The nose knows

NoseSurgeryThis time last week my nose was bleeding profusely, the result of septoplasty surgery some hours before. The surgery went exceptionally well; the surgeon was delighted, I had no adverse reaction to the general anaesthetic, and a recovery room nurse even called me “bright as a berry.” Everything from waking up at 5:30am that morning and not eating to pre-op prep through to walking out of the hospital was almost effortless – much easier than I thought it would be.

The recovery, however, was not as smooth as I had anticipated.

While there wasn’t much pain, there was a lot of blood. I didn’t clot quickly and, even with the packing the surgeon left in my nose to sop up the bleeding, I spent the first couple days changing the gauze underneath my nose regularly and wishing for thicker blood.

Thankfully, the bleeding stopped after a couple days and I was left with discomfort, wooziness, and the continued joy of sleeping without fully lying down.

After a solid day without bleeding, it was time to get the packing out. The packing is great for controlling blood flow and keeping tissues separate so they don’t fuse together while healing (particularly important as the point of the procedure was to give my nasal passages more space), but it does introduce greater potential for infection and it’s damn uncomfortable.

I wasn’t sure if the crusty strings dangling from my nostrils would come out with the packing or if they were part of the stitches. Turns out “packing” is code for “tampons” and the surgeon used those strings to pull them out.

Getting the packing out was brutal. All blood and saline and mucous and Otrivin. Without the general anaesthetic of the surgery, I didn’t have the luxury of drifting off into oblivion while thinking about my favourite vacation spot and having the surgeon do all the messy work without me seeing or feeling it.

I left the hospital much less bright than after surgery and continued to ooze blood from my nose through the night. The next day I started experiencing head-splittingly painful sinus congestion, which didn’t get any better when I burst into tears. Turns out crying doesn’t make sinus congestion any less painful… but decongestants do 🙂

Equipped with Benylin (not my usual cold-fighter Advil Cold & Sinus as the ibuprofen wouldn’t play nicely with the antibiotics and also acts as a blood thinner… not helpful when I’m trying not to bleed!), plenty of fluids, saline nasal spray, and lots of naps, I’m feeling much better. I’m still tired, but my nose hasn’t bled for three whole days and the soreness is manageable.

I’m reminding myself to take it easy and not to expect that I’ll be entirely well yet – the surgery was just a week ago!

While it’s too early to say if the surgery has been a true success, I am already finding it easier to breath through my nose. Even with the congestion (along with the sutures and scabs that must still be there), there’s an ease of movement through my nasal passages. The surgeon said he took a lot of bone out of my right nostril, so it’s no surprise that things are clearer.

I’m hopeful that recovery will proceed smoothly and that within a few months I’ll be breathing easy… any that maybe I’ll even have stopped sleeping with my mouth open!

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It’s okay to be scared

There can be no courage unless you're scared.Being fearful is not generally well-regarded. Scared cats are looked down on. Courage and bravery are rewarded, nervousness and uncertainty are not.

I’m reminding myself that it’s okay to be scared.

I think that many people are ashamed when they feel afraid. There’s this thing in our society that you’re not allowed to feel scared. You have to be a man and put on a brave face, but we all have fears.
~Eli Roth
Director, producer, writer, and actor

There is validity in being scared. It’s a normal, reasonable sense of self-preservation that makes us fear physical pain, emotional hurt, the unknown, and all the things we can’t control.

I don’t have to push those feelings away. I can acknowledge them and let them resonate… and know that they don’t have to control me.

I can be afraid and still be brave.

Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do.  There can be no courage unless you’re scared.
~Edward Vernon Rickenbacker
WWI fighter pilot

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Sunny salutations

Laura in a standing salute in the snowGorgeous weather calls for celebratory yoga. And what better way to honour the sun than with a salutation?

Sun salutations are sequences with easy to remember poses that flow into each other, allowing you to focus on the moment and the movement. When you’re not worrying about what posture comes next, you can let your breath dictate your transitions and let your brain zone out.

There are many different versions of sun salutations, most of which are based on the traditional Sun Salutation A. While I like the sequences of the traditional sun salutations, I most often adapt the flow depending on what body parts feel like they need more attention and the circumstances of my practice.

