Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Before and After

Hello world! Bet you weren't expecting to see any activity on this blog ever again, but here I am! Still alive. I have survived my first nine months of studio ownership and I definitely have a lot of stories to tell. I just haven't had the chance to tell them yet. But I've had a little encouragement - thanks dear - so I am sitting down at the keyboard again tonight, for the first time in a VERY long time!

Before I write about all the excitement of opening a studio, and adventures of being a studio owner, and the stress of running a business, and the crazy state of the Bikram yoga world in general, I want to talk about something completely different.

What up with all these "Before and After" pictures that have taken over my news feed lately?!

Look I get it, I really do. It's so awesome and exciting to see changes in your body, whether it's loosing some weight or nailing a new position or getting deeper into your yoga postures. But I worry that we, the yoga teachers and fitness instructors and industry leaders, are selling a big fat lie. Here is the story that we are telling, in the form of a graph:

Or as the incomparable Allie Brosh puts it:

The lie that we are telling ourselves (and each other), is that "before" and "after" are two completely separate stages of your life. The caterpillar becomes a butterfly and stays that way forever. You start yoga and you have no flexibility, but after you do yoga for 6 months, your postures become fantastic and they stay that way forever. You eat crappy food for a while, but then you become enlightened in your diet and never touch Ben and Jerry's again.

Wrong! Of course we know this is wrong, but we trick ourselves anyway! There is no "before" and there is no "after," there's only "during." Life is a constant practice. Some days you're on the top of the wave, some days you're not. Some days that butterfly is gonna wake up, look back at the chrysalis, and think, "Damn, that looks cozy, maybe I'll crawl back in there and take a little nap."

If we are being honest with ourselves, the chart should look a little more like this (for example):

There ain't no straight path! It's up, it's down, it's all around. One year you'll be totally killing it, the next year you might barely practice at all, and then you might come back stronger than ever. Or you might come back and struggle for a while. That's fine! Guess what? Everyone else has the same struggle, too! If I had a dollar for every time a student has told me, "Oh, but I used to be able to do XYZ," I could sell my studio and retire to Costa Rica and drink coconuts all day. 

The truth is that getting to a certain level is easy, but maintaining is very hard. I've seen beautiful, talented students literally in tears because they had an injury that forced them to back off for a couple of months, and they never saw it coming. 

Just for the record, and as an example, here's the general shape that my Bikram yoga practice has taken over the years:

2004: First Bikram yoga class, age 19. Loved it! Went a few times a week over the summer, for a couple of months, then forgot all about it.

2005: Maybe 6 months later, got dragged to class by a schoolmate. Loved it again! Was motivated enough to get up at 5am in the morning and take the subway to the 6am class, only to get locked out anyway because the train didn't get there early enough. Better luck next time.

2007? Skipping ahead a little bit... practiced off and on during college and in between ballet classes. Quit ballet in 2007 and figured I'd better give myself something else to do or else I would go stark raving nuts. Went to yoga approximately every day for the next 2 years. Got pretty good at it too! The picture below was taken in 2008. (I was 23. Is that really seven years ago?!)

2009: Grad school! Boy was that a rough time for my yoga practice, not to mention my mental health. I can't believe it but I actually found a photo from this time period and it's hilarious. I'm trying so hard and I just can't get it together.

2010: Dropped out of school and went to teacher training! Managed to pull my shit back together, just in time to get my butt kicked by teacher training. Two classes a day for 9 weeks with very inconsistent heating. Took my hamstrings months to recover! I actually didn't mind at all - I was sooooo happy to just be doing yoga all the time.

2010 - 2013 is a normal up and down period. Some championship training, some jogging, some yoga, some being lazy and eating cake. I DO want to share these two photos that were taken in almost the same spot, about 1 year apart from each other (I think it's spring 2012 and spring 2013).

What you'll notice, if you have a good eye for that kind of thing, is that I lost a BUNCH of weight in the second picture. This is not because I went on a new diet or a new exercise technique. It is because I was mega stressed out over some personal matters. You'll also notice that I look a lot happier in the first picture! Hilariously (to me), I got sooooooo many compliments on my body when I was super skinny, cause my abs looked killer. Everyone was like, "Wow, what are you doing?!" and I was like ".... meh." I WAS actually practicing a whole lot... because that is how I deal with stress. I really couldn't have cared less about the postures.

2014: I opened my yoga studio!! Here is my glorious standing bow photo, that was taken by my sister on my iPhone (my camera had died), on the bike path behind the Sip-n-Dip, while I was working on signing the lease for my new space. This is the picture that's been put on our marketing materials and plastered around town. It's not NEARLY my deepest posture - I mean, I'm not 23 anymore - but damn am I having fun and I can hold it forever!

2015: Er.... file not found? No photos exist, as I have not had such a "model" practice since opening the studio. I am surprisingly ok with this. If you had told me ten years ago that I wouldn't be able to do my perfect standing splits anymore, I would have been totally devastated. But guess what? I've got a yoga studio, a great boyfriend, a sweet dog, a cute apartment in a wonderful town, lovely friends.... I can't complain. Life is good. (Not always easy or simple or perfect - that's a different story.)

I feel like I've been writing all night and I'm still just scratching the surface. What I really want to say is this: It's okay if you're not constantly improving. It's okay if you run into setbacks and injuries and roadblocks. It's okay if you look at other people's lovely before-and-after pictures and it makes you feel like a crummy little caterpillar sometimes. A photo is just a carefully selected two-dimensional snapshot that tells you almost nothing about someone's life. Great abs alone don't make a happy person - that reflection in the mirror is not going to keep you warm at night. Don't worry about what other people are doing, and don't stress about the stuff that you can't change at the moment. Just keep taking little baby steps and putting one foot in front of the other. 

Change is constant. That's the bad news AND the good news. If you wish you could stay just like this forever... tough luck, you can't take it with you. You're gonna get older some day, and that's the best case scenario! If you're not happy now and you wish you could make a change.... well that's great! Like it or not, you're changing every day. Relax, go easy on yourself, enjoy what you have, stop chasing perfection. There are no perfect people - trust me - we're all faking it and screwing up and figuring it out just like you. 

This post has probably gone on long enough, so I will leave it here for now. All mistakes and typos are completely intentional. Thanks in advance for your support and encouragement. I have a million other things to talk about and will try to write again soon....