What Yoga Means to Me

When Hilary asked if I would writing a blog post on what yoga has meant to me,  I jumped at the chance to share my experience.  Then I sat down to write and realized it would be a hard assignment and, perhaps, a long one, because this isn’t just about what yoga has done for me; this is really about what yoga at Jaya has done for me.  So, in order to do this justice, I need to take a step back and tell you a little bit about me and my life “before Jaya”.  Please bear with me and don’t worry; it’ll be the abridged version :-)

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In February of this year, I turned 55 years old - - or young, depending on the day.  Some mornings I wake up and feel my age, with ankles and lower back creaky from tightness. Other days I hop right out of bed full of energy, yet when I look in the mirror I wonder who the hell is looking back at me, because mentally and physically I feel at least 15 years younger than the person in the mirror!  Then there are days, though few and far between, when I just feel ancient.

A month before said birthday, I signed up for the 30 day trial at Jaya.  Almost nine months later I can say, without reservation, it was the best $30 I have spent on myself in a long time.

I was raised in the deep south, educated in the Northeast and New England, and raised my three daughters near Boston.  These cultures have one important thing in common - attitude.  It’s all about chin up, work hard, and do what has to be done.  Period.  No navel gazing tolerated.  Consequently, I am not one to spend much time or money on self-care.  And quite honestly, I am not one to think much about it either.  I know I probably should, but truth-be-told for a good 20 years I had three girls to raise on my own and they needed a ton of stuff - my time, my energy and my money.  For years there wasn’t enough of anything left over for me - - I don’t even get my hair cut more than once or twice a year.  (Sometimes my mother tells me it looks like it too!  But I digress…)

A little background: I grew up swimming and playing tennis and taking ballet lessons - basically being your average, girlie Southern gal; not really athletic, but you could take me anywhere and I could assimilate with whatever people were doing.  As an adult, before I had children, I took up running.  What started out as a way for me control my weight, which was hard to handle because of my emotional relationship to food, ended up keeping me sane through 1) a divorce, 2) a subsequent remarriage, and 3) sudden widowhood, plus raising three head strong girls along the way.  I was your basic female non-athlete, who exercised for sanity and weight control.

Fast forward to when I took up rowing - on a dare - on my 47th birthday.  Talk about crazy!  Here I was, the girl who was never good enough to make a team, deciding as a grown-ass woman to give one of the most brutal sports a try.  (Cue laugh track.)  Because of my height and obscenely competitive nature, it turned out to be the sport for me.  But I was lucky too.  All the stars aligned.  I had two daughters who were gifted rowers - winning national championships and college scholarships - to guide me, plus three very excellent and compassionate, if not tough, coaches who immediately saw my potential and believed in me.  I joined a fierce and determined team of men and women, between the ages of 40 and 70, who were in it to be their very best.  In short order I was moved from the novice group to the competition team.  Soon, with a lot of hard work and a committed group of rowers, our team became competitive, and the year before I withdrew - in order to prepare for my move here - we started to win almost every race we entered.  The few times we didn’t win, we came in second.  I felt physically, and mentally, strong and powerful for the first time since I birthed my three girls.  I was riding on an emotional and physical high 24/7 those six years. Being this strong and powerful rower became my identity.

Then my life changed and opened up in a most unexpected way.  So, in order to move forward in my personal life, I needed to put rowing aside to prepare for my move to NEPA. 

Between September 2016 (when I said good-bye to rowing) and January 2018, I did little more than walk (sometimes jog) with my dog about five days a week, but less once I moved here last summer.  I tried yoga before, briefly when I had been injured and had to take a few months off rowing, and I did a yoga series the last three months I lived in Massachusetts.  It was mostly restorative and beginner level stuff, so not terribly active.  

Occasionally I’d go for a long, and painful, bike ride.  There were hikes thrown in here and there for good measure, but let’s be honest.  I went from pushing myself to kick some serious ass six days a week to doing basically very little.  Physically I became somewhat stagnant, and eventually it began to show.  In no time flat, I lost all the impressive muscle mass I had spent six arduous years working to build.  (When I tell you I was one tough broad prior to 2017, that is no lie.  If you happen to meet a serious rower you will understand.)  

Then 2018 dawned, and a few days into the new year I stood in front of my bathroom mirror, in a sports bra and underwear, and cried.  Seriously.  I did not recognize myself.  I had no muscle tone to speak of and, while no one would call me fat or pudgy, I had a head start on, what I refer to as, that “middle-aged female, mid-section pudge”.  

