A Rambling Reminiscence

Yesterday I had this idea for a post, and it was a really good idea. I started pulling it together slowly on my phone on my long commute, where most of my ideas emerge, putting a few words in a draft, and eventually we made it to my stop in Washington Heights, and I closed the app, with every intention of revisiting today. Later that night, I posted a photo on Instagram for this yoga challenge I’m doing (#nerdalert), and after posting, decided to look through old photos to see if I could notice any progress in that pose in the past few months. As I started stalking my own Instagram feed, I reached a point from early summer that made me pause, catch my breath a little and choke back a few tears. I kept scrolling, trying not to get overwhelmed by some of the photos, which feel like a lifetime away in just a few short months, and eventually found the photo I was looking for. The timestamp said it was 32 weeks ago, just 32 short weeks, and I let a tear roll down my left cheek and onto the cat as I realized how far I’ve come in those eight months.

It’s funny how quickly I felt overwhelmed by all the changes in 2015. In living through this year so far, it’s felt like a lot of the same, same-same but different, growing but stale, little changes that don’t add up. There’s something so stark about the pseudo-reality of an Instagram feed that can bring you back to earth real quick. Yoga does that; it brings out the absolute best and the absolute worst in you, it makes you feel like you’re doing everything wrong when really you’re learning baby steps to do it right. Looking at a few photos I could see physical changes in me – look how much more aligned my splits are! I can do that move without blocks now! – but it’s the mental differences that caused the tear to run down my cheek, because the more I scrolled, the less I recognized the person posting photos all these months back.

I can’t explain it, but I felt sad when I got back far enough in the feed. Maybe it’s the mental shift that I’ve had for the past few months in looking forward to the big change next year, but there was something so raw about that girl, that maybe wouldn’t come through in the photos but it certainly came through as I recalled posting each one. There are the photos from the NP trip to Atlantic City in February, just before I started this job, months before I cut my hair, and one of the last times all six of us were together, save for the big wedding last month, of course. There were the photos from my parent’s house in April, relaxing weekends cut short by hospital visits and family emergencies. Even the photos from early summer, where no one is married and we have months of warm weather and rooftops ahead of us, it’s like looking at all the possibilities and reconciling them with what reality turned into in the end.

The great post I wanted to write started with the opener “I’m starting to feel that I’m losing my best friend, or maybe I’m just realizing now that we’re already lost.” Maybe I’ll get around to posting (or well, finishing) that whole post one day, but it seems silly to try and do so now. It seems… wrong? or maybe just more sad, to try and reminisce the way I wanted to after reliving 2015 through an Instagram feed, because I’d be reminiscing for something that can’t exist any longer. Not because we don’t want it to, or I suppose I can only speak for myself there. Of course I’d want it to exist, and I’d love to go back to the way things were. But then again, I wouldn’t want that at all. If I can take anything away from reminiscing the way I did last night, with a slow scroll of an Instagram feed, it’s that things change all the time, through our own progress or through the slow passage of time. Things may be different now, things may never be the same. At the very least, we’ll have the memories immortalized with a slow finger scroll down a page, for times that were, the times that are, and perhaps, in a small way, to the times that may be.

PLD Montage: Vol. 2.2 (Whole30 Edition)

30 days is not a long time, all things considered. Breaking it down, it’s four weeks at work and four weekends, it’s two paychecks, and maybe four trips to the grocery store. But when you’re on Whole30, those days break out a little differently. That’s 90 meals that need to be planned, prepped and consumed all on my own. That’s four weekends of no wine, four weeks of no chocolate, and two paychecks largely sacrificed to food-related purchases. It’s 30 days where you feel sick, and bloated, and depressed, and over it for a large portion of the time; it’s four weeks of your brain taunting you with all the things you “can’t” have and maybe a night or two where you dream about swimming in a pool filled with pinot noir.

