Hurdles

7:45am. I try not to look at my phone right when I wake up, but I am feigning optimism that today won’t be another bleak, overcast shithole of a day. We haven’t seen the sun since Saturday, and it has directly impacted my mood. Yoga always helps, so off I go.

I started practicing yoga four years ago, but became more serious about the whole thing within the past three. Truthfully, I used to shrug at the thought of it: in my mind, yoga was a luxury reserved for skinny, rich, Goop-reading white women – ultimately something I could never fit in with or be a part of. Of course, this is the exact opposite of what the whole thing is about in the first place. Thankfully, the movement in Western culture has become much more inclusive and accessible overall, especially in New York, so I try to go twice a week. Yogis often fall into the annoying category usually dominated by vegans and people who do crossfit, so I try not to be one of those people that talks about it incessantly. However, I do like the community that grows from yogic practice: especially with women of color. There’s something about the choice to use this specific practice as an escape, as therapy, as exercise that reflects a similar mindset and creates a certain bond. We tend to get on extremely well.

Walking in, I’m a bit nervous. I take roll out my mat and lay in savasana, trying to get in the right headspace for a successful practice. I’ve fallen off the wagon somewhat, and its now been two weeks since my last class. Suddenly all of the old insecurities sink in:  I oped for a sports bra today, so my love handles will inevitably make an appearance. I’m definitely fatter than I was last time I came, so why the fuck am I wearing a sports bra again?  I think about everything I’ve consumed in the past two weeks: croissants in Montreal, dim sum in Chinatown, drinks with friends, pizza at work. I know I can’t carry this into my practice, and have to “leave it all on the mat”, as my teacher always says. Admittedly, this only half works, and after an hour of a half-assed session I leave in a shitty mood due to my inability to control my negative thoughts. Leading to more negative thoughts, and so on.

The rest of the day is trash, consisting of the usual games: navigating the needs of my boss, managing varying stress levels and personalities, all while somehow avoiding the constant stream of junk food available in the office. Will they ever stop ordering Insomniac by the truckload? For someone with food issues, the office is a fucking minefield. Sometimes I miss working from home and wonder if an over-indulgent office culture is part of the problem. Or perhaps its the industry itself: the entertainment business isn’t exactly known for its interest in health, mental or otherwise. Then again, I worked at a magazine and the girls there were literally anorexic, so is there such a thing as a healthy work environment?

4:00pm. Friend invites me to happy hour. There’s always a happy hour, and I’ve learned to say no. Last year I said yes to everything and it left me with nothing but hangovers and cringe-worthy bank statements.

4:30pm. Now eating a cookie. So much for being good today.

These are the thoughts I deal with more often than I’d like to admit, though far less frequent than in years past. I know this sudden relapse is stemming from my recent vacation, where I had no structure and indulged more than usual – and didn’t immediately bounce back upon my return. I’ve again started to think of foods as “good” or “bad”, which I know is illogical and only leads to destructive habits. Two years ago, this would have sent me into a downward spiral – eating even one slice of pizza would lead me to eat several others, throwing away any progress I had made at the gym in the months prior. Subsequently, I would rid my body of it as quickly as possible, causing irreversible internal damage both mentally and physically. I was caught up in vicious cycle, one that plagued me for far too long and robbed me of my ability to enjoy food without guilt, to feel confident in my own skin. I don’t want to go down that road again, so I’ve recognized my need for structure, for routine. This is why I need yoga: its not trendy, its survival.

I won’t say that I have full on binge eating disorder or body dysmorphia, because that would be inaccurate and insensitive to those that do. The problem is my existence on the fringes of these issues, which makes it even harder to talk about or identify with other people. When I told my ex about these issues, he quickly dismissed it with “all women have this problem.” Issues are often not seen as such unless they exist on extremes: anorexia or bulimia, obesity or dysmorphia – but what about all of the in-betweens?

Yoga has helped me understand that the process starts and in my mind, in knowing that I have control, that food is nourishment, it is fuel. I remind myself of this during meditation each morning while looking in the mirror, repeating the following affirmations: I am beautiful. I am strong. I am worthy.  I am loved. Then I take these into my day.

