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One of my fellow yoga teachers, in her monthly newsletter recently, asked everyone what it was that brought them to yoga. She then told the beautiful story of how she herself discovered and incorporated yoga into her life. This got me to thinking about my own story and how yoga came to be such a big part of my life.

Back in 1998,  I’d been limping around for about two years because I’d incurred sciatic nerve damage from my pregnancy with Morgan (she was breech — butt first and folded in half, so her sitz bones were right on top of my sciatic nerve, grinding away every time she moved). That same year, I experienced my first panic attack. It woke me up in the middle of the night — I couldn’t breathe, my chest hurt, my left arm was numb. At the time, I swore I was having a heart attack and called 911, but the EMTs said I was fine. When I went to see my doctor the following day, he prescribed me Xanax and that was that. I took one and swore I’d never do it again…I hated the way it made me feel “loopy”…plus, I was home alone with Morgan alot (my first husband was rarely ever home), and I didn’t like thinking that if she were to wake up in the night, I might not be cognizant enough to hear her.

Fast forward a few months, and I’m going through the motions of a divorce, and not having an easy time dealing with it at all. I had another panic attack, this time at work, and my co-workers made me pay a visit to the doctor who happened to be on-site that day. He diagnosed mitral valve prolapse, because he could hear the distinctive “click” that it causes in the heartbeat. He basically said that either I need to make some lifestyle changes, or I’d have to be on medication for the rest of my life.

Here I was, 26 years old, limping around like a little old lady and starting to have panic attacks on a daily basis. Sometimes, the panic attacks were so bad, I’d have to pull over onto the side of the road, because I was afraid of passing out at the wheel. I finally realized I needed to do something, and I knew I didn’t want to be dependent on medication.

After researching and talking to people, I decided to give yoga a try. I started with videos, because I was too afraid to practice with people. Right away, I noticed a difference and realized this was what I was looking for. Within a very short amount of time, my sciatic pain was completely gone, and my panic attacks subsided not long after that. I was hooked!

Eventually, I knew I needed more, so I swallowed my fear and went to my first class. As many of you know, the rest is history. I’ve been practicing since 1999. Because of everything yoga has done for me, I decided to become a teacher myself in 2002, so that I could share all the wonderful things I’ve learned with others.

The thing I love the most about yoga is that I will forever be a student. As I deepen my practice, I continually discover new things about my body and my soul. My practice continually evolves due to these wonderful and amazing discoveries, and I am constantly amazed to see how far I’ve come. I look forward to what is to come and what I will learn each and every day.

So, for those of you out there who practice yoga, what’s your story? What is it that brought you to yoga, and what is it that’s kept you there? I’d love to hear your stories!

Namaste,

Melanie

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” -Marianne Williamson

When I first started practicing yoga, I was a big ball of stress and tightness. I started off practicing to videos in my home because I was too embarrassed for others to see me. After all, all the videos and pictures I’d seen showed these beautiful men and women, with perfect bodies, who appeared to have descended from Gumby in some way. How could I compete with that?

Eventually, though, I realized I needed a live teacher. Someone who could help me progress and who could make sure I was doing things properly. So I swallowed my pride and went to my first “live” class. The first thing stressed by the instructor was to make sure that no matter what, we honor our bodies and let go of competition — both with ourselves and with others. During that first class, I really did try my best not to compare what I looked like to what everyone else looked like, but wasn’t very successful. But I did walk away feeling great in both body and mind, so I kept coming back.

Eventually, it got easier to make it through a class and just focus on what I was doing “in the moment”, not worrying about what others were doing. But I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes, when I go to a teacher training or a yoga workshop, I find myself feeling that old fear as I look around the room at all of Gumby’s descendants. Sometimes, the ugly monster rears its head and screams, “Melanie, why are you here? Your body will NEVER be able to do that!” When that happens, if I’m not careful, I find myself pushing my body past my edge and I end up miserable and/or injured.

I feel like I take a step back in my practice whenever I do things like that, but I guess it’s just human nature. We naturally compare ourselves to others in a variety of situations: work, sports, parenting, marriage — the list goes on and on.

In yoga, you can’t tell how advanced someone is by the way they look in their poses. Only the peace of a person’s heart, mind, and spirit can reveal this. And when we’re focused in this realm, then we’ll find that we suddenly aren’t conerned so much about better/worse, beginner/advanced, etc. When we can master this — this letting go of competition — on our mats, it will transition into our lives off the mat as well.

