Your Way, but as my teacher, she never really lets me do ANYTHING my way–don’t tell her I said that.) Head to Knee Pose is listed right before Headstand Part 1 pose, or Salamba Sirsasana which is also considered an extending pose. I find it very intimidating. It’ll have to wait for another day.

I begin Head to Knee Pose by sitting on the center of my buttock bones. They are actually somewhat hard to find, I am embarassed to admit. My legs are extended on the floor in front of me. Cindy says to pull one leg in, bending it at the knee while keeping my other leg straight. Ultimately, I will e-x-t-e-n-d over my straight leg, back concaved, sacrum drawn in, while pressing the bent leg down to the floor. The focus is on elongating my sides (really?) and the goal is reaching my straight leg’s foot while having my head on my chins and my abodomen in line with my straight leg.

Wait a minute, you say. I did that “pose” in gym in grammar school. Why is it special? Why does it get some groovy Sanskrit name? Remember, people, it is yoga. Yoga always surprises me. Let it surprise you too. No expectations here.

And, I am surprised. Who knew my sides were tight? I knew touching my toes never came easy to me, and that my shoulders stay tight, but my sides? I never really thought about them at all.

Seems they need me too. Stretching my arms up over my head, lifting them as high as I can, and then slowly leaning forward over my straight leg while keeping that lift, and therefore the stretch in my sides, feels like a massage. I groan in sheer pleasure, the kind of sigh you let out when you first step into a hot bath.

So, I e-x-t-e-n-d-e-d my five minute time and went for ten minutes, repeating the pose three or four times. Cindy recommends two minutes per side. I set the timer for two minutes but then tossed it aside and just enjoyed the feeling of e-x-t-e-n-s-i-o-n. It is good. It deserves the Sanskrit name.

camels yoga

How do Camels Breath?

I’ve never seen a camel. I’d like too. I’d also like to breath more. You know, breath in, breath out. But mostly, I’m too busy to do that. I know you know what I’m talking about.

Cindy, my yoga teacher, teaches me a pose called Camel pose or Ustrasana.  It’s a funky, little back bend. When I was a kid, I watched TV from the position of a back bend on the living room floor. It was easy. I popped right up, wrists turned backward, feet pushing me higher into the bend, and my chest rising. It felt so good. I could stay there forever.

It was so easy to breath after doing that. I don’t do that anymore. Now, I watch TV lying in bed.

Fortunately, Camel Pose does not require this complete back bend stance. Instead, I am on my knees, with my legs extended behind me, hands reaching for my ankles, neck dropping toward my feet, my spine coiled into my back, my chest open wide. The total time Cindy allows for this pose is thirty seconds. Thirty seconds, then come out of the pose (carefully) and then thirty seconds again. It is enough.

camel pose breath

Cindy Dollar doing camel pose with props. Thank the Lord, yoga lets you use props. This picture is from her website, no photographer is noted.

Cindy gives you reminders when you’re in the pose. She instructs that while your body is bent backward and your arms are trembling with the weight, to press your legs into the floor, and press your hands into your heels, then lift your sternum higher. There is a reason for this. The action between my legs and my arms creates a stronghold, a structure which supports me in the pose. Once supported, I am free to lift my sternum, coil my spine, and the reason for all this contortion: Open my chest, and you guessed it, breath.

Here’s what I discover in this pretty awkward position. I’ve got to breath to stay here.

My breath comes rapidly at first. I’m afraid my arms will give out before my timer does and I’ll be in a heap. So, I breath. The breathing stabilizes me. It slows down the panic and allows me to concentrate, to press my hands into my ankles, press my legs down and be strong again. For thirty seconds.

I have another friend, also named Cindy. She works in the medical field. She doesn’t advise smoking, but she does advise doing what smokers do. “Smokers,” she says, “take breaks to breath.”

Camel Pose is a breathing pose. That’s what I accomplished today, breathing. And, here’s why that is important: I’ve got to breath if I’m going to stay here. I mean that literally, but also, not. Life is a haul, and pacing myself requires breathing.

Sometimes Yoga (and life) Need Props

Cindy tells us that the yoga poses in her book are not built on each other so we, the readers, can do them in any order. This is good because I like skipping around (read, I have favorite poses and poses I hate). She has daily routines organized very neatly, but I swap them around too, adding those I love (dog pose) and skipping the ones I hate (all the warrior poses). So, if Cindy reads this, the next time I go into her studio, you can bet I’ll have to do warrior poses. Let’s keep it between us.

