What’s YOUR Story?

This past weekend, I ran my 3rd Ragnar race in less than a year. Let me preface this by saying: I hate running. Yup, I do. As a matter of fact, I do not even remotely like it. So, I can imagine you’re wondering that if I do not like it, than why do I do it. The answer my friends is simple: Because I can.

It doesn’t matter what I run, how fast I run, or how far I run. I run because I can. Despite 3 major knee surgeries and a 4th looming in the very near future, I run because I can. Even carrying a few extra pounds, I run because I can. I run because my body resides within a beautiful vessel of power that allows me to feel the wind in my face, the dirt beneath my feet, and the heavens above. I run because I can. Most of all, I run because until I physically cannot there is something primal within my soul that that just says “GO”.

For me, running is a way of telling the universe and my body “Thank you for the gift of movement.” I see running as a way to pay homage to all those beautiful souls who cannot run. I run because I can.

However, for all the love I have for each and every Ragnar race, the one thing that really hurts my heart is this concept of glorifying the “kills”, also known as the people you pass on the road or trail. In the Ragnar Relay road race the team vans will boast their kill counts on the outside like a badge of honor while others at trail have posters noting runners they pass on the trail. Well, let me tell you a little about me—a person you killed on the trail this weekend:

My name is Arielle Miller and I am a teacher, daughter, sister, friend, and fiancé to an incredible man. I was a college athlete with a bad attitude who found yoga and it saved my life. I love trying new things and pushing myself and that means running even though I don’t really like it [or one may argue that I actually do and I cannot seem to accept it, who knows?].

Running is really hard for me. Aside from the obvious fact that running is difficult period, I also have a knee injury. As a matter of fact, even walking is very painful and I am constantly in a great deal of pain. As a result of my knee injury, over the last year, I have had to take a break from the things I love like Olympic lifting while at Crossfit and running Spartan Races.

Every step I take while running is a carefully calculated movement to preserve my body and keep it safe. But in addition to having to step back from high impact types of exercise, over the course of this year, my personal yoga practice has suffered due to the lack of stability and mobility in the joint. There is nothing worse than being a fitness instructor and losing the ability to use my body in the ways I love to express myself. I have had to fight my frustration and anger and channel my energies differently. For me, I made a choice to be a victor and reclaim my body, rather than wallow in self-pity. I decided that no matter what I have going on physically, emotionally, or mentally that I am going to show up to these races with an open heart. What’s more, not only will I show up, but I will celebrate this body that I have for all of its glory and I am going to run. And I am going to run no matter how hard it is, how painful it is, and how long it may take me. I am going to run because I can.

This person that you killed this weekend…Her name was Arielle and she had a story.

10672109_510662199036229_668663168198533357_nEach and every runner we encounter in our travels has a story to share with the world. If gloating about your kills is your way of writing your tale, than so be it. But ladies and gentleman, in the story I am writing it is not only the greatest athletic comeback in history, but it is one of compassion.

It is my hope that as an athletic community we can continue to elevate and inspire one another to dare to be great through positively means. As Ragnar races and the amateur racing circuit continues to evolve, remember that like you, each and every person there showed up for the same reasons you did: To have fun, grow, and run. Let’s continue to build people up instead of tearing them down for the simple fact that you’re faster than someone. I mean, let’s be real about this—just because you’re faster than someone doesn’t make you better than them in any capacity.

I run.

You run.

And the way I see it, together WE run.

Confronting my Essential Self

After the response I received on Facebook with respects to a status about returning to the classroom to teach for my 10th year [wow when did I get old?!], I decided to elaborate upon it here on my blog.

Two years ago, I walked away from teaching. My fitness career was taking off. I was being offered more classes than I could keep up with and I was just DONE with education.

I was over it all. Over waking up early, grading papers, the self-righteous, the hypocrites, parental atrocities, LAUSD, unrelenting, unfair, and unrealistic legislation, and finally, the disenfranchised youth.  When I left the classroom, I couldn’t get out fast enough. I was checked out. I was burned out, beaten down, and I felt as if I had nothing more to give.

I spent my summer post education hustling to line up as many jobs, classes, and opportunities as possible. Finally, in what seemed like the break of a lifetime, I was approached and hired as the Lead Instructor and General Manager of a brand new cycling studio by a young woman who read my [old] blog. I thought to myself I hit the big time with this gig: salary, eventually paid vacation and sick time and indoor cycling all day, everyday.

I was elated that I was now going to have more autonomy over my life and schedule. I could finally teach classes during the day, sleep later, train all day, stay up later, and really live fitness.

As summer ended and the new school year rolled around, I read my friends posts about their first days. An overwhelming sense of “HAHAHA SUCKEERRSSSSS” came over me. I refused to ‘like’ their statuses because now I was no longer a teacher: I got out. I took a stand. I stuck it to those kids, the school, and the district.

Ugh. Sometimes I am angry at myself for the things I think. Really, what about a little grace and humility?

