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A Flu Intervention

sick and workingI am sick.  I have the flu.  And I’m having a really hard time with this reality.  This is that barely lift your head up, body chills, aches, and pains, fever and night sweats, coughing up a lung, throwing up kind of flu.  It ain’t no joke.  And I’ve been battling with it for over a week now.  When I went to my doctor on yesterday, I asked him if I could go to this meeting or if I could teach my two yoga classes over the weekend, and he just looked at me and politely said no.  He said that I must stay home, rest, take the medicine he prescribed, eat probiotic foods, and drink lots of fluids (though he did give me permission to go to see The Black Panther as long as I wore a mask).  He asked me if I needed a doctor’s note to be excused from my work and other obligations.  I just laughed and politely said no.  I laughed because despite being the sickest I’ve been in at least the last 15 years, I have not felt like I could completely let go of the work.   I have not stopped working.   I’ve called in to most meetings that I had scheduled.  I’ve met deadlines and fulfilled requests.  I’ve handled administrative duties (with support from my office administrator).  I’ve worked remotely from my iPhone while laying in bed nearly hacking up a lung.  Oh, get this:  I even traveled to Atlanta for a business trip in the middle of the week, under the auspice that I didn’t think I had the flu.  I nearly fell apart trying to make it back home to my bed.  My doctor was trying to give me permission to stop working, and he and I both knew in that moment that I was–that I am–beyond needing permission.  I need a serious intervention.

So many times this week I have wanted to cry because I’ve felt so bad.  Not just physically bad–but emotionally.  I have felt angry at myself for being sick.  I have been disappointed that I haven’t been able to attend events that I’ve looked forward to for some time.  I have been embarrassed to have to tell people that I can’t be there or I can’t do this.  I have felt like a failure.  And then at other times, I’ve felt lonely, depressed, and just sad.  I don’t want to be sick.  I am not choosing to slow down.  But, my body physically will not allow me to continue to work at the same pace.  Friends and colleagues keep telling me to rest and take good care and not to worry about the work.  They assure me that everything will be OK in my absence.   And, I want to trust in that.  Yet it has been difficult for me to just take the time to allow my body to heal.  As I reflect on that, I just think, how tragic.  How tragic that I am even contemplating these issues.

I teach and practice yoga, and I am constantly sharing with others the importance of self-care practices and centering one’s own self and health.  And, for a long time, that message has worked for me.  Despite having a crazy busy life schedule, I’m generally zen, healthy, and balanced.  The message has worked for me until it doesn’t.  This bout with the flu has been a wake up call.  A sort of flu intervention.  When I tell others to “listen to your body,” do I really mean it?  When I caution others against taking on too much and learning to say no, am I taking my own advice?black panther mask

Having the flu has forced me to acknowledge that I have a hard time letting go and stepping away from work and obligations.  Somehow I have convinced myself that I have to keep up with every email and every item on my to-do list.  But this flu has intervened to say, nope, not happening.  It has also shown me that life will go on while I am away caring for myself and my health.  The meetings will happen.  The events will take place.  Deadlines will pass.  Life will go on.  And there is nothing I can do about it.  Well, there is something that I can do.  I can follow the doctor’s orders and feel better soon.  And while I work on feeling better, I am learning that everything is gonna be alright.

No Day But Today

Last night, I took my 12 year old son to see a high school musical version of RENT.  Jonathan Larson’s RENT is probably my favorite musical.  I saw it first as a young adult in Boston and then later on Broadway before it finally closed.  It is hard for me to get tunes like “Seasons of Love” and “I’ll Cover You” (especially Collins’ reprise at Angel’s funeral) out of my head.  I feel like each song weaves together the voice of a generation of young people declaring, I’m me.  It’s OK to love.  It’s OK to feel.  It’s OK to care. No need to make apologies for who you are or for who you love. One of the biggest messages I always take away from this musical is to not live life with regrets–there’s no day but today.  As Mimi sang,

There is no future
There is no past
I live this moment
As my last

There’s only us
There’s only this
Forget regret
Or life is yours to miss

No other road
No other way
No day but today

So, I woke up this morning reflecting on a few ways to live for today that I thought I’d share:

1) Tell and show someone you care for and love them deeply.  Sometimes we let our pride, or our ego, get in the way of expressing our love to those near and dear to us.  We’re afraid to be vulnerable or to show signs of weakness.  I say, get over it!  And, get over yourself!  Loving and caring for others does not make you weak.  In fact, it makes you strong.  And, it’s even better when you do so unconditionally, without judgment, and without expectation.  I spent a great deal of my life giving love or caring for others because I wanted them to care for me back.  It doesn’t work that way.  I had to learn to love myself first which then allowed me to love others authentically.  When you do this, you experience love abundantly.  Trust.

