Health, Philosophy

Better than Touching the Floor: 3 Lessons I Learned on the Yoga Mat

Tight hips and inner bliss are not mutually exclusive!

This week brings with it a very happy anniversary for me. Monday will mark my fifth year of practicing at Moonlight Yoga. (You can find the story of my yoga journey here.)

As the date of my “yoga-versary” was getting closer, I noticed that I was getting very frustrated with myself in class. It’s been almost five years, I told myself, and I still almost never touch the floor. I still need to modify almost every pose I do. That normally doesn’t bother me at all, but somehow, the number “five” was giving me a case of the “should have’s.”

For those of you who aren’t as familiar with yoga, the physical practice is only one of the eight limbs. Over the past five years my mind has also improved its flexibility, so I knew that I needed to redefine my thought pattern. I could stop thinking about my limitations and challenges and start counting all of the blessings that my practice has brought me.

Triangle is one of my favorites, and I do it my way!

I don’t always touch the floor…but I can almost run 10 minute miles.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have learned to love my body.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have lost 60 pounds.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have given up drinking.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have learned to see my value.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have found my dream job.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I am a part of a tight-knit community.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have found friends who challenge me to be the best me possible.

I could go on and on with this list. Yoga has enabled every major life change that I have made over the past five years. And in the grand scheme of things, it really does not matter if I touch the floor!

So today, I wanted to share some of the unexpected lessons that I have gained from my yoga practice:

My teacher and mentor, Cass

1. Everybody isn’t watching.

When I first started practicing yoga, I set up my mat in the back of the room. I hoped that nobody would see my overweight body attempting the poses with a ton of modifications. When nobody ever said anything about how I looked–or how anyone else looked, for that matter–I got brave and moved closer to the front of the room.

What has surprised me over the years, is that a lot of people (in class!) seem to assume that I am very flexible, because I have been practicing for so long. Which means that they absolutely have not been watching me! The truth is that everybody is focused on their own practice, so they don’t notice (or care) what I am doing.

This translates to life off of the mat as well. So many times I have worried about what people would say when they noticed choices that I had made in my life. I held off on giving up alcohol, because I thought it would be awkward to explain during a party. But once again, nobody noticed or cared what was in my glass.

2. Growth is not a straight line.

When I first started practicing yoga, I noticed significant improvements in my flexibility, right away. It wasn’t long until I was touching my ankles on forward bends and coming closer and closer to touching the floor.

Then, unexpectedly, my hands could only reach my knees.

Over time, I learned that my flexibility corresponded with my emotional state, stress level, and degree to which I was caring for myself, among other things. Sometimes it still feels like two steps forward and one step back. But that means that I am still moving forward.

At the beginning of almost every class, my teacher, Cass, says, “Anything you can do today, is good enough.”

I have found this to be true with any major change that I have tried to make in my habits. My weight loss, for example, has been all over the place. I started out on fire, and lost 10 pounds easily. Then I gained 3 back. And so it went. At one point I lost 20 pounds and regained 10.

Currently I have lost 60 and regained 14. But the journey continues. It’s easy to take and all-or-nothing mindset and declare failure at the first setback. But that is a recipe for never succeeding.

Pyramid always makes my legs happy!

3. Listen to your inner voice.

When I first started practicing yoga, Cass stayed near me through most of the class, so that she could discretely show me how to modify the poses and use props in order to get the most out of my physical practice. As time went on, I became more independent and learned to do what I needed to do in order to feel the right stretch, no matter how it looked.

There were a few times when I would stay after class and ask for suggestions on how to modify a pose. Cass never told me what to do in these cases. In fact, she had to say very little! As I demonstrated how the pose looked when I did it, I would modify it on my own. All she had to do was reassure me that it was perfectly fine for me to do it that way.

Through yoga, I learned that I am the expert on my own body, and that if I listen, I will know what it needs. Of course, the same has proven to be the case with my mind and with my life choices.

Like most people, I have a lot of well-meaning friends who like to give advice. And like most people, I have made bad situations worse, through following that advice. I know that the people giving the advice meant me no harm, but the truth is that I know myself better than anyone else. If I listen to my inner voice, I will know what I need to do.

So here I am, getting ready for my five year yoga-versary on Monday! I am looking forward to many, many more years of joy and lessons–both on the mat and off!

You can check out Cass’s yoga classes on Moonlight Yoga’s Facebook page. She posts a live streamed class for a donation every Tuesday and Thursday morning. You can also see her previously recorded classes at any time on her page.

