Self-conscious about Selfcare

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I have learned something very important lately. There is a value in what some people might call “selfishness.” I don’t advocate loving yourself above the love of others. I would just advocate taking care of your mind and body so that you can help others more consistently and powerfully. I grew up in a Christian household in a bible belt state. There is a stigma against anything that could be considered “selfish” especially for women. Mothers are supposed to give up all for their families. This is an underlying rule. This is something ingrained in every woman. Women and especially mom’s sacrifice. They’re the ones who cook, clean, and the last ones to eat dinner. Last Thanksgiving, I was home I watched most of the mothers be the last ones to get dinner and then they stood around eating it because there were no more chairs left. Why is it always the women left standing? This is just one example of many I saw growing up that said being a mother/woman meant being selfless, wanting less than. It’s not just the Midwest, I’ve read that families where both parents work across the US women still do seventy percent of the house work. I don’t think it is just my Midwestern roots cleaning their way into heaven.

When I quit my job to move to Philly because husband got a new job, we decided that I would pursue my writing and try to build a career. Two things happened that made that a difficult venture. First, my health went wonky. The pain I had been dealing with got steadily worse, as documented on this blog. Second, I got too caught up in taking care of my house. That sounds silly doesn’t it, but it’s true. With fibromyalgia I only get so many “spoons” of energy to do things. I would get up make breakfast, and then clean something draining all my spoons and then have no energy to do anything else. It was ridiculous how long this went on. I would clean like a mad woman and inflame my fibro and then maybe be out of commission for a few days. I was getting less and less done. Sadly with fibro, I have had no choice but to be “selfish.”

My mom says the bible doesn’t advocate selfishness, but I venture that the bible doesn’t say anything about cleaning your house, doing laundry, or being the last one to eat Thanksgiving dinner. It does tell us that we should take care of our bodies like a temple because the holy spirit resides there (paraphrasing.) This has been my new goal, my new focus. It is hard, years of ingrained guilt is hard to buck but I am doing it.

I kept reading about women in the wellness industry who put their health first. There was a reoccurring theme on the website well+good.com where women explain their daily morning rituals. https://www.wellandgood.com/tag/my-morning-routine/   These women are yoga instructors, nutritionists, and healthcare gurus. They are also wives and mothers. I was always reading what they do every morning, their indulgent rituals, and feeling extremely jealous. They usually start their day with hot lemon water, yoga or some other exercise, cuddles and conversation. They also usually do something else indulgent like art, journaling, or hanging out in the park. It seemed to me they had a relaxing Saturday before their work day. All of these women make an insane amount of money, claim to feel good and satisfied every day. Those aren’t the only signs of success but I still couldn’t see how they were doing it. So, emboldened by these articles, I decided to put my health first.

Does that just mean exercising? Shouldn’t health also include my mind and soul? Instead of cleaning first thing in the morning, I am doing my yoga, meditation and prayer, and then I am writing. Afterwards I am getting what cleaning I can done before starting dinner. Even then, sometimes if I clean enough I am taking a little hot tea break mid-afternoon. By doing this, giving to my soul and mind, I am getting more done than ever before.  Another product of my Midwestern upbringing, I like being useful. When I accomplish things, it helps my self-esteem. This is probably one of the traits that makes me the proudest of my heritage. While my productivity really makes me feel good about my new plan, it’s not the only thing. I feel better. I am getting my yoga in, and my quiet time and my writing which is something that has always made me feel whole. I am doing that corny thing they always talk about: filling my cup before helping someone else. I am putting my oxygen mask on before putting one on anyone else.

You know who is happiest with my new plan? My husband. I am making dinner every night. The house is more consistently clean. I am in a good mood. I may actually make money on my writing someday if I can keep up with this consistency. This “selfishness” turns out not to be so selfish, and maybe it could pay off even further in the future.

Losing the Incessant Weight Loss Narrative

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Sweating even before physical therapy!

I met with my physical therapist this week and was bragging to her about doing my stomach and hip exercises and actually asked for more. Can you believe I asked for more exercise? I used to hate exercise. I actually asked her for more. She told me no. She said to stay at this level for another month. She doesn’t want me to do too much too fast. With fibromyalgia, you have to work out at low impact and build up slowly. So, I can’t add exercises willy-nilly. I have to be methodical.

