My friends and family would describe me as a laid-back dietitian/yogini with an affinity for impromptu dance parties and red wine.
On work days, I’m a detail-oriented business lady who somehow manages ~80 tube fed patients’ nutrition from my desk and my calculator. On days off, I can be caught haunting the Denver Kombucha Bar or frolicking the Rocky Mountains in purple yoga pants.
Let me be the first to say this has not always been the case.
In my 26 years, I’ve worn many different hats. It has only come to my attention in recent years that if I took all the hats off, the person underneath is my favorite yet. What a relief this has been.
My first identity in life was “The Gymnast.”
I always had a personality that was eager (albeit desperate) to please. Pleasing my parents and teachers was easy enough, but gymnastics gave me two additional “parents” to impress. I was like a kid in a candy shop. My coaches told me to point my toes, and I did. They told me to release the top bar and catch the bottom bar as it flew by, and I would. After I missed my feet on the beam and landed in a painful pile on the floor, they told me to suck up my tears, climb up, and do it again.
For ten years, I did.
Do you know what it takes to back flip on a 4 inch beam, 4 feet high, after you’ve just done so and wiped out? It takes a denial of all emotions. It takes a decision that your own judgment and emotional health are secondary to the satisfaction you get from pleasing other people.
So this was my life.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the sport of gymnastics can have remarkable benefits for many adolescents, including a honed sense of body awareness, poise, and responsibility. All skilled gymnasts get good grades in school
With my already Type-A predisposition, it was a recipe for disaster.
Cue high school. I quit gymnastics to enter the world of boys, where my focus went from pointed toes to being the hottest teenage girl in the pack. From what I could gather, hot meant thin. I ran with that idea.
My surefire solution was starving myself. I ate one packet of oatmeal per day. Ten years of gymnastics muscles disappeared in two months. At one point my school counselor, a family friend, called me in to tell me that friends were concerned about me. In a weird way, that made me proud. I would look in the mirror and see a flat stomach, and then would turn to the side and see ribs. Perfect.
I graduated Salutatorian, Senior Class President, Homecoming Court, Corn Fest Queen Court, state champion pom-pom dancer, and elected by my classmates to receive the Good Citizen Scholarship. My boyfriend was a golden-haired, movie star lookalike, and I was still hungry and unfulfilled.
In college, a bad breakup sent me into a period that we can just refer to as “the breakdown.”
I’ll spare the details, but suffice to say it was all things unhealthy: drugs, cigarettes…really anything at all that could separate me from who I’d been. I gained weight intentionally. I just didn’t care to be perfect anymore. At that time, I can’t say I cared about anything. It was the complete antithesis to my childhood.
I know now that time in my life was necessary in order for growth to occur.
Forest fires serve a purpose, and I burned, burned, burned until there was little hint of the perfectionist that had first walked through those college gates.
Through a chain of blessed and completely unintentional events, I found myself as a dietetics major. I began learning about nutrition, and really took an interest. Food went from being a means for perfection to a healing source of nourishment. Grocery shopping and cooking became, and still are, my favorite pastimes to de-stress and get creative. I excelled in these classes, not because I was competing with anybody, but instead because I really was passionate about what I was studying.
When this shift happened, the rest of my life followed suit. I took my first yoga class at the college rec center, and something glorious happened. Nobody cared how “good” I was. The class was a blissful, barefoot 60 minutes of no expectations.
For the first time, I was moving for myself. I retrained my mind to observe, rather than seek to change. I learned to spread my toes rather than order them to contract. Slowly but surely, I undid all the years of conditioning to suck my belly in. My lower abs relearned how to move with breath, like a liberated frog-belly slowly showing signs of life after several terrified minutes of playing dead.
In yoga, there is a sutra: Stiram sukham asanam.
This can be interpreted as “Structure and ease within postures.”
This simple statement has been the culmination of my fitness journey so far.
I will share with you a secret so simple that it took the first fourth of my life to discover:
When I stopped caring about my fitness in regards to others, and instead brought my awareness within myself, my body instinctually became a very healthy, effortless weight.
I have completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training program, and will be a lifelong student of all the eight limbs of yoga. Through my teachers and this practice, I have learned to differentiate between serving others and pleasing them.
My true joy, I know now, is in serving others.
I please only myself.
I am not sure where the transition from “student” to “teacher” occurred, both in nutrition and fitness, but I find myself now in all of these roles. I have a passion for working with others to discover their potential physically and spiritually.
Still, I am the first to say that I do not have a daily fitness routine. I move my body the way that feels natural.
Some days, what feels natural is putting on Billy Joel, turning it up, and busting out dance moves that would make Carlton Banks look skilled. Most days, I combine a run or a hike with some asana and meditation. Still, on any given Sunday, my fitness is nothing more than rolling around under 2 feet of sheets in my bed, surrounded by Pinterest and a cup of coffee.
This is my story so far.
It has been one of both rigid structure and reckless ease, which somehow has landed me here- in this place of confident, instinctual, and joyfully imperfect health.