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A reunion with yoga


Today was my first day back on the mat– for real this time– since September. I don’t count those scattered days in between when I “promised” myself that I was back into it, but then lost momentum. This time, it IS for real, though, and thus I memorialize it with a blog post.

I was fortunate be to awarded a Yogis Heart scholarship, which covers a years worth of yoga, and I’m using it to fund my mysore practice at Ashtanga Yoga Upper West Side. I am beyond thrilled for this opportunity to study under a real teacher, in a real mysore room, without having to make the monthly calculation– can I afford it this month? Usually the answer has been no.

I’m actually also looking forward to the accountability. Something has gotta give in my life right now, and this scholarship and my new spring-time attitude is going to give it to the lazy, whiny, depressed me who prefers hunkering on the couch eating pizza (which is pretty much exactly what I did all winter).

This has been an epic year for me, in fabulous and catastrophic ways– in the fall, I struggled through monumental depression, ended up getting whooping cough/pneumonia/something they couldn’t diagnose, broke a rib from coughing, and spent the next six weeks barely able to move. In January, I got married. In the next six weeks, I’ll be moving to Alaska for the summer.

I stepped onto my mat today and instantly felt myself caught up in the joy of practice, surrounded by other Ashtangis. By the third sun salutation B, I was panting ready to be done. It’s been a long time since I’ve done this. Mortified that my arms were shaking without even having finished my “warm up,” I grit my teeth and tried to focus on my breathing, sneaking extra breaths here and there. By the time I got to Parivritta Parshvakonasana, I had to admit that my rib wasn’t up for rotating, that my tummy has acquired several inches of fluff since I last did this, and I needed to slow it down. So, I stuck to the standing postures and tried to breathe patience into a mind that wanted to curl up and crawl away in shame.

It’s ridiculous that I would be so embarrassed I’m completely out of shape that my instinct is to not get in shape, or (as I’ve been doing for the past few months) telling myself that I’ll get in shape at home, by myself, and then magically waltz into the shala able to do everything. Um, unlikely.

So, for everyone who is out there wishing they were fitter and stronger; who clandestinely watches the people around them to see what everyone else can do; for everyone who is afraid of getting off their couch, like me — tomorrow’s practice is for you.

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When I see red, try to think rainbows


I was supremely touched by my teacher Meghan’s blog post today. It made me feel like writing because I, too, felt the sharp pang of unfairness today.

We had a review hearing for one of our kids. I am a law clerk at the juvenile public defender’s office for the summer. And before you ask, yes, I can stand it. And no, they are not bad kids. And no, you don’t know nearly as much about [sex crimes; assault; poverty; disabilities; welfare; race] as you probably think you do. That came off as defensive. I guess I’ve become defensive of our kids this summer.

The details of the hearing aren’t really important, except that this is a kid for whom the world is one unsurmountable obstacle. Stupid decisions have been made, yes. Potential maybe not yet reached, yes. But to be destined to rot in a cramped, abusive, degrading prison until he turns 21? Today was his chance to get out.

I, too, believe that my path in life is through service to others. But I will admit that lately I’ve been questioning whether or not I have the backbone to do it. Every kid who comes across my desk breaks my heart. Each story pummels me like a ton of bricks. I’m exhausted, not because I’m working late or even making it to practice every morning, but because it hurts to see human beings treated like this in the US of A, in the 21st Century.

Today reached an all-time low. Our kid deserved to go home today, to start school on time; to see his family; to make friends. He deserved to have years of hard work rewarded. He deserved a chance to prove that he had changed. He shuffled into court, shackled hand and foot. “When you’re a boy, all you think is ‘me, me, me,'” he told to the court in a statement he had written, “but I’ve become a man and I’ve learned it is ‘us, us, us.’ Please give me a chance to show you that I’ve changed.”

It wasn’t the court that made me see red today. The staff at the facility testified against him — not for any reason I could understand, since they admitted he had completed his treatment, but out of what I can only assume was spite. Our attorney asked his case manager questions, and she would hesitate, look over at the opposing attorney and social worker, who would both vehemently shake their heads, ‘no.’

“No.” the case manager would say. They would mouth answers to her. At one point, the case manager almost testified favorably, she started the sentence, and the social worker sitting next to her actually hit her, slapping her arm and quickly making her reverse her answer.

