Category Archives: Yoga

A little bit stronger

I have never considered myself particularly strong, physically. I’ve never considered myself particularly athletic. But lately, that’s changing.

I was the kid always picked last in gym class. When we played volleyball, I would always step away from the ball coming at me, instead of hitting it. Or if I did hit it, it usually either went straight up or into the net, because my goal was just to keep it away from my face. When we had to play softball in gym, my solution was to go as far outfield as possible and feverishly hope a ball never came my way. If a ball did come my way, my attempts to throw the ball were beyond pathetic. Athletic, me? No way. Strong? Definitely not.

I’ve been running off and on for years and years, and still never considered myself athletic. I used to run to the beach and then go swim for a mile and run home, but I still didn’t feel athletic. Athletes were the popular kids in gym class, they were on teams, I just went running and swimming. I wasn’t a runner or a swimmer. But you know what? I got to the 20-mile run in a marathon training program before I had to walk away from the marathon. I am a runner. I am athletic.

I started rock climbing with Husband, and while I felt stronger, I still didn’t feel strong. But you better believe it takes major strength to rock climb.

I always wanted to be really toned – toned arms and shoulders, toned legs, flat belly. But at the time, I wanted it more for physical appearance than for strength.

But once I started yoga, I realized how much strength you need to do and hold poses. It doesn’t matter what you look like – if you aren’t strong, you will know it. When I started, I did not feel strong.

I kept going to class, and gradually, I started to be able to hold poses longer. I started to actually be able to focus on my breathing in the poses, and not feeling like my whole body was pleading with me to stop. Some poses that were a big struggle to me at first, now I can get through holding the pose for as long as they hold it.

My yoga instructor gave me the greatest compliment the other day, that I am getting so much stronger and she can see it in the poses I do. It felt like such a major victory. Yes, I am getting stronger. Yes, I am strong now.

The toned arms and shoulders that came from developing that strength were now a nice by-product, not the goal. Finding and developing my own strength was the real goal.

What is a yoga body?

I stumbled across Elephant Journal recently, I think from a link on Facebook. I checked it out and found some really cool articles, including this one, What does a yoga body look like? (warning: the link opens to an article, but the picture at the top involves nudity)

This article really struck a chord with me. Remember when I said I was envious of “those yoga girls?” I thought “yoga girls” all had “perfect” bodies. Perfect in the sense of lean, lithe, no fat. It was part of my intimidation with yoga. I didn’t feel like I was “perfect” enough, or that I could ever look like “one of those yoga girls.”

I have always struggled with body image, always felt like I was in some competition – am I thin enough? That girl has a better stomach than me. That girl has nicer legs than me. It’s exhausting.

I’ve been a runner for a long time, and as much as I love running for how it makes me feel, when I am running heavily, those thoughts are even louder. “I want to look like a runner.” “I want to have six-pack abs like she does.” It’s stupid. I know that.

I know these thoughts, these loud thoughts, aren’t healthy. And it is something I always struggle not to pay attention to. I am always working on having a healthier body image, on being proud of what I can DO, not what I look like. But trust me, it requires constant work, and it doesn’t take much at all for my body insecurities to come raging to the surface.

But none of my efforts at developing a healthier body image have had an impact like stepping into a yoga studio did.

Because there are people of all body types and ages sweating right alongside me. Bigger, smaller, older, younger, curvy and no curves at all. And you know what? When you can see that the man who is almost 70 and a little soft around the middle is keeping up pose for pose with the young “perfect” girl on the next mat, you can see that all of that internal competition, all of that internal dialogue, all of that stupid internal chatter about being perfect is nothing but bullshit and lies.

So, what is a yoga body? I have a new view of that now. A healthier view. And a better view. Because trust me, when you are trying to hold a tough pose (a tough pose for you), you aren’t thinking, man if only I had more toned legs, this would be so much easier.

A yoga body is any body. There is no one perfect body. It doesn’t matter if you have well-defined abs or chiseled arms. Do you do yoga? Can you do the poses? Do you try your best? Do you want to push yourself to find out what you can DO? Do you want to keep going and keep working at making yourself better…not to compete with someone else, but to go deeper in yourself? Do you want to keep learning? Do you want to push yourself until you can get past all the noise in your head and just find YOU? Then you have a yoga body.

How you fuel = how you perform

I eat really well for the most part. I can’t eat gluten, dairy, or soy, so that eliminates a lot of potential junk right off. I can’t really have a lot of processed sugar, so I pretty much stay away from sugary treats.

In general, I fuel (and hydrate) myself well in order to feel good, to have energy for exercise, to give my body lots of good nutrients.

But even on days when I technically eat good things, it doesn’t mean I’m properly fueling my body.

Take yesterday. In terms of food quality, I ate really well. Lots of veggies. Fruit. Beans. An egg. Amazing Grass Green superfood powder. Probiotics.

But I didn’t eat enough – I was low on calories. Low on water. Low on protein.

By the end of the day, I was tired and dragging. I perked up after dinner and more water, and figured I was fine.

And then I got on my yoga mat in the hot yoga studio this morning.

