Practicing what I preach

This morning as I was driving to my job of teaching yoga to elementary school students, I had a panic attack. I had to pull my car onto the shoulder and, while trying to control my hyperventilating, I texted my colleagues to apologize and to let them know that I wouldn’t be making in to teach today.

I’m not entirely sure what brought on the panic attack, but likely it’s the stress of working two jobs and trying to juggle all the duties those jobs entail, while also raising my youngest son, who is still at home with me half the time.

Recently, I took a job as an admin for a busy architecture firm for a few important reasons: the main one being health insurance. When my divorce becomes final I will be without health insurance, as my job as a yoga teacher is as an independent contractor. Without going into politics and how I feel about the limited access to health care in the US, I will just say that the situation has caused me a great deal of stress and worry. I also took the second job so that I can earn enough to support myself as a single woman living in the increasingly unaffordable Bay Area, where I have spent my entire life.

I thought I was managing. I thought I was getting it all done and doing a decent job of taking care of everything on my plate. Today the realization that I might actually be doing a crappy job at all of them hit me like a ton of bricks after I dropped my son at school, checked in to the office for an hour, then headed to my teaching gig. The irony in all of this is that the theme I’m teaching my yoga students this week is aparigraha — the practice of non-grasping.

I have been talking to my students about learning how to let go of feelings and thoughts — and even tangible things — that aren’t serving us. We’ve talked about the importance of releasing the negative feelings, the grudges and the stress of living in the past and the future – rather than in the present moment. It all makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Truly, it’s great lesson for my students, but it’s also a lesson that I need right now, maybe even more than my students. Perhaps it’s time for me to stop talking about these things and start living them. Sure, that’s easier said than done, but I suppose realizing what I need to do is the first step.

And taking stock of what I have been grasping at and holding on to is the most important thing on my to-do list right now. So in the spirit of practicing what I preach, here is what I need to learn to let go of:

  • the shame of my husband leaving me
  • the worry that I’m not doing a good enough job at everything in my life
  • the constant monkey mind thoughts that I am not: moving on fast enough from my divorce, making enough money to support myself and my kids, able to access to health insurance, being a good parent to my children
  • the idea that something I did caused my husband to cheat on me and become a “sugar daddy” to multiple “sugar babies” right under my nose
  • the shame that I am not making the right or most rational decisions in my divorce
  • the belief that I am a fraud
  • the belief that I am not good enough
  • living everywhere but the present moment


The panic attack has subsided, my breathing has returned to normal and I’m not feeling as terrified. It’s probably time to start checking things off that list.




That silver lining I have been waiting for.

It finally happened. Over the past two years I have heard more than my fair share of “my divorce was the best worst thing that ever happened to me.” And the “some good WILL come out of this pain,” and ” you will come out the other side happier than you have ever been.” I was starting to think that none of that would ever apply to me. Thankfully, some of that light poked its head through the clouds tonight. I’ll take a few steps back and explain how I got here.

When I got pregnant with the second of my three kids, my husband was knee-deep in the launching of a high tech startup. Long hours, lots of travel and all of the stress that comes along with launching a startup made it difficult for us to be a two-career family. My husband and I made the decision that I would stay home with the kids. And while being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t always the easiest job, I was very grateful to have been able to spend that quality time with all of my kids.

When my youngest child started kindergarten, I realized that I had quite a bit of free time during the day when all three kids were at school. But since by then my husband was working on startup number two, a full time job wasn’t going to be any more feasible then than it had been ten years earlier. Seeing the various substitute teachers that came and went in my kids’ classes, I realized that I could do a much better job than most of them. I promptly got my substitute teaching credential and began what has now been a 12 year job as a sub at the elementary school my kids attended. It was perfect, the kids and I could essentially commute to and from school together. I became the go-to sub at the school (believe me, it is not difficult to rise to that rank, the bar is set painfully low) and got to be part of my kids’ lives at school as well as at home. My youngest graduated from the school more than six years ago…..and I’m still there.

