Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.


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The Yoga Culture Of L.A.: A Yoga Story

Throughout my life, I had different impressions of yoga. I avoided it for much of my 20s, because it didn’t seem like it would be strenuous enough to really be considered “exercising”. I imagined a bunch of people in a room “Om” ing and breathing in full lotus position, whilst being guided through gentle stretching. I had never heard of hatha, or vinyasa, or yin flow, etc.

The ONLY brand for yoga. Riiight.

The ONLY brand for yoga. Riiight.

My first yoga class was actually in London; at a Bikram studio within walking distance from my flat, where they offered a month of unlimited classes for a very reasonable charge. A friend begged me to do it with her, so I signed up. The scorching hot room had an oddly peaceful vibe to it. There were people from all walks of life in the room, but no one talked once in the room. They remained fixed on the sound of the instructor’s voice, and laser-focused on their own body movement, balance, and breathing. There was a focus on fitness and quieting the mind. I found myself improving quickly through the weeks, and setting little goals for myself every time. The practice was all about me, and the classes made it easy to do that.

Flash forward to my life in Los Angeles, where yoga pants-clad women are the daily standard sight at coffee shops, grocery stores, and sidewalks city-wide. To an outsider, it would seem that women in this city are always going to or coming from yoga, with their sloppy ballerina buns (annoying trend alert), and chia seed smoothies. Yoga here is almost as much of a fashion accessory as any clothing or hairstyle. Anyone who’s anyone does yoga–duh!

And, while I’m a total hypocrite for attending classes weekly myself, I note how different the vibe is here from the London yoga studio. Cliques of lithe, willowy yogaphiles chatter excitedly at the front of the room, and hug and squeal when they see each other. From the back of the room, as I observe the trim figures lined up on the mats in front of me, I pick out the familiar athletic wear designer label on each and every pair of leggings or tank top in the room: “Lululemon, Lululemon, Lululemon, Lululemon…” and so on.

While, yes, this yoga studio features Vinyasa style yoga, and not the scorching Bikram style yoga, the room still gets very hot when you’re in the thick of things. Yet, some of these women just don’t sweat. They finish out the class as smooth and dry as they began, without even a glow or a glimmer of moisture. Meanwhile, I look as though I’ve just weathered a Tsunami. Granted, I’m a “sweat-er,” but still. It’s as if these women will themselves not to sweat so that they will remain perfect-looking in their $100 leggings for that Whole Foods errand later.

Of course, yoga is a personal practice, and I try to let these thoughts melt away while wobbling in my Half Moon pose, or my feeble attempts at Crow Pose. Still, it’s tough not to feel the glaring heat of obviousness that you don’t belong to a certain culture. I’m not gluten free, and I prefer not to eat something for breakfast that I can grow a fun “pet” out of (“Ch-ch-ch-chia!”). I don’t plunk $100 down on exercise clothing just because it’s trendy. I wear my hair in a ponytail. I’m an individual. And I guess that coming to terms with that is a mental exercise all in itself.

 

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Meditation: A Running Story

As I talk to more people about this whole thyroid thing, the more panic and horror sets in. The reoccurring fantastical image in my mind is waking up from a foggy, drugged sleep, only to realize with the sheerest of visceral terror that someone or someTHING has slashed into my neck and stolen one of my organs while I was sleeping (I MAY be watching too many “X-Files” reruns, but still…).

Even though it’s perfectly logical and I know it has to happen, I am freaked out. I can’t help it. I am trying to do what I can to lull myself into states of calm, to cure these painful, fearful feelings, to get used to the change that is about to occur.

I started going back to yoga, both vinyasa flow and restorative practices, focusing my breath, quieting my mind. I’ve learned to carry these practices with me, the mindset, in my daily life, and also, to recognize it in other things that I do.

I’m a runner. I’ve always loved the solitary simplicity, the strength and the fire I get from being out there in the open air, relying on my own two feet to carry me anywhere. The other day, as I was running, even though I’d thought this before, I really realized that running IS meditation, if done properly.

When you become fit as a runner, it’s not the muscle in your legs that carries you great distances, it’s your heart, lungs, and the rhythm of your feet. As long as you have breath, heart, and allow yourself to rely on them, you can cover great distances existing in a space of total freedom, peace and passive mindfulness.

Throughout my short-lived existence as a distance runner, I’ve had friends, coaches and teammates tell me I’m “fast”. I don’t really think that I am “fast” so much as that I am consistent. I keep a steady pace that feels right to me and slowly increase as time stretches on, as my lungs and legs stretch out. I keep enough “juice in the tank” for a one-mile sprint to the finish. I listen to and trust my body, I trust the rhythms of my feet to drum out the right pace for that time.

Running’s one of the few times when life’s crummy moments can’t get to me. I’ve used it to get through so many things. Sometimes a conundrum calls for a slower, thoughtful run, and sometimes anger or worry lead me to sprint out my anxiety. Other times, digging into a steep up-and-over hill workout can be like sticking a pin into the very center of my deepest pain or sadness and relieving the pressure.  And when I don’t want to think at all, running breakneck downhill without stepping on any cracks helps me focus on my feet, and less on anything else.

A lot of people try to muscle a run, or try to fight it, but if you relax and trust your body, it becomes an experience, an opportunity for focus and betterment. You can run fast or take it slow, knowing that your body is strong and it is meant to do this. It takes time to “get out of your head” on a run, but, when it happens, it is the best feeling, ever. It is cleansing, rejuvenating and a beautiful opportunity to breathe and embrace living.

Trust yourself, and follow your heart.

Running as meditation--and you get to see cool stuff like this on the way.

Running as meditation–and you get to see cool stuff like this on the way.