My path back to health began twenty years ago, at a point when I was abandoning it.
I used to be in good shape. I was a former long distance runner, with a handsome athletic build and I regularly practiced aerobics. But my daily work became increasingly demanding and stressful, to the point where I was no longer working to live, but living to work.
I became responsible for managing large teams of people, as well as having to complete my own share of the work and interact with clients who did not care how difficult the work was. The clients with almost no exception, demanded more than what was possible or else they threatened to take the work elsewhere. Concerned for my people, many of whom had families they needed to support, I was working past midnight every day. Eighty to a hundred hour work weeks on average. With increasing frequency I ate convenient fast food meals at my desk. I stopped exercising. I drank more and more coffee to keep my energy level artificially high. Within a few years I was completely addicted to coffee, double bacon cheeseburgers became my comfort food, and sitting at a computer desk became my daily ritual. I was becoming less healthy, and gaining weight.
I moved to Canada for a few years, and had the incredible good fortune and honor of practicing Yoga at the Iyengar Yoga School of Toronto. At this point I had my eyes and mind opened wide. I studied under a remarkable instructor, a direct student of B.K.S. Iyengar himself. She revealed to me countless profound insights into the practice of Yoga that had never before occurred to me. Yes, Yoga can be fun, but that is not what it is for. Yoga is here to save my life.
I moved back to Central Coast California. I became too busy again to do anything but work, and put everything else aside including my health. I continued my slide. I ate more fast food than ever before, drank more coffee than ever before; I became more physically unhealthy than I had ever been. Then concern, I began to get serious about countering the slide.
While continuing to work and live stressfully, I spent years experimenting with cutting out different food groups and food types, attempting to discover some magic ingredient that might be responsible for any of the various health issues I was experiencing. Remarkably, I made several discoveries on my own, and by merely changing my diet I discovered that I could completely eliminate nearly all of my health issues. By pure chance, I contracted and recovered from a bad cold, which after two weeks carried me past my caffeine withdrawal symptoms. I was now free of my addiction to coffee which I soon discovered was directly responsible for causing several debilitating health effects.
I personally conquered all of my health issues except one, the weight gain. I tried to eat a more healthy variety of food, and cut down on the fast food. But all that managed to achieve was to slow down the weight gain. It did not stop or reverse it. For a while I tried to ignore the issue, accepting weight gain as an inevitable process of modern living and aging. . .
But then one day, I step on a scale, and I see a number that I cannot believe. It puts frustration and anger into me, *the scale cannot possibly be working right, can it?* I reset the scale and try again and again– the number is real. I am not just overweight, I could be considered obese. For me, this is the last straw. I am now going to embark on a journey, something that I never thought I would attempt in my life. There is only one food group I have not experimented with nor removed, it being the core comfort food of my life– eating meat. On that day I switch cold-turkey (pun intended), to becoming one hundred percent vegan.
After only three days of being vegan, remarkable things began to happen. That drowsy, groggy feeling I had waking up in the morning, and had always had since childhood– is missing. Gone. This was a large part of why I had been drinking coffee in the first place. I was stunned that the experience of being groggy in the morning was a symptom of diet– NOT a normal process of being alive. Furthermore, my perception began to get clearer, and my concentration more focused I was enjoying being a vegan far more than I thought I would. For the first time in twenty years, my weight gain had stopped. Over time, I went from obese, to less obese, to very overweight. . . And still didn’t feel comfortable in my skin. But success I discovered was possible, and the sacrifice to achieve it was not even that bothersome.
Now I set three weight/fitness goals for myself. Two achievable goals, and the last one an impossible goal– to get back to the weight I had twenty years ago when I was a much younger and handsome lad. “Two out of three would not be bad”, I mused to myself. If I could achieve my Goal#1, then I would be happy. If I could achieve my Goal#2, then I would be amazing. And as a fleeting notion, I mused that If I could achieve my Goal#3, then I could achieve absolutely anything in life.
After six months of being vegan and enjoying it thoroughly, the weight loss slowed to a crawl, then to a stop. I had lost twenty pounds, and my weight was just hovering above the Goal#1 number– unable to cross it. Apparently for myself, there was some other missing element to my path to a healthy life. The missing element revealed itself to me.
For five years of living on Central Coast, I had occasionally driven by a beautiful Yoga studio, nestled into a corner of San Luis Obispo, California. I fell in love with it instantly, since on its sign was a picture of a dog which looked exactly like my own beloved dog. And on the sign the canine was whimsically painted performing a “downward dog” yoga pose, exactly as my own dog performs for treats. But the Yoga studio was located far from my house, and there were other Yoga studios much closer to my location. Yet each year I would return to the Smiling Dog, visit and speak with the owner at the time. Somehow she remembered my name each year, which in itself was a remarkable sign to me. Something in the back of my mind would tell me each year that the time was “not yet right”. That something came back at the very end of 2012– “the time is NOW.”
I began to attend Yoga classes at the Smiling Dog Yoga Studio in San Luis Obispo, California. The Smiling Dog Studio offers a wide variety of Yoga styles, with many instructors. I took the brochure and checked off each one as I began to attend classes, trying them all. Each class and instructor offered a unique insight, a fresh approach. A new perspective.
My body began changing again. Within a couple weeks, I got on a scale, and finally got across my first milestone. Goal#1 achieved done, complete. I was so happy, encouraged and grateful. But it took so much effort to finally get here, I wondered if Goal#2 was even possible?
No more taking Yoga casually once a week. I signed up for an unlimited pass. I charted my classes from the brochure, and started to practice Yoga every day with a couple days left open for rest. It felt good. After a while I attempted two Yoga classes back to back in the same day– this felt profoundly different. Vinyasa followed by Yin. At first I could barely manage it, and was exhausted afterward. In time, I got stronger, my cardio improved, and I began to power through them. I no longer needed rest days. My physical strength began to shoot upward, and my weight began to peel off.
A short time later, I was approaching Goal#2. Touching Goal#2. Crushing Goal#2, and not stopping. No time to linger and celebrate. I was now in a cruise mode. I was on the attack. About two months of wonderful, intense, blissful, focused Yoga practice at Smiling Dog Yoga Studio, I had peeled off thirty pounds. Fifty in total from the beginning of my vegan journey. I took a photo of the number on my scale. After twenty years, I was ME again. The impossible Goal#3 achieved.
Another sunny, glorious day at Smiling Dog. Took a class. Was dressing afterward in the change room. . . In the mirror, I had trouble cinching on my pants. After a while I thought, “What the heck is wrong with my belt?”. I look down. There is no hole in the belt where it needs to go. A new frontier. Today is a good day.
Fellow yogi friend