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Sorry for the lateness in this post, but this month’s post is the speech I gave in my Toastmasters International Speech Contest, and I wanted to wait until after the contest to post it in written form.

The contest was tonight, and I came in 3rd place. I am happy with that, because I delivered the speech pretty much the way I wanted to, and several people came up to me afterwards and thanked me for sharing my story.

I know this is typically a yoga blog, but this speech is one I think resonates perfectly with the philosophy of yoga. When we make the choice to step on our mats, we’re putting ourselves out there…sometimes, it means facing our fear of practicing in a room full of others when we feel “less than” because we get stuck in the art of comparing ourselves to everyone else. Sometimes it means facing personal demons, because yoga can bring up some pretty deep stuff…sometimes, things surface for me that bring me to tears and wondering, “Where the heck did THAT come from???”

However, every time we make the choice to step on our mats, we are making the choice to DO SOMETHING for ourselves. And in turn, that translates into giving us a better chance at being able to do something for others who may need us.

So, without further ado, here is the speech I gave…I hope it resonates with you.

hands(Photo courtesy of Simply Accessible)

I started off by singing the first verse from “With My Own Two Hands”, which is a wonderful song by Ben Harper…here’s the verse:

“I can change the world, with my own two hands
Make a better place, with my own two hands
Make a kinder place, oh with my, oh with my own two hands
With my own, with my own two hands”

Let me ask you something. What does it take before you will do something for someone else? If you knew it didn’t have to be something big, like money, or even a huge amount of your time, would it change your answer in any way? How many of you are thinking, “Well…it depends.”?

A couple of months ago, I was listening to a storytelling podcast called “The Moth” and heard the story “Luminaria” by Denise Scheurmann. This story centers around the time when she was 15 years old. Her dad was terminally ill and in the hospital during the holiday season. As you can probably imagine, she, her mother, and her brother were consumed with everything they were having to deal with. They felt alone, and the holidays were not on their minds AT ALL. As they were coming home from the hospital on Christmas Eve, they noticed as they entered their neighborhood that the luminarias were lit. It was a tradition in their neighborhood to light them each year and place them along their driveways and sidewalks to welcome in Christmas. They thought, “Our house will be the only one not lit up”, and that just got them even more down. But as they drove up to their house, they saw that their luminarias were lit. An anonymous neighbor (or neighbors…they never did find out) had decided to do something for this family to make sure they felt included in the neighborhood tradition.

That may seem like a small thing, but to this family, it meant the world. Denise said it made them realize they were not alone, and that people cared. In fact, she said that years later, when she was going through a divorce, remembering what her neighbors had done all those years ago helped her get through many dark moments.

Denise’s story resonated with me, because it made me think of my own story a bit. For those of you who may not know, I was diagnosed with Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease in late 2012. That diagnosis came after more than a year of knowing that SOMETHING was wrong with me, but not knowing exactly what. I spent thousands of dollars on tests that showed nothing definitive. I thought I was crazy because many doctors told me it was all in my head or was just due to “stress”. I lost many important people in my life because they couldn’t deal with me talking about it so much and thought I was just looking for attention. During that time, and many times since, I’ve often felt alone. Lyme Disease has taken over my life.

However, God has amazing timing. He has placed several people in my path who have done for me what Denise’s neighbors did on that long ago Christmas Eve. They’ve made my world a better place, and they probably don’t even realize they’ve done anything at all.

I’m what you call a “functioning” sick person. You might be asking, “What does that mean?” Well, I go to my job, and I take care of myself and my family most days. I even exercise pretty regularly. Most people don’t even realize I’m sick. I don’t LOOK sick. Many people think, “If she’s REALLY sick, then shouldn’t she be in a wheelchair or something?” People don’t have a clue how to deal with someone like me. They don’t understand how many things I love that I’ve had to give up in order to “function” and make it through each day without being a burden. It can be pretty lonely.

