Trust Yourself

Day 1/6: GOAL CRUSHING–TRUST YOURSELF

It’s really hard to believe in yourself when you feel like your life has spiraled out of control and you feel completely directionless.

I have spent years waking up and going through the motions; walking into work like a zombie, not really seeing anyone or feeling much of anything. It seemed that by the time I left my job I was aware that a day had happened, words came out of my mouth, and I did my job but something was [and to a degree is still] missing. I recall leaving work and it almost feeling surreal because I was so unhappy I couldn’t fathom coming back the next day to rewind and start anew. It was a daunting thought considering I spent 20 grand for a Master’s Degree in a field I no longer wanted to be in.

I am ‘just a teacher’. So let’s face it, what could I possibly have to offer the ‘real world’ and work force? I felt trapped by my degrees and imprisoned by the conviction I held for my profession in my early to mid-twenties. I couldn’t leave teaching. What would I do? Who would hire me? What would people think if I walked away after all this time?

Arielle Ragnar Napa 1st legDistracted by my own languor, the noise was so deafening there seemed to be no way out until I found fitness. I mean really found fitness. Not fitness for the sake of needing or wanting to lose weight or get a bikini body, but the kind of fitness that was visceral. I found indoor cycling, yoga and later Crossfit, Spartan Race, Ragnar, and now Orange Theory.

I found that I needed to strike a balance to be happy in my workplace and that was sweating my face off as much as possible when I wasn’t wrangling America’s youth into loving the latest novel I was desperately trying to sell to them. As my enthusiasm and work in fitness expanded I was happier overall but 2 years ago I quit my teaching job to pursue my dream: I was going to be the next best thing in fitness since Jillian Michaels [insert ridiculous cackle here]. Initially, I found excitement in my new work but learned very quickly that teaching 20 group fitness classes a week was not all that it’s cracked up to be. In addition to my indoor cycling and yoga classes teaching load, I was taking on personal training clients. Nevertheless, despite my clients reaping the results of their nutritional coaching and training with me, after a while clients just kind of move on and stop renewing their sessions. The hustle of group fitness was daunting and survival mode set in.

Teach, teach, teach.

There were no sick days.

There were no mental health days to recharge.

I had no choice but to become a machine.

Me with two of my Spartan Race friends who came out to support me at the cycling studio I opened on my hiatus from education
With two of my Spartan Race friends who came out to support me at the indoor cycling studio I opened while on my hiatus from education

My livelihood became dependent upon how many classes I could teach in a week, was offered, and head counts. It didn’t take long for me to step back and realize that I was getting fat from not having time to workout but I was also still unhappy. Really? Wasn’t this choice supposed to magically fix all of that?! Within 6 months I found myself back in a classroom, and like before, it was only a matter of time before the honeymoon period wore off and I regretted coming back. Now, the lesson here isn’t that I am chronically miserable. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It took major guts for me to Trust Myself and walk away from my teaching position. At the time I was working for UCLA at a prestigious school. People thought I had lost my mind that I was going to ‘just teach yoga with a Master’s Degree’. People worried about where I would get health insurance, and how I would make money, and threw all these ‘What If’s’ at me. And while I considered them, I had to let go of what other people thought about my choice and own the hell out of it.

Look.

It didn’t work out. I know that and you know that—I am [still] back in the classroom. But I learned a hell of a lot from my venture out of teaching. I learned what doesn’t make me happy and that’s what this journey is all about; redefining what happiness is and how it transpires in our lives. Now, at my 2nd school in almost 2 years, I am still unsure if being an educator is my role. Sure, I like it a lot more than I did a year ago but there is something tugging at my heart and soul. There’s a whisper in my ear saying “Is this it…? There’s something else for you…If you dare to take a peek…I can’t seem to shake it. What I can say it certainly isn’t is being a full time group fitness instructor. But is this ‘something else’ calling to me to pursue my dreams as a writer? To bring to life my vision of fitness and empowerment through education? Am I supposed to be doing something else?

My intuition tells me the answer is resoundingly, yes.

1974982_10152296329801450_453456657_nSo, in an effort to Trust Myself I am going to start submitting my writing to online outlets. I am going to start trusting in myself as a writer and shoot to share my words with a larger audience. And if it doesn’t work out, like my failed attempt to leave teaching two years ago, I will live and I will learn, and I will be better for it because I trusted myself.

As a reminder, here are take-aways from the piece above:

  • What speaks to your soul and makes you giddy with joy and excitement?
  • What have you learned about taking a chance or risk in your past?
  • Stop giving a shit what other people think or say and just do it!

