Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On notice

"Stand tall. Take a few moments to experience the sensation of simply standing well. Stand barefoot with your feet shoulder-width apart, stomach muscles engaged, and the rest of your body relaxed. Spread your toes widely to feel a sense of connection with the earth. Visualize roots growing downward from your feet. At the same time, imagine there's a fine thread pulling you upward from the crown of your head. Enjoy these opposing but complementary feelings: deep stability and graceful lightness."--Barbara Ann Kipfer, from 1,001 Ways to Live in the Moment

"Dogs live in the moment," Mike observed, as our puppy Carmelita lay on her back, one hind leg stretched toward him, her eyes rolled back, her front paws extended in the air. "Look at her, she's so relaxed."

Lucky her.

I spent this holiday weekend fretting about my to-do list. I had tried setting reasonable goals for myself by just writing down a couple of things each day in a Mini Goals Notepad. I had done this successfully at work when I knew I was leaving for vacation, and it had helped me focus and get some stuff done that I had been putting off for weeks.

But at home I couldn't stop at two to-dos. I wrote down ten things. Some were as simple as "go buy the Sunday paper" which Mike regarded as more of a reward than a task. Others were "send out submissions to magazines" which I could have spent all three days doing. I did go to the gym. Once. Then I went home and ate sponge cake with strawberries and sugar, tortilla chips, a burrito,and drank two IPAs, which basically canceled out the hour on the elliptical.

In between I was defiant (defying whom? The to-do list? The tssking voice in my head?), doing tasks not on the list. I cleared my desk of junk mail. I filled in an offer card for a free issue of More magazine, then ripped it up after considering the articles I'd be reading: "The Reinvention Coach is in!", "Does This Make Her Look Old?" and "500 Years of Cougar History!" Ugh. I could always read my mother's back issues the next time I'm in New Jersey.

What I didn't do very much of was stay focused. I started wondering if I had ADD. I thought about the point of this blog, and glanced at my shelf of mindfulness books. Then I thought about something a personal trainer had said to me at the gym.

"Did you know you lock your knees when you stand," she asked me. I recently re-joined Healthworks and was using one of my two free personal training sessions that comes with a new membership.

"Try just standing," she said, so I got up, facing her, and felt my legs tense and my knees lock into place like the lid of a Tupperware container snapping shut. This was how I always stood. I never thought about it. Sometimes I'm guilty of the tall girl syndrome of slouching, but I didn't think there was anything wrong with the position of my knees.

"Try softening your knees," the personal trainer, Ann, advised. "it will work different muscles in your legs that you've been neglecting. Otherwise you're at risk for arthritis and other joint problems later in life."

Great. Something else I've been neglecting--like answering emails from friends and hand washing that pile of delicate sweaters I haven't been able to wear in a year. Should I be adding "soften knees when standing to avoid early-onset arthritis" to the to-do list?

Since meeting with Ann I've had moments of mindfulness about my stance and have softened my knees. In line at Trader Joe's. Waiting for the "T." It's hard to change something that you automatically do. It's like a mouth breather suddenly breathing through their nose (I've never been able to do that, no matter how cottony my tongue tastes in the morning.)

What do they always say in meditation (#21 on my to-do list: meditate more)? Return to the breath. Return to softening your knees. Return to going to the gym. Return to writing that sentence. Return to the present moment.

And again.


Mike C said...

I can take no credit for the dogs-always-being-in-the-moment idea - that's something our dogwise cousin Mikki is fond of saying.

Pam said...

Oh Jenn...it all sounds so familiar! And you made me laugh out loud, so thanks for that. As someone with early onset arthritis and similar bad physical habits (it's a hip thing for me), and a tendency to make too long to-do lists and then do other things...I hope I can also return to the (fill in the blank). One thing I've been trying to hone as I've been reading Pema, and which has helped a bit, is to be less hard on myself when I forget to return...when I slip into discursiveness. Never easy.

NatureGirl said...

I have to say...well put. And thanks for reminding (or teaching) us to stand well. Remind us about sitting properly next time...I see too many slouchers...Our poor backs and knees!

Jade said...

You might make a practice of being gentle with yourself (and your knees) in the midst of so many things to do. More than one wise person has said "You'll never have it all together."