Permission to Falter & Pick Yourself Back Up

A bad mood overtook me yesterday afternoon and I have no idea why. Maybe it was because my belt felt tight (belts are supposed to be tight). Maybe it was because I ate 5 peanut M & M’s and felt subsequent guilt from ingesting them (five measly candies aren’t going to ruin my entire life, get a grip self). Maybe it was because I was working late in a quiet office while everyone else ran off to evenings of fun. Maybe it was because I was supposed to go to yoga and instead of fixating on how good I would feel after, I was mentally hooked on the idea of having to find a partner to do handstands with because Supple couldn’t come to class.

Seriously. Am I 12? What is with this junior high bullshit way of thinking?

But I was stuck there, in that negative thought process, considering how my body felt big and how out of shape I am. Fretting that fellow classmates would not want to pair up with me because I am not thin. YES! I THOUGHT THAT! I can’t believe I am admitting it to you but there it is. I didn’t think about how I’ve been going to yoga at least 3 times a week for weeks now or how despite not dropping any pounds, my body is getting stronger and more toned. I held plank pose for an entire minute! I can get myself into an assisted half-handstand and hold it for sixty whole seconds! I have never done a handstand of any kind in my life before. These are not small feats. And yet, I don’t think of those successes as often as I think of my weakness and supposed failures.

My therapist brought up how far I have come this past year. I was startled to hear her list the ways in which I am different- living differently, doing things that I only used to mull over not actually DO. Why is it that I can’t congratulate myself more? Why is that negative self-talk so loud? Who gave that voice inside me a loudspeaker? Cut the power!

So last night I skipped yoga. I drove around trying to find parking to no avail and used that as the excuse to bail. But really who am I bailing on? ME. I couldn’t seem to push past the fear. Instead I came home, grumpy and disinterested in connecting with Mr. Darcy because I was too caught up in my spiral of self-loathing. I made myself go into the bedroom, close the door, journal what was churning inside me then lay out the mat and practice. Ok, so I didn’t go to class. That doesn’t mean I can’t go to the mat and try to find myself under all the mind chatter. As I held each pose I settled deeper into my body and got more out of my head. I felt my muscles awaken. I relished in the stretch, the burn, the core of my body coming alive. I breathed deep. I set my stopwatch and held plank for a minute. I smiled a smile that came from within. I silently blessed that scared little girl inside me and stood taller as I walked out the door to kiss my boyfriend hello.


Path to Integration

Every time I come to the mat, I try to be all there. This is no small feat for me- a woman who is often caught up in planning for what ifs in the future or mulling over supposed failures of the past. Being here now is a state of mind that I strive to cultivate and yoga helps me do just that. Because when I show up to class and try to hold a difficult pose, it’s not my body that sabotages me from holding it most of the time. It’s my mind.

When we do the dreaded plank pose for one minute, I can feel us building up to it and my mind starts whirling with thoughts, fears, what ifs. Those little seeds of doubt creep in and my mind distracts me from my purpose. When I lower myself into it, I’m already spinning the negativity in my head. I’m not telling myself things like “you can do this!” but instead saying things like “this sucks! you’re so out of shape!”.

And when I do that? I can’t hold the pose for sixty seconds. I have to drop my knees and that failure feeling washes over me. A self-fulfilling prophecy. The rest of class is spent trying to shut off the berating tirade my mind is yelling at me. Thankfully I have a teacher who is good at reminding us that it’s about the process, not perfection. I need to hear that message a thousand times a day.

My yoga practice reinforces this truth: the thing that is most often stopping me from success or from moving forward is, in fact, me. My own negative thoughts. Me being so damn hard on myself. Me not believing in me.

So sure, I’d love to be in great shape and be able to hold plank pose for an entire minute. I’d love to flip myself into an unassisted handstand. But getting there is going to take a lot of self-belief, patience, and trust in the process. The things that come easiest are not the most appreciated. Having something to strive for or improve is not a detriment but a gift.

