When I do yoga, it usually means that something is going on. Historically I associate yoga with transitions and with moves to new places. I went to a yoga class when I visited a lab in Michigan for a brief sabbatical during my postdoc. I also did it after breaking up with a long-term boyfriend and moving into my own apartment. I had a yoga VHS tape I used to do in the basement of my old house. And, I tend to do it on vacation, if there’s a class offered at the hotel where I’m staying or on the cruise ship. I’ve even done yoga in church: Sun Salutations as part of an RE class about Buddhism that barely scratched the surface, of either yoga or Buddhism.
What I haven’t done with yoga, is make it a regular practice, part of a routine. And that is probably why, whenever I show up at a yoga class, I feel a bit like an impostor. Well, it’s either that or my lack of yoga pants.
I’ve been feeling anxious on and off for the past month and a half. One night I was concerned enough about the way my heart was pounding that the next morning I went to the doctor and got an EKG and some blood work done to make sure my heart was healthy. It is. So, other factors that my doctor and I have been considering are allergies and stress. So far it seems to be a little of both. I’ve been getting allergy shots for more than a year now, and after a few delays, especially related to the cross-country move last summer, I’m finally in the home stretch, in the red vials, the highest doses, headed for maintenance level when I only have to come once a month.
Until recently, these allergy shots were a breeze. They didn’t hurt, didn’t even really itch once the nurse put the magic cream on my arm, and I never got a reaction afterwards. What’s more, they really seemed to be working: the low-level year-round sniffling, punctuated by episodes of sneezing like a cat (even with no real cats in sight) 10 and 20 times in a row, was going away. My skin itched less, I was able to resist the temptation to stick a Q-tip in my ear, I could stand to be around cats again, and I could go outdoors in the summer and fall. I could stop taking the alleged “non-drowsy” antihistamine. I could even mow the lawn and garden. I went to the shot room every week, once a week, and I sounded like a broken record: “Any problems?” asked my doctor. “No, just a little itchiness at the injection site that goes away with the cream.”
But with high doses, things seem to have changed. My new allergist here in CA has always been quite concerned with respiratory symptoms and breathing. At first I thought he was exaggerating these concerns. There was a time when I didn’t even really know what he meant or why he was asking about, say, “chest tightness.” No, no, silly-new-doctor-who-doesn’t-know-me, my problem is ITCHING and SNEEZING. Watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, scratching my face, antihistamine brain fog, all that crap. I’ve never had asthma, never used an inhaler.
Then came the injections with the red vials. One of them, several weeks ago, gave me itchy hives on my torso. The hives didn’t start coming on until I was driving home from the office after the mandatory 30-minute waiting period. So I’m now waiting 45 minutes after getting the shots before leaving. And we went back down to the last dose that didn’t bother me, and started to increase it in smaller steps with longer periods of time in between. Now I’m back up to that dose again, and no hives this time, but every now and then in these past weeks, I’ve felt “chest tightness” and/or some mucus in my throat and chest that feels a bit like the time I had bronchitis, but not as bad. The first time I felt it it scared me enough to make my heart start pounding. It felt like a panic attack. Now when I feel it, I’m more like, “oh, it’s that again.” I cough politely, I take an antihistamine, and get on with my business.
It usually happens several days after the shots though, so is it even connected to the shots? Is it a new allergy that I’ve acquired out here, now that spring is here? The doctors don’t seem to know. They’re keeping an eye on it. No shots that day if I feel that way. I’ve re-acquainted myself with the epi-pen and liquid Benadryl. I practiced with the practice epi-pen. As I said, I used to think this was overkill. But not anymore.
Another possibility, which is not mutually exclusive, is anxiety. We did move across the country, away from friends, church, and other sources of support. I did have to make new friends, and our kids are teenagers and they moved and had to make all new friends. And I’m trying to jump-start a writing career, at least a part-time one. All that could make a person anxious.
Enter yoga. My doctor thinks this is a good idea. She applauds my moderate exercise and my 10,000 steps a day goal. She thinks the fitbit has been a good thing. Her advice was a little generic, though, “find something that you enjoy doing. You could try yoga or mindfulness meditation. You might like the class at the Y. Or you might not, I’ve heard mixed things about it. Try it out and find what’s right for you.”
In her position this is the kind of advice I’d probably give too, especially to a patient who is as ornery as I am when it comes to exercise. It’s the only kind of advice that I think has a chance of working in this day and age. But it’s hard to follow. I find sorting through a bunch of options to be a big source of decision fatigue. If it were really up to me, I just wouldn’t be using “enjoy” and “exercise” in the same sentence.
For that reason especially, this Spoogler group for spouses of Googlers (Google employees) has been an unexpected blessing. I found out about it by chance, at a writers’ meetup, and then joined it on Facebook. It turns out that there are a lot of people in the same boat: new to Silicon Valley and away from their family and previous friends, and lacking in the support network they would get if they went to work at Google every day. Not only do they have hikes and coffees and playgroups and writers’ groups, they also have a free yoga class. It’s outside in a park next to a lake.
Well, that’s something new. My only experience with outdoor yoga before was watching Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway pretend to do it on “The Intern.”
So, I showed up this morning without real yoga pants and without a mat. (Mat? I was supposed to bring one of those? But Robert DeNiro didn’t have one!) I also showed up late, because traffic. Fortunately I had an old blanket in the back of my car that I use to cover my viola or violin case when I’m driving around with one of them.
Physically, I’m not very good at yoga. (My body—the muscle, joint, and tendon parts–is just not very flexible, even when I’m relaxed. I also don’t have very good balance, although I hold out eternal hope that these will improve if I do flexibility and balance exercises more regularly.) So I tend to spend more of the time in a yoga class than I should–especially the first time in a given yoga class—with muscles tensed and shaking, just trying to hold some semblance of the poses long enough to not fall over in the middle of them and cause a scene. I also tend not to be able to breathe in rhythm with the instructor. If I try, I either find myself hyperventilating or holding my breath, or both in succession.
This instructor was good about telling us to do just do the poses to the extent we were comfortable, and to breathe normally when we needed to, so I made liberal use of that advice. And the blanket worked fine for keeping the grass out of my hair and face. I didn’t have any sneezing attacks, and I enjoyed myself. Whenever she told us to lie on our backs in the sun I felt so relaxed I almost fell asleep. I started thinking about Hawai’i and cruise ships and vacations.
And then I walked a couple of hundred feet to the noontime writers’ meetup in the cafe, where I got lunch and wrote this blog. Maybe routines aren’t really so bad after all. Maybe I can start feeling like I’m on vacation more often, even when I’m not.