Monday, July 28, 2008

A Visit to Omega Institute

This weekend, I went to Omega Institute, the Rhinebeck, New York conference center where 15-20,000 people gather each summer for all things empowerment.

All spring, I'd reviewed their catalog, considering July's offerings. Katie would be away all month so it seemed the perfect time to schedule my own hard-earned mini-vacation.

There was a workshop with The Not So Big House author Sarah Susanka (I have all her books) and I liked the sound of Evolve Your Brain. Still, I thought, if Matthew might join me, Couples Massage might be fun. But July arrived and one thing led to another and none of those worked out.

Finally, two days before the very last weekend of Katie’s absence, I made my selection—Anatomy of a Successful Workshop with Michael Craft, one of Omega's Program Directors and set off for my adventure.

After a peaceful two hour drive with my Abraham tapes, I arrived at the rustic, almost rugged campus where students milled about at the cafe enjoying their lattes with vegan chocolate chip cookies and organic key lime pie. I wanderd into the bookstore where Flax clothing and every self-help, new age book title (including mine!) were available, along with CDs, gifts, yoga clothing, Omega tee shirts--and the toothbrush or shampoo students may have forgotten.

AFter delicious, healthy vegetarian dinner, students dispersed to different classes.

Michael Craft, was inspiring: Warm and funny and the class was just what I needed--practical yet spiritual, a real-world, hands-on look at the way conference centers like Omega (and Kripalu and Sedona) select and evaluate teachers and programs; and how they make (and don’t make) money doing it. I’ve spent so many years working with conference producers and taking workshops that I was fascinated with this peek behind the curtain. It was a gentle push back to the teaching platform for this former workshop leader. In all the years since I'd led workshops in the hotel ballrooms of NYC--I'd never lost the longing to teach again.

Still, we never really know why we’ve been drawn to a class or place until we get there. And this weekend, for me, was all about climbing and sweating.

The buildings of the Omega campus are scattered around a pretty steep "hill", the dorms situated at the very top. Let's just say: By the second day, I was VERY careful not to leave anything behind that would force me to climb back up there.

And the yoga class slayed me.

The last yoga class I'd taken was more than a year earlier--and that class heralded the period of my life I fondly call "Broiled by hormones" . In the middle of that class, my first hot flash arrived. At the time, I thought the unfamiliar rush of energy and heat was a fainting spell--and I left class immediately, spending the rest of the day anticipating the inevitable arrival of a deadly disease of the brain and blood. (When you are passing out--or believe you are--your imagination is in charge).

Now, at Omega, I was back on the mat. It was great at first. I closed my eyes and breathed, I chanted. I stretched my tight spinal muscles and heard them say, "ahhh."

"Oh, yoga!" every cell in mybody cheered. "We remember this. Thanks for thinking of us." But then, after a (particularly long) downward facing dog pose, I got this strange burning feeling at the base of my spine and this pressure which began surging upward sparking an ominous pinch over my right eyebrow. A kind of steam began to pour from the top of my head as my body started to tremble and I thought, Oh no. And frustrated, I started to cry. Being that I was in class I held in the tears which, of course, made the whole thing worse because hot flashes, in my experience, are an expression of withheld emotions: Unexpressed joy and swallowed tears. I was feeling kind of nauseated and swoony. But I didn't stop.

You may think I should have. You may think: Why push yourself so hard? But after a year of hot flashes interrupting every activity, I was just mad enough to believe I could press on.

And I did, doing all the poses in a slow, fat beginner sort of way, even as my own personal sauna pulsed through me--leveling waves of heat and pressure crashing from kidneys to face, blazing out of my ears and the back of my head. (I'm having a hot flash right now which is why I am able to describe it with such vivid detail.)

Eventually, I decided to refocus my attention and I turned back to yoga practice. But thoughts being what they are, I got to thinking about how being competitive in yoga class is probably representative of how I go about everything else in my life and how that's not working very well anymore. I noticed that no one was judging me or thinking less of me for not exactly pointing my toe or for collapsing onto my mat every couple of seconds. And even if they were, how would I know? And why would I care? I began to relax into my own little "hot yoga" practice.. and it was good. And I was okay.

