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From Cancer To Yoga: 10 Year Nap, My Ass!

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Yesterday, my mom called to tell me about this book she was reading: The Ten-Year Nap, by Meg Wolitzer. Since these days, most of my reading is done online on the internet or online at the supermarket checkout (damn, but do I love those gossip rags), I made her defend her recommendation.

Why would I want to read this particular book?

Well, Mom enthused, it's a novel about a bunch of housewives who all had super-promising careers before they gave it up for the daydream of pushing around a baby carriage, lunching with toddlers and iced-coffee clatching with the other moms on the park-bench in the playground. Ten years later, they're 40. And they realize that maybe they could have, should have had it all. Hence, the "Ten-Year Nap".

Except, um, Mom? I haven't been napping for 10 years. Well, make that six, seeing as I left my "promising" career as a big-firm corporate lawyer in September of 2002. But I haven't been napping for six years either.

When I left my job at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson, it was not for the idyllic life of a stay-at-home mom. My intention was to stay out for only the six weeks it would take to recover from a double mastectomy. I was 36, a mother of two pre-school age boys, and I had just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, albeit at a moderately early stage. Double mastectomy was my choice, my first instinct, in fact, and I've never, not for one moment looked back.

But I digress.

When I left on September 15, 2002, my intention was to return six weeks later. Except six weeks later, I had already started what would be a six-month course of chemo. And I was already having trouble moving from my bed to the couch. So, the mere thought of picking my bald self up, putting on a suit and heels and getting myself to the office was daunting, forget about spending the entire work day focused on meeting the needs of anxious clients. Add to that, the idea that when I came home, I would still be a full-time mommy, feeding and bathing and loving my children. I decided that during my chemo, something would have to give. And it wasn't going to be my health, my sanity or my kids.

Thank goodness for disability insurance. If it weren't for that, the loss would have weighed more heavily. But my policy was generous, and my six weeks stretched to six months.

I always intended to go back.

But then halfway through my chemo treatments, I discovered yoga. First, it was Bikram Yoga -- the hot kind ("hot" being an understatement). It was difficult at first. Not so much physically, but emotionally: for 90 minutes each time I went, I was forced to stare into the mirror and confront my eyebrow- and eyelash-less moon-face and my newly thick-waisted and flabby body (lucky me! I gained weight during chemo). But it got easier, and I grew healthier. The intense heat and physical work helped me to lose some of my puffiness, but more importantly, I began to connect with my body again. Instead of seeing my body as this horrible vehicle of betrayal, I began to see my body as this amazing machine that could be taught to do amazing, even improbable, things. As I put myself into the shape of a dancer or a camel or a rabbit, I felt powerful. I felt like I was gaining some * level of mastery over my body ( *once you are diagnosed with cancer, it dawns on you that full mastery your body is never possible.)

From Bikram, I branched out to Jivamukti, a school of vinyasa yoga, which links poses together in a callisthenic-like flow, employing music (jazzy, jivey, new agey devotional - think Zero Seven, but with repeated references to Hindu gods), incense, a bit of massage and brief lectures ("dharma talks") on yoga philosophy.

With Jivamukti, I not only got stronger and leaner but also smarter and calmer, as the lectures provided me with a roadmap of ways to behave "yogically", which, not for nothing, helped me to reduce the drama and wasted emotional energy in my life. Not eliminate, mind you. But reduce.

And then it was the time I had planned to go back to work. But summer was coming. And summer was always a quieter time at the office. So, what would be the harm, I thought, if I extended my leave just a little bit longer? You know, to recover from the chemo, to do my six weeks of radiation and have my ovaries removed (the cancer was hormone-reactive, and the chemo had put my ovaries down for the count anyway, and besides, I already had two amazing kids, and I was never going to take a chance with my health by going through another pregnancy)...and do more yoga, which at 90 to 95 minutes per class, not including travel and shower time, can add up to a significant part of one's day.

I was still getting paid on my disability insurance policy besides.

So, Jivamukti led to Ashtanga, and along the way there was a teacher training, which led to my teaching as many as 10 yoga classes each week, and I basically forgot to go back to work. Okay, "forgot" is probably not the most accurate way of describing what happened. But suffice it to say that after a year had passed, my boss called me and told me that it was time to come pick up my things at the office.

And so, I sent a truck. And when the driver called me and asked me what to do with all the boxes, I told him to leave it on the street for the garbage men to pick up.

Five years after that, here I sit. I'm busy with my yoga practice, still teaching a bit, but not as much as I did when I lived in the city, a mere hop skip and a cab ride away from too many yoga studios to count. My disability insurance dried up ages ago (although not without the drama of the insurance company dropping the anvil in the form of a letter that quoted liberally from my blog, Yoga Chickie, with a remark to the effect that "We get tired just reading about this woman's hectic pace."). I'm home for my kids when they get home from school. In the winter, I cook and keep the house clean, myself. In the summer, I personally take care of all of the outdoor work (other than lawnmowing). I spackle, I paint. I sew. I'm a class mom.

My sons are 9 and 11 years old. They are in school 180 days of the year from 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. For 50 days of the summer, they are at sleep-away camp. At no time during those 230 days am I bemoaning my transformation from High-Powered Law Firm Barbie to, well, whatever it is I am on any given day at any given moment.

Much as I adored my job and my amazingly decent, fair and intelligent boss at Hogan & Hartson, I never, not for one second, wish to go back to a situation where job security depends upon the health of the economy, the whims of clients, the idiosyncrasies of managers. I'm lucky enough to not have to work to support my family economically, and I don't want my ego to be tied to how well I write a Software Development Contract. If my ego has to be tied to anything, and yoga tells me that it shouldn't be in any event, let it be tied to how compassionate I am as a mom, how I tend to my garden, how I can put my hands on a piece of toile fabric and turn it into a slipcover for an ottoman.

This aint no 10-year nap. This is my action-packed, at-times navel-gazing, but always mindful life.