Communication

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Communication (noun): 1. the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings. 2. means of connection between people.

I've been thinking a lot about communication recently, and how much our relationships hinge on it. The health of a relationship *the sheer existence of it* relies on communication (verbal or otherwise) between the two people engaged in it. Engaged, as in actively participating. Assuming how others feel, or leaving them no choice than to make assumptions about how *you* feel, in the absence of direct communication, is an affront to the relationship, and a likely sign of its demise.

Our responsibility as caring, feeling humans is to authentically connect with those we have relationships with, to honor those relationships by being present in them, and to be open, honest & forthright rather than closed off, dishonest & evasive. It's unfortunate, but so many relationships perish under the weight of the words not said, the feelings not expressed, and the actions not taken. Such a waste.

This reminds me of a line in Gone With the Wind, when Rhett Butler, upset about how many soldiers were killed in the Battle of Gettysburg, said to Scarlet O'Hara: "I'm angry. Waste always makes me angry and that's what this is, sheer waste." That's how I feel about good relationships being damaged, often irrevocably, in the delay, absence, or mishandling of communication. Sheer waste.

Many would say it is meant to be, as you can't force anyone to do anything... you can't make people take action, be courageous, or care more. Others would say keep trying if you love them, and never give up if you think they are worth it. I say, stay true to yourself, trust your intuition, and "when someone shows you who they are, believe them." You know the truth deep down of who should stay and who should go, often long before you will admit it to yourself. Do not lose your self-respect in the face of their cowardice, immaturity, or selfishness. Never hold on so tight that you close your eyes to the truth.

Show up for others. Love. Care. Communicate. Open your eyes wide 👀. See who's there, showing up for you, and honor that. And whomever is not showing up, isn't there.

#showup #whenpeopleshowyouwhotheyarebelievethem

 

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

The Gift of Burden

It is the afternoon of Wednesday, April 19th, a couple days after my twelfth wedding anniversary, and I am trying to play catch up on all the outstanding tasks and residual clutter I had put aside for two weeks while we were away on spring break and anniversary celebrating vacations.

I sit at my home office desk trying to rid its surface of what's suffocating it... Kindergarten school work brought home before the break, health insurance paperwork, clipped box tops for school fundraising, and health and fitness coupons, race flyers and vitamin samples from the swag bag I received for running a 10K race just before leaving town.

My computer screen displays the results of the doctor search I had done a couple hours ago on the provider finder of my new health insurance company website. Now a couple minutes after 2:00pm, I can finally call the doctor at the top of the list... surely they'd be back in the office from lunch by now.

I retrieve our landline cordless phone from its stand to make the call, and as I walk back to the desk with it, my cell phone sounds nearby with a notification alert. It's a familiar and comforting chime, the one assigned to the Facebook Messenger app; one that has brought me fun chats and enjoyable interactions with friends and family so often in the past. Yet this time, it's not a link to a good article sent by my sister or a short but sweet note from an old friend checking in on me.

No, today it brings me the opposite kind of news... word that my cousin Christine died this morning, having succumbed to the breast cancer she had courageously survived a couple times already over the past three years. I sit down to read the words written by her brother, "my beautiful and loving sister passed today around 11:30," and immediately break down crying.

I cry for a few minutes before I respond to him with my condolences, and then I cry some more. Through my tears, and still holding my home phone in my hand, I look up at my computer screen at the name of the doctor I was about to dial listed under the specialty I searched this morning: gynecology. The timing was unbelievable.

My annual mammogram was due in March, and I had been avoiding scheduling it for a couple months already because it was going to be a bit of an ordeal... you know, one of those cycles of actions that is more annoying than hard, with so many steps to make it just inconvenient and time consuming enough to want to put it off in favor of things quicker and easier to check off your to-do list.

I had to search for a gynecologist close by, with good recommendations, who is taking new patients, and who accepts my new medical insurance (since the OB-GYN that delivered my son six years ago now does not), make an appointment to get a checkup, pap smear, and prescription for a mammogram, and then schedule a mammogram at the lab to take afterward.

