I know, I know. I've talked about it ad nauseum before, but I've never really truly explained how I started out and where it's brought me to and continues to move me along. First of all, coming from a place of 215+ pounds, I never EVER (ever, ever, ever, EVER...do you get the picture?) thought yoga would be something that was part of my life. I felt so unworthy, staring into those classes through the glass window. An outsider looking in on all of the itty-bitty spandex clad women so content, confident and silent in the freedom of how easily they were able to move their bodies. It was something I wanted to try, but just didn't feel like it was something that was for me. I had tried one DVD many years ago and it just felt so sloowwww and not for someone who needed to sweat off the pounds. And the thought of them wanting me to lay still for 5 minutes at the end?? LAUGHABLE! WHO HAS TIME TO JUST LAY STILL FOR 5 minutes?? Not ME! "I'm way too busy for that!"
Cira 2007-2008, Bob Harper from "The Biggest Loser" put out a DVD: "Weight Loss yoga." Sounded good to me. Yoga I could do with the SOLE purpose of loosing weight...because "I don't want to know nothing about any of that new age-y stuff!" And with that, I embarked on trying out this DVD and promptly getting my ASS kicked. Oh, yoga involves planks?? What are those and why do I want to die within 5 seconds?? The DVD was just what I wanted: a KILLER workout with just a glimmer of poses and relaxation squeezed in. I fell in love...even when I was DRENCHED in sweat.
As the weeks went on, without my even realizing it, my self-proclaimed 'no strength' noodle arms started to actually feel like they could hold me up so much easier. And even STRANGER: I began to notice that things were not BOTHERING me as much as they used to. Where the hell did THAT come from? It certainly wasn't anything I sought out or anticipated, but there I was: able to stay squarely below 7 on the anger scale when I used to go from 0-100 in seconds. (ok, ok...at least 85% of the time. I'm only humanJ) It was very bizarre to me at that time because it was just something I did NOT plan on.
With time and after getting some confidence from feeling strong, thanks to the DVD, I became confident enough to try a Power yoga class at the gym. I was surprised how easy (well, easy is a loose term. Power is NO JOKE) I was able to hang in throughout the class and I loved how EXHAUSTED I felt at the end. The once dreaded end relaxation (in yoga speak, we call it "Savasana"...aka. heaven on earthJ) was now a WELCOMED break. And much like ALL of my yoga journey so far, where everything has went backwards, it was only after taking power for so long that I was actually able to take GENTLE. I know...how crazy does that seem?? But the idea of going SLOW just seemed DREADFUL to me after falling in love with the 'push yourself comfortably beyond your limits' mindset of power. It took some getting used to (and on some day, when I'm CRAVING being SUPER ACTIVE and jumpy/flowy in yoga, it's STILL a challenge) but gentle is where I really learned how to just BE. What a concept, huh?
And in those classes (with the help of my INCREDIBLE teachers) I began to start seeing mind shifts without even realizing they were being made. Some of the the most important & unexpected being:
Gratitude: I would say about 85% of time I walked out of class, I would make it as far as the parking lot before breaking into tears thinking how lucky I was to have legs.
I KNOW! As crazy as it seemed, the thankfulness of recognizing how lucky I was to have strong legs that were able to support me throughout a class always stayed with me long after the class was through and usually knocked me on my ass in awe and gratitude. (I know...) Not to mention, HOW OFTEN do we really ever stop and think just how damn lucky we are JUST to have legs??? It was a mindfulness I had certainly never consciously acknowledged and it unknowingly opened the floodgates of gratitude. Did I know at the time that yoga cultivated gratitude? Nope...but it just happened anyway. (see also: my life is backwardsJ)
Focus/Being in the present moment: While going through the 10 zillion emotions and worries EVERY single second of every single day in the months following the birth of my 1st daughter, I will forever credit my Wednesday morning Power yoga class with being one of the major factors in getting me through Postpartum depression (which possibly & probably will be another post for another day). That class became my sole refuge as the ONE place I was able to just SHUT off my brain and NOT think about all those endless worries that come with new motherhood. I always say, it's hard to balance a yoga pose when you aren't FULLY concentrated on what you're doing...because as soon as your mind starts to wander, it is the greater likelihood you'll find yourself having a close encounter with the gym floorJ) Focusing on staying in the present is very much a minute to minute work in progress, but the rewards are in just being happy with where you are RIGHT NOW.
Body acceptance: This was one that DEFINITELY took YEARS to begin to stick. I'll be the VERY FIRST to tell you arm balances & crazy poses are NOT what yoga is about. BUT they were an aspect of yoga where I truly found fun in the TRYING. If I fell? Fine! Because who the hell ever thought I'd be doing ARM BALANCES ANYWAY??? I had zero expectations and that was very freeing. And the times they actually worked?? It never ceased to surprise me. Usually because (and here's the life lesson mixed in): I never felt 100% ready going into them. Out of absolute nowhere, suddenly everything would just work and I'd find myself magically just balancing on my arms...and more times than not, usually with a look of shock on my face and my brain screaming "ohmygodohmygod!"J This went hand in hand with body acceptace for me because it was one of the first times I ever really stopped and said to myself "OK, I might not be the skinniest person in this class, but HOLY MOLY I have gained a lot of strength!" A strength (see above!) I NEVER thought I'd have. And that singular thought seemed to seep into my life OUTSIDE of the class too. I began to realize more and more that I might not be the 'ideal weight' I have in my head, but my body was becoming so much more than JUST a number on the scale. It was also one of the 1st times I was able to look in the mirror and not STILL see that girl from the 'before' photo looking back. You'd be AMAZED how long it takes to remove yourself from those memories. It has begun the slow (and on-going) process of treating my body with respect & compassion rather than anger and a source of strife & embarrassment. TRUST ME: This is far from perfect most days, but there's definitely a space for love there where there once was none.
