Sunday, March 1, 2009

Good Yogi, Bad Yogi?

Hey, Rebecca.

I've been keeping up with the blog, and I think you're doing a great job. I'm sure you're not at a loss for topics, but just in case, I thought I'd throw out some nibbles, just cause I'm selfish and wouldn't mind hearing your take.

I truly admire your diligence, patience and commitment to your holistic well-being. I am always impressed with your posts, but later I find myself reminded, both in appearance and spirit, that I am not Rebecca Pacheco. I don't have the will power, the genuine zest for exercise, or the thoughtful foresight to forgo delicious bread and butter so that I can indulge in a glass of wine or two. I've spent years of my life bouncing between extreme guidelines and out of control indulgence.

Now, you ask yourself: Caroline? Are you a yogi? Do you practice the art of self awareness and inner balance?

Yes, Rebecca. I do. I swear. Really, I'm not lying. 2-5 days a week for three years. I'm on the mat. Mostly hoping that I can absorb the attributes of someone around me. Instead, I think about work during meditation, plan my week, design my outfit for the day.

No. Bad yogi.
As the January gymers fade into the abyss, and the cold days remind us that they will continue as far as the eye can see, how do you think we can all remained focused on our goals, and remember that the process is a long road . . . maybe a never ending one? In other words, what is the intangible motivation that drives you? And can it be learned?

(Bearing in mind that much of this is something you can't fix . . . and I don't expect you to!)

Hope all is well,
Caroline

Dear Caroline:
Thank you for your honesty, wit, and insight. Rest assured: You are a yogi, at least, as far as I can tell. You don't keep a burn book at home or pull the legs off spiders in your free time, do you?

All joking aside, you raise two important questions: What characterizes a yogi? And, to what extent can we acquire these qualities through practice, commitment, and "diligence," as you say?

Within the past decade, yoga has firmly planted its asana within our collective consciousness, here, in the United States- thanks, in part, to everyone from high-profile teachers like B.K.S. Iyengar and Bikram Choudhury, to high-profile yogis including Madonna and Christy Turlington, to, most recently, Scarlett Johansson as a dazzling albeit not very convincing yoga instructor in He's Just Not that Into You and a currently airing Domino's Pizza commercial that references "yoga babes" who dig veggies on their pizza. In other words, Americans are now accustomed to spotting a yogi when they see one, and they see a lot of them. It's reported that 30 million people in the U.S. practice yoga. While many have been practicing for longer than a decade (myself included), it seems as though a tipping point has occurred of late, wherein yoga fully mushroomed from underground activity, to hippie-chic hobby, to, well, a Domino's commercial. The zeitgeist has shifted, and there's a good chance it's on its way to Lululemon to buy some groove pants.

Nevertheless, sporting sleek yoga apparel alone doesn't make one a yogi, no more than me putting on Red Sox gear makes me a professional ball player. In other words: don't let looks fool you, mine or anyone else's.

Plenty of people look the part, practice yoga daily and diligently, and forgo wine and dessert with ease, but this doesn't mean they are more yogic than you, sweet Caroline. In fact, I've known some really neurotic, unkind, hypocritical yogis in my day, who were thoroughly dedicated to a daily practice and eschewing sugar, dairy, wheat, meat, and the like, yet, sadly, they were less committed to living lives of integrity. It's a reality that used to break my heart; however, now I realize that yoga isn't a cure-all for the human condition. We're all flawed, distracted, and misguided at times, which is what warrants the practice of yoga in the first place. You might recall that the purpose of yoga, as stated in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, is to "control the rising of the mind into ripples." It's a tall order, requiring "patience, devotion, and faith," qualities that sound a lot like those that you outlined in your initial inquiry: diligence, patience, and commitment, so let's return to those, as it seems you'd like to cultivate a more direct line of access to those qualities, a way to have them on speed dial, so that you spend less time vacillating back and forth between "extreme guidelines" and "out-of-control indulgence."

While there's no magic elixir for striking this balance, I do believe there are tangible steps one can take to acquire more positive habits than negative ones and spend more time in the middle of this spectrum, rather than camped out in either extreme.