It didn’t take long for me to dislike working at the cycling studio. Everything about it just wasn’t me. Sure, I have the capacity to manage but is it really me? I was ALWAYS on call: morning, noon, and night. If my boss called, I answered. If she emailed, I replied. I was working tirelessly to build someone else’s business with my unique and innovative ideas while laboring over manuals, scheduling, learning new computer programs, and hiring instructors. I spent my days in stretchy pants as yet another faceless LA cliché writing on a laptop in a Starbucks.

Eventually, as the opening of the cycling studio neared I had to sub out more and more yoga classes. Finally, I was asked to give up my classes at One Down Dog so that I could be more available for the cycling studio. Well, if you know anything about me, you know that One Down Dog is not just some place where I teach yoga. As one of the original instructors who helped open the place, it is my home. One Down Dog is a sanctuary, my family, and happy place. As time unfolded, it seemed that what I wanted this job to be and what it ended up becoming were grossly misaligned to my needs, desires, and heart’s passions. Yet, in the midst of this all, I repeatedly told myself that this is the work I wanted to do, in the industry I wanted to work in, so I kept at it.

I was miserable but I refused to admit that to myself because in my eyes, accepting that I wasn’t happy meant that I had failed at something I had set out to do.

As many of you will agree, in most cases, the grass really isn’t greener. It’s a funny thing how we want what we want, even if we don’t know what it is what we want [that's a mouth full, read it again slowly and think about it]. Everything I thought I once wanted, when I finally got it still seemed as if something was missing. And for one thing, I sure as hell wasn’t any happier than when I was in the classroom.

I learned so much about myself while I was away from the classroom. First, I learned I missed the structure of the day and school year. Yea, that structure I so desperately tried to rebel against? Yup. Turns out I need it and I like it. I missed seeing my students smile when I came to support them at sporting events, musical performances, or took an interest in their personal lives. And to be completely honest, I missed the certainty of my paycheck.

With all these things swirling around in my mind and life in February while out to dinner, Greg suggested I look into teaching again because ‘it’s my life’s work’. I threw a fit, stormed out of the restaurant before our food even arrived and I tried to break up with him. I know, immature. But what you need to understand is I was so paralyzed by my denial and inability to accept that I may have made the wrong choice that I lacked clarity. Besides, I gloated and boastfully poked fun at my friends still teaching about parent conferences, back to school nights, and LAUSD drama. How could I go back to the classroom and not look like a failure?

And then, I just did it. I went out, looked for a job and got one. I mean who am I living this life for anyway? I needed to just get back out there, do me, and not worry or care what the world would think of me going back to the classroom. As fate would have it, I applied to Helen Bernstein High School on a Wednesday afternoon, interviewed Thursday morning and was hired on the spot. I started work the following Monday.

And just like that, I was thrown back into teaching. Head first, I jumped into high school and soaked up the material, the kids, and the culture. From the instant I walked onto campus I felt like I belonged. There is a very real and palpable energy in a school that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the planet. I cannot even put my finger on what it is, but there is something magical about a school campus and in a classroom. Maybe it’s all that possibility of what’s ahead. But those walls, those halls, and those buildings speak to me like nothing I have experienced in my life. I kid you not, when I talk about how I feel about my work and my students, many times I tear up from the emotions surging through my body.

With great risk comes great return.

I firmly believe you MUST take a chance on yourself and life when it calls to you. I do not regret leaving the classroom for a second. Taking time off allowed me to find a renewed sense of passion and faith in the process and my work. And what’s more, leaving the classroom allowed me to get a little closer to myself. I stopped running, hiding, and denying who I really am. After one of my cycling classes, a friend of mine who is a respected yoga instructor said to me:

“In class, you always tell us to stop running from ourselves and to be courageous in confronting our most essential self. So, why are you so afraid? Why are you running away from teaching? Why are you refusing to be your most essential self?”

Needless to say, that conversation took place after my last class at the cycling studio. It was all I needed to give me the confidence to head back with zero doubts. With the support of friends, family, and a loving man by my side I started a teaching assignment in late February 2014. And if you ask me, aside from saying YES to marry Greg, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.

I have found myself again.

I have found a home at Helen Bernstein High School.

And I couldn’t be happier.

Oh, if you’re wondering what I think of myself: Do I think I failed in the fitness industry? Do I feel like I couldn’t hack it? Pffffffff, heeelllllllllll no. I went back to the classroom because I wanted to leave a legacy behind in this world. I wanted to leave this planet a better place than when I came into this world. I wanted to dare myself everyday to leave an indelible mark on this Earth. And I do. I do it all. I teach kids. I teach adults. I make playlists and I grade papers. I still wear stretchy pants to work though I think my principal would prefer I don’t. Whether in fitness or in my classroom, we cry, we laugh, we smile, but above all–we connect.

