A Charlie Brown Christmas

    Don’t you just love the story about Charlie Brown’s Christmas? Poor Charlie Brown. He starts out so sad and depressed by the thought of the upcoming holiday. It seems his depression was exacerbated by the enthusiasm displayed by his little friends who were eagerly anticipating Christmas. He was so disheartened he even sought help from the local psychiatrist. Why he trusted her with his fragile emotional state is a puzzle to me, since there was already some history between them. She never missed an opportunity to knock him down and call him a Blockhead. True to form, her advice appeared to be the psychological equivalent of smacking him upside the head and still charging him 5 cents for her services. Sheesh. That doesn’t seem right.

    Everywhere Charlie Brown turned, he was bombarded by Christmas cheer. His depression deepened further when his own baby sister was seduced by the magnetic pull of commercialism brought on by the holiday.  Even his beloved dog, Snoopy, decorated his little house in a gaudy display of lights. Poor Charlie Brown. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. A dark cloud and feeling of isolation followed him everywhere as he desperately looked for the meaning of  Christmas. As a result, everyone started to berate him for ruining everyone else’s good time. And the leader of the pack appeared to be his pal and part time psychiatrist.

    Just when it appeared that Charlie Brown was convinced that he was truly as hopeless as some of his playmates assured him he was, one of his friends surprised him. When he showed up with the sad little Christmas tree that he had picked out for the Christmas pageant, his friends once again ridiculed and laughed at him. Again, the pack leader and part time psychiatrist even called him pathetic, which makes me think that she really should reconsider her career choice. Finally, one of his more compassionate and wise little friends came through for him by recognizing that all the tree needed was a little bit of love, attention and a few decorations to turn that sad little tree into a beautiful work of art. And to show Charlie Brown that he really wasn’t pathetic after all.

    There are a lot of life’s lessons in this story. First of all, it only takes one person to get the train of negativity rolling out of control. Consequently, it only takes one person and one simple act of kindness and support to stop that train, turn it around, and head it in the other direction. Second, any living thing can thrive if you show it a bit of attention. Finally, we can all benefit from a little love, attention and a few decorations to improve our self image. It’s just another example of how flexible we are, how fragile we are, and yet how strong. Our nervous systems are always listening, and responding to the input we receive. Be gentle; with yourself and with others.
    Oh, and one last thing….choose your friends and your psychiatrist carefully. If they are smacking you upside the head, either literally or figuratively, it just may be time to let them go and move on. Most of all, be healthy!

Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

It turned out to be a pretty good day….in spite of myself.

I started out my weekend in pretty low spirits. When I woke up Saturday morning, I couldn’t shake off the bad mood I was experiencing. It didn’t help that my very sweet little geriatric Italian Greyhound had crawled into bed with us the night before and had become incontinent sometime during the night. Sheesh. I felt the weight of the world coming down upon me. I also felt like the entire world’s population was looking to do the same thing to me during the day that my little dog did the night before.

I jumped out of bed, sprinted through the kitchen past the fresh brewed coffee that my husband had just made and directly to the laundry room. I washed the sheets, cleaned the mattress and cleaned my little dog. The nice thing about an Italian Greyhound is that they rarely require baths. All you have to do is take a damp cloth and polish them up a bit.

Speaking of polish, by the time I finally got to my coffee, I noticed that my house could use a good cleaning. I’ll be honest….I am a terrible housekeeper. It’s not that I object to cleaning. Sometimes I even enjoy it. But lately I have been preoccupied with other things, and my house has been suffering from neglect as a result. My spirits were sinking like a stone. So was my energy and my motivation. I had a hard enough time getting my second cup of coffee, let alone cleaning the house.

Finally, I made a deal with myself. Just get up off of the couch, clean one room, and crawl back into bed. Pretty appealing, now that I had clean sheets and everything. I put down my coffee and took the dark cloud that was my new best friend along with me to halfheartedly start cleaning. However, once I started moving something funny happened. I cleaned one room and then another. I mean, I was already moving, so I might as well keep going. I giggled when I realized how many cleaning products I had in my cabinets. I had to dust them off before using them, which proves how long they’ve been sitting in my cabinets waiting for some action. I guess they work better when you actually use them. All of a sudden I was in a better mood, and the dark cloud that had hovered over me early in the day began to move on to ruin somebody else’s day.

I felt my energy and my momentum started to surge, so I decided to keep moving. I cleaned a few closets and collected some clothes to give to charity. After all, I wasn’t wearing them. I cleaned the pantry and gathered a few more items to give away. Who really needs three crock pots, anyway? I pulled a few pictures off of the wall, rearranged them, and selected a few more to give away. I had to smile as I thought about the people who would be so happy to receive the items I was donating. All of sudden I realized how fortunate I was that I had a house to clean, possessions to donate, dogs to take care of, and a cabinet full of cleaning supplies.

