Fulfilling My Purpose
"Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way." - Abraham Lincoln
5 years ago on this day - just 1 day before my daughter Camille was born - I weighed over 180 pounds.
Yes, you read that right... I gained about 60 pounds with each of my pregnancies.
Even during pregnancy, it isn't easy for most women to talk about weight. The number on the scale seems to be intimately tied with our sense of confidence and self-worth.
I was carrying precious life in my belly... but the extra weight that I gained shamed me.
As soon as I was able to, I started the Nutrisystem diet and supplemented with enough calories to continue nursing. It worked great after Rayan was born, so I figured it would work just as well after #2.
She was colicky and cried constantly. It took a while before I realized that it was due to the food I was eating. In a desperate attempt to figure out the source of her unhappiness, I quit the diet for a week as an experiment. During that week I discovered a totally different child- she was sweet and quietly content (or at least most of the time)!
So began my struggle to lose weight while nursing. Unlike many moms who shed weight faster, my body clung to the fat... I assumed it was for her nourishment. Losing baby weight the second time around seemed impossible and frustrating. I nursed her for 20 months (I wanted to stop at 18 months like I did with my son, but she refused to drink from a bottle.)
Discouraged, I started accepting the fact that I've entered a new chapter in my life. I read the articles about viewing your stretch marks and cellulite as badges of honor.
"Wear those mommy jeans with pride, ladies".
Sure, there's nothing wrong with accepting and loving yourself just as you are... but I felt a natural twinge of sadness, believing that my body will never be the same and my chances of ever seeing defined abs are long gone.
Attempting to at least become active again, I started by taking baby steps (no pun intended). 😜
I did DVDs at home first. The thought of joining a gym was too intimidating, so I joined the female-only fitness center- "Curves".
I slowly built enough confidence to join a regular gym, and there I did the same ol' - same ol'.
My "workout" was 30 minutes on the elliptical. Who had time for anything more? On a good day, I'd add a few extra minutes of weights. The gym became a habit and a priority, because it felt good. It uplifted my energy and mood... and most importantly - it included child care, so it was my only "me" time during the day!
Soon after Camille's 1st birthday in 2013, I mustered the courage to try my very first group fitness class. After trying Zumba for a month, I went from being embarrassingly ungraceful and uncoordinated, to "hey, I think I'm starting to blend in!" -
Perhaps my bar wasn't set too high, but I felt brave enough to try another class - the class that was even more intimidating to me.
I would observe the svelte yogis gracefully making their way into the mysterious room with no windows to peek in... and I was curious. What are they doing in there? Is it a cult of some sort?
If so, watching them tempted me to try a sip of the Kool-Aid.
My curiosity has often gotten me into places where I don't belong - and it definitely seemed that way, when I took my first yoga class in 2013. I decided to set my mat in the first row so I could see the teacher clearly. I didn't recognize any of the poses or names - it was like a foreign language that everyone understood, except me.
For some reason that didn't deter me.
I was used to feeling humiliated and inadequate due to my awkward childhood, so I guess I developed coping skills that would help me tune out the judgers around me. I had my peripheral blinders on.
Besides, childbirth and nursing 2 babies does something strange to a woman's sense of her own body image... There was no where to go, but up.
I would stare at the instructor throughout the entire class, as I enviously marveled at her perfectly sculpted body and attempted to copy her every move.
Meanwhile, this was my mind's dialogue:
"How the heck did she have kids?
What's her secret? No way it was from just stretching.
She must have adopted... But her adorable little girl looked exactly like her - so yeah, that's out.
Wow... when's the last time I got a pedicure? Ha, who am I kidding. Ain't no one got time for that. What am I going to cook for dinner tonight? I need to run by the store..."
Ok- so I was very distracted at first.
Occasionally when I made the mistake of looking around, it would hit me that I was an elephant in the room full of graceful swans. I hated it... but at the same time, I craved it. It was so incredibly challenging, but for some reason, I didn't mind the physical discomfort. In some strange way, the physical struggle helped bring light to the hidden mental and emotional pain. It felt like the rug was finally being lifted, and as much as it sucked- I was tired of fighting to keep it in its place. I had no idea how big the mountain of dust I'd been sweeping underneath had gotten.
