Thursday, June 20, 2019

A New Spin on Feminism: Empowerment and Pole Dance

This time last year, I tried my hand (or my arms, really) at pole dance. A friend was visiting me in town, and, attracted to the novelty of a pole class, we immediately signed up for an introductory class. This was the summer of putting ourselves in unusual circumstances, and despite the raised eyebrows and questioning of motives, by golly, we were going to conquer the pole.

The studio lobby was a mecca for the glitter-loving of sorts: sparkly unicorns, sequined curtains, and mermaid shorts for sale. Electronica was humming in the background, and the previous class was shuffling out. Observing the athletically-built and scantily-clad women that rushed past us, I eyed my friend with a look of suspicion. Much like my feeling of being on a different planet at the gym, the same sense of unease began to emerge. Despite being in a dance studio—a home away from home—I worried that I had thrown $20 at being a laughing stock, an embarrassment to femininity and all things dance.

But that same friend, whose fearlessness and determination to reject anxiety inspired me to get out of the house, charged into the studio with a confidence so convincing, she may as well have been polling for years.

To my relief, the instructor—Renée, a middle-aged mom who had gifted herself an introductory pole class for her fortieth birthday—didn’t expect anything too wild from us. Largely floor work with some quintessential stripper moves, the class culminated in a choreographed sequence that featured moves like “booty up” and “stripper push ups.” This class was clearly geared towards one-timers who wanted to giggle at their participation in the overtly sexual and post salacious videos on Instagram.

(Myself included—I never said I was the Mother Theresa of feminism.)

Despite the sexual connotations of our first pole class (or perhaps because of), my friend and I were hooked. We raced home and signed up for a beginner/novice class for the following morning. I hadn’t experienced a rush like this since getting my first tattoo and wanting to immediately get five more. Not only had I discovered a new hobby—a novel goal after sprinting through an all-consuming Master’s degree—I felt alive.

Our next class was not only significantly more challenging, it was noticeably less sexual. While the instructor cued us with the phrase “lead with your vagina,” the guidance was strictly anatomical, a source of momentum that could power us through the beginner curriculum. The fact that her blunt language shocked me so much revealed just how little the female body is talked about outside of an objectifying context, which thus sparked my first connection between pole dance and feminism.

I have since continued pole dance (with varying degrees of regularity) for about a year. While I have faced little confrontation about this hobby, I have grappled with both internal and societal debates about pole dance as a valid form of empowerment and reclamation of the body. I boldly assert my participation in pole to friends, family, and colleagues, but delete all of my pole posts on Instagram before a job interview. I tell myself that I am carving out time for myself and actively choosing an activity that invites self-exploration and expression, but question just how much of my choice is influenced by post-feminist understandings of agency and empowerment. Even the book titled Sexy Feminism dismisses pole dance as a cleverly disguised act of female subjugation and adherence to the male gaze.

It is impossible to defend the feminist potential of pole dance without acknowledging its origins. Stripping, while still necessitating feats of strength and agility, is performed in a sexual context for men. Regardless of the fact that women might choose to participate in the profession because it is so lucrative, it is, nonetheless, exploitative. That argument largely goes uncontested. But, just because someone is taking a fitness class that mirrors some—but not all—of the same moves that professional strippers do, that doesn’t make the practice inherently sexist. However, taking that class in the name of personal freedom and empowerment doesn’t make it inherently feminist either. Identifying something as “not sexist” doesn’t equate to feminism.

When scholars Kally Whitehead and Tim Kurz interviewed “polers,” as the community calls itself, many of the responses were tied to money: paying to pole dance, as opposed to being paid to pole dance, was empowering. Paying for self-care and self-reward can be essential to our sanity, but it also falls under the post-feminist notion that in order to be empowered, we must consume a product of service (Whitehead and Kurz 236). Pole classes are not cheap. I may feel better about investing my money into exercise and skill-building than I would a $100 dress, but I often feel like the “other” when students reference other classes they regularly take at the studio, or when I find out that in order to participate in the biannual student showcase, you must take at least two classes a week. The message here is clear: there is a prevalent class divide in pole dance, thus leaving pole classes as primarily white and wealthy.

So while I continue to shell out $20-$40 a week, I don’t associate my choice in my spending with feminist praxis.