Now, it’s your turn. Share with us your tales of when you trusted yourself, what you learned but let’s dig a litter deeper: How are you going to take what you’ve learned and channel it moving forward? What does it mean to you, to Trust Yourself?

Go Get ‘Em

Last week I talked about feeling completely and utterly broken down and demoralized. And while feelings are feelings and we should feel them and honor them, I certainly don’t condone wallowing in self-pity.

My words last week were meet with your support and affirming words of understanding and appreciation for giving you a voice. After my post went live, the comments, texts, messages, and emails flooded in for days. I was so humbled to be a representative for the voiceless as that’s always my goal as a writer. Well, I want to give us a new voice, rather another voice. I want to give us the ability to see the power in goal-setting, putting it all out there, and chasing after things we want. I want us all to reformulate our energies and look ahead to the future as goal-crushers and I think I have just the right amount of focus and inspiration to do that.

Still reeling from my bruised ego and shit show at last week’s IG Getaway in Santa Monica, my dear childhood friend contacted me reminding me about this video he had been wanting me to watch on You Tube. Busy for a change, his requests got lost in the shuffle but then yesterday while savoring the calm before the storm of students bombarded my day, I finally watched the video he sent me: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 6 Rules to Success. Click here to watch it, or watch the embedded video below.

Now, I know. You’re laughing because it’s Arnold. You know, the former Governor of California, the Terminator, or even the same man marred by having an affair and an illegitimate love-child with his cleaning lady—Yes, THAT Arnold. I laughed at first too, even told my friend Craig that I couldn’t possibly have anything to learn from this man. Oh, how utterly wrong I was—I happily ate those words after watching that video. Arnold’s words pierced to the depths of my soul. I cried listening to him for it was as if Arnold knew I was fumbling aimlessly, and listlessly, trying to figure out who I am, what I am supposed to do, yearning to find my purpose in this world. I wrote down his 6 rules:

  1. Trust Yourself
  2. Break the Rules
  3. Don’t be Afraid to Fail
  4. Don’t Listen to the Naysayers
  5. Work your Butt Off!
  6. Give Back to Others

11951893_10100789393057021_5778588276736185_nAnd while devising a lesson to bring this incredible information to my high school students, I realized that I had to share this with my readers too. Let’s do something together over the next 6 days.

Each day I will feature one rule from the list in the order they’re posted above. Each day I will discuss how that rule will take shape in my life and I will share my goal-setting to achieve success with all of you. But the work isn’t done there! You have homework too!

For each day I post, I want you to hold yourself accountable by commenting and posting your road map to success for that specific rule to success. Start brainstorming now, because we start tomorrow!

It is time to stop wishing and wanting and time for us to manifest that shit. We are in this together—I can’t wait to hear from you all tomorrow: Trust Yourself.

My Yoga is Ugly

It has been a while since I have been able to take a yoga workshop and spend time under the instructorship of a seasoned instructor and just learn. So when my friend Armen of Pack Your Mat let me tag along to join him at the IG Getaway in Santa Monica I was stoked.

The day was started ripe with anticipation. We arrived early and poked around at the vendors. I must admit, my schedule has been crazy and I haven’t hit my yoga mat in a while so I was a little nervous but I was ready to discover new things.

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My attempt to practice opening my shoulders in a supported hallow back–I am NO WHERE near where this pose should be or even looks like!
My first workshop was with famed yogi Mackenzie Miller. I intentionally choose to attend the Backbend Workshop since I struggle immensely with any sort of backbend. Immediately, I liked Mackenzie. She’s a teeny little powerhouse who is funny, quirky, and incredibly knowledgeable. She is down to earth and grounded despite her 157k followers on Instagram. Mackenzie had us introduce ourselves to someone we didn’t know in the class and for me that helped decrease my anxiety. Not knowing what class would entail, I set my mat to the side and near the back. Everyone seemed to know one another and seemed at ease. With their six packs taunting me in their cropped yoga tops I felt exposed and uncomfortable. I was wearing my favorite pants, my 2-year-old Lulus and an American Apparel tank but my outfit clearly wasn’t stylish enough to be considered cool [I guess it’s a good thing I have my hair going for me]. Class hadn’t even started yet and I already felt demoralized. There were men there, but I didn’t even notice. My eyes and brain only ruminated on the long lean limbs of these instayogis and all I could think was I don’t belong here and “Shit. I can’t believe I let myself think that even for even a second I belonged here.”

Class started.

