Why yoga stresses me out

Until about five years ago I hadn’t thought about yoga for about 30 years, and it was a quaint and dusty memory from my high school and early college years. But about seven years ago it became hot again, especially after women saw what it did for Madonna.

So I tried it again last year, seeking to recapture the zen-like state and serene accomplishment I felt in high school – when I was leaner and more flexible – and conquered the “plow” and “headstand” positions in gym class with Mrs. Rush.

It was not as I remembered.

The studio, above a busy pizza parlor, was packed elbow to sharp elbow with stressed women determined to de-stress themselves whatever the cost. Clad in their Lululemon yoga pants, they unrolled expensive mats and stretched, with the same serious expressions as elite marathon runners before the big race. This yoga was a big deal.

My friend Jane and I had decided to take a “special” of five introductory classes to see if yoga was right for us. When my friend tried to unroll her own mat – a cheap and worn one rented for $1 from the studio – a woman clad in chic yoga gear gently but pointedly interrupted her.

“This is my spot,” she said.

The class was led by a petite blonde, who dimmed the lights and pressed a button on the big gray boom box, releasing a soft trickle of new-agey music. She delivered her instructions in a sweet and low voice, coaxing us into sun salutes, “child” poses, leg lifts, and positions that required extending our arms and balancing on one leg, like upended toy airplanes.

This would have been OK if the studio had not been crowded with at least 18 or 20 people. But we were unable to move our limbs into these contortions without nervously checking the GPS of our neighbors’ legs and arms.

Another challenge was the construction of a new building behind the strip shopping center. Our journey towards nirvana was constantly thwarted by the clanking of structural steel and the staccato pounding of the jackhammer.

But through it all, our leader’s soothing voice continued telling us to relax, to let all our cares go. “I wish she’d hurry up,” I thought. I furtively looked around for a clock and wondered when I could go home and have a glass of wine.

Jane called me the following week. “I can’t go to yoga because I have a meeting,” she said.

A Zen-like relief flooded into my whole being.

“Me neither,” I said. I poured another glass of wine and felt incredibly centered and relaxed.

Any mental hoarders out there?

Does anyone else out there hoard thoughts, memories, obscure facts, jingles, ephemera, trivia, minutia, etc., like others hoard newspapers, dried-out pens and last month’s half-eaten pizza?

Anyone else ever feel as if your brain is an attic with too much clutter from facts, trivia, song passages, memories that are no longer needed? Does it leave no room to store important things, such as your nephew’s anniversary, an appointment, the location of an overdue bill, the fact that your mom had a tooth pulled two days ago and might need a phone call?

Why can’t we call in the experts?

Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a business like “Got Junk?” to de-clutter your brain, and cart away all the unnecessary stuff? As I go through my brain I’ve already found a few things I’d get ready for the truck. Here is just a very small sampling:

Entire dialogs from certain Sponge Bob episodes
The disco music that accompanied the “Corn Silk” makeup TV commercial in the 60s (It sounded something like the Zombies’ “Time of the Season.”
The names of every one of my grade school teachers: Sister Maria Stella Maris, Miss Welding, Miss Kallam, Sister Mary Boniface, Sister Paul Mary, Sister Dennis Mary…and their disrespectful nicknames: Melon Head, Pruny, etc.
Lyrics from one-hit wonders of the 1970s
“Chumbawumba”
Carter’s Spankypants
The introductory guitar riffs from obscure songs on the B-sides of long-forgotten albums
Songs that “Miss Worm” sang on Captain Kangaroo
“Tantum Ergo” and other Catholic hymns in Latin, unsung since the third grade.
Names of the children and spouses of people I met 16 years ago, but not their last names.
The menus of nearly every wedding I ever attended
Phone numbers of childhood friends who moved a long time ago. I can’t remember their new phone numbers.
Names of all the boats that used to dock next to my first husband’s boat 30 years ago.

While I am digging up more, I’d love to hear about what others might add to the pile from their own personal stash. Weigh in!

O, Jackie! So glad you never knew Rebekah

By now the entire universe is buzzing about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s candid interviews about her White House years, released 47 years after they were taped. Her daughter Caroline, the curator of the tapes, has presented them in a new book and has talked about them in reserved, carefully staged interviews with the media.

