This post is difficult to share. My yoga practice and healthcare journey are a significant part of my heart and soul. As much as I hear that my yoga/physical/dietary/spiritual practice is an inspiration and motivation for others (for which I am immensely grateful), I hear comments in the negative. I am often told I am too skinny. That I need to be more lenient with my diet. That I go too hard or do too much. Those comments wouldn't bother me if it didn't give me pause to consider if there is truth there. However, the fact that I will question myself and re-examine my approach to these things doesn't mean that the path I am on is the wrong one and that the comments about my body or my discipline are warranted without there being compassion attached to them. And, honestly, unless you want to confront me about my weight because you're concerned I am not healthy and you want to offer me help or hear me out, you have no business commenting on the size of my body. Unless you are willing to hear about why I am so disciplined and what I see in my patterns in regards to my physical practice, including the risks I'm willing to take to achieve certain goals (including why those are goals I want to reach), there's no need for you to comment there either. So, I do welcome compassionate observation, relaying of experiences, advice, and research sharing in regards to this post. However, comments about my body or practice without compassion and only judgment are not necessary.
My current and slower, more deliberate practice. I'm finally feeling stronger again. I am working on not repeating old patterns in different ways.
I was going all out. I was going to push to the point of dripping sweat, shaking muscles, the feeling of my entire body turning to jello. That, in and of itself can be a great workout goal, but for me, it was a way to punish the anxiety beast. It didn't matter that I was already tired. I hadn't slept well for days. Waking up nightly with adrenaline rushes was common. It didn't matter that my body ached or that I was sore from my Buti Yoga practice the day before. Chronic polyarthropathy means my body always hurts to some degree. To find my capacity for strength and endurance in middle age would obviously be to do the work regardless. I had even asked about fatigue and working with shaking muscles and was advised that both were goals to achieve when strength building from both yoga teachers, trainers, and online yoga groups. They weren't wrong. Pushing was not giving in or up. It was refusing to let my rebellious body get beyond my ability to control.
I rolled out my mat. I was already out of breath. My heart was pounding. I had the cliche overwhelming sense of dread that those of us who live with anxiety either choose to give in to or actively ignore. I was practicing a familiar sequence. I was practicing in my living room. What the hell was wrong with me? I was having a panic attack. It felt like I was turning inside out. I didn't understand. Yoga is my passion. It saves my life. I tell my yoga clients all the time that if they are not with the breath that they are not doing yoga. It was hard to breathe. I ignored my own advice and went on with it anyway. Yoga couldn't be the trigger. Yoga was the tool.
I decided that what I was feeling was related to something I wasn't conscious of and I just needed to move. I completed the practice. My legs didn't want to lift, but I made them go. Every time I felt I was about to reach my limit, I pushed harder. Mind over matter. If I didn't land a movement on beat or my balance was off on one side, I fought the urge to go back and repeat. I tell my yoga classes that our bodies are different every time we get on our mats. I took this advice, working on meeting myself there. Except was I?
but it didn't burn off the fog in my brain (another symptom I have grown accustomed to with Hashimoto's). My muscles ached more and I couldn't initiate movements without wincing and stiffness. Normal aging? I had been told. I looked forward to bedtime. I was glad to know I had worked hard.
If you follow me on social media, I've recently posted about being injured and having to come to terms with changing my practice from high intensity intervals mixed with yoga to a more "traditional" vinyasa practice that is little to no impact. My injury was with my SI joint and piriformis, but has been nagging as many muscles around them began to spasm to compensate for moving through the pain without pause. I don't know if I'll be able to return to the strenuous schedule of training I kept before, or if I will desire it. With functional strength movement, pelvic floor and core training, and bodyweight movements, I am adding the slower is stronger approach to my practice. Floating and flying. What I am doing now is equally as challenging, but in a different and more grounded way.
I've learned a lot since the original injury this past August about the ungrounded and unconscious patterns that brought me to injury. About a month ago, I realized that those panic attacks I had started having before my sacred practice was my body's way of resisting the abuse I was inflicting upon it. I have been angry at my body. I sometimes still am. Self love is not known to me. As glorious, cherished, and sacred as my yoga practice is, I had begun to use it as a way to work against my body instead of with it. I was a bully. A dictator. I had allowed self loathing to masquerade as self care.
