Martha Marcom

Building Empathy during Tough Times

IMGP6243 - Version 2As we deal with Martha’s impending death and the grief of her family and close friends, perhaps we can use this time to address how best to empathize with one another during hard periods in our lives. I know that SO very many of you care about her family and close friends, and you might not know what to say or do. There are some ways of showing your care that are easier for most people to receive. Let’s use this devastating event of the death of Martha to learn some tools that will likely serve you the rest of your life.

I’d like to start by recommending one of my favorite new books about offering empathy, There is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do when Life is Scary, Awful and Unfair to People You Love, by Kelsey Crowe, PhD and Emily McDowell. It includes many great suggestions on what to say or not say, what to do or not do, illustrated with amusing picture and lots of painful and inspiring stories.

Here are two examples from the book of good ways of dealing with loss:

Instead of saying, “I can’t believe this happened,” you could say, “I’m sorry you are going through this.”

Instead of saying, “I lost my wife and I was devastated,” you could say, “This must be so hard,” or “I can’t imagine how you are doing.”

Generally when you are with someone who is grieving, do your best to take the lead from them and keep the focus on their needs in the moment. Many of our favorite ways of “helping” often shift the focus to ourselves in ways that don’t feel good to someone in pain. If you are familiar with Nonviolent Communication these are called “empathy blockers.” Here are some examples of things not to say—some very common and mostly painful ways that many people share their love and care:

  • Saying you know how they feel because (fill in the blank): Honestly, you don’t know how they feel, and asking them to acknowledge your feelings takes energy away from the other person to you. You are no longer focused on them; you are telling your story.
  • Giving advice: You probably know lots of people, practices and things that have helped you over the years, and you’d like to share them so that others feel better too. Please don’t. When someone close to us dies, feeling better is beside the point. Giving advice may make you feel better by thinking you are useful and it can also be a way for you to avoid feeling your own discomfort of being with someone in pain.
  • Saying your husband, wife, mother or friend (or even worse your goldfish) just died. As in the above scenario, the focus is now on you again, and not the other person’s experience. And now they are in the position of having to listen to you and your pain.
  • Asking how they are. Seems innocent doesn’t it, and likely you really care and want to know. But imagine they are feeling totally grief-stricken and someone asks them that question casually, while walking in the door of the studio together. How do they respond? Perhaps they sense you don’t really know what you are asking to hear. Saying that they are fine is hard as well, requiring some extra armor around the heart. If you have time and feel that the other is open to a real conversation, only then ask how they are doing, and be willing to
  • Asking for details—please, just no.
  • Being positive (we yogis are way too good at this sometimes). It might sound like this: “You’ll get through this with the strength of your practices.” Or “Just keep your head up, you’ll be fine,” or “It’s all for the best,” or “You’re so brave.” Again, just no. Each person finds their own way; you do not need to guide them.

And a few other phrases to please avoid:

  • “She’s in a better place now.”
  • “There’s another angel in Heaven now.”
  • “She fought a great battle and lost.”
  • “At least she is out of pain.”

You may be thinking that I have just taken away all your tools. That’s Ok, there are other tools, mostly non-tools. You can show up in little and kind ways. Send prayers, chant for the well-being of Martha and the family, and write notes and cards about what Martha has contributed to your life. In person, you can let them know they are in your hearts and prayers. You can listen if they want to talk. You can make donations in their names. Maybe bring flowers or food, but only if you know that will be welcome, and only if you don’t need your container back. Refrain from general offerings and be specific if you can. “I’d love to take you on a walk in the woods on Saturday if you would be interested in that.” “I’m very handy—are there any little projects you are not getting to that you would like help with?”

Keep it simple and give the person you are talking to the chance to say more or to stop the conversation. Don’t take it personally if the other person doesn’t feel like sharing. They are navigating a lot in their own way.

Some things that have been meaningful to me over the last month or so were really simple gestures…a few friends are texting me from time to time to check in with how I am doing and asking about my own self-care. I’m receiving this as a loving embrace. Others are asking if I would be open to a hug—almost always yes! The other day a woman let me know that if there was ever anything she could do for me that I could let her know. I was touched by her sincerity; I felt her care for me. Another student quietly brings me flowers from her garden. Others are letting me know they are sending me Reiki and keeping me in their prayers. I swear I can feel this support and love pouring in.