Modified sun salutations are great for travel; it’s easy to adapt the sequence to take up very little floor space or to do without a mat. I’ve done something like the sequence below on muddy trails, sandy beaches, between beds on hotel room floors, and even in the snow while wearing boots as shown in the photo.

Don’t worry if you miss a breath or two or forget what side you’re on. You can always come back to the start and re-group in Mountain pose. It’s really about moving and breathing… the poses and flow are just there to help get things going!

Hands-free sun salutation

This probably looks like a lot of steps, but it’s surprising how smooth the movements become and how quickly you can glide through a full sequence.

Why it’s good

  • Gets circulation going and works your cardiovascular system
    • good for warming up the body and generating heat!
  • Stimulates the lymphatic system
  • Strengthens and gently tones a range of muscles – from the ones along your spine to your shoulders & arms and into your legs
  • Stretches most muscles along the front & back body (abs, back, hips, hamstrings, shoulders, chest, calves, neck)
  • Works your joints – from toes & ankles up through your neck & shoulders – in a healthy way
  • Encourages balance and deep breathing

How to do it

  • Start standing in Mountain pose
    • standing tall, with even pressure on both feet
  • As you inhale, come into a Salute
    • raise arms above your head; palms facing, fingers reaching to the sky
  • As you exhale, bend backwards into a Standing Back Bend
    • look upwards, open your chest, and draw shoulders back
  • Inhale to bring yourself back to Centre
    • bring neck and back straight, arms stay up
  • Exhale slowly into a Swan Dive
    • gracefully lower chest towards thighs, sweeping arms wide
  • Hold a Forward Fold for a full cycle of breath
    → inhale to lengthen your spine & exhale to soften your torso

    • hold each elbow with each palm, hips lift upwards, torso relaxes
  • As you inhale, come into Half-forward Fold
    • back flat and parallel to ground, palms resting on your knees, look forward
  • Exhale into a Forward Fold again
    • chest towards thighs, fingertips towards the ground, bend your knees if necessary
  • With an inhale, bring your Right Leg Back to Lunge
    • shift weight to left side, keeping your left knee at 90° and directly over your ankle
  • Exhale to settle into the Lunge
    • sink hips your hips lower if comfortable and make sure pelvis stays even; rest your hands on your left thigh or at your sides
  • Inhale to raise your arms up into a Back-bending Lunge
    • arms are shoulder-width apart and shoulders stay relaxed; open your chest as much as comfortable
  • Exhale into another Forward Fold
    • let your shoulders and hips relax as your arms extend towards the ground and your feet come parallel and hip-width apart
  • Inhale to draw your Left Leg Back to Lunge
    • shift weight to right side, right knee bent at 90° and directly over your ankle
  • Use your exhale to settle into the Lunge on this side
    • keep your hips from sagging, rest your hands on your right thigh or alongside your torso, and feel the strength in your legs
  • Inhale, drawing your arms up into a Back-bending Lunge
    • shoulders relaxed and rolled back with your chest open
  • Exhale to bring your feet together into Forward Fold
    • torso relaxes towards thighs, arms dangle down, feet come together
  • Inhale and lengthen your spine into Half-forward Fold
    • gazing forward with a flat back
  • Exhale into the last Forward Fold of the sequence
    • bend your knees a little to relax your legs, relax your shoulders and let your arms hang down
  • With a slow inhale, sweep up to a Salute
    • bring your arms wide and palms facing as you raise your torso with a flat back
  • Exhale and draw your palms together and lower your arms into Mountain with Prayer
    • lightly press your hands together in front of your chest, relax your shoulders, feel both feet grounded

Repeat the series a few times, switching which leg moves back into the lunge first if you’d like. And, of course, find your own modifications dependent on what your circumstances are like!

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Travel writing, victims & villans

Quote: Once you refuse to see  someone else's grief and  focus on your own grievance,  it becomes far easier to  reduce your rival victim to  a villan — someone you need  to protect yourself against  and, if necessary harm  before he can harm you.


Background photo credit: jinterwas via Compfight cc

I love travel writing. The ability of narrative to transport me into another country or culture thrills me.

I tend towards reading light-hearted travelogues, like Hitching Rides with Buddha or The Sex Lives of Cannibals, but I’m finding that there’s deep value in more serious fare.

