The other day I was filling out an application to attend a work related training that specializes in helping people overcome job related stress and trauma. The application asked to list any specialized training that I had that could be useful for the position. I listed my yoga teaching and practice, including how long I’ve been doing both when it suddenly dawned on me that I’ve been practicing yoga for 18 years! 18 years! While it may not seem like that big of a deal to some, the fact that I’ve been dedicated to anything for that length of time truly amazes me. You see… I’m one of those types of people who has spent a lifetime searching for some greater purpose whether it be an educational degree, a rewarding career, a fulfilling workout regime, or a place of residence that I can truly feel at home in. I have wanted to be an actress, a forensic scientist, a helicopter pilot, and have lived in many different parts of the country and even world. Yoga has been with me through it all. While I may not have practiced the physical form of yoga every day for those 18 years, the philosophy and teachings have been with me every single day since I started practicing. That’s quite an accomplishment for someone like me that tends to float through life, bouncing off of one dream to the next, and often gets bored with routine.
All of this holds a particular relevancy to something that I’ve been experiencing lately on a personal level in regards to my workout routines. Like many women out there I have struggled most of my life with developing a positive body image of myself. I poke and prod, and judge, and cringe when I stare at my reflection in the mirror each day and compare myself to unrealistic ideas. I try to combat those feelings and thoughts of inadequacy by sometimes jumping aboard the latest fitness bandwagon, by pushing and forcing myself into routines and programs to reach self-imposed goals; goals that don’t really have a functional purpose in everyday life, but rather hold me to a self-inflicted standard of beauty all in the name of vanity. You see, I’m not working out to train for anything. I’m not an athlete or a competitive sports lover; in fact I’m quite the opposite. I pride my solitude, like strolls through nature, and would rather play for the enjoyment of it all rather than the competitive need to win. But most of all I’m just a woman that wants to feel good when I put on a pair of shorts. So I give in to all the media bullshit of “try this fad, and you’ll see these results”, or “take these supplements and eat these foods to shed fat”, and while these things may work for some which is great… surprise, surprise, I eventually get bored. And that’s where I am. I’m bored with my usual cardio and strength training routines, bored of going to the gym, I’m bored of boot camps, bored of home workout videos, bored of trying to shed the pounds with fad diets… but more importantly, I’m bored and tired of doing something that feels burdensome and doesn’t make me happy.
And so the other day as I attempted to re-boot my enthusiasm to get back on track with my fitness routine, I found myself struggling big time. Then out of nowhere I heard this little voice from deep inside ask, “Why the fuck are you doing this then?” And the only answer I could come up with was, in order to look good. Not feel good, but look good. And that’s when the insanity of being obsessed with how I look on the outside hit me. It doesn’t matter how good I look on the outside. If I haven’t cleared the shit thoughts about myself cemented deep within my brain, and cellular tissues; no amount of burpees, dead lifts, or fad diets is going to help either. Enter my yoga practice, which I sometimes neglect to focus on, doing other activities like running, or pushups, or burpees (I really hate burpees) and indoor cycling, while mind you… hating every minute of it. But here’s the thing… never have I once felt that way about yoga. (Okay maybe once or twice during a Bikram Yoga class when I secretly wanted to rip my instructor’s face off for barking “more, more, more” at me, but Bikram Yoga is a whole other beast). With that one exception, I’ve never hated going to my yoga mat. It’s like that funny meme that floats around the Internet, ‘”I regret going to yoga”, said no one ever.’ Lately I find myself gravitating towards my yoga mat like a Rebel Starfighter being pulled to the Death Star by a tractor beam. But for some barbaric reason, over the past several years, I have put losing weight, which I really don’t need to lose that much of, ahead of my yoga practice… and I’m tired of doing that. Which got me thinking about the New Year, and I what I want it to look like for myself.
One of the reasons yoga has become such a powerful force in my life, is because of the physiological and psychological changes that come with a regular practice. In class the other night, we discussed the power of our thoughts and belief systems that we have about ourselves and how yoga can help to change that. We have about 60,000 thoughts a day, 95% of them are the same that we loop over and over again, while 80% of them tend to be negative. We spend our waking hours in a conscious stream of thought in what is called Beta brain wave activity. The majority of our thoughts however, are unconscious, or thoughts that can only be accessed or changed during Theta Brain wave activity and are harder to change during Beta activity. These thoughts shape much of how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. It’s helpful to think of an iceberg to understand the magnitude of this. A very small piece of an iceberg representing our conscious or Beta thought patterns is seen above the surface of the ocean. But if we go deep underwater, we find a much larger portion of the iceberg representing our subconscious or Theta thoughts. This is where the power of yoga comes in. In yoga we spend much of our class linking our breath with certain movements, and enter into a Theta brain wave state. By accessing those thoughts in our yoga class, we have the ability to start changing the thought streams that persist in our consciousness that don’t serve us, and replace them with more nurturing, positive ones.
So for me, this New Year ushers in the awareness and resolve to start doing more of what I truly love to do, by spending more time at the base of the iceberg and not worrying so much about the surface appearances. From now on I’m working out to initiate real change, not just the superficial change located at the exterior or tip of the iceberg, but rather the stuff that lurks at the bottom and has me believe that I’m fat or unworthy. This year I resolve to do more of what I love to do, and let go of the shit that brings me down. (This means you burpees). I resolve to dedicate myself to be the best person I possibly can, and let go of norms and standards that are imposed on me by an image-obsessed, commercialized, profit hungry world. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said that, “a good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” Well, that’s going to be me from now on… a good traveler. A traveler who recognizes what makes me happy and what doesn’t… and if it doesn’t… giving myself the permission to let that shit go, and do more of that I love.
Namaste lovelies… and Happy New Year.