I am thrilled to welcome back my amazing friend, one of FitnessNYC’s regular guest–posters and Choosing Raw Blogger Gena! I asked Gena to do a post on yoga, since it is a form of exercise I appreciate, but try as I might, I have never been able to truly harness my inner yogi and love it the way so many do! I have certain classes and instructors I really enjoy—mainly because they are the high intensity, feel like a workout type of yoga classes, but I have never really felt that I get to that much hyped “inner calm, loss of ego, harmony with the world” place. I have to say the following post is one of my favorite posts ever! I think many of you will relate to Gena’s yoga story and find her guidance as helpful as I do. Gena, thank you so much for sharing your journey and struggle with honesty, humility and a whole lot of humor (yes, prepare to laugh about yoga).
Hello, FitnessNYC readers! It’s a pleasure and an honor to be Melissa’s guest again.
The last time I did a guest post for Mel, it was on a topic I feel like a credible expert on: the raw foods lifestyle and diet. This time, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone a bit to discuss Melissa’s forte: fitness! In particular, I’m here to talk about my journey with yoga.
Two or three times each week – or as often as I can – I pick up my yoga mat and head to Laughing Lotus or Yoga Works in the Flatiron district. For the next hour or hour and a half, I chant, sweat, stretch, balance, and twist with fifteen or twenty other men and women. I relish the wisdom of my instructor’s opening thoughts; I lean into triangle pose with giddy anticipation of the stretch in my inner thighs; I push myself to lower further and further before rising back up in chaturanga; I sweat and wobble in crow pose until—90% of the time—I topple over with as much dignity as I can muster. At the end of class, I sink into Savasana feeling calmer, happier, and more myself than I was before.
Two years ago, I snickered at women like me. Two years ago, I was a gym rat. I read fitness magazines and tore out the monthly strength moves. I challenged myself to sweaty hours on the stairmaster and treadmill. I bemoaned my difficulty with running, and yet forced myself to do it—in spite of achey hips, in spite of tendonitis, in spite of the fact that I just didn’t like it very much.
Whenever someone asked me if I liked yoga, I scoffed. Yoga? Get real, I thought. Yoga wasn’t a workout. Yoga was stretching. It was stretching and chanting and lots of mumbo jumbo about strength and inner peace dressed up as a workout. But I knew better. I knew that all those cute, Lululemon-clad yoga chicks were really just spending money to chill out for an hour or two. What could I have to gain from yoga? I already worked out plenty—realworking out. And anyway, I’m was (still am) a born and raised New Yorker. We don’t do balance. We don’t do inner peace. We don’t do rishdi. We do competition. We do speed. Our om is broken.
Of course, a little rudimentary psychoanalysis would have reminded me of the obvious: whenever I find myself reacting to something with immediate and intense defensiveness or dislike, it is a sign that I feel threatened. Usually something I fear I won’t be able to master. And so it was with yoga.
As soon as I came to terms with this (and it took a while, but I did), I realized that my cowardice simply wouldn’t do. I could no longer dress my fear of yoga—which was really a fear of being forced out of my neurotic comfort zone—up as a valid dislike. I was going to have to give yoga a try.
One thing that any friend of mine will tell you: I am not a moderate person. It’s all or nothing with me. I go whole hog or I go not at all. Not surprisingly, “I want to learn yoga” became “I’m booking tickets for an eight day yoga retreat by myself in Mexico.” What can I say? I was three years overdue for a vacation, and I was curious. I knew that being away (in addition to all of the non-yoga pleasures it would offer me) would give me some discipline as I developed a practice of my own. It would take me away from the excuses that New York so often provided me: work, stress, scheduling. Most of all, it would help me to confront my fear.
And help me it did. For the next week, I expanded my heretofore fleeting encounters with yoga into a very pleasant acquaintance. I won’t lie: I still found it a little weird, all the chanting and the relative stillness of the practice. But I was feeling good. I was learning. And as I rubbed my unbelievably sore triceps and glutes each night, I was starting to suspect that yes, yoga is one hell of a workout after all.
