I love yoga! I used to love running.

Yoga, I wish I had met you sooner.

I spent a lot of years pushing my body to the limits, and if I had known yoga, I think I would be in much better shape now. For around 20 years I was birthing and breastfeeding babies. (7 of them!) I ate as healthily as I knew to, and my exercise, besides giving birth, was toting babies and walking with the kids around the neighborhood.

Half marathon
RunGirl 2011

Then in my mid forties, I took up running and participated in quite a few 5k’s and 10k’s and completed three half marathons.  Oh, how yoga would have benefited me then! I never really learned how to stretch properly, and now my body is much less flexible than I would like it to be.  I am glad I did all the running I did, but I think that I could have done better with proper stretching or yoga. This picture is me doing my last half in December of 2011, when I was 55. That was the only time in my life I had a personal trainer, and set a goal to complete it in less than 3 hours.  I made it with 3 minutes to spare! I would have done much better if I hadn’t started having severe pain in my left leg and knee. I was determined to finish, though, and limped my way proudly across the finish line.

I had an inflamed iliotibial band, the ligament that runs down the outside of the leg from the hip to the shin. Using a foam roller helped me heal from that, and I am convinced that had I been stretching well, or practicing yoga, I might have minimized that issue. Since then, I have participated in a handful of 5k’s, only to have a setback about a year ago with severe back pain that was likely a slipped disc. I have recovered from that, but have residual right hip pain. I’ve made a few attempts to start training again, but  haven’t been able to get the mindset to do it.

I first met yoga at a class at the gym I used to belong to, about 3 years ago, and fell in love immediately.  I had a great teacher, who said that it is ok that I can’t sit  in lotus, or even cross-legged. I am more comfortable sitting in a slight variation of seiza. It is important to find a position of comfort in sitting, and this was a breakthrough for me! Also, sometimes, at the end of the class when we were lying in savasana, I would feel a release of emotions, either laughter or tears. I knew that I loved the gentle yet strong movements that our teacher took us through, and I always felt better after class no matter how I felt before.

Over the last year, as I have sought healing and fitness, I keep coming back to yoga. I have thought about trying to take up running again, but it never works out. I have done some weightlifting and even bought some workout videos, but my body always is happiest with the gentle yoga asanas.

Yoga is much more than exercise, although with time it molds and firms the body. More importantly, yoga clears the obstructions and limitations in our bodies and minds, and increases  creative life energy. This is why I feel so peaceful and happy after an hour-long class, even if I have experienced discomfort, been disappointed at my lack of flexibility, and cried at the end. Note: it is important to accept your limitations and not compare yourself to anyone else. Everyone’s body and flexibility are inherently different.

I found a yoga studio just down the street from me, with a wonderful teacher who lives and breathes peaceful yoga energy. I went to my class last night feeling very tired and stressed from the day, just wanting to sleep. But as I moved through the poses, I felt the release of all the tension and exhaustion of the day.

And I had a very good night’s sleep.

Do you have a yoga practice? What do you love about yoga?

Sitting with myself (3 ways meditation impacts my life)

In my last post I mentioned that I meditate on a regular basis.

A fellow blogger asked me what impact this has on my daily life. This is a question many people have, I think. Meditation has become mainstream. “Everyone’s doing it.” But what is IT, exactly? And how, aside from all the scientific evidence that it is good for me, does it make my day to day life better?

Meditation is often used as a synonym for  contemplation, musing, consideration, reflection, deliberation, rumination, reverie, concentration, but this isn’t true meditation. A definition I like is “a state of thoughtless awareness. The mind becomes calm and silent, yet remains alert. Eventually, one gains higher levels of awareness.” Key word here is eventually.

Why did I want to learn to meditate? I used to have anxiety every day, and it manifested itself in that I was very controlling. I had become very aware of this, and my motivation for wanting to learn to meditate was that I wanted to know how to calm my mind. All the years I was a churchgoer praying and reading my Bible diligently had not brought the peace I so desperately sought.

And now?

1. I am calmer, over all. The anxieties and irritations that used to upset my days are now just a little blip in it, gone quickly when they start to rise up. I do still have “hormonal” moments. I get upset about stuff.  People annoy me at times. I get emotional and cry. But when I cry, the tears are cleansing rather than draining. And after almost a year, I am beginning to notice a difference in myself, a difference that others have commented on for months.

2. When upsetting events occur, as they will, I am more able to bring myself back to my center, to the present moment, to my breath, or whatever I need to do to look at what is really happening, what is really important.

3. The biggest change I have noticed in myself is that I have become much less judgmental.

wpid-20150204_185943.jpgI am less judgmental of myself as well as of others. In meditation, it is important to learn not to judge the experience. If I am judging, then what is the point, really? There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” meditation experience. It is what it is.  Sometimes I have loads of thoughts, spinning around and around. Pema Chodron says in her book of daily readings, Comfortable with Uncertainty (p17), that “our practice is to watch our thoughts arise, label them thinking, and return to the breath…Each situation, eath thought, each word, each feeling, is just a passing memory.” In other words, we will have thoughts during meditation, and it’s ok.

As a result, I have taken this practice to the ordinary situations of life. Instead of looking down on others because their choices and behaviors don’t match my particular standards, I remember that everyone is doing the best they can at the level of awareness that they have at the moment, including me.

If you are a meditator, how has it helped you? What do you see as the greatest benefit to your life?  Here is a great infographic on the benefits of meditation. I encourage you to explore this, and begin taking a few minutes every day to just sit with yourself.

Namaste. The divine light in me bows to the divine light in you. Have a beautiful day.

cropped-cropped-image.jpg