Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cabin Fever

Global warming policies and issues aside, we are seeing record low temperatures in much of the northern states right now. As a matter of fact, arctic winds are prevailing leaving states from the Midwest to New England with temps dipping as low -40 in some places. The air is so bone chillingly frosty, that it’s almost impossible to take a full breath into our lungs without experience lung pain outdoors. For most of us, with the exception of my clueless dogs and a few hardy ice fishermen, this means more time inside. It means we'll be drinking warm beverages, cozying up to the fire, piling on extra blankets and keeping an eye on the thermostat. It can also signal preheating our cars before we leave the house and pulling as many layers as we can before we begin to resemble Stay-Puft marshmallow men.

Living in northern climates for most of my life, I've grown accustomed to making these concessions in winter. After all, people who are enjoying temps in the 70's now, will be baking in July, while here in Maine, we'll be quite comfortable. We have learned that a trade off is necessary, in order to 'enjoy' the time later. We've made the made the best of the situation, and we've become pretty good sports about it.

However, being indoors for long periods of time, can also come with it the downside of feeling blue. There are times we may feel slightly depressed or withdrawn, or simply "not like ourselves". We find that we're smiling less, and we're snarky with those we love. In short, we find ourselves with a nasty case of cabin fever. We daydream of long summer days, in which we can sit outside, far past 8 PM, still enjoying the warmth of the rays. We imagine taking off to the Caribbean, where we'll want for nothing, but some sunscreen and a rum drink, served in a pineapple. We contemplate ways to disappear inside our own homes, just for a moment of privacy.

In all honesty, while a little day dreaming can be both therapeutic and soothing, too much can lead to even more feelings of entrapment this time of year. So, how do we combat the Winter Blues? What do we do when jetting off to the Virgin Islands simply isn't an option? Obviously, for people with serious feelings of loss and depression, visiting a doctor is necessary. There are many treatments to help fight S.A.D. available now. Yet, for the rest of us, what's to be done?

Many studies have shown vigorous exercise, at least 3 times per week, can change a person's outlook remarkably. While running on icy surfaces is neither safe nor desirable (for breathing reasons, as well as prevention of slipping), many schools, YMCA's and health clubs offer indoor tracks, Elliptical machines, Stairmasters, rowing machines, and a wide range of classes to get your blood moving...and kick your endorphins into high gear. It can certainly be a challenge to get up and out, and yet, once you make this your 'vacation to yourself', you will find that your perspective can change drastically. In addition, eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables can also help boost your immune system, and give you a much needed burst of 'good' energy. My favorite winter foods are Risotto and Ravioli: both heavy in the starch category. I am not depriving myself of them, but just being mindful that too much starch can also trigger feelings of sadness. Also, because I teach Yoga all week long, I would have thought myself immune to the Winter Blues. I've discovered that I'm just as susceptible to these feelings of angst as the next woman...when I'm not directly practicing Yoga. My answer has been to begin running. My daughter has made me CD's to run to, and before I know it, I've done a few miles on the indoor track while embarrassingly singing to the Black Eye'd Peas.

So, if you can't fly to Mexico, and if a vacation to Hawaii is out of the question, take special care with your diet and exercise. I realize this is not rocket science nor ground breaking advice. And, yet, when we really focus on those areas we can control, it's amazing how much better we can feel. It's hard not to focus on what we can't do...feel warm, enjoy sunshine and not have to worry about the state of our snow tires. But, by using on our energy on positive outlooks during this time of year, we can make Cabin Fever somewhat less pervasive.

When all else fails, make a Pina Colada, put on some cool jazz, and watch an old DVD of "Romancing the Stone". Just make sure you make it to the gym tomorrow.

Now you've listened to my story,
Here's the point that I have made:
Chicks were born to give you fever,
Be it Fahrenheit or Centigrade.
They give you fever
When you kiss them
Fever if you live and learn
Fever! 'till you sizzle
what a lovely way to burn... Peggy Lee's immortal version of "Fever"

Monday, January 12, 2009

Halfway down the stairs...

"Halfway down the stairs
is the stair where I sit.
There isn't any other stair,
quite like it.
It isn't at the bottom.
It isn't at the top.
So, this is the stair
Where I always stop." ---- A. A. Milne

The little nursery rhyme poem is from A. A. Milne's collection entitled "When we were very young". Many people don't realize that Milne was a lovely poet, in addition to his Winnie the Pooh fame. But, his books of children's poetry are timeless, wonderful, and some are just delightfully cheeky. I have a special place in my heart for "When we were very young" because it's the first book, and an early edition at that, that my father ever gave to me. I still have the enscribed volume, and I have to admit that I often find more wisdom in this slim collection than I do in many well lauded, poet laureate treatise. Sometimes Milne is exceptionally funny. But, other times, his wisdom is Zen in its simplicity and thoughtfulness. In this poem, the image of finding yourself halfway down the stairs, in complete contentment, is very fulfilling. It describes the sentiment so many children have: of living purely in the moment, of not wanting to be anywhere else but right where they exist in that place and time. It evokes a feeling of being utterly at peace in one's place in one's growth.

To be both literal and metaphorical, I happen to love the idea of the staircase. For much of my life, I've lived in one story (or mainly one story) houses. I eat, sleep, play, work and otherwise exist on the same level. This means no stairs to fall down with a basket of laundry. But, it also means that most of my house is open for all to see. There is very little separation between the public and private spaces of my home. The image of the staircase is one I find so enthalling because it represents a progression. Because my own house's configuration, there is a sense of not making progress during the day....unless up and down the hallway can count laterally, of course.

Staircases are so often the metaphor for progress. We see Biblical references to Jacob's ladder, and most of us, of a "certain generation" can easily sing every word to Led Zepplin's "Stairway to Heaven". As we ascend up, there is the sense of making our way towards enlightenment, towards fulfillment and towards our own destiny. Even metaphors that refer to "coming down from above" often are positive, in reflection of becoming "real" with the world and our fellow man in the journey of life. The citations are endless. But, internally, we can use the image to project a sense of who we wish to become by our ascension, and yet, remaning grounded by our descension. During quiet times of peaceful meditation, we look within our hearts to discover to which direction we really need to aspire.

For most of us, it truly does represent a balance. We need to strive to reach the top of the stairs to become our full potential, and yet we need to remind ourselves from where we came to keep us grounded and secure. In short, we need to find that middle step on which to sit, to think, to dream and to process which way we need to go next.

Stairs have not always been my strongest form of personal conveyance. On my first date with my husband, I literally missed the first step, and fell down a flight of stairs. I like to think of this less-than-graceful entrance as falling head over heels in love, but in reality, it's because I didn't have my mind where my feet were. While we do choose to aspire to reach our destination, whether it's up or down, we also need to keep a firm grasp on where we are, in addition to we are heading. Falling down stairs is never fun, whether they're literal or metaphorical. We can get ahead of ourselves, we can rush. We can find ourselves too immersed in the end goal to realize what we're doing until we topple, head over heels. Bringing mindfuless to the staircases in our lives can not only enhance our experiences, internally, but can save us from massive bruises, externally.
"The elevator to our highest potential is out of order. You have to use the stairs, one step at a time." ~ Joe Girard