Category Archives: Comfort Zone

Nothing to fear but fear itself

 

I have been in Indianapolis for the last couple of days.  One of my destinations was to Treehouse Yoga so I could meet with Dusty, the owner, who bought several pieces of my artwork.  Sometimes it is hard to let go of a painting, but I didn’t feel that way about any of the pieces I left in Dusty’s care. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to know that my work is existing in such a peaceful, loving, accepting environment.

I recently watched a television interview with Sting.  He was asked why so many years had passed between albums. He responded with an answer that I related with on a deeply personal level.  I cannot find the actual quote so I will paraphrase here; basically what he said was that the lyrics weren’t coming, and that with every song he completes he has a fear that it will be the last song he ever writes.

Treehouse Yoga Studio

Treehouse Yoga Studio, Indianapolis, Indiana

 

Hard to believe that someone as brilliant as Sting can feel that way.  I laugh to think that someone might misunderstand me to say that I compare my career to his.  Of course I do not, but as a fellow artist I can certainly relate.  Each time I finish a painting I have a pang in my soul; sometimes it is barely recognizable. Other times it haunts me, but it happens whenever I sign my name to a piece.  I have come to understand that what I am feeling is fear. I too, wonder if I will ever be that creative again.

Over the weekend I watched a science fiction movie that I’d been wanting to see for some time. It wasn’t in the theater terribly long but it starred Will Smith and was co-written by M. Night Shyamalan.  The title: After Earth.  In the movie (which incidentally, I very much enjoyed despite the reviews) Will Smith and his son are stranded on an uninhabitable Earth and are in desperate need of a beacon so they can signal for help.  Between them and the beacon is an alien being who, though blind, can hunt humans by sensing their fear.

There was a speech that Cypher (Smith) made to his son, Kitai, in an attempt to empower him so he could complete his mission to find the beacon. Cypher was reliving a past experience to Kitai of how he overcame his fears.  The following is not the entire speech but even so, it’s pretty profound:

Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity, Kitai. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice. We are all telling ourselves a story and that day mine changed.

I mulled that speech over and over in my head. Of course it is in our nature to be afraid, but allowing fear to control the way we live our lives – allowing ourselves to be disrupted by fear – does not leave us with a very happy and fulfilling life.

It is no secret to those of you who read this blog regularly that I suffer from anxiety, and anxiety feeds on fear.  It doesn’t help that I inherited the ‘Worry’ gene from my mother, either.  I am constantly exercising my mind to push beyond what I ‘think’ I am capable of, even if the step I’m taking is so miniscule that only I can see it.  Progress is progress, right?

…which all leads back to my fears:  trying new things, making a fool of myself in public, the dreaded blank piece of watercolor paper or canvas; the inability to create.

What would happen if we all just let go of our inhibitions, not worry about the outcome and just enjoy the present moment?  Wouldn’t we lose the fear and instead gain a sense of excitement? Of possibility?  One step eventually does lead to another.

The same is true with the stroke of a paintbrush.

C’mon, man – It’s California!

One of the reasons why I’m so happy to have my blog is because any time I think I’m not making progress in a certain area of my life all I have to do is look back at posts I’ve written since its inception and I am amazed – sometimes even floored at how vastly different my life is than it was three short years ago.

When I began writing I spent a great deal of time sharing personal things about myself, from a lowered sense of self esteem to my fear of regaining the weight it took me so long to lose. It was probably no secret to many of you but I didn’t realize how many decisions were made based on anxiety or fear. What driving forces those two were, just enough of a presence to dictate whether or not I had the courage to experience things that might actually enrich my life.

Three years ago I created mini ‘comfort zone challenges’ to push me beyond my safe little world which would force me to deal with the uncomfortable, sometimes stomach-churning feelings that went along with them. My goal was to increase the level of risk while learning how to coral those teeth-clenching feelings so that I could then accept bigger challenges and ultimately realize that I am capable of living a rich, fulfilling life that doesn’t have to be driven by fear.

While my online challenges were written about less frequently as time passed that does not mean I gave up on them. Actually, I’ve made great strides since eating solo at a restaurant (2010). This past week I journeyed to Los Angeles so Craig and I could spend a week with my friend Teresa and her family.

Taken near the Le Brea Tar Pits just outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. These trees will most definitely end up in a future painting.

Traveling has always given me anxiety. Going somewhere by car isn’t so bad because I can adhere to a schedule that I’ve created, stop when I’m tired and most importantly, get out and tend to my back when sitting becomes a problem. While those are all great reasons to take a road trip, it’s also why I can no longer do them; it takes forever to get anywhere and my back simply won’t allow me the luxury of sitting for hours upon hours while slowly making my way across the state or in this case, the country. But lets face it- an artist…well, anyone for that matter needs experience to draw from. Without it, there is little room for growth, so when there is a will, there’s a way.

A sign outside one of the many quaint shops in the city of Vetura.

