A friend and student wrote me an email this week. She said she wants to be "one of those people whose lives are radically changed by yoga," but she can't commit, because first she must lose weight and yoga doesn't burn as many calories as P90X and running.
I wrote her a response, and I thought it was worth sharing. Many of you have heard my story before, but if you haven't, read on, and find out how to be one of those people. I eliminated some of the more personal details relevant to her to protect her, but otherwise the email is intact.
Loves of love and happy Samhain.
Dear Friends Who Think They Need To Lose Weight Before Committing to Yoga,
Thank you for sharing your story.
I'd like to share a little bit of my story, too, because I think you might relate to parts of it. I found yoga when I was 18 years old. Instantly, I knew that yoga held the answers I was seeking - it was physical, emotional, spiritual - and I could feel its wisdom, but I was too afraid to dive in. Beyond the cultural shock, I was in the depths of an eating disorder. While the idea of yoga sounded wonderful, the fear part of me was pushing me to do more. I already carried so much shame about my anorexia that morphed into bulimia, and the thought of doing something gentle and calm for my body seemed too "nice" - like I needed to be punished instead.
Over the next seven years, I got better, but only from the outside. Mentally, I was still a wreck. I felt incredibly hypocritical, because, since age 19, I have been teaching exercise classes, acting as a personal trainer, and teaching yoga.
I hit rock bottom when I moved to Kansas City five years ago. Alienated from my family and friends, injured and ill after pushing myself to complete another marathon that my body wasn't prepared for, and adjusting to life as an unemployed full-time stepmother was too much. Fed up with everything, I decided that, since everything else in my life was a complete mess, I may as well give this "yoga" thing a full time shot and commit myself for thirty days to just yoga, and nothing else. If I gained a couple of pounds - so what - it was only thirty days, and I could swear off yoga forever after that and go back to my current routine.
Thankfully, this thirty days transformed me. I didn't lose weight, but I didn't gain weight. But beyond my outside physical form - I felt better. I was more calm. I was a better stepmother. I was a better partner. I could look at my body in the mirror and not cringe - even though my body was a little less muscular. My body softened, and so did my heart. My suspicions as an 18-year-old were finally confirmed, but I think I needed to go through all of that self damage to really appreciate yoga in the way I appreciate it now.
So, I'd like to ask you a question, if you don't mind. What will happen 5, 10, or 25 pounds from now? Will you be any happier? Will your life be so radically different that you can finally give yourself permission to care for your self?
My suspicion is no. I've fluctuated fifty pounds over the past 15 years (which is quite a lot on a 5'2" frame), and I can tell you that at my thinnest, my biggest concerns were not gaining it back - I felt no more freedom in my mind even though my body was thinner.
The fifth yama from Patanjali is aparigraha - non-attachment. Non-attachment to what our bodies look like in their physical form, to what the pose looks like, to how things appear on the outside. The trigger is expectation - we expect that at a particular weight, or at a particular moment in our life, things will radically shift. The practice is letting go - of expectations, of desires. And when we perfect it, we get an experience that is incredibly profound - more profound than any physical change of form can ever deliver.
So, if you want to be one of those people whose lives are radically changed by yoga - I would say you are well on your path. :) My Yoga 101 course is a perfect start. In the back of the packet that comes with the course, there's resources and book recommendations - I would highly recommend A Life Worth Breathing by Max Strom. But, more than anything else, I would recommend that you practice. Regularly. Every day.
It doesn't have to be an hour. It can be five minutes of conscious breathing. It can be three sun salutations to start the day. It can be becoming aware of your posture and your sensory awareness while you're standing in line at the grocery store, and not looking at your phone.
And having a teacher is really helpful. If you can get to a class even twice a month, being around other people who are consciously breathing and paying attention to their bodies is really powerful - it helps you drop into the practice even if you're not "feeling it" on a particular day.
More than anything else, I think, is patience and trust in the process. That, if you put in the work and dedicate yourself - even five minutes per day, consistently - shifts will happen if you're patient and you approach with no expectation.
I hope this email helps. Think of your yoga immersion as a marathon and not a sprint, because it will truly become a life-long practice if you allow it to. You will have your entire life ahead of you to grow, to change your life, and to transition to where you want to be - and it's a really beautiful, gradual unfolding if you allow it.
Lots of love,