Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why I hate Yoga, but not as much as I hate CrossFit

Yoga is many things to many people.  And I am not one to tell you want it should be.  I am not going to tell you it's simple stretching, but I'm not going to tell you it's a spiritual experience.  Yoga to me, may not be yoga to you, and that's okay.  In fact, it's hard for me to define what yoga is for myself when I get onto my mat it feels like it is for something new every day.  What I need from yoga today, may not be what I want or need tomorrow.When I teach, I recognize that my students are all different, and do not have the same reasons for coming to me.

More than our own individual experiences with yoga, which inherently makes it different, the yoga community (Western world specifically) has created so many types of yoga.  You have power yoga, acro yoga, aerial yoga, hot yoga, kundalini yoga, ashtunga yoga, yin yoga, Christian yoga (what?!) etc.  Not to mention this overwhelming obsession with handstands that is taking over social media, creating what I'm now referring to Instagram yoga.  There are so many options, so many variations, so many claim-to-fame yoga styles.  It's almost dizzying!   How do you know how and where to begin?  Why even begin at all?

I come across plenty of people who hear the word yoga and immediately cringe.  There have been many times when people tell me directly how much they hate yoga (knowing that I am a teacher, and therefore, at the very least, like yoga.)  When we get to talking, I find out that either a.) they never tried a yoga class and therefore have no real idea if they like it, b.) took one class and got frustrated at how tight and inflexible they were, or c.) are a go-get-after-it type and think yoga is not a "hard enough workout" for their lifestyle.  All three of these reasons to hate yoga come with their own baggage, but I think the overwhelming drive is fear.

Fear that it may make them uncomfortable, fear that it'll be hard, fear that yoga may be humbling and they aren't ready for it.

Ironically, CrossFit has recently suffered a similar fate.  Like wild fire, CrossFit boxes are popping up everywhere.  Each one claims to be the best, to have something others do not.  Mention CrossFit in a group of people and you're bound to have at least one person scrunch their nose at you in disgust.  (Ugh, don't get me started on CrossFit, I had someone say to me at a wedding knowing I am a partner of a CrossFit box. But, not unlike yoga, the reasons for hating CrossFit come with a lot of baggage, most rooted in fear or ignorance.  They hate CrossFit, but they've never taken a class.  Or it's way too intense, they could never.  Or CrossFit is too competitive.  They hate CrossFit because "it's cult"or "it's stupid."  Perhaps they have that one friend who started CrossFitting, found a new sense of confidence, a new appreciation for their health, and is telling the world about it.  And god, isn't that annoying?

Like yoga, CrossFit is not the same everywhere with everyone.  Each box has it's own flavor, it's own style. I remember taking my first yoga class in a studio, while attending college.  The teacher was so strange and I hated it.  But, if I never tried yoga again, I wouldn't be here now.  Knowing that it was one teacher, one class, allowed me to give it another shot.  And the next class I took blew me away with awesomeness.  My first experience with CrossFit was Murph, at the CrossFit Reebok One box.  It was a small class of 4 people: my husband, my good friend (and Reebok employee), a random man, and me.  I was uncomfortable, nervous, awkward, and tremendously sore the next 3 days.  BUT, I gave it another shot and loved it.

As I mentioned in my last post, over the years I have found the style of yoga that speaks to me and what I need.  Due to the amount of CrossFit I do now, coupled with years of athletics in my past, I generally approach my practice as a way to heal, rebalance, strengthen, and stretch (both mind and body.)  There are days when the practice mostly gives me mental clarity, emotional calm, and serenity.  Other days, my body hurts so much, that it's all I can do to continue to breathe during suddenly-painful poses.  I started CrossFit because I wanted to find some fight in me, some strength.  I wanted to challenge myself.  Together, I find they are the perfect balance for me.

