Archives for posts with tag: Inspiration

At my last lesson, my yoga instructor and I started talking about “fitspo” images (“fit inspiration” pictures; often glossy, perfectly lighted, framed, and posed images of very fit people doing physically impressive—yet also beautiful—feats of flexibility and strength). As someone who is just starting in Ashtanga Yoga, I often find myself searching through Instagram, looking for fitspo pictures of yogis. It is inspiring, beautiful eye candy.

It is also completely fucking discouraging.

And hella unrealistic.

The images you see on Instagram are gorgeous. But they are also severely sanitized. Almost anesthetized. They’re clean. They’re serene. Everyone’s face is stoic. Everyone’s body fat hovers right around 2.3%. Nobody shakes. Nobody’s uncertain. Nobody’s trying too hard.

Ashtanga Instagram

A collection of screenshots just from this morning. Seriously, who the fuck are all of these people doing their practice on the beach? Is that a thing? That shouldn’t be a thing.

I’ve only been practicing Ashtanga for five months now. I love the physical challenge. I love the discipline. I love that the regular, consistent practice forces me to pursue asanas that I find difficult (and might try to skip had I been left to my own devices—So long, Wheel!). I love those rare moments when the spiritual aspect of the practice kicks in, and I feel peaceful, and strong, and non-judgmental, and calm. I start to think that I am one of those clean, bendy people in the pictures. That I am fitspo.

But, dude, for real? Yoga is kinda gross. Kinda really gross. When you contort your body into the kind of shapes and poses a physically challenging practice like Ashtanga makes you, things … happen.

Here’s what those perfect images on Instagram don’t show you:

  1. Farts. Yoga makes you fart. Anyone who has practiced yoga regularly knows that. I’m not entirely sure why this is true, but, trust me, it is. Maybe all of the stretching and twisting and contorting of your body acts akin to twisting and squeezing a sponge. But instead of dirty dishwater, rotten egg farts come pouring out. (Yoga is a great way to regret every single food decision you have made in the last 24 hours, yo.) And, yeah, farts are funny. And you’ll laugh. But if you do it during a class, chuckle, maybe whisper a “sorry” to those in the Stank Zone, and keep going. Every single yoga instructor on the planet is totally used to farts (I’ve farted twice on my instructor. On her, you guys. She never cracked a smile. Didn’t even back away. Totally unfazed.). They will handle your stinky butt symphony with complete maturity and calm. You don’t have to run out. Promise.
  2. Sweat. Nobody on Instagram sweats. But yoga in real life? Man, that shit gets SWAMPY. I keep a towel next to my yoga mat at all times, just so I can regularly mop up. My instructor has actually had to wipe off my face for me in a forward bend, because when I bent over, the sweat filled up my nostrils, and I began drowning in my own salty effort. I don’t glisten. I pour. Crotch sweat, specifically. I don’t know why, but ashtanga makes my crotch sweatier than just about anything. I look like I peed myself (which I may have done a little, but this is ridiculous).

    Crotch Sweat

    I bought new yoga pants. I assumed they were made with sweat-wicking materials. They were not.

