Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Yoga From the Inside Out

Because cultural messages about our bodies are so strong and the forces that work to destroy our self-image are so pervasive, having others in our life to mirror to us acceptance and encouragement is crucial.

Christina Sell, Yoga From the Inside Out

I've had an off again, on again relationship with yoga. I first tried it in 1974. I knew nothing about yoga, was just curious. I was new to Dayton and had not yet found a job or made friends and my then husband was completely self absorbed in his first year of law school. I was lonely and thought maybe I'd make some new friends. I found it, well, embarrassing. Way too much attention to the body for me. I felt exposed. I was thin so it was not about the size of my body. It was about not feeling comfortable with my body. As I knew no one in the class or for that matter anyone else doing yoga it felt even more isolating than being alone. So I dropped out. End of yoga

Then, in 1985, after having my first ever massage with a very lovely woman who was also a yoga instructor and was looking for a place to hold a class in my part of town; I volunteered to host a yoga class in my home. This time I made it through all the sessions. It would have been awkward to not participate when it was in my house! The teacher had been trained in Yoga for Round Bodies but I did not know how to ask for help. I was kind of getting the hang of it when she found another, more public, location and I did not move on with the group. I believed I was not a physical person; I did not yet realize that yoga is a spiritual practice too.

In 2002 a friend's daughter was working toward her yoga teacher certification and needed a class to garner teaching hours. This time it was three couples doing downward dog in my living room.  By then I was embarassed by my size so I always took a place behind the others. I found the poses too revealing. Again, once the class was finished, so was I.

Then in 2005 I went to Kripalu in Massachusetts for a weekend class on animal communication. There were free yoga classes every morning so I thought I'd give it another try. The instructor, a normal sized person, said something that stopped me in my tracks. We were doing a twist in a seated position and she said, "Now gently move your tummy to the side and deepen your pose." What? Move your tummy? She did not appear to have a tummy to move! One of the reasons I did not persevere with yoga was because I always felt my stomach got in the way. I had never heard of someone "moving their tummy." This was a revelation. I could adjust my body and do the pose comfortably! It never occurred to me that a normal weight person had to adjust her tummy to do a pose. I thought it was a problem for me because I was overweight and I just had to feel terribly squished to even attempt the pose. Another example of the bad body messages I carried around; since I am heavy, I will suffer. The realization that even thin people might have a tummy to move and that adjusting the pose is normal made me weep with insight and relief.

Now, in 2011, I have another friend doing her yoga teacher training. Lori has taught me that yoga is for everyone and the emphasis is on you and your body, not on doing the perfect pose. And, that yoga is as much a spiritual practice as it is a physical practice. She also keeps reminding me that it is about practice, not perfection. Lori is teaching me to be fully present in my body. I do not think I have ever really done this before.  She introduced me to the book, Yoga From the Inside Out, quoted at the start of this post.


And that brings me to a sunny day in Dayton, Ohio. I'm sitting on my deck after my morning yoga, savoring some fresh fruit, and writing some notes from Yoga From the Inside Out into my journal. Now that I understand that yoga is both a spiritual and physical practice, with emphasis on the word practice, and that I can adapt that practice to me and my body; yoga feels right for me.

While in Florida recently, my goddaughter Kate and I went to  Yoga On the Beach,  morning yoga classes on beautiful Siesta Key Beach. She, and Lori, are part of my tribe who offer the acceptance and encouragement every woman needs about her body. And I am so grateful...

A rainbow backdrop for yoga on Siesta Key

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Solvitur Ambulando – It Is Solved by Walking

The sign usually hangs over the doorway I exit before walking. The medals are a validation of myself as an athlete.

I started having pain in my right hip. First just a twinge when I stood up, then a sharp pain when I walked, then it became a consistent ache. My first response was denial. This is not really a problem, just a little blip on the fitness radar. But it persisted to the point where I no longer wanted to walk and could see that my gait was changing as I favored that right hip.

I've never considered myself athletic. I was never on a competitive team.  My one and only sport was cheerleading in high school. When my husband’s betrayal surfaced we began to walk together on the advice of a therapist. It was supposed to be a time for us to connect and to talk through some of the problems. It was meant to be healing. I needed something to dissipate the extreme angst. Walking helped me. I can’t say it was healing for the relationship but it was healing for me. When I first heard the phrase, Solvitur Ambulando (Latin, translates to “It is solved by walking,” attributed to Saint Augustine), I resonated with the truth of it. I often cried as I walked but I kept telling myself that for me the only way out is through. I would walk long enough for the endorphins to kick in and clarity to surface. 

I became a proficient walker, participating first in 5 and 10K’s, then multiple half marathons and even completed one full marathon. One was enough! I realized that I did not want to devote the time necessary to be physically prepared to walk twenty-six point two miles. But walking remained an integral part of my life.

I have been examining beliefs I hold and questioning if they are true or simply ingrained old messages. One has to do with my body. I believed that if your body changed in some way, you had to accept and live with that change. So the possibility of having arthritis and no longer being able to count on my body to carry me through my healing, health affirming, clarity inducing walks was terrifying.

I decided to not acquiesce. I decided to try and walk through and to the other side of the pain. My normal walking habit was three miles in the morning with an occasional second walk later in the day. Because of the hip pain I had not walked much before leaving on a trip to Paris, a walker’s paradise, but did walk every day while I was there. These were not mapped out distance walks but rather walks to get someplace. In Paris all the “someplaces” were wonderful so my motivation was high.

Upon returning home I revisited Solvitur Ambulando. Another way of interpreting the phrase is  “walk it off.” I decided to start anew as a walker, to go back to the beginning. Our veterinarian suggested that my Yorkie, Buddy, needed more exercise. I decided to walk one mile every day with Buddy. The first time I did it, I cried most of the way. It hurt. The second day, it hurt a little less. After about a week, it only hurt for the first half mile. After two weeks, I still felt discomfort but it was easily manageable. After three weeks, I realized that I had walked the mile pain free! Eureka!

So what have I learned? On the physical level, I learned I can change my body. I can make decisions and changes that impact my body in an affirmative way. I am not separate from my body. On the thinking level, I learned I can change a belief. I can question whether something I have long held as a truth is accurate. And on an emotional level, I learned I can choose beliefs and actions that support my spiritual and physical growth and release those that don’t.

I literally and figuratively walked through the pain and out the other side, refreshed and renewed.

Solvitur Ambulando

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hello Beautiful!

August 1, 2010

The Story Circle Network invites women to write for their blog One Woman's Day. They describe the blog this way:
Today a woman somewhere is laughing, weeping, grieving, or celebrating. Someone is giving birth; someone is losing a loved one to death. Relationships are forming, others are ending. For some this will be an ordinary day filled with many of the same activities as yesterday. For others, something unexpected will suddenly make this day unforgettable, one that they may tell their children and grandchildren about in the future. In the same way that we are curious about how our grandmothers lived, future generations will be interested in learning about what an ordinary day was like in our lives.

One year ago I was visiting Siesta Key Florida and had one of those days. I wrote the blog post, submitted it,  and pretty much forgot about it. I was surprised and delighted to start receiving responses to that post while I am again in Siesta Key. Please click on this link to read my post at One Woman's Day.

Yesterday I did a yoga class on the beach with my god daughter. The sun was warm on my skin, the sand was soft under my mat, and the waves and sea birds provided mood music. I felt comfortable and confident in my body and, yes, beautiful.

Siesta Key Beach 2011