Cold Lungs, Warm Heart

posted in: Day In The Life, Yoga | 9
Yeah, that looks familiar. Harbor and skyline as seen from the Planetarium. Photo by Charles Weever Cushman (1896-1972); image via Wikipedia.


I am not a jogger.

I don’t do 5k runs. I don’t have one of those Garmin things, whatever those things are. I don’t dream of running a marathon. Actually, I did dream of running a marathon once: I woke up in a cold sweat and had to get a glass of water to calm my nerves.


There have been periods in my life when I actually was a Running Person, when I did feel the need to cross long distances moving my legs at a faster rate than they would be going if I were walking. Sometimes, putting on sneakers and taking off has struck me as a thing — even the thing — to do.

For example, one of the best memories I have of my relationship with my ex-husband was the day we ran from our apartment in Edgewater all the way to Navy Pier … and back. It was 15 miles! And we just did it. Neither of us were regular joggers. But we were in love and we felt like it and we could. Marvelous. It was less marvelous when my big toenail turned black — and I didn’t run much for the rest of the year — but I’ll never forget that and how good it felt, start to finish.

And before that, back when I was a waitress at an Uptown brunch joint, I would wake up at 5 a.m. and go jogging before I had to clock in two hours later for the truly insane Saturday shift. That is fairly remarkable, but then, I was 23 years old. What else did I have to do, really?

After some years of zero jogs, I have been going out and getting a few. I’ve been gathering jogs, you could say. And what do you know? Jogging feels really good. I’m diggin’ it. I’m almost — not totally, but almost — looking forward to doing it tomorrow morning.

“Oh, Mary,” you chuckle, and tenderly pat my hand. “You’re so sweet. You mean that you liked jogging a few months ago and you were too busy to tell us about it so you’re telling us now.”

“No,” I say, but I let you pat me because I have never refused a tender pat. “No, I mean I’ve been jogging lately. Like, now, lately.”

You look at me and I think for a moment I have managed to put an exploded pen in my mouth or something.

“Mary,” you say slowly, “it’s winter. It was nine degrees in Chicago today.”

Yeah, I know, I know. But the thing about me and jogging is that doing it in the winter is when I like to do it. Jogging in the heat, under the glare of the sun, dodging a zillion people who do not think it necessary to wear clothes that cover large parts of their bodies? No bueno. Winter jogging is where it’s at, my sisters.

Everyone’s first fear is that you’ll freeze out there or worse, that you’ll sweat and freeze, and that does sound pretty awful. But with the proper clothing, you’re fine. You need leggings, an undershirt, and a pullover. You need a hat, gloves, and a neck-thingy. And your shoes and socks. Why, in that getup, you’re downright toasty! And everything “wicks” now. All your winter running gear is going to “wick” moisture, so you won’t be cold or wet, I promise. You’ll just be a big wick.

Of course, one of the major benefits of winter jogging is that you’ve got the world to yourself. Most joggers are on treadmills this time of year, which means you’ve got wide open spaces to explore and all the trails and bike lanes are your private roads. Nice. And you’re out there, out in the clear, bright white world. The air is crystal clear. The sun glints off the snow/lake/rooftops and then you blow your nose on your sleeve and no one sees. I’m telling you, it’s terrific.

I’m not getting kookoo bananas with this “jogging” thing; going out a few times a week feels about right. It doesn’t mean I’m leaping out of bed to go out there, though; not at all. Some days, as it gets closer to the time I told myself I’d go for a jog, I resist. I look out the window and I think, “No, no. It’s too cold today …”

But then I suit up and I get out there. And this version of me shows up and she’s pretty cool.

I Did It! (And So Can You!)

posted in: Day In The Life, Paean, Yoga | 7
Fiber artwork depicting adaptive yoga by "FiberArtGirl" in 2012. Image: Wikipedia!
Fiber artwork depicting adaptive yoga by “FiberArtGirl” in 2012. Image: Wikipedia! See footnote.


I did it! Yesterday was Day 30 of my 30-Day Bikram yoga challenge. I did 30 classes in 30 days without skipping a single day. How about that. It took serious dedication, I ain’t gon’ lie. But it also wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done because I was genuinely grateful to be there.

When I walked into the studio a month ago, my body was crying out for help. My knees were junky, my shoulder hurt all the time, and bad habits were catching up to me in all kinds of ways. I was hungry to do some work in that hot room, even if it hurt — and it frequently did. But when you have the right mindset about something, the struggle bus doesn’t seem like the worst way to get from Point A to Point B. At least you’re gonna get out of where you are, right? At least you’re going to have Point A in the rearview mirror before too long and if Point A is just that lousy, you can’t wait to see it getting smaller and smaller as you go forward. The struggle bus feels pretty good when you see that, even if where you are is kinda rough.

I don’t usually prescribe things or give advice — a girl needs to figure out her own life before she starts telling others about theirs — but tonight, I can’t help myself:

My dears, try some yoga.

There are PaperGirl readers out there who are practitioners already and I am mentally high-fiving you all. But for those who haven’t ever tried yoga or have fallen off their practice, I urge you with not a whiff of ecstatic-weirdo-convert or tiresome “Let me tell you how much you’re missing by not doing [insert thing here]”: Give yoga a chance.

It’s about breathing and stretching. That’s all. Yoga is not a religion. It’s not a threat. It’s just you.

“Yoga” means “union,” as in the union of your body and your breath, for example. You don’t have to be fit to start; that’s never been true. You can do yoga with injuries because there are modifications for every pose. People in wheelchairs do yoga;* people who have had spinal surgeries (and all kinds of surgeries) do it. You can move your toe one little inch and if that’s your yoga that day, if that’s you doing something good for your body, that’s terrific! You’re doing yoga!