But it’s only 30 days. And in those 30 days, there are a lot of things you can learn. SO without further ado, I give you:

PLD Montage: Whole30 Edition:

  • After some back-and-forth on the exact start date, my lovely friend M, who was joining me in this round, and I decided we’d start on Monday, March 30. The way I saw it at the time, I had two big “tests” during the month – dinner with a client, and my grandmother’s 90th birthday party – and the rest of the time would be smooth sailing. Work was supposed to calm down after the insanity of March (March Madness, if you will), I had zero plans on the weekends aside from the aforementioned birthday party… what could possibly go wrong, right?
    Lesson learned: Always expect the unexpected.
  • In preparation for the 30 days ahead, I spent a lot of time reading about what to expect throughout the process. I read the Whole30 timeline, read people’s reviews online, asked M and G more about their experiences, and generally thought that I’d done a bang-up job preparing for the month ahead. The more I prepped, admittedly the more I thought I’d “probably just skip” some of the early unpleasantness, like carb flu and any gastrointestinal weirdness. I mean, my diet was pretty aligned to the lifestyle anyway. Was I really eating that much sugar, in the form of work chocolate and wine, to affect me in any noticeable way?
    Lesson learned: You are not the exception to the rule, snowflake. Also CARB FLU IS A REAL AND TERRIBLE THING.
  • On Day 13, I just felt crappy. I’d been dealing with the stress of my grandmother in the hospital/nursing center and trying to help my mother through that time, plus a stressful time at work. I hadn’t seen a single improvement in 13 days of eating foods that were starting to bore me – my skin didn’t look better, my energy was steady but not great, I was still sleeping poorly and if anything, I felt like my yoga performance was getting worse, not better. I was in Connecticut at the time, surrounded by my parent’s incredible wine collection and take-out pizza from my favorite place in the world, and all I had to eat were chicken sausages, sweet potatoes and kale. If there was a single moment this month where I wanted to quit, dear god, it was that one.
    Lesson learned: Putting seltzer in a wine glass and going to the wine cellar to stare at all the bottles actually helped get me through that moment. I swear one of the bottles of Three Sticks was telling me “it’s only two more weeks…”
  • On Day 30, I woke up at 5:45 with a ton of energy, checked Instagram (duh) and hopped out of bed. I made myself a delicious breakfast, packed a big lunch, and checked the fridge to confirm I had enough leftovers from Sunday for dinner. I practiced a little yoga, opening up my shoulders and back for the long day ahead at a desk, and then went into a forearm stand, a pose that I’ve been working on for months, and one I set as a goal to master during Whole30. I smiled as I eased out of the pose, got dressed and quickly checked my schedule to confirm when I’d be able to pop out to Chelsea Market for a bottle of wine to open in celebration tomorrow night.
    Lesson learned: It’s about the journey, for sure, but the destination is pretty sweet too.

It’s been a whirlwind experience, to say the least, and it’s crazy to think it’s just because I tweaked my eating habits for 30 days. I’ve learned a lot about myself on this Whole30, in ways I never expected. I’ve learned that I can and should eat a lot more food than I was eating before, because even doubling my portions hasn’t caused any weight gain that I can tell. I’ve learned that I am mentally stronger than I’d imagined, passing on my favorite foods free in the office kitchen, passing up the best bottles of wine from my parent’s cellar, and passing the candy drawer at work multiple times daily. I pushed myself to try new things and found so much happiness in the little victories, like falling under the spell of Bikram yoga after managing not to pass out in the standing postures, and buying unusual produce to challenge myself, like golden beets and funny-colored squash. I learned that I love foods like olives and beef bone marrow, and most of all, I learned that I can cope with some heavy things on my own, not buoyed by the comfort of a drink or a brownie.

People keep asking me now that the Whole30 is over whether I’d ever do another one. That answer changed daily throughout the past month, one day a resounding “DUH I FEEL LIKE SUPERWOMAN” and the next a loud “HELL to the no.” The answer today is “Definitely, but not for a while.” Because the most important lesson I learned? I could live without dairy, grains, legumes and sugar for the rest of my life. But god dammit, I love a good glass of wine.

“I will do well.”

“Let everything go. Don’t focus on the moment when you fell, or how your neighbor did ‘more’ or did ‘better’ than you. Think about all the love you put into your practice today, and then send that love to the people in your life that need it, the people that support you and share their love with you with no expectations.”

