Reimagining My Life Led Me Back To Bikram Yoga

I’ll never forget the day. I was enjoying my day off from working fast food, and mentally preparing to start community college after deciding to no longer join the navy. Sitting on my mother’s old washing machine I found solace as I replayed someone saying, “think about what you love to do, and make it your career,” over and over in my head. Since my sophomore year of high school I knew I wanted to be a journalist, but as I held an issue of Cosmogirl in my hand it seemed to click.

I always loved reading magazines since I was a tween. I had my first subscription to Teen and YM magazine at 12, and had countless magazines all over my room. I loved reading the featured stories- they were always so interesting, eye-opening, and in-depth. Even if I didn’t see myself in the mainstream magazines I always had Vibe, The Source, Honey, XXL, and Sister 2 Sister.

That day on the washing machine is when I decided the magazine industry was going to be my focus. I never gave up on that dream over the years. Fast forward past attending Howard University, internships, and moving to New York City, and things didn’t pan out exactly as I had hoped over the course of my career. Being on the other side of 30-years-old has me reimagining my life.

What I want now looks different. What I value has shifted. I’m clearer on the lifestyle that brings out the best in me. This has been one of the hardest self-realizations I’ve had to have about my career EVER.

Luckily, I’m a millennial with access to various new options thanks to digital media. But I’m still not sure what I want my new career to look like.  

At the Pretty Powerful You Vision Board and Manifestation workshop with OmNoire and XONecole, I asked life coach and feng shui expert, LaShell Wooten, about how to imagine a new life when suddenly you no longer want what you wanted, and don’t know what’s next. She advised me, and the rest of the audience, to lay in bed when waking up, and think about what you want to do that day before getting ready for work. It could be whatever I wanted. There were no limits.  

Necole Kane and I after the Pretty Powerful You 2018 workshop

As I practiced this exercise almost everyday since that sunny, late January afternoon the one thing that has stayed consistent is going to bikram yoga in the morning. I wake up just wanting to have that 90 minutes to be physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually connected to myself. I’ve been doing yoga since I was 19, but tried bikram five years ago when I first moved to New York City. I ended up falling in love with it.

It wasn’t until January 2016, when I found myself unemployed (again), nursing a broken heart, and trying to figure things out that I attempted a 30-day challenge. Those 30 days changed the way I saw myself, and felt about my strengths, weaknesses, judgements, and resilience. I was empowered by myself in the mirror, and by Stephanie Pope Caffey, the black women who led the class (and owned the studio).

My first time doing bikram yoga documented on Instagram June 28, 2013

For the first time I realized how disconnected I was from myself, and was able to change that in a way I wasn’t expecting. I always think back to that month in hopes of practicing consistently again. The older I get my health in these areas have become paramount to me living my best life.

Here are the things I discovered in each area while practicing bikram:

Emotional

To be honest I don’t like feeling emotions, especially not several in a day. I’m more of an analytical person #virgo.

I can be very hard on myself and judgemental, but in bikram that just makes the class harder. I had to give myself grace and permission to try, push, and start again if I needed. With everything in life some things are easier than others, and bikram is no different. I wasn’t emotionally in a space to accept that truth at that time.

In the beginning, I made myself wrong or bad for what I couldn’t do. Eventually I had let the feelings pass like a wave and keep it moving. The kinder I was to myself the easier it was to get through the class.

Over time, I learned when it comes to having control over my emotions there’s a difference from stuffing my feelings, and letting them pass. I had to let go of what I wasn’t or was, and just be or else the bad emotions would follow me from pose to pose. I recognized that every day was going to be different, and that was okay. The highs and lows didn’t have be a “thing” every time. It is what it is, and can remain that way.  

Spiritually

When I read The Purpose Driven Life by Robert Warren, (I wrote more about that experience here), I remember in the book it saying how everyone worships different. Growing up in church I thought you always had to be loud, singing, dancing, etc. until I read that. I instinctively knew I was a quiet worshipper, and that was how I connected with God. I love peace and quiet.

As much as I LOVE the city and turning up I’m actually a very quiet person most of the time. With other workouts that I enjoy there’s always music playing to get you hype and motivated. This was the first time I worked out in complete silence. The only sound was my breathe, and the instructor giving the poses- after a while I began to tune the instructor out and just flow.

Staring at myself in the mirror as I maintained my poses made me feel deeply connected to myself and God like never before in those moments. I felt like I was worshipping God through each pose, breath, and sweat bead dripping from my pores. Through that I also connected to myself. It was a connection I didn’t even realize I yearned for.

Physical

Being a plus size girl I’m aware of other people’s limitations put on my body. During my 30 days, the instructor didn’t limit me. She pushed me to go deeper and stretch further, and gave me modifications- which never happened in classes led by white instructors. I saw, and felt, my own strength and capabilities through various poses.

I became more intune with my body, and what does and doesn’t work for it, and I listened to it. If at no other time in my day I had to listen to my body in bikram.

Also, I love sweating! It’s not as enjoyable when I’m all dressed up with make-up and stuff on, but half naked in a yoga studio is perfect. After a couple of weeks my face cleared up. My body was detoxing, and my appetite changed. Eating the wrong foods before bikram (i.e. dairy, alcohol, fried food, and carbs) can make a big difference in performance and the intensity of being in the hot room. I also had some of the bed sleep in my life! #Ilovesleep #sleepovereverything

Living in New York I’m constantly walking around, so I never underestimate the power of stretching. My ability to move quicker, swifter, and without the limitations of tight muscles was liberating after every bikram class. I felt taller, my posture was better, and my breathing was deeper.

