Today is the day. After months of hibernation, like Punxatawney Phil I poke my head out and announce summer is on its way. With Valentine’s Day gone and all the legitimate excuses to eat candy, cookies, and cupcakes behind me (at least until Easter), it’s time to shed my winter fat stores and get back into training. That MS 150 ride I mentioned? It’s four months away and, while summer may feel like a lifetime from today, swimsuit season will be here before I know it. I need to kick it into gear both figuratively and literally and place my couch-softened tush back onto my rock-hard bike seat.
After months of sitting on our couch or huddling under covers in bed trying to escape the cold, I have to admit I have let myself go. (I hate to be cold. Have I mentioned that yet?) I escape the cold of winter by hunkering down, sitting on my butt, and enjoying glasses of wine and ridiculous amounts of sugar. This behavior creates an inevitable weight gain that then fosters a total antipathy toward exercise because, well, why bother? I am comfy, cozy, and warm, and that is all that matters. I reason that the extra fat is insulation keeping me warm like whale blubber.
Then, one day it hits me…usually on a warm February day when I’m not disguised by seventeen layers of clothing. While preparing to shower, I catch a glimpse of myself au naturel in the mirror and officially freak out. I take a good, long look at what I have been hiding under the sweatpants and baggy sweaters. When I think I can’t stand it a minute more, I make myself look for one minute more. Later, just to be sure I have the message, I photograph my muffin top so I can refer to it the next time I think I want some ice cream. Then, I vow to stop being a sloth and get back to the gym or ride my bike.
Once dressed for the day, like a woman possessed, I earnestly tear apart the kitchen. I throw out chips, cookies, leftover restaurant take out, cans of frosting, and yes…even candy. Anything that might become a temptation must go. With a quick and decisive vengeance, I purge the cupboards, fridge, and pantry. I save a few things (for my kids’ sake), but I make a promise to myself not to ingest anything with sugar and to reduce greatly my white flour intake. And, true to my word, I don’t put so much as one lone goldfish cracker or one seemingly innocuous M&M into my mouth. The damage has been done and now it’s time to recover. Then, I go exercise. No excuses.
I don’t think it would be so easy for me to do this if years ago I hadn’t discovered Power Jus mode. I was in my mid 20’s and depressed. I was a college graduate living in a garden level apartment, working two jobs to pay my bills and still barely making ends meet. I had a pet hamster to keep me company. That should tell you how bad things had gotten in my life. Pa-the-tic. Then, one day I hit rock bottom; I decided I couldn’t stand myself anymore. Who WAS this woman? Whoever she was, she wasn’t me. At least she wasn’t the me I had dreamed I would become. It was time to change. From that point on, I would run my life rather than letting life run over me. With an invisible but indelible manifesto etched into my brain, within four month’s time I had secured a higher paying, more fulfilling job, moved away from the guy who was holding me back, and started exercising again. Power Jus mode whipped my life back into shape.
Ever since then, I’ve had Power Jus on reserve. Each time I activate her, it becomes easier to get back to my old self more quickly. Of course, none of this is to say that I am giving up wine completely or that I’ll not be sitting in bed with my laptop even once more through the rest of wretched winter. I’m just not going to do either of those things until after I’ve clipped into my bike pedals and done my time on the trainer. Like my own personal Jillian Michaels, Power Jus doesn’t tolerate excuses; and, trust me, she will kick my ass. After all, that bike ride gets closer each day, and it brings with it swimsuit season. It’s time to hit the road.
**Postscript: My very sweet friend informed me that my muffin top is actually more of a mini-muffin, so upon her request I hereby acknowledge that “muffin top” is a subjective term. I know others feel their muffin tops are more substantial than mine, but I can only speak to my own experience and this is muffin top to me.**
We’ve gotten a lot of snow the past week here in Denver, so instead of going to yoga today as planned I could not pass up the opportunity to get out and enjoy the fresh powder snow. If the perfectly clear, beautiful blue winter sky wasn’t reason enough to get out, I noticed that no one had yet taken their snowshoes or skis out onto the open space field behind our house, which meant I was going to get to break a fresh trail. I have always loved making my mark in the snow and, since I was born a penis-less female, using snowshoes is the closest I come to peeing in the snow and marking my territory.
