Embracing The Negative...Space

I haven’t been around for a while.  And it’s partly because I’ve been trying to figure things out.  My foot surgery never really worked, even after two more after the initial operation, and just when I was getting ready to work with a gait analyst to see if I could correct any motor patterns that led to my foot issues, I learned that I have advanced arthritis in my hip.  I’m scheduled for a total replacement in a few weeks and have taken time off from work because every time I teach, I’m in pain for the rest of the day.

Ironically, teaching restorative yoga is hardest on my body.  There is so much bending down and twisting to help adjust students that it inflames my hip more than doing a half-assed demo for a hatha or vinyasa class.  But I digress. 

With hip replacement surgery, and likely yet another foot surgery, looming, it’s hard to stay optimistic.  The past two years have been challenging.  I’ve had to let go of a lot of things that defined me:  my vigorous yoga practice, strength training, anything involving lots of walking and running, fabulous shoes that show off my tiny ankles, and most depressingly, future dreams of adventure travel.  It’s hard to walk around a new city or hike in the mountains when your foot throbs with every step you take and your hip feels like it’s being stabbed with a dull knife. 

But this is when things get real, folks.  I can look at all the things I can’t do, or I can look at what I can do, especially things that I never even considered before.  Indeed, all kinds of doors have been opening, and it’s up to me whether I choose to walk through them or stay where I am, banging on the one door that’s locked and bolted and may not ever open again. 

I can teach students who are in pain with more compassion and more skill.  I can develop a practice that delves into the subtler aspects of yoga that bored me when my body was still relatively intact and cooperative.  I can walk slowly, feeling my connection to the earth through my feet and noticing how my gait changes when I pay attention.  I can, and have been, exercising in a way that makes me feel better and stronger and alive without crushing my arthritic joints and destabilizing muscles weak from dysfunctional patterns.  I can still travel, just not the same way.  Really, the only thing I can’t do is wear fabulous shoes…unless I change my definition of what “fabulous” is.    

It’s easy to notice what’s missing when you’re used to seeing it every day.  But did you know that there are a million other opportunities lurking in the negative space surrounding the most obvious touchstones of your life, just waiting for an opportunity to expose themselves?


Negative space is a term visual artists use. It refers to the empty area around the art’s subject that, upon closer observation, has an intrinsic value of its own.  Negative space provides a contrast that enhances the beauty of the obvious but obscures whatever exists just beyond the edges.   And while the sense in which I’m using it isn’t quite accurate (because negative space doesn’t have anything in it, whereas the stuff I’m writing about has been hidden by what’s inhabited the positive space), I like the idea that something that was previously unseen can become visible.  That there are hidden gifts in in every tragedy.  That a silver lining really exists.

This isn’t to say that I’m embracing my pain and limitations.  I’m looking forward to getting my new hip and pre-habbing my glutes and hammies with a vengeance.  I’m getting third and fourth opinions on my foot and will take additional time off work if it means less pain down the road.  But at the same time, I’m getting more comfortable with the idea of leaving the gal who did powerlifting and HIIT behind and morphing into the one who rides the recumbent bike and walks in the pool.  I’m meditating.  And I’m trying not to struggle against what is and see what exist just beyond the edges of what used to be.

Yesterday, I went out and spent a chunk of change on shoes at Nordstrom Rack.  I’d given the fabulous ones away to the Salvation Army a few weeks ago and came home with some flats, pumps, and boots.  And you know what?  They may not show off my ankles as well as my old shoes, but they feel pretty fabulous. 

The Word for 2018 is "Habit"

I both love and hate New Year’s resolutions.  The opportunity to begin anew as a better, happier, healthier version of myself is seductive, yet my inner cynic chants to itself “you’ve done it before it never works you’ll fail again” over and over in a harpy’s chorus of defeat.   I’m not alone.  It’s the time of year when diet programs and gyms shill their services for resolvers.  A popular promotion at one of my studios ensures that I’ll see new faces in my classes—and sometimes the students will stay.  But more often than not, I’ll run into someone in the lobby after a few months, after the promotion has run its course, and will hear “I’m so sorry….I meant to come…..I should be coming….but.”

Change is hard.  Learning something new is hard.  And it’s so easy to fall back into what we’re used to .  My resolution last year was “do it anyway,” which was intended to kick my fearful butt from its usual seat of paralysis and into action.  I spend a lot of time thinking and wondering what I might do if I wasn’t so afraid or didn’t care so much about what other people thought.  By recognizing this fear, and accompanying fear of judgment, I could invoke my mantra and “do it anyway.” 

It worked to a certain extent.  I faced some hard truths about myself and the way I live my life and I tentatively explored what it might be like to do things that frightened me.  You know what?  It kind of sucks.  It might have gotten me to a better place, but “do it anyway” inherently contains the reverse corollary “what if” in every invocation.  With each decision I made, I faced a strong pull in various directions and had to make a conscious choice that involved a lot of mental energy and, sadly, even more second guessing. 

So it makes me very happy that the media’s resolution du jour (or d’annee, in this case) for 2018 is “habit.”  A large reason New Year’s resolutions fail is because they are exhausting.  They call on us to make conscious, cognitive choices and deeply embedded habits and practices on the turn of a dime.  When we’re inspired and energized, it’s easy—like writing a blog post after the first coffee of the morning kicks in.  But when we lose that little spark of inspiration and energy, our brain starts to pull us back to our default habit, whether it’s Candy Crush, eating potato chips, or thinking old bad thoughts about ourselves.  The more prolonged the effort for the resolution must be, the more exhausted we become, and the more likely the resolution is to fail.

Finally, mainstream publications have picked up on this, and I’m seeing more articles about habit formation than detoxes on my news feed.  Habits aren’t quite as sexy and definitely don’t offer quick results.  But what they DO offer is relative painlessness and ease that can steer you away from the path of least resistance and onto a different road toward the post-resolution version of yourself that waits down the road. 

It’s not a new concept.  The Power of Habit was published five years ago, and Oliver Sacks was writing about using lower brain circuitry to compensate for cortical (decision-making) impediments decades before that.   Hanna Somatics is based on our ability to habituate learned movement patterns to the extent that we ultimately forget that we are even doing what we’re doing.  Although Tom Hanna’s work was based on the shadow side of habit—where we become so unaware of what we’re doing that we develop pathologies in our movement patterns (what he called “sensory motor amnesia”)—it nevertheless sets the stage for our ability to superimpose newer, more self-serving habits and patterns over the old ones. 

There’s a lot in my life that I’d like to change.  But instead of jumping into that change headfirst, with all cylinders firing, I’m going to initiate change in a way that sets me up for success and isn’t exhausting.   Therefore, I hereby dub 2018 “The Year of the Habit.”  By taking baby steps and structuring my days so writing seems as natural as brushing my teeth and meal prep is the logical precursor to “Sixty Minutes,” I’ll can become more productive and healthier without grappling with trying to juggle with huge challenges (plan a workshop! cut out sugar!  hack my sleep!  manage stress better!) all at once.  There are so many areas in our lives where we can begin to create lasting change simply by tweaking our routines and making things that are good for us second nature.  Why not give it a try?  I’ll be writing updates letting you know how it’s going for me—and let me know how it’s going for you!