Breaking free from my box

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It had been a while since I’d dug into an entire pint of Ben Jerry’s ice cream.

It used to be a daily habit, back when my son was still a baby and I still carried the signs of the 60 lbs I gained during my pregnancy.

I wish I could say my teacher training course had ended on a more positive note.

There were many high notes about the program, not the least of which was the quality of the people who went through the program with me. I made real connections with some of these wonderful souls, and I’ll never forget it.

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Yoga as a source of anxiety

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My first attempt at painting, three weeks ago.

A friend of mine recently brought this blog post to my attention. The author asks a question I’ve explored a little bit myself – does yoga ‘cure’ anxiety, and conversely, can it produce it?

It might help for me to take a small step back and retell how my anxiety began to manifest itself, how I overcame my worst period of anxiety and panic to date, and why yoga helps me keep my anxious thinking from building up.

At the peak of my anxiety Continue reading

Ten horribly unyogic thoughts I’ve had during yoga

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1) Use a block, man!
2) Pshaw. Even I could do that if I turned my hip up like that.
3) Cover up, woman, I can see your nipples.
4) I mean, there’s no point in coming here if you’re just going to lay there.
5) I bet I could do that… but I don’t feel like it right now.
6) I wouldn’t wear that top again if I were you.
7) I wonder how my ass looks in these leggings.
8) Get your dirty foot off my mat!
9) Oh yeah?? Watch this!
10) My friends are going to be so impressed.

Yes, I know. I’m a terrible person.

Struggling with my own inner critic

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I’ve noticed a disturbing trend within myself.

I’ve never been one to hide my imperfections. I’m the first to laugh at myself when I fall, make a mistake, say something stupid or do something embarrassing. I LOVE retelling my embarrassing stories for the amusement of friends, family and strangers.

I started this blog to convince people to try yoga – especially people who, like me, struggle or have struggled with anxiety and depression, and who can benefit from the surge of endorphins and other lovely brain juices that yoga helps you release. My goal is to help people who are unhappy – with their lives, with themselves, with their circumstances – find a positive outlet for their frustrations.

Early on I recognized, though, that trying new things – yoga included – can be intimidating for folks. Ultimately it boils down to a fear of failure – I’m not going to try it, because I’m afraid I won’t be good at it. OR, I’m not going to try it because it’s not for people like me.

Everything I do on here is about showing that you don’t have to be “good” at it, or be flexible, or a hippie vegetarian to experience the benefits. And frankly, I love yoga (obviously) but the real core message I want to transmit is that finding something that keeps you active and out of your own head can go a long way toward creating positive mental health.

Writing here, though, has made it clear to me I’m not as accepting of my imperfections as I would I like to be (or more like, as I would like people to think I am).

I’ve been practicing yoga consistently for two years now, and fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve learned a few things about what the postures should look like. So now when I look at my own pictures (and other people’s, for the record), I can spot my imperfections everywhere, and they drive me absolutely bonkers.

I look at the beautiful collage up top and I think: bend your knee more, straighten your arm more, lift your heels more. I’m photo (24)OK with posting a picture of myself falling off the wagon wheel, but the images of the sloppy poses makes me want to cringe.

The same thing happened to me when looking at the picture on the right. For the record, when I started practicing yoga I couldn’t even lift a TOE in this pose. But despite my progress, I refused to post this image on social media because my foot is turned out, my knee is not positioned properly, my elbows are open too wide and I’m not pushing my head through my biceps enough.

It’s one of the hallmarks of anxiety sufferers, I suppose. It all screams “you’re not as good as you think you are” and it makes me crazy that I’ve become so judgmental of myself.

I don’t know what this means or how to fix it. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything, and maybe I don’t have to fix it at all.

I think I just have to continue posting imperfect pictures of myself until I get over it (or even if I don’t), because perfection is really and truly not what this is all about.

After all, how can I convince you all that it doesn’t matter that you’re inflexible and that yoga is for everyone if all I do is post images of me perfectly nailing really complicated poses?

No crying in yoga

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This is a stressful time of year in my job. Everyone on my team has an annual sales goal they need to cross, and those numbers ultimately roll up to me and my own sales goal.

It’s a time of year that’s FULL of awkward conversations, early mornings, long days and a mounting degree of pressure given the upcoming holidays and the threat of losing your contracts to Christmas and New Year’s vacations.