I find that anything to do with health insurance and its confusing coverage is always cumbersome to deal with and makes me wish I had a personal assistant to tackle the minutiae of these tasks. But since it's all me, all the time, I had to take care of this cycle of annoyance myself; and I'd been a bit anxious the last few weeks over the fact that I had delayed in getting it done. Especially since my cousin's words had been replaying in my head, imploring me and all the women in her life to get our annual mammograms each year on time. Since her breast cancer was discovered on a mammogram taken one year after a test that was clear, she wanted to ensure that we all knew how vital early detection was. I had been diligent with my tests ever since; that is, until now.

So it was at the top my list of to-dos for this week; and there I was to-doing it at the very moment I found out breast cancer had claimed her life. I was in shock, not only from the sad news, but from the fact that I received it at the exact time I was finally taking these long overdue steps in my own breast cancer prevention.

After my crying ran its course, at least for the moment, I was determined to call the gynecologist on my screen right then, stuffed up, crying nose or not. I secured the next available appointment for Monday, May 1st, and then called the lab to schedule a mammogram for later that same morning.

There, it's done. I handled it - for myself, and now, strangely, in honor of Christine in this sad moment of unhappy coincidence. So many thoughts swirled around in my head... of sadness, anger, injustice, and fervent opposition to just how incredibly unfair this reality was. Yet I had no time to sort these thoughts out, as I had to leave and pick up the kids from school minutes later. Life was still moving on, and my desire to stop, grieve, and reflect did not surpass my responsibility to take my daughter to her softball pitching clinic or sit with my son and help him with his reading.

I wanted to write. I wanted to get out and process my thoughts on this travesty. I had so much anger to express toward cancer... about its incessant presence in our lives, its suspected causes that could possibly be eradicated if our society was just better aligned with what actually keeps people healthy and less susceptible to contracting it, and its relentless siege on so many people I care about - the latest being my cousin Christine, but also my ex-stepmother Julie, who died of lung cancer just last month, and my neighbor of fourteen years, Karen, who lost her battle with pancreatic cancer last November... three of my people in six months.

But the words didn't come, my head and heart still muddled in grief and indignation. The next few days were full of the usual duties and responsibilities of my life; yet, they were also full of the usual gratitude for my life, so I decided to focus on the good and the grace, and attempted to replace my anger with acceptance.

When I thought more about Christine and the day of her passing, I considered what a gift the burden of my looking up doctors and making a few phone calls was compared to what she had to bear that morning... taking her last breath and saying goodbye to her children, parents, siblings, and entire earthly world up until that moment. I knew her burden was much greater than mine, and was not the gift that mine was - the gift of life, of possibility, of health, hope, and living and breathing to see another day.

But the more I contemplated it, the more I wondered if maybe her burden was a gift, in an entirely different way. Maybe being free of the pain she had been suffering was a gift, more than I could ever understand. Maybe surrendering and not having to fight anymore to live on this Earth was also a gift to her. Maybe ceasing to endure more chemotherapy, chronic discomfort, hair loss, unrelenting sickness, and emotional turmoil was the absolute greatest gift she could have received that day... a precious gift, all wrapped up in the burden of grief felt by those she was leaving behind.

 me with my cousins Christine (far right) and her sister & brothers - 6/28/14

me with my cousins Christine (far right) and her sister & brothers - 6/28/14

I was unable to visit Christine while she was sick. Time, distance, severity of her symptoms, and honoring her wishes for privacy made it so. The same was true of my ex-stepmother Julie and dear neighbor Karen... both of them also choosing to share their experience of illness and dying with only their closest inner circle during their hardest days and most delicate moments.

And who am I, or anyone, to protest these wishes? Unless you are the one lying there, the circumstances around death don't come on your terms. As a bystander (however distant or close a friend or family member you may be), death doesn't follow your course of action or wishes for what you would like to see happen before it arrives. It comes when it comes, and those of us left behind must accept the terms of it, whether we like it or not. Sometimes in death, we don't get to chose what we say, don't say, hear, or don't hear. We aren't the ones dying, so we don't get to call the shots.

It's only in life, in relation to our own life, that we are truly granted the opportunity, choice, and power to say what we feel, express what we believe, and experience moments in which we get to hear and feel what we want, if we are lucky. We are mere spectators of other people's lives, unless they invite us to participate; so it is up to all of us to seize those moments and opportunities to intersect and connect with each other, and make our time here as full and fulfilling as possible. Indeed, there is no doubt we are all connected, but as we come into this world alone as our own being and entity, we also leave this world alone, free to go where our energy takes us.