Since November, I’ve really been working hard in my yoga and in my running to just do what I can do. To stop worrying about what my yoga buddies have progressed to, to stop worrying about how my running buddies who used to be at my pace are suddenly so much faster. And I have noticed that over the past two months, I’ve been really good at just doing the best I can do. I’ve really noticed that lately, I don’t care anymore about how I compare to others in terms of flexibility or speed, and it feels great! I feel like it’s finally transitioning into my professional life as well, and it feels amazing! For the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m doing the best job I can do, and I leave work feeling good about the work I am doing. It’s nice to see my yoga off the mat more and more in my life.

My challenge for you this week, especially if you tend to be a competitive person like me, is to quiet the competitive beast inside of you for at least one day. Just one time this week, just set a goal for yourself, and listen to your mind and your body as you work towards it. Try to meet your goal without worrying about how you compare to others, and don’t compete with yourself and end up pushing yourself past your mental or physical edge.

I’m curious to see how those of you who take me up on this challenge do. It wasn’t easy for me, but it definitely got easier and easier as time passed. Please feel free to provide your feedback in the comments section, or you can contact me privately. Don’t get frustrated if you aren’t successful at first…it takes practice, sometimes a lot of practice, to let go of competition. But I promise you that if you work hard at it, you WILL be successful. And the resulting sense of freedom that comes with it is worth every bit of frustration it may take to get there.

Namaste,

Melanie

“Rebellion against your handicaps gets you nowhere. Self-pity gets you nowhere. One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world — making the most of one’s best.” ~~ Harry Emerson Fosdick

It’s hard sometimes to accept what life hands us, isn’t it? As I spoke about last week, we often set expectations when facing certain situations, and can become disappointed when things don’t turn out as expected. That’s part of life, of course. We all know that, but that doesn’t make it easy to accept the way things are sometimes, does it?

Yesterday, I ran my 4th half-marathon in Virginia Beach. I wanted to run this race for several reasons: it’s very close to my hometown of Portsmouth, and it’s the 40th anniversary of this particular race (a BIG milestone) — it just felt like something I needed to be a part of.

When I signed up back in late November, I had hopes of finishing in under 2.5 hours (there I go, setting expectations!) to set a nice PR for myself (that means Personal Record for anyone who is unfamiliar with the running lingo). But with my health issues that I’ve been struggling with ever since, and an IT Band injury to boot, I basically abandoned my training plan and just did what I could. It was hard for me, but I had to let go of all my expectations and just accept wherever I happened to be each day.

Some days, I had no energy at all and either went back to bed or simply moved as much as I could muster. Some days, I was full of energy and was able to run and work hard. It was frustrating, but as the months went by, it got easier and easier.

However, I will say that I very seriously considered not going to the race at all, since I knew how unprepared I was to run 13.1 miles. But my daughter was running the 8K the day before me, and I figured if I was going to be there anyway, then I would just get in there and do the best I could. There was a 4-hour time limit, and I knew I could do THAT just by walking the whole time if I needed to.

Yesterday morning, as I walked in the foggy dark to the start line, I was nervous. What the heck was I getting myself into? But I started to catch the energy of all the others around me, and by the time the starting gun went off, I was excited to see what I could do. I had no expectations — I just figured I’d listen to my body and take breaks when I needed to, and that’s exactly what I did.

I ran for the first 5 miles, but my stomach forced me to take a break. I hadn’t been feeling well for the week leading up to the race (allergies and a cold), so I am sure that’s what made my stomach so upset. So after that point, I had to alternate walking with running, because my stomach kept bothering me from that point on. By mile 11, my feet and hips were really starting to get sore, so I slowed down my running pace but picked up the walking pace. And that’s how I finished the race. When I got to the point where I saw the finish line, I kicked it in to finish strong (you know, so I would look good for my pics), and that’s the end of it.

No PR was set. In fact, I got my worst time ever for a half-marathon. I finished in 2:57, which is like 16 minutes slower than my very first half-marathon. But I had a super-big, goofy grin on my face for a few hours after, and you know why? I think it’s because I accepted my limitations and really listened to my body. I finished the distance — maybe not in the time I was hoping for, but I finished, and that’s a big deal. I could’ve given up and hitched a ride back with one of the “rescue” vehicles. Or I could’ve chosen to not even show up at all. But I wanted to see what I was made of, and whether or not I could let go of the competition aspect and just do what was best for ME. And I did it!

