Competitive Yoga, the Soul & Donuts

I am a competitive person.  I inherited this from my father.  Lest he deny this, I’ll remind him of balloon volleyball.

I had just moved into a new home with my 3 boys, all under the age of 10.  The home had a huge room with concrete floors, a few windows and nothing else.  My boys loved that room, using it to engage their inner warriors on a daily basis.

On the day in question they were playing volleyball.

With a balloon.

And no net.  

When my father arrived and saw what was happening, he had to join in.  Within minutes he was hooting and hollering about the incredible “spike” he had pulled off  that secured his victory.  

Victory over my young children…. with a balloon……and an imaginary net.

I have inherited my competitiveness from my father.

Naturally, when the owner of my studio announced she was taking 1 class with each teacher during the month of September (20 teachers) I had to turn it into a challenge.

“Shouldn’t it be who can do so first” I inquired.   She is as competitive as I and, no sooner had the words left my mouth than I heard “gauntlet thrown.   challenge accepted”.   The competition soon leaked onto the studio’s FB page, and smack talk began.

(Ok, I admit…..I did most of the smack talking.)

It was great timing for me.  I had not been practicing for 2 months, so this was the perfect motivation to get me back into my practice.  I was also knee deep in an ugly divorce, and trying to prepare my house for sale.  I had a lot on my plate, and there were times a new teacher helped me through a bad day.  There were also times I was filled with regret for having opened my mouth.  (This happens to me often…..  the regret thing……. because of my big mouth.)

I learned a few things about myself.

  • I can be remarkably callous.  When a pregnant teacher threw her back out, all I could think about was the fact I hadn’t yet taken one of her classes!  There were 2 other teachers experiencing personal issues and I have to admit, while I was empathetic, it was all I could do to not chastise them for not offering me a class!  Not a shining moment for me.
  • I will quickly abandon my favorite teachers to Win.  It seems I am the definition of fair weather friend.
  • I want others to “win” also.  I often encouraged fellow yogi’s to join the contest and, while I’m sure they thought my motive was not exactly pristine, I truely wanted them to experience what I was experiencing:  the exhilaration of pursing a personal challenge.  I also hoped that, like me, this “contest” would distract them from the daily dramas and challenges of every day life.

As the month drew to a close and I had 4 teachers yet to take, I called Uncle.  As loathe as I am to admit it, my energy level has never recovered from chemo.  More importantly, neither has my competitive edge!  I could have pushed myself and earned a high “score” of 19, but I didn’t.

I did learn some important yoga  lessons:

  1. Your core is what makes downward dog comfortable.  In fact, your core is what makes most poses comfortable!  Which explains why I’m so often uncomfortable!
  2. If I’ve distributed the weight equally to both legs, warrior 2 is effortless.  True fact!
  3. It’s ok to try a class much harder than you would normally take.  Check with the teacher though, and make sure he has enough of a sense of humor and will laugh at your complaints and glaring looks.
  4. Once you’ve done that hard class, only complain about it 1 time.  Otherwise, experienced Yogi’s will begin to complain about your complaining. (True Fact)
  5. There really is a teacher for every need.  Don’t quit if your 1st class is not satisfying, because the next one might be the one to transform your world.

Which leads me to the most important lesson I learned in the month of September:

                    Yoga  Has Taught Me to Honor My Body, My Mind and My Spirit

I learned that it means more to me to honor the limits of my body than to win.

Honestly, I am a bit bummed about this.  I was hoping that my foray into “Power Yoga” might reveal some inner Yoga Guru I didn’t know was there.  Alas, it did not.  My foray into Power Yoga led me exactly where I’d feared:  exhausted, sweaty and demoralized.

As a typical American Woman I’ve given in to fads, social pressure and beliefs that I could/should be the Perfect 10.   This would still be my life had I not run into cancer.  A diagnosis of stage 3 ovarian cancer, and the surgery and chemo it required, changed everything.  There is something unique about cancer.   Prior to cancer I knew my life would some day end, but I felt no sense of urgency.  After cancer, I was watching the second hand of my life, speeding towards the end, winding down to its natural end. Everything changed.  With this change came yoga.

I written before about my pre-cancer idea of yoga and my post-cancer understanding, so I won’t repeat it. Suffice it to say I am a yoga advocate now.