I was being suffocated by the filth I tried to hide. I was drowning in all the things I tried to bury and forget about.
It was time to roll up my sleeves, and clean house.
Class seemed to fly by (which is common when you have a good instructor), and after about a month- an incredible thing happened:
Without even realizing it, I touched my toes without bending my knees!
I was so freaking surprised and excited. It was my very first yoga milestone (besides making it to class regularly and on time). 😬
That simple, unexpected victory caught me completely off guard- and it was in that instant, that I realized my body was capable of doing things that I never imagined I could do. I started to wonder..."what else can I achieve, that I thought was impossible?"
That inflection point changed the course of my life.
My accidental milestone helped me gain confidence, and my confidence motivated me to persist. Eventually I was practicing yoga on a daily basis, eating more holistically, and incorporating some serious strength training. My previous "workout" became my warm-up.
Mindfulness trickled into the rest of my life. I began treating myself and others with newfound reverence and respect. I saw that my physical and mental strength and wellbeing are intimately intertwined... and I began to realize how closely connected we are, to all of life.
What once seemed like a foreign language, now felt like I had discovered the native tongue of my soul.
Yoga restored my faith in myself, in humanity... and in God.
For the first time in my life, I felt excited and motivated to try to reach my fullest potential. I did it not only for myself- but also with the intention to be a better mother, wife and a better human in general.
I was content, steadily making progress in my own practice and everything was gravy-
One day, someone innocently asked if I was a yoga instructor.
I laughed and said "ha, no... I wish."
But there was something about that question that lingered. Why did I say it like that? What made me think that it was inconceivable?
Over time, a few more strangers asked me the same thing:
"Are you a yoga instructor?"
I found the question flattering and frightening at the same time. With each inquiry, a seed had been planted... and there was no going back.
Up until that point, I had never even entertained the possibility on my own-
but if all these people clearly see my passion for yoga and think I might even be an instructor, what makes me think that I can't?
That's what. I would try to mask my fear with excuses, like "Oh, I'm still so new to yoga... I just started the practice two years ago. Maybe one day, when I have more experience", or "The kids are still too young. Perhaps when Camille is in school and I have more time."
There was no shortage of excuses... but there was also a nagging feeling inside that my practice had revealed to me: The realization of when I am making excuses.
I recognized what I was doing and why I was doing it. I was holding myself back once again, because of my insecurities and fear of failure.
But my first and subsequent yoga instructors had shown me how naive I was, for having incorrect assumptions about what motherhood is "supposed" to look like and what women my age are "supposed" to do, according to society.
My instructors also became my sources of inspiration, through their own incredible show of strength and determination despite facing extreme challenges.
Although I had my doubts- I realized that they aren't enlightened gurus or superheroes. They're normal human beings, just like you and I. But the thing that set them apart, was that they seemed to have figured out the trick to rise above the chaos. They seemed better able to preserve their inner peace by shifting their perspectives, despite their external circumstances.
They seemed to have found the path towards what we all chase after:
Happiness. Peace. Fulfillment.
Their lives were their testaments... and through them and my family, my true purpose and abilities were finally revealed to me.
At the age of 33, I was stronger, healthier, more confident and more fit than I had ever been before.
My long held beliefs of what it meant to be a mother and a woman in her mid-thirties had been shattered.
I wanted to take care of me, so I could teach my family to do the same for themselves.
In 2015, I decided to get out of my own way and do the thing that I never dreamt I would be capable of doing. With the support of my husband, family, friends and instructors, I pushed all of the excuses to the side and became a certified yoga instructor.
And for the first time in my life, I feel like I've finally found my passion and can use it as a tool to help fulfill my purpose:
To make a difference in the world, and to help others - especially women and mothers- find inner strength and peace, by cultivating a perspective that will help decrease pain and suffering.
This is exactly what my own yoga instructors have helped me find, and I am eternally grateful.
I can and shall, pay it forward.