Health

Preparing for Those Resolutions

I am the queen of setting goals.

The higher I can aim, the better.  I remember one year, when I blogged at Journey to Ithaca, my resolutions were: eat less poison, get completely off the grid, produce no more than one grocery bag or garbage per month, put together a 12-piece wardrobe, and have my Christmas shopping done by December 1.

I did eat less poison and put together a 12-piece wardrobe.  And with the other goals, I learned a lot about goal setting.

Another case in point?  My efforts to exercise consistently and lose weight.

I tried to start exercising my senior year of high school, when I was still thin.  After a year of therapy and medication, I had successfully quit my meds and was sitting in my last therapy session.  My therapist was not stellar (in fact, I had to go to therapy as an adult to unlearn a lot of things that I learned from the professionals I worked with during that time of my life!), but she did have one nugget of advice to give me.  When I asked her what I could do to help maintain my mental health, she was adamant that I start an exercise program.

I set out to do some research, and I learned that our local community center offered a free step class for high school students.  I eagerly attended and felt comfortable amongst the teens of various shapes, sizes, and ability levels in the class.  Our instructor was a cheerful 20-something named Jodi, with a bouncy pony tail.  We all really liked her.

I went to that class for about 6 months, until I graduated.  It was a few months until I got brave enough to attend my first class as an adult.

I started at the community center, since it was familiar.  But I noticed that the adult classes lacked community.  I also noticed that my heart rate often got too high during class, so I had to use less support under my step and smaller weights.  I became very self-conscious about this.

In the brochure for the community center, was an ad for a new women’s fitness center.  I went there and immediately loved the community!

What I did not love, were the large mirrors.  I was skinny and weak.  I could noticably do less than everyone else.  I paid for 28 classes, but stopped attending before I used them all.  When I thought about going back, the center had gone out of business.

When I first got married, I visited a local health club.  They offered me a great deal and a trainer put me on a program.  However, I looked so weak compared to the teenage athletes who were also working out, that I only went there twice.

I did a couch-to-5k plan from Prevention magazine. I followed it until I was running 5 miles…Until I ran past some redneck teenagers in our neighborhood, who followed me, mocking my slow running.

It was 10 years before I tried working out again.

I have told my hit and miss yoga story here, but the short version is that I did not stick with a work-out  until I found a tight-knit, small yoga studio with a teacher who was patient enough to work with anybody.  And only then, did I notice the benefits I was gaining from yoga, to the point where I experience physical pain and noticable mental differences if I miss more than 2 classes in a week.

Diet is the same pattern.  I tried diet after diet, giving up when I “slipped up” or “fell off the wagon.”  Weight Watchers, in the end, left me with no excuses.  It was only acceptable to speak of your journey in positive terms, and it became easy for me to see how much happier I am when I am eating well.

Recently, I regained 9 pounds.  But when I finally weighed myself, I also noted that I have kept 19 pounds off.  It’s not even a matter of the glass being half full, versus half empty.

So I am getting back on track.

So are you planning on making any New Year’s Resolutions?  If you are, here are some lessons I have learned from my experience in setting (and achieving!) goals:

 1.  When (not if) you “slip up,” first look at the reasons for your “lack of motivation.”

Why are you not motivated to stick with your changes?  Is there a good reason?  Before you judge or muscle your way through, look at your reasons for quitting.  I quit the step classes because I was self-conscious and needed a close-knit community without mirrors.  I quit the yoga classes at the gyms, because I did not feel like I belonged.  Once I found an exercise program that met my needs, motivation was no longer an issue.

2.  Look at your reasons “why.”

After you look at your reasons for slipping up, look at your reasons for making the changes.  Are you doing it just because someone told you to do it, or you think it is what you are supposed to do?  Is this what you really want?

3.  Try not to compare.

We are all different, and everyone struggles with something.  If you are struggling with making a positive change, then the thing you are trying to change is not easy for you.  So don’t compare yourself to the people who have it easy!  Close your eyes, and make your best the only thing that you need!

4.  Look at the big picture.

Slip-ups are a part of making changes.  Growth is not a straight line, but it is a general trend.  I regained 9 pounds, but I have still kept 19 off.  Focus on the 19, not the 9.  You are going to fall on and off the wagon.  That is life.

5.  Find supportive friends.

When you are frustrated, don’t talk to just anybody.  Some friends will help you focus on the positive, and others will discourage you further.  Learn to tell the difference.

What positive changes are you working on in the upcoming new year?  What strategies have you found to be helpful when making changes?