“Well, that will be failing.” – grumbled my PE teacher into my red, sweaty face. Doing only 20 crunches when the state norm for high school girls required 50 was certainly not up to par. But what can you expect from THAT girl: the nerd who gets straight A’s in math, physics, geography, and languages, but cannot run a mile without coughing her lungs out? That girl who has a bit of extra weight on her, weak upper body, and the look of terror while just walking TO the gym.
That used to be my reality. Preferring sandwiches over sit-ups, coming up with any excuses (from standard sickness to more elaborate things like entering high school student government) to avoid PE, and suffering through every bit of physical exercise. I remember the pain of running ten laps around the school stadium, feeling the excruciating burn in my lungs and side stitches on both sides of my body (is that even possible???), thinking I was going to die. Or the embarrassment of not being able to climb up the rope attached to the gym ceiling. And I don’t mean not being able to get to the very top – I mean not getting even an inch up that rope. Those were sad days. I didn’t have nice looking gym clothes, and the shame of not being able to perform a single athletic standard made me hate the word exercise itself. While I somewhat fit in during the rest of the school day, nothing showed me my perceived “less-than-ness” like a trip down the PE lane. Needless to say, the belief of my profound incompatibility with any form of exercise was ingrained deep and hard.
It also didn’t help that at the time exercise was not in any way popular or a standard practice in Ukraine. Sure, in schools we still had the outdated USSR-time physical activity norms we had to “pass”, but outside of school NOBODY worked out. I remember my few desperate “I am too fat and I need to exercise!” fits where I would decide I was going to take up running. Going outside to run ensued so many bewildered looks that it kicked your enthusiasm right to the dirty, cigarette butt littered curb. There also were no gyms. Well, there were a few gyms allocated for hard core body builders but none of that Planet Fitness judgment-free-zone mush. I did go into one of those once – that was enough to renounce exercise a hundred times over.
So there I was, practically an exercise virgin, moving to the US to go to grad school. To this day, I can vividly remember the bewilderment I felt when I first entered the recreation activity center (RAC) at East Carolina University where I was enrolled. Spotless and shiny, two storied with a running track and group fitness rooms on top, and two pool and A HOT TUB!!!! on the bottom. Not even mentioning rows and rows of shiny machines. It was scary, and exciting, and I wanted to do it all. But after a few laps on the track and a few pokes around the machines my lack of physical fitness made itself evident and put out all the enthusiasm I had. I went a couple more times, to be honest. But after that I rarely made it past the smoothie bar by the entrance.
I did also try to get myself into that seemingly cool “running outside” group. No more weird looks here! On the contrary, these runners seemed to be looked up to, so slim and fast and poised. That also didn’t last. I began feeling that exercise was not meant for me at all. Even meeting my now husband, who is a former high school cross country runner and an avid gym attendee, wasn’t enough to put me on a consistent workout streak. I mean sure, I was dying alongside him during our P90X sessions back in those days when we still tried really hard to impress each other. But enjoyment? That would be the very last word on my mind while Shawn T yelled from the screen an order for yet another truck jump. Man, you really need to like someone A LOT to be talked into that stuff. So as soon as we started what they call “going steady”, in the words of Forrest Gump “And just like that, my runnin’ days was over.”
It wasn’t until I graduated from Penn State and got a teaching job at Georgia Southern University that I started looking for exercise out of my own volition. I know, I know: better late than never. You see, the life of a first-year tenure track college professor is, how do I put it mildly? – that’s right, pure hell. I was going through heaps of paperwork, getting my office and house set up, learning where stuff is in a new town, designing classes, starting a new research program, applying for grants, commencing a long-distance relationship, and going on a second year of not being able to visit my home country. The intensity of it all started to get too much, to the point that I would come home every day with a splitting headache and a desire to “quit it all and go live in the forest.” I am pretty sure I told my mom a few times I was going to move back to Ukraine, too. Lucky for me, there was a yoga studio across the street from our campus building. I would drive past it a few times a day, thinking that maybe I should take it up just to get my mind off of work. One day, after an especially daunting meeting and a writing session that produced nothing but a white page with a cursor blinking at the very top, I decided to go in. And that, my friends, made all the difference.
My very first visit was for a Yin Yoga class with now dear friend and doTERRA upline Nicole Benish. I thought I died and went to heaven. We did breath work that immediately soothed my anxiety, slow stretches and poses that released my lower back pain induced by an ergonomic office chair (which was anything but), and a meditation that took care of the figurative axe that was splitting my brain in two. I. WAS. HOOKED.
Join me next week for Part II: The Summit to learn where my newfound love for yoga took me.