It was a balmy 6 degrees when the hyper border collie and I headed out. The thing I have always appreciated about snowshoeing is that it’s such a good workout that I am rarely cold for long. And, sure enough, it wasn’t but a few minutes until I was huffing and puffing and already unzipping layers of Smartwool. I planned to do the 4-mile loop the dog and I usually hike. It seemed like a reasonable and attainable goal. I snowshoe fairly often, but I usually head out on paths that have already been trodden down somewhat. In fact, I had completely forgotten how much work it is snowshoeing in fresh snow. I was stopping far more frequently than I had planned, just to catch my breath. The dog, completely unaccustomed to my taking breaks, enjoyed every last second by flying off in different directions with total freedom.
On one of my oh-too-many stops to catch my breath, I started thinking about my desire to blaze a trail today and how I’ve come a long way from my high school days when I was a truly devoted follower. My best friend was the leader, and I was happy being in her shadow (which was considerable since she is 6 feet tall in bare feet). In high school, I wanted to be able to camouflage myself, to fade into my surroundings. There’s a photo of me in the yearbook that comes to mind. The camera was pointed right at me, and I ducked my head and stared at my schoolwork as if I could disappear into it. I remember that girl as hesitant, reticent, and fearful. Definitely not a trailblazer.
Now that I am older and have more miles in my own skin, I’m a bit less concerned about whether or not I blend in. It’s not that I want to stand out necessarily. I just don’t care if I do or not. Other peoples’ opinions of me matter so much less than they used to. And, that makes it easier for me to be my own woman, to do what I want, and to move forward in my life unabashed. I may not be a true female pioneer like Amelia Earheart, but I’m closer to that adventurer now than I’ve ever been before. It’s not always easy. In fact, just like breaking a fresh trail in snowshoeing, sometimes making my own way is much more work than I imagined it would be. But, at least the path I create is uniquely mine, and that has to be worth more than just running with the pack. There’s something about breaking out on your own. Each step is a new beginning and the possibilities are limitless. It takes your breath away.
I often harass my kids about not using their better judgment…you know the old, “Well, if Ben jumped off a bridge would you jump too?” thing. Today, though, I need to have that conversation with myself. Last night I went a bit overboard while entertaining some friends. It’s one thing to be sick because you’ve picked up an icky virus. But, it’s ludicrous when you’re sick because you refused to listen to your own body telling you to knock it the heck off.
Medically speaking, I am not really supposed to eat and drink whatever I want because I had my gallbladder removed in 2002 when my first son was not quite 9 months old. My body cannot process high fat foods as well as it once did. The surgery was a medical necessity because, as an ER doctor so eloquently put it, my gallbladder was a “useless, completely filled beanbag.” I was having severe attacks that would leave me doubled over in pain for 4-10 hours at a time, and the attacks were becoming more frequent. Multiple doctors assured me that my beanbag gallbladder was damaged enough to become infected and potentially burst.
However, I was a young mother, sleep-deprived, and not really paying attention as the doctor rattled off post-surgical behaviors I would need to adhere to. He told me that I should be able to lead a normal life, but I would need to watch my fat intake to avoid digestive issues. In my brain, that meant that provided I didn’t try to eat a cheeseburger, fries, a shake, and a piece of cheesecake in the same sitting, I shouldn’t have any trouble. I’m a relatively healthy eater, so that menu seemed highly improbable anyway. And, any concern I had about what the surgery meant for my future went into a jar with my diseased organ. It was gone, and I was done with the stomach pain.
Or so I thought until the first time I really overdid it while eating. I hadn’t been paying attention to what I was consuming. And, that night I fell asleep feeling not quite right. I woke up just an hour later feeling truly sick. I started to think maybe I’d gotten a stomach bug or perhaps food poisoning. Nope. Turns out my body was working furiously trying to process all the junk I had eaten. After a sleepless, nauseous, and very uncomfortable night, you would think I’d have learned my lesson. You’d be wrong. Last night is a case in point. I still will occasionally forget that I should not eat whatever I want. And, since there isn’t a meter in my body that lets me know when I am reaching DEFCON 5 with regard to the amount of fat I’ve consumed, sometimes it sneaks past me one bite at a time until I am positively miserable.
As I was awake for hours last night, praying my food would digest faster and riding waves of cold sweat and nausea, I kept returning to this one thought: “Why do I do this to myself?” Certainly, I know better. This has happened to me more times than I should admit. But, it’s easy for me to ignore my body because it should simply do whatever my brain believes it should be able to do, right? And I need it to do a lot.