For those of us who came of age in the 60s, the realization that Jackie is human – and capable of gossip, pettiness and insecurity – does little to change the impact she had on how we lived. Her style, her class and her fortitude inspired all of us. They became calcified in our memories long before these new tapes had the chance to re-mold them.

The hats my mother wore to Sunday Mass, the camel double-breasted coats we wore every winter, the tartan plaid lunchboxes we carried to the school bus stop (when everybody else had Flintstone lunchboxes) were all influenced by Jackie’s understated style.

Moreover, her classy bearing was an inspiration even to those of us who were not raised in Newport, who grew up in working-class mill towns like mine. Whenever we struggled with the inevitable cruelties of the playground and schoolyard, whenever we faced slights that had us hanging on to dignity by our fingernails, my mom gently reminded us to do what Jackie would do.

Hold up your head. Sweep right past them. Say nothing. Be as regal as a queen, as impenetrable as a Sphinx.

I wonder if how long Jackie would have been able to keep this protective shield charm going if she were a young First Lady today, married to an achingly attractive, charismatic President with a wandering eye. As years went by she had her struggles with paparazzo Ron Galella and author Kitty Kelly. But could Camelot and her regal image have survived Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks?

Would the New York Post have trained a long lens on Jackie as she sunbathed on Onassis’s yacht — looking for signs of cellulite, wrinkles and frizz that can be circled in red on page one? Would a Murdoch minion have tapped her cell phone? Would her secrets, her self-doubts, her faux pas, her makeup-free days be fair game for the front cover of “In Touch” magazine?

Just imagine the headlines that could have resulted if those taped conversations had been captured in real time:

Jackie ‘a dud’ with in-laws
JFK’s semi-nude White House romps
Jackie calls author ‘lesbian’
First Lady trashes Pat Nixon’s perm
Puppy love: Smitten Khruschev delivers pooch to White House
Indira a ‘prune?’
Jackie disses MLK
Sukarno takes Jackie as second wife

I’d like to think that some public figures like Jackie are beyond the reach of meddlers who feel nobody is entitled to a private life. I’d like to think that her class, her contributions as First Lady and her accomplishments would put her in a different category than the long list of public figures ruined by their private slips of the tongue and indiscretions. Today the pedestal of public admiration is as precarious as a stilt, and in a heartbeat can turn into a rail for a tarred-and-feathered fallen hero.

Something tells me that it’s a good thing that Jackie lived in an earlier, more respectful era, so that in our minds she can remain like the heroine of a silent movie: beautiful, brave, classy, perfect…and silent.

Verbal toupees for “older” people

Can anyone suggest some good euphemisms for “elderly” or “older” that don’t sound like euphemisms?

A verbal toupee to cover up our embarrassment with becoming old, or describing someone who’s old? So many adjectives have been designated only for use with older people. If they were products, you’d most likely find them in the back pages of AARP Magazine, next to the stair lifts and vacuum pumps for erectile dysfunction.

Is the word “vigorous” ever been used to describe a baby? Is “youthful” ever used next to anybody else other than an older woman or an indiscretion? Will a “cougar” ever be a spotted animal again?

I especially hate “spry.” It’s never used to describe a younger adult; only somebody who’s old. When I read the word “spry,” it infers “they are in surprisingly good shape when everybody expects them to be decrepid” or “they can get around without a walker…isn’t that amazing?” You never hear that word “spry” used to describe a 20-year-old track star.

Until a few years ago Spry was a solid vegetable shortening…a competitor to Crisco. If I remember that, then I guess I am old enough to be spry!!!!

Please feel free to share your own favorite (or most dreadful) euphemisms for those of us in midlife and beyond.

The most glamorous mother-in-law

Lois, my mother-in-law, turns 79 today and I Don’t Know How She Does It.

She still walks five miles a day; has thick and gorgeous auburn hair and wears a size four. She is almost Nancy Reaganesque in her petite glamour — only far more liberal, earthier and Jewish.

On the occasion of her birthday I looked through some old photos of Lois and she always looked younger than her age. A 30-year-old photo of her with my stepdaughter – her first grandchild — shows a radiantly smiling blonde whose skin even looked dewy. She was pushing 50 then and still looked like she was in her late 20s.