I’m telling you, my knees don’t hurt right now. Really, after just 30 days of stretching and breathing and stuff, they feel great. My shoulder hasn’t felt better in two years. And I’m a very skeptical person! But the proof is in the mirror. My pelt is shiner. My eyes are sparklier. I don’t feel as sad as I did 30 days ago, either.

Hey, don’t take it from me. My mom — the one-and-only Marianne Fons — does regular yoga. She started years ago when a studio opened in Winterset and she credits yoga with helping her be more flexible. She loves how during “relaxation” at the end of every class — yoga classes end with “savasana” pose, which is basically like taking a mini-nap!  — she often gets great ideas, like what her next quilt will be, or how to end a chapter of her novel. Mom also says yoga gives her extra pep. We all want more pep, even Marianne, who was born with a pep surplus.

Yoga is not a contest. You don’t have to go in being “good at yoga”; the big revelation is that no one is ever “good at yoga.” Because that is not the point. Having yoga in your life is about taking a few minutes each day to love your sweet, tired, beautiful, tough, hard, soft, aging, sick, strong, fabulous, confusing, mysterious, gorgeous, true body. Nothing more, nothing less. You are so powerful. Did you forget? Yoga can help you remember. I promise.

Give it a shot this year. Tell them Mary sent you. Do any kind of yoga, whatever feels good. It can be “old lady yoga” or Bikram yoga. Ashtanga is way cool but it’s pretty demanding. Lots of gyms offer it, many cities that do Groupons will offer awesome deals to get started. Shop around. Get a pal to do it with you; that could be fun. Don’t see it as a New Year’s resolution; see it as your birthright to be a friend to yourself, to act on your own behalf.

Okay, advice over.

You know what I did to celebrate the completion 30 day challenge? I went to yoga. So I’m 31/30. Well, I also got a veggie burger from Devil Dawgs around the corner from the studio and mercy that thing was good. It’s the spicy sauce and the grilled onions.

*The image for this post came from Wikipedia as usual, but how neat that when I searched ‘yoga’ I found a quilt about yoga!! This was made by someone called “FiberArtGirl.” Way cool. Thanks, quilter. This is really lovely. 


Who’s That Cute Girl?

posted in: Yoga | 13
Day & Son lithograph, Gayatri Jup, 1851. Image: Wikipedia.
Day & Son lithograph, Gayatri Jup, 1851. Image: Wikipedia.


I’m halfway through my 30-day yoga challenge!

Well, tomorrow will be Day 15, so I’m a little ahead of myself. But for all intents and purposes, I’m in the middle of this thing. Let me tell you some things I’ve learned.

1) Coming back to a yoga practice — or really anything you used to be really good at and then you stopped doing — is really hard. 
Because you used to be good at it. And now you’re not. You used to be able to stand on one leg and kick the other leg out while sweat dripped into your eyeball and you could hold it there and breathe and go deeper and deeper but guess what? Not anymore, toots. Well, not right now, anyway. The frustration floods in and you despair. Why did I stop practicing? How much better at this could I be right now if I hadn’t drifted away? How long will it take to get close to where I was before? Have I gained a lot of weight or just a little weight?

2) Coming back to a yoga practice — or really anything you used to be really good at and then you stopped doing — is a gift. 
Every yogini has bad habits. A bad habit in a yoga practice would be something like cheating out of a posture a few seconds before the teacher calls to release it, doing lazy sit-ups between the postures on the floor rather than really trying to make them crisp and intentional. (I just said “crisp and intentional.”) Everyone has bad habits, including me. Well, coming back in and feeling totally new and raw again, I have the opportunity to change those bad habits. I’m so open to everything, you know? I know how badly I need to be in that room and I’m putty, baby: Change me.

3) I missed this Mary.
There are many Marys. There’s Mary Sewing At Midnight. There’s Leading The Class Discussion Mary. There’s Mary On a Date. There’s Mary on TV. There’s Bookish Mary, Flirty Mary, Mary The Sister, Mary The Daughter, Shy Mary, Mary The Fool, Mary The Selfish, Flirty Mary, Goofball Mary — and on and on, just like anyone else. But you know which Mary I really dig? Athlete Mary. Now, if you would’ve told me in the sixth grade that Athlete Mary existed, I would have said something like “Gag me with a spoon!” because it was the early ’90s and I loathed and despised gym class more than anything in this universe or the next. But it turns out that I’m super athletic in the stuff that I like, like Barbie dance aerobics* and Bikram yoga. The other day in class I was pouring sweat and very intent on my posture; I looked incredibly determined (remember, Bikram yoga is done while facing a wall of mirrors, quelle horror) and I had a pang of love and longing. Because it was like, “Oh! Hi! Hi! Oh, wow! I know you! I missed you. You are such a bada*s, Athlete Mary. Okay, now don’t lose your balance.” It’s been too long since I hung out with that Mary and it feels really good.

4) If it was easy, it wouldn’t be hard. Or worth doing. Or… Just go to class, kid. 
I didn’t want to go to class tonight and I drank too much water halfway through and felt like I was gonna spew. Yesterday’s class was so hard and awful and I had to go across town to the other studio to make it work with my schedule. My challenge means that I will do a class on Christmas Day (not a huge deal, but it impacts the day with family, nonetheless.) All of these things are annoying and nobody likes spewing or making a workout a priority when there are so many other awesome things one could prioritize, like chocolate pretzels, for example. But enough. Do you want this or not? Remember why you do. And go to class.

Happy Holidays, everyone. I’ve got sad news to post tomorrow and a big, ugly topic to tackel here on the ol’ PG that I’ve been procrastinating about. That’s all coming this week. Maybe I’ll get the gumption to write it all because I’m meeting my yoga challenge, day by day, pose by pose.