Sunday, November 21, 2010

Raining, Pouring, and Being

In our society, we are faced with constant choices. Which is amazing! It is fantastic to be able to choose what you want, when you want it, how much you're willing to pay for it, and (if you live in Australia) how much you're willing to pay for shipping. However, constant choices can also feel overwhelming, and sometimes we default to a previous choice, for the ease and comfort of that choice, regardless of whether that is the appropriate decision for the given time.

Much like the constant choices we find all around us, we constantly need to choose how to experience our surroundings and ourselves. I find these choices to be much harder to make--mostly because I often forget to actively make these choices. I allow the Spring-default settings to take over. I might be late for a train I planned to take; I begin to run. Someone offer critiques on my work; I feel judged and inept. I miss a workout; I feel bad about my day. It starts to rain; I get cranky and look for shelter or an umbrella.

Those don't have to be the choices I make, though. Yoga teaches us that we can choose how to react to everything in our lives. On the mat, when I notice a strong stretching sensation, I breathe through it; I slow my breath, my mind, and focus on being in that moment. Off the mat reactions are much harder for me to consciously make, though.

I was running last weekend. It began to rain, first a little, and then suddenly much harder. I had no rain gear with me, and was only just getting started on my run. I felt the Spring-default settings kicking in as I thought: "I'll just go home, get in the car, drive to the gym, and run on a treadmill. I'll hate it. I'll be cranky. I probably won't even have enough time to run by the time I get there." ...but then I realized I could make another choice. I could choose to be in the rain. And so I did. I chose to feel the raindrops, to feel them on my skin and feel them soaking into my clothes. I felt the cool water pooling in my shoes, smiled at drips hanging from my eyelashes, and enjoyed the soft slaps of my hair whipping my neck and cheeks. Where I expected frustration, I was able to find joy in being present: nothing was so wrong with getting a little wet.

The fact that I chose to be present, and enjoy and experience the rain, was a difficult choice for me to make. But the fact that I made that choice changed the rest of my day. I was happy that I got to run and I was happy that I was able to enjoy the rain. That happiness spilled into the rest of the day and evening and I noticed (with some surprise) that I was able to go with the flow of unexpected plan changes, unexpected train delays, and unexpected restaurant choices quite easily.

Making conscious choices in our be-ing can be hard. We have to choose to create space for these choices. We have to allow for the option of overriding the default settings we've created.

Our choices of how to respond to our surroundings and ourselves may feel easy at times. And that's fine--it's good practice! Because when the next rainstorm comes, I might not have my umbrella, and I want to be ready.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I'm in recovery from an eating disorder. And have been for a long time. Lots of people don't know, except when I do silly things like write an article to all the PSU fitness instructors, or post it in my blog's "about me" section, or even write a blog post about it. I don't like to talk about it because I don't want people to see me as "that girl with bulimia," or to be constantly concerned that I'm going to throw up the birthday cake they make me, or to analyze my every food choice and relate it back to my psychological state. It could be true that I'll be in a state of recovery forever; many people with an addiction say they'll never be completely free of their longing.

But I believe that I can completely heal. The reason I think I can heal is because I have yoga.

For years I've eaten carefully, but will then try to make up what I've deemed an over-indulgence with an extra hour of running or a day of diet soda and veggies. There is this lingering fear that, even on a non-binge, I may freak out about the number of calories consumed and want to purge, or, that I'll punish myself through another over-exhaustive workout. Living in a state of constant counting, calculating, and planning of food and exercise is exhausting. Literally.

Group, individual, and art therapy were all helpful in their own ways. But none of them gave me the peace of mind I've been able to find in yoga. Yoga has helped me connect to my body, and that connection is so important that I can't bear to go a day without it. The old me that started yoga did it for stress-relief as a college freshman, for exercise as a grad student, for self-betterment as a young adult, but finally I do yoga for me. And if I can't do asana practice on a certain day, I still set aside time to practice pranayama (breathing) and/or meditation.

The reason that I think I may be able to completely heal is because every day I do things I thought would never be possible for me. Last week, while on a yoga retreat/vacation in Bali, I only went running 3 times, each time less than an hour. True, I did other active things on vacation, and yes, I did asana practice each day, sometimes quite lengthy and intensive. But, for me, only about 2 hours of intense cardio in a week... that's crazy talk! I prefer to have 7-9 hours of intense cardio a week (which I am able to recognize as excessive).

The exercise is still a struggle. The eating is still a struggle. But the little improvements in the lovingkindness I show myself, the compassion I'm able to offer to myself and others, and the little achievements all add up. Every time I do something I once considered impossible, I feel the miracle in it.

I feel like my vacation behavior last week was a miracle. Usually, on vacation, with no time set aside for work, I would do more activity. But I didn't. And I only felt a tiny ache inside. I know people are supposed to have huge shifts during yoga retreats, and I thought my shift would be in my yoga. Turns out it was in my yoga, just not my asana practice.

I feel lucky at my miraculous experience. But, even more, I feel the hope and possibility of "complete" recovery. Of being fully present and mindful. Of union of my mind and body. Of yoga.