On Tuesday, the family and I are heading down to Nicaragua for a few days to spend Christmas with our loved ones. I am excited to see my parents and my siblings, and looking forward to getting away from the cold for a bit, but the travel adds a little bit of extra stress to the season.

Given all this, I’ve been surprisingly calm in the face of the storm. I’m relatively close to my goal, although there are still a few things out there that may well derail me. Still, I haven’t felt too anxious about it all, and I was beginning to think there might be something wrong with me. Continue reading

Open Your Heart (Chakra)

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Why can’t I reeeeaaaach?

For the last couple of years I’ve been working on opening up my Heart Chakra.

Yes, yes, I know most of you don’t really believe this ‘hokey’ Chakra stuff but for a second let’s pretend it’s just a metaphor.

My sister asked me the other day whether yoga has helped me control my emotions. I told her that yoga is not really about control – at least not for me. The kind of yoga I practice is about flow: letting things pass you by, float by you, without controlling or judging them. It’s mostly about making yourself vulnerable enough to let emotions in and let them out, without judgment, even at the risk of feeling hurt.

In other words, learning to recognize that pain is inevitable but suffering is always optional.

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The one where I’m a big fat cheater

doorThey say love opens all doors.

Well, I have to confess, I’ve recently fallen in love with a new yoga studio, and you know that feeling I said a few posts ago I never “got”?

That’s right, I’ve got it.

I’m cheating on my regular studio and I feel guilty.

At first I thought this new place was WEIRD. I went because they offer kids’ yoga classes and I enrolled my son. But then they TRICKED me into trying out their classes for $1 a day, and I really couldn’t resist.

The first time I went I thought it was all wrong for me. There was no music. The studio is really big, so it looks like you’re practicing on a squash court. People make a ton of weird noises while practicing. Like a lot of loud sighing and neighing – like horses. And everyone actually CLAPS at the end of the class.

I swear to God, I felt like I was on an airplane full of first time flyers, clapping after landing.

But then I noticed the floors, though they look like hardwood, are actually PADDED. That means I can fall as much as I want without worrying about breaking my neck.

They also have an assistant on hand for all their larger classes, so someone’s always around to adjust me when I need it.

And all the weird noises are from the instructor actually instructing people on how and when to breather. I didn’t expect it but it’s such an awesome thing when everyone is breathing in unison, and it helps me work out my terrible habit of holding my breath.

They also have a lot more classes, so I’m not as limited in when I can attend. This has led me to consistently practice four times a week for the last two weeks.

So I guess for now I’m going to keeping stringing two studios along – if the guilt doesn’t kill me.

Yoga gone…. right?

I went to a new yoga studio yesterday and I didn’t want the class to end. After it was over, all I wanted to do was talk to my cousin – who had invited me to come to his regular studio with him – about how it had gone.

That’s the sign of a good class right there.

I loved the space, and while the difficulty was well within my reach, I still got a lot out of the hour and fifteen minutes we were there. Looking around me (not judging, I promise) I saw a handful of people that reminded me of what I must have been like when I first started going to mixed level classes a little over a year ago. Cringing, hunching over, refusing to use blocks or straps when blocks AND straps were clearly necessary.

My regular instructor Rebecca gets frustrated at me for always aiming for the most difficult variation of the pose, even if I don’t have easier variations down pat yet.

Feet splayed out, head not centered between my biceps, 40 lb monkey on my abs... This is a pretty DON'T as far as Wheel Pose goes.

Feet splayed out, head not centered between my biceps, 40 lb monkey on my abs… This is a pretty big DON’T as far as Wheel Pose goes.

And can I be honest? Looking at recent pictures of myself, I can see why! The one on the right in Wheel, for example, helped me see just much I was improperly compensating with my body just to get myself up there. The kid on my stomach is another story.

Those of you who don’t practice yoga will probably scratch your heads at this one. Those of you who do will recognize what I mean when I say I was one of those people who HAVE to touch their toes – no matter how much back-rounding it took to get there. I’ve slowly been weaning myself off the habit, but occasionally I still find myself “cheating” to get into some bind.

At the beginning of each class, most instructors ask you to set an intention. My intention recently has been to recognize when I’m pushing myself constructively and when I’m just trying to show off for everyone else in the room.

