Lessons from First Grade

October 31, 2005

I’m sitting here with Adam, helping him get his homework done before we begin our night of trick-or-treating (Brian’s teacher, mercifully, did not give out homework today…), and it occurs to me that there are some good lessons to be learned in first grade…lessons that resonate for the duration of your life. Among them:

  1. Finish what you start before you start something else.
  2. Put away your toys when you’re done playing with them.
  3. Don’t rush.
  4. Give yourself enough space.
  5. Too much junk food makes you feel not so good.
  6. Not enough sleep makes you feel cranky.
  7. Don’t tease.
  8. Corollary to Rule Number 7: Don’t tease the dog.
  9. Be nice to your friends.
  10. Listen to your mom.



AWOL today

October 29, 2005

From Ashtanga, that is….

Jill, my sister-in-law, convinced me to go to a Bikram class with her today. Well, in truth, it didn’t take much convincing. I fully admit to actually really wanting to go. I had a wonderful Ashtanga practice with Erika yesterday after my morning vinyasa class – I don’t remember if I mentioned it yesterday, but there were only three of us in class, which meant that I got LOTS of attention, and I really enjoyed it! That being said, my back muscles are TIRED from the hard work I am doing in Ashtanga, my chest muscles are exhausted from each and every day being asked to open wide and allow me to do what I want to do in order to get through Primary, not to mention that I felt like it wouldn’t hurt to take a day off from my regular dose of forty or fifty chatturangas (how many chatturangas ARE there in half primary anyway?). My arms are already so freakin’ freakishly strong for a girl of my size that even Sir has commented on it (well, he didn’t call it freakish, but he did mention that my arm strength could potentially be one of the reasons I am so tight in the shoulders).

Most importantly, Jill kept talking about how the intense sweat of a Bikram practice makes her feel cleansed afterward, and I really longed to get that feeling….so, on impulse, I decided to join her at a noon class at Bikram on 72nd and Broadway.

When I got there, I was happy to see that George DeLancey was the teacher. I know George pretty well, since I used to work at the desk at Bikram Yoga midtown and take his class after my shifts. That’s right…I WORKED at Bikram! Have I ever mentioned that before? It’s true. After a year or so of being home and not working, I got kind of antsy, but I didn’t want to go back to being a lawyer. I wasn’t qualified to teach yoga yet, so I figured I would do the next best thing…hang out at a yoga studio for money, or free classes, or both. Anyway, I digress. George is hysterically funny and adorable. He reminds me of what Will (of Will and Grace) would be like if he were a real person. Unapologetically gay, totally committed to his boyfriend and kid, serious about his work.

I have to admit, while I felt very very bendy, and all in all, it was a wonderfully hot, sweaty experience, the heat really beat the crap out of me.

Here is where I pause to note that, as anyone knows who has ever taken a Bikram field trip, the Bikram sequence takes much from Ashtanga in terms of structure. It begins with breath awareness and warming up the body from the inside (yes, the INSIDE) and then saluting…in this case, the moon….then moving onto a standing series that includes one-legged balancing and half lotus variations and a posture that is in effect a cross between triangle and extended side angle and then moving to the floor. In between the floor poses, there are situps, rather than vinyasas. And the floor series takes a lot from the backbending aspects of Second Series in Ashtanga. But all in all, it definitely brought to mind the logic and discipline of Ashtanga.

And it made me miss Asthanga, or at least some of it. After class, I felt compelled to run through the Marichi’s, which are no longer the “dreaded” Marichis….I actually missed them. And I bound. No surprise there, considering that my body was heated up to somewhere around 105 degrees. I see it as a sort of “mini” fever, induced artificially, and I hope that it has the effect of burning out the toxins in my body. At least that is why I am drawn to it on an on-again, off-again basis.