But when my husband moved out and divorce became inevitable, I realized that being a substitute teacher, and making what amounted to little more than pocket change, I needed to find myself a new gig. Having been out of the traditional job market for almost 20 years, I saw little opportunity available to me. Without going back to school for an advanced degree or vocational training there just wasn’t much out there for an educated, but rather unskilled middle aged divorcee.

When I signed up for yoga teacher training about four years ago it had nothing to do with a desire to actually teach yoga. I was more interested in deepening my own personal practice. But on a whim, I decided to approach the principal of my school to see if the possibility existed for me to start a yoga and mindfulness program for the students. I didn’t have high hopes, but really, what was there to lose?

To my great surprise my principal loved the idea, but he cautioned me that it would be an uphill battle to get the program approved and funded. Months of frustration followed as things went through the school district, school board, PTA and the education foundation. My hopes were dimming. It was a wonderful shock when four months later, we were given the go-ahead to use a one-time education foundation grant to start the yoga and mindfulness program….yay!! Yoga mats were purchased, I set up in an unused classroom and set out scheduling 30 minute sessions with each classroom at our kindergarten through 5th grade school — about 14 classes per week.

The kids, and teachers, took to the program and it felt like a success, but I worried that when the grant was gone, so would this new dream job. As the end of that first year approached, I heard from the PTA that they would be taking over the funding of my program — telling me that it was the only non-academic program their kids came home and talked about. Again…..yay!!

Fast forward to tonight at our district’s school board meeting. My principal was using our school’s “spotlight” to highlight the yoga and mindfulness program. I knew that he had sent out a request for teachers and students to write about the program or even attend the meeting to speak about it in person. I was pretty excited as it was, but when I walked in the door to see at least 6 families walking into the meeting — I could not stop smiling. My students, as is typical when they see their teachers outside of school, were excited to see me. But what wasn’t typical, for me, at least, was to have their parents tell me how much they appreciate what I do….I had to work hard to hold back the tears. But man, when those kids got up and told the school board how much they love yoga, mindfulness, pranayama and meditation, I can’t even describe how fantastic it was. It seems so corny to say, but I was bursting with pride.

When we were all told we could leave the meeting so that the kids could go home and finish their homework and the board could get back to boring school board matters, the kids gathered outside the room and showed their parents their favorite yoga poses (mostly the impressive looking crow pose) and asked me to pose for photos with them. Each parent thanked me and one even told me that she would make sure that the PTA will not only continue to fund my program, but she will also push to expand it. Wow!

Again, so corny, but true….I cried tears of happiness and gratitude all the way home. I haven’t felt this much pride and joy in a very long time. And had my husband not left me, I never would have had this experience. I’m not sure why — old habits die hard, I suppose, and I guess I still haven’t fully given up the need to share my accomplishments with my ex — but I called him on the way home. I told him that I was grateful he left me so that I could have this experience. He seemed irritated to hear from me and I don’t imagine that telling him I appreciated him leaving me helped matters. But it seems time for me to move on from that need to have someone else validate me. Tonight, at least, I was able to validate myself, with a little help from some amazing little yogis.

I’m not naive enough to believe that my sadness is gone for good or that life will suddenly be all rainbows and unicorns, but it’s a start. A very big start.

The Amazing Disappearing Act of the Middle Aged Woman

I saw my doctor recently, having avoided her for far too long. It seemed like time to make sure my 50 year old parts were all in working order. Also, I’d been noticing the scale creeping up to unfamiliar levels. Nothing drastic, but I wanted to rule out anything serious. As it turns out, my 50 year old body is NOT functioning efficiently. My cholesterol numbers are at a level that needs immediate attention and, in discussing my weight, I learned something new. 

Making my way through the separation and divorce process over the past two years, I’ve learned a lot about stress responses in the body and how cortisol in high levels can wreak havoc on our bodies. What I didn’t know is that it tricks your body into fearing that starvation is a real possibility. So my brain, thinking that I am in grave danger, told my body to store more of the fats I eat. Much those fats were ice cream and most of it ended up in my mid-section. Great. Just great.

