It all began years ago, my love of weight lifting.
I used to lift tiny weights for many repetitions and run my butt off, literally—I actually had an eating disorder and, on top of this, used exercise to deal with the stress of college.
It took me years to learn how to accept that I love working out, genuinely do need it to cope with life’s ups and downs, as well as to come to terms with what healthy exercise is.
For me, healthy exercise is something that improves the quality of my life rather than detracts from it.
For example, back when I was in my early 20s and running about 13 miles a day, I received a monthly running magazine. In it, one month, a person was writing about how on weekends she spent hours away from her husband and children to “train,” and that her family had just come to understand that this is how she spends her weekend mornings. She said that, yes, it means missing her kids’ games and activities more often than not, but she was okay with this. Well, the thing is—I wasn’t.
I mean, what another individual wants to do with her Saturday mornings is obviously fine with me, but in that moment I vowed to myself that when I was married with children I would never let exercise become more important than my family.
This said, the recent holiday of Easter had me thinking about this vow.
My children are four years old and nearly six months old and my husband and I were hosting the rest of our families that day. On Saturday, I doubled up my weight routines so that I could leave Sunday open for a total rest day, to focus on my kids and cooking.
Still, when Sunday rolled around, the eggs were all retrieved from their hiding places and my oldest child was happily nestled in Daddy’s lap eating jelly beans, I looked at this cozy threesome and announced that I was heading downstairs to lift. After all, I had only recently gotten back into it, also had a week or better of being sick under my belt and, additionally, felt that this exercise could help me best enjoy the rest of the day and our company. So I worked out.
From what I understand, most people lack motivation, instead of having to continually check in, as a former exercise over-doer, with what is healthy for their bodies and lives.
Friends tell me all the time that they don’t know how I push myself to get on my yoga mat at home, and to workout in general all by my lonesome. I guess what I don’t understand is not wanting to exercise.
When I went to my first yoga class, at my challenging Baptiste-style studio of choice, in months—like eight months—I felt strong. I felt flexible. It felt great. More, I was relieved that my “home work” was really doing it’s job of keeping my body fit.
Yet, the reasons I actually came back to weight lifting are many.
From super cold temperatures making a toasty home practice less practical, and natural means to cope with the post-baby blues, as well as wanting to, frankly, fit into my clothes again and strengthen my body so as to lessen discomfort from my physical ailments, such as scoliosis, I got back into pumping iron.
On top of these reasons was the all-too real reality that my mind was wandering a lot when I did practice yoga or try to meditate and, with weight lifting, I was a beginner again—my mind was entertained with focusing fully on the sensation of my biceps during preacher curls, for instance, or with holding my lower belly in tightly when properly executing bent-over barbell rows.
In other words, I was actually practicing my yoga much more efficiently when downstairs in my home gym and not on my sage green Jade sticky mat.
And then I got the new Israel Nash album. I yearned, the second I heard it, to flow through vinyasas to his jam-band music and Neal Young-esque voice. So I did. And when I finally did, I realized that my heart and mind were in it, for the first time in what felt like forever.
So I got on my sage green yoga mat again the next day. And the next.
This wasn’t different, mind you, as I have always gotten on my mat regularly. What was different, though, was that I had my flow back—I had my yoga back. When I reflected upon what had changed, it hit me like a fifteen-pound weight (ha): in stepping out of my comfort zone of vinyasa yoga and into my old tennis shoes, I had gotten myself out of a rut.
I had moved through my post-baby blues—the world now seemed sunny when I woke up, excited to get downstairs and lift.
I had gained strength—my chair poses, planks and half moons felt glorious.
I felt like a beginner in my yoga practice again, because I had again developed a beginner’s mindset elsewhere.
And the most important change that had occurred? I fell back in love with my yoga practice because I decided it was okay to fall out of love with it in the first place.
Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is question why we do what we do every single day—because just like that our habits become who we are.
And I didn’t want to be monkey-mind, semi-half-ass yogi Jennifer any longer. No, I wanted to be strong, supple, powerful gym bitch Jennifer. What surprised me, however, was my ability to be an entirely unexpected Jennifer simply because I began to question why I was pigeon-holing myself into pigeon pose.
Actually, there are many weight-lifting yogis. Regular practitioners know that our yoga practices can be greatly improved by adding in strength training, especially as we do become more flexible.
So, yes, some days I’m gym bitch Jennifer, pumping out shoulder presses to Rage Against the Machine or The Verve and others, I’m yoga girl flowing through sun salutes to the sound of my breath. Yet, in both places, my downstairs gym and my yoga room, I’m me—I had just forgotten that I could have so many facets sparkling all at once. Or, more accurately, I’d let a few get coated in dust.
And in blowing off the ashes of my self-imagined limitations, and in seeking to find who I actually am, after the kids go to bed, I got acquainted with someone it turns out I honestly like quite a lot; someone who still loves yoga; someone who loves her yoga practice enough to be okay with not loving it all the time.
Who are you? Where are you limiting yourself? What habits of yours could be changed or, at the very least, questioned? Will you have the motivation to step up and step out of your comfort zone?
You know where my self-motivation comes from? Curiosity.
I’m interested to see if I can make the muscles around my spine healthier. I’m curious to see if I would miss my yoga practice if I gave it a tiny rest. My recommendation is that, today, we get back in touch with our curiosity. (This is easy to do when raising children.)
And even though I was afraid I was falling out of love with yoga, it turns out I wasn’t—I was just allowing myself the space to fall in love with a few other things too.
Photo: Flickr/Child’s Pose.