What a Miracle is my Body

(Published originally on Yoganonymous.com)

So much of my life is built around distracting from my endometriosis pain right now. I watch TV or listen to music while reading. If I engage my mind enough then I can ignore the pain. It is only partially successful.

I realized, as I walked to the library, that distraction is how I’ve always gotten through exercise. I don’t like to sweat. It is uncomfortable, although I am working on that distaste. Exercise has always caused pain in my ankles and I’ve never been good at aerobic activity. Today I walked, in the heat, as fast as I could manage to the beat of my Lady Gaga Pandora channel. I used the beat of Pitbull’s “Shake Senora” to move faster and faster. By the time I made it to the library I was dripping with sweat and my pants were sticking to me. If there were such a thing as tiny men, they could have slid down my cleavage like a slip and slide.

This is in total contrast to my yoga experience. Every move in yoga has to be thoughtfully carried out. For one, my balance, as it stands, is horrible. Some of the poses require me to be on one foot or one knee. I have trouble with standing on two feet or balancing on both knees. I am learning and practicing over and over, but seriously have to concentrate. I have to feel every part of my body and muscles I didn’t know existed. Normally when exercising, I would try to ignore pain in my muscles or work through it, using the adage “no pain, no gain” or more likely I’d give up. With yoga, if there is pain—I am doing something wrong. Not only do I have to concentrate on my muscles, hand and foot placement, and balance, but then there is the breathing. Yoga just isn’t the same without the breathing. The deep breathing brings in a sense of calm that I have never experienced with other exercise.

It amazes me the contrast. I love the difference. I believe that is why I love yoga. I love how I can totally immerse myself in the activity. I breathe slowly and deeply. I free my mind of anything that doesn’t have to do with the pose at hand. When it is really good and I have focused enough towards the end of the practice I am more aware of what my body is doing than I have ever been.

There is gain with no pain. Don’t get me wrong I feel strain on my muscles but I don’t feel pain. I have always ignored my body because I have been told no pain no gain.  I wasn’t very good at sports because of my bad ankles, and I was never the type of body I wanted. I got told repeatedly by society, my family, and even “friends” I was the wrong body type. When I repeatedly fail at something, I tend to forget about trying it again. I have hated my body because of what it could not do. It could not be good at aerobics, softball, or volleyball. Even worse, it could not be skinny. Don’t get me wrong, it was thin at one time, just not the thin that was popular in my youth. It was curvy thin. I hated it. I wanted to be the woman who could wear pleated pants and poofy shirts a’ la Different World. I wanted to be Lisa Bonet.

I surely didn’t want to be me, with my curves and very strong muscled legs. I wanted to be like a reed in the wind. Then I became known for my curves and then abused because of them, and then I wanted to be a bulldozer, not a human.  So more and more I retreated into this body, and wore it like a coat, a covering for my soul but not something that affected my soul.  If I could distance myself from my body then I would not be responsible for it or how it made other people think about me. I thought I’d focus on what I was good at, reading.

Recently, I have distanced myself so far from my body because it seemed mean to me; the pain my body brings me, the interruption to my day, and pushback of my goals. My body has been a bitch for quite a long time. (While some of that has been caused by ignoring her, most of it hasn’t. The pain can’t be exercised away. It can only be burned away or excised by a doctor). Trust me it wasn’t hard to get mad at my body.

Yoga has helped me to forgive her. Yoga has helped me see that this body people made fun of, that wasn’t good at sports, had weak ankles and poor balance – even she could be loved. At first, yoga was another distraction from the pain but as I got into it, and as I started awakening the understanding of my body’s minutiae, yoga started easing the pain. I started to realize that just like any love I had to actively participate in the caring for the object of my affection in order for it to thrive. Those balance issues are still there, but it works my ankles and they are getting stronger. I am so aware of my body: I can tell when I am going to start sweating. I feel the heat from within and I welcome it. For the first time in my life I welcome sweat. What’s more is that the first time I did it, I was really bad at it, but the more I practiced –miraculously- I got better. For the first time in my life, I got better at exercise. Each pose takes time to master, but when success comes I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my body.

 

It is only recently through yoga and my families help have I been able to figure out a way to celebrate what my body is capable of. I am super stretchy, more than the average bear. My body likes yoga, it craves it. I am a good swimmer. I am a good dancer, with a natural rhythm. My legs are super strong. I ride bicycles with ease. I am double jointed in my fingers, I do a mean downward dog, and I am working my way up to hour long yoga sessions. I am resilient; I fail at these poses but keep trying.  I am able to heal pretty easily if I take care of my body. Because of yoga, I am finally able to see what a miracle is my body.

An Inspiration

(Originally published for a.l.p.h.a – Allies Linked for the Prevention of HIV and AIDS)

When I met Craig Chappelle, I was allured with the way he carries himself. He has a quiet confidence, a sort of smooth, action hero swagger. I think Craig lost his calling: He should have been a spy. I picture him saying, “Shaken, not stirred.”  On anyone else it might come off as arrogance if not for the kindness in his eyes and in the way he relates to people.  Craig is the kind of person doesn’t judge you, and would give his left leg for you. Not only is he a friend to those he knows but has been giving his time to those he doesn’t here at a.l.p.ha.