 

In reality, I met some incredibly fantastic people there, enjoyed beautiful weather, spent time listening to the ocean lull me to sleep at night, viewed fine art from Picasso to Rembrandt and visited with my dear friend in person instead of talking to her on the phone while walking my dogs at the park.

This photo serves as yet another reminder that I was simply not meant to live inland.

 

In a way, I feel like my week was spent at Creativity Camp. Teresa is a multi media artist, her husband is a brilliant writer and their daughter Em is filled from head to toe with the kind of imagination That Dr. Seuss himself would have envied. Trust me, I’m scoring no brownie points by my description of these three; it’s all true. I feel grateful that my own creativity was put to good use by finger paints and Hello Kitty watercolors :)

Me and Em out at the gourmet food trucks by the blvd.

 

Craig and I decided on the way home that we need to make a point of traveling more, especially now that we are both currently healthy (knock on wood). Even an introvert/homebody deserves to be exposed to new things once in a while and since we don’t have children, we really don’t have many excuses not to make that happen.

Teresa and I sitting under those magnificent trees.

 

This week was a much needed break for Craig and I and we’re grateful for such wonderful hostesses. Now it’s back to work so I can prepare for some exciting things happening in the studio. More on that later. I hope all of you had a good week.

Are there any places you’ve wanted to visit but haven’t quite worked up the courage to make it happen yet?

 

Comfort Zone Challenge and Vacation Update

Hi, Everyone!!  I’m back from my vacation and have so much to share with you I’m bursting at the seams!  I really missed my little blog and all of my readers.  I hope you had a great week, and I am looking forward to reconnecting with each of you :)

I wanted to post a single photo that would capture just how amazing the past week has been.  While I do have several photos to share (these will be sorted out and posted on Wednesday), I have something that I think is more appropriate for today – a memory:

 

On our second day of kayaking in the bay just off the Gulf of Mexico, we asked the owner to direct us to an area where we could see things we hadn’t experienced the day before.  She was kind enough to give us coordinates to her favorite location.  After recording them into our GPS she said, “Just start heading 2 miles that way,” and pointed on a fixed area out to sea. 

We started paddling, and about 40 minutes later we began to notice how far from land we were. The water that day was utterly still and looked like glass and the only sound we could hear was that of our own voices.   After a while, my husband said, “We’re here,” so we came to a stop, threw in our anchor and let ourselves drift a bit. 

It only took a few minutes before I silently pointed towards a place where I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a break in the water.  Then, as if on cue, they were all around us. From that moment on we realized we were in the midst of something wonderful.

Coming up for air were numerous Loggerhead sea turtles. We watched in silence as they rose to the surface, purged their airway of saltwater, took in a deep breath of fresh air, then disappear below the surface.   Suddenly one loggerhead, weighing roughly 300 pounds became curious of our kayak and surfaced less than two feet away; then just as quickly, she disappeared back under the water.   For those few minutes it was as if the rest of the world disappeared; it was just us, and them.  What a gift it was to be able to experience something like that. 

 

 

 

 

 

We picked a perfect place to completely unplug from life. The area we visited is called ‘The Forgotten Coast’ for a reason. No high-rises; no amusement parks; no neon. Just quiet, sandy beaches, friendly locals and the freshest seafood around. It’s also a nature-lovers dream vacation. Without effort we saw a pair of bald eagles scouting for fish on the beach every morning; we watched dolphins swim west at dawn, and east at sunset. We walked the beaches during low tide looking for seashells while stingray and blue crab swam around our feet.

 

 

 

 

As you may remember before I left, I decided that this vacation was going to be a no-plan, Winging It comfort zone challenge.  So, how did I do?  Well, first I want to share with you part of an email I received the day before I left from a very wise, very thoughtful Munchberry:

Nothing can go wrong because there is no itinerary to relaxation.  Perfect.  You lay around, you stroll, you kayak the tranquil bay, you go to places that you pass by and pique your interest, you window shop, you head out for impromptu picnics and lay back, look at clouds (hand in hand) and do some dreaming. 
If you tried to plan out a trip like this, you would ruin it.  This is not a vacation – it is a get away from it all where relaxation and peaceful feelings ensue.

And you know what?  She couldn’t have been more right.   I didn’t fully understand what she meant until after my return but trying to plan this trip would have indeed, ruined it.  We left our house with bags in hand, not knowing what to expect from moment to moment, and that became a good thing.   Since I had already decided to let go of that pressure – that need for my trip to be perfect, I wasn’t crushed when our luggage ended up in Minneapolis, Minnesota instead of our destination airport.  Arrangements were made and it did arrive eventually, but there was a Target store on the way, so we bought a few things to get us by until then.  Had I not reminded myself of my decision to just roll with it, my whole outlook probably would have been different.  I remembered the importance of this challenge and what I wrote on my blog before I left…

I need to let go of the illusion that things will go the way I want them to just because I have a ‘plan’. My husband and I don’t get much time away together, so when we are lucky enough to get a vacation,  I put way too much pressure on myself to make sure that everything goes perfectly.   In reality, all it does is stress me out, and since I’m still in the process of eliminating negative and stressful situations from my life, this needs to be worked on. 