Since Shala X is not so sweaty now that winter is coming (it is not exactly cold and drafty either, in all fairness), I am thinking that maybe one of my six yoga practices per week can be Bikram for now. I am really really desperate for structure, it seems. Each week, I try to come up with a solid structure that I can consistently follow. Unfortunately, something always breaks it up.

Like today, I had a pumpkin-painting party in Brian’s classroom. We created this devilishly frightening looking Count Dracula pumpkin, painting on a scary-mean face and then gluing on big, white fangs, bushy pipe-cleaner eyebrows, and grey thumbtack pupils in the eyes. Then we added a black felt hood lined with red felt and added a white collar and blood-red tie below his chin. SCARY, man.

But all of that cost a lot of time, and Shala X was long since done with their morning sessions. Soooo, my choice was led at Sutra, self-practice, or Bikram. Oh, and the fact that I was able to even have those choices was made possible by the fact that my noon gig at the NYC Lab School was cancelled for the day due to an early dismissal.

But I really really really desperately crave some structure. I feel like my life has become quite chaotic, and I am never comfortable with chaos. I keep trying to figure out why the chaos. But every time I realize that the addition of the dog has gotten me bogged down, I can’t internalize it. I have trouble accepting it. I love Lewis the Beagle, and he’s here to stay. So are my obligations to him as the canine member of my family: taking him out for long (two hour) walks or dog-run excursions at least a few times a week. So is teaching yoga. So is practicing yoga. So is getting my kids to Tae Kwon Do, Hebrew School and playdates. So is going to my kids’ parties at school and going on field trips when my kids ask me to. So is spending Tuesday afternoons in Adam’s classroom, because his teacher encourages parents to spend time in the classroom. So is having SOMEWHAT of a social life with my urban mom friends (like having a pedicure with Abby today) and a few assorted non-mom friends that I have managed to keep in my life (hi Stacey!!! I miss you!!!) despite the difficulties in making time for one another.

Lately, I have been losing things. A LOT. A scary lot. Not counting my stolen cell phone (stolen right out of my car outside of Temple Shaaray Tefila), I have lost my wallet three times in the past two months. Luckily, I have gotten it back each and every time. But the circumstances are DAMN SCARY…they make me wonder if I am totally losing my mind, or what….

Last night, as I went to pay the cab driver who had taken me to Yoga Sutra, I discovered I had no wallet. I knew immediately what had happened…I had left it at home, near my computer, since I had bought something online right before leaving to teach my Breast Cancer Survivors class. But when I called home, my babysitter told me it wasn’t there. Twenty minutes later, she called again to tell me that it was there after all. But that was an upsetting twenty minutes….not to mention the fact that I was with my breast cancer survivor students, who were waiting and watching to see how I would handle this crisis…I PROMISED them that teaching yoga to them would help me to put it out of my mind, and it was almost disappointing to find out right before we began class that the wallet had been located and challenging-crisis has been averted.

Scratch that. It’s a good thing.

Today, at Bikram, I asked the desk manager to watch my handbag while I practiced since said purse is made of fur (bad, Yoga Chickie…I know) and wouldn’t survive 90 minutes in a 105 degree room. When I was leaving the studio, she was walking into the next class and handed me my handbag. Into a cab I climbed, only to discover my purse did NOT have my wallet in it. OH NO!!! NOT AGAIN! But I knew that I had it at Bikram, because I actually paid cash for class.

I went to call the studio, only to find I did not have my cell phone…it was at home…I remembered slamming it shut and leaving it on my dresser at home after a fruitless, time-sucking phone call with the Geek Squad at Best Buy (regarding my iTunes, which I am RELOADING at present…talk about time-sucking). More stress, obviously. Jill lent me her cell phone, and the desk manager who answered the phone was unsympathetic and very resistent to the idea of looking around for my walled. According to him, “If it had been found, it would be in a safe, and it is not there, so we don’t have it.” It didn’t matter that I told him the story of how I paid and put my wallet away in my bag and handed the bag to Jenny-the-desk-manager. He just wasnt going to help me.

