In my last column, I wrote about how I used to weigh north of 250 lbs. and was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes by the time I turned 30 years old. During a rough period in my life, I decided to take charge of my physical health, one of the few things that I had any control over at that time, and lost 85 lbs. in less than a year.
With my weight goals reached, I didn't want to slide back into my old habits. I began to search for a new venture, something that would keep me engaged in diet and exercise. What I ended up doing was, shall I say, unexpected.
Lost and Found
at the Farmers' Market
In the summer of 2015, I went to my hometown's local monthly farmers' market with the intention to do a story on its growth since its inception the previous year. What I found was not just the variety of produce vendors, but a newfound focus on healthy living through group walks and fitness activities.
It's also where I became acquainted with Jenny, a yoga instructor who was there as part of the "Little Sprouts Kids Corner," a new area intended to keep kids participating in physical activities during the summer, teaching them how to use a hula hoop.
I met Jenny again a week later at a children's event at the public library. On the grass, she led kids through simple yoga routines, as well as general creative movement. It was during this task that the thought came to me.
I could do yoga!
Of course, I kept that thought to myself at that time. I figured it would be a passing interest, and I would soon forget about it. But after a couple of days, the thought was still there.
I could do yoga!
I contacted Jenny through Facebook and started making arrangements for a month of one-on-one sessions. One session a week for four weeks.
Prior to the first session, I met with Jenny to discuss her connection to yoga and fitness in general. She said her father had gotten her into fitness while she was in high school.
"I would go to the mall with him and tell him that they didn't have anything in size 'fat,'" Jenny said. "So I started working out with him, going to the Firehouse Gym and got into kickboxing there."
Jenny said she enjoyed kickboxing, and soon moved on to distance running and bodybuilding. She said she found that she pushed herself too hard in those days, eventually burning herself out.
"You shouldn't do so much just because you want your body to get to a certain point," she said. "I didn't understand the balance and never rested enough. You want to stay strong, but you don't have to kill yourself."
Jenny said she began studying dance, and soon developed a passion for creative movement.
"But that's more chaotic, and not necessarily calming," she said. "But I like movement, so I study as much as I can."
It was her interest in movement that eventually led her to yoga, and in January 2015, she became a certified yoga instructor.
"I had taken yoga classes before when I lived in Austin," she said. "But I never thought that I would teach it or study it as intensely as I have been."
We also discussed my first session and what I should expect. I was coming in completely blind, knowing only that there'd be a lot of stretching and a lot of breathing.
"A lot of stretching, even in your basic workouts, are yoga postures," she said. "I'm not saying that it's because of yoga, but everything kind of goes hand-in-hand."
Jenny also discussed the various disciplines in yoga, but that level was way over my head at that point. Stretching and breathing was where I was at.
But as the late afternoon became early evening, the time for talking was over. It was yoga time.
'Namaste' Away from Nature
We arrived at local park shortly after 7 p.m. I had purposely chosen the time and location because it seemed like a good idea to practice in an area with a lot of activity.
We found a quiet spot near one of the baseball fields and I unrolled my newly purchased yoga mat. I also took off my shoes, but left my stylish black diabetic socks on to protect the soles of my feet from whatever was crawling in the grass.
For the first lesson, Jenny led me through the "Surya Namaskar," or "Sun Salutation."
She directed me to stand up as straight as I could, then reach for the sky. That was easy enough. Standing and reaching are things that I do every day. This yoga thing was going to be a piece of cake.
She then directed me to fall forward, relaxing my body before straightening my back into the "Uttanasana." It was in this pose when I found myself really connecting with nature. By which, I mean I was attacked by dozens of mosquitoes.
In choosing the setting for our session, I forgot to account for the recent rainfall. Those rains led to an explosion in the local mosquito population, and it felt like every one of those literal suckers had found me.
We continued through the "Sun Salutation," moving through different poses with names like "Downward Dog" and "Spinx." I tried to focus on my movements and breathing, only to have it drowned out by the sound of high-pitched buzzing in my ears.
Still, we pressed on. Jenny directed me through the rest of the "Sun Salutation," which we went through several times before moving to the next lesson.
After about an hour, and what felt like hundreds of insect bites, my first yoga session came to a close.
"You did good," Jenny said, swatting away a mosquito that chose that moment to dive-bomb her nose. "Your legs are strong, but you need to work on keeping your back straight."
Even with the amount of blood I lost as an all-you-can-eat buffet that evening, I felt good about the session. I promised Jenny that I would continue to work on my poses during the week, and we both agreed that perhaps the next session would be better served indoors.
Finding Balance and a Flexible Future
After that initial month, I continued with the sessions, albeit more sporadically as both mine and Jenny's schedules had a hard time lining up some weeks. Eventually, I ended up dropping the sessions, as well as yoga, all together, but I'm still happy that I tried it and still catch myself going through the poses I learned every once in a while.
I appreciate everything that Jenny has done for me, and even with her moving to Austin and me to Nebraska, we remain friends to this day.
Even after dropping yoga, healthy eating and exercise remained important components of my life, and last fall I had my doctor run some blood work on me. He told me my A1C was down to just five percent, and I was officially taken off of all my medication.
I still walk every day, at least five miles if I have the time, and continue to cut most sugars out of my diet. Sure, I will have the occasional pizza, I'm only human after all, but I've been able to maintain my weight at about 155 lbs. since at least September.
In 2014, there was no way that I would have tried yoga. I doubt I would have even tried yogurt. If there's one thing that I learned in my journey, it's that it is never too late to try to improve your health. You just need to keep setting goals for yourself.
And watch out for mosquitoes.