…and looking back I could have easily thought to myself, We haven’t been gone 5 hours yet and already our luggage is lost.  What else is going to go wrong?  Sadly, my attitude – not what did or didn’t happen – could have set a negative tone for the rest of our trip.  But that didn’t happen because I didn’t allow itI couldn’t change the fact that our luggage was somewhere else, but I could certainly control how I was going to react to it. 

When I was 27 and at my heaviest weight I went on vacation with my practice husband.  We flew to San Francisco which should have been one hell of a trip for an Indiana girl, right?  But all I did was obsess about my weight the whole time I was there.  Instead of living in the moment and appreciating what I had right in front of me, that obsessive thought instead became the highlight of my vacation.  Life is a gift. Either I wallow in it or I live it; my response to it is my choice.

I can proudly say that I passed this challenge with flying colors and it taught me a lot about the way I choose to see my life, but even though I went into this challenge with the idea of going with the flow, you all helped me set that plan into motion – and keep it there.  So, please share in this success with me because your comments and support really helped!

As I mentioned earlier, Wednesday will be Picture Day. I haven’t finished sorting through the many digital photos and video that I took.  We all know how boring it is to look at someone else’s vacation pictures, so I want to share my best ones with you.  Until then, I’ll be catching up on your blogs, trying to get my body adjusted back to this cold weather, convince the dogs why they should get over being mad at us for leaving, and catching up on my favorite shows: The Office, Parks and Rec and Big Bang Theory.  In other words, back to reality – dare I say, a slightly sweeter reality :)

XO,

Ellen

Brand New Comfort Zone Challenge: Winging It

I’m here to attest that Comfort Zone Challenges do exactly what they’re meant to: push you beyond your edge of security so you can allow yourself to experience new and sometimes intimidating things.  The outcome gives off a sense of accomplishment and pride, along with an I can do it! attitude. 

One of my first comfort zone challenges on this blog was talking to strangers.  As you may remember, it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, but it did allow something else to happen: the exercise made the act of talking to strangers a bit easier each time the opportunity presented itself.  It’s taken 11 months, but having consistently challenged myself in this area I can honestly say that I feel comfortable enough to walk up and talk to just about anyone without feeling anxious or shy.  That is a huge accomplishment for me.  (Between you and me though, after the booger incident happened, what’s left to be shy about?)  So, the good news is that these comfort zone challenges work!  The bad news is that when you’ve conquered one fear, you have to move on to challenging yourself in other areas.  Well, I’m about to venture into another MAJOR Challenge, folks – and here it is:

Comfort Zone Challenge: Take a vacation without doing any pre-planning beforehand (other than having flight and accommodations figured out ahead of time.)

What’s so challenging about it:  because I am a HUGE planner.  A typical vacation for me usually consists of knowing beforehand where we should eat and what we should do once we get there.  In other words, I plan, plan, plan.   I want to make clear that I’m not one of those anal retentive planners who can’t go with the flow.  I don’t laminate schedules and make sure that everyone has the day’s itinerary pinned neatly to their shirts (thank goodness I’m not ‘that’ girl!)  It’s just that being prepared before my trip is like having a security blanket handy just in case I need it.  

Why choose this for a challenge? I need to let go of the illusion that things will go the way I want them to just because I have a ‘plan’. My husband and I don’t get much time away together, so when we are lucky enough to get a vacation,  I put way too much pressure on myself to make sure that everything goes perfectly.   In reality, all it does is stress me out, and since I’m still in the process of eliminating negative and stressful situations from my life, this needs to be worked on. 

So, what’s the plan?  My husband and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary next week and will be traveling to the Gulf of Mexico to do some kayaking.  He is a very easy-going guy who can adapt to almost any situation – which is why I adore him.  We seem to even each other out.  Since this is his vacation too, I brought up my idea of doing this challenge and asked his thoughts. His only requirements were that we get tickets in advance (a no-brainer) and that we have a place lined up to stay.  I took care of both but again, I could have easily done hours of research about where the perfect place to stay would be.  Instead, I chose a bed and breakfast (we hardly ever do bed and breakfasts) that has 4 rooms.  That’s about all I know.  (breathe, Ellen.  Just breathe.)

We are leaving in a few days.  Aside from purchasing tickets and knowing where we’re going to stay, I have refrained from doing any pre-planning or research on the Internet and it’s killing me, you guys;  TripAdvisor  is constantly beckoning me, calling me to their website – but I have NOT wavered.  I am determined to spend this vacation throwing caution to the wind.  Here’s my trip motto:  we’ll figure it out when we get there (although I must admit that right now, this motto sucks the big one.  As each day passes, I’m having more and more difficulty saying it and meaning it).  I’m writing this out – here, and now to you – because I need to be held accountable and keep my word until we leave.

