On November 18, 2015 I celebrated my 43rd trip around the sun. Yes, FORTY-THREE….I can’t believe it! And though I look a bit older and have a few more wrinkles, I have to say that I feel much healthier and in better shape than I did 10 years ago. The reason? YOGA.
I chose to write about my experience at this time, because of the number “18”. This number has special meaning to me, not just because it’s my birth date, but the symbolism of the numbers resonate with me and I can’t help but feel a sense of connection with “18” in my personal journey with Yoga over the last year. In Chinese culture, when the number “18” is pronounced, it resembles the words for “going to prosper”, so it is associated with someone who is destined to succeed. In the Hebrew system of the numerical value of words, the number “18” corresponds to the Hebrew word “chai,” meaning “alive”. The number “8” within “18” is a very auspicious number in Asian culture and represents good fortune, a homonym for “prosperity”. It is a symbol of harmony, balance and infinity. In numerology, the number “8” relates to “karma” and the star sign Scorpio (the 8th number of the Zodiac and my sign). In the Tarot, “8” is the card for Justice or Strength, symbolizing inner strength and determination. The number “8” in the Bible represents a new beginning. And in science, “8” is the atomic number for oxygen.
So, it’s only fitting that the number “18” would be a part of a life-changing experience in my life. August 18th marked my one-year Yoga-versary! For over a year, I’ve been practicing Yoga almost daily, and as of my birthday, had taken my 378th Yoga class (378 is divisible by 18). Practicing and learning about Yoga has made a profound and positive impact on my life in so many ways. I tell everyone I know about my newfound love for Yoga and I hope that my dedication to the practice of Yoga will inspire others to try it as well.
Let me preface my Yoga story by stating that before stepping foot into the studio on August 18th, I’d never taken a Yoga class in my life. I still can’t believe it took me this long to discover the amazing benefits of Yoga. I do not have a background in gymnastics or dance, never did cart-wheels or handstands or arm balances as a kid (or ever). And besides sporadically hitting the gym over the last 20 plus years for Spinning, Jazzercise, a cardio/aerobics class or circuit training, my primary form of physical activity was long-distance running. In high school and college, I ran cross-country and track competitively, have run numerous 5Ks, 10Ks, 1/2 marathons, and have completed four full marathons.
I had always thought of Yoga as simply stretching and meditating. As a runner, I figured I already knew how to stretch, so why did I need to take a class? And wasn’t meditating something you’re supposed to do by yourself? I didn’t think Yoga could do anything for me and if I wanted to get a good workout in, I’d just go for a long run. It was the only way I knew of to stay in shape and de-stress…in a way, being out on the roads or trails running alone gave me some time to clear my head. After nearly 30 years as a runner, two kids, a busy and labor-intensive work schedule, and very little time to commit to long training runs, I soon found myself burnt out and bored of running, and constantly finding excuses not to lace up my shoes. Even though I no longer had to push a jogging stroller, and as a self-employed small business owner, was in control of my own schedule, I still couldn’t seem to “make the time” to focus on myself physically and mentally by going for a run or taking some “me” time (yes, I’m the person who has spa and massage gift certificates from over 10 years ago that I’ve never used). So unless I was training for a race or my friend, Gwen, invited me along for a trail run around the neighborhood, I pretty much wasn’t doing anything physical. And it showed.
In July of 2014, I was in the midst of a crazy work schedule…it was wedding season and I had a lot of painting deadlines. The painting was very physically demanding, lots of climbing up and down on ladders, twisting and bending, being on my feet for hours at a time, and hunched over signage and canvas pieces, doing detailed brush work. With some of the weddings I would work, I found I was on my feet rushing around for 8-10 hours straight. I was stressed out, had very little patience for everyone and anything, not sleeping well, and was pretty much eating lots of junk food (when I would remember to eat). I was burning the candle at both ends and felt completely disconnected. I didn’t feel I had any time to work out or devote to myself. Too much to do, too many commitments, too many deadlines. I took on everything, ran myself ragged, and took myself and my health for granted.
Then one morning, while brushing my teeth, my lower back completely gave out and I could not move! It was a wake up call. I was literally hunched over my sink, mouth full of toothpaste, unable to stand up straight, muttering obscenities to myself. My mind began to spin with all the deadlines I wouldn’t be able to meet. I freaked out, I felt pathetic.
My friend, Irene, who has a background in massage therapy, rushed to my rescue and helped me work out the kinks so I could somewhat move again. She suggested some stretches (at the time I didn’t know any Yoga poses, so “Child’s Pose” and “Happy Baby” were new terms); and then she strongly urged me to try Yoga once my back had a few weeks to heal. She mentioned that Soulshine Yoga in our own neighborhood town square, less then a mile away, was an amazing studio and that she really loved the vibe and all the instructors there. I purchased a special trial deal for two weeks of unlimited classes and figured I’d give it a shot. The stretches Irene showed me seemed to help, so a few guided “stretching” classes couldn’t hurt, right?
