Pillar No. 3: Fitness
"I found yoga when I was living with a very competitive mindset and negative body image. Yoga reminded me to slow down, and to truly listen to my body, mind, and breath. Yoga has always been there for me, even if it’s a few poses or a few conscious breaths. Rather than call myself a teacher, I’d like to say I’m constantly reminded on how to be a student for life. My students teach me just as much as I guide them through a practice. I’ve felt so honoured to hold this title, and to constantly learn how to best respect this beautiful practice."
This is my friend Lilly. She is a teacher and studio manager at our local branch of Modo Yoga. I started taking some of her classes late last year and was able to reintroduce me to hot yoga after a lengthy hiatus. I will be getting to that aspect of my journey but I first want to say that what is so spot-on about this quote is that incorporating any level of fitness in your life will both humble you and enlighten you. It will enlighten you because you will smash through boundaries that you didn't even think were possible and it will humble you because like Lilly has stated you will never truly stop learning. I am speaking through personal experience and will put a spotlight on how fitness has enhanced myself and how detrimental life almost became for me when I pushed it to the side. Like previous Pillars I have to turn back the clock to public school (remember dear reader? The one beside the corn field?). I loved sports as a kid as I watched a lot of it on television and was always active at recess and phys-ed. Back then I wasn't what one would call athletically 'gifted' but I had size. This would land me on the school's basketball team in the 8th grade and would be a huge confidence booster which at that point put me in the best shape of my life. A couple of years prior I played softball in the summer and would continue that tradition for almost another decade. I loved the challenge and bonding with teammates. After reading this one would think this love of athletics would transfer into high school. That was not exactly the case.
If you read the first Pillar I wrote on Song you would know that I severely struggled to find my place early on in high school. One of the most bewildering aspects was my inability to find a place in sports. In my school phys-ed was mandatory for the ninth grade and optional for the rest of my years. After a soul destroying experience in ninth-grade gym and not even having a fraction of a chance of making any of the school teams due to the sheer volume of guys trying out I put this part of my life to bed for a few years. It didn't help that my gym teacher 'favoured' the more athletic kids no matter how badly behaved or disruptive they were. I'll be honest when I say that I found nearly all the athletic guys or 'jocks' in my school repulsive. I just couldn't relate to them on any level and found them to be constantly annoying. The straw that broke the camels back came when we had a wrestling tournament in class and my teacher put me on the mat with the lightweights despite my size advantage. He may has well have looked me in the eye and said 'sorry...I just think you're weak'. At this moment I had decided I didn't need this in my life anymore. Yet again the universe comes knocking down the road and proves me wrong.
One recurring theme in this blog series I want to state is that I don't have any major regrets. However I do question some decisions I made along the way. While I was demoralized and getting zero encouragement from phys-ed a buddy of mine genuinely tried to help and I turned his request down. Nobody can change the past but this is a decision I wish I could have taken back as it would have been a big help for me in the coming years. My buddy invited me to after-school weight training. The smaller secondary gym had access to free-weights and some top-end gym equipment. Oh yeah, and it was 100% free to students. I turned down his requests and it is really hard to explain why. Going to these sessions would have been perfect and helped me regain confidence but stubbornness prevailed for at least a couple of more years.
The next several years are spent with me basically not paying attention to the signs of the universe. During college I had access to our rec. centre and I went and worked out with friends. I have to admit I loved it at the time but partying was my preferred discipline at the time so it didn't stick. After college my friend was working in radio promotions and hooked me up with free training sessions at the local Goodlife Fitness. Once again I really enjoyed it however the consistency just didn't stick. Somewhere in this phase I became interested in trying yoga as I had learned about it in a high-school World Religions class and found it interesting. Yoga studios weren't in abundance like they are today so my options were limited and I put it on the shelf. When I started working at GFS in 2010 I had to force myself to get back into shape due to the physical demands of the work. Fast-forward to 2013 and I end up in a home-based Jillian Michaels program.
At the time my now ex-wife and I were accompanying friends on a holiday to Jamaica. I was told I would be participating in this program in preparation to go away. Now, I understand Jillian has helped a lot of people over the years but don't count me in as a fan of her style or approach. With that being said I tagged along and did this DVD-based workout program. I have to admit that after following the program for weeks and being physical at work I hadn't felt this good in quite some time. Lots of fine feasts and alcoholic beverages would be consumed on this trip but I had just invested enough time in this program to continue afterwards. Right around this time is when I would discover yoga from the most unlikely source. A few short months later my marriage would be over and I would be living on my own. Prior to that someone close to me basically laughed at me and undermined me for even wanting to try yoga in the first place. These two events that came not too far apart would fuel me to push forward and do it. But the main reason for starting came from retired pro-wrestler Diamond Dallas Page (more on him later). My first classes were a learning experience and slightly comical as I didn't read the fine print and ended up joining a seniors class without realizing it. I know I'm a bit older but not that old. Irregardless the pace and environment was perfect in terms of building a foundation for my practice. From here I bought DVD's and a yoga mat for home and after I while I noticed aches and pains from my day job were starting to die down a little bit. Just maybe this is something I can consistently stick with this time around. Now, dear reader if you read the second Pillar on risk then you will know that I dropped everything to go back to school in Toronto in the mid 2010's. Toronto is a little far away from me and I was eyeing on relocating to the city of Burlington which I had fallen in love with and had access to public trains that would get me to where I needed to go. I decided a great way to establish roots was to check out a local yoga studio. This would introduce me to hot yoga and lead me to an extremely important connection that will be focused on more in the next Pillar.
I took hot yoga classes at a very hectic point of my life, and like Lilly stated earlier this taught me to slow down and would do wonders on helping me move forward and learn the ability to pause and decompress. With feeling like things were falling into place I was reconnecting with fitness while going to school in Toronto pulling off personal risk while chasing and embracing my love of song. Remember how it's all connected. Even in the hard times it is all connected if you choose to pay attention. I will share some of the hard times here briefly as they are an important part of the story...
After finishing in school in 2017 things were not quite where I wanted them to be. An industry related job opportunity fell through and I didn't have a plan B. I also knew throughout that summer that I wasn't myself and in September I knew I had to see a doctor. However I was shocked at what I was about to find. Long story short I would be diagnosed with severe sleep apnea, hypertension, respiratory problems and obesity. Somehow without realizing I tipped the 300lb. mark for the first (and only) time in my life. Trying to balance school, commuting, parenting and looking for eventual work became so crazy that I essentially stopped taking care of myself. I was also eating whatever I could get my hands on as I began to get myself stuck on a hamster wheel of survival mode. I had to cut back on going to the hot yoga classes due to timing and needless to say I had become a mess without even realizing it. Once again we are all geniuses in hindsight but I should have taken my final term off to deal with these health issues but I stubbornly kept going. It doesn't take a surgeon to realize that trekking on probably made them much worse. But after the initial diagnosis of these problems and going on a CPAP Machine weeks later I was determined not to let this define me. My short term saving grace would be Diamond Dallas Page. Before I started school in the summer of 2016 I invested in his DDPY DVD's. In the late 90's at the height of his wrestling career Page got into yoga from his ex-wife trying to help him recover from a severe back injury. Years after he retired from active competition he built his own brand with a performance studio, DVD's and now an online app. His program was working wonders for me until school became overwhelming and it got put on the back burner. However in late 2017 I returned to his program with a vengeance and alongside with some lifestyle changed I would drop almost 60lbs. by the middle of 2018. I thought things were looking up without knowing how much further I would have to fall.
Fast forward to the middle of November 2018 and I am at wits end. I had to reschedule a long weekend visit that my daughter was to have with her Mom and I'll admit at the time I was desperately burned out and needed a break. I had plans I was looking forward to and this readjustment that wouldn't normally bother me set me off internally. Since graduating from Harris very little had panned out the way I hoped it would and without getting into mundane detail 2018 would be a tremendous test of patience and will. I had taken a major risk in the work area of my life and it backfired, horribly. To bounce back I had taken an early morning job that was based around painful, unsatisfying labor. I had fallen so far off my path that I wondered if that initial risk back in 2016 to return to school had been worth it. This is really what was upsetting me so much instead of a rescheduled visit and I had to sit back and admit that mentally, emotionally and spiritually I wasn't in a good place. I just want to say there is absolutely no shame in feeling this way. However when you reach this point you need to stop and ask yourself what exactly am I going to do about this? With me I attacked my journal with more ferocity than perhaps I ever have and once those emotions passed I made a list. I knew I wasn't done feeling this way in my current situation so I made a list of things to do if I ever got into this headspace again. In a matter of weeks this would unexpectedly lead me to the heavy bag. Enter Andy...
"Martial arts and specifically Olympic-style boxing has been invaluable in my life. It’s help me unlock higher levels of myself and dissolve some fears. It’s gotten me out of dangerous situations. And most importantly, it has taught me to always get back up and keep fighting life’s battles no matter how many times I get knocked down. ...I thank God everyday that I started training when I did. I decided to teach boxing 101 because I like helping others realize the greatness in themselves...As a new student, it can be intimidating and incredibly taxing going into the boxing gym to work through your weaknesses. People bring their baggage into the gym and then work it out on the bag, in the ring and with their coaches. I witnessed steady growth in my regular students - it was rewarding. I saw passion for boxing brewing in our community - it was exciting! My coaches told me I could inspire others and that I could have a positive impact on the sport. I feel tremendously grateful that they gave me their approval and encouragement to teach boxing. My teaching goal in boxing was to be influential in my students boxing and personal development, the same way my coaches had been for me."