I gave in to fears that I conjured to sidestep the real work that I needed to be doing which was embodiment and learning to love myself. I had begun to fear gaining weight because I had developed an association between that and my thyroid hormones being sup par. I was angry that I can't sleep at night without pain, so I sleep propped on a loveseat where my cats and street lights keep me awake. I was/am scared that one day I'll wake up and this body that I currently have... this strong and useful body... will be gone and I'll once again feel like I inhabit an alien body that looks nothing like the me inside of it. I've worked hard to bring my body to represent the temple in its physical expression. Always more work to do. I have vowed to be as healthy as I can. This, I often feel is akin to holding water in cupped hands.
In this fear, I held myself to standards that were not sustainable. Rest has become lazy and unproductive. I used the fact that I had a lower income to criticize myself for all the things I've failed to accomplish because of this mission I've had to heal myself and help anyone who asks. I let fear of rejection keep me small. The unknown controlled by my experiences of lack. I hated chronic illness. I hated my self sabotage. I am ashamed. I am embarrassed. As long as I could "succeed" at reaching my yoga goals, I could feel ok about something. There was no compassion in this scenario - only loathing.
I have trained myself to override intuition and bodily cues in favor of a prescribed plan that I didn't develop for myself, but adopted from another's idea of fitness and health. A rigid formula, an overly analyzed schematic. I took literally the instructor's cues to "push, push," "dig deep," and "keep up." I had become a slave to the idea that I cannot trust myself or my body. That where I am is not enough. In ignoring my body's signals and in my own self disgust, I have gained another opportunity to learn. I'm not a quitter when I am passionate. I want to break these harmful cycles/patterns. I want true healing, or at least contentment rather than an identity as someone on the healing path. I am being diligent to opening my eyes to the shadow side of me, and to use it to transform to truth. To acknowledge that I created this scenario for myself in order that I remove my own blinders. My basketball coach always said, "You have to make Hansel mad to get her to play ball." Do I step forward in freedom? I am stepping back to yoga.
By the time July 2014 rolled around, I was finding that I could no longer keep up with the form of workouts I had chosen. I was doing CrossFit inspired and HIIT home workouts. I was really worried because no matter my physical size, I had always been athletic and capable of pushing myself to keep up with strenuous exercise. Not only this, but the migraine headaches that I had been having since age 13 had picked up in frequency and were becoming debilitating. I reluctantly went to my family doctor. That began a cascade of testing and seeing specialists. I have seen a neurologist (and will regularly, indefinitely), orthopedic specialist, gastroenterologist, ob/gyn, chiropractor, and a dermatologist. I've had bloodwork every 3 months, MRIs, CTs, x-rays, and cultures of various sorts. Then, the ER visits.
I had to begin taking medications that would significantly lower my heart-rate in order to help prevent the headaches that were interfering with day to day life. This meant that it was now physically impossible for me to keep up with the intense workouts. That is when I took back up with a daily yoga practice. I now practice Kundalini and Vinyasa yoga at least 6 days a week. I eat real food as well as I can manage, and I try to feed my family the same way. See, I wasn't giving up. I have three daughters to raise and provide an example for. If I gave up on myself, what would I be teaching them?
All that said, leads me to why I'm really writing this post today. This region of Kentucky is known as one of the sickest regions in the nation.
Kentucky is one of the sickest states in America, a place where too many people die too soon, and many who live endure decades of illness and pain.
I must say, that what I'm seeing in my neck of the woods, currently, around health and fitness, gives me a great hope for our future. As I research and find the resources I need to receive the healthcare and access the food that I need to live the best quality of life possible for me, I am finding other eastern Kentuckians doing the same. Not only are they taking charge of their health, but they are becoming the change that they want to see in the region.