 

For those of you who missed it, below is the post from my Facebook on August 11, 2014 that inspired this blog entry:

It is the eve before my 10th first day of school as an educator. One year ago, I was not returning to the classroom as I pursued my passions in fitness in yoga and cycling.
As life would have it, at a little more than half way through last school year; I landed back in a classroom at a high school in Hollywood.
For years, I have grappled with being an educator. Despite awards, great successes, and my ability to inspire urban youth to achieve, I ran away from my essential self. Like a coward, I fled and cultivated other strengths and interests–anything to not be a teacher. I spent years ashamed of being an educator, hiding and running from who I really was at my core. When asked what I did for a living my response always was, “I am a fitness instructor.” However, that all changed when I landed at Helen Bernstein High School.
After 8 years in a middle school setting, I now know that I am a high school teacher.
I AM AN ENGLISH TEACHER.
I am an English teacher and I am damn proud of the work I do but most of all, I am honored to serve the most incredible youth in this city.
It took leaving education, a new principal taking a chance on this mysterious girl with purple hair who materialized mid-school year for me to find myself again.
I am an English teacher.

Yes, I love teaching fitness and that is a huge part of my life and who I am. But strip me down and my heart beats for those kids whose lives will be forever altered by being students in my class. There is nothing more valuable in this world than being THAT person to help a young person be the first individual in his/her family to graduate high school or go to college. For many of my students, my classroom is a haven for them to feel safe, nurtured, and pushed beyond what they ever imagined was possible. Together, my students and I are strong and together we can accomplish anything.

I am an English teacher.
I am an English teacher.
I am an English teacher and tomorrow is my first day of school and I can’t wait.

Inner Monologue Of A Spin Class Student

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Arielle:

As an indoor cycling instructor, I know what it’s like to be in class and in the zone. Like any fitness activity one engages in (like running) the inner-dialogue and journey is often hilarious. Seriously, the things I tell myself while running or riding–if someone could record my mind it would make you wonder and laugh at my expense.

This was certainly a funny read, enjoy!

Originally posted on Thought Catalog:

Oh man, why is it so early? Better not look in the mirror. Yep that’s definitely a bad idea. It’s WAY too soon for that. Wait, what is that smell? (*looks down*) Wow, is that coming from my spin shoes? Must address this after class. (*creates new iPhone “note”*). Why is the woman next to me shouting at her friend? It’s 7 a.m. Why is she even making noise? Isn’t the first rule of spin class NO talking? Let’s kick her out. I guess class hasn’t officially begun. Damnit. Can we get this show on the road? Oh crap, there’s a sub today?! Alright, I’m leaving. No, NO. You’re already here. Stay put. This is only an hour of your life. Stop whining. (*takes a sip of black coffee*). Alright, which bike am I? Number 13? Shit I totally forget. Why is this old man looking at me funny? 

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If You’re Happy and Love Yourself, Clap Your Hands!?

I’m not counting days anymore, sorry, I can’t. I am not even back at school yet and life is running away with me and I am having a hard time keeping up with this blog. In part I have been so silent because Greg and I are eagerly planning, or attempting to plan our upcoming wedding, which is so much fun and quite the rabbit hole, if you know what I mean. The wedding planning is part of it, but the real reason is it seems that ugly beast that resides within me telling me I am not good enough has seemed to creep to the surface again.

As I neared and completed my 30-Day Cleanse late last week and earlier this week that inspired this blog in the first place, reality set in, and then the anger. Oh, the anger. I will write exclusively about the cleanse, what it was, and my thoughts on it later this week. But in the meantime, I wanted to share my personal struggles with self-acceptance. I am just going to come out and say it:

  • I hate my body.
  • I hate my stomach.
  • I hate my thighs.
  • I hate my arms.
  • I hate my boobs.
  • I just hate it all.

I have spent the last 6 days pretty much sidelined with a recurring knee injury that just so happens to be my millionth ACL tear [yes, I need surgery AGAIN and no, I do not know when]. Despite my knee and its shortcomings, I have tried hard over the last 9-10 months to not let it effect what I do, how I do it, and my workouts. I have run 3 Spartan Races braced. I limped, hobbled, crawled—did whatever I needed to finish because I wasn’t going to miss out on something I love so dearly. I also ran in the SoCal Ragnar Relay. And I continued to teach yoga and cycling, AND even went back to Crossfit after taking a hiatus. My resolve reminded me that I am a fighter and my knee wasn’t going to hold me back. Unlike a fitness class when I remind people that the mind quits before the body, in my case, my body is in full-fledged rebellion mode—yet again.

I have spent the last couple of days in such agony, they even while resting with the leg propped up, I am gritting my teeth and wincing in pain. The warm, dull, radiating pain washes outward from behind my patella (knee cap) is consuming my thoughts and commandeering my emotions, and all I can muster right now is irritable or more irritable.

As I thought it prudent to scale back on Crossfit for the last week, I still cycled and taught all of classes. My decreased physical fitness level left me with plenty of time to berate myself for my body quitting on me [again] and for the self-hatred to build a not just a home but an offensive mansion in my mind.

I’m not a wallower. Well, I was for a long time in my adult life, but in recent years I have consciously worked to remain positive and active in creating the life I wanted for myself rather than succumbing to circumstance. But over the course of the last few days in looking in the mirror at my cellulite riddled thighs and ass and my soft tummy, I became angry and bitter. The “I work so hard” and “I eat right” and “I hate myself” commentary ran on repeat in my head. I have cried and spent hours trying to figure out how I can possibly avoid wearing a bathing suit on the trip Greg and I are taking next week to Lake George.