  3. Anus Talk. Bandhas (also known as “locks” or “body locks”) are a key part of Ashtanga yoga. Basically, your bandhas are the muscles in your pelvic floor and lower abdomen. You keep those slightly engaged at all times, and it improves your balance, your flexibility, and your stability. You can think about your bandhas in very dry, medical terms: by pulling in your perineum, or squeezing your urethra, or engaging your lower abdominals. But, again, in real life yoga, while the sweat is dripping into your ears and you’re cursing your grandmother for passing down her impossibly short limbs to you, medical terms don’t work nearly so well as nice, direct, anus talk. So, people talk about your anus. A lot. “Squeeze your anus.” “Engage your anus.” “Feel your anus pulling up.” “Are you squeezing your anus?” “Is your anus locked?” “Don’t drop your anus!” (My personal favorite.) The thing is, as weird as the anus talk feels at first, it very quickly just becomes part of the experience. Now, when I practice at home, I’m constantly reminding myself to pick up my damn anus. How’s that for Namaste?
  4. Weird Injuries. I’ve fallen into walls. I’ve fallen into chairs. I’ve fallen against and on top of tables. I’ve come millimeters away from violently elbowing my instructor in the nose. I’ve cut my wrist with my own toenail, and bruised the tips of my toes. I’ve knocked the wind out of myself. I’m not even particularly clumsy. It’s just that this shit is hard. And it’s a hard that you have to hold. And so I fall. Because gravity. And because sirsasana (headstand).
  5. Smells. The farts. The sweat. The crotch sweat. The hot room. The deep exhalations. The feet. Oh, god. The feet. You can taste the bodily fluids in the air. It’s a great reminder that we’re all just a half a chromosome away from flinging poo at each other in a zoo.
  6. Noises. Yoga classes are not silent affairs. Your body cracks, creaks, and crunches. You occasionally let out an audible moan or groan. There’s chanting to open and close your practice. You practice what’s called “audible breathing,” where you breathe only through your nostrils, and try to sound like an asthmatic Darth Vader. It’s noisy. And some of the noises are just. Well. Unidentifiable. You could hear a crack, and have someone look over at you with concern. “Woah. Was that your hip??” Uhhh. Honestly? I have no idea what that was. But I don’t seem to be screaming in pain yet, so let’s just carry on, mmm’kay?
  7. Queefs. Now it’s time to get real. A couple of things, okay? First of all, queefs do happen. Second of all, no woman on the planet enjoys queefing. They’re weird. They feel unnatural. They’re not pleasant. They make me feel paranoid about the status of my own vag. Third, I’m suspicious that having two children in close succession has made me more susceptible to the occasional queef. I mean, let’s face it. The old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be. That being said, I will admit it. Yeah. I queef. And there are times during yoga when I’ve queefed. Loudly. I’ve noticed that I do it more during what are called the “inversions”—shoulder stands that you hold for extended periods of time. I like to think that gravity is my queef nemesis during inversions. Like, perhaps I just always have some air trapped in my velvet pocketbook. Like, I clearly just go through my day with a little bubble floating in my lady parts. Like some kind of personal contractor’s level, helping to keep my box balanced. Maybe it’s always in there, but my relatively upright daily life just makes it hard for it to escape. Then, during yoga, I flip my hootch-caboose upside down, and suddenly the air in there can just float up. And out. I mean, that’s just science. (Maybe?) A queef is actually the perhaps worst thing that could happen to me during yoga (though, the stronger my pelvic floor becomes, the fewer queefs seem to be escaping). It’s the only noise I make that I actively try to pass off as a fart. A fart in yoga I can explain away. “Ha, ha. Taco Bell!” Sweaty vagina burps? Yeah. Pass.
Real Fitspo

Here’s some real fitspo for you. This was back when I first started ashtanga. My first successful attempt at reverse prayer pose. I was so excited about it, I asked my husband to take a picture of it. (You can see just how big of a shit he gave. Out of focus. No light. Didn’t even bother getting out of bed.) Chubby ass arms, sweaty bun, Target yoga pants, and brown house slippers? Check!

So, there it is. The truth. The non-fitspo picture of yoga. Honestly, I think about Ashtanga in the same way that I think about my children. They’re totally disgusting to every other person on the planet. But, damn, I love them. Sticky fingers, greasy hair and all. And I love yoga. In all its gross glory.

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Tomorrow, I’m going home to Michigan. To a place I love dearly. “Camp Quinn.” Every summer, when my older sister went to sleep-away camp, I was sent to Terry and Mary Quinn’s house. Mary taught me how to make rag rugs. Terry would let me sit in the front of his pontoon boat and dangle my toes in the water while we puttered around the lake in the back of their house. We’d talk about books. We’d try (and fail) to catch fish. We’d bake pies.

Terry died last Friday night. After a nearly 20-year struggle with emphysema. His funeral is tomorrow. And I finally cried tonight.

There are times when it seems the universe conspires to make you cry.

When you drive home, alone, and hear an unfamiliar song on the radio.

And, half-listening, you catch a lyric about smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.