On so many levels practicing yoga allows me to love myself in a whole new way. I get to feel my body’s own strength. I get the chance to try to quiet the chatter of my mind and focus on one thing only. I get the opportunity to practice being patient and kind to myself. It is more than just exercise. For me, it’s a path to my best self.

Giving My Best

“It’s the start of a new month which means a new focus pose. For the next two months we will be focusing on two things- 1) holding plank pose for one whole minute. . .”

{Insert my mind’s response: Holy hell NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I can barely hold myself in plank for a few seconds. I am so fucked. I’m going to have to quit yoga. And I really was starting to love it. THIS SUCKS!}

” . . .And 2) handstands.”

{Insert my mind’s response: FUCK! I can’t do a handstand. I’m really going to have to quit. There is no way I am going to be able to do either of those. I’ll just look like a fat, uncoordinated asshole. Oh my god this sucks so much.}

I tried to focus on the words she was saying and tune out my internal dialogue of predicting failure but damn that voice inside my head is loud. As we moved into the beginning of class where we mentally center ourselves, I let my racing heart slow as I listened to the instructor lead us in the invocation. We moved through various poses until she had us, on our hands and knees, look to someone to our left or right and say, “YOU CAN DO THIS!”¬† I looked over at Supple and we both said the words but I’m pretty sure the fear in my eyes made me unconvincing. Also that I mumbled “Fuck” to myself right before we went into it. But then it was time and I had to put my focus entirely on my mind and turn the negative thoughts to positive if I was going to complete those 60 seconds on my hands and toes holding my body straight like a plank. (For non-yogis imagine plank pose as holding yourself in the up position of a push up with arms fully extended.)

I breathed deeply. I stared intently at the space between my hands. I tried to shift my focus from the screaming burning in my arms to the strength in my legs. I thought about my core and tightened it.¬† I listened to my instructor’s voice. Thirty more seconds. The voice inside me said: Don’t put your knees down, Sizz! You want this. You want to accomplish this for yourself. So what if you gave in every other time. This time can be different! Ten more seconds. Ten seconds is totally doable. It’s okay that your arms are shaking. You are almost there. Don’t quit now. And. . . knees can go down. Sixty seconds are over. Good God I did it!

I still can’t believe I did it. I felt rather invincible after that. My shocked smile stretched across my sweaty face.

But then we got to handstands.

Let me explain. I have never in my life done a handstand. I was not one of those kids who did cartwheels or handstands. I’ve been convinced that if I attempted it I would break my own neck. I am, after all, a girl who trips and falls often. I also had a very bad spill over a babysitter’s shoulders as a tot when she tripped on the sidewalk and I went flying over her and landed on the cement. Breaking my neck is a very viable option in my mind. So to say that my instructor saying handstand is our focus pose triggered a domino effect of panic within me is no understatement.

But then she told us that as a girl her best friend was a gymnast and she was the exact opposite- she could not and would not do handstands or all that tumbling. When she first started practicing yoga and her instructor said they were going to learn handstands, she thought to herself that she would have to quit class. (Like me!) She said that for the first 2-3 years of practicing it she only got up half of the way but then one day she just went all the way up and into it. This news calmed me considerably as I admire my teacher and if she could start in a similar place as me and be the yogi she is today, I could too. It gave me hope.

We partnered up as to give ourselves support with alignment of the pose. Feet pressed to shoulder blades to keep them straight as we bent our bodies into what would someday be the foundation of the handstand. Then we went to the walls and while on our forearms we folded at the waist and walked our feet up the wall behind us. And there I was, halfway to a handstand with the help of the wall and my trusty spotter, Supple. I WAS DOING IT!

I immediately started laughing. The relief of realizing that I these poses were not such a long shot for me after all filled me with glee. I have spent most of my life believing I am not an athlete, that I can’t do strenuous or difficult¬† things with my body because of my size, that the sheer embarrassment of trying is enough to stop me in my tracks before I even try. But with yoga, I get to be gentler with myself because the message is always about the practice not perfection. That each time I go into a pose I hold it deeper or longer or better but there is no failure. There is only the best I can give that day.

This is a tremendous lesson for me to learn.

And I’m taking it to heart.