When I received the details of Christine's memorial service, I discovered that, ironically, it had been scheduled for the morning of May 1st at the very time I had made my overdue gynecologist and mammogram appointments. Of course I've changed them to attend the funeral; but when I finally get to them next week, I will be thinking of Christine. I will remember how much she loved her life, and how she fought for it until she could no longer do so. I will remember her spirit, her determination, her loyalty, her dedication to her family, and the enduring legacy of love she left with them.

And when I get my annual mammogram each year after this, I know I will also think of her and remember how this test, however bothersome to schedule or painfully uncomfortable to go through, is another one of those gifts of burden I will happily bear to live this life I'm so grateful to live.

 

🙏   Rest in Peace Christine, Julie, Karen, and all the beautiful souls we have lost to cancer.

Textures

"It was called 'Textures', because you could see three different kinds of texture: the driftwood, the sand and me." - Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch (1955)

For some inexplicable reason, I thought of this MM quote from one of my favorite films of hers when I was looking out at this view during my beach workout this morning. I think maybe it came to mind because I noticed how many textures, colors and shades I could see before me, and how my view kept changing and morphing as the clouds moved by, the waves crashed and retreated, and the shore and sea creatures appeared and disappeared from sight.

Over the course of an hour and a half, I saw various flocks of seagulls land and take off, a large squadron of pelicans soar gracefully overhead, and a pod of baby dolphins frolic in the water right in front of us, several of them jumping full body out of the water before diving back in.

I snapped a photo before I left the beach of the rectangle frame in which all of this activity had occurred; yet by then, only the simple elements of beach, ocean, and sky remained. No matter... still a gorgeous view itself.

#beachworkout #zuma

 

*Originally posted exclusively on Instagram and Facebook

#likeagirl

 Butterfly Beach, Montecito, CA

Butterfly Beach, Montecito, CA

My daughter is growing and changing, like she always has, but these last couple months seem different somehow. Her growth from little kid to big kid feels much more pronounced than that of her transition from toddler to little kid; or maybe now that she's nine and a half, I simply can't believe she will soon be ten years old.

Nevertheless, the changes in her over these last few months have been transformative. Fears are slowly being overcome and more risks are being taken. Opinions are growing stronger, arguments are more defiant (God help me), and emotions are more volatile; yet all with a level of understanding and maturity that is much more refined.

These long summer days, chalk full of beach play and the freedom from classmate influence and school pressure, have bred a more confident and determined girl. She is beginning to leap into life more, when before she had tread more carefully.

As such, she now enters the ocean more confidently too, approaching the tumultuous surf like a warrior into battle. She has learned to wait for, catch, and ride the waves with both courage and elation, and she no longer seems to get so scared and discouraged when she is tossed about in the salty brine. Tears and quitting have since been replaced with dogged determination to get back out there and try again.

I am hoping this newfound resilience in the ocean will translate to her life in general, and that it will mirror how she takes on the tides of life when they toss her about. If it does, she will be unstoppable.

#likeagirl

*Originally posted exclusively on Instagram and Facebook.

Freedom

 Running at Zuma Beach - Malibu, CA

Running at Zuma Beach - Malibu, CA

Freedom from... 

_____________________


Today I am feeling free from things that had bound me for so long.

It's gratifying to cut the cord from those thoughts and behavioral patterns that no longer serve me, my life, or my overall well being.

It matters not that you know with what I personally fill in that blank; but rather that you know what YOU do... or at least what from which you still wish to be free.

Whatever it is, have faith. It IS possible.

Be patient. Do the work, persevere, and it will happen.

#fillintheblank

 
 
 
*Originally posted exclusively on Instagram and Facebook.

Tattoo Reveal

About a month ago, I shared a piece I wrote about getting my first tattoo. Many people liked and shared it, and a lot of the comments that followed were about wanting to see the actual tattoo.

If you haven't read it yet, read it here and then catch back up with us after...

Mid-Life Clarity

"I'm getting a tattoo."
When I made this declaration to a friend some months ago, she quickly decided that there could be no other explanation for this insane notion than that I must be going through a mid-life crisis.
Huh. Wasn't expecting that reaction. 
Read more>>

When I wrote it, I never thought of sharing the tattoo here, as the photo above of me getting inked was as much as I planned to reveal. I don't know why exactly; probably because it was all so personal to me at the time that I wrote it. However, since many people have connected with the message and have asked to see the tattoo that inspired it; I wanted to honor their requests.