About being a child.

About being an adult.

About watching a sunset with someone.

With you. With You.

And you think about the unexpected text you received, not ten minutes ago, from a far-distant friend, talking about the pain of missing. About the emptiness that is left behind. The You-shaped hole inside. Talking about how missing is a physical ache. A psychological torture.

And you glance, out of habit, into your backseat, to check on the children. But they’re not there. You’ve dropped them off for the night, or the afternoon, or the hour, or the weekend. And you know that you’re alone. But something in your brain—or your heart—still insists upon checking. Upon looking back.

Back when I was a dancer, we used to have entire classes devoted just to stretching. Long, slow, arduous stretches that made you gasp and sweat with exertion. You’d strain your body, trying to reach as far as you can, your muscles and body and brain screaming in unison, asking you to stop. Telling you it was useless. That you were held as far as you can. That there was nothing left for your body to give. Long, long minutes would be spent in that tight, strained agony. Then, suddenly, it would happen. A desperate gasp of air would finally float, find its way down to your muscles, filling them with breath. And something would release. Without feeling anything in particular—doing anything in particular—your body would simply stop fighting. And let you reach further.

And there, sitting in your car, driving down the familiar roads towards your home, you feel that breath reach down into your chest. Into that tight spot you’ve been carrying around. Filling it with the air that hasn’t been able to reach it for days. And without doing anything at all—doing anything in particular—your body, your brain, your heart simply stops fighting.

And now the road is a fog that you can’t see through the tears that have collected on your eyelashes.

Five minutes.

Five violent minutes.

You sob.

You choke.

Every breath shakes your body.

You park in your driveway and sit, engine running, with your forehead pressed against the steering wheel.

And between your gasps and sobs, you say it. Out loud. Louder than you should. Louder than you were expecting.

“Goddammit.”

“Goddammit, Terry.”

Because you remember the sunsets. And the boat rides. And watching him roll those cigarettes. One after another. Every evening. With the big, white dog sitting at his feet. Back before he knew what they were doing to him. Before the air started to leave, slowly. Before it squeezed out of his lungs. A bit, a bit at a time. Before he knew that he would never be able to bring that air down into the tight places in his chest again. Before he knew.

Or maybe he did know then.

And you know now.

You only know it now.

He helped raise you.

He helped shape you.

He helped you become who you are.

And you never told him.

Goddammit, Terry. Goddammit, cigarettes. Goddammit, me.

You finally exit your car, and walk into your house. Not quite a run. But faster than usual. You dread seeing a neighbor.

You take a tissue, and dry your face. Your neck. Your chest. The collar of your shirt is wet.

But your eyes are dry.

After five violent minutes.

And you are ashamed, but relieved, but ashamed to be relieved, that it only took five minutes.

The storm was furious.

But it was blessedly short.

And now you can breathe.

Without seeming to do anything, something released. Something let go.

The air finally reached your muscles. Your brain. Your chest. Your heart.

And you see the gift that he has given you.

The gift of the sunsets.

The gift of the white dog’s thick, thick fur.

The gift of those damn cigarettes. Hand rolled. One after another. After another.

And the gift.

The gift of this breath.

Goodbye, dear, dear friend. I know that you read everything I ever wrote. I hope some part of you can see this too. It’s for you.

The other day, I sent my four-year-old to find a pacifier for my three-year-old.

“There are a few in her room. I remember seeing them. Can you go grab one for me?”

She helpfully and eagerly bounded up the stairs, only to return a while later, with no pacifiers.

“I looked on the bed. I looked behind the bed (Did you know I’m big enough to move her bed??). I looked all over. There are NO pacis in her room!”

Flustered, I walked upstairs, entered my youngest daughter’s room, and looked down at the floor, where no fewer than THREE pacifiers lay, scattered on the grey carpet.

Exasperated, I yelled, “Sophie! You’re so terrible at looking for things! Didn’t you see these? How could you not see these?!”

It’s amazing what kids just don’t see.

They don’t see mess.

They don’t see toys.

They don’t see the mud puddle.

They don’t see cars, or waiters, or busboys carrying precariously tall stacks of dishes.