As I’m flipping through her pages, I come across Corpse Pose, or Savasana. Savasana is a restorative pose. Well, my busted toe from the other night still hurts AND I have a cold AND I fear I might be getting the flu (and yet, here I am being so dedicated and all). So, restoration sounds exactly like what Cindy would order. So, that’s my pose for the day. My only pose for the day, mind you.

I seriously feel like a cheater here. The pose is what is sounds like. Lying face up on the floor, your arms at a 30 degree angle from your sides, palms resting upward and your eyes closed. In other words, you look like a dead woman.

My favorite thing about yoga is that it increases your awareness of your body. Even in this Dead Woman Pose, the first thing I notice is that my hip hurts. Did I know that already? Because it hurts in a major sort of way, the kind of way that does not allow me to actually put my hip (the left one) completely on the floor. Since that is what I’m supposed to be doing today, lying on the floor while allowing the space between my eyes to soften and my brain to release back into my skull (I am trying to visualize that!), my hip presents a problem. I cannot lie flat.

Good news; yoga props. Although I didn’t think I’d have to pull out the props for something like Corpse Pose, I flip the page and read the possible variations. Yoga is big on props. If you can’t actually do the pose then props are used to help “put you in the pose.” I own said props–of course, had to buy all the gadgets to do the yoga, right?–and so I place a bolster under my knees which lets me drop my hip to the floor and begin to relax.

Except now all I can think about is why I didn’t know that my hip hurt this badly. And then I remember. I did know. I’ve just been ignoring it. I’ve been sleeping on my right side (unusual for me) because it hurts to lie on my left. I watch TV with a big pillow tucked under my left hip and I read with my leg propped up on a chair. So I’ve been using props for awhile, it seems. The bolster is nothing new.

Making a mental note to call the doctor about my hip, I do as Cindy says. I adjust my buttocks so that my back is against the floor and then I relax letting the floor (yet another prop?) hold the weight of myself for the five minutes she suggests. I get sort of dreamy and slightly sleepy waiting on my timer to click (no loud noises please), although she is very specific that this is not a sleeping pose, but a restorative one. So, I try to focus on letting my brain release to the back of my head, and allowing my hands to be held up by the floor—you may be thinking, what cake! Not so, I tell you. It is actually quite hard to stay in the pose and not start snoring.

I decide, in my dreamy state, that I like the idea of props. So, today’s lesson: use props when necessary and sometimes just use props.

Busted Big Toes

So, today, I’m pooped. Big wedding weekend. And still more to go. But, ever faithful me is going to do her yoga (well, I’m faithful in spirit if not in the flesh). I’m flipping through Cindy’s book and pop! there is Padangusthasana or Big Toe Pose. Highly apporpriate since my big toe is currently, absolutely killing me. I stubbed it on, of all things, a pillow. One of those big study pillows that were popular in college dorms in the late 70’s. Of course, I still have mine (book nerd to the end), and it stays on the floor beside my bed when I’m asleep. Hence the stubbed toe in the middle of the night. Throbbing, I say, and I am going to be in heels for most of the day wearing my new, watermelon-red dress. Very classy sheath and with pockets. Which is too cute. The trend is these dressy-dresses with pockets; perfect if you forget the pedicure.

The first thing I notice is how detailed Cindy’s description is of what appears to be nothing more than me in a standing position, reaching down, grabbing my sore toe and the other healthy toe, and holding onto them while concaving my back, elbows out and stretching my quads and hamstrings.

Going into and out of the pose, I discover, is as important as the pose itself. Cindy gives as much print to preparing and coming out of the pose as she does the actual pose. Okay. That means I didn’t give myself enough time. Note to self–if I am going to do the poses properly, allow more time.

I rearrange my schedule a little (yes, five minute increments actually exist in my life, embarassingly enough) and do Big Toe Pose.

Guess what? My back loves this pose. I mean, I’m actually happy doing this. My legs are trembling as I push my upper thighs backward while pulling my pelvic region forward but my back is estatic. I’m not exaggerating. Lesson two. Lean over more. Stretching ourselves doens’t always have to hurt.

So off to the wedding I hoppingly go.