I care for my body in a much different way than I did five years ago. Back then, I went to extremes. I got up at 5:30 am to squeeze in a 6 am cross-training class before my 7:19 am train to the city. Burpees, push-ups, squats, situps, planks, and things of that nature. After class, I felt magnificent, but I’d be exhausted by mid-morning and wanted to sleep all weekend.
Food-wise, I ate a diet heavy on animal fats and protein, sugar, and salt. I drank a shit ton of coffee/caffeine in the morning and throughout the day, and then used alcohol to cut loose after work and on the weekends. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but I felt like I was a hampster on a wheel, powerless to jump off. I used vacations, special events, and social media to hurdle myself forward in time from vine to vine, never really catching up, never really feeling rested or refreshed.
I “needed” the extreme work schedule to provide me with a hefty income, I needed the extreme exercise to care for the body that I ignored most hours of the day, I needed stimulants and the addictive agents in processed foods to remind me that I was alive and could feel things, despite my hum drum existence schlepping back and forth to work every day like a rat in the race. My workplace wasn’t a great physical environment – it was stolid and bland and I shared the space with some really fucked up individuals in positions of authority. (Not everything was terrible. I found friends, hilarity, creativity, and joy as well, but much of it was created in response to the larger dysfunction and misery. A classic case of trauma bonding).
Consequently, I often didn’t sleep well. My mind would race with all kinds of nonsense … whatever the crisis du jour was at work, my family, and America going to hell in a handbasket. On the weekends, my “free time” to do things I wanted, I rarely had the energy to leave the house. I was utterly exhausted and burned out. I struggled to embrace my creativity and change my circumstances. When a huge corporate scandal broke and I was at the end of a 3-year contract I knew in my gut it was time for me to go, despite not having another job, despite not knowing what was next.
My body told me ENOUGH. Enough of this insane cycle of self-denial, repression, and misuse of my energy, talents, and life force. With the emotional and financial support of my husband, I was able to leave corporate America. At long last, I had the time to pursue my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training certification, something I had been interested in for a decade but that seemed impractical when I was working full-time and had a family. With the expansion of time that I gained by releasing a career I no longer loved, I was finally able to do it.
The training program provided a healing and nourishing structure to help fill the void left by my previously jam-packed days. Unlike many Yoga Teacher Training programs, the course emphasized each of the 8 limbs of Yoga, not just Asana (postures and physical movement). Those 3 months of intense learning exposed me to the philosophical underpinnings of Yogic philosophy, helped me tap into pranayama and breath work, taught me to meditate, and helped me reset my nervous system. For the first time in a long time, I felt at home in my own body.
Sounds amazing right? A veritable nirvana. But it also really freaked me out. After 43 years of conditioning in performance and achievement mode, repressing, denying, and sublimating my desires and creativity to serve others, I struggled. It was so hard to release my constructed identity as a “high performer,” and I started clawing back. In less than a year, bewildered by the tabula rasa ahead of me and the prospect of actually choosing my own adventure for the first time, I freaked out and started looking for another dull corporate job. It was an addiction not just to performance and the steady drumbeat of a biweekly paycheck I had enjoyed for 18 years, but also to conformity, safety, and social acceptance.
I accepted a job at a Fortune 500 company 20 minutes from my home. It had a big recognizable logo in the lobby and on my ID card. It provided paychecks, health insurance for my family, and something to tinker away on for 8 hours a day. I looked around and saw a very Office Spacey scene. I had taken a significant step back money and status-wise and was assigned to a cubicle in an open office layout. I HATED IT! It was Dilbert-land. Grey. Lame. Uninspired. People clocking in and clocking out. Jesus, it was awful. Why had I taken the job? Because I thought I had to. I didn’t want to let my family down. I needed to get us insurance and a steady paycheck to augment my husband’s earnings.
Bless my body though, she REFUSED. I began having daily and nightly panic attacks. I felt suffocated, nauseated, and anxious … like I wanted to crawl out of my own skin. I called my primary care physician and got a prescription for Xanax. It helped, but it wasn’t enough to get me through the day. After only two weeks, I resigned. I felt ashamed for having accepted the role to begin with. How can a person be so estranged from herself … from her own needs and desires? It starts by putting every other person’s needs before your own from the time you are a child. And it compounds and festers when continually attracting and getting mixed up with demanding people, jobs, and life situations.