On August 18, 2014, I walked into Soulshine Yoga, a total newbie. I knew nothing about Yoga, what to wear, etiquette, what to expect. I showed up in running capris, socks, shoes and a loose t-shirt (funny, I remember it was a Les Misérables tee). I was a little nervous going into it because I didn’t know anything about the poses, or if I could follow along with the cues of the instructor, or keep up with the class. What the hell was a Chaturanga? Being a little competitive by nature, I knew that I would try to do everything like everyone else, but I feared embarrassing myself…what if I fell out of a pose in front of everyone or hurt myself? What if my inexperience showed and annoyed the real Yogis in class? What if it really was “just stretching” and I got bored?
The first class I signed up for was a Restorative Yoga class, which I thought would be best since I was coming off a back injury. The class was led by a beautiful, nurturing and gentle teacher named Kahn, who had a soothing voice and a very patient disposition. The class involved holding restorative poses for long periods with the aide of props and hands-on adjustments by the teacher. Within moments I found I had completely surrendered my misgivings and insecurities about being in the class and almost forgot I was in a room with other people. I can’t really describe what happened except to say that I walked into the studio apprehensive and a little confused (with my stupid running socks on), but left feeling completely relaxed, yet invigorated and restored. It was like a reset button had been pushed. It was almost 9 p.m. when I got home, but I felt energized and serene at the same time. I excitedly described the experience to my husband and gushed about how surprised I was by how the poses and meditation made me feel, both physically and mentally. That night I fell asleep quickly, and slept soundly and deeply.
And from that day, I was hooked. I immediately signed up for as many classes as I could to take advantage of the unlimited two week trial. But honestly, I was curious and enlivened. I wanted to learn more about Yoga. I wanted to experience the euphoria, release and clarity that Yoga brought me. I wanted to try all the different classes, instructors, and time slots. Sometimes I doubled up and took two classes in one day, even back-to-back. I couldn’t get enough. I felt really great on so many levels and I looked forward to walking through the studio doors each day; seeing all the kind smiles of the instructors and fellow students; wondering what new pose I would learn that day and how I would challenge myself; anticipating the wonderful Shavasana at the end of class; contentedly expressing “Namasté” to each and every Yogi. With each and every class, I found I was reflecting and learning, not just about Yoga, but about myself. I never felt pressured or judged by anyone, not even myself. Everyone at Soulshine welcomed, encouraged, and guided me with such a positive, nurturing and loving vibe. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced with other studio, gym or team environments.
Yoga at Soulshine changed my life – in Body, Mind and Spirit – and I truly believe everyone…every gender, age range, body type, fitness level, and emotional state, can benefit from practicing Yoga. So, 15 months (and nearly 400 classes!) later, here are the ways that Yoga has benefitted me:
BODY – Within a few months of starting Yoga, my friends began to notice that I looked like I had lost some weight and my arms were looking very toned and strong. My skin was glowing and I looked really healthy. Never before (even during the height of my marathon training) did friends come up to me and tell me that they noticed a change. Up until I started Yoga, most of the time people would tell me (with the best intentions and concern, I’m sure) that I looked tired and I was working too hard. That kinda sucked because I knew they were right.
After starting a daily Yoga practice, I began to see an improvement in my strength, balance, posture, flexibility and overall health. I sleep incredibly well, I can’t remember the last time I was sick, and I have not had any more back pain! I crave healthier foods, drink more water, and have been introduced to the use of essential oils for aromatherapy and a more homeopathic approach to addressing any physical ailments when they arise (although they rarely do these days).
I enjoy running again. Even though I don’t run as regularly as I used to, the cardio conditioning and strength training I’ve received taking Yoga Sculpt classes has improved my stamina to the point where I feel I can go right into a long run even if I haven’t run in weeks. It could also have something to do with improved lung capacity and oxygen levels from learning how to breathe deeper and more efficiently. I seem to need less time to warm up during my runs and have a faster recovery period afterwards. My muscles aren’t as tight and the soreness I used to get after working out has lessened.
Yoga has taught me how to listen to my body and what it needs. Some days, it doesn’t want to do that arm balance or twist, and I can accept that of myself, without judgment. Being able to relieve physical tension, by focusing on that area and mindfully breathing into it and letting it go, is something that I’m constantly learning to do each time I practice.
From a work standpoint, I have more energy and seem to have no physical limitations to doing my painting work. I no longer have repetitive use injuries and can keep up with my always hectic schedule. I attend 5:30 a.m. Yoga or Yoga Sculpt classes five days a week and I absolutely love starting my day with Yoga. Sometimes I’ll go for a run with my friend Gwen afterwards, but most days I get back home in enough time to tackle dishes, laundry, emails, make coffee, draw on Isaac’s lunch bags, and start breakfast – all before my family is ready to start their day. It’s a pretty awesome feeling to be so productive and accomplished before 7 a.m.! It really makes me feel like Wonder Woman! I have noticed that my body craves Yoga every day, even more than that cup of coffee I must have in the mornings. On the days that I don’t practice, my body feels a little sluggish and tight. It took a couple of weeks to get used to the early wake up call. But once I made it a habit, my body welcomed the routine and I often wake up minutes before my alarm even goes off at 5:00 a.m.