Many of you reading this are likely yogis. Showing up for someone in pain is a lot like showing up for yourself on the mat. Get started, be mostly quiet, listen deeply and make responses based on what you are noticing. You’ve got this.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, don’t be too worried about getting it wrong. We have all offered advice, told our own stories and not listened as well as we might like. Offer yourself as best as you can. Perfection is not the goal here, connection is.

What I Learned from My Mother

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to have jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
What anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, you chaste touch.

Julia Kasdorf

Martha is receiving great comfort care and has been comfortable much of the time but not always. It is these moments of watching her in pain that help us to let go a bit more each time. We love her so much—we want her to have every moment of the breath that is hers to take and are willing to be with her as she dies when it is too hard for her to keep living. It is unbelievably hard to type those words, yet they are as true as anything I can write.

If you want to support her or the family in some way and didn’t see the first blog with suggestions you can see it here.

This blog post was written with input from Linda Oshins and Jerry Marcom.

 

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News about Martha Marcom, Founder of Yoga on High

Martha Marcom

Here is Martha taking a lick of a mango popsicle.

Our dear friend and one of the founders of Yoga on High is nearing the end of her life. She has received treatments for the ovarian cancer discovered a few years ago, and there will be no more treatment. She is in the hospital at the time of this writing (April 5, 2017) and will likely be entering hospice in the next day or two.

Martha is grateful to have had time to watch her darling granddaughter continue to grow up, to spend precious time with family and friends and to see this year’s riotous spring. Outside her hospital window yesterday we saw a huge, flying hawk unfurl its wide, wide wings right in front of us--so close we could have nearly touched it. She remains glad to experience each precious moment as it comes. And she is accepting of death which she senses is near. She is not “fighting a courageous battle,” she is leaning into death now. Her pain and her yogi’s body, which is not supporting life anymore, and her natural growing detachment from the future, are all making the nearness of death more obvious.

Many of you are already reached out to us and we are grateful for the love, prayers and good wishes. Right now the circle of people able to be around Martha and Jerry is very small and it is the time for this quiet intimacy. We know many of you will miss Martha and may want to reach out in some way. Here are a few suggestions of how you can support Martha and her family during this time of much change.

  • Send prayers and blessings from whatever tradition speaks to your heart. We are all connected at this level and we are feeling your support.
  • Send Reiki if you know how to do that. Those of us with Martha are in the Reiki love pretty much all the time. We are giving lots of Reiki to Martha and we are sending when we are not there. Join us in the energy!
  • Chant the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra with us. This is an ancient mantra, sometimes called the Victory Over Death mantra. It is said to conquer the fear of death and bring calmness in the presence of death. Chanting this mantra puts us in the stream of yogis who have chanted this mantra for thousands of years. We add our voices to theirs to feel encouraged and empowered in the face of life’s challenges. When I told Martha I wanted to ask you to do this practice on her behalf she relaxed into her huge Martha smile and said she would like that—to ride out of this life on the wings of these holy and powerful words chanted by those who love her. That sounded just perfect to her. The words to this mantra are here and an audio is here.
  • Get on your mat! As a longtime Ashtangi, Martha believes in practice. She was a daily practitioner as long as she could be and always honored her time on the mat. In honor of her, get on your mat, practice, and dedicate the benefits of the practice to her or to anyone else in need.
  • Write down a favorite memory of Martha. Did she inspire you in some way? Help you in a time of need? Make you laugh? Write a single sentence or a paragraph or two and send it to me (Marcia@yogaonhigh.com) I’ll read it to her if the timing feels right and share it with her family.

Please know Martha sends all her blessings and love to you as well. It is now her time to turn inward and finish her preparations for this next phase of her life. She is doing this, leading the way in a path that will be all of ours some unknown time in the future.

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The Timeless Wisdom of Sanskrit

The lease on the space that would become Yoga on High was signed on October 13, 15 years ago. To mark that occasion, this blog is a reprint from YOHI’s first newsletter and schedule. Those newsletters always contained one through provoking article, this one by Martha Marcom. It’s about the timeless wisdom of Sanskrit, a thread back through YOHI history and a nod to the fact that the studies and practices done at Yoga on High are indeed timeless.