Big exhale. In the subsequent three years, I have continued to heal and unpeel the layers of trauma and suppressed emotions trapped in my body. I became a Yogini who practices intense power flow vinyasa-style classes three to five times a week. With each class, I wring out fear, doubt, anger, jealousy, and grief from my fascia and my core. I open up my heart, my hips, and my mind. I release the calcified bits telling me I must forfeit my own creative desires so I can be what others need me to be. That part is leaving me. I am releasing it. For me, asana practice is one of the most joyous parts of living. I smile the whole time. Any time I am practicing I feel blessed, lucky, and alive. In the new Yung Pueblo book, Lighter, he says you know you’ve found your healing practice when you don’t feel like any time you spend with it is wasted. I NEVER regret going to Yoga class. It gives my life tremendous flow, attunement, and beauty. And I enjoy and find healing in all different styles and kinds of Yoga now. My practice is broad, sprawling and adaptive to whatever I need each day.
About a year ago, I became a vegetarian. My Yoga teacher has long espoused vegetarianism and veganism, explaining that food that comes from cruel, inhumane practices on factory farms only serves to perpetuate pain in those who consume it. For the first few years, I ignored these views. “Whatever, hippy man,” I thought. But I was ear hustlin’ … the idea had been planted in my head and I was mulling it over. I have a profound love of and connection to animals. I’m a person who loves pets and wild creatures … who loves to follow animal accounts on social media. I love to see them loving, playing, caring for their young, and expressing emotions, just like humans do. Finally, I decided to go for it and take the leap to eat a vegetarian diet. My husband and I had lost a bunch of weight by changing our diets and decided to go a step future and go full veg. It was much easier than I thought it would be and I don’t miss meat much. I am admittedly not a huge foodie. For me, it’s fuel, not pleasure, but I understand that this is strange to those with refined palettes. Yet I feel lighter and healthier. I am still figuring out ways to improve my diet, and it is a fun part of my journey. I envision a day when I eat even less processed foods and when each thing I put in my mouth contributes to my well-being.
Drinking a lot less alcohol is another way that I care for my body. That and just generally reducing my reliance on all foreign substances – ibuprofen, cannabis, caffeine. I want to know what I really feel, and buzzes dampen and sometimes warp the light of truth. Alcohol is particularly sensitive for me given my father’s alcoholism. It ruins lives, but as a society, we act like it’s just “fun.” We normalize alcohol even though it is really bad for our physical and mental health. It’s a powerful industry yes, but most alcohol-fueled socializing is driven by our own collective fear to face ourselves and each other. I suspect that one day I will be alcohol-free, although I’m not quite there just yet. I hope our society begins to question the daily use of alcohol, which contributes to liver and heart disease, many forms of cancer, and weakened immune systems, not to mention addiction, depression, domestic abuse, and car accidents.
Two areas where I am making improvements in caring for my body, yet have a long way to go are meditation and sleep. I have taken meditation lessons many times, including the Transcendental variety. I have used meditation apps and done retreats, but over the past two decades, I continued to resist consistent daily meditation. I would eschew it for weeks and months until I found myself in an excessively stressed out state again, and would dive back in and then struggle. Like anything else, the power and potency of meditation arise from consistent repetition and practice. Recently, I began working with a Somatic Experiencing therapist and have been able to observe close up the power of settling and exploring my internal landscape. When we start each session, my therapist guides me in breathing and other somatic exercises that help me arrive in my body and witness how I am. I am discovering how much space I can create internally and externally by settling my frenetic mind and becoming one with my own being. I find myself waking early each day so I can have more contemplative time and time to meditate and it feels good. Right now I am still using guided meditations on the Insight Timer app, but I will eventually move to doing my own meditation.
Sleep was a lifelong struggle. As a person who lived almost exclusively in her mind, relinquishing thought and control was and is a challenge. But I didn’t help matters. I watched hours of television and continued to look at social media right up until bedtime. As I began to heal, I started moving toward an evening routine. I wash and moisturize my face, I put on PJs, I set up the coffee machine for the next day. In an ideal evening routine, I cease all external electronic media by 9 pm and shift to reading and journaling. By 10 pm when I put my daughter to bed, I am ready to sleep myself. I do my best to think positive and expansive thoughts before I drift off. The easiest way for me is by thinking of 5 things I am grateful for in the moment. Sometimes it is big and sprawling, sometimes it is simple and immediate. I’m still working on my sleep routine. One of the challenges is living in a home with 4 other people who have their own schedules and habits. I would like to start eating dinner earlier which I believe would also help with my sleep, but it is tough when the rest of the household is on a later schedule.
Finally, walking is another way that I can care for my body today. It is the perfect form of exercise. During the cold winter months I tend to not walk outdoors as much but perhaps this upcoming winter I will try to and see how I do. Walking is natural and right in balance. Not everyone can walk, and I am grateful I have this ability. I especially enjoy walking with my husband. We get to enjoy togetherness and connection while also moving our bodies and our energies forward. Prana … moving forward always.