The Yogi not in the Room

So I’ve written a lot about diet and shared some of my tips and tricks. I’ve been exploring exercise more and more in my own life and I think I have a few insights to share. Exercising should not be the most difficult thing in your life. That’s hard for me to say because I am a competitive person. When I don’t win the contest, I take it personally. I’ve been known as a sore loser. So even trying to exercise when I was 280 pounds was a daunting mental task. To be successful, I had to shift my thinking; instead of competing against others, I needed to compete against myself.

This works especially well with running because it is an easily measurable activity. You can track distance, time, heart rate, and probably 100 other metrics to see how you’ve improved. And you can also see when you’re falling short, which happens sometimes for all kinds of reasons. Not every run will be a great one. But the key for me is that I enjoy most of my runs. They are not the most difficult part of my day; I don’t dread them. And now that I can’t run, I miss them. I think it’s important for everyone to find activity that makes them feel the same way.

That said, running is not the only form of exercise I do. I also lift weights (sometimes) and do yoga once a week through my local recreation department. I’ve done hatha, kundalini, and now twilight yoga. I added yoga in as part of my strength training routine to support my running but I’ve come to love it almost as much as I love running. I’m not especially skilled at it. I can’t keep my feet flat on the floor doing downward dog; I can just barely touch my toes. I’m not exceptionally flexible, though stretching has improved my flexibility a lot. In short, I’m not what you’d call a yogi.

But yoga is fun! I go with a friend, we laugh at ourselves and talk about how hard the poses are. When I get home, I tell my family all about the new forward fold or high plank I did and how I don’t think I’ll be able to walk the next day (in jest, of course). And the right yoga teacher makes all the moves accessible no matter your skill level. The teacher will typically show off a few modified versions of a pose and you’re free to do whatever feels best to you. I’ve worked with three different yoga teachers thus far and I’ve found something to love about all of their classes.

The thing about yoga that I find more difficult to accept is its non-competitive nature. Yoga is, essentially, unifying the breath, the mind, and the body. Doing this really requires locking out competition between yourself and your neighbors. I find faster-paced classes help me with this, but that I still steal glances around the room to see how I’m stacking up. I am also critical of my performance compared to earlier classes.

These expressions of pride are unavoidable, at least for me, in nearly everything I do, so I’ve accepted them. I allow myself space to be critical, but I don’t allow my criticism to stop me from doing what I love. I try to think of at least one positive thing to say about my performance each run, each yoga class, every lifting session. And I forgive myself when I fall short. I also use the analytical portion of my brain to see if I can figure out why I may have missed the mark. Sometimes it’s just because I slept poorly. It’s easy to forgive that!

In the end, I don’t enjoy life if I’m huffing and puffing and hating myself. So I don’t. It’s not easy to get there, but it isn’t impossible. More next week!

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