A greater "connection": As a raised devout Catholic, it seemed almost downright blasphemous to say that as more time went on, I began to feel more reverent in a yoga class than I have felt in really any other place. Yoga just seemed to start clearing out all of that space & chatter between me & God/the universe (whatever you want to call it...to me, it's all the sameJ) and the more I quieted that 'chatter', the more I was able to hear 'what needed to be heard' so much more clearly. I know this topic seems probably scary and WAY out there for some, but seeing as how I know a few who have felt that inner conflict between what they've known vs. what they've discovered, it's one I would be remiss not to mention as an aspect of my life that is continuing to evolve. I don't see yoga & religion as one in the same, but I also don't see them as being much different from the other either. To me, I just let them go hand in hand as best as I can rather than letting either/or become more "righteous."
My final thought on this is: wherever you feel "the good"? Go in that direction. For me, it just happens to be a yoga placeJ
Oh...did I mention early in this post that I didn't want ANYTHING to do with new age-y ness?? J hahahaha
And of course, MINDFULNESS. I can't even really pinpoint where this one began, but I can say it was probably honed to its greatest extent after entering yoga teacher training in the Fall of 2014. I'm not sure if I would ever be able to articulate how much teacher training changed every fiber of my being. I remember receiving an email the week before the class began with a final sentence of "I so look forward to beholding the wondrous transformational adventure you are about to begin!"
Who? ME? There was NO WAY it was going to be THIS big of a deal. I mean, how could it? Wasn't I just the girl standing outside the classroom looking in about 5 minutes ago? Not realizing what I was getting into was highlighted even further when during my "introduce yourself" speech to the class I announced that one of the reasons I was there was because I had lost 65 pounds. A fact I cringe about to this day because yoga was SO FAR from that 'exercise/weight loss' perception I began with. That course thoroughly stripped away any prior notions about what I THOUGHT yoga was about and replaced them with all the deeper meanings that change you from the inside out.
And ya wanna know the weirdest part? (oh yes, it gets weirderJ)
That reading through one of our required readings for the course Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, I found not only that the sutras were VERY dense and required a lot of attention and time to digest...but also: ...that I already knew them. Talk about a love letter from your soul to your brain saying "you already got this! You already KNOW this!" A reminder that you were really yourself all along, you just built up a LOT of layers for many years of who you thought you were going to be or who you were supposed to be, but your true self is just hanging around waiting for you to say 'hey.'
Am I making any sense?? Are we already at that "Woah, she is WAY more crazier than I thought" moment?
Probably. That's OKJ
ANYWAY...back to what else yoga brought me and it was the absolute FURTHEST thing I wanted or thought I needed when I started that WEIGHT LOSS yoga all those years ago: the art of BEING STILL.
Meditation is still something that I find to be difficult on the easiest & 'clearest' of days, but one I am determined to make part of my daily life. Just allowing yourself to STOP for 15 minutes a day gives your brain just enough hang time to have a moment of "wait a minute, everything isn't really wrong" when you would normally have already thrown yourself off the mental cliff of negativity face first. Not to mention, the irony is not lost on me that all of these posts crystallized for me as I'm currently going through a 21-day "Shedding the Weight" Oprah & Deepak Chopra meditation series. Meditation has a way of just having things make sense. But BELIEVE ME, it is a work in progress. Being STILL in this world, one that is jockeying for your attention 8 thousand times a day (add to that, as any parent knows, the constant demands of raising young children), is tedious and tough at best. Even right now, setting my 'alarm' for a routine 20 minute meditation has even proved too difficult and I feel my mind throwing out an S.O.S at the 15 minute mark EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Do I fight that or do I just go with it, knowing that 15 minutes is better than nothing and maybe at SOME point I'll be able to work up to 20, 30+ minutes?? I'm going with the latter, because it's what's bringing me the most peace at the moment. And ya know what Momma needs right now? PEACEJ
So, that all brings me to where I am now: taking ALL of these lessons that have managed to latch onto me, even when I wasn't looking, and turning them into really changing my outlook on food & weight loss. I felt I couldn't explain any of the changes without first giving you that (long-winded) back story about my shift towards mindfulness & awareness and one that is STILL very much evolving. I've just set out on my journey to begin TEACHING yoga (how scary & exciting all wrapped into one) and I'm sure that's going to bring its own evolution and new chapter. Yoga has already opened a lot of doors where I've previously found none.
I'm as clueless as you are as to where all of this is going to lead, but in hindsight, I feel like it has all brought me to this place where I'm supposed to be right now. And if there's anything I've learned about yoga: just when you think you understand it and figured it out, it flips on its head and you realized you've just barely even scratched the surface of understanding anything.
Hope this post gave you more insight into where this journey has brought me as we continue to move it on forwardJ For some reason, I feel compelled to put this all out there, and maybe, just maybe it'll lead one person to make the changes they've felt nagging them for so long...even when you don't even know where they'll lead.
(oh yeah...did I mention that I'm still having trouble with the yoga concept of 'detatchment with no expectation of the outcome??' Yeah...that's still a MAJOR work in progress for me. I'm working right along there with youJ)
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