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Open Your Heart but Carry an Epi Pen. Anaphylaxis and Other Mysteries and Musings
26 October 2017

Open Your Heart but Carry an Epi Pen. Anaphylaxis and Other Mysteries and Musings
26 October 2017

Open Your Heart but Carry an Epi Pen. Anaphylaxis and Other Mysteries and Musings

Open your heart, but carry an epi pen....

This past Sunday after I taught my class I was outside enjoying a decaf latte and a blueberry muffin with friends, when seemingly out of nowhere I started sneezing and It quickly escalated to hives blooming around my eyes and my throat swelling up so much I couldn't speak normally or swallow. The long and short of it was an ambulance ride and an epinephrine shot and a day in the ER. By evening, I was discharged with an epi pen and no clear answer as to what caused the event. Something in the environment, but what? It remains a mystery. Nothing I was eating is anything that I've ever reacted to before, and though I do have mild seasonal and dust mite allergies, I've never had a reaction like that. It was scary and bewildering. On Tuesday I was tested for something like 50 allergens, but we still don't have a clear answer. There are a couple of best guesses, and that might be as close as we ever get.

There is a certain amount of 'not knowing' that we all live with, whether we are aware or not. Most of us, for instance, do not know how and when we will die. If I am feeling slightly fragile right now, it is not so much because the event itself scared me (though it did) but because something caused my system to go haywire, and I may never know for certain what it was. I won't say I'm feeling afraid of my environment (though for reasons I won't go into here, my grains and flour are now in the fridge and I won't be ordering baked goods in restaurants anytime soon).

I find myself pondering the nature of our personal relationships with environment, meaning trees and cats and water and air but also, relationships to other people. What happens when elements of our own personal environments seem to "turn" on us? Anaphylaxis is an extreme allergic reaction to a perceived threat, but my thoughts have been wandering to the people or environments that for one reason or another seem to threaten us, or seem to "sap" us of vitality and hope.

Just before my anaphylaxis, I was teaching a class that incorporated padma mudra (lotus mudra, as seen in the image above) and through posture flows, gave students many opportunities to open the (metaphorical) space of the heart. Padma Mudra is associated with the heart chakra, and is intended to give us fuller access to unconditional love. We are invited see "through the eyes of the heart" rather than responding to the world with judgment and reaction. This is far and away my favorite kind of class to teach—practices that help us blast the heart chakra wide open. People leave smiling and clear eyed and we all just kind of love everybody a little bit more. 

I'm a proponent of more open-hearted living. I am also cautious by nature. There are times to open up and love the world without reservation. I would  say there are also times to pull it in a little and be discerning and yes, cautious. I lived in Chicago for 10 years after college and, walking alone in the city at night, learned to pull it in and guard my heart to protect myself when I felt threatened and vulnerable.

I'm going to wander still further from where I started this Thursday morning ramble, and touch briefly on the "Me Too" campaign bubbling up on facebook. While I am so grateful for the many women sharing their stories and their pain, I haven't felt quite right about jumping on board. I'm not quite ready to identify myself as a victim of sexual assault; I'm really lucky that nothing truly awful has happened to me but I assume I'm not alone in taking a dark trip down memory lane, prompted by others' stories of sexual assault and threat.

I took a year off of college in the mid eighties to live in DC and work and take theater classes. I had just taken a workshop that was emotionally exhausting but also exhilarating and cathartic, and I definitely felt "wide open" as I walked down the street with a couple of friends. As we walked away from the theater, in a then-dicey part of town, I looked around and felt in love with the world around me. A group of young men was walking toward us. Heart full, I beamed my love around them and before I had time to even process what was happening, a man walked right at me, grabbed my crotch, hard, laughed, let go, and kept walking. 19 and heartbreakingly naive, I was stunned. I don't really remember what happened next, or what my friends said. I do know we were mostly silent. And we kept walking. And I drew my wings in and narrowed my psychic embrace of the world.

My point I guess is that, yes, open your heart wide. Love the world. But, when you are in a vulnerable position, and in a place where something threatens you, be discerning. You get to decide how wide open that doorway is. Close it enough to feel strong and safe. I'm not sure what my body perceived on Sunday as so very threatening that it went into full blown anaphylaxis, but I'm taking the allergies I do know about just a little more seriously. I will keep on loving the world, but I'll carry an epi pen.


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The building itself was renovated to be energy efficient, and the room is moderately heated in cooler seasons to promote a good, healthy sweat, but not heated to an excessive or wasteful degree. There are cubbies in our large office to store your personal belongings, a spacious changing room, a comfy sofa and a water cooler (please bring a water bottle to fill, to cut down on paper cup usage). Two nice, clean bathrooms are located just down the hall. There are also cubbies in the studio itself for valuables, which students are welcome to use. We have a full lending library of yoga books, and encourage students to borrow freely. Gift certificates are available for purchase in any amount.

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Please do not wear perfume or any strong scent

People with allergies can be very sensitive to scent. Also, lots of people sweating in a closed space is less stinky than lots of people all wearing different brands of perfume or deodorant.

Wear comfortable clothing

Not so tight it binds, not so loose it gets in your way. And please do not wear clothes that “gap” and are inappropriately revealing.

Practice on an empty stomach

If possible, don’t eat at least three hours before practice. If you know that this isn’t possible for you, eat easily digested food one hour before class.

No food or outside beverages inside the studio

If necessary, bottled water is okay, but remember we are trying to generate internal heat; constant sipping cools the body. After practice, drink plenty of pure water.

Bring your own mat

Shared mats are not hygienic; you may borrow one from us if one is available, until you are able to purchase your own, but please clean it afterward with the mat wipes provided. Please understand mats may be borrowed on a first come basis….we have only a few to borrow, and do occasionally run out of them.

Keep your eyes on your own practice

The practice is richer when it happens from the inside out. It’s not about comparing yourself with the person next to you. Be present with your own experience.

Be kind and loving to yourself

Rest when you need to. Honor where you are in your practice. Use the energy of those around to inspire, not diminish, you. Remember: you are perfect just as you are now, and yoga is meant to enhance that understanding and let that perfection shine. Have fun!

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