The warm up was vigorous. My muscles were shaking. No stranger to sweat and hard work, I relished this challenge. Then the workshop portion started. We moved through a series of backbends—each completely and utterly inaccessible to me. I felt an overwhelming sense of shame and self-hatred. I started to shut down and knew the eagerness and smiles had faded and was now being replaced by rage. The darkness had crept in and I was assaulting myself—I’m too fat, I don’t practice enough, I’m a bad instructor, my body is just wrong, why did I come here…and the thoughts went on and on. They just didn’t end.

Now, in the interest of transparency, here’s a little aside: I am working through some shit at the moment. Recently, I have allowed my confidence to become completely shaken by some feedback I received regarding my teaching and style and I can’t seem to move past it. I have been swimming in self-doubt and insecurity and to top it all off, since I have been playing soccer again I can barely walk. The pain in my right knee is intolerable and I am panicking.

With my compromised confidence and the constant worrying about my knee, an intense backbend workshop literally brought everything to the surface and I felt myself crying. I’ve cried in yoga before but not like today. This was an angry cry and I didn’t like it.

I coveted the skinny girl in front of me who not only wore white yoga pants, but she looked amazing in them. I envied the girl in the sports bra with the subtly toned abs and her effortless handstand. Finally, I just sat on my mat, observing and then taking notes:

I feel really bad about myself here 

Out of my element 

Out of my body and unable to do what I will it to do

I feel like I’m a prisoner of my physical self and I’ve condemned myself to thinking I’m worthless because I can’t do these poses

Is this what yoga has come to, or shall I say, is this how my yoga has evolved? I had no reason to get so upset. After all, this was their practice and well, this was mine…Simply, I teach yoga but certainly don’t have the time or make the the time for my practice anymore. I don’t have a Guru, teacher I would follow into fire, or even a place that I practice at regularly. My practice has been reduced to when it’s convenient and that needs to change immediately.

IMG_9191Conversely, as a result of being a multi-faceted fitness person, I don’t just do yoga. I also cycle, run, lift weights, wear heels to work all day, and when I can I roll out (which is never but I did do it once this week!). Because I have so many fitness passions, I don’t practice yoga as much as I did before I became an instructor, but I am very active in so many other arenas nonetheless. Unfortunately, my endeavors on a treadmill, on a bike, and lifting weights makes me classically tighter than many other yoga instructors. Not to mention, many yoga instructors are former dancers, and well, if you have ever seen me attempt to catch a beat you sure as hell know I was never a dancer. My yoga instructor friends, teachers in classes, and even Mackenzie in yesterday’s workshop remark[ed] about my tightness and lack of mobility in my scapula and thoracic region. And while this truth is obvious, I know it and it continues to hurt my ego.

Why can’t I be more flexible in my spine? Why can’t my knee stop locking, popping, or constantly hurting? Why can’t I stick a handstand? So many ‘Why’s’ flooded my thoughts that I concluded that my yoga was ugly.

I mean, it had to be, right?

I can’t backbend.

My stomach has rolls.

I’m short. Very short.

My thighs rub together.

I can’t wear white anything on my bottom half.

And I only have 1,228 Instagram followers.

Immersed in a bustling yoga scene of instayogi’s from all over the world AKA Los Angeles and a room full of teachers, I felt unprepared and alone. I felt confused about my place in all this and where I fit into this community. Finally, I concluded that my yoga is ugly.

Egos and handstands.

Midriffs and girls who practice with their hair down and make up (Hell I wish, I just sweat SO much).

Beautiful people, each more attractive and hip than the next.

Posses of the cool kids.

As an outsider, I think much of what I experienced yesterday really hit me because it was like I was that girl on the bus going to school again. The fat kid with no friends, mercilessly made fun of by the cool kids because I was fat and uncool. So much of what we feel when we feel it is a result of our past and my past is filled with pain. For me, I was transported to that time when I was the kid who didn’t get included, never got the invite to the cool kids’ parties, and simply dealt with her emotions by eating them. So last night, I ate my feelings and sadness away in a gluten free pizza. So what I am saying is YEARS later, I guess I still haven’t learned how to cope with my feelings of inadequacy.

I need to believe I am worthy of yoga and resolve to love my body. How does one even do that? How does one receive the love and confidence one so desperately needs and wants that validates one as worthy?

Though yesterday was filled with sweat, tears, and doubt, I do not regret attending for one second. I learned a lot about myself; had my ego majorly checked in class by being out-practiced by pretty much everyone, and I put myself out there.

So for now, I guess my yoga is ugly. I am just going to have to accept that at this moment this is where I am and am going to work on meeting myself with kindness.

Right now it’s like this.