You see, since I stopped rowing, and thus working out two + hours three times a week and 90 mins. another three times a week (yup, it’s pretty hard core), I had also gone through that most dreaded phase of womanhood - MENOPAUSE.  (That’s the time in life when you learn that every trick you used to keep yourself healthy (read thin) and strong all these years, in spite of food issues and three pregnancies where you gained anywhere from 39 - 60 pounds, no longer works.)

While I didn’t actually gain any weight at all, within a year my body did not look like itself.  My once taut and lean arms were devoid of muscle, period, and my thighs, which are your powerhouse when you row, were really starting to show a visible lack of tone.  Don’t even get me started in my core!  It’s like I woke up one day with someone else’s body, in one of those hollywood switcheroo movies, but in the horror genre, not comedy.  UGH!

Today I am closing in on nine months with Jaya.  I take four classes every week: Tuesday at 10 AM, Wednesday at 5:30 PM, Friday at 10 AM, and Saturday at 10 AM.  When I tell someone I love yoga, it’s really an understatement.  And as I said in the beginning, it’s not just yoga; it’s really yoga at Jaya.  While I don’t feel as if I am quite part of the culture yet, I do feel totally and completely connected.  And safe.  That’s a big thing for me.  You see, I suffer from anxiety.  Any new and unknown situation is hard for me.  And as a highly competitive person, with a strong perfectionist streak, going into a yoga class can bring up the worse anxiety ever.  I am constantly fighting to keep myself from comparing my abilities with those around me.  And my former success as a rower, within a relatively short period of time, has only exacerbated this issue.  I am sure the aging process has set me back as well.  

It took me almost three weeks just to convince myself to go in and sign up for the 30 day trial.  I knew I would be right back at square one and I hated the thought of looking foolish, but that was a waste of energy.  I have not met anyone at Jaya who wasn’t welcoming, and the instructors could not be more warm and encouraging.  I feel challenged for sure, but never defeated.  

It has been quite the journey these past nine months.  I have struggled and felt frustrated and annoyed with myself.  When I started, I could not hold my weight up during plank and I used to hold plank easily at rowing practice.  Talk about frustration!  I still have pain in my wrists and shoulders from time to time, because they are weak and tight, and this causes me to take child’s pose more than I would like.  And I am sure those who are on mats closest to me have heard me mutter obscenities out of frustration when I can’t do what I am trying to do.  But no one glares or says anything to make me feel like a loser.  In fact, after every single class all I feel is encouraged.  Lighter.  Brighter.  Calmer.  

And maybe the best and most valuable thing I have gained from my time at Jaya is the fact that when I arrive in a bad mood (my youngest, at 21, was living with us this past school year and she frustrated and annoyed me more than either of us expected) or not feeling quite 100% (I did the Whole30 for the month of April and I definitely did not feel my best most of that month), the teacher of that class ends up totally turning me around.  The little pearls of wisdom that come out of Hilary’s mouth have been such a gift.  It’s like she says them just for me, as if she somehow knows I need it at that moment.  The soothing and gentle voice of Corrin has been a godsend, in spite of the fact that she can really kick it up a notch.  Don’t let the sweetness fool you!  Restorative with Katie has saved my back on more than one occasion.  It has helped me so much I cannot begin to tell you how much I love that class!  And If you aren’t in a good mood and motivated after Erin’s class, well then, I guess there’s just no hope for you! 

There are many other classes to try, and with the new school year I have moved to a different schedule.  So far, so good!  I look forward to the time when I can consider moving past slow flow and into a faster paced class.  But for now, I am in no hurry.

With every class I find I am stronger and more confident.  After about three months, I took a chance and tried a bind in Erin’s class and was able to do it (on one side) and hold it!  I felt just like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, as he stood with Rose at the bow of the ship - King of the World!  

Shortly after that, I noticed plank was easier for me, and then one day I thought, why look there - my arms are getting muscular again!  SCORE!  And more often than not, I am able to focus 100% on the moment - all 75 mins - while in class.  It’s hard for me to do that, but guess what?  As a consequence of that focus, I have days when I make it through an entire class without swearing under my breath, or huffing and puffing, or muttering to myself, or going to child’s pose because I couldn’t hold the pose given.  

I always go into a class with the intention of being mindful and moving with purpose, and some days I am able to fully put that into practice.  I may not be the big, strong rower I was just two years ago, but I am a new version of strong.  Plus the way I see myself has changed.  I have regained my confidence and have found a sense of peace.  I am learning to be in the moment, to be present and to be happy where I am - even if it’s in child’s pose while everyone else is flowing along without me.

So, yes, I do love yoga and it certainly has been good for me, but I have to believe it has been yoga at Jaya that has made all the difference, and for that I am deeply grateful.

I bow to you. (Namaste)