I leaned over to my supervising attorney, “can’t we object?” I asked. He shook his head. Objecting would make us look petty, and we needed to get opposing counsel on our side. There was no documented proof for any of the wild allegations that were made, of course. We knew this from prior conversations with the staff. But since we were refused a complete copy of our client’s records, we couldn’t prove that such documents didn’t exist. The court took the testimony with a grain of salt, but our client went back to prison today.

I cannot understand what would drive people to want children in prison. How could someone care so much that they would risk perjury, to ensure a kid spends one more night in a cell? I cannot understand how more people don’t see that this is how we create cycles of poverty, violence, anger and resentment. I saw red. Fuming, I left the courtroom, struggling to maintain polite good cheer, wishing I could just throw humanity to the wolves.

It made me think of yoga. I took deep yogic breaths. I thought about non-attachment. I thought about ahisma and how my bitterness and anger was only hurting me, and that showing my fury would only cause harm to our client. And then I prayed for karma.

But even the promise of retribution will not even the scales today. And so I practice, over and over. I pray for consistency and for strength; for the fortitude to wake up every morning knowing that I probably won’t get anywhere today, that my contribution is just one sail against an ocean of injustice, but still to keep moving– keep stretching, keep reaching; struggling, fighting. I pray for the courage to go back to court and ask for even more and to never stop asking, until every child knows that their dignity is something that matters.

Despite how much I long for super-powers, to just swoop in and fly our kids away from all of this, I can only hope to be a temporary shelter, a lee in this child’s life. That is as super as I can get.

 

 

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A Mind-Body Partnership


I lay on my yoga mat today, finishing out my very, very gentle practice, and an epiphany washed over me. My body was limp and happy, my breath smooth and deep. I could feel muscles releasing that I hadn’t even realized had become knots of tension. “Thank you,” my mind told my body, “You came through for me this week.” “You’re welcome.” my body whispered back,”thanks for letting us sleep in today.”

This past week, my mind forced my body far beyond normal levels endurance. I didn’t make it to yoga once. I had a hearing on Thursday, to defend a teenage student from a lengthy suspension and I was fighting with the school, which was refusing to provide any information about what witnesses they were going to call, or even what the exact charges were. It meant I had to prepare to cross examine witnesses when I didn’t even know what their story was– it meant that if I screwed up, my client wouldn’t graduate this year. It meant I had to prepare closing arguments for so may scenarios, I was up past midnight every night working on them– and waking up at seven scrambling to finish reading before class.

Plus, this case made me angry. Very, very angry. I felt myself filling with rage as my client told us about how he had been arrested  at sixteen and held at Riker’s Island (a high level jail for adults) for three days before the police released him because he didn’t do it and there was no evidence. I saw red when I spoke to the assistant principal on the phone and he got angry at me demanding to know why I was representing my client, wanting to know what our defense would be and telling me that this kid didn’t deserve representation. The best (or worst) part was the school didn’t show up for the hearing. Our client’s father had taken off work to be there; I was skipping class. The school called thirty minutes after they should have arrived. The suspension office rescheduled the hearing for ten days later, which means my client has this hanging over his head for the next ten days. GAHHHH!!!!

On Friday morning, I rushed to skim my reading for class, and around 3:00pm started in on the brief that was due Saturday morning at 9:00 am. I ordered pizza, picked up a case of Mountain Dew, binged on Tosittos and chocolate cake (the junk food had been strategic– I had to bribe my body into submission) and finished out a twelve page research paper by 6:00 am Saturday morning. Turned the paper in, and had 45 minutes to pack before leaving for the airport to make a twelve hour flight.

By the time I got home last night, I had been up over forty-eight hours. I was dizzy, nauseous and exhausted. I crawled into bed,  and then dragged myself to yoga this morning, where I lay on my mat and reflected what I had just put myself through. I marveled that I hadn’t gotten a headache at all (which is an absolute miracle) and that my body had held it together while I pushed myself mentally. “Thank you,” my mind acknowledged. My body came through for us this time.

