Yoga. I’ve gone back to yoga.  I figured that I had to start doing something systematically that would build my stamina or I would never get back to work. Serendipitously the Mind Body class that I had just started at Kaiser was also emphasizing breathing as a way of reducing stress, so I was getting double reinforcement, at least in the breathing department.  Yoga told me that practicing the breathing we were doing in class at home was good.  The Mind Body class was more specific: do at least 10 minutes of deep breathing at least once a day.

So… ok. I figured I really did need to do this. At least give it an honest try.  The first week was discouraging.  I never had managed to make deep breathing work as a relaxation tool, and this first week was no different. The second week I was still discouraged and only continued the practice because it was assigned as homework. However I did not do 10 minutes of deep breathing at home on the days when I went to yoga class. I figured yoga breathing was good enough to count.

But sometime during the third week I started to notice something.  In both the Mind Body class and the yoga class we started the breathing with some guidance, and that was beginning to make all the difference.  I still was getting very distracted at home, but at least when I was in class I was able to stay with the breathing and my mind started to be more focused.  That was the point where I began to think, “Maybe I can do this.”  By the sixth week I was finding that not only was the focused 10 minutes of breathing reducing my stress, I was even beginning to be able to use it in stressful situations.  Many of us in the Mind Body class were beginning to experience the same thing.  One friend from class was even beginning to sign off on her emails with the phrase “Remember to BREATHE.”

So I did start to truly breathe because I felt that this was finally beginning to work. And one of the joyous things that has started to happen is that occasionally I become aware of being fully present in the moment.  I sometimes sit or stand in a place and think, “I have spent my whole life waiting to be here. Right here, right now. That is an incredible gift for someone with an anxiety disorder.

PS For those of you celebrating either Passover or Easter, have a blessed and joyous weekend!

A Few Seconds

I am taking a Mind Body class from Kaiser, my health care provider.  It is an eight week class that meets once a week, and explores our mind-body connection.  We learn, we share, and we discover simple practices that build on each other that can reduce our stress and improve the quality of our lives.  That sounds simple, and to some degree it is.  But I can tell you that these simple practices, done over time, can effect changes both subtle and deep.  Each week we are  given “homework,” something specific to do mindfully over the course of the next week.  In the third session we were given the assignment of noticing something during the week that gave us joy and then taking a few extra seconds — just a few – and more fully noticing that joy.  Taking it in.  Standing there and just absorbing how beautiful, or delightful, or lovely that something was.

We are so stressed and hurried in today’s world.  We are always trying to multitask, even those of us with physical or medical limitations.  And the fact that we usually rush right past joy, because we think that we don’t have time to slow down enough to savor it, only increases our stress.  This in turn leads to deteriorating health.  Even for a healthy person, let alone those of us with an immune deficiency.

That practice sounds so simple: take a few extra seconds to notice joy.  Yet in the ensuing week while I was consciously looking for things that gave me joy, I began to notice just how often I rushed past it.  Sometimes I rushed past a joyful moment so quickly that I literally didn’t notice the joy until I thought, “Wait a minute.  Those flowers should give me joy, and I didn’t even notice.”

What I discovered this week was that the very act of looking for joyful moments made me discover so many more.  And most joyful moments are totally free!  No processing fee required.   What were some of the highlights?

*Flowers.  My husband is not a flower kind of a guy, and I am very much a flower kind of gal.  I can literally count on two hands (or maybe even one-and-a-half) the number of times he has given me flowers in over three decades of marriage.  But he is a wonderful, wonderful guy and so early in our marriage I realized that if I wanted flowers I would need to buy them myself.  Unfortunately, they are one of the things I have cut out of the budget since I’ve been on medical leave.  However Valentine’s Day found me stopping at Trader Joes for groceries.  I had made a deal with myself:  if I saw flowers that were truly beautiful, I would buy them.  If they were just average, I would take a pass.

And guess what? I did indeed find one bunch of roses (exactly one) that were breathtaking.  I put them in my cart, and then still was tempted to put them back as a “needless” expense.  But when another customer looked over at my cart and said, “Wow!  Those are beautiful roses,”  it was a done deal.  They not only gave me moments of joy on Valentines Day, they lasted and gave me joy for almost a week.  Sometimes I would sit down in a chair for the sole purpose of looking at them, simply because they were beautiful and gave me joy.

*Liquid filled soft gels.  My vitamin D supplements come in this from.  Not surprising.  What is surprising is how they look.  They are tiny golden spheres that look like miniature suns.  I started taking a moment each night to actually look at them before I gulped them down.  Each time I do that, it seems that they are radiating light and warmth, and I feel happy.

*Dark Chocolate.  I only allow myself 2-3 small pieces a day.  That’s not nearly as virtuous as it sounds.  If I eat much more, my stomach gets unhappy.  Some days I can’t eat any.  So the pieces I do eat are important.  Following an exercise we did in the Mind Body class, I now take smaller bites and eat the chocolate much more slowly, savoring the taste.  That makes me happy too.

*Weather.  There are some days I go for my exercise walk and hardly notice the weather unless it is miserably hot.  I have started to pay attention to how beautiful the day is. (At least when it really is.)  I have been surprised at how much more enjoyable the walk is.

*Light.  I am a light freak and almost always notice a patch of sun, or how the light is filtering through the leaves.  But now I am taking those extra few seconds to appreciate it more fully.

*And finally, the mocking bird that nests in one of our trees every spring.  In fact, we figure that we now have the grandchild , or maybe even the great-grandchild of the original bird.  The cool thing about mocking birds is that their song changes so you don’t get tired of listening to it.  When I heard the mocking bird for the first time this spring, he was singing a song that I had never heard before.  It was particularly beautiful.  So I stopped what I was doing and did nothing except listen.  I was a lovely way to start the day.