Over the last three years, I lost more than 55 pounds and became someone with a “yoga practice.” If you told me either of those things would happen three years ago, I would not have believed it. I didn’t set out to be a yogi. When I first walked into Mind the Mat three years ago, I had no idea that that decision would change my life.
I was coming off a pretty low point in my personal life where I spent many nights eating and drinking at home alone, and I recognized that I needed to get out of my house and do something, anything, if things were ever going to change. My weight was somewhere in the mid-240s and my waist measured 42.5 inches. Not one to start small, I signed up for a weekly art class, a Pilates mat class at Mind the Mat, and a fall marathon. I’d read that Pilates was a good complement to running and figured it would help with marathon training. I also thought that Pilates was somehow easier than yoga. I now know that means I was doing Pilates incorrectly – Pilates now kicks my butt!
After a few months of Pilates classes, I decided to check out yoga and signed up for a yoga fundamentals course. I was petrified to start yoga because I had never seen anyone that looked like me in a yoga class. I worried about what I would wear; worried that people would laugh at me; worried I would be the biggest person in the room and I would not be able to do any of the poses. So many worries! It took some time, but eventually I realized that the only person who cared what I was wearing or doing (or not doing) in a class was me.
That first year of yoga was tough! I was neither strong nor bendy. I wanted to laugh when my teachers said that downward dog was a resting pose – I found it tortuous. Even child’s pose was uncomfortable until I figured out that keeping my knees very, very wide left room for my belly and allowed me to breathe and relax. It was more than a year before I could do a plank or side plank without my knees on the ground. And another year after that before I was doing chaturanga with my knees up. Shoulder stands seemed impossible at the beginning because my belly would crush into my chest and leave me feeling suffocated. Still, I kept going back to class each week, and very slowly, I noticed my body getting stronger and more flexible.
For most of 2013, I did one Pilates and one yoga class each week and completed the marathon (one and done). I did lose some weight, but gained much of it back once I was done running.
Around April 2014, I decided to try a hot yoga class and I chose to take Laura’s Friday night Rock and Roll flow. I still remember everything about that class. It was the most challenging class I had tried, and honestly, way beyond my fitness level at that time. For those who haven’t been, Rock and Roll is a really fun class where you do a little flow and then play with getting into various arm balances and inversions like headstand. I thought my year of yoga classes made me more than ready and was blown away at all of the cool things that the other students were able to do. My shoulders were so weak that I couldn’t even do the headstand prep – too much pain in my neck. I left that class with a new found love of the hot studio and a determination to one day feel like I belonged in that class.
I took the yoga fundamentals 2 course with Laura that summer and started attending classes more regularly. I quickly noticed two things: 1) I was improving a lot faster and 2) my body was starting to crave yoga on the days I took off. It is now nearly two years since my first hot yoga class and I’m truly blown away at all of the amazing things my body can do and all of the other ways I have changed. Somewhere along the way yoga transformed from something I did a few times a week because I knew it was good for me into something that I needed for my body and mind. I was surprised to find myself voluntarily waking up for 6am classes on days when I couldn’t attend at night.
I am now able to do many of the arm balances and inversions I once found so intimidating – or at the very least I have the confidence to try them and laugh and fall. Still, I will always remember some key firsts along my yoga journey. My very first bound headstand came with an assist from Kathy one Saturday morning late 2014, and not long after that Deb guided into my first headstand without a wall. The first time my feet touched the ground in plough pose came in a class with Dana. And I’ll never forget the elation I felt the first time I made it through one of Laura’s flows, which tend to involve a lot of side planks, fallen triangles, and wild things, and realized I did it all without putting my knee down on the ground once.
I have lost more than 55 pounds and 11 inches off my waist over the last three years. While I attribute most of the weight loss to watching what I eat and regular elliptical sessions, near nightly yoga classes also played a very important role in that they get me out of my house and away from my kitchen and wine cabinet. Now that I have a smaller body, I’m able to do some yoga binds that were previously, literally, out of reach. Laura used to tell me that my hands were “so close” to touching in bound side angle (they weren’t – I lost 7 inches off my waist before they touched) but I found her words encouraging and kept trying.
I have changed in other ways I could not expect. Previously, I avoided cameras – I don’t even have a proper before pic – and now I am actively posting pictures of myself attempting various yoga poses on Instagram. I am told that I smile a lot more. I count many of my fellow Mind the Mat students as well as teachers as my friends. Once petrified and fearful of yoga, I now want to learn as much as I possibly can. I fall a lot, but that’s part of the fun of the journey.