Floating My Way to Nirvana

New experiences slow aging, so for my birthday I tried to float my way to nirvana. As a gift, my Frenchman offered me a Flotation Therapy session. I left my comfort zone, overcame claustrophobia and closed myself in a flotation tank for a total mind and body experience.

Flotation therapy dates back to 1954 when Dr. John Lilly, a physician and psychoanalyst, studied altered states of consciousness, brainwaves and the effect of sensory deprivation. His research led to the development of a flotation device creating a weightlessness state, void of sensory stimulation, which can lead one to a state of mindfulness.

At the Surface Center in Lausanne Switzerland, entering the tank felt like stepping into a space ship. When I lay out in a bath of water heated to skin temperature of 94-95 degrees F and highly concentrated with (800 lbs.) Epsom salt to remove gravity, I felt as weightless as an astronaut in outer space.

Did you know about 90% of your brain’s activity focuses on calculating where gravity is and in which direction to enable you to move without falling over?

Without the necessity of maintaining posture, your mind frees from the physical world, creating a state of sensory relaxation.

Later Ohio State University research showed flotation improved creativity in jazz musicians. The therapy is currently used by elite athletes, like Stephen Curry, to enhance performance.

Hey, if it worked for basketball’s “Baby-Faced Assassin”, it could work for me.

So I floated and waited to reach nirvana.

Nothing happened.

Once I realized I could open the door, I overcame my anxiety of being entombed in a pod the size of a double-wide coffin. Starting from my crooked toes, I visualized each bone and body part being released from every injury and accident. Then, I repeated the process imagining killing off bacteria, viruses and germs plaguing my health.flotation center's relaxation room

Therapy accelerates lactic acid removal, lymphatic tissue flow and reduces the blood pressure, maximizing blood flow. In theory in this state, endorphins are released reducing pain but instead of euphoria, my spine still felt crooked. Even as I visualized symmetry, my posture still felt out of whack with my head twisted one way and my shoulder and hip the other way.

“Your head falls back weightlessly,” the instructor explained beforehand, “so prop your head with hands.”

In spite of my deep breathing and mindfulness, after 20 minutes, tightness in my neck and shoulder blades distracted me. Pressure built up in my head and sinuses.

I began to think, enough already.

For a brief period though, I was a hidden pearl floating in a clam-shaped cocoon on the Dead Sea.

When I stepped on land afterwards, a tsunami hit.

My head ached, my brain fogged, my limbs weighed tons and I remained comatose for the rest of the day.

But to be honest, I can reach paradise a whole lot faster floating on Summit Lake.

float on your favorite lake

For more information on where to float, go to http://www.where-to-float.com/

Call Me Crazy – Celebrate Women Changing the World

Call me crazy, but I have always acted outside the box beginning in early childhood, when no one was going to tell me that I couldn’t throw a football, shoot a basket or run a mile. I was born with a feisty, can-do attitude that served me well in the face of naysayers.

In pre Title IX days when girls were shunned from sports, I stood on the sideline of the boys’ pick up basketball games and demanded, “I got next.”

In a time before accolades, scholarships and professional contracts, I trained hard for no tangible reason. In girlhood, I ran miles across the sidewalks of Sterling, defying the whistles, catcalls, and laughter by putting one foot in front of the other.

In college, while my counterparts partied, I shot hoops in a drafty gym to prepare for next season where we endured conditions more grueling than the game driving ourselves through blizzards to play basketball in empty arenas.

After my team in first women’s pro league (WBL) went broke, I had a good cry. Then I got back up, boarded a plane bound for Paris to play ball in the land of wine and cheese, totally ignorant about French language and culture.

At a time when most women stayed near their hometowns and settled down with neighbor boys, I moved to Europe in pursuit of an absurd dream to play professional basketball.

When France closed the door to foreign women players, I rode the rails across the border to Germany and learned another foreign tongue and way of life.

In countries where I knew not a soul, understood not a word, I learned to observe and listen.

I saw how people could be so different in language, custom and tradition, yet still so similar in the need to be loved and accepted for who they are.

When a car accident ended my career abroad, I didn’t pack up and go home. I married a Frenchman and stayed put. I carved my own niche as one of the few female coaches in the European international high school league.

During my career spanning 5 decades across 4 countries, I have worked with girls from around the globe.

I gladly passed on my knowledge to the next generations of female athletes who never doubted their right to play.