Atha—now is the time for an auspicious beginning.

Read More…

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Joy to the World and Thanks to You!

By Martha Marcom

Yesterday I met with my surgeon, Dr. Floor Backes, who outlined the final steps of my treatment and I have some joyful news to share about my cancer treatment. My tumor markers, reflected in a C125 score, have returned to normal. They went from 106 in September, just after the debulking surgery, then to 13 in November after two heavy-duty rounds of chemo were administered directly into my peritoneal cavity. And the blood work for yesterday’s treatment indicated a score of 6, which is normal. I happily agreed to the IV chemo Dr. Backes suggested for yesterday and for my final treatment on December 31. I will need a small surgery to remove that peritoneal port.

So, I will be finished with treatment this year and start my recovery on New Year’s Day of 2015!

Dr. Backes did say I shouldn’t travel until after that last treatment, and surgery, which means Jerry and I won’t be able to join our family in Mexico over Christmas. We already feel great joy knowing their happiness in being together in a beautiful warm place. The thing we most wanted to see was the three little toddler cousins playing together on the beach. And being with all of our loved ones relaxing and catching up with those who live far away. I will be following my brilliant and wise doctor’s orders, stay home and enjoy from afar.

Sanskrit has a specific word for the kind of joy you feel when enjoying the happiness of others--mudita. Celebrating mudita, finding happiness in the glad hearts of others, is a way to increase the amount of joy in your own life. Who couldn’t use a bit more joy? Why not an unlimited amount more?

Mudita is some of what you’ve been sharing with me, along with shouldering my suffering. I don’t doubt the power of your good will, prayers, sending me light and love and Reiki and Blessings of all kinds and from a beautiful variety of religions. I credit my success in healing to your constant flow of energy-- that I can feel in my body and soul. I am grateful and humble for the power of your prayer and attention.

May you have the unlimited version of happiness this holiday season, and rest and ease and deliciousness in food and company with lots of light and love in your heart.

With gratitude, and love to each of you!

Originally posted on CaringBridge.

 

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Why I Love Doing the Same Old Practice Every Day: Why I Love Ashtanga

By Martha Marcom

Let me count the ways in Sanskrit:

Ekam: I love the ritual. We begin with an Invocation. We submit to the sacred fire. We build the breath and the sweat. We warm our bodies up with Surya Namaskara, ground them in the standing poses, open them deeply in the heart of each series and conclude the practice with the purification of the classical finishing asanas.

Dve: I love the guru. Our sweet teacher, Guruji, Pattabi Jois, was an incredible Sanskrit scholar. In answer to a question he would begin to chant a passage from the Gita, the Vedas, the Sutras, the Uppanishads--he knew all of these and many other sacred texts. He was infused with holy knowledge and he transmitted this through the teaching of the asana practices.

Trini: I’ve come to love every pose. I love that you have to butt up against asanas that seem inaccessible at first in your body, and how they demand the humility and determination required to work through both physical and mental resistance. Ashtanga requires us to embrace those poses that are unpleasant at first. Those difficult poses hold many openings for us. If we hang in there with a daily practice, over time, they become another flower in the mala.

Catvari: I love the energetic flow of the practice and the state I’m left in after Savasana. The morning practice readies us, steadies us for what the day may bring.

Pancha: It’s true for me that this practice is yoga chitiska, yoga therapy, and it works on all levels—physical, emotional and mental. I have conclusive proof of this. I am increasingly at home in my body and more skillful in working with my mind and emotions.

Sat:I love that the sequence is a known quantity. There is freedom and spaciousness for me in knowing exactly where I am, what comes next and where I’ll end up. After many years now, the Primary Series has become reliably comforting.

Sapta:I love and deeply admire the teachers of this system who have been practicing for decades—and I want what they have! Of the teachers I have studied with who will be at the Ashtanga Confluence in March:

I love Tim Miller’s huge grounded presence, his intimacy with the sacred texts, his connection with the movements of the heavens, and especially, his humor.
I love David Swenson’s joyfulness and kindness, his lightness of being, how he makes our practice so user-friendly and the fun and humor he finds in almost everything.
I love Richard Freeman’s immense mind and philosophical understanding, his generous sharing of the subtle aspects of the practice and his dry wit and humor.