People I went to school with who are in the medical field are offering free, daily health tips via Facebook and coming back to the region to serve their communities. When I make posts about health and fitness information, I get messages and replies asking for more information or making comments that offer me more information. Area residents seem more interested in local food options. Farmer's Markets are sprouting up all over, and people are learning more about wildcrafting. Yet, the thing that inspires me the most is what I'm seeing as an increased willingness of people to use and explore the capabilities of their own bodies in outside of the box ways. I have recently started teaching yoga in Hindman and Whitesburg and have been so pleased to have no fewer than two and as many as eleven in my classes! So many express interest and a desire to learn how to take responsibility for their health. This makes me hopeful for the health of our young people.
Nick is part owner (along with Stacie Beckett and Carrie Adkins) of the new CrossFit Experior in Williamson, and Cristin instructs and works from the box (gym). I asked Nick why he wanted to make this passion of his into a career, and his answer is so much a part of the solution I envision for the positive growth of our region.
I wanted to open a gym to make a difference in the community, to help people change for the better. I think people are more interested in a healthier lifestyle these days for many reasons, like a better quality of life, to be more physically capable, longevity of life, or maybe to prevent a future health crisis. People as a whole are learning and adapting. 80 years ago everybody smoked. It was the norm. We're at a time now where healthcare and technology make things well known. We know now smoking has many adverse health problems, eating fast food, and drinking soda everyday has adverse health reactions. - Nick Potter
Simply put. He wants to make a difference in his community. Nick and Cristin saw an issue that affected them personally and in their desire to change it for themselves, they are a part of changing it for the community at large. We live in an area that is so naturally beautiful. I see it as very possible that this region can be known for health and well-being in our future. That's part of my vision as I share yoga with those who come to my classes. I know Nick and Cristin are seeing it on a daily basis as they inspire people of all ages to good health.
Jane Austen wrote in Persuasion, "I am half agony, half hope." On the days when my body and emotions feel agony, I look to hope. I'm going to fight the good fight. Others are fighting the good fight. This is just one part of the puzzle that will be rebuilding eastern Kentucky, but it is this type of revolution that makes me not give up completely. It is a clear path to goodness.
I have always loved eating. Food excites me. In college, my sister and I would pool our resources and feed our little families elaborate creations that costed very little, but tasted very good. I taught myself to cook. In my early married days I stumbled through the kitchen, and threw out many a pan of gravy. When becoming a mother, food became very important to me in a different way. The quality of the food, where it came from, and how it was prepared grew more significant to me because I wasn't only feeding myself anymore, but I was feeding growing children. Having chosen to exclusively breastfeed them, and knowing the satisfaction of that and the good health it brought them, I had to carry that over to their relationship with food. I suddenly understood why my grandmothers would beg us to eat, eat more, and get so happy when we did.
The food I ate hasn't always worked in favor for my health and my body. Most of my life I've shuffled between being somewhat overweight or very overweight. When I dieted, I starved, exercised hard, and binged on cheat days. I lost weight, but it didn't last. Eventually I would cave, being tired of struggling with what I could and wanted to eat.
When I gave birth to my first daughter, I knew I wanted her to maintain her confidence and a positive body image. I wanted to give her the blessing of healthy eating. I just didn't know how to be the example of that for her. I wasn't comfortable in my own body. I've always been athletic, active, and fit at all weights. What was on the outside and how sluggish and sick I felt so often didn't reflect the person I knew I was. I didn't feel attractive at all and I wasn't sure what I should try next to change that.
I tried being a vegetarian along with my husband for five years. Breastfeeding made me crave meat so voraciously, I had to eat it. I tried limiting portions and felt hungry all the time. I stopped drinking pop. I didn't buy as many sweets. I ate food from health food stores. While I would drop some weight with these changes, it wasn't significant and didn't help me to feel any better.
When I gave birth to my second daughter, I weighed around 240lbs. My daughter was 11lbs. at birth. I had some complications with giving birth, and looking back, I do believe my eating habits and our collective weights had a large role to play in that outcome. It was after her birth that I knew I had to take control of this. I had to find my happy place with food. There couldn't be any more diets. My practices around food had to be a way of life. It had to be compatible with feeding my family - growing children and working husband. I had to learn how to be nurtured by food and how to prepare food for good health.
At this time, I was fortunate enough to be walking with a mama friend who introduced me to the book Nourishing Traditions and the work of theWeston A. Price Foundation with Sally Fallon.