But I was pumped, man! She put me on the exercise bike and I was bragging about how well I am doing. I love physical therapy and I love yoga. I have been doing so well. I am forty-one and for the first time in my life I have an exercise habit. A habit.

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More sweating, out and about

The amazing part is that it’s working. I haven’t lost weight. This isn’t that blog. I’ve never in my adult life seriously put effort into losing weight. I was told over and over that I needed to lose weight for my health. I was told over and over exercise will help me lose weight. That really didn’t resonate with me because I’ve always been fabulous even plus size. I’ve seen people lose weight, it takes over their whole life and in my experience, they always gain the weight back. Somewhere in the back of my mind that always seemed fruitless.

So here I am on this exercise bike telling my physical therapist how wonderful I’m doing, like a five-year-old explaining stuff to her momma. With just six months of these exercises I have not only gotten the pain down to a measly two or three days of my cycle, I’ve also fixed my knee and can walk upstairs normally. I am freaking wolverine! I have healed myself in six freaking months. That, my friends, is astounding. I am not just being hyperbolic because I was in so much pain that I thought my life was officially a deep pit of despair.

While I am sweating on the bike talking about how awesome it is, the conversation turns (like it usually does) to how I wish I had known how all this worked before. Then I talked myself into being frustrated again. Why did I not know that this would be so easy to get the other, I feel more important, benefits of exercise.

People can’t stop talking about losing weight. Lose weight for better health. Exercise to lose weight. Oh my goodness people can’t shut up about it. In magazines, books, newspapers, on TV, in school, at home, all I have ever heard about exercise is that it helps you lose weight and it’s good for your health. That’s great but extremely, excruciatingly vague.

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Sweating while fabulous

You know what happens when I read? I learn something. It is a very specific something. If I read a book about snakes I learn about snakes.  For the fast six months, I have been walking a mile – two maybe three times a week depending on my fibromyalgia and every day I have been doing warrior pose. In just six months, I have healed a knee that has been unable to do stairs for years. The only reason I have found this out is because I had to start exercising to fix my pelvic pain. So doing these things, these small exercises fixed my knee. Do this specific exercise to strengthen where you are weak and in this much time you will have this capability? I don’t know the specifics but I am sure athletic people and physical therapists do.

Why don’t we talk more about capability based goals? Why aren’t we talking about how easy it is to build up muscle. I feel like this physical therapy is voodoo it’s so amazing. I have followed my therapist’s instruction religiously, and that is the reason it is working. It is small things. I haven’t been doing super aerobics. I am not working out two hours a day or anything. I’m not running up stadium bleachers to Chariots of Fire, or running down the road pulling an old man to Eye of the Tiger. I am just walking and doing light yoga.

Our body is an amazing thing. As a child, my ankles always turned me off exercise. Even now I have to worry about turning them if I don’t concentrate. I am working on them with my yoga. I am working on my arches too because I have some super flat feet. As a child, if I complained about my ankles I was told I was just lazy. As a chubby little fourth grader that is all people saw in me. What if someone had saw a little girl with bad ankles and taught me how to strengthen them? Could I have become that BMX trick biker I wanted to be? Probably not, but at least I might have had a regular exercise practice all these years.

If we worried more about our bodies capabilities than what they looked like on the outside, maybe someone would have helped me with my ankles. I’m not abdicating guilt in my weight. I am just saying that now that I know what I can do, I have been working very hard for the first time in my life. If it hadn’t always been about my weight, if it hadn’t always seemed so insurmountable, perhaps I could have started this earlier. Maybe I would love other types of exercise besides yoga and swimming, or maybe not. I just think this is another reason why the weight issue needs to be discussed differently.

The Best I Can Do

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Making Physical Therapy fun: I wanted the fake people to look like Star Trek characters. Is that Captain Kirk at the bottom? Why yes it is! 

Mom exercises every day. She’d wake up hurting and get ready to do her exercises. I thought she was crazy for years. Who thinks, Oh, I am in pain, I think I’ll exercise. It goes against all the logic I’d ever known. When you’re sick you lay in bed, right?  I’d say, “If you hurt why are you doing exercise?”  She would reply, “I have to exercise this morning or it will hurt more later.”

