Category Archives: Yoga
Our Ironman Arizona (IMAZ – 140.6 miles) journey began over a year and a half ago. My husband (Matt) and I began training together and quickly embarked on two half Ironman (70.3 miles) races in 2013-14 in Boulder, CO. As athletes throughout our lives (Matt was a multi-sport athlete who also dedicated most of his life to being a hockey player; I was a competitive swimmer/ballet, tap, jazz dancer/and pretty much experimented in all sports thanks to our supportive parents), I suppose we decided the next ultimate challenge would naturally be to sign up for a full Ironman distance race, right? Little did we know that this would end up being one of the most incredible physical, emotional, and mental challenges we could experience together.
Ironically I dreamed of competing in an Ironman practically my whole life. Before meeting Matt in 2007, I fell in love with spinning during college and became inspired by an instructor (Denise Druce) to do a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) century ride and another Breast Cancer fundraiser ride before even owning a bike. I ended up borrowing my cousins road bike that fortunately fit perfectly after simply training via spin classes (I didn’t have the slightest clue how to use the gear shifts, breaks, etc before the century ride). I felt great on the road keeping up with some strong and inspiring women, giving me confidence to pursue future events. While different life circumstances seemed to prevent me from signing up for more events (e.g., right knee injury/surgery resulting from a torn meniscus when training in 2005-07, right shoulder tear from years of competitive swimming particularly in the 200 IM, deviated septum procedure in 2010, a major feminine medical issue, moving often due to academia/professional career dedication), I felt thrilled to eventually get back into the sport.
When I began the practice of yoga, I recall specifically thinking that the introductory bikram standing deep breathing and closing breath of fire were the most challenging exercises. I found myself wanting to rush through the breathing exercises as my neck seemed strained in the standing portion; I was seemingly distracted by savasana when I wasn’t able to accomplish the goal of pumping the naval in the closing breath. Over time I began to notice that as my practice deepened, I understood the important benefits of breathing that brought my attention to improved awareness and relaxation to carry out the more rigorous aspects of practice. I’ve now transitioned to being cognizant when breathing. I practice at the start of a yoga class or find time during my day to engage in a pranayama breathing exercise (when training for a run, bike, swim, etc my capacity to perform improves substantially if I simply get in tune with my heart rate and focus on breath as part of the warm up). During my teacher training quest, I wanted to do more research and found that there are many resources that discuss the theory/philosophy, benefits, and importance of regular pranayama breathing. To obtain a basic understanding, I read in http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/219 that the definition of Pranayama includes: Prana is the life force energy and yama represents the ability to control and lengthen the breath/energy. When searching for the benefits of pranayama breathing, the information was endless though the following ideas stood out as crucial components I’d share as a teacher: increases oxygen capacity/metabolic rate and improves digestion/elimination, mental relaxation, decreases high blood pressure, relieves irritability, detoxification/clarification, and overall exercise of the nervous/respiratory/circulatory system. Ironically I didn’t realize that in my professional teaching of deep relaxation for a variety of mental health conditions that I was utilizing pranayama practice – often focusing on breathing from the belly (dyaphramatic) rather than the chest to calm the nervous system, finding a comfortable environment, tuning into mindfulness while in comfortable the seated position, and many more basics to regular focused breath. I’m excited to add a whole new level of awareness to my teaching both for personal yoga and professional practice. While people at times seem to dismiss the importance of deep breathing, it’s more difficulty to challenge when shown the benefits through centuries of practice. Viewing videos are quite helpful for me as information sinks into my memory once I visualize the lesson being taught. It was therefore exciting to see versatile options for pranayma at www.mindbodygreen coupled with many more youtube.com options that I’ll be able to share with others in the teaching practice. While not surprising, I noticed that many of the plant-based lifestyle pioneers and athletes (Rip Esseltyn via Engine2diet.com, Branden Brazier on myvega.com to name a few) express the importance of breathing, meditation, exercise and overall self-care in achieving the overall benefits of mind/body/spirit health. Another triathlete I follow is Rich Roll (on Facebook, Instagram, JaiLifestyle.com, etc) incorporates his wife’s ‘Jai Release Meditation Program’ – she’s a long-term yoga practitioner. I’m loving that all my diverse worlds of training, psychotherapy, etc. are connecting through my teacher training as I grow and learn about the fundamentals of yoga practice.
Reading Living Your Yoga had a strong impact on my ongoing personal growth and transformation of yoga practice and teacher training. In particular, the chapter on self-judgement resonated with me as I’ve been through a similar journey that the author described so poignantly. She talked about the natural learning process when beginning yoga practice to include: one may need to accept imperfections (knowing that it’s completely acceptable to progress through poses rather than perfect them), develop a sense of gratitude coupled with balanced confidence (leaving our ego at the door), and let go of previous maladaptive habits (such as pushing ourselves to the limit beyond one’s comfort zone to gain benefit) (Lasater, 2000).
I’ve learned as a student and in teacher training that while I’m often skilled at listening and offering advice about self-improvement that I need to be in tune with practicing what I preach. Yoga practice helps me stay in touch with self-care, appreciate my intentions without self-judgement, and continue to challenge myself with the ultimate goal of being a genuine/compassionate being with myself and others.
I found her suggested intention of “I have tried something difficult, and I appreciate myself for trying” initially was a great challenge in my practice and during teacher training as I tend to strive toward perfection (Lasater, 2000). While at times my desire to be successful can be a tremendous strength, it can also be my greatest area for self-growth; particularly in yoga practice as it seems simply showing up to my mat ought to be credit enough at times. I’ve found that when I’m in that competitive mode (with myself; resisting comparison to others), I push myself to new limits; though often I need to check back in with my body when I’m perhaps needing a day of rest and recuperation – knowing that is perfectly natural and what may be a necessity for the moment (something new to me as a swimmer and dancer growing up – when often pushed to an unhealthy edge – in fact, I recall a coach saying ‘If you throw up after practice, you’ve done a good job’; a message I knew was misguided; though I continued to push myself as directed).
I also enjoyed the reminder of balancing out the ego and self-acceptance with the following observation (Lasater, 2000):
“I began to pay attention to how often I judged myself. I was appalled to learn that most of the time my inner dialogue was self-judgmental. But what really shook me was when I discovered something even more disconcerting: there was no way that I could be harsh toward myself and, at the same time, be compassionate to others. I realized also that the process of silently putting myself down was actually a form of egoism.”
Again, while I’m often better at recognizing these qualities in others and helping them grow beyond maladaptive stuck points, I find reminders make me a better person and mentor – giving me a desired passion to share the yoga experience with others.
Lastly the Mantras for daily living at the end of this chapter are commitments I hope to maintain as I proceed in this evolving yogi way of life: “I commit to just being myself; no pain, no pain; perfection is an illusion; I am attempting something difficult, and I appreciate myself for trying; I am perfect just as I am; am I practicing yoga or trauma yoga?; I am choosing to let go of my self-judgement now” (Lasater, 2000).
Being playful with a good sense of humor, openness and flexibility to change, and adaptability (balance with all our chakras) are qualities I continue to value in a fully developed yogi life.