Why I Almost Quit Yoga

In 2008 I boarded a plane for Mysore, India where I had planned a month long stay to study Ashtanga yoga under Pattabhi Jois and his son Sharath. I had been practicing Ashtanga for a little over a year and had quickly fallen in love with a meditative self practice that required memorization of each sequence of poses.

My teaching schedule allowed me the freedom to attend daily Ashtanga practices as early as 5am. As a novice teacher I felt that I had learned everything I could from Vinyasa flow or Power Yoga classes and wanted improve my practice by mastering more advanced poses. likes the ones where you see people bent in pretzel like shapes.

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I was anxious to conquer every pose possible so I could be the ‘perfect’ teacher. If you know anything about Yoga then you know that Asana, or the physical poses, are only a very small part of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The breath and meditation are just as vital and more importantly the entire purpose of the physical practice is to prepare the body to comfortably sit in meditation.

As I boarded the 22 hour flight from Los Angeles to Bangalore, India my only thoughts were about how great my backbends were going to look once I returned home. Not to mention that my entire concept of India was like something out of a Beatles song so you can imagine my shock when I landed.

I was alone. I was exhausted. And I was thousands of miles away from home.

After traveling for nearly 24 hours by airplane and car I arrived at the bed and breakfast I had booked and collapsed on the bed passing out for almost half a day. The next day I signed up for my time slot at the school and took the rest of the day to explore Mysore on foot.

It’s a fairly small town compared to giant cities such as New Delhi and is situated a few hours away from the beaches of Goa. The town had profited considerably thanks to the Ashtanga school which had drawn students from all over the world.

Here, I thought, is where I’ll finally perfect my back bend and maybe, just maybe, move on to second series Ashtanga.

As if first series isn’t hard enough.

I was already suffering from chronic pain and tightness in my left shoulder and hip but I just brushed that aside and powered through. For the next four weeks I would take advantage of the hundred degree weather in India to become the most flexible, bendy girl I could be.

Nevermind the persistent pain and tightness that seemed to follow me everywhere. I was here to improve. And improve I did. My backdrops became effortless, my nose touched my knee with ease and I even got blessed with the green light to advance to second series.

At the end of the month I flew back to Los Angeles feeling like I could finally call myself a ‘real’ Yoga teacher. My euphoria at having ‘mastered’ first series, however, was shortlived. My body was having a crisis and one day while in the middle of a seated twist where I could typically clasp my hands and bind with ease, I froze. Actually my entire left side, which is my weaker side, froze.

It refused to budge and I panicked. I tried repositioning my feet, sitting up taller than ever but I couldn’t even get my fingertips to touch.

Even after months of searching every avenue of healers, heating pads, massage therapists, and physical therapists I still couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I had taken a step down from Ashtanga and was still taking Vinyasa flow classes but it only seemed to exacerbate the chronic pain I felt.

At some point I confided in one of my teachers as to why I had stopped going to Ashtanga and the answer he gave me was surprisingly simple. I was too flexible but lacked the strength needed to balance out my flexibility.

I didn’t believe it at first. Of course I was strong…didn’t he see how easily I could lift up into forearm balances and handstands? Yes, my arms and shoulders were strong but my core was weak. It took one class with a Pilates reformer for me to realize just how weak.

I ended up taking a break from my practice altogether to allow myself to heal. As a yoga teacher this was devastating. If I couldn’t practice then how was I supposed to teach?

A few months turned into a couple years before I finally returned to my mat. My ego had been  bruised because I could no longer drop into my beloved drop backs with swan like ease. It took months of struggling with insecurities that I wasn’t good enough to set an example for my students if I didn’t have a stellar asana practice.

What a hypocrite huh? The entire time I had been instructing my students to listen to their bodies but I ignored mine for years while it pleaded with me for rest. Asana practice requires a lot of repetition especially with chaturangas and down dogs. Ashtanga makes even more physical demands. Had I listened to my body and balanced my practice with restorative yoga and rest, I would have avoided a lot of pain and suffering.

It was a harsh lesson as I missed my morning ritual of Ashtanga, but now I know how important it is to nurture myself if I want to cultivate a lifetime practice of Yoga. These days I enjoy a beginner level class as much as I enjoy a level ten class (kidding). But you get my point.

As long as I get to spend some time on my mat every day I am happy. And I am even more grateful that the time spent practicing these days is pain free. Word.

