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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.

Why I hated bridge pose

p223-001Well, hate is probably a strong word.  Let’s say that I strongly disliked bridge pose and would love to avoid it, when and if possible, during a yoga session.  Yes, the bridge pose has many benefits–it strengthens your back, your butt, and your legs.  It’s great for your neck, your chest, your hips, and your spine.  It improves circulation of the blood.  It aids with digestion.  It’s said to calm your nerves and alleviate stress.  Yet, it is one of the asanas in yoga that I do not look forward to.  It’s a heart opening pose, which means that both physically and emotionally, you’re opening yourself up.  You’re opening your heart to others and to the world.  It can also symbolize being a “bridge” from yourself to others and to the world–building connections in your relationships.  Not only is the pose sometimes physically challenging for me, but emotionally and spiritually, I’ve come to realize that there are even deeper reasons for my disdain.

Taking care of others. Being responsible for others.  Just being there for others.  My identity has been wrapped up in being the strong one, the reliable one, the one you can depend on.  I grew up the oldest child so I come by this honest.  But, being the big sister who is a caretaker and nurturer, I have a hard time trusting that I can depend on others.  So I’ve learned to take care of myself–I’m hyper independent.  Always feeling responsible is exhausting.  Not surprisingly, my expression in bridge pose is often one of exhaustion and weakness and not of strength or confidence.  While I may not like to admit it, I’m tired of being the bridge.   But, letting go and trusting that others can have my back sometimes is not easy for me.

Yesterday in my yoga teacher training, we did an activity that was all about building trust and depending on others.   In this activity, I stood in the middle of my group with my feet together, arms crossed, and my eyes closed.  I was instructed to fall back and allow myself to be passed between my four group members.  As I fell back and leaned from side to side, my group members were responsible for catching me and making sure that I did not fall.  I knew from the beginning that I was going to have difficulty with this activity–you’re asking me to close my eyes, fall back, and trust that these folks won’t drop me? Oh hell no! is what I was really thinking.  Now, I am the person that you want on the outside of the circle–I will not let anybody fall.  But, trusting that others will do the same for me has been my challenge.  As I began being passed between my group members, I was quite stiff and nervous.  I could not relax and let go.  At one point, one of my group members paused the passing, held me, and said, “Relax.  We got you.”  And, in that moment, I did just that–I relaxed and trusted that my group had my back, literally.  My group members said that my body began to feel much lighter, and I was passed between them with ease and speed.  After the activity, I had to work to hold back my tears.  I was struck by how someone’s simple affirmation of “I got your back” calmed and relaxed me.  And, I was also overcome by my willingness to trust that they would.

I’m learning to trust that others can have my back.  As I continue to give to the world and to others, I witness how the love and support is returned.  The bridge is not one-way but it is reciprocal.  I look forward to practicing bridge pose now because I have a new outlook on it.  Being a bridge is my gift to the world.  It is my way of showing how much I love and care about others.  But, the bridge also needs to be strong so that I can receive the gifts that so many have for me.  I no longer hate the bridge pose.  Instead, because of it, I am so grateful.