I think women do this quite often. We ignore our health because we are busy and don’t have time to deal with it. We push ourselves when we need to back off because we’re the mom and we have to keep things running. This is how last fall I let a cold become a sinus infection and eventually become bronchitis. It’s how I shoveled my way to 5 weeks’ worth of bed rest when I was pregnant with our second child. My employers don’t tolerate sick days or slackers, so I neglect my health and soldier on.
It’s wrong, though, how I’ve learned not to pay attention to what my body needs. I only have this one vessel and if I disregard it and it falls into disrepair, what then? Who will run my vast empire of laundry, dirty dishes, and dusty ceiling fans? Who will take care of my two small bosses in my absence? I need to remember that sleep is imperative, healthy food choice is crucial, and water consumption is compulsory. I need to use my better judgment. After all, just because everyone else is eating cheesecake and chocolate doesn’t mean I need to too…although I’ll definitely want to.
A year ago, I did something I swore I would never do, and it truly changed my life: I attended my first power yoga class. I have to admit that my decision to attend this class had little to do with a desire to do yoga at all. In fact, I was basically strong-armed into yoga by my well-intentioned sisters-in-law who purchased a $75 yoga gift card for me for Christmas because they thought (and I quote) “yoga is great as your body ages.” Ouch. I would like to tell you that this gift thoroughly annoyed me, but that would be admitting that I am an ungrateful brat, and I try not to be that transparent.
At any rate, I wandered into a beginner class at a CorePower Yoga studio near my home to fulfill my duty and use up my gift card. I didn’t expect much from the class. I had already convinced myself that yoga had nothing to offer me. I was certain I would be bored. I knew it wasn’t much of a cardiovascular workout. I was positive that my body was plenty strong and balanced. Still, I brought my mat, a water bottle, and a towel and situated myself in the back of the room so no one could watch me make a total ass of myself.
The class was led by a very mellow and earthy gal named Melissa. I was already rolling my eyes. She had us get into the easy and relaxing child’s pose, which I immediately discovered was neither easy nor relaxing for me. Melissa reminded us that yoga is a practice, not a competition, and that we should let go of judgment. That statement stabbed me right in the heart. I’m my own worst critic. Then she told us to focus on a worry we brought into class then exhale and let it go. So, with a big exhalation, I decided to let go of ego and enter into the experience without negativity.
That hour of yoga flew by for me. I was shocked. I was not bored, my mind did not wander, and I didn’t once think it was too “easy” for me. She had us do an abdominal workout that messed me up for days. And, I actually broke a sweat even though the room wasn’t heated. I was so excited to learn something new and I was determined to get into Crow pose. I was genuinely surprised by how the whole experience had left me feeling peaceful, positive, and poised. I left that class absolutely knowing I would come back to do another one. Wonders never cease.
Well, it’s a year later. I did get into crow pose. I did it within the first couple months once my core strength improved. I am much stronger now and love it when the guy in the pet store asks if I need him to carry the 40 pound bag of dog food to my car. (I always respond with a giggle, “No, thanks. I think I can manage.” Then I hoist that bag onto my shoulder like it’s nothing and stroll out the door.) Could not do that before. When I entered that first class, I could barely touch my fingertips to the floor. Now, my palms sit flat on the floor even with straight legs. My balance is better, I’m more limber, and you can actually see my abs (although you’d see them much more clearly if I could give up my nightly need for dessert). The most amazing thing for me, though, is that even after a year of classes I have not once gotten bored on my mat. Every hour long session is a challenge. I never wonder when it will be over. On that yoga mat, I am 100% fully present in my life. Yoga challenges me, relaxes me, balances me, clears my head, and gives me confidence. I guess these folks who have been practicing it for centuries were onto something.
Last month I did the unthinkable: I started doing hot yoga. A year ago I said I’d never be able to handle yoga in a 105 degree room with humidity. Now, on freezing winter days when I can’t thaw out my toes, a hot yoga studio is a quick, pseudo-tropical escape; and I welcome the opportunity to sweat and remember how miserable summer can be. It’s amazing how your perspective can change if you’re just adventurous enough to take a chance on the “no way” things in your life.
(Postscript: The day after I published this, I got into a headstand in yoga class for the first time. Yay me!)