On Valentine’s Day, rather than doing the typical single-girl stereotype of watching chick flicks and/or slasher films on Netflix, surrounded by chocolates, wine and my cat, I decided to treat myself to a workshop with my VERY FAVORITE YOGI, who had traveled up from Florida for the weekend to share her fantastic skills in Core (abs) and Inversion (upside-down) work. I spent two hours in the afternoon stretching every which direction, working my core in ways I never have before and spending more time upside down than if I’d spent a full day on the same roller coaster, over and over and upside down again. It was rewarding and fulfilling in a way that I’ve never experienced in a yoga class, but also FREAKING EXHAUSTING. I was so relieved to sit in savasana (non-yoga people: that’s when you basically take a mini-nap at the end), and the yogi started guiding us through meditation with the lines above. Intense practice like we’d done those two hours can bring up a lot, and as she spoke I felt tears bubble up and start to trickle down my cheek, one after another. It was as powerful laying there, absolutely still, a clear head filled with love, as it was in the moment ten minutes prior, where I held a handstand (if briefly!) for the very first time.

Before I really started with yoga, I had this image in my head that yoga people were these granola hippies, talking about negative energy and chanting mantras, crowing about how we carry bad feelings in different parts of the body, making this huge deal out of arm movements that “opened your heart” and all other sorts of corny statements. My first experience in a yoga studio a few months into my practice was mostly a series of me rolling my eyes at the instructor, not focusing on breath, just trying to do “better” than the girl next to me, and go deeper into postures to impress the instructor. I mean, I started yoga because yoga people are in really great shape, and I wanted to be in really great shape. Not a joke. I wanted the yoga butt, and the yoga arms, and so what if I had to listen to someone say corny things about “listening to your body” and taking “healing breaths” (which FYI is basically normal breathing), so long as I got those things. As my practice started improving, I started following yogis on Instagram to get “ideas for cool pictures,” looking at yoga as a series of “impressive moves” to show off what I’d learned, rather than taking the time to understand how to move my body properly into the postures. Mantras were foreign, as were terms like “pranayama breaths” and “releasing energy,” and it wasn’t until I injured myself pretty seriously in September trying something I wasn’t ready to do (anything for dat Instagram!) that I had to take a step back and look at yoga as more than a means to a great ass.

February has been a really trying month. Between leaving a job, two trips to Connecticut, the Atlantic City weekend and of course, adjusting to the long hours of the new job, I’ve tried so hard to push through emotionally, staying as positive as I can and telling myself it won’t be like this forever. But last night, for whatever reason, I couldn’t. I stared at my yoga mat and tried a few stretches, but I eventually just sat on the mat and started taking deep breaths. I’m exhausted. I’m physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted, and February isn’t even my busy month this season. I was trying to quiet my thoughts in the mini-savasana (reminder: yoga nap), counting breaths, but my mind kept racing; first I was berating myself for not making it through a full flow, then encouraging myself that if this were a year ago I’d be half into a bottle of wine and waiting for pizza delivery. I finally had to resort to the ultra-yoga-hippie nerd move, and started focusing on a mantra that I’ve used in the past when I can’t get my thoughts to turn off: as my mind continued running faster and faster, I started taking a deep inhale, deep exhale, deep inhale, and simply telling myself between each breath: “I will do well.”

Mantras are whatever you want them to be. They can be long, short, complicated, simple, whatever helps you focus and set the intention for a practice. As I sat on the mat last night, exhausted by my life and the general state of being, it was hard to tell myself those four little words. It’s hard to stop moving at lightspeed for a minute and just tell yourself that the best you can do is to do your best. Despite having not done an intense practice, like I had last Saturday, as I took those deep inhales, exhales, and told myself “I will do well,” I felt the same emotions start to percolate deep inside me, spilling over the tip of my eyelids like the slow crawl of a frothy fountain soda. I stayed there for a long time, quieting everything down in my marathon mind, and finally rose from the mat feeling as mentally refreshed as if I’d practiced for hours. I started laughing almost immediately upon standing – look who’s turning into the total granola hippie stereotype she scoffed at less than a year ago.

While I’m so proud of myself for the advances I’ve made across my entire practice, from new arm balances to finally getting into a full split, It feels good to know that instead of focusing on how great my ass looks in a pair of leggings (*which it totally does, but not the point), I’m just focusing on doing my best. It’s a simple goal, certainly not as lofty as “I’m going to get into that great pose for Instagram,” but in that simplicity, it’s the most powerful thing I’ve done for myself in a long time. There will be plenty more weeks of nonstop travel, long nights at work and a whole host of confusing situations that get my mind running, and I’ll definitely be this exhausted and more in the coming year. So I’m glad I have the granola-hippie,  yoga-nut, crazy stereotype in me to remind me in the worst of times that “I will do well.”

