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  • Life Lessons from Yoga #7

     If you keep your core strong, everything is easier.

    Part of my August series on life philosophies learned from yoga.

    After years of practicing yoga, I learned a really simple trick that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t been aware of before.  Any time you are struggling with a pose, it suddenly becomes easier as soon as you tighten your core.  This is especially so in balancing poses like Warrior III and standing back bends.

    Many classes will start with a few core exercises.  This usually garners a few grumbles and is part of the series where everyone feels justified to holler out in pain and give a groan of relief when it is finished.  Sometimes our instructors give a little comic relief saying that core works really lights up that area.  I guess it’s all a matter of how you look at it – is it pain or is it aliveness and progress?

    The reason these abdominal exercises are so instrumental in yoga though is because ever pose requires you to engage your core or at least be aware of what it is doing.  It should never really collapse or be abandoned.  It connects the top half to the bottom half and also protects the back.  It’s the core of your body but it’s also the core of your practice.

    It’s the same in life in that if we’re always aware of whom we are at our core, everything else is easier and stronger.  Like yoga as in life, it makes it much easier to find balance once we are aware of our center.

    I talked about this on my post about values.  If you can identify your top five or ten values and periodically assess them, it makes some of the big decisions in life easier and makes it more straightforward to prioritize on a daily and weekly basis.

    Are there areas of your life you feel like who you are is collapsing?  Do you ever feel like there are certain things you could improve on, or feel more confident in or increase your benefits from? You may want to try asking yourself how marrying your situation or decision with a tight inner core could be the final touch on bringing it all together for you.

    Namaste

  • Life Lessons from Yoga #6

    Don’t forget to breathe.

    Part of my August series on life philosophies learned from yoga.

    One of the main components of yoga is the breath.  If you show up to a class and can’t do a single pose, you get a lot of the benefits by just breathing as instructed.  During yoga we employ an ujjayi breath, which is a deep rhythmic breath that engages the diaphragm.  We inhale through the nose with the mouth closed and held almost in a smile and then exhale by constricting the throat and breathing out through the nose. When the throat is constricted, we build energy as we exhale and control the breath and it makes a sound like the ocean.

    The reason breathing is so important during yoga is because it brings fresh oxygenated air to every cell in the body.  It is essentially a way to nourish and rejuvenate the body and to fuel it for the hard work we’re doing.

    The other reason we focus heavily on the breath is because breath is always in our life.  If we aren’t breathing, we are dead.  It’s something we can always call on during moments of stress or pain and remember the technique of how we turned our attention to our breath in yoga during a difficult pose.  The other thing about breath is that it is always NOW.  When we show up to yoga class, the purpose is to honor our body and to go in to kind of a meditative state.  It’s not to solve problems by thinking about the future or berating ourselves for past mistakes.

    The tendency in yoga class is to start with the breath and then, as we move in to harder and harder poses, we might sometimes realize we are holding it or breathing shallowly.  This same thing often happens in life.  Just when we need the breath to energize us most, we forget to use it.  It’s like how we might adhere to our good habits without really thinking about them and then, when a really hard part comes, we start giving up our usual mechanisms for staying alive and thriving.

    Have you ever had a panicky call from someone who is stuck in traffic and late?  What about someone who is in the middle of the worst part of a divorce or other life-altering event?  What about a child who is on the verge of getting a time out?  Often times we look at or talk to these people and the first things we do are to hold their arm, look in to their eyes and tell them to take a deep breath.

    It’s amazing how we can sometimes go minutes or even years during which we barely remember to maintain a deep constant breath in order to nourish ourselves to get through the difficult part.  In fact, these are the times we especially need it.

    Take a deep breath.  There…

    Namaste

  • Life Lessons from Yoga #5

    Wiping sweat only makes you sweat more.

    Part of my August series on life philosophies learned from yoga.

    I have tried all different types of yoga and while my favorite is a good warm vinyasa (or flow) class, I have done a fair bit of Bikram yoga too.  This is the type of yoga people are often referring to when they talk about hot yoga.   It consists of the exact same series of 26 poses repeated in a specific sequence (which lasts 90 minutes) in a room heated to at least 105 degrees F and 40% humidity.  I spent a lot of time disliking this type of yoga but after doing it as my workday default since there is a studio right by my building, I began to recognize some really special things about it.

    One thing that characterizes Bikram is the strict obedience it requires.  In other types of yoga, you’re somewhat free to do your interpretation of a pose, to move however your body needs.  In other words, Bikram is sort of like military school whereas flow class is a little bit more like Montessori school. For that reason, it’s a great sequence for people who suffer from concentration and focus issues.  Bikram requires all of the class to move at the exact same time, and to look the exact same place in each pose.  There is only one water break suggested (though you can drink as necessary) and standing idly and toweling off the sweat that is pouring down your face and making your entire body slippery is discouraged.

    When you first start Bikram, the inability to constantly wipe away your sweat is one of the hardest things to get used to (just behind the heat).  At first, I didn’t understand why the instruction to be still instead of toweling off existed.  But then I came to realize it was for our own well-being.  Wiping away the sweat is pointless.  New droplets immediately appear within seconds of wiping so all that you’ve accomplished is taking your concentration and focus away from the present moment and expended energy you could have used in the pose.

    If you look up the reasoning behind heated yoga, most of it will refer to the physical reasons why it is so hot.  While these are valid reasons, I believe the real utility is something less obvious.  It’s a metaphor for life in that conditions are never ideal.  When you are in the studio for that 90 minutes, highly discouraged from leaving for any reason except extreme illness, you have to find ways to cope with the heat as the sweat pools around you and to continue to manipulate your body and maintain your focus.

    Are conditions ever ideal in life?  How many times do we say, “I’m going to start working toward that goal when…or “I’m going to have the talk with her when …” or “I’m going to settle down/get married/have kids when…” or “I’m going to pursue this dream when…”  When we do this, sometimes that perfect moment, that “when,” never comes.

    What if we worked at accomplishing the difficult task when the sweat was pouring down our face, stinging our eyes, and turning us bright red instead of expending the energy wiping away the sweat for a momentary reprieve? After the wipe, it is almost instantly borderline unbearable again.  How may “wipes” do we take in life?  What if we saved up the energy of ten wipes and just put it toward the task at hand in less-than-ideal conditions and completed it?

    Namaste

  • Life Lessons from Yoga #4

    Be mindful of when you’re doing something especially difficult to avoid something somewhat difficult.

    Part of my August series on life philosophies learned from yoga.

    It was a sweaty flow class on a Tuesday night.  It felt like the studio was at dewpoint temperature and that big fat water droplets were going to condense straight out of the air and somehow find the one unsaturated spot on my body to stick to.  The thought of that water insulating my body and raising my core temperature just one more degree was unbearable.  My legs were exhausted from a weekend of running and biking and it felt like this class was targeting all of the big muscle groups that were already shaking with our very first chair pose.

    Once you’re in a class though, there is no way to defend your ego and explain to anyone that your legs were sore even before you came, that you’re not a weakling that likes to take the easy way out.  So you push yourself because it’s hard to shed your pride and you tell yourself that it’s good for you, that you need to learn to work through exhaustion.  You keep focused on how this will help you in your endurance training.

    So it keeps coming: chair pose, crescent warrior, Warrior I, Warrior II, and then the dreaded open side-angle pose.  The instructor gives suggestions.  For those students who want to “take it one step further” he offers going in to a bind (which I do, left thigh still burning) and finally he gives the word.  For those of us more “advanced students”, we can go ahead and move in to bird of paradise.  I finally see a reprieve and launch myself, letting my bird fly.  Bird of paradise is a difficult balancing pose that isn’t especially easy on the back but it sounded like the best thing in the world to take the pressure off my leg.  As I’m taking off, the instructor yells out, “How many of you went in to bird of paradise just to avoid side angle?”  Busted!  There are ripples of laughter around the room.  Apparently I’m not the only one who does my long runs on Sunday and then finally feels ready for a flow class again on Tuesday night.

    I’ve noticed this same thing when we are given the opportunity to go in to side crow from twisted side angle, or even given the opportunity to do headstand instead of crow.  These are poses I never would have thought in my wildest dreams when I began yoga that I would be doing as “cop-out” poses.  But you adjust to a new reality and sometimes you do these poses because you are seeking growth and finding your edge but sometimes you do them because you’re doing something really difficult to avoid the real problem, which is usually exhaustion.

    Could this be said about moving across the country or world because you want a fresh start instead of apologizing or owning up to your mistakes?  What about finding happiness elsewhere because you can’t have the difficult conversation with your spouse?  Are you doing something in excess like drinking, prescription drugs, shopping, or eating because you don’t want to deal with the uncomfortable feeling that comes from facing your problems?  Sometimes situations like this arise for other reasons, but it helps to be honest with yourself about what they are and why you might be choosing the hard route..  You may find you are avoiding a trying situation by doing something even more difficult.

    Namaste

  • Life Lessons From Yoga #3

    Think about death every day for happiness.

    Part of my August series on life philosophies learned from yoga.

    It sounds a little bit counterintuitive, doesn’t it?  But I have heard this time and time again.  It is along those same lines of asking yourself how you’d live differently if you found out you only had a few months left.  Would you feel that you had lived life to the fullest?  Did you give it your all?  Do the people you love and care about know that they are appreciated? Did you accomplish everything for which you had potential and did you do it in the way you wanted?

    All yoga classes are finished off with savasana pose, otherwise known as corpse pose or final resting pose.  It is the last pose of the practice and the purpose of it is to integrate the benefits of the practice.  The pose is done by lying flat on one’s back with palms turned up, feet turned out and slightly open, with closed eyes.   Savasana is a time to just focus on how you feel and to allow the mind to go in to a deep meditative state.  The point is to relax, which sometimes makes it the hardest pose.

    Sometimes at the end of class, you’ll feel you didn’t have a very good class, like you just weren’t on it, or had mental or physical roadblocks that frustrated you.  Savasana is the time to let go of what was and what is to come later in the day or later in life.  It’s about accepting what is now and  feeling what the practice has done for your mind, body, and soul.

    It’s the same in the moment of death, I imagine.  We might not have done everything as well as we would have hoped but can we accept it for what it was and find peace?  Can we imagine how those in our sphere of influence benefited by us showing up and learning and doing our best?  The beauty of yoga is that after practice is over,  we do have the opportunity at a new beginning and to make our world a better place.

    I guess everyone thinks about something different during savasana and the point is to not really think of anything, but I actually have a bit of a ritual I do during this pose.  I physically leave my body, allowing the support of the earth to regenerate me physically and emotionally.  Mentally I take a trip, which fortunately for my imagination, happens to be on a unicorn with a heated saddle.  I ride my unicorn through the air among the treetops and all my favorite places in the world (real or imagined) and I try to drop in on each person I love or want to send a particular healing energy to that day.  Often times it may be a person who is making my life difficult.  I figure they need this love the most.  Many times this results in tears streaming down my face and I don’t care.  Savasana helps remind me that when my time comes, I know I have checked in to see how me living my life to the best of my ability might possibly be making the world a brighter and more loving place.

    Namaste

  • Life Lessons From Yoga #2

    Usually the pose that is hardest for you is the one you need the most.

    Part of my August series on life philosophies learned from yoga.

    Almost everyone has poses they love and poses they dread.  I know the one that I dread during every class is triangle (as it’s called in Bikram and Baptiste) or extended side angle, as it’s sometimes called.  I’m not sure what it is about this pose I can’t stand except that my hips just don’t really go the way they’re meant to.  It also impinges on my neck and forces me to squeeze my inner thighs together to prevent slipping but it never really seems to work too well because I’m also trying to rotate my thigh externally to maintain the hip position.  It just generally gets me frustrated and kind of makes me feel inept.

    So why is it most important that I keep doing this pose?  Because obviously I have tight hips, weak thighs and a gravely neck.  Recognizing that I need to work on all those things helps me pinpoint some of my shortcomings, both the physical, and the mental for keeping my cool and being tenacious during my annoyance with the pose.

    It is this exact same situation in life.  I have heard that a person won’t leave your life until they have finished teaching you something you needed to know.  It’s like having to deal with an infuriatingly slow person when you tend to think, talk, and move a mile a minute.  Maybe you were glossing over important details before or were lacking patience.  Or maybe you get stuck with a co-worker who issues particularly biting passive-aggressive comments.  Because you can’t just blow up at this person, perhaps your reaction and response to those comments will teach you how to deal gracefully with other haters in your life.

    Going in to these positions that you don’t like also teaches you where your edge is and how to breathe and work through situations that you find uncomfortable.  As I talked about in my risk and regrets post, if you’re not falling or stumbling, then you’re not really learning anything and not really pushing the boundaries on making yourself a better person.  If you’re always in the comfort zone, you won’t learn the necessary skills to push through when the going gets tough.  It’s usually then that growth opportunities or a chance to differentiate yourself come along.

    The funny thing about these poses we don’t like is that they often end up being the ones we love the most.  Certainly this can happen in life too, with people, places, and jobs.  Even if you don’t end up loving them, they probably do end up teaching you valuable lessons you are thankful for later.  I know I have become that way with toe stand.  It used to be so hard for me and I have now realized it was because I was not listening carefully, I was envisioning falling, and wasn’t focusing on the right spot…all perfect metaphors for what could happen to send your life awry.

    An example of how that happened to me about a place is that I had some of the most difficult years of my life in Houston and just when I thought I couldn’t stand to live here one year longer, my future husband, Chief, walked in to the restaurant I was eating at by myself.  I instantly knew we would spend the rest of our lives together before we even spoke.  Much of what had happened in the years leading up to that taught me what was necessary for a loving relationship that would allow me to blossom.  What if I had skedaddled from this place the second I felt like I couldn’t stand it anymore?  I’m so glad I hung in for that last uncomfortable moment and gave myself the opportunity to grow and find the best of things out of the worst of things.

    How could the hardest parts of your life be helping you identify your weaknesses and teaching you the most valuable lessons?

    Namaste

  • Life Lessons From Yoga #1

    Surrender

    Part of my August series on life philosophies learned from yoga.

    Yoga has taught me that sometimes surrendering is the most victorious and courageous way.

    The pose in which I really learned the utility of this strategy was in pigeon – one of my favorite poses.  Pigeon is a very deep hip opener accomplished by bringing one leg parallel to the front of the mat with the other leg flat on the floor extending back. After the legs are set up in the pose, the yogi puffs his or her chest out (the pigeon part) to open their heart and then leans forward to rest their head on the mat or to use their hands as a pillow.  This somewhat uncomfortable position is held for a few minutes on each side.

    IMG_3885

    Some yoga practitioners will tell you that we hold a lot of emotions in our hips so pigeon can bring up latent feelings.  That sounds a bit hokey if you don’t practice yoga, but if you’ve done the pose a few times you understand that this is so.

    To really feel what it means to hold emotion in your hips and heart area, try something.  Imagine that right now you are scared or vulnerable.

    How does your body react? Did you feel what happened in your hips and abdomen?  The tendons, ligaments, and muscles running down the body tighten up in an instinctual attempt to protect the vital organs housed in this area that have no bone armor.

    We don’t usually get a chance to release the tension that we inadvertently hold there when life throws us situations that leave us feeling anxious and overly protective.  We spend so much time sitting or, if we do move our hips, it is to walk straight ahead.  Manipulating the hips as in pigeon opens up a new realm and allows energy to flow along pathways that were previously blocked or not facilitated in our day-to-day movements.

    While holding pigeon, the instinct is to fidget and not allow this energy to flow, to not release the hips and feel the deep opening.  In other words, not to find comfort in an uncomfortable position.  During one practice, I had an instructor tell us to just surrender during pigeon and I have never forgotten it.  It really struck me, this idea.  It had not occurred to me that surrendering could actually be an active and conscious choice for coping with something and bringing about a “win” instead of a passive mechanism that one should feel lame about employing.  It brought forth the idea that instead of fighting the deep stretch and almost exquisite pain that came with completely relaxing in to the pose, could I accept it for what it was, to surrender during discomfort for the good of the system?

    Once surrender has occurred, it ushers forth the possibility for a deeper stretch, for an opening, for an accepting and for an emotional release.  And once that pain is accepted, it suddenly becomes easier.  The pose is hard no matter which way you look at it but if you continue to struggle, you give up the opportunity to relax and experience the good parts that are occurring, the transformation amid the pain.

    Surrender also reminds me of sometimes the only time we can feel better is after a good cry or emotional release.  We might spend hours or years holding in a particular emotion (or numbing it in a destructive way), convincing ourselves that it doesn’t matter, that we should keep fighting its existence.  And then we let go and the tears start and sometimes don’t stop for a long time.  When we’re done crying or talking about our pain, we realize how much we were holding in and how damn good it felt to surrender.  In doing so, we realize the immense weight that we were carrying.

    Surrendering is essentially what happens when we fall in love too.  This can also be an important tactic to use when a rocky relationship has come to an end.  Wouldn’t the surrender and accepting help us heal and move forward?

    IMG_3887

    Namaste

     

  • Reducing Clutter

    “Since my house burnt down,
    I now own a better view
    Of the rising moon.”

    ~a haiku by Basho

    Living as a minimalist is a way of life.  There are many components of the lifestyle which Leo Babauta does a great succinct summary of here.  Everyone has their own reasons for subscribing to this philosophy but mine is for simplicity, and for letting the possessions and activities I love shine through instead of being cluttered with the stuff that doesn’t matter.  It’s also a way to make me feel like I’m making less of an impact on our planet.  Whether or not my efforts are just a drop in big nasty bucket doesn’t matter as much to me.  It’s about how it makes me feel like I’m doing my part.

    One component of a minimalist lifestyle is simply about not having too much stuff.  Because of the consumerist lifestyle that society pushes on us, usually the first step is to reduce clutter that we already have.  There are other components of the lifestyle that address how to limit acquiring future stuff that I look forward to addressing in later posts.

    What’s so bad about clutter? The obvious outward appeal to being a minimalist is that it is aesthetically pleasing.  Just take a look at a decorating magazine or one of those fancy modern homes.  No clutter, right?  And if that relatively shallow reason doesn’t appeal to you, there are other more profound reasons.

    Decluttering is an emotional process that helps people thrive.  You may be hanging on to clutter because there are times of your life you can’t let go of.  Sometimes, though, these past lives need to be released before a person can move forward to what is waiting for them.  What new hobbies might you pursue if you had the space to do it?  Which goals could you accomplish if you spent less time acquiring and maintaining your stuff?  How much more time could you spend with your family and friends if you weren’t so busy with material possessions?

    Clutter is a constant reminder of a scarcity mindset. A person who has too much stuff might feel like they can never have enough or are about to lose everything they have, so they overcompensate and try to insulate themselves for the possibility.  This scarcity mindset can set up limiting beliefs.  You need to believe you will have everything you need to succeed.

    What does creating space give to you?  Well, couldn’t we all use more space?  We are crammed in to this world of 7 billion people, constantly surrounded by light and noise pollution, we’re bombarded with advertisements about what other stuff we should want (presented as though they’re things we actually need), our schedules are packed full to every last minute, not even leaving us enough time to sleep until we’re rested or take 10 minutes out of our day to meditate or journal and reflect on what the hell it is we want in life.  How many weekends are spent running to discount stores, electronic stores, having our cars taken care of, trying to figure out what to do with that crap in the garage that is collecting dust?

    We could all use some space to figure out what it is we really want in life.  When your house is relatively empty, it’s hard to escape yourself and your real needs and desires.  Reducing clutter gives us more space to create and to relax and to love.  We could all afford to feel a little less untethered to and ruled by our STUFF and more in touch with people and experiences.

    Your stuff does not make you who you are.  The guy that drives the orange Lamborghini around my neighborhood is still a prick even though he has an orange Lamborghini.  The acquaintance that buys oodles of designer handbags doesn’t suddenly become classy.  The person with the fancy house and garage full of toys doesn’t suddenly start being fun and interesting.  In fact, people often seem to become the opposite of the thing they are trying to possess.  It’s as though they are acquiring and showing off stuff in a desperate effort to get people to think of them in a certain way.

    Sentiment does not need to be in the form of stuff.  This often comes in the form of gifts or things that were handed down to us through the family.  We feel that keeping something is necessary for preserving evidence of a relationship or an existence.  In some cases, you may want a few mementos, definitely.  Sometimes, though, one teacup could remind you of the way Grandma would wrap her hand around it and chatter in her singsong way.  Maybe you don’t need every last piece of chipped dishware. Or instead of keeping that horrible sweater your mother-in-law gave you to prove you are a patient and tolerant person, could you just get one of her best recipes?   That would be a much better way to reminisce on her great qualities as you share the food with friends.

    If you decide reducing your clutter could help usher you toward a more minimalist lifestyle, try the following:

    Do a walk through of your habitat.
    The first step in minimalizing is to have a conversation with your stuff.  Remember, this is where you LIVE.  It’s not just a place to store your STUFF!  I will copy an example of the questions you could use verbatim out of a book I love called The Joy of Less:A Minimalist Guide to Living:

    ‘Ask yourself these questions: As you walk around your house, have a conversation with your stuff. Ask each item, “What are you and what do you do?” “How did you come into my life?” “Did I buy you, or were you given to me?” “How often do I use you?” “Would I replace you if you were lost or broken, or would I be relieved to be rid of you?” “Did I ever want you in the first place?” Be honest with your answers—you won’t hurt your stuff’s feelings.’

    You might be surprised at how many of your possessions kind of appall and annoy you.

    The best defense is a good offense.
    In other words, just don’t bring home crap you don’t need.  If it’s something that you are only going to need about once or twice a year, do you really need to buy a thing to maintain and to store?  Could you borrow a gravy boat from a neighbor or friend?  Could you rent a power washer from your local hardware store?  Could you decorate with seasonal foliage or fruit instead of buying disposable holiday decorations made in a Chinese factory?  In the case of gifts, could you express preferences for consumables or experiences or donations in your name?

    Decide what to keep instead of deciding what to toss out.
    It’s easier this way.  Only keep the stuff you love.  It’s pretty simple.  All moves or major life changes are great times to do this.  Often times moves come along with life changes.  If you don’t have a move in your future, try to choose one drawer or area per day or weekend and slowly chip away at it.

    Do not feel guilty about throwing away stuff you spent money on.
    Let this be a lesson to you that from now on, you aren’t going to buy something unless you love it or you absolutely need it.  If you don’t wear it or don’t use it, keeping it isn’t going to suddenly going to make it worth it to have purchased it.  Feel good about donating it, selling it on Craigslist, or using an organization like Freecycle.org to find someone who might be seeking the exact item(s) that  isn’t serving you anymore.

    Enjoy without owning.
    This was another great idea discussed in the Joy Of Less book.  It is essentially the theory that you don’t have to re-create the world around you inside your house.  Chief and I live in a small apartment with a lovely garden in a funky neighborhood near the center of town.  We have no garage, no attic, minimal closet space, no TV, one car.  We actively work at not acquiring and consuming.  It requires constant vigilance!  We don’t buy things we don’t need, we don’t try to impress anybody, and we work hard at the principle of enjoying without owning by spending out to our neighborhood.  For example, instead of buying an espresso machine with all the bells and whistles, we go drink an espresso out of a glass cup at our favorite shop three blocks away.  We don’t need a fancy wine fridge because we can go down the street to have a pint and meet our neighbors.  We don’t need a home theater because we can go out to the local theatre and take in blockbusters and local plays.

    Reducing clutter has allowed me so much space and light in my life.  It’s made me focus on what really matters and allowed my creativity to thrive.  I hope it can do the same for all of you.

     

     

  • Where Do the Women Scientists Disappear To?

    “I have a great deal of work, what with the housekeeping, the children, the teaching and the laboratory, and I don’t know how I shall manage it all.” ~Dr. Marie Curie

    Obviously, Marie Curie did manage it all since she went on to become the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (in both Physics and Chemistry), but not all women seem to succeed at juggling it all.

    Women, more than ever, have the opportunity to do whatever they want career-wise.  We are being encouraged to follow math and science oriented careers and are often given great opportunities.  It seems a lot of women are taking society up on this challenge and majoring in subjects like natural science, economics, and mathematics more than ever.  I’d say at least 30% of the people I started my career with are women.  What I have lately felt compelled to explore is the reason women seem to eventually leave the career though.  Why is the top tier of my industry only about 5% women?  Is society missing out on some of the most important intellect it has ever developed for some reason that can be addressed?

    I haven’t really worked in another profession or industry, so I am curious if other women who are in technical or scientific fields tend to notice this same pattern.  I’d also be curious to know if women in more female-dominated careers have noticed anything like this?  Based on my outside observation, I would venture to say it’s not as commonplace there.  So allow me to explore the field I do know about.

    Working as a corporate scientist, I can’t help but notice when I look around during the scientific presentations that there are only about 10% of us present that are females.  When I take a closer look at the women that are present, it seems that half have not yet had children.  I’ll first explore this half without kids.

    Of those that end up leaving the profession before they have children, why did they go and where did they go?  Most of these women seem to leave this field to pursue professions or a lifestyle that somehow helps people and/or encounters less male-dominated ego posturing. This could be interpreted to suggest that women find other careers or ways of life more satisfying than science.  Or perhaps there is some undermining that goes on subconsciously in the minds of both males and females that creates a hostile work environment for women in this profession.  I wonder if there is some lack of satisfaction women encounter because of their job as a scientist and if they are able to find it elsewhere (as a teacher, stay-at-home mother, healthcare, etc.).  I don’t know the answer.

    Of the half of the women I work with that do have children, a significant proportion of them have husbands who are the primary caregiver. The women in my profession who take care of the “traditional” domestic obligations as well as the more tradtionally masculine role of being the “breadwinner” are a very small proportion.   I could interpret this to mean that being a mother and being a top scientist aren’t particularly compatible (unless someone has family or a father/partner and/or nanny to be the primary caregiver for their child).