So my challenge for you this week is to accept yourself as a bundle of possibilities, making the most of your best. Can you do it? Yes, you most certainly can!

Namaste,

Melanie

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“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” ~~ Alexander Pope

OK, so have you ever gone into a situation with the expectation of a certain outcome? Maybe it’s expecting to win your soccer game, or expecting to get an A on a test, or expecting to get proposed to by your significant other on a certain occasion. Let’s face it — we’ve all had times when we’ve walked into something with an expectation. It’s hard not to. We ARE human, after all.

In yoga, it is taught that we should let go of expectations. When you set expectations, you could end up being sorely disappointed if you set them too high. And if you set them too low, you could end up selling yourself short and missing out on something that could have been a wonderful opportunity.

On your yoga mat, you never know what your “best” is going to look like, as it can change from practice to practice. Your energy levels, the time time of day you practice, your intentions — all these things can differ from practice to practice and they can greatly affect your final expression of your poses. I definitely used to go into my yoga practices with expectations, and I’ve definitely had my moments when I was upset because I couldn’t do what I thought I could, and I have also had moments where after class, I knew I could’ve achieved more if I’d just been a bit more open to it.

If you’re a naturally Type-A person (like me, for instance), setting goals and expectations is easy because it’s what we’re wired to do. We’re the ones who need to learn to let go, to allow life to happen and roll with the punches. Not everybody’s like that, though. For some people, setting goals and expectations is needed to help find a direction and a purpose. But whichever category we fall into, part of finding our way in life involves both setting a path and being open to detours along the way.

Last week, I attended an awards ceremony at work, where people were nominated by peers for exhibiting various values that our company feels are crucial to our success. When they got to the “Focus on People” category, I was listening to this wonderful nomination about someone. I was thinking to myself, “Wow! What wonderful things to say about someone! I wonder who it is they are talking about?” Then they announced my name — I was in such shock! Why me? I feel like I am constantly complaining and whining about everything at work, and here I was getting nominated by a group of my peers because they feel like I exhibit the qualities of someone who focuses on others? Really? I mean, I know I try to do that, but I haven’t felt like I’ve done that very well lately, with all my self-pity. I had no expectations of winning any awards, so my day ended up being amazing with the great surprise of actually winning one.

Then there’s this upcoming weekend. I’ve got a half-marathon to run on Sunday, and I am SO not ready. With all my health stuff, I’ve not trained AT ALL like I should.  But you know what? That’s OK. I’ve let go of all my time goals, and even of being able to run the entire thing. I’ve got four hours to finish, and I know I can do THAT. Shoot, I could speed walk the entire thing and be done in four hours! So I’ve decided to just let it go. I’m just going to do what I can, pay attention to how my body feels while I’m running, and be happy with the fact that I’m at least doing SOMETHING good for my mind and for my body.

How about you? My challenge to you for this week is to drop the rigid ideas of what you can and can’t do — either in yoga and/or your life. If you can do this, you’ll find that you’re left with the feelings of freedom and power.  You’ll have the freedom to let your authentic light shine, and to find what truly makes you powerful in this world. When you experience this freedom and power, the possibilities are endless. What could be better than that?

Namaste,

Melanie

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” ~~ Proverbs 17:22

Just a quick post to let you know that for the month of March, rather than focusing on body parts, I wanted to switch things up and start weaving in some of the “off the mat” aspects of yoga. These are things we can — and should — be practicing, anywhere, anytime. If we can take just a few minutes each day to focus on the topic of the week, I promise you’ll start to see even more amazing things not just with your yoga on the mat, but with your entire being. Don’t believe me? Just give it a try…at least for this one month.

For this week, the focus is on finding the joy all around us. It’s everywhere, if we just take the time to open our eyes and truly see. The verse quoted above, from Proverbs 17:22, tells us that when we can find the joy in life, it acts like medicine. It cures our minds, bodies and souls because with joy in our lives, we leave as little room as possible for the things that would do us harm. Finding joy in something boosts our spirits, lifting us up to our highest point.

What will you do this week, each and every day, to find some joy in the situations presented to you? Sure, there may be some stressful things that will come your way. And if that happens, I challenge you to choose to find the good in it…find ONE THING that could bring you joy from the situation…and see if it doesn’t make a difference in your whole being.

Namaste,

Melanie

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