I would have the pleasure of meeting Andy for the first time on January 2, 2019. There are some dates and moments in life you just can't forget and this would end up being one of them for all of the right reasons. A little backstory before this first class though. As I stated 2018 was a bit of a rough one for me however one major positive would be connecting with my friend Ariana (more on her in the next Pillar). I would end up going on a spiritual retreat she was running that very spring. During that retreat she announced she was helping open a fitness boutique called Hustle + Flow. It was a place to do spin, boxing and yoga and apparently it was going to be in the dark. Now I am fairly open minded person but this kind of sounded like a 'fad' to me and wasn't sure if it was going to work. In 2019 I would visit this studio sometimes 2-3 times per week and I am happy to say that I ate my words proudly as the entire studio would become a revelation.
At the end of 2018 I decided to ring in the New Year by going to see the rock singer Danko Jones who was playing in my area. It was a killer show and even though I don't drink much these days I let it all fly that night as the champagne and crown + ginger's couldn't do down fast enough. I was off work on the 1st and was going to my first boxing class on the 2nd. The problem being is that I think some of that fine Canadian whiskey was still in my system during that class. I had gotten back into yoga with Dallas Page's program and some classes with Ariana at H+F. Even after an evening of debauchery I thought I was in pretty good shape. However after my first Boxing 101 class completed I realized I was in pretty bad shape. I'm not trying to be self-critical by saying that it was just arguably the most gruelling sixty minutes I had experienced at that point in my life. Andy is spot on with her quote by saying that it can be intimidating and taxing going to a class like that for the first time. As winded as I was early on I knew I was in the right place. Andy and her background music were relentless and in your face...possibly a few f-bombs were dropped as well. It didn't bother me one bit as I was up for being pushed and after class she gave me some very helpful recovery advice as I'm sure it looked like I needed it. I could tell that as hard as she pushed all of us that she truly cared. She probably saw many in my position quit and never come back or not even make it through the full class. As spent as I was at the moment I was determined to keep coming back as I knew that I would reach a new threshold if I were to continue. Another factor was that I was surrounded by a lot of negative people at the time. Most of this was through work but I knew some of them would be tapping out early in these classes and it gave me a boost knowing that I was doing something some would dare not to even attempt, even if I was struggling to make it though myself. I was determined to move forward out of this rut I found myself in and this was going to be a catalyst. I would go back to some of Andy's classes before she would end up leaving the studio. Whether she knew it or not she would light a fire in me and fellow H+F boxing instructor Ellen would keep that fire burning. Ellen's style and demeanour were very similar and we would become friends. Unfortunately she was unavailable to give a quote at the time of this writing but I'm sure would echo what Andy said earlier. Ellen would eventually convince me to try spin classes and that is where I would eventually meet Lilly who would get me back into hot yoga classes after a long hiatus. She would also help me reconnect with Andy for writing this piece. Remember that it's all connected and when I write about the fourth and final Pillar that statement will come full circle and will lead you to the next major step in my journey. If I didn't reconnect with fitness and those individuals involved I would rather not think about where I would be now. Recommended Reading: Positively Unstoppable: The Art of Owning It By Diamond Dallas Page Forget about the world of pro wrestling, the story of DDP is one of the most unlikely stories in all of life. Motivational stories and self-help books are a dime a dozen. Some are great, others are not but none of them are quite like this one. Page takes us on his journey from being a nightclub owner who decided to train to become a professional wrestler at the age of 35 (wrestlers don't begin their careers at this age, they usually retire). Even though Page was friends with the company's boss he would become their champion and get inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2017. However Page's biggest legacy has come post-retirement with the creation of his fitness and nutrition program DDP Yoga. This book isn't only about Page's crazy journey but lays down the foundation for his program and shares amazing (and some are truly amazing!) success stories of people he's helped in the DDPY program. Even well into his 60's Page looks great and is as brash, outspoken and arrogant as he's ever been. But his heart is pure gold and all he really wants to do is help others by pushing them. His most memorable jobs were on the face of his program Arthur Boorman and using the program to literally save the lives of troubled wrestling legends Scott Hall and Jake "The Snake" Roberts. This is a must read for anybody with health issues or is just looking to reclaim ownership of their life. It did wonders for me, that's for sure What I need to work on: Consistency...I've talked about this throughout the piece but it is something I still struggle with. While I am fully capable of working out at home I haven't done nearly as much as I would like to admit during the pandemic. I have been blessed to have continued working throughout the lockdown but my appetite got the best of me at various times. However, earlier today I received an acupuncture treatment for the very first time and I was told I have the pulse of an athlete...must be doing something right! Now that gyms are beginning to reopen in my area this will give me motivation to retrain at home so I can end up back on that mat, bike or heavy bag...better than ever!