Yoga and the A-Student

yoga posesI’m not skinny. I’m not overly graceful. I’m also somewhat of a perfectionist, in that I don’t want to do anything where I might look stupid or possibly fail. That doesn’t leave many options, especially in the physical activity category. As someone who spent many years being “too busy to exercise” and generally a few pounds overweight, yoga class isn’t where I would have imagined myself

You may believe that yoga is for people who want to sit cross-legged and chant. Or that it’s just stretching. It’s stretching in the same way that gymnastics and ballet are stretching. Yoga is bodyweight fitness, with funny names for positions (poses) usually involving movement combined with balance and strength. Think planks. Side planks. Or camel, which is sitting on your knees doing a backbend and touching your hands to the soles of your feet.  A dozen downward facing dogs, pushing your hips in the air by pushing the floor with your arms through your palms, and trust me, you know you’re doing more than stretching.down dog

But somehow I ended up loving yoga. Hot yoga. Hot yoga means sweat. The heat means my body is more pliable, my muscles and joints less resistant, and my workout more intense. And when you go to class, it’s called practicing. As in, “I try to practice four days a week.”
I set my alarm for 4:45 a.m. to get ready for the morning class. An hour later I’m on my mat getting used to the ninety-five degree temperature. I stretch, drink water, talk, and work on quieting the tiny dread that always appears before I begin. It’s kind of like that feeling of going up the first hill on a rollercoaster, even if you know you’ll love the ride.

All the physical benefits mean I look better now than when I began. My legs and butt are firmer, leaner. When I undress I see more abdominal definition. My clothes definitely look and fit better. Best of all, people who know me have noticed. I’m not ready to wear snug yoga pants to class yet but I’m getting close.

My mental benefits have been even more surprising. I have learned to let go of my expectations, just focus on my breathing and what I’m doing at the moment. My only reference for comparison is myself. A lot of people in class have been practicing yoga longer or maybe they were just in better shape when they began. Either way, if I look around and feel bad because I can’t keep up or start wishing I looked better in my yoga pants, I turn a great experience into a pity party.

I feel good when I’m active every day. Making my fitness a priority is doing something important for myself. I’m reinforcing the fact that I’m valuable, and my health and fitness are valuable. I made a list of “meaning markers”, from Shawn Achor’s Before Happiness. Meaning markers are those areas where I want to focus on what’s important. And it’s no surprise that “active daily” is one of mine.

What’s important to you? Find a handful of your own meaning markers and go for it. Even if it means you show up in short black pants and sweat for an hour, show yourself that you are important. Your body and life will love you for it.

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