Over the years, I witnessed their opportunities grow greater. I delighted in seeing my daughter and nieces play basketball, soccer, rugby, and run marathons. I took pride in watching my former athletes pursue careers as doctors, lawyers, counselors, and teachers.

By going after my silly dream nearly a half century ago, I helped make it easier for every girl to grow up believing her goal was within reach.

Women, daring to stand up and speak out, have made amazing strides in academics, business, law and politics. For so many girls that courage – to do something never done before – was born on playing fields.

I never had the size, talent, or notoriety of our elite athletes of today. I was no Lisa Leslie, Abby Wambach or Serena Williams. I was just a small town girl filled with my own brand of insanity.

But I learned you don’t have to be famous to make a difference. You just have to dream big.

Go ahead call me crazy.

I am kind of proud of the claim.

It’s my birthday. Raise a glass to all women creating change by being crazy enough to believe they can!

Healing Power of Water

As a Pisces, I have always been drawn to water for solace and inspiration, but it wasn’t until I read Blue Minds, Wallace J. Nichols’ bestseller that I realized research proves water contains therapeutic powers. I joke that in my next life I will return as a fish, so I could swim pain free no longer confined in an upright human body with an injured spine.

Fortunately, I have always lived in proximity to water. I grew up in Sterling on the Illinois’ Rock River. I spent summers on a lake in Wisconsin where merely peering out the cabin window slowed my heart rate. Even when I lived in Paris, I could walk down the boulevards of the bustling city to seek refuge by the Seine River. Today in Switzerland on a clear day, I am mesmerized by the site of sailboats gliding across lake Geneva surrounded by the white tipped Alps.

Scientific research confirms something most of us know intuitively. Proximity to water strengthens the positive effects that the environment has on well-being. It releases those feel good endorphins.

As far back as antiquity people have used aqua’s restorative powers in thermal baths for every ailment known to mankind.

After every accident and injury (and I have had more than my fair share) I return to water to heal. Without pressure on my joints, I rehabilitated from sprained ankles and knees and broken body parts – finger, rib, sternum, collarbone – and a twisted, smashed up spine. I swam lap after lap until pain receded.

The head of the PE department of the school where I taught, a Scottish rugby man, submerges in icy Lake Geneva each morning to stay limber taking water therapy to the extreme. My friend swears the rejuvenating power of daily ice bath restores health. (click here)

Ice Man philosophy (The Wim Hof Method) developed by a Dutchman, claims the submersion in extreme cold water when combined with breathing technique leads to a cascade of health benefits.

Cryotherapy helps elite athletes maintain peak health and recover quicker.

Although I am never tempted to submerge in ice, I found that swimming in cold, open water leaves me feeling exhilarated and pain free for hours especially since I suffer from an inflammatory disease that affects muscles, joints and connective tissues.

Even if you don’t swim, walking along the ocean as waves break against the sand, sitting by a river, or taking a hot bath, which also relieves stress by promoting the release of endorphins, helps heal whatever ails you.

Or take a more extreme tip from my rugby friend and the Dutch Iceman and jump in. Join your nearest penguin club to enjoy the ultimate winter freeze. Just make sure you have a doctor’s go ahead and proper training first

Feed Your Soul With Creativity

I am always looking for an interesting person to interview, a new place to visit, a story to share all the while feeling off balance and a little bit loco.

“You develop an extra sense that partly excludes you from experience,” Martin Amis says. “Writers are not experiencing things fully, 100%. They are always holding back and wondering what the significance is.”

That’s me in a nutshell, struggling to experience everyday life, yet capture each milestone and adventure on paper.

“Every person who does serious time with the key board is attempting to translate his version of the world into words so that he might be understood. Indeed, the great paradox of the writer’s life is how much time he spends alone trying to connect with other people.” (A Forest Through the Trees, p. 36)

Looking back at my career, I loved the game of basketball because its fast pace demanded total concentration preventing this dual existence as an observer and participant. I entered the zone – a perfect union of mind and body – and felt peace.

Off the court, stories pinged off my brain like pinballs.

On family trips traveling across America, while gazing out my window I made up tales of people’s lives on plantations down south, ranches out west and Victorian homes on the east coast.

As a kid I daydreamed so often, I wonder how I ever passed first grade.