In hopes of finding anything that could help me make sense of what I was dealing with both physically and emotionally, I stumbled across a blog called My Color is Lyme, written by a woman named Jennifer. Her post, Confessions of a “Functioning Lymie”, brought me to tears. It was like I wrote that post! The whole time I was reading, I was nodding my head in agreement, exclaiming, “Yes…YES! That’s it, exactly!” Like me, Jennifer struggled with various health issues for a long time before finally getting a diagnosis. Like me, she “functions” by being able to continue going to work each day and taking care of herself and her pets. And, like me, many people in her life walked away because they assume she is fine and should stop complaining.

People suffering, but “functioning”, like Jennifer and I, don’t usually feel comfortable putting their story out there for the world to see, because they’re afraid of backlash and more abandonment. But Jennifer decided to do something, and by sharing her story, she has given me (and I’m sure many others) a bit of hope. She had the courage to put into words what I was unable (or, if I’m being honest, unwilling) to.

You never know who might be going through a tough time. There have been others who, like Jennifer, have made me feel less alone. Sometimes simply asking, “Is there anything I can do?” is enough.

Think back to Denise’s story. It probably took all of 5 minutes to light those luminarias. No big deal. But what WAS a big deal was those neighbors decided to do something. A something that meant the world to this family, giving them a bit of happiness not just for that evening, but for a lifetime. To this day, that small gift is still giving Denise some comfort.

At the end of her story, Denise challenged her audience to write their names and numbers down and give it to someone right then and there, as a reminder that they are never alone. How powerful is THAT? Another example of something that seems like a small thing to do. But imagine how it would feel to someone who is going through a tough time, someone who feels like they’re all alone in the world…imagine how seeing that little note from you might be what is needed to lift them up and remind them that someone cared enough to do something.

Author Samuel Johnson said, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” I ask you, in closing, to think about that for a minute. What is the something that YOU can do to make the world a better, kinder place…with your own two hands?

That last line, “with your own two hands”, I sang as a way to tie back to the song I opened with. 

Namaste,

Melanie

 

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“Start wherever you are and start small.” ~~ Rita Baily

“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” ~~ Steve Jobs

“Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect.” ~~ Alan Cohen

Here we are at the beginning of a new year. 2017…wow! Where did 2016 go? It seems like just yesterday was the beginning of 2016, and it feels like this entire past year went by in such a blur for me in so many ways.

So many big things happened for me this past year. I completed several of my Toastmasters goals, I completed my RYT-500 (finally!!!), I started a new job, I became certified as an integrative health and wellness coach. I lost my dog Ripley to cancer and a week later, we rescued a 1-year old lab/pointer mix who we named Panda…Panda has been a constant companion to our other dog, Lexie, and because he is so social, we are now members of an amazing dog park in our town…this has been great for ME, because I’ve made some new friends there, and I am able to get a lot of trail hiking in at this place, which is a form of not only exercise, but meditation for me. I bit the bullet and hired a personal trainer, and with the help of his team and my medical team, I am finally starting to see some changes after so long feeling like a failure.

So what does all this mean for me in this new year? How do I want to approach 2017 and make it a great year for me? Making New Year’s resolutions have not typically gone well for me in the past. When I look back over the years, I haven’t done a very good job about making and sticking to my resolutions. And let’s face it, this happens to most of us, and then what happens? We feel like failures, right?

Luckily, I’ve learned about SMART goal setting recently. Well, to be fair, I learned about SMART goal setting a long time ago, but I just didn’t pay attention…I guess I just wasn’t quite ready to get serious before, if I’m being completely honest. But now…well, let’s just say I am ready. I feel like I’ve finally found my groove, and I’ve got some amazing people who are willing to help hold me accountable, so I am much more confident about finding success this time around.

2017 provides me with the invitation for fresh thinking. It’s my time to ignite, and I want to invite you to join me. Let’s consider this a time of new beginnings.