Without taking a deep dive into my bodily functions, I will say that being a 50 year old woman is a thankless job. I don’t think I’m the first one of my kind to find herself in a doctor’s office feeling a little out of sorts. Obviously my lovely doctor sees many of us in this category of life: 40ish or 50ish, empty nester (or almost), divorced (or almost) and trying to make sense of all of the above. I know this because she launched into a speech that seemed too practiced to be designed only for me.

With only the best of intentions, my doctor implored me to take care of myself and to enjoy what is finally going to be “my time.” No husband, no kids (well, mostly no kids) and plenty of time to find new passions and new direction. She reminded me that I still have a lot of living left ahead of me and I owe it to myself to get healthy and enjoy it.

Since that day, I’ve been thinking a lot about how not-unique my circumstances are. I’ve found myself as part of a group of women in my neighborhood who are all divorced (most, like me, after long marriages), most are empty or soon-to-be empty nesters and most of us have endured the pain and shame of our husbands’ infidelities. At work a small group of us have formed what is essentially a support group for women going through divorce. We’re at different stages of the process, but share our stories of life in the trenches of family court.

Taking a step back, I realized that the majority of my friends are either divorced or unhappily married, and most of us are searching for purpose in a world that doesn’t always seem to value us. We have almost become invisible and what often feels like dispensible. Many of us lament that we spend so much of our time struggling to adapt to our new lives and new responsibilities. We share stories of bursting into tears when the TV or wifi isn’t working and we can’t fix it. Or when a storm knocks a giant tree limb across our driveway, or the shower is leaking into the basement. We struggle with these things not because we are incapable, but because, for many years, there was a division of labor in our homes and those were things our husbands did. An efficient family is one that divides and conquers household responsibilities. My friends are I now find ourselves trying to figure out how to manage these new jobs —while still doing the things we’ve always done—and the learning curve can be steep.

Adjusting to our new normal, we see that we have become invisible to our former spouses. Those of us on dating sites also experience a particularly humiliating level of invisibility. We swipe on men our own age and never hear from them. Simply put, we are not the hottest commodity Match or OkCupid. When did we become invisible to men — our husbands AND prospective dates? When did it become so common for men to leave their wives just at the time we’re finally getting the space to enjoy our kid-free lives? Why is it so easy for them to stop seeing us, but most of what we see and experience is a sense of deep pain and loss. 

Men aren’t the only ones who have stopped seeing us, we’re invisible to employers too. My circles of divorced women are finding it hard to make ends meet these days. Rare is the job available to a middle aged mom who has been out of the traditional job market for years — many of us have worked over the years but, often, because of our decisions to be the primary caregivers to our kids, we have salaries that were never meant to be the sole support for a family in Silicon Valley.

After my visit with the doctor, I found myself thinking a lot about sight. What we see, who we see, how we see them, how they see us. It’s an odd and disorienting feeling to be living what so often feels like an invisible life. I’ve also been thinking quite a bit about what it is that I see and who I see. In talking to my circle of divorced friends, it’s clear that we all want to be SEEN again. We want someone to SEE us and accept us as we are. To see —and appreciate—the wisdom we’ve gained in our many years on the planet, the strength we’ve built up, our man y accomplishments, big and small, and that we raised kids who have become pretty special adults. So maybe we need to zoom out our narrow view of our circumstances and start seeing the larger, wider, fuller picture of our lives. Perhaps we need to see more of what we have and less of what we don’t.

In an interesting case of life imitating art, my yoga teacher instructed us to experience this morning’s practice with our eyes closed for the duration of the 90 minute class. While we all wobbled and struggled through poses that are so familiar with eyes open, our teacher read aloud the poetry of Mary Oliver. Oliver, who passed away last week, somehow managed to eloquently voice what so many of us feel. She made poetry accessible to those who don’t necessarily enjoy poetry. She made us see things that we didn’t realize we were seeing. Olliver asked us to reframe how we view the world so that we can see and experience it in all its beauty.

As I stood on my mat this morning, eyes closed and struggling to find balance, a feeling of gratitude came over me for the gifts that surround me every minute of every day.  As I open my eyes each morning the decision to see those gifts is mine.



Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.


Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver