health

My Most Embarrassing Story

(This was originally posted in December of 2007. I am consolidating my two blogs.)

This is quite embarrassing, and if you’re easily grossed out skip this post. The malaria pills I was prescribed for my time in Mozambique causes yeast infections in 2% of the women who take it. I found out I am one of the unlucky 2%. Of course the damn yeast infection struck during my investigation period, when I was with 18 of my male students in an isolated region of Mozambique. There was no way I was going to tell them about my feminine problem.

The cockroaches in our shower. Would you feel clean?

I’ve never had a yeast infection before or after, but I’m going to guess that walking an average of 10 miles a day in 100 degree weather made it much more painful than usual. I came back to our abandoned schoolhouse almost in tears every night. I tried to get treatment at the hospital, but they had no idea what I was talking about. I even went to the local witchdoctor, but she didn’t understand either. Since the word for yeast and bread are the same in Portuguese, they thought I was saying that I had a bread infection.

I had treatment for yeast infections in the emergency kit back at my house in Inhambane, but I had to wait two days to get permission from the school director to go back by myself to get the medicine. Those were the most miserable days of my life. And the worst part was that no one believed that I was sick because I couldn’t tell them what was really wrong.

On Sunday morning my students walked me to the chappa stand (chappas are the main form of transportation in Mozambique. They are used minivans that fit up to 30 people). There were no direct chappas to Inhambane so I had to make four connections. My students talked to the first driver and told him to take care of me. Whenever the chappa arrived in the connecting town the driver would walk me to the next chappa and would speak in Portuguese, thinking that I didn’t understand. They would say, “this is our sister and she’s sick. Make sure she gets to Inhambane safely.” I never felt so well taken care of.

The trip should have only taken 4 hours but it ended up taking 7. On one of the longest rides, I was sharing the front seat with two ancient women who were sitting so closed to me that I could feel the peach fuzz on their cheeks. One asked me to hold two of her tied up live chickens on my lapSeriously? The chappa was from the former Soviet Union, and I’m pretty sure it was old enough to have driven Stalin around town. It stalled every time we got below twenty Kilometers an hour, and considering we stopped every ten minutes to pick up people, we had to get strangers to push the chappa and get it started again.

Celine Dion performing "Taking Chances&qu...

Image via Wikipedia

On this particular ride I went a little insane. I looked out the windows at the passing red roads, and the women carrying buckets of water on their heads. Celine Dion was crooning on the radio. Sweat was running down my face. The foul stench of twenty crushed people in the back seat was heavy in the air. The chickens were clucking in my lap, my lap that was burning more than my sun burnt face. I started crying, and I mean really crying. “Why am I here? This would never have happened if I stayed in America,” I cried. But then out of nowhere I just started cracking up. I started thinking about how I will tell my grandchildren about the time I got a yeast infection in Africa and I had to drive for 7 hours with chickens to get the medication. And then I couldn’t stop laughing. This time a huge smile broke across my face, and I thought, “yeah, this never would have happened if I stayed in America!” The two old ladies took note of my insanity and inched away from me which made the rest of the ride much more comfortable.

When I got to my house all of the kids in my village came running up to me to welcome me back. I don’t understand how they knew that I was coming back and that I was sick considering they don’t have phones, internet, or mail. They carried my bag in the house and even got water from the well for my shower. I took the medicine, took a shower, and then I slept like I never slept before.

Teaching in a one room school house.

The next morning I caught the chappa to Zavala and headed back to my students in a much better mood. My crotch was no longer on fire. When I got back to the school my students looked shocked. They thought I was lying about being sick, and that I was sneaking back to America without telling them. As soon as I walked in they all ran up to hug me and cried, “Mommy Tracy, you came back!” From that point on I won them all over. They still call me Mommy Tracy, which is funny because most of them are older than me. This is the first time I’ve been called “mommy” by twenty year olds without it being a come on.

The moral of the story is always carry Monistat with you when you travel. Or at least learn how to say “yeast infection” in the local language.

Take a Deep Breath and Say Ahhhh

I wrote about developing your complete triangle in the last post, but as I said the triangle can always grow bigger and stronger. There is one action that develops all three sides of the triangle; mind, body and soul. It is a simple act that, when done mindfully, can change your life.

Are you curious?

Here’s a hint: you’re doing it right now.

Do you give up?

Ok, it’s breathing. Wait! Don’t stop reading. I promise this is not stupid.

Here is how breathing improves the complete triangle: If you focus on something as simple and repetitious as breathing your mind shuts off. I just wrote in the last post how important it is to develop your mind, but it’s also important to be able to shut it off when it’s not servicing you. Your mind voices your doubts and self-criticism. Your mind is what creates the to-do list while you should be enjoying yourself. So the more you practice shutting it off, the more control you gain.

As for body, have you ever tried doing something physical that you didn’t think you could, but then someone tells you to breathe and all of a sudden you can? Kind of like Lamaze or weight lifting. The breath has this magical power that imbues you with strength and confidence. And again it shuts off your brain that’s tell you “this is too hard.”

And as for spirit, nothing helps you feel more centered and calm like breathing. It reminds you that no matter what, as long as you take another breath you are still alive. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Recently I have been taking Alexander Technique classes as well as seeing a chiropractor. I put these under the body category of my triangle. I didn’t want running to be the only method that I use for developing my body. I’ve always wanted to walk with poise and get rid of my computer slouch posture. But every part of the triangle is connected, so if I want to improve my body I also have to improve the way my mind and spirit interact with my body. This is also described as feeling grounded or more comfortable in your skin.

Alexander Technique is all about being aware of your body, and allowing your mind to control gestures to maximize movement and eliminate unneeded stress and tension. Breathing is a huge part of the study. We often think of breathing as involuntary, but the speed in which we breathe, the volume of air we take in, and the level of intention we use with each breath is absolutely in our control. By focusing on the breath it calms you, and reminds you that you can let things happen, or you can make things happen. (I will put more info about these classes at the end of the post.)

When I started seeing my Chiropractor guess what he told me to focus on? You got it: breathing. He explained that the tightness I feel in my upper back is caused from shallow breathing. When I’m slouched over the computer all day, by rib cage is folding over my organs, basically cutting out half of the available lung space. Sit like you would when you’ve been at a computer for a while and take 5 short breaths. Do you feel the tiny muscles around your upper spine flexing? Now sit up straight and take 5 deep breaths (don’t raise your shoulders – allow the air to fill up your whole torso). You don’t feel those little muscles anymore, right? You feel it in your stomach. That’s because the large, strong diaphragm muscles are what should be helping us breathe, not the little muscles around our spine. We over use those little muscles and they get strained, and tight. That’s why I, and many other nerds, experience that kind of back pain.

So here’s a breathing exercise I learned in yoga. Sit on the floor with your legs crossed. If this is uncomfortable lie down. Think of someone very important to you. Think of how happy you want them to be and how grateful you are to have him/her in your life. Now take a deep breath in through your nose (most likely you’ll be smiling). Let that breath expand you; push your sides out, let it push your torso to the ground. Keep inhaling until you feel like you’re going to burst. That air is your gratitude and you want to fill yourself with it. Picture that special person again, and then let all the air out in one slow controlled exhale. Do this a few more times. You’ll probably feel light headed afterward, so wait a few minutes before standing.

Alexander details:

Alexander is very popular among performing artists because it enhances stage presence and poise, as well as improves breathing technique. I’m taking classes with a teacher in training at the main institute near Union Square, so it’s much cheaper than normal. One of the fellow students is a concert pianists and he started taking classes years ago after he injured his wrist and couldn’t play for 4 years. He was able to eliminate  the unnecessary stress that was causing the pain, and now he’s playing professionally again! If you live near Manhattan and wish to go to the same school, the classes are 45 minutes long and they cost $8 each. For a certified teacher, prices can range from $30-$80. The school that I’m going to has trained many teachers and can give you referrals for teachers all over the World.