Now, I am not saying that everyone should love yoga and CrossFit as much as I do.  I believe that everyone has different motivators in life, different goals and priorities.  But at it's core, I believe yoga and CrossFit are for everyone and anyone.  Yoga is essentially the act of harmonizing mind, body, and spirit through physical postures and breath.  The word yoga is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning "to join."  So, at any moment, when you are trying to make yourself feel more whole, that is yoga.  CrossFit is functional fitness.  It is our basic, primal ability to move through our environment as a human being, capable of all things we were naturally made to do.  I think yoga and CrossFit are trying to achieve the same thing.  Disconnect from our man-made systems and connect to ourselves.

Like I said, yoga is many things to many people.  CrossFit is many things, to many people.  Some people move as a way to deal with stress.  Others move because their health depends on it.  Some move to connect to other people, find friends, be part of something.  There are those that move because they want to challenge themselves.

Then there are the ones who move simply because they love it.

I wish we could strip down the labels and call it what it is: mindful movement.  Because if we did that, I know more people would try it.  All I  can hope is that you find your yoga, your fitness, and you rock it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Case of the Yoga Selfie

So, I am launching my first Instagram Challenge, starting on the first day of August and I am a mix of excited, nervous, and apprehensive.  There are many reasons I decided to do this, which I will get into soon, but before I do I have to address the selfie.  First of all, I loathe the word selfie.  I think it embodies all the stupid, narcissistic, spoiled, self-centered characteristics of a first world nation concerned only about ourselves.  Namely, our image, thus the #selfie.
Then while coaching CrossFit, the song that puts it all out there, the #selfie song came on and a few of our members started groaning in agony.  (I know, I know, it's a terrible song, but it also happens to be catchy, so I kept it on.)  While it droned on in the background, we talked about how pathetic the song is, how I feel like my brain cells commit suicide while it plays, how the whole song is representative of a much bigger, more horrible trend in humanity, how we're all doomed.  Oh, the horror.

But then, a member said, "Yea, but Rachael you're like the queen of selfies."


I was mortified.  I never considered myself a repeat selfie offender.  Primarily because I am hardly ever at clubs, I never remember to take pictures at parties (or maybe I forget to attend parties?) I don't take duck face pictures with my girlfriends, and I never take pictures in public bathrooms.  But then it hit me, he was talking about my yoga selfies.

Over the past couple of months as I made a shift in my life, my career, I started documenting my yoga practice.  In truth, I had originally been inspired by some of the amazingly beautiful photos I found on instagram of some wonderfully bendy, flexy, strong yogis.  (This trend sparked a great article denouncing the yoga selfie, a must read. )  Either way, it was fantastic to see these yogis doing inspiring things with their body, but it wast truly representative of my own practice.  My yoga practice has never been showy and still isn't.  I've worked hard to be flexible, to try the more challenging poses, but I pretty much do the same yoga poses when someone is watching, as I do when I am all alone.  This means lots of sun salutations, strong warrior series, lots of hip openers, some yin, some yang, etc.  So, knowing that my photos were never going to look "as cool" as some of these talented folks, it didn't occur to me to put my yoga photos or videos on there to share.

What really started my #yoga #selfie journey was my cat, Weezy (aka #weezus) Every time I whipped out my yoga mat, Weezy would come into the room and stay by my side the entire practice.  It was so adorable, I could barely stand it.  I started to send pictures to my husband, then to my friends.  Then I decided to just share it on Instagram, because everyone found them so entertaining.  The fact that I was doing yoga in there seemed like an afterthought.
Getting all zen-like with my maine man. (get it, he's a maine coon.)

As I shared in my last post, it's been an interesting journey lately, one that took me away from my mat for some time.  Now that I am starting over, when I see the photos I took in the beginning with Weezy, I see how hesitant and vulnerable I really was.  As the days, weeks, and months have passed, I am beginning to see some changes in the way I approach my practice and it shows in the photos.  I'm trying new things, I'm having more fun with it, etc.  However, more than just that, I am happy to hear from people who have been inspired by my photo story in some way.  I love knowing that someone saw my photo and chuckled, smiled, maybe rolled out their mat, or went to a yoga class.  While I am not perfect, I too am working towards being less critical and more accepting of each practice, each photo.  Being content with getting on my mat each day and not being worried about how I look is a daily reminder, because that's the essence of yoga anyway.