On Vinyasa, Backbends and My Eating Disorder

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There are a few things I’ve been debating whether to share here or not for a very long time. While I’ve never actually censored myself from sharing a story, there are certain stories, certain parts of my history, that deserve to be told correctly, and I haven’t figured out how to tell all of them quite yet. There’s a story in particular I’ve been working on, but for a long time, I couldn’t find the right words to say everything, couldn’t find the best way to put the story out there in such a way that made me feel comfortable. Up until last week, when my anchor G and I were texting and the above words were exchanged. I read that part of the conversation over and over later that night, smiling at the truth to the words, and immediately got to work, finally inspired to tell the story now and tell it right. Before we start, however, there are a few things you need to know:

  • I have an Instagram account dedicated to yoga. Yes, I am one of *those* people. No, I will not tell you what it is. (Edit, 8/27/15: just reread this. Eventually I caved – follow me at @lbdoesyoga)
  • But OKAY SO GUYS, since I practice at home a lot, I need to film myself to check my alignment and posture. And sometimes I manage a really badass pose or I look really cute in those videos so I need a place to screenshot and share with the world. Duh.
  • The reason I have the account is to ensure I’m accountable to my goal of yoga every damn day. I can be harsh with myself very easily after a stressful or frustrating day, and I don’t want to use that as an excuse to get off the mat.
  • My goal is to do at least a little yoga every day so it becomes even more a part of my routine than it already is, no matter what. I don’t ever want the words “I used to do yoga” to come out of my mouth. Yoga has completely transformed me, mind, body, everything, and it’s the only thing that finally helped me escape the clutches of my true longest relationship.
  • Contrary to what I’ve said here in the past, my longest relationship was with my eating disorder.

Objectively speaking, I have always been a slim person, from childhood and even now. For years, I never gave food a second thought, a typical happy child who was more concerned with climbing trees than counting calories. Until the year I turned 15, when I went from someone who never gave food a second thought, to someone whose first, second, third thoughts and beyond were all about food. I spent ten years of my life exhausted from thinking about food almost all the time. I thought about how much I was eating, how many calories were in it, what foods were safe to ingest and what foods I could never touch again. I can still tell you how many calories (plus/minus 25) are in nearly any food item, and I can calculate how many I’ve eaten that day in under a minute. I spent ten years of my life fighting, and fighting, and fighting the little voice in my head that told me I wasn’t enough, I would never be enough, and even as I tried to walk away from the noise for the first, tenth, hundredth time, it always found me and forced me to listen. Having an eating disorder is like having a dragon hibernate within you; he gets high on anxiety and fear and laughs when you try and fight him with a wooden sword, feebly fending off his snarling insistence that everything is your fault, and it’s your fault because you’re fat.

My eating disorder was the toxic best friend that I couldn’t get rid of, the one who was only around in moments of weakness to distract me from the real issues by picking on my insecurities. It was the only way I knew how to cope with problems for years; I couldn’t fix a fighting family, I couldn’t fix the stress of applying, and then adjusting, to college, and I couldn’t fix a broken relationship, but I could dare myself not to eat anything for two days and I could consider making it that long without food “a success.” At 25, I tried to break the cycle by making the gym part of my routine, but a crazy work schedule and the fact that the closest gym is a mile from my apartment meant I wasn’t getting there as often as I would have liked, and I was still turning against food in times of trouble. Starting yoga was supposed to be an interim step, a simple, “easy” thing I could do at home on the days that I couldn’t make it to the gym. After all, yoga was “just a lot of stretching,” right? Certainly not anything that would shape my body and calm my mind like lifting weights and running did.

For lack of a better word, this fall was an absolute mindfuck. Work, personal things, family things, it was like a wild spiral of waves, good, bad, manageable, unbearable. It was all stress and bad days, the kind of wild adventure that used to put me curled into myself like a child on my bed, face stuffed in a pillow, screaming until I forgot that I was hungry. It wasn’t until a few weeks after things started to calm down, while looking back on the circles and spirals, that I realized for the first time in 10 years, despite all of the craziness, I hadn’t stopped eating to cope with an issue. I had, however, gotten on the mat at least once per week, forced myself to focus on my breath in times of stress and remembered to appreciate my body for the strong, powerful and capable thing that it is. After all, I can’t get into a headstand or flow through Sun Salutations if I haven’t taken care of my body on the most basic of levels. Unconsciously telling myself I would eventually pull out of the hole helped me push myself to eat each meal every day, and somehow, slowly, I managed to keep the dragon at bay. I mean, even writing that now is such a surreal experience. For the first time in a DECADE, I had actually managed to shoot down all thoughts of “you don’t need that” in favor of staying healthy. And honestly? I wouldn’t wish the journey to that moment of mental clarity on my worst enemy, but realizing I hadn’t turned to my old friend ann-oh-recks-ee-yuh in the worst of times was a pretty fucking incredible feeling.IMG_0823