Ain’t no ‘Do Nothin’ B**ch’

A few days ago, I received a text from a friend. Her boyfriend sent her a video of Ronda Rousey talking about how she isn’t some “Do Nothing Bitch” and that the video reminded him of me. I watched the video in awe and insanely flattered. Rousey hit the nail on the head—she certainly ain’t no Do Nothing Bitch, but neither am I.

Watch the video Ronda Rousey Do Nothing Bitch video, or click below.

Right now, there seems to be something amazing happening in the mainstream media world. Women like Ronda Rousey and Coach Jen Welter (Cardinals assistant coach) are paving the way for physically and emotionally strong women to be celebrated for their efforts and athletic pursuits. Now, while women are still a long way from being treated like our male counterparts in the professional arena, we are making progress and that is better than stagnating.

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Jen Welter, Cardinals Asst. Coach

For me, seeing a powerhouse like Rousey openly discuss what people think of her ‘manly’ physique and not give two shits is exactly what I am talking about. Now, on a personal level I do not watch nor really condone the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) aka kick the shit out of someone and beat them to a bloody pulp—but that is just me and I can still see and respect the athleticism of it all. Rousey embodies the strength and determination I love to see in a person, especially in a woman.

As a woman, we are so often put down or held back merely as a result of our gender and that is just bogus in 2015. People are still astounded when woman achieve greatness in the workplace, on the field, or in the gym. You guys, women are doctors, lawyers, teachers, and SO MUCH MORE; it’s terribly archaic to assume because I have breasts that I am less than a man. Frankly, I think it’s all a load of bullshit and I work tirelessly everyday to change this out-dated stereotype by proving I can be just like the boys in and out of the gym.

Growing up I was a thick kid. I have mentioned before that my mother had to take me shopping in the ‘Husky’ section or even the Ladies section because I was overweight. I could sugar coat this and be kinder in discussing my thick thighs and glutes but there is no sense in that, I was a fat kid, period. As if shopping in the fat-kid and old lady sections weren’t demeaning enough, I was into sports and in the 80’s and early 90’s. At this time, girls weren’t playing with the boys and I was ridiculed mercilessly. There were no girls on football teams and equity in school athletics for girls was just emerging—ugh, can you believe that?!

I was taunted for playing with the boys.

I was brutally tormented by the kids on the bus, in the yard at lunch, or while at summer camp because not only did I play with the boys—but I was better than the boys too. I always felt like because I was a girl, I had something to prove. The kids called me horrible names like Lesbo, Dyke, and Tomboy. And while I really didn’t even know or understand why liking to play sports meant I was a lesbian, I just didn’t understand the insult [and still don’t]. How was being athletic something bad? Thankfully, my father was way ahead of the game. He modeled and raised me to truly own my awesome and be my own person because while I am deeply sensitive, I possess a thick skin for haters. I mean let’s be real here:

If you’re hated, you are doing something right, right?

As powerful and athletic women like the US Soccer Team, Rousey, and Welter pave the way for girls to not just play with the boys but to be respected like the boys, I can’t help but wonder could I be like them? Could I be that person for a little girl who looks to me for inspiration, the courage to look the haters in the face and say, “Like it, love it, or leave because I’m not going anywhere”. I guess on a level I try to be that person through my high school teaching and work as a yoga instructor. My goal is to always deliver a face-meltingly hard workout while empowering others to build themselves up and find their place in fitness.

So girls, this one is for you. Do not ever let someone hold you back from something you love. Never listen to the naysayers, because I can’t and I won’t have no place in your vocabulary. Embrace your ferocity and own it for there is only one version of you and it’s beautiful.

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How To Make Shi* Happen?

Arielle:

Short, simple and to the point. What are you waiting for to make Shit Happen?! Go. Be. Do.

Originally posted on Pack Your Mat:

Often we hear:

  • Follow your dreams
  • Let your dreams come alive
  • Dream!
  • Make your dreams come true

How about we replace PLAN with DREAM. I am just offering another way to just take a look at the power of dreams and the power of plans.

Do we just put off our plans by attaching ourselves to dreams, which are in reality unattainable and unreal. Whereas plans are abstract and ideas, but they can be visualized and carried out, with the right amount of motivation and work. I do not want to say that the universe does not work in outstanding ways to bring opportunities our way. However, I just want to argue that with intrinsic motivation (and help from others, at times) we can make shit happen.

So, go get them!