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So I took a shot of the tattoo while I was out running at Zuma Beach on a crisp, clear and quiet morning. This is one of my favorite things to do, as I enjoy the clear sky, sparkling water, and empty beach in front of me. On days in the off-season, when there is hardly anyone there, I enjoy having the long boardwalk to myself, save a few dog walkers and a couple of surfers heading to the water.

Running is definitely my therapy those days when I need it most; and it helps me channel the calm and patient person/parent that I strive to be when I pick up my kids from school each day.

The tattoo is three symbols - an anchor, plus sign, and seed of the wawa tree - and they stand for Hope, Positivity and Perseverance respectively. Together, they represent the three things to be the most essential elements for me to live a meaningful and joyful life.

They are the H.P.P. of H.A.P.P.Y. Along the 'Bu.

For the full meaning of my H.A.P.P.Y. please see the WHAT'S HA.P.P.Y.? page.
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Fun with Hubs in the Pack-En-Dub

Quick trivia lesson: The Pacific Northwest (the region comprised of the states of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon, along with the province of British Columbia) is sometimes abbreviated to simply "Pac NW" and pronounced "Pack- En-Dub". Maybe you already knew this, but I just learned of it because my husband and I recently returned from a trip up there. Our ten year wedding anniversary is this month, so we decided we were going to take a trip somewhere to commemorate the occasion. We first thought of going on a cool couples adventure retreat, where we could mountain bike, trail run, do yoga and eat organic meals for days on end. We also considered taking a spa getaway somewhere secluded to indulge a bit and rekindle our romance.

Then reality hit us. Realizing we had to fit a trip in during the kids' spring break three weeks before our actual anniversary and accepting that we better do it somewhere close so we didn't waste too much time on travel, we resolved to stay on the west coast. And who are we kidding, our youngest is still only four and I wasn't jazzed at the thought of being too far from him for too many days in a row. Mama has separation issues, I admit.

So we settled on the "pack en dub" and dropped the kids at the grandparents' house in central California before heading up for a short six day jaunt. Not the grand anniversary trip I had pictured in my head months before, but it was time away nevertheless. Any break from the norm is therapeutic, and spending time essentially masquerading around as a carefree, autonomous couple, one unhindered by school schedules or bath and bedtime rituals, was a pleasant departure. We galavanted around cities we had never seen and explored places we had never been with the freedom and abandon of teens without a curfew... or at least that's what I envisioned we were doing. In reality, it probably didn't look quite like that. 

    

To start, I had a terrible cough, so bad that we seriously considered canceling the trip just a few days before we left. Although it seemed to get progressively better as the days rolled on, it still put a damper on enjoying an anniversary trip during which your husband apprehensively kissed you between hacking coughs for fear of catching it himself. Wildly romantic, I know.

Second, as we have such different ideas of what constitutes fun these days, we were hard pressed to find activities we both were equally excited to participate in. While I am the art museum type of tourist, a seeker of local culture and historical landmarks, curious and excited to explore the sights, sounds, eats, and haunts a locale is known for; my husband likes to exist on the fringes, be the anti-tourist, and runs in the opposite direction of the traps that attract most visitors, looking to forge a new trail off the beaten path, usually somewhere in nature and outdoors, with no plan or idea if the direction he is going will be worth the effort or will be a complete waste of time. The planner in me found this very unsettling, and the adventurer in him felt my desire to stay in the city and not explore the unknown (and risk wasting any of the limited time we had on this trip!) was confining and made him very restless.

We went to Seattle first, and both loved it more than expected. We arrived there early in the morning, like 8am early, after waking at 4am to catch our plane, and our first stop was inevitably Pike Place Market where we happily discovered The Crumpet Shop, proceeding to stand in a crazy long line out the door for a well worth it breakfast. Walking the market was amazing, with all its levels and hollows, and impossible to explore in its entirety. We strolled by the original Starbucks and found the sidewalk in front of it was so crowded with lookie-loos and the inside of it was so packed with tourists that we both agreed (yay!) that that was one place we could live without experiencing. Instead, we got coffee at Storyville Coffee Pike Place - a cozy nook we loved so much that we went there twice in our short two days in Seattle. Yes, the coffee was yum, but what sold us was sinking into the comfy, cognac leather chairs in front of a warm fireplace while sipping it. Heaven. I also met up with a dear college friend of mine at Storyville, whom I hadn't seen for over twenty years, for a coffee, a sweet, and an hour long chat. That lovely hour was nowhere near long enough for us to fully catch up, but seeing her was a wonderful perk to the trip.