What I hope to accomplish:  my biggest hope will be that if something doesn’t go right (delayed flights, bad weather, etc.) I won’t feel defeated by it because I will not have expected perfection in the first place.  I want to come home saying to myself, ‘I had a great time because the only thing I concentrated on was the moment, NOT what I had planned – congratulations to me, because that’s how life is!’  Full report upon my return.  Wish me luck. 

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Speaking of anniversaries, I hope you enjoyed celebrating my first-year anniversary month with me.  Thank goodness for Random.org – if I had to pick my own winners, I don’t think I could do it.  I’m sure I’d personally reduce the Post Office’s debt problem by deciding to send a prize to everyone, no matter what side of the earth they lived on!  It would have been fun, though.  Maybe if I ever win the lottery.  But until then……

……..Random.org had the task for choosing my final winner:  Lucky Number 2, which is SAM!  I personally think that Sam was destined to win that Camelbak bottle, because it just so happens that she was the very first blogger brave enough to add my brand new, very raw, unknown blog to her blog roll a year ago.  Sam, I swear I did not fudge the numbers, but have to admit that I did have a big grin on my face when your number popped up!  Email me with your mailing address and I’ll ship off your water bottle ASAP!  Congratulations all of my other winners as well: Debby, Katie, and Marsial.

See you all on Friday, where I’ll have a lot to get you caught up on before I leave for vacation: poison ivy, awards, and a Woo-Hoo! 

XO,

Ellen

After Forty-one Years it Finally Happened

Happy Labor Day to all of my US readers!  Hopefully, as you read this you are enjoying a relaxing day off from work.  I unfortunately, am not lucky enough to have the day off today.  But before I head off to work, I thought I’d let you all know that yesterday was the day!  I no longer have to walk with my head in shame for I am now among the brave.  Sit back with a cup of coffee or a mug of tea and let me tell you all about it.

Over breakfast yesterday morning, my husband put down his coffee, set his hand gently over mine and looked deep into my eyes.  He said, ‘Honey, I think that today should be the day.  You’re forty-one and I think it’s time that you stop putting it off.’  I was hesitant (as usual) and started thinking of excuses as to why I just wasn’t ready yet, but in the end I knew that he was right.  I took a deep breath, and agreed.  It was time. 

The only proof I have in my possession that it even took place are a few embarrassing photos along with surprisingly achy legs – well, that, and my behind is still pretty sore.   

Hmm…that description sounds a bit misleading (and a tad vulgar, while I’m thinking about it) so why don’t I just hurry up and tell you what I did: 

Yesterday, at approximately 12:20 PM EST I learned how to ride a bike!

 

 

We headed off towards our local State Park.  Things were going along just fine until we got to the above sign that pointed to the bicycle rental.  Since it was Labor Day Weekend, the park had tons of bike riders – from the little two-year old on her pink Big Wheel to a 70+ year old grandfather; they were everywhere!   When we parked at the General Store, I noticed racks and racks of bikes outside. Just beyond that were hoards of kids eating ice cream cones and Mountain Dew Slushies at the nearby picnic tables, their bikes all lying in a heap on the ground near the picnic tables  – which happened to be facing the lot where people go to give their bike a spin before renting it.   My husband parked the car, gave his hands a clap and said, ‘OK!  Let’s go pick you out a bike!’ My response a very calm, ‘Um…no.’ 

‘Why not?’ he asked. 

‘Because I don’t want to learn how to ride a bike in front of all those kids who’ve obviously been riding since they were old enough to walk and can obviously ride circles around me.  They’ll all laugh at me!’ 

Oh, my God.  I was talking like an 8 year old. 

‘C’mon…you’ll be fine.  Those kids are going to leave as soon as they eat their ice cream.  By the time we pick you out a bike, they’ll be gone.’  and he headed towards the bike racks before I could utter another whine. 

As I approached the series of parked bicycles, my only demand was that I could touch the ground while sitting on the bike.   I sat on several different styles while my husband went alongside and lowered each seat as far down as it would go.  By this time, a man in his early 50’s – we’ll call him Bike-Rental Guy – came out of the store and asked if we needed some help. 

“Oh, we’re just trying to find a good starter bike for my wife, here.” said my husband as I awkwardly waved at the man. 

“Been awhile since you’ve been riding, huh?”  said Bike-Rental Guy.

“Well, no.  This is my first time.”  He just stared at me in bewilderment.  “Really?” he said. 

“Yep.  I even brought my camera to record the event.” I said, and shook my camera bag at him.

“You know,” he said,  “A woman from Chicago brought her 16 year old son out here last summer. Said he’d never been on a bike.  They rode around in that parking lot there for over 4 hours.  That kid fell so many times, he had cuts and scrapes all over.  His Mom looked at me and said, ‘I’ve got all day and we’re not leaving until he learns to ride a bike!’  He eventually got the hang of it…..kind of.” 