Whitehead and Kurz concede that “by relocating the activity in a female-only environment that is devoid of the male gaze, one could argue that recreational pole dancing studios are creating a space in which women can challenge traditional representations of female sexuality as passive and subservient to men” (230). My studio is unique in that it is co-ed. There are some obvious concerns that could come into fruition due to this policy, but in my experience, the men who participate in pole dance do not come to gawk: they are just as invested in the practice as their female counterparts, and play powerful roles in challenging gender norms. One male practitioner, who I knew was in a heterosexual relationship, came to class donning a sparkly pink bra and completed the beginner test with fierce determination. So while this particular environment was not female-only, it was still a feminine space, a place for women to congregate and exercise away from the suggestive gazes from men. One of the most common critiques I have found among those arguing against pole dance is that other forms of exercise are truly devoid of the male gaze. In her article “Whether You Like it or Not, Pole Dancing Perpetuates Sexism,” Meghan Murphy asks, “why bother pretending to ‘reclaim’ sexist practices when there are so many other fun and empowering activities that have nothing to do with male-centered sexualized performances?”

It’s all fine and good to fearlessly enter male-dominant spaces, but the lack of explicit sexuality does not guarantee lack of objectification or harassment. Try doing a half hour workout at the gym, for instance, and spend an hour and a half trying to fend off men with the audacity to whip out their best pickup lines at the pull up bar.

That’s not to say that women should never exist in predominantly male spaces, or should never enter places where they could potentially be harassed. If that were the case, none of us would ever leave the house. However, pole studios are something of a safe haven (or at the very least, a safe space) where women can work out without constantly glancing over their shoulders to see if their next “suitor” is heading over. They are also spaces in which women are taken seriously and trusted to achieve the strength and power that these dance moves require. In the pole studio, we are not docile creatures that need condescending modifications or assists every which way. We are forces of nature who can, quite literally, climb our way to the top.

So yes, existing in a space is not inherently feminist. Claiming a space, making it our own when we have so often been told to make spaces for others, is.

One of the most prominent forms of feminism in pole dance is something that I can’t yet enact, but admire among others: the fight against ageism. Unsurprisingly, after we’ve surpassed child-bearing age, we are told to discard our sexuality, to shrink, to become invisible to the rest of the world. This can easily extend to the hobbies we find ourselves in if we let it. What I find most empowering from pole class are the people who fight against that stigma, who say “I deserve to take up space here, and I am not afraid of my sexuality.” That same teacher who walked my friend and I through our first pole class also teaches “smoulder”—the explicitly sexy, promiscuous part of pole. Among the regulars in the class I went to was a middle aged woman who put my attempts with each move to shame. And as Renée noted, none of us would likely be in the same room if it weren’t for pole.

Just as pole dance actively invites sensual expression among women who society tell are “past their expiration date,” it also widens interpretations of fitness, strength, and grace. Glamour’s video, “Learning to Pole Dance in 30 Days,” features a plus-sized black woman walking a pole novice through basic spins and climbs every day for a month. Rather than harping on the instructor’s size, the video focuses on the instructor’s expertise and encouragement as she watches her student gain strength and confidence over the course of her studies. The comments under this video are largely positive, and mostly contain expressions of desire that they could be like the instructor, or that the instructor could be their friend. One of the most explicitly feminist aspects of pole dance is the encouragement to take up space despite society’s warnings against it.

A final critique of pole dance is an unfounded correlation to gender: Louise Owen’s “Work that Body: Precarity and Femininity in the New Economy” purports that “the spins themselves required a great deal of strength, but the practice, in the manner of ballet, ‘draws on a tradition of women’s strength being controlled or concealed rather than displayed’” (89). In addition to the blatant inaccuracy of that claim (we might make a spin look graceful, but muscling through a climb requires no disguise), Owen’s argument that the tradition of masking strength with grace is solely feminism relies on a tunnel-vision approach to athletics: take yoga, for instance, a practice that guides us through finding the ease and grace in difficult postures. Figure skating, another co-ed sport, is tremendously graceful and aesthetically pleasing, yet also requires athletic finesse and powerful strength. Grace does not discount strength, nor are the two qualities paradoxical.