“Maybe if I were tanner, it’ll conceal my cellulite.”

“Maybe I can just wear my lululemon shorts with a bathing suit top…? Yeah, that may work.”

So, why do I hate myself? Why can’t I accept who I am? Why can’t I love my body for all that it does for me?

Better yet, how does one learn to love his/her body?

Over the past week, in the last two WOD’s at Crossfit (including today’s), I did well. I would be so bold to even say I did very well. Despite my unrelenting standards and ferocious competitiveness, I ran well, worked hard, and posted great times. Why am I so unable to pat myself on my back and celebrate my own victories? You know why? Because nothing is ever good enough and the same even applies to yoga. My knee has made balancing postures really difficult for me. Actually, it’s very painful so I even avoid demonstrating on my right leg (well now you all know, so the jig is up) and my yoga has taken a major hit due to the instability of the joint. Most days, Vinyasa Yoga, my favorite type of yoga tends to put stress on my joint, triggering pain and discomfort. Much of my personal practice has stagnated and all of those amazing grand ideals of being able to tackle more complex poses have left me feeling deflated and worthless. I mean, how can I be expected to participate in the yoga selfie game and flaunt my asana if my body is shutting down as I am marred by injury after injury? I am being slightly sarcastic here, because I hate the vanity aspect of yoga and the fitness world, but if you want to play in the sandbox sometimes you’ve gotta play by someone else’s rules—it’s just the way it is. Sigh.

I think what is so hard for me to digest about this all is that I feel robbed. I do. I feel like the things I love to do have been prematurely plucked from my grasp and dare I say it—undeservingly so. So the anger sets in. I am frustrated with my body not only for it giving up on me, but despite my workouts, and commitment to nutrition—my body never changes. There I said it, and I feel better for being honest and just putting it all out there.

I try to practice kindness to myself and I try to be patient, but beyond that I do not know how to accept myself. Admittedly, I also don’t know how to love myself. I certainly can help others embrace their bodies and celebrate themselves, but why can’t I do the same for myself? Recently, my dear friend Kat shared something with me while I was venting about my frustrations, “Would I let someone say all those things about my best friend?” The obvious answer is best friend or not—I would never allow someone to say the things I say andthink about myself in my presence about another person I know. So, why am I giving myself permission to hate myself?

Kindness Echoes in Eternity

Days 22 & 23: Monday, June 30, 2014 and Tuesday, July 1, 2014

They say “you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” For years, I retreated to my left coast 3,000 miles away from my immediate and extended family and maintained little to no contact with many of my relatives. I can’t really say what happened or what changed that prompted such silence on both ends but I believe it had to do with the distance, miscommunication, and purely a lack of effort on both party’s ends.

With that, despite being raised closely with a handful of my first cousins and having quality relationships with my uncles and aunts, as I entered adulthood I retreated from my family.

I went to college then immediately after I moved to LA. As far as I was concerned, my life on the east coast was so foreign to me I didn’t even know how to be a New Yorker if my existence depended on it.

Let’s rewind a little and let me give you some family background and back-story to bring us all up to speed.

My father has three siblings: His oldest bother Ira, younger sister Stacey, then the youngest of all, Seth. My father is the second born in case you were wondering.

My uncles are both very wealthy and successful businessmen in the accounting and finance worlds. My aunt lives in Florida and has led a life filled with pain and struggle with not much to show for years of working her ass off. That’s not necessarily a bad thing per say, but my Aunt Stacey has a rough go of it and let’s leave it at that. And then there is my family, my father Eric or as my sister and I call him Abba, Abbz, or THE ABBZ (Hebrew for father and no, we are not religious in any capacity–don’t ask). We are as blue collar as it gets. My mother works in New York City for Con Edison at the same employer since she was in her late teens doing the same work every single day of every single year.

My father on the other hand has had a myriad of jobs, businesses, partners, stores, and grand plans. I guess you could say, that he’s had to find his way of sorts. In many ways I resemble my father with respects to our desires to have many different interests and the need to cultivate them all simultaneously. However, despite my father’s initially abrasive nature, he is a passionate and heart governed man. He is a voracious reader, watches documentaries (and the Lifetime Channel, he LOVES rom-coms), gardens, takes care of all the pets with patience, and is the essence of a life-long learner.

My father was the best teacher while my sister Kassi and I were growing up. We were what I would classify as ‘pretend middle class’. Meaning we had a nice enough house, cars, and zip code but we were barely getting by and bought our shoes at Payless. I didn’t get my first pair of Nike sneakers until I was almost 13 years old and they weren’t even the Nike Air model because we couldn’t afford them. But not having quite as much as my peers didn’t really phase my sister and I much, as my parents worked tirelessly to make sure our family unit thrived and that my sister and I never knew of their financial woes. We took winter walks on the beach, had family picnics, went to the nature preserve, watched movies, went to museums, and my favorite memory of all from my childhood: bedtime, when my father would read aloud to my sister and I. Now, this seemingly idyllic childhood definitely didn’t come without a price.

In my youth, I experienced something that I shouldn’t have.

