I’ve been told that what makes me unique is that I’m normal. That’s kind of an oxymoron. How can I be unique in that case?
Normal is a relative term, and I’ve learned to embrace my normalcy. I’ve learned in my chosen profession, normal is overrated. So often we see fitness professionals that are tall, lean, and probably not even close to the person that we would look like if we were to lose 50 pounds and work out five hours a day. Well, I’m not tall, and I’m not exceptionally lean, and I’m a yoga teacher that can’t bend herself in half. Yep, I’m normal. But I think normal is good.
It took me a long time to come to that conclusion, and I have yoga to thank for teaching me that. I was born into a life of competition. I played sports my entire life, settling into synchronized swimming as my chosen sport. I trained pretty hard, most days of the week. I watched what I ate, I stretched at home, and I joined “regular” swim teams to keep my fitness levels up. After all that, it didn’t matter how little I ate, how much I stretched, or how fit I was, I felt I was always the short, fat, inflexible one that fought for every routine that she swam. Looking back at videos, I realize as an adult that my feelings really couldn’t have been further from the real truth, but that’s how I felt at the time. My swimming career ended when high school did, and I went to college to study exercise science, began to compete in paddling, then went on to pursue a career teaching Pilates. Of course, my experience in Pilates didn’t help my already damaged self-image, because I was surrounded by long, skinny ballerinas, and I was once again seeing myself as the short, fat, inflexible one again.
I got tired of feeling short and fat and tight. So I decided to read some self-help books and stepped out of my comfort zone to start a self-practice of yoga. All of the mind-body conditioning I had done had become career-based, and it was time to start some type of healing for me, on my own. I had never really had great experiences with yoga, but decided to go out on a limb and give it a try. Now, as a Pilates teacher and Personal Trainer, it’s challenging to get to a yoga class, since I typically work when classes are offered. That was OK with me, because I wanted to form something that was mine, and mine alone. It may not be “true” or “classical,” as the Pilates people say, but I didn’t care. This was supposed to be for me and me alone, so I practiced at home or in my studio when I had a break. Even if it was only 15 minutes, it was better than nothing. My yoga practice ended up being a blend of my professional knowledge in Pilates, GYROTONIC®, and yoga, and, in a short amount of time, I began to realize that the impact of this work on my body AND my psyche was amazing.
First, I learned to accept my body for what it is. Genetics gave me what I have. I can’t change that. I have my mom’s amazing legs, an insane amount of upper body strength, and a keen sense of kinetics. Secondly, genetics and injuries have forced me to limit what I can and cannot do, so acceptance is the only way to deal with that. If it hurts, I probably shouldn’t be doing it. Thirdly, I needed to learn to quit competing. Probably my biggest challenge, I’ve been forced to learn that I cannot think that I can compete with every yoga momma out there that can contort her body into amazing positions, then feel defeated when I can’t do what she is doing. Duh. It takes patience, will power, determination, practice, and time. All of the same things I use when I’m paddling, but now applied more gently. Yoga is my quiet time. My time to tune out and quiet my mind. To allow me to focus on breath, on my movement, on my body. My practice is gentle and flowing and it gives my body the ability to heal itself after all of the abuse I put it through. I still am working towards the more challenging poses, and, sometimes just trying to bend myself in half is enough for the day. With practice, I’ll get there.
I’ve been told that I’m normal, and I find that to be a compliment. Normal makes me approachable, it makes me real. No one needs to be a Gumby to start a practice of yoga (goodness knows I am not that). I learned that I needed an open and accepting heart, particularly for myself, and it has changed my life.
KAREN MIRLENBRINK has always described herself as a total beach bunny who can’t keep her toes out of the sand. Growing up on the beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast, her idea of the perfect day involves being in or on the water learning… more »