I nodded my head and smiled as I was sure he must have told me that story to make me feel better….um, right? 

Moving along, my husband and I found two bikes that were as good as any, I guess.  We went into the General Store, filled out our paperwork, left some ID, and headed out the front door.   Right before the door shut, I heard Bike-Rental Guy say, ‘We sell band-aids and Antibiotic cream if you need ‘em.’ 

First off, I have to say how great my husband was during all this.  Encouraging, supportive; my own personal cheerleader.  He took all of the photos while I spent all of my time concentrating on not falling. 

Here I am, all relaxed prior to my first spin:

 

By now some of you may be wondering, ‘Ellen, you don’t know how to ride a bike?  Where on earth is your helmet??’  I opted not to wear one since it had already been predetermined by me that I was not leaving the bike lot area.  That, and the fact that knew I’d be moving along at a snail’s pace, so Worry Not!  A helmet will definitely be replacing my ball cap when my ventures take me past the parking area.  

OK, here are the nail-biting photos you’ve all been waiting for: 

 

 

 

Kidding!  Just kidding!  I did not fall due to my magic hand-waving trick.  My husband thought it would be funny to pretend that a runaway bike mysteriously cut me off and then landed on top of me.  No bloggers were hurt in the above photo. 

So, let’s quickly recap:

I caught on fairly quickly.  Well, by the time we were finished my balance was pretty good, anyway.  However, even though I tried repeatedly, I couldn’t get the hang of turning in circles; I kept feeling like I was going to fall over.  I don’t want to brag or anything, but I must say I’m quite the wizard at bicycling in a straight line. 

I had fun. Kind of. In all honesty, I was so focused on trying to stay upright that I couldn’t relax long enough to call it enjoyable. I was seriously white-knuckling the handlebars so badly that my hands ached by the time we called it quits for the day.

I’ll be out there biking again! I think I need a better bike, though. The seat was making my butt ache after the first 10 minutes and I noticed my lower back beginning to hurt a little (which was my real worry) but I think that if I had a bike that was fit more for ‘me’ I’d ride a lot more comfortably.

Well, there you have it.  Pour forth your bicycling adventures or advice for this newbie.  She’s got a lot to learn.

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Giveaway…

…….many thanks to those of you who entered my Smartwool Socks giveaway on Friday.  I numbered each commenter in order of comment posted (minus my non-US commenters and those whom did not wish to be entered) and then gave Random.org the task of selecting the winner.

And the winner is:  Lucky number 4: Marsial!  Email me with your mailing address by 9 AM EST on Wednesday morning and I will send out your Smartwool socks this week.  Congratulations! 

To the rest of my readers, there are more prizes coming; just keep a lookout for more Memory Lane Posts throughout the month of September! 

See you all on Wednesday!

Comfort Zone Challenge: The Good. The Bad. The Bendy

What do I wear?  Do I need shoes?  I don’t own a mat!  Do I need a mat?  Should I bring water to drink?  Do I need to cleanse my aura before I arrive?  These were just some of the questions I asked the yoga instructor/owner before attending my very first class yesterday so that I could come prepared (OK, I didn’t ask her the last question).  Still, she probably thought I was some kind of nut-job but hey – I’m a planner, and we planners need to know these things so we can worry about other, more important things!

I cannot begin to tell you how nervous I was.  Remember what it was like in high school when you had to give a speech in Public Speaking class?  Yeah, it was that kind of nervous.  In fact, the only reasons I didn’t back out was because I had pre-paid for a month of classes, and because I told all of you that I was taking Wednesday’s class.  Turns out, money and the thought of disappointing others are great-big manipulators!  lol

As I walked in, there was another beginner who was filling out some paperwork.  Whew! I thought.  I’m not the only newbie here!  While Liz, who was our instructor (as well as the owner) was checking the other gals in,  her mother Tina led me to a series of cubbyholes where I was to put my shoes.  She then led me into the studio which was dimly lit, with mirrors on one end of the room.  Soothing music was being played in the background.  Along one wall were a series of mats, bolsters, blocks and long, black straps.  What on earth do we need straps for?  Just what kind of class is this?    I thought, as I quickly grabbed the closest mat and went to pick out a spot.  I unrolled my mat in the center of the room, sat down, and waited.  Soon, the room was filled with about 10 students, ranging in ages from late 20’s to late 50’s. 