Sometimes you just need to start moving. Movement is good for your spirit. Sometimes you need to make a few changes, no matter how small. Change is good for your mind. You always need to love and take care of your animals, even if they did just pee on your bed. It’s good for your heart. Remember to give things to people who are less fortunate than you. It’s good for your soul. Take time to be grateful for what you have and even for what you don’t have. Gratitude fills your life with joy. Be honest with yourself, especially when you are in a bad mood. Honesty opens you up to unlimited possibilities to learn new patterns. You might be surprised what comes forth.

I have discovered these simple truths over the years, especially during the course of my Feldenkrais training.  But every now and then I can still get a little lost and as a result get in my own way. Sometimes even a bad day is full of opportunities to learn.

And the journey continues….

It takes a tremendous amount of courage for a woman to walk into a testosterone infested  Dojo and begin training. It also takes an enormous amount of trust. I had neither. I was scared to death for the first two years. However, the guys were incredibly tolerant, gentle and patient with me. Most of the time I was the only woman in class, and they dutifully took turns working with me. I thought that was awfully magnanimous of them. I soon discovered that it was because I was prettier and smelled better than any of the guys, even on my worst day. They had plenty of opportunities to work with each other, and they seemed to enjoy tossing me around for a change.

Even though I was enjoying the classes, I was still incredibly intimidated. I was a good student, not because I was interested in going up through the ranks, but out of a strong sense of self preservation. In keeping with my good humor and to hide my perpetual state of terror, I hid my fear by setting some ground rules. So, I told the guys that they were permitted to kick me, punch me, throw me and pin me, but for Heaven’s sake, don’t mess up my make up. That would make me mad. After all, we all have our limits, and it’s good to set boundaries.

It’s funny to remember how my friends responded to my sudden interest in martial arts.  I had some impressive bruises during the first year, and many of them encouraged me to quit. My girlfriends just knew I would get hurt, and some had the audacity to suggest that I was too old. That did it. I was determined to stick it out for at least another year. I would quit when I was good and ready to quit, and on my own terms. Have I ever mentioned my incomparable stubbornness?

Some days I would go straight from ballet class to the Dojo. Some people thought I was nuts. Sometimes I thought I was nuts. In reality, it was good cross training. But during this incredible journey something really strange happened. My experience slowly transitioned from the physical training to something deeper. My nervous system was responding to my newly discovered patterns of moving and sensing myself in this new environment. The term is called neuroplasticity and refers to our ability to learn new things by responding to changes in our environment.

So, something inside of me changed. It was slow and subtle, but it was there. My intimidation  turned into awareness. My fear changed into confidence. My incomparable stubbornness developed into Spirit. My humor and acceptance about my gender, size and age led me to the understanding of my limitations as well as the acceptance of my possibilities. My lack of trust transformed into self compassion. And now, with each rank I achieve I experience an overwhelming sense of humility. And respect. For myself, and for my art.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

That’s how the journey began….

Eight years ago I began my training as a martial artist. Full disclosure; I did it on a dare. I honestly thought I would take a few classes and then quit. After a month or two, I realized how much I enjoyed the classes. However, I wasn’t going to continue training. I had proved a point, and now I could quit at any time with my dignity intact. I didn’t know why, or how it happened, but I just kept showing up. As intimidated and terrified as I was, at least twice a week I found myself in the Dojo, wondering what I was doing there.

I knew I wasn’t going to stick with it, and I surely wasn’t ever going to test. I could certainly remain a white belt since I would be quitting soon, anyway. After three months of training, one of the guys badgered me into testing for my yellow belt. I didn’t want to do it, but sometimes all you have to do is say the wrong thing (or in this case, the right thing) to get my blood boiling and have my incomparable stubbornness come rearing up to the forefront. So, I tested for my yellow belt.

Three months later, the same guy taunted me to take the next level test. (Who was that masked man, anyway)? So, I tested. I knew I would probably be quitting soon, but at least I had two yellow belts to show for my efforts. And as proof to any one who may doubt me in the future when I told them about my six month long martial arts career.

In spite of myself and my cavalier attitude, I learned a lot in those six months. I finally learned how to tie my belt properly, even though that skill took a full six months to master. I learned the Dojo etiquette and proper manners. I learned how to suppress my giggles during the meditation and formal bowing in at the beginning of class. I learned that I didn’t have to be badgered into testing, and after my third test I realized that I didn’t have to cry after each test. Not that I would cry in the Dojo; I always waited until I was in the privacy of my own car. But, after that third test,  I discovered that it was far more rewarding to go to the mall and buy something pretty instead. However, the most valuable thing I learned was where the back door was just in case I ever wanted to make a fast exit in the middle of class. After all, I was going to quit soon, so why even wait until class was over? And that’s how my journey began….

Be healthy! Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

What I learned on my Thanksgiving vacation.

    My three day Thanksgiving vacation was rich with learning experiences. I discovered how restful, restorative and rejuvenating three days can be, if you just let go of expectations. I found out how much fun winter hiking is, as long as you dress appropriately. I realized that it really is possible to cook a full Thanksgiving dinner in an unfamiliar kitchen, no matter how small it is.

        Life is full of opportunities to learn. All we have to do is let go of expectations, dress appropriately, and get a little adventurous! 

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP