Week 1: First Impressions on a New Journey

I find it fitting that I am writing this at the beginning of the year. I am constantly inundated from TV, radio, and the internet about resolutions to "lose weight" or "feel better about yourself". After a while the din of all those ads becomes white noise, and by the end of January, most people have gone back to their old habits anyway, myself included. That has been my story for the last couple of years. However, I have just begun to take the "baby steps" on a new path, and I have had the last month to get my footing on that path.

I have never been one to be too retrospective. One cannot go forward while looking behind. That being said, I feel some perspective on my past personal journeys may lend some insight into my reflections on this current one.

Prior to my 30th birthday, exercise and fitness was NEVER a priority. Growing up, no one in my family ever was an example of healthy living. On the contrary, I grew up in a house dominated by parents who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, drank beer at noon, cocktails at five and wine before bedtime. That was each and every day of my life until I left at 17 to go to college. Not surprisingly, I continued quite the unhealthy lifestyle through the rigors of college and post graduate school. Soon after graduation, after settling down with my wife and having kids, fitness still wasn't the priority. I had a practice to run, I had kids to provide for, a wife who stayed at home with three kids that we had in four years. We had moved multiple times due to my job change and it wasn't until I turned 30, that I had an epiphany of my own. I was 30 years old, over 300 lbs, had high blood pressure and could barely run around the yard with my 4 year old (at the time) without getting winded. I couldn't stand to look at myself in pictures or see myself in home videos. I was embarrassed at what I had become. In addition, I had learned that my father had throat cancer with which he would put up a valiant fight, but ultimately succumbed to a year later, followed by my mother two years after that (cancer also). I wanted to be around for my kids, I wanted to be the good example, not the bad one. It was time to decide, I knew what I wanted to do, but how was I going to get there? I started with what I knew. I had always loved bicycling with my friends when I was a kid. I would ride my bike to school, and later on I would ride it to work. I never could afford a car when I was sixteen, so my bike was my escape. That's where I began. So I rode, everywhere I could, and as frequently as I could, keeping in mind I did not want to take away TOO much time from my family. For about 2 years, I became an avid cyclist, I completed multiple MS 150 bike tours, and met many, interesting people along the way. I had whittled my weight down to about 250 and was feeling pretty good. Something was missing though, but I didn't know what it was. My wife then introduced me to a person who was using a personal trainer at a local gym, thinking maybe strength training is what I was lacking and maybe that would fulfill my need. I joined that gym in 2004 and over the next couple of years, I was training in the gym five days a week, doing multiple combinations of weight lifting and standard cardio exercises. I adopted a CRAZY diet for quite a while and through that process, I got my weight down to a startlingly low 176 (I'm 6'3"). I even posed for a photo shoot for my gym in a speedo, I still think they might be using that picture too. I am not going to divulge the name of that gym to avoid any personal embarrassment. While the results were fantastic, I had never felt or looked better in my entire life, that type of lifestyle was unsustainable. I tried to keep it up, but the pain in my joints was getting worse. The soreness from intense workouts was lasting longer, it took me longer to recover in between and I was getting burned out. All throughout that time period, while I was satisfied with the results, there was still something that was missing. I was lean and fit, but I wasn't strong. I had muscles, but it didn't feel like they were working together. I knew that there was something more, but I could not fathom what that would be. Thus, human nature being what it is, I gave up for a while. I had every excuse in the book. I wanted more time with my family (which was true)...I was tired of my body hurting so much (also true). Honestly, I felt empty, like there was a part of my body that wanted to get strong, but that I could never "isolate".

That is how I ended that journey. I was happy with the results, but longing for something more. My wife then introduced me to Debra. She said that she was looking for people who had never tried yoga to try it and see how they liked it. Knowing me like she does, she thought I might be interested. My previous knowledge of yoga is simple....nothing. I knew people who did it, I knew that you used a mat, and I knew it involved stretching and poses of some sort. That sums up my collective knowledge of yoga prior to December 1, 2012.

The last four weeks have been the most enlightening experience of my life. FINALLY, I have found that most elusive element that I had been searching for the last 11 years. Not only am I working my body in ways that I never have before, but I am experiencing a connection to my body the likes of which I have never experienced. When I would workout in the gym, I would focus on the movements, making sure my form was right, and checking myself out in the mirror (yes, we all do that). I would do reps of 12-15 and would really begin to hate numbers beginning at 10 because that’s when it would really start to hurt. No emphasis was placed on breathing, or honoring your body and what it was telling you. Truly there was a disconnect between body and mind. You turned your mind off to work through the pain. The right hand really didn't know what the left one was doing! Through yoga I can focus on body, mind, and soul all at the same time. After a workout, my body now feels energized, not beaten down.

I would not be telling the truth if I didn't say that the first few weeks were quite awkward. There is definitely a learning curve that takes place in learning the poses, breathing, and flowing between. I find myself looking forward to my yoga everyday. It is a place where I can shed all of the extra baggage of my day, and I can work on ME. After four weeks, I feel more flexible, I feel more energized and most importantly, I feel BALANCED. When I say balanced, I mean that for the first time in my life, my body is working together with itself, at my intention. I look forward to these next four weeks. I feel like I have surpassed those first "baby steps" on this new journey, and now I am ready to take the next steps with an intent and purpose like never before. No doubt as time goes on, I will get stronger, I will be more flexible, I WILL be in balance! I am emboldened to continue on, I look forward to what I will discover about myself these next four weeks. I also go forward with a feeling of gratitude for Debra, who has opened this pathway for me. Life is a series of journeys where the destination is not necessarily the primary benefit, it is the souls you encounter along your path. Namaste.

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Paul Matlock

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calendar March 3, 2013

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