Thursday, February 21, 2013

Competing with Me

I am excited and still surprised to announce that this weekend my husband and I are competing in our very first CrossFit competition.  It’s only been about four months of “CrossFitting” but we decided to dive head first into the challenge.  In some ways, it makes perfect sense.  Since joining our box (CrossFit gym affiliation) in early November, we've grown so much; each day we’re getting stronger and more confident.  So, when less than two months ago the opportunity to compete was presented, it would only make sense that I would immediately jump on it.  But, I had a minor internal struggle about whether or not I would compete.  When I came to the box, it was not my intention to train to compete; rather I saw an opportunity to challenge myself.  (And if we are being perfectly honest, I watched the CrossFit Games on TV and I wanted to look as fit as those ladies!)

So why not compete?

I had come to a point in my life, where I believed competition was behind me.  This was not because I felt “too old” or out of shape or was scared I wouldn't do well.  There was something else, much deeper inside, which I would have to come to terms with.  Growing up I was always involved in athletics—and  not just-for-fun athletics—every sport I played was on a very competitive level.   I went to the Junior Olympics as a sprinter, I was on various state champion teams for track, was the captain for various teams, and played almost every sport under the sun.  And I loved it.  I loved the “do or die,” “go hard or go home,” win, win, win feeling.  Then, when I graduated from college and entered the “work world,” I left behind my team sports.  It wasn’t long before I found myself channeling my competitive mind to my professional and personal identity.  Unlike in sports, when a competitive drive can be productive and even necessary, my instinctive competition became self-hurting.

It was at a time of pain that I came to begin my yoga practice.  In many ways I was going through a quarter-life crisis.  I was deciding what to do and where to go, and how to be okay with my choices.  (If you want to learn more, just read some of my older posts!)  Basically, I was hurting both physically and emotionally, as my stress slowly took hold of me.  Luckily for me, I had my youth and developed my yoga practice at a perfect time.  In the beginning, I continued to struggle with competitive feelings.  During class I would stare at myself and others in the mirror, comparing my ability to theirs.  I always wanted to push harder, “do better at yoga,” and was continually frustrated with myself.  It took some time, but through practice I realized that there was no “winning” yoga.  There would be no end to my effort, it’s continuing, it’s constant, it’s forever.  Coming to that realization was not only freeing, it was humbling.  When I let go of my need to push, I finally moved forward.  My mind’s constant judgment resulted in my body being stuck.  Once that powerful hold was gone, balance and flexibility came easy.  Poses became beautiful and my mind felt light.

So, am I taking a step back by training at a CrossFit gym and—even worse—competing again?

No.  I have decided to think about life as stepping stones, and whether or not you begin something that you’ve already done before—it will never be the same, because you are not the same.  If I had started CrossFit instead of yoga three years ago, I would be a completely different person today.  My guess is that I would be extremely critical, unforgiving, and aggressive.  This is not because CrossFit makes you so, but because of where I was in my life.  Having built a foundation in yoga instead, I came to CrossFit with an entirely different mindset.  I would not be stepping back to the blindly competitive 18-year-old, because I am no longer that girl.  Having forgiven myself, I can now train with a much clearer mind.  Not only that, but now I can see how we're all in this together.  Everyone is challenging themselves, in their own way, at their own pace.  I can only ever compete with myself, so either I win or I lose.

Don’t get me wrong, it ain’t easy.  

I always have to check in with myself, remind myself to be weary of old habits, and be open to move forward.  As yoga has taught me, you are never “good to go;” you are never done growing.  Pushing yourself forward is part of life—progress—but is not the only way you grow.
I practice yoga for my mental strength and clarity, and I train at CrossFit for my physical and mental challenge.  To me, they are intertwined and not mutually exclusive.  So when I compete this weekend I know that with each moment, I have an opportunity to grow.  And with each breath out, I begin again.  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Setting Intentions