At night, the market emptied out and the streets were wet and glistening after being hosed down from a day full of visitors, fresh fish and floral sales. It was peacefully quiet when we finally wandered into Matt's in the Market for a late dinner and were the last to be seated for the night. Looking out the restaurant's huge arched windows at the looming Public Market Center clock and sign lit up in bright red neon, we thoroughly enjoyed this quaint yet classy eatery, dining on the most incredible halibut and sea scallops we had ever tasted.

The final attraction of this first city in our two-city romp was the Space Needle, despite his trepidation and resistance to visiting it. Once we were at the top, watching the sun set over the water and looking out at that spectacular view, he was slow to admit that I was right and it may have just been worth the trouble of behaving like a tourist and waiting in a line to experience it.

We then took a three hour train ride from Seattle down to Portland and stayed in the Southwest section of the city, smack in the middle of the bustling downtown. Walking around amidst intermittent rain showers, where I swear no one carries an umbrella, we gazed up from below the colossal Portlandia statue, stood in the long line of hipsters and vagrants at VooDoo Donuts to sample pastries covered in Oreos and Butterfingers, witnessed the fire and flair of a theatrical Spanish Coffee order at Huber's Cafe, and enjoyed an extravagant Peruvian dinner at Andina in the hip Pearl District. But above all, one of the greatest treats during our three days in Portland was visiting with two of my oldest and dearest childhood friends who have both lived there for over twenty five years. They were kind enough to give us the grand tour of their city, and we were grateful they took the time out of their daily schedules to be such gracious hosts.

Most unexpectedly, we next found ourselves bearing the freezing cold temps (i.e. freezing cold to this wimpy So. Cal. girl) and spraying mist of Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. We had to rent a car and drive thirty miles outside the city of Portland to do this, and that took some convincing on his part to get me to agree to it. As we're in the car so much at home, I was looking forward to a week solely on foot and not having to ride in a car at all, other than an Uber lift from the airport. But despite the bit of driving, it was now my turn to concede that his detour out of the city - with its fresh air and lush green scenery - was a welcome reprieve from the grit and noise of the downtown cityscape.

    

My nagging cough be damned, I was determined to get in at least one yoga class while in each place, and before we left home, I had already picked the very studios I wanted to visit. In Seattle, hubs and I took a power flow class with Chandra at Yoga to the People, a donation-based yoga studio that originated in New York City and has expanded to Seattle, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The class was full and Chandra was a kind, effective instructor. After class, our appetites guided us to look for food right away, and we were fortunate to find a fantastic lunch at Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe. Then in PortIand, I alone took a power yoga class at Yoga on Yamhill, a small, donation-based studio in the heart of downtown, right next to the MAX Blue Line light rail. Studio owner Paul Terrell and I have a common bond as students of Bryan Kest, and it was lovely to attend his class and enjoy the familiarity of a kindred yoga practitioner.

All in all, it was a short, yet fun, excursion; and being able to recapture a bit of that pre-kiddo vibe and enjoy a somewhat carefree vacation was well worth the weeks of pre-planning and incessantly hacking and coughing my way through the Pac NW. Truth be told, it was not a trip free of conflict, as we had a few arguments that I could have done without. Nevertheless, we put forth our best efforts to make it special, and to celebrate still being married after ten years of, well, marriage. It seems six days in two bustling cities full of attractions and distractions was inevitably not going to be a magic pill that transformed us back into the starry-eyed newlyweds we were on our ten day honeymoon. It was, however, a welcome reprieve from the whirlwind that is parenthood - of PTA meetings, little league games, spelling tests, toddler potty mishaps and early morning wake ups.

It was also a lovely introduction to the Pacific Northwest, and what I know is only the tip of the iceberg as far as seeing this beautiful region. We can't wait for our next trip up there and take the opportunity to explore the Oregon coast, Washington's Orcas/San Juan Islands, and maybe even the Canadian cities of Victoria and Vancouver. Now that will be a trip the kids won't want to miss.