I’m going to stop here for a second and tell you that I had three major reasons for deciding to take yoga classes. First, I wanted to reduce my anxiety and bring a sense of calm to my life.  Second, I wanted to strengthen my lower back which as most of you know has been giving me grief for years.  And third, I wanted to meet new people.  Now that my first class is over, I should mention something I now know:  if you’re looking to socialize – yoga class isn’t the kind of place where people are chatty.  As people filed into the studio, I looked around to make eye contact with several students and even attempted to make a little small talk but quickly realized that everyone was busy preparing their minds and bodies for the class and didn’t want to be disturbed.  Some people started stretching, while a few others sat on their mats cross-legged with their eyes closed, and even a couple of people laid on their backs while listening to the music overhead.  I probably should have expected this, but honestly, I had no idea what to expect so I have to plead ignorance on this one.  I commenced with stretching and tried to look like I knew what I was doing. 

The first 20 minutes of class consisted of learning about the proper way to breathe, the proper way to sit and the proper way of holding poses.   It was at that time I started thinking to myself, ‘Why am I paying for this? I could get a DVD and do this at home.’ 

It wasn’t until I was over half way through class before I started truly noticing the benefits of being in a class environment.  The room oozed with relaxation because of the lighting, the calming voice of the instructor and the soothing music.   While focusing on my breathing and holding my poses, somewhere within that timeframe the outside world just disappeared.  

The last 5 minutes of class we were instructed to lay on our backs with our eyes closed.  Liz lowered the lights to near darkness and encouraged us to focus on complete relaxation, beginning with the tip of the head all the way down to our feet.  It was here, she said, that we would reap all of the benefits of that day’s class.  We’d walk out feeling relaxed yet energized.  She was right.  When I left class I felt calm and focused, and what’s remarkable is, that feeling lasted for hours. 

I also realized that I was wrong, too.  For me personally, I’d never have that kind of benefit by doing yoga at home.  In class I didn’t have the dogs begging for attention; there was no phone ringing; no distracting thoughts like, I should really be doing laundry instead; no anticipation of a disruption.  Within that studio was my time.  For me alone. 

So there you have it.  Comfort Zone Challenge Operation Yoga was a success.  In fact, I signed up for another class this evening called Gentle Yoga.  I was told that as a beginner I would fit right in. 

And before I end today…a BIG thanks to all of you for your encouragement in helping me see this challenge through.  Your words are carefully read and reflected on when they appear in the comments section of my posts, and I want you to know that your support really helped me make that first step through the door.  

 

~Ellen

 

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Comfort Zone Challenge: Yoga!

For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been good in exercise classes.  In grade school when teams were being chosen for kickball, I was one of those kids who was always picked last (and you thought that was just made-up movie stuff, didn’t you?)  It’s true.  I sucked at sports.  I was such a girl.  Dodgeball was terrifying and I’d cower instead of run when someone had me in his sights.  In my defense however, kids are downright mean.  Who stands 3 feet away from you and throws a ball at your head with all their might?  I’m pretty sure that I went to school with a bunch of repressed sadists. 

Then came middle school.  Volleyball wasn’t any better.  I wasn’t aggressive enough to run after the ball and lob it back into the air.  There was always someone else who wanted it more, so I thought it was more polite to stand back and encourage my teammate to be the best she could be (how’d you like that clever excuse??)

Softball in high school?  Nope.  Always ended up in the outfield where I spent a lot of time by myself singing Michael Jackson songs and learning how to make that cracking sound with my gum. 

Last but not least, Thursdays were generally saved for gymnastics.  We’d drag out those smelly blue gym mats and had to practice cartwheels, somersaults and headstands.  Even though I went through the motions, all I could think about was, ‘but, what if I land wrong and my neck snaps in half?’ 

I ask you, is there truly any wonder why I still don’t know how to ride a bike? I think not. 

Here is the interesting thing: I am finding that summer 2011 is turning into the Summer of Me, (which I know, sounds like a really bad title to an Afterschool Special).  My weight may not be exactly where I’d like it to be, but sweet, supportive readers of mine – I’m doing some serious movin’ and shakin’ over here, and can honestly say that I’ve done more mentally challenging things in the past couple of months than I have, literally, in years.  Kayaking has shown me that I’m not some uncoordinated doofus; taking a fairy garden taught me to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves,  and becoming friends again with my paintbrush has me reconnecting with my creative side. 

Adding to that list, I want you all to know that I DID IT.  I signed up for Yoga Classes.  And not only did I sign up – because truly, a girl can always just ‘sign up’ and then turn around and talk herself right out of something, am I right?  Well, I wasn’t going to take any chances.

I paid ahead. 

For a month. 

And classes don’t carry over. 

So in other words, if I don’t go, then I’ve just agreed to give my yoga instructor a seriously generous tip for doing nothing more than entering my credit card information into her computer system (which seems a bit forward since we just met).  Voluntarily taking an exercise class is a HUGE comfort zone challenge for me – and rightfully so, given the awkward, gawky tweenage memories I shared above. 

I got out of my car in the parking lot on Monday, I shut the door and repeated out loud, ‘I’ve blogged about this.  Can’t back out.’  Let me tell you, it got me into the door.  And, I know that once my first class is over, I’ll feel tons better.  It’s the initial fear that can be such a manipulator!