At the risk of sharing too much with the world, I am only going to talk about how events in my childhood affected me and those in my life. Specifically my family. So if I appear vague, it’s not that I do not want to share: I am ready to share my story with the world. I am holding back out of respect for the people I love. Wow. I think they call that maturity and growing up. It sure feels good to be an adult!

For as long as I could remember, I was angry. I was filled with a rage and fire that when unleashed transformed me into a demon. I was violent and biting with my words. I said terrible things to the people closest to me and never apologized. As a teenager with all those hormones coursing through my veins alongside my anger, I was impossible to wrangle. I retreated into art and writing for solace. During my adolescence, I was in and out of therapy–on and off various medications for depression and I also developed an eating disorder. I was an internal mess but to the outside world with my boyfriend, sports, decent grades, positive relationships with my teachers, and great wardrobe, I had it all. In hindsight, I was not asking for help, I was screaming in a room full of people and no one could hear my cries.

I went off to college and got into some trouble with a credit card. Knowing my parents would murder me for being so irresponsible, I called my Uncle Seth to ask him for help. Sure enough, not only did he bail me out but he wouldn’t tell my father either. PHEW!

As the years unfolded and social media exploded, so did my desire to express myself publicly (I guess something’s will never change, huh?). My Uncle Seth, much more conservative than I, home-schooled my cousins, and then sent them to private schools. We didn’t really have much in common as I grew into adulthood other than I was a public school teacher and felt strongly about not home-schooling children AND the private sector. Anyway, one day I posted something on Facebook about lesbians. I mean it was a stupid post but my reaction was even more ridiculous. I deleted and blocked my Uncle Seth and then basically refused to speak to him. Yes, the same man who GAVE me money when I needed it—I just turned my back on him, my cousins, and most of my family. I mean c’mon? They were soooooo difficult and didn’t understand me anyway. I’m an Angeleno and you’re New Yorkers. What do you all know about living life anyway?!

Ugh. Writing this disgusts me. I am ashamed and embarrassed for how I have behaved. So why am I sharing all of this?

I am now 32. It has probably been a little over 10 years since my Uncle Seth and I have really sat down to reconnect—I mean really connect as people. Two years ago we saw each other at my cousin Michael’s wedding, and even though we buried the hatchet and I re-friended him on FB there wasn’t any real resolution.

Prior to my yoga practice and some serious self-discovery, for the greater portion of my life I allowed my rage and anger to define me. I permitted this pollutant to seep into my pores, into my being and unleash a monster. I lacked compassion and the ability to be introspective. The world was out to get me and that was that. Frankly, I let my anger shield my emotions and heart like a mask and I hid behind it–afraid of ever really feeling anything or at the risk of getting hurt.

I never did thank my Uncle Seth for helping me all those years ago. I imagine I said it or maybe called, but he deserves so much more than that. Because right now, my Uncle Seth is trying to re-unifiy us, reconnect us, and mend the holes in all of our hearts. My Uncle Seth is trying to pick up the shattered pieces of our family and put them back together. It just goes to show you that you don’t have to be the oldest or patriarch to fix something —we all have the power to promote healing.

My Uncle and I have spoken on the phone twice in the last week. The first time was to FaceTime so he could show Greg and I his home in Florida as a possible place to have our wedding. My Aunt Amy eagerly and excitedly showed us the features of their beautiful home and made suggestions of how we could set up the reception. Finally, we got down to the nitty gritty family business. As I opened up to my Aunt and Uncle they shared how saddened and hurt they were to learn about some of the things I have endured over years and told me I would never have to suffer like that again. They told me they loved me and that were so proud of all the professional, personal, and emotional successes I have had in my life. My Aunt and Uncle cleared way in their hearts to let me back in and I am so very grateful. I am glad to have them back in my life to learn from, to grow from, and to just be my family.

When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.

Bernard Meltzer

Ladies and Gentleman, I am sharing my story with you all to encourage you to reach out to that person in your life. You know that person you’ve been holding hostage for something they did to you. It is time to let them go. Free yourself. Moreover, give them the permission to forgive themselves. For all you know, people sometimes act out of pain, survival mode, or anger. Perhaps that person whom you view as having hurt you or slighted you was really crying for help? More importantly, make space in your heart for love to reside again. Look, I am not going to say that’s going to be easy. What I am saying though, is it will be worth it.

Over the years, as I started to relinquish the iron grip that my anger had over me, great things started to come into my life. I acted better and I felt better too.

The power in healing is when a wound heals, scar tissue is fibrous and dense. It’s tough and hard to break. I am stronger now than I ever was because I let love and light into my heart and I am starting to get my family back.

Thank you Uncle Seth for your unwavering love and kindness.

And oh, thank you for your help all those years back—I never forgot about that and never will.

 

Eye of the Tiger

Day 14: Sunday, June 22, 2014:

Often times people ask me how do get through the tough times or rather, how have I gotten through the tough times. My answer is usually something along the lines of “The same way anyone gets through them—through.” It’s that simple. I don’t believe in surrendering when life hits me hard. I never have and I never will.

My best friend Rachel put it best during a time in my life when it seemed like all hope was lost and I hit an all-time low. She said to me:

“You are a survivor.”