#fatcat #longhairdontcare

Even though I had no direction when I started taking them, I now see my #yoga #selfies as a photo journal. I want it to be a testament to my dedication, my journey, and my commitment to living my life open, free, and full of love. Do I need to take pictures to prove this?  No.  But I love photos, and always have.  And this is nothing new, not for me and not for human kind throughout time.  The Egyptians made #selfie coffins to sleep in for all eternity.  In the early centuries, people sat and posed for hours for a single #selfie.  Then, when Kodak created film, people didn't take pictures of beautiful mountains and lakes, they took pictures of themselves.  #RevolutionaryWarSelfie.  When we invented the handheld video camera, we used it to document our own lives, our families, our memories.  Call it a memorial, call it a portrait, call it a selfie.  Whatever it is, we've always wanted to document and record our lives.

Just like in yoga, when it comes to selfies, the most important thing is our intention.  If our intention is kind, both to ourselves and others, then I see no harm in the selfie.  If it's used to inspire, to share, to connect, then go for it.  If we find its about approval, about comparison, about showing off, then we know we're on the wrong track.  When the Instagram yoga challenge launches, I want people to recognize their own intention. Perhaps you want to challenge yourself to try something new, maybe you want to hold yourself accountable to practice everyday.  Maybe you want something fun to look forward to each day.  Perhaps you want to share your lifestyle with friends and family. Perhaps it's just for you.

In the end, its about putting love out there and not worrying about what comes back.  More smiles, the better.  So, selfie on.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why I Did What I Did

While I don't believe I should have to explain my decisions to anyone, I have realized that we exist in a world now of over-sharing, so one's desire to keep matters private comes off as being prideful, spiteful, or worse--personal.  As if the reason I choose to make life decisions for me is, in any way, for someone else.  I keep a very small intimate group of best friends with whom I share my personal struggles and triumphs--but to all others, I prefer to keep things light and fun.  I don't deliberately choose not to spill my beans to everyone, I have just simply always been this way.

With that said, it has been just over a year since I switched careers originally, and only a few months since the latest change.  Every time, I have made changes that affect a lot of people.  With this last move more people noticed, and it has caused some rippling.  That start of the story is when I went from working in an office from 8am to 4pm, doing something I was not passionate about, to working full-time in fitness and wellness.  While my official journey into health/wellness began in 2010, when I received my teaching certification and began teaching yoga, I believe I have been a health/fitness coach my whole life.  In the end, it took a deeply hurtful event to push me out of my comfortable office job. 

For those of you who know, you know, for those who don't, I won't explain here.  But know that I had to mourn something I had lost, and as we all know, the grieving process is long and complicated and different for everyone.  The event start during our engagement and I melted into yoga to help me move through the sticky situation with ease.  I was deeply hurt, but also deeply in love.  I wanted to make sure I felt everything, savored every moment of our engagement and was truly present at our wedding. I wanted to get through it without breaking.  And I did.  

After the wedding, I didn't want to just be a survivor, I wanted a new beginning.  I didn't want to think or feel anything I felt before. I wanted to be a fighter.  I found CrossFit and a fighter I became.  I fought through workouts, I fought through fear, I fought through emotion.  Before long, my yoga practice was no longer a priority.  Looking back at it now, I know this was all part of my mourning.  CrossFit was the perfect next step.  Something to get me on my feet and punch back.  I had to be strong for the person I loved first, and I was.  I became her strongest support, and gave up a lot of myself in our relationship to be there for her.  I started to feel empowered again.  CrossFit that gave me the courage to leave my office job and it was the people at CrossFit who offered me my next step.