At the beginning of every yoga class I take, there is an opportunity to create a personal intention.  It’s the moment when you are able to ask yourself, why am I here right now?  Each time I come on to my mat, I have the wonderful opportunity to rediscover my motivation for being there, as it can always change.   The teacher usually instructs us to think of a simple word, a virtue, or a dedication and then gives us space to think.  However, more often than not, before coming onto my mat I’ve had a long day at work, a stressful drive during rush-hour, and a lingering feeling of annoyance that all together leaves me rather fatigued.  It’s all I can do to muster up the mental energy to be fully engaged in the first three minutes of class, let alone dig deep and remind myself of the real reason I showed up that day.   Sometimes, before I know it we’ve began class and I somehow missed the moment when I should have made an intention.  It may sound silly, but it’s no easy task to come up with an intention. 

When I first began, my intentions were simple: learn what I was doing, pay attention, and (gasp) lose weight.  My motivation was coming from my brain, not my body, and often led to so-so feelings at the end of class.  However, as I practiced more and let a lot of my insecurities go, my intentions became clearer.  I would feel them arise inside way before I stepped onto my mat.  When I would become frustrated at work, I would know that I would practice yoga to bring me back to calm.  Each movement and breath became less about what I looked like in the mirror, and more about how I spoke to myself inside.  Yoga became the main thing that filled my mind when I had space in my day.  It was the primary source of physical movement in my days and weeks.  It became part of my every day.

But as it often happens when life becomes routine, my mind and body began to feel “stale.”  There wasn’t much stimulation or challenge either on the mat and or off—and if there was—yoga had made me so calm that it barely struck a single cord of adrenalin. I had lost my umft, my grit, my drive somewhere along the way.  I was always a competitive athlete, so what was nice about yoga was that it calmed down that aggression.  At the same time, it nearly took it all away and in many ways, I was lost without it.

Then, I got engaged.  During the early months of engagement—despite  my original assumptions about myself—my  thoughts became all. about. wedding.  (Rest assured, not in a bridezilla type of way, but oh-my-god-I-love-everything, sort of way.)  I continued to go to yoga (which kept me sane), but my days and nights become infinitely more busy.  Then at the same time, my parents began an awful and bitter separation, which obviously could not have come at a worse time.  My mind became all jacked up again.  However, as a good friend always does, yoga kept me grounded.  When it was time to set an intention, I would dedicate my practice to my mother, whose heart was breaking; or to my sister who needed support and love.  I would allow virtues such as patience, forgiveness, kindness, and love to lead me through practice.  Yoga, in a quick and effortless swoop, became my therapy.  Intentions came easy again.

Yet, as with all wounds, time passes and healing occurs.  Now here I am, married and happy and nothing immediate on the horizon, and I am once again struggling with intention struggling with coming up with an intention for my yoga practice.  I have (as mentioned in my last post) began training with CrossFit and am set to compete in my first competition.   In CrossFit, I set intentions as well, albeit they are usually different than those set on my yoga mat.  I have goals to get stronger, improve certain Olympic lifts, and move more efficiently.  CrossFit has helped me fill the void that was left when I stopped competing in sports and has really brought a spark back inside.  (Of course it helps that the hubby loves it as well, so it has become something we love to do together!)  I think about getting to the next workout and I am excited when I leave.  Having a competition to work towards motivates me to do my best each and every time.

So, how do I come up for intentions for both?  On the surface, they seem like two very different animals, yet ultimately they are one in the same.  When I first came to CrossFit, my intentions were similar to those I had when I started yoga: learn what I was doing, pay attention, and (gasp again) lose weight.  (Did I learn nothing from years of yoga practice?!)  But now, just as was with yoga, at CrossFit I am striving to be a better person, push myself, give it my all, and see what I am made of.  Like yoga, CrossFit is ultimately a practice to strengthen your mind.   

After coming to that realization, last night I had the most fulfilling yoga class that I’ve had in at least a month.  When it came time to set an intention, I challenged myself to be present, be in tune, and to try my best.  And really, what more can we ask of ourselves?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Back. So fresh and so ready!

