Monday, April 12, 2010

"You must feel sooo different!"

This is not an uncommon thing for me to hear these days... and it's something I've been thinking about for the past two months or so. That's partially why I haven't posted anything in that time. But I've also been terribly busy. I finally wrote my comprehensive exam for my PhD, and have been spending time trying to get a sense of what 'normal' feels like. My mind has been racing with so many things -- and I've often wanted to turn to the computer to put my thoughts into words. But it has taken me a while to do so... my apologies for taking so long!

That said, the whole idea of 'feeling different' has been on my mind for a long time -- not only because I am reconciling what it's like to be in a new body, but also because the comment "You must feel soooo different" is the most common thing people tell me these days. Over the past two years of my transformation, people tend to tell me 1) how great I look and 2) ask me how different I feel.

My response to both comments tend to be: 1) "Thanks very much, it's been a fantastic experience." and 2) "Yes, I feel great."

But to be honest, I'm not sure if I feel 'great'. I know I 'feel'. But I'm not sure how that feels any different that how I felt as a 435-pound man.

Because two years ago, I'm not so sure I actually 'felt'.

I have written in this blog about my experiences in facing my fears, coming to terms with things like anxiety, understanding that depression was a part of my life, and feeling joy. There's a lot of 'feeling' packed into all of those things, but I can't necessarily say that I know what things were like before.

Over the past two months of experimenting with the idea of my new 'normal' lifestyle, I have taken up yoga. My instructor Edward McEneany, also spins with me at Legacy Indoor Cycling in Toronto, and twice a week, he offers an ashtanga vinyasa yoga class. I had been doing the Biggest Loser Yoga video in the sanctity/privacy of my living room for a while, but had never ventured into an actual 'class'. And Edward convinced me to give it a try.

I was nervous at first, because when I do yoga at home, I curse like a sailor. I grunt. I moan. I yell at Bob Harper on the TV when he tells us to move into 'downward dog' or 'warrior 2'. My muscles feel tight. My body feels contorted. Physically, I feel what I'm doing. But it was only when I started taking classes with Edward that I have begun to truly connect what I feel 'physically' to what I feel 'emotionally'.

I am the type of person who has a hard time hiding his emotions: stress, anger, happiness... whatever the emotion, it shows. And the negative emotions, over so many years of being obese, have taken their toll on my body. My friend Tony once told me that the body holds emotion, and that as I lost weight, I went through a period of feeling like my emotions weren't under control. I literally was crying into my quinoa. And I ended up spending some time with a great therapist, and came to better understand my feelings of anxiety and depression. But I never made the mind-body connection of those emotions, and continued to carry them with me physically. No matter how often I found myself occasionally having a good 'power cry' in the car on the way to/from work, I still didn't come to a full realization of how my head, my heart, and my body are so strongly connected. And it was my inability to see that connection that allowed me to continue carrying the emotion on my body -- in my shoulders, in the back of my jaw, in my lower back and hips -- all areas that my massage therapist and now my yoga teacher, tell me to loosen, and stretch and strengthen because those are among the many physical places where I hold my stress and emotion.

But these sensations are still relatively new.
And it's interesting to begin answering question #2 (How different do you feel?), with:
"You know... I don't know if I feel different. Because two years ago, I don't think I actually 'felt'."

And that answer makes for a great conversation.

I know that two years ago I felt sad. I felt fat. I felt heavy. I felt angry. But those adjectives are merely descriptors of how I felt... I'm not entirely certain that I know what those feelings were actually like. So, it's difficult to say that I necessarily feel different.

My new answer is that "Now, I feel."

Spending Tuesday evenings and the occasional Sunday in a series of sun salutations and other yoga postures (which recently included a handstand!!!) has forced me to come to a place of quiet -- a place where I "start by stopping" and focus on breathing.

And being.

And by consequence, I focus on feeling.

I'm learning to understand how I attach and detach from different things in my life -- physically, emotionally and cognitively. I don't think I was ever able to understand how these things felt in these ways because I had over 200 pounds and 10 feet of body fat in the way. Literally. It's hard to know how you feel on the outside when there is literally feet and inches between the surface of your skin -- that exterior that shows the emotion that is so hard to hide -- and your inner core where the emotion and feeling truly exists. So the idea of feeling 'different' is a bit abstract.

I think it's now about feeling 'new'.

I realize that this whole commentary may seem a bit etheral... a bit abstract... a bit 'in my head'. But that's where it's been for a while. And thanks for indulging these few moments to let me get it out. It has been fantastic however, to spend time in my yoga classes trying to master a series of postures knowing that I am working my inner self just as much as I am beginning to work my physical selt.

I know.. it sounds very 'granola'.
It sounds very 'earthy'.
It sounds very 'yoga'.

But I guess I'm becoming a bit 'yoga'. I'm an athlete. I train hard. I run. I ride. And now, I spend time contorting my body and my soul into new positions that provide an incredible level of physical and emotional release and challenge that I've never felt before. And I look forward to my yoga class every week -- because as a 'work out', it consistently works out all parts of my being.

And I'm pretty damn lucky to be taking my transformation to this whole new level.

Kia kaha (stay strong).
And Namaste.

PS. I promise to write more in the next two weeks... I've got updates on my training for my 600km charity bike ride, new stuff about spinning, my training for two 10km-road races in the next three weeks... but first... next week... a new kickboxing video!!! From yoga to kickboxing... I'm a renaissance man! Screw it. I AM A RENAISSANCE! ;)