Overall, I feel like I’m in better physical shape today at 43 than I was 10 years ago. I wish I had known about Yoga when I was pregnant with my boys, I think it would have helped me tremendously. Physically, Yoga has made me stronger, more flexible, boosted my metabolism and immune system, and alleviated any injuries I had before. It has renewed my physical awareness and desire for health and wellness.
MIND – My new mantra is “when in doubt, Yoga it out”. Yoga has completely changed how I deal with stress. When I’m feeling particularly anxious or overwhelmed, I find that taking a Yoga class and having a few moments of mindful meditation at the end of practice completely changes my perspective on the challenge or issue at hand, and I’m better able to find a solution or let things go. Do I still get angry, or annoyed, or frustrated or fearful? Of course! But Yoga has changed how I react to those situations. In the past, when something was bothering me, I would just suck it up and internalize it. This would cause me even more stress as I stewed and marinated on the issue.
Yoga has taught me to speak my mind and move on…and I’m finding freedom in that honesty. I no longer feel the need to sacrifice my inner peace by conforming to the comfort level of others. But Yoga has also taught me to listen, so that I can take a more mindful approach, using that moment of pause and reflection to determine how to react, if at all. Sometimes, that mindful moment reveals that some things should simply be let go and not to expend any more of my precious energy onto it. Learning how to meditate through my Yoga practice has made me more aware of my emotions and how to channel my thinking into positive energies and away from destructive emotions.
“Tapas”, the Sanskrit word for “heat” is what fuels one’s Yoga practice and provides the inner strength that is needed, whether it is to hold that challenging pose to the edge of what you think you’re capable of, and then surpass it for one more breath, or to focus the mind into overcoming something stressful. It’s really a mind-body connection. I’m learning how to tap into my Tapas, not only for my body, but for my mind. A Yoga practice strengthens the mind just as much as it strengthens the body. It has given me more confidence, self-esteem and focus. I am more patient, more aware, and more intuitive. I’ve learned to trust my gut instincts and rely on myself, and that my physical limitations can be overcome by my mental strength.
SPIRIT – I don’t consider myself a religious person, but I do feel a spiritual connection to the notions of love, compassion, and kindness present in most religions. Practicing Yoga has awakened spirituality in me and given me a renewed sense of connection to the world around me. Each time I arrive on my mat, I feel a sense of belonging to the Yoga community. Sometimes, I may not know the name of the person beside me, or know anything about them. But when I’m practicing Yoga in the studio, surrounded by like-minded individuals, I know I’m in the presence of my “tribe”.
I’ve made so many new friends at Soulshine Yoga, and reconnected with old friends and neighbors through our common thread of Yoga. Everyone I’ve met at the studio greets me with an honest kindness, encourages me with their presence, inspires me with their energy. It’s uniquely genuine…I always feel welcomed and nurtured, never judged or questioned. There’s no competition, no winners or losers, no beginners or experts. We’re all teachers and students. We’re all going through our own personal journeys and perhaps have set different intentions, but as a tribe we are traveling together with a shared energy, reflecting light and love infinitely amongst each other. It’s a very powerful and compelling feeling to share this type of connection with others.
I’ve had what can only be described as transcendental experiences during meditation, Shavasana, and most recently during a Sound Healing class, that have brought clarity to my mind and a transformative energy to my soul. In a more receptive state of mind, interesting ideas and concepts have come to me during meditation. I’ve seen vivid and colorful visions of art and beauty and nature. I’ve had questions answered and solutions presented in the most unexpected ways. Many times my mind is completely cleared and I think of nothing. And yes, I’ve also completely fallen asleep (and started snoring) during Shavasana. But that simply means that it’s what I needed at that time…and it really was the most amazing and “delicious” (as my friend Irene would say) five minutes of sleep. 😉
Yoga has nurtured my spirit, opened my heart, and calmed my mind. In my relationships, I’ve become more open and expressive to those I trust and respect. My family has noticed how much calmer and patient I am after Yoga (and also how grumpy I can get when I haven’t practiced). My husband and kids encourage my Yoga practice and have tried (and loved) Yoga too. To my friends, I’m not only identified as an artist, I’m now described as a Yogi.
I still haven’t been able to do an inversion, and Warrior 3 is my least favorite pose, but my Yoga journey has only just begun, and I’m grateful for the things I have learned and accomplished so far. As my practice expands and my dedication continues to strengthen, I know that my Yoga experience will only deepen and evolve and transform. It’s a road that I’m eager to travel and a path that I know will continue to lead my life in a positive direction. Maybe one day, I’ll be that 70 year-old Yogi showing a 20-something newbie how to do “Side Crow”, but for now I am grateful for all that I am and all that I have. And I have Yoga and all my Soulshiners to thank for that. Namasté.