Why I Do Yoga: Before and After Pics (Dramatic!! Graphic!!)

This pose got really popular, really fast. People are ready for CHANGE in their life, and seeing it in another person resonates big time! To read the follow-up post where I talk about how to begin your practice Today This Very Day, and to see some more pictures of my progress through the life-changing experience of yoga, check out Start a Home Practice Today (with progress pictures!)

Dear Gentle Reader,

What you are about to read is the Truth about myself that would be so much easier not to share. So much easier, in fact, that I have never shared it with anyone before today. You are going to see pictures of the Old Me that I would rather stayed in the vaults of hidden darkness (better yet!! Burned in an incinerator!!). I’m willing to share them because I want you to see what happened. I want to show what hot yoga did for me.

I’ve always been chubby. No, let’s just say fat. I was always fat. I was the fat kid. There, I said it; we’re being honest, right? Nothing seemed to help. As a 12 or 14 year old, I would get up before anybody else and go outside and run in desperate circles in the yard on the side of the house where there weren’t any windows, hoping to work up a sweat before anybody knew. I put off getting my driver’s permit for years because I didn’t want to put my weight down on a piece of paper, and face the horror my family would surely feel. Dad bought a cool, fancy new scale and everyone was playing on it, weighing themselves, and I was hiding in my bedroom pretending to be busy so I wouldn’t have to get involved in the game.

Yep, I pretty much hated my body for most of my life.

By the time I reached college (I finally got my license at the age of 19), I was a pro at wearing baggy t-shirts and too-big sweatshirts to cover up the embarrasment I felt about my body. I was good at making fat jokes about myself and laughing hysterically with everybody else about them. Leading up to my wedding, I went full-tilt in the fitness arena, running every other day for up to 15 miles in a stretch, and pumping iron with professional body-builders in the college gym for a dedicated two to three hours every day, getting up at 4AM just to squeeze it in before class. The trainers put me on a strict diet, and I was excited that results were just around the corner. But despite these efforts, results were not just around the corner. My body got stronger, but the fat was happy to stay packed on top.

A few months after the wedding, a friend casually invited me to a hot yoga class with her, Bikram style. 90 minutes of vigorous asana in a room heated to 105F or more, with humidity at at least 50% or more. I had no expectations, no knowledge of what was to come, and I definitely did not envision this hot yoga becoming a part of my everyday life for the next six years, that I would go to teacher training myself one day.

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I dripped, sogged and collapsed my way through class. Stand on one foot? You’re kidding, I can barely wobble on two. Stop drinking water? Lady, have you noticed how hot it is in here? Stop wiping the sweat, it’s cooling you down. Stop wiping the – listen, it’s pouring off of me in rivers, and ain’t nothing cooling in this entire room! And finally she said, to the class, “Come back tomorrow.”

Like a good girl, I came back. At the end of class, she said again, “Come back tomorrow.” So I did. I came back. And I came back again, and I came back every day for a hundred days, because by now, I couldn’t stay away.

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I started alternating the classes with Baptiste-style power yoga, a faster-moving practice that sometimes is accompanied by upbeat pop music, with different poses but just as much sweating, just as much torture, and just as many tears when I finally hit the mat for a final rest. Something about this practice was changing my life.

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There were no candles, no chants, no yoga speak, and no string of beads being flung in my face. But something weird was definitely happening. I started to embrace the figure I saw in the mirror, even before it started to change. I started to enjoy the poses, however imperfect they were, exploring how far my body could go each time, getting excited when I reached a breakthrough (there was always one, in every class). I started seeing muscles and shapes emerging from my body, lines and a figure that I never knew existed under there. I was confident, pleased, and I didn’t mind walking around in my body any more. I can never go back to who I was before.

Did the weight fall off overnight? No. I had to do the work. I had to put in the hours, the tears and the sore muscles, I had to lie quivering on my mat because I couldn’t stand up any more, and I had to learn to face my own self in the mirror, day after day, even when I didn’t want to. After that, after all of that, my body reacted to the first loving treatment I had given it by giving me back what I so desperately desired. 

This is me, a few weeks before my life was changed by that fateful hot yoga class. This is the girl who couldn’t even stand to be in her own body on any given day. And this is me after all that crazy gym working out and self-starvation – the pictures from before would have been even worse, but I am pretty sure none of those exist because I was quite good at hiding from the camera.

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Yep, that was me. Take a good hard look.

Now I’m going to show you what I looked like after hot yoga. I have to share this picture because I can’t show you what happened inside of me – in my mind, in my heart. I can’t show you how I started to enjoy being me, even before the physical change appeared. And I have to share it because sometimes, the visible, outside appearance is what speaks the loudest when we’re in a desperate place, not a lot of talk about self-acceptance.

People, change can happen. It is possible.

It’s your time now.

Your world can change. Are you ready?

Mrs H

Epilogue

Thank you to the dedicated teachers who showed up to those hot studios every day to bring a life-changing practice to somebody who needed it desperately. Thank you to the studio owners who answered emails and phone calls late into the night, and made their studio happen day after day, so people like me could show up and have their world explode with possibility before their very eyes. Thank you to everyone who made it possible for me to go on and get my teacher training, so that I, too, can now bring this empowering, revitalizing, life-giving practice to others who, like me, are desperate for something to change. Thank you to you, for reading this, and starting to change your world and your body for a better purpose.  

Professional photography by Urban Utopia Photography, a Seattle-based photographer who travels the country periodically to shoot different states. Usage of these pictures is thanks to her generosity and kindness, as she donated the digital rights for the purposes of this post.  