I picked up a book from the The Best American Travel Writing series because I thought it might be like the travel story anthology Not so Funny when it Happened, which contains some of the funniest writing I’ve ever read.

The Best American Travel Writing series is not, however, a collection of humourous travel tales. There are some light-hearted stories, but many of the accounts are pretty austere. Essays include trips to Rwanda, Bolivia, Cuba, Bulgaria, and India – and not the clean, shiny, touristy parts of these countries, but the squalid, corrupt parts that most tourists don’t see.

Tom Sleigh’s essay The Deeds hit me hardest. He wrote about Israel, Palestine, and the Palestinians living in Lebanon with a raw humaness that feels surprisingly non-partisan. Amidst the narrative, Sleigh brings up this idea that everyone involved in and affected by the conflict in the Middle East is a victim; that people can choose to see the grief of others and recognize that the people on the other side are victims as well. Compassion and understanding can arise from allowing for joint-suffering rather than portraying the other side as villainous  This concept that plays out in less intense situations closer to home as well.

This quote stood out to me, particularly as I’d just had a mini-skirmish with someone where I felt victimized.

Once you refuse to see someone else’s grief and focus on your own grievance, it becomes far easier to reduce your rival victim to a villan — someone you need to protect yourself against and, if necessary harm before he can harm you.

~ Tom Sleigh
from The Deeds in The Best American Travel Writing 2009

In that mini-skirmish, I chose not to see the other person’s hardships and focus only on my own. I established an ‘us versus them’ scenario that meant the other person had to be the villan who was trying to destroy my way of life and impede my happiness (in a much more trivial way than in the Middle East), rather than a fellow victim. Although we were both victims in that neither of us were getting what we wanted.

That mental switch from seeing the other side as antagonistic and combattive to also victimized reminded me that there is room for both people to be suffering. Both sides can feel hurt, neglected, and frustrated. I do not have a monopoly on those emotions and someone else feeling the same way does not negate my hardship.

The next time a conflict arises with someone, I hope I’m able to avoid seeing them as the villan. To recognize their grievances and understand that they are not trying to worsen my life, but improve their own… exactly the same way I am.

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Sweet pea solstice

Magenta and periwinkle sweet pea flowers with water dropletsSweet peas mean summer to me. And while the grey skies in Vancouver (and the flooding in Southern Alberta) might suggest otherwise, summer has officially begun.

The day of equinox or solstice that marks the division between winter, spring, summer, and autumn rarely feels like the actual commencement of the season. This summer solstice is no exception.

But at least the grass is green in the Pacific Northwest, the flowers are out, and we don’t need to worry about watering gardens and lawns!

There are lots of summer solstice celebrations happening today – including one at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre that preempts my regular yin yoga class tonight. No yin bliss tonight… and next Friday is the last of the month, which brings with it a sublimely soothing yin yoga session with guided relaxation and an extra-long savasana.

Hope the first day of summer is treating everyone well and that you’re able to join me for some relaxation on Friday, June 28 at 6:30pm!

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Birthday cookie recipe

A stack of chocolate spice cookiesI really enjoyed teaching on my birthday yesterday. There’s nothing like lovely, appreciative students to make this birthday girl feel valued 🙂

It was great leading the class through some of my favourite yin postures while listening to some of my favourite yoga music (the playlist was heavy on Wah!, Snatum Kaur, and Deva Premal) and even more wonderful to chat with students over cookies afterwards.

As requested, here’s the chocolate spice cookies recipe.

The recipe as written below is vegan and gluten-free, but you could easily use dairy milk instead of coconut (or soy or almond) if you’d rather and you could make it nut-free by using soy milk and omitting the coconut oil (just add a little extra canola oil). I’ve also used barley flour instead of the buckwheat, which makes the cookies less grainy and toothsome.

These cookies come together quickly and can be easily varied by switching up the spices or omitting them entirely and using mint chocolate chips or butterscotch chips – although they won’t be fully vegan anymore.

If you try the recipe, let me know how they turn out!