There are a lot of beautiful people at my yoga studio and, as I did the 30 day teacher challenge, I met many of them.  I took some classes that 2 years ago would have left me very unhappy with myself.  You know those classes?  The one’s filled with the type of people who can pull off yoga shorts.  I can not pull off yoga shorts.  As I took these classes though, I did not feel out of place, or self conscious, or like I didn’t belong.  I rolled out my mat, sandwiched between two beautiful people, with no sense of discomfort.  Which got me to thinking – how did that happen?  How did I end up in  a space in which I could exercise next to someone clearly my physical superior yet feel no angst, no sense of incompetence.

Around this same time my neighbor joined an early morning 30 day “fitness challenge”.  She was excited.  In addition to diet changes and early morning work outs, she stood to get her money back if she met her goal weight.  She was pumped.  As a middle aged mother she was finally going to fit back  into a bikini, and she wasn’t going to have to pay for it!   She worked her ass off.  She went to every 5AM workout, she followed every diet tip, including “cleanses and severe deprivation, and she willingly stepped onto the scale every Monday.  I watched her.  She was determined and I believed, as did she, that she would be in bikini shape in 30 days.  She wasn’t.  She didn’t get her money back.  Instead, she got talked into another 30 days of torture, for another $500., money she’d get back when she finally looked like Christy Brinkley.  It never happened.  As far as I know she is still at it.  I hope not.

As I watched her kick her own ass, I was kicking my ass with my 30 day/20 teacher challenge.  The difference was I gave up.  While she kept going, I threw in the towel.

I picked up a new show on Netflix & took up beading.  While my abs and thighs continued to ripple under the weight of cellulose, I made some of my favorite jewelry and watched what are now some of my favorite shows.

What really struck me was this:  it didn’t bother me.   While I really, really wanted my neighbor to reach her “goal weight”, I didn’t care that I wasn’t at mine.  While I was rooting for her that she’d be bikini ready by spring break, I was content buying a larger size yoga pants along with my new beads.

It took a while for the lesson to sink in, but eventually I realized that while I was learning to accept myself, she was learning to hate herself.  She was paying to be abused.  She was hungry, physically and emotionally.  She was a failure.  She never got her money back.  (BTW – I don’t think she’s a failure, I think she’s amazing!!, as are all the other women buying into the idea that perfection is found in size 2 pants) .

I, on the other hand, was happily perfecting my Humble Warrior and Savasana.  My thighs were still a rippling mess of cellulose, and my love handles still spilled out over my pants, but I didn’t care.

That was when I realized the real gift yoga has given me:  Acceptance.

Years ago I would have read this and thought “Hmmm…she’s making an excuse for being over weight and out of shape”.”  Yoga though, has taught me something very different.  Yoga has taught me that the state of my body does not determine the state of my Soul and my Spirit.  There have been times my body has been at it’s worse, yet my Spirit and Soul at their best.  Vice versa, there have been times that my body was a size 2 but  my Soul and Spirit were depleted.

Yoga has convinced me that I am more than my pant size.  I am worthy because of who I am, not because of the yoga pants I can “pull off”.  I can have a happy, productive life, touching the lives of others, with fat thighs and flabby abs.

This is not news to those addicted to yoga.  If you are a Yogi you understand the connection between your mind, body and soul.  You understand that we must first accept our physical body, so we can move on to the important work of accepting our spiritual body.

The people I want to reach are my neighbor.  I want  to reach the women  (and men) paying copious amounts of money to brutalize their body, only to end up unhappy.  I want to tell these people this:

You will Never leave Yoga craving a Donut.  

Plain and simple.  That is the message.

While you will leave your “kick-ass 30 day fitness challenges” with only 1 thing on your mind – FOOD – you will leave Yoga with a clear mind and a sense of serenity.

You will leave yoga with a feeling of peace that transcends Dunkin Donuts and awesome pictures on FaceBook.

The rub is this:  You have to Try It.  You have to give Yoga  a Chance.  And, because it took cancer to get me there, I understand why you don’t.

Just consider – what if.   What if Yoga can bring you the life you yearn?  What if the right yoga class is the key to your happiness?  What if Yoga is the one and only thing that can complete your life?

Would it be worth it?

Caveat:  yes, I feel more attuned to my soul & spirit than ever before, but I am still competitive  by nature.  Since I can no longer indulge my competitiveness in the gym  I guess I’ll have to save if for ruthless games of Spoons with my family.  Look out peeps:   I can be spiritual and still draw blood!

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