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My Momma: my eternal fitness hero

I didn’t really understand what she meant until I too developed Fibromyalgia. Now I am amazed at her resolve. Seriously. That woman is made of steel. The first couple years of Fibro kicked my ass. Waking up in pain is a buzz kill. Your whole day can be tainted. Waking up with fibromyalgia is like someone beat you with a baseball bat the night before and then you drank a liter of rum. Every morning you are sore and hung over. Mom woke up in that fog every day strapped on an exercise bra and just got to work. I bitch and wine like nobody’s business.

It seems like a weird idea, right? Think about waking up with the flu and being told the cure is exercise. Um…yeah, wouldn’t you think that’s bullshit? No, you would retreat to bed and not wake up until it ended. The sick part is, it never ends. You will wake up every day with the flu, and the only way to have the rest of the day is to exercise through it. Then the next day, start all over again.

When Mom told me she had to exercise I thought she was crazy. I didn’t understand then, what I know now: with Fibromyalgia exercise is essential. I told the doctor that I felt like a piece of machinery that rusts when it sleeps or sits too long. If I don’t stretch and move my joints, then I am in pain all day. It’s like I am lubing my muscles and joints. Once I have done that, then I can move onto my day.

My physical therapist, Melinda Gross, said that with Fibromyalgia you have to challenge the body regularly with controlled “stressors” in the form of exercise because it increases the body’s tolerance. So I have to increase walking, yoga, chores, strengthening exercise because it increases my baseline threshold for pain and stress.

Did anyone else’s dad ever make that joke? You know the one after you’ve been complaining your head hurts, and Dad offers to step on your toe to make your head hurt less. Turns out, that’s kind of a thing.

In other words, I have to put my body through a small amount of pain so that I am not in greater pain later. Also, if I put my body through more pain then what I have built up then I am in serious pain for days. So, I have to measure my activity every day. Once I painted a hutch and for the next three days the couch was my best friend.

When I think about it too closely, I get angry that I didn’t figure this out sooner. It is also very hard not to be angry that I can’t just wake up and be fine like a normal person. I get depressed at my pained muscles and stiff joints. It is easier to stay in bed. It is easier not to go to my twice a week doctor’s appointments. It would be easier if I could just take some pills to make the pain easier and just dribble into my pillow.

I was not happy when that’s all I could do, but it didn’t require much strength of will or physical strength. It was easier, but I wasn’t happy. My loved ones deserve much better than that, and so do I.

When I think about just sitting and sulking on the couch or skipping my doctor’s appointments I think about my husband. I am lucky, because he is the most patient and loving man. He is there every day telling me it is okay I am in pain and it isn’t my fault. He is my strength when I don’t have any. He deserves to have a wife that feels good about herself. I concentrate on that love when I am trying to get up to start my day. I concentrate on the love that I feel for my family and my friends. I concentrate on the fact that I want to soak up moments with them. If I am in pain, I will just be thinking about the pain.

I’m not perfect every day. I still have days it takes me a while to pull my head out of my ass and get moving. I was lamenting the fact that it takes me almost an hour and a half of exercising and icing to get me to feel normal/good. I did an unofficial Facebook poll of my friends and some of them exercise two hours a day. These are people I assume don’t have fibromyalgia, or any of my other health problems. So, I am not alone. They too use exercise to feel like themselves. I just have a large cattle prod getting me to the yoga mat.

Sadly, some days it still isn’t enough, but I am getting there one yoga work out at a time.

Out of Mourning, a New Resolve

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I am sorry that this smile is gone.

My beautiful, young, full of life cousin just passed away in her sleep. Ashley was nine years younger than I am. She passed away at thirty-three due to complications with her ongoing lung disease. She will be missed by so many. I really admired her spirit and determination. See Ashley has had lung problems all her life. She spent so many days and nights in the hospital being watched over by her poor Mom and Dad who worried constantly. She was a slight little thing as a kid and grew into a rebellious youngster. All of us are rebellious at one point but when you have bad lungs smoking and drinking are even worse. Luckily this time was short. She pulled it out quickly and then focused on her health. Ashley died being a wife, a devoted step-mom who undeniably adored her charge, a spitfire (crazy smart opinionated women run in my family) and amazingly a weight lifter.

