Giving Thanks

It’s dark. Six o’clock on Thursday night and I’m at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club finding my spot on the floor. The lights are soft – the room, clean, spacious and airy.

Robert, my yoga teacher, bounds in, ready to pretzel us into health and vitality. I smile, remembering my initial reluctance. “I’m not a yoga person,” I’d tell anyone who asked. “No thanks. Who wants to spend an hour on the floor with bent knees?”  I came to class as a curiosity, because I’m a swimmer. That’s all I’ve done, and it’s been enough.

But after trying, I saw how easily accomplished the exercises were, and noticed enhanced strength pedaling home on my bike. So now here I am, occupied with folding poses like “downward facing dog” around a recently eaten burrito, or trying to do a reclining twist without putting my foot in Nelson’s face. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. No chanting, just good solid body therapy, smiling faces and Robert’s teaching delivered with joy, humor and reverence for life.

I reach for my toes, amazed that I can touch them. When did that happen?

And my neck that has always resisted turning to the right is now fully mobile.

The class exhales into bridge pose, as I remember a card from my chiropractor in yesterday’s mail. It read, Long Time No See. I’d long ago accepted that my low back would always hurt, I could not bend at the waist enough to touch my toes and a visit to the chiropractor would be a monthly thing. But in seven short months, all that disappeared.

Music by Louie Armstrong fills the room:

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I am filled with gratitude for this beautiful athletic club, new friends made, the masterful teachers who work here, the beauty of Ojai and my ever improving health. I savor the music and the moment as Robert’s voice trails toward the door, “Thanks for showing up everybody and for keeping me employed.”

Fit and Strong


Fit as a fiddle. Where did that saying come from? I’m sitting with an ice pack on my back congratulating myself on having resumed a workout routine. I bought several DVD’s in my attempt to want to care again but each was quickly cast aside and mentally labeled, “too much effort.” When it was time to put them on, I thought a little lie-down might be in order instead.

When I was on Amazon ordering a new calendar, (Wolf Kahn – watercolors – my favorite artist) they flashed a picture of Jane Fonda’s latest offering with a little note. Karen, we think you’d like this one. Actually, Jane is right up my alley. We spent our youth together, burning, bending and stretching into limber form.

When I was a single mom, I used to sleep in a big upstairs kitchen. Hey, don’t knock it. Do you know how great it is to be that close to the refrigerator in the middle of the night? I had a great view of tree tops through vast banks of windows, as well as two cockatoo’s that kept me company. My son, Clay, was sleeping in the only bedroom and his friend Byron, who’d been kicked out of his father’s house, made a home in Clay’s walk-in closet. My daughter, Kristen, was back from Greece with no place to land, so she was sleeping in the living room with her boyfriend, Tyrone. We got gold stars for making good use of space in  those days. Anyhow, I used to slip into the living room while Kristen and Tyrone were sleeping, mute the television, and kick, sweat and stretch my way into another day with Jane. It was great. 

I punched up a sample track for Fit and Strong, Jane’s new offering, and marveled at her admission of being 72 years old. The material and pace were exactly what I wanted. I needed a workout that was far from the realm of the young and enthusiastic, since, save walking, I have all but atrophied.  The workout is gentle, but thorough, and goes slowly, as she says things like, “This exercise will strengthen the muscles you need for lifting grandchildren,” and “I can’t bend this knee the way I used to because  it’s titanium now. Isn’t it wonderful what a little surgery can do?”

 I’m not surprised she blew a knee, the way she used to go at it. Still, she looks great. I do have a little trouble with my exercise model being wrinkle-free, air-brushed and tucked, but that’s Hollywood. I’m just happy she made a last DVD, because she feels like an old friend and I trust her.

 Now I need to have a talk with my body about going slow so I don’t need as many ice packs, epson salt bathes and arnica gel.  


helping hands

In aquatic school they taught me to save a drowning person by diving underwater. I came up behind them as they flailed and splashed, leveraged their chin above the current, pulled them against my body and swam them back to shore, all while doing a reverse stroke so they weren’t kicked in the process. Once on shore, I released the water from their body, closed their nose with my right hand and blew into their mouth to bring them back to life. 