There are certainly troubling associations with pole dance, and I do not claim to be immune to the sexist implications. However, immediately dismissing pole as antithetical to feminism is shallow, misinformed, and outdated. Nothing is without complications, but pole invites a kind of feminism that is evolving, encouraging, and expanding.


Thursday, June 13, 2019

Days 29 and 30: Celebrate and Liberate

One of the things I have found out through this journey is that when I get close to finishing a project, I race to the end. But instead of feeling burnt out after doing days 27-30 in one day, I feel rejuvenated, empowered, and grateful.

(It also helps that I have exactly zero things to do, have been bored out of my skull, and still don't want to leave my house.)

I did it. 30 days of committed, focused yoga. I didn't expect to cry during day 30, given than I have spent far more than 30 days committing to something, but for the first few minutes of this practice, I bawled my eyes out. I felt far more proud of myself for finishing this journey than I did my Master's or Bachelor's degree. Maybe it's because I'm in a place where I am more forgiving and compassionate towards myself (working on it). Or, more likely, this was something that I actively chose, rather than fell into, and that wasn't tied to any expectations. I found inner strength, grace, and power. I found out minute things about myself (during the afternoon slog, rather than take a nap, I could do some yoga), as well as profound observations (power doesn't always equal speed).

Day 29 was celebrate. I tried to conjure up Walt Whitman's "Songs of Myself," because what says yoga like some profound poetry, but instead started singing "Celebrate/Celebrate/Dance to the Music" in my head. But that's the thing about yoga. It can be silly. There have been several moments when Adriene serenades us with song or makes Wu-Tang Clan references. I have long held onto the stigma that yoga has to be So Serious, and that I have failed for not being a vegan with five pet chickens and ten dream catchers.

It turns out that yoga is a lot more fun when you dance around the mat, stick your tongue out in lion's breath, and yell "ta-da-sana!" in mountain pose. That child like quality doesn't have to be situational: we can carry around that sense of joyful exploration wherever we go. But we still have to pay taxes—there's no getting around that.

Just as you don't have to solely honor yourself when you master a pose or drink a green smoothie, you don't have to save celebrating yourself for the end of a project. We have our traditional celebrations: birthdays, Christmas, pre-K graduation (yes this is a thing). The trouble with only associating celebration with these big events is that our lives are on hold up until the next thing, and the post-holiday crash is depleting. We don't have to bake ourselves a cake every week, but we may wake up and celebrate being alive. We might celebrate arriving on the mat, even when we didn't want to.

Day 30 was an enlightening one for me. When I do random Yoga with Adriene videos, I'm almost always drawn to her "day 30" practices. I never complete them though, as her tradition is to practice with us silently, and to let us be our primary yoga guides. For someone who likes being told what to do, this is a daunting notion.

As this was the only practice where Adriene didn't talk, it was also the only practice with music. I am not a huge music aficionado, but when I move to music, my soul comes alive. I had gathered all of Adriene's words: "tap into your spirit," "find what makes you feel alive," "find what feels good," and used the music to guide me through the practice. It made me remember the "high" that I get out of performing. When I am dancing, I am free.

I chose the Dedicate series because it was the most recent. But as I'm a semi-believer in the "things happen for a reason" phenomenon, I find intentionality in this theme. On a physical level, I am not the best yogi or dancer. I haven't always been the greatest at making time for myself. But when I was getting my Master's, I remember writing "I'm not the smartest person in the universe, but the dedication is there, and that's a powerful force in grad school." Similar to the notion that 80% of success is just showing, the power of dedication extends to everything we do. And we can do it mindfully. In the case of this summer, I needed to take time to dedicate to myself. Not to put on sheet masks and take bubble baths, but to ask for help, and to do what I really needed to recover.

Ending things is not always easy. I have been particularly sensitive to ending relationships, to ending time in an apartment, and most damaging has been my reaction to ending school. Another mantra of Adriene's, "don't decide where it ends," is powerful. Just because a relationship ends doesn't mean the fond memories and growing experiences dissipate. Moving doesn't mean you can never again have a cozy home. Graduating or leaving school doesn't stop you from continuing to learn for the rest of your life.

So don't decide where it ends. If something feels good, keep going. I have seen many members of the Yoga with Adriene community say that while they're sad this series has ended, they're going to go back and do Adriene's other 30 day journeys. So while I won't daily blog this time, I'm dedicating myself into the next chapter of exploration: True.  Finding the true self, a true purpose, and a true dedication to the self.