They don’t see clean underwear or socks.

They don’t see the water drops on the sink. Or around the bathtub.

A lot of times, I think they don’t even see the toilet.

They also don’t see those five (or ten, or fifty) extra pounds you’ve been dieting over, or stressing over, or grabbing in hateful fistfuls and wishing, screaming, cursing over.

They don’t see the dark circles. Or the worry lines.

They don’t see the rough hands. The short, chewed nails.

They don’t see that zit on your forehead.

They don’t see the dirty dishes that have been piling up.

They don’t see the stack of mail cluttering up the kitchen table.

They don’t see the mismatched plates. Or the chipped paint. Or that really loud, squeaky spot on the floor.

They don’t see the failing.

Or the flailing.

They don’t see the tears.

They don’t see what you see.

They don’t see it.

Instead, they see that, even though you’ve served them cereal for dinner—again—tonight, you remembered to shake the bag before pouring their bowl, bringing all of the marshmallows up to the top. Just for them.

They see that you’ve still managed to shove aside the clutter on the table to make a space. Just for them.

They see, in the dirt that has built up on their faces and in their hair, all of the hours that you have let them play. And explore. And investigate. And given over to the grime of childhood. Just for them.

They see that you know exactly what their favorite shows, their favorite songs, their favorite apps are, and you can and will summon those things for them. Just for them.

They see that you are magic. Just for them.

They see the splashing game they played together in the bathtub, which you filled with perfectly warm, soothing water. Just for them.

They see a pile of clothes, still dryer-warm, perfect for a cannonball, that you have washed and left in the basket. Just for them.

They see unmade beds perfect for jumping.

They see round, soft bellies for story-time snuggles.

They see sleepy, bloodshot eyes that crinkle in the corners when you smile.

They see you kiss them goodbye early every morning.

They see you come back to them. Every night. And smile.

They don’t see anything that happens in between.

And what they don’t see? What they don’t see is all the stuff you are not.

They see you.

They know you.

And they love you for it.

Because they see it all.

 

November 1st: Today, I am thankful for my daughters. Every day, they teach me a little bit more about how to see myself, my home, and the world the way they do.

I ran the Hoosier Half-Marathon on Saturday, April 9th. It was hard. It was wonderful. Here’s what I learned from that experience. (Pictures at the end!)