I suppose the swagger comes from life experiences good and bad. Craig was diagnosed in a time when AIDS first made headlines. Diagnosed HIV positive in 1990 he says, “At first, I was in denial about it. Then I got tested and my numbers where okay. My partner on the other hand was sick and he had full blown AIDS and we had split up. I tried to take him back, to take care of him, but he wouldn’t do it. He died in 1993, before they had the drugs that they have now. It was a pretty horrible death. Up to this point, my numbers have been fine. So far I haven’t had to take meds. I have certainly lived my life for a long time like I thought I was gonna die because I was going to so many funerals. All my friends were dying, people were dying all over the country, all over the world. So I didn’t exactly live the most pristine life style. I partied and had a real good time, cause I figured I was on my way out.”

I asked him what changed, because I know Craig to be very health conscious. He eats right and works out. He says, “Nothing, I am a little calmer now.” He still parties and lives life to the fullest, but when he turned fifty he felt a change. “When my fiftieth birthday was coming up in January, I was just like here I am. I am fifty. I never thought I’d see forty, and I am fifty. And I just thought I needed to make some kind of sense of it, that’s why I joined a.l.p.h.a.”

Joined a.l.p.h.a. is an understatement. He is the Finance Director of a.l.p.h.a., one of four directors that answer directly to the founder and president. Craig’s responsibilities include bringing in the money and making sure it’s recorded correctly. Always on the job, he asks me to include; he is looking for a fundraising manager. I have heard this from many of his colleagues that Craig’s contributions are invaluable. I know that isn’t lip service because he helped me with two of my articles this week. Who ever heard of a finance director helping with the newsletter? He goes above and beyond.

Not only does he volunteer but he manages to hold down two jobs. His main job is for Qwest as a technical support screener, but he also sells residential real estate on the side. He sold me my home, and as a first time home buyer I highly recommend him. I don’t know how he has spare time, but in it–he makes beautiful stained glass creations.

I am amazed at all he does, and when asked if HIV has ever affected his work, he replies, “I’ve been open about it with my friends. I am not going to hide it, if someone asks me a question. I have been really lucky that way. I work for a company like Qwest where I can’t be fired for my sexual orientation. You just have to face it head on. Deal with it. Get involved. Don’t isolate yourself, that’s the biggest thing.”

When asked if his HIV diagnosis affects his relationships he says, “Well it affects dating big time because a lot of guys will just run the other way: others are cool with it. I am not very comfortable dating HIV negative guys. I have before and I have never knowingly given it to anyone. I would rather date an HIV positive person.”

With everything Craig does every day and with this diagnosis he still remains positive, “I just try to take care of my health and on the HIV side of it, my numbers sort of slip every year so eventually I will have to take medication.  I work out. I eat pretty carefully.  I eat a lot of antioxidants. I eat real food. I try not to eat out very much. I just try to follow the basic health rules that have been drilled into us for years. You have to eat real food and eat correctly and you have to work out, basic stuff.”

When I ask what he would want people to know Craig replies, “They need to become aware, they need to get tested, and they need to get involved. We are starting our new “twenty five will keep us alive” membership drive. We are just asking for a twenty five dollar membership, once a year, from a lot of people. That would fund us– that would grassroots fund us, and it’s in every body’s best interest. You know, the “at risk” groups are 15 to 24 year old girls and boys and middle age women.  The gay infection rate is about 40%, so it’s not even half anymore. A.l.p.h.a.’s mission is what I would want them to know.”

“Even not becoming sick, still HIV has changed my life; changed my thinking, caused a lot of depression, caused a lot of emotional problems, and caused a lot of destructive behavior. I did a lot of things that I shouldn’t have done, and didn’t do a lot of things that I should have done. Like 401K, why?  So the other thing that I would want them to know is that yes, it is a manageable disease, but there’s a cost to that. There are lots of side effects and it will change your whole life if you catch it. There are a lot of people who are getting tested now who have full blown AIDS, have had it for a long time, and have probably been spreading it. Getting tested is so important and being aware of it. We can slow the spread of AIDS. People that get tested and know are much less likely to pass it on than someone that doesn’t know.”

And for those who already have it? “Get involved. And get involved at least to the level of never passing it to someone else, practicing very safe sex, because there is still some of that going on.”

With the conclusion of our interview Craig saunters away with a purposeful yet smooth posture, leaving me to ponder his convictions. Having inspired me to also donate my time, I know how motivating he can be, just by his actions.  However, I think anyone can be motivated by his words.