And she was right; I am a survivor.

No matter what life tossed at me I never gave up. I’m not going to claim that I didn’t give up because I’m not the quitting kind. No. I didn’t give up because I didn’t have a choice. However as life would have it and I evolved, I stopped defaulting to survivor mode. I surrounded myself with like-minded, passionate people. By bringing such positive forces into my life, it made space for the right people to surface with the right opportunities. Gone were the days of damage control and fight or flight. Now I was in control of my life.

I wasn’t a victim of my life any longer. Actually, no one is a victim of his/her life. I believe that victimization is a choice. Sure, terrible things happen to good people everyday and trust me, I am not stranger to such things but I made a choice. I chose not to be defined by my circumstances and I rose above it. Rather than being a victim of my life, I became a victor.

Today I stand before you a confident and powerful woman with a past that has made me strong. By taking the steps to remove the pollution in my life, it allowed for a healthy and thriving ecosystem.

Stop surviving.

Stop being a victim and a bystander to your own life.

CHOOSE TO BE VICTORIOUS.

You will be glad you did.

Our Bodies Should be Temples of Love

Day 13: Saturday, June 21, 2014: 

Why can’t we just be happy?

Seriously, why is it that we have to have a reason to smile?

This may not come across as ground-breaking or innovative by any means but I find that the more personal happiness I achieve in my relationship with Greg, professional happiness from teaching children, and satisfaction from my work in fitness I find I am just happy. I am happy all of the damn time. I smile. I have that extra pep in my step. I radiate joy. And yet despite this wonderful happiness in my life, as a woman—a happy and successful woman at that, I sometimes wonder why are women apologizing for their success and happiness?

The luminous Kristina and I post BodyLove workshop on the Summer Solstice

The luminous Kristina and I post BodyLove workshop on the Summer Solstice

While attending a transformative women only workshop entitled BodyLove at my yoga studio One Down Dog led by Kristina Serna this concept [amongst so many others] was at the forefront of our discussion.

As a woman, giving ourselves permission to cater to ourselves is almost stripped away from us. We are viewed as bitches, selfish, or even bad mothers if we take time to ourselves. Why is that? Why is considered acceptable for men to retreat to their “Man Caves” to drink with the boys and watch sports but if a woman gets a massage or her hair done it’s superficial and wrong?! Ugh, our misogynistic society just makes me so angry sometimes.

My point here is regardless of one’s sex: We MUST take time for ourselves to be our best selves for others. So why the guilt and shame when a woman takes a break for herself?

For me, the biggest thing in living my life is I don’t offer any explanations or make any excuses to others for how I need to dress, eat, whom I choose to love, my careers, or how I spend my life.

I wear my lululemon pants to work. No, not just to teach yoga—I wear them to school where I teach English to the youth of America. I wear them because I like them and they make me feel good in them. As a teacher, I preach owning yourself and life—doing you and being you. What kind of person would I be if I didn’t live the very same life I was selling to those kids?!

Listen; at the end of the day when I lay my head down on my pillow, I need to be comfortable with the life I am living because well, it’s my life. Period. I don’t care what someone needs to do to feel good about themselves, their life, and to achieve their personal happiness so long as they’re a decent person.

Now, I would be completely dishonest if I sat here and didn’t share that there are times when I don’t like myself. Actually, there are a lot of times I don’t like myself, my physical self that is. BodyLove is all about a celebration of the female form: wear what you want, eat what you want, be whom you want. Well, if I am so dang happy with my life, madly in love with an incredible man, and bursting at the seams with the best jobs I could ever imagine—why do I find myself reverting to self-loathing? Why can’t I look in the mirror and like what what I see?Moreover, how is it I can help others shape and sculpt their bodies, yet fail so miserably at controlling my own? I feel like I can cultivate and accept BodyLove in others, but somehow I cannot embrace it for myself. As a matter of fact, the only two things I like about myself are my hair and my eyelashes and those aren’t even real! I poke and I prod, I inspect and I examine, I compare and contrast: Why can’t I love my body?

But you know what? I think it’s starting to get better. I do. I think of everyday as a small victory when I show up for Crossfit, yoga, or cycling. Each and every time I show up for a workout that’s solely for myself [when I am not teaching a fitness class], I am committing to myself saying, “I am worth it”. In an effort to try to embrace my own BodyLove, this past weekend I wore a tank that showed a sliver of my belly. As I tugged at the tank in vain to get it to cover my navel and meet the top of my shorts, I turned to my bf Greg and while gesturing towards my belly and stated, “You know what? It’s not where I want it to be but fu*k it. I like this shirt.”

It’s process, not a perfect. And I am sure as hell glad I am not perfect because the growth is what makes me stronger everyday.

Why Be Good When You Can Be Great

Day 12: Friday, June 20, 2014:

I firmly believe that Good will always prevail because Good never, ever gives up. Sometimes it’s hard; working, working, working with little gains but then when you least expect it, something breaks and some how it all seems work out.