Days 27 and 28: Power and Dedicate

As expected, today was a vigorous practice, but Adriene focused on internal power. This is nothing new, and I have thought a lot about empowerment these past few weeks. I'm often suspicious of empowerment, as marketing schemes and consumerism can be cleverly disguised as empowerment.

Internal empowerment, while less dangerous than buying a bunch of lipsticks in the name of girl power, is also no more straightforward. I certainly feel physical power during core strengtheners and vinyasas that build up heat, but I've found far more mental power in grounding postures such as mountain. It's easy to dismiss mountain pose, as you're literally just standing there, but just like life, the pose is what you make of it. You might see mountain as a transition pose, waiting for the next high lunge or forward fold. Or you might claw your feet into the yoga mat, lift your heart, and actively pull your fingers back. By grounding and connecting with your roots, you have the foundation to expand and grow.

The passive can become active. There is strength in stillness.

It's easy to think of power as an aggressive or masculine quality. Softness seems out of reach when we try to be powerful. We associate power with having the highest title, being the loudest voice in the room, or just simply being a white man.

When practicing yoga, it's important to check into its roots: the Hindu tradition. Hindus have long worshipped goddesses as vital sources of power. Shakti is the "mother goddess, fierce warrior, and the dark goddess of destruction" (Chopra). Everyone—men and women alike—has this fierce feminine energy that can protect or destroy. The softness of maternal energy is no less powerful than the force of destruction.

But also remember that even when you don't feel like leaping into the world with a dagger (which could get you arrested, so don't do that), there is power in showing up and making incremental progress. Day 27 is well into the home stretch, and hundreds of people commented, "I can't believe I made it this far!" I have become far too familiar with the mental chatter of "I can't." When we shift "I can't" to "I haven't," the seemingly impossible becomes an exploration. As Adriene says, the hardest part of yoga is getting onto the mat, but as we power through the mental resistance, we can find strength in discovering new things about your practice, about yourself.

Day 28, dedicate, brought us back to day 1: remembering why we're here. My "why" has changed dramatically since beginning this practice. On day 1, I was just beginning to emerge from destructive stillness (the paralyzing kind, rather than the mindful kind). I was simply trying to feel less shitty and numb. I still have bad days, but my "why" has become to cultivate the strength to move forward, to not just be alive, but to feel alive, and to honor where I am today.

Dedicate also invited us to share our energy with someone outside of ourselves. Much like the medicine buddha practice that we practiced at Shoshoni, in which you dedicate healing energy to someone who is struggling, sick, or needs some extra love, dedicate allowed us to take the self-love that we have cultivated over the past 27 days, and extend it to those around us.

I have found the strongest dedication practices in thinking about someone I am personally close to, and those who are struggling outside of my immediate community. My first dedication was to a friend who is there for me in countless ways, despite having professional and personal strife. The other dedication occurred off the mat, after watching Jon Stewart's moving speech about the 9/11 first responders' bill. These are people who are suffering after putting so much goodness and healing into the world. They have taken compassion and kindness to the extreme and sacrificed their own health for the safety of others. They deserve the same compassion and kindness in return.

That's not to say that everyone needs to start jumping into burning buildings in order to help others. But it is important to move one step past self-care. We care for ourselves to discover our purpose, our joy, our authenticity, but we also care for ourselves in order to have the strength and dedication to make sure our community, both local and global, are cared for and alive.

As is the meaning of "namaste," the light in me honors the light in you.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Days 25 and 26: Alive and Drop

Again, both seemingly paradoxical themes very much worked in harmony with each other. I expected (a risky act that, as the Buddhists say, leads to suffering) "alive" to be full of heart openers, vinyasas, and standing poses; conversely, I expected "drop" to be a more gentle practice with child's pose and forward fold.

The art of "finding the aliveness" has been a tricky one for me. One of the most painful parts of depression is not just an inability to find what makes you feel alive, but to actively resist life. To want to hide from finding joy, and to find what seems to be an endless stream of monotony and hopelessness so unbearable, the only solution is to cease being alive. Even on the road to recovery, when I felt physically less dead, the idea of returning to a joyful state and knowing what sparked a sense of feeling alive was unreachable.

