Five Years Plus

{July 18, 2010}   Six Months

This week marks the first 6 months of this blog. That’s 26 posts, 2,269 views and 78 comments. In this time I have learned to insert hyperlinks, pictures and do internet research at lightening speed (lol). I decided it was a good time for a review to provide a summary for my regular readers and introduce new readers to the discussion thus far. Hopefully the links will easily direct you to the posts you want to read or reread.

It was a lot of fun to review, as I clearly remember writing and the events preceding each post. It ended up taking quite awhile to read through all of the posts and make some kind of order out of the smorgasbord of my life. As such, I want to thank my #1 supporter, my husband Chuck. He initially set up the blog and is my editor and problem solver. He also patiently endures the times (like now) when I spend “our” Saturday night at the keyboard.

I began Five Years Plus in the dead of winter, on the eve of the five year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. The act of starting the blog spun me into a period of over-excitement and sleep deprivation which I chronicled in Good Night Sweet Princess.  The response to this on and off-line was striking, with people sharing their own mood issues so openly and honestly. In my third post I introduced my struggles with over-eating and the constant vigilance it takes to feed myself properly.

The subject of eating is a big part of my life and has likewise been featured in a number of blog posts. In Special Breakfast I introduced the general idea of food as medicine and that eating well is an act of self-love. At times I included recipes which reflect the changing seasons, such as cabbage soup in winter (a reminder of the simple good things in life) and coconut ice cream in summer. I have written about foods that I use, like eggs or the sugar substitute stevia, and those that I’ve moved away from for health reasons, such as soy.

With the coming of spring I got fired up about eating locally, writing a series on this topic and coming up with four keys to get started:

  1. shopping at local farmers’ markets
  2. sourcing local pasture raised meat and eggs
  3. subscribing to a CSA (community supported agriculture)
  4. supporting local foods restaurants

As summer and berry season rolled around I think it’s appropriate to add a fifth key: pick local (organic) berries

Currently there are further options for both budding and experienced “locavores”. Tomorrow is the first day of Madison County’s “Buy Local Week” which includes an opportunity to discover some of the 33 local farms that are opening their gates to visitors on Saturday, July 24. There is also a new I-phone app that directs one to local foods in upstate New York.

In addition to being dedicated to eating locally whenever possible, I am committed to the Paleo diet that features meat, fish, eggs, plenty of vegetables, fruit and some nuts and seeds, thereby resembling what our Paleolithic ancestors may have eaten. Although I was a vegetarian for many years I now choose to include meat in my diet. I have to admit, I find it an ongoing challenge to eat in accordance with my intentions, especially when eating out or on vacation. Even so, I have managed to lose 10 pounds and am maintaining a comfortable healthy weight. One of my most enjoyable eating journeys and something I would like to explore further was a period of paying deep attention to the way I eat.

When we think about taking care of ourselves, diet and exercise come to mind first. Moving my body is fundamental to my own well-being and my work outside our home is dedicated to teaching others to be present in their bodies through yoga and tennis. I credit tennis with helping me “get back into life fully” after my breast cancer treatment and continue to better myself through competition. The desire to play tennis well helps fuel my motivation for working out two or three times each week. I am so happy every time I effortlessly move from a deep squat to standing, as this is an improvement that is a direct result of working out.

Although my experience with breast cancer has infiltrated every aspect of my life, I see that only a few posts relate specifically to cancer or medical issues. I outlined ideas for getting started on an alternative path when first being diagnosed and written some advice about do’s and don’ts when dealing with friends who have been diagnosed. I touched on iatrogenic (medically) caused illness and the uncertainty of imaging techniques through a story about my beloved cat. I am also well aware that I have not settled my inquiry into breast screening techniques and that my next oncologist appointment is approaching. I have already started researching the effects of ionizing radiation (i.e. mammograms) on breast tissue health, so you can expect to see this soon.

Writing this blog does take a tremendous amount of time and determination. In return, it helps me to live a more examined life and to believe that perhaps through my efforts I am making a difference. As I reflect over this past six months I recognize that I have made positive changes in my life. My diet has improved, my workouts are regular and my sleep and moods are in equilibrium. At the same time I see there are areas where I continue to struggle and need more awareness and self-love.

I really appreciate you reading Five Years Plus, commenting and passing the link along to others who might enjoy it. If you want to have each weekly post automagicallly delivered to your Email inbox, fill in your address and click on “Email Subscriptions” on the right side of this page. Beware though, you need to open a confirmation Email which may end up in your “junk” folder. I believe we all have a great deal to share with one another and I intend to continue to learn to harness the power of the internet to benefit all of us.


{June 20, 2010}   The Traveling Yogini

I’ve written several blogs this year regarding local foods and perspectives. I also enjoy the expansion I experience through travel, so when Chuck invited me to accompany him to Los Angeles last week I jumped on the opportunity.