2) Which brings me to my second point, Be yourself and love that person. We wear the mask, carrying everyone else’s definitions for who we ought to be.  Be a good mom.  Be a perfect wife.  Be an accomplished scholar.  Be a devoted daughter.  Notice I placed loaded adjectives before each of these roles that I occupy.  Sometimes they’re neatly interconnected and other times they are fiercely in opposition of one another.  But, I am all of these things, for good and bad.  I’ve learned to drop and reject the adjectives.  I’ve learned that I can only be me in any given moment, flaws and all.  I accept and embrace the various ways that I enact these roles, and I look forward to the variety that each offers my life.   I’m doing me and loving it.  As Millie Jackson sang, you gotta, gotta, gotta Be Yourself!

3) Do something you’ve always wanted to do.  What is holding you back?  Living for today means letting go of fear.  Sometimes, we hold on to past hurts and experiences in ways which hinder us from moving forward.  The past becomes a crutch, an excuse for not moving forward or trying something new, something different.  The past fuels your fear.  I guess I just don’t want to leave this earth saying, I wish I had… or Why didn’t I…?  There’s no day but today and I refuse to live with regrets.  Now, I don’t plan to be ratchet, but I can allow for a little reckless abandon every once in a while.

RENT inspires me every time I see it.  Now, I’m getting on with living each moment as my last.

As a side note, interestingly, my son was less concerned with the statements on love, sexuality, and identity and more so on issues of sexual health and AIDS/HIV (mostly spawned by his recent curiosity about human species and sexual reproduction).  Just a reminder to talk about sexual health as a part of self-love.

I’m a Vegan Junkie

candy-hearts-2014-5-songsI will refrain from using this online space to complain about all of the responsibilities that I am unsuccessfully juggling at the moment.  But, let’s just say I’m dealing with a bit of stress.  The last few days have been filled with activities and looming deadlines, and I’m merely keeping my head above water (queue the theme music!).  In times like these, I find that eating a vegan diet becomes challenging for me.  I’ve only been strictly vegan for the past six months, so that in and of itself has been a significant transition in my life.  With a busy schedule, I’ve had to be very purposeful in figuring out how to make the diet work for me and to make sure that I always have healthy options.  Unlike before, I can’t just go to any number of fast food joints near my campus office to grab a quick bite to eat.  Though, a vegan “fast food” cafe just opened up steps away from my office.  And, therein lies the problem.  Yes, the food is vegan there, but they do not offer only healthy food choices.  No, they have a “B”LT sandwich, and my god is it good!  The sandwich is made with deep fried tempeh, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, and vegan mayonnaise spread generously on a grilled bun.  And, they have the best cupcake in town, and it is vegan!  So, when I’m feeling like I’ve had a good week diet wise, I don’t mind indulging in a few vegan treats.  Problem is, right now, I’m snacking on Mi-del Swedish Style Ginger Snaps.  They’re All Natural, 0g Trans Fat, and 120 calories for 5 cookies.  That justifies me eating the entire bag, right?

Here’s my confessional: when I’m stressed, I become a vegan junkie.  Yesterday, I almost finished off an entire container (I won’t admit the size) of Valentine’s candy hearts.  At least they’re vegan *shrugs shoulders*.  It’s easy to do that when you’re sitting in front of your computer writing a proposal that is due that day.  A few weeks ago I wrote about how going inward helped me to slow down and stay focused and balanced.  I took the time to prepare healthy meals and to savor every bite.  When I lose my center, all bets are off.  Thankfully, centering is an act that is continual and ongoing.   Sometimes you get off, but you can get back on.  This happens with eating and dieting all the time.  I have the best intentions, but I am human.

I’m learning that when I have a particularly stressful week ahead, it is a good idea that I plan accordingly.  Here are some of the ways that I combat my vegan junkie tendencies:

1) I make sure that I have lots of healthy snacks on the ready.  Some of my favorite standbys are chips and salsa, unsalted cashews and almonds, Boom Chicka Pop sea salt popcorn, and hummus and pita chips.  I also make sure that I always have a banana, an apple, and an orange with me.  I’m much more likely to grab for the banana over the candy hearts if I have it with me.

2) Eating a few squares from a diary-free dark chocolate bar can usually satisfy my sweet tooth. And it’s good for you.  And it’s chocolate!

3) I just admit that I don’t really like salad, and I don’t try to force it into my diet.  I will eat grilled, steamed, and roasted veggies all day long, but I’m just not a huge fan of salads.  I think there are certain misconceptions about what it means to eat a vegan diet, i.e., most times when I’m at an event and I ask for a vegan option, they give me a salad.  There is much more to eating vegan than eating salad.  And, I’m not hating on people who love salads; it’s just not for me all the time.

4) I make sure to have canned black beans and chickpeas and frozen bags of brown rice on hand for quick dinner options, especially for the nights that I teach late or have evening events to attend.  Without those options, I’m inclined to polish off my bag of ginger snaps and call it a night.