Chocolate spice cookies

Makes about three dozen bite-sized cookies.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips (I use Camino)
  • 1/3 cup unrefined sugar
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 pinch ground cloves
  • 1 pinch ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup canola oil (I ran out of canola oil so used grapeseed oil yesterday)
  • 2 tbsp coconut milk (the kind in a tetra pack, not a can)
  • 1 tsp coconut oil (warmed slightly)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C) and prepare baking sheets by lining with parchment paper
  • In a medium bowl, sift together cocoa, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices; stir in flour, chocolate chips, and sugar
  • In another bowl, combine maple syrup, oils, coconut milk, and vanilla extract
  • Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until combined; if dough is too dry, add a splash of coconut milk
  • Let cookie dough sit in fridge for about five minutes (or while you tidy the kitchen) to make it easier to roll into balls
  • Form rounded teaspoons of batter into balls and place on lined baking sheets; gently press each cookie ball to flatten slightly
  • Bake for 11 minutes until cookies are firm to the touch, but bottoms are not browned
  • Let cookies sit on baking sheets for about a minute to firm up; transfer to wire racks to cool
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It’s my birthday & I’ll teach if I want to

Laura wearing a birthday hat with a cakeToday is my birthday and part of my celebrations include teaching my regular yin yoga class at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre. Class starts at 6:30pm and will feature some of my favourite poses (like supported fish – which might be one of your favourites, too!), a playlist of yin-appropriate music I love, and homemade cookies afterwards.

Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini yoga to the West and founded 3HO, encouraged his students to bring sweet treats to class on their birthdays to share the celebration of with others. The Kundalini tradition holds that what you do on your birthday sets the tone for the year ahead.

Teaching yoga and sharing cookies sounds like a great beginning to my next year.

Happy birthday to me!

 

p.s. Apologies to Lesley Gore for ripping off the title of this post from her iconic song: It’s My Party.

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Twice the relaxation

Big graphic M - which is for May

Image from happy_serendipity; some rights reserved

The last Friday of every month I teach a yoga class at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre with an extra-long relaxation period. Last week wasn’t the last Friday of the month (May has 31 days? since when?), but the 6:30pm yin yoga class got an extra-long relaxation anyway.

Maybe I sensed that students (particularly those completing the 40 Day Transformation Yoga Challenge!) needed a little more rest. Maybe there was requiescence in the air. Maybe I just can’t keep track of days and months… Or maybe this May has two last Fridays!

As the second last-Friday-of-the-month class, tonight’s yin yoga class at Bound Lotus will feature an extra-long savasana (corpse pose) with yoga nidra (guided relaxation) to help really dispel tension and stress.

Come celebrate the May with two last Fridays! Class starts at 6:30pm, deep conscious relaxation begins shortly after.

 

P.S. If you want to learn more about yoga nidra, the Yoga Wonders website has a nice overview of the practice.

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The secret of happiness

The secret of happiness is counting your blessings while others are adding up their troublesAll that time wondering how to be happy… here’s the trick!

The secret of happiness is to count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles.

~William Penn

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Gone to the dogs

On Sunday evening, I went to the Healing Circle Meditation at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre, along with 30 or so other people and one dog! My dog, Sofie, is a skilled meditator and has participated in a number of group meditations at Bound Lotus.

During the meditations, which involve chanting mantras and sometimes use mudras (hand gestures), Sofie curls up in front of me and settles into a meditative state of her own. She helps bring out my meditative best and seems to create an even more calming energy for the group. And she loves getting petted and cooed at by students 🙂

Sofie regularly joins me when I practice yoga or meditate at home, so she’s very used to the process. Within minutes of rolling out my yoga mat, she’s on it. Sometimes I can convince her to provide assists, like applying a little pressure to my hips in swan/pigeon pose or letting me use her as a prop in child’s pose. And she’s always willing to rest next to me during savasana.

One of the challenges of any meditation or yoga practice is letting go of all the mental clutter and simply experiencing the present moment. Dogs are masters of ‘now.’ Sofie doesn’t understand ‘later,’ or ‘before,’ she’s entirely in the present. Exactly how I want to be when meditating!

The Healing Circle Meditation is a free monthly event at Bound Lotus. If you or someone you love could use a little healing boost and/or you’re interested in experiencing a group Kundalini meditation look for the next date on the Bound Lotus website. Hopefully Sofie and I will be meditating there with you!

Laura and Sofie stretching together

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