Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Awakening Your Body—Part 1

My last post was all about giving your mind a rejuvenating kick in the butt—a fresh start for the month of September.  This week it’s about giving your body a wake-up call.

A couple of weeks ago, while in class, the teacher whispered in my ear, “you have wonderful body awareness.”  I smiled and thought, how nice.  It’s true that I can control my body movements and tend to understand what muscles should be doing what and when.  That is not to say I do things perfectly (since there is no such thing) but I do feel in control when I move.  For years, I attributed that ability to years of sports.  Then the other day I was told by a co-worker that I seemed to have a very strong and comprehensive vision of self or great self-awareness.  I was flattered and yet humbled, because it was at that point that I realized a long and hard transformation was finally taking shape.

I had this feeling my whole life that body and mind awareness were intimately connected.  In fact, I have even said that before on this blog.  But this recent ah-ha moment takes this to a different level.  It’s more than just healthy body equals a healthy mind, since it is more than health that we are talking about. Just because you work out, don’t have high cholesterol, no diabetes, and decent BMI doesn’t mean you have strong body awareness.  This was something I had to realize myself.  Giving specific muscles attention and purposely pushing my body to do things—try things—it’s never done has awakened aspects of my personality and thought pattern. 

For example, for years I would suck in my stomach, leave my abs in constant tension, and constrict my belly with tight jeans.  I thought this would create strong, sexy abs, or at least give the allusion of such.  Not sure if that ever happened, but what I do know is that my mind was judgmental, harsh, tightened and unforgiving.  I would criticize my body in the mirror, I harbored jealousy towards others, and I thought nothing was ever good enough.  If I didn’t have the body I wanted, it was my own fault—and then I would continue to beat myself up about it.  My stomach would have constant aches, rumblies, and indigestion.  But recently (I would say the past year or so), I have begun to allow my stomach to relax and listen to what it needs.  

Just take a moment and lay on your back, close your eyes, and bring your hand on your tummy and the other hand to your heart.  Just allow your belly to relax and just watch the breath come in, filling your belly and lifting your hand.  Then release the breathe slowly and feel your hand lower.  Taking time out of my day to do that (whether before or after a yoga class) has been extremely humbling.  Your poor, poor belly gets all this anger thrown its way, but truly it wants to be treated right.  Don’t beat it up with harsh foods, over indulging, and too much alcohol.  And take time out of your day to reconnect. 

It seems so simple, but since I consciously stopped holding in my stomach, I feel much, much better.  AND I am still wearing the same size jeans from high school and they fit better.   Generally, I feel like I look relatively the same—if not finer.  Without getting too weird, I think that by changing my attitude towards—and image of—my body, my body finally began to cooperate.  Strange right?  But give it a try.  Dedicate time to awaken with your feet (take off your shoes!) moving and flexing toes or connect with your tummy and then work from there. 

Your body is such a precious vessel; it’s what allows us to get from one place to another, reach out to touch the ones we love, and allow a safe place for our great minds to work.  However, there is often a huge disconnect between what we do to our bodies and how we think.  Or—so we think.  Remember a moment in your life when perhaps your emotional state was not positive, how did you treat your body?  Or on the reverse, think about a time when you might have become overweight, developed an eating disorder, or often came down with colds—how was your mental state? 

I don’t want to make any guarantees, but I’d like to think that when you treat your body bad, your mind produces negative thoughts and vice versa. 

This is of course relative only to “self-induced” body sickness.  Other diseases like certain cancers, Alzheimer’s, and functional failures are deeper issues, often not explained or cured easily.  I do not pretend to know enough about this subject nor do I think a person’s condition in that state is due to bad-thought-karma.

The second part will talk about awakening your muscles, discovering your strength, and working towards a strong and positive awareness of self.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Look at me Now

So one year ago today, I began a regular, dedicated yoga practice.  September 7th, 2010 was the first time I had step foot into a private yoga studio, and my only experience prior was a limited collection of DVD’s, a college fit class, and one failed attempt at the Y.  Then my most current and continual yoga practice had been with Tony and his P90X version of Yoga X.  I worked hard to figure out the poses, but I was still in my bedroom, on carpet, using my make-up mirror for alignment, and blasting myself with a fan whenever I got remotely sweating.  All of which was quite different from the yoga I would begin when I started practicing at my current studio.
Truth be told, I actually had my first exposure to yoga at 14 years old.  One day I sneaked into the basement and popped in a Jane Austin “Power Yoga” VHS.  I did that tape almost every day for 3 weeks, and it wasn’t cool for a young teen to be doing workout videos in her basement—alone—so I didn’t want anyone to find out.  I was afraid of letting my friends do it with me, because yoga poses were a little strange and some made you fart.   I figured if I got flack for doing Tae-Bo at age 12, then yoga would not go over any better.   
Before long, yoga started to become more main-stream and I also grew old enough to not care what people thought.   By that time my VHS died on me and I had other DVDs to try and friends to try them with.  However, for the most part, yoga was still something that I did relatively on my own and randomly.
Ever since I physically could, I was a competitive athlete.   It was just natural to work hard and push through to the end—soccer, ice skating, softball, basketball, track, ultimate Frisbee, hiking, everything was competitive to me. 
This was obvious even at a young age. 
Easter egg hunts were not simply a fun, holiday game—oh no.  My cousin Pete and I could turn this and any other family activity into a full-blown battle.  It was necessary to warm-up and stretch before a game of Monopoly—and forget poker—you might as well bring your bullet-proof vest.  Don’t get me wrong, I love it.  But recently on my journey to adulthood (which I’ve barely started), I stopped fighting other people and I began fighting myself.  Not like in a good competitive way, but in a let’s-beat-myself-to-exhaustion-with-no-end sort of way.  With no particular sport to play anymore, I became the sport.  And I was losing. 
So it was a perfect time in my life to finally pursue yoga.  Despite my awkward start with yoga as a teen, I always knew in my heart that I was in love and it would eventually become a regular part of my life.  There was something different about it that felt really, really good even when I was immature and relatively unstressed in life.  Yoga practice was a chance for me to push my body, but still be kind to myself. 
What I didn’t anticipate were the enormous changes that would take place in my life from beginning my yoga practice.  Mentally and emotionally, personally and professionally, inside and out.  I would have never guessed that within a year I would be this physically fit, madly in love, engaged, working at a new fantastic job, certified to teach AND teach yoga.  To some these all might seem unrelated, but I know in my heart that it is completely related. 
Am I bragging?  NO. 
I was terrified to begin this journey, was filled with self-doubt and frustration, and even struggled to continue.  But I got through it and now—one year later—I am blown away by where I am. Shocked.  And there is nothing special about me; anyone can do this!   Maybe yoga isn’t your thing, but everyone has their thing.  Find it and get after it.
September is about fresh starts and new beginnings.  If you want something, NOW IS THE TIME.