Since it was already time to pick up the kids from school, I was lucky enough to have Jill there to do the picking-up for me (including taking Lewis on his afternoon walk), and I booked on over to the West side, back to Bikram, where I had to wait for Jenny to get out of class. When she got out of class, here was her response to my wallet-inquiry: “OH yeah…your wallet fell out of your purse when I put it on a shelf. Check behind the garbage can. It should be there.”

And it was.


But it’s all good…I did get my wallet back.

So, what is the answer? Going waaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy slower? I suppose. I mean, Sir told me that, just the other day. But MUST my life be one wake-up call after another? Or is there a better way to look at it…am I damn lucky to have so many lessons virtually spoon-fed to me each and every day of my life?

This has gotten way too long. If you are still reading, bravo. Now go get a copy of War and Peace, and make better use of your time!


Life is good

October 27, 2005

Here are some really nice things that are adding up to make me feel really happy today…

1. After I taught my 10 a.m. vinyasa class, I took Erika Hildebrandt’s 1/2 primary led class, and I felt great. I really enjoyed the “discipline” of having to get into the poses without procrastination.

2. I bought Lewis a “Gentle Lead” “head collar”, which helps him to heel better. My biceps and back muscles were getting way too much of a workout from having to pulling back using a simple choke collar. Lewis the Beagle is a WAY exhuberant puppy, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE him. But dude needs to heel. And the Gentle Lead works like a charm…whenever Lewis pulls, it causes him to HAVE to turn back and look at me, which stops him in his tracks. After about 10 minutes, he got the message that pulling is just not worth the trouble.

3. My house is nice and quiet for the next two nights….the Husband is on a business trip, and the quiet and “being my own boss” thing are really really delicious. DELICIOUS, I tell you!!!

4. I got word that I am teaching another class at the Lab School – this one on Mondays at 1:10. It is a PERFECT time…doesn’t interfere with my practice. I love Bent on Learning….such a great organization.

5. I ran into a former student of mine from New York Yoga, who was relieved to see me…she didn’t know where I had been and wanted to know where she could find me. Hopefully I will see her at Yoga Sutra one of these days. Always nice to know that you are missed…

6. My 10:00 a.m. vinyasa class at Yoga Sutra was really really nice today. My new friend Cynthia came, as well as two others I have taught before. The music was delightful, as I went back to using my iPod again (I don’t know why I ever stopped, actually…it makes a huge difference in the whole vibe of the class).

7. Ran into a teacher from New York Yoga whom I had not seen in months…April P….a delightful person and a fabulous teacher. I used to teach a class right after her, so we always used to see each other on Fridays. We were both on the 6 train in the same car…it was a crowded train, but we eventually saw each other, just as she was getting off…five minutes later, my phone rang…it was April with news..she is getting married this weekend!!!! Mazel Tov April!!!! I love stuff like that.

8. My sister-in-law, a/k/a Aunt Jill got her old job back!! GO JILL! You know how awful it is when you leave a good job only to end up at a place that doesn’t feel quite right? Well, how awesome it is when you can get the old job back….:)

9. My new Dyson vaccuum cleaner is the most AMAZING vaccuum cleaner I have ever seen. It is pulling up dust that must have been lingering in my apartment for the past four years…and it still keeps on pulling up more dust. It is unfortunate that these amazing machines are so expensive ($500 plus), but I wish for all of you that you can have one.

10. I feel healthy finally…after a week of a bad cold and a hoarse voice (NOT sexy…just annoying to me!).

11. My dad is feeling healthy…lung cancer remission…almost an oxymoron, but not quite. Thank god for the not quite.

12. My kids are the yummiest human beings I have ever known, and I am going to pick them up now from their after school activities.

Has Yoga Chickie gone soft? I don’t thinks so…I’m just feeling all good inside today!