Strife and conflict, whether with self or external forces help us emerge from something stronger than we were when we started our journey. The whole process that stretches and pulls us certainly hurts along the way. But the best part of it all is that pain is temporary and pride is forever. As with most things in life, things always get harder before they get easier. It is always darkest before dawn. And know there is always light.

I live in a world where I live by spreading light. I lead my life with a full heart that is pure with honest intentions and one that sometimes makes the wrong decisions. Those decisions, as rash or shocking as they may appear are still my decisions. As I mentioned in Part II of my birthday post on June 182014, “I don’t regret anything I have done, the people I loved (or thought I loved), the different jobs, or leaving teaching in the first place. Each and every experience led me to this very moment with the very best people someone could ever ask for. My past merely dictated my present but I created my future.” Every single choice, job, and person I have met is part of the fabric of my being making me who I am.

Experience has made me wise, taught me self-worth, and not to sell myself short.

My work as a fitness instructor, has given me confidence, and my yoga training taught me what it meant to finally learn how to treat my body with respect. Because I work actively to send beauty and goodness into the world it comes back to me time and time again. Good always manifests itself in many delightful disguises, but when Good comes, she is bountiful.

So, I ask you: What good are you spreading each day? How are you lighting up your world and creating a wondrous place for those whom you encounter to thrive?

Start by making a gratitude list. Really, do it! Write down ALL of the delicious goodness in your life and reflect how it came to you.

Now, I bet you didn’t realize how much good already resided in your life, huh? Go be the light. And don’t just be good—be great.

Limits Only Exist When We Set Them For Ourselves

I met the most magnificent young woman today while teaching my yoga class at Equinox Woodland Hills. Prior to class, she was loitering in the entrance with two other women looking at the schedule of classes and when they started discussing my class. Naturally, in typical Arielle fashion I interjected and coerced the young girl into taking my class. Ok, ok, she was planning on it anyway so she was a willing participant. Her name is Nicole. She is new to Equinox and we walk to the yoga room together. I show her the fancy eucalyptus towels as she told me how much she loves smushing her face into them every time she comes (who doesn’t?).

While chatting with her and some other members I learn Nicole is 21 years old and a student at USC. Class begins and I delve into my usual spiel: “This is an athletic based yoga class…take it to your level…modify…honor your body…it’s flow based…breath to movement…challenge yourself…

Me: “So, before we get started, does anyone have any injuries they’d like me to know about…?
Nicole: “I had brain surgery.”
Me: “Oh. Wow.”
A very pregnant pause. I am mentally freaking out: BRAIN SURGERY?!?!
“When?”
Nicole calmly and cheerily replies with a smile: “November.”
Hiding my shock, me: “Are you cleared for physical activity?”
Nicole: “Oh yeah!”

Class was hard [and if you have ever taken my classes, you know that is an understatement]. Everyone worked to their limits and seemed to have a great time. It was a really inspiring group and the energy was great. After class, I check in with Nicole. She chats with another member and myself casually about her brain surgery.

I learn that in September 2013 doctors found a brain tumor after ‘things just weren’t right’. Nicole is whisked into emergency surgery to remove the tumor without time to really process the gravity of the situation. She says the real work and reflection set in after surgery while being so limited physically and re-adjusting to life in the downtime of her recovery. Nicole recounts her tale to us with an articulate grace and humility that I interrupt her and ask her who raised her because they did one hell of an amazing job. She is smart, witty, kind, and able to connect with others. Nicole discusses life before the tumor: Active in sports & fitness, an artist, and fiercely competitive.

In November all of that changed.

After surgery, Nicole is restricted to bed rest for a month and since the tumor was in the right side of her brain, her artistic abilities are not the same. She went back to school a mere 2 months after her surgery. Never during her story was there room for self-pity or even an inclination of why me? Nicole spoke about putting herself back out there and working on posters for her sorority and how someone told her she was a good artist. Despite her insecurities and reservations about recommitting herself to her art, the validation gave her the confidence to continue chipping away at the painstaking process it took for her to make the posters. She also talked about one of the side effects of the surgery in having to retrain her brain to hear certain sounds in order to discern various volumes. And then she spoke of my yoga class.

Nicole said that the class was exactly what she needed in learning to let go of always being in competition with herself. Nicole mentioned how hard it was and that she just wanted to be back where she used to be but together we talked through what the journey really meant:

To revel in the process.

To test our character through adversity.

To celebrate our victories, for no victory is ever too small.

I listened in awe and utter admiration for this young girl, clinging to every word she said trying to soak up some of her greatness by just being in her proximity! The three of us had tears in our eyes and we all hugged one another. I thanked Nicole for being so brave, sharing her story, and for serving as a lesson in life to never give up. Of course Nicole doesn’t see herself as brave or courageous but she is living proof what never giving up and conviction can do.

What’s more is Nicole only reminded me of the infinite power of yoga and community. When I embraced Nicole and said, “You never know whose life you’re touching just by being you” she replied, “No, you don’t. Thank you for being YOU. You were exactly what I needed.”