My first class begins next Wednesday.  I’m looking forward to the day when I can calmly look a bully in the eye and say, ‘Don’t mess with me, buddy.  I’m very bendy.’

Fat Girl Wearing A Few Extra

It’s quite possible that my blog is having an identity crisis.  Early into the week it decided that it was going to be called Garden Girl Wearing Overalls due to my recent fairy garden class.  Now, it appears that at least for the time being, my blog should be renamed Fat Girl Wearing A Few Extra – pounds, that is. 

I have given this a lot of thought over the past couple of days, and your comments to my weight-gain confession helped put some things into perspective for me.  In her comment to me, Karen probably had no idea that she was reminding me of something I wrote in a recent post: If I’m emotionally fit, my physical health will follow.  I responded to her comment by stating that maybe I should start practicing what I preach. 

Yes, these extra pounds have decided they want to take up permanent residence within this body of mine. Yes, right now my anxiety is still the proverbial thorn in my side, but YES! I am emotionally healthier than I was 5 weeks ago. 

My husband and I sat down to discuss this on Wednesday night.  Here’s a brief glimpse of our conversation:

Me:  I’ve gained 7 pounds since beginning those anxiety meds.

Him: Well, I can’t tell (smart man) but that’s pretty common with depression/anxiety meds, anyway.

Me: I don’t know what to do.  Wean off of it? Try yet another medication? What?!

Him:  Ellen, do you feel better?

Me: I think so, but maybe I’m too close to put it into proper perspective.  Do you think I’m better?

Him:  Before you started these meds, I thought you looked miserable.  You couldn’t concentrate or sit still; Small, day-to-day things seemed difficult for you.  I don’t see that person these days.  You’re more relaxed, less stressed-out over every day things, and you seem more at ease. You don’t want to go back to that, do you? Besides, I personally think that the weight will even out and you’ll stop gaining once your body is fully adjusted to the meds.

I sat there taking in everything he said.   For the last couple of days I’ve reflected on this and have tried to put things into greater perspective. 

No.  I don’t want to go back to being that flakey, nervous, high-strung person, which is why you are not going to see me writing about how disappointed I am with myself.  I have no plans to starve off these pounds with lettuce and rice cakes.  Neither will you be reading about a dedicated plan of recovery, including the latest detox program.  No, I’m not doing any of that.  Instead, I’m going to do something that I’ve never done before:  I’m going to give these few pounds a home for a bit, while I continue taking care of my mental health.

I’ve hovered around 130 pounds for years now.  The thought of allowing a few extra to cling to my body is something completely foreign to me.  Normally, when I gain 3 or 4 (be it hormones or holidays) I put my butt into gear and get the pounds off with focused, hard work.  My physical health will still be a priority as I try my hardest to gain no more weight, but I have to keep reminding myself that these pounds don’t require a definition from me.  They don’t have to mean that I’m having a relapse; nor do they mean I’m lazy, unproductive, even unattractive.  I’m seven pounds up, and guess what?   The earth didn’t shift; it didn’t rain locusts, the sun still rises every morning….and I need a lesson in having more faith in myself.

I’m not going to lie, here.  I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t feeling a little wigged out.  I’m going against everything I’ve taught myself all these years. Excess has always been the enemy, and here I am, sending it a personal invitation to take up residence within my most personal space.   If these pounds continue to creep forward I will deal with it.  But, right now I think I just need to get over myself.   Feeling anxious over these added pounds will only add fuel to the fire.    

So here’s my plan: I am going to continue on with my current anxiety medication for another month.  I’m going to sign up for yoga classes on Monday.  I’m going to continue to put the same kind of energy into my mental well being as I have been putting into my physical well-being.  In other words: I’m putting my money where my mouth is.  I can’t love myself for who I am if I gauge that love depending on what I’m currently weighing in at.  The sooner I realize that all I can do in this world is try to be accepting of who I am right now, then I have to trust that everything else will turn out OK.   If I’m emotionally fit, my physical health will follow.

New Opportunities

Even though I took a break from posting my comfort zone challenges late last year, I vowed to make a point of keeping myself open to new opportunities.   I’ve posted on a few ventures since then, but this weekend, I committed myself to 3 – count ‘em, three! new experiences.     Sure, why not! has become my new motto, lately.

First, a strange occurrence happened on Saturday morning: I think the planets must have been properly aligned because I had my husband all to myself; all day long, too.  He didn’t have to work on his mother’s estate; he wasn’t on-call, and all was quiet at his workplace.  We quickly decided that we’d best leave the phones behind, drop off the dogs at doggie daycare, and then, just start driving before our luck changed. 

Saturday was one of those perfect summer days.  No humidity, not a cloud in the sky, and warm but not uncomfortably so.  The day practically begged for an outdoor activity, so it wasn’t too long before we decided that we’d head towards our local State Park.  They have canoe rentals there, and it seemed like the perfect idea. 