Wish me luck

October 26, 2005

I am giving Lewis the Beagle a bath. He is finally done with healing from his surgery (neutering…shhhhhh….he’s very sensitive about it), and now I get to see how bright and white his lovely fur really is.

THEN I am going to do a late afternoon practice.

It has been quite a busy week, much of it devoted to the annoying and arduous job of configuring this new computer (I want those hours back!!!!) and keeping Lewis from developing some bad habits in my house. Also, with the new dog, I have had this incredible nesting instinct, so I have been doing a lot of shopping for housewares…bought a brand new toaster, a new set of glasses at Fishs Eddy (cool store!!), a new set of cereal bowls, also at Fishs Eddy and a brand new Dyson “Animal” vaccuum cleaner for all that lovely beagle fur that seems to be piling up everywere Lewis sits.

Mostly, I am just craving a return to normalcy in my house, and I need to give myself a break for missing a few practices at Shala X (I am still practicing at home, but I do feel like I am missing something important when I don’t show up at the shala) while I am training a new dog (he is housebroken and trained, but he needs those teachings reinforced in my my house, especially now that he is growing comfortable here) and getting used to my fall teaching schedule.

Anyway, I have three little boys (two sons and a playdate) and a smelly beagle/bassett to contend with, so I must go. Time to bathe the pup.


Simchat Torah Rocks!!

October 25, 2005

Last night was my synagogue’s celebration of Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah is a VERY festive holiday. It marks the finishing up of an entire year’s reading of the Torah (the story of the Jews, begining with Genesis and ending with the death of Moses, and a litany of Jewish laws, including how to build a temple) and the beginning of the cyle anew. Jews gather at their synagogue, and there’s singing and dancing, and children running around all over the place, and finally the “big finish” is the unscrolling of the Torah and the reminiscing of the stories that were told over the course of the year by way of daily Torah readings. The Torah is unscrolled only once in the entire year, and it’s actually very exciting, not just for the kids but for everyone.

For the past seven years, I was a member of a conservative synagogue, not just “conservative” in its affiliation (“Conservative” refers to a particular sect of Judaism that adheres strictly to a great many Jewish traditions, but that doesn’t go so far as “Orthodox” Judaism, which follows Jewish tradition to the letter, in general, including separating men from women during services), but conservative in its spirit and its dress code. This year, my family moved to a synagogue that belongs to the Reform movement. I had trepidations about this – the Hebrew education is far less complete. For example, my older son is reading Hebrew in third grade, while his friends at the Reform synagogue are just starting to learn the Hebrew alphabet. But I was also excited to worship in a place where a lot of the worship is in my own language, English, rather than in Hebrew, and where the prayers are chanted in what I consider to be a more melodic, less minor-key form (I have no idea why that is…it just IS).

I really enjoyed the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Services, but the Simchat Torah service really drove it home for me: this is the place. I absolutely LOVE the vibe at Shaaray Tefila. It was pouring rain out last night, and the vast majority of the congregants wore jeans. That was a SHOCK for me, and a HAPPY one at that. Way back when I first joined Park Avenue Synagogue, I remember arriving to drop Brian off for nursery school in the middle of a Noreaster; I was wearing jeans and Timberlands and my hair was in a ponytail. To my dismay, all the other moms were well-dressed and well-coiffed. What was their secret? Car services. And in some cases, personal drivers. I am psyched that the people at Temple Shaaray Tefila let down their hair a bit more. I mean, who cares what you wear to temple as long as you get yourself there? In addition, TST has a much younger vibe than PAS. My favorite cantor there, Cantor Singer is at least 10 years younger than me, by the looks of him, and he plays a mean guitar, and my kids adore him.

Bottom line, it feels right there, and I am so glad we finally made our way there. Makes sense too given that it is a block away from my apartment.

Off to practice….with aching back and bags under my eyes (didn’t get the kids to bed until 10 because of the festivities, which meant that I didn’t get to bed, myself until after midnight….)