It would have been so easy for Ashley to ruminate on the fact that she was born with a set of defective lungs. She could have sulked and stayed in bed, but she rallied and built a full life for herself. Not only that but she built her body up. She worked out steadily and ate well. She built up a business. To see her do all that with the body she was given, makes me feel inspired to do the same.

The past two weeks I have been requiring myself to do yoga absolutely every day. You know that hashtag #yogaeverydamnday? I haven’t really understood that because I feel like it has a negative connotation and yoga has always been enjoyable to me. This past two weeks I have been understanding it. There are days when I have had to crawl to my yoga mat and start by laying on the floor to stretch lightly. I slowly loosen my creaky muscles until I can move without pain. Then I move on to stretches that require all my muscles. It has become a requirement for all of my days. If I don’t do it then I will be in pain all day.

I think that it would be easier sometimes to just stay in bed. I have spent many days this year in bed with the pain and I am sick of it. I hope the ritual I have adopted will keep my out of bed for the foreseeable future. I haven’t tested this theory during my dark days when Aunt Irma visits, but I guess we will see. My physical therapy is working and I am so happy about it.

I think this new resolve is coming from a place of remorse for how much I have let my body sort of fend for itself against my vices.

Perhaps I can take up her mantle of good health. Maybe someday I can be someone people look at and say Hey, she had all that pain but she still put her health first. I hope so. I just have to keep making that uncomfortable walk/crawl to the mat every morning. If I can build on that. I might be able to follow her example.

My Ego Hates the Bow Pose

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I can finally do this pose for twenty seconds on one foot. 

I have been reading a lot about yoga because I don’t have a gym or a studio I go to. I am learning on my own. I research every pose before trying it. In my reading, I’ve come across countless articles about ego and how ego can lead to injury. I am not going to assume that people injure themselves because of ego.  I could injure myself because of concentration issues and definitely my horrible balance. I have to admit feeling as if someone would need a small amount of ego to try some of the poses, like a handstand. A handstand could be significantly dangerous if done wrong. I have yet to attempt one because I’ve only worked up to thirty seconds on my planks. I am shaking still at second twenty five. I think I need to be able to do the plank for a lot longer if I am ever to do a handstand. I am working on buffing up my arms because I have trouble with pickle jars. I mean I love pickles, but it’s more about the functionality of having arms that can lift, move, and open things. Being able to do a handstand would be just a fun by product of that.  I think it might be years before I try a handstand. I am not putting myself down or pushing my dreams down.  I just have to know my limitations.

Why is so much literature out there about how not to get hurt with yoga and how to put your ego aside? Is that because we so often want to share our practice with others? I do find myself bragging when I have mastered a new pose. Sometimes it is a little ridiculous because I can only do the very basic moves. It’s like a sixteen year old bragging about being able to tie their shoes. I’m like, look at me I can do a twenty second plank! My ESL class was counting me down while I was showing off. All of them shouting 1, 2, 3 etc., when they said twenty I got off the floor to shouts of jubilation!

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I know it looks like I’m bent but it’s just my butt.

I don’t think it is bad to revel in the accomplishments but I think it’s important for my practice that I sort of marinate in the process of getting there. The vernacular is being mindful but I don’t think that is even appropriate. It’s more like savor. While working into the poses I don’t just want to be mindful of where my body is placed or how my muscles feel. I want to love how they feel. I want to enjoy it so much I feel the need to slow down and honor the way my body feels.

I’ve been desperate to open my hips up because of they are in pain. I do a lot of poses that stretch my pelvis and open my hips. In addition to Bound Angle Pose, Hand to Big Toe Pose, Reclining Bound Angle pose, countless upward dogs and many more hip openers, I heard that downward facing dog with stacked hips is one of the best hip openers. So I watched a video how to do it. After the video I went to my mat and started my practice. About seven poses in I usually do downward dog, but this time I lifted one of my legs held it there for ten seconds and then flexed my foot and bent my leg. I did exactly what the video told me to do. Boy did that feel good… at first. I was really enjoying it so I tried to deepen the stretch and then felt a ping of pain. It wasn’t a major pain. It was just a twinge that I knew could have turned into a major injury if the twinge hadn’t shocked me into stopping. As it was, my right hip was sore for about two hours. I was lucky. After researching the pose more thoroughly, I realized that I didn’t square my hips right. Was it my ego that convinced me to try a pose I hadn’t properly researched or desperation or both?