Once we arrived at the rental place, we noticed on the sign that they’d added kayak rentals in addition to canoes.  Neither of us had ever tried kayaking and when my husband asked if I’d consider it, I eagerly said yes. 

 

From the moment I entered the water, I was hooked.  It was surprisingly easy to maneuver, easy to navigate and I didn’t feel at all like I was going to tip over.  My biggest concern – that my lower back would ache too badly for me to enjoy myself, was also put to rest.  The seat was cushioned and had sturdy back support; it kind of felt like I was sitting in an office chair.  I was good to go!

 

The great thing I’ve found about kayaking is that it allows you to get to places you’d never be able to maneuver with a canoe. I could paddle right up to the edge of the water and snake through bogs and around submerged logs with ease.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After exploring only a third of the lake, we decided that we needed some lunch so we headed back to land.  I pre-packed a lunch before we left home, so we drove to a quiet spot near the water and picnicked while watching families and couples fish, kayak and canoe around the lake.  We enjoyed our day on the water so much, we talked about getting our own kayaks.  Does anyone have experience with this sport?  Is there anything we should know about buying kayaks?  I definitely think some research is in order first.

On our way out of the park, I noticed a sign with an arrow pointing down a road, towards the general store.  The sign read:  Bicycle Rentals. 

Those of you who are long-time readers already know that I (hanging my head in shame) do not know how to ride a bicycle.  Yes, you read that right and no, I’m not 7 years old, I’m 41.  So, in case you haven’t guessed it yet – my husband and I decided that our next order of business is to finally get this girl on a bike and teach her how to ride.  Hopefully, this time next week you’ll be reading my tenderhearted success story – complete with plenty of photos (of course!  I wouldn’t just leave you all behind on this momentous occasion) as I pray that I do not have an experience like Sasha did a few months ago.  This photo is currently holding itself front and center in my mind….and this is a woman who already knows how to ride a bike!  (deep breaths, Ellen….deep breaths.)

Facing Life: Part Two

You are about to read the second half of my two-part post.  If you missed yesterday’s post, you will want to read it first here before reading part II.

My mother has never showed a hint of anger towards anyone over this accident.  Yes she said, he was going too fast.  Yes, he most certainly should have stopped, ‘but under different circumstances it could have been any one of my kids behind that wheel, making a foolish mistake at that age.’ I tried very hard to remember her words as I made my way up the courthouse steps.

Thankfully, I wasn’t alone.  My husband was able to meet me at the courthouse and my nephew came as well.   We entered the courtroom and slipped into the pew at the back of the room.

People were coming and going as cases ended while new ones began.  The victim’s advocate saw us arrive and came back to sit next to us.  She asked  if one of us wanted to speak during the sentencing.  I could not bring myself to do it without bursting into tears.  I will probably always regret that I wasn’t able to get it together enough to do this one thing.   My husband had a few words with the prosecutor and agreed to speak on the family’s behalf, for which I was so grateful.

We continued to wait for over an hour before a young man and two women sat down next to us.  It wasn’t until the case was called before I realized I was sitting in the same pew as the man involved in the accident along with members of his family.

Two hours and several cases later, it was time.  The prosecutor, defense attorney and defendant stood before the judge.  When the judge asked if there were any witnesses, my husband was called to be sworn in and stood at his place in front of the bench.  He recounted what happened while I watched the replay in my head for the hundredth time.  When the defendant’s turn came to speak before the court I heard phrases like ….didn’t know anyone was hurt……thought I’d just hit a sign……so sorry for what I did. When the judge gave his sentence and it was over, my chance came to speak to the defendant and his family on my mother’s behalf.

For  months we have ached over the events surrounding this accident, but my heart softened as a very young man and his grandmother stood in front of me on Tuesday; he looked me straight in the eyes and I saw the shame and guilt he felt over fleeing the accident.  Suddenly I saw them not as enemies but as people – just like us.  The first few moments were awkward, but the emotion we all felt was so overwhelming, so genuine, the words came quickly.  We spoke; we cried; we even hugged.

And after four months of worry, it was over.

My mother may have physical limitations for the rest of her life but she is taking it in stride. As I watch her heal both physically and emotionally I realize that she has every right to say, ‘I’ve lost so much; where do I go from here?’ but she chooses not to look at life that way. She made the decision to forgive. She continues to live one moment at a time, and challenges her own comfort zone each and every day.  I would be foolish not to open myself up for a life lesson, here.

 

I hesitated writing this post.  Part of me felt like I was imposing on my readers.  I want this to be a place where you can come, hang out for a minute or two, and maybe take something of interest with you as you move on to the other blogs on your list.  Maybe this was a little too personal for you; a little too off-topic; but I just have to say how deeply touched I am with every single comment left for me yesterday.  I was overwhelmed at the supportive and comforting words you all gave and I feel so much a part of this incredible community here online.  I truly do have the best readers around.

Thanks for reading, as always.  See you back here Sunday.