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BIRD SEED ON MY MIND

I used to hate dinner time. Frustration would build up as I looked through my kitchen cabinets with anxiety over what to prepare.

You see, as a Yoga practitioner and a teacher my options were pretty limited, or so I thought. Quinoa with greens? or tofu and greens? or greens and greens? Was mustard okay? Would coconut oil add more flavor? Digging through my fridge to find something with flavor became a nightly chore.

I rationalized, I pondered and then I told myself as long as it came from Whole Foods then it must be okay, right?

I had completed my Yoga teacher training and saw most of teachers and fellow students munching on mostly greens followed by a splash of Kombucha so I knew the drill. In an effort to become more like them I nixed meat from my diet, ditched dairy, and said good bye to my beloved desserts (I LOVE chocolate). Next I went and stocked up on greens, chia seeds and nut butters.

I even acquired a taste for the very fermented Kombucha drinks, which I actually still like today.

A few months into my new diet I noticed my skin looking paler, hair a little dull and my sleep cycles were off. I used to doze off minutes after my head hit the pillow like the sound sleeper I have been my entire life, but now I would toss and turn waking  at night staring at the ceiling.

Its no biggie I told myself as I noshed on some Ezekiel toast with cashew butter the next morning, longing for my days of a yogurt smoothie or caramel macchiato.

Sigh.

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What’s a girl to do? Drink more green juices? Yes – that must be it. I probably wasn’t getting enough greens. Nevermind that my stomach always seemed a little bloated afterwards. It was good for me. At least that’s what all the articles said and everyone around me drank them constantly so back to Whole Foods I went to stock up on more green juices.

More is better. Right?

Fast forward another month. I was at an Italian restaurant with my boyfriend at the time and I had a bite of his steak. He did the little incoming airplane move and I’m pretty sure I stopped him midair with a giant chomp. I even took a few more bites until guilt made me stop. I was actually afraid someone might see me. So I made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t eat any more meat that night but I would indulge in a little dessert.

My sweet tooth has never been sweeter. I inhaled tiramisu and even allowed myself some gelato. This must be what heaven is like I thought as I sipped an after dinner espresso in taste bud bliss.

So I fell off the wagon once. It happens.

I rationalized all the guilt away with promises to myself of more green juices and seeds to come. The only problem was my body refused to comply with me. My willpower was nowhere to be found and my taste buds had developed hulk like strength.

I was having such a hard time trying to figure out what to do that I found myself absentmindedly going through the McDonald’s drive thru for a hot fudge sundae. How did I get here? It’s like my body had been hijacked, but it demanded dairy and there was no way around it. So more guilt piled on along with more promises of a better tomorrow.

If you have ever been on a diet then you know how exhausting it is to have to think about food, portions, labels, organic, cage free, grass fed, gluten free, free free free.

I was sick and tired of thinking about it. I wanted sushi, pizza, and ice cream damnit.

So I gave in.

My jars of nut butters, chia seeds, and wild grains sat in my pantry collecting dust for weeks while I indulged in exactly what I wanted.

Chocolate – Check

Jif Peanut Butter and Jelly – Check

Oreos – Check

Twizzlers – Yes please!

I can’t pinpoint exactly when but I woke up one morning realizing I had slept through the entire night and felt rested. My energy was up and my muscles felt a  less achy than usual.

More importantly, I wasn’t thinking about food. In fact my entire eating schedule had changed without me even orchestrating it. I was barely hungry in the morning, usually satisfied with coffee until about 11am, after my daily practice, when I would have some yogurt and honey.

If I felt really hungry by 2 or 3pm then I would have lunch and dinner might be a hot soup and some toasted garlic bread. I was satisfied and my cravings were gone along with my bloated tummy.  I discovered that what I really liked were cooked vegetables, not raw.

Yoga is supposed to be about listening to your body. It took me months of a lot of humble listening to restore harmony in my system. I am in no way mocking a healthy diet and I absolutely understand the importance of food labels especially when it comes to food allergies. I’m allergic to almonds so I still have to pay attention to ingredients especially in certain baked goods.

Balance is a tricky thing. The best advice I have gotten when I find myself out of balance is to slow down and pay attention. Your body has infinite wisdom so if you slow down and pay attention it will let you know exactly what it needs. It may not come packaged in what current trends are advertising but you will be a lot happier and healthier by following your truth and acknowledging your  body’s needs.

Love your body and it will love you back. Namaste.