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Stripped

wildthingFor the month of July I have been participating in an Instagram backbend yoga challenge. In the 3 years that I have been teaching yoga, never once have I participated in one of these yoga challenges. Actually, I think there was a time maybe wayyyyyyy back that I attempted one and after 2 days I lost the steam. Maybe it wasn’t the right challenge for me. But really I chalk it up to a few things as to why up until very recently I rarely posted pictures of me in yoga poses or committed to an online yoga challenge. Yoga and fitness is a very ‘look at me’ kind of industry. I try not to play into the yoga instructor stereotypes of being scantily clad in inaccessible yoga poses for the masses to gawk at. Frankly, I think it sends a bad message to the masses. I think what the yoga and fitness industry has done to sell its self is disgusting. These industries prostitute themselves in an effort to sell a product whether it be protein powder, a studio, a clothing line—whatever, by using sex to lure in buyers by making yoga now a sexy thing. Basically, they are SENDING THE WRONG MESSAGE.

11755233_10100762894859621_5240393937280972723_nYoga is about love and equity. Yoga is about hitting your mat and delving closer and closer to your essential-self. Yoga is about non-attachment and never competing with anyone, and that also includes yourself. And finally, yoga loves and welcomes everyone regardless of size, sex, race, sexual orientation, or class. Yoga is blind; it embraces us and loves us, even when we can’t love ourselves. So why are these yoga challenges and half-naked yogis so dangerous?

They don’t tell us or even guide us to look inward. They are 1-dimensional, showing us how yoga should look: white, skinny, and if you don’t have a handstand, well then you aren’t a yogi. At least, that’s what I take away from all of this. As a yoga instructor, I know a few things about the human body and one of them is that there are some people genetically blessed with hyper-mobility. Yogi’s in splits, backbending, arms back behind their heads, clasping their foot. Yeah, that will NEVER be me. Aside from a host of injuries, my body doesn’t move that way. Hell, I am a yoga instructor and my body doesn’t move a lot of ways. And you know what? There is nothing wrong with that because this body can move in a lot of other ways as it runs, jumps, squats, punches, and is SO strong that I wouldn’t trade it in for a backbend. In that same accord, the science and statistics note that hyper-mobile yogis ARE wired differently muscularly AND they are prone to injury more than their less-mobile counterparts. YES, the super bendy get hurt more often as a result of pushing too hard and too far, and often may skip warming up because their bodies make challenging asana (poses) easier, or more accessible.

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That said, I don’t hate these people per say. The genetically blessed, the actors and models turned fitness instructors, the dancers, and me: The short, muscular, ethnically ambiguous unyoga yogi with purple hair and a fiery spirit. Together we all comprise this industry and there is room for everyone to shine in their own right. So I caved and I decided that it was time to participate in a yoga challenge but do so on my own terms. I was going to use this challenge as a way to unveil how yoga looks when real people do it and what happens when real people can’t do crazy shit on their hands or twist into a pretzel. I wanted to start carving out a niche for all the people with real bodies to be welcomed, embraced, and thrive. I wanted to show the world that yoga IS blind. I combated my demons and I choose to shoot my yoga challenge without a shirt on, in my sports bra. If the tall and lean can do it—why can’t I? Why shouldn’t I? Should I care that my belly is a little soft? Should I worry what others will think if I can’t do a pose because I’m a yoga instructor? I decided to say screw it all and strip myself down to tear down borders and barriers to pave the way for others:

Be yourself, love yourself, and stop giving a shit what others think about you.

11659456_10100755511974981_6370464093040561674_nTaking off my shirt has taught me so much more than I anticipated. First, it certainly has helped me hate myself less because I have started to embrace my body. Who would have thought that taking off my clothes for thousands of people to see would do that?!—but it did. Taking off my shirt is liberating and a way for me to make a statement that real bodies are not going to fade into the backdrop of celebrity fitness personalities because someone else says so. Yoga is about reclaiming your emotions and life while serving others. This yoga challenge, with my belly exposed is my first stab at The Body Movement: real bodies, real fitness, real people, real stories.

I refuse to hide my body from the world. I have worked too damn hard, had too many injuries, too many knee surgeries, and sweat through countless classes and trainings to let someone else tell me how to define my yoga practice and dictate whether my body is undesirable. This yoga challenging is where I take back the power. This yoga challenge is where I show the world that strong IS sexy and yoga is for everybody. Join me. Start baring it all—take your shirt off and join me #TheBodyMovement #DaretoBareitAll #TakeoffYOURshirt. Are you in, or are you in?

Find me on Instragram at arielle_miller, it’s time to start #TheBodyMovement self-love revolution and celebrate all bodies!

hand to foot

Love, Loss, and Lessons

In my 33 years of life, I have been blessed. Aside from so many incredible things in my life from a wonderful family, a new husband, a rad cat, to amazing fitness gigs—up until this point I have not experienced significant loss. I still have 3 of my 4 grandparents alive. My grandfather passed away about 7 years ago but we weren’t close. Just so you have an idea of what “weren’t close” means: I don’t think he could even tell you where I went to college or what I majored in.