    Many women do leave the profession around the time they start a family.  So if the timing of their exit is coincident with child-rearing I would venture to say, based on observations, that for a woman to be top-performing among her male peers and to be a happy and satisfied scientist, she feels she can not also be all the parent she wants to be.

    Does child-rearing cause a woman to suddenly lose the energy, interest, and commitment to invest the brain power in performing good science and working in a competitive environment because biology requires her attention is somewhere else?  Do repeated failings (usually accompanied with snarky comments) in this competition eventually wear down her spirit so that she finally decides to screw it all?

    Every stop toward starting a family might cause a woman to fall a little further back.   Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this publically, but I can’t tell you how many hours of work I’ve lost wondering if I was pregnant (15 of 30 days every month), being pregnant, miscarrying, and feeling shitty and hormonal.  And that’s months before real motherhood duties appear! Then mothers go on to go through the exhausting ordeal of labor.  They spend the next year physically and mentally wiped out from lack of sleep and adjusting to motherhood or a new member to the family, and possibly pumping or breasfeeding numerous times throughout the day. Their relationships with their spouses change, their relationships with their parents change, and their relationships with other women change. So I understand how commitment to work and important facts slip away; these same facts that the male counterparts always have at the ready to use as speaking points in meetings and in debates.

    Is there something that can be done about this?  Do women want something done about it or do they find happiness when they move on and stop caring? Is our system failing because women who invested so much time and passion in to a profession suddenly realize their needs as women/mothers cannot be accommodated?  Are our companies and professions missing out because women are leaving positions that could have been great ways to bring something different to a male-dominated environment just as they are getting started?

    I am not meaning to put down the hours men spend worrying about these same things or attending to starting a family.  I know a lot of men invest a lot of time and help with these things.  Biologically speaking, though, it is the woman that is responsible for the lion’s share of having a child.  And it is more often a woman whose self -esteem might suffer if her job doesn’t somehow involve helping people.

    I worry about what will happen for me professionally when I have a baby.  Did I make a mistake pursuing something that isn’t very accommodating for women who want to do both?  Is there something inherent in femaleness that make the vast majority of women want to pursue careers that are somehow related to caregiving or provide flexible hours?  Have I screwed myself?  Is that the only reason for the lack of women in my work environment?

    Sometimes I feel a frustration too that many of the highly successful men at work have someone devoted to taking care of their home and their children and, frankly, of them.  I have very seldom known a high performing man that didn’t have someone else taking care of him.  These guys are able to focus only on earning during the day while the woman takes care of the matters of the home.  He is throwing his energy in to performing well at work.  He has his role.  It makes me wish I had a stay-at-home wife!  How can I compete with this?

    So I’m confused.  I feel pride and excitement about my career because I’m doing what I’m good at.  But is it sustainable if I were to be blessed with pregnancy?  How do I reconcile my feminism with feelings that are, I hope not misogynistic, but steeped in what society has considered to be typical roles for males and females.  Are my chances of me being ultra successful and respected in my career limited if being a devoted mother with a working spouse is also in the cards?

    I don’t know the answers to these questions but I think about it a lot, mull it around and try and sample the people I know.  I would be very thankful for any comments or insights on this  – whether through life experiences in parallel but different fields or to learn about personal decisions (or forced situations) and how they did or didn’t work.  What was sacrificed, what was gained, and what might you have done differently knowing what you know now?

  • My Favorite Make-up Brushes

    In this post I highlight my favorite make-up brushes and provide a brief description about how to use them.  I used to be completely clueless as to how to do make-up and use brushes until I went to a MAC store for a lesson about 7 years ago.  It was a lot of fun and though I hardly wear any make-up these days, I’m glad I learned how to do it so I have the foundation for creating looks if the mood strikes me.  Because I started with them, I am most familiar with MAC make-up brushes, so those are the ones I refer to in this post.  There are probably other brands that make great brushes too, but this list can help give you an idea of the shape and density you are looking for.

    Check out my video (that I will probably update with an HD version) to see how I use these for a simple contoured eye look.  And for Pete’s sake, please blend your eye make-up better…I got distracted and accidentally skipped that step in this video!

    I used to love playing with makeup  but I’ve become such a homebody nowadays and very rarely go out.  When I do head out, I generally end up running out with wet hair and no make-up to have a pint at the dive bar down the street!  Nevertheless, I still like having all the tools in case I feel like being artistic or playing around and getting glammed up.  I feel like make-up, clothes, and nail polish are easy fixes to totally change your look for a day or night and then you can always revert to your “regular old self” when the fun wears off.  I like not having to make drastic permanent changes.

