Exploring Self Through Yoga

GingerIf you have ever been to a yoga class you have probably heard your teacher say “listen to your body” or “pay attention to your breath” or “honour your body” or something of the like.  To be honest when I first started participating I had no idea what these nutty teachers were talking about.  Listen to what? who? where?  I was so focused on looking the way everyone else looked or figuring out how to do one of those crazy push-ups (chaturanga) to realize that I had no idea how to listen to my body.

I approached yoga like I approached my running. Grin and bear it to get to the end! Initially it was more important to make it through a class and get a good sweat on than it was to pay attention to any of those “fluffy” things my teacher was saying. I mean really how do you  “listen” to a body anyways it can’t say anything.  Then one day it happened I heard it! I was doing my best at forcing my body into some crazy hand balance pose (Bakasana or crow) when I realized I full on wasn’t breathing. I was holding everything in so tight that I didn’t realize it was this misdirection of effort that was continuously knocking me out of the pose. I wasn’t listening to my body!

Many years later I began teaching yoga myself. I would find myself giving the same direction about listening to your body and your breath, while encouraging my students to find their personal edge.  Then it occurred to me…do they have any idea what it feels like to listen to their body? do they know what I mean when I say “find your edge”? or are they doing the exact same thing I was doing trying to do…win at yoga?

It was through this realization that I allowed me to modify my queuing, and *fingers crossed* this has helped my students. Yoga has afforded me the opportunity to not only explore through my solo practice but I have also been given the gift of teaching others and learning through their experience, breath and postures.  It is during these times of exploration and learning that I have found yoga to open me up to exploring alternative ways of absorbing new material and allows me to actually understand what my body is saying.

Now after that huge lead up…time to explain what I mean by our bodies talking.  Through my life as a runner and a poor food choice maker (is that a thing?) my body has told me things weren’t right but providing me with achy knees, eczema, a sore stomach, irritated bowels, and now you probably know more about me than you probably ever wanted to.  It was by not listening to these discomforts that I drove myself down deeper into this spiral of pain and unpleasantness. However, not sure if you are or ever have been on one of these spirals, over time my body stopped telling me what it didn’t agree with (probably because I told it to shut it so much with the use of antacids, anti-inflammatory drugs, etc.).  After my body found its equilibrium again I started to feel “normal” so the next time I had some type of unpleasant flare up I once again blamed it on my body instead of what I was doing to my body.

How did yoga help with this? It gave me one single second.  It gave me a second here or there to just sit with my body.  It gave me the opportunity to learn that pain isn’t some type of punishment that my body is dealing out, but it is more like a memo. Once I was able to start slowing down, getting out of the mind set of winning at yoga I was able to listen.  Now, please don’t be mistaken, I am still a fairly competitive person (and in the worst way…you know one of those people that says they aren’t competitive but are) but I respect that part of me and use it to motivate me but understand that it isn’t always the right voice to listen to all the time.

So what, right? Who cares if I can understand what is up right? Well for one really care.  It is awesome to know that when my stomach acts up I should probably lay off the dairy or that when my yoga teacher is telling us to push deeper but listen to our breath I know what my breath should sound like for me.  It is awesome and empowering to know that achy knees means I need to build strength, that low energy means I should check how many veggies I am eating, that moving deeper into a pose might be right for some but it’s not right for me.  Yoga has taught me how to use those precious seconds in my life to learn a little bit more about myself and what my body needs.

So next time your yoga teacher says listen to your breath or your body use those seconds to listen and hear what your body is throwing your way, and then ride the wave of the positive benefits of the new connection.

Happy Thursday Everyone!

It’s Running Season – Tips for Injury Prevention

Spring has official sprung and the residents of Ottawa have definitely emerged from their homes, packed up their winter clothing and are sporting flip flops and shorts. It is that time of the year where all of the extreme runners, fair weather runners, first timers and weekend warriors start heading outside in their brightly coloured tank tops, running shorts and their newest pair of light weight running shoes.   As running season approaches and people get excited about moving, being outside and shedding the “winter weight” it is good to take a second just to go over a couple reminders to keep us all healthy, happy and injury free as we start to increase our kilometers, speed and endurance.

