Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Yoga Story: Sofia

Yoga discovered me a couple of times in my young life, but I was only truly captivated by its immense power within the last year. Growing up I was an extremely active kid: I was an avid gymnast, karate kid, skier, and softball player. After a couple of years of inactivity in high school, I discovered running and became fanatical in my pursuit. Running became my passion, my raison d'ĂȘtre, it was the sport I grew to love for its anxiety-reducing benefits and that wondrous runner's high experienced after a long, hard workout.

Upon entering college, I immediately joined the cross country and track teams and built my life around a schedule of running, studying and traveling with our team. Everything in my life at that time depended upon my ability to run, and when I developed stress fractures and other injuries early on in my running career, I knew that the sport was wreaking havoc on my body. Yet I was resolute in my belief that I needed running to de-stress: I had high anxiety levels throughout high school and college that I was incapable of controlling except through long runs.

During my injured periods a fellow runner on my team, Shannon, encouraged me to try yoga. With her encouragement, a few members of our team took classes together every once in aw hile. This class moves too slowly, I thought. I'm not even getting a workout! I viewed yoga as a waste of my time while my tight runner's hamstrings struggled through the simplest of poses. Yet I had been reading all about the benefits of yoga and knew a small dose of it couldn't hurt, so I took classes once every couple of months with the company of fellow runners during their injured periods. Yoga had found me early on, but I wasn’t yet ready to embrace it.

Upon graduating from college, I ended up landing a job at Lululemon Athletica, the high-end yoga and athletic clothing store that at the time was unknown to most New Yorkers. One of our job perks was unlimited access to yoga classes in New York City at any studio. Lululemon’s marketing scheme was smart: we'd wear the clothing, chat with the teachers after class, and spread the word about our growing corporate-yoga empire. I was still an avid runner at the time, fighting off injuries and training for half-marathons, but I knew I would find a way to fit in at least three classes a week, especially knowing they were at no cost to me. I worked the yoga classes in around my running schedule, being found once again by a normally pricey yoga habit that was handed to me in exchange for selling stretchy pants. I still wasn’t ready to catch the yoga bug just yet: I struggled through yoga classes, itching to leave early every single class. I still had that excess of nervous energy I couldn’t shake without running.

Two years later, after leaving yoga in the dust for the most part (save for a three month stint as a marketer for a local studio that in exchange gave me free classes), I found myself trapped inside my Brooklyn apartment for two months on crutches. I had developed a stress fracture in my right femur, leaving me on crutches that were nearly impossible to get around on in New York City. Sitting at home day after day, I had a great deal of time to reevaluate my so-called exercise-related “passions.” What did I love so much about running that I felt I couldn’t let go of? I liked the exhaustion after a tempo run. I liked the feeling of pushing my body to its perceived limits. I liked seeing marked improvements in something I put effort into. Why couldn’t I attain these good feelings through another form of fitness? And why didn’t I listen to my body and simply stop running when I was repeatedly being told that my body couldn’t handle the strain of the sport?

And then, when I was finally ready, I allowed yoga to find me. Or rather, I discovered the desire to practice once again, buried deep within, or simply underneath my bed amidst miscellaneous items where my old lime green Gaiam mat was collecting dust. I made the connection between body and mind: my body’s desire to stay active and healthy and my mind’s wish to lessen the anxious thoughts and overwhelming waves of emotions I experienced on a near-daily basis.

In my extreme all-or-nothing fashion I started buying every yoga deal I could find online and taking classes several times a week. If my body wouldn’t let me run injury-free, yoga would be my workout drug of choice, and I’d practice as often as I could. I also started writing more about my experiences since I’ve always felt drawn to the written word. Like the girl who finally comes around to that old guy in her life she thought she would never be involved with (this analogy works here – just bare with me), I gave yoga a chance – a real chance, one with vigor, dedication and readiness.

Since I’ve finally surrendered to yoga, a practice that repeatedly tried to captivate my spirit over the years, I have gained a renowned sense in the power of not only my body but also my abilities to make a dent in the world. I feel a new sense of physical strength that I never had attained from running – the exhausted yet calm sensation after a tough yoga class, and a renewed sense of energy and vitality to effect change in the most powerful of ways. My mind is calmer, and I am finally becoming – with much focus and doggedness – the calmer, more relaxed person I know I am destined to become. With body and mind finally aligned, yoga has taught me exactly what I am capable of in the present moment.

Sofia blogs at InsightfulAppetite.com.

Do you want to share your yoga story on Spoiled Yogi? Email me at spoiledyogi@gmail.com!