We don't always know what makes us feel the most alive. Historically, I have found my soul lighten when dancing and being part of academia, but after such a dramatic crumbling of life, I don't know if those things will bring that same joy. But, like the mind reader that Adriene is, she reminded us that we don't always have to know what our contribution to society could be, or what sparks that feeling of "yes, this is what I should be doing." Just like you don't have to rush through your yoga practice, you don't have to rush self-discovery. If you haven't found what makes your heart sing or your soul expand, you are not alone, and you just have to keep exploring, keep a sense of curiosity, and have compassion for yourself when you play a game of soccer and get hit in the shins 100 times over. 

On a grand scheme, this journey of discovery in finding what fulfills us professionally can be daunting. There is that sense of pressure to associate what we do to make money with our sense of purpose. I have certainly fallen into that trap, and I consider myself lucky that I will get paid to learn and grow as a scholar. Not many people get to do that. But this can be a dangerous path if you suddenly find yourself out of that job that gave you 100% of your sense of purpose and fulfillment.

I had made a similar discovery about a year ago, but fell into the same trap after leaving school.

Yoga has been a constant for me. Despite sleeping for 9 hours, I feel dead in the mornings and wonder how I will ever feel like a functional human. After 35 minutes of yoga, I feel like I can take on the world (just kidding; that would require leaving the house).

In the spirit of finding what feels good, I'm transitioning away from "this isn't altogether terrible" to actively saying to myself "this feels good." And sometimes, very briefly, that happens when I'm trying something new. I have done many of the postures that Adriene introduces, but today I did a side stretch I had never tried before, and acknowledged the beautiful opening in my shoulders, torso, and hips.

Day 26, "drop" was one of the more physically challenging practices I have done in this series—initially, I had to drop the expectation that this would be a gentle sequence. Looking more broadly, I have started to drop that which no longer serves me, namely a crippling anxiety and feeling that I should be doing something different at any given time. These are fleeting moments, but progress nonetheless. I'm finding joy not just in the soft sweet moments of Adriene's practice, but in my own as well. While talking with a dear friend yesterday, she said "you have to find positivity in the little moments. I pet a cat today...and a dog."

I also pet a cat yesterday. And today, I watched a sweet, loving interaction between Adriene and her dog Benji (who has become an integral part of my yoga practice).

Dropping expectations has long been a struggle for me. I am a perpetual scheduler. As a kid, I regularly scheduled Christmas hour by hour, and made a ten-year plan for myself. If things don't go according to schedule, I deem my day, and consequently myself, a failure. But when you open yourself to unplanned events or opportunities, your world can expand in ways that you never deemed possible. Returning to "The Tyranny of Expectations,"the author states the following:

"Living a life that is open to possibilities is more like a request, a prayer, or an act of witnessing your faith in life. Your well-being is not contingent on the future. Your mind is open and inspired in this moment. You therefore have more access to imagination and intuition. Your mind is clear and less reactive, and you make better decisions. You respond rather than react to life as it unfolds.
This ability to respond to change rather than react to it is the primary distinction I have observed between those who feel free and those who are caught in the suffering of life. You may often find yourself reacting to the behavior of others or to changes in your circumstances and never realize it is because you were expecting others or your life to be a certain way. When you react this way, you are opting not for the mind of possibility but for the mind of expectation, and you are left disappointed, hurt, lost, angry, or defeated."

I have experienced this firsthand. I have rigidly tried to control everything in my life, which ultimately led to an angry breakup and zero hobbies (but success in school—huzzah!). When real life came barreling towards me, I fell apart (also that pesky lack of serotonin had something to do with it). In desperate attempts to control the future, I could not participate in the present. 

It's okay to have a plan. You need to have somewhat of a future-focus when making professional and personal goals. But I have caught myself planning my weekly schedule (including meal prep, laundry, and grocery shopping days) for next semester. Those things will get done without obsessing about them in June. They can organically unfold as life progresses. As Adriene says, "there is nothing more empowering than making modifications." Easing up on those rigid plans doesn't mean giving up. Dropping doesn't equate to folding low to the ground (most of today's practice was standing) and huddling into a ball. Dropping expectations lends itself to expanding possibilities and creating space for experiences, that can, in the end, make you feel alive.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Days 23 and 24: Joy and Balance

Yes, I'm getting anxious to finish this journey. I still have the mindset that the sooner I finish this, the sooner I can get on to other things, even though I have exactly two things to do in order to prepare for the next chapter of my life. On a more positive note, however, after each 20 minute practice, I think, "that felt good. I think I'd like to do more."