“Who’s your plastic surgeon?” asked one of her friends not too long ago.

No plastic surgeon here; just lots of discipline, great genes and most importantly, a determination to celebrate every day.

When she learned she was diabetic a few years ago, Lois gave up white bread and desserts and shaved even more weight off her already-petite frame. Now she weighs about what she did when she was a harried young mom with four rambunctious boys.

She’s a great walking partner (when I can keep up with her) who shares gossip and stories nonstop as we briskly clock the miles, turning a workout into a girls’ night out at a Nancy Meyers movie. She talks about people I’ll never meet but somehow I’m enthralled.

She also has boundless energy and is one of those people who constantly has to be doing something. Even when she is watching television her knitting needles are clicking furiously, creating the latest of dozens of afghans she has made for people she loves. Sometimes when I watch her I feel so tired that I have to lie down. Maybe I’m eating too many carbs.

When she took my 29-year-old stepson to Europe a few years ago, some of his friends assumed he was accompanying his doddering grandma on the trip.

“I’ll be lucky if I can keep up with her,” was Jesse’s response. And he was right. She matched him step by step around the Swiss Alps and Barcelona.

She loves so much to organize and re-organize things, in her own home and wherever she visits. Even her refrigerator shelves look like a display in a Michael Kors boutique, while mine look and smell like a crypt.

I’ve learned to relax and enjoy her efforts to organize me. In fact, I have now outsourced this job completely to her.

“Lois, I’m saving some closets just for you!” I tell her before she visits, and I can sense her gleeful anticipation over the phone.

Lois’s own closets are bursting with élan. I have never seen her wear sweats, except for our walks. Soon after we’ve arrived home, sweaty and dusty, she is showered and tastefully coifed and made up, wearing a pair of curvy jeans and turquoise jewelry.

And I guess what’s most inspiring about Lois is her loyalty and protectiveness of the people she loves. She can be headstrong and opinionated, and isn’t afraid to go to bat against anybody, whether it’s her husband’s oncologists or the host at the El Torito restaurant, who wouldn’t give us the table we wanted by the window. My father-in-law, who battled cancer more than a decade ago, is alive because she was a pit bull with the doctors. She knew his charts even better than they did, and never hesitated to point out things they might have overlooked.

So happy birthday to a woman who’s a great role model in how to age gracefully!

Welcome to The Sandwich Lady

Welcome to my blog, which I have called The Sandwich Lady. I have been thinking about this for a long time. It’s for women who often feel sandwiched between the generations in their vast families, and between their comfortable life and their postponed dreams.

A Sandwich Lady has grown kids who love her but don’t need mothering and an octogenarian mom who still treats her like a little girl.
AND…this Sandwich Lady has a preteen son who keeps her feeling young but has some classmates whose parents look like her older children.
A Sandwich Lady occasionally feels as energetic as she did at 20, but nervously checks the obits every day to see if anybody in their 50s has died, and from what.
A Sandwich Lady has a lot more that she yearns to give the world – her professional talents, her personal insights, her passions, her wisdom – but worries that people won’t be able to look past her age.
A Sandwich Lady on some days wants to launch a business and on other days wants to bag groceries. She’s not sure which would make her happier.
A Sandwich Lady yearns for challenges that test and confirm her ability to change and to grow, but needs to overcome bad habits that she’s had for 30 years.
A Sandwich Lady is in a rut that is sometimes lined with velvet and other times lined with nettles. Sometimes she feels too tired to climb out.
On to more superficial things:
A Sandwich Lady stopped being a babe about 15 or 20 years ago, the first time somebody called her “Maam” instead of “Miss.” She remembers exactly where it happened. (At a supermarket in suburban Philadelphia.)
A Sandwich Lady knows that when she is out in public she should never EVER wear cargo pants and a black top unless she is willing to put on loads of makeup, because she’ll look like death or an unkempt teenage guy.
A Sandwich Lady plasters a beatific smile over her dismay when she’s out with her son and somebody assumes he’s her grandson.
A Sandwich Lady always puts on lipstick to keep her lips from looking like overcooked veal.
A Sandwich Lady is somewhat at peace with her face but not her neck (As Nora Epron pointed out so eloquently.)

I know there are other Sandwich Ladies out there.