  1. Runners are walkers too. I had it in my head that “runners” run. Period. That anybody who could claim the distinguished title of “runner” didn’t waste their time with pedestrian pursuits such as walking. Or chatting. Or full-out stopping. And I was determined to run my first half-marathon. Run The whole thing. Every single inch. Somehow I had convinced myself that only ceaseless, constant, unalterable running would qualify me as a runner. At least, that’s what I thought while I ran alone. Then, I started running with other runners. Runners who stopped to adjust their shoes or braces. Runners who paused to thank the volunteers handing out Powerade. Runners who waved goodbye to their friends as they stopped to visit the porta-potties along the route. Runners who walked. People who I never once doubted were “real” runners. People who were much faster than me. Much more prepared. Wearing much nicer gear than I was. And there they were, not running. Seeing these runners take their time, recognize when they needed to recover, stop when their bodies were telling them to, it finally lifted the terrifying weight of my own expectations off of my shoulders. At mile 4, I stopped on the side of the road to tighten the straps on my knee brace. At mile 9, I walked up a difficult hill. I walked about half of mile 12, saving my strength for the hard push to the finish line. I’m still a little embarrassed to admit all of the times I had to rest—and for my next race, I’m going to try to work on my endurance—but I finally see that I can still think of myself as a runner. Even when I’m walking.
  2. If the race officials say the course is “challenging” they mean it! Bloomington’s Hoosier Half is a hilly course. It is 13.1 miles of hills. And not tiny hills, either. Now, honestly, the hills weren’t all bad. I actually rather enjoy running on hills, and prefer them to flat terrain. I like how rolling hills slingshot me along in my runs, and I even find myself gleefully chanting “challenge” on the uphills and “recover” on the downhills as I pop along my usual running routes. But I do wish I would have focused specifically on the hills more. I’ve had multiple friends make comments about how strong my thighs have become throughout my training, and I always credit my hilly runs. But the course turned out to be more challenging and hillier than I anticipated. So, next time, I’ll have to talk myself into tempo and hill workouts more often than I talk myself out of them!
  3. I will never have trained “enough.” Runners are typically self-motivated perfectionists, and overly critical. Though, as a first-time racer, I was technically only training for and working towards a distance goal (“Just finish, just finish, just finish”), I couldn’t help harboring secret pace goals as well (“I can certainly manage a sub-2:30 half. But maybe a sub-2:15? Oh! What if I could do a two-hour half?? That would be amazing!”). As I trained, my absolute fastest and best times had me fantasizing about a 2:11 half-marathon. 131 minutes. A solid ten-minute/mile pace. Middle of the pack. Respectable. The day of the race, I started out just behind the pacer holding the “2:15” sign. “You’re mine,” I thought to myself. “I’m staying on you.” I even entertained visions of pacing with her, then blasting past in the last mile. I kept up with her for the first five miles. Then, she slowly pulled away. I tried to push my legs to move faster. But eventually she turned a corner, and I didn’t see her for the rest of the race. I could feel myself slowing in the last three miles. I kept pushing, terrified that the “2:30” pacer was just behind me, ready to overtake me and ruin even my outside, “safety” goal. I finished in 2:18. I’m happy with that time. I really am. But I also can’t help thinking that if I had trained just a little bit harder, I could have run a sub-2:15 half. Or even a 2:11. If I had added just a few more cross training sessions. Or a few more hill workouts. Or not slept in on those particularly cold, dark winter mornings. . . But I also know that there will always be a faster time, a longer distance. I did it. And in a good time. That should be enough for now. Right? Besides, there’s always next time.
  4. I’m already thinking about next time. Do I want to wait a whole year to do it all again? Or should I try to train for one of the fall races? Maybe I should focus on a shorter distance to work on my pacing and speed? I definitely don’t have any desire to try a full marathon right now (with two small children, I barely had the time to fit in my long runs for the half!). But I’m sure I could do better next time. There’s another race coming up in November. That’s right near my birthday! Maybe . . . ?
  5. Never, ever, ever wear perfume while running a long race. Seriously, are you trying to kill us all?? Notice how everyone kept trying to pass you? It’s because we were trying to get out of the downwind! You stink. Stop it.
  6. Once you get out of the pack, you find your people. Dear Hispanic Lady in the Purple Jacket: You were awesome. I lost you in mile 10 after Heartbreak Hill (you recovered much faster than I did), but you made that run so worthwhile. We were unofficial running buddies for the first ¾ of the race. We exchanged knowing eye-rolls whenever we had to deal with the “perfume twins” in front of us. We both thanked all of the police officers who controlled traffic so we could safely pass through Bloomington’s busy streets (and nodded every time we noticed that the perfume twins didn’t. Kids, right?). You were funny. And we gasped, panted, swore, and muttered small words of encouragement that were half to ourselves, half to each other. You got me through it. You really did. I’ll never forget you. Even if I only ever saw the right side of your face. Much love, Rachel.
  7. The feeling immediately after is similar to a hangover. It’s all such a blur. And I really have to poop. Also, why am I so sore in these unexpected places (my core felt like I had just done about 100 sit ups. For no apparent reason). Oh, god, my head. I really should drink water. Like, a lot of water. But I’m pretty certain that a beer would make me feel even better. I kind of have to puke. But I also kind of really want a fried egg. What did I just do? Did I just do that? Seriously, how did I even get home after that?
  8. Showers are magical. My husband is lucky that our hot water heater is broken, because if that shower had lasted any longer, I would have left him for it.
  9. Imodium, Poise Pads, Ibuprofen, Water Proof Band-Aids. But the greatest of these is Imodium.
  10. I ran 13.1 miles just for the final 11 seconds. Because in the last 11 seconds, I saw them. My husband. My oldest daughter. My friend and her daughter. They were holding signs. They were cheering. They were standing outside in 28° wind chill. And they were saying my name. I crossed that finish line. Someone handed me a medal. Someone else handed me a bottle of water. I turned around to see my daughter, bundled up in “Big Puffy,” her purple winter coat, and I burst into tears. I wept. I cried on my husband’s leather jacket as he hugged me and left a wet streak across his chest. I immediately hung my medal around my daughter’s neck. I looked down at her and said, “You know, I did this for you. All while I was running, I just kept thinking, I have to get to Sophie and Maddie. Sophie and Maddie are waiting for me. I have to get to Sophie and Maddie. You’re the reason I did this.”

