I am a swimmer. It's been my whole life since I was a kid.
Swimming is sort of a masochistic sport. The joy comes from hard work, seeing how hard you can push yourself. And when it comes to competition, it's all about swimming faster and better. It's taught me to compare.
When my competitive career finished by college, I started to play with yoga.
I was drawn into yoga by cool inversions that showed off how strong my upper body was, like crow-to-headstand. It was like gymnastics with breathing.
In the poverty of post-grad life, I found the cheapest exercises were running and donation yoga. I hated running and when my shin splints got worse, I went to yoga.
Let me tell you, in comparison to 5000 yards of swimming, 1 hour of yoga feels like nothing. I'd be down on myself because it wasn't so demanding cardiovascularly. However, each day I went, the instructors would remind me to focus on my breath and my practice.
"Don't pay attention to what those around you are doing.Focus on your body. How does it feel in YOUR body?"
"Try not to judge today against yesterday. Some days the same poses are not available to you."
"Whenever you lose your breath, child's pose is a space where you can always resume your breath."
"Yoga is a moving meditation."
"Savasana is the most important pose."
Inhale. Exhale. They reminded me to focus on me, close my eyes, and listen to my body.
Making the transition from someone who always had her eye on the next lane to somebody who closed her eyes and listened was amazing.
I found myself enjoying yoga. Doing regular exercise felt good. And the best part: nothing came crashing down. I'm still strong. I can still walk up stairs two-at-a-time. My blood work is within range.
Yoga has taught me that exercise doesn't have to be about pain and suffering. A yoga practice isn't "No pain, no gain." It's about getting to know your body and listening to it.
This was a crucial step for me in believing in intuitive eating. Dieting culture teaches us that we must be hungry. We must be left wanting. You cannot achieve what you most want by "taking it easy." (I blame capitalism, the American Dream, and Jillian Michaels).
Yoga is not about hurting and punishing the body. It's about listening to this amazing creation that manages to never miss a heartbeat.
And, rumor has it, yoga shouldn't stop on your mat.