In essence, I'm finding what feels good.

These two themes work well with each other, as in day 23, Adriene discusses balancing strength and grace with softness and joy, which as she articulately expresses, is making your practice your own. Part of that ability to personalize your practice is in balance or honoring where you are today. You are exactly where you need to be.

It's easy to misconstrue joy as ecstacy. This is easy for the manic of sorts: you might think you are joyful when you feel like your body is on fire, when you are sprinting from one activity to the next, when you feel like you could go on doing something forever. Ecstacy is intoxicating. It's addictive. It can be cleverly disguised as positive life choices, as I once described my refusal to slow down as being "addicted to empowerment." While far better than being addicted to drugs or alcohol, it's no more sustainable than dangerous addictions.

Joy, as Adriene describes it, is softness. It's ease. It offers the strength to be part of communities that allow you to explore and express your true self—not who you think you should be, or a future self that you reach and strive for. It's an invitation to come alive, a theme that I will further explore tomorrow.

As I have a tendency to interpret that message as justification for staying in my comfort zone, I am beginning to discover ways in which I can guide myself to new experiences: rather than say I should do something because it seems like an interesting hobby to others, I can look inwards and think about the kinds of things that have brought me joy in the past. Running is not that thing. I'm not about to throw myself into a roving game of volleyball. But hiking and biking have ended up feeling fulfilling and calming. Baking has brought me into a meditative state. Writing makes me forget my to-do list while simultaneously feeling productive.

Finding joy can be explorative, rather than prescriptive. Perhaps hiking in Fort Collins will be the most dreadful experience. Or it will be fulfilling and heart-opening. It's hard to know the difference when you're stuck in your head. But when you cultivate that sense of intuition, you can use an inner mirror (as noted in day 24) to be fulfilled. To find that internal pleasure and contentment.


Monday, June 10, 2019

Day 22: Steady

Yes, it's technically still day 21, but I've been antsy about finishing this journey (while paradoxically wishing it wouldn't end). I've also had a higher average of anxiety spikes this past week or so, and yoga almost always calms me down, a revelation that I often forget as I get caught up with obligations and tasks. Today's theme seemed particularly pertinent, as tasks and stressors come rolling in.

Most of us have heard the phrase "slow and steady wins the race." To which I say, "slow and steady may win the race, but she may also collect unemployment while hiding in her room." As I've been scooped up and slowly put back together this summer, I've often wondered if this pace is my new normal. In an attempt to counteract my propensity for doing nothing (and also to justify buying everything), I applied for a summer job at a local tutoring center. Just looking at the SAT prep book and reading the ten-step email, I began to feel a familiar and terrifying sense of overwhelm. I was prepared, I was presentable, and I probably could make time to squeeze everything in, but in a frenetic state that had previously burned me to the ground.

An important change that I observed, however, was that rather than looking to a swarm of others to tell me what to do, I trusted my instincts and intuition that this job was not a worthy investment. I trusted my discovery that I need consistent work hours, my own work space, and a community of colleagues that I see every day.

(Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to run this past my therapist. In her podcast, "Kristen and Chill," Kristen Carney has a segment called "things to tell my therapist." Mine would probably be "do I just not want to work anymore? Am I an entitled millennial? Have I morphed into a lazy asshole who uses her parents' money to eat an entire bag of peach rings in one sitting?")

When introducing the concept of steadiness, Adriene noted the importance of maintaining strength and alertness while simultaneously letting go of tension. For the anxious of sorts, this is a difficult practice. Almost proudly, I would attribute my successes in grad school to anxiety (looking back, perhaps it was also that I had no life outside of school whatsoever). There may be somewhat of a correlation between anxiety and productivity, but with that comes a veil of fog over a sense of alertness and strength. You're never fully there because you're too busy fretting over the past and the future. You're getting things done, but out of fear of failure, rather than internal strength.