Hopefully my roommates can’t hear me or think I’m a freak – though even if they do, who cares? This journey to wellness is mine, and mine alone.

 

Y7 Yoga Studio

If you have been following me for even a short amount of time you know that I am admittedly a fitness junkie. A good sweat session is one of the few things I genuinely get excited about when I wake up every morning outside of tacos. After graduating from college I fell in love with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) as a way to kick off mornings before heading into the office or sweating it out after a stressful day. HIIT, while extremely effective, is also incredibly taxing on the body. I found it difficult to recover after back to back classes, my body sending signals that I needed to care for and stretch my muscles outside of the brief warm ups and cool downs that were offered during these sessions.

Yoga was something that I had never tried but I had preconceived notions about – mainly that everyone sits in silence in a room playing Caucasian elevator music for an hour or more while pretending to be zen. The idea of straying from my routine and the fast-paced nature of HIIT and bootcamp was unsettling, and anything that was not going to help build muscle and/or burn hundreds was not of interest to me. I was also on autopilot everyday beginning my career at a top talent agency with no desire or perceived need to slow down or recharge. While I was physically fit, this was likely one of the unhealthiest times of my life.

Around this time a friend of mine introduced me to Y7, a hot vinyasa yoga class founded in New York. I was terrified at the idea of yoga itself, even more so of doing it in a room heated to 90 degrees. My prayers were answered when I discovered that Y7 is a first of its kind hip-hop yoga studio, featuring a specialized hip-hop ONLY playlist each session and a themed playlist every Wednesday and Sunday. It was almost love at first sight: immediately upon entering the studio I was greeted with calming aromas and Nas playing over the sound system.The room itself was pitch black with candles scattered throughout the space and, as advertised, hot as hell. Instantly I was calmed, having finally found a refuge high above the bustling streets below.

Y7 has put a modern shift on the ancient practice of yoga, and it is not difficult to see why people are hooked. The 60-minute session consists of a savasana (rest) and three separate guided flows which are practiced twice with the instructor followed by once on your own. Now if my mentioning of “savasana” had you confused AF, please note that going into my first formal yoga session my knowledge of yoga terms started at child’s pose and ended at downward dog – aka I knew nothing. I followed as best as I could while being the least flexible person ever and also dripping with sweat, but I left with an understanding of the fundamental positions (not to mention feeling extremely badass!) This is not a intro-level class but it is as basic or advanced as you need it to be. Bonus: the room is black so you can worry less about looking like a clumsy literal hot mess and instead focus on you and your practice, which why you came.

It is a luxury to be able to take the time to focus inward and block out the many thoughts running through our minds each day, but it is incredibly important that we make that time even if it is for five minutes each morning. Since starting my practice at Y7 and studying yoga closely I have noticed a complete positive shift in my mindset – I am conscious of my breath and use it daily to keep myself grounded and present, I have uncovered a mind-body connection that I did not know was possible and my flexibility has improved beyond my wildest expectations. It has taught me me that my body is an amazing force that can be challenged and stretched, but above all must be taken care of. For so long I associated yoga solely with white elitists of the Western world (a community that I did not belong to) but the welcoming nature of this studio feels safe and inclusive. Having a judgement-free zone to come to that fosters self care is invaluable to me and worth every penny. Thousands of dedicated clients around the country agree.

I urge everyone, particularly women of color, to try yoga at least once. I say at least once because it may take a few tries to find the teacher and style that works well for you. There are various styles of yoga that are offered so you can find your fit. You do not have to be thin, “in shape” or adorned in expensive workout gear – and if you feel that way going into a space, find a new community ASAP. While many classes carry a price tag, there are just as many donation-based classes out there for you to explore. Men and women alike can reap the benefits of yoga, so bring your boo. (Does your man think he’s too macho? Let him know Ace Hood and his partner do yoga too!)

My friends never hear me shut up about Classpass, so see if Y7 is available in your city. You can also try one month of Classpass to discover other yoga and fitness studios in your area. You will not regret it.