Lewis the Beagle introduces me to all the cool people…

October 24, 2005

I had no idea there was this whole dog community out there – like the yoga community, like the mom community. Lewis, Adam and I were out for a walk to Central Park yesterday, and Lewis got very excited to see a little Malti-poo walking down the street. Malti-poo’s name turned out to be Poptart, and his mom turned out to be very cool AND an Ashtangi to boot AND a pretty accomplished travel writer.

Today, I bound Mari C on my good side with Sir watching over me, for the first time. I’ve bound before, as I have talked about ad nauseum. But never with Sir there to see it. Not that he seems impressed or even excited for me. You see, Sir and I talked today, in between Mari C sides. Turns out that Sir doesn’t really even focus on the physical accomplishments of my practice – the fact that I jump through sometimes, the fact that my asanas and vinyasas are quite graceful (albeit usually not on the same days…I have my “vinyasa” days and my “asana” days….today was more of an asana day) or that I have good posture or have memorized the series, blah blah blah. The thing with me, it seems, is that I am excessively “go go go” and my breath is excessively shallow. It seems that I can bend…but can I do yoga?

It was EXCEEDINGLY difficult for me to hear this from Sir. Yeah, I know, some of my readers here, many of you in fact, have pointed out this very thing to me, without ever having even seen my practice or heard my breathing. I don’t know how it is that everyone can observe this about me, even those who have never ACTUALLY observed me in person, and yet I am completely unaware. I am struggling to open myself up to the notion that my Type-A-ness is messing with my yoga practice, so that I can do something about it.

I asked Sir, what, SPECIFICALLY, can I do…you see I understand the concept, abstractly, but I don’t know how to put changes into action on a concrete, real-life basis. Sir’s suggestions: (1) Try to come to practice in a calm state (ha! right after I drop my kids off at school, finish walking Lewis, get my SUV from the garage, barrel down the FDR drive and hunt for a parking space on the street…as Sir says, we all have our challenges), (2) Breathe trhough the nose, exclusively, all the time, not just in the shala, but all the time and (c) Talk less (now THAT is perhaps the most challenging, although I have to say, since I have been practicing Ashtanga, I am way LESS talkative, which may be due to sheer exhaustion) so that I can keep my breath moving in and out through the nose. I wonder if talking less would also help to calm the chitta vritti’s…less “seeds” for mental action. I assume that the corollary is to write less as well, although we didn’t discuss my blogging.

Sometimes when it is pointed out to me that my “go go go” tendency interferes with my yoga practice, I get defensive. I feel picked-on. I often blame it on externals like, “Well, that person KNOWS that I used to be a lawyer” or “I TOLD that person that I am Type A”. But in this case, I have to admit: Sir knows nothing of me as a person outside of the shala. NOTHING. So everything he observes is purely based on everything he observes. No hearsay (that I know of). No history. Just me, my breath and the way I carry myself.

Sometimes I feel like Sir doesn’t like me very much, particularly when he is struggling to get my tense muscles to relax (like in Prasarita Pado C, which now is no longer a problem, and in Parvritta Parsvakonasana, which Sir really had to struggle mightily in order to get me to loosen up so that I could do as he asked). But I have heard others say that about him as well. I can’t decide if that matters. I know that my physical practice is improving. I will have to see what I can do about my meditative practice. And I suppose that for now, as long as I am continuing to get to the shala and do my practice, it really doesn’t matter if I feel “liked”.


50 percent risk reduction in 20 percent of women

October 24, 2005

ABC News and host of other news outlets reported recently (or re-reported, it seems to me) that studies are showing that herceptin is a revolutionary cancer drug in the fight against breast cancer, promising a 50 percent risk in the reduction of a relapse in 20 percent of women with breast cancer.

If you’re still with me at all, I’m wondering whether you find this reporting to be as confusing as I do.

