Monday, June 25, 2012

Yogic cries

Women often talk about a “good cry” and how much better they feel after having one. Having a good cry enables them to feel their emotions—and somehow that’s very liberating. I actually haven’t had that experience. My cries are usually bad, and I feel swollen and sore and stupid after I’ve had one.

For me, yoga provides what a good cry offers other women. And here’s my explanation of how it works. There’s a theory in psychology called cognitive dissonance, and basically it says that the discomfort of acting in a way that conflicts with your attitudes will drive you to bring your actions and attitudes into alignment. And often enough, you will change your attitudes to bring it into accord with your actions.

In yoga, many asanas have an engrained emotional or attitudinal component. Forward bends foster introversion. Backbends foster courage. Half-moon is ecstatic. And so forth.

Even if you think of yourself as kind of cowardly, say, you experience courage as you do a half-wheel, because you can’t really do a half-wheel and feel cowardly at the same time.

So when you participate in a well-designed, thorough yoga practice, you cycle through a rich gamut of emotion-laden activity. And you actually feel the emotions because you can’t carry out the activity without feeling them.

It’s not precisely the same thing as a good cry. It’s better. Your nose doesn’t run, you don’t make revolting noises, and you don’t feel like you have to apologize to everyone afterward. 

Friday, June 22, 2012


Something I love about living in New York is the constant flow of communication scribbled on sidewalks, buildings—and tree scaffolding. Half of these scrawls are like messages from outer space, with no context to make their intent clear. Often they make up a kind of astrology for me: if you mull them over long enough, you can derive some sort of instruction from them. But mostly, they seem reassuringly human—this striving to make one's thoughts known.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


My friend B, out of the blue, gave me a gift: a beautiful cake plate with a border of umber triangles and a tiny giraffe in the center. Such an arresting image—a giraffe at the center of a pinwheel. 

The night before, I had seen the movie Beginners, in which a son asks his gay father, who comes out of the closet after the death of his wife, why he had gotten married. The father answers, “Well, let's say that since you were little, you always dreamed of getting a lion. And you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and you wait, but the lion doesn't come. And along comes a giraffe. You can be alone, or you can be with the giraffe.” 

So what's the deal with giraffes? According to Professor Google, the giraffe’s long neck is a symbol of grace in striving; its third horn (in the third-eye position above and between the eyes) is emblematic of an ability to see the truth through the fog of life’s distractions; its long eyelashes connote protection of inner vision; its long black tongue (which extends to fully 20 inches!) symbolizes eloquence. And did you know the giraffe is nature’s insomniac, requiring only 10 to 20 minutes a day of sleep, and retains water more efficiently than a camel?

The question is, Why would anyone want a lion?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Domestic chores

I realize that marriages and other domestic partnerships have come to shoulder more than their fair share of burdens: everything from finances to housework to child-rearing to sexual gratification to social responsibilities. 

Still, is it too much to ask your partner to notice as you walk out the door that your shirt is inside out?

Every picture tells a story

Tuesday morning on Lafayette Street

Needle beasts

Knitting is always hard to justify: you can buy anything cheaper than you can make it. Personal satisfaction in the creative act is the only possible rationalization for this project:

If you kill them, does it count?

An acquaintance confided in me his personal stress-relief strategy: he visualized placing his worries and the people who bothered him on lily pads and gently nudging them out to sea. He suggested I try it.

I admit I haven’t worked on it very hard, but I can tell that the only way this is going to be successful for me is if I visualize the people on the lily pads drowning. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Taking off my bug-colored glasses

I’ve always been a glass-half-empty kind of gal. But recently I’ve had a few glass-half-full flashes. 

A friend was hanging a garment to dry on her shower-curtain rod and slipped on a rug that was draped over the edge of the bathtub. She fell into the tub, her ribs landing hard onto the edge. I went to visit her as she was convalescing at home a few days later, nursing her bruises. She expressed a sense of deep vulnerability. But to me she seemed strangely invulnerable. No broken bones after crashing with her full body weight onto a metal ledge! Superwoman! 

Just the other day, though, I had to be reminded to flip the hourglass. I was telling a co-worker that bedbugs were closing in on my apartment. My son has had an on-again off-again infestation for over a year. An office on my floor at work has been found to have a second infestation a year after the first. A woman who does the morning shift—and sits in the chair I use in the afternoon—at the volunteer job I do on my day off contracted bedbugs during a cross-country flight. Two tenements just east of my apartment building have been exterminated in the past few months. “And my son says 15% of all New York City apartments have bedbugs,” I concluded. “Yeah,” said my colleague. “But 85% don't." Well, there's that.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


A friend of mine has flirted for years with moving back to her leafy little hometown north of Boston. It has beautiful homes with wide front porches, little kids playing in the streets, fire flies in the back yards, shrubs bursting with blueberries.

So, what’s holding her back? Well, there’s not a whole lot to do back in Brigadoon, and most of her friends live in New York—or at least pass through New York fairly regularly.

But the thing about New York is that there’s so much to do and so many people to see that no matter where you are or what you’re doing or who you’re with, you always have a tiny twinge that you should be somewhere else doing something different with someone other than the one you’re with.

And if you’re sitting at home doing nothing but, say, writing in your blog, you feel like a loser with a capital L!


At a party a couple of weeks ago, I ran into C, a woman I recognized from a series of yoga classes I’d taken years ago. We started talking, and I asked her what she did for a living. She had recently retired. How do you spend your time? I asked. She said she spent her days meditating and “monotasking.” 

Monotasking? It was a startling answer, and she didn’t elaborate. I’ve been mulling it over ever since. 

Years of multitasking have been interrupted only by an occasional intense yoga practice. During a busy adulthood of working, long-distance eldercare and up-close childcare, I have lost my focus. I skim books while my mind is elsewhere. A month after I’ve read a book, I can seldom recall the author’s name, the characters, how the story ended. The same is true of movies.

And I skim life too. At the gym, I watch television or listen to a podcast as I swivel through the elliptical. I selectively avoid activities that require single-minded undistracted attention, like sewing, say, which I used to love but now find too boring. If I must confront a task head-on, like folding laundry, I rush through it to get to the end of it, the finishing more important than the doing. Even my social life is jammed in between other commitments. I'm speeding through with my eyes glazed over.

So it is actually kind of unusual that I focused on C’s words, cemented them in my memory and returned to them to mull them over. 

Since our conversation, I’ve been experimenting with monotasking. And it’s not easy. But I suspect it’s important. Because if you continually race through activities trying to put them behind you without fully experiencing them, aren’t you doing that with your life too?

Saturday, June 2, 2012