Luxury with a Conscience

(Originally printed in Meridian Life Magazine)

At Rain Salon and Spa they take care of you and the community

Walk through the door of Rain Salon and Spa and right away the rejuvenation starts. It’s not just the muted green, tan, and brown walls, or the soft music, or even the calm manner of the women working there. It is the smell of lavender sprigs, jasmine vines, aloe leaves, and rosemary herbs in the air.  All those smells together seem like they would be too much, but Aveda has a special lightness to it that instantly calms the nerves. Aveda has roots deep in the ground. All of its products are made from naturally occurring ingredients: 90% of their essential oils and 89% of their raw herbal ingredients are certified organic. Because it is natural it isn’t overpowering. The Aveda smell is just soothing.

That’s the goal of Rain Salon and Spa to ease, not only the body, but the mind and spirit. “The reason why I called it Rain was because when it rains people feel like they don’t have to do anything that day, like I can stay in, I can relax,  I can give myself permission to be relaxed,” explains Michele Duke, owner of Rain.  “I want my guests to feel that way when they come in here. They can relax and their cares go away.” Whether you’re coming in for a simple manicure, a basic haircut or a 90 minute massage, you’ll walk away feeling refreshed and relaxed.

Part of obtaining that feeling of relaxation is in the little extra touches Rain provides. With each hair cut customers receive a complimentary scalp massage with blue chamomile oil, minty and fresh. With a hair color Rain provides a complimentary hand massage or a makeup touch up. These rituals calm the customer before starting any treatments. The Aveda products used at Rain also contribute to the relaxing experience. Aveda is plant based, focusing on the five senses. “Everything we do is based off of that,” says Duke, “From the scents that a person chooses for their massage to the scents that are in the shampoos and conditioners, styling aids and even the makeup.”

What’s great is enjoying all this with a clear conscience. Rain and Aveda strive to give back to the community. Every year Aveda sponsors an Earth Month to raise money to protect the Earth. They were the first company to produce their products with entirely certified wind power. They also help the communities that provide some of their ingredients get access to clean water. Rain participates in these events, as well as, other projects on the local level. “We try to give back to our community where we can, and let people know [that] because they support us, we want to support them too,” explains Duke.           “For different women’s organizations, St. Baldrick’s for kids, and at the extended care [facility], we had stylists go over there and give women haircuts who could not get out of bed.”

It’s this social and environmental responsibility that makes Rain a different type of spa. They make every effort for their guests to feel good about the treatments they receive—not only externally but internally as well. So, after an hour massage, sitting in the decompression room on the comfortable lush green chairs, sipping wine, enjoying the fire place, and smelling the sweet relaxing aroma, guests can rest easy in the knowledge of self improvement, but also contributing to Earth’s community.

A Dentist Taking in the Entire Picture

(Originally printed in Meridian Life Magazine)

Alpine Heights Dentistry puts patients at ease, while looking beyond teeth

The waiting room for Alpine Heights Dentistry might be mistaken for a spa. Everything is designed to relax: warm beige walls, comfortable chairs, and TV’s above every dental chair. The one exception is a large children’s area called the S.S. Davis in the left corner, painted by a friend of the doctor’s. It looks like a giant pirate ship with a TV and toys inside.  The women at the front desk immediately smile and offer a bottle of water. Some have been working for Dr. Jeff Davis since he opened the practice eight years ago. The hygienist Tabitha Stader explains, “I tell him all the time, I want to retire here. He is passionate, but also a perfectionist. It is good to work for someone you believe in for that long.”

Dr. Davis inspires that loyalty by employing a family first ethic, which allows the staff to feel comfortable in their jobs. This relaxed environment builds a strong team ready to meet any challenge in order to make this office work.

Whether it’s fillings, crowns or root canals, the doctor uses the best products available. To diagnose small cavities he uses the latest in lasers and digital, low dose radiography.  Dr. Davis consistently uses the best materials from bonding agents to crowns. In his cosmetic dentistry he finds particular joy. “That’s one of my favorite parts of the job; changing someone’s smile helps their self esteem.” Dr Davis beams, “It can change a person’s life which is fun to watch.”

While Dr. Davis concentrates on teeth, he knows that dentistry involves the whole body which, he says, can tell him a lot. If the patient is showing discomfort with the head pillow or gripping the chair tightly: discomfort is going to get noticed here. The other way Dr. Davis looks beyond a patient’s mouth is by taking the time for a thorough consultation. “’Somebody will come in and say I’m brushing regularly, flossing regularly, but I have two cavities, what’s going on here?’” Dr. Davis continues, “So definitely we look at diet, the types of things they are eating, how they are brushing, and stress level. We even have antioxidant questions on the questionnaire. They don’t fill out the health history for nothing. We are trying to help that person in their life. Certainly oral health is connected to general health; it’s all tied together.”

All these features are part of the relationship-based care Alpine Heights Dentistry practices.  Dr. Davis credits his success to his staff, “Everyone really gets along, which helps create a team atmosphere. From the front desk getting to know patients, asking them how their day is, to the assistant that is free for a minute coming in and talking to a patient. Everybody really gets to know the patients. Instead of being a number or a procedure; we care for them as a whole person.”