This step coupled with my adopting a whole, traditional foods lifestyle for our family has brought me to a place of the best health I've experienced in my life. I'm stronger. I'm fitter. I've learned to eat for my metabolism and genetic predispositions. I get sick much less often. I also maintain a normal weight with little effort beyond living a healthy lifestyle. Food doesn't bring burden upon me anymore. I don't count calories or fat. I eat what my family eats. Food isn't a crutch, but a joy. I'll never be able to unlearn this stuff and because of that, I don't know (outside of abnormal circumstances) that I'll ever find myself eating theStandard American Diet (SAD) again.
Principles for the Beginning:
If you can tackle these five things, you are well on your way to healthier living. It isn't easy. I caught a lot of flack for my choices at first, but I stand by my convictions and the results I have seen. I'm comfortable in my imperfect body because it is healthy and most of the time it serves me very well. It isn't about weight any longer, but it has become about whether or not I'm optimally utilizing the body I have for max benefit. It is a temple after all. I'm also confident about the food I'm feeding my family. It won't be long until you too will be eating pizza for dinner and calling it healthy - because it is!
"Without the activity of the third chakra, a person lives as if in a dungeon. Life means nothing." - Yogi Bhajan
As a mother, realizing, accepting, and endeavoring to reconnect with and rebuild the power of my navel center is no small thing. In pregnancy, we are asked by Creator to completely devote the power of our third chakra to expand physically and mentally as we grow another human being. Our power is then pushed to the limits in birth until we relinquish control and become otherworldly in our ability to bring forth this life.
For months, perhaps years, our navel center is devoted to the development of another person. I remember my first postpartum experience, feeling the jelly like texture of my middle and understanding just how vulnerable my body had become. I hadn't grasped how completely my body would be changed. I hadn't imagined the impact on every cell of my being.
Balance is found when this center is active, because when life is dull and meaningless, we tend to substitute emotions, traumas, and problems to "spice things up". We tend to let things happen to us, rather than direct our choices in life, manifesting our own desires and will." -Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, The 8 Human Talents
My history with my navel center has been repeatedly tough since memory. Then, when I was set to give birth for the first time, I delivered my baby through a traumatic, unnecessary cesarean. I spent years working on healing myself from the deep ache that the surgery left. I researched and poured myself into helping other women avoid what I experienced. I worked from a place of profound compassion and intense anger. What I understand now is that the anger dominated my motivation. My second birth was a homebirth turned into a hospital transfer which ended in a necessary cesarean. I know now that I was approaching this birth with my fighting gloves on, and that was a mistake. No woman should prepare for birth by preparing to fight for the right to do so, or to try to prove a point. In 2012, I gave birth for the third time vaginally, at home. It was a triumphant moment for me, and the preparation I did for that birth helped me to rediscover my body and my capabilities. Yet, the very next day a dear person to me experienced a tragedy of her own and is still suffering. It was like a gray cloud hovered just above my glee, and again, I began to protect the space of my family and my friend.
It is no wonder that the third chakra is connected to commitment. When you become a mother you are immediately committed to the task. You will forever be someone's mother. When you chose to be a birth professional, you are committed to your clients, receiving their calls all hours of the night and showing up no matter what you must leave to attend them. In the two years since giving birth the last time, I have developed a reluctance to continue in the traditional way with my work as a doula. This is despite the fact that my business has never been better. I have felt too much stress surrounding my work, and sometimes felt it intensely even when things magically worked out. I have not, up until a few weeks ago, understood why.
The shadow emotion of the third chakra is anger. -Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa
I have been living very consistently in a state of fight or flight, and a large part of the manifestation of that state has been the result of choosing to be present in the current climate of birth that strips women of the innate power they have to know when, where, with whom, and how they should give birth. I have become tired of being present there again and again. I am ready to move forward with my own desires and will.
This knowing rests in the face of my belief that I have been called to be present for women in birth. I know I'm not going to leave birth all together, but I am opening myself up to a broader perspective. I'm opening myself up to the possibility of releasing the feeling of anger at the obstacles faced by the women I serve and have served. Releasing my frustrations around the obstacles I confront as a rural living woman. As Ana Brett says, "turn obstacles into opportunities". I don't know what those might be, but I'm endeavoring to find out.