My Great Uncle Craig died 2 days before my cousin Michael’s wedding 3 years ago and that was a huge hit to our family. We were close when I was a kid but as time progressed so did distance and I also moved to LA. When Uncle Craig was sick and in hospice, in my visits home to New York I was always “too busy” to drive to New Jersey to visit him. His death was a huge turning point in how I maintain relationships with loved ones and it taught me a painfully valuable lesson. Uncle Craig was the prankster, the jovial spirit of our gatherings. When he died, I think a part of my father and uncles were buried that day too.

But again, I am blessed. Blessed have known these souls and be well into my adulthood with my parents reasonably healthy and my Bubbi (my Jewish grandmother—father’s mother) still alive. My Bubbi is very special to me. I am her first-born grandchild and I am named for her mother. Everyone swears I am my great grandmother’s reincarnate and from what I heard about the woman, that is damn fine with me. She was a firecracker, smart, quick-witted, and couldn’t give two shits what others and the world thought of her. So needless to say, Bubbi and I communicate on a different level—always have. Alas, Bubbi, my parents, and my in-laws are getting older. There’s a pit in my stomach when I hear about this test and that test, this growth, mass, pain, minor procedure, etc. The thought of losing these people overwhelms and reduces me to tears. What on earth will become of me without my mother? Or what’s more, what would become of a mother losing a child?

Yesterday, Greg accompanied me to attend the wake of one of my former students.

Oscar was 23-years-old when we was brutally murdered near his home. Taken from us entirely too soon, Oscar’s legacy is left in the form of a beautiful little girl who will grow up without her beloved father. While meeting Oscar’s mother and aunt, we hugged and they cried on my shoulder. They thanked me for coming and paying my respects to Oscar. As they clung to my body, drawing it closer, I was trembling. How do I look a mother in the face and say, “I’m sorry”? What does that even mean? It just seemed so trite and it was hard to say. The words were like sand paper in my throat and on my lips.

I could never in the wildest depths of my heart and soul imagine what losing a child could and would ever feel like. No, I am not a mother and I was ‘just’ his teacher. But you need to know this about teaching: It is a profession of love. Deep, deep love for the content you impart to kids, but love for the kids in your classroom. So no, I am not a mother. However, as someone who grows and nurtures children at pivotal times in their lives; my heart was heavy and I sobbed while holding my husband’s hand. The overwhelming sense of loss was so stifling and I struggled to catch my breath.

Why Oscar?

Or why any young person for that matter?

When tragedy strikes my students, sometimes I am so overwrought with guilt I ask God, “Why not me? Why did you have to do this to a child?” I often ask God in these darkest corners of my heart to take their pain away—give it to me—I am equipped to handle life’s shit—leave the kids alone. My heart blazes in fury for the suffering Oscar’s family has and will continue to endure without him. The educator in me knows how damaging it is for a young person from a low-income community to grow up without a father. The softness of being a woman and knowing intense love, the love I have for my husband aches so severely it is unfathomable.

With darkness, there is always light.

Though terrible circumstances, I was able to see some of my former students from 2005-2006—my very first group of kids from my first year in Los Angeles. It was so wonderful to see how many of them still maintained friendships. They have grown into incredibly beautiful and articulate adults. So no, I am not a mother, but I could not have been more proud of these young people. And while I still find myself calling them kids or young people, I forget that somewhere along the way they grew up. In particular, Freida quietly said to me,

“When you left teaching to pursue your dreams in fitness, we were proud of you for chasing your dreams. But when you came back, we were happy because you belong in a classroom. We all love you and will never forget you.”

Oscar, I will always recall my first year in Los Angeles as special and you were part of that. Thank you for being part of my growth as a teacher and as a woman. Your mischievous grin and ability to make everyone laugh around you will resound in our hearts. I will never forget the gifts you didn’t even know you left me when you passed:

Both love and loss most certainly can reside together in a beautiful paradox.

Rest In Peace Oscar.

Go and Be Impressive

Settling back into real life and a routine since the wedding has been challenging. My eating and nutrition have been unrestrained and getting in regular workouts with errands and such just hasn’t happened. I’ve been feeling sluggish and out of shape. It’s amazing at how fast that happens, right? While working out today I felt tired but kept pushing. Despite the fact that today’s effort wasn’t my best display of athleticism, it certainly was the best I had in me in those very moments and that’s what really matters—being the best version of ourselves in the present moment.