We role played this situation so often I could have done it in my sleep. The victim swam to the middle of the lake, began thrashing and pretending to drown, yelled HELP and off I went! I swam straight out with eyes fixed on the victim, about five feet away, the underwater dive, the turn of the head and the carry back to shore. Piece of cake. 

What they didn’t teach me is that people don’t say help when they’re drowning, because folks have not taken a class in correct victim behavior. They just get a quiet look of panic and bob above and below the surface until they disappear. 

I was working as a life guard and teaching swimming at a girls camp one summer when a young woman right in front of my chair looked silently up at me with a lonely puzzled expression. Her eyes darted from me, to the sky and back to the water. Her arms moved slowly up and down as the print ruffle on her bathing suit made busy swirls around her legs. She tried to propel herself over and over without success. 

Finally someone came to my chair, I think that girl can’t swim, they said, I think she’s in danger of drowning.

I looked down as if coming out of a trance and immediately saw the truth. I jumped in, pulled her to the side, put my hands around her waist and lifted her above me, until she sat safely on the edge. Water dripped from her cap and mixed with tears that ran from her young blue eyes.

Why didn’t you yell help, I asked? I was right in front of you. Why didn’t you call out to me?

She had no answer. 

Sitting by the pool today I thought about that moment all those years ago, and the deeper truth it held – the realization that people don’t yell help when they need it most, they retreat into silence, fear, shame or self-protection. They become private at the very moment they need saving the most.

The last third

ice-skateI bought water from a machine in the basement of the ice skating rink, but could not open it. My fingers no longer grasp or close. I asked a stocky farm woman to help me out. She twisted the bottle open with ease.

Isabella asked me to lace her skates, really tight, Ma, but I could not. Not only couldn’t I pull the laces snug through the golden eyelets, I struggled to tie a bow at the top. She gently took the task away from me, as I spoke of scouting the room for a person who could do the job for us.

There was a moment when I felt tears surfacing. Is this where I am now? Is this what is next?

I had my astrology chart done today by a woman my age, who kept talking about us being in the last third of our lives. I wanted to say, ” speak for yourself. I’m only in the middle of mine. I am young with lots of projects stacked on the table, other countries to visit, and dances to dance.”  But tonight at the skating rink I had a sad moment when I joined her in the last third of my life.

I am told that if I give up chocolate, desserts, tomatoes, citrus fruits and all things wonderful, and replace them with medicine and oils that I might have a chance to get my fingers functioning again. It’s worth a try.

Neptune’s Realm

swimmerSwimming is an experience of surrender and allowing. You give yourself to the water and it holds you in return. I used to be an instructor. My lessons were for endurance swimmers, the ones who wanted to go long distances, and find the soul and beauty of the sport.

The most common thing I noticed as a teacher was the way students battled the water. They came at it like an enemy to be conquered. They wanted to fight and win, each stroke becoming a determined fist that sent waves ceiling-high in a great calamity of motion.

No, No! Treat the water like a lover, I would tell them. Be gentle, caress it with your hands, merge, let it hold you. Men would blush at this analogy, taking a step back to assess the sanity of their instructor.

This is not lovemaking, this is a sport, they’d protest.

Oh, but it’s not so very different then entering the bed of a lover. You must give up the idea of fighting. Enter softly, stroke, glide and rest; find a rhythm for your breathing. You can swim for miles that way. Between each effort, after each stroke, rest with equal time. You’ll swim without tiring because rest and work will be equal. Move through the water like the spring equinox, where the day is equal to the night.

My lessons were not for the competitive spirit. If they longed to be first, be the biggest or the best, I was not their girl.

 Swimming is a transcendent sport. It invites you to slip quietly below the surface into a world without corners. If you go tenderly and with acceptance, you can heal emotions, energize the body, cleanse the spirit and come back rested.

Water is a living breathing force deserving respect. If you can think of it that way, if you can enter it that way, then she will nurture you, then you can have a longstanding relationship. If you don’t understand these things, you will burn out quickly. She will spit you out.  Just like life, one must find the quiet gentle places where we can rest and glide, if we are to support our efforts and survive. Thrashing about only brings exhaustion.