Mental

I love the heat. I’m a summer baby, and grew up on the west coast, but being in a room at 106 degree is completely different. Moving, twisting, turning, going up and down while literally sweating everything you have inside takes mental focus and stamina.

Bikram is a safe space for all body types, races, and physical capabilities. Everyone is practically naked. In any other circumstance I would be self-conscious of various things about my body, but I have to let it go. If for no other reason, but to concentrate on not dying from a heat stroke.

You have to be able to control of your thoughts to get through it all because once class starts you can’t leave the room. Focusing has never been a strong area for me, but when it’s either focus or mind fuck yourself into feeling like you’re about to die- YOU FOCUS! One bad thought will have you believing you’re suffocating or can’t breathe. Mental and emotional focus are not optional. I’ve had to take complete accountability for how I’ve shown up to the mat and performed whether good or bad.

Some days were better than others, but the more I did it the more the heat and time were no longer a thing for me. I realized how little it was about physically doing yoga, and being able to have mental stamina. Something that I’ve struggled with no matter how much meditation and other tricks I’ve tried in the past.

One of the best things a bikram instructor said was think of it like you’re swimming. I love to swim so I always go back to that when the sweat becomes too much.

As I reflect on what was once a dream for my life, and discover what is to come for me I’m glad I have this marker of confidence to pull from. I saw, felt, and believed in myself just because, and that is power, love, and faith.    

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The Misconceptions Of Having A Mentor And What I Know Now

There’s so much pressure on having a mentor, but what people don’t tell you is that is has to come natural. It has to be a genuine relationship, not forced. I’ve been pretty clueless for years. 

In high school, I thought someone (re: a successful adult or teacher) would take a liking to me, and show me the way to success and a thriving career. Junior year I began to see teachers form these relationships with acquaintances, classmates, and friends, but it never happened to me.

I’ve been praised for my work and excellence in classes throughout my academic career, both high school and college, but never really taken under someone’s wing like I’d always imagined. Granted, I probably missed many signs of someone trying form this relationship with me. By the end of college I asked a couple people to mentor me who had similar interest, and a career paths I (thought) wanted to be on.

After college, things only got worse for me in my pursuit of a career and mentor. I’ve met so many women and men through various programs, events, and social media, but I still struggled to get my footing as a mentee and full time professional writer.

After years of failed attempts at one day meeting this “magical” person to help me I took the advice of an online mentor, #blackgirlmagic personified, and Culrbox founder (also fellow Los Angeles native) Myleik Teele. On an episode of her podcast she told a story about “just doing the work” and mentors finding her. So, I took her advice of doing the work, and stopped worrying about things that come once the work is done.

I realized after years of trying to build the walls, windows, and stairs in my metaphorical house I actually needed to lay down the foundation of my life. The foundation in not only my career, but also spirituality, mental/emotional health, and most importantly my physical health. I understand now how important it is to have a strong foundation more than ever. The world comes at you with so many things, especially with social media, a strong foundation makes a huge difference.

I still don’t have a “mentor” per se in my career field (sorry to disappoint), but I did get recommended for a great job opportunity last year. I didn’t get it, but it was nice to be encouraged to step into something bigger than what I was already doing. Also, I was hired as a freelance editor for an online website which helped me see the muscles I have in my career field already, and strengthen them even more.

Mentors In Unsuspecting Packages

I will say outside of my direct career path I do have great women mentors in my life that have been confidants, and advisers when I needed encouragement (and a clue). These women have encouraged me, sponsored me, and held me accountable in my life when I needed it the most.

As a college educated, ambitious young woman I’ve put so much pressure on having a career mentor, and didn’t realize all the incredible women who have seen the light in me already. I had to let go of all the people who curved me, dismissed me, and made me feel disposable. Focusing on the people who feed my spirit, encourage my growth, and let me know I’m on the right path has been invaluable to my life.

Invested In Myself

I’ve gone to go a number of conferences, weekend workshops, and have taken classes online and in-person, along with reading books to add tools to my toolbox.

Not having a mentor means having to seek more information on my own to grow personally and professionally. Investing in myself has become pivotal in taking responsibility for my life. I’ve been able to recognize conscious and subconscious blocks, ask myself the difficult questions, and go after things despite possibly failing. It has also given me opportunities to meet people inside and outside of my career field.  

Diversifying my network, with people in various industries, has given me new ideas, perspectives and experiences. It also takes the edge off of getting to know them and forming a genuine relationship. 

Friend Are Mentors Too

I’d like to think of my friends as my mentors. As I watch them succeed they’ve always given me ideas or exposed me to new information they learn. Being in great company reminds me that I must be doing something right, and inspires me to do more.

Issa Rae said it best in her interview with Roland Martin about networking with your peers. I’ve learned so much from talking to my friends and peers over the years. As they enter into new rooms and learn new things they share it with me, and I do the same.  

Not having a mentor has added to my insecurities, especially as a writer. I would wonder if people didn’t like me, my writing was terrible, or people just didn’t care. It could be those reasons or something else, but I can’t let that hinder me from moving forward. There were plenty of times I just didn’t speak up, didn’t send that email in the draft, and was easily discouraged in the past.

Letting go of what a mentor is or should be has taken the pressure off having one. Yes, having a mentor is very beneficial, but being present in your work and the relationships you already have is even more important. Taking care of myself, practicing gratitude, and therapy has opened my eyes to the support I do have. I’ve learned that my value is not lesser or greater because I don’t have a career mentor.

What has been your experience getting a mentor or being in a mentoring relationship? Comment below.