So, I’ve had this blog for a long time and for the past year it has been left dormant.  It’s not because I don’t love it, or I ran out of things to say, but rather, life happened.  In the past year and a half, I got engaged, switched jobs, planned a wedding, my parents separated, I married my love, and I started teaching and training at an amazing CrossFit affiliate in addition to staying loyal to my other yoga center, Empowered Yoga.  So I mean…I had things to do.

By starting so many different things and new stages in my life, I am learning heaps and it’s tremendously exciting.  Even more exciting, is the amount of questions I have.   So, my dream is to use this blog again as an opportunity to explore all this with you all again. 

I hope I am not alone here, but I thrive on curiosity.  I need stimulation and speculation, doubt and fear.  And nothing tests that like walking into a situation as a brand-spanking-new beginner.  Trying something new forces me to test my mental and physical strength, and nothing is more eye-opening and humbling.  It’s uncomfortable to walk into a room full of people who (whether assumed or not) are not as brand new as me.   I go through the stages of thinking, will I be decent at this, will this be uncomfortable, will people be nice to me, and of course, why the heck did I want to do this again?!  My first time walking into the CrossFit gym, I did so knowing that I had committed to teaching—so I had to do it.  (Don’t get me wrong, I really wanted to be awesome at all those crazy lifts and upside-down things, and I wanted to look really good.) But when I walked into a room with a ton of buff, good-looking guys grunting and lifting heavy things and ladies cranking out pull-up after pull-up, there was that moment of ‘OOPS,’ and mapping out the quickest exit route.  That moment when you say to yourself, ‘Nevermind, I am okay just the way I am.’

But we’re not. 

That’s why we wanted to try something new.  We can see our potential deep down and wanted to give that awesome self a chance to shine.  The only thing standing in our way is our mind.  We all know the first time at anything is a little terrifying, but we can allow that fear of the unknown to light a spark deep inside.  

Over the weekend, I took a friend from CrossFit to a workshop on asana and mediation.  She is one of the veteran CrossFitters; being there from the very beginning and feels very comfortable lifting heavy things.  I, on the other hand, am now a veteran yogini and still feel more comfortable on my mat.  We take each other out of our comfort zone and have been teaching each other a lot.  The added benefit of seeing someone going through something we went through for the first time is enlightening and humbling all at the same time.  But, I digress.  So in this workshop we revisited the principles of meditation and I was reminded of the way the mind works and how often it stands in our way.  Meditation is not about thinking of nothing, but rather just noticing your own habits of thought and working to create a calm and peaceful mind.

When you let your body remain still and you begin to notice the mind, it doesn’t take long to realize the mind is a noisy, noisy place.  While practicing meditation in the workshop, I envisioned my mind as a sky, with my thoughts being these swirling clouds of noise.  It’s here in the clouds that I have my thoughts of mediocrity, doubt, asking what’s for dinner, am I going to like this and of course, when is this over (just to name a few.)  I notice that my thoughts circle back, even when I notice them and try to “put them out.” 

It took time, but by the last sitting in meditation, I found my breath.  For a brief moment, it was calm.  I could hear the breath in my lungs and it felt like energy.  I was calm and relaxed and the best part, I felt open.  But then I thought, ‘this is awesome!’ and it was all downhill from there.  The thoughts were back, but this time they were positive.

Where am I going with this?  I’m almost there—patience, santosha.

January is a great time for people to decide to change their life’s path, exchange old habits for new, and to set goals to be better people in the New Year.  It’s usually a combination of our minds and bodies telling us what we want and deserve to be, and we set forth with our New Year’s Resolutions.  We set A LOT of goals and we intend on keeping them.  But come February, the mind begins to grow tired with all our big plans and high hopes—learning something new is hard!  The mind begins to quit before the body ever does.  In between workouts we give our body rest, but we never really thing about our brain. 

Therefore, I propose that in order to reach our new goals (physical or not—give your mind a break—and meditate.  We need our mind to push us, to give us motivation, and to drive us.  But if overworked, its influence begins to backfire.  So maybe try something new and different—try sitting and breathing.