Bryan Kest: The Man Behind the Power of Yoga

 photo ©Bryan kest power yoga

photo ©Bryan kest power yoga

So I decided I was going to write about Power Yoga innovator Bryan Kest... and then, I couldn't.
I was so compelled to comment on my eighteen years as a student of his classes in Santa Monica and online, as well as on my recent experience completing his Power Yoga Teacher Training Intensive, that I thought the words would just pour out of me; so much so that I would have a hard time editing them all down to an approachable, readable post. But when I sat down and put fingers to keyboard, no cohesive thoughts came out.
How could this be? How could writing about this man, whom I often jokingly, but actually quite seriously, refer to as my guru, elicit a loss for words? I already wrote a blog post on equanimity last year (The Most Important Word You Don't Know) that was inspired by him and his teachings, so I didn't think writing this one would be any different.
But it was. I felt overwhelmed with so many ideas and feelings and stories that I didn't know where to begin. I wanted to do him, and the impact he has had on my life, justice; but I didn't know what I could say about him or his philosophy on yoga that wouldn't just be parroting him or that hadn't already been said or written by dozens of others before me.
Then I stopped. I smiled. I recognized the judgment and the comparing and competing I was doing in regard to me writing this piece. I realized I had to let go and accept "what is" - to find my equanimity - and just let the words flow, unburdened by expectation of a specific end result and unhindered by worry of how it would be received.
And that was it. That was all I needed... the yoga of writing. That was the lesson that all of those classes, all of my training, all of the years of personal practice has taught me. Ironically, Bryan's teachings came through as I was struggling to write about those very teachings. 
I let go of my notion of what I thought a written piece about him, his classes, or his teacher training should be like. I began to write without judgement or criticism of  what I was writing, without comparing what I was writing to other articles I had read on him, and without competing with them to make mine as good, or as resonate of him, as they did.
This is what came out; but what it says about him doesn't compare to what the journey of writing it says about him.

Bryan Kest is a unique human being in that he is a man who is totally honest, exposed, and vulnerable; yet still retains his masculinity, charm, strength of character, and self-confidence. In my experience, this is not something many men are willing or able to do. It's an amazing and rare combination not often seen... someone who loves deeply, is authentic and open, is wholly present and fully committed to connecting with others without guise or image saving façade; yet still maintains an aura of strength, mystery, conviction, and undeniable likability.

I believe Bryan is such an effective and well-respected yoga instructor, and has been for the last thirty years, because his philosophy on the goal of yoga is completely void of any pretense, convolution or self-importance. He simply shares what he knows to be true, and presents it in such a clear and logical way that anyone can grasp it. His raw and straightforward delivery washes over you like a wave of truth, and resonates so deeply within; not only because it's a truth you don't often hear, but also because it's the one you need to hear the most.

He is extremely passionate about his yoga practice and generously disseminates to his students all he has learned over his own thirty-eight years of practice; as well as what he continues to learn with each passing day. Essentially, Bryan walks the walk of the talk he talks in his classes. He knows that yoga works because he does it, practices it and lives it, every day, on and off the yoga mat.

When I attend Bryan's class, I go to attain and maintain overall mental and physical wellness - to quiet my mind, to keep my body alive and toned, and to practice non-reactiveness. Bryan likes to say, "This is all such simple stuff, but that doesn't mean it is necessarily easy." And he's right, it's not... not the poses, not the mindset, not the yoga practice in general. It challenges, confronts, shines a mirror on and exposes so much of the crap that we carry around and perpetuate on a daily basis... our reactiveness, our competitiveness, our penchant for comparing ourselves to others or to former versions of ourselves. Bryan's gift is his ability to empower us (or as he would reframe it, to inspire us to empower ourselves) in our ongoing effort to eradicate these tendencies in our lives, to make the goal of doing so more approachable and attainable, and to guide the way for us to also live a less stressful, more benevolent existence, on and off the yoga mat.

For more information on Bryan Kest, visit PowerYoga.com.

The Road to You

When I was a kid, I wasn’t much of an athlete. I never participated in any team sports, nor did I have any kind of athletic goals. I think the reason was the not-so-unique combination of shyness, insecurity, and a fear of taking risks. Yet these qualities only reared their ugly heads when I was around people I didn't know. As I was often under close observation in public as a child, seen by many but not heard by most, my shyness was in direct correlation with the pressure I felt to be perfect and the feeling of being sized up and judged by others.