In my Kundalini yoga practice, I am daily engaging my third chakra and feeling its power and gifts. I'm opening my heart to new opportunities and stepping more fully into myself as Creator designed. It is hard work, and some days I feel the anger so heavily, but I'm working to let it go. It no longer serves me. I'm excited to learn what a strong third chakra can bring to a life, and how I can be a blessing to others as a result. I'm learning to love the will. I'm learning to say "I can" and use it as a guide in my mothering, work, and relationships. I'm healing every moment of every day and will be doing so perpetually.
I have been every clothes size from 4 to 18 in my nearly 36 years. I'm 5'8" and have a large frame. By the time I was in 5th grade, I was just a few inches shy from the height I am today and I weighed 145lbs. I'm used to being a "big" girl. That is part of my genetic makeup and who I will always be. That is ok. What isn't ok when it comes to our size is how it affects our life. If being "overweight" creates for us an unhealthy situation and puts us at risk for disease, then we must become determined to change that reality.
After my second pregnancy, I lost over 100lbs. by taking back my health. I found the beauty of yoga and traditional foods. I became the smallest I have ever been since becoming an adult. At that time, my focus was on having a thin body and eating healthy food. It worked. I have come to find, I have tremendous willpower when I set my mind to something.
At this time, my third pregnancy (daughter) is two years old, and I am three pounds away from a realistic and reasonable goal weight. I couldn't believe it when I got on the scale yesterday! I have been working once again to regain my health because I have been experiencing some depression and other health issues. I had almost completely let go of my "healthy" lifestyle. Yet, what I have come to realize is that approaching our health and weight is as much a spiritual practice as it is one of making goals and working our tail off.
Since coming to learn and utilize Sacred Birth Work, I apply the same spiritual principles to all aspects of my life. What I have come to understand is that it is important to take literally the statement once made by Jesus the Christ, "Neither will they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21) There are a very many things that we experience on this earth that is completely our choice. There are yet other things that we cannot control, but we can put those circumstances into a context which will allow us to better deal with them. The amount of heaven we experience in this plane is reliant on our willingness to turn to God.
My motivation for losing weight now is a healthy body and mind that is better prepared to do the work of God. It is a healthy body and mind that is better able to raise confidence and strong young women (I have three daughters.). It is a desire to break a cycle of disease that is hereditary. It is a desire to be fully myself - my best self.
Along with my doctor, I picked a goal weight that was achievable and maintainable for my body type. I, then, began to approach my reclamation of health as a spiritual practice. For in regaining health, I am doing no less than seeking God more wholly and in turn an experience of heaven within. A body and mind in harmony or seeking to be in harmony will know God.
It took me awhile to find this knowing. When I originally undertook losing weight and addressing my health issues, I went about it like I always had. I quickly learned that my body is not what it used to be. And the exercise I had chosen exacerbated my problems. Sometimes though, we are dealt a heavy hand in order that we may fall back on the Truth. I picked my yoga practice back up (first, releasing all the excuses as to why I couldn't do yoga) and my exercise became a prayer. I re-embraced my traditional foods diet and do my best to imbue my food with love. The process became my worship of the Divine. The Divine in me. The Divine in my family. The Divine that is Truth.
It isn't the easiest process. There are days when I feel like I'm not up to par. However, it is a practice. It is a road that doesn't end. There is opportunity for more practice. In every practice, there are those moments when I feel God in, through, and all around me. I have let go of expectation, and have determined myself to practice. Then, I get on the scale, just to see, and I'm three pounds away from the goal.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, spiritual explorer, avid yogi, reiki practitioner, and is living life with chronic illness. Connect with her @ Kelli Hansel - Writer & Spiritual/Yoga/Self Transformation Guide
What Clients Are Saying
Kelli's authenticity in the work was paramount in me feeling safe and comfortable in facing some challenges in my life. The practice has been helpful in me finding focus, strength, and over health and well-being. Kelli is a beautiful person and that shines through all her work.