A while back, a friend of mine asked me if I was running this race “for” my girls. It’s a hard question to answer, and I stumbled over my response at the time. Because, as a mother, as a woman, as someone with ambitions and dreams and hopes, just about everything that I do is some combination of mine and theirs. I needed to be away from my girls while I trained for this race. I needed to rely on family, friends, and my community to help me while I left them, to be by myself, and work on something that was just for me. I left my girls with friends, and literally ran away from them. But my hope has always been that they don’t just see my back getting smaller as I run away. I hope that they see what I’m trying to run towards. Health. Fitness. Self-confidence. Courage. Strength. Motivation. Satisfaction. Sacrifice. Reward.

My mother grew up in a pre-Title IX America. She was always interested in dance and gymnastics, but her public high school discouraged her participation in the more challenging aspects of their physical education courses. She never felt welcomed in the sports, so she never participated. When she eventually had two daughters of her own, she became one of the most supportive and active “dance moms” around. She sewed countless ribbons onto ballet shoes. Pinned skirts to leotards. Bought extra nights at the studio. Drove us five hours to dance competitions every weekend. When I was sixteen and cried to her in frustration that I was living in my sister’s shadow, my mother looked over at me and said, “Rachel, you can quit. That’s your choice. But I think you’re going to regret it. I think it’s a mistake. You want people to notice you, you have to work harder.”

“But I do work hard!”

She just looked at me. “Work harder.”

I kept going. Hearing her use the word “quit” scared me. I’d never heard her say it before. I worked. Then I worked harder. (Eventually, I was placed in a higher level dance class, though I feel no shame at all in saying that I was never anywhere near my sister in both technique and beauty. Enthusiasm was my saving grace. Not natural ability.)

My sister went on to become a professional dancer in Chicago. I was a ballet minor in college, and played softball (very badly!) in high school. My big brother plays ultimate frisbee. None of us are involved in what could be considered traditional sports, but we all have found our niches.

After the race on Saturday, I called my mom. I told her about seeing Sophie at the finish line, and only looking at her as I crossed.

Mom got excited, “Oh, wouldn’t it just be something if this inspired your girls to run? I mean, you could really get them into running! You could get them started right now! Really early!”

She was giggling, she was so happy.

It’s true, my daughters already tell me that they need space in order to do their “exercises.” They practice their ballet. They do jumping jacks, and run in place, and stretch their arms and legs out as far as they can.

And I guess that’s why I did this.

So I could see my girls, smiling and giggling, as they stretch themselves out as far, and wide, and big as they can.

Because they saw mommy do it first.

Pacing is clearly my Achilles heel.

Pacing is clearly my Achilles heel.

 

Before the race foolin'.

Before the race foolin’.

 

My husband took this as I approached the finish line. I'm waving a bending down towards my daughter.

My husband took this as I approached the finish line. I’m waving a bending down towards my daughter.

 

I started crying immediately after crossing the finish line.

I started crying immediately after crossing the finish line.

 

There are no words.

There are no words.

 

My friend and her daughter made me signs! Once again, my community is what kept me going.

My friend and her daughter made me signs! Once again, my community is what kept me going.

 

Afterwards: On the couch, drinking a beer, holding my youngest daughter, still wearing my medal. I wore it all day.

Afterwards: On the couch, drinking a beer, holding my youngest daughter, still wearing my medal. I wore it all day.

Oh, and I’m already planning on running the Indianapolis Monumental (Half) Marathon the first week of November. Anybody want to be training buddies?