Later, when everyone was rolling up their sticky mats and putting away their blocks and blankets, I approached the teacher
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Of course," he said.
"Have you found that women, during menopause, shouldn't do yoga?"
"Just the opposite," he said. "Yoga seems to help women with that."
"Not me," I sighed. "Just thinking about doing yoga gives me hot flashes."
"I guess today's practice didn't help you much, did it?"
I shook my head.
"That makes sense," he explained. "Today's practice was all about building heat. From the breathing we did (which I think he called "breath of fire") to the poses."
Then, he suggested some things: Try doing your practice on your back, and don't do too much backbending or inversions. And try this..." he said, placing his finger against the side of his nose, closing off his right nostril. "Inhale as deeply as you can... come on, you do it, too."
I did it with him, inhaling deeply and... "Hey, it's working!"
"Breathing through the left nostril is cooling," he said. "Today, whenever you have a hot flash, try breathing as deeply as you can through your left nostril."

All Saturday afternoon, I breathed through my left nostril which also helped the migraine that I'd somehow triggered.
Sunday morning, I presented my workshop idea, sweatily, through migraine and hot flashes, to two helpful classmates.

Finally, Sunday afternoon, I headed home.
I was barely 20 miles into my trip, the skies opened, the rain so heavy that the radio reported accidents (and stalled traffic) on every major highway in the New York/New Jersey area. (which reminded me, somehow, of the way that my menopause symptoms keep stalling my life.)

Blinded by rain, I pulled off the road somewhere near Poughkeepsie, and found myself at a coffee shop, ordering a cheeseburger (no bun), which after three days of Omega's perfect vegan fare, was near orgasmic.
And then, nursing a cup of Lipton tea, I started to write. And as the words tumbled onto the page, I thought: Thank Heaven for this rain.

For instead of hurtling home, I'd been forced to stop and take stock--to exhale just a little of what I'd taken in this weekend.
As I wrote, I realized: This weekend was a profound coming home for me. For that world of workshops, steep hills and people striving to do good work is "my" place. I'm a teacher and a student and my gift for the world is a good one.

I'm ready to write now... and finally, Im ready to teach.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Things I'm enjoying this summer...

1) Quiet house: Katie at camp in Boston having big art fun. Max working three jobs--big suntanned lifeguard--and sharing dinner with us again; Matthew and I relaxing into "just us" time.

2) Resuming my yoga practice... hearing, each morning, the whisper of my body saying, "thank you".

3) My daily two mile walk: Down Saddle River Road, up the steep hill that is Margett's, and down the cardio joy run of Hungry Hollow Rd. Across the fairy stream to Red Barn Lane where it's up and up and up through thick fragrant forest to the Fellowship Community where, passing the chicken coops, I dive back into the woods. I pick up the trail that leads away from Indian Rock and pop out in the back orchard. Kicking loose pebbles, I race down the dirt road to the little pond where toads croak and and my new friend, a huge oak, reminds me to listen to life whirling around me--birdsong, wind, tree chatter, rustling and crunching. Sweating, joyful, I climb the last hill through stands of gnarly apple trees with hard green almost fruit forming and encounter a family of cows> They stare, chewing grass as I pass the sheepfold, the greenhouses, the tractor that never seems to move from one spot, the old meeting barn, the creamery--and cross the street to my driveway.

4) This link:

5) Eating again! Following "The Schwarzbein Principle," written by Diana Schwarzbein, the physician who inspired many of the healthier low-carb, high protein diets out there. I can eat all the foods I love and my weight continues to drop, slowly, steadily, sensibly. The plan is honest, sensible, healthy and clearly explained. It works... and by "works" I mean gradual steady weight loss that lasts, healing the metabolism, balancing the hormones, no more migraines (so far), new energy, clear thinking--it's a lifestyle vs. another stupid fad diet.

6) Planning the 50th birthday party I didn't have last year (on my 51st birthday)... and not planning ANYTHING else!

7) Rich, velvety (and a little bit expensive) Cabernet: BV Napa Valley, Sterling, and Rutherford Hill with a lovely lunch at Citrus Grill (or Legal Seafood) with my laptop

8) Writing my book...delicious, frustrating, challenging, intriguing, boring, enchanting, exhausting, invigorating...

9) Decaf iced tea!

10) All the gorgeous new clothes I can wear! (and buying them at Goodwill for pennies!)

11) The flow of blessings in my life... this gratitide that surges up from belly to heart, and widens me.

12) This day.

Please post your own list in the comments section below... I'd love to hear what you're enjoying this summer.