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Confessions of a Yoga Competitor

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“Whilst I limped out of that class licking my wounds, they floated like ethereal nymphs off to drink dandelion tea and read poetry.”

In my mid-20’s I tried Tai Chi. Our classes began with Qigong (pronounced chi gong), a mind settling exercise of standing whilst holding your arms like you are hugging a tree.

When my instructor inquired as to why my fingers kept moving during Qigong, I explained I was counting off the list of groceries I needed to buy regaling my brilliance at quietening my mind whilst shopping. She tutted, shook her head and called me Monkey Mind.

In my early 30’s as a new mum, I joined a gym and was asked my motivation for doing so. My response was something along the lines of wanting to look hot in my jeans again.

The much younger yet somehow wiser membership consultant encouraged me to dig deeper suggesting I might also be seeking wellbeing and energy to be a better mum and live a long life. Yeah, yeah, that too. Vain-Monkey had revealed herself.

It was the gym cycling classes that unleashed Sporty-Monkey. I was competitive. I was a competitor. I was Helen Freakin’ Reddy, hear me roar.

What I lacked in talent I made up for in determination and the ensuing years saw me take on endurance feats in Triathlon, cycling and running, glory found in the physical and mental challenge of spending a whole day pushing my body to its limits.

Not to be outdone, Scary-Monkey encouraged me to do laps of carparks until the perfect spot became available, and out-sell the other mums in the school charity chocolate drive. Bossy-Monkey was by my side as I took on roles in the P&F, school board and sports teams, whilst working in our family business and herding cats (I mean raising three little kids).

Taking on such dynamism in my 40’s risked writing mind-cheques my body couldn’t cash, and I soon recognised the need to include therapeutic activities. Yoga it was to be, and I rocked up the first time having done a mere hour of running, towelling myself as I strutted into the room like Usain Bolt. My serene and well-coifed competition looked like easy pickings as I limbered up and knocked back a gulp of Gatorade. Game on.

For the next hour, I managed to pull a hammy, cramp my calf, and crick my neck all in the name of victory for which sadly, was not mine that day.

I may (or not) have been able to outrun them but I could in no way out-dog them, in any direction.

The women in this class were cleverly disguised as anyone you might run into at work, kids’ soccer, Bingo, yet they were contorting themselves and holding thigh-crushing poses like Russian gymnasts.

Whilst I limped out of that class licking my wounds, they floated like ethereal nymphs off to drink dandelion tea and read poetry. I’d finally met my match, and it became clear all my Monkeys needed taming.

My determination had me persist with my weekly Yoga class. On the weekends I’d be hunting down my prey with the letters HTFU written on the back of my hand (‘harden the…’) and come Tuesday I’d be trying to stop myself from giggling when Witty-Monkey would repeatedly call one of the asanas (poses) ‘Vegemite-Banarama’.

I came to love and respect my teacher, as she worked my body and challenged my mind reassuring us at the beginning of class that we’d already done the hardest asana; actually turning up. Witty-Monkey called this the ‘Get-Off-Your-Arsana’!

The big shift in my thinking came when my husband encouraged me to climb Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.

I wasn’t keen as it involved walking over seven days, a distance I could run in one. Not only walk but walk what the Tanzanian’s call ‘polepole’ which mean slowly, slowly. Really slowly. Ridiculously, comically slow, all to help you acclimatize to the altitude.

I didn’t do things slow! Walk, talk, eat, shop, drive – none of these things I did slow. Sporty-Monkey thought if I allowed myself to walk so slow, I’d break the seal and never run again.

Ready for the summit, we were woken at midnight in our oxygen-depleted state, and to the soothing Swahili lullabies sung by our porters I cried my way to the top of Africa as the monkeys retreated and a newfound respect for a still mind and calm soul emerged.

Today when I do Yoga, I park my ego (and monkeys) at the door and treat my yoga mat as an island where I am not judged or judging.

I allow my mind to forgive what I can’t do and embrace what I can, and I try not to compare myself to others.

As a bi-product of my Zen-like resolve I now have a profound respect for the strength of body and mind required to practice Yoga properly.

As to my wise gym membership consultant of 20 years ago, if you are out there; nailed-it!

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