Fast forward a year and a half. These days, I can barely imagine my life without yoga. Week in and week out, it gives me innumerable joys. It helps me to relax (and god knows, I need the help). It helps to bring me out of the rather self-centered little cosmos of my work day, reminding me that there are things bigger and more important than my editing and my business: there is the integrity of my own body, which demands my attention and care; there is an cultural practice that has been honored for centuries; there is a communion between women and men who want to escape the banal and every day , even for an hour, by challenging themselves with the physical and mental rigors that yoga teaches. And yes, it’s possible—though I make no promises—that there is a higher force to be found somewhere in those sweaty poses.
Best of all? Yoga hasn’t dulled—as I thought it might—my gym workouts. It’s enhanced them. I enjoy my strength training all the more because yoga has made me stronger; I’m less prone to bemoan my difficultly with running because yoga has taught me the importance of persistence and fortitude. The most enduring lesson I’ve learned from yoga, though, is one that I am constantly teaching clients in my work as a raw foods coach: patience.
Believe it or not, new clients who are hesitant or resistant are not the most challenging, for me. It’s the clients who are determined to go raw overnight who are the hardest to work with. I love their enthusiasm and determination, of course, but I have to constantly encourage them to slow down, take a deep breath, and accept where they are in their journey. Sure, it’s relatively easy to go high-raw if you’ve been eating mostly raw and mostly vegan for a long time. But if you’re coming from a more mainstream dietary place, a rapid transition won’t be easy—in fact, the feelings of deprivation or adjustment it might provoke can be counterproductive, forcing you to give up on raw foods altogether or feel guilty about your “failure” to go raw overnight.
This is why I preach the importance of transition. It’s crucial to be aware of one’s lineage as one begins a new journey, and to respect that immediate gratification isn’t always best—or even possible. I was vegetarian for about ten years before I was a vegan; vegan for many years before I toyed with high-raw. And I was semi-raw (never with the intention of being fully raw) for many months before I started eating high raw consistently. As I began my raw journey, I was miscombining foods and eating much more intricate dishes than I do now, a year later. Get the idea? There’s a long history behind my raw lifestyle; it developed organically, which is why it feels so delightfully natural to me now.
And so it is on the yoga mat. But as with all life lessons, patience is easy to teach, and tough to learn. Perfectionist and type A chick that I am, I am forever fighting off frustration that I can’t yet do a headstand (cause I can’t, not yet), or feelings of annoyance when I know that a certain pose is off kilter, or bewilderment at the fact that a pose I had no trouble with yesterday is suddenly tough today. Most of all, I fight off my own desire to be a master yogi right away: I want perfect chaturangas, and I want to rest my forehead on my feet in Paschimottanasana, and I want to be able to do all the jump throughs in an Astanga class.
But I can’t. Not yet. And every time I find myself compelled to move too quickly—which could mean tainting my yoga practice with competitiveness at best, or injuring myself at worst, I remember the yoga and raw foods analogy: transition, transition, transition. You can’t usually go raw overnight, but you can enjoy many of the benefits of a raw lifestyle by taking steps towards a raw diet over time; you can’t go from a beginner’s class to peacock pose overnight, but you can certainly relish the many health benefits of yoga practice at whatever level you’re at, all the while acknowledging that a long path of improvement lies ahead.
And here’s the good news: the raw lifestyle and the journey into yoga are very, very long paths, but they’re not marathons. No one is pushing you to finish quickly. So we all have time: time to enjoy the journey, time to honor our limits, if not relish them, and time to forgive our imperfections as we move along.
I am thinking I need to book a yoga retreat in Mexico, anyone care to join? Thanks again Gena, this was a truly fabulous and relatable post. I am excited for my next yoga class!