My mind and my body are usually at war. My body throws me crippling migraines regularly, and my mind refuses to acknowledge weakness or defeat. I grew up approaching pain in a “grit your teeth and get through it” sort of way– which was how I approached pretty much everything, including school. “I can’t slow down,” I thought. “things are too important. I can’t let any of it go.” The mindset transferred to my practice, where I ended up with a sprained wrist and an IT-band injury. In high school, it led to depression, burn-out, and a stint in a hopeless relationship that I refused to give up on. Defeat is really important, I’ve realized. It’s how we know our limits. It’s how we figure out how to make the most of our life.

It took me most of practice today to stop feeling the adrenaline pulsing through me; to be able to breathe and be in the moment; to let go of the fight-or-flight response I’ve been holding for days. I care deeply about the work that I’m doing, and schoolwork has become that much more important because I know that I’m gearing up for a brutal, strenuous battle in the future. But, I’ve learned this week that I can’t possibly take on that kind of stress and anxiety and refuse to acknowledge that my body has certain needs– like nutritious food, exercise, and sleep. I have to treat life as a mind-body partnership– giving and receiving from both sides in order to balance conflicting needs. As I learned the hard way on the mat, I first have to back-off and breathe, in order to move more deeply. Each move must be made with intention.

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Perfect vs. Good


My first instinct was to write a major confession blog about how and why I’ve been terrible at staying gluten free and making it to the shala… but then I stopped myself. I made myself think about my life holistically. Life an outsider would.

It’s so hard to evaluate my life as an outsider! I look at others and give them so much credit for everything that they do– work, yoga, relationships… but I turn that back on myself and give myself very little credit for the amount of effort I put in.  Confession: I don’t make it to the shala every day.  Some weeks, I only make it once. Truth: I am doing absolutely doing the best that I can.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good (or good enough).”

It is a squirmy and difficult mantra to remember. As a perfectionist (as I suspect many ashtangis are) it is nigh impossible for me to admit that I might not be able to juggle everything flawlessly– two hours of yoga at 6 am; six hours of reading; three hours of outlining; the inevitable research paper (not to mention networking events; career meetings; volunteer positions; my impending wedding, and oh yes, my impending marriage). Things get dropped. People don’t get networked with. Dishes don’t get done (don’t even ask when the last time a vacuumed was) and, sadly, I don’t always make it to the shala.

For a long time this has been a fact of shame. I so desperately wanted to be a “real” ashtangi.  But, I desperately wanted to be a good law student, too. No matter how much I tell myself to “let go of ego,” it’s embarassing to know that I haven’t gotten a new pose since I started practicing in February. And yet, there is no I way I could show up to class without being prepared for the inevitable, “Ms. Mullin… do you think subject matter jurisdiction was appropriate in this case?” In the end, I simply have to sigh and surrender.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Ashtanga is important. Law School is important. Sleep is important. Sanity is important (and surprisingly often overlooked). I only make it to the shala a few times a week. Right now, that is good enough.

 

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Week 1 Gluten/dairy/eggs/corn/soy/-Free: The Highlights


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Broiled Artichokes and Garlic Aioli

Adjusting to a new diet requires adjusting my entire outlook on food.  There’s a grieving process:  Denial (“Don’t be ridiculous.  I’m not allergic to anything.”); Anger (“Why is there soy in EVERYTHING!?!?!”); Bargaining (“If I eat kale for the next three weeks, I can eat cheeseburgers every day for the next month”); Depression (“Clearly, I’m going to starve.”); and finally, Acceptance.

I’ve realized that my relationship to food was unhealthy, at best.  I used food to self-sooth and reward myself for hard work and success in other parts of my life.  I was so disciplined everywhere else– ashtanga, taking the LSAT, applying to law schools, working overtime– trying to limit what I ate felt like I was imposing painful restrictions on the one thing I had that didn’t require self-control.  I could see myself gaining weight and feeling sluggish, but I couldn’t stop eating comfort foods that made me feel even worse.  Needless to say, there were almost no vegetables involved.  Despite the illusion of freedom, I felt completely out of control.  If there is a silver lining to this elimination diet, it’s that it has made me re-evaluate my relationship to food and shown me that there’s more to food than frozen pizza and take-out Chinese.  This week has proven that I can eat good, relatively cheap food if I put in a teensy bit of effort, and that it’s not as much effort as I thought it would be in the first place.

