I sometimes refer to myself as a recovering exercise perfectionist or compulsive exerciser. For years I had a rigorous routine and made sure to crack the whip on myself often regarding my performance. Perfectionism is something I have struggled with for most of my life and I realized that I was driven so hard to exercise for the need to fill that perfectionism, clearly an unhealthy act, despite its façade of health.
After giving birth to my daughter Alba, I experienced debilitating back pain in my sacroiliac joint. Although frustrating me for months, because I was unable to do the exercises I was accustomed to – weight lifting, kettle bells, plyometrics, this back pain ended up being my greatest teacher…and not always the one I like the best but who’s lessons have moved me closer to my greater truth.
I fought against the pain, trying to “push past it”, not allowing it to defeat me, etc. For a while I tried resuming the exercises I had always done, but soon it was clear that I was really hurting myself and more than just physically. I had to re-think the way I looked at exercise and find ways to move my body that didn’t result in more pain. So I turned to walking and yoga. I did walking, yoga and barre during the second and third trimester of my pregnancy, so I felt like they would be good exercises for me as I worked to “fix” my back. I still didn’t respect them as “real” forms of exercise though, but they seemed “good enough” for recovery.
I actually love walking outdoors and we do a lot of it (usually miles a day) in the spring, summer and fall. But winter in Vermont lasts about 5 months and makes walking nearly impossible. I have always been an avid snowshoer, and yet this winter had us seeing temperatures near -20 for 6 weeks straight. So it kept us inside a lot. I turned even more to yoga, movement that is easy to do at home with little equipment.
My history with yoga goes back in the early 2000’s. I have always loved meditation and so I came to yoga initially to deepen that practice. So although I had been familiar with yoga, it was never a daily practice, but has now become one over the last 6 months or so. Why the change? I have found comfort and grace in yoga, because I have been able to move my body everyday without hurting myself while at the same time relieving much of my back pain. Once I started to open to the idea of yoga as a bonafide form of movement to strengthen the body, I found that it did just that.
Needless to say, I am still learning and have a lot to learn when it comes to yoga, but I feel like it has made a fundamental change for me mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. It has also increased my over all self esteem much more than the “hardcore” exercises that I used to do, where I realize now that I was trying to prove something to myself and always pushing myself so hard.
Since yoga has changed the way I see things so dramatically and unexpectedly, I wanted to share with you, my readers, the 5 ways it has helped me the most.
Some people who are exercise addicts assume yoga is unchallenging and therefore inferior to other forms of more hard-core practices. I used to think that too. But I have learned that yoga is challenging, not just for the body when you really tune in, but also for the mind. I am thankful that it changed me and so much for the better. Here’s how:
5 Life Changing Things Yoga Has Taught Me:
1. To Honor My Body
Through yoga, I have come to appreciate how amazing my body is, something that has never been easy for me. I look forward to challenging myself and watching my body become more graceful as I practice some of the tougher poses. I take things slow and really take pleasure in my growth and changes while at the same time not hurting myself. Instead of allowing pain and discomfort to be the markers telling me I am pushing hard enough or doing enough, I now allow balance and the renewed strength in my body to be the markers.
2. To Be Present in the Moment
Practicing a form of movement that encourages me to slow down and really concentrate on each and every muscle in my body and what it is doing allows me to be in the moment. When I first started doing yoga, I had all kinds of thoughts and tapes going in my head: “I don’t have time for this”, “I should be spending my time doing something more challenging”, “what do I have to do today?” – these thoughts were taking me out of the moment and that connection with my body, mind and spirit. After consistent, daily practice I have come to realize my head is much more quiet and I enjoy the feeling of how each muscle engages and the ripple effect of that simple movement throughout my body and the rest of the day.
3. Strength is Sometimes Quiet
I used to believe that strength was aligned with blood, sweat and tears, that pushing beyond and not letting your limitations stop you from what you want was a good and healthy way to live. I am a go-getter, someone who likes getting things done! I have also come to see that there is strength in quiet stillness, instead of pumping my body and pushing it to the brink, I am building strength by really moving into and holding poses and flowing through instead of pushing and jerking. By doing this on the mat, I see how I am also learning to apply these lessons to my daily life, thinking more before acting, breathing, allowing silence and listening to my intuition.
4. Find What Feels Good
My favorite Yogi is Adriene Mishler of Yoga with Adriene and no, I have no business association with her, just a love for her spirit. I found her when searching for yoga videos on YouTube. She has started a whole movement to “Find What Feels Good” in your yoga practice and life. Her videos (she is very funny and doesn’t take herself too seriously) have helped me to let go of that association with “no pain, no gain”. It was hard for me to believe that something that felt so good and relaxing was actually so good for my body. But it is true. If something doesn’t feel right and my back lets me know right away, now I back off and do something else that feels better…and I am OK with that. This has flowed into other parts of my life and I have been allowing myself to indulge more in the things I love, taking time to do the things that really do feel good and realizing that it is not only an important part of a balanced life, but necessary to living my truth.
5. That I Am Perfect In My Imperfections
This is a really hard one and one that is still a work in progress and likely will be for some time! One of my good friends, she and I shared a rough patch in life simultaneously and we have always had a running joke since then that we are “perfect”. All joking aside, by being more present in the moment and honoring my body and my authentic spirit more and more, I have come to realize…*gasp* that I am only human! In fact the more I grow spiritually, the more this realization comes to light. I am a human. I have faults, quirks and imperfections and I am likely to have faults, quirks and imperfections for the rest of my days. It is OK. Those faults, quirks and imperfections may change over time based on my journey, but I will always have something going on. This is part of the human condition, we make mistakes, we learn, we evolve. But in this moment, right NOW, I am perfectly who I need to be and where I need to be.
If you want to start honoring and loving yourself through yoga, this is one of my favorite videos from Yoga with Adriene.