First, what is a 50 percent risk in the reduction of relapse? In order to answer that question, I guess you have to know what the risk of relapse is in the first place. Then, you divide it by 50 percent. In my case, WITHOUT chemo and JUST surgery, my risk of a relapse would have been about 40 percent. WITH chemo, that risk went down to about 25 to 30 percent. With the addition of radiation, that risk went down further to somewhere in the low 20’s, let’s say 22 percent. None of that accounts for cancers that are either hormone-driven or not. Hormone-driven cancers (cancers which use estrogen or progesterone, or both, as a growth factor) tend to have better outcomes, although I have never heard any “hard” numbers on this. Further, the MORE hormone-driven a cancer is (again, measured by a percentage), the better the outcome (this may be because hormone-driven cancers respond to hormone therapy, or it may be due to other factors, such as WHO gets hormone-driven cancers in the first place). But let’s give me a few percentage points on that, for good measure, since my cancer was estrogen and progesterone “positive” (up to 65%, whatever that actually means). So, let’s say my risk of relapse was 18 percent.

Now…here is where the tricky part comes in (because all of the above is not tricky at all, no). Herceptin is said to reduce the risk of relapse by 50 percent in 20 percent of women with breast cancer. For me, that would reduce my risk of relapse to less than 10 percent. I’ll take it (arm raised, hand waving furiously)!!!!!

But who is the 20 percent that Herceptin will benefit? Am I part of that 20 percent? The news reports don’t really explain this little and yet entirely significant bit of detail. But I might be able to shed some light, based on disussions I have had with my doctors. Before I do, remember, I’m just Yoga Chickie, not Yoga Chickie, M.D., so this is not intended to replace the advice and counsel of your doctor (as if).

What the news reports don’t tell you is that some percentage of all breast cancer patients are designated as “positive” for the “her2neu” growth factor. Pre-Herceptin, this was very very very bad news. The day I found out I was her2neu positive, I cried bitter tears. I was standing outside the Herbert Irving Cancer Pavillion at Columbia, talking on the phone to my oncologist (I have no idea why I was on the phone with her when her office was right upstairs), and she told me that on both available tests for the her2neu factor, my cancer had proven to be “triple positive” or “+3” or “her2neu+++”. I burst into tears – worse than when I first found out that I had breast cancer. And I cried all the way up to her office, at the security guard’s desk, in the elevator, at the receptionist’s desk. It was a bad scene. It may be that I was simply tired of getting bad news. It may be that I had started to get my hopes up when I had found out earlier that week that my cancer was “highly” hormonally positive (good news, remember). Or it may be that I knew from anecdotal evidence how so many women whose cancers were found to be her2neu+++ were sick…really sick…and how so many of those women weren’t surviving.

But fairly early on in the course of my treatment (late 2002), news was starting to come out…very early news…that suggested that a drug called Herceptin, when added to the existing breast cancer chemotherapy protocol, could vastly reduce the risk of breast cancer recurring….BUT this was only true in women who were HIGHLY her2neu positive – triple positive – like me. And what percentage of women with breast cancer are her2neu+++?

I believe it is 30 percent. So, knocking out all of the women who can’t benefit from Herceptin in the first place, we are starting out with 30 percent. In order for 20 percent of all women with breast cancer to benefit from Herceptin, wouldn’t 2/3 of the women who take Herceptin have to benefit from Herceptin? And if that is the case, what does it mean “to benefit” from Herceptin? Don’t we either relapse or not? I mean, what difference does it make if I have a 9 percent chance of recurring or an 18 percent chance of recurring, when either I will or I won’t?

It’s been a long time since I have been called upon to do any sort of complicated math, and it is entirely possible that my math is off. And even if it isn’t, none of this is clear to me anyway. I wish I had a better grasp of what the news reporting is actually saying. But I do know that the news is good. Herceptin is helping a lot of women to stay disease free – including me, it seems, knock wood, kinahura, puh-puh-puh.

And I guess that has to be good enough for me.