It helps that I have awesome friends.  I spent all day yesterday shopping, wandering around the farmer’s market and picking out vegetables that I haven’t ever bought un-frozen, let alone cooked properly (microwave doesn’t count).  Today, we gathered after practice to whip up some GDECSF-free, vegan meals for the week.

I also have to thank the food-blog world for tons of inspiration and emotional support– when I was first told about this diet, I didn’t have the faintest idea how many options are actually out there.  I couldn’t have done it without you.  To give back, and for those of you also struggling for ideas on a GDECSF-free diet, here’s a rundown of meals from this week, starting on Thursday, when I pulled it together and stopped eating only rice-crackers and peanut butter:

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Baked Sweet Potato with Nori, Sesame seeds, and salt

THURSDAY: Baked sweet potato with nori (seaweed), sesame seeds, and salt.  This was a very hands-off, perfect middle-of-the-week dish.  I coated the sweet potato with olive oil and salt, and baked it for about 45 minutes at 400°.  DON’T FORGET TO POKE HOLES IN THE POTATO (I learned the hard way earlier in the week).  I used rice seasoning to season the potato without butter.  I’ve also heard that coconut butter goes really well with sweet potato.

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Rice Pasta with Veggies

FRIDAY: Rice pasta with fried spinach and root vegetables.  I had made the root veggies earlier in the week– purple potato, sweet potato, turnip and carrots, coated in olive-oil and rosemary and baked until soft.  The rice pasta takes about 20 min. to cook, so while it was cooking, I fried the spinach in olive oil with two cloves of minced garlic.  I drizzled olive oil on top, so the noodles wouldn’t stick together, and voila! I had dinner and lunch for the next day!

SATURDAY: Okay, on Saturday I was lazy and ate rice-crackers and peanut butter again, with boiled oats and cinnamon for dinner.  It was a low-key day and thoroughly enjoyable, since I knew that Sunday would be filled with food.

IMG_1566SUNDAY: Black-bean taco (on rice-tortilla) with fresh guacamole, basil, and grated radish.  This was very easy to make and ended up being INCREDIBLE.  For the recipe, click here.  We added fresh basil and radish, since we had it on hand, and they absolutely made the taco.  Thanks to Natalia and Chelsea for helping make this one!

We also made the artichokes above and meals that I will share once I have had a chance to taste them!

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Food


IMG_1546The latest theory on the quest to find answers to Emily’s joint pain is food sensitivity.

I consulted with a Naturopath on Saturday, in an attempt to avoid having to get more x-rays and skip more work to go to another specialist.  Her recommendation: cut out gluten, dairy, egg, corn, and soy for three weeks, to cleanse my system and figure out what, if anything, I’m sensitive to.

I would really like to say that I took her instructions in a stride– quickly adapting my diet to be healthier and gluten-dairy-egg-corn-and-soy-free (GDECSF, for short).  But the truth is, the past two days have been really, really hard– although, surprisingly, not in finding things to eat.

My first reaction was disbelief: “What can I eat?”  I’m really lucky to live in a city and in 2013.  There’s a bakery called Sweet Freedom just a few blocks from my house that does everything GDECSF + no peanuts, no refined sugar, and no casein.  I knew where it was because I used to walk past and make fun of it.  So far, I have eaten their cinnamon roll, frosted bannana bread, and a chocolate cupcake (yes, in the past two days), all very good.  Whole Foods has TONS of GDECSF options, though you have to hunt for them, and my pantry is now stocked with GDECSF granola, cereal, oats, peanut butter, and, believe it or not, yogurt.

But, despite how much there really is to eat, I find myself feeling upset, angry and unsatisfied.  Despite all the options, and the fact that they’re better for me, I’ve spent the past two days mourning all the food I can’t have:  Goodbye, Starbucks.  Goodbye, tofu. Goodbye, soysauce, pot-stickers and char-siu.  Goodbye, bread.  Goodybe, cheese.  Goodbye, Trader Joe’s frozen Indian Food and pizza and ice cream.

I know that these restrictions will be good for me (my knees and elbows actually feel much better 24 hours in) and I know that they will promote healthy eating that will further my practice.  But right now, I am really struggling to accept change.

Does anyone have any easy GDECSF recipes I can try?