Globetrotting in adulthood offered endless material for stories. Even standing still in the field teaching PE in Switzerland, my mind wandered to my mountain view where I imagined cows grazing in alpine valleys. Lost in reverie, I’d forget to call off sides in soccer or out of bounds in field hockey until a student complained forcing me back to reality.

To be in the moment is hard for a writer.

Not only am I torn between the different cultural, geographical, and physical worlds of Switzerland, France and USA, but also from the emotional, imaginary ones between living life and recording it.

Yet writing keeps me grounded. I process life through words. Like playing basketball, I enter “the zone.” Without the euphoria. After a writing session, I am spent. My shoulders ache. My back throbs. I need to walk or stretch, loosen my limbs frozen into the shape of a chair.

But writing is a constant battle of wills between the creative brain and the logical one. Why spend so much time doing something that brings no financial rewards and few emotional ones?

I swear off practicing my art becoming locked in writer’s block. But inevitably I return to the blank page because not writing is even more excruciating. Blessed with a curse, my tormented mind is that of a writer, whether anyone reads me or not.

Without writing life seems empty. As if only in the retelling, shaping experiences, can I fine-tune the raw edges of my soul.

Stories unleash the mystery in our existence.

But damned if it doesn’t drive me crazy. Stacked by my bed, crates crammed with thousands of pages of unfinished manuscripts, half bake books, and segments of stories, ferment like a compost pile.

Why bother?

Because language links humanity. Writer friends I encourage you to keep putting your muse to paper; reader friends’ merci mille fois (thank you a thousand times) for honoring our connection.

Why does anyone practice any form of art? Why did my dad paint beautiful landscapes and give them away or my mom spend hours quilting and cross-stitching presents for others? Why does one person garden for hours pruning delicate rose bushes? Or another spend time in the kitchen creating new delights to nourish family and friends?

Creativity feeds the soul. Without it we would starve to death.

What is your passion?

Grand Teton National Park One of America’s Jewels

If you listen to the pundits, a lot of US citizens are understandably upset with the political climate and frustrated by present lack of leadership. There is a lot to criticize about my birth land right now, and it makes me sad for my people, but there is one thing that America got right. The National Park system is something to boast about.

With clean facilities, well marked trails, interesting museums and well-trained, friendly rangers, any trip to a national park is well worth your time. Our visit to the Grand Tetons was no exception.

America’s National Parks fill with visitors not only from every state, but from around the world. We met one French couple that came back every vacation to hike in the Grand Teton.

My words fall short when it comes to describing the majesty of America’s national parks, so I will let the pictures do the talking.

Nostalgia for Teaching and Things Kids Say

Nostalgia for Teaching After retiring two years ago, the thing I miss most about teaching is the kids especially in September when it’s back to school time. Even on my worst days, students would say or do something to make me smile.

Once my adult daughter came to help me at basketball practice and when I introduced her to my young athletes one of them exclaimed, “Wow, you look just like your sister!”

Another time years before the age of retirement, my sixth grade student ran from the primary building to the gym. She loved PE.

“You look just like my grandma!” she blurted out with a huge smile of enthusiasm

Taken aback for I never considered myself the age of a grandma, I foolishly asked,

“Really? How old is your grandma?”

“Seventy-five like you. Tall and fit. And she still plays basketball every week.”

Go, granny go.

I burst out laughing. Should I be insulted that she saw me as old enough to be a granny or proud to know she considers me fit enough to still play my favorite game?

Another day a graduating student told me she remembers having me in first grade PE. Ah yes, in my early days at our school I had to teach every grade between year one and twelve.

I taught long enough to be one of the elders. When students I had in class returned to our campus to for student teacher training, I felt proud. This year one of my best student/athletes returned to school to teach and now coaches with me.

Nostalgia for Teaching Students also offer some of the sweetest gifts of appreciation.

One of my favorites was handmade – sort of. A boy gave me a plastic Scandinavian Airline travel pouch used by under age children when traveling unaccompagnied. In permanent black marker he wrote on the front of it – Old Timer Comin’ Through. Now every time I fly I carry my passport, glasses and blindfold in that bag on a lanyard around my neck. As I wait in the endless security check lines, I think of my former student – now at Cambridge – and chuckle.

Chalkboards are obsolete now replaced by white boards, electronic tablets and laptop computers. Over the years the means of communication changed immensely.

This one was one of the funniest notes from a student that I worked with in the learning support department, which became a safe haven for so many including me.

The way we connect may change, but the message remains the same. Teachers do make a difference. Every. Day.