Alternatively, my daily existence at home was one of privacy and security, without the intrusion of close neighbors and with tons of room and freedom to play. Running around our green fields and orange groves, and lying on the lawn daydreaming while gazing up at the blue sky and tops of olive trees, my home life as a child rendered me a bit anti-social when out and about in the world. No perfection, structured rules, competitiveness, or team cooperation was required to climb the huge fig tree on our property. Existence and free play at home was non-confrontational, non-judgmental, and void of any pretense or façade. There, I was free to be me; and there is where I most wanted to be.

I did take ballet at five years old, but my mom said I had to stop at six because she didn't think I took it seriously enough. I was SIX. Not sure what she expected, but I obviously wasn't fulfilling her expectations. My older sister and I also took ice skating lessons for a while; but the appeal of being like Dorothy Hamill wore off pretty quick when the discomfort of frozen toes and wet tights got the best of us.

 1979 - My sister and I outside the Topanga Mall Ice rink in Woodland Hills, CA

1979 - My sister and I outside the Topanga Mall Ice rink in Woodland Hills, CA

In junior high, my report card of A's was blemished by the B's I received in Physical Education (and ironically, Typing). I wasn't awkward or uncoordinated in any way, I just didn't like to participate in P.E. My skinny and not so tough girl persona defined me as the antithesis of the athletic-type; or at least I allowed it to define me that way. I dreaded running laps around the school track, especially on those really hot days in the valley where you felt like you were going to melt into the pavement. I took a rare risk and tried out for cheerleading in the eighth grade (with the hope of breaking out of my shell at school), but, not surprisingly, I didn't have the pep required to make the squad.

Instead, I took piano lessons, loved art projects, and collected rainbows and puffy stickers. I also escaped into stories, sometimes in books, but most often by watching sitcoms on TV and movies on VHS tape. I can recall many days after school sitting down on the couch watching hours of Three's Company, Diff'rent Strokes, and The Facts of Life with a sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies in hand, and with no desire to be anywhere else.

I recognize now that I definitely used television and film to escape the realities of my life during those early teenage years... medicating the disillusionment and stress of dealing with my parent's divorce and the sadness and upheaval of losing my childhood home (the aforementioned ranch with the green fields, orange groves and fig tree). 

Television and film really did their job for me, suspending my disbelief and beguiling me into a intense love affair with fictional narratives and old cinema in those impressionable and formative years. And as a skin-'n'-bones teenager, my indulgence in those Thin Mint cookies didn't prompt me to see physical exercise as a necessity. Couch potato-ing suited me just fine.

In college, I gained some significant weight after a whole year of eating dormitory food consisting of bagels & cream cheese, pizza, sugary cereals and soft serve ice cream. Since I grew up in a house of wheat bread, Quaker Granola and fruit roll-ups (sure signs of "health nut" parents in the 70's and 80's, but laughable by today's standards of health and wellness), as opposed to my friends' regular diets of Wonder Bread, Fruit Loops and Ding Dongs, I had thought I had a good sense and palate for healthy eating.

Yet that first year of freedom to indulge in whatever, whenever, showed in my fuller, rounder face and body, and the "freshman fifteen" I gained was actually more like twenty. It didn't help that I spent most of that first year at UC Irvine sitting in class, studying, writing essays and term papers, and watching movies. 

My sedentary existence was curbed by sophomore year when I shared a dorm room with Giselle, a female student athlete on a track-and-field scholarship for long-distance running. Of course, she ran cross-country in high school, was in great physical shape, and had the most muscular legs I had ever seen on a girl... the stark opposite of my physique, one a bit plump for my thin frame with no muscle tone of which to speak. My new roommate was a physically healthy and mentally positive person, and she became my first close friend that was into fitness or competitive sports.  

Her introduction into my life was also my introduction to running. For the first time, I wondered if it would be something I would like to do. I remembered my aversion to the track in junior high, but the idea of running now intrigued me. She agreed to teach me about training for endurance running, showing me how to run using the proper form and technique, how to pace myself, how to breathe, and where to focus my attention.

