As evidenced by these before photos I took three months before I started practicing yoga, it is likely obvious to see I was not in great shape. When I started yoga, it was because I was sick of my back hurting, my hip sticking and quite frankly not feeling good in or about my body.
When I started, the yoga studio was a convenient place to exercise (only a few blocks from my house). I suppose you could describe me as an accidental tourist.
My addiction/habit/love of yoga has changed everything I ever believed about my body, my ability and my mindset.
I am a person who believes seeing others overcome obstacles inspires us to do so as well. As extroverted as I am, even sharing these feels like too much. As you might imagine, they are embarrassing and remind me of how sad I was at that time in my life. I am doing my best to live authentically and vulnerably so here's me walking the walk.
One of the ways my life has opened up is by feeling the sense of connection to everyone else. I started noticing it when the the class was instructed to breathe together. In these photos, I might be you.
Yoga has seen me through what I hope will be the worst years of my life. If life gets harder though, I plan to use yoga (in any way I can) to see me through. On the occasion of completing 1000 classes at Soulshine, the yoga studio in my neighborhood, I was gifted photos by the owner Martina.
Lesson #1 Timing is everything
I started a regular yoga practice 4 1/2 years ago. Thirteen years earlier, I purchased the 10 session package to a yoga studio in Jacksonville but it was not for me. I am pretty sure I have about seven classes remaining.
When we moved to California, there was a neighborhood studio that I passed by for two years. I can’t recall the price but I decided it was more than I wanted to spend. A Groupon for one month at a point that I was disgusted with myself and determined to get back in shape for my oldest daughter, Gillian’s bat mitzvah, got me in the door.
I’m not sure I loved it but I didn’t hate it. At the time, the studio was hot. I’d put my mat by the door and step out several times during the class. I worked my way up to staying but taking child’s pose frequently. After the month was over, yoga had become - sort of - a habit.
I remember watching others do poses and thinking, “there’s no way I’ll ever do those poses, I just want to get in shape". Ironically one of the women who inspired me moved away and came back several years later only this time she was inspired by me. (Jackie!!)
Yoga saw me through some very tough parenting years, starting a business and going through a divorce. I can’t even imagine how different those times would have been if I had not had yoga to fall back on.
When the kids were with their dad and my home was empty, yoga filled the void.
No matter what came into my life - good or bad, my mat became my “touchstone”. I cried on my mat…A LOT!!! I felt the warm tears during still poses flowing down my cheeks deeply. It also felt like God pointed me in yoga’s direction at a time I would most need it.
Lesson #2 - Sometimes one door closes but an even better one opens.
When my original Groupon expired, I negotiated a membership deal paying for a full year in advance. Two or so months later, the studio closed and we merged with a gym that was not walking distance from my house and was not a yoga studio.
To say I was bummed was an understatement. I loved the convenience of a neighborhood studio but because I was locked in and noticing a difference in my body, I kept going.
Then Aminy and Martina opened an even better studio.
The classes weren’t hot. There was more space and the vibe changed. It’s hard to describe but it became a community and the people there became my support network.
Lesson #3 What you resist, persists.
I’m not sure when yoga switched for me from exercise for my body to lessons for my soul but slowly my practice started shifting my “Type A” control freak personality to the person I am now.
I absorbed so many inspirational messages shared by the teachers and my practice became a platform for so many metaphors.
Possibly the most significant lesson was how to surrender. There were some very uncomfortable poses and my mind eventually went from “no freaking way” to “I’m going to breathe into this pose and remain”. Like life off the mat, I realized the best way to get through the pain is just to “be” in it. I describe hard times to my girls as an opportunity to build resiliency muscles. You can’t build a muscle if it’s never exercised.
Lesson #4 Listen to your body.
One of the best things that could have happened was the original injury I sustained during my first attempts at yoga more than 13 years ago. If I had been paying attention to my body instead of watching everyone else, I probably wouldn’t have been hurt. That reminder kept me “true” to my body and as a result think I also was able to chip away at a lot of my ego. During the course of my practice I injured my shoulder, developed tennis elbow, struggled with a hurt wrist and had another back injury from an unrelated occurrence.
Whatever came, I didn’t stop yoga but I did adjust my practice.
Lesson #5. It’s important to have a hobby.
For me having yoga means I always have a place to belong. My practice gets better and better and my athletic ability and flexibility continues to improve.
There are people in class 10 years older than I am who can do far more than I am able to. Improving my practice and building my poses gives me a goal. Sharing an interest with others also gives me a community of people where I can find a place to belong almost anywhere.
Lesson #6 If you don’t have your oxygen mask on, you can’t save anyone else.
Yoga is the one thing I make time for even when life is crazy. No matter where I am (physically or emotionally), At the same time, I am in the best shape of my life and I’m able to do things people younger than me can’t.
There are a lot of things in life we can't control and life rarely goes as planned. The only real choice any of us has is how we cope. You can stay stuck and unhappy or you can take one small step forward.