My runs felt heavy but I kept pushing. I kept thinking to myself that I did this to myself and I can undo this to myself because I am strong and have the power to do it. Running, rowing, running, rowing. My arms no longer felt attached to my body. I battled to pump my arms while on the treadmill and sometimes I even had to straighten them out and whip them around myself because they were so fatigued from the rower. But I kept going. I was tired; no, I was exhausted but I kept going. And then I looked to my right. The guy next to me was losing steam. Normally, when I am working out for me, I turn off the Fitness Instructor so I can be present for me. But I don’t know, today it felt right and something in his face made me to turn to him and offer him simple words, “C’mon, you’ve got this.” I know all too well that a little encouragement can go a long way when you are down and out, so I figured; why not?

The man didn’t seem to hear me because he didn’t respond. I contemplated saying it again or something else but I didn’t. I redirected my energies to my legs that were seemingly still attached to my body and propelling themselves forward on the treadmill. Finally, the workout ended. The same man I ran next to came up to me after class and said “Thank you, I really needed that.” We chatted briefly and he told me he thought I was ‘so impressive’ and that he couldn’t keep up with my speed. He shared that he was inspired by my hard work and that my kind words in class helped him finish the workout.

Impressive, eh? Someone thought I was impressive?! And here it turns out that in order to be considered impressive all I had to do was be me and show a little compassion.

Go be you today. Go be friggen impressive and look over to a stranger tonight in class [yes, even in yoga] or anywhere, and tell them something nice and encouraging.

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5 Truths Behind Those Yoga Photos on Instagram

Arielle:

Our relationship with our physical-selves is an ever-changing dance. Based on how bloated we feel, how many beautiful people surround us, our social media feed, the waitress at that Hollywood hot spot, we then determine our self-worth. Wow, how warped is that? Forget about the fact that I have a Master’s Degree and one glamazon can sometimes make me feel like I am invisible here in LaLa Land. We really must come together to work on how women perceive themselves.

As a yogi, the world of social media is a slippery slope of half-naked and sometimes even naked gorgeous people doing poses I could only dream of. Sponsored ambassadors, speakers, presenters, and teachers, these people flood my newsfeed and are the fodder for talk in my fitness circles. I must say, while I know gawking at such images only harms my own self-image, I cannot help but stare, want, lust, and thirst for their bodies, bendy lumbar spines, long, lean limbs, washboard abs, and oh their clothes—Oh, the things I would do for some sort of active ambassadorship…Coming back to my point, while I cannot pry my watchful eyes from these high-profile yogis I also creep their pictures and know the gross and sometimes sad reality of those images in our IG feed.

As an instructor myself, what you see IS me, my body, my practice but what you don’t see in those images as is pointed out in Pack Your Mat’s post are the falls, the struggles, the poor alignment OR the pose on the other side. Ahhhh, the dreaded ‘other side’. Yogi’s, you know THAT side—the one you ignore or don’t cultivate because it’s your tighter side or the pose just doesn’t work.
How many times have you seen yogis post pictures of their struggles? Their falls? Or better, of them learning the poses? Pack Your Mat does a great job of pointing out the obvious: Yogi’s pose for the camera. They have their make up done, hair styled, and someone dressed them in something fantastic to showcase their rock hard bodies. Many photoshoots last hours and yogi’s spend long hours moving and manipulating their bodies juussssst right so that when you finally see the pose, it has been done and redone countless times until the angle, lighting, and alignment are all perfect. Well, the way I see it—how is that yoga, or even a representation of reality for that matter? Yoga is supposed to bring balance to our lives; water to our fire, calm to our storm, stillness to our clouded hearts and minds…Yoga should never feel or look like someone else. Yoga lives within us and is an outward expression of inward emotions. Let go and stop looking to the people in front of you, next to you, or on a 4-inch screen in your hands, because the real asana are how the poses make YOU feel moving into and out of them, and most of all—the journey to learning the poses. Lest we not forget that—the learning part!

Originally posted on Pack Your Mat:

Many won’t believe this, but I absolutely despised being in front of a camera as an adolescent and wellinto my mid20s. These yearswere filled with the struggles of being overweight. It started off as being chubby, but I endedmy first semester at university with a maxweight of 240 pounds. Now, I’ve always been considered to be big “boned” so I just told myself thatmost of that weight resided in my bones and my gigantic thighs and calves. The reality was I wasexperiencing heart murmursand had high blood pressure and cholesterol. In short, weight has always been an issue I’ve dealt with. At the time coming out as a gay man, an “obese” one especially, was going to be social suicide, I thought. At 19, for both superficial and health reasons, I decided that I needed to do something about my weight. That is about the same time I discovered different…

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Up Close & Personal

I just came back from a workout after driving home and crying to my mother on the phone. I walked into my apartment, ate the remaining half of Greg’s gluten free marble brownie (sorry, Greg!), and started to feel bad for myself. As a matter of fact, over the course of the last 2 hours, I have mentally and verbally beaten myself up so badly, I am ashamed. I received a work-related email in which my boss would like to speak to me. I should have known better than to read the email 30 seconds before my workout, but I did nonetheless. Thinking my emotions associated with the contents of the email would motivate me, they did the contrary. I completely shut down.