Running HappyKeeping your Body Happy during Running Seasons:

  1. STRETCH! I lead a run club for women in the summer months and this is probably one of my top struggles as a run coach. I can tell you to stretch and I can be there to make sure you you have a quick post run stretch, but once you get home I can’t make sure my runners are grabbing their foam rollers and going to town as suggested. So I beg of you please for the love of your joints, muscles, range of motion and injury prevention stretch! Get on your foam roller, find some yoga tune up balls, or follow a running magazine stretching sequence, no matter what JUST STRETCH! Our joints and muscles take a serious beating when we run so it is important to show them some love.
  2. Drink more than you think you need. This might sound like a real silly reminder but we don’t always feel thirsty. Maybe it was cool out or maybe it was raining, sometimes the weather surrounding our runs makes us feel more hydrated and in less need of water than we really are. It is important to consume water before and after your runs and to bring some along when running anything over 5km, ESPECIALLY when it is super warm out.
  3. Running gear can be cool, but it is also useful. I said it, running gear is cool, it is fun and gets me motivated to lace-up my shoes and hit the pavement. You don’t need fancy running gear to get out there, but things like a good pair of light weight socks, a running hat, a fuel belt for your water (see #2), a supportive/comfortable pair of runners and some light weight clothing will go a long way when running outside in the summer.
  4. Strength training. Chances are you may have picked up running because you are more of the endurance type, than the “let’s pick up heavy things and move them” type. However life is about balance and so is running. Similar to stretching you are much less likely to suffer an injury if you strength train regularly. I am not suggesting you go out and buy yourself a fancy pants expensive gym membership, however I am recommending committing to at least 2 strength training (with weights or body weight) workouts a week in addition to your runs, heck they can be after your run, right there outside in the sun. Focusing on building and supporting the muscles (think glutes, hamstrings, quads, shins, calves and core) involved in supporting your body during your running sessions.
  5. Turn your runs into learning opportunities.  As runners (new or veteran) there is a tendency to push through, because let’s be honest if we didn’t “push through” on a regular bases we probably wouldn’t last longer than 10 minutes. It is in our nature to ignore pinches, pains, and aches and instead wear them like badges. Feel free to continue to be proud of those sore quads after a good run or those tight calves as you roll them out on your foam roller (see #1), but be sure to take a step back and listen. Our society has gotten away from listening to the tips and clues our body gives us, we numb the pain with Advil/ Tylenol, we rub on joint relief creams and slap a brace on it, but don’t take the time to understand what our bodies are telling us. So if that heel, hip, knee or whatever hurts after your runs take stock, take a step back and figure out what your body is telling you.  Maybe you need to get checked out by a sports doctor, perhaps more stretching or more strength training is in order.  Regardless of what the “fix” is support your body instead of telling it what to do.

Now that you are geared up, stretched out, strengthened and hydrated lace up those shoes and get a nice run in.

Happy Thursday Everyone!

Part One: While I was Sleeping

So I started writing this and it quickly turned into a novella so I figured it would be best to break it up into three parts, that way you are not stuck reading a 2 hour long dissertation but it will also give me the chance to really explore some ideas and to be a bit more honest.  I first started thinking about writing this several months back when I realized that I hadn’t really shared the why, when and how of my journey.  I mean I have explained that I started using my blog as a way of sharing, keeping myself accountable and hopefully building a community, but I never really gave any background in how I got here in the first place.   It has taken me some time to build up the courage to share all of this with you because well it is personal and as much as I do try to be very open and honest with you, my readers; it can at times be quiet intimidating.   After much time and deliberation here it goes.

Part One: While I was Sleeping

As long as I can remember – so high school really- I have had always taken issue with the way in which I perceive my body.  I was never particularly “large” but I definitely was not a “skinny” kid, and I would have most likely been considered to be an overweight kid.   But before all these issues with body image and self appreciation came into it, I was a pretty happy kid, I participated in track, soccer, distance running and running around. It was right around the beginning of high school I started to withdrawal a little.

In grade 9 I moved from Alberta over to Ontario which was an interesting experience.  The move introduced me to many new things, one of which I feel in love with hard.  I had been introduced to a new dish, poutine and I couldn’t get enough of it.  Obviously poutine wasn’t the route of the problem, nor was it its delicious gravy and cheese covered self’s fault that I struggled to love the body I had but it definitely helped to fuel my cycle of self disappointment.

By about the age 13 I had stopped most forms of activity that weren’t ordered by the school board. My withdrawal from sports and activity came around the same time that I remember my first thoughts of inadequacy, whether I was comparing myself to the other girls in my class, or the women I saw on TV or in magazines I just felt like I came up short.  This feeling came with more than just wanting to be someone else but was couple with feeling so uncomfortable in my own skin, my body went from something that just was to something I was ashamed of and hated.

It was then that I started reading YM, Cosmo, and any other magazines looking for get skinny quick tips. Under the guidance of my favourite magazines I would have my lunches packed full of low fat yogurt and carrots, or throwing it out skipping lunch completely in an attempt to shred those pounds.   These “diets” never lasted more than a week or two before I caved and ordered a poutine feeling nothing but guilt and shame as I ate it.

The eating habits I cultivated in high school stuck with me for years as I went on trying one new craze after another, making unhealthy and uneducated choices in the hopes that this time there would be new results, and I would turn into that girl I hoped to be.  Unfortunately without fail I would lose a couple pounds feel discouraged and then binge like there was no tomorrow. I had become so involved in my body image, and was getting my information from all the wrong sources that I had no idea how big of a disservices I was doing to my body.

Then came university, I had ultimate control over what I ate, when I ate, what I drank and how much I drank.  This freedom felt amazing; it was strange release to be able to choose my food.  Unfortunately, with this new feeling of freedom did not come healthier life choices but they were mine and that made me happy, enter my first real university boyfriend (which in itself  is a story for another time), let’s just say he was pretty concerned about my body image.  As I was already very sensitive to this it didn’t take long before I had forfeited the newly acquired power over my food, and passed it onto someone else. My meals were chosen, measured and divided up for me decided for me and the pounds started to melt away.  By the end of my first year university I was the skinniest I had and ever have been. In 6 months went from a size 12-13 pant to a size 4- 5 and I was elated, since I could remember all I wanted was to be a size 5 it just seemed like such a perfect size.  Although I was ecstatic about finally being a “skinny” girl I was no happier with my body, losing the weight didn’t make me like myself more as I had thought it would.   Soon this relationship thankfully came to an end and I eventually feel back into my old eating patterns and gained back most of the weight I had lost.

It was this experience that led me to the conclusion that maybe it wasn’t all about my weight; maybe this uncomfortable feeling had nothing to do with being overweight.  Over the years I had placed so much of who I was in the number that appeared on the scale or the fat powering over my pants or the jiggle of my under arm skin, that I had completely ignored who I was who I was becoming.  To me being a good person wasn’t about being smart, funny, kind or generous it was about being what someone else’s idea of desirable was.

Unable to figure out a way to start liking myself and being satisfied with who I was I retreated once again. I decided to say screw it, eat what I want and have fun.  It was time to work on my personality a little bit and to do my best with letting go of my body image.  This was probably the beginning of me deciding to move on, to attempt to find something that would work for me.  Although body image was definitely something that I was still in a deep struggle with I figured it was time to wake up and stop sleeping my way through my struggles.

Sorry to get so “deep” on a Tuesday.   I will post the next installment of this series next week so stay tuned.

Happy Tuesday!