As I walked on the beach in Santa Monica, CA, I saw cyclists, runners, roller skaters, dog walkers, swimmers, surfers and volleyball players. Everyone seemed to be physically active and that active SoCal lifestyle is reflected in a large number of yoga schools in the area. One of my favorite out-of-town activities is to check out the local yoga scene. Here in upstate New York we are mainly offered fairly gentle yoga options, so I usually opt for a more intense version when I have the opportunity.

I chose to attend classes at YogaWorks, as this is a studio I have seen advertised in Yoga Journal and it was in walking distance from our hotel. On our last morning, I made a special effort to attend an intermediate level class that I heard would be taught a popular teacher who had just returned from vacation. Below is my story.


I arrive early as this class is sure to be full. Already twenty or so women and men sit on rolled up yoga mats in random small groups. There is excitement in the air and a solid-looking woman sitting nearby announces, “Oooh. It’s going to be really hard today. He’s going to punish us.” In jest I reply, “Where’s the best place to hide?” She responds in her deep silky voice, “There’s nowhere to hide. You’re only hiding from yourself.”

This is clearly a conversation stopper. I don’t explain that although I have practiced yoga for nearly 30 years, where I live I don’t have access to high intensity yoga classes like this one. My personal challenge today will be to stay focused without pushing; to breathe, move and enjoy without following my natural inclination to take every posture to its fullest expression. I know the places where old strains and injuries are only too ready to re-announce their presence. With a trans-continental flight immediately following the class and a demanding weekend tennis tournament starting in two days time, I have a responsibility to myself to stay alert and healthy.

In truth I am a little nervous about the upcoming class and also lonely in this crowd where everyone seems to have at least one friend. It doesn’t help that the woman is now proclaiming: “He’s going to really hurt us today. I’m sure of it”.

I turn to the man sitting beside me and comment, “I hear this class is really famous”. I’m wondering just what it is about this teacher that draws such numbers.

“It depends on what you mean by famous”, is all I get out of him. I guess that was a dumb thing to say, but really, I was just hoping for some interaction.

“I guess I mean popular. How many students does the studio fit?” I continue. By now one of the receptionists is stationed directly at the front entrance to check in the steady stream of students flowing in.

“Eighty-five”, he replies. It’s going to be very tight, I think to myself. At last it is time and the mob purposefully descends, quickly filling in the front and back rows with multi-colored yoga mats, many covered with what looks like a cross between a towel and blanket known as “yogitoes”. I have an extremely thin travel yoga mat that weighs less than two pounds and can fit in my carry-on luggage. I find a spot in the second to last row and count 70 bodies in five rows before we close up every remaining gap to squeeze in a few more.

The teacher is a large man with a soft yet commanding voice. Although I don’t know the background to this YogaWorks flow series, I recognize the first part of the class as similar to the Ashtanga form I practiced in my early 30s. As in Ashtanga yoga, the 5 rounds each of surya namaskar A & B (salute to the sun) heat the body from the inside out. I am delighted when the teacher turns the music up and we are left to complete the final 3 rounds of surya namaskar B on our own. Directly in front of me high up in a window is a circular Shiva Nataraja figure (image above is from Wikapedia). I softly gaze at this each time I flow into Warrior II, feeling the power of being simultaneously grounded and uplifted. By now everyone has broken a sweat and some are already dripping on to their mats. Profuse sweating is supposed to detoxify the body and the heat certainly makes it easier to stretch deeply.

The main body of the class is a series of standing postures and balances linked together by vinyasas, a strenuous combination of linked postures that rebalance the body and maintain the internal heat. The postures include the usual suspects: triangle, lateral angle, half moon and their twisted versions, all three warriors, planks and side planks, the eagle and the crane.

Fifty minutes into the class I am beginning to struggle. Not only am I tiring, I am facing equipment failure. My mat is slick and I am dripping more than I can mop up with my one washcloth. I grab the hand towel I had reserved for showering after class and move it under my hands or feet, wherever I need the most stability. At last we begin to slow down. A five minute inversion (I still enjoy standing on my head) is followed by a couple of longer held postures. Savasana (final relaxation) is brief, class is over and we disperse.

As I walk into the cool freshness of the outdoors I reflect on the question that motivated me to spend my last morning in Santa Monica in a stuffy room with 75 sweating strangers. What makes a class this popular? This particular teacher exuded confidence without being overbearing, seeking to inspire each student through his voice, brief moments of individual attention and appropriate, uplifting music. I am happy to report that in no way did I find him punishing or hurtful. There were plenty of reminders to be respectful and aware of my body and ample opportunities for modification of the postures.


I have to admit I enjoyed the novelty of this action packed, packed class. I am also grateful to be home, to breathe the fresh air and jump in our cold pond that has filled in our absence. When I arrive at the Monday morning class which I have taught for over 7 years, I am struck by how relaxed and friendly it feels. Perhaps this morning I teach with a little extra intensity; my students keep up.

One of the great things about yoga is that it is available world-wide. Obviously it is helpful to get some information about the class you plan to attend beforehand. Even so, no matter how challenging the class you find yourself in may be, the most important thing is to be present in your body and respect your limitations. With this simple safety measure it is possible to experience the different flavors of yoga whenever you’re away from home.

et cetera