    It took me years to complete my brush collection as these aren’t inexpensive brushes, but they last forever.  I have bolded the ones I couldn’t do without for everyday makeup (Total = $225) and then listed the other ones I love having in order of importance (Total = $600).  As I said, my collection took years of spending about $25/month on makeup brushes and I baby them.  There are lots of collections out there that sell brushes in a bundle, but I find the collections rarely have everything I want and often are filled with a lot of things I don’t need.  All the brushes listed are linked to the MAC page if you click on the name of the brush.

    Face

    • Large Powder Brush – #134 $53 This brush is for application of powder.  It is a paddle-shaped brush with a fluffed rounded tip.  I generally use it for applying my BareMinerals powder foundation and all-over bronzer.
    • Powder/blush Brush – #129  $35 This brush is all-purpose brush for blush or face powder.  It works well for both blush and bronzer.
    • Duo Fibre Face Brush – #187 $42  I use this brush for blending and applying cream blushes.  It is generally used to create soft layers or add textures.  It’s a blend of goat and synthetic fibers.
    • Blush Brush – #116 $35 This brush is for shading and highlighting.  It’s somewhat redundant with #129 but allows for more precise application.
    • Shader Brush – #242 $25 This brush is listed under eye brushes but I like it for concealer. It is a flat brush made of synthetic fibre.  I tend to like the synthetic brushes for anything emollient.
    • Buffer Brush – #182 $53 This is a full dome-shaped brush of goat hair for blending powder and giving an immaculate polished finish.  I like to use this brush for finishing powder or for applying something like the BareMinerals Pure Radiance or Mineral Veil.
    • Foundation Brush – #190 $33 Synthetic brush for applying, distributing and blending liquid foundation.  I love the way this one feels on my face!  It makes me feel like one of the fur-covered seal-like species that evolves in Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos novel.  But I digress…
    • Small Duo Fibre Face Brush -#188 $35 This brush is for lightweight application and blending of any fluid cream, or powder.  I especially like to use it for applying liquid highlighter to the top of my cheekbones and just above my brows.
    • Duo Fibre Fan Brush – #184 $23  This brush is a blend of synthetic fibre and goat hair.  It gives a featherweight application and works to blend powders or as a tool to gently clear the skin of any excess product.  I also really like it to apply a very subtle shimmery powder on the top of my cheekbones.  It also works well for brushing off any fibres from other brushes that stick to your face.  That’s not reason enough to buy it, but an added bonus!
    • Large Angled Contour Brush – #168 $35 This brush works best for cheek contouring.  I usually use it to apply a little bit of bronzer under my cheekbones.  Use contouring to apply darker colors where you want a feature to recede.

    Eye

    • Eye Shader Brush – #239 $25 Soft and dense brush for shading with eye shadow.  I use this brush every day and it works well for building color if you want to make it intense.
    • Small Angle Brush – #263 $19 This brush is a firm, flat- shaped and angled brush for lining and shading.  It is made of synthetic fibre.  It makes a precise line and works especially well for dense application if it is spritzed with water or MAC’s Fix Plus.
    • Lash Brush – #204 $14 This brush can be used for grooming the eyebrows and separating the eyelashes.
    • Blending Brush – #217 $23 I love this brush for shading and blending.  Use it to add depth to contoured eyes or use it at the end of eyeshadow application for blending all colors together.
    • Pencil Brush – #219 $25  For precision shading and blending eyeliner.  It helps give a very nice smudged look and works great for doing sort of a sexy smoky eye.
    • Large Fluff Brush – #227 $31 Paddle-shaped dense brush for defining the eye with color.  This is the perfect brush for applying eye color in a quick all-over stroke.  I especially like to use it to apply a light color like MAC’s creme brulee or vanilla all over the eyelid.
    • Mini Shader Brush – #228 $20 This brush is round-tipped and firm and I really like it for applying a slight shimmer just under my eyebrows and around the tear duct to open the eyes up.

    I don’t usually use much in the way of lipstick brushes because I am more of a gloss kind of gal but I have had luck with MAC’s retractable lip brush when I have used it.  A great resource for trying make-up looks is the YouTube channel AllThatGlitters21.  She does a lot of good make-up tutorials and you can pretty easily accomplish a lot of the looks with just a couple of palettes.

    Happy make-up artistry!