Jen Cook: On How I Found, and Fell in Love With, Yoga.

 

Today we're sharing National Fitness Day Ambassador Jen Cook's journey into yoga. Find out what inspired her to get her certification, and check out her own blog for more inspo! 

I'm often asked how long I've been practicing yoga and how I got into it enough to dedicate a large portion of my last fall to teacher training. And I always wish I had a simple answer. For me, there was never a moment that I knew yoga was "the one", and to be fair, I still don't necessarily feel that way. I didn't take a class and walk out thinking that it was what I needed to do with my life. I took classes, then stopped, then started again, then found a different style, then stopped, then started again at a new studio, and so the story continues. 

I originally started practicing Bikram yoga when I was living in Arizona. I had recently moved to Scottsdale, knew essentially no one, and was looking for a way to meet people. Unfortunately I didn't find too many friends through the studio, but I did develop a deep love for the rigidness, challenge and stability of the Bikram practice*. If you're not familiar with Bikram, it's a 90 minute practice in a heated room (around 108 Fahrenheit) that travels through a set sequence of postures. The class is meant to be exactly the same in whatever studio you practice, and because of this, you always know what you're going to get. Although it's definitely not for everyone, I found myself comforted by the stability of the class - I always knew what I was getting myself into, I knew what was coming next, I could see from class to class the ways in which I was either improving or struggling.  There was comfort in the familiar, especially as I was going through a particularly unstable period of my life. Just days after ending a long term relationship in Denver I found myself driving to a place I had never been, embarking on a journey I had no idea would ever be in my path. Although in the end those six months I spent in AZ gave me some of the best times, best friends and best adventures - the grounding found through stability was something I was needing there more than ever. 

After my brief six month stint in Scottsdale, I embarked on a new adventure and moved to Paris to pursue a Master's degree. I'll be honest, I think I can count on one hand the number of times I did any sort of physical activity while I was living there (approximately 4 runs around Parc Monceau)**. Yoga was definitely not high on my list of things to do. That list, instead, included eating all of the food, drinking all of the wine, having all of the fun, and doing some of the studying. It was amazing and glorious and exciting and challenging and fun and crazy and hard and incredible. But after a year, it ended, and I came back to find work in New York City.

Moving to New York was huge. Since the first time I visited at age 17 I knew it would end up my home. The energy, the people, the diversity, the opportunity, the excitement - what's not to love? Turns out, a lot. As amazing as it is, it's also expensive, stress inducing, exhausting, overwhelming, angering and just all around difficult at times. Although it took me a couple of years to get back into the whole "working out" thing, once I started again I realized that it served as an excellent coping mechanism. Going with what I knew, I started practicing Bikram a few years ago, again finding comfort in the stability of the practice. After a colleague suggested I try this new fitness boxing gym (Shadowbox, it's great, go), I finally started to branch out of my comfort zone. Between finding boxing, getting back into running, and yoga, I realized that a large part of my happiness in New York was due to being active. But it wasn't just that. The community I found from not just yoga, but fitness in general, was incredible. It was inspiring. It was fun. It was a great way to relieve stress. I found myself craving that feeling you get after a great sweat session, especially as after a couple of rough years and crazy jobs and even crazier travel schedules and still crazier party schedules, life started to take a toll. An overnight visit to the ER not too long ago (see previous post), served as the wake up call I needed to try to reset a bit of my life. It was then that I decided to finally take the leap and complete my 200 hour teacher training. Although the idea of giving up my weekends (literally, 9-6, Saturday and Sunday, for 12 weekends) was not super ideal - being able to do something that I enjoyed, meeting a whole new group of people, and pushing myself to further break out of my comfort zone was enough to get me through. Those 12 weekends with that group of amazing humans was such an incredible experience. What we went through together and shared with each other could fill books, but it won't, and the bond that we will now all carry together will inevitably last a lifetime. Which really is one of the beautiful things about a yoga practice. You break out of your shell, challenge yourself mentally and physically, leave it on the mat, and carry it with you forever. So although it definitely may not be my one true love, it's been a journey, and the journey to finding it is often just as much fun as the journey of practicing it.

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*Yes, I know Bikram himself is a major creep. It's unfortunate, and I struggle with continuing to enjoy the practice because of it.

**No, there is not really a "fitness" scene in Paris. Although it's starting to gain a little momentum, when I was there just six years ago I'm not 100% sure they even had a yoga studio.

Kim Bielak