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The Softening

By Lori Welch Brown

The Softening

Woman practicing yoga in childs pose stretching arms

Since around the age of five, I’ve been told that I’m too ‘sensitive.’ Even if it started out on a good note, “honey—you’re so caring and sensitive” it could later get spinned and used against me in the court of relationship law, i.e., whenever I expressed emotion or pushed back, “Stop being so sensitive—I was joking!” Well—I’m not laughing! Anyhow—over the years, I began to hide my sensitivity a bit as I learned to develop a thicker, harder outer shell. As a young woman, you often translate, and subsequently transform, positives into negatives in an effort to conform, be likable and/or not upset the apple cart. Becoming harder and firmer almost becomes a rite of passage—or at least it feels like ‘winning’ on some days. We hold things in, keep a stiff upper lip, and dig our heels firmer into the ground when what we really feel like doing is curling up into the fetal position and sucking our thumb. Or at a minimum, locking ourselves in our room with nothing but a Crayola 64 pack and a Partridge Family coloring book. Take that world! Instead of giving a hug, we give a nice firm handshake. That’s how we roll as strong, young women.

Hardening against life does protect us, but it really doesn’t serve us well for the long run. As we age and mature, life requires more softness, more patience, more sensitivity, caring and empathy. This has literally been a hard lesson for me—and my body chose to hand me this lesson in a very physical manifestation. For about a year, I’ve been feeling as though my leg muscles and joints were turning to rock. One day I woke up and I couldn’t bend over to pour water into Dozer’s bowl or pick up a runaway sock. I wrote it off as normal aches and pains, but it soon progressed into cramps in my legs at night. I knew the difference between overworked, sore muscles and THIS which I could not put a name on. Lymes? Fibromyalgia, Rickets? When I had to ask hubby, aka XXL, to help with my shoes one morning, I decided it might be time to take action. I’ve spent a year going to doctors, getting X-rays, visits to acupuncturists, having my muscles roughed over by talented masseuses (best part), ya de yaddee ya. Finally, I’m told I have the big “A”, arthritis. “It can’t be,” I tell myself. I’m not even 50. I already had double bypass surgery—that was my BIG thing. I’ve already paid my dues. I don’t want a hip replacement. I don’t want to take prescription drugs to ease the pain.

I try to continue about my life. I go to flow yoga in a futile attempt to regain flexibility. I know yogis aren’t supposed to compare, but it depresses me that the class is half over by the time I transition out of pigeon pose – let’s not even talk about child’s pose. Why can’t I be more like Ms. Lulu Lemon over there? Surely she has a decade on me. She must be a Cirque de Soleil performer. I envision my symptoms progressing. Within a year, I’ll be using a walker. No more running. Not that I ever LOVED running, but picture something being taken away and feel the love come oozing out. I cried mightily at the loss of my pal, running. Last year I ran the George Washington Parkway Classic. Next year, I’ll be on the sidelines with a shawl gently draped across my lap, clapping from my wheel chair. I wonder if the running trail is wheel chair accessible. How will George get me in and out of the boat? I wept for George’s future. This was not the woman he married. I better extend his Gold’s membership. He is going to need more workouts if he is going to be lifting me in and out of cars, boats, etc.

After my weekend pity party, (sorry you missed it—tissues, ice cream, the whole nine yards—we partied!), I woke up and decided to throw the crazy makers out. The first one to go was Negativity. He had been taking up way too much space and really shaking things up. The next to go was Fear. He buckled a bit, but in the end, I won. The next step was to invite Presence and Peace in. Oh yeah. And make way for Prayer—going to need her big time. Realizing I wasn’t really in a condition to do flow yoga, I found a restorative yoga class I liked and also something called Yin Yoga. Besides being really fun to say, it has helped me regain some flexibility by releasing layers of built up tension in my connective tissue. Turns out that releasing is powerful.

What I’ve learned is that being hard all those years may have had some after effects. You can be ‘tough’ when you need to be, but what really serves you for the long haul is softness (soft curves don’t hurt either). Thick skin is probably good for an avocado, but not necessarily good for joints and muscles. Basically, I’ve had to learn to soften from the inside and out—and it’s been really, really hard. I’m learning just how much stress and tightness I’ve been carrying around in my body. As I hold a pose for several minutes, I silently repeat to myself ‘let go’ and still, there is more releasing, more letting go. Layers and layers of stuff I’ve been silently storing deep below the surface is rising up and out. My muscles are listening, responding and grateful.

Ironically, the softening has been the hardest part for me, but I’m learning and I’m listening. And readying myself for another party, the non-pity kind.

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