Our teachers are filled with the good humor, dedication and wisdom that Guruji transmitted!

Though I’ve not yet studied with Eddie Stern, I love that he published Yoga Mala, and that I was fortunate to be at the Broome St. Shala with Guruji during one of the pujas that transformed his shala into a temple for Ganesha—a dedication full of beauty.
I love that Nancy Gilgoff was the dauntless pioneer who cleared the way for all of us ashtanga yoginis.

Ashtau:I love that some of the postures are humbling—a perfect balance to those that feel triumphant.

Nava:I love the meditative quality of the practice, and the physical ease that can arise out of resting in the breath; I love the ujjayi breath

Dasa: I love the invitation to keep progressing through the various series. There is no end to the challenge. But also there’s no end to the primary series—to just practicing the same ole thing every day, with love.

Martha is headed to the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence this March.  We look forward to hear about how her experience of studying under many of the world’s master teachers alongside over one thousand other practitioners deepens her love for Ashtanga.  If you are excitedly awaiting the Confluence stay connected with The Confluence Countdown.

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A Meditative Experience of Teaching Yoga Class

By Martha Marcom

Drawing on her lively and joyful relationship with Lorin Roche and Camille Maurine, Marcia arranged a meditation Teacher Training program with them via telephone. I am very lucky to be a participant along with some of our YOHI Teacher Trainees. One of the liberating things Lorin and Camille teach is that we are meditating when we are in a state of elation doing something we love. We can build a meditation practice on the framework of natural bliss! One homework assignment was to describe a situation where we experienced such a state of grace. For me, that state comes in teaching an ashtanga yoga class at YOHI. I offer it here:

I am teaching a yoga class. We have chanted the invocation and felt its reverberation in our bodies and hearts, and now we are underway and there is a feeling of being comrades, kindred spirits, traveling together through the poses. There is a sense of conviviality, of lightness--I am nominally leading but also we are moving together though a set sequences of poses. We are all focused and working hard, but there is a group sense of humor, satisfaction, and enjoyment along with the physical effort.

The words that come through me function to sustain these qualities, and to keep everyone in this very moment, moving efficiently, but not habitually. I’m inspired by the sacredness of each breath and my words offer a reminder of this precious moment--a rhythmic and continuous returning to presence.

The breath is just loud enough that we are all aware of its pulse throughout the room, a sound-awareness that connects us. We bask in the heat of the room and in the humidity created by our sweat.

Our sweat mingles--I’m touching my student, baptized by her sweat on my belly when I merge my front into her back and take her a bit farther into a forward bend. Through her breath I can experience her enjoyment of her deeper release, her surrender.

I’m delighted—feeling mudita—to see the students’ beautiful practices, their openings and mindful alignment within the rhythmic flow. I’m filled with love for them. I am in a flow of offering—I’m looking intently to see where I can be of service—grounding a leg here, lengthening a spine there, offering a more aligned drishti to another.

In one part of my brain I’m keeping an eye on the clock so that we can move through all of the poses within the allotted time and yet have a luxurious amount of time in each asana.

I’m keeping the beat, sustaining the rhythmic quality of the practice, so that we are all drawing energy from that shared pulse, and we can keep coming up with more strength and endurance for another vinyasa and another. The transitions are so juicy that they give back as much energy as they require.

I am aware that I am representing a lineage. My beloved teacher, Pattabhi Jois, often comes to my mind/heart while I practice and teach. Guruji said that the practice itself is the teacher, “Practice and all is coming.”

The poses become more profound as the practice rounds around to the end--Sarvangasa, Sirsasana, Padmasana. Finally Savasana, surrender into the support of the earth, float on the wings of the breath, touch into the deeper aspects of our being, maybe moving beyond the illusion of the separate self—what we’ve asked for in the invocation. I am the witness. I am privileged to share the exquisite experience. As I offer the Reiki symbols, sending love to each student, the exquisiteness intensifies.

In the end, when we chant to offer our merit to all, and bow to salute the divinity within each other, there is an exchange of gratitude that swells my heart, while completely humbling me. Just writing this down takes me to this lovely, holy place.

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