Choose Your Habits: Ultimately, we choose our good (and bad) habits. Think about it: if you choose to smoke your first few cigarettes. These actions become a habit. It's been said that habits form our personalities (i.e. part of what defines who you are now is that you are classified as a smoker). In turn, our personalities shape our destiny (as a smoker, there's a strong chance you could develop cancer). Grim example, I know, but I think it illustrates a point. Conversely, if you make a habit of eating vegetables, doing yoga, meditating, drinking water rather than soda, feeding your mind with positive infotainment rather than tabloid gossip, you will eventually crave these habits. They will shape who you are and become standard behaviors for you. Thus, you will be destined for a healthier, more energized, more balanced lifestyle. So, choose a couple healthy habits, and, eventually, they will become hard-wired into your being. Start very small: 5 minutes of meditation per day, a cup of green tea in the afternoon rather than a second cup of joe, brown rice instead of pasta, a dinner date over Thai food rather than a steakhouse. No one is saying that indulging in red wine or bread and butter is bad (at least, I'm not); you simply want to give your brain the opportunity to crave healthy treats as well as indulgent ones.

Have a Healthy Tribe: It's more difficult to go to yoga class when all your friends are headed to happy hour after work. To that end, it helps to have friends who support your healthy lifestyle. Listen carefully: I am NOT saying you need to exile your pals who prefer beer pong over Budokon class (my life would be infinitely less interesting without NYC gal); however, in times when your motivation is on the wane, it helps to tap into the momentum of others. So, while the New Year gymers fade into oblivion, as you say, you and a couple gal pals can relish taking up the whole back row of your fav fitness class, then sit your toned tuckuses at the less-crowded smoothie bar afterward while gabbing about life. True, regular exercise requires will power for most people, but it's also influenced by environment and circumstance. If your environment is filled with healthy om guys and gals, you'll be more inclined to "absorb" some of their enthusiasm.

Know Your Motivational Triggers . . . Among mine are music, fresh air, and a fresh, new style of movement. If I'm stuck in a wellness rut, the quickest way out is creating a kickass playlist, taking an outdoor adventure, or experimenting with a new activity, sport, or style of yoga. You're right; I truly do have a zest for exercise; however, it's not directed toward the same activities all the time, which is part of what keeps me challenged, my brain engaged, and my interest piqued. Think about what moves you and make an effort to seek more of those experiences.

And, Your Pitfalls: You must know the Achilles heel of your holistic path in order to avoid it. Is it increased business travel? A certain season of the year? Lack of sleep? Dining out more than eating in? If you know that cooking at home during the week ensures you'll eat more healthfully, get into the habit of stocking the fridge and preparing a delicious, one-pot dish that you can dip into when you get home from work rather than ordering take-out. Are you a fair-weather exerciser? Keep a few, fun DVDs on hand for chilly, unbearable temps so you can workout indoors. The greatest pitfall I see in people who want to make a change in their wellness routines is that there is a mismatch between their personalities and preferences and the routines to which they're having trouble committing. Consider the Carrie Bradshaw approach to fitness: the protagonist of Sex and the City claimed that her prolific shopping habit served as her "cardio." Worked for her, right? Pick a program that you're apt to enjoy, and you'll do it more often.

See the Big Picture: We all falter. We all have moments where we want to shovel French fries into our pie-holes and go snorkeling in a vat of red wine. Don't curse yourself for falling out of your healthful routine; just stay focused on the bigger picture. Wellness is cumulative. Simply press the "restart" button, and begin acquiring those healthy habits again.

Remember, the word "yoga" translates to mean "union," the joining or yoking together of the body, mind, and spirit. It's an ongoing practice that requires, first and foremost, self-awareness- a quality you seem to possess in spades, Caroline. "Good yogi."

Namaste,
Rebecca

Readers: What helps you stay motivated? Is it an innate quality or learned behavior?

2 comments:

linabeau said...

Rebecca, that was lovely. Thank you, truly. Now I get to spend the rest of the day feeling famous and enlightened. Awesome. :-) caroline

Jeanne said...

Time and time again what keeps me motivated is how good I feel AFTER the action whether it's yoga, exercise, a healthy home-made meal or social time with happy healthy people. These things seem to act as an addictive drug in disguise and keep me coming back for more and more over and over again.

Jeanne