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Close but not bow pose
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It felt closer than it looks

Is it ego that lets me try yoga at all? I am a plus size person who has no previous exercise experience. What business do I have trying something that seemingly only thin impossibly beautiful people can do? At least that is what I used to believe before all those wonderful plus size women blew up Instagram like Dianne Bondy, Jessamyn Stanley, and Dana Falsetti. So I think there is a little ego involved in doing yoga at all, on many layers.

There is a challenge to starting any exercise and then continuing it after failing at exercise over and over. In yoga I have failed a lot. Not only is my downward facing dog with stacked hips a failure the first time, but I can’t do a bow pose to save my life. I can’t reach both feet behind my back at once. (I can’t do many poses. Bow Pose is just the one I am working on now.) The only way I can continue with my practice after failing so much is not to look at it as failure. I have to look at it as progress. Just getting on the mat and getting closer is a big deal.

I used to quit exercise at the first sign of failure but now I inch towards things I never thought I could do. Savoring where I am now is what makes me able push through the doubt, but also temper my enthusiasm. Research and living in the pose, not just keeping my mind on it, but thoroughly enjoying the pose is the only way I am going to avoid a downward dog debacle again. It’s the difference between stretching, like To The Oldies, and yoga. This “mindfulness” should be inherent in the process, right? Maybe instead of my Ego getting the better of myself, I just lost sight of that. I will remind myself every time I get on my mat, that if I am taking the time to do this, then I better really appreciate it.

First Step – Research

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My old treatment plan – bed and pain pills.

I’ve always been a proponent of learning. Since I was wee, I have loved reading and considered it power. My earliest dreams were to get out of my small town and experience more of the world, and my immediate answer was to educate myself so I could have the money to do so. Education and reading has always been my most valued tool. Which is why my inaction in helping myself, health wise, should have been puzzling.

So often doctors counsel us to not WEBMD ourselves. Don’t Dr. Google they say. However, what is a patient to do when doctors don’t listen, or maybe they do but don’t have the answers? I’m not saying Dr. Google is the most reliable source of information, but there are sights that service specific ailments, and are manned by reputable sources and there is the library.

A doctor will see us fifteen minutes every couple weeks IF we are lucky enough to have insurance. Even if they know what’s wrong with us, is that really enough time to tell us all of our options for treatment or even how to enact that treatment. I have spent more time with personal trainers, farmer’s market proprietors, and house cleaning people, and spent less money on all of those services. Is it sad that I found out more and had a longer conversation about where my peaches were grown from the farmer’s market proprietor than what it means to be diagnosed with PCOS from the proprietor of my healthcare? I’m not saying that my doctors are bad in any way. I have loved my general practitioners back in Boise and here in Philadelphia. They have my respect and I feel I have lucked out. Still, I feel like there is no such thing as comprehensive medical care. I am saying that the system is wrong and the only way to combat that is to educate myself.

Sadly it took me too much time to realize that. I have just taken what doctors have told me and done what they have asked and that is all. Total trust and reliance in the medical profession has been my go to for far too long. I have been given many diagnoses in my quest for pain relief: PCOS, endometriosis, adenomyosis, fibroids, and dysmenorrhea. (The last one I believe is just a bullshit excuse not to do anything about a woman’s pain.) I was told the doctors recommended course of treatment and I followed it, but only their course of treatment for about ten years. I listened patiently and did what I was told. There are many social cues that tell us to follow what the doctor says. I guess that is appropriate because of all their education they deserve respect. However, there should have been a point in each of those diagnoses’ which as a patient I took responsibility to be more educated and this year I have. Let me say, it has made me feel better.

In my defense, it has been hard before now. I am extremely lucky in that my husband is supporting me right now. My number one responsibility is to get rid of this pain. While it is still not easy to read books, scout message boards and research web sites while either on pain pills or in massive pain, it is better than while working forty or more hours a week. However, I am working toward a better life none the less. I have been researching so much my physical therapist may just learn a few things from me.