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Autopilot for Dummies

Where do you live in your body?

It was during a yoga class several years ago that my teacher asked this question. When you are in the middle of Downward Facing Dog with sweat running down your face and sliding all over your mat, the answer seems like a no-brainer.

My arms. Duh.

Except once I relaxed in Child’s pose several breaths later with my arms by my sides I realized that’s not true. It was only true for that moment but now my arms felt fine, my back felt great and my legs were relaxed.

My head, however, was hot. All I could think about was the next pose we were going to do and how I couldn’t wait to go upside down. I love to invert and handstands and headstands are by far my favorite. The entire class sequence was leading up to these poses and I couldn’t wait to execute them.

So back to the teacher’s question. Where do I live in my body? It hit me in that moment that instead of feeling every movement and allowing myself to be fully present in each pose, I had been anticipating the next pose in my head.

Handstand is not the goal of Yoga.

My head and thoughts were projecting so far ahead into the future that I forgot to simply breathe, to just BE.

So long story short – I live in my head. Lots of us do. If you take about 20 seconds or so and take a full deep belly breath you’ll see what I mean. You might notice that your fully deep belly breath doesn’t extend into every single inch of your body. Most of us only breathe into the upper half of our lungs throughout the day while we are commuting to work or sitting at our desks.

Many of us can live with chronic pain for months on end tucking it away into that corner of our minds along with all the unread mail and to-do lists that never seem to get done. We’ll deal with it some other time, right? Some of us can do this for years until your body gives you a serious wake up call.

This brings me back to handstand. Why do I love it so much? Because I can’t think. It’s the one pose where it is almost impossible to think because if you do you will probably fall on your head. Every inch of my body is hyper focused on staying aligned and stacked in handstand so that I am balanced.

I am forced to get out of my head and it’s such a relief. Looking back it makes sense that I am naturally attracted to a pose that helps me get out of my head and into my body.

I circle back to this question each time I am faced with a challenge, whether it’s mental or physical. Where am I holding? Where is there tension? Where am I blocked?

Your body will tell you.  Your body has so much wisdom and is always working towards healing itself. Give your body the credit it deserves by sitting with yourself and exploring where you live in your body.

You might find a tethered knot in your shoulder, a kink in your neck or a knot in your belly. Sit with it. Acknowledge it. And then give it permission to let go. It may not happen spontaneously but by giving it a little oxygen and TLC you are mindfully working towards letting go.

Letting go can be painful but your body will thank you for it.

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Fountain or Drain?

Sometimes it feels like there is no space in my life for me. My goals, my dreams – everything has to sit on the backburner because I am busy cleaning up someone else’s mess.

Always.

Whether it’s the dogs or my boyfriend, I might as well be a 24 hour maid. Occasionally I find extra pill crushers too, or a rolled up dollar bill. So why is everything such a struggle? I ask myself this question more and more often. Don’t we want the same things? Because if we do, then shouldn’t this relationship be easier?

Life is messy when you are on drugs. Things get lost, things are easily forgotten, and procrastination becomes a daily habit. He takes the pills to numb himself even though he says he doesn’t need them. He just wants to ‘have fun’.

So where do we meet? And how do we connect? What binds us? I ask myself these questions every day. Is it love? We are in love, yes. But is love enough to sustain this relationship forever? Who gets worn down first? Because surely I am picking up more than half the slack.

It takes more than love to sustain a relationship. It takes patience, understanding, making adjustments and compassion. Sometimes tough love is necessary but without meanness. It has to come from a good place.

But if he is in love than he must be happy so why the drugs? What is making his life so unbearable? At times the confusion is so overwhelming and I know he feels it too but his way of dealing with it is simply to NOT.

This has forced me to reexamine my life and my relationship with God or my Higher Power. I used to have more time to nurture myself and my relationship with something greater than myself but that voice has been silent for a long time. It has been a tough lesson in evaluating where I am and where I want to be.

Carving out even ten minutes a day to sit in silence has become crucial at this point. I need the stillness to reflect and reassess. I can’t be a fountain forever can I? And he can’t be a drug addict forever can he? Doesn’t it get old? Doesn’t he want a live a life free of depending on something that is slowly destroying his body?

There has been some progress but when you are the only sober person in someone’s life who has addiction issues you are biting off more than you can chew.  I realize I may not get all my answers right way, but asking the questions are a release just as taking the time to nourish my mind and body is important.

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