And oooh boy was it challenging. I was tired. I felt sluggish. I couldn’t maintain my concentration. The heat started to feel more intense. I certainly didn’t feel up to pushing myself hard like I normally do. There was just no energy reserve to pull from.

I seem to forget this lesson from time to time. You can’t perform if you don’t give your body what it needs. And that means enough water, enough calories, enough of all the necessary stuff -carbs, fat, protein, vitamins.

So today I’m back to doing a lot better.

I have two hours of yoga planned for tomorrow, and then a date with Husband. I have to fuel up!

Motion heals

I started my day with hot yoga. Dripping sweat, pushing myself for a challenging hour. Letting the frustrations of the week flow out of me. Emptying myself of the feelings that keep creeping up that I am not doing enough, that I can never quite catch up, no matter how hard or how fast I try to run. All of that stuff pours out of me when I really show up in a yoga class.

I had planned to do two hours, but at the end of the first hour, I had nothing left. It had been a long week, with emotional stress, and work stress, and long hours, and not my best nutrition week. I pushed myself during the yoga class today, and I felt more whole emotionally when it was done…but I was completely drained by the end of it. I wasn’t properly fueled to do any more.

When I came home, I changed and went out to a used car dealer with Husband. Now that the car has been repaired, we wanted to see what we would get for a trade-in estimate for it.

We weren’t expecting great news about the car, but we weren’t expecting to have lost SO much value in the car. We weren’t expecting that we would have lost so much value in the car that we are now completely and utterly upside down and can’t possibly get out of the car.

It was pretty hard news to take at first. We were both pretty frustrated and just felt like we had been hit upside the head.

But after the initial shock started to wear off, we could actually start to see the good side of this not really great news. It was there, underneath the poo wrapping paper and extra poo bows. We are working toward some big personal goals, and this news actually ends up helping us realize those goals. It actually, oddly, puts us in a much better position.

I sat with this news for a while, trying to get past the initial frustration to just be ok with the gift that came in an unexpected way.

I started to feel like I needed to move. I knew the best way to get my head feeling better was to get out of my head, and just get physical (“Let’s get physical, physical, I want to get physical”). Usually, that means going for a run. But instead, I felt driven to pull out my yoga mat, put on a great, happy, get moving playlist on my iPhone, and just started doing yoga. I started doing the routine from one of the really tough classes at my yoga studio, because I know that routine the best.

The more poses I did, the more I moved and sweated, the more I focused on my breathing and the music, the better I felt.

I did probably another 30-40 minutes of yoga, and felt so much better at the end of it. But now I had more energy, and still felt like I had some bad mojo to get out of me. So I cranked up the dance tunes and had a madcrazy dance party in my living room. Everything negative that was left just flew out of me. I was left feeling lighter, and clearer, and emotionally balanced and ok again.

Motion heals. It really does. It helps you get out of the funk that has you trapped in your head.

Good medicine.

One of those yoga girls…

I’m not sure when it happened, but I have become “one of those yoga girls.”

I never used to “get” yoga.

I would see girls walking around, these perfect girls with their yoga mats.

I felt like they belonged to a clique that I could never join.

I had tried yoga before, mostly on tapes, and felt like I could never get into any of the poses. I felt like I just wasn’t flexible. I just watched in envy as these girls who looked flexible and strong could bend and twist with what looked like no effort.

But I still wanted to be able to join that clique. I wanted to be like those girls. I wanted to like yoga. I had read about and heard about all the many health benefits of yoga. I had read about the mental benefits of yoga. I really did want to like yoga.

Late last year, I got a great Groupon deal, 20 hot yoga classes for $20. The yoga studio was right near my house, so I thought I would try taking yoga classes.

It was the most intense workout I had ever done.

And there was nothing easy about it.

But I loved it.

I kept going back. I noticed I could go a little further, do a little bit more each time I went. The poses I couldn’t get, pushed me to keep trying to get it.

I stopped being envious of those “perfect” yoga girls.

I saw them doing poses that I couldn’t do yet, and instead of seeing how easy it looked for them, I realized how much work and time they had put into yoga, into pushing themselves in order to be able to do that.

I noticed that everyone, including the instructors, can wobble and get off balance. No one was perfect. I learned to understand what they say over and over in class…focus on YOUR practice. Go to YOUR edge. And I stopped comparing myself to how everyone was doing, and just started looking at how I was doing, and how I felt. I felt something shift inside me.

And somewhere along the way, I fell in love with yoga. I get up early to go to class, me the girl who never got up a minute earlier than I had to, was all of a sudden getting up at 5 am to make it a 6:15 class. I was even getting up early on a Saturday to go to yoga. This was unheard of even six months ago.

My yoga studio gives out bracelets, like the LiveStrong bracelets, for people who complete a number of classes. They are to recognize a person’s dedication and commitment to yoga, to the journey, to encourage and celebrate individual achievements. This past Thursday, I got my first yoga bracelet, for completing 30 classes. This bracelet, this level represents the Journey.

I am loving this journey and I can’t wait to see where it will take me.

Breathe. Grow. Stretch. Be. Strength

How I feel after a hot yoga session. I realize the power of breathing, breathing into the hard bits, breathing into the poses, breathing into the stretches, growing strength, being. Awesome stuff.