December 19, 2014

Reading Good Books with Impunity

One of the things I’ve been committed to doing this last year is making more time to read, both for professional edification and for pleasure. I have more books than time in which to devour them in one lifetime, and continue to acquire. My range of interests conflicts with my home’s shelf-space, and I take the mulish perspective that this is a charming vice.

Since I’ll be having a thyroidectomy in January, time has opened. I’ve cancelled programs and workshops and classes and private sessions, and will have surgery and recuperate and, as a friend wrote, “read good books with impunity”.

Lately I’ve been reading about the work of Emilie Conrad, who was a dancer and a somatic genius, and the creator of a kind of movement called Continuum. Her work is based around the idea that movement is not something we do but who we are. Continuum is further based upon the fluid nature of the body, which–depending upon whom you ask–is somewhere around 75% liquid. Some people claim we’re even more fluid than that. Personally, I’m curious how connective tissue is accounted for in the measurement, given that it can be fluid or solid. We tend to dry out as we age.

Conrad was famous for saying, “Movement = Information = Nourishment,” or something very similar. We’re nourished at the cellular level by the body’s fluids, and movement moves the fluids.

Think about that for a minute.

Nourishment is so much more than simply what we put in our mouths.

Over billions of years, humans emerged from the sea, evolving into a form that allows us to carry the sea within us so that we can live on land. The newborn arrives via amniotic ocean. The membrane encompassing a cell envelops a microscopic sea. Breath, blood, and the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes the central nervous system, are tidal by nature. We are sustained by waves. Is it any wonder the traditions of yoga talk about an ocean of consciousness?


In the West, our approach to bodies and to movement is linear. We sit all day and–when we’re not too busy–allocate an hour for yoga, or to “work out”. We learn anatomy from cadavers, from which the fluids have been drained. There are reasons. The cadaver needs to be preserved if it’s to be studied, and it’s much easier to identify the structures being dissected without the goopy fluids. However, I think that for students of anatomy this contributes to a false understanding of the body’s milieu.

I’m bad with dates, but I graduated from massage therapy school sometime around 1998. I could never regret the time I spent making an in-depth study of the human musculoskeletal system. It has brought a confidence and a depth to my practice and instruction of yoga that I couldn’t otherwise have.

Most yoga teachers I know think about asana primarily in terms of the musculoskeletal system. We approach the body as though it were a machine, and focus on its individual moving parts. We zoom the focus in and say, “Strength the rhomboids,” or “Elongate the psoas”.

These may be helpful courses of action. Sometimes rhomboids benefit from being strengthened or a psoas needs elongating. I think it’s good to have more than one language when working with the body, and more than one lens to look through. However, I have come to believe a linear approach will take us only so far, and no farther.

The body is a whole.

The last 3 years have been such an unwinding of my approach to the body. I have been conducting a dissection of my beliefs and stratagem. This is scalpel work that has required a slow and steady hand, as I have wanted to neither cling to ideas nor reject them in an imprudent or impetuous manner. Rather, I have endeavored to free each layer of my point of view, hold it up, examine it, experiment, and discern the relevance.

In retrospect, I realize that for a long time I had ceased to be curious about working with the body, or ceased to be curious enough. If a student’s shoulder hurt–or when my own shoulder hurt–I didn’t ask questions because I thought I already had the answer:

“Move it back.”

I don’t mean to go on and on. I have since regained my sense of curiosity, wonder, and awe of the body. Here’s what I’m trying to get at:  I have this inkling that thyroid cancer is an opportunity to further unravel myself. There is a sense of standing upon the threshold of a door that opens upon an even greater undoing.

I don’t mean death, although he waits across a threshold for each of us.

I mean that I think thyroid cancer is going to fuel further questioning on my part about the nature of healing, the body’s innate capacity, and the importance of adding non-linear kinds of approaches, movements and practices.

So–not that this is an ordeal that’s been preordained by God for the sake of my own personal betterment. I don’t believe in gods like that. But that there is an opening. An invitation. An opportunity to cross and to enter, to drown who I have been, to metaphorically die, to be re-incubated in an amniotic ocean of possibility.

To be birthed again.


When life presents these kinds of invitations, we’re not required to say “Yes”. But since RSVP-ing, “Sorry–I have a prior commitment with the Housewives” isn’t an option, I figure I might as well.

What experience is life inviting you to? Where is the opening? Have you RSVP’d?

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December 18, 2014


No way around it, yesterday was just a shitty day. Once treatment starts to happen everything will likely move fast, but right now is just…waiting.

We did a lot of waiting when we did the rounds with fertility doctors. I should be good at waiting by now, but I’m not. I am one of the least patient people I have ever met.

Dr. Google informed me last week that the mortality rate of papillary cancer is low, something like 5-10%. I suppose I should be comforted by good odds, and to some degree I am. I have also been a minority medical percentage, on more than one occasion. So good odds are good, but I find myself reassured only to a degree.

When I’m not repeating the mantra, “This should be fine,” I’m fucking terrified.

I’ve received many, many loving messages. Thanks so very much for that. I’m reading everything even if I’m not writing back, and it helps.

One of the common cheers is to get going kicking cancer’s ass, which is of course entirely appropriate. Somewhere, some small part of my brain is sending the same message. But my ass-kicking engine seems to have run out of fuel.

I am too tired to kick cancer’s ass.

All I want is to take a nap.

Humor and silliness are always lifelines, which is why I like blogging so much. They’re also good deflections and defense mechanisms, and I’m not under the misimpression that I’m fooling anyone about that.

I’m more afraid of being sick than of not surviving thyroid cancer. A long life with debilitating recurrences seems scarier than a short life. Or, maybe that’s just a bullshit story I’ve concocted.

Yesterday on an NPR roundup of 2014’s best books, I read a review of Dept. of Speculation, in which a chapter titled “How Are You?” is followed by a page and a half of “soscared soscared soscared soscared”.

I marinated in those words for a long time.


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December 16, 2014

Today Hasn’t Had Nearly Enough “Housewives” in It

Today I went to teach my regular Tuesday morning yoga class. It marked the first day in 6 days that I’ve left the house to go anywhere other than to a doctor’s office.

This was one of those occasions when I really didn’t feel like rallying to teach but knew it would be good for me. Here’s a secret:  yoga teachers seldom feel like rallying to teach but we’re always glad after the fact. It’s not that we don’t love teaching yoga, or our beloved students. It’s just that picking lint out of our navels while watching television requires far less effort.

The teaching excursion completely exhausted me.

Since being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I have been bone-weary. I feel like an insta-invalid. I’m not sure how much the weariness is due to the emotional upset, how much has to do with actually being ill, and how much to chalk up to The Greta Garbo Factor.


I just know that when I stopped at Whole Foods after class, I found myself wondering if it would really be all that disruptive if I were to lie down and take a little nap in the produce aisle.

It was good to be among people again though–even if they did hug me. (You know who you are!! I’ll try not to hold it against you but make NO PROMISES!!) My friend Jenny baked some killer magical-tumor-zapping-salted- chocolate-paleo-cookies. Those suckers were definitely worth having gargled with mouthwash and taken a sponge bath for.

Afterwards, I hurried home to resume lying on the floor. Which reminds me–does anyone have a remedy for getting carpet imprint out of my face? One that entails little or no movement?

Next Monday I get the ultrasound to see what we shall see about lymph node involvement. In the meanwhile, I’ll be drinking heavily and blogging. He Who Must Never Be Named on the Internet has been a rock.

Thanks for all the sweet notes and good wishes.

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