My Year in Review: An Honest Look Back Part II

Day 10: Wednesday, June 18, 2014: My Year in Review: An Honest Look Back Part II

15. Dinner in Weho at Hugo’s on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 with Greg. This is the first time I see Greg semi-serious as he tells me he’ll wait for me to make the right choice (as in picking him to date) and that I am worth it. Apparently older men (he’s only 35 people) know what they want and actually put in some work to court you–I could get used to this. Regardless, I tell him he’ll be waiting forever because I’m dating someone else, we work together, AND I am his boss.

14. Equinox Woodland Hills 9am Saturday, November 23, 2013 post Greg’s cycle class: Greg kisses me. I am tingly and gooey and exploding all at the same time. Confused and conflicted, I get into my car to call someone. I called my sister, no answer. I called my best friend, no answer. I had to call someone, I needed to confer with someone—anyone about what just happened! Finally, I call my mother. I fill her in on the past week of my life looking for some motherly advice and solace. Finally, I ask my mother what I should do. Her reply, “I think you should stop kissing so many boys.” Yeah, thanks mom. That was really helpful.

13. Ultimately, that kiss was the kiss to end all kisses. Our romance blossomed quickly and Greg and I became a couple. Initially, we had to keep our relationship under wraps at the cycling studio but it was a matter of time before we both wanted to live our relationship out loud and share it with others—so we did. We launched our full assault of our love and life on our social media for all of the world to see (you know you love it).

12. Our first New Year’s Eve together! It’s simple, fun, and filled with possibility. Our dumb drunk friend pulled some embarrassing stunts including wandering off and putting herself to sleep in the host’s bed!

NYE 2013

NYE 2013

11. At only two months into our fledgling romance, in mid-January Greg and I venture home to New York for a long weekend. My family warmly receives Greg and I get to meet some of his college friends. Home visit = SUCCESS!

10. One Down Dog, my yoga studio moves into our very own and brand new space on Sunset and Fountain.

Some of my fellow ODD family, fellow instructors, and the best people I know. Yes, yogi's do drink people.

Some of my fellow ODD family, fellow instructors, and the best people I know. Yes, yogi’s do drink (in moderation of course).

09. The cycling studio opens in late January—early February. Saying that we encountered minor hiccups would be an understatement. Despite being a music themed and oriented studio/cycling experience we open with our sound barely functioning and our mic system non-existent. The music isn’t loud enough, instructors are shouting over the music on the mic to be heard, the facility is not fully functional, and zero marketing was done by the owner to alert the world of our opening. Classes are nearly empty and instructor morale tanks. Even I’m having a hard time rallying myself to teach my 6 cycling classes a week to 5 people in a 45-bike room.

08. For marketing purposes, the cycling studio offers a free ride to the public in exchange for their consent to film it. Nick Lachey and Sean Stockman are among the riders in the class. One of the highlights of my year was being able to have my work as a fitness instructor validated and preserved on film. That very evening, 2 weeks before I am to be issued my healthcare, my boss and owner of the cycling studio informs me that she can no longer afford to pay me my salary.

07. The next day, I apply for teaching jobs with LAUSD and I am called for an interview at Helen Bernstein High School. I am hired on the spot to teach English to juniors and seniors in Hollywood.

06. Ultimately, shortly after returning to the classroom I stop teaching at the cycling studio that I helped create and build.

I sure learned a valuable lesson about helping someone else start their own business: Don’t do it.

05. In late March 2014, I move again. This time I am moving into Greg’s apartment, which is also in Studio City.

04. Buti yoga training: African Tribal dance, yoga, and plyometrics. Insanely hard and ridiculously out of my comfort zone but exhilarating and a wild personal victory since I am a terrible dancer—not anymorrrrrreeee!

03. My sister Kassi comes to visit in May and while she is here my 16-year-old 1998 Honda Accord dies. We spend her last day in town buying me a 2014 Honda Civic.

Augustin and his gf Andrea with me at graduation. These two young people are such beautiful souls. I will miss them terribly.

Augustin and his gf Andrea with me at graduation. These two young people are such beautiful souls. I will miss them terribly.

02. My incredible students graduate from high school on Friday, June 6, 2014. I take so many pictures that my lips quiver from smiling. I sob like a baby in my car leaving graduation. This is my very first high school graduation that I have attended in my 10 years as an educator. But what also made this so special was that these were my students. I taught them. I guided them. I pushed them to read, write, think, and learn. I have never been more proud in my entire life. These kids stole a piece of my heart and with my heart my time too—as now I am the Assistant Girls Soccer Coach.

01. It is now June 18, 2014 and now I am 32 years old. The last and most important thing I have done this year is listen to my essential self, advocate for myself, and allow the love I deserve to pour into my life.

Sometimes we need to be blinded to be taught how to really see. I firmly believe that one must walk in darkness in order to appreciate how to bask in the sunlight.

I don’t regret anything I have done, the people I loved (or thought I loved), the different jobs, or leaving teaching in the first place. Each and every experience led me to this very moment with the very best people someone could ever ask for. My past merely dictated my present but I created my future. Now, as I move into my 32nd year of life I do so with grace and a strong man by my side that makes me think I can fly. And you know what? I can fly. Because as I look back at my year and ahead to the future, I choose to measure my life in love.

From Darkness into Light, from Darkness into Light…