Yoga can offer a compassionate approach to making changes. If you’re a yogi like me, one thing you can do to help you along the way is to use your body in tandem with your breath so that you can mindfully mark the transitions you’re making.

Once you’ve set your goals, actively work toward each one without judging yourself when the process takes longer or is less flawless than you’d like. If you do slip into an old habit, don’t beat yourself up…simply decide to start again. As a matter of fact, with SMART goal setting, it’s imperative that you check in with your goals regularly and reevaluate them, making adjustments as needed. It takes strength and trust in oneself to be willing to begin again; starting new is no easy task, especially if you feel like you’ve failed over and over again. If you have any self-awareness at all, then you probably know which behaviors are no longer serving you, and you sincerely want to overcome them. Be brave and let those old stories melt away. Use the breath to move into a conscious state of presence. Each exhale is a letting go. Each inhale is an opening. Breathe with intent when approaching your goals.

One of my overarching goals in yoga is to improve my shoulder mobility. Just four years ago, I could interlace my fingers behind my back with my arms straight, I could do Gomukhasana arms with no props, I could take a bind in Extended Side Angle, and I could do several advanced poses like Handstand and Bird of Paradise. But treatment for Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease has increased the inflammation in my body to a point that my entire body has paid the price, and my shoulders and legs seem to have it the worst. I would love to be able to get my body back to a point where I can do the arm binds I once used to, but I don’t want to frustrate myself, so I am setting a SMART goal of the following:

I will perform shoulder mobility exercises daily for at least 5 minutes and will reevaluate after three weeks. I’m starting small, because I think that starting big might overwhelm me; some of the exercises I will be using during this time are:

  • Gomukhasana arms with a strap…I’ll monitor my ability to get closer to not needing that strap.
  • Use a strap to interlace my fingers behind my back with straight arms and then folding into a Wide Legged Forward Fold. My goal will be to get my fingers closer together while keeping my arms straight.
  • Shoulder warm-up movements that take my shoulders through all the ranges of motion.
  • Neck warm-ups that help relieve neck tension, as that is contributing to my shoulder tightness.

After the three weeks are up, I’ll see where I’m at. If I am seeing improvements, I will add on some more challenging movements so that I can keep improving. If I’m not seeing improvements, I will work on finding the movements that will help me reach my goal. But the one thing I will NOT do is give up. Achieving this goal is important to me, not because I want to be able to do the crazy binds like I used to, but because this inflammation in my shoulders is negatively affecting my life in so many ways. Everyday functional movements, like putting things away in the top shelf of my closet, are no longer easy for me and they SHOULD be. So I am not looking for the vanity aspect…I just want to be able to do the things I need to do with ease and comfort. If I should eventually get back the ability to bind, then that is something I’ll consider an added bonus, but it’s not my goal.

And to make this easier for me to achieve, my wonderful husband has built me a yoga room of my very own! My 45th birthday is this week (on January 5th), and my husband knows how difficult it is for me to find yoga classes at studios to attend. The ones offered at times I can make it are not the style I’m looking for…my body just can’t do hot yoga or power yoga right now, and that seems to be the majority of what my area offers during times I could go. So for my birthday, my husband turned our youngest daughter’s old room into my very own space where I can practice whatever style I want, whenever I want.

me_yogaroom(Here I am, setting up for my first meditation time)

It’s also serving as my office, so that I have a more comfortable place than my dining room to work when I work from home. And a more comfortable place to compose my blogs!

me_yogaoffice(My husband captured me as I was setting up to write this post!)

So what are your goals? Are they actionable? Have you broken them down into achievable chunks? If you need some guidance, reach out to me and I’m glad to offer any advice I can. More than anything, hold yourself accountable and enlist others to help hold you accountable. If your goals truly mean that much to you, then plan out the RIGHT way to achieve them. Set those SMART goals for yourself. And let yoga help you with achieving the mindset to make them happen.

Namaste,

Melanie

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