My plan is to become so informed on all my diagnoses’ that there isn’t any course of treatment I don’t know about whether western medicine, eastern medicine or natural remedy. This has been the best thing I have done to make me feel as if I have power. My library card, my laptop and I are a powerful trio that has provided me with many answers.

My newest diagnosis is that I have a too tight pelvic floor. This is a fairly new field- pelvic physical therapy. I was told by a gynecologist here in Philadelphia that it has only been available in maybe the past five years. So when I feel pissed off that no one realized this was my problem until now, I must understand the science wasn’t there. I have read a couple of books, countless web sites, and watched many hip opening, hip stretching videos. I have met with my physical therapist twice who has examined me twice. My therapist gave me one exercise to do every two hours. So far this is what she asked me to work on. I have done that but I am also doing about twelve more stretches as part of my everyday yoga routine. I am keeping track of my diet and how it makes me feel. I am reading up on nutrition and supplements for IBS which is related to the pain. I am also trying to work on my related fibromyalgia and am looking into getting a hysterectomy to take care of my “dysmenorrhea” AKA painful periods because I believe they caused this problem in the first place. I am building my own comprehensive care.

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My new treatment plan- laptop, Nook, yoga mat and notes. 

This week is the first week in years I have gone an entire week without one single Aleve or any other pain pill. It is the first week this year I haven’t needed something heavier than that. I have hope. If all my research has done is give me the fallacy of control, then right now that is enough. More than that, it has definitively made it so that I can make more informed decisions when the doctors give me a choice. While I have to understand it is because of my new cutting edge pain expert gynecologist and this physical therapy, I also feel a good part of the solution has been my determination and my library card. I’m in charge now.

Questions about the Yoga Community

 

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My first prototype outfit: jeans. It worked until my workouts got more difficult.

I just finished my fourth day of “Thirty days of Yoga with Adriene” and I am finding that I love it. Husband and I are amazed at what are bodies are able to accomplish after only four days of practice. We still have problems though because we didn’t understand two of the shoulder stretches and we continue to have wardrobe malfunctions. It is okay because we are at home so there is no embarrassment but it is quite annoying.

First off, my husband’s pants kept falling down. It is so cute to me his pale cheeks glowing in the darkness of my living room, if not distracting. It annoyed him to no end. He just let it stay down but our apartment is pretty cold. After the work out I was teasing him because he had a striped pattern on his buttocks from the yoga mat. I however didn’t apparently have the concentration to keep from pulling up my pants which would fall down every time I did downward dog. It wouldn’t uncover my butt, it was my tummy. My pants would go down leaving my large white belly swinging in the breeze. Not only that, but my boobs were almost suffocating me because the bra I was wearing wasn’t very good. So I kept having to maneuver them this way and that in between poses. Downward dog, which we kept coming back to, wasn’t as enjoyable as usual. I was trying out an outfit that I thought might work on the outside.

See I usually do my yoga in pajamas. I can’t do yoga on the pier in my pajamas. Even if I could it wouldn’t be that comfortable since they do yoga on the pier in the summer and all my pajamas are fairly warm. (Husband is pretty insistent on keeping the apartment artic cold.) Going to do yoga at the pier is one of the things I have promised myself as a reward for trying more difficult poses and longer yoga work outs. I would love to meet other people who love yoga as much as I do because my family and friends are sick of me talking about it. I would love to be around other people who can tell me if I am doing things right, and HELLO it is doing yoga on the pier. I mean I love the water, and I love yoga. It seems like the nexus of joy.

I don’t think I’ll get to do it this year because I have nothing to wear, and finding something in my price range, in my size seems near impossible.

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Khaki capris? Now I do it in my bra and hubbies underwear but not going to show you that…lol

I have been able to really embrace yoga as an exercise, but nothing more than that.  I’ve been adding yoga feeds to my Facebook and Instagram. Yoga magazines and Yogis are almost consistently positive and usually educate me on being a better human. I enjoy that because I am always striving to be calmer, and more helpful to other humans. Also it is extremely dark on social media, and a dark time for all this year. I need inspiration just to keep from sitting around depressed. What I didn’t count on were the countless articles and ads that show me clothing I can’t have. Continue reading “Questions about the Yoga Community”