Finding Empowerment on the Mat

images-2I have been on and off my yoga mat for the last 20 years. I go through times when yoga calls to me, and times when it doesn’t. I used to feel conflicted about this but have found a comfortable relationship with the ebb and flow. I know that when the yearning resurfaces I answer the call.

A year or so ago I found myself drawn to my mat and started taking yoga classes from an inspiring instructor named Roger. Aside from answering yoga’s call, my main motivation for going to that 6am class was that my friends were in it, and if you’re going to get up at a god-awful time you might as well get to see your friends.

I probably dragged myself to Roger’s 6am class more than a few times before I began to look forward to starting my day on my mat in that dimmed yoga studio. I spent years doing vinyasa style yoga. Roger’s approach was totally different. We moved slowly between poses, we held poses in ways that were different from what I had done in the past, and we spent a fair amount of time testing our balance and focus by holding or transitioning through poses while balanced on our toes.

imagesFor the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I was so drawn to Roger’s class. Believe me, there were plenty of times I didn’t even like what we were doing…and yet, I still showed up week after week. One morning, in that softly lit yoga studio, I realized what kept pulling me back to the practice. I felt EMPOWERED. For me that meant I felt connected to myself and to something beyond myself, I felt strong in body and mind, I felt irrepressible.

The practice wasn’t easy but perhaps that was the point. I was tapping into my core – not just my physical core but the core of who I am. I challenged my physical body and during that challenge found myself in a deeply connected and spiritual relationship with myself.

Standing balanced on my toes, moving my body in different directions, feeling the strength in my muscles, a sense of empowerment literally coursed through my body. I felt grounded, strong, connected, energized, alive. I had no time to think about the myriad of questions, thoughts and to do’s that often run roughshod through my mind. I was there, in the moment, in my body, rooted and yet free.

Lessons Learned on the Mat:

  • When I connect with my center I am less easily thrown off balance literally and figuratively.
  • Working on my physical balance impacts the general sense of balance and connectedness I feel in my life.
  • My physical practice often gives me access to my spiritual self.
  • Exercise is a social experience for me. Even if I am standing alone on my mat I am still surrounded by the energy of the others in the room.

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What Exercise Means to Me

I recently read an article called “10 Things I want my daughter to know about working out” and it made me pause and think about what exercise means to me. To check out the article click here.

The crux of the piece is that the author wants her young daughter to know that exercise is about SO much more than getting your body to look a certain way in “that” dress or “that” dreaded bikini.

For many, many years I probably exercised, and over exercised, in an effort to try to “fix” what I believed was wrong with my body.   In hindsight I had very external objectives when it came to how I treated my body and approached my exercise routine. So much of my focus was on how my body was being perceived by others rather than on what having a strong, athletic and healthy body meant to and for me.Lessons from Exercise pin

Over the last few years I have begun to make a shift in my thinking about my body and the way in which I approach exercise. Recently, I tore my ACL in a ski accident. The injury, subsequent reconstructive surgery, and recovery have definitely tested, and in many ways, reinforced this shift in thinking.

Going through the challenge of not being able to exercise in the way in which I was accustomed, having to hold myself back from just “pushing through”, and really needing to listen to what my body is telling me has helped experience physical activity in a whole new way. I’ve had to slow down and tune in. I’ve had to quiet the voices and be patient with myself. And what a gift that has been.

I cannot say I am immune to how my body might be perceived by others, and the gremlins of years of a negative body image still chatter away, but without a doubt I know that much more of my focus and approach is about how I feel “in” my body, how my body functions and moves throughout my day, and what being strong, in my body, mind and spirit, means to me.

In getting out of my head and loosening up on the external and internal pressures to “workout”, I have come to appreciate physical activity in healthier and deeper way. I have found that I love to test my balance on the Bosu ball. I love the freedom I feel when I move my body to booty shaking tunes. I love the cleansing sweat of a good workout. I love the deep sense of peace and focus I get when I am pushing my physical boundaries. I love knowing that a workout can shift my energy, change my mood and clear my mind. And I love knowing that when necessary I can lug my over-packed suitcase up 5 flights of stairs!

Exercise isn’t about how my body looks to others or how my body fits (or doesn’t fit) the latest fashions. When I strip away all that negative chatter, I am coming to understand that exercise is really about tuning in. It is about connecting with my body’s innate wisdom. It’s about being present and centered. It’s about feeling strong, literally and figuratively. And most importantly for me, it’s about feeling empowered within myself.

Shifting my mindset from using exercise as a means to try to make up for what I deemed inadequate about myself to thinking about exercise and movement as a metaphor for how I want to live my life is not only liberating but also energizing

We owe it to ourselves, and to the young girls coming up behind us, to recognize and celebrate that exercise, movement and strength brings so much more into our lives than a certain dress size.

4 Things I’ve Learned from Exercise:

  • Moving my body feels good and makes me feel alive!
  • It is up to me how I choose to experience my body as well as what significance I want exercise to have in my life.
  • What I gain from exercise goes way beyond the physical. It impacts me mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
  • My body is my partner not my adversary.

 

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Nourishment in different forms and flavors

IIN CertificateI am a newly minted graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and one of the most compelling concepts I took from the program was the idea of Primary and Secondary Foods. Secondary Foods are the actual foods that we consume. Primary Foods are all the other things in our life that nourish us mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
It doesn’t matter how clean my food plan might be, if I am out of alignment with the things that bring me joy, fulfillment and connection then I will not experience the richness and fullness of the life that I crave.

I have felt this misalignment time and again when I have tried to compartmentalize aspects of my life. My life (body, mind, spirit) rebels and reminds me that it cannot be compartmentalized and separated. Each component impacts the other, and imbalance in one area of my life has ramifications for the other areas of my life.

People need dreams, there's as much nourishment in 'em as foodEmbracing this idea of interdependency reminds me of the importance not only of how I am nourishing myself through what I put into my body but how I am nourishing myself through my activities, my thoughts, and my relationships.

 

 

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