I don't think I'm the only one in noticing that the more I have to do, the more tense I feel. In the past, this has required letting some obligations go. That's not always feasible in life. But breathing really fast, or running from room to room doesn't enhance productivity. Nor does looking at everything you have to do in the next year.

I, for instance, have already started unpacking my stuff in my mind, when in reality, I will be unpacking in August.

It's a normal reaction to face a difficult posture, assignment, or workday and tense up and think "there's no way I can get this done." We may physically shake in side plank, but our minds don't have to shake along with our bodies. We can breathe into the posture, remind ourselves that this too shall pass, and enjoy the strengthening that comes with the difficult.

Because there is no greater feeling than saying "I did it," when you thought that accomplishment was unobtainable.

I have dedicated this summer to recovery by significantly pairing down my obligations and expectations. While there are some moments of difficulty, and I initially respond by crying and panicking about how I will confront the issue, I am giving myself the "slow down" I needed and was fortunate enough to have available to me (again, a lesson in trusting your instincts). I will not always have this extended vacation from life. Getting through a PhD isn't a gentle practice. That doesn't mean it has to be a tense experience. It's usually the people who race through classes, who attend all the conferences, publish all the articles, who burn out first.

Even the term "getting through" sounds tense, like one has to uphill climb with an aggressive strength and grit. To play with language a bit, perhaps I'll start using the term "gliding through a PhD." Or I'll just say "I'm getting my PhD" and avoid sounding like a complete weirdo.

In an article titled "the Tortoise Mindset: How Slow and Steady Wins the Race of Life," Patrik Edblad states, "when you’re consistent, that creates momentum. That momentum creates progress. The progress creates self-confidence. The self-confidence starts shaping a new, more resourceful and empowering identity. And with this new identity comes the ability to create lasting change in your life." Momentum doesn't necessarily mean starting a new project or experiencing by diving in headfirst. If I had done this practice on day one, I wouldn't have received even half the benefits that I got today.

Momentum is steady. Progress is steady. With that steadiness and ease, you can face another day.


Day 21: Light

Late in the practice, Adriene noted that she thought about calling today "perspective." My first thought was that my perspective, while largely positive (yesterday was the first time I thought "if I'm not enjoying life, what's the point?), has snippets of self-punishment. I have a longstanding habit of goalpost moving, either for others or myself. Waking up at 7:30, which was a huge accomplishment a month ago, has become a failure. Having one part time job, while previously unthinkable, is not enough.

It's important to check in and see if, once you meet your goals, you subconsciously move the goalpost further and further until you're constantly disappointed with yourself. I admire those who make monthly goals—some months containing more goals than others—and who have compassion for themselves when they don't meet every single goal. And in my case, learning to relax is a noble goal. As David Levitan notes, it's okay to be doing what you're doing, and not doing something else. Also that multitasking is a terrible idea.

There was a lot of overlap between today's theme and previous days: finding the light within, using that light to unmask authenticity and joy, both in ease and in difficulty. There were moments of difficulty for me, especially in side lunge, but I found that my internal chatter that "I should be able to do this pose by now" was a lot quieter.

Much of my childhood has been founded by light. When I was born, I needed to be put under light for a prolonged period of time. My name means "shining light." I was raised in the Quaker tradition , and sang lyrics in school such as "Walk in the Light," "there's a light that is shining, there's a light that is free," and "as we leave this friendly place, love gives light to every face." There was an innocent lightness to my childhood, and with that came a crashing darkness when facing the hardship of adolescence and adulthood.

Colorado's tagline is "300 days of sunshine." While I was initially overjoyed that I would be leaving the grey of Central Pennsylvania, I later wanted the weather to reflect my gloom. Returning home, I would look forward to rainy days because I had an excuse to huddle in my pajamas. I would get angry at the sunny days. 

I've since found that my mood is not tied to the weather—I have felt a lot more internal light, despite State College's default rainy state. While my anxiety spikes when I experience a stressor (especially related to anything in Fort Collins), I breathe and remind myself that once I've done what I can to respond to the situation, I need to let it go and replace the intense worry with a light acceptance that things will not always be in my control. 

I still experience trepidation about my return to Fort Collins, as there are painful associations with it (although, to be fair, there will always be some painful associations with wherever one lives). But as Adriene so wisely stated, we have to honor the darkness in order to reach the light.