Yoga’s taught me I’m a lot more Alpha than I care to admit. But I’m working on it.

And I managed to stay true to my intention yesterday… for the most part. I also managed to nail a good Wheel or two.

Ok fine, maybe just one decent one, but I’m improving! 🙂

Not perfect... but better!

Not perfect… but better!

Anxiety and ego (and yoga, of course)

My husband and I take turns with our “yogas” over the weekend, since we can’t leave the six-year-old alone and also can’t bring him with us (although I’ve been tempted to bring him to my small Sunday yoga class to freak out the teacher).

The hubby’s been playing golf a lot recently, and I know it makes him happy, so I encourage it. Living where we live is not exactly his first choice, but the more he’s got his own thing going on here, the more he’ll feel at home.

But anyway, I digress. So yesterday he went to play an early round of golf, and I found a class at a different studio that matched his schedule.

I’d been to this studio before, and I was a tiny bit hesitant to go back. One of the teachers at Edge, my regular studio, had recommended Rocket Yoga to me. She knew I liked arms balances and inversions and thought I would have fun with it.

Tap, tap, tapping my wall.

Tap, tap, tapping my wall.

The first time I went to this place I chose an “advanced” Rocket class because it was the only one I could fit into my schedule. I figured I’d do my best with the poses I hadn’t mastered yet and still get good practice in with the poses I have mastered.

I don’t know that I’ve really fully described my level in yoga, but despite my practice being fairly sloppy (or perhaps because of it), I’m pretty comfortable with some advanced poses. I’m particularly good at arm balances, and I have a couple of inversions I can do out in the middle of the room (without a spotter or the wall). I can also easily do a handstand against the wall, as well as a forearm stand.

Everyone has their own version of yoga, and I’m more comfortable with these poses than I am with some of the fundamentals, like Chair or Tree.

So, you know, while I haven’t nailed most poses perfectly, I’m adventurous, I’ve developed some upper body strength, and my interest in these kinds of poses has led me to get a few of them in my practice that I wasn’t even close to doing when I started.

Now. To say that I was the least advanced person in that Advanced Rocket class would be a GROSS understatement. Let me show you a video of what every other student in the room could pull off with ease:

Don’t get me wrong, I had a phenomenal time watching the others do amazing things with their bodies. I’ve been practicing long enough to realize, of course, that everyone there had spent more time and invested more effort into mastering these moves than me. If yoga has taught me anything it’s that you can accomplish just about everything with practice. But I knew I was in above my head, and because I spent the majority of the time watching people rather than practicing, I didn’t get a ton out of the experience (other than sheer admiration at the things I will eventually be able to do, if I’m interested enough to pursue it).

Needless to say, I never went back to that specific class. But yesterday I went to another Rocket class at the same studio, and this one was much more commensurate with my level. I was, again, probably one of the least advanced students there, but not so far behind everyone else that I couldn’t challenge myself and get a few good tries in at things I’d never attempted before.

I’ll be honest. I pride myself on not being easily intimidated, and on not getting hung up on the “who’s better than me” game. I genuinely enjoyed watching the more advanced students when I was there the first time. It wasn’t discouraging or frustrating at the time, and it didn’t make me feel any worse about myself. They’d had more practice and had built up more strength and balance. That’s all.

But when I walked in the door again yesterday, I felt more nervous than I expected. I had a lot of anxiety about whether the class would be appropriate for me this time around, even though in yoga there is very little risk to going to a class that’s too advanced – you just do what you can that’s that!

I got on my mat and felt insecure. As the class progressed, and I realized I wasn’t hugely out of place among the other students, my insecurity eased. It was a wonderful class in the end, but the physical symptoms of my anxiety hung around me all day (and as usual, I went about my business and did my best to ignore them).

A very dear friend of mine said to me yesterday – when you take ego out of any situation it usually brings the picture fully into perspective. I guess my ego reared its ugly head yesterday as I walked in that door. I guess my ego made me feel less worthy, which fueled my anxiety. I’m working on defeating that ego, but I guess I still have a little ways to go.

I’m putting that Rocket class in my regular rotation, by the way. With a little bit of practice, I’ll be pressing up to a handstand in NO time. In the meantime, I’ll keep using my trusty wall to help me practice. 🙂

Ready, set, PRESS!

Ready, set, PRESS!