This is the photo in question in my conversation with G above. I could tell you how I’ve been working on backbends to deepen my entire practice, write for days about my journey to pincha mayurasana, but I’m going to leave the yoga-nerd jargon off for now. I will say that looking at this picture makes me feel a lot of things. I still think I look too skinny, and then I’m incredulous that those words are still coming out of my mouth. I also think I look strong, and flexible, moreso than I’ve ever been in my life. And I feel so accomplished, because if you told me back in April when I first rolled out the mat on my living room floor that I would be able to do this pose with a semblance of ease, that I’m just about down in a full split and that my journey to handstand is well underway, I never would have believed that I could have come this far.

Much as I wish that this journey is something I’d never had to experience, I don’t fault 15 year old LB for making the decisions that she did. Anorexia is my dragon, and it’s my toxic former best friend, but that part of my life, my longest relationship, is a part of me, as much as my blue eyes and the scar on my leg. There is 10 years of damage to my body and my mind that I’ll never be able to erase; there’s a history I’ve written by my own choices and I can’t rewrite the past. But to look back, to ten months ago or ten years ago, and see tangible, real progress in so many aspects of my life is a pretty wonderful, very proud, and dare I say enlightening experience.

Humblebragging.

This past October, I was moping around my lovely friend M’s apartment, complaining about money and facing another 24-hour plus stretch of not hearing from the boyfriend, when she semi-slapped me across the face and said “Cheer up bitch! Want to go to the gym?” Now, all things considered, I’m more of a chocolate-and-whiskey girl than a “sweat-out-your-problems” girl, but M was really excited and I could tag along for free, so I ran (“ran”) home to put on my highly unattractive gym clothes and give it a go. It took me all of three minutes on the treadmill that first day to realize two very important things: I was DEFINITELY out of shape, and I hadn’t felt that good in weeks.

Seems legit

Seems legit

I’ve never been able to get a gym routine to stick in the past. I’ll work out for a few months and then stop, finding this excuse or that as a get-out-of-gym free card: I work really long hours! I’m exhausted from running around in heels all day! I just don’t want to! I’m not an out-of-shape person necessarily, I just have zero intention of taking $100+/session classes (unless there’s a champagne bar in Cardio Barre, I’m uninterested) and for a long time, I couldn’t find the motivation to join, let alone actually go to, a gym. I spent three years of sometimes-running a few miles in the summer, relying on juice cleanses and a fast metabolism in the meantime to keep me “in shape” on the outside, but perhaps not so much on the inside.

As I stopped sharing my time and attention and started to focus on myself, the gym became a steady part of my ever-changing life, something that I could focus on when things got really difficult or overwhelming. I can’t change my circumstances, but I can push a littler harder, run a little faster, lift a little more. It’s an hour a few days a week where I can stare straight ahead and stop thinking about anything but the dull ache in my legs and keeping my breath steady for just another few minutes, just another few reps. It’s not the most convenient part of my routine, and there are so many days where all I want is to sit on my couch with a bag of Sun Chips and Netflix, and yes, sometimes I’ll give in. But I’m focused this time: I want the routine, sweating like crazy, lost in my headphones and myself, surrounded by strangers, all taking an hour for themselves.

I’ve already changed so much in just five months, both physically and mentally. Physically, I’ve never felt stronger or more capable. The unfortunate side effect of this is that I humblebrag constantly (to the point N has actually had to ask me to stop), dying to share this new confidence I’ve found with everyone around me. Mentally, I feel stronger, more alert, like I know what I’m capable of doing if I just take a few minutes to focus and breathe. My sister T, herself a seasoned runner, hiker, skiier and all-around active person, has already convinced me to run a half-marathon with her this year, something I swore I’d never do and now I can’t wait. Having a goal set that’s entirely personal and up to me is a tangible reminder that I’m in charge of my life, I’m in charge of myself, and I can push a littler harder, run a little faster, and just be a little more.