The Other M Word

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On Saturday, after a long day of trail running and yard work, I finally collapsed in the easy chair. I was clean for the first time all day and beyond hunger. And I just didn’t get up. You can always be doing something, my mother used to say. Not right now, I replied from the future. While waiting for my husband to come in for dinner, I sat in the easy chair with The Atlantic Monthly. I read book reviews and short articles, forgetting that I had a dish washer or dirty laundry or an outside world chiming in through my phone. The quiet and stillness felt like it had been years coming.

Back in August, I drove up to Columbia City one Thursday morning to take a yoga class and meet with Tiffany, a yoga teacher and Ayurvedic consultant. After the gentle flowing class (which I never would have taught, but completely enjoyed) we sat in the foyer of her studio drinking a home blend of spiced tea. The door was wide open to the breeze blowing through the windchimes and the golden grasses outside. Against this Midwestern Eden, we talked about food, poop, menstruation, sleep, stress, self-massage, and self-care. I was there to learn more about Ayurveda, but also to learn much more about how to live better.

I have attended several workshops with Tiffany during my time as a new yoga teacher.  The last was an adjustment workshop that showed us how to energetically work with our students’s bodies during class. Part of adjustment is being aware of our own energy, or lack thereof. For female teachers, this can be particularly dicey at certain times of the month. According to Ayurveda, menstruation is a very Vata time period–the body is trying to get things out. All the energy leaving the body doesn’t give us much in reserve. “When I’m on my period, I barely get off my mat,” Tiffany told us at the workshop. She referenced the book The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, which portrays the world where women gather in “the red tent” for menses, birth, and illness. “Nowadays,” Tiffany said, “we stick a tampon in and go do a cartwheel.” The implications on our body, she said, are huge.

When we met in August, she was a little more intentional about her advice, probably because she heard me saying I wanted to have more energy, be less stressed out, maybe try the pregnancy thing sometime. She probably noticed, too, how I’m constantly moving. She furrowed her eyebrows at me after asking me about my marathon training schedule, and said, “Take it easy a few days a month. Give yourself the day off during your period. DEFINITELY no running; do gentle restorative yoga. Let someone else handle the cooking and cleaning. Your body needs downtime, so give it what it needs.”

And of all the Ayurvedic advice she gave me that day, this was the one I disagreed with the most. I have run through every period, including the first one, as a way to stay calm and unbitchy. I climbed Half Dome, have gone for long-distance bike rides, attended boot camp workouts, competed in races, and taught inversions while menstruating. I wasn’t about to get Old Testament with my body.  While yoga teachers still debate whether or not women should go upside down during menses, I tend to agree with teachers like Mark Stephens, who believes most of those arguments against women practicing yoga while menstruating and pregnant are based on bad science and male-dominated yoga worlds. On a practical level, it means I follow the advice of teachers like Bryan Kest: if you don’t want to go upside down, don’t. If you do, go for it. Pay attention to your body and make your own decisions.

And then yesterday I accidentally followed Tiffany’s advice. After a brutal fifteen mile run Friday night, and the trail run and yardwork on Saturday, we collapsed on the couch in front of Project Runway. On Sunday morning we rushed to church, then went for our usual post-church Starbucks date. Some days this is nice, but this time, the cafe was overcrowded with churchgoers looking for speciality frappes. The barista accidentally gave my husband caffeine, and with both of us overtired and buzzing,we went Meijer. By the time I walked out I felt like I had noise and nerve pollution. After a dog walk (nice) and manic Sunday cleaning and cooking, I finally sat down at 3:00 to eat. My husband looked up from his phone and asked if I wanted to play board games with friends that evening. I nearly cried.

Instead,  I stayed home on the couch with my forty pre-comp essays. The dogs (mostly) curled up at my feet and I (mostly) focused on grading. In the quiet and the single attention to a task, I felt relief. The well was filling back up.

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