Namaste . . . to Myself

So many of the phrases that I use when talking and writing about palliative care – meeting people where they are, starting low and going slow[ly] (when managing pain meds), following the signs that the body shows us – apply surprisingly well to yoga. Yogic wisdom encourages us to go at our own pace, focusing on where we are in our own practice and on our own mat on any given day.

Of course, I was always the person peeking at the forms on the mats around me, seeing how I stacked up in terms of flexibility, stamina, strength. Searching for ways to compete within this practice of meditation and self-discovery.

Until I hadn’t done yoga in over a year. Until I realized that I could no longer blame my extra pounds on having just had my second baby. . . because that baby is now walking, his chubby legs and gregarious smile propelling him toward – no, into – the adventures of toddlerhood.

Tonight I went back to yoga. To a beginner class. And I reached and I stretched and I lunged and it wasn’t pretty or graceful, but for once my mind stayed on my mat as if there were no one else in the room. It was time for a huge slice of humble pie. With a side of self-acceptance.

~~~~~

I truly did not plan this post as a way to work in another of my old poems, but somewhere on my walk to and from class I remembered that these are lessons I have worked on before:

 

                                                     Sunday Morning 

                                                     I salute the Easter sun

                                                     from my mat

                                                     air sweetened by incense

                                                     in place of lilies

                                                     When people spoke of yoga

                                                     saving their lives

                                                     I was a skeptic

                                                     But each time I rise

                                                     from savasana

                                                     I am reborn

 

Tonight, of course, we started in savasana.

 

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Orange for Good Luck

Seven years ago, my poem about an orange dress won Honorable Mention in the annual William Carlos Williams Poetry Contest for medical students organized by the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy. (It also closes out my poetry chapbook, Tools for Survival.) I distinctly remember writing it; it was one of those poems that just flowed out of me, already formed. I was studying for Step One of the US Medical Licensing Exam, and trying to make the best of that pressured month by bringing my books out on the patio to sit in the sun. Wearing a flowing orange sundress seemed like it would help, too.

I’m wearing it again as we’re about to board a plane, our first time flying with both boys, now ages 3 and 1. I still love it and its breezy comfort and cheerfulness seem like good ingredients to mix into this adventure. Here’s hoping it carries some good karma for a smooth (and well-behaved!) flight.

 

Ode to an Orange Dress

See how it flows

part goddess, part boho

chic

See what it makes me do – impromptu trip

out West,

spill my heart

to a stranger on

the subway

after she said

she liked the color

Skirt dances around

my legs even when

the wind dies

I’d take it to heaven

if I could

but no, better leave it

help someone else

do some living

 

 

Time Macho: I’m Part of the Problem

It was a concept intimately familiar to me long before anyone gave it a name. From my earliest days in college, I felt surrounded by people who packed their days with meetings, activities, sports practices or competitions; classes, study groups, and research; for whom every moment had been spoken for and each day didn’t so much end as spill over into the next. The standard was clear: to do any differently was to be lazy, unmotivated, and destined for failure.

During medical school, the feeling only intensified. Free time was a prize to vocally lust after but also a guilt-inciting purgatory to be avoided at all costs. After all, we could never learn all there was to know about medicine, so how could we ever stop trying?

When I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s description of “time macho” – the idea that “somehow you’re better and tougher and stronger if you work harder and longer”[1] – during my last year of school, it gave me a tangible practice toward which to direct my frustration and a paradigm away from which to direct my own behavior. Throughout my training, I tried to assign some priority to sleep and to the people and things outside of medicine that nourish my soul. And until recently I thought that I had done an adequate job of it, and of encouraging the same in my colleagues.

Last month a speaker at my hospital’s Grand Rounds presented data highlighting the importance of sleep – how many benefits it brings and how much physical and emotional damage a deficit of it can unleash. When she presented the recommendations for sleep durations according to age, she asked how many people in the audience had young children who were getting the appropriate amount of sleep. Less than half raised their hands. What about teenagers, she continued. Again, less than half.

What about all of you, she finally asked. How many people in the audience regularly slept for the recommended seven to nine hours each night?

Only a smattering of hands popped up across the auditorium. My own hand stayed down, despite the fact that I have been sleeping eight to nine hours per night over the past few months. I felt embarrassed, guilty for allowing myself such an extravagant amount of rest when colleagues all around me were working so hard. Never mind that I had entered my year as Chief Resident, with my work hours nearly halved and allowing much more time for rest, and that I was exhausted from preparing for the pediatrics boards while caring for my toddler son and navigating the first trimester of my second pregnancy. It still felt somehow shameful to be a physician getting so much sleep.

Most of the day passed before I realized that my reaction – my embarrassment, my instinctive need to offer justification for taking care of my own basic needs – only contribute to and perpetuate the culture of time macho that pervades medicine and so much of our society. The speaker could just as easily have asked how many of us value ourselves, our health, our well-being? And while that might have garnered a few more raised hands, it would by no means have been met with universal commitment, even in a room full of healthcare providers.

As with any effort toward culture change, the first steps involve shifts in the beliefs and behavior of individuals. So this is me urging myself and my colleagues to stop judging ourselves based on how many hours we’ve worked, the depth of our exhaustion, how thoroughly we’ve driven ourselves into the ground. To direct at least a little bit of care that we provide toward ourselves.

This is me raising my hand.

 

[1] Dell’Antonia, KJ. “Talking About Why Women Can’t Have It All.” New York Times, 21 June 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Tools for Survival

My poetry book, “Tools for Survival,” is available for pre-sale!! If you are thinking of buying a copy, please do it now because the number sold during this period will determine the actual press run. Thanks for your support!

Click here for more info:

https://finishinglinepress.com/product_info.php?cPath=4&products_id=2273&osCsid=q1bvfhgcgmgfh5c8e73odu11t6

My first book of poetry!

I’m thrilled to announce that Finishing Line Press will be publishing a chapbook of my poetry entitled Tools for Survival in early 2015.  Prepublication sales will take place from November 25 – January 23.  Stay tuned for information as the date gets closer!

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