I began to run regularly that year and loved it. It worked for me. Finally, I had an alternative to sitting and escaping into the latest romantic comedy romp. Going outside for a run gave me a place to be by myself with my thoughts... to feel empowered to be the me that I was, as I was.

My world changed. My body transformed. I saw it morph back to the skinny version I had in high school, but this time it came with some muscles and curves I had not enjoyed in adolescence. I ran consistently all through my junior and senior years of college, and it kept me fit and relatively sane as a Film Studies undergrad, when my daily existence involved watching endless hours of films, editing endless hours of footage I shot, and sitting for endless hours at the computer writing my Film Theory term papers.

I continued running after graduation and throughout my 20's while working in the film industry. It remained my source of strength and empowerment those years of working on film sets and studio lots where, often frustratingly so, my youthful and attractive female frame and countenance got me more attention than my skill and passion for the art and entertainment I wanted to create. I looked to running for peace, quiet, acceptance, introspection, and blissful solitude in a life and career that didn't afford me these virtues often, if at all.

In the year 2000, a fictional Nike ad campaign for women's running was the focal point of the film What Women Want. In the ad, the image of a woman running alone on a road is seen while the following is heard: "You don't stand in front of a mirror before a run and wonder what the road will think of your outfit. You don't have to listen to its jokes and pretend they are funny in order to run on it. It would not be easier to run if you dressed sexier. The road doesn't notice if you're not wearing lipstick, does not care how old you are. You do not feel uncomfortable because you make more money than the road... And you can call on the road, whenever you feel like it, whether it has been a day, or even a couple hours since your last date. The only thing the road cares about is that you pay it a visit once in a while. Nike. No games. Just sports."

As a single, professional woman, who was also a runner, I LOVED this. It spoke to the twenty-seven year old version of me who ran a fast three miles a day at least five times a week. I connected with the sentiment behind it and the comfort of not feeling measured by or valued for my looks, my job, my youth - at least not when running. The freedom from the judgment of society in general, and Los Angeles in particular, was palpable when I ran. Alone, just me and the road, that freedom and feeling of pure acceptance was very powerful.

Today, these many years later, I am still running. I get the same feeling now as I did when I began. While running, there really are no games - no one to impress, no one to try to look good for, no one to try to amuse or pretend to be amused by - it's just you, moving your body, feeling the wind, relishing the solitude, and basking in the peace that comes with time to yourself, to your own thoughts, to living life at your own pace.

I sometimes wish I could put life on pause - slow it down, take a breath. Do some things before other things inevitably have to occur. Pause a moment in time and FEEL it - experience it for what it is, independent of everything else - before everything else has its chance to weigh in. I feel like I'm racing the clock so often that there just isn't enough time to fit in the things I want to say, do, feel, write, accomplish, BE.

So instead, I take a mini-vacation every time I run. Running, to me, is my life on pause. My mind is free to think what it wants, my body is free to move how it wants, and I feel free of any limitations and restrictions that may currently weigh on me. Using my physical strength to move my body forward down the road is such an amazing feeling and gives me an inner strength and determination not found elsewhere.

That sedentary, skinny, screen-obsessed kid eating piles of cookies and binging on sitcoms and rom-coms would never have thought she'd feel this way when she grew up. But it seems the journey of life is like a road you run on, leading you to you - the you you are going to be as you grow, mature, love, and learn. The you you are going to live with all of your days.

I've slowly come to recognize that this "you" is ever changing. That you aren't strictly defined by where you've been. That where you are and where you are going are yours for the making, and that the road of your life will continue to define you throughout this life's journey. 

There is no getting away from it. It just happens. Without your consent or even sometimes without your knowledge, the curves, detours and dips in the road of your life will change and define you in ways you may never have expected or could have ever anticipated. I never would have thought I would be a runner. Not judging from where I began. But I am. And I am so grateful for that.

If you can't or don't like to run, I guarantee that you can get a similar experience, with equally beneficial feelings and results, from a number of other physical activities that may be a better fit for you and your personal journey. Just find what works for you and DO IT. Take those moments to feel like your authentic self within, independent of all the judgments and labels of others. Enjoy the freedom from all of the comparing and competing that plagues our society and honor the you that you are - perfectly imperfect - exactly as you are inside and out, right now.

I find it on the road. The road leads me to myself, and I love where it takes me.