Three years ago today, I separated from my husband of 15 years. If I described it as the worst three years of my life, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration.
First, my own feelings of abandonment and rejection were “triggered” (using teen lingo but appropriate none-the-less). As a three year old, I was sent to live with my father and subsequently “poorly treated” by his wife. There were also all the other “divorce dominoes” (a phrase I’ve coined because it seems like just about every area of your life is affected and knocked over).
The “divorce domino” included navigating legalities that would affect the rest of my life of which I was completely uneducated; figuring out how I was going to earn enough money to support myself after leaving my career for my ex-husband’s career across country; working out custody schedules and parenting alone; and the accompanying emotions of grief, disappointment and embarrassment. There were things I hadn’t even considered. Suddenly, I felt like I was back in my 20s when everyone was getting engaged and married and had a ring on their finger which translated, for me, to mean “I’m wanted”. Walking into a parent meeting or into synagogue, or anywhere else bare fingered was like having a sign flashing “failure”, “failure” “failure” or worse “unwanted”.
Being alone was a completely different alone then it had been before I was married. After almost 17 years with one person, there was no one in my bed, no one to make important life decisions with, no one to call when something good or bad happened, and empty rooms (but a clean house) when my children were with their father. Even my friendships were affected because I was living in a world that my close friends could not relate to. I had to climb ladders at 3 a.m. to change smoke detector batteries and I had to take out my own trash.
Perhaps even harder than that, I went back into the dating world as a woman in her 40s who’d nursed three children and had not had a boob job. (I’m going to save the dating article for another time because I could literally write a book about that!!
Of all though, fear and envy were the hardest part. Suddenly, it felt as if I was in a vast ocean and paddling desperately to stay afloat. I clung to men as if they were life vests. While I worked in commissioned sales almost my entire marriage, my husband’s steady income was the safety net to which I could fall. It was that steady income that gave me the courage to start my own business.
It seems as if everything I was juggling was exacerbated by my desperation to have a “partner” partly for companionship, partly for the escape from reality, partly for financial security and if I’m being honest because my ex-husband had someone.
The absolute worst thing I had to confront was my own envy. While I faced the ups and downs of dating, never being with any one person for more than four months, falling for men who were emotionally unavailable, and pretty much only dating guys who’s schedules seemed to be exactly opposite mine, my ex-husband and his girlfriend (for more than two years) had every other weekend without kids and traveled the world vacationing together. I didn’t have a partner and I couldn’t afford to even take the the trips.
There was no hiding my depression from my children. I remember coming home on a weekend without kids, thinking the house was empty, falling onto my bed and sobbing. The hard, body shaking, wailing sob. It was such a hard cry that it wasn’t even possible to do the “in front of the mirror and watch my eyes turn green” cry. And then my then 15-year-old daughter walked in.
When I was four, I remember watching my mom cry and to this day, it has stuck with me as one of the most uncomfortable moments of my life.
Because I was simultaneously building a new business and adjusting to this huge transition I went looking for help anywhere I could get it. You know what happens when you realize your children are watching? You take very small steps forward.
As I did, people, things and experiences began showing up on my path. It may have been a book someone told me about, it might have been a course that came up while reading the book or it might have been something said by one of my yoga instructors.
As things began to “work out”, I began to learn to just trust. One book that really helped was “Uncertainty” written for entrepreneurs. In the book they talked about the concept of going to zero. Imagine just about the worst case scenario and give yourself a “Plan B” for how you’d survive. They shared the story and this quote by J.K. Rowling, the famous author and creator of Harry Potter.
“I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized and I still had a daughter that I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
I came up with my “Plan B” which meant moving into my mother-out-law’s spare bedroom, getting a job at Starbucks and letting the girls stay with their father. I went from holding onto everything so tightly out of fear to slowly, slowly releasing my grip. Sometimes, it was an easy decision like when things synchronistically happened and sometimes I just made the choice to try it anyway. Quite frankly, I was sick of trying to control everything.
Life did not work out the way I expected it to. If I had gotten my way either my ex would have come back pleading with me to work things out OR I would have continued dating my first post-separation boyfriend.
If either of those things had happened, I wouldn’t be where I am now which quite frankly is the happiest I’ve ever been. There is more than I can possibly share in this blog now but highlights include 1000+ yoga classes and doing poses I never dreamed of doing at 48, getting fish pedicures with my daughter in Mexico, zip lining and rock climbing (I have a huge fear of fish and heights) and talking about my sex life in front of 50 people at an open mic night.
Best though I learned who I am and why I am. I learned to accept myself exactly as I am and work on the things I need to change without beating myself up. I learned how important gratitude is. I learned to quiet the voice in my head that said anything that wasn’t kind.
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
No matter what is happening in your life, it is going to change. The only good choice available is to embrace what is and figure out how to find the “silver lining”.