I walked onto my treadmill feeling deflated, worthless, fat, ugly, and hated every fiber of my being. I gazed into the mirror in front of me and the negative self-talk didn’t stop. It was a barrage of fire and I was assaulting myself. As class started and hit its flow, the emotional and mental onslaught didn’t let up. The entire workout, I was distracted, angry, and lacked focus. I was so stuck inside my head that every step while running, every pull while rowing, every weight I lifted was sheer agony. I just wanted to scream in frustration for myself and my emotions that seized control of my mind and now robbed me of my workout [Damn it, there goes my money. Wasted money and a wasted workout].

While working out at Orange Theory Fitness I always run my ass off on the treadmill. I have always logged mileage and speeds in the ‘Runner’s Category’ and I have been happy with my progress. Never walking during a workout, I always push myself by amping up my speed just another .1, then another, then another, and I empower myself. Typically, I am fueled intrinsically but today in the last set of my treadmill work on a 9 incline, I lost all my steam. For the first time ever in one of my OTF workouts, I gave up in the second to last set and walked. As if I hadn’t endured enough of a battle thus far, now I was reduced to walking. Oozing with self-hatred and fuming from my self-perceived defeats of my workout, I came back for the final 30 second all-out push at an incline of 11. While I didn’t succumb to my initial defeat, I spent an entire hour of my workout loathing every minute of it and every part of my physical and emotional-self.

If you’re wondering how this happened, it’s really very simple. I am very sensitive. Yes, me—very sensitive. While I present rough and tough, I am a ball of mush, hormones, tears, and all that gooey shit. I was ‘that’ kid that cried if a teacher yelled at me or if someone hurt my feelings as a kid. So the email that I read before class completely got me off kilter because it played into my insecurities and inadequacies as to what I am offering people as a fitness instructor. At three years into this industry, I have learned lots and lots of things: what I like to teach, where I like to teach, for whom, when, etc. I have also met some amazing people and have great friends as a result of my classes. But there is also a very ugly side to this industry. While I try not to get caught up in the fact that I am short and muscular and will never be a ‘fitness model’ or personality, I have always stayed true the fact that I am a bad ass, period. I work hard, teach hard classes, care deeply about my work and participants in my class and that’s that. BUT when others perceive those efforts differently, or class attendance is low, it hurts and I take it personally because this work IS personal. There is no other way to say it. Each and every song on my playlists are designed to evoke emotion and to enhance class. Every ride is mapped to offer an intense experience and a workout to blow your mind. Every yoga class is taught with my heart to challenge your body and soul. So when someone doesn’t like my work or stops coming to class—it hurts.

You would think that over time, some of the realities of the feedback and people outgrowing me as an instructor would get easier, but it doesn’t. My husband and others have told me for years to stop making everything so personal, but how can I not take it personally? I am responsible for helping people reach goals, get healthier, become fit/more fit, work on challenging asana (yoga poses), empower themselves, cultivate strength and confidence, redefine commitment, help them find the light, and I am not supposed to take this work personally?!?! As a fitness instructor I am entrusted with people most often at their most vulnerable. Subsequently, my work IS personal and I take what I do as instructor very seriously because I care. Every single bit of my work is personal because people trust me to guide them, support them, and keep them safe during a workout. As far as I am concerned, that is a pretty tremendous amount of responsibility I do not take lightly.

IMG_8062So while my skin is certainly not any thicker by working in this industry, I am going to continue to bring love and light to my work. I am going to continue to fight my demons and re-commit to my work and hope that while I am on this path, others will join me. I am going to continue to work on inner-cising to build myself up, the same way I help bring up those around me and own every single bit of my greatness. After all, I do have an obligation to the people who take my classes to be there for them—so this is for you. And though this industry doesn’t love me back because it tells me I’m too short, too fat, too muscular, too purple, too rogue, not yoga enough, too ‘Schwinn’, or don’t focus enough on alignment, and the list goes on, what I am is ME.

I am vibrant. I am real. I am true. I am me.

And whether you want to admit it or not, I am you.