Crushed by Baptiste Level One, with the viral video made famous by real yogis everywhere

If you’re looking for the infamous, wildly viral video of the Baron Baptiste Impressions so you can see what all the Baptiste-inspired yogis are talking about, scroll straight to the bottom of this post! Together we say: Namaste! 

Dear authentic, inauthentic, whole person that you are, 

The thin towels had absorbed as much as they could take, and my yoga mat was a shimmering pool of salty sweat. I didn’t know if tears were streaming down my face, or more rivers of perspiration. I couldn’t tell where my leg was any more. Was it even still attached? I couldn’t move my head to see. Was I breathing? I couldn’t remember. Was there music playing, or were my ears ringing? Somebody was sobbing behind me, and on the other end of the room, a ripple of hysterical laughter had started, weaving through the 160 bodies flattened on their mats in half pigeon pose. The sobs on the mat behind me heaved into wails of laughter, and I felt a shaking, inexplicable, unreasonable chuckle well up from my diaphragm, bubble up my throat and fall out of my face. This is Level One, Baron Baptiste Power Vinyasa Training. 

My life is changing before my very eyes. 

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On August 1st, just a few days ago, I arrived at the Menla Mountain Retreat where our week-long training was to take place. Carved into the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, this is the Dalai Lama’s retreat when he visits the United States. It is a place of special and unique power – wild animals roam, unafraid of the visitors, a lush vegetable garden tended by the chef sprawls in a sunny pasture, and wooded glens and cool ponds provide sacred spaces for contemplation. 

Training that first night starts out friendly enough – Baron is everything you would want him to be, engaging us with humor and friendly compassion on our aching, travel-weary bones. “Go yogi, go! Flow yogi, flow!” He calls us through the sequences, a stiff-lipped smile cracking his face when we groan in wheel, and he says, “You aren’t working that hard! Stop being yoga weird. Stop complaining. Do the work.”

Morning comes soon. Intensity drives up quickly. We roll out of bed by 5:30 AM to hit an early breakfast prepared by retreat staff, and march up the gravel-littered path to the yoga room where we will spend the majority of our day sweating, crying, discussing and listening to each other. Today, we aren’t contemplating on the edge of a placid pond – we’re sweating mercilessly, in a lake of our own making. Maybe somebody in here is contemplating, but probably on things more profane than the mysteries of the universe. Faultlessly assembled in an unraveling sequence of increasing depth, the training is designed to take you inward – past the love, peace and feel-good emotions we all recognize and parrot, and into the beating heart of the ugly, selfish, unworthy and unlovable stories and masks we create around ourselves. Our carefully constructed barriers, wedged tightly with the precision of a Mayan pyramid over our lifetimes, start to crumble from the inside out. Unfolding, peeling back, stripping away, the training takes us through the heart of yoga and out the other side. Driving back the clutter of semi-spirituality, breezy patterned t-shirts and over-priced Lycra pants, Baron systematically shreds away our expectations, assumptions and falsehoods about “real” yoga.

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“Double pigeon pose.” The room groans in concert as tingling legs swing around to stack in another equally painful hip opener. “Why are you here?” The sound of dripping sweat and deep breathing expands to fill the space. “Fear is present in the room,” he acknowledges, and the fear manifests itself as we hesitate on the edge of the pose, arrange our towels and blocks and poke at loose strands of hair. He challenges us, walking across the sticky mats in his signature measured gait, arms swinging confidently at his sides. “If not now, when?” We sigh heavily in unison as our bodies draw forward, some farther than others, into the depths of the pose. “Be here. Be here now. Be in the now, and you’ll know how.” It rhymes, it sounds like a cliche, and it drives the truth home. 

Somebody starts to cry again. Sobs muffled in a towel. These aren’t sobs of physical pain, though – we’re unwrapping our lives on the mat. The sweat is secondary – it’s a tool. It’s part of the process. Nobody cares about that any more. We’ve gone beyond. 

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It was a week that felt like two days, two years. The friendships that were forged under duress of exposing your truest self, struggling in unison on the mat and in front of the class, and rising early and going to bed late and sharing showers and running out of water and chasing a bear through the woods [it happened, true story] are bonds that will be cultivated for years and lifetimes to come. How to explain what happened? You have to be there to experience it. There isn’t a day in the rest of my life that won’t be affected by what happened this week. 

I’m ready for yes. 

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The week finished with an explosion of celebration – we cut loose, rocking out yoga style, and exulting in the new freedoms we had found personally, collectively, authentically! The next morning, lingering over our last breakfast, we found a spot of local talent among us as Chris showed off his impersonations of our teacher, Baron. It was too good to let it pass and we ran outside for an improv film session. Jump in to a few seconds of Level One with this re-creation of The Yoga Room! 

Earth to yogi, earth to yogi – go yogi, go!

The Baron Baptiste-Inspired Impression Series is now live, presented by the Phoenicia Rising 2014 Level One Group! Starring Christopher Byford as Baron, Michael Suing as host, Andrea Huehnerhoff as producer and camera crew, Lani Levi as the student and beautiful yoga volunteers as the class, this very un-cut edition is raw and real – just like your story. 

 

I’m a yes for being full of freedom and integrity – what are you a yes for?! 

Wholly, 

Mrs H

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Photo credit Baron Baptiste Group

Find out more about the Baron Baptiste training events around the United States and Canada by going to www.baronbaptiste.com. This post has not been reviewed or endorsed by the Baron Baptiste group. Experience the yoga for yourself and find a Bapsiste-certified teacher near you! 

cherish wise

Photo credit Cherish Wise

laura teseriero

Photo credit Laura Tesoriero

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Photo credit by Laura Tesoriero

Photo credit Maria Kknds

Photo credit Maria Kknds

susan bilello bushee

Photo credit Susan Bilello-Bushee