When I started yoga, I worked hard to lose my competitive self.  I was constantly comparing, judging, and fighting myself.  Yoga helped me let that go.  So, it comes to no surprise that CrossFit, in it's natural form, brought a lot of that back.  I didn't mind at first, I felt really strong and super badass.  In fact, I believe I needed some of that fire back in my life, because the event left me feeling vulnerable and soft.  But, because I had the tendency to be self-conscious, self-hating, it wasn't long before instead of feeling proud of my strength and the things I could do, I was beating myself up for not being even better. 

My body is no idiot though, it kept injuring itself to force me to take a step back.  I tried to listen, but I was seduced by the particular culture of the particular CrossFit gym I was a part of.  It's no one's fault.  Our gym was/is a very strong gym. The people are amazing and do amazing things with their bodies.  As one of the better females, I felt pressure to always perform--or if I wasn't--justify why I was resting, or feel bad about doing lighter weight.  I take full responsibility for going back before I should, for pushing too hard, as I know now that I should have known better.  But my co-workers were friends, our members were inspiration, and ultimately my own ego was pushing me.  

At the same time, my job at the gym became very demanding. It was less a 9-to-5, as it was a full-time 24/7 position.  I had to live, breathe, sleep it.  At first, this was a relief--our box brought me so much strength, the strength to get past something so difficult.  But then I began to truly lose myself in it. I was competitive, harsh, and stubborn.  My personal yoga practice was almost nonexistent, my time for my husband had to be second to my desire to work hard at my job.  My own personal interests disappeared.  Instead of being a fighter, I had became a machine.  I know now that my blind drive to keep pushing was all part of my grieving and I know this step was necessary in me being where I am today.  

I guess, as really great things are often born out of tragedy, another heartbreaking event had to take place for me to see I had to make yet another change.  This time it was a deep hurt suffered by my husband.  I saw that while he suffered and needed my support, I was truly detached.  I could not find the emotion to help him or comfort him.  Even at the funeral, I felt nothing, despite me having love and gratitude for the deceased.  

So I had to take a hard look at where I was going, who I was, and I didn't like it.  I wanted some of my vulnerability back, I needed to feel open, I needed to feel free.  It's challenging in our society to say to yourself, 'I have to do something for me' without feeling like you have to justify it to others.  And, we as a social society tend to take other's actions and personalized them.  People are always going to ask you why, are you sure, what will you do, what did I do to you, etc.  Even myself, I had to think, 'is leaving my job smart in this economy?' 'what on earth will I do?'  But the risk of losing all that I loved by staying was too great.

Without a true plan, without a job, I left.  Even my dear friend helped lie for me, saying I was leaving for something, because leaving for nothing didn't make sense.  Free, I felt a surge of inspiration and I began reaching out to all those that were doing something awesome with their lives.  Little time passed before I was involved in a lot of wonderful projects.  I volunteered, I taught yoga, I read, I wrote, I practiced.  I started to pave the way to my own destiny and I had NO IDEA where it would go.  I even began the tough road back to my yoga mat.  It was hard, my body and mind felt rigid. But I had to begin again.  

Then, something amazing happened.  A friend who had been scorned by the same gym I had just left reached out to me with an opportunity.  Scared to jump into something too quickly, I decided to take some of his CrossFit classes to see if his community was right for me.  My husband and I went together, and we both left feeling freshly inspired.  This was a place where I felt I could design my own road, I had the freedom to go at the pace that I wanted, and all were welcome.  He even wanted to start and develop a strong yoga program.  We proposed a partnership, and bada-bing-bada-boom, I had something.  

I believe I had to truly jump-off, with no safety net, to land where I am today.  I am finding the balance between feeling strong and in control, with being flexible and open.  I did this for me, for my life, and even though I don't have to justify it to anyone, I can and I will.