5) I permit myself to have a night of Amy’s frozen no-cheese vegan pizza, that “B”LT from the vegan cafe, or a black bean and grilled veggies burrito from Chipotle.  Sure, it may be processed or fast food.  But, you have to live a little.

Most importantly, I try to maintain my zen and not let life stress me out.  Ultimately, I’m better able to make good decisions about my health and diet when I’m centered.  And, eating well and eating right is a radical act of self-love and self-care.  I must make it a priority.

I’m the only Black woman in my yoga class but…

Hmmmm.  The recent media fallout over the essay published on xojane.com, “It Happened To Me: There Are No Black People In My Yoga Classes And I’m Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It,” has me feeling some kind of way.  Jen Caron (actually a pseudonym used by writer Jen Polachek to conveniently protect her identity), self-described as a “skinny white girl,” writes about how she becomes uncomfortable watching a “young, fairly heavy black woman,” a new and unfamiliar student in her regular yoga class, “struggle” in a space that is “unable to accommodate her body.”  She writes,

Within the first few minutes of gentle warm-up stretches, I saw the fear in her eyes snowball, turning into panic and then despair. Before we made it into our first downward dog, she had crouched down on her elbows and knees, head lowered close to the ground, trapped and vulnerable. She stayed there, staring, for the rest of the class.

Because I was directly in front of her, I had no choice but to look straight at her every time my head was upside down (roughly once a minute). I’ve seen people freeze or give up in yoga classes many times, and it’s a sad thing, but as a student there’s nothing you can do about it. At that moment, though, I found it impossible to stop thinking about this woman. Even when I wasn’t positioned to stare directly at her, I knew she was still staring directly at me. Over the course of the next hour, I watched as her despair turned into resentment and then contempt. I felt it all directed toward me and my body.

At first, I had to stop reading right here–really!  This is all about you now?!  But, I read the entire essay, and you should too.  And, read all of the responses weighing in on how problematic and dangerous this confessional is (“Black Woman in Yoga Class Gives White Woman Race Angst” is on point).  Suddenly, in a yoga class, the heavy, black body threatens the safe, comfortable zone that belongs to this white woman.  She went home and cried because the presence of this one Black woman presented her with a moral crisis and interrupted her flow.  She questions, what should she have done?  How could she help this heavy, Black woman who couldn’t do yoga?  For an answer to these questions, read “It Happened to Me:  I’m a Big Black Girl Around Small White People & I’m Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It.”

But, let me keep it all the way real here.  I am always the only Black woman in my yoga classes.  Is this because Black women don’t practice yoga?  No.  Is this because Black women struggle with yoga?  No.  Is this because heavy Black women are not comfortable with their bodies in the presence of “skinny white bodies”?  No.  Let me offer another perspective, Ms. “Jen Caron”.  After reading this essay, I reflected on the number of times I have gone into a studio and other students coincidentally avoid placing their yoga mats next to mine.  I thought about times when the instructor does not acknowledge my presence, nod or say “hello,” or even make eye contact with me.  I remembered all the times that I have wanted to stay in child’s pose because this is my practice and that is what my body needed in that moment.  And, if in that moment we had been in the same yoga class, would I too have been a threat to you?

So, why do I continue to go to yoga classes, “shamelessly co-opted by Western culture as a sport for skinny, rich white women” as Ms. Caron writes, where I am the “only one” (which is not unlike other experiences in my everyday life)?  Why do so many women of color continue to practice yoga despite narratives like the one Ms. Caron confesses?  Because, as Sweet Brown would say, ain’t nobody got time for that.  Ain’t nobody got time to worry about your prejudice, your guilt, or your fear when it comes to taking care of her own body and health.  When I practice yoga, I carve out my own space and focus on my flow.  Ain’t nobody thinking about you.  And, health and wellness do not belong to you.

As I complete my yoga teacher training, my friends are like, “girl, when are you going to start teaching your classes?  I’m waiting for your class.”  I have sistafriends who don’t feel like being the “only one” in a yoga class taught by the “skinny white girl” who might possess the same attitude as Ms. Caron.  And, I don’t blame them.  For that reason, I am pursuing this training because one, I want to deepen my own practice and two, I want to create yoga spaces where women (and men) of color know that they are welcomed and expected.  What is most problematic to me about Ms. Caron’s sudden realization is that it is only occurring because of the presence of a Black woman who may have been new to this yoga class.  It happens because what is familiar is disrupted by the unfamiliar.  Instead, I would want yoga teachers and students to pose these questions and experience this discomfort because these spaces are homogeneous and occupied with people like them.  Not when “diversity” appears on the mat behind them.

In the meantime, I will continue to show up in yoga classes and settle in on my mat.  And, if you find me in child’s pose, don’t worry.  I’m OK.  And, I’m sure that you will be OK too.